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Thommo's top tips for 10K success

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Matt Slater | 12:43 UK time, Thursday, 21 July 2011

OK, you have survived the assault on your senses that is a swim in cold, dark water whilst being slapped around by strangers wearing black rubber. And you have completed the lung-burning, energy-sapping laps of a 40km bike ride.

Surely it is time for a shower, supportive hug and slap-up pub lunch, isn't it? Not if you're a triathlete, it isn't. Your work is far from done. Get off your bike (as athletically as possible), lose the helmet, swap shoes and start running...your legs might take some convincing, though.

The reason for this is a chemical compound called lactic acid. This is not the time/place to say much more about this cocktail of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen apart from pointing out that it is an inevitable consequence of strenuous activity and it makes you feel like you are running in wet jeans and ski boots.

The secret to triathlon's final leg is learning how to deal with "milk acid". For advice on how to do this, and other running-related wisdom, I called British long-distance runner Chris Thompson.

First, let's get the fundamentals right.

"When I've got a big race I like to put on everything that I'm running in very early and then work backwards from there," Thompson told me over the phone from Font Romeu, the high-altitude training base in the Pyrenees made famous by Paula Radcliffe.

"So that's the vest, the number, my shorts, everything I absolutely must have to perform, and then I worry about what goes in the bag and if I've got my keys and phone and so on. Essentials first."

If this sounds a little bit obsessive, compulsive even, Thompson has good reason.

His breakthrough performance at last summer's European Championships, when he followed Mo Farah home to complete an unprecedented British one-two in the 10,000m, looked very unlikely two years before as the likeable Thompson was left to reflect on another injury-ruined season.

Mo Farah and Chris Thompson in action at last year's European Championships

Farah was too quick for him in Barcelona last year but a silver meant Thompson was back to his best. Photo: AFP

A successful junior, the Cumbria-born athlete appeared to be making a smooth transition into the seniors when he beat Farah to the European U23 5,000m title in 2003. But what should have been a stepping stone became an insurmountable boulder in the road as injury followed injury.

By the end of the 2008 season, Thompson was wondering if his athletics career was over before it had ever really started. But he didn't give up.

In fact, he went west and joined the Oregon Track Club in the US. Based there with his girlfriend Jemma Simpson, the British middle-distance runner, the injuries healed and the belief returned. Two years later, seven years after his last European medal, Thompson was back amongst the elite.

I would love to tell you "Thommo" has got half a dozen other painless nuggets of advice for you but he hasn't, he just runs a lot. There are no shortcuts.

"My typical weeks are pretty high volume: three key sessions that I supplement with recovery in between," the 30-year-old explained. "So I do Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with the days in between being all about getting ready for the next big session."

And what is a "big session" for a distance runner with Olympic ambitions?

"There are three different types - aerobic base, race pace and strength, which could be hill-running - and I start the season with a lot of aerobic work, adding more speed as I get closer to a race.

"So it could be something like 10 times 1km at five seconds above race pace with 90 seconds recovery, building towards 10x1km at race pace with 90 seconds rest and then 12x1km and then...."

He didn't need to say anymore. I could already tell my 45-minute blasts around the block aren't cutting the mustard.

"My usual race plan is to try to relax for the first 5km and then manage the fatigue from there," he continued.

"I keep my upper body as relaxed as possible, take deep breathes and almost sigh to let the lactic acid out - I imagine the lactic being flushed from my legs. And then it's just a case of thinking calm thoughts until genuine fatigue sets in."

The problem with triathlon, however, is you are "managing fatigue" from the first meter, not after 5,000.

Thompson has trained with top triathletes before and he remembers them doing lactic-heavy sessions of 20x400m with only 20 seconds rest. Ouch.

If you are minded to put in training sessions like this you will need to cherish your recovery, which is everything and anything that gets you ready for the next session: stretching, ice bathes and lots of food.

The basic guide here is a good mix of carbohydrates and protein (more protein after a speed session, more carbs after an aerobic sesh). Thompson swears by egg and cress sandwiches, ham and cheese rolls and yoghurt with fruit. He likes a sports drink as soon as he has finished and then a meal within the hour.

If you are training in hot conditions - it happens - Thompson suggests drinking a lot of water before you attempt to refuel, as you will be low on electrolytes, making rehydration difficult. Another tip is protein at breakfast: your muscles will appreciate the amino acids, apparently.

So that's how to dress, how to train and what to eat: the rest is up to you. If, like me, you are taking on the Hyde Park Triathlon you've got a fortnight to get ready. If you are doing the London Triathlon, it's time to taper. You can rest while you read Keri-Anne Payne's swimming guide (well done, Keri-Anne!) and Michael Hutchinson's cycling advice.

But for Thompson, this is just the beginning.

"The European Championships convinced me the hard work was worth it and it meant everything to me," said Thompson. "I just hope it's the start and not the end."

That is something I guarantee no triathlete will ever say after their 10,000m run.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about at http://twitter.com/bbc_matt

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks Matt, I've enjoyed this series of blogs - I presume there'll be a follow up after the event itself?

    A word on Chris' nutrition strategy, I know very little on the area but I also know that athletes very often don't either - I'd be interested to know where Thommo's strategy came from, simply a 'it seems to work for me' idea or something more structured from a sports nutritionist? It would be interesting to have a separate fourth blog on sports nutrition for such an event from an actual nutritionist.

    http://thebigblogofsport.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 2.

    Glad to hear it, bigsportblog. I think you make an interesting point about athletes and nutrition. I'm no expert but I got the impression that Chris would be one of the more knowledgable ones...he certainly sounded convincing. I think he went to Loughborough too. But then most of the do.

    Anyway, in terms of what's coming next, I've got one more planned before the Hyde Park Triathlon. That will be about triathlon's "fourth discipline", the transitions, and I hope to talk to somebody pretty special about that. Not sure if I'lll do a follow-up one based on the race itself...I've kind of done that before. We'll see.

    As for your nutrition idea, I'm pretty sure there is a plan formulating elsewhere at the website to do something pretty good on what sportsmen/women eat and why. The Tour de France is a pretty good peg for this kind of thing so expect to read about huge quantities of just about everything.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm afraid that bigsportblog has it absolutely right - very few athletes understand anything about the science of why they do what they do in training, be it nutrition, physiology or biochemistry. To be fair a lot of coaches aren't terribly well clued up in that area either! "Going to Loughborough" doesn't seem to help too much - I've had conversations with athletes there where I ended up wondering what they had done with their 3/4/5 years of sports science study!

    Matt, when you want to understand exactly what it's like to train and compete at the highest level, the taste of victory and the pain of defeat, the athletes themselves are absolutely the ONLY people to talk to. None of us will ever know how it feels to perform at this level. They are remarkable human beings and an inspiration to young people everywhere. But why oh why do journalists anoint athletes as gurus of sports science. Very very few of them are - even if they've gone to Loughborough.

    When it comes to biochemistry, nutrition and WHY athletes need to do what they do to perform at the highest level, please go knocking on the door of some unfashionable 50 year old lecturer - yes, perhaps at Loughborough - and get him/her to explain it. The lecturer might not know how it feels to finish a 10,000m track race in front of 60,000 fans but they will ensure that what you write, be it about lactic acid, nutrition or training will be accurate and correct.

    Lewis Hamilton is an amazing racing driver but I wouldn't want him changing my brake pads.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'll be interested to see what's coming with regards to nutrition, it plays such a massive part on performance sport nowadays that's if you don't get it right you probably won't win.

    Now without wishing to make this a bragging match I in fact have 'been to Loughborough', in fact I'm still here 8 years after I first arrived and still studying. I can assure you, not that anyone would assume otherwise anyway, that just being here doesn't guarantee you to be the consumate sports scientist - what it does give you though is access to people who really do know their stuff. Unfortunately as coach2010 points out not all athletes will make the most of the facilities on hand here, just as a student here won't automatically be an expert just because they've been here and completed the course. The athlete has to want to work with the help, listen to the advice and stick to it religiously.

    I look forward to your transitions piece, races can be won and lost there so it'll be interesting to see what tipe you pick up.

  • Comment number 5.

    Bit confused by your post, coach2010, are you suggesting there are mistakes in the piece above? If so, what are they? You don't point them out, you just say bigsportblog is right to ask if Chris really knows what he's talking about (and he admits to not being sure himself) by making a general point about all athletes being ignorant. Seems a bit presumptuous to me.

    As for your wider comment about asking lecturers for advice on the science of sport, I know, I've done it a few times before and will do so again...next time I write a piece about sports science. This isn't really that type of story. It's a bit of background/update on Chris, plus a few accessible tips for amateur athletes/triathletes. There's a problem with asking 'experts' for this kind of stuff, nobody has heard of them and few people read the stories. Another thing I've noticed - and you allude to it yourself - is these people rarely agree anyway.

  • Comment number 6.

    bigsportblog - I can't promise I'll be doing a nutrition piece in the near future. I did one in my triathlon training diary in 2007 and my colleague Ben Dirs did a four-part blog on the subject only a month or so ago. I have got one more blog in this series to come, though, and I hope you'll like it. I did the interview yesterday and she's a very special lady indeed. An iron lady, perhaps.

  • Comment number 7.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 8.

    Great articles! Thanks. As triathlete myself I have really appreciated reading the advice of people dedicated to each discipline.

    Coach2010: The example of a Formula 1 driver was not a good choice, F1 drivers are actually very technically aware (they have to be). Plus, after seeing the Maclaren drivers performing a pit stop on Sundays programme I would certainly let them take a spanner to my car!

  • Comment number 9.

    Matt, wouldn't be Chrissie Wellington by any chance? Have I just ruined the surprise? (-;

  • Comment number 10.

    'being slapped around by strangers wearing black rubber.'

    That's one way of putting it, Matt. I know people who would pay good money for that experience!

 

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