REVIEWS: Old School Readings…

A Cold Clear Day

by Frank Murphy

This self-styled “athletic biography” tells the story of the marathon career of Leonard Graves Edelen better known as simply as “Buddy”.

Few who deserve to be remembered so well have been forgotten as widely, so the next time you raise a cheer to an over-rated modern sports performer, consider “Buddy” Edelen who died of cancer in 1997 at the age of 59, a true hero of sport who received little yet gave his profession so much.

The book reminds me of all that was good about Charlie Spedding’s “From last to first” with the narrative as simple and straightforward as the lives of the athletes who made the West in 60s, 70s and early 80s. For all the technology and welfare they were missing, Buddy and his compatriots could focus more sharply and ran the better for it even if it was during a time when “drivers would regularly try to run you off the road.”

Each chapter starts with a catchy quotes such as “These bursts are dangerous, but more dangerous to others than to you” and “I fell twice but so did everyone else”, the latter referring to Buddy’s formative years as a marathoner when he moved to England to make his name on the tough cross-country scene at a time when American distance runners did not merit much respect. Buddy Edelen changed that, well before the time of Frank Shorter and Prefontaine.

His marathon world record is the inevitable athletic highlight of the book but coaches and serious thinkers on the field of athletics will enjoy the detailed training plans, the many observations on the effects of continued hard training and the causes behind Edelen’s rapid decline.

Allow me a moment to remember Buddy Edelen with this the finest quote from the book:

“…the question was not so much how he did that but why he did that. Because the question rarely resolves itself in material terms, running was pointless to many people. Others, far more fortunate, recognised intuitively that the very pointlessness of running was its greatest strength. That pointlessness meant that no spectator could ever entirely know what was going on as he watched a distance being run. The casual spectator might have a single clue: he had what he saw. The better informed spectator might have additional clues, by knowing what performances had been rendered in the past by the particular athlete…In sum, when running was pointless, running was fascinating because running had very little to do with running. It had to do with people and why they act the way they do.”

As in “Bowerman and the Men of Oregon” you put down this book feeling that the heavy commercialisation of athletics have left us poorer in as many ways as it has left us richer and these old biographies bear reading to remind us that you do not need government grants, fancy facilities, and a team of experts to survive elite levels of mileage and reach the pinnacle of the sport.

Verdict: 4/5(a short but eminently worthwhile reminder of times gone by)

Running with Lydiard

by Lydiard and Gilmore

Perhaps the fact that I have consumed several other Lydiard books and articles cloud my view, but I found “Running with Lydiard” the clearest, most precise and focused of the Lydiard books.

As always, you simply lean back and enjoy the real-life examples and brusque prose of the old master, but there’s memorable sections here such as Lydiard’s recollection of how they tactically outmanoeuvred their competitors at two consecutive Olympics, how to understand whether you are middle-distance or long-distance material and advice on running form, nutrition and cross-training that has often been repackaged in recent years as new and innovative but was known to Lydiard thirty years ago.

“Running with Lydiard” is short and benefits from having “Healthy,Intelligent Training” as a companion volume as it’s low in production value and in graphics. The training program layout is quite confusing and take up around 68 of the books 2007 pages.

The main selling point for me was the clear descriptions on what type of pace and intensity should be in the aerobic phase, Lydiard talks extensively to this but I’ll offer the below quote as a taste:

You may have been under the impression that marathon type training involves slow running. This is not so, apart from the supplementary work. The top-class runners do not jog around in this phase of their preparation but run at speeds from 3 3/4 minutes to 3 1/4 minutes per kilometre. There are still some long-distance runners who believe they should run no faster than, say 4 1/4 minute pace and that to run faster will waste effort and produce poorer results; again, this is not so. The runner who keep their speed just within the maximum steady state will gain the same general cardiac development in far less time than the runners who train at speeds far below the maximum steady state.

Yesterday, I reviewed Galloway’s dismal “Cross-Country Running”, well in “Running with Lydiard”, Arthur crams in more useful information in four pages titled “Cross-Country Running and Racing”, explaining the benefits and differences to be aware of as well as putting the cross-country season in its proper athletic context: as a physical conditioner for next year’s training. He also fires a word of warning to cross-country organisers:

“In some countries, cross-country races are nothing better than glorified track races, particularly in many American states, which run cross-country on flat lawn-like areas. This is not cross-country; it lets you run almost as you would on the road, with fast, sustained speed running, which really does not help to develop condition because the exercise becomes sustained and anaerobic , and encouraged cardiac fatigue. Many of the courses do not even have obstacles.”

Cross-country organisers take note! The above reads a fine endorsement of mountain running as well. Before I become tempted to quote the full book (you could), let me finish this review for you can’t go wrong buying this book.

Verdict: 4.5/5 (as good a training guide as any you’ll find but programs are confusing)