As we start this new year of training and racing, it is worth considering some of the lessons learnt in 2016 and to put them into practice early on in the year so that they can become part of the routine before we reach the competition season. Whether our objectives are pure running races or multisport where running may be the first and, more usually, the last discipline, developing an effective running strategy can determine the difference between success and failure.
One method of making effective use of running ability is to learn to run uphill efficiently. There is a significant energy cost to running uphill fast, as I am sure we have all discovered, and one that doesn’t pay an equal dividend on the descent. In recent years, particularly in Long Distance triathlon, we have seen the development of the run/walk strategy to help eke out energy levels. This has, in particular, enabled triathletes to walk up hill or, more usefully, to walk through aid stations. Often however, this strategy has resulted in triathletes both walking up hill and walking through aid stations. The rationale for this strategy is that the triathlete can run faster in between walking and thereby achieve a greater performance*. With a standard LD triathlon run/walk strategy of running for six minutes and walking for one, even with a conservative calculation, the run portion would have to be 10% faster than a consistent seven minutes of running to allow the strategy to pay off. Over a target four hour marathon, that equates to running at a pace that is potentially 24 minutes faster, but still producing a four hour time.
(*For those of us brought up in the no pain, no gain era, the run/walk strategy was a fantastic opportunity to help assuage the guilt we felt when the Ironman shuffle turned into a walk. Sadly, I know too much to deflect the feeling that I had simply not done enough training!).
I would argue that a combination of correct preparation (training) and the implementation of good running form would support a consistent run strategy and enable the average triathlete to achieve a highly respectable 3:36 for the 26 miles. Learning to run uphill efficiently would form a part of that strategy (as would downhill and flat running too) and this requires two things. Firstly, of course, the triathlete needs to learn how to improve their running form, and secondly, how to focus on the process of running during competition.
Focusing on the process rather than the outcome has been made popular as a result of the publicity surrounding the training methodologies employed by Team Sky/Team GB. However, this method has been at the disposal of the thinking athlete for many years and is popular amongst long distance runners in particular. To successfully deploy such a strategy in racing requires the athlete to practice during training, and developing good running form is the perfect way to kill two birds with one stone. Improve the efficiency and learn to focus on the process.
A run/walk strategy shouldn’t be discounted entirely, however. Learning to successfully run long distance allows the athlete to learn so much about their body, their pace management, their energy levels and their resilience. The additional advantage of focusing on the process is that the athlete will immediately recognise when they have exceeded their capacity and this is where a run/walk strategy can save the day. A fine exponent of this has been Emma Pooley who has used a run/walk strategy to successfully win the World Long Distance Duathlon Championships over the past three years. This is, however, her fall back position; the bulk of the racing was done before she elected to walk the steeper of the Zofingen hills.
In part, the lesson here is in developing good running form so that you can run efficiently, but also to use every moment of your training to prepare for competition. Simon Whitfield, the winner of the first male Olympic Triathlon gold, says that in the lead up to his success in Sydney some 17 years ago, everything he did simply fell into place. He asserts that it was this good fortune that led to him coming home first. I would argue that, if you prepare well, not only do you increase the chances of things falling into place, but also you will quickly recognise when things aren’t working, giving you the opportunity to implement an alternative strategy. Only by training the way you intend to race will enable you to firstly establish what does work, but also to develop those little workaround strategies that eventually simply fall into place seamlessly when required.
Until these contingency strategies become seamless, focusing on the process will be your saviour. Those of you who have attended a Natural Running Form workshop will have been advised to copy the professional runners and create a top down or bottom up mechanism of focusing on your running form. Not only is this the simplest method available to you for focusing on the process when running, it also provides you with a clear head for when you need to introduce a contingency strategy, allowing you to stay in control and achieve your full potential. Put simply, if you practice this in training, it will become second nature for your racing allowing you to race with your heart on fire and your brain on ice. As I continue with my own rehabilitation, this is becoming a useful mantra to follow, reminding me to focus on my own form!
Although I don’t think that I will be racing yet this year, my immediate incentive to return to form is to take a full and active part at this year’s opening triathlon/duathlon training camp in St. Michel de Vax in the Midi Pyrenees in March. I am looking forward to this opportunity to complete some concentrated training although I fear that I will be trying to hang onto your back wheels rather than leading the rides! Thankfully, we have Britta Sorensen to help lead these sessions to allow me to focus on coaching. We still have some availability for this action-packed first camp running from 18th March – 25th March at an introductory, all inclusive**, rate of £650.00. Further details available on the website http://www.appliedtri.co.uk/training-camps/ or by email. Please confirm soonest if you would like to go so that I can factor in your training requirements to the itinerary.
(**from airport pick up to airport drop off, subject to conditions).
Please note therefore that I will be in France from 15th March to 27th March and, although I will be providing training plans as usual, the internet can be a little unreliable and I may be unable to Skype or FaceTime. Please therefore schedule any calls prior to the 15th where possible, although I probably won’t refuse an opportunity to sneak to a café if you need to talk during this time!
I hope that this newsletter finds you all well and, from what I am hearing, you are all coping with the weather and completing some excellent training. Please keep it up. For coached athletes, the invoices are on their way. Remember, keep your heart on fire, and your brain on ice.