Joining together in furthering the cause of American Distance Running

We have a problem. Look at the information available to the public or even coaches out there on training elite runners. The information is sparse at best. Sure you could go to a clinic and pick up as much as you can in a 1 or 2 hour presentation, but can we really learn that much about an entire training system in that short of a period? Furthermore, the vast majority of us can’t afford or don’t have the time to attend these clinics. Thus limiting our exposure to the coaching “elites” in our country. That is only half of the problem though. Many coaches guard their training like they discovered the secret to success. Sure they might give tiny morsels of information here and there to make it appear like they are sharing info, but we can see right through that gig. Others will give vast generalizations such as “we build a base, then do some speed work” which does about much good as telling us the key to running is in fact…..running. But getting the information out there isn’t the only problem.
Elite coaches are not perfect. No matter how confident in their system they appear to be, they are constantly looking for ways to improve it and sometimes their athletes fail too. They make mistakes. Lots and lots of them. They learn from them, but in most cases no one else does. So other coaches have to spend their time making the same mistakes and learning from them. Sounds like a big waste of time to me.
Let’s look at what Renato Canova and the Italians did to reach success. They brought together a number of young coaches and sent them around to learn the training systems of successful distance running countries. Then those coaches would get together every month or so and discuss how the training was working for their athletes and what modifications were made. They shared the information they got from testing their athletes (lactate, vo2, altitude, etc.). In his own words:

“But there were no secrets, in any case. So when we met each time, for example, one could tell ‘I use this system.’ And in the minds of the others was, ‘This is a stupid system!’ But after three days somebody tried to use the same system with some modification. And next month there was a report of what happened, and this was the system for growing all together. This happened when we were young, and we had results. We won (a) World Championships with Panetta. There was really good communication between everybody. And it was the only way for really building something.”

So what is the point of all of this? I think something similar could be developed in the U.S. Put our best efforts together with the goal of competing on the world level. Of course with the internet we could make it more widespread and practical. So here are a couple of my thoughts on how something like this could be done:

The best way would be to set up a website. The site would be one where you had to register (either as a coach, athlete, or fan) to participate, so that the irrelevant childish stuff would be kept to a minimum. On the site, coaches could periodically post the training schedule of their successful athletes along with a general explanation of why certain workouts were done and there general training methodology. Since there obviously is going to be some secrecy in training, the coach can choose to post the training after the season or at a later date for discussion. This would prevent any “secrets” of what kind of shape so and so was in during the season and wouldn’t in any way jeopardize the athlete’s chance for success in the season. With the training posted, other coaches could comment or ask questions about the training to further their knowledge. Basically it would be a place to post, share, and discuss what training a wide variety of successful coaches give their athletes and more importantly know WHY they give their athletes that training. In addition, variety of test results could be posted and explained. For example, VO2, lactate, etc. tests could be posted much the same way that US swimming posts their results of post competition lactate tests for all registered coaches. Of course, final decision on how much or how little is posted would be up to the coach.

If Renato Canova can give the people of letsrun a copy of exactly what the world’s best steeple chase runner did day in and day out AND explain the methodology behind his training, don’t you think that us Americans can share some of those “secrets” that let our athletes run 100m behind Shaheen?
Yes, it would time to develop the idea and iron out the kinks and more importantly get several top athletes/coaches on board, but the end results would be worth it and would further the cause of American distance runners.

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