I RUN like a duck. This is the verdict of two high performance coaches and physiotherapists who put me through my paces last Sunday morning.
I run like a duck, but not just any old duck. I run like a duck who carries a clipboard under her right wing and has no control over her left wing. My duck-like running position means I sit back, stick my backside out, don’t pick my legs up and take ridiculously short strides. In short, I waddle. There is no forward propelling motion. There is no gazelle-like gliding. There is waddling in abundance.
The coaches and physiotherapists were assessing my form. They were looking at how I moved, as well as things like power, strength and coordination. They were very honest in their feedback. They did not hold back.
They told me that I have a mid-foot strike, but when I’m fatigued I plant my feet like an elephant, which brings me to a standstill. My back, neck and shoulders are in urgent need of sports massage treatment. My glute muscles are functionally weak. My upper body turns in a different direction to my hips. My arms do their own thing. I’m wasting so much energy. I don’t have any speed. I train too hard. I do too much in all areas of my life.
‘You’re a physio’s worst nightmare,’ the physiotherapist said. ‘I’m surprised you haven’t had any major injuries.’
This was bad.
He continued. ‘The only reason you’ve not been injured is because you can’t run fast enough. If you were fast, you’d be dangerous.’
This made me laugh. If I was fast, I could be dangerous. What a quote. Unfortunately, the only danger would be to myself.
It got worse. ‘When you’re fatigued your stride gets shorter and shorter, so it looks like you’re polishing the floor. You’d be great at skiing. Maybe you should take that up?’
It wasn’t all bad news though. There were some positives.
‘You have the hamstrings of an Olympic gymnast and your head position is excellent. Perfect in fact.’
Hurah for my head and hamstrings!
‘And you look the part,’ the physio said. ‘You look like you could be fast. If you line up on a start line people will think you’ll be fast. But you won’t be.’
Chris on the other hand is built like a racing snake, but has what they called a ‘raw’ running technique. Basically, there is no finesse to it. ‘You have a good engine,’ they told him. ‘It’s a Ferrari engine in the body of a Ford Escort.’
Chris has no speed either. His hamstrings are far too tight. He has no explosive speed or power. He does have a good running action and a lot of potential.
‘I’m always surprised when people do these kind of times,’ the physio said. ‘When they run like you two.’
‘So, if I put all this right I could be amazing?’ I may have been clutching at straws, but I had to ask.
‘Well…’ The physio seemed reluctant to comment. ‘I’m not promising miracles, but you could get better. Yes. Anything’s possible.’
This was my only hope. Even though things are bad, there is a glimmer of hope.
‘Although,’ The physio smiled. ‘Once you’ve corrected everything, you’ll probably start bobbing your head and we’ll have to work on that.’
This also gave me hope. I could cope with a nodding head. I just can’t cope with everything else. I knew I didn’t have the best form in the world. I knew I had problems (hence booking the assessment). I just didn’t realise how bad things actually are. Dangerously bad. This is worrying. I’m at real risk of getting injured.
If I carry on as I am, there’s a chance I could hurt myself. That’s not good. Running is important to me. I want to be able to run into my old age. When I left the assessment, lots of things went through my mind. Do I give in? Stop running competitively? Run for pleasure? Just run for fitness? Is it worth it? Am I too old for all this? Should I give up and give in?
No way! This old duck isn’t done yet. I still have ambitions of breaking one hour 30 for the half marathon, as well as smashing forty minutes for 10km. I still want to become the best runner I can be, before I’m too old. I still want to set PBs and pick up a few prizes in local races if I can. I still want to do the best I can with the body I have. There is absolutely no way I am giving in! No, it’s not happening.
You see, my mind is willing. It’s just that my body isn’t. But it can, hopefully, be trained to be a bit better. The fitness assessment was a wake up call. It’s made me think about my running and training. I’ve slipped into some bad habits. I need to make some changes. I’m going to take their advice on board. I need to embrace strength and conditioning and drills. I need to stop doing so much. My all or nothing attitude needs to change.
The physio pointed out that talent for running is really down to genetics, so I also made sure I blamed my mother and father.
‘I knew it would be my fault!’ Mum said. ‘I do have a dodgy arm though.’ She started shaking her arm. ‘But your duck legs, that’s not me. You can blame your dad for that. It’s a Champion-family thing.’
‘I went for a run once,’ Dad said. ‘In the early eighties. It hurt my knees.’ Dad was into badminton, not running.
‘There’s no hope,’ I said to Chris. ‘With this running pedigree, it’s a miracle I’ve managed to run at all.’
The fitness test was good fun. The comments were honest and useful and delivered with humour. Yes, it was hard to take. Yes, it has knocked my confidence (not that I was over-confident to start with). But it’s made me realise how much I love the sport. It’s made me want to work smarter, not harder.
I know there is a lot of work to do. I know it’s going to take time, but I won’t give in. There’s no way I’m giving in. There’s nothing else for it, but to hold my head in its perfect position and keep waddling on.