Run training of Kipchoge, Farah and Rudisha with Matt Fox of Sweat Elite | EP#195
Matt Fox is the founder of Sweat Elite. A website where you can learn about the habits, routines and training programs of the world's best runners and coaches, including Eliud Kipchoge, Mo Farah, David Rudisha, Renato Canova and Alberto Salazar.
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In this Episode you'll learn about:
- Similarities and patterns in the training and habits of the world's best runners.
- Are there any big differences or discrepancies in their methodologies?
- The mindset of Kipchoge, Farah and others: playful and not too serious in the day to day, but with a clear and strong long-term perspective.
- The Renato Canova training methodology: used by almost all marathoners to ever run sub-2:05.
- How the top runners and coaches use (or don't use) data in training and racing.
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What is Sweat Elite?
- Sweat Elite is a company about elite running training methods.
It starts at sprints all the way through to ultra marathon distance.
Most of the information is based around middle distance: 800m, 1500m, through to the marathon.
- It now also includes coaching, training plans and some training camps in Kenya.
These additional things came as a result of demand.
- The first two years it was predominantly just sharing elite running training methods and insight, which also included information on diet, strength training and altitude training.
- If you look at Eliud Kipchoge or Mo Farah and you want to know every aspect of their training, you could find that on the Sweat Elite website!
- The Sweat Elite is a surprisingly small team.
I started it myself three years ago, and it was just me and one other person at the time.
It's now five of us - myself, three people writing, and a programmer who does al the tech stuff.
I do all the marketing and social media, as well as manage the team.
- We are hoping to expand to triathlon at some point soon but haven't yet found the right person or people to help us do that.
- I'm a runner myself but I know a lot of triathletes.
Some listeners may remember Brad Kahlefeldt from Australia who was good in 2004-2012 - I lived with him for a while, and Jan Frodeno was also staying with us for some time.
Top commonalities among the world's best runners
- In triathlon, the running is predominantly aerobic.
- We've been studying training methods of runners from sprints all the way through the distances so the philosophies and training methods are obviously very different.
- Once thing I've noticed across the board that's similar amongst all elite athletes is that they all have almost playful and motivating training environments.
- They'll turn up for training and they'll have 5-10, or in Kipchoge's case 30-40 other athletes who are motivated as well.
They are in a sort of bubble where they are surrounded by athletes just as motivated as they are.
- They also tend to not take it too seriously.
For example, I was in Ethiopia earlier this year with Mo Farah at his training camp.
I was at the track before his session and he was kicking a football around with the guys in his training group. He was having a laugh, talking about Arsenal.
- It was similar when I went to train with David Rudisha (800m Olympic champion and World Record holder).
He had a similar environment, surrounded by motivated people who'd have a laugh before sessions and not take it too seriously.
- Kipchoge is the same and I've heard Usain Bolt is also very similar in that respect.
- I found this surprising - of course they trained very hard and they were very serious during the intervals, but they were having a good time still.
- I've also come to learn over time for long distance running how important long tempo running is.
- All the guys 10km through to marathon are all doing long thresholds or tempo running on a weekly basis.
- I was a middle distance runner (800-1600m) so the training was a little different, and I didn't realise how important that part of training was.
- I've seen runners in Australia and Europe who are on the cusp of being elite level, but I think don't do long enough tempo runs.
E.g. doing 25-30 minute tempo runs.
- Farah, Kipchoge etc are doing tempo runs that are at least an hour, even 2 hours+ with their heart rate at their anaerobic threshold.
- It's mentally very hard to train at a high level without any support or a group around you.
Spending time with elite running groups you see how easy it is for them to turn up to training because it is fun and motivating.
- About two years ago when Sweat Elite became popular, myself and a colleague went to Kenya and spent a month with Kipchoge's training group.
He does a long tempo run every Thursday alternating between 30km one week, and 40km the next one.
One 40km run they did it a lot slower than normal - it's usually 3:20-3:22/km up to 3:30-3:35km. This one week they did 3:45/km.
At the end we were surprised at why it was so slow, and we asked one of the athletes how it went, and they didn't seem to care!
They got the run done, it wasn't as good as usual but it didn't phase them in the slightest that that day wasn't as good as the week before.
They went inside, had a laugh and had their tea as they always did.
- People can get really hung up on training sessions if they don't do it the way they did previously, or aren't improving, but this just isn't visible in the elite groups.
It's more about turning up and getting the consistency in.
Elite athlete heritage
- I do think that African runners have the calmer, more chilled attitude as part of their heritage.
- I haven't spent a lot of time with European and Australian teams so I'm probably not the best person to ask this question to!
- When I was a semi-elite runner, the groups that I would train with were somewhat like I described above but nowhere near as much.
The environment was never as playful.
- I do think it's part of who they are and their heritage, but I can't be 100% sure!
Where do philosophies differ
- We publish study information on all events.
- Particularly middle distance events, there is quite a number of different philosophies for these events purely because of the energy systems - it's almost 50:50 anaerobic and aerobic.
There's a number of different schools of thought about how much 400m speed you need to run a fast 800m.
- There's the Lydiard approach which suggests a whole lot of mileage then sharpen up just before the peak race - your aerobic system carries you through.
- The other school of thought that's more based on 400m speed.
- When you go up the 5km, 10km, half marathon, marathon, the person's name who comes to mind is Renato Canova which seems to be the best method we've come across.
- His method is based on training at the right pace, and slowly over time extending that pace out until you can run almost the whole distance in training at very close to your race pace.
- As opposed to Lydiard who would continue to run a long way off race pace but build your aerobic capacity on slower running.
- If you were trying to run a 3-hour marathon (4:15/km), following Canova's method you'd be trying to run 2-3 times a week around that pace.
- Whereas following a Lydiard method you'd be running 4:45-5/km and doing longer runs - quickly getting up to 35km, and then shortening them and coming closer to race pace towards the event.
- Lydiard's method does absolutely work for some people, but looking at the top 50 times run by male and female's in the marathon and half marathon it's amazing how many are advised by Renato Canova.
- Eliud Kipchoge isn't coached by him but he's coached by Patrick Sang, who is friends with Canova and they share the same method.
- We came to realise that that method was the most successful for the elites.
- However, that method may not be the best for an amateur because it may cause injury - it's tough on the body.
A lot of these good runners have been training for a long time before they really tackled this method properly.
- There is not a lot of philosophy clashing among the very elite athletes.
- If you take it down to the sub-elite, there seems to be a lot of different ideas.
Mindset of the top runners
- The number one thing is not taking it too seriously.
- Most of the top guys have a number of very clear goals in their mind.
It sounds obvious and easy to do but it's worth point out.
- We spent time with David Rudisha and his coach Brother Colm kept telling us how desperate and motivated David was to win the Olympics and break the 800m World Record.
He was so fixated on achieving this thing that he didn't let it go. He failed to reach the level he wanted in 2010 or 2011, but then in 2012 he broke the record and won the Olympics at the same time.
- Mo Farah was the same leading up to the Olympics when he won the double at London, he wanted to win in front of his home crowd.
- Eliud Kipchoge desperately wanted to win to 2016 Olympics for the marathon, and then wanted to break 2 hours for the marathon.
- These guys have very clear cut goals. There's no 'I'm going to hope for the best'.
They may appear like that sometimes - I think maybe they don't want to sound too arrogant.
I know in their minds they are very clear on what they want to achieve.
- I don't see that a lot amongst people in general that are trying to do something.
- Some people might not be sure about what they want to achieve - they might just want to finish an Ironman or marathon and that's fine as well.
However the mindset of the elites is very similar and they are very clear on what they want.
- They are also all very good at listening to their bodies in training and if they have a problem they deal with it very quickly.
They'll pull it back or drop their mileage as needed, or take days off to deal with niggles.
- You have to be training extremely hard to achieve the things they achieve - you have to have their workload on you, but they're able to be aware when something feels off.
- They have a very long term perspective to their training and improvement.
Amateurs often set more short term goals, whereas elites may have goals that last an entire Olympic cycle which gives them time to execute it properly.
- It's about playing the long term game.
Training intensity distributions
- Canova's training is in a way polarised, and in a way not - it depends which way you look at it.
He does prescribe 2-3 very hard workouts in a week, and adds in 1-2 progressive runs.
- Progressive runs aren't a session but they aren't an easy run. They tend to be 10-25km, starting at an easy pace and progressing to close to anaerobic threshold in the last 10-5km.
- In the training programme there also are a lot of 'easy' 40-60 minute runs, so take the progressive runs out and it looks quite polarised!
- Canova is also good at making sure the athlete listens to their body.
- One time when I was in Kenya I spoke with Sondre Moen (previous European marathon record holder).
He is trained by Canova and said he would have a rough plan ahead of them but always willing to adjust it depending on how Sondre was feeling.
If he woke up and did an easy shake out run of 30-40 minutes at 6am and they had another session planned for 2pm but Sondre didn't feel right, they'd do an easy to moderate run and push the other session forwards.
I think that's really important across the board when training for any endurance event.
- These athletes have been training so much for so long that they're able to handle 2-3 very hard workouts in a week and 2-3 moderate-hard progressive runs.
If you gave that to someone who started running 3 years ago it's a recipe for a stress fracture or tendonitis immediately.
- We do try and point out in our articles that this isn't necessarily the best way for everyone, it's just the way the elites are doing it.
Canova also points this out a lot when he writes for Just Run.
Speed work above anaerobic threshold
- Canova's philosophy seems to include at least one session a week of intervals faster than anaerobic threshold.
It's from what he calls 108-115% of marathon pace. Normally close to 5-10km pace.
They may be 400m, 600m, 1km repeats.
- That session tends to be on the track, and the total volume can be between 8-12km worth of intervals.
I've seen lots of examples of his sessions there doesn't seem to be a staple 2-3.
I've seen 25x400m, 10x1km, different distance in the session so 5x1km then 10x400m in the same session.
The recovery always tends to be 200m jog, often not timed.
Maximal exertion - Eliud Kipchoge
- I've comment in articles that Eliud Kipchoge never seems to be maximally exerted even in these really hard sessions.
- I actually think it's unique to him because Farah trains very hard.
I've never asked him the question 'do you push yourself to the limit in training' but it certainly appears that he does.
- David Rudisha definitely does - he trains very hard 1-2 times a week to the point where he's lying on his back for 5 minutes after the last rep.
- NN running team have mentioned a few times on their social channels that Eliud doesn't push himself to the limit.
It was quoted on instagram when asked if the athletes in Kipchoge's group do 100% in training and they said 'no they limit at 90% and save the rest for the race'.
- When we watched him train across track sessions, interval sessions, tempo runs, he works very hard but we never saw him red line.
After ever last effort he was able to jog straight away, which tells you he's not at his limit.
- We've learnt since starting this website that there's definitely not one way to do anything - some ideas suit some athletes where not others.
- Some coaches say being more flexible has helped their athletes, but Kipchoge is one of the least flexible people I've ever seen.
Strength & conditioning
- This is probably the space that is the most varied.
- Kipchoge's camp do not do any strength training in the 12 weeks leading into the marathon.
Although it sounds like they're doing a little bit of core work now which is new to them.
- In terms of strength, they do a block of weight training before their specific period starts (final 12 weeks).
They do around 6-8 weeks, training 2-3 times per week in the gym.
They do light weight work, general strength.
- Mo Farah does really heavy weights - or at least did when he was doing 5-10km and was training with Alberto Salazar.
He would spend 2 sessions a week in the gym, doing heavy squats, calf raises with weights, plyometrics etc.
- Rudisha's group did very little strength work which was surprising as he was such a quick shorter distance runner.
They did a bit of plyometric work, but not using weights.
- Some other top athletes that I know of do very heavy lifting whereas some don't do any at all, so it's really varied and I've never found a pattern with.
Some things work for some people and not for others.
- Flexibility wise it's similar.
Kipchoge's group did a little of it, Rudisha's group did quite a bit, and Farah's group I'm not sure.
- Again it's pretty varied! It seems to be very individual.
Using data in training
- I personally like data and I understand why it's so helpful.
- In Kenya and Ethiopia though, a lot of the athletes don't even wear a watch let alone a heart rate monitor or measuring lactate.
They run purely on feel, and that really works for them.
- I personally went through a lengthy period in the middle of my career where I didn't race very well.
I ran my PB in 800m at 21, and then plateau'd for a few years.
- I went over to Europe and raced a lot of African's when I was over there.
One thing that became very clear was how clueless the African's were about their splits and how fast they were running.
All they wanted to do was win the race.
- It made me realise how powerful this can be, and also how detrimental it can be when you're in the middle of a race and you're looking at your splits thinking that's too fast, or too slow etc.
- Tracking data intensely can be good in many ways, but I've noticed in the elite African's that they don't really track it at all.
- Looking at Kipchoge preparing for the sub-2 hour marathon attempt, yes there is data being tracked because they're doing testing for a number of things.
But in general, when he's preparing for a normal marathon they do very little tracking of data.
- He has a GPS watch and he takes note of his pace and he has goals for his training pace wise.
But when they're running tempo runs they don't look at their splits too much or get hung up on it.
I doubt they have a clue what their heart rate is doing!
- Farah, Rudisha and a lot of other good athletes that have come out of Africa are similar and spend very little time tracking and thinking about data.
- When you move over to the US and Europe it's different purely because of the culture.
There is a bit more tracking, but there's definitely something to be said for running free.
- In some regards it can restrict you - as a deep sub-conscious mental thing.
If you're looking at your heart rate all the time and your pace relative to your heart rate you can almost lose track of running how you feel.
- The best elites are focused on winning and beating as many people as possible, which can stop some of the mental games and mean you can unleash and get the best out of yourself.
- I do know of groups in Australia such as the Melbourne Track Club, who have Olympic representatives, do a little tracking of heart rate in threshold runs but try and run free more.
- I'm not saying being into the data isn't the best way to do things but this is what I've noticed amongst the elites.
- Canova tends to use percentage of race pace - long runs tend to be at 90-95% of marathon pace.
He also might use a goal pace - so 10km pace, 5km pace etc.
I think this is common across other coaches too.
- Some do prescribe a threshold run - so it won't be at a certain pace it'll be at that lactate threshold pace.
Most top athletes know how to do this without using a heart rate monitor of GPS watch, they just know how it feels.
- Some other coaches may prescribe just based on a time.
E.g. 10x1km with 1min rests, trying to run them in 2:50.
That may be their 10km pace but they might not call it that.
- I coach a lot of people at the moment and tend to like prescribing based on a goal pace.
E.g. 5x1km at 10km pace, 10x400m at 5km pace.
That pace will be their goal pace that year.
Sweat Elite training plans
- Most of the training plans we have are based on Canova methods, just really dialled down and not so intense.
- We don't tend to add in so much of the progressive runs, but I am a fan of them for people who can handle the volume.
- We generally prescribe based on percentage of race pace or a goal pace.
- We tend to give people an option in the plans - e.g. 6-10x1km, and it'll say it depends where you are on your own running journey.
- The long runs are still pretty much the same, they're close to goal marathon pace in the marathon training plan but might not be quite as long as Canova has his elites do.
- For people who have been running for 5+ years they might be able to do the 40km+ runs, otherwise you'd want to top out at 34-35km.
Normally we'd say the first 1-2km would be a warm up, then up until half way you'd be doing 80-85% of goal marathon pace.
If your goal marathon pace is 4min/km, that's roughly 4:30-4:30 for the first half.
You then want to get down to 90-95% of your goal marathon pace progressively in the final 15km - 4:15-4:10/km.
If you feel good and able to handle it, try and run at your goal marathon pace for the last 5km.
- The training plans are $39, and the value is giving people structure.
It includes a lot of tips and motivational quotes and information within the plan from elite athletes.
- They are quite popular, particularly the marathon one and from what I understand people have raced quite well off it.
Kenya running experience
- We created a camp/tour - which is what the Kenya running experience is - is because a lot of people just didn't want to go out there on their own.
They didn't know how to get there or where to stay etc.
- I've met many elite runners that are based in Kenya so I'm able to ask them to come and sit with us at a cafe and have a Q&A, which is a big part of the experience.
We try and do at least five of them per week.
Sondre Moen and Julien Wanders joined us on the last one, and Brother Colm has done as well.
- Being a coach myself I also create the training plan that week.
It's quite loosely structured so people can choose to do their own training if they want too.
- We do a tempo run together on Tuesday, and interval session on Thursday and a long run at the weekend.
- If you are thinking about running in Kenya and you want to do it yourself I'd also recommend doing that, and there's a great article on our website (Sweat Elite guide to training in Kenya) that can point you in the right direction.
- The next one of our camps is closed now as it's starting in a few weeks but we'll do another mid next year.
We've been doing one per year but may increase it to two per year soon.
- If you want to live like a local in Kenya it's tough!
We stay at the high altitude training centre, which is by far the highest quality hotel in that area by far but it's probably the equivalent to a 3-start hotel in Europe.
It has a very good gym, track and pool.
Outside of that you'll struggle to find a hot shower and may sleep on a very uncomfortable bed!
Matt's top 3 articles on Sweat Elite
- Eliud Kipchoge - Outsiders
It's written by my colleague Tate who spent a month with me training with Kipchoge.
It's an article about the lifestyle of people who train with Kipchoge who haven't quite made the elite level yet.
They don't have sponsors or funding, but they turn up everyday to train with Kipchoge's group anyway.
We spent quite a lot of time with those guys who live on $2-3 a day. They have very little and often have to do jobs like shine shoes or farming during the day just to get by.
They're doing everything they can to get up to Kipchoge's level.
- Eliud Kipchoge - Full Training Log Leading up to Marathon World Record Attempt
This one is just fascinating to see how impressive his training is and how much he's able to handle.
- Training for a Sub 2:05 Marathon
It's basically an article about Ronato Canova's philosophy in detail.
If you look at the sub 2:05 marathon results of all time, something like 92% were either coached by or influenced in some way by Canova.
Rapid Fire Questions
- What is your favourite book, blog or resource related to running or endurance sports?
- What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success?
- The ten minute rule - if you don't feel like doing anything do it just for ten minutes and then your brain will trick you and realise you can do it for longer. It works well with running.
- Putting goals in public.
- Who is somebody in running or endurance sports that you look up to?
- It's hard to go past Eliud Kipchoge because of what he's doing for the sport.
- As this is a triathlon podcast, spending 5 months living with Jan Frodeno before he won the Olympics was very special, and I do really look up to him.
- There are patterns and similarities, but there is not one single right answer.
These African runners run 100km per week from young teenage years which means they can handle this massive training load of both volume and intensity.
They do a lot more hard or moderately hard running that usual polarised training - which shows we should never approach training with a dogmatic, formulaic view.
- If you've got a massive base of running maybe you can handle this and polarised training might not be for you.
- If you want to run a sub 2:05 marathon it seems 30-40km tempo runs are the way forwards!
- We can learn a lot from the elites and model some things, but we shouldn't anything.
- Remember training is individual.
- Also the mindset of these great running champions is so important - not taking training too seriously or getting hung up on sessions.
Race day is where is matters, and the training leading up to it is going through the process to get there.
- The long term approach is vital - these runners have clear long term goals, and perspective to listen to their body and rest when needed.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with Matt Fox
Connect with host Mikael Eriksson
Hi! I'm your host Mikael,
I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.
I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show.
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