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Thank you and good night

[This article originally appeared in the January 2002 issue of Northwest Runner magazine.]

A little over two years ago, I approached Northwest Runner editor Martin Rudow with a proposal. How would he like to publish some bafflingly technical articles crammed with references to obscure scientific journals? Perhaps buoyed by my willingness to work for $3 an hour, Martin agreed to run a four-part series on "Research-Based Coaching." Apparently he and I got a bit carried away at some point, because what you are reading now is the 22nd part of this series.

While this column has covered a lot of ground during its two-year existence -- strength training, altitude training, the lactate threshold, heart rate monitors, protein intake, etc. -- it has never strayed from its original approach of using scientific research to provide accurate information for athletes. Of course, all writers think that the information they present is accurate. What has made this column unique, in my opinion, are those darn references. Every nontrivial statement you've read in "Research-Based Coaching" has been accompanied by citations of the research studies on which it is based.

I'm only half-kidding when I tell people that the references are the best part of my column. On the one hand, a reference list does not itself "prove" that I'm right; it simply identifies my sources of information. On the other hand, though, I think it is extremely important for readers to be told exactly where this information is coming from. If you don't know the source of the information, you can't check it out for yourself; you simply have to trust the author. And trusting the author can be dangerous, especially in the case of a nonscientist (e.g., a coach) writing about a scientific topic.

It is not my intention to belittle nonscientists. All I really want to say is that people who dole out advice on running (or any other topic, for that matter) should tell their audience exactly why they believe their advice to be sound. Is that advice based on hearsay, personal experience, scientific data, or some combination of these and other sources? People deserve to know the exact basis, scientific or otherwise, of the recommendations to which they are subjected. I have tried to set a good example in this respect, and I hope that other writers and coaches will do likewise whenever possible.

Time to move on

All right, enough sermonizing. After two years of writing this column, I need a break.

The need for research-based coaching advice continues, of course. New studies relevant to exercise and nutrition are published every month, and the results of these studies will no doubt lead to further improvements in athletic training programs. I would encourage readers of this column to seek out coaches who like to read and discuss the scientific literature on a regular basis.

In closing, I'd like to acknowledge Martin, local coaches Will Kemper and Tom Cotner, U.W. faculty Kevin Conley and Marty Kushmerick, and the folks at Club Northwest and the Seattle Running Company for supporting my writing and/or running efforts. I am also grateful to all the readers who offered constructive comments on my columns.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I'll see you on the roads and in the library.


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