Coach Derks, my distance coach, has always encouraged me to write an article about distance training. Andy has only known me as a radical sprint coach. In the last 16 years I’ve only coached speed.
Before the turn of the century, I had some success coaching distance guys.
Back in 1998 and 1999, Harrisburg High School had only 600 students and an alarming number of them smoked cigarettes or chewed tobacco. Chewing Skoal or Copenhagen seemed to be a right of passage. Harrisburg was a weird place. I once congratulated J.W. Stanfield after winning the fresh-soph cross country championship by saying, “You are a champion J-Dub! Can you imagine how good you’d be if you quit smoking?” J-Dub’s reply was, “I’ve cut down quite a bit.” True story.
I think only one or two of the following guys smoked cigarettes, but they could all run.
- Patton Segraves 1:54.8
- Brian Weiss 1:56.7
- Antwan Garnett 1:56.8
- Duston Hearn 1:58.3
- Clint Simpson 1:59.9
- Steven Owen 2:00.1
The six guys in the list above were all teammates. Four of them ran 8:02 in the 4×8 as freshmen and sophomores.
The fact that this group emerged from a Class A school is quite a story. The fact that this excellence surfaced at a school with a dysfunctional cross country program is mind-boggling.
Cross Country was terrible at Harrisburg. One year, the preseason XC meeting had no one in attendance. The boys and girls program had the same coach. Some years we would have 65 freshmen come out for football and zero go out for cross country. Runners would typically cheat on workouts. Things got so bad that I lobbied to take over the boys cross program. However, the cross country coach visited four board members before our AD made his recommendation.
So, how do you develop distance runners without a cross country program? Well, first of all, forget about the 3200. We never even tried to develop 3200 runners. We boycotted the event at most meets. Our distance guys were always turned into 800 runners because of their lack of base training. Our 800 guys also ran the 4×4 (Segraves 48.3, Simpson 48.9, Garnett 50.0, Weiss 51.0). My teams have brought home hundreds of state medals, but zero medals in the 1600 and 3200, zilch. I’ve been a head coach since 1990, and my teams have never produced a 4:20 miler or a 9:20 two-miler.
I’ve always been intrigued by Sebastian Coe.
- speed-trained distance runner who worked on speed year-round
- very low volume of aerobic training compared to other distance runners
- lots of plyometric training
- lots of hill work (uphill)
- lots of weight work in off-season
- quality workouts with a focus on “goal pace” work
- coached by his father who had no experience as a coach and developed his own ideas
- did not run through pain, took time off
- Coe’s 800 world record of 1:41.73 set in 1981 stood until 1997
Why not coach my guys like Sebastian Coe? Why not lift weights, do hill work, and lots of quality speed training?
And why not coach like Sebastian Coe’s father? Why not train with creativity?
I could relate to Coe’s father because I didn’t know anything about track. I was a head basketball coach from 1982 – 1990. Every book I read was a basketball book. Basketball was my life. I coached freshmen football and served as assistant track coach during those years, but I didn’t work at either sport. Head basketball coaches are psychos. Their minds are cluttered with visions of ball screens and help-side defense. When I strangely became head track coach in February of 1990 and then got fired as basketball coach the next month, my new direction was track. At first, I coached the way I had been coached. I had a lot to learn. The only tidbits I knew about distance training came from Runner’s World Magazine.
My overarching distance philosophy was copied from Bill Bowerman of Oregon … hard workouts followed by easy workouts. Work hard and then recover. Bowerman once said, “Hard days are never hard enough and easy days are never easy enough.” I used this to justify brutal workouts followed by recovery days.
What follows is discussion of workouts we did from 1996-1999 at Harrisburg High School. Remember, these workouts were followed by easy days.
1. Mile Pace Progression: once per week for 10 weeks. Each run was done at goal mile pace. We would start this progression in January.
- 48 x 100 … 1 min recovery
- 24 x 200 … 3 min recovery
- 24 x 200 … 2 min recovery
- 24 x 200 … 1 min recovery
- 16 x 300 … 3 min recovery
- 16 x 300 … 2 min recovery
- 16 x 300 … 1 min recovery
- 12 x 400 … 3 min recovery
- 12 x 400 … 2 min recovery
- 12 x 400 … 1 min recovery
As soon as someone would fail, we would all clap for the guy and send him home. Example: If Patton Segraves just finished basketball and joined the team in March for the 16 x 300 workout and his goal mile time was 4:32, he was expected to run all 16 in 51 seconds. If he ran #9 in 59 seconds, his workout was over. If no one completed the workout, no problem. Young guys never finished the workout, they did they best they could.
2. Chasers: I would start my young kids on a 300-meter run and let them get pretty far into the curve, then turn my best guys loose. The young guys tried to win the 300. The fast guys were done when they passed each and every guy who got a head start. Too many distance kids just run, failing to race. If you want your runners to race, train them to race.
3. Hills: I would have the distance guys jog (sprinters drove) to the “Redi-Mix Hill”, about 1.5 miles away. We would then run uphill 10-15 times (sprinters did 5). The hill was gradual, not steep. The total distance was 200 meters. We sprinted up the hill, taking about 30 seconds, then walked down. Each effort was timed.
4. Negative Splits: This idea includes any workout where each interval was faster than the previous interval. Patton Segraves remembers a workout of 10 x 400 where the 10th was run at 56. If this is done perfectly, every run should about one second faster than the one before. If you want distance runners to run fast when they are tired, they must be trained. My guys always finished races well.
5. Mystery Workout: I always thought a 60-second 400-pace had to become a walk in the park. My good 800-runners would start running and had to be at 15 seconds to the 100 mark. If I blew my whistle, they quit and walked a 100. If I didn’t blow the whistle then kept up the pace to the 200 mark where they would again hear a whistle to tell them to stop, or no whistle indicating to keep going. Thus the “mystery”. They had to run at 60-pace (15 sec per 100m), but no one knew how far the interval would be. Hell, I didn’t ever know. They knew they had to be prepared to run a full 400 at 60. Sometimes I would go crazy and make them run 500 in 75. I would literally go crazy jumping up and down yelling “Go, Go, Go” … “500, 500, 500”. We would always walk whatever we ran as recovery.
6. 10 x 600: Each 600 had a goal of 1:50. 200m walk as rest. Two consecutive over 2:00 and you “got the clap” … everyone would clap for you as you left. The workout was over for you. Bye. Young guys probably were sent home after three or four. That’s fine. By the way, when you “got the clap”, you were literally told to go home. You were not allowed to stay with your brothers, you had to leave. Patton Segraves remembers killing himself to stay with Antwan Garnett at 1:45 to 1:50. Clint Simpson remembers killing himself to stay under 2:00, calling it the hardest workout in his life.
7. 20 x 100 on the football field: Each 100 yards had to be in 14 seconds followed by a 46-second rest. I would yell go at every 1:00 on my watch. The entire workout lasted exactly 20 minutes. This is the quickest most-simple effective workout I know. This workout is fantastic in bad weather when I can’t wait to get home. In addition, this is a leg and shin-saver since it’s done on soft ground. I always encouraged barefoot running. I’m not allowed to do this workout at Plainfield North because the head groundskeeper has more clout than the head track coach.
8. Indian Run Intervals: My misguided college track coach used to send his sprinters on a six-mile run on Mondays. We would always run in a group of 8-10 and do it as an Indian Run. I assume everyone knows what I’m talking about. The guy in the lead sets a slow, manageable pace. The runners run in single file in a tight formation. The back guy sprints to the front and then re-established the slow, manageable pace.
I took this concept and made it into a workout. You can do it with any intervals (400, 600, etc). I would take a group of four (picture four guys who can run sub-2:00 in the 800). Pick a random number of 400s (don’t pretend there’s any exact science to the number of reps or the amount of recovery … it’s random and capricious). Let’s say we are going to run six 400s with full recovery (walking an entire lap would be full recovery). We ran in groups of four, Indian Run. I wanted every 400 to be close to 60 (that magic number). That would mean that the entire group would have to finish in 60-65 seconds. The pace would have to stay fast and each guy would be forced to find a speed gear to pass the other 3 guys. Typically, guys would have to race to the front two times per run. This was a beautiful thing to watch.
Weekday meets were un-scored and we worked hard. Our weekday meets were always at home. I was not afraid to put people in back-to-back races. I was never afraid of running someone in the 3200, 800, 1600, and 4×4. Looking back, I was a totally different coach back then. Or, maybe I coached a different type of kid.
We did lots of old-school free-weight work. Lots of bench, squat, dips, curls, etc. You name it, we did it. Clint Simpson was probably the only kid in the state who could bench 335 pounds and run sub-2:00 in the 800. Patton Segraves may have been the only guy who could bench 240 pounds and run sub-1:55. Simpson and Segraves were football players. Non-football players Antwan Garnett and Brian Weiss benched 230 and 185 respectively. By the way, all four guys remembered exactly what they could bench back in 1998-99.
Once a track coach from another team walked into our weight room and saw my guys mixing scoops of white powder into their water. The powder came from a quart-sized Zip-Lock. Yes, we did creatine and glutamine supplementation.
At the 2015 State Track Meet, Antwan Garnett told a story. Back in 1997, Segraves, Weiss, and Garnett had gone on an early morning long run on a smoking-hot summer day. If you’ve never experienced Southern Illinois summers, you have no idea what I’m talking about. The three of them showed up at my front door, proud to tell me they had just gone on a one-hour run. Antwan asked if they could have a drink. I replied, “The hose is out back.” When I met them in the backyard, they had already jumped into the pool.
On a Saturday we did 12 x 400 in sub-64. Prom was later that night.
No race shows competitive spirit like the 4×4. If you want to see what these guys looked like check out the YouTube videos.
- go to the 2:12 mark in the 1998 State Meet (by the way, the announcer was repeatedly wrong, the anchor man for Nashville was not “Fisher”, it was Jarod Rybacki, 2nd in 400, 48.70.
- go to the 2:13 mark in the 1999 State Meet
We once did a workout during a torrential downpour. I will never forget it. I remember that workout with more clarity than any race.
It was the Wild Wild West back in those days.
After workouts we would sit around and talk like the world had stopped. Nothing like 10 x 600 to make you appreciate green grass, blue skies, and oxygen in the air. Hard work and a common goal forged a bond that will last forever.
Dr. Clint Simpson sent me a text following our reunion at the state meet last May .
I think the concept of an ever-lasting track bond that runs tight and interwoven between all of us has to be the closing chapter in your book … or at least part of a blog. I feel those lifetime bonds are a huge part of what you have created in our track program over the years. These relationships are what should be the heart and soul of high school track & field.
Clint is now an ER doctor in Paducah. Antwan is a correctional officer at Marion Penitentiary. Patton Segraves is the head coach at Belleville West. Brian Weiss is the head coach at Triad. The five of us have a bond that will never be broken.