March 20, 2014
Unleash the primal runner within with help from 6-time olympic running coach Bobby McGee. [Click To Tweet]
Six time Olympic Running Coach Bobby McGee shares stories from his early days of running and run coaching. In this episode you’ll hear techniques that will help you become a better endurance runner.
01:02 Bobby shares his history of growing up in South Africa and feeling the pressure on the sporting world from the apartheid.
14:19 The difference between runners in the US and runners from South Africa
16:50 Examples on how to open up the proprioceptive set points
20:35 Bobby talks about the ranges of motion of the top triathletes and runners “In terms of blood flow, function, and range of motion… one of the worst culprits is a car seat”
24:05 How to eliminate the things that are holding you back “We don’t have to train that hard, we just have to train that consistently”. If you look into the past of great athletes it’s mostly a question of them finding a way to do their training without breakdown.
27:24 Recovery time from a long run “The more work you can do… the more successful you will be”
31:25 How an age group triathlete can lower their run time. Bobby evaluates a good coach on only 2 things: 1. The athletes must get better from season to season 2. Those athletes must put out there best performances on the day the athlete and coach decide it was going to be the peak event
35:05 Differences between speed endurance and muscle endurance
43:34 Don’t spend a lifetime trying to figure out what works.
Suzanne: This is Suzanne Atkinson and I’m here interviewing Bobby McGee tonight. And we are going to learn more about Bobby McGee, his background in coaching and how he’s been able to develop such a large following of rabid coaches and athletes who are all eager to hear his running advice. Bobby, you and I were just talking a second ago about you introduction into Run Coaching. Do you want to go ahead and just tell that short story?
Bobby: Yes. I’ve been involved for a long time so I guess my introduction to Run Coaching was because I didn’t initially have a job as a track coach or a cross-‐ country coach, I coached hockey players. I didn’t get a chance to travel overseas in those days. There was apartheid and sports moratoriums and that sort of thing. And I didn’t really think of myself necessarily as the distance running coach but I knew I wanted to coach distance runners. While I was in the military I coached a couple of guys through their first marathon and that was a lot of fun. I was training for the same marathon as they were. But by the time 1986 rolled around, I got an opportunity to do bake sales and collect money and stuff like that so that I could travel internationally to go and talk to coaches. And I was kind of freed up to do that because South Africa was a long way from being readmitted into the international sporting arena. I was coaching in this country that was not a threat to anybody but I knew all the coaches. I knew Charles Elliott and Frank Halliwell and Harry Wilson and Walter Gladrow and a number of the other top coaches at the time. And I contacted them all to go and visit them and they had no idea who I was. Only two coaches turned me down; John Paul Olanzi, the Italian marathon coach turned me down and at that time it was the whole thing about the Conconi Curve was going on. There were being a lot of questions asked about the performance of the Italian athletes, the marathon runners, the steeplechases, the 10000m runners. I never got to see them. They had this wonderful program going on at the University of Ferrara and they had amazing performances. In retrospect, who knows what was going on there? The other one was the great Scottish coach, Tommy Boyle who coached Yvonne Murray and Tommy McKean. Yvonne Murray was the commonwealth games winner and world record holder I think for the 10000 but he didn’t want to speak to me on political grounds. So those were the two that didn’t speak to me. I became good friends with coaches like Frank Horwill who coached Tim Hutchings. And he also designed the approach which Peter Coe followed when he coached Sebastian to those Olympic medals and world records. It was wonderful to be able to get in, I think the coaches were surprised I knew their athletes and their training methodologies and their approaches. And they were happy to share with me because as I said I was a nobody and that kept me going at that time. So that was a wonderful. A friend of mine, who was a sprint coach in a very small rural area and I, rented a vehicle in Holland, an old Opel Ascona, and we drove Belgium, France. I remember entering the Peripherique in Paris at 5:00 in the afternoon driving on the wrong side of the road as a South African. “We don’t have to train that hard, we just have to train that consistently”. I went to the French Championships and spent a lot of Germany and in England. Those were amazing days. And nowadays with my work with USA Triathlon as we look for daily training environment coaches, fulltime coaches who just want to coach the drop legal game, I think of those days and I think those are the kinds of individuals that we are looking for. Not looking for the money, not looking to have a roof over the head, that’s the same roof over a year. So those were good days, I was very privileged to be able to learn by the seat of my pants as opposed to a more formal structured approach through a college or something.
Suzanne: Yeah, it sure sounds that way. So you were a runner and you were training for— was it mostly the marathon distance or did you train for all distances?
Bobby: No. I started triathlon in 1986 but fore that I used to run cross-‐country at university. But I was a useful schoolboy around that, I could get under a few minutes for 800m and somewhere around 4.45 to the mile I think I got down to 4.30 was about as fast as I went. But I was a much better field hockey player. I was a goalkeeper. So when I was in university that was my primary sport other than recreation I guess as a phys ed student. And then ’86 I went back to university to specialize in exercise physiology for motor aspect and sports psychology for the specific purpose of coaching distant runners.
Suzanne: And so this was after you’d gone on your world and European tour to meet other coaches or was that before?
Bobby: No. That was after that when I went to meet with those coaches.
Suzanne: Okay, I understand. So did you feel like the things you were learning from shadowing the other coaches, did it fit with what you had studied in university? Or did you find that they were doing things that you hadn’t been formally trained about?
Bobby: As I said, I was extremely fortunate in those days because coaching school kids, you obviously could try to create national champions, you’d try to get athletes to go faster than they’d previously gone. But the country had a lot of good athletes that were operating in isolation. Some of the athletes were seeking political asylum especially the black athletes because they wanted to go and participate internationally. And the sporting background was supposed to be for their benefit and they went out being hit by a double whammy, their sporting background and they couldn’t travel.
Suzanne: So did what you learned from your practical experienced line up with what you had studied in school?
Bobby: Not so much my pre-‐grad stuff. That was basic background stuff. But I think my post-‐grad stuff, the Honors Degree that I did, all the projects and the thesis and the things that I chose were specifically with that in mind. And so it was very, very practical. I would go in to an exam or I would go in to write a thesis and that thesis was with a specific individual or groups of individuals in mind so it was very, very real for me. But like teaching, you need three or four years of teaching under your belt before you can even begin to think that you are a teacher. The sports world is the same. I had been from ’81 to ’86 before I went back to school, I had been coaching athletes so I already had four or five years of coaching under my belt.
Suzanne: Yes. I’m sure that made a big difference on how you approached the formal education
Bobby: Huge. And I think the story that I wanted to tell was the guys that I was at the university with, all who were my lectures or some of the athletes that I looked up to that I was in the sixth or the seventh cross-‐country team of the university, cross-‐country teams were either former world record holders. One of them was Dani Milan and he had run 2.16 in Munich around about the time of the Munich games and had beaten in that race where he held the world record, had beaten Olympic silver medalist in the 800m. In training sessions I went out on training sessions with world class athletes myself. And in those days track and field was very big in South Africa. We had that Italian runner who was a South African but had Italian citizenship, Marcello Fiascanaro, and he was actually the current world record holder for the 800m. “The more work you can do… the more successful you will be”. So I was not theoretically looking at trying to get athletes to a place that I’d never seen before. I’d actually seen these guys running in front of me and knowing what was possible.
Suzanne: Yes. That makes a lot of sense.
Bobby: Yes. And it was the time of Zolla Budd as well and Mary Slaney. It was also the time of the huge drug-‐infused runs of the East Germans and the Russians. So I was seeing a lot of fast running at least for a woman we’d not seen until only recently.
Suzanne: So how did you take the—you are working with lead athletes, you are working with people forming at the top level of their sport and also over short distances. How did you translate that into coaching for triathlons? Was that a natural transition for you or was it not until you personally got involved in triathlon that you started to coach on that aspect?
Bobby: I think what happened was that I used to enjoy my running and worked quite hard at it, I was never a really high mileage runner or a particularly successful runner. In South Africa in those years if you didn’t run under three hours for the marathon you weren’t really a runner. If you hadn’t done the Comrade’s Marathon you weren’t really a runner. If you couldn’t at the drop of a hat, in the middle of the night, after six beers run less than four minutes for 10K you weren’t really a runner. I used to go into races and we had Elana Meyer in the province where I lived and she ended up winning the silver medal in the 10000 in Barcelona. And so I used to measure my ability against her races. So I could finish a race and say I was second woman.
Suzanne: Good, it gave you a sense of perspective then, huh?
Bobby: Exactly. So transitioning to triathlon, I went to triathlon because it absolutely intrigued me. I was just as enamored and absolutely blown away by the Dave Scott, Mark Allen era. I followed those guys avidly. I had Scott Tenley’s book, I knew who Scott Molina was, I was completely into that community. And I said to myself coaching triathlon was my thing. If I wasn’t going to coach it I wasn’t going to get involved at all in that level because otherwise I’d end up so fatigued I wouldn’t be able to train myself.
Bobby: And that didn’t last very long and eventually the guys started asking me to help them out. I started off in those days helping guys knowing very little about the swim and basically knowing what I’d seen in the university. That was a much more formal, theoretical kind of approach to the swim and then practical side of what I saw with the specific events in South Africa. We didn’t have watts or anything in our bikes and it was a very hilly part of the country so it was just lots of volume and just some quality time trial type rides over 60, 70 miles that we used to do and that I used to have these athletes do.
Suzanne: What I find really interesting is that you had a really interesting background exposure to a lot of different types of coaching and practical examples. You mentioned all the different athletes you’d seen training even prior to getting your advanced degree. And then transitioning into triathlon, what you’ve been able to do is break down all of the elements of running well to help people find what you described as primal running. When did you first—maybe you’ve always felt this way—was there a time when the phrase primal running first entered your thought process and you realized that’s the way you wanted to help people to run?
Bobby: That’s an interesting question. Growing up in Africa, growing up in South Africa and at that stage the South Africans were basically running better than the Kenyans. The Kenyans hadn’t discovered running. I mean there was Henry Rono and there was Kipkeino. We had much more organized running set up and as a mode of transport either running a bike or walking or running to walk for the African population just like in Kenya was very typical in South Africa. And so we never really thought of mechanics. We thought of mechanics for hurdles and for steeplechasers. And the athletes that I coached for the most part run beautifully and form hit function. The more work I would give them in specific domains and the more demanding the terrain would become and so on, the better they would learn to run. But also runners were selected based on their ability to be durable and their ability to be fast. So I didn’t really get involved in the core business of running by mechanics until I came to the US in the early ‘90s.
Suzanne: That was going to be my next question, I guess it’s the flipside of the question. When you came to the US in the early ‘90s what were you observing that mad you realize there was a difference in the background of runners in the US versus the people you’d worked with in South Africa?
Bobby: It’s such a funny thing, I really see the world in terms of countries that can run and countries that can’t run. Obviously the Africans can run but the Kiwis can run too. And most of the South American countries produce really good runners. And I don’t know if it’s a third world thing because I mean with the Kiwis they are just—I don’t know if it was Arthur Lydiard or what it was or just the approach to running. But when I got to the US the first thing that shocked me was how seasonal running was considered here.
Suzanne: Hmm, interesting.
Bobby: It’s absolutely unbelievable to me that people would not run for six months or train for one race every year like okay I’m going to dust my shoes off 10 weeks before the Boulder-‐Boulder and then I’m going to run the Boulder-‐Boulder, it was just insane to me. And then pretty soon I started realizing with my background in perpetual motor studies and with the US model at the time of a lot of division one swimmers coming to the sport of triathlon and being very strong but being very clumsy and not trained in running. And all the drills I had learned from the 400m hurdles coaches, the 110m hurdles coaches and the sprint coaches where I learned those from, were a natural fit for triathletes who hadn’t had an organic development process towards being smooth, natural, primal runners. But yet their hearts were in it and I could see when an athlete like Barb Lindquist gave it a crack that she had everything. She was tough, she had back lined fever, she was resistant to extreme discomfort. All she needed to do was to be put together in a way that she had the bone density and then also just the basic form. So as you often hear me say that my process is one of eradication, shortening up the arm swing, loosening up the shoulders, making the athlete more compact, reducing the strength component and increasing the steepness component. All of those things it’s more a question of maximization than it is a question of instilling anything.
Suzanne: Yes. I find that really interesting in that the more that I have worked with you over the years and every time I have the opportunity to work with you in person I find that I pick up new things that I carry away with that, much like Sam mentioned the other night. And what I’ve been focusing on in the past three or four months is the glute activation, opening up the hip flexors. I mean, I’ve always known about those things and know that they were problem areas. But I think I’ve reached a point where I know what to do, I know how to improve those things in myself and I’m actually spending time doing it. I’m not making it as much of a seasonal purchase I have in the past. And now when I do go out for a run I feel so much better and I’m actually trying less hard. And it’s flowing better. And I think that that must be the goal that you would like everyone to have, is to just have the run flow and get rid of the things that are holding people back.
Bobby: Yes. Two little examples that I’ve always used that work quite well verbally and one is if you take a piece of play dough or a piece of clay and you try to push your finger in the middle of the clay, there’s quite a large degree resistance in doing so the first time. But once you’ve achieved, once you’ve made this hole in this piece of play dough and piece of clay it’s very easy to just slot your finger back into that. That basically is the principle I use, it’s nothing other than melanization and this melanization concept. I think it was understood by coaches more readily that this idea of perfect practice—one of my great colleagues and mentors in the sport Jonathan Oz speaks about the six Ps; perfect practice prevents piss poor performance. I have a concept that I call addressing or resetting your proprioceptor set points. And by that I mean let’s say for example by firing your glutes and swinging your leg backwards you would achieve a certain angle, however you want to measure that angle. That angle is not achievable when you are running because you are busy with an endurance activity that’s a maximal one-‐time effort. And also, not only is that set point not achievable while you are running, it’s also gradually reducing as you run, as you are fatigued, as your muscles tighten up. Your range of motion decreases. You all know what it feels like to get up to do some activation exercises, really loosen out well, go out for a nice hard run and then come back and then are almost unable to bend down and untie our shoelaces because we’ve lost so much because we are so fatigued. That’s why I’m a big fan of opening up that hip angle straight after runs. So anyway, if you can address proprioceptor set point, if you can make that much closer to what your maximum capability is, then your stride capacity is increased. And so this is what happens in iron man and this is what happens with athletes as they get older or they do the masses of mileage they have to do to be a success at iron med. They start losing this range of motion from the bike, they start losing it from the duration of the running that they are doing. And they either have to ride up to go fast and they can only ride up to like 110 is about all you can ride up to if you are quite a small female with short legs. Then after that you just basically have to start slowing down. So if you look at the ranges of motion of the top triathletes, of the top distant runners, one of my prime examples I’m a huge fan at the moment of Jenny Simpson and how she runs. She just does these massive 1000 triangle measuring it from her front hamstring to her rear quad as she extends out. And so for people to realize that that’s what we lose as we get older, as we get fatigued, as we pile on the strength and the training from the other sports is that we’ve got to work harder and harder at keeping those hip angles open and massive ranges of hip mobility work and that kind of thing. That’s what we lose and then we lose power, we lose spring and we have to result to a more muscly, short kind of choppy run as opposed to a nice, looser, elastic gait. If you look into the past of great athletes it’s mostly a question of them finding a way to do their training without breakdown.
Suzanne: Yes. And I think that in addition to just age, our society where the majority of people have jobs that they commute to. They sit in front of a computer and they spend all day long with a contracted hip flexure so that it’s even more important not just because people are getting older but even a young person who has got a sedentary job with a lot of sitting time. That those hip mobility exercises to me seem like the one of the most important things that most runners and most athletes could be doing to improve their run, aside from actually running.
Bobby: Absolutely, from terms of blood flow, from terms of range of motion it’s an absolute no-‐brainer. One of the worst culprits is a car seat. As soon as your ischial tuberosity or your backbones are lower than your knees you are in trouble.
Suzanne: Describe that a little mechanically, why is that angled to be cautious of?
Bobby: Because when your hip is almost totally sharp, when your thighs are closest to your stomach, so that angle is small. If you can bump up the back part of your car seat, get your car seat as close as possible to having your knees lower than your hips that’s an ideal way.
Bobby: Like a bus driver’s seat or something like that. You are trying to tilt your pelvis slower into neutral, you are trying to put a little bit more weight on your feet and taking that posterior tilt to the pelvis, you are trying to take that out.
Suzanne: Yes. And that reminds me a little bit of what you and Sam discussed in the Q&A call earlier today so I won’t repeat that. But you talked about having the pelvis not opening up too much in the front. I guess this is the opposite side of that. Do you remember that discussion with Sam about the two buckets?
Bobby: Yes. So when you go back like that you are disengaging back muscles. You are putting your SI joint under pressure, you are reversing the lumbar spine curve and all those muscles go into a shortened position. And they are also completely supported by the chair so they start to atrophy, they start to weaken and of course the hip flexors are shortened tremendously. And that whole setup where we become quite dominant and our quads pull down in the front, all of that is assisted by lack of activity and lack of range of motion at the back there.
Suzanne: Yeah, okay. So let’s talk about some specifics about how to fix these things. And this is the gist of your running sports essentials which is getting rid of all this stuff so that we can go back to the primal running, eliminate the things that are holding us back. And you’ve got several simple methods. I say simple because they are a little bit counterintuitive or a little bit unexpected. If your exposure to training has always been here’s my 10-‐week plan, I’m going to lace up my shoes and I’m going to go out and put some miles on. It is much more intricate from a physiologic point of view than just stretching and then going out for a run. Or warming up for 10 minutes in your run then hitting your pace. So the activation drills followed by the dynamic warm-‐up drills, with or without some plyometrics and then followed up by the act of stretching. That whole sequence creates a really nice addition for people to start improving their running naturally without putting a lot of physical energy into the run itself. I don’t have to spend a ton of energy to run 30mph faster if I can reactivate my glutes, open up my hip joint angles and just let these things start to flow. Describe to me how you started to develop these drills or did they just come about organically from all of your exposure to previous running methods?
Bobby: You know Goethe has said a lot of really exciting things and one of the things he said there are no new things and I wish that I’d invented one of these things. Sometimes athletes say to me, how can you just give that away, that’s your secret weapon, that’s something that you invented. And I say, no it’s a progression from something that I learned from so and so or something that I picked up from so and so. So none of it is new stuff and the whole science of neural muscular facilitation has been around for many years. But to me it’s more a question of metamorphosis. It’s a lizard or a snake in the sun or a lion getting up at night and doing those tremendous stretches that the feline population does. It’s preparatory behaviour, it’s anything that allows you to stretch out and get into the ability that your cardiovascular system is giving you without endangering or putting your peripheral system under pressure. I think if there’s anything that I bring to the table is this realization that we don’t have to train that hard we just have to train that consistently. And that great athletes, if you look into their past, it’s mostly a question of them finding a way to do their training without breakdown. I always say a successful professional athlete is one that trains from planned race period to planned period whereas most amateurs train from injury to injury or illness to injury or illness to illness.
Suzanne: I think that was one of the really interesting things I took away from one of your earlier calls was talking about recovery time and for an inexperienced or amateur athlete, say a four and a half, five hour marathon runner. The time it takes to recover from a long run is really going to impact your ability to continue training. So approaching it from the recovery aspect, what length run can I do where I can be fully recovered in two days and make that sort of my go-‐ to long run. But then try to sandwich things around that so that I can always be training when I’m fairly well recovered. That’s kind of a similar approach.
Bobby: Exactly. It’s exactly right. If I can get an athlete to run for three hours, walk around and then do a quality workout the next day and if he just does a 90-‐ minute run and can’t do that the next day then I know. Even if I’m not going to have them train the next day, if they wake up and they say you know I’m ready to run, that’s clear messaging that the loading of the previous day was appropriate. And obviously the earliest research in endurance success is always the more work you can do the more successful you will be, end of story. And so in other words, find ways to temper your work. Obviously when you are working with high level athletes you are also talking about quantity of quality. But athletes get it the wrong way around, they want to go out and do six-‐minute pace no matter what their heart race is. You are welcome to do six-‐minute pace all day if you can keep your heart rate at 60% of your heart rate reserved, for example. So we were probably designed, somebody once made this speculation which I find quite helpful, we were probably designed as a species, as a whole if we were just regular normal individuals. We were probably designed to race over about 15 miles. Once we started to go beyond that we even need some special characteristics. We either need to be very light boned or we need to be very small or we need to have a very low body composition fat to lean wide ratio should be very low. Or we have to find ways in which to increase the loading. And that’s the fascinating thing with me and the triathlon is that you can now do all these things that typically put your peripherals under pressure like the vo2 max intensity or the lactate threshold intensity. You can do a lot of that on the bike and in the pool and just make sure that your peripherals are both skilled and conditioned but you don’t have to do 20 by 1000 for example. Or you don’t have to do 25 by 200 to maximize that. I don’t know if you saw the results of Mooloolaba yesterday. It was the first time since 2003 that US women have gone 1 and 2 in a world app.
Suzanne: I did, I saw that. That’s great.
Bobby: Yeah. And also it’s very, very rare to see a situation like that where the girl that came second, Katie Hursey, was comfortably first out of the water. And then got off the bikes probably in the top group obviously but sixth or seventh, something like that. And then at halfway through the 5K run, wasn’t in the top three and then ran herself into second place behind Gwen Jorgensen who comes from a more pure running background. So it’s interesting how the sport develops. I know Katie is training pretty well and she doesn’t do masses and masses of run training at very high intensities.
Suzanne: Yes. It’s really great to hear stories like that, they are definitely inspiring. So how can an age-‐group triathlete benefit from some of what you are talking about? I mean up until now we’ve talked a lot about your experience working with lead athletes and the keys for success. And once you go beyond 15 miles racing you need to have these physical qualities that are somewhat behavioural. But to a large part if you don’t have built-‐in durability, if your body fat to weight ratio isn’t just the right amount—
Bobby: And the shocking mechanics also.
Suzanne: Right, and the shocking mechanics. Give us some inspiration for the ordinary mortals who are working on their running. Am I going to be able to take my 5k time from a 10-‐minute mile to a seven and a half minute mile? Or should I be thinking about—and I’m saying this hypothetically—should we be thinking about our one training from an aspect more of a process-‐oriented sort of thing? If I set up my training so that I’m doing muscle activation and dynamic warm-‐ups and followed with stretching. I mean physically I find that very enjoyable. But there’s a part of my brain that’s always saying you need to get out there, you need to run more, you need to go further, you need to do more days a week. How do you help people balance these conflicts and how can an age-‐grouper put all of that into context for their own training?
Bobby: You know it’s a beautifully complex thing, it’s like being a forester. You might buy a house in 2010 and have a beautiful view of forests. But that forest is 20, 15 or 12 years old, however long they let those trees grow and then they flatten it. And then you have a terrible view again for about three years until you have these little saplings growing. There are a couple of categories but it’s different for each individual. So I think rule number one is durability. I evaluate a good coach on only two things; one is their athletes must get better from season to season and two, is those athletes must put out their best performances on the day that the athlete and coach decide it was going to be the peak event. And so to say that a 10-‐minute miler is going to become 7-‐minute miler or a 30-‐ minute miler, neither of those are really correct. I’ve had athletes that have come to me that are 44-‐minute 10k runner and they end up running 33, 34, 35 minutes for 10K. Some of them take four years to get there, some of them take six months to get there just depending on how poorly they have been conditioned, how well they did their training. But it’s a general rule of thumb with triathletes that because I think they run less frequently they think they need to run harder when they do run because they need to get as much out of their advance session as possible. And that is terrible thinking, that’s a quick way to just ruin it all for yourself. So a principle that we use quite a bit is actually letting the athletes swim really hard or ride really hard before we let them run so that they are too fatigued to run fast.
Suzanne: That’s pretty clever.
Bobby: Yes and it’s an essential concept. For example I might give an athlete early in the season some let’s say half-‐mile repetitions or something like that but I’ll only give them 15 to 30 seconds recovery. So in other words they are never going to recover enough to do anywhere near the kind of speeds that they could do for those half-‐mile repeats if they were fresh.
Suzanne: Sure, that makes a lot of sense.
Bobby: And that’s how I distinguish the difference between speed endurance and it’s come from my middle years, speed endurance and muscle endurance. Muscle endurance is an exercise physiologist term where you are increasing the body’s ability to do sub maximal for long periods of time. But speed endurance is the ability to do an endurance event whether that’s 800m or whether that’s a 26-‐mile race, at the intensity so that your muscles can maintain that workload that is possible given your cardiovascular conditioning. And that’s why I say a lot of marathoners would do far better to run less mileage and do a lot more walking and a lot more walk-‐running. Then their race-‐day performance would be superb. If you want to be a 10-‐ minute miler you’ve got to go out there and do quite a lot of work at 12 and 13-‐ minute mile pace. And it’s not possible for many people to run that slowly. So they want to go out and run maybe 10-‐minute pace but only for six or seven minutes at a time. So that their overall pace or their walk rates is in that 11 or 12-‐minute range which is ideal for a 10-‐minute miler.
Suzanne: Yes. I think it takes a lot of faith for an athlete to completely switch their approach to training and maybe be willing to give up what they perceive as some race objectives or race results. Do you find that there is a transitory period when you start working with athletes? Do they have an immediate improvement when they adopt your methods? Or do you find that there’s a period where they may have to accept some lower times in races?
Bobby: No, it’s very interesting. It’s my analogy about the forest. Whether you are activating or whether you are doing plyometrics or whether you are doing strength exercises or whether you are doing active release, you have to keep careful track of what you are doing. So if you’ve been some active release work and you suddenly realize you know what, I’ve gone eight weeks without an ego, what changed? I did active release work, okay so it’s likely to be the active release work but you’ve got to do it for eight weeks. To get back to the question that you did ask me is I completely disagree. You slow athletes down, you’ve give them enough volume and you give them some consistency. And then after a six, eight-‐week period you just let them go out and run a 5k or a 5 mile or something like that. They are going to run plenty fast and they are going to say, wait a minute, we haven’t done any training yet. That’s the first realization. The second realization is this, oh I’m probably training very hard anyway. So if you look at a 30-‐minute miler and you tell them that 85% of their mileage needs to be super, super easy that doesn’t leave a lot of mileage to do quality work in.
Bobby: And so whether that’s first run or whether that’s vanity or that’s ego, we had that gym rat mindset, we had that football coach mindset, if we are not suffering it’s not helping. The reason why you have these endurance athletes that are so evergreen and they are perennially successful is they are utterly cheating. They are going out there for hours and hours on their bikes or running or hiking or swimming and they are going ridiculously easy, as easy as it would be for a sedentary person to do nothing. That’s how easy it is for them to collect those easy miles.
Suzanne: That’s a good frame of reference.
Bobby: And so that’s what they had developed themselves into if they are not perambulating at this intensity. They are not happy, they are not healthy and then they perform perfectly well out there. I had that experience as well and it depends on the athlete’s personality type. But the moment you give them, they come to you the first time they might be quite fit, they might be unfit. You give them some sort of a trial and then you do really, really easy work with them for 6 to 10 weeks and then you give them a trial again. And they will invariably run way faster than they ran before and they would also be running at the pace that they would have expected a lot of hill running to be able to do that or a lot of track work or a lot of quality work.
Suzanne: Yes. That makes a lot of sense and I’ve recently experienced that one of the fellows who was in one of your calls this past week had been doing a lot of really intense work and he’d been doing 1K repeats at about a 7.15 minute pace as a 5k workout. He’d do 5 by 1K at a pace that he thought was challenging with lots of rest in between, maybe 45 seconds, 90 seconds in between. And that was a very challenging workout for him. I started coaching with him, it’s been less than a month and I gave him a speech. I said I’m going to deliberately try and give you less work than you are capable of because I really want to find out what your abilities are. I want to be able to do some of these other activities and we’ll work you back to the point where you feel like you are getting a good workout every day. So he trusted me and just very easy running, a lot of activation. I had him do a lot of core and stretching, the dynamic stretching and he did test the other day, a 5K test after about four weeks of this. And he went just as fast as he was doing in the interval work that he was doing in December with a lower heart rate and with no rest in between them. It’s the same experience. He was shocked, how did this come about, I haven’t done anything.
Bobby: Exactly right. And so you know, the mind has to be changed as well. An example of what I do there is I would have the guys do a time travel or a performance test if they want to do a 5K I’ll do a 3K test, if they want to do a 10K I’ll do a 5K test. A quality workout for them might be 10 200s on the dirt at their 5K pace. So you are talking about 2K worth of work at the intensity that you expect them to run 4 or 5K at with no rest in between the Ks and they are resting a minute or more between these 200s. So you can see it’s a piano lesson. It’s not a workout. The purpose of the session is not to increase their vo2 max or to increase their endurance or to increase their lactate threshold. It’s just for them to learn pace and all the easy stuff is much more useful for that. So if you look at research done into training, with the endurance stuff it’s clear that the biggest bang for your buck in terms of quality work is probably through sub-‐threshold work not even quite threshold work. So go out and run 5 or 6 or 7 half-‐mile repeats at an intensity that is three to five beats lower than your lactate threshold, that’s an absolutely great workout.
Suzanne: Right. Well Bobby, I have way more questions that I would like to ask you but I think that some people might get bored of listening to them. And I hope that in doing this interview I’ve been able to create some thoughtful points for people listening. Do I need to work more on my approach to stretching or my approach to joint mobilization? Do I need to work more on reducing my mileage so that I can break through a plateau? You’ve put out a lot of free videos that are available on YouTube or on your website so people can go there to check those out. And you also have a fantastic product called the Run Transformation course. I think you have over 100 individual videos there, do you know how many individual videos are in the course?
Bobby: I haven’t a clue.
Suzanne: I was just looking at the numbers the other day and not all of them are long, some of them are two or three minutes.
Bobby: Yes. But it is about 10 hours worth of stuff.
Suzanne: Yeah, that’s probably a better way to look at it. Every time I talk to you I just get really inspired to go out, go for a run and just keep running better. It’s very motivational having these little injections of hope from you.
Bobby: Thank you for having me Suzanne. I think as a parting message I’ll just say to people, don’t spend a lifetime trying to figure out what works. If you had success no matter how corky it is, if you are pre-‐race dinner is New England clam chowder 45 minutes before you race well then go for it. Find stuff that works for you, don’t do all the facilitation, all the activation, all the active stretching in a rote fashion. Do it like a scientist would do it; try a little bit here, try a little bit there, see if it prolongs your training capacities, see if it increases your strive capacity. Don’t do things because some expert said you need to do them. There are 100 ways to achieve success and getting stuck on classical stuff or being a faddist and going for all the modern stuff, neither are necessarily the answers. Experiment with these things, listen to your body, see what shows up day after day, look at those natural cycles of 48 hours to five days and don’t be afraid to assist yourself in training. Then I think you’ll find success very quickly.
Suzanne: Yes. That’s great advice, don’t spend a lifetime trying to find out what works.
Suzanne: Well thank you very much for your time. I know you have to go and be with your kids. So have a great evening and I’ll talk to you soon.
Bobby: Thank you Suzanne, take care.