DIARY: Planning Time & Intervals

The hill intervals are going well at the moment, I completed yet another session this Friday up the Kilmashogue part of the Wicklow Way.

The incline on this stretch is 13.5% on average, meaning a generally much harder climb than the average you'll find in the Leinster League but on par with the average climb in most Championships races. (Ticknock would be 8.8% while Croagh Patrick would be 20% for comparision).

I had a sore throat so stuck to 5 reps and a rest time of 2:30 between the 2 minute bursts. Like the three sessions before it, I once again got progressively faster covering between 390-434m per interval as opposed to 380-400 the week before. The previous week had seen me run 373m-393m, despite a 3 minute resting period being employed and my failure to complete more than 4 reps on the first attempt.

On the Sunday, having first done a hard run of the Sugarloaf (3km uphill tempo, 3km easy descent), I repeated the session on a flatter course at Sugarloaf, reducing rest time to 2min from 2:30 to compensate for the lighter incline of only 4.4% (maxing out at 10.4%) . On this course I completed 410-440m per uphill interval which compares favourably as I entered the other intervals with only a warmup run in my legs rather than a full on uphill tempo. I also covered more distance on the downhill recoveries, showing that even at the same heart rate intensity, I can recover full speed quicker after a flat incline than a steep.

This confirms to me that to gain effective immediate gains from intervals they must be performed in a similar manner, at an even pace and with intense concentration. As can be seen, improvement is almost immediate. Four weeks of these sessions will be necessary for permanent physiological benefits to manifest. Otherwise, every session will sharpen your for an average of 1.5 days after the session has been performed.

Long and Short-Swing Athletes
This also confirms Emma's theory that this training is essential for race sharpening for me as a hill runner, and also implies that I am one of two stereotypes of athletes (Prokop 64):

1. Short-swing: These athletes can improve their condition very quickly but cannot maintain them for prolonged periods before they must return to base training.
2. Long-swing: This type of athlete needs significant amount of time to reach their peak but can sustain it for much longer.

The fast adaptation to this type of training, and the fact that once I returned to intensive racing, I had one mediocre performance (Scalp), one awful (Scarr - but that was caused by footwear rather than form), before then having solid performances at the Euro Trial and almost returning to my Winter form at Brockagh.

This happened within the span of a few weeks, so would fuel the argument that I could conceivably be a short-swing athlete, meaning I must plan to hit my peak with 6-8 weeks intensive training, go out and compete for 3 weeks at a time and then return to base training.

The conclusion is not permanent, however, as it is possible that I am still performing so far below my genetic level (while injuries are holding me back) that any training (no matter the quality) will cause marked improvements, leading to the false conclusion that I'm a short-swing athlete.

My ability to sustain an even level of performance over most of the 47 races I ran in 2007 would imply that I could be a long-swing athlete. However, it could be argued that my performances were just evenly low (compared to what my natural level should be), and it therefore took nothing to maintain (in fact, the over-racing may have slowed down my progression last season).

My first signs of improvement only showed once injury forced a rest, the very well-known "Zatopek Syndrome" explaining why most of the greatest performances in athletics have been set by athletes coming back from involuntary lay-offs. Training too much is more common than the opposite among runners. Where the barrier lies is individual, but few people would gain anything from training above 120km per week. For some the natural limit lies as high as at 260km per week (Noakes).

Suffice it to say, you have to move towards this "natural" limit in increments.

Year Zero
As I'm completing my studies and waiting for my injuries to heal, I am treating the 1st of August as "Year Zero": The day my running starts in earnest. From that day I will focus 100% on mending my injuries permanently and I will put in place my best training program yet, based on Emma' s detailed principles as well as all the knowledge provided to me in the Lore of Running. Anything beyond base conditioning will only resume once the injury is healed.

I will attempt to make use of the experience of our club coaches and the facilities we have (circuits, track course etc.) when suitable, but the training plan will be designed and maintained 100% by myself from now on and I will follow in the footsteps of runners such as Rob Costello in treating myself solely as a scientific experiment, treating every race as a test, and make corrections to my plan whenever there is clear evidence that the body is not responding as it should.

I plan to move my physiological testing to Trinity now that Emma is gone. As she has provided me with the tools to interpret the results, I can now move forward without an Exercise Physiologist, and only need someone to provide me readings every three months that I can use to verify the results of my training.

Emma told me she believed next year will be a fruitful one. I hope so, I will definitely put more effort than ever into intelligent training, and will be sharing my training program development here on this blog for those interested.

Science has shown us beyond doubt (Noakes 99) that no athlete has been able to maintain peak performance for longer than 20 years. In most cases, the period is only 15, and quite often remarkable less. When it is less than the 15, the cause is usual chronic over-training and over-racing most famously seen in the case of Alberto Salazar, but maybe more well-known in the perennial failures of Ron Hill.

For the sake of simplicity I assume that all training done in my life so far adds up to 1 year of hard intensive training. This leaves me with 14-19 years.

To be on the safe side, I go with the assumption that I am not genetically capable of handling more than 15 years total, meaning if I keep 01/08/08 as my "Day Zero", then 29/07/2022 becomes my "End Date" at the age of 43.

Beyond this point I will enter a what could be termed the "Declination Zone" which will last from 29/07/2022 to 28/07/2o27 at the age of 49. During the scope of the "Declination Zone" further improvement will be difficult to impossible, beyond 28/07/2027, I can predict with almost 100% accuracy that all improvement will cease permanently. This is powerful knowledge, as it allows me to plan when it is time to move towards different challenges (even in running improvement on speed and endurance is not everything and a perfectly healthy running life can be had beyond these dates).

Any rest years taken during this period are also likely to move the date. A year out through injury may also have the same effect, but it would depend on the nature of the injury. Repeated severe injuries are likely to force an earlier start date for the "Declination Zone".

Some may not prefer to work based on such precise dates (and indeed the exact date is only an abstraction but the decline predicted by science is bound to appear within a few months or years of the predicted dates), but I find it invaluable. I need to know exactly how long I've got, so I can ensure that I plan in the things I want to do before it is too late.