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The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

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  • The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

    Results of the Japan and US Olympic Marathon Trials:
    Japan USA
    2:08:18 2:11:42
    2:08:36 2:11:47
    2:08:56 2:12:02
    2:09:25 2:12:35
    2:09:55 2:14:37
    2:10:07 2:15:03
    2:11:01 2:15:18
    2:11:42 2:15:36
    2:12:11 2:15:44
    2:12:15 2:16:27

    Two different races under different conditions. But the contrast is startling. And says a lot about the state of distance running in the United States in general.
    The Japanese race had foreigners and rabbits. Fine. But it also is not the definitive trials – there is a selection committee. So the best runners, e.g. Top 3 finishers at Fukuoka Kunichika, Suwa and Takaoka (who all ran under 2:08), did not even attend these trials. The average time for the top 40 Japanese runners (not times, runners) in 2003 was 2:11:44, while the average time for the top 9 US runners was 2:14:28 (the average for the top 9 Japanese was 2:08:27).
    Japan is a crowded country w/ half the population of the US, and people with a lifestyle that is as unhealthy as anywhere else in the developed world. They have been in a recession for the past 12 years effectively, so corporate sponsorship money is doled out sparingly, if at all.
    Which begs the question, why can the US not produce runners of a global caliber?
    2 reasons:
    1) Indoor Track - In every other city in the world, the major athletics facilities are built with a football (soccer) pitch surrounded by a track. This is standard. In every other country in the world, there effectively is no indoor track season.
    By contrast, in the US, most major outdoor athletic faculties are built to accommodate american football. This has been happening in every major urban area, almost without exception. So the only way to have a serious, world class athletics meet in the city (and therefore convenient to a larger population), is to have it at the one place that can accommodate this – indoor facilities. The result is that the US has this over-hyped indoor track apparatus that is CLEARLY not in the best interest of developing athletes’ talents, but it is the only way the sport can attract $, because every sponsor knows nobody is going to drive 2-3 hours out to a world class facility in the middle of nowhere. A sponsor gets much more bang per buck w/ an indoor meet than they ever would with an outdoor meet.

    2) “Training to train” - I notice recurring comments among US runners is “I did this workout, so I am ready”. Baloney. Nobody cares what workouts you did. You never read about the workouts of runners from other nations. They understand that training is a means to winning races. Bill Dellinger used to admonish his charges not to leave their best races on Tuesday’s practice track. In Jim Spivey’s recent comments on this website, he mentioned a runner who showed him his workouts and Jim realized this guy had amazing talent. However, who cares how fast he did 12x400m – he was not ready on race day, most of the time. Jeff Atkinson’s comments on the 1500 and racing – another salient point about how so many runners take each race too seriously, do not train through to their target races, and do not focus on competing.

    Unless there is a de-emphasis of the indoor track industry, a creation of world-class outdoor facilities in urban areas, and a move to a selection committee format, distance running progress in the US will be limited to the efforts and talents of individual runners (which is formidable), rather than the deep resources pools that are available.

  • #2
    Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

    That indoor track is "over-hyped" is news to me. Has the Tyson parking lot been crawling with scalpers?

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

      Old Hack-

      Very good observations and I agree. I would also add that US runners need more focus and planning. Focus on specific meets - as you said racing for training is fine, but trying to run a dozen or more PEAK PERFORMANCE RACES a year is too much. Planning should be done over four-year cycles not just 4-month cycles.

      And, you're absolutely right - it doesn't matter how fast/hard you train. Each training session should have purpose. If you have an easy session planned and you say "I feel good so Im going to hammer" or you let a recover session result in running 5:40s instead of 6:40s that's stupid. Stick to the plan and save the hard sessions for the hard days.

      Cross should be a prep season for track, and indoors should only be done if it fits into the plan for the serious outdoor season - don't make it fit. There is a reason Krum (probably the best trained mid-distance runner in the US) skipped indoors this year. He learns from mistakes.

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      • #4
        Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

        We've been trying to "answer" this question for years. I agree with magpie: the indoor season is hardly "over-hyped." Indoor track has been dying a slow, pathetic death in the US for at least 25 years. Indoor track is a symptom of the larger problem, not a cause of it.

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        • #5
          Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

          >We've been trying to "answer" this question for years. I agree with magpie:
          >the indoor season is hardly "over-hyped." Indoor track has been dying a
          >slow, pathetic death in the US for at least 25 years. Indoor track is a
          >symptom of the larger problem, not a cause of it.>

          I agree about indoor track. It has nothing to do with the problem of US distance running.

          To the original posters and regarding the Japan marathon trials vs. US marathon trials - ever been to Japan? Ever spoken to anyone in Japan - particularly while a major marathon in Japan is either about to or just has taken place? It's a little different there than it is in the US. It's a major event. There is great interest in the marathon in Japan (much more so than the sport of track and field in general).

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

            'Unless there is a de-emphasis of the indoor track industry, a creation of world-class outdoor facilities in urban areas...'

            Old Hack are you deaf and blind? As to your first point indoor track in this country is so de-emphasised, compared to just a decade ago, that it is a joke. And as to your second point how many outdoor tracks do you think Kenya or Ethiopia have, in comparison to the richness at most universities and high schools in this country? Univeristies that are primarily in urban areas.

            Finally, for your last point, selection by committee. Whom would they choose that it would make a difference? I would choose Geb or Bekele, who by the way both raced indoors, but unfortunately they are not available to run for the good old USA.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

              Do you know that the world:s best outdoor 200m runners have typically showed up for the indoor world champs? I disagree that there is effectively no indoor season in most countries. Swedish track and field (www.friidrott.se) did an analysis of Johan Wissman:s 200m silver from Budapest, and showed that:

              Johan:s time of 20.72 would namely have also given him silver in 89, 91, 95, 01 and 03, gold in 87, bronze in 93 and 97 also a 4th place in 99.

              Swedish track and field raised the question that perhaps that shows that the best 200m runners have never cared about running in the indoor world champs, and have concentrated instead on outdoors.

              They concluded that the best test of this hypothesis was to analyze the correlation between the final field in both the indoors and outdoors world champs held the same year.

              They concluded that looking at the four most recent world champs, one will see that:

              1997: #1 and #4 outdoors were in the indoor world champs final!
              1999: #3, #4, #6 and #8!
              2001: #2, #3, #5 and #7!
              2003: None.

              Looking also at the years 1987, 1991, 1993 and 1995 will show that 2, 1, 1 resp 2 outdoor finalists were also in the indoor finals.

              The hypothesis that the 200m elites usually systematically disregard the indoor world champs has no ground in reality.

              So show me where indoors is either a dead-horse or a dying breed. Why do you think we are all online checking out the major invites, nationals, and world champs? Because it provides great competition, terrific story lines and is part of our past times.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

                I don't understand what your point is. For a couple decades now, indoor track has been dying in the US and on the rise in Europe. No mystery here at all.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

                  cyril, you are right, recovery runs should be to recover, but in reality what happens on college teams, is the coach will say go easy, just cover the miles, however with 20 or so runners one feels they have to lead and the others dont want to let him go, so eventually the pace is too fast to talk and the runners get strung out like a race. i always thought it was strange that the best runner in america at the time bill rodgers said he did most of his running at about 7 minutes per mile, while a local junior college would always be a lot faster than that, until the runners got broken. the one runner who rarely finished at the front of distance runs, won state at occ and ran about 14 and 29 at uci, while most of the runners at coast ran 32-33 minute 10ks, but ran that everyday. the top runner at coast told me to run easy with him for a couple of weeks on distance runs, but go hard on track workouts, i did this, we talked the whole distance run and my times went from about 16 and 33 to 15.17 and 32.11 for the 5 and 10 k, and our top runner gus won state in the 10k nearly lapping the field

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

                    I've gotta agree with the rest of these guy about indoors. What the hey iz you talking about?

                    In Japan, the marathon is a big deal. Japanese corporations have marathon teams and the runners are paid quite well to train and race. They even hire foreigners. The average guy on the street knows the marathon.

                    You're comparing apples and oranges.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

                      Dutra:
                      I lived in Asia for 11 years and have been to Japan more times than I can count. I am familiar w/ the situation there - the majority of the population does not follow running. But it is relatively more popular.

                      I believe one reason for Japanese success is the fact that resources are pooled on a large efficient club/corporate scale, rather than runners being left to their own devices to secure income. The success of the Hansons group, as well as other running groups (The Florida Track Club or The Los Angeles Track Club to name a few programs from the "shamateur" era when there were *no* resources) shows how pooled resources will result in better performances for athletes who participate in that group.

                      As to indoor track - my point is there are limited resources for the sport, and they are being squandered on indoor meets at the cost of athlete development (and outdoor success), because given the current infrastructure of the US, indoor is the most rational bet for the corporate sponsor. The situation has to get to the point where 1) athletes pool resources on a much larger scale than currenlty exists (resulting in deeper performances and therefore more interest), and 2) sponsors believe they will get more exposure by betting on a popular competitive outdoor meet, rather than a meet in January.

                      All of this change requires leadership at the highest level to stop treating the sport like a cottage industry that relies on the efforts of devoted but underpaid individuals.

                      Prize money at the NCAA champs? Why not...

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

                        >Dutra:
                        I lived in Asia for 11 years and have been to Japan more times than I
                        >can count. I am familiar w/ the situation there - the majority of the
                        >population does not follow running. But it is relatively more popular.>

                        I speak to people in Japan on a daily basis. Every one of them can talk relatively fluently about whichever marathon or marathoner is current. You might also say the majority of US citizens don't follow baseball, basketball or football but the vast majority of sports fans can speak about those sports fairly well. It's like night and day. It's a big deal in Japan. What's not to understand about that?

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

                          >I don't understand what your point is. For a couple decades now, indoor track
                          >has been dying in the US and on the rise in Europe. No mystery here at all.

                          I am simply disagreeing that "In every other country in the world, there effectively is no indoor track season." I know there is no significant indoor season in the USA - there is no question there. The writer stated that there is basically no indoor season at all in most of the world.

                          With the number of 200m outdoor world championship finalists showing up, qualifying and running the indoor finals, it shows me that indoors is an important stage of at least their own preparations. Again, this doesn t reflect whether distance running is down or not in the USA, it just states that with their representation, this idea of "every other country in the world, there effectively is no indoor track season" is not true.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: The Problem w/ Distance Running in the US

                            Doug-

                            The fact that in reality guys get "competitive" on easy days is a reflection of coaching. Kids should be educated as to the reason for each workout. The fun of running is competition and kids like to compete - even on easy runs, even though it may be couterproductive to the goals for the season and for seasons to come. It is fun to finish an easy 10 with a very fast 2 miles. Fun but to smart.

                            Look at the attraction of Pre. Run hard always - race every race all-out is his legacy. That is what kids pickup. The macho attitude. While there is something to be said for being tough, they must also be smart.

                            So again, coaches must be educated, kids must trust the coach and kids must be taught the "whys" for each session.

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