Training Talk With John Cook: Highlights from's Live Show

March 5, 2010 Training Talk Main Page

The fifth edition of's Training Talk took place Thursday night and featured top US coach John Cook. Cook currently coaches many of the top Nike-sponsored US pros including World Championship 1,500m bronze medallist Shannon Rowbury, three-time US 1,500m champion Treniere Clement, 2008 US Olympian and 3:33 man at 1,500m Leonel Manzano, two-time NCAA 800m champ Jacob Hernandez, and David Torrence. Previously, Cook worked with Olympians Erin Donohue as well as Shalane Flangan, who cook guided to the bronze medal in the 10,000m at the Beijing Olympic Games.

Prior to becoming a pro coach, Cook was the men's coach at George Mason University for 19 years. While at GMU, he won the 1996 NCAA indoor title, coached Julius Achon to the collegiate record in the 800 (1:44.55) and coached Abdi Bile to the World Title at 1,500m in 1987.

The appearance of Cook on Training Talk generated a huge amount of buzz. readers sent us an unprecedented amount of questions prior to the show. We couldn't get to all of them during our 73 minutes with Mr. Cook but we did our best and the show was certainly Training Talk at its very best. No topic was off limits and Cook was his entertaining self throughout. We highly encourage you to listen to the interview via the embedded player, to download it to your computer, or to listen via iTunes.
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If you can't listen to the show, we've provided some highlights of the show below. We certainly feel like the next week's worth of Quotes of the Day could belong to John Cook and hope you get a chance to check them out.

On recruiting and meeting 1987 world champion at 1,500 meters Abdi Bile: (10:10):
"(Before coming to GMU), he had run 3:50 for 1,500 on a dirt track and like 1:50-something. I don't want to take credit for Abdi because I'll tell you, Abdi was a great athlete. He was a much better athlete than I was a coach ... and then it just kind of ensued. We kind of learned together. I was a young college coach and frankly, I really had to get myself together to help him out. I realized pretty early this kid was good. I mean, I'm not totally brain-dead; I mean he was very good. It took him about a year; I remember we went down to East Tennessee and Marcus O'Sullivan just ate him alive and he finished like 5th to 6th in the mile. He ran 4:05-4:06, but you could see this kid was gonna be good."

Editor's Note: Much later in the show around the 37 minute Mark, Cook said of Bile, "(I think he) was probably the greatest athlete I will ever coach."

Cook Talks About His Famous Drills (18:50):
"The drills have to be taught and it's about a 3-month period of just teaching and it's not just the drills; it's the whole deal. It's also the hurdle mobility ... to kind of simplify, we definitely have blocks of sprint drills and dynamic flexibility and static flexibility and also hurdle mobility and then what we call strength exercises and throws that we put in the blocks. And it's really kind of hard to explain because you have to kind of see it, but ... the drills, we do before the hardest workouts. We do drills probably three to four days per week. ... Not everybody does drills - really drills. Our drills can sometimes take 45 minutes ... we've experienced - Dan (Pfaff) and I - while doing drills with athletes, we could get the pulse up to 180 and 190, so obviously something's happening and it's not alactic. So I just believe that it really stimulates the nervous system in a big way and it builds tensile strength and of course the core strength and the connectors and the proprioceptors. So ... we use the drills a lot. But you've got to do them right. If you drill the wrong way, you can do more harm than good, and I would not listen to some guy pontificating on LetsRun without really knowing how to do drills. And I thank God I learned from Dan and from sprint coaches who were obviously very good at it, and also John Smith. John Smith helped me a lot with the drills. ... We do the drills sometimes after races, after workouts."

Cook talks about stress fractures and preventing injuries - an injured athlete is useless (24:55):
"Bill Bowerman used to say, "An injured athlete is useless." ... Some people think that stress fractures are just "part of the game." I can knock on a piece of wood here - we haven't had a stress fracture ... the last 15 or 20 years. And I just think it makes you so strong (in) the connectors ... unless you step in a hole or fall off a building. I just believe if an athlete is 90% fit, it's better than running 150 miles per week. And I'm not against running ... But I just think that if you mix it right and you bake the cake right, you can accomplish perhaps a lot more with less danger than by just simply kicking open the door and running."

Cook on mileage - "We do run." (29:30)
"I think 65 (miles per week) is definitely low. We do run more ... I don't want to create this aura here that we don't run - we do run. And I would say, getting back to Shalane (Flanagan), she would hit 85 and I think at one time in Mexico, she hit 90 and it was kind of like "Hallelujah." So we do run."

Cook talks about alactic sprinting - "sometimes it's 20 meters." (32:00)
"I just believe you gotta sprint. Sometimes it's - I hate to give this away - sometimes it's 20 meters. Sometimes it's 30 meters. ... If you do it all the time, I think you're gonna get pretty damn fast. We sprint all year round."

Talking about his much-publicized breakup with Shalane Flanagan and Erin Donohue - "It was actually time." (34:45)
"When that (Shalane Flanagan and Erin Donohue left the training group) happened, it was actually time. And I don't want to speak in a negative way. I like both of the girls a lot. And of course, I'm still with Shannon (Rowbury), but nothing's forever. People change and I think Shalane at that time was going to consider going to the marathon and frankly, I'm really not a marathon kind of guy. ... That's just not my deal. I don't get great gratification, as old as I am, that I need to coach somebody. After Abdi Bile, who I think was probably the greatest athlete I will ever coach, I didn't really need to be stroked. Some people will do it for nothing and they'll do it for whatever. I'm not going to do it for nothing. I'm also gonna do it my way, and I know you could say "(or) the highway," but it's not really that strict. But I'm just not into self-gratification that I have to coach somebody that's great."

Cook on how he focuses on running well when it counts (38:50):
"I'm not much into running American records in front of 30 people and maybe 20 trees. I think you need to be ready when it counts. ... I believe you gotta race. And I think you gotta race at the right time and be ready to go when it counts. If somebody runs an incredible time then they can't make the American team, that's bullsh*t!"

Cook praising Alberto Salazar (43:40):
"Alberto (Salazar) is like your uncle - he's a smart guy, he really is. ... I call him the Viet Cong - and that's a compliment - he will figure it out no matter what. ... What I learned from Alberto is that probably you can work a lot harder than [you're] willing to work. I'm talking about mileage-wise and so forth. I also learned that I needed to press the envelope a little bit more."

Cook talks about Galen Rupp and the difficult taks he faces in trying to medal in the 10,000 (50:45):
"I think (Galen) Rupp is in just an incredibly difficult situation - I mean, the 10k is just crazy. You gotta have the potential to run 26-something, that doesn't mean you're gonna run 26 at the Games or at the World Championships, but if you don't have the potential to run 26, how are you going to run with these guys that can if they decide to run 27-something? Because they'll close it in 1:55. To get medals at 10,000 and 5,000, I think is very difficult. I think to get medals at 1,500, you've got more of a chance. And to get medals in the 800, I think you've got more of a chance."

Cook talks about whether or not he thinks Alan Webb can be a dominant force again (59:00):
"I like Alan a lot. We used to talk quite a bit and I used to read his training logs and I'm really best friends with Scott (Razcko). And when this started to come to light, when something started brewing, I really did not know (about it). I really try to keep to myself as I'm really a closed off person - of course I'm giving you this interview which I normally don't do."

"When Razcko called me, he wanted me to help him out to keep Alan. But I never made a phone call or said anything. I said, 'Look if the kid decides to stay with you. I'll help you out. And if we want to coach him together, we can do that but it has to come from Alan.' But frankly, and I hope I don't get myself in trouble here. I think it was a monetary situation, it was an agent situation and it was predetermined. I was never ever in the picture - never. No one ever talked to me except Razcko.

Let's just call it the way it is. Alberto (Salzar) is a very powerful guy as he should be as he deserves it. And I probably wouldn't have done it anyway. Not because I'm being egotistical, I just think it would have been the wrong thing for me to do. Razcko and I are just too close. I was out of the loop.

Now can he get it back together? If he's healthy, I think he's great. Obviously he's proven it.

And (it's important to realize) Alberto's not stupid. He'll figure (it out). The fact that he perhaps has not coached 1,500 meter runners (isn't a concern). As you said earlier, Galen (Rupp) can run lights out. He runs 3:56 and probably can run real close to 3:53 or even faster so Alberto will figure it out.

If Alan is healthy, I think Alberto has the resources and also the creativity to get it done. But I want to make it (known to everyone listening) that I was never in the picture and I was really glad that I wasn't in the picture and I know that sounds like bullsh*t but there would have been too much stress. I couldn't handle the stress.

Cook talking about how his current group is less maintenance than his old group (65:30):
"Look at the group we have now. I think it's a great group. Is it as good as what we had with the three girls? Maybe not. But I'll tell you one damn thing. It's a hell of a lot less headaches. And it's a lot less maintenance. And a lot less phone calls and a lot less stress."

Cook on whether or not he thinks drugs are still a big problem in track and field today (70:25):
"I think it (drugs) is a huge problem. And I don't think it [is getting] much better. I think the labs are way ahead of the game. And I think if the federations want to cooperate with the athletes as far as drugs are concerned, we can't catch 'em. If our federation, for instance, would be in compliance with us using drugs, we could get away with it. Unfortunately - or fortunately, whichever side you're on - our federation does test very rigorously. But I think the drug thing is a total f***ing nightmare. ... There are things out there that you just can't detect. And if a federation wants to be complicit, there's nothing you can do. ... It really bothers me. It almost took me out of (the sport) a couple of years ago."

Editor's note: At the end of the interview, Cook also went out of his way to state that his athletes never planned on running world indoors this winter as they have their annual trip to altitude in Mexico planned for that time as they leave for Mexico on Monday. Cook wanted that to be known as some have recently accused him of pulling his athletes from World indoors to get back at USATF for not having an altitude adjustment in place for the 2010 USA indoor meet in Albuquerque.


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