It is our belief at Beacon Hill Striders that training teenage distance runners requires a focus on long term development. Strength, speed and stamina are developed over time. Reaching one’s potential may take many years.
As such, the focus of our training programme has been on a gradual development of these key attributes (strength, speed and stamina) in readiness for more serious training when the athlete reaches junior and senior competition.
This approach has worked well with a number of our young athletes achieving regional, national and international successes. Most notable amongst these is multiple English Schools and national championship winner Ben Dijkstra (as well as 2014 Youth Olympic Triathlon Champion, and the 2015 World junior Duathlon Champion) and England international Sam Stevens, who has just been selected for GB at the Euro Cross in Chia. Moreover, where our athletes have engaged with senior competition – whether on track, cross-country, or on the road – they have done so with notable impact.
In line with our philosophy, we seek to focus on the development of the young runner’s aerobic capacity and basic speed. At the same time, regular endurance sessions once every 10-14 days are undertaken to prepare for competitions, but hard, anaerobic, track-based intervals are studiously avoided.
It is our experience that young athletes do not require a deep anaerobic training stimulus to perform at their best, and that focusing on aerobic development and raw speed will yield desired results.
Our training model and practice is derived from the training ideas and practices of some of the sport’s greatest coaches, including great historical training innovators such as Arthur Lydiard, Percy Cerutty and Bill Bowerman; and current leading coaching practitioners such as Renato Canova and Brad Hudson.
Thus, the emphasis of our training is upon:
We also base our training practice on the example of the most successful runners, past and present.
Specifically, we seek to ensure that our athletes have a similar balance of intensity levels that elite level athletes do.
Recent research (notably by Stephen Seiler, University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway) has demonstrated that elite endurance athletes across all endurance sports typically spend 80-90% of their training time at low intensity (below the aerobic threshold). Our independent analysis of the training logs of elite athletes, past and present, confirm these findings.
As such, our training programme consists of just two key training sessions per week, where our runners are encouraged to “push the pace”. Outside these sessions we expect our athletes to do around an hour of easy/steady running at relatively relaxed paces on most days. In doing so, we not only seek to mirror elite athlete practice but also ensure that the balance between easy aerobic running and higher intensity work is heavily weighted in favour of the aerobic.
Working from this philosophical viewpoint – and the parameters outlined above – there is still ample room for finding creative, practical training solutions to the development of the key attributes (strength, speed, and stamina).
In the next article, I shall detail the specific training sessions that we use to develop each of these key attributes, and describe how we tie this together to achieve top-level competition results.
Words by Alan Maddocks
Image from Alan Maddocks (Sam Stevens in Midland Counties Road Relay action at Sutton Park, September 2016)
This article originally appeared in the third edition of Left Spike from May 2016