Tag: Issue 9 Sept 2012

Interview with Former World XC Champ John Ngugi

Throwback Thursday. Each Thursday we will publish a post that was previously released in our magazine. This one comes from our September 2012 issue. Level columnist Kevin Gray caught up with world champion John Ngugi. 

For you new school athletes/readers, John Ngugi is a five time world cross country champion.  No small potatoes.  If you’re old enough and have a good enough memory, you might recall that he picked up the 1992 world title in our own backyard—in Franklin Park.

Kevin Gray: How did you come to be a runner in Kenya? As a boy growing up in Kenya, was it a tough life and did you struggle with poverty? I know that you were famous for your toughness and strong work ethic; did your upbringing contribute to this toughness? We would love to know what it was like to grow up in Kenya.

John Ngugi: First and foremost, I send greetings to all my fans in Boston and you. Thank you for taking your time to have a wide profile of my athletic career. My running in Kenya played a big role in my childhood. Most of the successful athletes that are now millionaires must have faced the real sense of poverty before their final success. In my case, my life was difficult since we only earned a livelihood through agriculture, that involved cattle rearing and seasonal harvesting. With such as the key means of earning income one was never sure of any school fees, clothing, and to some extent food due to the uncertainty that comes with farming. A good education system was a privilege of a few due to lack of school fees caused by financial difficulties.

My heroes at that time were many, for example Henry Rono. With such heroes to emulate I got the determination and courage to exploit my potential in athletics to such great heights and there after emerging a success in the athletics field.

KG: What sports did you play as a youth? Do young boys in Kenya want to emulate the famous runners that they see around town? Who were some of your athletic heroes growing up?

JN: At the time, I did not really have a clear sense of sports. Back in the days most of the games played today had not come to Kenya. We loved soccer even though we did not have any actual soccer balls (we had some made of polythene papers).  We did some river swimming and the best of all was a hunting game. We would have a gathering of friends, neighbors, and relatives. We would gather all dogs in our neighborhood and involve ourselves in a hunting race. The winner would be the person who would capture the most dogs in the shortest time possible. My brother and I would always emerge victorious with as many as five catches with the others having one, two, or none. Such activities were of help to my career in athletics as they enhanced my long distance running. At that time life was good and interesting.

level interviews 430x300 9.7.14Most of the best runners have been emulated by the young upcoming athletes and have had them as their mentors and role models. You hear echoes of pedestrians saying they have either seen Paul Tergat, Makau, Rudisha and the rest which gives the young talents people to look on to pursue their careers in this field of athletics, which is a privilege especially given that some in other countries would wish to have such heroes to look up to but lack.

KG: As you began to have success, Mike Kosgei began to coach you and you adopted his methods of training three times a day.  This began to become known as the “Ngugi Routine.” Was this incredible training regime what propelled you to be the best cross country runner in the world? How many kilometers were you running a week and how often would you do track workouts/hills or tempo runs? Can you please explain what a typical training week would like when you were the world’s best?

JN: Mr. Mike Kosgei played a big role in my training sessions and all credits go to him for making me who I am. Through him the Ngugi spirit still rekindles among our athletes. My passion and desire to be world champion increased my strength. I had to accept his tough and tedious training but the results were all to favor me. Before Mr. Kosgei came, I used to have training which to me I called “hard.” However, after his arrival with his training I did like three times of my so called “hard training.”   The irony was I had longer long runs than I expected.  I always wondered why the long run seemed to go by so quickly, despite being in dark hours. (Editor’s Note: Ngugi did his long runs as early as 4:30 am and for a good portion of his career he did not own a watch.)

My weekly routine had an average of 200km (124 miles). I would make sure on Mondays and Saturdays to have a daily program not exceeding 20-30k. On the track sessions, my program range was 800 meters and above. The program expected from my coach had a focus on 10,000 meters. That’s why I had the courage to do both 10,000 meters and 5000 meters at the same time in all my events.  My motto was “Train Hard, Fight Easy” which made me shine in most of the appearances I made. In fact I had less time on hill work since the geographical scenery had plenty of them.

KG: You won World Cross five times, and are widely considered one of the best cross country runners ever. Which of these five victories has a special place in your heart? You are considered a legend here in Boston because of your epic run in the deep snow, taking on and beating the Ethiopian team single handedly. Do you have any special memories of your victory in 1992 at Franklin Park? If I remember correctly, the Ethiopians tried to block your progress by running four or five across up the narrow path to Bear Cage Hill.

JN: In 1992 in Boston, I only used one trick in beating the Ethiopians. I made sure I would zap the Ethiopians strength by making them run hard. As soon as the race got tough bit by bit, one by one, they slipped aside and gave me space to move on. The best thing is that in my training sessions most of the times it was rainy. The muddy and steep route was hectic but I fought easy.

KG: Switching gears a bit, you were known primarily as a runner who excelled in the bush, but you also won a gold medal in the 5000 meters in Seoul. Can you please bring us through this race?

JN: This was my best run, the one that bears a special place in my heart at the Seoul Olympic Games. My mind recalls each and every step of that day. At that time, most of the athletes underestimated my efforts and I had to prove them wrong. If you have a look at that clip, I almost lapped the 2nd finisher. I wish I had a chance to speak to him, and he would claim the same.

KG: It’s a great thing to see that you have decided to give back to the less fortunate children of Kenya through your foundation. Can you please talk a bit about the the mission and purpose of the group?

JN: Having had a good platform, it’s best for me to have a foundation known as The John Ngugi Foundation. Our key mission is to identify young Kenyans who have sporting talent and build them into responsible adults and world champions.We have received numerous sponsorships from all our partners. For some time, we have been offering sponsorships to the needy and poor families. In this year we launched a shoe campaign process which we intend to distribute to most of the less fortunate talented youths here in order to enhance their running capability. We have also been working all along with Mt. Kenya Development Talent Centre, a charitable organization with  a similar mission and objectives which is giving aid to the less fortunate underprivileged talented youths. Most youths here have talents but all go to waste due to abject poverty, lack of training facilities, and people to monitor such talents. It’s so bad to see such young people get wasted to drugs, HIV/AIDS, lawlessness, and other societal ills.

Our main purpose is to have a sponsorship program where we can assist the young upcoming but less fortunate athletes and to make their athletic dreams a reality. Abject poverty coupled with lack of proper training facilities has been a major contributing factor to loss of would be world athletic heroes. It’s our belief at the John Ngugi Foundation and our affiliated charity, Mt. Kenya Talents Development Centre, that should these young talents  be hosted in a camp and be provided with all necessary training, that we will have some new Ngugi’s in the athletic world. We wish to reduce this loss of talent and have good sportsmen and women.

KG: Can we talk about the explosion of Kenyan marathoning over the past five years? The times have just become unfathomable, and as seen recently, the Kenyan Athletic federation probably had the hardest job in sport picking only three athletes for the Olympics. Any thoughts as to what has led to this utter domination? From what I’ve read, young athletes may have copied your training regime in the camps, training multiple times a day and really just honing an already strong work ethic.

JN: Athletics Kenya had a hard time in making their decisions on the issue of the Kenyan athletes to feature in the 2012 Olympics. The worry was who would be the successor to the late Samuel Kamau Wanjiru who I knew from his early runs. (He even once came to my training camp at Nyahururu Central County.) But keep in mind that if there were 3 Olympic Games at the same time, the Kenyan spirit would still dominate the best. Critics argue that every Kenyan runner is a champion due to tough competition. This utter domination has been caused solely by advanced training that has come up even to some extent on having foreign coaches training our athletes. In addition to this, many Kenyans have also come to the reality that athletics is also a major income source.  Still, most train hard all in the name of wanting to secure that chance to represent the country.

KG: Do you regret that you never had the chance to excel at the marathon or were you happy with your success at the shorter distances?

JN: The little efforts that I attained were worth the success in that short period. I have no regrets at all since I broke a record of being a 5 Time World Cross Country Champion.

KG: You are Kikuyu, and not many people realize that within Kenyan culture, there are 42 distinct tribes. The Kalenjin are usually known as the “running tribe.” Were you a pioneer, one of the first Kikuyu who proved that you could be a champion? Does this rivalry exist amongst tribes in Kenya today?

JN: Let me say I adore my tribe as a Kikuyu. The rivalry tribes do exist among some athletes. One of my friends just disclosed to me a secret he kept for more than 20 years on how they used to play tricks on me. Their worry was I never stood up in either of their game plans. In some sense the Kalenjin still dominate. Athletics to them is like going to school. The majority of athletes come from there and most of their children must have started early practices as from 5 to 10 years of age. That’s why they shine.

KG: What are some of your interests outside of running? How are you enjoying retirement?

JN: I am enjoying my retirement. These days I do offer some training sessions to the youth. I am also the director of coaching at Mt. Kenya Talent Development Centre. In 2009 I was selected to be the Peace Ambassador of our country. I spend most of the time in meetings regarding peace forum. When I am out of business, I spend my times with my two sons, Stephen Kamau Ngugi and James Wahome Ngugi. They give me hope, strength, and encourage my heart. I believe they will follow my footsteps. They are doing extremely great and making remarkable progress.  Thank you for having your precious time on my profile.  Thank you and God bless you.

Kevin Gray is a regular contributor for Level Renner.

LVL Profile: Nancy Corsaro

We are starting a new feature on our website. Every Tuesday, we’ll delve into our archives and spotlight a member of the Level Legion. First up: Nancy Corsaro. Her original profile, a day in the life, appeared in the September 2012 issue of our magazine.

nancy and frank corsaro kevbalance carver 7.2012

Nancy and Frank Corsaro after the 2012 Carver Cranberry Classic.

Nancy Corsaro was not an athlete, never mind a runner, growing up. She maybe ran a little bit in high school and college but that was more for weight loss than fitness. “I was rather overweight when I graduated from Colby College in 1980,” she said. Upon graduation, however, she began to run more consistently and the pounds melted away. She ran her first race in 1982 and shocked herself with a surprising 7th place finish. “I was hooked,” she exclaimed. Over the next couple of years she continued to improved and entered the 1984 Boston Marathon. She ran 3:08.

After that performance, she joined the Whirlaway Racing Team. Despite being the only female in the nascent stages of the club, she improved steadily. 1988 and 1989 proved to be her best years and the time frame in which she garnered most of her PR’s. In 1988 she ran the Olympic Marathon Trials in Pittsburg. She netted a top 25 finish (25th) and 2:40.27, less than 11 minutes off Margaret Groos’ winning time of 2:29.50. In 1989 she grabbed her 10k PR at what is now the Tufts 10k. That one, though, came with a hefty price. “I injured my hamstring,” Corsaro recalls, “which led to many other injuries (stress fracture in my foot, back injuries).”

The hamstring injury ultimately led to a break in running and the birth of her two children. As she turned 40, however, the advent of a new age group rekindled her interest in running: “I decided to give master’s racing a try.” And she’s glad she did because she was top master in the USATF-GPS in 2001. In fact, Corsaro owns a rare trifecta of accomplishments. She is the first New England harrier to win USATF-GPS crowns as an open runner (1986), master runner (2001), and senior runner (2009 and 2010). In addition to her GPS victories and Olympic Trials experience, Corsaro counts being on the awards stage of the Boston Marathon multiple times (1987, ’89, ’01, ’02, ’09, ’10) as her proudest accomplishment. If I were her, I would be proud of the PR’s too. Here they are:

5k – 16:53
8k – 26:57
10k – 33:55
10 miles – 56:10
13.1 miles – 77:59
26.2 miles – 2:40.27

 corsaro nancy week in the life table 9.6.14

September 2012: Issue 9

Do you know what Graston Technique is? How to make the perfect veggie burger? What about the best way to run a fartlek? Open us this issue because we got all the answers.

Download Issue 9


Table of Contents

    • Editor’s Note & Letters
    • Lane 1: Performance
      Negative Splits w/ McCabe
    • Lane 2: Nutrition
      Veggie Burgers
    • Lane 3: Body Shop
      Graston Technique
    • Level Profiles
    • Club Spotlight
      The Hub Running Club
    • Lane 4: Commentary
      LR Year #2
      Distance Dilemma
    • Level Featured Event
      Run 4 Kerri
    • Level Bits
      Survey, music, etc
    • Level Nonfiction
      Bar Harbor
    • Level Interview
      John Ngugi
    • HSR
      GPS #8 Update
    • Back Page
      Online Happenings and Winners

Negative Splits: The Allison McCabe Session

As you may have noticed, Allison McCabe (GBTC) has been tearing it up on the roads lately. She won the Jim Kane Sugar Bowl in Dorchester way back in July, then placed third at the Carver USATF-NE Grand Prix race. You may have also seen this interview from Carver:

Allison’s current situation seems to be pretty unique, especially for someone winning races. It seemed appropriate to add a little more (as far as background story goes) to this one, as I think the training plan overall would be an interesting read, in addition to this specific workout that is the focus here. Let’s let Allison tell us how she does.

My most recent stress fracture healed in the winter, so I returned to running in January.  Since January I have been only running 3 days a week.  I do the team workouts on Tuesday and Thursday and on Saturday either a race or short tempo run.   I substitute runs with cross training.  I’m in the pool Monday, Wednesday, Friday and bike on Sunday.  I do no regular runs and no long runs.  When I do run, it’s a workout or race.  I try to do only quality running.  I do about 17-18 miles per week.

The doctors say I’m at high risk for continuing to get stress fractures.  I went many years with no injuries and then recently got 3 stress fractures within 15 months.  I plan to continue this run/cross training cycle.  As the cross-country season nears, I will join the distance team for Tuesday workouts, which will be longer intervals with less recovery and lower intensity.  I will add longer tempo runs on Saturdays, but I still plan to keep my mileage low.

Dave Callum is her coach over at the GBTC and he had this to say about her current situation:

Allison came off running a PB in the 1500 in June of 2010 and has since battled several foot stress fractures due to some abnormal foot anatomy. We lowered her weekly mileage significantly, replacing it with mostly pool training, in hopes of minimizing the risk of further fractures. Prior to this series of injuries, Allison would balance her weekly training with one 800-1500m workout with the other being a longer 3k-5k oriented workout. We thought focusing on the speed and lower volume might keep her injury-free over the long haul, so she began training with the 800m group at both practices each week.

Essentially, her only mileage is now just on the track during twice a week workouts, and so we have focused that time on specificity and speed. Certainly this made training with purpose even more important considering Allison was used to getting in as much as 60 plus miles per week. Her aerobic work is now focused in the pool.

Allison continues:

Since returning to running with this modified training plan, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep my fitness up.  Especially since other distance runners do so much mileage.  When I first talked with coach Dave about this plan, we weren’t sure if I’d be able to run the 1500 and thought maybe we should stick to the 800m.  I only did a few races in the winter and they were not that great.  Then I took time off in March and April due to sickness.  I was still feeling sick in mid-April and I didn’t think I’d be able to race at all.  I thought for sure I would end up missing another track season (luckily by the last week in April I finally starting feeling better).

I had many doubts about being able to keep up in workouts and how my limited running would affect me in a race.  But in each workout I was able to keep up and run reasonable times so I was surprised.  I found that the cross training helps me recover more quickly and my legs always feel fresh.  It will be interesting to see what I can do in cross country, since the research always says its important to have a base and do lots of miles.  I haven’t had a decent base in awhile.

If the cross training keeps me from getting injured, then I am sticking with it.  Some running is better than no running.

Allison finishing 3rd at Carver, courtesy of Krissy Kozlosky

Workout time!

This is a workout I did on Tuesday evening, June 19 in preparation for Club Track Nationals.  I did this at the Madison High School Track in Roxbury.  This was a Greater Boston Track Club practice night and I trained with the 800m group.  On this particular night, I was with Jessica Klett and Chris Blondin.

I started with a 20 min. warm up followed by 4 x 100m strides.  Then Jess and Chris and I met with Coach Dave Callum to discuss the workout plan.

The workout was:

1000m (3 min. rest)

200m (1 min. rest)

200m (6 min. rest)

800m (3 min. rest)

200m (1 min. rest)

200m (6 min. rest)


My goal was to run the 1000m under 3:10 and the 800m under 2:28.  My paces were:

1000 – 3:06, 200 – 34, 200 – 34, 800 – 2:25, 200 – 34, 200 – 34, 600 – 1:48

Coach Dave, about this workout specifically:

This workout is one of my favorites. We will often do variations of this work during the season, leaning toward race simulations at the end of the season and in the earlier months we replace the 200s with longer distances (like 500s and 400s) to push those acidity limits. Our goal is to become comfortable with race paces, become more confident in running at goal pace, and build lactic threshold.

Back to Allison, to take us through the details:

Chris and Jess led the workout and I followed closely behind.  I was especially pleased with the 800m because our first lap was a 74 but we were able to come back in a 71.  For the longer intervals I finished with Jess and Chris and it felt comfortable.  However, Jess and Chris were ahead of me on the 200s.  My raw speed isn’t as good as it used to be.

Up until this point I hadn’t done many intervals over 600m so I really wanted to run decent times for the 1000m and 800m.  I was training for the 1500m, so being able to run two longer intervals close to mile pace gave me confidence.  With Coach Dave Callum we do a lot of split 800s or split 1000s which I really like.  This helps stimulate the feeling of a race, when you need to pick up the pace the last 200m while still being tired from the previous interval.

We were trying to get max recovery for the longer intervals.  The goal for the 600m was 1:46-1:50.  However, I wasn’t really sure what I could do for the 600 since it was at the end of the workout and I was feeling pretty tired.  My goal was to run under 1:50 and I did, so I was satisfied.  I usually tend to focus on the longer intervals as opposed to the shorter, since it will give me more confidence to race a 1500m.

Overall I was pleased with the workout, even though I didn’t hit the goal times for the 200s. The target paces for the 200s were 32-43 sec, so I was still in the low end of the range, but my teammates were running about 31/32.  In the past I would’ve been able to hit 32 easily.

This workout was a confidence booster since I ran decent paces off little running.  After this workout I felt much more confident and ready for club nationals. I then told myself not to worry about my mileage and that I’m still capable of racing a good 1500.

At Club Track Nationals I ended up finishing in fifth place with a 4:33.59, which is about four seconds off my personal best of 4:29. I ran aggressively, put myself in good position from the start and was on PR pace until the final 200m.  I struggled in the end of the race and fell off the lead pack; my legs just locked up.  However, I was happy that I went for it.  It would have been nice to stay with the pack, but I did my best and it’s just where my fitness is now.  Hopefully next year I’ll have more of a base to help me. I was satisfied with my performance considering my training has been limited over the last couple of years.

Closing thoughts from Coach Dave:

Considering the change in training, I thought the transition might be tough for Allison, but she has responded very well by season’s end. A fantastic new PR in the 800 of 2:14 in June was a big improvement, and ending the season with her 4:33 was quite decent as a 5 second season best and just 4 seconds off her lifetime best. Now transitioning back to road racing, her long distances have been quite good as she continues to train carefully, specifically and with purpose. I am quite pleased with Allison’s progress in her first year back from her injuries and look forward to a solid XC before getting back to the track this indoor season!

So now you know why you may not see her out on the roads on a regular basis. But that doesn’t mean she’s not somewhere busting her butt to make sure she’s ready to roll come race day. Hopefully this approach continues to pay dividends for Allison at future races, and hopefully we see more of her here.

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