Runner and his practice: Emil Zatopek

Talking about running training programme, we cannot forget to mention Emil Zatopek, who was one of the pioneers of interval training. This man is a great source for tips for running race. He was an athlete from Czechoslovakia, and he is known for winning three gold medals for 5 km, 10 km and marathon in Helsinki Olympics, 1952. Zatopek’s relentless training regime was almost as famous as his creator was.


Aged 16, he began working in a factory. Emil discovered running by chance. He was picked to represent his factory in a race. He wanted to refuse but was forced to join the competition. There were a hundred runners and he came second out of all. That day he acquired an interest in running and within four years he became a representative of the whole country of Czechoslovakia.

He lost his best years during the Second World War, but 1948 made him famous, as he won 10 km run in London Olympics and came second in the 5 km run. But only September 29, 1951, brought him the real glory, when he set four new World Records in one blow by becoming a first person, who finished the 20 km run in less than one hour. In the end of 1953 he set four more records. No one ever beat his record in how many records a single person can hold simultaneously. During his life, he set eighteen World Records total.

Zatopek was criticized for his running style, it was called unattractive. The athlete usually replied that the races are judged for speed, not the beauty, and kept running in his unique manner.

Training of Emil Zatopek was hard. He was doing his running routine no matter the weather and even against doctor’s advice. There are some clues from him that can be used for running programme for beginners. For example, he was doing four hundred meters intense intervals in his training. The more repetitions – the better. Sometimes even up to 80 short hard intervals. His aim was to develop speed and then perform it many times in a row. He noted that if you are training for many years, than your willpower is not a question and it can help you to train in any conditions.

The running programme for beginners must include not so many repetitions and longer periods of rest. Do not diminish these periods, because they help reaching much better results in developing speed. Rest gives you more opportunities to work better in higher intensity levels.

Zatopek was very creative in his trainings; he was constantly experimenting with them. For some time he was running in his army boots, to boost his strength, and then heard that some athletes are using barbells for this purpose and tried running with his wife over his shoulders.

Many people of his time considered him a fool because his training system confronted the conventional wisdom. However, after he won the European Championship, he was considered a genius instead.

Zatopek was not afraid to speak his mind not only in sports but also in politics. He spoke out against Kremlin and stood for the democratic wing and his leader Alexander Dubcek. But the revolution failed, and he paid for his bold actions – he was sent to a uranium mine.

Emil Zatopek was also noted for his generosity. When one of the greatest Australian runners, Ron Clarke, who unfortunately had not won any gold medals, came to visit him, Zatopek, while seeing his new friend off in the airport, threw him something in the last moment. It was one of his gold medals with a small note “Because you deserve it”. Clark cherished this gift throughout all his life.


Zatopek was married to Zana, who was born the same day with him with only 6 hours difference – September 19, 1922. They spent all their lives together. She was an athlete too and had a gold medal for winning the javelin in 1952.

Emil Zatopek died in 2000 in Prague. He was 78.

In conclusion, we would like to pick out main running race tips from Emil Zatopek:

– Run as fast as you can, no matter how you look, while doing so;

– Train your speed by running short intervals of 400 meters with rest periods in between;

– Train your strength by using weight in your training routines;

– Train your willpower and never skip your workout;

– Try to improve yourself every day.

We hope you will find these running tips useful and that you will achieve better results in running.