Friday, October 19, 2007

In The Lead Pack with Tom "Tinman" Schwartz

Tom Schwartz, also known as “Tinman” from the running message board mecca of LetsRun.com, is a modern day running guru. Tom has coached and advised athletes of all ages and abilities, from 14 minute 5k runners to 28 minute 5k runners. He details his coaching background as well as his upcoming book to debut in December and provides insight into his training methods.

Interview by: Derick Lawrence


Could you tell us about your background and how you got involved in coaching?
I coach about 25-30 runners at any given moment. I have been doing that amount for about 4 years, now.

Before that, I coached about 5 or so at any one time, since about 1993. Before that, I coached at Concordia University in River Forest, IL for a couple of years. Before that, I was a graduate student at the University of WI - La Crosse and was Phil Esten's assistant coach.

He [Phil Esten] said of all the assistant coaches he had had in 30 years as the head for cross-country and the distance coach for track, I was the best one; which of course made me feel very excited about the coaching profession and about my growing abilities.

I had provided workouts and charts for our team since I was a sophomore transfer - that was 1986. The team had used my training ideas in part during each of the seasons, but never in whole.

The big problem, as I saw it was the focus; which was on winning the conference meet. Since the conference was the toughest in the nation, year in and out, it was a monumental achievement to win the WIAC. Our team had a record of winning it about 90% of the time at that point, but I believed it was a detrimental to our nationals performances. I expressed this often to Phil, but tradition is so very hard to overcome.

Oddly, during the summer of 1996, Phil called me. I was living in Estes Park, Colorado and running/coaching and working as an x-ray tech at a hospital, which is what I do now. Phil asked for help. He was tired of getting second or third at nationals and he was closing in on retirement.

Phil's record, save only Al Carius of North Central College, is probably unmatched in D3. And, before Phil's teams ran at D3 nationals, they were the second most successful NAIA school of all-time, behind Joe Vigil's Adam State University Teams.

Phil contacted me while I was living in Colorado; summer of 1996. He wanted my help. So, I basically told him what I would do, workouts, racing schedule, and focus.

I told him, first of all, to get rid of the traditional method of running two hard interval workouts per week and a race. I am totally and forever have been against such a method. It is not only a sure way to have a good percentage of your runners not be in peak form for the late-season big meets, it is also a sure fire way to burn out or injure some of your runners, too. And, as I stated to Phil, the research for Dr.’s Fox and Mathews of the Ohio State University revealed that no statistical gains in performance resulted from doing hard workouts more than two times per week. Though, the research was on P.E. students, the information was relevant to runners of collegiate caliber, in my opinion. And, to ensure a peak performance at nationals, the focus may not be on the conference meet but, rather, the national meet. And, if it meant not winning conference in order to win nationals, then so be it.

It so happens that in 1996 the WIAC was tougher than it had been in years. Oshkosh was the returning champs, as I recall, and Steven's Point was loaded with talent. In fact, Jeremy Johnson, a Nike athlete now, was on the Point team and a rising star.

I even scheduled the workouts for the last month for the team, down to the amounts of everything; which was critical. And, the plan called for no let-up in the training during the week of conference; which was 3 weeks before nationals. To peak at nationals would require no peak at conference; which meant, no doubt, a less than 100% performance against the stellar teams to be faced. NO matter, for, though the result was a 3rd place at conference, the turn around at regionals and nationals was grand, indeed. The team did have a 5th place ranking going into nationals, that season, but won with relative eases. And, to the credit of Phil and the boys of La Crosse it was their belief in Tinman methods of training.

Could you explain what your upcoming book will be about? What can someone can get out of it? Where can you buy it?
The book was inspired by my athletes and the many coaches I have educated. You see, if it were not for their insistence that I write a book, I would not have. It is a big undertaking, especially because I work full time and coach 25-30 athletes at any one time.

I spend a lot of time making sure my runners and the coaches who ask for help understand why they are doing certain types of training. And, I personalize all training schedules. The principles are the same, as Bill Bowerman stated, but the application is where it must be tailored.

My book is about that. As one who specializes in exercise science (my Master's degree at La Crosse was just that) and as one who has a penchant for piecing together the training puzzle, I tell the story in my writings.

I discuss the different training modes: Distance work, Tempos: Long and Short, Aerobic Fartleks, Aerobic Intervals: two types, Aerobic Power training; and even a bit on striders. I define them all and provide insights about how I came to know them in a personal way.

For example, how did I come upon CV training, a unique training tool I created. How did I come to appreciate Tempos - a method my first coach, Mr. Mick, used in the 1970s on his team and on himself in the early 1960s when he was a standout runner.

My book also has many training schedules included. I use a leveled training approach. Rather than give one plan and just say "55 miles per week Marathon training" or "75 miles per week 10k plan," I divide the schedules in performance levels and then make up phased plans for each level. The process, on my end of it, is rather laborious; time consuming. But, I firmly believe it provides a better, more thorough, means of conveying training methods in a way that is useful for a variety of ability groups. Much more useful, I believe, than what I have seen in other books.

I can't stand the idea of opening a book and it says, "55 miles per week training plan." That tells you nothing at all about what it takes to get to that volume of training, who really should be using it, and it does very little to identify how much of any given training is appropriate for runners. It is not true that a 20 minute 5k runner and a 16:30 5k runner, both who might be using 55 miles per week, need the same amount of interval work or tempo running or long distance running. And, who is all too common for runners who aspire to reach new performance levels to run more than they should per week, and more per workout.

The big mistake that runners make is doing more than their current fitness can absorb. A 13 minute 5k runner might run 6 x 1 mile with ease and an 18 minute 5k runner might completely bury themselves with such a workout.

The training schedules are divided into race foci. A 5k and 10k plan is substantially different than a half-marathon and marathon plan, for example. My biggest annoyance for years has been the promoted idea that all a marathoner has to do is continue doing 5-10k training and just lengthen their long run. I've been bothered by such a foolish notion since the 1980s.

My first marathoner, a gal who had run a couple marathons in the 3:40s, learned first-hand what the Tinman method of marathoning was all about. It entailed Big Workouts. Anything else was just slow distance running and not too far.

I hate the idea of doing long, slow runs in preparation for marathon races. I think it totally goes against the principle of specificity. Bowerman would be turning over in his grave if he heard some of the famous coaches espousing such stupidity.

Anyway, my book does focus on training one would use for both different performance levels and different distances. I provide some flexibility in the schedules so that runners are not limited to a specific mileage, but at the same time the plans outline what is realistic and doable for a given performance level.

The book is not fully finished. I spend time here and there on it. I have a desire to do more with it, yet, but soon I will just finish it so that runners will be able to use it for their own training purposes or for the purpose of coaching others. I intend to wrap it up this fall and make it available in December, just before people buy presents for their loved ones to celebrate the holidays.

At this point, I will probably go through LULU books and they will have it available for purchase on their website. I will provide more information about its availability at therunzone.com, where I respond to questions runners pose on a daily basis. At that site, you can find training articles I have written; on the home page. The Tinman Training method and philosophy is revealed in those articles, as well as in the many posts in the forum.

What key concepts do you believe are necessary for success of a collegiate cross country runner?
Foremost, mileage. You must develop aerobic capacity to a very high level and the best way to do that is through specific aerobic volume. Of course, it must always be tailored to both the performance level and the experience level of the athlete. Mileage makes up for a lot of mistakes runners and their coaches make in developing training plans. A runner who is doing too much high intensity work can get by and still perform relatively well if they keep their mileage up. Unfortunately, all too often runners drop their mileage while doing high intensity interval or repetition work and with time their aerobic endurance diminishes to a large extent. So, then, they perform sub-par at the season's biggest competitions in November.

You mentioned CV training, how is this defined and how can this be applied throughout a cross country season?
You can read about CV training on my website. I define it there. IN summary, it means Critical Velocity.

Originally, I called it Critical Value pace because I created it while enrolled in a graduate statistics course and critical values are a common term used in such a course.

It is the upper end of the stamina range and just at the bottom of the Aerobic Power range. It provides a stimulus for growth of both one's maximum lactate steady state and one's aerobic power. It is the best possible pace to raise the velocity at which lactate is produced below VO2 max. And, if your readers have done their reading, nearly all research of late shows that one's maximum lactate steady state power (or velocity, if you will) is the BEST predictor of running performance in events from 3k to about half-marathon. Then, one's LT, defined as 1 mmol above resting lactate, is probably equal to or just slightly better at predicting marathon performance.

CV scores about 5.5 mmols of lactate, on average, as compared to maximum lactate steady state which is about 4 mmols, give or take a little depending upon the individual being assessed.

CV, as I define it, is equal to a pace that one can run 42.5 minutes with a standard deviation of 2.5 minutes. There are, however, some exceptions. A runner with exceptional endurance but low aerobic power, defined as the power output or velocity at VO2 max, not just the amount of oxygen consumed at VO2 max - a limited definition, can run a bit longer than the range of 40--45 minutes at CV and one who is not fit or one who has very high power but poor endurance can run less than 40 minutes at CV. But, the askews do not really matter. It is the method used to create CV which matters most. And, that method is a secret. But, super wizards in math can figure it out fairly closely. And, besides, I have provided time and again a simple method of deriving it very closely: 10 seconds per km slower than current 5k race-pace. I can find it a lot more specifically using calculus, however.

Who are some of the athletes you are currently coaching or have coached in the past?
Besides coaching runners at UW-La Crosse, many of whom were successful and ones at Concordia University – River Forest for a short time, I’ve coached a wide range of abilities; 14 minute 5k runners to 28 minute 5k runners. In truth, I’ve focused on their improvement and maximizing their ability more than their performance level. It is the effort and consistency of their training that sets them high on a pedestal of esteem, for me, rather than how fast they run.

Probably the most talented runner I coached since leaving the collegiate scene is Dan McClean. I coached him for about 9 months. He improved his collegiate times and had run 8:13 for 3k (indoors) and 14:28 (outdoors, in rain, at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon). He went back to grad school and was putting a lot of time into that, so he decided to draw back his running, which is sad because I believed I’d take him to the Olympic Trials, based on his steady improvements.

Kelly Mortensen was a marathon runner I coached who had plenty of background prior to my involvement. He had been a very, very hard trainer, yet had not reached his goals. The first thing I did was back off his training volume and intensity. He sure didn’t like that much, but he trusted me and gave it a go. He improved and ran better at a wide variety of distances, including placing 12th in the Olympic Trials. He ran well at the winter national x-country meet, too.

I have advised/coached to a degree several runners who graduated from La Crosse who ran well on the roads, including Mahdi Omar (23:38 8km runner) and Mark Elworthy (24:08 5 mile runner). Much of our interaction had to with philosophy of training; the methodological approach and the workouts one should do to elevate performance level.

Mark Werner, a professor of statistics, was a fun runner to work with because he challenged me to step outside what I knew. He ran ultra marathons and long trail races. He was coached by some greats in the Boulder area, where he earned his Ph.D., including Arturo Barrios. I took over his training and gave him plenty of specific, stamina workouts that were very long. I have called the Big Workouts, for years, but for Mark they were much bigger than what your average marathon runner would do. Within a few months, Mark was beating highly ranked USA ultra marathoners and becoming well recognized – his profile was on the USATF website. He placed third in the USA Championships and was the highest place runner for the USA team at the World Ultra Marathon Championships in Italy.

Mark won the prestigious Fuji Mountain race in Japan, which is a half-marathon straight up the big mountain. He was not ranked in the top 50 going into the race, but he won it handily. The fun part was the fame that came with the win, for Mark. Luminaries in Japan gave him multiple trophies; one of which was taller than Mark. He was a celebrity in Japan! His story was written and published in Runner’s World. I can’t tell you how proud I was of Mark.

I coached Sonia O’Sullivan for a while, along with a couple other Aussies. Sonia had been in semi-retirement due to a 2-year stint of injuries. After Nic Bideau, her man and father of her two daughters, contacted me about training ideas and asking me why I wasn’t coaching the best America had to offer, Sonia felt compelled to contact me about reviving her career. She had some motivation left, but the terrible times of late were making things impossible. I told her to get some physio done and when she was over her foot injury she should contact me. That was in July, 3 years ago.

In late August, she said she was ready to start training in just a couple weeks. I asked her what her goals were and she said she wanted to run either the Osaka Marathon or the London Marathon. After some discussion with me, she chose the London Marathon. She has a house in London and lots of fan support, so that was an obvious choice. So, I wrote workouts for her and we emailed back and forth weekly. She was improving nicely. She ran a 16:37 5k in October, but by early December, after doing a couple months of Tinman’s Big Workouts, she placed fourth in an international half-marathon in Japan behind two Japanese women and a Kenyan women. The weather was cold and snowflakes were coming down, but Sonia ran tough and was timed in 1:10:52, as I recall. She was on her way, it seemed.

She ran a couple other races, an IAAF x-country race in Scotland was 11th place, I think. She said she could not switch gears to cover moves by Joanne Pavey, but I said not to worry because she was preparing for the London held 3 months later, in April. The types of training she was doing shows how much the focus for the marathon was: long warm up, 6k race, 45 minute steady run immediately afterward. Lots of 18-mile workouts with 4 x 2 miles at half-marathon pace included. I really believed she would run about 2:23-25 at London, based on the steady progress she was making and how much improvement marathon runners normally make using Tinman Marathon Workouts. But, it was not to be, for in late January she became an Australian citizen and Nic got her into some 5k track races and took over her training, thereafter. She ran 15:47 in a track race off her marathon base, which had yet to have anything fast included in it, but she did not run any better when Nic took over and she was doing hard speed training.

I was truly disappointed in the whole thing. I enjoyed very much Sonia’s personality and her cheerful way. Truly, her attitude is one of the best I’ve ever known! And, it was interesting working with a person who had achieved great things in her career.

Right now I coach several athletes who run about 31 minutes in the 10k; such as Tim Budic, who will be racing a half-marathon this weekend and the Columbus Marathon 4 weeks after that. It will be his first marathon and I am excited to see how he does. I coach several masters’ runners who are good. For example, Jim Howe, age 61, just ran a low 19:17 (5k) and ad 39:36 (10k). He runs in a half-marathon in October, so look for a sub 1:28 from him. That’s excellent racing for a man his age. He has been fun to coach!

Jim has a long history of running – since the 1980s. He’s run about 440 races, so he’s no rookie! He has gone through some very hard workout regimes in his days! Now, he’s training smarter, not harder. He is doing plenty of CV intervals, Tinman Tempos, and slower paced distance running on grass. He has been far more consistent, as a result, and avoided injuries that plagued him in the past. The consistency of his training is paying off!!

I coach some women runners that range from 16:48 to mid 18s in the 5k. They are troopers let me tell you! Women may be the hardest and most dedicated workers to coach! And, I must say, they show an enthusiasm that is contagious. If every person had his or her motivation the same, there is no telling what goals could be reached. I coach three who run for Team Good River, in Ohio. They have a fun time running together, on occasion. One, Laura, a sharp lawyer, will be running the Columbus Marathon. The others, Tayler and Tara, will be running the team national cross-country meet in December. Another gal, Erika Holroyd, will be running in the NY City Marathon, just 8 weeks from this weekend.

If a list were drawn up of all the coaches who have contacted me for training advice or training schedules, you’d be amazed. I have helped several collegiate coaches, from Univ. of IL, Washington Univ., Univ. of Idaho, Univ. of North Dakota a few years back, Jacksonville University, Univ. of IL - Chicago, UW - Eau Claire, UW – La Crosse, and others. Also, many high school coaches have contacted me and several have won state titles soon after seeking advice on training. Even open ranks coaches have asked for advice or emailed to say they had implemented some of my training ideas. People like Brad Hudson, Nic Bideau, and Scottish national coach that who I can’t remember, have contacted me.

What’s interesting is how much the Internet has opened up the exchange of information. Information that was once only found in magazines, books, or periodicals, long after the fact is now on the web in an instant. The communication of ideas helps coaches and athletes grow more knowledgeable and aware of various training methods.

Anyway, the list of runners I’ve coached goes on and on. Each person has a story to tell, goals they dream about, and desires satisfaction in their running.

Having posted on LetsRun in its early years, then Run-Insight, and now TheRunZone, what is the most common question(s) that athletes/coaches have contacted you for advice?
What is CV training and how do you do it?

I explain that is aerobic interval training, designed to both elevated one’s stamina to its fullest, yet lift aerobic power, too.

Additionally, coaches, in particular, want to know how to put together training. They read about the different types of training tools, such as my CV or Long Tempo training, but they want to know how to put those elements into a cohesive training plan. They want to know how to optimize schedules so that runners are in great race shape. But, I always tell them the real goal should be to peak when it counts most – at the end of the season when the biggest meets take place. It is fundamentally important to know how to coordinate, and in the words of Arthur Lydiard, “balance” training elements and schedules. Success depends upon it.

It is one thing to know what the training tools are, and it is all together something different knowing how to put the elements together for the runners you coach.

How can a collegiate coach apply scientific research from books or journals that relates to running into their training program?
First, it takes foundational knowledge in research methods. If you don’t have the skills to read research articles, take a course and learn how. It makes a big difference. Knowing how research is conducted, what the terms mean, and how to critique studies provides the framework for making use of available information.

Second, work with a mentor, if possible, to learn how to apply the facts studies present. It is one thing to identify facts and whole different thing to know how to make use of them in the real world. Research is artificial. It doesn’t necessarily represent what a coach experiences. For example, a study may show that running 400s at 1-mile pace is an excellent means of developing VO2 max. But, a closer look at the study reveals that the sample group in the study was students who were not avid runners. The results may be attributable to the 400s at mile pace at all but to any type of running is better than no running.

I once was told by a coach that repeat 500s at 1-mile pace was a great way to peak runners. I said that I’d read that study too and found faults with it. The study, a tapering regime in which mileage was reduced and high intensity 500m reps were used in the 5 days preceding a test performance was artificial. Why artificial, you say? Because, no coach of runners I know will do only distance running for weeks on end without including some sort of faster interval work before the 5 days preceding a peak performance. So, cutting mileage big-time and doing 500m reps would not springboard a well-trained runner’s fitness level as it would a sample group that did no fast running prior to the last 5 days.

I asked the coach if he had used the 5-day peaking plan of low mileage and hard 500m reps. He said yes, but went further to say that it hadn’t work as well as he had hoped. I said this: “I bet your runners “felt great” and they have pep in their step, but after a mile into their 5k race they started to labor enormously, and then they slowed to 30 seconds or more per minute for each of the last two miles.” Yes, he replied, and they ran anywhere from 35 to a minute and a half slower than they had the previous week, and the courses were similar.

Who has influenced you the most in your coaching?
Foremost was my first coach, in 1978, Mr. Mick. He was a brilliant runner in the early 1960s that maximized his talent(s). Limited on natural speed and very short in stature, he found that the high loads of intervals that was common of the day did not work well for him. He had never broken 60 seconds in the quarter mile and his best mile time was 4:23 (on cinders) as a college runner, but he was able to run 4 mile cross-country courses in the mid to upper 19s; a common distance that collegiate runners did back then. He ran in the mid 14s for 3 miles on the track, too, but fell short of his expectations because the coach in charge would hammer the distance crew with 20-24 x 440 yards at a hard pace a couple times per week.

Mr. Mick was a big believer in running distance because it help compete much better. In high school, he was a 4:50 miler, but when he upped his mileage from 25 to 60, in the summer after his senior year and got rid of all interval work, he was able to run 4:31 in the mile. He was amazed at the difference. No speed training at all and a 19 second improvement in his mile time, what a deal!

By time Mr. Mick was a junior, he was running 15-17 miles per run, 4-5 times per week with 5-mile jogs on the other days to recover. He started repeat miles in mid-summer on grass, at 5 am because it was so hot outside. Off just distance work (in June), he was able to run close to 5:20 per mile for 7 of them with a jog of a half mile really slow between each rep. By the end of the summer, he averaged just under 5 minutes per rep, all 7, with a minute jog. By the end of September, he ran 4:51 per rep, all 7, with 50 to 60 seconds of jog recovery. Just prior to that, he ran 19:28 for 4 miles, cross-country. He did fairly well at nationals, but sub-par because he made the error of tapering and doing his coaches workouts as written. He slowed by about 30 seconds.

There’s far more to the story, but suffice to say he learned a lot about the positive effects of doing long distance runs and long intervals. He found that doing repeat 440s were nowhere near as effective for distance runners as repeat miles. He coached several top high school runners with just 8-15 mile runs and repeat miles, nothing else. He stopped coaching high school athletes when he moved to a new school district and took over the guidance counselor’s position at the high school. I was lucky enough to have Mr. Mick as a junior high school coach. My first cross-country season, as a 7th grader, I was running 6-7 mile runs over hills and doing 660 yard Slow intervals – about 10k pace, and running1.5 mile cross-country race in 8-8:20. I attribute my success at that level entirely to Mr. Mick. I was able to run away from anybody, no matter how tough the course was or how tough the competition. I beat a couple brothers from a big school that were medallists in the AAU junior nationals in track because Mr. Mick told me to run further and not too fast in my intervals rather than shorter and harder and lose endurance. He taught me the value knowing racing tactics and competing to win. I learned the every kid could be a winner if they try their best.

My next great influence was Arthur Lydiard. I read his book, "Running The Lydiard Way" when I was a junior in high school. Though I was never able to use his methods under the direction of my high school coach, who used intervals like mad, I learned that endurance is the most important weapon a runner can develop. There is no substitute for it. Speed means little if you can’t hold the pace.

The third major influence was Bill Cornell, my first university coach. At Southern Illinois University, Bill taught me that much that runners do in their training is fluff. He said that too much mileage is just as bad as too little. Too much flat running makes your legs weak. Bad habits and lack of talent can be overcome by shear hard work, for weeks and months on end. Being light was important if you want to run well, though he wasn’t advocating going to an extreme.

Mike Elliot, a senior runner at SIU when I arrived, taught me many things too. He was the state 800m champ in Illinois and under the guidance of a great coach, Mr. Fredericks, who is one of the best high school coaches in Illinois history, I think. Mike taught me to be patient, keep doing the work, and in his words “Always run at least 30 minutes every morning.” Mike ran 1:47 in the 800m and was part of the old 4 x 400m D1 nationals record holding team, when he ran 46 seconds on his split. Had Mike focused on distance events, particularly the mile, I have no doubts that he would have been a top 6 runner at D1 nationals, for his endurance and strength were extraordinary. Finally, he taught me to be nice to younger runners and teach them the ways of the pack. It wasn’t in his way to demoralize younger runners, like some of the Brits on our team.

Lastly, Phil Esten, my coach at UW – La Crosse, taught me that enthusiasm and high energy are contagious. Runners on his teams knew that Phil walked the talk. He ran with us and even into his 40s and 50s showed he could run quite fast. It was because he was a model of what he taught! He also taught me that running should be a lifetime sport. He encouraged moderation in his runners training so they would continue running after college. Our Alumni-Intra Squad races were huge ordeals. A hundred or more graduates would show up and compete. And, many of them were Olympic Trials qualifiers. They would not have reached that level had Phil burned them out in college!

Lastly, I’ll say that my career would have been quite a bit different had I gone to Michigan State University for graduate school. I did not realize that by turning down an offer for a M.S., leading to a Ph.D. at Michigan State and instead attending a program at La Crosse that did not have a Ph.D. was a mistake. Sure, I experienced a lot at La Crosse and was able to coach as a grad student there, and I was able to use the lab to test athletes, but in the end it cost me a chance to be a collegiate instructor and researcher. My professors all came to me for answers, because they knew that certain people have the “it” factor. I did not see that in myself, however, and found out only later that I was regarded so highly.

After college and not finding a decent job in exercise science, despite a BS and MS in it, I went into the Air Force and learned radiology. It was a snap, of course, because science and anatomy are what it is all about. But, I missed so much more. I mention this because I want to help younger people make better choices than I did. Realize this: If you are considering becoming a doctor of exercise science, earn your Master’s degree at a major institution. Your odds of getting into a doctorate program are greatly increased. Second, if you want to be a coach at a certain level, say D1, then being a student at that level and being a volunteer coach is the way to go. You won’t make it to D1, most likely, if you aren’t already “in the system.” It is very hard to work at D3 level and make it to D1 level. It took Coach Mark Guthrie, the most prolific coach in D3 track & field in recent years, 20 years to make it to the D1 level. If Mark takes that long, at his success level in D3, imagine how tough it could be if YOU don’t have his number of D3 wins!

*Thanks to Tom for a great interview.*

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