Tag Archives: 10

Training Distance Runners for International Competition

In 1996, when I was in Atlanta for the Olympic Games I was invited to speak to the employees and guests of Nations Bank. Afterward as I mingled with the guests a gentleman joined the group and was introduced as Mr. McCall. After five minutes one of the other people in the party mentioned that Mr. McCall was the CEO of Nations Bank. This was the perfect opportunity to relate my ideas on how the United States could bring distance running back to where it had been in the 60′s. When the perfect time came I spoke to Mr. McCall concerning my ideas and he seemed very interested and asked me to write him a proposal. When I returned home I did just that and I will place those ideas here for you to read with updates. I also contacted Craig Masback and informed him of the conversation and gave him Mr. McCalls name and address so he could follow up and use his good office to help bring my ideas to fruition.

The United States has fallen to a second rate power in distance running from the 1500 meters to the 10,000 meters. During these last several years we have not had many runners ranked in the top ten in the world in any of the distance events. In this Olympic year of 2000 we still have athletes who have not qualified for the Olympic standards and now we have only one representative in the men’s and women’s marathon. This should never happen to the United States with our population, standard of living and technology.  However something is lacking or we wouldn’t have this situation. It is easy to point fingers but at the same time, we must have an honest discussion if we are going to remedy the situation. So what are the possible reasons? Do the distance runners of this nation lack determination? Are they willing to pay the price to keep up with the world? I can’t answer that since I don’t know what they are doing in their training. Some are very dedicated I am sure and would be very upset if they were told they don’t have enough dedication.

Are we keeping up with the training. Since I have been training athletes for some thirty five years I know you have to continually experiment and therefore my training methods are better now then when I ran in the Olympics in 1964. I have always believed to be a proper coach you must watch your athletes in the workout and adjust the workout to how the athlete feels and is performing on that day. I hear constantly from athletes that their workouts are posted on bulletin boards and they are expected to do the workout.  That is not coaching in my opinion.  And that is the third reason, do we have coaches who understand what it takes and have they trained at the levels they are asking their athletes to do. That is not to say they had to be international runners but I believe it would be helpful since they would more fully understand the psychological aspects of International competition. If you haven’t been there how can you give advice.

Whatever the reason, we must find an answer. If I can go back to the Los Angeles Track Club which was and still is the best Club Team ever in the History of the United States, that would be the model for future clubs in the United States. I am not talking about a “paper” club where athletes come together to represent a club but never train together. The Los Angeles Track Club trained under Mihaly Igloi, the great Hungarian coach and only those athletes who were training with him were allowed to carry thecolors of the club into competition. They trained thirteen times a week. Twice a day Monday through Saturday and once on Sunday. And I will tell you it was very seldom an athlete missed a workout.Can this be done again? Of course it can and in the last few months the USAT&F has brought into being two clubs. One of those will be in Pocatello, Idaho and the other in Seattle, Washington. I don’t know who will coach those clubs so I cannot give an opinion on how successful they will be.  However it is a start and the USAT&F should continue to back clubs throughout the United States. In different locations corporations must be persuaded to back these clubs. They must be convinced that backing such a club would be good for their bottom line. What better way to advertise their product than to have their name in road races throughout the United States and on tracks throughout the world.  Obviously these athletes would be out front and would receive publicity in many magazines. Sponsors would not have to be shoe companies but any company in the city where the Club will train.  The important point is we need many different systems to train these athletes. All coaches feel their system is the best, otherwise they wouldn’t use it. But all athletes will not prosper under the same system.

Personalities differ and the psychology of training must suit each athlete.  The important item is to pick the athletes for each Club and the training system which is to be used. Each club coach should interview a number of athletes to see if they would fit into his system. I would want to use some psychological tests and interviews with a psychologist before I chose the people to train. Even though all the athletes in my era worked full time and still trained twice a day I believe it would be best to have the athletes work part time, probably four hours, five days a week. That would be a necessity since too much down time would not be best psychologically. I don’t believe it would be a problem to convince various companies to hire these people on a part time basis.  So what is the next step. The USAT&F people must be the catalyst. They must be the ones to see to it that press releases are given to all media. They should have meetings with every coach who is qualified and wishes to have a Club team. They would help in contacting athletes so they are aware of the opportunities. Each coach could do it on their own but that is not the way it should be done.