DIARY: “Brazilian” Cross-Country

When our new ChampionsEverywhere website goes live, I will have a dedicated coaching column there talking about sessions I coach and participate in and sharing enough detail for other coaches to steal ideas (or chime in with comments!).

As the site is not yet live, I am publishing the first instalment here on the blog and the session I will discuss is the one I ran and participated in this evening in Marlay Park which is part of my Autumn cross-country series.

I will publish a separate article on session design but to help you interpret what we did, it bears to note that my sessions consist of five stages: warm-up, technical, main, and cooldown with a tactical focus for the day added in for good measure.

Cross-Country Session 07/09/2011 – “Brazilian”

The first series of sessions we are doing during the aerobic and hill phases of the Lydiard program are meant to provide some anaerobic stimulus early as runners will need these adaptations from the beginning of the cross-country season (late September/early October). We buffer this with the a fair portion of standard aerobic mileage in the early weeks to ensure general conditioning is not neglected and runners can keep their peak form through the cross-country season.

Overview

  • Phase: Aerobic (cross-country)
  • Focus: Running form and uneven pacing
  • Tactics: Passing and dealing with uneven pace
  • Intensity: 6-8/10 (Rate of Perceived Effort)

Course

For this session I have adapted the standard Master Run Coach session called “Progress Calibration Run” (PCR) which is essentially a tempo run. I measured out a 5km on grass in Marlay Park consisting of a 200m run-in to a three lap course shaped like a figure eight.

Warm-up

We jogged gently 3km from Taylor’s Three-Rock Pub to Marlay Park and did one lap of the course of the session so everyone could get familiar with it ahead of time.

This was followed by two staple elements of all my seasons: a series of standing dynamic stretches followed by a few running dynamic stretches. The standing dynamics serve to gentle test everyone’s range of motion and loosen out the entire body from top to toe. The moving dynamics take this one step further as you essentially mimic exaggerated movements that are part of a proper running stride.

Here is the series used this evening:

  • Neck rolls
  • Shoulder rotations
  • Arm rotations
  • Hip rotations
  • Side-stretch
  • Leg swings (45 degree angle)
  • Leg swings (full kicks)
  • Side-lunges
  • Knee rotations
  • Shakers

Due to time constraints and the bad weather, I decided to move on straight to the technical part rather than continue with running dynamics as planned.

Technical (Proper stride form)

I am very passionate about getting distance runners to perform strides properly rather than simply performing a very fast running movement. It is a key component in increasing your raw pace, your sprint finish and overall flexibility and range of motion.

We began with a series of three run-throughs of tightly positioned cones which the runners jog towards before rapidly moving their arms and legs to clear the cones and stride off easy at the other end.

This exercise forces the runner to run erect, their knee will invariably drive high as they are attempting to stay clear of the cones and fast feet, coordination, and good arm movement are essential to get through fluently.

We followed this up with a look at the “heel-flick”: During very fast running you will see sprinters and middle-distance runners essentially touching their glutes with their heel while their quadriceps is parallel to the ground. This shortens the leg to the greatest possible degree and because a shorter levers rotates quicker, you can reach maximal cadence this way.

As many distance runners are unfamiliar with this type of running, we performed 4x60m of these butt-kicks before moving on to 3x60m strides each focusing on the three essential parts of a fast running: fast (cadence), relaxed, and tall.

Progress Calibration Run

On to the main event: Our group of eleven lined up 200m from the first lap under the instruction to run the first lap in a “Brazilian” fashion.

This is a session I have picked up from the internet and consists of all runners forming a perfect military column as they run. The person at the back must always run to the front as fast as they can. Normally, this is a fun warm-up, but I wanted to use the session to practice two strategies that are necessary to master to be successful in cross-country:

  1. The ability to deal with uneven pacing especially early in the race when competitors jostle for position
  2. The ability to pass with conviction rather than waste energy on several half-hearted pass-outs resulting only in being passed back out again

Obviously, the faster runners set a punishing pace for the slower runners who on the other hand could attempt to slow down the pace momentarily when they hit the front.

My experience

I fell in the second curve (my bare feet proved too slippery for the grass) and felt on my own body how hard it is to recover and have to pass out a column ten strong!

Great team spirit emerged during this first uneven lap: Jason would encourage me to “close the gap” when Amidou rushed to the front and upped the pace. “Good work” would sound out when the task was managed.

Our group proved quite strong and crossed the first mile in just under six minutes and shortly after, we finished the first lap and it was again every runner for himself, left alone to find their own strong pace. Two tightly knotted groups formed out front which I sadly lost contact which was a pity as I kept the gap even thereafter and had to run on my own having a gap to the runner behind me as well.

Despite the uneven start, most of the runners coped extremely well and either kept steady or sped up further. Unsurprisingly, James McFadden simply took off on his own and was not seen again by the rest of us!

I missed the Inov-8 grip in the wettest corners were the lesson is that bare feet simply cannot provide enough traction for quick tight turns on a wet day but finished strongly on the last lap and was pleased with my time of 19:15 for the 5k. An astonishing improvement of 35 seconds since my last session on 17th August which, together with my half-marathon this Saturday, confirms an unusually rapid return to form.

The chatter afterwards suggested the session hadn’t killed people off.

Cool-down

We keep our cool-down simple as we rarely have time for static stretching and the weather was not really encouraging hanging around. So the team simply took the shortest jog back to Taylor’s Three-Rock Pub (2km) instead of our usual 3-4km jog with a detour through the park.

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