First of all, I should point out that Carlos Lopes did not adopt the same training during each phase of his long career. So if we are going to understand his progression all the way from Junior athlete to elite senior athlete aged 39 years (his age in his last competition) it would be an exhaustive and exhausting process. We cannot go into a complete training detail over the whole career span due to the many changes involved. So in these post I will concentrate on providing an overview of each Phase.
As I have remarked before, Lopes was coached by Mario Moniz Pereira, the same coach as Fernando Mamede. Both Lopes’ and Mamede’s running careers took place concurrently; during the same seasons, running for the same team, even living in the same city, Lisbon . Beyond even that, they trained on the same track, often ran over the same training routes, or same training locales, and were often training on the same track at the same time, under the same coach’s supervision, but their training was different from each other.
Moniz Pereira understood that both athletes had diverse training needs, not simply because they had differing competitive goals, but fundamentally because they came into the sport with differing inherent talent characteristics.
Moniz Pereira was to adopt a similar tactic in training the Castro twins. Domingos and Dionisio Castro lived together, trained in the same place at the same time with the same coach. The coach was always present, but they were both given different workouts.
I am going to divide the long career of Lopes into three major training periods; based on different training patterns and different set targets.
From early local runs to being invited to train under Moniz Pereira, up to 1975.
From 1976 to ’80-81
From 1981 to ’85 and the end of his career
Period 1 – from the start of his running career until 1975
During this period Lopes ran three track workouts each week with minimal training mileage; something like 60 mins/day as a single run. In contrast to Mamede, Lopes tended to run his daily runs at a “fast” pace, certainly faster than all the others in the training group of Moniz Pereira. We can understand his tendency to do so in the light of our explanation of ST vs FT types, and we can see that his particular ST characteristic was already being revealed at this early stage. Also during this period he would have one day off from training each week, something he would not always do in later periods.
Period 2 - From 1976 to ’80-81 In the early winter of '75, Carlos Lopes (by then 28 years old) made one significant alteration; he changed from once-a-day to twice-a-day training. He was able to do so because he now had a part-time work arrangement and could include morning runs since he had more time to recover.
His coach took advantage of this change to alter his training schedule in '75-76. Lopes began to train twice-a-day, increasing his mileage, but also doing less track workouts. Prior to this, he had run three track workouts each week, all year round. In '75-76 he reduced his track workouts to twice a week and also introduced into his training some fast continuous runs lasting 20-40 mins. These he did roughly 2-3 times per week.
To compare and contrast both runners, Lopes ran more mileage and at a faster average pace than Mamede. He preferred to run alone on his daily runs, as well as when performing his track workouts. To be honest, on many occasions no-one else could hang with him on his daily runs when he would cover 18.5 km in one hour, despite taking the first 20 mins easy. A typical daily run could last anywhere from 40-90 mins, but what is more important than the volume is the pace he ran at during some 20-40 min daily runs. Frequently he would start at roughly 3:20 mins/km pace but wind this up to close the final kilometers at somewhere around 2:50-3:05 mins/km pace.
With this training alteration between Period 1 and Period 2, Lopes quickly began to achieve top results in international competitions. In the winter of ’76, (his first season of Period 2) the change in his training method enabled him to win the World X-Country Championship, and during the track season he improved his PBs from 13:34.2 to 13:24 for 5,000m and from 28:30.6 to 27:42.65 for 10,000m. To put this in perspective, in 1976, when Lopes was running those times, the 5,000m WR was 13:13.0, and the 10,000m WR was 27:30.8. That same 1976 season, Lopes took the Silver Medal in the 10,000m at the Montreal Olympic Games.
It is wrong to claim that Lopes "did nothing" between '76 and '80. In 1977 he came second in the World X-Country Championships and had some good results up to '81. What did happen is that he had several serious injuries in the '78-81 period.
It is also untrue that he underwent surgery; he did not. He stated he would rather give up his running career than go under the knife. Instead he treated his Achilles and knee injuries with acupuncture.
In '80, he felt he was in shape to win the 10,000m and the marathon in the Moscow Olympics, but Portugal boycotted those Games.
Period 3 – from 1981 to 1985 and the end of Lopes’ career.
This is the best-known period of Carlos Lopes, when he finally achieved supreme world class status and ran his all-time best performances.
The main training structure that his coach had built up from 1975-76 continued, but with some further modification.
As soon as his major injuries cleared up, Lopes never quit the track, but began to recognise and focus on the importance of “non-stadia” events, specifically road and cross country racing, and especially the marathon.
For some time he had always preferred “non-stadia” events rather than track, but there was another reason that made him focus on them so intently. Lopes knew that as an ST runner the best terrain on which he could be most competitive was away from the track.
As Hadd has already commented concerning the Beijing Olympics, it is almost impossible for an ST runner to win a track Gold Medal in middle or long distance these days.
For an ST to win the distance events in a global competition, he must (at some point in the race) increase the pace to such an intensity that he can break away from the opposition. An ST must then build such a commanding lead that the others cannot come with him, or stay close enough to sprint past him/her in the final 400m. To win a race this way is extremely hard to do … but an ST runner has little option since he/she always knows how vulnerable they are in a final sprint.
But, as long and tough as track distance events are, with the addition of a slower surface (like cross country or undulating roads) the more easy it becomes for the ST runner to take the lead and break far enough away to avoid the fast finish of FT runners.
Lopes and his coach understood this intuitively. So what did they do to further adjust his training during the peak 1981-85 period?
True to an ST type, he increased his training mileage, but not excessively so. He always paid attention to pace in any mileage increase – mileage for the sake of mileage made no sense, it had to be quality mileage.
Once again to contrast both runners/types, Lopes (ST) ran more weekly mileage than Fernando Mamede (FT), and most of his daily runs were at a faster pace than Mamede would run. He also ran longer daily runs than Mamede. It’s true some of his daily runs were just 40-45 mins like Mamede, but others were 60-70-80 up to 90 mins on some occasions. And all the time putting a lot of emphasis on his 20-40 mins LTP/tempo workouts. With some runs going up to 60-90 mins, his interest in track interval training was naturally reduced. But don’t get the impression Lopes missed any of his two track sessions each week; he almost never missed them and ran track workouts almost all season long, and during every phase of periodisation.
Before I finish, one point I was to emphasise, Lopes did not train for the marathon all-year round. He would simply turn to marathon-mode in a special period beginning 4-8 weeks before his target marathon competition.
Next, I will reveal in some detail what kind of workouts Carlos Lopes ran, including examples.