Larsen ran with his runners until he could no longer keep up with them.
When he coached distance runners who had to do 20-mile weekend runs, he’d lead them through the first five miles, making sure they stayed behind him and warmed up properly. When he was guiding Meb through grueling workouts at 8,000 feet around Mammoth Lakes, he often rode next to his star pupil on a bicycle. The message was so simple: I am here with you, now and always.
It’s why he implored his runners never to train alone, because the group is more powerful than the individual, even in what might seem like the most solitary of pursuits.
Another thing Larsen’s runners always said about him—they almost never heard him raise his voice. Let the other coaches stand in the infield and scream to try to coax more speed. Larsen stationed himself by the track and delivered a few soft words: “Relax those shoulders,” or “Perfect.”
Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t, but running for Larsen meant that you didn’t always measure yourself simply by where you finished in the race. A hundred different factors, including the quality of the competition, can determine who wins and who does not. For Larsen, success was about how much love and dedication you brought to your pursuit, both in training and on the day of the race.
“We don’t always get first place,” he would tell his runners, “but we always run to win.”
And wouldn’t you know, plenty of winning happened along the way.