“Are you in this simply to do mindless labor, or do you want to improve?”

Bill Bowerman, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon

A few years ago, I decided that instead of bothering with the science and niceties of training, I would flog myself into incredible shape. I ran ten miles every morning, then I went to work, then I ran six miles on my lunch break, then went back to work. On my off days, I ran sixteen miles then took a nap. I didn’t bother about pace, I rarely hit the track, and I raced whenever I could.

I had a friend that I trained with named Jeremy who, instead of following me into fatigue, crafted a training plan around improving in the mile. He ran half the mileage that I ran, executed hurdle drills and core circuits twice a week, and religiously hit the track on Tuesdays and Fridays.

I had some okay races, mostly last minute decisions and usually surprising performances in the heat or surprising performances in the second-race-of-the-weekend. I never set a personal best.

Jeremy lowered his mile time by twelve seconds and beat me in every race, no matter the distance.

Runners succumb to romanticism, to poetic effort, to Sisyphean tasks. Easily-trackable metrics (mileage, repetitions, splits) make it easy to convince oneself that improvement comes from training more.

Sports Illustrated profiled Herb Elliot before the Rome Olympics in 1960, highlighting his monstrous workouts and the wild training theories of his coach and the “Stotan” (Spartin/Stoic) lifestyle.

Herb Elliot had absolute faith in his coach’s workouts, but zero intention of letting running rule his life forever. He willingly killed himself over two years so that he could set a world record in the mile then get a scholarship to Cambridge. When they denied him, stating that they only gave scholarships to Olympic Medalists, he begrudgingly began training for the Rome Olympics and proceeded to kill himself for another eighteen months. Four hundred meters into the final, Elliot blasted off, scorching the rest of the field by over three seconds and setting a world record in the process. He then made his way to Cambridge on scholarship.

Elliot worked hard, arguably harder than anyone in that Olympic Final. He ran back to back to back workouts, ascending mountains, across golf courses, up and down sand dunes, through the Australian surf. He abstained from not just alcohol but most enjoyable foods (his coach advised mostly milk, vegetables and raw oats). He did all this, however, to win races.

When training, remember your Lofty Goal. Schedule Supplementary Races that will help you towards your Lofty Goal. Schedule Workouts to get you in shape for these Supplementary Races. Fill the spaces between the Workouts with Easy Runs and allow yourself to recover.

Prioritize your Lofty Goals and train accordingly.