Are America's golden years of distance running over? Will the successes of Frank Shorter and Joan Benoit Samuelson ever be repeated by another American? According to an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled The Africans Are Hearing Footsteps, not unless we put our watches away and our obsession on the science of training in the dumpster.
According to Kenyan runner Felix Limo (London and Chicago marathon winner) American distance runners have been surpassed by Africans because "U.S. runners rely too much on structure and scientific programs". Other sources quoted in the article say Americans don't have the same threshold for pain as the Africans and, oddly, Americans have read too many books and have become too structured in their training.
If I didn't know anything about the sport and its literature I might be so inclined to buy this argument hook-line-and-sinker. True, there is a plethora of science and literature that has entered the sport in the last couple of decades. But too much reading? Too much structure? I don’t think so. First of all the literature the article sites as influencing American elite runners would lead one to believe the author is, well, clueless. He points to Runner’s World Magazine, a magazine designed for beginning runners, as an influence. Runners World? Come on Wall Street Journal, do you think our elites have been sitting around waiting for there monthly issue to learn the top 5 ways to improve their 5k time? Another source sited is the Runners Handbook, by Bob Glover. While he writes good training primers for beginning to advanced runners, Glover's books fall way short of elite training tools. A reference to Jack Daniels or David Costill would’ve lent some credibility.
Let’s face it, it’s not about what runners are doing in America or Africa, it’s about what running means to Americans and Africans. Distance running doesn’t put food on the table in America. It doesn’t lift Americans from a poverty to prosperity. It doesn’t even make us national heroes. If it did, in my humble opinion, the tables would be turned.