By Mike Smith
“I’m dropping the HAMMER!” – Cole Trickle, Days of Thunder
Every year, at a particular part of the season, I ask the distance kids to accept the “challenge” of running the four longest distance events there are in a weekday meet, the 1600, 800, 3200 and the 4×400. The rules of the challenge are simple. Every event has to be an honest effort and they have to give it everything they got.
This might make me sound mean or sadistic or something, and it might be true, but there’s actually a couple good reasons to do so.
First of all I didn’t dream up this ritual on my own. I stole it. I remember watching some Belmont kids doing this more than ten years ago and recognizing how “B.A.” that was. In talking to their coach, John Goegel mentioned he had some seniors going on the senior trip the next day and they wouldn’t be able to train during the trip, so he asked them to “step up.” Watching one of their better athletes tear through the 1600, rip an 800, then toe the line in the 3200 and give a strong performance, left an impression you could say. John may have mentioned something about physiological adaptation, stress and recovery, to be honest, I can’t remember. But I do know I went home and proceeded to research about the potential risk and benefit of this sort of all-out effort for distance runners.
I guess it’s fairly obvious that I found some seeing as my guys do it as a workout. The research I found backed up the idea that for trained athletes, laying it all out there, and taking the proverbial aerobic “gas tank” right down to zero and then applying the proper recovery could be beneficial. The body absorbs that stress, adjusts to the workload a little bit, and takes a step forward. Those athletes that have the ability to perform the workout appear to come out the other side a stronger, more resilient worker every time.
It’s safe to say there is probably as much a psychological benefit to the workout as well. Stepping up to the line, knowing there is no way the day’s effort can be any more brutal than the day of the “Berserker” has its benefits. On top of it, each year the Berserker is run, we have athletes run PRs. Almost everyone runs PRs in at least one event, some all three of their individual events.
A few years back I mentioned to John we do his workout, he calls it the “Iron Horse”, he chuckled and said it was kind of a one-off. A plan to get a little bit more out of his athletes that would be taking some time off during the season. And when I mentioned that our guys do the 4×400 as well, making sure the tank is on zero, he said that was more that the Iron Horse. I swear I remember Brendan Collins stepping up in the 4×4 that day, but if John said he didn’t, I believe him.
That particular part of the season was yesterday at Hollis. We had ten athletes step up and accept the challenge, toeing the line thirteen times. Some of the times were pretty good, some not so much so, and some people PR’d in every event. It was a little warm for the 1600 and the pace of the race was pretty slow with the winning time being 4:39. That set the day up to be a tough one. But in the end, ten athletes got the opportunity to see what they were made of. Seeing my guys suffer in the 3200, to really struggle in a very obvious way, was tough to watch. But ten minutes later, stepping to the line, prepping to rip one last lap, exhaustion and determination on their faces, you could see it was the right choice for them.
And they walked off the track, albeit with hands on their knees, 3 minutes and 48 seconds later.