Archive for the ‘ Training ’ Category

The Older I Get The Better I Was

Monday, February 11th, 2019

Alison Training in Windsor Great Park

This weekend was an anniversary of sorts. The United Kingdom Indoor Track Championships were held in Birmingham. Thirty eight years ago in 1981 Alison ran the women’s 1500m in the same competition. In those days there was no purpose built Birmingham Stadium. Alison’s championship was run on a very good wooden track built in an old aircraft hangar at RAF Cosford, a few miles down the road from Birmingham.

The result of the 2019 1500m championship race is shown in the table below.

1500 Metres Women Final

Place Name Club Time
1 Jemma Reekie Kilbarchan 4:17.08
2 Sarah McDonald Birchfield 4:18.10
3 Katie Snowden Herne Hill 4:19.34
4 Kerry MacAngus Kilbarchan 4:20.25
5 Rosie Johnson Liverpool 4:22.29
6 Jacqueline Fairchild Preston 4:22.63
7 Hannah England Oxford 4:22.68
8 Holly Archer Cambridge 4:23.71
9 Beth Kidger Brighton 4:24.46

The good news in that result is that the winner and the fourth place runner come from Scotland. That is good news because, you see, thirty eight years ago Alison and I were living in Scotland in a village called Auchterarder, better known as Gleneagles Golf Course. I worked in Perth and Alison ran for Edinburgh Southern Harriers. I became a one-eyed Scot in the process. To see two Scottish women still proudly flying the cross of St. Andrew in the 1500m does my heart proud.

Alison had the best training ground in the world. She clocked many miles on the roads around Gleneagles Golf Course and an equal number of miles up and down their immaculate fairways. The surroundings were idyllic but the weather was not always kind. Alison would frequently return home with eyelashes frozen solid by the biting Arctic wind. We had to abandon track work one night because the track was frozen so solid that even Alison’s spikes could not break through the ice. I spent an hour on another occasion shovelling snow off the inside lane of a four-hundred metre track. By the time I got around new snow had replaced everything I had shovelled at the start. Nevertheless Alison did the session; 4×400 all under 60 – in the circumstances a bloody good effort.

Probably the best Scottish winter story had nothing to do with running. It happened the night we were invited to an Edinburgh Burn’s Supper. I had just bought a kilt for the occasion and was wandering around the house with my sgian-dubh (Scottish dagger) in hand telling Alison to, “Bring on the English.” In spite of running for Scotland and having a Scottish mother, Alison did not seem impressed with my patriotic fervour. By the time we set off for Edinburgh it was snowing heavily. On a back road, close to home, we slid off the road just enough that I needed to get out to push the car back onto the road.

As I pushed and strained the Scottish wind caught my kilt and blew it up around my head. Alison looked out the car window, smiled and said, “Bet you wish the English were here now.”

The winter Alison ran in the British indoor 1500m championship was a good one. Arch Jelley set Alison’s schedules from Auckland, New Zealand, and I supervised her training. The table below shows her training and competition through the 1981 winter. But before tell you about her season let me describe what happened in the 1500m British Indoor Championship.

Alison had a good heat and looked embarrassingly comfortable winning in 4:30.30. I was not at all sure things would be as easy in the final. Some very good runners had made it through, for example Gillian Dainty and Jane Colebrook. A work friend of mine had come to watch the final and asked before the race where I thought Alison would place. I said that fourth would be a good result.

As things turned out the race was run at a perfect pace for an endurance based athlete like Alison. The pace was firm right from the beginning. Alison was doing a good job of sitting in second or third as the 200m laps went by. Then with 200m left she burst out of the pack and had a five meter lead that she held to the finish. She said afterwards that she suddenly realised, “Oh my God there is only 200m to go. I’d better get cracking.” It certainly worked. Alison was UK National Champion at 1500m in a time of 4:16.70. Alison is quietly delighted that 38 years later her time is better than the winning time this year of 4:17.08.

Here is the record of Alison’s training and competition in that Championship season.

Week Period of Training Distance – Miles (Kms) Competition Place & Time
1 Build Up 103 (165)
2 102 (163)
3 102 (163)
4 102 (163)
5 92 (147)
6 92 (147)
7 94 (150)
8 84 (134) Gateshead X Country 5th 16.50
9 Anaerobic 70 (112)
10 71 (114) Fife X Country 1st 20.00
11 67 (107) Crystal Palace X Country 14th 16.48
12 70 (112) Scotland Nat. X Country Relay 1st 11.15
13 74 (118)
14 Racing 62 (100) British Indoor Champs 1500 Heat 1st 4:30.30

Final 1st 4:16.70

15 60 (96) Closed Scotland Nat. X Country 1st 14.33
16 64 (102)
17 53 (85) UK V East Germany 1500 Indoor 3rd 4:20.40
18 63 (101) Boness X Country 1st 16.36
19 60 (96) Open Scotland Nat. X Country 1st 21:57
20 52 (83) UK Nat. X Country 13th 21.17
TOT   1,437m 2,299k Average 72m (115k)  

There are several features of Alison’s 1981 winter season that swimmers and runners today could well observe.

  1. The first four weeks of the build-up averaged 102 miles a week (163 kilometres). The eight weeks full build-up averaged 96 miles a week (154 kilometres).
  2. Through the racing and speed work period Alison averaged 60 miles (96 kilometres).
  3. Alison won both Scottish national cross country championships and UK national indoor track titles. I am convinced that the two complimented each other. Cross country providing the strength to do well on the track, especially in that last 200m at Cosford, and track providing the speed to do well at cross country.

Swimmers wanting to relate these mileages to swimming should look on the running miles as swimming kilometres ie. 100 miles running is the equivalent of 100 kilometres swimming. The numbers suggest our best swimmers are not swimming enough distance to compete with the world’s best.

If the indoor 1500m times from 1981 and 2019 are the measure of “The Older I Get The Better I Was” that is certainly true.

The Johns’ Legacy?

Sunday, February 10th, 2019

Some months ago a Swimwatch post discussed the problems of Tennis New Zealand. This was of interest because two years ago the CEO Swimming New Zealand (SNZ), Steve Johns, was previously CEO of Tennis New Zealand. What happened when Johns left Tennis New Zealand? Were there elements of deserting a sinking ship or was Tennis New Zealand a thriving business bounding from strength to strength? It seems that sinking ship may be the answer. This is what the current CEO of Tennis New Zealand; Julie Paterson, is reported to have said.

“We’ve had to change things so significantly in the last 18 months and we’ve got to let that change bed in.”

One of New Zealand’s star former players, Marina Erakovic, added to the sense of unease by adding that, “Unity still remains an issue. While it’s less divisive than it used to be Tennis New Zealand was still too Auckland focused.”

A tennis journalist concluded his remarks about the difficulties Steve Johns appears to have left behind by saying that the problems at Tennis New Zealand were the result of, “A number of factors, including more than a decade of poor decisions by Tennis New Zealand.”

These reports suggest that Steve Johns did leave behind a sinking ship. The impression is that two years after his departure the fallout from a decade of mis-management is coming home to haunt the sport.

The legacy of Steve Johns may have just had further fallout. Journalist, Michael Burgess, reported today in the New Zealand Herald that New Zealand’s Fed Cup captain Neil Carter says “far-reaching issues” have led to his unexpected departure from the national tennis body. To be fair to Johns, Carter was appointed to Tennis New Zealand shortly after Johns packed his bags and shifted to SNZ.

However, whatever caused Carter to leave had nothing to do with discontent among the players. The Carter case was no Hockey or Cycling mutiny. All reports indicate that Carter had an excellent relationship with New Zealand’s best players. He had built a strong bond with Paige Hourigan, Valentina Ivanov and Erin Routliffe.

Something caused Carter to walk away. If it wasn’t the players then it had to be the organisation. Carter admitted as much in an interview with the NZ Herald when he said, “”I just feel this needs to be dealt with internally, initially. There are clearly issues — I am not going to lie — and some far-reaching ones but I want to see how the next few weeks pan out. Hopefully, there will be some steps forward and my successor won’t need to face the same issues. It’s a role I have worked all my life for, and I had almost given up on the chance of taking it. I’ve loved the job…so to feel like I have to resign is quite sad. But I will continue to help the players as much as possible — nothing changes from that point of view — it’s just that I am no longer Fed Cup coach.”

This appears to be a case of a good man committed to the sport, a good man who could no longer tolerate the bull-shit he faced in the organisation Steve Johns left behind. In my opinion there is a simple moral in all this for SNZ – beware, you have been warned.

So Let It Be With Caesar

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

The title of this post is a line from one of the best known pieces of Shakespearian prose. The quote comes from the play Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2 and is the first five lines of the speech by Mark Antony at the funeral of Julius Caesar. The full quote says:

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones;

So let it be with Caesar”

Those words could well have been written for New Zealand sporting personality, Keith Hancox, who died on January 21 2019.

Let’s consider the line that says, “The evil that men do lives after them.” Certainly that is true for Keith. This is how that portion of Keith’s life was reported today on the Stuff website.

Hancox, who had persuaded Robert Muldoon’s National government to establish the Sports Foundation, was given the top job running it in 1978.

But his tenure there would end under a cloud. After a tipoff, the Serious Fraud Office investigated Hancox and discovered he had been siphoning off money from the Sports Foundation to the tune of $1,045,030.58

He pleaded guilty in the Wellington District Court to 482 charges of fraud and forgery. He had used the money to fund a lifestyle of travel, boats, and general high living beyond his already generous salary.

Hancox was sentenced to four years after being given credit for his previous good record and glowing character references. He served 17 months at Wellington Prison.

According to one associate, Hancox was a paradox: a classically tragic figure who deserved both a prison sentence and a knighthood.

Cementing his humiliation, he was expelled from the Sporting Hall of Fame he helped to create, and to which he had been entered for his swimming achievements.

The Stuff report is true. Stealing a million dollars from the athletes he was there to serve was serious. However equally serious is the 19 days it has taken news outlets to acknowledge his death. Equally despicable is the failure of Peter Miskimmin, Bruce Cotterill and Steve Johns to recognise the passing of an exceptional New Zealand swimmer. Sure, he was flawed but Miskimmin, Cotterill and Johns had a duty to honour Keith’s contribution to sport and to swimming – and they failed.

So let’s consider the next Shakespearian line, “The good is oft interred with their bones.” There was a lot of good in Keith. Here is how the Stuff website described that side of Keith’s life.

In 1964, at age 25, he became the second person to swim Cook Strait, completing the 23km crossing in nine hours 34 seconds.

The following year Hancox swam the 33.8km English Channel, knocking it off in 15 hours 33 seconds. He was the first New Zealander to accomplish the crossing.

Hancox, who played water polo for Hawke’s Bay and Wellington, also represented New Zealand in Canada in a 1968 marathon swimming team. After an 18-hour swim he was admitted to hospital, where 2lb of silt from the murky lake was removed from his stomach.

Swimming was his main focus but Hancox – a big burly man even in his early years – was also a wrestling champion winning the New Zealand amateur heavyweight title in 1957.

Out of the water, Hancox lent his skills to sports administration. He was a member of the NZ Surf Life Saving Council and the National Water Safety Commission. He was the secretary of the Royal Life Saving Society’s Hawke’s Bay Centre and of the Wellington Surf Life Saving Society.

I remember Keith with fondness and respect. For a short time we had the same coach, Tony Keenan. Much later, after Keith had retired from swimming and was working as a parliamentary journalist I became interested in swimming Cook Strait. I went to see Keith in his Parliament Building office. He carefully explained the preparation I would need for the swim. He recommended that I should swim a final trial he used before his marathon swims.

A few weeks later I set off from Worser Bay with Mexico City Olympic Games swimming representative, Pru Chapman, escorting me in a boat. Keith’s trial involved swimming across the Wellington Harbor entrance to Eastbourne, then along the shoreline behind Somes/Matiu Island, across to the Inter-Island ferry terminal and finally across the harbour to Oriental Bay. Believe me that is quite a trial. Not much university study was done for two or three days afterwards.

Keith wrote a glowing report on my swim in the Dominion newspaper and predicted success for my Cook Strait attempt. I didn’t tell him that behind Somes/Matiu Island I had asked Pru to let me into the boat. She did not reply but drove the boat well out of reach, a hundred metres ahead, and stayed there until we reached Oriental Bay.

Through that time, Keith’s care and interest in my efforts were first class. He knew sport well and cared for those whose efforts he respected.

Many years later when Keith was running the Sports Foundation and I was coaching Toni Jeffs he offered a $5,000 prize to the first woman to break 57.5 (I think) for 100m LC freestyle. On our way to Auckland to swim in the Auckland Championships Toni said, “I think I can get that time.”

I was supportive but didn’t think she had much of a chance. The time was over a second and a half faster than she had ever swum before. Two nights later, after the final of the women’s 100m freestyle Toni was $5,000 better off and the New Zealand record had taken a big step forward. Keith invited Toni to lunch at the Sports Foundation and presented her with a huge metre long cheque. The publicity for swimming was first class.

You’d wait a while to see that sort of initiative coming out of Sport NZ or Swimming NZ these days. The bureaucrats involved are too busy spending our money on themselves. For years I have debated a strange paradox. Sure Keith skimmed money illegally from the Sports Foundation. But is that all that different or worse from the legal skimming that is rampant in New Zealand sport today? I think I’d rather have the good things Keith did even if he did have his hand in the till than the financial gluttony with no Keith-like initiatives that we have today.

And so, thank you Keith for your contribution. Rest in peace. New Zealand sport is a better place for your contribution. That should be recognised by putting you back in the New Zealand Sporting Hall of Fame.

Shades of Gray

Friday, February 8th, 2019

Recent Swimwatch posts have discussed the differences between sprint and distance based training programs. American Dave Salo is the high priest of sprint-based training. Mark Schubert is accepted as the Arthur Lydiard of distance-based swimming training. Both programs work. What does not work are programs which attempt to mix the two.

Not only don’t the programs mix well, world-wide experience shows clearly that some swimmers respond best to sprint-based training and others respond best to distance preparation. Failure to appreciate that fact was the fatal flaw in Jan Cameron’s centralised training policy. Lauren Boyle understood that when she fought to get out of David Lyles’ sprint-based program.

What I want to do in this post is give some proof of the failure that can result when a swimmer who responds best to distance training is forced to train in a sprint-based program. The same tragedy that occurred in this case will, of course, occur the other way around – when a swimmer who improves best in a sprint program is forced to train in a distance program.

The example, in this case, occurred when I was coaching in Florida. The swimmer was in his twenties. He had swum as a junior but, when he wandered into the pool one afternoon and asked if he could try-out for the team, he had not raced for three years. I was impressed with his quiet, polite personality and six foot four inch perfect swimming frame. I was doubly impressed when he began to swim. He was a natural; the complete swimmer and as the weeks went by that proved to be increasingly true.

But before telling you what happened to his swimming I need to describe his parents. They lived in New Orleans. They were richer than God; private jets, executive yachts, fancy sports cars and skiing holidays in Aspen – the whole nine yards. They were generous with their wealth. As their son improved they paid for me to take him to World Cup meets and Mare Nostrum in Europe. When we were looking at replacing our car they flew Alison to New Orleans in their private jet and gave us a Ford Explorer. There were many good things about the family but something made me uncomfortable. They were wildly Republican and like many of their right wing colleagues wandered through life convinced that God had chosen them to be rich. They could buy whatever success they craved.

Their son took to my distance swimming program like a duck to water. Within weeks he was swimming 100 kilometres a week, lifting heavy weights and reeling off 100×100 sets like he had been doing them all his life. A distance program suited him so well that you could see the daily improvement taking place. Better than that – he proved to be a bloody good bloke with it.

Pretty soon the results of his hard work began to show in his racing results. The three tables below show his progress. The top line in each table shows his best junior time before he arrived at my club and before his time off. The next two lines show his progress while he swam with me. The bottom line shows his best time after he left my team. The figures in brackets are slower results.

50 LC Meters Freestyle
Date Time Club Improvement
24/7/2003 24.55 Unattached -
23/5/2008 24.52 Aqua -
25/06/2009 23.38 Aqua 4.6%
3/6/2010 23.11 MAC 1.2%


100 LC Meters Freestyle
Date Time Club Improvement
2/4/2004 54.14 Unattached -
10/5/2008 54.41 Aqua -
25/6/2009 50.95 Aqua 6.4%
3/8/2010 51.97 MAC (2.0%)


200 LC Meters Freestyle
Date Time Club Improvement
2/4/2004 1:58.20 Unattached -
27/6/2008 2:01.76 Aqua -
9/6/2009 1:54.69 Aqua 5.8%
3/8/2010 1:57.46 MAC (2.4%)

As you can see his best distance was 100 meters freestyle. I think most of us would accept that to progress from 54.41 to 50.95 in one year was healthy progress. 6.4% improvement was more than twice the guideline of 3% recommended by the American Swim Coaches Association. He had also won the Florida State Championship 100 freestyle. His future looked bright. There were three years to the London Olympic Games trials. There seemed to be no reason why he could not improve according to the schedule shown in this table.

Year % Improvement Time Improvement
2008 – 2009 Actual 6.4 54.41 to 50.95
2010 – 2011 3.2 50.95 to 49.32
2012 – Olympic Trials. 1.6 49.32 to 48.53

A time of 48.53 at the 2012 USA Olympic Trials would have placed him third in the trials and he would have been on his way to London as a member of the USA 4×100 relay team. The Americans were second behind France in that race. My Florida swimmer should have retired an Olympic Silver Medallist. But he didn’t – why?

Parental greed is the answer. As their son improved the parent’s involvement grew and grew. But it was not a healthy involvement. They wanted the best that money could buy. Their son was happy and was improving but what could he do with a real “American” coach. When we were at Mare Nostrum they were all over the trendy MAC coach, David Marsh. I could feel the screws tightening. I could sense the thought of how good could their son be in a team like MAC? That was where the rich and famous swam. That is where their son should be. They gave no thought and probably still don’t understand that their son was prospering in a distance-based program and Marsh offered nothing but sprints. It was doomed from the start. But eventually they saw their chance and transferred their son to MAC. The numbers tell the rest of the story. Their son’s swimming career stumbled on for a few seasons but his potential was lost. What a waste.

What they did was disgusting. They gave no thought for the progress that had been made. They had no idea of the training that suited their son. All they wanted was to be able to say at dinner parties that their son swam at MAC. Well they got that and in the process their son lost an Olympic Silver Medal.

I’ve seen the same thing in New Zealand; swimmers attracted by the bright lights of the big city club. The moral of this story is do not give in to the temptation. If you are happy and progressing well in Whangarei or Greendale or Hastings or New Plymouth do not assume that by going to United or North Shore or Capital your progress will be even better. Stay at home – you will do better there. And if you have to change, because of education or work, make sure the program you go to is similar – either sprint or distance based – to the one you have left.

For my Florida swimmer I felt desperately sad. His story was the biggest loss I have seen in sport. He did not deserve that. His parents however did deserve the loss. Greedy Republicans were denied a result as a direct product of their self-indulgence. They made decisions based on ignorance and voracity and they lost. They deserved no less. It is desperately wrong that the person they hurt in the process was their son.

Stand & Be Counted

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019

I doubt there is a swimmer or coach who is happy with the performance of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ).  I’m sure most of us think that the people involved are nice enough. They are not necessarily the types I would choose to sit beside at a dinner party, but they are harmless in a boring sort of way. Cotterill, Johns and Francis are never going to set the world on fire with their intellect or their wit or – spare me the thought – the depth of their stunning personalities. Charisma is not the first word that springs to mind when the trio that run SNZ are the topic of conversation.

Which, of course, is the problem. Are the decisions they make the product of incompetence or are they being deliberately vicious? For example when they decided to pay Steve Johns $150,000 a year and charge swimmers $85,000 to represent the country at a World Championships, was that selfish ignorance or malicious greed? When they run swim meets all over the country and pay nothing to the winners is that dumb incompetence or spiteful voracity? When they chose to break the law by refusing to provide me with the report into my coaching, are they being dumb or vicious?

My guess is that the myriad of poor decisions is more likely the product of stunning ignorance and stupidity. I doubt that any of them have the spine to act the way they do out of malicious intent. Cotterill, Francis and Johns are not tyrants, more like sugar-plum fairies – especially Gary Francis, who, in my opinion, is the closest a male can come to Mary Poppins without a sex change.

Only ignorance could have given birth to the Francis Folly of training camps and squad lists – all the Francis-inspired stuff that has replaced centralised training. We have discussed before the harm caused by the Francis Folly, harm that is the equal of that caused by the years of Jan Cameron’s Centralised Folly. Like Cameron, the Francis Folly hurts those it includes and those it excludes.

Those included on a Francis list get ideas way above their station. Francis and his lists actually encourage the arrogance of what Lydiard described as the “New Zealand disease”. Those who miss the Francis academic and meaningless time cuts and are excluded from his lists are left with an overwhelming sense of unimportance. They understandably go off to find a more welcoming sport.  They play basketball, or football or rugby sevens; sports that value their late developing talent. Francis is paid to produce lists that cause New Zealand swimming harm.

And his training camps are even worse. For weeks over Christmas I have sat at the Millennium Pool and watched the expensive nonsense of Francis SNZ training camps. The elitist and defeatist feature of the Francis lists is, of course, the same in a training camp. Being included encourages the “New Zealand disease” and being excluded turns members and potential champions away from the sport.

Worse than that, are the camps themselves. We all know there are basically two types of swimming preparation – sprint-based and distance-based. Paul Kent operates a sprint-based program. I prefer a distance-based program. Mark Schubert uses distance-based training. Dave Salo bases his training on sprints. Both are successful. Both are valid and both work well. What does not work is mixing the two.

And yet when swimmers go off to a Francis SNZ training camp they either get someone like Paul giving them sprints all week, something that causes nothing but harm to swimmers from a program like mine. Or they get someone like me giving them distance conditioning that harms and is totally foreign to a swimmer from a home program like Paul’s. Either way one swimmer or the other is going to be hurt.

But, I hear you say, what say Gary Francis has someone like Paul taking training on Monday and someone like me doing Tuesday. The answer to that is easy. When that happens, both the distance and the sprint based swimmers are hurt equally.

We have discussed before the damage caused to New Zealand swimming by the twenty year and $30 million Cameron and SNZ centralised training mistake. Eventually SNZ recognised we were right and they were wrong and abandoned centralised training. The problem is what they replaced it with is no better. It costs less, which is probably why they made the change, but in terms of good for swimming it is as negative as the Cameron policy ever was.

What New Zealand clubs and coaches need to do is stand and be counted. Do what is right. Don’t accommodate Francis and his lists. Don’t participate in his training camps. Don’t feel sorry for Mary Poppins and go along with SNZ to keep the peace. Don’t use the excuse that it is only a week so who cares. But most of all don’t participate in the charade by working at one of their camps. I’ve seen good coaches working there. I can only assume their motive is to keep the peace and suck up to the occupants of Antares Place. But New Zealand’s best coaches have a higher responsibility than keeping in good with SNZ. They have a duty to the sport and their swimmers. They have a responsibility to educate those (Francis, Johns and Cotterill) who clearly have little idea of the harm they cause.

In my opinion Paul and Graeme would do swimming in New Zealand a huge favour if a bad cold prevented them working at the next camp. Eventually Mary Poppins would have to take the camp himself. That would quickly see the whole idea go the way of Cameron’s policy. We should not wait 20 years and spend $30 million before we correct another swimming tragedy. But avoiding the mistake relies on Paul and Graeme and others doing the right thing.

Stand and be counted.