© Copyright – 2012 – Athletics Illustrated

The Science of Running is a popular blog-site kept up by author Steve Magness, who writes science-based running and training articles. Roughly once per month we produce an interview with him to talk about his latest studies and findings, we name it the “Magness Report”. This is Magness Report number four.

Magness is an assistant coach with Jackie Areson at the University of Houston, his alma mater. Previously he was an assistant coach at Nike Oregon Project, leading up to the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Magness ran in the NCAA for Rice University and the University of Houston. Currently he coaches professional runners Jackie Areson, who has run as fast as 4:12 in the 1500m and owns a 5k personal best time of 15:14. He also coaches Sara Hall and Tommy Schmitz. Schmitz owns an 800m personal best time of 1:49 and a 1500m best of 3:39.

Christopher Kelsall: In a recent article at The Science of Running, you posted a slideshow from a talk you gave regarding long-term development of athletes. One slide is labeled “Principles of Long Term Development”. The second point reads: Start at the extremes. Could you explain what you mean by starting at the extremes?

Steve Magness: It’s a well-known concept in distance running that we need to build a base.  You have to build a foundation if you want to develop anything off of it.  Most of the time we think of a base is just lots of mileage.  I think the base is more encompassing.  We need a structural, biomechanical, neural, and aerobic base.  So by extremes, I mean build a foundation from both sides (over and under distance).  That means traditional mileage, long runs, etc. but also pure speed work, form work, etc. on the complete opposite side of the spectrum.

CK: Pure speeds as in alactic strides, done weekly?

SM: For the most part yes.  I like using short sprints once a week during the base phase.  So initially I might start with 8sec long hill sprints and then progress to some combination of 60-80m sprints on the track.  We start off with hill sprints because it increases the strength component and decreases the injury risk.

CK: In regards to form work do you mean good old fashioned A/B drills, just watching the athlete or learning something like the Pose Method – sort of form work?

SM: Pose is crap.  I kind of hate A/B drills for working on form.  They are good for warming up, but not form.  I’m just talking about watching people run, watch them sprint, and cue different things.  It’s not complex, just good old fashioned biomechanics.

CK: When you said, “crap,” did you mispronounce “Copyright”?

SM: That’s right; I’m not certified to teach the “proper” way to run…

CK: Speaking of certified crap, did you get much of a reaction from your article, “My Interactions with Lance Armstrong”?

SM: I did, it kind of blew up, but in some ways not the reaction I expected. The piece was about Lance, because what he did goes beyond sport.  It’s one thing to dope and trick your competitors and the fans, but it’s another to lie to those who suffer from a horrible disease, and to go on the offensive and ruin the lives of those people who stood up and told the truth.  It makes his case unique among the many doping cases.

CK: What really do you think was driving him to apologize on Oprah? Firstly, even the most conniving, controlling and sociopathic bully recognizes that age has caught up to him and he cannot possibly compete at a world-class level again, drugs or no drugs.

SM: I think that statement and the Oprah interview gives insight into him as a person.  I’m not going to psycho-analyze him, but it is fascinating in a weird way.  I think the apology was there because he was backed into a wall.  What’s concerning to me is that it wasn’t a full apology.  He was still trying to manipulate the public by not admitting to certain things because they were still under the statute of limitations.

CK: He couldn’t be so delusional to think sponsors would come back does he?

SM: I don’t think normal logic applies.  When crazy things like this happen, there is a tendency to apply normal logic to it, and I don’t think you can.  He’s shown unbelievable arrogance, and my bet is he thinks he could salvage it.  Why else would you have a planned half-complete apology?

CK: No idea. So with your analysis of Jackie Areson’s ground contact time and pronation as influenced by type of shoe and orthotics, did you come up with a conclusion regarding the usefulness of the orthotics on pronators? After all pronating is natural, as you state.

SM: Orthotics don’t simply work like is traditionally believed.  You don’t have a uniform reaction to it.  Each person, shoe, etc. are all different.  So in terms of “pronation” and orthotics, I think it’s a misnomer.  Pronation isn’t an evil thing.  We all do it, and we are meant to do it.  It’s an easily seen/measured variable so therefore it gets a lot of publicity.  If pronation was evil, then everyone would be wearing orthotics or heavy trainers.  But the fact is that was trainers are built or the way orthotics work isn’t going to reduce pronation.  Jackie’s results showed that pretty clearly.

CK: How is the varsity team’s (U of Houston) indoor season going? How does the outdoor season look from today’s perspective?

SM: It’s going well.  I’m not a big fan of indoors.  It’s too tough to peak and it makes for a really long season doing cross-country, indoor, and outdoor.  So we kind of look at indoors as a stepping stone for outdoors.  Our standout performance so far for indoors has definitely been Anthony Coleman.  He ran an 800m PR of 1:51.33, which beat his outdoor PR by a bit.  On the women’s side, we’ve had some nice PR’s in the longer stuff, so we’re coming along pretty well. We’ve got a great middle-distance group and outdoors I’m really looking forward to some stellar 800-1500m times and distance relays.  I really think we have what it takes to have four guys at or under 1:50 this outdoor season.

CK: Is anyone going to the Millrose Games?

SM: No Millrose.  We’ll play it kind of low-key until conference, then get ready for outdoors and big races at Mt. Sac and Penn Relays!

CK: Steve, what are you working on at The Science of Running that might interest our readers?

SM: I’ve got a lot of articles about half-way done, so there’s a lot in store.  One of my particular favorites is an article that looks at the genetics of running.  There’s a big battle over whether East Africans are genetically superior or not, so I’m doing a little blog looking at why studies might be going about trying to answer this question in the wrong way, and then looking at how environmental factors might affect things epigenetically.  I really think that plays a bigger role.


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