As a senior on the perennially successful Evanston (IL) Township High School track team, middle-distance runner David Epstein put in 85 miles a week and got slower all the time.
“I always thought I was more of a fast-twitch guy, because I always had a good vertical jump and I responded to weight training really quickly,” said Epstein, author of The Sports Gene. “So doing lots of mileage made me worse at every distance. The coach who ramped up my mileage in high school said, ‘You know what? When you get to college, tell them to train you more like a sprinter.’”
So as a walk-on at Columbia University, from which he graduated in 2002, Epstein did less mileage and more intense interval training, with longer periods of rest. His cross-country and track times came down: from 2:04 for 800 meters at the end of his freshman year to a personal best of 1:51.
If Epstein hadn’t changed up his training before he started doing research for The Sports Gene, he likely would have done so when he finished. Until recently a senior writer at Sports Illustrated and now an investigative reporter for ProPublica, the Brooklyn resident said in a recent telephone interview that one of the biggest practical applications of what he learned while doing research for the book is that, because every person responds differently to training, you should never let yourself get into a rut.
Few athletes, especially at the recreational level, are ever going to undergo extensive genetic testing, so Epstein cited the need for experimentation despite the tendency of distance runners to be creatures of habit.
“There is a personally optimal training plan out there,” he said. “You’re probably not going to find the exact perfect training plan or environment for your genome, but you should at least be looking.”
As the ING New York City Marathon on November 3 rapidly approaches, Epstein offers some insights on training, for everyone from serious runners to people struggling to make strides toward fitness.
To visit the book’s website, click here.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg