Reason 5: Technique Tutorial
Mental skills and running biomechanics expert Bobby McGee is as highly regarded as they come in the triathlon community. The Boulder, Colo.-based coach travels around the world to work with elite-level athletes, including Ironman champions and Olympians Erin Densham and Sarah Groff. He is a featured presenter at about 15 USAT coaching certifications every year, and he’s an integral part of the USAT High Performance Team, a group dedicated to increasing the number of developmental triathlon programs in the U.S.
McGee’s athletes are typically sent from outside coaches, but he also has goal-oriented age groupers who will travel to see him. “They’re either CEOs or own their own businesses—very driven A-type individuals—who are more than happy to be vulnerable and expose themselves to gain another edge.”
About 70 percent of his time is spent on the mental side (mostly done remotely); the other 30 percent is focused on running. “For mechanics I insist they come into town,” McGee says. “They’ll come in once for a big hit and occasionally after that. I’ll do an assessment of their range of motion and specific stuff, and draw up a plan to take to their coaches.”
In a 90-minute biomechanical analysis, McGee will evaluate an athlete’s running style and point out form inconsistencies and limiters. He then recommends specific strength exercises and drills to improve weaknesses. A peek into his notes reveals advice such as: “Too upright. Be conscious of leaning forward”; “Emphasize rearward arm swing (use forward as counter balance only)”; “Think of power coming from inner thighs, big toe and ball of foot.” He also provides a series of analyzed photos (and optional video) with a thorough report. If you can’t travel to McGee in Boulder, he can also do reports using photographs of all angles and video footage sent via YouTube. But with destination coaches, face-to-face contact is always the best.
Not Just For the One Percent
If you take a look at triathlete demographics, it’s no surprise that age groupers are willing (and able) to shell out cash for first-class expertise (according to a 2010 study done by the Active Network, triathletes earn an average of more than $100,000 per year). But it doesn’t take a six-figure job to get elite advice. Many top coaches, such as Gordo Byrn and Cliff English, host triathlon camps that are more accessible than a private consult—Byrn’s week-long Boulder camp was priced at $975 last year; English’s six-day Tucson camp was $1,025. They often have local experts give lectures or serve as guest coaches. Both coaches have brought in Bobby McGee, and in the past Byrn has done Q&A’s with pros such as Julie Dibens, Chrissie Wellington and Craig Alexander.
Advice Without the Plane Ticket
Even if you can’t travel to work with these top experts, you can still benefit from their advice.
Bike on Sundays
Instead of the usual long bike Saturday, long run Sunday plan, coach Craig Upton suggests a Sunday longer ride. “A working person, which most of our clients are, works 9–5 Monday through Friday and has weekends off. Why would you waste Sunday doing a 90-minute run when you can do that any other day?” Instead, ride on both days, maybe four hours on Saturday, three hours on Sunday.
Swim longer intervals
Gerry Rodrigues has his athletes simulate racing in the pool with longer sets like 3×1000 descending and pace-line trains.
Test your weaknesses
Every three to four months, do a test set. For running, Krista Austin uses an all-out 200- and 400-meter run and a six-mile steady state run to chart progress.
Strengthen soft tissues
“One thing I wish endurance athletes would do more is strength training,” chiropractor John Ball says. In order to make soft tissues—including ligaments, tendons, muscles, etc.—more resilient, you need to strengthen them. Just start small and build a base with proper form first, instead of trying to power through weight you’re not ready for.
Practice mental skills
Here’s one technique Bobby McGee uses to teach athletes to be present and focused during workouts: Sit down, get relaxed and focus. Think of your typical repetition workout, say, five 800-meter repeats. Picture yourself doing the third repeat, knowing what time you’re aiming for based on previous workouts. Close your eyes and hit a stopwatch. Visualize yourself running the repeat and hit the stop button when you feel like you’ve completed the interval. “If they typically run a 3:00 repeat, they’ll do it in 1:50 if they’re really good. Otherwise it’s less than a minute,” he says. “It just shows a huge gap into what they’re present to while they’re running that half-mile, which is what happens when they’re actually running.” With practice doing this exercise, you’ll quickly be able to focus for the proper amount of time, making hard workouts even more productive. Harnessing this concentration can also translate to sustaining a finishing kick in shorter races and retaining focus during a long-distance event.
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