Alex Ferguson finds out how the Olympian and Paralympian middle-distance runners train together
Hannah England says that during a training week she “sometimes feels like training partner Dean Miller’s mum!” However, she admits: “it’s good to have someone else in the group competing at the same level and aiming as high as I am.”
Miller, a sixth-place finisher in the T37 class at the IPC World Championships, believes that the partnership works well and says: “We both have our strengths and weaknesses”. He highlights that he thrives in the tempo and endurance sessions in the winter, whereas in the summer “it’s me trying to hang on to Hannah.”
Under the watchful eye of Bud Baldaro, their training group is made up mostly of female athletes, but this doesn’t faze Miller, who jests: “I’ve been getting beaten by girls for a good amount of time.”
Instead he cites England as a big inspiration for making the transition from being out of the medals to putting himself in contention at major championships. “Seeing how successful Hannah is, makes me think I’m doing the right training and it will come good for me because she is doing so well off it,” he says. “I know it’s only a matter of time before I can make that jump forward and get medals at senior championships.”
In a typical winter week, Miller and England run around 65 miles, doubling up to two sessions six days a week and that drops to around 40-45 miles in the summer once the outdoor season starts or further if there is an important race coming up.
To start the week, the duo run an easy four miles in about 30 minutes before an evening session, which is a faster, progressive run of seven miles. Tuesday’s morning session follows in the same vein as Monday, before the Birmingham-based athletes join the university group for an 8km interval session focusing on cross-country repetitions. One example involves eight repetitions lasting three minutes with a minute recovery in between.
Depending on how they both feel following Tuesday evening’s session, they head out for an easy eight-mile run at 7:45 pace on Wednesday morning before a weights session in the evening. However, this is where their programme differs. Miller, who has cerebral palsy (CP) has a tailored weights routine to ensure that his strength is improved on both sides of his body. He says: “Hannah does weights on a Monday and Wednesday and I do Wednesday and Sunday, but because of the weaknesses with my disability a lot of the exercises are tweaked to suit me.
“For instance, I don’t do squats because of my balance. I focus more on leg press so I’m still working on the same muscles and able to get just as much weight from it, but without putting the strain of losing my balance. I do single and double-leg press. My double is 60kg and three sets of eight. On single-leg press I don’t do that much because of the weakness on my left side – I do the same on both legs so I’m not working my good side and getting it much stronger. I do 20kg on both, but I find that really challenging on my left side, particularly because of my CP and it’s good to isolate it because if I just do doubles I find that my right leg is doing most of the work. If I isolate my left side then it’s getting some work through it.”
England’s weights routine focuses more on Olympic lifting, while Miller looks to off set the power loss caused by his CP through specific drills. He explains: “I start all my weights sessions by going through all my drills because I think they are even more specific and important for someone with CP based around coordination and trying to correct the weaknesses in my running gait, which is the thing that loses me the most time.
“For example, instead of doing a standard step-up I do it holding on to a bar to keep my balance and I also use a weighted jacket with weights attached to me. The jacket is about 15kg but recently I progressed it to another 30kg attached to load weight through my back and the rest of my body.”
On Thursday mornings, the Olympian and Paralympian join forces to run around 20-30 minutes, built up in 3x10min/2×12 min or 20min straight at 5:30 pace. Miller adds that he is trying to increase to longer tempos with not as many breaks as the longer distances suit the 24-year-old more.
Thursday afternoons are based around shorter distances of 200m with six to eight repetitions. England explains: “The idea is to stay in touch with speed all winter and get a bit faster. It’s traditional to neglect speed and try and work on it in April. Bud is of the mindset that if you leave it until then, you’re potentially opening yourself up to injuries.”
They add 60m-80m sprints from time to time, but as middle-distance specialists, the 26-year-old says that their short bursts are often laughed at by the sprinters. While Miller openly admits that he’s “het up” about the fact he’s not that quick, he uses Hannah’s 1500m pace when focusing on his 800m.
England explains: “Sometimes we tweak it so if Dean wants to do an 800m session, I can aim for a specific 1500m session where he can do every other rep.” Miller adds: “This transforms the session into an 800m pace session and gives me a little bit more speed, which worked well during altitude training in Font Romeu.”
Altitude training forms a large part of their winter training. They are frequent visitors to the British Athletics/Virgin London Marathon Altitude Training Camp in Iten, Kenya, but with a relatively quiet year ahead, the duo are heading to Florida for a three-week camp.
England emphasises: “Both Dean and I struggle in Kenya with the altitude and terrain. With it being a relatively down year, it’s a chance to try something different and take away the altitude. Altitude is great in a number of ways, but you do compromise on the quality of running you can do and the speed work. We might be sacrificing the altitude by going to Florida, but we’ll be able to run our tempos a bit faster and get the muscle memory of doing our speed work on the track.”
Miller adds: “I get overly stressed about not being able to run quick enough because I know I struggle with my speed. I love Kenya, but the main reason for me going to Florida is to run quick and not worry about not being able to because of the altitude. The terrain in Kenya isn’t always the best. I went out with a bit of a niggle in January and with my gait, it made it really difficult to train and get over it.”
Winter training also throws up another problem for Miller – not with his speed, but his balance. He explains: “The main thing with my CP is if it’s muddy during the winter, my balance is awful. It’s very rare that it’s too muddy for me to train – I’ll just get stuck in and accept that I’m going to be a little bit down.”
England adds: “We’ll compromise sometimes and if it’s really muddy, we’ll go on a run that doesn’t involve much mud. I would never insist on training somewhere muddy if I’m with Dean because I know it’s of no use to him.”
Miller also explains that his CP is exacerbated when he’s tired. “It comes out more when I’m fatigued. I did a VO2max test the other day to see where I was in terms of my fitness. As I’ve got years of mileage and strength built up, I’m really comfortable running distance, but when it gets a bit more intense with the CP, it’s about holding my form. If my form does go, I normally find that goes instantly and all of a sudden I’m going backwards.”
Friday’s session is either an easy 30-minute run or a rest day, before going on to another cross-country session on the Saturday, which involves six-minute tempo followed by 8x35sec hills repeated twice before finishing with a three-minute tempo. They finish the day with another easy 30-minute run in the evening before a 70-minute long run on a Sunday morning. The week finishes with another trip to the gym to focus on weights, core and drills.
While a core component of their success is training hard and wise, the pair are quick to highlight the crucial role Baldaro plays in making sure that they are competitive in the summer season. “Bud is the best motivator more than anything, and I think as a result of the success we’ve had, it’s made him open up from being more of a cross-country coach. I think he’d be the first to admit he’s open to change and if you say you don’t agree with something, he’ll sit down and talk about it. It’s not ‘his way or no way’, so that’s what makes him such a good coach,” says Miller.
England adds: “Bud is really good at searching out other ideas and pushing us for things we want to bring to the group. He’s got a really good ability for bringing things together and complementing it all, because he knows how we’ll respond to it.”
TYPICAL WINTER TRAINING WEEK FOR HANNAH ENGLAND AND DEAN MILLER
Monday: (am) 30min easy (4 miles). (pm) 45min decent pace (7 miles), strides and drills.
Tuesday: (am) 30min easy (4 miles). (pm) Interval session with group (on grass) such as: 8x3min oﬀ 60sec rec.
Wednesday: (am) 60min steady (8 miles). (pm) Weights, drills, core.
Thursday: (am) Tempo session such as: 2x12min. (pm) Fast, short track session, with drills such as 6x150m oﬀ 2min.
Friday: Rest or easy 35min (5 miles).
Saturday: (am) Typically hillwork such as: 6min tempo, 8x35sec hill, 6min tempo, 8x35sec hill, 3min tempo. (pm) 30min easy.
Sunday: (am) 70min – pace dependent on feel (10 miles). (pm) Weights, core and drills.
» The above sessions are specific to the individual athletes and may not be suitable for other athletes
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