East African athletes dominate endurance running, with every men’s world record from 800m to the marathon and every female record from 1500m to the marathon held by runners from East Africa. What is their secret, and should the rest of the world just accept their dominance?
Let’s look at a few factors. Many people suggest being born and living at altitude gives them an advantage. Certainly, the thinner air develops the aerobic system and most elite athletes benefit from periods of training at altitude. However it poses the question why East Africans and not Mexicans, Venezuelans or others living up in the clouds. Could it be the simplicity of their lifestyle. It has been said that Africans are 10000 miles ahead of their Western counterparts by the stage they reach Running maturity, by running to school and living a more physical lifestyle. Certainly our upbringing has changed over recent decades with children far less active, and less emphasis on physical activity at school. As a consequence of our lifestyle we have witnessed a greater intake of processed foods. The Africans have frugal diet but it is rich in natural ingredients and in the case of the Kenyans for example is made up of 70% complex carbohydrate, great fuel for endurance running. Do they possess a greater hunger for success. The rewards are high particularly in marathon running and success allows them to provide not just for themselves, but for their whole extended family. We live in a much easier society and it could be claimed that in general we have become soft and lacking in the drive to be the best. Finally, could it be specificity that sets the Africans apart. Since the early 60s when Bikele and Keino broke through on the Olympic stage, endurance running has been the national sport. These role models then engender generations to follow. This happens in other countries, ice hockey in Canada, cross country skiing in Norway, cricket in the West Indies to name three. Sadly when these sports are diluted the dominance disappears, West Indian cricket being a good example. Equally countries enjoy periods of dominance , Finnish distance runners in the 20s and 30s and again in the 70s, Britain in the 80s or American marathon runners in the 70s.
There is no question East Africa are way ahead of the rest of the world in endurance running but they are not another species and it is possible to beat them once again, so this is my tongue in cheek steps to do so:
1) get rid of television, the news is invariably depressing. If you have to watch it, watch commercial tv so that during the ads you can do some squats or st ups. Only 1 in 50 Kenyans own a tv. 2) sell your car and become a rich pedestrian. Buy a bike, 5 mile of cycling is worth about 1 mile of running. 1 in 3 Kenyans own a bike. 3) Cook your own food, fast food is not big in Africa. Obesity in Kenya affects about 1 in 200, in Britain the ratio is around 1 in 20. 4)abolish or reduce benefits. In Kenya they have learned that mans destiny is to work. ( controversial) 5) don’t buy children computer games. In 100 years are heads will be twice the size and our bodies will be the same size as our heads. 6) schools should alter their modus operandi to 4 hours of study in the morning and 2 hours of sport in the afternoon, everyday of the week. 7) don’t watch overpaid sportsmen perform, instead, perform yourself. 8) Burn down shops that sell tobacco and alcohol to under age. 9) get away from technical jargon in running training. In Kenya they think micro cycles are a type of Japanese motor bike. 10) train at altitude a month at a time, 3 times a year.(!!!) 11) make 80% of your running aerobic. 12) be carried off the running track once a week on a stretcher.( not literally).
After a spring and summer bereft of racing opportunities due to the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent emphasis on placing health above recreational persuits a number of TRP athletes have dipped their toe into socially distanced racing over the past few weeks. Last weekend saw Ollie Smart lead home team mates Ben Neale and Jordan Andrews for a 123 at the Par 3k. Ollie ran a time of 8 min 39 secs for a new PB. Ben, on his track debut also dipped under 9 minutes with Jordan just a stride or so behind. This proved a happy hunting ground for Ollie as two weeks earlier he ran 3:48 for 1500 metres in great solo run where Jordan also ran strongly to record a time of 4:04. Rounding off the weekend Hayden Bond a new recruit to the club took a solid third place at the Exmouth 10km.
The preceding weekend a number of TRP athletes made the trip to Exeter to compete. Chris Rimmer led the way with 3rd place in a strong field. He was followed by Jim Cole, Hayden Bond, Coz and Hannah Smith. While Jordan Andrews took on the 5k. Finally, Emma Baker ran the mudfest that is Race the Tide.
This weekend Corin Russell and Hannah Smith are running the virtual London Marathon along the Granite way.
As a footnote TRP welcomed Jake Smith along time their training session last Friday. Jake was in his final preparation before pacing the elite race in London and then going on to the world half marathon champs. He looked in good form as he ran a session of 2x 4 miles at 18:15 in blustery conditions.
What I think about when I think about running………at this time running has a different perspective in our lives however it still has a value. Normally, running is an achievement oriented sport. We are constantly trying to win races, run personal bests and training for our next race. We are not going to have any achievement opportunities for the foreseeable future, so how do we frame running and stay motivated when achievement is not on the horizon. In many ways we are going back to the past when historically in the 1930s,40s,50s through to the first running boom in the mid 70s when there were many fewer races in the calendar and athletes and coaches had long periods between events to train and plan for. Lydiard would have his athletes run months of 100 mile weeks and when they came back they were ready to train. Perhaps we are close to that situation now. One thing we can be sure of is that for several months we are not going to have those achievement opportunities and we could be looking toward cross country as our next goal. We have to remember that the concept of flattening the curve of corona virus means that while the immediate number of cases is less the duration is much longer consequently when we come through this we might incur a backlog of operations etc which would stretch the medical profession and this could impact on sporting events such as the London marathon etc. We can’t just pick up where we left off. From a coaching perspective I think we need to see the big picture and perhaps look at a strategy for 6 months or so. I see a lot of people ” training” a little like headless chickens. There is so much on social media of different training concepts which in isolation is probably unproductive at best. Often as athletes we analyse say a session of 5x1k while as a coach you try to put it in the context of the overall training plan. Back in the day when I was a “runner” I mostly trained alone and I had to tell myself that the general accumulation of training would reap its rewards further down the road. So we need to look at how we can frame our training without the reward of achievement in the short term. To look forward we probably need to bring some clarity to our running, so we need to ask ourselves what we are trying to get out of our running. For many this will be to get enjoyment from our running for others a means of stress relief it is a way to frame our day. As a club an integral part of our training is the interaction of club nights which is now denied to us. Equally as a coach it is my opportunity to put across my training concepts and hopefully to encourage and motivate. Of course we still need to communicate and via social media that becomes possible. So the reality is, we are at a point in April with no prospect of racing anytime soon so how do we frame our training over an uncertain period of time. maybe the idea of creating a mileage club via strava where the emphasis of training shifts towards the accumulation of collective club mileage as opposed to defined workouts might be productive. This would in effect build a solid foundation without stressing athletes either physically or mentally. It is certainly a challenging time as a coach. Social isolation necessitates that athletes determine their training to a greater extent which in turn provides a dichotomy with regard motivation. For some it is hard to plan for an uncertain future while for the super driven the danger is in overtraining, whereby it would be foolish to push and push for an extended period of maybe six months. It is almost a case of going old school where we accumulate the miles before perhaps entering into a hill phase to strengthen the tendons and ligaments then move to another phase. The more I consider it the more I believe Lydiard designed linear periodisation because he found himself with so much time between races. By shifting focus in this way you stop yourself from overtraining in one direction and stop yourself from getting stale, and it might be the time to take this approach instead of just plodding on in one direction. So we introduce new demands to keep motivation and challenge different aspects of our fitness. Finally, in these uncertain times what messages can we take forward. From a TRP standpoint I see connectivity as essential as we endeavour to stay together in a time of social distancing. We have the platform of What’s App to keep in contact while virtual events can provide a challenge and stimulus. As a coach it’s a great time to learn from history when running and training were so different. Thinking outside the lines looking at the way Lydiard designed linear periodisation, or the way the Swedes in the 30s used their natural forest environment to design fartlek, producing athletes such as Hagg and Anderson one of whom would have undoubtedly beaten Bannister to the 4minute mile but for war. Or Zatokek with his prodigious volume of 400m reps, day after day running 60x 400 but on closer inspection subtly changing the interval from 200 to 100 jog. As athletes I think it is time to evaluate. Ask yourself what you need to do to become a better runner. Do you need to build a solid foundation, or work on particular perceived weaknesses such as technique, or maybe you just want to back off and have a rest. It’s a great opportunity to bring clarity to your running but it is crucial to stay healthy, don’t compromise the immune system with silly bouts of training, be careful with the virtual challenges which have proliferated and if you embrace new things build gradually. This has been a longer blog than normal probably as a result of my having more time to think. Are my views valid, I don’t know but hopefully it makes you ask questions.
With the world in turmoil, running has a little less significance in our lives and the group setting has given way to running in isolation. However exercise still plays a part in everyday life. My views on volume and intensity are expressed in the 60-60-60 formula that I outlined last week and while this is not set in stone, I think it gives a great training stimulus while not compromising the immune system. What many of us don’t do well as club runners is apply good intensity discipline to our training and this might be a great time to think about this. It is probable that we will not be racing anytime soon therefore we need to decide on how much high intensity or race pace workouts we need in our schedule. Maybe now is the time to develop our aerobic capacity and build a solid foundation.This is a Lydiardesque approach without the long run , which of course was an integral part of his training. However solid 60 minute runs below threshold will develop the system well. Finally, to add a little variety into training here are three sessions that could be incorporated into training. 1)out and back runs, trying to come back slightly faster than going out. 2)fartlek, 1232123/=rec. with a 10 min w/u &c/d this totals 48 mins. 3) cruise intervals, 3×3 min /3min progressing to 4×3/3 then 5×3/3. You can then move to 3×4/3 etc then3x5/3 working toward 5×5/3. The efforts need to be kept under threshold. So that’s a few ideas. If you have any questions message me, and continue to be sensible and run safe.
From EA. Coronavirus Statement (updated 17 March)
9th March 2020
Coronavirus Statement: last updated 17 March at 9am
The UK government has advised that everyone in the UK should now avoid “non-essential” travel and contact with others to fight coronavirus. Whilst it has not issued any ban on public gatherings of any size either indoors or outdoors at this stage, the advice is to avoid non-essential contact with others, including going to sporting events, pubs, clubs, theatres and social venues.
As a result, England Athletics advises that all face-to-face activity such as club training sessions, events, competitions, club committee and face-to-face meetings, athlete camps, running groups and social events should be suspended until at least the end of April.
16/3 Message from the head coach with the support of the committee :
In response to the way events have escalated re: “The Coronavirus” I feel it is prudent in the circumstances to cease organised club training until a time that it is deemed safe to resume.
It is a tough decision to make but I think it is correct to follow
government health advice.
With sport under a cloud in light of COVID 19 and participation dividing opinion, a number of races took place last weekend and Tavistock run Project athletes had a strong showing. Bath is the venue for one of the top west of England half marathons and TRP were well represented. Leading the team home was Jordan Andrews in a time of 69mins 56secs which was a new personal best and club record. Right on his heels was Ben Neale who also took a huge chunk out of his previous best stopping the clock at 70mins 02 secs.The fast times continued with Matt Teague running 87mins 04 secs and Corin Russell going from strength with a time of 88mins 50secs. Not to be out done in the ladies category Rachael Malthouse ran 87mins 15 secs,Emma Baker 94mins 18secs and Olivia langmead 1hr 49mins 53 secs . Some outstanding running from everyone. At the English schools cross country at Liverpool, Ollie Smart lined up in the senior boys and proved that he can compete in the higher age category with a strong 8th placing despite a fall mid race. Ollie will return next year with a point to prove. Saturday saw the Tavy 5 running for sports relief. Again TRP had some solid performances with Lewis Mill 18:48,Claire Fraser 20:15, Chris Rimmer 20:15, Hannah Smith 20:36 and Annette Bielby 24:47. Well done to everyone.