As warm-up we did one quick lap from the carpark of Ticknock up the tarmac to the big rocks which lead down the technical descent back to the carpark. Then we ran to the flat tarmac behind the trees to perform a range of active dynamics (specific to uphill movements such as butt-kicks, zombie walk, high knees and skipping) and standing dynamics. We finished our warm-up with a set of three looseners (rotational exercises that serve to loosen the ankles, knees and hips).
We then went into a technical introduction where the basic components of an efficient uphill stride were discussed and an exercise performed to showcase. For instance, in effective running your leg lands below or just behind your body not in front of it. We performed run-on-the-spot to get into the feel of this before trying it with your feet landing in front of us. Not a pretty sight! Similar drills were done to showcase the other constituents: High knees, dorsiflexed feet, and quick strides. The "high knee walk" is a particularly favourite of mine because it prepares your legs to perform exercise at full range of motion while showcasing the difficulties of high knee movements at the same time. I also demonstrated the difference between "pushing off with your calves" (bad) and "lifting with your glutes, quad and hamstrings" (good). The athletes confirmed to me that they tended to get sore calves from hill running. Once you learn how to lift yourself of the ground rather than pushing, this will be a problem of the past.
Thus instructed, we jogged up towards Three-Rock, taking the rocky trail towards Kilmashogue midway up. In a nice flat stretch with a beautiful view of sunny Dublin, I set up a row of 8 cones to perform the final technical exercise: Quick feet and coordination by hurdling through the cones. The athletes started slowly and the speed of the drill was then increased as they got more comfortable. As we went along, I used a mixture of coaching and self-coaching to allow the athletes to make proper adjustments and clear the cones with better form and faster. Typical improvements that I saw as we went along was better use of the arms for rhythm, better coordination, and better ability to clear the cones while keeping proper form. For example, when you clear cones quickly, its natural to run on your toes like a sprinter. To practice keeping your foot dorsiflexed (pointing your toes towards your shins) and lifting your knees up high and quick.
We jogged on further to a designated climb on the Wicklow Way with nice even surface and suitable gradient to perform the meat of the session: The Fitness and Strength element. For the beginning sessions the focus is on strength over fitness which means performing drills that are short enough not to trigger use of the anaerobic energy system but instead allow the athlete to rely solely on the strength of his legs.
To practice good uphill running, I had decided to break down the desired movements into bits: First a normal uphill jog to observe the athlete's in their normal running form. After some feedback, the next test was uphill skipping with focus on driving the knee high. To simplify this further, a drill focused on running uphill with small steps but performing a high knees drill. Next then was focus on a quick stride, meaning running uphill with as quick cadence as possible. We finished off by uphill runs focusing on keeping the foot dorsiflexed on lift-off as well as giving the runners a chance to run up as fast as they could focusing on nothing else.
This I found worked very well, for every one or two run throughs, we stopped for a few seconds and discussed the good and the bad and tips were given to improve form. Both myself and the athletes noticed really good improvements overall. For a more difficult session, uphill bounding is a perfect way to put it altogether but as these are early days, we did not perform that drill today. For a more strength-based drill, more powerful uphill plyometrics can be used, but once again, these are early days and a gradual approach is imperative in my mind.