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Running Smart: The Salazar Wisdom That Made Farah A Champion

By on Sep 9, 2013
Image of Alberto Salazar, running coach

Over the years, Alberto Salazar has provided some memorable quotes about running. In the process, he has provided intriguing insights into the mind of a running legend – and the methods that have helped mould double world champion Mo Farah. This article brings together for you the very best Salazar soundbites.

This week we started our review of the top 7 reasons for Mo Farah’s consistent, injury-free success. Underlying all of these reasons is one thing: Salazar’s strident views on a wide variety of facets of running.

Below we pull together the pick of Salazar’s quotes: on his attitude to running; his views on training; the special emphasis he places on rest and recovery; his thoughts on the weird and wonderful world of racing; his insights into marathon running; and the role that faith has played in his running life.

These are the most revealing insights into the mind of a running legend. I hope you enjoy them. And please do let us know your favourite Salazar running quote in the comments below.

Attitude

If one thing shines through in Salazar’s numerous quotes about running, it’s his attitude to running:

  1. Early in my career I was accused of being overconfident and even cocky, but I really was confident that I had done the training and didn’t see any other reason to say otherwise.
  2. I’ve run a lot of miles over the years, some fast and some not so fast. I’ve won some big races and I’ve had some big disappointments, but I enjoy the freedom of running and the challenge of training and competition as much now as when I first started back in high school.
  3. If you want to achieve a high goal, you’re going to have to take some chances.
  4. The pain of running is like the pain of drowning. A kind of weariness sets in and you lose the will to fight. What I could do is simply push myself through that exhaustion.
Training
  1. We may train or peek for a certain race, but running is a lifetime sport.
  2. An athlete who tells you the training is always easy and always fun simply hasn’t been there. Goals can be elusive which makes the difficult journey all the more rewarding.
  3. I’ve never enjoyed my running more. I also do 200 sit-ups a day, 60 push-ups, and a lot of stretching. I’ve had some back issues. I think the stretching helps with that.
  4. Some people train knowing they’re not working as hard as other people. I can’t fathom how they think.
    I’ve found that my athletes run their best races after about 10 weeks of intense training.
  5. You have to change things in order to get to where you want to go. And things might get worse. But if you’re not getting where you want to be, already, in a sense, it’s as bad as it can get.

Rest and recovery

Rest and recovery is an area where Salazar’s views have developed significantly over the year – and where what he practised as an athlete differed significantly from what he preaches to his athletes today.

  1. To be a world-class runner, you have to train hard. But what I did learn is you can’t do those hard workouts unceasingly. In order to be good, you have to train at a high level, but you must allow your body time to recover. You need to take time off. You need to run easy on some days, and you need to take at least a month off at the end of the season. I never did either.
  2. I didn’t give myself enough breaks during the training year to recover. I didn’t understand the power of periodization.
  3. With my runners now, they get two month-long breaks during the year.

Racing

Have you ever wondered what goes through the minds of runners like Mo Farah, as they prepare for a key event knowing that they’ll be performing another highly-taxing competitive event a few days later? Salazar provides a revealing insight below:

  1. Trust me, my runners aren’t going to run one event while looking past it to the second event. When they get on the line for the 10K, that’s a do-or-die situation for them.
  2. It’s like gunslingers. When Lagat goes for his gun, you’ve got to be one, one-thousands of a second behind him or you’ll never catch him. If you put yourself with him, you’re going to get a surge from the crowd and an adrenaline rush that you’ve never gotten before.
  3. I had as many doubts as anyone else. Standing on the starting line, we’re all cowards.

Marathon running

Given his wealth of marathon running experience at the highest level, Salazar is particularly well-positioned to pass on wisdom about what it takes to give your very best over 26.2 miles.

  1. I’m a traditional marathoner with a shuffling stride… I’m not the prettiest runner in the world, but I am efficient.
  2. The marathon is like a bullfight. There are two ways to kill a bull, for instance. There is the easy way, for one. But all the great matadors end up either dead or mauled because for them killing the bull is not nearly as important as how they kill the bull. They always approach the bull at the greatest risk to themselves, and I admire that. In the marathon, likewise, there are two ways to win. There’s the easy way if all you care about is winning. You hang back and risk nothing. Then kick and try to nip the leaders at the end. Or you can push, challenge the others, make it an exciting race, risking everything. Maybe you lose, but as for me, I’d rather run a gutsy race, pushing all the way and lose, then run a conservative, easy race only for a win.
  3. A dehydrated runner is like a car with a radiator problem. The instant before the radiator hose breaks the engine is fine. That’s how dehydration works. You can be fine one instant and in a world of hurt the next.
  4. [On what does it take to be a great marathoner] The willingness and capacity to suffer. How badly do I want it? How much of my soul will I put into it? How utterly will I reject failure?

Faith

Few runners or coaches reveal in any detail the significance of faith in their approach to running. As the quotes below reveal, Salazar is quite different from most runners or coaches.

  1. Whatever we accomplish in life, if it’s solely for our own good, then it doesn’t mean that much. The things you do that affect others in a positive way are the ones that count. Whatever facet of life you’re in, God has given you a gift; do the best you can with that gift.
  2. I think my running had become so important to me that God at some point just said, “You know what? You’re getting too far out there. You’re forgetting about me.” And I look at my running now just like the heart attack. My running going poorly was a blessing. Because I was just becoming this guy who believed in himself and his running and had no time for God.
  3. [On winning the Comrades ultra-marathon in 1994] It was a miracle. I should not have finished at all. The Lord did it.

Click below to continue our investigation into the sensational impact of coach Alberto Salazar. Next, we’re counting down the 7 reasons why, under Salazar, Mo Farah has reached double world champion excellence while staying injury-free.
Mo Farah training secrets: continued image

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