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Rock/Creek Race Team member Tom Sell on training tips for endurance athletes

The following article was provided by Rock/Creek Race Team member Tom Sell. See bottom for Tom’s qualifications!


I am not a doctor, scientist or researcher but I have been involved in athletics all my life as either an athlete, or as a teacher/coach. My degree is in health and physical education and I have a masters in health education. I have taught PE for the last twenty years as well as coached cross-country, football, track and wrestling. Throughout my coaching, teaching and competing I have discovered things that work for me. I sat down and addressed several different aspects of endurance sports.


Training Plans

Training plans are designed to be templates on how to reach a goal. They are not the end all be all or the gospel. I know a lot of people who take them too literally and follow them blindly regardless of how their body is feeling and/or time constraints. Remember life happens with regards to work, kids, and other unforeseen events demanding our time. I am not a fan of training plans but I use a training log. Record a workout after it occurs that way there is no pressure to fit a certain workout in and you are free to live your life without a prescribed workout looming over you adding stress to your already stressful life.

Remember your workout should be a stress reliever not a stressor. Additionally on the days you feel great or you have a big chunk of time available you are free to hammer and spend longer time working out.



One of the best endurance athletes to ever live in Chattanooga was a master at cross-training. John Currier is one of only a couple people I have ever known to qualify for the Hawaii Ironman. There was no rhyme or reason to Johns training. (See above training plans). He would be on the mountain bike all day one day and the next he would swim around Macllean Island, the following day he would run Big Daddy -add in sea kayaking, road biking, inline skating etc. but he was always doing some type of endurance activity. Switching up activities breaks up the monotony of workouts and utilizes different muscles in getting you all over fit. As long as you are working that aerobic engine of heart and lungs it’s all good.

People should also recognize that running is a high impact activity that quadruples your body weight on your feet, ankles, knees, hips and lower back with every stride. Years of that constant abuse will take its toll so cross training will keep you from destroying your body. I very rarely have run more than 40 miles in one week and usually hover around the 20-30 mile range. I want to still be able to walk in 20 years.


Bad Patches

The 2002 StumpJump 50K was my first attempt at an ultra marathon. I knew of two ultra studs for Alabama signed up for the race, Dewayne Satterfield and Robert Youngren. These two guys had almost 200 ultras between them with multiple wins.

My plan was to hang on as long as I could and watch and learn. The two of them chatted for almost two hours as the three of us ran together. Finally after 18 miles they spoke to me and introduced themselves. At about 22 miles Robert fell off the pace leaving Dewayne and I leading the race. A couple miles later Dewayne motioned for me to come around him, he said he was suffering a bad patch and to go ahead and he would recover and catch back up.

He never did recover or catch back up and in fact dropped out because of the unusually high temperatures that day, but I have come to find out what he meant about a “Bad Patch”. During an endurance race for some reason your body will occasionally go through some type of turmoil -a sort of revolting if you will. I don’t think that there is really a physiological reason for this as I have had it happen early in races. It just occurs randomly. Usually I have found with a lot of positive self talk and backing a little off the pace you can work through these bad patches. I have always said that endurance athletics is about your ability to suffer and he/she who suffers best- finishes fastest.


Lifting weights

I believe lifting weights is the most ignored area of endurance athletes. People think because they run and ride a lot that they are fit and strong and do not need supplemental lifting-so not true. Every single sport can benefit from having a stronger body. I am a big fan of aerobic lifting for endurance sports.

I do circuit training twice a week with 8 stations-1 minute each station with a 17 second run to the next station. I do this three times through with light running for 5 minutes between sets. I never use more than fifty pounds on any exercise and every single workout I switch exercises. I use 50 lb bags of play sand that I have wrapped in pillow cases and wrapped with duct tape for multiple different exercises such as sand bag burpees with a push press at the top, front squats holding the bag, lunge walk, and bench press on a giant exercise ball.

My other stations consist of pull ups, push ups on softballs, bear crawls, leg isometrics against the wall and in plank position, ab work, weighted ball tosses, and use of certain dumbbell exercises. These circuit training exercises provide an aerobic and an anaerobic benefit. I truly believe that the reason I have stayed injury free in my years of endurance athletics is due to my core strength. Additionally if you are over forty you are losing muscle mass just by the aging process. Lifting weights is eventually imperative to everyone that wants to stay upright and injury free.



I have come full circle on my thinking with regards to nutrition. Back when I wrestled in high school and college I became a vegetarian concerned with what I was putting in my body. I ate very healthy and believed meat to be harmful to the body. In the mid nineties (my late 20s) I read an article about super triathlete Mark Allen’s struggles with fatigue. He stated he was very tired and gave up his vegetarian diet to include red meat. He said he felt there were certain amino acids in red meat that we need in our diet and I agree.

I started to eat meat and adopt a more laid back approach to my diet with the “If the oven is hot enough it will burn” type attitude towards food and thinking as long as I was working out It did not matter what I put in my body. That lasted until my late 30s and I went back to a middle of the road approach eating lots of raw fruits and vegetables and trying to steer clear of fatty foods, refined sugar and high caloric, nutrient depraved foods.

My week starts off with lots of fruits and veggies that I try to snack on throughout the day keeping a constant flow of calories and nutrients in my system. I also use a fiber supplement of Metamucil on a daily basis which seems to settle my stomach and keeps my digestive tract clean and regular. I eat lean cuts of meat or fish daily and try not to ingest highly processed foods-the more natural a food is the better it is for you.


The mental aspect of training

If weight lifting is the most ignored aspect of endurance training I believe the mental aspect of training is the second most ignored. The mental aspect begins with goals. Everyone should have clearly written specific goals that are posted where they can be seen often. These should be measurable, challenging and individual. Your mind will start to believe in your goals the more you see them, you convince yourself that certain times and placing are going to happen.

Sounds far fetched but it is not. It is definitely worth the time and effort to write those goals down and go for it. Lots of positive self talk at all times during training and racing help too. Focus on how good you feel and how strong you feel at all times. Try to fight the urge to focus on pain, discomfort, or negative thoughts


The long workout

The keystone or foundation of your workout program is the long endurance workout. If you only had one day a week to train you should train long. This is where you get the strength both physical and mental to compete in long endurance events. Speed is not really important but constantly moving should be your goal.

Nutrition should be a focus as well using the type of nutrition you will use in the race. Carbohydrates and protein should be present in your long workout food as well as post workout to replenish a depleted system-the sooner you eat after the better. Gels and Heed are great up to about a three hour workout then I prefer solid foods. Eat and hydrate early and often because coming back from the dark side when you start to falter is pretty tough and usually too late.


Rock Creek Team member Tom Sell is the only man to win both the Stump Jump 50K and the Stump Jump 11 mile race. He is also a 2x Southern Conference and Southern Open Wrestling Champion-a 2x Chattanooga Track Club Runner of the Year-a 2x Cross-Country Coach of the Year-a 2x Ironman finisher-a 2x Mount Mitchell Challenge finisher and a 1x Combatant in the arena of marriage. Questions or comments? Email [email protected]