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Want to know what it takes to be a world champion runner? Coach Sentayehu, the successful running coach featured in The Town of Runners, who churns out elites and world champions from the tiny town of Bekoji, Ethiopia, tells Fiona Bugler what matters.
HARD WORK: It’s a simple pairing of words and is repeated over and over by the coach and the athletes, summed up by Tefera Geleta, a half marathon runner with a PB of 1:09, who says: “All you need to do is work hard - so work hard”.
REST: Jerry Rothwell, the director of the film who spent three years in the town, points out, “Rest isn’t just a day off from training, it’s rest from working on the farm and having the responsibility of running the family.” The coach adds: “Athletes must have rest – that means no nightclubs, no alcohol and no relationships.”
NUTRITION: In Bekoji, nutrition isn’t about whether or not you’ve taken your Echinecea supplements – it’s about avoiding starving. But, the coach says, the principle is as relevant in the UK where we over consume junk food: good food is vital for success.Read more: About what runners should eat and drink.
SOCIAL SUPPORT AND NO STRESS: The Coach has a wider role than simply organising training sessions, he has to ensure families are able to support the athletes in their ambitions. When one of the young girl’s featured in the film struggles, he says: “You cannot be a great athlete if you are fighting in life”.
TRAIN SMART: Jerry Rothwell, director of the film says that the children in Coach Sentayehu’s care don’t do huge amounts of mileage. “They train five days a week for around two hours a day.” The Coach says, “I get them to run hard and to time themselves. We use hills, 20 x 400m and jog down, or 8 x 5k reps with three minute recovery for marathon runners.”
TRAIN ON DIFFERENT TERRAINS: “We run on gravel, up hills, on flat fields and in the forest – a combination of them all,” says Tefera Geleta.
DETERMINATION: Chaltu Negise is a female athlete who’s run 1:11 for a half marathon: “You need to be able to push through the hard times,” she says, “to withstand all challenges. If you keep working hard and training when things get difficult, that’s the key to success.”
THINK LIKE A WINNER: Edae Mamo who’s also run 1:11 for the half marathon says: “I just keep thinking that I am going to win the race.”
KEEP IT SIMPLE: ‘‘We have a little science, but everything is very natural,” says the Coach. “We use stones to mark out curves and twists. There’s no question that European science creates advantages but we are doing our best to compensate,” he adds, smiling.
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