Part 2: Should our athletes move up?

Training update:
Training is coming along nicely now. Not much to report. A quick summary of the last week or so:

85mi, 2 weight sessions, 1x plyo, 2 workouts, 1 long run, 6 General strength sessions, 3 pedestal strength circuits.

The two workouts went well. One was a 5mi progression run going from 5:20 down to 5:00 with the last 2mi run uphill at around 5:00min pace. The other workout was 2x2mi in 9:30 w/ 3min rest. It was pretty dang windy for both workouts but I got them in and they went well. Lastly, my long run this week was 14mi, with the first half at about 6:20-25 pace and the last half sub 6.

Lastly before we get into Part 2 of my comparison between Africans and American runners, I'd like to remind everyone that just because something is hard, doesn't mean it is a good thing to do. In terms of training, it is very pertinent to remember. We often fall into the trap of thinking just because something is tough or hard then it has to be doing something for us, that's not the case. We tend to associate things that are hard as having to be beneficial. That's not the case. Keep that in mind when you see the latest fads in training or exercise.

Part 2: Should we move our athletes up?

Renato Canova has pointed out that there are basically three kinds of runners for each event. You have the specialist who responds to specific training for that event best. You have the fast event runner, who comes at the event from a speed perspective. And you have the resistant event runner.
Similarly, Antonio Cabral, a Portuguese coach, and the mysterious Hadd have an interesting thread entitled “Two kinds of runners” on letsrun. Basically, they come to the same conclusions as Canova, only they separate runners into ST and FT runners for their event.

(I’ve already wrote some on this individualization and that can be found here:

The problem with the idea behind always moving guys up is it assumes that speed is all ingrained and that endurance is almost all trained. That is obviously an incorrect assumption. Both can be trained to a degree, but are not unlimited. Also, they are contrasting forms of training. A bit of both is always needed, but if, like some suggest, we take a 1,500m runner and throw lots of endurance work on him, his speed will deteriorate.
While I could ramble on, I think Renato Canova summed up the whole thing rather nicely. Below is an excerpt from one of his posts:

“when I look for young athletes, I put them in competitions in 3 different distances, creating groups related with their most evident qualities :
a) 400 / 800 / 1500
b) 800 / 1500 / 5000
c) 3000 / 5000 / 10000
d) 5000 / 10000 / HM

From the first group I can find specialists of 800, deciding that can be FAST TYPE or RESISTANT TYPE. In the first case, they can stay for 3-4 years in 400 / 800, in the second in 800 / 1500. Only after 3-4 years, we can move the athlete of the second group to 1500 / 3000 and/or steeple, while the first group NEVER (normally) can move to 1500.

From the second group, I look for specialists of steeple and 5000. Also in this case, they can move to 10000 after 2-3 years, somebody arriving after 6-7 years to Marathon too.

From the third group, I look for specialists of 5000 and 10000. In this case, already after 1 year they can run HM, but can move to the full distance in the period of 4 years.

From the fourth group, we take new Marathon runners, preparing them to the full distance in less than 2 years.”

Below is an excerpt on what happens when you apply the wrong type of training to the different types of runners:

“I give you 3 examples, for athletes able running 1500m in 3:40, without specific preparation for longer distances :

Athlete A) PB 1:46 / 3:40 / 8:10 (3k) FAST SPECIALIST800 / 1500 (he has more attitude for shorter distances)

Athlete B) PB 1:49 / 3:40 / 7:50 RESISTANT SPECIALIS1500 (he shows good attitudes for something longer, having a good but medium speed)

Athlete C) PB 1:51 / 3:40 / 7:50 / 13:30 FAST SPECIALIST 5000m (he shows better attitude for 5000m)

If with these 3 athletes you want to use the same type of training, normally the following things can happen :


C) Goes to run slower ALL his events, except a little improvement in 800m (1:50 / 3:42 / 8:10 / 14:00)

B) Goes to maintain the same level in 800 and 1500, losing ability in 3000 (may be 8:10)

A) Goes to maintain the same time in 800 (1:46) losing ability in 1500 (3:43)This happens because ALL THESE ATHLETES GO TO REDUCE THEIR ANAEROBIC THRESHOLD, reducing their ability in removing lactate in short time from their muscles.

2.vYOU USE TRAINING FOR INCREASING SPECIFIC ENDURANCE TO SPEED OF 1500m (not speed too fast, not too many short intervals, some session of middle/long intervals, some long run fast of about 30:00) (Type of training for a Resistant Specialist of 1500m)

A) Goes to lose something in 800 (1:47), to improve a lot in 1500 (3:37) and a little in 3000 (8:00), not important.

B) Goes to maintain the same level in 800 (1:49), to improve in 1500 (3:37), a lot in 3000 (7:40), arriving to run 5000 in something under 14:00.

C) Goes to leave 800m, to improve a little in 1500 (3:39) and 3000 (7:46) like the other athlete, and becomes able running 5000 only a little faster (13:25)

This is because, for the first 2 athletes, the improvement in their Anaerobic Threshold is more important than for the third one. Athlete C with this type of training is not able to use the margin of improvement in direction of Aerobic Power, that is his most evident quality.


A) This training is wrong. This athlete goes to run slower all the distances

B) This athlete goes to run slower his 800, can improve a little in 1500 (3:36), more in 3000 (7:40) and can move his time in 5000 under 13:40, not significative

C) This athlete goes to improve a lot already his 1500m (3:36 or less), can run under 7:40 his 3000 and becomes able running 5000 under 13:10.

This is because the athlete C has his most important source of improvement in his ability in developing his Aerobic Power. This type of athlete can become good, in the future, also in 10000m.”

Canova’s examples help demonstrate that athletes all have a particular distance in which they are best at. It might only be a slight advantage and it might change over time, but because of physiological differences, athletes seem to excel at a particular distance.

The first excerpt shows that it depends on the type of runner if he can move up or not. For example for the 1,500m, Canova suggests that fast 800m specialist who can run very fast at 1,500m cannot move up past that. While the guys who were resistant 800m/fast 1,500m will take 3-4 years to be able to move up to the 1500-3k distances. Many of our best 1,500m guys in the U.S. come from these two groups. They are guys who were basically resistant 800m runners or fast 1,500m specialists. With endurance training they are able to run fast at the 1,500m but their performances start to tail off after about 3k, compared to their 1,500m.
If we look at the second excerpt, it can be seen that if we try and take guys who are 800m types, or even to some degree fast 1,500m specialists, and train them with more endurance, they may not improve at the 5k distance.
Bekele and Geb on the other hand seem to be fast 5,000m specialists. Distance training improves their 1,500m, 3k, 5k, and sets them up for improvements in the 10k and ultimately a marathon.
That is the type of athlete that needs to be moved up, gradually. Or as Canova points out “, they can move to 10000 after 2-3 years, somebody arriving after 6-7 years to Marathon too.” We have these athletes. I’d classify Bob Kennedy as the best example. He had comparably slow 400m speed, but ran pretty fast over a mile, and very fast over 5k. Although it’s tough to tell, I’d venture that Matt Tegenkamp is another athlete that is a fast 5k specialists. Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan are other examples on the women’s side. These athletes can move up in distance.

However if we took someone like Steve Sherer or Rob Myers for example, if we moved them up in distance, it is likely that they will become slower at 1,500m and not be nearly fast enough at 5k, like in Canova’s examples. That’s because they are either fast 1,500m or resistant 800m type runners.

In conclusion, athletes should up only if there physiology allows for it. It should not be based on their 1,500m PR’s! It should be based on their individual make up. Just because an athlete isn’t a world beater at one distance doesn’t mean he should move up. He could be comparatively slower at the longer distance because his make up does not suit the increase to the longer distance.


  1. Anonymous12:41 PM

    i agree with most everything you've said. i'm interested in your assessment of Webb. i know everyone talks about him, but you now have an inside look. you might be unwilling to comment, but might as well ask.
    his 1:43 800 suggests resistance because of his 1500/mile times. however, his 5k/10k times, though not as relevant on the WORLD stage as his 1500/mile times, are still impressive.
    i'm suggesting anything, and don't really have my own opinion, because i don't know what to think about him. but am curious about your insight.

  2. Webb is a great example. His range of PR's is pretty incredible, But you have to remember that he did not run all of his PR's in one season, or said another way even if he is in his best shape, he cannot duplicate everyone of his PR's from 800-10k.

    Look what happened when he was able to run so fast at 10k, his speed was substantially impacted. Because of this, he couldn't run as fast of a mile.

    He went too far in that direction of training. So in terms of the post above, when he was in his best 10k shape, his 800m was significantly slower, his 1500m was slower, etc.

    Similarly when he was in peak 1500 shape, his 800m was what improved by so much. He was in "worst" 5k/10k shape.

    What this tells me is that Webb isn't a guy who should make that move up. He fits the mold of a 1,500m specialists. Meaning his bread and butter is in the 1500, although he can run a fast 800, and a fast 3k. With a little sacrifice of speed, he can also run a good 5k. But beyond that it would sacrifice too much.

  3. Anonymous2:15 PM

    Canova has stated that he thinks Webb should focus on the 5k on the world stage though. Do you disagree with this assessment??

  4. Ya, I've seen his comments, but I believe they were before he ran 1:43.

    Anyways, yes I disagree with his view, both from the outside looking in objectively at alan, and from the inside knowing him. He's a miler with great range.

  5. Very interesting article.
    I'm trying to determine which athlete I am closest to in Canova's example and from which type of training I would benefit most.

    My PR's
    400 - 53
    800 - 1:59
    1600 - 4:15
    3200 - 9:22
    5000(xc) - 15:09

    I'm not sure if I'm athlete B or C from the example. I'll appreciate any insight you can give me.


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