Wednesday, July 13, 2016

DIARY: A new day - 'full-time athlete'

Friday marks the beginning of a new chapter of my life as I leave the IT industry – and steady employment – after 11.5 years working for a major multinational. This begins my life as a full-time professional coach and (laughs!) athlete and also, in due time, therapist as I am finishing off my diploma at the NTC to add another string to my bow and help take care of runners from ‘cradle to grave’.

I accepted redundancy and look forward to now ploughing 100% of my energy and enthusiasm into one project. Having my moonlight projects ongoing since 2011 means I don’t go into entrepreneurship with any blue-eyed na├»ve optimism but with resolute realism. Being an entrepreneur is no easy ride but it suits where my philosophical leanings have evolved over time. I like the idea of being my own boss for the same reasons I coach personal empowerment. I believe the future will see smaller and smaller companies and more sole traders as technology blows away a lot of the barriers that currently give large companies a huge advantage. I don’t expect everyone to be an entrepreneur or all big companies to disappear – merely a marked shift in the direction.

One of my favourite writers Nassim Taleb wrote: ‘nothing is more addictive than a monthly salary’ and he is right. At the end of the day our economic system is designed so that money follows value except where organisations become so large that transparency becomes difficult or money too easily available (or where ethical practices allow people to gain value at the expense of others). But I like the simplicity of this mechanic: provide value, find solutions for people and we can all have job security even when ‘working for ourselves’. The trick, of course, is to consistently provide value and to consistently find solutions. Fail to do so and ‘the market’ will discard you.

This Friday we leave for a family trip to Denmark for one week and then my new life begins when I return. I will be chronicling this part of my story on a blog called ‘Employee 2 Entrepreneur’ to keep the focus of my other sites running-focused. I want to write about this transition because I feel all my coaching and experiences in relation to providing coaching are linked – it’s about empowerment and self-fulfilment. When I chose my Bachelor’s Degree, I did so on the basis of a financial calculation and the same logic took hold when I choose my MsC degree. In both cases I discarded personal passion in favour of money. I have no regrets: I would not have my current life – including my strong young son and all-round nice existence in the Wicklow Mountains, if I had not made these ‘mistakes’.

But as the years passed, I felt I needed to do something more vocational. I was no longer the same person who registered for Business College. The office environment didn’t agree with my health or sentiment anymore and I would catch myself looking out the window and thinking ‘do you want to spend almost a third of your life looking out at the real world from behind a glass window and see it go by?’ Once that thought took root there was no going back. Incidentally it all started when a co-worker told me to read Tim Ferris’ the ‘4-hour work week’. Ironically, I never worked more in my life than after reading that book – free time as a concept ceased to exist as hours after work had to be filled up with planning and working on a new existence. Over the years I learnt to balance that better but I also learnt that the real dream behind the ‘4-hour work week’ is not the ‘4 hours’ but rather Tim Ferris’ statement that the true riches in the modern world are: mobility, time and money. We all need the latter but without the other two they are worthless. I am not really interested in a ‘4-hour work week’ but rather the old adage to ‘do what you love and you will never work a day in your life’.
I have a clear idea of the changes I want to see in the world – most are currently focused around running and physical health but as I get older I hope to progress onwards to some other things which relate naturally to that. But you cannot do everything at once. And, in coaching the '4-hour rule' just doesn't work because it is a field where you can only truly excel if you give it everything.

So as a final word in this little entry: if you are interested in following the ‘business’ and ‘personal’ side of my work – rather than the running and sports-specific part, then keep an eye on the ‘Employee toEntrepreneur Blog’ - although the site is not entirely finished yet so bear with me until then - I will talk about all my personal experiences and opinions on entrepreneurship and especially as it relates to a coaching business. Who knows – it may be a short journey but not if I have my way. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

'RACE': Croghanmoira Chase

The time for our Club Summer Party in Glendalough AC came up. I had planed a busy week for myself as I hoped to do the Roundwood 7.2 km trail run on Thursday and Arthur's Mile in Rathdrum on Friday before hosting an informal Club Hill Running Championship on a 'Surprise Course' Friday.

Unfortunately, Aoife's work called here away to Geneva those days meaning it was 'all dad, no running' time. So Saturday morning I was looking forward to blow off some steam. I had picked Croghanmoira mountain (a 667 m pyramid peak towering over the Drumgoff Gap) - an old favourite of mine from the Aughavannagh race in 2007. I remembered it as a 'mini-Snowdon' with steep gradients and a nice rocky descent.

We had planned to meet in Lynham's at 12 Noon to car pool to the 'unknown destination' and a few eye-brows were raised at the assuming peak as we parked at the Drumgoff Gap for the start. Looks are deceptive here - although the climb is tough and steep, you hit the large trig point after a mere 1.7 km. Our club members had a barbecue to be back for and from a coaching perspective I prefer shorter races for events like this as you can shrug them off very quickly. This proved true this time as well - although many gave the race a good lash, after 5 minutes , you almost feel like you could go right back up again. In Wicklow, we have thankfully retained the tradition of having many races in the 2 mile to 5 km bracket across the year - meaning people can race more without it interfering too much with training.

New club man Torben Dahl as well as Amidou were the natural favourites and it made for a nice showdown between the 'Lap of the Gap' and the 'Glen to Glen' champions. 'We're going by IHRA rules - no markers and first man home takes the time,' we dumped a stop-watch at the start point in a water-proof case with a pen, 'only one rule - you go to the top of the peak, touch the trig and go home. Whichever way you want'. With no cloud cover, the trig point itself could easily be seen from the road-side.

Since I knew the route I decided to take off in the lead and quickly realised I had forgotten to take off my t-shirt (I was wearing the club singlet naturally) so ditched it in the heather just as Torben passed me out and asked ' is the route easy to follow'. As it proves it's dead-easy - with noticeable trail all the way to the top. About a kilometre in the climb flattens a bit before the very steep final climb - at this point Amidou passed me as well and gave chase to Torben. They connected and I could see a tight battle would be on. There's two parallel paths back from the summit once you turn - a slipper grassier path and the rockier rougher path. Amidou and Torben flew down the rocks whereas I gambled on the grassy path as it turn right back towards the start a little bit earlier. On the day it proved a poor choice as the rocks were drier and quicker - Amidou took advantage and had the lead before the end of the rocks. From the distance to Torben I knew I wasn't going to catch them so just focused on keeping best possible effort. 'Swoop' and my shoe got stuck in some mud and pulled right off. I turned back, pulled it out of the goo and decided it would take me too long to put it back on, so finished the last 800m with a shoe on the left and a sock on the right. Thankfully this was on a mainly grassy section and apart from a few near-misses where the sock slid under me, I cruised home to the waiting pair of Amidou and Torben who had both broken the 18 minute barrier with 17:34 and 17:55. Amidou held on for the win despite taking a skid on his rear on the rocks.

As I turned around the others were arriving (results below) including Catherine Devitt who had run-walked the route with her dog on a leash after injuring herself recently in a bike crash. It had been a tough week of racing for many of our our athletes: Rachel Wisdom and Claire finished 1st and 2nd at the Roundwood 7.2 km trail race and Donna, Colm and Bruce did the Brockagh race AND the Roundwood double - so rest was well-deserved as the party proceedings started in the Glendalough Hotel in the early afternoon.

1. Amidou Dembele 17:34
2. Torben Dahl 17:55
3. Rene Borg 19:13
4. Derek Cullen 20:19
5. Marcus Murphy 20:40
6. Rachel Wisdom 21:22
7. Yvonne Brennan 22:08
8. Colm Kenna 22:36
9. Catherine Devitt 22:56
10. Claire O'Callaghan 23:04
11. Donna Quinn 23:28
12. Bruce Philips 24:02
13. Sorcha Griffith 24:27

These short races have always fascinated me since reading of the Guides Races in England (I had the pleasure of watching Ambleside twice while - ironically myself opting to do the longer Fairfield Horseshoe race). Most are 2 miles - the same length more or less as our Croghanmoira Chase which can now join the traditional IMRA HellFire Flicker, Sugarloaf Rush and Bray Dash on the list of what I like to call 'middle distance hill running' races.

The challenge with reviving them in a more official capacity is that the large fields that hill running now attracts doesn't support it and many consider it inefficient to drive a noticeable distance for a short race - so until circumstances changes these races will likely happen more often as they did this Saturday - as an informal club race with a small field.

Details of route here:

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

REVIEW: VivoBarefoot Primus Review

I have uploaded a video showing my recent 'pre'-review of the new VivoBarefoot Primus and Primus Trail shoes. They are the most pleasant to wear yet and generally a step in the right direction.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

TRAINING: Steady hill climbs

A practical article from my professional site 'Running Coach Ireland':

Read it here

Monday, May 09, 2016

RACES: Good start to the season

My athletes have had a great start to the season. Glendalough AC collected 6 medals at the recent Wicklow Road Championships and 5 out of 8 runners set a personal best. We did this largely off sessions that were steady-state in nature rather than hard interval training and the biggest personal best came from a girl who did mainly low intensity MAF training and only a single race-specific session.

In the hills, Amidou resumed racing by winning the Laragh 6 km Trail race before finishing 4th at Tonelagee and the Lake and 8th at Howth.

Jason started his season later as he has a long Irish Championship campaign ahead and not much time to rest between the cross-country season and the hill running season. He jumped into Ballybraid - a last minute decision - after a hard week of training in Spain. We just wanted to blow the cob-webs off him before the first race in the IC. It went well with Jason leading the climb until he missed a short-cut and had to work himself back in the front. By the ridge between Mullacor and  Braige, Jason and Brian Fennelly were setting the tone of the race together. Coming off Carrigaleenen and the steep grassy descent to Drumgoff, he veered slightly off the optimal line with only a few hundred metres to go leaving an opening for Adrian Hennessy to swoop in an take victory. Thankfully he recovered to 2nd.

For myself I jumped I had to start my racing season before I intended, in order to qualify for our Wicklow Way Relay team. I jumped into the Park Run in Shanganagh and ran 19:32 without a fuss which was a good return for me on the low mileage training I have been doing this year. The future looks bright all around and even baby Cillian looks set to be twice the athlete his father is - or more!

Monday, February 08, 2016

ARTICLE: Bob Graham's shoes

I recently began reading ‘The Round – in Bob Graham’s footsteps’ by Steve Chilton. A passage about Bob’s long training rambles on the hill stood out:

On his feet he wore plimsolls or sandals, much to the disapproval of one friend who suggested he should wear boots. Bob took his advice or one walk only with the result that he slipped and fell down a gully. That was the last time he wore boots.

It reminded me of one of those many memorable quotes by movement educator Ido Portal, whose weekend training I was lucky enough to attend in 2014. Ido has recently hit the public eye in Ireland due to his work with Ultimate Fighting Champion Conor McGregor. On the high-class podcast show ‘London Real’ he quoted a student of his saying: ‘hi-tech shoes, low-tech feet, the more expensive the toys, the cheaper is the mover’. (go 10 minutes in to hear this part).

When Bob Graham prepared for his remarkable record in 1932 which would spin off one of the most well-known ultra-mountain running challenges in history, he trained by walking the fells bare foot:
As part of his ‘preparation’ for his attempt at the fell record he walked over every fell he intended to include in his BARE FEET (imagine walking over Scafell Pike in your barefoot).* His reasons for this was two-fold: to toughen the skin (he suffered no blisters when he eventually broke the record), and to save wear and tear on the footwear (gym shoes).

Shoe care or foot care?

I have found it increasingly hard to understand the aggressiveness towards barefoot training or training in footwear trying to mimic barefoot (i.e. – by not trying to interfere). For starters it is not a radical view (it is the recommendation of the American Society of Sports Medicine) and it is blindingly obvious that prolonged wearing of shoes with heel-to-toe drops, narrow toe-boxes and excessive cushioning and stability retards and weakens the foot.

On the one had some of will defend footwear as if it were a dear beloved family members while shedding not a single tear at the damage the same type of footwear did to our closer family (our foot). I am lucky to now have a son and being able to confirm for myself: most of us are born with perfect feet. My job as a parent now is to keep his foot that way so he can avoid the many travails I had to suffer because my parent’s were not lucky enough to equally well-informed. I am grateful to those who brought my attention to this and some day Cillian will have reason to share this sense of gratitude I have no doubt. I know many parents I have worked with have implemented similar changes to their children's footwear choices and it's one of the things I am most proud of being part of.

I look at my son's perfect feet and compare to the huge amount of frustration and effort I have had to put in just to return my feet to somewhere near close to what they could have been (but never quite what they could have been if not 'molested' by an ill-conceived footwear paradigm). At the same time minimalist and barefoot enthusiasts and coaches are being ridiculed and screamed down while the big companies responsible for this development are left alone. But I suppose most people don't have the guts to pick on the big bully in the schoolyard - they'd rather molest the small guys in the corner.

The process of undoing the damage of wearing such footwear obviously has to be managed properly but the solution is not to ‘stay in the coffins’. If I break my wrist and put on a cast, I don’t stay in the cast just because my weaker wrist seems to need it a few months down the road. We all understand the implications of keeping it on too long.

Eustace Thomas

As an after-thought – Bob Graham’s predecessor on the ‘Lakeland Record’ throne – the famous fell-walker Eustace Thomas swore by many techniques I would today consider essential parts of any healthy training system – the bold items describe directly routines we have as part of all warm-up and cooldown:

His system encompassed a thorough reconnoitring of the route ,gymnastics and mountain-based training, the use of lightweight clothing and footwear, massage, spinal exercises and foot preparation. Thomas’ approach sought to understand the problem of endurance from a systematic physiological perspective, incorporating analysis of the nervous system, the respiratory system, and breathing technique, the biomechanics of movement, gait and pace.
I’ll look forward to reading the rest of Chilton’s book – in the meantime start caring more about your feet and less about your footwear – you got the latter first.

* For those of my readers who haven’t been to the summit of Scafell Pike – it’s a flat expanse of nothing but big uneven rocks. 

Sunday, November 01, 2015


A number of month’s ago I got approached by a friend – top Irish runner Mark Ryan. Mark shared with me the ongoing plans to open a ‘Running Superstore’ – a one stop shop and centre of excellence for runners – a project he had begun with IrishFit owner Sean McFadden.

Mark knew our work with running technique and biomechanics well and wanted to know whether I would be interested managing the ‘Running School’ service – the coaching branch of the business.

The Running School debuted at the Marathon Expo

The chance to bring coaching and training to more athletes was impossible to pass up so we soon shook hands and I am glad to report that both the ‘Running Superstore’ and the ‘Running School’, located within it, will be opening their doors this Monday (2nd of November). The first few evenings are already booked out but go on the website and you can see when we’ll be there – during the opening months we will primarily open up for consults from 6:30-9:30 pm with early morning slots available on request as well.

Apart from bringing in our experience we will have a lot the best equipment available for technical and physical training: force plates, HD slow-motion video cameras, specialised ‘hard track’ treadmill, indoor tartan track, functional movement assessment tools and much more.

2015-10-25 17.29.26

Assessing normal foot function at the recent Expo

We had a busy weekend at the Marathon Expo with runners coming on and off our treadmill at a rate which almost burned off the belt (poor machine) and we have our fair share of runners booked in already for consults in the first period.

I will only post intermittently on the blog in the upcoming period as I want to focus more time on writing educational material for both Running School, ChampionsEverywhere and Primal3*.

New horizons

So we enter an exciting time and as if that was not enough I am beginning my studies as a Neuromuscular Physical Therapist next year which will add another useful layer of practical skills to my personal mission: to unravel the mystery that is the human body and help play an important part in ending the injury scourge that plagues our community. We are entering an exciting time when the ‘biotensegrity’ theory and the ‘one muscle hypothesis’ along with game-changing advances in the nascent field of quantum biology (the study of how quantum level events – i.. movement of elementary particles -  influence our biology) prove to us just how little we really know about ourselves and our world.

Hope to see you at the ‘Running School’ – we will expand the list of services shortly and hope to do a series of introductory talks both ourselves and with interesting guest speakers whose ideas we feel compliment our own.

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