Joe Douglas, founder of the Santa Monica Track Club (SMTC), is one of the greatest track minds of all time. His record of preparing athletes for major international competitions is impressive: SMTC athletes have won 27 Olympic medals, including 19 gold; won 18 world championships; and set or tied 37 world records and 60 American records.
Douglas was planning to retire. But he has too much knowledge to rest—and he loves runners. So stay relaxed and read on to gain the insights of this track genius.
1. The variables of training
Each athlete has to be assessed and trained individually. When I get an athlete, I give him a segment—let’s say a couple of 600s. I watch the athlete and I watch his recovery. If it’s a slower 600, I give him maybe one more lap. If it’s fast, I may give him two or two and a half laps. Then I give him something easy and see how fast he recovers. Then I decide if I should give him quarters, 200s or stop the workout.
Different people come with different talents, but all runners need to be aerobic and able to supply oxygen at a certain tempo for a long period of time and have lactic acid tolerance.
I’ll give you an example. David Mack could run the 10K in 30 minutes and a 44.5 in the 400. Earl Jones was the same way—3:36.1 in the 1,500, 44.1 in the 400. Similar times, but the training changed a little for each. David’s easy run could be nine miles; other athletes don’t run over six or seven on an easy run. Maybe they do three miles on an easy run. But all runners have to have aerobic and anaerobic work.
2. Weights don’t make you faster
I don’t use many drills—few have a carry over to running. Aerobic work has to be specifc to running movements. I do give certain weights to athletes—leg extensions and curls. But, I don’t use heavy weights. Every time you put on a pound, it takes an additional four to 12 more foot-pounds of force to move your body. When you see somebody put on 15 pounds and run fast, you can suspect drugs.
3.Weight train for injury prevention and motivation
Weight training doesn’t help runners move faster. But it can prevent injuries and it’s motivational. That’s why I use it.
Runners should do a little work on their abdominals, because it helps keep their body mechanics comfortable. Training biceps and triceps doesn’t do anything in running. If you were running on your hands it might be good, but you’re not. I had Johnny Gray—skinny as a rail—weight train just to motivate him and prevent injury.
4. Bounding and plyos
I use some bounding and plyometrics. But, when the runner’s foot leaves the ground on these exercises, I want it at a 45-degree angle. This is my theory—not a fact: it helps the nerve recruit more fast-twitch fbers.
I use only straight-ahead plyos. For general exercise, and for football and basketball players, it’s good to do plyometrics to the side. Not runners.
5. Strength doesn’t matter—or mean anything
Tell me what strength is. I hear about strength all the time. I quit giving lectures, because I heard too many coaches saying, “You gotta be strong.” I would ask them, “What is strength? Would you defne it for me?”
I’ve had athletes say, “Boy, he’s a strong runner.” And I look at them,, because I honestly don’t know what they’re talking about. Does it mean he won the race? Does it mean he takes long steps? Does it mean he has a big chest? Does it mean he can go for a long time? Does it mean it’s anaerobic? Aerobic? What does it mean? I don’t know.
If you look at most of the great milers, they’re all pretty slender. And it’s the same with the half milers. Joe King is tall, but skinny as a rail. And if you look at Johnny Gray, Johnny was 6’4″ and 165 pounds.. Give me a break.
6. Don’t overstretch
I make runners stretch after a warm-up and before they run, but not too much.
I think most injuries occur because people stretch too much. I think that is documented by research—I know it is. So stretching should be minimal.
7. Trust yourself
You run the race, not the coach. So, be focused, disciplined and have trust in your ability. Learn to have confdence in yourself—even if you come from behind in a race. Sometimes, the other runners go out too fast and you let them go. Run your tempo—not theirs, unless you’re getting points for your team then you follow and kick if you’re good enough.
8. Run through the finish
I think it’s important for you to learn to run through the fnish. I had an athlete named George Kersh. He ran a 1:44 fat 800. He slowed down at the very end—in the last few meters—and got passed by two people. He missed the Olympic games. In practice, run through the line.
9. Wait to kick
Your fnal kick shouldn’t start until the last 60 meters. Research says no one can run all out more than 10 seconds. But I don’t believe that. I think it’s about eight or nine seconds. If you watch a 100-meter dash, everyone slows down at the end. So, I don’t believe you can go 10 seconds.
In the 1988 Olympic games, Danny Everett went out in a good tempo. But someone asked him, “Why don’t you start kicking at the 150?” So he did.. I saw what he was doing and thought, “You can’t kick from 150.” Of course he got passed and didn’t win. That’s the last time Danny ever did that.
10. Listen to your coach
If you’re running your best race, listen to what your coach tells you. Concentrate only on that, and keep it simple. Don’t worry about running a certain time, because once you say, “I have to run this fast,” you’ve already spent some energy—and you’re going to need all the energy you have. So just listen to your coach and the tempo he tells you to run.
Everyone used to criticize Carl Lewis, saying he didn’t have a good start, but praise him for his great kick. Absolutely wrong! Carl spread his energy evenly. He would drive out of the blocks and accelerate for almost 70 meters. And everybody in the 100 slows down in the last 10 to 20 meters of the race. So the question is who slows down the least?
If you study the flm, Carl was decelerating less than others. He came out fast, but he was taught to come out to where you continue accelerating and not slow down. Most sprinters don’t do that.
12. Key point for 800 runners
Here’s a quick story. In the 800, most Americans go out too fast, then slow down in the second 200. Francis Santin just started to run the 800—she’s a two fat. At the 200 mark, she is usually behind, catching up at the 400 and leading at the 600 and at the tape. My point is: pick up the effort, maintain that effort and stay relaxed.
For a high school kid, running an even split or tempo is key. Take Wilson Kipketer’s world record race, when he timed 1:41.2, for example. His frst lap was a mid-49 and his second a mid-51. They were very close. Sebastian Coe is another example. He only had a 1.1-second split difference when he set the 800 world record.
I give tempo runs to help runners learn their tempo. Say you want to run a 1:43 for the 800. Then what I want is for you to do a 50.5 split and 51.5 split. If you want a 1:42 instead, then I want both splits to be between 50 and 51. That’s me giving a tempo.
Again, pick up the effort at each 200 and keep your arms relaxed. Maintain good body mechanics.
13. Spread your energy evenly
Another young athlete, 19 years old—I’m almost afraid to use his name. He was running the 400 in Europe. He went out and ran a 21.1 in the frst 200 meters, and his fnal time was 44.6. Smiling, he said, “I set a junior world record.” And I said,, “It was a bad race. You went out 21.1 and came back 23-something. That’s too much difference in a 400.” He went to Oslo and did it again.. I yelled at him all through Europe—”advising” him, I should say.
He listened to me at the Olympic games, though. He went out a half second slower—a 21.6. You know what his fnal time was? 43.87. Almost a second faster. He won the Olympics in 1988.
Earl Jones sometimes went out too fast, until I had to punch him in the nose. When I fnally got him to run the 1,500 evenly, he ran 3:36.1. And when the world record in the mile was set—almost every lap between 55 and 56—I was there. So, we’re talking about the concept of spreading your energy evenly. That doesn’t mean you can’t win some races by going out fast. But when you get into the big time, and you run your best race, you’d better spread it evenly or you’re not going to run a super time.
14. Don’t lift your knees, drive them
I know most coaches say lift your knees when running. I say don’t you EVER lift. Drive off with your foot and lead with your knee. Lift means you don’t fnish your stride length or get full force off the ground going into your center of gravity. What you want to do when you’re running is stay relaxed. You don’t need the tension.
15. Gravity matters
People always say, “Run on your toes.” NO!! Do not run on your toes! Do not run on your toes! Hit either on the ball of your foot or hit fat. Most great runners land on the ball of their foot. And, if you take a look at the great sprinters, you will sometimes see their heels hitting the track.
If you run on your toes, you will hit in front of your center of gravity. You have to brake, and then you are wasting energy; therefore you’re not going to run your best. If you let the foot come back and hit on the ball, it will be under the center of gravity.
And don’t bend at the butt. Run straight.
16. Circle the leg
When runners push off, I tell them to push off as long as they can. They should pick up the heel and circle the leg. It’s really an elliptical shape. I know that; but I tell them to circle the leg. Because if they bring a long lever through, it takes too much energy and work and then they have to use their thighs.
17. Hams and gams
Running is primarily the hamstrings and gastrocnemius. You don’t use the thighs. Your feet should hit underneath them, push off and then come up with a short lever to come through smooth. So, circle the leg. Lead with the knee. Hit on the ball of the foot and you’ll be under the center of gravity.
Also, stay relaxed.
18. Relax your arms—and your jaw
I usually suggest that the arms and legs be coordinated. I have some friends who are coaches tell runners, “Just move your arms.” That is fne if it makes their feet move faster while maintaining proper body mechanics. But I coach runners to move their legs faster, keeping their arms relaxed and moving in the same rhythm. I want the arms at about 90 degrees and the top of the arm going back and forth—not just the front of the arm. You want the muscles loose and hands relaxed.
Don’t tighten your jaw either. Keep that relaxed, too.
There have been great coaches who don’t have great results. The athletes they’re coaching are very talented, but not focused and disciplined. Take Carl Lewis, Johnny Gray and Sebastian Coe. These people are all extremely disciplined. They gave up a lot in their lives to be great athletes. I think an athlete is more successful by being positive and disciplining himself on and off the track.
I will tell you a true story. I was going to quit coaching two years ago, because present day athletes aren’t disciplined. They are busy partying, staying out. That’s not worth it to me. So, I had this young lady come up to me and she said, “I want to train.”
“What do you run?” She said, “Intermediate hurdles.” “No, thank you.”
“I can run the 800. I ran a 2:05,” the girl said. “I’ll lick the dirt off the foor if you coach me.”
“Oh my God,” I said.. “Now, I’m still going to coach.”
After that, she dropped to a two fat. And I think at this year’s Prefontaine meet, she would’ve run a 1:58 or 1:59 if she hadn’t tripped. She was just getting ready to pass Maria Mutola and she fell. But you know what makes her good? Attitude. Talent helps. But if you take somebody like Carl Lewis or Danny Everett—people who have been successful—they have a good attitude on and off the track.
I hope this helps high school kids, because, you know, they have a lot of choices to make. You can go be a doctor or a runner; you might want to be a great gardener or artist, or get married. And none of these are wrong, but some are harder roads to go down. And one of those hard roads is being a successful runner. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline.
20. Measuring success
Success is not measured in how fast you can run. It’s measured in you doing your best and making improvements—then you are a success. You don’t have to win the Olympics to be a success. I had a young man named Christian Murray from UCLA. He broke 3:46 twice and ran a 3:37. He’s the fastest 1,500 runner ever out of UCLA. He didn’t win the Olympics, but I consider him one of my best success stories. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I measure his success on great improvement.
21. Maturity comes differently for everyone
This is important. I’ve had athletes develop at different ages. For instance, Carl Lewis lost a lot of races when he was young. His sister could actually outrun him. It wasn’t until his junior year in high school that he matured to a level where he was good.
It comes later in life for most people. But everyone matures at a different level. So you can’t give up if someone is beating you today, because tomorrow or next year, or the year after, you may be beating that person. Just do the best you can, discipline yourself and stay at it. Set your goals and go after them.