Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Newtons' Laws

"Habit can be the best of servants or the worst of masters”
- Nathaniel Emmons

You may be thinking there is a grammatical error in the title of today’s blog but you would be sorely mistaken. I actually want to pay tribute to two Newtons today.

The first is Arthur Newton (pictured below), ultra runner from the 1920’s and 1930’s. Newton won 5 of the 6 Comrades Marathons in which he competed. He has also been cited as a major influence of folks like Percy Cerutty and Ron Clarke. In short, he knew his stuff. He was also someone who went against the prevailing belief that, World Class endurance athletes were born, not made. At 38 years of age, Newton set out to discover his athletic potential using a similar trial and error approach to that of another 30-something year old named Arthur Lydiard some 30 years later. Interestingly, they came to some strikingly similar conclusions.

In fact, Chuckie V’s recent post on information overload got me thinking about how little useful information we’ve uncovered since Newton penned his 9 laws of running training back in the 30’s (Chuckie, you’d like Newton. In addition to his running exploits, he walked 47,000km in his lifetime!!).

I thought now might be a good time to remind ourselves of the simplicity of what is really ‘required’ for training to be effective by looking at Newton’s 9 Laws of Training (Note: TSS scores, variability indexes and PMC charts don’t make the list :-)

1. Train frequently year round.

“First, practice your event as often as possible, paying less attention to other activities. If you want to be a good athlete, you must train all the year round, no matter what. What is really required is a little exercise constantly; this will benefit you permanently to a far greater degree than single heavy doses at long intervals”

2. Start gradually and train gently

“Second, never practice anywhere near ‘all out’. You ought never get really breathless or to pant uncontrollably. So in running, as in most athletics it is essential to ‘take it kindly’.

My advice is this – train gently and comfortably. Nearly all of us dash into it hoping for and expecting results which are quite unwarranted. Nature is unable to make a really first class job of anything if she is hustled. To enhance our best, we need only, and should only, enhance our average. That is the basis on which we should work for it succeeds every time when the other fails.”

3. Train first for distance (only later for speed)

“If you are going to contest a 26 mile event, you must at least be used to 100 miles a week…. As it is always the pace, never the distance, that kills, so it is the distance, not the speed that must be acquired. In the early days of training, you must endeavour only to manage as great a distance on each practice outing as you can cover without becoming abnormally tired. Your business therefore is to develop your ordinary standard by continuous practice.

Your aim throughout should be to avoid all maximum effort while you work with one purpose only; a definite and sustained rise in the average speed at which you practice, for that is the whole secret of ultimate achievement. This enables you to build up considerable reserves and to add continually to them. You must never, except for short, temporary bursts, practice at racing speed.”

4. Don’t set a daily schedule.

“Don’t set yourself a daily schedule; it is far more sensible to run to a weekly one, because you can’t tell what the temperature, the weather or your own condition will be on any one day”

5. Don’t race when you are in training and run time trials and races longer than 16km only infrequently.

“I decry such things as time trials…I am convinced that they are nothing but a senseless waste of time and energy. They can’t tell you any more than the race itself could.

I am convinced that it doesn’t help in any way at any time to practice sheer speed. Actual racing and running or all out exertion in any form of sport should be confined solely to the competition for which you are training. Your business is to build up, not to break down. You will find the speed is there and doesn’t need practice.

But by all means, enter a race every now and then, but beyond making a good shot of it, leave time trials and anything of that sort very much alone.

Racing, then, should be the only time trials, and should be run only every 2 weeks, preferably 3. 6 weeks between events would be more suitable for a marathon man, once in 2 months is probably better.

Remember to ‘bank’ your racing powers until you seriously require them, and you will then find that the interest is there as well as the capital when you start to draw on the account; there is no safer, saner or surer method of training.”

6. Specialize

“Specialization, nowadays is a necessity. Modern exponents have raised the standards to such a height that nothing but intensive specialization can put a fellow anywhere near the top.

Before the 1914-1918 war, the marathon was considered an event for only the favoured few who had unusual toughness and stamina.

It takes anything from 18mths to 3 years to turn a novice into a first class athlete. You will have to drop the bulk of your present recreations and spend the time in training; anything from 2 to 3 hours a day will have to be set aside. Athletics must be your major engagement for at least 2 years on end, your business or means of making a livelihood being at all times of secondary importance.

To drop anything at any time during that period whether for a holiday or anything else is to throw overboard part of your hard-earned ability: The longer the holiday, the more serious your relapse.”

7. Don’t over-train

“Perhaps one of the chief points is to regulate your training so as to be sure of always being on the safe side: The least trifle of overdose if persisted in will surely lead to trouble of one sort or another….

Go so far every day that the last mile or 2 become almost a desperate effort. So long as you’re fit enough for another dose the following day, you’re not overdoing it. But you must never permit yourself to approach real exhaustion, you must never become badly tired.

A good way to judge whether you are overdoing it is by your appetite. A really fearsome thirst is a definite sign that either the pace or distance has been too much. Not only are you unbearably thirsty, but your appetite has entirely disappeared for many hours after the event. Curiously enough, it is almost always the pace that is to blame.”

8. Train the mind.

“The longest and most strenuous mental and physical exertions all come at the start; get on with it at once and you will soon be through the worst. If you can stick it out for a few months, things will become altogether easier, because, by that time,…your active mind will have handed over to the subconscious a whole series of almost interminable details in the form of habits; and what formerly necessitated a continual effort will then become more or less automatic. Stamina seems to me to be just as much a mental attribute as a physical one.

Make your mind healthy and it will do the rest. If it is not normally healthy, you will never make a decent job of anything. Success depends far more on what use you make of your head than anything else.”

9. Rest before a big race.

“You should cut out all racing of every description during the last month of your training…you will need certainly 3 weeks to put the finishing touches to your stamina and reserves of energy..When you consider what a vast amount of work you have already gone through you will admit that a fortnight or so longer is a relatively trifling matter.

Endeavour to keep your spare time fully occupied with reading, writing or anything that will keep you still-anything to divert your mind from harping on the forthcoming event.”

As valuable and directly applicable as these laws are, the first law of the other Newton is, in my humble opinion, even more applicable to the bulk of age group athletes (myself included):

I. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

You may ask, what does this law of physics have to do with making me a better triathlete? Well, as Arthur Newton alludes in his 8th law, Sir Isaac’s (pictured below) first law of motion is not just a law of physics, but also one of human psychology.

After a very familiar discussion with Gordo the other day, on the merits of devoting some of my training time to improving my flexibility and consequent bike position via yoga, I was left asking myself why I had not made a focused effort to do so in the months since the G-man first suggested it. Is it because I don’t believe it is a limiter? No way. Is it because I don’t enjoy yoga? Nope. I actually really get into it once I get going. The only reason that I can come up with is that it is not yet habitual to me in the same way that going for my morning run or ride is.

For those who have had a test done in our Endurance Corner Lab, you’ll be very familiar with the following analogy….

In the EC lab we have a Velotron bike ergometer with a mammoth fly wheel. I think it’s 80 pounds or so. Anyhow, in order to get the flywheel moving, even on a minimal wattage resistance, to overcome that initial inertia takes some serious (sometimes discouraging) effort. However, once the flywheel is up to speed, the first few jumps in intensity are considerably easier than the initial effort of putting the wheel in motion. In a similar way, while getting a new habit established can take some considerable effort, once it is established it is much easier to keep it rolling. Even ‘uping the ante’ is significantly easier than that initial stage of putting the new habit in action.

As Charles C. Noble observed:

“First we make our habits, then our habits make us”


TJ said...

"Athletics must be your major engagement for at least 2 years on end, your business or means of making a livelihood being at all times of secondary importance."

Wow. This dude wasn't f'ing around.


"Make your mind healthy and it will do the rest."

Spot on with that one for sure.

Chuckie V said...

How is it I never even heard of Arthur Newton?! A Google search comes up with very little but from what I've seen this dude was WAY ahead of his time with this sort of thinking. There must be something about the name Art. Science and Art do mix!!!

Alan Couzens said...

Hey TJ,

Probably should be mentioned that his decision to take up running came after some business failings that probably left him a little jaded.

Still, the point remains, how many of us confuse 'making a living' with 'making a life'?

Good stuff.


Alan Couzens said...

Hey CV,

Tim Noakes in the first edition of "Lore of Running" pays tribute to him.

To this day, I agree that Art is still preceding science (although smart science is catching up :-)