Friday, February 14, 2014

Hassan Mead's Journey

Hassan Mead
For the past year and a half  Hassan Mead has been getting his post graduate education.  He moved out to Eugene, Oregon in September of 2012 to train with retired UK steeplechase 1988 Olypic bronze medallist now coach Mark Rowland in the Oregon Track Club Elite program.  Rowland's training philosophy is not much different than Mead's college coach, Steve Plasencia, Mead said.  The emphasis being on training, getting prepared, and racing infrequently.

Mead and Rowland took their time getting to know one another.  Monitoring how Mead's body adjusted to various training and racing situations.  Bringing Mead along slowly, pursuing short term goals that gradually expand into the larger picture of target times, international racing, championship racing, and/or going for a fast time.  Doing altitude training.  Putting down a base of strength work, coming down to sea level and racing too see where you're at and getting a break from the daily training grind.

In 2013 the pattern was altitiude training, down to sea level, run a 1500 to see where your race fitness was at, then on to the 5K to run a fast time.  The plan worked as Mead ran 3:41 PR in the 1500 in April, followed by a PR by 12.5 seconds in the 5K of 13:15.50 at the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford.

The racing 'roller coaster" then took a dip down after that as, overtained a bit going into the Pre Classic in his attempt to get a World Championship qualifier in the 5K, Mead didn't cope so well with his first big international competition race.  "I almost felt like a freshman," said Mead.  "Like you're in a race and you think it's going to go this way and it doesn't.  It was a lack of experience."  Lesson learned, the next step was getting ready for USATF outdoor nationals, the qualifying meet for the IAAF World championships.

The result there was equally unsatisfying as Mead finished ninth in the hot, humid conditions, and glacially slow tactical race.  "It was not pretty," Mead said.  "I'd put in the work.  I knew I wasn't unfit."  Again, he didn't adjust to the competition on the day well enough. Another post-graduate lesson to be improved upon next time.

With the World Championships off his calander,  it was off to Europe for his first summer season on "the continent."  Based in Belgium, like many other US runners, Mead began navigating the European summer track circuit, racing in several countries, setting PRs in 3K and another in 5K.

Staying in Belgium is an ideal training base, said Mead, who was directed by his agent, Chris Lane, to the locale.  "You can be in the center of the city, and go out for a run and in ten minutes you are in the middle of a huge forest," said Mead.  The central location of Belgium in Europe also helps transportation as you're near to trains and planes  that can get you nearly everywhere in a short hop.

Then there are the Belgian waffles, and meets galore.  The summer season means a smorgasboard of elite level competition with enthusiastic crowds and packed fields.  "The atmosphere at the smallest meet is like an American championship (meet)," said Mead.  There are several meets a week.  The atmosphere is loose and relaxed, not tension filled and a combination of travel, hotel rooms, and angst, like it is in the US, Mead added.

On July 13, 2013 Mead  ran 13:11.80 in Huesden in a race in which he felt he could have run faster.  "I was happy with 13:11," said Mead.  "I just knew I could run faster."  Four days later in Dublin, Mead ran a PR at 3K of 7:46.18.  From his training and racing, Mead believed he was ready to run around 13:05 for 5K. The goal in 2014 is to run closer to that time or better, possibly under 13:00, in 2014.  Since there are no major outdoor championships this year, most races will be set up to run fast times, Mead says.

Mead took a month off at the end of 2013 and he and Rowland plotted out the preliminary strategy for 2014.  Because it didn't fit in with the long-term training plan, Mead won't run the US Indoor Championships to attempt to qualify for Indoor Worlds.  He'll continue to train at atltitude, coming down occassionally to race, as he did last weekend in Boston.

Going into that race with primarily strength work and no sharpening on the track, Mead knew he had to feel his way through the 3K.  The pace was set up for the Ethiopians right around 60 seconds per quarter and when Mead came through the half in 2:02, "my legs were already a little shaky," he said.  He knew he couldn't sustain the pace, so he backed off, and while the lead pack came through the mile around 4:02, Mead was back in 4:08, his body recovered and ready to get moving for the last portion of the race.

"I got the legs going the last 800," Mead said.  He started passing people and finished in 7:44, an indoor and outdoor PR. "I wasn't ready for the quick turnover(early in the race)," Mead said.  "I knew I had good strength, and I was able to finish strong."  Next step is a trip to Puerto Rico for a test of that strength as he'll run the Wolrd's Best 10K road race there on February 23, hoping to capitalize on that strength and get a further indicator of where his training has taken his fitness at this stage of the season.

Then it's back up to altitude training, down in the Spring to run another 1500, then on to Stanford again for a 5K.  The training, adjusting, and education continue.  "We don't plan too far ahead," says Mead.  He'll take it one race at a time and hope that all the various unpredictable variables that allow for good performances come together at the right time.  Education is a lifelong process, and Mead is a willing student.

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