You’ve been running for one, five maybe even 10 years, so you really know everything there is to know about running, right? Wrong!
I’ve been running on and off since junior school (which is far too many years to specify) and I know about the importance of stretching and strength work. I definitely know some really good speed sessions to help you train for all distances. But do I always practise what I preach? I’m pretty good at stretching, but strength and conditioning, come on, it’s so boring and dull!
And my nutrition can be shocking…I’m blaming having three kids, work and what feels like 200 miles a week to cover in my role as “Joe Le Taxi”, for my sometimes complete failure to cook from scratch – for weeks! We’re all just SO busy.
Then there’s my dodgy blood sugar level – at any time it can drop through the floor leaving me with a fuzzy tongue, feeling delirious and totally unable to function. This just isn’t helped my by obsession with Creme Eggs, doughnuts and cake (any and all varieties, I’m not fussy).
When I heard about a training camp focused on both running and nutrition, and taking place in the New Forest where life seems to be completely dislocated from the age of social media, I was uber keen to book a place.
I travelled with three ladies I train with, Paula, Mel and Bex, and our journey into the forest, in the dark and freezing temperature, had all four of us in the car saying the same thing: “What the hell are we doing at 7am on a Sunday morning?”
It’s worth getting up ridiculously early though – we did know this but still, it’s hard to get your body moving without food or caffeine on a winter’s day (you have to arrive having fasted for eight hours). At 8am we were ready for a blood sugar test, which was followed by a three-mile easy trail run. It was stunning. Bloody freezing, but stunning as the weak winter sun rose over a frost-bitten horizon. I’m almost embarrassed to say I’ve never done a fasted run, being a food monster, but I didn’t faint or throw up. As the pace was gentle, with lots of looping back, it was actually quite enjoyable. Once back into the heavenly warmth of the historical Fordingbridge country cottage, owned by nutritional therapist Diana Green, we had a second blood sugar test to discover how our blood sugar levels had changed post-run (i.e. whether your body is correctly metabolising sugar from stores). Breakfast is next – all homemade by Diana, who understands how vital sports nutrition is. She cycled across Cuba in December last year.
It was completely amazing, with a choice of rice pudding made with almond milk and roasted pistachios, apple and pear crumble topped with seeds and oats and pan-fried vegetables overlaid with an egg. Never has food been so warming and so welcomed by such frozen stomachs. And the first coffee of the day, at the late time of about 10am almost made me cry – we are such creatures of habit; take the coffee away and this body won’t play!
We slowly thawed out in the cosy kitchen, bombarding Diana with questions about diet, refueling and digestive issues (and yes, we did talk about poo!). Diana was a wealth of information about our diets and lifestyles, including helping my friend Bex and I sort out a big issue: we both need more protein. We also discussed our own targets and training zones, and Sarah Gardiner, our coach for the day, gave us a personalized handout with a pace calculator, drills, strength training exercises, interval sessions and stretches.
Sarah is a qualified running coach, personal trainer and sports massage therapist, as well as working for England Athletics in developing city-wide run activation programmes. She’s also run every distance you can, and pretty quickly too – she knows what you need to do if you want to get faster.
Then we jumped in our cars and, in five minutes, we were deep in the forest and ready to hit the trails. After our warm-up Sarah videoed each of us as running and went through essential drills. After a gentle warm-up run we did a pyramid speed session that worked our aerobic and anaerobic energy systems – essential for your overall development as a runner. I was skeptical I could last outside for two hours at 4°C, but the time flew! We all worked hard under Sarah’s guidance – she even managed to arrange lots of New Forest Ponies en route to distract us from our screaming lungs.
During lunch back at the cottage we watched ourselves running; I found out I wasn’t a mid-foot striker but definitely a heel striker like I thought. Diana had prepared a range of dishes that focused on combining easy-cook proteins, vegetables and carbs to achieve our macronutrient and energy requirements as runners. These were mainly based around soups, with salmon, chicken and tofu to add. They were exquisite – at this stage I wanted to ask Diana if she could come and live with me. What we all noticed through the day was the quality meals ensured we didn’t get hungry in between.
A cooking session, where we prepared and sampled recovery and refueling snacks was low-key and fun, and we learned how to work out the portion needs for our individual body weight.
Next was a session that focused on strength training and flexibility, both essential if you are going to progress along your running journey. My butt was burning! There would be a deep, satisfying ache in my glutes the next day!
The whole day was a Q & A session; having two qualified coaches at your fingertips for nine hours is invaluable for resolving any running or diet issues you may have. I certainly now know the exact strength move, and how to do it correctly with a kettle bell, I need to do to target my weak left glutes.
What was really special about the day was there wasn’t any Wi-Fi and my phone struggled to pick up a signal. Yes we had to talk to each other and rely on good old-fashioned conversation rather than having our heads buried in our phones.
At £75 for the day, including meals, and enough easy-cook recipes to fill a week’s worth of menu planning, I thought this training camp was outstanding value.
You can book a day or weekend training camp with Epic Running at: epicrunning.co.uk