Sunday, December 27, 2009

Doing the right thing

Being an observer of the sport, I follow what is going on with some/most of the top performers. I read their blogs, follow them on Twitter, it's part of the job.

One of such athletes is Sarah Groff. I never met Ms. Groff or even talked to her on email, but I've been following her career for some years. It was quite puzzling to see her form crumble when it was crunch time to get the qualification for Beijing. She strikes me as an athlete that does have what it takes to make it as a top performer, but it seems that there is that last 1% missing. Her race at the WCS Final was a good example of that. My coaching bias attributes this pattern of underachieving to her coaching options these last few years.

For all this, I was happy to read her last blog. I was happy to see that she is breaking up with an environment that is not conducive to high-performance (Colorado scene, US triathlon "coaches", etc) and go work with one of the best coaches in Triathlon, that runs a very successful squad. But above all, I was happy to see someone show the commitment it takes to do the right thing.

Very often I see athletes make terrible decisions that keep them further from achieving their goals. Very often I see athletes choose what is comfortable. Very often I see them choosing the lifestyle over the commitment to be your best. So when athletes do the right thing, they deserve to be praised. Well done Ms. Groff.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Opposite

"George : Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable, I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but ... I was perceptive. I always know when someone's uncomfortable at a party. It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I've ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every of life, be it something to wear, something to eat ... It's all been wrong."

In one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, George comes to the realization that he should try to do the opposite of everything he usually does, since what he usually does is wrong. By following this principle, his luck changes and everything begins to go his way including getting a girlfriend, a job with the Yankees and moving out of his parents' house.

I often think that most coaches should follow this principle: do the opposite of what they think is right, and maybe they will start doing things the right way. I was reminded of this principle when reading the last entries to this blog.

I would think that it would be well understood that running and walking are two distinct types of human locomotion, with different kinematics and kinetics. This difference comes from the different duration of the stance phase in the two gaits, Cappellini et al (2006). This obviously has implications when it comes to specificity of endurance. Simply put, endurance gained while walking has little to no impact in running performance, and vice-versa. This is the reason why traditionally race walkers only run during the off-season and do most of their training as race walking.

Perhaps more important is the different kinesthetic awareness that these two different modes of movement promote. While one mode (walking) promotes a long, heel-to-toe, stance period, the other (running) should promote a short stance period, since there is ample evidence that running economy is increased when support time decreases and peak forces increase.

Lastly, it seems obvious to me that if an athlete, any athlete of any level, has the time and energy, he/she should be running more, not walking. Not only walking increases overall fatigue, it doesn't promote run-specific endurance, while emphasizing movement patterns that are not related to running.

So that's my positive, constructive message for the holiday season: Do the opposite.