Steveu's Review of . . .
Run with the Champions
The new book by Marc Bloom, Senior Writer, Runner's World Magazine
Bloom's 'Champions' Takes the First Gold of the New Millennium
the Book at the DyeStat Store
By Stephen (steveu) Underwood
The appeal of super veteran running writer Marc Bloom's new book, Run
with the Champions, is as diverse as the superstars he profiles.
Are you a veteran adult runner wanting history's great American champions
acknowledged? Then this is a must read for you.
you a stat nut who wants to see how this country's best stack up with
each other over the years? Then this is a must read for you.
Are you a young runner looking for some great role models as you try
and ascend the ladder of your varsity team or state and national rankings?
Then this is a must read for you.
And best of all, are you someone who not only wants to read about the
careers of our superstars, but also how their training and success can
apply to you and your teammates, or the runners you coach?
Yeeaahh, buddy! Then Run with the Champions is definitely a must read
As an up-and-coming running writer and editor, a runner and racer dating
back to the '70s, and just a general nut about the sport, sure, I'll have
my quibbles about some of Bloom's rankings of the country's top 30 men
and top 20 women. So may you. But the first thing to notice about this
book is its intent.
There have been books profiling champions - Michael Sandrock's book,
Running with the Legends and the legendary Track's Greatest Champions
by Cordner Nelson come to mind. And Lord knows, there have been nearly
as many books about training over the last 30 years as there are runners
at , say, Great American!
But rarely have the two been combined and never this well.
And the timing! It couldn't be better as Bloom's book hits the scene
as a distance resurgence is taking place at all levels - whether it be
the recent battle for the U.S. 10K track record (taken down by Meb Keflezighi)
or the searing accomplishments of young guns like Alan Webb and Dathan
Ritzenhein. Bloom rides the crest of the wave and doesn't hesitate to
get to the state of the sport.
Setting the Stage
In the first part of the book, called "A Running Start," Bloom
establishes this intent. He talks first in the introduction (don't you
dare skip it!) about he discovered the sport and its heroes, the process
of this project and the spirit of what he's setting out to do: Pay tribute
to "our 50 greatest runners, and to the underlying, uniquely American
spirit that moved them," and offer ideas to fix "the problem"
of the downturn in U.S. distance running fortunes since the early '80s.
In "The Glory of our Times: U.S. Greatness Restored", Bloom
gives due to the programs, coaches and athletes (yes, he even mentions
Webb and Ritz) that have again instilled hope - even foreshadowing what
we've seen this year since his words were written. But he also - briefly,
but pointedly - discusses some of the reasons why we had slipped. And
does so, I might add, while avoiding the tired rants we often get into
on message boards and nearly everywhere else.
Most importantly, he proceeds to follow through with five "specific
measures" to develop more potential stars in the sport and a "four-pronged
campaign to start us off." You may have heard a few of them, but
most are pretty original and, given the context and the possible examples
and methods given, pretty effective-sounding.
Then it's on to the "Lifetime Honors Point System" and the
rankings of those top 30 men and top 20 women.
The point system and the compilation of points for each athlete had to
be an arduous process, even for Bloom. There's a dizzying list of point
values for everything from the Olympic gold medal to NAIA track and CC
titles and Yonkers Marathon wins. Bloom admits that it "should spark
a vigorous debate."
I am rarely challenged statistically, but even I didn't want to figure
out how Doris Heritage came up with over 35,000 points. It made my head
On the other hand, it inspired the longing for a plethora of comparative
info and stats that could have been produced. I also wouldn't have minded
some points for American and world rankings. But the former would have
probably been overkill and the latter would vary in its relevance.
In the end, Bloom just uses the rankings as a guide anyway. That's why
Billy Mills (6th-place, 8800 points) can be ranked ahead of Steve Scott
(12th place, 20,050 points). He even gives you an e-mail address to mail
him your comments.
The mini-profiles (though I would have them longer, as I'll mention later)
are a real treat, though - especially since we are given to shorter and
shorter attention spans. You get quite a bit in four neat pages.
Firstly, there's a sidebar with the athletes' career-best times, basic
biographical info and career highlights, along with a small photo. The
body of each profile gives you a snapshot of the athlete, often focusing
on the defining race or races in his or her career. With athletes like
Mills or Bob Schul, the focus is on that big gold medal effort. For many
others, it's several years of greatness or several spectacular races.
Bloom covers his bases well; rarely could I nitpick about something essential
being left out. He generally captures personalities and interesting tidbits
- noting the latter often in the breakout quotes and mini-sidebars with
The final page highlights the athletes' training. This, too, is in varied
fashion. With the Mel Sheppards and Abe Kiviats, details are a little
hard to come by. But extensive descriptions of training sessions are given
for most, including weekly breakdowns for many.
The athletes and their coaches lend perspective to the training, often
in retrospect. And in many cases, even if you're a jaded veteran observer
like myself, you'll be shaking your head in wonder.
The best thing about the profiles is learning what you didn't already
know. While that may be most of the book for some of you, a lot of us
have been reading about Bob Kennedy, Frank Shorter and Joan Benoit for
But how many of you really know a lot about Jim Beatty, Horace Ashenfelter
or or Dyrol Burleson? Or Doris Heritage, Nina Kuscick or Miki Gorman?
Indeed, the most fascinating thing for me was learning about some of
the women before my time. There's some truly inspiring and jaw-dropping
stuff in there about what these women had to go through just to compete.
In many cases, you'll be shaking your head in wonder at what they would
have been able to do if they had been racing today instead of 25-30 years
The number of titles and records for Francie Larrieu-Smith, Lynn Jennings
and some of the others are just amazing. And I thought I knew about them!
Bloom really gives you the full picture of America's elite. It's also
nice to see some underappreciated runners like Brian Diemer and Cindy
Bremser get their due.
The Final Kick
Finally, you move to the "Train the Champion's Way" section.
There, Bloom gives us a chance to really make some use of what we've just
read. He takes some signature training elements of the stars - whether
it be principles, methods or specific workouts - and tells us what it
is, how you do it and how you benefit.
Not every method will work for everyone, but there are at least a few
things for everyone. And Bloom does a good job scaling down things for
those of us not (yet) in the elite class.
My biggest complaint about the book is probably a "good" complaint.
It leaves you wanting more. I want to read 14 pages each about Lindgren,
Young, Heritage and Plumer, not just four. I want training programs galore.
I want yearly stats and rankings. (I know, "I want, I want, I want!").
But let's see, 14 pages times 50 athletes is
700 pages! That might
be a wee bit much. If I'm an average American high school kid, I'm probably
not carrying around and reading a 700-page-plus book. It takes just about
as much time to read a profile as it does to read a Web page, watch a
video or lose a quick game on Playstation2. Just right.
No, Bloom's book is just right. If you wanted to cover 20 stars, you
could give them 14 pages apiece, but then you wouldn't really have a really
good history of American distance running. Fifty turns out to be on the
money, taking us into the true superstars and partway through those who
made significant contributions in some realm -- with more of those cited
in the respective No. 31-100 and 21-50 at the end of those sections.
It should leave you wanting more. So go get it. After you finish Bloom's
book, read the other books and find the old articles about some of these
guys and gals; read the other training books.
But most of all, use this book and it's info to inspire and improve your
running or coaching. After about a year, your book should look like it's
been through a lifetime of races, with its pages dog-eared and worn from
repeated readings and info checking.
Bloom has given us, in a neat, tidy, user-friendly package, the best
of American distance running in the first millennium. It's up to us now
to set the tone for the future.
the Book at the DyeStat Store