DIARY: Running in Kerry

6 days of workshop preparation followed by 6 days with inflamed vocal chords (my friends felt blessed) and a bad cold meant the Blog has been quiet for a few weeks. It was my first bad cold since last Winter, a reduction of 3 to 4 incidents, so I have clearly improved my health in 2013 as I had set out to do. Stress = illness (look up Richard Flook to learn more).


Jason filming in the morning of Day 1 (pre-workshop)

We had a great time in Castleisland and despite a busy schedule managed to enjoy an evening in the company of John Lenihan, who as always was good for a tale or two about “the auld days” and provided a story that was more of a parable about hope and belief. I will talk about it on another day as it deserves its own post.

Back from the Kingdom

My colleague, friend, athlete and partner in ChampionsEverywhere – Jason Kehoe and I had returned late Sunday evening from could best be described as a “coaching road-trip” in Kerry.

The idea to host a “Masters of Running” workDSCF0227shop in Kerry has been on our minds for a while and finally got traction after speaking to Elite Events manager Oliver Harkin, organiser of Killarney Marathon and Adventure Race series. After failing to secure an appropriate venue in Killarney we booked the An Ríocht Health and Leisure facilities – home of local powerhouse Ríocht AC.

Attendees busy practicing posture

Regular readers know that I believe we over-emphasize the value of  expensive facilities to the detriment of grass-roots coaching but as I said to an attendee: “I’d sell my mother to have the freedom of a facility like this.”

The Value of Planning

With only four weeks to spread the word about the event and Christmas coming up we initially expected a small intimate group but by the time we shook hands with the first arrivals in the car park ahead of the An Ríocht Leisure Centre in Castleisland, we had an almost full class.


Yep, best write this down!

It was an intense weekend from start to finish – you don’t turn off during a weekend like this. The car trip down was a good illustration. With three hours to utilise, I drove while Jason (armed with pen, paper and print-outs) goes through each line of our plan

When I started coaching I thought I’d improvise more and prepare less with experience. But I find the opposite advice needs to hold true – I prepare more than ever now, often down to the minute. Experience, if anything, shows the value of timing. Sixteen hours may sound like a lot of time to train, but for what we are trying to do, I’d easily take double. But you have to be efficient in the modern world, as we all have busy lives so it’s about what you get out of each minute more than how many you have available.

A story of local initiative

I cannot praise the venue at An Ríocht enough – fruit of the vision of two local men, the construction of the track and facility began in 1999 after many years of fund raising. What now stands there is template for how to turn dream into lasting reality – a large well-maintained athletics track, a towering club house and fitness centre all surrounded by a gravel trail and a scenic park. Not to mention the famous “Lenihan’s hill” – a short but steep artificial hill for cross-country training. It’s a place built by athletes for athletes and I wouldn’t hesitate to call it my favourite venue so far and all we were missing was a big hill!DSCF0009

Fun and games on “Lenihan’s Hill” in the facility parkland

We had looked into the option of driving to the nearby valley of Glanageenty as well, where former world mountain running champion John Lenihan used to train John along with other locals have built what now tallies as 11 miles of heavily undulating woodland trails there and it was here that he practiced a “MovNat”-style fartlek of jumping, crawling, lifting rocks and other exercises long before there was  “MovNat” brand or the resurging interest in Paleo and “natural movement” began to take hold in the late Nineties and early Noughties.


With a large group we opted to cut out the travel time that would have cost us to go there so perhaps for a hill running master class some time, we will.

Athletics dynasties

Anyway, as we spend the weekend in the facility, I was reminded again Arthur Lydiard’s vision to establish a training facility in natural surroundings – a vision turned down by New Zealand Athletics. This was the driving force behind founding ChampionsEverywhere and remains so. It’s a lesson that if you want something done – don’t wait for politicians, officials or associations – find a way to do it DSCF0019yourself with the help of like-minded people.

Another view of “Lenihan’s Hill”

The key lesson from athletics dynasties of the past is that the same charismatic master coach that creates the dynasty will eventually be it’s undoing – because once he is gone, things tend to crumble. Often the head coach also reach a limit to their desire to innovate. Assistant coaches pick up on this if they are suppressed or their ideas squashed, often leading to a splintering of the coaching group rather than the head coach overseeing a careful grooming process where they eventually step back into an elder statesman role.

Those dynasties that have survived the inceptor coach where those who put systems in place so that even “mediocre” successors could apply the same method and get great results. The strength of a system is not defined by it’s top practitioners but it’s worst practitioners. Because of that before every workshop, we go through the system of delivery again to refine it further – and there’s no better place than a car: distractions are limited on the highway and it leaves valuable time out of the car for other work.


When we travel to a location far from Leinster, it’s critical to push on each evening until you have a result you can be satisfied with as a coach. Each coach goes into the workshop with an image in their head of how they want the athlete to look and move by the end. But that’s only the first part of the puzzle. A saw a question posed to one of our previous attendees where the questioner repeatedly asked “but where their long-term results”. It’s slightly amusing that his question is rarely asked of physiotherapy, surgery, drugs and “conventional interventions” DSCF0229who routinely fail this test.

The An Riocht main gym. What’s on the floor???

But the constructive answer is that it depends on whether you “follow the script”. As with everything it requires compliance to the methods taught. Success rarely requires 100% compliance but runners with injury history must aspire high. As an organisation, ChampionsEverywhere has a responsibility to make this compliance as easy as possible. This will very much be the theme for 2014: systems, processes and support. There are many trap-doors on the journey to perfecting your running form – our team are aware of most of them.

Some clues to what 2014 must bring

A workshop like the Kerry workshop aims to provide a tool-kit broad enough to navigate many of these issues unsupported. Our Leinster group have the advantage that they can pop into a session every Monday if they wish or book in for a “refresher” consultancy. Speaking to the attendees down in Kerry there’s no doubt that the two major opportunities for this coaching system spreading far and wide in Ireland a) success in races by runners in technical footwear trained on our system, especially high profile runners and b) increasing the number of people training like this.


Jason coaching the group in Kerry

It is a big challenge to “cut against the grain” and be the only person in your training group doing technical training, using technical footwear, replacing stretching routines with natural drills and exercises and focusing more on sound practice than “just” tough workouts. If people tell you often enough that what you are doing is crackpot, it takes a special type of personal obstinacy not to harbour doubts.

Our team is full of renewed energy after the last few months of support from the people on our workshops. “Your success will inspire others,” I told the Kerry group over lunch. “No pressure!” That’s where coaching becomes really only facilitation – no coach has ever “healed” anyone and no coach has ever “made anyone”. What they have done is help people heal themselves or make themselves. We are facilitators – we setup the environment and throw in the right inputs. But the rest is up to the runner. So let 2014 be the year of the runner.


Anonymous said…
The question asked as to are there long term benefits? Seems a sensible one. Why would people pay to do a how to run injury free workshop, if there is no evidence it works?
Might be an idea to do a piece of research into the post workshop experiences of workshop attendees. A simple email survey should be easy to put together.
Also you mention that in 2014

ChampionsEverywhere has a responsibility to make this compliance as easy as possible. This will very much be the theme for 2014: systems, processes and support.
What do you have in mind to make this happen?

Great blog by the way.

Renny said…
Thanks for the comment. You are right ,the question itself is a good one, it was the context and tone that irritated me - I do not like when it is framed as a "quick fix" (this is the "magic bullet" mentality - "take this drug" etc. that pervades modern society). One of the first jobs we have at workshops is to change the "I'm a victim" mentality to "I can fix myself through practicing correctly". Now, this specific questioner got a positive response: the runner in question was indeed injury free over a year later and had run a marathon best of 2:42. And he (he knows who he is :)) still has a lot of opportunity to further improve his technique. A bit like Vern Gambetta we are looking to get back to the ethos that "the best protection from injury is correctly executed training".

This, of course, is what sold me on the model. Having gone from having one of the worst running strides imaginable and scoring 12 out of 21 on an FMS test (high injury risk) and 33 injuries in 4 years, I have not had any injuries since I adopted the method myself, have visited no physios or other specialists and have thrown out all my orthotics and supportive shoes.

Nothing we teach is unsupported by science at the moment (it's not even controversial - but we have to consider we live in a world where evidence clearly shows that modern running shoes and stretches are harmful - yet the practices persist. So what science says and what is perceived as evidence-based are two very different beasts). I would love to see a study done on our specific method - but am not holding my breath because measuring success of a model that address a wide range of variables over long periods of times (and with the need to monitor all aspects of the test athletes lives) would be very expensive and there is currently no financial incentive for anyone to pursue it.

This brings me to your last question: I cannot share the details of our plans at this stage (because I don't want other companies to run away with them honestly) but I hope I can give you a rough idea by way of story. Pretty much every runner with any bit of experience can describe the basic purpose of a "long run" or a "calf stretch". Very few, if any runners or coaches, know the delicate details of a perfect running stride or a good natural squat. But what if that was not the case? What if most runners knew what good running looks like and how to perform a perfect squat? We want to put the foundation in place to create a ripple effect that will achieve that. I'm sorry to be vague but that's the "dark side" of professional coaching - you cannot always say or share as much as you'd like because at the end of the day it's what puts food on the table.

Renny said…
I should add: I have a very personal pet peeve with the question.

I spend thousands on orthotics and physios and other treatments during my four years of injury hell.

Only after did I learn that almost every treatment tried on me was not evidence-based. Yet there is no questioning of these practices. So yes: let's question everything and let's question it hard. But there is not nearly enough scrutiny on mainstream practices who really need to be put under the loop.