Olympic Running Coach Shares Training Tips, Tricks, and Challenges

May 5, 2016

Greg McMillan

Injinji, performance toesock retailer and manufacturer, chats with Greg McMillan, world-renowned running coach, founder of “McMillan Training Calculator,” and USATF coach. McMillan is fully invested in the running world, from lacing up his own shoes and getting his heart-rate up outdoors, to training fellow runners to be the best they can be! When it comes to training plans, maximizing performance, avoiding injury, and staying motivated, let’s just say he knows a thing or two.

“Good professional runners don’t dwell on their bad workouts or races. They have an inner belief they can achieve and so they don’t let any little failure derail them.” – Greg McMillan


Question: First and foremost, you’re a runner. How did you get into running and what was the feeling you got from running in your early (and maybe current) running years that inspired you to stay with it?

Greg McMillan: I was always very active growing up and played lots of sports. Once I ran cross country in high school, I really found the sport that fit best for me. I loved the inner battle of me vs. me. I loved that you got out of it just what you put into it and that there is a connection to something deeper, something hard to understand but something that everyone that becomes a runner understands.


Q: Do you have any funny, personal running quirks you’d like to share (i.e. something you do to prepare for a race, something you do while running to motivate yourself, etc.)?

GM: I always completely unlace then re-lace shoes when I get them. I like the laces to be just right and they are often laced differently than I would from the factory.


Q: As a world-renowned running coach, what has been your biggest success story?

GM: I’ve been lucky to have the same biggest success story over and over again. The story is the same, no matter the athlete. It’s when someone comes to me with a seemingly impossible goal. But, they work hard (enduring the good times and bad times) and really extend themselves in ways that change them as a person, not just a runner. This is always very rewarding.


Q: What is the most consistent characteristic you see among professional-level runners that we can all strive for (i.e. perseverance, dedication, fearlessness, etc.)?

GM: Good professional runners don’t dwell on their bad workouts or races. They have an inner belief they can achieve and so they don’t let any little failure derail them. The rest of us seem to get down on ourselves too much.


Q: Your philosophy is that every runner is different and therefore there can’t be a one-size-fits-all training program. What are some of the first things you look at when it comes to assessing a new disciple?

GM: I try to figure out how she responds physically and mentally to the training (while doing the run/workout). How she recovers from workouts and how she adapts to workouts, again mentally and physically. This gives a window into the best training approach that will maximize benefits, reduce bad workouts, and keep her motivated.


Q: What is one recommendation that you feel yourself making most to new/beginner runners?

GM: Pace change! Most new runners run the same pace on every run. But, to be a more fit runner, you need to have some pace change in at least one run per week. Run fast. Run slow. Run up hills hard. Run downhills hard. Just do something that challenges your normal pace, breathing, effort level. Pick what you want to change but change at least one of these on at least one run per week. Your fitness will get a jolt of improvement.


Q: What is the biggest hurdle that you find experienced runners have to overcome when trying to take their performance to the next level?

GM: Lack of variety and willingness to change. Most got to where they are by doing what they do but to breakthrough to a new level, they often need some tweaks to their approach and they need to evaluate their mental approach to racing and see where some different approaches could help them.


Q: What would you say is the best thing to eat before a big race? Or maybe, what do you like to eat before a big race?

GM: I don’t like a lot on my stomach so I usually prefer Generation UCAN shakes. Keeps me satiated and my blood sugar stable, yet isn’t a lot to digest.


Q: Do you think runners are generally realistic or unrealistic when setting personal goals for their races? How can this help or hurt them?

GM: Experienced runners are generally realistic. Sometimes, unrealistic goals are forced on us, like a Boston BQ, so we must help them see it as a multi-plan project instead of one cycle, and help them make the BQ.


Q: How important is high-quality gear when it comes to running (i.e. clothing, shoes, socks)? Can it truly affect your performance or prevent injury?

GM: Anyone who has gotten a blister knows that it can ruin an otherwise good race. We are lucky to live in a time when most every gear issue of the past can be overcome. For example, my big toe and second toe used to always fight. I would develop a blister and it was a constant issue. Then, I discovered Injinji. For many, many years now, I haven’t had to worry about that. It no longer affects my training or racing.


Q: Have you personally tried out Injinji’s performance toesocks? If so, what did you think of them?

GM: I was an early adopter of Injinji because of the issue mentioned above. They are the perfect sock. Why wouldn’t you want a sock that conforms to your foot? That fits like a glove? Why would you want to risk skin on skin rubbing or loose material? I always liked the story of John Wooden teaching his basketball players how to put on their socks as his first lesson. He said it was because a little thing like a blister could negatively impact their play and change the team dynamic. It’s the same with socks. Why risk it? Injinji socks fit perfectly. They keep the foot dry and let it operate as intended.


Q: With your running calculator having already reached over 15 million runners, it’s apparent that you’re making quite an impact in the running world. How many runners has your team trained so far and where do you see your expertise taking you in the future?

GM: I wish I knew! We’ve lost count. It’s thousands and thousands of runners. Our hope is that we keep helping more and more runners. Our training system is unique in that it is equally helpful for new runners, mid-packers, and Olympians. It acknowledges the different needs of each runner and thus helps them get fit, stay healthy, and stay motivated.