Training on the dunes

Every now and again you do a session that gives you the feel-good factor like no other. Today I had one of those sessions and considering that the weather was horrid, I didn't expect it to be so uplifting.

I went for my training run around the sand dunes on Kenfig near Port Talbot, South Wales. During the day, there had been an orienteering event  and this meant that I was blessed with a whole network of new tracks that the orienteers had trodden as they made their way along the shortest routes between controls. They had very kindly trodden down the long and wet grass on many of the sections and this gave me plenty of options to zig-zag and criss-cross my way through the area. I made the most of the opportunity to do a fartlek session with episodes of fast running interspersed with easy running - sometimes on soft sand and sometimes on firmer grass surfaces; sometimes climbing the dunes, sometimes sliding down and sometimes running hard between. It was a lot of fun!

Sand dune training has long been hailed as a potent training method for building strength-endurance in runners. One of the early adopters of this method was the Australian coach, Percy Cerruty, who coached the 1960 Olympic 1500m champion, Herb Elliot, and John Landy, the second man to break the four-minute mile barrier. Our own Steve Ovett was also a fan of the dunes and he often trained on the famous Merthyr Mawr sand dune just down the road from here and travelled all the way from Brighton to do it!

After running on the dunes today, I can understand the draw - your legs and lungs have to work so much harder and you just know that it is doing you good. Many athletes use the dunes to do repetitions, running up and down on the soft sand but, today, I just 'went for a run' and when I hit the sand, I worked hard and when I hit the firmer surface I felt like I had wings on my feet! I noticed that, on the soft sand, my stride was shorter and I was conscious of having to pick my feet and knees up higher. I found myself looking for the next stretch of firm ground and when I hit that I felt truly rapid!

All in all it was a totally satisfying session and one that I will incorporate more into my training. If you haven't done a sand dune session before, make sure you take the opportunity next time you are in a place that offers this special type of landform.