Posted on August 2nd, 2017 by Nicola Heron
20 Chasers took on the 3km time trial last Thursday in fairly windy conditions. Everyone ran strongly and there were some big improvements from the previous time trial in June. It has hopefully given you a good indication of whether you’re on track for the Battersea Summer League 10k race or another upcoming race. If I didn’t get your time please feel free to send it to me and I’ll add it to the spreadsheet.
Posted on July 7th, 2017 by John Armstrong
Some great running in last night’s Paarlauf. I could see some real improvements in your running since we first started talking technical goals.
Here are my thoughts on the runners I observed.
Anthony: Use your arms to help power you on faster runs. Try to make sure you pull your arms back fully when doing easy runs and drills. Focus on a positive backward arm drive when doing speed work. Goal: a visible use of arm drive when doing speed sessions.
Richard: More arms. Be conscious of how you can use arm drive to boost your speed and keep your focus. Maintain a strong arm drive in drills and practice strides with a powerful arm drive on easy runs. Goal: to be ready and able to turn on arm power when you need it.
Jenny: Run with a more stable core. Find a way to incorporate core exercises into your fitness routine. Goal: complete high speed laps without too much visible movement of your torso.
Dave: Move your arms forwards and backwards, don’t rock from side to side. Try to do this on all runs, especially easy ones. We want to change your muscle memory so forward and backward feels like the natural choice. Goal: Able to complete a parkrun (at any pace) with forward/backward arms.
Posted on May 12th, 2017 by John Armstrong
Every 8 weeks or so, you should set yourself a technical goal to improve your running. That should be your focus during technical drills for the whole 8 weeks. The idea is to gradually improve your running form through incremental changes, but only ever working on one small aspect.
As coaches we can observe you and help you formulate your technical goals and suggest how to achieve them. We can’t observe all of you every week, but every 8 weeks or so, one of us should take a look at how you are running.
Here are the results of last night’s observation with some suggested goals and ideas how to achieve them.
Danny: run with high hips and tall posture. Focus on this when doing drills but also during easy running. Goal: maintain good posture during easy runs.
Lauren: high knees during speed work. Do extra high knee drills and incorporate some strides with good form into your easy runs. Goal: Able to sustain 10% higher knee lift during reps.
Simon: build core strength to catch up with your recent speed improvements (congrats on the PB!). Incorporate some core work into your routine and focus on a stable core during drills. Goal: establish a core routine you can maintain.
Rosa: now your returning to running after a long absence you need to rebuild your running balance and coordination. Do the key running form drills (skips, high knees, heel flicks) as a warm up before your easy runs and focus on doing them with great form. Goal: perform key drills with good form.
Stephen: Try to land with you centre of gravity just in front of your feet. Practice some downhill running, for example do Hampstead Heath Parkrun and fly down hill. Goal: improve downhill pace by letting gravity do the work.
Posted on March 27th, 2017 by John Armstrong
It’s not all about running. With only two weeks to go to the Brighton marathon, let’s talk about the taper.
In the final three weeks of our marathon schedules, we’re gradually reducing the amount of training. The reduction is subtle in the first week, but in the second week you should really begin to notice the reduced workload. In the final week before race day, you don’t run much at all.
The idea is that there is nothing to be gained from training hard in the last few weeks. The purpose of training is that it encourages your body to adapt to increased stress. This adaption occurs during recovery periods. So now is the time to rest and recover to maximize your body’s chance of making the most of all that training. Any more hard training at this stage is counter-productive, there simply isn’t time for it to have a positive impact.
Instead, go out and enjoy your runs. You’ve developed incredible fitness, so make the most of running comfortably fast across the Heath in early spring. And if you find yourself feeling slightly smug, well why not? You deserve it.
With any luck, over the next week you should start to feel more energized. In the final week before the marathon you should even start to feel restless. It is very important in the final week to resist the temptation to go out for a hard run to let off steam. Be careful not to find other substitute activities like the gym, DIY or gardening. If you’re feeling anxious, that’s good. Bottle up the nervous energy and keep it for the big day.
Posted on January 9th, 2017 by John Armstrong
We’ve put together some training plans for you for this year’s London and the Brighton marathons. Our aim is to have a plan that will get you round in a great time but will also mean you have plenty of people to run with for some of those tougher sessions.
The training plans are tried and tested and have helped club members achieve marathon goals ranging from 2:45 to 4 hours.
You can see the schedules here. There is one for London and two for Brighton. The only difference between the two Brighton schedules is that one assumes you have already been building up your long runs and the other assumes you have been chilling out a bit over Christmas.
If you would like to follow the schedules, then there are a couple of events you should book and dates to put in your diary.
For Brighton runners: there is a recommended half marathon the Thames Meander on Saturday the 11th of March. Also the week after, on the 19 March there is a 20 miler scheduled and we thought it would be nice if we ran this together from Richmond back to Kentish Town.
For London runners: the Paddock Wood half marathon is recommended on the 2nd April. We’ve also put down the Gade Valley 20 mile training run on the 26 Mar. This is a lovely marathon prep event organized by Gade Valley Harriers. Entry is on the day only for £10 and they give you some tea and cake for that.
For everyone: The schedules recommend that you do the Fred Hughes 10 mile race in St Albans and, if you choose to have Saturday sessions in your schedule, they recommend the South of England Cross Country championships. Unfortunately, these events are already full. If you’re not signed up, instead of the Fred Hughes 10 mile you could do a 2hr long easy run instead or perhaps a half marathon such as the Farnborough Winter Half. Similarly a 40 minute continuous hill run would be a good replacement for the Southerns.
Posted on December 28th, 2016 by Urban Bettag
|January, 5th||Running Form Drills
30′ Whistle Fartlek
|January, 12th||Oregon Circuits|
|January, 19th||Running Form Drills
|January, 26th||Short Intervals
6x 600m (5k) [200m Active Recovery]
|February, 2nd||Short Intervals
30’ Pair Run
|February, 9th||Mixed Intervals
3x 1,200m (5k) [400m Jog Recovery]
2x 600m (5k) [200m Float]
|February, 16th||Pace Alternations
8x 700m (10k) [300m Tempo / Half Marathon Pace]
|February, 23th||Mixed Intervals
3x 1,200m (5k) [400m Jog Recovery]
6x 200m (5k) [200m Float]
|March, 2nd||Running Drills
10x 200m (3k) [200m Steady]
|March, 9th||Tempoflex Session
6x 1,000m (3k) [200m Jog Recovery]
|March, 16th||1500m Time Trial
|March, 23th||Long Intervals / Cut-Down
5x 800m (10k to 5k) [200m Float] 300m (3k) [1’ 30’’ Rest]
|March, 30th||Reverse Pyramid Session
2000m – 1600m – 1200m – 800m – 400m
|April, 6th||Long Interval
6x 800m (5k) [400m Jog Recovery]
Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.
Posted on December 17th, 2016 by Urban Bettag
This week we had our last Thursday Track Session for the year. Many thanks to everyone involved, either volunteering, supporting or running. Congratulations and well done to all, who managed to reap the benefits of hard training and made strides towards achieving your running goals and running better than ever before. The end of 2016 is near and the road running season comes to an end. It is time to take stock and review what has been achieved.
In this week’s Hare Brain Blog, we evaluate the effectiveness of the Thursday Track sessions by analysing the attendance statistics, how session attendance correlate to performance improvements and the impact on raising standards within the Mornington Chasers Running Club.
Two weeks ago, I had an impromptu conversation with Stephen Sash. It went like this. “What are you doing?”, he asked. “I am just ticking off those who attended tonight, trying to work out what makes folks train and coming back every week.”, while holding tight to my clipboard. “Do you know the concept of cause & effect?” he said in a challenging manner. “Sort of, but go on …”. Stephen concluded, “I believe folks come back because of they want a PB and want to get better!” “Maybe, but I don’t know for sure. I am interested in triangulating behaviour, level commitment and performance improvement. Looking at attendance is a good starting point.” We don’t want to embark on a big number crunching exercise or a formal hypothesis test. Let keep it simple and look, let’s have a look at the data.
Unfortunately, I do not have a full record of attendance for the whole year. I started coaching in April. It took a while to get to know those who take part in the Thursday track session. Initially, I tried to record who attended the training session on a best endeavour basis, though failed to do it consistently. The purpose of maintaining a record was to be able to address everyone by name. A couple of months later, a core group emerged who attend most Thursday track sessions, so I expressed an interest how their performances progress throughout the season.
Since April, we delivered 37 track sessions. Many thanks to Chris, John, Adrian, Louise and Alice helping out when I wasn’t on duty.
I recorded the attendance of the last nine track session. The sample size is incomplete. On every occasion, there were a few more members taking part than I managed to record. Further, I did record those who could not attend the session but did the same session on their own. Recording the attendance served the purpose of getting an understanding who attends on a regular basis or those who do a few sessions and then have a break. A couple of years ago, I did a similar exercise. There are multiple reasons for why folks attend or not attend. It’s highly individual and in many cases having the time available to take part is the biggest constraint. Let’s focus on the positive and look at those who attend on a regular basis.
Between October and December, 66 Mornington Chasers took part in the Thursday sessions. Glad that not all attended in a single session, that would have been hard to manage. Given the membership subscriptions have increased to 300, more than a fifth of the club has been to Parliament Hill Athletics Track on a Thursday. There have been slightly more male members than female members to the session. 58% of the attendees are male, while 42% are female, a good sign that we have a well-balanced training group.
Our busiest period within the last nine weeks was the end of October and November. Attendances peaked at 30. Seasonality, in the run up to Christmas with all the important races out of the way, December is a busy time for most lead to a drop in attendance levels. On average 24 members attend every week.
There is a pool of dedicated runners who attend the sessions on a regular basis. This trend is very reassuring. Those who train consistently without getting injured are reaping the benefits as their speed develops. There is not a single athlete, who managed to attend all the nine sessions. Two athletes who attended eight out of the nine sessions have done well. A further two athletes attended seven sessions. A third of the Thursday tracksters attended at least more than five sessions. The majority, approx. Two-thirds are more opportunistic in their attendance.
Figure 1: Attendees by frequency
Next, we looked at the level of commitment by ability. We could not identify a trend within the group who attend more than five sessions. Hence, there is no major difference based on those who come more than 50% of the sessions. There are higher numbers for the sub 50 and sub 60 minutes 10k runners who only attend once. This suggests that the training is less suitable for runners new to track training.
Figure 2: Attendance by ability
In future, we will continue to record attendance. This allows us to understand, who takes part in the training and helps us in our planning when dealing with the Corporation of London. We pay an annual fee for using the track and our fee is based on an average number of athletes training on the track. Understandably, we want to make the best use of club funds and don’t want to be over charged.
There is an opportunity to convert those between 30% to 60% of attendance towards a higher attendance. However, this would mean that on a single night there would be 30 to 40 runners, a situation hard to manage for a coach, an additional session or 2-3 support coaches would be required for delivering safe sessions.
Runners like to come if they know what is expected, sessions are suitable, structured and if there are part of a conducive environment. If it is a good experience and if the support is in place then runners will make up the time, commit and attend on a regular basis. To make this happen, leaders within the various ability groups create a sense of cohesion and shared purpose when training together. When that is in place, everyone benefits.
During the last six months, many of the regulars recorded personal bests over the 5k, 10k, 10m and half-marathon distances. A closer look at those who attended more than 50% of the last nine sessions reveals that there is a strong correlation of those who attend on a regular basis achieve more.
3 of the most regular attendees, all at different abilities of the Thursday track night managed the triple, i.e. to run a PB in the 5k, 10k and ½ marathon. This goes to show, that willing to train hard, regardless of ability will see improvements of their personal bests. There has been many more PBs too and likely others as well, though there were attending less than 50% of the sessions.
There were a couple of more candidates, though they either didn’t do a ½ marathon or have not done a 5k. Regardless, very well done to those who managed to get close to their best times or improved on their personal bests. It’s always a big confidence boost and opens up new possibilities. As one former coach said, champions are everywhere, they just need to be trained properly.
How we are doing as a club?
Let’s look at the wider context and how the club is positioned. There is no nationwide club ranking system as such or an agreed measure what good or bad means. For the sake of simplicity we applied the same model England Athletics has been using for their ‘Club Run’ campaign, which is typically targeted towards Road Running clubs. The model was suitable, because the majority of the membership compete in road running events. While the club has active triathletes and a small, enthusiastic track & field athletes, the Mornington Chasers classify as a Road Running Club. In terms of performance, there is no difference to many other road running clubs. There are many clubs in the South East of England at a similar size.
The club has a solid base and the majority are novice and recreational runners engage the club’s training offerings. 10% of the members achieve a notable higher standard, 1% are getting close to a regional/national levels, those typically engage in more structured training and take part in the coached sessions. This split is not unusual and very similar to many road running clubs. In comparison, Serpentine RC, one of the biggest running clubs in the UK, while strong at the sharp end of the performance spectrum have approx. 6% senior men with a sub 40 minutes and 2% senior women running sub 45 minutes for the 10k. Relative to its size, Mornington Chasers stack up well.
It is encouraging that membership subscriptions went up and current members keep on renewing their membership. This means more runners get engaged in training, more compete and more will progress, resulting in raising standards across endurance events. Important, here is that an inclusive training platform is provided, this means that there are pathways for those training at similar ability levels and providing opportunities for runners to improve at all ability levels. For that reason we have tailored our track sessions based on ability.
Figure 3: Performance Level 2016
In comparison to the previous year, 2016 has been a very good year for the Mornington Chasers. More members engage in 5km and 10km events. The uptake on 10km races has almost doubled, which is very encouraging. Our training throughout the summer focused on improving over the 5k and 10k distances. The Chase the Pace 30th Anniversary event was a great opportunity to get members running a 5k and 10k on the track. Overall we have now more sub 45 10k runners than before, 29 of them are sub 40 mins. There are few women close to the 40 mins mark, who will continue to develop and progress further.
Taking part in the half marathons has increased too, the club’s more coordinated approach towards selecting half marathons engages more runner. The overall uptake and the number of top performances for the marathon has slightly been down compared to last year. However, we have not yet completed a full year and plans have been put in place to raise the standards for the marathon.
Figure 4: Performance Level 2015
For 2017, we want to build on what has been achieved in 2016. The first couple of month will focus on the spring marathons and we aim to get more runners getting involved in a spring marathon. Then we continue with the 5k/10k focus before stepping up the half marathon distance in autumn again.
Feedback & Ideas to Improve the Track Session
During the last couple of weeks, a number of suggestions have been raised, which we discussed. For some members, starting the session at 7:30 pm is quite late, an earlier start would be preferable. A good idea and it would allow us to extend the session beyond 1 hour. However, for many of the regulars and coaches, it is already a stretch to make it to Parliament Hill on time for a 7:30 pm start. Often, I manage to arrive at 7:15 pm, which leaves just a couple of minutes to get changes and setup. On balance, 7:30 pm is a good compromise. For now, we will continue to start the session at 7:30 pm.
Some feel the warm-up takes up too much time and is too long. Typically, a warm-up can last 15 to 20 minutes. The proposal would be to skip the warm-up. Coaches plan the session and are responsible for the content. Personally, running a safe, fun and fulfilling session has to be a priority for all. Secondary, the warm-up plays an important part in the session and is often the only element of the session where any athletic skill development happens. My practical experience of coaching many sessions over a decade is that a group warm-up is always a safe option and prevents injury. When athletes don’t warm-up or when every athlete is doing their warm-up for themselves, then this often lead to injuries. Most weeks we do some intense training and the warm-up part of the session. As many come direct from work and rush to the track allowing 10 to 20 minutes window to refocus the mind is a good way to prepare athletes for the session. The warm-up is a mandatory part of the session. We cannot skip it!
The majority of the sessions are 5k and 10k speed development or speed endurance type sessions. The sessions are not specific for marathon runners or middle distance runners. If we would provide event specific sessions, then there would be fewer athletes available running in the same event specific session. Running long and middle distance sessions in parallel require more coaching support. My view is each event requires a coached session in its own righ. Mixing too many workouts in one session distracts what athletes/group want to achieve.
As you noticed, sometimes we go a bit longer until the flood light gets switched off. A few runners are keen to complete the session and like the challenge. I am supportive of this and don’t want to enforce restrictions. We usually plan the session and give guidance, that all can complete the session on time. We provide choice Group A/B type, though ultimately it is up to each individual what sessions they want to run.
We do a lot of interval training. Another suggestion was to run a 5k time trail on the track. From a coaching point of view, a great way to capture data and determine baseline fitness. However, many of you take part in parkruns and want to train on the track and not compete in another 5k. We may use a time trial for shorter distances, 2k, 1 mile or 1.5k, though not the full 5k race distance.
As you noticed, we never take enough time to stretch after the session. Some do a couple of static stretches, others get quickly changed and get on the bike and cycle home. I would advise after a short cool down to get quickly changed and perform a small number of static stretches. I have done many sessions, which include a stretching routine, though those sessions last typically 1h 15 minutes.
The attendance levels throughout the last six months have been good. Everyone is familiar with the structure. There is a good core of regulars. At this stage, there is no need to change the session arrangements.
Based on attendance levels and performances, the club progressed and raised performance standards. The majority of the Thursday track regulars set personal bests in almost all distances. In 2017, we will build on the successes of 2016 and continue to provide a training platform to those who want to train, compete and become better athletes. Having fun, the willingness and commitment to train hard, take part in the club’s targeted competitions, acquire new athletic skills, adapt to training, while remaining injury free should be our focus for 2017.
I hope you found the recent blog posts on the Hare Brains blog useful. If there is anything else you want to know then please get in touch. I am looking forward seeing you back on track in 2017. Well done to those who attended week in week out and worked hard to improve. I want to wish you all a merry x-mas and a relaxing Christmas break. Enjoy your running, start thinking about 2017 and I look forward to seeing you back in January for our Thursday track session.
Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.
Posted on December 9th, 2016 by Urban Bettag
Every couple of months, England Athletics invites the leading coaches on the National Coach Development Programme (NCDP) based in the South-east for a get together at St. Mary’s University College in Twickenham. I have been to various gatherings over the years and those sessions never disappoint. The wealth of experience and willingness among coaches to drive athletics forward is something I always find inspiring. Special thanks to Neville Taylor, National Coach Mentor for Endurance, for putting together a packed agenda.
This year’s NCDP coaching seminar theme was on ‘Aim higher’. The next Olympic cycle is already upon us and what has worked so far for the last 4 years, may not be good enough anymore to qualify for the 2020 Olympics and make the podium. Future performances such as sub 1’40’’ (800m), 3’26’’ (1,500m) or even the sub 2-hour marathon are discussed among athletics pundits. While these are big challenges, pushing the boundaries is the first step towards improvement. When we do not start to plan for it, it will unlikely happen, and then we will not strive towards improvement says Neville Taylor. This session on ‘Aim higher’ provides the context to explore how training would need to change to enable athletes to reach the next level.
General Testing & Screening
The seminar started with a practical session led by Richard Blagrove. Richard is a Senior Lecturer for Strength and Conditioning at St. Mary’s University College and has authored a book with the title ‘Strength & Conditioning for Endurance Running’. The aim of the practical session was to assist coaches with screening and testing technique when working with athletes, regardless of their age. Screening and testing help to assess the athlete’s muscular and functional strength and weaknesses. Once the coach understands the athlete’s specific demands, remedial strategies to strengthen joints, muscle and improve movement patterns can be put in place, which helps to prevent injury and enable the athlete to do more event-specific work.
The screening and testing tools were general strength exercises along the specificity continuum. Richard introduced a set of low/high load exercises and capacity tests and explained to coached what to look out for. Coaches experimented with the exercises (single leg bridge, standing rotation, walking lunge, side hold, etc.), gave each other feedback and identified variants of the movements as remedial actions. The majority of exercises were related to hip strength, correct pelvis position and maintaining a static core. The scoring in those tests help during athlete profiling and develop improvement plans, which prevent injury and drive performance.
A very useful clinic and Richard busted some myth about strength & conditioning and highlighted some common exercises used by many endurance athletes, which are rather counterproductive to core strengthening.
Dr Kate Spilsbury, Physiologist with British Athletics, provided an overview of British Athletics’ Altitude Programme. Since the first altitude trips, the altitude programme has evolved and matured. What was initially perceived as a ‘holiday trip’ for athletes, has now turned into a thoroughly planned, high-tech expedition. Top endurance athletes, depending on their season goal, apply multiple altitude camps a year. Between November and January, athletes have been attending the High Altitude Training Camp (HATC) in Iten, Kenya for typically 3 to 4 weeks. The aim is to accelerate the development of aerobic fitness. In November to January, Iten in Kenya at 2,400m is ideal and has favourable weather and altitude conditions. However, for some athletes getting from the UK to Iten is a very long and tiring journey. Font Romeu, from the UK, is more accessible, though the weather is more unpredictable during the off season. Further into the season, British Athletics uses Font Romeu in the French Pyrenes or for US based athletes Flagstaff and Park City as altitude camps. Those locations enable athletes to stay at a lower level of altitude and do more intense sessions at a lower altitude while staying for the rest of the time at a higher base.
The research found that complementing altitude camps with altitude tents at sea level has an accumulative effect and helps the athletes to maintain and even increase high haemoglobin levels.
A couple of coaches were critical of the benefits of altitude training. The change in environment and the adaptations of the training programme was seen more as a risk than a benefit. It was pointed out that early adopters of altitude training in the 1970s and 1980s went to altitude and continued with the same amount and intensity they were used to at sea-level. When at altitude, depending on the level, intensity is reduced. High intense workouts are done sparsely, i.e. after 2 easy days, a more intense session follows to allow extra recovery. Further determinants of a successful altitude camp are better understood and controls are put in place to ensure that athletes arrive fit, healthy and conditioned at altitude to maximise the training effect.
To my surprise, British Athletics approach to altitude camps is quite controlled and regimented. The camps have clear objectives and measurements have to be in place to support those. Athletes are closely monitored on a daily basis and ensure that they follow their personalised training and not training too hard or join sessions of local athletes. The data gathering helps British Athletics to continuously improve and optimise the programme and get an in-depth understanding of the benefits and physiological changes in athletes of altitude training.
In contrast to the official British Athletics altitude programme, Mo Farah, Charlie Grice and Adam Clarke went to train in Ethiopia. However, all stayed in Kenya first before moving on to Ethiopia. It was highlighted that Mo Farah attended many altitude camps and spent a lot of time throughout the year at altitude, consequently his body is already adjusted. To gain extra benefit Mo Farah has to train at higher altitudes in Ethiopia and in addition use an altitude tent. The highlands of Ethiopia are flatter compared to Kenya.
Charlotte Purdue has been training at altitude in Falls Creek in Australia and is preparing for an altitude camp to Dulstrom in South Africa. Both locations are not part of the British Athletics altitude camp, though frequented by many international runners.
Another coach asked if athletes offered US scholarships should rather choose a university located at altitude. Kate confirmed that spending 3 years at altitude could be very beneficial for their performance and long term development.
The founder of Affinity Altitude Ray Matthews (Brighton Phoenix) presented his latest range of altitude tents. Ray, a club mate of the 1,500m runner Charlie Grice, assessed the altitude tents available on the market and thought he could improve and simplify the usability of those tents. Affinity Altitude offers two models, the ‘Oxy Hood’ and the ‘Oxy Wagon’. The Oxy Hood is a small version of the Oxy Wagon and fits around the upper body, while the Oxy Wagon covers the whole double bed. The altitude tents enable athletes to simulate altitudes of up to 3,500 meters.
Ray tried the altitude tent out for himself. After a couple of weeks, despite reducing his training load by 50% he kept on improving and maintains a mid 17 minutes 5k as a V50. He attributes the improvement to sleeping in the altitude tent. British Athletics has some units in circulations, British Cycling tested the tents with their cyclist too and received positive feedback, while the tent is also beneficial for triathletes.
The altitude tent comes with a generator (40 dBA) and starts from £1,900. These are possibly worth 2x altitude trips to Kenya. However, as pointed out by the British Athletics, the altitude camp and staying at the tent at sea levels makes the difference to maintain a high level of aerobic fitness for longer.
The responses among the coaches were mixed. While I am a strong advocate of altitude training camps, some of the middle distance coaches were sceptical about the value add such tents have. As we heard, leading athletes like Mo Farah and Matt Centrowitz use altitude tents all the time. One of the issues identified is that what is the effect when sleep gets interrupted, or one has to leave the tent. Further, a recommended minimum of 10 hours sleep is required, not an option for many athletes in full-time employment.
Q&A with Elliot Giles and Charlotte Purdue
Elliot Giles, bronze medal winner in this year’s European Championships in the 800m talked about changing his coach and getting used to the new training regime. Matt Yates, a retired international middle distance runner, coaches Elliot. Elliot, still U23, is learning and getting familiar with the coaching process. Matt Yates quickly fills in the gap and entertains the room with his latest methods (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) he has seen used by drug addicts for getting Elliot to reinforce his new regime. Next, Matt states that athletes should not limit themselves by thinking they cannot beat the Africans in important races. It seems to have worked well so far. Elliot made a significant improvement, earned a medal at the European Championships, made it to the Olympics and gained a lot of experience. An exciting athlete to watch.
Charlotte Purdue ran her debut marathon in the 2016 London Marathon (2:32:48) and narrowly missed out on making the team for the Rio Olympics. Charlotte changed coaches and is now coached by Australian coach Nic Bideau. Despite at young age, Charlotte always felt positive about the marathon and enjoys the training. Previous VO2Max tests suggested that she is particular suited for the more longer distances. Her long term aspirations is to make the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Her next goal is to compete in the World Championships in London next year.
Charlotte talked about her build up for the Berlin Marathon. Unfortunately, the night before the race she felt sick and dropped out of the race the next day. A frustrating experience, though Charlotte quickly re-focussed and her coach entered her in the Frankfurt Marathon. She had a good race in Frankfurt and managed to run 2:30:04 and felt she has found her event. She wants to progress further in the marathon and want to follow the likes of Benita Johnson / Mara Yamauchi and progress towards 2:25 in the marathon.
Many coaches in the room assumed Charlotte or Elliot are on lottery funding. Charlotte is a self-funded athlete, works part-time as a personal trainer/pilates teacher and funds her own altitude camps. Unlike other athletes on the funded programme, she does not receive the same amount of medical support from British Athletics. Coaches highlighted that there are many athletes trying to transition from national to international athletes or after coming back to the UK after their US scholarship in a similar situation. A kit or shoe sponsor supplies equipment rather than funds. This leaves athletes, not on funding trying to make their own arrangements. It is less the long term financial incentive that drives athletes rather than the prospect of performing at their full potential. Thanks to some sponsorship Elliot is a full-time athlete. He knows that he has to deliver results too to maintain his status.
Unfortunately, from a coaching perspective, there was little detail on the actual training programme. For example, peak mileage, typical build up, peaking, carbo-loading regime.
An insightful day at St. Mary’s which facilitates learning among coaches, sharing idea and contextualising strength & conditioning into their coaching reality. Not all of us have the means and opportunity to attend an altitude trip, though Font Romeu is only a flight away to Barcelona and a 2 hour drive. 1-2 weeks has benefits and accelerates aerobic fitness. For those keen to perform close to their full potential, altitude training is a must. 2015 I spend a week in Iten, Kenya and definitely benefited.
Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.
Posted on December 3rd, 2016 by Urban Bettag
The winter season is upon us. After all the club championship races it is now time to either have a break or settle into the winter training. When the weather changes and gets a bit colder doing hard, long intervals are not so much fun. When approaching December, it is time to take the foot off the gas and take it a bit easy and have some fun. Traditionally, early December is an ideal opportunity to introduce the Oregon Circuits, one of my favourite sessions are the Oregon Circuits. In this week’s ‘Hare Brain’ blog we explain a bit more about Oregon Circuits.
Oregon Circuits, as the word suggests have been invented at the University of Oregon. It was coach Luiz de Oliveira, who came up with the workout when coaching the Brazilian middle-distance runner Joaquim Cruz while studying at the University of Oregon. Later on, Cruz won the 800m gold medal in 1984 Olympics and beat Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. Later on, Cruz won the 800m silver medal in the 1988 Olympics too. Cruz still holds the South American area record. He is only one of five men, who have run sub 1:42 (1:41.77). Today, Cruz train Paralympic athletes and applies the same training fundamentals he used to follow.
The first time I came across the Oregon Circuits was when I met the late Dave Sunderland, coach to many international athletes. Dave Sunderland spoke about coaching middle distance runners and the type of training distance runners would do in and outside the season. When coaching at the Serpentine Running Club, I adopted the Oregon Circuits for long distance runners and used to do this session once a month during the cross country season. While this is a tough workout, some of the exercises can be challenging, athletes enjoyed the session and welcomed a break from the more structured sessions. One of the benefits of this session is that athletes have to use all muscle groups and their nervous systems. Oregon Circuits give them a good all round full body workout and promote mental toughness as well.
Oregon Circuits explained
How does an Oregon Circuits session work? The format of an Oregon Circuit session requires a bit more explanation compared to the traditional interval sessions. However, the session builds on the principles of interval training. The session contains bouts of fast running, interspersed with an active recovery of general strength and core exercises. Depending on the event, training age and the ability of the athletes I use 700 and 300 meter repetitions, use 1 – 2 exercises and two circuits. It is a demanding session and I recommend a cool down jog. Allow your muscles to fully recover and take it easy on the next day. As these are intense sessions, I recommend only one session per week at best. Start with once a month and progress to any other week during your base training period.
Start your session from the 1,500m start. Experienced athletes run 700 meters at your 5k race pace. Improvers would either do 300 meters or alternate between 300 and 700 meter repetitions. Once finished with the repetition, jog forward to the high jump area and start with the general strength exercises. Typically, the exercises last 30 seconds with the same amount of rest between exercises. Exercises alternate between upper and lower body exercises. For example, while doing a full body squat, the upper body is less stressed, while the lower body is less stressed when doing a set of press ups. More advanced athletes can alternate between upper, core and lower body exercises. For example, press ups, plank and body squat.
There are many ways to progress Oregon Circuits. Start with a small number of repetitions first, then build up the total volume of the session by increasing the number of repetitions and circuits. The same applies to the general strength exercises, though the main focus should be on running specific strength exercises and not on doing as many exercises as possible. Start with one exercise first, then progress to 2 exercises during the active recovery. More advanced athletes can do 3 to 4 exercises and match the duration of running with the total time spend doing the general strength exercises. For example, 700 meters require 2’30’’, then spend 2’30’’ for the general strength exercises.
General Strength and Core Strength Exercises
Important to note, don’t rush doing the general strength exercises. Try to understand how to perform the exercises correct first, before doing the exercises faster. Doing the general strength exercises wrong will only increase your risk of injury. On observation, when doing the body squat, athletes try to do this as quickly as possible, just thinking about the effort rather than form. Ensure both feet are shoulder width apart, when moving into a squat position, have your feet pointed forward. Ensure the knee caps are not too far ahead of your toes. Place your hand behind your head and point your shoulder blades together, so that your spine in a stable position. While combining running and strength, the complexity of the exercises can vary and require full concentration.
I am a big fan of the Oregon Circuit session. I do this session frequently especially when I am working with a new athlete. The Oregon Circuit workout has pretty much everything. It helps me to assess the athlete’s running form while running in between the exercises and I can see the athletes sense of coordination and determine the level of core strength. Often there is a connection between both. Are there any imbalances or muscular weaknesses? If there are weaknesses, they will be revealed especially towards the end of the session, when the athlete feels more tired and starts to become fatigued.
You don’t need a track for doing an Oregon Circuit session. Instead of running a fixed distance, you can run for 1 minute, or do a shuttle run (100 meters out and back) and do the exercises. This session works well on a ‘trim-trail’.
Many club standard runners like to do interval sessions throughout the year and are not too keen deviating too much from the format in fear of losing fitness. Oregon Circuits is a great session to break up the routine and combining running with strength exercises in such a way that all muscle groups get a stimulus. Besides the physical benefits on strength endurance, the session schools mental toughness and prepares athletes for maintaining running form in a tired state. Comes spring you will be better prepared to do a more demanding speed workout. Alternatively, similar to Joaquim Cruz when coming back from injury/break, Oregon Circuits are the workouts to recover your full strength.
Posted on November 18th, 2016 by Urban Bettag
We all have experienced once in a while a poor training run. Running through tiredness, suffering from low energy levels and after a few minutes into the run we would have wished to have opted rather for a rest day. For those of you preparing for a marathon and doing their long runs, you may have hit the wall and experienced what it means to run low on energy. You are wondering why this is happening to you. On other training runs, we feel great, firing on all cylinders and everything feels relaxed. Energy levels play a vital role and determine the quality of our training runs. In this week’s Hare Brains blog, we want to explore what drives our energy availability and highlight important considerations.
So far I have written a lot about the specifics of endurance training and provided relevant information for the winter training plan. The training schedule explains the types of runs, distances, duration, pace and intensity. When we put a training plan together, we assume, runners have infinite amounts of energy available. We are confident that we always manage to complete the running session as scheduled. Common belief is, for anything longer than 1 hour we don’t need to fuel. Hydration and nutrition are more an aftermath.
Nutrition for distance runners is highly relevant if we want to compete at our best. For a powerful aerobic engine to produce the maximum energy output, what goes into the engine, high-performance fuel is vital. When immersed in running, nutrition plays a second role. Without adequate fuelling, we cannot perform and sustain prolonged periods of training.
In the weight-sensitive sport of running, we are conscious about our physical appearance and weight. After all the hard training, we want to maintain an ideal weight and get anxious about putting on more weight. If we put too much emphasis on trying to control weight beyond healthy levels that it affects our eating patterns, then it can have a detrimental effect impacting performance.
A well-balanced diet is the foundation of healthy and smart training. However, those new to structured training face a problem regarding how much fuelling is required to sustain the training week, month and entire season. Important considerations, which need to be factored into the training regime.
Endurance runners often ask, what should I eat before, during and after a run? While the intent of this blog is not a discussion on the latest diet trends (high carb/low fat or high fat/low carb), we want to highlight the importance of managing energy availability (irrespective of a particular diet).
For the body to function, we need to meet the minimal energy requirements for its organs to work. If we do not do that, or if we try to fast, inner organs will not receive the minimum amount of energy, which can have severe health implications.
Energy Availability (EA)
Energy needs are highly individual. No two runners are the same. Energy requirements vary according to body size, the energy cost of training (volume, frequency, and intensity of workouts) and growth or changes in body physique. For example, a young athlete experiencing maximum growth spur requires different amounts of energy in comparison to a well-conditioned master runner. Those running 80 miles per week have a significantly higher energy demands compared to those training 40 miles per week.
The term ‘Energy Availability’ (EA) has been used by exercise physiologist to reflect the specifics demand of energy requirements for sport. When not taking part in sport, we expend less energy compared to anyone who takes up sports for a couple of hours per week. The term EA takes this into consideration. EA refers to the amount of energy left over and available for your body’s functions after the energy expended for training is subtracted from the energy you take in from food.
A balanced EA is essential for cells to function, muscles to repair, maintain body temperature and keep the immune system intact. EA is a vital input to the body’s physiological systems.
Energy Availability (EA) is calculated based on energy intake (EI) minus exercise energy expenditure (EEE). As a guideline, healthy athletes have 45 kcal/kg FFM (Fat-free Mass). Maintaining a normal resting metabolic rate requires 30 kcals/kg FFM. EA lower than 30 kcal/kg FFM is considered alarming. Similar to a scale, EA illustrates a balance between EI and EEE. If EEE is very high and EI is low, then EA is out of balance and vice versa.
EA and energy balance are mixed and used interchangeably. However, both concepts are not related. Energy Balance (EB) consists of Energy Intake (EI) minus Total Energy Expenditure (TEE), i.e. beyond energy expenditure beyond exercise. EB is rather an output from the body’s physiological systems. It is less significant for athletes to maintain EB.
Important to keep in mind is that body weight is not an accurate reflection of energy availability. While body weight can be at a healthy level, EA can be out of balance. When the body is not functioning at full capacity, the body preserves weight and decreases the resting metabolic rate to maintain the body’s function.
What are the causes for low Energy Availability?
There are some reasons which can contribute to low energy availability. Low energy availability can be caused unintentional or intentional.
Unintentional, in the event an athlete starts to build up weekly mileage as part of a marathon preparation. When we double weekly mileage from 25 miles per week to 50 miles per week without adjusting energy intake, then EA is declining. The runner has a lack of awareness of their increased exercise energy expenditure, which results in weight loss and not eating enough.
Intentional, runners are trying to reduce their weight and reducing their energy intake too far. Reducing energy intake too far and too rapidly. This results in a slow metabolism and weight loss start to plateau. Additional reduction to unhealthy levels would be required to promote further weight loss, which total energy expenditure and performance in a negative manner.
Psychological reasons can cause Low energy availability. Eating disorders and disordered eating, which are present in athletics and many other endurance sports. In the event eating patterns are affected, runners should seek professional and specialist help.
Case Study 1 – Athlete, trains 3x – 4x / Week
Let’s look at an example of a typical club runner, training three to four times per week. A 50 kg athlete with 10% body fat running for up to 1 hour per day, would require a minimum energy intake 2250 kcal. The amount of body fat corresponds to 5kg (10%), which is subtracted from the bodyweight, resulting in 45 kg lean body mass (LBM). Applying the EA formula, energy availability would be 2250 kcal – 1000 kcal, 1250 kcal. A healthy individual requires 45 kcal per kg (lean) body weight, hence 28 kcal per kg lean body mass. In this case, the athlete is below a healthy level of 45 kcal/kg and low on energy availability. This means the athletes dietary energy intake is insufficient to support the energy expenditure required by the body to support healthy daily living after the cost of exercise has been taken into account.
If the runner were 10 kg more, with the same amount of body fat, the energy intake would be 3250 kcal, resulting in 42 kcal/kg LBM which is a healthy level of energy availability.
As distance runners, our energy demands are higher. We need to make sure we adjust our energy intake.
Case Study 2 – Ultra Runner
One of my athletes has completed the 84 mile Druids Challenge, a multi-stage race of 3 marathons on three consecutive days. On average, based on Fitbit data, the athletes Exercise Energy Expenditure (EEE) was 4500 kcal / day.
As an ultrarunner, running approx. 10 minutes per mile pace, energy is provided by approx. 50% carbohydrates/muscle glycogen and 50% body fat. Like for any marathon, it is important to load up carbohydrates before the race to ensure muscle glycogen stores are fully charged up. After each marathon, the recovery process begins, followed by replenishing depleted muscle glycogen stores.
What would be the athlete’s Energy Availability (EA)? Let’s assume a 70kg ultra runner with 15% body fat (10.5 kg), equates to 59.5 kg lean body mass (LBM). As stated above EEE is 4500 kcal / day during the competition with the aim to maintain a healthy EA of 45 kcal / kg.
59.5 kg x 45 kcal/kg + 4,500 kcal = 7,177.5 kcal = EI
During a multi-stage ultra-event, energy intake of 7,177.5 kcal is required to maintain healthy levels of energy availability. A lot of food to take in to maintain a healthy EA. EI needs to be carefully dosed to avoid GI distress.
However, the EI contains all energy intake during the race too. Let’s assume our ultrarunner used energy gels during the race. For example, a Powerbar Performance Energy Gel provides 110 calories. Taking on 2 Energy Gels every 30 minutes, would provide 220 calories / hour (1,100 kcals during the race). We know from marathon training we can only consume a limited amount of carbohydrates within 1 hour. Approx. 20% of the Exercise Energy Expenditure / hour, 180 kcals / hour of carbohydrates, consumed through energy gels. Still, our ultrarunner needs to replenish a minimum of 6,000 kcals after the race.
If the athlete does not follow a strict fuelling protocol, it will be only a matter of time until muscle glycogen stores get depleted, forcing the runner to slow down and impacting the recovery process.
What effect does low Energy Availability have?
Chronic low energy Availability can have a severe health implications. In the past, chronic low energy availability was linked to the Female Athlete Triad. The Female Athlete Triad is concerned with the inter-dependency between energy availability, lack of menstrual cycle and bone mineral density. The triad moves along a spectrum from optimal health to pathology. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has revised, updated and broadened the concept of the Female Athlete Triad and coined a new term ‘Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport’ (RED-S). RED-S refers to impaired physiological functioning caused by relative energy deficiency including, but not limited to metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis (muscle repair) and cardiovascular health. RED-S highlights the underpinning issue of the energy deficiency and put energy deficiency in the context of performance.
RED-S applies to men as well as women. RED-S describes a situation when athletes are not taking on enough energy for growth, repair and their training needs. However, RED-S equally applies to non-athletes too, everyday people not taking on enough energy.
Relative energy deficiency in sport affects almost all body systems. The immune system, menstrual cycle, bone density, metabolism cardiovascular, digestive system, etc. Psychologically, energy deficiency can impact psychological system in both ways, as a result of low energy or directly from eating disorders.
Despite the physiological and psychological body functions, RED-S impacts performance. Endurance levels drop, the risk of injuries (stress fractures), lack of response to training, anxiety, depression and lower muscle glycogen stores are performance related consequences of RED-S.
Managing Energy Availability Levels
Most of us have a packed day and a busy work / lifestyle. Balancing training and social life can be challenging. However, when you plan your training ahead you can prepare your energy intake.
The more we train, the more energy is needed. The same applies when the intensity of your training increases. Ensure energy intake aligns with training load and intensity. When training more intense, up your carbohydrate intake to ensure muscle glycogen levels are at full capacity. Timing is equally important. Always have a snack available for before and after a training session. Missing out on replenishing burnt calories slows down the recovery process.
Some run to work from time to time. Don’t skip breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day and is part of a healthy diet. Aspire to a regular eating pattern, even though if work sometimes gets in the way.
Every runner, female and male, should be aware of the concept of Energy Availability (EA) and RED-S. To optimise performance, managing Energy Availability during periods of more frequent and intense training is important.
Endurance athletes can track their EA as part of their training and balance their food intake. Contrary, if things don’t go so well, revisiting the notion of Energy Availability can provide clues where your training has gone wrong.