Darren took me through a track workout on a brisk February morning, and then we sat and chatted about his running and athletic career and future goals.
Before I tell you about Darren, I should tell you a little thing about me: I was not in the least bit athletic until I hit my early 20s. So I have no experience with high school or collegiate sports, so the kind of track workout I did with Darren this morning was completely new to me. We started with a few warmup laps, then went into a five minute AMRAP of pushups, pyramids (going from a plank position to a pike position), and squats. We did about 60 meters of walking lunges that burned enough the cold no longer was a concern. From there, we moved into a few rounds of high-knees, butt kicks, and track skips. Then, we moved on to 100 meter repeats. I had been completely taken in by Darren’s warm, congenial personality and lovely British accent, and somewhere around the tenth 100m repeat, I realized it was all a front, and he was actually trying to kill me. I survived, though, and we pushed on through for 20, followed by a quarter mile. All in all, it was about an hours worth of work, and a fairly standard track workout.
Darren is a guy who has tried his hand at many different sports and seems to take naturally to whatever athletic activity he goes after. Athleticism apparently runs in the family, because his brother just signed a deal with West Ham United football team (that would be soccer to us on this side of the pond) and Darren says he couldn’t be prouder of his little brother. Darren was the kind of kid who was always outside and running around, and started track at the age of 12.
He continued in track and field, eventually finding the 400 meter hurdles to be his main niche. “It was like 2001 or 2002 and my friend Tony couldn’t make it to one of the track meets and they asked me to stand in over the hurdles and I won.” Not being a hurdler, I was interested to learn that most hurdlers have a pretty specific stride pattern with counts of typically 15 strides between hurdles, then switching to 16 after the sixth hurdle, and sometimes either increasing or decreasing stride count on the home stretch. Darren favors leading with his left leg, but through the years has built up the ability to switch off legs. Hurdling takes a lot of strength in the hip flexors and external rotators, so there is quite a bit of specific strength work that goes into developing the muscle strength to hurdle.
Darren has also raced in sprint distance triathlons and was the number one ranked in London in 1999. He has competed in decathlon events as well. The decathlon is ten events: 100m, 400m, 1500m, 110m hurdles, long jump, high jump, discus, shot put, javelin throw, and pole vault. Obviously, these events require different combinations of speed, strength, and endurance. Darren says it is interesting because there isn’t necessarily one body type that is favored in decathlon. We talked a bit about building on weaknesses in multisport events, and Darren feels that at some point, your training time is better spent building on your strengths than constantly trying to work on your deficits. He says one area he is weaker is getting out of the blocks quickly, but his strength is his endurance. There obviously is some benefit to working on getting out of the blocks faster, but at some point, he feels his training time is better spent elsewhere.
After graduating school, Darren worked for a few years as a bicycle courier in London. As a bicycle courier, he rode over 100 miles most days and says, “It gave me a base of strength.” Darren recalls his Jamaican grandmother asking him during those days, “How come you look so skinny?” He says, “She started feeding me her Saturday soup, and Saturday soup is like chicken, and maybe goat or lamb or beef, but mainly very high carbohydrate, so potato, sweet potato, yam, dasheen. Between my grandma feeding me and all the cycling, I turned into a beast. I was known to be the winter wizard.”
After a few years as a courier, and looking for a career and direction, he joined the British Air Force and served from 2003 to 2011. During the time he would have off from the Air Force, he continued training and racing. In 2009, he had his eye on the Commonwealth Games and was training twice a day, six days a week. Sadly, Darren says, “I didn’t get to the Commonwealth Games, I got deployed. One of the biggest hurts of my life.”
He tried his hand at OCR and Spartan race. His first foray into OCR was a Warrior Dash in 2013, where he performed well, so he tried a Spartan in Hawaii, and was surprised to win his heat. He did a stadium race in Hawaii in 2014 and finished seventh overall. Then, he did the Boston Super, but had an asthma attack during the race and really suffered during the event, but did finish. Although he performed well, he felt like it wasn’t really his thing and says, “There wasn’t really any love in it.” Since then, he has been wanting to get back to track and field events.
Darren just started training with the Garden State Track Club and plans to start competing in the Masters track and field events with them. He is also planning to do an Ironman this year and has his eye on a race in Wales in September.
Darren is a certified personal trainer, and his knowledge and skill as a trainer was evident right away during our workout. For a runner more focused on distance, he feels track workouts can be beneficial in helping to build good biomechanics and develop the “fast and slow twitch fibers… As a distance runner, if you do ten 60 meters on 30 seconds recovery, what you do is you develop power, and as you develop that power base, it means when you’re putting in less effort, you’ve still got more power. So you can go from running a mile and really trying to work to running a mile and really just kind of bouncing.” He obviously is a guy willing to work hard, and push his limits, but expressed frustration with what he called an “against the struggle” mentality in some athletic circles, when people press through injury, or don’t allow themselves proper rest and recovery.
Darren is also a blogger, and writes about all kinds of topics, from faith and spirituality, relationships, and of course, running. He says, “I’m an opinionated man,” and his blog is a platform where he can share some of his thoughts on various subjects. He enjoys writing about things that are personal to him and hopes he can help other people feel that they are not alone in certain things and to see that there are things we all struggle with.
Darren’s girlfriend is in the military and he anticipates leaving New Jersey to move to where she is stationed next, but I hope he’ll log some great training with the Garden State Track Club while he is here!