As the numbers of coached and tested athletes at Applied Triathlon has increased, the range of experience of athlete has broadened. Therefore, we increasingly find ourselves trying to ascertain the most effective way of both establishing the most appropriate training for this widening range of individuals as well as redefining our justifications and explanations for delivering that training. Where running form is concerned, however, we keep going full circle. No matter how much we explore the current academic literature and coach education guidance, we become more concerned by the inconsistencies we find. Of course, we continue to make revisions to our coaching model as we discover more about this complex subject, and continuous learning certainly takes place. However, the more we read and observe, the more confident we become that our approach to Natural Running Form is heading in the right direction.
Running is often considered to be simple activity – what Olympian Ron Clarke once described as putting one foot in front of the other and repeat. It is generally understood that those with the best running genes who train the hardest are most likely to win. However, running can almost certainly be described as a skill and this means that there must be a right or most effective way to do it. Running is however a skill that is rarely effectively taught.
All runners have stylistic differences - coach education confirms this - but it is the similarities which are important. On closer inspection the best runners pretty much all do the same thing – foot contact, stance, toe off - with less able runners completing the same process but less efficiency and less effectively. Good runners are graceful; their running looks effortless and they (nearly) always look like good runners. Ancient Greek paintings of runners display a similarity of running form whether depicting fast or slow running which is very similar to how Mo Farah runs. There is an accepted link between consistency of training and performance but is there a link between consistency of form and consistency of training?
Conversely, less efficient runners look like poor runners and their running form often differs according to their running pace. Despite the development of modern running shoes, improvements in coach education (both in content and methodology) and increased scientific understanding, injury rates remain consistent across the endurance running community. Some of these injuries can be associated with differing form and therefore, is there a link with inconsistent form and increased risk of injury?
There are contradictory view points on what constitutes good running form, with opinion varying from “running style [being] ordained at birth” through to “stature and development” and thus currently there is no accepted (academic or coach) model of running that depicts good form. This lack of a model has resulted in the force production concept of running remaining in vogue in coach education for the development of endurance athletes. In simple terms, force is applied beneath and behind the runner to create propulsion. This application of force comes at the price of greater ground reaction forces however, and therefore modern running shoes are provided with appropriate cushioning to reduce the effect this has on the runner. This good intention of the added protection in the cushioned running shoe has however produced unintended consequences. It has restricted sensory feedback, increased muscular atrophy of the key running muscles and enabled maladapted people to allow running with a heel striking action. The increased impact transient as a result of heel striking is known to be a contributory factor in running injuries. Combined with the modern lifestyle, the modern running shoe has allowed us to exceed our biomechanical capabilities in the search of running increased distances and intensities.
The recent barefoot running trend (better described as the re emergence of the minimalist running shoe) was borne out of identifying the need to reduce the risk of injury for endurance runners. However, the trend is now pretty much gone, without establishing a legacy worthy of the initial noise it briefly made within the running community. Efforts by authors of such work as Running Form (Danny Abshire), Chi Running (Danny Dreyer) and The Pose Method (Dr. Nicholas Romanov), with additional research by evolutionary biologist Professor Daniel Lieberman, established a plausible case but this was perhaps undermined by academic researchers not finding sufficient supporting evidence for the barefoot concept within the laboratory.
It could be more strongly argued however that the failing of this movement was more in the inability of coaches and athletes to translate the drills and movements successfully into their everyday running without compromising their current level of performance. Or indeed risking injury, which was counter-productive to the initial objective of runners changing running form, especially by those who forced the pace of transition. Such impact as remains has probably been to encourage athletes and coaches to focus a little more on running form in training as opposed to outright performance, but it has been unclear which of the drills are appropriate for whom and how these drills are to be integrated into the actual process of running.
Lieberman states that it is becoming increasingly more certain that western society is suffering from two modern afflictions: a surfeit of highly calorific, readily available foodstuff and [leading] an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. For long-term well being, this is proving to be a deadly combination. Running remains the most easily accessible and potentially effective antidote to both. However, the misunderstanding of appropriate drills leading to the misguided coaching of running is not only unlikely to effectively support those who currently run, but is also unlikely to encourage those who really need to participate in this most natural of activities.
Therefore, we shall continue to try to understand which drills work and why and to offer an easy to follow, safe and appropriate model of running for our athletes and non athletes to follow. In time, with further understanding, there is no reason why running cannot be considered comparable to other skills. Runners could be taught to effectively tune into the process and learn to consciously control running until the new form becomes a part of the subconscious.
Here endeth the sermon for today! In other news, Applied Triathlon is now a Triathlon England registered triathlon club and all coached athletes can consider themselves to be club members. To take full advantage of this, please join Triathlon England as an individual member and annotate Applied Triathlon as your club.
We have events a plenty on the horizon, lots more athlete testing and analysis to complete and our Monday swim slot at Woodgreen Leisure open air 50m pool to look forward to! Please keep up the good training guys!
Well, what a month this has been. Sadly, in most cases, we have not been able to put all the hard work in training into practice this month due to the weather which has resulted in multiple race postponements. In duathlon in particular, we are used to the weather interfering with races, but I do not recall an occasion when so many events have been cancelled or postponed. Not only does this cause problems for scheduling the re arranged events, we lose out on the opportunity of proving the effectiveness of the winter training. All is not lost however, as you have all worked very hard to ensure that you have maintained your training wherever possible. Training indoors may not always be as effective as getting outside but I am confident that many of your fellow competitors have simply been striking through their training with another missed session and so I am very pleased that you have all continued to stick with it despite the conditions.
That said, we have seen some strong racing performances this month both before the weather deteriorated and yesterday at the National Duathlon Championships. Progress has been made across the board and, the training data has supported the potential for improved performance where athletes haven’t been able to race. Therefore, we must push on and realign the training for the next set of objectives and rely on the training data assuming that this would have translated into improved performances in every case.
What then still awaits us this year? Next up are the early season marathons with athletes running at both London and Manchester – good luck guys! Then the focus switches to the European Middle Distance Duathlon championships followed a few weeks later by the World Standard and Sprint Distance races, both events being held in Denmark. During this period, I will continue to run bike lactate testing from the clinic at Weedon and will be leading bike recces over the UK Ironman course at Bolton for those who are targeting this as their main event this year. For those aiming to race in the triathlons at Tartu and Glasgow in July and August (or Bolton) or trying to qualify for next year’s triathlons, I have now confirmed the booking at the 50m heated, open air pool in Banbury on Monday evenings. This session is available to all levels of swimmers with an emphasis on stroke improvement initially, followed by conditioning later in the season. There may be the opportunity for video analysis, but this is still being negotiated at present. For those awaiting a swim video analysis session at Tiddenfoot, this has been penciled in for Saturday 14th April. Any takers for either sessions should contact me soonest, please.
For the Long Distance Duathlon team, the first round of qualification has now been completed - congratulations to all. Please note that the next cut off for discounted race entry is in a few days’ time. Please don’t miss out! I will soon be trying to get confirmation of the second run course from the race organiser for this year so that we can prepare the appropriate training. The last-minute changes last year certainly affected performances across the board! More news on this will therefore follow.
A much less controversial newsletter this month and I will have to postpone the answer to the question received a couple of weeks ago as to why we test for lactate threshold and turn points rather than VO2. There is a short answer to this question, however, I would rather explain it in more length in my response. What spare time we currently have has been taken up with both coaching and reviewing my work on Natural Running Form. We continue to operate a programme of continuous improvement on all the work we undertake and I have recently returned to the topic of running form to both improve the quality of our analysis as well as improve the clarity of the reporting. The ultimate objective is to not only report on what we discover on each individual athlete within our analysis, but also to produce a visual model of what we perceive good running form to be. This is no small task and is certainly proving to be one of the most challenging and yet exciting tasks we have undertaken. It will certainly save me from having to do some of my own training for a while and so I will have to continue to train vicariously through all your efforts!
Please keep up the hard work.
Coaching News February
I had intended to write about other matters this month, however, I received a lot of feedback including some questions on last month’s musings (https://naturalrunningform.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/coaching-news-january/), and therefore I have decided to respond to this first.
I am reliably informed that the rats chosen for the experiments were young and male and the main question raised last month was whether the outcome would be the same had the rats been female. Sadly, I simply do not know. As yet, I haven’t had the wherewithal to track down any specific research (of which there is an awful lot with whole journals assigned to the subject) and in truth, I am not a fan of laboratory-based research on mammals. Rodents they may well be, but rodents form over half of the world’s mammal types, and over 100 million mammals are used in laboratory testing every year. This fact always leaves me feeling just slightly queasy.
My guess is that the result would be different with female rats. Exactly what form this difference would take, I do not know, but I do know that this answer exposes me to the risk of being accused of applying stereotypical beliefs to these complex biological and social interactions. In today’s politically correct climate, it is becoming increasingly difficult to discuss differences between the sexes.
More here: https://naturalrunningform.wordpress.com/2018/02/28/coaching-news-february/
Coaching News – January 2018
My Facebook feed has been momentarily lit up by a podcast of an interview with a retired coach of elite athletes in the still small community of triathlon. The principal topic, according to the title, is developing running speed but, as yet, I haven’t found the time to listen to what this coach has to say. It’s not that I don't think that I can learn from his experience – although I note that despite his success, athletes in his charge have succumbed to more than their fair share of injuries – but I am disappointed that he waited until retirement before allowing others to share in his coaching methodology.
More to be found here:https://naturalrunningform.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/coaching-news-january/
We have confirmed the availability of our preferred chateaux at St Michel de Vax and can therefore provide a reduced price for early bird bookings for triathletes and duathletes seeking the edge in performance for next year. Based on either 4 males or 4 females securing a booking with a £300 deposit each, £995 per person provides 6 nights accommodation (double room each), 7 x self service breakfast all food supplied with fixings for packed lunch, 5 x evening meals with wine (the schedule allows for a self-funded meal out), airport transfers, transport to venues and pools, fully coached training sessions including swim video analysis, bike lactate testing and running form analysis. Not included = flights, 1 supper at restaurant 9transport provided), personal insurance, money for coffee stops and lunches. Dates flexible, please contact us for more details.
A new 'ladies only' triathlon training camp opportunity is available at our location in the Midi-Pyrenees from 22-29 October. All inclusive from touchdown to take off (including vegan option) with swim video analysis, bike lactate testing and run video analysis. Just pitch up and play to make the most of this outstanding training area. Designed for mixed ability. More details http://www.appliedtri.co.uk/training-camps/ or please drop me a PM. NB. Two dates including 4 day and 7 days training camps are currently being scheduled for 30 March - 13th April. Please register your interest with us.
Applied Triathlon Coaching athlete Ian Hanson started his 20:20 challenge today - that's 20 Standard Distance triathlons (1,500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run) in 20 days to celebrate 20 years since his successful remission from cancer and to raise funds for Stoke mandeville Hospital. you can donate to this excellent cause here: https://make-a-donation.org/fundraisers/ian-hanson
Despite some early sesaon setbacks with her running, Vikki's super smooth swim and super strong bike was enough to claim 3rd place at Eton Dorney Sprint triathlon resulting in qualification for the World Sprint Triathlon Champs in Rotterdam in September. Next up... the european Champs in kitzbuhel in June.
We are delighted to be joining forces with Britta Sorensen MPhil for our 2017 Triathlon training camps in Midi-Pyrenees. I met Britta at Loughborough University and we quickly developed a good working relationship and identfied our shared love of triathlon and all things endurance. Britta is currently mapping out bike routes and testing the swim facilities in france and sneaking in some extra training before our arrival next week!
A belated link to the February edition of Coaching News
Possibly the most comprehensive triathlon training camp is now available to you in March. Have your swimming analysed through video technology, complete a lactate test on the bike to establish appropriate training zones and learn the benefits of Natural Running Form to help set you p for your best season yet. Please contact us soonest for details.
Despite the challenging conditions, it was great to see Jo again and to assess how much her running has improved since she attended an LBTri Natural Running Form Group workshop. in between reading her book, the rather excellent Water Under the Bridge, I am now working on her analysis report and revised feedback with exercises and drills.
Vikki Voysey spent two half days with us specifically to work on her cycling and to assess her progress developing her running form. After a 20km test ride over the Big-Cow cycle route, she then rode 5 repetitions of Chicheley Hill working on varying cadences to help optimise her hill climbing cadence. Despite very difficult conditions - cold, wind and rain - we have some excellent early season data to progress her training for this season. Some quick video analysis confirmed that her running form has indeed improved and this was qualified further after a visit to Hannah Watkinson at Frontline Podiatry. Vikki closed a tough few hours of training with two climbs of Bison Hill.
We have just announced our inaugural training camp to be held in March 2017 in France.
Find out more about training camps.