When I was 15 years old chasing my newly found obsession of running, I remember scouring the new fangled thing called the internet to try to see what the runners who were at the top of the high school ranks were doing. Alan Webb, Don Sage, Dathan Ritzenhein, Ryan Hall. I'd search for snippets of their training, hearing that some were running up to100 miles per week, while another was doing gut-busting interval training. My coach came across an article about Hall's training, and I devoured it. I was determined to get better. I was in search of the secret.
Whenever we embark on any endeavor where the aim is excellence, it's tempting to search for the magic trick, hack, or path that will get you where you want to go. Those who made it must have figured out some pattern or routine that allowed them to do so. Maybe we read the legions of self-help books that tell us what Bill Gates or Steve Jobs did or the exact workout that Lebron James utilized to get ready for the upcoming season.
The problem, of course, is that there is no secret. There are things that might help us be slightly more productive, or workouts that might have a marginally better job at improving our strength, speed, and power. But, what matters most is that we are putting in the work to learn, grow, and get better at what we are trying to do.
One of the fortunate side effects of having coached professional runners for almost a decade now is that whenever you get a new athlete, you get to see what their previous coach had them do. You devour the training log to see what worked and what didn't for your new athlete. You look for their strengths and holes that maybe you can fill. But you also get to see under the hood of some of the best coaching minds in the game.
And what you inevitably see is that we are all doing nearly the same thing. Yes, there are variations, as some emphasize a little more of this or a little more of that. But by and large, the top dozen or so coaches that I've seen the training of, all are calling plays from the same workout playbook.
Does that mean the details don't matter? Of course not. But no one has a secret to success. No one is doing something that different than the rest. We're playing in the margins, fiddling with the final couple percent. My point isn't to negate the role of coaches or experts in any area. But to get us to stop searching for some magic workout, formula, or routine. Instead, worry about putting in the work.
Or as was explained by John L. Parker in his classic book Once a Runner:
“What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”
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