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Road to Tokyo: Training with Coach Thompson

It is the 1st of March 1964 and I have been training at Camp Pendleton for a mere 10 days. Coach Thompson and I are having our first in-depth goal-setting meeting.

Coach asked me what my goals between now and the Olympic Games were. Somewhat surprised, I thought, “Did I just hear Coach say ‘What are my goals between now and the Olympic Games?’” Yes, I did! But then, I should not expect anything less from him - that’s why I’m here. It’s just that the last coach I shared my goals with said, “Don’t dream so big. Be more realistic.”

As I looked at Coach Thompson, my heart soared and my spirit smiled. I stuttered with excitement as the words flowed from me. My goals are to make the 1964 Olympic team in three events: the marathon, the 10,000-meter run, and the 5,000 meter run, and to win a medal in the 10,000 meters.

It was the first time I shared my goals with someone other than Patricia. We reviewed my training log in two phases. He spoke to me as in deep thought.

“Phase One, January 1, 1963, through December 31, 1963, you averaged less than 35 miles a week.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his look of surprise.

“Phase Two, January 1, 1964, to today, March 1, you averaged 40 miles a week.”

Very focused, Coach flipped back to January 6, 1964.

He said, “Interesting. Didn’t you tell me January 6th was the day you were told you will soon be transferred to Camp Pendleton?”

Nervously, I responded, “Yes, Sir!”

With his gentle smile and dominating presence, he asked, “Is that why you wrote in your logbook on January 6, ‘Start training program for Olympics and I will set a new American record in the 10,000 meters -- 28:50 or below?’”

I quietly said yes. Coach Thompson asked how many 10,000 meter races I had run on the track.

I responded, “Only two, Coach. The first was in 1960 and the time was 31:10. The second was August 1963 at the World Military Championship. My time was 30:08 but it was a tactical race.”

Coach asked why I wrote “28:50 and set a new American record”?

Feeling agitated, or confused (maybe both!) I responded, “Don’t you think I can do it?”

With compassion, he said, “I believe you can run 28:50, but you will not with the low mileage you are doing. I like the workouts but we need to increase mileage and intensity.”

Coach then said he had a question. He looked at me again with his smile and confidence, but also letting me know to be ready for his humor.

He said, “Why did you write a medal in the 10,000 meters?”

Before I could respond again with ‘Don’t you think I can do it?’ he continued, “If you go for a medal you may settle for 4th or 5th. What do you say we go for a gold medal?”

I told Coach I have been privately training mentally for the Gold and by the United States Olympic Trials, I can run 28:50 for the 10,000 meters under any condition.

He said, “That will put you on the team but will not be fast enough to win in Tokyo. What is the very fastest you believe you can run?”

I awkwardly responded, “Coach, I have been preparing mentally to run 28:25 at the Olympics but I have kept it private.”

Coach nodded his head and said he would think about it and that we would talk again in a few days. We parted and I was in heaven.

It’s March 3rd and we are meeting again. Coach’s first words to me were, “On a given day, 28:25 can be fast enough to win the Gold.”

We discussed the major issues we faced:

Number One: Our time frame to prepare was so short. It’s only seven months and two weeks before the Olympic 10,000 meter run. I told Coach I could gain an extra month by training through every race including the Olympic Trials. The only race I will rest up for will be the Olympic 10,000 meters, October 14, 1964, in Tokyo, Japan.

Number Two: We talked about the best ways I could try and control being hypoglycemic and Type 2 diabetic, but I knew I was on my own here. We discussed the need for a healthy diet and that taking a protein supplement was a must.

Number Three: Coach stressed how the rapid increase in mileage leaves me vulnerable to injury and I should build-up to it, but I decided to take my chances with the rapid increase.

Our last concern was perhaps the most important. We discussed the best way to keep a positive attitude pursuing what most would tell me was an impossible dream.

Only I knew my dream was to heal a broken soul. The Olympics was the catalyst. I decided to keep it personal. I told Coach of a class I had at the University of Kansas where I read, “The subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between reality or imagination. It will have the body try to respond equally to both.”

I said, “Coach, I am constantly winning the Olympic race in my mind. I visualize winning so often it is becoming real in my feelings.”

Coach Thompson, almost as though praying for a miracle, with his eyes twinkling, simply said, “Keep visualizing.

Today is April 4th, 1964. Tomorrow, April 5th, after I complete my scheduled workout, I will have completed five weeks of incredible Olympic training. Not just training, but Olympic training, and will have run my first 100-mile week ever!

March 2-March 8= 85 Miles

March 9-March 15= 75 Miles

March 16-March 22= 75 Miles

March 23-March 29= 90 Miles

March 30-April 5= 100 Miles


I have been doing speed work, speed endurance, and endurance workouts. The five greatest weeks of training in my track career! And they were back to back! I went low blood sugar on a long run last week. I was running by an orange orchard and asked the owner if I could have an orange. He looked at me, started reaching for an orange, did a double-take, and looking worried, gave me two.

It’s late afternoon on Saturday, April 4th and it’s time to see how I can do training through my races. Camp Pendleton is hosting a track meet with several California colleges.

We are on the track; the starter's pistol is raised for the 1-mile run. The gun is fired; the race is underway.

The tiredness I felt warming up is replaced with the excitement of competition. The first two laps we all run very cautiously which was to my advantage. The third lap the leader slowed.

Knowing my legs had training fatigue, I take the lead and press the pace to take the kick out of the others, knowing my legs would not be able to respond to a strong finishing kick. I continue to press the last lap and manage a very respectable kick. I win the race in 4:05.2. I am elated and relieved I didn’t go low blood sugar.

Coach and I agreed the diet, protein, workouts and the strategy I chose to train through my races were working. Coach and I didn’t say anymore, we both just smiled.

As I walk away to meet Patricia and Christy, Coach calls out, “Billy, are you ok? It looks like you’re limping.”

 

See you next month!

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Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota)

National Spokesperson and co-founder

Running Strong for American Indian Youth®

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