Just how thin the line between a satisfying performance and a poor performance is was shown by analyzing my summit time of 1:00:18. In 2009 I climbed at 988m/hour, at Lugnacoille at 989m/hour but then dropped to 963m/hour at Snowdon 2010. This was a power output of 2.9w/kg. Either I gained too much weight compared to the previous year or some other factor did not allow me to reach the same power output.
Where to look?
The likely factors were:
- Route change
- Poor Pacing
My motivation was good so that can largely be discarded, however, I may have been affected by my mood. During the full climb I was fighting off utter despair as I chased my target in vain. Contrast to 2009 when my goal was to break 1 hour and I realised early that I was well on target (and went on to break it by 1:15). The adrenaline effect of feeling you're chasing rather than being battered by your goal cannot be underestimated. On the descent, there was a definitive attitude of "damage limitation" versus the "record hunter's instinct" I felt in 2009.
Many spoke of the weather and I would not necessarily use it as an excuse except to say it did slow down the downhill. Route change was here the much more important factor: In 2009 I could descend via the railway which gives you a perfect momentum. This year I had to descend the tourist path through horders of hikers having to scream several of them out of my way.
Health is another great unknown. I felt quite ok going into the weekend but something felt clearly wrong from early in the race. Despite starting the first kilometre slower than last year, my heart rate soared early and my legs just never seemed to generate any power unlike last year when I was comfortable as at a picnic on the first few kilometres.
Was this poor pacing? Perhaps, if we assume that my climbing has gone back while my fitness has gone up, I may have had to start even slower and work my way in on the flatter parts. The rapidity by which my performance imploded suggests other factors at work though.
I find it hard to put a finger on my fitness on evidence of my recent performances in road races and considering the heavy volume of work I have done this year. Injuries did hamper me more this year than last year and I never managed to gain sufficient race fitness in hill races as a result and this may have influenced the overall outcome.
Strength remains my achilles heel and it's clear I could become more stable in my hill performances if I could improve it. Now I can only perform when my aerobic and anaerobic systems are firing on all cylinders. A stronger strength base would allow me to flutter less on steep climbs and put less pressure on these systems, in a way giving me a failsafe. I have modified my training approach for winter to ensure I only maintain my strengths (aerobic conditioning) and instead focus on building my weakness (strength).
Final question is whether I managed proper peaking. In hindsight it's easy to say no, but my system was overall based on the winning formula from last year with a few modifications from Lydiard. Looking back my body was clearly harrowed enough by recent training that I should have allowed a very sharp 10-day taper without pushing myself as far as I did (I had hard sessions until 4 days before the race but thought I would be able to recover and emerge sharpened from these).
In conclusion, I don't believe there is any reason to panic, although it's hard to put words to the despondency I felt as I crossed the finish line. I felt like tearing off the Danish kit, having utterly disgraced it (I won't wear it again until I have redeemed myself, my current performances besmirches the standard it stands for) and just sat down next to a pole in dark thoughts, silent.
Somehow I staved off depression, though, and my brain just settled with the situation and only minutes after it was analyzing the next steps. But it had been hard for it looked back on all those midnight runs in Singapore while my colleagues went off to bars and celebrations, all the times I'd have to temper myself at parties, the endless races I wanted to do but couldn't. The list of sacrifices was long and I thought "for what?" The answer was "for nothing". But then it came to me that eventual triumph will feel so much the sweeter on the back of my long decline and that in some ways, like Padraig Harrington and his new swing, I have "reprogrammed myself" to become a runner more likely to sustain elite levels of mileage.
This change undoubtedly has come at a cost, and it'll take me time to fully adapt to my new stride and my new ways in general. That doesn't mean harsh measures must not be taken (stricter diets, more running, more strength training that I don't like) but defeat at Snowdon taught me so much whereas success would have taught me nothing.
So on we go, I'm considering running either the World Trial on Saturday or the Seven Sevens. Why? Because I feel like it and it would allow me to exercise my demons!