Thursday, April 30, 2009


ATTENTION JUNIORS! This is final reminder to athletes who want to qualify for Ontario's 2009 Canada Summer Games Triathlon Team. In order for athletes to be eligible for selection to the team, you are required to submit a Declaration of Intent to the OAT office. By signing this document, you acknowledge that you have read and agree to abide by the Selection Criteria for the team. The deadline for submission of this form to OAT is tomorrow, Friday May 1st, 2009. If you haven't yet submitted this document, but you want to try to qualify for the Canada Games Team, please fill it out and fax or e-mail it (ie. a scanned copy, with signatures) to the OAT office. If you're having trouble submitting the document, please e-mail me and I'll do my best to help you out.

OAT's Canada Games Selection Criteria has been posted on the OAT website since January 30th, 2009. The Selection Criteria and the Declaration of Intent can be found here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


We still have a few spots left for the Training Day on Sunday, for both youth/juniors and adults. E-mail me to reserve your spot. Details on the schedule here, or just scroll down a few posts.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


(This reference is going to go over most of your heads by about 20 years. Trust me, it was a great show.)

Two quick safety tips/ideas.

Safety Tip #1. Most cell phone users have probably heard of "ICE" - it means "In Case of Emergency" - it's recommended that you put "ICE" before or after the name of your emergency contact person (mom, dad, wife, husband, etc) in your cell phone contact list. That way, if you're ever in an emergency situation and unable to communicate (ie. unconscious), EMS personnel can easily contact your emergency contact person with your phone.

Safety Tip #2. This one's even better than a cell phone, at least for cycling. This one comes from Angela Quick, who just happens to have one of these on her helmet. Essentially, it's a small card with emergency contact and medical info - I've seen stickers that go inside the helmet, but those fade with time and sweat. This one is compact, easy to see, and firmly secured to the outside of the helmet. See below for pics. The website is I don't have any connection or preference for this particular manufacturer, other than they seem to be Canadian, and Ang has one on her helmet. I'm sure there are other options if you shop around, but regardless of which product you choose, it's a good investment at less than $10.


Hello sports fans. Our final Training Day for the 2009 season will take place on Sunday May 3rd. If you want to attend the training day, simply e-mail me to confirm your attendance. If you need directions to Guelph, or the Athletic Centre at the University of Guelph, you'll find them on the right hand side of the blog under DIRECTIONS TO THE PTC.


-We're expecting great weather (cross your fingers), so we're planning in riding outside.

-We'll have four groups: Adults, Juniors (16-19+), Youth (13-15) and Youth (10-12)

-ADULTS: adults will register through the UofG Rec office, at a fee of $40. E-mail me for more info and directions on how to do this. Note that we will take a max of 12 adults. We'll offer a more structured and dedicated adult program than previous training days, with an emphasis on prepping for the Guelph Lake Triathlons in June.

7:45-8:10AM Arrival, sign-in, change, get on pool deck
8:15-10:00AM Swim: technical + aerobic
10:30-11:15AM Break + Seminar: Race prep and Race pacing
11:15AM-12:30PM Transition Skills + Technical Run
12:30-1:00PM Lunch
1:00-2:30PM Bike: Skills + Ride
2:45-3:45PM Seminar: Training Plan

7:45-8:10AM Arrival, sign-in, change, get on pool deck
8:15-10:00AM Swim
10:30-11:00AM Break
11:00AM-12:30PM Transition Skills + Run
12:30-1:00PM Lunch
1:00-2:30PM Bike (skills + ride, or 90' ride)

8:45AM-9:00AM Arrival, sign-in, change, get on pool deck
9:00-10:00AM Swim
10:30-11:00AM Break
11:00AM-12:30PM Transition Skills + Run
12:30-1:00PM Lunch
1:00-2:00PM Bike (skills + ride)

When we're done with you, you'll look like this.....

Just kidding. This is Rachel O'Reilly after recent bike testing, and I've wanted to post the pic for a while now. And yes, she had a great bike test!

Enjoy the great weather, and best of luck in your training and racing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009


Ang and James
D and Tyler
"You're all wearing blue bathingsuits-- that never happens!!" :)


Friday, April 17, 2009


CTWITTER (with a nod to SQW): In the Lubbock Texas airport where the internet is free, and the terrain is so flat, you could watch your dog run away for three days. Connor is stuck in Houston Dallas, big storm, flights cancelled - he'll get here eventually. Matt V is already in town. Dorelle is off to train with the NTC gang in Victoria until PATCO. Rachel is in FLA for 2 weeks with the C3 crew. Alexander set a new 3000m PB yesterday (8:48 8:46, negative split), and Ian crossed in 8:59 (on treadmill threshold work and one short track workout). Tristan Woodfine soloed a nice 8:50 in his race, and Joanna Brown cruised through in 10:14 - congrats to the athletes and coaches Greg Kealey and Steve Boyd. Ian becomes the THIRD Ontario junior male to achieve both swim and run world standards this year. wow.

And congrats to Sharon Donnelly on her appointment as Triathlon Canada's first ever National Junior/U23 Coach. Who wants to be among Next Generation of Triathlon Heroes? We are currently accepting applications.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Updates on some nice early season performances:

Connor Hammond (London Runner): London Downtown 5k: 15:20. Second Junior in Canada to achieve both of Triathlon Canada's swim and run world standards for 2009.

Andrew Yorke (C3): Burlington Good Friday 5k: 15:35

Taylor Forbes (Hamilton Hammerheads): Jordan River 5k: 16:32

Taylor Reid (C3): Bay & Back 5k: 16:37

Austen Forbes (Hamilton Hammerheads): Jordan River 5k: 16:41

David Mackie: Jordan River 5k 17:20

Rui Xu (Hamilton Hammerheads): Bay & Back 5k: 17:21

John Rasmussen (OREA): Bay & Back 5k: 17:22

Derek Quick (OREA): Bay & Back 5k: 17:26

David Hopton (OREA): Bay & Back: 18:09

Dorelle Hinton (PTC): Bay & Back: 18:47

Angela Quick (PTC): Bay & Back: 20:14

Sarah-Anne Rasmussen  (OREA): Bay & Back: 22:29

Rachel O'Reilly (C3): Good Friday 55k Road Race: Tied 1st

Karsten Madsen (C3): Good Friday 55k Road Race: 28th with a dropped chain

Dorelle Hinton (PTC): a new 1500m PB this morning in a 2k TT. The 1500m split was 18:38, but the "last" 1500m (ie. 2nd, 3rd and 4th 500's) was 18:28. Both are best times, and a good example of backing up the training from yesterday.

Next up: Ian Donald and Alexander Hinton are taking a crack at a 3000m in Ottawa this week, and Connor Hammond and Matt Vierula are racing USAT's 2012 Development Race in Lubbock, Texas this weekend.

(EDIT: I forgot to mention Lindsay Anderson, who was recently recognized by Triathlon Canada as the Junior Duathlete of the Year. Congrats Lindsay!)

I know I've probably missed a bunch of results. Parents and athletes are always welcome to send me updates. Congrats to the athletes on their recent success, and best of luck to everyone with their training and racing.

Go Ontario!

Friday, April 10, 2009


I was talking to an athlete last weekend about structuring their weekly training plan, and remembered that I never finished the final blog post on microcycle structure. So here we go....

A few notes to start:

1) I've written this as a three-part post. See Part 1, and Part 2, for some background.

2) I found a major error in the Part 2. I had written that Foster (1998) calculated Monotony as the mean daily training load multiplied by the weekly standard deviation of the daily training load. In fact, Monotony is mean training load DIVIDED BY standard deviation of the daily training load (now corrected in part 2).

3) Session RPE is not without is flaws, not the least of which is that it definitely underestimates the training load of intense workouts. But I still find it a quick and easy way of approximating load (more below).

4) I was reminded last weekend that there are few absolutes in coaching. These thoughts/ideas are just one way of doing things; the concepts are based on some good research, but theory and practice are not always the same thing. I happen to think this approach would work well for many athletes, but most importantly, it works well for OUR PROGRAM. If it appeals to you, give it a try, and see what happens.


If you've read (or remember) Part 1 and Part 2, you'll recall the training study with the horses in Part 1. The researchers designed a training protocol to induce overtraining, in order to better understand the process. In a nutshell, a group of racing horses were trained every day, one hard day, one easy day, with an increasing training load on the hard days, and no change in training load on the easy days. For 260 days, the horses thrived on the program. On the 261st day, the load on the easy days was increased; the time of the session was held constant at 20mins, but the intensity was increased from a speed associated with a heart rate of 140bpm, to a speed which elicited a heart rate of 180bpm. Within 12 days, the experiment was stopped, because none of the horses could manage the training. BOTTOM LINE: When the easy days got harder, the horses failed to recover sufficiently to handle the training load.

In Part 2, I did a quick review of some of Carl Foster's work on Session RPE, and the concepts of Training LOAD, MONOTONY and STRAIN. Foster studied 25 endurance athletes for 6 months to 3 years, and found that athletes displayed individuals thresholds for LOAD, MONOTONY and STRAIN, which when exceeded were associated with increased incidence of illness. Training MONOTONY is a measure of the difference in training load from one day to the next.

So how do we put this info together to improve the way we program?

It's actually quite easy, but we like to make it complicated. As with most things related to physiology, I think it's important for coaches to have a firm understanding of the fundamentals and the relevant and emerging research, but I think that the implementation of these ideas has to be simple, context specific, and sustainable. For example, it's a good idea to have a handle on the time required to recover from various types of workouts, but triathlon schedules will frequently break these 'rules'. Similarly, there are lots of gadgets and software available to (arguably) measure training load more accurately than Session RPE (Training Peaks' WKO+, PhysFarm's Race Day, and TRIMPs are three examples). But in my opinion, software can't beat daily observation and interaction with athletes, and my time is better spent coaching than analyzing data and endlessly editing programs to make sure we don't break a dozen rules. In my context, I see my athletes at least once a day, 5-6 days a week, so I can make very informed decisions about their training based on my observations. In order to keep things running smooth, I just need a simple set of guidelines when I'm writing or editing the schedule.

Which brings us back to the studies from Part 1 and Part 2.

You've probably realized by now that the horses flourished for 260 days as their weekly training load increased, and monotony DECREASED week after week (if the load on the hard days increases, and the easy days stay the same, the monotony decreases). When the training load on the easy days increased, the training monotony also increased, and the horses quickly failed.

Consider the two sample graphs of weekly training load below. Both weeks have a value of 5200 units.

Graph 1: Training Load = 5200 units, Monotony = 1.6, Strain = 8507

Graph 2: Training Load = 5200 units, Monotony = 3.9, Strain = 20305

Both weeks have the same training load (5200 units), but Graph 1 has much harder and easier days - or less monotony and less strain. In Graph 1, the athlete has days with almost double the average daily training load, but there are also days of reduced training, or no training at all. By contrast, Graph 2 has the same weekly training load as Graph 1, but it is more evenly distributed across the week - no hard days, no easy days.

The MONOTONY and STRAIN are higher in Graph 2. Based on Foster's (1998) findings, there is a higher chance of illness with the program outlined in Graph 2, even though the weekly training load is identical.

You can plug all of the numbers into Excel, or you can just tell by looking at the graphs that Graph 1 has less monotony than graph 2.

Putting this into practice.....

In my opinion, all of this info about horses and speedskaters distills down to two basic principles:

1) Do the highest training load that is sustainable and repeatable, to obtain the most adaptation.

2) Deliver the training load in a manner that best minimizes monotony.

In practical terms, we simply do what smart runners have been doing for years - we go hard on the hard days, and easy on the easy days. That means our threshold swim on Tuesday morning is followed up with a threshold run on Tuesday night. Our easy swim on Thursday is followed up with an easy run. It also means that one of my fundamental rules for athletes is: if you missed a workout, don't try to make it up, just get back on the program asap. I've seen many athletes miss a workout and try to make it up the next day - usually going hard on what was supposed to be an easy day.

For a few months I planned and tracked daily training load for our program to make sure that we were actually doing what I thought we were doing. It turns out we were very close, so I stopped tracking the load because I was satisfied we were on track. Now I just program with those two principles in mind: keep the weekly load high, keep the monotony low. Any casual observer can see the difference between a week with low monotony and one with high monotony.

As athletes get fitter and we increase weekly training load, we increase the volume or intensity on the hard (and moderate) days first. As athletes develop over the years, we begin to string together 2, 3 or 4 big days in a row. This increases the monotony, but we do it gently, with long term progress in mind, and we monitor the athlete response. At the international level, elite athletes rarely take a day off, but remember that they have accumulated enough experience and fitness over their career that an easy 3k swim and 60min spin makes for a very easy day. Compared to the work they do on a hard day, there is a large enough difference between the two that monotony stays relatively low.

So it took me three long posts to get to the point: Hard on the hard days, easy on the easy days. Hopefully the journey was worth the effort for the coaches out there.

Train smart. Have fun.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April 9, 2009

TORONTO—Canada’s high-performance triathletes received a boost of support in their quest for the international podium. Philippe Bertrand has been promoted to head coach of the Senior National Team, Triathlon Canada announced on Thursday.

Bertrand, who helped lead Simon Whitfield to his electrifying silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing as an assistant coach, brings a wealth of international experience and knowledge to his new role. The 35-year-old Bertrand has worked his way through the Canadian triathlon system over the last 15 years as a national-team athlete, and has coached actively at the provincial, national and international levels since 1998.

Full article here


Congrats to Phil on his appointment as Triathlon Canada's Senior National Coach. We're in good hands.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Joel Filliol Interview
April 6, 2009

220 caught up with the new British Triathlon Federation head coach, Joel Filliol, over the weekend to talk about his plans for Team GB triathlon.

220 Triathlon: [Your previous triathlete] Simon Whitfield changed coaches to Nick White. Was this a mutual decision? And was it made prior to you being confirmed as the new British Head Coach?

Joel Filliol: Following Beijing, Simon knew he'd have to continue to innovate and change in order to keep his interest and motivation high for the sport. While Simon knew I was looking at British Triathlon as an option, he made the decision to seek out a new coach before my role at British Triathlon role was confirmed. We enjoyed great success working together since 2005, however change is invigorating and necessary to keep progressing.

Full interview here.


By: Larry Green, PhD, and Russ Pate, PhD

(CT's COMMENT: A good read for coaches interested in youth development. The only thing I disagree with is the contention that high volume run training can damage epiphyseal plates in growing athletes - the research overwhelmingly demonstrates that high impact traumas (ie. getting tackled, a hard fall, etc) can damage the plates, but relatively low impact repetitive strain (ie. running) does not. I certainly don't advocate high volume running for young athletes, I'm just pointing out that the rationale against high volume presented below is not supported by research. The rest is quite good. Note the complete absence of any reference to "optimal windows of trainability" and the "10,000 hour rule". It would seem that Dr. Green and Dr. Pate have done their homework.)

Peak Development
Chapter 1

The greatest single challenge in training young distance runners is accounting for the physical and psychological changes that occur during adolescence. These developmental changes greatly influence nutritional needs as well as physiological, psychological, and biomechanical capacities, so you need to know a little about growth and maturation to determine the best training for adolescents. In this chapter we discuss 10 developmental principles that guide training and racing for young distance runners.

Developmental Principle 1: Limit Training Before Puberty
We're often asked what the best age is for kids to begin training for cross country, road racing, and the distance events in track and field. That's a tough question because there is limited scientific research on the subject and anecdotes simply aren't reliable. Even so, the question is too important to overlook, because researchers and doctors have raised many concerns about the effects of competitive running on young runners. We developed our answer to the question of when training should begin by considering these questions: At what age are young people physically capable of running long distances? Do they adapt physiologically to training? What are the long-term psychological effects of training and racing at a young age? Are any health risks associated with early participation in distance running?
You might be surprised to know that children as young as six years are physiologically well suited for aerobic activities such as distance running. We know this from research on children's V02max, which is a measure of how much oxygen the muscles are able to use to fuel their contractions during maximal exercise. Individuals with high V02max values have superior aerobic fitness, which means that their heart and vasculature can supply their muscles with a sufficient amount of oxygen-rich blood and their muscles can quickly process the oxygen to generate energy. V02max is vital to success in distance running because muscles fatigue quickly if their demand for oxygen is not fully met.
Research shows that, pound for pound, normally active 6- to 8-yearolds have V02max values as high as, or sometimes even higher than, recreational adult runners who train 30 to 40 miles a week. Based on these findings, some exercise physiologists contend that children are natural endurance athletes. This view is backed by age-group records for distance races, such as U.S. marathon records for young runners. The records for 8-year-olds are 3:37:26 for boys and 3:13:24 for girls; for 11-year-olds the record is 2:47:17 for boys and 3:03:55 for girls. Many adult marathoners have trained extensively for years without reaching these marks.
Research also shows that young children adapt physiologically to endurance training in several ways that, at least theoretically, will improve their running performance. Before puberty, for example, children who perform moderate levels of endurance training will experience about a 10 percent increase in V02max, slightly less than the 15 percent increase observed, on average, in adults. You might conclude from this information that young children are capable of training for and competing in long distance races, but before you start planning programs for 8-year-olds, consider a few important points:
▪ Neither scientific nor anecdotal evidence suggests that distance runners must start training at a young age to reach their greatest potential. Most world-class runners did not begin training until they were in their mid- to late-teens. And, with very few exceptions, the children who have held age-group records for the 5K through the marathon have not developed into elite adult runners.
▪ Research consistently shows that, before puberty, physiological adaptations to training aren't always correlated with performance in long-distance events. For prepubescent children, the factors that best predict distance-running performance are simply related to physical maturity: Taller, stronger, and faster children lead the pack in distance races, just as they excel in other sports like basketball, baseball, and soccer.
▪ While many children have naturally high levels of aerobic fitness, making them physiologically capable of performing low-intensity endurance activities, they are very limited in generating energy for high-intensity activities such as an 800-meter race. The body has two primary systems for producing energy during exercise: the aerobic system, which operates when a sufficient amount of oxygen is available to the muscles, and the anaerobic system, which operates when the oxygen supply cannot keep up with the muscles' demand during high-intensity activity. One of the most consistent findings in pediatric exercise science is that the anaerobic system is not fully developed in children because it relies on enzymes and hormones that are released and accumulate during puberty.
▪ Physically immature youth who undertake systematic training are at high risk for injuries, abnormal growth and maturation, and psychological burnout. These points convince us that youths who haven't yet reached puberty should not train systematically for distance running. One reason for limiting training before puberty is that normal pubertal development can improve running performance on its own (see table 1.1). For example, the growth spurt of the lungs and heart, which occurs at an average age of 11.5 years in girls and 13.5 years in boys, boosts the delivery of oxygen rich blood to the muscles, which naturally increases VO2max. Another example is the elevated levels of growth hormone, which enable stronger muscle contractions, increasing running speed and efficiency.

Not all developmental changes automatically improve running performance, a point that also supports curbing early training. Take rapid growth in height-at the average age of 10.5 for girls and 12.5 for boys, the growth rate increases dramatically from approximately 5.5 centimeters (2.1 inches) per year to approximately 10.5 to 12 centimeters (4.1 to 4.7 inches) per year. The highest rate of growth, which is called peak height velocity, occurs at around age 11.5 for girls and 13.5 for boys. Now consider the 13-year-old boy who grows 4 inches over a single summer suddenly he's all legs. The growth spurt should improve his running by increasing leg length and thus stride length. However, he now has trouble coordinating his longer legs because the nervous system, which controls movement, doesn't immediately adapt to changes in limb length. Also, during the growth spurt different body parts grow at different rates. The feet and legs, for example, usually lengthen faster than the trunk, making many teenagers seem gangly or awkward. These developmental changes cause the rapidly growing runner to temporarily perform worse because his uncoordinated stride wastes energy, causing early fatigue.
Rapid limb growth also means that children who train intensely for distance running are at high risk for muscular and skeletal injury. Bones lengthen at each end in soft tissue called epiphyseal growth plates, which are very weak before and during the pubertal growth spurt. If the growth plates are stressed by heavy loads of running, fractures can occur. The growing athlete's joints and muscles are also susceptible to injury because muscle mass and strength develop more slowly than bone. Eventually the epiphyseal growth plates will ossify, or harden, and muscle mass will increase, but until these two critical growth processes are complete, youth risk serious injury from excessive training.
Training before puberty can also affect sex-specific hormones, disrupting physiological development. Estrogen, for example, is a hormone that ensures normal growth and development in girls. Under certain conditions, including insufficient energy replacement through diet, some female runners do not experience the cyclic increases in estrogen that should begin during puberty. Girls who train excessively and do not consume a sufficient number of calories can not only experience delayed menarche, they can also experience amenorrhea, or cessation of menstruation. Although researchers have not discovered all of the long-term health effects of these conditions, they have linked them with extremely low bone density, because estrogen promotes bone development, much of which occurs during puberty. In the short term, low bone density can lead to stress fractures. In the long term, it can lead to osteoporosis, a severely disabling bone disease.
Fortunately, most young runners will avoid harmful levels of training. They'll stop pushing themselves long before reaching their limits. However, we've known at least a few young runners who were self-motivated to push to extremes, and we've known coaches and parents who pushed young runners too far. For these children, running injuries are common. Psychological burnout is an even more likely outcome. Take the 10-year-old who's running 40 miles a week and racing 10Ks on a regular basis. Eventually he'll grow tired of running, especially because improvement depends on increasing training loads over time. If a child is running 40 miles a week at age 10, at age 16 he'll need to run 70, or maybe even 90 or 100 miles, in order to keep improving. That much running leaves little time for activities other than school, sleep, and eating. When training becomes that consuming, it isn't fun any more, and most youths will drop out of running.
By the age of 12 for girls and 14 for boys, most youth will have experienced key developmental changes that enable them to safely begin a low mileage, low-intensity training program, leaving lots of room for gradual improvement over time. This doesn't mean that younger children shouldn't participate in distance running; they just shouldn't train systematically. Beginning at age 8 or 9, children who enjoy running may participate in fun runs and organized track and field programs that last a few months each year. Future distance runners will benefit from participating not only in middle-distance races (up to a mile), but also in sprinting, jumping, and throwing events. When track season is over, they should participate in soccer, basketball, and other youth sports, because it's important to develop all-around physical fitness before beginning specialized training for track and cross country (see developmental principle 3).

Effects of Puberty on Performance in Boys and Girls
Boys and girls experience several common developmental changes that lead to improved running performance, including increases in limb length and height, muscle mass, and dimensions of the heart and lungs. However, due to the effects of sex-specific hormones that are released during puberty-estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys-some changes tend to favor boys. For example, testosterone stimulates greater production of hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is the vehicle for transporting oxygen in the blood, so blood with a higher concentration of hemoglobin can carry more oxygen to the working muscles. As a result of increased testosterone levels during puberty, then, boys experience an automatic improvement in VO2max, while in girls hemoglobin levels remain the same or decline.
Testosterone also stimulates muscle growth and the ability to produce anaerobic energy. At puberty, girls do get a little boost because their bodies produce a small amount of testosterone, but boys are at a much greater advantage because they produce far more testosterone than girls.
As a result of increased estrogen levels during puberty, girls tend to experience greater deposits of body fat. The average body-fat composition of 6-year-old girls is 14 percent, which increases to 25 percent in 17-year-olds.ln contrast, body-fat composition averages only 11 percent in 6-year-old boys and 15 percent in 17 -year-old boys. Runners who have relatively high percentages of body fat are at a disadvantage because fat is dead weight-it increases the energy required for distance running.
Estrogen also stimulates widening of the pelvic bones in young women. A wider pelvis can lead to misalignment of the legs, which worsens running technique and increases the risk of hip, knee, and ankle injuries.
These differences in the effects of puberty on boys and girls certainly don't mean that girl runners are doomed to poor performance and injuries. In most high school events, if the best girl runners competed in boy's races, they would place fairly high. Also, research clearly shows that girls who train for endurance sports have a significantly lower body-fat percentage than their nonathletic peers. Girls who train effectively experience marked increases in VO2max, which compensate for the slight decreases in hemoglobin that they experience. The same goes for the increased risk of injury girls face as a result of wider hips: Smart training prevents injuries.
Even so, the differences between the sexes are important because they call for individualized training. Because puberty has a small influence on muscle mass and strength in girls, they will benefit from a relatively high load of strength endurance training, including weight training, circuit training, and hill running. Training for flexibility and technique should be emphasized for girls who develop misalignment of the legs. And while sound nutrition is the key to success for all runners, it can playa more important role in performance for girls than for boys (see more about nutrition in chapter 3).

Developmental Principle 2: Consider Individual Differences
Table 1.1 shows the average ages at which key developmental changes occur. Striking individual differences characterize these hallmarks of puberty. For example, two 12-year-old boys on the same cross country team might begin puberty 5 or 6 years apart. The early-maturing boy might show the first signs of puberty at age 10, while his late maturing teammate might not get there until 15 or 16. The boys are the same chronological age, but they are very different in terms of biological age, or physical maturity. To develop effective programs, coaches must have a good sense of each individual's biological age and physical readiness for training. A herd approach, where everyone on the team does the same workout, can be harmful, especially when late-maturing youth try to keep up with early-maturing teammates who have gained advantages in size, muscle development, and physiological fitness. An awareness of individual differences in development is also critical for those who coach both girls and boys, because some pubertal changes influence running performance differently in girls and boys.
Determining precise biological age requires specialized medical equipment and expertise. However, coaches can still gain a good sense of their athletes' biological ages by being aware of the hallmarks of puberty. The obvious changes in secondary sex characteristics, such as breast development in girls and the appearance official hair in boys, indicate that puberty is underway. Also, as we discussed earlier, the pubertal growth spurt is a particularly important stage of development. Coaches should regularly measure their athletes' height to avoid overtraining during periods of rapid growth.
Besides accounting for individual differences in biological age, coaches must consider training age, which refers to the number of years that an athlete has been training regularly. A 16-year-old who has been training since 13 has a training age of 3 years, whereas a 16-year-old who just came out for the team 6 months ago has a training age of .5 years. Even though these two runners are the same biological age, they should train differently. The newcomer's program should include fewer miles and a greater emphasis on general training.

Developmental Principle 3: Emphasize General Fitness for Beginners
People tend to think of running as a natural movement that requires little athletic skill, unlike hitting a home run or sinking a three-pointer. From this perspective, runners just need a lot of endurance and willpower to succeed, so their primary training method should be piling on the miles. The more you learn about the science of distance running, however, the more you appreciate that performance is determined by various physical and psychological capacities that reflect athletic skills, including neuromuscular control, specialized forms of speed and strength, proper technique, and of course, endurance.
Consider the ability to control the elastic, spring-like properties of muscles and tendons, one athletic skill that underlies peak performance in distance running. The calf, thigh, and buttock muscles and their tendons stretch when the foot contacts the ground during the running stride. The stretched leg muscles generate force by contracting, or shortening, to propel the body upward and forward in the takeoff phase of the running stride. This active muscle contraction requires energy that is created through metabolic processes, or the breakdown of stored dietary nutrients, primarily carbohydrates and fats. In training and competition, distance runners can easily deplete a critical source of nutrient energy called glycogen, resulting in fatigue. Skilled runners, however, can generate propulsive force without completely relying on metabolic energy, sparing glycogen and thus delaying fatigue. Like stretching a rubber band, lengthening the calf, thigh, and gluteal muscles and their connected tendons creates elastic energy that can be used for powerful recoil, which helps propel the runner's body upward and forward. Runners who can take advantage of the elastic energy in their muscles and tendons get something like a free ride-their legs behave like a bouncing ball or a pogo stick, generating force without using up precious metabolic energy sources.
The ability to use elastic energy isn't automatic. It requires great muscle strength and neuromuscular control, or the ability to precisely time muscle contractions. Just before the foot contacts the ground, a skilled runner generates neural commands to contract the muscles that will be stretched on impact. These contractions stiffen the springs, so to speak, of the muscles and tendons for more powerful recoil. Runners can't develop this skill by piling on the training miles. In fact, research shows that long, slow distance running dampens the springiness of muscles and tendons, impairing their ability to generate elastic energy. Runners can develop this skill instead through methods such as circuit training and technique drills. Also, games such as basketball and ultimate Frisbee train the neuromuscular system to take advantage of elastic energy. (You'll learn how to incorporate these methods into training programs in part II.)
Figure 1.1 illustrates the fitness capacities that are essential for success in distance running. In the lower part of the figure are general fitness capacities, which can be developed through training that doesn't directly simulate the physical and mental demands of a distance race. Consider cardiovascular fitness, the capacity of the heart and the vascular system (arteries, capillaries, and veins) to supply the muscles with sufficient oxygen-rich blood and rapidly remove metabolic waste products like lactic acid. To develop this general capacity, runners don't always need to run; instead, they can try swimming, bike riding, or even in-line skating. Or, to develop strength endurance, the capacity to generate forceful muscle contractions over a long time under conditions that demand a high power output, such as running uphill or in sand, runners can lift weights or do circuit training.

In the middle part of figure 1.1 are race-specific fitness capacities, which can be developed through training that simulates the demands of competition. To develop race-specific fitness, runners must train by covering competitive distances at racing speeds, using high-intensity interval training, or participating in time trials or actual competitions.
The top part of figure 1.1 represents mental fitness, which is essential for success in distance running. Mental fitness is so important that an entire developmental principle, 6, is devoted to it.
Programs for young runners should emphasize general capacities because they form a fitness base that helps the athlete undertake specialized, high-intensity training. Consider an 800-meter runner's interval training session for developing race-specific fitness: 4 X 200 meters at 800-meter race pace, with a 20-second recovery period between each 200. To perform this high-intensity session successfully and safely, the runner must have strong general fitness, including ample flexibility and sound technique to move her limbs through the extensive range of motion required for such fast running. If her hamstring muscles are tight and her range of motion at the hip joint is limited, she risks straining or tearing those muscles. If her technique is wanting-let's say she's overstriding, which creates a braking action with every foot strike-she'll waste energy and fatigue quickly. Clearly, without basic strength endurance and neuromuscular control, her running technique suffers. In addition, if she hasn't developed cardiovascular endurance, she won't recover adequately during the 20-second interval between the 200s.
When we focus on how to design training in part II, you'll see that methods for developing general fitness capacities are especially important for beginners and for all runners in the initial stages of preparing for upcoming competitive seasons. However, this emphasis doesn't mean that a beginner's program should not include race-specific methods like high-intensity interval training. We recommend mixing all the types of training throughout a season, starting out with a relatively low percentage of specialized training and increasing it gradually.

Developmental Principle 4: Increase Training Loads Gradually
Designing successful training programs is a matter of determining appropriate workloads, which are defined by volume, intensity, and frequency. Volume means the amount of training, which includes the number of miles or kilometers covered. Intensity refers to the effort exerted, which is reflected in the speed of a run. Frequency is defined by how often the athlete trains. There are two reasons for starting with manageable training loads and increasing them gradually. First, athletes who do too much too soon limit their potential for building up to advanced training loads, and second, the three components must systematically increase in order for the athlete to improve.
Marsha is a 15-year-old whose training age is 1.5 years. Marsha currently averages 18 miles over four days of training per week, including the moderate-intensity running she does to develop cardiovascular endurance as well as the high-intensity running that she does to develop anaerobic fitness and race-specific fitness. To ensure progressive improvement, Marsha's coach will increase her weekly volume over time: 26 miles (age 16), 34 miles (age 17), and 42 miles (age 18). As the total volume increases, so should the intensity and frequency. At age 15, Marsha might do one fast interval session per week to develop anaerobic power and race-specific fitness. By 17 or 18, she might do two or three interval sessions per week. In addition, Marsha's overall frequency of training might increase from four to six or seven days per week between ages 15 and 18.
Because no simple formula exists for determining optimal increases in training loads, the best coaches weigh many factors, including the runner's developmental status, motivation, history of responding to certain types of training, and potential for handling training loads over a career. This sort of planning is guided by well-defined goals. The process of setting individualized goals and designing the optimal training loads for achieving them is called periodization. Part II will guide you through periodization step-by-step.

Developmental Principle 5: Increase Competition Distances Gradually
For developing racing fitness and skill, we advise starting with shorter races and increasing the distances from season to season and year to year. In track competition, for example, beginners should focus on the shortest distance race-800 meters. With training and experience, runners can move up in distance if they show promise at and enjoy the longer races. Why start out with short races? The young runner must learn that successful racing means running as fast as you can over a given distance without slowing down and losing form. It's very difficult for beginners to accomplish this objective in a long race like 5,000 meters because they simply lack the concentration and pacing skills to maintain a fast pace for that long.
Table 1.2 provides guidelines for increasing distance with chronological and training age. These guidelines are flexible. For example, a 12-year-old who has just begun competing doesn't always have to run 800 meters. He will benefit from participating on occasion in other races, from 400 to 3,000 meters. Whatever the distance, a key focus in competition should be to run the race at the fastest pace possible-a pace that is neither too easy nor too hard to maintain. By starting out with shorter races, beginners will learn this focus more quickly than if they try to trudge through longer events.

Developmental Principle 6: Emphasize Training for Mental Fitness
While the physiological demands of distance running are obvious, physiological fitness alone is insufficient. Physiological fitness must be matched by mental fitness, which is characterized by supreme willpower and motivation, self-confidence, the ability to regulate how "psyched up" one gets, skill in controlling effort and pace, and intelligence in formulating and executing racing tactics. While training for physiological fitness has its limits, training for mental fitness isn't as restricted by developmental factors. Remember that physiological adaptations to training, such as increases in VO2max, don't necessarily predict improved running performance, at least until young runners are physically mature. Also, recall that runners who do a lot of physical training during periods of rapid physical growth and maturation risk musculoskeletal injuries. Young runners have much to gain by developing mental fitness, as you'll soon see.
Young runners have a lot of room for improvement in mental fitness because of their age-they simply have not had the deep and varied experiences in training and competition that build mental fitness. For example, one of the most important mental fitness skills in running is pacing. From studies on optimal patterns of energy expenditure during endurance activities, and from observing the pacing tactics of elite adult distance runners, we know that evenly paced running is optimal, but pacing is a skill that many young runners lack. They often run too fast in the early stages of training sessions and races. Particularly in track races, elite adult runners are able to judge and adjust their effort and speed in order to precisely hit target splits, such as 400-meter splits, along the way to achieving their final time goals. How many 14-year-old runners do you know who can do that?
The ability to precisely control effort and pace over a long distance requires extraordinary mental fitness. Just think about what's involved in pacing. The runner must continuously concentrate on how fast her limbs are moving, how hard she's breathing, and how fatigued she feels. Then she must compare this sensory information with a mental representation, based on memory, of how the effort should feel for the pace to be on target. Split times really help in determining and adjusting pace, but doing math on splits when you're fatigued is no simple mental task. Young runners can develop these skills through race-specific training methods. We provide examples of these methods in chapter 4 and part II.

Developmental Principle 7: Emphasize Proper Technique
We've talked about how young people are well suited for distance running because they have naturally high levels of aerobic fitness, indicated by their high VO2max measures. However, this advantage can be easily offset by another physiological determinant of performance, running economy, which reflects movement efficiency. Children and adolescents are inefficient runners; numerous studies demonstrate that young runners use significantly more oxygen than adult runners, which wastes energy and causes early fatigue. Having a high VO2max is like having a huge bag of money that you're hauling off to spend at your favorite store. Poor running economy, or a high oxygen cost for running at submaximal speeds, is like having a hole in the bottom of that bag. If you waste your fortune, it obviously doesn't count for much in the long run.
A major cause of poor running economy in youths is flawed technique, including overstriding, turning motions of the upper body, and flailing arms. These biomechanical flaws waste energy either by slowing the runner's forward progression or by diverting muscle force to counterproductive movements. Many flaws in running form are related to developmental factors. Earlier in this chapter, for example, we discussed how the adolescent growth spurt can temporarily impair coordination, thereby worsening running technique. Rapid growth can also weaken postural muscles in the abdomen and back, which are essential for stabilizing the upper body and avoiding counterproductive movements. Sufficient technique training, especially for beginners, is necessary in order to break bad habits and to prevent runners from acquiring wasteful movement patterns that will be difficult to correct later on.
In addition to improving performance by conserving energy, technique training can prevent injuries. Flaws such as overstriding place excessive stress on bones, joints, and muscles. Sound technique smoothes out the distribution of forces loaded on the musculoskeletal system, reducing injury risk. In chapter 5, we discuss the details of how technique influences performance and injury risks, and we present tips for optimal running form. Chapter 6 covers specific technique drills and other methods, such as weight, circuit, and flexibility and mobility training, that are critical to developing efficient running form.

Developmental Principle 8: Set Your Sights on Self-Improvement
Perhaps, like us, you're in the habit of going for long runs on weekend mornings-along endless country roads, deserted city streets, or winding mountain trails-feeling like you're the sole person on earth. If so, you know that runners dream fantastic dreams. If you're a young runner, maybe you dream of qualifying for your state championship, earning a college scholarship, or even winning a medal in the Olympic Games. Dreams are powerful fuel for pushing through the long runs, the exhausting interval sessions, and the last stages of grueling races. The reality, of course, is that only a small percentage of today's young runners will develop into tomorrow's Olympic athletes, and those who do reach the world's elite ranks get considerable help from their genes. Even so, all young runners can be on par with elite runners on at least one account: focusing on self-improvement as the most important measure of success.
Next time you read an article about a world-class runner or see one being interviewed on television, pay attention to what she talks about. It won't be about the competitors, the championships, the medals, or the money. Instead she'll focus on ways to improve. "I need to work on my kick, because I know that I can run faster over the last 400," she'll say. "I'm losing form going uphill, so I need to include more hill training in my program," or, "I'm letting my nerves get to me too much before races, so I'm planning to experiment with relaxation techniques."
The bottom line is that self-improvement from day to day, season to season, and year to year paves the road to your highest goals and results in unparalleled satisfaction, making the hard work worthwhile and, yes, even enjoyable.

Developmental Principle 9: Never Compromise Health
Without question, training for young distance runners should be designed for peak performance, but given the physical demands of running, a fine line often separates peak performance from injury and illness. To keep their athletes on the right side of the line, coaches must adhere to the philosophy that training should never compromise health. In the long run, there is no more important objective of youth sport than influencing values and behaviors in ways that ensure a healthy lifestyle in adulthood. Participating in cross country and track is especially valuable considering the high incidence of diseases that are linked to physical inactivity, including obesity, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. If you're a parent or a coach, you can pave the young runner's path to a physically active life by emphasizing healthy training practices such as increasing training loads gradually, including methods such as technique and strength training that are geared toward injury prevention, stressing optimal nutrition, watching for signs of overtraining, and forcing athletes to rest if they are injured or ill.

Developmental Principle 10: Make It Fun
The adage "last but not least" applies doubly here. That's because none of the previous principles has much practical value if young runners don't view their experiences as fun. All of the knowledge in the world about the science of distance running doesn't amount to much unless the coach knows how to make training interesting and enjoyable. For young runners to have fun, the coach must possess personal skills such as a caring attitude, a creative imagination, and a knockout sense of humor. Part II includes suggestions for making training fun with games, contests, and special events.

Striding Ahead
Developing training programs for young distance runners is best informed by knowledge about human development, specifically adolescent growth and maturation. We've stressed this point in the 10 developmental principles, which form the foundation of our philosophy on training young runners. You'll see these principles in action in part II, guiding our specific recommendations for training. First, however, we'll help you learn more about the science of distance running and its physiological basis, which is necessary for understanding the reasons behind our recommendations.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Quick update: OAT's Junior Camp will be June 27th to July 5th, at the University of Guelph. Athletes will have the option of staying in residence (with a meal plan), staying off-campus in Guelph, or commuting in for training. We will have at least two different camp fees; with accommodation, or without, with the possibility of a third camp fee for those who want to stay off campus, but want to access a meal plan for the week. Off-campus accommodation will be organized by the athletes and/or their parents. The university of Guelph maintains a website for off-campus housing here. Summer sublets are going to be cheaper than staying on campus, but require that athletes are mature enough to look after themselves with little or no supervision. For obvious reasons, I won't be organizing or taking responsibility for off-campus accommodations.

Regardless of where athletes stay, my expectation is that they will be on time for all workouts, and properly recovered and optimally fueled for training.

I will be coaching the camp, along with at least one additional coach.

Training venues will include the UofG Gold Pool and Guelph Lake for swimming, numerous country roads surrounding the city of Guelph for riding, and the Arboretum, national cross country course, and track for running.

Details on fees, registration, etc. to follow soon.



I've been part of a pilot project lately for a new electric vehicle from GM and Segway.

Just kidding. I wouldn't be caught dead in that thing - not enough caution tape for me.

I'd rather have one of these....

...but for now, I'll stick to the trusty (and slightly rusty) Civic. Thanks to the Guelph drivers who give us a wide birth as we get back on the roads - much appreciated.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Big weekend for Canadians, and a busy weekend at home. First off, a big congrats to Brent McMahon for winning New Orleans 70.3, and Kirsten Sweetland for winning the New Plymouth World Cup (and thanks to Simon for posting the info) - go Canada! Amazing.

Closer to home, it was a busy weekend. I started the weekend off with a talk at a Multisport Symposium hosted by the Dearborn Health & Wellness Centre in Waterloo. Great people, and a nice facility, including a training room with eight Computrainers. I was a bit jealous. The keynote speaker was Olympian and Canadian Record Holder Keith Beavers - it's always a treat to hear an Olympian speak, and Keith's talk was no exception. I should have tried to recruit him. This was the 5th year for the multisport symposium - next year I'll post some info for anyone who might be interested in attending. After the talk, I headed back to UofG for a coaching workshop (Part 2 of Comp Intro) for the rest of the day with 7 coaches-in-training, with a short talk to catch up with Zander Hinton.

Today (Sunday) we had our Training Day, with a great group of talented athletes and an equally talented group of coaches. Alan Fairweather, Dan McKerral, Lorri Zagar, LeighAnne Rowe and Mischele Stevens put on a great training day, while I was facilitating the coaching workshop. The weather co-operated, and we got outside for our first ride of the year (first Training Day ride, anyway). Adrian DelMonte came back to show Tom and James how to train, and Ian Donald jumped in for the day. We even had two coaches who took me up on the offer to come and observe a Training Day - I hope it was a valuable experience. Our next Training Day is May 3rd, and coaches are always welcome to come and see what we do. A big thanks to our Training Day coaches for their expertise, and thanks to my PTC squad for helping out with keeping things rolling, and leading a good base ride for the juniors. Thanks also to Dorelle for lending me a charger for my mac, while mine is being shipped back to me.

It was a weekend of world-class performances abroad, and busy multisport activity closer to home. Whether it was talking to the audience in Waterloo, leading a coaching workshop, working with our Training Day coaches, or catching up with the Training Day athletes and parents, I was constantly reminded that we have amazing people at every level in our sport. That's a pretty good way to end the week.

One housekeeping note: Lost and Found. After the training day, I picked up a pair of running shorts in the bike room. If you are missing a pair of shorts, just e-mail me with the size, colour and brand to claim them.

Train smart.