25 November 2010

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SLAN Endurance & Steeplechase Development Day With John Bicourt and Dave Clarke

The South London Athletic Network held its first Endurance and Steeplechase development day on November 14th, 2010 at Wimbledon Park the home of Hercules Wimbledon.

John Bicourt 2 time Olympic Steeplechase and former British record holder (still 10th on the all-time list) from Belgrave harriers conducted a Steeplechase Workshop.

The workshop included flexibility drills, Hurdles drills and a chance to practice over the barriers including the water jump under John’s tutorship. Please see attached notes from John’s Workshop. Dave Clarke three times National Cross Country Champion and Veteran of 12 World Cross Country championships conducted a seminar on winter training for Cross Country, including a presentation on his training diary’s throughout his career. Dave gave valuable insights into the training he did and gave some points to up and coming endurance athletes. Please see a summary of his thoughts below.

1) Progression Build your endurance base. It took Dave a number of seasons before he reached his optimum training level (approx. 100miles per week)
2) Rough guide on training pace. Able to talk comfortably
3) Intervals reps of 1100m to 1300m (rarely more than six at a time, generally 1 min rec before Xmas and 2 mins after xmas - also 200m-400m on road during winter
4) Repeat of your training over and over. Consistency builds endurance. Keep doing the same work
5) Find a strong support system. Be honest with your coach and know your training partners.

Injury prevention
1) Change your shoes regularly. For Dave that was ideally every 6 weeks (100 miles per week)
2) Keep a training diary. Look to see if patterns emerge for injuries. For Dave if he did 4 weeks of 100 miles plus it resulted in little niggles(certainly in my 30s, not so bad in my 20s!). He changed to 3 weeks of 100, and 1 week of 90. He found this from keeping a diary
3) Seek regular Massage/Physio.

1) Get plenty of sleep Dave mention falling asleep during Music Concerts!.
2) Eat well and plan your meals
3) Be prepared to give up elements of your Social Life.

1) Review your training/racing at the end of each season. Address weakness and enhance your strengths. Look at ways where you can progress.
2) Race and Train hard - need to race a lot more in the early years to gain experience but not so necessary later on

Notes on how to be a (better) steeplechaser:

The steeplechase is an endurance race which requires skill to clear hurdles and the water jump with the maximum bio-mechanical efficiency in order to keep the effort in clearing them to a minimum and therefore run as fast as you can over the distance of the race.

Using too much energy in jumping (too high) reduces the energy left to run as fast as you could.

Most runners who take up the steeplechase have very poor technique and lose far more energy over the whole race than they need to, even at world class level. Probably over 80% of current steeplechasers at all levels would improve their race times by simply improving their hurdling skill.

A good runner with poor technique will always beat a poor runner with good technique but runners more evenly matched who have good technique will always beat those without.

Learning to hurdle takes regular practice. It’s a skill that has to be learnt just like any other and practicing also crucially helps the development of the necessary muscles and tendons used in the hurdling and water jumping action. Hurdle stretching exercises are essential.

Distance running is very natural and comes easily but just about every other sport requires differing levels of skill to be any good, e.g., football, cricket, tennis, basketball, golf, ski-ing, motor racing, etc., and of course the technical events in athletics which includes the steeplechase, all require a high degree of skill practice. Some learn quickly and have a natural aptitude; others just have to work harder but the point is everyone can improve and reach their own potential by good practice.

First learn to hurdle: join in with a hurdles coach and or other hurdlers. Start low and work up to your barrier height. 2ft 6” (76.2cm) including w/j barrier for all female age groups and 3ft (91.4cm) inc. w/j barrier for all male age groups. Clearing the hurdle can include putting either one or both feet on the barrier but hands on the barrier is not allowed.

Hurdling is incorporated into the running action. You run over the hurdle, not run up to it and jump. Start by walking over lower hurdles and then jog over them and gradually increase speed and then height. Speed up to a water jump from about 10-15mts out. The faster you run the easier it is to clear hurdles and the w/j barrier.

Depending on your age group distance and ability: Male and female U17 run 1500mts in the NYAL and 2000mts in the NJL. U20 and Senior men and women run both 2000mts and 3000mts. But only 3000mts is a championship event.


Approx predicted conversion times from flat to s/c with reasonable barrier clearance ability:

3k time           steeple       1500mts           steeple      2k               steeple

9mins      -      9.40             4.00               4.20         6min             6.30

10min       -    10.45            4.30               4.55         6.30              7.05

10.30        -    11.20            5.00               5.30         7.00              7.40

The best way to improve your steeplechase times is to improve your flat times. First and foremost a steeplechaser has to be a good runner which takes longer and far more training than just developing s/c technique. A 4mins 1500 runner cannot run faster than about 4.16 for a steeple even with the most brilliant technique. But improving the flat 1500 down to 3.50 will bring the s/c time down to around 4.08 and pro rata all other distances.

Suggested s/c training sessions:

After normal warm up running/stretching /drills/ you must do specific hurdling stretching as shown.

Space 2-3 double (opposing) hurdles down the length of the back straight approx 50mts apart. You now have a 25mts run in and a 25 mt run out over 100mts. Just practice running over them without stuttering. Right handed/footed athletes should lead with the left leg as much as possible. Ideally you should hurdle (run over) with either leg but the brain always favours one side and that side makes is more efficient. Lean into the hurdle and run over them leaving the trail leg back as long as possible, it will follow you because it’s attached!

Training is simply the means of causing the body to adapt to the stress and demands of the competition and must be progressive. The effort level may remain the same but as the body adapts the performance increases. In fact the fitter you become the less effort you appear to feel. Training at, for example, c85% effort will progressively produce faster times both in training that previously only your 100% effort would produce

At least once a week (weather permitting) and as soon as possible run long reps of either, 3-5 x 600mts- or 2-4 x 800mts or 1-3 x 1000mts over 5 hurdles (5th hurdle where the water jump is) Basically it can be a mix of distances or the same. I prefer the same equal distances. Try to run at just inside your target race time, e.g., if your target is to break 10mins then you need to be able to run at least 80 secs per lap. Start with 600’s at 2mins (2 mins recovery) when those are handled comfortably (and faster) move another day to 800’s at the same pace (2.5 mins rec) then another day to 1000mts (same pace) with 3-4 mins rec. You groove in the pace. Break the 1500mts and 2000mts s/c down the same way.

Keep flat training going of course. Longer reps will give better results than just short reps but short reps are still important (faster and with shorter recovery- .e.g., 2x (6-10 x 200mts in 30-34) with 30 secs (or 100mts fast jog) recovery to develop anaerobic capacity.

The key point on any training programme is that it is a “balanced” mix of aerobic and anaerobic running (c60-70 %aerobic – c35-40% anaerobic) 90% of your “steady” runs should be as fast as comfortably possible for at least 50% of the run, e.g., a 40-60 min run should include some sustained effort running, e.g., 3-4 x 5-6 mins at 10k race pace with 2-3 mins rec, or 2-3 x 7-10 mins at 10k race pace with 3-4 mins rec. Or 10-15 mins near the end of the run at 10k race speed. There are numerous variations on what you can do, just remember to run as fast as you can as often as you can. Recovery running and rest is important so never run hard if feeling psychologically down/tired/ stiff or suffering a cold. NEVER run if you have flu. Not even to jog!

Keep a brief daily diary so that you can monitor your progress. Also a good idea to rate each training session according to how you felt as A (brilliant) B (good) C (OK-average) D (poor)

Try to run a hill session each week, either around a course with different hills or choose one to go up and down (keep off any busy road!) 10-20x30secs – 60 secs is ideal and must be sufficiently steep to make you work hard. Eat well and get plenty of sleep.

Good luck.

John Bicourt 07838359280 (


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