World Cross Country Endurance Seminar

As part of the build up to the World Cross Country Championships, Scottish athletics organised a World Cross Endurance Seminar held at the Surgeons' Hall on Friday 28 March. I was fortunate to secure one of the 150 tickets which had been snapped up apparently within 48 hours of their release. The panel of guests certainly matched the occasion-

John Treacy-
Twice World Cross Country Champion- 1978 &1979
1984 Olympics- Marathon 2nd

Ian Stewart -
Commonwealth Games 1970- 5,000m Champion
Olympic Games 1972 -5,000m 3rd
European indoor 1972- 3,000m Champion
World Cross Country Champion 1975

Wendy Sly-
Olympic Games 1984- 3000m 2nd
Commonwealth Games 1982- 3000m 2nd
World Road 10km Champion-1983

Steve Jones-
World Record in the marathon on his debut 2.08.05 - 1984
1984 World Cross Country 3rd
1985- Winner of London Marathon
1985- Winner of Chicago Marathon in 2.07.13

Liz McColgan-
1986 & 1990 Commonwealth Games 10,000m Champion
1987 World Cross Country 2nd
1988 Olympic 10,000m 2nd
1991 World Cross Country 3rd
1991 World Championships 10,000m Champion
Winner of marathons in London. Tokyo and New York

Alan Storey-
Technical Director for UKA endurance running. Has guided several athletes to Olympic medals including Sonia O'Sullivan to Sydney Olympics 5000m silver medal, Mike McLeod to Los Angeles 10,000m silver medal and Mark Rowland to Seoul Olympics steeplechase bronze medal.

The responsibility for holding the show together fell on to the very capable hands of athletics guru himself, Bud Baldaro. Bud is an elite coach who works alongside Alan Storey as UKA Marathon Coach and also as athletics coach to Birmingham University. He also finds time to be a Runners' World Contributing Editor.

The evening took the form of compere Bud Baldaro directing questions to the panel who in turn responded with their individual views and interpretations. There was ample opportunity for the audience to ask questions pertaining to the general discussion. The following is a synopsis of the evening's main discussions.

The opening question was about the panelists memories of the World Cross Country Championships. John Treacy opened up the proceedings and announced that his victory at Bellahouston Park in Scotland was his best memory. This was in no way to appease the audience but simply because it was an unexpected victory. Although he followed it up the next year in Limerick he was by then expected to win! By the time the 1984 World Cross came around Steve Jones had already completed in seven in succession from 1977 with a best finishing position of 7th! Understandably his 3rd place finish in 1984 was his best memory. As for Liz McColgan her 3rd place behind the talented Lynn Jennings (USA) and Derartu Tulu (ETH) in 1991 at Antwerp was a much more outstanding memory than her silver medal in 1987 for one major reason. This being that she had given birth to her daughter (Eilish) only 119 days earlier! Ian Stewart has the unique distinction of winning the European indoor 3000m and the World Cross within the space of a week! He felt that 1972 was a disaster as he held a clear lead over the eventual winner Gaston Roelants with not far remaining, and eventually finished 3rd. His victory in the heat and dust of the Souissi Racecourse in Rabat, Morocco in 1975 was satisfying as he defeated both Roelants and Haro who had beaten him in 1972. Alan Storey's abiding memory of the World Cross so far is what happened last year in Mombassa. He felt that no other venue will be able to match Mombassa, in terms of sheer atmosphere and drama. People were collapsing everywhere through the intensity of the race and the environmental conditions. When Bekele dropped out the roar from the crowd was so loud as the nemesis of Kenyan dominance was no more.

With the last European winner coming from Carlos Lopes in 1985 and the final British medalist from Tim Hutchings (silver) in 1989 the question was posed by a leading Northern Ireland statistician as to whether there would ever be another European victory. This question proved to be the seminal influence of the discussions that proceeded. Liz McColgan felt that it could be achieved but it all comes down to attitude. Alan Storey adopted the statistical approach by stating that in the world rankings for the 10,000m the top 30 are made up of Africans. For a European to compete they need to improve dramatically bearing in mind their times are way behind the Africans.

John Treacy remarked that it can be done but it takes three key ingredients- ambition, belief and real hard work. Steve Jones, who was renowned as being an aggressive trainer, said that, it has to be the most important thing in your life; it has to be a major focus. The discussion then developed into whether the current British athletes are training hard enough. Liz McColgan outlined a number of her key sessions that indicated that she was in shape. For example 6x 1 mile in 4.45. Her maximum mileage would have been around 120 miles per week. McColgan emphasized that it takes time and preparation to develop and to reach a certain level of excellence. She is amazed how many young athletes are continually injured; clearly something is not right with their training. Alan Storey through his extensive coaching over the decades was unequivocal in saying that not enough athletes are training hard enough. He went on to say that nowadays the bottom of the performance pyramid is narrow and therefore the amount of elite athletes is relatively small compared to yesteryear. Athletes are winning international vests now with inferior times than their predecessors and as such there is limited pressure imposed upon them. Storey went on to explain that if there is lack of competition within the disciplines i.e. 800m, 1500m, 5000m then the standard necessary for international representation directly suffers. Storey was very clear in stating that the current athletes do not train hard enough. Many expect to clock 60-70 miles per week and make international teams. Treacy mentioned that when Sonia O'Sullivan lost a race she would take it very seriously and cry. Consequently, the aftermath of this was that it would propel her on to greater things as she would be more determined the next day. That is just how serious you have to take it. When John saw Sonia crying he knew that good things would emerge from this.

British World Cross representative Andrew Lemoncello, (who finished 79th) asked whether there was an ideal age for venturing towards the marathon. Steve Jones mentioned that his first 10,000m was at the age of 25 and his first marathon at the age of 29. This was influenced because he realised that the competition in the 5,000m/10,000m events was becoming stronger and he had no option but to move up. Nowadays athletes are able to remain in their chosen event without little to any pressure from within. Jones was ready for the marathon as he had gained the experience of competing in many different competitions over the track, road and country. Jones is a strong advocate for regular competition and as such he felt that he had served his apprenticeship. It is estimated that there is now only 30% of the pool of athletes from the 18/19 year old compared to what was available 20/25 year ago. Consequently with less of a pool available standards throughout the performance pyramid will suffer.

It could be argued that athletics to a certain extent today suffers partially as there are no real role models or few household names. In the past there are been many such as, Foster, Bedford, Stewart, Coe, Ovett, and Cram. Where are they now? Being inspired to run was an important factor with the guests. Wendy Sly was influenced by the late Lillian Board. Though what cemented her desire to train and to dedicate herself to running was that she was continually surrounded by athletes the elk of Steve Ovett, Mick McLeod and Ian Stewart. Ian Stewart emerged from the mentality of the day of 'more is better'. He ran for the successful Birchfield Harriers and the club had a great work ethic. He commented that in a changing room of over 40 members or so approx 23 would have been running at least 100 miles per week! The sessions were very competitive and hard. The sole inspiration that he had was the German athlete Harold Norpoth; he wanted to be just like him. Steve Jones like Wendy Sly had similarities in their responses as he too was influenced by those around him. After all this was the 'Golden era' of British athletics and Ian Stewart, Dave Bedford, Mick McLeod and Dave Black all were positive influences on the young and developing Steve Jones. He said that he became a student of the sport. John Treacy and Liz McColgan had similar developmental experiences. Treacy from Villerstown in Waterford sensed from an early age that he had a talent for running. He had a unique inner belief that he would eventually be a champion. McColgan on the other hand was not inspired nor influenced by others but used running as a means of escapism as life at home was at times difficult. Akin to Treacy she realized that with hard work she could progress in the sport.

An interesting area of key training sessions was also explored. It is always illuminating to hear about real sessions from 'live subjects' as opposed to hearsay. Ian Stewart had a best session of 3x 1 mile with 5 minutes recovery in 4.04, 4.02 and 4.01, with Brendan Foster taking him through to 800m each time. Liz McColgan had a half mile hill where she did reps of up to 8 with a minute recovery. Times on this contributed to assessing her current level of fitness. A session which stands out for her though is 20 x 400m with a 30 sec recovery starting off with 68 sec but then gradually increasing the speed to 62-64 sec reps as the fitness dictated! Wendy Sly used typical sessions of 6 x 3 mins and 12x 300m all in under 45 sec as important sessions in her programme. John Treacy didn't use specific sessions to gauge his fitness but preferred to target races. Just prior to the 1978 World Cross he won the NCAA 5,000m and this type of performance indicated that he was in great shape. In addition just prior to the 1984 Olympics he ran a Pb of 13.16 for the 5,000m at a time when he was considering leaving the 5,000m behind to concentrate on the 10,000m and beyond. Steve Jones also used selected races in order to assess form. Just prior to the 1984 Chicago marathon he ran well in two races and from that he knew all was progressing well. He did however have a stable diet of hills, typically 10x 3mins however a vital dimension in his training was that each week there would be a variety of new challenges.

The panel was asked whether Paula Radcliffe will win the Beijing Olympic marathon. Everyone was unanimous in saying that she could do it, she has the ability. Steve Jones even went as far as saying there is a 95% chance of victory. John Teacy also recognized that she has the talent but she has to adopt the correct training. Training in hot weather should definitely take priority over altitude and the correct tactics must be adopted and rigidly adhered to. Ian Stewart was somewhat worried about how good a racer she is, as well as showing concern over her tactics. There is every possibility that the same results could occur in Beijing as in the last Olympics. Concerns were raised from the audience with regards to the fierce conditions in Beijing for the marathon. Treacy responded by saying that Paula and all the other athletes should be fully aware of the conditions that they will face. Prior to the 1984 Olympics Treacy based himself in the USA and was fully focused and prepared for the heat. After he finished second on his marathon debut he was met by an Irish journalist who quizzed him about the heat to which he simply replied, what heat? Preparation is the key. Also in preparation for major games Liz McColgan based herself in Tallahassee, Florida

The session concluded with each being asked how much running they currently did. Jones was doing around 30/40 miles per week, Treacy 25 per week but at the moment he has a sore knee. Ian Stewart 30 miles per week and Wendy Sly also 30 with a regular hour run on a Sunday. Liz McColgan has recently competed a number of marathons for charity and it was no surprise to hear that her weekly mileage is still around 50/60 per week!

This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening meticulously organised by Scottish athletics with athletes, coaches and enthusiasts able to mingle freely amongst the guests for prized photographs and autographs. Throughout the evening the clear universal message that emanated from the 'wise top table' was preparation, hard work and ambition is what is necessary in order to reach the top. Of course possessing the talent is without doubt also a very important ingredient!

As a postscript the race was once again won by the indomitable Kenenisa Bekele for a record sixth time. The first European was Spain's Juan Carlos de la Ossa in 24th position, 1.37 minutes behind. Tom Humphries was the leading British athlete in 63rd position, 2.49 minutes behind. These statistics simply display the reality and the imposing challenges that lie ahead as the rest of the world tries to tackle the Africans.

Photographs from the World Cross Country 2008

Annadale Striders /Keith McClure.