Arturo Barrios is one of the most celebrated runners in Mexican and U.S. history. Born in Mexico City, Barrios achieved world-class status and held world records in the 10,000m, 20,000m, and hour run. He was the first person to break 1 hour for a half-marathon, which he did in route to his hour run record. In addition to his fast times, Barrios won gold in the 5000m in the 1987 and 1991 Pan American Games and finished 5th in the 1998 Olympics in the 10,000m. Barrios finished his career with PR’s of 3:37 in the 1500m, 7:35 in the 3000m, 13:07 in the 5000m, and 27:08 in the 10,000m. After a successful track career, Barrios moved up to the marathon and again achieved success. Among his marathon achievements are two 3rd place finishes at the New York City Marathon and a 2:08 PR from a 5th place finish at the Boston Marathon. Barrios practiced moderation in his training, which he believes kept him healthy and competing well past many of his peers. Most of the information about his training comes from the book Running with the Legends by Michael Sandrock. Running with the Legends is a great book that I highly recommend reading.
Barrios began running in high school at the age of 15. He never played other sports. He achieved great success in high school, graduating with PR’s of 4:04 in the mile, 14:26 in the 5000m, and 30:20 for 10,000m. Barrios kept his mileage low during high school, peaking at 50 miles per week. In fact, Barrios cautions against intensive training for young athletes, “I don’t think somebody in high school should be training twice a day. When you’re young and training two or three times a day, you can beat everybody your age, but you’ll only last a few years.”
After high school, Barrios went to Wharton Junior College in Texas, where he ran slower in his first year than he did in high school. However, by his second year, while he still wasn’t running fast times, he won the junior college national championships in the steeplechase and the 5k. After his stint at Wharton Junior College, Barrios transferred to Texas A&M, studying mechanical engineering. Barrios had a successful college career at Texas A&M, becoming a conference champion and placing 2nd at nationals in the 10k behind Ed Eyestone, now the coach of BYU. Still, he practiced moderation in his training, which he attributes for his long career. Barrios did not begin training twice a day until he reached his junior year of college and averaged only 60 miles per week during his time at A&M.
Immediately after college, Barrios returned to Mexico City and gave himself one year to make it as a runner. He started training under the guidance of Tadeusza Kepka, a Polish scientist that was a professor in Mexico and the country’s national team coach. Barrios started his post-collegiate running career by focusing on road races to win prize money. His breakout race came at the Continental Homes 10k, where he placed first, won $5,000 in prize money, and set a road 10k world record time of 27:41. Leading up to this race, Barrios had scaled his mileage immensely. In the three months leading up to the competition, Barrios had averaged 110-120 miles per week while training on trails that were 9,000 ft in altitude. After having success on the road racing circuit, Barrios once again turned his sights to the track and made the transition.
Moving to Boulder
After finding success, Barrios decided to move to Boulder, Colorado to continue his training. Barrios and his coach had a formula that they followed every year. Barrios would begin racing in Europe in June. Then, he would move back to Boulder to train for another month before returning to Europe to chase fast times. In Boulder, Barrios would train on dirt roads around the Boulder Reservoir or in the mountains at 8,000 to 9,000 feet of elevation. He did not mind training alone, saying “I don’t mind training with somebody, once a week or twice a week. But if they want to run with me they have to run my pace and they have to do my training. I’m not going to do somebody else’s pace, and I’m not going to do somebody’s training … I don’t want to be arrogant, but I have my training”.
Mileage, Pace, and Workouts
Barrios ran steady high mileage, running 90 miles per week when training for the 10k and 100 miles per week when training for the marathon. When he switched to the marathon, he increased his long run to 24 miles, which he typically ran in 2:30, or 6:15 pace. The pace he ran on his distance runs was typically between 6:00 and 6:20 per mile. In fact, Barrios had this rule of thumb for training pace, “Whatever your pace is when you are racing (for 10k), you have to run about a minute or a minute and a half over that in training. That is what is going to be right for you. When I’m racing, I’m running about 4:30 per mile pace. So when I’m training, I’m going about 6:10, about 1:40 slower. He completed workouts twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday, and would warmup by doing a 20 minute run and 10 x 100m strides. His workouts were typically one of the following, or a slight variation:
6-10 x 1000m at 2:45 – 2:50 with 1 minute rest
20 x 400 in 62-63 seconds
5 x 2000m
3 x 10 x 200 in 30 seconds with 30 seconds rest with 6 x 50m bounds between sets
Monday – A.M. 10 miles; P.M. 6 miles
Tuesday – A.M. 20 x 400 in 63 seconds; P.M. 6 miles
Wednesday – 15 miles
Thursday – Same as Monday
Friday – A.M. 6-10 x 1000m in 2:50; P.M.6 miles
Saturday – 10 miles
Sunday – 18-24 miles
Periodization and Rest
A unique aspect of Barrios’ training was that he took an entire month off from training every year in October. “If you train 365 days every year, and you don’t take a break, you might do it for two or three years, but then it’s going to get you. It’s going to catch up with you,” Barrios said. On November 1st, Barrios would begin base training, unless he competed in the New York City marathon, in which case he would push back the start of his base training until December. After the October break, Barrios would complete two months of base training and then enter early season road races. After competing, he would return to Boulder for another two months of base training. After the second two month base training block, Barrios would add bounding to his regiment. The bounding drills were completed for five months out of the year and is covered in the next section. As mentioned previously, Barrios and his coach devised a racing schedule where he began racing in June, would return to Boulder for another month of training, and then peak in late summer for fast times and championships.
One of the most essential parts of Barrios’ training was the bounding drills that he completed three times a week for five months out of the year. He believed that they helped maintain his running form. Barrios did his bounding either on a soft surface, a hill, or the track. Additionally, here is a quote from Mark Coogan, talking about Barrios’ training, “[Arturo] has great talent, but he also works harder than anyone. He does killer track workouts, then will go to the pool and swim for a mile, stretch, and get a massage. In the afternoon he might run some hills the same day, or after his second run, do 10 x 100m strides. Stuff like that makes him so tough,”
What We Can Learn
When I read Arturo Barrios’ chapter in Running with the Legends, the principles from his training that I deemed most important were patience, moderation, and consistency. While Barrios’ trained incredibly hard, he knew the importance of long term development and rest, evidenced by taking October off every year. Even as a professional, Barrios’ worked out only twice a week and ran 90-100 miles per week – a lot, but not excessive for an athlete of his caliber. Most of his training was mileage at a steady pace with the necessary ancillary training. Coupled with self-belief and patience, Arturo Barrios became a formidable competitor.