Monday, September 17, 2007

Ask the Mystery Coach

Hey Mystery Coach,

How significant is running form in terms of running ‘fast’? With very few exceptions (Jen Rhines comes to mind), high level runners appear to have a high cadence, a mid foot strike, and a noticeable up-and-down, wave-like trajectory (i.e. not flat and close to the ground).

Is having the form of a ‘fast’ runner required to become a ‘fast’ runner?

Is good form something that develops over time, or are all these athletes being coached to good form through drills, etc.?

I have been told that the classic ‘fast’ form is something that develops naturally over time. Well, I’ve been at this a long time, and my running form looks the same now as it did when I started running 22 years ago…ugly! Thanks for taking the questions.


Eric, Arthur always recommended working on your form. Whether it was running on the hills or his classic 10X100 meter strides (on the flat and slight down hills) with the ankle action drills, higher quicker knee lift drills, and running tall and relaxed drills. Most runners don't spend any time doing these type of drills because it takes away from their mileage. In the mid 1970's when I first started coaching I was guilty of that very thing and that was corrected from an unexpected event.

When the Olympic Training camp at Colorado Springs, CO first opened they put on a series of "Learn by Doing" clinics where the top coaches in the country would teach us first hand what we should be doing with our athletes. Now imagine Mystery Coach under the watchful eye of UCLA pole vault coach Tom Telez (he went on to the University Houston where he became Carl Lewis' coach) learning to pole vault. The first drill involved sprinting down the runway with the pole and initializing the plant. Half way down the runway Coach Telez is yelling "Stop! Stop!", he comes over and says "Coach, What happed to your ankles? You're running like this": (proceeds to demonstrate a flat footed style of sprinting) then demonstrates again (this time flexing his ankles and driving off his back leg). By the end of the session my ankles, bottom of my feet and hamstrings were sore. Obviously it was something that was being neglected by just running distance and intervals. That's when Arthur's advice rang true. By adding once a week the sprint drills (a very light day just working on form) over the next 18 months my best times in all events improved (3 miles by 15 sec, 5 miles by 30, 10K by 45)

These sprint drills are not all out but are faster than your intervals and are done with very long rest. They have to be worked into gradually but the benefits of better coordination, smoother leg and ankle action gradually come about. My college athletes benefited more from that one day of sprint drills than doing more miles or more hard intervals. From the 400 meter runners up to the 10K runners they all improved. Remember the real proof is running faster not on how your style looks.

Amanda said...

Not sure how people normally submit their wonderful questions for Mystery Coach :) , but I do have one!

What sort of nutrition plan do you recommend to ensure you are
fueling for the miles? If you are a morning runner, how important is eating before the run?

Amanda, Providing you are eating 3 well balanced core meals per day the most important time to eat extra calories to refuel is the first 30-60 minutes after your hard (repetitions) and long runs. Studies have shown that drinks with a 4-1 ratio of carbohydrates and protein (chocolate milk, Ensure, Slim Fast and other products fall into this category) speed up the fueling of the liver and working muscles. You should try for 250-400 calories in that first half hour with a snack afterward. During the rest of the week adding snacks of high carbohydrate foods between meals can help with refueling. One thing to watch for is that you don't let yourself get too hungry between meals that is where the mid meal snacks are useful.

Depending on what the goal of your morning workout is will decide whether to eat or not. The shorter faster running would be helped by a light meal. If you are getting ready for a marathon and doing a long run it is better to not eat so that the body has to switch to fat burning more quickly and you can gain the benefits of the long run earlier. Taking time to refuel after the long run will pay much bigger dividends in a much easier recovery.

Dear Mystery Coach,

I would love to hear your thoughts regarding tapering for the marathon.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that a 3-4 weeks taper is recommended. Yet the schedule you drew up last week only had 1-2 weeks of taper. For all my previous marathons I have tapered for about 3 weeks, but I was never sure if that the ideal time (I simply followed other people's suggestions). Have you got any pointers on how to figure out what's best for an individual runner, apart from trial and error?


Thomas, I should have explained the section before the taper (Volume Speed / Sharp Speed 5-6 weeks) a bit better to show how it fits in with the taper. Let's start first with the last 10 days or so, there is not much you can do conditioning wise except keep the fibers "awake" with some pace and light speed work. You should not go into the last 10 days hoping you will recover or need any last minute training. This means the 2 weeks before the last 10 days are where you are looking for leg freshness and sharper (faster than race pace) speed workouts that are hard but not exhausting. Usually I schedule 3 hard workouts in this two week period with more days of lower volume easier running (so your volume of running actually starts dropping 3 1/2 weeks out from race day but the intensity is sharper). Here is a recap of the last 10 weeks:

10 - Hills with preliminary speed work

9 - Same as week 10

8 - Same as week 10

7 - Highest mileage with volume medium pace running (example 3-4 X 2 miles 10 seconds less than MP)

6 - Same as week 6

5 - Same as week 6

4 - Same as week 6 with the last half of the week easier, a hard long run finishes the week (mileage at 90%)

3 - Miles drop to 80-85% with harder speed work outs (example 5-10 x 1000 around 10K pace)

2 - Same as 3 for first half the miles drop to 25-30% (days off etc)

1 - Some days off, days that you run should be low volume pace or faster runs.

Hello again coach.

Last week when you described the Stamina conditioning phase you wrote-
"The goal is to run as many miles as possible at your most efficient paces (15-45 seconds slower than marathon pace or 60-90 seconds slower than 3 mile race pace) and still come back the next day to repeat the workout."

Looking over Mikes conditioning I noticed one thing consistently. He does runs often 12-13 miles (1:20-1:30 hours for him). So when you say "come back the next day and repeat the workout" this very much fits what Mike does.

My question is- Lydiard explains the importance of *3* long runs per week. In his guides he has 1.5 hour runs altered with 1 hour runs and of course the weekend long run. But he always stresses these 1.5 hour runs and the long run. I took this literally during my conditioning so I would do 2 runs of 1.5 hours and the weekend long run. Problem is I really can't say the next day after a 1.5 hour run I could repeat that workout. Sometimes I could only jog for a half hour or even have to take the day off!! Regardless of an easy pace sometimes the length was enough stress to warrant downtime.

So I guess what I'm getting at is would it be better for me to do runs that I could come back and repeat everyday? For me that would probably be around 1-1.25 hours without much of a problem(with the exception of the weekend long run that extends to 2 hours). As I mentioned it's the 1.5 hour runs that warrant the recovery days.


Jesse, give yourself a little time for development. Shorten the 1.5 hour to 1-1.25 hours but keep the 2 hour run the same. As your legs get better at recovering from the impact damage you'll see the days between becoming easier. It is better in the conditioning phase to see 1.25 hours and 45 minutes the next day than 1.5 hours and the next day off. You'll gain good muscular endurance from the 2 hour run and better recovery by training in a more balanced way.


Jesse said...

Once again thanks MC. You answered my question very well.

Amanda said...

Thanks for the information! I am trying to do long runs in the morning to gear back up for a marathon, so that was really helpful