Editorial: Mix’n’match

This editorial appears in the latest edition of Trail Run Mag (Ed #18), downloadable for FREE here. You can also purchase a subscription on iTunes for your iPad/iPhone or Kindle Fire.

Have you ever bought a new car, perhaps something slightly unusual, and all of a sudden that’s all you see on the roads?  Suddenly all you see are burgundy Toyota Tercels everywhere, like a Clone War of obscure imported All Wheel Drive station wagons?

What about a new sport?  You start rock climbing and you start to see routes everywhere.  Every bluestone rock wall along the highway becomes an imaginary red point, every mountain a wonderland, every quarry a vertical playground. Familiarity and an increased interest in a subject prepares our subconscious mind and more readily attracts our conscious attention.

Long before I was a trail runner I was a hiker, climber and surfer; a generalist.  Impatience inspired a natural shift from long hikes to fastpacking and then trail running, but the passion for being in the outdoors, comfortable and physically able, never left.  Every hiking trail became a running track and campsites spread along multi-day hikes became water stops on a long run.  Looking at maps was like a visual-learner’s version of Choose Your Own Adventure.  The pause between ridgelines, peaks and rivers was henceforth measured in hours, not days.Mt Buller

While the outdoors came first and the running second, I often forget this proper order of things.  As I’ve spent less time working in the field (hiking, paddling, educating) and more organising other people’s trips and training for trail races I’ve become more specialised.  Specificity has had a positive effect on my pace but has resulted in broader limitations and repetitive stress injuries I’d never even heard of.

Over the last few months I’ve been reminded of a number of subjects I’d previously studied but had largely forgotten: Phil Maffetone; Natural Movement Training; and a Renaissance approach to life that assumes specificity = stagnation = death.  Reading Christopher McDougall’s (of Born to Run fame) most recent book, Natural Born Heroes, has perfectly tied them all together.  Fascinated by the connections, I now can’t help but see Toyota Tercels everywhere I look!maffetone

For those who don’t know of him, Phil Maffetone (right) is an old hippy musician with a snow-white pony tail who just happens to be one of the all-time great endurance coaches. He coached the likes of Mark Allen, Mike Pigg and Stu Mittelman at their peak and has worked to improve the endurance of everyone from stealth bomber pilots to Formula One drivers and musicians like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and super-producer Rick Ruben.  In short, his approach goes like this: develop your aerobic base (with a heart rate monitor as your guide), eat well, reduce stress, improve brain function.

Natural Movement, a concept largely developed by Frenchman Georges Herbert in the early 1900s, was based on the idea that:

The final goal of physical education is to make strong beings. In the purely physical sense, the Natural Method promotes the qualities of organic resistance, muscularity and speed, towards being able to walk, run, jump, move on all fours, to climb, to keep balance, to throw, lift, defend yourself and to swim.

If this sounds like parkour or an obstacle course race, you’re spot on. The founding father of parkour, David Bell, is known to have drawn heavily on Herbert’s work and philosophy.  While the parkour videos you see on YouTube are normally set in urban environments, there’s a rapidly expanding community applying the same concepts to natural environments and physical training in general, regardless of the environment.  CrossFit, while perhaps the best-known, is just one of a growing number of generalist approaches to physical preparedness that shun specificity.  The incredible explosion of Tough Mudder and Spartan Races is another expression of changing attitude.

I love running trails and I identify as a trail runner, but I’m afraid I’m paying for specialisation with my health and wellbeing.  Over the last few months I’ve been training for an obstacle course race and a freaky hybrid called the Survival Run.  The training has involved a good amount of running to rebuild my aerobic base, but it’s been mixed with climbing, lifting and carrying.  Survival Run even has me sewing, working with leather, crafting packs and (to my girlfriend’s raised eyebrows) learning how to swing a machete.  All I can see when I look around are opportunities for movement, adaptation and improvisation. Welcome back to the land of the living, the thriving, the capable!

In the next edition of TRM I’m examining the cross-over of OCR and trail running and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Your mix-it-up or die AU editor, Tegyn Angel

This editorial appears in the latest edition of Trail Run Mag (Ed #18), downloadable for FREE here. You can also purchase a subscription on iTunes for your iPad/iPhone or Kindle Fire.

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