Remembering Gordon Pirie: The Impossible Hero

Gordon Pirie

One unique aspect that I discovered about running is the incredible willingness of fellow runners to share their experiences.  After recently reading “Running Fast and Injury Free” by Gordon Pirie, I was struck by the author’s candid and genuine desire to share his insights and help the readers become better runners.  Gordon Pirie was one of the early pioneers of competitive running.  Pirie set the world record for the 5K race with a time of 13:36.8 minutes, he won a Silver Medal at the 1956 Olympics Games, and he was one of the first runners to run a mile in under four minutes.  Over his lifetime, Pirie ran over 240,000 miles!  Half a century later, with modern advancements in sport science and running, very few of the elite college-level runners today could match Pirie’s prior achievements.

For Godon Pirie, a key component to running fast and injury free is landing on the front of the foot instead of the heel.  The best shoe that Pirie would recommend is the one that has a low heel and more padding in the front, making it more compatible with striking the ground with the forefoot.   At all times, runners should avoid leaning forward in order to maintain good posture.  To avoid getting tired too quickly, Pirie also emphasizes proper arm movement:  “The arms should be held with the hands close to the body, and the elbows bent at an acute aangle.”  Pirie, a fervent advocate of interval training, encourages runners to extend their sprinting distance from 200 meters to even as far as 2,000 meters.   In addition to running technique, Pirie also covers topics like weight training, nutrition, and developing the best training regimen.

Before deciding to completely change my  running technique after reading Pirie’s book, I would still take his advice with a grain of salt and do  more research.  For example, it seems like running on the heel versus running on the toe is an age-old debate among runners.  Pirie is clearly in favor of the latter.  While running on your toes can help prevent wearing out your knees, some runners argue that it could also create new problems such as increasing risks of ankle sprains and Achilles tendonitis.

After Pirie reached the peak of his competitive running career in the late 1950s, he devoted the remainder of his life to coaching other runners.   Pirie also helped design the first Adidas running shoes.  He wrote “Running Fast and Injury Free,” in the last days of his life.  Gordon Pirie passed away from bile duct cancer before turning 60 years old in 1991.   Pirie’s legacy lives on not just in his world records and accomplishments, but in his message.  “Running Fast and Injury Free” is not a technical manual on how to run fast and injury free.  It is an autobiographical narrative from one of the world’s greatest runners on how he achieved his success.

By reading his book, we are not just learning about one approach to running better.   We are also learning about his approach to life, because for Pirie, running and life were synonymous.   Pirie was strict, precise, relentless, and demanding to say the least.  In addition to his discipline and rigor,  there is more to Gordon Pirie.  I appreciate Pirie’s sincere passion and love of running.   I admire his belief that running fast is possible not just for a select few, but to anyone who is willing to put forth the effort.  This inspiring fact is the biggest takeaway for me, and I hope it will be for you as well.

Running_Fast_and_Injury_Free by Gordon Pirie
“The Impossible Hero: A Life of Gordon Pirie” by Dick Booth

Favorite Quotes
“When I began running back in 1939, everybody used a “plimsoll” – the English name for a very light canvas tennis shoe, which could be bought from Woolworth’s for just a few pennies. Most of the running we did in those days was through the woods and over the downs – those rolling hills so typical of the English countryside.”

“In 45 years, I have run more than 240,000 miles without any major problems, and with more than half that distance covered on so-called hard pavement. Have I been lucky? No. I have merely employed correct technique, as described, and have been careful about the shoes I wear.”

“Most people who begin to run, either competitively or for health reasons, believe that all they need to know is the location of the nearest running shoe store. They dash out, pay a large sum of money for the latest running shoes, and start running. Most – about 70 percent according to medical statistics – will be injured before they have broken in their new high-tech footwear, their legs usually being affected first. This injury cycle will continue unchecked until the runner either quits in frustration, or is forced to do so because he or she is too crippled to continue.”

“Given this innate simplicity, it is maddening for people like myself (I have been in the sport for nearly half a century) to see running become cluttered up with so much bad information – erroneous assumptions ranging from the supposed safest and most efficient way to train, to supposed proper running-shoe design. Much of this information is so distorted and based on so many mistaken principles, that it is impossible for either the serious athlete or the health-conscious jogger to know where to turn for guidance.”

“It is of course true that some people are born with a particular set of physical and psychological characteristics that make them better runners than the rest, but, nevertheless, everyone can run well at some distance. In addition, running requires no particular equipment or infrastructure; only a simple resolve to ‘get at it.’”

Miles From Last Week
Sunday:  9 miles
Thursday:  3.1 miles
Total: 12.1  miles
Miles Ran in December: 72.7

Ideas For Future Posts
Nuts and Bolts:  Running Techniques
Running Injuries and How to Avoid Them
Stretching Done Right
My Routine: How I Really Do It
How I Started Running
Old School vs. New School Runners
Time for New Shoes
Best Races to Run Around the World
Running the World’s Best 10K
Music for Runners
Gear up for Running
Let’s go Grocery Shopping!
Physics of Running

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2 Responses to Remembering Gordon Pirie: The Impossible Hero

  1. alpuntogar says:

    Thanks for your well-written article. I had never heard about Gordon Pirie and I found your post very interesting.

  2. Andrew says:

    Thank you for reading!

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