RACE: Rathdrum Racing!

“Long-awaited” Comeback
My racing comeback has probably only been eagerly anticipated by yours truly himself, but this relinquished faint joy as I paid my 5 euro entrance fee to the Wicklow series of racing starting in Rathdrum yesterday.

This was the first of the year, held over a 3000m course. My fellow hill runner, Cormac O’Ceallaigh had told me about the event, arranged by his local club Parnell, and after having completed a perfect session the day before, I found the idea irresistible.

Not only was the event short enough to minimise risk, it was long enough to get a loose feel for how much “stamina” had returned (and I’m using Peter N. Coe’s definition of stamina as being the ability to combine endurance with speed here).

The mental gains were also not to be ignored: Currently planning my hill running return for Annacurra meant it would be good to refocus my mind and regain confidence in my injury-ravaged legs.

The Preparation at Irishtown
I only learned of the race on Tuesday during the Crusaders track session. I follow Lydiard’s principle of not engaging in anaerobic workouts during the Base phase (my week 1-8 at the moment), so I have to do my own specially designed “high-aerobic” sessions on days where I plan a so-called “Key Workout”.

The concept is simple: You prepare yourself, especially your neurological connections for running faster, but you never cross the so-called “anaerobic threshold” (so-called because it doesn’t exist as a firm threshold, see Noakes 2003). In practice it just means running only to the point where running get’s intensely arduous and you can clearly perceive an oxygen debt starting to accumulate.

Anaerobic exercise creates a lot of waste product and is not desirable while you are still building the foundation as it generally does more harm than good.

The High-Aerobic Session
High-aerobic exercise is pretty simple, you set target speeds that you know represent the top end of what you can run aerobically and then you ensure that your “breaks” are never full stops. Doing an aerobic session anything more than 10-15 sec of complete stop can retard the physiological developments you are trying to develop. In other words: Stay on the move!

After dynamic stretching and lengthy warm-up, I did 3x5min at what can be best described as marathon pace with 3min jogs in between. The average speed of this session was around 4:41min/km for me, with 4:28min/km speed for the actual fast intervals.

I then jogged for a short bit before turning up two gears for a 1-Mile Pace Trial (two Target Pace Levels in Matt Fitzgerald’s system, as described earlier on this Blog). The target was 4:22 but my form is improving quicker than anticipated so I kept a pace of 3:59, doing very steady 200m splits of 47, 46, 48, 49, 47, 47, 47, and 47 secs. I find measuring 200m splits on short runs invaluable as a tool for judging my pace judgement. I stole this trick from Sebastian Coe’s father as well who used it in his coaching and it would be common among track athletes. If it’s good enough for a man who held the 800m record for more than 20 years, it’s good enough for me...

Racing Rathdrum
Local club Parnell, part of the Sli Cualann umbrella, had organised two loops on tarmac road, virtually without any flat areas but instead with a 50/50 division of shallow climb and shallow descent (+3.8% for 1.1km and -3.2% for 1.04, the rest “flat”). The route overall would probably slow down your time a little compared to an all flat route as you cannot make up the full energy lost on the uphill on the down especially not if the gradient is higher on the up.

There was a decent field of 30-40 runners and I lined up behind Cormac intent on trying to keep a steady ship and not do anything aggravating. As the start went I got caught up on the outside, a batch of slower runners divided me from the small front group with Cormac hanging on strongly in their trail. I sped up more than I would have liked to re-attach myself to the group but wasted precious extra distance in doing so. A track athlete would have been disgusted, but I knew I am only learning this game.

Round the first bend and into a fierce descent I felt good although I couldn’t catch a rhythm and erroneously lengthened my stride too much down the hill, lowering my cadence and wasting more energy. As the next ascent rose, I started to lose momentum but fought off a few challenges before the first runners started to attach strongly to my rear.

On the turn of the first laps, I lost a few spaces more. I had run the 200m from the 600 to 800m mark in 37 seconds. Having averaged about 43 seconds until, this over-extension slowed me down to between 50 and 55 seconds pr. 200m from the 1.2km mark to 2km. Then I had finally regained strength enough for a solid finish in 42, 43, 45, and 47.

This wasn’t without incident, Cormac seemed to keep the same distance he had broken on the first 200m for the rest of the race. I realised this didn’t seem catchable and spend the last descent winning back two places before finally passing a third runner who had only caught up to me on the last 800m. He glided onto my slipstream and as the finish approached I realised, to some internal cursing, that I had opened my finish too early, the fifth gear I was waiting to activate didn’t spring into life!

I could barely hold the onrushing runners off, and one young runner launched an audacious sprint for the finish overtaking a slew of others in the process. This was my turn to ride someone’s slipstream, and while I lost one place, this final injection of pace kept the rest of the pack of wolves at bay and I rode in within a second of the young speedster.

I had noticed that the powerful surge that I can sometimes produce on the track was not there to be utilised during the race (the day before I had done a 100m sprint in 2:23 pace which is equivalent to 25.1kph). This proves how valuable drills will be later in my training programme to enable me to reach full acceleration from a point of very high speed. I was simply at too high speed to master a gliding transition into full sprint; luckily “Better Training for Middle-Distance Runners” provides exercises to work on exactly this short-coming.

I finished 4th in my category and decently enough placed overall in 11:13, a good result for my first 3k race. This is equal to a TPL of 24 in Matt Fitzgerald’s system and as I am currently training myself as a conservative TPL 33, I have retained a good deal of speed and stamina, at least over this shorter distance. I was never higher than 26 even at my peak, though, which shows my eventual target of TPL15 is achievable, if stretched.

The result also lends credible perspective on the task ahead if I am to qualify for Denmark, my long-term dream. As the target is 33:00, my pace will have to be 3:18min/km for the qualifying run. The task ahead is therefore easy to define: I must run 31 seconds faster pr. kilometre than yesterday and be able to maintain that speed for 3x the duration. Daunting, to be sure, but not impossible, and if only all life’s goals were this easily laid out. Come Hell or Heather, I won’t let anything stand in the way of this attempt.

The injuries also did not make themselves known through the run, and the pre-race buzz made a welcome return that I have missed dearly over the last long period of time. I could hardly believe it had been more than 6 months since I last crossed a finish line with a number patched to my chest.

All my training is focused on aerobic or high aerobic exercises, so the current speed is very promising as I have an intensive programme ahead of me over the next 3 months which will eventually start to focus on the anaerobic running and then my max speed. Solid improvements should appear at the higher speeds once they get proper stimulation, so this race certainly fills me with confidence ahead of the two major challenges of the season: The Summer hill races and the autumn cross-country season.

For me, a perfect evening, a good scientific test, a PB (albeit on my first try of a distance!) and some reward for the first 4.5 weeks of training completed. This is using racing to its best effect.
Finally, well done Parnell for an enjoyable event, I will certainly be out for more in the series!

Next up: Visit to the Laser Clinic!