Everything We Should Learn from Running Legend Grete Waitz

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Grete Waitz was the ultimate runner. She ran world records on 3000m, 10km, half marathon and marathon. Especially in marathon she was in a class of her own. She was the first woman to run it under 2:30 and she won the New York marathon nine (!) times. In addition to that, she won five world titles in cross-country running, another one in marathon (in 1983) and the silver medal in marathon at the Olympic Games 1984.This extraordinary record of achievements caused Bill Rodgers, who was one of the best marathon runners of the late 1970s, to state that, contrary to the men, it was easy to tell who was the best woman of all times: it could only be Grete. “She won in every distance. She was dominant. She was the best female long distance runner of all times.”

Grete Waitz wins one of her nine New York City Marathons
Grete Waitz wins one of her nine New York City Marathons

Waitz, however, was not only an outstanding runner, but she also was an outstanding character. The charismatic Norwegian was a central figure in the development of women’s running. Throughout her great career she was never on the verge of getting arrogant. Instead she remained humble and always connected with Oslo, her home city. Although she always emphasised the importance of the winner mentality, according to her, you shouldn’t show it on the outside. “It is fantastic to be self-assured. Nevertheless, let your performances talk for themselves. Never make a bold statement in public.”

The queen of marathon was also engaged in organising races and in writing. In her works she described five crucial points for improvement in running:

1. Have an ultimate goal.

2. Set up realistic goals and be flexible.

3. Don’t increase the amount of your training or change your training schedule too fast. Your body needs time to adapt.

4. Don’t change what works for you.

5. Follow the principle of hard/easy training.

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Always focused on her goal: Grete Waitz

Another interesting specialty of Waitz’ training was that she didn’t peak it towards important competitions (except from the marathon at the World Champs 1983 and the one at the Olympic Games in 1984. She focused on these competitions for one year.) The reason why she didn’t peak seems reasonable: she considered it to be too risky, sacrificing everything for a distant goal. Furthermore, according to Waitz, the mental pressure evolving from the peaking would deprive her of the fun at trainings.

Something that she strongly believed in, however, was the importance of speed work for every runner- even for those whose only goal was reaching the finish. She further emphasised in her book that her marathon training was basically the same as the one for 3000m, 5000m or 10’000m, claiming that the only difference was the total amount of kilometers (which was primarily reached with an additional long run of 20-33km). However, Grete never was a “high-miler” and she never ran more than 160km in a week in her career. Her training weeks basically looked as follows:

A.M. P.M.
Monday 10-15km in 4min/km 10-15km in 4min/km
Tuesday 10-15km in 4min/km 6-8x1km (1-2min rest)
Wednesday 10-15km in 4min/km Rest
Thursday 10-15km in 4min/km Fartlek 13km, several 500m-Sprints
Friday 10-15km in 4min/km 10-15km in 4min/km
Saturday 10-15km in 4min/km 15-20x300m
Sunday 20-33km Rest

(Source: Noakes Timothy, Lore of Running, Kapstadt 42003, 425)

Hence, the main points for us to be learnt from Grete Waitz, apart from the above cited five „golden rules“ of running, are:

  • Train regularly during the whole year
  • Do enough speed work
  • See base runs as the fundament on which to build your training

The single most important lesson from Waitz‘ life and career however is: No matter how good a runner you are- it’s being human that counts. In 1992, two years after her last participation as a competitor, she once again took part in the New York marathon. She joined Fred Lebow, the founder of the event and a close friend of hers. Lebow, being diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier that year, celebrated his 60th birthday. The two running legends ran into the finish after 5 hours, 32 minutes and 25 seconds, their arms raised high and they stayed in each other’s arms for what seemed an eternity after crossing the finish line. Lebow died in 1994 as a consequence of the cancer, Waitz died eleven years later.

Efficient Injury Prevention

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Unfortunately, injuries are very common in connection with running. Two thirds of all runners are injured at least once a year and need to abstain from, or at least adjust their training. In this entry we try to investigate the reasons for that and we present possible preventive measures helping you avoid injuries.

Injuries are annoying. They often occur when you feel you are in an especially good shape or when you are in the middle of a preparatory phase for an important competition. However, injuries only very rarely are god-given and unavoidable matters of fact. There are specific measures that help preventing you from getting injured efficiently. Minimising injuries is an important base on which to build long term development and progression, as well as it helps to retain the joy of running. First, however, let’s try and get to the bottom of the problem. Consequently, the first question that we ask ourselves is:

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Preventing injuries is a big issue in running

Why are injuries so common among runners?

The simple answer is: Running involves a lot of stress for our body. Not only are the muscles used extensively, but through the steady lifting from and landing on the ground, even our bones, joints and tendons are exposed to strong forces. Those percussions affecting our body when running constitute the major difference between running and other endurance sports such as cycling, cross-country skiing or rowing. Often, awareness of this nature of running is not in place, especially when all goes well. However, humans are no machines. For running accordingly, a strong core and sensible preparation and follow-up of a training session are important. All of these factors are often not being paid enough attention however.

Furthermore, amount and/or intensity of training are often being increased too quickly. Especially after a break it is crucial to work your way back to the previous level step by step. Wanting to catch up the training you missed often results in a further breakdown. In order to improve steadily, to increase the amount of training, or to run more quickly, two factors are of major importance: time and patience. This is something that a lot of runners lack in.

Along with excessive training loads, insufficient measures of recovery, such as imbalanced nutrition, too little hours of sleep, not enough stretching or using of a foam roll increase the risk of injury. Furthermore, a lot of recreational athletes often have an insufficient muscular stability or a bad running style. In that case, starting to train for a marathon is very likely to result in an injury rather quickly. Inappropriate or too old footwear is a further source of increased risk of injury.

A lot of times the amount of kilometers is more important to athletes than complementary components of training such as strength training or recovery.

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Core strength training should be part of every runner’s training

How can I, as an athlete, prevent myself from getting injured?

Apart from the most important piece of advice, to only gradually increase the amount and intensity of your running training, the following factors should be borne in mind:

  • Regular strength training, especially for the core. This is a must for each and every runner.
  • Enough hours of sleep
  • Balanced nutrition
  • Warming up and cooling down, especially before and after intense sessions.
  • Regular stretching
  • Appropriate equipment – we strongly recommend that you get your running shoes in specialised shops where they can consult you accordingly
  • Drills and running style. Economic running minimises the risk of injury.
  • Bring some variation into the monotony of running (i.e. cycling, aqua-jogging, swimming, cross-country skiing)

In general, running.COACH supports you in finding the right dose and avoiding a “too much” or “too fast”, by providing you with an elaborated training plan. Stretching, strength training and drills, as well as nutrition tips are supplied by running.COACH additionally.

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Efficient and gentle to your musculoskeletal system: running in the water

How should I behave in case of emerging pain?

Pain is a signal that absolutely needs to be taken seriously. It is crucial that you react and don’t just ignore the pain, thinking that it shouldn’t be anything severe. Because this is when minor complaints can turn into serious injuries. With minor ailments it is recommendable that you conduct the running training you have originally planned in the water instead. Go and do aqua-jogging for example. Very often a couple of rest days or/and a reduced amount of running suffice to make the pain disappear. Remember: Resting is an essential part of your training! If the pain is strong and doesn’t die away, however, it is inevitable that you go see a doctor.