Mid-Distance Training Techniques With Sub-4 Miler Sean Dolan

By Robert Marchetti - RobertMarchetti221@gmail.com

- - - 

Sean Dolan is a sophomore at Villanova University. This past indoor season, after qualifying for the NCAA Championships in the mile, he became an All-American when he ran 3:57.20 to finish sixth. Recently, at the Joe Walker Invitational, Dolan secured a personal record time of 3:38.60 for 1,500m.

In 2019, before Dolan graduate from Hopewell Valley (NJ) High School, Robert Marchetti sat down with the teenager to pick his brain on training techniques.

In his last year at Hopewell Valley, Dolan won the New Jersey Meet of Champions in the 1,600m with a time of 4:09.14. As a high school junior, he was the 2018 New Balance Nationals Outdoor champion in the mile and he anchored Hopewell's winning Distance Medley Relay team at the Penn Relays Championships of America. 

Sean, talk about your background in sports. What sports did you play growing up? When did you start competitive running?

SEAN DOLAN: I played soccer and basketball growing up through elementary and middle school. I also ran track in middle school. I did the 200m and 400m because I pretty much ran track as speed training for soccer. I didn't get serious about track until sophomore year.

Talk about coming from a running family. Your dad-Steve Dolan--is the head track coach at Penn, and your older brother Tim is a highly competitive runner. Has that helped you much?

Definitely. So it's kind of a funny story. My dad really didn't try to force me and my brother into running track. We wanted to try other sports. But when I decided I wanted to focus on track he said, "Well if you're going to go for it, I'll help you out." So obviously he helped us along those lines. But it's not only him. Coach Oldfield and coach Daniel Johnson (The Hopewell coaches) have helped the past few years with me and my brother's training.

Aaron Oldfield is your high school distance coach, and Hopewell has had a rich tradition of distance and middle distance success. What is it about his system that makes it conducive for distance runners to develop and flourish?

I think Coach Oldfield's idea is that although we are not a high mileage program, we have a lot of guys that are willing to work hard. We've had guys who weren't insanely talented their freshman year but they just really worked at it. We have a good team culture and Coach Oldfield makes sure we have a competitive environment, and he keeps us hungry. You can see it in recent years with the amount of depth we've had in the relays.

How many miles per week do you typically run in training?

In spring, 35 to 45 miles per week. I typically have 3 to 4 easy runs a week. These are done mostly on the roads. I have 1 or 2 days on the track.

In August to get ready for cross country I was doing mid-50s to mid-60s. During fall season Low 50s. Indoors was 45 to 50 miles per week. Through fall and indoor we focus mostly on threshold training. In spring we focus on speed and touch base on threshold training.

You have a tremendous kick. What do you do in training to develop that type of velocity?

We do strides at the end of most of our runs. On Mondays we do 30 meter bursts. We set up two cones at the track in the middle of the straightaway, 30 meters apart. We jog up to it, and when we hit the first cone we go all out to the second cone, working on change of pace and making sure our mechanics are good. In the weight room we do body weight stuff like squats and lunges. Earlier in the year we do those with the barbell. I've found those to be beneficial.

* Dolan ran 1:50.53 in the 800m in the Group 3 race

You have a wide range. You've run, 9:02.66 for 3200m, 4:08.86 in the mile, 1:50.53 for 800m, and you can run sub 50 for the quarter. What is it about your training that allows you such versatility?

I think it's because we have such a good mix of threshold work early on to get a strong enough base. And we always tap back into our threshold bank now and then. Like as the year progresses, instead of doing 1 or 2 mile pace at threshold we will go to 1200m or 1000m at threshold. So I think it's a mix of doing the threshold stuff-- with the rest being a little bit shorter--while we're also working on our speed.

Can you give us an example of some of your track workouts in spring?

My favorite workout is a 600m, 500m, 400m, 300m, 200m, & 100m. We try to run goal mile pace. After each run, the recovery is to jog the next distance. So for example, after the 600 you jog 500, and after the 500 you jog 400 etc.  We use this workout to get ready for big invitational races.  

I've also done the classic 5 x 1 mile. In the spring we usually do 3 x 1200m or 3 x 1k. At the end of that we do 4 to 6 x 200m because don't want to get stuck at that slow grinding pace.  We want to make sure we get some faster reps at the end of it.

Talk about how you learn to feel the right pace for the right race.

On a pre-meet day sometimes I go to the track and do a few striders at race pace. Like the day before my 2-mile race at Holmdel this year--Dolan's personal best-- after an easy 30 minute run, I went to the track and did 4x200m trying to lock in at a 34 second pace for the race the next day. 

What type of supplementary training do you do besides the running?

We do core every day except on pre-meets. We stretch every day after running--mostly static. Depending on what day we race, we lift two times a week. With the weights we pretty much do the standard 3x10 for everything with a weight that's just good enough for us to get the reps, do good form, and push ourselves some days. Monday is typically total body lifting. On Wednesday, depending on the scenario of what race we are running or what we did the day before, we focus on either upper or lower body.

Discuss your sleeping habits, and eating habits before a training session.

I usually try to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. I see Coach Oldfield every day during classes so I know what the workout is going to be that day. So I try to eat light, with it in the back of my mind that I have a workout that day. A peanut butter & jelly sandwich or something like that. On race days I try to eat 3 hours before. 

For any younger runners who may see this interview, what would you tell them are the keys to developing as a runner?

I think it comes from trusting the training, trusting the people around you. You're going to have people around you thinking "why are we doing this?" or "Is this going to be beneficial?" But the thing is to just ask questions. There will be days where Coach Oldfield will give us a workout, and I'll ask why we are doing it. Not just to be messing with him or anything, but because I want to know how it's going to benefit us. So if you want to know what's going on, just ask and I'm sure they'll help you out with the explanation for it. Surround yourself with good people and get your teammates on board with it. It makes the journey a lot more fun. It's a lot more fun to do it with a team.


MONDAYS:  5-6 Miles @7:15-6:50 pace on the road. Followed by 30 meter acceleration bursts on the track x 6 reps, w/ walk back recoveries. Hurdle mobility circuit, stretching, core, and weights.

TUESDAYS: Track workout. 3x1200m or 3x1000m near threshold pace w/1:00 to 1:30 rests between each.  Followed by 4 to 6 x200m at miler pace, jog 200 between each. Stretching and core.  

(*Before big meets do the 600 to 100m breakdown described earlier)

WEDNESDAYS: 5-6 Miles @7:15-6:50 pace on road.  Followed by 6x100 on the track @ mile race rhythm. Stretching, core, and weights.

THURSDAYS: Usually 6-7 miles @7:15-6:50 pace on road. Sometimes Thu is a little harder, @6:40 range, depending on goals for the week. Stretching and core.

FRIDAYS: Pre-meet day.  30 minutes very easy @7:15 pace. Sometimes followed by a few striders at the goal pace for race the next day. 


SUNDAYS:  Recovery run, 7-9 Miles on trails or towpath @ easy 7:00 pace.

- - - 

Robert Marchetti, a former NCAA Division I track coach at Rider University and Columbia University, is a private track and field coach located in Hamilton, New Jersey. For more information, you can email him at robertmarchetti221@hotmail.com. You can visit his website at www.coachup.com/coaches/robertm-4