Saturday, April 1, 2017

V 7 N. 23 Just Another Day of Distance to Remember

Just Another Day of Distance Day to Remember

By Paul O’Shea

For nearly two decades RunningWorks, Inc. has presented a Day of Distance clinic at Villanova University. Featuring many of the sport’s boldface names as speakers, the event typically attracts well over one hundred high school and collegiate coaches from the Mid-Atlantic region. The recent program in March drew 120 attendees from nine states, the District of Columbia and Ontario, Canada.

Since its inception in l999 speakers have included: Jack Daniels, Joe Vigil, Frank Gagliano, Bob Kennedy, Marty Liquori, Peter Snell, Jim Ryun, Gina Procaccio, Bill Aris, as well as the clinic host, Marcus O’Sullivan.  

The 2017 edition kept pace with the legacy. Principal speakers were Steve Magness, University of Houston coach and consultant to Olympic athletes, Tom Schwartz, best known for mentoring Drew Hunter, national high school mile record holder, and Juli Benson, herself an Olympian, who recently joined the University of Pennsylvania as assistant coach for men’s and women’s cross country and track and field.  

“We held our first Day of Distance Clinic in December, 1999, in the middle of a snow storm,” said Steve Shaklee of RunningWorks. “We had about twelve people, including the presenters, around a conference table.  At least one of those coaches has come to every clinic since then.  Our largest clinic audience was last year when we had l60 attend.

“The fact that the clinic is strictly for distance coaches limits the attendance, perhaps, but in our opinion, enhances the value.  Coaches not only learn from the presenters, they share ideas with each other throughout the day.  Information is exchanged, connections are made. It is why we have a very loyal group of regulars who never miss a Day of Distance.”

Steve Magness was the day’s first speaker.  He is the head cross country coach at the University of Houston, coaches professional runners including Sarah Hall, Jackie Areson and Josh McDougal, and still holds the Texas boys’ high school mile record of 4:01.02.  Magness worked for Nike as a coach and scientific advisor to several of its professional runners and is the author of the recently published Peak Performance as well as The Science of Running.

Tom Schwartz is a USATF Level 1 coach with 27 years’ experience with runners and other endurance athletes.  His talk, titled “Critical Velocity Training,” explored an athlete-centered model in which the training pace was that which could be maintained for thirty minutes.  

Most 2:14 high school girl half milers don’t go on to make an Olympic team, coach high-end middle and distance runners, and head Division One teams.  Juli Benson is the exception, the achiever who exceeded expectations.  Her presentation, “Building Individual and Team Confidence,” grew out of her lack of confidence during her early career and how she overcame that obstacle to success.

Benson coached Jenny Simpson to a World Championship 1,500 meter title in Daegu, South Korea in 2011, and to a berth on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. As an athlete Benson represented the United States in the 1996 Olympic Games in the 1,500 meters. During her career she has coached at James Madison University, where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Georgetown University, George Mason University, Air Force Academy, as well as the University of Pennsylvania.  

RunningWorks hosts running camps and clinics, primarily for high school athletes and coaches.  Its three partners are themselves successful coaches at different levels of the sport.  Marcus O’Sullivan, four-time Irish Olympian, holder of 101 sub-four minute miles and three indoor world championships, is the head track and cross country coach at Villanova.  Steve Shaklee is track and field coach at Cherokee High School in Marlton, New Jersey.  Cricket Batz, his wife, is a personal trainer.

Paul O’Shea is a lifelong participant in the track and field and running world as athlete, coach and journalist.  After a career in corporate communications he coached a high school girls’ cross country team and was a long-time contributor to Cross Country Journal. He now writes for Once Upon a Time in the Vest from his home in northern Virginia, and can be reached at

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