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Elite Performance: Mountain Running

Paula Radcliffe is not a name usually found in the Fell Runner, but I do admit to daydreaming on how she would perform at a World Trophy event - uphill only!

Like Jonathan Wyatt she would probably win it!  Any world class athlete who has performed to the highest level in endurance running can inevitably perform to that level in most disciplines.  Certainly the courses for uphill running at International level are more suited for a quality track or road athlete than a true mountain runner, and would offer little in the way of a problem to Paula who is used to training on the undulating paths and hills of Font Romeu.  The only problem she would have is filling the big hole left in her bank balance by the lack of financial reward.

To become truly international now requires not only a dedicated athlete whose professional attitude borders on the fanatical, but who also has a very strong financial base to work from, and a dedicated team of experts to help in achieving their goals.

The current debate on the falling standard of endurance runners can certainly point to enough statistics to give some substance to the claim.

Itís my belief that there are sufficient coaches who have the necessary ability to take athletes to this higher level and redress the balance, but the distractions of modern day living and the change in attitudes over the last couple of decades have diluted the base of those quality gifted athletes enough to lower the standard of competition.

Even in our discipline it is now much more difficult to place an English athlete in the medals at World level.  But I do believe that in International Mountain Running there is still scope for those athletes who want to achieve International honours and successfully mount the podium.  We currently do not attract those athletes whose agents are hungry for their 10%, the joy of running the mountains and competing for ones country still holds strong.

So what has the elite fell/mountain runner to do in order to bring back the medals?

Below gives some practical advice on the coaching of elite athletes.  It is not a panacea for success but it would put a conscientious athlete some way up the road towards it.

Training Of Elite Athletes
The following are key areas for coach and athlete

The speed element is a crucial factor for the elite athlete.  Although absolute sprinting speed is not a necessity, the speed and strength endurance aspect has to be extremely well developed.  10k times of sub 30 mins are required if an athlete hopes to compete successfully at International level.

Again this element of conditioning comes to the fore; the fat percentage level for elite standards is below 10%.  In fact the figures of 5% - 9% for men and 9% - 16% for women are recognised as applicable for International athletes.

Special Conditioning
Altitude and warm weather training play an important role in ensuring that continuous high quality training levels are maintained at those times of the year when other athletes are contending with a British Winter.

Tapering For Performance
The ability to be prepared correctly for the important races is a major task facing the coach.

Preventative Exercises
Because of high work loads and intensities that the elite athlete trains at, it is imperative that injuries are kept to a minimum.  In this respect a programme of preventative exercises and conditioning is an essential aspect of the training programme.

Tactical Knowledge
Far more attention has to be given to the tactical implications for elite athletes.  Being in contention for winning the race requires detailed knowledge of the course and the opposition runners.  Race tactics have also to be discussed.

Race Profiling
Special consideration has to be given to those races at International and Championship level.  The climate of the country has to be taken into consideration and adaptive training organised before the event.  Specific training may be required for those courses that have particular course profiles.

Detailed Preparation
To ensure that all aspects are catered for, the coach requires detailed planning to ensure that all items of kit that may be used are taken to the race venue.  This may include food and water if the race venue is not in keeping with what the athlete is accustomed to.

Mental Preparation
This aspect of conditioning takes on new dimensions when the winning margins are in seconds.  This area of preparation needs a level of expertise that may at times require the coach to call in the assistance of a sports psychologist.

The services of a good physiotherapist can be a critical factor in maintaining the overall fitness of your athlete.  This aspect at the race venue can be more than helpful if a good massage is available both before, and after the race.

Prohibitive Substances
At elite level the problem of accidentally taking a banned substance through some innocuous cough medicine can have major repercussions, the testing procedures especially out of competition are now common for elite athletes and attention to this area of preparation is of paramount importance.

Selective Racing Policy
If an athleteís expectations are to consistently race at a high level of performance against quality opposition, then a selective racing policy is the only way forward. Winning local domestic races week after week will not allow for the intensity of training that is required to stay at the top.

Training Aspects
It goes without saying that all areas of preparation from strength conditioning to flexibility routines, and from diet to hydration have all to be at a level commensurate with the ability of the athlete.

Diet & Nutrition
The days of pie and peas with a pint to wash it down are long gone for the serious athlete, nutritional advice has to be sought from those qualified to give it.  Maintaining a low body fat percentage and still having sufficient calories for intense training is a fine balance that is best left to the experts.

Norman Matthews © 2001-2004
Head Senior Coach
Horwich RMI Harriers