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.

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