The B.A.A. caught up with Coach Mahon after recently returning from the High Performance team’s altitude training in California
(B.A.A.) What are your takeaways from the training camp in Mammoth Lakes, California? Did it go as expected/exceed expectations?
(Terrence) I had a few different purposes for the Mammoth Lakes training camp. The first was to put the athletes in an environment where there only focus each day was on their running. Mammoth Lakes is a very small town in a remote part of the Eastern Sierras and was the perfect backdrop for such a plan. When you can get athletes to hunker down and train for a month at a camp it really elevated their fitness. The second purpose was to expose the athletes to another bout of high altitude training. If you look at the majority of Olympians, Olympic Medalists and National record holders they all include some variation of altitude training in their regimen.
Mammoth Lakes resides at 7800 feet at its town center and with the ability to run as high as 9000 feet or down below 5000 feet within a short drive it is one of the best high altitude training centers in the world. My final reason behind choosing this altitude camp’s time and place was to test its efficacy in relation to athletic performance. To do this we worked with Dr. Aaron Baggish’s staff at Mass General Hospital to conduct pre, during and post camp testing. Each athlete engaged in a battery of physiological tests on the treadmill as well as blood tests prior to leaving Boston. They followed this up with another bout of blood tests after being at altitude for almost four weeks and finally ended the trip by coming down the mountain to compete at the US 12K Champs road race in Alexandria, VA. In seeing that we had our five athletes within the top 14 finishers shows to me that the camp was indeed a success. We had multiple personal bests and one Master’s National record so all in all I think the mission was accomplished.
(B.A.A.) What do you think were the best parts of the trip?
(Terrence) The first thing that I would like to say is that the best part of this trip was that we were able to take it. Having the support of the entire Boston Athletic Association and our partnership with adidas, makes opportunities like this a reality. We all share a common vision of bringing the B.A.A. back to the forefront in the elite world of running. The ability to put on training camps like this one sends a clear message both to our current athletes and our future ones that we mean business. We are driving this program forward using all of the positive assets that we have at our disposal – and we have a lot. It takes more than just a talented athlete to make a US team. It takes a network of support and here at the B.A.A. we are putting all of that into place and we are now starting to see the fruits of that labor.
Why I really like these camps is I believe that to change your perception on where your limits lie you need to add in different stimuli and external stressors into the daily equation. Otherwise the habits that we live by daily start to define our end results. For an athlete looking to make a national team that is a death sentence. So for me, when it comes to looking at what are the best parts of any training camp it is all about when I see the paradigm shift take place with each athlete. It may be on the 10 mile continuous uphill run that goes above 9000 feet or as they finish their longest run ever, or their highest mileage week ever. It is all about when they get that insight that their self-imposed limits have now changed. When that door opens it is like going from a drive down a back alley to the onramp of the Autobahn. The sky starts to become the limit and in the world of coaching that is what it’s all about. Of course I could talk about the phenomenal scenery, the endless amount of running trails and the welcoming nature of the High Sierras but I think that all needs to be experienced in person as words or even photos can’t do it justice.
(B.A.A.) We know December is a busy month of racing for the team, between the 10,000 meters in Sacramento and the Club Cross Country Championships. What are your expectations for those races, and do you think the training camp set the team up well for those events?
I am nothing if not a planner. I am always looking at the short term routine in relation to the end result. When I went to Michael Pieroni with my ideas about this trip to Mammoth it came within a context of the entire fall racing season. If the camp was too soon then the athletes wouldn’t be fit enough to get all the benefit. If too late then the chance of winter weather could ruin it all. I also looked at our schedule of races and saw how I could use those both as pre and post tests to measure how this training camp went and how it could be improved upon for the future.
So we started with the US 10K champs here in Boston as our starting fitness test. We then went to Mammoth for a full four weeks to maximize each athlete’s adaptation to altitude training as well as their hematological response to living and running at 8,000 feet. For the post camp testing plan we scheduled our departure out of town so that they could run in the US 12k champs in less than 72 hours from being out of altitude. This is important in seeing when is the best time off the mountain for an athlete to race. It is often seen in the first 72 hours or then after a 2-4 week return to sea level. The upcoming 10,000m race in Sacramento and then the US Club XC champs in San Francisco will be the final measures to see how this all plays out. If the US 12K champs was any indicator then I believe we have some great performances coming up in the next few weeks.
In the next installment, we will look in on the success of the training camp with team members Sarah Pagano, and new American Masters Record Holder Jen Rhines.