Friday, 20 July 2012

My running protege storms her second ever race at the Swiss Firms-Triathlon

A smiling start
It was only back in May that Anny completed her first ever race, a 5km course in a small village outside of Madrid.  Being very new to running she did absolutely fantastic.

Well onwards and upwards she goes, having just completed her second ever race in the Swiss Firms-Triathlon last Saturday in Zürich.  She was part of one of three Adecco teams, and completed the running leg, which was 7km long.

I went along to watch her, and to cheer her along the way.  I find it admirable that Adecco actively encourages participation in such events.  They also run a program called Win4Youth, which is extremely popular with Anny's colleagues.

Just look at the smile on Anny's face in the photo above.  That may have been taken at the start of the race, but it is still a great sign to see that she is enjoying herself.  Some people focus so much on their times and achieving personal bests that they often miss the whole enjoyment of running.  Anny runs more for enjoyment than for times.

After taking that photo I headed over to the finish line whilst Anny headed off along the lake on the main part of the route.  I was anticipating that she would finish in a time of between 35 and 42 minutes.  In the end she arrived after 38 minutes and 46 seconds.  A great result for both her and her team!

So what is next in store for Anny?  Well she is talking about entering herself for a half marathon before the end of this year.  I am trying to persuade her to run in the Lucern half-marathon/marathon, as I am already signed up for the full marathon event.  Her aim if she does the half marathon will be just to complete it.  Given the fact that she has now built up a good base fitness, I think it is certainly within her capability.  The mental aspect will definitely become more important though, as a half is a fairly respectable distance even for experienced runners.

Keep up the good work Anny!

One of the three Adecco Swiss Firms-Triathlon teams

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Chi Running workshop review

Fiona with Danny Dreyer, the inventor of ChiRunning®
Last Saturday I attended a ChiRunning® workshop in Zürich, held by Fiona McLellan.  Fiona is a Chi Running and Chi Walking certified instructor, of which there are only two in Switzerland.  She achieved her certification in May 2011.

Fiona is originally Scottish but has been living in Switzerland for many years.  She usually runs her courses in German but also provides explanations in English as required.  There were 5 of us in the course last Saturday, and as most of us were English speaking she held the course in English.

The first thing Fiona wanted to know was what our reasons for attending the workshop were. Three of the participants came in the hope of finding a way to run injury free, one was hoping to learn better technique and then there was me.  I was there because I am interested in finding out about running trends, so that I can tell you guys (and ladies) about them.  I recently did a similar review of Pose Method® running.

What is Chi Running?

Chi Running teaches safe and efficient, natural running technique, with the aim of reducing injury and improving performance.  It is a method of running instruction developed by Danny Dreyer, an American ultra runner and t'ai chi practitioner, and it has been around since 1999.

The workshop

After a theoretical introduction, Fiona started with a series of simple exercises to get us to start focussing on achieving the correct posture for Chi Running.  The correct posture for Chi Running involves contracting the muscles at the front of your pelvis and maintaining a strong core, whilst keep everything else as relaxed as possible.

Gravity should be used to assist your running and acceleration and deceleration is achieved by either increasing or decreasing the lean of your body.  The lean should originate from the ankles and not from the waist.  The neck should be long and the chin level so that a C shape is formed by tracing from your chin, over your head, down your back, and then from the back of your pelvis towards the front of your pelvis and up to your navel.  The runner's ankle, hip-bone, shoulder and ear should be in a straight line when landing.

In Chi Running the arms are considered very important.  When running on the flat they should be doing just as much work as the legs (50-50), and that changes when running uphill or downhill.  When running uphill, Fiona told us that the arms do 70% of the work and the legs do the remaining 30%.  The effort should be made to swing the arms backwards rather than forwards, as they will naturally come forward by themselves unaided, due to the pendulum effect.  The angle of the forearm to the upper arm should be 90 degrees and the hands should be cupped as if holding a butterfly inside your hand that you neither want to squash nor to let escape.  The arms should not cross the centreline of the body, as Chi Running teaches that any movement not in the direction of movement is inefficient.

The steps should be small and quick and the whole foot lands at once, so as to help absorb impact (but in minimalist shoes or when running barefoot, Chi Runners land on the forefoot first and then immediately come down onto the whole foot).  To take off is simply a matter of lifting the heel as if peeling off a plaster.

After doing exercises to practise using the lean, getting in the C shaped posture and contracting our core, relaxing the rest of our bodies and minimising unnecessary effort, we headed outside to the park.  Here in the park we started putting everything together, and then Fiona told us about the Chi Running recommended cadence.  Chi Running teaches a cadence of 180 steps per minute (the same as Pose method running).  We used a metronome to practise running at 180bpm.  Some of us in the group found this cadence very natural and others found it too fast.  In general the ones that found it too fast were prominent heel strikers.

Chi Running teaches not to reach out for the ground in front but rather to open the stride out at the back. Fiona told us that when she was first learning Chi Running technique they practised running over logs, not by lifting the foot up at the front but by lifting it up at the back.  This is the opposite of what most of us would probably do naturally when faced with a log in our path, but if you try it you will see that you can also get over a log this way too.

Chi Running also teaches that the legs begin just under the ribcage rather than from the top of the leg alone.  We did an exercise where we had to run normally, then stop running and walk as fast as possible then run again.  What we found after fast walking was that our pelvis continued to rotate slightly whilst running.  This, Fiona says, helps us to achieve a slightly longer stride and is a good thing to do.

Fiona then went on to touch on the topics of hill running, and breathing when Chi Running.  These topics are covered in more detail in advanced Chi Running courses, but she told us that in terms of breathing it is good to breathe through the nose as much as possible, because when we breathe through the nose we naturally tend to use our stomach to breathe, rather than using purely the upper area of our lungs.  The part where she touched on hill running was extremely interesting, because I asked her how you should run up a really steep hill when you are unable to put your ankles down (because the gradient is just too severe).  I have never seen anything like it before, but she showed us that you should turn sideways and run up the hill.  It looked rather odd but it may be worth trying next time you are running up a really steep hill, because running on your tiptoes is very tiring and you won't be able to do that for hours on end.

In the final part of the lesson Fiona filmed us running and then we did some video analysis on the computer.  She gave each of us individual feedback, and my feedback was that I don't really use my arms at all and that I should try to use them more actively.  I also reach out slightly for the ground in front rather than opening up my stride at the back.  If I worked on these 2 points, apparently I would have a good Chi Running technique.

I found the workshop extremely informative, and if you too are interested in doing a Chi Running course in Zürich, the next one will take place on the 25th August.  Fiona will also be offering advanced courses as of the 22nd September.  You can visit her website for more information.

Published on Newly Swissed

Here's my article, "Switzerland - A Runner's Best Friend" posted on the Newly Swissed blog.

I attended a ZWW writing course back in May where each of us was challenged to write a blog post on anything related to Switzerland.  The idea was that the winning entries would be posted on Newly Swissed, and I was one those selected! Thanks, Newly Swissed, Dimitri and Diccon!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

CrossFit trial lesson

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that combines constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movements, with the goal of improving fitness.  Jeff Grant, who runs the Wednesday night running sessions that I regularly attend, is also a CrossFit level 1 and multi-specialist certified coach.  He gave me the opportunity to join in with one of his regular CrossFit classes in Burghalden near Richterswil last Thursday evening, and I jumped at the chance.

I turned up not really knowing what to expect, to find the previous class still underway and watching a group of pretty darn fit people through a gap in the door engaged in some seriously high-intensity exercise.  The "tools of the job" seemed to include a mix of kettlebells, free weights, benches and cardio machines.  By the time I came back after changing my clothes, the door was closed so I was no longer able to spy on the class.  I would have to just wait and see what on earth I had got myself involved in it seemed.

Two others arrived ready for the 8pm class, and that was it - just the three of us.  One is ex British military and also goes to the Wednesday night running classes at Saalsporthalle and the other was a new face, but looked like he did CrossFit on a regular basis.

With the other class over it was now time to enter the Hillseeker gym.  The gym is a fairly small room but has tons and tons of well placed equipment so as to make maximum use of the space.  There are some Concept2 rowing machines, Concept2 SkiErgs, spinning bikes, benches, kettlebells, sandbags, a tractor tyre, sledgehammer, free weights and rack, ropes, slam balls and the list goes on.

Jeff started the lesson by telling us what he had in store for us.  There was an initial warmup consisting of a mix up of step-ups, press-ups, inclined press-ups, tricep-dips and squats then it moved on to the main body of the workout.  Our workout routine for the night was named "Linda".  CrossFit workouts are often named in people's honor and there's a series of benchmark workouts named after women. While CrossFit workouts vary greatly from day to day, CrossFit coaches program benchmark workouts from time to time to allow athletes to measure themselves.

Linda is a tough woman it seems, as the Linda routine involved performing a set of 10 deadlifts, power cleans and bench presses followed by a set of 9 deadlifts, power cleans and bench presses and so on all the way down to 1 deadlift, power clean and bench press.  Jeff made it a little easier for us by starting with a set of 8 instead of 10.  He also set a maximum time limit for completing Linda at 20 minutes. According to Jeff, learning proper technique and scaling both the load and volume are key parts of successful CrossFit training.

As I have never done cleans before, Jeff spent some time going over technique.  I used to do some bodybuilding when I was younger, but the only Olympic type move I have done before is the deadlift.  I used to do my deadlifts with 100kg, but there was no way I was going to try to do that last Thursday.  My physique nowadays is much more of a distance runner's physique.  Since I have not done weights for some time, Jeff wanted me to start out light and focus on technique.

I did my bench press using 15kg weights in each hand.  I do not recall how much weight I used for the deadlift and power clean, but it was a very comfortable weight that allowed me to get the hang of the technique.  Nevertheless it was a really tiring workout and the session was still not over yet.

The finale of the session and the part that really made me feel the burn was a 6 minute 6 station workout.  One minute was spent at each of the 6 stations, with no rest in between stations.  I cannot recall the names of all 6 exercises, but they included battle ropes (2 huge, thick ropes that you need to swing like a warrior), mountain climbers, sledgehammer blows (on the tractor tyre) and one legged raises from plank position.  The final station was one of our choosing, and I chose to do kettlebell swings.  I finished the lesson completely exhausted, but really glad that I had made it through in one piece, without having had to give up and take a break at any point.

Jeff's CrossFit sessions are just as fun as his running sessions, and I would definitely recommend them. Especially if you are already living in the Richterswil area, as then they are easier to get to.

My muscles were aching for quite a few days after the CrossFit lesson, but I felt really good and manly.  It may be psychological, but I felt as though I had more testosterone in my body for a day or two afterwards.

Below are some more photos taken during the class.

Series 5 of the Hillseeker Wednesday Night Running Sessions gets underway

Last Wednesday was the start of Series 5 of the eagerly anticipated Hillseeker Wednesday night running sessions.  At the start of the series Jeff always gets us to do a benchmark performance test, which he then repeats at the end of the series.  Ideally there should be some improvement between the second and the first attempt, although last series did not go so well towards the end for me, as I was suffering from extremely low energy levels.

The benchmark test this time was a cross country run near the Saalsporthalle on a mix of grass, sawdust (the Finnenbahn), gravel and asphalt.  The route started with a grassy uphill then went on to gravel, joined the Finnenbahn for a gentle climb to the highest point, descended the Finnenbahn, then exited it and took us down the road towards the sports playing fields.  The final dash to the finish was a flat grassy section.

The 2 fastest guys (Tobias and Fernando) were absent from the class so it was down to Ryan (the other MDS 2012 finisher) and I to battle it out for first place.  He took off like a rocket up the hill and I didn't stand a chance of keeping up.  My energy levels had recovered slightly compared to the previous days but were still lower than normal (and in fact still are).  I held on in though, staying as close to him as I possibly could.  The gap between us was around 50m by the time we reached the highest point of the course.  On the downhill I decided to attack and catch him up.  I caught up with him just before the end of the downhill and stayed on his heels all the way along the flat to the finish.  Our final time was in the same second, with him just a whisker ahead.  Our shared time was 5 minutes and 30 seconds.

After allowing everyone time to finish and get their heart rate back to normal we did some mental toughness talks relating to how you can use interaction with others to improve your own performance.  Jeff told us that he wanted us to do 3 hill sprints, each time using a different mental toughness technique.  The first time we were to run up the hill as fast as possible and imagine that the person in front was our prey and we were a predator, looking to catch and devour them.  The second time we were to use all our energy to encourage someone else to do well.  Then the final time we were to pick someone very special and do the run in honour of them.  I chose to do the last run in honour of my late grandmother, the only close family member who has passed away so far touchwood.

To do the second run we used elastic bands and paired up.  One of the pair ran with the band around their waist, whilst the other provided some resistance and a lot of encouragement for the other to run faster.  Then for the third run we had to write down on a piece of paper the name of the person we were doing the run in honour of, and then keep the paper in our hand whilst running.

After completing all 3 hill sprints we regrouped and Jeff asked us if any of the 3 tactics made us run faster in our opinion.  Several members of the group thought that running in honour of someone was a very powerful technique.  I myself found that technique very powerful, but preferred the one where someone was encouraging me to run faster.  I felt that running in honour of someone, I was too willing to push myself past my safe limits.

If you feel like going out and trying those techniques I would be interested to know how you get on with them, and which one you prefer.  They can be useful tools for your tool belt that you can pull out when needed.