Laura Weightman and Coach Steve Cram talk about event transitioning with Matt Long.
It is 8th September 1974, and the men's European championship 5000m final is in its middle stages at Rome’s famous Stadio Olympico. In heading a 15 strong field, a Team GB athlete numbered 317 on his white vest, embarks on an audacious mid-race surge. As he enters the back straight with 8m16s on the clock, the Gateshead Harrier dramatically pulls away from Munich Olympic 5000m and 10,000 champion, Lasse Viren, with an animated BBC commentator David Coleman exclaiming, “The man who dominated distance running at the Olympic Games has fallen apart”.
A knee-trembling 60s lap sees him leave men like Jos Hermens (who would go on to break the world record for one hour in 1976) and Klaus-Peter Hildenbrand (who would take Montreal Olympic bronze two years later) trailing in his wake. Four and a half laps later and the Brit romps home to gold in 13m17.21s, a staggering 6 seconds ahead of East German, Manfred Kuschmann. As the bearded bronze medallist Viren shakes his hand, Coleman continues to wax lyrically over the microphone telling his audience, “That was devastating - aggressive - full of self-belief.”
Coleman passed away in 2013, but exactly 45 years after that European final, it is a current BBC commentator who is once again waxing lyrical about the performance of a fellow Geordie and former colleague in Brendan Foster. In speaking about his athlete Laura Weightman, coach Steve Cram tells his Rutland Water training camp audience, “She needs to be able to both respond to a break and surge like Brendan did when he would kick hard mid-race.”
Back on October 5th last year in Doha, Weightman finished a hugely impressive 7th (14m44.57s) in a world championship final won by Hellen Obiri of Kenya in a new championship record. Significantly the Morpeth athlete placed 2nd European behind the hugely talented German, Konstanze Klosterhalfen.
What 1983 World 1500m champion Cram is alluding to is the fact that Weightman ran her fastest 1k split in Doha between 1800m-2800m in 2m51, but this was followed by her slowest 1k split of 3m05, precisely when she needed to kick on after an already fast pace.
So what will enable the 28-year-old, who already owns a bag full of bronze and silver medals at European and Commonwealth championship level, to emulate the likes of the Foster as mentioned earlier and go one better? The answer lies in the physiological, psychological, and tactical demands of event transitioning.
Coach Cram explains that in working over a 10-12 day microcycle, Weightman is enhancing her aerobic endurance capacity through a regular 13-14 mile long run. An increase in training volume in the transition from 1500m to 5000m has seen her 10k PB improve to 31m39s. The frequency of her training has been increased to the point where she is effecting double days 4-5 times a week.
This is complemented by a strength endurance programme which typically features three gym sessions a week including drills supervised by Andy Henderson and Dane Mitchell over at Leeds Beckett University. This aerobic and strength endurance base provides the platform for a once-weekly track session at this point of the periodisation cycle, and it is this latter mode of speed endurance training that will ultimately enable her to surge mid-race and sustain a potentially long run for home.
So why suffer twelve and a half laps of pain when you can get away with suffering less than four? “I got to the point where change was what I needed. I needed stimulating”, confesses the Sports Science graduate. She acknowledges that “It is about learning to accept the pain” and is perhaps still searching to find the right balance between what Rodriguez (2017) has framed as ‘cognitive association and dissociation’.
With honesty, she discloses that “I do not count as Paula Radcliffe did and I do not look around. I do count the laps down though. With three laps to go, I think to myself ‘I know I can survive’”. With a laugh, Cram, who ran an eye-catching 13m28s for 5000m long after he dominated the global middle distance scene in the mid-1980s, perceptively points out that, “You can see her mentality coming through in the 1500m. She will change her mindset, though in due course”.
Weightman has to date run only a handful of track 5000m races. A debut win in Los Angeles in May 2017 at the USATF Distance Classic (15m08.24s) was followed by a fantastic bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast (15m25.84), but that was her only 5000m race that year. While she ran four 5000m races in 2019, two of those were in Doha due to qualification for the final. Despite a 15m21s win on the roads at the Ipswich Building Society Twilight 5k in May last year, Weightman cautions, “It is not like doing a 5k or 10k on the road where people launch out to race from the gun”.
Questions for self-reflection
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About the Authors
Matt Long is an England Athletics Coach Education Tutor and is leading the national roll-out of Youth Endurance Workshops.