Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Thu, 23 Aug 2012 12:43:11 -0400

Shouting Softly

RUNNING COMMENTARY 951

(The latest, and probably last, home for my magazine column was Marathon & Beyond. That seven-year stay ended in 2011. Now I have permission to republish those pieces. This one comes from the July 2005 issue.)

Bert Nelson, one of the great writers on this sport and my first boss, once penned a memorable line about race walking. The Track & Field News co-founder compared the competitive walks to “seeing who can whisper the loudest.”

Fast walkers fight the natural urge to break into a run. Why else would that sport need judges? Why else would walkers break into a run once their race ends?

Slow running is equally odd for the opposite reason. It seems to go against the whole purpose of running, which is to move swiftly. The natural urge when slowing a run is to fall into a walk. Reversing the Nelson line, running slowly is like seeing who can shout the softest.

While acknowledging this quirk, I’ve long championed slow running. It was the subject of my first booklet, which Bert Nelson’s company published in 1969 under the title LSD: The Humane Way to Train.

In this case “LSD” stood for long slow distance, a catchy but ultimately misleading term. It seemed to urge running the most possible miles at slowest possible pace. This can be as damaging as all-fast, all-the-time.

I’m not opposed to going fast sometimes. Hundreds of times in races and thousands in training, I’ve run as fast as possible. Many of my stories have lionized the athletes who go the fastest of all.

What I’m against is a sense of racing against time in ALL runs – especially when this urge leads to a headlong rush through all of life. This comes of treating the clock as an enemy to be subdued, from trying to finish every 10-minute task in nine minutes. The psychologists call this “hurry sickness.”

Runners are particularly susceptible, because our sport rewards hurriers. It always holds up times to beat. But if time is the cause of hurry-sickness, it can also supply the cure. The best change I ever made in running was slowing down and going longer. The second-best change came soon afterward, when I made friends with time.

On advice from Arthur Lydiard I quit counting miles and simply ran for a half-hour, an hour or longer without knowing the distance covered. I began running by time for a practical reason: no need to measure all courses. Running by minutes frees us to run them anywhere, to vary the old routes and to explore new ones.

I soon found an even better reason for time-running: relief from rushing. Our natural urge when running by miles is to finish them as quickly as possible. Running by minutes, which can’t be rushed, we naturally ease into an unhurried pace. We come to see the beauties and benefits of relaxing.

Not everyone finds slowness appealing. LSD had its detractors from the start, and does today. One opponent took the other side in this debate even while hiring me away from Bert Nelson. Decades later, Bob Anderson and I still shout softly in disagreement.

SLOW JOE TO RAPID ROBERT

An open letter to Bob Anderson, founder of Runner’s World: Good to hear from you, and about you, though the letter wasn’t meant for me alone. Yours came in a public forum, a runner’s mass e-mailing containing your remarks that addressed me by name as if expecting me to respond.

You said you liked my work well enough to hire me as your editor for several years. But you added, “I do not think your training ideas make any sense at all. I don’t understand why you want everyone to think that Arthur Lydiard and others liked your ideas. They did not! If you train slow, you race slow.”

This is an old argument between you and me, as well as Lydiard and me. It came up on your first visit with me in California. That was the fall of 1969. We ran together then and saw right away that our paces didn’t match. I can’t recall us ever sharing another training run.

We were both right in what we did, and why. You trained to race, and I ran to run. We still do that, more than 35 years after our first and last run together. You still race, and quite well. I haven’t trained to race in decades. (If you thought I was slow then, you should see me now!)

You wrote recently, “All of my training is hard. If I train slow, I race slow. Racing is a blast; jogging at eight minutes a mile is boring. I would rather be reading a book [than training slowly]. Maybe LSD?”

LSD remains the most debated topic from all my writings. I welcome this dissent. Better to be disagreed with than forgotten, right? In fact, the first page of my first book states that LSD is not the one best way to train. It’s another option for runners who have broken down or burned out while trying other ways.

You didn’t need an alternative. Your years of hard and fast racing and training clearly have agreed with you.

I thank you, personally and publicly, for the writing career you opened up for me. Most of all, thanks for letting me write stories and books with which you profoundly disagreed.

LYDIARD ON LSD

Somewhere Arthur Lydiard is shouting: “No, no, NO!” You got it all wrong!” He always spoke in italics and with exclamation points. Many published tributes after his death in 2004 labeled as “the father of LSD.” He would have shouted that they LIBELED him by linking his name to long slow distance training.

I adopted parts of the Lydiard system soon after learning his name in 1960. Even these half-measures led to the best racing of my life, but they had little in common with what came to be known as LSD in my book by that title.

When first I met Lydiard, he had heard about the book, didn’t like it and said so. He had spent the first half of his life perfecting a system. He would spend the second half protecting it against revisionists.

As far back as 1970 Lydiard saw me as a revisionist. He told me then without prompting, “Aren’t you the one who wrote about L-S-D.” He spit out those letters, one at a time, as if they left a bad taste in his mouth.

“Slow running is better than no running,” he added, “and it works fine for joggers. But my athletes do NOT run slow. They go as fast as they can without going into oxygen debt. And they do not run long all the time, but only during the endurance-building phase that lasts less than three months. They follow this with a period of hill bounding, then sharpening with time trials and sprints.”

In the LSD booklet I’d taken pains not to pass off what I was doing and recommending as Lydiard-light. I gave him just four paragraphs of praise. (These came after I’d named another Arthur – Newton – “the father of LSD.”)

I never ran one 100-mile week, bounded a single hill, or – since embracing LSD – trained with an interval or time trial. A simple combination of slow training and fast racing worked fine for me, but it wasn’t Lydiardism. He made sure I knew that, then and later.

Only three more times the next three-plus decades was I in Arthur Lydiard’s company. He reminded me each time that the early divorce of his ways from mine was final.

On his final tour of the U.S., Lydiard visited my hometown of Eugene. I couldn’t get to his lecture but dropped by afterward. He was seated – a bow to his 87 years, four strokes and two knee replacements. Given that we hadn’t connected since the 1980s, I didn’t expect him to remember me and gave my name as we shook hands.

Without a moment’s pause he asked, “Are you still promoting that L-S-D?” This was another dig, a gentle one this time. By now he was shaky in body but as firm as ever in his beliefs.

UPDATE: This long column will conclude here next week. Fast-training Bob Anderson remains a top age-group finisher at Bay Area races in his 60s. He is racing 50 times this year to celebrate his 50th anniversary as a runner, trying to average better than 7:00 per mile. He’s on schedule so far.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in three different formats: (1) in print from Amazon.com; (2) as e-books from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com; (3) as printable and shareable PDFs from Lulu.com. The other titles: Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Marathon Training, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log (not an e-book), and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe (e-book only). The middle book of the memoir series, Going Far, will be serialized in Marathon & Beyond magazine, starting this September.]
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