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On Making a National Record - Part 4

Part four in a four-part series of half marathon national record holder Hitomi Niiya and coach Masato Yokota answering questions about her training. Part one herePart two here. Part three here.

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Coach: Sorry, can I ask an amateurish question? Is this "locking into a rhythm" thing you're talking about something like a "runner's high?"

Niiya: No, totally different.

Coach: I don't get it at all.

Niiya: If it starts to feel like you could go forever then you're there. The times when you're like, "This is a good rhythm. I can keep rolling in this rhythm."

Coach: I've never had a time like that.

Q. They say marathons go the best if you get into your rhythm in the first 5 km.

Coach: I can't run further than 5 km.

Niiya: If you trained some you'd be able to go up to 30 km. But, there are too many times when I can't find my rhythm, and sometimes when someone is pacing me our rhythms don't match. I think that's way my jogging motion is different every day.

Coach: To my eye it looks the same.

Niiya: Well, the same as the timing of locking in, sometimes I'm tired and not moving well, and sometimes it's good. The overall shape of my jogging is different day to day.

Q. I've seen you out running, and you were running the tangents and corners tightly. Is that when you're locked in?

Coach: When Ryuji Kashiwabara ran the uphills at Hakone he could visualize the best line on the course, like, "That's where I should step next." She sees the course the same way.

Q. As you were digesting the training menu, did either of you have things you needed to work out?

Niiya: Not for me. I was just nervous right up to the end. I didn't have any doubt about the training menu coach put together, but I was still worried about whether I could really finish a half marathon at 3:10/km.

Coach: I was constantly working things out. Like how much growth she'd made each week, for one. I had confidence. In my estimation she's the type of athlete who will deliver 1.5 times what she's done in training in the race. If you work her 1.5x factor into the training then you'll get 100% in the target race. Even if she runs all-out when she does 1000 m reps they'll be 2:55~2:56, but then she'll go and open a 10 km ekiden stage with a 2:55 split for the first km. Although they say it was downhill. [laughs]

I've been seeing that all along, so nothing surprises me. When the practice conditions are bad, like one time when she did 3x5000 m in strong winds, it has to be pretty demanding mentally. People usually do a lot of those kind of late-stage workouts on the roads, but she did them on the track. It gets rid of variables. In those kind of conditions I think it would've been better to do them a little slower than the target time, but she'd just say that if it wasn't 15:50 for 5000 m then it was meaningless, so all I could say was, "Uh...OK...." When you're already feeling fatigue, getting three 5000 m reps done was pretty hard.

Niiya: But I was right on the verge of saying, "Yeah, let's not do this." When I finished my warmup, and right to about 5 minutes before we started, I was saying, "Yeah, today doesn't feel like you're moving right. You shouldn't do this." I was saying that we should wait to get back to Tokyo to do that workout, but I still did it.

Coach: Our strength coach Kota Aziz Marone and I alternated pacing every 600 m that time. [laughs]

Q. Alongside your running menu, I understand that Marone developed a strength training regimen to go with it.

Coach: It was great that he put together a program that incorporated the things he wanted her to do and feedback from her body.

Q. What made you think post-Doha that her strength was insufficient?

Coach: Before Doha she usually had pain somewhere in her legs. Before that we only focused on her abs and back, but after Doha we started to pay more attention to her hips and glutes and build a well-balanced core that let her keep training without injury. The biggest thing that came of that was that instead of always running all-out, she found that she could hold something back and run with control, and that that made it easier to produce speed.

Up to then she'd thought that if you didn't go all-out you couldn't hit your top speed. I don't think that's just her, I think a lot of people are that way. It's a basic question of what speed is. The speed you need in a race isn't an all-out sprint. You have to train to deliver the necessary speed efficiently and when you need it in a race, and that doesn't mean always going all-out.

Niiya's race pace is 74 seconds for one lap of a 400 m track. She doesn't have to kill herself to run that fast. It's not the "locking in" we were talking about before, but becoming able to lock on and run 20 reps under control at 74 seconds was one of the main themes this time around. You don't have to lock on for the first rep, it's more about locking on over the course of the workout. Once you lock on, you understand the feeling of your legs turning over. I think she came to understand that.

Niiya: When I'm training for 5000 m and 10000 m my 400 m intervals are from 70 to 72 seconds. For a 3:10/km pace half marathon that turns into 74 to 76 seconds. It felt a lot more comfortable when I had to do intervals. In 5000 m training I'm targeting 66 to 70 seconds, so compared to that 74 to 76 was so easy.

Coach: I can't understand that either. You have to do twice as many! [laughs] But looking back now, there's no need to run mileage. Put the emphasis on training for race pace, and figure out how to make the rest of the training supplement that. I think it's hard on athletes to have to do group runs and morning practice. It's tough on them the morning after a workout. In my group it's OK for people to take their time getting up in the morning, shaking out their fatigue, then doing some morning training and having breakfast. Having that kind of environment is part of why we were able to do the training menu we did.

Q. What comes next? Originally the plan was to better her 2013 PB and go for the 10000 m record at the Stanford Invitational. What that was canceled it shifted to May's National Championships, but that was canceled too.

Coach: That's right. We'd set things up for the 10000 m, but I'm thinking of going back to the half again. Taking the approach of using the half marathon to improve the 10000 m was a really good fit for her. We've got plenty of time to set that all up again.

Niiya: Half marathon training was great. Since there aren't any races I'm thinking that I'd like to do some more 10000 m-geared half training.

Q. If your training for the Houston Half was a base, would you be looking to up the intensity or add other elements?

Coach: I'd like to bring in some other things.

Niiya: I want higher intensity!

Coach: Let's work out a compromise together.

Niiya: We'll never totally agree about it.

Coach: This is the kind of interaction you'll never pick up on from that training plan, readers. It's like this every damn day. [laughs]

source article:
translated and edited by Brett Larner

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