On October 3, 2018, runnerworld.com published an article titled, “Galen Rupp: American Record Could Go Down in Chicago.” In its ninth paragraph, after providing some background on the existing American record for the marathon and Rupp’s buildup to the 2018 Chicago Marathon, writer Sarah Lorge Butler hedged, “To be clear, Rupp says, he’d rather win in Chicago than run a record and lose.” When I read the article, I thought nothing of this remark, accepting Rupp’s attitude as a given in a top professional distance runner, not to mention the defending champion of the Chicago Marathon. But at the bottom of the page I discovered a reader comment that made my mouth fall open: “He would rather win in a slow time then [sic] get the American record and lose? Seems like he has his priorities backwards.”
Prior to October 3, 2018, I had wondered often whether professional running and amateur running were even the same sport. This comment, insofar as it is representative of amateur thinking, confirmed for me that, in fact, they are not.
Imagine a basketball star saying before an important game, “As long as I score the most points, I don’t care if the team loses.” You can’t, can you? And that’s because everyone knows that the fundamental point of a basketball game is to win! Why should running be any different?
What many amateur runners fail to consider is that before the advent of modern timekeeping, all running races were very small—limited to a handful of participants, and often just two (match races). Mass participation made no sense in the days before races were timed. If you did not have a legitimate chance of winning, there was absolutely no point in lining up. But timed mass-participation running events been around have long enough now that runners who are too slow to win and thus care only about their times have forgotten that nothing has changed for those runners who do have a legitimate chance to win competitions like the Chicago Marathon. The point of racing remains to win.
There’s nothing wrong with running for time. The pros care too, albeit secondarily, and as an amateur runner myself, racing for time is mainly what I do. But what isa problem is that, because professional runners and amateur runners operate in separate bubbles, the latter don’t learn much from the former and consequently rely on inferior methods in their pursuit of improvement. While the typical elite runner does 80 percent of her training at low intensity, eats a high-carb diet, and does functional strength training, the typical amateur runner does 50 percent of his training at moderate intensity, eats a low-carb diet, and either doesn’t strength train or does CrossFit.
As an endurance sports coach, nutritionist, and writer, I consider it my mission to bring elite practices to the masses, because they work better than the alternatives, whether you’re fast or slow, and whether you race to win or race for time. That’s my one and only shtick. This is why I’m so jazzed about Ben Rosario and Scott Fauble’s new book, Inside a Marathon. Ben is the coach of the Northern Arizona Elite professional running team, Scott one of its members, and their book offers a fascinating peek behind the veil that divides our sport’s elite and recreational chambers. It weaves together the journals that coach and athlete kept separately while Scott trained for the 2018 New York City Marathon, where Scott finished seventh (second American) in a PR time of 2:12:28. It also includes detailed training logs and superb color photos taken by Ben’s wife, Jen.
It works on every level. You can read it as a story, experiencing the highs and lows Ben and Scott experience as they work together toward the big climax. But you can also read it from your perspective as a self-interested runner who doesn’t give a crap how Scott fares in the Big Apple and cares only your own running. What you’ll see when you do is that preparing for and executing a successful marathon at the sport’s highest level is really one big exercise in problem solving, and the key to success is making good decisions all along the way.
One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 18, titled “Two Beaten Down, Exhausted Skeletons.” It deals with a point in Scott’s training when he is riding the fine line of overtraining. Halfway through a workout that is not going well, Ben pulls Scott aside and suggests he bail out. Scott protests, and after an honest and open exchange between the two men, they compromise. Scott does the next part of the workout and then calls it a day, skipping the last part. They both feel good about the decision and the ensuing days and weeks validate it as the right call.
This stuff is pure gold—a living example to all runners striving to “solve the problem” of getting faster. If you’re looking for a good running-related book to read, you can do no better than Inside a Marathon. It will not only entertain you but also influence you, so that a year from now you may find yourself doing the very same sport the pros do.