Podcast, Running

Running form and training talk with Bobby McGee (USA Triathlon) | EP#225

 March 16, 2020

By  Mikael Eriksson

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE HERE:

Bobby McGee is a running coach with more than three decades experience of coaching elite and recreational runners and triathletes. He is renowned for his ability to help athletes find their optimal running form. In addition to running, Bobby is also a wealth of knowledge in sports psychology.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • The most important aspects of running form
  • The ins and outs of changing or improving your running form
  • How to incorporate skill and technique work in your run training
  • Programming aspects of running for triathletes (volume, intensity, workout types and more...)
  • The most important aspects of sports psychology and how to get on top of your mental game

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Shownotes

About Bobby McGee

05:25 - 

  • My primary position is with US triathlon, I am a development coordinator, which means I work with junior talent identification and development.
  • I was born in South Africa and went to University basically to study to become a coach, I started off by coaching middle and long distance track runners and went later on to coach road runners and marathoners.

    When I moved to the US in -96, I also started coaching triathletes, but more in a supportive way.

    Additionally, I have my own business in which I coach individual runners.
  • I am currently in Portugal to support to US triathletes trying to make the 2020 Tokyo US Olympic team.

    Leading up to the latest games in Rio de Janeiro, I had a similar role for US triathlon and this is basically an extension of that project.

Good running form

07:40 -

  • Very early I have been fascinating by the bio mechanics of running, and hence this became a focus area for me.

    This interest started off as I could clearly see a connection between certain running motion patterns and the tendency of getting injured.
  • I use to say: I don’t teach people how to run, I help people get back to the best running that they are capable of.
  • Good running form looks very differently depending on the individual’s genetics, one has to have a very different approach to someone with for instance long torso and short legs compared to someone with a more natural body composition for running.

    Also, factors like running background (has the athlete practiced plenty of speed work or come from an endurance background?) matters in how I approach that specific individual in regards to his or hers running technique.
  • Generally I look at things like asymmetry, elastic return, foot strike but mostly I look at breaking and posture (those are the two most important thing).

    I also use to look at if that particular runner’s moving pattern s due to ”natural causes” or if it has evolved in an unnatural way.

    I always look at an individual and trying to figure out the best running form that this individual can sustain.
  • Looking at the typical triathlon age grouper, mainly factors as sporting background and muscle fiber type tend to dictate what type of runners they are and the most common faults associated with that style.

    Generally, it use to be rather easy to ”fix” many age group athlete’s running form as most of them have not been aware of their way of running technique before and therefore it is easier to affect it.

First two laws of mechanics

15:55 -

  • The first rule is to never trust what you feel, you think you run a certain way but when you look into the mirror it rarely looks like what you first thought.
  • The second rule is that if you want to achieve a change, you need to exaggerate the movement (this is also very applicable to swimming).

    Many changes that we are trying to achieve are so slight that it is not possible to get there by first exaggerating the movement.

Cues to improve running form

18:00 -

  • When you work with running mechanics, you’re not trying to get the athlete to do something that is completely alien to them, you’re supposed to refine an already existing movement.
  • For instance, if someone has a too short stride, one can start by making sure that the athlete has the required mobility to increase his or hers stride length.

How running form is changed

20:15 -

  • Different type of run drills are great in order to achieve a change in running style.

    The purpose of drills are basically to exaggerate a specific movement.

    Drills play three different roles: First, you’re trying to adress a mechanical anomaly that the athlete has gotten into, the second reason is to do it as an activation exercise and the last role is for muscle endurance or power purposes.

    The frequency is very important in order for the drill to have any actual effect (frequency creates habitually).

    In the beginning, the athlete should perform the drills when they are as fresh as possible, later on, the athlete can be introduced to conduct the drills when they are fatigued.

    I would say it is most important to do the drills before quality sessions, but for triathletes I very much like for them to perform the drills just as they get off the bike (most people run differently after they get back a long and/or hard bike ride).
  • One also needs to make sure that the athlete has the strength, mobility and balance to run in a specific way.
  • Third and perhaps mot importantly, you need to make the athlete aware of what his or hers faults are, and not only by telling them, they need to feel what they are doing wrong in order to be able to correct it.
  • When approaching your running technique, one must be rather careful, this is an area where the wrong tips can get the opposite effect on your performance.

    However, there are very many drills that you can do that are completely without any ”risk”.
  • In many cases, the process of change does not take as long time as one maybe can suspect.

    However, the better and more experienced the athlete, the longer time it generally takes to achieve that change.
  • In regards to use hills in order to improve run form, I think this can be a great idea, however, the purpose of the hill reps should be to solely improve running form and not at the same time have a VO2max or strength focus as this tends to carry the athlete’s focus away from their running.

    I think running in natural hills are far better than simulating hills on a treadmill.

Run volume for triathletes

39:00 -

  • In my opinion, many age group triathletes does not to have a structured and focused enough approach to their run training in the same way as they have to their swim and bike, this is probably a lack of time issue.
  • I use to say that one athlete is supposed to be able to hold the same power output in the run as he or she averages on the bike for the duration that the athlete expects the run to take, if that is not the case, then a serious miscalculation has been made.
  • For many athletes, even rather fast age grouper aiming for a marathon time closer to 3h, a run-walk strategy can be a better way of executing the run compared to try and stay running for the whole time.
  • I am not saying that most triathletes don’t run enough, running volume is highly individual and generally lighter persons can run more and benefit from a higher volume of running than heavier persons.

    It’s all about trying to get as much milage as possible while sustaining a good run form in your target IM or half IM race pace.
  • Looking at the elite ITU athletes, some females can ”get away” with surprisingly little run volume, like 50 km per week and among the men, very few sustain a run volume close to 100 km per week over a longer time (like 6 weeks), most male find their sweet spot around 80 km/week.

Intensity/quality runs

46:00 -

  • I think that one should strive for conducting as little high intensity sessions as possible but still enough to meet the speed demands of the race.

    This is because it reduces the risk of injury and also tends to put a lot of fatigue into the athlete.

    If one can ”get away” with only ”tempo runs”, that would be ideal, otherwise threshold intervals is super effective and one could also mix that up with some VO2max efforts.

    Another aspect in this is psychological, if the athlete believe that if he or she can do 8x400m in a certain speed means that he or she can sustain that speed for 5 km off the bike then that is probably enough, but if another athlete thinks that he or she needs to manage 6x800m at race pace in order to maintain that speed for the race, then that is what that athlete should strive for.

Prescribing sessions

50:55 -

  • At the moment I am a big fan of power and base plenty of my training prescriptions on power.

    I think that HR is a useful tool but realizes its limitations and I rarely let HR dictate intensity.

Sports psychology

53:25 -

  • Being aware and knowing how of your thoughts affect you is crucial in order to perform.
  • I think that there is no right or wrong way to prepare mentally for competition, some people are super calm before races and perform well and others are extremely nervous and also perform well.

    The main thing I look at is if the athlete is performing well or not, if performance is good, whatever the athlete do, it seems to work and then there is no point for me to interfere.
  • Many age groupers (especially males) tend to overestimate their performance and hence set themselves up for failure by not being able to rise to their expectations.
  • The main source of nervousness among athletes is that they will not be able to perform at the level that they think they are capable of.
  • When it comes to motivation, if you would find yourself lacking motivation, the best way to tackle this is to go back and ask yourself if your long term goals and desires are still valid.

    It is also important that you can identify yourself with your goals and level of performance in order to stay motivated in the long run.

Final questions

1:02:20 -

  • When it comes to overhyped devices or ideas, I won’t pin point anything specific, but generally I think that people (mainly triathletes) are too dependent on external devices in their training.

    I also don’t like that age grouper should compare themselves too much to professional athletes.
  • The most common mistakes that age group triathletes do would be to run too fast when the do run in order to make up for how little they run.

    I also think that most triathletes expect an equally fast progression on the run as on the bike, which is generally not possible.
  • My final piece of advice to age groupers is to make things more personal, make sport your life style.

Rapid fire questions

1:06:40

  • What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to endurance sport? That Triathlon Show is not bad! But I am generally a book person and one of my favorite books is ”What makes all the run”
  • What is a personal habit that has helped to achieve you success? I consider my athletes to be my teachers.
  • What do you wish you had done differently or known earlier in your career? Being out partying too much.

​LINKS AND RESOURCES:


Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal. Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode. If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

Mikael Eriksson

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