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Yet even that's not enough. "Even if you have perfect form, you've got to do drills and exercises or you'll lose it," says Salazar, who admiringly watches older African runners follow programs dedicated to maintaining strength and flexibility. "Distance runners used to be known for not being good at other sports. We need to make them athletes. I think I could have run three minutes faster and had a longer career if I'd taken into account the importance of overall fitness. You watch the Ethiopians and Kenyans, and they do drills and drills. They don't just kick the door open and go out and run. Even a good energy drink could give you two or three minutes, and I never ate a good combination of protein and carbohydrates."
Finally, Team Salazar lives in airtight houses and apartments retrofitted with machines that thin the air to simulate the atmosphere at 12,000 feet. The goal is to fool the body into producing more red blood cells, those Sherpas of oxygen. "Some people say it's a lot of hocus-pocus," Salazar says. "But you know what? We're at sea level, and [Kenyans] are at 8,000 feet; without altitude simulation we'd have no chance to compete at the top level. And the treadmills are keeping our runners healthy. We're using science in an ethical, legal way to have a chance to be competitive."
Salazar draws two lines on a graph. The ascending one describes an athlete's aerobic capacity, which increases with training into one's 30s. (Portugal's Carlos Lopes and Kenya's Paul Tergat, who set world records in the marathon at ages 38 and 34, respectively, are advertisements for a mature cardiovascular system—as was Salazar, who had an astonishing, drought-breaking victory at age 35 in the 53.75-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa in 1994.) The descending line describes speed and power over time—the toll of the road. A runner's great opportunity lies where these two lines intersect.
Salazar sees his challenge as maximizing the aerobic fitness of his athletes while making sure their regimen doesn't so compromise muscular strength that they break down. Despite their history of injuries, none of the runners he has assembled in Oregon—knock wood—has had a lengthy period of debilitation since joining him. "They've all seen it: The program is working," Salazar says.
Indeed, Kara Goucher won a bronze medal in the 10,000 meters at this summer's World Championships in Osaka—the first time a U.S. woman had won a medal in a distance event on the track at the Worlds or Olympics in 15 years. Then, in late September, in the Great North Run in Newcastle, England, Goucher ran a U.S. best in the half-marathon, beating the women's marathon world-record holder, Britain's Paula Radcliffe, by nearly a minute. At the same event Rohatinsky, the 2006 NCAA cross-country champion (at Brigham Young), finished fifth, only 17 seconds behind Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa, the victor in the 2004 New York City Marathon. And Rohatinsky had never before competed at such a long distance. Salazar raves about Rohatinsky's potential in the marathon. "Josh has the perfect build and stride," says the coach, who's eager to see how the runner will fare in his first-ever marathon, at the Olympic trials this Saturday in Manhattan's Central Park. "He's not just a speed guy, he's a great hill runner."
Meanwhile Rupp, a junior at Oregon and far too young to be consigned to the marathon, is showing promise on the track. His personal best in the 10,000 meters—27:33.48—is the fastest ever run by a U.S.-born collegian. "Galen is only 21," Salazar says. "If he makes a one-minute improvement over the next five years, he can be right there."
Salazar was Rupp's confirmation sponsor. Rohatinsky is a devout Mormon. Amy Yoder-Begley and Kara Goucher were raised Methodists, and Goucher's husband, Adam, has passed along Salazar's talismanic crucifix and rosary to his Roman Catholic father, who's struggling with cancer. Salazar says chatboard charges that he "brainwashes" his athletes are "silly," pointing out that his runners' religious beliefs were formed before he took them on. Still, he does confess to a bias toward runners of religious faith. "Josh's Mormon background is such an important part of why he's so good," Salazar says. "He just does what he's told, completely on faith. Like a good Catholic, he believes that others are put in authority over you and you trust in them. He has stability and mental toughness, and his faith has a lot to do with it. And he's patient, which is what you need as a marathoner.
"Take it from someone who's been there: Running by itself isn't necessarily going to make you happy. Happiness has got to come from somewhere else."
Says Rupp, "Alberto and I have that faith that He has a plan for everything, and it helps. We don't ever get too worried that, 'Oh, man, it's going to take so long to catch up with those guys.' If it's His will not to catch them, so be it. It's almost easier for us, not to have to worry about that."
SALAZAR HAS a date this late-September afternoon with a team from Portland's Providence Heart and Vascular Institute, the program that treated him after his heart attack. Public-affairs officers want to devote several pages of a guide to heart-healthy living to Salazar's story. After an interview they fan out across the Nike campus, seeking backdrops for a photo of Salazar and the doctors who fixed him up a few months earlier. In whatever grand plan the Lord has for him, Salazar is comfortable with a place in the public square, where he can do for the fight against heart disease what Lance Armstrong is doing to battle cancer: raise awareness and save lives as an athlete turned survivor.