Moderate Training Pace Has Put Cotton Among Running Elite

World-class distance runners are perceived by the world’s couch potatoes to be an obsessed bunch, who run for hours and miles at a time and survive on a diet of powdered liquids and naked spaghetti.

One man’s torture was another man’s training.

Terry Cotton would seem to be a rather balanced individual, settling rather nicely in the middle.

On a typical day, for example, Cotton gets up in the morning, eats a large breakfast and then settles down to six hours of building cabinets and custom furniture in his garage.


At about 2 or 3, probably depending on when he is between hinges, he gets out and runs for an hour.

After that, it’s time for another bite to eat and then on to Grossmont College, where he runs the evening classes in men’s physical education.

It would seem that Cotton is a 33-year-old who works long hours but has the sense to take a little respite to maintain a comfortable level of physical fitness.

In truth, that is an accurate perception. Cotton has sought a comfortable level of physical fitness, but he is talking of comfort at a higher level than the guy next door who runs for an hour before his morning or evening martini.


Terry Cotton won’t, for example, be one of the more than 3,000 entrants in the “5K People’s Race” on the Carlsbad streets Sunday morning.

Instead, Cotton will be among the elite chasing a world record in the Carlsbad 5,000 Invitational later in the morning. Three firsts and a third in his last four races, all at 10,000 meters, have made him one of the hottest runners around.

Interestingly, Cotton has ascended to his current level by adopting a theory that moderation rather than obsession will produce better results. This theory would appall disciples of Vince Lombardi, but it has certainly worked for Cotton.

“In the running sport,” he explained, “you’ve got to be careful not to put out 100%.”

Come again?

In training, he said, not in races.

“You put out 80% in training,” he said, “and you get a lot more back than if you put out 100%.”

Of course, Cotton’s 80% might be everyone else’s fondest dream. He runs for his daily hour at a steady 5 minute-and-30 second-per-mile pace.


“I don’t know why I picked an hour a day,” he said, shrugging. “It just seemed optimal. My training comes from experimenting with different methods over the years. It’s so easy to overtrain and overdo using conventional methods. I studied physiology and the history of training, and I noticed how people were starting to take things to extremes. What I’ve done is gone back to basic training, and I’ve had some success.”

Cotton is probably enjoying his greatest run of success since his youthful days at El Cajon High School, Grossmont College and the University of Arizona. He ran a 4:05.5 mile to finish second in the 1972 California State meet as a senior at El Cajon and earned All-American honors in both track and cross-country at Grossmont and Arizona.

Since then, thanks mainly to a nagging succession of injuries, he has been one of those bright prospects who kept competing without really getting anywhere.

What people forget is that running is an unforgiving sport when it comes to damaging the body.

“It’s such an overuse sport,” Cotton said. “It’s so specific. You just run. It’s not a ‘game’ type sport where you play, recover, play, recover. You’re always pounding.”

Basketball, with all its seeming nonstop running, is not the same. There are no commercial timeouts in distance races, at least none that stop the competition, and Cotton has never been able to take a deep breath and step to a free throw line in the middle of a race.

And so Cotton has come up with a moderate training program, one he hopes will help him avoid “inconveniences” such as Achilles’ tendinitis and stress fractures.

“It’s difficult to get injured because I’m not fighting anything,” he said. “I’ve shifted away from anything extremely easy or extremely hard. I still have soreness like everyone else, but I’m loosened up and into my pace in a quarter mile. I’m running so comfortably.”


However, running has been a tease with Terry Cotton all these years. He has continued to love it and pursue it, but it slaps him with these injuries and keeps him from where he wants to go.

As might be expected, he would like to participate in the Olympics.

“I would like to make the team,” he said, “but at 10,000 meters.”

He competed in the 5,000 meters at the 1980 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.

“I’d been injured a couple of weeks before,” he said, “but I’d qualified for the trials so I went. I was feeling so good, and then I ran out of gas on the last lap.”

Maybe this is the year.

He needs a little bit of luck . . .

. . . And moderate work.