TRAINING: When hard is best

Today’s run I rate as one of the most successful and challenging training runs I have done. Once again the scene was the “Glenmacnass road” which I have been using for my “Out and Back” and consider one of the best weapons in my training armoury.

Many barefoot and minimalist coaches or enthusiasts can be seen training away on grass or other soft surfaces but this is a very poor way to coach yourself to the required skill level. Tony has preached this need to find “non-compliant surfaces” from the beginning (meaning, hard surfaces). The Glenmacnass Road is certainly that. The hardness of the local roads around Glendalough are such that when I enter the the Upper Lake park and begin running on the foot-path there it feels like I just moved from onto a spongy synthetic track. Those roads are old, unforgiving and slightly gritty in places. In other words: the perfect training tool. Punch it and it will punch back. Punch it wrong and it’ll break you hand.

Slap that tarmac

This is a good metaphor: imagine you spend your entire training as a boxer hitting a rubber wall. My guess is that will make you very sloppy. Try hitting a real sand-bag and you realise that it’s not half as soft as it looks. There’s good reason for this (one is: people are not half as soft as they look either when struck). The least painful method of striking someone is a slap with a relaxed flat palm. Tony coaches much the same type of relaxation into your feet – you could say that once you’ve got your posture and rhythm right, it’s all about “slapping the tarmac with a relaxed foot”. So since I felt like my form was coming together nicely this morning (I was working away on my treadmill, doing some filming and self-analysis), I resisted the temptation to go up on the hills (a pity in such weather, but you need priorities).

I went off in my VivoBarefoot Aqua Lite. I’ve taken all the insoles away from the four pairs I own (two Aqua Lites and two Breathos) and I do not miss them at the moment. So my “protection” came from the 3mm of puncture-proof rubber sole only, the rest I had to provide by being skilful.

Passing out cyclists

My pace was slow enough to begin with but I enjoyed my rhythm and felt that I got increasingly comfortable during the first 2.5km to the beginning of the climb out of Laragh. Here I began to go really well up the hill and passed out three cyclists. In fairness, it’s easier to run up a hill than cycle up it.

At about 5-6km my right hip began to stiffen. This has occurred before and Tony puts it down to my right leg having lagging behind too much thus getting some weight and pressure put on the hip flexor. I still have a subconscious desire to push my legs backwards for more power, the way I trained myself to do with the Lydiard hill circuit. Unfortunately it was later shown that there is actually no real drive in running (this is called the extensor paradox and Tony will talk people through it at most of our workshops, the running entry on Wikipedia talks about this in the “Drive” paragraph).

Keeping the focus

This time I refused to let it faze me and instead applied a few strategies: 1) as Arthur Newton has taught us let no conscious tension enter your mind (as in, I tried not to think of anything and just relax and 2) inserting several series of exaggarated hamstring pulls to try and get the correct movement back into the leg and relax the hip flexor. While some stiffness remained I managed to loosen it up and for the more challenging downhill sections on the return, my form improved overall with less and less force being felt through my legs.

This is one reason the Glenmacnass road run is so ideal for practicing technique – you get a hard surface, some uphill and a few long sections of downhill where the forces really mount against you and you have to run really well or you’d feel it instantly. In total, I came home having done just over 12km at a reasonable pace. Even better: my legs did not feel like someone had taken baseball bats to them. My glutes and hamstrings in particular are sore after these runs, but it’s  the nice kind of soreness that follows proper use of the muscles, so once these muscles (and my heart) get fully reconditioned, I expect much more from these runs.

For now, this was a very encouraging training workout that I rate so highly mainly because of it’s high technical challenge.


Anonymous said…
liking the blog and have seen the championseverywhere name mentioned but can't place where, maybe in runworx? Dunno, will keep an eye for any more workshops you're running - I'm interested in exploring my own running and "slapping the tarmac wiht a relaxed foot". Will stick a link over to you on my own blog if u don't mind
Renny said…
Hi Anthony, we did an event with Runworx showcasing the ultra running movie about the Western States, so that might be it.

Appreciate the link, will have to check out your blog. You can follow the dates for workshops here, we'll have more up very soon: