Saturday, March 28, 2009

MHS Track Weekly Update

I am transferring my seasonal weekly updates to my running blog. These are notes I take on a weekly basis during Moorestown high school's XC and outdoor track seasons. Previous seasons are at

This past week
This was my first week back with the team. We are trying to do several things this track season. The first is try to raise the expectations of mileage on a more consistent basis. The basic thought is that for most high school runners, they basically run out of air in a distance race and that is the key thing holding them back. So we think that distance at an easy pace is the key to developing the cardiovascular system. We've done some simple things like the minimum run is 5 miles for everyone unless you are injured. Also the typical day is now 7-8 miles for the guys who have been around for over a year. For track workouts and races we make sure we do 2-3 miles before the hard work and 2-3 miles after the hard work. So today for example, most of the guys got in 7-9 miles on a track workout day.

On Monday we did our long run. This is about 9-10 miles for the group that will be leading us next fall. 6-7 miles for newer guys. We are going to try to fit the long run in once per week since we can not count on everyone doing it on their own on Sundays.

On Wednesday we had a scrimmage against Cinnaminson. Most of the guys ran the 1600. It was the last race they get to choose, and there seemed to be avoidance of the 3200... Ringwood and Friedman ran a nice steady 4:44 at an even pace. Matteson, Weintraub and Wolff were all around 5:00. Many of the guys from XC have slipped back from their VDOT level of the fall by 2-5 points. This makes them about 10-30 seconds slower for the 3200. This is mostly due to a lack of mileage over the winter. We need to make sure we do not make that mistake again this summer leading into XC season.

We did a solid VO2Max workout on the track on Saturday. This is work done at the 3200 meter pace. Today we did 6 X 800 at their 3200 pace with a lap jog between. This might be a little early for this workout, but I think there was a need to get the guys in a controlled environment where they could rediscover their ability to work hard and run together. It should build some confidence as we move into the racing season next week.

This Coming Week

We begin our season this week at the Hall of Fame Relays at Maple Shade. We will be entering teams in the 4 X 800, the Distance Medley and the 4 X 1600. We will make the specific decisions about who runs in which race later in the week.

We will be doing a long run on Monday and probably a threshold workout on Wednesday with long 400 meter striders on Thursday to get a little feel for pace before the Saturday meet.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

John McDonnell Notes from Running Works Clinic

Coach of the Arkansas XC and Track teams, talk at the Running Works Clinic at Villanova. I figured I would share the notes I took and he provided:

- Relaxation. This is a key success factor. Top runners all run relaxed. Starts with the face and head - loose lower jaw. No head bobbing. Relaxed wrists - floppy even. Short arm stroke. Minimize movement from the hips up.

- Communication. Never set goals too high. He is not a "reach for the stars" coach. Also, as a coach make a habit of telling the truth to runners.

- Discipline. Told the story of kicking a kid off the team one year because he was not willing to put in the same level of preparation and work as the rest of the team. This paid off later, both with his team as well as that person wrote him a letter 15 years later thanking him for that life lesson.

- Weight. I covered this in another post - but it is another critical success factor.

- Runners with no speed. He feels too many distance runners with no speed spend too much time worrying about it and working on improving their speed. He believes this is a waste. Focus on developing the strength and then run the race to optimize to that. Told a story about one of his runners taking the lead at the half way point in a race and just pounding the finishing kick out of his competitors. He trained for strength, which was his strength.

- Concentration is a critical success factor. "This is a major problem with distance runners, especially in the longer races. A runner must concentrate to stay on pace during a race. Many things go thru a runner's mind during a race. I encourage our runners to fix their eyes on the competition. This helps them to concentrate and be ready for any changes of pace."

Here is the training cycle for distance runners at Arkansas. These are levels that very few can attain - so scale to your own situation:
Post Track - Take 2-4 weeks "off". He recommends that runners actually run 3 miles every other day or so to make sure they do not lose the flexibility and tone of the muscles and tendons. He has seen many runners take 2-4 weeks completely off and come back to get injured.

Summer - 50 miles per week. No speed. Just base work. The rest of the year is about 75-85 miles per week.

XC Start - August - Do 6 weeks of building a base. Begin doubles at 3 miles in the morning, moving up to 5 miles after 3 weeks. First 3 weeks is all distance. After the first 3 weeks, they begin to do strides (6-8 X200 on grass after their afternoon run). At the end of 6 weeks they are doing 5 in the morning and 10 in the afternoon.

"Shoes can be a major cause of injury". They change shoes about every 5 weeks (400 miles).

XC - Getting Serious - Monday - 5-6 X Mile @4:40-4:45 on a hilly golf course.

Tuesday & Thursday - Weight session. After weight session, team does 8 miles at 5:20-5:30. Every other week they do oxygen debt running to simulate race conditions. First mile is 4:30, then drop so ff to 4:45-4:50 and then back to the 5:20 pace. This gets them used to going out quickly in races. "Nothing good happens in the back of the pack".

As they get closer to Conference, District, NCAA, they add 400 meter repeats on Wednesday afternoon. 12-16 X 400 on grass. Half are uphill at 68-70 and half are downhill at 62-64.

Sunday long run 14-18 at 6:15 pace.

Transition to Indoor Track. Makes sure they do not run too fast early in season. They do not do very much speed work. Work on Strength. "Strength is speed".

Likes downward ladders with increasing speed (start at 2000 meters and come down gradually to 200 meters)

Transition to Outdoor. For two weeks they just do easy mileage of 70-90 miles per week mostly on grass.
Next two weeks long intervals on grass. They go to the Texas Relays without any real track workouts!

After that they go to the track and the pace quickens much more than the Indoor sessions.

May and June - they cut miles and increase quality.

Example workouts for Elite (3:35) 1500 meter runner:
1. 1 X 800 @1:52 >5 min rest, 1 X 600 @ 1:24 >5 min rest, 1X500 @ 69 > 3 min rest, 1X400 @ 54.

2. 2 X 800 @ 1:52 >8 min rest, 1 X 400 @ 54

3. 600 @ 1:24, 800 @ 1:55, 600 @ 1:24, 400 @ 56 - all w 6 min rest.

4. 4 X 400 @55 >4 min rest, 4 X 200 @25 >2.5 min rest

5. 6 X 400 @ 55 >2.5 min rest

6. 8 X 400 @56.5 >3 min rest

7. 6 X 300 @38 >3.5 Min rest, 2 X 200 @24.5 2.5 Min rest

8. 8 X 200 @ 26-26.5 > 2 min rest, or @24.5 with 3 min rest.

9. 1 X 1000 @ 2:22 >1.5 Min rest, 1 X 500 @ 69

10. 12 X 150 @ 18 >2 min rest

11. 800 @ 1:50 ? 8 min rest, 400 @ 55 >4 min rest 300 @ 38

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Scott Christensen Notes from RunningWorks Clinic

This past Friday I attended the Running Works clinic put on at Villanova. The first speaker was Scott Christensen. He has been the coach at Stillwater High School in Minnesota for nearly 30 years. His teams and runners have won many state titles. He has taken a special interest in developing 1600 meter runners and focused his discussion on that. Over the past 12 years, 6 of the MN State 1600 meter Champions have hailed from Stillwater. He also teaches Physiology, which gives him an extra depth of understanding of our sport.

I will just run down a list of the interesting points I heard:

- He did a study of the past several Olympics and found the closing lap for the 800, 1500, 5K and 10K were all about 52 seconds. For his state, the average closing lap for the 1600 meter state championship is 58. So if you can not feel comfortable running that closing lap at that pace, after the previous laps, you will not have a shot at being a champion.

- He also brought up the point that most runners are competing at too short of a distance to be competitive. 52 second 400 meter runners should really be running something more than the 400 - especially given the above stats.

- He maps out a plan of continual improvement in times from December until June. In his example, it went from 4:27 in December to 4:06 in June. His point is that if you are not at that level of conditioning at any point, then you will not be able to get to the next level the following month and meet the eventual goal. The athlete needs to have complete commitment to such high goals.

- He uses Jack Daniels based training guidelines for Threshold and VO2Max calculations for his runners.

- In high school each day is important for training. The types of training are:
  • Long Run - Important
  • VO2Max Run - Critical
  • Tempo Run - Important
  • Interval & Repetition Run - Critical
  • Strength Run - Critical
  • Recovery Run - Critical
  • Ancillary Work - Important
- Running under 20 minutes is useless. This is the minimal time to release Endothelin - the hormone-based chemical that helps to enlarge the heart so it can pump more blood.

- It is important not to work an athlete too hard so that they can come back the next day and have another useful workout.

- Lactate levels return to normal after 12 minutes of recovery. They drop faster with an active recovery (meaning that a runner should jog between). Giving 3 minutes typically drop the lactate level low enough that it will help in achieving the 24 hour recovery goal so the runner can do a decent workout the following day.

- Some effect from a workout 24 hours afterward, but the full effect is 20 days after.

- Peaking translates into a 2-3 % improvement. He is into having a big taper - working hard every 3 days or so with very easy running between and no real hard speed. The idea is to build up strength, hormones and enzymes by cutting back on the work level of the body.

- Some of his cornerstone workouts:
  • 4 * 1 mi @ VO2Max
  • 6 * 800 @ VO2Max
  • 8 * 60 sec runs on grass
  • 8 * 400 with 3 min rest
  • 8 * 500 with 3 min rest
  • 8 * 400 w 45 second rest
  • 15 * flying 30 meters with 3 min rest
  • 4 * 400 with 13 min rest.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Weight - John McDonnell's Comments

Jack McDonnell, the former great coach of Arkansas (coached a record 42 NCAA Team Championships and 105 Individual NCAA Champions), gave a great talk today at the Running Works Clinic. I will write up a bunch of notes from the day, but he presented his thoughts on a very controversial subject - weight.

This is a controversial subject because no one wants to suggest that athletes should lose weight - especially with so many people struggling with eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia. However, he stated that weight can be "one of the biggest factors in the success of a runner". He said he first noticed this when in Ireland where he grew up near a horse racing track and saw the difference Jockey wieghts made. He told a story of how a handicap race took a horse that was winning by at least 5 lengths to a second place horse simply by making him carry 5 pounds more (this for a horse that weighed 1,300 pounds!). He backed this up with examples and observations he has made watching his runners where a difference of 3-5 pounds was a major factor. Joe Falcone was a 4:03 miler at 120 pounds and a 3:53 miler at 115. Another runner was a sub-4 miler at 182-3 and a 4:10 miler at 186-8.

Of course I write this as I chew on an Oreo the night before the Haddonfield Adrenaline 5K that I intend to run tomorrow (I will the Oreos as an excuse when I run slowly).

This is a real complex issue. High School runners in particular are still growing and changing physically. They typically need to eat well to supply their bodies with the nutrients to keep them healthy and growing. On the other hand, many teenagers are simply eating a lot of empty calories. Many are overweight and still mal-nurished in terms of proper vitamins and minerals.

The science is pretty compelling. Jack Daniels and many others have documented the effects of the volume of oxygen consumed per kilogram as being the key to running performance. Doing the math, a loss of 3 pounds means an improvement of about 1 VDOT. This can be a 8-12 second difference for a high school 3200 meter runner.

I have observed a number of male and female runners who just naturally grew and gained weight as they went thru high school feel frustrated that there was something wrong with them as they either did not improve or perhaps moved backwards in terms of performance.

In my view, McDonnell did a good thing in talking about this sensitive topic. As he said at another point, telling the truth is a good way of remembering what positions you have established with your runners. Coaches, parents and friends need to find ways to helping those with eating disorders. They need to give runners the real logic and physics on why a 90 pound freshman adolescent girl becomes slower as she naturally develops into a normal 120 senior who can not run as fast. This is roughly a negative effect of -10 VDOT - about 2 minutes for an 11:00 2 mile. Rather than think there is something wrong with her, she deserves to know the truth.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Peter Snell Video

Robert Hill just sent me a video of Peter Snell -

I had the pleasure of seeing Snell talk a few years ago at the Running Works Coaching Camp. After winning 3 Olympic Golds, he is now a PhD exercise physiologist at a university in Texas studying running and athletics. Here are my notes from his talk...

Peter Snell is the 1960 800 meter Olympic Champion and 1964 800 and 1500 meter Olympic Champion. This guy was amazing. Trained by Lydiard. He is now an Exercise Physiologist (PhD) at Univ of SW Texas in Dallas. Here is his personal progression:

Age Performance
17 2:04/4:40
18 1:59
19 1:52/4:10 – This is the year he started working with Lydiard
20 ?
21 1:47/4:01
22 ?
23 1:45/3:54

He says his key was he started running distance when he met Lydiard and built strength. Took years to develop fully.

His weekly training schedule before Tokyo in 1964:
M – 10 moderate
T – 15 easy
W – 12 hard – either fartlek or interval work
Th – 18 easy
F – 10 hard (or easy if race next day)
S – 15 moderate
Sun – 22. At the beginning of this training cycle – 6 months before Tokyo he started at 16-18 and 7 min per mile pace. Right before Tokyo he was running about 6 minute pace.

He said he was training really hard before Tokyo. He ran an 800 meter race and the objective was to go out easy in 56 and then see how much he had left. He told us he went out in 58 and then could only manage to come home in 2:02. He was widely regarded as not being ready for Tokyo. Yet he tapered a lot (he was not specific here), and was very fresh for Tokyo. Must have worked.

When he did his fast intervals he did them fast. He would run 55 seconds 400’s. Like 4-6 of them. He would sit and rest between them for maybe 5-10 minutes.

He put up some Seb Coe workouts (plenty of rest between intervals):
- 4X400 @800 meter pace
- 4X800 @ mile pace
- @400 pace – 350, 300, 250, 200

He also put up a chart that predicted 800 meter performance:

200M 800 Target
24 1:50-1:53
25 1:55-1:58
26 2:00 – 2:03
27 2:04 – 2:07
28 2:09 – 2:12

Another fascinating slide (I gave him my email – hopefully he will send me his slides) he put up was about Fast Twitch Muscle use in distance running. He maintains that long distance running actually develops not only slow twitch muscles, but also fast twitch muscles. He has conducted a bunch of tests on this. You can determine if a muscle is used by measuring glycogen depletion. The slow twitch muscles show lowering of glycogen at 15 minutes of running and deplete at say 60-120 minutes. The more interesting is that the fast twitch muscles show some glycogen use at 30 minutes, but show a fair amount at 60 minutes of running and get fully depleted at 120 minutes.

His point is that running very long actually improves a runners fast twitch muscles and speed. He maintains the reason for his killer kick (we saw videos and it was awesome) was just as much his long Sunday runs as it was his speed workouts.

He was also not high on a lot of speed work because of the danger of injury. He had charts that measured Ph in muscles and had a bunch of reasons why doing intervals could be bad. He really put focus on intervals as something that was really only needed in the final 6-8 weeks of training. He did favor some fartlek and moderate pace stuff throughout the year.