Friday, 10 May 2013

Spring Marathon Training Retrospective 1 - Form Training

So now the dust has settled after the climax of Spring marathon training at the Virgin London Marathon at few weeks ago, I've had a bit time to reflect on the training process and the plan I followed. I'm intending to look back at a few aspect of the training schedule and what I've learnt from this campaign.

Going back to the start of the the year on of the first major changes I made this year was to sign up for a series of running form training session with The Running School in Southampton. It was an idea I had been toying with for some time, since I had a free form analysis video session back earlier in mid 2012. That initial session highlighted several form deficiencies including low heel lift, a heavier bias on the right foot and poor arm swing action.

Around the same time I did a functional assessment with a personal trainer, the most important result of which was the realisation that not only were my glute group of muscles (the 'bum' muscles) quite weak but they were also very poor at activating and hence were not doing very much. After the PT session I adapted my gym core strength program to help address some of the issues identified, but these were mostly static floor exercises.

Fast Forward to the end of 2012 and I decided that, prior to embarking on the specific phase of my London marathon training, it would be a good time to try and address the running form issues the running school assessment had found.

A bit of previous internet reading had uncovered some research on the methodology used by companies such as The Running School, which revolves around providing feedback (both visual and audio) to the participate on a treadmill to focus on various 'cues' that will help improve running form, so it appears to have a good basis. The process requires multiple sessions to enable the muscles to adapt and effectively 'learn' the modified movements.

So I signed up for a set of six one hour sessions with The Running School in Southampton under the instruction of Paul Bartlett, starting in early January 2013. The structure of the sessions was a mix of both short but intense treadmill intervals with (15-1min) and slightly longer steady (2-3min) intervals. There was also a lot variation in the gradient and speeds (depending on the length of the intervals), with the aim to really try and accentuate the intended running movements. The treadmill reps were regularly interspersed with static floor exercises aimed to activate and strength the key muscle groups which are used when running. As the sessions progressed we also did some short shuttle runs outside to practice what had been learnt on the treadmill in a more natural running environment.

So how did I get on? Well as the functional assessment from earlier in 2012 had indicated, my glute muscle groups were not only weak but also pretty poor at actually doing anything in the first place! It would appear that my lower leg muscles (calves etc...) have been doing more than their fair share of the work when I run... So getting the glutes to activate was a key aim of the sessions. Although the indicator of poor glute usage was a low heel lift as my legs returned from behind me, the answer was not to simply actively lift or flick my heels (this likely just wastes energy in the hamstrings doing so). Instead, Paul got me to focus on pushing my legs back straight and then lifting my heels right at the rear most position in the leg swing cycle. He also used a range of floor exercises to help strengthen the muscles and promote activation. These included  bridges with single leg holds, pendulums (swinging one leg straight behind), the glute activating 'good morning' and single leg squats. We also did some more dynamic plyometic exercises (lunge jumps and squat jumps). Paul also asked me to do sets of some of the key exercises at home too to help reinforce them (I got quite good at doing pendulums and single leg squats whilst cleaning my teeth!)

The other key element that were worked on was the proper use of my arm swing to counter the torque reaction forces generated by the opposite leg. Various photos/videos of me at the end of races had highlighted that when fatigued my right arm swing becomes noticeably reduced. The timing of the six sessions was structured such that the first couple were quite close together and then the remaining spread over a number of weeks to ensure the modifications in form get properly learnt.

The end result can be seen in the video below where my original form (from back in mid 2012) is compared with that from after the last of the six form training sessions. It's important to note that in the 'after' video I'm running naturally (i.e. not trying to exaggerate the new action I'd learnt)

For comparison the next couple of videos show how I look when trying to exaggerate the actions, which is what I was trying to do in a lot of the treadmill intervals.

Having done the Running School sessions, I was eager to see what effect it had had on my running. Whilst I was still mid-way through the training sessions I ran the Stubbington 10k. Although the time wasn't anything special (35:05, very similar to my previous 10k in December), I felt much stronger and controlled than in any previous 10k's. My first race after completing the form training was the Wokingham Half Marathon in early February. My previous PB had been 76:29 (from the Gosport Half in Nov 2012), so I was very happy to knock over 2 minutes off with a time of 74:13. Although this improvement probably can't be entirely attributed to the running form training, as I had done 5-6 weeks of HM orientated training in the lead up (more on this in a future blog post), it almostly certainly played a significant role. Very interestingly again I felt very strong throughout the Wokingham race, whereas previous all-out effort halfs have got pretty wobbly in the final few miles!

Since Wokingham I've set PBs at 10k (33:35 Eastleigh 10k), 5k (16:42 Poole Parkrun) and most importantly in the Marathon (02:36:16 London Marathon).

Overall I was very happy with the results from the running form training. It suited me very well having come new into running later in life, hence I never really learnt to run 'properly' (i.e. through youth athletics).

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