Over the last few months I have been putting together information about the training methods and systems from several countries and trying to find out the reasons behind the success of any group of athletes in the middle and distance events. After spending several nights trying to put the following article in a logical sequence, finally it is done. Please excuse me for the probable orthographic mistakes (my native language is Spanish).

Marco Veledíaz, Mexico City

Whereas the Kenyans owe their astonishing success to living at altitude and the desire to escape poverty, among other factors, the Moroccan secret is more scientific; they operate one of the most meticulous and scientifically advanced training programs in the world. Their athletic results are the product of a structure and a training system. This structure comes from an organization in their national athletics federation and new training concepts.

Technical organization of the Moroccan athletics federation.
It is organized in "Compartments" or "Directions" that are complementary to each other and are involved from the beginning until the end on the development of the athlete.

I. Direction of talent spotting (Detection).

"The success is due to a deliberate selection process" says Aziz Daouda, the technical director of the national federation. The talent-spotting system is done with young men and women between 12 and 16 years old. They use caravans that travel throughout Morocco with equipment for the tests applications and it has two phases, in the first phase the aspirants are put to 3 tests:

     1) short run (they do not say the exact distance) with low start,
     2) a middle distance race, and
     3) standing long jump.

With these simple 3 tests they get a girl/boy's profile:

     1) reaction speed,
     2) endurance, and
     3) explosive strength.

In the second phase when they have finished these 3 tests, they put them to another 3 medical tests like a treadmill and blood test. The more gifted athletes then are sent to what they call "Preparation Local Units" where they are attended by athletics coaches in their 1st phase of development (12-16 years) practicing a multilateral development. These sport centers are sponsored by a phosphate industry and the coaches are paid by the government and the national federation. In the 1995-1996 period, 60% of the Moroccan territory was covered and inspected.

II. Youngsters Technical Direction.

After this first development phase the best ones are sent to what they call "Perfecting Local Unit" or "Training Development Center" which hosts about 60 youngsters between the ages of 16 and 19. The selection of the athletes for this center is done under a more complex criterion: tests results, biometrical parameters, physiological, etc. The ones who display the most potential are sent to Ifrane to the National Institute of Athletics, where their training is worked out, their running style scientifically analyzed and their diet checked. They know that Morocco does not have the depth of talent that Kenya can call upon, nor the tradition. That is why so much time and money is invested in the system. "For us, it is the training methods and the atmosphere created around the athletes that is important" Daouda says.

III. National Technical Direction.

At this level they work with the national and world class athletes. These athletes, of course are professionals, they do not have any other activity than preparing for the major competitions and live at the National Institute of Athletics. The institute thrives thanks to financial backing from government and the King Hassan II. The athletes are provided with food, housing and a salary to meet their basic needs. The provisions, while affording valuable security and stability, are not luxurious by any means. But financial incentives and public interest alone do not win races: the athletes themselves display an extraordinary level of commitment.

How did they conceive this System?

They realized that in the 70's there was a results' increase at world class level. A gap was opened between the rich countries and the less developed ones, specifically in the technical events: jumps and throws. Then they had to adopt a decision that was influenced mainly by the country's economical situation. They decided to focus on the middle and long distance events since the practice of this events require very little infrastructure, this choice gave result to what they call Athletes' Preparation National System. The system is influenced by the following factors:

     1) Social and economical conditions.
     2) Climatic and geographical environment.
     3) Cultural traditions.
     4) Physiological parameters.
     5) Available means.
     6) Competitions' goals.
     7) Political objectives (country's sport strategy).

Over the last few years there has been an excessive proliferation of competitions at world class level, which has forced them to choose the major championships. For example: in Morocco's case they have 3 commitments: African, Arab and World. Their choice is certainly aimed to the world class level.


1) Maximal effort, intensive and continuous principle. Nowadays this principle is determined by the level of the competitions. "These days the major competitions have reached such level of intensity that we can not think we can prepare the athletes like they used to train in the 60's."

2) Individualization principle. "People sometimes confuse personalising training with following an individual training program," says Daouda. "We do not have two athletes training the same way, but we have a method we adapt to each athlete. We are not creating anything new, but we are making improvements to something that already exists by utilizing scientific data." In Brussels in 1995, when Hissou broke Skah's Moroccan 10,000m record with 27:09.30, we thought he should have run much faster in the last two km, but he got tired, so we analyzed him thoroughly and now he runs with more economical style. The movement of his arms is different from a biomechanical perspective, and his stride is more efficient."

3) Systematic Principle. It comes from the need to prepare a training plan for the group (about 30 athletes), respecting each athlete's individualism . It is a compulsory behavior line for the group. An example: They run by time, 20, 30, 40 minutes, but Salah Hissou never runs more than one hour of continuous running, and Khalid Skah runs very often over 1h15min-1h20 min, same event, same level of performance, different loads.

4) Multilateral Development Principle. It is included in the training program due to the lack of proper Physical Education in their school system. This multilateral development is compulsory in all the chosen athletes.

5) Conscious Preparation Principle. In order to get the results the athlete must be aware of the program, must trust in their coach, the training environment and the system.


The 1996 - 1997 season was divided in 5 parts:

1) Preparatory Period. It is the most important. Lasted from October 15, 1996 to May 15, 1997. This period has been divided in 2 phases. (1) October 15, 1996 to February 20, 1997. They have done a multilateral preparation in all aspects. Objectives: development of aerobic endurance, strength and power. (2) February 21 to May 10, 1997. Objectives: development of aerobic endurance, strength and power, specific endurance and race pace.

2) Competition Direct Preparation. May 11- 30 ,1997. The objective is obtaining the athletic shape for the first minor competitions. They took part and the end of May and the beginning of June 1997. They worked on: race pace, specific speed and aerobic endurance

3) 1st. Competition Period. May 31 to June 10.

4) 2nd. Preparation Phase. June 11-30, 1997. Objectives: race pace, speed, aerobic endurance.

5) 2nd. Competition Period. July and August.
Training organization.
The training base was distributed as follows:
     a) 6 weeks training at sea level in Rabat.
     b) 3 weeks training at altitude in Ifrane 200 km from Rabat. (1600m) and the cycle was repeated. They have been training at altitude at different places like Davos, Saint Moritz and here in Mexico City. They train in groups, each group is leaded by one the great athletes that they have available:
     a) Bidouane group
     b) El Guerrouj group
     c) Hissou group
     d) Boulami group
     e) Benhassi group
     f) Steeplechase group
Each group is composed of between 8-10 athletes, with one or two that are being used as "rabbits" sometimes, most are elite athletes but also have junior athletes.

The technical staff is composed by the technical director (Aziz Daouda), two head coaches, among them is Abdelkader Kada (Hicham El Guerrouj's coach) and 6 assistant coaches. They have a support team of three sport doctors, seven physiotherapists and complementary contracts with one cardiologist, one dentist and a laboratory for their different tests. Besides they have the help of another 30 people to provide all the necessary services to these athletes in order to focus only in their training. They train and compete during 11 months and spend only one month with their respective families.

"El País," Spanish newspaper, August 1997.
"El País" Semanal (magazine) December 1998.
Cuadernos de Atletismo (No. 36), Real Federación Española de Atletismo
MacKay, Dunkan, Runner's World Magazine
Personal conversations with Said Aouita (1987-1988) and Khalid Skah (1994).

2nd part: It is about Hicham El Guerrouj's training (coming soon!)

Marco Veledíaz, Mexico City, Mexico
Alternate E-mail

Marco is a national level middle and distance coach in Mexico. He has a B.S. in Physical Education (1984) and has attended coaching courses and seminars in Mexico, USA, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Spain (Level I and Level II from the USATF coaching certification system).

He is currently Technical Coordinator and distance coach of "Club Estrellas Colgate" which has over 90 young athletes between 12-20 years old. He has attended several international major meets in the USA, Canada, Japan, Bulgaria, and Greece with his athletes each season since 1984.

Marco gives coaching clinics at Mexican Universities and the Mexican Olympic Training Center.