British 400m runner is building strength and sleeping in an altitude tent this winter in an attempt to win a medal at London 2012
Martyn Rooney reached the 2008 Olympic 400m final in Beijing as a 21-year-old, just four years after starting to train for the event. “I came from a middle-distance background,” he says. “I was always fast, but I started off at 800m and 1500m and cross-country. I had a go at all the field events too and loved sportshall athletics.”
This year, though, he is determined to go one step further and win an Olympic medal. He is doing everything in his power to make sure he will stand on the start line for the 400m final in the best shape of his life. “I’m driven to achieve at the Olympics and I’ll be going there to win a medal and I’ve got to do whatever it takes,” he added. “If that means sacrificing everything else that goes around it, then that is just a necessary thing to do.”
Now aged 24, he has opted to sleep in an altitude tent as part of his preparations for the London Olympics. “I’m in there for the basic reason of gaining more red blood cells,” he says. “The basic theory is that the more red blood cells I have, the better I will recover during sessions and therefore be able to train harder.”
Altitude tents are often seen as an advantage to endurance athletes rather than sprinters, but this does not put off the optimistic athlete and he emphasises: “As I’m not an endurance runner, the benefits in reality are tiny, but hopefully enough to make a one per cent difference, which is enough. It also stops me from having some kind of a social life!”
Beijing was somewhat of a breakthrough for Rooney, as previously he had only competed once in a senior global competition – at the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Osaka, Japan, where he failed to make it out of the heats, finishing fourth. Looking back at the 2008 Olympics, he recalls: “Firstly, to make the Olympics was an honour. My whole aim leading into the season was to make the final, which was great. However, I made the mistake of making that my end goal. I wasn’t nervous enough going into the final and the adrenaline wasn’t there to compete properly, so sixth place wasn’t bad, but I should have come home with a bronze medal and I didn’t realise how emotional I would be after the race.”
Last year’s World Championships in Daegu were an enormous disappointment for the Loughborough-based athlete, one which he can only describe as “embarrassing” (finishing seventh in his semi-final). “Quite simply I wasn’t fit enough,” he says, looking back on his race. “The speed work we had done that year really took away from my strength and I wasn’t able to cope with running rounds.”
Since then the Nick Dakin-coached athlete has made big changes in his bid for an Olympic medal and he hopes that his undoubted ability will shine through when it matters. “Last year we played with some focused speed work and technique, which although made me a faster 200m runner, I didn’t feel it benefited me as a 400m runner,” he says. “I need to focus on strength and the speed will come from simply being fit.”
As well as his endurance, Rooney has worked on improving his general conditioning after he suffered a large tendon tear to the top of his left hamstring in April 2009. “I’ve really had to step up my general conditioning so that I offoad that injury site as much as possible because it is more susceptible to little tears than beforehand,” he adds.
His preparations for 2012 are well under way and, after starting the year in Stellenbosch, South Africa, on the UKA training camp, the injury-free sprinter is looking forward to the rest of this big season and will be training in Irvine, California, over Easter.
“I’ve got a big summer ahead of me,” he said. “The goal is to win an Olympic medal and I can’t be distracted. I’m doing something that I love. Athletics is my life and the ups and downs are part of that. Winning is addictive and it makes all the pain worthwhile.”
Rooney is also optimistic of finally breaking his 400m personal best. “Every athlete wants to run personal bests and I need one more than most – mine is still standing from 2008,” he says. “If injury free, I know I can run sub-44.”
Average week in winter
(am) Speed drills. General technique drills for sprinting, working on posture, ground contact, bounding and arm carriage, plus 20-30 minute cardiovascular run.
(pm) Team Dakin circuits: consist of general conditioning exercises – pressups, sit-ups, ab roll-outs, ball throws.
(am) Lactic tolerance session: 6x300m – broken up into 3x300m with a three-minute recovery and 10-minute recovery between sets.
(pm) Calf, quad, hamstring loading in the gym. Including an abs circuit and stretching session, plus 20-minute aqua jog.
(am) Weights including half-squat, single-leg squats, push press, cleans, dead lifts, snatch, dumb bell snatch, step-ups, dumb bell bench and lat pull-downs. The repetitions and sets of these exercises change during the season, increasing and decreasing in reps, sets and recovery. In the winter 6×5-10 on each exercise, with two to four minutes’ rest. During the spring and summer, more dynamic explosive lifting, doing 3×3 on most of the exercises with up to five minutes’ recovery. Lifting up to 100kg in cleans. Squats – 150kg. Step-ups – up to 90kg.
(pm) Maintenance treatment (massage or acupuncture, just depends on how body is coping).
(am) Cardiovascular-type running session: 4×3 minutes with a four-minute recovery.
(pm) Rudi* drills: aimed at posture and flexibility. The aim is to improve body control while working on flexibility and range of movement (set by Fuzz Ahmed). These include ankle rolls, high-knee hugs, high-knee walking concentrating on arm technique, moving glute stretch, moving hamstring stretch, toe-walking, side skipping. Hamstring loading.
(am) Weights (as above) plus abs circuit and a stretching session.
(pm) Maintenance treatment.
(am) Team Dakin fartlek 25-45 minutes plus calf conditioning.
*Rudi drills are named after a coach in Birmingham whom jumps coach Fuzz Ahmed has worked with
Average week in summer
Travel back from race.
(am) Speed drills (as winter) plus 20-minute jog.
(pm) Maintenance treatment.
(am) Intense session: 2x350m with 20-minute recovery if early in the season, or 4x120m with walk-back recovery if later in the season.
(pm) Abs circuit plus treatment if needed.
(am) Weights (as winter but with fewer reps and higher intensity).
(pm) Abs circuit plus strides.
Blocks around the bend establishing race rhythm for the first 150m. Two with full recovery if going well, and more if race pace has not been established. Bend sprints are done to find a race pace and ingrain it into the body so it becomes natural in a race. Light abs workout.
Travel to race plus light 10-20 minutes jog (most races are abroad).