A boldly controversial blog post by Amby Burfoot at Runner's World has riled up a few readers and even spawned a satirical response from Justin Young at The Cassidy Feed. Basically, Amby argues that Ritz's major issue is staying healthy, and prescribes for him a diet of 40 mpw running in his training. That's what most readers got out of it, not least in part because Amby really does suggest this in all seriousness. As he says (to Alberto):
So here's my proposal: Be courageous, and make Dathan a guinea pig in the Great Training Experiment. Put him on a 40-mile-a-week training program.
We can only assume that Dathan has a say in this. He then states that there's little evidence against it, lists some athletes who were successful without running high mileage (specifically Bannister and Henry Marsh, but leaving out Matt Giusto, who was the best example I could think of), and outlines what a workout week would look like. Then come the paragraphs that most readers apparently skipped or didn't really think about (emphasis mine):
Of course, Dathan should do a lot of other stuff. All that Nike can afford, in fact. He should sleep 10 hours a day in a altitude chamber, do tons of cross-training on non-impact machines, work out occasionally on low-gravity and under-water treadmills, and find the best physical therapist-trainer out there to be his personal strength/flexibility coach.
The only thing he shouldn't do is run more than 40 miles a week, or whatever low ceiling he and Alberto agree on.
Perhaps by actually suggesting workouts, Amby made people focus too much on the 40 mpw and not enough on the main point of the post: Ritz has enormous resources to utilize and might be better served by decreasing the pounding he puts on his legs in favor of a higher percentage of cross-training workouts. Yes he suggests 40 mpw, but no, he's not beholden to that number. He chose it no doubt because it is extremely low, borderline realistic, and most importantly, can shock a reader into paying attention. Unfortunately, it seems he shocked people out of paying attention.
A lot of people criticize Runner's World for catering to hobby joggers. I have a lot of friends who refer to it as Jogger's World. There's some truth to that. But there's also some truth to the notion that mileage doesn't need to be run for mileage sake. You're not going to be great if you aren't working out as hard as the best in the world. That is a given. But could that work be done on an Alter-G at 75% body weight instead of 100%? Could it be done in a swimming pool or on an elliptical? Are these not fair questions?
Personally, I wouldn't recommend this approach to Dathan for two reasons:
1) it's too soon after his switch to Alberto. We don't know if he can stay healthy under Alberto's program, because he hasn't had enough time to prove that he can (or can't).
2) I don't know if he can handle it mentally. I think Amby's probably right that of all people, Dathan is the guy who could handle it...physically. But could Dathan toe the line knowing that he'd worked as hard as everyone else (even assuming he had)? Could he go into every cross training workout completely healthy, yet believing he'll get as good a workout as if he were running? I have no idea, but it's such a paradigm shift that he very well may lose his edge mentally.
Someday, someone will come along and take up Amby on this challenge. Hopefully they'll do amazing things and make us rethink our views about how to obtain success in distance running. In the meantime, I'd settle for Amby's other request, completely overshadowed by that crazy 40 mpw suggestion: Alberto, would you mind sharing with us how you improved Rupp's, Begley's and Ritz's kicks so much? There are a lot of US runners and coaches who could benefit from that knowledge.