Training is athlete specific
Dr. Matt long spends time with Dr. Barry Fudge in exploring his role in supporting double Olympic champion Mo Farah.
None of us one will ever forget that magical three quarters of an hour on the evening of Saturday 4th August 2012, when Jess Ennis delivered the proverbial grandstand finish in the final event of the heptathlon, Greg Rutherford equalled the feat of Lynn 'The Leap' Davies and of course Mo Farah prevailed over 25 nail-biting laps of the Stratford stadium.
What may have been overlooked in the carnival of celebration which engulfed Olympic Park that most heady of nights was the foresight of our first ever Olympic 10,000m champion in thanking a softly spoken Scot who as part of a support team is inspiring a quiet revolution in UK Endurance running. With a microphone thrust in his jubilant face, Farah was razor sharp in thanking a Loughborough based physiologist who in his words, "has always been there for me". Significantly he reiterated that same praise at the season's curtain closer after toying with the field before turning on the gas in the 2 miles at Birmingham's Diamond League last month. The man deemed worthy of such credit is Dr. Barry Fudge.
With a doctorate in physiology from Glasgow University, Barry Fudge has built much of his formidable reputation in researching the benefits of altitude training in terms of its ability to facilitate world-class performance. He beckons me towards the famed altitude chamber in the laboratory where his painstaking support and research is conducted, pointing out the difference between the two sets of equipment on offer to those privileged enough to have access. "The machine on your left utilises altitude to assist athletes in their rehabilitation from injury", he explains, "whereas the one on your right is used to simulate the type of work we do in training camp and is very much to enhance world-class performance". Dr Fudge commenced his love affair with altitude in 2004 and his next visit to support Mo Farah and company is pencilled in for October 25th with a return date of December 5th cast in a tablet of stone to ensure athletes can return for the European Cross event in time. After spending Christmas with his young family, he will return to Kenya on January 8th and the trip to East Africa will be complemented by a further two trips to Font Romeu in France, over four weeks next spring and a longer stint in the summer of 2013 prior the anticipation of Mo attempting to retain his world 5,000m title in Moscow next August (which he did).
The man who has been based in Loughborough for the past seven years points over to an elongated treadmill in the middle of the lab where some of our finest have had their VO2 max periodically tested. "The way I have been able to assist Mo is multi-faceted", he tells me. "It is much more than just the periodic trips to altitude and the organisation of altitude exposure. The physiological testing utilises the kind of treadmills which you see here but critically involves blood testing, so we can see if athletes have been working at the correct intensity and critically whether they are recovering adequately from the work which the coaches set them". He is keen to emphasise that as well as being reactive, much of his support role includes "proactive competition planning and periodisation".
Why Mo got it right in London
When I jokingly ask him to slip me the magic formula which underpinned Mo's marvellous success which elevates him to the legendary status of the likes of Zatopek, Viren, Yifter and more recently Bekele he tells me unequivocally that, "A large contribution was undoubtedly applying our research on how to rest and recover that helped Mo get his two gold medals. l am talking about how he rested and recovered between the 10,000m final and then his 5,000m heat four days later and the final three days after that". He elaborates that, "We planned everything from when and what he needed to eat; when and how long to take an ice bath; what type of compression techniques would best aid his muscular recovery; when and how to use altitude exposure and how much sleep he needed to optimise performance. That's where we were a step ahead".
The Oregon Project
When we ask him to set aside those seven magical days in East London over the summer which spanned Mo's pocketing of those two gold medals and to offer a longer-term perspective on his work with Stateside based Farah and training partner and Olympic 10,000m silver medallist, Galen Rupp, he offers a fascinating insight. "Most people wrongly assume that because both Mo and Galen are Oregon based are share the same coach in Alberto Salazar and because they are relatively close in world class terms over 5,000 and 10,000m, that they must be following the same training schedule". With a smile breaking out on his lips, he continues, "It's a complete myth. Mo and Galen are completely different animals. I have seen Mo and Galen on the same track together at the same time and yet Alberto has got them doing different kinds of work to suit their individual needs. There's no master template which Alberto imposes on both Mo and Galen. This being said Alberto is brilliant at getting them to support each other during the sessions because they work together at different points of their respective sessions and their work dovetails together at certain points".
Lessons from Salazar
I ask him whether we in the UK can learn from Salazar's approach and he nods enthusiastically. "We've got to get away from this one size fits all model in coaching", he stresses. "We've got to be wiser in recognising the diversity of our talented athletes and hold on to the fact that what works for one won't work for another". He is animated in continuing that, "Whilst there's good practice and there's bad practice, no one coaching philosophy should predominate over another. For example, Mick Woods may have a different approach to say a George Gandy, but both make fantastic coaching contributions". Both refreshingly and somewhat modestly he is keen to give primacy to the social practice of coaching, stressing that, "We've got some great coaches who should be confident in their own ability to deliver the goods". After showing me the mechanics of an eccentric stationary bicycle in the far corner of the room he asserts that "Whilst physiology has provided some big breakthroughs which have undoubtedly contributed to endurance running in our country, in many ways the coaches are the original innovators and then the sports science catches up with them. Don't forget that there are things coaches were doing a decade or so ago which produced results, and which are only just being understood by the physiologists of today".
UK Endurance - The Future
Barry offers the insight that, "My maxim is that it is the context of the week which determines the paradigm the athlete should be following". He nails his sails to the mast by elaborating that, "My one key message to aspiring athletes would be to make sure they don't blindly attempt to copy the programme of another high-profile athlete". He is undoubtedly an optimist when asked to assess whether we can use Mo's overwhelming summer success as a building block to once again raise the state of play in endurance running in this country. "Listen we've got groundbreaking research going on at the moment which will sow the seeds of future success. We can support the coaches through an enhanced understanding of both tapering and peaking. We are still only scratching the surface with studies of adaption and hypoxia (oxygen deprivation). All of this will push the frontiers of knowledge in terms of how we work with coaches to optimise the monitoring of performance".
As I leave the Loughborough laboratory and head for the cold outdoors, Barry bids his farewells making sure to hold the door open for me. In return, I reflect on how all of us in the wider family of athletics would do well to hold the proverbial door open for this softly spoken and unassuming Scot for a long while yet. I am convinced the man holding the door also has possession of the keys to our potential re-emergence as global contenders in endurance running.
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About the Author
Dr. Matt Long is a Coach Education Tutor (British Athletics/ EA) and volunteer endurance coach with Birmingham University AC. Dr. Barry Fudge works with British Athletics through his role as a Senior Physiologist at the EIS at Loughborough University.
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