Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Great Craig Virgin

Craig Virgin is often overlooked as one of the greats in the sport. He was every bit as good and as accomplished as any of the U.S. greats. From a profile of him from a few years ago come some great insights:

Virgin is proud of his southwestern Illinois heritage. Throughout most of his career he stayed in the Midwest and did a substantial amount of his training in and around Lebanon.

What about the bitter winter cold and the stifling summer heat and humidity?

“It’s sad that there still is no indoor track in the area for runners to do a quality workout when the weather is bad,” Virgin says. “That said, I always told people if you could succeed here then you were always going to be headed to a better place. Suffering through the cold and heat here becomes part of the training effect. It improves your endurance and mental toughness.


When Virgin gives motivational speeches to young athletes, he emphasizes the importance of setting goals, writing them down, and keeping that list of goals in sight.

“In high school I would sit down in August just as school was about to start and write down my goals for each event of the year,” he says. “Those goals would go up on a cardboard poster hanging on my bedroom wall. When winter hit and my alarm went off at 6:20 in the morning and I was wondering why in the world I would leave my nice warm bed for an icy cold workout, I would look up at those goals on the wall and that would confirm why I was making the sacrifice.”

Everyone from high school runners seeking to improve in cross country to 40-year-old age-groupers trying to break 40 minutes for a 10K should follow the same approach, Virgin says. “Commit yourself to a goal, decide what it will take to get there, write it down, and then keep it in front of you as constant reminder of your mission.”

It’s also important to be confident, Virgin stresses. “You have to have the confidence that if you set a goal and follow a good training plan, you will be able to go out and capitalize on that training and succeed. Everyone who reaches the top of a sport has to have an inner confidence that he or she can do great things.”

Just don’t confuse confidence with arrogance. “Look what happened to Bode Miller at the Olympics,” Virgin says. “He passed that line from being confident to cocky and then, for whatever reason, had his lunch handed to him in Turin as one of the major disappointments on the American team. You can be confident and maintain a healthy outlook on life without turning into an arrogant jerk. But it’s a real balancing act that almost every successful athlete has to face.”

Virgin reminds athletes who seek him out for coaching advice that the key is a balanced lifestyle. They need to define their priorities in terms of how training fits in with a career, school, family, and other activities. “Certainly it’s harder for people balancing all these demands to achieve their true potential but it can be done,” he says.


During his professional racing days, Virgin’s life revolved around his two or three daily workouts. He was able to train so hard for all those years because he approached making the commitment to succeed as a world-class athlete and warrior as a lifestyle, not a sacrifice.

“I loved it,” he says. “And what I’ve lived through over the past nine years has helped me realize that I still love it. Running helps me find out who I am and what I’m made of. It’s not just a sport — it’s a passion.”

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