(This piece is for my latest book titled Pacesetters: Runners Who Informed Me Best and Inspired Me Most. I am posting an excerpt here each week, this one from August 1992.)
CBS PROGRAMS. Coaches don’t have to shout to make themselves heard. I know no better example of this, and no more successful coach, than Dick Brown. We sat together at the opening track meet of this season, where he was as nearly invisible as a man six-feet-four could make himself.
We sat almost alone in the bleachers at the end of the track farthest from the finish line. Other coaches prowled the rail, exhorting their athletes to greater efforts.
Dick never once left his seat, never once shouted. He didn’t chase after his runners.
They came to him for encouragement and instruction. He didn’t lecture them when they came, but coached mainly by listening and responding to his quiet questions.
He coached Mary Decker (Slaney) through her most successful years, when she won two gold medals at the 1983 World Championships. She’d stayed injury-free for almost three years with Brown but hadn’t gone much longer than three months without getting hurt since changing coaches after the 1984 Olympics.
Meanwhile Dick’s success has continued in a variety of ways – none of which he could have imagined while attending the U.S. Naval Academy. His sport of choice was basketball (which his daughter and son also played in college).
Dick gradually shifted his coaching attention to endurance athletes. He coached with the Athletics West club for many years, then left in the mid-1980s to complete his doctorate in exercise science and to start two fitness-related companies.
He invented the AquaJogger water-exercise belt, then sold the rights to another company. He also created the Individual Trainer, a hand-held computer that his company markets. The Trainer evaluates the relative merits of 120 activities and provides personalized training programs.
Dick carries much of this data in his head, which may explain why he works so well with such a wide variety of athletes. Other coaches might claim more Olympians in one sport or one event. But none can match Brown’s record as a generalist.
He has sent athletes to the summer Olympics (middle-distance runners and a race-walker), winter Games (a cross-county skier) and Paralympics (a swimmer). He has even coached a world champion in jet-ski racing.
Athletes move differently in each sport, and some move better than others within a sport. But one body reacts to training pretty much the same as any other.
Dick Brown’s genius lies in reading those reactions. He admitted to me, as we worked together recently on the book Fitness Running, that his most difficult task as a coach of Olympians is persuading them to train easier.
“Challenge is necessary for improvement,” said Dick. “The idea is to add challenges that the body can handle.” He called his approach “CBS: challenging but safe.”
Dick the scientist uses the stress-management theories of Dr. Hans Selye to strike a balance between enough training and too much. Brown the inventor devised a point scale for weighing training loads and made these points the brains of his hand-held computer, the Individual Trainer. Brown the coach monitors his runners’ body signs for early warnings of trouble.
“When I came to Athletes West in 1978,” Dick recalled, “it gave me the perfect opportunity to look at all these athletes and check what they were doing in workouts. That was when I got serious about refining the point system that would eventually underlie the Individual Trainer.”
He calculated the point levels of the club’s marathoners the year they all PRed and ranked among the country’s best. They wondered, as runners are tempted to do, “If we ran so well on that much training, couldn’t we do better with more?”
They upped their points by 15 percent while preparing for the next marathon. “None of them made it to the race because of one physical problem or another,” Dick recalled. “They had all gone past their threshold, to where training was hurting instead of helping them.”
Dick Brown’s golden rule, as used with Olympic athletes and underlying the training programs in the book Fitness Running: “When in doubt, be conservative.” Tune in to a CBS program: challenging but safe.
UPDATE. Ten years raced past between my collaborations with Dick Brown on books titled Fitness Running. The revised edition, from 2002, was different from the original because of all that had happened for Dick in the intervening decade.
During those years he coached Suzy Favor Hamilton and Vicki Huber onto the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. He led Marla Runyan into middle-distance running, which would lead her to the 2000 Olympic 1500-meter final under another coach, then into the 2001 World Championships 5000 and finally into marathoning.
Dick is more than a coach of world-beaters. The methods he prescribes for these athletes scale down well for use by runners on all levels.
He is more than a coach. He’s a scientist with an intimate understanding of what makes all exercising human beings work – and how they can work better. He combines scientific knowledge that few coaches can match with practical know-how that few physiologists can claim.
Age and illness have taken Dick Brown out of day-to-day coaching. In 2015 he issued a third edition of Fitness Running (without my help this time). His Individual Trainer device has evolved into an app for smartphones and tablets, called “MiFitLife.”
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. Latest released was Going Far. Other titles: Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Memory Laps, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]