“I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.”

–Coleman Cox

Bob Schul began running in high school to fight his awful allergies. He ran 4:34 for the mile, well enough to continue running at college. He set his school’s record for the mile– 4:12–then joined the Air Force.

Prior to that, his training resembled the standard for the times– endless four hundred meter repeats with an occasional run across the Ohio country. In the Air Force, however, Schul fell under the command of Max Truex, an Olympic 10,000 meter runner, who trained with Hungarian coach Mihail Igloi. Igloi advised a strange system– essentially two straight hours of various intervals on the track, repeated twice a day every day. Schul followed Truex to practice one day and barely made it out alive, crawling to sleep on his living room floor. He returned the next day, however, and the day after that, and the day after that.

Soon, he was breaking American records, then world records, then– after thousands of hours of intervals– he lined up for the Olympic 5,000 meter final. On a waterlogged, cinder track, Bob Schul rose to his toes and scorched a 54 second last lap and won a gold medal– the only American to ever do so.

In his senior year at Yale, Frank Shorter won the NCAA six mile championship but finished fifth at the AAU National Championships. Upon graduating, he moved to Florida with Jack Bachelor and Jeff Galloway and began systematically destroying himself. In the morning he’d run six miles. In the evening he’d run ten. On Tuesday he’d run 400 meter repeats on the track. On Thursday he’d run 1200 meter repeats. On Saturday he’d run 10 miles hard or he’d race. On Sunday he’d run 20 miles. A year later, at the National Championships, he finished third in the three mile, first in the six mile, and second in the marathon.

The next year, he won an Olympic gold medal.

Bill Rodgers never trained very hard at Wesleyan. He ran most week days, and sometimes he’d run a weekend long run with Amby Burfoot, but sometimes he’d sleep in after a night of partying. He graduated and picked up smoking and riding a motorcycle.

Then his motorcycle got stolen so he picked up running again. Then he quit smoking. Then he started running more. Then he was running 10 miles every morning and 10 miles every evening. Then he was running intervals on the Boston University track with the Greater Boston Track Club and racing or logging long runs with them on the weekends.

Then he won the Boston Marathon.

The flip side to training as hard as you can is that you can run yourself right into the ground. Bob Schul didn’t do much after his gold medal. Frank Shorter’s legs are essentially bionic. Bill Rodgers hurt his foot before his only Olympic Marathon. Countless runners have trained themselves to mince meat or simply burnout.

Ask any work horse who is frequently injured why they are doing a particular workout and they will be hard pressed to tell you why.

Focus on your lofty goal. Prioritize consistency, so long as it serves your goal. Then train as hard as you can, so long as it serves your consistency.