Sunday, 15 August 2010

Notes from UKA Endurance Conference 2010

Pretty much for those with an interest/Coaches only. Great advice from a star studded panel. For anyone coaching over 3000m this was all really good stuff. Email me for any more detail.

UKA Endurance Conference 2010 Q & A – Croydon Park Hotel 15 August 2010

Panel: Chaired by Tim Hutchings
Terrence Mahon (TM) – Coach to Deena Kashor (Winner 2004 Olympic Marathon, Athens) and runs the high altitude 'Mammoth Lakes'
Ricky Simms (RS) – Agent and coach to elite Kenyan Athletes
Alberto Salazar (AS) – 3 time winner of the New York Marathon, based in Portland, runs the Nike Oregon Institute. Coach to Karen and Adam Goucher, Dathan Ritzenheim and Galan Rupp.

The Talk consisted of 4 key areas:

1) The perceived role of economic motivation in adherence training and subsequent impact on results
2) Successful examples of training cycles used by athletes
3) The role of biomechanics in successful running
4) Sport Psychology and the role of coaches in developing athletes

1) Tim Hutchings asked the panel to comment on how coaches from the Western World should respond to the success of Kenyan and African runners over the last 20 years.

TM said that though talent plays a role in the success of the best runners, in the West, Science can be used to benefit athletes that is not possible for most of the Kenyan athletes. A shift in thinking was required by European/American Athletics to not try and compete with Kenyan runners by copying verbatim their training regimens, but instead to utilise the resources available here to tailor to athletes lifestyles here which are different to Kenyans. Everyone agreed that working 'regular hours' was more of a necessity to Western based athletes, whereas sport, and running in particular was a 'way out' for the Kenyans, and thus seen as more of a motivating factor over the last 20 years. Using science was seen as a way of giving Western based athletes a more equal footing with Kenyan runners timewise.

The role of recovery was cited as an example of the differences between the 2 sets of runners. We all know recovery is crucial to balance training loads. A lot of Kenyan runners are able to complete 2 runs a day, and take a midday nap, some even sleep 18 hours in a day! AS stated how with College level athletes he pushes them hard to nap to allow their bodies to recover. A privilege that once out of University, the athletes may lose. It was said that rest and recovery had to be adhered to in as disciplined a fashion as training runs.

The conversation shifted to training cycles. Again, the Kenyans were referred to, often undertaking long runs on a Saturday so Sunday can be a day of rest, with the country being more traditionally Christian. The panellists then spoke about how they conduct their training cycles.

2) TH stated the need for repetitive cycles throughout a 14 to 16 week cycle. RS stated that as a maximum he would allow 3 hard sessions a week. (And insist on at least 1 full rest day every 3 weeks – preferably more).

Alberto Salazar then spoke about what a typical two week cycle looked like for his athletes:

In week 1: Never run a total of more than 100 miles/week. Highlights from a week would look like this:

Tuesday: 6 to 7 mile tempo run (4.50 mileing) run on grass. Followed by 150s/200s on grass. This to be run in the morning, and then either straight after or later in the afternoon, and a weight session (more of which later)

Wednesday: Due to effort exerted on the day before, have a complete rest day

Thursday: 8 x 200 m hill session & 200s on the track

Saturday: 6 x 1 (4.25 minute mileing each rep)

Sunday: No long run – just something light, then:

Monday: A long run

Wednesday and Friday: Hard efforts (exactly what unspecified)

Then every week 3 x weight training for both upper and lower body strength

I) The role of weight training (it was noted that a weak point of the Kenyans training was weights and that a lot of their athletes state this is their least favourite bit of training and some actively try to get out of it).

Traditionally runners would undertake a session of 3 x 12 reps of body weights
But scientific thinking is much more about undertaking a lower volume of reps, but doing quality instead.

TM said that he is finding good results from lots of work on snatches, cleans and squats, progressively increasing as athletes age. Also undertaking hill sprints, plyos and gym work to help supplement explosive power. He said that he had managed (in his opinion) to prolong Deena's career by keeping the power in her weight work – she competed at 3 successive Olympics.

AS agreed with Mahon – Less reps, more quality, and light weights progressively increasing. To build strength, you have to build more weight and use bigger weights as the Athletes career gets nearer its conclusion. Currently he is working with Michael Johnson's trainer to use similar weight training programmes as sprinters, which goes against traditional distance running training thought.

ii) Periodization. Typically athletes in the low season do low intensity and high volume, increasing to higher intensity and lower volume in the main part of the season. Again, the Kenyans were cited as working at their training all year, working to a higher intensity throughout.
AS said that now in America, similarly his athletes were working at speed and doing short work all year.
e.g. Running 200m in 25, 26, 27 seconds in November onwards, building up to 24, 23 seconds in June (in time for the season). He used the expression “microcycles of peaking for March to August.” It was said that he found the more dramatic changes to peoples cycles through a year, the more likely people would get injured hence keeping cycles more similar help prevent injury better.

He described the concept of Date Pace and Goal Pace:
Date Pace: the majority of intervals (4.20/4.30 min mileing)
Goal Pace: 30 seconds for 200m x 8

And how in the off season (Sep to Nov) he would train athletes at 65s for 400m, next train athletes at 50% goal pace/50% date pace and at peak 400m at 60 seconds.

In addition always take off 3 to 4 weeks a year, then come back to running by doing 3 weeks of easy jogging before picking up the training as described.

3) Biomechanics Great insight again by TM and AS on the importance of biomechanics. Fundamentally, AS believes Biomechanics is the number 1 important thing to get right through an athletes career. Its important to get right as after about 23/24 years old it is very difficult to make changes or advances in an athletes biomech or gait. So it is crucial to get right early. TM made a very good point that changing the biomechanics of a runner was a difficult task, as by altering one aspect of their running there is most likely a knock on effect elsewhere in their skeletal structure. So he warned coaches to be wary of making changes without keeping an eye out for possible problems elsewhere.

4) Sport Psychology
TM spoke about motivating athletes to keep them at a consistent standard and how they could stay level headed about success and achievement. He always advocates young athletes to be the best they can be. To avoid focussing too hard on equating personal success with medals, placing, titles. You have to use an individuals growth through their career as a motivating factor. AS agreed that you have to instil that the greatest joy is in improving yourself, not the outcome. Thus Performance and Process Goals > Outcome goals. ADVICE: Emphasise the joy of improving the self and as the athlete gets better, the medals and accolades will follow.

He said how many good athletes drop out an early age as they go from being the best in their area to 3rd or 4th in bigger districts or national level. But this is not a bad thing, as it gives athletes something to work towards. A few poor results often leaves these kind of athletes thinking they've peaked and not continuing.

A lady in the audience who trained a bronze level Olympic athlete agreed. She cited how she says to young athletes under her tutelage, that athletics ability varies like a waveform and is not linear. This she works into her goal setting with them and in the expectations of their parents who often see achievement solely as exponential. As athletes grow, the role of rest is also necessary to emphasise as many British athletes seem to worry they have to be training all the time and would do better with longer recoveries.

TM said that if an athlete goes off form, he often says to them that they should get back the 'fun' reasons for why they started in the first place. He'll ask them:

“Why isn't running fun any more?”
“Tell me what you were doing when you enjoyed running most” - he called this the 'return to innocence' and is the way to get runners back to a good standard – being the best they can be.

AS said that for both young people (12. 13, 14) and Kenyan runners, they see running as fun, and as a coach, you can help by making training sessions varied, do different exercise other than just running. By doing this RS said that Kenyan runners seem more adept at changing their Pbs across different distances more easily than their Western counterparts. Also, Kenyan runners are able to cope to setbacks of bad runs or performances better. Put a bad result into context and get on with the next race. Also Kenyan runners trust their coaches more (on the whole) and do what they are told to do with less fuss. The importance of relationship between coach and athlete is what drives their success forward. The athletes trust their coach more and get greater rewards. So as a coach build rapport and trust with your athlete. Don't just look to improve performance.

Finally, AS made some great points about his work with Sport Psychologist Darren Treasure in their work with US athletes. They room together and the team know the role of the coach and the sport psychologist so that if they have a specific problem in one of these areas, they can talk to the relevant person, in confidence, to help them. Both professionals respect each other and allow the different individuals to offload, work with them and advise their charges to utilise both services. Where Salazar says 'talk to the SP' and an athlete asks why? he'll say “well if I bought in an amazing conditioning coach who could improve your times, would you use their services?”

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

UK Athletics Elite Endurance Training Day - Mile End 25/1/2010

So again, a while since I last wrote on the blog. I've got about 10 pieces of work to write up for Sport Psychology accreditation in the next few weeks, which is taking up more of my time. But thought I'd stick up my write up of my day's workshop at UK Athletics Endurance Training day this Sunday as it was so inspiring and broad enough to be of interest to many.

I snuck in as a coach at my club and claiming my Sport Psych credentials. Talking to the group of elite standard runners and coaches from the South-East was Bud Baldaro (above) and Bruce Tulloh. In their field of Endurance coaching in the UK over the last 30 years, the two of them have plenty to be proud of. Bud is the UK Athletics Marathon Coach, who has coached Olympians, Commonwealth medallists and World champions. Whilst Bruce coached Mike Boit, a Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist at 800m and the African record holder for the Mile, and Richard Nerurkar who was Britain's leading distance runner in the Nineties. Richard won the World Cup Marathon in 1993. Not only that, Bruce himself broke the record for running from Los Angeles to New York in 1969 running 3000 miles in just under 65 days, reducing the previous record by 8 days. His last serious marathon was completed in 2hrs 47 in London, 1994, at the age of 58. He’s quite a remarkable character!

From a Sport Psychology point of view, Bruce believed that the key to coaching a distance athlete’s success was through tuning into their individual motivation. He felt this should be done by setting successive goals over time, varying training regime and setting different periodisation through the year. He offered good advice about how coaches should build young runners up, from their late teens, through University or higher education using mainly interval work, before upping their mileage totals in their early twenties.

Bud also concurred that at the point in life when top University athletes in the UK leave University (or return from countries such as the US where they have received great coaching) juggling the commitments of full time work and pushing on to the next level of running and achievement is difficult to manage. However, both believed that as successful UK distance runners in the 80s and 90s had shown, the talent within the country exists.

In Bud's opinion, when I asked him his views on Sport Psychology and what the most important mental aspect of coaching was, he stated it was building up a runner’s confidence. This should be done through soft skills, one to one with athletes, that naturally varies given an individual's nature and temperament, level of experience, and how a coach brings them along in a season and career. For instance, he cited that sticking a developing athlete into the London Marathon as one of their first races would be counterproductive. This is because it is likely they would come further down the field to elite athletes for whom the race is prestigious and where they may have had prior experience. This could dent a young athlete's confidence and subsequent results in later races.

Instead, he thought it better to identify a less well known marathon in mainland Europe where a top finish was more likely early in a runner's career. "Following up" with athletes was seen as crucial by Bud. He said he thought the current system lets down young athletes as they transition through their career, and it is the support team around them, under the guidance of coaches that helps determine runner’s success, both immediately after races and through each season.

Both Bud and Bruce made reference to the success of Kenyan runners. Peter McHugh from Victoria Park Harriers gave an impassioned talk about his recent trip to some training facilities there. All highlighted the benefit of group training amongst runners of similar ability (regardless of club affiliation) and how matching runners of similar, or slightly better standard against each other, raised the quality of all. The stats produced for 'average' Kenyan runners were staggering. From their finish times across different distances, to the level of their training facilities (or lack of them - running on dirt tracks, up to 300 runners at one time), to their stamina (running up to 3 times a day) and using sheer mountain tracks to test their strength.

Overall, it was a fantastic day. In my formal write up I'll include more stats on what was recommended, so if you are a distance runner yourself you can benefit from the knowledge shared on the day. Please email or message me if you want more info.