Dr. Steve Peters shares training secret: Just speed it

Dr. Steve Peters is the British version of Bill Collins. In other words, he smashes records and rarely is beaten. At the Riccione world masters championships in September, Steve will run the M50 100, 200 and 400 (with entry times of 11.5, 23.1 and 53.0). He’s a good bet to sweep. That much is known. But even though I met Dr. Peters at 1999 Gateshead WAVA (in a 200 heat when I offered to swap lanes with him — he was in 1 and me in 4), I didn’t know much about him. That changed recently. Pete Mulholland, the masters editor of Running Fitness magazine, has written a wonderful profile of Steve. The article below comes from the July issue.

Mind over matter
Pete Mulholland meets up with Steve Peters and shares the ‘secrets’ of his success
There are not many athletes who could put aside 30 minutes during a training session for an interview, but that didn’t prove a problem for Dr. Steve Peters, as that amount of time coincided with his interval between repetitions.
Peters appears to have thrown all of the traditional sprint training manuals ‘out of the window’ with his speed-based sessions covering a maximum of 1200m — and that includes his warm-up.
A signal failure at Lichfield meant that this writer missed out witnessing his warm-up for the session at the chilly surroundings of the Longford Park track in Stretford; home of Trafford AC.
A 400m jog — “anything over 400 and I would need oxygen,” admits Peters — followed by 10 minutes of stretching and a few leg lifts is deemed to be sufficient preparation for 4x100m intervals; each one increasing in speed. “I consider the intervals in of the session as the real warm-up,” he confesses.
The initial 100m today was timed at 15sec with the final effort taking just 11.7sec.before a break of 30 minutes takes place. “That wasn’t so good, as I ran 11.4 in the session last week” said Peters.
The final part of the session is a hard run over 300m or 400m. “This is not fixed as weather conditions and fitness levels play their part in the distance chosen.”
Be it 300m or 400m, each 100m segment is timed, with today’s 400m showing splits of 12.8sec, 13.8sec, 14.3sec and 15.2sec.
“I often run what I call kamikaze 300s where I go flat out for 100m and 200m and hanging in.” Peters explains. “I aim to get down to 36 (seconds) before moving up to 400m when I ease down by two seconds. I can then pass 300m in 38sec feeling relatively fresh.”
Sessions similar to this one take place three times each week with time spent actually running, being between three and six minutes every week. “I know it sounds bizarre but it works for me,” says Peters. “It develops the fast twitch fibres and it’s also quality not quantity that matters.”
Peters is willing to share the methods that has led him to arguably being the finest exponent of sprinting on the current masters’ scene, with a personal haul of national and international titles and records credited to him, if proof of this be needed.
Previous to his fall on the bend of the Lee Valley track at the British Masters Indoor Championships earlier this year; Peters had an unbeaten record stretching back to the World Masters at Brisbane in 2001, when calf problems were incurred.
The sole training partner with Peters today is Francis Scott, although at times anyone of seven athletes may take part in the session. Living close by to the Stretford track, the Trafford AC Life Member is just one athlete taking advantage of what Peters has to offer in terms of advice.
Scott won M40 silver at the 1999 World Championships in Gateshead, but since those days has incurred major illness problems.
“I won two European relay gold medals at Poznan,” says Scott, “but I’ve been told since, that relay medals are rubbish!”
It was at Poznan that Scott first met up with Peters and since then has seen a vast improvement both in training and competition. “Let’s just learn to do it (sprinting),” was Peters opening proposition.
And that is just what Scott has been doing, not only in how to train but also the mental side of competition.
“Now, instead of running around like a headless chicken before races,” admits Scott, “we (Peters) discuss race strategies. I now have a different mindset going into competition. What has been done in training tells me what I can expect in competition.”
The European Indoor Championships at Helsinki were, in Scott’s words, “Just a marker to see how I was going and I ran virtually my best times, indoors or out.”
All of these training sessions are minutely logged with charts showing not only what level a particular athlete is at any stage but also where he stands in relation to a specific targeted event, e.g. the World Masters Championships.
Such is Scott’s belief in his newly discovered training methods, he now uses them with the young athletes he coaches at Stretford and one of his charges, U15-girl Emma Cullen came away with a winning 100m/200m double at the recent Greater Manchester Championships.
In teaming up with Peters, Scott is benefiting from first-hand knowledge that is currently assisting cycling in becoming Britain’s most successful sport. With a record haul at of seven gold medals at the recent World Championships, high hopes in the lead up to Beijing 2008 and London 2012, are now being entertained.
Peters’ original studies earned him a degree in mathematics at Stirling University but after a spell in teaching he attended London University to study medicine. This led to being an Undergraduate Dean at Sheffield University, a position he still holds.
In 1993 he began working at the high security Rampton Hospital, one of Britain’s major mental institutions. “I worked on the personality disorders on some of the inmates,” said Peters.
“To understand mental illness you have to understand the psychology of the human being and the dynamics of the human personality: that’s what I specialised in.
“In 2001, one of my former medical students, Roger Palfreeman, was the medical doctor for British Cycling and he requested help for one of the team members with the aim of changing or helping with their personality for competitive purposes.
“It was successful and it snowballed after that,” admitted Peters,” and after helping them (British Cycling) now and again, in 2003 they asked me to work for them full time. I didn’t want to go full time initially but in 2005, I left Rampton and came on board.
“While British Cycling pay my wages I help out a lot at the English Institute of Sport in Manchester and with them have become involved in 12 other sports.
“My boss at British Cycling is their Performance Director Dave Brailsord and he’s brilliant to work for. I couldn’t ask for a better boss. The two of us two plus Chris Boardman and Shane Sutton all work as a team and are all tuned in. That is why we are so successful.”
Frequently asked to speak on the subject of human nature and human dynamics, Peters’ task is to give athletes the weapons mentally to compete and train.
“That’s what I do,” he admits. “It’s a bit like a MoT on peoples’ minds. Find out what bits are not working: sort them out and off they go. It could be anything from motivational or training problems or competition strategy.”
“I explain to the cyclists how their brain works and get them to recognise when they are using parts which are not advantageous to them and get them to tune into controlling it.
“It’s trying to reconstruct the personality and tap into the strengths within your own brain to contain the bits that have been hijacking you without you realising it.”
Peters is not amiss to giving advice to his fellow competitors. Some get really anxious and I say ‘stop’ and then go through it with them. Calm them down, for after all, athletics should be fun but serious when you compete.”
As Scott adds, “It’s the mental bit that’s the hardest not the training. It’s knowing when and how to focus.”
Being focussed is an art form personified by Peters during his immediate pre-race preparations and at the start line of any competition, be it major or minor.
Frustration is the word that enters Peters’ vocabulary when it comes to Britain’s elite athletes. “There’s a lot that could be offered and it’s a shame that they don’t do similar work. When you hear them being interviewed, you think, ‘they are saying the wrong things’. To get an optimum performance, that’s not what they should be doing or saying.”
Criticism of individuals from other sports is not a path Peters take, but when discussion turned to UKA Performance Director Dave Collins and his infamous ‘marks-ou-of-10’ at the World Championships, his only comment was,” that’s not my style.”
Peters, who only came into athletics seriously at the age of 41, has no thoughts of retirement as he fast approached the M55 category. “I’ll compete ‘til ever and it’s still fun.”

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July 8, 2007

4 Responses

  1. saladin allah - July 9, 2007

    Couldn’t agree more on your reasoning. Practice speed, and keep it minimal. Some are afraid to mimic race speeds…..but we must, to stay fast longer.
    To bridge the gap between my events (400-800), I’ve applied over the last 5-6 yrs the Horwillian philosophy of training-being able to run at a variety of speeds. No doubt this has kept me on my game !

  2. Francis A Schiro - July 9, 2007

    Steven Peters is an INCREDIBLE athlete and more importantly a “nice” guy too. He brings not only quality BUT class to Masters athletics. In regard to the british athlete who was told relay medals are rubbish…im wondering why the Brits run so damm fast to win them then???? MOST athletes at a major competition will not medal in individual events..the relays give us lesser mortals a chance at glory too. I myself NEVER felt they were “rubbish”. This fine article was about Steven Peters and i cannot imagine him saying or agreeing with such a short sighted statement. Good luck in Italy Steve…

  3. STEFAN WALTERMANN - July 9, 2007

    Frank my man, you’ve got a point. Dr. Peters will soon turn 55? He would make it but even non-mortals would have a hard time getting on the US M 55 4 x 4 at the 2007 World Championships in Italy. Just imagine what kind of race it would be if Dr. Peters would be 55 already and run with the other fast guys from Britain against our dudes from outer space!!!

  4. frank makozy - July 16, 2007

    I’m curious as to how fast you were at age 30. In my early 30’s; I was still consistent with 11.2 and 50 seconds in the 400. At age 47; it seems I’ve been pushed over a cliff. It’s a mighty struggle to break 13 and 60 respectively.

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