This weekend I am taking a (lucky?) band of our “old school” graduates from the “Run injury free” workshops on a run that will not make the athletics coach curriculum: you could call it an “agility run” or “assault coursing”.
The course – link and overview
I did an abbreviated 6.8km version of the full course (which will be about 8km long) and essentially I start out on Kevin’s Way looking for what Ben Medder and Tony Riddle would call “movement opportunities”. The fun started with fourteen vaults of the metal fence on the Way and then some practice on how to jump up and settle on the edge of the fence.
Ben Medder showcasing a vault
Running on, I found a large fallen tree in the woods about chest high off the ground. This build nicely on the vault – A few tries and I managed to use my momentum to pull myself up on the big tree (2-3 skinny runners wide at the trunk), settle myself and balance back to safety.
More running followed before I arrive at wooden fences – perfect for skilled balancing work (practicing using lunges, cat crawl and other forms of locomotion while balancing) and low “speed vaults” (the technique you’d use to vault a low fence or obstacle at high speed. Then I ran upwards, crossing over the small bridge to arrive at the climax of the day (perhaps!) – what I call the “House of Fear” – an old disused quarry building.
This building is a place to “face your fears” and “break down psychological barriers” – it is what you would call “a dangerous environment” with lots of hard concrete, sharp edges, big rocks, protruding steel bars etc. etc. But there are also great opportunities to practice a wide array of skills such as crawling up high walls and jumping from one concrete block to another or finding other ways to move across all these, seemingly threatening, obstacles.
Some technical running on loose rocks follows before we head up to the turning point that gives you a nice view over the Valley of Glendasan. Downhill then and straight to a grassy bank to warm up with some quadruped work – sometimes you need “four legs” when the going get’s steep. Then comes Camaderry and more surprises but I think readers get the idea. I expect a normal session to take 60-70 minutes and include 8km of running with the rest being different types of physical challenges done technically correct in a natural environment – just the type of conditioning a mountain runner needs.
Because the course requires some basic skills, I have invited only people who have attended “Run injury free” workshops as I know they have the basic skill level to participate safely. Others would need instruction which would slow the session down.
“Run injury free” attendees in action in December
The focus group attendees need to be able to run around 60 minutes in their barefoot technology shoes (we use VivoBarefoot Breathos for this exercise although Vibram’s, while not a running shoe, would be pretty good for the work we do in between because you can grab objects with them). They have all been shown basic movements such as vaulting, jumping, crawling, climbing and balancing by Ben Medder on our courses.
Also since this is a trial run, it’s small group (focus group really) and after the run-through, we’ll all meet in the Glendasan Cottage to talk about what worked and what didn’t . Expect to see us opening this up as a regular ChampionsEverywhere event once we have the concept absolutely nailed but if this sounds like the type of stuff you want to do then you have to get yourself our basic education first (which happens during Day 2 of the weekend courses) . To me sessions like these just ram home how far I have come – I literally had zero movement skills when I met Tony 17 months ago in London and now I’m seeking out these challenges and, to be fair, I’ve only mastered the very basics compared to Tony Riddle or Ben Medder. Likewise my “co-pilot” Jason Kehoe has been much more expansive in his challenges and just absolutely laps up this type of workout. Why? Well, despite having won Carrauntoohil in 2011, he knows that becoming a superb mover and practicing these things is the only way to ensure he stays injury free and that he gains a physical edge that very few runners posses.
The best part is how, in a session like this, you combine the joy of running in nature with physical challenges that make you a better mover overall, more fearless and (if you’re interested) more buff all-round.
Why this madness? Just log the miles man!
The only gym you need, even for high performance
Last weekends learning trip to the Gloves Boxing Club in London included a full morning with parkour/free running and Muay Thai expert Ben Medder. Jason and I balanced on iron gates, jumped up and climbed branches in a tree, hurdled obstacles, crawled low in the grass under bars, jumped against walls to grab them and hang on for dear life and balanced across long wooden beams with 16kg kettlebells as our “cargo”. It was a full movement education with the focus as always being – technique, technique and technique. Any coach can make you tired and any coach can make you sore. But that’s just not good enough. By the end we put it together in a dynamic circuit.
In the morning, we had gone through the motor skill milestones that infants master to understand how faulty movement patterns perpetuate themselves into adult runners and other athletes and how it is beneficial to take people back to master these simpler skills to help them become natural runners again. But running is natural you say? Lee Saxby had a great answer to this at the Barefoot Connections talk: “So is breathing, so is eating. How many need help breathing and how many fat people do you see around?” We all need this pretty much.
(Author’s note: Who should you learn from to learn optimally? Apply two simple principles 1) find someone who seems to be doing the opposite to everyone else and 2) ensure they are among the best at what they do)
Want to learn more?
The method shown at the “Run injury free” workshops was incepted by Georges Hebert, founder of “Le Methode Naturelle” or “The Natural Method” and the man who lead to the creation of the first military assault courses. His books are only available in French but you may be lucky to find some stuff out there.
Otherwise, you can always check out a short article I wrote on it at ChampionsEverywhere: “Putting fun into cross-training with free running and natural movement”