Sunday, September 06, 2009

Gunn HS T/F distance coach Matthew Tompkins...

The following is an email conversation I had with Gunn HS distance coach and The King's Academy Cross Country coach, Matthew Tompkins. This took place at the conclusion of the '09 track and field season when several Gunn HS distance runners made a name for themselves with spectacular performances at the CCS final. Matthew is a former Gunn Titan himself as he competed for legendary coach, Hal Daner along with his brother, Mark.

I think it's worth sharing with other coaches and athletes out there and thanks to Matthew for agreeing to have me post the following.

1) What do you think is the reason for so many kids running so well?

This question has multiple answers.

1) The athlete as a person is most important to me. The most important part of coaching to me is the athlete as a person. I have always valued runners first and foremost and based my judgment of them by their character and who they are as people not as runners. Whether you are a fast runner or slow runner, I want each and every athlete to improve first of all as a person and then as a runner. When this is established, the athletes learn to trust me as coach and begin to believe in what we are doing training wise and in general as a team.

2) Coaching is a discussion/dialogue between the athlete and the coach. I tell the athletes that coaching is a dialogue between athletes and the coach. It is not a one way street. I want them to tell me how they are doing on a day to day basis so I can adjust their workouts accordingly to how they are feeling and what is going on as well in regards to physical, academic and emotional stress. High School athletes world’s are easily turned upside down so I make sure to ask them how they are doing and in particular with so many athletes I constantly remind them to come and talk to me about what is going on physically, emotionally, and academically so we can create win-win situations for them.

3) Don’t get Greedy! This has been a saying that Ernie and I always joke about but we take it seriously too. We constantly have to remind ourselves that the most important goal is that the kids have fun, learn to love running and stay injury free! I constantly remind myself that under-training the athlete is paramount. In the six years I have been at Gunn we have not had one single stress fracture! Nor have we had any of our elite athletes not be able to compete in CCS or State Meet because of an overuse injury. How do I accomplish this? Basically in two ways. First my main goal is to get only with-in 20% of what I think an athletes full potential is. I constantly remind myself that the athletes are in high school and we are not trying to qualify for the Olympic trials and that my hope is that if they fall in love with running they will continue to excel in College and in the future. Second we use Cross-training for any athlete that doesn’t seem to be able to handle a lot of mileage. We have several athletes each year that only run 3 to 4 times a week or less and are very successful. (I.E. Kelsey Feeley 2:17 in the 800 meters, Lisa Fawcett 11:25 2 – mile and others.) Finally, I look at the athlete’s development from a four year perspective (if they come in as frosh) and not in regard to a 1 or 2 year outlook.

4) Individualized workouts. Finally, each athlete comes up with their own goals. (We specifically ask kids what their goals are early on in the season or at the end of XC.) Once I know their goals I individualize everyone’s running program to attempt to obtain those goals. For example, when I come to practice on interval days I have a spread sheet that contains individual times/splits for every runner! Every runner is given a tailored workout. This sounds complicated but it’s actually really easy. I spreadsheet the time-trial times and or race results and then calculate workouts using those times. As athletes improve their race times I adjust their times for intervals as well.

What is the mileage of most of the kids like Summers and Mayer?

As frosh Allie, and Paul mostly focused on shorter races in particular the 800 and mile, and were only running between 30 and 35 miles a week. As each year progressed we have slightly increased their mileage to where Allie is running btw 40 to 50 miles a week at most, and Paul has been running between 50 and 60 miles a week.

The “secret” to our training is that Allie and Paul have never been injured the entire time they have run at Gunn High School. I believe this is the secret to their success because they have consistently been able to train 11 months a year without any injuries. I believe it is this consistency that has allowed them to gradually improve each year vs. attempting to run “heavy mileage” and make gains in that fashion.

What were some of his key workouts on the track leading up to the league finals and CCS for the 1600/3200 runners?

Basically, what we do for workouts is that we basically begin to taper athletes 3 weeks prior to when we believe their final competition will be. For example we figured that Paul and Allie would most likely qualify for CCS Finals, but anything beyond that was not very likely, so we begin running shorter workouts and race simulations to prepare them for each race after League finals in early May.

Sample workouts:

Allie: 11:00 goal pace (week prior to Scval Qualifier) (5000 meters total)
3 X 400 @ 82.5, 75 seconds rest
1 X 800 @ 2:45 3:00 min. rest
4 x 400 @ 81.5 75 second rest
1 x 800 @ 2:45 5 min. rest
1 x 400 @ sub 70 secs.

3 X 400 @ 69, 75 seconds rest
1 X 800 @ 2:18 3:00 min. rest
4 x 400 @ 68, 75 second rest
1 x 800 @ 2:18 5 min. rest
1 x 400 @ sub 60 secs.

Race simulation before CCS trials

Allie: (10:52 pace)
2 X 200 @ 40.5 second pace (200 meter jog)
2 X 400 @ 81.5 rest 75 seconds
1 X 1200 @ 4:06 rest 3 min.
2 X 400 @ 80 75 seconds rest…then five minute break.
1 x 400 @ sub 70.

Same for Paul but at 9:10 pace.

Did you think Paul would run that fast?

Paul is an interesting case, as he never has been that competitive with other runners but is a runner who truly loves running against himself. After watching him over the years he doesn’t react so much to other runners but more to internal challenges as in regards to beating his own times and PRs. He really likes to see himself improve. Furthermore, he doesn’t react when I tell him things like you “should try and beat so and so” but he reacts much better when I say something like, “Hey Paul why don’t you think about running 70s for this race”

At the beginning of the season Paul and I went on a couple of long runs and discussed his goals, he decided he wasn’t so much interested in running invitationals but wanted to run to help the team out in dual meets with his focus on a running the 2 mile fast at the end of the season.

With that being his goal, we (Paul and I) decided to change his training to match that of a 5000 meter runner that focused on quality interval sessions at goal 2 mile pace. Paul began running 10 miles on many of his recovery days and did separate workouts twice a month that focused specially on building a strong aerobic base which helped him later. For example early on the season he would run 8 X 800 … 2 X 2:30, 2 X 2:25, 2 X 2:20, and 2 X 2:15 with 3 to 4 mins. rest between each one. Later we began running 600s, 400s and 200s to hone some of his speed.

Yes, I am surprised that Paul ran 9:13, but I believed he could definitely run 9:20 or so according to his workouts. I think the fact that he didn’t race two many tough 2 miles during the regular season really kept him fresh later on!

Ernie makes most of the race choices / decisions with our athletes so they get a say in what they want to the run for the most part.

Finally, one of the reasons we have such a large and fun team is because, we constantly do activities such as yogurt runs, pasta feeds, fun days, lots of games on Fridays, dance offs with other schools, breakfasts after Saturday runs and all kinds of other cool and wacky stuff!

Thanks for your questions Albert, I’ll be more than happy to clarify or explain anything else.



Matthew A. Tompkins
The King's Academy
Spanish II Teacher - TKA
Co-Head Cross Country Coach - TKA

Assistant Track and Field Coach Gunn High School
Adjunct Professor - The National Hispanic University
Email:> or
"No one can serve two lords. There is only one God, and
that God will either be the true one, who asks us to give things up when they become sin, or it will be the god of money, who makes us turn our back on Christianity's God" --- Archbishop Oscar Romero, January 21, 1979


Evan Smith said...

Well put Matt! The genius behind Gunn's year in and year out success is the ying and yang that is Matt and Ernie. I have HUGE respect for that program.

Albert Caruana said...

Recently graduated Gunn HS runner, Allie Mayer, recently made her debut with Northwestern University as their #1 runner and 8th place overall finisher, leading the Wildcats to a 2nd place finish in the Depaul home opener.

Link to story and results:

Anonymous said...

That is crazy... Lisa Fawcett only runs 3-4x a week? That is some amazing talent, she has a great future ahead of her... Gunn seems to always get some really amazing talent with Fawcett, Mayer, Kieran Gallagher, Erin Robinson, etc... not to mention some of the legends in the past like Ruth Graham, Tori Tyler (who is famous for her hardcore running)...

Since Gunn moved up to D1, can they beat Carlmont?

Evan Smith said...

Yes. Gunn girls may be the best team in the CCS, regardless of division.

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