DIARY: Slaying monsters, mastering mountains

It all comes down to Brockagh, warning historical imagery of terrible running form coming up!

Wednesday 25th of June 2008, Brockagh Mountain: A came off a fine descent and see Jason Kehoe. He blocks my every attempt to cut past him in the zig-zags. Then finally it opens and I break away. Colm Mullen drifts into view, I close in. My ankle rotates over a rock! I hobble over the finish in 17th just holding position but my season is over…

<- Me at Brockagh 2008 shortly before twisting my ankle

Wednesday 24th of June 2009, Brockagh Mountain: An attempt at a come-back. I finally show a bit of form on an ascent again. My ankles take too bad twists on the boggy stretches and I cruise home worse for wear

Wednesday 26th May 2010, Brockagh Mountain: I have a late resurgence. On the grassy slopes I catch Torben Dahl. ‘F*ckin Dane’ he retorts as I pass, then sticks to my shoulder. Into the zig-zags we fly, “snap” I hear from my left leg as the calf muscle tears and I hobble off the mountain to DNF. I don’t recover for a year…

My monster, my Brockagh

Four times I have come off Brockagh mountain “in anger” and only once unscathed (my debut year). It’s perhaps fitting that our hill training during workshops take place on Brockagh, the tool of my resurrection is being demonstrated at the scene of my ultimate undoing.

After yesterday’s strong and exhilarating 18km run on the rocky trails of Glendalough in my Vibram FiveFingers, I wanted to do something to “slay my own monsters”. Our workshops have changed title to “masters of running” because that is what it is really about – not about “just” avoiding injury but actually mastering the skill and the discipline of running.

Jason in 2008, when it was not so obvious what he’d go on to achieve in the hills

So I decided to include the full Brockagh race route into my long endurance workout for the Sunday. Once again, I decided I had to do it absolutely right, or not at all, so donned the Vibram’s. Brockagh has rocky fire-road, bog, grassy trail and small sections of jagged rocks and the small matter of 400m climbing in the 10.5km stretch.

Starting down around McCoys I took off at easy pace, much as I wanted to hammer the route, I knew I needed some recovery after yesterday’s session. On the ascent there could just as well have been no rocks, I wouldn’t have noticed. The mountain was wet and misty with very little visibility but I managed to cruise down in just over the hour. This compares well: my best time is just over 50 minutes and you’ll generally finish top-100 in the race with a time around 61 minutes. Previous training runs, done “fully shod” and starting and finishing at the gate (200m shorter) took me 63 minutes easy.

Me in 2008, overdressed in hi-tech gear as I always was in those days. No sign of the old school ethos that was to come!

Athleticism and mastery

I threw in another 3km at good pace before arriving in my yard. I often tag some specific strength endurance work in straight after an endurance run.

Today it looked like the below, I threw these in before taking any recovery from the run:


  • 20x explosive push-ups on gravel
  • 5x “pull and explodes” on gravel (fall from squat into push-up and pull yourself back into squat)
Jason executing Pull and Explode during one of our “Assault Fartleks” in winter
  • 20 x step jumps onto concrete (2-footed) and 2 x 5 x 1-leg hops onto concrete
  • Postural strength: 50 x bouncy planks, Rocker (to failure) and 20 wheel-barrows (hip lifts)
  • 20 x posture squats with 5kg bar

Looking back now it’s clear I had no comprehension of athleticism when I suffered those set-backs on Brockagh mountain. I was a helpless lamb, a motor-moron, in the rough hands of a big beastly hill. Training to be an athlete is like

training to be a warrior – you have to train yourself like a Spartan – to fight and to have all-round toughness, strength and mental durability. Go into the arena without the rudimentary understanding of swordplay and you’ll be one of the first to lie in the dust.

Gritted teeth as I try to extract something from a battered body in 2009

This is why I wanted to threw in Brockagh today and run it without anything but the most rudimentary protection at a reasonable pace. It’s clear that the debate around barefoot versus shod has become a complete distraction to the real issues* -training athletes properly and accepting that unless you just want to run for fun and accept regular injuries, then technique and overall athleticism has to be practiced. The worst thing is that obscuring this part of the debate robs so many people of the chance to discover just what their body’s are capable of.

* Even worse, the academic debate is going nowhere fast because it generally ignores running technique and looks only at footwear. My advice: ignore the debate because the proof is in the pudding. Every day I go out and do it I know it’s doable. Had I and others in the same boat waited for the consensus, I’d still be in the physios office every month with the bleak forecast of getting weaker and weaker and older and older…

Take an example:

Falling onto your face! (well not quite)

During the last workshop Tony let himself drop down from a wall onto a car park but landed straight into a push-up position, fully in control. Since then I have been practicing this by doing plyometric push-ups and dropping myself from ever higher objects onto ever harder surfaces. I have come to the level now where I can drop myself from standing onto wooden or grassy surfaces and carpets. I can catch myself from a squat onto any surface (gravel, tarmac etc.) and am confident I’ll soon be able to catch myself from from standing.

It didn’t take years to learn this but I had to break it down and actually practice it. That’s the biggest problem with athleticism and running technique, and perhaps why it’s generally ignored, it takes effort and discipline. Sure in the old days, before my eyes were opened, there was something easy about chugging on a new pair of grippy runners, getting that warm comfortable feeling and half believing “they’ll make me faster”. But the key to the journey onwards has been to divest myself of such illusions, abandon the modern quest for comfort and reject quick fixes wherever they are offered. Brockagh today showed me that I am very close to be where I want to be. Close to a new beginning of my real running journey. Had I been on it from the start Brockagh would not have KOed me thrice!


Andrew Walker said…
very well written Rene. Great to read.