TRAINING: The Performance Mystery

2008: Average place 15, average % of winning time 115%. Multiple injuries, haphazard training.
2009: Average place 27, average % of winning time 119%. Minor injuries, high quality consistent training.

Would anyone find the above out of place? Well, I did, for those are my statistics for the last two years and ever since my poor racing started with the Leinster League this year, I have wondered the one question: What went wrong?

My performance at this year's National 10k had me believing I was in better shape than I had ever been and I'll hold my hands up and honestly state I thought I'd sweep in and be top-20 in the League comfortably as a result.

When at first this failed to manifest I attributed it to my fall at Howth (where I was in or around 13th position half-way at the time of the fall), but this alone cannot account for the massive deficit of time I'm currently seeing in the hills. It was natural to look at this Wednesday's race which I unfortunately missed as a fever laid me low for two days midweek.

Looking at the results not much has changed. My time from Prince William's Seat (37:13) from last year would have been enough for 19th despite the fact that this year's route was about 250m shorter (a swing of about a minute in time). Last year it would have been enough for 20th, so the overall competitiveness is about even with last year and that holds with my observations from other races.

I've been through so many theories in my head about why things aren't working out "as they should" (fatalism is so hard to avoid!) that I got fed up with them.

At the end only a few theories are truly viable though and while I have chosen to just get on with my training after the interruptions of the last weeks, these are theoretical causes that worry me:

My training was designed to peak me at the National 10k and then take me onwards into harder training to hit another long peak for the hill running season. It's possible that this went wrong and that I'm currently in a state of "staleness" caused by the training of that period having been harder than I expected. The fall could have accentuated this. However, I don't truly buy this theory as my training was hard, but no excessive, and there has been ample time for me to recover while I was injured.

This remains the most likely theory. I'm still 3-5 kilos heavier than while I raced last year and anyone who has raced, especially uphill, knows what a massive deficit it is to overcome.

I'm basically running every race with a 3-5kilo backpack strapped to my back compared to last year. This would also explain why, despite having built a better speed-engine over Winter, that I now tend to max out at 3:20-3:30 kilometres on downhills rather than 3:00min/km clean like last year.

The Lost Season
Next is what I find to be the most intriguing of all theories. Although I was injured on/off constantly in 2008, until I finally gave up after sustaining another injury at Brockagh (my body simply felt broken at the time), I had an amazing 2007 season behind me.

While my training was haphazard for the first half, it was guided by Emma in the second and I ran 47 competitive races in those 365 days: An amazing amount of highly anaerobic running including the Dublin Marathon! On top of this I threw some 3 and 5 hour training runs in Winter and the Three-Peaks Race, which while it practically threw all my injuries over the edge, certainly must have benefitted to my fitness.

Contrast this year, the year behind me consists only of the few races I managed, little training and a long injury hiatus before training finally resumed in January. Even then, I returned on a much lower mileage in order not to irritate old injuries.

I am now starting to believe that while recent training plays a great part in "polishing off the form" (max pace etc.), even my well-constructed training programme since January could not provide anything like the base that my mad year of 2007 did (although that year also laid the foundation for all future injuries, but these two factors tend to go hand in hand).

Mystery Solved?

The more I think about this, the more I realise there are almost too many factors to truly control, but from the above list I feel I can deduce the following:

1. I must lose at least 3 kilos. I cannot lose it quicker than 1.5kilos/month without jeopardising performance. This leaves me just enough time for Snowdon
2. I cannot match my 2008 performances this year as my base did not have enough time to build.
3. I need to consider the whole 2009 season a run-in for 2019 when I will finally be able to see an improvement on the 2008 form if I play my cards right over Winter and don't suffer another injury
4. I must be prepared that this season will be mentally painful and frustrating. I must find a way around it as a whole year is too long to lament what could have been. I must return to the joy that I am again able to run. Not long ago this was a luxury I did not have. Improvement must follow later
5. Ambition is good but must be tempered by patience

As always putting words to my theories provides a source of clarity and relaxation. I'd be curious if other runners have found themselves in similar situations and asking similar questions, and what they learnt from it?