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With best wishes,
TABLE OF CONTENTS
GORDON PIRIE'S LAWS OF RUNNING
CHAPTER ONE Introduction
CHAPTER TWO Why Athletes Fail
CHAPTER THREE Injuries, Technique and Shoes
CHAPTER FOUR Training
CHAPTER FIVE Weight Training
CHAPTER SIX Diet and Vitamins
In my 45 years of running, world-wide, I am constantly being called upon
to cure injured runners and correct their technical errors. This applies
across the board from young to aged, and from champions to novices. It
is in response to this overwhelming demand that I decided to write this
There is an entire generation of runners who have suffered severely from
the mal-information supplied to them by shoe manufacturers, and the
pseudo experts who pass themselves off as knowledgeable authorities in
the popular running press. Some of these runners will never run again.
Unfortunately, many runners have been led up athletic blind alleys by
incorrect information, and have become either too severely injured or
too disenchanted with the sport to continue.
This book is an extension of the activities I have been involved in for
the last 45 years namely, curing injured runners and turning slow
runners into fast runners. It is also written for the champion athletes,
runners who intend to develop their extraordinary abilities to a point
where they will be able to win major championship events.
It is a tragedy that so many super talented runners reach a point just
below that of the great champions, without ever breaking through to the
very pinnacle of the sport. These talented runners fail either because
they lack a knowledge of the tactics necessary to win a race, or because
their technique fails them at critical stages during a race; for
instance, being unable to apply the "Fini Britannique", the "Coup de
Grace", the hard finishing burst which will carry them past their
opponents to the finish line ahead. If you are an athlete who wants to
stand on the top step of the victory rostrum, you have to be cleverer
than your opponents, train harder, race tougher, and never give up at
any stage of your running. This book will start you on the road to being
the runner you want to become.
It is my hope that this book will release runners from the incorrect
information and false commercialism that has damaged the sport and
ruined millions of runners in recent years. Running is a sport, a game
that I love.
Good luck in whatever you achieve. It is all "fun running".
GORDON PIRIE'S LAWS OF RUNNING
1 Running with correct technique (even in prepared bare feet), on any
surface, is injury free.
2 Running equals springing through the air, landing elastically on the
forefoot with a flexed knee (thus producing quiet feet). On landing, the
foot should be directly below the body. (Walking is landing on the heels
with a straight leg).
3 Any and all additions to the body damage running skill.
4 Quality beats quantity; the speed at which you practice the most
will be your best speed.
5 Walking damages running.
6 The correct running tempo for human beings is between three and five
steps per second.
7 Arm power is directly proportional to leg power.
8 Good posture is critical to running. (Don't lean forwards!).
9 Speed kills endurance; endurance kills speed.
10 Each individual can only execute one "Program" at any one time; an
individual can be identified by his or her idiosyncrasies (i.e.
"Program"). An individual can change his or her "Program" only by a
determined, educational effort; each individual's "Program" degenerates
unless it is controlled constantly.
11 Static stretching exercises cause injuries!
12 Running equals being out of breath, so breathing through the mouth
is obligatory (hence the nickname "Puff Puff Pirie").
CHAPTER ONE - INTRODUCTION
The primary reason running has become the most popular participant sport
in the United States and elsewhere in recent years is its innate
simplicity. Running is an activity which comes naturally to all human
beings. It is of course true that some people are born with a particular
set of physical and psychological characteristics that make them better
runners than the rest, but, nevertheless, everyone can run well at some
distance. In addition, running requires no particular equipment or
infrastructure; only a simple resolve to "get at it".
Given this innate simplicity, it is maddening for people like myself (I
have been in the sport for nearly half a century) to see running become
cluttered up with so much bad information erroneous assumptions
ranging from the supposed safest and most efficient way to train, to
supposed proper running shoe design. Much of this information is so
distorted and based on so many mistaken principles, that it is
impossible for either the serious athlete or the health conscious jogger
to know where to turn for guidance. During my own running career, I have
seen the sport mature from the days when it was uncommon for the top
runners to train more than three or four times each week, to the present
era where sponsorship and product endor***ts make it possible for the
top athletes to devote virtually all of their time to training and
In the last 45 years, I have participated in three Olympic Games
(winning a Silver Medal in the 5,000 metre race at the 1956 Melbourne
Games), and have set five official world records (and a dozen or so more
unofficial world bests). I have faced and beaten most of the greatest
athletes of my time, and have run to date nearly a quarter of a million
miles. Along the way, I have coached several of Great Britain and New
Zealand's best runners some of whom have set their own world records.
In addition, I aided the late Adolf (Adi) Dassler (founder of Adidas) in
developing spiked racing shoes, on which most of today's good designs
are based. This brief list of some of my accomplishments is presented in
order to lend credibility to what follows.
The information in this book is not based on idle speculations or
esoteric theorising, but on more than 45 years of experience as an
athlete and coach. I therefore hope that I can now begin to make a
rigorous case for the fact that most runners in the world are currently
running incorrectly and training inefficiently. This holds true both for
people who are running simply to improve the quality of their health, as
well as for athletes competing at the upper levels of international
competition. Statistics compiled by the American Medical Association
indicate that as many as 70 percent of the more than 30 million
"serious" runners in the United States can count on being injured every
year. This disturbing injury rate is not limited solely to beginners and
elite athletes, but applies to runners at every level, across the board.
There are three basic reasons for the injury epidemic currently sweeping
the running world, which is making life unpleasant for millions of
runners, and destroying many more who are lost to the sport forever. The
first is the most basic - very few runners know how to run correctly.
Improper technique puts undue strain on the feet, ankles, knees, back
and hips, and makes injury inevitable.
The second reason is more subtle than the first, though closely related
to it. Most running shoes today are designed and constructed in such a
manner as to make correct technique impossible (and therefore cause
chronic injuries to the people who wear them). It is a common
misconception that a runner should land on his or her heels and then
roll forward to the front of the foot with each stride. In designing
their shoes, most shoe companies fall prey to this incorrect assumption.
The result is that running shoes get larger and clumsier every year. Far
from protecting runners, these shoes actually limit the runner's ability
to run properly, and as a result may contribute to the injury epidemic.
The third factor accounting for the current plague of injuries is an
over-emphasis on mileage in training, especially "long slow distance"
(LSD). Without the constant maintenance of a proper balance in
training including sprinting, interval training, weights, hills and
long-running - a runner's body simply will not adapt to the stresses it
encounters on a day to day basis.
Most runners approach the sport backwards. Initially, they settle into a
training regime and go at it. Then, if problems occur, they might think
about making changes to the way they run or in the shoes they wear
(though few get around to making a constructive change. Most wait for a
The first thing a runner must know is how to run properly. Everything
else follows from there. It is at this fundamental stage that this book
shall begin. Before this, however, it might be interesting and helpful
for the reader to understand some of my experiences in the sport
something of my roots.
As a small boy in England, I was initiated into the world of long
distance running by my father, a competitor in the XC World
Championships in 1926, who also ran marathons and served as the race
director for a number of 20- and 30 mile road races; the South London
Harriers' 30 mile race has been held annually since the 1940s, making it
one of the oldest long distance running events. As a result of my
father's affliction with the somewhat infinite fascinations of distance
running, I was exposed to a constant stream of absolutely mad long
distance runners (including a European champion, an Olympic Silver
Medalist and a Commonwealth Games winner) at a very early age.
It was my job to take these champion runners around the courses which my
father had devised. Since I was unable to run with the men at the age of
ten, my only alternative was to guide them around the courses by
bicycle. Chief among the lessons I learned from these accomplished (and
slightly eccentric) athletes was something of the habits of top class
distance runners. At times they seemed crazy. They were extremely
aggressive, and often at war with the world. Remember, this was at a
time when it was extremely uncommon to see runners on the streets and
roads. I recall particularly the choleric disdain in which they held
members of the "civilised world" a world they seemed not to consider
themselves a part. This confrontational attitude would often frighten
and embarrass me. I would cycle off ahead of the runners I was guiding
in order to avoid finding myself in the middle of an uncomfortable
confrontation with an angry motorist, cyclist or pedestrian. The
runners, many hardened by the depression, and some products of life in
the coal mines, truly believed that the roads belonged to them while
they were on a run. If one of these free spirits encountered a sharp
bend in the road, they had to run the shortest possible distance around
the bend, crossing the road with the result that traffic in both
directions screeched to a halt.
They were always spoiling for a fight, and many an angry motorist was
ready to oblige. Their aggressiveness increased with the difficulty of
the course they were running. An extremely tough one in Surrey had
several very big, very steep hills which rose as high as 400 feet. On a
run through these chalk hills in the North Downs, it was impossible to
detect any of the runners' reputed relish for a tough climb. The hills
served only to make them more and more belligerent, and more and more
The late Tom Richards, a Welsh ex-miner, was typical of these runners.
He was, until his death in 1985, a real hard bastard on a training run.
His intense nature won him a Silver Medal in the 1948 Olympic Marathon.
Tom ran the last twenty miles of that race about 100 yards behind the
eventual winner, Cabrera of Argentina (in fact, no one told Tom he was
in third place most of the way). He was not quite able to make up the
deficit in the final miles and finished just 15 seconds behind the
Argentinian. Both he and Cabrera overtook Gailly of Belgium inside the
Tom Richards was one of the athletes with whom I first began to run in
the 1940s. Tom and runners like him were always experimenting with
special diets or drinks intended to improve their racing performance
(some things never change, do they?). They did everything in those days
by trial and error - just like today! Nevertheless, they did make
mistakes that would seem quite obvious to us now, like taking strong,
heavily salted or sugared drinks to keep them going. As a result, it
wasn't uncommon then for an exhausted runner to be bent over with
stomach or leg cramps at the end of a marathon - a direct consequence of
these highly concentrated drinks. It was typical at the finish of such
races to see stretchers bearing cramped up runners being attended to by
medical personnel. In fact, the men (there were no women running long
distance races in those days) who did not cramp up severely were a
rarity. It seemed as if the only reason to run a marathon at all was to
enlist sympathy from friends and loved ones, who were sure the runner
was breathing his last.
The Coulsdon Marathon finished outside the Tudor Rose, a popular local
pub. Consequently, a good, strong, tough Welsh miner could finish the
race, be dead on his feet, and still manage to shuffle another 100 yards
to the Tudor Rose; there to down a dozen pints of good English beer to
prevent his collapse (or, perhaps, to hasten it).
An old runner named Bailey, aged well into his seventies, was a constant
bane to race officials who did not particularly want to stand around
after dark waiting for him to finish. During one particular event, a
race in which the runners had to cover the same loop three times,
officials familiar with Bailey's reputation for late night finishes
determined to capture him after two laps and physically remove him from
the course. They underestimated the tenacity of this stubborn old man,
however, and it took half a dozen officials, some only half Bailey's
age, to catch him and remove him from the course. As they carried him
away, his legs continued running, free-wheeling in mid air. Old Bailey
was determined to get in as much mileage as possible.
Another race, this one around Windsor Castle and the beautiful Windsor
Great Park, took place on an extremely hot day. Most of the runners were
wiped out by the heat, either because of their various poisonous drinks,
old age, or simply because they were unfit. Even the winner, Griffiths
of Herne Hill Harriers, struggled across the finish line looking more
like a hospital case than a champion runner.
Incidentally, Windsor Castle was the starting line for the 1908 Olympic
Marathon, so that King Edward VII could view the start. From there it
was 26 miles and 385 yards to the finish line at the site of the ex
White City Stadium - the marathon distance which has survived to this
From the above you can see that my attitude to running has been coloured
somewhat by being brought up with a generation of running "idiots" not
at all a term I use in a derogatory way. These men exhibited a good deal
more courage than common sense or sound training methods, like many
runners today, but they did the best that they could. Luckily, in many
ways, there wasn't much in terms of scientific data on the effects of
different types of training available in the 1940s, but then those early
runners were victims of the same type of athletic ignorance which so
many runners still suffer from today.
Running ignorance refers to a runner who goes from one frustration to
another because he or she knows absolutely nothing about the effects of
training on the body. This athlete may be Summa***Laude or a world
champion. What I learned from those early pioneers was a great deal
about the psychological aspects of distance running chiefly that if a
runner can convince himself or herself that a task is possible, the
battle is half won.
On the other hand, an "Athletic Ignoramae" is a runner of a different
nature altogether. He is like the great African runners who race without
presumptions or preconceived limitations. He has no fear of lap times or
of a fast pace. He simply runs his opponents off their feet.
It is amazing to consider that even though US runners have all the
scientific help and assistance the modern world can devise, the
"Athletic Ignoramae" from Africa regularly beat the hell out of them at
the World Championships. It is, tragically, even more amazing when these
same "Athletic Ignoramae" are imported into US Colleges and destroyed.
They are like flowers - flowers bloom better and for longer when left
Even in recent times, there have been runners like Alberto Salazar who
believed that he could never develop a sprint finish because of the
physiological nonsense scientists fed him. All that was required was for
him to identify which aspects of his running character needed to be
developed so he could sprint, and then to develop them!
My own journey to the top of the heap in international running began
when I saw Emil Zatopek demolish the world's best over 10,000 metres at
the 1948 Olympic Games in London. At the time, Zatopek was considered
something of a phenomenon. His domination of the sport was attributed
to an unnatural level of physical ability. Completely overlooked in the
so called experts' evaluation of Zatopek was his absolutely uninhibited
style and the terrific training loads he subjected himself to. Zatopek's
performance in 1948 lit a fire in my imagination.
I made up my mind to stop being a spectator. I did not go to another
session of the Games. I stayed at home, training hard, from that day on.
There are few other athletes in the world who are willing to make that
kind of commitment. They want to be spectators too! But for me, it paid
off with several world records, an Olympic medal, and, finally, three
victories over the great Zatopek himself.
At a time when traditional wisdom frowned upon young athletes training
hard, Zatopek's performance demonstrated that what was needed to reach
the top was not more caution, but more hard work, study, discipline and
courage. Zatopek's races in the 1948 and 1952 Olympic Games opened the
door for athletes who came after him. He demonstrated that an athlete
must train two or three times a day, year in and year out, in order to
maximise their ability. With the example of Zatopek before me, I was
ready to attack the running world with a vengeance. But before I could
fully realise my grand ambitions, I needed to make sure I was spending
my training time efficiently that is, employing the proper activities
in the proper amounts in my training.
Following the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games I met the great German coach
Waldemar Gerschler. At that time, Gerschler had already spent 20 years
working closely with Professor Hans Reindall, a heart specialist, and
with psychological experts. His approach to training distance runners
was well ahead of its time. He called for a systematic approach to
training, which prepared the athlete's body and mind to withstand
greater and greater efforts.
Gerschler was the first person I met who suggested it was possible for
me to train even more. From Gerschler I learned how to produce an
absolutely maximum effort. Prior to meeting him I had been training on
my own, but his expertise freed me from that responsibility. I had been
training hard prior to meeting Gerschler, but had not really understood
what I was doing - nor had I cared much about it, either.
I still employ many of the principles of interval training which I
learned from this great German coach during the 1950s. Nearly every top
runner in the world today uses Gerschler's interval principles, most
without knowing it a good example was the American Steve Scott.
With Gerschler as my mentor, I was able to lower the world record for
5,000 metres to 13:36.8 in 1956 (Gundar Haegg first broke 14:00 with a
13:58 in 1944). Gerschler's training methods made it possible for me to
compete with the world's best for more than 10 years. The example of
Zatopek, along with Gerschler's expertise, made it possible for me to
become an uninhibited competitor. The crucial point in all this was that
I was determined to set aside what was then traditional thinking, in
order to do whatever was necessary to eliminate my athletic weaknesses.
The autumn and winter months were spent in cross country racing. I was
well known during those years for destroying the competition with
insanely fast starts. In 1954, I opened the National Cross Country
Championship Race (over a distance of 10 miles) with a 2:03 first
half-mile through mud. It was my habit as a cross country runner to
attempt to settle the question of who would win as early as possible,
leaving everyone else in the field to run for second place.
In the Surrey Senior Cross Country Championships a couple of years
earlier, I won the seven and a half miles championships with a time of
just over 33:00 in conditions so bad that Chris Chataway (later to
become one of the world's best) was able to win the junior five mile
race in only 28:00. In the 1953 Surrey Championships, I broke the course
record for five miles en route to winning the seven and a half miles
championship, beating Chataway by nearly two minutes.
As early as 1951, just one week after winning the Southern Junior Cross
Country title over six miles by a huge two and a half minute margin, I
was able to defeat the reigning Senior Southern Cross Country Champion,
John Stone, to win the Royal Air Force Championship in Wales. During
those years, I ran on the winning team in the Southern Youths (three
miles), and Junior (six miles) and Senior (nine miles) divisions a
feat unequalled in English cross country running. In 1955, the late
British team manager, Jack Crump, said of my cross country racing
successes: "Gordon Pirie is the greatest cross country runner I have
My success was not limited to the winter months or to cross country
running, however. I took on a full schedule of international-level track
racing during the summer over all distances. Between 1951 and 1961, I
faced the world's best at every track distance from 800 metres through
to 10,000 metres - and beat many of these "distance specialists".
My training regime made it possible for me to succeed against such
runners as Wes Santee (The Kansas Cowboy who set a world record over
1,500 metres) in the famous Emsley Carr Mile in 1953. Michael Jazy
(world record holder over one mile) and German star Klaus Richtzenhain
(the 1956 Olympic 1,500 metre Silver medalist) were both defeated in
1,500 metre races in 1961 and 1956, respectively, despite the constant
claim of the "experts" that I was too slow to succeed at such a short
distance. Derek Ibbotson, Vladmir Kuts, Sandor Iharos, Istvan
Roszavogli, Laslo Tabori, Peter Snell, Herb Elliott and John Walker, all
world record holders, are also amongst my victims.
I did not achieve this unparalleled success due to the possession of any
extraordinary physical gifts or a magical training formula. I simply
went about my training and racing with a singleness of purpose and
determination that was unfashionable at that time, to the point of being
downright "un-English". I was able to beat such great runners because I
trained myself to be able to withstand incredibly hard races and still
sprint the last 220 yards in something near 25 seconds (on heavy cinder
To achieve this, I ran 10x220 yards in 24 seconds not once, but twice
in a single day. I could manage 20x440 yards in 59 seconds with only a
30 second jog to recover, or 12x440 yards in 55 or 56 seconds, with a
one minute recovery jog.
In 1954, I was labelled "crazy" when I promised to lower the world
record for 5,000 metres to 13:40. The sporting press called me a running
"idiot" (hence my affection for the term). Apparently, my candour at
suggesting that both the great Haegg's record and the "impossible" 13:40
barrier might be vulnerable to an athlete willing to attack them with
unfashionable determination, was viewed by the press as somewhat
presumptuous. It was one thing to strive for an achievement that the
world at large viewed as impossible, but quite another to be honest
about it. Imagine my critics' surprise when, on June 19, 1956, I ran
5,000 metres in 13:36.8 to become the first athlete to break the
"impossible" 13:40 barrier, pulling the late and great Vladimir Kuts
(13:39.6) under the magical mark with me. My critics in the press and
elsewhere were strangely silent after Kuts and I both broke Iharos's
recent world record of 13:40.8.
Despite my competitive record, however, my greatest enemy was never the
athletes I raced against. My battle was constantly with myself. I was
much more interested in overcoming my own limitations than in smashing
my opponents. I was never satisfied with my fitness level. I was
constantly adding to my workload, and exploring the absolute limits of
my body. There were times when I perhaps went too near the edge, but
still I was able to avoid serious injury, and improve throughout my
international career, even after many years. I tried every type of
running imaginable from very fast sprinting up to hard interval training
and running ultra-marathon distances. I ran hills and lifted weights. I
trained hard, but never in a haphazard manner. I was always pushing, but
knew exactly what I was doing. It takes a careful attention to every
detail of your lifestyle, and more than just a simple resolve, in order
to improve. It takes planning and knowledge. That knowledge is what this
book is about.
So, with a background of almost 50 years as a world class athlete and
coach, let us begin. The principles outlined and detailed in the
following pages will be called revolutionary in many quarters, but they
are the same methods which I employed during my own competitive career,
and which have been refined by three decades of training athletes such
as Anne Smith (Great Britain), Anne Audain (New Zealand), Alison Roe
(New Zealand) and Jim Hogan (Ireland) all world record holders -
together with many other champions. The information conveyed in this
book applies equally to the aspiring Olympian, the high school athlete
anxious to win a local championship, the recreational marathoner or 10
kilometre runner, and the casual jogger. My intent in writing the book
is to provide runners at every level with an understanding of the sport
that will make their running safer and more satisfying - not to mention
a darn sight faster!