Track Coach editor Russ Ebbets caught up with Joe Vigil in Jacksonville, Florida, last December and their chat is recorded below. Vigil's cross country teams at Adams State in Alamosa, CO, garnered 15 national titles from 1971 to 1994, and over the years Vigil has coached several national teams at the Olympics and other international meetings. Foremost among his most recent achievements is guiding Deena Kastor to the bronze medal in the marathon at the Athens Olympics. Much of this discussion has to do with Deena's preparation for Athens.
RE-Joe, in the beginning...what was the beginning? How did you get started in track and field?
JV-Well, can you believe it, Russ, this is my 52nd year of coaching? I got started in the fall of 1954 in high school. I came about it strangely because I got hired as an assistant football coach and when the track coach called the track meeting and in the spring only three people showed up and they were kids that had trained all year and so he said if this is all we are going to have, we're not going to have track. And so consequently I felt sorry for him so I started helping him out. I'd always liked track and field but at that time football was my #1 thing.
The kids went through the season, qualified for the State Meet and they all placed in the State Meet. That really fired me up so I asked to be released from football and that is how I started coaching track.
RE-How many athletes are you working with now and in what capacity?
JV-Presently, the last five years, I have been associated with Running Team USA. Bob Larsen is my co-coach there and we have 12-14 athletes, basically. I took a little time off for this surgery (knee replacement) but I'm deeply involved. We hired a guy, Terrence Mahon, you know, and he is handling them on a day-to-day basis. We consult each other frequently.
RE-Yesterday [at the clinic] you mentioned testing a little bit. How much testing do you do and what are some of the tests you do?
JV-You know the big push is to involve people in the scientific aspects of coaching. Having a PhD in exercise physiology, it has always been my thing, so I have always tested my kids. Now the whole group is being tested. We do most of our testing near San Diego at the Olympic Training Center, Chula Vista. We do a human performance evaluation, VO2, VVO2, lactate, max lactate, heart rate, perceived exertion. We do a Dartfish analysis on front-side and back-side mechanics. And we do a blood profile, a blood chem profile, a lipid profile, a ferratin iron level profile and on the basis of the results we make recommendations regarding diet, what they are lacking or should cut down on, and an enzyme profile to see if we are overworking them.
RE-About how much does a battery of tests like that cost? Is that something the USOC or someone else is paying for?
JV-I don't know. You know, I don't know what it costs. We do it at the USOC and yesterday I think I told the people it is a coach-driven program, athlete-centered and administratively supported. I can't coach and raise funds at the same time. I tell them what we need and that's what...if they get a bill, they get a bill for it and I don't know what it is.
RE-You are getting all this information-exactly what is it telling you?
JV-It tells me where they are in terms of max VO2 uptake. I think there is a certain minimum you have to have to be a successful distance runner. We have longevity studies on distance running and actually if the athletes are lacking we put them on volume workouts and aerobic workouts to build up that max VO2 uptake. We get them at the level where they can compete internationally. We're always thinking international; I don't care about the national levels.
In terms of lactate threshold and velocity of lactate threshold I see where they are at a particular point and their ability to handle lactic acid. If they have a very poor ability to handle it we prescribe lactate tolerance workouts to increase that. What we are trying to do is increase their fractionalization, the percent at which they are running in relation to their max VO2 uptake. What they can tolerate before they go into acidosis. And that is a longtime goal there.
RE-All right. You kind of mentioned this, but do you do much monitoring of the pH of the bodily fluids such as the blood, saliva, urine to monitor health?
JV-No, we have not done any of that. I know the tests are available but we don't want to bog down the kids with too much testing because they don't like it.
RE-Okay, but some of that testing can be done with just litmus paper. They could do it on a daily basis.
JV-Yes, but I don't, I haven't done it.
JV-Just to answer your question. People do it , but I don't.
RE-Right, okay. I have a number of questions on the preparations for Athens. At what point did the "team concept" happen?"
JV-I believe it was 2000 at Stanford at one of the national championship meets, I think. People got together and they were a little dissatisfied with the state of distance running in America and they thought that something could be done. So the organization was founded and called Running USA and it was composed mostly of meet directors-the New York Marathon, Houston, San Diego, the major road races in the country and they were all there and they decided to do something about it. Basil Honikman was selected the chairman of the organization and he went out and hired Bob Larsen and myself and we recruited some athletes, got them together and started working.
RE-That leads into the next question. How did you coordinate things with Bob Larsen?
JV-Well, he and I had known each other for a long time, you know. We'd run into each other at meets and I'd been at a couple of clinics on the West Coast and used to visit with him. We sort of had the same philosophy. So it was a very easy marriage. And we started working and we lived together; we actually moved from home to go up there. When we weren't working with the kids we'd philosophize on different aspects of training and I would hear some of the things he believed in and he would hear mine and we'd come to a common ground without the kids. We never argued anything in front of the kids.
RE-What were some of the benchmarks you used along the way to chart progress? Are we going in the right direction...
JV-We certainly used competition.. .and the PR's they were posting. The amazing thing is that if you understand science, as you have an increase in the parameters that we test for, you can train and implement those variables in the training protocols and you can actually chart progress. I'll give you an example. We were able to tell Meb [Keflezighi] and Deena [Kastor] what they should run at Stanford and they had never achieved those goals, but they achieved them within a second. And so it really works well.
Same thing in the marathon. When Deena broke the American Record in London I predicted within 20 seconds what she was going to run under optimal conditions. If it's bad weather, you can't predict that. But it goes hand in hand. If you understand the scientific variables and how you employ them in developing a training program, what we call "critical zone training," then you'll get results. So many people train and they don't know what they are training for or if they are able to handle it, you know. It's all a process of adaptation to what their potential is.
RE-You used the cold vest in Athens prior to competition. What was the theory behind that?
JV-Well, it was terribly hot and we had two race plans. Of course the obvious problem was the heat and humidity. So at six o'clock in the evening when Deena ran, it was 102°F. And they had new asphalt that was 120°F. And of course they brought these vests up over there and we were able to reduce the core temperature a little bit. The idea was to keep them as cool as we possibly could prior to the event.
RE-Because her warm-up was essentially minimal prior to the starting gun?
JV-Yeah, yeah, you know you have to get the circulation going but you can also lose a lot of water from dehydration just standing around. But if you are cooler you can tolerate a little more and you lose less.
RE-How closely did you prepare for the course?
JV-(laughs) Well, we are at Mammoth Lakes at altitude. And it is all undulatory there. The town itself is at 8000 feet and we can run from 8000 to 11,000 feet or we can go a little bit lower, maybe 6500. So having been up there for four years I knew where all the mountain trails were. I had also been to Athens a number of times with marathoners I had when I was in Colorado and I knew the course. I went out and I found a similar course to the one that they had in Athens. And I think this is the secret of success for running if you prepare people
to run on a set course. You cannot go in there cold turkey and run hills without ever running hills.
So you have to prepare for the conditions that you are going to encounter during the race. I found an area where you went slightly downhill for 10k and then you started an 8-mile incline. We may have been off a few feet. We had one of those Garman altitude things, and we were short, maybe. It wasn't quite eight miles, maybe seven and a half but we were also doing it from 6500 to 8000 feet, not at sea level. And of course we had the downhill slope for the last 10k. We ran that thing seven times before Athens. So when we got all the kids on the course and got to see the course for the first time it was a no-brainer. It was easy for them because it was asphalt and smooth. We were running on trails.
RE-Many of Deena's hard runs were done in the morning-what was the thought behind that?
JV-Everybody's distance running should be done in the morning. The philosophy behind that is when you go to bed at night and you are lying flat, your intervetebral discs are able to engorge themselves with water. And in the morning when you get up and your full body weight is on those discs and gravity is pulling on you and the more active you become the more water you lose and they become compressed. And consequently you have a chance to irritate those horse tail nerves that come out of the vertebrae and that is when you can develop some injury and also some postural deviation. Now you're a chiropractor-do you agree with me?
RE-Completely, that's why I thought it was...
JV-I think a lot of coaches are not aware of that. And you know we'd workout three times a day. But our main workout was always in the a.m.
RE-This also underscores the importance of proper hydration because if you do not have the water at night when you go to bed.. .
JV-That's one thing that I really preach. And I'm with them every minute of the day and every 15 minutes they drink water.
RE-In Deena's marathon race (at Athens) at 20 miles I think she was in around 10th place. As a TV spectator I thought how great it was that an American runner was going to finish in the top 10. And over the last 10k she moved up like a freight train. How aware were you of what was happening?
JV-I did not get up to the starting line with her because of the traffic. And there is nothing I could have done to motivate her to do anything anyway. She was already motivated and ready to run. I called up before she boarded the van to go to the start line at Marathon and I said, "Deena is there anything you want to ask me or go over before you go out there, because I'm going to be in the stadium." And she said, "Coach, I've done every workout you've given me for the last 11 months and I've done it well. I'm stronger and fitter than I've ever been before. I've run on the course and it's not going to be the stress that most people think it's going to be and I'm going to medal today."
So she was confident and confidence is a big thing. I picked up my wife and Beth Sullivan, who was the distance coach for the team, officially. We went to the stadium and we sat down there and we watched the race unfold from there [on the giant screen]. And they were very good. Even though she wasn't in the front at the beginning they'd always indicate where some of the other people were and Deena was one they were tracking initially.
So I knew where she was at all times. And if there is one quality she's got it is emotional control. If you talk about how she should run a race-she runs it that way. She did not let emotionality run away with her and run someone else's race. I think more runners should learn that.
She is excellent at it and I knew that she would move well once she got on the hill. Because we trained on hills not only for preparation for Athens but for the last four years and the previous four years in Colorado when she came to me from Arkansas, 'cause you know we're at altitude, 7500 feet at Alamosa. So I knew she would run better as the race progressed. We had to be cautious because of the heat initially, because there were many good runners who dropped and those who did not drop out suffered at the end, even first and second. One they had to take to the hospital and the other had an IV and Deena finished like she could have run another 5k. She ran her last 5k in 16:07. So the race unfolded the way we thought it would. From a personal point of view I didn't know if she would medal, I was hoping she would but the way the race went you saw it coming.
RE-Did she run out of race? The way she was finishing I think that if it was a kilometer more she would have moved up. I know that is a tough question to ask you.
JV-Well, you know, you don't know how many phone calls, emails I've received telling me-why didn't you have her go out a little faster. That wasn't our game plan, you know, we developed a game plan when we were thinking rationally, not in the middle of the race. And it could have worked the other way around. She could have started a little harder and maybe she would have succumbed earlier in the race.
RE-You touched on this but what sort of psychological preparation do you use for the marathon and how did you get Deena to maintain focus and not lose heart as she was going through the race? You said she had some personal qualities that certainly she brought to the table. I'm sure you refined those things.
JV-When she decided to run the marathon, it was her choice. She could have made the team at 5000, 10,000 or the marathon; she's got that latitude, you know. So, as the coach, I laid down all the plusses and negatives of each event in relation to her ability. I was there [Athens] for the World Champs , I was there when they ignited the flame in '96 because of the 100-year anniversary. I had a marathoner there because they invited nations who had run in the original one. I told Deena how tough it was going to be if she chose the marathon. She did not even go home that night and think about it. She said, "Coach, the tougher the conditions are the better I run, that's been my personality. I'll take the marathon." So that's how she decided to run the marathon.
So once a person makes a decision then she has a great integrity to her value system. She never, I don't care how hard the workouts were, she never doubted herself in having selected the marathon. And every day, as a coach, you reinforce things that they are doing well, to build their confidence up and as the training is going and she increases her distance and tempo v. lactate threshold runs the way her season progresses.
She did not run on the track at all that year until the Trials. You do not have to run track meets everyday to do a good job in a track meet. But I can tell by the training how she's doing, how she's going, by the speed of her runs and her ability to maintain and also her enthusiasm for the workout. She was always excited, always on time. And you offer tidbits of information and she likes that. She did not like numbers. You know, "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it coach-don't bring up those mathematical equations to me."
RE-I have some general questions. What type of strength work do you generally recommend for a distance runner?
JV-Well, we work out three times a day and one of our workouts is in the gym and we do a combo of plyometric bounding, ladder drills, weight lifting and core development. They work at it very religiously. They don't let it slide by. And that is just as important as the running.
RE-It is interesting that you mention plyometrics because back when I was coaching we did that for our steeplechasers and at that time it was heretical to make that combination, but I've always thought it was very important.
JV-I was a coach for the World University Games in '73 in Moscow and that was my first introduction to it. And I brought it home and for 25 years I used it at the college [Adams State]. You know I never got the most talented runners but they were well developed and well trained, I thought. We would win races sometimes that maybe other kids had more ability but we had a total package. And I really believe in strength work.
So whatever level of ability a person has if he is going to increase his flexibility and strength and reactive impulse he is going to be a better athlete.
RE-How do you develop your speed in distance runners?
JV-We know what everybody's VVO2 is---velocity at max VO2 uptake---and that is 100% speed for their distance event. Not all-out speed for the 40 or 60. So we do it by percent. Whenever we are running, say, a 400 or 300 or 600 or 200,we have acceleration workouts. We run at l05, 110 or 120% of their VVO2speed. I don't think we've ever run and timed our kids in 40's or 50's. And then we do variable running and little acceleration runs. I have an acceleration run from 100-200, 200-300 and they increase each time they run but we have a formula by which I tell them what I want and we do that for about 12 weeks every year.
RE-What would you describe as optimal running mechanics? How much individuality do you allow?
JV-We run our kids through a Dartfish program. I think mechanics are important, extremely important. And I have found out over the years that if you are running at optimal speed that the best mechanics you have will come out automatically. Whether you are running uphill, once you adapt to the hill or whether you are running downhill or whether you are running on the flat.
But sometimes you are so muscled that you don't have sound mechanics. I don't think that anyone ever develops perfect mechanics. I think biomechanics are the hardest thing there is to change in a person. But there are some fundamental things that we work on like driving your ankle through your knee and setting your foot down so that your center of gravity rotates over the ankle on the touchdown leg and we try to eliminate understriding and overstriding by proper mechanics. Developing an affinity for front-side and back-side mechanics.
In plyometrics, when you're doing ABC's, they always recommend a high butt kick and all that. We try to eliminate the high butt kick so they can drive their leg through rapidly and drive through with the thigh. Lead with the knee but drive through with the thigh at that point your ankle goes through the knee of the other leg, same height. If it's too low you are under striding, if it is too high you tend to overstride.
As I ride with the kids in the pick-up and we're doing a recovery run, 10-12 miles or whatever we are doing, even when we are doing our long three-hour runs on Sundays, I am always with them making notes on how they are running mechanically, because they have a tendency to forget to concentrate. Their focus is not on mechanics when they are running easy sometimes. But that is when you can develop a good habit, you know. So you remind them.
RE-You have kind of hit on this but one of the theories of late is to challenge the different energy zones over a two-week period. Do you do much of that work?
JV-Yeah, I have been an exponent of the energy systems for many, many years. I've incorporated it into Level II programs and we do train different energy systems. And we have runs where we focus on a specific energy system. However in running you will encounter a point in the race where you are crossing over into another energy system, maybe at the end of the race when you try to pick the speed of your race up or increase your pace. Or you want to recover a little bit if you think you have to recover. But we tackle everyone of the energy systems. And this can become an easy or complex thing depending on how specific you are. I try to keep it as simple as possible.
RE-What do you see is the biggest difference between 5k and 10k preparation?
JV-The amount of speed training that you do and the speed with which you attack your tempo run. Of course that is derived from the lactate workouts and I have a mathematical formula. You run 95% speed, VVO2 in preparation for a 5k and you run at 90% VVO2 for 10k. So the more you run within those zones the better prepared you are going to be. The more adapted you are going to be for getting the goal that you want for either the 5 or the 10.
RE-Do you feel our high schoolers race too much?
JV-Yes, I think they spend too much time competing and not enough preparing. And I know the coaches. ..I give clinics from coast to coast and I talk to the coaches and sometimes they do not have any control over it. Their AD's or their conference or the region they are in mandate that they run twice a week or every week and that's too often. You don't have any chance to work on bilateral development.
RE-Is the 5k too far for a high school cross country race?
JV-No, no. I invited the Ethiopian National Coach, Dr. Hma Berta, to come and visit me one time. He spent 30 days with me in Alamosa then I went and spent some time with him in Ethiopia. And I had him giving clinics. We gave three clinics across the country in those 30 days and he was talking about the preparation of junior runners. Of course junior runners are high school age. And we were in Richmond, Virginia, and he was talking about once they had gone through base and pre-comp and all that, peaking them out. He said, "I have my runners run 14x400m in 57 flat with a 30-second interval and the last three done in 54 flat." Of course everybody just was blown away. And he said two weeks later his junior broke the world junior record for 10,000m in 27:17. At that particular point Mark Nenow had our American senior record at 27:20.
Number one, we do not run far enough and we do not train hard enough. Generally.
Specific programs may be doing the work, but in general we're not running long enough or intensely enough and of course we're not having enough activity as we develop from adolescence up.
RE-But again there is a speed component there that has to be addressed. Because if you are looking at the finishing quarters for both the men and women in the 5k, 10k, those last laps approach the same time they are running, if not faster, than what they are finishing in in the 1500.
JV-That's right! That's critical zone training. You must know what the 15 best times in the world are. I have all this stuff in clinic preparation already. I have it for the 800, 1500, the 3, the 5, the 10 and the marathon. I can tell you what the finishing phases are and what kind of speed you have to have if you are going to compete internationally in the 1500 or the 5 or the 10 or whatever. You'd better know what it's going to take to be successful in that race. And you'd better be prepared and trained at that level or you'd better stay home and train more so you can reach that level.
And I think our high school coaches get kids in there to run just to run without any tactics at all...
RE-... and become aerobic animals. That is where I was leading with that question because I have long been a proponent for shorter cross country distances, 2½ miles.
JV-Well, I like the 5,000 and I like the 10,000 but I also like them to be prepared to run those distances. And when you say they are "aerobic animals" they go off and run trash mileage just to say they have done the miles. I think if it is correct mileage at aerobic threshold then it will benefit them more and maybe they do not have to do as much. But in order to improve and continue that improvement ad infinatum then I think that they have to run "more." I have a longevity study on Deena; she went from 70 to 77 to 81.5 over a four-year period. Just by volume increases. And now through her improved running economy her velocity of threshold pace went from 5:24 to 5:11 to 5:01 over the same period of time. She does not have a speed coach; she cannot break 63 for the quarter.
RE-How do you monitor fitness throughout the course of the season? Intermediate testing or race efforts-are you using that?
JV-Once we start the season or we start training as a team I'm with them until they reach the goal of the competition they have been preparing for. We increase the speed of our, if you want to call them, intervals or continuous distances. Whatever we are running we start off at a given point and we increase the intensity because our base work is done. For shorter distances like the 5000 and 10 we generally drop our volume as in peaking or tapering, whatever you want to call it.
But I monitor through their workouts and I can tell you if they are ready to run by their ability to handle the workouts. Like we'll start off as an example running 5:10 repeat miles and we'll work all the way down to 4:45, then they're ready to run-see? Or we'll start off by running our tempo runs and we'll start off, in Deena's case, maybe a 58-minute 10-miler and then we drop the time every week until she can run the equivalent of 52, 53 minutes, and that's her.
Other people are slower but it is the same philosophy. It's a sliding scale downward. So every run that we do we have a sliding scale downward and I look back for that key date in their preparation and...allow them enough time to really prepare them for sharpening up the saw you know, at the end, the last two or three weeks.
RE-What are a runner's sleep requirements?
JV-Well.. .normally you should sleep eight hours for an expenditure of 500 calories a day over your basal metabolic rate. For every 500 calories extra that you add to that in total muscular metabolism you add one hour. Are you with me? So if our runners are burning up between 1500 and 2000 calories every 24-hour period they have to sleep between eight and 10 hours a day. And they do sleep between eight and 10 hours a day. They even take a nap at noon. All my runners take a nap at noon. I do too. I get up at 4AM to prepare for them and if I don't take that nap I'm not ready for the next six, seven hours, and the same with them. Deena is so faithful.. .she goes to bed about eight to nine o'clock every night unless there is a gathering or something like that. You know she's not a hermit but she's a good role model for the other girls. Whatever Deena does the other girls do.
RE-Any special dietary rules or pointers?
JV---Yeah, you know all our kids are college graduates. Not that you have to be a college graduate to be a good runner, but we talk about nutrition. We'll have a class in my condo at Mammoth and we'll talk about the benefits of altitude and the benefits of sound nutrition and I like to talk about balanced energy nutrition where you eat ad libitum, five or six meals a day. You tell them how many calories they need during the 24-hour period. They can divide that into six meals if they're burning up 2400 calories; that's 400 calories per setting and then you have energy; you don't have any downers. It's balanced, it's equal. We talk about the need for protein, carbohydrates and fats and what percent of the total diet should be in there relative to their body mass. And how their diet changes when they are traveling since they are not burning up those calories so they don't get that stuffy feeling from overeating. We talk about all those things. And they're very faithful about it.
RE-Do you use the treadmill much and what are the advantages of running on a treadmill?
JV-We use the treadmill for testing. For training, no. Liberace did not get good at playing the piano by chopping wood. If you are going to be a good runner you have to run. Now the treadmill is good in terrible weather or if you have some kind of an injury where you have to limit your activity just as water workouts are good if you are injured. But to be a part of the workout-no. That's the easy way out. That's my belief.
RE-How long does it take to recover from a race? To normalize? I always taught that it is one day for every five minutes raced. What is your feeling on that?
JV-Well I haven't worked with milers for a long time, coach. I'll go run a mile in preparation for a 5k. We'll go to Europe and we'll run a mile or a 1500 or a 3k. In the case of Meb or Abdi [Abdirahman] we'll run a 3 or a 5 but I think.....we go day by day. I like for them to jog lightly the day after a race. Just to get the crap out of their system, to get that lymphatic system going well and then I meet them every morning. That's the beauty of being able to coach there every day. You can look at them and they can tell you how they feel and you can adjust the workouts and I don't have any planned workouts for the 5, 10k and up for at least a week after the race. So you might be right, a day for every five minutes of running. So that would be a week for the 10k.
You know we don't run a marathon every day or a 20k or a half-marathon, but there is a period of recovery there and then we play with the body a little bit. Let's do some 100m surges, see how you feel. We'll do a couple of them and gradually they get back to where they are training again. And then again the speed of the recovery is always determined by the upcoming competition.
Sometimes they forget about listening to their body. And they want to get ready for that next competition and first thing you know they are injured. We don't have many injuries but we have had some with kids who come back too fast. That happened to Deena, I think, coming back to the NY Marathon after Athens. She ran the Trials, she ran at Athens and she wanted to run New York just too fast. Whereas Meb was able to handle it. Meb did not do the volume or quality that Deena does in relation to their ability.
RE-How critical is altitude training and what type of adaptations are necessary so that you can handle hard work at altitude.
JV-Well, I am the biggest believer in altitude training, perhaps.. .well, there are other people who believe it too but I've lived at altitude all my life and for the last 10 years that was at Alamosa. I hosted the Japanese, the Finns would come up three times a year. The Spaniards, the Italians. I worked with [Juma] Ikanga for five years. So they would come up for a recharge before a major competition.
I believe that every distance runner should have an altitude experience. I know that if you're going to school at sea level it is hard to do that. But if they are going to run post-collegiately they should incorporate into their program the altitude experience and they should do it by getting advice from someone who knows something about altitude.
We adapt to a number of variables. There are about 26 variables at altitude. But just for simplicity's sake here we adapt cardiovascularly, respiratorily, and metabolically and within those three categories you have a number of individual variables and they will stay with you for different amounts of time. In the case of red blood cell mass increases, a normal RBC will stay alive for about 120 days. But when you are working hard the life span is cut down to 80 days. Are you with me?
So if you get to altitude and you build up a lot of RBC's then go down to sea level essentially you are going to lose that RBC mass and have to go back up to recharge. So we have incorporated into our program four altitude sessions per year-how long? For a month to eight weeks, depending on the time that we have available and the proximity to the next major event that they are going to run.
RE-How many marathons does a great marathon runner have in his/her body?
JV----Oh boy, that's really the $64 question. I don't know if anybody can come up with a specific number to that. I have noticed one thing over the years, and I've been around a few years, and that is the later you start running marathons the greater your longevity in marathon running. But if you start too late you do not fully develop in marathon running. So it's a two-edged sword. If you are a youngster and you start marathoning I think that if you get some success you'd better limit the number that you run early on until you get a little older. In the case of Ryan Shay, he started right out of college. Deena did not start until she was 27, 28 years old. She'd run four years post-collegiately before she attempted one. And she only attempted one because she was running with our kids. I'd have them run half the distance so that they would not run alone and so, number one, normal people should never run more than two a year and one would be better.
I think, like during Olympic years, you get to run two. But they get tied up with money. So if you get good the money starts coming so you start running more and more. And I've tried to caution Deena and Meb about this because the more they run the shorter the longevity in marathon running will be, quality marathons anyway. So I would recommend initially one a year and then two a year for a number of years and then just play it by ear.
RE-How would Pat Porter fare if this were his time?
JV---Well, I got to tell you, the two toughest runners I've ever had, mentally were Pat Porter (Brian Chase was pretty close to him) and of course the female is Deena. And I think Pat would adapt to the standard being run today because he liked to win and he liked to compete. But he liked cross country more than he liked track. I only wish he would have tried the marathon. He tried one after he left me but I had him for 14 years and the last six I tried to talk him into a marathon. I don't know if he was scared of it or did not want to do the work involved, but his goals were changing at that time. I could not get him interested in it. But I think had he been interested in it he would have made a great marathoner. And he would have paid the price, since he was a tough runner, mentally.
RE-Who were some of your role models?
JV-My absolute hero, because of what he accomplished, was Emil Zatopek. And I got to meet him before he died in Helsinki. He was invited to the European Cup in '95 and they invited all the people who medaled in '52 and he was one of those guys who was still alive. The theme was "Friends Return." Coaching-wise, certainly Bob Giegengack [Yale] and a coach in western Kansas, Alex Francis [Fort Hays State].
JV-You ever hear of Alex Francis?
RE-He recruited me in high school.
JV-Did he? I'll tell you, he didn't know any science but what he did intuitively he did correctly. He had a great passion for the sport. Very successful and he loved every event. He used to beat KU all the time.
I have to tell you a story. 1967 our NAIA National Meet was in Oklahoma City. He [Francis] won the meet, we were second I think. By then we knew each other quite well. He says, "You gotta come to New York and watch our kids run in Van Cortlandt [Park] in a couple weeks," the old AAU XC meet. So I went home. I borrowed the money to go to New York. Never been to New York City. Never been to Van Cortlandt. So I get there and it was a new experience for me. Small town guy going to the big city. Here I get to Van Cortlandt Park earlier than hell. I was excited. I was a young coach then and no damn Fort Hays State. That damn Alex really pulled the wool over my eyes. Thirty minutes before the race started here comes this old station wagon. They'd driven from Hays, Kansas, to New York City and got there 30 minutes before the race. They had a great runner-John Mason-remember John Mason?
RE-Yes, I remember the name.
JV-John Mason was the leader of the team. They all got out, seven people and the coach. They had traded off driving, they drove straight through, stopping only to eat and gas up and go to the restroom and all that. But they drove straight through and I was happy to see him. They did a few side straddle hops, they did a few sprints from the starting line. Mason went out and won the meet.
That's a story I like to tell.
RE-What books do you read or have read that keep you motivated?
JV-Well, my wife is an English Lit teacher and she gets sort of pissed off that I only like to read physiology and training theory books. So every now and then she picks up a book for me to read and I have really expanded my interests. I have read just about every book that Deepak Chopra has written on Eastern medicine, integrated with Western medicine. I like Wayne Dyer and 60 Days to Enlightenment: The Wisdom of the Ages. I like philosophy books. I like books with people who have known a great deal of adversity and bounced back and are very successful in whatever field. And that is about it. As a graduate instructor at Adams State I used to recommend outside reading, five books during the year. So I really believe in reading and balancing your education.
RE-The down times of coaching offer great opportunities for doubt and second guessing. How have you avoided that?
JV-You know, I started coaching in high school and I coached high school for 12 years. And that's when I was getting my feet wet. I was not as committed and dedicated as I am now and have been in the last 30-31 years. But it seems to me my ambition to learn has increased over the years. I am still excited about getting up in the morning. I get up at four every morning. Literally excited. I'm excited about meeting, just to study and read. I plug into the Medline, the information retrieval center at the Olympic Center. Anything I ask for they get from five different countries immediately, things that have been published. I've visited all six institutes of physical culture in the Soviet Union, when there was a Soviet Union. I have been to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, the biggest research hospital in the world. I have tried to learn as much as I can about training and things that might help runners and track and field. That excitement is still there. I think when it is not there I'll quit. As long as it is there and I have a purpose for getting up every day; I'm going to be doing something to grow.
RE-What do you feel are the psychological qualities that create a successful coach?
JV-You know we all have different make-ups. We all come from different regions of the country. We have different homes. Different genetic pools. Like any field of human endeavor I think that you have to develop a passion for something. Psychologically, if you have a passion for something that passion is going to drive you to learn and improve yourself. It is going to improve you in your role and working with people. Because the people you are working with are all different. And they too come from different backgrounds and different things are going to trigger positivity and negativity.
So I think your quest for trying to understand humankind and diversity in people, not just ethnic diversity, but diversity in the way they were brought up, is to let them know that you care about them. Then you have them responding to you. I don't know much about psychology. Everybody says I know how to motivate them. That motivation is that you care about them and they know it.
RE-Over the last decade American distance running has been much maligned. With the Athens successes, the finishes in both the men's and women's marathon teams in Helsinki it seems that we have turned the corner. What is the next step?
JV-I think that we have developed a template with some of the running clubs that we have-a template on how it should be done. And it has followed the model that the Kenyans and the Ethiopians and Moroccans have developed. I think we have made it known to our federation what is necessary. It's up to them to take what we recommend and employ it and give us the funds to carry it out. As far as Bob Larsen and I are concerned, we've really sacrificed to work with this group up there. And we're not going to last forever. That's why I'm mentoring some younger people to come around. But I think, in order to continue to grow we're going to have to have administrative support. It is going to have to become important to our federation to drive this a little bit.
RE-You have done so many great things for this sport. You've been a tireless goodwill ambassador, you've raised the technical standards with coaching education, you've touched countless lives with coaching. What do you feel has been your proudest moment and how do you want Joe Vigil to be remembered?
JV-Wow... (pauses) ...You know anything that I have done, or anything that I've ever accomplished I haven't done it alone. I have had a lot of great people helping me. My wife particularly. But I want to be remembered as a good person, as a good friend. Not a developer of champions or for the national championships we've won. Those things are not important. But I would probably like to be remembered as a person who put some worth into other people's lives cause I believed in them. Very simple.
FROM: TRACK COACH 175