DIARY: Countdown Weekend

Saturday is it.

The day that was supposed to be the biggest day on this year's racing calendar: the European Trial at Crone Wood.

Because of my injuries, it no longer holds a prevalent position on this year's targets, yet I still keep it first in mind as I finish my last preparations this weekend. This is the type of race to race: long, hard climbs, fast descents and a top-class field that will not budge to anything but the best.

There's nothing for me to take on the day, but I do want to come out and do a good showing and represent Crusaders well in the Irish Club Championship held in conjunction with this race.

Weekend Warrior
Friday started the countdown with a speed session with Brian and Jason. The classical 10x30secs on the grassy field in Marlay Park featuring both uphill, downhill and flat.

Although Jason and I certainly had Wednesday's race in our legs, this was our best session yet, our speed dropping as low as 2:47min/km (22kph, for brief moment we even moved as fast as 26kph), and staying consistently below 3:00min/km speed (higher than 20kph). This is even better considering we weren't running on a neat flat track but up and down a grassy field.

This is well beyond what I've crunched out in the previous 3 sessions, and bodes well for my next test with Emma on Tuesday. Hopefully, at this test I'll max out at 18kph and take another step forward.

The value of having runners of comparable level to joust with could not be more clear and spurs me on to continue my recruitment drive for Crusaders!

Careful at Crone
Gerry Brady had arranged another recce on the Saturday which I attended with a good group of people including Aoife and Rachel. There was good pace in the group especially on the killer uphill. This grassy bulging ascent will be an unwelcome sight to many a brave runner as they embark on their third and final lap.

While I envy the women having to do it only once, I relish the prospect of an almost 13km course, a distance much more suitable for me than the recent Leinster League races. But it isn't distance that kills, it's speed, so I know I must be careful going into the race with so many top class athletes. Get caught up, get killed off. It'll be as simple as that.

My uphill legs from the early season are still not fully recovered, but there were encouraging signs on Saturday and hopefully a well-planned week ahead will bring me close.

We all did two laps of the course after which tea and scones at Avoca served as a worthy prize. Once home I added a few miles in the evening by doing a good 7k loop of my area. After all 9k is not an acceptable daily target at slow speed :)

The soreness in my heel after Scalp has again reduced dramatically, and it seems the injury truly is fully under my control now, if not curable, unfortunately. Good news was another person thanked me for the advice on Plantar on the Sunday and told me it had almost cured him already. Seems it works on every body but me, confirming my suspicions that there is an anomaly in my injury that only an x-ray will detect.

Sunday Surrender
For Sunday relaxation I had pencilled in running the Glenmacnass race. I wanted to trod around it, at 80% effort or so and get in a nice long run in good company and a chat in the pub afterwards.

Unfortunately, I picked my thicker socks with my Mudclaws which meant bad blisters already after 4k as I approached Brockagh West. I stopped for a while to try and fix the shoes, but nothing worked and with the prospect of having to do another 1.5hours in discomfort and probably seriously damaging the skin on my heels, I turned back and recorded my third DNF of this season. Today it seemed to stand for Did Nothing Foolish.

"Had it been the race of the season, then perhaps I would have bitten through it," I would later tell people at the finish, but with Saturday in mind it made no sense to go on. It still hurt to give up but it was encouraging to hear the likes of James McFadden and Aenghus tell me I did the right thing. Focus and fanaticism are two often conflicting virtues of the competitive runner.

This meant I only got a 7.5km run in instead of my planned 20km. I pondered doing a run on the way home, but it was too late then and I was too well-fed, so instead I did a 2 hour weight session in my flats with bloody episodes of The Tudors running in the background (they lose their head a lot in that series).

So did I early on, as I almost got caught up in the initial surge. Hitting the first bend before open mountain I was in third position, but as the attacks started coming, I answered none, and as the hill grew steeper I merely settled on a slow trod that was not to uncomfortable.

I couldn't afford to run my heart out, but even so, I was happy to let people go. I knew what was in store, and in a long race like this with severe climbs to come, there was no tactical risk in letting a lot of runners get a lead as long as they were still in sight. The likes of Bernard, Aenghus and Gerry would be unmatchable no matter what, but I was confident that could I arrive at Tonelagee with freshness in my legs, I could decimate all but the most substantial leads on the descents to come.

The route was crystal clear in my memory, and the descents suited, but alas, today I could not test my confident plan, and perhaps it is for the better as a hard fight back on the final 10km could have left me jaded for Saturday, and had it be an option, the temptation would probably have been more than I could have resisted!

Running down, my shoes became increasingly annoying and I decided to stuff them in a bag and run down in my socks. I read about a few guys doing it in Feet in the Clouds and it seemed like something every hill runner should try. It wasn't too bad at all until I hit the gravel road. This stung a bit, so I put the shoes back on, only to throw them back off again once I arrived at the forest.

To my dismay, the forest bottom was littered with sticky objects but I couldn't be bothered putting the shoes back on and once I arrived at the new Coillte paths I took the time to walk on the small rocks and massage my plantar. Apparently it's good for it!

The DNF wasn't all bad news, though. As Mags Greenan taped my sore heels, she noted that I had extremely thin ankles and Achilles. While this isn't the compliment every man wants to hear, she explained that it's part of the Kenyans physiological advantage as it allows you to lift you feet with less energy expenditure.

So while I probably started to late to reach any heights that would allow me to take the title the "White Kenyan", at least there's hope that this added physiological advantage can give me a boost once I have dealt with the many deficiencies that are currently blocking improvement: lack of flexibility, poor balance, and weak muscles. Well, the list is probably a lot longer than that...

All in all, a good weekend of training. Tomorrow a final recce of Crone Wood before the physical test on Tuesday. Then the real countdown commences....