USA Indoor National Champion and World Champion in the 60-meter high-hurdles, Dexter McCloud, plans to break the World Record in his chosen sport to become the best high-hurdler in the U.S. Masters category.
With his adoption of the U.S Olympic Committee's new initiative on high performance training, and his track record, which keeps getting better and better, he has every chance of doing this.
At 45, Dexter has been hurdling for many years. Dexter showed great promise in high school, then progressed to the 1984 Olympic Trials after several years of training. Dexter knew he had been blessed with the potential to go all the way. However, a lengthy lay-off due in part to a serious injury sustained in 1988, saw Dexter pursuing other sports, which included basketball and bodybuilding.
He was told he had potential in both these sports. Dexter instead opted in 2001 to train for his first love: hurdling.
Dexter did. In 2004, he won both the Indoor National and the World Championships. This year Dexter placed second in the Outdoor World Championships. For Dexter, high hurdles are a passion. His love of winning is nicely balanced with an appreciation for all the sport has to offer.
In the following interview, Dexter shares his story and unveils his plans for 2004 and beyond.
[ Q ] You recently competed in the Outdoor World Championships. When was this, how did you do, and what was the experience like?
They were August 5-14. I got the silver medal and the experience was awesome. I like being at the Olympic trials. I expected big things from my self because I had won the Indoor World Championships. This was my first time in the Outdoor Championships and I wanted to do well so I'm glad to have done it and finished so well.
[ Q ] So was there much in the way of pressure on you going into the Outdoor Championships?
I guess if there was any pressure, there was pressure on myself to do well. The [championships] were the incentive that I needed to show myself that I could do well, and hopefully win. That's just how I operate.
[ Q ] You compete to win as opposed to the enjoyment of competing and the experience itself?
I enjoy it a lot more when I win. I'm driven by winning. I do like to participate but I don't want to compete for the sake of participating. I train hard with the idea that I'm training to be the best in the world.
[ Q ] Speaking of which, what has been your greatest competitive achievement do you think?
I would say going to the 1984 Olympic trials. I didn't finish anywhere as good as I did at the World Championships, but it is the pinnacle of success for anyone in the U.S competition.
[ Q ] Did you have to qualify to compete in the 84 Olympia trials?
Actually, to qualify for the Olympic trials you had to be able to run fast and be top three best times in the country. I knew I was in the upper echelon when I graduated from college in '84 so this let me know where I was. Basically you qualify by times, and then you go out there and run and if things go well you make it to the Olympic team.
[ Q ] And all these years later you are still trying to be the best in your sport. What keeps you motivated after all these years?
I think the passion that drives me to do my best is the fact that I am running as good now as I did when I was much younger. I currently run with collegiate athletes, so I am surprised I am able to do this as quickly as college kids. That's how I actually began running again.
I had actually quit track when (during my basketball playing days) I met a guy who said he ran a 100 meters for the University of Arkansas. Just for grins, we were in the basketball gym with all the other guys and we decided to race one end of the gym to the other, and I beat him. That was around 2001. I decided to start running again.
[ Q ] What is your age?
[ Q ] You seem to be running well at this point. How many more years do you think you will keep competing in your chosen discipline, hurdles.
I don't know how long I will be involved in hurdling, but I will always be involved in
track and field at some level. I am also involved on the administrative side. But as far as hurdling, I think as long as I'm still winning I will be content to compete.
As Long As I'm Winning,
I'll Be Content To Compete.
[ Q ] Do you have to train differently to keep making progress in line with some of the younger athletes of today?
One thing I have noticed is when I was younger I used to have much harder workouts. Now, my workouts are more toward technique because one thing I have discovered as I have gotten older is it is not so much the workouts that are important but the rest and recovery after the workout.
So I focus a lot more now on technique. I have always been a good technician so this has always been an advantage for me. I will continue to train and emphasize my advantage.
[ Q ] What type of exercises and training methods do you use to enhance your technique?
Actually I am trying something new right now. I am training with two coaches - one who is a track coach and one who is a doctor who specializes in speed development. So I am doing more work on biomechanics, proper foot placement and kinesiology. The clinical side of track.
Diet-wise, all this time, I was one of those people who didn't like vegetables. The guys I'm working with are helping me to change my diet so I'm focusing more on total nutrition. I'm trying new things not necessarily on the track but more in the way of lifestyle changes.
[ Q ] And on the supplement side?
[ Q ] Is the competition for you now as tough as it was in the early 80s?
In the early 80s every week there was an intense competition. Our times were literally separated by hundredths of a second. Sometimes you would go to a collegiate meet and blow away the competition. What I'm finding here in masters is a lack of any real competition until I get to the National level.
Right now there are three or four people I consider to be my true competition. David Ashford, the world record holder, Karl Smith and Peter Grimes. This is just in the United States. I take it for granted that in the United States we've always dominated in the sprints. There are people in other countries who are fast as well. But none of them have beat me yet, so I don't count them yet.
[ Q ] What is it about hurdling you enjoy most? You have mentioned winning as being a source of enjoyment. What else is there?
I've always loved hurdles, and they have always been my favorite event. I have never run anything else. I have run on relays and stuff but I have always been known as a hurdler. I have always just been a natural hurdler.
[ Q ] What is it that technically distinguishes the hurdle from the sprint?
The hurdle requires a higher skill level. Also, you have to run a bit out of control because you are running at 10 fences and you are throwing your private parts at them, while running full speed.
[ Q ] How close have you come to injuring yourself in this region?
Oh, all hurdlers fall. It is just a part of the event. It is about controlling what happens when you hit. I have only fallen about three or four times in my life.
[ Q ] Were these falls during big races?
Only one was during a race. That was way back in high school, and it was my fault. I had broken the district record in the prelim, and I did it so easy so I thought I would just go out there and blow one out. But I just went out so hard that I got out of control, and just went down.
[ Q ] To guard against this happening again, what did you do?
To control against that it is all about learning how to be technically better at hurdling and developing a better body type. A lighter guy running into a fence is going to have a bigger impact than a heavier guy, who runs into the same fence.
Hurdlers have to have a bit of the football player in them. So part of my regimen is lifting weights. But basically it comes down to controlling your technique when you go over the hurdle.
[ Q ] Why are sprint and hurdle athletes typically more muscular then other track athletes?
Well, if you do the type of workouts that build you into a hurdling and sprinting in general, you do a lot of plyometrics and explosive deadlifts and squats and things like that. You do short, quick movements, but they are heavy. So you build strength and some size. I am six feet tall and 196-pounds.
[ Q ] What is your competitive weight?
Actually, at the Olympic trials I was 184. I had a lot less body fat, and I looked more like a bodybuilder then. Right now I'm like seven percent body fat now, but I don't look like a bodybuilder.
[ Q ] What other genetic advantages do you have as a hurdler?
Flexibility. I was able to do a split three different ways even before I got into hurdling. That's a huge advantage.
[ Q ] We see African American sprinters dominating in the sprints and hurdles. What makes them superior in these events in your view?
Obviously we must have more fast-twitch fibers. On the flip side is the genetic advantage Caucasian Americans have. These athletes tend to be better at long distance since they have more of the slow-twitch fibers.
Click Image To Enlarge.
Slow Or Fast Twitch Fibers?
Learn More About Muscle Fiber Here.
[ Q ] What is your training program like now? What difference have you made to your program over the years?
My training program now is more geared toward high performance. The U.S Olympic Committee has, over the last two years, developed an initiative on high performance. One of the coaches I use is privy to the high performance initiatives so I am currently engaging in some of the strength dynamics that have come straight from the Olympic Committee.
[ Q ] What can you tell me about these strength dynamics?
Back some years ago the idea used to be you just ran and ran and ran to "get into shape". What we have found is that, if you run longer without the proper rest intervals, proper recovery and hydration, you basically fatigue your body as opposed to getting it better. Now we do a lot more short work with the proper amount of recovery like the 3-to-1 ratio, depending on the length and intensity of the session.
I do a lot more sprinting and a lot more biomechanical type things. Foot placement, and dorsal flexion, which is how you position your foot in certain areas and what happens when your foot touches down. Pushing with your glutes, and that sort of thing. A lot of technique work.
A lot of the time we film ourselves maybe running just 10 meters - basically just looking at ourselves coming out of the blocks, the first 12 steps. The first 10 meters of the race are the most important. So we do a lot of technical stuff that has come down from the Olympic Committee, instead of just running and being tired.
[ Q ] So you are training the muscles properly as opposed to taxing the muscles with excessive work?
Right. As it stands, right now, my workouts involve a speed day, a strength-endurance day, a pure strength day, and a technique day. Different body systems are taxed on different days.
[ Q ] Where does aerobic training fit into your schedule?
What we have is called core conditioning. It is not just aerobic work. It involves building strength along with aerobic capacity. So instead of doing mileage, we do push-ups, sit-ups, crunch's, jumping-jacks and squats. We do a lot of calisthenics and Pilates.
| What Are Pilates?
The Pilates Method is a physical fitness system which was developed in the early 20th century by German-American Joseph Pilates. Joseph Pilates called the method The Art of Contrology, which refers to the way the method encourages the use of the mind to control the muscles.
In World War I, Joseph Pilates served as a medic for the captured German forces interned in Britain. He was investigating ways that soldiers could rehabilitate themselves while bed-ridden. Thus the creation of a series of movements that could be done in this position was created.
This is before we even hit the track. For example, from October until about now, we go to the track but we don't really run.
[ Q ] How exactly does it work?
Well, they way we work now, as we get stronger we slowly add mileage to it. You see, sprinters don't really run mileage. We may run two to three laps - a quarter mile. We are more like quarter-milers.
[ Q ] Has all the strength and core conditioning work contributed to good aerobic capacity?
It depends. I obviously cannot run as far as a miler, but a miler probably can't beat me running a quarter mile. I don't really need to be running a mile. I only run 100 meters. Besides being generally fit, I can last for a while throughout a workout, so my work capacity is fairly good.
[ Q ] How is your diet structured?
The doctor always tells us,
I personally eat six times a day. My heaviest meal is breakfast. I always eat small meals. Small meals, even for someone who doesn't work out, are good because they stabilize the metabolism.
Ironically, if you were trying to lose weight you would not cut back on what you eat, you would just eat smaller meals more frequently. For myself, I eat high protein and complex carbs with a lot of sugar right before I work out. This includes a lot of fruit. Starches like potatoes immediately after the session and a lot of leafy vegetables to stabilize the diet and improve the digestion.
I really don't count calories anymore but I formerly ate 3,000 calories a day. That 3,000 calories a day was because I was always trying to gain weight. That's part of my problem now - I still try to gain weight but I don't eat as much.
[ Q ] What do you tend to eat in the evenings?
As the evening progresses I tend to eat lighter. More fruits and proteins bars simply because I don't want to feel heavy before the workout, but I need to have energy to complete the workout. Immediately afterward there is a 60-minute window that I have where I increase all those sugars and electrolytes.
| What Are Electrolytes?
In physiology, the primary ions of electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate and bicarbonate.
All higher lifeforms require a subtle and complex electrolyte balance between the intracellular and extracellular milieu. In particular, the maintenance of precise osmotic gradients of electrolytes is important. Such gradients affect and regulate the hydration of the body, blood pH and are critical for nerve and muscle function.
I will again eat more protein bars, and again, more in the way of starches. My favorite is Chinese food.
To View Top Selling Protein Bars Click Here.
[ Q ] What are some of the other keys to improving your time in the hurdle?
We use video analysis, speed work and a lot of sprinting. It's like everything else. Your body has muscle memory, and it will remember how you train. I try to train to run full speed over the hurdles. I'll put 12 hurdles down and that will be my strength workout. I'll move my feet closer to the hurdles, move them forward and in, so that will make my feet move faster. I'll also move the feet backward to encourage them to stretch out more.
[ Q ] And how often would you run hurdles?
Most hurdlers running full time would run at least 100 hurdles a day. I am doing close to this level of work. On a hard day, I do three sets of three over 12, so that is about 94 hurdles. That's a hard day for me now.
[ Q ] And you combine this with a full time job?
Yes, I work as a software developer. I'm what they call a dot-net architect.
[ Q ] What does this involve?
I'm in front of a desk writing code. This code is used to write computer programs.
[ Q ] How does this type of work impact your training?
There are periods in the afternoon where I need a siesta. It seems that for no reason at all I just get mentally tired.
[ Q ] What other lifestyle factors are important for improving your hurdle?
Lots of rest. This is not a sport where you can go out and party on the weekends. You have to treat your body right. You have to get used to sitting in ice for example. Your whole lifestyle changes whether it's intentional or not. Your family is going to get involved. Everything you do revolves around a workout, or planning a workout.
[ Q ] How has your family adapted to the complexity of your training program?
They have been with me even before I was running professionally. It is a bit of a strain at times. There are certain things that I miss. We have to do a lot of logistics where my wife has to pick up the kids because I'm still at the track.
Or the kids are going to get home late because they are with me at the track. They have learned how to do their homework in the car, and, in turn, I bought them a portable DVD player.
[ Q ] Is your family very supportive of what you do?
As a matter of fact, my son who is 10-years old, is finally starting to think about running track. My daughter is going to be the real athlete I think. They are both into it, they are both natural athletes - they just haven't become track athletes. But I haven't pushed them.
[ Q ] You say your daughter is the real athlete. What sport, or event, is she involved in?
Well she is a natural gymnast and to be good at this you have to have that natural talent. You also need this natural ability to be a hurdler or sprinter. She just loves flipping and throwing herself around. She was a dancer before. She's only 7-years old.
That kind of grace and coordination takes a while to develop. My son is just a natural soccer player so if he gets into track he will be a quarter-miler, because he has that aerobic capacity.
[ Q ] What influenced you to take up high hurdle?
My high school coach saw me stretching one day and he said, "You are going to be my hurdler." Little did we both know that I would adapt so well to it. He trained me up from there.
[ Q ] Who have been some of the more positive influences in your life? People who have encouraged, or inspired you to be your best?
Actually my running mates from college. We pushed each other, and even after I graduated, they said, "you really need to think about running at least another couple of years, don't get into the work world just yet." At this time I was so close to the Olympic trials. Really it's been a push from myself.
No one else has really pushed me, until I got married and then my wife got all into it. I think she enjoys getting the medals as much as I do. I like the winning, and she likes the medals.
[ Q ] Is your wife an athlete?
Ironically she does not do anything. She works out but it's more just for staying fit.
[ Q ] What is next for Dexter McCloud, now that you have accomplished second at the World Outdoor Championships?
Well ironically, when they had the World Outdoor Championships, they ran it August 31. Had they run it one day later, on my birthday, I would be the current world record holder. So that is the goal for this year. To break the indoor and outdoor world record in the hurdles.
[ Q ] What are some of the improvements you hope to make between now and then?
Obviously to get faster. Even if I don't get any faster and run the same time I ran last year, I should break the world record. My incentive is to break the world record before someone else does. There are other people going to the new age group as well. So I still have the same competition. Just because I am going to a new age group, it doesn't mean that my competition is going away. That's my incentive to beat everyone.
[ Q ] I notice you write for Bodybuilding.com. How did this come about?
It just started this year. A guy who was helping at the indoor nationals gave me the contact details of Bodybuilding.com's Will. And they just said send your article in, and it has gone from there. I have been representing them. I make sure I wear a Bodybuilding.com or an Athletes.com T-shirt when I'm walking around.
[ Q ] What are your thoughts on bodybuilding? Are you much of a fan?
I love bodybuilding. As a matter if fact, I have been in one bodybuilding contest. I got hurt back in 1988 and started lifting seriously to recover and realized my body shape was changing drastically. So I entered the Mr. Atlanta contest here in Georgia. Without a whole lot of training I took third place as a novice.
The other two had been in several contests. I said, "gee that's neat", and went back to running. I didn't think about it any more, but I have always been a fan. In fact, I met Lee Haney and he gave me some workouts to follow. He told me about my body type and said I would be a natural bodybuilder because I have naturally slim wrists and wide shoulders and a small waist.
[ Q ] But hurdling won out?
Yes. Hurdling and bodybuilding don't mix and I knew I could go further in hurdling.
[ Q ] We look forward to seeing you dominate the hurdles in years to come Dexter. Is there anything you would like to say in closing?
I think I mentioned that my greatest competition was David Ashford and Karl Smith. I just want to say to these guys, "watch out because I'm ready."
[ Q ] Thanks for your time Dexter. It was a pleasure talking to you.
Thanks David, and thanks Bodybuilding.com.