Sunday, August 12, 2012

Quality Training

Recently I decided to stop racing for a while because it was not leading to a coherent training program. Pressure to perform meant that there was little focus on quality. You can’t race and develop better breathing technique and control at the same time – you just revert to whatever unconscious habits are already in place. Pressure to do well in cycling makes it hard to fit in a routine for running – but for overall form it’s definitely better to practice both – especially with a focus on quality and awareness of movement.

Beaufort Training Loop. There is a great bar/cafe/boulangerie in Beaufort where you can stop for a break after about 2hrs 15 mins and have some refreshments before tackling the climb up to 2000m over the Cormet de Roselend. This has become my favourite training route in the summer. 116km and usually a strong headwind all the way to Albertville. A couple of years ago this circuit felt like murder and the legs would be too painful to climb properly – turning the ascent into an interminable crawl. We always want to go faster and better, but it’s useful to remember what it was like a few years back just to keep things in perspective. Even when stamina develops there can then be problems of back pain or other mechanical issues. Last year there was both back pain and severe foot pain to deal with. The cure for both was the same thing at root, however the foot pain was really caused by the shoes – although it was so progressive in the build up that this was not obvious at all. It could be controlled by improved mechanics so in a way it turned out to be a very useful problem. Now the aim is to get around a circuit like this with good stamina, good mechanics and no chronic pains other than healthy ones from  effort. The focus is on breathing (nasal and abdominal), alignment (mechanical), pedalling technique (elliptical), core oriented coordination (working from and with the spine – not against it). There’s also a need to focus on positive internal dialogue – to avoid negative mental chatter. It’s hard to do any of this when racing – the mind tends to go blank and your focus becomes external. If something is not completely automatic then it doesn’t happen. Perhaps that’s why racing should just be occasional – not all the time.

Getting back into running – with barefoot running technique – is surprisingly difficult after a break. I’d taken my runs up to 30km distance just before stopping to focus on cycling in preparation for the Etape du Tour. Those adaptations – from struggling at only 1km with calf problems – are only temporary at this stage and that’s quite frustrating. Starting off again with a 5km slow run is enough to cause several days of doms. (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness). This is clearly a legacy of a lifetime of running in stupid Nike padded running shoes. I’m hoping that although the doms have returned again that progress will be more rapid this time round – both for building up speed and distance. The big problem with this issue is that the legs are depressingly sore for days on end while adapting – sometimes putting you out of action for four complete days – which makes adaptation a very long drawn out process. Cycling is also affected because even though you don’t feel the doms too much on the bike the legs are traumatised and tired. (That’s why running had to be stopped while trying to ramp up the level quickly for bike racing). It’s the eccentric contraction of the muscles when running that causes the doms and with using the calves as the primary shock absorber they have to deal with this a lot more than with padded shoes which permit you to heel strike. The problem with the heel strike is that it transmits shock though all of your joints and this leads to degenerative illnesses and chronic injury for most runners. Long, painful and slow adaptation is much preferable to long, slow and painful degeneration. I use thick heeled shoes now only as a temporary measure when there is a niggle with the Achilles tendon – which is when running on the heels can be useful. I’m hoping that in a few more years the body will have adapted in such a way that the calves won’t have to repeat this trauma any more.

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