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Potential & Possibilities: The Master’s Workshop

The Master’s Workshop

We’re sitting, having lunch in the Westgrove hotel in Clane – halfway through Gerard Hartmann and David Campbell’s flexibility workshop – and Paul Robinson feels he’s seen enough to offer his opinion.

“Mind-blowing,” he says, having just listened to Hartmann deliver a three-hour lecture to a riveted group of 30. “He’s something else, isn’t he?”

It’s something many people say when they run into Hartmann, or spend time absorbing some of his wisdom which, in sports science terms, and in terms of understanding the mechanics of the human body, borders on genius.

First of all: a disclaimer. I was crocked at the age of 15, out of the sport for almost a year. Gerard Hartmann, despite his client list being almost unanimously the ultra-elite, took me in, identified what was wrong (something several others couldn’t do), and fixed me. Me, a teenager who was never going to accomplish a shred of what most of his clients had already done. I’ll always appreciate that.

Master and Apprentice: David Campbell and Gerard Hartmann assessing some notes

Master and Apprentice: David Campbell and Gerard Hartmann assessing some notes

Second disclaimer: I looked up to David Campbell. In one of my early years at DCU, when the majority of my peers on campus – some of them athletes, many of them not – were chucking whatever talent they had into an alcohol-drenched cesspit, where they happily wallowed in mediocrity, he was an example of utter professionalism; an athlete with the cojones to chase his dream at all costs – a guy who ate right, slept right, trained right, and as a result achieved more than most thought he ever could, or ever would.

The reason for these disclaimers is this: even if the workshop last Saturday was rubbish, even if it was a mind-numbing snooze-fest that had everyone wondering why they wasted their time and money, I probably wouldn’t say it. I’d probably pretend it was good anyway, because of what I think of them. But here’s the thing. It really was good. Exceptional, in fact.

There’s no proper way to do eight hours of learning justice here, so here’s a snippet of how the day went down.

8am: A horrible, disgusting, evil alarm drags me from my heavenly slumber. Shouldn’t have watched that NBA game til 4am. Oh well, live and don’t learn; go Raptors. Feidhlim is outside, waiting in his wagon, sending increasingly urgent messages to get my ass up. Alright Nelly, it’s fashionable to be late, don’t you know?

9am: We arrive in Clane, greeted by Dave Campbell, who hands us individualised envelopes with booklets on stretching and personalised messages from Hartmann. Myself and Feidhlim set ourselves up at the back of the room, the place where the messers sit, in convenient proximity to the biscuit supply. I ate 12 jaffa cakes. Breakfast of champions.

9:20am: Go-time. Campbell takes the floor and delivers a talk on his background, his personal experiences, both as an elite athlete himself and more recently, working and treating elites, and then expands on the importance of injury-prevention. Then, Hartmann takes over. The hours that follow are an always-entertaining, mostly theoretical lecture about flexibility. He tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the subject. How, why, when, with also a hefty dose of anecdotes on who.

There’s plenty of science, but not so much that a guy like me – who spent three years in DCU not going to journalism lectures – couldn’t understand. There are anecdotes, lots of them; we learn how Paula Radcliffe was – from a mechanical point of view – taken apart and put back together again by Hartmann in 2001, how she was biomechanically transformed to eliminate inefficiencies in her stride. Three hours’ work a day, says Hartmann, for a year and a half. That’s what it took to become the efficient marathon machine she was in 2002. There’s stories of famous rugby players, GAA stars, elite athletes – explanations of their approach and why, how, they benefitted from increased flexibility. The main question answered in the morning was the why; come the afternoon, it was all about the how.

1pm: Hartmann invites members of the group up to hop up on the physio bed for an assessment. There are many volunteers. He pushes them, pulls them, twists them, stretches them. For some, his conclusions make sobering listening. It’s not always good news. Still, though, better the devil you know, and all that. He doesn’t just expound on what is wrong with someone’s body; he also explains why, and then how they can fix it. His audience is captivated. There are therapists, who came looking to learn from the best. There are stars of athletics like Paul Robinson, hurling A-listers like Kilkenny’s Michael Fennelly (who has won seven All-Irelands), and a ballerina who has come to learn how to prolong her career by maintaining flexibility. Oh, and then there’s us; we like Jaffa cakes.

2:45pm: After lunch, we return to the workshop room. No more chairs for my Jaffa-cake expanded ass to rest in; Having been shown why we should stretch, it’s time to learn how. First, there is a talk from Hartmann on nutrition, and how much of an aid it can be not just to flexibility, but to athletic performance in general.

3:30pm: The group is fanned out in a circle, stretching ropes are handed out, and we’re taken through a specific routine and told how to stretch if we need to gain flexibility, how much we should do to maintain it, which stretches should be done as part of a warmup, and perhaps most importantly, how and when you really shouldn’t be stretching. As the group go through the routine, Hartmann and Campbell circle the room, offering specific instructions to everyone: a rotated hip here, an unlocked knee there – mistakes are picked up in an instant and rectified.

6pm: It’s all over. Nine hours we’ve been here. Nine hours, yet if you’d removed everyone’s watches and phones at the start, I’d wager that the average guess on the day’s duration would have been about five. That’s what it felt like. As Feidhlim said when we were on the way down in a sleep-deprived zombie trance: “the thing is: it’s Hartmann, so you know it’s going to be entertaining.”

It was, but not only that; it was also hugely informative and, as always with Hartmann – a man who has an extraordinary knack of motivating you without you ever realising how he’s actually done it – it was inspirational.

They’ll be doing a few more of these courses, each with a slightly different target audience. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

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Roisin McGettigan
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Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy is a freelance journalist, a once-serious, now-retired athlete who writes for a number of international publications in the running industry. He has won two sports-writing awards, the Peter Ball Memorial Award in Ireland and the Wills Writing Award in the UK. Nationally, he previously worked for the Sunday Tribune, Irish Runner magazine and has written for the Sunday Independent, Irish Independent, the Guardian and The Independent in Britain. He is a regular contributor to Running Times, Runner's World, RunBlogRun and the IAAF website.
His banter levels are often poor, occasionally exceptional.

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