TRAINING: Season's End

Coming out of Snowdon I quickly realised what Mt. Leinster only confirmed: I'm not going to get any better in the hills this year. My early year focused mainly on rebuilding an injured body and on preparing for the National 10k.

Season at a glance

Both these counts went more or less to plan. The hill runs I have done and the hill rep sessions I managed to squeeze in early in the year set me up for a reasonable season but I ran out of time and only at Snowdon could I again surpass my old form both on the uphill and the downhill. Even going up Snowdon, however, I always felt like I was weaker than I had been the previous year in terms of ascending.

My reasonably high mileage and quality track work allowed for a few memorable highlights: The 10k itself, the Wicklow Way Relay Leg 7 and, of course, Snowdon. But since Snowdon I can feel my legs have had it with racing in the hills and further racing now will not add to the cause, so this weekend I pondered a bit and decided to call an end to the hill running season (I had planned to do some of the Trail League, Dublin Peaks and the World Trial). My new focus: The National Half-Marathon and then, as planned, the cross-country season.

World Trial vs. Cross-Country
Giving up the World Trial was not easy. I savour these events more than any other and last year's course is terrifically challenging. But when choosing a race you must evaluate what you hope to gain from it. Can I gain experience from this year's race that I don't have already?

The answer to that is basically "no". Last year I duked it out with Adrian Tucker, Richie Healy and Jason Kehoe the whole way round. All these three runners have moved a step forward this season while I have moved half a step back. This means the most likely outcome of the Trial is a worse performance than last year's and no opportunity to test myself against these runners again.

Since it means an opportunity missed to sharpen my competitive edge what should I do instead?

The National Half-Marathon
My first target was simple: The National Half-Marathon offers the perfect opportunity to display the strength I showed on Leg 7 of the Relay. If I can run this 21.1k leg with 650m ascent with some trails, then I can allow myself high hopes for a reasonably flat route (I do expect the course in Ballybofey, Donegal, to be challenging).

Based on my 10k time of 38:28, I can use my systems to estimate a half-marathon time of 1:25:48. The PB on the 5k I set during the National 10k (18:45) suggests exactly the same, so I believe that with 5 weeks available to re-position my training towards half-marathon requirements, I can come with a whisper of 1:25.

My plan is simple, use the optimal negative split of 51% for the first half and 49% of time for the second. This means starting off at 4:08min/km pace (6:39min/mile) and accelerating to 3:58min/km halfway (6:23min/mile). I will need to run the first 10k in 41:17 and the second in 39:45. This only leaves 3:58 to cover the last 1.1k (3:36 pace). I believe this will be too fast for a long finish over 1100m, so I'll speed up slightly earlier if the legs feel good. However, coming close to 1:25 will be as good as breaking it.

Should I succeed in running close to 1:25, I will most likely accelerate my marathon comeback to late 2010 instead of late 2011 as originally planned and attempt to break the 3 hour mark. The psychological effect of this would be immense but this is very speculative and first I'll deal with the half-marathon. (my 10k performance to date suggests a marathon performance of 2:54:05 but it would take very intense training to bring this potential to fruition).

The Lakes 10k
Two weeks after hopefully getting a nice PB to take with me from the season on the half-marathon, I will have worked on recovering and polishing of my speed for the Lakes 10k in Blessington. Here I will attempt a 2nd assault on the 37:30 barrier which, if successful, I will follow-up with a third and final attempt at reaching the 36:50 I had set out as my goal for 2009 in the long-term pursuit of 33:00. I will leave myself room for a direct attempt on 36:50 depending on the half-marathon result.

I have a strong feeling that the half-marathon training will combine wonderfully with the strength gained over the hill-running season to allow me to keep the steady pace of 03:45min/km required to run 37:30.

With a good Half-Marathon and 10k under my belt, I should have developed both the endurance and the flat speed necessary for the cross-country season and at this stage of my autumn season my training will reach its most intense. I have planned some of the best track work of the season for this phase as well as a 4-week period that will focus on strong hill reps to build both the speed and strength necessary for the short and furious cross-country courses.

Three weeks after the 10k I hope to compete for Crusaders in the Dublin Novices and will most likely follow this up with the Intermediates (where the longer distance suits me better). Depending on how I do, I will try and progress to the Provincial races.

If things pan out well a series of these fierce races will sharpen me towards the new hill-running season and potentially allow me to squeeze in a 5k somewhere to take advantage of the speed gained. To bonuses I would like this season is to put my 5k PB under 18 minutes where it should be at this stage and to lower my mile PB from 5:21 to 5:06 with an eye on running a sub-5 minute mile early next year.

All in all, I think this is a very progressive and sensible plan. It will set me up for a Winter were I will not have to focus on rebuilding but instead on unleashing a training programme specifically designed at optimising my uphills and downhills. I will share the programmes here on the Blog as the I go through the stages of my plan, of course.

So farewell to the hill-running season and welcome to the roads and the cross-country...