A Historical Case For Aerobic Development

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

One of the best markers of pure running talent for high school boys in the U.S. is being able to break 9 minutes for two miles. Case in point: every male Olympian who raced the 3,000m steeplechase through the marathon at the most recent London Games — and ran four years at a U.S. high school — clocked a time that was under 9 minutes for two miles as a prep. An examination of the number of high school boys who break nine minutes every decade represents how talent and training methods have evolved over time.

In the 1970s, 84 high school males broke 9 minutes for two miles. However, in the following decade, that number dropped to 51 runners. Then, in the 1990s, the U.S. produced just 15 runners who broke 9 minutes for the two mile. Here’s the data.

So what was going on from the 70s through the 90s? Certainly, training methods had evolved since the 1970s, so why were high school runners getting slower by the dozens every decade? Many observers theorized that television, sugary snacks, and general laziness were turning high school runners into unfit, slow and unmotivated children.

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But then something exciting happened as we rounded into the new millennium — high school runners started getting faster again! So far in the 2000s, 110 runners have broken 9 minutes for the deuce. In 2011 alone, 30 runners broke 9 minutes for 2 miles! That is double the number of sub 9-minute two milers in one year compared to the entire decade of the 1990s.

To my knowledge, high schoolers still watch lots of television, spend a lot of time on the internet, and consume a plethora of sugary snacks. So, what caused this resurgence in American distance running? The answer, in a word, is training.

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