Add Chasing Excellence to your “need to read” list for this summer and fall to get ready for your return to racing … or if you’re not sure about racing quite yet, your return to training. The book by Pat Melgares is about the life and influence of Coach Joe Vigil on countless runners, other coaches, and the people you meet in day-to-day life. As a former athlete on Coach Vigil’s Adams State XC team, Melgares was in an unmatched position to tell Vigil’s story.
The book has a straightforward, direct tone that matches the coaching approach employed by Vigil. I appreciated this because in running, there are no “tricks” that can make you faster – training, good eating, quality rest, and discipline are what matter, not curated motivational phrases that look good on a t-shirt. Vigil is a coach who took the time to get to know athletes as individuals, not simply positions on the roster.
This is a book best read over time. Accounts of Vigil’s childhood and education, a recounting of his teaching and coaching career, and recollections from his athletes are enlivened by “Let Me Tell You A Story” features told in Coach Vigil’s voice. While the book isn’t overcomplicated or hard to read, I suggest taking it slow so you can appreciate and take what you will from the story. If you read it too quickly, you might miss out on some of the understated wisdom shared on the pages.
This book would be excellent to read before starting a serious training cycle or if you’ve been looking for a new reason to put in the miles. While some biographies read like a movie – interesting, but not relatable – Chasing Excellence is like reading about a person who invested in themselves at every step along the way. By reflecting on Vigil’s experiences and thinking about how it relates to your own running, I think you’ll find a newfound respect for the value of putting in the work.
If you’ve not familiar with Coach Joe Vigil, a quick search will inform you of his cross-country coaching success at Adams State (Colorado), his Olympic and international coaching accomplishments, or perhaps his contributions to sports science. But that quick search won’t do justice to his contributions across all three fields. Most recently, you might know him as a coach of the amazing Deena Kastor; if you’ve completed a USATF Coaching Certification, you’ve studied some of his contributions to the sport of running.
I can’t share my thoughts on this book without comparing Coach Vigil to the fictional coach Ted Lasso (streaming on AppleTV) from the show of the same name. If you haven’t seen Coach Lasso, I recommend it – for sure – and notice how Lasso’s success comes from treating his athletes as real people. Just like this made-for-TV character, Vigil is one of the rare people in this world who truly care for others. Even if you run for yourself don’t think of yourself as competitive, or aren’t into running at all, the lessons I took away from this Vigil’s life are applicable to everyday life: Give your best in everything you do, believe in people and show them respect, and share your experiences with others.
You can order a copy of Chasing Excellence: The Remarkable Life and Inspiring Vigilosophy of Coach Joe I. Vigil online here or through your local bookstore. This book by Pat Melgares was published in 2020 and is available for $19.95 from Soulstice Publishing, with a forward from the amazing Billy Mills.
*Watch soon for an interview with Chasing Excellence author Pat Megares coming soon to Run Oregon!