Friday, 3 January 2014

Marginal gains.

Dave Brailsford the Team GB and Team Sky cycling head honcho is always talking about marginal gains. That is the small increases in performance which when added together can yield a large improvement in results.

Sounds simple enough a philosophy to get behind.

It also is something which currently is smacking me in the face as I try to rebuild my running style.

That and a passage from Born to Run (just finished recommend it to anyone who will listen) which talks about thinking of running as you would any other sport. That is you need to work on how you do it and that the idea of 'just running' is rubbish.

I have said before (last blog I think) that magazines and P.E. teachers seem to seldom teach people the mechanics of running. I can't remember when I was at school being told to keep my knees up for sprinting but to use quick short steps for distance running. I remember doing sprint drills when I played rugby, along with fartlek interval training. I remember actually enjoying and being good at hill run sprints - something I don't do enough of now - but don't recall people talking about intensity levels (20/80, 60/40, 50/50 ??) when it came to running we just went out and ran. As fast and as hard as we could for as long as we could but we just ran. If you were good you made an athletics team if you weren't well there was always the field events.

Yet when it came to football, rugby or cricket we had coaching on sets of skills. We were taught how to play the game and we worked on specific facets of the game. I remember the training before an important cup game for the schools rugby team the backs (where I was) were given a ball and told to run 20 widths of the pitch passing the ball in a line. If we dropped it we had to start again. Once we had finally done that we were told to do 20 more but this time with the boy on the end running the line to receive the last pass. All the while our teacher worked on forward specific drills (line outs, mauls, scrums) with the other half of the team.

It was frustrating, we just wanted to play a game, but come the cup match we decimated the opposition purely by being able to flick and spin and pass the ball quickly away from a clutch of players and into space. The working on a specific part of our game payed massive dividends when it came to inserting it into the grander scheme of playing a game.

Marginal gains.

So why not do this with running?

Before people get angry or offended I am aware that club runners do get this kind of treatment. That in that environment speed work, interval training, weights and active stretches form part of the training regime. In schools too it is possible that people now that coaching has moved forward. Yet these are cross over activities. That is interval training (for example) is used in multiple sports in order to raise all over athletic performance.

But what of the mechanics of running, in particular the footfall.

This is what I am working on at the moment.

Marginal gains.

I remember reading The Barefoot Running Book back when I first came up with the idea of running minimalist as something to try. One passage that I ignored and has come back to bite me (twice now) is the one that talks about the fact that you need to be prepared to go right back to square one when running minimalist. That you won't be able to run the distances that you may have once covered and that it may feel as if you have never run before.


At the minute I can just about make it around the block where I live (just over 3 km).

However, confession time, I might be able to go a bit further if I would stop sprinting away from my door!

You see minimalist running in my lightweight Hi-Tec Luca's feels quick. Hell it is quick - the fastest miles and km I have run. However that means the temptation to push it and try to go faster is pretty great, especially as I have said before the position of the foot is very similar to the position it is in when I sprint.

My new runners.

This is where I need to exhibit more self control but also be mindful of the impact. You see setting out too fast is meaning that towards the latter half of my run tiredness is making my strikes lazy and I can feel my heel hitting the ground first. As soon as this happens I can feel the twinge building in my knees. I think if I was to set of slower and a little bobbing run I may be able to keep my heel floating a little bit longer and for my running to stay light and loose.

I have crafted a wonderful graphic on paint to show what I mean...

Image of heel and front foot striking.

You see as soon as the heel hits the ground first the impact goes straight up the leg to the joints of the knee and hip (plus the ankle itself). However with the front foot there is more flex absorbing the impacts, especially bringing the structure and musculature of the foot into play itself. 

Marginal gains.

My calves no longer hurt after a run, proof that it was an adaptation process. Now it is just a case of slowly building up the distance again, and trying to stop myself from hammering out to set a record or prove a point. Although the odd sprint here and there is probably good for the old lung capacity! (80/20 remember). 

One other thing I managed to do is to set up Team Awesome on Strava. I don't know how populated or used it will be but it made me feel good! 

Club badge at the moment.

Nick, Nick, Geoff and I are off to run Hell Down South tomorrow. Should be lots of fun.

I am sure Nick (the Meerkat) will let people know how it goes. 


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