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Published: August 2008Performance: Tips From Olympic Hopefuls

Summer Games Plan

Secrets of success from four Olympic hopefuls

Text by Austin Merrill & Cristina Goyanes
Ryan Hall, 25: Marathon Runner
2008 U.S. Olympic team member; U.S. Olympic Trials marathon record holder

Hall heads to the games this month as the fastest U.S.-born marathoner ever (2:06:17). To get there, he combines intervals, long-distance runs, weight lifting, and form drills. Each week, he averages 145 miles, including a mile of 50- to 150-meter sprints. “In the marathon, you’re going to get glycogen-depleted, which drains your prime movers—the muscles you use every day,” says Mahon, 37. “When these muscles hit the wall, you need your smaller muscles to take over. The only way they’ll be strong enough to pull through is if you’ve trained them with hard sprint workouts.” Hall also adds speed work to the end of his long runs, capping off a two-hour run with ten one-minute surges. “We end with something fast,” Mahon says, “to force his body to learn to adapt when it’s in a really fatigued state.”

Mahon also takes an active role in tweaking Hall’s form. “We’re not trying to disturb the natural flow of running,” he says, “just trying to improve it a little bit.” To perfect Hall’s stride, Mahon prescribes a series of daily “dribble drills.” He has him start at a walk and then gradually get faster, raising his feet as high as his ankles, then his calves, and finally his knees—simulating ideal form at a jog, at marathon speed, and at a sprint. “Think about a kid on a swing,” Mahon says. “You want to kick your legs out and then pull them back under you as fast as possible.” That momentum propels you forward. “As soon as my foot hits the ground, I focus on getting my heel up to my butt as quickly as I can,” Hall says. “This one movement is what generates speed.”

Finding your ideal footing can be as easy as you want it to be. Frank Shorter, whose gold medal in the 1972 Olympic marathon helped ignite U.S. interest in distance running, has followed an appealingly simple approach: “The more you play around with your stride, the worse it’ll be,” says Shorter, 60, who still logs up to 50 miles a week. “If you want to improve your running form, just do distance intervals.” For Shorter, that means training at a much faster pace than he’ll run on race day: “I trained like a 5K runner for the marathon,” he says. “So I was incredibly relaxed racing at my marathon pace. Your body finds the groove that lets you be most efficient at maximum effort.”

Next: Brendan Hansen: Swimming

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