Archives for November 2013

Running Technique Analysis – Session 2

Kinetic Revolution

At the end of last year I had a running technique analysis session with Neil Scholes from Kinetic Revolution. It was organised by my triathlon club and was extremely useful. You can read all about that session here.

With more than a thousand running miles under my belt since the last session I thought it was time for a refresher, so I organised a car full of people to come with me to visit Neil at Bath to see how awesome my running style now was….or not!

It was great to see Neil again. We had been in semi regular email contact since the last session about various things and as a coach he has never failed to demonstrate a great passion for sport and a huge breadth and depth of knowledge.

We met in the entrance to the impressive sports village at Bath University, and immediately settled in to chatting about our abilities and goals. Questioned suitably by Neil so that he could determine what he was in for throughout the 2 hour session. With that done we headed straight for the track and set about doing our individual warm-up routines and getting in a few laps of the track at a specific pace requested by Neil. While doing this Neil was busy with the Camera while his wife Beth kept us organised, going in the right direction, and made a few additional observations such as stride rate.

You can see my running video below, as taken by Neil, and showing a lot less improvement than I thought that I had made in the previous twelve months!

After the filming we headed indoors to review the footage and Neil analysed each of us in turn. While this was going on conversation was free and we were all asking questions. Personally I prefer doing these sessions as a small group as many more questions get asked and you also have other runners to compare your technique with. Our issues were varied and Neil demonstrated a knack for getting to the root cause of any issues, which often wasn’t where you thought it might be.

Analysis done Neil set about putting us through a number of stretching and strengthening exercises, and helped us to figure out which ones would be the most suitable for us. Beth did a great job as the “crash test dummy” that Neil used to demonstrate the various positions, which we then attempted to copy. Afterwards we returned to the track to do some running drills while Neil guided us into better and more efficient running form, so that we could get an idea for what it should feel like.

After that it was time for lunch in the Bath University Sports Café which was delicious, I can highly recommend it if you are ever passing! You will be surrounded by quite a lot of very fit and energetic looking students, however they didn’t take a second glance at us “slightly” older folk even if we are dressed in lycra. Neil and Beth joined us and we continued to chat for quite a bit longer, at least until we realised that the parking ticket had expired 50 minutes ago!

Conclusion

The service provided by Neil and Beth was excellent, as it had been last year, but it was great to see that they had evolved the sessions based on their experiences and knowledge gained in the interim. This clear demonstration of the coaches also continually learning and developing their already ample skills was great to see.

Personally I got a lot out of the session. My cadence and body lean had improved since the previous session, however my stride still needed some work. I was using far too much quad and not enough glute/hamstring as I brought my leg through. This was leading me to overextend my leg at the front of my stride and you can see my feet almost searching for the floor before a definite heel contact is made in front of my centre mass. Neil filled in the missing piece of the puzzle for me, which straightaway corrected that whole element of my stride, leading to a foot strike much closer under my centre of mass and removing the braking effect that was happening during each and every stride. It didn’t yet feel natural, but Neil was full of tips for how to incorporate it into everyday running so that it would slowly become the “norm.”

Ultimately I should have booked this follow up session much closer to the original session until I had got my stride perfected. I now regret leaving it so long knowing that I could have made some fairly easy improvements. Just think of all the miles that I have run in between and how much easier or quicker they could have been with these changes.

Now it’s time for the hard work. I ran twelve miles this morning working consciously on putting the changes into effect and I finished feeling much more tired than normal. This was a combination of the extra concentration and also using my muscles in a slightly different way to normal. The changes aren’t big, so hopefully it wont take long for my body to adapt. After I finished I found that the tweaks came straight across into my walking as well, which was a slightly odd feeling.

Next time I wont be leaving it so long before getting my running technique check-up! I would strongly recommend that you give it a go, even more so if you are just starting out or often get injured while running.

 

A walk of a lifetime – Ben Nevis Part 1

Ben Nevis was the first Munro that I ever climbed. For those of you that don’t know: A Munro is any Scottish mountain peak that rises higher than 3000 feet above sea level, and Ben Nevis is the biggest, topping out at 4409 feet. That first time was nearly 15 years ago and we went extremely well prepared for the conditions, with each of us carrying far more supplies than was really necessary. That said it was May, and while the day was clear it was bitterly cold at the top and there was snow on the ground. The ascent took us nearly four hours and that was going up the most simple route, the Tourist Track. This is an infamous trail amongst mountaineers as it appears deceptively easy from the ground, but when you get near the top the terrain can be treacherous and there are many places that you can go wrong and fall a long way. Many people climb it each day in the summer and a lot of them are under prepared, often climbing in inadequate footwear or without enough supplies. You only have to look at a map plotting inland search and rescue missions in the UK and Ben Nevis is a notorious hotspot.

Once we reached the top the view was breath taking. Standing on top of the impressive, and massive, North Face we could see across to the stunning Carn Mor Dearg. I promised myself that one day I would return and climb the more complicated route via the climbers hut and the Carn Mor Dearg arête.

We didn’t hang around long before getting cold and deciding to head back down. Our legs were already tired and by the time we reached the halfway lochan my quads were screaming at every step. All in all I think we were out walking for nearly 10 hours and we were all hobbling for days afterwards, but I vowed to return.

It was 2013 before I got a chance to go back. The reason for the delay was due to numerous things from simply not being fit enough and not having the time to being fit enough, having the time and then not getting the weather window. After all I wasn’t going to do the walk that I had been aspiring to in bad weather and with no view was I?

In the intervening years we spent 5 years living in Hampshire and then 7 years living near Inverness, before taking our family back down to Devon to be closer to our parents. In this time period I had become an experienced distance trail runner, and a triathlete. I had completed multi-day mountain marathons and taken part in some of the UK’s most iconic cycle sportives. I had got married to my wonderful wife Sam, who has recently battled cancer, and we have two amazing and beautiful children of 7 and 5. I was certainly fit, now I just needed the opportunity.

In October of 2013 I needed to visit various places around the UK on a business trip and while planning it I spotted an opportunity for a bit of sight-seeing. I would be travelling solo via hire car and I would be passing Snowdonia, the North Yorkshire Moors and also the Scottish Caringorms and Highlands. I started to plan some runs. The first would be Snowdon, which I completed in foul weather, up and down the Pyg Track in 2 hours. The second involved talking a walk (it was a rest day) along the stunning Sutton Bank doing a quick recce as it will feature in my first ultra marathon of 2014.

Finally I was in Scotland. I had one day spare to do a climb and I vowed to go wherever the weather was forecast to be best. It was going to be a Saturday and I couldn’t believe it when www.mwis.org.uk stated that there would be low winds, awesome visibility and an almost guaranteed cloud free day over in the Western Highlands. I was going to get my opportunity, finally!!

Despite a lot of outdoor navigational experience and time spent hiking and running throughout the UK I had never done a ridge as exposed as the Carn Mor Dearg Arete and I was starting to get nervous. Would I be able get across the technical terrain, would I be strong enough to complete the route as quickly as I had hoped. Would I remember to take the right gear. Would I become a statistic.

The night before the big day I advised my host that I would be leaving at 6.30am and I would be back in time for tea. He knew my route and looked nervous on my behalf. He used to be a Search and Rescue Paramedic and had been on sorties collecting bodies and broken people from around Ben Nevis in the past. I promised that I wouldn’t take any undue risks and went to bed.

Come back to read part 2 and find out how the day went. I promise that it will have pictures.

Plymouth Breakwater Swim

Read on for my write-up of the 2013 event or click here for the write-up of the 2014 event.

In this brief respite I thought that I would take some time to write about one of the most amazing events that I’ve taken part in all year. It was the Plymouth Breakwater Swim in aid of the Chestnut Appeal for Prostate Cancer. The swim was 2.2 miles and took place in the middle of August. It involved being ferried out to the Plymouth Breakwater, being chucked in the water and swimming back to Tinside on the Plymouth Hoe. The organisers had planned it exquisitely to coincide with the incoming tide and we all had fingers crossed that the weather would be suitable on the day. Safety in the water was of course paramount and there was a small army of canoeists and paddle boarders to keep an eye on us. We were warned that the event would be postponed if the weather wasn’t good enough, but fortunately it was a lovely day.

I am a bit of a rubbish swimmer, and this would be the longest open water swim that I had done. I was suitably nervous, but mostly about the boat ride out to the breakwater. I don’t do well on boats, planes, trains or even as a passenger in a car, so I was relieved to be able to grab an outside spot on the boat and spend the time chatting with a friend to distract myself. In the picture below you can see me and James standing in our wetsuits on the upper deck at the front of the boat.

Breakwater swim ferry

Breakwater Swim Ferry

From the deck the water looked lovely and smooth, however I did begin to worry as Plymouth started to recede into the distance. It turns out that the breakwater is much larger than you might think and with no sense of scale from the shore you don’t realise just how far away it is. We were given a safety brief while the boat travelled and it was all eminently sensible and straightforward. The boat stopped moving by the fort in the middle of the breakwater and people queued up to go down to the main deck and jump off into the water. We bobbed around with the canoeists corralling us along an imaginary start line and before I had time to gather my thoughts we were off.

I had resolved to swim easily from the start. I wasn’t going to attempt to race in any way as I simply don’t have the level of swimming stamina required to push hard for 2.2 miles. There was a fairly obvious line in to shore past a couple of large buoys. The large wheel on Plymouth Hoe made an excellent target, standing out on the sky line next to Smeaton’s Tower. Not only would this be my longest distance open water swim to date, but it would also be the furthest I have ever tried to swim in a straight line…..

It turns out that I don’t swim in a straight line. Throughout the course of the swim I gradually veered right and had to keep correcting myself. I initially figured that this was due to a current, however afterwards I spoke to some people that had no such problem and others that veered left. I guess I need to learn how to swim evenly on both sides. I was bilateral breathing, so it was nothing to do with that. As the swim went on I found myself approaching one of the buoys used for mooring frigates and I got to see just how massive they are. It dwarfed me, and sent a shiver down my spine. I gave it a wide berth for no logical reason and swam on, correcting my direction as I went, making a conscious effort to swim left to continuously keep me pointed at the Wheel.

As the swim went on I realised that I was really rather enjoying myself. My right goggle slowly leaked and I would occasionally pause to empty it. I had bought my clear goggles when tinted would have been a better option, as the sun dazzled me every time I breathed to the right. For the large part I swam by myself, with a paddle boarder occasionally coming by and asking me to swim left a bit as I was drifting very wide.

The more that I swam the more that I settled in. I focussed on all aspects of my stroke and made the most of the time to recognise that some parts of my body were tense when they needn’t be. My sighting became more and more efficient as I went on and I was soon able to simple lift my head just slightly to let my eyes pop out of the water mid stroke, rather than interrupting a full breathing cycle and arching my back as much as I had been earlier.

Before I knew it I was giving yet another illogical wide berth to a buoy, but this time it was a huge green shipping lane marker buoy and it was pretty close to shore. I could see all of the people lining the beach to greet friends and loved ones. As I passed the buoy my watch vibrated to indicate that I was two miles into the swim. I was too far to the east and angled left to swim down the line of canoeists. A moment later I was standing on the beach and being counted in with a great big grin on my face. I had managed the swim in 65 minutes which was thirty minutes quicker than I expected, mostly due to the incoming tide I should imagine.

I bumped into several of the Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimmers while I was getting my bearings, most of whom were back well before me. James had been hanging around for twenty minutes or so after a great swim and was heading across to the Plymouth Lido for a shower.

This was a wonderful swim to be a part of. It was NOT a race, although there is a Plymouth Breakwater swimming race that runs a few weeks earlier. All of the swimmers were free to swim it at their own pace with a 2 hour cutoff for safety reasons. Afterwards the Lido was open to all swimmers to shower and warm up, plus the event organisers had laid on bread rolls and hot soup above the Terrace Café. It was most welcome as I was starving.

As a runner and triathlete I was very happy with my this event. Swimming is my weakest discipline, although my technique has come along well due to good coaching and my open water technique improved hugely during this event. This was clearly demonstrated just a few weeks later in a half iron distance triathlon when I knocked 7 minutes off of my 1900m time purely through better technique as I hadn’t had the training time to improve my strength or endurance in the water. I enjoyed it so much that I will be looking to complete it again next year on my way to taking part in Ironman Wales next September.

A big thank you to the organisers for putting on such a great event, to my family for coming out to support me and to the Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimmers simply for being awesome and doing such a good job of supporting each other. Finally a massive thank you to the person that anonymously sponsored me with £100. I still don’t know who you are, but you are awesome.

Land crab impersonations on Pen Y Fan

Today I was scheduled to do an easy 14 miler. As is my way I chose to ignore the easy part as I just so happened to be a few miles down the road from Brecon Beacons. My last attempt at Pen Y Fan, an otherwise fairly unassuming peak, was foiled by extreme snow and wind. This time I vowed not to be defeated. The weather forecast was clear for the early morning with possible cloud on the peaks and rain coming in later. Great, definitely time for another go.

My normal daily start involves getting up at around 6am, so I went to sleep last night without setting the alarm knowing that I would wake up in time to be on the hill just after first light. My plans for a peaceful night were foiled by the children who decided to get up at 4am. Once awake my brain started turning over and that was that. When 6am finally came around I got my kit ready and headed out the door. Breakfast consisted of a Cliff Builders Bar and an energy bar. It was far from ideal but would have to do.

Driving up into the Brecon Beacons my bowels decided to let me know that they had woken up. Oh great, lots of woods and moorland, but not a toilet in sight. Thank goodness for the packet of baby wipes in the boot of the car and the fact that it was still early and no-one was around. You probably didn’t need to know about this, but I haven’t had to bare my arse in the woods for about 20 years. This was an occasion worth marking down for posterity. Anyway, onwards….

The clouds were low and the wind blew me up the wide track as I approached Fan Y Big from the south. It was rocky, with a lot of standing water but I was able to get a decent move on and the first three miles rolled by. The views were conspicuously absent, as was the sun when I turned off the trail to head to the top of my first hill of the day. It loomed like a shadow in front of me and I crested several false summits before finally hitting the top. Each one caused me to draw breath. I find looming mountains, hints of drops and mysterious objects in the cloud rather terrifying and have to fight the urge to run back to the car. Strangely I have no trouble with perilous heights and daunting mountains in full visibility and will quite happily skip along narrow ridges and stand on the edge of cliff tops when in perfect conditions.

As I stood on the top, fighting the urge to flee in the mist, I was very aware of the cliffs next to me and the howling wind that was pushing me towards the edge. I left the summit after snapping a couple of pics and headed back down to the trail. It was quite a steep, wet and slippery descent. I slid a few feet on a section of wet grass and moved another six feet away from the edge to ensure that I didn’t become a statistic. I was already a good 20 feet away from the edge, but this extra small gap made me feel better.

I had planned to climb straight up to the top of Cribyn, and then scramble off of its face towards Brecon, however I was unfamiliar with the route and was put off by the terrible visibility and the howling wind. Instead I opted to follow the mountain bike track north towards Brecon and soon dropped out of the cloud. Looking back I could almost see the summits and was pleased to observe that the cloud was now lifting rapidly. There was even some sunshine in the distance. I took the first left, through a couple of fields and past some wary sheep before starting to climb up the next ridge, heading southwards towards the peak of Pen Y Fan. To the west I could see several groups of walkers all heading up the main track, but by the time I got onto the top of the ridge they were all behind me. I could jog in a few places now as the ground levelled out in places. Looking back I could even make out a rainbow disappearing up into the clouds. It was only faint though, so I couldn’t get it to show in a picture.

Climbing up I would periodically come out of the wind into an area that was still open, but utterly still and quiet. I love those moments but on this day they were far too brief.

As I continued the climb and the ridge narrowed the cloud came back down and the rain started. I guessed I wouldn’t be getting that view from the top after all. As I climbed up and up I came over a false summit to see the top of Pen Y Fan looming out at me in the cloud. It was a very daunting sight that isn’t done justice in the pictures. The path went near vertical and the drop to the left would be lethal if I inexplicably lost my balance and hurtled over the edge. A totally unlikely scenario, but that didn’t stop my mind presenting it to me just when it was least desired. I pushed on, using my hands to ensure stability as I went up the easy scramble and onto the small plateau on the top. As I stuck my head up the full force of the wind hit and I came up into it on all fours, scrabbling along like a crab. I stood up to get a couple of pictures and headed off in the direction of Cribyn.

Following the path I was confronted with a sudden drop that looked sheer. The wind was battering me, the rain was painful, blurring my vision and the thick cloud ensured that visibility was measured in tens of meters. I retreated and sheltered behind a small hillock while I got my bearings. I checked and double checked but I was heading the right way. I headed back to the drop from a slightly different angle and the cloud parted briefly to show me the path. I scrabbled down, stopping a couple of times to brace myself against the wind and ensure that I had my balance. The terrain soon levelled out and Cribyn loomed in front of me.

I decided that some discretion was in order, so I skirted around Cribyn. The side of my face was sore from the driving rain and I could barely see. After stopping to pick up four water bottles that someone had left on the trail, tucking them in my bag for disposal, my body temperature dropped rapidly in the wind and my brain decided to let me know that I had left my emergency blanket at home. This was a major faux pas. A twisted ankle at this stage and I would have no extra items to protect me from the weather. It could all go wrong very easily. I vowed to take it easy and not become a statistic.

I leapt, skipped and danced along the rocky path. It was an epic core workout, it warmed me up a bit and it took my mind off the rain. Every time the cloud parted enough to give me a view I would catch it out of the corner of my eye, and then stop to take a proper look. I learnt several years ago not to run along rocky paths while trying to admire the view at the same time. The result then was a broken ankle and I think that I got off lightly.

Before long I was back on the main track at the pass between Cribyn and Fan Y Big. 3 miles of steady but rocky downhill and I would be back at the car. The wind was firmly in my face now, but the rain wasn’t quite so painful. It obscured my vision though, so I had to be careful. I had to drive with my legs to ensure that I kept forward motion into the wind, despite it being downhill. As I descended I passed several groups of walkers heading up into the hills. Surely they are madder than I for I was only braving the elements for three hours whereas they looked like they would be out for the rest of the day.

By the time that I got back to the car I could no longer feel my hands, and it took me a while to retrieve the car key from my back pocket. I couldn’t feel the zip to be able to open it and I couldn’t look to see what I was doing without taking off my running tights and turning them around! Ten minutes later I was changed and sat in the car smiling with the fresh hillside memories, with the heater on full blast. By the time I got back to the house half an hour later my extremities had stopped tingling. Next time I will remember the survival bag, just in case!

Here are the stats of the run from Strava and some pics from the day.