LISTEN TO THE EPISODE HERE:
In this Episode you'll learn about:
- The mental aspects of running and endurance sports
- Training volume and training intensity distribution
- Threshold training
- Training monitoring
- Differences between fast-twitch and slow-twitch dominant athletes
- Training for time-crunched athletes
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- My name is Hugo van den Broek and I am 43 years old, I currently live in Kenya since 12 years back but originally I am from the Netherlands.
I used to be an elite runner specializing in the half marathon and marathon distance but ended my career 6 years ago, at the age of 37.
I have ran 63mins at the half marathon and 2h12mins in the marathon.
- Towards the end of my career I got the chance to try acting as a coach and I ended up really loving the coach aspect of the sport, before then I had never really thought about being a coach but immediately as I tried it, I realized I fitted me very well.
At the time I finished my own running career I got my first ”real” coaching job and currently I am coaching a group of young Indian runners.
I am also the head coach for ”The Kenyan Experience”, which is a British based company that arranges trips to the place in Kenya where I live, with the sole purpose of the travelers (which are runners at all levels) to learn as much as possible about the Kenyan way of training and running.
In regards to notable performances among my athletes, I coached a Kenyan woman who did 30:40 on the 10k, which during that year was the fastest time of the year, she also qualified for the world championship.
- When you coach young athletes as I do, then it is essential to make sure that the athletes really enjoy the training and learn to love the sport, a way of achieving that is to implement plenty of variety in the training, which I would also like to point out is important for all athletes (not just young).
To be able to stay motivated during a long career that can spend over several decades then it is crucial to really enjoy the training and love running.
I also place great weight in learning my athletes to identify themselves as athletes and that the training they do is a part of their identity, I think the most important mindset of an athlete is to really try and be the best he or she can be at all times of the day seven days a week.
Examples of components that I can add in the training in order to increase the variety is 10s all out hill sprints, trail running, different kind of track sets, fartlek etc.
- My experience is that most runners enhance their performance by an increase in training volume, but this must of course happen gradually.
However, some athletes respond extremely well to milage training and others don’t really respond equally well, but my general view is that it is important to make sure to have a progression over time when it comes to milage.
Just adding more and/or longer easy runs increase the number of mitochondria in the muscles, which in turn is important for performance.
Sometimes I can be shocked over how big of an improvement some of my athletes show after a big volume period, they can substantially improve their 10k race pace by just adding more and more easy running.
It’s hard to say where the ”maximum” in terms of volume is (how far can you take it), I would say that most athletes would still improve as they go up to 200 km/week (males), however, it’s uncertain wether most runner would still improve as they reach 250 km/week, some athletes certainly do while other may not and one can only know by trying.
In regards to how fast one can or should ramp up the volume I can give a few examples, I train a group of female runners who currently are at 100 km/week and 2 years ago they averaged around 70 km/week.
Another group of male runners who are in a later stage of their careers are currently at 160 km/week and 5 years ago they were at 100 km/week, hopefully that gives an idea of how quick or slow an appropriate increase of running volume is.
One should also point out that the volume is also highly dependent on what event that is targeted, if an athlete is training for a shorter (track) event, then more speed work is required and hence the total milage goes down compared to if the athlete would be focusing on the half marathon or the marathon distance.
- On the subject of intensity, I come to think about the 80/20 ”rule”, however, I have never encountered any run coach that uses this formula in order to plan their training.
Recent research also suggests that the percentage of hard training among runners could be anywhere between 30-5 % of the total volume.
I recently calculated how much fast running my athletes do and landed in that somewhere between 80-85 % of the training is in zone 1 or 2.
The rest of the milage is spread out over zone 3, 4 and 5.
The targeted event is the main determinant of wether most of the high intensity training is in zone 3, 4 and 5, generally athletes who prepare for 5000m, 3000m and 1500m do most of their fast running in zone 5.
I use to define threshold as zone 4, which is slightly slower than 10km race pace.
- When it comes to pacing on the easy runs, most of my athletes tend to have a good sense on what pace they should be hitting.
However, some of my Indian runners had a tendency of going ridiculously slow on their easy runs (runners capable of 30-31mins on 10km ran in 5 min/km!) and then I had to define their easy pace as somewhere between 3:40-4:00 min/km.
Running too fast on the easy sessions is when the quality of the high intensity sessions starts to suffer, and one needs to be observant of this.
However, for most of the time I let my runners run as fast/or slow (within reason) as they wish on the easy runs but I always look at what pace they are running at.
Periodization and threshold training
- I implement a rather classic approach to periodization, which means that the further away we are from the races (the season), we work on both ends of the ”extremes”.
This means that we try and stimulate the aerobic base by longer threshold or even sub threshold intervals or tempo runs and break this off with for instance more strength oriented hill sprints.
However, we do a little bit of everything all year around but the emphasizes is shifting with the season.
As we approach the races, we do more race specific intervals and the length of these intervals also increase.
- I am a firm believer of threshold training even though I am aware of that the research of for instance Stephen Sailer contradicts that.
However, it may come down to a matter of how to define threshold training, and when implementing the definition that I use (and all other coaches that I know of), then threshold training is something significantly hard, much closer to 10km race pace than marathon race pace.
Threshold sessions are nearly always a weekly recurring element among my athletes, rarely we do have weeks with no threshold sessions and sometimes we can have weeks with two threshold workouts.
The general structure of the training for my full time athletes is that they do 10-12 sessions per week, and 2 of these sessions are hard and 1 is at a moderate intensity, rarely we do more than 2 hard sessions per week.
The threshold session is always one of the hard sessions and it can vary a little bit, it can either be for instance 7mins intervals with 2mins rest where all but the last one is reasonably controlled and then the final one I let them push hard.
Another type of threshold session is a 15km tempo run at half marathon pace or a little bit slower, this is maybe more sub threshold training but due to the total distance it is quite taxing and hence we typically only do this one every third week.
- In my coaching I have noticed that one needs to consider not only the distance each athlete is targeting but also every athlete’s individual strength and weaknesses.
The most prominent factor here would be if an athlete is more of a slow twitch muscle fibre athlete or a fast twitch athlete.
These different athletes need slightly different type of training, and hence I have divided my athletes in groups based on this factor.
It is hard to say how exactly one should target these differences, I have not yet fully figured that out yet, but in short I would both like to increase these athletes’ strengths as well as improving their weaknesses and you need a slightly different approach in order to do so for these two main different
In order for the slow twitch athletes to not loose too much of their anaerobic capacity, I am making sure that I implement a little bit of fast running/anaerobic training all year around.
For the fast twitch athletes I need to be more careful with the endurance training as these athletes seem to recovery more slowly from these sessions, especially if it being executed too fast.
I am also generally more careful when it comes to doing longer intervals with the fast twitch athletes since this type of training tends to put more load on them.
- I actually wish we had more ways to monitor our athletes, such as HR monitors, lactate measurement and running economy, but we actually don’t have that opportunity.
However, I do have some ways to monitor progress and an example of that would be a 8 km tempo run, which is not supposed to be all out but really hard (an additional 2k would be all out).
We also measure max speed over 30m.
In addition, I always keep track of how my athletes are performing and developing over the key sessions, which for instance can be 10x1000m with 200m jog recovery.
- When it comes to how I normally subscribe sessions I use to give my athletes pace ranges (typically within 5s/km) of where they should try to be during the intervals.
Generally I tend to be on the careful side of things so it is very rare that my athletes will not be able to hold those paces, but if they would like to go faster that is fine.
Advice to amateur athletes
- My main advice for amateur runners would be to really try and develop a strong aerobic pace, which they will do by doing slightly long intervals, for instance 6mins intervals instead of let’s say 400m repetitions.
In addition to this, the rest should be quite easy training.
Another mistake I see among amateur runners is that many just seems to run at their half marathon speed for 40-50mins every single session that they do, then my advice is to try and mix things up a little bit more with some harder sessions and some easier sessions.
- For more experienced athletes (those who run marathon between 2:30h-3h) my advice for improving their fitness would be to do more running at their marathon race pace, this can for instance be 4x7 km or 5x5 km at marathon race pace.
Another good advice is to make the quality sessions even more demanding and challenging, by for instance increasing the distance of high intensity work (e.g. from a total of 10k to 15k) or make the intervals longer (e.g. instead of doing 10x1000m one can do 3x3 km at the same speed).
- For amateur athletes with limited time to train, my best advice would be to make sure to always challenge yourself in some way and constantly make small changes in order to not plateau.
If you cannot increase the milage because of time issues, then you can only go faster, which you can do by either increasing the load of the hard workouts or make the easier runs slightly faster.
Another great session can be to implement some progression during the easier runs, i.e. that the speed is being picked up during the last 20-30mins of the session to finally reach marathon speed.
Learnings from great coaches
- I have had the luck to get some insight from some of the greatest Kenyan running coaches.
- One thing that these coaches have highlighted to me is the importance of the mental side of training.
In order to reach great success, the athletes need to be fully committed and ”hungry” to perform and try and make the best out of every session.
This goes equally much into the time between the sessions as the time during the sessions.
- Another great coach has influenced me to stop thinking in cycles (example a week) and just put in the sessions where you think they will be best suited.
An additional tips this same coach gave me was to stop doing race specific work (with a large degree of anaerobic component, for distances up to maximum of 10 000m) until 2 weeks before the race and then shift focus to threshold and more anaerobic training again.
This is because the anaerobic threshold tend to go down when you do plenty of anaerobic work and the threshold and aerobic training gives a chance to catch up a little bit on that part again, maybe one can do some 200-300m intervals at race pace at most in the last 2 weeks leading up to a race.
Rapid fire questions
- What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to running, endurance sports or anything that we have basically discussed here? Sciencerunning.com (there is also a book by the same author).
- What is your favorite of gear or equipment? We don’t have much equipment but I would have to go with the Garmin (GPS) watch.
- What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success? Meditation (helped me improve my focus and confidence) and as a coach I make sure to disconnect from the Internet for 2h per day when I have a strong focus on my work (building training program etc.).
Good episode. Still a bit confused about what “threshold” intervals are.
It seemed to me that “threshold intervals” here are equivalent to “VO2max” intervals
(total misnomer everywhere) and “aerobic power” intervals.
It would be nice if people referred to intensities in terms of race pace over different distances
(eg, 3K, 5K, 10K, etc.).