Professional Help

June 5, 2012

When my friends and family commented that I “should seek professional help” I chose somewhat optimistically to assume that they meant running coaching rather than psychiatric counselling.

I’ve had more than my fair share of running injuries and have slowly come to the realisation that improving my technique and, to a lesser extent, my strength will be the only way to stem the tide. If I can make myself a little faster along the way, all the better! So, back in February I started a six week running technique course at The Running School in Chiswick.

The course began with a detailed biomechanical analysis session. The results were predictably bad! To quote the coach Josh: “You are obviously very determined ‘cos you don’t make things easy for yourself!”  Specifically, my issues were: a horrible forward lean, failure to use my glutes and hamstrings, a miserly heel lift, a slight over stride and the “worst case of water bottle arm” they had ever seen. I expected to come away from the first session with lots to work on, but being forbidden from running with a water bottle was a surprise!  And, yes, as those of you who know where my Pingu name comes from will be pleased to hear, my feet were not going in a straight line.

Over the subsequent five sessions the coaches worked on my technique and gave me lots of strengthening exercises to do as homework. For the most part I had the same coach, Josh, but I worked with most of the team at least briefly. I found the first couple of weeks a little frustrating largely due to my inability to make progress at the rate I would have liked. Towards the end of the course things started to come together and I just wished I’d reached that point a little sooner. By the end I was able to execute my “new” technique very well, but it was far from natural. Since then I’ve reverted to some of my old habits but I’m certain my natural technique is far better than my starting point.  Check out my before and after video:

Overall, I’d heartily recommend a course at The Running School for anyone looking to improve their running technique with the caveat that, if you are as bad as I was to begin with, six lessons might not be enough to fix all of your problems.

For the build up to the Loch Ness Marathon I’ve decided to take a different approach. I have recently started using the email based coaching service offered by Sam Murphy.  I’ve been aware of Sam and her highly impressive credentials for some time having heard her speak at the London Marathon “meet the experts day” and read one of her books as well as her monthly Runner’s World articles.

To kick things off we had a face to face coaching session in Regent’s Park on a particularly hot and sunny Thursday evening. Sam had a look at my technique and confirmed that I still have a bit of a forward lean, and need to focus on keeping my hips forward. Sam took me through various drills and exercises including running with a metronome with a view to increasing my cadence from around 162 to 180 and then put me through my paces with a hill session on Primrose Hill. Sam is a big advocate of natural running and minimalist running shoes. However, I never felt that Sam was trying to force me down that particular route as she only suggested I persevere with my desire to stop heel striking and move to lighter footwear because I have been injured so frequently. Sam grilled me on my targets, my previous race times, my training habits, my injury history and the time I have available to train. All of these would be inputs to my custom training schedule. Encouragingly, Sam was convinced I should be doing lower mileage than last time out in order to achieve my goal and she had some impressive tales of other runners of about my level that she had coached to fantastic results using similar plans. I thoroughly enjoyed the session and left itching to get cracking with my training plan.

The very next day the first four weeks of my schedule arrived in my inbox.  As I am still coming back from my latest wee niggle the mileage in the early weeks is fairly low but there are other aspects of note in the plan.  Firstly, Sam has scheduled specific strength work for me.  This is a huge deal as I’ve never known which of the thousands of possible exercises would be most beneficial for me, or how often to do them. Secondly, the speed and hill sessions are more technical than I am used to. I’ve been doing intervals for nearly as long as I have been running, but some of Sam’s sessions are more complex than the usual “run fast for a bit, run slow for a little bit, repeat” approach.

I’m just over a week into the schedule and so far, so good. Having a schedule prepared by an expert for me, with my goals, my problems and my strengths in mind is giving me extra confidence already. The next stage is to provide Sam with feedback so she can tweak my schedule accordingly. How exciting!

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