Five Lessons Learned From Alberto Salazar

Alberto Salazar started working with a young Galen Rupp in high school, taking a long-term approach toward his pupil's development as a runner. Photo: PhotoRun.net

1. Take a long-term approach

Let’s face it: we live in a results-driven world where many people subscribe to the philosophy that something needs to get done as soon as possible or else it’s not worth doing. Running, unfortunately, is no different. Every day runners seek instant improvement and subscribe to get-fit-quick approaches to training that guarantee they’ll be in the best shape of their life in 10 weeks or less. Sorry folks, but it just doesn’t work that way in distance running.

In the extreme example of Salazar and Rupp, who have been working together for nearly 12 years, taking a long-term approach to training has allowed Rupp to mature, adapt and improve incrementally year after year to the point where he’s now able to be competitive in nearly any race he enters and contend for medals on the world stage. Throughout this process, short-term successes were often sacrificed in favor of achieving long-term goals. From the time Salazar and Rupp started working together the main goal was to eventually end up on the medal stand. Rather than rush the process, however, trying to turn Rupp into a world-beater at 19 or 20 years old and risking injury or burnout, Salazar and Rupp exercised patience, sticking to their long-term plan and taking one small step at a time toward achieving big things.

At 26 years old, Rupp has yet to run a marathon, focusing instead on improving his speed over 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters before he eventually moves up to the 26.2-mile distance, where he will undoubtedly have an almost instant impact after years of necessary physical and emotional development.

How can you take a long-term approach to your own training and racing? The most important lesson is to be patient. Set long-term goals for 1 to 3 years down the road, such as moving up to tackle the marathon distance or taking a large chunk of time off your current personal best. Give yourself plenty of time to mature as an athlete, work on your aerobic development, and improve strength and speed over the course of a few years rather than try to cram it all into a 10- or 12-week period. Of course, it’s important to give yourself short-term benchmarks along the way as a means of checking your progress, but don’t be discouraged if you’re not running a personal best every time you take to the starting line. Always keep the bigger picture in mind.

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