Today we chat with Santa Cruz HS coach Greg Brock although in the online running community (flotrack, letsrun etc.) he has come to be known as Maggie Vessey's coach. While he has had recent success with Maggie, Greg has long been known in the high school running community as a very successful coach. He was a great runner in his own right as you will see below including holding several distance running records at Stanford University and finishing 5th in the 1972 Olympic Trials marathon. Greg continues to be a student of the sport and is definitely one of the most approachable coaches around.
1) How did you get your start in running? What was it that got you hooked to running?
After getting a lot of bench time in freshman football and baseball and plenty of time to think and realize that my talents didn't lie there, I went out for cross country as a sophomore. I really wanted a varsity letter and figured anyone could work hard and accompish that goal. This was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Over the course of the season I worked up from about 13th man to 6th in our last 3 races leading up to State Meet. By the coaches point system, I should have run at the State Meet. However, the coach chose a senior over me. I vowed to myself that would never happen to me again. I also felt so good being in shape, and that I had found my physical fitness vehicle - a sport in which to excel.
2) What were some of your high school accomplishments? College? Post college?
High school. Went to State Meet in California junior and senior years. High School times: 1:57.6y, mile 4:19.8, and 9:13.2. College: At one time held 2mile 8:45.2, 3 mile 13:36.4 and 6 mile 29:01 school records at Stanford. All have long since been destroyed and don't even merit all-time top 10 list. Made all American in cross country in 68 and 69. Placed 5th in 10,000 in '68. Post college: ran 28:53.6 in 10,000 at Nationals in '72. Placed 5th in Olympic Trials marathon in '72 running 2:22:29.6. Ran until age 50 at a fairly high recreational level.
3) Looking back at your own training, what do you feel like really worked for you? What didn't work?
What really worked was consistency, a blend of distance and repitition running. What didn't work was trying to run too many miles. 85-90 and once in a while a bump up because of an extra long run was best for me. 120-130 was too much.
4) What led you to coaching and where did you get your start in coaching? Where else have you coached besides Santa Cruz HS?
I really loved running and wanted to share the positive experience with other people. I was helping runners from other schools when I was still in high school. I coached at Cabrillo College for 16 years after my first 7 years at Santa Cruz HS, I cross country season at UCSC where I coached Armando Siquieros. 14 years with the Santa Cruz Track Club.
5) What coaches do you consider to be your mentors that have been the biggest influences in who you are as a coach?
My first two coaches in Portsmouth, New Hampshire were both very good, Leonard Martin at Norte Del Rio was very good. I was kind of coachless in some ways senior year of high school and first two years of college. However, it has been pointed out to me that I learned how not to coach in those 3 years. Marshall Clark was a savior to our Stanford team in many ways. I learned the most important thing in being a good coach is to be a good person.
6) As a young coach, what runners do you remember that gave you the confidence that you were on the right track in terms of training?
My two standout athletes from my early years at Santa Cruz HS were John Rembao and Terry Schneider. John is coaching at Cal and is outstanding and I now learn things from him. Terry is a dynamo. After a discouraging experience trying to run at Cal Poly, she became a triathalete and was one of the top iron person triatheletes in the world. From there, she went to adventure races, mountaineering etc. She coaches and was a professional athlete for many years.
7) From your first few years in coaching to now, what have been some of the biggest changes in training distance runners?
I think the biggest change has been the addition of planned, controlled tempo runs. Changing the warm-up from static stretching to dynamic is another big one.
8) From your perspective, what do you feel are the keys to preparing runners to race well in cross country?
If you want to be successful in cross country you have to train during the summer. It doesn't have to be all running, cross training can make an aerobic contribution. All around fitness is important in my opinion. Training specificity is important to learn the technique of running cross country.
9) Tell us a little bit when you first noticed Maggie Vessey's talents and how you eventually ended up coaching her.
I watched Maggie run as a freshman in high school and made a point of watching her run at CCS. It was obvious then that she was a rare talent. I just observed and followed her career in high school and college. Then after her negative experience in Southern California, she was trying to put her running career back together. I saw her finish her workout at Soquel HS before our Wednesday night Santa Cruz Track Club workout and asked how things were going. She said she was looking for a coach. I realized she was asking me. Sure, why not I said. 6 months later she got 5th at the Olympic trials 800.
10) Do you feel like you have become a better coach by coaching her? If yes, how so?
First of all, working with Maggie validated many of my training methods. Coaching Maggie has been a very positive and challenging experience. I have learned many new things as a result and this makes one a better coach.
11) What advice would you give young coaches that are just starting out?
Following up on the earlier theme, keep learning and don't get stuck. You have to be a people person and not just try to win. You have to appreciate all your athletes as people without regard to talent. Our sport is all about getting people to come out and try it. You have to recruit and sell the sport and it is not easy by any means and that is certainly my biggest challenge.
12) Anything else you would like to add.
As many others have said. I love your site and appreciate your passion for the sport and helping everyone involved. I am always picking up new things perspective or review by following this site. So, keep up the great work. Greg