DIARY: Training Plan

Every serious runner needs a training plan, but not every serious runner will have one.

Does that mean they'll automatically do badly? No, of course not, but most likely, they are not doing as well as they could.

A notable exception to this route is English fell-running legend Billy Bland, who's training consisted of endless roving into the nearby hills where he would, day after day, shatter himself. Indeed, his training was so hard that he ascribed his success in races to the fact that they were easier than his training.

Billy Bland basically represents a freak of nature, however, and had a body so tough that rest and recovery was not even part of his vocabulary (apart from the one time he dismissed it as the "the biggest rubbish he'd heard in his life").

So unless you're absolutely sure you're like Billy, not designing a training program will lead to only one of two outcomes: overreaching (leading over-training) and under-performing. Incidentally, both outcomes will eventually lead to under-performance!

Enter Peak CentreDeciding to get a physical test is the best decision of my running career so far (apart from just buying those Inov-8 gaiter-socks!). Basically, the physiological test gives you the individualised baseline you need to work from.

Without it, you're shooting in the dark, as navigators will know: If you don't know where you are, you can't know with confidence where you're going.

So I tasked my personal "specialist", exercise physiologist Emma Cutts, in charge of the Peak Centre's tests (to read about Emma, and the Peak Centre, there's an excellent article in ThePost and The Irish Times )

Today it was time to receive my personal training programme (which is only EUR25 per month), well worth it.

Me, the Science NerdI got another crash course on bio-chemistry as we talked through the program (I always enjoy feeling like the lesser nerd when asking questions such as: "How can the new form of creatine be beneficial for endurance running", "what about triglycerides", and "what do you think about the theory that recovery runs are counter-productive since muscle damage is not caused by lactate build-up but by enzyme damage when muscle fibres are torn?"). No wonder my dream careers as a kid included of Palaeontologist and Astronomer!

As a bonus, both Emma and I walked away with bonus information, as I know now that Mitochondria only exist in some cells (not all as I had thought), and Emma now knows that Mitochondria are not native to the human DNA (they are actually separate organisms that went into a symbiosis with all animal life at the dawn of life, but they have their own DNA). "'Useful little creatures, aren't you", as Emma put it!

The ProgrammeThe programme incorporates itself around the races, I've planned out for June and July (which are: Luc, Brockaghs, Tibradden, Croagh Patrick, Ben Gorm, Sorrel Hill, Glenmacnass, Ballinastoe, Sugarloaf, climaxing with one of the greatest fell-races on the calendar - Snowdon in Wales).

This programme leaves Emma little room for "true training", so she mostly placed AT1/Recovery races on the calendar, and throw in some specialised sessions to enhance flexibility, and strength, as well as one plyometrics session for power (generally not something you should do during race season).

In winter the fun will start, however, as there'll be few races, and we can focus fully on taking me a few levels up so I go into the next season not only more experienced but hopefully with a much stronger base to work from.

The FeedbackApart from the training programme itself, I was very interested in finding out how far I can go (e.g. how far up the rankings, what kind of times). As far as Emma is concerned the sky is the limit, which was very inspirational!

Taking her word for it, I said: "Can you make me the greatest mountain runner ever". "I will try", she said. Luckily, I'll be content as long as I become the best I can be, where that then places me, I'll take on the chin at the time. (this by the way is why I love running, success is seldom about winning).

According to Emma, since I've only been running seriously for a little less than 6 months, it's impossible to tell what my potential is, yet. She has seen a few general trends in athletes that suggests that I can do whatever I put my mind to, and these are:
  1. Hard work does more than talent (she mentioned several prominent world class runners, such as Paula Radcliffe, and noted that she doesn't fancy her as a runner, due to her awkward style, but Paula trains the guts out of herself, and that makes her a champion).
  2. Champions are made on how they take defeat, many talented competitors, knowing they have the talent, have been so mentally scarred by unexpected defeats that they never recovered.
Her personal assessment (she had a few interesting stories on sports psychology) suggests that I fall into the category called "madman" (not sure which source she was referencing) if we compare my level of experience with training volume. Which is good, as I generally think I'm too lazy with my training. Truth is though, I'm more pig head than madman!

Also, I have the luck of entering a sport that allows me to start practising it at the highest level until, for an athlete, very old age. The physical development that needs to take place in the body to sustain endurance running cannot happen overnight, the only way to get it, is by running for years and years, and as my muscular and capillary structure is still under-developed in this area, there's room for a gigantic progress, the results of which I think we'll really see in the next 3-10 years.

Another consoling thing is the sheer amount of visible weaknesses that we can pinpoint, that we know will improve results. My muscular system is under-developed, not only from a strength perspective but balance as well, my capillary system has seen as much as a decade less development as some of the runners I compete against, and, naturally, my ligaments are adapting at an even slower rate.

Its odd, but I find all of these weaknesses to be a fantastic opportunity: if we can attack them one by one, and get me to a level where I can run 110-160 km (70-100 miles) per week, then what can be achieved? That's the question I want answered. Unless I lose my legs in some accident (touch wood), getting there is only a matter of will. The only thing that stands between success and failure is myself, and that's the only way I want it to be.

Beyond Physiology - Sports Psychology
As for the winning mentality, I think I'm on good track. When it comes to sport, the only habit I know, is the habit of endless defeats. Success has been far between (apart from my glory years as a talented ten-pin bowler in my teens), but every defeat just spurs me on further. True champions are those that can recover from defeat, Emma said, and you only need to look at John Lenihan, his terrible injury, his defeat at the hands of John Brooks, to know that it's true.

In many ways, being born without natural talents, is a gift, because it teaches you never to take any success for granted, and to respect only hard work. As a talented competitor in ten-pin bowling and fencing I was always frustrated by the things holding my training back: Couldn't train often enough, didn't have money for the lanes or the equipment etc. etc. Now I have the money to get all the running gear I need, and the roads are just outside the door. Nothing can stop me training (apart from injury), so my advice: Find a sport that you can pour all your obsession and fanaticism freely into!

So all-in-all, an incredibly inspirational and useful session, and I'm looking forward to my winter programme, sounds like fantastic training sessions lie ahead of me.