Peter Snell had a rather brief athletic career. A surprise 800m Gold in the 1960 Rome Olympics, world records for 800m, 880yds and 1 mile in 1962. Olympic Golds for 800m and 1500m in 1964.
In 1965 he retired from competition and began his career in sports physiology.
His finishing speed was astonishing. We tend to think of finishing speed being developed solely by speed training. But, according to an interview that Snell gave, his coach, Arthur Lydiard, saw it differently: ‘Look Peter, you want to run a half mile in 1:50? That’s two 55 second quarters. You can run one easily and the only reason you can’t run two together is that you don’t have the endurance. When you get that you will run under 1:50.’ Given that Snell was a middle distance runner, many runners will be surprised to learn that one of his regular training sessions was a 22-miler. His staying power and strength in the final 200m of his races seemed to prove how effective the philosophy was.
However, later on in life, during his research studies, he demonstrated the effectiveness of much shorter, higher intensity training.
Ten runners were studied over a 16 week period. These runners were already well-trained and ranged in 10k ability from 34 to 42 minutes. For the first 6 weeks all the runners trained similarly using steady running. Then the group was divided: one group used twice-weekly sessions run at lactate threshold for 29 minutes, the other group used twice-weekly interval sessions comprising either 200m or 400m reps at speeds between 10k and 3k race pace.
At the end of the 10-week block the runners were tested over 800m and 10k time-trials. Not surprisingly, over 800m the interval group had improved more than the threshold group (by 11.2 and 6.6 seconds). Over 10k, again the interval group improved by almost double compared to the threshold group; by just over 2 minutes against just over 1 minute. These are quite impressive developments in 10 weeks. So, interestingly, the interval group attained twice the gains compared to the threshold runners using half the training time (31 minutes a week compared to 58 minutes).
Here’s a session we ran at the track recently, mixing those 2 rep distances (to keep it interesting).
The runners were instructed to run at around 5k pace or slightly faster but not flat out, alternating 200m and 400m reps, all with 200m jog recoveries. Emphasis was given to ensure that each rep was run in a controlled fashion so that the pace could be maintained not just during each rep, but also for the entire session. Two blocks of 10 minutes were run, with a change of track direction half way through.
Off track this session could be adapted.
After warm-up, run hard for 1 minute, easy 1 minute, hard for 2 mins, easy for 1 minute. Keep the pattern going for 15 to 20 minutes depending on fitness level. Again, ensure that each hard effort is not so hard that the pace fades before the end of the rep or session.
Peter Snell died on 12th December 2019 aged 80.
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