Training

The Wisdom of Bill Bowrman

Bill Bowerman is remembered as the coach of outstanding athletes at the University of Oregon, most notably Steve Prefontaine. He pioneered the hard/easy approach to training, which forms the base for all my schedules today. Bowerman also was the genius/designer who used his wife’s waffle iron to develop with partner Phil Knight, the first Nike shoes.

Less recognized is Bowerman’s contribution to the running boom that continues today. Before there was Dr. Ken Cooper, before there was Jim Fixx, before there was Dr. George Sheehan, there was this Oregon coach teaching the “Eugene Housewives” how to jog. Beginning runners! In collaboration with Dr. W. E. Harris, Bowerman published a 20-page booklet titled Jogging that, expanded, eventually became a best-selling book with the same name.

From an autographed copy I recently offered on eBay, here is what Bowerman had to say in 1966 about the then new sport of jogging.

Jogging is a form of exercise that can be done usually by either sex at almost any level of physical fitness or age. At first, an individual may alternately walk for 55 yards and jog slowly for 55 yards for a short distance. The amount of exercise can be gradually increased in small amounts over a period of weeks or months according to individual ability until it is possible for most to run two and a half miles or more at a fairly good pace and walk only a small percentage of the time, or even run continuously. 

By following a training program used successfully in training college and Olympic long distance runners, a gradually increasing stress can be placed on the body, particularly the heart and lungs. The dangers of over exercise and placing a burden on vital organs to which they are not accustomed is avoided.

Psychological tests have demonstrated that jogging results in an improvement in mental attitudes and a greater pride in appearance. A more optimistic frame of mind develops. The anxieties and tensions of modern living are reduced. More attention is paid to better health habits in general.

Jogging requires no special equipment or arrangements, is inexpensive, can be done at almost any time and anywhere, takes about 30 minutes or less daily and to many is a pleasant activity.

The most common cause of drop-outs is sore legs and backs. Leaders need to be vigilant in advising participants not to over-do it (and ask them to) even drop back to easier schedules if necessary.

The training methods used at the University of Oregon for conditioning distance runners are followed. Basic principles are the alteration of strenuous and easy days and variation in the daily workouts.

Shoes are the most important equipment of the jogger. They should be comfortably loose. The soles should be firm, neither too hard nor too soft. Shoes of the marathon type for distance runners are recommended and are available at most sporting goods stores. Tennis shoes are not recommended.

Those words were written before Bill Bowerman, impatient with the running shoes he found on the market, began to design special shoes for the Oregon team. And now we have Nike! Enjoy what the master wrote.