Bobbi Gibb: BBC Article by Olivier Guiberteau

One of the ‘most-read’ articles on the website is the profile of Bobbie Gibb – the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon, the woman who was on the starting line quite openly, her presence known to all the officials including Jock Semple who was involved in a bit of brouhaha with another woman runner, in 1967.   Now the BBC Online has a very good article on her career including ‘that race’.   It is reproduced below the photograph.   


Bobbi Gibb: The Boston Marathon pioneer who raced a lie

By Olivier Guiberteau, BBC Sport
Bobbi Gibb running in a black and white photo of the 1967 Boston Marathon
Gibb, seen running the 1967 race, is now recognised as a three-time winner of Boston Marathon

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“Women are not physiologically capable of running a marathon.”

Those nine words leapt off the paper like a slap to the face. “The audacity,” thought Roberta ‘Bobbi’ Gibb.

The letter she held was the response to her request for an official entry to run the 1966 Boston Marathon – a flat-out refusal, but also a derogatory sideswipe of her capabilities as a woman, particularly given she was now running up to 40 miles at a stretch.

The 1960s were mid-swing, but attitudes towards female athletes and their participation in long-distance running remained archaic. The question of whether women could run 26.2 miles had been answered countless times before, and yet female runners remained barred from practically every marathon event around the world.

“To hell with them,” she thought as she crumpled the letter and threw it on the floor. Bobbi Gibb would run the Boston Marathon – whether they’d let her or not.

Short presentational grey line

Ask Google who was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon and you’ll find the name Kathrine Switzer, along with a photo showing a group of men chasing and manhandling a woman with the number 261 pinned to her midriff.

It is a shocking image that easily fits a narrative of embedded misogyny, but this is not the real story of the first woman to run the world’s oldest continually-staged marathon. The truth, as so often, is far from black and white.

Growing up in the suburbs of Boston, Gibb was always an energetic child with a sense of awe and a love of nature.

“My mother used to say to me that you’re never going to find a husband while running around in the woods with the neighbourhood dogs,” says Gibb.

For all the significant changes that occurred during the 1960s, it was still a time of rigid social constructs.

“After the war, people were just happy to return to normality – and normal meant the little women in the kitchen, washing the dishes, with the nice curtains. There were centuries of well-established beliefs about women,” said Gibb.

“I looked at my mother’s life and those of her friends; they were such narrow lives – you couldn’t even get a credit card without your husband’s permission.”

Gibb knew she wanted something different, but like many growing up with idealistic dreams of great change, the pathway to it was labyrinthine.

“I wanted to change the social consciousness about women from a very early age, but I didn’t know how to do it – at first.”

Despite living close to the Boston Marathon route, Gibb had never attended a race until her father took her in 1964. The effect was immediate and profound.

“I just fell in love with it – I found it very moving. All these people moved with such strength, courage, endurance and integrity. Something deep inside told me that I was going to run this race – this was what I was supposed to do.”

A group of runners sprint off the line, watched by suited male officials
The start of the women’s 800m final at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam – the event wasn’t staged again for another 32 years

In the mid-1960s, women’s long-distance running was still considered dangerously radical. Female runners had completed 26.2 miles many times, but groundless ideas lingered that a woman’s body was not built for such extreme exertion. It was feared that allowing women to take on the distance would lead to dangerous levels of indecency.

“Running was considered a breeding ground for impropriety that would overly sexualise women,” said Jaime Schultz, Professor in Kinesiology at Penn State University.

Names that should be etched on plaques as great marathon pioneers are now almost lost. The day after the men’s marathon event at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, Stamata Revithi, a 30-year-old mother from Piraeus, ran the same course unofficially in five and half hours. 

Practically no reliable information exists on Revithi, except that she came from poverty, had a 17-month-old child and had lost an older child the previous year. Her achievement received little to no attention, with the Athens Messenger reporting briefly that “an active and determined woman made a trial run of the classic route in early March, without any stops except a momentarily rest to eat some oranges”.

Nothing is known about this trailblazing woman, often labelled as the ‘first female marathon runner’ after that day. As Greek author Athanasios Tarasouleas puts it: “Stamata Revithi was lost in the dust of history.”

Thirty years later, in 1926, an English woman, Violet Piercy, ran the London Marathon course unofficially in 3:40:22 and completed two official marathons in 1933 and 1936. The Sunday Mirror quoted her as saying her 1936 race was to “prove that women could stick the distance.”

It was clear to all with their eyes open that women could run 26.2 miles, but cynical attitudes lingered based on imaginary evidence and often outright lies.

The 1928 Summer Olympic Games saw women compete in track and field events for the first time, and on 2 August three of the nine women who ran in the 800m final broke the world record, with Germany’s Lina Radke claiming gold.

However, what should have been a giant stride forward for women’s athletics degenerated into a remarkably nasty media campaign in which newspapers worldwide reported incorrectly that many women had collapsed with exhaustion after the race and that such exploits were far beyond the female sex.

The New York Times falsely reported that “six out of the nine runners were completely exhausted and fell headlong on the ground”, while the Montreal Star shrieked that the race was “obviously beyond women’s powers of endurance and can only be injurious to them”. The Daily Mail even pondered whether women running over 200 metres would age prematurely.

The media firestorm led officials to cut the 800 metres from the women’s Olympics, with the event not appearing again until 1960. Women’s perceived fragility was underpinned by some preposterous medical theories that wound their way into the public consciousness.

“There were fears that women would become more ‘masculine’ if they played sports and that they had a finite amount of energy. If they expended it on education, politics and sport, it would draw away from their reproductive capabilities,” said Schultz.

Gibb training on a cross-country course near Boston in 1983
Gibb’s trained on trails and paths as she prepared for her Boston Marathon debut

Gibb started quietly training for the Boston Marathon in 1964, often using the Middlesex Fells Reservation near her home to run away from judgmental eyes.

“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have a coach, no books, nothing. I didn’t have any way of measuring distance, so I just went by time. My boyfriend would drop me off on his motorbike and I would run home,” says Gibb.

In 1964, her parents went on sabbatical to the UK, leaving 21-year-old Gibb their VW campervan. With a summer ahead of her and a longstanding dream of seeing more of the country, she packed up the van and spent the next 40 days moving slowly from the east to the west coast.

“At night, I would sleep out under the skies, and each day I would run in a different place. Over the Berkshires, along the Mississippi River and across the Great Plains, over the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide, and down into California – before jumping into the Pacific Ocean – all in one summer. That was my training for the 1966 Boston Marathon,” says Gibb.

A few months before the marathon, she applied for a runner’s number to be one of the 540 that would eventually start the race, but was rejected with the now famously curt assessment of women’s physiological capabilities.

“I realised that this was my chance to change the social consciousness about women. If I could prove this false belief about women wrong, I could throw into question all the other false beliefs that had been used to deny women opportunities,” says Gibb.

Four days before the race, she boarded the first of several Greyhound buses and arrived at the family home 72 hours later.

Her mother drove her to the start line the morning of the race that would catapult her into the limelight.

“My dad thought I was nuts and refused to come. I was wearing my brother’s Bermuda shorts, a swimsuit underneath, and a big sweatshirt with a hood that I pulled around my head,” says Gibb.

After running a few warm-up miles she returned to the starting area, where she did her best to hide by creeping into a set of bushes nearby.

When the starting pistol cracked, Gibb loitered, allowing the faster runners to move down the road before joining the moving crowd.

“Very quickly, the men behind me could tell that I was a woman – probably by studying my anatomy from the rear,” says Gibb. “I was so nervous. I didn’t know what would happen. I thought I might even be arrested.”

Her fears were unfounded. Instead of hostility, camaraderie quickly flourished. When it became clear she needed to take off her sweatshirt or suffer the heat in it, she expressed her fears of being ejected from the race to the men around her. “We won’t let them,” came their unified assurance.

“There was this myth that men were always against women, but it wasn’t true. Those guys were great, upbeat, friendly and protective; they were like my brothers,” says Gibb.

Buoyed by the companionship, Gibb removed her outer layer and ran freely and proudly – her blonde ponytail swinging from side to side. Spectators lining the street – men, women and children – applauded her as she passed, with news of her participation spreading along the course via radio bulletins.

As she approached Wellesley College, a women’s university on the route, pandemonium erupted. The momentous event was described 30 years later by Wellesley College President Diana Chapman Walsh, who was present as a student spectator that day. 

“Word spread to all of us lining the route that a woman was running the course,” she said.

“We scanned face after face in breathless anticipation until, just ahead of her, through the excited crowd, a ripple of recognition shot through the lines, and we cheered as we never had before.

“We let out a roar that day, sensing that this woman had done more than just break the gender barrier in a famous race.”

“The women were crying and jumping up and down. One kept shouting ‘Ave Maria, Ave Maria’. It was an emotional moment for me,” says Gibb.

Gibb was not only blazing a trail, she was doing it quickly. She ran the first 20 miles at a sub-three hour pace, but with her newly-bought men’s running shoes cutting into her feet, her speed began to drop.

Her race had changed. Anxiety over being pulled out by officials was now replaced by that feeling all too familiar to any long-distance runner – painful determination and a longing for the finish line.

As she made her way through Boston, spurred on by the tremendous noise that accompanied her, Gibb still had no idea how close she was to the end.

“I didn’t know where I was or how far I had left – I just gritted my teeth and ran,” says Gibb.

Turning right on to Hereford Street, the noise seemed to ratchet up, and a final left on to Boylston Street revealed the finish line that she had been dreaming of for so long.

Gibb completed her first Boston Marathon in an impressive three hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds – faster than two-thirds of the competitors.

A now iconic image shows her running alone, her face grimacing as she nears the finish line. On both sides, spectators crane their necks, ignoring other runners passing by, desperate to glimpse the first female finishing the storied race.

Crossing the line, she was greeted warmly by Massachusetts State Governor John Volpe, who shook her hand and offered his congratulations before being ushered into a hotel room where the world’s press waited breathlessly.

After the interviews, the group of men she had been running with invited her to join them for the traditional post-race stew, but as they reached the door, Gibb was barred from entry: “Sorry, men only.”

It had been a day of dramatic change, but any notion of true equality was still a distant dream.

Bobbi Gibb runs alone with spectators watching her in the 1966 Boston Marathon
The famous photo of Gibb closing in on the finish as massed ranks of spectators watch on at the 1966 Boston Marathon

Gibb ran the Boston Marathon twice more. In 1967, she was joined by Switzer, the runner often portrayed as the first woman to run the race, who she beat by more than an hour. The following year, five women ran the Boston Marathon, with Gibb winning once again.

For many years, Switzer’s participation in the 1967 race overshadowed Gibb’s achievement, a fact that never sat well with the true first woman to run the Boston Marathon. The famous photo of Switzer became emblematic of women’s struggles to gain equality in sport, but it is an image and a context that deserves careful examination.

It appears to show Switzer being harassed by a group of men as she runs, but in fact, it was only one man, race co-director Jock Semple, who was trying to remove her race number rather than physically assault her, as is often reported.

“She had gained her number illegally by disguising her gender on the application and having her male coach pick it up,” says Gibb, who ran without a number or official entry once again.

Switzer, for her part, has always claimed that she never intentionally pretended to be anything other than a woman, and that using her initials, rather than first name, on the entry form was her usual habit.

She adds that her male coach picked up her race number as the nominated leader of the group, rather than part of a deliberate ploy.

Gibb says she had some sympathy for Semple, who she believes was motivated by preserving his race’s status, rather than outdated social norms.

“Jock was simply worried that the race could lose its accreditation with the Amateur Athletic Union by having women run in a men’s division race.”

Unsurprisingly, it was the image of Switzer that made the headlines, fuelling anger and controversy, despite Gibb once again receiving a warm welcome.

“I stood openly at the start line in 1967. Nobody tried to remove me, there was no trouble. All the men were great – even Jock Semple,” said Gibb.

But it was Switzer’s story, fitting a narrative of antagonism and confrontation, that chimed with the 1960s zeitgeist, rather than Gibb’s.

Kathrine Switzer resists an attempt to seize her race number
Switzer (no 261) evaded an attempt to remove her race number by Boston Marathon co-director Jock Semple, over her right shoulder, in the 1967 race. She and Semple became friends in later life

Over the following decades, that image became incorrectly woven into the tale of the first woman to run the Boston Marathon.

However, Gibb’s stance is clear.

“Switzer was neither first, nor official. She was, in fact, the second-place woman in the second year of what is now called the women’s pioneer division Boston Marathon,” says Gibb.

Though it wouldn’t be until 1972 that women were given numbers and allowed official entry, the pioneers had lit a fuse.

“It changed how people thought about women running,” says Gibb.

In 1973, the first all-women’s marathon was held in Waldniel, West Germany, but as the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow came and went, still without a female marathon event, patience was wearing thin.

Especially since the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) appeared to have put the matter of medical evidence against women running long distances firmly to bed with a statement in January 1980.

“There exists no conclusive scientific or medical evidence that long-distance running is contraindicated for the healthy, trained female athlete,” it read.

“The ACSM recommends that females be allowed to compete at the national and international level in the same distances in which their male counterparts compete.”

The following year, when the International Olympic Committee met in Baden-Baden, Germany, a vote passed that meant that at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, a female marathon event was included – and has been ever since.

The effect this has had on women’s marathon running has been dramatic. In the last 60 years, the women’s world record for 26.2 miles has plummeted by an astonishing one hour and 23 minutes. As a comparison, the men’s record has dropped by only 54 mins in the last 115 years.

Bobbi Gibb crosses a ceremonial finishline with her name emblazoned on the ribbon in 2016
Gibb crosses a ceremonial finishline in 2016 – 50 years on from her debut in the race

Gibb continued running daily, but her life moved in a different direction. She had helped redefine attitudes towards female running, but that was just one chapter in a life that has been wonderfully varied.

“After that, I wanted to challenge everything – keep the ball rolling,” says Gibb.

In 1969 she graduated from the University of California with a premedical curriculum major in philosophy and minor in mathematics.

She wanted to go to medical school but, like in Boston, it was hard for a woman to get a place. In one interview she was told she was “too pretty” and “would distract the boys in the lab”.

Instead, she began working in epistemology and neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology while taking law classes in the evening.

In 1976 she founded the Institute for the Study of Natural Systems, a non-profit educational and research group, and passed the bar two years later.

She practised law for 18 years before moving back to scientific research, this time in cellular molecular biology focusing on neurodegenerative diseases.

She is also a fine art sculptor and contemporary painter, and has written several books, including her memoir Wind in the Fire.

Her running exploits continue to inspire. In 1996, Gibb was finally recognised as an official three-time winner, receiving her medals while also having her name inscribed on the Boston Marathon Memorial in Copley Square.

In 2016, 50 years after that momentous race, Ethiopia’s Atsede Bayisa presented Gibb with her Boston Marathon winner’s trophy after learning of the events of 1966.

“Each year, they celebrate me as a three-time winner, which is fun, but the main thing is I get to meet all these amazing people from all over the world, all social groups, all ethnic groups, races, genders – we love each other – we make friends,” says Gibb.

A runner, scientist, lawyer, artist, and author – Bobbi Gibb has done it all and continues to promote a positive message regarding equality.

“One of my purposes was to end the stupid war between the sexes, where men had to live in this little box and women had to live in another little box,” says Gibb.

“I’m always fighting against false messages. The truth sets us free. Back then, men weren’t allowed to have feelings and women weren’t allowed to have a brain. What if a man wants to knit? Is he any less of a man? No. What if a woman wants to drive a truck? Is she any less of a woman? No.

“All people can be who they want to be.”

AW Lachie Stewart

1970 Empire & Commonwealth Games 10,000m start: Lachie is 317

Not many distance runners are known by just their Christian name but runners and aficionados the world over will immediately raise a smile when the name mentioned is “Lachie”.    Lachie in Scotland is celebrated first and foremost for the victory over Ron Clarke, Dick Taylor and the remainder of a star studded field at Edinburgh in 1970 in the Commonwealth Games.   But he was well known as a modest, unassuming runner of real quality over a range of distances and on all surfaces whether country, road or track.   He came to prominence as a member of a small club in Dunbartonshire winning Games selection and SAAA championships before moving to Shettleston Harriers.    A great individual runner but also a good team man who always gave his best.   Some of his achievements:

Cross-Country:   10 International Appearances in what are now the World Championships; 2 Scottish Championships at a time when there was real strength in depth, 1 Midland District Championship.   Third in Junior International, second in the English National,  fourth in the Senior International.  

Track:   Scottish 10 Miles Champion 4 times (1966, 67, 68, 71);     Scottish Three Miles Champion 3 times (1965, 67 and 68);     Scottish Six Miles Champion twice (1967, 68);    Scottish 5000 metres Champion once (1969);   Scottish Three Miles Champion 3 times (1965, 67, 68).   Thirteen titles in all between 1966 and 1973.

Track records:   He set track records at 2 Miles, 4 Miles, 5 Miles, 6 Miles, 7 Miles, 8 Miles, 9 Miles, 10 Miles, 11 Miles, 12 Miles and One Hour (He was the first Scot to run over 12 miles in the hour) and at 10000 metres.   In all there were 19 record breaking runs.

AAA’s Championships: He won the 3 Miles Championship in 1968 in a time of 13:28.4.

Not a bad record at all.   We all read – and some cut out and kept the AW questionnaire which we reproduce below the photo of Lachie in his Vale of Leven strip.

The questionnaire:

Colin Youngson adds:    Lachie’s article concludes with “if he wants to – when he knows more about his abilities” – very sound advice.   Lachie Stewart (an inductee into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame) is one of the most admired Scottish distance runners. His greatest achievement was winning the 10,000m in the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. In addition, he raced in the 1972 Olympics; did the steeplechase in the 1966 Commonwealth Games; and was an extremely successful cross-country runner.   



AW Questionnaire: Mike Tagg

Mike Tagg finishing the Inter-Counties 5000m between Mike Bradley and Lachie Stewart

Mike Tagg was a top class middle and long distance runner who won the silver medal in the 10000 at the 1969 European Championships behind Jurgen Haase (GDR 28:41.6) and in front of Nikolai Svirodov (URS 28:45.8) .   Tagg’s time was 28:43.2 which ranked him fourth in the world that year.   Quite excellent running.    He had previously run in the same event at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 where he placed 13th in 30:18.0 in the  altitude conditions known to be difficult for distance runners.   He was two places ahead of Haase (30:40.2) and second GB athlete in the race behind Ron Hill in seventh in 29:53.2.    His 10,000m personal best was set in the European Championshuips in 1971 when he finished seventh, one place and 10 seconds behind Dave Bedford.   

In Mexico, he and his sister Mary both represented Britain – the only brother and sister to do so.   Mary ran in the 400 metres where she was second in her Heat in 53.9, but unfortunately fifth in her semi-final with her time of 53.6 being the same as second placed Colette Besson who ran in the other semi final.   Mary’s 53.6 would have seen her in the final.   

Mike was a very versatile athlete running well at a range of distances.   His personal best times at recognised distances were:-  2 Miles: 8:28.2;   5000m:  13:41.4;   10000m:  28:14.85    All set in 1971.   How did he train?   The AW Questionnaire below tells us.

Colin Youngson comments: Mike Tagg was an excellent cross-country runner, who in 1969 (by 40 seconds) won the (very muddy) English National and finished fourth in the IAAF International CC. He was also a British International track athlete, who raced 10,000 metres in the 1968 Olympics and, at the same distance, finished second in the 1969 European Championships. 

AW Questionnaire: Bill Adcocks

Bill Adcocks ran 10 marathons under 2 hours 20 minutes.   He was second in the 1966 Empire Games in Kingston, Jamaica behind Scotland’s Jim Alder, won the Fukuoka Marathon in 1968 in 2:10:48 and in 1969, he ran in the Athens Classic Marathon, which is run over the same course as the original marathon run by Pheidippides. He set a course record, clocking 2:11:07, which was not broken until 2004.

Bill Adcocks finished a valiant fifth in the altitude-affected gruelling 1968 Olympic Marathon in Mexico City.   The race started at 3:00 pm local time. There were 75 competitors from 41 countries. Eighteen of them did not finish.   ie over 25% of the best marathon runners in the world as represented at the meeting failed to finish.   A look at the names of the non-finishers shows that Jim Alder, Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia), Lajos Mecser (Hungary), Mohammed Gammoudi (Tunisia), Jurgen Haase (GDR), Jerome Drayton (Canada) failed to finish and both of the two French selections had DNF after their names as did two of the three Hungarians and both Kuwaitis.  It was a  remarkable run to finish in 2:25:33 when 43 of the finishers were outside 2 hours 30 minutes.

Back to the Questionnaire.  Note the comments in response to the single word query “Coach?”

60’s & 70’s: Influences Nearer Home + One

When talking about the avalanche of information that the distance runner was subjected to in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s , there were many slim paperback volumes published by the Americans, bigger books with more depth from other sources (we have covered van Aaken (Germany) and Arthur Lydiard (New Zealand) and magazines.   Magazines such as “Runner’s World”, Marathon and Distance Runner”, “Sports Illustrated”, “Jogging” (which became “Running”) and so on which all contained fairly detailed articles of variable quality on any and all topics of interest to runners.   New obsessions such as ‘shoe technology’ appeared.   But the best of them all was the magazine which pre-dated the Running Boom and which is still being produced weekly is the British “Athletics Weekly”, affectionately known as AW.   

One of the key features was the “AW Questionnaire” in which a top athlete was quizzed on many topics including his training and racing.   Eagerly read they were at times not really informative about training – eg the top athlete whose training was noted as Sunday: long run, Monday Road run; Tuesday: Track session, . .  etc – but more than 90% of them gave food for thought, or at least prolonged discussion on the hoof on training nights.   These questionnaires did influence both theory and practice.   eg When Joyce Smith was quoted in an article as saying that you had to stay relaxed but running fast at the end of a marathon, but it was difficult to simulate in training.   Her husband Brian had said that she should do a long run on the appropriate day in the morning, then go out that afternoon, before the fatigue could possibly have left her system and run a short relaxed fast run of about two or three miles.    That resonated with lots of runners who adopted the habit for a period of their training for the marathon.    She was a wonderful runner and what was good enough for her was more than good enough for many men who had read or heard of the theory.   

We reproduce three of the AW questionnaires here as examples of what we had available at the time. 

Bill Adcocks        Lachie Stewart        Mike Tagg

Colin Youngson – a good Scottish International marathon runner with respectable marks at all distance events up to and including the 50 mile Edinburgh to Glasgow road race, in addition to ten first three places in the SAAA Marathon championships (including three victories) and notable runs in marathon races all over Europe, comments as follows.

Two other interesting characters were interviewed in more detail for Athletics Weekly: Don Faircloth in 1972; and Bill Rodgers in 1978. Their training notions are worth examining.

Jim Alder, Ron Hill and Don Faircloth: first three in Empire & Commonwealth Games Marathon in 1970

Don Faircloth was born in November 1948, so he was only 21 when he finished very rapidly to secure third place in the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games Marathon. In that race, he recalls feeling both strong and fast, due to an intensive training regime.

In early 1970 he raced the Kent 20 miles road race – and was surprised and delighted to win in an impressive 1.43.50. Then, on a very hot day, he won the Inter-Counties 20 miles. Don reckoned that heat did not affect him, since he worked outside as a gardener for eight hours a day! Then he won the classic Polytechnic (AAA Championship) Marathon – and was selected, along with Ron Hill and Bill Adcocks, to race for England in Edinburgh, where he came close to overtaking Scotland’s Jim Alder for the silver medal, yet well behind gold medallist Ron Hill. Don’s bronze medal was achieved with a very fast 2.12.19.

Don described his 1972 training as follows. On a Sunday, I run up to 20 miles. I do that in one session. It’s in the morning – I run as hard as I can for 6 miles, to the track to pick the club lads up; then I do about 6 to 8 miles of relaxed running, along with repetitions and paarlauf bursts with the others. Then I run up to 8 miles home, and push that hard too. Monday is a two-session day: I train in the dinner hour without running to work, so it’s a straight hard run, and in the evening I do anything up to 13 miles, most of it with Fred Stebbings – and he pushes it quite a bit – which helps, of course. Tuesday: I run four to work, do a fartlek session in the lunch hour, and take a long way round to do 10 miles home in the evening. I’m home and finished all my training by six eery evening, and this is great for me as I can do other things like odd jobs about the house then. On a Wednesday, I do virtually the same with some changes in route, adding some extra hills and doing some running on the country, but it’s always as usual three sessions. Same on Thursday and on a Friday I run to work, run a hard six in the dinner hour and, as I need to get my kit home, I don’t run back, but I may do an easy five that evening, depending on whether I’m racing the next day or how I’m feeling. Saturday is usually a tough cross-country race, or anything up to 15 miles with the club boys on Lloyd Park. This is my winter routine, but it doesn’t vary that much, except that I train more on the country in the summer, obviously as it’s lighter. I hope to get more speed sessions in when it gets warmer but by nature I shy away from speed as it hurts; but it’s still something I must get down and work on. I’ve been on three sessions since the Maxol Marathon in 1971, and really it suits me because I find it helpful to run to and from work.

(In 1971, Don Faircloth raced for Great Britain in the prestigious Kyoto Marathon (Japan), finishing second in Unfortunately, possibly due to such intensive training at such a young age, he was prone to injuries, particularly stress fractures in shin or foot bones.)

Bill Rodgers (‘Boston Billy’) was an American marathon-racing legend, who won his local classic Boston Marathon four times; and also won the New York Marathon four times. His break-through came in March 1975 (when his age was 27) when won a bronze medal in the IAAF Cross-Country Championships in Morocco. He raced the 1976 Olympic Marathon. Bill’s personal best marathon was 2.9.27, when winning Boston in 1979. He went on to run 2.18.17 as an M40 Master! Overall, he ran faster than 2 hours 20 minutes in a marathon on 35 occasions.

He describes his 1978 training as follows. “I’d say pretty much about 95 per cent is done on the roads and usually around 6.30 minutes per mile pace. In the Fall, the Summer and the Spring, I usually do more track work. I try to hit the track like once a week, unless I race. In terms of the track workouts, they could be stuff like repeat half miles or three-quarter miles or miles usually maybe faster than race pace, with a three-minute jog between the miles. One workout I was doing last summer was run a quarter of a mile, jog 200, run half a mile, jog 200 …. and I’d do six of each. But I’ve never done really intensive track work like a lot of people do. Ultimately, I might; last summer I did some faster half miles, and I’ll try for more this year. I run some times in the woods, trails – stuff like that – and that’s pretty much about it. On the road, I generally try to hit around 20 miles a day – in two sessions. Usually, one about 11 to 13 miles, the other 8 to 10. I usually do about 22 miles on Sundays. I think I need 140 miles a week to be competitive. Sometimes, to get ready for a marathon, I think I have to go even higher. I know I’m in good shape if I can go 20 in the morning and 10 in the afternoon, or vice-versa, like once a week for a period of five to six weeks building up to a marathon.”



60’s & 70’s: Kenny Moore

Kenny Moore is a highly respected American distance runner.   Also a talented and well known writer and journalist who never followed the precedent set by other international marathon runners and wrote about himself.   His main influence on others was the example he set by his running and the detail he put into his writing.   For a resume of his early career we need look no further than the start of the Wikipedia article.

Moore was born in Portland, Oregon, on December 1, 1943. He attended North Eugene High School in Eugene, Oregon. He went on to study at the University of Oregon, where he raced for the Oregon Ducks under coach Bill Bowerman. He received All-American honors on three occasions and was pivotal to the Ducks winning the team national championship at the 1964 and 1965 NCAA University Division Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

After graduating from Oregon, Moore won the 1967 USA Cross Country Championships, as well as the USA Marathon Championships four years later.   He also won the San Francisco Bay to Breakers – the largest footrace in the world – six times in a row from 1968 to 1973, becoming the all-time leader in victories in the race.

Moore first ran the Olympic marathon at the 1968 Summer Games. He led early in the final, but finished fourteenth after suffering from severe blisters.  It was still the best performance among American competitors.   He joined the U.S. Army later that year, but was permitted to continue racing. He set the record for best time among American runners at the Fukuoka Marathon in 1969 and 1970, finishing runner-up in the latter race. Upon completing his military service, he returned to the University of Oregon and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing in 1972.   He again participated in the marathon at the Summer Olympics that year. Although he tripped and fell one mile into the race, he recovered and narrowly failed to win a medal after finishing fourth.”

That’s the outline, but at this point most would be asking how good he was as a runner.   We see from above what his competitive record was but how fast was he?   He has personal best times 

Distance Time Year
One Mile 4:04.2 1966
3000m 8:49.4 1966
5000m 13:46.4 1970
10000m 28:47.6 1970
Marathon 2:11:36 1970

In the Marathon in the Mexico Olympics in 1968 there were 74 starters, 57 finishers and Moore was 14th in 2:29:49.4.   The conditions there were notoriously bad for endurance runners and in the marathon several high quality runners failed to finish (eg Jim Alder dropped out at 30 Km), other well known men were well down the field (John Stephen Akwari was 57th, Ireland’s Mick Molloy was 41st, New Zealand’s Dave McKenzie was 37th).   His splits are here with the rest of the top 15.


Came the 1972 Games in Munich and the difficulties were man-made rather than because of the altitude and heat.   It was the kidnapping of the Israely team and subsequent shoot out at the airport that almost caused the marathon and other events to be cancelled.   It went ahead however and Moore ran very well indeed.   There were 62 finishers and, although he was fourth he was only second American to finish.   First 15 again, but no splits unfortunately.

Just under 15 minutes faster than in Mexico.   The performances in the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan were quite spectacular.   His first run was on 7th December, 1969.   First time round he finished seventh in 2:13:27.8 compared to the winner’s 2:11:12.8.   The winner was Jerome Drayton of Canada prompting the writer K Ken Nakamura to point out that for the last four years the first runner in the race was from a British Commonwealth country.   The first eight were

Kenny Moore and Frank Shorter

In 1970, on December 6th, he was second in 2:11:35.8,  behind Akio Usami (Japan) who ran 2:10:37.8 which was a Japanese National best time.  After that race the top 15 best marathon times ever run were as follows.


Having established his credentials as a marathon runner, an international marathon runner, the question on everybody’s lips is: “How did he achieve so much?   How did he train to reach these heights in the races that counted?   One of the problems at this distance in time is that although he wrote well about the sport and about its participants, he never wrote in any kind of detail about his own training and racing, how they were planned out or what help he had when doing it.   We do have the following information from “How They Train” by Fred Wilt (supplied by Colin Youngson).   There is a considerable amount of detail here with warm-up, summer, autumn, winter and spring training plus general training.   Note that he includes training marks as ‘personal bests’ which is not general practice.

There is bit more insight in the article   Kenny Moore Marathon Training –   from which the following is taken.   It is preparation for a particular race, the New York Marathon in 1978.

TRAINING: Ken trains at 9AM and 3PM 6 days per week and one long run on the 7th day beginning in late AM. His longest ever run is 43 miles. Preferred racing frequency is once a month and dwindling. Ken’s easy days are 3-5 mile jog in the morning and sometimes and easy three mile jog in the afternoon on Pre’s Trail. The following workouts were done prior to the 1978 New York Marathon.

Mon, September 26th –Easy day.

Tues–Brainstorm Eric Heiden, embellish notes,–run 6 x mile on Pre’s Trail in 4:40-4:44.

Wed–Easy day and garden work.

Thurs–Easy day.

Fri–32-mile run.

Sat–Easy day.

Sun–Easy day.

Mon–6×330 on grass(last 6 45.5-46), easy 6 miles.

Tues–Easy day.

Wed–Easy day.

Thurs–6 x mile @ 4:40.

Fri–Easy day.

Sat–Easy day.

Sun–28-mile run.

Mon–Easy day.

Tues–Easy day.

Wed–3×660(1:42), 440(66), 330(48), 220(32), 110(15), jog 10 miles.

Thurs–Easy day.

Fri–Easy day.

Sat–6 x mile @4:36

Sun–Easy day, fly to Washington D.C.

Mon–15 miles easy.

Tues–Easy day.

Wed–10 mile run, 1st five at 7:00 pace and second five at 5:00 pace.

Thurs–Easy day.

Fri–Easy day.

Sat–Easy day.

Sun–New York City Marathon, 2:16:29. Ken did not run for the next 8 days but on the 27th of October won a pumpkin carving contest at Bob Newland’s house.

Details such as these were avidly consumed by the runners during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s by athletes and were major influences on how they trained.   The latest in “Runner’s World” or “Track and Field Log”, the new book by one of the top runners sold out in the first edition – and often in subsequent editions depending on how good the athlete was or how successful the coach was.   Kenny Moore was one of the best runners and one of the best writers. 


The 60s & 70’s: Arthur Lydiard

The picture above shows Arthur Lydiard and two of his most famous athletes – Peter Snell and Murray Halberg – on the cover of his best known book which altered distance running training dramatically.   This was not just in his home in New Zealand, nor in the several countries in which he worked as a professional coach (Finland, Mexico) but wherever there were distance runners, distance running coaches.  He also appealed to people who just wanted to run for health reasons and is credited with starting the jogging boom which was developed by Bill Bowerman.      Not all those who know and like and have adopted his approach to training realise that he was a very good runner himself.   The photograph below shows him on second place on the podium after the New Zealand National Marathon in 1949.   The following year he represented his country in the Empire Games in Auckland finishing 12th in the marathon.

Lydiard presided over New Zealand’s golden era in world track and field during the 1960s sending Murray Halberg, Peter Snell and Barry Magee to the podium at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.   The rather hackneyed question of “Where were you when …” becomes for us “When did you first hear about Arthur Lydiard?”   For most of us it was at these very Olympics when the three already mentioned won medals for the country.   Snell was magnificent, defeating Moens of Belgium and the very smooth running George Kerr of the West Indies, Halberg was a source of wonder when he beat Grodotzki of a united German team and Magee?   The spectacular marathon in every sense of the word: run in the dark, two Africans shoulder to shoulder for most of the way, the one in bare feet from Ethiopia beating the Moroccan by 25 seconds with Magee third.   Times:  Bikila 2:15:16.2 (a world best), Rhadi 2:15:41.6 and Magee 2:17:18.2.   By the way, Magee had run in the 10,000m where he finished 26th, two days earlier.   Marvellous running by all three and that was when we heard of Arthur Lydiard.   We were desperate to hear more, that was true whether we ran 800m, 10,000m or 42.195 km.    

What did we read before the book appeared on the shelves?   The BAAB Booklets on Middle Distance Running   or   Marathon and Distance Running by such as Jim Alford which were good but nowhere as detailed as Lydiard; at club level experienced coaches followed the Conditioning period over the winter (often just a lot of steady running), a pre-season period and then the summer racing season.   These were often of unspecified lengths of time and individual coaches had their own tips and wrinkles.   Lydiard’s notions of the periodised year and coaches working backwards were revolutionary.

The following brief account of his training philosophy is taken from the Wikipedia entry as being the most succinct overview.

The marathon-conditioning phase of Lydiard’s system is known as base training, as it creates the foundation for all subsequent training. Lydiard’s emphasis on an endurance base for his athletes, combined with his introduction of periodisation in the training of distance runners, were the decisive elements in the world-beating success of the athletes he coached or influenced. All of the training elements were already there in the training of Roger Bannister, the first miler who broke the 4-minute barrier for the mile, but Lydiard increased distance and intensity of training and directed periodisation towards the Olympics and not the breaking of records.

Periodisation comprises emphasising different aspects of training in successive phases as an athlete approaches an intended target race.

  • After the base training phase,  ie marathon training phase above), Lydiard advocated four to six weeks of strength work. This included hill running and springing. This improved running economy under maximal anaerobic conditions without the strain on the achilles tendon, as it was still done in training shoes.
  • Only after this were spikes put on and a maximum of four weeks of anaerobic training followed. (Lydiard found through physiological testing that four weeks was the maximum amount of anaerobic development needed—any more caused negative effects such a decrease in aerobic enzymes and increased mental stress, often referred to as burnout, due to lowered blood pH.)
  • Then followed a co-ordination phase of six weeks in which anaerobic work and volume taper off and the athlete races each week, learning from each race to fine-tune himself or herself for the target race. For Lydiard’s greatest athletes the target race was invariably an Olympic final.

Lydiard was renowned for his uncanny knack of ensuring that his athletes peaked for their most important races and, apart from his tremendous charisma and extraordinary ability to inspire and motivate athletes, this was largely a product of the periodisation principle he introduced into running training.

The progressive sharpening towards the targeted race is illustrated in this Pyramid by the ‘Running Wizard’ ( a site well worth visiting for many reasons – go to

In the base training phase of his system Lydiard insisted, dogmatically, that his athletes—not least 800 metres athlete Peter Snell—must train 100 miles (160 km) a week. He was completely inflexible on this requirement. In the 1950s and 1960s, during the base phase of their training the athletes under Lydiard’s tutelage would run a 35 km Sunday training route, starting from his famed 5 Wainwright Avenue address in Mt Roskill, through steep and winding roads in the Waitakere mountain ranges. The total cumulative ascent in the Waitakeres was over 500 metres. After laying such an arduous endurance base Lydiard’s athletes—including Murray Halberg, Peter Snell, Barry Magee and John Davies—were ready to challenge the world, winning six Olympic medals amongst them in the 1960 Rome Olympics and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. “

The emphasis on the word ‘dogmatically’ is mine.   Like all ambassadors or evangelists for a new method he insisted that it was done exactly his way.   Many found it impossible to run 100 miles a week – their bodies just could not handle it.   But he, and those who had come through his training in person, stood by the dosage: Peter Snell for instance credited it with all his successes including world records and Olympic medals.   He was of course, wherever he went, expected to advocate what was in ‘the book’.    Lydiard wrote several books with the able assistance of Garth Gilmour, but two were pioneering works – “Run To The Top”    written in 1962, and    “Jogging with Lydiard” in 1983.   

In the late 1960’s he went to work in Finland where he enjoyed great success and is credited with the success 0f such as Pekka Vasala who won gold in the 1972 Munich Olympics and Lasse Viren who won double gold in 5000m and 10,000m at both Munich and Montreal Olympics.     He then moved on to Mexico where he was again successful in raising the standard of endurance running without emulating international games success as he had done previously.

Lydiard with some of his great New  Zealand squad – spot Halberg, Magee, Snell, Puckett

In Scotland his notions were adopted with enthusiasm, partly because of the obvious success that the New Zealand group had found with them, but also because it said in clear terms  “Here Is What You Do”: 10 weeks of this, six weeks of that, etc.  But there were difficulties for some in following it through for personal reasons to do with their physical make up.  Although it was often possible to work round that, there were also difficulties with the weather.   When he said that there were never any reasons not to go out, his runners were out in all weathers, that was fine.   

An example: the book was produced in 1962 and reached Clydebank in time for winter ’64/’65.   Two of us decided to give it a go and working backwards from the SAAA Marathon in 1965  started on our 100 mpw in October.   That was a particularly hard winter.   Lots of snow – icy pavements and even worse on occasion when it was black ice.   If most of your running had to be done on roads, then black ice was to be avoided.   There was also at that time serious mist, almost fog.   Nothing like the pea soupers of old but dense enough for us to not hear traffic which was going slowly and quietly along the road.   Nevertheless, with these minor reservations, his periodised year was adopted in Scotland with a fair degree of success by followers.   The joke question was “Aye, but do you do your 100 miles a week fast or steady?”   

Lydiard and his five principles remain as possibly the best and shortest guide to endurance running:

You can read more about the man, his theories and his deeds at the following links (note that the second one is a 33 page document):

Free Starter Plans — Lydiard™ Foundation (


Training of Peter Snell – SweatElite

There are lots more but don’t forget the comprehensive article in Wikipedia at 

Arthur Lydiard – Wikipedia





The 60s & 70’s: Frank Shorter

Frank Shorter at Boston in 2022

In the 70’s and 80’s many of the top marathon runners were approached and were pleased to accept invitations to write their thoughts, opinions and theories on training and racing long distances.   Ron Daws and Kenny Moore in America were among the most avidly read.   Frank Shorter was probably the most successful among them and we include him here.   He is a representative of a group of runners giving advice and examples of his training.   

Frank Charles Shorter (born October 31, 1947) is an American former long-distance runner who won the gold medal in the marathon at the 1972 Summer Olympics and the silver medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics. His Olympic success, along with the achievements of other American runners, is credited with igniting the running boom in the United States during the 1970s.    He ran and raced on all surfaces: track, country and road but it is as a marathon runner that he is best known.   His record there is really phenomenal.   We should start by looking at his pedigree as a runner.

First, we’ll look at his world rankings

Year Marathon 10000m 5000m
1970 2nd
1971 1st
1972 1st 5th
1973 1st
1974 2nd 5th
1975 2nd 10th
1976 2nd  

Domestically, his USA rankings were as follows.

Year Marathon 10000m 5000m
1969 3rd 6th
1970 1st 2nd
1971 1st 1st 4th
1972 1st 1st 10th
1973 1st 5th 7th
1974 1st 1st 4th
1975 1st 3rd
1976 1st 2nd 5th
1977 1st 7th

The rankings given are all exceptionally good – remember the standards in the USA at the time and that, in Olympic years, all the top 5000m and 10000m specialists would be ‘bustin’ a gut’ to make the teams.   As an all round endurance runner he is ranked very highly among the world’s best.   His personal best times certainly stack up well in any company: 

Distance Time Year
2 miles 8:26.2 1971
3 miles 12:52.0 1974
5000 metres 13:26.60 1977
10000 metres 27:45.91 1975
Marathon 2:10:30 1972

If there is still any doubt at all of his pedigree as an athlete, look at this extract from Wikipedia for a bit about his competitive record.

Shorter won the U.S. national cross-country championships four times (1970–1973). He was the U.S. Olympic Trials champion in both the 10,000-meter run and the marathon in both 1972 and 1976. He also won both the 10,000-meter run and the marathon at the 1971 Pan American Games. Shorter was a four-time winner of the Fukuoka Marathon (1971–1974), generally recognized as the most prestigious marathon in the world at that time and held on a very fast course. His career best of 2:10:30 was set at that race on December 3, 1972. Several months later, on March 18, 1973, Shorter won the elite Lake Biwa Marathon in 2:12:03. He won the prestigious 7-mile Falmouth Road Race on Cape Cod in 1975 and 1976 and Atlanta’s 10-kilometer Peachtree Road Race in 1977.   Shorter achieved his greatest recognition in the marathon, and he is the only American athlete to win two medals in the Olympic marathon.”

The runner always asks the same question about any top athlete – what training does he do?   

  •  “Runner’s Tribe”    says the following.

Training Specifics

“I’ve always had a simple view of training for distance running: two hard interval sessions a week and one long run – 20 miles or two hours, whichever comes first. Every other run is aerobic, and you do as much of that for volume as you can handle. Do this for two or three years, and you’ll get good” – Frank Shorter.

The magazine comments – Shorter was incredibly consistent. During the entire 1970s decade, he averaged 17 miles per day, every day.  Some interesting points of note about Shorter’s training:-

  • He needed 10 hours of sleep per night, otherwise, his training suffered.
  • He ran 7-10 miles every morning except Sunday.
  • He listened to his body carefully and trained just below his limit.

Well, there’s something there but not a lot.   A very good, but not outstanding, distance runner of my acquaintance said training was “two effort sessions a week, long run on Sunday and plenty of steady running.”   That recipe is the one followed by distance runners the length and breadth of the country.   10 hours sleep a night is difficult for many to fit in.   “Every other run is aerobic” says nothing about how many other runs or the length of them.   But what training did he actually do himself?

  •   There is a lot more detail in the    sweatelite article    which you can find at goes into far more detail than most with theory mixed in with practical information.   It is a recommended read if you are interested in what a superb long distance runner was doing in the 1970s.   A couple of extracts from the article –   

    “Frank started out in college as a 5000m runner and he says that this laid the foundation for his training and racing right through his career, continuing to approach his training in a very similar way even when stepping up in distance to race marathons. His training was very polarised. Frank is adamant that he never ran intervals slower than 65s/lap pace – right around 5km pace.

    Looking to extend his range and move in to marathoning, he moved to Florida in 1970 to train with Jack Bacheler who was one of the preeminent US runners at the time. Bacheler’s Sunday ritual was a twenty-mile long run – Shorter joined the weekly pilgrimage.

    Frank was self-coached from his junior year in college onwards but found that seeking out mentors (who often happened to be training partners) was what worked well for him.

    These long runs with Jack Bacheler were very slow according to Frank; just jogging, not timing anything, chatting the whole way. He said that he learnt from Jack the importance of going very easy on easy days. One of his mottos was ‘never go so hard on your easy days that it interferes with the next hard day’.”      and further down –

    Frank said he would run twice per day except Sundays. He would do two interval sessions per week, as well as a race most weekends. When not racing on the Saturday he would go to the track for speed work – a regular workout being 16 x 200m in 27-28s, float 200m between.

    Frank’s reasoning for doing such fast workouts relative to race pace (especially when racing the marathon) was that in his mind, the greater the delta between training pace and race pace, the more comfortable and therefore sustainable running at that race pace becomes. Once he was feeling more comfortable running these workouts and was happy with how fast they were, he would begin to shorten recovery rather than increasing the pace of intervals.

    Some more example sessions include:

    6 x 800 in 2.08 down to 2.00 (jog 200-400 recovery – depending on altitude and fitness)

    12 x 400 in ~61s average, finishing under 60 (jog 200-400 recovery)

    Shortening the recovery and increasing the speed of the recovery jog in these workouts was used to simulate the surges experienced in races – improving the ability to recover quickly even at a higher pace. Sometimes the 800s would be run as 200 in 35s, 400 in 60s, 200 in 35s… Which Frank used to simulate surging in races.”     

  • According to      “Running   Coach” ] this is what his training weeks looked like:
Day Morning Afternoon/Evening
Monday 11 km (4:00 – 4:23 min/Km) 16 Km (4:00 min/Km)
Tuesday 11 Km (4:00 – 4:23 min/Km) 4 x 1200m (3:06 – 3:12 min/Km
Wednesday 11 Km (4:00 – 4:23 min/Km) 11 Km (4:00 – 4:23 min/Km)
Thursday 11 Km (4:00 – 4:23 min/Km) 12 x 400m (1:00 – 1:01)
Friday 11 Km (4:00 – 4:23 min/Km) 11 Km (4:00 – 4:23 min/Km)
Saturday 11 Km (4:00 – 4:23 min/Km) Competition 16 Km
Sunday 32 Km (16 Km 4:00 min/Km, 16 Km near 3:07/Km)  

(Source: Timothy Noakes, Lore of Running, Capetown 2003, 419.)

  • “How They Train” by Fred Wilt was a real mine of information for the dedicated marathon runner: information about all the top endurance athletes of the day, how they trained and raced.   As a very good athlete himself he knew what information was relevant  and also what aspiring marathon runners wanted.   (Not always the same thing).   The following page from the above book has been provided by Colin Youngson.

The above sources are all very illuminating with the extract from Fred Wilt being the most comprehensive and illuminating.   

NOTE:   Unlike Lydiard and van Aaken, he trained the same all year round.   That is a comment that has been made time and again in magazines and books.   There was no periodisation of the racing year.   Yet he obtained results on a year round basis.   


But what did he recommend others do?    The book illustrated above is probably the best known of his in this regard.   The List of Contents is always a good place to start when examining any book –

There were many similar books written by top marathon and ultra runners of which this is only one.   Looking at the list of contents as printed above may help you decide whether it is for you.   Remember that he did his running at the time of the “Running Boom” in the 1970’s and this book was first published in 2005.  It was written by an Olympic marathon winner with all the credentials listed above.  It has been reprinted often and the version that I have was printed in 2018.  You will note that he has, towards the very end of the book, racing programmes for 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and Marathon.      His Marathon Racing programme is reproduced below:

An excellent runner at a wide range of distances (both competitively and time-wise), a good writer and a highly respected figure in the athletics world, Frank Shorter was one of those that people all over the world wanted to emulate.

The 60s & 70’s: Tom Osler


Tom Osler, 1940  –  2023.

Like many of those mentioned as having the answer to the problem of success in long distance (ie further than six miles) running, Tom Osler is now not mentioned or quoted in books or magazine articles on the subject in this country.   I that because his ideas are out of date, because they have been assimilated into the mainstream or because they were just plain wrong in the first place?   They were nonetheless discussed by runners, male and female, who were interested, in some cases obsessed, with racing effectively in endurance events.   Like many of them, he was very intelligent.   

The Ultra-Running History Podcast – well worth a read and most of what follows is from that link – tells us about Tom.  You should read it, at the very least it will make you think.    You can find it at  )

He was a mathematician, former national champion distance runner, and author. He published his training theories in his 1967 booklet for the ages, “The Conditioning of Distance Runners”.  His pioneer 1976 24-hour run in New Jersey, brought renewed focus on the 24-hour run in America. In 1979, together with Ed Dodd, he co-authored UltraMarathoning: The Next Challenge. He is a member of the Road Runners Club of America Hall of Fame.

Osler was an excellent student, but purposely lowered his grades for a while in order to fit in as a “regular guy.” Then the gang in his neighborhood picked distance running as “that day’s form of athletic torture.” Osler jumped in headfirst and started to run. When he was fourteen years old, he had dreams that he would be the first person to break the four-minute mile. He said, “When you are young, you have dreams that seem very attainable.” He did a test mile run and finished in 6:30.

In 1957, Osler went to Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia where he studied physics and won many academic awards. Osler loved running and found time during his busy college life to also be deeply involved with road running. In 1959 he helped found the Road Runners Club of America and was its first co-secretary. He raced multiple times a month in many shorter races put on by Browning Ross (1924-1998) in Philadelphia and throughout New Jersey.

Osler said, “At the time you only ran in a proper athletic setting. You ran in a park or on a track. You certainly never ran on the streets. If you did, you were stared at by everyone.” Yes, he ran on the roads. “Other runners would ask me, ‘how do you stand the ridicule?’ My answer was that I simply ignored it.”   Frequently he was stopped and questioned by police while running, thinking he was running to try to get away after doing some crime. Once he was even pulled into a patrol car. Osler said, “He popped out of his car like a jack-in-the-box and tackled me. Before I knew what was happening, I was in the car beside him.” For his first six years of serious running, he raced at every opportunity. In a field of about 50 runners he would finish about 15th to 20th.   

But over-training started to plague him. He said, “I had a sciatic nerve condition that left me unable to walk. I still remember going out to train and going so slowly due to hip pain that even the dogs looked at me puzzled.   They couldn’t decide if I was running or not and were confused as to whether to chase me.” He soon figured out that rest and healing was just as important as training.   In 1963 after reading Running to the Top by Arthur Lydiard, he adopted the method of slow training and took his first “great leap forward.” He started to run steady miles, often reaching 70-75 miles a week, much of it on the road. As he coached himself, some wins started to come and he finished the 1964 Boston Marathon in 2:47.

Osler became life-long friends with future American ultrarunning legend, Ed Dodd, in the early 1960’s when Dodd was still in high school. They would do long training runs together. In 1965 at the age of 25, Osler was “beaten soundly” by Dodd, age 19, who became captain of St. Joseph University cross-country team. This increased Osler’s motivation and “the old competitive zeal was put into high gear.”  In July 1965, Osler went to Falls Church, Virginia, to compete in a one-hour track run against a highly competitive national field. He hoped to finish in the top ten. He ran away from the field, lapping them and won with 11.3 miles. He became highly ranked in the nation for 1965 and won the 25 km national championship. He raced nearly every weekend and won about 30 races in 1965 for distances from 3-15 miles, both on roads and cross-country .   

In 1967 Osler was inspired by Ted Corbitt to give ultramarathons a try. With running buddies, Neil Weygandt and Ed Dodd, he began doing 50-mile training runs from Collingwood to Atlantic City, New Jersey. On August 13, 1967, Osler won a club 40-mile fun-run in Egg Harbor, New Jersey. Confident that he could do well, he began preparing to run in the 50-mile national championship to be held in November 1967. He worked up his runs to 55 miles. He ran every afternoon after classes covering 75 to 80 miles a week and averaged 7.5 minutes per mile.”

And it is as an ultra runner that Tom is best known.   He won the National AAU Marathon in 1964, the National 30K championship in 1967.   In 1967 he also won the National RRC 50 Mile title and ran his best ever marathon in 2:29:04 at Boston and was fourth in the National AAU Marathon in Holyoke.   He later completed a 24 hour run covering 114 miles.   He had found his events.   How did he train for them?   He wrote a slim book in 1966 called ‘The Conditioning of Distance Runners’ where he said that distance running training should be at a comfortable pace 90% of the time.   Remember that in the 60’s many were running intervals four or even five times a week.   Lydiard was being accepted as the top coach at the time and Osler adopted and adapted a lot of Lydiard’s thoughts into his own training.   He wrote another (lengthier) book called ‘The Serious Runner’s Handbook’ in 1978.   The 32 pages of his first book had turned into 180+ and had much more information.

Divided into three parts – Training Smartly, Staying Healthy and Racing Quickly – 40 pages are devoted to training which in itself has 5 sections – Methods and their Uses, Base and Sharpening Work, Planning a Base Schedule, Planning a Sharpening Schedule and Final Answers on Training.     Part Two deals with injuries and illnesses, shoes, eating and drinking and the weather.   Part Three covers Techniques and Tactics, Racing 3 – 20 miles, Racing the Marathon, Racing Ultra Marathons and Predicting your times.   It is maybe an idea to look at the first part first.

He starts by laying out five types of training

  1.   Walking: ie walking at a brisk pace pace of 3 – 4 miles an hour. (NOT heel-and-toe race walking!)
  2.   Running mixed with Walking: ie. A mixture of running and walking enables an athlete to cover immense distances with little fatigue.   For instance, he says, a well-trained runner could cover 40 miles in training by alternating 2 miles in 15 minutes and then walking a quarter mile in 4 minutes. 
  3. Long, slow continuous runs which he says develops the cardio-respiratory system.   The slow pace is less likely to injure muscles and tendons which is not the case with faster running.
  4. Interval Speed Runs.   After a definition of fast repetitions with intervals, he tells us that this enables the runner to relax well at a faster pace.   
  5. Fast, long, continuous runs.   After saying it is the hardest form of training, he describes what he means by this.   The runner selects a distance – usually 5 to 15 miles – and runs it in training at a pace which is close to his racing pace.

Before going on to Base and then Sharpening Work, he credits Lydiard with being the source of modern training methods.   When he describes his own methods of training and rationale for them, there is however a similarity between them although they are different.  

Base Training: The runner’s base level is the result of his inherited endurance and his own experience of endurance related activities (walking, cycling, swimming, running, ski-ing, etc).   The point of Base  Training is to develop the cardio-respiratory system to increase the overall endurance of the runner.   It is important, he says, to maintain a relaxed and non-competitive atmosphere and not burn up the runner’s nervous energy.    It can be done at any time and can also be a health generating activity for almost anyone.   If a runner has done his sharpening training, he should return to base training.   Base Training should last for at least six months, preferably a year, before sharpening training begins.   He should not run the same distance every day, walking during some of the runs is allowed (even encouraged) and suggests the following of one way of doing this: 

Monday Short 5% of week’s total
Tuesday Medium 15% of week’s total
Wednesday Long 30% of week’s total
Thursday Short 5%of week’s total
Friday Medium 15% of week’s total
Saturday Medium or Short 10% of week’s total
Sunday Time Trial or Race 10% of week’s total

He also points out that some runners do hard day, easy day, hard day, easy day, . . .    a pattern that is also very effective.   He also says that with the exception of the time trial or race, all these runs should be at a comfortable or relaxed pace.   Certainly one should not be running so fast  that continuous conversation is difficult.

The purpose of the race is to remind the runner of the race pace because the training is done at a slow pace.   The long run is to help the circulatory system and give the athlete the experience of staying on his feet for a long period of time.    The runner begins this period with a low mileage of 30 miles per week which is gradually increased until the long run is about 22 to 25 miles.

Sharpening training:   The sharpening training begins about 6 weeks before the race in which the runner aims for peak performance.   This is much more difficult for two reasons:   (a) There is a greater strain placed on the runner’s body and resistance to illness is less.   (b) Great care must be paid to every aspect of sharpening or a low peak or even complete failure will result.   A typical week would look lie this.

Day Training
Monday Easy
Tuesday Relaxation – Speed Workout
Wednesday Moderately long easy run
Thursday   Relaxation – Speed Workout
Friday Relaxation – Speed Workout
Saturday Medium Easy Run
Sunday Race or Time Trial

What’s a relaxation – speed workout?   The aim is to run at speed and stay relaxed.   The emphasis is on relaxation and only secondarily on speed.   eg in the first week of this period he would cover the distance of his previous medium runs, in this case 12 miles, as follows: the first three miles at base training speed of 7:30 per mile; during the fourth mile he does four fast breaks of about 50 – 100 yards; during the fifth mile, he does a long build-up of between 880 to 1320 yards; during the sixth mile he does 4  x  50 – 100 yard breaks; in the seventh mile he does another half mile build up; in the eighth it is another 4 sets of 50 – 100 yard breaks; ninth another half mile build up; the last three miles are at base training pace with another 4  x  50 – 100 yards.   The workout centres upon the 3 half mile breaks.   The 4 x 50 – 100 breaks are never at full speed which implies straining and a poor running action but he can attain near maximum speed in a relaxed fashion.   The load is increased as follows:  

Week Increase
First Week 3 x 880 yards
Second Week 3 x 880 yards   plus   1 x 440 yards
Third Week 4 x 880 yards
Fourth Week 4 x 880 yards   plus   1 x 440 yards
Fifth Week 5 x 880 yards
Sixth Week 5 x 880 yards   plus  1 x 440 yards
Seventh Week 6 x 880 yards

Osler goes on from here to talk about how you know the sharpening is working, what signs to look for as it progresses, how to adapt training if there are any problems, etc.   The best way to find out what he meant is to buy the book – less than £4 on eBay – and read it.   We could only skim the surface here.   The list of contents below will tell you whether you want to buy it – less than £4:00, postage paid on eBay!

His name is unknown to many – most – Scottish distance runners but he did have an influence, especially in the 1970’s when many top marathon runners produced books describing their training and its rationale.   Where Osler was different was in the amount of time he devoted to long, slow distance running.  A very intelligent man, his book covers every aspect of distance running that anyone could conceivably be interested in and in detail but in language that every runner could understand.


The 60s & 70’s: Ernst van Aaken

Van Aaken on the right.

Arthur Lydiard was the man who asked his athletes to run 100 miles a week  for 10 weeks as part of their periodised training.   They all did it His own athletes included such as Peter Snell (800m/1500m), Murray Halberg (1500m/3000m/5000m) Barry Magee (marathon).      When his book  ‘Run to the Top’ came out in 1962, many seized on the magic 100 mpw (round numbers attract, his runners were successful) and put it into their programme.   Scotland was no different to the rest of the world – if it worked in New Zealand, Finland, Mexico and over countries where Lydiard worked and coached, it would work here.   Scots could be seen running along the road, over the country and up and down hills in their effort to reach the magic number.   The question in 1960s and 70s Scotland was not “Do you run 100 mpw”, but rather, “Do you run them fast or slow?”   Many found they could not manage to do that and race effectively but for a very high percentage of endurance men, it was a ‘must have.’

Then along came Germany’s Ernst van Aaken and long slow distance running.   LSD was the abbreviation for the training system.   Unlike Lydiard, the pace was defined – slow; and also unlike Lydiard the distance was undefined – long as opposed to 100 mpw.

Ernst van Aaken (16 May 1910– 2 April 1984)  was a German sports doctor and coach.  Over time he was dubbed the Running Doctor and was responsible for the training method called the Waldnieler Dauerlauf (German: “Waldniel endurance run”). Several other coaches claim the honour but, insofar as it can be attributed to any one person, van Aaken is believed to be the founder of the long slow distance method of endurance training.

Once he had settled on this way of training, which he called ‘Pure Endurance’ , he was fanatical in his propagation of the method.   He advocated it at the expense of interval training which had been the prevailing heresy in the 50’s and early 60’s.   One of his athletes, Harald Norpoth won the silver medal for the 5000m in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Norpoth really was a class runner – in the European Championships in 1966,, he won bronze in the 1500m and silver in the 5000m, and set a 2000m world record of 4:57.8 in September 1966.   He had a relatively long career with third place in the European Championships 5000m in 1971 finishing only 1.2 seconds behind the winner.   Almost skeletal in appearance, he was 6’0″ tall and weighed in at less than 10 stone.   He was able to follow a fast pace and also had a feared finishing kick.   

The tale is told of a young Ian Stewart being defeated by Harald Norpoth after a really hard battle after which they were both totally drained; Lying on the ground Ian saw a TV cameraman passing and called him across.   Looking into the camera he is quoted as saying something like “That was bloody hard Harald and you won this time, but I’m telling you now, you can expect more of the same every time you come up against me!”    

Harald was coached by van Aaken and was the most famous of his athletes.   Although van Aaken had formed his theories and been practising them himself as well as being a strong advocate for them since 1947, it was the 1960s before they became common currency.   The following extract comes from the Science of Running website and can be read in its entirety at 

Ernst Van Aaken: The Pure Endurance Method – Science of Running

“His method consisted mostly of slow running, with  Norpoth’s training consisting of 90% of his runs at between the heart rates of 120 and 150.  Even during his harder tempo run, his heart rate only reached around 180, still well below his max.  Van Aaken believed that the key to running was to get oxygen into the body and increase the size of the heart.  To accomplish this he recommended running long distances at slow paces, thus lower heart rates (about 130bpm) and to only rarely accumulate any oxygen debt. At the time, this was revolutionary thinking because he directly contradicted the prevailing wisdom:  the famous German interval method designed by Woldemar Gerschler that said you run a repetition raising your heart rate to 180 and then recover until it reaches 120, when you start another repetition (and so on).

Van Aaken’s model depends, instead, on long runs with a heart rate of 130 and short bouts at race pace over a small portion of the desired racing distance.  An example of the short sessions might be 3x500m at mile pace with plenty of recovery (~ 5 minutes) after an easy run.  If you’re training for the 5k, then an example would be 2-3x1000m at 5k pace with several minutes recovery.  One example given for a 15 minute 5k runner to do 12x 400 in 72 seconds with a full recovery of 200 meters of walking or 400 meters of slow jogging.

In addition to his “pure endurance” method, Van Aaken had some unique ideas on what would change in the future in training.  In his book, he gives an example for  a runner who wants to run 3:20 for 1,500 and 12:45 for 5,000m.  Dr. Van Aaken believes that the training might include up to 40 kilometers a day spread out over up to 5 runs per day.  In addition, he believed  the limiting factor in distance running was getting enough oxygen to your cells, thus aerobic development was key.”


What did we take from it?   5 runs a day was one thing which to any working man – and we were all working men or women (for van Aaken was a proponent of distance running for women) – would have found almost impossible.

After reading his book, it was seen that there was much more to him than that.   From the same article as that quoted above, we get:

Van Aaken’s views on Speed and Mileage:

In Van Aaken’s book he has a chapter entitled How much? How Fast? to answer these questions. It starts with a generic chart for mileage per day based on event:

•    Race—Training done per day
•    400 meters— 6 kilometers
•    800 meters—  10 kilometers
•    1500 meters— 15 kilometers
•    3000 meters— 20 kilometers
•    5000 meters— 25 kilometers
•    10,000 meters— 30 kilometers
•    Marathon— 40 kilometers

In addition to the slow mileage and tempo runs, Van Aaken included some pure speed or sprint work.  He advised doing sprints of 50 meters. These sprints were to be done as sharpeners only occasionaly. The reason these were done is because they were so short, that no oxygen debt occured.  One of Van Aaken’s key principles is to not run in oxygen debt during training as this is not what the body was designed to do.”

He was a coach whose ideas were never seriously adopted by Scottish or British marathon runners.   He never laid out his yearplan as other more fashionable coaches did – Lydiard had his periodisation plan neatly laid out and British coaches had their own ideas nicely set out in Athletics Weekly or BAAB coaching booklets – and there was an almost wilful misunderstanding which boiled down to an almost scornful  “Who can do 4 hours running a day?   “Where can I get in 5 runs a day?”   Nor, to the best of my knowledge were these ideas discussed or mentioned at SAAA coaching courses.   Here then we set out his rules for running as set out by the man himself (note the comments on weight).

Van Aaken’s key rules for running:

(As found on page 56 of The Van Aaken Method)
•    “Run daily, run slowly, with creative walking breaks”
•    “Run many miles, many times your racing distance if you are a track runner; up to and often beyond if you are a long distance runner.  Do tempo running only at fractions of your racing distance.”
•    “Run no faster during tempo runs than you would in a race.”
•    “Bring your weight down 10-20% under the so-called norm and live athletically- i.e., don’t smoke, drink little or no alcohol, and eat moderately.”
•    “Consider that breathing is more important than eating, and that continuous breathlessness in training exhausts you and destroys your reserves.”

Diet and sleep

A central theme of Van Aaken’s method is that the athlete should have very little fat on his body.  The lighter the athlete the better.  He took this to the extreme with his athletes stating that the runner should eat very little, about 2,000 calories per day.  Which is not very much at all considering the vast amounts of mileage his athletes did.  He wasn’t strict on what the athlete ate exactly, as long as he did not eat too much.  It was recommended to eat a good amount of high quality protein and to limit your fat intake to less than 40 grams a day.  In addition, he believed that a runner should fast for a day occasionally.  Van Aaken said that the fasting taught the runner how to run with little fuel supplies and to teach his body how to burn fat.

In addition to his different views on diet, Van Aaken also had controversial views on sleep.  He believed that contrary to what most believe, that people sleep too much.  He would often limit his own sleep to only a few hours.

The web link above is very interesting to anyone involved in long distance running and who wants to know more about the methods advocated by Van Aaken including six takeaways from his training for today’s athlete.


In 1972 Van Aaken was hit by a car while out running and lost both legs. Confined to a wheelchair, he became also a champion for disabled sport and wheelchair racing. Other countries showed more interest in the man and his ideas and theories than we did and he held countless lectures mainly in the United States and Japan.   He also organized running races, especially marathons for women, besides ultra distance running events.

In the 1960s, and maybe more often in the 1970s we did talk about him but maybe not as much as we should have done – although his book ran into several re-prints.