Dalilah Muhammad talks Track Shoe Tech, more with SportTechie

Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad won the 400 meter hurdles Rio 2016 and set the events world record twice in 2019, first at the US National Meeting and again with a time of 52.16 seconds at this year’s World Championships.

Muhammad later set a personal best of 51.58 seconds Olympic Games in Tokyo, which would have been another world record if Sydney McLaughlin hadn’t run even faster in the same race. In addition to that silver medal, Muhammad picked up a second career gold as part of the USA 4×400 relay team. At last month’s World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, Muhammad returned from a hamstring injury and finished third.

32-year-old Muhammad, winner of the 2007 IAAF World Youth Title, hails from Queens, New York. She played along Nike Equality Campaign 2017 alongside Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe and LeBron James and recently joined Cheribundi’s pit crew– its brand ambassadors of athletes and wellness professionals who promote the company’s natural health products.

Why there have been so many world records in the 400 hurdles. . .

I get this question often. And I think a few things play a role. The event is just different. It’s actually a more recent event in athletics history – we’ve only just started running the 400 hurdles [the 1970s] when women actually started running the 400-meter hurdles. And I think back then it was meant to be a race for people who weren’t fast enough to run the open quarter [mile]. It was originally intended to be like this, similar to an obstacle course. You weren’t fast enough to run a flat course, so your coach threw you into the steeplechase.

They had these outstanding athletes early on, but I think more and more people are falling in love with the 400 hurdles and it’s going to be this premier event. And it’s become a race where you have to be at least as well over 400, a good 800 and even a fast 200 to run the 400-meter hurdles – and the hurdle too. It’s just a combination of finding these types of athletes who are good and have this type of broad talent.

And find new ways to coach it. I think her approach to coaching has always been strengths-based, and we’re making it more of a sprint. And we see that now. When I started doing the 400 hurdles, my coach told and taught me to go out really slow and hold on and wait for the last 200. And now we’re all going off guns because we know we can handle it. I think it’s just that quicker increase in pace in the first 200 that really makes a difference.

About training tools for the hurdles. . .

I definitely watch videos and look at myself and how I hurdle and how I can improve and what I see when I hurdle. i have a guy named Ralph Mann who also comes onto the track and analyzes our hurdle form. He created this model that can show you exactly how fast you’re going over the hurdle, where you’re overshooting, and the world record pace based on your weight and height. In fact, he can take the model to a world record pace and see how close you are to it.

So we have these kinds of tools that we use, but of course it’s mostly my coach’s eye. He has the formula of what hurdles should look like and to be honest we adjust it every year and try to get better at it. So it’s just repetition and over and over and checking out how I look personally.

How to improve your running technique. . .

I’ve become a better sprinter over the past few years just by focusing on form and watching the big guys doing it. I was just watching [Usain] Bolt, looked at FloJo how she actually sprinted and what that looked like and just incorporated it into my own training. So my trainer and I pay close attention to what the form looks like. And that was a key component of my race. I was never really that good of a sprinter – or at least I was told I wasn’t – so really focusing on form to go faster helped me.

Dalilah Muhammad won the bronze medal in the 400m hurdles at last month’s World Championships, crossing the finish line in 53.13.

Like there is no such thing as a typical workout. . .

As 400 hurdlers, we really do everything. I do interval work. I do endurance. I distance I’ll even go to 1K’s. I will repeat 1000. I will repeat 200s. I’ll do short 30’s when I work out. And of course I hurdle too. And some days I just do a standard 100 meter hurdles routine that you would teach a typical 100 meter hurdler. So there is a huge balance. We really do a mix of everything, every single week.

On Track Shoe technology. . .

There are many controversies surrounding our spikes. Is it the spikes? Is it the athlete? And I feel like I shouldn’t say this, but I’ll say it anyway: Honestly, I think it’s both. I think the evolution of our spikes has played a big part in how fast athletes have gotten.

For me, that’s not a bad thing. These types of advances have been made so many times throughout history, from the type of ground we compete on as we move from dirt to soil Mondo we have now. These advances have been made and you are seeing the big difference. And our timing system – there have been advances in our timing system and how much faster the world has gotten. And I think the spikes are definitely one of them.

The important thing is that it is a balanced field. And I think they did that with the companies. They set criteria that do not allow one company to move forward if the other company cannot. If that didn’t exist, then maybe we would be talking about something else, but that it even exists among companies, yes, I think we’re going in the right direction.

Feeling the immediate difference in their own spikes. . .

I remember the first time I put on the Nike spikes and said to the Nike guy, ‘Wow, I can break the world record with these.’ And that’s literally how it played out. That was in 2020. They came out with new shoes, tested them and had different models. And I broke it in 2021. So I think it’s great. I think technology should evolve and I’m glad it is.

On their introduction to Cheribundi. . .

I’ve been using their products for years, but we only met recently. I told them my story when I was in college, I started drinking tart cherry juice. It was introduced to us on campus as a snack to relax with and things like that. So I’ve always loved it.

Nutrition was very important, especially when I went to the University of Southern California. And you find, as a top athlete, you’re beginning to realize how much it takes for the body to recover. There are different tools that we can use and Cheribundi that we use was one of those tools that I used.

On the products she uses. . .

[I mostly] Use their tart cherry juice for recovery and I’ve recently started using their juice which also contains melatonin. It helps you sleep better, especially when you travel so much in our sport – we change time zones a lot – and have to adjust to that time very quickly. Sometimes we’re at a track meeting and we get there literally 48 hours before the competition – and we can compete in China. So imagine the time zone difference between China and Fort Worth, Texas. So that’s something that helps me adapt very quickly so I can be competitive.

Whether it tracks their biometrics. . .

No not true. Nothing to monitor sleep and recovery. I definitely pay close attention to how many hours I sleep and just make sure I get those eight hours of uninterrupted sleep as best I can.

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