Invest in your running

by Maggie Jones, Uringa training officer

Wouldn’t it be great to run faster without having to get fitter? I can see some of the club are listening! Orienteering is a beautiful sport where the balance of physical and mental skills is the path to success. Last week we were working on our mental skills, with the map memory training session in Sydney Park, but now my attention turns to working on the physical skills we need in orienteering.

Many club runners, me included, can have a casual approach to physical training for orienteering. They go out on a reasonably regular basis for a run which may be distance based, say 10km, a favourite loop of the park, or maybe a road race now and again to ‘sharpen up’ a bit. 

Athletics coach Joe English says: 

“too many distance runners spend far too much time running “junk” miles — meaningless slow runs that do little for their development as runners”. 

Whilst no-one can deny the importance of base kilometres in any training regime, where the basic stamina is built for running distances, these should not be the only things you have in your tank when you take on your orienteering race.

Speed, strength and running technique are important too. If you missed out on Little Athletics when you were a kid, you may never have had any formal running training. Does this matter? Actually yes, because with efficient technique you can run faster without getting fitter.

Possibly more important, in a sport where participants can still be competing well past the point other athletes are watching the next generation on television; good technique strengthens the right muscles and helps to prevent injury.

Now answer a serious question: are you ever going to worry about how you are running when you are on the way to control point No4 and you just saw your arch rival heading towards the same re-entrant? There is no way you can concentrate on running technique out in the bush with so much else to do. This is where the track environment comes in. The synthetic track training session is a fantastic way to learn how to run efficiently and to learn how to incorporate quality speed work as a part of training.

Track allows runners to work on two main things:

Technique Speed

Technique allows you to run efficiently and avoid injury. Efficiency means you run faster without having to get fitter. Avoiding injury means you will be able to run all season in all the State Leagues! Although there are many ways to break down the running action these are the main parts you need to consider:

Head and shoulders – is this a source of relaxation or tension?
The arms – what position is natural for you and does that help or hinder you?
Torso – what angle is your body to the ground? Is your body position efficient?
Hips – is your positioning right for your centre of mass and the source of the ‘fall’ in your gait? Knees – what is the optimal turnover vs. stride length for you?
Feet – where and how do your feet land and does this predispose you to injury?

At the track, you can isolate and focus on each physical element of the run. Body lean, stride length, hip positioning, relaxation through the shoulders and arms. These can be done through specific exercises, or whilst you are running around a track that requires no map to know where you are going!

Track Pacing

Speed is not just about running faster, it is also about knowing how fast you go. In track work we talk about ‘pacing’. This is different to orienteering pacing:

Orienteering pacing: how many paces to a distance covered
Track pacing: how fast we go for a particular distance.

Do you know, for example, how fast you can run 5km? Is that faster or slower than the same time last year? What are you aiming for this time next year? Running track takes the guesswork out of your running, allowing you to baseline your fitness and know what you are aiming for with your training.

As Coach Spot Anderson of Bondifit says, 

don’t waste your time complaining that your running doesn’t seem to be improving when you can’t say how fast you run now. For 5km is it 25mins 25secs, or 20 minutes 5 secs or are you kidding yourself and telling me you are a sub-20 minute runner? Get rid of guesswork and then you can tell precisely how your fitness and training are going. Only then can we work on how to get you quicker.

Knowing how fast you can go then allows you to plan your running more efficiently. An extremely effective approach to straight road running is the negative split. This is where you decide on your target time, split the run into two halves (or more if you want to get really complicated!) and then plan your speed over the second half of the run to be 5-10% quicker than the first run. This stops you from racing off in the first half and feeling dead for the second. Wonderfully this approach allows you to overtake those runners who sprinted off from the start in that second half. Ian Jones recently ran the Six Foot Track race, the 54km trail run from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves. He used the negative split approach. In the second half of the race, he overtook 200 runners!

Question of course is, is this approach suitable for orienteers? And the answer is yes. It works for orienteers because it allows you to plan to run aerobically for longer, which means you can keep thinking as well as running. Who hasn’t had brain fade in the second half of the course, which could have been avoided if the first half of the course hadn’t been run too fast?

On a final note, these days orienteers often don’t go on training runs together with other club members. One of the other great benefits of the track is the opportunity to run with a mixed ability team. No longer at club runs do the fastest disappear off into the distance with the slower ones sucking up their dust. On the track everyone is going round and round – who knows or cares if you are in front or behind? You are doing your own session and no-one but you and the coach are counting your laps.