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european endurance conference

Seb Coe and Dave Sunderland
England Athletics National Coach Mentor Dave Sunderland hosts a Q&A with Seb Coe

09 October 2011

Double Olympic champion and former World Record holder Seb Coe highlighted the benefits of working together and celebrated the immensely valuable contribution of volunteers at this weekend’s inaugural European Endurance Conference hosted by UKA, England Athletics, the British Milers’ Club and the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund in London (8-9 October).

Speaking just over nine months out from the London 2012 Games to an audience of almost 200 from 16 countries, Coe, also Chair of the London 2012 Organising Committee and Vice President of the IAAF, pulled together three key themes: the role of his coach (his father) in his career; coaching volunteers and the importance of collaborative working in sport, before taking part in a question and answer session.

He admitted that his success over 800m - having started out as a 3000m runner - was testament to the support group around him who dared to be different and challenged some of the norms: “The market moves on but you have to pick up trends years before the changes actually happen so that you’re prepared,” he said.

“After I won European bronze in Prague (1978) we (his support team) made adjustments, we took things apart and put them back together; we worked on strength and conditioning and physiology, a lot of which was new to endurance athletes at the time.

“Being prepared to work in a group and absorb, listen and share information is so important and I don’t think I’d have developed as well as an athlete if we hadn’t confronted the changes that came our way.”

It wasn’t all about detail however, as he did advocate simplicity on many levels, for example the necessity and benefits, in his opinion, of cross country; training using the natural environment around you and strength work using your own body weight. He also admitted that his coach was direct and to the point - going into that 1978 final versus soon-to-be Olympic champion Steve Ovett he asked his father’s advice: “Well you’re not going to win,” he said, “so run as hard as you can for as long as you can and as fast as you can.”

Coe concluded by presenting an award to BMC Founder Frank Horwill - who he credits with providing much of the information his father gleaned over the years - in recognition of his MBE.

Earlier, the Conference had been opened by UKA’s Head of Endurance Ian Stewart who acknowledged the continued forward momentum of European endurance running, most recently celebrated by Mo Farah’s global gold over 5000m and silver over 10,000m at this summer’s IAAF World Athletics Championships.

“It’s a privilege to be hosting this event in Britain and we’re proud to have the opportunity to have you all here,” he said. “European endurance running is on the up and we’re working hard to move it forward.”

Canada’s Wynn Gmitroski, who has attended five Olympic Games and 12 World Championships in a coaching capacity, took to the stage as the first keynote speaker of the weekend and focused on therapy, technique and training prior to delivering workshops on 800m and Championship preparation.

Former coach to 2007 World Championships 800m silver medallist Gary Reed, the Canadian Record holder with a best of 1:43.68 and fourth place finisher in the 2008 Olympic Games, Gmitroski is currently the Head Coach at the Canadian National Endurance Centre and previously  coached Angela Chalmers, Olympic 3000m bronze medallist and Commonwealth gold medallist.

He highlighted the importance of mentors and admitted he had benefited from several throughout his career beginning with his high school track and field coach and university coach who, he says, “inspired me, helped me grow my passion towards coaching and moved me in the right direction.”

He too pointed out the benefit of minimal complications, admitting that “sometimes coaches have to let go of control; force creates tension and things can become too analytical.”

Flagstaff-based Jack Daniels, author of Daniels’ Running Formula and with a complex and impressive CV that includes a six-year period working as an Exercise Physiologist with Nike’s Elite Athletics West Program, simplified the principles of training generally through his keynote ‘Reflections on a coaching career’ and workshops on the foundations of training, but specifically in his marathon workshop where he outlined his philosophy as “maximum benefit from the least possible work.”

To achieve this, he said, an individual must fully understand the training principles including: the most beneficial and effective split between quality sessions and easy training days; running to improve running (although he acknowledged that supplementary training such as gym work will also contribute through e.g. injury prevention); the value of mixing different speeds and changing pace and intensity in the overall marathon training programme and a warning not to introduce new stresses in the final weeks leading up to the marathon event.

Concluding the international speaker line up, Dr Thomas Rowland focused on the variations between, and requirements of, child and adult athletes through workshops on thermoregulation and fluid requirements and early specialisation, in addition to a keynote speech on iron deficiency in young and adult athletes.

Domestic speaker highlights included ‘Exercise physiology into practice’ workshops delivered by Professor Andy Jones and Dr Barry Fudge, key members of the UKA/London Marathon Altitude Programme team, and an individual keynote presentation from Jones focusing on the physiological assessment of the elite endurance runner - who in this case was Paula Radcliffe - a currently relevant and essential topic given the success of the ongoing UKA/London Marathon Altitude Training Programme which is inextricably linked  to the input and advice of the duo, in addition to the UKA medical team.

Jones, who began working with Radcliffe in January 1992 prior to her winning the World Junior cross title in Boston, has built up significant data on the world’s best female marathoner over a 19-year period. He admits that her physiological profile, which was naturally impressive but has evolved through increased training load, improved running efficiency, and other factors such as altitude training, is “awesome”, and referenced the fact that she can reach a steady state in 8.5 seconds which is the quickest time ever recorded in literature and even faster than a thoroughbred horse.

All of the weekend’s presentations will be available on the uCoach website www.uka.org.uk/coaching within the next few days with video presentations being uploaded to the same site in due course.

“Today has been interesting, especially for me to listen to Seb who is one of the greatest endurance athletes ever, but to hear ideas from different perspectives and to consider things you can relate to your own training and different factors you might introduce,” said Martin Brown, coach to European Under-23 1500m silver medallist James Shane who is one of several British athletes to have benefited from periods at the UKA/LM altitude camps under the scientific guidance of Jones and Fudge, amongst others.

“We’ve always wanted to make James (Shane) an old school 800/1500m runner which is something Seb said we were missing nowadays, but we’ll keep at it.

“The other thing from this weekend has been the opportunity to chat to other coaches and networking; people ask “do you do that in your coaching?” and some things you do, some things you don’t, but it’s basically about seeing the similarities and differences between what people do and you can learn from that. It’s good to talk, isn’t it?”

Kevin Tyler, UKA’s Head of Coaching and Development, concluded: “It’s great to see so many coaches here and it’s fantastic to see the collegiality developing. This is one of the most important things we can do to move the sport forward and I applaud you all for turning out.”