Wednesday, November 10, 2021

More Al Berrin wisdom...


Tidbit #1 – Patience and Consistency

Athletes and coaches all want success to happen today. It is important to take the long term view for your athletes and realize that if you can keep them healthy and running, their success will be greater in the long run than if you push the envelope and have your athletes missing large chunks of training time because of injury. If you bring athletes along slowly, your 24 minute starting freshman should improve close to 20 minutes by the end of the freshman cross country season. If that same freshman makes it to their senior year, they probably will improve to 16:30 because they have trained consistently and increased their volume and intensity appropriately without too many injury breaks in training.

If you have 10 guys running 16:30 as seniors with a bunch of juniors between 17 minutes and 17:30, Sophomores in the 18:30’s, you will be successful at all levels and will avoid the prospect of feast and famine years. It’s true, you will have years when everything comes together, you have a group of superior athletes, willing to make the necessary sacrifices and all of the stars line up properly. But, patience and consistency insure you will be competitive, even in those years when the talent pool seems to be thin, you have to chase those athletes hiding in the bushes because they don’t want to work that hard and the stars are misaligned.

Tidbit # 2 – Goals are important to set

In conjunction with our athletes, we try to set goals (both realistic and ones they might need to reach for) for each season.

We set weekly mileage goals and work out both “realistic” and “reach” goals for each athlete. We set these goals based on last year’s mile times (for cross country). We project track mile times based on our athletes best time on Crystal Springs Cross country course and set paces for track based on possible mile goals. We use various charts (Irv Ray’s charts, Jack Daniels charts and Gerry Purdy’s charts) to help pinpoint goals and paces.

This allows us to set paces for each athlete which are appropriate for that athlete and will not have those running paces be too intense for their current abilities. It also allows us to work with goal pace workouts and date pace workouts. Goal paces are the paces you hope they will be running by the end of the season. Date paces are paces which are appropriate based on the athlete’s current fitness level and conditioning. You might want the athlete to be running 4:20 by the end of the season, but currently they are able to run 4:35 in February. You can plan workouts that take into account both date and goal paces.

Our cross country teams average about 70 athletes and I have 65 distance runners during track. Each athlete has their own goals and their own paces. We group athletes with similar goals for tempo, VO2max and anaerobic workouts and make sure they are adhering to the paces which are appropriate for their developmental level.

Tidbit #3 – Transitions kill - Every surface, Every pace, Every shoe, Every terrain, Every Week

Transitions increase the chance of injury. When people first heard about Arthur Lydiard’s program of Base, Hills, and Speed, they assumed during the base period, you do nothing but mileage, then change to hills during the hill phase. People who tried the program would get through the base period and get hurt when they jumped into the hill phase.

I try to get rid of as many transitions as possible. We try and get the kids to train over every possible surface and terrain right from the first week of practice. We get them to wear every shoe they will be in during the year including spikes, during some part of workouts in the course of a week. There will be more discussion of “every pace” in tidbit #6.

Tidbit #4 – Focus on percentages in planning your workouts

The biggest mistake most coaches make when they are trying to peak their athletes is in changing the percentages of different kinds of training they do.

The traditional method of peaking athletes is to increase the intensity as you get closer to the goal race and also cut the volume. This can increase the percentage of intensity to volume.

Most coaches instinctively plan their seasons and each week with a variety of paces and intensities but don’t actually attach percentages to these different paces and intensities.

When planning each week, I break down different kinds of training into percentages.

Long run 20-30% of weekly miles

Tempo runs 10% of weekly miles per workout (If you do 2 tempo runs during the week, each one is 10% of weekly miles)

VO2max runs 8% of weekly miles (this was from Jack Daniels)

Anaerobic runs 5% of weekly miles (also from Jack Daniels)

Speed (sprints, Accelerations) – 1-2% of weekly miles (Irv Ray)

If you do try and peak your athletes, keep these percentages in line with your weekly miles, so the ratio of weekly miles to intensity does not increase. If you change the percentages, your athlete’s chance of injury increases.

Tidbit #5 – Don’t peak your athletes

I have gone to countless clinics in the last 15 years. One of the questions I always ask is how the speakers “peak” their athletes. After they explain their system, I ask them what percentage of all their seasons has been successful at peaking athletes at the right time. With additional questioning, most admit peaking is a little bit elusive. It is always one of the first and most popular questions at most clinics because most coaches are looking for ways to improve their current peaking technique.

Most coaches are pretty good throughout the season at getting their athletes to the part of the season where we want to peak them. It occurred to me at some point that if I simply followed the KISS principle (Keep it simple stupid) and continue doing the same program throughout the season, the kids might continue having success and improvement when they race. We do cut the volume a little, but we continue doing the same thing that made us successful in the first place.

Tidbit #6 – A little goes a long way

Many coaches beat a dying horse. If they are doing a VO2max workout, they feel they need to make sure the athlete spends a large portion of the workout “feeling” VO2max. I believe you can “touch” a training zone more lightly and still accomplish the aim of the workout. Lyle Knudson, physiologist and author, in discussing some workouts he saw Kenyans running stated that in the course of a 10 mile run, they might spend a mile (1 tenth of the workout) running at their goal pace. If it works for them, it might also work for our athletes.

I prefer to try and hit as many “training zones” as possible within a specific workout. I might start a workout having athletes run their first 2 intervals at 80% of their VO2 max, The third one might be at 83%, then 2 at 85%, 1 at 88% and 1 at 10K pace (92%). I covered 5-6 “training zones” in this workout, including touching the upper levels that were my goal for this workout. Because we are hitting the faster paces late in the workout, we actually are probably slopping into some anaerobic zones and also doing some lactate buffering. I had them in the training zone I wanted when they are tired. My feeling is that excessive intensity enhances the chance of injury. If I can lower the odds of injury which will interrupt training, by lowering the intensity, my athletes will thrive because they are more consistent in their training. My feeling is that any injury is a stumbling block to maximum improvement.

Tidbit #7 – Better to undertrain than overtrain (thank you Bill Bowerman)

Injuries can occur not only because of intensity of training, they also can occur because of excessive volume. If your athlete has been running 20 miles a week, and suddenly jump to 60 miles a week, their chance of injury increases exponentially.

We look at our athlete’s volume, based on a 50 week a year program (Irv Ray). If your athlete says they are running 30 miles a week, they are probably telling you their highest mileage week, or what they did during the entire season. Look at their mileage based on a full year (50 weeks). An athlete who ran really well last year might have covered 500 miles in the course of the 12 week cross country season. That’s 41 miles a week.

They decided not to run track and didn’t do much during the season (didn’t play lacrosse, go out for baseball or play soccer on a club team).

After your meeting in June, they got gung ho again and ran 500 miles during the summer. Which group should you place them in mileage wise? From September to September, they ran a total of 1000 miles. Divide that by 50 weeks and they actually averaged 20 miles a week for the entire year. If you put them in a group averaging 40-50 miles a week, you might be enhancing their chance of missing training time because of overuse injuries. They might be ready for 35-40 miles a week, but you need to watch them very closely to make sure the miles a week they are doing is appropriate for their level of fitness.

The same thing is true for athletes who did other sports in the spring. Our natural progression for athletes who do both track and cross country is to try to increase weekly miles about 10 miles a week per year. Some athletes might even be able to handle a little more than that, but that is a safe margin of increase. Athletes, who do another sport in the spring, are a little more difficult to assess. There are benefits to an athlete doing other sports in the spring (its killing me to even say this), but when they re-enter the running world, the coach needs to be very careful when they assign a weekly mileage goal to that athlete. Possibly assign a number of miles for the spring season based on how much running they actually do in the sport. For instance, you might assign more miles to an athlete playing lacrosse than you do to an athlete playing baseball. But the important thing is to get some yardstick based on how many miles they ran during the entire previous year when you are assigning weekly miles for the season.

Tidbit #8 – Keep records

Memory is a tricky devil. Many times we remember what we want to remember and forget what we want to forget (except for Peter Brewer who remembers everything ever done). Those people who have run a marathon realize how faulty memory can be. When you finish, the first words that usually escape your lips are “I will never do that again”. Yet there you are, eight months later, standing on the line with 26 miles stretching before you.

If you don’t write down what you wanted to do, what you actually did, and how your athletes reacted to a workout, you will forget when it comes time to assess how successful that workout and the entire season went. You will forget important things that would really help you make changes, so your program will be more successful in the future.

At the end of every season, I try and do an evaluation of what we did right and what needs to be improved. Both are important. Nobody gets every season perfect and so change is inevitable. Without something in black and white, our memories might forget an important detail that could dramatically change the results of a coming season.

I’m sure there are hundreds of other potential tidbits out there just waiting to be discovered. Tidbits on warm ups and cool downs, The emotional and psychological end of training is a vast wasteland of tidbits. As coaches, we are always “borrowing” things that we think will enhance and improve our programs. Hopefully, someone can use some of these tidbits to avoid some mistakes, keep from doing everything the hard way, and actually get more things right, more often.

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