TONY VENEY AND ME – RIFFING, RUNNING AND RAMBLING

I have gotten a great deal of feedback on these ramblings of mine.. Over the summer I stopped running off at the computer for a while and a lot of people were inquisitive as to why. I’ll get into the details as to what caused the stoppage later, but for now I want to clear up questions as it relates to what I am trying to do and why. Some of the most relevant and accurate comments and criticisms concern the manner in which I express myself. Some find it self-centered and self-serving,…. and it is. Some find the choice of words in many cases to be poor,… and that is true also. Some suggest that I could do a better job if I took the time to ponder and purge in a more deliberate fashion,….guilty as charged. So admitting and accepting all of these constructive and concerned criticism, you might expect me to make some changes,……wrong. The reasons there will be no real changes are:
#1 For me this is a mental, free association, stream of consciousness type exercise and the only real editing I do has to do
with obscene and profane language, which in my regular thought processes and speech patterns are very prevalent.
#2 The exercise itself is about me. It concerns things that I want to put out there as a form of inner relief and outer
exposure. It has nothing to do with trying to emulate James Baldwin or Langston Hughes. It has nothing to do with trying
to impress other people with my literary skills and clarity of communication. It is a very self-indulgent exercise about
subjects about which I feel knowledgeable and get some pleasure from exercising my right to exorcise some thoughts in a
manner that best describes and fits me.
#3 I have been told on a few occasions that what I have put out there has been of some benefit to others. Let me be
brutally frank and honest here. It is always good to hear that you may have done some good for someone else. As a coach,
that is one of the things that motivates and moves you. It is often at the very center and core of your career. However, in
this “blog thing” – as opposed to my coaching, whatever external good is being done is strictly collateral and tangential.
The real intent is to make ME feel good. If I feel good from my own self-induced efforts, then I can, and do, make it better
for the people around me who are in personal contact with me and benefit directly from whatever I have to offer. They are
my focus and the center of my concern,…. and not someone who exists in the impersonal ether of the internet.
Tony Veny called me the other day. He was the former sprint/hurdle coach at UCLA and called me because he was finishing up on a paper for a graduate degree .
Brooks, I am doing a paper and this idea of yours about the Critical Zone intrigues me a little. My paper is on the sprints,
can you share with me what the Critical Zone is in the sprints ?
Tony, the Critical Zone concept is something I stole from Wilbur Ross. The best hurdle coach I have ever encountered. He
wrote HURDLERS’ BIBLE. His point was that there are certain areas where the outcome of the race is really determined.
These are the Critical Zones. The person who understands where the Critical Zones are, and dominates them, usually wins
the race. It is the same as when I was at the University Chicago School of Business. The professor said, forget the mission
statement of a company, if you really want to know what they are all about, then simply look to see where they allocate
their most precious resources,….THAT is where they really are and what they really value and emphasize. It follows on
what we were taught in the contracts class I took while at the University of Chicago Law School. The professor who was
teaching us contracts ( He also wrote the book – Malcolm Sharps ) said, forget the verbiage and language, if you really
want to understand what is going on in a contract,…..simply follow the dollar.
Brooks, even for you, that is a bit far out.
Not really. It merely makes the point that basic values and things that determine success are conceptually connected no
matter what the endeavor happens to be. Successful people find these determinant areas and dominate them and success is
the result. The determinant area or areas are called the Critical Zones for me.
Okay, okay, I got it. What is the Critical Zone in the sprints ?
Tony, there may be several of them and they may change from athlete to athlete. You have to run an inventory, just like a
store keeper and his/her merchandise. You have to determine what is in short supply and just how critical is it in order to
survive or succeed. Once you have determined what is missing and just how important it is to sucecss, then you have to
address this void and need accordingly.
Brooks, it is not that simple.
I do not remember you asking me if Critical Zone was simple.
No,…but I did ask you a simple question and the next thing I know you are all the way back in Chicago. You know what
just happened to Chicago/2016 don’t you ? Not even the President of the United States could save them ! I can not afford to
have the same thing happen to me !!!
Tony, here’s the deal. In order to work the Critical Zone process you have to break the Critical Zone concept down into:
Psychological
Physiological
Bio-mechanical
Tactics
Okay, I got that. Go on.
Each of these categories allow you to assess and determine what is missing and what needs attention and emphasis. Not
everything is equal,…..in sports or in life.. So you have to prioritize as to what is most important. The problem with a lot of
coaches and athletes is they get caught up in prioritizing the wrong things.
I think I know where you are going with this. I have heard you for years criticize American distance coaches for not placing
enough emphasis on speed and too much emphasis on mileage for mileage sake . Am I close ?
Tony, here is a very consistent and pervasive fact of life in the sport of track and field. Every event in track and field
centers around getting the center of mass of an object, from one point in time and space, to another point in time and
space and the winner is the one who gets it there in the least elapsed time. That being the case, then speed/velocity is the
most critical physical asset required for success in every event in the sport.
Brooks, you know there are a lot of people who disagree with you that every event requires speed or velocity for success..
Tony, not only is speed/
velocity the determining physical need,…. as a rule the person who demonstrates the greatest
speed and velocity over the last 25% of the event usually wins it. It is the same for the 100, marathon, shot put, long
jump, or pole vault. Who ever dominates and does the best with the last 25% ( Critical Zone )of event usual emerges as
the winner.
Okay ! okay ! But I am not doing this paper on the marathon or long jump. It is a sprint paper !
Doesn’t matter, it is all the same. But before I get to the sprint stuff that you are so impatient about getting into, just let
me modify my stance about American middle/long distance coaches. People like Alberto Salazar and Terrence Mahon “get
it” and they understand the need for speed. This will ultimately trickle down to the other coaches in these events.
What makes you think that ? I have known you for almost 30 years and you were talking about the need for speed back
then for distance runners. You had good cross country teams at Stanford as far back as the early eighties. Patti Sue Plumer,
who you coached, was ranked #1 in the world at 3000/5000 back in 1990, was an Olympic finalist in the 3000 in 1988 and
an Olympic  finalist at 1500 and 3000 in 1992. What makes you think that people are more receptive to Alberto and
Terrence and what they are doing, then what you were doing all those years ago ?
Melanin.
Ooooooh !
But that is a topic for another day. Let’s get on with the sprints. Remember Psychological, Physiological, Bio-mechanical,
and Tactics are the categories that we need to inventory in order to discover and cover the Critical Zones that need to be
addressed and assessed.
Brooks, every competitive athlete has a competitve mindset. Every athlete wants to win !
Tony, most people will tell you that success is about 80-90% mental, but how many of us spend a commensurate amount
of time focusing in on the mental. Plus, many times when we do focus on the mental, we do not know what we are looking
for or at. For example, in order to be a great sprinter an athlete mentally has to have what is termed instant gratification
or  instant reward syndrome. That means they want it all right now and have a drive, even a compulsion to let it all hang
out immediately. As you move up in distance, the instant reward syndrome is replaced by a delayed reward syndrome. That
is why I laugh at coaches who say, ” If only that kid would move up, they would be so much better.”. Without having the
right mindset or required mental outlook, no amount of latent talent and ability is going allow for success without the
necessary and accompanying mental capacity. Here’s the rub. Just like not having the right mental makeup ( instant
gratification syndrome ) for the sprints will cause you to fail, having the right mental mindset ( instant reward
syndrome ) can also cause you to fail.
Well good buddy, I have to admit that you just lost me with that. How can the mindset required for the event , cause you to
fail at the event, when you can not succeed without it ?
Easy,…and often !  Because of the need to be explosive, coupled with the natural desire and drive to be so, too often
sprinters put too much emphasis on the start and being fast and having very rapid turnover early, rather than being
deliberate and dominant when and where it counts,… which is the last 25% of the race. In Beijing Thompson and Dix both
took 7 strides for the first 10 meters. Bolt, however, took 6 strides for the first 10 meters. That means he was more
deliberate and dominated because he refused to get caught up in the compulsion of turnover too soon. Rather he took his
time to allow his latent talent and ablity take over, which is superior stride length rather than stride rate. I think that by not
allowing the compulsion to explode take over, a sprinter has more anxiety and angst, that translates into a
better performance when the compusion and drive to move fast is released at the most citical time,… in the Critical
Zone. Tyson Gay’s race against Asafa Powell at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, makes the point. Tyson was
behind and caught up to Powell in the Critical Zone of the race, and won over the last 25% of the race. Watching Carmelita
Jeter in Thessaloniki at the IAAF Final, she was behind at the start of the race, but dominated the last 25% of the race for
what was then the fastest time ever by a woman since 1988.
I think I get what you are saying. I am not sure I agree, but I think I get the gist of your point. What about the
physiological stuff ?
There is a lot of stuff you can say about the physiological needs . For example, ATP and just how much of it you have. Can
you increase the amount you have ? What role does oxygen and aerobic capacity play in the sprints,…. if any ? For
example  Clyde Hart is of the opinion that most sprinters neglect aerobic work to their detriment. Guess what ? I agree with
him, despite my emphasis on speed and velocity. What about the energy source available after ATP has been used up ? But
the thing that bugs me the most is the talk about so called fast twitch and slow twitch fibers. Whereas there is
some relevance in this, it is not nearly as determinant a factor as people have made it out to be. First of all, if you are
going to have a meaningful test of fast twitch/slow twitch fibers, then you would have to have the biopsies taken from
areas that are primary for that athlete to run fast. If not, then the results are highly suspect. For example, taking a biopsy
from the  same area on two difefrent athletes really doesn’t give you accurate information because the prime movers they
employ to run fast may be different. Some sprinters generate a lot of force from their hamstrings and glutes. Other get
force from their arms. Some get force from having a tight shin/foot joint that stores and explodes a great deal of elastic
engery. It is elastic energy that we should be focusing on. For exmaple, we can store and explode energy that is stored in
the bones and connective tissue much faster than we can twitch muscle fibers on average. So whereas studying fast
twitch/slow twitch might turn on a light, it is really not that illuminating. What we should spend more time studying is how
we can get the bones and connective tissue better prepared to contribute to the process.
The next thing is Bio-mechanics. What do you have to say about that ?
Clyde Hart.
What ?
DIV>

Clyde Hart.
Okay, okay. Stop playing games. What do you mean,…Clyde Hart ?
The coaching genius of Clyde Hart is manifested in what he did with Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner. Here he had two
quite difefrent athletes, as different as black and white, yet he basically gets them both to the Olympic gold medal in the
same event.
Outside of the race thing, what do you mean ?
When I talk about Michael and Jeremy being as different as black and white, I was not, for once, referring to their race,
but rather how they RAN their race. Michael was the quintessential front side mechanics guy. Jeremy is old school, backside
mechanics. Both of them attained #1 status in the 400. Michael was short of stride with a high frequency cadence, whereas
Jeremy is more long, strong and flowing. Jeremy has the “Tigerbelle Lean” ( Ed Temple – Tennessee State ), Michael is
erect. Given the amazing success that Michael enjoyed, for Clyde to come back and coach an athlete that runs so differently
is really a big compliment to just how good Clyde is at what he does. After the kind of success Michael had, most coaches
would have sought to replicate and duplicate that form and technique with every successive athlete that came into their
program.
So what does that say about Bio-mechanics ? We’re running out of time here so make it brief.
As long as basic science is involved and accounted for, then running “style” is an individual thing and personal form of
expression. Different strokes for different folks !! As a coach you have to understand what Kenny Rogers said in that song,
” You got to know when to hold them,…… and know when to fold them.”
We’re almost there.
What the hell did you ask the question for if you didn’t want to hear the answer ?
I wanted to hear the answer, I am not sure I was prepared for so MUCH “answer”.
I’ll keep the Tactics short. Basically what you want to coach and train on the Psychological, Physiological and Bio-
mechanical basis is for the athlete to be prepared to dominate the Critical Zone, which is the last 25% of the event. That is
not to ignore the rest of the race. In the sprints the starts are obviously important, but not as important as the finish. Just
as in business, you have to allocate and invest your resources and energy where you are going to get the greatest retrun on
investment ( ROI ). It is a fact that it is better to lose hundreths at the start in order to be in the best position to win tenths
at the latter stages of the race. The best place to make up time and dominate the Critical Zone is when everyone else is
slowing down and struggling. The greatest opportunties for success present themselves where and when your competitors
are in trouble and have the least amount of reserve and staying power. It is the same for business and the same for sport.
One last question, and that is it !!!  How do you coach this tactical approach to the Critical Zone.
It is something I stole from the great swim coach George Haines. I remember way back in the 60s, traveling all the way
from Washington, D.C. to observe him coaching at Santa Clara Youth Village, in Santa Clara, California. He was pushing the
swimmers to “negative split” on the laps he was timing. Although I observed them and heard what he was saying, I did not
fully understand the concept until we were both coaches at Stanford University in 1979. I had seen the results of this
approach with Mark Spitz at the 1972 Olympics when he got his, then record, 7 medals. I asked at the Stanford pool one
day about “negative splitiing”. He pointed out that he wanted the athletes to get faster,… the longer they swam. He wanted
their times per lap to drop on each lap,…..duh, “negative splitting”. I may be an equal opportunity learner , because I take
stuff from all kinds of different and varied soucres, but I really do not have any real claims to being a quick learner.
Brooks, I am not sure right now what kind of learner I am. Let me get back to you on that.
You do that.
Brooks T. Johnson
Don’t know where the hell the spell check is. So here it is raw and basically unedited.
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