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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

"Do you eat seven days per week?" An Evening with Legendary Coach Dr. Joe Vigil, Ph.D.

Cross country season is in now in full swing!  What better time to look back to a presentation I attended last year with the legendary coach Dr. Joe Vigil, who is now a fellow Southern Arizona resident.   Arguably the greatest cross country coach of all time, Dr. Vigil’s Adams State teams dominated NAIA and NCAA Division II running for many years, highlighted by a “perfect” score at the 1992 NCAA Division II National Championship meet.  After leaving his position at Adams State, Dr. Vigil spearheaded Team USA Mammoth Lakes that helped bring USA Marathoning back to international prominence with 2004 medals from Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezghi.  I was fortunate to first meet Dr. Vigil in San Diego after he had driven his “kids” up from the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista to do a run on the beautiful Rancho Santa Fe trails.  This talk was probably one of the best I have ever attended.  I won’t recap any of the technical or scientific elements since you can gather most of that information from his book or from articles.  Plus, my summary of his own summary of himself would inevitably omit some crucial details.


-Success = Having (i.e. money, awards, other tangible items); Excellence = Being (i.e. your values and how you live your life). Always strive for EXCELLENCE, rather than SUCCESS, because excellence involves how you go about living your life on a daily basis.

-While coaching in Alamosa (population of 14,000) at Adams State, he started a housewives running club for runners of all abilities meeting every day at either 10am or 6pm under the supervision of his college team. The club soon grew to 475 members. Even with this novice group he enforced a zero tolerance “Miss practice and you’re out of the club” policy, with obvious exceptions for severe illness, injury or family emergency.  And guess what happened? With the strict requirement of every day consistency, runners were extra careful to take measures in their daily lives to minimize injury and illness.  The result was that injury and illness were kept to a bare minimum even with a group of mostly novices. 

-His philosophy with his elites at training camps was that if you get sick it is your own fault. Why? The team provides a perfect environment for training, so if you are sick it means you aren’t properly taking care of the non-running details required to stay healthy. Obviously this unforgiving attitude won’t work for people who live in the real world exposed to all the crap out there, but we could all improve in this area if we hold ourselves to a higher standard of recovery.

-Always train no matter how bad the weather. Example workout: Pat Porter before winning one of his many USA XC Nationals ran 7 x mile (3 min recovery) on grass in 4:16 in 23 below zero weather. What was important about this workout was not some kind of macho heroism in braving the cold, but rather the businesslike approach for handling the workout.  Porter was calloused to the conditions from dealing with such weather regularly.  As such, on race day he was able to just go out and take care of business.

-Unnecessary to take time off. Time off = Deconditioning.  We were literally “born to run.”  Dr. Vigil made repeated emphasis to the evolutionary basis behind our genetic predisposition to physical activity.  We are the most adaptable creatures on earth.  Only physical limitations are those we put on ourselves by choosing to be inactive.

-Question from a high school coach: Should you train 7 days per week? Vigil’s reply: “Do you eat 7 days per week? You can live longer without food than without oxygen, so you better not skip your aerobic exercise. If you take one day off per week, that is 52 days off per year.” By extension, over a decade that is more than 500 days of missed training.

-Top sprint coach Brooks Johnson recently sent a couple of 400m guys to train with Dr. Vigil’s Team USA distance group at Mammoth Lakes for three weeks.  These guys were national class talent, but were missing the stamina to be competitive through multiple heats on the international level.  Coach Brooks has always been SPEED guy, even when coaching distance runners at Stanford, so it says a lot that he would incorporate such an intensive distance element for his sprinters.  Dr. Vigil tested their anaerobic threshold to be 6:11 pace upon arrival.  Three weeks later after extensive distance running, they ran completed a 3 mile tempo run at 6:00 pace.  Deena Kastor escorted them for this tempo run, and then hopped right into her regularly scheduled 10 mile tempo run at 5:xx pace. Seeing this level of workload made a profound impression upon the sprinters who could not believe that such volume was even possible. 

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