BUILDING A RUNNER P.4. TOMMY SHAW

The Armagh 5km

Off the back of such a positive run at the BUCS Championships, we decided to press forward with the plan to do some road racing in Feb/March, entering the Armagh 5km and Podium 5km, along with an early season outdoor 5000m race in the plan too. The Armagh 5km is one of the most prestigious road races in the world, with athletes from all over the UK and Europe flying into Northern Ireland to fly around a superb inner city course. Recently, the race broke the world record for most Sub-15-minute 5km performances in one race, with over 100 athletes breaking the prestigious barrier in one heat! We went into Armagh with the same process-driven goals as we did the cross country a few days before. Focusing on breaking the race down lap by lap, attacking the downhill section and staying in the moment before the last lap hitting a full send. Tommy achieved a superb 15:05 min clocking, which, after just a handful of sessions, was only just behind his Personal Best from last year. 

 

Having made such great strides forward in Tommy's mentality towards training and racing in the first few weeks of 2024. We continued to develop that confidence as training stepped back towards the volume we have seen Tommy gain a lot from. With some sensible increases and the use of cross-training, Tommy's fitness developed week after week as we went into the Birmingham University Winter Throws and Distance meeting. Going over the 5,000m distance again, the aim was to get stuck in the race, work on the mental process side of things, not focus on the splits, and be in good positions in the race. From 2km-4km, gently squeeze the effort level and stay competitive. The final 1000m focuses on a full send, leaving nothing in the bank. Tommy executed the plan perfectly, running a superb race, focusing on his process and running a massive PB of 18 seconds, running 14:37.59. 

 

I couldn't be happier with how Tommy has turned things around this year. I have seen some solid development in how he thinks about his running and executes his races, too. As runners, we assume that the better the runner, the more they control their minds. From my experiences, the real difference between athletes of this level is who is in control of their mind and who isn't. The development over the last few weeks and months should see Tommy go well for the summer months! 

 

By the time you read this, Tommy will be turning his attention to the track, looking to go over 1500m, 3000m and 5000m this summer.

When we last checked in with the SKINS SCA team in December, Tommy was starting to build up preparations for a debut campaign on the indoor circuit. Unfortunately, preparations were curtailed around Christmas time with a persistent knee niggle that wouldn't subside in time to give the indoors a proper go. On the face of it, there were some pretty dire circumstances, and another goal was missed, but it presented an excellent opportunity for learning for Tommy as an athlete and me as a coach. 

We took the opportunity to practise a pause. Look at Tommy's overall plan and build back up more sustainably with a longer-term vision of attacking the upcoming outdoor season. More than this, we wanted to get back into enjoying racing. At the level at which Tommy races, things can become all-encompassing. What time did you run this rep, or what time are you aiming for on the day? All relate back to outcome-oriented outcome thinking. Thinking about the destination we are trying to achieve rather than the journey of how we will get there.

BUCS Championships

For University students, racing in the BUCS (British University and College Sports) Championships is a significant race in the calendar. It is one of the few opportunities a year you get to run for your institution, and for a prestigious running University such as Birmingham is a massive part of the year. We decided to run the championships with the sole purpose of thinking about how we ran the race rather than where Tommy would finish the race. Having only run a couple of intervals sessions and mainly cross-training before the event, we knew he wouldn't be at his peak fitness. This enabled us to realign expectations and focus on running the race to process related goals. 

The race plan was to go out controlled through halfway and, in the second half, try to pass as many people as possible. In setting this goal, we had a process-driven plan, allowing Tommy to execute the race plan based on achievable steps rather than numbers. Having gone out controlled, Tommy passed around 50 athletes in the race's second half to finish a very encouraging 46th in the 8km race off less-than-ideal preparations! 

The gains we took from this race and Tommy's mentality were greater during this race than all of the incredible physiological gains we got over the first half of the winter with the huge mileage and superb intensity work in the plan. This is an excellent lesson for athletes and coaches: physiology only tells half the story. As people, we are conditioned to look to data to prove our worth to others and ourselves, and this is simply not the case! Interestingly, we have seen this with an athlete from PGC1 who ran a lactate test a week before the Wokingham Half, which suggested that he could run 1:30 for the half. A week later, he achieved 1:25! Numbers only tell so much of the story!

Tommy Shaw smiling

A note from Tommy

One of my main focuses this season has been adopting a new mentality. The first step was to stop focusing on the outcome, and enjoy the process of getting to the desired outcome- the journey is much more important than the end goal. This really helped me perform at my best at the Winter Throws and Distances event at the University of Birmingham, where I ran a new PB of 14.37 in the 5000m off only 12 sessions coming back from injury, which forced me out of training for most of January. This was a 17-second personal best and 30 seconds quicker than what I ran in Armagh 4 weeks prior to this event.

The mentality in forgetting about the outcome allowed me to focus on staying relaxed focused and not "losing my head", as I was completely ignoring the splits, too. I have been adopting this mentality in training as well, ignoring specific paces to hit and rather enjoying the process, running with a group and just stacking days upon days and weeks upon weeks. Going into my first warm weather camp I feel like this change in mentality that I have learnt will be critical to avoid overtraining and reducing the possibility of another injury.

Another shift in my mentality has been with just focusing on myself and not worrying about what others are doing. Everyone trains in different ways and responds well to different stimuli. Over the past couple of years working with Josh, he has learnt what stimuli I respond best to and is able to set my training to what suits me. Coming back from injury, this mentality is essential as different people may have been set different/more intense training to me as they at different points in the training cycle. I have learnt that this may not be the best for me. For instance, sometimes people may have more reps than me but I would take a step back and know that that's it's too early in my training to do that. I am still a long way from mastering either of these two techniques, but with the help of Josh I'm confident I will be able to soon.

Keep up to date with Tommy's training over on Instagram

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