Ten Training Tips from Bernard Lagat, Dathan Ritzenhein, and Abdi Abdirahaman

by: LetsRun.com
March 15, 2013

Yesterday was the American men’s media day at the 2013 NYC Half Marathon as American stars Bernard Lagat, Abdi Abdirahman, and Dathan Ritzenhein all addressed the media.

LRC sat down with Bernard, Abdi and Dathan and you can see 8-12 minute videos with each of them (click on the links above).

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In the course of talking to Bernard, Abdi and Dathan we realized that in talking about their own training they had a lot of training tips that apply universally to running. So without further ado here at the top 10 training tips from Bernard Lagat, Abdi Abdirahman, and Dathan Ritzenhein as determined by LRC.

Top Ten Training Tips from Bernard Lagat, Dathan Ritzenhein, and Abdi Abdirahaman

1) Staying Healthy is Your #1 Objective – Ritz, Lagat, and Abdi
Abdi, Bernard, and Dathan have all had tremendous success and gone about it very differently. One thing is common for all of them, the importance of staying healthy. They have had varying degrees of success at staying healthy and how they go about it. Lagat is notorious for not running a lot of miles. What has it done for him? Made him have an unbelievably long career. Abdi Abdirahman has run a ton of 120 mile weeks, but said he is constantly on the “red-line” of staying healthy and getting injured. And Dathan Ritzenhein has been injury plagued throughout his career. He now realizes it would be better to do too little than too much. He said, “For me, just getting to the line healthy is important.” Running is really about how much you can train while staying healthy.

Abdi Abdirahman and Bernard Lagat via the NYRR NewsService

2) A Good Base is Essential: “You benefit from getting in enough volume at the beginning of your training” – Bernard Lagat

Much has been made of Bernard Lagat making his half-marathon debut despite never even having run a 10k on the roads or the track. Lagat wants to run under 61 minutes on Sunday. Throughout his career, Bernard has been known for running lower mileage, but that does not mean he doesn’t appreciate the importance of a base. He said, “You benefit from getting in enough volume at the beginning of your training.” Lagat’s ultimate goal for 2013 is not Sunday’s half-marathon, but the World Championship 5,000m final in Moscow in August (see point #3), and the half-marathon is part of him trying to get a bigger base this year.

3) Don’t Forget the Big Goal – Bernard Lagat
Lagat’s goal for the season is to win the World Championship at 5,000m over Mo Farah and Galen Rupp. So no matter how he does on Sunday, he’s not going to forget the bigger picture, that his training is going well for his longer term goal. He said, “Whether I do well or not here, I feel like I’ve done good training and that is the training I have needed.”

4) Check Your Pride at the Door: “The workouts aren’t the competition.” – Abdi Abdirahman and “Know when you’re getting your butt kicked it’s ok.”-Ritz  
Dathan Ritzenhein trains with two of the greatest long-distance track runners in the world, Galen Rupp and Mo Farah. What do they do? Drill him on the track a lot. Dathan said he knows he has to check his pride at the door when they do a track workout. He said part of his mindset is: “Know when you’re getting your butt kicked it’s ok.”

Similarly, Abdi Abdirahman works out with Bernard Lagat and former NCAA champ Stephen Sambu. Abdi was asked who beats who in practice and Abdi said that was not what it was about. He said, “the workouts aren’t the competition…You run your own workout. If you’re not feeling good and someone is feeling really good and you can’t stay with them, you don’t have to feel bad.” Conversely on his good days Abdi is not afraid to “go for it” and drop whoever he is working out with. Winning the workout is not the objective. Abdi said the objective is finding the “good pace, (the) good rhythm.”

Abdi noted sometimes he’ll workout with Bernard Lagat and Lagat will do 5x mile while Abdi does 7x mile. The point being Lagat is fine doing less than Abdi. Are you fine doing less than your workout partner?

Abdi Abdirahman, Bernard Lagat, NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg, and Dathan Ritzenhein

Abdi Abdirahman, Bernard Lagat, NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg, and Dathan Ritzenhein

5) Worry About What You Can Control -Bernard Lagat
Bernard Lagat has never run a half-marathon. He’s never even run an early morning road race. He’s never really raced in the cold. So Lagat will carefully study the course knowing where all the difficult hills are right? No, not at all. Lagat has no intentions of learning about the course. He figures he has to run the 13.1 miles regardless, so why add stress out about the course. It will all be foreign and difficult for him. Not everyone should ignore the course they are running, but remember you can’t change the course, and focus on the things you can control.

6)  Running fast is hard -Dathan Ritzenhein
Dathan Ritzenhein’s only race this year before the NYC half was the US Cross Country Championships where he finished second. It being the first race of the year, Ritz forgot that running fast isn’t easy.  He said, “I forgot how tough it was going to be… I forgot how hard it is to go fast.” And while we at LetsRun.com have always said there are no bonus points for how hard you try (the goal is to run “fast” not “hard”, thus you should be trying to relax you body as much as possible), running fast is not easy and can be very hard. Accept the pain as part of the process. The winner often looks great at the end of the race, but that’s because they accomplished what they set out to do. We guarantee with a mile to go they were hurting.

7) Less can be more – Ritz
Dathan Ritzenhein has dealt with injuries throughout his career. Professional running in many ways is about trying to train as much as possible without getting injured. For the second year in a row, Dathan Ritzenhein is trying to run the Chicago Marathon roughly two months after the Olympics/World Track champs. Many would say that is not enough time to get ready for the marathon. Ritz consciously is running Chicago close to the Worlds to limit the amount of time he has so he doesn’t get injured. A bit unorthodox, but he clearly knows injuries are a weakness.  He said, “It’s easy when you have 3 or 4 months of just grinding it out to just pile more and more on top until the point where something breaks…Being a little under prepared is ok.”

8) Change can be good, but don’t change things too quickly – Ritz
All athletes can benefit from change or conversely get stuck in a rut. Dathan Ritzenhein is a great example of that. Less than half a year after switching from coach Brad Hudson to Alberto Salazar, Ritz was 6th at the World Championships at 10,000m, ran 12:56 for 5000m, and ran 1:00:00 for the half-marathon. What happened after that? Alberto and Ritz kept trying to improve (i.e. change) Ritz’s form and the result was an injury plagued 2010 and 2011. As Ritz noted, a change in any stimuli can be good for an athlete, but be careful how much change you implement. He said they eventually realized, “We just had to make more subtle changes.”

Abdi has made 4 US Olympic teams, something no other US male distance runner can claim. What did he credit for this longevity? Sticking with his coach Dave Murray and not going with the latest flavor of the month coach. As Abdi said, “give it time for the program to sink in.”

9) As you age, speed gets harder, endurance gets easier – accept it
Both Bernard Lagat and Dathan Ritzenhein stressed that running fast at shorter distances is harder for them now that they have aged. However, they’ve picked up endurance over the years and that side of the equation is easier. As Ritz said, “The velocity is a little bit harder but the long stuff is easier.” Lagat realizes he can’t run the 1500m how he once did, but he doesn’t get down about what he can’t control.

10) Take pride and enjoy what you do
All competitive athletes put in a tremendous amount of hard work. Don’t forget that. And also don’t forget that you’re supposed to be enjoying this. Sure getting up early for that long run may not be enjoyable, but working hard, striving for that goal, making your body do things that are very difficult, you can take pride in that. The end result is important, but it’s not the end-all-be-all. If you think the end result is what it’s all about, then you my friend have the mindset of a drug cheat. Abdi said he felt sorry for the drug cheats saying, “Sport is something you should take pride in. You wake up in the morning and you feel pride…I can wake up happy.” The drug cheats. Well, they can count their money.

More: Videos Interviews with Bernard LagatAbdi Abdirahman, and Dathan Ritzenhein


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