(Some of you might find Ma Junren contradictory and offensive ideas)
New Studies in Athletics
Issue No. 4, December 1993.
NSA Interview –3
By Rolf von der Laage (GER)
NSA: The phenomenal standard of performances in the middle and long distances by Chinese women during the IAAF WC in Stuttgart as well as during the Chinese games in Beijing only a month later, sent shockwaves around the world, How do you explain this rapid development?
MJ: After I was demobilized from the Army in 1970, I took part in a short term sports faculties training class and later became a sports teacher at the 55th Middle School situated in a mountainous area 40 km from Anshan City, Liaoning Province. I cycled to school everyday to train my students who were too poor to afford shoes and ran bare footed. After a few months of training they triumphed in local competitions. When I was transferred ton the 29th Middle School I could already rely on my experiences and also began to train women in middle and long distance athletes. This was also the time of my daily studies of books, magazines and all scientific material available from all over the world on the subject of middle and long distance training. I experimented, had successes and many failures, but never gave up. After 15years of work and numerous achievements, I was named a professional athletics coach atthe Anshan City Sports School. There I began the current national and world champions, whom I had recruited from the various spare time sports schools.
I can say that my key to success lies in two elements: selection of the runners and development of the skills. All the runners I chose are from rural areas in Liaoning Province. They are used to enduring difficulties. Otherwise, how could they bear to run the equivalent of a marathon a day at high altitude? Who else in the world does this? Furthermore, I keep all my runners away from disturbing influences. They are runners and they have to train to improve their performances. They have to follow my advice with dedication and not think of things other than running and performing well. This is my philosophy and it is proven by success.
NSA: Are your training methods based on any particular philosophy?
MJ: In the 1980’s I found that most of the training methods used by our coaches were outdated copies of those used in Europe in the 1950’s. Therefore, I frequently went to international meetings to observe advanced running skills. Moreover, I started research for my own running theory, I studied various training theories of well-known coaches from Australia and New Zealand, from the USA, from Great Britain, Sweden, Hungary and Germany. Besides learning about the various theories on training load and frequency, aerobic and anaerobic training, endurance, speed-endurance and speed training, it was interesting to learn that there were thoughts that women might be especially suited for endurance sports. This is something which is confirmed by the situation in my country. Moreover, I think that running skill is a very important factor. Therefore I went back to nature to study the harmonious and easy way animals use to move. Whenever I had the chance to go to a zoo, I observed the walking and running skills of different animals. To help my athletes improve running skills I often took them to the roadside to watch horses, donkeys and dogs run. I also studied the running skills of ostrich and deer and tried to adopt them in training. It is from the deer and ostrich that I found the key to success in distance running.
In general, one can say that I tried to adopt the experiences of many successful coaches of the past, combined these experiences with my own, studied carefully the opinions of the world’s best sports scientists and studied animals as well. Out of all this knowledge I tried to develop my own training theory taking into consideration all the environmental factors, traditional living attitudes and sport supporting pre-conditions in my country and in my province Liaoning.
NSA: Of what importance is centralized training within your theory?
MJ: Centralized training is of great importance: the coach must be able to control everything in the life of his athletes. As you know, I prefer the spartan life with my girls because it is that which protects them from seeking other pleasures in life. These young athletes are professionals. Thus, they should not even think about things other than their aim to be even better. My relentless training regime is the foundation of our success. I myself get up at 4:30 am everyday and prepare a chicken soup for my runners which they drink when they get up at 5:30 am. Training stars before 6:00 am with gymnastics and gentle jogging before my athletes set off for their morning run of between 25 and 30 km depending on the individual demands. Also, the pace over the different parts of the distance differs from athlete to athlete. In preparation for the World Marathon Cup, for instance, Wang Junxia had to run more km ata faster pace than Zhang Linli or Zhang Lirong. They, in turn, had to follow a higher loaded program than the middle distance runners.
After breakfast, washing up and laundry, the girls do their studies which include English and Mathematics. Lunch is at 12 noon. Those athletes who are under particular strain have to drink the fresh blood of soft shelled turtles which I myself have beheaded. Strict rest is maintained until 3 pm and we meet for training again at3:30 pm. This time rather than run on roads, we train on a exactly measured grass track with an undulating surface. We only work out on a cinder track once a week and only on a track with an artificial surface just prior to very important track races.
Dinner time is at 6 pm. After dinner is spare time which is used for physiotherapy. Bedtime is 9 p.m. Some medical doctors say that the stress these girls are under may be well above the normal tolerance range, but I think that my program and our way of life will do little serious harm to my athletes.
NSA: High altitude training seems to play an important role in your training program. Could you please tell us more about it?
MJ: Altitude training is perhaps the major factor in our success. I believe that 30 to 40 days is an ideal period. One month high, one month low, this how we can put it. I do not want to go into details. But I will say that the period after coming down from altitude before competition is also very important. The period of time is different from middle distance runners than for long distance runners. In China we have many possibilities for altitude training. I prefer two places, Qinghai Province (2400 m) and Kunming (2000 m).
NSA: You mentioned that the runners undergo a physiotherapy program daily. How is this conducted and what others means of medical care are taken?
MJ: My training loads demand good physiotherapy . The roads on which the girls have to run are hard and the padding in their shoes wears out easily. I myself do the physiotherapy with massages, electric massages and acupressure to aid the girls recovery. I use acupuncture on their injuries. I know a lot about Chinese herb medicine as well and so make full use this to strengthen the girls health and to treat them in case of injury or illness. It depends very much on the type of injury, but in many cases the girls have to continue with their training. Nature heals, of course and if they stop for injury, the fat they put on in a week takes four weeks to get of.
NSA: Please give us some idea of the girls’ daily diet.
MJ: You can take food as a delicacy and you can take food under the aspect of its nutritive value and power. I pay very close attention to the second. I put together the menu for my runners myself and even go to the market personally to select what should be prepared. The meals must be well balanced between carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, vitamins and trace elements. It is a science of its own to find the right balance for the different grades of training load and training types. During high altitude training we have to look for nutrition that helps in the production of red blood cells. To this end we use several nutrients and special Chinese medicines. Westerners and many Chinese might find the taste of our dishes repellent and the appearance unfamiliar but my runners eat it dutifully.
NSA: Where do you find your future athletes; how do you select them?
MJ: As I have already explained, we have many sports schools both in China and in Liaoning Province in particular. It is this type of schools where I look for talent and where I also advise coaches-teachers on how to support those athletes which I think could, after some time, make my group. I look for skill and a personal background, which promises endurance qualities. One finds this with athletes who have a rural, peasant background. Life in the country is hard. They have been used to running long distances since they were small. Their mothers think nothing of trudging 20 km to market with heavy baskets on their shoulders.
The father of Wang Jungxia, for instance, is a poor fisherman, 54 years old. Junxia helped him fish when she was a child. From the boat she dived into the water and scared the fishes into her father’s net. During her spare time she took part in sport with the boys of the village and it was soon discovered that the boys were no faster nor more persevering that Junxia. Her talents were noticed in school as well and at the age of 12 she became a member of the local spare time school. She was transferred to the Unlien Boarding Sport School at 15. She liked this life very much and was very obedient because it was much better than athome, where 5 persons of her family had to share two rooms furnished only poorly.
Even poorer is the family of Qu Yunxia. Her father is a peasant worker. The family of six was living in a two-roomed mud hut. Yunxia ran 6 km every morning to her primary school and the same distance home again. All of it barefoot because she had no shoes. When at the age of 12 she was invited to attend a specialist sport school because of her running abilities, her father had to sell his prize possession, the family’s only pig to buy her running shoes.
In general, what we need are talents with an endurance background. Such girls are also mentally prepared for enduring difficulties and setbacks on their long way up to the top. Such girls really want that way of life and the burden that is loaded on them. And we must not forget running skills, the ability to run in an easy and natural way, when we select talents. Just look at how many lng distance runners move, they simply do not know how to run. We see it even at the Wchamps and OG. There was, and still is a philosophy among many coaches that: If you are too slow for a shorter distance go to the longer ones, for atthe longer distances you do not need running skill”.This is completely wrong! Just think of how much ground you lose, how much time you spend in vain if you have no running skill, if you do not know how to run forward.
Once you have found the talent, you must treat it carefully. You must find a way to develop it which best suits each individual. The athlete’s aim is to be outstanding one day; this is what you want too. Thus, always have an eye on that target. You and the athlete must be patient. A gradual build up takes time. All disturbing influences must be kept away from the athletes. In my view a spartan way of life is the best way to reach it. A spartan way of life allied to the most appropriate training program. True, we have many talents in China, as soon as one falls aside due to permanent injury or illness or burn-out, there are another 30 to step in. But, if you think of the individual sacrifices the talented athletes are making on their way to the top, if you think of all your time and work involved you will be as careful as the athletes to be obedient and dedicated.
NSA: The rapid development in middle and long distance running in China at present (1993) mainly comprises the women’s events, why?
MJ: The answer is closely connected to the historical and socio-cultural background of men and women in Chinese society. The position of women in Chinese society is similar to many societies in many countries: a woman is a minor being in comparison to man, a man is always superior to a woman. Thus, women have to be more obedient, more modest, more easily satisfied than a man. They have learnt to undergo a harder way of life to carry heavier burdens and to be more patient. Patient is a typical feminine quality. This attribute is clearly connected to the general idea of endurance. We must also consider psychological, physiological and bio-chemical peculiarities when discussing the idea of endurance in its complexity. All this qualities are more developed by nature in women. That is why I agree with the theories that women are born and more developed for endurance tasks in life and thus also in sport."
(This interview is longer, but I have cut some things not related to the subject)