Ioannis Dagoglou is an accomplished, professional coach, with a Ph.D in training for endurance races. He coaches athletes participating in all kinds of endurance races, starting from 5 & 10 K track and field, up to marathon, ultra and mountain running races. Among his athletes is the 23 years old Greek marathon champion Sofia Riga (2:41:37) and one of the best road-ultra Greek runners, Stergios Anastasiadis (first finisher among Greek athletes at Spartathlon 2012). He often contributes with training related articles at Advendure and he was also the main speaker at two mountain running seminars that took place during 2013 in Metsovo. Our discussion consists of four parts – ultra races, mountain running, marathon and general issues – in order for everyone to quickly find and read his specific topic of interest.
Ultra distances and races ...
[Advendure]: One of the “hottest” topics regarding the training period for an ultra race – road or mountain – is the need for speed training. As you may recall, we have published an interesting article at Advendure, regarding a “debate” between two of the most experienced ultra athletes worldwide, but we would like to listen your point of view regarding this critical issue.
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: I believe that speed training sessions are necessary when preparing for an ultra race, but the key point is when to put them in your schedule. Therefore scheduling is very critical for the effectiveness of speed training. An ultra runner must work for improving his marathon speed, and he/she must do that during a period which is far away from his target ultra race. By improving his marathon speed he/she will have better recovery between training days for his future race and much higher speed during the ultra race. So, it is important to incorporate speed training but not close to the ultra race, no matter if it is a mountain or road race.
[Advendure]: One issue that concerns everyone who runs on ultra races is the food intake during the race. We recently published an article of yours at Advendure regarding this issue, but we’re asking you to analyze it a little bit more, especially at important points that the athlete needs to pay more attention. What proportion of electrolytes and carbohydrates are appropriate in different cases?
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: As you rightly mention this is determined according to the occasion. Weather is an important factor that largely determines the carbohydrate and electrolytes concentration and proportion, as well as the duration of the race. The longer the race, the slower is the rate, but on the other hand the rate of absorption of carbohydrates from the stomach of the athlete is higher. So taking in general the above mentioned elements, we design the athlete’s food intake taking into consideration the characteristics of each race.
[Advendure]: We’re staying at the food intake issue during ultra races. Some athletes consume real food during their ultra races, but others rely almost 100% at energy products like gels & power bars; products that provide immediate absorption. Of course every athlete has its own way, based on his experience, and also the speed and goals are not the same for everyone, but we want to know more about your approach.
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: As for the food intake that you mention, the individual element plays a role, and every athlete consumes what he/she considers that is helping more. But, even the elite ultra athletes have a specific range of food from which they choose what to eat depending on the occasion. My philosophy is that of complete autonomy in the food intake of my athletes during races - regardless of what is offered by each organizer - by using the suitable “food intake plan” before the race and by giving great attention to the weather conditions during the race, as a determinant part of the planning procedure.
[Advendure]: Let's just concentrate on the preparation for a demanding ultra race, and let us take for example the Spartathlon. I know that your approach is that the athlete must initially improve his performance at the marathon distance, and then work on his endurance skills during his preparation, in order to run the race. Give us an analysis of this interesting approach.
Alexander the Great” marathon in Thessaloniki, where Stergios improved his marathon record by 7+ minutes. This kind of improvement means that a Spartathlon athlete that runs 6 consecutive marathons will have a 45+ minutes gain! He will be able to move in much higher speed during the longer distance of Spartathlon, because his training consists of run sessions similar to those of a marathon athlete, with the exception of some longer runs. Looking at the issue from the physiology aspects, he will be able to recover faster after these longer runs. Especially for Spartathlon, the improved marathon time will allow him to run easier during the first 82 km with the harder cut-off times, without significant pressure, and that’s very important for the rest of the race. The importance of this method was demonstrated during the “Euchidios Athlos” ultra race, where Stergios finished in the first position with more than 45 minutes distance from the second athlete and by improving his race personal record by 2+ hours![Ioannis Dagoglou]: This is more or less the exact point I addressed at your first question. The basic speed of a Spartathlon athlete is his marathon speed. Let’s take as an example one of my athletes, Stergios Anastasiadis (i.e. the first finisher among the Greek athletes at Spartathlon 2012). Our initial goal was the “
[Advendure]: Do you believe that in the current amateur level of ultrarunning and mountain running it’s possible for an athlete to participate in 3-4 ultra races every year without long-term consequences on his health? What is the required training and recovery protocol between races in order to be able to recover efficiently and to have a minimum level of physical decay?
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: Nature itself puts rules and protocols and we only have to obey to them. Human physiology states that we need 4-6 weeks in order to recover from a long running effort as an ultra race, but I have not met someone in Greece that follows the rule! As a result we have accumulated fatigue that may lead to problems in the long term, essentially skeletal and at the tendon joints and ligaments; problems that may have health consequences for the athlete.
[Advendure]: One point of controversy and debate when it comes to training issues is the length of long runs when preparing for ultra races. There are athletes that run during single long runs kilometers close to those of the target ultra race, and others that never exceed 5-6 hours during any of their runs. What is your opinion regarding this topic?
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: I agree more with the second approach. As we have already discussed, the training period and practice of an ultra runner is not very different from that of the marathon runner. You don’t have to cover an ultra distance during your training in order to be sure that you’ll finish your ultra race! For me is just a sign of insecurity and it has nothing to offer in terms of coaching, only testing the food intake for the race and psychological adjustment to the requirements of the ultra race.
Mountain Running ...
[Advendure]: You have great experience in the field of endurance races in track & field and asphalt roads, but you also know mountain running. How do you see the developments in mountain running and if you believe that we are in the right and “healthy” development path for the sport in Greece. You see the need for improving some things and if so where we have to focus?
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: As it happens in almost all things, quantity usually happens at the expense of quality. What I mean is this: There is a huge boom in the field of mountain running, both in athletes running in races and at the number of races. But I have some scepticism when I see athletes that are very “young” in terms of athletic life to try very quickly to participate in mountain races without having the minimum capabilities required for the very demanding mountain conditions. On the other hand, lots of new races springing continuously, in irrelevant times, based only in the “madness” of some people who put their desires above their ability to organize a mountain race. This whole scene can easily be a brake for the mountain running as a sport, and of course you must not forget that in this case the primary concern on all sides must be safety!
[Advendure]: You have already participated as a keynote speaker in two mountain running seminars in our country, either during races weekend or conferences. How do you see this institution, and if this effort must keep on and how…
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: I believe that this institution of mountain running seminars must keep on, probably under the umbrella of big mountain races. As I have found, there is a significant thirst for knowledge from young athletes in the field of mountain running, but also there is lack of knowledge and information on key elements related to coaching, tactics and food intake in mountain races. It is the duty of all people that involved in mountain running as an activity to help in raising the knowledge level of the participants.
[Advendure]: Endurance running on asphalt roads, track & field or in the mountains. What are the similar elements and their biggest differences? What is the appropriate and more effective way for an athlete when he decides to switch between them?
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: As I have said many times, coaching is the same for all these activities and you have only to isolate the most important elements of each one, and focus the training on them. Moreover, some of these elements have already cultivated – possibly to a lesser extent – during his previous running activity, but you need to pay more attention to them from the moment you decided to switch to another running activity. I believe this is the right philosophy for an easier and more effective switch from one running activity to another.
The Marathon ...
[Advendure]: I think it would be very interesting to tell us a few words about the physiology and racing differences between men and women marathon athletes. Does the athlete’s physical level play a role to these differences?
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: There are differences between men and women marathon athletes, and it is a fact that at the elite level may reach a 10-15 % at the duration of the race (finishing time). We can assume that by observing the best runners list at the end of each racing year. This affects the training procedure for men and women separately, due to the differences between them.
The first and most important difference is that there is a greater difference between the time required by a runner to run a half marathon and him running a marathon. In women this difference is even greater, and the cause is that for women both distances (half marathon and marathon) last longer. The second difference is the amount of lactic acid in the athlete’s blood at the marathon speed. This amount is lower in women. The difference in lactate concentration may reach 10-20 %.
Another important element that differentiates women is the decrease in marathon speed in relation with their individual half marathon record, which is 5-6.5 % in women, as compared to men where it is 4-5 %. So, this specific speed drop in women is 25-30 % more compared to men!
All these facts have as a result a change in the methodology of training when it comes to women, compared to the practice we use for male runners. First of all we need to focus more on women power endurance, a point that women always need improvement. Secondly, the slow long runs quickly stop having practical results for women, in contrast to what happen to men where it continues to be an effective stimulus, and for this reason we coaching women to raise their intensity and speed during the long runs by performing them in moderate intensity.
The “special endurance” workout sessions with an intensity character and extensive aerobic power are the most important for improving the performance, taking into consideration that the women marathoner needs a lower aerobic base for improvement at sub maximal intensity efforts like the marathon distance. Finally, for the women marathoner – given the lower maximum oxygen intake – the training sessions for improving the maximum aerobic power and lactate resistance parameters usually considered complementary tools that target to lower power aerobic endurance.
In practice, the coach works with women marathoners by using the methodological point of view of a runner with slow times at shorter distances and as we say with an “endurance athlete type with bad times in shorter distances and small difference between his half marathon and marathon times”.
[Advendure]: Is it true that the Athens Classic Marathon course is the most difficult in the world? What exactly contributes to this reputation and how a well trained runner will be able to manage in the best possible way these difficulties?
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: There is a myth about the Athens Classic Marathon course that it is the most difficult in the world. It is not difficult; at least so much as they use to say. I would call it peculiar because, due to the continuous change of scenery with the uphill and downhill sections is difficult for the runner to keep a steady pace and ends up with fatigue that causes great strain on the musculoskeletal systems during the last downhill kilometers, with bad results for the runner. Many runnerstry to keep the same pace at the uphill section as with the early flat parts, leading to arrive without energy at the final downhill section. Besides, what exactly is the marathon race? A procedure of managing our bodies’ energy!
So an effective tactic for the runner would be to try to ''control'' the slower pace without much effort on uphill sections (especially from 20 to 30 kilometer of the course), losing 5'' to 10'' per kilometer depending on his running pace, and gain the lost time and even more in the downhill sections that he will run faster since with the same energy consumption - due to running downhill - he will move with 10-15'' per kilometer faster, with a clear benefit of several minutes at his finishing time and with less stress on his body!
[Advendure]: We have many years to see top performances in the marathon distance - at international level – from Greek athletes, comparing of course with the big names of the past. Why do you think this is happening and how it could be corrected, given the fact that Greece is the birthplace of the marathon and it’s a shame not to have top performances by Greek athletes?
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: This fact that you correctly observe happens because in Greece we have a very low level in endurance running in general. Our current level is equivalent to the level existed on the international scene during the 50s and 60s, and nowadays can be compared only with that of women marathoners. The marathon distance could not be an exception. Moreover, we must always remember that the good marathoner must have sufficient times at the track & field endurance races (5 and 10 kilometers), which determine his speed.
General running and racing issues ...
[Advendure]: A marathon or even an ultra, is actually a speed or endurance race?
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: I like this question. Actually it's a puzzle question that I put to anyone who asks me about training! From the moment a runner puts a timer in his race - says e.g. I did a 40 km race in 4 hours - it's a speed race because he managed to run with 10 kilometers per hour. On the other hand, if his objective is simply to finish the race irrespective of time, then this is endurance because he managed to go the distance and reach the finish line!
[Advendure]: We have seen recently a very strong article of yours regarding SEGAS (the Greek Athletics Federation) operation; an article that raised a heavy debate (rightly we believe as Advendure). On the other hand we read articles presenting the way that other countries (i.e. like Italy) currently develop athletics for their younger athletes, at a Championship level of course. On mountain running there are efforts – purely private – like the 2013 Salomon Youth Championship program that we supported actively as Advendure, showing that there is some activity for the young athletes. What do you think about the younger athletes future in Greece and what should be done from here?
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: With the economic crisis in our country it is difficult to have an organized state support for young athletes, so efforts like the one that you mention are very important and I wish to find imitators. However, there is a lack of expertise both at the organizational and coaching level and at this point exactly is where more weight must be given, so that we provide a way out from the dead-ends of our days for the youth and to provide a reservoir from which tomorrow's champions will emerge.
[Advendure]: The last couple of years we observe – apart from the rapid increase of people who run and participate in races of all kinds and distances, a large increase of running "coaches". As a professional coach, having also and Ph.D in the field of endurance running, how do you see this "explosion"? What requirements must be met? And yet, is it necessary for a runner to have a coach and when?
[Ioannis Dagoglou]: Let's start with the latter. Even for a coach is hard to work out himself, because what someone observes from the outside can not be easily evaluated and possibly be corrected. Nowadays, with the huge free access to knowledge and information thanks to the Internet, learning basic principles about coaching is easy, but from this point to the state where someone declares to be ready to provide coaching services in order to coaching others there is a big difference. I'm not saying that there are not good coaches who have not received proper education and studies, but unfortunately I do not speak about Greeks!
Photo ©: Michalis Anagnostopoulos, Scott Mason, Athens Classic Marathon, Spartathlon