Which Coach is Best?

It is becoming common for top athletes to publish their training, especially after they have been successful in major competitions. This is a good thing as it helps educate coaches and athletes. However, if you put a group of coaches in the same room and gave them the same training programme to analyse, you would get many different interpretations. Some would concentrate on kilometres run, some would focus on pace while others would note how interval sessions were constructed. I would hope that other aspects considered were where the training was done, such as dirt roads at altitude or major city parks and how long it took the athlete to reach that point in their career.

No athlete's training goes 100% smoothly, there are days when everything goes to plan and days when the weather is too wet, too windy or some ailment prevents the athlete from completing the required session. Overall though, an athlete who has sustained success over many years, must have a good percentage of their training keeping them on track. Therefore, looking at their training and reading more on their coach and methods is not a bad idea. A coach that regularly churns out champions, is someone you need to consider.

In New Zealand there are different sorts of coaches. I recently talked to one who referred to himself as a "high mileage endurance coach". If you are looking to run middle or long distance, then some sort of longer run is inevitable. However, it should not be all long runs. When considering the sort of training programme you are likely to receive you must look at volume and how it compares to what you are currently doing. Does the coach expect you to start directly with other runners in a group or is your programme tailored to take you from where you are now? Does the volume or intensity change over cycles or is it consistent week after week? What are the recovery days? For top athletes a recovery day may be 20km, run at 4 minutes per km. For them it is the same as a normal person having an hour long walk in the park. An average runner would not be comfortable in either of these two groups.

A good programme has a simple blend of endurance so that you can finish the race at the pace that you want, along with speed to give you the capacity to run fast and feel easier at slower paces. There should also be lots of easy running to help the body recover and adapt. Each of these aspects must be at your pace. Medical and scientific studies suggest that it takes between 4-6 weeks for the body to adapt to training. Therefore, you should be able to recognise improvement and progression at least every 2 months.

One aspect that seems common to all the recently published programmes is their simplicity. They have resulted from consistent work over a long period of time. Success does not come from one or two key sessions or the kilometres logged in the 3 months prior to a race. It comes from the many years previous. It is during this time that a runner gains strength and experience. Looking back at successful athletes' careers you will see improvement each year in either individual race times or in progressively longer races run at faster paces. A good coach should be able to explain the plan and how it progresses you to your desired goal. A training programme should consistently produce results with faster times and improvement. When you see the results, and understand why and how it is happening you are more motivated and more able to maximise your potential.

Over the last few years Zane and Jake Robertson have shown us that New Zealanders can succeed in distance running. Hopefully the published training of top runners will inspire a new generation of athletes to choose their coach wisely, to be fearless in their approach, to be prepared to train hard over an extended period and to continually go for fast times, no matter who they are racing.