UK Endurance Coaching insights
“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere”
That Chinese proverb I thought especially relevant to an event where the ethos was of everyone always learning no matter how experienced or relatively new to coaching or running any of us were.
The UK Endurance Conference event was for athletes and coaches of all abilities and levels of experience. Organised by Keith Scofield, this was their 4th event and 2nd in the North. I’ll definitely be attending others. Why? Well the quality of the speakers was top class overall. Chatting to fellow coaches and athletes was actively encouraged by building in regular breaks between each speaker slot – that networking was always natural and never forced. The format was an hour speaker slot followed by a 30 minute break (longer for dinner which was included in the £16.50 fee). Overall, superb value for money.
The advertised speaker line up was as follows:
Jessica Piasecki – GB International runner & Lecturer in Exercise Physiology
John Wood and Iraitz Arrospide – Sheffield based story from non runner to 2:10 marathon runner
Duncan Mason -Former Team GB physio, Physio lecturer published in running biomechanics & Head coach Salford Harriers juniors.
Paul Roden – Middle-distance athletics coach at Sale Harriers Manchester & ex GB international on track, cross country and road
My running mate Jon had put me onto this and I’m very grateful indeed he did. It was held on Saturday 29 Feb at University of Salford. Easily accessible by public transport I took the opportunity of running to the train station to get some miles in. With clean extra layers in my ultra pack – so as to not offend fellow attendees with sweaty post-run gear – I set off looking forward to a fulfilling day. That was immediately put to the test by near gale force winds and hail on my run to the train. Thinking I could change layers on the train while still warm I was gutted to then hear ‘The 08:45… is cancelled.” FFS not only was I going to have to wait another 30 mins, it was going to get increasingly cold on the train platform. I was glad of those extra layers to change into and I was past caring if that was acceptable to do in the shelter! I finally warmed up properly once I’d been at the event about 45 mins btw 🙂 Anyway, enough of my rambling…
So below are my notes / key takeaways from an excellent day:
Speaker 1: Jessica Piasecki
GB International runner & Lecturer in Exercise Physiology
The focus of Jess’s talk was nutrition, with particular attention paid to carbs and protein. I’d have liked to have heard more about fats too but still learned so much from Jess regarding a healthy balanced intake. She highlighted, through sharing her personal experience, how critical this is at a young age – for health bone and muscle development and for reducing the risk of Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome (red-s). red-s has thankfully seen so much awareness raised through the tragic experiences of athletes like Mary Cain who have bravely voiced their experiences.
I’m no nutritionist so am not going to offer any interpretations at all – to do so would be inappropriate and potentially harmful. Below is simply the notes I made from what Jess said. She kindly followed this up by sharing two nutrition packs which are available below.
Carbs & Protein
Carbs stop the bones being broken down through exercise.
Protein helps build and repair tissues. During hard exercise, 6% of fuel required comes from protein.
The right nutrition intake helps with injury prevention – which in turn helps consistency of training – which in turn helps improvement and performance.
For Carb intake:
At low intensity exercise 3x p/week, it is recommended to consume 5-7g per kg of body weight.
For example, for a 55kg female athlete this would be about 92g carbs per meal.
At high intensity (up to 120 miles p/week) it is recommended to consume 12g per kg of body weight.
For example, for a 55kg female athlete this would be 220g carbs per meal.
For Protein intake:
At low intensity exercise 3x p/week, it is recommended to consume 1.2g per kg of body weight.
For example, for a 55kg female athlete this would be about 22g protein per meal.
At high intensity (up to 120 miles p/week) it is recommended to consume 1.7g per kg of body weight.
For example, for a 55kg female athlete this would be 31g protein per meal.
* A vegan needs 1.5 times more protein as recommended above. Proteins are harder for the body to digest. Jess also recommended vegan runners take calcium supplement tablets.
Jess briefly talked us through some studies comparing diets. The conclusion was that High Carb, Low Fat diet performed best in the compared studies. This is where I’d have liked to have learned more about fats because there is a risk that people take this study comparison literally and start to avoid fats. I won’t be giving up nuts and seeds at any point soon 🙂
Young athletes should be eating every 2 hours. This will help body efficiency of processing nutrients. It also avoids stress hormones building through the day. Approaching this correctly will help the body become efficient a nutrient absorption, thereby making training and recovery more effective.
Jess made a critical and common sense recommendation for getting the right nutritional intake post-exercise. This consisted of a protein and carb snack immediately after the session. E.g. a peanut butter sandwich, or chicken sandwich, or protein shake with oats and banana.
That should be followed by eating your normal evening tea (or dinner if you prefer).
Athletes should also ensure they drink up to 1 pint of water immediately post run. Regardless of whether it is summer or winter. Simple hydration like this is extremely important to recovery through post-run hydration.
Very simple. A minimum of 8 hours per night is recommended. This again, helps with an bone growth, muscle recovery – as well as general well-being. It also helps the body and mind more effective at dealing with any stress. If you’ve ever read Adharanand Finn’s “Running With The Kenyons” you’ll understand the importance they attach to sleep!
For any busy adult trying to get the right nutrition, for themselves and/or their kids as a junior athlete, prepping meals in advance helps massively with this.
Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome (red-s) is a very serious issue in sport. Thankfully athletes are now speaking out about their experiences – female and male. And a growing body of academic research, led by Mountjoy et al., (2014).
The key points Jess made were: (i) Be aware of the red-s traffic light system developed by Mountjoy et al., (2014). See image below for summary table; (ii) Do not forget male athletes because this applies to them too; (iii) Try to find a way of raising awareness of healthy nutrition without making weight etc to be an issue – see link to Mary Cain piece below as to why this is point is so critical; (iv) The menstrual cycle will affect the training of athletes and their ability to perform; (v) As a coach, speak to parents to ask is it okay for you to ever mention any of this with their kids?
Some useful links on red-s and associated areas:
FITR Woman site with link to apps (period tracker for smarter training)
For a range of research by Mountjoy on red-s click here.
Speaker 2: John Wood
Coach to Spaniard elite athlete and Olympic hopeful Iraitz Arrospide
This was to the athlete and coach story of progressing from non runner to 2:10 marathon runner. However, poor John Wood had to deliver this on his own due to Iraitz having been taken on a surprise holiday by his wife. So what he did was talk us through the weekly training schedule for Iraitz – who is now an elite athlete hoping to qualify for the Spanish marathon team at the now postponed 2020 Olympics. I can’t really do this justice because Iraitz wasn’t present. What was interesting was that his weekly schedule consisted of:
Tempo (75% max heart rate, e.g. run at same pace for 15 mins and not be shattered at the end)
Short reps (in Iraitz’s case this is 400m – 2k)
Long reps (in Iraitz’s case this is 2k – 5k)
2 track sessions per week will be included in this training
Based on the above, one of Iraitz’s favourite sessions is 5x 4k with 1 min recovery between reps!!! Remember this is an elite marathon runner we’re talking here so do not replicate that at home!
Listening to John, it was obvious how important the easy run is to the overall health of Iraitz and the effectiveness of his training. If he isn’t recovered through his weekly easy run and rest, he will not get the best of out his harder sessions.
You can follow Iraitz Arrospide on Instagram.
Speaker 3 Duncan Mason
Former Team GB physio, Physio lecturer published in running biomechanics & Head coach Salford Harriers juniors
This was fascinating talk! Duncan is a physio with specialist running expertise. His session incorporated highly informative points, mixed in demonstrations of key exercises and I’ve since agreed with him that he’ll train myself and fellow coaches at Rochdale Harriers to do the same tests that he does for his Salford Harriers athletes.
Duncan mainly trains the juniors and his ethos is very much that social engagement (through the sessions) is the most important aspect of what they do. Get that right and you increase the likelihood of keeping them as senior athletes. If you combine the kind of training he embeds in his session, they are far more likely to be healthy and strong athletes with good running form and reduced risk of injury.
Flexibility, Strength and Agility are key to success. That applies to any age not just juniors! So we can all learn and I myself have begun to incorporate Duncan’s recommended exercises into my weekly routine!
Duncan highlighted how gait and foot strike are so important to running efficiency. For example cadence should be between 172-176 or higher (strikes per minute). A higher cadence helps reduce the load and helps with injury prevention. A cadence of below the 170s is an injury risk to to excessive loading per foot strike. By way of example, my cadence now tends to be in 180s and (touch wood) I’ve had a sustained period of injury free running now and am improving again as a result.
The step width when running should be narrow. So whereas when you walk, your feet will often land roughly hip width apart; when you run the insides of each foot should be kissing either side of the line. So imagine the line of the track lane. Inside of your right foot touches the right outside of the line. Inside of your left foot touches the left outside of the line.
Your trunk should be leaning forward about 10 – 15 degrees. This helps with balance, centre of gravity and momentum. You should be running tall and strong though, rather than stooping.
Arms help generate momentum, particularly for cadence. Move your arms at the desired cadence and your legs will follow. Also, your arms should be propelling forwards and back, using your shoulder socket. They should not be swinging across your body side to side. Arms pumping in front and behind you in a straight line help ensure your energies are propelled forward. For more on how correct arm usage will generate efficient speed, read this masterclass article by Michael Johnson. This YouTube clip also gives useful stark example of how side to side arms will waste valuable energy.
Foot strike should be below your centre of gravity. This helps running economy, prevents over-striding, is easier on your joints.
Duncan uses a series of screening tests for his athletes. These are conducted on a regular basis in order to identify potential weaknesses. In addressing these regularly, there is a focus on injury prevention and efficient running economy. It also embeds the discipline of these important elements into all of his athletes. This is why I approached him to train myself and 5 other coaches at Rochdale Harriers so we could do the same for our athletes. He kindly agreed 🙂 He also explained that runners tend to exercise the quads more than the hamstrings, yet it’s the hamstrings which generate the forward propulsion. Similarly most tend to focus on the gastroc calf muscle, yet it’s the soleus calf muscle that is used more for endurance running. So working on these will really pay off, no matter what your age or running experience.
The beauty of these is that the test is the exercise in itself. So if you want to improve to the target number of reps – or maintain it – you simply do the test. Here is a brief summary, with a link to a useful YouTube clip for each:
Knee to wall test: 8-10cm is normal range. If less, you need to work on this by doing the test.
Hamstring length test (you can use iphone Measure app to help evaluate)
Side Plank: Target time is 2 minutes on each side
Hamstring Capacity: Target is 50 reps each leg. (I’m currently managing 35 so more work needed!)
Single Leg Glute Bridge: Target is 50 reps each leg.
Calf Capacity Gastroc (using straight leg): Target is 30 reps each leg.
Calf Capacity Soleus (using bent knee): Target is 30 reps each leg.
Remember that to improve strength or flexibility in any of these areas, you simply need to do the test in the form of an exercise, as per recommended targets.
The final key take away from Duncan’s talk was that of reloading after injury. So:
Frequency: Build to maximum – do not start with successive daily runs
Intensity: Speed – go slower and build up speed gradually
Volume: E.g. if out of action for 3 months, start with a very patient couch to 5k type of build up. You cannot expect to be at your previous training volume.
I’ve had personal experience of this from an ongoing thigh injury in 2019 and it was only with proper reloading that I was able to return to regular running. The reloading programme I was given by the sports physio was so gradual it was frustrating. But it worked and that’s the key!
Speaker 4: Paul Roden
Middle-distance athletics coach at Sale Harriers Manchester & ex GB international on track, cross country and road
Paul was our final speaker of the day and he did not disappoint. I’ve since been in touch with Paul and he’s also been very helpful in sharing his training insights. His talk was based on what he’s learned as a coach, plus what he wished he’d known when he was a younger athlete himself. Interestingly, Paul sends his athletes to Duncan to help prevent them getting injuries. Prevention ahead of cure. Here are my key notes from his presentation.
For juniors aged 15-17, training will mainly focus on base speed and speed endurance.
Tempo runs as part of a training plan are the key to your body adapting to speed endurance over time.
Mileage should be progressive as athletes age, per week and per year. You can then make year on year comparison and use this to for training plans and race planning.
Running volume, quality and intensity are core principles of his training.
Any session includes drills. These drills should be the same routine every single time. That applies to training and to races. Think of it as being akin to the warm-up routines you see elite athletes doing. World-class tennis players doing. They all have their set ways of warming up and getting race/match ready. Paul’s use of drills follows this principle. So any session/race will be as follows:
Gentle warm up, walk/run drills, strides, faster strides, run, warm down. Train/Race. Warm down.
I’ve since made a proper list of varied drills that I now use myself and with the juniors and seniors I coach. Drills are so important to activating key muscles (or groups) prior to running. Again, this helps get the most out of any session and helps reduce injury risk.
Cross training is a big help, especially after injury due to the reduced impact. Cross training is an ideal way to introduce double training days. E.g. for an 18 year old, a 3k cross trainer session on the same day as a 5k or 10k is a good way of transitioning to double days.
Weights (for strength not bulk) are important to 18-20+ age range. Helps with running form especially when fatigue is starting to set in.
For every training session, Paul confirms with the athletes what the purpose of that session is. I’ve taken this on and am communicating that and the associated benefits to their running.
For races it is important to plan for and work around key races. For example with his juniors, Paul agrees which is priority out of Cross Country Nationals, Inter-Counties, Schools. Only one can be priority to achieve maximum performance in that chosen race. Not all three. Seniors should use the same principle for their key races, be the a local 5k, a major 10k, a team relay etc.
Endurance maintenance is crucial to getting mileage back in after a key race. So it is important to get back to mileage and to gradually build up pace sessions again prior to the next key race in the season.
After a big race (10k, half marathon, XC) run easy the next day. Do this for next 2-3 days. You should only return to running properly (harder/faster) on day 4 or 5 after that big race. Failing to wait until then will simply increase your chances of injury or risk fatigue setting in.
What else did I learn and gain?
Coaches and runners are generally a very friendly bunch. I made several really useful contacts at the event and have been in touch since. (Duncan and Paul are just two examples of that.) Several of us have been sharing insights to help each other since. This wider network is great for swapping ideas, experiences, tips.
More Northern events are being planned as we speak and I look forward to attending!
The whole thing made such a nice change from many industry events over the years. So I found myself exchanging email addresses, Twitter and Facebook details with several attendees. All with no obligation and without anyone looking to sell me anything.
Excellent all round and I’d highly recommend you attend one near you, whether you are a coach or you just run. You will definitely learn something that will benefit you.
Phew! That was a bit of a marathon post. I hope you’ve found the whole thing, or parts of it really useful. Please share with any athletes or coaches you think would benefit. 🙂