Lessons from Elite Track and Field Runners #running

running-advice-bugAs we gear up for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the fastest American runners are preparing to take on the world’s best competitors. At this past weekend’s USA Track & Field Indoor Championships, I got a glimpse of just how good, and how very fast, some of our talented American athletes are. Here are four ways they got so fast – and how you can boost your speed, too:

1. Build muscle.

Photo: Joe English, (C) 2016

Photo: Joe English, (C) 2016

The first thing you may notice about track and field athletes is that most look extremely strong and lean. You might think this is because they have to wear those tiny bun-hugging shorts; but in reality, their strength leads to their speed. A stronger body means more power. Sprinters, for instance, grip the track with spikes in the toes of their shoes, which pulls their front legs backward. Meanwhile, their back legs push their bodies into the air, making them literally leap forward. The greater the strength in their legs and cores, the more powerful these motions become. Generating more power means they go further with each step.

Coach Joe’s get quick tip: To make your legs and core muscles stronger, incorporate strength workouts – think weighted exercises, classes like CrossFit or hill running – into your running routine one to two times each week. By augmenting your runs with exercise to make your muscles stronger, you’ll be a more powerful machine when it comes time to push harder.

2. Quicken your cadence.

When you watch runners on a track, you may immediately notice how quickly they turn over their feet. In fact, most track athletes do so at almost exactly the same rate. However, unlike the cartoon character “The Roadrunner,” these runners’ legs don’t just disappear into a blur of dusty circles. That’s because there’s a limit to how quickly we as human beings can physically turn over our feet. High-level track and field runners tend to run at that limit. Almost all of the rest of us, meanwhile, could stand to improve in this area.

Coach Joe’s get quick tip: Focus on picking up the pace of your foot turnover during one to two runs per week. In order to quicken your cadence, you’ll need to shorten your stride a little – especially at first. Count your steps in a normal-paced run and focus on boosting that number when you’re running foot turnover drills. By increasing your cadence just a bit, you’ll improve your running speed quite dramatically.
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Quandary — Fastest of the Slow or Slowest of the Fast?

running-advice-bugNext week the World Masters Athletics competition heads for Sacramento, with almost 5,000 of the most experienced track and field athletes – including 1,900 from the United States — coming to show off their stuff. These runners, race walkers and field athletes are coming from all over the world are a diverse group from former Olympians to who knows what. One thing we do know about these folks who are still running circles around tracks in their 30s, 40s, 50s or 60s (or even older) is that they either love their sport or are darn serious about it.

So here’s where my quandary starts. I’ll be there next week with my good friend Coach Dean. When we heard about the event last year, both of us knew that we had to sign up. I threw my hat into the 5,000M and have been training hard for it since. But in entering the event, I didn’t really consider that there would be people that might be two or even three minutes faster than me running — and I’m pretty darn fast. Things got more interesting when meet organizers announced the participants in each event a few weeks ago. Of the 45 runners who had signed up for the 5,000M in my age group (M40-44), I was about half-way down the list in terms of my predicted finish time. Since there are limits to the number of people that can run in one heat in a track race, there would be two heats — one with most of the faster runners and one with everyone else.

Of course, then the question became — as a guy right in the middle of the field — would I rather be in the heat in which I would likely finish last or the one where I might finish first?

Hmmm… well, I’ve considered the question over the last couple of weeks. On the one hand, as numerous people pointed out, potentially winning the second (slower) heat might be fun, but might also be a case of being the “fastest of the slow” — not that anybody is really slow here. But, as they pointed out to me, is it any fun to win when you know that a whole separate race would be going on and all of those runners would be faster than you? Most of these folks were not themselves runners, I should probably point out.
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Track and Field — World Masters Athletics Heads for Sacramento

running-advice-bugMore than 4,800 athletes from 93 countries, ranging in age from 35 to 101, have entered the 19th World Masters Athletics (WMA) Outdoor Stadia Championships in Sacramento. The international track and field event will be held July 6-17.

This marks the first time in 16 years that the biennial event has been held in the United States. In addition to showcasing age-group athletes from around the world, the WMA Championships will provide the capital region with an estimated economic benefit of $23 million, according to the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The Sacramento Sports Commission has been preparing for next month’s competition for nearly four years. Sacramento was awarded the event at the 2007 WMA Championships in Riccione, Italy.

“We want to showcase Sacramento in the best possible light while also providing the athletes with the facilities and organization needed to perform at their best,” said John McCasey, executive director of the Sacramento Sports Commission and chairman of the local organizing committee. “We’ve got a great team in place. I think it will be a tremendous event.”

The event kicks off July 5 at 6 p.m. with the opening ceremonies at Hornet Stadium. The parade of athletes will be accompanied by live entertainment.

Of the 4,804 registered athletes, 1,915 are from the United States. Canada has the second-largest group of entrants with 215, followed by Germany (212), India (210), Great Britain and Northern Ireland (195), Mexico (194), Australia (164), France (125) and Italy (101). Eleven of the 93 countries represented in Sacramento have one entrant apiece, including Senegal, Belize, Fiji, Liberia, Paraguay and U.S. Virgin Islands.
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Racing — Pace Yourself

running-advice-bugI know, I know. You’re thinking, ‘Coach Joe is writing another piece on pacing.’ (You’re correct.) And that he’s going to tell us how important it is to pace ourselves during races. (Also correct.) But I promise I’m taking a different look at pacing today, so bear with me.

I’m a big proponent of runners really knowing their race pace — training enough at it so that it is ingrained in their memories and that it almost becomes a part of their subconscious on race day. I say it all the time — practice your goal pace so that you know what it feels like and then you can just go out and do it in your race.

This weekend, I demonstrated for myself why this is so important. Let me tell you the story.

I was running in my first 5,000M race on a track. I’ve run more 5K road races than I can count, but I’d never run one on the track. I had a fairly good idea of the pace that I needed to run to meet my goal — I wanted to run about 1:17-1:18 per lap. This would have brought me in about 15 seconds faster than my road PR in the 5K and I really thought I could run this.

There were a number of my friends in the race, so before-hand we talked about the pace and there was an agreement that most of the group was going for this particular pace target. That was good, because it meant that I could follow along and let the group do the pacing. That’s always nice, but this is also where “pace yourself” starts to become important.

There was a fairly large field assembled for the race — at least 30 runners I would say — and at least 10 of them were going to try to run in the 16:00 range — so it was a quality field. The race got underway and the front group stayed together right about on pace through the first 400M. But then the group broke up and I was left with a decision to make. I hadn’t really thought about looking at my own watch on the splits and I was running behind someone that I know who runs about the same speed that I do. I also know that he is a good pacer with a solid sense of pacing. I made a decision to stick on him and let him do the pacing.
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Track and Field — Gay and Felix headline sprints in London

running-advice-bugTyson Gay and Allyson Felix will lead the way into the Crystal Palace as Team USA looks to continue their dominance at the Aviva London Grand Prix this Friday and Saturday. The two-day competition is the 11th of 14 meets in the prestigious Samsung Diamond League series.

Fresh off his big win last week in Stockholm, 2009 World Outdoor silver medalist Tyson Gay will be joined by 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Walter Dix and 2009 USA Outdoor champion Mike Rodgers in the men’s 100m. They’ll have to watch for Olympic silver medalist Richard Thompson (TRI) who could be a strong contender. The men’s 400m will showcase 2008 Olympic silver medalist and 2009 World Outdoor silver medalist Jeremy Wariner, who holds the second best time in the world this year, and will face off against world-leader Jermaine Gonzales (JAM).

Reigning World Indoor and Outdoor champion Christian Cantwell will lead the men’s shot put field along with 2007 World Outdoor champion Reese Hoffa and two-time Olympic silver medalist Adam Nelson. 2008 NCAA champion Cory Martin, with the second best throw in the world this year, 2009 USA Indoor champion Dan Taylor and two-time NCAA champion Ryan Whiting, who holds the third and fourth best world marks, will round out the competitive field.

Doubling in the women’s 200m and 400m, Allyson Felix currently holds the second fastest 200m time in the world this year. She has been running strong this season in both events, and currently leads the Diamond race in both events. Joining her in the 400m will be current world-leader and World Indoor champion Debbie Dunn.
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Track & Field — Gay stuns Bolt over 100m in Stockholm

running-advice-bugSTOCKHOLM — Tyson Gay stunned the crowd Friday night in Stockholm when he beat world record holder Usain Bolt in the men’s 100m final at the DN Galan – Samsung Diamond League.

Starting off in the semifinals, Gay had the fastest time winning his heat in 10.02 while Bolt won the first heat in 10.10. Ninety minutes later it was time for the final. It was the first race for the pair in over a year, and just their third head-to-head matchup over 100m ever.

When the gun went off, Gay burst from the blocks, immediately taking the lead over Bolt. Powering down the straight, Gay was able to hold off the reigning Olympic and World champion to get the win in a meet record 9.84 seconds. Bolt crossed the line in second in a pedestrian 9.97. It was Bolt’s first loss since the DN Galan in 2008 and the second-slowest final of his career. Meet records at the DN Galan earn the winner a diamond valued at $10,000 and Gay walked away with that prize.

In the final event of the evening, Chris Solinsky became just the third American man ever to run sub-thirteen in the men’s 5,000m when he finished fifth in 12:55.53.
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Track & Field — Records Fall at Junior Olympic Championships

running-advice-bugSACRAMENTO – National and meet records were set each day of the 2010 Junior Olympic Championships, and the sixth and final day of competition was no exception with Elijah Zoucha, Trinity Wilson and a Quiet Fire relay team’s National marks. The meet, which began July 27, was held at Hughes Stadium on the campus of Sacramento City College in Sacramento, Calif.

The final day of the meet featured more incredible performances on the track and in the field, led by Elijah Zoucha’s (West O Throw, Omaha, Neb.) record-setting performance in the Midget Boys shot put. His distance of 16.36m/53-8.25 broke the 30-year-old record of 16.15m/53-0 set by Troy Fowler in 1980. Zoucha, who won the Bantam Boys shot put in 2008, also placed second in the discus on Friday.

Youth Girls 100m hurdles National record holder Trinity Wilson (East Oakland Youth Development Center, Oakland, Calif.) tied the Intermediate Girls 100m hurdles meet record with a swift time of 13.87. Yolanda Johnson also ran that record time in 1994. As a part of Team USA, Wilson will attempt to chase down the National record at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore later this month.

Ending the meet on a exciting high note, Quiet Fire TC’s (Hawthorne, Calif.) Midget Girls 4x400m relay team set a National record at 3:56.86. The team of Lauren Williams, Jeanette Paul, Kayla Richardson and Kyla Richardson battled against the team from 3M TC (Oakland, Calif.) through the first two legs before gaining a 10m lead and maintaining that position through the finish.
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Track and Field — USA Cleans Up at 2010 NACAC Track & Field Championships

running-advice-bugMIRAMAR, Fla. – Team USA picked up 31 more medals on Sunday to bring the total to a record 74 medals as action concluded on Sunday at the 2010 NACAC Under-23 Track & Field Championships, held at Ansin Sports Complex, in Miramar, Florida.

LeJerald Betters, who recently took second in the 400m at the Diamond League meeting in Lausanne in 44.70, ran lead-off leg duty for the men’s 4x400m in an unofficial 44.3 before handing off to O’Neal Wilder. It was then Wilder to Joey Hughes, who handed off to Tavaris Tae for the anchor leg. Tate blazed the track in an unofficial 44.1 to cross the finish line in a meet record 2:58.83. The previous record of 3:01.15 was set in 2002.

Team USA destroyed the competition in the women’s 4x400m as Ebony Collins, Amber Purvis, Shelise Williams, and Tameka Jameson got the baton around the track in 3:29.80. Heading off the final turn, Jameson had more than a 50m lead over Jamaica, who finished as the runner-up well back in 3:38.05.

Charles Jock ran away from the pack in the men’s 800m, winning by almost two seconds in 1:45.65. Bermuda’s Aaron Evans was the runner-up in 1:47.79. Cory Primm, who had been sitting in second place for the first 700m, faded to fifth in 1:49.04. Canada’s Jessica Smith won the women’s 800m in 2:04.96 as Christine Rodgers claimed silver in 2:05.00 and Anna Layman took bronze in 2:05.39.

With 400m to go in the men’s 5,000m, four athletes were in the hunt for the gold medal. When the bell rang, Mike Crouch and Diego Borrego (MEX) separated themselves from Mohamed Ige and Jose Mireles (MEX). Crouch and Borrego battled the entire way with Borrego puling away in the last few strides for the win (14:32.90). Crouch won silver in 14:33.33 while Ige took bronze in 14:38.95 and Mireles was fourth in 14:39.75.
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Track & Field — Records Fall at Nike Prefontaine Classic

running-advice-bugEUGENE – 2008 Olympic Games bronze medalist David Oliver equaled the third-fastest time ever in the men’s 110m hurdles and the Hayward Field record book was shredded Saturday at the 2010 Nike Prefontaine Classic on the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene. The action took place on a beautiful sunny day in front of an appreciative standing room only crowd for the 15th consecutive year.

David Oliver ran 12.90 in the 110M hurdles to equal the American record in the event and for his efforts he was named the Visa Athlete of the Meet. Oliver had a strong start and grabbed the lead by the fourth hurdle and continued to lengthen it all the way to the finish. His performance equals the American record first posted by Dominique Arnold on July 11, 2006 in Lausanne.

2010 USA Outdoor Championships runner-up Ryan Wilson finished second in a season’s best 13.16, with USA Outdoor Champs third-place finisher Ronnie Ash placing third again in 13.19, which equals his personal best set last week at Nationals in Des Moines, Iowa. Two-time World Outdoor Championships bronze medalist and 2008 Olympic Games silver medalist David Payne finished fourth in a seasonal best 13.24.

Barrier finally broken in Nike Men’s 5,000 Meters

Prior to this afternoon the 13-minute barrier had never been broken in the United States. Now it’s happened twice.

Coming down the final stretch the Hayward Field crowd was delirious as Tariku Bekele of Ethiopia approached the finish line looking as though he would finish before the clock hit 13 minutes. Bekele crossed the finish line in 12:58.93 in setting a Hayward Field record. Bekele was closely followed by Dejen Gebremeskel of Ethiopia, who also bettered the 13-minute barrier with his runner-up, personal best time of 12:59.30. Imane Merga of Ethiopia was third in 13:00.18, with Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge finishing fourth in 13:01.17.
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News — California Sprinter Named Gatorade Girls Athlete of the Year

running-advice-bugAshton Purvis of St. Elizabeth High School (Oakland, Calif.) has been honored as its 2009-10 Gatorade National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year, the 25th year of the honor. Purvis was surprised with the news by Oakland native and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Leon Powe at the East Oakland Youth Development Center, where she was guest-teaching the Pathway to College class.

Powe earned Gatorade California Boys Basketball Player of the Year honors in 2002-03.

Ashton Purvis

By claiming the 222nd National Player of the Year trophy to be awarded in the program’s 25-year history, Purvis becomes the 15th girls prep track & field athlete from the state of California to earn Gatorade National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year honors. Only 10 national girls winners in the sport are natives of states other than California.

The 5-foot-8 senior sprinter won the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.17 seconds and the 200-meter dash in 22.90 at the California Interscholastic Federation state championship meet this spring, leading the Mustangs to a fifth-place finish as a team. Her 200-meter time ranks as the nation’s No. 1 clocking among prep competitors in 2010, while her 100-meter time ranked No. 2. Purvis’ season-best 100 ranks sixth in prep history and only eight prep girls have ever run a faster 200.
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