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George Orton Training Tips

Book Store Yields A Find

Published March 16, 1998, in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

A recent trip to a used book store yielded a pleasant find, a 1916 book on athletic training for school boys by George Orton. The book offered general training ideas and event-specific schedules. Eight decades later, the general ideas remain valid, while the schedules have changed beyond recognition.

George Orton was born in Canada in 1873. An early childhood fall off a tree left him paralyzed. He regained motor functions by age 12, and began to run. He ran everywhere, and earned the nickname "the boy who never walked." He improved rapidly as a runner, and set a Canadian record for the mile in 4 minutes 214/5 seconds. In college, he won the America-Canada mile championship six times and the 2-mile American steeplechase championship nine times. He capped his career at the Paris Olympics in 1900 by winning the steeplechase and finishing third in the 400-meter hurdles.

Later, Orton coached scholastic athletics in Philadelphia, Pa., bringing the district to national prominence. He summarized his coaching philosophy in that 1916 book.

Orton's general training ideas included a preseason medical examination to determine the condition of the lungs and the heart. Boys in poor condition played the lesser sports.

To reduce injuries in the first week of training, Orton recommended a slow start after vacation. His motto was to "make haste slowly" for the first two weeks.

Orton recognized the need for whole body fitness and recommended strength training and stretching. He prescribed exercises for the back, the abdomen, and the upper body. He stressed the need for good form in seeking harmony of motion and style.

Proclaiming speed as the basis of success on the track, Orton promoted interval training. He urged milers to train with quarter-mile and 200-yard sprints, and encouraged long-distance runners to practice the mile at their desired race pace.

Orton emphatically opposed smoking. He recommended eating good meat, vegetables, bread, butter, tapioca and rice pudding, an occasional piece of pie, and plenty of fruit.

Orton urged his athletes to avoid the excitement of society and to keep their bodies pure.

Finally, Orton advised athletes to play fair, run straight, avoid underhand conduct and to be sportsmen in the true sense of the term.

The rest of Orton's book contained training schedules for different events. Orton considered the mile the blue ribbon distance event. He stressed the need for stamina to go the distance, and observed that the best distance runners did a lot of running.

For the young athlete, the basis of success in the mile was the ability to cover the distance. After acquiring the ability to run a mile, the athlete could begin to think about pace. Knowing one's pace was the secret to winning the mile; an athlete should not start too slow or too fast. However, Orton recommended racing the first half-mile much faster than the second half, since it would be easier to get up speed when still fresh.

The miler should have an easy gait. The arms and body should work in harmony with the legs, hence the need for training with weights. Muscle strength could help the athlete cover the final quarter-mile regardless how tired, by working the hips and running on the toes.

Orton recommended the following training schedule:

Monday: Mile, going the first 440 yards at mile racing speed and then pacing through the rest. A short sprint or two. If not tired, jog a half.

Tuesday: 880 yards at a fast gait, finishing the mile at a jog.

Wednesday: Two or three short sprints. A fairly fast 440 yards. After a rest, jog a mile.

Thursday: 1½ miles, running the first half at mile racing speed and then jogging the rest of the way.

Friday: Two or three short sprints. 660 yards at half-mile racing speed. If not tired, jog three-quarter mile.

Saturday race day. Mile on time.

Sunday: Day of rest.

Kamal Jabbour is considering Orton's schedule for the upcoming racing season. His running trials and tribulations appear every Monday in The Post-Standard. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at

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