Brett Larner at Japan Running News has posted a translation of an interview with Sammy Wanjiru from the 2008 Fukuoka International Marathon program. In it, Sammy discusses everything from his Olympic victory to his approach to summer training.
His insights about the mental aspect of training are profound, and counter-intuitive to the way a lot of coaches and athletes still attempt to train, especially in Japan. This is striking since Sammy spends half his year in Japan and developed within the Japanese system.
In answer to one question about his build-up to Beijing, he goes through some example workouts, and then finishes with this insight (italics mine):
There are a few things that are interesting here. The first is that Sammy bases his morning run off of how he wants to feel at the end of it, not a strict pacing regimen. Second, he takes a day off every week (something many top runners are reluctant to do). Third, and most amazing to me, is that he takes the day off of training if it is raining. By this, I take him to mean he avoids interval training and the like, and substitutes a road run. Otherwise, he'd never get any runs in living in Japan!
The interviewer also found his answers to be a bit surprising, specifically because his training didn't sound very "Japanese". Japanese runners are known for doing much more than what Wanjiru described. Here's Sammy's response (again, italics mine):
I lived in Japan for a few years and ran on an ekiden team with many young Japanese men from my city. They were by no means elite runners, but the approach to training was the same. Rain or shine, icy roads or gale-force winds, and once even in a blizzard, we met and warmed up and did our workouts. And then we went for ramen and lamented how poorly the workouts went.
I can't deny there's a sense of invincibility that comes from completing an interval workout in a blizzard, but I also can't pretend that it was good training. And the times the coach chose for us were always written in stone, despite the fact that many of my teammates knew going in (whether they admitted it to themselves or not) that they couldn't complete the workout. And more than once I begrudgingly overextended myself since I didn't see any polite way of modifying my workout. While there, I often felt a certain frustration at how "Japanese" all the trianing was.
Really, though, when I think back on it, many of my teammates throughout high school and college were the same. Even me, at times. We run every day just because. We never let the weather--or any outside circumstances--affect our training program. We choose a time and then hold that time to be the sacred measurement of our success or failure in a race or workout.
I'm sure my Japanese teammates are still training the same way today, because they don't know (or accept) any other way. It's just what you do. But I think we all could benefit from thinking a little more like Sammy Wanjiru does.