DIARY: Time trials and barbells

Last Coordination week before the two week taper and Saturday’s 5km race, so the sessions at the moment are all about polishing the chrome. Yesterday’s 800m and 200m time trial were a perfect opportunity to test my ability to run correctly in the VivoBarefoots but I still had to face the challenge that my ankles flare on and off after the 3k race.

Once again, I began with plenty of drills and then worked at getting into a gait that didn’t irritate the ankles. It came quicker this time and I eventually worked out that I had to remove the insole from the VivoBarefoot Aqualites. It seemed the opposite choice to what you would expect but it was critical in improving my proprioception just that bit more so I could strike the ground better.

I had copped on to this simple trick last week when I had been sore running in my shoes but the moment I went barefoot on some nice slick tarmac at the Upper Lake car park, the pain went away. So I clearly wasn’t injured! I was just running in a way that triggered warning signals even with the super-minimalist shoes. Taking out the insoles struck the perfect balance.

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Changing toes, note the red lines were the drills are breaking down old tissue. Notice how the toes are still somewhat squashed after a lifetime of tight-fitting shoes. We’ll get there!

As for the times, my targets were 2:42 for the 800m and 32 seconds for the 200m with full recovery in between. It’s a coordination exercise, mainly neuromuscular, and not meant to be all-out. It would be a nice priming exercise for the 5k race either way. The first 400m were poor joy and I hit them in 74 seconds, my feet felt no impact even on the tarmac running at that pace with just a few millimetres between me and the ground. Only once I got hit by “a surge of acidosis” and had to really concentrate to keep energy pumping into the system on the last 400m, did I feel any discomfort. The first part clearly was executed technically pretty much perfect and it makes sense that one can learn to cruise over the ground like that for hours. After all 3:16min/km pace is not actually very fast running from the perspective of natural runners such as Kenyans whose best specimen will run the marathon up to 20 seconds faster per kilometre.

I relaxed with some drills and jogging on grass before doing the 200m and despite feeling like I went out really well I narrowly missed target with a 33 second. I never recorded anything remotely fast over these distances so I am very hopeful the improved technique will allow me to change that in the future. Yet, my 800m was only 8 seconds slower than the fastest I ever ran (during my 1 mile PB on track), so that is certainly encouraging coming off marathon training and dabbling with optimising my technical abilities.

Barbells in Marlay Park!

I spend a bit of my lunch-time going through Jason’s drills before he heads off for Monto Gordo and we made a few key corrections which should set him up well. To work on while it was in fresh memory, we met in Marlay Park after work and did about 1 hour of drills in the sun, barefoot on the grass and tarmac. “You eventually stop caring about the looks, don’t you?” Jason asked as he was bouncing up and down in one of the squats. You do actually!

Perhaps the strangest looking stuff we did was that I had brought my ten kilo barbell along and we were doing posture squats and sprint drills while holding it overhead to help force us to keep correct posture while running. This is tough but extremely rewarding. One of the great revelations of the approach for me has been that strength training traditionally goes the wrong way about things: you don’t get good movement from working your muscles, you get good muscles from moving correctly!

I suspect labourers, craftsmen and other active people who have never seen nor heard of a gym or a calf-raise have known this instinctively all along. Once you teach yourself to move well, the ideal muscle tone simply develops. So while playing around with the barbell looks very macho and like we are all about blasting those muscles, its actually the opposite. As we sprinted uphill on the tarmac with the 10kg of steel held aloft, it was all about relaxation.

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Almost there! Rene practices with the barbell at home. But that bar needs to be further back!

We finished the drills with some downhill strides before going for a run on the grass. I went barefoot while Jason was testing his newly acquired VivoBarefoot Evo that he got locally for the trip. Only minus was that the toe-box was narrower than on the Aqua Lite Tony recommend to us so that could prove a bit of a problem to getting the best out of the footwear. Nevertheless, the run went well and was a good milestone for Jason in his battle to recover from his serious injuries suffered this winter and he seemed to leave in good spirits (with a week in Portugal to look forward to who can blame him!).

My own ankles seem to strangely “heal” when I run barefoot on grass. In theory its not the best surface for learning proper movement as its too soft to give you warning signals about striking the ground incorrectly. But it seems to have a relaxing effect on me and my ankles and once I’ve done a few kilometres like that, the body just seems to “turn off the tension” and voila! I can run again without any discomfort.

It makes me think back to my innocent first years of running when I would probably have sought physiotherapy for this issue, would likely have been diagnosed with some kind of posterior tendinitis, would then have taken anti-inflammatories (thus ruining the healing process), have done drills such as calf-raises (thus further irritating the area and ingraining tension into the calf muscle and surrounding area) and have tried to struggle on through pain with what would seem like a chronic injury. Knowledge is power they say, but I prefer “knowledge empowers”, as long as you care about the fine points. As Jason said as I made a few corrections to one of his drills: “It really is all about the little details isn’t it.” 

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