Life is like music; it must be composed by ear, feeling, and instinct, not by rule.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Don't Forget About Commitment and Dedication

I read Gordon Pirie's "Running Fast and Injury Free" for the 11th time
last night (I just can't stop reading it over and over because it has
great information and valuable perspectives). During my run this
morning, I was thinking about a couple of the issues Gordon discusses
in his book.

First, he talks a lot about the time and commitment it takes to become
a good runner. This made me think about how much more in tune I am
with my body than I was last year, or the year before, or the year
before that. I looked at my 3 year log after my run, and I’ve
averaged about 40 miles per week consistently for 3 years yet it
hasn’t been until recently that I’m really starting to establish a
relationship between my mind, body and soul with respect to running.

I remembered the gentlemen (71 yrs. old; been running for 40+ years;
only suffered a few injuries early in his running life; and still runs
in marshmallow shoes; and averages 50+ miles per week to this day)
that told me it takes a minimum of 3 years of consistent dedicated
running before you even begin to understand how to run, learn proper
running form and technique, understand how to listen to your body or
what your body is even communicating to you. Gordon Pirie quoted a
study that, in talking about how long it takes to become a champion
runner said, “an average of 10.2 years was needed for champions to

My point is obviously but one we may overlook from time to time which
is while the shod vs. unshod discussion is very important, regardless
of what you put on your feet, or don’t put on your feet, it takes
drive, commitment and dedication to improve and this means, in my
opinion, continuing through the “ups, downs, good and bad.” I’ll even
go further and say, I don’t believe we were designed to be
“recreational runners.” I believe we were designed to be “full time
runners.” So what’s the difference between “recreational” and “full
time,” well if I had to give a concrete answer I’d say a minimum of 5
days per week of running is required, and to quote the gentlemen, this
consistency must be maintained for many years. Obviously, I believe
barefoot and/or minimalist running enables one to listen to their body
easier and better but the requirement for practice and dedication

Second, Gordon’s discussion about the connection of the body and feet
has changed the way I run, or at least how I perceive I run, in terms
of how my mind is tuning into my body. Gordon said:

“My first coach back in 1941 was E.J. Holt. He was a trainer of many
champion runners,
as well as being one of the organisers of the 1956 Olympic Games. All
of his athletes did
prancing and bounding exercises initially, to learn to run. We often
did this in bare feet, if
the weather permitted. We learned to be very conscious of the role our
feet could play in
improving our running, and inhibited our arm action during this foot-
education process so
that our minds could focus entirely on what was going on at the end of
our legs.”

He went on to say the following regarding the role of our feet:

“Correct running should feel like a series of very quick but powerful
pulses, with the arms
and legs working in unison, followed by a period of relaxed flying
between each power phase.
Try to take a quicker stride than is natural. Quicken up! Get your
feet back onto the ground
as quickly as possible. This can be achieved by strong arm-stopping,
which causes the foot to
land quickly but lightly on the ball/front of the foot. Do not wait
for the leg and foot to drift
away and land on its own out in front whenever it wants. Make it
snappy and quick.
Do not float along.”

I use to concentrate on lifting the foot off the ground as quickly as
possible but I’ve changed in that I concentrate on getting the foot on
the ground as quickly as possible, while trying to land as softly as
possible. This may seem like a subtle change but it’s had a dramatic
impact as my foot and leg feel better, I’m running more efficiently
(less work to generate speed), and I don’t float as much (probably
because I’m concentrating on getting the foot back on the ground as
quickly as possible).

We’ve talked a lot about getting off the ground as quickly as possible
but I found it interesting when Gordon said, with respect to how he

This "low" running posture allows me to stay in contact with the
ground longer, and makes it
possible for me to generate more power during each contact power-phase
with the ground.
If a runner is making full use of his feet and legs as shock
absorbers, he will make little if
any noise when he runs, even on the steepest downhill stretches,
because there is no vertical
pounding of the feet and legs into the ground. The body will not crash
down on the foot,
but will pass smoothly over it. For most runners, the timing of this
action does not come naturally
and takes a good deal of practice.

Again, in addition to the relationship of the foot and ground, he
ended with saying it takes a good deal of practice. I don’t mean to
preach and I apologize if it comes across that way, as that is not my
intention. My intention is to point out how important consistency is
and how important it is to continue to run through the good and bad
times. To get out of bed and run on those days the mind says no

I’m still amazed when I tell someone I run 40 miles per week which, in
my mind, is pretty average for a runner, yet the responses I get, even
from folks that run (or say they run), is “wow, that’s a lot of
running.” Then I reflect and say, “not really.” If 40 miles per week
was a lot, our ancestors would not have made it as they ran more than
that on many single days, just to survive. It reminds me of our lazy
our society is today. In addition to the shoe issue, we are changing
evolution by simply sitting and driving on a daily basis whereas that
activity would have been running many years ago.



  1. Have you heard of the 10,000 hour rule? (Sometimes called the 10 year rule). Basically, it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to attain expert level in any field of endeavor.

    I read recently that Pirie recommended 3 to 5 steps per second. It's hard for me to imagine 5 steps per second, but I can see how that quick of a cadence would force a runner to stay low to the ground with very little vertical movement.

    I've read bits and pieces of his book, but you've inspired me to read more. Thanks.

  2. Hi Matt,

    I have heard of the 10,000 hr. rule which would completely follow Pirie's assessment that it takes 10.2 years to become a high caliber runner. The vertical vs. horizontal issue is interesting because once you have a forefoot to midfoot landing, the energy return increases and it can result in more vertical movement unless you stay low and control your leg movement with a high cadence. I can see 3 steps per second in shods and 4-5 barefoot since you run more defensively barefoot.

    Very interesting stuff.


  3. Wow, powerful post. I really like it.


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