What can we learn from mountain goats?

Posted on 12th December by John Hampshire

Track training in MajorcaSo here I am in Majorca, a perfect environment to do some training and test one or two theories; one being the up and down hill running ideas from last time and the other some thoughts about the impact of low intensity exercise on training for racing. I’m down at Studio 2 in Puerto Pollensa now, Sarah the owner has been very helpful to us - particularly getting me a few clients for sports massage.

Last week I was pondering the impact of up and downhill running on flat running, I still am, and particularly road running is what I have in mind. My morning runs here in Puerto Pollensa are along a rough path running along a valley and ending up at the sea - it’s beautiful and inspiring. At that time in the morning my only companions are the mountain goats and incidentally (but not coincidentally) they are pretty good at running up and down hills, and not too shabby on the flat.

Like us, the goats have long tendons and a long back, all perfect for storing energy on landing for reuse in propulsion and that is just what they do, they keep a nice rhythm and adjust the way they move their limbs to give them a bounce in the right direction. This run also gives me an opportunity to consider my own running action. I noticed that when running up hills I seem to keep the same cadence I use on the flat but adjust my stride length because by necessity I have to go slower.

Yujiro running the Ribble Valley 10km To me, this implies I am using the same skills of storing and reusing energy that I use on the flat and hence there is a strong read across from one to another (Yujiro, pictured is good on both roads and mountains). On down hill running, my stride length is longer and I go faster but that rhythm is still there when I feel I am running well, as is the short contact time. This obviously needs some more rigorous analysis, which I will do in time but at this stage the implication is that running up and down hills doesn’t necessarily inhibit performance on the flat. However, it is clear that many hill, fell and mountain runners are not good on the flat roads - and I have plenty of thoughts on why that is for later blogs.

The second point is related to an athlete I have started working with that is constrained to do lots of cycling on a day to day basis but wants to race her bike at a very high level over periods of 20 to 90 minutes. Obviously, riding for 6 to 10 hours a day isn’t conducive to training at the intensities required to race for 20 minutes, or at least that is conventional thinking. I got to thinking about good athletes of the past and how they often had manual jobs, when Britain were a force in many sports we were also an industrial nation. These manual workers spent a lot of time working at low intensities and trained and raced at high intensities. Is this analogous? I think so. I am using this theory by asking the athlete to do her day to day riding at very low intensity and adding focused sessions to meet the physiological requirements of competition. As usual, I am also testing this on myself - I am joining Karen on most of her rides using a recumbent tricycle, kindly provided by TRICE, this is quite low intensity for me because my legs are a little stronger than her arms. I’m trying to combine it with running training (admittedly not at a high level) and I will see how I get on.

I felt good this morning so things look good, hopefully it wasn’t only the shouts of encouragement from the mountain goats and the view of the sea as I ran through the beautiful valley at sunrise!!

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