What Makes an Elite Runner?

What Makes an Elite Runner? | Active.com. (source for excerpt)

In the above link, pro runner Jeff Galloway discusses how he went from being one of little talent, to that of an elite runner. I have been reading much of late regarding elite distance runners. And, I have long decided that I am highly motivated to give it a try. Of course, my times reflect that of a very good and competitive runner, but not that of an “A” standard elite. And in truth, I might not be able to reach this mark. However, I continue to elevate the bar with my efforts. I am receiving great coaching advice. For the most part, I am on target with my training, as I have noted here. In many ways, I am still making a transition from being one type of athlete to another type. In high school, I did not run on the cross-country teams; I was an All-Conference and All-State running back and line backer; I was a 230 pound state power lifting champion in the 220 lbs division. I focused heavily on weights, sprints, and short explosive drills. Once I got to graduate school, my focused changed to longer runs. Today, my days are organized around the courses I teach, the papers I write, and my training. In the end, there is little time for anything else. As I continue to improve as a serious runner, I have decided to focus on two big bench marks as indicators of making the transition to that next level. In April, I will run the Boston Marathon in hopes of a 2:50ish time. The course is challenging, however, it will serve as a great indicator of my progress. I have elected to run the Chicago Marathon in October. Again, I am hoping this fast course will offer me a breakthrough towards running a time that will place me in the elite category. In order for this to happen, I am focusing on my two weakest areas: my diet and sleep. I am aiming to get down to 145 lbs; thus, I need to shed about 13 lbs. Because my body fat composition is good, dropping 13 lbs will be a bit of a challenge; I guess that is why I need to refocus my diet. I am a big snack person.

Above: Susan Loken

I have read accounts of other runners that took on the same journey I am traveling. One of my favorites is that of Susan Loken, a runner much like myself, who looked to transform herself from being a serious runner to that of an elite runner. Ms. Loken, by the age of 42, took on serious running to drop weight after the birth of her kid. Her first marathon was at 3 hours and 58 minutes; however, after electing to hire a coach and ratchet her miles up, she ran a 2 hour and 42 minute marathon which qualified her for the US Olympic Trials.

Below is an excerpt from Galloway’s article on what it takes to be an elite. I am doing well with all of his suggestions except for injuries and diet.  He writes:

Have you wondered what it would be like to be a world-class runner? Well, here are some of the factors:

Shoes: Most elite runners have a shoe sponsorship from a major brand. The tendency is to replace the shoes before they become worn out. With a weekly mileage of 100 miles a week, the average shoe will last two to four weeks—less when the shoe is used for speed training.

Training Days Per Week: Seven days a week. Unfortunately, even when injured, many elite runners go into denial and keep pushing—aggravating the problem.

Hours Per Week: Top runners commit to about 10 hours of actual running each week. When you factor in driving to the track, warm-up, warm-down, recovery, and dressing—add another 15 to 20 hours. Treating an injury (which is common) can add another four to 10 hours.

Speedwork: Athletes vary widely in how many days of speed training they do. Most elite distance runners practice some form of accelerations about every other day. The really tough speed workouts would be done only once or twice a week.

Injuries: World-class athletes tend to be injured about once a month—but some much more often. The single greatest factor in sustaining improvement is staying injury free.

Frustration: Because race performance is often due to factors beyond the control of individuals, athletes are often frustrated. They will train for three to four months for a big race, but the weather is hot or the competition they need did not show up and the race doesn’t go the way they thought it would. When one is in shape for a given performance, it usually takes three to four races to realize that time.

Emotional Effects: The higher you achieve, the greater tendency you’ll have to fall off that high level. Athletes live with the anxieties of infection, burnout, injury, sponsorship cancellation, and “will I be around next season.”


One thought on “What Makes an Elite Runner?

  1. Edward, I have been following your comments at the running forum and wanted to make my way to your blog. Boy your training looks great. Your miles are mad. Your efforts should pay off in the end. I am in your boat, but I am not as good or gifted of a runner as you. Pete’s training looks rough. My body cannot handle the load you are carrying.

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