Kenenisa Bekele's workout: How do we get there?

Here’s a selected workout that Kenenisa Bekele did around 10 days before his 2007 10k world championship win, the same race which I wrote about on an earlier blog.  (This comes from a presentation from Barry Fudge, who is a sports scientists who was doing work with Bekele during this workout)

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8x (400 in 52-54, rest, 200 in 24-25) w/ 90sec-2min rest b/w everything
Is this some magical workout that we all should copy? No. The point of this post isn’t to talk about some amazing workout and how it did X or Y. In all honesty, one workout tells very little. Instead of marveling over the workout, I’d like to pose the question: How does one get to where they can run workouts such as the above?

Breaking it down:

Let’s take a look at this workout from several different angles. Looking at the speed alone, it’s obvious that the first requirement is an ability to run pretty dang fast, as 24sec for 200m is moving. That means we need some pure speed. Next we look at the 400m reps in 52-54 and it’s obvious that not only will we need pure speed, but an ability to hold that speed over “longer” distances.
Now we’ve got speed and speed endurance.

If we continue along this path, the next thing we might notice is that we’re not just doing a few reps, but 8 in total. This tells us that we’ve got to be able to handle high volumes of work structurally and that we’ve got have pretty dang high aerobic abilities/endurance. Add in the 90sec-2min rest and an ability to recover becomes apparent. The ability to recover is partially dependent on the aerobic system clearing everything out. If we step back and look at the workout as a whole, we know we probably have to deal with and be able to clear large amounts of lactate quickly given the paces, volumes, and recovery. Additionally, since this was roughly 10 days out from his biggest race and it’s logical to assume that he was doing other workouts/high volumes of running surrounding this workout, he needs an incredible ability to recover and adapt to the workload. Finally, since the workout was at 2300m, he obviously needs to be highly adapted to altitude to be able to do the workout at that altitude.
So put all together, to complete this workout we’ve got to have:
1. Pure speed
2. Speed Endurance
3. Good structure/biomechanics
4. Endurance/Aerobic ability
5. Ability to recover within and after workout
6. Lactate dynamics
7. Altitude adaptation


So….we need pretty much everything to be top notch to complete just a single workout that Bekele did.

How do we get there?

One logical way to get there might seem to be to just copy the workout with reduced speeds and volumes and then slowly progress towards his workout. Maybe we’d start with 8 reps at 60sec and 28sec for our hypothetical runner and then gradually increase volume and speed. Sounds logical right?
The problem with this logic is that somewhere along the way, we’ll hit a road block and plateau. Maybe it happens when we hit 6reps, and the limit is in the athletes ability to handle the volume structurally. Or it could come when he moves down to 56sec, and can’t get it any faster because his 400m pr is only 53. The point is that at some point, the progression stops and even if you kept repeating the workout, your not likely to break through that plateau.

Instead of simply copying the workout, what needs to be done is to make sure the runner has the necessary components built up before we begin to put everything together. That means, he needs to be working towards maximizing all of the above mentioned components. That lessons the likelihood of hitting a plateau early on because we are limited by one component.

Applied to Training

So far, I’ve dealt in the hypothetical world. What the above translates is simply that early on in an athlete’s career we need to focus on building the necessary requirements for later success. Later on, the fine tuning is done. We’re used to the idea of building a base of endurance, but really we have to build a base of everything necessary for maximizing performance

For High school runners for example, that means focusing on the following:
1. Biomechanics- Work on optimizing biomechanics before he’s got tons of motor programming that determines his stride.
2. Structural adaptations- The body responds to the stress it’s put under. The bones/ligaments/tendons will grow stronger if gradual stress is applied with sufficient recovery. This means gradually increasing the volume of running. It also means strengthening the key components such as the Achilles/calf-complex early on with both traditional strength work and some natural barefoot work.
3. High end aerobic ability- The aerobic system takes a long time to develop. That means both gradual volume increases, and gradual increases in high end aerobic work.
4. Pure speed- Teach them how to sprint and learn how to recruit the right muscles to sprint.
5. Just enough in-between/specific stuff to get them todevelop mental toughness and the ability to adapt and recover from ever larger volumes of hard track work.

Essentially, build the base. Focus on the extremes. Lay the foundation.

Once the components are developed, then you can start working on putting them together. Often, in the U.S. when athletes get to HS, they go straight into trying to do high volumes of very hard/fast work. Essentially, trying to put the pieces together before we actually have the pieces.

If we look at the East Africans you can make a case that they do a wonderful inadvertent job of the above. How? Well, they spend their childhood running to and from school, with some research pointing towards most international elites running around 10km a day as they ran to and from school each day. That takes care of your general aerobic abilities and strengthening the body’s structure. If you realize that most of this is done barefoot or in some really light shoe, you realize that now the foot /calf/Achilles complex is simply going through a long terms strengthening program, and their biomechanics are likely optimized. And they do it all without expending the nervous energy of thinking they are doing “actual training.”

It’s only after 10yrs or so of doing this, that they then begin the formal training. We could learn a thing or two from this model.

Again, the purpose of this blog isn’t to say “train to be able to do this workout.” Instead, it is to show that training should be different to a degree as the athlete progresses. Early on we have to get the components that are needed. Only later do we begin to connect and assemble them. Often in this sport, we try and put everything together before we’ve even tried to build the components.

So we’ve gone from an amazing workout to High School training. I guess the take away message is when you hear about some great workout or whatever, don’t try and copy the end product. Figure out how they got there and what you can do to get there.

13 comments:

  1. Great stuff Steve. This reminds me of Brad Hudson advocating working on the extremes early in the base phase with high volume and hill sprints/strides. Then you transition to more race-specific work.

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  2. Kenny B must have known he was in pretty good shape after knocking over that session - amazing!
    Great post Steve. I think you are spot on. Too often runners read about a session like this and think that's what they have to do to become a great runner.
    Focussing on the components (as described above) that allow a runner to even contemplate completing a session like this, is crucial. Especially as we look to apply some of these aspects ourselves.

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  3. Steve great stuff as always...now I am going to try to convince my wife to let our kids run to and from school barefoot.

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  4. This example makes a lot sense, yet so rarely discussed. Copying a running pros' workout schedule is like learning how to fly a plane by imitating a day's work of a jet fighter pilot.

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  5. Hi Steve,

    This just got posted on everyones favourite source of vitriol but he may have a point :)

    "The workout is "16 alternating 400 and 200"

    i.e. 8x (400, 200)

    Look at the heart rate graph...There are 16 peaks


    That is long ass rest after 400's and especially 200's...

    NOT a hard workout, heart rate barely breaks 170bpm..."

    http://www.letsrun.com/forum/flat_read.php?thread=4145995&page=2

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous11:11 AM

    Hey Steve,
    Was it 16x(400, 200) or 8x(400, 200)? The HR graph only has 16 peaks, which suggests the latter.

    More believable now, though still very impressive.

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  7. 16 ALTERNATING 400s and 200s (i.e. 8 each) not 16x400+200. Looking at the peaks, it appears like 9x200 surrounding 8x400.

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  8. Anonymous4:42 PM

    Have you got that workout right?

    It looks like 16 reps in total (400s and 200s) rather than 32 reps in total (i.e. 16 of each).

    If you look at the total workout time it would also suggest the former.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think this workout is actualy 8x(400-200) w/2min rest between both reps and sets. So

    400-2min-200-2min-400-2min...etc

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous7:24 PM

    the altitude is pretty challenging, 7500 ft, to do that workout especially with the 16 reps! i guess the ethiopians don't need to do the silly "western" hi-lo altitude training method

    ReplyDelete
  11. Kenenisa Bekele8:08 PM

    All these people commenting above trying to correct the workout and missing the entire point of the article. These are the very people who are at the track right now trying to do this workout and wondering why they aren't setting the world record in the 5000m.

    Anyway good points in the article and well written. I am going to do the workout now...

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  12. Anonymous11:20 AM

    Are you really Kenenisa Bekele? I have to say after reading the article, whis by the way is well written, that running in top level is a totally different thing than running below the top level. My 10k record (both road & track) is only 31.39, done after 3 years of training. I ran those results in 2006, when i was 31, and i started running in the age of 28. I'm from Finland, Northern Europe.

    I never trained hard, it was just my hobby that I liked very much. I never did hard repeats on track, the were around 65 and 66 secs. in 400 m and 29 secs in 200 m. I also did 1000 m repeats a lot, but they were pretty easy, only about 3.00 min./km. Actually I was never really tired even after my hardest exercises, they were pretty easy to go through indeed.

    Running is a great sport, and everyone should try it, no matter if they have gifts or not. It's all about starting as early as possible, and building the foundation to the later success. I think everyone who is able to run 10k in under 29 mins. is a champion, because there are so many million runners in the world, and only a handful of them can even go under 28 mins. in 10k.

    Running is a very special sport, and it will always be the number one sport worldwide, no matter what people say about it.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous10:03 PM

      If you could do that without trading hard you'd be one of the best in the world
      A 31 minute 10k is two 15:30 5Ks, you'd run in the 14 minutes for5k with hard training you'd be in the 13s, which is world class

      Delete

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