Data supports the steeplechaser on the way to the Paris Olympics
Topi Raitanen’s coach, Janne Ukonmaanaho, is a four-time Finnish champion in the 3000m steeplechase. Ukonmaanaho’s own career ended with an injury in 2016 at the Finnish Athletics Championships. He became Raitanen’s coach the same year. Unlike Ukonmaanaho, Raitanen managed to avoid any major injuries.
“When I started coaching Topi, he had a stress fracture in his femur, and we factored that into his training schedule. Now he’s had five years injury-free. His results have also improved steadily, so we are definitely doing something right.
From orienteering to stopwatch
Before focusing on steeplechase, Raitanen was also known for his orienteering. He was able to use many of the qualities necessary for orienteering in his new sport.
“Lots of varied training in his youth on different types of terrain created a good aerobic base, muscular endurance and strong supporting muscles. Orienteering also gives a solid foundation for quick changes of pace when running. In the beginning, we had to focus on steeplechase technique, upper body use and track running technique.
According to Ukonmaanaho, creating a training program for elite athletes is always a balancing act to avoid putting too much strain on the body.
“At the start of their career, athletes often develop rapidly, with results improving by several seconds per year. However, as you get closer to the top, improving results is much more difficult and requires careful planning, implementation and monitoring of the training program. What is written into the training program is, in a way, the coach’s best estimate of what the athlete can handle.
The easiest way to track implementation is to use a training log.
“It’s a log of distances traveled, speed, routes, heart rate, blood lactate levels, amount of sleep, etc. In Topi’s case, an Oura ring and the variability numbers FirstBeat heart rate monitors are used for monitoring.Without daily measurements and tracking, it is difficult to know if we are making progress, how the training is going and if it is achieving the desired results.
Ukonmaanaho sees Raitanen as the ideal athlete to coach. “Topi follows his training program religiously. He can also cope with a lot of training and knows his physical limits. Topi is always enthusiastic about working out. He also gives precise feedback on his training, which facilitates the work of the coach.
Raitanen’s program includes altitude training, the benefits of which have been well documented. Among those who have studied altitude training are Ari Nummela, director of sports physiology research at the Finnish Institute for High Performance Sport, and Juha Peltonen, director of the Foundation for Sports Medicine and the practice. Ukonmaanaho stresses the importance of research findings for coaching.
“Long-term studies of altitude training have improved our understanding of optimal altitudes and the duration of such training. There is also evidence that altitude training does not provide the same benefits to all athletes. , but we’ve seen that this training method has clearly worked well for Topi.
“The goal of altitude training is to increase the volume of red blood cells in the blood and thereby improve oxygen delivery. The increase in red blood cell volume, however, is affected by the initial level of iron in the blood. Therefore, the athlete’s baseline blood count, including ferritin levels, should be tested beforehand. At the start of altitude training, the athlete’s weight and urine color should be monitored to prevent water loss.
Use the latest information and technology
New technology has made it easier for the trainer to monitor both training and recovery. “Nowadays Topi trains at altitude abroad, but with the help of technology we can follow his training and progress remotely and in real time from Finland.
Ukonmaanaho intends to test the 360° Training and Wellbeing application developed by Tietoevry. He hopes the app will provide even better ways to study Raitanen’s training and recovery data obtained from various sources.
Ukonmaanaho considers it important that Topi’s training also accumulates data that can help other athletes in the future. “The Finnish elite sports information system can be seen as a kind of generational memory and a continuum. Ideally, this would mean you don’t have to learn things by trial and error, and future coaches and athletes can apply the results and make training even better.
We have yet to see the best of Raitanen, believes Ukonmaanaho. “The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics by a year has given him more time to develop at the Olympic level. The Paris Olympics will take place in just over two years. Time will tell, but I am convinced that Topi has a lot more to give as an athlete.