Mountain Run’s Ultra Mountain/Trail Running Skills Weekend

It’s a little under 2 weeks since I returned from the Lake District, after shooting Mountain Run’s Ultra Mountain/Trail Running Skills Weekend and it took a while to readjust to day to day life. Over the course of 3 days, I was shown areas of Patterdale and Grisedale I had never seen or stepped on before, areas that without the lead of Charlie, I would probably have not seen for years, if at all.

Mountain Run, headed by Charlie Sproson, was set up to aid mountain runners move faster and safer, over extreme mountain terrain. Race Director/Creator of Lakes Sky Ultra and Scafell Skyrace, as well as planning course for numerous races across the UK and further afield.

After a lazy morning packing kit, driving north to Cumbria and lunch with a good friend in Staveley, it was on to Patterdale and the YHA Youth Hostel. At 29 years of age, this is the second time I’ve stayed in a hostel and the second time this year. The rooms were huge, sofas plentiful, architecture grand and proximity to the mountains, incredible.

Quick change and the first group were out on the fell, at a relaxed, sociable pace. Despite the dry weather this year has provided, the Lakes lived up to their reputation and feet were thoroughly saturated within the first mile. I dropped back to the bring up the rear, getting to know some of the members who would be attending over the weekend. With a mixture of trail, from rock to mud and grass, it gave a small taster of what the fells had to offer, without needing everyone to ascend any real height. Though we carried head torches, there was no need to switch on our artificial light, making it back to the hostel as night set in through the valley.

Refuelled on the hostel’s grub, everyone chilled in anticipation of the main event kicking off first thing on Saturday.

Saturday

Alarm clocks sounded throughout the dorm, as everyone swung tired bodies out of bunkbeds, in a laboured move to get up and ready for yoga. Leaving the comfort of the accommodation at 0615, a stream of head torches meandered down the road, into the heart of Patterdale, as the valley slept. Roads and trails lead to the school, where running shoes were swapped for foam mats, the pace slowing right down.

The variance in flexibility and mobility soon became apparent. Flexibility combined with mobility really is an area not to underestimate the importance of working on. Yes, there is an argument about at what point do you become too flexible and it potentially becomes detrimental to performance, however, for maintenance, self awareness and strengthening, it really should be apart of your weekly routine. I myself have extremely poor flexibility, which though I wasn’t participating, showed to those having a harder time in moves which highlighted poor hamstring and lower back flexibility.

Mind and body supple, it was a short run along the road back to HQ for breakfast. The main sessions of the day focused around using poles while running and navigation. ‘Cheat Sticks’ the term often thrown around by the UK trail and ultra running community , are often overlooked and shouldn’t be looked at it this way. There’s a reason why the world’s best utilise them at some of the most iconic races. Combined with knowing how to navigate and read the terrain, you have a potent triad of skills that can propel you over the mountain faster, without necessarily needing to be fitter. There’s more to this running lark then pure fitness.

Nicky Spronson of Nic’s Nordic Walks geared everyone with a selection of Leki Poles. Using the land beside the hostel to ease everyone in, we would walk before we ran. Co-ordiantion, utilising muscle groups and making the most of the pole were taught on the flat terrain, where differences and bad habits would be easier to identify. There is much more to using a pole effectively, more over, efficiently, than first meets the eye, with the morning steadily progressing and reinforcing technique.

On the fell, the techniques fresh in minds soon showed their importance, as slopes rapidly demonstrated how poles can take strain/load of legs and aid descending with speed. And with that, running was introduced.

There was a resounding understanding that poles can make your training session or race better, easier or more constructive. When I spent a week in Chamonix last year I used poles on all my mountain runs and they enabled me to rack up 100 miles and 10,000 meters of ascent in the week. My standard week is around 50 miles on flat trails, to give you a comparison. You don’t have to destroy your quads.

Lunch lead to navigation.

We’re fortunate that most races are way marked, with a map at the start and on the website, as much for personal interest as a visual representation of what was ahead for everyone. But what happens if the cloud draws in, visibility reduces or you step off course. The ability to read a map, use a compass and understand terrain can not only get you out of a sticky situation, but more over, help you find the best route if taking on a mountain marathon or self navigated race/personal project.

Grid lines, contours, bearings and features – all simple, yet combined unlock the world. Sounds corny, but it’s true. Basics and fundamentals were taught inside, new found knowledge was reinforced on the hill. Much like my memories of Mountain Leader training in 2008, students were lead along a trail, halted and then Charlie would ask ‘show me where we are.’ Orientating the map, seeing the contours in 3D, focusing on features to triangulate your position, everyone had multiple opportunities to practice, make mistakes and learn.

Dinner and Talks

Paul Tierney, holder out the Wainwrights Record, joined the team for the evening for an intimate insight into his background and what it took to break the record. This rare opportunity gave attendees the opportunity to quiz Paul on the minute details and laugh at anecdotes and images from one of the greatest ultra running achievements globally.

Sunday

0630, running along the road to the school for more yoga. This time, strength. Applying holds for greater lengths of time and putting the body in a different range of positions tested many and showed in a raw and unapologetic form, where weaknesses stood.

Breakfast provided light relief before everyone returned to the school for more training, this time under the guidance of Paul.

As you may have detected, there’s an underlying theme to the weekend – technique. Looking beyond the simple task of lung and muscle adaptation, there are many more areas that contribute to make the complete mountain runner.

In recent years, more research and time has been spent looking at the technique of running. If you think back to childhood and school, you were never taught to run, it was expected of you. Watch a school track race and you will see a wide variety of technique, some good, some bad….. it was one of the biggest criticisms of Usain Bolt when he became World Champion for the first time, he rolled all over the place.

How do you land on your foot? For Paul, it’s of upmost importance and displays how you transfer your energy, what you will be loading with stress and where greater efficiency can be unlocked. The simple experiment was to walk across a pad and compare feet at the end. It was interesting to see people’s interpretations before the knowledge was dished out, to after the group had been assessed. What appeared good to many would turn out to be the opposite in the end.

Who knew your big toe was so important? I mean, it’s bigger than the rest, but with modern shoes shaping feet to a point, mobilising this digit and providing a stable platform to counter this trend proved torturous for some. Deep squats, activation exercises and engaging your mind once again were key factors in play.

The biggest take aways, warm up dynamically before a run, wear wide toed flat shoes when not running to aid not crushing your feet into an arrow shape and practice simple drills throughout your day.

And then it rained.

The weather forecast hadn’t looked optimistic coming into the weekend, fortune favoured us and it held out till the Sunday. Even then, it was a light rain with no windchill. People have may have been grateful for what was coming next.

In the course notes, Charlie said all should have spare sets of clothing and expect to get muddy. This was that moment. As we congregated on the football pitch, I’m sure several imagined they had entered boot camp, the next 90 or so minutes would be full of burpees , sit ups and crawling only where its saturated. No, this wasn’t a boot camp. It built on what Paul had taught inside, now that there was greater awareness of the foot as a platform and the strength of specific holds, it was time to get dynamic, explosive. Linking this knowledge to the rest of your body, applying lessons and in the process, building power and speed.

90 minutes built to a final set of drills, that utilised range of motion and strength. Paul kept a watchful eye, making are everyone executed properly. The goal wasn’t to win or be the first, the objective was to use proper technique.

The take away – incorporate drills into your weekly routine, execution over total number of reps. The body is connected, treat as one.

The dry room and showers were a god send, as kit was gathered together, stomachs lined and the large sofa room rearranged for Beth Pascall and Damian Hall‘s talk. The pair who ran the Cape Wrath Trail setting a new FKT, in winter, as you do, both have top 5 finishes at UTMB and are some of the most respected British runners on the international ultra running circuit at present.

Damian, focused on his session on coaching. As someone who has used many over the years and now moved into a coaching role himself, he holds a wealth of knowledge from having experienced different philosophies and methods.

Consistency, working your training around your day to day life and making sure you periodise load increases to allow structural adaptation were fundamentals of the talk. Yes, that word consistency pops up everywhere, but it is the key for so many aspects of life. It’s the reason my training has not been great this year, I haven’t been consistent. Moreover, what Damian shows is that you can achieve more than you initial realise, as he wasn’t running till his 30’s, but stuck with it and built a solid foundation which has been steadily added to over years.

Beth spoke about racing. How you can eat 46 gels in a race (a joke for those attending), tapering, race strategy, small tips that make life easier when racing i.e. a list in your drop back to keep your head in the game and how the training contributes, both pre, during and post race.

The pair throughout both talks, jumped in where their personal experiences added to what the other was saying and were full open to the group asking questions throughout.

With that it was time to head home. Some of the group went on a run with Damian and Beth, however, I took the option to drive back to Milton Keynes. Turned out to be a wise choice, as I was shattered.

There is a lot that can be said about Mountain Run’s Ultra Mountain/Trail Running Skills Weekend . It was more than simply running in the mountains. Looking at many areas that are either overlooked or not taught correctly can rapidly change the state of your running. I’m not for one moment saying you are going to go from the back of the pack at Lakeland 100 and storm to win the race, but with the same mileage in training, I do think you can cut your time down and have a greater experience. Beyond the skills takeaways and chats with elite athletes, spending 3 days with like minded people, all with very different back grounds, race goals and abilities encourages you to pursue your training and racing to be better. It may be the person you share a room with, a coach or the person you didn’t really speak to but looked up to, the wealth of knowledge to be absorbed at a weekend camp/retreat/get together should never be underestimated.

I know its got me thinking about 2020.

To find out more about Mountain Run and there future courses – CLICK HERE

To find out more about Nic’s Nordic Walks – CLICK HERE

To find out more about Paul Tierney – CLICK HERE

To find out more about Damian Hall – CLICK HERE

To find out more about Beth Pascall – CLICK HERE

 

 

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