On this edition of The Kona Edge we catch up with Chris Montross to find out what he did to improve on his Ironman run and win his age group at Kona 2015. We discover how he manages to put in the required Ironman run training volume between his hectic travel schedule and we look at the mental strategy he uses to pull himself out of the dark places we all experience during an Ironman run.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto yet another edition of The Kona Edge and we head back to the United States, Chris Montross, 2015 Age Group World Champion in the 55-59 category. Chris, welcome back, nice to touch base, welcome.
CHRIS MONTROSS: Thank you Brad, thanks for having me again.
BRAD BROWN: Chris, let’s talk about your run, a 3:38:05 on the back of what is not the easiest of bike rides in Kona at the Ironman World Championships. That’s an incredible effort on the run.
CHRIS MONTROSS: I was very pleased with it. I had hoped to do at least the equivalent of what I had done the previous year, but every year is different and it got me on the podium and with all that in mind, I’m very happy about it.
BRAD BROWN: Chris, as far as the run goes, is it a discipline you love doing or do you find it a bit of a necessary evil?
Knock off those Ironman runs and get to Kona
CHRIS MONTROSS: You know, I love the evil I guess, maybe. It’s a weight bearing exercise. There’s pounding, but there are times where I get out on a run and it’s not that I’m feeling light and lively and full of energy, but I’m finding that I am knocking off some miles at a good pace and I’m feeling very solid about it.
Of all of the disciplines, I would say there’s a satisfaction to running because if you stop running, you stop running. You can kind of coast on a bike and then you’re still moving, but when you stop running, you’re not moving anymore. So there’s something about that and I think, again, it goes back to our evolution. We were natural born runners, that it’s very satisfying to knock out a really good run.
BRAD BROWN: As far as putting in good runs, obviously it does take a lot of work and a lot of effort in training in order to string something together that does look good on paper at the end of a Kona. For you, can you pinpoint one or two things that you’ve done that have really improved your run performance?
Age group world champion improves on Ironman run form
CHRIS MONTROSS: Yeah, I would say number one is a focus on form. It has been huge.
Foot strides, stride length, breathing cadence I find to be very powerful and then, of course, arm movement.
Form I think is really, really critical. To that I would also add is getting in appropriate volume of miles. It may not be a great run, but you knock out a five mile or longer run, I go, that’s a good run, you can keep it up whether it was the pace you hoped for or not.
That’s good volume and I think it’s very powerful, just mentally and motivating.
BRAD BROWN: Typically, from a volume perspective and I know everyone is different, so what you do might not work for the next guy, but what sort of mileage would you do, typically in the buildup, weekly, to an Ironman?
CHRIS MONTROSS: When I was self-coached, it would incrementally increase as I got closer to Kona, to about three weeks out and then I would drop it by 75, 50 and 20, three weeks prior. I would drop it 75%, 50% and 25% of my max and for running, when I would get at the peak of volume, I would be doing close to 50 miles a week, just running.
BRAD BROWN: Talk to me about the form, was that, you mentioned when we spoke about swimming and your technique and how you read up and watched videos on YouTube and that sort of thing, to improve your swim stroke and correct there, did you do similar sort of things from a running perspective to correct form and look at what you were doing?
Research your Ironman run and improve your form
CHRIS MONTROSS: Yeah, again, reading articles, viewing videos. I belong to a triathlon club in central California, The Triathlon Club of Central California and they’ll have some clinics as well. And so all of those sources have kind of led me to my, I won’t say my own, but my form which is, that foot strike for me is very powerful.
I’d always worried about knee and hip problems and so far, so good. I’ve done a lot of volume, I think I would have flushed them out by now, but using the biomechanics of our body to control the pounding from running, I think is more powerful than adding a bunch of layers of foam.
When I travel, I run a lot of paved streets, so not to be contradictory, but I do have very high cushioned shoes, but I run in all zero shoes, so no toe to heel drop. I run in zero shoes, keep the heel out of that ground contact. I make sure I have a really, really good foot strike, which for me, I think, is right behind the ball or just about on the ball of the foot. And lately I’ve been focusing on getting my foot strike more towards the inside of my feet rather than in the past I think it had been more out towards the outer edges.
BRAD BROWN: That’s fascinating. Let’s talk about the dark places and hanging out in those dark places, particularly in an Ironman, they come particularly on the run when you are digging deep. Have you got any specific strategies to help you get out of those negative dark places?
Focus on mechanics of your Ironman run in Kona
CHRIS MONTROSS: When those times happen and they do, and it sounds like the voice of experience, you get mid-way through that run or just about half way and you’re thinking, I’m not half way there and there’s a lot to go. You haven’t hit the turnaround. I will start focusing on the mechanics of running, foot strike, stride length, cadence and breathing.
I will start thinking ahead also about the next aid station, how I hope to accomplish that. I try to, I want to say distract myself from how arduous the task at hand is into those things that are coming up, so kind of almost looking forward whereas trying to maintain a good form, I think has been helpful for me and then breathing is huge.
I just make sure, I typically will do a three-two breath, make sure and I’ll audit myself as I’m running. I’ll breathe and when you do a three-two breath, essentially, you are alternating hips on when you have a contraction or expansion of your diaphragm, puts more pressure on. I make sure that that is alternating between my hips, so I will audit my breathing so that on an exhale I notice on one exhale, it’s on one side, on the next one it’s on the other side.
BRAD BROWN: I love it, just to take your mind off what’s actually happening, which I think it’s brilliant. Chris, I loved chatting to you once again. I look forward to finding out what you’ve done nutrition-wise, but we’ll save that for another day, thanks for your time today.
CHRIS MONTROSS: You’re welcome Brad, my pleasure.