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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Oh to be lean without the mean!

Another blog entry driven by an email from a client - they so inspire me to keep hard at it EVERY DAY, because truly the greatest reward for what I do is to see athletes experiencing joy in what they do.

"It has been about 18 months since my personal session with you in Boulder, and it is still as fresh and meaningful as it was the day we met. I have been working on the basic ideas you suggested, especially the “habituation” of a solid training program.

The one aspect that I have not yet mastered is what Bobby called “the fat loss game” but I am working on it and know I will make progress. If you have any additional writing and/or tips on this I am certainly open to suggestion!!!

To be honest, I am surprised that I still recall and think about our training session, but I truly do. I find it amazing that a one hour session has had such a profound and long lasting positive impact on me."

How very kind of you Joe – it makes the heart sing when you positively impact some aspect of an individual’s life. Happy Holidays to you & your family as well, (& to all of you out there that read my blog!).

The “Fat Loss Game” as you know, is the toughest one of all – here are some more guidelines, some old, some new:
· Read In Defense of Food – by Michael Pollan
o Eat often, not so much, mostly raw & unprocessed fruit & vegetables
o Eat meat as a side dish
· 5-6 meals a day, keep the caloric density weighted towards the AM
· Serve your actual (tested daily caloric requirements) with these meals; no more, no less (yes – no less)

- Also read Bob Seebohar's book - Nutrition Periodization for Endurance Athletes

· Fuel your training separately before, during & after workouts; so when you train, you eat extra to fuel that training, when you don’t train, you eat only your regular daily requirement.
· Walk plenty as part of your training – throw in a big hike (1 – 6 hours) per week. Start & end all runs with a 3 – 5min walk. Make sure that at least 60% (if possible 80%) of your other/run training is easy aerobic (below 70% of heart rate reserve – max minus resting times .70, plus resting)
· Eat (good) fats
· Stay satiated – i.e. do not allow yourself to get hungry. Snack proactively (i.e. choose, buy, decide on snacks while satiated, not when you start becoming aware of hunger)
· Watch out for the caloric density of juices, sports drinks, salad dressings & sauces

Hope this is useful,
Best wishes,
Bobby McGee

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Are you Running SLOWLY enough?

I get such great questions on my website that provide an opportunity for me to spout my opinion on my blog. This one should be of use to many runners & triathletes.
"Bobby, I have attended several trainings by you. Which I have taken a lot out of each one. I am an endurance coach. I was wondering if you could answer a training question. It seems my faster athletes do not have a problem doing their easy runs, easy....say 45sec or more per mile, slower then their Marathon pace. But the athletes at the other end, the 9:00 MP runners always seem to struggle with at their V-Dot predicted easy pace. They complain about running so slow. I am concerned they are spending to much time in the grey zone. What are your thoughts? Thank you."

This is a complex question & I am very glad you asked it – it is most challenging for the slower runners, they ARE going too fast & in that grey zone - diminishing their chances of transcending their current plateau & here’s why:

Their easy pace is too close to their race pace – a common challenge for marathon coaches of the masses. A vast majority of marathoners run their easy & long runs at their marathon pace. In order for them to super-adapt they must find a way to change this & initially the answer is for them to go slower in training & trust it. In this way, pretty soon, they’ll start to adapt & their projected marathon pace WILL go up (faster) & then their training pace will also. This is a mental skill also – teach the ego to shut up & then teach the body to train for adaptation. It can take years for this adaptation to take place fully. See if the following points help out – they do for my runners & triathletes:

· I have had success with teaching the slower runners at altitude to NOT run until they can run at less than 70% of their actual heart rate reserve (i.e. using their resting HR as an evening factor). They walk brisker & brisker at that sub 70% until they can run, or they run on the downs & then flats & walk the climbs (which brings them into grey if they try to run), until they adapt. It can take 18 months – but most can do this in about 6 or so weeks
· I use the walk/run method a LOT (even with elites) – this helps them run a bit faster (as they’d like), but keeps the HR down – they slow to a walk when it begins to exceed 70-75% of HRR. This helps with fat metabolism training also. Check out my webinar on USAT website, from a couple of weeks back on walk/run:
· Have them do ever increasing hikes & get more & more hilly with these. I start with 45min & work up to even 4+ hours.
· Finally, check out the latest triathlete magazine (p106), for something that I have used & believed for years - 12 – 15% grade (on treadmill also) walking. Is exactly the same as running without the impact & HR is easily controlled

Good luck & please let me know if this helps,

Best wishes,

Bobby McGee

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Fast makes me Furious

In the recent 70.3 world championships Tim O'Donnell, who was unbeaten at the distance this season up to this point, was given a 4 minute or so time penalty. He took it well, as all great athletes do, but ended up some 4 minutes back of the winning time & losing out on some significant income. In the women's pro race the lead bunch of men caught up to the lead women & most of that pack tagged along for a ride that turned out to be the fastest ever for women. Need I say more?

Years ago race walking reached an impasse that almost led to the demise of the sport. The technique of the top athletes had developed to such an extent that the naked eye could no longer determine if the athletes were actually competing according to the rules of the sport & the clause "apparent to the naked eye" was introduced into the rules.This meant that the athletes could now "cheat", which would be visible in slow motion video, but not to the eye of the officials.

Similarly, after much fighting about "true" triathlon, which implies that the ride is a non-drafting event & no rider may slipstream behind another rider & so gain as much as a 30% advantage in doing so, the Olympic movement decided that the Olympic triathlon event would be draft legal & a criterium style ride was instituted. There are various reasons for this, some of which may be that the event became more exciting from a spectator standpoint & much less controversial in the application of the drafting rules which have changed somewhat over the years.

Non-draft racing makes sense for the masses of age groupers because it is much safer. Though I still believe that a draft legal event should be offered to suitably qualified age-groupers. This would help the Olympic sport immeasurably. However the issue of policing the pros has become a major bone of contention over the years, as so often a good swimmer will see their hard earned position rapidly evaporate as a pack of poorer swimmers "work" together & catch the lone swimmer on the bike. So too the less effective biker may "sit in" & do less work on the bike & be able to have fresher legs for a superior run.

Most of my work is with the Olympic style of racing, where tactics, team tactics, superior bike handling skills & crit-style cycling smarts can make or break an athletes performance. My own competitive years were spent racing triathlon as the proverbial "race of truth", as the time trial on the bike has been called - a wholly solo affair. I therefore have no opinion either way as to which may be "better" or purer, each sport is unique, but where I am really biased is in the disadvantage experienced by the honest racer.

If the margin is so slim & the field so full that effective, fair, across the board draft officiating becomes impossible, as definitely seems to be the case in the pro sport of half & full Ironman races & the big money non-draft Olympic distance races, then the good name of the sport is falling into disrepute & becoming something of a farce.

I am close enough to many of these professional triathletes to know that a lot of money (relatively speaking) is at stake here. These athletes earn a meagre living relative to their stature, expertise, hard work & talent when compared to sports like football, baseball, basketball & hockey - even track & field & road running. There are not that many opportunities either - how many of these gruelling races can an athlete do at the very highest level in the course of a career? The sport has so many variables & a myriad things can go wrong on the day & dash months of careful planning & masses of hard work, without the spectre of either (unfair) disqualification or being beaten by a cheat being added to the mix.

I know that race directors & many influential individuals in the sport care, but what needs to be done is a review of each event to determine the number of participants that the specific course can handle & still be fairly marshaled. Clearly this is often NOT the case - it is hard enough to be a pro triathlete & have to decide, "Should I go with this pack as my competitors are doing, or should I play by the rules & end up with a position inferior to my true ability?"

Of all the non-pro athletes I spoke to who ran in the New York Marathon this year - the biggest marathon ever, the complaint was the same - "a magnificent experience, but I could never really run freely & ended up with a time between 10 & 40 minutes slower than I was capable of". The race was too crowded for a runner to actually run to ability.

In this case my advice is, "you have to run the great races, have an adventure & don't expect a great time, unless you get seeded in such a way as to be able to have an open run. If you want to run a PR, choose a smaller, less crowded event." But in the case of the pro triathletes, what are they to do?

My point? I dunno... maybe a cry to those in power to think of the long term health of the sport & find a way to have the best athletes win cleanly, whether that be in draft legal or non-draft races. I do NOT think that either type of event should consider changing to a different format, but clearly the policing & the problem MUST be reviewed & addressed - the current system is NOT working!

Bobby McGee

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Meb is True Blue

Boy does it ever sicken me! What do people want? After reading Gina Kolata's article (reporting on the web traffic saying that Meb Keflezighi is not an American & therefore not the 1st American in 27 years to win the New York marathon). I am so deeply saddened, that even amongst runners such racialism still exists. Hats off to Alberto Salazar coming out & saying that he too was born in another country & he was the last American to win NY!

I wonder how many people know that Meb's physiology is that of an elite distance runner, but no more so than any number of other elite American runners. His secret is EXTREME dedication & commitment. His attention to detail, his self-discipline, his work ethic are legendary to those in the know.

Meb, from my side, "Way to go my man - what a wonderful run, after the travails you have been through since your silver medal in Athens, this qualifies as one of the greatest comebacks of all time!"

Bobby McGee

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Run Free Friends

I get so wrapped up in my work with runners & triathletes who wish to improve their mechanics that I sometimes forget that the reason why most of us run is simply as an escape to a more child-like time. I watch my son run & it's always with simple & sheer joy! When racing it is important to always keep this in mind. The voluntary nature of what we do allows us to tap into areas of motivation that are different than toughness, or competitiveness, or even a winning mindset, but rather a peaceful, balanced, rhythmic process, fueled by amazement & gratitude. So in the spirit of this I refer you to a laugh out loud YouTube clip of Friends so that whether you are a serious runner or just a happy-to-be-out-there runner, you can tap into power & motivation that is available from the not so usual sources of plain joy & fun. Enjoy:
Bobby McGee

Monday, October 26, 2009

Further to New York this weekend

Another note to you intrepid New York Marathoners:

I am excited for you all as you launch down the streets of New York this weekend.

If you get this next week right I believe that all that stands between you & a big breakthrough is the mental component of overcoming the inevitable bad patch. If you closely follow your plan of starting conservatively, but ensuring that you DO get into the running as soon as you can, then typically there will come the precipitous moment where you have to decide to push through at a level perhaps only achieved in the marathon once before & then get all of it out of you in those final miles – racing, rather than hanging in there.

It’s when you are at that point when the decision becomes, “I break through with a mindset that this next part is/will be particularly challenging, but relatively brief”, & then take up another challenge & that is to “compete” over the closing 6 – 8 miles with an understanding that you are physically able to do so even though you may have no recent marathon experience in support of this. Trick is to trust the training & yourself & believe that tough patches & especially that tough patch is still temporary & finite & to shake off the shock of it & have prepared a way to restart & then race the final section, i.e. succeed at the access game.

Those that do, joyously recollect afterwards as best they can, what they did when barging through the door of opportunity. Those that don’t, observe themselves as they stumble. Have Spirit & self join hands in a truly merry dance through the perceived valley of shadows that needs but a bold flip of the switch to illuminate this great festival of delight that is the willing application of mind through body to access soul.

Bobby McGee

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Have a great run in NY everybody!

“Poetry, music, forests, oceans, solitude – they were what developed enormous spirit & strength. I came to realize that spirit, as much as or more than physical conditioning, had to be stored up before races”. Herb Elliott

Running the NY City marathon is a lifelong dream for many runners. You have been storing up spirit for NY for a long time – through other marathons, through your career as a marathon runner, through your desire to run this race, through your willingness to have had the discipline to beat the heat & cold, the dark & the social resistance, the disappointments & the successes, the bad GIT moments & the frustrations, the obstructions, the joys, the people; meeting the demands of job & life – in short all the moments have either prepared or slowed you down for this moment & it all now lies in the moment by moment decisions you make along these last few days.

I ask you to consider an approach that goes way beyond ego – an approach that cannot be held captive in mediocrity by the subterfuges & constructs that so much of everyday life holds, because it lies beyond their influence.

I ask you to create a race time span that may be used as an epitaph to a marathon runner – one that you may be proud of yes, but more; one that will remind you of a series of unforgettable moments – etched into your heart & soul as the most enjoyable doing, a process that you wanted never to end. Imagine & pre-experience a time of unbelievable, other worldly experience – something so melodious, so in tune with a rich life’s rhythms, so in vibrational harmony with your soul, that it needs not description nor explanation, only a statement perhaps like this: “You would have had to have been there, in order to understand.” This followed by a smile so deep, so eye-wellingly emotional as to leave no doubt to the observer that self-transcendence has taken place.

Can you do that for yourself? You many runners, whom I have observed for so long, have done it for me – I ask you to do it for you.
Bobby McGee

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Getting schooled on pacing

Hoo boy, pacing really is where it’s at right now. Probably has been for a long time! Anyway, just after answering the question from Australia on pacing, it turns out that the new wisest man in exercise physiology & its interpretation, my friend Ross Tucker, is in Chicago for the marathon this weekend & they are going to try, instead of the usual 5km by 5km analysis, a 1km by 1km analysis, which would bring into much starker relief the whole issue of what these great runners, like Sammy Wanjiru, current Olympic champion, who ran an impossible 2:06 in the heat of Beijing, actually do out there.
I highly recommend you read this post for Thursday Oct. 8th:
When you compare this, to what I had to say yesterday it becomes clear that the great modern runners are running closer to even pace & that the mental component is far from resolved – it is clear that we are approaching human limits & that the great breakthroughs in world records will become less & less & that the mind will play an ever more increasing role when it comes to accessing our human limits & determining winners & also rans.
Boy is it ever humbling & a great learning experience to be involved in endurance sports in this modern day & age.
Good luck this weekend to all of you running the Chicago marathon & taking part in the Ironman world championships in Kona, Hawaii.
Bobby McGee

Comment from someone who ought to know on the Vit. D article I referenced

The Vit D article is misleading.

First, the studies quoted aren't recent as the NYT says - they go back to the 1950s, when no one knew what the hell to measure to assess Vit D levels accurately.

Second, there is also an alternative theory suggesting that the body increases vitamin D production to deal with inflammation.

Athletes are "fittest" in August, not because it's sunny and they have high vitamin D, but because that's when the season peaks, for goodness sake!
They are producing more vitamin D to deal with the increased inflammation and immune system stress.
As they ease off on training, the need for vitamin D declines and so yes, as they get less fit, vit D levels drop.

So, not totally convinced that I need to be drinking cod liver oil, bleeeuah!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Perceived Effort versus even pace

Here's a great question I got from an Aussie triathlon coach: "I had two junior girls do some time trials on the weekend and I took all their splits and have plotted them. It seems they have taken a rather common curve in their splits, fast early – slow down – bring it back at the end. What are your thoughts on pacing in a TT? Should I try to bring them back a bit early? Or is this a common curve for all athletes and I just need to work with it and work on their endurance in that middle zone?" PC

Yup stats have shown this over & over again. There are many reasons, some of which we discussed: The mental zone - come too far to quit, got too far to go to smell the barn, think about past & future, lose focus in the present moment & de-recruit/de-facilitate, de-potentiate. 2ndly the central governor is insufficiently experienced, testosterone (ego) kicks in & they go fast while they still can & the same at the end – central governor (brain?) calculates that they have a finite, comprehensible manageable amount left & they won’t blow up, so they give it schtick over the last section.

They should absolutely be taught in rep work & progressively more & more intense steady effort runs to go out at a pace that they think is right, then back off that, then mid run they should risk going harder than they feel is prudent & then go at the finish sooner than they think they can. Warm them up super well. Then using a treadmill, the GPS, or you on the bike, set a pace that you have determined they ought to be capable of. Then have them stick with the pace (even sometimes without knowing the distance they have to run!) & hold it as long as they can & only focus on dealing with the current, in-the-moment consequences of pace & effort, i.e. stay present to what is so, second by second – staying away from concerns about what impact such a pace may have on them 5sec or 5min or 50min from this moment – just stick at it, renegotiate & stick at it some more & more & more. They soon learn how to override the bodies too-early warning signs & learn how to push towards more real physiological limits that have not been filtered through the interpretation network too much.

Even do 100m, flying start strides beforehand till they master the feel of the sought-after pace. They can learn that even pace (no more than 3% on either side of sought after effort) is most economical & fastest. Effort is the key word in terms of physiology – i.e. at an effort, that under ideal conditions – flat road, no wind, firm surface, will produce a given pace; faster on downs or with the wind & slower on climbs or against the wind or on a slow surface. The mental effort is trained as a crescendo effort – i.e. in order to produce an even pace (under ideal conditions again) the effort needs to escalate throughout – a 3:30km (as an example of the pace required) for the 1st km of an 8km TT may feel like a 4:00 & a 3:30 for the 5th, might feel like a 3:20 & for the 7th an intense 3:00 in order to stick at 3:30s – get my drift?

The top Kenyans sometimes use 3 groups of training partners: the weakest group for the 1st 3rd of the workout & the strongest for the last 3rd! All workouts, from easy to VO2max go from easy to fast throughout, never the other way around – but they do train for fast starts as well.

Hope this helps

Bobby McGee

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

YASSO 800s & half marathon predictions

I recently received a good question regarding using Yasso's 800s as a means by which one can figure half marathon shape using the formula. If you don't know about this workout, you are in for a treat. Bart Yasso, Runner's World figure, author & running guru extraordinaire & good friend, discovered that if you run 10X800m with a 400m jog recovery between each, your average time in minutes & seconds for the workout approximates your time capability, in hours & minutes, for the marathon - so if, for example, you run 3min & 55sec for your 800s, your marathon time could be predicted at 3hours & 55 minutes - weird huh? Well there's no physiological basis for this, it's just a quirk of statistics. Anyway, I use the workouts & suggest the process in my book, Run Workouts for Runners & Triathletes that came out earlier this year.

Check out this article on Bart & the workout:

Here's the question: "LOVE your Run workout book - have a question re Yasso - for the Half Marathon - in the taper week you have athletes doing 8x800 - I know the routine for a marathon pace prediction but how does Yasso's 800's predict for a Half Marathon? Divide by two and then take another say 5% off." GW

& here's my answer: Bobby McGee: "Yassos are a good workout & as you might have read from my stuff, or even Greg McMillan’s stuff, we feel they under read by about 5:00, i.e. 10X800m with 400m jog recovery in 3:00 with sufficient mileage (55/60+p/w) equals about a 3:05 marathon. Of course with what I see at altitude it gets a little vague; but again sufficient volume is the key. I set the 8X800m as a HM workout because it is a good solid rep workout, not as any kind of prediction workout, as Yassos aren’t physiologically quantifiably justified any way – they're just a very quirky, freaky coincidence really & well done for Bart to see it & create a legend!

If however you want to use the number as a bit of a cross reference, even if based on Bart’s fantastical fancy, I suggest extrapolating the 8 reps out to 10, (say your runner averaged 3mins) & then pop that on McMillan’s calculator & add 2:30 & you’ll have a fair reflection based on the Yasso theory, i.e. about a 1:27:50 half marathon. I think your way, minus a further 5% would possibly under read too much.

Hope this helps,

Bobby McGee

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sub 13 for 5km

Yes I know, it does not have that magical ring to it that sub 4 for the mile has, but it's a much greater feat. I love the 5km - it's that blend of miling speed & 10km strength that intrigues me. If a group of exercise physiologists had to have chosen events, this is the one that they most certainly would not have - too complex, requiring super human ability to master, too hard to define the prerequisites the athlete requires to master the event. The fastest athletes I have ever coached got into the teens, never 12-anything; it would be an honor indeed to coach someone to go sub 13, or sub 15 for women for that matter.

The 1st guy ever to break 13min for 5000m was the great Moroccan Said Aouita in 1987 in Rome - he was a great miler & world record holder for multiple other distances from 1500m up to 5km. He even ran in the Olympics in the 800m such was his range!

It's not been around that long - the 12.5 lap event was born from the 3 mile event. I think the real buzz around the event came about when a flamboyant Brit by the name of Chris Chattaway (who was a rabbit in Bannister's world's 1st sub 4 clocking), who did minimum mileage, defeated the Russian iron man, Vladimir Kuts, who was famous for his incredible training volumes in a Russia versus England 5000m match in 1954 by hanging on for dear life through a suicidal pace & multiple surges. He set a new world record in 13:51.6 some 5sec faster than the previous record. (About 10 days later Kuts broke this record).

The current world record is just south of 12:40 (12:37:35to be exact), held by the still current king, Kenenisa Bekele from Ethiopia & there have been quite a few runners from Africa below

the magical barrier. My interest was perked when British miler David Moorcroft, somewhat unexpectedly ran 13:00:41 27 years ago (& still the British record- 3rd oldest). This was the last 5000m record set by a non-African (July 1982!). Incidentally this time was set without pace-makers - wow some race that must have been! This was 5sec faster than anyone had ever run before. He sadly never did go sub 13, as he became injured soon thereafter (stress fracture, hepatitis & chronic pelvic misalignment) & had a tragic exit from the '84 Olympics, coming last in the final in excruciating pain.

Bob Kennedy from the USA was the 1st non-African to go sub 13min, (12:58:21) in 1996. It took many years before the Aussie, Craig Mottram followed him under 13min - 12:55:76 coming 2nd to the great Gebrselassie in a UK all comers record with a last lap of 55.67 seconds in 2004

Now to cap it all, in one glorious season for US men's 5000m running both Dathan Ritzenhein (AR 12:56.27) & Matt Tegenkamp (12:58.56) also joined the exclusive sub-13 club. They join Bernard Lagat (12:59.22 to Bekele's 13:00.04) when he beat the unbeatable Bekele, as US runners sub 13. Lagat is formerly from Kenya, so has the pedigree.

Hope that inspires you to go out & break 25, or 20, or 15min for 5km - & if you break 14 without any formal coaching, give me a call & we'll talk, especially if you are a member of the fairer gender, hee, hee.

Bobby McGee

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fascia & the whole ball of wax conundrum

Having just re-read the excellent Men's Health article on connective tissue: I am again confronted with the fascinating & somewhat mystifying process of "coaching" elastic return. Clearly functional mimicking is the way to go - but evaluation specifically (quantifying) becomes a bear. Understanding that good running implies a 5 to 1 ratio of elastic return to power & knowing that 50 plus % of elastic energy in running is stored, mid stance, in the achilles tendon & plantar fascia is eye-opening. It forces all run coaches to see whether plyometrics & other elastic encouragement drills have a dramatic effect on endurance running ability - especially when it comes to the risk reward issues of this "intense" joint/tendon/ligament training for the marathon & Ironman. I have of course had good results with milers & half milers (or 800m & 1500m runners for you more advanced folk!), but although my "slower" runners have had great improvement in their 5 & 10km times, I am still unsure whether the smaller range of motion, less intense drills I have done for the longer events, have produced worthwhile results. Certainly no one has been injured & I have not done an experiment where I nail down the other larger variables, like endurance training.

Thoughts/references anyone?

Strange this entry started off with a rather more esoteric coaching question - How does the athlete & coach blend & manage training that meets the demands of competition for each specific athlete when considering the mental, emotional & spiritual component on the one side & the central, peripheral, brain/spinal & endocrine component on the other? See diagram above

Monday, September 28, 2009

Running an ultramarathon

I recently had a fellow coach in Australia ask me a question, that after I answered, I figured may be of value to a wider audience: "I have been reading your books and planning my ultra marathoner's preparation for a 100 mile event. In your experience what are the key areas (mechanically, physically or mentally) that the ultra marathoner should be working on, or the key areas that make the difference between a good day and a great day?"

· Mechanically I think the high cadence, low leg carriage, heel striking shuffle is key
· Physically it’s all about muscle endurance – the run/walk method rules in this distance race. Never running more than 10min at a time, helps with fat metab, vascular reset & lowers overall HR considerably & many more benefits. Must train like this also. Functional muscle endurance work essential
· Here’s where it ALL happens – very, very few individuals can actually train sufficiently for a 100 mile foot race – there are simply not enough hours in the day of the average person who has a full time job! So in these races it comes down to a management of self, a controlling of emotion. It’s very hard to go out conservatively enough for the younger racer & they shoot themselves in the foot in the 1st 30 miles. There is also no such thing as a “perfect” day out there – every race will have tough patches & the neophyte expecting everything to go according to plan is in for a rude awakening. The mantra becomes, “You will have bad patches & they will pass”. Training an ultra runner to deal with the mental emotional demands of competition is essential – visualization, manipulating & habituating internal dialogue & massive preparation that ensures an answer to every eventuality, even the ones that are not predictable is essential. Feeling ready, excited & confident is what is required in order for the athlete to reach beyond their logical capabilities on race day. It’s ALL about attitude. These races almost always take the athlete to a place of altered consciousness beyond logic & a fair amount of trust in their coach, training & self is crucial to a good performance on the day. It becomes necessary to define for themselves, very, very clearly what a successful race would be. So often a runner is disappointed by a result that to the coach & other observers seems to be in alignment with what was being said & shown in training only to be hijacked by an unsaid, un-divulged (even to self) expectation once the run is complete.
· A 4th point that you do not mention, but that is as important as the preceding 3 is the question of logistics & planning. These races are all about prepping like for military exercise – it’s hand to hand combat with yourself out there & it requires planning down to the most minute detail. I have athletes set up a large piece of poster board & as the weeks go by, they record every detail of what needs to be done, by whom, by when & how: Foods, liquids, quantities, pace, expected arrival times at aid stations, shoes, gear (warm, cold, lubrication), weather, terrain, flashlights, aid station procedures, options (especially with foods), which pacers where, what kind of motivational tools, statements may be required by these pacers, body weight, variability expected, temperatures, quirks, superstitions, tone of voice, etc, etc, etc. Accommodation, drivers, pre & post race, travel, support team & leader – all on a time line that covers the slowest possible scenario, an okay scenario, an ideal scenario, & dream scenario. What are the deal breakers – when can you pull the athlete out. Aid station procedure based on athlete status (physical, mental, emotional). Tips, cues, cue cards, idiosyncrasies etc. It never goes according to plan, but it does not go at all without a plan!
· Finally – the trouble with these long races (& this fits in with point 3, but deserves its own billing it is so important), is that there are not really a lot of lead up races that demand the same amount of focus or preparation, nor do they give enough insight as to how training is really going. It is very challenging for an athlete not to become emotionally & mentally exhausted in the final build up phase – there is so much expectation & so much to take care of & so much that can go wrong. Work very hard on creating a sense of peace, calmness & relaxation going into the event. Have ALL the tanks full, not just the physical, for the physical can drain out through the others if they have leaks

Hope this is helpful


Thursday, September 24, 2009


I must say that although I am all too fully aware that we need to step it up in the running department, the swim was an eye-opener for me in terms of its physicality & specific demands. I'd say that we need to do a GREAT DEAL MORE WORK on training our athletes to meet the actual demands of competition in the swim. The leaders in both the men's & women's races lifted their heads out the water almost every 5 strokes - that's very specific & must demand a high level of both skills & fitness. One of those swimmers was our own Sarah Haskins who had the swim of her life to come out almost too far ahead of the pack all on her lonesome!We also need to look into having a greater section of our gene pool in the USA participate in draft legal triathlons. Sure I know it is dangerous to a certain extent, but drawing athletes from a background of time trialing on the bike, into the sport of criterium style cycling is no way to apply the law of specificity. The difference between an animal that can put out an hour of maximum constant power in an isolated setting & the requirements of the draft legal racer, being masses of pace changes over a great variety of intensities in a much more technical setting with high speed cornering, plus the tactics of bunch riding, drafting, breakaways, etc. is vast. If cycling can have its categories that need to be graduated to, why can we not work with them & accredit our athletes in the same way - in this way we can have them race knowing that they are at least riding with athletes that have acceptable cycling skills. I am convinced that a whole new type of athlete will be attracted to the sport - athletes that may provide us with talent up to the demands of a world championship triathlon bike ride. These may be athletes who love the cut & thrust of crit racing & don’t see it as a necessary evil to get to the run in a position to do well. We have good riders who can swim & run, but too few.The US has a phenomenal collegiate & national swimming infrastructure - year after year, Olympics after Olympics the USA produces incredible swim teams. This year the US even produced a one man team that took home more medals than any other country's team combined! This is both a boon & a blessing for USA triathlon: We produce the best swimmers in the sport. Trouble is that this brings athletes that were swim specialists & have somatypes more suited to the sport of swimming than triathlon. Swimmers are somewhat larger than triathletes, needing more upper body strength & mass, which is NOT a limiter in the water, but hurts the triathlete, especially on the run. Somehow we also need to source our athletes from a domain that has taught them to swim from a very young age & developed very technically proficient swimmers, who have not necessarily gone on to full time swimming as their primary sporting activity. Let's face it - quality cyclists who come to the sport & have been cyclists for a while almost never make it to the top. I say almost, not because I know someone who has, but someone probably has! Many swimmers have made great triathletes, but in almost all cases their run has been a limiter to some extent. Similar to cyclists, but not quite as definitive are the runners. If they have not learned to swim effectively at an early age & developed a feel for the water, they are often doomed to be 2nd pack swimmers at best & spend their careers playing catch up on the bike, hoping the pack comes together & there are no significant breakaways up front. This in turn commonly leads to these “runners” not having as much run left after the herculean efforts required to make up lost time on the bike.
If we can create natural swimmers & runners with a fearless mindset (for the bike), we can develop the bike skills a little later
Finally the question then becomes: “Where do we find world beaters?” So far the answer seems two-fold:
· Create a situation/culture where triathlon is not a sport graduated to, like with so many of today’s top athletes who came from some other specialty, but rather a primary choice made by youngsters when they would have chosen football, basketball, swimming, etc. Athletes like Hunter Kemper & Matty Reed come to mind. There are about 5 such top early specialisers in the junior & U23 ranks that I know of currently – we need to ALL do our best to motivate kids to take up the sport. This seems much more common in Australia, a triathlon powerhouse, than here in the USA. This would mean introducing things like a more “professional” collegiate triathlon scene, complete with recruiting & scholarships. The bigwigs tell me that this may be the case as soon as 2012 for women—that would rock! Imagine our top collegiate coaches coaching these athletes as swimmers & runners – bring on the medals. Develop triathlon as a bigger school sport, like cross country or track. The sport grew from IM & many of the top performers today are graduates of the Olympic/ITU discipline – top tri names like Michele Jones, Macca & Sam McGlone are but a few. Trouble is kids should not be drawn to these longer races too early, but rather start in the sport much younger in the short races – develop their skills & love of the sport & then move on later to the longer races. It is time to lay down the age old grudge against draft legal racing – there is room for both & ultimately I believe that the draft legal short distance triathlon will ultimately help the US regain its top spot in the long distance races, especially IM.
· Source from multi-disciplinary sports that have swimming & running as part of their culture. The only one that comes readily to mind for me is surf lifesaving, which seems to be the source of some of Australia’s triathletes & our current Olympic champion, Jan Frodeno. Here’s what he had to say before his victory in Beijing in this regard: “I come from a swimming and surf-lifesaving background. Really it was the 2000 Olympic race that inspired me a lot and when someone said to me as a joke "hey, why don't you try a triathlon?" I thought why not and after my first race I was hooked!” (From Alistair Brownlee, current World Champion & World #1, was a swimmer & runner from a very early age
Hmmnn! Now I’m thinking too much again about how to inspire coaches to step their game up one more time; again & again!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

vitamin D

Check this out:

Picture of 2000 Olympic Champion & 2008 Silver Medalist, Simon Whitfield just prior to the start of the 2009 world triathlon championships on the Gold Coast of Australia.
Whoa there is SO much going on in the world of endurance sports. My areas of greatest interest - distance running & triathlon have had plenty to talk about.

The rivalry between Sammy & Haile in Berlin that failed to materialize, the heat at that race that did not stop Haile from being on pace for over 30km of the 42.2 & the dramatic drop of pace that took him from a 2:03:33 possible world record to "only" a 2:06.

Then there is the ongoing despicable behavior of the South African Athletics Federation, ASA (Athletics South Africa), as regards the matter of Caster Semenya, the young girl who won the 800m at the world champs. She caused eyebrows to be raised after her world leading time earlier in the year. ASA was asked to look into it by the international governing body, (IAAF). They lied & said they had not & when the IAAF did the testing, ASA accused them & the world of being racist. Turns out the president of ASA was lying all along & that tests had been done & the poor kid should never have been allowed to participate in the 1st place. The IAAF messed up by leaking information that was supposed to be doctor patient privilege. Horrible - the biggest loser is now the poor athlete; she may never compete again & the emotional damage could be immeasurable. Turns out the tests, as far as the experts are concerned, were a relatively simple affair.

Then we had the world triathlon championships, where I am sad to say the USA did not bring back a single medal. 2012 is rapidly approaching & those role players involved (myself included) had better get our butts in gear. I know the athletes are working really hard, (& so too the support entities) & as of yet this is not enough.

More on this next time.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A thinking man's game? Perhaps not

Spending 10 days with triathletes of varying ability, from world class to their countries best, but somewhat beginners still, I have wondered about learning & skills acquisition, both mentally & physically.
When it comes to their training, in a perfect world, most endurance athletes are considered by their coaches & themselves as being methodical. In my empirical experience nothing could be further from the truth. Both running & triathlon require some significant skills development. This is hopefully done in the tried & tested pedagogic method of setting a purpose for a workout or skills session, breaking it up into its separate parts, then learning those separate parts & finally putting it all together in sequence repeatedly until it becomes automatic.
We learn 1st automatically & instinctively as a response to the demands of our event – then as those demands evolve, so hopefully do we. Of course there are those who carefully study what we do & through science, physics, debate & thought come up with possible models by which we can do things more effectively. Then the athlete faces a daunting task; unlearn what was learned without thought through thoughtful, cognitive processes. This unlearning is best done with a “replacement” mindset – i.e. replace the existing behavior with the new (& hopefully better) behavior & then have the patience to accept a period of decreased effectiveness while habituating the new skill set & then with a little luck come out the other end a better athlete.
Good athletes allow themselves to be open to constant learning – it is a natural process. Even habituated skills get better each time we use them, especially under pressure. Like peeling the layers off an onion, we can only get to deeper realizations about our physical ability mentally, by experiencing & then revisiting our experience after the fact. Here video & photography are very useful, as we cannot always trust what we feel, but video (in slomo) does not lie! Great athletes have a hard time teaching what came “naturally” to them. I use parentheses, because it really was quite a formal, but perhaps unconscious effort on their part to get that good. Some have been lucky to have great conscious thinkers for mentors or coaches who took them along the journey with great care & attention to the processes of learning.
The process of “making automatic” is an interesting one – keen, but inexperienced coaches try to create rules for each process & then teach these rules & often young athletes learn these rules with great fervor & are left in competition trying to remember the rules for each situation without allowing habitually learned responses to show up automatically. This is also a product of anxiety – you can literally see an athlete thinking in competition – a fatal flaw! True habituated skills acquisition actually makes the conscious mind emptier. This is the true meaning of the sayings: “I just knew it. I had a gut feeling. I stayed out of my own way. I got out of my head. I just went on auto-pilot.”
Great athletes can give reasons for why they worked their magic at a certain time. The truth is they think this after the fact when they go through their performance in their mind. When Tiger Woods was asked what he thought of the phenomenon that he is, his answer was both astute & revealing. He said that he is busy with the process of being a golfer & not observing what it is to be a golfer – a BIG difference.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Racing pressure & anxiety need not be negative

As I prepare for a lecture to some junior & U23 athletes as they prepare for the world triathlon championships on the Gold Coast in Australia, my thoughts go to the processes of handling pressure.

Here are some thoughts that may help you as you train hard in preparation of your next race.

-High self expectations can create stress that is perceived as negative. A more empowering interpretation can be that you have confidence in your ability – that is why you are entertaining the prospect of doing well
-Realize that setting yourself a high standard actually points to your belief in your ability
-Some anxiety indicates that you have put something important at stake that demands a higher standard from you.
-Having shown yourself (& others) that you are capable of competing at this level should bring pride rather than concern.
-Preface races & hard training with formalized thoughts around the challenges that need to be met in order to continue the process of transcending your current level of ability
-Confronting thoughts & what they pertain to should be viewed with satisfaction as they point to the purpose of training hard & give the self assurance that your efforts are meaningful & correctly directed

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Triathlon in Australia

My 1st trip to Australia. I have been working my tail off & I have only just got here. I love the country. Reminds me so much of South Africa. I apologize for the lack of posts recently, I know it's been a while, but plenty of work & inter-continental travel will do that. All the usual suspects - triathlon training, running, sport psychology being the order each day. Juniors, age-groupers, aspirants & pros - all looking for that extra edge.

This is a great sporting nation & it's easy to see why; every level of athlete is out there every day working at their skills & fitness.

I have often wondered why certain circumstances that logically would be a limiting factor in an athlete's development turn out to be a reason for success. Take the British dominance of middle distance running in the 80s. Training in traffic & wet miserable weather gave the world Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe & Steve Cram, plus a few others. In South Africa it is generally the rural kids, from areas that have very little of what you would call opportunity, that produce the great athletes.

In triathlon it's nice to see that despite the super sport powers like Australia & the USA, that there is a healthy mix of top athletes from unexpected corners of the world.
Here are some themes that I am working on with coaches as we lead into the world triathlon championships:
· Training progresses linearly & logically from baselines
· Work from actual, repeatedly verifiable data
· Distinguish between open running ability & OTB running ability
· Physical training should always be viewed also as mental training & be designed as such
· Specificity is the overriding principle
· Variety overcomes plateauing – even the triathlete can easily lose effective stimulation from excessive repetition of the same workouts. Not to be confused with phasal emphases
· Maintain perspective
· Differentiate athlete & event/situation/sport performance requirements from personal /ego desires. Be brutally honest

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Should we train by feel or with science?

I have just read an interesting article on the above subject: Check it out & then read the following blog entry. Then, decide for yourself if you are in balance with your training, or whether a boost from either side could help you achieve the next level in your development as an athlete.

The article is somewhat subjective, contradictory & anecdotal, but raises some excellent points. It I do however agree that the Africans train by feel, & that they have a different relationship with the sensations of the sport at high intensity. For a long time now I have admonished runners for having lost their “feel” by over-reliance on heart rate monitors, stop watches, GPS’s, etc. I feel that workouts like fartlek & runs for time teach pacing & feel & too many leave them out, especially the triathletes, who want it all recorded. That’s why I love workouts that emphasize distance over time (e.g. run as hard as you can for 30 minutes, versus time over distance, (run a 4-mile time trial). Recovery based training is an excellent model for most amateurs, but it does make targeting a specific event (to have peak fitness on the day) rather hit or miss. The conundrum is setting intensity/pace & volume for athletes who have not developed feel through trial & error from years in the sport. Break down or plateauing through a “suck-it-and-see” approach is not a luxury that most coaches can afford, & breakdown through illness or injury leads to massive detraining (& loss of confidence & momentum) & therefore under training is a better way to go for most. Many, many Africans fall by the wayside due to this feel approach – we just don’t know about it. We either figure out how hard to train without breakdown & get better – metabolic progressive overload, or we don’t & break down, lose it all & start again – catabolic excessive overload. They have many more talented athletes in their gene pool who are trying to succeed than we have & an “eggs against the wall approach” (push them as hard as possible & the survivors become champs) is one that the African coaches can afford, but we cannot, (unless we have a huge recruiting budget!).

The point is well taken though, but science as a means to establish what’s working & what is not, is very useful. The heart rate monitor has long been known to have serious limitations as a coaching tool. Racing heart rates under similar conditions & the same velocity are often much higher than training heart rates. In the world of cycling, where the measure of output in watts is now a simple enough procedure, has long since all but tossed out the heart rate monitor as a training tool & uses it more as a secondary confirmation that training is having the desired effect &/or that certain training is not appropriate at a specific time. In swimming where variables are able to be tightly controlled, that besides lactate threshold testing, (again to determine the efficacy of training), velocity (speed) is all that coaches need to measure advancement & even the Kenyans measure that right?

Lastly, pros race to win & that is what this article is about, but amateurs & age-groupers are less warrior-like & more the athlete type, i.e. they wish to improve their own performance & do not often consider that they are racing to win a race outright. In this scenario, pacing & effort – especially in the longer events, greatly determines the quality of the performance – with this approach the tools of the trade can prove very useful. If I know that my pace needs to be x, to achieve a certain goal outcome & I exceed that pace greatly in the early stages, (which is really easy to do), then I am inefficient & will most likely not achieve my target. The Ethiopian star could not give a two-penny hoot about his mile pace, (kilometers in his case!), whether that be 5:15 (a pedestrian marathon pace for him), or 4:15 (approx. WR 10km pace), he knows where he is at in the race & where he needs to be positioned to win & if his physiology & fitness let him down on the day, then it’s “ah well, maybe next time”. The scientists & coaches may be able to determine why it was not on, on that day, but they cannot with any certainty determine what training & tapering exactly would have produced an optimum result – that is where the art, feel & intuition of coach & athlete come into play. Probably why so many great coaches peaked so late in their careers; it took a LONG time for them to blend the art & the science & learn the process of reading each individual athlete & then applying, testing & repeating until voila, a world beater!

Science & feel (art) need to go hand in hand; I have seen too many great performances not achieved by Africans because they failed to pay attention to what science could have foreseen. Similarly I have seen numbers-focused athletes freeze when they realized the devices were telling them that perhaps they were operating in unknown territory & were bound to implode & the thoughts alone led to the slowing or the implosion.

Monday, August 17, 2009

World Champs are hotting up!

More as regards results later with the Bobbysez Blast, but in the mean time just a quick teaser to those of you who do not necessarily follow the world of T&F that closely - go & look at the uTube clip of Usain Bolt's new world record run in the 100m, sub 9.6!!! It was good to see Tyson Gay go fast as well in the same race.

While still powerful, it's beautiful to see sprinting back to the realm of the graceful & lithe again - these men are not physically as muscled as earlier generations, but they are immensely athletic & coordinated - wow.

In the classic high school mistake, that one sees quite often nowadays actually. Ethiopia lost gold in the women's 10 000m; where they may have had the sweep. Arms went up in celebration of the win, while a young Kenyan sneaked by to win it! Meseret Dafar seized up over the closing 30 meters, (ending up 5th!), allowing her team mate Meselech Melkamu to come by, thinking she had won it, when the young, but not entirely unheralded Linet Masai came by & won by a hair.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Tour is over for this year - but...

This is an extract from a February post from The Science of Sport website, which I highly recommend by the way.

"It brings to mind one of the most fascinating quotes I've ever come across in a cycling book - it was in the book "The death of Marco Pantani" by Matt Rendell, in which a story is recounted of how in the 1990's, with EPO use rampant, the cyclists would set their heart rate monitors to sound an alarm if their heart rate dropped below a certain level. On hearing the alarm, the cyclists would have to wake up, get the bike out and spend 10 minutes on the rollers, in their hotel rooms, just to jump start the circulation.

In the words of one cyclist: "During the day we live to ride, and at night, we ride to stay alive". "

Dibaba out of World's 10 000m

Ethiopian Olympic and world 10,000-meter champion Tirunesh Dibaba has withdrawn from the 10000m at the world championships in Berlin. She is carrying an injury. There is talk that she will go to Berlin anyway & do tests to determine if perhaps she can still run in the 5km.

Her husband Sileshi Sihine, has also withdrawn from the men’s 10,000, citing a hamstring injury. Sihine is the winner of two world and two Olympic silver medals over this distance.

Since I heard of their marriage last year I wondered what level of athletes their kids might be!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My take on the POSE method of running

I often get asked what I think of the POSE method & thought it time to take the risk of putting my thoughts out there. Let me start by saying that I have not done a full, in-depth study of his teachings. I have studied the video & written materials available, as well as the research project. I have worked with many athletes that have followed his courses & teachings & can recognize a runner using his methodology. I know Nicolas Romanov & consider him an acquaintance. He is a very well-informed, scientifically-minded, interesting individual with a true passion for helping runners. We have had some fun conversations in which we have more celebrated the similarities of our work than argued the differences. We both strongly feel that most runners would do well to formally work on their run mechanics & that drills for specific strengthening & habituation are essential to achieve running excellence commensurate with fitness. We have debated the merits of his method versus my take (approach) to effective running mechanics at last year’s USAT National Bi Annual Art & Science festival on the merits of his system & my approach.

The study showed that the POSE method reduces pressure around the knee. An observation of the participants of that study also showed that a large percentage of them developed achilles & soleus injuries possibly due to transitioning from heel to mid/fore foot striking.

I think his strengthening & plyometric exercises are excellent, but that the conditioning phasing needs to be very much longer for the average athlete – in fact it should take years, rather than only weeks. The exercises may also need to be graded, as some are so advanced as to pose the risk of serious injury to the less skilled & conditioned athlete. I fully agree with the forward lean & the concept of going from one pose on the left leg to the same pose on the right leg. Closed loop, reflex actions need a starting point to begin the work of effective correction if required. Running being cyclical makes it hard to intellectualize as well as teach from a static perspective.

Let’s get down to the points where I disagree. Please note that I have always felt that what Nicolas demonstrates versus what he says/teaches in explanation of what he is doing is contradictory. What he is doing looks right, how he explains it does not. Also bear in mind that running involves so much eccentric loading & unloading & an elastic return to power ratio on 5 to 1, that is exceedingly hard to measure what is truly concentrically contracting & what has eccentrically loaded & is "passively" unloading, so both he & I speak empirically to some degree. Hopefully my ideas are an accurate summation of what pressure plate & other testing (like measuring muscle contraction & high speed videography) have shown.

  1. Nicolas feels all runners should run on their forefoot – I disagree, many people do not have the strength, conditioning, mechanics or structure to safely do so. Transitioning a runner is slow, pain staking, risky & sometimes not possible. Some of the greatest runners on earth are heel strikers or full foot strikers. Correct forefoot running may be faster, “softer” & more powerful, but demands high degrees of resilience, specific strength & conditioning. Heavier runners beware.

  2. Nicolas feels that there is no propulsive phase. He feels that correct lean/alignment & limb position will have you fall forward & gain momentum through gravity alone. I feel that the “springs” need to be loaded, thus there is a downward thrust of the leg to apply the rigid leg to the surface to load & then subsequently unload through the ankle, knee & hip hinges. Note that this does NOT imply “pushing” when the foot is on the surface, but before (from knee up position to surface contact). Thereafter the loading occurs passively (albeit rigidly) to preset ligaments & muscles (especially in the plantar fascia & achilles tendon) to store & then timeously release that elastic energy as propulsion. Here is the propulsion phase - the unloading

  3. Nicolas believes that this “falling” from one pose to the next is set up by the forward lean & the concentric firing of the hamstring & in so doing raising the heel up to the hips/glutes. I disagree most strongly here, as the loading, eccentrically & elastically of the hip flexors (especially the iliopsoas) through the downward (& rearward, because of momentum) thrust of the leg through glute & quad extension causes the knee to snap elastically forward (the psoas does not actively contract, but controls the release speed). The knee folds in this process (sheer physics) of the knee being snapped forward by the releasing hip flexors, bringing the heel towards the hips to shorten the lever (& taking the shortest route, like the tip of a cracked whip). The hamstring's job is to eccentrically decelerate the lower leg from this point so as not to flip out forward & allow the knee to lock while still air born. This would lead to an excessive braking phase as the foot contacts the surface too far ahead of the dynamic center of mass. There has to be a braking point, but the runner must attempt to reduce this to the minimum – sufficient only to stop them from face planting! A characteristic of great runners is this minimized breaking effect. By lifting the heel up & falling a float phase is set up, which robs the runner of stride rate, a key determinant of successful running. By lifting the heel towards the glutes elastic propulsion is compromised & the main mass of the body is not propelled forward. That's why, in my opinion, when Nicolas, or one of his converts runs they seem to have too much range of motion with too much muscular work for the speed they are generating - they look inefficient; like they are using too much energy for the level of propulsion they are achieving.

I end off by saying that this is my interpretation of what Nicolas is teaching with the POSE method – I may very well be wrong in my assessment. In my 28 years of coaching I have come to a point where I want to help every level of runner achieve a running style or form that allows them to run as fast as their physiology will allow them, to run as far as they need to in order to achieve the desired training effect & not become injured in that process. Instead of teaching one method to every runner, I take what the runner brings & try to work with this, creating the best possible running scenario for them, given their specific physical idiosyncrasies as they pertain to their running mechanics. I try not to make them "mugus", a South African term for a square peg in a round hole!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bobbysez Blast 6

With the World Championships just round the corner, Germany has lost one of its best medal prospects. Reigning World Marathon Majors champion Irina Mikitenko has withdrawn. Mikitenko has been unable to train effectively since the recent death of her father.

In one of the US’s most historic road races, the CIGNA Falmouth 7-miler, Colleen de Reuck's placed fifth. De Reuck (45) still races incredibly; she won Falmouth in 1993 and 1997 and a dozen years later she still has the ability to finish in the top five.

It was good to see South African triathlete & Olympian, Mari Rabie, run 38:20 for 10km in South Africa. She is a great talent & has had some challenges in recent years – I hope she continues with her return to top form & again represents South Africa in London in 2012.
CIGNA Falmouth Mile

Falmouth USA, 8 August
1. Will Leer, Eugene, OR (Oregon TC Elite) 3:57.28
2. Stephen Pifer, Eugene, OR (Oregon TC Elite) 3:58.
3. Tommy Schmitz, Mineral Pt., WI 4:00.80

1. Erin Donohue, Haddonfield, NJ (Nike) 4:27.91 WL
2. Nicole Edwards, Canada 4:29.33 PB
3. Morgan Uceny, Ithaca, NY (Reebok) 4:31.70 PB
4. Sara Hall, Mammoth Lakes, CA (Asics) 4:32.24 PB
Donohue’s time is a world-leading performance.

All results from Riel Hauman

25 years ago: 5 August 1984 (By Riel Hauman)

For many years women had to struggle to run the marathon at the Olympic Games (they were only allowed to run the 1500 m in 1972 and the 10000m only in 1988). They finally had an opportunity in 1984 in Los Angeles – and Joan Benoit grabbed it to beat the three favourites, Grete Waitz, Ingrid Kristiansen and Rosa Mota, in 2:24:52. Most remarkable about Benoit’s victory in the LA heat was not that she set a world record, but that she had arthroscopic surgery to her right knee 17days prior to the Trials. This record stood until 2000. Benoit (now Samuelson) still runs around 50-60 miles per week and has decided to compete in the ING New York City Marathon in November. Her last marathon was last year in Boston, where she set a US 50+ record of 2:49:08 (she has won the race twice). Commenting recently on the fact that the 25th anniversary of her Olympic win coincides with the 40th running of the New York race, she said: "This will be more than a jog down memory lane. This is the incentive I needed to get out there one more time."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Science of Sport

I highly recommend this site to those of you who are fascinated by the science of performance. This particular post has some fascinating observations about the development of the 5ooom &
10 000m.


The debate rages on about modern running footwear & the frequent breakaway groups calling for less running shoe (support & cushioning), because it is robbing the body of the opportunity to cushion itself & land more effectively. Look at this facinating work being done with dancers & athletes.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Consider All

Since the very beginning of my coaching career I have been fascinated by the holistic requirements that determine success or failure in endurance events. I recall being adamant in the early 80s that if I could just discover the well guarded training secrets of the athletes & coaches who coached my athlete’s competition I would be able to better apply these & then my athletes would win. Then one of my mentors Tim Noakes said something that changed all this – if you train just like a past champion you will achieve the same results, all other things being equal! Why would I want that? I wanted national records, winners – I had to forge my own way.
Last week I was working with an Olympic aspirant & world class triathlete on mental skills. Previously I had worked with this athlete on running mechanics. Listening to the coach & watching the athlete race & reading the athlete’s race reports it occurred to me that there might be a run training component missing. This was based on the deterioration in mechanics as the run progressed, listening to what the perceived challenges experienced in the run portion of the race were & seeing how this confluence affected the athlete’s mindset.
What started off as work on bio-mechanics led to observation of races to see if the manipulations helped, which led to realizations of incomplete training perhaps leading to loss of form through fatigue, which in turn led to mental fatigue & lack of confidence in the physical components which ultimately led to loss of overall confidence.
The above is a very good illustration of why no amount of science or only an understanding of the psyche of the individual athlete is ever going to be sufficient. A full understanding of all factors involved in performance, plus an unsurpassed degree of relatedness between athlete & coach, with a willingness on the part of the coach & athlete to keep track of all components & to proactively recognize & act on possible “leaks” in any regard. See the diagram that goes along with this article.
Great coaches & athletes & great teams are the ones who take care of every eventuality possible. The team requires a constantly evolving, highly detailed & systematic master plan which is rigorously kept to in order to achieve consistent predictable timeous results.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I am of course more than a little biased by this entry, but out of the blue South African junior Caster Semenya raced to the world’s fastest 800-metre time at the African Junior Championships in Mauritius. Semenya clocked 1:56.72 to shatter the national senior record of 1:58.85 set by Zelda Pretorius in 1991. Provided all is on the level & she can carry this form to Berlin & then is able to handle the series of rounds, Semenya is a serious medal contender at the World Championships later this month.

The ten fastest women in the world this year are:
1:56.72 Caster Semenya (RSA) 1 Bambous 31 Jul
1:57.84 Maggie Vessey (USA) 1 Monaco 28 Jul
1:57.86 Anna Alminova (RUS) 1 Cheboksary 23 Jul
1:57.90 Mariya Savinova (RUS) 1 Moscow 01 Jul
1:58.23 Svetlana Klyuka (RUS) 2 Cheboksary 23 Jul
1:58.60 Yelena Kofanova (RUS) 2 Moscow 01 Jul
1:58.62 Yuliya Krevsun (UKR) 1 Leiria 20 Jun
1:58.63 Jennifer Meadows (GBR) 3 Monaco 28 Jul
1:58.80 Anna Willard (USA) 1 Paris 17 Jul
1:58.99 Elisa Cusma Piccione (ITA) 2 Paris 17 Jul
Semenya also took the 1500 in a PB 4:08.01

An athlete that I coached years ago in South Africa, Johan Landsman, almost had his South African 1500m record broken in the Super Grand Prix meet (Herculis) in Fontvielle. Johan Cronje ran 3:33.63 in the 1500 m – a mere 0.07 sec short of Landsman’s record set 16 years ago. Cronje was ninth in a superfast race in which the first five went under 3:32 and eight of the first ten set either personal or season’s best times. Cronje is now the third fastest South African ever. Here are the results of that race:

1. Mehdi Baala, FRA 3:30.96 SB
2. Anter Zerguelaine, ALG 3:31.21 PB
3. Abdelaati Iguider, MAR 3:31.47 PB
4. Youssef Saad Kamel, BRN 3:31.56 PB
5. Tarek Boukensa, ALG 3:31.90 SB
6. Deresse Mekonnen, ETH 3:32.18 PB
7. Lopez Lomong, USA 3:32.94 PB
8. Juan Carlos Higuero, ESP 3:33.19
9. Johan Cronje, RSA 3:33.63 PB
10. Mo Farah, GBR 3:33.98 PB

The Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon in Chicago produced one of those rarest of occurrences in a major road race: a woman winning outright. Two-time USA 5000-metre champion Kara Goucher completed a very successful build-up to the IAAF World Championships Marathon by winning in 68:05. Goucher (31) beat all 14 000 plus finishers in the race, which included all of the men! Although this is not a career best time, Goucher ran her fastest ever half marathon on a record-standard course. She was faster in her debut at the distance at the 2007 Bupa Great North Run in Newcastle, but that course is somewhat aided. Her Chicago time was just 31 seconds slower than Deena Kastor's American record of 67:34 set in Berlin in 2006. It was her first half marathon in the United States. Results below:

1. Kara Goucher (F), 31, Portland, OR 1:08:05
2. Chad Ware, 24, Deerfield, IL 1:08:24
3. David Williams, 37, Milwaukee, WI 1:08:49

The IAAF has recognized Kenyan Micah Kogo’s 27:01 performance in Brunssum, the Netherlands, on 29 March as the world record for 10 km. His time surpassed (by one second!) Haile Gebrselassie's mark set in Qatar on 11 December 2002 (a time not ratified by the Association of Road Racing Statisticians, as the athletes received illegal assistance from a truck driving directly in front of them).

In the DN Galan IAAF Super Grand Prix in Stockholm on 31 July, Jenny Barringer won the 5000m in a personal best of 15:05.25. I was wondering where she’d got to with all the other steeplechase contenders showing form as the World Championships approach.

Here are the other stunning results from that Herculis Super Grand Prix:
The men’s 800m was particularly good. Nice to see Nick Symmonds join the sub 1:44 club; he’s a class act.

Men’s 800:
1. Abubaker Kaki, SUD 1:43.50
2. Yuriy Borzakovskiy, RUS 1:43.58 SB
3. Nick Symmonds, USA 1:43.83 PB
4. Marcin Lewandowski, POL 1:43.84 PB
5. Bram Som, NED 1:44.12 SB
6. Gary Reed, CAN 1:44.24
7. Thomas Chamney, IRL 1:45.50
8. Khadevis Robinson, USA 1:45.50
9. Jeff Lastennet, FRA 1:48.84
10. Michael Rimmer, GBR 1:49.19

1. Moses Kipsiro, UGA 7:30.95 NR
2. Silas Kipruto, KEN 7:32.52 PB
3. Sammy Alex Mutahi, KEN 7:33.02 PB
4. Bouabdellah Tahri, FRA 7:33.18 PB
5. Mark Kiptoo, KEN 7:34.87
6. Leonard Patrick Komon, KEN 7:35.96 SB
7. Mourad Amdouni, FRA 7:39.10
8. Lucas Rotich, KEN 7:41.14 PB [1990]
9. Evan Jager, USA 7:41.78 PB
10. Joseph Kiplimo, KEN 7:46.21

3000 s/chase:
1. Tareq Mubarak Taher, BRN 8:07.24
2. Michael Kipyego, KEN 8:08.48 PB
3. Ruben Ramolefi, RSA 8:11.63 NR
4. Jukka Keskisalo, FIN 8:12.93 PB
5. Abel Mutai, KEN 8:14.38
6. Wesley Kiprotich, KEN 8:14.45 SB
7. Elijah Chelimo, KEN 8:15.33
8. Abdellatif Chemlal, MAR 8:15.63 PB
9. Patrick Terer, KEN 8:20.00
10. Dan Huling, USA 8:21.65 SB

1. Maggie Vessey, USA 1:57.84 PB/WL (before the South Africa junior went faster)
2. Mariya Savinova, RUS 1:58.39
3. Jenny Meadows, GBR 1:58.63 PB
4. Jemma Simpson, GBR 1:59.07 PB
5. Kenia Sinclair, JAM 1:59.13 SB
6. Yekaterina Kostetskaya, RUS 1:59.31 SB
7. Christin Wurth-Thomas, USA 1:59.35 PB
8. Yuliya Krevsun, UKR 1:59.47
9. Élodie Guégan, FRA 1:59.77
10. Morgan Uceny, USA 2:00.06 SB

1500 (2 more girls sub 4:00 this season & Anna Willard slips a little from the incredible standard she has set thus far this season)
1. Maryam Jamal, BRN 3:58.83
2. Gelete Burka, ETH 3:59.56
3. Mariem Alaoui Selsouli, MAR 4:00.95 PB
4. Anna Willard, USA 4:01.68
5. Lisa Dobriskey, GBR 4:02.28 SB
My thanks again to Riel Hauman for the results

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pacing for triathletes

Learn to try & do things as easily as possible in races at race required intensity – so often, especially at altitude, the way out of a hole in a race is not to push hard into the limitation, but to back off & then, once recovered, build into it again. In the short races, often athletes go out too fast, blow up & then push as hard as they can, in a sort of survival mode, to the finish, where they could have gone much faster overall if they had backed down, recovered (patiently) at a lower intensity & then, once recovered (heart rate, breathing), slowly built back into pace. This pace would be much higher than the “survival” pace & the overall result, though not as good as the one that a realistic pace from the start would have brought, will bring a better result than the hanging-on-for-dear-life after you’ve popped, would have brought. This is tactically & mentally also a much better idea as athletes that passed you now come back into your sights & you are more in control. You are doing the racing – the race is not doing you!

To this day, my best Olympic distance triathlon result was achieved in a race where I flatted & had an enforced rest for about 2 minutes as I repaired my flat. When I got back on the bike I was able to realize that the frantic pace out of T2 that I maintained (I was a really poor swimmer) was highly inefficient & put me in an anaerobic state which I just hung onto for the duration of the ride. The rides were typically characterized by a breathing rate & power output that showed a clear “decoupling” – where I was working too hard for the power I was producing.

I then normally, being a much more experienced runner, knew to back off out of T2 till I achieved steady state & then could race from there. Thereafter I was able to recognize that the swim & T1 had put me into a state of fatigue which would, if not readjusted, give me a slower bike time & run. I figured out that by getting into a more balanced rhythm & a perceived effort that felt somewhat easy initially, I was able to maintain better power throughout the ride & transition into a run that far better reflected my ability.

Dorsiflexion, plantarflexion - triathletes listen up

It seems that you can't have both - the more plantar flexion you have (swimmers), the less dorsiflexion you have. Good swimmers need to be able to point their toes so much that the top of the foot (instep) & the shin form almost a straight line. This forms a natural flipper that provides the swimmer with the best ability to propel & balance their swim stroke with their legs. In exact opposition to this, runners require strong dorsiflexion, at least being able to sit on their haunches with their heels on the ground without falling over. Of course you can have too much dorsiflexion as well, reducing the elastic "loadability" of the ankle joint for effective running propulsion. If you come from a swimming background & have reduced dorsiflexion, chances are you run very upright & have to twist the foot either inwards (internal rotation) or outwards, (external rotation) to accommodate this lack of functional mobility. Every time you kick while swimming you increase your plantar flexion, while running incorrectly does not counter balance this - you MUST work on regaining, maintaining the optimum level of dorsiflexion. I have recently seen so many injuries to high level pro triathletes who are strong swimmers, but not necessarily strong runners because of this situation. Of course there are other factors involved too - most critically a inflexibility or even rigidity in the big toe joint (does not bend sufficiently) - this is called flexor hallucis limitis & also needs to be addressed. Remember I am speaking from the point of view of a running biomechanist & not a physical therapist, so if you do suspect these are issues that are impacting your running, then see a pro. Other than the suggestions of such a professional, there are a number of ways that flexibility issues can be addressed. Using a technique for the soleus & gastrochnemius muscles (the calves), called active release stretching should prove very helpful.

For further information on stretching for runners & triathletes you might find my booklet, Running Sports Essentials, quite useful in this regard. It also has some advice of activation & facilitation, dynamic warm up procedures & some suggestions on core strengthening. A new video on running form will also soon be available. For further information & to purchase please see my website,

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bobbysez Blast 4

USA’s got milers! Anna Willard won the 1500m & Shannon Rowbury was 2nd at the same meet in London.

Aviva London Grand Prix
(IAAF Super Grand Prix)
London, GBR, 24-25 July 2
1. Bernard Lagat, USA 3:52.71 SB
2. Leonel Manzano, USA 3:53.01 PB
3. Lopez Lomong, USA 3:53.35 PB
4. Collis Birmingham, AUS 3:54.30 PB
5. Nate Brannen, CAN 3:54.57
6. James Brewer, GBR 3:54.80 PB
7. Johan Cronje, RSA 3:54.84 PB
The 5000m had Tirunesh back to her winning ways again:
1. Tirunesh Dibaba, ETH 14:33.65 SB, WL
2. Sentayehu Ejigu, ETH 14:40.00 SB
3. Kim Smith, NZL 14:52.49 SB
4. Belaynesh Fikadu, ETH 15:10.52
5. Jen Rhines, USA 15:25.10 SB
The Kenyans had a fun 1500m at their world champs trials this weekend!
Kenyan World Championships Trials
Nairobi, KEN, 24-25 July
1. Asbel Kiprop 3:32.82
2. Haron Keitany 3:33.59
3. Augustine Choge 3:33.86
4. Gideon Gathimba 3:34.83
5. William Biwott Tanui 3:38.84

Of course I have been watching the women’s steeple & have high hope for Jenny Barringer at worlds this year, but I did not see this one coming – in a smaller meet in Barcelona no less. Wow!
Reunion Internacional Ciudad de Barcelona
Barcelona, ESP, 25 July
3000 s/chase:
1. Marta DOMÍNGUEZ AZPELETA, 1975 9:09.39 National Record (see pic at top of post)
2. Eva ARIAS AIRA, 1980 9:32.48 PB
3. Livia TOTH, HUN, 1980 9:38.79

Olympic marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru will run the Bank of America Chicago
Marathon on Sunday, 11 October, according to David Monti in Race Results Weekly. It will
be Wanjiru's first marathon in the United States, and the 22-year-old is hoping for a fast
time on Chicago's famously flat and fast course.
"My only focus between now and October is to prepare and train aggressively for my
best performance yet," said Wanjiru, who has won the Fukuoka, London and Olympic
Marathons and has a career best time of 2:05:10 set in London this year.
The fastest time ever in Chicago was 2:05:42 clocked in 1999 by Khalid Khannouchi, a
Moroccan who became an American citizen the following year. Performances at Chicago
were held back the last two years by unusually hot weather, especially in 2007 when the
temperature reached 27°C by the time the men's winner, Kenyan Patrick Ivuti, hit the
finish tape in 2:11:11. In good weather Wanjiru could challenge Haile Gebrselassie's world
record of 2:03:59 run in Berlin last year.
Three other former Chicago champions were also announced by Race Director Carey
Pinkowski, including Ivuti, Kenyan Evans Cheruiyot (the defending champion), and Russian
Lidiya Grigoryeva (the defending women's champion). American women's record holder,
Deena Kastor, will also compete, Pinkowski said. It will be Kastor's first marathon since
breaking a bone in her foot before the 5 km mark at last summer's Olympic Marathon; she
was unable to finish the race.
The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is the second-largest marathon in the United
States and helps raise about $10 million for charity. Last year's race had 33 033 starters
and 31 401 finishers. Only the ING New York City Marathon is larger with 38 832 starters
and 38 096 finishers last year.

The two fastest marathoners of all-time, Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie and Kenya's Duncan
Kibet, will face each other at September's real,-- Berlin Marathon, reports Race Results
Gebrselassie, twice an Olympic gold medalist at 10000 m, has won the last three
editions of the marathon in Berlin, lowering his time with each effort and twice setting the
world record. In 2006 he was on schedule through 35 km to break Paul Tergat's then world
record of 2:04:55 set on the same Berlin course in 2003, but he faded in the final
kilometers in warm and windy conditions to run an Ethiopian record of 2:05:56. The
following year, helped by pacemakers Eshetu Wondimu and Rodgers Rop through 30 km,
Gebrselassie broke Tergat's mark with a 2:04:26 clocking. He came back again in 2008,
and lowered his own record to 2:03:59, which remains the world record.
Kibet became history's second-fastest marathoner at Rotterdam last April when he
prevailed in a thrilling sprint finish over compatriot James Kwambai. Both men were clocked
in 2:04:27, the fastest marathon times of 2009. Kibet only ran his first marathon in Vienna
in 2008, clocking a solid 2:08:33 to finish second. He won at Milan later that year in a
course record 2:07:53. Amazingly, the Rotterdam run was only Kibet's third career

This weekly column highlights a special race or event from the past that happened in the
current month.
40 years ago: 20 July 1969
Briton Ron Hill easily won the Maxol Marathon in Manchester in 2:13:42, beating Australian
Derek Clayton (2:15:40) by almost 2 minutes. Third was Jim Alder in 2:18:18. Earlier in
the year, on 30 May, Clayton had improved on his own world record when he ran
2:08:33.6 in Antwerp, but this course is generally regarded as having been short. In
September that year Hill won the European marathon title on the classical course from
Marathon to Athens in 2:16:47.8.

My thanks again to Riel Hauman of Distance Running Results