The American Frank Shorter was the dominating marathon runner of the 1970s. In 1972 he won the marathon at the Olympics in Munich. And he did in a very impressive way: Already in the first half of the competition, he broke away from the rest of the field. He finished more than two minutes before everyone else. Four years later, at the Olympics in Montréal, he won the silver medal. Between 1971 and 1974 Shorter also managed to win the prestigious Fukuoka Marathon in Japan four (!) times in a row.
Shorter’s Olympic victory did not only represent his most important sporting victory. His success also raised awareness of running among the American population (the Olympic marathon was broadcasted live on US television) and this is how he played a central role in making running attractive for the broad masses. His achievements, especially the victory at the Olympics in Munich, thus significantly contributed to the running boom to emerge in the USA.
Shorter’s career was remarkable for various reasons.
First: It was utterly successful. He won ten out of the fifteen marathons he took part in. His worst result, along with an abandonment, was a fourth place. Shorter achieved all of those victories between 1971 and 1975. This shows that he performed at the absolute top of marathon for six years. How could he succeed for such a long period of time? Most probably, as a result of his belief in the importance of peaking his shape before major competitions. He finds it almost impossible to be in the best shape possible two times in one season, he says. As a consequence, he only participated in a few important competitions a year and he tried to always be in his absolute top shape only for the Fukuoka marathon and the Olympics (thus, to “peak” his shape).
Second: Shorter was no top athlete in his school years. It was only at the end of his academic career that he started to train seriously and to achieve good results.
Third: Shorter initially trained on track. He was very competitive in 5000m (PB 13’26’’) and 10’000m (PB 27’45’’) as well. This is something he has in common with runners like Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek or Derek Clayton.
Those three points can be a lesson to learn from for every amateur runner. Firstly, it is worth focusing on a few important competitions a year. This especially applies for longer distances. Training or preparatory competitions are always possible, of course. Secondly, it is not necessary to be at the top at a young age. For longer distances, structured training can lead to great results even at a later stage. Thirdly: Fast legs on shorter distances lead to better performances on longer distances. This explains the importance of speed work and interval training.
But how did Frank shorter train? The great American runner once summarised his training philosophy, claiming that he had a simple view on long distance training: “two hard interval sessions a week and one long run […]. Every other run is aerobic and you do as much of that as you can handle. Do this for two or three years, and you’ll get good.” (Source: Sandrock Michael, Running with the Legends, East Peoria 1996, 156.)
This is what his training weeks looked like:
|32km (16km 4:00min/km, 16km near 3:07/km)
(Source: Noakes Timothy, Lore of Running, Capetown 2003, 419.)