This week we chat with the legend Amby Burfoot. In addition to winning the 1968 Boston Marathon, Amby is also the former editor-in-chief of Runner's World and currently serves as a editor-at-large. We dive into his running background and his current book about the incredible women who have defined the sport of running!
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- What does Amby think of the Running Community?
- How did Amby get into running?
- What was the influence of Wesleyan University?
- What was it like to win the Boston Marathon?
- Why did Wesleyan attract so many elite runners?
- How did Amby get involved with Runner's World?
- How have women influenced running?
- What people or races have shaped Amby's career?
- How does Amby mentally handle challenges?
- What training advice does Amby give runners?
- Who does Amby learn from?
- How would you coach runner's in their 50's?
- Is there any value in mid-foot running?
- What should a hobby runner look for in finding a coach?
- What is Amby's favorite race of all time?
- First Ladies of Running: 22 Inspiring Profiles of the Rebels, Rule Breakers, and Visionaries Who Changed the Sport Forever
What does Amby think of the Running Community?
Brandon: We are with the one and only Amby Burfoot. Super excited to have him here. If you guys do not know who he is, then we question if you have ever run before, or read Runner's World, or anything like that, but he is a writer at large for Runner's World. He is also a member of the Running Hall of Fame, and the winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon, as well as doing amazing work in the running industry. We want to welcome you, and than kyou for joining us today.
Amby: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
Trey: Well, Amby, I will say that usually before I run a marathon, I have a lot of butterflies in the stomach, and I'll say before this, I had a lot of butterflies in the stomach, too, so hopefully I do this justice. I'm really excited to talk with you today, so again, thanks for spending some time to chat with us. We're very excited to talk to you here.
Amby: I'm kind of excited to be on this technology that you guys have discovered, whatever I it is. It's really really exciting that we have so many ways to connect with other runners these days.
Trey: It truly is, and I'll even start with that. Me and Brandon were talking yesterday after having a chance to talk with just some incredible people, is that I don't know if there's a community that is as generous of their time, and generous with each other, and always willing to learn from somebody else. That's what amazes me about this community. Probably why I love it so much is because just an incredible community, incredible group of people always willing to give.
Amby: It's something that's been there for a long long time, and every once in a while I pinch myself on the cheeks, and say, "Come on, guys. Are we kidding ourselves with this 'We're so good. We're so nice. We're so helpful, and friendly' stuff?" By in large it's true, and by in large it's been true since the beginning of running. I go back to the mid 60's, and my early mentors were the great runners from the 1950's, and they were just incredibly friendly, helpful, supportive. When we got on the starting line, damn, we knew we were running to race against each other, but as soon as we crossed the finish line, it was just go for the refreshment, whether you wanted a soft drink, or a beer, and sit down, and start tossing the stories, and trying to learn from each other.
Trey: I completely agree. There's always something interesting about the start line for me, because it's beautiful with so many stories at the start line, and everyone really with kind of the same goal. Yeah, you're competing, but really we're all trying to really do the same thing, is to compete with ourselves, and get to the finish line. It's a pretty neat perspective each time.
Amby: It's been a great mass participation sport I think for a long time, and these days everybody hears, and feels the gripes about races that close too fast, the super popular events, obviously are difficult to get in to. But, fortunately, it remains a mass participation sport, and if not, everybody can't get into the Boston Marathon, or even New York City. They can run races just outside of Boston, and just in Central Park with essentially the same cast or characters on another day, and you can get awfully close to just about anyone you want to.
How did Amby get into running?
Trey: I'm excited, and I'd love to talk about your background,but quickly I also want to get into your new book. I was looking at it, and looking at the facebook link, and it looks really incredible, so I'm excited to talk about that. What was your first introduction of running in the first place, Amby?
Amby: Let me say, how can I make a long story short? I grew up the son of a YMCA director, which is to say I was introduced to all sports, and as a kid, I loved all sports, and I have an obsessive personality, so I practiced hard, the way you're supposed to, and I got skilled at sports like basketball, and baseball. In fact, the last year I ever participated in organized baseball, I won the batting title, and the good sportsmanship award, for which I'm horribly embarrassed. I could do these sports up to a point, and then you get to high school, and you suddenly find that there's a little bit more than just skill. You've got to have strength, power, height, weight, muscle, whatever you want to call it. I got muscled off the basketball court, and couldn't hit a baseball farther than into mid center field, so I switched sports, and when I switched sports, I had the incredible good fortune that the high school cross country coach at my school in Groton, Connecticut was easily the best runner in the United States, Jon J. Kelly.
He won the Boston Marathon, ran in two Olympics, won eight consecutive national championships in the marathon, which will never be equaled. Way more important than that, he was the smartest, most intelligent, most compassionate, and empathetic man I've ever met in my life, and I just sat at his feet for a decade, and just listened to his Irish story telling. He didn't talk about running at all. He was interested in the environment. He was an organic gardener in the 50's. He was an anti car guy. He rode his bicycle Tutton work in the 50's while everybody else was in their For, or whatever. He was anti-war, if I can say so, before a lot of other people were anti-Vietnam, and industrial military complex. He was just really forward thinking, and really interesting, and I just latched on to him.
Trey: It was interesting. We had a chance to talk yesterday afternoon with Mario with the Competitor group magazine, and I was asking him where he got his coaching philosophy from, and his life philosophy from, and it was kind of the same thing. He talked about some of the early cross country coaches he had, and what an impact they had on him, not really even from a running perspective, but just from a life in general perspective, and I think that's one of the neat things is just the impact at that age can have on this ... who had that much of an influence on us, too.
Amby: Once yo've had an individual influence you, as John Kelly influenced me, then you spend the rest of your life, to some degree, trying to be like that person, to mimick that person, whether it's from Mario, or me, or many, many others who've had the similar experience. What it means is we want to open up and share, and encourage, and to some degree, instruct if we can others in the things that we have been fortunate enough to learn from our great mentors. I think that's one reason why so many of us say yes to these opportunities to talk to people about running, and our passion for it.
Trey: Was it in high school where you kind of first got the sense that you had the chance to be pretty good at this?
Amby: Yes, I guess it happened pretty fast, although all I remember was, my main memory was I ran my first cross country race in bowling shoes, because my parents were not going to invest in running shoes, until they were convinced that I was going to stick woth the sport. So, I found these bowling shoes in the closet in the basement or somewhere, and they were light and supple, and I put them on, ran the race, and we finished with a wet run across the football field, and the shoes essentially de-laminated as I was running across the wet football field, so I finished with flopping shoes. I did the traditional first race routine of running under the football bleachers and puking my guts out, because I'd had probably a quart of milk for lunch, or something. I thought this was, in all, a pretty horrible experience, and John Kelly finds me under the bleachers, and comes and wraps his arms around me. He 7 inches shorter than I am. He's 5'5, I'm 6 feet, and he says, "Amby, you ran tremendous. You've got a great future in this sport."
It should have been bullshit coming from some guy who was lying to a kid about his first race, but John didn't have an instancy or molecule in his body, and it came across as a genuine enthusiastic remark, and I thought, 'Well, hell, this guy's the best runner in the country, and he says I've got a future. Maybe I shouldn't quit after just one race.'
What was the influence of Wesleyan University
Trey: Can you talk about your time with Wesleyan a little bit, and you had a chance to run with a pretty good teammate. Wasn't bad, got [inaudible 00:09:03] Rogers, I guess he was okay, made a name for himself.
Amby: More than that, a year ahead of me or two years at Wesleyan was Jeff Galloway, who's played a huge role in American running. Then, I walk on to campus, then a year or two later, Bill walks on to campus. Meanwhile, every fall, we take the 30 minute ride down to Yale University, and run against this no good named Frank Shorter in a cross country race, so there was a tremendous amount going on in middle and southern Connecticut in period late 60's, just completely by chance. When I got there, Jeff was a very very dedicated self motivated runner, and I latched on to him. I was a very very dedicated self motivated runner willing to do whatever it would take to improve.
I went from 35 miles a week freshman year to 70 miles a week sophomore year, and 90, 100 junior, 120 senior year. I always like to tell people I went to college in the era of sex, drugs, rock n roll, and I have no idea what any of those three things are, because I got up at 6:30, and ran 10 miles. Went to bed at 9:00, so that I could get up again, and of course, then another 10 miles in the afternoon, but there was no sex, drugs, and rock n roll for me. Sometimes to my regret, but the rewards obviously of the path that I chose were tremendous, and I was so luck y to have the people in my path that hekped make it challenging, and instructive, and rewarding all the way.
Trey: Just because I have to know, I see Jeff Galloway now at expos, and he is absolutely one of the nicest human beings I've ever met, and we'll stand there forever shaking hands, and talking with people. As a competitor, what was Jeff like as a competitor?
Amby: Jeff was very strong, and very fierce, and motivated, but he didn't run as well in college as I did, and it took him a couple of years after college, going down to Tallahassee, and occasionally hooking up with the shorters and bachelors, but logging 140 miles a week before he went beyond where I had been in college. In college, I was the best of the three. Me, Jeff, and Bill. After college, Jeff immediately came through, and then a few years later, Bill made his return in the early 70's, and went higher and farther than either Jeff or I, but it is quite interesting to look back, ad see hoe three former roommates at this tiny Weslane University that nobody's ever heard of, except for a few people in the northeast. Each went on, I think to have a mark in the sport of long distance running. Each in an entirely different way, if you will, each in a way that somehow suited us and our temperament, and our path.
Jeff is the minister of running. He looks you in the eyes, and you just feel that you've connected with a higher power. You soak up his lessons, and Bill is the, in a way, the great communicator. He's the guy who first answered every phone call that every journalist ever made to him in the 70's, it was that along with his tremendous competitive ability that made him such a household word, because he talked with aybody, and everybody, and it didn't have to be there New York Times. He would talk with people at a newspaper he'd never heard of. If they were looking for a story, Bill was willing to give it to them. Jeff was really the great hands on teacher who's made a life unlike anybody elses, probably on the raod 45 to 50 times a year for the last 30 years going out to races, and talking to people, running with them, coaching them, espousing what they're capable of, telling them how to do it these days with the run walk philosophy that works so well for so many people. We've each been very very lucky in our own way.
Trey: Did the three of you have anything from a training perspective in common? At Wesleyan, was the training similar that you did? Was your philosophy similar at that age, or ...
Amby: Bill didn't have a philosophy. Bill was a tag along kind of guy. In high school he succeeded by doing fierce, hard training, which was what his high school coach advocated. I had learned the long, natural, run through the environment parks trail running, you might call it, from John Kelly, because he was the great environmentalist, so I did a lot of what you would call easy running through on nice courses, and always looking for a trail to get off the road for a mile or two. Jeff was just determined that whatever he wanted, he did hard interval training when he was in high school, and at Wesleyan, and he was the one who introduced me to the idea that we could run 40 times 400 on a frosty October afternoon with the sun setting and our feet barefoot, and the frost forming on the grass. We just kept on turning out those 75 second 400's. We weren't running them fast. It wasn't a Jim Ryan workout, but Jeff could do 400's all day with a 100 meter jog in between, and I latched on to him and followed. I could never do that workout by myself. I would never want to, but if you've got one other suspect out there with you in kind of becomes fun and challenging.
What was it like to win the Boston Marathon?
Trey: Being from Connecticut, can you talk just a little bit about what it means to win a race like the Boston Marathon?
Amby: Yeah, that's actually quite important, because here we are in an Olympic year, 2016, if you do the math, 1968 was also an Olympic year, which meant, of course, that the top runners tend not to run Boston in the Olympic year, because they have to do both the Olympic trials, and then the Olympic Marathon itself, so I knew going into '68, that I wanted to tryout for the Olympics, but unlike everybody else in the country, being from New England, with Kelly as my inspiration, Boston was just as important, or more important, and lucky me that I decided to do that, because I just happened to hit one of these incredible peaks that perhaps you onlly hit once or twice in your life, where I just went into the zone, literally in late March, mid April of 1968. Every run I did was effortless. Every run I did was faster than anything I'd ever done before.
I knew going into the Boston race that I had an actual chance to do very very well, because half of the world wasn't there. Because it was an Olympic year. I was there, and I was just having a peak experience at that point, so I put it all on the line. I had a day that I will rememebr and cherish for the rest of my life. To win the Boston Marathon once, as you can imagine, a thrill of a runner's lifetime, and then I got injured shortly after, and was disappointed by my Olympic trials efforts, which didn't turn out well, but I had my Boston, and very happy that I have.
Brandon: That's great. We've got a picture, I think from Wesleyan. Is that your guys team?
Amby: That is the team. Where I'm looking at it, Bill is the second from the left of the guys in a uniforms, and I'm the fourth from the left, or the second from the right.
Why did Wesleyan attract so many elite runners?
Brandon: Okay. Gotcha. That's awesome. We had a question coming in. What was it about Wesleyan? Was this the right place at the right time that was happening back then for you guys? How did all of you guys wind up in the same spot?
Amby: Jeff was part of a small contingent from a good prep school in Atlanta that always sent a few people to Wesleyan. I picked my colleges, I was very lower, middle class, socioeconomically, I picked my colleges by looking backwards through a book that listed scholarships, and I came to this school that had a lot of scholarships, and I turned the page, and I saw Wesleyan, and I said, "I'm in." I was lucky enough to get early acceptance, and get a scholarship then. Bill came because I recruited him a little bit, because he was a Wesleyan kid. The truth is, Wesleyan is one of those unique small school environments, and what I have always treasured about Wesleyan, which is really know these days for the arts, for the singing, the guy who's done Hamilton on broadway is from Wesleyan, for all of the arts, for film making, not at all for sports.
We get crushed by Williams , big rivals. Wesleyan a school that encourages the students to pursue whatever it is they want to pursue, with passion. Even though I was one in a million, being a serious distance runner in the late 60's, I felt that I was respected by my college classmates, because I was going after something with a passion. They had no clue what it was. They had no clue what I was doing. Nobody knew anything about running then, but they respected the individual's right to go for it with all the gusto they could muster. It was a good place to go to college if you knew what you wanted to do, and just wanted to give it a go.
Brandon: That's cool.
How did Amby get involved with Runner's World?
Trey: There's this magazine called Runner's World. It looks like it's going to stick around for a while. I think it's going okay with the Runner's World. How did you first get involved with Runner's World?
Amby: I got involved with Runner's World in the late 70's when the circulation roof on the walls was going straight up, because of Jim Figs, and the running boom, and things like that. It was a west coast publication. We've got a repairman coming to the house. They contacted me and said, "Hey, we need someone on the east coast." And I was like, "You'd kidding me? You want to give me a job, and work for Runner's World, and you'll actually pay me for that?" We got together a few weeks later at the Boston Marathon where I was, and they were, and they said yes, I said yes. They could have told me they were going to pay me $50 a year, and I probably would have said yes.
I realize how incredibly fortunate I am that I am one of those few individuals who ends up in a job that they were literally intended or born to be doing, and who has enjoyed that job every single day of his life. It's a corporation. You have to do employee reviews. Nobody's happy with their annual raise, and all of that sort of stuff, but it's still been just the incredible good fortune in my life to spend my working years at Runner's World. And, here I am retired, and I'm still working for Runner's World doing fun projects, and writing online, and doing books about the women pioneers who ran with me in the 60's, and it's just great.
Trey: In fact, that's really where I want to go. I'm glad you brought that up. In fact, it was funny, I was thinking about this when I was reading some of the stuff this morning that my first marathon memory was from 1984 Olympic Games, and watching come into the stadium. That's the first marathon memory I have. I'd love for you to get into the book a little bit. In fact, going into that, reading a little bit this morning, for some reason I just never knew that Catherine Switzer wasn't the first female at the Boston Marathon, so some very surprising things. Tell us a little bit about the book, and introduce us to it a little bit.
How have women influenced running?
Amby: Well, Trey, the book is for all the teenagers out there like you, who don't know what running was in the 60's. Very very brief history. I ran my first Boston Marathon in 1965. There were zero women in the field that day. Zero. The next year, Roberta Gibb gets on a bus in San Diego, rides a bus for three and a half days to Boston, gets there the night before the race, talks her mother into driving her out to Hopkinson. She's got on a hooded sweatshirt, because she doesn't want them to see her blonde hair. She crawls in the bushes, because she's convinced that if the police see her, see a woman who wants to run the marathon, they'll arrest her. She doesn't know. Nobody's ever done this. She's got all these black thoughts in her head. She jumps in to the race. The next things is "My God, all these guys, I'm interfering with their race, which has been their domain since 1897. They'll probably stone me, and throw me into the ditches." Of course, just the opposite happened. The guys were so excited to have a woman out there with them. They encouraged her. They helped her. They assured her that they would not let any policeman or anyone else hassle her. They said "Hey, it's a free country. These are free roads. You've got as much right to run on them as anyone else."
The next year was the Catherine Switzer year. Of course, the photo went around the world, and is one of the most dramatic sports photos ever. Catherine, after that race, devoted her life to promoting women's running, and was very much part of the chain of people who brought us the 1984 Olympic Marathon, and [wonderful victory, so she gets all the credit in the world. Roberta Gibb, meanwhile, goes off to a life of sculpture, painting, obscurity, actually neuro research. She's very very involved in ALS research, Lou Gerrig's disease. She has a son who's a post doc PhD at MIT, and she hangs out there a lot. So, she's an incredibly fascinating woman, kind of a flower child in the 60's, and now 50 years later, going to get her do at Boston as being the first person, first woman to run it, and this is her 50th anniversary. She will be in a big story in 6 or 7 weeks.
Trey: She was quick that year, too. It was a pretty quick race.
Amby: She ran 3:21, and honestly, she says they guys told her she was at 7 minute pace. Low 3 hours much of the race, she had never worn a pair of running shoes, or run on hard pavement before. She ran on trails, and the beaches in San Diego. Her feet burned up the last 3 miles, and she slowed down a lot, but 3:21, tremendous job. She back, ran Boston the next two years, was the first woman both of those years, as well, so she really three peat at Boston.
Trey: Let me know of I'm mistaken here, but it looked like the longest, and the endurance race at the time was a mile and a half. That was the furthest race that there were for women at the time. Is that correct?
Amby: When she tried to enter, she sent in to the Boston Marathon, said "Please send me an entry form.", and they wrote back, "A. We can't do that, because women are prohibited from running anything longer than 1.5 miles, and B. By the way, women are physiologically incapable of running a marathon, so it's a stupid idea." Roberta is a very shy, non confrontational, non public kind of person. It would have been easy for her to just kind of go away, and liver her own life, but something about that letter really got under her skin, and she decided to go back to run Boston, to finish Boston to show not just that women could run marathons, but as she always says, that there were so many things women were capable of doing, which were not endorsed or accepted at that point in the mid 60's.
Trey: That's purely amazing. What's really interesting to me is to see where the sport is today, and I'll tell you what, from a women's marathoning perspective, just watching the trials the other day, the story lines, and the competitors that, even when someone like [inaudible 00:25:43], who ran a great race as she did, finishes 4th. Just talked about how strong the women's field is right now from a marathoning perspective especially.
Amby: The women are incredible, or course, and you're right, the trials race, and the fight for 4th, that was probably the best story line in the trials, because the men, in the end, the top 3 are fairly clear cut. As someone who was there at the beginning, no one could ever say that they could have predicted this was going to happen. We had no idea that there were going to be more than a few women running races, and for women to have taken over the sport as they have, is absolutely the first, seconds, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth biggest thing that has happened in the 60's years that I've been involved in this sport. It's changed the sport entirely. The changes have been entirely positive, because women bring all sorts of interesting things to the sport that we guys don't. It's just fascinating, and wonderful now that we have such a complete sport. I think we can call it 50/50 male female, and isn't that they way every sport, and every activity should be
What people or races shaped Amby's running career
Trey: Just kind of looking back on your career, and what was accomplished, but really, more importantly, not the runner Amby, but the person Amby, and I know John Kelly was certainly up there in some of the runners you dealt with, and probably have a great influence on you, but were there some specific, whether it's races, or times in your life ... where has running helped shape who you are, Amby?
Amby: For me, this story was very much Kelly, because he was such an influence in so many arenas of life, at the important point in your life, where you're a late high school student, early college, you don't really know who you are or where you're headed or what your values are, any of those tings really. He was extraordinarily important to me. As I was listening to your question, the other name that popped up into my head was in 1968, two months before I won Boston, I was invited to go to [inaudible 00:27:54] State University for the first hydration test ever done on runners. In fact, it was literally a gatorade test, except what was gatorade called then? I'm forgetting, but it was straight from Florida State University, and the scientists there had me and about 6 other guys run for 2010 hours on the treadmill 3 days in a row. One day we drank nothing, one day we drank water, and one day we drank the slightly sugared and salted aid that he was testing, and after each run, he would take this little plastic pipe, and he would thread it down my nose, and say "Don't let this bother you. It's just like eating spaghetti." I was like, "Right."
All the way down in to our stomach, and then he'd drain the stomach, because he wanted to see how much of the fluid had been absorbed, and how much was sitting there sloshing, and doing no good. After all that, he made calculations, and told us all that we all did much better with the gatorade, because of the sugar and salt, and everything. I actually grew up, I learned to run without drinking anything, and to this day, I still run marathons without drinking anything, because that's what's comfortable for me. I know I'm not supposed to tell other people this, but I do think it's all right to say that drinking and hydration has been over emphasized in marathoning and distance running. While everybody certainly has to learn their correct amount to drink, it probably isn't nearly as much as some people think it is.
Trey: We talked with a professor, Timothy Noakes the other day, and i think he would have completely agreed with what you just said.
Amby: Tim was the beginning of all the hydration hullabaloo, of course, and he of course thinks there was conspiracy against his theory, and whatnot, but whether or not there was, it's certainly true that we probably don't need to drink as much as some people think. Personally I believe that we all run slower in the heat. There's no question whatsoever about that. I think it's less hydration and more the fact that the body and the brain just shut us down when the temperature goes up, and really drinking can't do too much about that.
How does Amby mentally handle challenges?
Trey: One of the questions that we get from a lot of our runners, and I think we've asked just about everyone that we've talked to this week this question, but a big part of what we deal with as runners, not just as runners, but as people, is the mental aspect of it. How do we handle the tough days, and how do we handle the tough moments? What were the things that you did early on, and learned early on that helped you in those moments in your races, in your training? What are the things that you think you did from a mental toughness, and really training yourself mentally?
Amby: I learned nothing. I did nothing right when I was young. As I alluded to earlier, I was a bit obsessive, and I used my mind to power through stuff that I shouldn't have powered through. I kept running when I was injured, which, of course, was often not a good idea. I kept running when I was stale and over trained, and you start running poorly, the first thing that comes to mind is, "Oh, I haven't been training hard enough. I have to train harder." That's not the case. Probably you're over trained, and you have to train less. I'm one of the more stupid runners who's ever been around, and there have been a lot of us. It took many many years for me to learn the lessons that I learned. I'm not sure that they're easy to pass forward, because one of my favorite sayings that I invented myself is "The first smart runner has yet to be born." The reason that is, is that each of us, when we are running well, and we are young and strong, think that we're invincible, and you hear all the stories about how people get injured, and you daze off, and recovery and rest, and nutrition, but you just think you're invincible, and so you keep going until you hit those first injuries. Usually running and life are better teachers than me or Jack Daniels, or Tim Noaks telling anybody what to do.
The mental side of running, where we started, is really uncharted territory to me. It's very very exciting. I think there's going to be more work done in the area to come. It's certainly not as simple as just be tough, and run faster. It's much much more nuance than that. It's going to take some fairly good science to figure out what the pieces are, but it's certainly true that if you don't believe you can do it, then you can't.
What training advice does Amby give to runners?
Trey: One of the questions going the other direction, is these are things not to do. Are there some things that you did learn? What would you encourage runners to do? What are the things that maybe you did that you learned from that you would encourage runners to do today?
Amby: I'm 69 now, so my main interest is in the aging runner, and there's a lot of things aging runners need to learn, which include all the rest, and recovery, and alternative training, and strength training, and things like that. The big lessons are A. There are no secrets. There are no short cuts, B. You have to learn what works for you, and not think that somebody else's system is the system that you have to follow. The secret is not training harder and faster than anybody else, but the secret is training more efficiently than the next guy. That might mean training less and training slower than the other guy does.
I think it's very very much a matter of learning what works for yourself, reading widely. I read everything. I read the crackpots, and the PhD's, and kind of give a look to both of them with perhaps more faith in the PhD's, but I read it all, and I think there's a lot of interesting stuff out there. There are things that work for some people, and don't work for most of us, and basically, I hate to say it, because it's boring, but most of us do best if we follow the middle of the road, the tried and true things that have been done for the last 50, or 60, or 1,000 years, depending on how far back we want to go. The stuff at the fringes rarely turns out to be worth while in the long term.
Trey: It's interesting that, and I hear this on nutrition once in a while, and hydration, but also running, that someone will find one thing that works for them, and patent it, and write a book on it, and sell it, then there you go. There's the new thing.
Amby: Absolutely. I spent half of yesterday reading the latest batch of studies on ultra runners who are fat burners, who's diet is 70% fat, and then they go and run these assuringly great ultra races. Not that they run any better than the guys doing carbs, but they seem to run pretty well, and that seems to be in defiance of certain nutritional rules. It may also be that we just simply found the 10 people who are really really good at fat burning, and probably 90% of us aren't. If you find the 10 who are really really good at it, and put them on a treadmill lab, they're going to give you pretty good results. It reminded me of the whole barefoot running and minimalist shoes concept. Everybody said, "Well, the reason these studies aren't working out is that guys haven't been running in the shoes long enough to have adapted enough. You've got to let them adapt for 6 months or a year, or two years." Well, great, so by the time you've got people adapted, you find the successful ones after two years, and you've got a good group of runners, and the other 90% are in the side lines injured with Achilles tendonosis, and stuff like that.
I tend to stick to the main stream. I hate to say it, but I think less is more in a lot of cases. You've got to do real work to be successful, but you don't necessarily have to do the most work to be the most successful.
Trey: We were talking with Dr. Bill Pierce yesterday with first, and one of the things that we talked about is that we like to run, we enjoy it, so if we're not healthy, it doesn't matter how fast we're getting, if we're not healthy, we're not going to be able to do the thing that we really enjoyed to do in the first place.
Amby: Bill is a great friend, and he's done wonderful work with the program at Furman, and he's opened up an area that when he first came out with his ideas, people just scoffed it left and right, as they always do with a new idea, but it turns out to be a fairly mainstream idea. He's saying you don't have to run 100 miles a week. You have to pick the workouts that count, and do pretty well on those days, and then get some recovery on other days. That's certainly been true of my experience as a masters runner, which I've been for the last 30 years, I guess. Every day you learn that there are two things that are really important. Every once in a while, and the ratio get more and more rare, you have to do something hard and serious, and the rest of the time you have to recover and stay healthy, because nobody wants to be injured, especially not when they're 70 years old, which I will be in a couple of months.
Who does Amby learn from?
Trey: Last question before I turn it over to Brandon, I think Brandon's got some questions, but its one for me, I'd love to get your feedback on is, kind of like Dr. Pierce, there are a lot of voices out there, a lot of respected voices. Are there some people that maybe you've learned from over the years, or maybe out there now that are maybe, fly a little bit under the radar, but are voices that maybe we should be listening to a little bit more often?
Amby: I know you were scheduled to speak with Dr. Jack Daniels. I don't know if you guys got it together or not, but he's absolutely the smartest guy out there in my opinion. We have all learned most of what we know from him. He has been outside of the elite coaching ranks for 30 years, so people have lost sight of him a bit, but he had just done the physiology and has the most common sense approach, combined with the most scientific knowledge about running of anyone I've ever known. I've seen him work on the track with athletes. He's funny and laid back. He tells great stories about his days as horse riding, a [inaudible 00:39:05] or whatever it was. I'm forgetting the event now. He's just brilliant, and it's a simple approach. When you hear him explain things, it sounds incredibly simple, and yet it's based on really data, real physiology, real experience coaching guys, and real success stories. I was lucky enough to meet Jack fairly early on. He was one of the people when I met him, and read his first stuff, I then studied it very very closely, long before he actually came out with his books that became popular.
I've been a friend of Jack's, and a fan, and a hug proponent of JAck's coaching systems and books, and training techniques for a long time.
Trey: Love that.
How would you coach runners in their 50's?
Brandon: We've got some questions coming in. We've got a question from Jeremy Murphy. He's asking, "Any special tips, ideas for masters runners. It's a rapidly growing category of runners. Coaching some runners in their 50's." I think he's a coach as well.
Amby: I think we talked about this a little while ago. I think with masters running, I think strength is increasingly important. I think speedwork and power are increasingly important, because sad to say, that's what we lose when we get into our 50's, and we lose a lot more in 60's and 70's as I'm learning. The only way you can retain those things is with the kind of training that really hones in on them. Speedwork, strength training, plyometrics, that sort of stuff that's also a little bit risky, is you have to be careful, and you have to find the vine edge, and you always have to be sure you're doing more recovery, and more alternative training than you probably did as a younger athlete, or with younger athletes, so the Bill Pierce Furman First system can work pretty good with masters athletes I think.
I've noticed just anecdotally that some of the really god masters athletes, not all, but some are the guys that really had some muscle to begin to, and hang on to it, and still have it when they're in their 50's and 60's, and I've gone into the gym for the first time in my life the last few years trying to develop some muscle, and I'm not going to flex, because you would see how successful I've been, but I'm working at it, because you can really see that it's important, and if I could pick up a few seconds per mile I would be delighted, and I can kind of tell it's not going to come by doing more miles on the road. It's going to come by getting some strength and sped back.
Is there any value in mid foot running?
Brandon: That's good. Revel is asking, "Is there any value to mid foot running?"
Amby: There's a great value to mid foot running if you're a mid foot runner, and it works for you, and you don't get injured, you're a 4 minute miler, and all the good stuff. To make a black and white statement, I think 95% of us are heel foot strikers, on the roads anyway. Even those who think they're mid foot or fore foot strikers, it turns out are striking on their heels when they go into the lab, and they get photographed doing it, videoed doing it. I think the real key is to run with a slightly short but comfortable stride. I make sure that I always put the twp words together. It's got to be a comfortable stride. Everybody's stride has to be comfortable, but the focus should be on a slightly short comfortable stride, and certainly not a slightly long comfortable stride.
The extension of the leg in front of the knee when you're running is a problem, does cause injuries, does tend to slow you down, and I think a good coach can spot that quickly and help somebody. I don't think there's a reason to deliberately switch to mid foot or fore foot striking unless you know you're a heel striker and you've had some serious injuries, and you can't get over them, then you should do everything in the world to get over injuries, including changing foot stride, which certainly does work for some people, but it's not a universal.
What should a hobby runner look for when trying to find a coach?
Brandon: Gotcha. Kind of speaking on coaches, Lou in the comments just asked, "What should a hobby runner look for when trying to find a coach?" So, any tips on finding coaches?
Amby: I don't know that I've got tips on finding a coach as a hobby runner. I don't think there's any such thing as a hobby runner. People say I'm a hobby runner, people used to say they were a jogger, people say they're a recreational runner. Everybody who reads Runner's World says, "I'm not like those people in Runner's World. I'm just a regular back of the pack runner." They put themselves down, and there's absolutely no reason for it. All of us are just trying to fit running into our lives however we can with the emphasis being first on health and fitness, and mental sharpness, and performing throughout our lives in all the areas of our lives, and then of course every one of us would like to be a couple of seconds faster on our next half marathon or whatever it might be, but a hobby runner looking for a coach, look for somebody who's got lots of experience, who's coached a lot of middle of the pack runners that doesn't matter how many elite athletes they've coached. If they've coached elite athletes, they're probably not the right coach for a recreational runner. Find someone who's got ties to the local running community, the running store, the running club, and don't go with someone who's just a strength and conditioning coach from the local gym. That could be a mistake.
What is Amby's favorite race of all time?
Brandon: Gotcha. That's great. Let's see, and then, our last question for ya, or we've got a couple left, but ones we've ben asking all the folks at the Running Summit. What is, if you had to pick of all the races you've been to, your favorite? Do you have a favorite race, or favorite race experience that really pops out?
Amby: I've had a favorite race experience at the Big Shore Marathon when I happened to be there on one of their gorgeous 70 degrees sunny weekend, rather than the stormy ones they also get 50% of the time. That's a race almost unlike any other, and when you hit it on a beautiful day, it's spectacular. My feeling on road races is that they're all different. All of them have much to recommend them. No road race should try and copy any other road race. Every road race should be what it can be in it's unique environment, city, locale, do what works best for it. I think there are wonderful races put on all over this country, and we're lucky to have so many in everybody's back yard, or if you want to have a real experience, you travel an hour or two, and go to a city, and run a big city race, but many of us enjoy the small community races just as much as we do the big city races. I like them both, and I like to do both in a given year. Some people like small trail races. Some people like the New York City Marathon. I like them all. It's like the shoes and training advice. Find the environment and races that work for best for you, and enjoy those.
What are Amby's top training resources?
Brandon: That kind of leads into our next question. We like to ask everyone their top training resources, or places that you want people. As people try to find what works best for them, where do you point folks? Is there kind of a central landing place?
Amby: I certainly go to Jack Daniels' books, and theories of training for the people who are really looking for top performance, and interested in science, and trying to find out how to run different paces for different success ratios. I think a couple of great books have come out this year. I wish I had the titles right in front of me, but Pete Magill's book on running has the best photographs of running exercises, drills, plyometrics, stretching, and strengthening of any book I've seen, and I reccommend that as a wonderful wonderful book
Brandon: Is that Build Your Running Body? Does that sound right?
Amby: Yeah, that sounds right. It's Pete Magill. Then, oh boy, I hope I'm going to remember his name, Fast After 50 came out this year, and that is a book that I was, I looked at this book and thought "I wish I could have written it myself. I wish I had written this book myself." I don't say that about many books. I don't have that envy. I read this book and I thought I wish I had written this, and probably I couldn't have done it as well. Joe Frill, his book is just fantastic. It's a wonderful wonderful mix of science and experience on the road, and common sense. In the end I think you need to mix all three of those, because science takes you only so far. Common sense is a very very good thing to add to the science, and then the wisdom of someone who's been out there running for 30 or 40, 5o years performing just brings the whole formula together.
Brandon: Gotcha. That's great. As we're wrapping up, what is the best way that folks can kind of keep up with you, and what you're doing?
Amby: For now, they can look for the book about the pioneers of women's running. I think it's a great book for all women runners, and I'm hopin a lot of people will buy it for their daughters who run in the high school cross country scene, and have never heard of these women before, and will find that it's really inspirational to read about the first people, the first women runners. The book is called First Lady's of Running. There's a little website. It's on Amazon, and all the other places. It'll be out in about the first week in April, and I think it'll get a fair amount of connection to Roberta Gibbs' story also in early April.
Brandon: That's awesome. Amby, we thank you so much for hanging out with us, putting up with our crazy sound difficulties earlier, but we had a blast chatting with you, and we look forward to connecting in the future, and checking out First Lady's of Running, so that looks great.
Amby: Good. Well, thank oyu guys very much. This was really a lot of fun.
Brandon: It's our pleasure.
Trey: Thanks again, Amby. Appreciate it.
Brandon: We'll be talking soon.
Amby: Take care.
Brandon: Thank you.