Sunday, 11 October 2009

Notes from Endurance Seminar at the World Half

I've got a ton of notes from the various seminars and presentations this weekend around the World Half Marathon in Birmingham. Over the next few days I will try and write up as much as I can.

The expert panel on Friday night comprised (left to right in photo) Wilson Kipketer (800m World Record holder), Alberto Salazar (Head Coach of the Oregon Project, 3x NY Marathon winner), George Gandy (Head Coach at Lougborough University), Lisa Dobriskey (World Silver 1500m) and on the other side of the room out of camera shot were Liz McColgan (1991 World 10,000m Champion), Glenn Latimer and Ian Stewart (now Head of Endurance at UK Athletics). Its fair to say that most of the time was spent with the folks in camera shot ...

The first big topic was about how to revive distance running in the UK (and Europe) so Alberto gave us some insights into the American experience. After the high point of the 1980s in the US standards dropped alarmingly in the 1990s. One of the measures he used was the number of high School runners clocking sub 9minutes for 2 Miles. For many years there would typically be 30 or so but by the low point it was down to just a handful each season. And given that producing successful endurance athletes is a numbers game then having a small pool of talent coming into the college system was going to have an impact further up the pyramid. This was a theme that both George and Wilson agreed with. You had to have a large number of young athletes coming through to give you a chance to produce the Dathan Rizenheins and Galen Rupps. Encouragingly the number of sub 9s is now back to close to an all time high - although we didn't get to hear what had made running sexy again for amercian school kids.

The Oregon Project was kicked off a decade ago as one initiative to try and revive fortunes. Alberto's first experience at raising standards turned out to be a chastening one. His plan was take a bunch of mid-13 minute 5k runners, speed them up a bit and then move them up to the marathon. By recruiting guys who had competed well and had good track speed he reckoned his chances of success were high. As it turned out he only managed to get one guy into the 2.10-2.11 range and the insights were revealing. Alberto's assumptions were based on the fact that during the 1980s he trained with a bunch of guys in Boston at the GBTC who were running sub 2.09-2.12 marathons with far less speed than the guys he was planning on moving up in Oregon. Where the plan fell apart was that the 2000's generation had been running far less volume than their eighties counterparts and while this wasn't a problem at 5k when they moved up it caught them out big time. When pushed for some numbers he reckoned that the GBTC guys were probably doing 120mpw + while the Oregon guys came from a background of 90mpw plus or minus. Thats a big difference over several years training and the cumulative effect on aerobic development is huge.

He developed this idea further with a story about how kenyan kids at age 18 have 15,000 more miles in the bank than the average american high school athlete. While the numbers mights have been rough and ready the point certainly hit home. We need to run more and sooner. And expect that our athletes will peak at a later age than their east african counterparts because they will be behind in their development.

George had an interesting take on why athletes weren't running enough. Back in the 1970s and 80s there were fewer major international events. So although athletes raced a lot in low key events they really only had to peak once a year so spent the whole winter and spring just running and racing tired. These days you have the Euro Cross, Indoors, World Cross and then a summer track season where you need to make some money and try and perform in a major championship against fierce competition. So athletes are spending a lot more time preparing for races instead of just getting aerobically fit. This is a reality of a fully professional sport which we don't seem to have come to terms with.

So some big lessons for Alberto from that first experience which could be summarised as: if we have fewer runners available we need to train them smarter (and the Oregon/Nike version of that will be developed in a subsequent post); identify the talent at a younger age and start to build its aerobic capacity with progressive volume (more on this later as well with some examples).

The other panellists were in agreement on one big theme which was the need to train in groups. Lisa talked about doing some of her runs with up to 60 athletes at Loughborough under George's guidance and how that helped her to improve. Ian Stewart revealed that UK Athletics was setting up two altitude bases, one in Font Romeu and one in Kenya as well as using Loughborough as the permanent centre for endurance in the UK. A change from the previous regime was that he was keen to encourage non-funded athletes to also use these venues to start to re-create the large group concept of yesteryear.

And its not just the US and UK thinking along these lines. Outside the conference I bumped into Michel Boeting who used to work with Jos Hermans at Global Sports Communications and gave me my marathon debut opportunity in Amsterdam in 2003. One of Michel's recent projects has been to set up a privately organised group in the Netherlands with Dutch and a few Belgian runners. At present they have about 30 athletes including the likes of Michel Butters and results seem to be picking up already though funding is still proving hard work - this seems to be a difference between Europe and the more entrepreneurially minded US where a number of groups have sprung up outside 'the system'.

In the next few days look out for: Managing the volume progression, Altitude and Marathon Preparation.

Part 2 - Progression here


Noel Stoddart said...

Thanks Adrian... by the time I had arranged things to be able to get up to Birmingham the conference was fully booked. These notes are much appreciated.

Cheers, Noel

Marcelo Assunção said...

Fantastic series of posts, Adrian! Thanks for that!