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What Simon Whitfield learned from Alberto Salazar and Jerry Schumacher

April 11th, 2010

I spent this morning down by the Sydney Opera House, watching the first leg of this year’s ITU World Championship Series. It was a lot of fun — the course was set up well for spectators, with a nice, short criterium course with lots of loops. The run felt like a Tour de France stage, with a three-man breakaway so far ahead of the main pack that you thought they’d never be caught. But just past the halfway mark, as the chase pack swarmed by, a Spanish coach beside me glanced at the contenders, nodded at the guy beside him, and said one word with absolute certainty: “Docherty.”

Sure enough, several kilometres and a few dramatic moves from French, Russian and American guys later, it was New Zealand’s Bevan Docherty who emerged at the front for the final run-in, with Simon Whitfield closing strongly to finish in fifth from a pack that was 11-strong with just a few kilometres to go. Great start to the season.

Which brings me to my point. I had the chance to chat with Whitfield last week for a forthcoming article — lots of fun to talk about training and hear about his new coach and his experiences running with Alberto Salazar and Jerry Schumacher’s Nike training groups in Portland, Oregon. More on this later, but one quick highlight: a key message that he came away with, particularly from Schumacher, was precision and control.

If they’re doing a tempo run where the pace is supposed to be 3:05 per kilometre, and you go out and run 3:03 per kilometre, that’s not a success. That’s a fail.

Obviously that’s easier said than done, especially when you’ve got a group of extremely competitive athletes training together. But no matter how many times you hear the rule “don’t race in training,” I think it’s still arguably the most common training mistake among endurance athletes — and I think coaches who give mixed messages share a big part of the blame. (If you tell your athletes to hit a certain pace and they go faster, do you give them positive or negative feedback?) So kudos to Schumacher for being clear about this.

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