Technique, technique, techique
I’ve been struck the last few days about how much of a role technique plays in changing your race day from an ordeal into a tough, but very enjoyable experience.
In swimming, my freestyle is really starting to come together (I know you’ve heard that before, but it’s true), so much so that it’s now considerably easier than my ‘default’ breast stroke. It’s not necessarily faster yet, but at the end of a lap I feel slightly puffed, but relaxed. Doing the same in breast stroke, I feel tired.
To understand why, I watched a guy in the pool last night who had a great breast stroke - really smoothe, and pretty fast. But every time he wanted to breathe, he lifted his head and shoulders right out of the water. Every length was like doing 20 push-ups. The woman he was training with was swimming a fantastic front crawl - hardly a ripple as she passed and completely effortless looking. Breathing for her was just part of the stroke’s power, and nothing more than a simple roll to the side.
Cycling, I’m struck at the difference between my own approach and many of the other commuters I pass. Lots of these are lycra clad speed fiends (some great bikes starting to get their spring dust-offs), but they’re all prone to dropping the cadence too low (60’s compared with 90’s) and coasting down gradients or on corners.
I’m getting almost fanatical about my gear change points, keeping the cadence between 94 and 112 rpm now, and treat even minor downhill gradients as an opportunity to really push on the power to get ahead, knowing that anyone following me won’t be able to make up the gap on the flat or when we climb. On the few fixed wheel rides I’ve done (new rear wheel to pick up today - more of this later), I’ve learnt that pedal strikes are less common than my past experience, so I’m also less afraid of keeping the power on when cornering - within reason!
Running may be all about just doing what comes naturally, but you can learn a lot by thinking about technique. I was taught to run (no, really) at school by an ex-Olympic team runner. My breathing rate matches my pace (in on one foot, out on the other), and I spend as little time as possible in the air between steps, so as to keep the power on. Running up hill, I take this further by deliberately shortening my stride, but increasing the pace rate (and hence breathing rate). On a steep hill, I can outsprint most ‘faster’ runners with this technique. Going down hill, like on the bike, I again deliberately go faster, trying to ‘float’ down under the influence of gravity. Phedippidations edition 90 has some great stuff on this - check out the podcast on iTunes, or Sever Runner’s site.
The best bit about all this is that a 10% improvement from technique is often a lot easier than putting on 10% more muscle, or trying to get 10% fitter. That’s got to be worth thinking about.