10 Weeks to 21km Glory

Squashed Runner


Running plays a large part in almost every sport practised at a competitive level. We explore running’s role in squash by speaking to SA national squash champion Rodney Durbach, who is ranked 24th in the world.

A good game of squash will have you running, diving and leaping for the ball. And if you’re not fit, it will leave you gasping! Squash is a whole body activity and demands a high level of aerobic fitness. It is one of the fastest games and generates an intensive workout in a short time. In a typical game, lasting roughly 40 minutes, you work to about 80% of your maximum heart rate.

Though squash players only move short distances on the court, the continuous nature of rallies means that aerobic fitness is essential. And what better method to gain this fitness than running, says Rodney Durbach, captain of the SA national team and the Western Province A Team (current holders of the Jarvis Cup).

“Running has been invaluable throughout my career as a squash player. It has helped to lay a base foundation. It took me two summers of gruelling 12-week training programmes, but that set me up for the last 15 years of training. Every season I just had to top up on my base foundation. I believe there is no other training that will give you the same base as running,” says Rodney.

Rodney (37) started playing squash at the age of 14 and quickly moved up through the ranks. In 1994 he went overseas and met his coach, John Milton, who has coached him throughout his career, with Rodney spending six months of the year in SA and six months in England.

Highlights of his career include being selected as a member of the South African team for the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur where, with Natalie Grainger, he won a bronze medal in the mixed doubles. He was also a member of the national team that finished as runners-up to host country, Egypt, in the inaugural All Africa Championships in 1996.

Not only has Rodney achieved internationally, he has also dominated the South African men’s squash scene for years. Currently he is head coach at the Fish Hoek Squash Club in Cape Town.

Rodney attributes his fitness mainly to a solid running base that was laid when he trained overseas. “We did lots of track work, starting with four 1.6km sprints building up to seven or eight repeats. Some weeks we would only run four 1.6km sprints and add four 800m sprints. After a couple of months we reduced the distance to ten 800m sprints, and over time, reduced it all the way down to 50m sprints.”

He currently also incorporates cycling and rowing into his fitness regime. He does two 90-minute endurance sessions a week, which consist of ten minutes skipping, 20 minutes running, 20 minutes cycling, 15 minutes running, 15 minutes cycling and ten minutes skipping. Most of his running is done on a treadmill but towards the end of February, he will go back to the track for some 400m sprints. “I will start with five 400m sprints over three weeks and build up to ten repeats before slowly reducing the distance to 50m.”

Squash players don’t have to run a hundred kilometres every week, but they do need to be fast, agile and explosive on court, something sprint running hugely contributes to.

Rodney is a firm believer in using running on and off the court as part of his coaching programme. “I coach a group of guys between the ages of 20 and 28. One of our sessions is a fast 40-minute run. I start running as fast as I can for 20 minutes with them following me. They then have to run back in less than 20 minutes.”

He sees running as a true sport. “It doesn’t matter if you are short or tall; we all compete against ourselves. All my athletes have their own goals. I train with them once a week, whereafter they run 20 minutes twice a week by themselves.”

He also incorporates running exercises on the court in his coaching programme. “We sprint from one side of the court to the other, about nine metres in length. Usually we try to run 20 in under a minute. We also use ghosting in training, where you run randomly to different parts of the court,” says Rodney.

Whether you are a casual squash player or a professional, fitness is the key to success in squash, and running is one discipline that can help you on your way. “One can improve your game by 50 percent just by getting fitter,” says Rodney.


Favourite food:                           Chocolate
Favourite movie:                         Shawshank Redemption
Role model:                                My dad, Mike
Dream car:                                 Ferrari
Best holiday destination:              New York
Best accessory:                           My Blackberry