TRAINING: Spring Review

My garden up here is coming out in full flourish with rhodendendrons, marigolds, and daffodils competing with the wild mountain heather for my attention. As I drive my car to work in the morning a suicidal pheasant always blocks my way before tiny bunnies hop away out of sight and young lambs strut playfully alongside the fire road that leaves off the mountain back to civilisation (if indeed it deserves that name) in Dublin. At night the hidden flutter of bat wings greet my evening runs, in the mornings, more often than not, golden rays come through the bedroom window.

These signs of the Spring heralds a different joy for hill runners than it does for your average working man in the cities: The Leinster League, the Big Championships, and the Trials are soon upon us. The cross-country season is long over, long live the new season!

Thresholds and Temptations
Every new season is a threshold that a runner should only cross once they have gathered the rest and the strength needed to pass, for once trod over, your next chance to turn back would be months away.

I have hesitated long to cross this threshold and let me season begin. Many times has the opportunity arisen. First in the Winter League when I tested the waters at Annacurra, I had to see the extent of the damage, but did not give in to temptation and finish the League despite the promise of running my favourite League route: Trooperstown Hill, which had also turned to hometurf.

After, I shoe-horned my favourite race event of the year the "Wicklow Way Trail" into my programme, but in the end saw the folly of my ways and did not race. I felt no regrets when I saw that my time from last year would only have yielded 11th place this year (in an admittedly more competitive field). Could I have bettered it? Possibly, but the price would have been too high, and I'll be even faster in 1 year, so why not wait? If you want to get the best out of yourself, you must sacrifice small battles for the sake of the greater war, and, like warlords of olden times, not engage the enemies while your forces are weak but wait till they are fully mustered.

Speaking of the race, I'd like to give special mention to female winner Jackie O'Hagan whose 1:57:23 time was the first credible attempt at the long-standing 1:53 record set by Crusaders' Emma Sokell for some years.

So looking back at my return period, I'm proud to have resisted all temptations, kept my focus, and not injured myself (again).

15 Weeks In
It has been 15 weeks since I shook off the last shackles of injury, or I should say, I tempered them into submission. The plantar still hides ready under the sole of my foot, the left knee still irks painfully every now and again, and the scar tissue in my right ankle reveals its presence on some terrains.

This doesn't bother me anymore, I'm done pitying myself for injuries. My goal no longer remains to cure my injuries. There is ample evidence to show that ligaments, once damaged, never return to their former quality. Never being a pretty long time where I am from, I have revised my goal: It is learning how to run 50-100 miles per week despite the injuries being present. I believe it to be possible, and so does Joss Naylor. And I am in the process of proving it.

Every time I do not break my injury, I heighten the threshold for what training load it will take. This means working hard every day focusing on keeping the injury in check while working out and strengthening the body through correct training.

This has been a success. 15 weeks ago I started on a diet of 31km (20 miles) per week, reaching an average of 49.8km (30.9 miles) for the 8 weeks of Base training I managed. In the transition training, another 4 weeks, I turned this up to 70.6km (43.9 miles) per week on average.

3 weeks into my Intensity training I have managed 74.9km (46.6 miles) on average. Twice have I managed to to break the 80km threshold (50 miles). Next week the 1st Intensity cycle finishes with a mammoth week (for me) of 93km (58 miles) planned, and then the most intense 4-weeks of the pre-season with 91.7km (57 miles) average as the planned mileage (topping out at 106.6km/66 miles).

National 10k - How to Prepare
My recent training performances on the track suggest strongly that under optimal conditions I at least now able to operate at a Target Pace Level of 24 (see my earlier talk on this). I will need a final test of 1x3km at 10k pace three days before the National 10k to finally confirm but for the moment I operate with this assumption.

At this TPL, 10k pace is 3:45min/km or a 10k time of 37:30, my goal for the Nationals in Navan. Studies have shown that a pacing strategy featuring in which you spend 51% of your time running the 1st half of your race and 49% running the second has proven optimal (this is by comparing all the world best performances and how they were run). This is only applicable for races longer than 1500m (for the 1500m it is believed to be 50/50).

For my race, this means running the first 5000m in 19:07 (3:50 pace) and the second in 18:22 (03:41 pace). I very comfortably did 3:44 splits on Thursday despite being ill, tired, and having travelled (running 1000m at this pace with 2min floats). My heart rate was 162 average which is more than sustainable for about 38 minutes.

Still it will be a big challenge, not only must I run within 19 seconds of my 5k PB on the first, I must break my 5k PB by 26 seconds on the latter part!

My fall-back plan, should matters go awry, will be to simply break 40 minutes and call that a decent 10k debut, but I will go off at 3:50 pace from the gun and see if I'm capable of putting the boot down midway. Truth is, I've never been in better shape than now and this is the time to put a proper marker down to point me ahead for the coming years.

A 37:30 result would go a long way in validating my blind belief that I'm capable of breaking the 33:00 barrier for the 10k.To this effect I will not run any races longer than 10 miles for the next few years, focusing solely on generating ever more speed. When I have reached the end of that road I will take this speed with me into the 1/2 marathon and marathon distance and hopefully record a few good times.

I believe fundamentally in Tim Noakes assertion that elite runners have at best 10 good marathons in them in a life-time, so I will pick them right and run them only at my zenith not before. Once the physical decline over these distances set in, they are irreversible as research clearly suggests, and ultras remain the only further step at which to challenge your abilities to the max.

For those who are now fearing I've abandoned the hills, I can reassure them, the hills remain my main priority, but I hold firmly to Gerry Brady's advice that "first you learn to run fast, then far".

Other Records
I actually recorded some peculiar PBs this spring. As I've never run seriously on track, I set training goals for the 100m-1 mile distances and have hit them all. My 1-mile time trial set a new PB for me at 5:21 (old time was 5:45), I crossed 1500m in roughly 4:59, and 800m in 2:32. I have my fastest recorded 400m during this time trial at 73 seconds. For 200m I've broken 37 seconds in training and 17 seconds for the 100m.

All of these times are slightly faster than what is expected for a TPL 22 (the pace level I had planned to be at by the end of the year). This doesn't mean that I am yet a TPL 22, but suggests that the basic speed necessary is present. There is still a solid jump down to the TPL 15 that I need in order to run 33:00 for the 10k, but I remain optimistic.

Barry Minnock believes that you reach 95% of your potential at around 70 miles per week, and as a general gauge goes this seems very reasonable to me, and Barry has certainly shown the way. Since I am still a long way off doing this mileage for a consistent period of time, I will assume that I am operating a good bit under 95% of potential. Even if in the worst case 33:00 min is my 100% and I run 37:30 in two weeks, it means that I am at 88% of my full potential. Obviously I don't want it to end there, but that is as far as it seems prudent to plan, and the numbers certainly look friendly.