Mark Wieczorek, Gig Harbor High School – Q&A
Q: Would VO2/race efforts require less than the stated 7-10 day full recovery with a day off/lighter session or if it was later in season when fitter?
A: For me that is a difficult question to answer, just because there is so much that could go into it. I feel like I could re-discuss a 90 minute podcast just on the variables to consider with recovery and managing the structure of training sessions. To answer simply, I will answer within the framework of the training program I implement (there are obviously many different ways to structure training and there are definitely successful programs that put them in a lot more than I do) and I would say yes and no. Everything always takes more of a toll when it is a new type of stimulus, as they get later in the season they have had the opportunity to adapt to the physical toll of higher intensity sessions (particularly the musculoskeletal strain) and this will of course make it easier to recover from anything. At the same time, as the season progresses, so does the emphasis on these sessions and typically I will be adjusting the workout intensity and volume to match their adaptation (as the goal of every session I do, is to achieve a specific result) and I never like to reduce the recovery time because I really believe the recovery in training is every bit as important as the training is itself. The goal is that by the time championship season arrives the kids will be able to handle what is required for racing every 7 days as well as what is required for fitness maintenance and obviously there is nothing you can do but work with the 7 days allotted. Additionally I should add that it’s not simply that I believe you can’t race to your potential or complete VO2 sessions inside of 7 days, that is obviously untrue. You can look at doubles or rounds on the track and see that great performances can be accomplished within days or even hours of each other. The emphasis is that within the training program I attempt to implement and the overall goal of gradual progression and emphasis on setting the kids up to be able to continue to improve, that within that season I think its very important to allow the kids appropriate time to completely come back around and that will help lead to performing well at the times that are important to compete well and the kids will be able to increase their chances of handling the training load and staying healthy. It is so easy for me to get rambling when I talk about things like this so I tried to keep it more concise. Feel free to add on any follow ups you see if I didn’t exactly answer everything you were looking for there.
Q: What kind of mileage would you say your Varsity runners run on any given week? From building phase to peaking phase.
A: In the building phase, it will start pretty low, generally running 3-5 days per week and they (the boys) will build up from 15-20 mpw up to 35-60 in the building phase, depending on the athlete. In the base phase, this is where the varsity kids would be the highest and that ranges from 45 up to one that has hit a few weeks in the high 70’s. Throughout the pre-competitive phase most of them are between 45 and 60 mpw and it won’t really drop much until the final weeks of the season. We will gradually reduce our hip mobility and strength drills and the plyometric stuff we do as the training intensity builds and that will help to reduce the overall training load and keep them feeling fresh without having to drastically drop the training volume.
Q: I am still a little confused about the “2 mile ln 8, 1 mile ln 1, 2 mile ln 8” workout. Could you please explain in greater detail? Thanks!
A: This workout was intended to be a higher end LT session. The 2 mile ln 8 refers to 8 laps of lane 8 tempo, where the kids start at the 400m stagger in lane 8 and run a lap at the lower end of LT pace and then they have an easy 17-20 second jog recovery from the finish line back out to the start in lane 8. They did 8 of those consecutively, took 3 min active recovery, then ran a straight through 1600 in lane 1 at 5k goal pace, took another 3 min active recovery and repeated with 4-8 laps of lane 8 tempo.
Q: Here is a question from twitter for you Mark. What are the biggest challenges of being a professional athlete while also being a HS coach?
A: In cross-country I have absolutely none. It couldn’t be easier or better for me as a person and an athlete and I will expand on that in a moment. In track it can be difficult, especially with the commute required for recovery. During the spring my own training is a lot more intense and as I am pushing the limits of what I am able to handle physically, prioritizing recovery time is a must and there always has to be an awareness to maintain the balance of being there for the kids and doing what I need to do to accomplish what is necessary for my own training. This past spring when I wasn’t traveling I typically commuted to Gig three times a week plus meets. That allowed me to be there for all of their workout sessions and races (again, this excludes when I was traveling for my own competing) and usually a recovery run day just so I could be there to support them and check in on their recovery. This also made the kids understanding of what we do and the google docs all that much more important because despite having an assistant with the distance kids, they still needed to have a degree of independence with their training. In the cross season, I think coaching is one of the things that helps me the most with my own running. As a professional athlete, I see a lot who struggle with maintaining balance in their lives and I believe that’s part of the reason why so many young runners really struggle with the transition from college to the pros. It is easy for running to take over your life and when that happens, your happiness in life becomes dependent on that going well. Since I have had coaching in my life I have had so much more to the sport than simply the selfish aspect of myself training and racing well. I now have a whole group of kids that I have become invested in and I have them to lift me up when my own training isn’t going well and they have made me a happier person in life. I honestly couldn’t imagine going back to trying to tackle this sport without them and hopefully won’t have to for as long as I am still competing.
Q: How do you adapt your focus on AT/LT development when prepping for shorter races in track? How would a sample week look in early March or Mid-May?
A: They vary based on the goals of the session and that is determined on what training phase we are in. I outline the training phases for the kids and remind them of where we are at within that process so that they can understand the primary goals for training where they are currently at. In early March and mid May we will have different goals. When we reset and cycle back through a new training cycle after ending our fall season, the goals shift from gradually building back up our threshold capabilities to higher intensity LT sessions where we are stretching out the limits of their threshold capabilities in February and March to simply touching base and trying to maintain what they have built up with as little overall energy expenditure as possible in May. I also believe that it is important to not build the fitness too quickly. It is easy to get in the mentality that hey, my tempo pace is 5:30 so early on I will just run 5:30 pace as long as I can and gradually force myself into being able to do the full duration of extended tempos. I take the opposite approach and adjust the pace to be whatever necessary to achieve the appropriate metabolic stimulus and as fitness is built the pace will work its way into their true LT zone and as they work on extension of sessions and building their efficiency at that effort we are able to gradually build the duration.
Q: Can you share some of the individual strengths and weaknesses of your top four last year? Examples of how you individualized training or racing?
A: In cross-country it was a bit simpler because the training required for competing over 5k, especially on cross courses, is more generally the same for the kids. I would prefer to not dive too deep into the kids individually as their individual training and specific strengths and weaknesses are private to them and that is their own personal information to divulge or not. But I can give some general things I did with them over the course of the season. Recovery was always the number one priority for me, and often if I saw someone had been crushing training for a couple weeks I would usually preempt the feeling down period that can easily follow an up with a light week of training. If I noticed anyone or saw in any trends or signs of fatigue in their training logs I would increase the upcoming emphasis on recovery in training. Ways I did this would include cutting or reducing the long run, replacing a workout session with an uptempo run or moderate aerobic run and strides, a day off, shortened session or a cross-training day. The top 4 guys were not always synchronized completely on when and where they required recovery and that is why the logs are so important. There are so many factors aside from just the running load they have in training that can affect their recovery and that was a bit of a process for me to learn my first years coaching. From family issues to vacations or stress in life from school and boyfriends/girlfriends to everything that they have to deal with socially as high school kids there is a lot to manage with recognizing where they are at. Also I have found, in my own running and with the kids that the human body tends to just have its own cycling process of recovering and responding to training and it is important to be aware that everyone has different rates and lengths that they can train well until their body just needs to step back, even if you are doing everything right in training and recovering. Some of the kids can handle 4-5 weeks of the training we do before they need a day off or a down week and some can only handle 10-14 days and this can range from individual variance to training in general and to their individual variance to a specific type of workout or training phase. Aside from just learning to understand the type of training and the workouts and volume that a specific athlete needs it is important to understand how that athlete responds to the training on a daily basis and over time to help manage the body’s natural process of cycling in response to training adaptation and training recovery.
Q: Good to see you on here, Mark. Please explain how you decide on training paces for athletes. Adjustments for terrain, surface, etc?
A: Unless we are doing a race pace specific session, paces are always effort based. It takes time to learn, watch, and communicate with the athletes to nail down where they are at without having lab testing done, but it isn’t too difficult to get an approximation once I have spent time with the athlete. Additionally, as you stated, paces will always need to be adapted to the the location of the training and where the athlete is at within the season and their own fitness so the paces will simply be a guideline anyway. That is why it is important for the kids to understand and have taken that ownership of their training so they can help to adapt to what we are trying to accomplish within a session and to the training in general.
Q: Thanks for sharing your program Coach! Can you provide some specifics of your hip mobility, strength and core routines you use.
A: Our hip mobility includes high-knee step overs, horizontal straight legs and over-unders. I use these because I learned them well enough from Coach Mark Rowland that I am able to demonstrate and teach them to the kids easily, and I have spent a lot of time doing them and working with other athletes doing them that I know really well how to implement them. Our strength routine is some select portions of the “Pillar” routines I did with the strength coach at U of O, Jimmy Radcliffe. These are all strength exercises with only using their body weight, like lunges, duck walks and our single leg squat routine. I don’t use the weight room with the kids in the fall because I don’t have the time or availability to be there with them and properly introduce them during the summer due to my European racing season. Core work is done with planks, which are repeating 30 second intervals from middle to each side and general core days, where they get together and the leaders of that day will take turns picking an exercise until they have reached 10 with pushups in between various points.
Q: Regarding the “Final Workout” on Nov 27, is this VO2 work on the track? How much rest between reps? Is the intent physiological and/or psychological?
A: This was a VO2 session, the goals were to cover both. We hadn’t done much under pace all year (other than extended strides and back to backs) so as long as they were all in a good place it was a good opportunity to do so. As a group they had been recovering really well and feeling good and we were still far enough out from NXN that it fit in perfectly. With sessions like this I usually like to have them do a workout they have never done before so they are are to focus on that session without comparing or focusing on the previous time they did it. This allows me to be able to control the paces and influence their mentality of the session to ensure it is a very positive experience for them. The rest was 3 minutes between reps and 5-7 minutes between sets. This is what I call a multi-pace workout, where the reps are at different zones or race paces. In this one, the 16/12 were at 5k goal pace, the 8 at 3200 goal pace, and the 4 at 1600 goal pace.
(Comment): Thanks Mark. Can you define “back to backs”?
A: Ah…I forgot I haven’t included that. Back to backs (b2b) are a 15 second stride, 15 second rest, then turning around and doing another 15 second stride and repeating. Duration varies, but I use them in several ways and they aren’t often included in the training log. Usually I will use them after races or light workouts for a little extension and they will be 5-10 min total. Occasionally they have replaced strides on our run/drills day when I have the kids taking an extended period between sessions and I want to just get in a little stimulus. I have also used them as a filler session (in my own training and with the kids) that works great to get in some solid aerobic work and spin the legs a bit without being very intense or interrupting recovery. Usually these will vary from 12.5 – 17.5 minutes, and these times all include the running and resting time.
Q: Perhaps you go into this on the podcast, but can you describe the Jail Trails 800m workout leading into State and Nationals? Volume? Intensity? Rest?
A: This is a threshold session I like to do with the kids. Usually I do it at times where I want the kids to get in some LT work, but I don’t want them overworking and this allows me to supervise the workout really well without being on the track for lane 8 tempo type work or anything. This session, we do 2-3 sets of 4×800 alternating AT and LT pace. They will have 5-7 seconds to turn around on the end of each one and start up the next one and 3 minutes between sets. It is a relatively conservative workout and the kids seem to respond well to it and they have done it many times so they understand how to keep the session to a controlled effort and they haven’t had any difficulties with me modifying it or cutting it short as needed to get what we are looking for on the day. Both times you listed were times I felt it was important to get that heart-lung stimulus, but also times that I wanted to be sure the kids were recovering well and i just wanted to be able to try and control as many of these variables as I could.
Q: This year I’m requiring logs for the first time. The online system we are using is failing. I’ve been looking at Google Docs. Would you be willing to share more?
A: So I replied to this question on Facebook, but thought others might be curious as well so I copied over my response. So the format I use is: I have an info tab, terminology tab, matrix tab, then each kid has their own tab all along the bottom. The training tab is where I post all of the training for the team. The front page is an example of how they should fill it out, information, schedules, and events for the team. The terminology page is all of our training terminology as it pertains to the training I implement. Each kid has a tab with the following columns: date, miles, y/n/, training log, notes, coach’s notes. The miles are set to auto total at the end of each week in the week total row. The y/n is for them to type a “y” or “n” for whether they completed their training for the day and that will autofill behind it in green or red based on what they typed. Then it transposes automatically to the matrix tab which just is each kid’s name and a whole column of green and red boxes for an overview of their consistency in training based on whether they have been putting “y” or “n” on each date for training. The training log column is for posting what they did in training for the day, the notes is for them to post how they felt, where they went, heart rate recovery info etc. The coach’s notes column is for me to provide the individual with information or a note pertaining directly to them or their training. Most of what we do is time based as well, but estimating miles is fine and easier to record with the Google Docs for formatting and tracking purposes, so I haven’t tried to do anything with time recording other than having the kids just putting it in with their training log recording. Hope that helps.
I also included a screenshot from last year’s log. It is on the page of an athlete that only participated in track, so I just plugged in a couple boxes to display the autofill and what you put in for it to autotally the mileage total. Hope that helps.
Q: If you had an 18min 5k runner (5:50/mi), and you were were giving them pace ranges for AT and LT in your training, what does that look like?
A: It’s difficult to say exactly because it varies on the athlete. What I would do is watch them run an AT session at 6:50-7 min pace and an LT session at 6:30 pace and monitor their respiration rate, physical levels of stress and overall effort, followed by their own perceived effort and recovery in and out of the session and adapt it as necessary. It also could be very different if this a first year runner or someone who has been training for years as their process of adaptation to training would be vastly different. Also the obvious of an 18 min 5k kid vs an 18 min 800m kid racing a 5k, there are several factors to determining appropriate training paces as I also discussed more on the question asked about the variance amongst our top four guys last year.
Q: Do you have trouble getting any of your athletes to “buy into” your system? Do any of your athletes compete in other HS sports during XC ?
A: My first year coaching there were a few cases, but that’s normal. It takes time to build relationships and when you are taking control of an important part of someone’s life there can be some hesitance to give that control up. That being said, I think I was very lucky. Because of my own running, the kids really showed me a lot of respect and it didn’t take long to develop mutual respect. It has been overall pretty smooth getting the kids plugged in and working to accomplish our goals together. I have had a few that play soccer as well and with my past and playing other sports I will never discourage them from doing so. It is important to recognize that other practices are an aspect of training and must be accounted for differently than simply managing the workload of the training that the other kids only running cross are doing.
Q: Do you calculate training paces for easy days / AT / LT / VO2? I know much is based off of “feel” but do you give general pace guidelines?
A: I always have paces calculated for everything, the understanding is that obtaining the goals of the session are more important than hitting the specific paces provided.