Flotrack's Best of 2012

Alberto Salazar - Coach of the Year, Best of 2012

Alberto Salazar - Coach of the Year, Best of 2012

Dec 30, 2012 by Mitch Kastoff
Alberto Salazar - Coach of the Year, Best of 2012
The 80,000 screaming fans in the Olympic stadium nearly drowned out the broadcast for the men’s 10,000m final. “Can it be a one-two for the Salazar group? It looks like it! Mo Farah takes gold for Great Britain, Galen Rupp takes second...”
In those last few meters, there was no one cheering louder than coach Alberto Salazar. The leader of the famed Nike Oregon Project is our 2012 Coach of the Year.
Salazar’s long-term development program brought three Olympic medals (two golds, one silver), the third fastest American marathoner of all-time, and some new faces that bring a lot of promise.
From the 1500m to the marathon, Salazar’s group reigned supreme in 2012.
"I don't consider it work,” Salazar told Flotrack. “I never think about it as work. Obviously you have to give it a description. It's so much fun for me going to Nike everyday.”
It wasn’t just their dominance this summer that made the Oregon Project so fun for Salazar, but their improvement from the prior year.
Rupp had set the American Record in the 10,000m, but finished 7th in the World Championship 10,000m. Farah had won gold in the 5,000m, but was out kicked in the 10,000m and had to settle for silver. Dathan Ritzenhein had picked up an achilles injury in December that was followed by a first surgery, then infection, and then a second surgery.
For some, there was little room for improvement, but the gap was still there. For others, this year was a test of elasticity both physically and metaphorically.
The patience, high-tech gadgets, and commitment to the goal lead this past year to be the breakout season for Salazar’s athletes.

"I always thought we were going to be successful and the last few years have sort of confirmed that it was possible. Then people say, 'Well, there are other Americans that have done well and just because you had one guy that got a silver medal and one guy that got fourth that doesn't really prove anything. There have been other Americans that have got silver medals, but in my mind, I don't think I need to prove anything to anybody."

"I know what's working for us and I think it's going to continue to work. I think that's going to be the proof in the long-term is, do we replicate it? Do we have people that continue to run well and to me, that's another part of the proof - it's consistency and people running well. People can get lucky any one time, but a runner doesn't get lucky again and again unless he or she is training correctly."
To an outside observer, this year didn’t start very well. Rupp and Farah’s indoor campaign focused on them stepping down in events as they mainly competed in the 1500m and 3000m. It wasn't a matter of winning races, but being able to commit to a consistent training plan.
Rupp set the two-mile American record at the USATF Classic (8:09.72), but found less success at the metric mile. He finished 3rd at the Boston Grand Prix Mile and was eliminated in the heats of the IAAF World Indoor Championship 1500m.

Before his senior year, he didn't have an NCAA title. Now he has an Olympic silver medal.

Farah, built up as the British distance running favorite for the upcoming London Olympic Games, fell in the Boston Grand Prix Mile and finished 4th at the IAAF World Indoor Championship 1500m. The British media began to wonder if their Olympic hope was beginning to fizzle out.
Ritz was having some troubles as well. In January, he finished 4th at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and would have to try and make the team at the 10,000m.
The theme of the Nike Oregon Project is “long-term.”
Salazar added, “It's very easy to say that if something doesn't work in a couple of years, people will say, 'You've tried that for long enough and now you have to change.' Or there's a problem along the way, or if someone gets injured, then you blame it on the training or the plan. So it's very easy to get sidetracked. I think what last year showed me is that all sort of the components of what we do, all the things that we've incorporated into our overall system are finally kind of working.” 
Even though Rupp and Farah weren’t dominating at the shorter distances, that wasn’t an issue. Their pair had run personal bests at both 1500m (indoors) and two-miles. This was all in preparation to have the wheels to kick for a medal in later championship races (spoiler: It worked out).
Before the Olympic Games, the group found success at the Prefontaine Classic and the Oxy High Performance Meet. Farah and Rupp competed in the 5000m at Pre, where Farah would win with a seasonal best of 12:56.98 while Rupp would take third with a personal best of 12:58.90.
The duo then paired up with Ritz at Oxy and helped pace him to a 13:14.72 finish in the 5k. Rupp dropped out at 4k, but Farah went on to win in 13:12.87.

That stride.

Oh, did we mention that Farah and Rupp were doubling after going one-two in the 1500m earlier in the meet? Farah would again set a seasonal best (3:34.66) and Rupp a personal best (3:34.75).
Helping each other out is just another component that makes up the atmosphere of the group. Salazar said, “It's a tremendous group, just fantastic chemistry among them. They enjoy being around each other and they have a lot of fun, a lot of joking, a lot of kidding around.”
“Anyway, the chemistry is very, very good... This is probably one of closest group of guys that I've ever had because they get along so well. There isn't a single guy who isn't liked by anyone else.”
The members of the Project would work together on three more occasions last summer. First, Rupp would help pace Ritz to a qualifying time in the 10,000m at the U.S. Olympic Trials where Rupp finished first and Ritz second third.
Then there were the Olympic Games. Unless you’ve been living in a distance running cave or are woefully ignorant, Farah took home the double in the 5k/10k and Rupp grabbed the first medal in the 10k since 1964.

The real question: Who's better at FIFA?

Ritz would finish 13th in the 10k, but his year wasn’t over. This past October, he returned to the marathon and became the third fastest American of all-time with his 2:07:47 finish in Chicago.
Even though coaches could not exist without the athletes, the crux of this award is about Salazar and his long-term plan.
“We're firing on all cylinders right now. The thing that I've talked about, biomechanics, sports psychology, to be honest, all of those things that I've talked about are all part of our program and I think that the results we're starting to have are showing that. Those are things that if you want to really be successful, you can't neglect those things anymore. They're not neglected in any other sports.”
“I've always said - why should middle-distance and distance running be different where a lot of these that are so important and accepted as absolutely necessary in other sports, why shouldn't they be equally important in middle-distance and distance training.”
Even with all of this success, there’s still more to come. There are two new faces under the Salazar regime: Matt Centrowitz Jr. and high school phenom Mary Cain.
“The long-term approach [with Mary Cain] is that you're going to be your best at 26 years old. It's a 10 year program. That doesn't mean she won't be running at a world class level way before that... Somebody else might want to get you there in three or four years and you might get to a higher level in those first few years, but ultimately, I don't think you'll be at the same level if you take a 10 year approach."
Salazar added, "With her, I think it's going to be even more advanced program than Galen had in terms of having other experts to help.”
The doubters have finally been silenced. All of the hoopla about high-tech gadgets, obsessiveness, and behind-closed-doors training is over after what will go down as one of the greatest summers in Nike distance running history.

They even got a sweet mural at Nike HQ
Photo: @MariaSquires
Of course, we relish any time we can get to talk to the best coach of the year or perhaps of all-time. It would be an injustice not to print the insights from such a great mind, so if you’re a Salazar fan, or just wonder what kind of mileage Galen Rupp is doing, then the rest of the phone transcript is below.
If not, then enjoy the fact distance running (American and the world in general) is going through a period of rebirth with Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project leading the way.

Helping American Distance Running

"For me, it's not just about me having my successful runners. Overall, it's always been about helping American distance running get back to a higher level. So I've always tried to share what we do. I mean, I'm not going to give out the exact blueprint of every workout that we do, but we've had more of our workouts on Flotrack than any other training group, so I've tried to be open to give out a lot of the ideas that I think are working for us.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. I've realized that I've talked enough about it and we're just to continue now to do what works for us and if people want to take anything from that and see that it may be successful for them, great. If they don't, don't."

The Core of the Nike Oregon Project

"When you're looking at trying to compete at the highest level against the best people in the world, the East Africans and the Moroccans, why wouldn't you think to look at the long-term development to get them at their very best? In terms of someone's long-term development, that way I would look at it, the way I've always looked at it is let's say that you have a guy 18 or 22. You're going to figure that you're going to get him or her at the highest level, to be medalist in the Olympics someday, and so my rationale is that, "Okay. Should I look at trying to get them there when they're 22 or 26. Would I have a higher chance at success at having a four or five year program or having a two year program?"

"In my mind, to be at the very highest levels, you're going to need a lot of luck to get there in four, five, six, or eight years. You're going to need as much time as you can because again, you don't go from being a national-class level to being world-class in two years. You might, sometimes it happens, but if you had to bet on it, why would you not take the longer term approach? To me, it makes more sense."
"It's like saying, 'Well, I have a certain amount of net worth and I want to become a millionaire. Now, would I want to risk trying to do it in two years by gambling or some other risky ventures, or would I want to take a six to eight year approach more conservatively and have a higher chance at success or less of a chance at huge failures?"
"A distance runner, to be competitive at the highest level at 5000m and 10,000m, has to be able to run 120 miles per week. I would say that's a minimum amount. You are going to run against East Africans that are doing at least that much, if not more. So, if you have an athlete that's at 90 miles at some point, why would you say, 'Well I'm going to get up to 120 miles per week in two years.' Well, what happens with that? Obviously a lot of injuries and we've seen that happen. That's what happens when you try and increase too quickly. We've always said that we're in this for the long term."

On Galen Rupp

"I know in the past, Galen has said, 'Hey let's increase my mileage. These other people are doing more and I need to do more to compete with them.' I would say, 'You have to be patient, you're improving every year, let's just keep doing what we're doing. Every year, you're going to be a little better than last year.' So we've increased his mileage gradually. Now, his heavy training weeks are about 105 miles per week of actual running outside and another 25 on an underwater treadmill."

"That's kind of the highest volume that he does and he's the silver medalist. At this point and even after this last Olympics, he said, 'Well, let's increase it more. I don't want to get second and I'm still not where I want to be as consistent.' I said, 'Galen, you're already one of the best in the world. If we just have a little improvement that we've had every year now, you're going to be even better next year. Why would you risk what's been working. Let's stay with the long-term plan. He listens and says, 'Yeah you're right. Let's keep doing what we're doing.'"

The Importance of Biomechanics

"In any other sport, it's the same thing. They just don't say, 'There's a plan and what are the things that we have to do with this athlete.' Again, this is where I look at it and people can say what they want that biomechanics isn't important and so forth. If you want to bet on yourself, on one athlete being good in the long term and being consistent, they have to have good biomechanics or they will not last. That comes with a risk if you are going to mess with someone's biomechanics, that there always is an injury risk.

That's why it's so important to catch them early and get the changes done early. But long term, I believe that if an athlete doesn't have good biomechanics, he or she has no chance of being consistently good at a high level. So what I tell an athlete is that, 'What do you want to do? Do you want to be B-level with crappy biomechanics or do you want to go for it and take a chance?'"