How they train – Fionnuala Britton

We look at the training that took Fionnuala Britton to the European Cross-Country title last month

Posted on January 12, 2012 by
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Fionnuala Britton (Mark Shearman)

When Welshman Chris Jones first started working with Fionnuala Britton 18 months ago, he recognised that she had huge potential, but it was also easy to see that she had some limiting factors which were affecting her performance. Her cadence was too slow, her power per stride was lacking, she trained too much in the middle aerobic development area and her balance of training and recovery was not what it should be.

Jones says: “The aim was to increase her power output per stride and this has been achieved by designing a suitable strength and conditioning programme, with technical work and short hills for her overall power development. Initially, I moved her away from any higher-tempo work that would allow any anaerobic interference while we developed both her aerobic capacity and her anaerobic power. The longer endurance type development was only introduced when this was stable and strong enough.

“The philosophy is simple – build the right aerobic capacity with power and good functional movement, which will transfer it to specific power – something a lot of strength and conditioning coaches tend to miss. Once we have developed these areas we can then continue to develop the aerobic capacity while moving into event-specific speed, aiming to challenge the extension of the repetitions, increasing the time spent at this velocity – but not looking to run any faster.

“A lot of easy running is included around the harder sessions and we are constantly looking to maintain the aerobic capacity. We work closely with Dr Brian Moore and his team, Hodgson Moore, checking blood markers regularly and have a team of support staff around her that know exactly what is been asked of her on a daily basis.”

European Cross Country Championships
The preparation for the race had gone to plan. Her last key workout was 4x(600m, 500m, 400m, 300m, 200m) with two minutes recovery and five minutes between the sets. This indicated that she was in the best shape ever. Jones added: “It was just a case of managing her over the last 10 days before the race. Blood tests showed that she was in the best health possible prior to a championship.

“This is a credit to how she managed herself over the last 10 days before the race. She asked for another workout, but I insisted that she was ready and that she just needed to look after what she had already worked so hard for.”

Goals for 2012 and beyond
More at home on cross country, Britton never considered herself a track runner, but she eventually gravitated towards the steeplechase. Over the summer of 2011, she developed really well and showed a marked improvement and her training indicated that she should be running the 3000m steeplechase much quicker.

Jones’ belief and concerns were always based on her size and that her 1500m background might not lend itself to the steeplechase. It was evident that she was training much better than her competition performances of 15:31 for 5000m and that she should have been much faster had she committed to running the event and been doing a few more quality races. Britton commented after going out in her heat at the World Championships last year that perhaps she should have run the 5000m.

The European cross-country race was run at a pace of 3:05 per kilometre, which Jones thinks was an indication that she has the potential to run much faster than her present PB for 10,000m. Another priority for 2012 is to run around 15:00 for 5000m. They have talked a lot about the future and Jones thinks she has the capacity and ability to take on the right workload that would eventually lead to looking at the marathon. Before this though they have agreed that they need to look at the 5000m and 10,000m as a priority over the next few years.

Jones concludes: “The London Olympics this year will be about running the best event for her and her overall development. She has the ‘A’ standard for the steeplechase already, but the 5000m and 10,000m qualification times are what we will be looking to gain early this year. The marathon will be for the future, but not until we have developed more specific speed-endurance over 10,000m.”


(2011 build-up towards European cross country)
After a four-week block of pure aerobic capacity work, Britton began a preparatory phase of training at altitude. The following is the second week when based at Font Romeu.

Week commencing October 10

» Monday
(am) 30 minutes easy, 20 minutes steady.
(pm) 30 minutes easy, 20 minutes steady.

» Tuesday
(am) 25 minutes plus drills activation and technical strides (focusing on the direction of the heel leaving the ground and relaxed fold of the leg). 6x1km with four minutes running recovery (conditioning session done at a lower altitude, this is a continual run with no stopping – 12km in total).
(pm) 40 minutes aerobic recovery shuffle – “pace depending how she is feeling”.

» Wednesday
(am) 80 minutes aerobic capacity run plus gym work (combination, circuittype work – normally two circuits and one strength stabilisation session).
(pm) Rest.

» Thursday
(am) 25 minutes plus drills and technical strides working on heel-lift and legspeed skill. Hills: 4×40 seconds and 3 sets of 8x200m. Plyo activation done before each individual hill rep for transfer work – glute activation, hopping drill, bounding – then run up the hill. 60 seconds recovery and five minutes between sets.
(pm) Recovery run

» Friday
(am) 30 minutes easy, 20 minutes steady.
(pm) Gym – functional control and core work.

» Saturday
Complete rest day.

» Sunday
(am) 1hr 40 minutes aerobic capacity run.
(pm) Hills: 8×40 seconds. Activation drills, skipping drills prior to hills. 25 minutes run after the session.

Five weeks after returning from altitude she was then in a very heavy phase of training and didn’t taper for an international race in France where she placed third. This was her last competition prior to the European Cross Country Championships.

Week commencing November 21

» Monday
(am) Rest.
(pm) 50 minutes light recovery run with 10×6 seconds strides.

» Tuesday
(am) 25 minutes with drills and activation/skipping drills/heels underneath. 6x1km – all inside 3:00.
(pm) 40 minutes recovery jog.

» Wednesday
(am) 35 minutes easy plus gym work (circuit session).
(pm) 35 minutes easy.

» Thursday
(am) 25 minutes drills, technical drills working on leg speed and skill then 6x60m strides.
(pm) 3 sets of 8x150m in 23 seconds with 27 seconds recovery and five minutes between sets. 35 minutes cool-down.

» Friday
40 minutes easy.

» Saturday
25 minutes easy.

» Sunday
(am) 15 minutes easy.
(pm) Cross-country race in France. Travel back that night.

» Monday
80 minutes very easy jog.

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