Alberto Salazar's Guide to Running


A sensible, balanced, low-stress approach to running

In ALBERTO SALAZAR'S GUIDE TO RUNNING, the three-time New York City marathon winner and former marathon world-record-holder draws on the latest research to show you that a twenty-minute, two-to three-mile run can be just as beneficial as a longer, harder run. He offers a complete year-long program designed to build beginning runners' weekly distance to a relatively short fifteen to twenty miles. Salazar also points out the ...

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A sensible, balanced, low-stress approach to running

In ALBERTO SALAZAR'S GUIDE TO RUNNING, the three-time New York City marathon winner and former marathon world-record-holder draws on the latest research to show you that a twenty-minute, two-to three-mile run can be just as beneficial as a longer, harder run. He offers a complete year-long program designed to build beginning runners' weekly distance to a relatively short fifteen to twenty miles. Salazar also points out the many advantages of helping your running program with aerobic and strength-building activities.

Interspersed throughout the book you'll find fascinating and instructive anecdotal sidebars in which Salazar shares the hard-won lessons he's learned about running, fitness, avoiding injuries, and more. There's also valuable advice for more experienced runners on trail running, winter training, cross training, and increasing distance.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071370271
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Companies, The
  • Publication date: 3/27/2001
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Introduction 1
Running 101. Running for Fun and Fitness
1. Welcome to the New Era of Running 11
2. Running for the Decades: A Conservative Program for Lifestyle Running 19
3. The Running Life 33
4. Equipping Yourself 60
5. Running Form 85
6. Stretching 97
7. Weight Training and Cross-Training 109
8. Achieving and Maintaining Healthy Body Weight 126
9. Aches and Pains 139
Running 201. Expanding your Horizons
10. Challenges and Adventures 161
11. Race Training 171
12. Race Day 187
Index 203
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We live in an era that has been called the "second running boom." The original boom began in the 1970s when Dr. Kenneth Cooper published his groundbreaking book Aerobics, the first major report on the benefits of vigorous exercise. Cooper brought the word aerobics into the mainstream and did more than anyone or anything else to spawn the jogging boom of the 1970s, as millions of Americans hit the pavement to chalk up their weekly rations of "aerobics points." Americans have been runners ever since.

Cooper's advice was to rack up 30 of these points a week--roughly the equivalent of running 8 to 10 miles a week. But popular culture has always believed that "if some is good, more must be better." By the 1980s, Americans were hitting the marathon courses in record numbers, producing intense competition just to get into some of the major races.

This focus on running was fueled in part by Frank Shorter's 1972 gold medal and 1976 silver medal in the Olympic marathon. But it was also fueled by highly publicized claims that anyone who ever got into sufficient shape to run a marathon would be forever immune to heart attack--a claim that history has proven simply not to be true. Now we know that you achieve most of the benefit of daily exercise simply by running 15 miles a week--and that there is almost no health advantage to exceeding 5 miles a day.

We also know that while running greatly reduces cardiac risk, no amount of exercise eliminates it completely. People may choose to run longer distances for the challenge or because they enjoy the competition, but if we're honest, even those of us who love long-distance running must admit we don't do it for our health. You can run 2 miles a day with relatively little chance of injury, but once you exceed 5 miles a day, you're at risk of spending more and more time on injured reserve. Furthermore, successful long-distance runners sacrifice upper body strength to keep their weight low (so they can run faster), and they obsess about staying thin.

If your goal is to run as fast as you can, all of this focus on long-distance running is useful. If your goal is to be buff and physically fit, however, you're better off to run less and add a complementary sport, such as bicycling, cross-country skiing, rowing, weight training, or hiking.

This is what the new running boom is all about. People are again flocking to the sport, but they're using running as part of an overall health and fitness plan rather than as an end in itself. In the process, they're discovering not only that running is an excellent way to pack a nice dose of exercise into 20 minutes, but that you don't have to be a fanatic for it to become a lot of fun. Rather than crowding the marathons, these people are more likely to be drawn to 3- or 5-mile celebrations of health called "fun runs." These low-key races may not even have a clock. Not only is there little health benefit to running long distances, but you don't get much more benefit from training yourself to run 6-minute miles than you do if your top, comfortable pace is 10 minutes or even 12 minutes a mile. The important thing is simply to get your body out and moving--with your heart rate moderately elevated--away from those twin banes of modern health, the refrigerator and the remote-control television.

Many running books don't reflect this reality. They're aimed at racers: teaching how to train for a marathon in six months (or a year), how to shave a few minutes off a 10-kilometer time, or how to maximize speed or distance training. There's nothing wrong with performance-motivated running, but this book is different. Its purpose is to teach you how to integrate running into a healthy lifestyle that you should be able to maintain for decades to come.

Market surveys by shoe companies have indicated that this integration is indeed what most new runners are seeking. In the 1980s, typical first-time shoe buyers were people who'd seen the New York City Marathon on television and were targeting on running their own marathons--often setting the goal before they'd even laced up their shoes for their first tentative jogs. Today's beginning runners, however, are more likely to have no intention of running even a short road race, let alone a marathon. Their goals are more modest--and more sustainable. These people are turning to running as part of an overall fitness program designed to maintain health and alleviate job stress, not to train for specific competitive goals.

If this describes you, this is your book. It will also teach you how to race, if you want, but that's secondary to developing yourself into a runner.

In keeping with these goals, this book advocates a very conservative start-up program, designed to take you from nonathlete to running about 15 miles a week over the course of your first year. It's possible to advance more quickly--and if you're already well-conditioned from another sport, you might find it easy to do so--but the goal is to make sure the transition from nonrunner to runner occurs slowly and gradually. Most people run too far, too quickly, too soon. That's a prescription for giving up in the first few months or--if you tough it out--for always being tired and achy. A better method is to think in the long term, while finding enough enjoyment at each stage of your running career that the prospect of 20, 30, 40, or 50 more years is something to be anticipated with pleasure, not as the equivalent of a prison sentence or an unpleasant medical procedure.

To reinforce the idea that your integration into running is best done as a gradual transition, this book is divided into two parts, modeled on a sequence of academic courses. Each part even has a suggested midterm and final "exam."

The first part, Running 101, is a yearlong program, taking you from your first tentative decision to become a runner (reflected, perhaps, by buying this book) to the point where you're running somewhere between 1 hour and 2 1/2 hours a week. Your midterm assignment is to find half a dozen pleasant running routes in your neighborhood. The final exam is to review your progress at the end of the year and identify the ways in which your health, fitness, confidence, and ability to manage stress have improved. Mark your calendar now; you may be surprised at how much your life will have changed. You may even find that your self-image has acquired a new and unexpected component: that unfamiliar but exciting new word athlete.

The second part, Running 201, is titled Expanding Your Horizons to underscore the fact that the topics it covers are optional. Don't set any of the topics as goals until after you've made the transition to being a runner, and even then do them only if they sound like fun. This section will introduce you to techniques for running farther, faster, and in new environments, ranging from fun runs to trail running and competitive road racing. For those who are so motivated, much of Running 201 discusses racing, up to and including marathons.

Your midterm assignment, should you choose to pursue one of these electives, is to pick a challenge that sounds like fun, set a speed or distance goal that does not unduly stretch your abilities, and work out a cautious training program for achieving your goal. The final is similar: implement your training program and have a blast at the big event itself.


I spent several years as one of the world's top-ranked road racers, setting a world record in the marathon at 2:08:13, making two appearances on the U.S. Olympic team, winning the Boston Marathon, and scoring three consecutive victories in the New York City Marathon. My world-record time remains the fastest ever posted by an American. Like any runner, yourself included, I knew nothing about the sport before I started running seriously.

My older brother Ricardo first led me to become enamored with running. I was in fifth or sixth grade; he was on the high school track and cross-country teams. Together, we would organize the neighborhood kids for 50-yard dashes or longer runs around the block. I'm sure I was eager enough to beat my friends, but at the time it was just play.

A year or two later, I joined my junior high school's track-and-field team, where I did well enough that in eighth grade I was allowed to run with the high school junior varsity team. There, I continued to win races without any training.

When an activity you love generates positive feedback, you tend to do more of it. Eventually, you begin seeking ways to get ever better. So it was with running and me. The difference between world-class competitors and many other runners isn't that world-class competitors are more dedicated or more willing to put in the training. Recreational runners can also be very dedicated. The difference is that elite runners receive years of positive reinforcement that encourages them to dig ever deeper for those increments of speed and endurance that spell the difference between a good performance and the best your body is capable of giving. It's that positive feedback loop that ultimately allows a few of us to make running into our careers.

For me, that process truly began in high school, where as a freshman I was the best runner on the cross-country team and league champion in the 2-mile. After winning several state high school championships, I went to the University of Oregon, where as a junior I qualified for the 1980 Olympics in the 10,000-meter. Unfortunately, that was the year the United States boycotted the Moscow Olympics, so I was unable to compete. Instead, I entered the 1980 New York City Marathon.

I had always considered the marathon to be my ultimate calling. You can't grow up near Boston without taking an interest in the Boston Marathon. My childhood home was only 3 miles from the race's midpoint, and my brother and I used to line up to watch it every year. During my junior year in high school, I started running with the Greater Boston Track Club, most of whose members were former collegiate competitors in their mid-twenties. One was Bill Rodgers, who would soon start a multiyear reign as the world's top marathoner--and at age 16 I could almost keep pace with his track workouts. That was when I set the goal: when I was old enough, I too would run marathons.

I won that first year in New York. The next year, I came back and broke the world record by 19 seconds, running 2:08:13. In 1982, I won again in New York and also survived a marathoner's worst nightmare--a sprint to the finish against Minnesotan Dick Beardsley to win the Boston Marathon by 1.5 seconds.


Those were the glory years. In 1984, I qualified for the Los Angeles Olympics, where I was favored to win. But I had exhausted myself by training too hard, and it was hot--never my strong suit. I finished poorly, in fifteenth place.

The next few years were even more disappointing. I was in a downward spiral of declining performance during which I exhausted myself even more by trying to gut my way through with ever-harder training. I eventually learned that my problem was asthma, but not before that condition and my efforts to power through it had made substantial inroads on my lung function. Today, I have only 60 percent of the lung function I had in my prime--an impossible deficit to overcome as a marathoner.

But there are events where other factors are more important than lung capacity. One of these is the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, a 54-mile point-to-point course that has run every year since the end of World War I. At that distance, you can't run fast enough to get particularly out of breath, even with a diminished lung function like mine. Rather, such races are a test of how long you can sustain a more modest pace.

That ultramarathon was my farewell to world-class racing. I won it--the first American ever to do so--in 5:38, about 8 minutes shy of the course record. Since then, with my asthma well under control, I've joined the ranks of fitness runners, putting in no more than 30 miles a week. After years of training 100 or more miles a week, I find I'm content. What I do now keeps me trim and healthy. It's good for my asthma and gives me that great feeling that comes from knowing I'm in good shape--not for competition but simply to enjoy daily life.


This book is written for beginners. It's also aimed mostly at people whose running goals center around fitness, weight control, and the overall health benefits of exercise--not at those trying to eke out a few extra seconds of speed in a race. Perhaps you've chosen running as your route to fitness because it offers a way to get a good workout in a limited amount of time. Perhaps you like the fact that running shoes are a lot less expensive than a health club membership and are more portable and easier to store than a bicycle. Perhaps running is the easiest sport to do from your home or office, or perhaps you just like the fact that it's the oldest and most natural of all sports. Humans were made to run. A well-trained hunter can actually run down a deer or even a horse--although only a few remote tribes or world-class ultramarathoners still possess this skill. Only dogs and wolves are as well built for long-distance running as humans.

Most modern Americans, of course, are no longer built even for short-distance running. If this describes you, don't despair. The running program in chapter 2, Running for the Decades, is designed precisely for you. Unless you have an unusual medical condition, it should work even if you're overweight or sedentary and haven't even run around the block since childhood. The key is that the program proceeds in gradual steps that give your body a lot of time to recover from years of inactivity.

That means this book is also written for you if you've previously attempted running, only to give it up after a few weeks. Most likely, your failed program was too aggressive. Stick to the one in chapter 2, without trying to achieve everything overnight, and you will be much less likely to get a sore knee or simply burn out. If there is a single guiding philosophy to this book, it is that it's better to set modest, achievable goals than to aim so high that you're always getting hurt or skipping workouts because of lack of time.

It shouldn't matter whether you're fast or slow, thick or thin, young or old. This program is built on the number of minutes spent running, not on speed or distance. By allowing your body to find its own speed, this approach automatically accounts for your specific body type.

That said, this book is still for you if you have dreams of someday trying your hand at racing. But first, you need to take your prerequisite, Running 101. Take a moment to lace up your shoes and prepare yourself to embark on a course with the potential to revise not only your health but your energy level and the depths of your very self-image. Your life may never be the same again.


The advice in this book is drawn from my years of racing experience, from what I've learned as a coach of both world-class and high school runners, and from the easy-on-beginners training program I've developed since retiring from racing. Rick Lovett, with whom I've written this book, brings his own experience plus a background much closer to the average reader's. Rick tells me he's never won a race with more than 10 entrants--and never expects to. But he is a serious recreational runner who runs for fun, fitness, and sport. I've drawn on that background to complement my own view from the front of the pack.

From the moment Rick and I met, we discovered that we think remarkably alike, partly because we share a common joy in a sport that has given much to each of us. Throughout the book, you'll find sidebar advice from Rick's own experience as a fitness runner and road racer who must fit his running into a sometimes-hectic work and business-travel schedule. We met when Rick returned to running as a way to control his weight and cholesterol after an injury layoff sent him on a decade-long foray into other sports, most notably cycle touring and backpacking. Today, having shed 55 pounds of middle-age weight creep, he runs 20 to 30 miles a week, wins occasional age-group awards in local races, and continues to enjoy the active life of an outdoor and adventure-travel writer.

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