It has come as something of a surprise to me that I’ve never written a blog post about Track East, the weekly Run Dem Crew track training that has been taking place at Mile End Stadium for the past 4 years. Having attended the anniversary celebrations last night, I’ve decided to put that right with an explanation of what takes place. I hope it will encourage more new faces to come down an be part of the magic.
Track East, Thursdays, 6.45pm, Mile End Stadium, 190 Burdett Road, London
Track is where you come if you want to get faster. You don’t need to be fast, but I’m sure lots of people are put off coming by memories of bad experiences in school athletics. I certainly put off attending for a while and felt nervous the first time I went.
There was no need. I’m not slow, but you don’t have to be fast to go to Track East. It doesn’t matter what your body looks like, whether you’re short, tall, fat or thin, you will be welcomed by friendly faces who will support you and make you feel at home while you run in circles around an orange O while Canary Wharf glistens in the background.
You don’t need to be a member of Run Dem Crew to attend these sessions. Just turn up and look for us. You can contact us on the Facebook page if you like, and if Paul knows there are new people coming, he often arranges someone to meet them at Mile End tube station to walk them over. The sessions are free but there’s a small charge to get into the stadium. It’s really incredible that Paul has given up around 108 Thursdays over the past 4 years for no financial reward, but that tells you all you need to know about the man and the crew.
Each session starts with a few warm-up laps of the track. These are done at a slow, conversational pace as a whole group. We’re careful not to get in the way of others using the track, but this gets the blood flowing and is a great opportunity to catch up with people or get to know new faces.
After that, Track Don Paul Bains, or an able deputy, will lead some drills. These are essentially a series of simple exercises that isolate the different muscles you use when running. These do not just focus on the legs, as you use your whole body when running, and need a strong core to run efficiently. I like the explanations Paul gives about each exercise’s function, and find when I’m running afterwards I run with better form. As I get older, I also find the softer surface of the flat track is kinder on my creaking bones than repeatedly pounding the road, and that in turn enables me to focus on form.
That said, most of the exercises look like something from Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. It’s impossible to take yourself too seriously at track, and we always have a good laugh doing these exercises, which are surreptitiously making us better runners.
After completing the activation drills, Paul leads the main workout, which could be anything from running a mile flat out, to 400m, 800m or mile repeats, where you aim to run the set distance at a challenging speed but to maintain that speed consistently on each rep. If there are new faces, Paul personally takes them through an induction session.
This week, since many of us are doing the Amba Hotels City of London Mile race on Sunday, we ran a mile flat out. To do this we split into two groups based loosely on pace. One group ran the mile while the other cheered them on (and even ran part of the distance with them to support), then we swapped over. There were a couple of personal bests and it was a really fun session. I can’t wait for the mile race now.
Paul is always perfectly happy for people to do their own thing if they are following a training plan for a specific race, and quite often I have done something different to the main group, but you still get that sense of camaraderie and everyone encourages everyone else as they pass each other running their laps. There’s more opportunity to get to know people from different Run Dem Crew pace groups at track because of this. It doesn’t matter how slow or fast you are, you will keep passing each other and everybody respects everyone else’s effort.
After the main workout has finished we do some cool down laps, often barefoot, as this helps build strength in the feet while simultaneously forcing you to cool down slowly. It’s another great opportunity for a bit of a chat and a laugh.
As this week it was the four year anniversary of Track East, we had a celebration afterwards at a nearby Nando’s. It was lovely to see so many people from Track East’s past, present and future there to break bread with each other and knock back an inordinate amount of chicken, beer and bottomless fizzy drink refills. It’s testament to the community spirit that Paul has fostered that we took over the whole top floor of the restaurant. Here’s to the next four years.