London - home of some of the best athletes in the world and one of the densest competitive fields in Europe. Across cycling, running and triathlon, London houses an incredible number of clubs and training groups catering to literally the entire spectrum of abilities and ambitions. Battersea Park, on the South Bank of the Thames, is just one of the hallowed grounds where runners meet to train. Home to prestigious London clubs such as the Belgrave Harriers and groups such as the hugely successful Cottage squad, it also houses The Stable.
If you are familiar with the modern world of athletics, the term 'training group' may conjure up images of squads such as the Tinman Elite, or Team Boss, or Stephen Haas' group in Flagstaff. You may imagine a coach carefully selecting and inviting athletes to join them. You may even picture that same coach kicking people out of the group for not passing muster. That may appeal to you, it may not. Either way, that is not The Stable.
Having started in 2018 as just a handful of Belgrave athletes, the group has grown to be around 20 strong during the pandemic and has recently returned to racing after many months of hard, consistent training. With no less than 21 PBs across 3 races, it's about time we looked at who these people are and what makes their group so successful.
At the core of The Stable sits Matt Welsh - coach and head stud, if you will. An ex-triathlete turned runner, he decided one day to start helping some of his closest friends with their training. Before long, he was writing full training plans, setting sessions and helping them with their pre-race jitters. You know, like a proper coach would.
Today, The Stable is a real collection of characters. Brad, the easygoing Devon surfer, Will, the tattooed Geordie, Daniella, the blonde Brit raised in Italy, and the list goes on. It's a varied bunch, no doubt, but they do all have something in common - none of them are d**ks. That is literally the only criterion to meet to join The Stable and become a stallion.
That sort of statement merits some clarification. Runners tend to see their fellow runners as one of two things: just another scalp to be collected, or someone who shares their passion for the journey to the best version of themselves. By The Stable's definition, a d**k taunts their teammates into racing at training, looks down on slower runners, and thinks they are more important than the group. There is nothing wrong with being competitive, but what makes The Stable work is that its members recognise that they are all on the same journey and that they will get to their wild frontier
faster by working together.
In practice, that team culture has a profound effect on the training. The goal of each session is made abundantly clear and the stallions know full-well they will not earn credit by going faster than prescribed, on the contrary. The sessions are usually run in smaller packs of three to five with everyone holding each other accountable. A great day is a day where everyone gets the most out of their session.
All year round
The group's approach to training is based on one single founding principle: year-round consistency. Coach Matt's guiding principle is that athletes are capable of training and improving all year around without being forced to take a significant amount of time off for an 'off season'.
Sure, that sounds pretty straightforward, that is what most amateur athletes do anyways. But how does it actually work in practice? Well, if you are one of those people who thrive under pressure and 'cream will rise to the top' environments, you may find the answer quite boring. In short, Matt spends a huge amount of time making sure his athletes stay within themselves. That doesn't mean The Stable doesn't occasionally go to the well and end on the floor after the last rep, but if after a month or two the runner's body is crying out for time off, that means the training is too intense to be sustainable in the long term.
That translates to three things: open dialogue, individual attention and enjoyment. Without these three things, runners are likely to not communicate mounting fatigue or niggles to their coach, to do training that simply doesn't work for them, or to get stuck in a rut where training feels like a chore. Neither of these are conducive to happy, healthy or fast runners. There are easier weeks and down periods, but there is no need to bring in a proper off season because, if all is done properly, The Stable never reaches the point of burning out.
On the horizon
After a solid winter of long runs, tempo sessions and meaty intervals to build a strong aerobic engine, The Stable had a fantastic pre-season in the spring. Barriers were shattered, confidence and ambitions grew.
Most of the stallions are now sharpening up for a summer on the tartan. For some, this will be a new and likely frightening prospect. However, the main benefit of training all year round and alternating the focus of training is that weaknesses will be touched upon at some point. Regardless of the results of the summer, they know the hard work they put in over the coming months will come back to help them in the winter months, just like the lockdown training has benefited them in the spring.
Once the track season is over and club fixtures return to the calendar (fingers crossed), The Stable will contribute a serious amount of firepower to the Belgrave arsenal. Keep your eyes on this lot. There are going to be some very fast runners hitting races left, right and center. And they're only getting faster...
Find out more about KOTWF running coaching
Find out more about Matt Welsh, our KOTWF running coach
If you are a runner looking to join a club or a training group, access the Belgrave Harriers membership form online.
A special thanks to Chris Coates (@chriscoates___) for capturing one of The Stable's Tuesday track evenings in these awesome images.