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yeah, okay
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football?
"Was it more popular than football?"

hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
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A little more seriously: today's runners (mostly) haven't had a lot of phys ed and free play before they take up high school xc/tf. Kids back then had more. As a result, current kids can't handle training loads as well--without breaking down--so the loads are (have to be) lower.

Also, there was a real "more is better" aesthetic in the 1970s. By the 1990s, there'd been a major shift to "work smarter [so called], not harder" and the performances got worse.

Plus, there were more kids back then participating in sports and fewer taking afterschool jobs. Et cetera.

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