The greatest miler in history

I finished the biography The Golden Mile: The Herb Elliott Story today. His mental and physical training would best be described as character building. If you like to run, think that modern methods are a little tame and want to read about how the best athletes trained in the ultra-amateur era of athletics, this book is a must-read. Once you are finished with this book, pick up a copy of Why Die: The Extraordinary Percy Cerutty ‘Maker of Champions’ to learn more about the famous Portsea camp and Cerutty’s coaching methods. 

Camp activities followed a fairly regular pattern. A typical day went like this: 7 a.m.: A five mile run before breakfast in any direction our whim took us, followed by a dip in the ocean. 8 a.m.: Breakfast of uncooked rolled oats (without milk) sprinkled with wheat germ, walnuts, sultanas, raisins and sliced banana. Perhaps a few potato chips to follow. 9 a.m.: Swimming and surfing or outdoor chores like chopping wood, painting and carpentry. Noon: Training and lectures at Portsea Oval, followed by another swim. 2 p.m.: Lunch – fish and fresh fruit. 3 p.m.: Siesta. 4 p.m.: Weight lifting. 5 p.m.: Ten mile run along dirt roads ending once more at the beach. 7 p.m.: Tea and a general discussion led by Percy on a wide variety of subjects. 11 p.m.: Lights out.

Herb Elliott

Herb Elliott, the 1500m gold medalist at the 1960 Olympics, is regarded as one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all time. The Percy Cerutty athlete saw running as the ultimate expression of the human body and embraced his coaches methods of natural eating, long runs in the mountains, sprints up dunes, sea swims, and weightlifting to develop extreme levels of strength and conditioning. Besides his physical abilities, mentally Elliot was a highly intelligent savage who through reading philosophy and embracing suffering, cultivated both unwavering confidence in his running performance and a will to win that saw him unbeaten in the mile and 1500m in his short adult career.

Most athletes imagine themselves at the end of their tether before they’re even seventy-five per cent exhausted. I was so determined to avoid this pitfall that if at any time I thought I was surrendering too soon to superficial pain I’d deliberately try to hurt myself more. In apparent conflict with this self-inflicted scourging was Percy’s theory that running should be a free expression of the body; that my body in motion, in the words of the song, ought to be doing what comes naturally. I trusted that my intelligence and enthusiasm would produce a happy compromise between this theory and my striving for perfection through pain.

Herb Elliott

While reading this book, I found my mindset changing towards heavy training. I started to see my quality sessions as an opportunity to push hard and embrace the pain a little more, driving with my arms and lengthening my stride when it started to hurt. I have begun heavy deadlifting and overhead pressing again on the journey to a double bodyweight deadlift and bodyweight overhead press, the standard that Percy Cerutty set his runners. And I have picked up my old copies of Stoic philosophy books and started to listen to Classical music from time to time including Beethoven’s Tempest III Allegretto when I need some inspiration.

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