BEYOND SPEED IN THE DECATHLON

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1 BEYOND SPEED IN THE DECATHLON By Andy Higgins The author here sustains that while the development of speed is certainly important in the Decathlon, there is more to be gained by acquiring a sound running technique, running rhythm and special endurance. He then illustrates the importance of these factors in the Long Jump, 400m Hurdles and the Pole Vault. Re-printed with permission from the author. For years there has been a belief expressed that the key issue in the Decathlon in running speed. Speed is a factor in nine of the ten disciplines and Western coaching literature dealt with it as a given. It is constantly stated that speed is basic to success. I believe this is worth a second thought. Speed is a wonderful gift and certainly is extremely helpful; and all else being equal, it will always be the difference. But rarely is all else equal, and not every great athlete has speed. Further, the development of speed, which must not be ignored, does require a great deal of time and energy. Of course we must do speed development training but there is more to be gained by recognizing that exceptional sprinting technique, running rhythm, and speed endurance are more significant. By the way, I prefer Gerard Mach s term Special Endurance to speed endurance because it is more encompassing and Gerard has broken Special Endurance down into clear categories. Running well The ability to run well that is with rhythm and relaxation at speed, and to hold speed for extended periods of time, and over a number of repeated efforts is extremely important. It is more important than simple speed because it is easier to develop, will yield greater results for the time and energy invested and will have a greater impact on generating points. I want to repeat that speed development is not to be ignored but that we must not worship it either. I am suggesting that we should look carefully at sprinting technique, running rhythm, and special endurance. Sprinting technique, running rhythm and special endurance play a significant part in four of the five first day events, and can make a significant difference to all four. The most obvious changes and a large point gain can be seen in the 400 meters. Awareness of this fact and planning it into the programme is the heart of Decathlon training. The Decathlon is a running event; running in the broadest sense of the word.

2 Special endurance Training aimed at running well and developing Special Endurance for 400m pays off everywhere including the 1500m. The athletes in our programme at the University of Toronto High Performance Centre have all had excellent 400m and 1500m performances while not giving up basic speed and quickness. All have learned to run effectively with rhythm and relaxation relative to their personal make-up. The surprising aspect of the programme to many people is that we do not do a large volume of running, nor is much of it, for much of the year, very intense. We do, however, run every day of the six days of the week that we train; and it is quality running. Strength endurance In addition we do a reasonable amount of strength endurance exercises, which are running A s in Gerard Mach s programme. Running A s are high knee running (thighs up to parallel to the ground) with short steps (less than one foot) and excellent posture and upper body relaxation. Forward progress is at the rate of a very moderate walk for the coach. The volume of work can be measured in distance or time. We use time, although it works out to be about one meter per second, i.e. we cover approximately 30 meters in 30 seconds. Two days of the week (Tues. and Thurs.) at the end of the running workout, we do 4 to 6 repetitions of 30 to 50 seconds of Running A s. On Saturday, folowing the last running workout of the week, we do a large volume of Running A s that over a period of months builds to a pyramid of 30 sec.; 1 mm.; 1:30; 2:00; 2:30; 2:00; 1:30; 1:00; 30 sec. One year we did do a pyramid session that built to 3:00 mins. of Running A s but I don t believe that this quantity is necessary. Strength Endurance overall, however, is necessary and it pays rich dividends in many areas. The yearly programme The yearly programme begins in October with about six weeks of general preparation and a lot of varied running. This is a time of easy runs, soccer games, medicine ball exercises, circuit training, mobility drills and some technical work of a very fundamental nature. Each Saturday morning the group runs for 20 minutes or more, building up to a 45 min. run, followed by a large volume of Running A s in the last session of this six week period. Strength Training has been going on throughout this time. From this point in the year forward we essentially follow a pattern of three week cycles; that is, two weeks hard training followed by an easier recovery week. While technical training is critical and must fit into the programme wisely, complementing other aspects of the programme, I will not go into it here.

3 As stated earlier, I believe that the Decathlon is a running event and so we run every day we train. Most warm-ups begin with a short brisk run of min. plus a series of hurdle or sprint related drills all aimed at enhancing running / sprinting / hurdling technique and specific fitness. Whenever possible we attempt to accomplish at least two goals with each action. Warm-up can be preparation in the broadest sense of the word preparing the body for the demands of the specific training to follow immediately that day and preparing to become a little more effective each day technically, as well as contributing to the long term physical preparation of the entire system. The daily programme Monday, being the first day of the training week, is devoted to Speed and Special Endurance 1 (80-300). Because hurdling is more demanding of mental focus and whole system freshness, our Speed Training on this day is done over hurdles, as is the Special Endurance 1. Tuesday is a Tempo day to give the central nervous system as well as the entire neuromuscular mechanism adequate recovery. The running this day is built around 200m runs at about 30 seconds or faster with about one minute and thirty second recoveries. The number of efforts will depend on the athlete and the time of the year. Dave Steen, Greg Haydenluck, Michael Smith and others have done as many as sixteen late in the first preparation period. The workout is not necessarily 200 s every Tuesday. Some days we go to the pool, others we do continuous run /jog session of combinations of 100 s and 200 s. We ve been known to play tennis or soccer or basketball, but the theme is tempo recovery. The session is finished with Strength Endurance (Running A s). Wednesday is another speed day. While hurdle drills may be a part of the warm up, the Speed and Special Endurance 1 is done on the flat. Throughout each preparation period speed work is done from all the starting positions, beginning with running and standing starts and only later progressing to the more demanding block starts. Thursday is a day for Special Endurance 2. That is the long end of the special endurance continuum ( m). Here we run 5 x 400m or 4 x 500m or a break down of 600m / 500m / 400m / 300m / 200m / 100m. On this day during each preparation period we will eventually run an 800m at 1500m race pace and then on three minutes or less recovery run 4 x 200m very strongly on a one minute recovery. About three to four weeks later it will be a 1000m followed by 4 x 200m and three or four weeks after that it will be 1200m and 4x200m. These particular runs are always done on the Thursday of the second hard week in the cycle so the athlete is tired and experiences both the physical and the psychological demands of the effort and the pace discipline. It may be that the psychological / confidence benefits to the athlete are greater than the physiological ones! And, this is critical. To know that one can finish a Decathlon strongly is a tremendous

4 asset, and it gives everyone events. More importantly, unless the athlete is capable of 4:20 or better there are a large number of relatively easy points to be gained. The difference between 4:36 and 4:21 is 100 points! That is the same number of points that can be had by improving from to The former can be achieved by necessary tempo and well planned special endurance training that must be a part of the very time limited Decathlon programme. The latter would require an incredible investment of time and energy at the expense of too many other essential aspects of the programme. Thought provoking! Friday throughout much of the year is the day to do extensive rhythm running and endurance work over hurdles. Exactly what is done, as with most things, will be determined by the individual situation, particularly facilities. We are trapped indoors for six months of the year on a 200m oval in a fieldhouse that is 90m, from wall to wall. Essentially we are limited to a little more than 60m on the straight. Much of our work is done over 7 or 8 hurdles. We place them about 7.50m apart and usually at 1.01m height, although occasionally the athletes run them at regulation height. We begin by running sets of 2 x 7 or 8 hurdles on a walk-back, with a start mark at either end to assure a clean run in to the first hurdle. Saturday is the day for Tempo Endurance that later becomes Special Endurance 2, and for extensive Strength Endurance. Beginning with the micro-cycle following the last long aerobic run in November we begin to run a series of 300m, runs on about five minutes recovery. Initially they are run at about 45 or 46 seconds, and five or six 300 s eventualy become eight or ten. As theweeks progress through the three week meso-cycles the time for the 300 s drops to about 41 seconds. This is still relatively extensive rather than intensive work and a two or three week transition of faster and fewer on longer recovery leads us to a seven week period of increasingly higher intensity Special Endurance training leading into the first significant Decathlon of the year. This work continues to be based on 300m and begins with a 300m run followed by a two minute recovery and a second 300m run. This set is followed by a twenty minute recovery; then 200m with a two minute recovery followed by another 200m and a twenty minute recovery, followed by a final set of 200m a two minute recovery and 200m. This session is completed with extensive Strength Endurance (Running A s) and a long warm down. The final training session in this progressive series of fewer and faster six weeks later is a single 300m sprint at maximum effort followed by continuous striding and jogging on the grass for 800m to 1000m. The culmination of this entire programme of running rhythm and Special Endurance comes one week later; a very fast 400m, when it matters the most. The speed trap It is very easy to fall into the trap of spending too much time on developing pure speed. The thinking goes like this: Speed does play a large part in nine of the ten disciplines. Therefore if you spend a lot of time improving your speed

5 everything else wil folow. As with all things in life, it is wise to look a little deeper, to try to see the broadest picture possible, and to attempt to see all of the implications of each path that presents itself to us. Speed is important, but it is not the answer to everything. In fact, in and of itself, Speed guarantees nothing not even a faster 100m. Special Endurance is still a big factor in the 100m. Equally important are sprinting technique and running rhythm. Now remember; I am not suggesting that Speed training is to be ignored. Quite the contrary. We need to do Speed Training and also do the required work that will lead to exceptional running technique and rhythm and a high level of Special Endurance. It is not either/or it is, in fact, and/also. It is significant to recognize that in terms of time invested in training relative to results yielded, Special Endurance training is an excellent investment. In addition, we can do more about improving running technique and rhythm and Special Endurance than we can about the highly genetically influenced aspect called speed. The Long Jump Sprinting technique and running rhythm are even more significant in the long jump, as so many athletes, particularly Europeans, have demonstrated. Classic examples are Konstantin Akhapkin (URS) who in one meet ran and jumped 7.72m; Kutsenko (URS), and 7.54m; and of course Avilov (URS) who in Munich ran and jumped 7.68m. Freimuth (GDR) in a meet in 1984 ran and jumped 7.79m. Steen in Goetzis (CAN) in 88 ran and jumped 7.78m. It is obvious that specific running technique and rhythm combined with jumping technique are of greater significance than is pure running speed. The 400 meters The big factor on day one is how it is finished the 400m not how it is started. Being well prepared for the 400m is not only a psychological ace in the hole and a guarantee of earning excellent points, it also assures the athlete of good recovery from that run with no undue stiffness or fatigue carried over to day two. With anything better than a second 100m it is quite reasonable to expect to run under 48.0 seconds. This is a worth-while goal. There are 94 points to be garnered between and 48.01! The Hurdles Running rhythm and Special Endurance may be of the greatest significance in the 110m hurdles. This is an event in which great rewards can be reaped by the athlete who is prepared to do the little things and pay attention to detail day after day. This event epitomizes the rewards to be gained from a relaxed, clear focus and a good deal of patience. Technique is basic; and essential to technique are exceptional flexibility and mobility, things that take time to develop but are not

6 demanding of much energy. Hurdle drills can be a part of almost every warm-up. After good technique it is clearly an issue of running rhythm and Special Endurance for decathletes. Achapkin (former Soviet record holder at 8458) ran seconds off an meters. The Canadian Alan Hough ran seconds off an meters. A little research would yield a list even longer and it will also uncover the other side of the coin that many athletes with very good 100m results are not converting this into comparable 110m Hurdles times. There are far too many decathletes ignoring the flexibility and mobility work and the rhythmic running over hurdles placed closer together that will lead to greater utilization of the basic speed that they do have. The Pole Vault The pole vault is another event in which any Decathlete vaulting less than 5.00m is not limited by speed. This is really an event in which success is determined by the effectiveness of the take-off. A very good take-off leads to a good rock back and pull up. The effectiveness of the take-off is determined totally by the run up and pole plant. This event demands the ultimate in rhythmic running with controlled acceleration through a technically sound plant. These are all challenges that anyone who is prepared to put in the quality time can resolve. In conclusion There is no magic formula, no one way to get to the top of the mountain. In fact, there are only simple, basic physiology and the unique individual athletesituation. There are, however, elemental truths which if ignored will limit our development. My experience, and that of others, would suggest that there is much to be gained for every decathlete by looking seriously at the place of running technique, rhythm and Special Endurance in his programme. The Decathlon is a running/technical event. There is also much to be gained by being a constantly developing and evolving technician, but that is for another time. For now, give some thought to running well, efficiently, and with increasingly higher levels of Special Endurance.

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