This article is the first in a series of four articles that will examine how legendary distance coaches like Mihaly Igloi have impacted modern distance training methodology.

Mihaly Igloi is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished middle distance coaches in history. During his tenure in the 1950s and 1960s, his athletes shattered an impressive 49 world records and 45 American records. Igloi’s training methods were known to be rigorous, unconventional, and very different from contemporary coaching techniques. Nonetheless, certain fundamental principles from Coach Igloi’s training regimen remain relevant and can help elevate the performance of high school distance runners.

Intervals

While Igloi’s approach may seem unconventional by modern standards, there is much to learn from his training methods. His athletes often trained at varying intensities, with high-intensity sessions interspersed with periods of active rest. This approach is based on the idea that different energy systems are targeted at varying levels of exertion, and athletes need to train all these systems to maximize their potential. This interval training is a staple of the modern distance coach. However, the intensity and frequency of interval training completed by Igloi’s athletes is shocking.

A typical week of training for Hungarian runner Istvan Rozsavolgi (1500m):

  • Day 1 2x (4x 300m) in 45 secs jog 100m recovery, 10x 100min 15-18 secs jog 50m recovery, 6x300m in 45 secs jog 100m recovery, 10x 100m 14 -18 secs
  • Day 2 5x (5x200m 27-28secs) jog 100m recovery. 6x100m ave 15 secs, 50m jog recovery
  • Day 3 10km fartlek, 15x100m jog 50m recovery
  • Day 4 5x 300m light, 5x300m fast, 5x300m very fast, 5x 300m light, 10x100m ave 16 secs, 6x300m at 80%, 10x 100m fast, 10x100m light
  • Day 5 10x (10x100m) one set fast and one set at a lively rhythm, walk 400m between sets
  • Day 6 10x150m at a moderate speed, 2x(3x400m in 55-56 secs) jog 300m and walk 400m between sets. 10x100m light, jog 50m, 10x 100m fast jog 50m, 10x100m light jog 50m, Walk 400m between sets
  • Day 7 light cross country run.

Note: I found this training sample in the Autumn 2012 publication of the British Milers Club News. A fantastic resource for distance coaches.

Aerobic Capacity

While it is incredibly difficult to pass judgement on a training plan based on one week of workouts written in shorthand, it is obvious that this is an intense approach to training. It is interesting to note that this interval work never goes beyond 300m in length. This suggests that Igloi was aware of the demands on the anaerobic system by running longer intervals at a very fast pace, and therefore sought to increase training at speed while also reducing risk of increased recovery time or injury.

Longer steady-state runs or easy aerobic sessions are not explicitly included in the sample plan, but elements such as the jogging recovery, ‘fast jog,’ and ‘light pace’ intervals suggest that aerobic capacity work was still incorporated. Igloi asserted that he was able to enhance his athletes’ aerobic capacity and workload without relying on long, steady-state running. He believed that such runs lacked specificity of pace and could reinforce incorrect motor patterns due to their slow biomechanical pace.

Terminology

During his coaching career, Igloi frequently incorporated multiple paces within a single workout session. Rather than relying on a stopwatch to monitor his athletes’ performance, he relied on his intuition as a coach. He classified his workout paces using terms such as “easy,” “fresh,” “good,” “hard,” “very hard,” and “all-out.” This approach demonstrates that his runners had a deep understanding of their own abilities and were able to run with remarkable accuracy based on how they felt.

Igloi’s coaching philosophy involved a high degree of trust in his athletes’ intuition and self-awareness. By using subjective terms to describe different levels of exertion, he encouraged his runners to become more attuned to their own physical limits and adjust their pace accordingly. This approach also allowed for more individualized training, as each athlete was able to tailor their effort level to their unique abilities and goals.

Coaching Points

Modern distance coaches can learn several valuable lessons from Igloi’s methods that can help them enhance the performance of their high school distance runners. One of the most important takeaways is the importance of an athlete-centered training plan. Igloi recognized that each athlete was unique and responded differently to training stress. As a result, he rarely assigned the same training parameters to all his athletes. Training parameters should be adjusted based on factors such as an athlete’s fitness level, injury history, or personal goals. By taking an athlete-centered approach to coaching, coaches can create a more supportive and effective training environment for their athletes.

The sample training plan provided above showcases the use of various paces, distances, and recovery periods. Interestingly, it took nearly three decades (1994) for this approach to be reintroduced by British distance coach Peter Thompson as Lactate Dynamics training. This training methodology involves deliberately increasing lactate production through high-intensity exercise, followed by alternating periods of less intense activity. This approach allows muscle cells to use and clear the lactate generated during the recovery periods. Today, Lactate Dynamics training has become an integral component of every mid-distance training program.

Benefits of Lactate Threshold Training

The benefits of Lactate Dynamics training are numerous. By increasing the body’s ability to tolerate and clear lactate, athletes can perform at higher intensities for longer durations without experiencing muscle fatigue or pain. This training methodology also promotes efficient energy utilization, which is critical for endurance events. Additionally, Lactate Dynamics training helps to enhance anaerobic power and capacity, improving overall performance.

While it may not be wise to adopt Igloi’s methods wholesale, high school distance runners can undoubtedly benefit from incorporating some of these principles into their training. Mihaly Igloi’s training methods may have been unconventional, his success as a coach is undeniable. By training at varying intensities and incorporating interval training into their workouts, young runners can improve their performance.


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