Train Hard, Win Easy
I have an original copy. I cherish it, taking almost ten years to procure. I found it in a used bookstore in the East Village in Manhattan during the mid-2000s. It was three dollars. At the time, pre-Amazon days, it was going for $200+ on eBay. I thought I found gold, and I did.
Tanser's book provides an in-depth look at Kenyan training. It is comprehensive. He covers topics such as Varieties of Training, Economics of Training, Training Camp, The Kenyan Diet, Kenyan Mindset, Altitude, Coaches profiles and detailed athlete portraits of the Kenyan greats with samples of their training. It is a must read and in my pantheon of books on coaching.
One coach he highlights is Brother Colm O'Connell. This man is one of my idols. He is the most important athletics coach too few know about. He was an Irish missionary turned arguably the world's greatest coach of middle distance and distance runners. One of his current protégés is 800m Olympic Champion and World Record Holder, David Rudisha.
Brother Colm is a teacher first and foremost. He famously doesn't travel to track meets, instead, he watches major championships, like the Olympics, on a TV set in Kenya. “I’m not so attached that I have to go and see them winning races,” he is quoted as saying.
If you'd like to familiarize yourself more with him, you can watch this 50-minute video. Trust me, it's worth it.
Brother Colm is not a member of the cult of prescription that plagues many Western distance coaches today. He doesn't know what Strava is. He has as athletes time themselves. And he trains by feel, not data inputs. He spends a lot of time developing relationships with his athletes as people. Once trust has been established, he begins the steady process of nurturing their athletic dreams. He says, "As a coach, all I do is take what is already within the athlete and develop it."
His example encouraged me to worry less about weekly miles ran and far more about the athlete's day to day well being. Once I gained a modicum of proficiency in this skill, the athletes under my guidance magically started competing much better.
He preaches five core principles: listen to the athlete, learn from the athlete, observe the athlete, teach good form combined with a controlled rhythm of running, and, of course, work hard.
"Remember," he says, "in Kenya, even 13-yr.-old girls are training three times a day."
Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm