Renato Canova knew what he wanted to be from the age of 12 when he fell in love with the sport and decided that someday he would be a coach. While most people dream of athletic glory for themselves, Canova labors to teach and inspire others to climb the ladder of success in sport.
Behind the wraparound brown sunglasses he wears often, even indoors, Canova's eyes study the world. He views the athletes he coaches, not merely as runners, but as people that also need to grow as human beings. And he strives to attain the mark of a truly great coach, obsolescence.
A coach's real goal, he believes, is not to be some indispensable Svengali sharing the spotlight with those he has helped win medals and championships, but rather to instruct those he coaches how to coach themselves. His greatest achievement does not rest in the accomplishments of his athletes, but in their self actualization and independence. Like any good teacher, however, he leaves a bit of himself in everyone he mentors.
At last weekend's Bank of America Chicago Marathon, for example, an athlete he is currently coaching, men's race winner Moses Mosop of Kenya, was asked the regular press conference queries about how fit he was, how well his training had gone by athlete turned TV commentator and World Marathon Majors press conference MC Tim Hutchings. Mosop replied that he had been injured after setting a world record on the track for 30K in June, and that he was only 80% fit.
Nonplussed, Hutchings replied: "Well, thanks for your honesty." Most athletes in a similar situation dissemble, reveal little about race plans, fitness, or other things that might be considered strategic information prior to a race. In press interviews, Canova said that, even though Mosop was not 100%, he could still run 2:05, still challenge if not break the course record, which was exactly what he did.
As Canova repeats often his belief is that there are no secrets to good training, race preparation, or racing. The two key elements are self belief and execution. The difference between winning and losing is not so much how many miles you have run or what fitness level you are at, but rather your innate abilities, genetics, and your mental strength in being able to get the most out of those abilities during the race.
You don't consistently get the best out of yourself by deluding yourself, he says. Truth is the foundation of success. Self belief does not thrive on motivational trickery, but rather on believing you can do something and then doing it. The same for training where you gain confidence from putting in the work, and the knowledge of what it takes to accomplish your goals.
Training, like racing, is not a static process, Canova believes. One has to be able to adapt, to figure out what is working, what's not, and adjust things to accommodate those constantly changing variables. As times in the marathon are dropping and tactics in racing changes, one has to modulate the training to reflect that, Canova says.
Looking at how both the Boston and Berlin marathons, the races that produced the fastest times ever in men's marathoning, Canova noted the fact that, interjected into a steadily fast pace, were big surges that produced mid to low 14 minute 5Ks near the end of the race. While most training programs for marathoners feature weekly long runs at a slow to medium tempo. Canova is now convinced that the long run is a crucial part of the modern marathoner's preparation.
A top marathoner needs to run these 35K to 40K long runs at a fast tempo, sometimes with surges to simulate the physiological adaptation necessary to allow them to do it on race day, says Canova. Because these efforts are, in effect, mini races, they will require more recovery time afterward. They can't be done every week. Many top athletes, Paula Radcliffe, the late Sammy Wanjiru, Ryan Hall, mix in rest days in their training for just this purpose.
Another important concept being that training gets divided into two phases, says Canova, the general and the specific. General training makes up 80% and specific 20%. General builds the strength and resilience necessary to accomplish the specific work needed to fine tune the body to run fast and attain the goals you've set, he explains.
In effect marathoners are now training much like track racers, breaking down the race into component parts. Peroidizing that training to gradually build to a peak for the race. Training near race pace to stimulate the body to adapt, and get used to what it will be like, so that you are not entering unfamiliar territory in a race when you have to throw in a 14:20 5K at the 30K point of a marathon, for example.
In a way this may seem revolutionary, but more likely it is merely applying common sense, simplifying training instead of making it some mystical combination of parts that is supposed to produce a magic response.
There is no magic, says Canova, no secrets, just intelligent, hard work. To read more about Canova, Paul Christman's article for Running Times is HERE.