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Clyde Hart coach to Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner. Part 1.

Source: www.sports-fitness.com

The greatest 400m coach of all time? Clyde Hart

Clyde Hart can stake a claim to being the greatest 400m coach of all time.

He has guided Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner to the top but there is far more to the man than that. He has worked with a 3min 50sec miler and 1min 44sec 800m runner. On top of that the man from Baylor is always fun to listen to.

So we found out what he had to say about training and preparation when he visited the UK.

Introducing the system

Clyde told us about the set up in Texas. He said: "I have been coaching for 40 years and have always admired the British system. A lot of what I have done in coaching I have stolen from the British and the best coaches around the world. With any good coach if they have not stolen from the best men in the business then they are a fool.

"This is what not only Michael Johnson did for 15 years but what the kids will be doing in Waco, Texas, today and what was done before Michael Johnson got on the programme. He didn't influence us to change the programme. I learned a lot from Michael - I have stolen from coaches and gained from every one of the athletes I have had.

"A lot has been added to the programme that is there due to the problems Michael Johnson and the others were having.

"Our system is different to that in the UK but you should never criticise until you have walked a mile in another man's boots.”

Clyde believes the 400m is a good event to focus on when building a team: "When I first came to the university I coached all the running events. I thought, 'you have got to have quarter milers as they can move up or down'.

"Our relay squad would often be two quarter milers and the others may be hurdlers or half milers.”

"I have had sub-four minute milers - I have coached Todd Harbour- a 3min 50.34sec miler. But the quarter mile has always remained the focal point of our track programme.”

Hitting top form at the right time is a key part of Clyde’s programme: "If you look at where my kids have run their best times most of them have been run at the big championship meets.”


Learning from schedules

Clyde is keen to point out that it is not just a case of copying his schedules to run well. He said: "When you get a workout whether from a book or a magazine [you are not going to get the same results out of them]. I have got Seb Coe's workouts but I have never had a 1min 41sec runner - I have had a 1min 44sec guy. Some of the stuff I have got from them is good information but I am not going to get exactly the same results out of them.

“Going over Michael Johnson's workouts - which is what I am going to do - is much the same as if we were all chefs and I was giving out a recipe. If I gave some recipe out and said to bring back your casserole I doubt that any one would taste the same as any other. Some of you would take a taste and decide to add a little salt, or some more spices. The secret is not in the workout or training, it is in why you are doing it or the time of year you are doing it. You need to know when to implement it, when to back off, when to add to it - you need to know why and analyse it."

No-one’s perfect

When Hart started out it was a case of ‘We ran speed yesterday, let's do strength tomorrow and then lets do over-distance’. The systematic approach has been developed over the years.

"I was a bit better for the distance runners. But it was a bit of flying by the seat of your pants, there was no systematic approach. But I had national champions before Michael Johnson.”

As with all coaches Clyde has had his regrets: "I probably made my biggest blunder in 1990. But hindsight is always 20:20. I had always dreamed of winning the national champs. I had Michael Johnson, Tyrell Davis and three pole-vaulters. That was not enough to win unless each of them won or got pretty high. We got second in the 4 x 100m and a half miler got second in 1min 47sec. Michael won the 200m, in second was Frankie Fredericks and then 45min later he ran a 43.4sec relay leg. If he'd run the 400m we'd have won.”

But Clyde knows if he had done things differently history may have run a different course: "In 1995 he [Michael] wanted to double at the Olympics. I said, 'Why don't you think about winning the 200m or 400m?' He said that had been done and that he wanted to do them both. He won both at the World's in Gothenburg. If he'd run it in 1990 and got second we'd have won. But may be it would have soured him and then he'd have not gone on with the event [the 400m].


The learning process

Clyde has always been a scholar of coaching and looked to learn and improve. He said: "I thought, 'There has got to be a better way to train the 400m people. I am not training people to produce Olympians, I am doing it to produce a team for the university, our job is to produce a good collegiate team.

"Talking to coaches around the world I came up with the best things people are doing to train 400m people. We have cleaned it up here and there and learned a bit. But basically the programme we use is the same as 30 years ago but a bit better. We have got it better. The rest factor has changed because we are learning all the time.”

The system

Clyde has developed a highly successful framework that leads to success: "Virtually every Monday we are going to do 200ms. In our system we have a year round programme. We do get some kids who have been playing football. One ran 45.1sec - he'd played football all Fall and I got him in the January.

"We start in the fall. Our college season is on until June - about six weeks to two months out from here.

"From September to December is basic training. The four to five weeks up to October they are on the grass areas, running ideally on a slight hill. They build basic conditioning with aerobic work. Aerobic ability is important. The 400m is not just about anaerobic - that view is antiquated.

"From what I have learned in the last 30 years I am not learning much new knowledge but my knowledge is being reinforced. Coaches today are not smarter than in the past but they have a bigger vocabulary. We used to do ‘related work’ - now we do ‘plyometrics’, everything has a label to it and science proves what we're doing.”

Clyde believes the principles of training are the same for many events: "I trained Michael Johnson like I trained a four minute miler. A four minute miler was doing a lot of the same things Michael Johnson was - a lot of the same things in training but more of them.

"Everything in the programme is based on progression or regression.”

This gives Clyde his first ‘golden rule’: "The best coaching advice I have ever had is 'Go from quantity to quality'. That is for anything you ever do for a sprinter, quarter miler, miler or whoever. You get a base of quantity and go to quality.

"Right now [October 11] we are doing quantity - 30min running each day. That could be 6 x 5min run or 2 x 15min run, running some stadium steps and plyometrics. They are going to be in good shape.

"On Monday is 200ms. Then for two days a week for six weeks we are on the grass doing over distance work. We want to keep the oxygen uptake there. Some kids have never gone beyond 200m but they are going to do some half mile runs.

"I'm not interested in how fast they run their half mile runs. I'm interested in what they come through 400m in during their half mile runs. I put them down a cone at a quarter mile. I tell them what to go through in.”

Clyde is very clear that ‘training’ is just that – it is where you get fitter, not where you prove yourself.

"We race when they fire the gun, we train to train.”

So there are not big hang ups on what the training times are at this stage: "I say, 'Come through [400m] in 70sec and then see what you can finish in'. Some of them die, some finish strongly. Then you say come through in 69 or 68. When you have got the point where they are hitting half a mile comfortably instead of saying, 'We are now going to do 1100m' you say ‘It's 750m’. Then they come through faster. You don't have to tell them to do that. They give it a bit more as they know they are not running as far. Then you cut it to 700m.

"By the time we are taking them to train on the track I want them to be running a 600m. Then we stay at that until they have got their 400m time down.

"In March-April-May we get down to 450m. That's still 50m further than they will run in a race.

"From March we never run more than 450m. I give them 50m more than they need. They may be do two of them with a 10min break. Each one is in 57-58sec. We tried 15min and then cut it to 14min, 13min...I found that they could handle 10min. Michael could handle 6min to 8min rest. At his best he would run 2 x 450m in 50sec with 8min rest.

"The longest workout we have ever done - not counting warm up and warm down - would be under 20min, I think we have never worked more than 20min. That's not counting the Fall phase.”

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