In part one of this post, Dale Stevenson and René Sack shared some insight into how they will adapt their training plans for the 2019 season which, due to the late date of the Doha World Championships, will extend six-to-eight weeks longer than normal.
Dale (coach of 2017 shot put World Champion Tom Walsh) and René (coach of 2011 World Championship discus silver medalist Nadine Müller) are both adherents of block periodization, and they seem confident that this method of planning will provide them with the flexibility they will need to help their athletes adapt to the rigors of a monstrously long season.
JC Lambert, who last year coached DeAnna Price to an American-record in the hammer throw (78.12m), is also in the process of puzzling out how best to manage the 2019 season.
I spoke with JC the old fashioned way, over the phone, and he told me that he and DeAnna learned a lot during the 2018 season that will help them prepare for Doha. Last year was an important one for DeAnna, as she had to get used to competing through August after several years in the NCAA system where the biggest meets take place in May and June.
“In previous years,” he said, “when she competed in a meet like the DécaNation in September, she was mentally worn out. So in 2018, we focused on the Continental Cup. We wanted to see if she could throw far overseas late in the summer.”
The importance of throwing well at the Cup, which was held on September 8th, influenced the structure of DeAnna’s training for the entire season.
Indoors, that meant de-emphasizing the weight throw. According to JC, last year they “took maybe nine total practices with the weight and we didn’t even throw much during those practices, maybe eighteen throws. And she competed in three meets. I didn’t really care how far she threw in the first two meets. Then she went to USAs and we didn’t even peak for it–and she ended up going over 80 feet (24.51m) for the first time and got the win. But our goals all focused on the hammer.”
Outdoors, they chose meets based on how they might affect DeAnna’s ability to throw well late in the summer.
JC emphasized that, “chasing the money” by competing in the IAAF Hammer Challenge meets was “not important.”
“She could have made some money doing that, but how would that impact her training? Would she have been in good mental and physical shape at the Continental Cup?”
Their plan worked well in 2018. After setting the American record in Des Moines in June, DeAnna won the World Cup in Ostrava in September with a toss of 75.46m. And according to JC, she was in shape to throw even farther.
“If it wasn’t for the stupid format [Note: way too complicated to explain here, but I’ll include an excerpt from the Continental Cup team manual at the bottom of this post], if she had just been able to throw and go after throws she would have thrown 78 meters again. On the 75.46m throw, she had to back off the release just to make sure it stayed in the sector. To end the way that we did made me feel pretty good, though.”
And it gave JC confidence that following a similar approach in 2019 will prepare DeAnna to drop bombs in Doha.
I asked JC if he would describe his approach to periodization as “block” or “linear.”
“Honestly, a mixture of both, if that’s such a thing. It’s linear from now until the outdoor season, then I block it up until the end. Certain blocks I want to make sure we get a good throw in. Last year it was the NACAC championships. I wanted to make sure that she could get in a good throw, good enough to win but not spend all our cookies at that meet. Then for the Continental Cup, that was a bigger block leading up to a peak.”
One issue unique to hammer throwers is the difficulty they face in finding quality meets when they need them. Right now, I’d imagine that Dale Stevenson knows which competitions Tom Walsh will enter from March through the World Championships. That’s not hard to do, as there are a ton of meets that feature the men’s shot.
Not so with the hammer.
There are plenty of chances for hammer throwers to compete in the States during the college season in April and early May (post-collegiates are welcome at many college meets), but once the NCAA Regionals take place in late May those opportunities disappear.
In the past, JC has hosted a couple of competitions in June so that DeAnna could stay sharp. He’d like to do the same this summer.
“My hope would be to put one on leading up to the USA Championships [held July 25-28 this year] just to make sure we can stay competitive, stay in the ring, keep it in the sector, not have to travel very far before the US Championships.”
And will she be competing in Europe as well?
“I’d like to send her over, especially since we don’t have to worry about the US Championships until July. I’d like to send her over early on, then get her back in the States with enough time before the US Championships, maybe four or five weeks before. Get her back on track with her sleep schedule, eating, training, lifting…make sure we have all the bases covered.”
Assuming DeAnna makes the US team for Doha, she and JC then have to deal with the two-month gap between the US Championships and the Worlds.
“There ain’t going to be many meets around that time in the US. At that time, people are going to be shutting their season down, but we are going to have to find competitions somewhere.”
The bottom line for a hammer thrower in this or any other season? Flexibility.
“You go with the flow,” JC explained. “You adapt and survive as you go. You play the hand you’re dealt and make the best of it. If I get an idea in my head of the ‘perfect scenario’ it ain’t going to work out that way, and then we’re going to be stressed. The way I look at it, if something comes up, it comes up. If not we’ll find a way.”
I touched bases with one final coach on the matter of preparing for Doha, and he may face the oddest situation of all trainers of elite throwers. Torsten Lönnfors is the coach of Chris Harting, the defending Olympic champion in the discus. Like JC Lambert, Torsten prefers to employ a combination of linear and block periodization when planning a season’s worth of training.
He told me via email that “for Chris, it will be a traditional linear periodization. Only the last six to eight weeks before Doha would be kind of a block, if Chris will compete there.”
When Torsten says “if Chris will compete” in Doha, he is not referring to the possibility that Chris might not qualify to represent the German team. Chris has made it known that he does not want to compete at the 2019 Worlds.
According to Torsten, Chris is “already concentrating on Tokyo,” and is concerned that the late date of the Doha Championships combined with a need to recover from the 2019 season, combined with his obligation to serve four weeks of police duty each fall will make it impossible to begin his 2020 training in time to get in top shape for the 2020 Olympics.
Something tells me, though, that the German Federation, which supports Chris financially, will try to get him to change his mind, especially if he proves during the spring and early summer that he is Germany’s best hope for a Doha discus medal.
Time will tell for Chris and for all the athletes and coaches trying to figure out the best way to adjust their training in what promises to be a strange year in athletics.
Speaking of strange, here is the explanation of the rules for the throwing events at the 2018 Continental Cup. I have cut and pasted it from the Team Manual published by the IAAF.
502.3.2 Field Events High Jump and Pole Vault are conducted according to IAAF rules. Long Jump, Triple Jump, Shot Put, Discus Throw, Hammer Throw and Javelin Throw (“Horizontal Field Events”) will have two phases. In the first phase (Qualification), all athletes have three trials after which they are ranked. The highest ranked athlete from each team (i.e. a total of four athletes) proceed to Round 4. All other athletes are eliminated and ranked from fifth to eighth according to their best performance after three rounds of trials. Round 4 (Semi-Final) and Round 5 (Final) is the second phase of the competition. In Round 4, the two lowest ranked athletes are ranked third and fourth according to their performance in this round and are eliminated. The two best ranked athletes in Round 4 proceed to Round 5, which is the final round. In Round 5, the better ranked athlete in this round wins the competition, the other is second. The competing order in all the five rounds will be the initial draw order. If all the four athletes fail in Round 4, the two best ranked athletes after the first 3 rounds will go to Round 5. If in Round 4 only one athlete has a valid performance, the second athlete to progress to Round 5 will be the athlete (from a different team) with the best valid performance after the first 3 rounds. If in Round 5 both athletes fail, the winner is the athlete with the better performance in Round 4. If in Round 4 those athletes failed, the winner is the athlete with the better performance after the first 3 rounds and the other is second.