“I know a good physiotherapist and a good doctor, and I listen to what they say, but they can’t know everything, so in the end the coaching is an art, supported by this science. I make the fewest mistakes by being totally empirical.”

-Peter Coe

John Walker, the first person to break 3:50 for the mile, ran over a hundred miles a week, rarely slower than five-minute-pace. Most of his rivals trained in the same manner– lots of miles, lots of speed.

Then along came Sebastian Coe. Sebastian trained under his father, and Sebastian’s father approached Sebastian’s training scientifically– he shunned theoretical and sought empirical: Sebastian only ran workouts that proved results, either through metrics (blood tests, vital signs, and splits) or results (races). As a result, he rarely went over sixty miles a week, often under thirty. He eliminated junk mileage entirely in favor of a rigorous weight-lifting regimen. He ran intervals most days, concentrating on specific paces each day.

Coe first met John Walker and the rest of the world’s best milers at the Oslo Dream Mile in 1979 and smoothly accelerated away from them all, winning in a world record time of 3:48. The next year in Moscow he won a silver medal in the 800 meters and a gold medal in the 1500 meters. Four years later he did it again.

Peter Coe treated his son’s career as a science experiment. Once he tried training Seb at altitude as it’s supposed to increase red blood cell count. When it failed to provide favorable results, they never tried it again. Each workout that Sebastian carried an intended result. If it did not provide that result, it was not repeated.

Habits are good to cultivate as they can often safeguard against laziness or provide stability in a time of uncertainty. Training is a habit but must be subject to scrutiny and analysis– if something does not work, don’t do it. Consider your self a machine: your job is to tweak the machine until it is as fast and efficient as possible.

I had a friend named Ann who ran marathons. Ann kept every workout she ran on an excel spreadsheet, a new sheet for every marathon. She ran her first marathon in 3:20, her next in 3:15, then 3:05, then 2:59, then 2:58, then for three years she failed to run faster so, fed up, she simply copied her training to the mile from her 2:58 and ran three minutes faster. Six races and a few tweaks later she qualified for the Olympic Trials.

I like keeping training logs because I like looking at how much I worked. It makes me feel good. The true purpose of a training log however, is an objective record of an experiment– execute experiments, log results, analyze the data, reconfigure.

Set goals, set them as high as you can. Give yourself time, as much time as you can afford. Train hard, as hard as you need to train (but never more than that).