On Wednesday (23rd March), I took James to the gym again, and had a pretty good session, with a 3000m rowing warm up, then three sets of 12-20 reps on upper body/core weights, finishing off with 3.5km on the crossramp machine.
On the Thursday and Friday I had increasing problems with my left calf, after the "cramp" I'd had in there on the Bob Graham recce the previous Friday. I didn't bother too much about it, being busy at work, and I'd planned a rest prior to the Edale Skyline Race on Sunday 27th.
I spent an interesting day on the Saturday, oberving and assisting with a coaching day at Mytholmroyd for the England U16 fell running squad. I arrived just as the icebreaker session was ending, but in time to sit in on an interesting sports psychology session delivered by Duncan Richards of Helm Hill, who was the psych for the GB swimming team leading up to and at their very successful Beijing Olympics.
Initially we looked at how we'd like to feel at the start of a race, and how we actually feel. Being nervous is a natural reaction to an impending challenge, but how can we channel and control our fight/flight/freeze response to get a good performance? Some positive reinforcement in the form of noting previous times we've felt really good or done something well helps here - Duncan suggested keeping a list of all these occasions in our training diaries - I guess the blog's a bit like that.
We then each wrote down a few goals for the season. In my case this was:
- 75%+ scores in the summer series counters;
- Completing sufficient races to score in the Lakeland Classics Trophy series;
- Running the Stretton Skyline in less than 03:50;
- Completing the Long Mynd Hike.
The next session, uphill and downhill runnning, was led by Nick Harris from Rossendale Harriers. We had a short theory session in the classroom.
Key pointers for uphill running are looking straight ahead, maintaining an upright posture, and driving with hands and arms in a similar manner to sprinting. If you speed your arms up, your legs will follow. A helpful insight was that uphill running is effectively a jumping exercise - think about how a high jumper approaches the bar. We also discussed foot plants, here we should be aiming to get the whole foot on the ground, pointing forward to maximise traction, although it's accepted that on steeper slopes we may end up on our toes. Running uphill on a 6% gradient (not steep) uses a quarter more energy than running on the flat, so other keys to uphill performance are pacing and conserving energy.
For downhills, we need to remember that most of the bodyweight is above hip level, so if we can keep our bodies in front of our hips on the downhills, gravity will help. Again foot plants should be with the slope of the ground and feet need to point down the fall line to maximise traction. Looking a little ahead will help - it's suprising that the brain will remember the ground immediately in front of you and sort out your foot placements.
The practical session started with a warm up with a few drills thrown in, and then we looked at downhill technique. One good exercise was to get the athletes to run downhill (grassy surface) with their arms outstretched behind them - like flying down - to build confidence. Whilst they did this Nick had them look at his gloved hand as he ran back in front of them; making them keep their heads up. After a couple of goes the athletes descending became more confident.
We then split into groups and used a hi speed video camera to video each athlete on a short descending run. The coaches checked running form on each run and advised the kids where they could improve and what they were doing well. The final exercise was to repeat these runs, but with another runner "chasing" a pace or so behind, to try to ensure that the kids maintained their form even under race type pressure.
I worked with Phil Bolton of Rossendale, an enthusiastic and knowledgable young coach who's studying sports science (I think) at Leeds Metropolitan University.
In the afternoon, Denise Parks (who writes in Fellrunner), gave an introductory session on sports physiotherapy, outlining her work both treating injuries and preparing fit athletes for the England Mountain Running squad amongst others.
We then moved into the gym for a session on drills and pliometrics. Phil demonstrated a series of drills starting with simple lunges and working up to box jumps. We also did some measurement work on the young athletes jumping skills.
My leg was giving me serious trouble (like a dead leg, only in my calf) now after the morning's practical when I'd been scooting up and down videoing the kids, so I asked Denise to take a look and it did feel a bit better after a quick massage.
We completed the gym session with some more jumping, and I had a nice chat with Jackie Wynn of Ellenborough, who had an interesting take on the procedings.
I then had a chat with Graeme Woodward about the FRA's fell leadership in running fitness course (LiRF), which Mercia will be hosting, probably in July.