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Learning, not copying

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

Coach Harald with the great man, Haile Gebrselassie.

As a coach working with elite and age group athletes I am regularly confronted with questions regarding the training programs – including nutrition, regeneration, injury prevention – of my elite runners.

Often the motivation behind those questions is to get “the secret” used by the top athletes and then copy it accordingly. The same happens across triathlon if you read any forum of what age groupers are posting and discussing:

“having read the newest article about how [insert name of elite athlete] is doing, I am now going to try...”

This is usually a good recipe for failing big time.

My mantra is try to understand why this athlete is doing it his or her way and then learn from it. Don’t copy.

Once you have learned the reasoning behind a particular approach, only then consider implementing the given ratio behind it carefully in your training.

Usually, doing the above is not so easy. More often than not my athletes come back to me to asking why the ‘new [insert name of elite athlete] set’ is not working for them.

This is why you have a coach in the first place. So that he / she can customize your training for your needs, abilities and goals. (Which in my experience are a bit different than sub 2:10 marathoners...)

Keeping in mind the above – let me give you some take aways I’ve learned from the “secrets” of African elite runners:


Elite runners complete between 180-240km per week. Some even more. Do you want to copy that? Many running programs focus on mileage but you have to look into the time they spend doing that mileage. Of course, training twice a day is usual with the exception for very long runs. Usually it is 1:10h – 1:40h in the morning and then 0:40 – 1:00h running in the evening. So we are talking 2:30h of running at the most with very good recovery in between.

Does this sound more manageable to you than attempting to copy 200km? Almost none of their runs are done are longer than 2:30h because it needs to much time for recovery. Learn from that.


Of course they have all the sessions in their plan (interval, fartlek, hill running etc.) but not too much of them in order to recover.

Here the discussion begins when you are looking at their speeds doing the intervals. Never forget – elite athletes have their threshold much closer to their maximum than age groupers thus they can work much harder at given programs. Copy it and you will probably work too hard doing yourself no good at it.


This is one of the “real secrets”. Since they are elite and it is their job, they can afford to sleep unbelievable amounts of time. A typical training day looks like this:

get up – train – eat – sleep – eat – rest – train – eat –sleep.

If you can manage that, maybe you can start thinking about copying. Otherwise think twice...


If you ever saw what African runners eat during their regular training (everything!) and especially the day before the races one can only laugh at discussions around “low carb”, “no carb”, “paleo”, “vegan” and all the rest of the diets.

Of course things like alcohol and sugary drinks are a no go. Basic healthy, organic foods are the main source. Besides that, there’s no secret to it and supplements, except Vitamin D, are no issue.


Most of the runners I know don’t use any heart rate monitors but love their GPS watches to track their training. For me as a coach it is also very helpful in seeing intensity (measured in speed not heart rate zones) and volume.

To give you at least one piece of practical advice regarding volume running. You’ll find most of the running is done on trails. “Asphalt training” is actually a special form of training planned accordingly to prepare the body for this hard surface. If they’d transfer their mileage straight to asphalt they would get injured very fast.

I guess this is a take away which can be copied: try and get off the crowded streets, reduce the load on your joints and ligaments for a better recovery.

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