Anybody can pop out a poem or coach, so what’s the difference between ditties and art, bog-standard coaching and sublime coaching? Here’s The Godfather of poetry, TS Eliot:
‘Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.’
What does Eliot mean? Let’s look at one of the greatest openings to one of the greatest poems of all time, The Wasteland:
‘April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Quick literary appreciation for you: out of winter, hibernation, and death, life springs/grows. The fecundating properties of death supply the roots of life etc. Simples.
Now, onto the running stuff…
The opening to Eliot’s, The Wasteland, reminds me so much of the greatest workout of all time: Canova’s workout for Sondre Moen, which I’ve coined, ‘The Dull Roots With Spring Rain Workout.’
What’s Moen’s story? Here’s Canova from (from Letsrun):
Last year, at the beginning of October, Sondre sent me an email, asking if I was interested to coach him, since his previous coach quitted the activity (we know the reason).
I accepted this task, making clear some points, for me fundamental :
a) Since I don’t think the superiority of African runners is mainly genetic, but due to different ambience and training conditions (altitude, big groups, not mental limits, better felling with their body, etc…), I told him he needed to become more “Kenyan”, with long periods in altitude, and better feeling with his body.
2) I wanted a full motivation, believing in a project. He already ran a Marathon in 2:12 and was not bad in Rio (19th in 2:14), but his PB in short distances were very old, and I put as basic goal the improvement in short distances, for having a different base of speed looking at a Marathon of top level.
3) To believe in training only. I don’t want any kind of supplement for my best athletes, apart Maltodextrines when they go for long runs. I want that the athletes become mentally strong, believing in themselves as person, not looking at any external aid, something that creates mental limits.
4) To give me full feedback about his training, when I’m not with him. Under this point of view, a european athlete can have big advantage compared with African athletes (apart few exceptions like Eliud Kipchoge), because it’s normal for him to use his computer for writing all his training, his feeling, and every situation we have to analyse (something African athletes normally don’t do, so there is big difference when I’m personally with them, and when I work with my programs, also if they are followed by some my assistant coach).”
…The plan was clear :
“a).Great volume during Winter, for running a Spring Marathon (Hannover) looking at a performance under 2:10 (really, he ran 2:10.07 suffering for stomach problems)
b) Increasing speed, looking at the limit for WCh on track (primalry for 10000m, as second option for 5000m). In this case, at the end of June he was not still ready for 27’45”, and Ostrava was not the best race for the limit (but was also the only chance). We looked at the second option, and he reached the limit in Heusden, moving to 13’20”16 (22nd July), a performance he didn’t believe possible till one month before (he went Heusden paying himself travel and accommodation, because strongly believed possible running under 13’22” that was the standard for WCh).
c) After the experience in WCh, the idea was to start immediately to prepare a marathon for December, going through the HM of Valencia. This means he started something longer 20 days after WCh, having a short break during the second half of August, still competing in two different 5000m (the first in National Championships on 25th August, where he paced in front of Jakob Ingrebritgsen till last lap finishing 2nd in 13’39”92, and the second in Rovereto on 29th August, when ran his second personal performance in 13’30”47).
‘The Dull Roots With Spring Rain Workout’
Before Moen emerged as the great Mzungu of Iten (Kenya) and the world, he struggled to complete a standard workout (at altitude) that Canova often dishes out in the early stages of the specific phase of a marathon build-up: 7x3km off 1km. Here are the details of the workout (from, Letsrun):
Sunday 15 : 27 km in 1 h 26’51” (average 3’13”) with 7 times 3 km alternated with 1 km more slow, with the following times :
9’15” – 3’38” – 8’56” – 3’34” – 9’10” – 3’27” – 9’17” – 3’22” – 9’30” – 3’37” – 9’32” – 3’44” – 9’45”
He died. This workout came at the middle/end of winter. Out of winter, hibernation, and death, life springs…
Here’s how I explained it to my training group on Strava…
The challenge…Moen’s caving early on: he can’t cope with 7x3km off 1km; might be the altitude (definitely a contributory factor—at this stage). Maybe he was sick—doesn’t look like it, as there’s no mention of it, there is mention elsewhere when sickness rears its ugly skull. Might be the whole cultural change and body trying to adapt to the ‘monastic life’ (probably not, as things improve with the correct intervention and he’s been there a while). Might be that Moen lacks the necessary equipment (most likely—at this stage). It looks like Moen doesn’t posses the necessary speed/speed endurance/strength—how can Canova extend the intensity if the intensity (speed) is lacking?
99.9% of coaches would have gone to the, ‘improve your 5k time/10k time’ and then come back and build towards the marathon. But we all know that wouldn’t work. Ah, you don’t/you didn’t. Let me explain…
If Canova had taken Moen out of the marathon build-up to focus on the 5k/10k specifically (at this stage) Moen would have ended up nowhere. Effectively, he would have gained a bit of strength from the moderately high mileage on the rolling hills, the limited (at this stage) altitude exposure, and a few good long progression runs/moderately paced runs/long rep workouts/hill repeats. The transition into 5k/10k training would have failed: Moen needed the ‘nguvu’ that comes from the marathon work at this altitude—on this terrain—to give him the structural and metabolic toolset to breakthrough. ‘Mtaka cha uvunguni sharti ainame.’ (If you want what’s under the bed, you’ve gotta bend over and reach for it, lad — you’ve gotta do whatever it takes—legally.)
So, Canova drops out, The Dull Roots With Spring Rain Workout* (shared on, Letsrun):
Wednesday 18 (on track in Chepkoilel, 2200m altitude) : 2 x 3000m (recovery 3′) + 3 x 2000m (recovery 2’30”)+ 5 x 1000m (recovery 1’45”) + 6 x 500m (recovery 1’30”) in 8’59” – 8’54” – 5’54” – 5’59” – 6’03” – 3’01” – 2’58” – 3’00” – 3’01” – 3’02” – 1’26” – 1’27” – 1’26” – 1’27” – 1’25” – 1’25”
Wow. Can you see the magic? It’s communicating before it is understood. Look carefully… No! I’ll show you:
First off, they traipse down to Chepkoilel (Eldoret—a drop in altitude). Why drop 600+ feet? Why go, 2x3000m off 3’—3×2000 off 2’30”—5x1000m off 1’45—6x500m off 1’30”, instead of extending the intensity of what Moen had already done? Why do this workout three days after failing the 7x3k off 1k workout?
We’ll start with the altitude drop: they wanted the ‘track’ at Chepkoilel—a flat(ish) surface, albeit a dirt track. Also, the 600 foot drop might not sound like much but it is, especially when you’re doing faster stuff. Psychologically and physically, Moen would have felt the ‘nguvu’ growing. Most likely, he’d have thought, ‘Oh yes, baby, we’re dropping down—I’ll be able to cope with this slicer session. I won’t drift so much on the reps; I’ll hold the session together.’
So then, when Canova gives him the workout and the paces, Moen’s probably thinking, ‘Righto, chap, I’ve got this. I can see what you’re doing. You want me to run around 3’ km pace(4’48”-4’50” min mile pace)—you’re slicing-up the workout so I can handle it, and so on.
Moen’s buzzing. A 600 foot drop now feels like a 1,200 foot drop. Now, be aware of something: metabolically and structurally, there’s a big difference between 5’ pace and 4’48” pace (we’re not talking one mile here, we’re talking 12-13 miles worth of work). Don’t believe me…ask, Riley, Bryant, Jason, Ken, and Ben how much harder it is to hold 4’48” pace compared to 5’ pace. It’s all secret stuff about how altitude affects energy systems and bloods: WBC—RBC—Hgb— Hct—MCV—-RDW—PLT, that you guys aren’t allowed to know about; it’s classified coaching stuff for topnotch coaches only…
But why give him this workout at this stage? Surely, it’s a step back: Canova isn’t extending the intensity; like my mate Burt the butcher carves up cows, Canova’s carving up the session and making it easier than the previous session—there’s no progression/extension. This isn’t how Canova does things. Easy boy, slow down…
Look at the workout carefully…Previous session: 21 km fast work. This session: 20k volume = easier. But now look at the pace: instead of averaging 9’21” per 3km (15’35”-5k or 5’ mile pace), Moen’s averaged, 8’45”/46” (14’35”/6”-5kms or 4’40”-4’42” mile pace). Hold on chief, we now have 20km worth of work at 7’200 feet, on a cruddy track, at 4’40” mile pace as opposed to 5’ mile pace. Also, Moen’s exceeding Canova’s expectations (he’s not really exceeding Canova’s expectations as Canova knew fine well what he’d bang out—cheeky.) Yes, that’s nice. That’s some progression (maintaining, just about, the volume). But, stop for a second, that’s still only 29’12”ish for 10km or 58’25″ish for 20km. Yet, Moen still manages to eventually run a half marathon in 59’47”. Jakers!
But, Moen’s feeling better about things: he’s seen progression in pace over similar distance with recoveries being cut in terms of time between reps (although, overall recovery time is longer). Moen now knows, he can zip about under 3’km/4’48”-50” mmp no bother, at 7’000+ feet on a cruddy track. Instead of caving like he did on the 7x3km session, he actually finished strongly, running the last rep at 2’50”km pace rather than jogging at 3’15” pace.
That leads to the third point, why do this three days after the 7x3km? Canova’s a fan of full recovery between workouts—often taking 5-6 days between workouts. (He calls it, modulation.) He knew that Moen had the ‘nguvu’, that the 7x3km workout hadn’t wrecked him.
‘Nah’, you scream, ‘he slowed a good bit on the final 3x3km; he must have been zubed.’
Hold on kids, this is Coach Stazza now. You’re wrong. Go back and look carefully at the first workout (the 7x3km off 1km)…Did you see it? No. Well, guess what, I’m going to explain it to you, next time.
Also, next time—to keep ‘The Art Of Coaching’ strand weaving through the threads—I’ll go back to the comments on my ‘Freedom Of Enlightenment‘ post, where a reader named, Mark, suggested a young, aspiring coach ‘copied’ many of my workouts and took credit for them as ‘his plan’—I have no problems with, Young Luke Coleman being inspired by my workouts: it’s great to see young coaches trying to find their voice; but he’s misunderstood the workouts and how they slot together. We’ll examine the many reasons why Young Luke will struggle with his Canova/Stazza inspired plan—but I’ll guide him and help him using a similar strategy to Canova’s, Dull Roots Workout..