A day with Pace Sports Management's coach, Sammy Mitei

Coach Sammy Mitei noting track interval times of his athletes in Eldoret
It was such a great learning experience to me when I visited Pace Sports Management’s Sammy Mitei as he coached his runners in Eldoret. I saw a lot for myself and learned more as I listened to him. 

"What did I just tell you?!" he had asked, and I could not hide my astonishment.

After explaining to me how, as an experienced coach, he had learned to give out workouts to his athletes depending on how he has come to know each and every one of them - there are those who often complain that the work out is too much and also those who would feel that they still wish to add in some more at the end of the session - one of his athletes who had just been doing some 800m intervals on the track actually came up to where we stood and asked him if he could add some more 300m intervals! He gave him the okay.

"For athletes who are used to asking for more workouts, I normally give them slightly less so that when they ask and I allow them to do the "extra workouts" they actually end up meeting the threshold that I had designed for them in the first place; for those who complain, I give them a little a little extra and will allow them to stop when they have done what I had in mind for them," explained Sammy.

Sammy Mitei is one of the busiest coaches in Kenya. He deals with athletes running distances that range from the 800m all the way up to the marathon. He started coaching in 2005 working with the Kenyan military team. Most of these athletes ended up signing with Pace Sports Management and it became a matter of time before Sammy too moved to be with them at their training camp in Kaptagat. But, even though the majority of the athletes in this camp belong to the Kenya Defense Forces' team, there are also athletes who are civilians and others from the Kenya Police.

Due to the large number of athletes he deals with, Mitei, for most of the days, has to be on the track for almost the entire day as other groups of athletes arrive when he is done with the first group.

As a new group arrives, he talks with them briefly to know how they feel and if any of them has any problems. He also checks with them to know if there is any one focusing on an upcoming race, explains briefly what the athletes would benefit from the workouts at hand and what times to aim in the track intervals.

For his own reasons, he had to ask athletes in a particular group to take off their watches and just run a moderate pace as they embarked on 2,000m intervals. "I know why I am doing that," was all the explanation he gave out to the athletes.

He is often dressed casually while at the track, like any other man you would meet on the streets, but one would not miss to notice the two sports watches hanging from his neck as he shouts time splits to his athletes on the track. He would later transfer all the times recorded in the watches to a note book after the workouts.

Amid all these, he still found the time to explain more about his work, how he deals with different challenges in training and the prospects his athletes have for this year.

"To know whether an athlete is in his best form to compete, I would have to monitor him for at least one month, observe his times during intervals on the track, see how easy he runs and whether he is showing any signs of straining," Sammy says regarding judging the shape of his athletes.

He believes that an athlete can maintain his best form for a long time if only he is open with his coach and freely communicates how he feels. "If an athlete is at his best to compete and yet his race is still many days ahead, I often advise them to take some short breaks from training," he said.

"And, even while in training, the workouts for athletes who have already peak form should be different from those who haven't. I give out lighter workouts for athletes in form and vice versa to those who are still struggling," he added.

According to him, overtraining is a problem that is common among athletes and is often a mistake on the part of the athletes. "A coach may ask athletes to go for an easy run, but as soon as they are out of sight they start running hard and end up burning themselves out," Sammy said.

Some of the athletes who have trained under Mitei include Vivian Cheruiyot, Winnie Chebet in the women 800m, Bethwel Birgen in the men's 1500m, Jeremiah Mutai in the men's 800m and Mercy Njoroge in the women 3,000m Steeplechase, Mark Kiptoo in marathon, Mika Kogo and Mike Kigen, among many others.

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