Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Time for a Beginner Runner Clinic?

I'm a member of TCSD, the Triathlon Club of San Diego, which is one of the most amazing organizations of any type I've ever been a member of in my entire life, and that includes not only all other sport-related clubs, but also social service organizations and even churches.  This club, with nearly 3000 members, provides an exceptionally high number of FREE club races, clinics, and seminars, and this is all done with an annual dues of only $60.  To top it off, this large club has no paid staff: It is entirely run by volunteers.

TCSD is really all about beginners.  Sure, we love our elites, and cheer them on to higher podium spots.  And we love the bulk of our members, who race for the sheer joy of it.  But we go a bit crazy for our beginners.

Here's an example:  After each of our free electronically-timed club races, we have a short awards presentation.  First come the top three women and men, and we all cheer.  Then the volunteers are thanked, and we cheer a bit louder (because they bring the food).  Then the Race Director asks: "Who just did their first-ever triathlon?"  And when a few hands are shyly raised, the loudest cheering of the morning thunders out, generally shocking the poor newbies.  I remember when this happened to me:  It is one of my most treasured memories.

TCSD offers many clinics and seminars aimed squarely at beginners.  Don't know what a triathlon is?  Attend the "Tri-101" clinic.  Want to learn more about club and sponsor resources?  Attend the "Intro to Triathlon" clinic.  Uncomfortable on a bike?  Attend the "Biking Beginner's Clinic".  Can't swim at all, or have issues with wetsuits or swimming in open water?  Attend the "Beginners Open-Water Swim" clinic.

But if you have problems running, TCSD doesn't offer a beginner's running clinic. Sure, we have some truly excellent running clinics, but they're aimed primarily at building strength and speed, and don't emphasize identifying and resolving pain, discomfort, equipment or stride issues.  I suspect this is simply because running is a more "natural" activity than either swimming or biking, and not many people really know all that much about starting from the beginning.

I'm thinking this situation should change, and despite my not being any kind of running expert or coach, I think I should be the one to start the change.  I'd like to share my current vision with you, then I'll invite your comments to adjust what needs adjusting.

Here's my pitch:

Now that I'm recovering from my broken foot, I've been thinking about what I've learned about changing strides, changing equipment, and changing training, and how I have become able to run pain-free despite some major negative factors.

I'd like to put together a "Broken and (Re)Beginner Running Clinic" focused on getting people who have problems running at all to run comfortably.  Neither speed nor long distance are goals for the participants: Running injury-free with comfort is the only goal.

My intended audience will be the weak, often-injured, awkward or uncoordinated, aged and obese, who either can't run at all, or for whom running is greatly limited due to discomfort.  I will insist they not only sign a TCSD waiver (and be a member), but also get clearance from their MD if there is any question at all about their suitability for light running (especially those recovering from injuries).

My approach will employ 'talks', 'demos' and 'workouts', AKA "Hear it, See it, Do it", the intent being to employ all learning modalities.

The first priority will be to build basic physical self-awareness (balance, agility, proprioception, exertion, fatigue) along with basic leg and core strength.  Each participant will become aware of the ranges of motion needed for running, the care and feeding of the muscles used to achieve that motion, and the nerve/reflex integration needed to make it all work together smoothly.  At the start, no running will be done, and fast walking will be used to build motion awareness.

Next will come discussions about running gaits, with particular attention paid to the various foot strikes (heel, midsole, and forefoot), with demonstrations of all running styles, including run-walk-run.  Each participant will get to try each stride for themselves at a jogging pace, to see how their body reacts.  The physical demands of each stride type will also be discussed.

After this will come discussions of equipment, shoes and socks, and how they affect running.  Particular attention will be paid to the idea of having different shoes for different kinds of activity (training, racing, trails, walking), how to shop for shoes, and how to research shoes.

The next phase will be all about practicing, with both self-monitoring and monitoring by each other.  The goal will not be to build speed, but to build skill and comfort up to a sprint triathlon run distance of 5 km (3 miles).

By the end of the clinic, each participant should be able to run and train on their own, and also be ready to take full advantage of other TCSD running clinics.

I do not currently possess all the knowledge needed to do this alone.  I will invite trainers, coaches, physical therapists, athletes, shoe retailers/reps and a Sports MD to review the curriculum, monitor the process, and give talks.  My next step will be to recruit this support.

The other issue is time (duration and schedule).  I believe each participant will need a minimum of 10 hours of contact time.  Since many will be unable to attend all sessions, I'd like to plan to hold at least 12 sessions, with each session starting with a review of the prior session.  To get all this in before the triathlon season is too far along, I'd like to schedule two sessions per week, perhaps one on a weekday, and one on the weekend.  Perhaps 90-minute sessions at the start (more talk), with 60-minute sessions later on (more practice).

What do you think?  What's missing?  Who should I get to help?