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.

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