What It Takes To Win The World XC Championships

American Distance Legend Craig Virgin winning the 1980 World XC Championships. 

American Distance Legend Craig Virgin winning the 1980 World XC Championships. 

In 1980 Craig Virgin won the World Cross Country Championships stunningly. It was labeled a "unique American vicotry," and thankfully the final 800m of the race was recorded on film. 

You can watch it here. It is a riveting 3 minutes of action. 

Virgin was a total badass. He repeated as the World XC Champion in 1981. He also broke Prefontaine's American record in the 10,000m in 1979, running 27:39, then bettering the mark to 27:29 in 1980, which was #2 in history at the time. These are just a sampling of a career littered with many remarkable accomplishments.

There is a little-known book, How Road Racers Train, which profiles the training and running philosophy of prominent late 70s American road racers, Virgin included. It was published in 1979, a year before his World XC Championships victory. And this was my first introduction to him. 

The profile on Virgin lends several clues on what it takes to become a world champion. Elements of his approach echo that of today's best runners. Although, unlike many current pros, Craig worked 30 - 50 hours a week as a Relations Consultant.

Below are direct quotes from his profile. 

On work ethic: 
"Running is work to me most of the time. Perhaps every two weeks I have a really fun workout; the rest of the time, it's hard work."

On consistency: 
"Virgin trains twice a day, every day."

On any "unique" training techniques: 
"I think the only major thing that I have always stressed is quality over quantity."

On non-running work:
"Craig works out with weights 2-3 per week for 8-9 months."

On what motivated him:
"Mainly, I run to race against myself, push myself to my limits, and secondly, to see how I stack up against other runners. I run for self-satisfaction, and I like the recognition that comes from winning. I feel myself to be as much a performer as an athlete. I like to perform well, and be in the spotlight when racing."

On the key to his training: 
"The recovery day is fully as important as the hard workout days."


Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm 

Jonathan Marcus