Running road races is challenging no matter what the course or the conditions. Any time you work against gravity, bad things happen to your body more often than not. Most runners make the mistake of approaching a road race with virtually no knowledge of the course nor proper total body preparation for the rigors of battling against gravity. The resultant incidence of what I term “avoidable running itis injuries” is pandemic.
As a result, when I train my Team Over The Top clinic members the races, we do preparation bracing, foot cadence and balancing drills along with numerous practice sessions on the selected race courses in the 2-3 months leading up to race day. Obviously, we pick races that are within driving distance of our home base in Port Credit, Ontario, Canada. Having said that, if you research the selected race, most times, you can simulate the course for training purposes in your hometown.
Currently, we are training for arguably the toughest 10.8 km race in North America – the Egg Nog Jog in Terra Cotta, Ontario. For those of you who have raced it, you may why it is ranked as such. Quite simply, it is one mother of a tough course! Based in the hills of the Niagara Escarpment, the route starts from the Terra Cotta Conservation area, makes its way via a steep downhill for the 1st 1.5 kms, then climbs steadily via a series of tough hills on varied terrain into the Valley of Death II. The 500 metre 3-tired climb out of the VOD II comes at the 6 km mark and, basically, destroys the spirit of over 1/2 the field – it’s that tough. I usually see at least 100 walking the hill – thus eliminating them from collecting a medal at the finish line (at least that’s MY rule!). You still are faced with another long, gradual climb to the 8.2 km mark with a flat stretch followed by another gradual climb, a severe downhill drop and a crawl tot he finish line. Being held on the 1st or 2nd Sunday in December, you MAY be lucky enough to race on a calm, dry day…BUT not bloody likely! It’s most often raced in a snow storm with low visibility and high winds or some variation of such. In other words, BRUTAL CONDITIONS!
I start my clinic members with numerous barefoot running drills indoors followed by some of the same drills outdoors on concrete, gravel, asphalt and dirt – precisely the conditions we face on the ENJ course. I then take them to the course where I encourage doing a few kilometres of the course barefoot (for those ready to take this on) – especially on the rougher sections of the course. From there, we train on hilly routes in south Mississauga and combine this with track or flat road 250, 450, 700 and 900 metre repeats done at almost maximum effort. The keys to success for my runners are:
- doing the preparation drills barefoot WEEKLY
- doing the fast-paced repeats weekly – ideally, barefoot
- practicing on the ENJ course at least 3 times pre-race – doing more of it barefoot each time out
- doing repeats of the VOD II, including drills in the process (such as backwards up and down, side to side strides, side to side crossover strides, forward crossovers etc.). This makes running it forward on race day much easier
I’m not saying this is the only way to guarantee a satisfactory race day result. I AM saying that training like this gives you one hell of a BETTER chance of doing so!!