‘THAT’S MY BOY’! by Matt Long , first in a three-part series on the Coaching of Jake Wightman, World Champion
Matt Long is writing for RunBlogRun for the first time in this piece. Matt specializes in writing on the Coaching aspects of our sport. This series of three articles is on how 2022 World Champion Jake Wightman has been coached by Goeff Wightman, who is also his father.
Geoff and Susan Wightman, photo by Scottish Athletics
‘THAT’S MY BOY’! by Matt Long
IN THE FIRST OF A TRILOGY, MATT LONG HAS A FRONT-ROW SEAT IN WATCHING GEOFF WIGHTMAN MOVE THROUGH THE COACHING GEARS:
World Athletics Championships. 19th July 2022.
A stunned Oregon crowd is on their feet, applauding the first British man to win the world 1500m title for 39 years. Suddenly, the camera pans away from a jubilant Jake Wightman and projects an image of an animated grey-haired stadium commentator onto the giant screen within the famous Hayward Fields. The familiar face is Geoff Wightman, who is perched on a gantry. Understandably struggling to contain his emotion, the 61-year-old, with customary microphone in hand he tells the 20,000-odd crowd, “That’s my son. I coach him. And he’s the world champion!”.
In this three-part journey, we begin by unpicking a sample session from the Geoff Wightman Training Group, which he kindly articulated in a recent British Milers’ Club online webinar. It’s the type of session that has enabled Jake Wightman to become Britain’s second-ever World 1500m champion after Steve Cram in 1983 and the first British male to land a global 1500m title since Seb Coe’s Los Angeles triumph one year later Cram in 1984.
Long-term athlete development
Geoff Wightman, photo by Stuart Weir
We will work back to Jake’s junior career to explore the type of sessions which moved him from a promising junior to an international athlete by revisiting the notion of the so-called ‘tired surge’ mode of interval training. Having done this, we will further regress down the pyramid of long-term athlete development to look at the type of sessions Jake would have done when he was a post-pubescent teenager with a developing lactate system and able to begin to diversify the type of speed endurance work which he undertook under the watchful eye of his father and mother, Susan. It’s a journey that will take us back to the work of both Frank Horwill, who founded the BMC in 1963, and his close ally Peter Coe, whose son Sebastian is still the only man in history to retain an Olympic 1500m title.
Earning the right to progress
Susan Wightman, photo by Stuart Weir
In coaching education discourses, one often comes across the term of “earning the right to progress”. It is bound up with notions of being physically competent and robust enough to undertake appropriate activities or sessions. Speed endurance work has to be undertaken to be a decent endurance athlete, and there is no escaping it as a middle-distance athlete operating over 800m and 1500m. Speed endurance work challenges all three energy systems because they are interdependent but particularly challenges the lactate energy system. Wightman senior acknowledges that “Arthur Lydiard was right” in that one needs a significant aerobic and strength endurance base before having the robustness to undertake speed endurance work. In terms of periodization, speed endurance work tends to be undertaken intensely for a period of 6-8 weeks in the Spring or Summer, both before and during the track season.
So let’s take a look at just one example from the coaching group led by Geoff.
Example Session from Geoff Wightman Training Group
2 x 1200m (30s) 200m (400m jog)
2 x 1000m (30s) 300m (400m jog)
2 x 800m (30s) 400m (400m jog)
The type of session listed above should not be undertaken without the guidance of a coach. Rather than obsessing about the session’s detail, we will learn most by stepping back and looking at some of the principles that would appear to underlie it. There would appear to be seven golden rules.
Speed endurance is designed to challenge the lactate energy system as a stimulus.
Grouping of work into sets to allow for more volume of work to be undertaken.
The notion of a split interval with two distinct components.
An aerobically dominant first phase of the interval with a lactate-dominant second phase.
Including a short but passive recovery (walk) between the two components of each split, interval allows for quality to be enhanced in the second phase.
The retention of an active mode of recovery after each interval (a) to build aerobic volume and (b) teach the body to use lactate as a productive energy source to fuel the body whilst clearing acid from the system.
Running each component of the interval according to split on a track to goal race paces.
The above leaves us with a number of questions for self-reflection.
Questions for self-reflection:
Which sessions most challenge my lactate energy system to get me race-ready for my event?
What value may there be in grouping my work into sets?
When might it be appropriate for me to utilize the split interval methodology?
What length mode of recovery do I adopt in my speed endurance work, and what training effect do I hope to gain by it?
Why might it be important to run to split in the pre-competition and competition modes of the periodization cycle?
Matt Long served as an England Team Coach @ the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Development Camp and welcomes contact through email@example.com.