Have you noticed a proliferation of signs with pithy messages on them outside shops lately? I have. I think a chalkboard and quote book salesman recently offloaded his entire stock to the trendy sportswear stores and allied health practitioners in my neighbourhood. Now I can’t walk anywhere without almost tripping over useful messages such as “walk like you’re wearing a tiara” or “embrace the moment before it embraces you”.
Most of these messages are quickly forgotten but one that rambled on about being “better today than I was yesterday and not as bad as I could be” got me thinking.
If you are a committed runner, then sometimes you’re not better than you were. And it’s not for want of trying. You might have a weekly running program, do gym classes and watch your diet. But you might not be getting any faster. And that might be bothering you. It’s easy to put such things down to just getting older, but in fact age might have very little to do with it.
You may just need to identify and overcome some blindspots in your training.
An article for triathletes that I read recently said that eliminating these weaknesses can bring significant performance gains without necessarily requiring too much extra work.
Blindspots are the parts of training we neglect or avoid, either consciously because they involve working outside of our comfort zone, or because they might be counterintuitive, that is, activities that seem unrelated to the type of running we do.
I asked Sydney sprint and strength coach Rod Clarke (www.runfasthq.com) and Michael Lynch, personal trainer, 2:38.00 marathoner, and a Masters champion 400m and 800m runner, about typical training blindspots. Some might resonate with you.
You might be training for a flat-course distance event such as the Gold Coast Marathon with virtually no hills in it, or be a track racer and think “what’s the point?”, but hill training is incredibly efficient, says Clarke. “I use hills for all my guys as it is low-injury risk and the fitness builds very quickly,” he says. “Hills build strength for your sprinters and speed endurance. Again, pure sprinters hate hills but they all should be doing them.”
“A lot of the Masters athletes don't do enough strength work in the gym and this is particularly highlighted out of the block in races,” says Clarke. “Weaker athletes stand straight up out of the block as they don't have the strength to drive out and forward and stay low. This is where a good strength program is necessary. Lots of squats and lunges.”
“As a PT the obvious thing to me is that people generally hate speedwork and generally don’t even understand the intensity that is real speed, whether it is on the track or for a marathon,” says Lynch. “I remember Haile Gebrselassie being questioned in an interview about his readiness to step up to the marathon and he answered something along the lines of ‘endurance is easy to get, speed is hard and I already have the speed’. I think that hits the nail on the head as to why people would rather run for 30km than do 4-5km of speedwork intervals.”
“The only injury I’ve had from running has been one case of plantar fasciitis because I love lightweight racing flats and trained all the time in them,” says Lynch. Understand where your weaknesses are - eg. ankles, flat arches - and wear shoes that give you the best support, regardless of the latest trend. Also turn them over reasonably regularly.
Increased mobility can make such a difference to performance. Stretching is as easy to avoid as it is to do, yet it pays handsome dividends. Body balance or stretch classes, yoga, swimming or water running: they all help to open up the hips and release tension through the spine and anywhere that gets tight and restricts the mobility required for efficient running technique. Use the downtime between race seasons to work on those parts of the body that get neglected. The payoff will come when you pick up the intensive training again.
What blindspots have you discovered? How do you overcome them?