Fitness challenge: Running lesson

By Rachel Grunwell

Each week intrepid reporter Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise to bring you the lowdown.

Rachel Grunwell mid-running lesson with coach, Russell Maylin. Photo / Kellie Blizard
Rachel Grunwell mid-running lesson with coach, Russell Maylin. Photo / Kellie Blizard

What is it? Moving rapidly on foot beside an instructor.

What's needed? Top and shorts, running shoes.

The experience: Ultra-distance running coach Russell Maylin's idea of "fun" is doing the Marathon des Sables, a 243km endurance race over six days across the Sahara Desert in Morocco.

Even the website for the race says they admire those even "thinking" about tackling it - the equivalent to five-and-a-half marathons. The website is also blunt, saying, "welcome to the world of lunatics and masochists" and warns mental stamina is crucial. Extreme physical fitness comes second.

Imagine running through a "sea of sand" in 39 degrees, your face sand-blasted, the flesh on your feet wearing away, lugging 10kg of essentials like water and sleep gear and a compass to know where in this hot hell you are, while you stare at sand dune after sand dune, each the size of Mt Eden.

Here, some whimper in their sleeping bags at night before bailing.

"It's billed as the toughest footrace on earth," says Maylin. Why, (seriously, I ask the man) would he do this to himself?

"It's fun!" he laughs.

I tell him to explain, please.

"It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. Everything is crystal clear, day and night. You run through spectacular views and old ruins, too.

"These kind of races take human beings back to their core character ... and a lot of people never discover what that is."

Maylin adds it separates bullshitters from real runners. "That becomes clear very quickly."

For a race like that, Maylin's training can include four-to-12-hour runs daily with camps at the end running at different times of day and night and sleeping "rough". He consumes liquid food portioned right to power him, does miles on a treadmill in a sauna, and lengthy sand dune treading at Bethells Beach.

"I've had a placing of 45th before out of up to 900 people in the world," he says proudly.

The 49-year-old used to be in the UK police, in a riot squad, but now loves his job teaching runners of all levels how to follow in his footsteps and conquer marathons, ultra-marathons, ironmans, coast to coasts, 100-milers, or how to get fit for military selection.

The editor asked me to request a running lesson. Thank God she didn't assign a marathon.

We meet in the morning when Russell already has run for hours. We kick off on Parnell Rise and run through hidden leafy paths, up through Auckland Domain and back to the start. It was 5kms, roughly over half an hour. I'm red-faced and beat, while Maylin merely skips the loop and has energy to burn to train a string of people after me. I chatted during the run - until the hilly bits. Then he became the talker and his running anecdotes had me in stitches. He taught me to slow down going up hills, conserve energy, carry arms high and not flap them about wasting energy, keep them close to my core like a chicken, and have a good foot turn-over - short steps, not long strides.

I farewell Maylin after the run and tell him I may just run a half-marathon "one day". He's an inspiration, I tell him ... and I like people who are a little bit crazy!

How much? Prices vary according to what level of assistance clients want, including individual nutrition, training plans, off- or on-field help, preparing for things like different terrains, etc. One example may be full and in-depth coaching with nutrition plans, off- and on-field help and more for about $800 for each three-month period. Programme work is only about $30 weekly.

Worth it? The running lesson was really worthwhile. Just learning a few tips about how to run "smarter" was an eye-opener.

Try it: check out actionpotentialmassage.co.nz, ph (09) 368 1123

Rating: 9/10

Little helpers:

1. Go the distance with Asics Fuji Racer trail-running shoe, $219.90, shoeclinic.co.nz.

2. Keep hydrated with The North Face Klamath 8L Hydration Pack, $169.95.

3. Time's Up: Track your run with Timex Ironman 50 Lap Sports Watch, $189, Call 0508 566 300 for stockists.

4. Layer with breathable merino: Icebreaker GT200 LS Sprint Zip, $149.90, shoeclinic.co.nz.

- Herald on Sunday

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