February 26, 2017

When it comes to developing a race rhythm for 300/400m hurdlers, that can be a very tricky thing, particularly when dealing with athletes who may not be in condition to do the more demanding workouts that such development would entail. Earlier today I was working with a high school junior who ran a personal best in the 49-mid range last year, before I started working with her. Last week I had her do a workout in which she cleared the first four hurdles of the 300h race from a block start. Her reps were decent but erratic. She was fatiguing by hurdle three, and hanging on for dear life by hurdle four. 

It became evident that she wasn’t yet ready for such race-specific, stride-pattern-development type of work, so this week I took a different approach to ease her into the process of establishing an early-race stride pattern. Instead of going over four hurdles, we’d just go over three. And instead of a block start, we’d use a standing start.

In this workout, I had her clear the last three hurdles of the 300h race, starting at the 100m start line, and clearing what would be hurdles 6, 7, and 8 in a race, and then crossing the finish line. My athlete, Scout, took a 12-step approach from the 100m start, and then took 18 strides between hurdles the rest of the way. Because we had done a lot of drilling prior to this part of the training session, I only had her do four reps. The aim was for her to stay consistent with her stride pattern the whole way. On her first rep, she took 19 steps to the last hurdle. I instructed her to keep her hands high, to not let them drop. As someone with the ability to alternate, it’s easy for her to become complacent and just lead with whichever leg comes up. But taking 19 steps that early in a race (at what would be hurdle three) would lead to 20-stepping later in the race, which we absolutely do not want.  

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February 25, 2017

I’m a big believer in the importance of good, compatible training partners. For a hurdler, having another hurdler to train with can be as important as having an effective coach. When two hurdlers of similar ability levels and work ethics train together, they can further each other’s progress in ways that the coach couldn’t have predicted. Last week, a hurdler that I used to coach regularly when I was living in Raleigh, NC came by for a training session, joining another hurdler that I currently coach here on the Charlotte side of the state. Both athletes – Alex Nunley and Mike Garrett – are youth hurdlers at the top of the 13-14-year-old age group, preparing to compete at the indoor Junior Olympic Nationals in New York this coming March.

For that day’s workout, the main item on my agenda was to have them get in some starts together. Neither of them has a training partner who can push them in the hurdles, so I needed to make sure I took advantage of this opportunity to have them push each other.

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February 22, 2017

Hurdle Drilling and Block Starts

All hurdle coaches have their “go to” drills that they like to use most frequently with their athletes. My personal preferences have evolved over the years, but one that has been a mainstay since I started using it about twenty years ago is the quick-step drill, which involves setting up anywhere from 4-10 hurdles spaced 18-21 feet apart (females) or 21-24 feet apart (males). The athlete approaches the first hurdle from a standing start, usually with a six-step run-up to the hurdle, speeding up the last three strides. Then he or she continues to maintain the quick tempo between the rest of the hurdles. I love this drill because it can serve so many purposes, depending on how many reps I want the athlete to do, and how much recovery time I want him or her to have between reps and sets. The drill, when done as a workout, can help to address technical flaws, can also serve to ingrain the race rhythm into the athlete’s muscle memory, and can also serve as a very good hurdle-endurance workout. Not to mention, it also strengthens the muscles the athlete uses to clear the hurdles.

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June 20, 2016

A little bad news / good news. The bad news is that I’ve taken down the biography of Rodney Milburn from the website. The good news has to do with the reason why I’ve taken it down: I have found a publisher who has expressed interest in publishing the book. So, obviously, if I want people to buy the book, I can’t have it available for free. I’ll keep you posted through this blog on the progress /  process of publication. This will be my first time through as a published author (except for a self-publishing venture about fifteen years ago), so I will be learning the process as I go.

The story of Rodney Milburn is a remarkable one, an inspiring one, and it is one that needs to be told on as large a stage as possible. Hopefully this publication opportunity will serve to do just that – keep alive the memory and legacy of one of the greatest hurdlers who ever laced up a pair of spikes.

November 14, 2015

Cycle Arm Practice

Last month I posted about the new cycle arms style that I’ve been experimenting with. In that video, I tried to demonstrate the style myself, but it was not a very good rendition. Keare Smith, the athlete that I was working with last summer on the cycle arms style, has started working on it on his own while training in New York City. The clip at the end of this post shows three reps of him going over three 39” hurdles, spaced at regular race distance, moving at the warm-up 5-step pace.

The key thing to look at in regard to identifying the style is the trail arm, or what is traditionally called the trail arm. For Keare, that is his right arm; from the head-on angle of the first two hurdles, that would the arm to the viewer’s left. If you watched my previous video, “Cycle Arms,” where I explained the style in detail, you’ll remember that the trail arm is meant to function in the same way as the lead arm. So, the first thing you’ll want to look for – and it will probably look odd – is that the trail arms cycles down (instead of punching up) as the athlete descends off the hurdle.

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October 17, 2015

I just posted a long video on my YouTube page explaining a hurdling style that I’ve been experimenting with off and on over the past few years. Since starting my new job teaching English at a school near Charlotte, NC, much of my energy has been focused on teaching, and I haven’t been spending nearly as much time coaching. The fact that my new school has no track and has a very small track team has further put things on pause. The positive side of that though is that it’s given me more freedom to experiment without the pressure of getting athletes ready for races. So, the style I’ve been working on, which I call “cycle arms,” focuses on having the arms cycle (instead of thrusting up and down) in the same manner that the legs cycle. The cycling action doesn’t just take place over the hurdles, but in every stride. Once you’ve had a chance to watch the video, let me know your thoughts by posting on my facebook page. The link for that is on the right-hand side of the home page of this website.

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June 9, 2015

An article in this month’s Hurdle Magazine (which comes out June 14th) will feature a training session with an athlete who needed help breaking the habit of kicking out her lead leg. Here’s a snippet of that article, which is entitled “Learning to Cycle:”

Nadia 4On top of the hurdle, Nadia’s lead leg remains bent so that she can properly cycle it, and then cycle the trail leg as well. A lot of hurdlers will flatten out their lead leg at this point in clearance and try their best to “skim” the crossbar along the length of the entire leg. That’s not what we want to do. We want to create a downhill angle like we have here, so that we are coming DOWN on the hurdle, and will therefore be able to come off the hurdle faster than we went into it. You can also see that Nadia’s forward lean is more pronounced, as she pushes her chest down over her lead leg thigh, minimizing her airtime, pushing herself back to the ground. I’ve always said that the lean is not just about hurdle clearance, but even more importantly about creating speed off the hurdle. Meanwhile, Nadia’s trail leg is in excellent position, with the knee facing the front and the toe cocked to avoid contact with the barrier. The lead arm is crossing the body, but if that’s as far across as it goes, then she’ll be okay.

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May 17, 2015

I recently received an email from Michael Daniels of Baton Rouge, LA. Daniels went to high school with Rodney Milburn, the 1972 Olympic champion in the 110 hurdles. A biography that I wrote on Milburn, The Quiet Champion, is available to read on this website.

Daniels is the project leader of the J.S. Clark Memorial Walkway in Milburn’s hometown of Opelousas, LA. (J.S. Clark is the name of the high school Milburn attended; it no longer exists). A bust of Milburn will be a feature of the project. The bust is already completed, and was sculpted by DJ Dawden of Utah. Clark says that, “like all of us, Dawden felt a kinship to Rodney. I sent him about 10 pics. He did a composite using those and he added the gold medal. All of Rodney’s family cried when we had the unveiling.”

Below are photos of the bust, of the walkway, as well as some vintage pics from Milburn’s high school, college, and professional days.

Milburn lives!

Milburn Bust 1

Not-quite-completed bust of Rodney Milburn

Milburn Bust 2

Completed bust of Milburn

Milburn Bust 3

Completed bust of Milburn, from a different angle.

Milburn Bust 4

J.S. Clark Memorial Walkway in its current stage of development. Notice the hurdle in the middle, the bust of Milburn to the left.

Milburn Arms

Milburn clearing a wooden hurdle on the field at J.S. Clark High School in 1967. The school’s wooden hurdles were made by the shop class.

Milburn JSClark

Milburn (far left) races against teammates on the grass field at J.S. Clark.

Milburn Paxton

Milburn (third from left) with his high school coaches. I’m not sure who all of them are, but the one on the far left is Claude Paxton.

Milburn MOC

Milburn receives his award after winning the Louisiana Meet of Champions in 13.9.

Milburn Davenport

Milburn (middle) with 1968 Olympic champion and fellow Southern University hurdler Willie Davenport (left) and another Southern U. teammate.

Milburn UTEP

Milburn relaxing at the track. Not sure where or when this one is from.

Milburn Blocks

Milburn showing his start technique. Not sure of the where or when of this one either.

April 15, 2015

At my new teaching job I gave the students an extra credit assignment that involved writing a one-page response to an episode of Spike TV’s reality show “Coaching Bad.” If you haven’t seen it, it features a group of about six coaches from various sports (including one track coach) and shows how they have serious anger issues and control issues and can be very abusive to their athletes. The host is former NFL star Ray Lewis, who tries to get the coaches to see the errors of their ways, and tries to get them to change for the better.

So I was reading through my students’ responses, when I came across a line in one of them in which the student referred to one of the coaches as a “very bad coacher.” Coacher? At first I thought it must’ve been a typo, but then I realized that this student, who had no athletic background whatsoever, assumed that “coacher” was the right word to identify someone who coaches. When I returned the papers I asked him about it, and he said “Yeah, coacher.”

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April 8, 2015

Well it’s official, Liu Xiang has retired from track and field. For many of us who have followed the men’s 110m hurdles over the past decade or so, this is a very sad day, even though we could see it coming. For the past several years, injuries to his Achilles and ankle have slowed him down severely, limiting him to very few competitions.

When I look back on Liu’s career, several defining moments come to mind, beginning with his Olympic victory in 2004, when he dominated the race, defeating silver medalist Terrence Trammell by almost a full three tenths of a second. Then there was the world record race in 2006, when he ran 12.88 and Dominque Arnold broke the American record, finishing second in 12.90. And there were a whole lot of other races where Liu ran against the best and came out on top amongst the likes of Allen Johnson, Dayron Robles, and many others.

Where Liu stands in the pantheon of all-time greats is open to debate. With an injury-shortened career, he didn’t have the longevity of a Johnson or a Greg Foster or Colin Jackson. But for me, Liu’s status has more to do with his mastery of the event than with his achievements. In my eyes, when it comes to technical precision and executing near-flawless races time and time again, Liu is the best there ever was.

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