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Connection perfection

I’ve written about the speed work I’ve been running as part of my recent training – this has been repetitions of around twenty seconds of strides/sprints, either on the flat or up the single local steep hill.

I’ve enjoyed this aspect of training and the incremental nature of it, slowly improving over time. I’ve tried not to push myself, both at the outset of the session (gradually building up to the right pace over a few initial reps), and through not overdoing the number of reps; my concern is the fear of injury through short burst intensive, explosive effort.

This week I ran a series of strides on the flat straight section of path by the river. As I neared my goal I had an idea: instead of pushing myself a few reps further, why not move on to the hilly bit and sprint a few times up there too?

A ten minute jog later I was at the foot of the hill and I raced up it a handful of times before heading home. It was a brilliant workout, I felt stretched further than I had before, testing my leg muscles in slightly different ways.

As I trotted back home, I felt incredibly clever to have put these two sessions together in such an effective way. Congratulations to my big brain! But really, was it all that clever? Surely it was staring me in the face all this time anyway, if anything I was slow to realise it. 

It wasn’t clever, it was just creative. 

There’s a famous Steve Jobs quote about creativity, he said:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things.

My training plan from the off was always to mix up the runs – long runs, speed work, hill climbs, tempo and goal pace runs. But always on different days, there was no room for cross-breeding any of these together. But training needs learning, it needs reflection, it needs to iterate towards a goal safely (to prevent injury) and reflectively (to avoid aggravating any oncoming injury).

And now I realise my plan lacks the creativity, adaptability, and learning that life needs. We are all creative people, and the connection between things is what we use to create. So let’s go, let’s explore these connections, put the prescriptive training plan in the blender and see what comes out. Big brains unite!

Stride and tested

Another running day, another early start this week, and once again it was time to take on my old friend stride repeats. I set my alarm to wake me up early, but because of the heat, I woke up well before this and then when my alarm went off I fell back to sleep for another half an hour – the exact opposite of how I’d planned to start my day. 

Anyway, a banana and a bottle of water as I changed into my running gear and I was soon in the mood to head out.

The trouble with waking up late is that the length of time you have for training becomes squeezed and that means something has to give. And it’s always the warm up/cool down that gets rushed in favour of the real training part of the run. It’s a bit like an overrunning software project where the testing time gets squashed into the time remaining – there’s an assumption that things will be ok, and I guess there’s always a chance they may be, there’s also a chance of massive systems failure, or in my case, injury.

Fortunately for me it’s about a 15 minute jog to my strides path so I felt I’d done enough by the time I got there. Warming up correctly is clearly a necessity, but today I also wanted to focus on my form.

I recently wrote that I set out to do some strides but I could only go flat out sprinting, there was no “strides mode” on that day. I was looking to address that today. 

I’d researched what strides are and a general consensus online is that it’s about 85-90% effort, where as a sprint is full on, 100%. With this in mind, I strided the length of the path, working my way to what I thought was about the right amount of effort. I then tried an all out sprint.

I felt the difference in my vertical oscillation, how uppy-and-downy my body moved during the run. I felt sprinting felt my legs were coming higher, my body rising and falling every step. With strides, the motion felt much more fluid, much more lateral, parallel to the ground. If this is the case (and I guess I could only find out by filming myself), then it is likely my sprinting is comparatively less efficient. Following up on this, I read some advice that to curb vertical oscillation you have to imagine you’re running under a low ceiling. Not sure about this, one to remember for next time.

Based on that one run, I believe that (for me at least) strides are more in tune to race conditions, or rather the form I need in a race. I did 13 reps that morning, I’d set out to do 12 but ended up doing one for luck, perhaps a mild celebration for some new found knowledge around my running form.

The striding edge

I recently read in some advice on improving or maintaining good mental health that a healthy activity is to start taking notice of things around you. I guess being mindful of your surroundings. This is both practical and achievable, and a near perfect activity for an outdoor runner like me. With this in mind this week, I set out to run ten stride repeats after a short warm up jog. 

I noticed a couple of things almost immediately. The path I use for my repeats – a straight strip of tarmac around 80 meters long – isn’t flat, it’s a slight incline in the direction I was running it. I’d never noticed that before. I also noticed I don’t have a stride run setting for my legs, they only go straight to full flat-out sprint mode. I’m not sure I was noticing the right things.

I started out with a five minute walk/jog followed by a light run for about 15 minutes. Through the trees, across the park and along the river. Without worrying too much about pace, form, cadence, I could spend time observing the nature, soaking in the greenery and the creatures within (mainly birds and squirrels, but a few geese and swans along the river). 

On to the strides section of the run, I normally feel a little self conscious hurtling as fast as possible before turning round and wheezing slowly back to the starting point. This is an activity for the early hours, not the evening as it was then, prime time for dog walkers and pavement blockers. 

No bother though, there is adequate grassy spaces on both sides of my route so I weaved from path to grass and back again to the bemusement of all around. Noticing the beauty of the river flowing endlessly past and the contrast of this sweaty man, anything but beautiful, puffing alongside was all part of the outing.

I finished the run with a light jog back home, with the final couple of minutes as a walk, attempting more mindfulness as I listened and observed my body recover from the exercise. A few stretches and post-race nutrition and it was a successful run. So much so that my legs felt surprisingly fresh the next day after all my exertion – I barely even noticed them!

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