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On Making a National Record - Part 1

Last month Hitomi Niiya published her training log for the 100 days leading up to her national record at January's Houston Half Marathonn on her coach Masato Yokota's blog in three parts. Receiving dozens of questions about it after posting, the two of them took a stab at answering some of them in an Ekiden News-moderated Q&A format on the same blog. JRN will be publishing it in translation over the next four days.

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Q. What were the main differences in reaction from elite athletes and amateur runners to what you posted?

Coach: Top-level athletes pretty much never publish their training programs in detail, so there was a lot of interest, both inside Japan and elsewhere.

Q. Daichi Seimei corporate team coach Sachiko Yamashita said thanks for Twitter for posting it.

Coach: I replied and told her reading it would cost her, but in all seriousness I'd like to hear what people thought of it. In particular, I wonder what corporate league and Hakone Ekiden coaches think of it. Maybe they've read it, but nobody's said anything about it yet. Up to the Doha World Championships, Niiya had been making her own training plan ever since she joined my group.

Q. For the whole time from coming back from her retirement when she couldn't even jog 4:00/km pace to getting back to competitive level?

Coach: Yeah, it was pretty much all her ideas. After Worlds we came to the conclusion that although she'd been able to get to the World Championships level after coming back, if she kept going the same way there was no way she'd be competitive at the top level at the Tokyo Olympics. So, we decided to do things a different way and I started making her training plan.

Q. Was that because you wanted to or because she asked you to?

Niiya: It was his idea. I chose to leave it all to him.

Coach: I said that we had to change our approach to the Tokyo Olympics, not just expand what we were doing at that point.

Niiya: When the Doha World Championships were over I felt like something had to change. So when he said the same thing I could accept it.

Q. Up to the time of the Doha World Championships it looked like you had suddenly pulled everything together, but do you yourself feel like you were really in peak condition?

Niiya: I'd wanted to bring in a positive state of mind, but in the end I wasn't able to do it.

Q. In the Doha World Championships 10000 m you started in a good position. Around 4000 m a group of six Kenyans and Ethiopians took off, as the packs formed the only others who tried to go with that front group were Sifan Hassan and you. That wasn't exactly a surprise, but while Hassan fought her way up to the gold medal you weren't able to get up there. Last season you had a lot of races like that, including your 2nd-place finish at the Asian Championships and 3rd-place finish at the National Championships.

Niiya: All three of those were key races for me. I think I was too focused on how important they were. Coach suggested trying something longer than 10000 m like a half marathon to help me relax a bit more when I ran.

Coach: Running a half marathon was just a step in the process, and setting the national record as a goal didn't mean she was going to change direction and go for longer distances beyond that. We agreed that doing a half was a step toward doing a better 10000 m. With a concrete goal the training plan might have been a little different from the usual approach to a half marathon, like what the Hakone Ekiden guys, who run about a half marathon distance, do.

Q. In terms of not treating as a half marathon in terms of the distance?

Coach: The only concern was how to use the half marathon to improve the 10000 m.

Q. And that meant national record-breaking speed?

Coach: It'd be more accurate to say that she needed that kind of motivation to do the work. If the target had been something like 68 minutes, to her that wouldn't have been an appealing enough goal to turn her on to going for it. Saying, "Whatever distance we do, let's make it a national record," would give her confidence when working on the 10000 m too.

So, those were the two starting points, doing it as a step toward a better 10000 m and going for the national record. From there I worked backward to make the training plan. In that respect the approach and thinking were different from usual half marathon training.

Q. It's easy to say that you're going to break a national record, but actually following through is something else.

Coach: We only had one chance. She's a 10000 m runner, so it's not like she's going to run lots of half marathons. Even if she were going to do another one, it'd be something to think about in terms of next year. We had to think of it in terms of getting it done in one shot, and that made it harder. It's a given that in outdoor sports there are things you can't control.

Q. A lot depends on the course and weather.

Coach: It was an overseas race, so all we could do to study the course was watch videos on Youtube. It's hard to get an idea about the condition of the road surface.

Q. If you did a well-known high-speed domestic race like the Marugame Half you'd be able to tour the course and there are other people who've run it that you could talk to and get an idea of strategy.

Coach: In a sense it was a stupid idea to try to get a national record in those circumstances, but I had no doubts.

Niiya: I didn't either. I didn't think it would be that hard to break.

Part two here. Part three here. Part four to follow later this week.

source article:
translated and edited by Brett Larner

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