"To achieve in sports you first have to have a dream, and then you must act on that dream. The best athletes are those who truly enjoy what they are doing and display a tremendous amount of work ethic. They continue to persevere in spite of setbacks, and never lose sight of their ultimate goal." - Dianne Holum
Diane was my speed skating coach at Olympic Training Center in Marquette, Michigan.
No, I was not a potential Olympian: My then teenage daughter was in the short-track speed skating Olympic training program and I was a chaperone. Because I was a masters short-track speed skater, I had the privilege of receiving the same coaching and doing the same workouts through the week as the team of young athletes who included future gold, silver and bronze medal winners. My daughter was not quite fast enough to ultimately make our Olympic team, but her friends Chris Witty and Becky Sundstrom went on to skate in multiple Olympic games: Chris won silver and bronze medals at the Nagano games in 1988 and gold at the Salt Lake City games in 1992.
Dianne in her own right had won 1 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze medal for the U.S. at the 1968 Grenoble and 1972 Sapporo games, and then she went on to coach Eric Heiden and his sister. You may know that in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid Eric won 5 gold medals, then the highest individual gold-medal count earned by any Olympic athlete in a single Olympics.
At the speed skating camp, Dianne was head coach, surrounded by assistant coaches, exercise physiologists, athletic trainers and sports psychologists. I started the week not recognizing just how stellar an opportunity the camp and world-class coaching offered me as a masters athlete and future coach. As the week progressed, it dawned on me just how transformational and special the experience was for a then "weekend warrior."
I learned much that guides me to this day, not just speed-skating specific but about physiology, heart-rate rating, strength training, structuring a training program and much more. Here are two really big takeaways:
At the top, being a successful athlete is a lifestyle. Successful athletes continually work on improving their game across the spectrum, including form, fitness, mindset, nutrition and fueling, rest and sleep, recovery, heart-rate training, cross training, strength training, speed work, endurance, equipment and clothing, training progression and much more. What the public sees at the Olympics are athletes at the very top of their game, and the usual conclusion is that these athletes have trained and raced a lot. Indeed, they have, but what often is not understood or recognized is the detailed thinking, learning, execution and commitment over a very long time that has accompanied and made possible the successful training and racing.
Success breeds success. When athletes train with the best, they are pulled and pushed to raise their game. "The best" offer role models and sources of great learning about how to be better and get better results.
"We all need to be sure we are concentrating on getting in our tempo runs. It is easy to go long, because we may run with a group, or the course may be laid out for us. But a lot of times, it is the [tempo] run that has you running quicker, a little out of your comfort range, that you may fudge on or skip. This is an area where you will rise your VO2 and improve your 10K and longer races. Don't kill yourself and run too fast. I ran a 6 mile tempo run last Saturday at 6:02 pace, much slower than what I could run. I felt comfortable, yet good flying along. I felt I had recovered within hours afterwards." - Jim Spivey
Several years after my involvement at the Olympic Training camp, I retired from short-track speed skating when my daughter left the sport, refocused on running and became a triathlete. I soon found the opportunity to be coached by runner Jim Spivey.
Jim competed in the 1984, 1992 and 1996 Olympic games in the 1500 meter and 5000 meter track events, facing legendary runners such as Sebastian Coe, Steve Cram, Steve Ovett and Steve Scott. Jim did not medal, but had run the fastest high-school quarter mile in the country, was NCAA 1500 meter champion and twice won the 1500 meter U.S. Olympic trials. He ran his fastest mile, 3:49.80, in 1986 in Oslo, Norway. For 28 years his 1500-meter time of 3:36.06 was the fastest run by an American in the Olympic final. His U.S. 2000 meter time of 4:52.44, set in 1987 in Lausanne, Switzerland, still stands today, 30 years later!
For nearly 25 years Jim has been my running coach and my friend. A humble and bright person, Jim truly loves running and working with athletes, from high schoolers and college athletes to masters runners. Jim has coached runners at Vanderbilt and University of Chicago, works for and presents seminars through ASICS, and continues to coach a high school team and his own Jim Spivey Running Club. Among the many important things I have learned from Jim are:
Running should be fun. When it isn't, reset your attitude and/or your training. If running is not your job, don't treat it like work.
Running is a privilege. We are blessed to be healthy and able to run and compete. Appreciate that blessing and share it!
Slow down. The best training is at specific, controlled paces. Too often runners get into a competitive mode in training and overrun the workout. Too often coaches overwork their athletes rather than peak them for key races. Burnout and injury can be serious consequences of overrunning and over training.
Respect the purpose of the workout. A structured training program is designed to get the runner the best results. Tempo runs, track workouts, long runs and other types workouts have distinct and different purposes. To improve beyond a base level, a runner (or any endurance athlete, for that matter), needs to stick to the intent of the structured training program and not just "run to run."
Strategy counts in racing. Know the course, the competition and where you are in your training. Have a race plan. Unless you clearly are the fastest, don't try to hold the lead. Jim was good at hanging off of top competitors in more tactical races and then surging ahead toward the end of the race. An intense competitor when racing, he was known to say in passing, "Thanks for the ride!"
Photo of Dianne Holum at 1500 gold medal presentation at the 1972 Winter Oympics in Saporo, Japan, copyright National Speed Skating Museum and Hall of Fame.