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HARD work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard. Talent with hard work is unbeatable.” It’s hard to argue with trainer and former world title challenger Jim McDonnell at the best of times, but when he is espousing such compelling principles, it becomes impossible. Below, in his own words, the coach of top super-middleweight James DeGale among others shares some useful tips on how to improve your running for boxers.
DO THE DONKEY WORK
IT’S like a menu for a meal. Over the course of a camp, we’ve got to put ingredients into the recipe to get the best product. In a 12-week camp, the first month is what we call ‘Donkey work’, the stuff that when you get sharp, crisp and fast, it’s got to be in the tank; you don’t want to be doing it close to a fight. It’s your endurance work. Putting the miles in on the road. We do it by time because it’s not a race, it’s time on feet. You’re way out from boxing. So we run for two hours at ‘talking’ pace, nice and steady.
These long runs build strength, endurance, conditioning, leg strength. We’ll do a run like this once a week at this stage of camp. We do a run in Hampstead, over six hills, from sub-two hours, steady state, at the start of camp, to doing it in one hour and 15 minutes when DeGale is in top shape.
It’s 8.3 miles and one of the hills is the steepest in London. Sometimes when he goes out he’ll be wearing a lot of clothing, hand weights, boots, and do a slow jog; time on feet. Then, when he goes in his tracksuit or shorts and t-shirt, he’s really fast.
FIX UP, LOOK SHARP
WHEN he’s fine-tuning, in the last six weeks, we do tempo runs. It’s not a luxury run, it’s hard work against the clock. A tempo run is about 5-45, definitely subsix- minute. It’s a measured distance and they have to try and beat me; I’ll run subsix minutes every mile. Sometimes we’ll hit the track and do 1,600m in 5-30, then go up and down the hill, maybe a halfdozen times, that really takes it out of you. Then you do another sub-six mile, before running on the flat for 45 minutes. We do lots of work on the track and the sessions vary. We do one called ’20-10′.
You have to cover a set distance in 20 seconds; if you drop short, you’re out; end of session. You get exactly 10 seconds’ recovery then you’ve got to run the same distance again. You have to do that for 12 minutes; that’s 24 reps. I can count on one hand the amount of fighters in my career who have achieved that. To start, we see how far they can sprint flat-out in 20 seconds. Then, after the 10-second recovery, they have to get back to where they started from. They either drop just short or they go a bit further. If they go further, we say, ‘Oh, you can do that in 20 seconds. Now we know how far you can sprint.’
Sometimes I bring things out in the middle of it. So they do the sprint, and straight after the 10 seconds’ rest, I make them do a round on the pads. They’ve got no breath, their heart-rate’s over the top and they’re doing pads. While the donkey work is aerobic, the interval work is anaerobic. It’s like when we do 15 15s – 15-second sprints with 15-second rests. It replicates when James is in the ring, working in 15-second bursts, then walking around for 15 seconds, and he’s recovered. His heartrate goes from 70bpm to 120bpm, then he takes that walk and it goes back down again. James can throw a huge amount of punches every round because of the training he does.
GET READY FOR A SURPRISE
SOMETIMES, we’re running early in the morning, up a hill in Epping Forest, and I pull some pads out from behind a tree! I’ve stashed some gloves there too and they go through a pads drill. Then, we run another mile, and I pull out two 10kg weights from behind another tree. I’ve got to lay it all out in advance. One of the key things in training is to keep the body from getting accustomed. They have to get used to adapting by working with the unpredictable, prepare for the unexpected, so when something happens in the ring that hasn’t happened before, they can deal with it. That’s why I surprise them in training and I do different sessions, week in, week out.
RUN A MILE IN THEIR SHOES
FIGHTERS sometimes say to a trainer, ‘You don’t know how hard it is.’ You can’t say that to me. Anything they do, I can do and I have done. Every distance, they can’t beat me and they respect the fact I’m still doing stuff. You’re not asking them to do anything you can’t do. I could get a good runner and a strength coach to work with my fighters but, as a bonding thing, if, as a fighter, I know my trainer in the corner has done the distance, and he’s telling me in the ninth round, ‘Come on!’, I think you respond. Leading from the front is sometimes a positive thing.