Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Championship Racing with Renato Canova, Part II: The Training of Caleb Ndiku

Some of the most popular posts on my blog are the articles on the training schedules and coaching philosophy of Renato Canova, arguably one of the most successful running coaches in the world.  Canova, born in Italy, rose to prominence by coaching many top Italian runners but is best-known now for his work with elite Kenyan runners.  The Olympic and World Championship medalists he has coached are too many to list concisely.  But what's perhaps more remarkable about Renato Canova is his willingness to share the training schedules of his athletes with the rest of the world.  While other coaches keep their athletes' schedules tightly under wraps, Canova posts them online, usually at LetsRun.com, for anyone to look at.

This article concerns the last nine weeks of the training of Caleb Ndiku in preparation for the 2014 World Indoor Championships at 3000m in March.  Ndiku, an incredibly talented 21-year-old Kenyan, secured the gold medal in a slow, tactical race with a long kick from 500m out.  As Ndiku lacked the blistering finishing speed of other top runners, Canova designed his training schedule to foster the development of a long, sustained drive to the finish.  The strategy worked out brilliantly, as Ndiku covered the last 1000m in under 2:22—28.4 second 200 pace!

If you haven't read anything about Renato Canova's training philosophy, you can use my article, "Something New in Training: The Methods of Renato Canova," as a helpful introduction.

Another good companion article is Preparing for Championship Races with Renato Canova, an article of mine which reviewed the preparations of Sylvia Kibet, Silas Kiplagat, Imane Merga, and Thomas Longosiwa before the 2011 World Championships in Daegu.  You will see many similarities between those schedules and the training of Caleb Ndiku. I have also analyzed Canova's marathon training schedules for those who are interested.

A Brief Note on Percentages

Most workouts in a Renato Canova training schedule are prescribed using percentages of race pace.  Canova does the math a little different than an American might.  Percentages are always expressed as fractional deviations from the original pace—so to take 90% of 5:00 mile pace, Canova (and I when figuring out the paces of these workouts) would do 5 * 1.1 = 5.5 or 5:30 per mile, not 5 / 0.9 to get 5:33 per mile. All percentages portrayed in the schedule are calculated using this method.


As usual, I need to caution that these interpretations are wholly my own.  I'm not Renato Canova, so I can't guarantee that my analysis is correct.  So take what I say with a grain of salt.  With this schedule in particular, I had to make a lot of educated guesses, as I can't compare it to a similar schedule from another athlete preparing for the same race as I could with the other Canova schedules I analyzed.  Because of this, it's hard to distinguish what might be an idiosyncratic workout that plays to a unique strength of Ndiku, or something that is a part of the general Canova plan.  I also take responsibility for any typos or mistakes, of which there are sure to be at least one or two.

The Training Schedule

Caleb Ndiku's last nine weeks of training are available as a .pdf here.  The paces of his workouts are provided both in actual pace/splits and as percentages of 3k and 5k pace.  I used Ndiku's 3k performance of 7:38 in Düsseldorf as a basis for the 3k pacing, and a converted value (7:38 → 13:18) for his 5k fitness.  

You will notice a ~4 week gap in the workouts around when Ndiku traveled to Europe to race.  Canova did not provide Ndiku's schedule during this period, so unfortunately I had to leave it blank. The schedule itself is sized to 17"x11" paper but can be easily printed at 11"x8.5", albeit in a pretty small font.

The original LetsRun thread can be found here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Brief thoughts: How to properly run interval workouts

I'm a big proponent of thinking about HOW you do a workout, not just what workout you do.  Just as there are good workouts and bad workouts (or perhaps "not so good" workouts), there are also right and wrong ways to go about doing a workout. 

As a high school coach, I see a lot of young runners going about doing workouts the wrong way.  While I do my best to correct them, coaching can only go so far.  Experience, understanding, and fitness also have a lot to do with your ability to run well in workouts. 

Let's say the workout of the day is 6x1000m at anaerobic threshold with a 200m jog recovery—goal pace, 3:45 per km.  Novice runners usually go about doing the workouts one of the following ways:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Runners Connect podcast on training, injuries, and physiology

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Lucas Felten of RunnersConnect.net for their regular podcast on all things running related.  Over the course of the 45-minute interview, we talked about the science behind why runners get injured, what you can do to prevent injuries yourself, and how to go about training the right way.  It's great to get an opportunity to articulate my philosophy about how to approach training for distance runners and to spread the word about avoiding injury.  We also talked about physiology, threshold training, and my book, Modern Training and Physiology for Middle and Long Distance Runners.

If you've got some time to spare, check it out! The link below leads to the splash page for the podcast.  Download the mp3 directly here.

4 Simple Methods to Improve Consistency and Reduce Injuries. Interview with research expert John Davis

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Should young athletes undergo testing for heart abnormalities before participating in sports?

One of the big stories in the running world a few weeks ago was Mo Farah's collapse at the New York City Half-Marathon.  Though it turned out okay—Farah regained consciousness and was carted away in a wheelchair, then appeared later at the post-race press conference—for a moment, everyone present surely feared the worst. 

Usually, when runners collapse after a race, they'll be fine.  The most common cause of post-race collapse is a transient drop in blood pressure that occurs when your muscles stop contracting rapidly and when your heart rate drops precipitously after you stop running.  After lying down for a bit, elevating their legs, drinking some water, and being tended to by medical staff on-site, they'll recover quickly.  But occasionally, runners collapse at a race for much more serious reasons.  Hyperthermia and hyponatremia usually affect slower runners for a number of reasons (they tend to be heavier, their race takes longer, they have more time to drink too much water, etc.), but are rare in elite runners.1  But being an elite runner offers no protection from another cause of collapse: sudden cardiac arrest.

In 2008, professional runner and Olympic hopeful Ryan Shay collapsed and died only five miles into the Olympic Trials Marathon.  The cause was a previously-undetected heart defect, known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  Though Ryan Shay's death was one of the most well-known in recent memory, a substantial number of runners die of sudden cardiac failure every year, either while training or while racing.  Many of these are middle-aged or older runners succumbing to the same kind of heart disease that claims the lives of thousands of sedentary people every year, but a troubling number are young, seemingly healthy runners aged 35 or younger.  These people, like Ryan Shay, have undetected heart abnormalities that leave their hearts prone to failure.  Just last week, a 16-year-oldgirl collapsed and died after the Virginia Beach Half Marathon, one of a significant number of high-school and college-aged athletes to suffer sudden cardiac death during the course of their athletic pursuits. 

Hard numbers are difficult to come by—given the rarity of sudden cardiac death, numbers in individual studies are all over the board.  But the incidence rate appears to be around one death per 100-200,000 young athletes per year.2  While this seems like a vanishingly small number, when you consider that there are about eight million high school and college athletes in the United States at any given time, this lines up with the estimate of about one hundred young athletes dying every year in the United States, extrapolating from a small study of Minnesota high school sport participants.3  Of course, sedentary young people die from sudden cardiac death too, but being an athlete increases your risk by about threefold.