John Cook Interview

Just wanted to post a quick link to an audio interview with John Cook, coach of Shalane Flanagan, Erin Donohue, and Shannon Rowburry.

It's a great interview with some insight into what was going on in Beijing.

Hamstring troubles and the Group

So, that didn't go too well.

I ended up re-straining (if that's a word) my hamstring coming down hill during the race. I think I let myself go a little too much and felt it grab. I stubbornly tried to keep going hoping things would loosen up, but after about 800m of trying that and just limping around, then called it quits.

A day later, it's pretty dang sore, and I'm left hobbling around.

I've never had any hamstring issues until the last couple months. Both me and Jeff had strained our hamstrings within the past month, and strugled with soreness in them too. My guess is that it's the courses we do our workouts on. They have a lot of 90degree or sharp turns so I think the quick planting of the foot and then making that quick pivot/turn is putting a lot more stress on the hamstring then normal.

The training Group-
As anyone who follows this blog knows, I've been training with a group out in California for the past couple months. Unfortunately, the group is basically done. Jeff left this weekend and the rest of the group is on it's way out. So...good prediction by whoever commented on this post! Must be able to see the future. Unfortunately, it wasn't me questioning the workouts or anything, it was more logistical stuff that broke us up. I was/am confident in Marco's training and it's gotten me and the rest of the guys in good shape and we were on our way to doing some good things I think. Unfortunately, we won't be able to find out.

Since that was short lived, I'm going for broke this time. No fooling around. More on that later.

CC training:Specific Endurance Development

In season HS Training:
As you have hopefully realized by now, I believe in progression throughout the training cycle. There are no abrupt changes. Even when adding in or increasing the emphasis on a particular aspect, there is a gradual transition. This same principle applies when transitioning from the summer base phase into the in season competition phase of training.
At this point in the training, many programs make a distinct change going from almost all easy runs to starting to hammer out the intervals. In my mind, this is a recipe for injury, overtraining, or a premature peak. We want to gradually and progressively bring the body to peak shape in as predictable a way as we can. If we throw the kitchen sink at the athletes by introducing interval training all at once, the predictability of when an athlete is going to run his best and how he is going to progress is thrown right out the window.
To keep things as straight forward as possible, I’ll stick with the same idea of showing the progression of various workouts over the course of the season.

Competition Period:

Specific Work:
The easiest workouts to show progression are the specific workouts. If we look at where we left off at the end of summer with our specific workout and then come up with a final specific workout to do, the progression is very natural and easy. Towards the end of the summer training, the athletes were doing either 200s or 60sec pickups at specific or near specific paces (3k-5k). These workouts were really just spices of running at race pace. Now it is time to formally develop specific endurance.
This is done best by lengthening the rest distance or reducing the recovery. But wait, before we start the progression from the spices of race pace work to specific endurance development, we need to decide on where we are going with the workout. That means, deciding the last hard specific workout before the race. That workout provides a destination. If you have the starting point and the finish point, then coming up with the in between is relatively simple. In designing a final workout, keep in mind that you want it to be a challenging workout that is highly specific to the race. That means relatively long intervals at the pace they want to run with relatively short rest in between.

Brad Hudson, in his book, suggests working towards 5x1km with 60-90sec rest at 5k pace. It’s a simple progression going from 200s or 400s at race pace to 1,000s at race pace. Increase the rep distance progressively towards 1,000m, decrease the rest from 2:30 (for example) down to 1 minute, and increase the total distance covered from 2 miles (for example) to 5k.
I tend to prefer using one of two slightly different progressions that are a little more complex and have worked well for me in the past. You can use them independently or combine both progressions.

The first is similar to the first method but with a slight change. I start with short intervals, but instead of starting with long rest and decreasing it, I start with very short rest in between reps but split the session into sets so that it is feasible. In addition, the total volume of the session matches the total volume of the final workout from the beginning. An example of an introductory workout for an athlete is 3 sets of 4x400m with 30-40sec rest at 5k pace and 5 minutes in between sets. Just like in the other example, you gradually increase the distance of the reps. Instead of systematically decreasing the rest in between the reps, you slowly decrease the number of sets (and thus the total rest) working towards a repetition workout with just 1 set. Below is an example of this progression.

3 x (4x400) at 5k w/ 30sec rest. 5min b/t sets
3x(3x600) at 5k w/ 40sec rest. 5min b/t sets
2x(3x800) at 5k w/ 45sec rest. 5min b/t sets
2x (1000,800,700) at 5k w/ 45sec rest. 5min b/t sets
5x1000 at 5k w/ 60-75sec rest

The other method that I like to use is the alternation workout. In this workout you combine high end aerobic running with race pace work. For High School 5k runners, I like to use 4 miles of total work. You alternate running at goal pace with a medium to high end aerobic pace. Like in the other specific work, you gradually increase the amount of race pace work done. These alternation workouts provide a different kind of stimulus than just traditional race pace work and is a great way to create specific endurance. Below is an example of a progression of alternation workouts:

4 miles of alternating 200m at 5k pace w/ 1400m at steady pace.
4mi of alternating 400 at 5k pace w/ 1200m at steady pace
4mi of alternating 600 at 5k pace w/ 1000m at steady pace
4mi of alternating 800 at 5k pace w/ 800m at steady pace
4mi of alternating 900 at 5k pace w/ 700m at steady pace

I usually stop at 800m with HS kids but occasionally will go up to 900 or 1,000m for advance runners.

These are just a couple examples of how to effectively create specific endurance. Combining some of these workouts is a great way to diversify the training a bit and makes sure that every runner gets a training stimulus that is effective. Since you are working with a large group of diverse athletes in HS, it’s good to switch up the program to make sure that each runner gets some sort of training stimulus he responds to. Also, you get to see what works best for each runner for future reference. Below is an example of combining two methods of creating specific endurance

In summer: 8x30sec at race pace w/ 2:30 easy in the middle of an easy 8 mile run.
Then progress to:
3 x (4x400) at 5k w/ 30sec rest. 5min b/t sets
4mi of alternating 400 at 5k pace w/ 1200m at steady pace
3x(3x600) at 5k w/ 40sec rest. 5min b/t sets
4mi of alternating 600 at 5k pace w/ 1000m at steady pace
2x(3x800) at 5k w/ 45sec rest. 5min b/t sets
4mi of alternating 800 at 5k pace w/ 800m at steady pace
5x1000m at 5k pace w/ 90sec rest

All of these methods in creating specific endurance work well. What one you use depends on the type of athlete you have (remember FT vs. ST), and what you are trying to accomplish. For example, using the alternation approach will probably be more suited to a ST athlete because the ‘rests’ are kept at a decent pace. A FT runner, might not be able to accomplish the workout because he won’t recover as quickly on the rests. On the other hand, using some of the alternation progression might help that FT athlete improve his ability to deal with lactate while running at a steady pace. So he is working on his weakness. Consider this example and the athletes themselves when choosing your preferred progression.

Next time, I'll show the in season training for high end aerobic work.
Part 4- High End Aerobic Training

Summer Cross Country Training

Planning the season:
Start backwards. Work the extremes. Bring it together.

That pretty much sums up my training philosophy for HS kids. You aren’t trying to get every sap of talent and performance out of them. You want them to run well and be set up to continue running well in the future and become lifetime runners.

How do you do this? It’s very tricky. The first thing to realize is that the kids are still developing when in HS. What this means is that you have no idea what their potential is or how they are going to develop. You don’t know if one year they will all of the sudden be able to sprint, when the year before they were uncoordinated.

To set them up for racing fast and having a future in running, I think the extremes are the most important. These early years are best for building a base of support to work off of in the future. That means lots of aerobic development obviously, but that is not it. That’s all people think about when they hear the words “build a base,” but we are also looking at building a base for the other aspects of running. That means building a base of pure speed/neuromuscular development. It means developing good strength and a functional stride.

When I say work at the extremes that means lots of aerobic work, and some pure speed/mechanical work. Of course, some of the good old hard intervals in the middle are needed, but not nearly as many as you see in adult or elite training programs. They need smaller spices of this work and in shorter segments. That’s why it is good for a HS kid to go long periods of time (the summer for example) of doing nothing but mileage, strides, and maybe some hill sprints, while an elite almost always has some sort of workout mixed in the plan.

The same goes for how to periodize the season. Start at the extremes, and gradually introduce specificity. Having said that, I believe that at almost all times in the season, there should be a bit of every aspect of training. That means, in each period of training, there will be something working each aspect of training. Just how much of each is what varies.

Without writing a novel, I think giving examples of each part of the season and seeing how the training progresses are the best way to go about it.

Early Summer:
Easy mileage and strides. While with older runners I rarely like a period of just mileage, for High School kids it’s a must. It serves to build a general fitness foundation and prepare the athletes for the actual training that is coming. Also, HS kids need the mental break of not doing anything structured. Plus, if you leave the pace up to them, you will naturally get some high end aerobic running in during the week. The difference is it will be spontaneous, when they are feeling good, and won’t feel like a workout.

Mid-Late Summer:

In the middle of the summer, we add some structure into plan. Instead of just mileage, some high end aerobic running, hills, and strides are introduced. Below is the progression of the “workouts” over the summer.

Neuromuscular work (Hill sprints,etc.):

Start out with 4-6x 8sec hill sprints and progress up to 8-10x8sec hill sprints. Once that is reached, then we start adding in more of a speed endurance component in by adding in longer hills. Our longer hills take about 25sec to run up. So, in the very end of the summer, the hill workout might be 6x8sec hill sprints +3-4x long hills hard with walk down recovery. For older runners, who need some speed development, I might go in a different direction. Once they have reached 8-10xhill sprints, I might alternate that with flat sprints on the track (60m or so). We’d do 4-6x these and maybe progress up to 90-100m, depending on the goal.

High End Aerobic Work:

It initially starts out as spontaneous progression runs. High School kids running in a group, when they are rested and just doing mileage especially, tend to pick it up naturally on many of their runs. This happens especially in the last few miles of the run. This serves as a natural transition to high end aerobic work.

The first structured high end aerobic work is some easy progression running. Start out with 5-10min at the end of an easy run. Have them work down to a decent aerobic pace. Progress that up to about 15min and then it’s time to start real threshold work.

Threshold work with HS kids is hard. They tend to run much too fast or at least go out too hard. To combat this, you either have to have run with them and teach them how to get the right feeling when running or give them splits. I like to teach kids how to learn to run by feel. A lot of times, breathing rate is the best way to teach them how to run threshold work. If you give them a short sentence they should be able to say during the workout, it provides them with instant feedback during any threshold session.

I do things a bit differently with how my threshold work is run. As I previously said, I’m big on running by feel. So, summer LT sessions are done by feel too. I give the athletes a total amount of time that they have to spend at threshold, and let them split it up. They are told to keep running at threshold until they feel like they are going over the edge a bit or slowing, then to stop and jog around for a minute or two and then get going again. This works particularly well in Texas, because our weather sucks. Because of the weather, these sessions can sometimes be much harder than you want them to be, so by splitting it up, it is easier mentally, yet you still get the vast majority of the benefit of running at threshold for the entire time.

The progression usually goes from 10min in a single session to 15min, 20min (split up), then all the way up to 30min, split up, for advanced seniors. Most of the time, I stop it at 25min, split up.

At the very end of the summer, I add in one longer tempo effort. This is pretty controversial for HS kids, but I really like the results of it, so it sticks in the program. I got this from my old HS coach who used to do the same thing with us. At the end of summer, the kids run a 7.5mi tempo run that is on a course that has several hills on it. Why 7.5mi? Because it is a 5mile loop, but it comes near the starting point at both 2.5mi and 7.5mi. Since, it is Texas and it’s likely to be hot, the kids get a minute or so break at the end of 5mi for water that doesn’t count into their total time. This 7.5 miler serves as a great aerobic fitness check at the beginning of the year. It shows how well the summer base period went and gives you direction on what to work on.

Later in the season, they will do a full 10mile tempo run (with water break at 5mi). That is a very demanding workout, so give plenty of rest before and after. Once again, this serves as a good indicator. Based on this 10 mile tempo, I can give you a pretty good guess of what they are capable of in a 2mi/5k. If they are running slower 5ks than I expected, then it means aerobically they are strong, but don’t have the specific endurance yet. If the opposite is true and they are running faster 5ks then their 10miler indicates, then they are weak aerobically and need some work.

At the very end of the year, doing a 5 miler at the pace they did the 10 miles at is a very good aerobic refresh workout. Or doing a full 10 miler at a pace a couple minutes slower for advances athletes is another good aerobic refresh.

Specific work:
Over the summer, I introduce faster work with strides initially. After this we include small surges in the middle of easy runs. Something like 5x30sec at 5k pace every 3minutes in the middle of a 7mi run. These progress upwards to 8-10, and up to 45-60sec. Sometimes, I like to do these on the track in terms of 200s. A favorite of mine over the summer is 8-12x200 w/ 200 jog starting at 5k pace. Over the summer, for fast twitch athletes, I like to progress these down to 3200 and mile paces, and in the same facet use the 200s at 5k pace as a foundation of specific endurance. To do this, I increase the distance of the workout, eventually working towards traditional 5k type workouts like 6x800, but doing it in small steps so they adapt.

That is about it for the summer. Next post, we’ll delve into the in season training.

Part 3- Specific Endurance Development

Cross Country Training: How to develop an entire training plan

Cross Country Training: How to develop a training plan:
Part 1-Individualization
Part 2- Base/Summer Training
Part 3- Developing Specific Endurance
Part 4- High End Aerobic Training
Part 5- Neuromuscular/Speed Training

CC training:

A couple of people have asked about High School Cross Country training. At the end of their season, I’ll post the entire training plan. For right now, I’ll give a couple of quick pointers on my general philosophy.

The biggest difference in HS running is that you have a very wide range of abilities and a large number of athletes. Because of this, individualization is very hard to do. That prevents a major problem with my coaching style, because a major part of my philosophy is training each person as an individual. Because of this conundrum, you have to make a choice on what approach you can take. I’ll explain what I would ideally do if I was watching every workout, and then what I have to do in just writing a training plan and getting feedback.

When it comes to individualizing big groups, you have to figure out how to divide the runners based on broad physiologic characteristics. The first division is easy. You divide the runners based on what race distance they are training for. In Cross Country, this doesn’t do you much good because everyone practically trains for the same distance. The next step is to split the group into a couple categories based on their individual physiologic characteristics.
To simplify things, my division is based on whether they are a fast-twitch or a slow twitch runner. It is a simple division that drastically effects how the runner should train for that particular event. Each group of runner will need slightly different workouts to improve the particular training aspect that you are working on. A quick example is improvement in aerobic abilities. A FT runner will need a different stimulus than a ST runner. Why? If we think of it in exaggerated terms, a runner with 90% ST fibers will recruit a very large portion of his fibers, and thus train them, at highly aerobic paces. So, your typical threshold run for 20min will do the job. A FT runner will need a different paced workout though because his recruitment pattern will be different, if for say he has 60% ST fiber. Well, at the same relative speed as the ST runner, he’ll need to bring in more FT fibers to do the work. So, some slower tempo running combined with extensive intervals at 5k-10k paces will do the job of increasing that threshold.
I’ll write more on this division later, but for more resources check out the Cabral-Hadd thread on letsrun, Jan Olbrecht’s book Science of Winning, Canova’s thread on letsrun, and Hudson’s book Run Faster.
For now, here’s an excerpt from my training notes that I use for some of the differences in training methods for FT vs. ST runners. This is for 1,500m runners (sorry if this doesn't come out formatted right):

· FT oriented:
o Endurance work:
§ Minimal LT, more AerT
· Keep LT sessions low volume (short)
· Progressive runs used more instead of straight LT workouts
· Work just above LT will increase aerobic capabilities of FT-a muscles
§ Extensive interval training done to improve LT
· i.e. 200-600s at 1500-10k paces w/ short jog rests
§ Long runs done easy, shorter, no LT mixes at the end, only addition to long run could be strides, variations
§ Speed Variations used more during easy runs
§ 3k-5k work done for endurance purposes (traditional VO2max)
o Anaerobic work:
§ Anaerobic work(specific) work emphasized, done more and longer
§ Maintenance levels year round (functions as endurance transition w/ rest modulated)
§ Hills used to delay staleness/peak of doing too much for too long
o Sprint work:
§ More pure sprint work
§ Sprint Extensive Tempo used
§ Some sprint Speed Endurance (fast 150s-600s)

· ST oriented:
o Endurance work:
§ Larger volume of LT work
§ Some AerT work as maintenance after CC season or towards peaking period
§ More Alternation work done
§ 3k-5k work done as transition to faster work
· Wider range of paces on VO2
§ Long runs can include different additions, longer in volume

o Anaerobic work:
§ Anaerobic work less emphasized if quick responder and too much breaks down aerobic cap.
· Options include: doing maintenance anaerobic work year round instead of a period of large volumes of anaerobic work. (preferred method)
· Short cycles of intense anaerobic work followed by lots of aerobic work to balance it out
· No anaerobic work for long periods, then 3-6wk period to bring it to right level
· Combo work used- finish endurance session off with shorter set of anaerobic work.
o i.e. LT run followed by 5x400m at 1500 pace

o Sprint work:
§ Sprint work used as pure speed development, want CNS adaptations. Don’t want many muscular adaptations (large shift to FT characteristics for example might impede endurance too much)
· CNS adaptation- increase recruitment

How do you figure out a FT vs. a ST runner? Well there are complex and easy ways to do it. For hard cases you can go run an all out 400m and take lactate samples. The higher the lactate sample after, the better the anaerobic capacity, and thus the more FT fibers presumably. Of course, we all don’t have lactate analyzers so you can stick to simpler methods. Compare their PR’s at all distances and see whether they trend at being better at longer or shorter distance. Look at what types of workouts they excel at compared to others on the team. And finally, look at their stride mechanics (how reactive it is).
Once you’ve established who goes in what group, then what I’d ideally do is come up with a schedule based on what I want to accomplish during each period of training. Since you are still working with a large group, instead of defining what each workout is each day, you define what you want to accomplish each day. For example, you may define a day as improving high end aerobic abilities (or lactate threshold). Another day might be geared towards specific endurance or anaerobic support. Define what the day’s goal is. Then you plug in a workout that will accomplish this goal for EACH different group. This allows for a bit of individualization because to reach that goal adaptation for the day, each different fiber type group will need a different workout. I’ve already used the different ways to raise LT example, so another example would be for anaerobic support. For the FT runner, some reps at mile pace might be needed, while for a ST runner, a slower level of anaerobic support might be needed, so 3k reps would work.
By setting up the training this way, it allows for you to get a good deal of individualization while not having to make 20 different schedules or have runners doing 10 different workouts on the same day.
If you cannot individualize like this because it’s impossible to set up two different workouts sometimes, then you can make more subtle individualizations. Have athletes do essentially the same workout with something different added on at the end. For example, a FT runner might cut the threshold workout 5min short and do 4x200m uphill at 1,500m pace. Little variations like this will go a long way to insure that you aren’t giving two different runners detrimental workouts.

In my next post, I’ll post my general periodization and some examples of the sessions HS CC kids do.
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