Racing Past

The History of Middle and Long Distance Running

Articles / Profile

Mihaly Igloi




This celebrated Hungarian coach started his track career as a pole vaulter before becoming a successful 1500 runner.  He had several Hungarian titles to his name and competed in the 1936 Olympic 1,500. Furthermore, he was a member of the Hungarian team that set a 4x1,500 WR of 15:54 in 1939. His motivation to change from pole vaulting to track running came from watching Polish 10,000 OG champion Kusocincki, who, according to Frank Litsky would run 200 repetitions in training. (This training method precedes Gerschler’s interval-training innovations as Kusocincki must have been doing this in 1932 or before.) During his running career, Igloi spent time in Germany, Finland and Sweden learning about training methods.

During the Second World War, Igloi was in the Hungarian army. After the war, following a period in Siberia,, Igloi became a professor of history at the University of Budapest. He also became coach of Honved Budapest, the Hungarian Army sports club in 1950. Two years later he was appointed to the Hungary coaching staff. Success as a middle-distance coach came quickly.

In 1955 his three athletes, Sandor Iharos, Laszlo Tabori and Istvan Rozsavolgyi (See The Hungarian Trio Profile), achieved nine WRs. In a November issue of Sports Illustrated that year, the headline was “Hungary becomes a Great Power—in Track.” Most successful was Iharos with five WRs. This series of WRs by Hungarians was without a doubt the biggest national breakthrough in the history of middle-distance running.  And it was all done by Igloi athletes.

After this amazing success, everyone was expecting Hungarian dominance in the 1956 Olympics; however, the Soviet invasion of Hungary in October 1956 destroyed those expectations. Iharos, who had set a 10,000 WR earlier that year, didn’t even attend the Games. And Rozsavolgyi disappointed. Only Tabori ran close to expectations. Igloi was able to attend; he must have been bitterly disappointed.

After Melbourne, Igloi did not return to Hungary. Instead he went  with Tabori to the US, where he developed a new school of runners in California. Again he was successful with the likes of Jim Beatty, Jim Grelle, and Bob Schul. His athletes achieved one WR (Beatty, Two Miles) and 45 American records. Igloi’s only Olympic success was with Bob Schul, who won the 5,000 in Tokyo.

After another period coaching in Greece, where his runners achieved 157 Greek records, Igloi finally returned to his homeland after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In his coaching career his athletes achieved an amazing 49 world records and 35 European records. However, it must be said that a lot of his athletes had more success against the clock than against other competitors. His dour approach to the sport was not always conducive to inspiring his athletes to competitive success.

Like Gerschler, Igloi studied physiology and concluded that interval training (IT) was better than long steady distance (LSD). He preferred intense IT sessions with short rests. Also, like Gerschler, Igloi believed that medical understanding was essential in coaching. “Thus the era of the coach-physician had arrived,” wrote Tony Ward. “A scientific approach, stopwatch precision in preparation, the aids of medical science—all these were brought to bear to improve, to hitherto unimagined levels, world-class performances.” (Modern Distance Running, p.41)

Two of Igloi's Hungarian runners: 
Tabori (14) and Iharos.

Igloi was autocratic; athletes had no say in their training. Kenny Moore in Bowerman quotes Jim Grelle on Igloi’s athletes: “They were like little puppets of the theory he had. They hung out there and were running junkies.” (p.164)

Unlike Gerschler, Igloi was secretive about his training regimes. US Coach Bowerman once tried to find out what Igloi did: “After Igloi had been there for about six weeks, I called Dale and asked: ‘So what did you find out from Igloi?’ He said, ‘I haven’t found out a damn thing. He won’t talk to me.’” (Bowerman, quoted in The Quotable Runner, p.58)  Not a lot is known about Igloi’s sessions in Hungary in the 1950s. Some sessions by Iharos are given by Fred Wilt in How They Train. Three sessions on three consecutive days were thus: 1. 15x100, 15x150, 10x400, 15x150, 15x10; 2. 20x200 in 29, 2x800 in 2:00, 15x150, 6-8x100; 3. 20x100, 5x400 in 57, 10-15x100, 15x150, 5x400 in 57. (Note: The two days before and after were all relatively easy days.)

A feature of Igloi’s workouts was his use of sets; the above sessions, for example, had had four or five sets. He had a jog equal to the effort as recovery, but the rest between the sets is not given. Why sets? One advantage is that there is more variety than, say, a 40x400 session.  Another session that all his three stars ran was as follows: 5x400 [400], 5x400 [200], 5x400 [100], all in 55 seconds. This session was primarily 15x400, but Igloi broke it into three sets.  This use of sets continued into his American years; a session of 3x20x200 was mentioned in a discussion of his US training sessions. Jim Beatty, who trained under Igloi in the late 50’s said that the sessions always had five sets and always had pace variety.

Indeed, pace variety was another important aspect of his workouts.  Igloi had four different paces that he would require: easy, fresh, good and hard. The sets in his sessions would often be run at different paces.

Like Gerschler, Igloi favoured short efforts. There was a good reason for this: “The reason for the use of short intervals is partly due to the idea that it minimizes lactate build up at similar speeds.  Run 100m repeats separated by 50m jogs at 800m pace and you’ll produce much less lactate than if you did 200 or even 300m repeats at that pace, and it would take longer to clear that lactate.  In addition, the longer intervals were thought to take too much out of athletes, and [were] thus used sparingly.” ( 

Lance Smith records a typical Igloi session--with sets and pace variation--from Igloi’s US days: “10x100m with 100m jogs as warm up; then 4 x 4x400m in 64 with each fourth rep (last one in a set) in 60 with 200m jog between reps and 400m jog between sets followed by a 1200m jog; then 14x200m with 100m jog recoveries then an 800m jog; then 6x175m with alternately two at 100% and two at 90%; finishing with 15x100m shakedown with 100m jog recoveries.” (

In summary, Igloi used the basic concepts conceived by Gerschler, but he trained his athletes even harder.  He used sets and different paces to add variety to his sessions.  He was also known to create sessions for each individual runner. And he had his stopwatch running all the time.   



Hans Koeleman 27th February 2022

When I started running my coach gave me books to read: Lydiard, Cerutty, Bowerman, van Aaken, Igloi. This is your world now, he told me. Years later, summer 1989, I was on the warmup field in Athens and a tall man approached me, asking me what distance I'd run. He seemed to know a lot about track so I asked him his name. My name is Mihaly Igloi, maybe you have heard of me. I shook his hand, too stunned to speak, he patted me on the shoulder and wished me luck. A short fleeting moment, but magic.

A J Herbert 7th August 2017

I ran with Igloi in the mornings at Santa Monica CC. He was a great coach! Bill Bowerman himself wrote me a letter when I asked him for running advice. He wrote " YOU ARE IN THE BEST HANDS POSSIBLE WITH MIHALY IGLOI"

sofie 8th July 2015

I think this is truly amazing because i am mihaly iglois great granddaughter. He was an amazing and inspirational person!

JohnMD1022 13th January 2015

Jim Grelle on Igloi’s athletes: “They were like little puppets of the theory he had. They hung out there and were running junkies.” Some were, some weren't. Igloi runners had differing levels of success. Some lived the Igloi dream and became champions, some did not. Jim Grelle is one of those who became a champion without becoming an acolyte. Ask him about my nature hike in the Angeles Forest one Sunday afternoon. Amby Burfoot asked me if someone could do full bore Igloi training today. I replied "No, Ig is dead." However, we all came away with the knowledge of how to build a training program. Would it be the same as Igloi's? Of course not. But it would work. There are now, from what I read, 3rd and 4th generation coaches using their version of Igloi methods.

Leave a Comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.