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Shepherd John. 400 metres training schedule
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400 metres training schedule

400 Metres Training Schedule

When I talked to 400m runner Mark Richardson in the spring, I asked him if Michael Johnson could be beaten. He hesitated, and then replied: 'Well, not at this point in time. He's untouchable, but in future years it's a goal to work on'. Who would have thought that, just a few weeks on from that, he would actually beat 'the untouchable' (though admittedly he lost when the two met again shortly after)?

Richardson was a member of the British 4 x 400m team that finished second behind the Americans in the 1997 World Champs and the '96 Olympics. At the Worlds he finished fourth in the final of the individual event, beating new British record holder Iwan Thomas in the process. Now that he has one win over Johnson under his belt, he could well challenge him for gold at Sydney 2000

I asked Richardson about his training schedule, how he prepared for competition and what diet he followed, as well as about vitamins and supplements, and watched one of his track workouts. Here is what he told me.

Richardson has a special coaching set-up: three coaches, each with a different responsibility. This is very much the way many top American athletes compartmentalize their training. He explained: 'I'm just trying to tap into the best resources that each individual has. I think this is going to be the way forward for a lot of athletes'. Tony Lester is responsible for his speed work, Mike Whittingham his track sessions, while Martin Watkins looks after his weights and circuits. It was Watkins who nurtured his youthful talent and who is his main advisor. 'He's my race and training co-ordinator,' Richardson said. 'If I feel that something isn't right, then I'll go to him. This gives me some form of stability.'

Training partners
'The people you train with,' he said, 'and the environment you work in are absolutely paramount.' At the end of the '96 season, Richardson teamed up with Roger Black (for so long Britain's no. 1 400m man) and leading 400m hurdler Jon Ridgeon to make a really concerted assault on an individual medal in the Athens World Championships. Praising Ridgeon, Black and Mark Hylton, another top British 400m runner who is in Richardson's squad, Richardson said: 'When you train with these guys, every time you step on the track you're pushing yourself to the limit. As long as you don't get over-competitive on training, then it's an absolutely ideal environment to train in. When you work on your own, you can train in the comfort zone and you're not really pushing yourself. Luckily we all get on well. We have a good time while we're training and we have a great time off the track'

The track session
This took place in the pre-season, early strength/speed endurance development phase. It had become apparent earlier in the day that Richardson works out well beyond the 'comfort zone'. I watched him run a series of 200m reps at Guildford's Spectrum Leisure Centre. The March skies were grey and it was damp and cold. Richardson and Ridgeon were undertaking a session of 2 x 3 x 200m reps with a 3-minute recovery between runs and a 20-minute gap between sets.

'Okay, come on, let's cruise,' shouts Whittingham as Richardson and Ridgeon run the second of their 200m reps. Target times are between 22 and 24 seconds - times that would test good-standard club sprinters on a one-off basis, let alone six runs.Whittingham is constantly paying attention to his athletes. A former international himself, he knows what they are going through. He soon realises that Richardson is not 100 per cent

After the third run, Richardson lags a little behind. While Ridgeon walks purposefully back to rest for the next run, Richardson is slow to return, drops on his haunches and draws breath. Whittingham asks: is he sleeping well? What about vitamins and supplements? Richardson, clearly deflated, says he is feeling generally run-down, but decides to continue with the session

On the next run, Ridgeon puts considerable daylight between himself and Richardson. Richardson's purposeful and powerful upright running folds into a jog across the line, and for the next 20 minutes or so he is the prisoner of lactic acid. He finds it difficult to speak and lies prostrate on the track, gasping for breath. Even world-class athletes have bad days

Richardson on diet:
'Jon and Roger have been adhering to what's called zone eating, which is really big in the States. It's basically a high-protein diet, which I plan to start shortly. And I do take vitamin supplements, amino acids and vitamin C. I think it's really important. We really punish our bodies and we need to provide more general maintenance than the average man or woman.' (Ed's note: the controversial Zone diet, devised by Barry Sears, has been rubbished by several authorities, including Owen Anderson in PP, so it's interesting to see athletes of this calibre following it.)

On creatine:
Contrary to many other power athletes, Richardson doesn't believe in creatine supplementation. In fact, when he did 'load up' and performed a sprint session, it did him more harm than good. 'I was in absolute agony, all my ligaments and tendons became really inflamed. It stiffened and tightened my muscles. So I've stopped taking it.' He admitted that the only reason he took it in the first place was that everyone else was

On physio back-up:
Like Richardson's training partners and coaches, sports masseur Mark Zambarda is also a crucial factor in the athlete's progress. He has worked with top internationals for many years. Richardson, Black and Ridgeon all swear by Zambarda. 'Incredible. I've never met anyone like him. He's light years ahead of anyone else in his field,' Richardson says. He explains that Zambarda is more than just a masseur, he is something of an exercise guru, able to offer informed comment on many aspects of training

On psychological preparation for racing
Richardson doesn't use any specific autogenic training though he has strong opinions on the power of the mind. 'Going into a race I obviously feel nervous, which is good because it gets the adrenaline flowing. It's all about self-belief and confidence. If you know you're well-prepared for an event, you feel good and will perform well.' His mental attitude was strengthened by an earlier injury which kept him off the track. 'When you've spent two years out of the sport, every opportunity that you have to race you make damn sure that you run well, because in this sport you never know if it could be your last time.'

And for training
'On the way to training you definitely think about the session ahead. You know it's going to be painful. You've got to prepare yourself psychologically for that. March through to the season are the key months when you can really turn things around. That's why you need to be in weather that is really conducive to top-quality training.' At the time of the interview Richardson and his group were about to fly to California for three months' training. 'If we have to train within the confines of our own atmospheric conditions, we can't do what the Americans can.'

On plyometrics and weights
Weights form a mainstay of Richardson's training, as do circuits. He doesn't use plyometrics because such a dynamic form of training makes him more prone to injury. Nevertheless, he does undertake a number of power-orientated sprinting technique drills, such as tyre-pulling. As far as weights are concerned, he comments: 'I'm lifting weights that are comparable to any sprinter in Britain'. Weights are varied depending on the point in the training cycle - at the time of the interview the main emphasis was on developing power.

Circuits are an important part of his training mix. Various exercises are implemented on a very short recovery basis: press ups, standing squats, squat thrusts, burpees, etc. One circuit requires two athletes to work together - when the first finishes his designated set, the second will carry out his. This adds an important element of competitive rivalry: no doubt each athlete will try to make the other suffer

Richardson's training programme
This is the regime he follows for his mid-winter build-up

Monday: Weights: cleans 6 x 5 x 90K (PB 97 122.5K); squats 5 x 5 x 130K; bench 8 x 90, 6 x 95, 4 x 100, 2 x 105, 1 x 110 (PB 97 125K)

Tuesday: Track: 5 x 300m, 5 mins rec, in 39 secs
Wednesday: Weights: heavier, with fewer reps than on Monday
Thursday a.m.: Hills: 5 x 60 sec runs on a woodland course
Thursday p.m.: Circuits, including press ups, squat jumps, sit ups, tricep dips, burpees, crunches, 5 sets on partner basis, 50 reps per exercise
Friday: rest day
Saturday: Technical session sprint drill, including 9 x 40m tyre pulls
Sunday: Aerobic session: 6 x 600m on grass
John Shepherd

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