Thursday, April 22, 2010

Stupid training methods through the ages

Running Through The Ages by Edward Seldon Sears provides many amusing pieces of information about the history of running.

It is interesting to note how little our understanding and design of training methods has changed over the centuries.

For example, I learned that the first book written specifically on running was Pedestrianism by Walter Thom, published in 1813.

Pedestrianism was the name of the new emerging sport of professional running in the 19th century. There was a huge running boom in England in 1840-50 that spilled over to America.

British running fans adored Captain Barcley. Pedestrianism contains details of Barcley's sought-after training methods.

Actually Barcley took them from Sir John Sinclair's A Collection of Papers on the Subject of Athletic Exercises (1806).

Sinclair's training methods were in turn mainly based on those of the pugilist John 'Gentleman' Jackson. And so on.

Anyway, here are the Barcley's training methods as they are described in Thom's book:
"When the object in view is the accomplishment of a pedestrian match, his regular exercise may be from 20-24 miles a day. He must rise at 5 in the morning:

  1. Run half mile at top speed up a hill.
  2. Walk six miles at a moderate pace.
  3. Breakfast at about 7 AM: beefsteaks, muttonchops, underdone with stale bread and old beer.
  4. Walk six miles at a moderate pace.
  5. Lie in bed without clothes for half hour.
  6. Walk four miles.
  7. Dinner at  4 PM: beefsteaks, muttonchops with bread and beer as at breakfast.
  8. Immediately after dinner, run half mile at top speed.
  9. Walk six miles at a moderate pace.
  10. Bed at eight and repeat the next day.
Avoid liquids as much as possible only enough to quench the thirst. From two to three months of training will, in most cases, be sufficient, especially if he is in tolerable shape to begin with."

Long-distance runners used this method well into the second half of the 19th century. Training for sprinters was similar, except they were advised to train in extremely heavy shoes.

Most trainers of the time believed the majority of a runner's training should consist of walking. Even the great 20th century runner Paavo Nurmi incorporated walking into his training program.

However some dared to question Barcley's training methods and one bold critic wrote: "Such training if carried into effect is calculated to send a man to his grave."

To put things in perspective, our current training methods may not be much different nor better, and will probably seem equally stupid when some researcher of running takes a critical look at them in the future.

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