RACES: Prince William's Seat - Afterthoughts

Returning to the Leinster League is never easy, especially once a few races have already been run. Competitors are starting to get sharp (some have raced since the WL), crowds are huge, and the pace tends to be frenetic from start to finish, whereas other leagues and championships allow for more of a tactical challenge. Add to that, the races are just painful, and it never ceases to surprise when you've been out.

I’ve written about the race itself at MST and my biggest surprise was the strength of the field and the full return of the “Rathfarnham stormtroopers” who will take some beating from the other teams aspiring to take the crown.

My favourite moment of the race came just as the fire-road descent started and Martin Francis appeared "Ah, good to see you Martin, it's been too long" I exclaimed enthusiastically . "Keep up now," the proud Wicklow man replied and I could enjoy hanging on for about 500m. It brought back memories and hopefully serves as a sign of the season to come.

Going into the race I had a number of questions, let me answer them while I have a look at what interesting things I saw during the race and also answer the question of why advice from one of the great coaches now leads me to abandon racing Gibbet Hill tomorrow….

What racing performance can be gained from the current aerobic conditioning?

This was my first question and the answer was “a good one”. Although this year’s route was about 100-120m shorter than the route from the last two years, I could take 1:34 off my previous best which was set in the good 2008 season (if you adjust for the extra length of 1.38% my time becomes 36:03).

I have a working goal to establish a level of always being in the top-20 which again is meant as a base to target the top-10. Today’s 23rd was not shameful, however. Sure I lost a few “easy” spots that I might have been able to maintain just before the top and coming off the fire road which would have seen me in the top-20 but the standard was simply higher than the field of 2008 were my slower time gave 20th position. The field size has also grown significantly (thirty more runners than in 2008) which is something that must be factored into any race evaluation.

All in all, this race comprehensively proves Lydiard’s principles (as if it wasn’t already through a host of Olympic medals!); last year I entered the league with plentiful anaerobic training but an underdeveloped base and an over-trained body (due to lack of balance and knowledge about how to employ the anaerobic “eyewash”). And what happened? I couldn’t get close to my 2008 times or my 2008 competitors for love nor money. One race with only proper aerobic development outmatched the fanciful track work of last year. Game, set, and match, Lydiard….

Are there any positive gains from the hill training yet or is it too early?

It is too early certainly to feel any major benefits but two smaller benefits did shine through: Sprint ability on the uphill and

Coming onto the fire-road Eamonn Hodge and a number of other runners felt like they had surgically attached themselves to my shoulder. This is never a position you want to be in, everyone wants to be the hound and not the hare (unless it’s a super-fast hare). I was struggling on the uphill but the mental attitude was, once again, superb as I forced out probably somewhere between 6-10 “mini-sprints” to break a bit of a gap everytime walking on hands and knees had brought me within range for the “killer strike” by my chasers.

This is not an ideal way to run and I paid for it just a few hundred metres from the top when two runners took me out as I almost ground to a complete stop. Luckily I could recover just in time to execute my favourite (and essential) quick turn-around coming off the cairn which largely protected me from pursuants on the technical part of the descent (only Martin Francis gained significant ground here and we ran side-by-side from the beginning of the fire road. But it’s no shame being caught out by Martin: Take notice of his 2009 Lugnacoille ascent. Here’s a man who knows his craft.). Not that this should sound like towel-throwing, I will work hard to master the craft to the same level…

So this newfound strength may well come from the hill circuits and my general prevalence of sprint training. It also shows that it was not my legs that gave out but simply my heart that maxed out as it has had little exposure to this intensity since early Autumn. Secondly, coming down the fire road I managed to run 2 seconds faster than 2008 (3:19 versus 3:21. I tired and ran the 7th six seconds slower than in 08). Not up to the 3:00-minute kilometres I have put in at Scarr and Crone but my legs flowed nicely here and leg turn-over was fast. This was definitely a product of the fast downhill striding from my circuits which trained the exact same movement. It was like having it “ready in the toolbox” whereas in previous seasons I’ve slowly rediscovered my proper stride as races progressed apace.

At what stage of the race will lack of anaerobic conditioning become apparent and how great will their effect be?

On the fire-road surprisingly. My time here was 14 seconds slower than in 2008 which was no doubt a sign of conservatism and caution but also of reality, it’s in a prolonged anaerobic effort that I am at my weakest currently and the first mile or so requires a strong effort to break free of the field.

I managed to get away with the top part of the field which was a relief as being trapped would instantly destroy your race with the bottlenecks that exist on the route. Never a favoured tactic of mine, there was no choice but to go hard. The anaerobic effort had its usual “poisonous” effect which meant it took me a long time to get enough control of my legs again to start ascending properly. Once the buffers are built I should arrive at the hill able to execute a strong consistent stride and better uphill times.

Will any new weaknesses rear their face and if so, how can they best be addressed in the upcoming training?

Truth is there were no “unexpected” weaknesses. The current training simply needs to sink in and I need to see what protection anaerobic training will provide before I can fully discern any specific weaknesses. Attitude was always good. 2009 was the season when my head constantly dropped and I resigned to defeat. 2010 has so far seen defiance in the face of adversity and a return of my desire to fight for any place.

My descent was not elegant which can be worked on, but it was reasonable effective and not clouded by fear. The greatest weaknesses arose post-race when my stomach acted up again which disturbed my sleep and made training very heavy going Thursday and Friday. A morning jog and 1 hour aerobic run on Thursday helped a bit but it took 13km of a scheduled 22.5km long run to fully flush the poison of racing out of my body and make me feel normal again. My legs recovered quickly enough but my endocrine system clearly needs the anaerobic training to better tolerate the “shock” of racing.

What’s the degree of residual tiredness left by my record-mileage?

Almost impossible to call from the evidence of the night, I wasn’t particularly sore before. There would have been an effect of this type of effort but certainly not in the form of any type of serious fatigue during the race.

Advice from Nobby on Racing

My logic behind racing two times in one week suddenly was dubious and more born of social desire and practicality than sound training principles. In the past I have been guilty of listening to too many voices and being too influenced by the “latest training technique”. I will trademark this as the “Runner’s World Syndrome” (which could also be the name for the common ailment of finding any excuse to do less running by clouding it as some “other training activity”. Emma Cutts, without knowing it, had me on the right track when she told me to “just focus on the running for now”). The truth is Frank Shorter wasn’t reading glossy magazines; he was out there banging out miles. (It’s ok to read the magazine once the miles are done though!).

I realised instead it was time to choose the philosophy I really believed in and then stick to it and the Lydiard system really gave me this belief from the first time I finished reading “Running to the Top”. It was just clear that this guy had done it all and talked sense.

So, apart from my Lydiard books, I only go one place for specific training advice: The Lydiard Foundation forums. I became a member of the Foundation earlier this year and here you can get advice directly from most of the people directly influenced by Lydiard such as Keith Livingstone (author of “Healthy Intelligent Training”), Lorraine Moller (one of the great NZ marathoners), Peter Snell (does he need introduction?), and perhaps Lydiard’s most active “disciple” Nobby Hashizume.

When hearing of my racing week, Nobby wrote:

Lydiard, as well as Ron Daws, cautioned about racing during hill training phase. It's not that it's bad for you but, because it is pretty hard on your legs and sometimes you actually feel weaker while at it than stronger, added stress of racing may not be desirable. Some, and I have felt it this way too, experience sudden surge of strength and you do feel like you're running a hell of a lot faster at the same effort. It is natural to feel you want to "test it". Just be warned; the objective now is to strengthen your legs. You don't pull out the plant to make sure it's rooting correctly. Have faith in the program.

The image of the plant really struck a chord with me and I realised he was exactly right. The race was hard on my legs and it is disrupting this week slightly. Another will also disrupt the beginning of next week. In the face of such logic, how could I not abandon Gibbet Hill, much as I’d like to run it, and “keep faith in the program.”

Instead I look set to wrap-up another 60 miles plus week tomorrow (again with relative ease). It constitutes a taper compared to last week’s 87 miles and it would be good if I could establish my lowest level somewhere between 50-70 miles within the foreseeable future so that 70-100 miles becomes the higher region of training (especially with a view to moving beyond 100 miles using morning jogs).