As a result of buying a couple of "Buffs" I was entered into a lottery in which I stood to win a training session with Chema Martínez, the former European 10,000m Champion.I was only one number off winning a slot (I had 230 and 231 but 232 was one of the winning numbers) so I thought nothing more of it. Nevertheless, I was offered someone else's winning number (presumably they weren't as psyched as me to run with a top Spanish athlete) and so I had to actually go home for my running kit as I had only planned to go swimming. I was in such a rush that I forgot that, in Spain, being changed and ready at 12:45 means something different to its literal translation into English. Before we headed out of the door, there was a quick photo-op in which I felt like a superstar, having all the cameras flashing at me, or rather at Chema who was standing by my side.
I asked him if the new fashion in elite running circles was to run with untied shoelaces and he remarked on my equally unusual choice of footwear, saying that he thought they were very "aggressive". He told me that he had difficulties even adapting to his racing flats before a major competition due to a plantar fasciitis but then he runs about three times as many kilometres a week than I do (as well as a lot faster), so it's perhaps not surprising. Still, I am waiting for the day that Vibram or Vivobarefoot sponsor a top athlete - maybe then we can see some records fall.
The other thing that struck me about seeing him in the flesh is how skinny he is, especially his legs. They must be so efficiently packed with muscles because, at first sight, you wonder how he has the strength to run up a hill, let alone run 10,000m in 28:08. He told us that he currently weighed 62 kilos but that his "racing weight" was 59 kilos. I wonder where he can possibly lose three kilos (although his shoes would be a good start).
We set off at a fairly good but obviously easy pace and ran about 7km in a group. Everyone in the group was clearly used to running (unlike the time we ran with Fernando Alonso, who evidently has a wider fan club). In fact, I wasn't even the only one running in Vibram Five Fingers - the two of us made for a fairly unrepresentative sample of the general population.We then stopped for a session on running technique in which he emphasized all the aspects which are common to any school of running technique: balance, posture, coordination, active landing on ball of foot. Having said that, we ended up doing some pretty ridiculous drills. The drills weren't ridiculous in themselves, of course, but I at least felt and must have looked so.
To finish off, we ran "1 kilometer more" with him and this time he let rip. OK, he was probably just jogging (or "trotting" as they say in Spanish) but we got up to around 18 kph (downhill but into a very strong headwind...). Of course Chema took the full brunt of the headwind and I tucked in behind him and another guy from the group. It was a nice illusion to think that we were there really in contention for a win but of course nobody even bothered to challenge him, we would only have been either shown up (unlikely) or it would have been like when your dad let you win your first game of chess.
I've heard a lot about Chema's charisma but it was nice to experience it at first hand. He seems genuinely to enjoy his sport and the social aspect of it. In fact, while he was having all his achievements read out in the photo shoot, he interrupted to describe himself as "un corredor de populares" (someone who likes to run local amateur events). Actually, in the last race I saw him win, he was dressed as Santa Claus... So now I have run with Chema Martínez and Fernando Alonso, I have only to run with Mariano Rajoy...
By the way, you can buy the Buff as well as other merchandise from "Corre 1km+" from this website but, unfortunately, they only deliver to Spain and Portugal. I have to say that the Buff is a fantastic invention.