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The Clubhouse

My story as a runner begins as many famed runners’ stories do. The Clubhouse or as my mates from the Natal Midlands will know, the Pot and Barrel. We were numerous beers down when a fellow weekend warrior and beer drinker gave me a beer and with that liquid courage, decided that a bet to run the Comrades marathon should ensue. This is where my runner career started, which in hindsight and in meeting numerous numbers of similar fated individuals seems to be the common thread. Do you run? Do you drink? Should we do comrades? And then should we drink beer?

My running career started in 2012 where I moved to the central hub of Comrades runners, Pietermaritzburg. Now I could write on when where and what the comrades marathon is, but I suspect if you have found this page you know this already. So, I will start at the question ever comrades runner has been asked, why? Why would you decide to run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban a net downhill run over 89km’s? And simply put, it’s in our DNA, as runners from South Africa to spend time on the road, and not necessarily chase an improvement in time at the marathon and half marathon distance as is the case in Europe and frankly around the world. We have a fascination in our country to go long and as a prior strength and conditioning coach for several Dusi and marathon paddlers I can confidently say it is not only limited to runners in the country.

My first two comrades’ marathons (and only) to this date where as expected. January to June training just does not cut it, even as a naturally gifted athlete and runner. The heat and humidity of training in the Natal Midlands is a tough place to start when you are 10kg’s overweight and limitations of weakly mileage to start a comrades program are not to be written home about. And my results showed. Two years in a row I trained, and got injured, and trained and pitched up on the comrades start line, under-prepared, over stretched and simply not prepared for the hours and beautifully tough hours to come. My results on a greater scale, were respectable. In the local community I was announced as a real runner however deep down a real sense of despair was felt. I knew I had the ability to be a decent runner but ultimately a lack of preparation, consistency and beer created an athlete that I could not be proud of.

This lack of preparation created an athlete who essentially with all my theoretical knowledge and theoretical explanations: over trained, under-recovered, burnout and lost motivation to continue- a running sabbatical ensued.

This was until I started taking a real definitive choice to start learning. I dove deep, real deep in both the scientific and real-life experience of some of the greatest coaches of the best athletes worldwide. And what did I find? Well that runners of all ability need consistency. Not consistency over 12 weeks for the marathon, 6 months for comrades, but years and years of consistent effort to produce small, measurable improvements. These improvements are engrained meaning they are not created and lost, but fundamentals to all the building blocks that can be engaged and improved on in a 12-week marathon program. Arthur Lydiard, one of the first legendary coaches I encountered and for prestigious reason was a coach of some of the greatest athletes in the middle to late 1900’s. But what he was less renowned for was his passion for the everyday athlete and can be quoted as saying, “I get more gratification out of getting some obese person who had a heart attack running around and enjoying life within a year. I get more gratification from that than putting a person in the Olympic games. The Olympic athlete probably does not appreciate what you have done, but the other guy does”. This quote is what my passion project is, both in writing this blog, but also through the interaction I aim to achieve throughout my coaching career.

Creating consistent runners, who love running and racing is our ultimate goal.

Consistency comes from being a robust, mature athlete which is built on a platform of good mechanics, consistent mileage and progressive aerobic conditioning. As an interesting fact the greatest energy expenditure during running is posed by the energy consumed to support one’s own body weight and not forward propulsion. It is for this reason that my academic background in terms of exercise physiology and biomechanics becomes extremely worthwhile in understanding an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses. My blog posts will be various in nature; 1) Scientific, 2) Personal and 3) A blend of both. The name of my blog is the Green Zone. Those individuals that have come across any zonal training models may be familiar with the Green Zone. This zone is our Zone 2, Low Aerobic zone that is said to be incredibly important in the development of our aerobic capacity. This is true in some sense; however, the various other zones of training cannot be dismissed which we will explore in future posts. The green zone in my opinion is a fundamental zone so we can create strong connective tissue structures and build days into a training program without increasing the risk of injury to severely. If you consider training an athlete one extra day a week over a year’s period, this increase the training capacity by close to two months. This is where the art of coaching comes in and why everyone that I work with will receive and individualised program that is specific to their needs, goals and risk tolerance level.

Beneath please feel free on leaving comments, blog posts requests and community encouragement wherever possible.

Thanks for reading, happy running and lets Activ8 Endurance together.

Gareth Ford

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