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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bare Foot Running Panel & Hill Running

Up that Hill & do it Again!

Before this week’s post, there’s a panel discussion on, yup you guessed it, BFR tomorrow, Wednesday (April 28th) at 6:30PM at Alta Physical Therapy in Boulder, (2955 Baseline Road, Boulder CO 80303). The panelists will be one time junior phenom runner & now coach Melody Fairchild, Olympic 10 000m & Marathon runner Alan Culpepper, Danny Abshire, designer of the Newton running shoe, top running physical therapist, Charlie Merrill, Aaron Anderson, pedorthist extraordinaire & myself. As has seemed to be the case with BFR in its latest Born to Run incarnation, enthusiasm (to put a euphemistic bent on it), is running high. Moderator Barry Siff would seem to have his work cut out for him.
Any way, if you live in the Boulder/Denver area & you are interested, we’d love to see you. Perhaps I’ll need your support as the battle may be bloody as the enthusiasts on either extreme edge of the spectrum vie to get their point across! Just kidding – it ought to be a blast.
Hill running seems to be somewhat under-utilized by runners & triathletes in the USA in my experience, I am not sure if it’s a seasonal thing – in Africa we can run hard outdoors all year around, here it seems conditions limit what you can do quality-wise in the winter months & I don’t hear of a lot of people doing formal hill repeats on a treadmill. I have found runners get really close to their peak form after a series of hill repeats & that repeat work on the track adds some further benefit, but the risks of injury are far greater.
Hills don’t help you gain concentration skills much, (steady state runs on the flat do that!), as they allow you to run only as hard as you can, but boy do they help your functional strength & VO2 max if applied correctly. Hills are the ultimate tool when it comes to self-determining intensity; no matter what set of repeats you planned your form will soon tell you when the best laid plans are to be reviewed. Allow form to be your guide – if you figured on 75sec repeats & bits start flying off at 50sec, then 50sec is what was required at that effort. Use time rather than distance on hill repeats.
Hills are a great way to build specific speed without hurting yourself, because you are fighting gravity you are not running as fast & putting yourself down more softly. A pace on the flat that delivers the physiological stress you require may be challenging your joints & connective tissue/fascia more because of heightened centrifugal force from greater velocity. But on the hill, the same effort physiologically produces less damaging forces, but the same bang for your training buck. Conversely of course what goes up must come down & here you need to either take short soft quick running steps or walk, or Lydiard-style, pick a long hill with side streets that run with the contour (i.e. flat) upon which you recover.
Build to hill repeats as follows: Do a few runs on particularly hilly, rolling courses. Then progress to running those same routes, but accelerating the climbs & recovering on the downs & flats & then progress to formal hill repeats.
A word of caution to the over-zealous – don’t do hills without your ego in check! One of the US greats & definitely a humble individual with no ego issues at all is Dathan Ritzenhein – he gave me good insight on how to do hills. Dathan, the current US 5000m record holder discovered that he might have been doing his hill repeats too hard & too steeply, even perhaps too often, as he was getting injured in the ankle. He switched to shallower, longer & therefore less intense hills, stayed injury free & went sub 13min for 5km.
Have fun in them thar hills – your improved performances will be ample reward for slogging up the same flippin hill multiple times!
Bobby McGee

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Last night I gave a talk to a running group at the side of a windswept track on the merits of using the run/walk method of training & racing. A point I make about the benefits of the method is the profoundly positive impact it has on cardiac drift. At the end, a runner, who is doing an Ironman® later in the season was very interested in this concept
Cardiac drift is a characteristic of heart rate in all endurance events in which the heart rate increases progressively as the workout or race progresses even if the output is the same. Then in the later stages, no matter how hard you push yourself, it begins to drop. There are a number of reasons for this, foremost of which is most likely fatigue, followed by hydration aspects. There is some evidence that heat may be a factor also – or heat accelerates fatigue & hydration imbalance, but the net result is the same.
As far as the heart rate dropping it would seem that as our peripherals start to fail/grow weak & we are unable to return blood to the chest cavity (heart & lungs) for re-oxygenation, decreasing the need for the cardio-vascular system to operate at higher levels.
Bottom line, the run/walk method helps to slow heart rate increase, making it possible for us to operate more efficiently for longer. The overall heart rate average is lower, thus improving our chances of being metabolically more efficient, (burn more fat for longer, sparing our carbohydrates). Finally, the vascular pumping action of walking & the relative reduction in fatigue because of the intermittent, rather than continuous running ensures that we can keep the heart rate up deeper into these long events & thus be able to perform better.
The walk run method helps in SO MANY ways – this just an illustration of how it can help in respect of cardiac drift.
As always, have fun & if you feel you need Leg Speed, contact us at & see if we have something for you.
Bobby McGee
Check out the trailer of my new DVD on the home page of my website:


A Psychological Model to Empower the Triathlete
“Losing focus” is a term often used by triathletes and coaches when an athlete makes a silly mistake, misses a break or makes a technical error. Fact is, focus does not disappear, it either goes to a place where it is effective and good decisions are made by the athlete, or it drifts to an area where it does not promote performance and may even derail the athlete’s chance at success.

Endurance events are lengthy by their very nature—an ITU-style race takes over 100 minutes, an Ironman race over 8 hours. This means that intense task oriented focus is not possible for the entire period of the race. Athletes succeed when they plan their focus periods and regulate concentration intensity. Triathlon, being a sport of 3 different repetitive movements, also contains the need for habituation, i.e. performing swimming, cycling and running without thinking about the action itself. The same holds true for transition activities. Where then does the mind go? The athlete better know! Recognizing internal dialogue and altering it if needs be, is a prerequisite for great performance.

It is important to also know that “being in the zone” is a state of mind more predicated on rhythm which as an objective observation may be mistaken for “checking out”. However, rather than checking out, this is the preferred state for optimal performance & shows up as an unconscious driving at optimal intensity & highest efficiency. This tapping into the “beat” of whatever you are doing & not involving any cognitive intervention is a product of clever training & highly habituated movement skills with their associated fitness levels. Effective focus on the other hand is the ability to objectively observe performance & external & internal situations & act proactively so as to ensure peak performance. This focus will not disrupt flow & govern the management of choices that best impact occurrences within a race that may not fall within the scope of the flow state to handle.

A number of studies of endurance events have shown that pace is slowest or slows somewhere between 75 and 90% into an event, whether that be an 800m running race or an Ironman event. I believe that the mechanism at work here is more mental than physical. See Diagram.

Studies (with weight lifters) have shown rather conclusively that output decreases when focus is drawn away from the process of performing the activity. This was confirmed when a further study illustrated that athletes who watched TV, read or listened to music while running on treadmills or riding stationary bikes recruited less muscle and used lower levels of their aerobic capacity, than athletes who were able to focus only on the activity without distractions.

Clearly focus is being lost in this area that can be defined as the “focus zone”. The triathlete begins to consider the effort that has been expended and how this might have affected him/her up to this point and how these past stresses might affect his/her ability to finish strongly. The finish is still too far off to have the athlete begin the drive for home. This clearly shows a crucial shift of focus – a focus removed from the task at hand. Concentration is placed on factors that are not relevant to the present situation. Not being in the moment “switches the body off”, as the mind dwells on past and future events, where the athlete cannot physically “do” anything. Power is lost & muscle recruitment diminishes.

The athlete can replace this ineffectual period of concentration, by being aware of this zone and training not to loose focus. Divide swim, bike and run workouts up into these phases—the first 75% (1.), 75 to 90% (2.), and 90% to the finish (3.) See Diagram.

Triathletes should be encouraged to really do what it takes to stay present and focused in this area. Develop a habit of knowing when the mind drifts to the past or future and learn to drag it back to the “now” – a place where the athlete can bring all the ability that he/she does have, to bear on the next stroke, pedal stroke and stride, moment by moment until the finish.

Good luck - see 1st how you do use focus, assess whether it could be better & then habituate a focus pattern that becomes automatic & allows to to be the most efficient athlete you can be.

Bobby McGee
PS: My new running mechanics & drills DVD has been released - check it out on my website

Monday, April 5, 2010

Nope, not off somewhere, just staying in good old Boulder!

Does one humbly apologize for an April Fool's joke that was mostly gobbled up gullibly? That's what I love about this community - honest, open, vulnerable, striving to be better.

I don't even wish it was true - but a slightly better Colorado winter would have been nice. I have a rule though - I NEVER complain about the heat, ANYWHERE, because that allows some whining about the cold from this here Southern Hemisphere boy.

So as the days warm up here in the US don't be caught not being able to strip off a layer, drinking a little more & keeping the electrolytes levels appropriate.
Pic of me draining a crucial turn for a practice triathlon mini race!


Thursday, April 1, 2010

I'm off! Bobby McGee gets new job in United Arab Emirates

Same skills, different continent - hope I'm up to it!

I have thought about this offer for a long time & in the interests of my business & family have decided to leave beautiful Colorado for (even) warmer climes. It's a 2-year deal through the 2012 Olympics & involves triathlon development at a number of levels with both federational & private involvement. I will still travel extensively & will maintain contact with all my major US stake holders.

I'll miss Boulder & all its beautiful people...

I'll still post a blog or 2 before I leave with all the thank yous & the like.

I believe I'll be able to maintain the blog in a similar fashion, but may have wild & woolly tales from the Far East!

Till next time,

Bobby McGee