Tag Archives: the running school

Back to School

If you think there’s nothing wrong with your running technique, you could well be wrong. Or maybe you are like Phoebe from friends and fear your technique is beyond help? Think again, on both counts. This summer I decided it was time to check out the Running School in Southampton, to get a few lessons on how to improve my gait. I know I have a problem as I always get injuries in my left hip/glutes/knee. The question is, did I get a red card, or was I pupil of the week?

Before I start, here are my stats:
Age: 44
PBs: 20.55 (5K), 43.06 (10K), 70.10 (10miles), 1.40.44 (half marathon), 3.39.05 (marathon)
Current goals: Sub-3.30 marathon next time (or anytime…in fact make that just getting to a marathon start-line; this year it just hasn’t happened).

Here are their stats:
Cost: Six sessions £260
Expected outcome: ‘A detailed biomechanical analysis of running technique and movement screening, five coaching sessions, a handbook (including beginner/intermediate running programmes and a strength programme) and ‘before’ and ‘after’ clips of your running style,’ Paul Bartlett, Southampton Running School.
Contact: Visit the Running School website (runningschool.co.uk) to find your nearest Running School (there are nine franchises around the country, as well as one in Germany). For Southampton Running School Call 02380 653707 or email southampton@runningschool.co.uk

Before I started my six sessions, I talked to Mike Antoniades, the founder and performance director of The Running School. He told me how most recreational runners run without a thought for their technique.

“Running posture then becomes a leaning, mechanical shuffle rather than an elastic movement,” says Mike. “Most runners haven’t been taught, so they run how they think they should. To change [that], they have to go through a retraining process.”

This is what The Running School does. It aims to teach you the correct, and most efficient running motion. “This means the body has very little up and down movement (minimal bouncing) the arms are relaxed as they move, but like mini pistons backwards and forwards, and the legs are cycling with the heel coming up above the knee when it is off the ground,” advises Paul Bartlett, my coach at The Running School, Southampton.

I will make these legs run faster!

I will make these legs run faster!

I signed up for their six-week course, with the hope of transforming my technique, and the dream of ending my annoying niggles (and maybe even getting back into PB shape). I’ve suffered from recurrent niggles/injuries in my left leg for several years. The opportunity to get some expert insight into this was too good to miss.

What to expect
After a few minutes of easy jogging on a treadmill Paul videoed me from the rear and the side. When we looked at the footage I could see my left shoulder was sloping down more than my right. Paul was able to instantly tell me exactly what the cause was – my glutes (the big muscle in your bottom), and especially my left ones, weren’t firing. Paul informed me 95 per cent of the people he sees have poor glute activation. My right glutes were overcompensating for this, as was my whole right side; my right arm was coming forward and across my body; my right foot was further forward when it struck the ground than my left.

Next I tried a few functional exercises to make my glutes fire. I then hopped back on the treadmill to try out the correct running posture (your heels kicking upwards towards your bottom, your arms pumping forwards at a 90 degrees angle), which I found really hard. Within 20 seconds I was out of breath. After a brief rest, I tried again. Each time Paul shouted at me to adjust my hands (higher towards my chin), my elbows (drive back so that my hand comes as far back as my hip) and my heels (higher!). The first session was harder than I had expected, but I’d been equipped with the basics. It was up to me to go away and do the work.

Over the next week I did my glute activation exercises every day, and every time I ran I did some of the exaggerated technique. After about 30 seconds I would be exhausted though. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do what Paul expected me to!

Running faster, getting stronger
Session two was even tougher! I went over my functional exercises and I felt so much stronger than the previous week. Then it was straight onto the treadmill to practise the exaggerated ‘correct’ technique after a warm up; we did this session over and over again as I added in new elements (or tried to take out more bad habits!). We also went outside and I practised the exaggerated technique further – and surprisingly it felt quite natural (though still an effort; I knew I couldn’t maintain it in a race situation!).

Yep, had to do that even in a 60-minute session at the Running School! Good job it's big!

Yep, had to do that even in a 60-minute session at the Running School! Good job it’s big!

Session three was … you’ve guessed it, hard! I now realised the course was going to be more demanding than I thought. We warmed up with my functional exercises to get my glutes firing, and then hopped onto the treadmill to practise in full. An intense 10 minutes, doing co-ordination exercises on the mat, had me tapping back and forth with each foot onto a marker, as fast as possible. Then it was hopping forward, to the side, back and to the other side – all fast, all trying to keep your feet in the circle you start from. “These fast co-ordination exercises, that you do on both sides and to the back and front, re-teach your body to use all of the muscles in the legs at the right time,” Paul told me as I was sweating all over the place. “In just 15 minutes you can start to re-fire the correct sensory pathways to ensure you are using each leg properly.”

I can’t lie – I was relieved when the hard work was over! We went outside to practise my exaggerated technique half way across a football pitch, and it was surprising how I felt as if I was skipping along. Still, with the South Downs Trail Half Marathon (209events.com) that weekend I was worried I would revert to old habits as my body got tired running the hills.

Powered by fairy dust
The race was a big turning point for me. I expected to struggle so I couldn’t believe how I felt like a completely different runner. The sensation was of being ‘open’; my shoulders were back, even when I got tired towards the end. I was engaging my core much more than usual. With each new hill I did exactly what Paul suggested; used my arms to power up and kept my thumbs pointing forwards. It seemed to keep my gait in check, and I felt relaxed, comfortable, I even had a spring in my step all the way round. Was this a new me? I hadn’t been expecting that!

Sessions four and five also involved more functional and coordination exercises (jumping back and forth to different points on the mat), plus running on the treadmill at gradient 15! This felt so hard, even just 15 seconds on, 15 seconds off. But it really worked. When I went back to running with no gradient it felt like I was a child, a springbok hopping over the African plains, that fairy dust had been sprinkled into my trainers. I was amazed at how quickly my body had adapted.

During the last session I redid the functional movement analysis I did in the first; my score went up from 60 out of 100, to 90. Being a competitive soul, I was duly proud. And in the first week post-course I ran a 5K PB. When you’re in your mid-40s any PB feels like 10 Christmases rolled into one.

I feel like my running style is incredibly different – and better for it. I’ve not quite done the speed training to complement it but every time I run now I am adopting the style without concentrating or efforting. Paul gave me a sheet of strength exercises; I even photocopied it to take on holiday.

If I need a follow-up session, to check my technique is correct, I will pop along. Keep up with the exercises you are given and this, hopefully, shouldn’t be necessary. Maybe combining birthday and Christmas money could help you save to invest in this type of course?

If you are struggling with injury or niggles, or lacking the speed you seek, or just feel you have lost your way with running, then a course with the Running School may be perfect for you. I almost feel love towards Paul. He’s my running doctor. Not only has he unlocked my biomechanical issues, the changes he suggested seemed to have traversed my energy systems and I feel as if I am so much more confident within, mind body and soul. The hunched, depressed-looking runner I once was, is gone. Forever. Click on my video below and it’s obvious to see the massive difference I achieved in just six weeks.

Summer quickly turned into autumn and I’ve been keeping up my strength exercises given to me by Paul. I find it’s easier to do them after I’ve finished a run, twice a week – if I have to allocate them a separate time there’s much more chance I won’t get round to them. Now I’m proud to say I’m a Running School ambassador – if it can make so much difference to me, it can to you, too!

Bargains, bargains people!
Southampton Running School is offering half price biomechanical analysis, at just £15, exclusively to Women’s Running readers.

The sessions involves a 1:1 session with one of their Southampton Running School coaches who will analyse your running technique to identify your strengths and weaknesses. This session will be tailored to your fitness level and running experience, they will show you where injuries come from and to stop new injuries occurring and how to improve your PBs. This is available to both children and adults.

The 30-minute session is by appointment only. To book please call 02380 653707 or email southampton@runningschool.co.uk, quoting Women’s Running magazine.

 

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the new adidas adizero XT boost trainers: my review

It’s still (just about) summer, but with the recent rain off-road running has already become a bit soggy – cross-country races will be here before we know it.

I received my pair of adizero xt boost trainers about a week ago, and thought it would be a while before I took them out for their first run. However, a few days ago, when I ran my loop around the fields behind my house I was surprised how wet and muddy the lower part of the closest field had become. Dog walkers were wearing their wellies – always a sign that the ground underfoot is changing.

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Do my feet look big in these?

So today I knew, even though it was warm, muggy and 23 degrees, that there would be mud waiting for me so I decided to give the xt boosts a try. Needing to work on a bit of speed, which I’ve really neglected over the summer, I decided to do my 10 x 1minute reps around the field rather than on pavements because I just couldn’t face running on the road! Tarmac exhaustion.

I knew this session would be tougher on the field, as I’m running along grassy edges, through a lot of mud and puddles, some areas of more compact mud where the sun bakes the ground and a few kinder stretches that are almost trails. It’s quite a rutted route around the field though, and there are a few little inclines – all perfect for blowing out some speed and doing a hard session when you are short of time.

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The xt boosts felt comfy when I put them on and they definitely didn’t feel too heavy, which some trail shoes can. They also didn’t feel rigid around the cuffs – another feature that I don’t like in some trail shoes (especially when they’ve been caked in mud a few times and start to resemble the texture of wood). Unlike traditional trail shoes, the fabric of the high-cut collar flows from the shoe up your ankle, rather than stopping with a rounded top. They were much more comfortable in this aspect than I expected.

I have small, narrow feet; size 4 in normal shoes. I usually go up one size for trainers, but with adidas I go up 1.5 sizes as they always come up a bit small. I thought the laces for the shoes were a bit too long, as even doubled up they were still flapping around my feet and swinging up and catching the skin on my ankles. Obviously I have small feet so had to pull the laces tight, but I think even someone with much wider size 5-5.5 feet would find this too. The fabric around the laces was quite bunched – this wasn’t a fault; as I said, I have narrow tiny feet and am used to this on most of my trainers.

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I’d had a sneak preview of the shoes during the London Marathon expo week back in April, when I was invited to view the adidas autumn/winter collection and I was really impressed with the look and the advancement in technology they offer. When I first took the trainers out of their box I was again impressed with the design and I love the high-cut collar they give you. Acting like an in-built gaiter, this keeps out dust, sand, mud, stones, or other debris – which really annoys me when it somehow finds its way into your trainers then rubs causing irritation. The collar also provides extra support for your ankle, so crucial in off-road running where the terrain constantly changes. I also realised after my first run that it helps wick away sweat, which I seem to produce a lot of, even – bizarrely – around my ankles! I’m sure this will be beneficial in the really colder, harsher weather when your feet are freezing as you run.

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Sweaty betty ankles

The shoes are easy to put on (the collar is very stretchy) and they felt snug. There was no rubbing from the cuffs of the trainers, which I think is another distraction we can all do without.

My youngest asked me why I was lying on the grass. She's never done off-road intervals

My youngest asked me why I was lying on the grass. She’s never done off-road intervals

My run went through plenty of mud, puddles, grassy banks and a little bit of a drier pathway, and there was no slippage as I hit the wet ground underneath. When I ran a few days ago in normal trainers around the field my feet were soaked after the first lap, though I think the higher midsole lifted my feet up a bit so I didn’t notice them feeling wet as I ran.

 

Not too caked in mud after the run

Not too caked in mud after the run

These shoes have a boost midsole, which helps to transfer your energy back up to you through your legs, and I felt as if I was zipping along nicely in them. The fact they are so light also helps with this. They felt flexible underfoot, as well as stable. I’ve had a knee injury on and off for a few years, which meant I cautiously avoided most cross-country races last winter due to worrying that the terrain would cause the injury to flare up. However this year I’ve done a lot more strength and conditioning exercises on my left side to strengthen my glutes, thanks to doing six sessions at Southampton Running School earlier in the summer, so I’m ready to give cross-country races a go this season. I don’t want to feel my fit are slipping away as I hit wet conditions underfoot, as I think this constantly jolts and aggravates your knees, and I felt today that my ankles and knees felt stable in this shoe. The true test will be a few months down the line when conditions are a lot worse than they are now.

You also get a really rugged outsole which I think makes you feel you are getting protection from harder knocks, such as when your feet hit against a larger rock. This is especially noticeable around the toes. I also thought the Continental Rubber lugs were strong and effective. You get four biting surfaces for both lateral and linear traction.

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Your feet are going to get wet once you are running in the rain, as there’s a mesh upper – but if you are worried about this you wouldn’t be running on the trails or in cross-country races. Also, I know the shoes will soon be caked and covered in mud, but I would really like to see more colour in them, so that they look distinctively like women’s trail shoes rather than unisex.

As far as the session I did, I managed 9 x 1 minute reps off a 75 second recovery; after five I was ready to give up! Running off-road stretches you so much more than on paths – I find this session easy and a bit boring when I do it on the road, and only give myself 60 seconds to recover. I tried to focus on keeping my chin level, with my arms pumping, especially during the inclines (another gem I’ve learnt from the Running School). As soon as I get tired my arms begin to pump across my body instead of forward, so if you decide to do a session like this make sure you are looking forward about five metres and pump your arms (held at a 90 degree angle) to help propel you forwards as you tire. And you will tire quickly!

Random photo - just as important as running is being an embarrassing parent

Just as important as running is being an embarrassing parent

I haven’t done as much running as I hoped to over the school summer holidays, so am not as fit or as fast as I would like to be. So, if you’re feeling like me it’s also worth taking each rep at a time. After five intervals I didn’t think I would make it to eight, but I just put in the effort, and said one more each time. I was surprised I did the ninth, and happy – I didn’t go for the 10th as I was feeling really tired and weak by that time. As I mature into my running I’ve come to realize it’s not always worth doing the whole number, if you are slowing down dramatically. I would rather do eight or nine reasonable efforts then stop, then carry on to the bitter end and do a slow effort. I think really struggling on when you know the speed has gone really negatively impacts on me after the session – I always feel better about myself when I’ve said ‘That’s enough!’

 

It’s been hard to fit in much training over the summer, and I didn’t think I would make it out for a run today, so I was chuffed to get round the field, with some speed thrown in, and it helped me get through this afternoon. Doing one thing for you every day is so valuable, whether it’s for fitness or mental health. I am really looking forward to running in the mud this winter – if you would like to give it a try I’ve written a feature on giving cross-country a go in the November issue of Women’s Running mag, which will be on sale 26th September. There are some top tips from Liz Yelling in it too! I’m sure all cross-country runners are slightly madder than normal runners!

Has anyone else tried the adizeros yet? Who else is looking forward to the cross-country season?

adidas.co.uk  £105

Warning: take care if you are doing efforts off-road. There’s a risk you may get seriously faster