Coaches give good advice

By Gary Droze


I recently attended the Florida Athletic Coaches’ Track and Field Clinic, with the highest of hopes. The clinicians possessed Olympic credentials, and while the attendees mostly represented competitive high school and college programs, I had hoped to collect some pearls of performance wisdom that our many recreational level runners might also find relevant. I was not disappointed.

Keynote speaker Lance Harter, Head Women’s Track Coach at Arkansas and former Women’s National Team Coach, offered resonant advice on shoe selection. He suggested paying at least as much attention to forefoot cushioning as heel padding. This especially pertains to those whose pace quickens to anything above a lurching shuffle. As we increase speed, we shift our foot plant forward (from the heel to the midfoot) for efficiency. Bulky heel padding literally brakes our natural progress toward a smoother footfall. Similarly, we may actually increase our chances for injury by running so slowly that we unnaturally bear weight on our heels. Harter also recommends twice-weekly barefoot strides (say, 10 times 70 yards) to strengthen the foot muscles that atrophy from being couched in highly cushioned training flats. Common sense dictates that barefoot runners seek out soft grass fields, which promote tactile pleasure, and avoid sprinkler heads, which promote shrieking expletives.

Local legend James Pelham was also invited to speak at this clinic. The retired Quincy Shanks Head Track Coach led his teams to four state titles and eight runner-up finishes, and was a National Track Coach of the Year Finalist in 1994. Pelham’s most cogent advice addressed strength training. Over more than thirty years of coaching, Pelham gradually moved from an emphasis on traditional strength training to a program of exercises that more closely mimic the speed and range of motion of strong running. He found that short hill repeats, bounding, calisthenics, and running drills produced more for his athletes than simply lifting weights. Watching the first 30 minutes of a Florida State University off-season track practice would provide a fine primer on running drills. Pelham was a featured speaker at the FSU Speed Improvement Camp for years, and his preferences on running drills are still employed by current squad members.

Advice similar to that presented at this year’s clinic is freely available by link from We don’t need to be world-class runners to benefit from the ideas of those who coach them.