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Monday, August 22, 2011

3 Questions regarding mental skills

I have been missing in action from my blog again & with the social media stuff proliferating at a rate of knots in both running & triathlon I am at answering individual requests again.

This particular coach asked some very pointed questions & I thought the answers may have a universal appeal to athletes & coaches alike. It is good to know that coaches are taking on this level of work & passing it on to those who need it most – the athlete in order to enhance performance

I want to thank you again for taking the time to teach those of us who attended the USAT Level 1 clinic back in April. I learned a lot from your presentations, and from your book, Magical Running. I felt very lucky to be able to talk to you one-on-one after your running lecture on that Friday night, and really learned a lot from you, which I have taken and directly applied to the athletes I work with. 

After having put in practice those things in your lectures, reading your books, and watching your instructional DVD, I have a few questions, and was wondering if you would be kind enough to share your expertise and experiences with me?

I have 3 questions for you:

  1. What is the biggest obstacle that you see in athletes that keep them back from mentally allowing themselves to achieve to their full abilities?
Bobby: hmm, it varies by athlete, but I see a LOT of assessments where the athletes are poor at mental imagery. I also see a lack of professionalism around their participation compared to their jobs – careless, thoughtless mistakes of all kinds. I’d also say that athletes have a poor sense of what they really are capable of – either expecting too much from really ineffectual training or talking themselves out of a performance they are capable of by being so focused on outcome, or being freaked out & therefore not specifically focused on execution. This leads into a very poor consciousness of what they are thinking, what they might be thinking & having a handle on the process of creating a race mindset from what they currently have. Lack of knowledge of why they are anxious and what they can do about & with it other than attempts at denial & suppression – both disastrous, is why they race poorly. They care too much and they don’t know (define/understand)what it is they care about. They don’t understand how they feel, dislike it, try to avoid it & think it’s abnormal & fail to progress in managing the sensations, as they never directly address them in even the most basic sense of acknowledgement of sensation. So instead of each ensuing race providing an accumulative learning process, they either just remain ineffectual, or worse (& more commonly), they grow progressively worse as poor performance after poor performance accumulates in a paradigm of, “I really am a poor racer”.
  1. How often do you tell your athletes (those who don't seek you out for mental coaching), that you are also focusing in on coaching their mental approach?
Bobby: You know with me this is kind of moot, as I assess them when they come on board & each quality session & race is approached from a mental aspect as well as a physical aspect & as training progresses I ensure an awareness of where training may have failed mentally & expect a culture of awareness & honesty surrounding race performances where there is agreement post-race as to whether successes or failures were partly mental, partly physical or wholly either.
  1. What is the biggest mistake you have seen coaches make when working with an athlete’s psyche?
Bobby: Couple of things – either a rah-rah aggressive football-type pre-game psych-up job, or mostly a plethora of platitudes & over-simplified, non-specific statements, made too late, without tool/process support & insufficient time to create something of permanence or likelihood of inculcation for race day. This stems from a lack of true understanding or training on the coach’s behalf & often a fear of confrontation & the resultant unwillingness to say & then work with them (on an ongoing basis) on the really hard stuff

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Great qoute

“Prove to yourself that you can do it. Prove that you were always who you thought you were, not who they said you had to be.”
Rachel Snyder

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Q & A with Triathlon Training

I was approached by the German magazine, triathlon training -, to do a brief Q & A. Here's the gist of my answers:
1. What is your training-philosophy (the motto of your coaching)?
Probably individuation – person 1st, athlete 2nd. In Endurance sports the athlete must be balanced, healthy & happy to achieve to their potential. I see my most success when I work with the person as a unique set of needs & requirements – the training part is the easiest, the heart & soul is complex & requires so much more from the coach than simply knowledge.
2. Which moment was the most emotional of your whole career as a coach?
As a coach I’d say when  Josia Thungwane, won Olympic gold in the marathon in Atlanta in 1996. As a triathlon coach probably when Barb Lindquist convincingly won the 1st USA trials event for Olympic selection for the Athens Games. She had failed to make the team in 2000 & we had worked towards making the team in the 1st trials event & she did.
3. What do you think about the doping-problem in triathlon sport, how serious is it?
This is hard to tell – I have been involved in triathlon since 1984 & have seen many things. If one understands human physiology it’s not too farfetched to believe that we probably do have a problem – but the greater prevalence in other sports indicates that the ITU is doing a fine job.
4. What is the major challenge for a triathlon coach?
It really depends on the individual athlete. I’d distinguish between long course & draft legal. My areas of greatest expertise lie in running & sport psychology & as far as these are concerned races are mostly won on the run & it would seem that if the run is the athlete’s limiter, it would be the hardest to impact. The run takes both a longer period of time to impact positively, than many athletes are willing to give & also requires trust, as unlike pure running, the triathlete cannot train sufficiently for the run & a huge modicum of trust is required on race day, that the run will be there. This challenge erodes the confidence of many triathletes. In triathlon in general the balancing of training to achieve the best result is always the challenge
5. Which are the three most important characteristics/qualities of a triathlon coach?
Hmm, as one involved with coach education & coaching, that’s a tough question. Probably:
1.       A deep understanding of the demands of competition & the mind of the athlete
2.       Patience
3.       Compassion & empathy while understanding that success is predicated on the athlete’s ability to suffer
Bobby McGee is the author of Magical Running, A Unique Path to Running Fulfillment, & Run Workouts for Runners & Triathletes. He has also produced a very useful DVD, Triathlon, The Run, that explains running mechanics & the drills required to improve performance. More information can be found on his website,

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

To Run or Be a Runner in Triathlon

To succeed at the highest level in triathlon in the run off the bike, does one need to be a runner, or just run fit? Those of you that know what I do for a living can clearly see this is a loaded question. Can sufficient run conditioning work propel a triathlete who can move herself through space on foot at the prerequisite pace to success in a triathlon race without having the running skills to do so; i.e. while looking like a runner? I say no – a Chris Lieto obviously does not arrive at the world championships not “in shape” to run a marathon that is sufficient to defend his prodigious bike result & get the W; so what’s missing then? Clearly our love of the sport lies in looking for that elusive day when we put it all together & the “gamble” that this entails every time we lay it on the line is where the magic lies.

Lately I have been standing before a new paradigm; sure, address the specific limiters I see with each individual triathlete, but perhaps more importantly & effectively, in terms of my mission to see beautiful runners in triathlon that please even the pure running fans, establish a baseline level of running skills through tried & tested key drills introduced from the beginning of the triathlete’s career if they have not come along a running pathway. All runners can skip, do the karaoke drill, bound, & sprint – not all triathletes, even VERY good ones can!

The more triathletes I work with, especially the higher performing ones with amazing swim & bike abilities, the more I realize that they have developed from a young age in especially the swim, through the regular pathway of swim drills & development – growing up to be swimmers. They eat, sleep, drink & visualize swimming (or whatever their chosen sport was) & became that thing. While maintaining those skills & giving up on some of the volume & frequency that got them there, they need to have a minimum level of cycling & running skills. It would seem to me that a far better way to approach this situation, rather than try to fix what is broken about their run, is to have them learn & master the basic skills & see if their run does not naturally progress in this fashion. Then, when they have a basic skill set in place, work on the specific limiters they display.

Bobby McGee

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Quantification Conundrum Part III

Then what the dickens exactly is it that I do to earn a living? Yes there are far wiser & better trained people out there with PhDs who know far more than I do about measurement & even muscle function & human propulsion. There are also many amazing coaches, especially sprint coaches, who have a great number of incredible drills & activities & ways of presenting these that help runners get closer to their innate abilities. I use my understanding of both these worlds & the specific training, & many years of observation & experimentation & a penchant for trying to put research into use every time something new comes to light & seeing if it leads to improved performance with the individual. Of course the communication aspect is huge – the art of taking a primal subconscious activity & trying to teach/alter/replace it intellectually & through visceral experience is what I am most interested in. This can render itself very easily into a “snake oil” scenario of course, but to prevent this, the proof MUST be in the pudding, EVERY, SINGLE, TIME! Athletes must achieve either or all of the following:

1. Reduced recovery time

2. Increased running speed throughout the training spectrum

3. Reduction in injuries

4. Faster racing

Here’s where the science has a hard time quantifying the above:

• Does improved mechanics allow for longer & harder, uninterrupted training? Probably, but the harder, longer continuous training is the cause for the improvement

• Does improved mechanics allow for faster running, (removal of mechanical limiters)? Probably, but it is the impact of this faster running that improves performance through the myriad training responses, like increased rapidity of potassium ion replacement

If we have no complete model, like improved aero-dynamics, or increased K ions, or higher VO2max or extended VVO2 max numbers, or accelerated lactate metabolism that clearly defines the role of mechanics, then we cannot categorically claim that the mechanics made the difference. Or maybe we can! If, in a very short space of time, where the other changes cannot impact performance, we show improvement, then we may be on to something that’ll appease science. As Arthur Lydiard so aptly put it – scientists will eventually show why coaches achieve the results that they do. In the world of high performance sport, science has become more & more crucial to success, but ultimately it is through the willingness of the athlete to experiment with the well- educated & informed coach in search of an edge, or a method to overcome the specific athlete’s limitation that we achieve new standards in performance. Success then is about team, about guts & bravery, about science & experimentation, about striving after ever rising heights, with ever decreasing margins towards ever more ridiculously challenging performances, because that is what is so inherent in the human spirit – to get better. A few will redefine history this way, while the rest of us will strive equally, with less ability, but be on the same continuum, ever searching for the best we can be in the field of our passion, within the confines of our limitations.

Bobby McGee

Friday, April 8, 2011

If you are a triathlete read what Gordo Byrn has to say ALWAYS

Gordo is a good friend & colleague. He is also one of the sanest, most innovative, savvy thinkers in the sport today. His ideas on the technical, managerial, financial & coaching side of the sport are insightful, practical & ilucidatory.

With all that I'm up to I am always cursing myself for not reading enough, especially when it comes to aspects not directly associated with coaching; but when it comes to a Byrn post, I'm always willing to find the time.

You'd think this post of Gordo's (see URL above), would not draw my attention, but it did & it's applicability across the board, from age grouper to professional triathlon entrepreneur is evident.


Bobby McGee 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

“Be prepared to lose your most important races; I did. Many times.”

This said by 200/400m great Michael Johnson. Thanks Simon.

Don't know quite how I feel about this. If it speaks to detaching from outcome, then I'm in total agreement.

The whole issue regarding the weighting of races in terms of importance throughout the course of a season remains a crucial aspect of racing.

I also recommend grading races of course, A, B & C, etc. However the very process of designating a race as the key race of a season very often derails the chances of success of many athletes as they carry the weight of expectation into this race. Placing more importance on a race should hopefully increase the intensity & effectiveness of training leading into the event. This process should also increase commitment & willingness to give that little extra – but it is a very fine line that the majority of athletes overstep & end up with a performance less than expected or wished for as they over-emphasize the importance of the event.

Self-honesty in terms of what your fitness really means is important. It is important to realize that your internal dialogue during key workouts that point to the possibility of such a peak performance being possible is different on race day. This difference is what determines success or failure. Consciously create & practice the mental skills that lead to access of this ability/conditioning – it will not just happen for most athletes.

Accepting & realizing that racing is VERY different to training & having a set of practices that ensure you race to training status (or hopefully a little beyond) is an essential skill.

Finally, many athletes do not have sufficient ability/experience/objectivity/presence of mind to interpret what the quality of their workouts really mean in terms of performance & often over-estimate their capabilities in terms of these workouts – a mistake that top pros do not make. It is often not possible for the average athlete to train at or beyond race intensity to meet the requirements of race day – being fully prepared for the rigors of racing to the max. Despite a lifetime of coaching & many personal competitive endeavors, I still often royally screwed up my pace/effort, focus or some other mental skill on those occasions when I did get out there!

It’s always a journey to match experience with ability. Enjoy the process of self-discovery & never stop searching for that elusive perfect day
Bobby McGee

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Quantification Conundrum Part II

We know that effective training, graphically represented, is in effect, U-shaped, i.e. the very fast stuff, like MAV (maximum aerobic Velocity) & above, & the very slow stuff – hours & hours of easy running, are the most effective. It seems that the stuff in the middle, like tempo runs, while possibly neuro-muscularly valuable if the pace mimics what we wish to produce in races & teaches us to concentrate in order to hold this for race duration, has little physiological return. Add to this, that at the top end of endurance sports, speed or velocity is still the only benchmark, whether it is 60m or 100 miles, the “fastest” man wins, right?

Further to this it is really challenging to differentiate between what is bio-energetic (fuel burning & energy production), mechanical, (gravity & posture, elastic return, minimized friction) or neurological (potentiation, nerve action & kinesthetic action/reaction).

A true, multidimensional understanding of what is happening during the running gait is incomplete at this stage.

What is it that we can then do to improve performance in running?

1. Become specifically fitter – the stronger we make the engine within the existing framework, the more output we can reasonably expect. Of course there are obvious limitations to this: If the biomechanics are unsound this increased load could lead to breakdown & the inferior mechanics may not allow improved performance despite increased output

2. Improve(or return to best) running mechanics. As I’ve said, there is some good work being done about quantification of these various components. There are also studies that show deviations in what good runners do versus what poorer runners do. What is of more interest to the athlete & coach after this, is what can be done about this & if it can be changed will it lead to improved performance (& the changes are measured to have actually occurred)?

3. Improved neuro-muscular function. As with the above, naturally these 3 aspects are all interrelated & the scientific community is having a devil of a time separating these out. Of course the coach would ask, “Do we need to?” Thus there are scientists whom I greatly respect that believe the limits of endurance are not in the bio-chemistry, but in the neurology

Add to this that the sport scientists also feel that the current definition of efficiency: “The athlete who uses the least amount of O2 at the same speed is the most efficient”, does not suffice, & I agree – too many athletes with higher consumption numbers beating those with lower numbers! I am being a little simplistic of course, because there are a whole array of other factors, not least of which are the psycho-emotional factors of motivation that come into play, but you get my point.

Till Part III (the last in this series)

Bobby McGee

Monday, March 28, 2011

1st World Congress of Science in Triathlon

Just come back from Alicante Spain where I attended the 1st World Congress of Science in Triathlon. My run mechanics presentation was a little nerve wracking & increased my need to learn more Spanish! There has been some amazing research of late that can be of huge benefit to pros & age groupers alike. Dr. Randy Wilbur - head exercise physiologist of the USOC again showed why altitude training is a must for athletes who are looking for an edge in major competitions.Inigo Mujika was his usual inimitable self in presenting the current state of the science & art of tapering - it really is a key frontier in bringing hard training to bear on race day. His work is fascinating. His work with the great long course athlete Eneko Llanos is clearly as a result of intelligent thoughtful application of cutting edge science. The stuff about VO2 kinetics & training considerations for accurate exercise prescription from Gregoire Millet truly was amazing & it's not the 1st time I have heard about the uses of this cutting edge science, but it really points to a route that brings amazing performance gains to be had in an extremely economical training environment. Hats off to the ITU & the University of Alicante for putting on this event. Find references to the presentations & speakers - I highly recommend paying them close attention.
Bobby McGee

Friday, March 18, 2011

Critical Velocity Based 10km Training for 2011 Bolder Boulder 10km road race

Starting a 10 week build to 2011 Bolder Boulder 10km race for a few runners tomorrow. Have both a hands on group & an online group. Using my new specific velocity based training approach, with O2 kinetic work & K-Pump training. If you are interested give me a shout at tel number or email on my site:

The Big Race Smile

Dedicated to Kevin & Marci for upcoming races & all those out there who seek their own level of excellence.

Thanks to Lauren Fleshman for the YouTube inspiration

Have you had the knowing?

It’s that moment in the exquisitely strung time leading up to big races, when things have clicked in training & there’s harmony in your thinking, a balance & ease in your build up; a sense of power.

You feel you have full access to your ability & there is a deep calmness born of confidence in your execution skills.

The prospect of the process that automatically culminates in excellence is intoxicatingly inviting – a chance to dance unbridled to your favorite music.

You’d do it alone, unobserved, or in front of thousands, because it would not matter… It is all about being utterly inside your body, totally present to only that second of harmonized movement & being a complete expression of being human in its purest form. It is clearly about being your best because you can be, because it’s the greatest place to be; a symphony in honor of all that is best in all of human kind. This time is gratitude, this time is self-actualization, this time is highest, this time is without wanting, this time is pristine & for nothing more than itself.

This is when you smile; as that final week begins, as you visualize, as you go to bed that final evening, as you toe the start line.

You smile, because you know…

Bobby McGee

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Quantification Conundrum Part I

Bio-mechanists have incredible tools & wonderful training that tells us what our limbs are doing when we run. They also have pretty amazing tools to measure how much our muscles are working & when. The concept of “rebound” or elastic return is harder to measure – only a few labs can do this & the results are hard to nail down – an essential, but pretty new field of research. Add to this that the picture of running effectively mechanically has no real set of baseline data that represent perfect form – there are so many idiosyncrasies in top runners. Some, like Haile Gebrselassie have tried to effect changes to no avail, but have made changes to other things, like foot strike, in his case & have gone on to succeed admirably after these changes. Generally change introduces other variables & often a whole new set of problems. This is why wise coaches sometimes leave well alone. “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” holds especially true when it comes to running mechanics. Most individuals I see come for 2 reasons:

1. They are broke or

2. They’re stuck & cannot go faster

Both good reasons if all the other factors have been considered; things like over-training, incorrect training & insufficient training. Nowadays, with the elites, I am finding that they cannot run fast enough with their current form to access the type of training response that will take them to the next level.


A car that has been designed to drive along at 100mph is likely to be much less stressed at 65mph than a car that can only manage 70mph.

If one accepts that we have a fixed rate of slowing with each doubling of distance, & I do believe this, then ultimately you have a finite speed at which you can run your preferred distance run, no matter how much fitter you get.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Here's to us swine racers

You can't make a racehorse out of a pig. But if you work hard enough at it you can make a mighty fast pig. - Bob Akin

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bobby McGee Running Plans on Training Peaks at last
Marketing is not nearly a big enough issue for me in the work that I do. I am always so enamored & absorbed in the world of performance & keeping up with all the research & how to apply that so as to ensure peak performance for my clients that there is precious little time left to pursue the more business oriented aspects of what I do.Bobby McGee

When it comes to run training I am often amazed when I meet athletes & coaches with whom I do not have a working relationship, how illogical & non-specific their approach is to run training can be. When I 1st started coaching some 20 years ago I was always looking for the perfect training plan & many athletes & inexperienced coaches still feel that way, (I meet them every week!). After about 7 years of coach education, on top of my formal training in exercise science, & coaching experience in the field, I realized that I had developed a rough philosophy of training that “answered” most of the questions I had in those early years. Of course I now have more questions than ever – that’s what happens when you learn more & more about less & less I guess! Just today, when receiving an email from one of the world’s greatest triathlon coaches in my estimation, he stated that he wishes he knew of some definitive way in which to learn the “art” of coaching – he was a numbers guy & pure scientist & is now fully in the camp of: science to evaluate, support & inform & art to apply & execute as performance.

Anyway, the approach I used that produced an Olympic champion, some world records, a number of world championships & podiums & world number 1 rankings is now obtainable in sets of training plans that are available on Training Peaks: Currently they include 3 of each plan for 5, 10km & the half marathon. These plans are sorted according to the time available to the runner to train. Unique to these plans is that each plan also has a run/walk alternative; something that I have been pushing for some years now as the answer to the high injury rate of runners & the frustrating performance plateaus that so many athletes seem to struggle with.

Check them out & see if they meet any of your run training needs.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

12. Triathletes listen up – your swim & bike could be hurting your run.

This is the last of the 12 part blog that has been going on over the last few months - or more than a few actually! If you have any requests for me to revisit issues, or embelish certain concepts, let me know. Thanks for the comments on the last blog by the way! As with my Runner's World column, I'll try to mix the run & sport psych. stuff up as I go along...

• Fatigue from S&B (swim & bike) leave less margin for pacing errors on the run

• Triathletes are generally heavier than runners

• Triathletes have less time to develop the run

• S&B muscle function (concentric) is opposite to the run (eccentric)

• S&B are supported activities, no need to combat gravity on every stroke like running steps

• In triathlon the swim & bike are partial effort activities, while the run is a maximum effort

More specifically:


• Bigger upper body musculature needed to swim lowers VO2max, raises center of mass

• Are set up ipsilaterally – i.e. the left hip and shoulder work together instead of opposite as running requires

• They have well developed engines but lower bone density – i.e. a weak chassis for running

• They have a “hard work” mindset which when applied to running may lead to break down


• Poor hip flexor mobility may make them quad dominant runners (poor extension, high launch angle), with rearward leaning shins at impact & slower stride rates

• The muscles on the outside of the thigh (vastus lateralis) may tend to be too large – may cause patellar tracking problems, IT Band Syndrome and add speed-limiting weight to the lever

• The upper calf muscles (gastrocnemius) may tend to become too large adding weight to the leg down low; a bad thing if you want to be able to swing that lever through quickly!

• Cyclists may tend to become hunched over and their connective tissue resets in this pattern. This impacts their posture and ability to maintain a tall and “stacked” posture when they run. They bend at the waist/hips & run as if their behind is stuck in a bucket

With the above in mind, develop training that counteracts these & do not allow the other sports to “blanket” the run conditioning especially as it pertains to the run neuro-muscular skill component. This can happens especially when riding the bike too much when injured on the run – use other alternatives.

© Bobby McGee – Bobby McGee Endurance Sports

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thoughts to launch you into a New Year

Just saw this, this morning:” A man who wants to do something will find a way. Man who doesn’t will find an excuse”. Stephen Dooley.

This points to that damning realization that knowledge does not lead to excellence, but rather a deep knowing (self-belief), needs to be cultivated. In other words the doing is always superseded by the being just as no amount of forethought & rumination can ever replace the growth that takes place in terms of who we become as we strive.

It is in commitment to & trust in a process that we succeed. It matters not in many ways whether that process is correct even to a large extent. Consider that even if an athlete follows a pathway perfectly suited to him & the journey goes without hitch, he will not be prepared to face the fires that must be crossed to achieve that of which he is physically capable & even physically prepared for. Tribulation is the key ingredient, just as the seeking of the perfect pathway is fraught with failure (it MUST be!). Those that ultimately succeed at the highest level settle for good enough; for what is done, not what should or could be done. Those that succeed are those that do not cease from striving just because that perfect pathway is unachievable. The answers lie in the very fact that true endeavor lies in striving continually for the unattainable.

Perfect IS TRULY the enemy of good, thank you Voltaire

This is dedicated to you all continuing onwards as you strive for excellence in endurance activities. Seek not as lost souls, always seeking a better way, but rather as certain that the pathway actually being followed is right. Process, process, process should always be your watchwords. Stay in the moment all the time during training & racing.

Bobby McGee