This is a portion of an article that originally appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of Running Times Magazine and was authored by Phillip Latter.
When Mike Caldwell, Greenville Track Club-ELITE Head Coach brings recruits to the club's South Carolina campus, he discovers they're not worried about adjusting to life in a small Southeastern city or leaving the comfort zone of college to train in a professional group. Their biggest worry? It's the recovery days. Twice a week they run 45 minutes total. That's it. For elite college runners used to averaging 12-15 miles per day, this sounds downright crazy.
The key to Caldwell's system is a strong delineation between workout days and recovery days. Durning hard interval sessions around 5K pace, for example, his athletes will cover five to six miles in volume, as opposed to the more traditional three or four miles. In order for his runners to handle that volume of quality, Caldwell believes they need to be fresh heading into the sessions.
"I think a lot of people just don't understand recovery," Caldwell says. "Our recovery days are vital to our system. We're able to run hard on our hard days (because) we only ran 45 minutes on Wednesdays and Fridays."
During my many years of running and coaching I have observed thousands of races and countless marathons. One of my pet peeves is hearing, “ I was on pace for ‘x number’ of miles before I slowed down to finish in “y time.”
“Yes, sure you were,” is my non-verbal response as I attempt to smile and listen to another poor excuse for improper pacing.
What is proper pacing? Well, simply stated, it is not going out faster than you finish. Throughout the history of competitive running, runners have sprinted from the starting line only to deplete their appropriate energy systems and slow to an unfavorable pace. You can see it at almost every race you attend. The culprits’ brains just don’t seem to be able to figure out that going out too fast is NOT a good strategy.
Although this happens in races of all distances, it is especially true in the marathon. Even many of the sub-elite runners provide their post-race explanations such as, “I was on qualifying pace for 21 miles, but then I began to slow down. I’m not sure why.”
Wow! What a mystery. You ran too fast for the first part of the race and for some unknown reason you can’t understand why you slowed down.
As a professional coach, this is where I like to explain why a negative can be a positive. The best way to run almost any race over 800 meters in length is to go out at a slower pace than the pace you can finish at. Physiologically, consistent pacing is the best way to run efficiently. Having a faster second half of your race produces a “negative split.”
However, in the 800 meters research data has shown that in championship competition the first 400 meters is usually a little faster than the next, and final, 400 meters. National and Olympic caliber athletes usually have approximately a 2-second “positive” split between their first and last lap of 400 meters. For example, an athlete running 1:50.0 for 800 meters will probably run something similar to 54 seconds for the first 400 and 56 seconds for the last 400. This isn’t always true, but has been demonstrated over the last couple of decades.
However, when moving up in distance to the 1500 meters, almost all of the top competitors run their fastest segment of the race over the final 200 meters. “That’s because they are kicking,” is the common runner’s observation. True, and the kick over the final 400 meters usually leads to a “negative” split for second half of the race.
When observing world-class runners in the 5,000 or 10,000-meter events, the final 400 is usually much faster than any other lap during the race. It is not uncommon to see the top 5000-meter finishers covering the final 400 meters in less than 53 seconds in an event where the average lap is in the 62-64 second range. In most of these races, the first 400 is very close to the final average time per lap.
“So what about the half-marathon or marathon?” you might ask.
For longer distances, proper pacing is just as, or even more important. A great example was the 2016 USA Olympic Team Marathon Trials in Los Angeles. Former Brigham Young University star and current BYU professor Jared Ward used his almost perfect pacing strategy to earn one of the three coveted spots on the USA Olympic team that later competed in the Rio Olympics. Not surprisingly, Ward wrote his thesis on pacing for the marathon.
At the 2017 Chicago Marathon, winner Galen Rupp ran “negative” splits to win convincingly over some top talent, who had much faster times then he had on his resume. After covering the first 5K in a rather slow 15:43 (5:04 per mile) the pace gradually increased and the leaders passed the halfway point of 13.1 miles at 1:05:49 (5:01 per mile). At 30K, there was still a pack of ten competitors and Rupp decided to wait until 35K (7K from the finish) before increasing his tempo. He then ran the next 5K in 14:25 (4:38 per mile) to break his competition. And for some insurance, he ran the 41st kilometer in an amazing 2:38 (4:27 per mile pace). His second half-marathon split was 1:03:30 for a negative split of 2 minutes 19 seconds.
The next month at the New York City Marathon Shalane Flanagan utilized a similar strategy, although not really pre-planned, to become the first USA woman to win the NYC event in 40 years. After a first half-marathon split of a rather slow (for elite women) 1:16:18, she ran 1:10:35 for the final 13.1 miles. That split included incredible mile splits of 5:09, 5:08, 5:11 and 5:04 for miles 22 through 25. Her 5K split from 35 to 40K was a fast 15:57—a 5:09 per mile pace.
Now those really are NEGATIVE splits with a POSITIVE result. So how do we use this information from the super elite for our own performances? Train properly and use a race strategy of running the first half of your race no faster than you run the final half.
Author Mike Caldwell is director/coach of ASICS GTC-ELITE and this article was written for and originally appeared in PACE Running Magazine's Winter 2017 issue.
As a professional running coach, I attempt to keep abreast of any new concept or practice that may enhance my athletes’ training and performance. Recently authors Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness published their collaborative work entitled “Peak Performance.” The book’s cover highlights the title with the phase, “Elevate your game, avoid burnout, and THRIVE with the NEW SCIENCE of SUCCESS.”
With that noble objective, how could I not read and learn how to apply their concepts to our post-collegiate, Olympic development athletes. But why would this book be any different from the many that tout the “transformation” of your life and lead you to the top of the mountain in your respective endeavors?
What first caught my eye was the co-author, Steve Magness. Steve was a former high school track phenom, who never progressed much from his 4:01 mile as a schoolboy. However, he has become one of the top coaches in the country and published his first book The Science of Running in 2014, which seemed to be a more formal version of his articles first published on his website, Scienceofrunning.com
Quoting from the book’s cover inner sleeve, “A few common principles drive performance, regardless of the field or the task at hand. Whether someone is trying to qualify for the Olympics, break ground in mathematical theory, or craft an artistic masterpiece, many of the practices that lead to great success are the same.”
I will admit that from my past readings there is nothing really groundbreaking in the book—that is some new concept that has been recently discovered. However, the information is presented in a logical, pragmatic and orderly way that should allow the reader to contemplate the information and begin to apply the concepts in their own quest for reaching their peak performance.
The book is organized around three key concepts:
The first section reiterates the core principle of physiological performance improvement: STRESS + REST = GROWTH. This equation has been one of our guiding principles within ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE since our inception. We base our training philosophy on this equation and it has become one of our maxims.
The authors explain, “Systemically grow by alternating between stress and rest.” This concept is similar to what veteran coaches would link to legendary coach Bill Bowerman’s “Hard/Easy” training concept. They provide some easily memorable bullet points describing basic concepts such as:
“Stress Yourself by seeking out ‘just-manageable challenges’ in areas of you life in which you want to grow.” These “just-manageable challenges’ are those that barely exceed your current abilities. Once you feel that you can achieve those goals, increase the challenge. This might seem obvious to many, but sometimes runners set their goals so high, that they get discouraged when they don’t achieve them.
One area that I really liked was the idea to “cultivate deep focus and perfect practice.” This includes the authors’ words:
In conjunction with the “Stress Yourself” concept is “Have Courage to Rest.” In this section the authors discuss how to use meditation, being mindful, taking the appropriate breaks and prioritizing sleep.
There has been a lot written about the importance of sleep, including Arianna Huffington’s 2016 bestseller The Sleep Revolution. However, many runners still do not seem to understand and embrace the importance of sleep in the recovery and adaptation cycles so vital to performance improvement. Peak Performance provides some excellent advice and guidelines regarding this important concept.
One of the things that I really liked about the book was the bullet point summary of all the principles identified and explained in the book. This section is extremely useful as a coach to revisit on a frequent basis as we continually attempt to improve our athletes’ (and our own) performances.
Author Mike Caldwell is director/coach of ASICS GTC-ELITE and this article was written for and originally appeared in PACE Running Magazine's Fall 2017 issue.
One of the unique characteristics of great coaches is that they continue to learn. Interestingly, if you listen to some of the “old timers” in our running community and communities around the country, they will tell you “to be a good runner you just have to run more miles.” While the appropriate volume (distance run during a specific period of days, week, months, etc.) is necessary, there are other important aspects that contribute to high performance running.
Recovery is just as important as frequency, intensity and duration.
Fortunately, over the past decade more tools have become available to aid in the recovery process. I will highlight a few of the “tools of our trade” that we utilize with our post-collegiate, Olympic development athletes on ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE.
The R8 and R3 devices and Mats from Roll Recovery
Roll Recovery’s products were developed to aid in the recovery process. Their first product, the R8, is a unique device that uses spring-like forces to “dig deep” while massaging your muscles. Many runners use “stick-like” devices, but from our experience the R8 works even better.
The R3 is a basically a roller for the foot, although it can be used on other appendages, too. Its design promotes the correct rolling pattern for your foot and is extremely useful in preventing and/or rehabbing the foot due to plantar fasciitis.
The Roll Recovery mat is hexagonal shaped and also folds up so that you can carry it easily to use immediately following your cool down. It is wide enough to accommodate more lateral movements than a normal yoga mat.
If the R3 is not enough to aid in the rehab from or prevention of plantar fasciitis, then the new DorsiFlex device is a must have. Designed by former national steeplechase standout Jim Cooper, an engineer by trade, this is the second production iteration of the product. While the initial version worked extremely well, it was made of wood. The new version is made of sturdy metal and also adjusts to allow multiple degrees of inversion or eversion of the foot. Testimonials have been extremely positive.
The ElliptiGO bicycle
For those of you who follow the amazing exploits of Meb, you are probably aware that his utilization of the ElliptiGO has been instrumental in his longevity as a super-elite marathoner. Not to be confused with an indoor elliptical unit, the ElliptiGO is a moving version that allows you to ride outside and experience much of the same sensations and benefits of actual running. And since there is no foot strike or pounding, it is extremely beneficial for those with minor injuries or adding volume for the healthy athlete. We have used both our outside ElliptiGO and our inside one (set up on a Kinetic Road Machine to simulate actual riding) for our athletes during injury or to add a second daily workout.
NormaTec Recovery Boots
Sometimes your legs need a little assistance to initiate and quicken your recovery cycle. For those of us who don’t have access or the financial means to have a post workout massage, the recovery boots by NormaTec are perfect. The NormaTec PULSE Recovery Systems are dynamic compression devices designed for recovery and rehab. They use compressed air to massage your limbs, mobilize fluid, and speed recovery with their patented NormaTec Pulse Massage Pattern. The athlete will first experience a pre-inflate cycle, during which the connected attachments are molded to his/her exact body shape. The session will then begin by compressing the feet, lower leg, or upper quad. Similar to the kneading and stroking done during a massage, each segment of the attachment will first compress in a pulsing manner and then release. This will repeat for each segment of the attachment as the compression pattern works its way up the limb.
You can actually rent time to use the NormaTec boots at Frigid Cryotherapy in Greenville.
Cocoa Elite Recovery Mix
While chocolate milk has been one of our favorite post-workout recovery drinks for many years due to favorable carbohydrate/protein (3-4/1) ratio, we have recently begun to use products from Cocoa Elite. Research has indicated that the flavanols found in cocoa may produce a positive impact on health due to their associated antioxidant properties. Flavanols help support healthy blood vessel function and the overall health of the cardiovascular system. Cocoa Elite seems to have the right combination of carbohydrates, proteins and a small amount of fat that provides the best nutrients to aid in recovery.
Friends and supporters of ASICS GTC-ELITE can purchase Cocoa Elite products with a discount by using the code "GTC-COCOA" on their website @:
Author Mike Caldwell is director/coach of ASICS GTC-ELITE and this article was written for and originally appeared in PACE Running Magazine's Summer 2017 issue.
Almost everyone has pet peeves—little things that continue to annoy you. As a professional coach and exercise scientist I have quite a few. One of the most annoying is listening to coaches and other so-called “fitness experts” tell their athletes that lactic acid causes them to slow down or make their legs sore.
It is a myth that began many years ago. Way back in 1922 Nobel Prize winners Dr. Otto Meyerhof and Dr. Archibald Hill independently conducted research in which electric shocks were administered to severed frog legs. Initially the frog legs would twitch before eventually becoming still. Upon inspection, the severed frog legs were awash with lactic acid. The scientists deduced that since the severed legs were not receiving a supply of oxygen from the original organism, then the anaerobic energy system produced “lactic acid,” which led to a condition of “acidosis.”
It was then assumed that “acidosis” shuts down muscle fiber contraction. Coaches and runners readily accepted this theoretical finding and then spent nearly sixty years attempting to train to overcome the effects of lactic acid.
It wasn’t until 1985 that University of California at Berkeley physiologist Dr. George A. Brooks demonstrated that lactate is actually a valuable fuel for our muscle fibers and not the villain it was assumed to be. First, you must understand that lactate is for all practical purposes lactic acid minus a hydrogen ion. The new theory was that lactic acid splits to create both lactate and hydrogen ions; lactate is good and hydrogen ions are bad. So lactic acid still remained somewhat of a villain to athletic endeavors.
Then in 2004 Dr. Robert A. Robergs and others presented another blow to the dwindling ill-famed reputation of lactic acid. In their paper they claimed that lactic acid “is never created during anaerobic energy production.” Instead, the dreaded hydrogen ions arise independently of lactate. And, lactate actually decreases acidosis in muscle tissue both by consuming hydrogen ions and by pairing with them to exit the muscle fiber with the assistance of transport proteins.
Dr. Laurence A. Moran, a biochemist and textbook author, celebrated Robergs’s, (and associates) findings by proclaiming, “The important point is that lactic acid is not produced in the muscles so it can’t be the source of acidosis.”
More recent research has continued to challenge the role of acidosis as a cause of fatigue. McKenna and Hargreaves stated, “Fatigue during exercise can be viewed as a cascade of events occurring at multi-organ, multi-cellular, and multi-molecular levels.”
The current thinking is that lactic acid is not a villain at all. Instead lactate is a valuable energy source, which can be used to continue muscle contraction. It is formed and utilized continuously in diverse cells under both anaerobic and aerobic conditions. So, lactate itself does not cause fatigue but certain accompanying products might. The accumulation of hydrogen ions and the corresponding lowering of pH is most likely the cause of acidosis, which has a direct relationship with muscle fatigue--an inability to generate high muscle contraction forces and sometimes producing a burning sensation in affected muscles.
Smart coaches and athletes have adapted their training methods to increase the utilization of muscle (and blood) lactate. Our own experience with training our post-collegiate, Olympic development athletes is that we have targeted very specific training to increase lactate utilization during both training and competition. Our “Lactate Shuttle” sessions are a core part of our training programs.
We utilize “Lactate Shuttle” sessions to “buffer” the effects of hydrogen ions within the muscle fibers and enhance the movement of lactate within and between the cells. Lactate is a fuel, not an acid, but is still closely associated with the production of hydrogen ions. Lactate and hydrogen ions leave the muscle fibers together escorted by specialized transport proteins. Our “Lactate Shuttle” workouts are targeted to increase these transport proteins, therefore increasing the facilitated diffusion across the cell membrane and improving lactate dynamics.
Lactate DOES NOT cause muscle soreness. Since lactate is a fuel source, it is utilized quickly and removed from both muscle tissue and blood soon after even intense exercise bouts. It does not linger for days and is usually reduced to “normal” levels within an hour post exercise or much sooner if a cool-down session follows.
In summary, if your coach or trainer states that “lactic acid” is causing you to fatigue or produce sore muscles, you should be cautious, as they are uninformed and propagating a “myth.”
Author Mike Caldwell is coach/director of ASICS GTC-ELITE and this article was written for and originally appeared in PACE Running Magazine.
When does running 4:04 for 1600 meters leave you out of the money? Well, in the men’s Olympic 10,000 meter final to list just one instance. For those of you who have continued to read, you know that is four laps of the track and just nine meters short of the imperial distance known as the mile.
For those of you who watched the recent 2016 Olympics in Rio, there were many exciting Track & Field events, including multiple world records. On the opening day, the women’s 10,000 meters set the tone with an amazing world record run by Ethopia’s Almaz Ayana. Following a rarely seen opening 5,000 meters of 14:46 by Kenyan rival Alice Nawowuna, Almaz did the unthinkable and increased her pace to cover the final 5,000 in 14:30. Her amazing final time of 29:17.45 broke the long-standing world record of 29:31.78, set by China’s Junxia Wang from September 8, 1993. Ayana covered the 10th and final kilometer (1,000 meters) in a speedy 2:54.57. That is averaging 69.8 per 400 meters for the final K and under 2:57 per K for the entire 10,000 meters.
The men’s 10,000 was conducted the following evening and featured Great Britain’s Mo Farah and his attempt to repeat one of his gold medals earned at London’s 2012 Olympic Games. Track experts anxiously waited to see if the rumored strategy of the Kenyans teaming together to wear down the MoBot and tame his well-known final “kick”. As everyone is very aware now, they were not able to do so.
It is always interesting to read or hear comments by many non-elite and even former very good runners regarding such races. Many opine that someone should have run hard and fast earlier to ensure that Mo used more energy and couldn’t kick. More than one commenter espoused that American Galen Rupp should have thrown in a surge earlier and by doing so he would have been able to place among the top three and medal for the USA. Another stated that the American should have gone out at 26:40 pace and that would have garnered more success than his (Rupp’s) 5th place finish.
Hogwash! It has been well documented that a faster than needed earlier pace in distances above 800 meters is not successful in producing top finishes in more than 90% of competitions. What many observers didn’t quite grasp was that the men’s Olympic 10,000 was indeed a “fast” race. Let’s take a quick look at Mo’s 1,000-meter splits: 2:58.7, 2:49.8 [5:48.5], 2:42.8 [8:31.3], 2:43.7 [11:15.0], 2:39.7 [13:54.7], 2:43.2 [16:37.9], 2:41.7 [19:19.6], 2:42.0 [22:01.6], 2:35.4 [24:37.0], 2:28.2; for a final time of 27:05.17. And remember, he took a tumble to the track during the third kilometer, but got back up quickly and resumed his quest.
Another view would be Mo’s final 2K segments. He covered the final 2,000 meters in 5:03.6 or an astonishing 60.72 per 400 meters, the final 1600 meters in 4:01.2, the final 1200 meters in 2:59.0 (59.6 per lap), the final 800 in 1:56.6 (58.3s), the final 400 in 55.3 (now we’re moving), the final 200 in 27.3 and the final 100 in 13.4.
So why did it come down to a final kick over the last 400 meters? Why not? In almost every running event over 200 meters, the runner who covers the final 400 meters the fastest (if within reasonable striking distance after completing the penultimate lap) either wins or comes very close. The trick is staying with the lead pack to be able to attempt a “kick.”
For many reasons, many “track fans” despise a slow early pace and desire what they term an “honest” pace from the start. They believe that is a more honorable method for racing. Well, the British believed that marching in unison, while wearing attractive red coats, was an “honorable” method to fight a battle. And how did that work out in the American Revolutionary War? Not so well.
The object is to win, not to see who can run the fastest for the first portion of the race. In Rupp’s case, he covered the final 1600 meters (remember that’s almost one mile) in 4:04 (approximately a 4:05 mile) and could only garner 5th because four others closed just as fast or faster. But what if had run faster earlier in the race? Then he would not have been able to close as fast as he did and would more than likely have finished 6th or worse.
Many opined that Rupp couldn’t kick. That depends on how you classify a kick. He did run a 56-57 second final 400 meters and a sub 1:59 final 800, so that seems to be a pretty decent “kick.” But Farah, Paul Tanui, Tamirat Tola and Yigrem Demelash were just a little bit faster on that night. Fifth in 27:08.92 was still a very good effort for the man who is probably the USA’s greatest track distance runner, if you look at his consistently fast times and top performances over the past decade.
Postscript: Rupp later earned the bronze medal in the Olympic Marathon.
Note: this article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of PACE Running Magazine.
When you have coached and worked with runners as many years as I have had the good fortune to do so, you develop an innate ability to recognize many runners from a distance by observing their running form. This is especially true for athletes who I see on a regular basis. With the exceptions of many elite Kenyans or even Ethiopians, most runners have very different styles of running. Some are extremely efficient while others have glaring asymmetry.
During the past decade I have become somewhat confused and almost perplexed at the number of runners who have enhanced their asymmetry and distorted their running form by carrying needless containers of either water or some other fluid replacement. Some carry “handhelds” while others strap devices to their backs in their attempts to “keep hydrated.”
Is this really necessary? Do they really believe they will become dehydrated on a training run of two hours or less? If so, the marketers of such products (containers and sports drinks) have been extremely successful in their promotions as they exaggerate our need for daily fluid consumption.
Dehydration refers to a deficit of the total amount of water in the body with an accompanying disruption of metabolic processes. Dehydration may also be a cause for hypernatremia, which is elevated sodium content in the blood. The loss of plasma fluid (water) results in an increased percentage of sodium in the plasma. Water is lost in a variety of ways including perspiration, minimal losses from breathing and also from urinating and bowel movements.
Since in most cases runners are not urinating or stopping to empty their bowels frequently during a training session, perspiration is the major cause for loss of fluid/water.
One of the common current myths is that you should drink as much as you can tolerate so that you maintain fluid levels during your run. However, that may not be the case. The human body has evolved an exquisite system to regulate water consumption and it is called “thirst”. The body is well equipped to deal with transient dehydration, which usually lasts from 4 to 8 hours. It is chronic dehydration, which lasts for days, that leads to health issues.
The human organism reacts to applied stress by adapting and compensating so that it can function at an elevated level once the adaptation has occurred. This is the “training effect.” It may also be the case with fluid intake and replacement.
Dr. Tim Noakes, a South African physician, researcher and author, has written thousands of pages on running. One of his most intriguing books is entitled “Waterlogged—the serious problem of over hydration in endurance sports.” The book devotes 428 pages to the subject. Believe me, those are a lot of pages to discuss hydration and the potential issues of “water intoxication.”
His interest was spurred by the death of Cynthia Lucerno, Ph.D., who passed away a few hours after stopping at the 22-mile mark of the 108th B.A.A. Boston Marathon in 2002. Her death was attributed to “hyponatremia” or “water intoxication.”
The basic premise of the book is that man is the best-equipped land mammal to perform with limited amounts of water intake, if replenished appropriately following exercise. Noakes informs us, “The biological record appears to give a consistent answer. Humans developed as long-distance runners especially well adapted to run in extreme dry heat in the middle of the day while drinking infrequently and conserving sodium stores. Humans are bipedal, reducing the radiant heat gain from the midday sun. Through evolution, we have developed adaptations that allow both superior thermoregulation and the ability to run economically for prolonged periods. The key is the number of sweat glands in human skin.”
A potential disadvantage of sweating is that it reduces total-body water content, which may cause dehydration. “Once the reduction in body water causes the solute concentration, especially the sodium concentration of the blood to rise, the brain detects the change and develops the symptom of thirst. This is a normal biological response that has evolved in most creatures to ensure that they maintain a constant body water content at least once a day (usually following the evening meal).“
The primary symptom of water loss is thirst. The human body has mechanisms that produce the thirst sensation. Other symptoms indicating dehydration include the color and viscosity of one’s urine output. Slightly yellow usually indicates “normal” total-body water content, while a dark and thicker void indicates dehydration and very clear urine may be indicative of hyperhydration.
Young children many times get thirsty very easily during activity. However as their body matures, the thirst sensation usually is delayed until later or following short periods of activity. Trained athletes usually don’t need fluid replacement until later in or even after their respective work bouts, but this is mostly dependent on the environmental conditions and the amount of sweating produced.
In our experience, our elite distance runners regularly complete longer runs of two hours without ingesting fluids. Their bodies have adapted. Without the necessity of “carrying” water bottles, they can maintain good running form and operate at a very efficient level. However, they do replenish with appropriate fluids once the run is completed and continue until their total-body water is back to normal (usually during the evening).
Non-elite runners would benefit more by not carrying fluids and focusing on having better form and efficiency in training runs of less than two hours. Another reason to not carry water on runs shorter than two hours is that research has indicated that more adaptation occurs when the organism’s water content is 1-2% decreased. It is sometimes referred to as the “quart low” theory, although the unit “quart” should not be taken literally. So it is actually beneficial to lose some fluid during training so that you force the appropriate adaptation, become more efficient and increase your fitness. The “super-compensation effect” is not promoted when your body maintains the status quo of pre-training bout levels.
So, unless you are running more than two hours, you really don’t need to carry those containers unless the conditions are extremely harsh. Pre-hydrate a few hours before your run and re-hydrate with more than just water following your run and throughout the evening.
Mike Caldwell is director/coach of ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE. This blog was originally written for and published in the Summer 2016 issue of PACE Running Magazine.
It was hot! With apologies to Jimmy Buffett, “We spent four busy days in a bright LA haze and we just want to be back on our side (of the country).”
When we established the ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE post-collegiate, Olympic development program in July of 2012 one of our goals was to have our athletes qualify for the USA Olympic Team Trials. We achieved that goal with four athletes, two men and two women, qualifying for the marathon by running under the qualifying standards at the half marathon distance. Americans could qualify by running a marathon under 2:19:00 for men and under 2:45:00 for women, OR by running under 1:05 and 1:15:00 for men and women respectively.
Although I was previously not in favor of having an athlete qualify with the half-marathon performance, I grew to accept it’s legitimacy when Ricky Flynn joined our program in December of 2013. Ricky had qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials marathon by running a 1:03:44 half marathon. Then he ran his first, and only, marathon at the 2012 OMT in Houston, TX. Not only did he prove that he could finish a marathon, he actually placed 12th overall with an excellent time of 2:13:41.
In this current Olympic quadrennial, we planned for Ricky to meet the “B” standard (which is for those qualifying by half marathon or running between 2:15:00 and 2:19:00 over the marathon distance for men) by running the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in Duluth, MN in June 2014. As planned he qualified there with a sub-1:05:00 (1:04:50) performance.
At our team retreat in Maggie Valley, NC during late August, we discussed our individual goals and left thinking that we might have one or two of our newer members attempt to qualify via the half-marathon route. The potential candidates each were successful at the 5 and 10K distances in college, but had the ability to move up in distance.
So, in early September I began looking for possible half marathons that offered the possibility to run fast in a competitive field. There are not as many opportunities as one would think. And two of our women had never run a competitive race longer than the 10K—less than half the distance of the half marathon. One potential opportunity was the Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon in Florida. However, the event’s featured distance was the marathon. With a call to Richard Clark Fannin, who coordinates the elite athletes for the prestigious Gate River 15K, we discussed putting together a small group of elites to pursue the OT qualifying standards.
The rest is history. RCF did a magician’s job of attracting over 110 athletes to participate in what he named the Olympic Trials Marathon Project. And on a cool and raining early January morning over 41 men and women athletes qualified for the 2016 USA Olympic Team Trials marathon in Los Angeles, CA.
On a Wednesday in mid February six of us departed 25-degree temperatures in Greenville and arrived in LA to a very warm 80-degree day. Our group included Ricky Flynn, Mark Leininger, Dylan Hassett, Nicole DiMercurio, Coach Laura Caldwell and myself. Of the four athletes, only Ricky had completed a marathon. While experiencing the very warm conditions, we were pleased that we had brought our 32 special fluid bottles for Saturday’s race.
While waiting for our bags at LAX we were greeted by Elkanah Kibet, who won last year’s TD Bank Reedy River Run 10K and had later run his first marathon in Chicago in 2:11. He told me that he had been heat-training n Arizona and hoped it would be hot so that he had a better chance of making the Olympic Team.
On Thursday, we checked in at USATF and the athletes received their welcome packets before going through the process of checking each apparel item that would be worn on race day. That included tops, bottoms, hats, warm-up items and T-shirts. Besides a small manufactures’ logo, each item could only have a small (40cm2) team/club logo displayed. To assist us our apparel sponsor, ASICS, had provide new tops, bottoms and hats for our four athletes. With LA’s intense sunshine, hats would be necessary to help limit their body temperatures on Saturday.
Then it was a drive down the course to Expo Park and the famous LA Coliseum and the USC campus (that’s University of Southern California for readers from the state of SC). While we attempted to decipher the course maps, the sun beat down upon runners from all over the country and many told their personal stories of how cold it was when they left their homes to come to LA. Almost everyone expressed their concern over the 10:06 am (men) and 10:22 am (women) starting times for the race. As we would be informed on multiple occasions, it was because NBC would be covering the event live for the first time in history and that it would be good preparation for the Olympics in Rio, Brazil. Following the business portion of the morning, we drove to Santa Monica for lunch at the famous Dogtown Coffee and then a visit to the beach. We might as well acclimate to the heat.
Thursday night we attended the Athletes/Sponsors dinner at the California Science Center and had dinner beneath the Endeavor Space Shuttle, which hangs from the ceiling in a very large room. Between reading about details regarding the construction of the aircraft, we mingled with the other coaches and athletes with some entertaining musical artists. Soon to be four-time Olympian Meb Keflezighi welcomed everyone, as did some of the USATF leadership.
Friday’s itinerary included our women runners being interviewed for a film documentary about the pack of women who qualified at the Jax Bank Half Marathon. We hope to see videographer Wendy Shulik’s final version in the near future and may have a showing at a future Greenville Track Club meeting. While the women were being interviewed, Ricky and Mark were eating breakfast at the athletes’ hospitality room and then Ricky received treatment for a nagging leg injury.
Laura and I attended to labeling and beginning to fill our fluid bottles, which would be placed on eight carefully selected tables along the course. We had decided to use a mixture of gels and water for LA. Our great friends at Run In Greenville had given us a variety of GU products for this endeavor and it was much appreciated. While Laura and I worked on the bottles many of the other elite athletes joined the process and also went through uniform check-in.
It was good to see and talk with Galen Rupp, who is the USA’s best current distance runner. As a former Portland, OR, resident, I had known and followed Galen since his high school days. He told me he was ready to go in his first attempt at the marathon. From his confident works and smile, I immediately made him my pre-race favorite to make the USA team of three. I had already selected Meb as one of those three despite his age of 40. In the marathon experience usually is a high success factor.
Luke Puskedra came into the room with his wife and young child and almost immediately asked if he could take a full case of bottle water as he would need all of it. That’s 24 bottles of water, but he is one of the tallest competitors in LA for the trials. Also, arriving was Jared Ward. He had won last year’s ASICS LA Marathon on the Stadium to the Sea course, and had shown that he could run well in the heated conditions that could prevail again in LA. I decided to add him to my short list of the three favorites.
After our athletes had completed their pre-race shakeout runs, we completed our fluid bottle preparation and delivered them to the “fluid control” room. Each athlete signed in, presented their bottles for storage, and were instructed on how the process would work. With over 400 entrants (since the men and women would be running at the same time) this was the most ambitious fluid distribution process in history. Remember, each athlete would have up to eight of their own special bottles along the course with only eight bottles or less on any given table. That is a lot of tables.
Friday afternoon we attended the mandatory Technical Meeting, at which every detail was addressed; from what time breakfast would open and close to possible drug testing and processing in the event you were one of the top five finishers in Saturday’s races.
The most time was spent on reviewing the course. It would begin with a 2.2 mile loop going north amongst the tall buildings of downtown LA and then proceed with four six-mile loops which ran up and down Figuoria Street and through the USC campus and adjacent to the LA Coliseum. After the first smaller loop, there would be very little shade.
Saturday arrived and so did the sun. Unfortunately for us, Ricky’s leg injury had not healed enough to attempt to run. So it was just Mark and I as we walked from our hotel to the starting area about a mile away. We used the time to once again discuss race strategy. While we had believed he was ready to run between 2:16 and 2:20, we decided to be very conservative since the sun was already heating the sidewalks and roads. With reluctance, we decided to begin well off our former pacing plans.
As Laura walked with Dylan and Nicole, they discussed similar strategies. Since Laura had experienced multiple Olympic marathon trials her advice should have been golden. We were not allowed in the athletes’ warm-up area, but had our own coaches’ box next to that space. The crowds were large and noisy. We could not hear on our phones and were too busy to return many of the texts from friends and supporters. As one would expect in LA, the start was an exciting production. Almost every athlete was cheered as a celebrity, much like the musicians that would be in the same area for the Grammy’s on only two days later.
Following the excitement of the men’s start at 10:06 the women assembled in the holding area to await the men’s completion of the 2.2-mile loop. About 12 minutes later the men completed the loop and crossed the starting line for the second time. Mark had followed instructions and was fourth from last in the field of the country’s best distance runners.
At 10:22 the women began their quest to make the Olympic Team. Laura and I made our way, with some other coaching friends, to see our athletes along the long stretches of Figuoria. When Dylan and Nicole passed us they were not too far behind the lead pack, but running much faster than we had wanted them to do. In our training plan we had estimated that both could definitely run sub-2:40 and possibly a few minutes faster, even though it was their first attempt at the marathon. However, the recently predicted high temperatures had changed those plans. We wanted them to adjust to run 15-20 seconds slower per mile. But by five miles they were close to 6:00 pace, which fueled our fears.
The men’s race developed into a large front pack, which included ASICS Furman Elite’s Wilkerson Given, a 2013 Furman grad, who had also qualified via the half marathon and would be running his first full one. Wilkerson is known to run with the lead pack for as long as possible and that was very true again.
We also had some other interesting stories within the race. Nicole’s boyfriend, Tyler Pennel of Reebok/ZAP Elite, was a potential favorite. Tyler was definitely a contender and ran strong up at the front. As predicted, Meb was always there as was Galen Rupp.
However, behind the lead pack the runners had begun to string out. The blazing sun was already having an affect on a huge number of highly trained athletes. The 5:00-5:10 per mile pace that many of them had planned to run was just too much to sustain in such conditions.
The women’s pack was broken when Bowerman Track Club teammate Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg pushed the pace and opened an ever-widening gap as they completed the first two of the four six-mile loops. HOKA Northern Arizona Elite’s Kellyn Taylor looked solid in third. However, it is a marathon and it can be cruel.
Just after 25K, Pennel decided to drop the pace and covered the 17th mile in 4:47. Meb and Rupp followed. Ward ran a very hard 4:50, but managed to stay in contention. Tyler’s lead grew to a reported 40 meters, but was to be short-lived as Meb and Galen reeled him in and began a two-man battle. It wasn’t a battle for long as Rupp’s sub-27:00 10K talent took the toll on the aging fan-favorite. Rupp would go on to victory in his debut marathon (qualifying with via the half marathon proves positive again) running 2:11:12. Meb would follow in second in 2:12:20 to make his 4th Olympic team.
The surge after 25K had broken the pack, but it also may have been the undoing for Tyler Pennel. It was a gutsy move, but both a hard charging Ward and Puskedra passed him as they placed third and fourth. As a side note, it may be that fatherhood was the difference as the top four finishers are all proud fathers.
Wilkerson Given had remained in the lead pack through 25K, but attempting that pace had exhausted his energy stores and he faded to 54th place over the final brutal miles. Another gutsy effort and a final time of 2:27:50, but losing over 16 minutes to Rupp over the final ten miles.
Mark Leininger, seeded 115th, had followed our strategy well. Although running much slower than we had desired before arriving in LA, he gradually moved up through the field. He placed 60th with a time of 2:28:17. So our two representatives from Greenville finished with 30 seconds of each other—with completely opposite strategies. There are many ways to skin the cat.
While the women’s race became very interesting as Shalane began to experience the negative effects of the conditions, Desi Linden began to make her move and looked strong. She had passed Taylor , and was also holding her lead on everybody’s favorite Kara Goucher. Amy Cragg attempted to motivate and assist her teammate Flanagan, but realized Linden was closing the gap. Cragg then used her strength to pull away from Shalane and earn the $80,000 first prize and the first spot on the Olympic Team. What a difference from four years ago, when she placed a devastating fourth as Amy Hastings. The top five women were the same top five finishers from 2012, although in a different order. Linden was now second and Flanagan third with Goucher fourth this time and just missing another Olympic Team.
Our ASICS GTC-ELITE women were learning the harshness of the marathon. Nicole passed halfway in 1:20:47, which was still a very good effort for the conditions. However, the last six miles which she had been warned about were every bit as bad as advertised. She managed to finish in 2:52:10 for 82nd place. Dylan also experienced the wall after passing the half in 1:21:08. She struggled, but finished in 113th place with a time of 2:58:46. Both women will run much faster in their future careers.
As many of our coaching friends commented after the race, “It was carnage out there.” Each elite training group or program had gone to extreme planning and details to prepare their athletes for these trials. However the heat had taken its toll on most.
As we collected our athletes and gear in the athletes restricted area following the races, I saw Elkanah Kibet, who had placed 19thst, lying by bags of ice. He looked up at me and said, “Mike, it was very, very, very hot.”
Mike Caldwell is director/coach of ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE. This blog was originally written for and published in the Spring 2016 issue of PACE Running Magazine.
The following blog, by ASICS GTC-ELITE director Mike Caldwell, appeared as an article in the Summer issue of PACE Running Magazine.
In the spring issue of PACE Running Magazine we discussed running form and some of the solutions we use and recommend. We recommended scheduling an evaluation of your running gait by expert Kent Kurfman at Pro Axis Running Academy. Kent has been very good at evaluating some of the post-collegiate, Olympic Development athletes who are members of our ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE program. He uses his years of experience and training to analyze each athlete’s running gait, conducts appropriate measurements of flex angles and prescribes solutions and drills to correct any issues that are discovered.
Some of the solutions may include various stretches to increase flexibility in specific areas, or may be as simple as adding eccentric calf stretches to your ancillary workout program. Although we already have our athletes doing ancillary work for approximately three hours per week, we have added some additional items at Kent’s prescription.
Another resource that we are seeing good results from is our use of the ElliptiGO trainer. According to the company’s description, “The ElliptiGO is the world's first elliptical bicycle. Designed by runners as the ideal cross-training device, the ElliptiGO combines the best of running, cycling and the elliptical trainer to deliver a low-impact, high-performance workout outdoors. We believe it is the ideal cross-training device for healthy runners and the best replacement for running for injured runners. It delivers an exercise experience that is closer to running than anything else available today.”
A couple of years ago, one of our athletes had incurred an injury, which would continue to be compromised by the pounding due to actual running. So we researched the ElliptiGO and decided to obtain one to use when running was not possible. It turned out to be a great decision. Much like an elliptical machine found in most fitness centers, the leg movement is similar to your running stride. However, there is no striking ground force involved.
As a coach I am always searching for an edge that may assist in the continual development of our elite athletes and improving their competitive performances. And as an exercise physiologist my tendency is to refer to research to find out what might work better than our current methods. I have always believed that our workout sessions should be based on concepts that I could actually complete if I was back in my prime or had the same abilities as our current elite athletes. So, when our ElliptiGO unit arrived, I was probably more excited than our athletes.
A while back, I had observed some elite/professional athletes using ElliptiGOs. Former NCAA cross country champion Adam Goucher had experimented with training on an ElliptiGO, when we lived in Portland. Then, during our quadrennial sojourn to Eugene, Oregon for the 2012 USA Olympic Trials we observed other elite athletes doing supplemental training on “GOs”. And more recently, 2014 Boston Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi has been an advocate of supplementing his training on the ElliptiGO.
Why is it different from cycling? Well, first, you are standing and can’t sit down. So the exercise mimics running. Metabolic testing research has been conducted comparing the cost of riding an ElliptiGO bike versus running and conventional cycling. The energy cost of exercising on the ElliptiGO was on average 33% (+ or – 11%) greater compared to cycling at a given velocity.
The comparison with running demonstrated that at the two highest velocities tested (16 and 18.5 mph), the energy cost of exercising on the GO was similar to that of running at 7.5 and 8.6 mph (8 and 7 minutes per mile pace). However, at lower velocities on the ElliptiGO, the energy cost of running at 6.0 and 6.7 mph was actually greater than when exercising on the ElliptiGO. The heart rate responses and perceived exertion were markedly higher on the GO than for cycling, but similar for those parameters when running.
From such research, it seems that riding the GO at speeds of 18.5 mph closely correlates with running at 7 minute-per-mile pace on flat terrain. Since our athletes usually run at approximately that pace on their recovery days, we can substitute a 45-minute workout on the GO for a 45-minute run and reduce the cumulative impact-related forces, while experiencing the same VO2 and energy costs associated with the training.
Previous research has also indicated that stand-up cycling training can improve 10K running performance. Statements from Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter and Ironman champion Dave Scott had intrigued researcher Tom Miller. Both believed that standing up on bicycles while pedaling intensely uphill had positively influenced their running performances. The results of Miller’s study found an 8.6% improvement in 10K running performance after stand-up cycling training.
So we decided to have one of our athletes use the ElliptiGO for her secondary workouts on the harder days in each training microcycle. While we do not have a control subject, or an appropriate number of subjects to conduct research, we have been extremely pleased with her progress and development. One of the additional benefits seems to be that stride length and turnover rate is maintained and even enhanced when using the ElliptiGO in supplemental training, and with no additional impact.
In summary, we are impressed with the training effects accumulated without exposing the athlete to additional running mileage when using the ElliptiGO. It has become yet another vital component in our group of resources.
Do you remember the first time you heard your recorded voice played back? For most of us that voice did not seem like what we thought we sounded like. But, no matter how many times we replayed the recording, it was true; that is what we actually sounded like.
There is a similarity with your running form. When you see a photo of yourself in forward motion, it probably doesn’t look exactly like what you envisioned. And when you observe a video of you running, it may look even worse than the photo and worse than you imagined. It has been stated that a picture is “worth a thousand words,” so a video is worth many more.
While most of us don’t attempt to change the way we speak, since it would require almost constant conscious effort and might even include using a professional voice coach, the same holds true for the majority of runners regarding their form. While an unusual or unique speaking voice in most cases does not produce any ill effects (besides maybe annoying some acquaintances), poor running form CAN be harmful to your body.
Research indicates that 82% of runners become injured. Now, that seems like a large percentage, but all of us know a runner who is currently injured. Why do so many runners experience injury? There are multiple reasons. While most runners immediately focus on their footwear as the root cause, it is usually more associated with poor running form and biomechanics. Many animals seem to learn to run naturally, but that is not always the case with humans.
A wise person has stated, “practice doesn’t make perfect, but that perfect practice makes perfect.” And to extend that concept, “imperfect practice leads to imperfection,” especially pertaining to running form. The more you run with poor running form, the higher the percentage that injury will occur. So just how do you improve (and perfect) your running form?
First, you need to observe yourself running. In today’s digital age, this is extremely easy as all you need is an iPhone or equivalent. Although “selfies” are the trend, it works much better if you have a friend or coach video you at several different running speeds. Yes, you may, and probably do, run differently (form) depending on the speed of your pace. So the first step in the process is watching you run. Ugh! Not as pretty as you envisioned.
However, if you like what you see and have never been injured, you are finished with the process. Keep up the good work (you might be in that 18%). But, if you don’t like what you see and don’t look quite as effortless as those free-striding Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners, then there might be a little work to do.
Second, (for those who observed some quirks in your running form), you need an “expert” to analyze your form and determine what is not working in the kinetic chain that allows you to propel yourself forward efficiently. Such experts are usually highly trained experienced coaches or certified professionals. While there are many people with the title of “coach”, there are only a few who actually have the requisite education and training to breakdown the biomechanical movement patterns and recommend the correct changes required.
Even with our post-collegiate athletes in the ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE program, we are constantly working on improving running form. We have been fortunate to include experts in our resource group that have been instrumental in assisting our athletes recognize needed changes in running posture, form, arm-carriage and foot-strike patterns.
Brad McKay of Performance Therapy is a vital part of our program and continues to address muscular issues with our athletes. His work with addressing Kimberly Ruck’s chronic hamstring issues with a change in running gait has produced very positive results as evidenced with her recent performances.
Our philosophy includes analyzing our athletes’ biomechanical and musculoskeletal systems and addressing any weaknesses with appropriate drills and strengthening exercises. We also rely on Kent Kurfman at Proaxis Running Academy to provide one of the most complete evaluations and analysis available. Kent has measured and evaluated some of our athletes and diagnosed issues that are now being corrected.
So that you don’t join the 82% of injured runners during this year, it is highly recommended that you contact Kent and schedule an evaluation of your running form and identify any discrepancies in your musculoskeletal system and flexibility angles. Once identified, he can prescribe appropriate measures for you to correct and improve your running gait and form. The monetary cost of the evaluation is well worth the price and is usually less than purchasing a couple of new pair of running shoes. Since the usual thought-process regarding injury starts with your shoes, it can be much more cost-effective than buying new shoes every time you experience an injury and definitely more effective over the long run (pun intended).
If you are serious about your running, then get your form analyzed and corrected (if needed). Remaining healthy will lead to the consistency needed for improvement and a much more enjoyable running career.
The above article, written by Coach Mike Caldwell, originally was published in the Spring 2015 of PACE Running Magazine.
Mike Caldwell is the Director and one of the coaches for ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE. For more on Mike please visit his page on this website.