Preparing for championship races with Renato Canova: Caleb Ndiku's training before the Commonwealth Games 5k

Today, we're taking a look at a short block of training done by Commonwealth 5000m champion Caleb Ndiku of Kenya.  Regular readers will remember Ndiku: I analyzed Ndiku's training schedule before his victory over 3000m at this year's World Indoor Championships.  Ndiku's outdoor campaign this spring and summer included a 13:01 win at the Prefontaine Classic 5k in Eugene, a 7:31 3k in Europe, and a victory at the Commonwealth Games in the 5k.

Canova graciously provided the final seventeen days of Ndiku's preparations for the Commonwealth Games, and in usual fashion, I have formatted them into a printable schedule and translated the paces into relative percentages of race pace. 

The preparations for this race are especially interesting because, as Canova remarks on the LetsRun thread in which he detailed Ndiku's training, it was written with the assumption that reigning Olympic and World Champion Mo Farah would be in the race, and thus Ndiku would need to be in peak shape to win.  Farah ended up not running, citing medical problems, handing Ndiku a fairly clean victory over compatriot Isiah Koech and New Zealander Zane Robertson.

Disclaimer: This is only my interpretation

All of the usual caveats about interpretations apply—I'm just a coach and writer, I'm not Renato Canova himself, so this is only my opinion and analysis of the training.  And I accept any responsibility for mistakes or typos.

Percentages are calculated in the "Canova" method, meaning that 90% of 5k pace, for example is 5k pace * 1.10.  Based on Ndiku's performance at the various Diamond League meets this spring, I set Ndiku's current 5k pace at 13:00 for the calculations.  Varying this by 5-10 seconds will have no significant impact on the percentage calculations.

At the link below, you'll find the training schedule, formatted, converted to imperial distances, and with paces translated to relative speeds.

Caleb Ndiku's training schedule before the 2014 Commonwealth Games 5000m - Printable PDF

Basic elements of Caleb Ndiku's training schedule

Many of the core elements of Ndiku's training are identical to his earlier training this winter.  The bullet points below highlight the most important pieces of Caleb Ndiku's final seventeen days of training before the Commonwealth Games.

Consistency in training

For one, Caleb Ndiku's training is very consistent.  Of the thirteen days of logged training, Ndiku doubles nine of them.  His standard run duration is 60-80min at an easy to moderate pace in the morning, and 40-45 minutes easy in the afternoon. 

Even the week before the Commonwealth Games, Ndiku does not substantially "taper" or reduce his volume much on his non-workout days.  You can call his training many things, but "low volume" is not one of them.

One fartlek run per week

Like previous Canova schedules, we also see easy runs with short fartlek sessions incorporated on a weekly basis, likely to provide some variety in running speed without too much anaerobic strain—30-45 seconds of fast running every three minutes is not a particularly stressful effort, especially in an athlete as fit and experienced as Ndiku. 

Canova did not provide paces for the "fast" portion of the fartlek, but they were likely done by feel anyways.  Obsessing over whether Ndiku ran 4:20 or 4:40 mile pace for the fast part of these fartlek sessions is missing the point.

One session of short hill sprints per week

As with Ndiku's World Indoor Games training, Canova incorporates 10-12x60-80m uphill sprints at maximum intensity with long recovery to stimulate maximal muscle fiber recruitment.  These are done after a shorter afternoon run on a non-workout day.

One "special block" session of two workouts in a single day

The "special block," a signature element of Canova's training schedules, appears again in this training schedule.  This time, it's about two weeks out from the race, and again features a morning session that builds endurance and an evening session that builds speed. 

Though the morning session is 10km at 85% of 5k pace, I suspect that Canova intended it to be at 90%—he noted that the road Ndiku ran on was especially rough, which likely slowed him significantly. 

Remember, in Canova's training terminology, "special" training has a very specific definition: it means long, continuous running at 90% of race pace and short intervals at 110% of race pace with long recovery. 

The endurance work at 90% of race pace builds the metabolic support for extending your ability to run race pace (5k pace in this case), and the speed work at 110% of race pace builds mechanical support to increase the speed you can sustain over the race distance (again, five kilometers).     

One progressive run

The progressive run on the 11th, which accelerates to nearly 80% of 5k pace, is reminiscent of the long-fast runs seen in other Canova athlete schedules.  Though not as big of a training stimulus as a long-fast run, this progressive run still hits on what Canova calls "fundamental" fitness. 

Many American coaches, including me, would call this the high-end aerobic range.  Even in the midst of the competitive season, Ndiku occasionally stays in touch with basic aerobic fitness.

Two "alternator" workouts to prepare for championship racing

The prime example of this is Ndiku's 1600/400 session on July 17th.  The 1600m segments are at 98-100% of race pace—this is the specific training that is supported by the special fitness developed in workouts like the special block.  The 400m segments are quite fast—these are "specific," but only in the sense of Ndiku's particular tactical strengths.  Though he is a 3:29 1500m runner, he prefers a long, sustained drive to the finish instead of rolling the dice in the last 400m. 

Whereas a runner like Mo Farah might blast a 52-second last lap in a championship race, Ndiku covered the final kilometer at the World Indoor Games in under 2:22 (56.8 second 400 pace).  The two-minute recovery between the 1600s at 5k pace is short, but as with many other Canova workouts, the recovery after the 400s is a rather generous six minutes. 

Ndiku's workout on July 20th, a pyramid-style workout, is a hybrid between the alternator style workout and the cut-down workout usually seen once or twice in the final weeks of a Canova athlete's schedule. 

I don't presume to know enough to determine why Canova chose this particular workout structure.  I can only say that it appears to be another way of getting in a large amount of race specific work (paces between 95 and 105% of race pace) while preparing for the surges and pace changes of a championship race.

A final workout of 10x200m following a short easy run several days out from the race

This session appears to be a personal favorite of Canova, as his athletes almost always do some variant of fast 200s with reasonably long recovery as their final workout before a major competition.  In this case, Ndiku's 200s are at 113-116% of race pace, a fast speed that would leave his legs feeling quick and snappy without being too taxing of an effort. 

Other notable elements in training

A few other elements of this short schedule are worth pointing out.  First, Canova does not fuss about what Ndiku does in the final three days leading up to the race.  On LetsRun, Canova writes, "The days immediately before the race were free, and Caleb used his personal feeling (I don't know how much he ran)." 

In previous schedules, we've seen that athletes often have one or two days which are completely filled by traveling: driving from Iten to Nairobi, then taking a long-haul flight to Europe and settling into the hotel.  It's become clear to me that whatever you do in the final few days before a race is wholly unimportant. 

The 90 min run on July 21st at "personal sensation" (the pace is in line with Ndiku's typical "moderate" run speed) is probably not something to read too much into.  Though a 90 min run is somewhat unusual in the final weeks of a Canova schedule, it's only ten minutes further than he ran two days prior.  Again, obsessing about why Caleb Ndiku did a ninety-minute run six days out from a major 5k is missing the forest on account of the trees.

Canvoa's schedule appears carefully constructed to always allow two non-workout days between significant workouts.  I hesitate to call these "easy days" since Ndiku often does a fartlek run or uphill sprints on these days, so to an American runner these wouldn't be strictly "easy." 

But don't forget that Ndiku is a world-class runner, and a 70min run with some short bursts of fast running in the morning and an easy 40 minutes in the afternoon is recovery for him.  It's worth noting that ONLY easy running is not the sole way to refresh your body between workouts.

Ndiku also does "technical exercises" after his secondary run a few times during this schedule.  Canova did not elaborate on what these are, but they're probably sprint or mobility drills.  I'd be somewhat interested in learning which exercises he did and how many, but don't lose sight of the forest: it's not primarily the technical work that made him the great runner he is.

Finally, Ndiku's pace when he goes out for an easy to moderate run is quite pedestrian for his fitness level.  To Canova, running easy or moderate is primarily a method of recovery and perhaps maintenance, not an actual method of training. 

Ndiku's easy days are between 6:20 and 7:15 per mile—heck even I could go for a run with him! And his moderate days are only a hair under six-minute mile pace.  Since his race pace is so far removed from his easy and moderate speeds, it's not particularly important how fast he's going. 

These speeds represent well slower than fifty percent of race pace: this is very far from having any direct connection to race-specific fitness.  Consider this food for thought when you see 15, 16, or 17-minute 5k runners insisting that anything over seven-minute mile pace is "too slow" for them. 


Many of the same elements in Canova's schedules return here in Caleb Ndiku's Commonwealth Games preparations. 

The focus is on "specific" and "special" training, though no pace is neglected: speeds ranging from slower than seven-minute miles all the way up to 26-second 200 pace are sprinkled throughout the final two and a half weeks before Ndiku's race. 

As usual, the workouts are meticulously designed to prepare the athlete for a championship race: Canova and Ndiku build the perfect race in training, then execute it in competition.  There's only so much that can be said about seventeen days of training, but I hope you've found some useful tidbits nevertheless! 

If you'd like to learn more about Canova training or see more training schedules from elite Kenyan athletes, here are my other articles on Renato Canova's training approach:

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About the Author

John J Davis, PhD

I have been coaching runners and writing about training and injuries for over ten years. I've helped total novices, NXN-qualifying high schoolers, elite-field competitors at major marathons, and runners everywhere in between. I have a Ph.D. in Human Performance, and I do scientific research focused on the biomechanics of overuse injuries in runners. I published my first book, Modern Training and Physiology for Middle and Long-Distance Runners, in 2013.

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