We've been working on progressing and finishing strong the last couple weeks to prepare for this exact scenario and it payed off. Their are a couple things to notice.First is how relaxed he is with very good mechanics. Secondly, if you watch the last 800m, he takes the lead with 400m to go and then Lutz makes a huge move to the lead at 300m to go. When most of us get passed with a huge move, we either respond immediately, or break. Ryan instead gradually responded, didn't panic and covered the move. When he saw Lutz coming by him, he didn't immediately react and waste energy like most of us do. After covering the move, he waited till the last 100m coming off the curve and sprinted like crazy. His last 100m kick form was textbook. And to think, about 4 months ago, I was wondering how the heck to salvage the season after Ryan came down with Mono.
Which, brings me to one more point. When Ryan started HS 4 years ago, his kick was horrible. I remember watching his first race in HS, he got kicked down in a 2 mile CC race. This trend continued, up until CC his Junior year. He lost his spot qualifying for nationals because he was outkicked by two runners in the final 100m of the NXN regional race. Well before that though we'd started the transition of improving the kick. So, how does Ryan go from getting kicked down to using a final 100m kick to win state? That's a long complex story, but I want to focus on two things:
1. Ryan learned how to sprint and improved his form.
2. He developed incredibly aerobically.
#1- Many for some reason despise changing running form, especially for runners who are already talented. As the saying goes "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." We eschewed that route with Ryan instead focused on giving him the best possible chance of success. We knew that his speed would be a limiter as he developed as a runner, so we set out to fix that. After his sophomore year, I took him to see running form expert Tom Tellez and we designed some needed changes for his form. Ryan's a quick learner and picked it up quickly. The long loping stride was replaced with one that was still long but appeared to the eye slightly choppier. But to the trained observer, his back kick was decreased because it was excessive in nature, and he learned how to properly sprint. While the change wasn't overnight, it allowed him to run more efficiently and maximize the speed that he did have. Once we changed his form a little, his speed started to come out. When I talked to him on the phone yesterday after the race, he mentioned that the final 100m he was thinking about what coach Tellez and I have been saying, using his arms and putting his feet down like a piston. It paid off.
#2- Many people think a kick is only about speed. The reality is that it is about getting to the final 100m with enough reserve to be able to accelerate. Or in other terms, if we could make him aerobically strong enough, he'd have to use less of his anaerobic reserves until the end. It's how the Africans like Bekele and Geb do it. None of them are speedsters in the 400m, yet they can run very very close to their top speed at the end of the race. Thinking back to last year, I guarantee you that Lagat has much more speed than Bekele, yet in the 5k, it was Bekele who came out on top in the final kick. Read the blog articles on kick development, but basically the approach was to work on pure speed and aerobic endurance. I can't tell you how many thresholds and alternation workouts we did throughout the years to develop high end aerobic ability and specific endurance. As the years progressed, more and more strength endurance work was done, starting with just general strength endurance and progressing to high intensity strength endurance. Finally to top it off, we did a lot of progression and blend workouts working on finishing (i.e. 800m repeats with the first 600m at 2mile pace and last 200m at mile).
These are just a couple of the lessons I've learned in coaching Ryan the past couple years. I'll post a whole synopsis of his and the other HS guys training in the future.
While Ryan is getting the spotlight of this post, which is deserves, I'd also like to point out the development of two other guys who I also had the pleasure to work with the last 4 years. Tony and Will started their running careers as 5+min milers who many could have written off as your average HS freshman. Instead, they committed, put in an enormous amount of work and progressed wonderfully. Will ended this year with PR's of 4:17 and 9:15. In any other region, any other state, and on almost any other team Will is a state qualifier and the team stud. He's off to run at UT next year. Similarly, Tony is the ultimate team guy. In the ultimate demonstration, he dropped from his "better" longer events at the end of the season to run the 800m, an event he rarely ran. In doing so, he earned a trip to regionals running a PR of 1:58.0 and also along the way racking up 4:25/9:38 PR's. There are many other guys who've put in the work and continue to do so who I'd also like to thank for letting me help them reach their goals over the last couple years. I couldn't ask for a better group of runners to work with.