Head coach Steve Vernon provides an insight into life at the Stockport based training group.
Following the American model of elite athletes living and training together, head coach Steve Vernon and Pete Riley set up the Stockport based Team New Balance Manchester in 2015.
In the space of four years the training group has demonstrated that the model can work in the UK, and currently living under the one roof – living and breathing running – are British athletes Ben Connor, Ross Millington and Elinor Kirk, Swedish international Anna Silvander and Irish Olympian Ciara Mageean.
Additionally, Jonny Mellor and Andy Heyes live close by and meet up with their fellow New Balance athlete to train.
Fast Running caught up with the head coach to learn more about life inside the training group.
Fast Running: How did you become involved with Team New Balance Manchester? How did it all begin?
Steve Vernon: A good friend of mine Pete Riley and I had aimed to set up a professional running team ever since we raced and trained together.
We formulated a good group training set up in Stockport in 2005 and often spoke about it as the ‘dream’ to get top athletes training together every day.
Pete started working for New Balance in 2014 and we started the team on a shoestring budget in January 2015.
New Balance put their athletes and performance running at the forefront of the business so we have had great support in setting it up.
FR: What is a typical day like for you as the coach?
SV: It can vary from day to day because not all of the group are full-time athletes and work too.
We have a weekly structure that everyone can work around with Tuesday and Friday as the key session days each week and a long run Sunday.
As a professional coach though I have the luxury of being at all of the sessions and at a lot of the easy running and gym sessions around that.
I also work within the Marketing Team at New Balance too, but my working day is built around coaching first.
At certain times of the year, I will split the group based on their event group or race schedule. So I could be at a tempo based session on the trails in the morning and a track session in the evening.
FR: What is a typical day like for the athletes who live together?
SV: A typical day is simple and boring to be honest. Run, eat, rest, eat, run, eat and repeat! They cook good healthy evening meals on a rota and eat most meals together which works well.
There is also a rota for household chores etc. It’s certainly a step up from student living!
Each day they run at 8.30am and 5.00pm and sessions start at 9:30am, so there is a good routine for everyone to adhere too.
FR: What is your coaching philosophy and are there particular things you try to instil into the group?
SV: I try to keep things simple and a have healthy training routine. I am all about creating ‘aerobic monsters’ and work by the mantra that ‘a happy runner is a fast runner’.
I like the guys to work hard but have fun. We take training seriously but are always having a laugh doing what we love.
FR: This is your first time in such a setup, what challenges have you faced or lessons learnt?
SV: There have been so many challenges! Managing people and expectations is a challenge for anyone dealing with a group of highly driven and motivated people.
It’s not easy to run a professional team when you have athletes with varying ability and financial support, but we have made it work and tried to help people as best possible based on their own circumstances.
Not all the athletes are able to run full-time so there has to be flexibility in what we do.
FR: Are athletes left to their own devices when it comes to nutrition/cooking in the house?
SV: We have had input from nutritionists at OTE and the guys all know what foods they need to be eating in order to refuel properly.
I don’t believe in strict diets and don’t think its good for athletes to be strict with their diets.
FR: What has been your proudest moment since you began coaching the group?
SV: Our first Olympian Ross Millington in 2016 was very special for the team, but we have also had many great days with multiple national championship wins and also a number of top 10 performances in Europe.
For me simply seeing athletes improve and develop themselves is always a proud moment.
FR: Do you envisage a day when similar setups will be common in the UK and across Europe?
SV: It would be great to see! Other brands could invest in similar models like they do in the USA. It can be done simply to start with and grow as we have.
I think professional teams are the future for distance running in Europe, but we need more investment from performance running brands and sponsors to assist in their development.
They are a great marketing tool as well as a great development ground for athletes to make the next step to international level.
FR: Finally, do you have any fun stories you could share from your time with the group?
SV: We have lots. So many revolve around poor Jonny Mellor though and his simple food habits. He isn’t very adventurous with what he eats and in his exact words “won’t try anything I can’t spell”.
We constantly wind him up. I once told him I was eating frogspawn when I was eating black beans in a burrito, he was disgusted!
When Anna joined the Team he was worried sick that she would cook “weird Swedish stuff”.
Sometimes when the guys cook for him they lie about what’s in the meal, because he will actually eat most things if he doesn’t know they are in there.
Team New Balance Manchester are fuelled by OTE Sports‘ natural hydration, energy and recovery product.
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