Sprints and Middle Distance Coaching
I have Level Three Athletics New Zealand Sprints and Relays and Level Two Middle distance qualifications. My depth of knowledge and experience in middle distance coaching goes well beyond the Level Two qualification but I have neither found the time to do the Level Three nor found a facilitator who would make the experience worthwhile.
- Commenced coaching secondary school athletes while teaching at St Patrick’s College Wellington in 1982, specialising mainly in middle distance and Cross Country. Initially the main emphasis of my coaching was on helping the school achieve dominance in the middle distance events at McEvedy Shield. Also achieved a number of National success during that period , some of the more notable being :
- Tom Squire 1st in the Junior Boy’s 1500m at the New Zealand Secondary School’s Track and Field Championships with a time of 4:03
- Tim Dunning 1st in the Junior Boy’s 1500m at the New Zealand Secondary School’s Track and Field Championships with a time of 4:05
- Martin Johns 3rd in the Junior Boy’s 800m at the New Zealand Secondary School’s Track and Field Championships with a time of 1:58
- Martin Johns 1st in the Colt’s 800m at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships with a time of 1:56
- Martin Johns 2nd in the Junior Men’s 800m at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships with a time of 1:53. After that meeting Martin took up a scholarship at Adam’s State in Colorado and went on to represent New Zealand at the Atlanta Olympics.
- Part of a coaching team that won three consecutive 4 x 400m Senior Boy’s Titles at the New Zealand Secondary School’s Track and Field Championships
- Commenced coaching sprints in my final year at St Patrick’s College when I started coaching Mathew Coad as a 13 year old. I continued coaching Mathew until 1998 when I went overseas. During that period some of Mathew’s achievements were :
- won the Senior Boy’s 100m and 200m titles at the National Secondary school’s Championships
- set a New Zealand Senior Men’s 200m Resident Record of 20.63
- represented New Zealand at the World Junior Track and Field Championships in Lisbon, the Atlanta Olympics and Kuala Lumpa Commonwealth Games
- was an integral member of the New Zealand Senior Men’s 4 x 100m relay team during the 1990’s
- Moved to Wellington College in 1989 where I continued coaching Mathew Coad and my time was still heavily devoted to the demands of coaching college teams for McEvedy Shield.
Notable individual successes during that time were :
- Coaching Paul Young, who by the age of 16 had PB’s of 22.8 in the 200m, 48.89 in the 400m and 1:52.7 in the 800m. He also won the Junior Boy’s 800m in the New Zealand Secondary School’s Track and Field Championships with a time of 1:58 and at the age of 15 placed third in the Colt’s (Under 18) grade at the National Track and Field Championships with a time of 1:55. Unfortunately a serious achilles tendon injury which did not respond to surgery finished a promising career at the age of seventeen.
- Coaching Richard Jones in 2001 to a New Zealand Secondary School’s Track and Field Championships Senior Boy’s 800m title and record time of 1:51.59. Richard is currently on a full four year scholarship at Providence College, Rhode Island.
- Coaching the Wellington College Cross Country Team in 2002 to achieve Senior Boy’s 3 and 6 to count titles and individual title to Terefe Ejigu in the year Nine race at the New Zealand Secondary School’s Cross Country Championships.
Throughout my years coaching I have always felt some tension between the short term demands of events like the McEvedy Shield Competition and the desire to work on the long term development of athletes (as was the case with Mathew Coad). My primary interest is in the long term development of athletes while at the same time achieving success in the short and medium term. After the best part of twenty years involvement with McEvedy Shield I have finally ceased coaching teams for this event to enable myself to concentrate on coaching athletes on a more long term basis.
My sprint coaching has the same influences as most New Zealand Coaches with a strong emphasis on technique and the role of the neuromuscular system (Loren Seagrave and Ralph Mouchbahani) while at the same time not overlooking the strength and endurance requirements. The experience coaching sprints has also proved valuable in coaching middle distance athletes.
Arthur Lydiard has, to some extent, influenced most New Zealand middle distance coaches. The emphasis that he placed on aerobic development is critical in middle distance coaching. In my opinion the main area of dispute is how to achieve that aerobic development. The emphasis of Arthur Lydiard was the regime of long slow miles followed by "speed work". Much modern research indicates that superior gains can be made from higher intensity training (achieved through repetitions and higher speed longer runs). Athletes may still clock up a reasonable number of "miles" but the concept of bigger gains from bigger miles is a dubious one, may lead to injury and certainly discourages a balanced programme.
A successful middle distance athlete needs a programme that incorporates aerobic and anaerobic development, technique work, strength and power (possibly but not necessarily involving weights), flexibility, speed and nutritional balance. The exact mixture of those elements depends on the event and age of the athlete.
Young athletes do not, in my opinion, need to do a large number of miles (nor should they undertake high volume intense anaerobic training). As the athlete gets older the mileage can increase and so too can the intensity and volume of the anaerobic work. While an athlete is still young is a good time to work on flexibility, speed and technique. Some strength work with mainly body weight resistance, medicine and Swiss Balls, less intense plyometrics can commence in the early teens but a serious weights programme is not necessary (if at all) until the later teens. Simple hill runs and hill repetitions can build up a lot of the lower body strength needed for middle distance running. Most athletes have very poor core strength and this leads both to injury and an inefficient technique. Core stability training therefore is very important to the long term development of the athlete and as it is low impact is suitable for young athletes.
In summary training involves :
- Core stability training – Pilates and Swiss Ball exercises to improve core strength and flexibility
- Proprioceptive training – exercises which stimulate sensory nerve activity with the aim of improving strength, coordination, muscular balance and reaction times.
- Technique work – including the standard sprint drills and tempo runs
- Speed work – short distance repetitions at 100% with full recovery. This may involve game type exercises such as "cat and mouse".
- Aerobic repetitions – based on either % of maximum speed or VO2 max and designed to improve the aerobic system and develop the ability to run at increasingly higher speeds before incurring lactate build up.
- Anaerobic repetitions – high intensity repetitions designed to improve the anaerobic energy system and hence improve the ability of the body to tolerate and utilise lactate. Such training can be highly stressful and is only used judiciously with younger athletes.
- Hill circuits and repetitions – to build endurance, leg strength and speed.
- Long continuous runs – some at slow speed for recovery and at higher speed for aerobic development.
- Strength work – circuits, weights, plyometrics, swiss and medicine ball work.
- Flexibility work – a good (but not excessive) standard of flexibility is needed both for efficient execution of technique and prevention of injury.