An athletic field at evening. Training begins, divided by event. A dozen or so members in the middle- and long-distance and ekiden running team have gathered. They begin by confirming their training menu, but the circle rarely includes their coach. Finally each member starts to train. The members do not all engage in the same training; each has formulated a menu in accordance with his or her goals. Prof. Enomoto believes his role as coach is to observe the training, provide counseling based on such factors as each athlete's goals and strength, and assist the athletes in preparing their training menu.
In 2012 University of Tsukuba women's ekiden team barely reached a full complement of runners and was even short of alternates, yet they won the Kanto Collegiate Women's Ekiden with a new championship record, despite coming in at number 11 the previous year. At their first appearance in nine years in the All-Japan Women's Collegiate Ekiden Championship, they moved way up and placed third overall. The men are also steadily improving their records, and are a top class team among national universities. Within just a few years they will have progressed to where they are ready to make it through the qualifying round of the Hakone Ekiden. What is the secret behind this rapid progress?
The most distinctive characteristics of Prof. Enomoto's training method are to carry out training on a scientific basis, and allow team members to independently devise their own training menus. Some of the team members are not athletics majors. It is difficult to scout many outstanding athletes, and members have to look after their studies as well. But Prof. Enomoto is turning his limited resources—in funding, training time, and number of athletes—to his advantage by devising scientific, efficient training methods that differ from the uniformly applied training of the so-called "sports types."
Team members' autonomy is respected at training meetings
Monitoring training and running pace
Even when the approach involves traditional training, it is not carried out blindly. The athletes must understand why they are carrying out the training, and they autonomously manage their own condition and scheduling. The University of Tsukuba students' strength is that they understand this and are able to carry it out. The university is adept at gathering and analyzing scientific data. Prof. Enomoto's specialty is running form analysis. Several times each year, he gathers data on the athletes' physical strength and technique, analyzes the data scientifically, and transmits the complete results to the team members. The coach and each team member think and share information to grasp each individual athlete's situation and capabilities, and this is put to use in the training. If one's personal performance improves, the team as a whole improves. The popularity of ekiden running is certainly due in part to psychological factors—passing the sash, striving together—but in fact, each section of the course is a one-person race. Furthermore, the later the section, the more likely that one will be running alone rather than with other runners. Under these conditions, the athletes must be certain to make a 100% effort with no mistakes. If each athlete is able to achieve this, the team's overall performance will improve accordingly.
Tsukuba's team captured third place in the All-Japan Collegiate Women's Ekiden Championship.
From Left: Coach Enomoto, Yasuka Ueno, Miho Niiyama, Tomoka Haneda, Moe Kyuma, Haruka Kyuma, Yukako Omori.
Middle- and long-distance team members (spring 2013 training camp)
Training furiously based on whatever one is told may enable you to produce results in a short time without having to worry. However, most athletes who are in it for the long term train independently based on their own ideas. Some of these athletes even decide to go without a coach. Aptitude is of course important, but Prof. Enomoto is convinced that athletes with an independent drive to compete and devise their own solutions will ultimately become stronger.
Real sports science began in the former communist nations of eastern Europe. Trends in advanced middle- and long-distance training, such as interval training and high-altitude training, began in such nations as the former Czechoslovakia, Australia, Kenya, and the US. If the effectiveness of the University of Tsukuba's training methods can be proven, the creation of a new trend in training is not a dream. The "Tsukuba Method" will not only win races, but will also cultivate athletes who can compete on the world stage and gain respect after graduation. This is another goal of the Tsukuba Method that Prof. Enomoto is pursuing.
Checking data while receiving advice
Article by Science Communicator at the Office of Public Relations
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