Ben Thorne post worlds leading 10km Junior Race Walk time

The Canadian Senior and Junior Race Walks at the Canadian Championships in Calgary saw some notable performances. The most notable performance being Ben Thorne’s Canadian record and world leading performance. Finishing in 40:26, Ben was able to hold close to Evan Dunfee for the entire distance. Ben was observed by a number of our more experienced retired Race Walkers, Guillaume LeBlanc, Tim Berrett and Janice McCaffrey, all of whom commented postively on his remarkable performance.

Ben will now look to the World Junior Championships in Barcelona, SP as his next step in becoming one of the worlds fastest race walkers.

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Dunfee Golden at NACAC meeting in Guanajuato, MX

After a challenging early season where Evan never able to show his full capabilities, Evan put it all together for the Men’s 20km walk at the NACAC Championships. It was smart racing that gave Evan the edge. Evan’s main challenger got off to a very fast start in the high altitude, high heat event, stretching his lead to more than 200m at one point. Knowing that 20km is a long distance and that the race is one at the finish line, Evan bided his time and conserved his energy. By the half way point Evan had pulled even with his now struggling competitor. After this point Evan steadily pulled away ending the race with a very convincing margin of victory.

Having the NACAC 20km Championship in his pocket to go along with the collection of Canadian Nationals Championships Evan will now turn his hand to the somewhat more challenging 50km distance. He hopes to debut later this season at the US 50km Trials for next year’s World Championships in Moscow.

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Gomez on the hunt, Dunfee on a quest, Thorne a happy camper

Three months in the hills of South Central Australia were just what Inaki Gomez needed in order to post the 2nd fastest time ever for a Canandian walker. At the IAAF Challenge event in Taicang, China on March 30 Inaki took 8th place in a time of 1:21:05, just 2 seconds off of the 20km record set by Arturo Huerta in 2000. Inaki has several more excellent chances to better the record this season. Look for him to lead the Canadian team in Saransk, Russia at the World Cup of Race Walking in May and then at the Olympics in London on August 3rd.

Evan Dunfee continued to refine and work on his form and race strategy during his race in Taicang. After a superb performance in very difficult conditions in Hobart at the end of February Dunfee was looking forward to conditions more similar to his home town training environment. Taicang provided all of that and more with mid teens temperatures and a full on rainstorm for the duration of the race. After an excellent first half split right on pace for Olympic A standard Evan made a small tactical mistake that magnified itself during the latter stages of the race and cost him both the standard and a significant PB.  Evan has a few more attempts to refine his race preparation and in-race strategy to enable him to better the standard this season. Russia will be Evan’s next opportunity to gain his ticket to London.

Full Taicang results can be found here

While his team mates travel the world Ben Thorne is spending the week at the Canadian Olympic Development Camp in Phoenix. In addition to a week of training in warm (hot) weather Ben is getting exposure to the Olympic Coaches and the full development system. This camp is providing Ben with a solid background for his attempts later this year for the podium at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona in July and then, possibly, the Olympic Games in London. One of the highlights of the week for Ben will be his first 100km plus training week.

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What a Week!

In the short space of 8 days the athletes of Racewalk West have made a number of solid international marks. Starting on February 18 in Sydney, Australia Inaki Gomez and Evan Dunfee posted significant PB’s and a Canada’s best 5,000m RW race time. Inaki took gold in 18:45.64 bettering Olympic medallist Jared Tallent by 2 seconds. Evan was just off a bronze medal position in 19:08.87. Full Results

This Saturday, the 25th, both men took to the streets of Hobart, Tasmania for the Australian National 20km Championships and the first offering of the IAAF Race Walk Challenge for 2012. Despite a blistering start temperature of 38°C both men were able to post excellent performances. In a day that saw only one walker (a woman) out of a field of 40 competitors perform to Olympic A standard and fully half of the competitors withdraw from the race because of heat stress both Gomez and Dunfee were able to finish at the top of their field. Gomez once again medalled with a bronze finish in 1:24:46 and Dunfee repeated his 4th place finish from a week earlier in 1:25:17. Full results

Gomez, who already has his Olympic A standard, will attempt to better the Canadian Senior 20km record at the end of March in Taicang, China while Dunfee will attempt to secure his ticket to London with a solid A standard performance.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for 1 week, back home in British Columbia the home bound athlete team acquitted themselves with a panache of their own at the 13th Annual Victoria Race Walk held on the morning of February 26th. Nicola Evangelista shook off a bout of the flu to turn in a breakthrough 1:13:58 15km performance that bettered the World Cup individual standard by just over 30 seconds.

Not to be outdone and with a performance that will be remembered for many years to come, Junior Ben Thorne posted a phenomenal 39:00 10km time. This effort betters the Canadian Senior 10km record by 26 seconds and gives Ben the 7th best all-time performance in the world for a Junior athlete. The performance also makes Ben one of the first and one of the top qualifiers for the World Junior Championships. Ben will attempt to gain his Olympic A standard at the World Cup of Race Walking in Saransk Russia in May and will be a strong contender for Gold at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona in July.

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Vancouver Race Walk Results

Vancouver was at her finest for the both the Vancouver Marathon and the Vancouver Race Walk this morning. The two events have been held simultaneous for the past 7 years, making Vancouver one of the hottest places for athletics endurance event variety on the planet.

Some very fine performances were logged by BC Junior female and male athletes in the 10km event. Katelynn Ramage produced a very strong 55:38 in her first ever attempt at the distance and Ben Thorne, last year’s surprise find, posted an astounding 47:00 in only his 2nd 10km race ever coming off of very limited road training due to the heavy snow this winter in his home town of Kitimat. A number of personal bests were delivered from other athletes across the age spectrum.

Canada’s top men’s 20km duo were unable to register a performance as Gomez pulled up lame at the start line due to a nagging heel irritation and Dunfee dropped from the race after a very solid 15km with a muscle cramp.

You can view the full results on the Racewalk West club web site here

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What am I capable of?

One of our athletes recently asked me “What do you think I am capable of in terms of time?”  This is a natural question for an athlete to want to ask of their coach.  Humans are social beings, and as such, we are keenly aware of the opinions of those around us in our social groupings.  Coaches tend to have a perceived higher rank in the social order of a training group than the athletes. As a result athletes tend to place a lot of emphasis on the way coaches perceive them.  This particular question is one that an athlete might be just as likely to ask of their training partners with almost equal importance placed on the response.  However, I would suggest that this question is being directed in the wrong direction to be of real value – it should be asked of oneself.

My response to the athlete over a series of text messages was as follows:

Mmmm…That’s a question that only really has an answer in the past tense.  My answer isn’t important – your answer is.  It also needs to be time limited.  When?

My best answer is, I know you’re capable of a lot.  Execution depends on a lot of factors – training, race timing, race conditions, nutritions, rest, life, etc.

Consistency over the long term is important – we all have ups and downs. Keep doing the workouts & we’ll see what happens.

I thought it might be helpful for the rest of the group to share a little of the thinking behind my response.

Capability is historical

The only real assessment of ability can be done in the past tense – everything else is a conjecture.  The capability implied in the question is potential ability, but capability is the conversion of this potential into an end performance in a race or series of races.  The wide variety of variables that go into a successful conversion of potential into performance are very difficult to predict and factor into a meaningful response.  This doesn’t mean that as coaches and athletes we don’t have a concept of what level an individual should be working at.  We consider all the information available at any given time (i.e. athlete feedback, training logs, health profiles, previous performances, current fitness testing) to form a training plan and help the athlete set goals and targets in the short and long-term.  In fact, I think this facilitation and monitoring is one of the most important roles of the coach by providing a mediated perspective on short-term results and experience with a view to the longer term objectives.  However, a good coach should be flexible enough to adapt to vast improvements in performance that exceed expectation.  As a group, I think this one area we are doing well with regular coach and peer feedback on what’s working and what isn’t, where we had success and where we hope to be.  These are are valuable steps to turning potential into capability and as I’ll discuss later having a “no limits” approach to performance.


Coaches and training partners are an important part of a positive training environment, but their opinions of your ability or skills should never trump what you know about yourself.  The top athletes are self-reflective without dwelling on the highs and lows of their experience.  I might frame this self-reflective practice as being one of quick check-ins along the line of questions and observations that might be tracked in a daily training log.  Some of the questions you might ask yourself are:

  • How am feeling physically and mentally?  Am I feeling overtired/strong/illness coming on/fit?
  • How is the training working for me?  What am I struggling with?  What is going really well?
  • What can I do to improve my training?  Sleep?  Nutrition?  Maintain what I’m doing?
  • What support do I need now and in the coming season?  Who might be able to help me with this?

You should be in position to say you know yourself better than anyone else, which can include, but not be limited to the filtered opinions of coaches and training partners.

Time Sensitive

The various other demands of life or ones own physical development may mean that an athlete doesn’t achieve what they expected for one particular time period, but this doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future or in fact that they won’t skip over one marker of performance and reach the next.  SMART targets are always time-sensitive and it is important to have goals that span short, medium and long time periods.  A variety of targets acknowledges the expectation of progress over time by providing room for success in the short-term while not limiting the end possibility of bigger achievements.  Goals are set, but never in stone. They should be viewed as flexible in the same way a rubber band will stretch or contract to different sizes, but has a given expected state.  Goals shouldn’t disappear, but to be valuable they need to reassessed and compared to feedback on a regular basis.

No Limits Attitude

A recent article about the experiences of University of Dalhousie cross-country athlete Emily Meisner in Kenya highlighted one of the things that I’ve heard often as a key to success of the Kenyan athletes in distance running – they don’t set limits for themselves.   Dieter Hogan, coach of many top Kenyan athletes, talks about this no limits approach in Episode 20 of ChasingKIMBIA below.

Dieter Hogan- coach of many Kenyan athletes – chasingKIMBIA – Episode #20 (relevant section 1:45-3:30)

ChasingKIMBIA was an interesting and insightful video blog that documented the inside workings of top marathon training groups in Kenya and North America in 2007-2008 with a view to understanding what it takes to be successful and is worth watching a few episodes.

It is interesting to note that many of the reasons attributed to Kenyan success – living at altitude, genetic predisposition, nutrition and running to school have been refuted scientifically as addressed in the introduction to this article on “Anthropometric, gait and strength characteristics of Kenyan distance runners”[PDF] by Pui Kong and Hendrik de Heer from the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2008) – 7, 499-504.

I strongly believe that as an athlete it is much more likely that the limits and pressures you put on yourself will be more harmful and impeding on your progress than external pressures from others.  I know this experience all to well, it was how I spent the first half of my athletic career.  As I started to remove those limits, I had better performances and just as importantly enjoyed the experience a lot more.  I would put this as:  Have a no limits attitude – stop worrying about what will come of your training, get on with doing it and enjoying the process.

Balance – Defining Success

John Wooden was by all definitions successful in his career as a coach, but perhaps more influential are his own definitions of success.  Coach Wooden puts it like this:

“Success is piece of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

I really like this is because it puts the emphasis of success on the process and effort rather than the end of achievement.  I firmly believe that if you can look back at the process and effort with the self-satisfaction that you did the best possible under the circumstances then you must be comfortable with the results.  We are not just athletes, we are human beings with other interests, desires and commitments.  Top performing athletes have the desire, ability and support to prioritise all the necessary components of a successful training program, put in a lot of hard work to the workouts, are conscious of their physical strengths and weaknesses and work to those strengths.  However in the longer term, ones success in life is measured on more than your race times and performance.  Hopefully, racewalking will help develop some of the qualities it takes to be successful in athletics, and if not there at least in life.

John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success [PDF] is an excellent examination of all the components that go into success as is his TED lecture on the topic.

“What am I capable of …. ?”  is a good question to ask of yourself, but it deserves a more detailed response than simply a time.

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Periodisation in Training

For us northern climate folk our winter should be a disadvantage over those in more temperate climates. Fortunately for us the concept of Periodisation helps to eliminate our cold weather deficit.

Let me explain

The Periodisation concept for training originated in Eastern Europe. It spread to the rest of the sporting world once proof of its success as a training modality became abundantly clear. The Periodisation concept is based on sound scientific principles and can be adapted to any type of physical training.

The rationale for the Periodisation concept is based on the following understanding: 

  • In order to improve by maximizing adaptation a training program needs to have variation;
  • Training adaptations occur during periods of rest or recovery; 
  • Some types of training can interfere with other types of training and impair or enhance adaptations;
  • Some types of training promote general or foundational adaptations and other types of training promote event specific adaptations;
  • Timing of different types of training during an annual cycle is critical to maximizing performance;
  • A reduction in training volume leading up to a major event enhances performance.

Based on the above criteria we can define Periodisation as a method that organises training over a defined period taking into account the major factors that influence adaptation.

How does this help us northerners?

The dark, the cold and the wet (we’re from Vancouver but it now seems to rain everywhere in the winter) tends to do one thing, drive us indoors. Normally this would be a bad thing except that one of the Periodisation criteria is the understanding that some types of training interfere with others. Strength & Conditioning training and Aerobic training definitely interfere with each other. So, while we can’t meet our Aerobic training target we can do very well with a solid Strength & Conditioning program. And, as luck would have it, a comprehensive S&C program should last about as long as the worst part of our winter.

Don’t get me wrong, when we get off of our S&C program we’re well behind our temperate climate competitors from an Aerobic standpoint. However, after several weeks of early spring Aerobic work we’re kilometers ahead of our Aerobically fit, and better tanned, but much weaker warm weather walkers.

Now get out there and pump that iron!

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Winter Training

Race Walk is a temperate weather sport that requires year round training to get really good at it. However, too hot or too cold and it stops being fun and starts being a health risk. We live in a northern clime and that means lots of cold for at least 4 months of the year.

How do we manage to raise up elite level athletes in these conditions? 

First, we have Tudor Bompa and the periodisation folks to thank showing us all how to organisae our training effectively. Second, we have come to realise that the treadmill is not the evil machine of torture that it is thought to be. And, third, the concept of cross-training was a brilliant discovery.

In our next few posts we’ll get into some details about what we know about periodisation, the treadmill and cross-training and how all three can be used to create a very effective race walk training regime that can take you all the way from the first frost to the final thaw.

Good walking

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