During the run lecture at each of my personal age group camps, I expose the myths of long distance running technique. How the drills handed out by some coaches are not of any use, but can actually be detrimental to running performance when fatigued.
These lectures are not scripted, and during our last camp I went on to tell a true story of a certain athlete who made me reconsider running when I started coaching Ironman athletes. The techniques used for the shorter sprint races are not ideal for longer races.
In 1985 I met Cliff Young the potato farmer who two years before won the inaugural 875km Sydney to Melbourne 6 day ultra running race. The Sutto shuffle owes much to this man. However during my last camp when I mentioned the amazing Cliffy Young, no-one had heard of him! Some who have heard many of my run lectures said that’s a story you have not told before, I bet a lot of Trisutto athletes would like to hear it.
In 1983, this phenomenal 61 year-old man took on the greatest ultra marathon runners of the time. When they made fun of him at the press conference before the race, Cliffy said:
‘Cliffy will you make it out of the car park?’
‘I’m here to show the young ones a thing or two about plenty of fight in an old dog.’
‘but Cliffy, they are the best in the world!’
‘not in my world.’
With that he got up and left the room! Crazy old man was the verdict of most.
However at the 400km point of the run when the interviewer again put the mic under the old man’s nose and said:
‘Cliffy you haven’t slept a wink in 2 days’
Cliffy fired right back ‘I can sleep for 6 months when it’s over’.
‘but Cliff all of Australia are worried you could seriously harm yourself’
‘son, the only people I’m harming are those smart arses behind me that laughed at me at the start’
‘Cliffy you could die?’
‘Yes and I’m prepared to do that rather than let any one pass me now!’
And so it was, Cliffy Young won the race and changed the sport forever.
My own story starts two years later when I met Cliffy, now aged 63 at the Sydney Marathon press conference. We were not part of the race contenders but were celebrity participants, myself as a national swim coach. I had also made a bet with my team that was a little crazy, but it motivated my athletes! Cliffy was there, and we had a little chat, “hey young’en, you looking for three hours? We could run together. Will be fun. We can have a talk on the way!
Cliff had a full length flannel shirt on. Long rain pants with holes cut in them (‘ventilation son’) and a safari style hat (‘son got me some skin cancer problems’). A pair of shoes that look like they would fall apart at any moment. Celebrity and sponsorship hadn’t gone to his head, or to his feet. So off we went, and true to form the pensioner just talked to me non stop for the first 10km. After that he said ‘coach you better stop talking you don’t look so great‘. Meanwhile the above 100 cadence Cliffy, who looked like death warmed up, just kept talking.
I still remember the course took us right past the front door of the University where I trained our swim team, with the athletes yelling out some very funny stuff, but what stuck in my head was the best retort ‘the old man is walking as fast as you’re running’
Cliffy was taken aback, and reasssured his new friend ‘your doing great sonny, I been doing this all my life, but I have to tell you, that I need to get a wiggle on, or I’ll tighten up.’ With that Cliffy Young put it into another gear and shuffled off into the distance, for a 2 hour 48 minute marathon!
As I neared the finish, to my surprise standing at the entry to the stadium, was Cliffy urging me to ‘sprint! you can break 3 hours, go boy‘. With that I lifted even though there wasn’t anything left. The thought of this great Australian not only running from Sydney to Melbourne, that he would take the time to cheer me home, had me sprinting.
This was a magic moment of which there have been many in my fortunate sports career. Cliffy Young played a major part in forming my views on technique and training for ultra events. The Cliffy Shuffle morphed into the Sutto Shuffle and is now part of Ironman history too.
Cliffy you were a legend and didn’t know it!
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in Cyprus in April, and St.Moritz in June/July, 2018.
Croatia’s champion triathlete Andrej joins the Trisutto Coaching team. Photo Credit: Daniel Comiza
It gives me great pleasure to see Andrej Vistica complete his Trisutto Coaching certification and join our ranks as not just an athlete but a coach as well.
Andrej is a special story 7 years in the making. He doesn’t come from financial privilege or the head start of another sport background. He had a dream to become a professional athlete while living and working in his home country of Croatia. He started out with 10 hour work days, fitting training around it. He built himself up with pure determination then moved to train with Trisutto coach Jo Spindler, and cut his work hours down to 5 hour days.
Welcome to the team Andrej!
The outcome was that coach and pupil did a magnificent job, not only did Andrej gain his dream of being a professional athlete but look at this resume all from no sporting background.
His dedication, attention to detail and passion to be better had me thinking, this is an athlete who could be an excellent coach. This year Andrej has worked with me with the express purpose of me tutoring him as a coach. However his results as an athlete have also been exceptional. So, welcome to our coaching roster Andrej and we look forward to a successful a career in coaching as your having as an Ironman athlete.
Andrej Vistica’s coaching profile can be viewed here. Andrej is currently taking on athletes of all ability levels. Coach Andrej discusses the running versus running for Triathlon in this informative Coaching Vlog.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in Cyprus in April, 2018 for insights into the Trisutto Coaching and Training methodologies.
So how do you make your individual functional technique better? Run! Photo Credit: James Mitchell
The IM run is probably the most daunting of the three legs (no pun intended) and is certainly the harshest on the body. The ability to run in a highly fatigued state for so long is no easy task even in optimal conditions. The technical challenge is to hold form throughout to sustain your goal race pace – holding TUF (technique under fatigue) as we say at Trisutto.
As mentioned in my previous blog, success on the run is very much predicated on your bike fitness, pacing and fueling management. A proper triathlon-analysis of any run performance should take the bike segment into consideration. For this discussion I will assume the stage set with a well-delivered bike.
What is “proper” IM running form?
The crux, like the swim, is in the ability to cover the race distance at (your) speed “comfortably”. It starts with your form, one that you can replicate sustainably for ~40000 steps over 42k. There is no right or wrong, only what is effective for you, based on you (size, weight, shape, anatomical anomalies etc.).
Attempting to emulate track runners or shorter distance runners is misguided, especially if you are a late starter in the sport. Very few, even at the highest level of our sport, are capable of running the IM like a gazelle from start to finish (i.e. Craig Alexander, Andreas Raelert, Mirinda Carfrae). Most end up moving in a manner that is most economical to them. So take heart that you too can still be a good IM runner without conforming to a stereotype “proper form” derived from open events, especially those track specific.
The foot plant is probably one of the most discussed aspects of “proper form”. Whether it is to avoid breaking, to harness the potential elastic energy in our tendons and muscles or to minimize contact time, the mid/fore foot strike (over heel strike) is the mainstream technical goal you are encouraged to achieve. As we watch the best at IM what do we actually find? – A mix of foot contact types – forefoot, mid-foot/flat/outside, and heel “touchers”.
Of the top 10 men in Kona 2016 approximately half heel touched, the other half used a flat/mid foot (and one distinct forefoot) plants. Some of top 10 ladies at Kona 2016 also distinctly heel touched. So if you currently favour a heel first contact and are comfortable doing so you may not need to change it.
It is essential however to clearly understand the distinction between heel striking and heel touching before tinkering with what might already be a suitable IM form for you.
Heel striking occurs when you land on your heel and at full stance your heel is still in front of your center of mass, leg is relatively straight, and weight is being transferred through the heel, which effectively jars the body and causes a breaking action.
Heel touching occurs when your heel contacts the ground first in front of you, briefly, but at full stance your center of mass is close to or over top your weight bearing foot, the leg is bent, head-shoulder-hips stacked with weight being transferred through the supporting mid-foot. From initial contact to full stance the hip continues to translate forward.
If you mid/flat foot strike you will tend to land very close to your centre of mass already (or as close “underneath”) and the time to full stance is almost seamless. If this is you, that is ok.
Mary Beth Ellis
Note in the examples above the similarity in alignment at full stance (right photos) despite slightly different start points.
Both of the highlighted styles are effective. Avoid choosing one over the other to conform to what is deemed “proper” or ideal. The one that still holds by the end of the IM will be the fastest for you.
Start by optimizing what already works for you. If you push to change to be something you are not you could increase injury potential or regress in performance. If, for example, you insist on a mid-foot strike in your IM preparation long runs, now after years of heel touching, you will increase the likelihood of a metatarsal stress fracture. On the other hand, to force a heel touch approach if you are a natural mid-footer will likely cause you to heel strike to make that change felt.
Does this mean you should simply settle and never adjust anything that may improve your economy and speed? Of course not. Small tweaks (rhythmical shoulder extension, compact hand/forearm swing, a more upright and stacked posture, head inclination, cadence etc.) can collectively compliment what happens from the waist down. Just avoid drastically reorganizing your mobile base of support to something that isn’t natural for you. And note that what is natural to you will also evolve as your experience progresses.
So how do you make your individual functional technique better?
Forget about drills. The more time you spend on them the better you will be at them, but likely no better in form at 35k in the IM run. If your form crumbles forcing you to walk, shuffle and hobble mid-way, all the prancing, skipping, machinegun butt-kicks and explosive knee drive drills you did will have only served to improve your photo pose coming out of T2. Rather focus your technical effort on building race pace (RP) form stamina. Insert segments of IM RP tempo on your long runs. Run off the bike often and following long race-paced efforts to impose the specific (or close to) fatigue that will help forge your IM run form durability.
Next time someone comments on your “heel strike”, assess the accuracy of that observation using video and the cues aforementioned before altering anything. Then take heart that many of the best IM runners (and champions) – male and female – contact the ground first with their heel.
Ed Rechnitzer is a Trisutto Coach based out of Calgary, Canada. Check out Coach Ed’s Triathlon Camp scheduled for 2018 in Mont Tremblant.
Over the last week we’ve had a couple of people reach out after reading an article outlining the bio-mechanical negatives of running on treadmills:
My first response, of course, is that it’s highly unwise to base your training off triathlon magazine articles. It’s their job to produce new and interesting content, not consistent training advice.
But to address the article specifically:
It is theoretical truth… And practical bullshit.
If you are a challenged runner treadmill training – without changing floor angle – will improve your running out of sight. The positives by far outweigh the negatives.
Take heart that many of the greatest athletes now and in triathlon history have used treadmills as a regular part of their training. As often as four times a week.
Our thoughts on the best use of the treadmill can be found here:
Be reassured that the treadmill can be your best tool to improve your run split. Several of our main squad members will be on it this afternoon!
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Lanzarote, Cyprus or Gran Canaria.
Six days before the Hawaii Ironman in 2016, Daniela Ryf completes a key pre-race speed set on the treadmill.
Over the last month I have written blogs on exercise equipment that can help you with your swim and bike performance. There have been many enquires asking can you write something about the run?
Since founding Trisutto.com, there have been several blogs published on the benefits of treadmill for run / triathlon performance. I urge all of our new readers to breeze through our back catalogue of blogs for a variety of articles that will help you enormously with your triathlon. We view ourselves as a resource for all triathletes to use in their quest to be more efficient athletes.
The Dreadmill: Benefits Of Treadmill Training includes a short video blog to explain one of my favourite mid week run workouts, that will help your leg turnover and your run form on race day. It was developed when training Jan Rehula who went on to win the Bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
As well as run efficiency, the practical aspect of the treadmill is time efficiency. Trisutto coach Rafal Medak wrote an excellent blog on exactly this, Training in the City: Treadmill
I hope you will make the most of our online resources – happy reading!