What are your new year’s resolutions? Remember one thing: there are no short cuts
I took time out over Christmas to study a few rival magazines and was surprised at how ridiculously easy they make achieving world-class fitness sound. Front cover headlines in one magazine alone included: ‘Get drunk, lose weight’, ‘Never get flu again’ and ‘Slash 2kg with a bacon sandwich’.
On the flipside, I read on Twitter how Paula Radcliffe and Scott Overall nailed two-hour runs on Christmas Day ahead of a year that includes racing the Olympic marathon in London in August. Mo Farah, meanwhile, spent Christmas in Kenya, training hard for the 2012 Olympics.
You can probably guess which approach left me feeling more inspired.
I am not an elite athlete. Neither am I a coach. But if there is one thing writing for Athletics Weekly has taught me, it is that there are no short cuts to success.
Magazines that run headlines and articles promising a quick and easy route to success are duping their readers. (My all-time No.1 crazy headline is ‘Olympic fitness, no pain’ by the way). After all, if something sounds too good to be true, then it usually is.
Instead, if you want to get the most out of your potential, you do as much training as you can, as hard as you can, as often as you can without getting injured. Those final three words are vital by the way, especially for young athletes reading this column. It took, of course, several years for Radcliffe to build up to two-hour runs and 140 miles per week. It cannot happen overnight. Or even in the space of 12 months.
The ‘no short-cuts to success’ theory holds true whether you are an Olympic hopeful, teenage athlete or aging veteran hoping to fend off Father Time. Training also has to be specific.
There is nothing wrong, for example, in doing zillions of press-ups and sit-ups, but the best training of all is tailored specifically to the event you do. As the supermiler Steve Cram once said: “If you want to be a better runner, do a lot of running.”
In a similar fashion, all the gymwork in the world won’t help if Roger Federer is about to hit a tennis serve at you. Doing lots of squats in the gym won’t stop cyclist Mark Cavendish whizzing past you either. Playing tennis or cycling for four or five hours a day, however, might give you a fighting chance.
It reminds me a bit of one of Athletics Weekly’s readers, Ian Macmillan, who writes to me regularly to stress that “everything you need to know about training to be a distance runner can be put on one sheet of A4 paper”.
He has a point. Radcliffe knows that there is no substitute for putting in the hard miles. In fact, every top distance runner in the world – from Haile Gebrselassie to world marathon record-holder Patrick Makau – follows a schedule that involves at least 100 miles per week of running mileage with two or three hard sessions at race pace or quicker thrown in.
So when you draw up your new year’s resolutions for 2012, do not overcomplicate things. Keep it simple, work hard and remember there are no short cuts.
Not surprisingly, the ‘fitness experts’ who write articles entitled “six weeks to a six-pack” and other such nonsense have probably not competed in the Olympics themselves.
» Jason Henderson edits AW and tweets at @Jason_AW