The long distance athlete who believes that we were born to run

Summer evenings you’ll see them playing in the park – running, jumping, crawling, climbing, and having the time of their lives.  Just like the children they used to be.

This fitness class in the park in Ambleside in the Lake District is not another boot camp or drill sergeant session. The grown-ups – ranging in age from 18 to not far short of 80 – are re-learning how their bodies ought to be used, so that they can better enjoy their sport – or life in generalhop

“We believe that the human body is designed for being active within its natural environment for most of its waking life,” says coach Paul Tierney. “It expects to be used for a diverse range of movement patterns, such as climbing, balancing, jumping, running, crawling and manipulating objects.  Before the advent of modern civilisation, humans were generally   mobile, resilient and athletic, relying on these attributes to survive”

To describe Paul as a fitness guru would be resorting to an over-used cliché. But to hear him talk about fitness – in the park, on a Lakeland hillside, or briefly sitting down over coffee in town – is to listen to the passion of a man who’s earned the right to be called a Master of running.

Paul is one of  11 Born to Run coaches in the UK, and of those he is the Master coach, a disciple of the running technique expert Lee Saxby, and eloquently dismissive of the fitness industry and high intensity training. “We shouldn’t be on machines inside rooms for 20 minutes a day to get our heart rate up,” says Paul . “That’s not real life. People need to get out of doors and move more. If you spend all day sitting down, doing something high intensity for half an hour is just adding another physiological stress.  There is no easy way around it. You have to move a lot. But that’s a hard sell for the fitness industry when most people are time-poor. So the fitness industry profits from convincing people that 20 minutes of high-intensity training is the answer.”

Paul has been involved in sport from an early age, playing the Irish sport of hurling to a high level until his early 20s. He then took up mountain running, and twice represented his country at the  World Ultra Trail Championships. He came to the Lake District in 2011 to take part in the Lakeland 100 (mile) race, came third, and fell in love with the area. He’s since been runner-up, and in 2015 – having come to live in Ambleside – he won the race. Known as the ‘Ultra Tour of the Lake District’ this is the most spectacular long distance trail race in the UK, a  circular route around the Lakeland fells on public bridleways and footpaths, with 6300m of climbing.

paul tierney in action, pic by Steve Ashworth

Paul Tierney in action: Photo by Steve Ashworth

His interest in coaching stemmed originally from a desire to improve his own performance but was also motivated by wanting to reduce the high injury rates among runners today. Following a coaching course he set up a fitness business, Missing Link, with his partner Sarah McCormack, a part-time ecologist with Natural England who happens to be one of Britain’s top fell runners. Sarah, to date, prefers “shorter” races, up to 15 miles; Paul, who won the 100 miler in 20 hours 42 minutes, is the endurance expert, and has also won the Lake District Old Counties Tops race with teammate Ben Abdelnoor (37 miles and around 10,000 feet of climbing) and completed the 66-mile, 42-summit Bob Graham round in 17 hours 59. So yes, he does practise what he preaches.

His classes in the park are designed to get people moving in ways they may not have done in a long time, or perhaps ever. “We include a game-based element that’s sorely missing from mainstream fitness.  The feel-good factor generated by our classes should not be underestimated. We make sure that training is invigorating and enjoyable.  I don’t really think of it as a “fitness” class. I see it more as an opportunity for people to move in new ways while socialising and having fun. We now have a running class for those who wish to develop this particular skill, which will include drills and specific running strength and conditioning training.”

This summer (June 11-12) he’s staging a Born to Run “bulletproof runner” weekend workshop designed to “give you the tools to improve your running technique – helping you increase efficiency, improve performance and avoid injury”. Based in Ambleside, it’s likely to appeal to physios and sports therapists as well as runners looking for the tools to training pain-free and unlocking their full potential for speed and endurance. For those who wish to become a Born to Run coach, attendance on a two-day workshop like this is a prerequisite for enrolment in the coaching course.

Each participant will be screened for injury susceptibility, and there will be video analysis of running technique, how to apply the appropriate drills to address individual issues, and learning the best neuromuscular drills to increase elasticity, speed and performance. There will also be sessions in how to structure training, lifestyle and diet for maximum recovery and gains in performance; and the most common causes of pain when running and how to prevent and address them.

“Once the fundamental skill and theory has been mastered, we then develop the runner’s physiological capacity for running further and faster by developing elasticity, reactive ability and metabolic conditioning,” says Paul.

The Born to Run coaching model was developed by running technique coach Lee Saxby and sports scientist Dr Mick Wilkinson. The idea that running is a skill (which can be improved) is the foundation of the BTR system. Says Paul: “By adjusting the three fundamental ‘micro-skills’ of posture, rhythm and relaxation we can dramatically influence the ‘macro-skill’ of running. We can create a better runner by improving the biomechanics associated with greater efficiency and reduced risk of injury.”

A few places are still available for the June course and can be booked via http://www.eventbee.com/v/btrbulletproofrunneruk

For more information see Paul’s website http://www.missinglinkfitness.co.uk/

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