[Introduction] We are ready for the, annual Doc Councilman Memorial Lecture. As is typical, our speaker is a person who comes from outside the sport of swimming, and who brings his expertise to the sport of swimming so that we can learn what is happening outside our closed- in, little world. Like Doc Counsilman, he is both a coach and a scientist. He has created the McMillan running company – his website – mcmillanrunning.com is one of the first websites anywhere to offer online coaching to others of every ability. His express purpose is to help people fulfill their potential, but he himself has been interested in science from the time he was a very young person. He was an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee, when Melvin Stuart was there as a swimmer and wrote his pieces on carbohydrates and its effect on performance. He went on to do graduate work at the University of South Carolina where he received a Masters Degree in Physiology, with his Masters Thesis on blood lactates. He has currently started a McMillan elite running group in Flagstaff with the intention of trying to boost American distance swimming – from the 5,000 to marathon distance events. A very gentle soft-spoken man with a lot of knowledge – I introduce to you Coach Greg McMillan.
[Greg McMillan] Thank you very much. Thank you. It is an honor to be here. I do appreciate the opportunity to come and speak. I am grateful to the organizers for asking me to be here. We do not have this sort of conference in the sport of running so I am envious that on an annual basis you guys get to get together and learn. We could use this in the sport of running. As was mentioned, I live in Flagstaff, Arizona which is only about 3 ½ hours drive from here, but looks completely different. We are at 7,000 feet elevation. There are not brown rocks and dirt – it is beautiful pine forest and snow-covered peaks for a fair amount of the year. I live there because I believe it is the best place for the training of distance runners in the US. The altitude obviously provides us with advantageous aerobic stress. There are over 100 miles of dirt trails and dirt roads that we have access to – basically out our door.
The weather is mild year around – at least as mild as you can get at 7,000 feet and we have wonderful facilities in Flagstaff, that is why we based ourselves there and why we have athletes moving to Flagstaff to be part of our group as we begin to prepare for 2012. We do have a connection with swimming in Flagstaff – as you can see on the board and you won’t be able to read this, but 96 Olympians that were in Beijing trained in Flagstaff over the last two years. This is a list of all of the swimming medalists who trained in Flagstaff. Flagstaff has one of only three pools above 6,000 feet of the quality necessary for Olympic training and as a result we have a lot of foreign teams that use Flagstaff and the Center for Altitude training there for preparing for international competition. They don’t have facilities like we have in Colorado Springs for USA Swimming so they use Flagstaff – that is a very poor picture of the facility and this is Kitajima – a breaststroke gold medalist training in Flagstaff. The Japanese spent 265 out of 365 days last year in Flagstaff. So, it has really become a training Mecca for non-US teams to come and take advantage of the facilities up there and we are lucky to have those facilities as well.
What I thought I would talk about today is turning your passion into a profession and I think for most of us that is what we are trying to do and certainly the purpose of this conference is to move in that direction. We had two Olympians in Beijing so we are happy about our start. Going back a few years – “flipping the switch” for me- and this is one thing that I think is very interesting – the difference between swimming and running. We do not have a good club system, so more runners get started in high school than they do when they are younger. Which is, I don’t think a disadvantage to us? For me getting started in high school and really catching the bug, getting the passion for running.
I don’t know what “flips the switch” and I am sure that you guys would like to know that as well. What takes a young person getting involved in the sport and all of a sudden it captures them. It becomes their passion. It becomes what they think about. It becomes what they dream about. It becomes when they are sitting in class instead of listening to the teacher they are doodling I want to go to the Olympics or I want to swim faster or run faster – what flips that switch. I don’t know the answer to that, but I know it happened to me and that was through cross-country and track and that began the process to get me to where I am today and will probably continue for the rest of my life. Which is to continue to read everything possible? I really got into that when I was in high school. I began to study – what are other people doing and this was before there was the internet so it wasn’t as easy as it is today.
Now I understand – you guys have Floswimming – we have Flotrack. It has revolutionized running and I suspect it has done the same for swimming, but there is so much more information. Well, in high school, it was a lot more reading and digging and then also observing. I was very observant of what are the good people doing? The talk before this one was packed because it was Michael Phelps’ coach. You have got to learn from the best, what are they doing and what can we learn from them. So for me, it started in high school and that started the path of I want to understand distance running performance. What do I need to learn and so I headed off to my undergraduate and at this time sports science was king. We were told that sport science gave us the answer. It was – if you just followed sport science you could do great things and it was king – quote from David Costill, who many of you probably know – he does a lot of research in swimming – he is very big in swimming – “there is a point of optimal distance that will cause the body to adapt its full aerobic capacity based on laboratory observations.”
We have concluded that the mileage needed for maximum training benefits varies between 60 and 90 miles per week. Now, that may sound like a lot to you, but that is actually 25-50% less than what people actually do. So, if you think about the training that you prescribe for your athletes – think about reducing that by 20-50%. That was kind of what we were being taught at this time. We were very much training by the numbers. Not a lot of formula, just training by the numbers; this was when I got started as a coach. I will put coach in parentheses as it kind of went like this. Hey Greg, will you help me with my training? And I said sure – now I am a coach – that is how it happens sometimes. It is probably not the best way, but that is the way it happened for me.
When I finished my undergrad I realized I didn’t know enough. I wasn’t as educated as I needed to be. I needed to learn more. I didn’t feel like I had a really good grasp on the science that was going to help me create champions so I headed to the University of South Carolina to work with this gentleman, Russ Pate, who was the director of the exercise science department. I wanted to work with him because he went to the University of Oregon for his PhD and graduated in 1973. If you know anything about running – Oregon in the early 70’s was our pinnacle at the time – Bill Bowerman was there and Steve Prefontane. These may be names that you have heard of. This is when – Russ was there when they were there and I felt like that would be a good starting point. He also had finished twice in the top 10 of the Boston Marathon and had competed in three Olympic trials so I wanted to learn from someone who had one foot in the real world and one foot in science. I felt like that combination was good so I was there to learn science which was going to teach me how to create champions and he promptly sat me down and said, “Greg, physiology will never teach us how to train. We already learned the best methods of training from previous coaches and athletes – science will simply help us refine the training and help it become more applicable across the spectrum of runners.” He burst my bubble, but it also was probably the most important thing that has ever been told to me because it made me realize that it is the combination – it is the combination of the physiology, the science, as well as the lessons learned from previous coaches and athletes. It is this combination that can help us create champions at whatever level you work and that is the refining part. That is where science really helps us is the refinement. So this is how I started my graduate work and at that time I was a little bit crushed, but it ended up to be a very good moment for me and working with Dr. Pate was very important in being able to have one foot in both. I really think that great coaches do this naturally .To work at the highest levels it is about having one foot in the real world and one foot in science and bringing those two together.
I was very, very fortunate after I finished my graduate work to be exposed to two of the greatest coaches we have in running. The gentleman on the left is Arthur Lydiard. At this time he was in his mid-80’s and this was his last lecture tour that he gave through the US. I have never in my life been more nervous to speak than when I had to give Arthur’s lecture in front of him. He had had a stroke so on this tour he couldn’t physically stand up and speak for an hour, so I got to travel around with him and give his talk for him and then he would do the Q & A. The first lecture I was so nervous and probably being the good coach that he was, he recognized that and so he came up to me and he said, “that was a great job – you did a fantastic job” and then, it was wonderful from then on and we became fast friends, but being able to sit down with the man who arguably changed running and be with him so much was really a great opportunity to again – learn from the coach. Learn from somebody that did trial and error and learned what he felt worked the best. He wasn’t a scientist. He was a coach.
For a couple of years I got to work with Gabriel Rosen. He is arguably the world’s greatest marathon coach. If you live in New York or Chicago or London or Los Angeles or Berlin or Amsterdam – any of these places – anywhere there is a major marathon, his athletes win. When I was with him for those two years, his athletes won 26 marathons – the major marathons – each year. There are only 52 weekends in a year so almost every weekend his athletes are winning. Just being able to spend time with somebody who has been there “ done that” was very educational for me, particularly as a young coach. I was just really trying to understand how to help athletes. As a result of studying exercise physiology and being around these great coaches, the system of training began to kind of come through. It got organized in my mind and these – I call them “genfus” – it is general fundamentals that can be used to help all runners and it doesn’t matter if you are a woman runner winning the Houston Marathon or you are just coming off the couch and want to complete in your first marathon or somewhere in between – these are the principles that I have used to have success across the spectrum and I think they are very applicable to you guys – whether you work with young athletes in the club system – or work with high school athletes or even collegiate athletes or post-collegiate athletes. I work with a wide variety of athletes – even the post-collegiate that I have in Flagstaff and these are the principles that I use.
The first is a systems approach and I really think this is a neat way to think about training. The training design is such that it will develop each system of the body, and at least in running, and I think it is probably applicable to swimming – I think of it in four different systems. First is the metabolic system. Metabolic system meaning oxygen consumed – calories burned – energy drives so that you can move through the water or over land. The metabolic system – burning fuel.
The neuromuscular system which plays a much larger role in swimming than it does in running would be the coordination between the brain and the muscles. How coordinated are those movement patterns? In swimming technique is so much more important than in running. I mean – you have seen it – if you watched the Olympics you see some of these people running and they look horrible, but they are very fast. You probably don’t see that so much in swimming where technique or another sport being golf – where technique is so important, but we work on certain training aspects that work the neuromuscular system. Equally important in our sport is the musculoskeletal system. Nobody strains a vein – nobody pulls a lung – it is all the muscles, the tendons, the bones – that is where we have injuries so a lot of the training has to be performed within the dynamics and the capabilities of the musculoskeletal system.
You have it as well in swimming, but in running the injury risk is quite high. Lastly the mental system, which is probably not a fair description of the mind and its importance. As coaches you know the importance of the mental aspect of training. A lot of training has to be completed to develop the mental system and what is interesting I think is that in most training all of these components work together, but not necessarily always. Sometimes one training workout will be designed to work one system and actually may compromise or be negative toward another system. A good example is we do a hill climb in Flagstaff – it starts at 7,000 feet which is already hard to run and we run straight up a mountain to the top which is 9,600 feet. At some point it is so steep and rocky I can barely get my 4-wheel drive over it. The athletes run up it and it is all for their mental system. Now, they get a good workout, but it is what we call our champion’s workout and you may have some of these too – where it is a big workout – where they finish and they are like, yeah! I can rely on this when I get in competition. I can look back and go – who else is doing this? Who else has run to the top of a mountain – starting at 7,000 feet – ended in 9,600 – so a lot of times when you think about your training systems you can – you compromise some – it is probably not the best workout for some of out athletes from these other systems’ standpoint, but for the mental system is very important and we will talk more about that in just a minute. This, you are probably familiar with and it is an adaptation of the standard stress/rest cycle where we stress the body with training – we allow it to recover and then we stress it again and this cycle continues throughout your entire training phase. A friend of mine – this is his adaptation and what I like about it is that he says “optimal stress” plus “optimal rest” equals “optimal progress” and I think that is really important as coaches – particularly when you are working with diverse groups – to recognize that stress is not always the same. You have to have optimal stress.
You can think of it – do you guys remember lawn darts? I think they are banned now, but the giant darts about that long with a big spear on them and you put a hula-hoop down on one end and another one on yours and you threw that – sort of in the direction of another human being which I think is why they are banned, but if you were six inches short of the hula-hoop or you were six inches beyond it – it is the same – it is bad. It doesn’t count. If you are right in that sweet spot – if you are inside the hula-hoop – that is what you want. The same as with training – when you stress an athlete you do not want to under-stress them and you do not want to maximally stress them – you want to find that sweet spot. You find the sweet spot in the stress – then you find their sweet spot with rest and you will get progress – optimal progress. It is the difference between maximal training and optimal training.
Most of my athletes could always run a little faster – a little farther, but we try to train them in an optimal zone so that they are able to progress from week to week – season to season. It is not just about pushing the body – do you give 110%? I don’t think that works. It certainly does not work in distance running and it probably doesn’t work so well in most endurance sports, but understanding and I think obeying the stress/rest cycle and every athlete is different which I think is the challenge for coaches – particularly when you work with large groups of athletes because everyone is a little bit different in how their stress and their rest is required. Some athletes recover very fast – some don’t. Some workout stress – some more than others. Ryan Hall, who you may know – who ran in the Olympics for the US – he has always said that doing a 15 mile tempo run at 6,000 feet was way less stressful to him than doing 2 miles of very hard intervals on the track so every athlete is a little bit different and I think our job is to figure that out – to pull it out as we watch them through their training season.
Smart training design – this is where Arthur Lydiaer – the older gentleman that I spoke about earlier – really made his greatest contribution – when distance running training first started it was all race-specific training. If it was the early 1900’s and you wanted to run a fast mile your training would be three days a week – you would go to the track and you would run one mile as fast as you could. You probably ate a steak before. You probably got flogged with a towel after and sat in a hot bath or something like that, but that was training. The really crazy people did it five days a week. Well, that kind of transitioned into when Arthur came in and he said no general training. General conditioning should be 75% of the training cycle and race specific training only 25%, so in running now most of our work is general conditioning. It is not race specific. It is working on the other systems of the body and only the last 25% of the training is race specific – as we get close to the race date. This may be slightly different in swimming, but certainly is a change for running and something that I use with the training of all the athletes I work with and I think this slide is possibly the most important for trying to have a foot in the science and a foot in the real world.
There is something really interesting about humans. If you stimulate a human in a certain way it will always have a similar response and that response will cause a similar adaptation. For example – if all of us in this room went outside – but we won’t do it now because it is too hot, but if we did it in the morning and we ran for 30 minutes at 85% of our maximum heart rate – so the speeds would be completely different for each person, but the effort would be the same. We would stimulate the body in a similar way and you would get a certain response out of your body and that would cause a certain adaptation and while we may all adapt slightly differently – some of us would adapt faster or to a greater extent – we all would get the same adaptation. You probably notice this in swimming – if you prescribe a certain workout to your athletes you know what that it is going to do for them. You know what adaptation benefit the athlete is going to receive and as a result this response adaptation process is similar for all runners and it is likely similar with all swimmers and that allows us to give a very simple purpose for each training session. It makes it easier. The training plan design becomes simple then. If you want this adaptation – which is usually what we are after as a coach, right? We want more speed. We want more endurance – then you just work backwards. What type of workout do I need to give?
The body also likes variety across energy systems, effort levels and paces. In running we don’t have the opportunity for as much variety as maybe you do in swimming. In running we can vary the paces. We can vary the terrain, but it is always running. In swimming you have freestyle swimming – you have the breaststroke – butterfly – you have other options that you can create variety for your athletes and variety the body likes. It will adapt up to a plateau – you have to stimulate it again with more variety. Lastly – the law of specificity – the specific training as the race nears, is what you do when you are trying to bring your athletes to a peak. You are trying to design your training such that it is very race specific as the race nears. To me – this is everything right now. I feel like I have a fairly good understanding of the physiology. I have a fairly good understanding of training design, but for me and the athletes I work with now – this is everything.
How do you maintain motivation and build self-confidence in your athletes? Because in the end – that is the most important thing. I believe the coach and the training must serve to maintain a high level of motivation in the athlete. It doesn’t matter if you are working with kids or Olympians – maintaining the high level of motivation is key. If they are motivated – success follows and you have seen this in the athletes you work with – those that get it – those that make it a priority in their life – they are the ones that success usually follows. The way I do it then is to set up the training to yield positive results. I simply make sure that they can accomplish the workouts and make them challenging, but realistic. I want them to have success in training because if they have positive training results it builds their confidence and if I can do this week after week after and stack these positive results – you end up with an athlete that arrives in the peak season with very high motivation and high self-confidence. That is what a lot of swimmers arrived at in the Olympics. I am sure that Michael Phelps had a lot of motivation and he was very confident and that probably came from having a lot of successful workouts – a lot of success – a lot of positive results so I think as a coach we can sort of set it up to make sure this happens and they will have bad workouts every now and then, but certainly we can set it up to where the probability is that they are going to have positive results and that will create great momentum in their training.
Now – this is a bit of the science, but I am going to show you how we make it simple. If you were to get on a treadmill and begin to run at faster and faster speeds – your breathing would increase – your oxygen consumption would increase, your heart rate would increase and your lactate level would increase and everybody would have pretty much this same picture – the only difference would be the pacing at the bottom. It would be significantly different – based on the athlete.
Now again – going back to our stimulus response adaptation – from our science and also from what coaches have learned – all we have to do is stimulate people with the right zone of training and we will get the adaptation that we desire. In running, here is how I do it, we break this graph into 4 sections and it makes it very easy for the athlete. So the section on the left is endurance so if we want to build their endurance – if that is the adaptation we want – then we simply have to make sure that they are training in this zone. If they are training at this lactate level or this heart rate level, this oxygen consumption level and this breathing rate we get the adaptation we desire. If we want to build stamina, which is this zone, again as long as they are in this zone we know from science and we know from experience that we will receive the benefit of increased stamina. Our speed zone is here and our sprint zone is here. Now, what is interesting to me about swimming versus running and the athletes I work with? They work from about here, all the way up to here. This is our sort of competitive event which would be 15 minutes to 2 hours. For you guys – certainly in the Olympics – you are talking 15 minutes and less for more of your training this is your zone over here. This is a lot of our zone and of course you train across all those zones and there are some workouts of course that transition between the zones or multi-zone workouts and that makes it very simple for the athletes. On the website that I have, we actually have a calculator where they can put in their time from a race and it will calculate what are the speeds for you to make sure that you are in these zones. It makes it very simple for the athlete – it takes a lot of guess work out from their training so that is the way we think of how to use the science is to use this sort of 4 zone system.
Recently what has happened in the sport of running and certainly at the high levels of USA Track and Field is that not only do we kind of blend the science of running with what coaches have told us, but there is a very large push for us to be full-spectrum coaches which might be the best term for it and that is – like the old coaches used to do – looking to other event groups within the sport to see what you can learn. Then looking at other events outside of your sport to see what you can learn and I think that is what – sort of – the purpose of this lecture is – “What are people doing outside of your Sport”? How is it similar and how is it dissimilar? And certainly at USA Track and Field, a lot of push is to learn outside of your comfort zone. When I go to conferences I am much more interested in what are the sprinters saying than what are the distance people saying? Because what do they know that could be applied to the work that I do with distance runners? We have a very good sprint coach in the US and some of his stuff comes from the “hammer throw.” Do you know the hammer throw is where that ball is on the end of the chain and they throw it across the field – he got some of his stuff from the research they had done on hammer throwing so it is really good I think, as coaches, and this is what I think – growth of the coach as with an athlete – involves going outside your comfort zone and this is hard. I think this is the hardest part because it is much easier to stay in your comfort zone isn’t it? It is much easier to talk to people that have the same ideas and agree with everything you say. It is much harder to put you out there and go – I need to understand this. How could this work for me? Talk to people who have different opinions than maybe your training system – that is growth as a coach, but I think that is demanding on us because you kind of like to be around people that agree with us a lot. That is typically who we like to hang out with. Over time, letting intuition take over is the key.
This has been the process that I am currently going through; what started as sort of rote or repetition of previous training or formulary actually becomes intuitive and experiential. When I first started coaching – I just wanted to know exactly what to do – every day – what is the formula? What is the procedure? What is the pattern? And now – as I coach more and I get more comfortable – it becomes much more intuitive.
I know one of my early mentors – I would be with him when he was working with athletes and I thought – how does he know how to say that? How does he know to tell the person to do that? It is his intuition – it is his experience and his feelings that he began to trust and learning to trust your intuition is a key breakthrough as a coach. I really think that is the case and for me it is coming with more and more experience. I now have a group of Olympic level athletes that I work with and it is really important for me to trust my intuition. It is a little scary because the stakes are high, but I think it is really important to trust your intuition and as a coach sometimes that is difficult, but letting your intuition take over within this realm of science and the real world is a big key. I still don’t know if I am a coach. We were talking earlier – I feel like I am more of a trainer. I feel like I do a good job providing the training schedules and I feel like I have a good understanding of why we are doing things, but I still struggle with some stuff. I think this is the nature of becoming a coach. I struggle with what to say when things are going wrong? I love it when things go right because that is wonderful isn’t it? You pat them on the back – you are the best – you are going to do all this great stuff, but what do you say when the things do not go well? We had a workout two weeks ago where we actually went down in altitude so we got down to under 3,000 feet where there is no altitude adjustment at that elevation and my idea was I am going to take them down and they are going to run super fast and that is going to build their motivation – they are going to feel great. They ran like crap – it was horrible and you are watching as a coach and you have done this where you are just looking at the watch going – I don’t – this is not what I had planned and to a man it was horrible and how do you deal with that? What do you say to the athletes? That is what I struggle with as a coach. I certainly struggle with the insecurity about whether I can help the athlete. Now I work with people who are going to the Olympics – that is a lot of pressure. I am sure you know Michael Phelps’ coach felt that. My goodness – the whole world was watching. You struggle with you know – can I help the athlete? Do I know enough to help the athlete?
You struggle with your own ego. We have to face it – we all have egos. As coaches, we have egos. We want to be the best, but do you have the ability – do I have the ability to put the ego aside and focus purely on the athlete? Am I selfless enough to be a good coach? That is a question I think is fair to ask because coaching is giving. You are always giving. But what I have come down to is sort of where I am going this year is I feel I must be as competitive in being a good coach as I was as an athlete because I was very competitive as an athlete and I wanted to be the best athlete. And it wasn’t that I wanted to beat people – I wanted to be my best. I wanted to figure out how I could run faster and now as a coach I want to be as competitive to be a good coach as I was as an athlete. It doesn’t mean I want to beat other coaches or I want to have my name in lights – it means I want to work hard to figure out what I need to do to be a better coach. There are a lot of areas that I have to work on to be a better coach and I suspect you are the same way – where you are trying to figure some things out. I know this part, but I am concerned about this other part. I don’t feel like I know enough about that and I think that is our opportunity – to widen our scope of study – to go outside of what we feel comfortable with. I will leave you with a quote from
Arthur Lydiard, the older gentleman that was my mentor, “Champions are everywhere. All you need to do is train them properly.” I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. I think we have some time for some questions if you have any questions.
Q/A: The question is, what is the difference between endurance and stamina? The way we think of it in running is endurance is the ability simply to go long. Stamina is the ability to go long, but fast so it is a subtle, but important difference in our training.
Q/A: The question is, what did I tell all those athletes that I had set up for this fantastic workout at low elevation and they ran horrible? Well, one was the weather – you can always rely on the weather in running. You guys don’t have that, but it was very hot so you can’t run hot. What we have noticed and this is interesting – typically when you go down in elevation you should feel good because you do not have – you have thicker air essentially, but the body has some changes when you go lower in elevation. If you do not time it properly you can actually feel worse rather than better and that is what is got us that day, was that our timing of going down – if it was one athlete that felt bad – I would have been concerned for that athlete, but since so many felt bad I said – it is a throw-away workout so I just tell them – those are throw-away workouts. Do not invest in them – throw it away.
Q/A: The question is do our athletes live at altitude and train at altitude or do they do a live high/train low or live low/train high? The way that we are set up is that we mostly live high and train high. We actually have five elevations at which we train so 7,000 feet is where we are based so about 80% of our work is done there. We also have the ability to go high in the mountains so we run between 8 and 10,000 feet for some workouts – again, depending on the adaptation I want and then we also can go to Sedona, which is at 4500 feet so there is still an altitude challenge, but not so much and then we can go to Camp Verde which is 3,000 feet where I had the bad workout, so I am probably not going to Camp Verde anymore and then we can even go to Phoenix which is not too far away from us and that is less than 2,000 feet so that is basically sea level for us so I like to use those different elevations, but I really find that in distance running, the stress of living and training high provides the benefit over time. Our athletes have moved there to train for the 2012 Olympics. They are going to be there for four years so having that constant additional aerobic stress will lead them to greater aerobic development than if they were not there. Now, that is a different way of thinking than some coaches – some coaches have different philosophies on the use of altitude with train high/live low or train low and live in a tent – things like that, but that is the way we use it as our philosophy going forward.
Q/A: So, the question is – what is the time frame of coming down to altitude before your competition and then also how long do the altitude effects last? The answer to the first – at least in the sport of running – is that you want to race between one and three days down or outside of ten days down. So – day 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 are not good and that gets into that concept I talked about with our bad workout so it seems to be the small window – you either fly straight to the race or you go down and you are down for at least 10 days. How long the adaptations last is really being debated right now and it depends on how the researchers look at it. Sometimes they look at blood parameters to see how long that lasts – so how much red blood cells increase whenever you are at altitude. How long do those red cells last? Some look at performance which is what we really should only care about and so some people say you get 4 weeks – some people say 6 weeks – some people say you get 6 months – it really kind of depends on how they are looking at it. Most people that come to Flagstaff for altitude camps – they come there for one month and they go away for a little while and then they will come back for another month. Like the Japanese – they were there almost the whole year, but they had 100 days when they were not, so they spaced these sorts of periods down was how they did it. There was a question over here?
Q/A: I do, but I am a little biased because I live at 7,000, but – the question is – do I think 7,000 is the optimal? The reason we chose Flagstaff my wife and I – we toured all over the western US – looking at every different altitude location that had potential. We even went up into Canada and we had this sort of laundry list of what we were looking for and one of the things that has come out is that 7,000 feet does appear to be the optimal aerobic challenge for runners for the most part because it is enough stimuli or enough challenge, but not too much because if you go too much higher the training is so slow that you almost get too far away from your normal paces and certainly the race paces, so I like being at 7 – I feel like we can run – we cannot run quite at what we could do at sea level, but it is not too far off and with our ability to go high and low – I think that mimics Flagstaff for me – the ideal situation.
Q/A: the question was – Didn’t Nike start a project that was aimed at helping American distance running kind of rise to the top and has it been a bust? It is called the Nike Oregon Project and it is based in Portland, Oregon and they actually have a house that they have created and I don’t know how they did this but it is an altitude house so they live in Portland, Oregon, but you go in this house and it is 10,000 feet so they live and train and sleep in this house, but then go out and run at sea level and so a lot of money has been poured into it. There is a new treadmill that cost $75,000. where it actually kind of envelops your lower body and it lifts you up slightly so you can run at 10% less weight or 20% less weight so the pounding is reduced so there is always – I guess – debate – whether that works or not. They put people on the American Olympic team so you can’t complain too much, but there is not going to be one single answer to how to win medals and I think we have learned that so – is it a bust? I am not sure.
Q/A: I did not – I saw them around town, but we had very limited exposure to the swimmers that were there. I will say that I have a very healthy respect for swimmers that go to altitude because as a runner, it is very difficult, but at least I can breathe faster. You guys can’t do that – it is really tough I think.
Q/A: Well I had an athlete in the men’s marathon and we did not talk at all about the possibility of what actually happened. We expected the race – if you saw the women’s marathon it went relatively slow through the first half and then one woman ran away from the pack and the others kind of looked at each other too long and all of a sudden she is too far in front. Pretty much, that is the way all Olympic marathons are run. They kind of start easy and then somebody makes a break and then late in the race it is competition so we went over a ton of strategies of what could happen, but we never dreamed that somebody could run that fast in those conditions. Nobody did and I can tell you because the athlete is back in Flagstaff and we talked at length about the race and he said – everybody was confused. Everybody got into this event and they got a mile into it – looked at their watch and said – what is going on? This is crazy. But – they are the medals – they are going away from you. What are you going to do? So there was a lot of decision in the men’s marathon and we had predicted that and most predictions were that the men’s marathon would be won between two hours and 11 minutes and 2 hours and 13 minutes. Now, the world record now is 2 hours and 4 minutes so it is a significant reduction in time and we thought probably a medal would be 2:15 or 2:16 and top ten would probably be 2 hours and 20 minutes. Well, the guy went out at 2:04 pace. He went out world record pace. They were running 2:06 pace even through 10K and so it totally destroyed what everybody thought was going to happen in the race and it made a lot of people have to make decisions and as a coach you want your athlete not to have to make a whole lot of decisions in races. You want them just to react and so strategy was really hard for that race and what I am very interested in is we have always kind of banked on how these races have been run, but did we just see a change in how the Olympic marathon is run? It has never been run that aggressive – it has never been run with such surges of pace and I don’t know if that happens in swimming, but every now and then somebody – an athlete comes along that completely changes how races are run. You probably saw the 100 meters – my goodness – what are you going to do? I mean – the guy is phenomenal so these are the things that are tough and I am sure that is what everybody outside the US is saying about what Michael Phelps did. What do we have to do? So the men’s marathon was – it was very stressful to watch – I can tell you that.
Q. The US marathoners seem to be all training altitude, but how are they training specifically for humidity that they will face when they get to an Athens or a Beijing?
Q/A: the question is I think almost everyone of our Olympic marathoners on the US team lives and trains at altitude and how could they possibly get ready for the conditions that they faced in Beijing which are hot and humid and what we thought were going to be very polluted ended up not to be. The answer is the pre-Olympic training camp. The USA track and field had a camp in Dallion, China and the research has shown that if you spend basically 10-21 days in a hot a humid environment your body will begin to have the changes that are advantageous to competing in hot and humid environments. It is still going to be problematic, but you will sweat earlier and your sweat is more dilute – it does not affect you as much so that is how the athletes addressed that was to go to a hot, humid environment for a short amount of time to get the body sort of tricked into performing and then you hope that you have made the appropriate calculation and adjustment for those conditions on race day – like I said – the winner and the group that went with him certainly kind of threw a big nail in our plan.
Q/A: The question is conversions of training at sea level to training at altitude or competitive times and does that change the longer you live at altitude – that is a debate. A lot of coaches who live and train at altitude will say eventually there is not much difference – which athletes can perform very similar times. Most people sat that is not possible. What I have seen in the time that I have been in altitude and I have been training athletes at altitude for five years is that they certainly move toward sea level times so they have less of an adjustment as they live and train there and even compete there, but I can never see – certainly at 7,000 feet being able to approach the times that we can run. We have a set of adjustments that we use at different altitudes. The NCAA in track and field gives an adjustment based on the location of a performance and for Northern Arizona University which is in Flagstaff – we have a base adjustment for that and what I am seeing are these athletes can – you know – that adjustment gets smaller as they stay there, but it seems like it would be hard to compete at sea level times.
Q/A: The question is related to specificity of training – if you are trying to run a world record in the marathon, can you train at that pace at altitude and the answer is yes because marathon pace is not that fast – it seems fast to us, but relatively speaking it is not that fast of a pace. The lactate level isn’t that fast so you can run at marathon pace even with these guys trying to run world record marathon pace – you can do that at altitude – you just can’t do it as long, so what a lot of athletes do is they break it up into segments. Make it repeats with intervals in between so instead of doing say 12 miles at marathon race pace – you might do 2 X 6 miles or 4 X 3 miles – something like that with a short break in order to be able to make that specific pace sort of engrained in the body. Some people do like down hill running as well so if you can find a long gradual down hill where you can run a little bit faster, but marathon pace is something that is very doable at altitude – you just can’t do it for as long as you can at sea level.
Q/A: The question is how much time or percent of training do we work on neuromuscular efficiency and injury prevention. In our sport a survey was done a few years ago and 2/3 of runners and this would be all runners – are injured every year to the point that it interrupts their training – 2/3’s – that is crazy so for us, with the athletes we work with – what we call pre-hab so we do pre-hab so we don’t have to do rehab plays a very important role. Part of that is our neuromuscular training which we use certain workouts for that and then a very large part is our ancillary training – our pre-hab training work. Twice a week we do a circuit together and then we have physiotherapists and massage therapists and biomechanists that the athletes see on a regular basis to continue to help them be better. The way I focus on it and I think this is a good way to think about it – even in swimming – I try to build them into a complete athlete. I figure the better athlete will be a better runner and I bet that is the way in swimming too – the better athlete is stronger – the fitter – the athlete is more balanced – more coordinated – that athlete typically has a better chance of performing well and also staying healthy because in an endurance sport – if you can just stack week after week – month after month – year after year – that is where you see the improvements. I thing swimming is interesting – like I said – because a lot of swimmers begin much younger than runners do – training for their sport, so endurance sports it seems like it is 10-15 years of quality training before you reach your peak so in swimming you might see athletes starting at what? 8 or 10 years old – maybe a little younger? And that is why you see a lot of the great swimmers are in there early 20’s. Distance runners – at least in Western cultures – do not start until they are 16 or 17 like I did in high school so we see our athletes aren’t their best until they are 28-32 and that is why you have got to put in that time. I wish we started earlier. If you look at a lot of African countries which dominate endurance running right now – those athletes are training – they do not train, but their lifestyle is training – maybe you have to walk and run everywhere you go — that is training, but that begins at a younger age and that is why we see those athletes being able to perform at their best in their early 20’s whereas we are much more in their later 20’s so that pre-hab training is important to us.
Q/A: The question is basically you know if we talk about East Africa and in there they are training when they are not training, but yet that training allowed them to be great – what could we do in the US to mimic that? Could we look at our altitude cities and say well those are our athletes we should be pointing toward as opposed to bringing sea level athletes up and it is very difficult because while East Africans dominate – they don’t dominate just because they ran to school and they don’t dominate just because they are little people and their genetics are good and they don’t dominate just because of a lot of different factors – there is one big factor that you have to remember and that is that in Kenya for example – the average household salary of the year is $1,000. US dollars – $1,000, US dollars so when you come to win the Boston marathon and you win $130,000 – that is 130 years of salary. Now if you are a US guy and you win the Boston marathon you win $130,000 and that is three years of salary – we say $40,000. Is the average annual income so there is a huge motivation as well and so there is this really interesting mix of how do you find that and it kind of gets back to that flipping the switch? We have an athlete in our program that grew up in Colorado Springs. He has had a pretty easy adaptation to training at 7,000 feet so I am very excited to see what he does, but there is this whole mix of what makes a great athlete? Where are you going to find these? In the US Track and Field – the high performance division which is sort of our how do we put people on the podium – their basic mantra is we have a country of over 300 million people and we are very diverse and out of that we have to have a small group that have the same genetic characteristics as the people who are winning and this is probably applicable to every sport. We have to have that in our country, but how can we identify them? We don’t have a good identification program for athletes – certainly in track and field. We allow the best to rise and then we say – oh they are great – let’s take them and give them support, but how do we start with the younger people? That is a great question.
Q/A: Yeah, Arthur Lydiard sort of pyramid and was one of the first to use true periodization in running – again – you don’t just go and run a mile every day to be a good miler. That revolutionized the sport of distance running and it is pervasive as to how that – now – everyone tweaks it a little bit, based on their particular situation, but the concept of general conditioning before moving to more race specific training is throughout distance running for sure and we do it slightly differently because our competitive opportunities are different these days. We have more competitive opportunities – the basic – the fundamentals are still the same.
Q/A: The question is – if we don’t have a good identification system – at least in the sport of running – where does it start? I believe it starts in the school system with younger athletes – it is probably no different than swimming where you have athletes that are joining clubs at a younger age. We need that in the sport of running. A great example – I grew up in the country in Tennessee. I shouldn’t have been a good runner. Why would I be? I grew up in the country in Tennessee – what opportunities are there? But in our school system they had what they called County-wide Field Day and this was awesome. So in PE class you went and you did all of the skills that you were going to have to do in the County-wide Field Day so it was the standing broad jump, the softball throw, the 100 yard dash, all these things that you would do and so we did those and the people at each elementary school who performed well, then you would represent your school in this competition. Well, the coaches would simply go and watch that. The football coaches – the tennis coaches – the track coaches – they would watch and they would see these young athletes that were second grade, third grade, fourth grade compete and you watch little kids compete it is pretty easy to figure out who are the ones that you want to see. Who are the ones that fight? Not physically fight, but who try – even when the going gets tough – they try. Who are the ones that just simply have a natural skill set to do things and that is where I was spotted and then the track coach just came up to me and he said, hey why don’t you come out and he had already seen it. There was already this try-out even though we didn’t know it. In our country obviously we are doing away with a lot of physical education and opportunities for children to be athletic – it doesn’t have to be competition, but to be athletic and I feel if we had better opportunities for athletes to do a variety of things in a competitive, but non-sort of organized way – I think we would be able to identify those athletes. However, you still have to have the athlete that is motivated. You have got to have the switch to get flipped. Now being good at something is the first start because we typically like to do the things we are good at. I am terrible at swimming. You probably know that I am getting the switch flipped on me, right? But you have got to find a way to get athletes involved in sports where they have success and maybe that switch will flip and all of a sudden they keep developing – in my opinion of course – other people have different opinions.
Q/A: This is my idea – so it is exactly the same thing – what if we gave awards in the sport of running that were based on your average national salary so it would be sliding, right? So if you were – yeah – it would be exactly like that so if you won the Boston marathon you would win 5 million dollars. There would be a lot more people trying to win the Boston marathon if you won 5 million dollars. Yes? It is also the avenue out of which is the socio-economic incentive because if your buddy down the street comes back from the US or Europe and all of a sudden he owns everything. I worked with one athlete through Dr. Rosa and he is a gadazillionaire – he is not Bill Gates, but he is pretty darn close to it and I say – why do you keep doing this and he said, I want more. I mean – there is a lot of motivation there so you have to find that perfect mix I think. One more question –
Q/A: The question is – at altitude is there a difference in life-expectancy? In general – 6 months – 180 days. If you look at it purely from a red blood cell and this is related to the other gentleman’s question is – is it just physiological parameters or blood parameters and it is not. There are other adaptations that occur that have longer and shorter life span so to speak for performance.
Q/A: The question are there any running events people compete for similar time durations as swimmers that live and train at altitude. A lot of them use it, but they do not live and train at it which is kind of like swimmers. Most swimmers don’t live and train at altitude, but they use it. I think it is somewhat related to the demands of the event. What are the demands and limitations of the event and if you’re performing an event that lasts 25 seconds – the energy systems required are different than if you are doing for 2 minutes and certainly if you are doing it for 15 minutes – the demands are a little bit different and as you shift toward longer events the aerobic component becomes a larger limiting factor and I think that is what people are looking at is – if I have to swim for 25 seconds there is a certain energy – which would be similar to like running 200 meters in track. There is a certain set of limitations and demands that I need to meet and so the training is often focused more toward that.
Q/A: I know some which is a lot of the time frame. Most of them came for four weeks at a time and then they would go down or back to Japan for 1-4 weeks and then they would come back up and each coach is a little bit different in how they like to cycle it. It also is related to the swimmers competitive opportunities and their demands in their home country.
Q/A: I understand what you are saying. The question relates again to going down and competing from altitude and again – I think – in my opinion it has a lot less to do with the adaptations physiologically that occur at altitude – whether it be an increasing red blood cell mass or some of the other things they are talking about and there is some new research that came out – talking about heavy leg syndrome which is typically what runners feel in that 4-7 day and it is somewhat related to fluid shifts because when you go to altitude, if you guys came with me to Flagstaff you would experience a large fluid shift in your blood. You would increase a lot more plasma volume because the thickness of your blood would go up because you produce more red blood cells so I am wondering and I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t think that anyone does, but my thinking is that it may be related to the fluid shifts and less with mitochondria and red blood cells – I think those give you give you the capability to perform better, but why you feel bad – I think may be more related to maybe fluid shifts or possibly something we don’t even know. I mean – the brain – we don’t know that much about the brain.
Q/A: Part of buffering lactate or at least that system of removing it is oxygen dependent and so if you have lowered oxygen then that pathway is reduced. That ability is reduced and for us – we do 1 ½ to 2 times longer recovery at altitude than we do at sea level so if we normally recover for 400 meters or one lap of the track we typically recover for 600 or 800. In any event any repetition lasting under two minutes we can pretty much run the same as sea level. It is when we get longer that we have reductions in our training time.
Q/A: Testosterone levels for men training at altitude – is there an effect? I don’t know. We don’t even measure it in what we do. No, I don’t know.
Thank you guys so much – I appreciate it.