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

Notes from Coach Joe Vigil presentation

Several weeks ago, one of our coaching heroes, Dr. Joe Vigil, was gracious enough to visit our place and speak to a group of our athletes and friends.  Here are some of his thoughts:

-Have faith in yourself, your coach, and your own philosophy of life.

-“Adaptation is key.”  Born to Run omitted his comments about the importance of adaptation to minimalist shoes.  Although he believes minimalist footwear can offer numerous benefits for some due to the added proprioreception of the feet and toes, the progression toward barefoot running is a classic case of “too much too soon.”  Barefoot zealots also fail to recognize that western folks are built differently than the Africans and other natives of barefoot cultures.  Not only are the Africans generally much smaller than us, they have also developed extra padding on the bottom of the foot that those of us in America do not have.

-Uses all-out mile pace as the benchmark to set training paces.  One benchmark tempo workout was a fast continuous run at mile pace plus forty seconds per mile.  Begin at two miles and then build to four. 

-Deena Kastor only ran 40 miles per week before she started working with Coach Vigil.  His comment: “No wonder she hadn’t won anything!”

-He gushes with pride at his “housewives” training group in Alamosa.   The “housewives” group was a gathering of locals who met every day for group runs led by members of his college team.  Some ran up to 70 miles per week not in training for any particular event but instead for personal satisfaction.  When the team sets a high benchmark of training and achievement, it raises the bar for everyone around.    

-Build a local support system.  In Alamosa, Coach Vigil mentioned that he never had to pay for a blood test for any of his college runners.  Not sure this could happen in the current insurance climate, but if people care enough they will find a way to make it work. 

-Similar story: one of his former runners is now a very successful high school coach in Texas.  Because the school was in a flat area of Texas with minimal hills, members of the local community banded together to create a man-made hill for training. 

-Treat athletes as individuals.  In marathon training, Hall peaked at 130 miles per week with 17 miles at marathon pace as the longest tempo run.  Deena peaked at 140 miles per week with 12 miles at marathon pace.  Meb capped his mileage at 110; whenever he pushed above that level he inevitably was injured. 

-Got to spend a significant time with the Japanese coaches and elite marathoners.  Their hallmark, as many know, was their enormous workloads with weekly mileage over 200 miles and long runs hitting 36 miles.  Although they tracked creatine phosphokinase (CPK) levels to measure stress levels, the Japanese system ruined many runners in the process, despite helping some to greatness.

-Coaching education in the United States lags far behind other countries, particularly with the lack of science understanding.  In his “retirement” he still travels to more than twenty countries annually for conferences and clinics.    

-He feels sorry for high school coaches who don’t have the same educational opportunities as in other countries and who must deal with kids coming from a sedentary lifestyle.   

-Oriental runners did not question anything, in sharp contrast to many American athletes.  “Don’t prostitute the coach and bring in your own ideas.”  One benefit of places like Alamosa and Mammoth Lakes was that isolation allowed for coaches to have complete control of their runners’ lives with minimal distraction.  He also noted that many runners attempted to join him at those places over the years but could not deal with the isolation.  If someone was not willing to commit to lifestyle of eat, sleep, and train, they did not have the commitment to become their very best!     

-Americans are always looking for gimmicks.  Instead of getting an altitude tent, just move to altitude!  Was not surprised that Salazar’s Nike group moved away from their altitude house in Oregon and started doing their altitude training at Park City, Utah. 

-Believes you can run intervals at the same pace at altitude versus sea level, but you must make adjustments in recovery length. 

-Heat is the most oppressive of stressors (even more than altitude)

-Train for conditions.  American marathon team was well prepared for heat in Athens.  They trained in the heat of the day and wore heavy clothing.  This preparation brought home two medals.   

-Interesting factoid – His professional runners had clauses in their contracts based not only on race performances but also on lab testing.  They tested four times per year and were expected to either maintain or improve their lab numbers….and if they followed the program, they did!

-Before Deena’s American record 15k performance at Jacksonville’s Gate River Run, she was unsure whether she could run the pace Coach Vigil predicted based on her lab results.  However, Coach Vigil instructed her to go out at record pace.  She ultimately ran within a few seconds of his predicted time and might have hit it exactly if not for wind variation. 

-Running and health go hand-in-hand.  Dropping of physical education and the arts in schools has widespread negative consequences, both athletically and for public health.  Aerobic activity stimulates glutamate production and is important for neuroplasticity.

-Young East African runners are 18,000 miles ahead of their western counterparts.  Goes back to the importance of physical activity of kids in this country. 

-“When excellence is in sight, good is not enough.”

Before leaving, Coach Vigil presented us with this photo, which we have hanging in our house.  Thanks again to Coach Vigil for continuing to help the next generation of coaches and athletes!

Other resources

A Conversation with Coach Joe Vigil

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

Dr. Joe Vigil selected motivational videos


thank you

I always love hearing from Vigil and his wisdom. Thanks for this Allan. I'd love to pick Coach Vigil's brain for a few hours sometime.


Thanks for reading, Mark.  Its always a privilege to spend time with Coach Vigil.

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