Put Your Best Foot Forward - Evening Post

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The recently opened Running School Bristol is proving there is more to running than putting one foot in front of the other. Suzanne Savill reports. Pictures: Dave Betts

As a keen walker, Judith North thought that taking up running would be a simple progression of what she was already doing.

She soon discovered it was not.

"I loved running, but it got to the point where the only way I could do it was on Ibruprofen," she says.

"I had lower back pain, hip pain and I was having to see an osteopath."

It began to look as if Judith might have to give up running. But now she is planning to take part in the Brighton Marathon in April, and also the Bristol and Cardiff half marathons.

She says: "I suppose I could have gone on taking the Ibruprofen, but in the end your body can't go on taking that sort of punishment, and pain is happening for a reason.

"Then I saw an advert for Running School Bristol and asked my husband to buy me a course as a present for my 49th birthday."

"The difference it has made to me is jaw-dropping. My osteopath said: 'Oh my goodness, what have you done?' He couldn't believe the difference in me."

Running School Bristol, which is based at Bristol Lawn Tennis and Squash Club in Redland Green, was set up in August 2011 to help runners experiencing problems to rebuild their running technique.

It is run by Richard Bricknell – a sports physiotherapist and former Bristol and Clifton rugby player who had to give up running following a knee injury – together with head coach, Chris Kay and coach Amy Hillier.

Runners are first given a biomechanical assessment and are videoed so they can see where they have been going wrong.

Judith explains: "Amy filmed me with a video camera, behind me and in front of me, which was really helpful; because I could see I'd been crossing my feet over, and that was what had been pulling my hips and causing the pain.

"Amy showed me where my feet needed to land either side of a line, which I hadn't been doing, did things like using a mirror, and slowing things down and walking through the movement before going back on the treadmill and trying again."

"I can remember when I was at school my PE teacher said to me: 'You run really weirdly', and kept telling me to run straight, but it was never explained to me what I was doing wrong."

Judith, who lives in Langford, North Somerset, and runs a social care organisation for people with learning disabilities, had been a keen hill walker and mountain walker for about two years before she started running in July 2011.

"Walking is normal. You don't need to be taught to walk. I thought running was the same sort of thing, only faster," she says.

"You think you can just go out and stick one foot in front of the other and that's all there is to it – but there's a lot more."

Judith did a half marathon in Cardiff in October 2011 in a time of 2.17, but believes she would not have been able to contemplate doing a marathon if she had not received coaching.

"Sometimes after long runs I'd look as if I was 70 because my back was so bad," she says.

"People wouldn't think twice about investing in a decent pair of trainers, but what is the point of doing that if you're not running properly in the first place?"

Chris, a trained sports rehabilitation therapist, says that Judith's main problem had been Ileo Tibial Band Friction Syndrome – better known as runner's knee – which is caused by inflamed tissue and is characterised by pain on outer side of the knee.

"It is a really difficult thing to treat and there isn't really a cure apart from correcting people's running style," he says.

"We get a lot of people like Judith coming in who haven't done much running before and need advice.

"But we also get more experienced runners. One guy had run a marathon in two hours 45 minutes 10 seconds, but had developed such problems that he couldn't run for more than a couple of minutes.

"He was all over the place but after six sessions he looked like a completely different runner. He is now much more stable when he is running."

Watching Judith's controlled and powerful running style when she is in action on the treadmill is an impressive sight.

"When I started I kept apologising – sorry, sorry, sorry all the time – because I knew what I needed to do but my body didn't want to do it," she says.

"Even when I started getting it right I encountered problems because the first thing that happens when you start running better is it gets harder because you are using muscles you haven't used before.

"Suddenly my legs were really good, but not my cardiovascular, which was a bit scary. But I persevered and it was such a great feeling when everything started coming together.

"As a 49-year-old adult you don't often get many times when people say to you 'fantastic!', so I enjoyed the response I got when all the coaching began to work."

Running School Bristol clients are recommended to attend six sessions to improve their technique.

Chris explains: "If you do one session you get a lot of benefit but to make it more inbuilt in your body you need six to eight sessions so that the muscle memory can develop."

Judith, who trains on the country lanes near her home, adds: "My friend who I run with said it was like running with a different person.

"I never bothered to use my arms before, because I didn't know they were important, but now they're very much part of my running.

"I've got really into doing sprint finishes on long runs just for the sheer pleasure now that my legs do what I want them to do and they have the power.

"The other day my husband was washing his car and I came powering around the corner. He looked quite surprised to see me sprinting at the end of a run!"

The Running School Bristol offers free half-hour assessments including video analysis, and a course of six sessions costs £260. For further information go to www.runningschool.co.uk and click on Bristol, or call 0117 973 8319