Box yourself race fitIn his bid to gain every advantage before tackling the Alps, our man toughens himself up with a taste of training in the hurt business Words Jody Raynsford Photography Simon Stanmore Training for a race will see many a runner piling up the miles or kilometres in an effort to condition the body for the rigours of race day. If you've been hammering the pavements or trails for a while, however, you know the dreaded sense of going nowhere fast. No matter how hard you train, no matter how many miles you slog it out the progress seems to suddenly just stop. And if you're injured and with no way of running, well just forget it. In times such as these, it's time to take a step back and look at other ways to seek out that elusive breakthrough. Training for the GORETEX Transalpine-Run has required a suitably rigorous regime of mileage, often racing ultras and marathons on consecutive weekends to strengthen my legs and heart and get my body used to racing with fatigue. Yet, when it comes to improving my speed my training seems to be stalling and that's why I'm about to get beaten up in the name of science. I've arrived at Beijing Olympic Gold Medallist James DeGayle's gym in Essex for a one-on-one boxing introduction from championship boxer and now veteran coach to some of Britain's biggest fighting talents, Jim McDonnell. He's seen it and done it all in the boxing game and has a training philosophy that sounds right up our street. “Running is the mother of all conditioning,” he says. “Without the running you haven't got the core. From running you can do everything, you can do judo, rugby, boxing, but the basis of all that is running. The structure of the strength and the core. Running is your base, it's your root.” The stereotypical image of a boxer sees them sweating it out in the gym, with hours spent skipping and thwacking a punch bag with the only running involved the de rigeur Rocky-style ascent of the steps of a suitably austere building to show the training montage is over. The fighters Jim trains really understand the significant part running plays in their overall fitness regime. He explains that the training his fighters will do is more akin to a middle distance runner than a sprinter, incorporating gruelling hill sessions and long interval training on the track. “We'll be doing sprints for 15 seconds, jogging for 15 seconds, or 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for 12 minutes,” he says. “They’ve got to hit their targets every time so I maximise their speed by not telling them how long they have left.” And a word of warning: if Jim ever invites you to take part in his extreme version of a Fartlek run, we recommend you think twice... “Mine are different to your usual run,” he grins. “I'll hide things in bushes - pads, gloves - so after you've sprinted up a big hill, out come the weights behind the tree and you're working them for three minutes.” As running complements boxing, so the reverse is true and incorporating elements of a boxing programme into your training has numerous benefits, according to McDonnell. “Core strength,” he says. “Professional footballers come in here and are shocked. Not at how strong they are, but at how strong they aren't. It’s all about simple drills. As a boxer, you've got to go that extra mile, you’ve got to have that core strength.” I find out quickly enough what ‘that extra mile’ involves as Jim runs through his drills. First, he has me holding weights to my chest while running on the spot before jumping on a treadmill and running at pace up an incline. With the treadmill switched off. Without a rest, I’m suddenly down on the floor doing horrible combinations of push up and tuck jumps, before my abdominals are screaming at me to stop forcing my body to jump over a high bar without tripping on it. It’s relentless. I’m back on the treadmill again (it’s still switched off). And I still haven’t even put a pair of boxing gloves on yet. The mental strength to push your body further than it believes it can go can be applied to boxing and running, whether you are preparing for a fight or looking to break a sub-three marathon. As he has me laying punches into a bag, he’s extolling the importance of mental strength, to keep going when you think you can’t. “Fear is something you've got to caress, let it work for you,” he says. “Fear is like fire; treat it right and it'll keep you warm; if you don't treat it right, it'll burn you.” The drills Jim has put me through have only lasted a few minutes each, but every part of my body is screaming. Burnt doesn’t explain the half of it.
Box yourself race fitFancy floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee on your next race around the park? Follow in the footsteps of the Jim's fighters with these short but deadly routines.
Jump to it
For an all-round exercise that works the legs, core and upper body, Jim’s simple bench workout does the trick, using just a bench and someone to hold pads (you can also use a punchbag nearby if not). Jump clear over the bench bringing your knees up as high as possible and repeat 15 times. Go straight into punching the pads or bag for 60 seconds. At the end of 60 seconds, place your hands on the top part of the bench and jump over the bench again keeping your hands on the bench for 15 repeats. Go straight into punching the pads or bag for another 60 seconds. Finish by stepping up onto the bench from one side and stepping down the other in deep lunges, again for 15 repeats and finish the exercise off with a final 60 seconds of intense punching.
Smack that bag
This really simply workout requires just a punchbag and a stopwatch or clock to time yourself. For a period of three minutes simply punch the bag hard for 20 second intervals with 10 second intervals of light punching in between. Try to maintain or gradually increase the intensity throughout the workout. You should be working hard enough to be out of breath. After a few seconds rest, keep the muscles moving by getting back on the bag and freestyling for another three minutes throwing combinations, hooks and jabs at medium intensity.
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From any other exercise go straight to these moves that simply use your bodyweight to build even more strength and endurance to your already tired arms and legs. Standing on a bench, squat deeply so that your lower leg and thighs for a 90 degree angle and stretch your arms out sideways. Hold for 60 seconds. Then move your arms to the front as though you are about to dive for 30 seconds, then return your arms to the sides turning your palms outwards. Hold for another 30 seconds.