Should you incorporate run drills into your training? If so, which drills and how often? In this episode, coaches Elizabeth James and Jeff Raines drill down on run drills. Learn how run drills help prepare the body for exercise, refine technique, and prevent injuries. Then get tips for executing specific plyometric drills, including recommendations for frequency and duration. Listen in to start drilling your way to increased run performance!


Intro: This is the TriDot podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile, combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries.  Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain.  We’ll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests.  Join the conversation and let’s improve together.

Andrew Harley:  Welcome to the show!  If you have not done so, and you’ve been listening for a while, hopefully enjoying what you hear, we would love for you to take a moment and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts.  Thanks in advance.  I’m excited about today!  Love them or hate them, run drills are beneficial for every triathlete, so we’ll be talking about the particulars of implementing them into your training sessions.

Joining us to talk through all this is Coach Elizabeth James.  Elizabeth is a USAT Level II and Ironman U Certified Coach who quickly rose through the triathlon ranks using TriDot--from a beginner to top age-grouper to a professional triathlete.  She is a Kona & Boston Marathon Qualifier who has coached triathletes with TriDot since 2014.  Elizabeth, thanks for joining us!

Elizabeth James:  Well, I’m just always so glad to be here. I really enjoy doing these episodes and whenever our topic is mostly about running I get especially excited.

Andrew:  Next Up is Coach Jeff Raines.  Jeff is a USAT Level II and Ironman U Certified Coach who has a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology and was a D1 collegiate runner.  He has over 40 Ironman Event finishes to his credit and has coached hundreds of athletes to the Ironman finish line. Jeff, how’s it going today?

Jeff Raines:  Oh, I’m doing well.  I’m ready to drill down on our run drill chat today Andrew.

Andrew:  I’m Andrew the average triathlete, voice of the people and captain of the middle of the pack.  As always we’ll roll through our warm up question, we’ll settle in for our main set topic of run drills, and then we’ll wind things down with our cool down. Lots of good stuff, let’s get to it!

Warm up theme: Time to warm up! Let’s get moving.

Andrew:  A theme park, like Universal Studios, Disney World, or Six Flags, wouldn’t be a theme park without a theme.  The word “theme” after all is the first word in the noun.  Theme parks of course use their “theme” to name rides and attractions as well as to break the park into sub themed sections.  If a big investor were launching a sports themed amusement park, with roller coasters, rides, attractions, food, the works!  What should the triathlon ride at the park be called?  Jeff Raines, What do you think?

Jeff:  Oh, man this is a fun one.  I love it! I was kind of immediately thinking of that big water tank and maybe Andrew or Coach John sitting on the chair above the big water tank.

Andrew:  Why does it gotta be me?  Why can’t it be you?

Jeff:  It’s gotta be you man!  And Andrew sitting on the chair and maybe there’s the word “BONK” right there on that big red, circular button.  And you throw a ball, a bonk, or empty the tank, or whatever the game is called and you throw that ball and Andrew falls into the tank of water. Maybe it's a “Hit the Wall” ride or something.

Andrew:  In this theme park you are installing a TriDot specifically, a TriDot Podcast themed dunk tank in the carnival section is what it seems.

Jeff:  Yeah!  Dunk Andrew! Bump the Dot, Bonk the Dot, Bonk...I don’t know.

Andrew:  Yeah, you’re going to be throwing a ball at a red dot on the wall and bumping the dot you bump one of the coaches into a dunk tank.

Jeff:  I just want to see you fall into a big tank of water!

Andrew:  Weird man!  I’m not going to lie.  It’s weird. That’s a very specific desire that we could make happen I suppose.  Elizabeth, what is your thought here?  A triathlon themed amusement park attraction.  What are you thinking?

Elizabeth:  We’ll keep you on the podcast Andrew.  We’ll keep you out of the amusement park.

Andrew:  Thank you!  Thank you so much!

Elizabeth:  I was more so thinking a ride called “Turbo”.  Just as a side note, I think Turbo sounds so much cooler than trainer.  So I just picture the Turbo ride in the amusement park being some really fast spinning ride kind of mimicking that bike turbo session.

Andrew:  So for those who are unfamiliar, a turbo is another word for an indoor bike trainer.  Correct?

Elizabeth:  Yes.  So I think that would be great.  The other thing that I was thinking of was like aero bars.  So a ride named like “Aerobar” and I’m thinking some crazy loop-de-loop roller coaster, up in the air.  I don’t have that one all ironed out in terms of an idea, but those were my two thoughts:  Turbo or Aeorbar.

Andrew: You know what I like about aerobar, is every triathlete remembers those first few sessions riding in aerobars and getting used to that.

Elizabeth: Oh yeah!

Andrew:  And getting used to that.  Because you can be a very seasoned road cyclist, but getting down on the elbow pads and in that crouched position and in that narrow stance, it’s weird!  It’s super weird.  It can be intimidating for people and it takes a while to get comfortable.

Elizabeth:  Feeling a little unstable at first.

Andrew:  Yeah!

Jeff:  Sort of a balancing ride.

Elizabeth:  A wild ride.

Andrew:  Yeah.  I think you could replicate that feeling by even having it be like a rollercoaster seat where you’re kind of pitched forward a little bit as if you’re in aerobars and it kind of can scream you around the rollercoaster track in that kind of position.  I can get behind that.  My idea for this—I had two ideas.  One is kind of like along the lines of Jeff Raines.  I think a fun carnival game…you know the carnival games where you all have a little squirt gun and you have to squirt your own little target and have the racehorse go across and get to the finish line first.  So take that concept and make a carnival game called the “Kona Qualifier”.  Instead of like a little horsey or something else that’s going across it’s a triathlete. So you’ve got three targets you have to hit.  So you have to help your triathlete in the carnival game get through his swim, get through his bike, and get through his run to then qualify for Kona.  So that’s my carnival game.

Jeff:  Do you really get to qualify for Kona with a two minute carnival game?

Andrew:  Yes.  Absolutely! Of course.  It’s sponsored by Ironman.

Elizabeth:  Oh, there you go!

Jeff:  Wow!

Andrew:  Yep, it’s sponsored by Ironman and everything.  Of course.  Why not? There would be a lot of people at Kona that have no idea how to do a triathlon.

Jeff:  800 dollars to play that two minute carnival game.

Andrew:  My rollercoaster idea; it’s not the most original idea of all time.  A lot of theme parks have a ride where there’s actually two coasters who’s tracks kind of intertwine.  So they’re doing loop-de-loops inside of each other and against each other and  they pass each other at different moments.  I know Universal Studios has one in Orlando.  But if you did a rollercoaster like that where there’s two separate coasters that are just on the track at the same time and call it the “Iron War.” That obviously is very…

Elizabeth:  Yeah!  Competing against one another.

Andrew:  Yeah.

Jeff:  Dave Scott and Mark Allen.

Andrew:  The famous Dave Scott, Mark Allen race.  But if you just had a rollercoaster called the “Iron War” and had it be just two coasters on their own separate tracks, different colors, just kind of crisscrossing paths a bunch of times throughout the ride...that’s my idea. So hey guys, we’re going to throw this question out to you.  We had some super random ideas here and are really curious to hear what you guys think. So go to the I Am TriDot Facebook group, find the post asking this question...What rollercoaster ride, what theme park ride, what attraction would you put in a sports themed amusement park?

Main set theme: On to the main set. Going in 3…2…1…

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Andrew:  Just like bananas are part of a quality race morning breakfast, run drills are a part of a quality run training session.  I think we all understand that drills can help refine our form, reinforce good habits, and make us a better all-around runner.  But even knowing this they take some time to do, sometimes we feel ridiculous doing them, and many of us skip them more often than we would care to admit.  So today, Jeff and Elizabeth will cover why run drills are important, what they actually do for us, and how we should execute them in our training.  So guys, let’s start off with a nuanced understanding of why we do run drills.  Jeff, tell us.  What is the benefit?

Jeff:  It’s so true what you said earlier that run drills tend to be one of the first things you cough up or “Okay it wants me to do some butt kicks, whatever.  Okay, but what’s my main set?”

Andrew:  And I say that from personal experience.

Jeff:  And myself included every now and then.  It’s also kind of the same off the bike.  You only have 60 minutes to get that bike workout in and we’ve talked about how sometimes it’s better to maybe only bike 40 minutes, get off, and now you have 20 minutes to...I say pamper yourself foam rolling in another podcast and I got some emails just saying “How is foam rolling pampering yourself? It kind of hurts sometimes.”  But doing those things…

Andrew:  Oh, but it hurts so good.

Jeff:  There you go.  It hurts so good.  Even cutting some of your main set if you have to on that run workout to really get that quality warm up that includes the run drills is such a benefit.  Why we do those run drills as part of our warm up--and you can kind of think of it this way.  We could sit there and do a whole bunch of push-ups to get our heart rate up, our core temperature up a little bit, warm up our muscles.  I guess we could even sit in a hot tub, right? And warm up our bodies before a workout.

Andrew:  We could go for a rollercoaster ride.

Jeff:  There you go, on the Iron War.  But why do we do run drills and why are they so important?  Essentially you could think of it this way--almost every sport does run drills.  Basketball players do run drills, football players, all sorts of things like that. So why run drills and why is that such a crucial part of the warm up?  What we’re trying to do is 1) increase our core body temperature, kind of wake up the range of motion, make our muscles more and more pliable.  We want to get a little jog in or warm up before we do the run drills.  But run drills, really each drill has a main purpose.  Each drill, each different one that you do, focuses on a different good aspect of our gait and our run form and we’re exaggerating that range of motion and we’re priming our body for what we’re about to do.  If we exaggerate that range of motion it can be easier when we do the main set and also if we’re already primed and have that range of motion ready to go and we exaggerate that range of motion safely then the fatigue aspect, the second half of workouts, you can go further into workouts before maybe you lose that knee drive and the cadence falls and so forth and so on and the pace falls.  It’s really honing in on trying to neuromuscularly teach our body that exaggerated movement and over time so we subconsciously improve and have that greater range of motion in our workouts.  I kind of like to have and encourage people to jog 30 or 40 yards. So let's just say you did your 5 to 10 minute zone 2 just easy jog.  You got a little sweat going and now you’re going to do your three, four, five specific run drills kind of catering to maybe something you’re working on.  Then, when you’re doing those drills, always jog it out.  So you have four or five drills maybe that you’re going to do.  Maybe you’re going to drill for 40 or 50 yards.  The second you’re done with that drill for 40 or 50 yards, immediately jog it out for another 40 or 50 yards and hopefully the good aspect of that drill kind of spills over into your running form.  If you immediately jog it out hopefully that neuromuscular pattern kind of sticks and over time, maybe in a race the last thing you’re thinking about at mile 20 of an Ironman run…

Andrew:  Is your knee drive.

Jeff:  Yeah!  “Do I have a full range of motion?  Is my stride length 1.1 or 1.0?”

Andrew:  No, you’re surviving.

Jeff:  Exactly!  So that is another big part of the warm up.  Not just warming up our body for the workout, but really trying to maintain and improve our gait.

Andrew:  Something that really stuck with me from podcast episode 80, John Mayfield and I did an interview with Evan Schwartz from Stryd.  They produce the running power meters that many of us use so Evan Schwartz from Stryd came on and explained run power, talked about run power, and one of the things he talked about when we were talking about these running drills and running warm ups, these plyometric exercises.  He referenced a study done by run coach Steve Palladino who is Evan Schwartz’s run coach, but he is also a run coach who studied run power.  What coach Steve Palladino did was he took some high school runners and he was working with them for a certain period of time, and these were high school runners who weren’t used to doing run drills in their sessions.  So Coach Palladino had them start doing run drills in their sessions and immediately their run form was better, their run splits were better, their paces were better, they were seeing just great improvement while working with him.  Then when they left his tutelage and went back to their normal high school track coach they kind of reverted back to how they were running before.  So it’s just one anecdotal study of course, but it really highlighted for him, wow!  Your brain needs those run drills to really reinforce so many things about your form and as soon as you stop doing them it allows your body to say, “Oh, that stimulus is gone.  I’m going to revert back to how I was.”  But doing those run drills cues your brain to “Oh, this is how I’m supposed to do things while I’m running.”  So a super interesting study from Steve Palladino.  If you want to hear a little bit more about it, Evan Schwartz talks about it on episode 80 when we discuss running with power.

Jeff:  Yeah, and we had another podcast episode recently just kind of getting past the plateau, or are you even truly plateauing, or maybe you were doing run drills religiously for a number of months and the last two or three assessments or your last 5K you haven’t been doing those.  Maybe that’s something to help you get past that running rut. So yeah, I kind of like that what you said.  The use it or lose it kind of a thing.  So maintaining and incorporating those religiously into your running regimen makes a huge difference.

Andrew:  Yeah, my personal 5K PR was set at a time where I was very, very much doing my run drills as often as possible and I can tell you I’ve come close to that PR since, but I haven’t hit that PR again, and I have not been as diligent in my run drills probably the last six months or so and I’m aware of that.

Jeff:  I’ve actually heard of quite a few big name coaches give credit for run drills to injury prevention almost even more so than like a performance enhancer. So doing those drills before a key, quality workout where there’s going to be intensity, you’re pushing paces harder and faster than what you’re going to do on race day especially for triathletes, these run drills are crucial for injury prevention not only as kind of a performance enhancer.

Andrew:  So tons of benefit all around.  Tons of reasons to do these.  Tons of reasons to make sure that we fit them into our schedule and don’t neglect them.  Let’s move on to talking about how and when these are best executed.  Does it matter where in a session we place these and how long should we be spending on doing run drills in our sessions?

Elizabeth:  Just to kind of jump in with that, as Raines mentioned this is an important part of the warm up.  So we’re priming the muscles for the session.  These are dynamic movements.  We’re taking the muscles through that full range of motion or even that exaggerated range of motion, and then kind of reinforcing the technique. So yes.  There is a time within the session when these are most beneficial. The TriDot athletes they’re going to see these specifically outlined and prescribed within a set.  So you’re going to jog for a little bit of the warmup, you’re going to go into the drills, and then you’re going to roll into that main set there.  How long? For me personally I’ll usually jog for about ten minutes and then spend the next 10 to 12 minutes or so on the drills ending with some strides and then kind of rolling into that main set.

Jeff:  Traditionally, kind of as a rule, you progress into run drills as you progress through the warm up regimen before your main set.  But I would even take it a step further--no pun intended there--that once every three weeks, I don’t know it’s different for everybody, but I would actually encourage you on maybe even a recovery day or even you’re just not feeling up for a bunch of zone 5 intervals or hill repeats or something super, super hard core.  Maybe it’s late in the day and you can’t get that session in and you’re thinking about skipping it.  Do I just turn it all into just a zone 2 and be safe?  So every now and then, gosh, it’s probably more beneficial and we’ve said this before, but to skip the main set of a run workout.  I would love if one of my athletes called me up, emailed me, it’s late in the afternoon, weather’s bad or whatever, can I just spend 45 minutes doing run drills?  Or just a lot of stretching?  Just kind of a lot of those types of things.  Absolutely!  They’d get cool points for doing that.  So it is okay to, every now and then, skip a main set if what you need is to really reinforce these range of motions and getting your gait right because we don’t want to get into that just becoming more efficient at being inefficient. Just spending a reset day and just spending a lot of extra time on your gait and being intentional there.  So it doesn’t always have to be part of the warm up.

Andrew:  Gotcha.  And Elizabeth I do very much what you do.  If I have a 60 minute run, I head out the door and there’s an elementary school that is seven or eight minutes down the road.  So I’ll zone 2 it to that elementary school, spend ten minutes in the corner of the parking lot at that elementary school doing back and forth across the parking spaces my run drills.  Then in eight, nine, ten minutes you know you’re ready to rock and roll and keep running and finish the rest of your session, hit the quality, and you’ve done them.  You’ve got them in.  Where I neglect them is when I’m doing a treadmill session.  I should probably go outside in the driveway and do them, but I just don’t want to.  I do them similar to you.  I hope that’s helpful for people to hear.  So guys, nothing within TriDot is random.  Everything we see in our training is by design.  So what dictates which drills we may see on any given day in our training session?

Elizabeth:  Yeah, exactly Andrew.  It’s not random.  It’s intentional and really here with the run the drills are going to fit the prescribed and upcoming session.  We’ve mentioned it multiple times already, and not to sound like a broken record here, but the drills are a key part of that warm up.  So many of those movements are going to start part of that dynamic warm up.  Then the drills that are specifically prescribed for that set are going to prepare you for the intensity of that set.  For example, A skips and B skips before some higher intensity sets are really going to prepare those neural pathways.  But you’re not going to see a drill like bounds on the easy runs.  On the easy runs you may do kind of your warm up jog, some strides to work on that turnover, and then you’ll go into kind of that zone 2 set.  But if you’ve got something like, oh gosh, decreasing intervals or something else with higher intensity then…

Andrew:  Something where you’re really spinning the legs.

Elizabeth:  Yeah, then you’re going to see drills that fit that session and are taking you through that range of motion, reinforcing the technique that you’re going to need to kind of pull upon for that intensity there as well.

Jeff:  Yeah, and actually another thing that TriDot does is, it knows--like you said--the intensity of the workout and might prescribe certain types of drills to prime you for those, but also our PhysiogenomiX is a really, really, really cool aspect to where you can load your 23andMe or Ancestry; your genome into TriDot and it will dynamically prescribe certain drills.  So let’s just say maybe you’re more predispositioned for injury than somebody else.  You may not see bounding before a really hard intensity workout, a bunch of zone 5 stuff. So even though you may want to do more intensive drills to prepare you for that more intensive workout, certain individuals who are more injury prone, you may not see bounding or one of those. So something really cool that those drills are not randomly thrown out there.  For swimming as well.  But also our bike workouts.  We, nowadays, it’s very cool, it’s very awesome that we can just download workouts to our smart trainers and we just don’t stop pedaling for an hour let’s say, and we get all of our quality in, we execute that workout perfectly--really neat. But we do that for those bike workouts and our one-legged drills, our spin ups, all those things are automated into those workouts so we don’t ever really kind of skip those for cycling. But running, they kind of get a bad rap sometimes and they’re the first things to go.  So they are there for a reason and TriDot very, very importantly and strategically places those and optimizes them for each individual. So--very, very cool!

Andrew:  So talk to me about how often we need to do these.  Should we be doing run drills every time we go out for a run?  Should we be doing these once a week?  Are these best done before certain types of session?  What is the when and how often here?

Elizabeth:  So as I’ve mentioned, TriDot athletes are going to see them as part of their scheduled session.  So they’re going to know when to do them, which ones to do, how often.  You’re not going to see run drills as part of an off the bike run.  You know, you’ve already been on the bike.  You’ve gotten a warm up in there, and you’re practicing that off the bike run at that point.  But you’re for sure going to see them prior to a track session.  So as they are prescribed in the session, we should be doing them. It’s not going to be every single run and the drills are going to look a little bit different based on what run session there is.  But, yeah, these should be of a high priority and each time that they’re listed they should be done...Andrew.

Jeff:  And to kind of argue, should you do run drills before every single run that you do, I would say almost yes.  Kind of yes and no.  Like a run off the bike, for example.  In your race you’re not going to do A skips, B skips up and down the aisles off the bike, but at the same time I will do some butt kicks as I’m kind of trotting, putting on my race belt through transition.  I’ll do some butt kicks.  I’ll even stop and put my hand on the fence on the outer of the transition area and I’ll do a couple quick leg swings, kind of shake out my legs, kind of flick that bee off your toe.  Kind of shake the legs out.  As I get a quick drink or putting my hat on I might kind of pick my knees up to my chest as I’m going through transition.  But even on a training day, if it’s a run off the bike it may not be five seconds off the bike I’m out the door running.  It may be a minute.  It could even be two minutes before I actually start that run off the bike on some of those training runs, but I always do leg swings.  Leg swings for me is just something that--I love it.  It wakes up the legs, especially tight legs off the bike.  I’ll even do it before a swim session.  I’m over there kind of leaning over doing the Michael Phelps, right?  Kind of priming my shoulders, getting ready to hop in the water.  But I’ll even hang onto the wall or a diving block or something and do some leg swings. You can prime the muscles for all types of runs whether you go to a track and pick three or four and do them for 50 yards, you can still use that mentality on every type of run really.

Andrew:  So if we were crunched for time...maybe we have a 45 minute run session...there’s some zone 2, there’s some threshold intervals in there, and maybe you can only do the session without the run drills, or maybe you can do the run drills and part of the session instead of the entirety of the session. What would you advise the time-crunched athlete to do?

Elizabeth: Well, I’m smiling right now.  I know you can’t see that in the audio here, but I feel like this is going to give one of our favorite answers depends.

Andrew:  Of course it does!

Elizabeth:  Yeah, gosh!  Sometimes these questions are really hard to answer, because it really does depend on the athlete, their running background, their history of injury, the availability of time not only in that day and that particular session, but also within the week. How often are they getting the run drills in?  If they’re skipping on this once, okay that’s different than somebody that’s making a habit of skipping them all the time.  But to kind of give more of a concrete answer beyond depends, there are two things that I will say here to kind of help athletes to make some decisions about how to utilize the time that’s available to them that day. So I’d say first, prioritize the intensity that’s in that session.  If you’re at the track, you’re supposed to be doing threshold intervals, let’s get those threshold intervals in.  But then you need to make sure that you’re properly warmed up for that intensity too. So 1) prioritize the intensity and 2) prioritize the warmup for that intensity.  You need to do a proper warm up.  It’s going to make sure that your session goes better.  It’s going to make sure that you’re preventing injury from doing a more intense exercise session as well.  We do want to make sure that we’re hitting the purpose of the session, but don’t neglect the drills.  Don’t neglect the warm up for the sake of the full time.  You might be better off cutting some of that balance of time…

Andrew:  At zone 2…

Elizabeth:  Yeah, at the end of the session there.

Andrew:  So using our 45 the question as an example, if an athlete has a 45 minute session, let’s say 18 of that is zone 4 intervals...make sure you get your 18 minutes of zone 4 intervals.  Make sure you do the warm up to be warmed up for those 18 minutes and then if you had 20 minutes of zone 2 on the back end, maybe cut 10 minutes of that for the warm up instead.

Elizabeth:  Yeah, do a little bit of your cool down at the end.  Still don’t just stop, but prioritize the warm up to make sure that you can get in the intensity.

Andrew:  Every run drill that is prescribed in TriDot training is on our YouTube Channel with you guys kind of exampling them, explaining them, and so we’re not going to break down every single run drill that is in TriDot training. But what are some of the most common ones athletes should expect to see and then maybe give us the purpose of them.

Jeff: Yeah, good question.  Everyone has kind of heard of high knees and butt kicks.  Those are just kind of the go-to.

Andrew:  Can I say butt kicks is like my favorite run drill?  I love the way it just kind of loosens up the leg.  I like butt kicks.

Jeff:  Yeah, I mean everyone’s got their favorite three or four. I love A skip, I love C skip, and I love leg swings.  But high knees and butt kicks are pretty self-explanatory.  So I’m going to roll through quite a few of these pretty quickly here, but each of these drills has a specific purpose.  A really good one, we call it head pushes.  Some people call it penguin run.  We have another drill that’s very similar called wall pushes. But those three drills promote body lean.  So if you’re somebody who maybe has too much vertical oscillation, you’re too upright, you’re vertical oscillation is really great.  So maybe you have a really low stride and a super high cadence.  Maybe an overly exaggerated, really high cadence.

Andrew:  If you’re really bouncing a lot in your running stride.

Jeff:  You’re bouncing too much.  So maybe some of that up and down we want to focus on maybe slightly increasing your body lean and that body lean is originated from the ankles.  So those three drills...if you’re somebody who wants to focus on improving or changing that body lean those are body lean drills. So at a steady state we want to hold kind of a 3 to 6 degree body lean angle, kind of originating from those ankles. And when we accelerate...maybe we’re doing a zone 4 surge and then we’re going to settle back down into zone 2.When we accelerate you may increase that body lean to about 10 degrees, but then once you’re at that desired speed you should settle back down into that 3 to 6 degrees.  So head pushes or penguin run is running with your hands behind your back and straight legs running.  Kind of hopping, bouncing on your mid foot.  But if you’re staying with those straight legs and if you have to kind of bend your knees and fall then that would be that kind of ideal 10 degrees.  So those penguin runs, those head pushes.  Maybe someone is just literally putting a straight arm on your forehead and you’re leaning on that hand and you’re running.  That's really promoting just finding that good balance of that body lean.

Andrew:  And to the point of each of these drills has a purpose, and the purpose isn’t always obvious.  Because when I see the head push someone has their hand on your head, you’re leaning forward into their hand, and you’re running.

Jeff:  You’re kind of running in place.

Andrew:  My assumption looking at that would be “oh this is like an acceleration thing.  I’m digging my feet into the ground to push, put pressure against them.”  But it’s not an acceleration thing.  It’s a body lean thing.

Jeff:  Well, it is and it isn’t.  I mean, it could be that.  But I kind of say if you’re somebody who has a body lean issue, wall pushes or penguin runs is now your best friend.  So that might be a drill you want to incorporate.  Another one--foot roll ups.  Some people call it ankle springs.  Heel walks is another one.  Just walking on your heels.  Dorsiflexion is that kind of upward motion of the ankle.  Plantar flexion is the push down.  You’re planting your foot on the gas pedal.  So foot roll ups, ankle springs, heel walks--those are dorsiflexion drills.  We want to use inertia to our advantage on the foot plant.  I like the example of someone standing on the roof and they drop a brick and you’re just holding your arm out and that brick smashes your hand. That’s going to hurt.  But if you kind of cushion the catch of that brick, and maybe you’re doing a squat and you’re following that and you’re using two hands you could catch two bricks or something like that.  So we don’t want to run with stiff ankles.  We want to run with knee up, toe up and right before we hit the ground that ankle kind of releases, right?  And then we attenuate the arch there and really, really cushion that landing and get the return off of that. So those are really good drills if you’re someone who has stiff ankles.

Elizabeth;  So kind of moving into some of the other common drills, I wanted to take some time and talk about skips because there are a number of different…

Andrew:  All the skips.

Elizabeth:  Yes, all the skips.  So A skips, B skips, C skips…

Andrew:  D skips, E skips, F skips, G skips….

Elizabeth:  Yeah right.

Jeff:  Z skips?

Andrew:  How far does it go?  Y skips.

Elizabeth:  The whole alphabet!  I feel like this is another example of where you may initially look at a drill and then get this aha moment of like, “Oh, that’s what that one is for!”  For example, A skips is actually zeroing in on that arm swing.  So it’s more of an arm drill and swinging…

Andrew:  I thought that was like a knee drive thing.

Elizabeth:  Well, there’s part of it too, but you’re swinging that opposite arm in unison with the lead leg.  So there’s a very specific part of A skips that you’re working on that arm movement and kind of the full body running motion not just the leg itself.  B skips is like a propulsion drill.  So your focus here is landing under your center of mass and then really feeling that push forward.  And C skips the focus there is on the hip flexors.  So just there--A, B, C--three different skip drills. Yes there is a reason for all the different skips because they’re focused on a different part of the running mechanics.

Jeff:  Each one of those skips has a different rhythm; a different purpose. They’re confusing.  They’re kind of weird and so many people kind of look down at their feet right?  And they’re so focused on where they’re landing but their arms are just going wild.S o there is a purpose behind those. Keeping that 80 to 90 degree arm swing. All the skip drills the goal there is really to maintain that 80 to 90 degree elbow, right?  Keeping that elbow hinged.  It’s a rusted hinge, the elbow.  We swing our arms with our low, relaxed shoulders.  So a lot of people open up those arms.  So keeping that controlled is key.  Another good one is quick feet.  Quick feet, just the quick turnover; a cadence increaser.  If you’re somebody that tends to see your cadence falling the second half of workout.

Andrew:  If you have a slow, plodding foot strike or you’re just kind of a lackadaisical cadence do some quick feet.

Jeff:  Absolutely!  There’s an anticipatory response to exercise.  When we’re treading water and we’re about to start the race...the Ironman hasn’t even started yet, but your resting heart rate is not 48.  I might be 120, but you’re just sitting there right? You’re anticipating the start of the race and so there’s an anticipatory response to exercise and especially your landing.  So really exaggerating that quick turnover really primes you in getting ready for that workout.  Asymmetrical arm swings is another kind of staple drill in TriDot.  It’s known as being kind of a little weird, kind of hard to do.  It’s kind of like the idea of patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. Or you hear “Can you walk and chew bubble gum at the same time?”  It’s a funny one.  But that unilateral training can kind of help you.  I kind of think of the asymmetrical arm swing as kind of, sort of a breathing drill.  So many runners kind of tend to always default to stomping the ground or breathing on that one side, right?  It might be a hard exhale every time the right foot hits the ground, right?  And in certain types of running we want to have a longer exhale than we do an inhale and that would put us on an odd breathing count kind of like bilateral breathing in swimming.  So the asymmetrical arm swings just kind of breaks up that traditional rhythm and kind of gets you focusing on that non-dominant side.

Andrew:  I will say, if someone is listening to this and they have never seen or attempted an asymmetrical arm swing, pause this episode, pull up your YouTube, and go look at that on our YouTube channel because it is quite the experience attempting your first asymmetrical arm swing.  I am not naturally very good at it.  I have to really concentrate on it.  Some people are more gifted, but go find that video. Try them yourself.  They really are something.  So guys, that’s eight different run drills ya’ll have kind of given us the little inside scoop on.  Let’s maybe round out a top 10 here.  What are maybe two more athletes will commonly see in their run training?

Elizabeth:  Let’s go with strides as our ninth one there because I feel like that is one that is most frequently seen.  That’s one that athletes will see on a lot of sessions.  And I think the key here on strides is to understand it’s not just a short sprint.  This is really kind of exaggerating the run form that this should be excellent form as you’re prepping the body for that intensity.  So it’s not just a sprint.  We’re really focused on good technique.  It is at a higher speed, but it’s not just an all out sprint.

Andrew:  Alright, number ten.  One more.

Jeff:  Oh, there’s this one drill.  It’s one legged hopping.  One leg hopping.  That’s one that if you haven’t seen that or attempted that, do what Andrew said.  Go to the YouTube channel and check that out. It’s a triple jumper’s drill and you can get as intensive as you want.  That’s almost like a disclaimer one, like only attempt if you’re super injury free and super confident in doing so.

Andrew:  I’m an injury prone athlete.  My PhysiogenomiX says so and so I don’t get one leg hopping as an example.

Jeff:  I would not.  Maybe you just watch it.  Don’t attempt it.  Do not attempt this at home.  But that one leg hopping drill is kind of putting it all together.  It’s putting A, B, and C skip all together.  You have to have those good arms or you won’t be able to finish or do the drill to its upmost.

Andrew:  If you have healthy lower legs and you want to challenge yourself, go try the one leg hopping.  And strides, Elizabeth, you talked about strides.  I love your point they’re in just about every run session in TriDot for a reason.  It’s just so good to just open up the stride.  And I’m not always focused on...I usually just kind of pick up the pace. I’m not always focused on exaggerating my form there.  So that’s something I’ll be mindful of after this conversation is really making sure I’m exaggerating that knee drive, exaggerating the arm swing, and really focused on the form and not just picking up the pace.

Jeff:  What I like about strides, it’s your opportunity, your chance.  It’s prescribed.  That is your time to solely focus on good running form and like you said, exaggerated running form. You’re not worried about a pace, a time. How long do I have to hold?  Am I in zone 4?  Is my heart rate there?  What’s my cadence again?  You can just space out and just get out there and feel really good and just exaggerate that really good run form.

Andrew:  So if an athlete is trying to improve a certain aspect of their form. Maybe they want to raise their cadence. Or maybe they want to improve their knee drive or their arm swing.  How can we know which drills, Elizabeth, could help us do what?

Elizabeth:  So we’ve already kind of thrown out the YouTube channel a couple times here, but for good reason.

Andrew:  These are visual and so it helps to get your eyes on it.  We can talk about strides, but go get your eyes on what a stride looks like.

Elizabeth:  Go and watch it.  And what I love about having all of the drills up there on the YouTube channel is that you’ve got an example to look at of the drill itself, but then as you’re watching it there’s the explanation of the purpose of the drill and then some key things to remember while executing that specific drill too.  So yeah, you want to work on improving your knee drive, go take a look at the drills, find the ones that are focused in on improving that knee drive, watch the drills themselves, get those key tips to remember while executing them, and I just feel like having that visual is also going to be beneficial.

Andrew:  Now you both are featured on the TriDot training YouTube channel on the videos where we show folks how to do all the drills prescribed within TriDot training. From our two days filming those...we had a good time at the track out there with the cameras and the drones and our coaches.  Of those two days, all the drills that we filmed, they’re up on YouTube.  Which ones do you personally find the most difficult and which would you say is a personal favorite?  Jeff, I’ll go to you.

Jeff:  I love A skips.  A skips it’s very fundamental.  It’s safe. It’s a good go-to.  If you’re somebody who is new to doing drills, it may be a little intimidating.  You know bounding and straight legged bounding and all these jumps and hops just seems to be a little bit too much for you, A skip is just a safe; it’s just an exaggerated march and you can kind of get as explosive as you want with that, but I love A skip.  I mentioned leg swings.  We call them also hamstring kickouts.  I do those probably every single day.  Before every single workout.  I talked a little bit about that.  Bounding--there’s straight legged bounding which you’ll see in the NFL.  You know those wide receivers catch a 30 yard pass and maybe they’re 10 yards from the endzone and there’s nobody around them and they know they’re going to score the touchdown so they kind of do the straight legged victory dance into the endzone.  Straight legged bounding and then bounding like a deer with that bent knee. They are very explosive.  They are very hard to do, but when you do them right they’re very rewarding.  They kind of feel good and like “I got it!”  So those are kind of my hard ones.  But that triple jumper’s drill; whew!  That’s a doozy.  You got four or five of those.  We also have one called the power hop.  Skipping for height is another one that five or six of those you’re pretty exhausted. So those would be some of the harder ones.

Andrew:  Yeah, very true.  I know for me, I mentioned it earlier.  I love butt kickers.  I just like the way it kind of stretches out the big running muscles.  I like leg swings as well.  One I’ve recently been doing more of, even sometimes where it’s not prescribed, is the hamstring kick outs that you mentioned because that really just stretches that leg out before you start running hard.  So I’ve been enjoying that one.  I mentioned I’m not good at the asymmetrical arm swings, but really for me...knowing I’m an injured athlete I try to avoid the bounds and the one legged hops and the ones that put a lot of pressure on the joints on the landing. Thanks to my PhysiogenomiX being uploaded into TriDot I don’t get those prescribed very often anyway and if I do sometimes I’ll even substitute something else knowing I’m an injured athlete. Something for people to kind of keep in mind.  Elizabeth, which ones are your favorites and which ones are you least favorites to do?

Elizabeth:  Well, let me just say this first.  For anybody that’s like “oh, I don’t want to do the drills.  I want to get my workout in.”  Drills are a part of the workout.

Andrew:  Drills are a workout!

Elizabeth:  After hours of doing drills...oh my gosh!  The next day I was so sore after filming this.  I mean hours of muscle activation.  So if you’re like “oh, I don’t want to do the drills.  I want to get the workout in.”  Drills are part of the workout.

Andrew:  Absolutely!

Elizabeth:  You’re going to get the benefit of that and I think both Raines and I can attest to the fact that we were a little weary the next day from all those drills.  But gosh! In terms of the ones that are difficult. For me it’s the B skip and the asymmetrical arm swings.  There’s just something about the B skip and the coordination I have always struggled with that and that’s probably the same thing with the asymmetrical arm swings and the coordination there.  You’ll notice that I am not in either of those videos.

Andrew:  I didn’t want to say it and point it out, but since you’re pointing it out…

Elizabeth:  Hey, I will admit it.  I was not a good example.  We do not want our athletes following my B skip or my asymmetrical arm swings.

Andrew:  And to your credit...I will brag on you.  The things that you do, you are very on point with your technique with the 99% of the things that you do.  So those are just very rare examples where you’re just not good at them so we did not put you on camera doing those.

Elizabeth:  Right.  Yeah. I was the first to admit it when we started filming.  I was like, “Oh guys!  I’ll do the B skip, but you’ll see you don’t want to use it.”  And you guys were like “Just go.  I’m sure it’s fine.”  And I did it and you guys were like…

Andrew:  It wasn’t fine.

Jeff:  It didn’t make the final cut.

Elizabeth:  No we’re not using that.  It’s not going to make the cut.  So those are ones that are very difficult for me.  But, gosh...Raines has mentioned this.  I love leg swings.  Those are my favorite too.  There’s just something about them and now it’s almost kind of like a mental preparation too.  That’s kind of one of the last things that I do.  I’m feeling good and warmed up.  Get those leg swings in and then it’s go time.

Andrew:  It’s like we set out to talk about run drills and teach people the purpose of run drills and this whole episode just became the three of us professing our love for leg swings and that’s what the episode turned into.

Jeff:  That’s what it seems like.

Elizabeth:  Yeah, maybe we need to rename it.  “Our Love of Leg Swings.”

Jeff:  We should all do some right now.

Cool down theme: Great set everyone! Let’s cool down.

Andrew:  Just a few weeks ago on the podcast we did an entire episode talking about how to balance your triathlon training with family, work, life, etcetera. It was episode 86 of the podcast and we really talked through doing the best you can with the training no matter what your day or week throws at you.  Our cool down today brings us an inspiring example of an athlete navigating unconventional training circumstances in order to stay on top of his fitness.  TriDot ambassador, David Pagan joins me to share how he fits in his triathlon training while stationed on a US Naval vessel.  As a sailor in the United States Navy, David is constantly transitioning from life on land to life at sea and he does everything he can to do the right training right regardless of his location.  So David, thanks for coming on the show!

David Pagan:  Thanks for having me Andrew.  Glad to be here.

Andrew:  So before we get too far into the tri talk.  Tell us just what inspired you to join the US Navy and what has your experience been like as a member of the US Armed Forces?

David: I grew up near Seattle and every year there’s a festival called Sea Fair. The Navy usually comes out with a couple ships and almost always with the Blue Angels.  So as a kid I got hooked early.  I started looking more seriously at the Navy in high school.  I found out about the Naval Academy and set my sights there and was able to graduate the class of 2008.

Andrew:  So that was the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland correct?

David:  Yep.

Andrew:  Very cool.

David:  So the experience in the armed forces has been a wild one.  My wife and I and our two kids have been to basically every corner of the country living in several different states.  Then I’ve done five deployments at this point, seen a decent portion of the globe.  Most of that happens to be water.  In the Navy you get to see a lot of that as well.

Andrew:  How do you feel about the swim leg of a triathlon?  Is it naturally your favorite?

David:  I was a high school swimmer so it was, but there are some people in the Navy who would have trouble with the swim portion of the tri.

Andrew:  So your first race with TriDot was 70.3 Virginia in 2019.  How did you find TriDot and how did that first half Ironman go?

David:  To tell you how my first TriDot half Ironman went I have to tell you about my first half Ironman and only other half Ironman which was a Wildflower when I was stationed out in California.  And it was amazing that I survived it.  It was about ten hours of an ordeal.  I’ll never forget.  But once I got back here to Virginia I started looking at tris around the area, decided that they were doing this Virginia half Ironman and I wanted to prepare better for it.  Around the same time on Facebook, Preseason Project popped up on my feed and I thought this is a great way to try to add some structure, see how it goes, and I was hooked.  So I’ve been with TriDot ever since.  It just happens to be exactly two years ago today that we’re recording this.

Andrew:  Aww!  Happy anniversary!

David:  Right?  And I had a 2-½ hour PR.  I came in at 7:20 even though I had some issues with my knee on the run.  So I think my RaceX would have been right about on if I hadn’t had those issues with my knee.  So I was sold and now I’m an ambassador for it because I believed it.

Andrew:  Very cool!  Exactly how I came on to TriDot.  Just noticing that Preseason Project ad and trying it out, loving it, and here we both are. As I eluded to on the intro of the cool down here, as an officer in the US Navy your training at times can look a little bit different than most of our athletes.  Shortly after 70.3 Virginia you were deployed onto a US Naval Ship and while actively serving out at sea you kept up with your TriDot training which is incredible. What adjustments did you have to make to train while out at sea?

David:  So the first one I actually called the services, support center from TriDot and I was like I need to get the email functionality and they showed me how to set that up.  Because email connectivity is pretty decent on the ship, but Internet connectivity when you’re trying to share it with 2500 people--there were 1000 sailors and 1500 Marines on my ship--it can get spotty at times and in the middle of the ocean there’s no cell signal.  So a lot of the data issues...TriDot is very data driven and I didn’t have as much access to that, but the emails I kept getting every day and I would print them out. I showed you the picture of the binder that I had.  I just started filling up a binder with these pieces of paper.

Andrew:  Yeah it was really cool.

David:  I would write down my workouts as I completed them.  So that was the first big step, just to keep working on the training that way.  Then there are other issues working out at sea.  The whole ship is 840 feet long so that’s as far as you get to go.  The bike was the easiest.  There are plenty of exercise bikes and some of them are actually outside and have a nice view of the water.  So I got myself a separate set of shoes with SPD clips on them, had a view of the water every time I was working out.

Andrew:  That’s really cool.

David:  The swim turns into a lot of rowing just trying to keep that upper body; that core going and then focusing on the strength workouts too became a lot more important.  We did have one opportunity to do a swim call where they’ll open up the back of the ship and let people go out and swim.  They got life guards and a boat out and stuff like that.  It’s usually a once a deployment type thing so we got to do that once.  So other than that it was all dry land with swim workouts as a lot of people were doing last year during COVID, but mine were a little different.

Andrew:  Yeah.

David:  Then the last part, the run.  The flight deck, like I said it’s 840 feet long so when you work that out for a lap on a ship’s flight deck, the ship I was on was the Batton.  It’s basically like a miniature aircraft carrier. So you do a lap on the flight deck depending on what aircraft are out and who’s doing maintenance on them, it’s about a quarter to a third of a mile per lap.  And you start doing a lot of laps.  The view is great.

Andrew:  So kind of like a track.  A little bit like running a track.

David:  Yeah.  It’s basically like everything turned into a track workout and it’s a little harder though. It’s steel with this non-skid, grippy material on it.  So I ate through a pair of shoes pretty quickly, but it worked out.  And we had a little Sunday core group of people who would go up there and run.  So that was good for the motivation.  There was a group of people who were helping out and we were all just trying to get through our deployment.

Andrew:  How long is a typical deployment?  When you’re out at sea training this way, how long of a period of time is it for?

David:  When you go on deployment you’re probably looking at anywhere from six to seven months is the starting time frame.  My longest was 11 months away from home.

Andrew:  Ok, wow!  So when your fellow sailors saw you doing triathlon training and knew that’s what you were training for while out on the boat, what was their reaction?  Did you kind of stick out as the tri weirdo or were most of your peers on the ship doing their own things to stay fit?

David:  It’s a little of both.  With the Marines on board they love working out so the gym is usually full of them, but they’re usually doing more weights and stuff like that.  The cardio equipment is usually pretty open compared to them. And there were definitely some people who gave me some good natured ribbing when I got back to the office when we were still stateside after Virginia.  My office in particular they came in and they printed out Ironman the character masks and they cut them in half down the middle and they pasted them all around the office just to be like, “Oh, you’re crazy. You did this.  You’re the half Ironman now.”  But there are actually a lot of people who know, we have physical tests that we have to do so everybody has to find a way to work out. Some people actually kind of came on board with me.  When I’d tell them I’m going out to ride a bike and they were like “yeah I’ll join you!” And you’re there and the camaraderie was great and it was weird because this was during COVID.  We were one of the places where you could go work out with somebody because we were in this little bubble that nobody else had come to. But we stayed under way for 150 days without touching land at that point.  So it was all we kind of had to go on.  The other thing about being deployed during COVID though was all the virtual races we started signing up for those.

Andrew:  Oh cool!

David:  Rev3, for example, I did a few of those and those are a local race too. I think they are doing them up there this week anyways.  But we would sign up for those and then we would do them together.  We would row, ride, and run and then that would be our triathlon.  We would just set a date and we would all try and do it.

Andrew: So training on a ship we wouldn’t call it the most ideal of training locations.  It sounds like you can do some pretty effective training with what you’ve got there, but it’s still not exactly what you would be used to having on land. You’re not exactly set up to always nail the session and score 100 on your TrainX scores.  How effective would you say your training is at sea and what have you learned from consistently training in that context?

David:  Yeah, very few unicorns and honor rolls to my name and definitely not out at sea.  But in the military we have this thing called Commander’s Intent.  What does the boss want you to do?  How do they want you to accomplish the mission?  So when I would get a workout emailed to me I could look at the workout and if it’s an easy run that’s pretty straight forward.  I need to run easy.  If I’m running harder than that I’m not doing what the intent of the workout is.  If MAV shuttles come up, if I do an easy run on MAV shuttle day I know I’m not doing what the intended workout is.  So it really helped me kind of just get to the point of the so what behind each workout. If we’re doing threshold work, let's do threshold work even if it’s not exactly how many minutes, how many miles the session says.  We can kind of at least understand the purpose behind it and try to make that work as best we can.  Then sometimes I was able to connect and upload those manually so I could see my TrainX keep following along, but sometimes it was just in the book and I knew I did it so I don’t have to worry about that.

Andrew:  I love that mindset of your commander’s intent.  Because that’s not a phrase that civilians are used to, but it so speaks to what I know a lot of TriDot coaches tell their athletes. There’s a variety of reasons why an athlete might not have an amazing TrainX score, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t do the session correctly. It could be a big gear workout where TriDot just can’t quantify the squats off the bike.  It could be that you’re running outside and you’ve got a lot of rolling hills and so your paces aren’t exactly going to align with what TriDot wanted, but the effort was there correctly.  For all of our athletes listening I want them to catch that. Look at your workout and glean from it what the commander’s intent is.  What is TriDot’s intent for this session?  And if you accomplish that, if you hold close to that; the TrainX score isn’t quite as important if you walk away knowing you did the point of the session. So David, thanks so much for sharing that.  That’s the golden nugget from today’s cool down in my mind.  And of course, thanks so much for just your military service. We are so proud to have you as a member of the TriDot tribe.  As we close down this show today, for folks who want to cheer for you at your next race, what do you have coming up this season on the race schedule?

David:  It’s kind of a little sparse getting back from COVID.  I’m doing the Rev3 Williamsburg virtually, but that’s a pro race so maybe we’ll be able to go up and watch that maybe a little bit hopefully. But if not, Kinetic Patriots Olympic distance going on in Williamsburg in September and then I’m going to do the Ironman VR Kona Week.  That was something I never thought I would do before TriDot, but I was able to do that last year so I thought I’ll do that again this year.  But all this is looking for the long game.  The goal is Maryland’s full Ironman, first one.

Andrew:  Alright!  Maryland 2022, we’ll see you there.  Excited to see how your training takes you between now and then.  You know whether it’s at land or whether it’s at sea, it sounds like you’re going to be trained and ready to go.

David:  Hope so.  Thanks!

Andrew:  Well that’s it for today folks.  I want to thank Coaches Jeff Raines and pro triathlete Elizabeth James for talking with us about run drills.  Get ‘em in people!  They’re important for all the reasons we learned about today.

Enjoying the podcast?  Have any triathlon questions or topics you want to hear us talk about?  Head to to submit your question or leave us a story for the show. Until next time, happy training.

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