RACES: Powerscourt Uphill

Things seem to be uphill at the moment. I’m struggling for form after my fall, and now a race has been put on the IMRA calendar which is practically all uphill! 650 tough metres of climb at an average gradient of 12.5% from Crone Wood, following the Wicklow Way to the foot of the final climb of Djouce: A Marilyn of 725m and the 10th highest peak in the Wicklow Mountains.

It’s strange how things work out. This morning I had told my co-workers that I'd probably be grumpy for a week if I didn't get closer to being back in the top-20, that great place where I had so much enjoyment from my racing last year.

Raw Numbers
Yet after having finished 29th (a 2 spots improvement on last week’s result), a worrying trend compared to 2008 when my lowest was 24th, but I was not as gutted as the week before. For one, I finished the race stronger; having completely blown up on the latter parts of the fire trail, I recovered at the final stone wall before Djouce and was clawing back a lot of time on the people in front of me while at the same time keeping Jeffery Healy and Dermot Murphy at bay (if only just for Jeffery displayed the now infamous “Healy Kick”!). My calves cramped thrice on the last 30 metres as I fought of the sprint finish of my Crusaders compatriot.
Going from 125% of winning time to 119%, with Barry Minnock as the yardstick once again, was also encouraging, although it still leaves me a bit short of the 114% which seemed to be my peak last year. Still it illustrates that great improvements must still be made. Interestingly, it seemed I forgot how to “race breathe”, I was staggering like a drunk up the final ascent after the Dargle, and suddenly noticed how slowly I was breathing.
Loss of Breath
I decided to accelerate my air intake and suddenly I found myself running the best parts of the rest of the race on my tippy-toes and with faster leg movement. I’ve had a rough weekend with a very stressful escalation at work, a trip to Copenhagen and a party into the late hours, followed by another 5-hour night to deal with said escalation on Monday. It seems to have taken its toll, and it highlights how sensitive the runner’s schedule and the runner’s body really are. Any threat from social or work life can have a serious impact on your training, but I’m hopeful a few back-to-back consistent training weeks now will propel me back to the fitness I displayed at the National 10ks.
The Race
I’d give this race a very good rating and I believe it should become a staple on the IMRA calendar for its unique nature, straightforward route and immense physical challenge. The crowd was very competitive with the Healy’s continuing their good form, a welcome return of Niall McAlinden (who almost took Eoin Keith by surprise for 2nd), Bernard Fortune and Keith Heary and a 152 strong field.
I don't like the narrow congested races like Scalp and Bray so having more of this type of races on the calendar certainly suits me so I'll keep proselytizing about on this Blog!
Gerry Brady’s 8th position in the race meant he has taken the lead in the Leinster League, and I should also note that Donna Mahon showed great strength as she polished off her form ahead of the Uphill Only Trial coming up in June. 11th overall marks an impressive finish for any female runner in the Leinster League.
There seemed to be a lot of suffering out there on the course (always a plus!) and the banter after the race suggested that the route had been a resounding success, although few had enjoyed it much during.
The Uphill and Lack of Strength
Today’s uphill showed ample proof to me that I need to commit seriously to the strength training programme developed by Geraldine O’Shea (which was delayed due to my fall at Howth) as it’s clear I cannot transfer my flat and downhill speed effectively into the uphill running. The specific mechanisms behind this are not well understood, but I will wager an educated guess: I’ve got a poor power/weight ratio. My physiotherapist, John Murphy, basically diagnosed this back in February when he commented on my “shocking leg strength for a semi-competitive runner”. This was clearly illustrated as my muscles rebelled from the complete overworking they had received, cramping up on the final metres (cramping is now understood to be caused mainly by a malfunction of the signals to muscle’s motor neurons brought on by excessive damage to muscle fibres).
A runner’s lack of strength doesn’t manifest to the same degree on the flats when you’re not carrying your weight against gravity to the same degree. There’s two ways to fix this:
1. Lose weight
2. Gain strength
I obviously need to lose about 3 kilos to get back to my optimal weight. This should take 1-2 months. The power gain is more interesting, however, and will take harder work. A solid regime of fast running, resistance exercises for the legs, and more hill running at a slow to moderate pace up difficult ascents will remedy this issue.

Run hills to run hills
Another theory is the Principle of Specificity. That means, to really run fast in the hills, you should run in the hills a lot. My first 4 months of training were focused specifically on the demands of the 10k and while there’s a huge transference from one discipline to the other, it’s possible I’ve simply developed into too much of a road runner.

Luckily I’m doing a lot of hill-work now which is bound to show some benefits.
My hope will be to have returned to my 2008 form by Snowdon in mid-July. Then I’ll do serious work towards the cross-country season to take a step up before the Winter cycle will attempt to create a further major improvement before the 2010 hill running season.
Prince William's Seat is the next race up, and it's not a run I'm particularly fond off nor one I have great experiences in, but this may make it an ample ground to build further on the minor improvements gained this week. It features a very fast last few kilometre in any case which will serve me well if I can get my legs fresh for the race.