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Jon Green is a former professional runner turned running coach. He is currently the head coach of the Atalanta NYC women's professional running team (founded by Mary Cain) and he is the coach of Molly Seidel, Olympic bronze medalist in Tokyo and recent new American course record holder for the New York City Marathon.
In this Episode you'll learn about:
- What Jon learnt about training and coaching through his own professional running career
- Jon's training and coaching philosophy
- Coaching Molly Seidel, and the preparation for her bronze-winning performance in the Tokyo Olympics marathon
- Training for different distances (from the 5k to the marathon)
- Key workouts in preparing for a marathon
- How important is speed for distance runners, and how to develop it
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- I am the running coach of Molly Seidel within others and the head coach of Atalanta, NYC, whose CEO is Mary Cain.
- I was a professional runner for a brief period. Moreover, I was NCAA Division I Collegiate runner for Georgia University.
- I raced professionally for a year and a half with a professional team based in Boston.
Jon's coachings learnings he got from being a professional runner
- I have had good and bad coaches throughout my career. Each one has taught me a new thing in running and how I approach things.
- I coached a lot based on my experiences as a runner and how coaches treated me in good and bad ways. I had to find out what worked for me because I was injury-prone. I have dealt with some injuries, and I also experimented with different treatments. In addition, I would listen to other runners. For example, I had Achilles issues, and I talked with other runners about what worked for them.
- All those factors have been experiences that helped me step into the coaching world. In that way, I understand better the athletes perspective on things.
Jon's coaching philosophy
- I put much emphasis on the mental side of things. If you go into a race not ready to run fast, the race will not go well.
- It is the same thing for workouts and stuff like that.
- I refer to two different gas tanks. You have your physical gas tank, where everyone experiences the overtraining and getting bogged down with too many workouts. Or the intensity of the runs is too high, which can physically drain you.
- You also have the mental side of things where if your cortisol levels are super high and you stress out with your life, it can make an easy workout difficult. That can also compound and negatively impact your training at the end of the day.
- I manage the mental part by talking with athletes and having an open, honest dialogue with them. We talk about what is going on with their lives and how things are going. Especially with professional athletes, I try to be as aware as possible of how they are doing. I am also younger than most coaches, so it allows me for being on the same level of playing field.
- Many of my athletes and I are going through their 20s right now. Therefore, I can relate to many things. (e.g., trying to find housing, dealing with parents)
- It is the usual conversation that can come up. On that level, I can understand the athlete's worries better.
- If they are going through a break-up, I understand that better to someone married and their 40s.
- It is things like that that I try to talk with them about to support and be friends with athletes.
- In Atlanta NYC we work as a team. However, I make sure I also look to the individual. If I see someone struggling physically, I will address them to avoid injuries or getting fatigued.
- I do the same thing mentally. I will go to those athletes, pull them aside and ask how things are going for them. If their lives are not going so well, I ask them how they feel about the sessions.
- If they say I am good to train, it will help me because I know they are ready to train. It is that open dialogue where I give athletes the freedom to choose to take some time off.
- I trust the athlete to give me their honest feedback.
Thoughts on the physical part of training
- I am a higher volume coach. As a rule, I like to evaluate time-on-feet. I believe that aspect is crucial.
- In intensity terms, I prefer to back off a little and maintain intensities lower. I do not specify paces that often.
- Usually, elite runners do their session from 6:30 to 8:00 min/mile. If I see one runner doing 12min pace, it might be one situation where it is better to take a day off. (instead of going out and doing this run)
- By running so slow biomechanically, you get lazy. Therefore, you increase the risk of getting injured.
- These paces would be for easy endurance sessions.
- I prescribe workout a lot on perceived effort. But I am also prescribing paces. For example, Molly is doing a progression run. I might say to start at a 6min speed and progress down. Then, I would put a limit on the maximum speed she can train.
- For a one-hour progression run, I want her to know her body and understand her limitations. It is a mental exercise as much as a physical one.
- If we are doing mile repeats, I get more specific on the paces she should run at each session. (e.g., 5min20s/mile)
- In that way, we are not running too slow, and we are getting the workout in without running too fast and accumulating fatigue.
Intensity and volume management
- I want the higher intensity intervals to be at 95 to 97 % of your ability. I do not want you to finish training feeling you gave everything you got. (race efforts)
- I want to have a bit left in the tank. It is something we do not go maximum. As you step back and look at general terms, it allows us for adding that extra quality to each session. The reason is that we are not getting buried or bogged down, so we can recover faster and have more consistency.
- There are times where we do intensity sessions on the track, and athletes could do one more rep.
- In terms of volume, for someone like Molly, it is super high.
- She went up to 130 miles per week, and it is often like this. She usually jogs 100 miles per week.
- If you follow her on Strava, you can see her training sessions.
- Other athletes are running from 50 to 60 miles per week. It depends on the athlete.
- My goal is we are not varying volume that much. If we are not consistent, injuries can occur more often. I do not want to go up to 45 miles per week and then have to come down because of an Achilles issue.
- I want to make sure we can hold that higher mileage and gradually increase over time. I am ok with lowering the load with less volume on some weeks. But I do not want it to be because of the body.
- If that means running five to ten miles per week and gradually building, it is better. In that way, we do not have to deal with injuries.
- The running form is a fundamental aspect. If someone is doing something that leads to injuries, I will comment with athletes and see if we can modify it.
- In the same aspect, I think all the runners I coach are older, and their bodies adapted to their running style.
- If you change the running form, you can open the space for more injuries. So, that is counter-productive against consistency.
- It is an individual assessment. When I was in college, I had to re-learn how to run because I was crossing the midline substantially. That was leading to IT band issues.
- Coaches told me they had never seen such a midline cross, so I had to change that. The goal was to avoid getting injured.
Different running surfaces
- Molly does not work on the track often. Most things we do are on roads because we race on there.
- We rarely do workouts on dirt roads and stuff like that because the surface is distinctive there.
- To train on hills, I tell my athlete not to search them. But we are not running away from hills either.
- Variations in terrain is a valuable tool to improve as a runner.
- If I have an athlete that rolls an ankle in a single track that is too technical, I will tell them not to run there. (it affects consistency)
- If we get injured more often on dirt roads, it is not going to help us.
- Overall, I do not care as much about the running surface.
- After seeing the course of NYC, I think downhills should have been something we had to work on more. Therefore, doing some runs with a steeper downhill.
- Of course, we had to make sure we remained biomechanically efficient.
Thoughts on shoe selection
- The shoe selection is something related to the micro-management of the athlete. It is something I try not to do at all.
- All my athletes are adults. Therefore, they are fully capable of picking the best shoes for them.
- In the same aspect, I am always looking at these aspects. I want to make sure everything is checking out.
- If I see the sole of a shoe worn out, I will tell them to get a new shoe.
- It is worth the risks we take there.
- If I look at the back of the shoe, and the rubber has worn out on the ankle, I will pay attention to it.
- Those are the point I look at when evaluating shoes. I want to make sure that athletes run pain-free.
- Athletes (myself included) can be stubborn at times. There are so many pairs of shoes out there. So we do not need to suffer on ones already uncomfortable.
- I presented it to the athletes more, looking at the consequences that some bad choices might lead to in the future.
- I might say they can continue running in worn-out shoes, or they can spend 15 minutes and buy a new pair that eliminates the risk of injury. I will say this mainly if the athlete is sponsored and does not have to buy shoes.
- I heard professional athletes would rotate shoes every 100 miles, which is absurd. However, they want to make sure they are doing the best they can to be better. Sometimes, that means having to waste more.
The coaching relationship with Molly
- We were both on the same professional team based in Boston.
- She went to Notre Dame University in Indiana, and I went to Georgia University. But both of our teams were close.
- We knew each other from other friends, and we went to cross-country championships in 2011. We went to the same team, and we became best friends. She decided she was going to leave the club because it did not fit her.
- She left, and I offered to help her in the transition period.
- We sat down at a café and chatted about everything related to running. We talked about what worked and what did not. We addressed Molly's goals and her life outside of running.
- She was coming from a hip issue. Therefore, the number one goal was consistency.
- We found the higher intensity work she has done before probably led to injuries. So, we backed off the intensity, and we played with the mileage.
- Volume is good for aerobic development, and that shows off in the marathon.
- We had planned to do the Houston Marathon, but she received a call for the US marathon trials.
- The trials were six weeks after the Houston Marathon.
- She ended up qualifying for the US Olympic team for the marathon.
Remote coaching with Molly
- We had a ton of success with it. After the trials, Molly was back in Boston for a period, and I realised it was the first time I had seen her doing a workout in person.
- We quickly adapted to working remotely, and that is something we continued to do.
- I often fly to meet her before major events. During the summer, I was with her a couple of times.
- It is not fully remote, but we found we only need good communication.
- We are best friends, and so we are almost texting constantly each other. We talk about everything.
- I do regular face talks with her to see how training is going. Our conversations are unique. I might ask her about the workout, but she might tell me a random story, and then we return to the training topic.
- We are good friends at the end of the day. So, we are only catching up. Because of that, I understand everything that is going on with her. And I can make sure I am not draining her mentally or physically.
Olympic marathon preparation
- She qualified for the UC Olympic marathon team. And the delay of the Olympics to 2021 was something new to us.
- Every coach was trying to figure out how to approach the situation. For us, it was beneficial because we saw it as another year to build consistency and build on the workouts we have been doing.
- We got injured in the Summer of 2019, so we were trying to apply new methods.
- Double threshold intervals were something we started doing. It helped Molly build aerobic fitness and increase the pace she does her threshold repeats. Moreover, we focus on building up the mileage a bit.
- This extra year allowed us to prepare the best to do a good race in the Olympics.
- We did the London Marathon as well, which was the second marathon she had ever done. Therefore, we were getting the most experience from the distance at that time.
- In sum, we wanted to build aerobic strength and build consistency to succeed in the Olympic race.
Details regarding Molly's training paces and more
- I got the idea of doing double thresholds from my former NAU Director of Track and Field, Mike Smith.
- We wake up in the morning and do threshold repeats at 5min20-5min25s/mile. We are doing 60 seconds rest on the road.
- It is a flat course if you look at the profile. In the afternoon, we do mile repeats again early in the preparation. These we do it a bit faster. The athletes almost feel a bit better in the afternoon.
- It is a shorter session. Molly is doing a 4x1mile session and getting a bit of aerobic work in.
- It allows her to do more volume than what she would do on a straight session.
- I found it can help mentally as well because you are breaking up the sessions.
Molly's typical week of training
- The standard week is essentially two workouts plus a long run.
- The long run depends on what Molly feels like doing. It can be a medium-long session or an easy one.
- If we have a hard week of training coming up, she might go a bit easier. But if she feels good, she knows her body and goes a bit harder. I trust she will take the best decision.
- We have a Tuesday/Friday workout or Wednesday/Saturday session.
- We do the long run on Sundays. If we do workouts on Tuesday and Friday, Saturday is the recovery day of the week.
- I like to give a gap between the workout and the long run to have more quality.
- We operate on a seven-day schedule. There is nothing special or crazy, and it is a simple week of work.
- Molly publishes every session on Strava, so people can check out how she trains.
- I do not advise people to copy what she is doing. Her training sometimes is crazy. We are open about what we do in terms of workouts and stuff like that.
- It is fun to engage with the community of triathlon or running.
Higher intensity workouts of the week
- We do not go super fast on the sessions. We do not go above 10 km pace on the intervals.
- She can do 200s and strides. (it is something I like to incorporate in her plan) These are to get some turnover, but we are not looking to build speed with them.
- The goal is to flush out the legs.
- In the beginning, we do a lot of aerobic work and a ton of volume. We try to increase the threshold and do long progression runs.
- As the build gets closer to the race, we start to incorporate some faster work. We introduce the double thresholds. Then, we can do 600s a bit faster than 5min20s/mile pace. They still have short rest (50 seconds rest).
- These intervals slide more into the half marathon training.
- We will do some 400s on the track on some occasions. (74/75 seconds repeats)
- These workouts are the outlook of the training, focused on time-on-feet, volume and consistency.
Triathlon training volume
- It is unreal what you can do with non-impact sports like cycling and swimming. The training limitations are different. Therefore we can see these athletes doing a lot more volume than runners.
- In run training, we are worried about stress fractures or stuff like that.
- I focus a bit more on the lower intensity, opposed to some other coaches. People are always showing their fast workouts on Instagram.
- I tend to see athletes think that if they could do those sessions, they could run faster.
- This is a game of what-ifs. If those workouts lead to injury, it is not worth the cost.
- If you look back at your training schedule and say you could have done something more, it might lead to worse performances in the end.
- It is something I talk about with my athletes. They are doing the best training for them.
- A professional miler could never do what Molly is doing, but Molly could never do what the miler does.
- Molly's workouts are not as flashy as the ones you see often.
Long run sessions leading to the Olympics
- In some of the long runs, instead of having a second higher intensity workout, we would do some intensity on the long run.
- Molly would do a longer warm-up and cool down. In that way, the workout would turn into a long run.
- We did on/off intervals. One kilometre a bit faster than marathon pace and one kilometre a bit slower. (with no rest in between)
- Molly's steady marathon pace workouts were not that long.
- We build to a 14-mile marathon pace workout.
- In that way, we have these massive days, so we need to be careful with it.
- As the train progresses, Molly can sustain the load and increase volume.
- Therefore, we could do longer sessions on Friday and Sunday of 20 miles and get 13 to 16 miles of marathon pace.
- In these periods, communication is crucial. After we go through that weekend, we have to look on Monday how she is feeling. (e.g., if she was dragging herself on Sunday)
- We have to see if there are injuries that popped up.
- Many times I tell the athlete to do an easy run and do what they feel is natural.
- In these sessions, nevertheless, I do tend to keep an eye on things.
- If an athlete is running all sessions at the same speed, that will not be beneficial.
- It is ok in the base session because we are only building mileage.
- When we get to workouts, they will get destroyed because they will not handle everything.
- If I see an athlete only going for a job, I also alert the athlete because that could lead to injuries.
- I try to make sure we do not hit the extremes.
- If I see a variation in the speed some athletes tend to do their sessions, I will also contact them to see if everything is ok.
- They might answer that they are sick, but I did not tell you because I did not want to miss the workout.
- That is where I come in as a coach. They need to tell me those things because it will affect directly how the workout will go.
- If this happens on a Wednesday, we evaluate how they evolve and see if we push the workout to Saturday.
- If they do not feel good on Friday, we cancel the workout.
- I try to access the problems that might arise and access them before they grow.
Strength and Conditioning
- That aspect is where I have a weakness.
- It is something I have been actively working on lately. I am focused on strength training and what exercises may prevent injuries. (flexibility exercises)
- In many cases, I refer to a person's PT or a strength and conditioning coach to help them.
- Then, I try to learn from them for the reasons they do some exercises.
- It is an aspect I do not have enough knowledge of right now. I am reading books and scientific papers.
- Molly does some strength training. It focuses on injury prevention instead of strength.
- She goes to the gym and has a home gym.
The role of "speed" for endurance runners
- Speed is something that naturally occurs in someone's legs.
- I would never break 10 seconds in 100 metres. In the same way, you need to be aerobically fit and calm.
- You need to be aerobically fit to hold those paces and be comfortable at the end to accelerate.
- However, we have also to look at the stamina of the athletes and make sure they can accelerate.
- The more mileage you do, the harder it is to get to the top speed.
- Therefore, this is a balancing act between developing aerobic fitness and maintaining top-end speed.
- Molly is doing much volume, but we do not need much sprint training. Therefore, we only go until the ten km pace. The strides are more for her to feel comfortable for the next workout.
- As Molly does not enjoy racing on the track that much, we do not worry about it. However, if needed, she can drop the mileage and do some shorter races.
- To run a fast 10 km, we would focus first on developing aerobic strength.
- As we get closer and closer to that race, we sharpen the workouts a bit. We might do VO2max sessions and increase intensity.
- Therefore, the volume will decrease in that period. The goal is to get to the 10 km race and do more than only threshold work. First, we work aerobically early on, but we also have the turnover to run fast and add speed.
General tips for amateur runners
- I coach amateur athletes. (not only professionals)
- I feel that amateur athletes think professional athletes do not listen to their bodies. The reason is they see the crazy workouts some do.
- Professional athletes know their bodies perfectly, and they can do enormous amounts of work without getting issues.
- As soon they have some issues, they immediately address those problems. And that is something amateur athletes have to improve.
- They have to listen to their bodies and run slower if needed. You do not need to hammer your easy runs to go faster.
- Another aspect is about having fun. Of course, there will be hard days where you do not feel like running. There are times where you have to run early in the morning.
- However, it is ok to run a bit later. Instead of starting at 5 am, going at 9 am or 10 am can help you enjoy your session.
- Concerning marathon training, longer progression runs allow athletes to learn more about their bodies. There will be times you will progress too fast, and therefore, you will have to back up the intensity. (you went over the red line)
- I did a workout in college, where I did six miles of 90/30. (90 seconds on, 30 seconds off)
- You can vary the intervals on this workout. It allows us to learn how to pace without a watch.
- Watches cannot follow those speed variations, so you have to go more by feel. And if you go too fast on the 90 seconds, you will need more than 30 seconds to recover.
- Also, it is another aerobic strength workout to increase the threshold.
- When I prescribe this workout for the first time to athletes, I always warn them not to go too fast. But almost every time, athletes go out too hard.
- I do not give this workout many times to my elite runners. Many of them mastered the session. But I prefer using the long progression runs for them to get knowledge of their bodies.
- For amateur athletes, I put this workout as an introduction to a new training plan.
- When I was running, I would do them 10 seconds under the threshold pace. The average overall speed would be a bit under the threshold.
What is one thing within coaching or training you are now learning/curious about or fascinated by and why?
Everything. To be honest, I am trying to learn as much as I possibly can. With the NYC marathon, I had some downtime to focus on other things. I had to deal with the chaos of the lead up to the marathon. But I usually have like 30 tabs opened with different studies of everything that affects endurance runners. I am focusing on performance, injury prevention or lower problems with logistics and trips. If an athlete has problems with travelling, I try to learn the main things to help them with the guidance of my mentors. (my previous coaches) Hopefully, one day this work will pay off. And I will look back and remember the time when I read about something.
What is your favourite book, blog or resource?
The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs
It is not a healthy book. It focuses on the downsides of winning at all costs in cycling.
What is an important habit that benefited athletically, professionally or personally?
I sleep much, and when I do not, I become more grumpy. So, even today, I am in bed at 9 pm, and I get all sleep I need. I do not go well without sleeping.
Who is someone you have looked up to or who has inspired you?
I would say all my coaches at Georgetown. (people like Brandon Bonsey or Mike Smith) They were super influential and helped guide me on my journey in athletics.