Are you inspired by Alex Vero's ambitions, or slightly insulted?

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22/03/2008 at 11:49

No if you look back 50 or 60 years you see runners of the ilk of Sydney Woolerston, Gordon Pirie, and Jim Peters a marathon trailbalzer in the same way as Paula has been - not forgetting Bannister, Brasher an Chattaway -

And those guys were running times that many of us can't to this day - when was the last time we had guys running under 28 minutes for 10K - a long time with any regularity .

22/03/2008 at 12:10

Barnsleyrunner wrote (see)

To continue that theme - both hilly and I have achieved a reasonable standard for now (2:56 for a woman and 2:42 for a man). We both believe we would have been quicker had we not spent our 20s smoking (in both cases) and drinking beer and eating pies (in my case). That decade of bodily abuse is costing us now, in the same way that a decade of eating rubbish would affect a British 20 year old trying to compete with an African 20 year old raised on a more natural diet.

One thing we do have is the advantage that we both walked / cycled to school and as children were not ferried everywhere in parents' cars (in fact my Dad never had a car so I biked everywhere) which has probably stood us in good stead when we took up running in our late 20s.

I`ve often wondered whether the diet thing is over-hyped. The `African` diet enjoyed by the majority of African runners when growing up was dreadful - both in terms of quality and very often quantity. Maize porridge has its good points but eating it three times/day (if lucky) will not produce an elite runner.

I do think there is something in the childhood exercise idea. I have a theory (absolutely no empirical evidence to support) that if someone gains a high`ish level of fitness as a child - it`s always there. Conversely - if that basic fitness isn`t acquired early on, you will never be super-fit as an adult.

The reason why British runners ( elites AND club runners) are not running as fast as they used to, at the risk of being controversial, pretty obvious. The volume and intensity of training is less (although no doubt many would take issue with me on this point).

The more interesting question, for me at least, is why are people training less hard ? The answer I suppose, is mutli-factorial. The decrying of competitiveness in our schools and in society in general (the flat race was banned at my kids` primary school - in other `competitions`, steps are taken to ensure everyone gets a prize); the `listen to your body` mentality; the number of other distractions; computer games, and perhaps as BR points out, diet does play a part.

What I find staggering is that in 2008 there are so many apparently scientific theories about how to run well, embracing everything from core strength exercises to diet to oxygen tents via God knows how many (perfectly legal) supplements - but the quality of running - from top to bottom - is significantly worse than it was 30 years ago.

Perhaps, at the end of the day we`re just too soft ?

Edited: 22/03/2008 at 12:11
22/03/2008 at 13:48

"Maize porridge has its good points but eating it three times/day (if lucky) will not produce an elite runner."

...It clearly does produce elite runners.

People (Some) in this country  might eat healthily, but even then the majority (me included) eat too much. You can have too much of a good thing.

Remember the "can you pinch more than an inch" advert? How many (adults and children) would pass that today? (be honest look at the non runners around you, and a lot of runners). When i was a child ('70s) people who would be considered of normal weight today, would have been laughed at for being fat. And they WOULD have been laughed at, not given sympathy and another pie!

But i agree about childhood fitness, the runners that say it took 6+ yrs to reach their level, was that from being totally sedentry? Like the people who have to be lifted out of their homes by cranes? Or were they active children, playing football with a tennis ball (for instance) every breaktime?

22/03/2008 at 13:48

<!--[endif]-->Taking the blame for being soft is probably too harsh.

There are many people spending vast sums of money to persuade us to be on the sofa, watching sport on TV, stuffing pizza and beer into face. There are many people spending enormous time money and effort deciding what your children will buy next Christmas. <!--[if !supportEmptyParas]-->These pressures weren’t there years ago, and certainly not to the same extent.

It seems to me that the Sporting bodies are happy to promote Spectatorship in sport for the masses in order to fund the Participation for the elite. <!--[if !supportEmptyParas]-->I think the reverse should be the case but it is probably too late to reverse - we've gone along with it for too long.

There was a good article in the Grauniad about these issues based on Coe's comments about Finns and medals.,,1829999,00.html

Edited: 22/03/2008 at 13:53
22/03/2008 at 14:01

If someones influenced by the media to sit on their arses and do nothing, that means they're weak minded, and therefore soft.

But i don't think the media things true, there's plenty of propaganda out there encouraging people to lead healthy lives, and fit in that dress, but people want the quick fix, and they might fix "it" for one summer, and then next year they start all over again.

It's not that in the past, people didn't want to sit about eating lard, it's that they didn't have a choice.

22/03/2008 at 14:14

You dont understand the point. 

There are enormous financial incentives to change people's behaviour to being spectators.  Whether or not you think that is being soft those pressures were not there before.  Well done if you think you are "strong" - I think you just dont know how the world works.

The structure of sport has changed from being a particapation oriented activity to being a spectator activity. T his seems to be accepted by the politicians who are happy to let school playgrounds to be sold etc

22/03/2008 at 14:46

I don't think i'm strong, i think i'm normal.

You are weak. If you are influenced by adverts.

I know how the world works, it works because gullible people can be persuaded to do things they wouldn't otherwise have done. They said on the radio earlier that children are worse behaved in school now than 5 yrs ago (god forbid), and they blamed it on parents giving in to their childs every whim at home. So "they" might be investing millions to decide what your children will want next christmas, but it only works because weak minded people, who havn't brought their kids up properly, let it work.

22/03/2008 at 20:17

I'd be interested in Mike B's views on why even today's UK elite don't match the performances of their equivalents 20-30 years ago.

What would it take for a current UK runner to break Steve Jones's record ? harder training,better standard of competition etc -or would he have needed to be much more active and ate a more spartan diet from boyhood to have had a chance.

As a 2.29 runner who clearly works extremely hard ,it will be interesting to hear his view on the most important factors in running world-class marathon times.

22/03/2008 at 21:47

MikeS - re your post earlier...

I am of a similar generation to you and I too remember the chip pan.  Although the chips were home made and thicker, containing less fat, than the French Fries lots of kids eat now.  On the days we did not have chips we tended to have a stew based on the fresh veg my Dad brought home from his friends at the market.  The stew was based on a stock cube, not thick creamy sauces.

Although sweets were readily available in my home these were treats and not part of the staple diet kids of today seem to have.  Again, our treats were brought home from the market in the way of an orange.

Re. the `smuts'.  I guess if people were brought up in an industrial area then this might be the case (although I am told that the industrial area of Hull smelt of fish, not smoke) but for me, brought up in the Welsh valleys, the rolling hills were my playground, with no fresher air than that

Generally there are lots of fair points being made here, but my general impression (not empirical evidence) is that the lifestyle 30 years ago was more conducive to producing fitter people than it is now.

As a contrast, when I was bringing up my kids in the 1990s, with a higher disposable income and me out at work (unlike my mother) meals were sometimes fast food, sport was seen as being less competitive and more of a pastime in schools and although both my sons have played sport to a professional level, I am sure that had they turned to running rather than football, they would have been disadvantaged by the `easy' lifestyle I could provide at that time compared to my childhood.  They got driven to school and to football practices whereas when I raced XC at school I would walk home afterwards.

Therefore I feel that a bit of all these factors come into play, and it is just where you choose to place the emphasis.

22/03/2008 at 21:54

Can anyone really prove (or even believe) that the top 50 runners in the UK today train any less hard that the top 50 runners 20 years ago?

At my previous club I know of at least 5 runners running 90+ mpw.  None of them `eilte' standard - a couple national standard.  It's just that the pool of runners willing to put in that work is smaller as other sports draw away from the talent available from athletics.  It's the same with cricket, as sports requiring a lot of dedication and effort for little monetary gain (apart from a handful at the very top) lose out to the more `glamorous' sports like football.

Also, if you look at magazines aimed at younger men, it's the lifestyle `sports' like kayaking and triathlons and adventure sports which require a higher disposable income and emphasise the challenge of completing the event rather than beating the opposition.

22/03/2008 at 22:25

A lot of talk about us being slower than we were 30 years ago - up until 1979 the British womens marathon record was 2.50 - you can't judge the standard of UK women's distance running as a whole by the record but looking at that figure it's hard to believe that our women runners have got slower as a group.    Be interesting to see if explanations given for the men getting slower stand up to the challenge of explaining why the women haven't.

Also there's an old boy in Derby called Arthur Keily - he ran for GB in the Rome Olympic marathon in 1960 and set a British record of 2.27.      Just shows that when we talk about us getting slower that is only in relation to the golden period of the 70s-90s.  

22/03/2008 at 22:46

Popsider -  the point you seem to be making is that when there are fewer people taking part the overall standard is slower.  As you know far fewer women even attempted the marathon distance in the 1970s as there are fewer men running 90+ mile weeks now.

 Given your knowledge of cycling would you say that overall standards are higher or lower in that sport now compared to the 1980s?

22/03/2008 at 23:31

I agree with Mike S; I'm not sure diet or lifestyle play an overiding role. And yes, I do think 'they' meaning  elite runners trained harder in the 80's. That's not meaning to undermine the hard work of the average club runner though.

(Not posted or run for ages. Don't like looking at the RW posts(  )

22/03/2008 at 23:33
BR, no-one can prove training regimes were more intense 30yrs ago.
22/03/2008 at 23:36

Treadmill - what is your understanding of how elite runners training harder in the 80s?  Is it more miles?  Faster pace? Both?

As a medical man, can you suggest a way of quantifying the effect of diet and lifestyle?

Sorry to hear you are injured.  Hope things improve soon.

22/03/2008 at 23:52

We can't quantify can we. It's just a feeling.

 Same goes for diet and lifestyle. I  got some good times in  long ago on an unbelievably bad diet. Priveledged upbringing? I remember heaving when forced to eat fried bread dripping lard. We used to sqeeze the excess fat out and try and conceal it from the 'master's' eyes.

23/03/2008 at 00:09

That's cos your exclusive private school was trying to squeeze every last penny of profit from their exhorbitant fees

But the point is even your lard was not processed food.

As you say, just a feeling and I have a feeling that the diet teenagers have now (having been in quite close proximity to it for 15 years) is not what it was in the 80s.  When I started teaching the kids stil got a square meal with a traditional pudding.  Now in the name of keeping them on site to stop them terrorising the neighbourhood all sorts of junk is offered them. And those that refuse that go and spend £2 at the local ice cream van which sells them fizzy pop and sweets so they're bouncing off the walls in the afternoon.

23/03/2008 at 00:44
Still feel you are placing too much emphysiis on food/lifestyle. Cals is cals.
23/03/2008 at 01:09

Arguement's the same, BR.  Still don't  think diet plays a big part. Money, the the problem 

23/03/2008 at 08:30

Just a couple of comments from somebody sat in an internet cafe in Est Africa at 8000ft.

Diet:  From what I've observed, diet here is typically low fat but tends to vary according to income.  Two guys  I've trained with a lot (the quickest one ran 63mins for HM at 8500ft) live in a one room house, no wider than a corridor and only a couple of metres longer than a bed.  Bread and bananas seem to be their main calorie intake - it's all they can afford.  (Relatively) wealthier runners tend to eat lots of bread but get most of their calories from injera and will eat meat more often.  The Kenyan neighbours love their ugali which they eat in much the same way as injera.  Egg is quite popular here for breakfast, but given the chance the guys I've been training with will go for the sweetest looking chocolate / cream cake.

Volume: is very high, although this does not necessarily correspond with distance.  I've put in about 20% more time than usual but am only covering 100 - 110 miles per week on average as much of the running is on extremely tough forrest trails and up hills which are too steep to run down quickly unless the surface is even (rare).  Even novice / young runners reach this level of training within 6 - 8 months.

Training: I've been amazed by how long training groups spend on drills.  To give an idea I got to the track at the University at about 7am and a group were starting slow jogging / drills.  Met up with one of the British FLM pace makers who's training up here and helped out with a coupe of her mile reps.  Then ran a session of 10 x 300 (100) and ran 3M as a warm down.  The original group of locals was yet to step foot on the track.  The 63min HM guy who joined us clearly didn't understand the concept of this kind of session - he'd never done intervals in this way before - his training was about 60% jogging with the bulk of the rest made up of tempo plus the occasional grass strides.  They're very big on tempo / progression runs though - many of our 'easy' runs start out at 8mm pace but will finish in 5:30mm or quicker.  On one long tempo run I hitched a ride back to the start with a group who had just ran for 2hr45 - and covered 49km.  Not a bad long run.

What is still hard to explain is how it is that a young lady who isn't even in a running club won today's Woman's 5km race in a time of around 16mins (hilly course and 8000ft)...  To give you an idea of the effect of the altitude, she beat a British lady who's consistantly been ranked in the top 20 (and once top 10) for that distance for the last few years by what seemed to be a good 2 - 3 mins.

Still doesn't explain the decline in UK marathoning but thought that may make interesting / relevant reading given the subject matter of this post. 

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