The gulf between elite and novice
During National Running Week, we had the opportunity to speak with runners of virtually every level, from those who had come out of curiosity to see if they wanted to take up running in the first place all the way up to world record-holders such as John Walker (mile), Derek Clayton (marathon), and Don Ritchie (50 miles, 100K, and 100 mile).
Walker, Clayton, and Ritchie spoke of the work needed to set records. The new runners asked questions relative to the work needed to improve their own running.
There seemed to be a great gulf between the world-class runners and the novices. It was not a gulf across which they could not or would not communicate. It was more a gulf of approaches to running.
The beginners seemed genuinely confused. After listening to the answers from the great runners and after talking to them, it was easy to see from where the confusion originated.
Running has become so big that the amount of information available is staggering. Instead of the near-vacuum of information that once characterized the running world, today there is a glut of information. Information should be disseminated to help people. Runners are so anxious to run properly that they feel they must absorb everything they can find on the subject. This is such a monumental task that if the average person attempted it, he or she would have absolutely no time left to eat, sleep, work—or run. The problem becomes more acute when one realizes that much of the available information is contradictory.
Beginning runners are becoming so paranoid about their running that they are wary of running. They are afraid that they’ll do it wrong.
The oft-repeated advice from runners is this: Put one foot in front of the other and then alternate. The world record-holders all agree. Running is a simple activity. It is something everyone knows how to do. It has been somehow complicated by too much advice from too many people. Besides the fact that all of this information is confusing, it also infuses the runner with a certain tension—a feeling that there may be some Great Secret that he or she has not yet read that is missing from the run. This fear causes a certain tension during the run. This, too, is counterproductive. Because the other point that was made by the great runners of our time, is that running is done best when one relaxes.
Simplify and relax. It seems so easy. It is easy—if people will allow it to be.
A young man from Connecticut was waiting for a friend at noon on New Year’s Day. He was Rickeys Hyatt House in Palo Alto, Calif., the site of National Running Week. While he waited, we talked about the week just passed. “It was really worth the trip,” he said. “Listening to Clayton and Walker talk about their running and being able to talk to them one-on-one during the week made me look at my running differently. I hadn’t missed a day of running in a full year. I was afraid to miss a day. But Clayton and Walker told me that some days, when they feel really bad, they don’t run at all. Or, they cut back on their running if they don’t feel right about it that day.
“You have to find out some things for yourself, though. All week they talked about trying to relax when you run. I never realized how important that was until the Midnight Run. I went into it as just a Fun-Run and not as a race. My best previous time for five miles was 30:06, and I remember that it had really hurt when I ran that. For the Midnight Run, I didn’t have any expectations and I just went into it relaxed and loose. I felt really great. When I crossed the finish line I couldn’t believe it! I had run 30:00, and it hadn’t exhausted me in the process.” He smiled proudly. “I don’t know what anyone else got out of National Running Week, but I know I got more out of it than I’d expected.”
He had traveled across the country to find what he might have found within himself if he hadn’t allowed too much advice to confuse him: Running is best when it’s simple and relaxed.
Ultimately then, the runner’s advice should come from within. Once running becomes relaxed, the baffles against listening properly to what the running body says will fall. And at that point, running becomes the most simple and perfect of sports.