This is the real answer to put the USA back on map in the running world. Also look around we are not alone in our search for answers.
Here's a question I would love for anyone to answer, if Cerutty & Lydiard had such strong a influence why is it that I can't recall any runners coming from either one of their home countries in the recent past? Rob de Castella & Steve Monaghetti are the only runners of any note that come to my mind from the country of Australia. What happened to all of the greats that came out of that country for so many years? How about New Zealand, Dixon , Walker, Quax of most recent times & that was quite a while back? What happened? Oh ya, what happened to the Finnish domination on the worlds distance running tracks, you know..Viren & others from that once dominate northen country? What happened to the English milers & distance runners of just 15-20 years ago, names like Hill, Coe, Ovett, Cram, Foster, Bedford, Morecroft? What happened to the country of Norway with it's women? It's not so easy is it to just blow this question off is it? So when we try to blame someone or something for the demise of the U.S.A. runner we must also look at the rest of the world and try to look at the much bigger picture. What are the solutions to the down fall of the past world champion countries? These are the questions that we should be asking ourselves!
Hmmm... I don't get it? Kenya turns out GREAT runners like BUD makes beer. One after another. I guess there is a better program? Which one would that be? Maybe we feel that because the Kenyan's have a high drop out rate that their program is too hard core, they push too hard? The Kenyan runners master their international competition with a thoroughness that makes the New York Yankees look like they are playing in parity! Maybe you don't agree with the unceremonious weeding out & elimination of "bad" runners but it seems to work. That's the key, & the answer to all of the problems.
In the book Train Hard, Win Easy: The Kenyan Way, Toby Tanser writes about how he witnessed a race of more than 25 competitors & less than 10 finishers. Here in the USA that would qualify as a disgrace. In Kenya he goes on to explain that your not a loser if you don't finish the race, the runner walks off without shame!! Intense competition, breeds very strong bodies & maybe more importantly the strongest of minds. The strongest survive to break records & win medals all around the world, as they should. Don't you agree?
Again maybe we should go back to the idea that there are no guarantees of success in this world? We need to start instilling in our young people that it is right & cool thing to go out & bust ass, try as hard as you can, no matter the outcome. I think that you must agree with my solution to this assumption that self esteem is not solely tied to one's win/loss record? Not everyone is a winner. Not everytime will one win. There will come a day when the winner will fall to another, so on & so on. Oh, I can hear you now saying that the Kenyan runners do not last long on the international circuit. These young men train very hard, win or lose & want to retire to their home country & farm or what ever may suit them.
What we have to do is get over this fantasy that runners should train in hopes that some day they will become champions when they become "older"! What a great way to stunt any type of competitive fire that may be there in the first place. Now , I am not saying that we should make heros & champions out of little kids but I do believe we need to start only awarding the very best at every race & stop with this non-sense of awarding every runner in the field a prize. Not everyone is going to be the winner. Last time I looked the winner was a singular person that crosses first.
Train hard in high-school & college if you want, pay your dues, take your licks, collect your wins & your loses, move up or face reality that everyone will not become the gold medalist!! That's OK, there will always be more losers than winners, that's the reason that Olympic gold medalist are celebrated like they are, they are what we are not...truly WINNERS!
How much high tech shit do we need in front of our young people & they still lose to the least high tech nations? Most of these Kenyan runners that hit the top are in their 20's, if I were to take a stab at their median age I would have to say that age would be 25, or 26 years old. Mean while we (USA) want to make hero's out of antique athletes such as Rodgers, Shorter, Scott, & any other runners past the age of 35. Why should we try to keep digging up the past heros to put in front of the American people? The High School programs have for the most part failed our young runners. Why are we afraid to have our young men & women train at the edge that is required to produce the type of competitive athlete that once received the accolades of the nation. I guess that Jim Ryun should have waited to run fast? 3:51.1 that speaks for itself.
Do we really want a team of guys that are more worried about their new babies, their new wives, all of their aches & pains, oh ya their 7-6 high tech, high stress careers,.... than bettering their fellow team-mates, or their previous best times, or better yet setting WR's & hammering the freakin' Kenyans' at what is their playground.
Olympic U.S. swimming has a training philosophy that if your good you keep going a few more months or a few more years to the next Games. That's it period. The reason that we don't have any champions at the world class level in running is that the young athletes are not at the same level that they once were in the past coming out of high school & college. We are not prepared for a few years to put off the career & family, train hard & just plain go for it. Just do it, as Nike says! Then get out if their not one of the best, period! Hard training is what brings this about.
This is the real answer to put the USA back on map in the running world. Also look around we are not alone in our search for answers.
i've been following the posts here about the american "system" and its "shortcomings." i put both of those terms in quotes because i'm not sure we really have a system, and shortcomings are relative. to be honest i know very little about the intricacies of the american system. i've coached high school here with some success, but i'd hardly call what i was part of any sort of real system.
now, what does seem to be a constant is that everyone refers to the kenyan "system" as the prototype for how things should be done. this is something i do have experience with. i haven't read toby's book - maybe one day toby, after i finish all john irving's stuff - but i have spent significant time working with kenyan runners at various levels. here are a few things i notice in the posts about them.
1- a lot of people refer to the age of kenyan runners as regards their accomplishments and where americans are at similar ages. let me say that you must take kenyan ages with several grains of salt. i know for certain that some of the kenyans competing last weekend in jamaica were not "juniors." i won't give names or details, but most kenyans take 3 to 5 years between the ages of 17 & 19 and focus almost exclusively on base mileage - lydiard style stuff. during this time they will do in excess of 100 miles per week at varying paces exclusively on dirt. even any track work will be done on dirt tracks
during this period they will generally race only 6-8 races per year - half in xc and half in track. then, at "18" (read 21 - 22) they will re-enter the competitive scene and make their way through the ranks of kenyan running starting at the junior level. during this same period of development many americans are in the scholastic athletic machine - one where they have minimal periods of base building and compete very frequently. they also do most of their workouts on harder surfaces - roads, tartan, etc.
2) kenyan economics - a strong correlation has been shown between rising unemployment in kenya and dropping times. the current economic situation in kenya is as bad as it has been since they gained their independence. there are virtually no real job opportunities in kenya that offer a chance for upward economic mobility. you find college graduates who are thrilled to get jobs driving trucks, working in supermarkets, etc. under these circumstances there is really no reason for someone not to take a chance on running. there isn't the constant reminder that "i could be at stanford b school if i wasn't running" (sorry weldon). it's more like - "i could be welding axles together or milking cows, if i'm lucky - nah, might as well take free food and housing from dr. rosa and run." in the past agents, colleges, etc. would go to kenya and recruit runners - now even i have to spend a lot of time weeding through e-mails from runners looking for a shot - and i'm not in the biz per se.
3) genetics, or whatever you want to call it. o.k. - i have a degree in english, so i won't pretend to know the proper scientific terms, but there are a disproportionately large number of tall, thin, smaller footed people running around kenya. while coaching in america i find myself looking around the student body for people who look like they "might" be decent runners. in kenya i don't even bother. there are simply more people there with runners' builds. this has nothing to do with some mythical "system" - they're just skinny - and it's skeletal - not soft tissue. there's really nothing we can do to change american body types.
one day in kenya i was walking home with some of the athletes i coached. we passed josh cox and benoit "z" (the frenchman) out for a jog. one of my athletes commented that they both ran pretty well for fat guys - meaning they had a lot more on their frames - or just a lot more frame period. in america it seems that really skinny people get steered away from any type of athletics at a very early age because they are the exception to the norm. in kenya they are the norm.
a couple of final notes - i've been learning that several of the better kenyan runners are vegetarians - or at least eggs/milk only people. found that a little interesting from my grand slam loving american perspective.
and american marathoners beware - a couple of solid kenyan marathoners (2:09-2:10 range) are attempting to gain american citizenship to compete in athens. those thinking that 2:14 might get them a ticket should think twice.
anyway, there are just some more rambling, non-sensical observations from a guy who's spent time on both sides of the fence. the bottom line is speed, not nationality. happy running to all.
It's interesting that running in New Zealand fell off when Lydiard went to Finland where it began to peak. Then he came back to New Zealand and there was the second boom which lasted until a bit after he became less active.
I'm not sure it's real useful to compare Kenyans with Americans, Brits, Kiwis and so on as there are a lot of differences in body type, culture, approach to the sport. etc.
But the observation about the American emphasis on avoiding burnout, not pushing kids too soon, de-emphasizing competition is worthwhile. It wasn't always that way. In the 60s and 70s high school coaches worked their kids harder and expected more of them than most coaches do now. A coach today who trained his kids as some coaches did in those years (think Ryun and Lindgren here) would likely be fired for abusing the kids. But the 60s and 70s gave the US its greatest distance running era ever. Since then we've de-emphasized competition and given that, it's not surprising that we've become less competitive.
yea, lets hammer in high school like they do in Mead, Oregon. How many of those guys last past college?
How many people do you think one single high school in Oregon can possibly expect to put out with the talent to last past college? They are only a small blip on the radar just like York. I'm sick of seeing those schools get criticized because they didn't put out as many Olympians or NCAA champions as they did state champions. If every school respected the sport and trained their runners as hard, of course 95 percent will not go on to the next level BUT the remaining 5 percent will comprise a much higher pool of talent. Instead of 5 to 10 sub-9:00 3200 runners this country would have 30 to 40 and things would be entirely different. 75 percent would quit due to disappointment and burnout, but the remaining 25 per cent that went on might mean 10 sub-13:20 guys instead of 2.
If a kid is running 100 miles a week in high school and runs 9:30 instead of 10:00 on 40 miles a week, he probably doesn't have the talent to go on. But more kids like him working hard will push the talented guys to worker harder and times would naturally drop and college freshman wouldn't have to spend the first 2 to 3 years of college gradually buliding a base that could have been started on earlier. Kids would be leaving colleges with faster times, better opportunities to compete at the big-time, and more would stay in and develop further. Then we could finally close the gap with the Africans, Ethiopians, and Kenyans.
Ok. Mead is in Washington but I'll rant on further. The problem with most highly developed youngsters that burnout is I believe mainly due to their distorted expectations from comparing themselves with the norm. They get ahead early so easily because most high school programs underachieve so many of them think they're much better then what they are. And many can't deal with the the fact that others catch up with them in college once they finally start working a little harder. That's a psychological weakness that many can't overcome. But its the law of the jungle. Sink or swim. The ones who can handle it better move on. And there are also many who reach a temporary plateau while there contemporaries are rapidly improving. The thrill of being dominant evaporates and they don't have the perseverence to see it through and decide all the hard work isn't worth it to them. You will always have this but the MORE people you end up losing will also mean more that succeed. Everybody looked at scores of fast runners in the 70's that trained hard and burned out but people seem to overlook that the number of guys who persevered and succeeded were greater also. Its a numbers game. Harder training in high school will have to correllate to greater numbers of frustrated runners down the road, but the payoff will be a greater number of fast ones who succeed.
Mead H.S. is in Washington, just thought you should know....
I like Fredo's use of the term "sink or swim", because it can prove a point about American running. While we may not be the most successful when it comes to distance running, I believe it is all about training and dedication, and only a small part about genetics.
I'd like to compare running to swimming.
Since I've been down with an achilles injury, I swim with a local master's group 4 days a week. We get to the pool at 5:00 am, so we can be out by 6:00. Why? So that the local high school swim club can be in the water by 6:00, for their 2 hour practice (during the school year, they "only" swim 75 minutes before school). They swim again in the late afternoon. These kids are putting in 2-4 hours per day of swimming. This program has produced many, many collegiate swimmers and several Olympians. Competition to be on the squad is fierce, and these kids can MOVE. They are determined, train hard, they win. Yet the xc team, compared to the swim team here is a joke. Imagine if during the summer, the xc team was doing 2 a days? How good would they be?
Ever notice how every 4 years, the US swim team kicks some serious ass? Notice how many times, there are 16-18 year olds who are on the team?
I don't the answer, but I can say that other sports in the US seem to have figured out ways to produce world class athletes straight out of high school, athletes who get better in college and are world champions in their early to mid 20's.
Maybe track and field could learn a lesson or two from swimming?
Actually, few high school runners go on to run in college anyway, whether they're pushed hard in high school or not, but that wasn't my point. The point is that if you start thinking about how many last into and beyond college you're going to water down what you do and dilute your competitiveness. It may turn out that in the very long term this is a good thing as more kids will stay healthier into adulthood because they've stayed in the sport ( a questionable proposition in my opinion). But we're not talking about producing healthier adults here. We're talking about producing more top level distance runners. If you push high school kids really hard in the sport a lot will drop out, but they do anyway. And a few of the survivors may reach a higher level than we've been reaching.
Most of what everyone is saying makes so much sense. What really gets me is that we have the best development system in the world. Maybe not the best techniques, which I believe really hurts us, but we have the best overall system. Look at how many kids we have running. Millions in high school I would venture to say. Out of that group the top few thousand go on to college and run there. What other countries have this. That is why American distance running is a joke. Other countries see what we have here and laugh since we cant produce squat. A lot of people think that American distance running in on the rise. Its NOT! So we have some good college runners, big deal. Until they proove themselves in the world scene we shouldnt hype them up.
Here is my proposal:
First, we need more youth clubs. We need to start gaining interest in kids starting at age 5-7. Every other sport does it so why the heck cant we. Technique and form is key. Kids need to learn how to race early and need to have good form early on. Not enough high school coaches teach this. If you look at how much sprinters work on their form, well distance runners need to work on it their form just as much.
Second, we need more educated coaches. We need coaches who are willing to push kids to reach their potential. On my high school team we had probably 7 guys who could have been at 9:50 or below come their senior years, but they didnt train hard enough. We had two of the seven actually break 10. I attribute this to not having a coach push us. My coach said he wanted to make sure we didnt burn out and he wanted us to run well in college. Funny thing is is that out of those seven guys I am the only one running in college and I regret not putting in more mileage in high school. So to reiterate my point, we need better coaching.
Third, we need more MILEAGE! Africans kick our asses every day. They all have great bases to work from. This in turn keeps them injury free and able to push harder every day. An example of this in the h.s./college system is York H.S., especially Don Sage. Sage has never truly been hurt. He runs 100+ mpw during his base training, as do many of his ex-York teammates. they arent afraid to do more mileage than everyone else, and in return that team has won 20+ state championships.
I could list off many more but I believe that these our are main concerns. We need more young kids starting earlier. We need to teach them technique. We need more educated coaches that arent afraid to push their kids. We also need more mileage. We need more and more h.s. kids and college kids pushing their mileage up. There is no reason why 60-70% of h.s. kids cant run 75-85 mpw coming into their senior year. If they had a smart coach who could help them build every year they could run more mileage and stay healthy. There are molds for success out there, unfortunately they get torn down more than looked at and put into use by other coaches.
That is all. Peace.