Putting my best foot forward to embrace natural running
Understanding how a treadmill can help running technique is pretty clear but John Collins struggled to get to grips with how a broom handle could help
Athletes are instructed in running techniques at the Masters of Running workshop in Brockagh Resourse Centre, Laragh, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Eric Luke
Above: Athletes are instructed in running techniques at the masters of running workshop in Brockagh Resource Centre, Laragh, Co Wicklow. Below: Jason Kehoe gives some tips to Lucy O’Malley. Photographs: Eric Luke
This was not what I had expected. I’m squatting in the Wicklow sun with a broom handle under my bare feet and my ankles and Achilles tendon are screaming out in pain.
Mind you, it’s a slight improvement from the moment during the “warm-up” exercise when I realised I have no individual control over my toes. Apparently other people can tuck their little toes under their foot while pointing their big toe in the other direction, but not me.
You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d run away to join a circus of contortionists. Instead I’m taking part in a weekend running camp organised by Dublin-based Champions Everywhere. Consisting of coaches Jason Kehoe, Rene Borg and Tony Riddle, the trio offer weekend-long running camps where you can “learn all the skills you need for a lifetime of strong, injury-free and enjoyable running”.
John Collins's running workshop
As a weekend runner who has never learnt any technique and who has had only one serious injury in a decade of plodding, more thanks to luck than anything else, my curiosity is seriously piqued.
Which is why I found myself on a Saturday morning pounding along on a treadmill in a community hall in Co Wicklow. Running on a treadmill in front of a room full other runners you have only just met and then having your stride video analysed by a coach, still in front of your new friends, is a humbling experience.
While I have images in my own mind of my graceful fluid style, the video, and Tony’s no-nonsense analysis, confirms that I roll my foot inwards as I land, I run looking at the ground and my feet strike the ground with massive force.
With my fellow students (in most cases) also suitably humbled, the coaches start our re-education. Champions Everywhere believe that to run well and injury free for years to come, you first need to look at the quality of your movement. Once you’ve got the quality right you build the quantity and intensity of your training.
Jason and Rene founded the company on the principles of Arthur Lydiard, the New Zealand running coach who oversaw a golden age of track and field Olympians in his home country in the 1960s, with his focus on endurance and bursts of intensity in his training. (A quote from Lydiard inspired the company name: “There are champions everywhere. Every street’s got them. All we need to do is train them properly.”) Their approach is resolutely old school and utilises drills and techniques from the past.
When the duo teamed up with Tony Riddle, a London-based personal coach and proponent of barefoot running, they really began to focus on the importance of good movement – not just in running but in all aspects of your life. In the classroom, the trio explain their philosophy, which is effectively that modern sports footwear is damaging your feet and causing you needless injuries. It’s all about listening to the feedback from your body – if your feet are encased in €150 of highly cushioned rubber, silicone and plastic, you are cutting off an important source of information.