When less is more.

If you ask any of my friends or colleagues, they will probably tell you that I am fond of drawing parallels between business and running (in fact at a push I can draw a parallel between running and pretty much anything) and every so often I read something that is ostensibly business related but which really resonates with me as a runner. Recently that happened with a blog post from my favourite business advisor Seth Godin.

Seth wrote a pithy short post about the fact that in the old world order, working longer hours was what got you ahead:

In that world, it’s clearly an advantage to have a team that spends more time than the competition. One way to get ahead as a freelancer or a factory worker of any kind … was simply to put in more hours.

But Seth then goes on to say that “After hour 24, there are no more hours left. Suddenly, you can’t get ahead by outworking the other guy, because both of you are already working as hard as Newtonian physics will permit.”

What runners and coaches know

Well this is also true in running and I believe that athletics coaches have known this for far longer than business people. Coaches know that at the elite level the days when a runner could simply ‘do more’ than the competition and consistently improve have passed. In the recent history of running, up to the present day, the winner is the person who can do the biggest volume of quality training and recover the best for the competition. Training more than Geoffrey Mutai will probably not make you faster than Geoffrey Mutai – you have to train smarter and recover better.

What Bill Bowerman knew

In his excellent book Out Of Nowhere, Geoff Hollister – Nike founder, Bill Bowerman-coached athlete and ‘Man of Oregon’ – who sadly passed away recently, wrote about training at the University of Oregon under Bowerman:

[Jeff] Galloway had become a sponge as to what Bill actually had us doing out in Oregon. The fact that he’d rest us with light runs for a day after a high mileage workout had escaped the Wesleyan team, a team that in addition to Jeff and Amby [Burfoot] included a then unknown Billy Rodgers. They hammered all the time. Bowerman would indulge endurance only with a long Sunday run

And guess who produced the better runners and lead more teams to victory – the coach at Wesleyan or Bill Bowerman? Yep, Bowerman.

What can we do then?

Finding balance is not easy, but necessary

I believe that the top runners are all close to, or at, the limit of the amount of time they can spend training without making themselves ill or injured. So what do they do? They train harder and smarter: run faster reps, train at altitude, use under-water treadmills, recover more effectively. And maximising the efficiency of our training is something that we should all be doing.

The trick here is to work out how your 24 hours are split up. If you are a full-time athlete living in Iten in Kenya then you day probably splits up like this:



But for the rest of us, our lives are usually more complicated. So we need to work out our training budget, i.e. the time that we can dedicate to training. Then you have to sit down and consider how to create a three-way balance: trainingliferecovery. Recovery takes time and I’m afraid that the time you spend at work, socialising, meeting family obligations or commuting do not account as recovery. Recovering counts as recovery.

True, the best runners in the world train more than us mere mortals. But we all have the same challenge – getting the most out of the time we have available. So be brave and make sure that when you do train you train hard. And then leave plenty of time for recovery. And life. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve and you will be on the road to being the best runner you can be.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Simon – interesting post and enjoying browsing your website. Would be keen to get in touch (we actually met briefly after Wokingham last month). Can you send me your email address? (You should have mine through this message). Cheers. A.

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