News & Updates

17 May 2024 • Track and Field

Teamwork helps propel Preston to sub-1:45 clocking

James Preston ran a stunning PB to claim the national senior men’s 800m title at the 2024 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington. Credit: (Alisha Lovrich).

James Preston produced one of the standout performances at the 2024 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships by winning the national senior men’s 800m title in 1:44.87 to climb to number two on the all-time NZ lists. Here the 27-year-old Wellington-Scottish athlete chats about how his support team have played a critical role in his journey to that time.

After feeling, “a bit disappointed” following the 2023 season, which climaxed with his elimination from the heats of the men’s 800m at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, James Preston sought a slightly different approach to improve his performance levels.

Blessed with a strong support team he did, however, believe the network has been a little “siloed and segmented” so to bring about more cohesiveness within the team he brought about a more collaborative approach, which, so far in 2024, has reaped rewards.

Evan Cooper – Coach

Working with Evan following the death of his previous coach Graham Tattersall ten years ago, there is little questioning the strength of their coach-athlete relationship.

“First and foremost, he is an amazing coach, one of the best 800m coaches in the country,” explains James. “For me it has always been more of a partnership, and he has always taken on feedback.”

After suffering stress fractures between 2016-2019 which stunted his development as an athlete, Evan implemented a plan for James to better manage load. The plan has worked well and since 2019 James admits that he has only had to modify training for four days because of a tweaked hamstring.

“That has been one of the main positives, the way he has helped manage my training load,” he says.

James also believes his flexibility in his approach to training and the fact he is always very focused what is best for the specific athlete is another strength.

“Over time Evan has been able to work out what is best for me, for example we have played with both higher and lower mileage and the amount of speed work in my training. He does not dogmatically stick to one training philosophy.”

James says another quality of Evan is his open-minded nature. Since bringing in physiologist Mathew Mildenhall as a more integral part of his team post the 2023 World Championships, Evan has been 100 per cent supportive.

“Evan and Mathew work collaboratively, with Evan implementing the overall vision,” explains James. “It has been good to combine Evan’s 800m knowledge and understanding of me as an athlete, with Mathew’s technical expertise. This allows us to capture possible outcomes of certain training strategies and better understand why we are seeing certain adaptations to that training.”

Mathew Mildenhall – HPSNZ Performance Physiologist

James has worked with Mathew since 2018 but as explained earlier since last August he has brought the Auckland-based physiologist much closer into the team. Carrying out more regular testing with Mathew to including measuring sprint, strength and aerobic metrics as well as specific testing around the 800m has allowed James and his team to make some more informed decision-making around his training and racing.

“It gives me the reassurance that we are on the right track and makes us able to quantify what we are doing in training and make the necessary changes,” explains James. “It helps put context around what may or may not happen should we implement certain tweaks to training.

“Mathew is a wealth of knowledge with a really interest in middle-distance running. It feels like we explore every option as we seek to make a difference with those one percenters.”

James uses the example that leading into the 2023-24 domestic season, he was keen in increasing the amount of work at a threshold level as this would allow him to complete more training in a shorter timeframe. However, following discussions with Mathew and the wider team, in conjunction with the testing, it was decided that adopting approach might impact maximum lactate – one of the key specific 800m measures, so James opted not to increase the amount of work running at a threshold level.

Adam Allen – HPSNZ Head of Strength and Conditioning

James has also sought to make Adam a more involved in the inner circle of Team James over the past nine months or so – and once again that more cohesive approach has reaped rewards.

During the 2023 international season James and his team received some data for overseas athletes – who had recorded a quicker 800m PB than the Kiwi two-lap star – that they were able to produce quicker force off the ground.

On the back of this data, James and his team amended his strength and conditioning programme to focus more on improving his force off the ground. Over time the New Zealand 800m number one has been able to maintain the positive strength values relative to the other athletes. Meanwhile, another area ripe for exploring is that it was found James had significant differences between the right and left side of the body – which could be due to the amount of laps James completes running in the same direction.

“We’ve been able to build some positive numbers in the gym,” says James. “For three weeks or so when travelling out to World Indoors (in Glasgow) and then coming back for nationals I hadn’t quite been to the gym as much as would have liked. But after this period when I was tested, we were still able to maintain some good base values in the gym with very little load. To see these numbers was cool and has raised discussion around minimum load to maintain strength. The reduced load enables me to feel fresher during races without losing the gains made previously in training.”

Jeff Rothschild – Nutritionist

James admits he has a strong nutritional foundation from past nutritionists he has tapped into but since working alongside Jeff since Budapest he has been able to focus more on performance nutrition.

“We have looked at ways at getting that extra one tenth of a second by exploring race day supplementation,” explains James. “We have looked at bicarbonates, nitrates and played around his caffeine. Some things have worked, and some haven’t but focusing on these more exciting elements has been fun.”

Vijay Vallabh – Physiotherapist

James has been blessed to have worked with some top-class physios throughout his career but the national 800m champion says he has been very fortunate to have received the support for Vijay for the past 12 months or so.

The former Black Caps physio has come from a team sports background but is now implementing his skills in the Olympic sports. The team have also explored some areas which may have previously been overlooked, for example, improving warm-ups for easy runs – which has allowed for more quality training and reduced downtime due to injury.

“I feel like he understands my body well and it very passionate about what he does,” adds James. “I probably have a higher frequency of physio session and see Vijay more consistently than other physios in the past and this helps keep my body in the best shape to withstand the training and racing.”

***James Preston is next in action over 800m in Rehlingen, Germany on Monday (20 May) from 3.13am.