After U.S. long-distance runners underperformed at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, runners and coaches banded together in California to bring some of the country’s best athletes together to train, including Olympic medalists Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi.
Now, 18 years later, Deena’s husband, Andrew, finds himself coaching the high-altitude training mecca out West, having led the group since 2012. We spoke with him to find out more about his group as it enters a new partnership with On.
What’s your objective as the Mammoth Track Club head coach?
To recruit athletes who can compete on a national and global stage. I don’t take anybody that I don’t think can qualify for a world championships or Olympic Games.
There are so many running clubs around the world today. What differentiates Mammoth Track Club from the rest?
We have a history and a legacy in that we’ve produced 13 Olympians, 25-plus national champions, and we have a long rich history of athletes excelling and competing well. We live at 8,000 feet, and we have the ability to train well at 9,000 feet. But we also have the ability to drive down and train at 4,100 feet, which we consider sea level. All within a 40-minute drive. There are not too many places on earth that you can do that. And it’s a fairly easy 40-minute drive. We don’t even have any winding roads. It’s a straight shot. You basically get thrown off a cliff when you’re going down in a car.
What’s the atmosphere of your training group like?
We’re in a tight-knit group. We live in a four-square-mile town. So we see each other all the time. We have team dinners here at my house or one of the athlete’s condos. We live as a family. We’re a mom and pop track club if you will because both Deena and I are very involved and hands on. I think that’s pretty special.
How will the partnership with On help the club’s athletes?
On is an up-and-coming leaps-and-bounds growing company, and we’re a well-established team in a rebuilding phase in which I recruited a lot of young athletes. So we’re kind of up-and-coming as well. We only have two athletes that are over the age of 30, and the rest have an average age of 24. I’m really excited to develop and nurture the athletes with the On products and parallel our growth with the growth of On. It’s an exciting time for both our teams.
What’s your coaching philosophy?
That’s constantly evolving. If I put that out there now and somebody reads it in five years, it’s going to change. You’ve got to coach the personality of the athlete. You’ve got to coach each athlete individually, especially at this level. It’s a highly individualised program.
What are the benefits for runners of training in a group like yours as opposed to individually?
You have accountability. If you know you have to be at practice five or six days a week at 8:15 every morning, that’s going to keep you on the straight and narrow. It’s going to put you in bed at 9:00 at night. It’s going to let you train with other people that share the workload of a mile repeat session or a 400-meter track session. There’s comfort there. Misery loves company. If you’re training hard and you’re on a long 20-mile run in the hills of Mammoth and it’s hot, dry and you’re starting to feel sorry for yourself, you have somebody else that you can feed off of. You can inspire each other to get to the end of the workout.
What advice do you have for runners when they’re having a bad day or things aren’t going their way?
There’s ebbs and flows to training. As long as you’re flowing 90 percent of the time, then having one or two struggling days is fine. You’ve got to manage the expectations of each workout, and that’s part of my job as a coach. I pride myself on being at 90 percent of the workouts for our team and being able to look into an athlete’s eyes and seeing if they’re exhausted or tired. I can then shorten the workout or intervals to accommodate the athlete. I believe in getting in the volume of the day. It’s more important than the actual quality of the workout. A mile repeat even five to 10 seconds slower than normal is more important than trying to hit the times but only doing half of them.