Looking forward the end of my hill-running season 2009 draws near: Galtees, Circuit of Glenmacnass, Snowdon, and Mt. Leinster are all that lie before me before the hiatus. A few trail races may follow and so may the Powerscourt Ridge but that's it.
I came to think today that being my approach to running is like that of a man fighting a protracted war. Every day today must be sacrificed for tomorrow, instant gratification must be given in exchange for dreams of future glory.
So what's the difference? Over the last month I have been tempted to deviate from my carefully laid plan. To up my mileage in response to ailing race performances and in order to have more miles "booked" for Snowdon. Races such as the Welsh challenge are all about miles and they teach us the most valuable lessons.
Look to Richie Healy, a runner who certainly looked like he had the potential from day 1, but what a difference 2009 has brought to him? Luck? No, of course not. Instead, he did the right thing, he learned from the humbling of Snowdon last year, saw what it would take to step it up a gear and went into hard Winter training to get ready for this Summer.
You cannot run at the same volume year-round, and any attempt to do so, while initially perhaps fruitful will lead all but a very lucky few to a shortened career. When temptation came to me, I reminded myself that the true goals of my training have nothing to do with the Leinster League, or with Snowdon 09, or any National 10k or cross-country season. They are all but means to an end. So the means must serve the end at all times, and training must serve the end-goal not the immediatefirst and foremost. Sometimes these goals supplement beautifully, but more often they don't.
So in the end I decided against upping my mileage, I kept it at the relatively low "racing-season" mileage of around 60-70k and my hardest week before Snowdon will be 72k this week (alas 13 of these will take place over the peaks of Cush, Galty Beg and Galtymore!). "That's not enough", you'd rightly say?
The real question, though is: "Enough for what?". It's not enough to run a truly extraordinary Snowdon race and it certainly is not enough to aspire to the fringes of international qualification (as I do). But its enough for my body at this point in time and it is carefully weighed against the other stress levels I predict throughout a 52-week year and a 20-year running career.
This season will see racing season mileages of around 60-70k and peak weeks of 100-110k. I did not have the luxury of a long Winter season to prepare but this doesn't mean throwing mileage at your summer season in an attempt to catch up. Instead, I believe the correct strategy is to turn your entire season into preparing the body for a harder season ahead. In a way, taking one step back from the levels of 2008 in order to take two steps forward in 2010.
Next season, thus I hope to see racing season mileages of 70-80k and peak weeks of 110-120km. 2011: perhaps 80-90 in racing season and 120-130k or more in the off-season. Of course, I will simply add 10% every year until I can see that the body either adapts or starts to maladapt and then further fine tune from those inputs.
Time will not be an issue for I have moved everything else clearly aside in my mind. Until I hold a Danish jersey in my hand that I haven't purchased on http://www.dourun.dk/ no other personal goal will be allowed to occupy my mind and only in the face of incontrovertible evidence of the impossibility of this goal would I consider to abandon it. In fact, I am no longer capable of treating any other goal with any degree of importance. And this remains my favourite part about the running pursuit: The single-mindedness that it allows you to bring to one purpose at the exclusion of all others. Perhaps in a way, the running tapped into a part of my personality that always longed to commit itself to a unitary purpose. Stuff for the shrink, no doubt, but a powerful driving force that I tap into every day to keep going.
So the war continues, minor battles and skirmishes lie ahead, many will be humbling exercises such as just hanging on at the back of a cross-country field for dear life or finishing in midfield at Snowdon. And from the depths of that, I must claw myself up, stubbornly, steadily and relentlessly.
First battle is the Galtees ahead and let it be said that I have a healthy respect for this route and will analyze it thoroughly ahead of the race and run it with caution.
A question for the reader though: How many would recognise themselves in this, or how many consider such level of focus on running unhealthy?