The winner of three global medals as a steeplechaser, it is an indication of the success of Patrick Sang as a coach that it is for this that he has gained wider recognition.
The 1992 Olympic silver medallist has, for the last 25 years, slowly and incrementally built up a group of 30 or more of the world’s best athletes. They range from 800m studs and middle distance stars – Faith Kipyegon – to the fastest man in history over the marathon, Eliud Kipchoge.
Judging by the table below you’d be hard pressed to find a more decorated distance group anywhere on the planet.
Who is in Patrick Sang’s training group?
Amongst other athletes, in the summer of 2023 the following athletes were coached by Patrick Sang:
|Jackline Chepkoech||World U20 3000m steeplechase champion (2021), Commonwealth Games champion (2022)|
|Hillary Kipchirchir Chepkwony||2023 Weir Venloop half marathon winner (59:20)|
|Selly Chepyego||2:20 marathon runner and seventh in the recent World Championships|
|Augustine Choge||2 x World Indoor 3000m medallist (2012, 2016), Commonwealth Games 5000m champion (2006)|
|Victor Chumo||59:58 half marathon|
|Geoffrey Kamworor||3 x World Half Marathon champion (2014, 2016, 2018), 2x World Cross-Country Champion (2015, 2017)|
|Wycliffe Kinyamal||Double Commonwealth Games champion (2018 & 2022) and 1:43.12 800m|
|Eliud Kipchoge||Double Olympic champion (2016 & 2021), world-record holder in the marathon|
|Daniel Kipchumba||59:06 half-marathon|
|Faith Kipyegon||Double Olympic (2016 & 2021), three-time world 1500m champion (2019, 2022 and 2023), first in history to win 1500m and 5000m titles in the same world championships|
|Geoffrey Kirui||Boston Marathon & World Marathon champion (2017)|
|Laban Korir||2:05 marathon|
|Ronald Kwemoi||Commonwealth Games 1500m silver medallist (2014) 3:28 1500|
|Daniel Mateiko||58:36 half-marathon|
|Linet Masai||Olympic (2008) & World Championships (2011) 10,000m bronze medallist|
|Kaan Kigen Özbilen||European Cross Country champion (2017)|
|Philemon Rono||2:05 marathon|
Many more spend their days training on the fringes of the group, not staying in the Global Sports Communication camp in Kaptagat but appearing often at the track at Moi University, the weekly fartleks and long runs.
A highly affable man it’s not difficult to see why Sang would prove popular with athletes. Meeting him in Eldoret, Kenya he has that rare ability to make almost anyone he encounters feel a long-lost friend.
He’s also armed with the knowledge over almost 40 years in the sport and knows what it’s like to reach a major championships under pressure.
In sitting down for half an hour with the coach, he shared a glimpse into the approach that has built up his enviable group. He gives some useful pointers for coaches wishing to replicate the same.
A group’s atmosphere stems from the individual coach/athlete relationship
In any group the fortunes of one athlete might vary markedly from another. Whilst moments of collective success can exist, it’s only natural that at times another athlete might be injured, or out of form. For Sang it all starts with the athlete:
“I deal with individuals in a group. That’s my role. You see before I handle any athlete I profile them. I profile and profile. So from the onset I know your potential.
You have a mandate as an athlete to deliver based on the profiling that we did. So I am more concerned about your progression as an athlete towards your goals, your individual goals, not your group goals.”
Core to the group is the relationship between each individual athlete and the coach. Total trust naturally creates a better group environment.
“At some point you are a parent, you are an advisor, you are a coach, you are a mentor. You are so many things to that person.”
Start with the approach to each individual, foster and develop those relationships. Form that trust and with a group pulling in the same direction the dynamics will take care of themselves.
Acknowledging external interferences
For a group of athletes who spend every Monday to Saturday in a camp for most of the year – Geoffrey Kamworor said he goes for a week or two’s holiday each year – you may think the outside stresses are minimized. Yet the world’s best aren’t impervious to pressures of health scares, financial stress or family difficulties.
When falling short of their goals, Sang sees these external interferences as often the root cause:
“External factors interfere with internal factors. Sometimes I see in training an athlete, you see the way their legs bounce. You can see one is landing like this (he gestures a firm landing), you know that something is not right.
Sometimes they have social problems so complex that destroy their mental concentration. So that way you know you go deeper to help.”
Talk to your athletes, acknowledge that difficulties outside running will have impacts and don’t just plough on hoping things will improve. As Sang says a coach and athlete relationship, at its strongest, is about far more than just the training prescribed.
Balancing intuition with science
When Nike first deemed the sub-two hour marathon a challenge worth chasing, Sang met in the same hotel in Eldoret where we later shared our conversation. Surrounded by scientists and experts from the world of shoe design, nutrition and sport science, the two-time world silver medallist admits he blended into the background, having some doubts as to his ability to contribute.
Yet as the challenge developed, the self-confessed advocate of the “old-school” began to see how data, instead of being an alternative way of thinking could be a supplement to improving what they already practised:
“Time in and time out the data confirms what we do.”
Instead of challenging Sang’s methods the data received explained why it was that their current approach worked. It also gave them the opportunity to fine-tune it into the future.
“Data has helped when we see some kind of dip and we look at you, maybe you are developing a cold, it shows. The data gives you a headstart in seeing something coming. Though we are coming from the old school, I am actually embracing the new way of doing things, but more for confirmation purposes.”
It has to, however, be a balance. Sang is keen to emphasise:
“The driver of any program to correct something is based on a challenge.”
In order for the body to improve, to make adaptions he is confident that it needs some stress:
“I see a dependency by the athletes so much. They are crazy about shoes that are new. Even if you gave them a good shoe they are like no I should have the new one. So besides the change in lifestyle there is also the change in the mindset. I’m talking about it as a limitation in the strength of the mind.”
Embrace science but consider also what science can’t explain. Work on the mind, mix the two and the combination could be powerful.
Injury prevention over treatment – in a modest way.
London 2012 will be remembered for many things but it won’t be Kipchoge. Sang’s star athlete had endured one of the most difficult years of his career, a persistent hamstring injury preventing his participation in that year’s Olympics.
That challenging moment, however, caused a shift in focus from Sang’s group, one more simple that you may think. In an era in which social media reiterates the various gadgets and strength programs practiced throughout the world, the coach’s athletes have a more modest program:
“We’ve built an exercise regime to strengthen the muscles of the athletes, so we do an exercise twice a week and all this is geared towards overcoming that possible challenge that interferes with the progression of an athlete.”
Injury prevention, rather than management became key. It comes in the form of two hour or so sessions of core and physio work. Bands and exercise balls are used but the majority is done using just body weight exercises.
No squatting, exercise machines or complicated set-ups just simple consistent work. Whilst there’s a temptation to do more, choosing this approach has enabled Sang’s group’s to reduce the number of injuries they encounter yet fit it in a week that has 210km of running as its typical for many marathoners.
Typical training week for the marathon group of Patrick Sang:
|Monday AM||17km Easy|
|Monday AM||Physio and Core|
|Monday PM||10km Easy|
|Tuesday AM||Track Session|
|Tuesday PM||10km Easy|
|Wednesday AM||17km Easy|
|Wednesday AM||Physio & Core|
|Wednesday PM||10km Easy|
|Thursday AM||40km Progression|
|Friday AM||17km Easy|
|Friday PM||10km Easy|
|Saturday PM & Sunday||Easy running at home to take weekly total up to c. 210km|
A tiny window into life at Kaptagat, there are lessons any aspiring coach can take into their own program. The 210km weeks? Maybe not.
Enjoy this conversation with Patrick Sang, why not get the latest athlete (and coach) interviews delivered to your inbox for free:
Featured images provided by the NN Running Team including Vincent Riemersma and Jorrit van Ooyen