Some of the most popular posts on my blog are the articles on the training schedules and coaching philosophy of Renato Canova, arguably one of the most successful running coaches in the world. Canova, born in Italy, rose to prominence by coaching many top Italian runners but is best-known now for his work with elite Kenyan runners. The Olympic and World Championship medalists he has coached are too many to list concisely. But what’s perhaps more remarkable about Renato Canova is his willingness to share the training schedules of his athletes with the rest of the world. While other coaches keep their athletes’ schedules tightly under wraps, Canova posts them online, usually at LetsRun.com, for anyone to look at.
This article concerns the last nine weeks of the training of Caleb Ndiku in preparation for the 2014 World Indoor Championships at 3000m in March. Ndiku, an incredibly talented 21-year-old Kenyan, secured the gold medal in a slow, tactical race with a long kick from 500m out. As Ndiku lacked the blistering finishing speed of other top runners, Canova designed his training schedule to foster the development of a long, sustained drive to the finish. The strategy worked out brilliantly, as Ndiku covered the last 1000m in under 2:22—28.4 second 200 pace!
A Brief Note on Percentages
Most workouts in a Renato Canova training schedule are prescribed using percentages of race pace. Canova does the math a little different than an American might. Percentages are always expressed as fractional deviations from the original pace—so to take 90% of 5:00 mile pace, Canova (and I when figuring out the paces of these workouts) would do 5 * 1.1 = 5.5 or 5:30 per mile, not 5 / 0.9 to get 5:33 per mile. All percentages portrayed in the schedule are calculated using this method.
As usual, I need to caution that these interpretations are wholly my own. I’m not Renato Canova, so I can’t guarantee that my analysis is correct. So take what I say with a grain of salt. With this schedule in particular, I had to make a lot of educated guesses, as I can’t compare it to a similar schedule from another athlete preparing for the same race as I could with the other Canova schedules I analyzed. Because of this, it’s hard to distinguish what might be an idiosyncratic workout that plays to a unique strength of Ndiku, or something that is a part of the general Canova plan. I also take responsibility for any typos or mistakes, of which there are sure to be at least one or two.
The Training Schedule
Caleb Ndiku’s last nine weeks of training are available as a .pdf here
The paces of his workouts are provided both in actual pace/splits and as percentages of 3k and 5k pace.
I used Ndiku’s 3k performance of 7:38 in Düsseldorf as a basis for the 3k pacing, and a converted value (7:38 → 13:18) for his 5k fitness.
You will notice a ~4 week gap in the workouts around when Ndiku traveled to Europe to race.
Canova did not provide Ndiku’s schedule during this period, so unfortunately I had to leave it blank. The schedule itself is sized to 17″x11″ paper but can be easily printed at 11″x8.5″, albeit in a pretty small font.
The original LetsRun thread can be found here.
As is usually the case with Canova’s athletes (and most elites, I imagine), it’s immediately apparent that Caleb Ndiku’s training is incredibly consistent. Ndiku usually doubles between four and six times per week, and his “regeneration runs” (easy runs or recovery runs in American parlance) are almost always 60-80min for the main run of the day and 30-45min for the secondary run. This continues even into the week before the World Indoor Championships.
Though two 80min runs appear on the schedule, there is a complete absence of a “true” long run, i.e. a single run over 90min at an easy or moderate pace. This is no fluke—Canova’s athletes very rarely do a long run at an easy or moderate pace, though this type of workout is a staple for many Western athletes. Canova’s opposition to this is rooted in the fact that a traditional long run does not provide the right training stimulus for a fit, world-class athlete. For Ndiku, whose goal is to run for just under eight minutes at near four-minute mile pace, how beneficial would a long continuous run be, even at 6-minute mile pace? Caleb Ndiku would doubtless have no problem running for two hours at six minute pace (as an example), but that type of run is so disconnected from the purpose of his training that it is not worth doing.
Instead, Canova trains Ndiku’s endurance with progression runs (both long and short), structured fartlek runs, and short fast runs over a measured distance. This is mixed into the schedule along with long repeats in interval workouts and speed sessions at faster-than-race-pace.
Another thing worth noting is that Ndiku’s runs in the few weeks leading up to the World Indoor Championships are not shortened at all—four days out from the 3k prelim, he’s doing the same 60min / 40min double he was doing two months prior. As someone who is not a fan of the traditional peaking model practiced by most coaches, this warms my heart.
Workout recovery tend to be generous. Most coaches that I know like to focus on the cumulative fatigue of an interval workout—each individual repeat in a classic session like 10x400m isn’t too challenging on its own; the desired effect is elicited by the mounting fatigue throughout the workout. The majority of Canova’s workouts, however, grant very generous recovery, especially when the repeat is done at high speeds. This ensures that each individual repeat is done at a very high quality and allows more “extension of race-specific velocity”—i.e. long repeats done at race pace. Caleb Ndiku also goes into his most important workouts fairly fresh.
In order to develop your max. specific quality, you must be FRESH in your mind and your muscles. When you work for increasing your ability in ACCUMULATING [lactate] you can be tired, but this can happen only in General and Fundamental period [which come before the special and specific periods]. When you work for increasing your ability in PRODUCING [lactate] you must be Fresh, this happens during SPECIAL and SPECIFIC PERIOD. Therefore, athletes can have care in recovering before going for a training of high quality. When you go in SPECIFIC season, you use more intensity (and remember that the intensity in middle and long distance is a specifism of EXTENSION AT THE SPEED OF THE RACE), consequently you must use more recover[y].
I won’t go through each workout point by point; rather, I’d like to highlight some trends that I observed when looking at the structure of Ndiku’s workouts. The schedule that Canova prepared contains the following types of workouts:
- Fartlek runs: 60-80min at an easy pace with 30-45sec bursts of speed every 2min
These aren’t really “workout” per se—these function both as a way to get more quality into the weekly schedule and as a prelude to more race-specific change-of-pace workouts. Caleb Ndiku does this kind of run about once per week. On at least some occasions, the bursts of speed are at 4:25/mi pace. For Ndiku, this is about 91% of 3k pace and 97% of 5k pace. However, given the intentionally vague parameters of the workout, I don’t think the exact pace is hugely important (otherwise, he’d be doing intervals on the track), nor is it particularly challenging. These fartlek sessions function as moderate-intensity training sessions to prep for a bigger workout or freshen up after one.
- Uphill sprints: 10-15x80m uphill sprint with long recovery
These sessions also fall into the not-quite-a-real-workout category. In the past, Canova has explained that these uphill sprints, done about once per week in Caleb Ndiku’s schedule, function to increase the maximum recruitment of muscle fibers. To this end, they must be done at maximum speed—otherwise you aren’t getting the right stimulus. But, because the sprint is at such a high intensity, the recovery is also very long (several minutes, probably). These are done following a short run of 30-40min at an easy pace.
- Two long cut-down interval workouts (ex. 2000, 1200, 800, 400 with last 1k, 400, 200, 200 faster, 8min rest)
These workouts occur twice in the training schedule, about once per month. The first one involves 1600, 1200, 800, 300 at increasing speeds, interspersed with 5x200m on either end of the 1200. The speeds of the long repeats can be considered “specific” training since they are within 5% of 3k pace (and 5k pace too). The 200s and the max-speed 300 at the end probably serve as precursors to the kind of change-of-pace and acceleration work that will eventually be done WITHIN the individual repeats themselves (cf. the 5x1000m workout two weeks later with alternating 200s).
The second long cut-down workout is done eight days out from the 3k prelim in Poland. This time, the repeats get faster, but so does the speed WITHIN each repeat. This is likely to prepare Caleb Ndiku for the long acceleration towards the finish that he will need to win the World Indoor 3k title.
In both long cut-down workouts, the recovery is quite long, ensuring that Ndiku can run each repeat feeling fresh.
- Two short cut-down interval workouts (ex. 4*(600-500-400-300) with 2min between reps and 6min between sets)
The short cut-down workout complements the longer cut-down work in the schedule by providing more race-specific speeds (± 5% of 3k race pace) as well as practicing accelerating within the workout. It also serves as a prelude to the next short cut-down style workout.
The second short cut-down workout isn’t really an “interval” session because it’s just a 1600m run with each 400 progressively faster. This is the last real workout before Ndiku travels to Poland, and it can be considered race-specific in terms of speed AND in terms of execution; that is, he’s praciticing doing exactly what he need to do one week later, which is accelerate off of a brisk pace. Notice that the last 1200m of this 1600 is at 2:25 km pace. Ndiku’s last kilometer at Worlds? 2:22. Canova and Ndiku build the race they want from the ground up.
- A “Special Block” to build special endurance and speed
By “endurance” and “speed,” I mean something very specific in the framework of Canova’s training philosophy. Special endurance refers to paces near 90% of race pace, and special speed refers to paces near 110% of race pace. A special block is a day with two workouts, one in the morning and one in the evening.
The special block, a unique feature to Canova’s training schedules, attempts to stimulate new gains in fitness by providing a very large stimulus to the athlete, then allowing him to recover for several days after. In this special block, the morning session builds endurance at 88% of 3k pace while the evening session builds speed at 109-112% of 3k pace. Each session is preceded by a 6km moderate run, though I’m not sure why. It might be to up the overall volume for the day (over 15 miles, not including any cool-down), or it might be to provide a mid-level aerobic stimulus. Do note that the two days before and the three days after the special block are fairly easy, allowing Ndiku to come into the workout fresh and to recover well afterward.
- Fast progressive runs, and long repeats to build endurance (ex. 4.4mi / 7km starting at 4:50/mi and progressing to 4:34/mi)
These sessions are more varied, and sometimes only constitute part of a workout. Again, “endurance” means something around 90% of race pace. Examples would be the 3000m repeat in 8:26 in the second week and the 7km progression run two weeks out from the 3k final. This endurance pace eventually serves as the basis for the 5x1km alternating pace workout.
- One “alternator” workout: 5x1000m alternating 200s in 34 and 29 with 5-6min recovery
This workout appears to function to integrate the endurance and race-specific work that’s been done prior, while also practicing the kind of pace surges that are likely in a championship race.
It is yet another example of the kind of race and
event-specific preparations that Canova prepares for his athletes.
The schedule would undoubtedly be different if Ndiku was preparing for a fast, rabbited 3k race.
- One final workout of 8x200m following a short easy run three days out from the first big race
This is a feature seen in the 2011 World Championship schedules as well. These 200s, which have 2-3 minutes of recovery, probably function as a way to freshen up and prepare for fast running. While they are fairly fast (27), Caleb Ndiku doesn’t blast them all-out either. Surely he’s capable of running 200m in 25 seconds during a workout, but he holds back in this final preparatory workout.
Training for championship races is a different proposition than training to run fast. This is evident by looking at Canova’s schedules. A significant portion of Ndiku’s workouts were geared towards building the ability to accelerate at the end of a race, and this paid off in his performance at the World Indoor Championships in Poland.
The overall training schedule is very complex, so I’m less confident in my analysis this time, but there are still a few things we can be fairly certain about:
- Like other elite Kenyans, Ndiku’s training is very consistent. Doubling is a regular occurrence, as are 60-70 minute runs.
- Long continuous runs over 80min are absent, as they do not provide the right kind of training stimulus. Instead, fast continuous runs and long interval sessions train endurance in a more race-specific manner.
- Regular fartlek sessions inject some faster running into easy and moderate runs, though they do not appear to be particularly challenging. They also serve as a “general” background for race-specific pace change workouts later.
- Short uphill sprints once per week improve maximum muscle fiber recruitment.
- Interval workouts that are close to race pace usually feature either changes of pace or accelerations near the end of repeats. These are used to prepare the athlete for the championship-style racing to come.
- The schedule uses the “special block” workout to increase the modulation, or day-to-day variability, in the stress of the training schedule. The special block improves special endurance in one session and special speed in another.
- With the exception of the final three days before the Indoor Championships, there is no drastic reduction in training volume like you might expect with a traditional peak.
- The amount of race-specific training increasesas the big race draws near.
- Like in the schedules of other Canova athletes, the final workout before the big race is several quick 200s with generous recovery.
- The overall mixture of paces and workouts is always very even—no speed is neglected in the final nine weeks of preparation for a big race. Paces range from less than 50% of 3k pace to “max speed” over the course of the schedule. In Renato Canova’s own words, “THE ONLY QUALITY THAT YOU LOSE IS THAT ONE YOU DON’T TRAIN.”
I hope you’ve found this training analysis helpful. Even if we can’t tease out the logic behind every single training session, it is still enlightening to take a look at how the training comes together. What do you think? What do you see when you look at Caleb Ndiku’s schedule?