The First Step In Becoming A Serious Runner

Liquori defeats Jim Ryun for 1969 NCAA mile title.

Liquori defeats Jim Ryun for 1969 NCAA mile title.

There is a now little known book titled "Elite Runner's Manual" written by American Miler great Marty Liquori in 1980 and, interesting enough, published by Playboy Press. It is hard to find now but contains deep insight and wisdom for the sincere runner. 

My favorite chapter is titled "Liquori on Training," where he gets into the nuts and bolts of what he did in training. However, he prefaces it with a section called The First Step in Becoming a Serious Running. Aside from the outdated scientific models and interpretations, it is spot on about the sincerity needed to pursue the craft of competitive distance running at the highest level. It is well worth the read. 

Below is the discussed section by Liquori in its entirety for your consideration: 



I beg you take a moment here. The absolutely essential first step toward becoming a competitive runner, at any level, is to decide if you truly want to do it. Easy enough, you shrug. But the decision to undergo serious training should never be taken lightly. No one knows better than those who have been at the top of the heap. For them, the aching questions: “One more race? One more season?” are not at all rhetorical.

A commitment to serious training means that, no matter what else you are in the world—doctor, lawyer, Indian chief—first of all, you are a runner. If you are unable to live up to that standard, your running is not truly “serious” and you can expect your race results to show it.

Running and other endurance sports are the most unforgiving of mistresses. You can drop out of law school for a year and come back to it later, picking up where you left off. Few things fade as quickly as the results of hard physical training. It is a flower that does not last long past the picking.

Training, therefore, must be constant. The first day you miss training, you begin a backward slide. You cannot pick up where you left off if you have already slid several feet back down the mountain. You cannot put your body on hold; in distance running, you either are getting better or worse at any given moment. There is no status quo.

Which is not to say that you must undertake, as some of the literature would have you believe, absurdly ascetic and eccentric lifestyle. You needn’t ponder the prospects of dining on nuts and berries. You won’t have to absolutely forsake drinking, late nights, carousing. What you will have to do is train. And train hard. Whatever else you can fit into your life after that is your own business. And before you make that “final” decision, consider your talent.

It sounds strange to hear good runners talking about talent. “Oh, so-and-so had a lot of talent...,” someone will say, usually in reference to how “so-and-so” managed to squander same.

But the term, when measured against its use in other sports, is very appropriate. “Talent” is simply that which you were given at birth to develop later on. With distance runners, talent is plumbing—the heart, lungs and circulatory system, and the muscles that rely on them. In short, it is the equipment needed to transport and burn oxygen and fuel in order to cover ground. That is a pretty fair a priori definition of the physical act of running; all that remains is to point out that some people are just naturally better at it than others.

We all know that it takes particular innate abilities to become a championship quarterback. We all accept the fact that not everyone can do it. But for some reason, many insist that the world of the competitive runner be more equalitarian.

There is perhaps no one truism of distance running more misunderstood than this: We all bring our own genetic pluses and minuses to the starting line with us. Given time and effort, almost anyone can cover relatively long distances. Almost anyone can show remarkable improvement through training. It is a seductive proposition indeed: Success in distance running depends solely on dedication and hard work.

Perhaps in no other sport is natural talent less admired than in distance running. To truly do well in highly competitive circles, absolute dedication is a prerequisite no matter what kind of lungs mom and dad bequeathed you.

The two controlling factors we are all, for better or worse, stuck with are: 1) our oxygen uptake rate (Max VO2), which is nothing more than our ability to utilize oxygen in the creation of energy; and 2) the proportion of show-twitch to fast-twitch fibers in our muscle composition. Oxygen uptake can be improved to a certain limited extent by training. The proportion of slow- twitch to fast-twitch muscles is not subject to much alteration in this life.

These matters are subject to scientific measurement, and it might be advisable for the new competitive runner to know ahead of time whether he or she has been endowed with the kind of physical equipment that will allow for top performances somewhere down the road. It might not be the sort of thing to base your whole running future on, but it might well be helpful in setting realistic goals.

No matter what the findings, however, the runner should never be giddily encouraged or abjectly discouraged by them. Athletic history has taught us time and time again that, when two human beings compete against each other, the most important factor is not the body but the mind.


Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm 

Jonathan Marcus