DIARY: Running Mountains of the Mind

In the off-season, it's been fairly enjoyable cutting a bit back on the posting.

The week since my little "incident" has been a strange one, overall satisfying, but with as many ups and downs as my favourite race courses.

Injury-wise, I'm in a status-quo, perhaps mild improvement, the Plantar does not react negatively too my start on training (this week I've done a good 32km already, which will reach about 64 by the end of the week), and from a purely mental perspective, I can say that the slow running I've enjoyed over the last few days seem to do more to restore a naturally feeling heart beat and sense of calm than any of those drugs suggested by the nurse (a suggestion I did have to openly scoff at even in my slightly rattled state).

After the Difene debacle I've popped my last pill, and my advice to fellow athletes is this: Stay away from the garbage.

Monday I was relaxing after my short outting at the Three-Rock Winter race. I've never quit a race I had a chance of completing. After being battered on Croagh Patrick I decided to race-walk Ben Gorm even though my elbows and knees were so swollen I couldn't run.

At last year's Stepaside race my meniscus was torn going down the final descent, but I still raced the last kilometre to the finish. I remember my good race on Sorrell Hill, when I arrived I was still healing up after the Connacht Championships, my legs felt shattered after a long season, but turned out to be the best race ever.

I'm not saying this is something to be proud off (you could say it's a counter-productive way of approaching your overall race season), but it embodies my attitude to competition.

That has probably moved a bit now, and how it'll change the season, I'm not sure. I race most of my races at max intensity (180-188bpm average for races of less than an hour, probably about 176 for slightly longer races). I knew I was putting it to the test at Three-Rock, but it's one of my favourite routes, the climbs favour me heavily, as they are shallow, and I've had some of my best descents on the Boneshaker and the other down-routes around it.

This Sunday, I went off feeling fairly fine, I had positioned myself close to the front, I was planning on taking care of myself, but I had a 15th spot to defend, and was planning on hanging in hard on the climb and then use the first descent to my advantage, then try and scoot home from there.

I felt suprisingly light going up the hard first climb, just on the heels of Alan O'Keefe, who I, not surprisingly, had to let go on the flat bit before the Boneshaker. The oddities started here, I got the same strange heavy feeling in my legs I had experienced during last Wednesday's circuits.

This obviously freaked me out and as I moved up the Boneshaker, I just felt "off". Coming up, losing places by the dozen, I paid close (too close?) attention to my heart and it felt, somehow, stressed. Usually I just blast through this. I know it'll hold, I remember running Hellfire, as my second race thinking "can a heart actually explode?", and after that I realised no matter how hard I pushed it, the ticker would keep beating. The pain was simply mental.

That confidence is well scarred now unfortunately, or, perhaps, wisely. After a minute of conferring with myself as a trudged upwards, I decided to quit. "Is this getting any better?" I asked myself. And decided that I couldn't risk something happening out on Two-Rock or Fairy Castle in the difficult weather conditions.

Final Thoughts
Walking down there was a good bit of encouragement.

"Good man," said one approvingly of me finally showing some sign of sense.

A few handshakes from runners making their way up helped the mood as well. A DNF is a DNF, of course, and I don't like it.

Someone told me the other day: "Your body's in a precarious state, it'll take very little to send it in the wrong direction, on the other hand, it'll take very little to send it in the right."

There was great wisdom in that, because among all the reasons for last week's attack, there's one completely running related: I haven't run long enough to do a "Paul Nolan".

I can't race hard and not train. Basically, last season I always kept my body pressed, somewhere out in the 60-70% region, almost every single day. So going into the races and knocking on another 20-30%, was not such a shock.

Now I've been doing almost nowt for two months, had a Christmas of bad food and drinks to boot, and conclusion is clear that Howth was a complete fluke. The "cross-country" style start gave me an advantage as I've had good showings of pure flat speed in the Intermediates, the marathon, and the Rathfarnham 5k. I may not be able to maintain it, but it gave me a gap and the rest of the route was not harsh enough to expose the cracks in my training armour.

Even the litle training I've been doing has been whacky. Hard sprints on track? Madness? Hill reps? Polishing the crome without buying a pair of wheels first.

Next week Emma will pinpoint where the major damage has been done, and start a repair plan. For now Long Slow Distance runs are the way forward, on and off the hills.