March 24, 2017

The transition from four-stepping to three-stepping in the 100m hurdles is one of the more difficult ones to make, and many coaches over the years have expressed frustration in trying to facilitate this process, and I have had my struggles as well. I started working with Scout, a high school junior, this past November. It’s about a 2-hour drive for her dad to bring her to where I am, so we meet as often as we can – once a week at the most. Last year, before we met, she was taking nine steps to the first hurdle in the 100h, and four steps between all the rest. So we were able to fix her start so that she can now take 8 steps to the first hurdle with ease, but the transition to 3-stepping is proving to take more time.

In the video above, I spliced together two practice reps (from separate practices) and footage from her first outdoor race, which she ran earlier this week. In the first practice rep over six hurdles, she three-steps hurdle two, then four-steps the rest. In the second practice rep, over three hurdles, she is able to three-step hurdles two and three.

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March 23, 2017

Last month I posted some practice footage featuring two youth athletes I was coaching who were preparing for USATF Youth Indoor Nationals. The two athletes, Alex Nunley and Matt Garrett, were able to get in another session together the week prior to the meet, as Alex’s parents once again made the 3-hour drive from Raleigh to the Charlotte side of North Carolina. Although I don’t have any footage from that session (sorry, I was too focused on coaching), it went very well. Alex was able to address some minor technical issues, and the practice starts they did against each other helped them both to get sharp for the meet. We started with one hurdle and worked our way up to four, with a makeshift finish line off hurdle four.

At the meet, Alex won the 55m hurdles in a 13-14 age group national record of 7.62, while Matt finished second in 7.93. I’m really eager to see what these two will do outdoors, as Alex also won the 55m dash, while Matt finished 6th in that event.

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March 20, 2017

If you’re a youth coach or a high school coach and you have prospective hurdlers who don’t have the speed to three-step right away, you find yourself dealing with the predicament that the only other option is to have them five-step, which is not really an option at all because five-steppers go so slow between the hurdles that they have no chance to be competitive. But there is another option, and that is to teach the athlete how to four-step. Of course, four-stepping means alternating lead legs, but that is a surprisingly easy skill to teach if you start teaching it when the hurdler is still new and eager to run faster. Four-stepping allows the athlete to be at least somewhat competitive right away. Also, if the long-term goal is for the athlete to three-step, then four-stepping can serve as the first stage of the process of attaining that goal. Eventually, as the athlete grows stronger and faster, the four-step will feel crowded, and the process of transitioning to three-stepping can begin. 

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February 27, 2017

One of my go-to workouts for 300/400m hurdlers is the back and forth workout on the straightaway. This is a workout I’ve used for years, and it’s one of the only ones I’ve used for so long without making any changes to it. Though it’s generally a workout I like to use in the fall as a base-building conditioning workout, I often find that I need to use it in the early part of the outdoor season for athletes who, for whatever reasons, didn’t get in enough conditioning work in the fall and winter.

  • For males the start line is the 110 start line. For females, the start line is the 100m start line.
  • Hurdles 1, 3, 5, 7,and 9 of the 100/110m hurdle race are set up at the height for the 300/400m hurdle race (30” for females, 36” for males).
  • Five hurdles are set up facing the finish line, and another five are set up right next to them, facing the start line.
  • The athlete runs over the five hurdles facing the finish line, crosses the finish line, then turns around and runs over the five hurdles facing the start line, then crosses the start line. That constitutes one complete rep.
  • From a standing start, the athlete takes 8 or 9 steps to the first hurdle, then anywhere from 7-11 strides between the rest. Faster athletes will take less strides, obviously.
  • Rest between rest should range anywhere from 3-6 minutes. The aim is for the athlete to get to a point where just 3 minutes is enough between every rep.
  • Five reps would be considered a full workout. I usually include some hurdle drilling afterwards.

This is not a full-speed workout. I call it a hurdle-endurance workout, as it is designed to build the athlete’s hurdle endurance so that race strategies that are developed later in other workouts can be executed. The workout will preferably be done in training shoes because the constant pushing off and landing can be too much on the ankles, Achilles, shins, and calves if done in spikes.

The aim of the workout is for the athlete to maintain a consistent rhythm. When having my athlete, Scout, do this workout last weekend, we were looking for her to take 8 steps to the first hurdle, and 10 between all the rest, alternating lead legs. If fatigue were to become a factor late in a rep or late in the workout, then the aim would be to change down to 11 strides. We didn’t have to do that, which means her conditioning is definitely improving. For recovery, I gave her 3 minutes rest after the first rep, 4 minutes after the second rep, 5 minutes after the third rep, and 5 minutes again after the fourth rep. The aim next time will be to start with 3 minutes, move up to 4 after the second rep, and to stay at 4 minutes for the rest of the workout.

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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 Matt 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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