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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