In one of Britain’s most competitive events, the men’s 400m hurdles, Nathan Woodward is striving to make his mark
Nathan Woodward had a major breakthrough in 2011, significantly improving his personal bests over 400m (46.82) and 400m hurdles (48.71), the latter moving him to seventh on the UK all-time list. The year was a good one, taking a silver medal at the European Under-23 Championships in Ostrava, as well as making the semi-finals at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu.
However a few years previously, some people would have thought it was impossible for Woodward to be so successful. “When I told people that I was going to give 400m hurdles a go, the reactions I got were quite funny,” he says. “Some even laughed and said I should stick with the 800m – but this increased my desire to succeed.”
He was a flourishing 800m runner for the first four years of his athletics career, placing sixth at the 2004 English Schools Championships in Gateshead. After moving up an age group to under-17 he realised there was a new event he could try – he has never looked back since.
His performance in Ostrava marked a sensational breakthrough for the Nick Dakin-coached athlete, and the silver medal was a long time coming for the rising star, especially as 2009 and 2010 did not quite go as well as planned. “In 2009 I was in great shape,” he explained. “I opened up the season with 50.4 quite early on and believed I was in shape to run a lot faster, but I tore my hamstring in two places in my third competition and the season was over me.”
In 2010, after a disappointing European Championships (fourth in the semi-final), he suffered with Pericarditis which is an inflammation of the fibrous sac surrounding the heart. This caused him to pull out of the Commonwealth Games.
Undeterred from those disappointing and frustrating two years, he kept positive. “You just have to think of the bigger picture and think long-term and the goals I want to achieve when I’m back running 100 per cent,” he said.
This positive outlook paid off and he was rewarded with his silver medal, even though he was frustrated in coming short of victory (Jack Green took gold in 49.13 to Woodward’s 49.28). He explains: “I was disappointed. The build-up was great, my coach did an excellent job in making sure I was ready for it. I was really happy with how I ran the rounds. In the final however, I think there were a few things I could have changed.”
He hit the final hurdle which ultimately cost him the race. He adds: “I should have really attacked and drove into the last two hurdles. I couldn’t help but feel I could only blame myself for hitting that last hurdle the way I did, but I learnt a lot from it, and there are some things you just have to learn the hard way.”
Woodward is now targeting the outdoor season and the Olympics in London, although he realises it won’t be made easy for him. With rivals like world champion Dai Greene in mind, he explains: “My aim is to first make the team, the event is so strong in the UK at the moment – the trials will be really exciting.”
He feels that his experience at the World Championships last year will give him an advantage over his competitors this season. “I was bitterly disappointed in not making the final, especially when seeing the times that did make it through and also where I was in the home-straight. Looking back though, I gained much from the experience and have come out of them a much better athlete than I went in. Despite not making the final, it allowed me to realise a few things and to update my goals coming into 2012.”
Woodward is already well underway with this year’s preparations. He says: “It’s a great chance to get away and focus on training, and to train in the heat which enables me to train faster and at a higher intensity. I can also do more hurdle sessions and race specific sessions.”
The big aim for 2012 is to make the Olympic final, as he explains: “Myself and Nick (Dakin) know what we need to change in order to improve my various weaknesses. My stride pattern and energy distribution throughout the race are the things that will probably have the biggest influence on my improvement for this year and hopefully with these I can progress through the rounds and hopefully make the final.”
Still only 22, Woodward is one to watch over the next few years. He adds positively: “I hope to become an athlete who’s competitive on the world stage, fighting for medals at the major championships. When the next Olympics come around in 2016 I will be 26 which is a great age for 400m hurdles – so who knows?”
Typical week in winter:
(am) Hurdle drills and hurdle rhythm work. Hurdle drills consist of step-over the hurdles which help to work on the controlled movement of the hurdle technique, alternating between over the middle and also sideways. These are also done with a medicine ball. Hurdle rhythm work consists of placing the hurdles at specific spaces to balance stride and frequency and this helps to improve race pace and rhythm during a race.
Track session: 6x300m – broken up into 3x300m with a 3min recovery and 10min between the sets.
(am) Weights – including cleans, bench press and squats. The repetitions and sets of these exercises consistently change during the season – increasing and decreasing in reps, sets and recovery. Weights session example: Cleans 5×3 sets lifting between 85100kg. Bench 10×3 lifting 70-85kg. Squats – reps of 10 decreasing to 5. Recovery of 1-2min between sets.
(pm) 20min on bike at tempo pace.
Grass session: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 minutes with equal work/ rest ratio.
Weights as Wednesday or: Plyometrics. These are phased in and out during the winter. A typical session would be box jumps of 4 sets x 5. Tuck jumps, split jumps and bunny hops on the high jump bed: 3 sets x 10 with a 1 minute recovery between sets.
Fartlek: 45 minutes on some weeks.
Typical week in summer:
Rest or a recovery aqua jog if competition the previous day or:
(am) Hurdle drills (as winter).
(pm) Light circuits.
Track session or speed work: 3x300m fast with a 6min recovery or: From start to hurdle five rep session.
Weights: As previous but less reps and heavier weights.
Grass session or block practice. A typical grass workout in the summer would typically involve 4×75 second reps
Rest or race.
The week before the 2011 World Championships:
Hurdle drills and light weights.
Race type hurdle session. From start to hurdle seven.
Warm-up jog, stretch, drills and cool-down jog.
Light hurdle drills with no weights.
Rest (race next day)