Thursday, 14 June 2012

Mental training with colours - does it make a difference to your running or is it just red raging bull?

The Finnenbahn where we did the mental and barefoot training
Last night was my regular weekly group running session with coach Jeff Grant, and this time coach Jeff covered the following topics:

1) Minimising contact time with the ground
2) Barefoot running
3) Mental training - imagining certain colours whilst running

First let me get the negative energy out of my system by starting with one small complaint, and then I will be able to continue complaint free for the rest of the post.  So here goes.  Bad weather - almost from the start we were doomed weather wise.  It has rained every single session for the last month or so, and last night was no exception to the rule.  As coach Jeff says we must always try to find a positive point, regardless of how bad the situation first seems, so I will see the positive as the fact that this time it was only rain and not hail.  Hooray!  Now that I have got that out of my system, let me continue with a description of the session itself.

The first drills involved the agility ladders, which most of us in the group were familiar with.  Jeff explained that we should try to minimise the time that our feet are in contact with the ground, and that we should try to land on our mid foot.  It is perfectly fine for the heel to come down to the ground after the mid foot has struck the ground, but the heel should not strike the ground first.  Heel striking tends to cause us to brake.  He reinforced the idea of getting us to land on our mid foot and minimising our contact time with the ground by making us run through the agility ladders as quickly as possible, taking very small quick steps (since the rungs of the ladder are close together).  Landing mid foot is something that I have already been focussing on for some time now, so the drills felt rather natural to me.  As you know I have been doing some barefoot running, and when you are barefoot running heel striking is not an option, as it hurts if you land on a stone with your heel.  My Newton Sir Isaac guidance trainers are also meant to help runners transition from heel striking to mid foot striking.  The fact that I didn't really notice any difference wearing them compared to wearing normal running shoes suggests that maybe I was mid foot striking already.

After we finished the drills with the agility ladders Jeff gave us the exciting news that we would be heading to the Finnenbahn at the bottom of the Uetliberg and doing some barefoot running and mental exercises involving colours.  Everyone seemed rather pleased at this news, and off we went with a spring in our step to the start of the Finnenbahn.  As I have explained before, Finnenbahns (Finnish paths) are paths made of soft materials to allow runners a more forgiving surface than asphalt or concrete.  You can find them all over Zurich, and most likely all over Switzerland too.  Up till now I have come across 4 in Zurich throughout my travels: 1 near the zoo, 1 in Irchel park, 1 at the bottom of the Uetliberg near the Saalsporthalle (the one I discovered last night for the first time) and 1 on the Hönggerberg. Until last night all the ones I knew were made up of wood chips. However, the Finnenbahn near the Saalsporthalle is made up of sawdust.

I was not sure if everyone in the group would be up for barefoot running on the Finnenbahn, as I had imagined the surface would be wood chips (like the ones I had run on before), but once I saw it was sawdust I knew everyone would be in.  The sawdust was very fine, and it was really, really soft on the feet.  There is no way you would hurt your feet on that surface unless there was a foreign object lying on it like glass.  As I predicted everyone took off their shoes and socks and got ready to go.

The mental training for last night was done on the Finnenbahn.  Before starting each lap of the Finnenbahn, Jeff gave us a colour to think of, along with various ideas about what that colour should represent, and we were supposed to focus on that colour and those attributes whilst running.  In total we did 5 laps, with enough time to get our breath back in between each lap.  The colours and ideas about those colours were as follows:

1) BROWN - representing earth and gravity.  Imagine running on top of a ball as it starts to roll and you are only just able to stay on top.  You are almost falling off the ball but not quite.  Gravity is pulling you along.

2) BLUE - laser focus.  focus on one point or one person and don't be distracted by anything else.  Pick off that person and then focus on the next person to pick off.

3) GREEN - wide focus.  Take in the nature, take in your whole surroundings, listen to the sounds, smell the smells.  Everything is giving you energy to run.

4) ORANGE - bursts of solar radiation.  As you are running you can feel bursts of solar radiation warming you up and giving you energy to run.

5) Colour of choice and attributes of choice - I chose red as my colour and I thought about being a raging bull.

After finishing the 5 laps Jeff asked us for feedback.  He wanted to know if we felt that we ran better when thinking of certain colours or not.  Personally I found that blue and green were good colours for me.  I ran well when I was thinking of blue and the laser focus like he mentioned, then I also ran well when I was thinking of green and the wide focus and taking in all your surroundings like he mentioned.

The mental training with colours is something you might want to try at home and to let me know the results.  What colours work best for you, or does it make absolutely no difference?

After the colour exercise, Jeff rounded the session off with a team relay back to the Saalsporthalle.  I can't wait till next week to see what he has in store for us.

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