High-altitude training, physiotherapy and more

This featured appeared in the May 8, 2004, edition of the Arizona Daily Sun.

Training in all phases

By Ed Odeven

Nobody ever accused Babe Ruth of being in tip-top shape — he was notorious for eating a dozen or more hot dogs in one sitting. Once, the portly, famous home-run hitter consumed 24 frankfurters between games of a doubleheader.

The Sultan of Swat may have done pretty well for himself with his eating habits, but in today’s society it’s common knowledge that high-caliber athletes perform better when they keep in excellent shape.

“I’ve learned that the key to having a good season is staying healthy,” Canadian middle-distance runner Diane Cummins, who recently did a stint at Northern Arizona University’s High Altitude Sports Training Complex, told the Edmonton Sun in a 2001 interview.

“… Being more concerned about my health allowed me to train effectively and consistently.

“There are lots of everyday things I do or don’t do to make sure I am on top of my game.”

A handful of running coaches’ training doctrine is quite unsophisticated — what they tell their pupils can be summed up in two words: run faster.

Others, like Cummins’ coach, Wynn Gmitroski of the Pacific Sport Victoria Endurance Centre in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, develop a more complex fitness regimen.

While running fast is certainly objective No. 1, Gmitroski expects his runners to do more than run wind sprints.

The Pacific Sport team, which completed a month-long training camp at HASTC last week, does yoga, massage therapy and medicine-ball exercises.

A holistic approach to training, the 46-year-old Gmitroski said, is an important part of his coaching. He is a registered physiotherapist who has been coaching for a quarter century.

“He certainly seems to be ahead of the game,” said Pacific Sport’s Andy Brown, a 26-year-old-Scot who runs the 800 and is vying to make the United Kingdom’s Olympic team. “He’s always trying to find out the latest research and the most advanced techniques to make sure we benefit.”

“He tries different things,” Brown continued. “A lot of coaches run the same programs every year, whereas Wynn’s training always seems to progress. It changes as he finds out the latest techniques and finds out more about different things that he can use.”

Teammate Aimee Tetevis concurred.

“I would say Wynn is definitely the most knowledgeable coach I’ve ever worked with,” said Tetevis, who previously starred at Rice University. ” He really actively pursues keeping up to date on new training methods and ideas.”

“He went to a conference in Colorado Springs a few months ago on altitude training,” Tetevis said. “This was before we came here and in preparation for us coming here, so we would have the latest ideas on what the best way to train at altitude is.”

REST AND RECOVERY

In simple terms, the key to Gmitroski’s training program focuses on rest and recovery, both psychological and physical. He said without proper R&R, athletes cannot maximize their potential.

“I know to try to get fit towards even the best in the world, you’ve got to have support,” said Gmitroski, who owns a sports therapy clinic in Victoria. “You can’t do it yourself. It’s not just a matter of hard physical training, but it’s also what you do in between your training sessions that count. Having the right support makes a big difference.”

The Pacific Sport team, comprised of 10 runners and a support staff of four, utilized six-day training cycles during its recent training camp.

In Flagstaff, the team ran at Lumberjack Stadium, did yoga sessions at the Rolle Activity Center and used saunas and hot tubs at the Flagstaff Athletic Club. The hot tubs and pool, Gmitroski explained, are used for hydrotherapy and contrast therapy. Say what? “They’ll get into the hot tub and then they’ll hop into the pool,” he said. “It’s good to have that contrast, and that improves circulation.”

Two of the six days were spent running at lower altitudes, one day in Camp Verde, the other in Beaver Creek on the trails east of Sedona. On the sixth day, the team rested.

So what are the key aspects of rest and recovery?

Gmitroski broke it down into three primary building blocks:

* Rest (this includes naps and passive rest, during which you are “not doing much” between training sessions).

* Proper hydration (some Pacific Sport athletes drank 10 liters, or 2.6 gallons, of water a day while training in Flagstaff).

* Nutrition (Gmitroski’s athletes are well-versed in the importance of body-weight optimization).

“The lighter you are, the more powerful you are, the better you perform,” Gmitroski said.

Pacific Sport’s top performers who trained here are: Cummins, who is ranked seventh in the world in the women’s 800 and finished sixth at the 2003 IAAF World Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Paris; and up-and-coming Gary Reed, who broke the Canadian indoor record last year in the 800.

The aforementioned standouts and the rest of Pacific Sport’s athletes are gearing up for the Canadian Olympic Trails, which will be held July 9-11 in Victoria, B.C. In the meantime, they are competing all over.

For instance, Pacific Sport runners are competing at the Jamaica International Invitational, a Modesto, Calif., meet; and a low-key meet in British Columbia this weekend. In mid-July they will travel to Arles, France to begin final preparations for the 2004 Athens Games, which will be in August in Athens.

Asked last Sunday, two days before the team’s departure, how the training camp had gone, Gmitroski said, “Every time we come back, we get a little smarter at how we do things. “I’m quite happy with how the camp has gone.”

Added Tetevis, “(This was) the best training of my life I would say, the most intense.”

A FUN DIVERSION

When he’s not devoting countless hours to his sports therapy clinic or Pacific Sport, Gmitroski has developed another passion: serving as a consultant for Cirque du Soleil.

Gmitroski picked up this intriguing diversion last year after participating in a recovery and regeneration summit in Montreal.

“We spent a week with them brainstorming and looking over their program and making suggestions (about) how they could enhance the (tenure) of the performers in their shows,” he recalled.

For Gmitroski, one of the advantages of being a consultant is that he gets to see many Cirque du Soleil shows. In the past year, he’s seen three of the circus’ nine traveling acts in Las Vegas, another one in Belgium, and one last week: the Varekai show, in Scottsdale.

“It’s just something that’s fun and something on the side that adds a little interest to life,” Gmitroski said.

During Gmitroski’s travels, he’d “spend a day or two with the staff, go out to dinner and they’d pick my brain. They’d just like an outsider’s point of view a lot of times.”

Regarding?

Such things as “(we) look at patterns of injuries … and is it happening because they are not getting enough recovery? Or is it because the stunts they are trying to pull are too dangerous?” Gmitroski revealed.

As much as he said he’s fascinated by seeing time and again the fantasy world of Cirque du Soleil, Gmitroski said these experiences have been beneficial to Pacific Sport.

His staff helped Cirque du Soleil build a special orthotic (foot padding) for a Cirque du Soleil star tumbler who kept having foot problems. It worked so well that they then devised a specialized, lighter orthotic for a runner’s spikes. “As a result, you are going to see faster times,” he said.

“There’s a spin-off between these things and learning to be done,” the coach added.

By all accounts, Gmitroski has learned how to run a productive, well-organized training camp.

“The hard work for the season’s been done,” Gmitroski said. “For 90 percent of them, it’s gone really, really well.”

Credit the coach for steering them in the right direction.

And keeping them away from those hot dogs.

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