Lessons from Olympians

Take your running to the next level by applying the same principles as the Rio-bound elite. Martin Yelling shows you how

Rio Olympics

You may not be about to break the 10-second barrier for 100 metres or compete for a medal in the marathon, but we can all learn lessons from the elite. With the Olympic Games just around the corner, there’s never been a better time to try to emulate our Rio-bound athletes.

To reach the Games means years of training, hours of dedication, heaps of hard work and many ups and downs, lessons and failures. What all Olympians have in common is the ability to know what works for them and how to get the best out of themselves to perform when it matters most. Help improve your personal running performance by selecting some of these Olympic tips.

Build speed like a 100m sprinter

Why do it: whether 5K is your thing or you’re after mastering a marathon, some sprint training is a good idea to boost your top end speed, strength and power.

How to do it: preparing your body to complete a fast workout is vital. Your muscles need to be warm, and your body and mind ready. This may involve some light jogging, dynamic movement drills, and short sprints or ‘strides’. Over a 75m course, on track or grass, run 6 x 75m progressive build-up fast runs. Split each 75m into 3 x 25m sections. First 25m: from a rolling start pick up pace quickly. Second 25m: accelerate to build the pace to maximum. Third 25m: hold maximum pace to the finish. Walk back recovery to the start and repeat a total of six times.

Pro secret: Adam Gemili, 100m and 200m sprinter: “It’s not just about how fast you can move but how efficiently you can move, too. We do standing drills with high knees to develop good running technique. The more you practise how you land on your feet and how you bound forwards, the better you will be.”

Master mental strength like a marathoner

Why do it: as a runner, you’ve probably experienced a little fatigue and discomfort towards the end of a tough race. But just how would you respond when it’s a real suffer-fest and you keep questioning your ability to go on?

How to do it: put yourself in training situations that ask questions of your resilience, strength and courage. Try a 30-minute sustained threshold run where you set off at a pace that is purposefully going to be very demanding to sustain after 20 minutes. During the final 10 minutes, practise your performance mindset strategies: talk to yourself, frame your language positively, and break down the run into smaller chunks of time.

Pro secret: Liz Yelling, Team GB Olympic marathoner: “In tough training runs, I like to really tune in to what is important to my performance and tune out to things that can distract my focus and attention. Sometimes tuning in means listening closely to the inner rhythm of my running, breathing, stride, heart rate and effort levels. This can move my attention away from things like how much the pace hurts.”

Build speed endurance like an 800m runner

Why do it: speed endurance – your ability to keep running at a relatively high intensity for sustained amounts of time – is important for runners of all distances. It helps you to develop your VO2 max and also your running economy and efficiency.

How to do it: intervals (85-95% max effort) are a great way to boost speed endurance. Run 1 x 600m fast, (3mins recovery), 2 x 400m fast (3mins recovery) and 4 x 200m fast.

Pro secret: Jenny Meadows, Team GB 800m runner: “The 800m is one of the toughest events in terms of getting the balance right. To do well at the 800m, I need to have a good endurance base but also have the speed to produce a good kick-finish.”

Increase your power like a weightlifter            

Why do it: if you want to improve your sprint finish, improving strength is a great way of doing this. You will begin to notice that you can accelerate faster and will begin to feel strong when jostling in the pack. Research has also shown that improvements in strength can improve your running economy.

How to do it: complete three rounds of the following, resting 1-2mins between rounds: 30secs x squat jumps, 90secs x renegade rows, 30secs x dumbbell push-ups, 90secs x weighted reverse lunge, 30secs x burpees, 90secs x lying leg raise, 30secs x bicycles.

Pro secret: Pete McKnight, chairman of UKSCA and elite strength coach to Olympians:

“Endurance athletes are excellent at producing a moderate level of power over a long period of time. But if you want to improve your power and speed in your sprint finish, you need to get better at producing a high level of power over a short period of time. To do this you need to make sure you train with intent and intensity when you do your gym sessions!”

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