Monday, 23 February 2009

D-Wykes Update

I had a request to provide an update on Dylan Wykes—Canada’s almost fastest male marathoner of 2008—now nearly one year on from his superb Rotterdam debut. I’ve decided to accede to this request (without, incidentally, asking DW himself!) because: one, I don’t think he’d mind; two, I’m not afraid of revealing any secrets—secrecy being generally alien to the spirit of this sport; and three, Dylan, being that unfortunately rare Canadian example of a talented middle distance runner (i.e. with P.B.s of 4:01/mile and 7:58/3k, both set at 19 years of age) making a serious attempt at transforming himself into a road racer, and a marathoner in particular, offers an interesting and useful case study for younger runners and their coaches.

As a preface, I should explain that, at this particular point in his career—i.e. at 25 years old, with respectable middle distance P.B.s and two successful marathon build-ups under his belt, and at the beginning of the 2012 Olympic cycle—Dylan is still very much engaged in trying to become a more complete distance runner in general as well as a faster marathoner—goals that I see as complimentary rather than at odds. As a relatively young North American athlete specializing in the marathon, Dylan is an anomaly largely because it is, and has been for a while, part of the prevailing wisdom in this part of the world that marathon racing and training must come at the expense of an athlete’s performance at the shorter distances, and his track performances in particular. The dominant practice in this part of the world is to wait until one’s talents have peaked at the shorter distances before moving into the next event range—a conventional wisdom that has survived since at least my own early days in the sport. When I was first leaving the age-class ranks, it was commonly believed that an athlete should expend all of his abilities over 800m and 1500m—a process that could easily extend into an athlete’s mid-20s—before moving to the 5,000 and 10,000m, regardless of his apparent basic aptitude for the longer stuff. The theoretical premise behind this approach—if it had one—was that success at these longer distances would require great finishing speed, which could only be developed through an extensive early focus on middle distance training and racing, with the subtext being that finishing speed was a simple function of an athlete’s pure, middle distance speed. Athletes from other countries—and those from Africa in particular, where the depth of running talent has always compelled runners to try their hand at all distances from early age-- however, have repeatedly shown that early specialization at the longer distances, for those with necessary aptitude, is not only possible but probably optimal for long term development. Athletes like Kenisa Bekele and Haile Gebresellasie of Ethiopia, and Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya, among the literally dozens of possible examples, have shown that training for the 5,000, 10000 and marathon from the moment of athletic maturity (i.e . the late teens or early 20s) is a more than viable approach—and, as Bekele and Gebresellasie in particular have shown, that it certainly doesn’t blunt one’s finishing speed! (My own view is that, because finishing speed is actually a function of pure speed+ aerobic power, it is possible to improve one’s kick as much through greater aerobic conditioning as through running at higher speeds— and that, in fact, simply trying to race and train at higher speeds beyond the age of 18-20, particularly if doing so requires restricting total training volume, will not only impede the long term physical and psychological development of young runners; it will also, paradoxically, inhibit the development of finishing speed over the longer distances!)In short, Dylan’s move to road racing and that marathon beginning last year does not signal the end of his efforts to become a better long distance track racer--quite the opposite. We have every reason to expect that, like many, many younger athletes worldwide who have decided to specialize in the longer road events, Dylan’s greater average training volumes-- and specifically, the physiological and psychological adaptations these have instilled-- will ultimately make him a better long distance runner on and off the track.

To wit: Dylan’s training focus for the past couple of months, and in the 8-12 weeks before he begins his build-up for the World Championship marathon in Berlin, has been and will continue to be on preparing to run a fast track 10,000m. (This, I should say, is a very tricky business for any North American athlete. With only two or three serious opportunities—all of them on California, and in the early spring—the North American athlete must train successfully through the winter, toe the line is top shape, and nail his/her performance on the first or second attempt, as often there will BE no subsequent attempts--what with spots on the starting line of these races being so precious, and therefore available only to those with bona fide and relatively fresh credentials). The first step in preparing to race on the track will has been, and will continue to be, simply spending more time training on the track (which will, in the short term, necessitate trips to the Dome, a 400m indoor track, in Ottawa). These track sessions will focus on a mix of “repetition” pace (1500m race pace), “interval” pace (3k/5k) and 10k goal race pace running, with the emphasis on the latter two pace ranges. An example is last week’s session, which Dylan did while down in Providence, R.I. This workout consisted of: 6x1000m @ 10k race pace, except with 1x200 in the middle of each rep @ 30-31 secs. The recovery throughout was 2:00 to max 2:30 of easy jogging. His warm-up and warm-down were the usual 20-25mins + strides. As it happens, this particular session didn’t go according to plan, as Dylan, fighting some very strong winds, was unable to recover from the pace changes and so could not hit the target of 2:47-49 per rep, instead averaging over 2:50.

Dylan’s other workout of the week during this phase, which he will be do on either the track, treadmill or the road, will consist of 30-40mins of running at mostly threshold pace, sometimes in single bouts, sometimes broken up with short recoveries, and sometimes as fartlek sessions of various types. His workout last week, also done on the track was, for instance: 7x 1mile @ threshold pace with 1 min. easy jog/hydration recovery, plus the usual 20-25min warm-up/down @ 4:00-4:20/kms. With the support of fellow Providence College Alum Pat Tarpy, this one went much more smoothly, with the two of them averaging 4:46 for the session. As a further example of this kind of session, Dylan’s workout for this week will be a fartlek type consisting of: 6mins, 6mins, 5mins, 4mins, 3mins, 2mins, 1min all with 1min. @ 3:35-40/km pace recovery. The first 4 reps will be run at threshold pace and the last 3-- the 3, 2 and 1mins segments—are to be run at progressively faster speeds, finishing at, we hope, close to 3k race pace.

Dylan’s total volume throughout this cycle-- in all but his peak race weeks-- will continue to be relatively high, although obviously below his peak totals during marathon-specific prep. And, he will continue the practice doing the majority of runs in single bouts. He will typically run 75mins per day @ 3:45-4min/kms, with one or two days of 2x 45mins at the same pace, for a weekly total of around 130-135kms. He will also continue with his detailed and cutting-edge core and upper body strength routine-- this, in addition to his trademark, Radcliffe-like attention to rest and nutritional detail, has been the secret to his great general health and over-all consistency over the past 2-3 years. (For details of this, you'll have to ask him yourself!)

In a week or so, Dylan will depart for a warm-weather training venue yet to be confirmed. Here he will make the final push to prepare for what we hope will be his first of two or three track 10ks—the March 27th event in Palo Alto California. I will revisit his progress in the blog periodically over these next few weeks.

Next week, I’ll say something in answer to the question of why runners like Dylan—runners with strong, age-class middle distance backgrounds who have made the move at a relatively early age up to longer racing distances—have become so rare in North American over the past 20-odd years.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the best to Dylan in 09.

1 March 2009 at 12:23  
Blogger Oddish said...

Nice result for Dylan at the North American Cross Country Championships in Florida. Looks like a good start to his season, we'll be eagerly watching for more race results.

7 March 2009 at 20:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

great looking site, Dylan's results are also looking good, when Dylan has a race during this 10k prep does he drop one of his two weekly workouts and if so which one, for the fartlek threshold workout how do you determine the recovery pace, ie. the 1min recovery at 3:30- 3:40 pace mention in the workout

thanks and hopefully see you soon,
Ken Gosleigh

8 March 2009 at 13:53  
Blogger Steve said...

Hey Ken,

Thanks for the feedback. During a race week, Dylan drops his interval session and does either fartlek, cruise intervals, or a tempo run of 20-25mins, depending on the importance of the race.

The recovery pace for this kind of fartlek is at Dylan's Daniels'-based E-pace. I've found from my own experience that this pace is optimal in terms of keeping the over-all effort level and speed at slightly below threshold pace, and very close to 10k pace for at least the first 20mins or so. In the last 7-10mins, the average effort decreases as the rest/work ratio increases along with the speed of the pick-ups. I call these sessions "hybrid tempos", and they're great prep for road 10ks, or, if shortened up a bit, the first session following a race.



10 March 2009 at 21:32  

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