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|Note ... The following article was submitted to TullyRunners by John Raucci on March 7, 2005 ... it is a fairly long web-article, so you may want to copy it and paste it into your favorite word processing program for printing, font changes, saving, etc ... I found the article very interesting and thought others would be interested in reading it ... Bill Meylan (TullyRunners.com)|
Josh McDougal is a Perfect Example of What is Wrong With High School Track
by John Raucci
I was at the Albany First Night Run where my two sons Joe and Dave ran. After the race, two Bethlehem High cross country and track graduates, Pat Shaffer and Evan Savage, came up to me and started conversing. Both were injured and unable to run in their freshman year of college throughout Cross Country and now into their Indoor Track seasons. Pat, at that time, told me something that went through me like a knife. He said, "Josh McDougal is the perfect example of what is wrong with High School Track". I assumed he meant that, the High School system by which we train and compete, is flawed and ends up in the destruction of many kids' careers - especially the more elite runners. I train the kids at Red Hook and some from Rhinebeck in the off-season, and I have been doing so for the past 5 years, and I knew that Pat was correct. Now, Josh is beating people who were ahead of him two and three years ago by 2+ minutes. Recently, he defeated Alan Webb and came within seconds of Tim Broe in a nationally acclaimed 4K race. He has been relatively injury free although not entirely, but far better than the non-home-schooled kids. He seems to improve gracefully whereas many others seem to grapple with injury and/or settle for small performance gains. That at least appears to be the trend.
I decided that night that I must write this article as an offering to all runners, coaches, and parents of runners in New York. The purpose of this article is to make us conscious of issues that are at the moment a blip on the screen - those issues that I believe lay behind Pat's statement. This article is not written in conjunction with anyone else including Josh, nor is it endorsed by anyone at the moment. It is simply a compilation of my own thoughts, experience, and research over the past five years. Long distance runners are of a special breed. They work hard, and receive little recognition.
I live an hour south of Albany. On the three local news stations, there are consistent and daily videotape highlights of football and basketball. It took the Saratoga girls to win a National Cross Country Championship to squeeze out 10 seconds on the Nightly News - the only 10 seconds devoted to running that I saw all Fall. How much work did it take to win that championship? How many hours day and night, winter and summer, did those girls train on those lonely upstate roads? I bet one could not count the investment, the dedication. If such athletes cannot be given recognition at least in relation to their effort, I believe they should be given good information, the kind of information that will help them reach their potential. It is in that spirit that I write this article.
As I see it, there are five problems with the way we train our runners, not only in New York, but also throughout the nation. None of the five are easy to correct because running, like so much else, is encumbered by cultural standards that not only impede progress, but also lead us to sickness and injury. The five problems thrive because of our culture. In any case, bringing the five to light is a first step to health and realization of potential. The five are as follows: the problem of running shoes, the problem of breathing, the problem of anaerobic activity, the problem of nutrition, and the problem of mind/body integration.
If the Shoe Fits - Beware of It
Last year, I spoke with Josh McDougal's father, Rob, about his sons' training. He mentioned that both Josh and Jordan trained in flats or lightweight shoes and on trails up in the North Country. They did not use heavy training shoes. This is very significant, as we will come to see. Not long ago I had a conversation with Marist College running coach Pete Colaizzo about the issue of shoes (my older son Joe runs for Marist). He mentioned that studies have shown that the more expensive, the more engineered, and the more cushioned the shoe, the more likelihood of there being a running injury. This really made sense to me. I had often been told by coaches and runners alike, that if you run too many miles, you get hurt. When I asked why that would be, I never got a clear answer.
Certain Native American tribes ran as a way of life - hundreds of miles a week, year after year. There were no reports of injury. So from that, I sensed that something other than the running is behind the injury problem. Native American Indians ran with bare feet or in moccasins that are essentially a thin but rugged material covering the foot. Moccasins allow foot muscles to flex in ways that modern footwear does not. In addition, Africans run without shoes (until they get really good and snare a contract from Nike).
At the Footlocker Regional two years ago, I spoke with NY Federation Champ Lopez Lomong. I asked how he trained in Africa. He assured me that it was without shoes. I asked him why he wears shoes now. He said, "It's the Law", meaning he was forced into shoes in order to run in High School. He was unhappy with having to wear shoes, but submitted in any case. If anyone has observed Lopez Lomong or Dominick Luka, it would be almost impossible to fail to recognize how efficient they both were and are. At the State Meet last year, Luka won in 1:51 for the 800 meters and Lomong in 4:10 for the mile. When they run, they appear rather to sail. They land lightly on the balls of their feet and spring vigorously from the ground with each step. Neither has a rapid turnover, but both have enormous strides. Their power comes from their feet. Their foot muscles are strong and well developed from their African heritage. Africans engage their feet while in motion whereas Americans are compelled to draw power from their legs that can never quite substitute for weakness in the feet.
If we recall, Hakon DeVries started off as the stronger runner in New York. But as his High School years went on, injuries took their toll and the Africans came up powerful in the end. Prior to the Footlocker in 2003, I spoke with Hakon and his coach and asked that they look into the issue of barefoot running. At Stanford University where Hakon would eventually attend, reports circulated that the Cross Country team was beginning to incorporate barefoot running into their training. I have not yet seen confirmation of that practice, but, Nike in conjunction with Stanford designed the Nike Free shoe, which was "supposed" to mimic barefoot motion.
Hakon relied upon orthotics after his first stress fracture. I have never seen a case whereby orthotics has helped a runner, but I have seen about 20 in which injuries to runners were multiplied after the use of orthotic inserts. Orthotics are meant to correct an obvious misalignment. They can fail because making one adjustment does little when a whole system of muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments are out of whack. By correcting one problem, the entire system is often thrown off worse than before.
What then precisely is the problem with shoes? I mention shoes here because that is where the problem begins. For many reasons, the human foot was designed to come into direct contact with the ground. There are many nerve endings in the foot, which are in effect massaged when touching the ground, thus bringing a benefit to virtually every organ in the body. Shoes prevent us from feeling the ground. In addition, they cramp toes and weaken foot muscles whose function is thwarted by the shoe. When the muscles in the forefoot are weakened, we lose our ability to spread our toes. This forces our feet to overly rely on the mid-foot muscles, which in turn draw heavily upon the ankles, and so on up the leg. Should there be a heel (any size heel on a shoe), the entire body is misaligned; calf muscles are forced to shorten to compensate from the rise in the heel, and even the internal organs must re-adjust as the body is now standing at an angle.
Any scientific research in this area confirms that shoes are behind ill health effects. In Haiti for example, of the non-shoe wearing population, 3% have foot, leg and back problems, whereas 75% of the shoe wearing population report problems in those areas. When we arrive at cushioned running shoes, problems are compounded. Not only do we no longer feel the landing, but we are lulled into a false sense of comfort with each step arising from the cushioning - hence the increased likelihood for injury. When our feet contact the ground directly, we automatically adjust our landing. If we land too hard, we will feel pain. Thus, the pain would guide us as to how to land. This issue becomes even clearer if we observe gymnasts. They land on cushioned mats, and they are prone to an enormous incidence of injury. On the other hand, ballet dancers, who land on hard wooden floors with minimal ballet shoes, develop great power in their feet, ankles and legs, and are much less prone to injury.
Barefoot running in effect teaches us to land lightly, and this is a form of efficiency found in Africans, but virtually non-existent in Americans from what I have seen. Americans crash their feet into the ground because their feet cannot see. They are blindfolded by the cushioning. Americans are oblivious to what is going on. I first noticed this at the NCAA Regional Cross-Country Final in Boston at Franklin Park two years ago. Iona's Kiplagat, an African, won the 10K in under 30 minutes. Like Luka and Lomong, he landed his feet like a feather. Likewise, he sprung up after each landing due to powerful muscular strength coming from his feet. When I watched the Americans, the difference was clear. Can you imagine how much energy is wasted when one crashes his foot into the ground?
When studies were done to try to understand why Africans have emerged as leaders in long distance running, it was found that between Africans and Westerners, there are no inherent genetic differences. That means Africans have made their gains through differences related to their culture. They are poorer, walk around shoeless, and lack the kind of technology that allows us to sit around or drive etc. - hence they are better at running - a simple formula. Pounding or shock to the legs, which leads to injury, does not come from running as we all have been told. By landing lightly on the ball of the foot, and flexing the leg, the shock is naturally distributed and dissipated by the body's own shock absorbers.
If pounding should come from running in and of itself, Native American Indians would have spent countless hours with the Medicine Man rather than out there running their 300+ miles a week, and podiatry would be the fastest growing occupation in Africa. Pounding comes from the shoes, which inhibit our natural ability to discern how to land our feet. I am certain the running community does not have a monopoly on this problem. I believe that basketball shoes, tennis shoes, etc. etc. are equally as guilty.
Four years ago, Red Hook XC coach Greg Rafferty handed me an article by the late Arthur Lydiard - the so-called "father of modern training" and coach of a great number of world-class athletes and Olympic champions. Coach Rafferty was concerned that I was pushing my son David too much in training, and he was correct. In the article, Lydiard severely criticized the way we Americans train our runners. One of his criticisms was over running shoes. He said that they virtually destroy our ability to use our feet properly. He went on to say that if our shoes allowed our foot muscles to develop, it would amount to a difference of one minute in a 10K. Last June, my sons Joe and David ran the Orange County 10K. My son David was fortunate enough to win an age group medal in that race. Bill Rogers, who himself ran in the race, in fact awarded the medals. For that, David got into a 20-minute conversation with Bill who is very personable. Bill told David that he reached his peak in running when he did 135 miles per week.
This actually corresponded with Lydiard's training. Arthur Lydiard said that by experience, he found that his runners performed best when they did 100 miles per week with an additional 40 to 50 miles of jogging. It was said of Bill Rogers that if one were to run beside him, they would not be able to hear the sound of his feet hitting the ground. Frank Shorter, who had a foot injury, adjusted his style of running in order not to worsen the injury. In so doing, he began to land extremely lightly on his feet. Shorter, Rogers, and Lydiard's champions could all manage the long weekly mileage. They ran in the days when shoes were just a piece of rubber under the feet. They all developed strength in their feet. Lydiard in fact always worked to strengthen the feet of his runners, and he always taught that foot strength was intimately linked to speed.
Today we think of long mileage as the prime causal factor in running injuries. It is not the mileage. It is the way we run. If we run improperly for 20 miles a week, and then do 120, of course we will get hurt. The trick is to run correctly, and then the sky is the limit. Barefoot running teaches us correct running form, and correct running efficiency. There is no substitute. The greats in the past and the Africans of today were and are, plain and simply, just more efficient. And the shoes of the past were muscle friendly compared to the shoes of today.
The McDougals wore flats or lightweight shoes in their training, and ran on trails. This gave them an advantage and helped them no doubt escape injuries that their running contemporaries could not avoid. I believe they would have done better barefoot as do the Africans, but flats do allow foot muscles to function much better than heavily cushioned training shoes. By avoiding injury, the McDougals could keep improving. Injuries put wedges in running development and often end careers.
You may ask how is it possible to run barefoot here in the USA. We might step on things, the weather can be too cold or too hot etc, etc. Well, simply speaking, it becomes a matter of will. If we want to, we can. We have to use some wisdom, some discretion, but we can do it. In Red Hook, over the past summer, we started in the fields around the High School. We began like babies running 5 to 10 minutes a day barefoot, and then increasing day by day as the summer went on. We were engaging muscles in the feet that had been sleeping for years, and we had to be patient. We worked with about 15 runners from Red Hook and Rhinebeck. At first, it all seemed so strange. Within a few weeks, virtually no one wanted to go back to wearing shoes. Soon, we were all spreading our toes, a sign that we were regaining lost muscle strength in the forefoot. We all became accustomed to the cool, wet morning grass, and our feet felt so light.
My sons Joe and Dave, who had practiced barefoot over the winter indoors, got up to 126 and 135 miles per week respectively - a feat that would have been impossible in shoes. They both encountered some difficulty, but they made it to the fall cross country season healthier than ever. By August, we acquired an incredible ally - Nike. They came out with Nike Free - the barefoot running shoe. In their ad for the shoe, they all but admitted that barefoot running was best, and then their clever marketers managed to squeeze in the fact that we cannot run barefoot in America; so we have to buy their $85 shoe. Yes - that's what they're banking on - our fear, our inability to transcend our culture, but their own research confirms the fact that they have been misleading people for years with their cushioned running shoes, which, now by their own admission, should be our last choice--after no shoes at all and then the Nike Free. (I call it the Nike Slave because any shoe enslaves the foot). Yes, there are concerns with training barefoot, but unless we face this issue head on, we will continue to trail the Africans and/or keep moving over to the sideline in casts.
Hold Your Breath
Five years ago, my son David as an eighth-grader began running on the Red Hook Varsity. In his first track season, he developed pneumonia a month into the season. In his second year on the track team as a freshman, his body broke down midway into the track season, and his performances worsened dramatically as the season proceeded. In seeking answers as to why David was having difficulty in track, I was told that very simply, he was a victim of overtraining. That might have made sense except for the fact that Coach Rafferty, by his own admission, tended towards undertraining - an idea I would come more to appreciate as time went on. As I pressed further, the trail led to a strange place. I concluded that David was breathing improperly. The problem there was that David's method of breathing was essentially no different than anyone else's - through the mouth, and into the upper chest for the most part, and about 45 breaths per minute in a competitive race. Yet, I became certain that that was the problem. Needless to say, my conclusion drew little support from any within the running community here, and it got me a lot of funny looks.
There is nothing more natural than breathing, so much so that we do not think about it. And, when we have been breathing a certain way for a long time, we prefer not to think about it. Yet, as a society, we tend to breathe incorrectly, and nowhere is this more pronounced, and with clearly negative consequences, than in the arena of Track and Field.
If we observe a newborn, we notice that breathing occurs deeply, and in and out through the nose. If we observe the animal kingdom, we see that likewise breathing occurs in and out through the nose. Even mighty racehorses that run like the wind breathe through the nose. If there is anything striking about the creation, it lies in the fact that all created entities are unique, that there is no duplication. Even as we teach, no two snowflakes are alike. This could not be truer in the case of the nose and the mouth. Each is designed uniquely in order to fulfill a task or tasks. The nose is designed for breathing. That is not at all the case with the mouth. The nose prepares the air for the lungs. If it is cold outside, it warms the air, if it is dry, it humidifies the air and all vice versa, whatever it takes to make a smooth entry into the lungs. The nose even has a set of turbines, which push the air into the diaphragm portion of the lungs. The mouth is certainly capable of taking air in, but completely incapable of behaving with any sort of efficiency when it comes to respiration. Because mouth breathing appears to work, we do not give it any thought, but I believe this is a major cause of illness for runners, and of a clear linkage to muscle, tendon, and bone injury.
Any good study of physiology will promote nasal breathing and discourage mouth breathing. In Ukraine, a man by the name of Doctor Buyteko did a variety of significant studies from the mid-sixties onwards related to asthma. He discovered that asthma and its symptoms could be eradicated through proper breathing. He considered proper breathing to be in and out through the nose, and taking place at a slow rate. By teaching this type of breathing, he was able to eliminate the need for asthma drugs, and his treatment became accepted throughout all of Russia.
Connected with Buyteko's study was a detailed investigation of the significance of carbon dioxide. He understood CO2 to be the chief component of all energy production within the human body, and even more vital than oxygen for purposes of energy transformations. (In America, CO2 is thought of as a waste product). Subsequent research confirms without a doubt that Buteyko's conclusions over CO2 were sound, as noted especially by eminent physiologist Ray Peat. When we run long and hard here in America, we are often obsessed with the need to take in oxygen, and at the same time, oblivious to the fact that any rapid intake of oxygen depletes the carbon dioxide reserves we possess within, thus bringing energy production to a halt (stopping us in our tracks). Breathing in and out through the mouth causes us to take in heaps of oxygen but at the same time blow out huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Oxygen is plentiful in the air, so we can take in vast quantities without difficulty. However, CO2 is manufactured by our bodies, and when we breathe heavily through the mouth, we eliminate it faster than we can produce it, leaving our bodies and its blood vessels saturated with oxygen. This is the typical state of a High School long distance runner especially towards the latter part of a race. When blood vessels contain oxygen with just traces of carbon dioxide, the oxygen cannot enter into the tissues. It clings to the blood. That is why heavy breathing is powerless to restore us to a steady state.
In and of itself, heavy breathing in and out through the mouth contributes immensely to perpetuating the state of fatigue, which ultimately requires that we just shut everything down. When we breathe in and out through the nose, we take in small amounts of oxygen, and let out small amounts of carbon dioxide, all of which helps the body to retain balance (the nostrils are obviously quite small). When we run hard, we never need near the amount of oxygen we think we need. We are used to taking in a lot of oxygen, but we are in fact better off without it. If there's one thing we do need more of, it is balance, and for that we need oxygen and carbon dioxide levels to correspond with one another, never for one to eliminate the other.
According to international standards, optimum breathing for a human being at rest is 6 breaths per minute. That's all. When breathing takes place at that rate, carbon dioxide is retained by the body in sufficient quantities, and human health is enhanced. My three sons were all diagnosed with asthma and given inhalers. When we studied the issue of correct breathing, we trained ourselves to breathe slowly, deeply into the diaphragm, and in and out through the nose. In a short time, we got rid of the inhalers, and never came at all close to having an attack of asthma.
While training, we would breathe about 15 breaths per minute, and try to carry that rate even into races. In the summer of 2002, the entire Red Hook cross country team switched to nasal breathing. It was very difficult to do and required a summer's training to effectively complete the transition. At the outset, all runners felt like they were suffocating, and had to slow their training paces significantly. Over time, everyone reported a sense of increased energy levels, and rapid recovery after hard workouts. That year, the team moved into the B class and made it to the States for the first time ever as a B class team. They finished eighth at the State Meet - the highest ever achieved in their school history. Last year, in 2004, remnants of that 2002 Cross Country team combined with two newcomers and formed a 4x8 team, which made it to the State Meet with a number one state ranking in the B Division. Breathing predominantly through the nose, that team was primed to challenge Lomong and Luka for the State Championship, when one runner came down with the flu. Red Hook, which led at first in the race, wound up with a third place finishing in 8:06, nevertheless breaking the prior school record by 17 seconds.
I do not report this to declare that nasal breathing, slowly and deeply into the diaphragm will create champions in the moment. In fact, it may slow the rate of one's ability to improve. This is certainly the belief of my son David that his progress has slowed after switching to nasal breathing, which he did after his freshman year. It certainly eliminates the possibility of fast starts in any race, because any initial rapid movement will put a nose breather into oxygen debt. Nevertheless, nasal breathing sets the stage for an overall pattern of good health thus providing for a future in the sport that might otherwise be cut short. David's health improved dramatically since he switched. He not only had no problem making it through subsequent track seasons, but missed only one day of school due to illness in the last three years, and that is unusual for a runner who trains 365 days a year. Neither he nor his brothers will ever again return to mouth breathing. Should they breathe through the mouth, they immediately come to sense a more rapid heart beat, increased levels of lactic acid (which build incredibly when oxygen cannot be released from blood to tissues), and an overall stress level which they have been able to avoid for the last three years.
I strongly recommend that everyone connected with the sport of running read John Douillard's "Mind, Body, and Sport". John, a former triathlete, and director of player development for the New Jersey Nets, practices Ayurvedic and Chiropractic sports medicine in Colorado. He has trained prominent athletes in a variety of sports. He is immensely concerned with the issue of breathing. In his book, he explains that it is through control of our breathing that we bring our minds and bodies together, an issue we will take up later. John explains that the body possesses the sympathetic nervous system, which is considered the fight or flight system preparing us to face emergencies, and the parasympathetic nervous system which allows the body to function normally and efficiently upon the basis of a calm and relaxed state of being.
Blood vessels associated with the sympathetic nervous system are located in the upper portion of the lungs, while those associated with the parasympathetic nervous system are found in the lower portion of the lungs. Thus, breathing through the mouth into the upper chest activates the sympathetic nervous system, and places the body into a stress mode. On the other hand, breathing through the nose into the lower portion of the lungs activates the parasympathetic nervous system and serves to bring calm to the body even in the midst of intense activity.
When the body is under stress, it is not only inefficient, but it gets into a pattern whereby the introduction of certain enzymes and chemical reactions are in effect tearing the body down. This is no problem if a stressful reaction to a true danger is called for as when we see a snake in the woods perhaps. Such dangers would occur only once in a while over the course of a lifetime. But, to be under stress (adrenaline rush) every time we go to the starting line is just out and out unhealthy. Racing is not a life and death situation.
Professional football players live an average of 56 years due in part to these adrenaline rushes they put themselves through with every practice and every game. The body is not built to treat every moment as if it were life and death. It will just break down. Through our breathing, we can train our bodies to relax, even in the midst of a race.
As a freshman at Marist, my older son Joe would breathe slowly into the diaphragm and through the nose. He always looked as if he were taking it easy. Sometimes while Joe raced, from the sidelines his teammates (and/or other spectators that support Marist) would tell him to breathe through his mouth and work hard. Had it been a year or so earlier, I might have been screaming at him myself. However, Joe was in fact working as hard as he could, but he looked so relaxed.
Within our society, it is quite difficult to understand how one may be giving it his all, yet appearing calm and peaceful. As time went on, Joe improved, as one would expect of a college runner despite appearances. What no one realized is that Joe trained himself over a number of years to make his gains through balance and relaxation rather than through stress. He is by no means a champion runner, but nevertheless a good runner, and he is extremely healthy, nor has he ever experienced a medical problem or major injury due to running.
What is most fascinating about Douillard is his sense of breathing efficiency. He teaches that if breathing were to be done correctly, we would automatically slow our breathing as the intensity of our activity picks up. In order words, the faster we run, the slower we breathe. This is because, the air, during intense activity, needs time to reach the lowest lobes of the lungs, and a more efficient exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide also requires more time. When we find ourselves panting, the heart is beating too fast, and the blood is rushing through our lungs. It's like a train flying through a station without giving time for passengers to get off or board. The heart should beat slowly, allowing the blood to move carefully through the lungs such that the exchange can take place fully and perfectly.
Douillard goes on to teach that anaerobic activity in and of itself is not only inefficient, but unnecessary for the most part. He understands it to be a learned activity whereby we have come to associate stress with improved performance. He trains his athletes simply to unlearn such an association and teach the body how it can do far more when relaxed than when under turmoil, and here he has a lot of physiological support. He also has a host of success with his clients as well as numerous testimonies from the world's greatest athletes who verify Douillard's research with only one difference. They refer to such stress-less performance as being "in the zone". For Douillard, being in the zone is not a quirk but rather the norm if we behave in a truly natural way. The key to being in the zone for Douillard begins with control of one's breathing. It concludes with the bringing together of the mind and the body, such that each works to fulfill the desire of the other.
I said earlier that improper breathing is linked to illness and injury. Simply speaking, when we
breathe improperly we damage the immune system. This makes us vulnerable to illness. Secondly, when we breathe improperly, we thrust enormous and needless stress upon the body such that the repair mechanisms in the body are either delayed or shut down, hence muscle, tendon, and ligament or bone injury.
Native American Indians, who would run endlessly, maintained nasal breathing in conjunction with their culture. Some tribes used a form tape to cover the mouths of children during sleep in order to enforce the habit of breathing through the nose. Other tribes taught their young to run long distances while holding a gulp of water in their mouths. Such a practice would make it so breathing could be done only through the nose. In addition, as the water remained in the mouth, it would gradually evaporate thus providing the body with a source of hydration. And not one Native American attended Harvard Medical School! Such practice undoubtedly contributed to the longevity of this activity among many tribes throughout the Americas.
Among the Red Hook runners, we sometimes took daily pulses. What I observed was after a hard workout or race day, a runner who breathed through the mouth would have a heart rate increase of 10 to 15 beats per minute from one day to the next. However, when breathing was undertaken through the nose, the rate of increase would amount to a mere one to four beats higher. I myself was shocked to witness this. Nevertheless, this is a hidden pearl for those who have ears to hear!
There is a medical term for the problem we are dealing with here. It is called hyperventilation, or overbreathing. According to Buteyko's research, hyperventilation is connected with almost every human illness conceivable. Runners commonly hyperventilate without giving it any thought, but it is like a slow poison that eats away at us over time.
I do not believe that Josh, breathes through the nose. But on the other hand, I have rarely seen him run a race without maintaining control of his breathing. In addition, as he was never subjected to the rigors of an Indoor and Outdoor High School Track Season, he could avoid the kind of heavy anaerobic training which thrusts one into the habit of rapid breathing. In other words, Josh's emphasis upon aerobic training allowed his body to accustom itself to a slower, fuller type of breathing which kept him better in balance, strengthened his immune system, and allowed his own muscle repair mechanisms to function more normally. There is nothing more central to running and life itself for that matter, than the issue of breathing. We all need to seriously study human respiration and no longer just take it for granted that we are all doing the right thing when we take in air.
Breakdown or Breakthrough
In a recent conversation with Josh McDougal, he told me that we should study the
ways the Europeans and Africans develop their runners as opposed to the way we
do it here. Josh is apparently becoming a student of running as well as a
champion, and I felt he was on the right track when he points to the Africans
and Europeans. In America we emphasize anaerobic (interval training) from early
on, and we give such training a place of centrality throughout High School and
Arthur Lydiard is highly critical of the American system. He teaches that by emphasizing anaerobic training, we are destroying the potential of our runners. According to Lydiard, anaerobic activity alters the bodies PH levels (acid vs. alkaline), and leads to a physical breakdown over time. What’s more, he boldly states that anaerobic training does nothing at all to enhance performance, nor does it increase human speed. (He sees speed development as a factor of increased muscle strength due to resistance running such as hill training). Anaerobic training simply teaches how to run in oxygen debt.
Lydiard goes on to say that anaerobic activity ultimately makes us run slower, due to stresses which compromise running form. He calls anaerobic training a limiting factor. He claims that the U.S. will never create champions on the international level unless anaerobic activity is significantly decreased and controlled. Though Lydiard is neither a scientist nor a well-educated physical trainer, I am afraid he has hit the nail on the head. If anyone doubts this, just look at the Africans. They run long, to and from school, and into their late teens before they race. Their aerobic thresholds go far beyond those of the U.S. runners. Lydiard teaches that when we run long, our bodies build capillaries, which fuel the muscles. The system of such capillary development has no limit and we can build billions and billions over time. When the body is subjected to anaerobic activity, it does all it can do to cope with the stress, and it grapples with recovery and repair.
When we go along aerobically, the body adapts and brings cardiovascular activity to higher and higher levels. There is no substitute for aerobic activity, and as Lydiard claims--once we conclude aerobic training, our performance level is set. In other words, it is solely through aerobic activity that we improve performance.
Some may see progress on the part of High School runners when they train anaerobically. However, I believe we should not confuse that progress with high aerobic thresholds to start off with, growth spurts, and improvements in coping with lactic acid production. Such a perspective as Lydiard's is an indictment upon the entire U.S. system of training. However, more than anything else, it explains why Josh has emerged and others fall flat or backwards. Josh was not subjected to the grueling High School schedule whereby six months a year are devoted to Track and the other three to Cross Country. Josh and Jordan were able to work at their own pace where they would practice more so at aerobic activity through their teens. They selected certain track events and races from time to time, but this was but a fraction of the typical High School anaerobic activity associated with practices and the racing schedule.
Marist College Track Coach Peter Colaizzo told me on various occasions that College Running involves one season too many. If this is the case for College, how much more so would it apply to High School where kids are younger and going through their years of growth.
It seemed like yesterday when I stood at the finish line at the Footlocker Cross Country Regional at Van Cortland Park. It was three years ago, and Josh as a High School junior, jumped into the lead pack of the seeded race, only to falter at the very end and fall to ninth place and out of list of national qualifiers. He could not help but to appear to be so broken hearted as he came so close to fulfilling a dream. I approached him and asked why he was so sad. I told him that he should never be so consumed by this one small moment, and that he among the others had much to look forward to in the future. I do not believe he was able to appreciate what I saw in that moment. But in this moment, there is not one among those who defeated him who could now come even
close to him in a race.
It is my sense that by participating in the High School system of running, those competitors unknowingly traded their future for that present. For Josh, it was the opposite. He is now blossoming whereas many of his competitors are struggling. As Lydiard teaches, the key to distance running is simply the extension of one's aerobic threshold. And the key to extending that threshold is the development of capillaries. And it is aerobic activity and no other which accounts for this aspect of cardiovascular development.
At the finish of the 4 X 8 at the New York State Meet last year, Lopez Lomong and Dominick Luka went up on the stand to collect their First Place medals. When I looked at their legs, I saw this bulging mass of blood vessels. It wasn't what I would call a pretty sight, but nevertheless, it was the mark a true long distance runner and champion. I believe they built up their blood capacity through years of African aerobic running.
A number of years ago, my own son David as a Middle School student started to feel pride as he saw development of his calf muscles. However, over time, that development was soon to be overshadowed by the continual and consistent appearance of veins and arteries in David's legs. It is just the way the body works if we let it. It will find a way to cope with our running. If we run long, it will simply create passages for the blood to help sustain the activity.
When Bill Rodgers spoke to David over the summer, he emphasized that he was not such a great runner in High School, that his 2 mile was a 9:37 which would be lucky to put him at 15th in a State Meet of today. However, over time with consistent running, Rodgers was able to break through. He never quite knew why or how he could come to stand with the best in the world. But I believe that he simply followed the pattern we are speaking of here. He was able to perform an abundance of aerobic activity sometimes carrying him to two hundred miles per week. And if he had reached a higher level in High School, he probably would have damaged himself so as to block his future development, and his attainment of his potential.
Look at Jim Ryun who ran a 3:55 mile in High School. Who would have dreamed that he had just about peaked there as a teenager? He would only run 4 seconds faster as he came to be plagued by illness and injury. Just recently, Alan Webb competed at the Millrose games where he ran a 4:00 indoor mile, a second slower than his best High School indoor mile of three years ago. Our athletes take one step forward and two steps back. True development takes time and cannot be rushed. As Lydiard would want us to understand, we build capillaries over time, and not at all over intervals.
I sense that there is no way to avoid the long run. Many innovative track training programs try to create shortcuts whereby we can arrive at being a champion by fitting into scientific schedules and fulfilling certain repetitive time trials over prescribed distances. We no doubt can always find a way to improve through such programs, but I do not think we can ever replace going long.
For Lydiard, the long run was the center of his system of training. He trained both middle distance and long distance runners with marathon type training. Can you imagine that? He had half milers running 100 to 150 miles per week. But his half milers were not ordinary half milers. They were the best in the world. He made them so.
When all sports are analyzed in terms of aerobic benefit, it is said that none can rival Cross Country Skiing. Those with the greatest aerobic threshold in the world are in fact cross country skiers. Some have been measured in terms of Max VO2 to be significantly higher than Lance Armstrong. When I thought about this, I asked myself why a sport like swimming, which utilizes every muscle in the body, couldn’t produce equal levels of Max VO2 measurements. I concluded that it is because Cross Country Skiing lends itself to going long. One can get on those skis, and move around all day long. One may go from village to village, town to town, and spend countless hours in transit. Other sports do not lend themselves to this all day type of activity.
Even great runners may simply train for an hour a day. The body simply adapts itself to extended aerobic activity, by thrusting forward its own aerobic threshold. Anyone in any sport can reap such a benefit by going long.
Nothing is more bewildering to me than the fact that we in the American running community do not take Arthur Lydiard seriously when he criticizes our own training methods and racing programs. As one may infer from the beginning of this article, I am not too fond of the shoe manufacturers of this world, yet Lydiard is one shoemaker I have come to cherish. He made running history, and created a slew of world champions simply by observing his own self and the sport in general. If there is anything to be inherited from him, it is just that. We should all pay better attention to what is going on. When Lydiard teaches that running performance can only be improved through aerobic activity, he has a host of physiological support. If we factor in the Africans, it should be clear that aerobic running, especially through the developmental years, is the key to the creation of true and healthy champions.
But it is Lydiard's treatment of anaerobic activity that should really make us ponder. We in America associate the building of speed with anaerobic activity. For Lydiard, nothing could be further from the truth. In the final years of his life, he traveled throughout the world chastising coaches and trainers who linked speed to anaerobic training. It does appear that we become faster after interval training. But in reality, we are not faster at all. We simply apply the speed we possess when we run with oxygen to a running that we do without oxygen. We train the body to go faster longer, but we are not at all faster.
Lydiard constantly emphasized speed work when he trained his runners, but that speed work had nothing to do with anaerobic activity. Lydiard rather focused upon building strength in the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the feet and legs. Lydiard never obsessed with how fast his runners could run, but rather that they could have access to the speed they were born with when it came time in a race.
If we should doubt Lydiard's expertise in this area, we may first want to consult with Steve Prefontaine. Of course Steve has passed away, but at the 5K in the 1972 Munich Olympics, Steve put on a most awesome kick as he led the pack with 600 meters to go. Although he gave it his all of alls, still, he was blown away by Lasse Viren who happened to be coached by, yes, Arthur Lydiard. In fact, Steve's coach, American coaching icon, Bill Bowerman, made it a point to spend time in New Zealand to learn from Lydiard and not the other way around.
When we link anaerobic training to speed, we mistakenly justify an activity that is both physically and mentally destructive. Lydiard constantly taught that the key to creating champions lay in the control of anaerobic training. He understood that peaking could be reached in a short period of time, and that backing off at that point allowed runners to race for months and be at their best.
Lydiard mastered this practice of backing off. Furthermore, he continually counterbalanced racing activity with a heavy emphasis on jogging, thus maintaining and strengthening aerobic power when it did not seem to be called for. While other coaches are sometimes obsessed with continual and persistent anaerobic activity, Lydiard always managed to keep his eye on the ball. He stressed aerobic activity even during racing cycles. He was aware that losing aerobic power meant losing everything.
I have to add some personal thought here about peaking. Since I have been working with the local runners, I am not sure if I have heard any single word spoken more often. Everyone seems to be concerned with this elusive element, which must somehow come together at exactly a certain moment for a certain race etc., and no one is ever quite sure if we are really there or not.
When we begin to falter, we often hear language such that we peaked too early. The language itself is extremely shallow, and shortsighted in my opinion. There are actually two peaks. One is the aerobic peak. This peak can be extended virtually ad infinitum, simply by virtue of consistent aerobic activity. It accounts for why some runners in their 30's and 40's run better than they did in their youth. This threshold however, cannot be extended during periods where we train anaerobically. That's why Lydiard declares that our performance level is established once we conclude our aerobic activity. The second peak is the one we are all referring to, which is the anaerobic peak. The body simply practices to generate energy without oxygen, and gets better at doing it over time. At some point, it reaches a threshold, the anaerobic threshold. However, unlike the aerobic threshold, there is a limit to the anaerobic threshold.
Human Beings can only go so far without oxygen, and we can never keep pushing that threshold forward, because ultimately, we will need oxygen in order to function. Lydiard wondered why U.S. coaches kept trying to push forward a threshold, which has obvious limits. Once reached, any efforts to continue anaerobic training will only serve to cause performance levels to decline and sometimes rapidly so. I have seen an incredible amount of flatness among High School runners related to this issue. I have even seen cases where runners have done better as say a junior than they have as a senior. The body will simply not allow us to perform anaerobically for extended periods of time without rebelling. I believe it is the body's way of telling us that such activity is detrimental.
That we have access to such energy does not mean that producing such energy is good. The body sometimes knows better what is good for it. So the body's shutting down of that mode of energy production should make us all aware that producing anaerobic energy brings negative consequences. Otherwise, it would never have to be shut down. This would not be the case if such production were done in those rare moments when we need access to enormous amounts of energy in a flash as in a life and death situation. Training and racing are not situations of life or death. So we are in reality improperly applying that means of energy production to athletics.
Conversely, the body thrives upon aerobic activity and will allow us to peak and peak further and further in terms of the aerobic threshold. I am not saying here that we should do away with anaerobic activity completely. But I am saying that we should gradually come to view anaerobic activity for what it is - inefficient at best, and unhealthy as we apply it. And correspondingly, we should endeavor over time to replace this form of energy production with, as John Douillard teaches, the natural and stress-less forms we all have access to when integrate all the components of our spiritual and physical humanity.
Lydiard devoted the final years of his life by attempting to give us all a wake up call. I trust his judgment because it corresponds exactly to what I have observed within High School Running as well as the greater USA Track and Field Community. Our long distance runners in general do not reach their potential. To begin to solve this problem, we may all need to take some strong medicine, and stop worrying about this or that race, but rather, what is best for the long term.
Eat a Lot – A Lot of What?
A number of years ago, I stood at the Saratoga Section Course where my sons were
running in the Junior Olympics. Josh McDougal's father came up to me and
declared that his sons had all switched to vegetarian diets. He stated that
since they made the transition, their energy levels shot through the roof. I
have no doubt that Josh's diet plays a large role in his success. I also believe
that it is not just what Josh is eating, but also what he is avoiding that can
be so very beneficial--that is processed food.
A number of months ago, ABC news medical consultant Dr. Tim Johnson did a segment on nutrition. The topic was the changing food pyramid whereby the U.S. government prescribes a certain diet and then for some ungodly reason prescribes the very opposite of what it has painstakingly backed for years and years. Dr. Tim Johnson explained such changes by pointing out that the U.S. government is a victim of economic forces, which, through lobbyists, sway the government to promote one food over another simply for the purpose of financial gain. In fact, I believe such motivation is behind the bulk of information we get about nutrition. According to Dr. Johnson, in consideration of the circumstances whereby so many selfish interests are in control of so much information, he suggests that everyone must research about nutrition on their own and come to their own conclusions. This is a sad commentary, but nevertheless accurate and courageous advice as Dr. Johnson's own employers, and ABC, are no doubt linked to many selfish interests within the realm of advertising. So, let's take his advise, and invest by researching on out own.
Runners need to eat a lot to replenish energy. They need fuel. But what is best to eat? I am not a nutritionist, but for the purposes of this article, I want to share two general points that I have researched for myself and feel have brought benefit to my running family. First of all, whatever we do, we should always seek balance, and balance is best served when we eat a variety of foods that are found within nature. Secondly, runners must always pay attention to what is affecting them at the cellular level. That is from whence energy arises, aerobic pathways come into play, and also where the repair of muscle tissue takes place.
Chemicals, and preservatives are not found naturally in foods, but because they are so foreign, the liver often has some means of identifying them and eliminating them (of course, we don't want to overwork the liver). Trans fats are man-made fats, but unlike chemicals and preservatives, they mimic actual fats and make it virtually impossible for the body to recognize and eliminate them. They compromise cellular functions, make it quite difficult for respiration to occur on the cellular level, and stress the body enormously in an overall way. Avoid them!
On the other hand, saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats are found in nature and should all be taken in balance. This is contrary to so much that we have been told until recently. Saturated fats should not be avoided as we were led to believe. The body itself is composed mostly of saturated fats. To eliminate them or reduce their intake too much can cause health problems. Coconut oil is an excellent source of saturated fats, and promotes cellular respiration. Most importantly, it delays the onset of lactic acid production. Some consider it the healthiest oil in the world. My family has been taking coconut oil for a number of years now with good results in terms of health and running benefits. Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fats, and salmon or sardines provide a good source of polyunsaturated fats.
Fats are important for energy and proper cellular function, and the right combination can do wonders for athletes. Again, because of selfish interests, the reality of the benefits of good fats has been manipulated due to the market place, and diets are often lacking in an overall balance because of such misinformation. This creates problems for runners. Salt is everywhere in the American food supply as well as sugar. Again, this creates imbalance. We should look at food contents and avoid too much salt or sugar. In the case of my family, we eat a lot of bananas. They contain potassium, and this helps to balance the overabundance of salt (sodium) in the food supply. We do not need to avoid carbohydrates at all. They are found in nature, and we need them for balance.
Meats and poultry would be no problem if they were raised naturally. However, American livestock are often mis-fed for purposes related to the market. Native Americans thrived on Buffalo meat without getting heart attacks and strokes. But in our time, eating mis-fed meat and poultry can put our own bodies in a state of dysfunction and imbalance. Considering what's out there, one does not need to be a scientist to sense that Josh and Jordan are on the right track in terms of their diets.
Doctor Buyteko noticed that processed foods stimulated breathing; the kind of fast breathing that disturbs the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, we can go a long time by eating improperly, just like breathing improperly before we sense that anything is wrong. But it will catch up with us, and when it does, we may have to pay a hefty price.
Mind and Body – For or Against One Another?
Among all that we have brought up within this article, nothing is more vital and
at the same time more elusive than the issue of the integration between the mind
and the body. I find myself somewhat reluctant to deal with this issue because
it is so very foreign to Western Culture. As a result, we come to hear bits and
pieces of what in reality is the substance of life. By substance I mean that
neither one word nor deed can ever come about without the coming together in
some way of the mind and the body.
Mind and Body were created to exist in a certain orderly fashion. Ideally, the mind being invisible and internal is in the position of cause. Ideally, the body being visible and external is in the position of effect or result. Mind and body are separate entities with differing purposes. The mind concerns with the wider picture, others, the world, and our place in the world. The body is concerned with its own comfort and security.
As men and women on the earth, our task is to bring both our minds and bodies together. And therein lies the key to the realization of one's athletic potential. As John Douillard so beautifully explains, we have to teach the body how to comfortably perform in accordance with and towards the fulfillment of the minds desire. We essentially accomplish that by teaching the body how to perform at higher and higher levels while remaining in a zone of comfort. This corresponds well with Lydiard's experience whereby he sees aerobic activity as the fundamental means behind athletic development. Being in the zone occurs when spectacular athletic feats are achieved effortlessly. In other words, the desire of the mind to perform an athletic goal is brought about in accordance with the body's ability to simultaneously remain at peace.
As the mind and body become one, they will spontaneously center upon something greater, and that something in the highest sense, is goodness or virtue, or for some, the Ultimate or God. In the case of an athlete it means taking all of God's given gifts and using them to the fullest. We run a great race only because God put that ability within us, and we as responsible beings on the earth, bring such an ability to fruition. The good here, the virtuous here, is the realization of one's potential.
At the highest levels of this sport and among many other sports, there is a growing sense of realization related to the power of the mind, working in conjunction with the body, and human achievement. Such techniques as visualization are becoming increasingly popular. However, no one expressed such an association better than Roger Bannister after he broke the Four Minute Mile against all the declarations by experts, scientists and otherwise, who pronounced the body to be physiologically incapable of such a feat. Bannister remarked, "Though physiology may indicate respiratory and circulatory limits to muscular effort, psychological and other factors beyond the ken of physiology set the razor's edge of defeat or victory and determine how close an athlete approaches the absolute limits of performance". The key words for me in Bannister's statement are "other factors". I sense he is also alluding to those invisible and maybe even intangible entities such as Spirit, Mind and Body integration, and perhaps even God.
In America, we tend to compartmentalize and isolate elements because it seems to make reality more sensible. When children attend elementary school, we offer physical education. The words themselves mislead us into thinking that we can somehow educate our physical aspect in and of itself. We cannot. If we take away the mind, we will never educate the body. All education involves the training of the mind and body. Failing to understand this contributes heavily to the kinds of inner conflicts all of us wish to avoid.
When a runner is trained to fight his body, to fight fatigue, this is the path to inner conflict. While such fighting can be viewed as noble in certain circumstances, it nevertheless cannot be sustained over time. "Burn out" arises from such an inner conflict over a period of time. The only way to sustain a long career is to bring the mind and body together so that they are on the same page, such that they work in harmony for the achievement of a goal. In order to realize such a harmony, a serious training is necessary, and as such is as vital as running around the track. The results of this type of training will naturally go far beyond the sport of running. They will carry over into life and human relationships.
What I am saying may seem like just words to some, but there is a depth here that requires time and patience to penetrate. Unfortunately, such a penetration may go beyond the scope of this article, but should nevertheless be approached in subsequent writing. Josh and Jordan seem to be very religious. Religion, in and of itself, is significant, in that it appeals to the mind to think in a certain way, and then sets sight upon the body such that words and deeds can flow in a harmonious accordance with the mind. The practice of Religion can be a way to bring a kind of order within the mind/body dynamic, which is so often volatile otherwise. When I speak of Religion, I speak of no Religion in particular. In my experience, most, whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu etc., seem to do something inside of us that is unique, and beneficial, especially when connected with athletic striving. I sense that Josh and Jordan are running for some higher purpose. And I believe that, as such, this will only serve to enhance their performance as time goes on.
I'm guessing there will be many who will say that this article is a lot of
hogwash. Others might say it was a long time in coming. In any case, we all have
to contend with the fact that someone like Josh, was able to sidestep the
mountainous composite of coaching experience found within the New York High
School Community, and move up to the level of a national phenomenon before our
very eyes. He is surpassing so many runners who have been coached by incredibly
gifted and experienced coaches.
I do believe that we have to re-evaluate our methods of coaching. However, I see this as one aspect of something bigger. Track coaches are often the hardest working of coaches of any sport. They are decent people, and I personally have never met one that I did not like. However, they too must contend with a system, which is centered upon competition at the expense of development. In addition, we all have before us the educational and medical communities, which are fundamentally failing to teach even simple basics as to how to breathe or how to take care of our feet, or what to eat, let alone, the concept of mind/body integration. This is compounded by the fact that from everywhere around us, we are being bombarded with the notion that only through stress can we begin to attain high performance levels. Such a notion extends far beyond sports, but to school, the job etc.
So, with that, I conclude that it is up to each of us to raise the consciousness of one another as to what, and what not is good, for our young athletes. And therein lies any value that this article may have. Whether we think of it or not, we must race not only against one another, but also against those elements within our culture which would cut us down in our prime if we don't see them coming.
... (John's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org )