THERE ARE NO two ways about it, anyone who wants to join the SAS or Paras is going to end up running many miles, both in training and on the courses themselves. And since the mid-197os, when the fitness boom began, running has become the premier activity for aspiring fitties everywhere.
The reasons are simple: running is a very efficient way of getting fit, it’s easy and cheap, and it’s flexible.
Running is a straightforward aerobic exercise. As you pound along you raise your heart rate, increase your oxygen intake and heighten the flow of blood to the parts of your body being used, with all the benefits that this creates. You also increase the rate at which you use the energy which is stored in your body and start to draw upon your reserves of fat (which is why you lose weight). Finally, running strengthens the muscles of your legs and back, and it helps to build up your joints.
Disadvantages to running are few. If you are in good health, the only difficulty that you are likely to encounter is the normal wear and tear that running imposes on your body. This can include blisters, muscle strains and slightly more serious conditions like shin splints, stress fractures and joint damage. In fairness, these are more often than not caused by poor running form, obesity, and trying to do too much too soon.
Running Style and Form
The human body is designed for running and anyone in normal health can do it. Unfortunately, though, it is easy to get into bad habits and these can cause problems. So, if you are taking up running after years of inactivity, or just want to make a fresh start, here are some pointers on style and form.
Your posture when you run should be upright but relaxed, perhaps leaning slightly forwards. If you lean too far forward, you have to work harder to stay upright; lean too far back, on the other hand, and you exert a braking effect on your movements.
What you do with your arms when you run is nearly as important as how you use your legs. Look at a sprinter like Linford Christie; he has massively developed arms and shoulders which he uses to help propel himself forward. When you run, you should try to ensure that your arms are relaxed; they should stay between your waistline and your chest. If you let them swing around too loosely, the rest of your upper body will follow and you will lose forward momentum — and the same thing will happen if you hold your arms too rigidly.
There is a lot of debate among runners about footstrike, mainly because some of the best long-distance athletes use the ‘wrong’ sort. The most comfortable and efficient foot-strike that the average runner can adopt is to go ‘heel-ball’. This means that you hit the ground with the outside edge of your heel, pivot through your foot and take off for the next step from the ball of your foot. Some people seem to slap along on their feet, making a hell of a racket, and in my experience these are the ones who get joint and bone injuries. If you find that you’re running too heavily, you will have to make a very conscious effort to correct yourself.
How far should you run in a session and how fast? Very good questions, because it is all too easy to settle into a groove of doing too little, or even too much, and so miss the full benefit of the training time and the commitment that you are making. So much depends on your level of fitness, build and innumerable other factors. The clever answer is that you should be running hard enough to get your heart rate into the aerobic training range (between 65 and 75 per cent of your maximum) for at least 30 minutes, at least three times per week — which is fine if you’re just looking for a steady improvement in aerobic fitness over the long term. However, by varying the sort of running that you do, the distances that you cover and the intensity at which you run them, you can improve far more quickly than by grinding out the same distances in the same times day after day.
The MMA Fit Runs
For the MMA Fit programmes we will be using three different types of run: a short, faster session, a medium-distance ‘basic’ run and a long, slow endurance-builder. How far and how fast you should go depends on how fit you are, so the following are guidelines only. Once you start training in earnest, you will gain a feel for exactly how much value you get from each workout and thus be able to judge the intensity at which you should run.
Running for Time
It always annoys me to hear some racing-snake yammering on about how he’s just completed a 12-miler, or about the 6o miles he did last week — I will never be a great long-distance runner and I find it disheartening to be compared to someone who is. The answer is to measure your runs in terms of time, not distance. There are two advantages in this: first, you won’t become hung up about mileages (which can push you into over-training) and, secondly, you maintain a consistency of quality because as you become fitter and faster, thus covering particular distances more quickly, you are nonetheless running for the same time and so will go farther. If you restrict yourself to covering set distances, it is all too easy to succumb to the temptation of staying with a particular route for too long, so that a 6-mile run which started off taking you, say, 45 minutes can easily end up lasting only 38, thereby knocking 7 minutes of quality training out of your programme.
The Short Fast Run
The shortest basic run you will do in the MMA Fit programmes is for 30 minutes. You would do a maximum of two of these per week, on a day when you might be taking some other form of exercise. The pace should be fast: if you run this workout with a partner, you shouldn’t be able to talk to him (or her), but nor should you be sprinting. For me, the pace of a run like this is about 6 minutes per mile — but you may well want to go faster or slower. Don’t get up to full pace until you’ve been running for about 5 or 6 minutes or you will go into oxygen debt and ‘tie up’.
The Basic Run
The standard run lasts for 45 minutes at a comfortable, steady pace. Running with a friend, you should be able to talk to each other, but only just — don’t expect to be able to hold a symposium on Aristotelian metaphysics during this workout. My average pace for this run is about 7 minutes per mile on a good day, but you can slow things down slightly and take on a few gentle hills if you have any available.
The Endurance Builder
The last of the three basic runs is the Endurance Builder. This is 90 minutes of slow, gentle jogging at a pace where you could hold a comfortable conversation with a running partner. You might well only do this run once a fortnight, moving to once a week as you get fitter, because, although it is slow, you will certainly feel it afterwards.