ARTICLE: The Road to Here

Having looked back at the Great Danes of off-road running and before looking at yesterday's race at Knockbeg, let's look at the road travelled the last few months.

Nothing better than a long sojourn in an airport to catch up on some writing, so sitting in the Frankfurt Airport with the prospect of a 6 hour wait until my flight onwards to Singapore, I thought it an opportune time to look back at yesterday’s season-opening race as well as look at the results of the “first four of six aerobic weeks”.

For newer readers, let me just summarise the training situation I have found myself in: I realised in late autumn that something had gone awry with my training. I had produced arguably the best performance of the season (a 1:24:40 half-marathon) after two weeks out sick and injured in a season that brought more lows than highs and that never produced a rare conundrum: A season-on-season regression during the early years of a runner’s career.

I see three main physical reasons why a newbie runner should suffer a year-on-year performance decrease: inconsistent training, overtraining, or injury/illness. Having fallen in love with the mathematical approach of the SERIOUS system during my time out in late 2008, I made a series of fatal errors in my training plan design which compounded and exaggerated the fitness loss suffered from my recurring plantar woes of late 2007-2008.

Help from Beyond the Grave

By the time autumn 2009 came around, I knew I was on the wrong track and sought to get back to basics. The teachings of Arthur Lydiard put me back on the right track and my 9-week “Lydiard Experiment” where I sought to prove that anyone could reach the training volume equivalent to the 100-mile weeks, prescribed by Lydiard to his Olympic athletes, in 9 weeks. I was also reengineering my running stride at this time, and the combination unfortunately caused the early stages of stress fractures to develop in 5 of my 10 metatarsals in week 6 which meant several weeks on the side-lines despite the training propelling me to a convincing best on the 1-mile time trial.

Winter Strikes Hard

Coming back in late December, I picked up where I had left off: Unfortunately an unprecedented bad winter was to hit Ireland, leaving me living out of suitcase and running every day in the snow. This volume of running on the moving arctic surface caused an overload of my posterior tibialis and another spell on the sidelines. What had been planned as a 3 month aerobic tour-de-force had turned into islands of quality scattered in an ocean of interruptive injury. Twice in January and February recurrence of the tibialis pain forced heavy reduction in mileage and only 4 weeks ago, I seemingly broke free of its grasp.

In Search of Balance

In the light of injuries, I refocused my season around the known quantity of racing well at Snowdon and then returning to train towards a successful cross-country season (and in my world, a complete cross-country season would be successful by definition). Snowdon was the only goal far enough away to allow me time to retrain all the energy systems needed for top-class running, so it made a lot of sense.

Time was still short, however, and I set aside only 6 of the remaining 20 weeks to finish off my aerobic training. This was not a decision arrived at lightly: The degree of aerobic conditioning you complete before entering race-specific training decides the size of the peak performance you can reach for that training cycle.

Not having trained anaerobically since last August, however, it was becoming clear to me that although I still wished much more aerobic capability, my strength, anaerobic and alactic systems are now in such a state of detraining that going into the new season without fully developing them would also be counterproductive. So I had to make the most of 6 weeks.

4 Weeks in, 2 Weeks Loom

After chatting with Mark Ryan, who provides my tired limbs with sports massage, it seemed prudent to allow for a tapering week in week 4 (this week just passed). I left myself both avenues open, however, by finishing a decent mileage by Saturday which could be capped by another long run Sunday.

By Wednesday I had developed a cold, however, and with a long flight to Singapore awaiting on the Sunday, I called it quits after Saturday for the week with the aim of absorbing the punishment of the first 3 weeks back before a final “2-week aerobic push”.

I like to term the next two weeks Hell Week 1 and 2 in my mind: For a simple reason. In week 3 I reached my second-highest mileage week ever, without any frills. It was neither difficult to do it logistically or physically. The evening of the Sunday I could have gone out and thrown in another long run, but I decided to loom like a hawk over my training program this time and watch proceedings in my body.

State of the Nation

As week 4 proceeded I could start to “count the cost” of the most recent push into high mileage territory:

On the plus side, muscle soreness has been effectively zero. Muscle viscosity is now so high that even the continued high mileage doesn’t cause enough damage for significant slowdown. From an energy perspective likewise things are well under control.

Negatives then: My right hip has grown stiff towards the end of the week which hampers my uphill ability and in general uphill effort feels more laboured now. Sprinting speed is stable but the legs feel more like hard car tyres than nice rubber elastics. This is the backside of muscle viscosity and something that will work itself out in the upcoming race specific training. Finally, I was hit by a cold which has caused significant energy-drain towards the later end of the week. All signs that by now the body is starting to reject the training and looking for time to regenerate.

The litmus test was to be the 1-Mile Knockbeg Classic race, my season-opener, in which I hoped to better my 5:11 and possibly sneak sub-5. Nothing like this manifested in the end for various reasons (not all controllable) and which I’ll touch on in my upcoming race report.

Suffice it to say, there’s no reason for alarm at this stage, and it’s more important that I really test the limits of my endurance in the next two weeks which will define my season even before any race-specific training comes underway. I shall talk about these weeks specifically in a future post too.