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Ups and Downs

Gravity: a constant and largely inescapable companion. It will often tap you on the shoulder to remind you who is really in charge of the situation. A gentle reminder that when anything needs to be lifted, some level of commitment and work is required by you (if you refrain from mechanical assistance).

As such, when treated with respect and understanding, gravity proves to be an excellent and authentic training buddy. By utilising its benefits to make your training tougher, the theory is that any exploits which then demand a reduced requirement to defy gravity should appear to be relatively ‘easy’ in comparison.

In addition to my British Military Fitness sessions, putting this idea in to practice has meant a period of focused up and downhill trail running to develop robust muscular resilience. This resilience not only makes me stronger and tougher but also means more energy can be directed towards other attributes such as style, form, efficiency and ultimately, speed.

The recipe for a gravity-based workout can be quite modest;

1. Simply get outside in suitable attire
2. Find something to lift.

Preferably lift your own body – it is not easily left behind and will be the primary benefactor of any meaningful exercise achieved. Take yourself out for a run where you include steps, slopes or even step-ups on a bench if nature fails you.

If you’re after something more static, most exercises fundamentally work against gravity – press ups, leg raises etc will all feel harder on the ‘up’ than the ‘down’. However,  you can increase the intensity of your workout by adding weights, or changing the pace of movement.

Despite mainly being a runner, I have suffered from several injuries as a result of a one-dimensional training approach; focusing predominantly on running. So, as an elite athlete striving to become as resilient as possible to the demands of a full-time training schedule I have concluded that a foundation of strength and basic principles of fitness will ensure a sustainable pathway to my goals.

Since embarking on this quite-literally ‘steep learning curve‘ and training regime, the development of deep lungs, bodily efficiency and skeleto-muscular adaptation made it possible to consider an uphill challenge to see what my body could actually manage!

My choice of challenge was the Zermatt Marathon – measuring in at 42km (26.2 miles) is no surprise, but what comes as a shock, especially once you start, is the 1900m of ascent to the finish. Producing a near-unbroken climb over the marathon distance mostly on tracks and trails.

Whilst running uphill is a demand on muscular and cardio-vascular systems, running downhill is something completely different – an art form and discipline in its own right. The stresses on the muscles are practically reversed and where progressing uphill is a mind game of focus and pain reduction, downhill requires positive technique and the mental alertness equivalent to the functions performed at NASA’s mission control room.

Trajectories and life preservation systems are constantly assessed for a precise and graceful descent. The alternative in running terms is a jumbled heap of sweat and most likely some tears…all because of a worldwide force, applied without prejudice, to bring us all back down to earth both mentally and physically, often with a bump and to show who really is the boss!

Gravity available everywhere, please use with care.

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First in its class

Studying hard for school exams did not enable the luxury of an evening training at the local track, but for added motivation a fresh pair of adidas Concerto racing flats stood on the desk right in front of me. A pristinely white mesh upper combined with feather light compression moulded EVA sole, they appeared almost ahead of their time or at least of anything that I had seen. I could not wait to try them out, see how they felt and how fast they could carry me. Who knows, the shoe may even have contributed to my subsequent decision to study engineering as well as industrial and product design.

Fast-forward over a decade and it really is the first time that I have experienced similar thrill and pang of excitement concerning a racing trainer since; this time being the New Balance 1500v1!

It is by no means easy to achieve the perfect balance between weight, cushioning, response and support in a racing flat. Many design attempts have fallen short and resulted in sore feet, niggles and even injury, myself included. The New Balance (NB) 1500v1 is a breath of fresh air and I believe it is first in its class.

The ultralight mesh upper has TPU support material fused into the design resulting in a seamless, glove-like feel and thereby reducing friction, ever important when racing over longer distances and in the heat. The lacing has some elastic ‘give’, which really helps the foot to feel secure even as the conditions and terrain change within a run; the time I take tying and retying my laces before a race has also halved!

The REVlite midsole includes a higher density post for mild stability. I overpronate, as many runners do, but generally prefer to support this running motion through an insert rather than via the structure of a shoe. However, the mild stability in the NB 1500v1 is spot on, helping to support motion whilst not seeking to control it. The carbon rubber outsole has two different patterns, providing durability in areas of most wear as well as effective grip on a variety of terrains and conditions, including the wet. My pair has performed perfectly on the road and on dirt tracks, but has also carried me up to 2700m elevation, hopping from rock to rock on mountainous trail and crossing snow fields!

Last but by no means least the shoe looks great; simple, effective and tasteful design, no over-engineering here. When we enjoy and have confidence in our equipment we can really perform.

 

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Bushy Park Burpees with BMF

Situated to the South West of London, Bushy Park is one of my regular training venues when back in the UK. A wonderfully wild landscape within an urban setting, it has great variety from season to season, even day to day. From the magic of a winter’s morning for a refreshing run through the glistening deep frost (see video page), to a summer’s evening with the song of the skylark filling the skies.

There are many extraordinary things going on in this Royal Park – one was of special interest to me and little did I know that it is also taking place up and down the country every day of the week. Collectively, people donning blue, red and green bibs, moving in and out of the long grasses, circling laps of the Diana Fountain interspersed with energetic exercises, even picking up logs and running with them much to the bewilderment of the onlooking deer!

Seeing this sight, my own running felt solitary by comparison. Would I cope with such a challenge?

Having always been a big fan of exercising outside in the real world as well as a believing that things can, at times, become over-complicated and overly technology dependent, I was delighted when British Military Fitness (BMF) invited me to give it a go and become involved.

From the onset I was totally blown away by the warm and welcoming atmosphere, the immediate camaraderie, everyone looking out for one another and the shouting words of encouragement during the session – even more so as the stopwatch for the following exercise would only start once the ‘final person’ (though there is no concept of first or last here) was back with the group.

As an endurance runner I have never been under any illusion that I am a particularly strong or robust as a whole, but when just 20 minutes in to the exercise session my legs felt like they are giving way beneath me whilst trying to ‘burpee-jump’ across one of the grassy rides of Bushy Park, I felt humbled, not knowing whether to cry or laugh at my seemly pathetic efforts!

But, everyone is in the same boat – recreational athlete, weekend warrior or Olympian, pushing themself to ‘their’ limit, putting in the hard graft and thereby reaping the rewards. The first BMF experience may well result in a couple of days where you struggle to manoeuvre out of bed in the morning (at least it did with me) but it will all be with the sound knowledge that you are becoming a fitter, stronger ‘you’ and that session by session the progress will be measurable.

As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding (preferably dark chocolate); but do I think there’s a place for British Military Fitness on my road to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games?

Yes, absolutely!

For many people, including myself, there is much that can be gained from this effective, highly time-efficient and massively enjoyable form of group fitness. It is a joy to exercise with people of all abilities whilst getting exactly what you need out of the workout under the watchful eye of the instructors. Forget the indoor gym and head into the fresh outdoors – you are sure to see many more smiles out there!

I look forward to working with BMF to become a stronger ‘me’.