Yesterday Rose, my partner for the Isles of Scilly Otillo SwimRun and I took part in a 10km cross country run - getting used to running close, being wet and cold and having a great time together.
Just before the start, as we were tactically placing ourselves toward the last quarter of the field of runners, for some reason a memory from running cross country years ago came to mind. Not sure what the prompt was, but I told Rose about one of my all time favourite and most inspiring runners: Dave Moorcroft.
I was taking part in the National Cross Country Championships, 9 miles at a very muddy Parliament Hill. Dave Moorcroft arrived very late, missed the start by some way - and proceeded to overtake just about everyone in the massive field of runners. I can remember him flying past me, looking like he was gliding over the muddy ground that had the rest of us struggling.
One of the coaches at Brighton & Hove Athletic Club, where I was a young and skinny runner recommended I copy Dave Moorcroft's style. He had a wonderful fluency and form, driving off the back foot - even under the pressure of pushing himself to the absolute limit, running solo way out front as in his amazing 5km world record breaking run at the Bislett Games.
As an aside, it still amuses me that the BBC's commentator only seems to realise the world record is being destroyed as Dave Moorcroft crosses the line - while the whole of the stadium and thousands of us watching from home could see right from him breaking away from the world class field that he was doing something extraordinary.
Back to the 10km cross country with Rose and we were doing Dave Moorcroft proud in our own way, splashing through deep puddles, skating over the mud and sloshing through soggy marsh, overtaking runners the whole way. Even at the end, on to the race track at the finish and we were able to put in a big effort to overtake one more runner. How much fun was that!
After all these years, getting slower (and no longer quite so skinny) I still love the feeling of cross country running - of running at a pace, trying to hold a relaxed form over whatever the terrain throws at you. In my zippier, younger days I always felt more at home in the mud and hills, running free and without having to hit pace times set by a track side coach.
So much of coaching and training nowadays seems orientated around objective measures - heart rate zones, functional threshold power, Critical Swim Speeds. All these have their place, but I think to really unlock people's potential, to make them feel confident and in control also requires an ability to attune oneself to three key things: form, effort and movement.
Form is beautifully demonstrated in the videos of David Moorcroft. And contrary to what many people think when they talk about "natural" runners or swimmers, it can be taught and enhanced, such as through S&C and focused technique work.
Effort is about being able to read one's own body, to be able to know when you have reached the limit of the pace you can sustain and can adjust as needs be (without having to look at a gauge or meter on your wrist!). And movement is about the fluency of everything working in sync and balance.
For now, though, Rose and I are into the last and most challenging phase of the training for our big SwimRun in June.
Big thanks to Lewes Athletics Club for a brilliant event. (And apologies to the woman whose bottom I touched as I stumbled through a deeper than expected puddle!)