Saturday, July 4, 2009

Beck-McGee Raw Feed

A recent interview by Kevin Beck with coach Bobby McGee:

What is your general feeling about localized elite training groups, such as the Hansons, the Mammoth Lakes crew, ZAP Fitness, and so on?
  • Know little about them in terms of detail.
  • ZAP seems to have a great set-up, good guest speakers. I hope the model thrives. Really it's the only way to go if we want consistently high level performances. I used to believe in a national model, a master plan sort of approach, but all the champions came from a private little group of experts. Now I think a national model works in terms of TID and standardization of stats and performance parameters, so that we can find what's working and whatnot . . . basically the US system seems to be going in the right direction, something like USA swimming where US coaches really are cross-pollinating, because they want the US to do well, not just their athletes.
  • I like the old-school tough approach of these groups as well. There is no way around it -- making a living coaching amateurs, or age-groupers as I call them now that I work with so many triathletes, is a question of keeping their specific goals in mind and giving them training that will optimize their time-commitment, but will not hurt them . . . in other words they'll get better, but perhaps not be the best they can be, because that would increase the injury risk significantly. The elite finds his or her limit by crashing up against it; the amateur cannot do that. To succeed at the highest level these groups need to be ballsy -- I like the unrepentant runningness of their approach -- it harks back to the '70s approach -- not everyone is tough enough to be a real runner.
  • The Hanson Project is great inasmuch as they have both approaches -- tough pro training that shows when they race and that logical, "get-to-the-start-line-in-one-piece" approach to the recreational runners with their max of 16 miles long run.
Top coaches in other parts of the country often have to sell their product, so to speak, because the environment may not have the best conditions (think Rochester Hills, MI) or simply may not be home and my therefore strike runners as remote (think Blowing Rock, NC). On the other hand, Boulder has so many bodies and so much talent that it may be almost chaotic. How would you say your environment has shaped what you do as compared to how you might operate in some randomly chosen neutral place, like New Hampshire?
  • Boulder IS chaotic -- the elites are fractured in terms of training together and the sub-elites have an interesting conundrum, their either join a bunch of pros and invariably blow up 25% into the training, or they race really well and never win anything local when the pros show up, but they have great PRs. The true average runner and triathlete is often intimidated in this community, because a 40-year old female, who runs sub 18min for 5km at altitude would often win outright in a local race in middle America and that includes men. Here she might win her age-group! You find people who train here, live here, but never race here -- it's too demoralizing for them!
  • I "grew up" in a province in South Africa that was not a running power house -- not so many black runners and at sea-level in a Mediterranean climate that offered so much in terms of other recreation, that few great runners emerged from there. So when I started coaching school kids (I was a teacher for 12 years), they dominated locally and ran into a freight train when they hit nationals. I learned quickly that in order for them to succeed at the highest level I had to simulate national competition standards early and downplay their local dominance. While I coach the individual, when it comes to the pro I coach the highest standard we might think they may race at. With Boulder I came here bringing top runners and coached here -- but over time, I became more of a consultant to the next generation of runners and coaches as a part of what I did moved to helping US athletes in the triathlon -- I arrived here having coached Africans -- so in a way I was spoiled. The gold medal had not yet shown up, but there were already sub 4min milers, sub 1:50 800m runners, sub 8min 3km boys and low 13:30 5km times. 2:08 was not fast to me in the marathon and sub 50 15kms, sub 2:30 marathons and sub 70min half marathons for women I had been around. So I think I was more established already, but being a foreigner, coaching foreign athletes and not having had any kind of collegiate coaching start, I was out on my own -- only later did I hang out a shingle to coach US athletes.
How much of your time is spent on working with people who would be considered "pack runners" (or triathletes) as compared to that you spend working with elites?
  • Nowadays, handling the whole training process of a pro is rare for me (only Carrie Messner now), I help US triathlon coaches especially with run training, running mechanics, and sport psychology. I do more of the full spectrum work with the amateur nowadays.
What led you to become a coach? Better still, what did you do athletically in the years before getting off the ground as a mentor?
  • I guess I knew from the start that I was not world class material -- my class mates, when studying physical education, were either national class sportsmen already, or aspired to that -- I wanted to coach from the start, especially when I went back post-grad during my teaching years. I rand and won some at school -- 4:16ish 1500m I think, on the grass at altitude, broke 2:00 for 800m, then as a recreational runner while coaching sneaked under 17 for 5km and 34 high for 10km; represented my providence in Olympic distance triathlon, but truth be told the highest level of sport I achieved was at college in field hockey -- I was a goal tender, made the Military B side and my province A side. South Africa is a good field hockey nation. I really felt I had GREAT coaching mentors, loved their magic, intuition, and passion -- never really had that as an athlete, don't recall a coach who truly inspired me as an athlete other than my fathers passion for golf and other things, he always supported my interest in all sports, so I played rugby, cricket, ran cross country and track, and even a smattering of soccer in there.
Presumably running was your initial focus. Very few top running coaches seem to venture into triathlon (Pete Pfitzinger is a notable exception). How did that branching out occur?
  • Firstly, I went to triathlon as a competitor in 1986 -- I'd stopped running myself as the coaching was so demanding and I said tri was my sport -- after 12 years the guys were begging me to help them and I said that's it, I've done a long race, I swim like a brick with arms, and now I'm coaching -- I'm done! Now I play golf. Libby Burrell, currently director for the ITU Sport Development (International Triathlon Union), was a good friend and we'd studied together in the same field (and I'd coached her as a road racer). She suggested Barb Lindquist, who subsequently became the World #1 triathlete for 2 years culminating, to approach me as she was struggling with her running. I subsequently became the USAT go-to guy, especially when it came to turning triathletes who came to the sport from swimming into runners. I knew the sport, had worked with the athletes at various levels and at that time was somewhat disenchanted with how the US collegiate system seemed to be hurting their chances in international track and field by the 3-focus season approach (cc, indoor, and outdoor track), so many kids seemed to burn out and not want to compete after college and I had no influence and was helping a few US athletes try to qualify for the Olympic marathon trials with no hope of actually winning a medal at the games. The tri run coaching went well, really well and then through Athens and Beijing I felt I had really had a positive impact. A by-product was the biomechanics. I realized, when confronted by the extreme lack of natural running rhythm that I saw in the triathletes, being from Africa, that perhaps this could be taught and I set out to create a methodology to do so that I still pursue today. Being involved in public debates with the likes of Nicolas Romanov (of the POSE method) and having to back up my claims with practical, high-level results has been a challenge that I relish seeing seven kids make the Olympic team, win medals at world champs has been a thrill that falls into the realm of what I felt when runners won world road running champs, or when Josia won the Atlanta Games.
Lize Brittin, who put me in touch with you, noted that you not only coach athletes, you coach coaches. Who are some of the better-known coaches who have come to you for help, and what are they generally looking for (e.g. how to prepare people physically vs. how to prepare them mentally)?
  • I have been involved in coach education with USAT for 4+ years now, many Level I coaches, a bunch of Level IIs and three years of of Level III coaches. I have influenced some top coaches who were already top coaches before I assisted them, but some of the highest level triathlon coaches who currently apply my methodologies -- these are mostly US coaches, but there are also others who regularly report back to me that their athletes are improving as a result of applying my methodologies. So rather than having created a great coach, I believe I have helped the coaches of great athletes with some aspects of their development.
Obviously the range of endurance events you address and the facets of training and competition you deal with is close to limitless. Is there any one aspect of your experience over the years that stands out above all others in terms of the satisfaction it's provided?
  • A construct of what I have read from life coaches and sages like Rainer maria Rilke, Deepak Chopra, and Wayne Dyer, and something that I have derived from reading the works of the great South African philosopher, Laurens van der Post, is that happiness is not a life objective, but service of humanity is. A passionate, full-on, ethical life of serving is rewarded by happiness along the way. I have felt in the last 15 or so years in the world of endurance sports, that while I may not be a weathly man in terms of financial reward, I am utterly blessed with ample rewards of pure satisfaction with every level of athletes who has shown some appreciation for my contribution to their careers whether they were professionals or to the quality of their experience if they were amateurs. I fondly recall the championships won, the medals, the world records, but honestly, in professional terms, my experience is a continual litany of rewards during the process of coachin and teaching at every level. I sometimes feel guilty when I move on so quickly from an athlete coached for a specific event, a book written, an artical or seminar or workshop complete -- but there is so much to do, so much to share, so much to learn, metabolize and teach, that the high, the kick, is in the process, the constant creative doing.

1 comment:

  1. Check out the interviews with him on Endurance Corner.