The first of the 2017-2018 NI and Ulster Endurance Squad coaching days took place on Saturday 16th September at Greenmount CAFRE Campus. The day was attended by fifty-seven athletes and many of their coaches and parents. Sessions were delivered by Michael Dyer, Bashir Hussain, Mark Kirk, Francis Marsh, Teresa McDaid, Jackie Newton and Allister Woods. Guest speakers were Olympians Kerry O’Flaherty and Breege Connolly.

Jackie Newton, Director of Coaching and Athlete Development for Athletics Northern Ireland, welcomed the attendees and explained the aims and purposes of the camps – for a select group of promising endurance athletes (and their coaches) to train together and learn key skills that will aid them in achieving senior success in middle distance and endurance events. She also spoke about how the camps will progress and build on each other as the athletes work through the autumn and winter months.

This first camp focused on preparing for the training year with particular emphasis on planning, strengthening and improving running technique. The subsequent camps will explore physiological capacity and tactical awareness before moving the focus to speed before the 2018 track season.

A ‘Review and Planning’ session followed the introductions. Athletes were asked to identify the key skills and fitness components that they need to develop and progress. With their coach/parent, they spent time reviewing their own strengths and weaknesses before identifying targets to work towards in each of the areas. The session finished by considering how this work can fit together in a periodised year, what the focus will be in each of the training phases and what a typical week may include.

After the planning session, the athletes split into three groups and rotated around the other three activities.

Elite Athlete Q&A

Breege Connolly and Kerry O’Flaherty spoke to each of the groups about their own athlete journeys. Teresa McDaid facilitated the session and reinforced the key points that also related to the previous session. After the presentation, the athletes had the opportunity to ask questions. One of the key points that came out was –

“Athletes in competition can experience more disappointing days than joyful days”

Discussions took place around motivation and the notion that you often learn more from failure than from success. This realisation keeps athletes motivated and determined to learn from every poor performance. There was also the recognition that

“unsuccessful days make the successful days feel even better!” 

(Breege Connolly).

Teresa McDaid who facilitated the session explained, “Kerry & Breege discussed planning and goal setting giving several examples and emphasized continuing to “believe” regardless of setbacks and disappointments. The athletes explained the need to be aware of your competitors and occasionally using that as motivation on a lazy day but focusing on your own training and your own journey.

Both athletes placed great emphasis on their support team, coaches- personal and team coaches , family and friends and how now as junior athletes the athletes attending the squad will be beginning to build that support team around them.”   Athletes were given an insight into life in an olympic village with Kerry & Breege sharing some great photographs.   Dealing with injury and preparing to injury proof the body was explored by both athletes and juniors were encouraged to buy into other topics on the day’s program to  become stronger more robust athletes .

Developing your running economy – getting the most from your stride

Lead by Michael Dyer athletes were introduced to the concept of “running economy” which is the energetic cost of running and refers to oxygen uptake required for a given velocity of submaximal running.  World class runners often have particularly low energetic costs (mL02/KG/KM.)  Michael explained that an efficient running action will have a lower energetic cost and will allow faster pace to be sustained for a longer duration.

Athletes then began a discussion about the key aspects of running technique comparing good and bad examples.  Athletes observed knee valgus, pronation and poor stiffness at ground contact as well as anterior pelvic tilt in highly fatigued and less competent athletes.  The following key technical aspects were drawn out using Irish Olympian Kerry O’Flaherty as a good example. This lead athletes into a practical session of running drills.



Running Drills

Athletics Northern Ireland  Physical Preparation Lead- Laura Kerr has explained “Running drills serve many purposes and may be performed for any of the following reasons

  • Event specific skill development & coordination (technical ability)
  • To improve running economy by increasing efficiency and decreasing energy leakage
  • To isolate an aspect of running stride for improvement
  • To condition the body to maintain good positions
  • To reduce the likelihood of injury by improving foot contact, alignment & posture
  • To bridge the gap from injury to running.”

However it should be noted that drills will not transfer effectively to running if the technique is not consciously integrated into running sessions. Before going outside to complete their running drills, athletes and coaches were reminded of where, when and how these drills should be executed in order to optimize return.

Running Drills Practical

Coaching Cues

A) 5 min run

B) Dynamic Warm Up

(including squats/lunges/hinges/skips)

C) Drills

Heel toe walk with upright posture

A march with dowel across shoulders

A march with arm action

A Skip

Over ankle dribble with dowel

Over calf dribble with dowel

Over ankle dribble 10m

Over calf dribble 10m

Over knee dribble 15m

Blended dribbles 10m-10m-10m

Blended dribble into 40m stride zone

Wicket runs over cones (20m)

D) 4x80m stride

-Tall, relaxed posture with “shoulders above hips”

– “Foot contact under the hip”

– “Stiff” dorsiflexed ankles

-Front side mechanics- “stepping over”

-Co ordinated arm action to match the stride length and speed




Strength & Conditioning

The third session of the day was lead by Allister Woods & Mark Kirk with a focus on physical preparations and increasing muscular strength endurance.  Physical Preparation Lead- Laura Kerr has explained the three objectives for this session:

A) Assessing critical factors and baseline measures of muscular strength endurance specific to endurance athletes.

“Research has shown that strength deficits in Hip Abduction, Hip Adduction, Knee Flexion and Plantarflexion (calf raise) are linked to increased risk of lower limb injury, groin injury, hamstring injury and foot and ankle injury respectively. Recording baseline measures early in the winter will allow improvements to be tracked. The movements assessed at the camp can be trained weekly.”

B) Recap of fundamental strength movements from previous squads named -squat and strict form push up.

C) Establishing a trunk circuit for completion at home.

The assessment and session completed was as follows.  Click the heading of each section for a video of the exercises:

Baseline Assessment of Muscular Strength Endurance (with 2018 squad repetition targets)

  • Single leg hip bridge             (28)
  • Band Clams  (hip external rotation)            (30)
  • Single leg calf raise test             (30)
  • Single leg quarter squat  (single leg stability & st endurance)     (90sec)


Fundamental Strength Recap (click for video)

  • Kettlebell Goblet Squat   4×12
  • Strict Form Push Up   4×8-12


Trunk Circuit (click for video)

  • Push Up Hold 3 x50 seconds
  • Deadbug isometric progression 3x 10-10-10-10-10
  • Side plank hold 3×45 sec
  • Iso Side Crunch with leg drop 3 x45 secs each side

Athletes were reminded that this type of work can be undertaken twice a week with little need for equipment.  Allister explained  “this type of body weight strengthening and trunk control should be a prerequisite for gym based weightlifting.”  This concluded our fourth Endurance Camp and Athletics NI would like to give special thanks to:

Irish Olympians

  • Kerry O’Flaherty
  • Breege Connolly

Guest Coaches

  • Teresa McDaid
  • Mark Kirk
  • Bashir Hussain
  • Francis Marsh

Athletics NI Staff

  • Jackie Newton-Athletics NI Director of Coach & Athlete Development
  • Michael Dyer-Athletics NI Every Body Active Coach
  • Allister Woods-Athletics NI Running Participation Officer
  • Laura Kerr – Athletics NI Coach Development & Physical Preparation Lead (who provided the practical content and resources.)

‘Cafe Cuisine’ for fuelling our athletes with healthy lunches

The next camp will explore physiological capacity and tactical awareness before moving the focus to speed before the 2018 track season. Athletics Northern Ireland look forward to welcoming the endurance community to come together again for the following coach development opportunities:

Athletics NI Endurance Coaches Network with Honoré Hoedt  (6th October, Crowne Plaza, Shawsbridge, Belfast –7.00pm-10.00pm)

Honoré is one of Europe’s leading authorities on middle distance running and will discuss his coaching philosophy before answering questions from local coaches.This seminar has 50 places available and registration is now open HERE

The cost for attending the Q&A is £15, however for the total cost of £30 coaches can enjoy a three course buffet style meal after the seminar.

Athletics Northern Ireland 2017 Coaching Conference

The 2017 Athletics Northern Ireland Coaching Conference will take place on Saturday 7thOctober at Ulster University, Jordanstown and will feature a range of experts including Dame Mary Peters, Toni Minichiello, Dr John Rogers, Honore Hoedt and Deirdre Ryan.

How to book

Tickets for this year’s conference cost £40 for licensed athletics coaches or Ulster University students and £50 for other coaches/individuals. Online booking is now available and delegates may select their breakout choices HERE