The steeplechase is one of the most physically demanding events on the track. It requires an athlete with speed, stamina, technical skill and the capacity to endure the impact of hurdling huge barriers. Make a mistake and you could find yourself face down in the water jump or worse still, face first into a steeple! Here we have a quick chat to two-times national champion James Nipperess about the event, his training and his upcoming race in Japan.
What made you shift from 1,500m to steeplechase?
At the World University Championships in 2011 I missed the final of the 1500m by 2 spots. So I thought I’d be a better shot at making the final in the steeplechase. This is what initially got me thinking about changing events. Also, I grew up in Penshurst where Olympic steeple finalist Youcef Abdi was living and I frequently saw him running around Scarbourah Park. Seeing an athlete of his caliber training in my area kind of helped sway me that steeple would be a cool thing to try.
How do you train differently for steeple compared to when you ran 1,500m?
There isn’t a huge difference. I usually just add 1 drills session per week and one steeple specific session a fortnight in track season, but otherwise it’s the same. Essentially both events use the same energy systems and to be a good steepler you need speed as well as endurance. The technique work is to improve hurdling efficiency and mitigate against injury.
What does a normal training week look like for you?
I’m usually doing approximately 140km per week.
Monday: 40 mins AM & PM
Tues AM 40 mins, PM Tempo session
Thurs: AM 40 mins, PM Track sesison
Fri: 40 mins easy
Saturday: AM Fartlek PM 40 mins
Sunday: 2hrs long run
What was the highlight of the 2014 summer season for you?
There were two things. Firstly, defending my national steeplechase title was pretty special. To win one was amazing but now to show I can be consistent year-on-year means a lot and is great for confidence.
Secondly, going to Iten in Kenya and training at altitude with the world’s best athletes, and my girlfriend Emily, was an incredible experience I will never forget. It put a lot into context about how hard they train and the difference in attitudes. In Kenya running is a way of life and the athletes have a tangible confidence about them when it comes to training and racing.
With Commonwealth Games selection being so close, what are your plans to try and secure a spot in the team?
I’m racing the Tokyo Golden Grand Prix on Sunday. It’s a major meet with a strong international field. The race won’t be too quick like a lot of the big European meets, which means I will be in the mix and better positioned to hang in with the leaders and hopefully get a qualifier. Depending on the outcome of that my coach Ken and I will make a plan of attack.
What are the main differences you’ve noticed between international racing and domestic?
International racing has way more depth in my event. Domestically I find that I’m in the lead from the start and having to push the pace myself and chase the time. It leads to fixating on the clock which can be detrimental to an athlete like me that prefers to race. Overseas events have stronger fields and often you’ll find yourself in a pack of half a dozen guys all looking to run around the same time. While it can make it a bit more tactical and there can be a bit of jostling for position, for the most part it makes it easier to push for places. This in turn results in better times….at least I hope that’s the case next week!