When excellence is in sight, good is not enough
I first read that quote by coach Joe Vigil when I was a freshman in college attending Malone College (now university) in Canton, Ohio. I was lucky to have had the great privilege of being coached by Jack Hazen and Lisa Rainsberger.
My brother was already attending Malone prior to my being accepted into the university so was great to already have family there.
I was a 9.46 2-miler and 4.24 miler in high school. It might seem fast to some, but I wasn’t getting a lot of ‘looks’ from many schools across the country (that usually is set aside for the sub-9.00, 4.05 or under types).
I had two offers. Ohio State and Malone University.
I went with Malone for three reasons. One, my brother was already attending, two, Jack Hazen and the storied tradition of the malone university running teams, and last but surely not least, the academic history of the institution.
I firmly believe in Providence and the big man upstairs new my heart and that I needed to be in the right environment. I found that environment at Malone University.
I met olympic distance coach and world-renowned exercise physiologist Joe Vigil via coach hazen. He was the head track and cross country coach at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado for over 30 years. Coach Hazen has a similar trait in that he has been at Malone for over 30 years. Talk about dedication!
I have since ran into Vigil at various road races over the years as I have continued to pursue the art of running. He is a very straight forward individual.
We place limits on ourselves. I am capable of this but surely that is something I could never do. So and so ran X time.
He or she must have more talent than me. I’ll never match that. This isn’t what Vigil taught his athletes and I’ll explain further shortly. There was nothing impossible with Vigil.
In 2007 I met Lisa Rainsberger, the last American female to win the Boston Marathon (2.34.04), two-time Chicago marathon winner and a 2.28 marathoner in her racing days.
I had the enormous opportunity to be coached by this magnificent athlete and person for 3 years.
Below I have attached powerful advice tips that they taught me in the years I spent with them that will, I hope, impact your life in some way.
‘It is just work‘ lisa would yell at me while doing solo repeat miles at the Cheyenne Mountain High School track (6400 feet elevation). I ran my best marathon with no training partners, workouts at the track were conducted with lisa watching.
To be great, you simply just need to do the work and be razor sharp in your focus.
*Groups are great but remember the best runners in the past trained alone without all the gadgets and technology we have today.
Lisa would tell me her stories about when she won boston where they didn’t have prize money (1985, the year she won, was the last non-money winning year), gels or gatorade.
Water was it. I saw a personally hand-written letter from President Reagen in her home congratulating her on her Boston victory.
I thought to myself, ‘now this is what right looks like, what motivation looks like’.
Someone who devotes heart, mind and soul into a task and no matter what, doesn’t give in until it is completed to standard.
*Enjoy your running. Lisa is all about working hard but she has a unique sense of keeping her athletes grounded.
If your not enjoying training and can’t find a sense of purpose with it then move on, find something else you can devote your heart to.
*If something isn’t working with training, find the solution. Lisa and I, like all coaches and their athletes, from time to time, had our disagreements but looking back, the majority of the time, Lisa was right on with pointing me in the right direction.
We were scratching our heads why I was racing so badly in 2007. She suggested I get my blood tested to see if I wasn’t running low on anything. I was.
It turned out I was extremely low on ferritin or iron, which is a protein that transports iron within the blood. If you run low on it, your body fatigues drastically.
She taught me to think of looking into all angles with your training. I started taking iron supplements, raised my blood ferritin level from 21ml.kg to 63ml.kg and ended up running two personal bests. A 1.07.06 half and 2.19.35 marathon.
Listen to your coaches!
- Focus on being a good person over being a good athlete. Coach Hazen is a class act and he, like Vigil, demanded working as a team.Vigil was quoted as saying, ‘you have to be ready to step up for your team, if your not willing to contribute, in some way, you have no business being on this team‘.
- This was the Hazen-environment we had at Malone. Accolades and race times are great but in the big picture they aren’t worth their weight in gold if you aren’t in the helping business.
- There are 24 hours in a day. What are you doing the other hours to better your running?
Hazen always talked about the little things you do during the week can make or break months worth of hard work. It isn’t just putting one foot in front of the other. What are you doing outside of the physical activity to improve as an athlete? He made sure we thought about that constantly.
4. There is power in the group. It could also be called ‘group training’.
There are many of these type teams around the country such as the Hansons or Oregon Distance Project to name only a couple of the many running teams training across the country. No one is less important than the next.
All must contribute. I had never trained with runners at or above my running capability prior to coming to Malone University. I learned the importance of being surrounded by those who fully understand the time and energy it takes to achieve the same goals.
*Believe in the Impossible.Although I was never personally coached by coach vigil. The few occurrences I had with him while running for Malone University and the many chance encounters I have had with him since graduation changed my life.
He has an aura about him that is hard to explain and you had better come to the plate ready to hit a home run when it comes to running or anything else you do in life.
*Balance. Vigil and Hazen are both professors so academia came first, running second. Don’t overlook the most important things in life over your running.
You maximize your ability by finding balance in all areas of your life. Don’t neglect one for the sake of the other. Work to balance it all as vigil says,
If your coach asks for two-a-days,do two-a-days, there are 24 hours in day, if there are a certain amount of things you have to do, compartmentalize them so you can do it all
* Think Big, Dream Big Vigil, like coach Rainsberger and Hazen are larger than life people but they are no better than you or I.
What makes them unique is that they devote their heart, soul and mind’s to excellence. No half-hearted pursuits or efforts. You are either giving 100% or don’t try at all.
I consider all of them the biggest mentors I have had thus far in my career, probably to be un-matched. All extremely dedicated and driven experts.
I had conversations with coach vigil after I broke the 2.20 marathon barrier. We had spoke over the phone and I had told him during that effort I hit the 20-mile mark in 1.44.05 (5.11 per mile average or 2.16.15 marathon pace).
I had read his book Road to the Top: A Systematic Approach to Training Distance Runner while in college and bought it again two years ago online from him and in true Vigil fashion he writes in the inside cover,
Nate, I know you can run way below 2.15, live your dreams
Whatever goal you have. You can accomplish it. It is an overused phrase but valid. We far too often let go when things get too complicated.
Coach Vigil always says, ‘Be an impact person‘ You polish up on things you can control and let go of the things that you cannot as an athlete.
Running only gets complicated when we make out to be. Times and race efforts take the place of appreciating all the hard work we do and the supportive people and loved ones that are around us. It doesn’t have to be like that.
You will run your best when you trust in your work, let go of stress and listen wholeheartedly to coaches such as these.
They impacted my life and hope they, through this post, will impact yours as well.