with Amby Burfoot, Chief Editor of Runners World
We have with us Amby Burfoot, editor of Runners World and Boston Marathon Champion of 1968.
He is the author of hundreds of articles as well as the books : "Runner World's The Complete Book of Running", "The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life", "The Principles of Running" and "The Runner's World Complete Book of Beginning Running"
Do check out his blog at Runners World as well as his books for some of the best and most inspiring tips on running you'll find. Visit his http://www.ambyburfoot.com for signed books and more information.
In this interview we get a more personal look into his own running in addition to training tips, injury prevention and of course running shoes.
Amby, you are one of the leading writers within running and your articles (and books) have been read by millions of runners all over the world.
When and how did the interest for running and training in general first start out for you ? And when did this turn into writing ?
I grew up the son of a youth sports director, so I played and enjoyed all the big American sports. When I was in 10th grade, I was basically the worst player on the basketball team. One day our coach was angry at us, so he made us go run the 3-mile cross-country course, and I finished ahead of all my teammates.
Soon I started thinking it might be fun to switch to a sport where I might have a better chance to succeed. I did this the next fall, and performed quite well from the beginning. This was encouraging, so I kept training harder and getting better. My miles/week went from 35 in high school, to 70-80-100-110 in college.
My last year in college, 1968, was the year I won the Boston Marathon. I was only 21 at the time. The next December, now 22, I ran my personal best, 2:14:29 at Fukuoka.
I didn't train to be a journalist, but Runner's World was getting very successful and very much stereotyped as a "West Coast" magazine in the late 1970s, so they hired me to add some seriousness and an East Coast presence. It was a dream job, and I couldn't believe my good fortune. More than 30 years later, I still feel the same. I've always believed there's only one key to writing well about running: be authentic, tell the truth.
My background as a serious runner has, I hope, helped me to succeed at this. I suppose I should add another key writer quality: Listen well, and practice sincere empathy. When your subject sees how interested you are in his/her life, you'll get a fuller, more detailed explanation of that life.
At the peak of your running career you were the second fastest US marathoner of all time with a 2.14 personal best and also winner of the Boston Marathon back in 1968.
At that time how did you train and with the knowledge you now have, in what way would you have done things differently ?
I never thought I had any great talent as a runner, which I measure by one's 5000 time. At my best, I don't think I could have broken 14:00. But in the mid 1960s, I believed that running rewarded those who worked the hardest, and I was willing to work harder than anyone else I knew. I went to college during the "sex, drugs and rock n roll" era, and believe me, the only things I did were study and run. I went to bed at 9:30 every evening, so I could be up at 6 the next morning for my run. On weekends, I usually ran a 20 miler. The training was all very slow, about 7 to 7:30 per mile, but of course I raced often with my college team. That was my speedwork.
I don't think this training was intelligent, and I don't think that any amount of other training would have made me a 13:30 5000 runner or anything close to that. But I have now changed my thoughts on hard work and running success. I don't think the hardest trainer necessarily wins, but the most talented athlete.
The East Africans have convinced me that they have more athletes with high levels of talent in their population than the rest of the world, and that the athletes at the top of their talent pile probably are faster than ours. I now believe that virtually every sport rewards a particular body type and genome more than other bodies. Good examples: Sprinters, sumo wrestlers, gymnasts, etc. For some reason, the East Africans got most of the chips when it comes to distance running.
I think we have quite a bit more to learn about training for distance running, particularly in the areas of long and short term periodization. We know how the successful runners train, but we don't know if a different kind of training might achieve equal or even better successes.
Many of our visitors are runners that like to run 2-3 times weekly to stay in shape (and have fun with their training)
If you were to list your three personal favorite and effective workouts for those type of runners, what would it be ?
I believe a runner can still achieve reasonably high fitness and racing success on three workouts a week. I often just do 3 a week myself, filling in additional exercise time with walking and recumbent bicycling. I especially like the recumbent, at home, because I can read newspapers and magazines while getting a low intensity workout.
My 3 running workouts in order of importance would be: long run (8-10 miles or more); tempo run (3 to 4 miles); and interval training (800 meter repeats a little faster than my 5K race pace.) I find that I can't do long runs any more without it being a social affair, so I always have 3-4 training partners when I go longer than 6 miles or so. And, truth be told, I can't remember doing a long run longer than 13 miles in the last 5 years or so. I still enter marathons and run them in about 4 hours (without pushing hard), which is more than a minute a mile slower than my predicted time from the half-marathon, which I am currently racing in about 1:34. In other words, I don't race hard in the marathon because I don't do true marathon training. My weekly running mileage is usually 15 to 25 miles per week.
As a site about running shoes, many of our readers have questions about how to pick the correct running shoes for them. What are your personal take on this and how would you advice runners to make their choice ?
Of course, I remember when we had no good distance shoes in the mid 1960s. Then the first ones arrived from Japan with a firm outsole and no midsole whatsoever. We all wore them, loved them, and never got injured, for the most part. So should shoes be minimalist or were the only runners in the 1960s the ones truly born to run? Good question. I don't know the answer.
I've been lucky enough to be largely injury free during my 103,000 total lifetime miles. I've particularly got no joint problems, ie, knees, hips, backs. This has been confirmed by MRI. I think I was one of those born to run, and I appreciate how lucky I have been. I have a high arch and should wear cushioned shoes, but generally like light training shoes without any gimmicks. These "feel" best when I run in them, and seem to treat me well. I like shoes with a beveled heel on the outside. I'm not sure all shoes have this feature, but it's another something that seems to work for me. I'm a heel-foot striker, but not heavily, and I have a short, "shuffle" stride.
If we talk about running shoes, one cannot avoid talking about running injuries. I know you have written several pieces of this, but if you were to sum up your top five tips of how to avoid injuries what would these be ?
I have often said, "The first intelligent runner hasn't been born yet." By this I mean that we all repeat the mistakes of all who have come before us, rather than learning from their advice. As far as injuries go, I believe there's one piece of advice that's far more important than all others combined. This is it: When you're injured, rest until you've recovered from the injury. If you don't do this, the same injury will keep coming back, as well as "compensation injuries." All the other advice is good of course: Increase mileage slowly, take rest/easy days before and after hard days, take periodized rest periods of several weeks to a month during the year.
I also think many runners would be well served to take a full easy week once a month. By that I mean, a week with a 50 percent mileage cutback and no hard days. But I find this advice difficult to follow myself when I get motivated for a race, and I don't know how many other runners would succeed with it.
6. A last question, and this is a personal one : what are your favorite running shoes ?
I have to say that Mizuno shoes have been my favorites the last 10 years. I like their simple lightweight trainers. I tend to believe that the plastic wave plate makes these shoes somewhat more responsive than the foam in other shoes. This is probably all in my head, but the shoes feel right to me when I run in them.
Thank you Amby Burfoot for this in-depth interview !
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