If you’re thinking of changing coaches, please read this article. If you think your coach is bad, again, please read what follows.
I believe that coaching is getting better those days. There is a lot of information from reputable sources available for young coaches and I think overall coaches are more open minded. The only thing that is really missing nowadays is a forum, like charliefrancis.com back in the day. Of course I’m not saying bad coaches disappeared but my feeling is that coaching in track and field at least is going in the right direction. Of course a lot of young athletes and coaches fall in the trap of getting the latest fad on twitter or facebook, but overall, I believe the situation vastly improved.
My story may be representative of what a lot of amateur athletes experienced in the 80s and 90s and even probably today. First of all I don’t want to put too much blame on coaches. Most of them really believed they did their best, a lot of them were coaching during their free time just for the passion of the sport. They were just blatantly incompetent as coaches but that doesn’t make them into bad persons. With those disclaimers here is my story.
I started track and fields when I was around 15 or 16 at the beginning of the 90s. I was a fan of Linford Christie and was so pleased when he beat the Americans in ’92 and ’93 (though I was a big fan of Carl Lewis, but he wasn’t really running the 100m anymore). I was playing basketball at the time as well as dancing hip hop and was already pretty athletic. I believe my main qualities were :
- my elastic strength, I could grab the rim at the age of 14 and I was pretty short at that age between 1.6 and 1.65 meter if I remember correctly.
- my flexibility, i could do the split until the age of 13 and was almost as flexible until I started track and field
- But I believe my main quality was my extremely good coordination and body awareness due to the fact that I did a lot of different sports as a child. Big thanks to my mother for that. I believe it was perfect for Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD).
On the other side, I was skinny and very weak. I couldn’t do a single pushup or pullup for example.
Early Training Days
I remember my first training. It was a Friday in the fall of 93. As a warm up we ran around 2.5K, then we did a huge amount of sprint drills over 20m, about 25 exercises. We never took any break between each reps; it was a jog back recovery. After that we did something like 8 laps where we jogged in the turns and “sprint” in the straightways. I understood I had to sprint on the straight line so I really went hard on the first couple of reps and was quickly exhausted.
The day after I was super sore but I’d been asked to do a competition by the coach. I had to run 2x400m, individuals + relay and a cross of 1.7k. I remembered being totally dehydrated at the end. The next day I was so sore I couldn’t get out of bed. On Monday i was still so sore I could barely walk so I couldn’t go to school. I didn’t return to the track for a few weeks. I was wondering if I should continue track and field or go back to basketball or even something else.
But I was really motivated and really believed I could become an elite sprinter so in December I decided to go back to the track. I had the feeling that my body should adapt to the training load progressively so I decided to go on mondays and fridays only. Twice a week felt like a good start. The training was about the same as the first one, just more volume and sometimes we ran up a hill. I pretty quickly started to be injured. I had terrible shin splints as well as pain in one of my ankles. I was told that it was the normal process and that I was adapting to the training load. Everybody in the club advised me to take anti-inflammatory medication so I started taking half a pill of some sort of over the counter medication before each training. I was ok during the training but after my shin splint hurt a lot and it started getting worse and worse so I had to increase the anti-inflammatory intakes to one pill. In january I finally participated in my first competition. I didn’t know I needed spikes since we never did any type of speed workout. I was later told that during the fall and summer you do long distances to prepare your body to do specific workouts in the spring and summer. It sounded logical to me but I didn’t quite understand how I could be ready to run a 60 and 200 series + finals if qualified since we only did preparatory work. I had to borrow spikes from a girl. They were too small for me. Of course I had to take my anti-inflammatory medication before the competition. I never saw a starting block of my life and had no idea how to set it up nor which foot to put in front. I asked for some help from the other athletes in my race. The gun started and I clocked 7.45 with very bad reaction time close to 0.250. To my astonishment I had the 4th time of the qualifiers.
My shin splints started to hurt again despite the medication. I then ran the 200 in 24 or 25 something, I don’t remember that race really well. The only thing I remember it’s how awkward it felt to run the bend and that I lost balance. I ran the final of the 60m in 7.43 finishing 4th overall despite my terrible reaction time, even worse than during the heat. I was really proud and happy but my shin splints hurt even more. I resumed training and was advised to do 3 workouts a week. They told me that obviously my body wasn’t adapting because I didn’t train enough and with 3 workouts it would be better so my pain would disappear. I then resumed training but quickly had to take long breaks because my shin splints and ankle were hurting so much I could barely walk after the workouts. The spring came and I was still doing only 2 workouts a week because of the pain. At least those were speed workouts with heavy plyometrics that killed my lower legs even more. We still had long runs twice a week though but I didn’t attend those. I started my summer season running 11.60 but quickly, because of the pain, my performance deteriorated : 11.70, 11.80. I had to take 2 pills of anti-inflammatory drugs before each workout or race and I started to have stomach aches so I supplement that with medication for the stomach. Finally I couldn’t walk at all as I was diagnosed with a stress fracture. When I was racing, the 100m felt like a never ending race. It was long and I always lost my composure after 60m. At that time I thought it was because I was training only twice a week.
So I recovered and rehabbed during the whole summer. I get some custom made orthotics. I went back in september, rested and pain free.
Without any training I ran much faster than in the spring and beginning of the summer. I started running 11 45 during my first race after the stress fracture and then and then 11 39 or so in the next race. I never felt the 100m was so easy. I felt relaxed and I felt for once I ran to the tape without experiencing any kind of fatigue like I used too. I wondered how that was possible since I didn’t train at all. Anyway the season ended and I was very happy with it. I wanted to run around 11 flat for my first year, I felt it was what was needed to confirm I had the talent needed to become an elite sprinter but 11.46 with a serious injury and without any real training wasn’t that bad.
My head coach was a former military and was a proponent of high volume of running all year long. Most sprinters in my groups had 800m PR under 2min10. None of them were fast though. I was the fastest.
The assistant coach was a former local sprint “star” who got injured pretty badly. He gave us the same type of training that his former coach gave him. Huge volume of high intensity stuff, lots of plyometrics and not enough rest in between. I have to say that his training was really really fun. It was always in the form of games and small competition and I loved it. Retrospectively I believe that if the volume and rest were modified slightly it would have been a very decent program. The other major flaws of the training program was that technical drills were supposed to make us run better. Of course it wasn’t the case so my technique was terrible because of the cues that were given, the usual: get your knee high, push, extend your leg in front of you, don’t extend your leg in front of you etc… So my technique ended up being a shit show. Especially because the head coach and assistant coach were giving me contradictory cues. At least I could train 3 to 4 times a week during the winter except in january and part of february where I had to adjust my orthotics and rest my ankle a little. After that I was starting to finally adapt to the insane training load I was submitted to. I tried to avoid the most grueling workout though. The most difficult one and the one that was supposed to help me the most was on sundays. I went there once. It was raining. The total distance covered was around 10km but when there was a hill we had to do either technical drills or acceleration and of course we should never rest or walk, which of course I couldn’t do so i ended up after everybody. In comparison to this workout I believe the spartan race is probably a walk in the park. At least for the spartan race you start fresh. I’m kidding of course but when I think about it I believe we were trained to prepare for WW3. I have to say that my stamina was awesome though.
Still Not Improving
Of course when the season started I wasn’t faster. I was still running 11.40 and couldn’t improve on my PR. So being pain free and really motivated to progress I decided to go to all the training sessions. At the beginning I was vomiting every other day. The head coach was unhappy because none of us really improved. He assumed that the reason was our stamina. Because we spend too much time doing short stuff during the winter, which of course wasn’t true since we were still doing insane amounts of intervals and long distance running at least twice to 4 times a week. Half of my teammates were running the Sunday crazy workouts but I totally refused to do that, as it didn’t make any sense to me. The hundred meters felt like a long race again. I didn’t have the feeling of ease and pleasure I experienced at the end of the previous season. So here I was training 6 times a week from May to July. I don’t remember the workouts exactly except for the Wednesdays and Saturdays. In May a typical week looked like:
- Mondays – Fridays: 10-15×20 timed on Monday, then some type of speed bounds over 30m or bounds over wickets.
- Tuesdays – Thursdays : technical sprint drills and race over wickets + plyometrics mainly hurdle hops
- Wednesdays – Saturdays : I remember it vividly. The warm up consisted of a 12min run I could only achieve 2.4k while everybody was running about 3k or more), 6x500m in 1min40 with 5 minute rest This was to acquire the stamina we didn’t train during the autumn and winter I was told. After that I had something like 5×80 or 5×120 with 5min rest (this was the main workout). I was puking each time of course. Then plyometrics again : Skip for height run run jumps and stuff like that
I was so behind everybody and tired during the Wednesdays and Saturdays practices, I felt ashamed. We were taking pulses frequently during the workout and I was almost always above 200 bpm even during the 12min jog warmup. In June, I felt I suck so much I was worried I had a cardiac issue so I went to see a cardiologist. I did a lot of tests, echography, VO2max… and was told that I had a terrific stamina for my age and that everything was fine. At the beginning of July I was finally almost as fit as my teammates so I was optimistic about the competition schedule ahead. I was still running around 11.40 and 11.45 during that period and could not run faster than my PR from last year.
At the end of july because we were competing more often the training load on Fridays and Thursdays were lower :
- Mondays : 6x60m timed with 4 minutes rest. I was never able to finish the workouts without puking after the 4th 60m. Everybody teased me about my lack of stamina. Then speed bounds or hurdle hops
- Tuesdays : 6×30-40m over wickets + bound over wickets + hurdle hops a lot of them
- Wednesday (hell day): 12min runs (3.2k). 6x500m in 1m15-1m20 6min rest. 6x150m with 5 minutes recovery then skips, run run jumps etc…
- Thursdays : rest
- Fridays : few block start
My legs were inflamed and painful all the time that summer. I wasn’t injured but felt like my joint were about to explode and with a mild but persistent burn, I also felt like something was permanently pulling on my muscles like when you stretch but not exactly like usual soreness. I remember walking downtown with friends during the weekends, I had to take breaks and sit often because I felt like all my blood was inside my legs, my veins were protruding and I had difficulty sleeping because my legs were restless. My mother advised me to take compression socks at night. I felt like a loser wearing those but why not. I also started to try cold showers and swimming pools. It helped a bit. I started being really demoralized. I did everything that was asked of me. I was super enthusiastic and motivated, I never complained, I was as or almost as fit as my camarades that ran the 400m but I couldn’t beat my PR. So I decided to stop training and workout on my own 3 times a week and do only things that I liked or that seems logical. I did 2 speed sessions mainly 6x40m and 10x30m and one day of 6×120 or 5×150 at 90pc with 5 minute rest. I quickly started to recover.
After two weeks I tried to do some speed bounds. I was very bad at this during the whole 3 months of the insane training regiment. I remembered really well that I felt very unstable at foot strike and that I didn’t have any energy to jump. I thought it was because I was bad. But quickly as I was recovering from the stupid training from the last 3 months I started to noticed I was actually extremely good at it. Mid September the season resumed and I participated in a competition. I had no hope to run fast. From my point of view my season was over I was just having fun. I was expecting to run 11.40 but I clocked 11.20. I eased at the 70m mark so I couldn’t believe it. I was so surprised I thought it was an error for about a week. The next week we did some 40s and speed bounds. Of course I crushed everybody during the 40s but to my big surprise I also crushed them on the speed bound. I believe I jumped like 33 or 34 m on the 10 bounds test. I was usually among the worst at this exercise and there I was beating everybody by a considerable margin. The next week, the competition was on the fastest track in the area. I was hoping to run fast again though I was still very suspicious about my last week’s performance.
I remember waking up early in the morning. I went to the park and did some build up. Then I went to the competition. I was in a bad heat, with mostly my teammates. I heard the gun and exploded out of the start. I don’t remember anything from that race except my legs were moving so fast and that I was way in front of everybody. I crossed the finish line but there was a problem with the clock so the time wasn’t displayed immediately. After a few minutes a friend came to me and asked me how fast did I think I ran. I said 11.40 of course, I believed the clock would reveal the harsh truth about my last race suspicions. But my friend told me: you ran 11.03 into a head wind man. I didn’t really realize at first so I contained my joy for a while until I arrived home. I felt relieved at last. At last a decent time. Close to a sub 11. I was so happy. I did 4 more races after that. The next 3 ones were good. I was running around my new PR : around 11.10 despite the poor weather. I made the mistake to resume training though so my last race was again a 11.40. I put that on the fact that I was just tired of racing every weekend. I had great hope for the next season. I felt I would be able to run 10.70 or 10.60. Unfortunately I got injured again during the winter. I could run 11.20 but never approached my PR again. I told myself I was in fact not really gifted and that I should just focus on school instead of wasting my time doing those painful workouts since as crazy as it sounds I stayed loyal to my coaches. I continued working out just to stay in shape but no competition or anything crazy for a while. In 2001 though I felt the need to race again just for fun. I trained 4 times one hour a week. I did only stuff I found really funny like 30s and 40s and I started lifting weight. I read an article that squatting and leg pressing 12 reps with 2 minutes rest between each set boost the production of anabolic hormones, so I did that. In about 3-4 weeks I could leg press more than 300kg. I then race the 100 and the 200. Despite a terrible start I ran 11.13 on the 100m and crushed my PR on the 200m by more than half a second without any type of speed endurance training. It is only then I really realized how badly we had been coached and how much time I lost. After that I stopped really training. Track and field didn’t interest me that much anymore. I felt it was just a painful and demoralizing activity. After that I just did it for fun during the summer running 11.25 or so from time to time. Sometimes I think about how good I would have been with a more sensical training. It’s obvious I wasn’t talented enough to be an elite sprinter but I believe I would have probably run 10.70 maybe 10.60 even, who knows.
Few months ago I read an article about the Feed the Cats method from Tony Holler. I thought that the type of training that I would have loved when I was a kid.