TRAINING: “Lonely monk”-style

Recently I have had to say “no” to a lot of invitations to go for various social runs. It made me think about that age-old question: Should you run with company (“with the pack”) or alone (“loneliness of the long distance runner”).

The answer has to be “both” and history confirms this with most runners, from great champions to back-of-the-packers, using a mixture of solitary runs and group runs. I find this is particularly true since putting quality of movement at the heart of my training.

Serious monks

Take tonight’s session. 6 x 10 minutes with 1 minute drill intervals out the dark Glenmacnass Road. By the end of the run I was running in complete darkness listening only to the sound the wind and the rhythmic beat of my metronome. It was intense. I call this type of running my “Lonely-monk style”*. I am completely immersed, focused. This type of “immersion running” works best alone with as few distractions as possible.

How I feel during my “Lonely Monk” runs –>

On the other hand, take Monday’s session with the “Masters of Running” group – a main session consisting of 12 x 400m repeats with intense drill intervals barefoot on tarmac under the supervision of Jason and I. In this dynamic, everyone is feeding off the constant feedback – from the hard ground, from the positive visual impressions of other skilful runners, from the cues and instructions coming down from the coaches and from the carefully selected drills. Run with runners who have poor movement patterns and it will affect yours. Run with runners with good movement patterns and it will affect yours.

This gives you a great rule of thumb: the more vulnerable you currently are in your movement patterns the more focused you need to be in your solitary sessions and the more selective in the runners you surround yourself with.


Coaching duties

When you are a coach you have an additional responsibility: it’s not our job to regurgitate mainstream training theory and training plans. It’s our job to follow in Lydiard’s foot-steps and go out on the roads and trails and experiment – test every drill and every workout before passing them on to others.

When I self-talk in my head during runs where I am testing a new format I call them “weirdo-runs” – because anyone seeing it tends to think I’m insane. “Did you forget your shoes” is what I’ll hear testing technical intervals barefoot. “Jesus, what are you doing there on the ground on the side of the road,” what a driver said as he stopped during my “bouncy planks” rest interval during a “Programming Run”.

Running monks of Mt Hiei –>

Ignore it. I’m writing up our training principles and my favourite is “Minimise distractions”. It doesn’t seem like something that warrants a chapter of explanation – but it might be one of the most important principles to follow to create the most effective purposeful practice and not just go through the motions or hustle from one training paradigm to another as the wind, or public opinion, blows.

* This is partly taken from my admiration for the marathon monks of Mt. Hiei. Anyone who goes running with a blade and a noose (to have two ways to commit suicide in the event of having to shamefully stop) is committed to what they are doing.

As an anecdote, the term “monk” is somewhat of a misnomer for the type of focus runners need. Traditionally men have tried to gain mastery over either their body, their emotions or their intellect. This was called the ways of the fakir, monk and yogi respectively by the esoteric practitioner Gurdjieff.

<- Gurdjieff. Genius, mystic, esoteric.

All these ways require a retreat from the “normal world”. Gurdjieff suggested a "Fourth Way”. As runners we can be inspired by this as we must master both our mind, emotions as well as the obvious – the physical body. This is a topic for another post but suffice it to say that too much intellect, too much emotion and too much physical focus are all undesirable if you want to perfect your athleticism. The balance matters.