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  • Writer's pictureJohn Hamlett


by John Hamlett aka Colonel Coach

I want to start my first blog with something fresh on my mind - how to find REAL improvement with anything - not only running.

I will kick-off with a little background first, a lesson learned, referring to the 100km world championships both in 2016 and 2018.

I was listening to a talk a few days ago, on TV, discussing the present economic issues due to covert and the knock on effect expected, one of the presenters stated a rather unusual point, stating that the four (4) world economic models were the following, the developing and developed world and then you have Japan and Venezuela and No one can understand why Japan is the 3rd strongest economy in the world and Venezuela the opposite.

This discussion tickled my brain and made me think not of the economic situation but rather back to the 2016 and 2018 100km World Championships and the why we won one year and why we lost the next reasoning, the latter one which was won by Japan, that was the 2018 Championships, beating our team easily, this after we as R.S.A. had beaten them in the 2016 World Championships, effectively making them the runner ups in 2016, slotting Japan into the second place for those two years.

At that 2016 race the Japanese team was clearly on a mission, arrived and immediately pronounced their intentions - serious in their planning, support, and determination. They had ALL the support, financial and logistical, to win and all their preparation was broken down into little bites of perfection. This they said was their race plan for the next 20 odd years, determined to improve and finally dominate. Unfortunately for them, in the 2016 race, our team was “reasonably “prepared, with all honesty, mainly by default, due partly to our preparations for races like Comrades and also partly due to the raw talent of our athletes and very little else, especially when comparing ours to the support given by the national bodies of other teams in the world and in particular when referencing the preparation of the Japanese team.

The Japanese team succeeded in 2018 (no surprise to me I might add) by destroying our National team, a team which sadly should have been the real dominators.

In 2016, the year we won the world title - we had much to learn, however that was only one part of the total requirement. It was clear that in order to get the minimum support to just “get through” this championship (which was planned at the 11th hour with much politicking and fights) or to get just the absolute minimum support needed, to at least be contenders, became a mission of its own; we did however finally take the title and the win was sure and fair, however that was after a terribly planned 20 hour flight to Spain (complements of our national body - ridiculous) with less than reasonable rest and only a skeleton of a team for support, with one or two of the support team being actual deadwood (mainly, again selected by the powers that be). Fortunately, the talented athletes we had chosen were the only real winning card with a quick (fought for) preparation in Dullstroom which just squeezed us a win, getting us nearly pipped at the finish by that same Japanese-team.

This bring me to the initial point of this blog - I believe lots of smaller gains bring great runs. Consistently improving each session or season brings those wins or fantastic personal bests, however the art of coaching and training exists, is not in just improving but also knowing what to improve with each individual. I also found out that the Japanese have had a system of consistent improvement called “Kaizen” which actually means “consistent improvement” and this is shown in the way they progressively take the front position, in the world, in most of what they focus on like Toyota etc.

Why is this important to us? Well to start, if you want to improve and get the best return on your “time invested in training” then perhaps the following steps need to be taken.

Step 1. Start by finding out WHAT must be improved and

Step 2. Work out HOW to improve the “what”- that is critical, all this with the long game in mind, not these quick fixes which seem to have become the norm in most of our athletic circles. Almost a belief of “talent will squeeze us to victory”- note this has sort of worked, possibly to the disadvantage of our athletes, however if that very short term thinking continues our wins as individuals and internationally will be sporadic and domination will never become even a possibility or near a reality; this behaviour with the massive talent pool we have in South Africa is actually verging on a “sin”.

As an individual, setting your goals and working to them, having real professional coaching (and not the everybody is suddenly a coach nonsense) finding what each individual needs to become the absolute best he or she can become, without this “hit and miss” method, which certainly has been the norm in our running circles and careers, rather building for a few great ones or runs. After all I would rather run one great marathon than 500 casual hope to perform ones, with the hope of peaking, preparing, and racing ideally, by accident. Note ALL the perfect and outstanding runs I have been blessed to be part of - for example, David Gatebe breaking the Comrades down record after never even getting Gold, a record which all said was impossible - because of the extra 3km odd distance on the Fordyce record, was planned over many years with hours of direct and indirect planning as a part of the whole (that was a 14 year build-up), culminating in this historic run. Another similar consistently planned run was the Gift Kelehe one in 2015, this was planned since the day his brother Andrew Kelehe won in 2001.

Thinking on the above it should be clear that designing your training should be deliberate and properly made to fit you as an individual, ensuring the maximum return for the hours you invest on the road, without the outcome of basically finishing year in and out in similar times or with similar results.

Albert Einstein said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” or better yet as a coach I say - doing over and over with the same outcome is plain stupid.

Hope it makes all think and evaluate our training just a little better.

Yours in Sport,

John Hamlett (Col ret.)

Or @Colonelcoach on Twitter

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