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

A Conversation with Coach Joe Vigil

Almost 10 years ago as a college runner I was treated to coffee with Joe Vigil.  My college cross county team would train in Mammoth for a couple weeks every summer and as the early riser I would venture to the coffee shop down the street and read so not to wake my team. One morning I sat down in an old shirt from my triathlon days at the Olympic Training Center and Coach Vigil walked up to me and asked if I had been to the OTC in San Diego. I said yes, as a triathlete, and he said triathletes are the toughest athletes out there and work hard. He sat down and began to tell me wonderful stories of his coaching days in Colorado and about the Mammoth Lakes group. This was before Denna and Meb won their respective Olympic medals but he 100% believed both of them could. After awhile my college coach, Steve Scott walked in and joined in on the conversation. Here I was, the number five runner on the team holding court with two legends, even if one was my coach and we butted heads from time to time. It was an experience I valued and I always wished I would get another chance to speak with Coach Vigil again.

Well the chance came again last night at the PAC 10 Track and Field Championships hosted miles from my home. The stands got uncomfortably crowded and the coach in me could not stand being boxed in the bleachers. I ventured down to the fence and stood near the finish line so I could get an up close view of the women’s 1500m and cheer for a runner that grew up in the same running club as myself. And suddenly there he stood right next to me, the person that had so much influence on me in a coffee shop. I thanked him for being so kind and let him know I really valued the talk so many years ago. For the next 1.5 hours we talked about a great variety of topics and engaged in some friendly competition about what the winning time of races would be. The highlighted topics follow:

1. He feels his college program was so successful because of the community support. When it snowed (and it snows lots in the high CO elevations!) the roads and trails the runners ran on would be plowed before any of the other streets. Doctors in town would donate their services so the athletes could have their iron levels tested every three months.

2. As mentioned above he is big believer in serum ferritin testing every 3 months. Levels should be 30-50. It’s something as a college coach I had a hard time getting the training room to spring for.

3. The most important part of coaching is getting in the heart and minds of athletes. Above and beyond all the science this basic fact remains. The athlete needs to believe in the coach and know the coach really cares for them. It shins through in him. He is so proud of what his athletes have achieved in life after graduation and of their children.

4. 800m. First quarter at 91% of 400 speed, which anyone can do fairly easily. Train for that last 400 all year long. He really likes hard 100's at the end of a longer interval. I always did like the sets of 300/100 my coach college gave us during my short 800 stint!

5. Coach Vigil is sure the cross county runners have the best grades of all the student athletes because glutamine is released during aerobic activity which in turn spurs the dendrites in the brain to spread out and grow.

6. As coaches we need to stop accepting poor pay offers at the university level. I brought up what I had been offered at different institutions the last few years and he was blown away. He said as long as coaches keep accepting unacceptable pay the problem remains. It’s a hard issue to resolve but coaches need to stop accepting $15,000 a year to coach cross county, indoor and outdoor track, men and women.

7. Oh and for the striped Dolphin shorts his team wore. Coach Vigil hated them but they were on sale and he ordered 145 of them since they were so cheap. He wanted to get rid of them but the runners did not after the team swept NCAA’s!

8. His humbleness and willingness to share impressed me. I called a friend over from the track who is a physical therapist from the Arizona team and introduced her. I reminded her Coach Vigil’s was one of the books I recommended her to read. Coach Vigil said, "You have my book!" and made me feel like he was honored that someone would have his book. I told him I do and I wished I had it with me so he could sign it. He arranged for it to be done.

Thank you Coach Vigil for taking the time to talk and to stand among the crowd when I’m sure you could have had a pass to go wherever you wanted at the meet.  


Thanks Katherine

I enjoyed reading this. You inspire me regularly. I no longer compete like you, but you have motivated me to get out and run so many days when it would be so much easier to lay on the couch after work. Just thought you should now that.

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