KILLER COACH

I’m re-running this column from November of 2011.  A heady time when Team Nebraska Brooks had two sub 4 minute milers and a  soon to be USA Olympic Trials Steeplechase qualifier.   This is what type of coaching and training is necessary to become a national class runner.

Glen van der Westhuizen, aka Killer Coach,  is a renowned coach and father of Omaha’s own world class miler, Peter. Glen was kind enough to answer 9 questions for me yesterday. Enjoy.

Will: Glen, all of us in Nebraska know your son as a World Class Miler. Most may not know that you have been his coach, am I right in saying his entire running career?

Glen: Yes. He started running at the age of 11 and didn’t really look as if he had any talent, but his perseverance has paid off!

Will: Does Peter enjoy something of a celebrity status in South Africa? Our 1500 guys and gals enjoy a nice share of the limelight stateside.

Glen: Other than the awe that other athletes look at him with, his status is rather low-key. When he steps on the track, however, the big names in South African athletics as well as the journalists, sit up and take notice.

Will: We met briefly when you were in the country for Peter & Michaela’s wedding. I was struck by your own rugged fitness and impressed by some of your credentials. Can you share one or two highlights from your competitive career?

Glen: If you thought you train hard at this stage, then I might boggle your mind when I tell you that when I was in the best shape of my Comrades Marathon career, I trained 150 miles per week (240 km) which included speed sessions. I managed to complete the 90Km race in 7 Hours 12 minutes which was my best in this race, earning me a silver medal. This placed me in 366th position out of approximately 16,000 athletes. To receive a silver medal, one has to complete the race in less than 7 hours and 30 minutes. The main highlight of my personal career is participating for South Africa in the ITC World Duathlon Championships in Hobart, Tasmania during 1994 where I finished in 34th position. At that stage I was running 130 km (81 miles) per week and cycling 530 km (329 miles) a week including speed sessions. This equates to 260 km per week running if the ratio of 4km cycle = 1 km run is applied. This was achieved while holding down a fulltime teaching position.

Will: You have been working with Team Nebraska for a few years now. Our mates Shannon Stenger, Paul Wilson, & Mike Beattie rode your training to Great Heights back in 2008-2009. You’re now working with David Adams and Luka Thor among several others. I’m guessing the reward for your volunteering is watching each and every athlete approach their own potential. We thank you for that. How many athletes, if any, do you coach in your native South Africa?

Glen: I have 75 athletes ranging from 60m sprinters (7 years old) to 100 km Ultra marathoners (63 years old) in my private training group. I also have a group of 35 school athletes that I coach directly after school that ends at 14H00. I have a group of 7 athletes that I coach by e-mail in South Africa as well.

Will: You are helping a lot of us prep for the USA Club XC National Championships in Seattle on Dec. 10th. Five of us are masters runners with me being the oldest at 54. I’ll have to say that this is the most speedwork I’ve ever attempted in my 35+ years of running. We look at the workouts, gasp in horror, get after them, and get faster each week. Every one of us. What if anything is your secret, or defining philosophy if you will?

Glen: The most important component of any training program is balance. If the balance is right then the injuries and sicknesses are minimal. The balance in my program has a large foundation of distance that gradually introduces strength, muscle endurance, speed endurance and eventually pure speed the closer one approches the desired target race. The human body can physiologically only peak for a maximum of 8 weeks and on a wing and a prayer have it extended to 10 weeks. To reach the optimum peaking period, I revert to the developmental phase of the human body of 6 weeks and have achieved great results with this.

Will: Do you have anyone that you would consider a coaching mentor? Any early influences that led you to find your own way?

Glen: My main mentor was my previous coach Don Peckitt who now resides in his native UK. When he left South Africa he taught me his coaching system. Even though having a healthy respect for his knowledge and ability, I still had questions regarding components of training that I didn’t do. This included core training, weight training, rhythm work, nutrition, plyometrics and psychological preparation. After developing my method of coaching, I was introduced to the Lydiard method and Harry Wilson philosophy and noticed some remarkable similarities.

Will: What are the plans for Peter as London 2012 approaches? Does South Africa utilize a selection system similar to the US, i.e. a single race championship? What kind of time frame is there and sure we’re all sending our best to Peter as he pursues his spot.

Glen: Peter has to follow a specific criteria set out for all athletes by our governing body Athletics South Africa. He needs to participate in some of our premier events, called the Yellow Pages series as well as the ASA National championships. He also has to qualify according to time and the IAAF standard. Sometimes the ASA qualifying standard is more stringent than the IAAF standard. The plans for Peter is to medal at the Olympics. That is the goal. If his goal is anything less, then he need not make the trip. A slogan of the group is ” If you aim at nothing…. You will hit it every time”

Will: David Adams is also looking to have a breakthrough 2012 with the prize being a berth on the US Olympic Steeplechase squad. I’ve seen some great improvement in just the last 10 weeks, do you consider him to be a diamond in the rough amidst the cornfields of Nebraska?

Glen: Yes, David and *Megan both are aiming at qualifying for the US Olympic team and I have no doubt that they have the potential to achieve their goals. I feel they are more than Diamonds in the rough and will stake a solid claim to those few illusive Olympic team berths. There are however other athletes that also have these aspirations in the back of their minds who I also believe could raise a few eyebrows come trial day namely Luka and Matt. In South Africa there are two of my athletes also vying for Olympic selection. Tlou Seloba in the 800m and Richard Breukel in the 400m and possibly 100m relay team.

Will: Thanks for taking time with us today Glen. Any final thoughts or parting wisdom you’d care to share?

Glen: Thank you for the opportunity you have afforded me to work with such a fine group of all your athletes. I know that the results that the team will achieve at the Cross Country Club Nationals will be phenomenal due to the effort you put in. Just remember that the person who quits last is the person who wins the race!!! Good luck to all who will race these champs. My final quote and I’m sure those who are on Killercoach’s training program will agree……
” IF YOU WANT TO RUN WITH THE BIG DOGS THEN YOU CAN’T PEE LIKE A PUPPY!”