Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Stretching The Mind: USATF/IAAF Elite Endurance Academy

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Last week I was fortunate to attend the USATF/IAAF Elite Endurance Academy at the USOC Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista California. This is the highest level coaching certification available both nationally and international. It brought together some of the most accomplished and knowledgeable coaches and researchers from around the world.

~~  For my roommate, Kathy Butler (two time British and Canadian Olympian, multiple NCAA champ, All-American, yada yada yada...) and me (Ummm, yeah. I got nothin') our days began with the alarm sounding at 5:25 as we, bleary-eyed, set out for our pre-dawn run. Then shower, van drive to the OTC, breakfast and then...commence sitting and squeezing A LOT of stuff into our itty-bitty brains for the next 12 hours. (45-60 min breaks for lunch and dinner). AND that was repeated for the week.

Each morning I noticed my eyes getting a bit more blood-shot with the accumulating exhaustion. And yet, we all push on. And once we were all together again for the day, time froze, and the day became another day. The week became a blur of running and projects and discovering things we didn't know, reinforcing things we did know, and challenging long held assumptions.

The Good:

The food at the OTC ROCKS!!! I have NEVER eaten that well for a week straight. Never.

The Chula Vista campus is beautiful. And, I think the guys liked that our classroom was next to the beach volleyball facility. And the weather in southern California in January???? Well, I don't really think I need to say much. Perfect.

The running:  I ran really fast (for me) last week - I had planned my training thus: The week before I left, knowing that I would have little time available to run during the Academy, I ran an 'over mileage' week.  My plan for the week in Chula Vista called for shorter and faster runs, and I got that! All the people I ran with are faster than me, and I worked it, and I discovered that I loved it (Experiment = success). The high point of this was running 5 miles with Deena Kastor and actually being able to keep up fairly comfortably. I was absolutely expecting to be left far behind as 10 of us (all much faster than me) took to the dark streets. But I didn't totally suck on that day. And for that I am thankful and a little proud :)

And while I foolishly forgot to bring an actual photo of the shot I took of Deena at the finish line of the 2013 Bolder Boulder, I did get her to sign a print-out copy of it. Next time I'll plan better!

The faculty:  Not only did we have the opportunity to learn from the the most accomplished coaches, researchers, and athletes, we also ate with them, lived with them, and ran with them. You learn a lot in the classroom, but where the learning really happens is at the lunch and dinner tables, hanging out in the sun during breaks, and discussing and debating with other classmates.

I think everyone's favorite instructor to admire in fear and trembling was Gunter Lange - the formidable and uber knowledgeable, somewhat opinionated, German from the IAAF (now based in Jakarta).

Gunter has a dry, German, sense of humor, and began every lecture with a slide of a convoluted flow chart (so small we could not actually read it!), with the comment:
"And zo vee beeegin here. Deez is vhat vee muzt know. Ya?" (Chuckle chuckle chuckle.)
  “Learning is not child's play; we cannot learn without pain.” ~ Aristotle
And then there is Joe Vigil, who I met almost a year ago at the USATF Distance Summit West. At age 84, with a wicked sharp mind, he is arguably the grandfather, or the Godfather, of distance running. He oozes running from his pores and an aura of running invisibly hovers about his being. He is a student and lover running culture - and is at his most animated as he tells stories of running adventures.

Add in: Robert Chapman, Iain Hunter, Don Greene, Liz Broad, Randy Wilber, Will Wu, Joaquim Cruz, Deena Kastor, and PattiSue Plumer and you have assembled in one place some of the most knowledgeable, cutting edge coaches, researchers, sports nutrition experts, sport psychologists, and athletes. And, add to that the experience of the 'students': Successful private elite coaches, coaches at Division I universities, successful high school and club programs, and on and on, and you can't help but soak it all in. Thanks to the awe inspiring organizational skills of Terry Crawford, the USATF Director of Coaching, (and Reny Colton!), this Academy went off without a hitch.

One of the cool things about these clinics is how you come to know your classmates over the course of the week. I knew a few going into this, and had met some this past July at the USATF L2 course in Hayward California, but most were strangers to me. By the end of the week were one united group - we had run together, eaten together, stressed together, complained together, commiserated together, stressed some more, and on and on...And at the end of the week we were different people, different coaches, and we became both friends and colleagues.

This is as much about the community of coaches - all learning and exploring and experimenting and sharing and growing - as anything else. We are all here because we want to be better at what we do. We want to learn more. We want to contribute to the body of knowledge already out there. We are all curious and hungry for all the sustenance we are offered. And we gobble it up.
“The more you know, the more you know you don't know.” ~ Aristotle
~~  On Saturday, after our morning presentations, Kathy and I return to the hotel with one goal in mind: to finally reach the shore which we fell short of during our morning runs. We have already run that morning but the day is so glorious and we are so relieved to be 'done' with this part of the whole process (we still have a 6 month project and report ahead of us) that we set out west and will not turn back until we reach the water. We both have young daughters who needs must have shells. We are on a mission.

 And we make it! And we find shells.

~~ The week ends with a gala at the OTC with guest speaker Bob Larson (Meb's coach).

And then partying into the wee-hours with new friends and colleagues...

~~ Recovering from this week rivals marathon recovery. But the mental fitness, the knowledge and deep understanding, the experience of being in this physical place for a week surrounded by examples of excellence and mastery - that will never be lost.

And I am again changed by this experience. I was a bit terrified going into to this. No, I was very terrified, but I survived. No. Actually I did much more than that.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.”  ~ Anaïs Nin


  1. That looks like a fabulous week. Wow. Love all the quotes too. What a great experience that will help you in all aspects of running and life.

  2. Great summary Caolin!! It's taken me all week to digest and understand the information from last week.


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