from bmc news:
Abdelkader Kada, the coach to world mile and 1500m record-holder Hicham El Guerrouj, was the guest of honour at the recent UK National Endurance Weekend. After the Moroccan had spent the two days in Birmingham answering questions from curious British athletes and coaches, Jason Henderson asked: what had we learnt? Here, hopefully, are some of the answers It became a worry, when a crowd of 50-odd athletes and coaches excitedly huddled together in a small lecture room at the Walsall Campus of the University of Wolverhampton to listen to Abdelkader Kada explain how his No.1 athlete, Hicham El Guerrouj, trains, that far too many members of the British distance running fraternity believe they already know it all. Just a few miles up the road, a far greater number of athletes and their coaches seemed more bothered about clocking a fast leg or six around Sutton Park. And it wasn’t as if the two events clashed, for the British Milers’Club were keen to build their endurance weekend’s various seminars and lectures around the Nike National Road Relay races. Not in competition against them.
The secrets of the world’s premier middledistance runner, El Guerrouj, were being revealed to the world on this chilly, early November morning. Yet only those doyens of distance coaching, Gordon Surtees, Frank Horwill, Bruce Tulloh and about 50 other curious souls were there.
The mitigating circumstance was that Kada’s presence was confirmed only a couple of days earlier. But when he began his speech, by saying through his interpreter, Mohammed Fatihi of Thames Valley Harriers, that: “The training methods are no different to those used in other countries,” half of the assembled class must have begun to think that the majority – who were taking the direct route to Sutton Park –must have been right.
When Kada went on to explain that he had cribbed most of his ‘secrets’ from the training schedules of Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram, it made you wonder how he had the nerve to be invited, as a guest of honour, to tell us all the same secrets we had once told him! As the Moroccan continued to whisper to Fatihi (how else could secrets be told?), the stuttered nature of the translation only seemed to prolong the tortuous revelations.
It soon became clear, however, that Kada was too intelligent – and too downright polite – to have travelled all the way from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to the windswept campus of a Midlands university just to tell us what we already knew.
Inevitably the secrets, one by one, began to sneak out.
Kada is currently the head distance coach at the Moroccan national training centre. El Guerrouj is the current jewel in the Moroccan middle-distance running crown, but Kada also coaches Salah Hissou, who broke the world record for 10,000 metres in 1996 and won the world 5000m title in Seville; plus many others, led by Ali Ezzine, who won a surprise bronze medal in the steeplechase at the recent World Championships.
Kada stated early on the importance of formulating schedules for (a) the group as a whole and (b) the individual athlete within the group.
Be in no doubt, El Guerrouj, Hissou and Ezzine did not win World Championship medals by training on their own. They are part of a squad who not only train together, but live together.
El Guerrouj and his training partners may drop to their knees in praise of Allah when they won races, but they rely on a little more than divine intervention when they toe the line. Some of the points that surprised and informed the listening coaches and athletes included:
• Frequent visits to altitude are essential. One trip per year is not enough, although better than nothing. “An accumulation of trips are needed,” said Kada.
The Moroccan squad may visit altitude 4-6 times a year, with venues including Ilfrane in Morocco, Font Romeu in France and St Moritz in Switzerland. Each visit is for 3-5 weeks. The athletes will live at 2500m altitude, but come down to 1500m to train.
When they are sea level they train at Rabat.
• An athlete will adapt to altitude the more visits they take. When El Guerrouj broke the world mile record in the summer in Rome it was on his fifth day back at sea level.
• El Guerrouj sleeps for eight hours a night ... and a further three during the day. As one coach wryly pointed out, with such an amount of sleep and rest, drugs are not needed.
In many circumstances doping is used to speed recovery from heavy training, but here athletes such as El Guerrouj are encouraging their bodies to recover naturally by imposing an unnatural amount of sleep upon themselves.
• Athletes train twice a day. They may
occasionally - indeed rarely - train three times, and if so then the third session will be an easy run – usually done during a rehabilitation phase.
• Athletes use two types of fartlek: (a)
‘Classical’ – the distance covered and paces used being completely up to the individual and how they feel on that particular day; and (b) ‘Modern’ fartlek, where a regimented session is organised by the coach.
• El Guerrouj aims to perfect a fluid style, at pace. Kada argued that El Guerrouj’s stride length will rarely fall during a fast mile/ 1500m. He will only slow when his stride frequency slows.
• Strength exercises concentrate on all body parts. Bounding is also used and while talking about this Kada mentioned the names of Coe and Said Aouita.
Strength training is split into three parts: with weights, natural methods such as bounding and hill training.
• Hill training is used to “improve the
movement of arms and legs, stride and speed”.
Sessions include 10-15x250-500m.
• Strength exercises in the gym incorporate all parts of the body. Typical exercises include: half squat (6x20 reps with 25kg bar or 4x16 reps with 30kg bar); full squats (4x16 reps with 20kg bar); lunges 4x20 reps with 25kg bar); step-ups (1x20 reps on each leg with 30kg bar); abdominals (300-400 reps); back (300-400 reps).
On multi-gym machines: hamstrings (4x16 reps); quadriceps (4x16 reps); abductors (4x16 reps); adductors (4x16 reps).
• The athletes do not run excessive mileages. A miler such as El Guerrouj runs about 120km/week (about 75 miles) during the preparation phase; while a 5000/10,000m runner such as Hissou runs 140km/week.
• The sheer quality of the training became apparent with the admission that what they termed ‘jogging’ was actually running at a pace of three minutes per kilometre.
• Typical track sessions include: 20-25x400 (1min rec) or 4x500 (75sec rec)/2x1000 (3min rec) /1x2000 (5min rec)/5x400 (1min rec).
• Before the recent World Championships, the following session was completed by Hissou: 3 x (1km (45sec rec); 400 (3min rec)) – with the kilometres run in 2:30 and the 400s in 52-53.
• Tactical rehearsals are carried out within training sessions, simulating race situations. Weaker members of the squad are used as hares to pace group leaders such as El Guerrouj and Hissou.
• Swimming is used for recovering or ‘alternative massage’.
• The national squad has a battery of seven doctors to pay full attention to the athletes.
• School cross country races are a breeding ground for talented young distance runners. This is where Kada and his Moroccan scouts spot potential champions.
Youngsters aged 12-16 are systematically monitored at school and subjected to three types of tests: (a) sprinting; (b) endurance, in the form of a middle-distance race; © standing long jump. Those with good results are given further tests - measuring VO2 max, biomechanical efficiency and blood analysis, for example.
• Kada’s athletes do all their training on soft ground. When asked if El Guerrouj trained on the roads he looked completely horrified and then pointed to his shins.
He then told a story about how he was in the United States and had seen athletes training on the roads, “With great areas of forest right next to them!” he said. El Guerrouj, he added, didn’t even do hill sprints on road. Everything was on grass or ‘dirt’.
As a spectator at the Nike AAA of England Road Relay Championships, Kada said that none of his athletes who ran 800m or 1500m, or even 5000m, would be allowed to risk damaging their legs on sucha tough surface.
• The athlete’s room at the training centre depended on personal best times. Good times warranted a double room; even better times saw an athlete get a room to him or herself.
If the athlete is married they are not allowed to have visits and are not allowed to pay visits to their spouse either.
Of course the athlete does go
home to spend time with their
spouse, but such visits are seldom.
“There has to be total commitment,”
“He is clever in the manner he
approaches life,” added Kada on El
Guerrouj. “He has a girlfriend, but
you will never see her at meetings.”
• The athlete receives the equivalent
of the national average wage while
in the camp. Board and lodgings are
added extras, as are competition
• The build-up to the Olympics may
mean Morocco only having a token
presence at the forthcoming World
Cross Country Championships.
They will run in the championship,
but not gear their training towards it
as in previous years.
Where it is clear that Kenyan
success is based on a desire to
escape poverty and natural advantages
such as being born at altitude,
it is clear the Moroccan approach is
But Kada was not the only
lecturer spreading ideas at the
The weekend laid on a great range of
speakers on a variety of subjects.
In a lecture called ‘developing core strength’, Mark Buckingham threw doubt on traditional bent knee sit-ups, instead advocating a straight leg technique.
Andy Jones, Paula Radcliffe’s physiologist, gave a talk on ‘physiological support for elite athletes’.
UK Athletics Endurance Director Norman Brook emphasised that ‘no stone should be left unturned’ and pointed toward Radcliffe as a model example of an elite athlete who executes total preparation.
Brendan Hackett gave a speech on sport psychology which began by him writing the Kenyan records for 800m, 1500m and the mile on to a board next to the British bests for the distances.
The two sets of times, Hackett pointed out, were not too dissimilar, emphasising that British athletes cannot be inferior to Kenyans. Hackett, the coach to Irish 800m runner James Nolan, was one of the younger coaches at the conference keen to spread his own expertise and learn from others, such as Kada. So after Kada had spoken about the ‘secrets’ behind the making of the supermiler, El Guerrouj, it became clear that one of the secrets behind the making of a great coach is a neverending desire to keep learning. To never accept, not think for a moment, that you know everything. Fewer men can know more than the likes of Horwill, Tulloh and Surtees. Yet there they were with their ears cocked, hanging on Kada’s every word (as everyone eventually discovered, he did actually speak good English!).
Many of Britain’s other top distance coaches were also there. And many others weren’t. Let’s just hope the absentees don’t think they know it all.
One of Kada’s requests as he left his new British friends and set off back to Morocco was to ask Horwill, for one, to come to his country in the near future to tell his people about the training methods that made athletes such as Coe so great.
Kada trains a man who runs 3:26 for 1500m and 3:43:13 for the mile, but his mind is still searching for new ideas ... and old ones too.
• This article was first published in Athletics
Weekly, November 10 issue