LetsRun.com Training Talk #6 - US Distance Legend Craig Virgin

By LetsRun.com
March 18, 2010

Two-time World Cross Country Champion and two-time American record-holder Craig Virgin joined LetsRun.com for a wide-ranging, hour-long discussion about some of his greatest races, his training and workouts, the changing state of distance running in the US, the Boycott of the 1980 Olympics, his experience with Nike's Athletics West and his excitement about current US distance runners.

Best Distance Runner Never To Win An Olympic Medal?
One LetsRun.com message board poster described Virgin as the best distance runner never to win an Olympic medal. After becoming the first (and still the only) American senior to win the world title in cross country in 1980, Virgin was in the prime of his career. President Jimmy Carter decided to boycott the Olympics in 1980, so Virgin and many other American athletes were left home wondering "what if?". Virgin had much to say about the Boycott and why he felt like it was the wrong decision. Of Carter, he said, "Well, actually I respect the man for his integrity and his morals. And I'd like to have lunch with the man - I'm sure he wouldn't join me for a beer but maybe for an iced tea - and I'd like to ask him what the hell he was thinking about and what his advisers were telling him could be gained?"

Virgin Describes A Prolific But "Front-Loaded" Career
If you're looking for training advice from one of the best-ever US distance runners, you've come to the right place, as Virgin talked about his high school, collegiate and post-collegiate training. Virgin, who despite not running before age 14 ran an 8:40 2-mile by his senior year in high school, was certainly known not only for pushing the pace in his races but also for racing frequently. Said Virgin, "My career was prolific, and in the verbage of the mutual funds it was definitely 'front-loaded.' From the age of 14-24 it was comparable to any career that any American ever had." He went on to say, "You spend it early or you spend it late," urging athletes to race enough and to make sure not to race too much to please everyone.

High Quantity Or High Quality?
Virgin talked specifically about his training from the age of 14 through his prime post-collegiate years - from the workouts he ran, to the mileage, to the way he would segment his year into quarters. After talking specifics, Virgin summed up his training by saying he believes in aggressive training but also recognizes the importance of recovery, a healthy diet and sleep. He also noted negative splits as a key to his training. Virgin: "[My training] was a mixture of quality and quantity, and also trying to do negative splits. I believe in doing negative splits in my intervals where I start out at a certain pace and I try to get faster as the workout goes on. That promotes efficiency and it also promotes mental toughness that closely simulates a race."

Virgin mentioned that he didn't consider himself a high quantity guy but mentioned that as a post-collegiate he regularly ran 100+ miles per week with regular down weeks up until the late summer European races.

EPO And Other Drugs Emerge In The 80s
Virgin discussed other issues in the sport including drugs, the influx of over-aged foreigners to the NCAA ranks and the 1980 US Olympic boycott.

When asked about drugs in the sport at the tail end of his career, Virgin said, "If I had been born 4-8 years later, I would have had to make some terrible decisions in the late '80s and early '90s about whether I could go to a World Championships or Olympic Games and be competitive and not take either EPO to get my oxygen-carrying capacity up ... or to take Human Growth Hormone or some sort of steroid ... and be able to be competitive."

Virgin - "Let's All Stay Behind the Sport"
Craig Virgin is an ambassador for the sport of distance running in America and we liked his closing quote, which resonates with the core reasons LetsRun.com was founded. Virgin closed by saying, "To our readers or listeners out there, I think we have a great sport. I have hopes that America can do better in the near future in national and international competitions. I think we've got some exciting times ahead of us. Let's all stay behind the sport and make it better."

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