Wednesday, 14 October 2009

World Half Seminar Part 4 - Conditioning and Peaking

So for the final part of my write up from last friday's endurance seminar and some thoughts from the panel on conditioning and then peaking for races.

George Gandy was one of the pioneers of strength work for middle distance runners. His Lougborough circuits in the 1970s were legendary and Seb Coe gives much credit to George for the impact of his strength programme on his performances. Interestingly George said that Seb did the strength programme until the end of the 1981 season and then basically stopped, and never ran faster over 800m again !

One of the key exercises for George's athletes is the full squat and the goal is to build up to 2 sets of 6 reps with 1.5 times body weight. He used to have the women working with less weight and is now convinced that they could handle the same as the men. And concerns about them looking like east european discus throwers could be banished - slim middle distances runners stayed slim middle distance runners !

Albertos athletes spend 90 minutes a day on supplementary exercises to build core strength and other capabilities. He also talked about passive stretching vs dynamic exercises. During his running career Alberto spent quite a lot of time stretching and still when it came to running fast he had a terrible style and looked incredibly tight. He referenced the dynamic exercises that east africans do and Wilson also talked about these and how they help make the body move effortlessly at speed.

When I asked Richard Nerurkar the next day what he would have done differently when making the transition from 10 to the marathon he said spending more time on conditioning so that he could better handle the stress of the extra marathon training was probably all he would change. You can't get away from a strong platform if you are going to run a lot. George used the analogy of putting a Formula 1 Car engine into a Formula 2 Car - the extra power would cause it to fall apart because the gearbox, suspension etc couldn't handle the power.

When it came to being in top shape when it matters the panel had plenty of thoughts. Wilson Kipketer said that to get the best from yourself you need to focus on the main goal race for the season. He said that you need to know at the start of the year what this target is and prepare for it. (It sounds so simple and obvious and yet for many people the main goal gets lost amongst all the other races). Performances in the other races were not so important and you need to arrive at the start of the last 4 weeks in good shape. Then it is just a question of sharpening up and resting so that you are fresh for the big race.

In the first part I wrote about how George Gandy likes to see progress every week and reckons you are never more than 6 weeks from a PB. He told us about how Lisa Dobriskey, 10 days before a major championship (I don't remember whether it was Melbourne or Beijing) ran a 1500m race in a pretty mediocre time. And for a while he was debating whether to give her some more hard workouts or just rest up. They went for the 2nd option and a week later when Lisa was running the race that really mattered whe was able to perform.

I asked Alberto about the workouts Kara Goucher had been doing in the last 2 weeks before the Berlin World Champs marathon (I had watched a few of them in St Moritz and they seemed pretty fast to me). Alberto commented that the most important thing was how hard they felt, the effort needed to be controlled and as the athlete was backing off she could run fast with less stress than when in hard training (and of course his other data about the use of altitude tents explained why 6000ft probably isn't so tough for Goucher).

There was also a good question about the improvement in Galen Rupp's finishing speed (not technically a peaking question I know but closely connected to racing). Alberto had watched Lagat running and realised that he was so efficient at speed that 5000m race pace for him was easy.

So he took this idea and applied it to Rupp. The goal was to be able to run 9x300m in 39secs before races. As part of preparation for this he had Galen doing the 30/40 workout where he runs 200m in 30secs then cruises the next 200m in 40secs. And they also spent some time racing 800m and 1500m this year. He felt that paying this attention to speed had helped Galen improve his ability to close races (and of course the endurance that came from lots of miles at a good pace provided the foundation so that he could be in position to use his new found speed).

A couple of other perspectives on peaking were provided the following day by Charlie Spedding and Richard Nerurkar, England's two fastest marathoners. And they had quite different approaches to the final 2 weeks. Richard was happy to run a fairly hard workout 10 days before the marathon. In his case 5x2km at marathon pace with a steady km to recover. Charlie on the other hand felt the need to keep in touch with his speed and would run something like 5x400m in about 62secs with a few days to go. One of the things that seemed to make a big difference to Charlie was the realisation that he took a long time to rebuild his speed and lactate tolerance and that by keeping that faster work going all year he was able to have a better control over his peak.

Liz McColgan talked about race tactics and how improtant it was to understand your strengths and race to them rather than just sitting and waiting for a sprint finish like so many athletes seem to do. (Two of my hazy memories of Liz are of her being outkicked by Bondarenko at the end of the Seoul 10k and then crushing the field 3 years later in Tokyo with a relentless display of front running - definitely her strength !).

Alberto talked candidly about how he had overtrained during his career, in particular when trying to get himself into top shape for the marathon and a theme from most of the speakers was the importance of being rested for the major competition of the season and the need for athlete and coach to trust in the work that they had done. At that stage it was definitely a question of less is more.


inkdestroyedmybrush said...

excellent post! Its funny how much of what is said is obvious in hindsight, and yet hard for the athlete to see in the middle of the race preparation. There is no question that Salazar either over-trained or under-rested but one has to look at the data to make the case. (after all, ron hill, a notorious workhorse, clearly over trained and never improved upon his 2:10, but salazar, not the most naturally talented of runners, needed the hard work and i think under rested in his career)

Interesting to hear Liz talk about running to her strengths. Women like her and Moller really helped to define that second stage of womens running after the Waitz era. It would have been interesting to have steve jones up on the panel with charlie and richard as i think that he would have had a third idea of how much work to do near to a major competition. Spedding always looked like he needed the extra leg turnover!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic find! I couldn't believe the great info linked to from Running Times. Does anyone know if Gandy has published a training book?

Nicholas Stanko said...

More information on Gandy's Indoor Conditioning For Middle Distance can be found at the following link.

Adrian... Great Blog. Keep up the good work and spreading the good word!

Nicholas Stanko said...

The Link to Gandy's Article

Adrian Marriott said...


Thanks for posting the link to Gandy's article.

I'm not aware of George having written a book. I guess that a fair amount of the strength and conditioning section of the Coe and Martin 'Training Distance Runners' is Gandy material though.


Anonymous said...

Could you give some more detail to this part of the seminar?

"He referenced the dynamic exercises that east africans do and Wilson also talked about these and how they help make the body move effortlessly at speed."

I'm very interested on the effects of dynamic exercises on ones speed endurance, form, and overall fitness.

Adrian Marriott said...

The comments about exercises came from Salazar talking about how he used to do lots of static stretching and still had a horrible running style.

The point that he and Wilson made was that flexibility in running comes from doing exercises that stimulate flexibility when running !

So my perspective:
I have witnessed the kenyans and ethiopians doing 'exercises' and they are fantastic to watch. Basically it is a series of drills. The whole session can last 60 minutes or more and critically the kids learn the exercises at a young age. I imagine if you talked to a western coach they would talk about 'fundamental movement skills'. Its teaching the body the series of neuromuscular patterns required to run fast. Drills do this, passive stretching doesnt.

Hope this helps

Rupert Bedford said...

Just a quick note to thankyou for posting all the info from the endurance seminar - I was also there but failed to take enough notes. My 15 yr old boy Sam (Bedford) is a middle distance runner training with Millfield and Wells and I'm keen to learn as much as possible from you experienced guys. Cheers, Rupert.

Adrian Marriott said...

Hi Rupert, I'm planning on doing something on a monday night for the youngsters. Looking for a date before xmas so hopefully see you both then !