Ron Clarke vs reps

A great piece from Ron Clarke that touches on training techniques that built champions.

Rising rate, finish fast. Fartlek, nested effort long runs. All staple training techniques used by many of Australia’s greats.

But let’s hear his words, circa 1995.

It seems to me a 62 second 400 metres is well within the capabilities of almost all the 5000m runners in the country. I’ll go further and would surmise that a large proportion of these could probably put together a session of 12 or 13 repetition 400’s at that speed provided their recovery between efforts was adequate.

What none can do is to run them end-to-end without the intervening recoveries.

So, I ask, is it speed or stamina that Australia’s distance men lack?

My response to Dick Telford’s piece in June/July’s Fun Runner magazine is to query why present day coaches don’t enquire as to what we used to do 30 years ago to sustain the series of sub 13.30 times that we did rather than relying on hearsay and guesswork.

However, he loses me from there on in. Firstly, he suggests the “Glenthuntly Gang” was involved in constant long, slow training and secondly, that the top “internationals” should be protected from racing too often in the Australian season because of the difficulty of reaching two peaks in a year.

Frankly, we didn’t run all that far each day and I can testify that most of it was not too slow either. Our basic day-in day-out work out was 8 to 10 laps on the grass at Caulfield racecourse. At that time (not so recently unfortunately) the grass was beautiful – smooth and even and where we ran about 25 metres in from the fence (often barefooted), the distance of each lap was 1 ¼ miles plus 100 yards – around two kilometres – so we covered 16 to 20 kilometres each evening most, if not every week day, 50 or so weeks in the years.

But it wasn’t slow. We used to get faster and faster as the session progressed with very few still in the front pack by the end of the evening – certainly we were flowing along at better than a 5 minute mile pace, probably closer to 4.40 or even 4.30 each mile for the last 5 or 6 kilometres.

It was no disgrace to drop out – sometimes one or the other would have a great night and would run clear away early on but the general pattern was to settle into a rhythm, then gradually increase the tempo, and so we developed a skill that Dick doesn’t mention in his article but which I regard as the cornerstone of good distance running – rhythm.

All the top sports people attain it from repeating and repeating and then repeating again their basic actions. Running, uninterruptedly, at one notch from top pace, out of the comfort zone is where it is at.

You can only achieve this in long, non-stop, close to top speed (certainly not slow), good tempo running. The more you do it (and I’m talking years), the better you run. We all have the speed needed to break world records from 2 miles and up without any special effort. What’s difficult is to be able to conquer the mental and physical discipline of maintaining the tempo and rhythm whilst operating at near maximum effort… as I keep preaching, it means getting out of the comfort zone within which so many athletes spend most, if not all, of their competitive career.

Our long Sunday runs may have been reasonably slow (around 5 minute mile pace) but within them were some hell-for-leather sprints along creek-side paths and really, really tough hills which we all attacked in good humoured rivalry.

I think running together helped. But I have to say that, without speed training of any sort, all our times for he shorter distances got better – 800’s, 1500’s, 3000’s – and our Personal Bests for our main events just kept on improving, too, and not just mine but for virtually all the athletes in the group of 10 to 20 who ran with us each night.

As to physical peaks – I reasoned that if I was to be good enough to compete internationally, then I had to be able to train full-tack during the Australian season. With this combination of hard training and frequent racing, I could reach the form I expected to achieve overseas when, obviously, training fell away to virtually nothing while I raced every second or third day (often 3 days in 5). Mainly, in Australia, I competed under distance – in 800’s, 1500’s and so on – but there were still plenty of good athletes to give me a good challenge and an occasional beating over the 5 or 10 km distances when I tackled them and wasn’t in top form; runners such as Trevor Vincent, Alby Thomas, Bob Vagg, Dave Power, Tony cook, John Coyle, Kerry O’brien, Tony Benson, John Farrington and Derek Clayton. But not, I repeat, at the expense of my training programme.

And this is the problem with the so-called speed sessions. I have two arguments against them.

Firstly, and this is as much mental as physical, just as the running becomes difficult, just as you leave the comfort zone, the efforts stops and you rest, albeit jogging, and recover. And so there develops a pattern of relief, rather than determination to fight on, whenever the pace begins to hurt.

Secondly, lactate builds up to deceptively high levels because of the effort-rest-effort pattern and often effects future sessions and/or competitions. The athlete never really recovers, even though he thinks he does.

This doesn’t happen on the tempo runs because the body provides the signals and you sub-consciously control your effort. And, as I say, for the life of me, with all the sessions of speed training I have seen so many athletes perform over the years, I have never really seen anyone gain speed, that seems to help over their given distance.

So, it is my opinion that ,our current training programs lack , the necessary amount of tempo training, out of the comfort zone, that builds rhythm to run continuely for 2min 45 km pace and we lack the ability to handle the sustained pain ,involved in doing such continued speed,

For the life of me ,I don’t understand why athletes and worse coaches, cant see they rarely if ever practice it .

Apart from, races, its near non existent in Australian programs, yet a group of us 30 years ago , were doing it 5 days a week minimum , over the same course for 50 weeks a year.

Do I see it as a coincidence? that 5 of the Glenhunty gang broke 13m30 for 5km and that is not including Derek who held the marathon, world record, and Kerry O’ Brien , who held the steeple chase world record, at that time,
And 4 more of our group broke 14 min , I don’t think so!

Yet as I write ,
Here in Australia, today, we have one man just under 13m30 ,
I challenge you, what do we really lack ,
Speed or stamina, I will let you be the judge .

– Ron Clarke