Friday, August 15, 2008

Owen Anderson, The Educated Runner

Owen Anderson, Phd.
It's been 16 years since Owen Anderson was named best running journalist by the Road Runners Club of America. During that interval Anderson has traveled to Kenya (5 times in all) to study Kenyan runners, has published 3 books with a fourth in progress and has contributed to a number of publications including Running Research News, Runners World, Running Times and National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Anderson has developed a peerless reputation for discovering the latest scientific research in exercise and physiology, processing it, and writing about it with enough humor and concrete examples to make the findings both useful and enjoyable to interested runners and coaches. In addition, Anderson is a good enough runner to experience first hand what he is writing about. For example, in an article "In the Halls of the Mountain Kings" published in April 1993, Anderson lived and trained with the Kenyan national cross country team in their national camp at St. Marks College near Embu Kenya to research his article. The result was a remarkable article that made the reader feel like they too were resident in the camp during the lung burning sessions. Andersons latest project is a new website dedicated to giving runners "an advanced degree in training, sports nutrition and injury prevention" called "The Educated Runner": In addition, Anderson is is also currently coaching other runners and working on a fourth book for Human Kinetics Publishing entitled "The Science of Running". Anderson believes the 700-page, 45-chapter volume will serve as the ultimate reference for runners who are "interested in upgrading their training and performances."

We recently talked to Owen for his thoughts on two of the most popular topics of discussion for cross-country runners-- hills and developing a kick.

Owen, you've always been a big proponent of hill training, can you tell us why?
Hill training is great because it is the most-specific form of running-specific strength training. You're working against gravity with your own body weight as resistance, and you are actually running, making the gains in strength very specific to running. The neuromuscular patterns are not exactly the same as those which prevail during flat-ground running, but they are closer than those associated with most traditional strength-training movements. In addition, hill training raises oxygen-consumption rate and elevates blood lactate significantly during the uphill surges, effects which should lead to higher VO2max and faster lactate-threshold running speed. Hill training has also been connected with enhanced running economy. Combined, the upgrades in economy and VO2max should lead to an upswing in VO2max, one of the best single predictors of running performance.

What do you think is the best way for a runner to improve his or her kick?
Anderson: To improve kicking power, the most-basic thing a runner can do is to improve his/her fitness. I'm not trying to be a wise guy: If your lactate threshold, vVO2max, running economy, and fatigue-resistance have been upgraded properly via high-quality training, you will be able to sustain quality paces for longer periods of time - and you will have more reserve when you want to "turn on the jets" at the end of a race. You can specifically train to kick, too, by carrying out longer, fatiguing, high-quality intervals (600s, 800s, maybe even 1000s) which then have a blistering 200 tacked on at the end. Fundamentally, of course, you improve your kick by upgrading your maximal running speed (your average pace over, say, 100-300 meters, during a maximal effort). This is something that most endurance runners simply don't do. When their race times get faster, it is because they can sustain paces with which they are already familiar over a longer period of time, not because they have raised the "top end" running speed to the sky. To augment max speed, it is necessary to carry out lots of very intense running, to follow a program of running-specific strength training which progresses into explosive strength training with lots of high-speed drills which mimic the mechanics of running, and also to carry out downhill sprinting (which shortens the deceleration phase of contact and gets runners into the acceleration phase of stance more quickly; this elevates stride rate without hurting stride length, a key way to raise max speed).

Written by Jack Heath