Jay Johnson (JJ): We’re really excited to have Dr. Jeff Messer of Desert Vista High School joining us here on High School Running Coach for the month of August 2014. Jeff, thank you so much for your time.
Dr. Jeff Messer (JM): My pleasure, Jay, I appreciate the opportunity, as I always do, to spend some time with you. Always a privilege, and I’m looking forward to this interview.
JJ: Yeah, I am too, we’ve got a lot to cover, you’ve done a great job getting us your training plan, which is extremely detailed, so we will spend quite a bit of time talking about the training. But as we’re asking all the coaches as part of High School Running Coach, let’s first start off with what is, and there might be more than one of these, but can you give me one or two elements of your, either your training philosophy or something specifically you do in your program that you think you would see in all programs? Or I’m sorry, all good successful programs.
JM: Well, I can think of a number of things, Jay, that I suspect or I conjecture are common to the better, and certainly the best programs in the country. Certainly, I hope Desert Vista can be included in that conversation at this point in time, but among those characteristics or qualities, one is structure/discipline. I think it’s important to have structure in training, I think it’s important to have structure in expectations, and I think structure is something that particularly high achieving young student-athletes seek. And I think in general they will embrace structure, and they’ll rise to the expectations of accompanying structure. So I think structure in a program, and it can be as simple as structure in the training plan, I think that’s an important component. Maybe a more important component, and it may be even the most important component, I don’t have evidence to support that statement, but maybe the most important component is simply to convince young student-athletes about their self-worth, and how great they can be, and how limitless their achievements can be.
JM: And that’s an ongoing process, that’s an educational process, that’s a day by day, season by season, year by year process. But I think trying to validate young student-athletes and provide a sense of evolving self worth and evolving capability is critical. That’s something I work at constantly, and I’m certainly not going to tell you I’m exquisite at it, but I think it’s important to do that. And to the extent that that focus is ever lost, I think we likely could underserve young learners and young student-athletes.
JJ: Great, great. Those are great. You did talk about structure in training, is there anything from a workout standpoint, or something that you focus on? Obviously when we get into the training, we know that you focus on aerobic power and aerobic specificity as two of your main phases of training, but do you think there’s any commonalities with what you do from a training standpoint?
JM: Well, I think the idea or concept of structure should permeate essentially all aspects of a program, and so when we structure training, we structure weekly training patterns for example. What we do one week mirrors what we do the next week, mirrors what we do the next week at a very general level. That is to say we tend to do our higher quality, or upper end aerobic sessions for example on Monday and Thursday, and that’s a consistent feature of our program on the majority of weeks. And so again, that provides not only a structure that, the kids become familiar with, and therefore comfortable with, eliminate uncertainty from their decision making week to week as they try to become and sustain great achievements in the classroom, but what it also does I think is it provides an opportunity to evolve over time that continuous aerobic development that we seek. We know the sessions will be there, so it’s up to the coaches to design them skillfully, and to modify them appropriately on any given day or during any given week, but I think when you have those upper end sessions or higher level aerobic sessions and they’re always a part of your program, constantly a part of your program, then you can really develop a student-athlete over for example 208 weeks.
JM: And that, Jay, is one of the ways I look at a student-athlete’s high school experience. If you have them for four years, you have them for 208 weeks. And they may not run all 208 weeks over that four year period, certainly they should have some time away from running, but again broadly conceived, you think about aerobic development or aerobic power development over 208 weeks, and a consistency in structure, a progression in development that leads them to better outcomes over that 208 week period, over a annual period, over a seasonal period, and hopefully week to week, month to month.
JJ: Great. I really appreciate you touching on the aerobic part of this. Can you tell me what you think are some of things that maybe you’re doing a little bit differently at Desert Vista? Or something that you think is unique to your coaching style?
JM: I can, at least I think I can, Jay. And I don’t know if this is a unique characteristic, but I suspect it is, I conjecture that it is. One of the things that we do in our program, and I’ll draw a simple analogy to baseball, and the idea of a single versus a double, versus a triple, versus a homerun. We, for lack of a better phrase Jay, rarely if ever try to hit a homerun in practice. We never, or almost never hit that defining, or gut check, or litmus test, type session, just to use a few phrases. What we try to do by analogy Jay, if I can, is just to hit single, after double, after single, after double, with an occasional triple perhaps thrown in, so that again that aerobic development that we seek is hopefully a progression. And it’s a consistent progression because we’re hoping to minimize the probability of over training. And lower, ideally minimize, ideally eliminate the likelihood of an injury. So by perhaps running a little less hard than most programs do, perhaps by almost never including those defining or gut check workouts that actually test student-athletes to the limit of their ability or capability, perhaps by doing that we are a little bit different than other programs.
JM: We just don’t feel the need to do that, particularly with a 14 to 18-year-old group of student-athletes. We think that can wait until a later point in their development, and we still believe and have confidence as coaches that we can continuously develop them, at least their aerobic power through four years without trying to hit those defining workouts.
JJ: Great. I think that’s a great point. That was something that when I was in college at the University of Colorado that we were trying to do. Somebody like myself who was maybe the eighth or ninth man, maybe some of those workouts that were intended for the faster athletes, you were trying to do that homerun. But the flip side is that the people that have preceded you in High School Running Coach, Greg Weich and Adam Kedge, talk about consistency, and I think that’s what you’re highlighting a little bit here too, is that consistent week after week singles and doubles rather than just having some crazy two or three workouts over a two-week period.
JM: No question about it. I think those defining or ultimate efforts, Jay, I think at the high school level at least, and I won’t speak to the college level because I’ve never coached at that level, I’m simply an observer and a fan, but at the high school level, I think those ultimate or defining efforts can be reserved for and focused on racing efforts when you want to tap the system to the best of your ability and run to the highest possible level at a given point in your development. I don’t know that that has to happen in training, and I certainly have come across colleagues who would disagree with me, some vehemently, but I look at training as a time to develop. And so, along those lines, Jay, we race relatively infrequently in our program, and we commit large periods of time, to training, so that we can emphasize and really manifest what I hope is continuous aerobic development.
JJ: Yeah. Why don’t you talk really quick about how many times, let’s take your five best girls on your team, how many races do you plan on them running for this year in the cross country season?
JM: Over a period from early September in which we are allowed to begin competition, until ideally early December, and that of course would mean we could be privileged to qualify for the Nike Cross National Championship. But if we could do that, Jay, and include that Nike Cross National race in our repertoire for the year, we might look at five to six maximal efforts over a three month period, or one to two per month in terms of maximal efforts.
JJ: And are there any races where they’re wearing a uniform, the gun goes off but they’re told to run more of a threshold effort, or is it every time that the gun goes off they’re racing at their maximum?
JM: So in general, my preference, Jay, is to, at least philosophically, teach or instruct student-athletes that when they go to a line, when they go to a starting line to compete, their effort should be the consummate effort, the competitive effort, the all-out effort. With varsity, given our specific circumstances at Desert Vista, and I’ll give you just one simple, succinct example, we have what is referred to as a city championship. And it’s important for our varsity to represent our school in that city championship and in that particular race, what we’ll do is we’ll run the morning of the race for maybe 80 minutes and then we’ll give the girls two or three hours to restore their bodies nutritionally and rest a little bit, and then we’ll go to that race and we’ll perform or execute the race as a threshold type effort. So we might achieve 100 minutes of good quality work for the day and none of it’s all-out work. So there are select cases, where we simply look at a race or a competitive endeavor as more a piece or component of our broader training as compared to say State where we go all out, or Nike Southwest where we need to and want to and do go all out. Those are different issues.
JJ: Well, I think it’s interesting. We’re going to have a great variability, I think, between coaches that we’re featuring on this site when it comes to this, and obviously there’s no right way or wrong way to do it but I was curious to hear what your plan is. Do you think, given the number of efforts you are doing in the fall, that that is a little bit less than a lot of other programs, or do you think with these elite national programs that’s pretty much what everybody is running in terms of max efforts?
JM: That’s a good question and I don’t know that I have a general answer that might capture the national perspective. Many of my professional development activities, and I try to attend at least two to three, ideally three to four clinics a year, many of those endeavors are concentrated, for example, in California. If I go over to California, I can see my esteemed colleague, the former coach at Arcadia High School, which has had such great success on the boys’ side in recent years. Jim O’Brien, if I have captured the essence of what Jim had done at Arcadia very accurately, it seems to me looking at Jim’s training, which he has graciously shared, that he tests his boys often and frequently.
JM: And that’s a formula that appears to have worked well for Arcadia, at least based on their success over that three-year period in which they won two national championships. If I take another colleague in California, Rene Paragas, who I have eminent respect for and is the coach at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Rene tends to race his girls more sparingly. And although I’ve never asked him this question explicitly, I think, philosophically, he’s probably more aligned with me, that is to say large blocks of training, very selective racing, and very specific goal races. So I think I see a spectrum and like you indicate, I don’t know that there’s one definitive answer.
JM: I suspect it has to be a function of the program and the level of aerobic development of the athletes which would give some indication of how much high level racing they can sustain over a given period like three months. I think there are some factors that will be program specific, and age specific, or developmentally specific. But I think for me, I’ve taken a somewhat more conservative approach, just gives me a comfort. Because one of my primary goals quite frankly is to do everything I can to make sure that every girl who comes to our program has the opportunity to run at a college university if she wants to and runs better at the college university than she did in high school. Because if she doesn’t continue to improve, I feel like I’ve disserved her.
JJ: I love that. As a father of two daughters, I can appreciate that. But as a former college coach, you definitely appreciate trying to recruit student-athletes who obviously you think they’re going to get better in college. This is maybe just odd aside, but I’m curious about it, what percentage of the young women that you coach do go on and run in college?
JM: I’ve only had one year at Desert Vista high school, but I did come over from a Roman Catholic girl’s preparatory school by the name of Xavier College Preparatory, and I was there for seven years. In the last six years that I was there, we had the privilege of winning the Arizona High School State Cross-Country Championship, and during those final four, maybe five years, we would typically have three to four seniors a year, and we actually got to a point where 100% of our seniors were going on to run at the college university level, and that was a goal.
JM: Now, that doesn’t say, or suggest, or infer that they’ll run for all four years. My admonition to them was always, “Put yourself in a position to try college and university running, and if you don’t embrace the experience, if it’s not optimal in terms of what you want to achieve as an undergraduate student and a student-athlete, then step away from it. But at least try it because it’s been such a part of your life and such an integral part of the friendships you’ve built in high school that you probably owe it to yourself to at least experiment in college.”
JM: So, we were pleased that everyone was going on, and my hope at Desert Vista is we can get to the same point where everybody goes on and tries it and finds out whether running at that next level as it’s often referred to really fits into their plans as they evolve to another graduate degree.
JJ: Well, Jeff, I want to switch gears a little bit and I really appreciate, it’s a very simple document you’ve shared with us, but it’s the overview of the training phases, phase zero through phase three, and I like that you had phase zero as the rest and recovery phase. But phase one would be aerobic power development, phase two would be aerobic power specificity, and phase three would be final quality. Do you mind just going over in as little or as much detail as you’d like what those are? And maybe start off with a definition of what is aerobic power both in, you have a PhD in exercise physiology from how the scientist in you views aerobic power as blank but maybe for the coach out there who’s an English teacher, how they can view it?
JM: Well, in my academic training, Jay, among the pearls of wisdom that were communicated to me over many years of masters and PhD level training, one of those was that mass specific power output determines winners and non winners in sport. In other words, the power one can generate per one’s body mass or weight determines whether he or she will be a winner in competitive endeavor. So Usain Bolt has the highest mass specific power output of his competitors in 100 meter dash and so he is “the world’s fastest man.” What that means to me, is a couple things. Number one is it’s not about force, what you and I call strength, it is about power. Power by definition is a force velocity product. It’s a force velocity product. And skeletal a muscle generates force and skeletal muscle also contracts and relaxes with a given velocity. And depending on your perspective, you could argue or one could argue that training skeletal muscle, for example, for endurance events is about training to enhance the force generating component and the velocity specific component of skeletal muscle.
JM: So, that’s a very “down and dirty” physicist or “down and dirty” biomechanist perspective that’s always not just been in the back of my mind, so to speak, but it’s also contributed to that harmless nomenclature I use, aerobic power development and aerobic power specificity. I just try to keep in mind the idea of power and I can tell you how that integrates into our training in just a few moments. In terms of those phases, aerobic power development, aerobic power specificity, final quality, to be honest with you, Jay, they’re very general demarcaters of a somewhat slight emphasis or shift or transition in training intensity.
JM: And it may not be much more than that in our case because, again I come back to, as you well know in my case, it’s always about aerobic development. Whereas in June, that might be as simple as a 6 to 8 mile run. In late October, early November, that may include something such as thousands at a relatively rapid pace or relatively high effort or mile repetitions or some type of descending ladder where I start at 2000 meters and work my way down to 200 meters. But whatever it is, there’s an emphasis on aerobic endeavor and there’s an emphasis on evolving intensity over the course of the season, perhaps like many coaches always have and always will. For instance, we run slightly faster and we run faster as we progress to a training cycle. So my big issue, is not letting the training stimulus become decidedly or primarily anaerobic in nature.
JM: I think we’ve got more potential aerobically to train, not just young runners, but runners in general.
JJ: Great. When you talk about final quality, what we’re asking here at High School Running Coach, is that every coach provides us with three months of training. So the training you provided us doesn’t quite go into what the final quality is. Can you just give us one example of maybe a workout that you consider a final quality workout, that is maybe different than what precedes it in the preceding phase of aerobic power specificity?
JM: So in that final quality phase, that approximate two-week period, where really our goal is simply to consolidate the fitness gains and the aerobic power gains we hope we’ve achieved in the preceding 20 plus or minus weeks. That’s really the goal. And the other goal, is to diminish overall training volume without compromising intensity. And that’s the critical focus for us during that so-called final quality period because I believe, and some perhaps could argue against me, I believe that you can diminish training volume and maintain fitness gains or power gains as long as intensity is not compromised. And so we try to diminish training volume in the last plus-or-minus two weeks by about 20% to 30%. It’s not 50%, it’s not 70% to 80%. Nothing draconian or dramatic, but just a modest decrease in the accustomed or adapted volume with no decrease in corresponding intensity. So the workout we might do, something like we might do 2×1000, 3×600, and 6×200. In other words, we might run a total of 5000 meters of the repetitions, the 1000s would be perhaps that goal 5K race pace. And the 600s might be slightly faster.
JM: So again, the primary energy demand or the primary demand on the system is aerobic in nature. And the 200s by comparison would be somewhat faster. There might be indeed almost a greater anaerobic component to those 200s. But again, they’re just 200s. They’re just 30 or 33, maybe 35 to 36 seconds worth of work. And if we intersperse appropriate rest, there should be no significant over-training stimulus, no residual fatigue that’s very pronounced. 2×1000, 3×600 and 6×200 would be a very representative final quality session for us during the lead-up to our goal competition.
JJ: Yes. And I almost want to jump ahead to the rest you do between these 200s and some of these workouts later on, but we’ll hold off on that. Although I do want to highlight the idea that yes, you’re running 200s and yes, you’re running them fast, but you’re taking enough rest. We don’t need to go into the mechanics of this, but basically you’re giving them time to clear lactate before that next 200.
JM: Yes. Yes. No question about it.
JJ: Well I think you just did such a great job giving us a lot of information, and I’ll encourage people to look at the training documents that you’ve provided. I don’t want to go into a ton of detail about this, not exercise by exercise, but philosophically, tell me about the warm-ups that you do. I’m going to assume that when you were a student-athlete, you ran at Wesleyan. I’m going to make an assumption here that the warm-ups you assign the girls at Desert Vista are not the same things you did to warm up when you were a college athlete.
JM: That assumption would be entirely tenable.
JM: I can’t even remember what I did. It’s ironic, I was just telling a friend earlier today that now, 30 years removed from Wesleyan University, and as you challenge me to think back to how we did warm up, candidly, I can’t even recall what we did in that representative warm up for a Wesleyan University cross-country track and field training session. But my view on warm-ups, is that first of all, I doubt there’s any magical warm up, magical warm up duration, or magical set of movements. I look at a warm up as preparation that attends to a specific set of demands. And what I mean for example is we begin every training session with a short jog. We might jog 1000 meters or for five minutes. And that’s designed just to initiate some transitions. A transition sweat rate, which will be important to maintain body temperature during training. And a transition heart rate, which is important to support a greater rate of oxygen flow through the circulatory system and the skeletal muscle. So there are specific objectives that we need to work toward in a warm up, and I think about those.
JM: And so by initiating with a jog, for example, we can perhaps support some of those mandatory transitions or move towards those desirable metabolic states in the skeletal muscle. So we start with a warm-up jog, and then we go into a series of drills or movements, Jay. And many of them mimic for example some of the lunge movements that are characteristic of your various routines. And what we look for there is two components really, movement pattern specificity and I think, for example, a lunge provides a great deal of movement pattern specificity relative to a running stride or a running gait. And as we progress through these movements, we look for velocity specificity. In other words, we look to move our upper body, our lower limbs in particular at rates that are consistent with what will be demanded of those limbs in a practice session.
JM: We might start with a very subtle movement, a lunge with the twist, and by the end of the series of dynamics or movement based activities, we might be engaged in some type of high knee drill which involves fast movements of the feet, the knees, the legs overall, and therefore it might be more specific to the velocity of movement characteristic of a training session. We’ll finish that warm up, Jay, with a series of what we call short controlled strides. In other words, we’ll finish this warm up with movement that is running specific indeed it is simply that, it is running, and we’ll try to run at a pace or paces that are going to be very specific to the actual training session.
JM: So that’s part of the rational, systemic adjustments, metabolic adjustments, velocity specificity, movement patterns specificity, those are all themes that really permeate our warm ups, and when I shared with you multiple warm ups as I did, I can’t tell you that warm up C is better than warm up A, or warm up B is worse than warm up C. I can’t tell you those things but I can tell you that the scope or the range of movements allows us to recruit the various muscles that will be called upon to support a training endeavor.
JJ: Great. And I don’t have the warm up document in front of me. Is there an exact distance on those strides? You said short strides but is there a certain distance you want covered in those strides?
JM: We’ll typically go 50 to 60 meters if it’s simply the strides we’re doing at the end of a warm up. Now, just to make sure I have a complete answer for you, if we’re going to come back to the track, for example and do some type of track repetition session, that warm up is going to proceed a brief distance run, and then after the distance run is done, we’ll come back to the track and we’ll probably do 4x100meters strides as a final piece of preparation before we start, for example through the track repetitions.
JJ: Great. Well, I think we’re ready now to hop right into it, and I just really appreciate all the notes on the primary session, and then the easier days. Definitely thought it was neat that at the end of each week, you have the total training volume as a percentage of the goal peak fall volume, so I thought that was interesting. I’m going to assume that that’s a pretty important concept for you that you’re moving towards some volume at some date in the fall?
JM: It’s just another monitoring tool for me. It is important, there’s no question, you’re absolutely right, but it’s important because it allows me to monitor. So when I’m talking about my top varsity runner, or perhaps my sixth varsity runner, or perhaps my third JV runner, if I’m monitoring their training volume, the minutes they accumulate during a week, and I’ve got some type of goal value in mind, it just gives me yet another way to think about where are they in their development relative to this reference value. And that’s really what it is, a reference value. If it’s a number of minutes that might equate to 50 miles per week, and a student-athlete achieves 90% of that value in a week, then again I’ve got some perspective on what they’ve achieved relative to what I think they can achieve safely, and therefore it’s just another way to monitor, and hopefully, remains systematic year over year, season over season so they’re already progressing. In other words, if a basic distance run for a freshman is 40 minutes during that freshman season, just to relax, the recovery distance run is 40 minutes, I don’t want it to necessarily be 40 minutes three years later.
JJ: Well, I don’t mean to put you on the spot with this one, but in the training it says that August 5th would be the 15 minute steady distance run, and then 10×2 minute tempo run with two minute jogs, and then 10 minutes steady distance run. So just take this piece by piece. How do you define steady and how do you communicate that definition to the student-athletes?
JM: Yeah, and that’s a good question. Qualitatively and eventually quantitatively. In other words, with our younger student-athletes who are new to the program, we certainly don’t rush to or impose upon them a hard number. We try to introduce them to what distance running is and distance training is, and we try to introduce them to ideas or concepts such as sustainable perceptible effort. And I think Mark Wetmore, your former colleague has talked about monitoring your sensory data. I seem to remember that phrase from coach Wetmore. So we try to begin that process of monitoring, or being aware of or assessing sensory data. And so for us, steady is simply a word that refers to a modern intensity perceptible effort, one they can sustain for 30, 40, 50 minutes depending on the girl.
JM: Now, that being said, you get to a place with someone like Danielle Jones who’s a senior and who’s running now 4:43.4 for a full mile in June of this year. In Danny’s case, when she thinks about a steady run, she knows that a good part of that run will be conducted, if not the vast majority, that run will be conducted under a seven-minute mile pace because she can go out and run six plus minutes per mile four, six, seven, eight, nine miles because she’s that aerobically fit because she’s been in our program for a number of years, and because she’s involved that concept from a qualitative concept of a modern density perceptible sustainable effort to a range of paces that might be 6:45 to 6:55, or 6:45 to 7 minutes something in there. So it’s both qualitative and quantitative depending on the developmental level and the experience of the student-athlete.
JJ: Great. Then tell me about what is defined as a tempo run, and the 10×2 minute tempo runs with two minute jog recovery. Tell me the rationale with chopping those up two minutes and two minutes.
JM: The rationale for us, Jay, relates actually to our somewhat unique environmental situation. The combination of heat and humidity in early August, mid-August, even late August in Arizona is horrifically oppressive. Let’s just say hypothetically that a student-athlete, like a Danny Jones, could run a 20 minute tempo run. And certainly, you and I would both intuitively predict that she could under “normal environmental conditions.” Well, for us to do that in early August, even at 5:00 AM, in Arizona, is probably not constructive. Because continuous running like that Jay, with its continuous heat production via skeletal muscle, for lack of a better word or phrase, there’s nowhere for that heat to go when it’s already 95, perhaps more, degrees out. And there’s humidity that accompanies the so-called monsoon season in August.
JM: So what we do is we say, we’ll do a broken tempo. We’ll run hard for two minute sessions. We’ll run at an upper-end aerobic effort for two minutes and give you two minutes to jog, or 90 seconds to jog, or a minute to jog. But we tell them to think about the effort as a tempo-like effort. And so if you do that, and you break a 20 minute tempo run into 10 two minute segments, then it becomes much more palatable, much more sustainable, much more viable in our environment. Because again if someone in Arizona is doing it, if someone in Arizona is running 20, much less 30 or 40 minute tempo or progression runs in the summer, I need to meet them or her and find out how they’re doing it, because I think the weather just precludes it or prohibits it.
JJ: Right, great. And you and I have done a previous podcast, so I knew that’s the rationale. But for the people reading your training, I think that might have been something that they wouldn’t have quite understood. So that’s great. Tell us about what’s coming up Thursday. 15 minute steady distance run, 4×100 meter strides, and then the modified tempo run of 10×1000 meters with 150 meter walk recovery. Is this at a park or at a trail? Where are you doing these 1000 meters?
JM: We can find a trail. We can find a canal system in Phoenix that has trails, for example. But we can find trails or paths where we can do that Jay. And again, it’s really just a variation on the Monday theme in that particular case. We can accumulate 10,000 meters worth of work, which I think for a high school athlete is more than sufficient, particularly in the summer, in terms of upper-end or higher quality work. But we simply couldn’t do it effectively if it was a continuous 10,000 meter tempo or progression run. It’s just not viable for us. So by just giving our student-athletes 150 meters to walk, and there’s nothing magic about 150 meters, it just gives them a period of time to walk. What it does though, is it simply allows them to eliminate some of that internal heat load that they’ve generated with 1000 meter repetition. And if it was December or January, that wouldn’t be an issue because the environment would be drawing that heat away from the body very actively.
JM: But in August, that just doesn’t happen given our environmental dynamics. So we have to allow the body to cool somehow, and whether it’s a two minute rest where they simply stand nearly in place, or a 150 meter walk, I prefer a walk recovery in the summer, then we can allow them to eliminate some of that heat load and therefore initiate more “upper-end aerobic running.”
JJ: Then can you go on to the Saturday. You’ve already talked about the two minute tempo runs with one minute, 30 second recovery jogs, but this one says, “with hills,” on that day. So Saturday the 14th. But I know a lot of your workouts say, “without hills.” So can you describe where you’re at and what the rationale with the hills is?
JM: I can and I will do it probably in a non-exquisite way, because as I said in a California clinic, that I actually was privileged to speak at just two weeks ago, hill training, hill repetition training, call it what you will, is something I struggled with really for many, many years. And that may just be because I’m not a particularly sophisticated or intelligent individual. But I’m never quite confident or sure how to integrate it into training. One of the ways I do integrate it in is in the context of distance runs. And so on a Saturday run, a so-called long run for us, I’ll tend to, at least I have in the past when the weather’s been conducive, I’ve integrated a hill component into the final third of the long run. So the first two-thirds of an 80 minute run might be relatively flat. And that last third might include six or seven climbs. Designed for athletes to be accustomed to what ascending and descending is, because that’s certainly a part of cross-country races albeit, less so in Arizona.
JM: Some would argue, at least some have, that running hills periodically or regularly contributes to enhancing running economy. And so that’s something that’s on my mind when I think about incorporating hills. But in summary Jay, a lot of what I’ve done in the past has been to incorporate hill circuits into distance runs to try to provide a stimulus that involves hills, but not to cause me to commit an entire workout to simply running up and down a hill with minimal other commitment to aerobic development. That I still struggle with. Perhaps I should be doing that, running 10 times a two minute hill and making that the essence of a day during any given week. But I haven’t gotten myself there philosophically yet, so I tend to incorporate the hills that we do in distance runs.
JJ: Great, well, I want to fast forward a little bit to the workout where it’s four sets of 4×400 and then taking one minute and 30-second walking in between there. Is this just again following the idea of not being able to deal with that heat, that internal body heat? And part of the question is, if you were some place else would that really be 4xmile?
JM: It might be 4xmile or it might be 8×800. One of the things about doing 4x4x400 is that we can run a little faster yet again. So instead of running a 95-second pace per 400, maybe if we’re doing 10×2 minutes on, two minutes off we might be running it in 90-second pace per 400, maybe by doing sets of 4x4x400 we can run it 88 seconds or 87 seconds per 400. So, again, just trying to explore that idea, Jay, of upper end aerobic stimulus. At the same time always trying to guard against an excessive anaerobic component. And I can’t quantify excessive for you. It’s as much art as it is science when I watch my girls in their various developmental levels but always trying to emphasize aerobic over anaerobic in essentially, at least the vast majority of, what we do.
JJ: Yeah, great. Great. We’ll keep on moving through here. The other thing I had a question about the hills, I’m backtracking a little bit but are both of these options right from school? Or do you have some sort of system where you’re taking buses out to a certain place to find the hills versus what’s available from your campus?
JM: For our geographic location at Desert Vista High School, Jay, we typically need to drive somewhere to find the type of hill training route and therefore, hill training stimulus that we seek. We’ve got an option that’s about 10 minutes from campus. Another option for us which is very attractive is proximate to Arizona State University, the major university in our Phoenix Metropolitan area. If we go down to Arizona State University, which we do on Saturdays, student-athletes can drive down there often with their parents. The parents will stay there and perhaps exercise by themselves or drop off their student-athletes and we can take a route and it goes north of Arizona State University and allows us access to not only a canal system but also a park system. The park system in particular gives us multiple hills or hill circuits. And so, we typically drive when we need to take advantage of that, but we do so willingly and with great support from our parents and the student-athletes. So it really isn’t a logistical issue for us. We can get it done. We just have to make sure we do travel a little bit to get it done.
JJ: Well, moving on to the next week, August 20th is a Wednesday, and it says a 60-minute steady distance run but included in that is a 10-minute tempo distance run. Is it a set point that they know they’re supposed to do it? Or is it just when they feel like it? How is that workout assigned?
JM: It depends on the individual but we might say, “You can choose it.” That is, choose your 10-minute period somewhere between the 20-minute mark and the 60-minute mark. So, at least give yourself 20 minutes to be prepared and then push the pace for 10 minutes at some point in time. In other cases, depending on the route we’re running. We might say when you get to this place because it’s relatively flat and it gives us an opportunity to use a loop then for 10 minutes, again, push the pace at a so called tempo pace and just try to incorporate a little additional upper end aerobic work. The broader idea being that if we can just, and I hate to use this phrase but I’ll use it anyway, if we can just nickel and dime our way to more threshold type or tempo type efforts, even if it’s 10 minutes here and 12 minutes there and maybe 20 minutes there. If we can just accumulate over time a large volume of so called threshold or tempo running, my feeling is, and I think my experience is that we can enhance aerobic development as opposed to perhaps a different approach.
JJ: Well, I love that idea of nickeling and diming it. I think that makes a lot of sense and I think as anybody who reads this will see that you’ve done it in a very safe way. One thing I maybe should have highlighted at the outset is, so at the bottom of each week you have total weekly minutes of tempo, progression, and/or up tempo running. So you’re basically calculating these each week and looking for a certain percentage. Maybe not a certain percentage but it sounds like just another guidepost for you to see what you’re doing each week.
JM: Exactly. It’s a signal. It’s a monitoring system. It’s a guidepost exactly. I don’t have any magic number that says for example, they should do 10% of the running as up tempo or 28% of the running as up tempo running each week or each month, but I like to know as we progress to a season how much that running is at a so called upper end aerobic effort or threshold effort or tempo effort so I do try to monitor it quantitatively and it gives me a comfort because one of my primary goals is to protect them against excessive training and over time, over many years I’ve accumulated some, I hope, feel for lack of better word, for how much “up tempo or upper end aerobic or progressive running” they can accommodate in a given week. So I try to just use that as a guidepost as per your term, my friend. That’s exactly right.
JJ: When we look at Saturday, August 23rd, and this will come throughout the year, the longer runs. But I’m curious about 90 minutes. That week it says the weekly minutes of running is 390. I mean, there’s certain people that say that the long runs should be 20% of your weekly volume. I’m not a high school coach, but my feeling is that it can probably be a little higher than that, because if you just use simple numbers, like 40 miles a week. Well, 40 miles a week, 20% of that, we’re looking at an eight mile long run. And my contention is that a lot of kids could handle something a little longer. But what is your thought on long runs, and are you trying to get a percentage, or are you just building that over the year?
JM: Yeah. It’s really interesting you ask that. And I don’t know if you could possibly recall this, but when I invited you to Arizona, many a year ago, and you so graciously came down, and spoke to, and impressed, our Arizona Coaches Association, with some elegant work, in an informal moment when you and I had some time together, before you and Joe Newton hit the stage for a Q&A with our audience or attendees, I said to you, “How did you decide between 20% and 25%?” And then, I think you told me that you weren’t quite sure. And I said, “I wasn’t quite sure.” And so, I still can’t tell you that there is a scientific rationale. But what I do is this, what I have heard, because I did explore the question in a little greater detail after I bounced it off you, because you were my first source, and a source I trust entirely.
JM: One of the things that I did find when I looked around and asked a few questions, for example, was that it might be 25% of your weekly volume if you’re running six days a week, and maybe only 20% to 22% if you’re running seven days per week. So, I took that under advisement. But really with me, Jay, what it comes down to is, again, what any given student-athlete has evolved to with her development over time. So, what you’re looking at, in that file that I sent you, to share our training, and obviously does share it in total candor, in total detail. If I put down, for example, 90 minutes for a Saturday run, and I bring in, let’s just say, seven varsity level girls on a Saturday run. Let’s just take those seven, whoever they might be at any given year. Out of those seven girls, if I have 90 minutes written down, the actual number may vary from oh what’s the range, 80 to 95 minutes.
JM: I might have a senior who’s shown great physical durability, and I might let her go more than 90 minutes. And I might have someone who, perhaps, I’m concerned if I ran her 90 minutes every Saturday, she might not last through the season. So I take 10% off that right away, and it brings me closer to 80 minutes, and that seems more consistent with her “developmental level,” not just that season, but over the time that I’ve been with her. So, that number always provides a benchmark, and so I think about it relative to development, more so than I do relative to percentage of the weekly total volume.
JJ: Great. That would have been my guess looking at it. And I don’t think there’s any right answer. Just my rationale with a lot of this, is that if you use a college athlete who is running a lot of miles, let’s say it’s 100 miles a week, well now a 20 mile long run makes sense. So you could even argue less than 20% for that much, for that athlete. But then you go down to the new freshman who’s running 30 miles a week. The idea that six miles is the longest run they can handle maybe doesn’t make as much sense.
JJ: And with all this, I love that you’re using minutes and not miles. Is that hard to get athletes bought into that concept? I mean, when they’re at these national meets, or maybe their parents are runners, and they want to know how many miles per week they’re running?
JM: I haven’t had any trouble at all. And occasionally I’ll get the question from one of my student-athletes, “Coach, why do we use minutes instead of miles?” And for me it’s very simple. Not that it’s right or wrong, but if one uses miles, and let’s just say someone’s transitioning from six miles to seven miles for a given run, okay, maybe it’s a steady run, or a moderate effort run that they do mid-week, just as a hypothetical example. If that individual transitions from six to seven miles, the volume of that run is automatically gone up by 16%, from six to seven miles. Whereas, if I transition from 40 to 44 minutes, or 40 to 42 minutes, then I’ve gone up by 5% to 10%. So I find, in summary, that using minutes gives me a little greater latitude in just making volume transitions, more careful, more measured, perhaps, indeed more conservative volume transitions.
JM: Now, someone might come back to me and say, “Well, wouldn’t it be the same thing if I went from five to five and a half miles for a given run?” It would be. It’s my experience though, in talking with the coaches that I know, over time, that typically they don’t go from five to five and a half miles. They typically will go from five to six, or six to seven, or eight to nine. And those percentage increases of 10% to 20% per run, if those were to occur across four to five, or six runs per week, that means a 10% to 20% increase in weekly volume. That’s pretty stout, pretty significant, physiologically. And for that matter, anatomically, week over week.
JJ: I love that answer. That’s fantastic. Well, let’s skip ahead. I have to find a date on this. August 21st, there’s going to be track reps, and a 20-minute steady run, and then some strides, 4×100 meter strides. Then it’s a 2000 meter repetition, then a 1600, 1200, 800, 400, and then 6×200 reps, with self-selected walks in between. Tell me about this relative to the idea of aerobic power, and is each rep at the shorter distance getting faster? And do you think there’s any lactate being produced, or just go into as much detail as you want, about both that workout specifically, but then we’ll see similar workouts as we move through the year.
JM: Well, with regard to that workout, Jay, I can’t recall who first introduced that to me. It may have been both gentlemen. It may have been Louie Quintana, our venerable colleague at Arizona State University, or it may have been Jason Dunn, then at Stanford University, and now at the University of Oklahoma. They, of course, have both evolved from the same coaching tree, if I can use that phrase, so they may have come across it from their mentors, but in either case, I like that workout for a few reasons. Number one is, it allows you to go through a range of speeds. In other words, you can run the 600 meter repetitions faster than the 2000, and the 1200 faster than the 1600, and the 800 faster than the 1200, and so on and so forth. So there are a range of speeds that you can run it as you transition from 2000 down to 200 meters.
JM: Number two, and I don’t know if I did it in that particular workout that day. One of the things I’ve done increasingly is, I’ve also used diminishing rest. So I might start at three and a half minutes rest after repetition, and work my way down to two minutes rest or even 90 seconds rest, depending on the workout per se. I like the idea of running faster with diminishing rest over time and over a training cycle because running faster with diminishing rest, brings us closer and closer and closer to a racing-type stimulus without forcing a specific race type effort. In other words, I don’t want them to race five kilometers as hard as they can in practice, but I want them to increasingly become accustomed to the physiologic demands of racing, and one way to do that is to try to run faster and faster and faster as a workout evolves or progresses, and to do it on diminishing rest.
JJ: And I need to interrupt. I’m really embarrassed that I didn’t see how the rest goes from 3:30 minutes, to 3:10 minutes, to 2:50 minutes. So those are very subtle changes, but if you’re in a workout running hard, you’re going to feel that for sure.
JM: Indeed. Indeed.
JJ: That’s great, yeah.
JM: I appreciate you calling that out, because I think that’s important to us. The other aspect of those workouts is, of course, they can be very demanding, depending on pacing, or they can be relatively less demanding. In the August heat of Arizona, we might choose paces that are relatively less demanding, whereas in November, when there’s not a significant heat stress, we might run those if we’re still using that workout in a given training cycle or a given training year. If we re-invoke that workout, it’ll almost inevitably be at a faster set of repetition paces, even if the rest doesn’t change. We still use diminishing rest, but we don’t modify that rest.
JM: So, it’s a versatile workout, I think, in summary.
JJ: Yeah, no, I love that workout. You said earlier you have 40 girls on the team. How does this look if somebody were to come and visit practice? How many assistant coaches do you have? How are they grouped? And I’m making an assumption here, I assume that workout is on the track, and not someplace else?
JM: Yes it is. That one’s on the track, and I’ve gotten very, very lucky. When I was at Xavier with my venerable colleague, Dave Van Sickle, whose one of my favorite people in the world, Dave and I were co-head coaches, and we had two to three assistant coaches. It was a coaching staff of four to five people. At Desert Vista, I’d had this dream, and now it’s a reality, that perhaps we could create a culture that many, many assistant coaches wanted to be a part of, and for the upcoming cross-country season, for example, Jay, it looks like I’ll have nine assistant coaches on my staff.
JJ: Wow. Holy cow. That’s awesome.
JM: And they’re all runners, and they all still run, and they’re all committed to these girls, and they’ve all been around them. Again, there’s not a group here that does this for financial compensation, because we just don’t have the money in our school or school district to compensate them. We’d love to if we could, but it’s not there, so it’s really selling a vision of a special group of young ladies, and an opportunity to do something special, and to support their education, because I think that’s what running competitively is. It’s about an education, just outside of the classroom, so I’m very fortunate. You can imagine, with one head coach and as many as nine assistant coaches, if we’re looking at, for example, 40 girls, the coach to student-athlete ratio becomes relatively attractive. It’s very good for us. We can give a lot of individualized instruction. So that’s been an evolution for us, and I’m hopeful that’ll be part of the culture of our program going forward, where we have a large number of physically active, very fit and intensely committed assistant coaches. We do have it now, and I’ve got a great coaching staff.
JJ: Great. Well, one thing I want to fast forward to, and I hope this doesn’t sound like too much of a minutia question, but on September 6th, there’s a race the Sole Sports Running Zone Cross-Country Festival, and a simple question, what shoes are they wearing? What surface are they running on, but more importantly, what shoes? Because you’ve done a great job telling us what shoes they’ve been in up to this point, sometimes training shoes, sometimes racing shoes. Are they in their racing shoes this first race?
JM: They are. They’re in racing shoes, and there are no spikes allowed in Arizona for cross-country competitions, so they are racing flats without spikes. But they are racing shoes or racing footwear. That has typically been, at least up until 2014, our first race of the season. So, we go there to run hard, and certainly last year, we did. And we go there in search of Arizona’s best competition, and traditionally, that particular race has had phenomenal competition from the best teams, so it gives us a good outlet to really test ourselves against quality competitors, and ideally, validate in their minds that is to say the minds of our student-athletes, to validate in their minds that they’re fit and they’re competitive, and they can run against these other great programs in Arizona.
JJ: Great. So you’re not scared with the first race being against good competition? I’m just going to play devil’s advocate that maybe you’d want one race to kind of see if they go out too hard, don’t go out hard enough to just practice some of those race skills. Although I guess I should assume that all the girls on your varsity, they’ve been in the program for a year or two. It would be rare probably in your program that you’d have a freshman new to cross country in that top seven.
JM: Well, we’ve had a couple last year just because again I was new to the program and it was my first year, so I ran those who were ready to go. But we also have more experienced girls. I think for us, Jay, yeah, you can definitely make that argument. My predecessor at Desert Vista, one of my closest friends, his philosophy was that he wanted to really build some confidence early in the season with lower key competitive invitationals and not risk any kind of negative outcome.
JM: So that over time, over a season, you’ve evolved their confidence and they’d be very confident by the time they reached goal races in October and November of a given Fall. I changed that when I got to Desert Vista not because I thought it was wrong and I don’t think it’s wrong to do that. But I changed it because in our state, there was a program that I used to coach by the name of Xavier College Preparatory, I mentioned earlier today and that program has been a bellwether in the state now for several years. And I thought at Desert Vista when I got there, one of the things we needed to do was understand that if we were really going to be about a foundational principle and the foundational principle, is be the best you can be everyday in everything that you do athletically, more importantly, academically and certainly as a citizen. Well if you want to be the best you can be, then you seek out the best at what you do and what they do. And in our state, schools like Xavier College Preparatory, Mountain View High School of Mayfair, Arizona, those schools traditionally compete at that Sole Sports Cross-Country Festival. And so if we want to test ourselves against the best, that’s where we go to find the best in Arizona.
JJ: That’s an awesome answer. I love hearing that. And again, we’ll probably find some people that do it a little bit different but yeah, that’s great. Okay. Fast forward to September 13th, a Saturday. It’s a long run day, or it’s a long stimulus, 90 minutes, 20 minute steady distance run and then it has 6×3 minute tempo runs with two minute jogs, and then it says 40 minutes steady distance run with hills. So I’m curious, are the first 20 minutes flat and the six tempo runs flat and then you end on hills?
JM: Indeed it is, yeah. I think one of the things that I’ve come to appreciate, and I don’t know if that’s a good word to use, understand is maybe a better word, that the long run is just a pivotal or integral training component for essentially any athlete at any level.
JM: But I think for a high school athlete who is perhaps more foundational is his or her aerobic development, that that long run is indeed just an essential component of what they do. Now that being said, I don’t think that the long run needs to be strictly just accumulating a lot of minutes. I think you can actually vary the stimulus within a long run to perhaps provide again some additional up-tempo or upper end aerobic work. And so once the weather breaks in Arizona, and when I say weather breaks, once the humidity recedes and the temperature begins to come down in the mornings and that really happens somewhere between September 1st and 15th pretty much every year, that’s when it gets much more comfortable in the mornings at 5:00 AM, then we can start to do those Saturday sessions that are long and somewhat more demanding.
JM: And that’s what I’m looking for, not long and absolutely exhausting, but long and demanding. So when you come to practice on Saturday as a student-athlete in our program, you know it’s a significant effort that’s going to be asked of you. You need to prepare for it by eating well, sleeping well, hydrating well, all the things that all of the stellar student-athletes do, that needs to be indeed an accentuated focus in preparation for Saturday so that you can go into a Saturday run and realize for 90 minutes, you need to focus. During the first 20 minutes, you need to focus on simply preparing your body for what’s going to happen for the next 30 minutes after that when you’re running three minutes on, two minutes off times six.
JM: And once you go three minutes on, two minutes off times six, you’ve still got another 40 minutes to go perhaps and in those 40 minutes, you’re going to meet one final challenge which is a circuit of hills, maybe three, maybe four, even five or six hills as part of your run. And so when you put that all together, you’ve got a steady component, then you’ve got a fartlek or tempo component, then you’ve got a hill circuit component. By the time an athlete achieves 90 minutes of accumulated time, he or she is hopefully induced a significant, continuous aerobic stimulus.
JJ: Yeah, I love that idea that they have to, from a psychological standpoint, basically do that fartlek in the middle which is challenging, but then know they have the hills afterwards. And I don’t have any research other than just anecdotal experiences at the University of Colorado, but when we were doing anywhere from 14 to 20 mile runs on hard courses like Magnolia Road, I just think for a runner that’s going to make you tough in a different way than 5×1000 does. And that’s a great workout to help you mentally get ready to race too, but I’m just envisioning these girls out there for 90 minutes working really hard and that’s really important I think.
JM: I think so too.
JJ: But can you help me? Just a tangent for a second, since I’ve got you on the line. I feel that I’m always having to defend the importance of the long run. You said it just a moment ago that it’s important for people of all levels. A lot of times with adult marathoners that I coach, for instance, they don’t understand why they’re doing a long run. Has there been much research on how a long run different than threshold running, let’s say, improves the aerobic metabolism.
JM: I think you have to look at a broad body of literature to perhaps intuit or conclude or conjecture as to what a long run does. For example, just think about carbohydrate status of skeletal muscle. We know over 90 minutes of running, for example, you utilize more carbohydrate than you utilize over 60.
JM: As you tend to utilize more carbohydrates during that final 30 minutes, what that causes one to do over time is to, for example, recruit or activate so called fast twitch muscle. You may in the early part of a long run, primarily recruit or activate so called slow twitch muscle, which some refer to as Type I muscle or muscle fibers. But as you progressively deplete carbohydrate, particularly in those Type I or slow twitch fibers, that forces or necessitates you to activate or recruit Type II fibers. The idea, that Type II fibers are anaerobic and not aerobic, that’s a flawed idea. If Type II fibers lacked mitochondria, Type II fibers would perish quickly.
JM: So, Type II fibers not only contain mitochondria, but Type II fibers can be trained. As a matter of fact, depending on the training stimulus, as you probably know, Type II or so called fast twitch fibers can take on over time the characteristics of Type I fibers or slow twitch fibers.
JM: Those fibers are indeed very trainable and malleable and so when you think about multiple rationales for long run, just at the level of muscle fiber, I’ll just take that perspective or component or focus for now. Just from the perspective of muscle fiber recruitment and therefore training or stimulus, then I think a long run provides perhaps a different approach in which you can impact Type II or fast twitch fibers. Moreover the general phenomenon of glycogen depletion or carbohydrate depletion, that is essentially a biological or biochemical signal which is one of many signals which tend to contribute collectively to doing what, if you will, providing a stimulus for more mitochondrial production skeletal muscle.
JM: So, just the idea of collectively or progressively drawing down carbohydrate with longer runs, in and of itself contributes to enhancing mitochondrial population of skeletal muscle. So, you can go through a number of rationales, but to me, and when you think about it from that physiological perspective, whether you’re focused on muscle fiber recruitment or glycogen depletion over time or the stimulus for angiogenesis, the production of new muscles and capillaries. Whatever perspective you want physiologically, all those perspectives are consistent. Long running or extended continuous runs tend to enhance or augment the stimulus for those types of adaptive responses or adaptive outcomes. So, I think there’s a compelling rationale. What there’s not good evidence for, I think, and I just read a few papers on this and I’m a little mystified, this idea of long runs in a carbohydrate depleted state.
JM: There may be, I think you can articulate a rationale because you could ask me, “Jeff, didn’t you just say to us that depleting glycogen, in and of itself, provides a stimulus for mitochondrial proliferation?” Absolutely. That being said, as we deplete carbohydrate, we also potentially compromise the intensity with which we run, or we can sustain.
JM: So, the idea Jay, or the intuition that carbohydrate depleted running will enhance mitochondrial status, for example, depleting carbohydrate during the last third of a long run, that’s a reasonable idea. The idea that depleting carbohydrate prior to a run and performing the entire run on a carbohydrate depleted state if you will, is a superior training stimulus to a traditional long run, that has not been well-documented. And I just read a paper, just an e-letter from a very prominent marathon coach in this country who said there are well conducted studies that now show that. But you can go to Gatorade Sport Science Institute and a paper that was recently published by a physiologist from California, he published it for GSSI, the Gatorade Sport Science Institute, and he went through all the molecular adaptations that occur with endurance training and he said, in summary, and notwithstanding these various metabolic signals such as glycogen depletion etcetera, there are no specific studies that tell us definitively that running in a fasting state is a superior training intervention.
JM: So, I would be careful about that if I was a marathoner looking for that “competitive advantage”. I would be careful to, if you allow me to say it, I would be careful to drink that Kool-Aid quite yet. If you’re drinking it, you’re drinking it because the practitioners have told you it’s true. If you’re drinking it, you’re not drinking it because the scientists have proven or provided evidence that it’s true.
JJ: I think the importance of the long run now, you’ve definitely given us a couple mechanisms about why it’s important but I think it’s just something that people new to the sport don’t understand the importance of it. To see that you’re highlighting it is one of the keys to your training just validates the importance of it.
JM: Yeah, you’re right, it has to happen. It has to happen, I think.
JJ: So, let’s fast forward to September 25th and this is a Thursday on the track. You are doing 1000s and the rests get shorter. So 7×1000 and then you’re finishing with three 200s. Just tell me a little bit about this workout because there’s more rests in the beginning and then it gets cut down to three minutes and 15 seconds towards the end. I’m also curious about the speed of those 200s because there’s a two-minute walk in between those.
JM: So, in that case, if I recall correctly, the thought process there is number one, we are moving towards some of our goal competitions. For example, early October every year, we run a meet called Desert Twilight and that meet involves not only the best in the state competition in Arizona, but the meet director has done a brilliant job of bringing in quality out-of-state competition, like Braddock from Virginia, Mountain Brook from Alabama, Great Oaks from California. Again it always has, not just out-of-state teams, but really accomplished out-of-state teams, Redondo Union from California last year.
JM: So, we like to be ready for that meet and if we think if we’ve done the right things in June, July, August that we can provide a foundation for being prepared for a good effort in early October and running 7×1000 and cut down rests, particularly if we take those last two or three thousands and make them very much race specific. That is to say at a pace that is consistent with goal 5K pace or maybe even faster than goal 5Kk pace for a few of those final thousands. That just, if you would please, provides a race-specific stimulus. So that’s the prime rationale. I don’t worry so much about this idea. Because no one’s ever really documented this idea that if you do a workout, you don’t benefit from it for 21 days. I don’t see any evidence for that.
JJ: I hadn’t heard that actually.
JM: Well, I’ve heard it in a California clinic a couple of times over the years. Not so much in the last three to four years, but I remember the first three or four years I went, I’d hear it repeatedly, that it takes 21 days for a workout to benefit. I would say it probably takes about 21 milliseconds because when you induce a stimulus, whether it’s brought about by a 90-minute long run or 7×1000 or whatever the nature of the stimulus, skeletal muscle will respond and initiate adaptation, initiate a DNA-specific response, an RNA-specific response, a protein-specific response. That response and eventual adaptation will initiate immediately. It’s a specific training session and it hopefully provides for the athlete, again, primarily an aerobic development training, and aerobic power development training stimulus but also involves a specificity with regard to the race pace they’re likely to feel in that upcoming race which for us is a goal race every year.
JJ: Well, let’s fast-forward and maybe I’m focusing on this too much, but I didn’t understand it. On October 6th, which is a Monday, there’s the steady distance run, aerobic hill surges and then the beast hill circuit, then a tempo run, and steady distance run. I don’t want to take too long going through all these workouts. The last thing is eight sets of 20-second accelerations with 40 second jog recovery. So do you mind explaining what that is and how that looks?
JM: Yes, so that’s an idea or a concept, and this one I’ve moved away from a little bit and I’ll explain that in a moment, but the idea would be that when you’re running 20 seconds up-tempo, you can run relatively fast. And, what would be one of the benefits of running relatively quickly? Well one benefit of running relatively quickly is, again, there’s more comprehensive or global motor unit recruitment or muscle fiber recruitment. That being said, you don’t see that component of a workout kind interspersed throughout the entire training cycle. Whereas, I think what I’m moving toward increasingly is making sure that, that fast running, whether it’s 20 seconds of fast running or maybe even a 68-second sprint times six. But, that fast running is something that permeates all parts of the training cycle year-round.
JM: So, the template I sent you, is one that’s forward-looking obviously, because it talks about September, October, November. But as I finalize it, one of the things that I’ve done, this summer at least, is we made a commitment to that fast running, for example, doing sprints a couple of times a week. Essentially also this summer.
JJ: And when you say sprints, you’re talking about 60 meters roughly as fast as they can go.
JM: Yeah. So indeed, even more extreme than just 20 seconds of up-tempo or strides. But yes, six seconds, maybe 60 meters, maybe 50 meters of just, if you would please, near maximal horizontal movement velocity, about as fast as you can go.
JJ: And then tell me, I forget exactly how you framed this, but at the Boulder Running Clinics, you were talking about the fact that, and I really took this to heart because if I listen to you closely, I would need to change what I do with, say, milers in what I would term as a speed development part of a workout, but you’re doing this more than once a week. And, correct me if I’m wrong that you said if you’re doing something just once a week, you’re probably not really training that quality. Is that fair?
JM: Well, probably not optimizing that particular quality. So, for example, if you take, and I don’t know if I drew the analogy when I was in Boulder, but if you take, for example, strength training. Let’s just talk about lifting weights to get stronger, okay? We know that someone who lifts weights once a week versus someone who lifts weights three times a week. The person who lifts weights three times a week, if the program is appropriately designed to enhance strength, the person who lifts three times a week will probably get stronger than the person who lifts once a week, just in general. Just as a general thought. Three times in seven days, likely superior to one time in seven days. And so I think when I think about some of the other domains of training like resistance training, when I think about maintaining or enhancing strength, I typically think about training a minimum of two times per week, maybe three times per week depending on what I want to achieve.
JM: But with that in mind, if I was to sprint maybe 6×60 meters once a week, there’s no doubt there’s a benefit. Again, I’ll just go back to muscle fiber recruitment. You’re activating muscle fibers, you’re stimulating muscle fibers that otherwise might not be stimulated, or recruited, or activated in the case of a distance runner and that could have benefits for you in the last 100 meters of a race. That could have benefits for you in terms of some incremental aerobic development. So I think there’s a value, but I think to really enhance the value or what you and I might call speed development or sprint training, to enhance the value, my intuition is it likely needs to occur at least a couple times within a seven-day period.
JJ: Yeah. Perfect. Well, I know this is something that I want implement in my coaching is doing it more often. I think this totally makes sense.
JM: We’re trying it. Hopefully it’s going to work for us too.
JJ: There’s so much we could talk about. We’ve got about 15 minutes left and I want to get through the training, but then I want to talk about your general strength in plyometric training as well. Let’s fast forward to Mt. SAC, so October 25th. My question is, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re on a Tuesday, Thursday, and then race Saturday schedule that week?
JM: Did we do that that week, as I thought about that week, did I actually have us run a workout on Thursday or did I have the workout on Monday, Wednesday?
JJ: No, it says Thursday. Oh, it’s not much of a workout. It’s 10 minutes steady distance, 10 minutes tempo, 10 minutes steady distance, and then it cuts off on the document. Maybe that was all it was supposed to be, but then a 1000 and then a 1000 and then five 200s.
JM: Okay, okay, and that was on Thursday?
JJ: Yeah, that was on Thursday and then Friday 30 minutes relaxed distance run and then the race on Saturday. And please know that I’m not trying to say by you sharing this, “Oh my gosh, Jeff you have to do this workout because we want to hear about it come October 25th.” Maybe the days are just wrong, but that same week on Tuesday it was a run where it was 10 minutes steady, 10 minutes tempo, 3 minutes recovery, 10 minutes tempo, 5 minutes steady, and then six sets of the dog leg ascent.
JM: Okay. I’m just opening up the file now, too, just to make sure I’m literally on the same page as you.
JJ: Yeah. Exactly.
JM: It’s okay. Oh yeah, that’s right. That’s right. So that Tuesday, the idea would be a full workout for lack of a better phrase.
JJ: Yeah, and that was my main question is that Mt. SAC, for people who don’t know, is going to be a very important, not only an important meet because it’s such a classic great course, but you’re going to see just fantastic, national caliber teams, which for your team trying to make NXN is important and so that was my most simple question is do you consider Tuesday’s workout before that Saturday race hard or are you resting a little bit by making Tuesday a little bit easier?
JM: No, we’re not resting on that Tuesday. Now, we’re not making it any harder. We’re doing full volume as you can see there, but we’re not making it any harder. So we’re not telling the student-athletes, for example, that they need to run them as hard as humanly possible because four days later they’re going to see the switchbacks and poop out and reservoir at the famous Mt. SAC course. We’re just maintaining a commitment to ascent and descent in our training through hills that is hopefully specific to the challenge we’ll see at Mt. SAC. For example, going up the switchbacks at Mt. SAC, as you know, takes multiple minutes. That’s not a 30 second climb or a 45 second climb. It takes a little longer to get from the base of the switchbacks all the way to the crest. So with those two minute, 30 second ascents we’re inducing or imposing a stimulus and a challenge that is not inconsistent with, or not dramatically different from some aspects of the challenge of the switchbacks at Mt. SAC. So it’s full workout on Tuesday and we maintain our commitment to the components that helped us hopefully prepare for Mt. SAC.
JM: Whereas on Thursday, I had forgotten I put that down, but on Thursday, the one thing I will say, is the tempo components, that so-called 10-minute sustained tempo run, not to mention the thousands and 200s, they’re very much restrained. And you can see, for example, that I’ve written down that the 200s have self-selected walk recovery. They’re also, although it isn’t indicated there, they’re also a self-selected pace.
JJ: Okay. Yeah.
JM: So no student-athlete is being forced to run hard. Not that we do that in general. We try to get more latitude as we draw closer to goal races and just make sure that we maintain a commitment to the training stimuli we’ve imposed previously but at the same time that total training session involved about 41 minutes of running on Thursday whereas you can see the Tuesday session involved about 75 minutes of running.
JJ: Right. Okay. Great. Well, there’s a few more things in the training, and one of the things that I love about the High School Running Coach format is our Q&A. So, I almost think it’s a good cliffhanger right now that the last couple weeks people can ask questions on the Q&A. But, let’s fast forward to, why don’t you just talk and give us an overview of your integrated general strength and plyometric training documents. I’m not going to go through what exercises are in each routine, but I do think it’s interesting that you’re basically saying a lot of these are continuous for 8 to 10 minutes, or I believe one of the last ones is continuous for 16 to 20 minutes, that’s the more strength and stabilization one. But yeah, just talk about how these fit in, are you doing them after the workout, with the stabilization are they doing that with shoes or barefoot? Just things like that.
JM: So the general idea Jay is that, first I think general strength training is likely extremely valuable for young physically adolescent and maturing student-athletes. Many of whom in my experience, at least in Arizona at the schools I coached at for example, had no prior resistance training experience. So the opportunity to strengthen their bodies is valuable. And as you and I have talked about it may not directly make them faster, but it may indirectly make them faster in the sense that as you strengthen the body or system, that system might therefore be predicted to be able to tolerate more workload over time, and if it tolerates more workload over time, perhaps it can perform better over time.
JM: I think there’s an indirect benefit and it’s very intuitive from general strength training. Another rationale is to perform it after the run training session or endurance training session, because now there is good evidence that’s come out in the last three to four years in particular, suggesting you can amplify or enhance or extend the mitochondrial stimulus by conducting some strength training immediately after a bout of endurance training.
JM: In other words if you’re wondering about order, some of the data would suggest the order should be endurance, then strength training. So that’s the rationale. Then the other rationale is this, in a perfect world, however that’s defined for each of us, in a perfect world if we had unlimited time, maybe I would take the student-athletes into the weight room and train for 30, 45, 50 minutes, I’m not sure, but these are student-athletes, and they have constrained time and they have extensive academic commitments. So one of the things that we try to do more so this summer than before, is to begin to introduce some form of supplemental training essentially every single day but to do it in small doses like 15 minutes. So if you accumulated 15 minutes of general strength training or so called core training or stabilization training, call it what you will, if you introduce that and incorporated that, 15 minutes times seven days per week gives you 105 minutes per week, that’s almost two hours of supplemental training.
JM: But what it doesn’t do is, if it’s only 15 minutes a day, it doesn’t take that student-athlete away from a significant academic commitment. It’s not committing an hour which would take him away from, or her away from studying for a biology test or calculus test, and so it really helps us honor the mantra of academics first. So in summary, general strength I think fits together for us at many levels based on the way we’ve designed and the way we perceive of it, and hopefully it does indeed maintain kind of a commitment to the idea of a student-athlete.
JJ: Great. In your years coaching at the high school level, has this evolved? Is it something that you’ve had for many years or you’ve added more recently? Or with some of the plyometric exercises, have those always been part of it or have you added those in recent years?
JM: I’ve added those, you’ve helped convince me as the merits to general strength over the years, so you’ve been an influence on me, and there’s good scientific data in my assessment, at least now that’s really evolved arguably beginning back in the late 90s. And continuing to evolve and be published as recently 2014. There’s good data suggesting plyometric training can contribute to enhanced running performance perhaps by virtue improving running economy. But I think plyometric training has been repeatedly shown to exert a positive influence on endurance performance capability.
JM: So one of the things that I came to is if I had only finite time, if I had 15 minutes or 20 minutes or 12 minutes and I wanted to engage some supplemental training, what I want to do is I want to strengthen their bodies with some of these movement patterns, specific strength training movements such as some of the ones you use and I want to use or incorporate complementary, age appropriate plyometrics, so that perhaps we can help incremental running economy and maybe their running performances through plyometrics. So that’s why I call it, “Integrated General Strength and Plyometric Training.”
JJ: Well what I want to end with, Jeff, is just a simple idea of I think getting kids out for the team and creating a culture where kids want to run. And just tell us a little bit about how you’ve done that, both at Xavier, now having to do it at a new high school at Desert Vista. Just tell me a little bit about what you think is important and maybe with the idea that this is a younger coach or a coach that’s new to the sport, what advice you would give them as they try and grow their program?
JM: Well, my challenge is a bit unique. I do have experience as a coach, obviously I’m not a young or a new coach. My disadvantage, is I’m an off campus coach.
JM: So, I’m not part of their lives, minute to minute, day to day as they pursue their academic endeavors on campus, and that is a disadvantage, I suspect, at least based on my first years of coaching when I was on campus, prior to coming to Arizona. Being on campus was an advantage. So for me, when asked the question how do I encourage involvement, I think the most powerful agents for that, are the student-athletes themselves. And so what needs to be generated, in my humble assessment, at least one approach to doing this, is a core group of student-athletes who are uniquely committed to building what I’ll term a sense of family. A sense of family. And I have this year a group of senior leaders and junior leaders who have that unique commitment stronger than I’ve ever seen before, and they have been the agents for trying to promote our program. They are the ones in the school, minute to minute, day to day, who can talk about the unique friendships and the unique challenges that attend to our program, because the other disadvantage we have,is that we’re asking high school age student-athletes to practice at 5:00 AM.
JJ: Yeah, that’s crazy.
JM: That’s tough. And so we’ll have 45 to 50 girls who will stay with the program this fall, probably, when we start official practice next week, and that’s a special 45 to 50 girls because they understand that it’s not optional just because you wake up and you’re tired one morning.
JM: You’ve got to make the commitment and be all in, and if you’re all in, we’re all behind you. So I think having that core group of peer leaders who can, if you will, impart a message of family, of commitment to each other, of loyalty to each other, of love for each other, of academic support for each other, for me that’s how that team and that family and that culture gets built by the peer leaders, and so I don’t play a huge role in the minute to minute development of that, as much as I’d like to. I have to have great student-athletes, and again, I’m just blessed right now. My core group leaders are just phenomenal and have really built a sense of family like I have not seen before in our current group of girls as a team.
JJ: That’s great, and that’s saying a lot given the other teams you’ve been associated with in the past. Well, why don’t we finish with this. I mean, this might date the recording of this three months from now, 12 months from now.
JM: Okay, fair enough.
JJ: But what are you looking forward to? We’re speaking August 5th in 2014 and there’s the NXN meet in December, there’s the State meet prior to that. What do you look forward to when you’re just starting the season?
JM: What we want to do, Jay, and I can be very simple, because it’s a mantra for us, it’s a defining mantras. We want to be the best we can be. So I will tell you with some embarrassment, there was a time in my coaching career when I was probably unfairly and unduly focused on, for example, winning State Championships. But now, what I’ve realized, and again it just reminds me that I’m not a particularly bright guy, now what I’ve realized, at least in my opinion, my assessment, is that coaching is about no more and no less than serving young student-athletes. If we challenge them to be the best they can be, for example, and they train with us day to day as coaches in the coaching staff, if we can really challenge them to be the best they can be and to build a devotion and a commitment to each other and honor the process of trying to be the best they can be, not only will that carry over into their academic conduct and their conduct as citizens, and therefore enhance their lives, but Jay, if we can be the best that we’re capable of being every day in our practice endeavors and our academic endeavors and our friendships, then what we do competitively, it’ll all come together.
JM: I have a faith that it’ll all come together and we can run to potential, and I think we did that last year by and large. I think we’ll do it this year, so even though we’ve had the privilege of some nice pre-season notoriety, it really isn’t a focus for us. It’s just about going back and focusing on being the best we can be, honoring a process that involves preparation to be the best we can be, and trusting that we will indeed perform to our potential if we are the best we can be.
JJ: Great. Well, Jeff, this has been fantastic and I’m looking forward to seeing what questions are asked throughout this month, but thank you so much for the training documents you’ve put together. I look forward to hearing what the response is from all of our membership.
JM: Well I hope it’s a good response. Anything I can do to support you, my friend, I’ll do. You know you’re one of my most admired and closest friends in the world. I have uncompromising respect for you, so I appreciate you giving up so much time to allow me to share the time with you and I look forward, as I always do with you, to staying in contact, and I’m sure we’ll be in contact sooner rather than later.
JJ: Alright Jeff, thanks.
JM: Thanks Jay, have a good afternoon.
JJ: Alright, bye-bye.
JM: Bye sir.