Monday, 31 August 2009

A night at the Weltklasse

What a night at Weltklasse on Friday. A great stadium, fantastic presentation and some enthralling performances on track and field. Where to start ? Well as an endurance runner Dathan Ritzenhein's 12.56 in the 5000m seems like as good a place as anywhere.

Coming into this race off the back of 6th place in the 10k at the worlds 'Ritz' seemed to be on a hiding to nothing. Tired legs from Berlin and a stacked field of east african's with PBs beginging 12 minutes. Clearly there was more to it than that. Last week I passed Dathan a few times while training in St Moritz. OK, when I say passed I mean going in the opposite direction but that said he was taking it easy, clearly making sure that he had recovered from the 10k and just keeping his legs turning over. Its the first time i've seen the guy up close and he moves really smoothly, its almost effortless and there are not many europeans who look like that.

Like many spectators I was more than a bit apprehensive for him when he opened up running 62s and was quickly at the back of the field and looking uncomfortable. Compared to the africans he looked to be overstriding a little and running flat out to maintain that pace. While the pacemakers hammered away at the front and Bekele covered everything Ritz was getting further and further behind. Indeed every time he passed an african they seemed to step off the track ! Through 3k I reckoned he was the best part of a whole curve behind Bekele who was now at the front laying it on the line big time. And then something strange started to happen - as the field tired Ritz kept bashing out his 62s and started picking people off. Inside the last kilometre I guess TV started to get excited and in the stadium it was obvious that he was reeling in Kenny B at a rate of knots. Another lap and who knows what might have happened. Inspiring stuff.

So what's behind this performance ? Those of you who've read the thoughts i've posted previously won't be surprised to know that my view is that the endurance work done in his recent marathon attempts are now paying off big time. You just can't get away from developing a massive aerobic base if you are going to sustain that kind of speed on the track. Unfortunately the mindset has become that you move up to the marathon at the end of your career whereas many athletes have run 10,000m (and 5000m) PBs after starting out their marathon careers. If I can do a 10k PB at age 35 after my fourth marathon cycle then anyone can ! The key here is doing the right pace training, its not just about big miles run slowly. But running fast enough to get aerobic development and then running the easy running slow enough to reccover. From my observations there are still too many europeans who run their steady and easy running at too similar speeds. Anyway back to Weltklasse...

Football coaches talk about 'bouncebackability' or some such twaddle and Yelena Isinbayeva showed it in spades with a stunning WR which looked to be miles clear from where we were sitting at the end of the runway overlooking the 100m start. Which brings me to Bolt. The speed out of the blocks of those guys was amazing, a real eye opener. Not surprisingly the winning time was a bit of an anti-climax after his Berlin efforts but no wonder really. And to top off the sprint story Jamaica won a good quality 4x100m relay which saw the Swiss team set a National Record and take a well earned lap of honour with the crowd going mental.

For me though what really stood out was the whole presentation. This was athletics as theatre, real entertainment. The main show was packed into 2 hours of tightly choreographed action. Frankly it made the bloated London Grand Prix look like school sports day without the drama of the egg and spoon race. The new Letzigrund is a 'hole in the ground' design like the London Olympic stadium and the 30,000 spectators in the steep sided stands produce a great atmosphere.
A look at the spectators confirmed that these weren't die hard athletics fans, just ordinary Zurich folk who know a good evenings entertainement when they see one.
To round out the night was a mixed 3000m wheelchair race to say au revoir to Swiss legend Heinz Frei. The women in effect had a one lap head start which made for a great race with a near blanket finish.
And at the final whistle the stadium was plunged into darkness for 15 minutes of live music and fireworks in the late Zurich evening. Great stuff, why can't all meets be like this ?

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Saucony Shoelab returns to Somerset

On Saturday 12th September the Saucony Shoelab will return to Somerset at the TRI UK store in Yeovil. There will be free video gait analysis from midday and special offers on shoes and kit throughout the afternoon.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Funny thing endurance (2)

Watching the swimming world championships at the weekend I was struck by Jo Jackon's comment when interviewed by Sharron Davies about her Silver medal in the 800m freestyle. Reflecting on the race and her future ambitions she said that the 800m was good for her 400m and 200m. Here was an athlete who really gets the value of overdistance racing and the impact of endurance on her shorter events.

It got me thinking about a few other things I had seen during the summer where endurance had been the difference between first and second. Remember back to that epic Men's Singles final at Wimbeldon ? Federer v Roddick. Its 2 sets all, deep into the 5th and Roddick is yet to drop his serve in the whole match. Federer has been broken a couple times in earlier sets and has relied on great tie-breakers to keep in the match. Your money has to be on Roddick to break at some point.

So what does Federer do ? He keeps cool, keeps the ball in play and keeps making his opponent run around a lot. There has been talk in the run to Wimbledon about how Roddick's new coach Larry Stefanki ordered him to drop some kilos earlier in the season in a bid to improve his condition. And Roddick keeps on running. Then somewhere about 12-12 in the fifth Roddick visibly starts to tire. And this is a great view of what happens when fatigue kicks in. You can see that his skill level drops - he is unable to repeat the muscle movements required in the same way as before. Whether its hitting a tennis ball or running this is what endurance gives you - the ability to keep on repeating the same muscle movements time after time with the same quality. And eventually this fatigue in Roddick tells as Federer breaks for a 16-14 win (how brutal is that ? Imagine if in Sydney 2000 when Haile and Tergat were neck and neck after 25 laps of the 10,000m the rules said "sorry boys but there needs to be a 5 second margin between first and second, do another lap .."). So at the end of it the guy with the best endurance won.

The other example that sprung to mind was the UK Athletics trials and in particular the women's 800m. To simulatre Berlin (sort of) the women had to run 3 rounds in 3 days. Going into the championships the fastest athletes were Maz Okoro and Jennie Meadows. Both runners who started life as 400m specialists and have made big efforts to build an endurance base over recent years. The dark horse was the fast improving Jemma Simpson who has a 1500m background and now trains in Oregon with wily British coach Mark Rowland.

The rounds were fairly uneventful with the 3 class athletes qualifying comfortably. Come the final and the anticipation of an epic duel was high. And it never materialised. Simpson hit the front and pulled away effortlessly in the closing stages with Maz and Jennie trailing. For Jemma a 3rd race in 3 days was no problems with her endurance but for the the 400m types it was a probably a race too far. It takes me back to the Coe/Ovett/Cram/Elliott days when the 1500m runners did particularly well in championship 800m races where there were many rounds. And of course who can forget Peter Snell, the 'slowest' man in the Rome 800m final based on 400m speed but with an awesome endurance base from his winter miles. (And incidently another 1500m specialists Hannah England went sub 2.00 for the first time this season at the European Team Championships).

So love it or loathe it you just can't get away from endurance whether you are middle swimmer, tennis player or 800m runner.