Whitehorse’s Michael Brooks doesn’t need to see faces to know who’s running on the track. If they are in his running group, he can identify them from their technique.
“Everyone is different – I can tell my runners from 800-metres away,” said Brooks. “It’s like a fingerprint; everyone is a little different.”
Affectionately known as “Michael’s Running Group,” Brooks takes to the track every week to help serious runners reach the next personal best time in long-distance runs, but with a casual attitude towards attendance.
“It’s completely come-when-you-can – no one is taking attendance,” said Brooks. “People are busy and will miss weeks, or they’ll go on vacation. Generally speaking, we’ve had anywhere from two to 32 runners depending on the time of year.
“It’s a good thing for runners who want to improve.”
After a lengthy warm-up, Brooks oversees running activities that push bodies to the limit. However, instead of assigning endless laps to his group, Brooks relies on stop-and-go programs called interval training. For example, on Wednesday, in relay teams of two, runners took turns running 400-metre laps around the track.
“This is kind of special training for improving speed, improving form, improving how you run,” he said. “In interval training, you’re forced to pump more blood so your heart grows because hopefully you’re pushing it harder than you would if you were going out for long run.
“This is the hardest training people do. The long runs are, in a sense, a little easier because you pace yourself and you’re breathing more normally.
“Here you’re getting into oxygen debt and hurting a little bit. So it’s nice to have a group because, as they say, misery loves company.”
While getting the blood pumping is a large part of it, technique is also closely looked at. As part of the warm-up, Brooks leads his group through plyometric exercises, the process of breaking the running form into three component parts, forcing the runner to exaggerate the movements of each step to isolate muscle groups.
“You’re not only building strength, you’re building flexibility,” said Brooks. “You’re stretching out your leg a little bit more than you would running.
“Typically when I have time, I’ll look at individuals and see how they do those, which really determine how efficient they are in their running. If you learn to do these well, you’ll build an efficiency to your running that works for you.”
Brooks made a name for himself while competing for the University of Manitoba, becoming provincial champion in a handful of distance events.
“I ran everything. I was a track runner so 1,500-metres was my specialty,” said Brooks. “But I also did road racing – everything from five-kilometres to a marathon.
“I don’t know if I ever won the marathon, but (I was champion in) all the distances on the road: the five-kilometre, 10-kilometre, 15-kilometre on the road.”
While many of his runners are training for marathons and half-marathons, Brooks feels anyone who can run 10-kilometres in one go will fit in with the group, which meets at the FH Collins Secondary School running track every Wednesday at 5:15 p.m.
“Typically if you can finish a 10-kilometre and run the whole way, then you’re in good enough shape,” said Brooks. “It’s not super advanced.
“If you want to improve, this is a good place to be because we do stuff that is a little more intensive.
“We have everything from people who will run a marathon in around three hours, to people who will run a five-and-a-half or a six hour marathon. And some that could run a 10-kilometre but couldn’t finish a marathon.”
“I tend to get the ‘masters’ age – adults 30-and-above tends to be the biggest part of our group.”
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com