Strength Performance Network

The UCSB Track

What a place the UCSB track was in the 70’s. Sam Adams, the head coach at UCSB had an open door policy as far as allowing non-collegians to train. There was a thriving community of decathletes training there attracted by then world record holder Bill Toomey. Hansreudi Kunz was a Swiss decathlete that trained there in winter and spring of 72. He was doing graduate work in biomechanics at Federal Technical Institute in Zurich. He really opened my eyes to the application of sport science. He got me to think more about why and he made all my reading come alive. The lesson I learned from him, that was confirmed by observation of the other European athletes that trained there, was that it was not about max strength and the weight room. Don’t get me wrong they used the weight room, but their emphasis was on what we now call multi-throws and multi-jumps. Very high intensity, low volume, explosive and ballistic with everything measured. In contrast we were investing large amounts of time in the weight room lifting heavy.

TuS 04 Leverkusen the German (West Germany at the time) track club would come for a month in the spring to train. Gerd Osenberg was the coach. Once I figured out what they were doing and what I could learn by observing him coach, I called in sick from teaching and followed him around for two days observing and taking notes. Everything was timed and measured, very methodical. He worked with three athletes every hour from 9:00 AM in the morning until late afternoon with a break for lunch.  He coached all events, no specialization here, although later his greatest success as a coach came with high jump. I spoke no German and he spoke no English but verbal communication was not necessary, just watching and listening was enough. It was efficient training that stressed quality. There was a clearly defined system. The warm-ups were choreographed, active and dynamic. The pattern of the warm-up I learned from them is the basis of the warm-up I still use today. 

“Pete” Petersen was the coach of Club West, the track club that Toomey had founded and many of us competed for. He was coaching quite a talented group of middle distance and distance runners. I learned a lot about changing tempos and the actual application of Igloi’s effort descriptors. It was my first exposure to "effort” based training. He used descriptors like swing, medium, medium hard, hard and race to describe the effort he wanted on the various intervals. It was simple and made sense, it was something I incorporated in my training and continue to use today. Greg Brock, a very successful distance runner at Stanford was training there (Fifth in 1972 Olympic Trials Marathon) and also getting his masters in exercise physiology at UCSB. We had some great discussions on training and he had a big influence on my philosophy of training for middle distance and distance. Later I used his ideas and concepts and the effort concept I learned from Petersen for endurance development in other sports.

What an eye opener it was watching Jan Merrill who ran 4:02.61 at the 1976 Olympics and her coach Norm Higgins. They trained at UCSB in the spring on 1976. The training they did was nothing like I had ever seen before or since even from the African runners I have seen train. The intensity was off the scale. Everyone would stop and watch her workouts. She did unbelievably high intensity short rest intervals’ that she cranked out like a machine, day after day. I don't think easy or ecovery was on their radar scope. Seldom have I seen an athlete with the focus and concentration that she had.

For three summers the San Francisco 49er had training camp at UCSB. It was great watching those practices. It was a different time and place, you could get right next to the drills and hear the coaching.

The 1972 Olympic Trails in Eugene Oregon was a pivotal experience in my coaching career. There was a great clinic featuring a who’s who of American track coaching at the time. For me the meet, the warm-up area and the coaches in the stands were also like a big clinic. I was all eyes and ears, soaking up everything I could. Everyone and everything was much more accessible than today. I remember watching Bud Winter coach – The lesson was relaxation, relaxation, relaxation, let your eyelids flop and Dr. Leroy Walker work with Larry Black on his turn technique in the 200 and on and on.

AAU Learn by Doing Clinic organized by Fred Wilt at Sacramento State in July 1972 after the Olympic Trails. It was five more days of more of total immersion in track & field technique and training with the greatest coaches in the world as teachers and many future greats as fellow pupils. I would have to say that what I saw and learned in the month of July 1972 was  like graduate school. Some of the lessons I was not able to immediately apply, others had an immediate impact, but as I look back I can’t believe the experiences that were packed into that month.I can't believe how fortunate I was to be there at that time.

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