John O’Malley: The thing that we started doing more recently in the last four or five years that I’ve noticed that has made us better is that we’ve run a new training system. One where everything is present at all times, and it’s just to a different degree. So in June we will be doing sprint work. We will be doing sprint mechanics. We will be doing light loads of even VO2 max. These are very light loads that are just anything that I would say are the high end aerobic work. It’s there. It’s all always present in our training system. It’s just the degree that the volume and the density of it, the frequency that we do it changes as you move on.
I think that once we started doing that, we started getting a lot better. That moved us away from the idea of having a three-month aerobic foundation build. One where you’re basically just running aerobically. That sort of foundation perspective that used to exist was not as effective.
That’s definitely something that once we started doing that we we really started getting a lot better.
Jay Johnson: I would love for you to use the terms base and foundation and – just say what you just said – but try and use those terms so that people understand what you’re talking about is different than what some people might say – “you just need to build base in the summer in June and July and the first couple of weeks of August” or “just build your base so that you can run faster later In cross-country.”
John O’Malley: Yes, that’s a huge mistake in my mind. You know traditionally the way I was taught in high school, and you know the literature I’ve read early on was essentially that you “build an aerobic base, and that’s your foundation.” The early literature from early on stated that your foundation of training is aerobic running which, to a degree, is true. But that’s not all that you should be doing in the three month basic building block training block.
I don’t ever want to get to a point with any kid on my team in which they are doing something that they haven’t done in three months. Therefore, when we talk about doing base or foundation now it’s it’s not just the aerobic work that may be the priority. In fact it is the priority. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not doing every other component of training that’s a part of our training system. We do 60 meter sprints, we do hills. If you were to look at our June program and our July program all of that would be present. You know Charlie Francis (sprint coach) once said you never want to get too far away from your ability to compete.
I’m not looking for us to compete in June or July. But I think there’s an element of what you’re setting the foundation for all of your work, not just your aerobic work. So that when you do go to it, and you want to emphasize it. And it’s going to be the real priority that was present in your system before. Now when you start to do it, the stimulus isn’t completely foreign, and it’s not something that will completely shock the system. You want an element of newness, but the newness to me is just the the volume increase and the emphasis. The newness is increasing the emphasis of that kind of work.
If we do minimal VO2 max work in July, we just name them economy quarters. Let’s say we are going to go off to the track, and we are going to run 12 easy quarters. We will run the quarters at our projected current VO2 max pace and be really conservative with it. That’s not to say compared to in October where we’re doing 1,200m and we’re adding variety in those paces. That’s a lot harder workout obviously but, it’s not completely foreign to them. So I’m very much a believer in our foundation is setting the foundation for all of our work. It’s present on some level, we don’t want to emphasize the specificity of it, but it’s present.
But you know you’re dealing with kids who’ve had an iPad or an iPhone almost their entire life. So what we have to assume is that this is an athlete that from a musculoskeletal standpoint isn’t as strong and can’t handle that same aerobic volume right away. You have to understand when they’re doing neuromuscular work, doing sprints, and doing some faster running that is strengthening these young runners. It’s strengthening their body in a way that is specific to the task that they’re going to do later this fall.
There are two questions I ask a kid other than “what is your name?”
The first question is “How are you feeling?” Let’s say we get an incoming freshman. The first day I’m going to say, “Hey come with me we’re going to run 15 minutes today.” And in that 15 minutes, I’m going to ask that kid and every kid in that group to the same two questions. Because you’re going to learn so much about that kid based on that response. And the second question I ask is “What other sports have you played or are playing?” And you know that immediately gives you a lot of information. The stuff you put out about general strength work and stuff like that is phenomenal, because that’s exactly what you get. The kid who has not played a sport his entire life, he’s coming to you at 14 years old like, “Running there’s no cost. I want to give it a good try. Heard great things about the sport and the program.” And you’re going to give him the same training as the kid isn’t playing soccer or basketball, or whatever. You know that doesn’t make sense. Then we have to go and within a certain time make this kid semi-athletic, and get himself prepared to actually handle that kind of a workload you are talking about.
So I’m in total agreement with you there. And that’s where you start. And talking about that foundation, you need to have all that stuff there to be able to do the work that those guys in the 1970’s were doing.
Jay Johnson: Yes. Exactly. So in your overview, we can hop into this document now that the same cross country training principles you already highlighted in your answer. Everything is present- period-always. Now here’s an interesting one. “We don’t count miles, we measure stress.” Can you talk a little bit about why you’re not counting miles?
John O’Malley: Yes. I’ve tried to put on there and bullet point things that are maybe slightly unconventional that we do, rather than just stuff that’s maybe seen with other coaches. So one of the things that people are shocked by, and that we do a little different ,is that we don’t we don’t count mileage.
And I always did it (count miles). You know I was always that 1990’s runner with the Runner’s World training log and adding up the mileage at the end of the week.
And when I look back on it, what that was training need to think about. The training log is great, I mean everybody should log their training. But what that log in the 1990’s allows you do with running
When I was running competitively, it was essentially training me to simplify my training to a number at the end of the week. And then add that to what was my yearly count. And I became obsessive about having a linear growth with that. Like my mileage needs to go up every week I would literally go out on Sunday being the last day of the week. I would literally go out on a Sunday and go tack on another five mile run after dinner if I didn’t get the mileage that I hit the week before.
So I started as a coach counting mileage like a lot of people did. And essentially what I’ve found myself to become as a coach is that I’m going to strip away things. You can measure a lot of stuff. You can do a lot of data collection as a coach and at some point it’s too much. And the information is not helpful. And you could be spending your time better monitoring your athletes in other ways.
So one thing that was liberating for me was eliminating counting miles and looking at what I want the athletes to be focusing on.
Focus on the critical training components of that training block. And the other stuff about mileage was not significant because I want them to be handle this workout, and this workout, and this workout in this week. The only way for them to do it is because the training is there and they’re in a certain psychological state of mind or whatever it is. We need to be able to cut that run, or cut that morning run, or to cut some mileage on this day so we can do the prioritized training, and then we need to do it. And if we’re not worried about the end of the week mileage count, and if we focus on the critical training components of that training block. Then we can make sure that we’re doing what we can do to get those done as best as we can. And sometimes those need to be cut too.
But if we’re trying to get those prioritized and we’re doing what we need to do between those to recover, then the mileage will cover itself. But the adaptations that we want, that’s really what we need to be concerned about.
So I stopped counting miles in that way. But look at, if you’re going to prioritize your training, and your training block is it a week, 10 days, 12 days, or whatever.
And then you say, “Well you know we definitely are going to prioritize the long run.” It’s going to be X miles or X amount of minutes. And we also want to do this kind of lactate threshold workout. And we want to make sure that workout is progressing and getting more difficult. Maybe it’s even getting more challenging. We’re going to have a larger training stimulus for lactate threshold. So we’re going to continue to do just that. And then we’re going to move on to some VO2 Max work. Let’s just say those are your priorities. If those are your priorities, and you’re wanting to get that stuff done well, you might need to cut a mile here or there. And if you are able to do that on. some of those other days you’re doing great.