RACES: Snowdon 2010

Cold facts never lie: My march of progression in the mountains had shown signs of going of the tracks since early 2009 but had been salvaged by a great performance of 1:29 at Snowdon that year.

This year, everything went wrong, from the start I didn't feel comfortable in my skin and from the moment I hit the tarmac (already 4 seconds slower on my conservative start from last year), I began to stop moving.

I felt like a man fighting a war with blanks throughout, no matter what I did, nothing was responding the way it should and my biggest challenge was to stave off negative thoughts enough to get to the top.

By half-way, I was 27 seconds down on last year's time and I knew chances of improvement were slim. The steep sections, wetter and windier than last year, added further grief and a recovery never really arrived.

Once the steep climbs receded somewhat, I got running, battling my way up but yes, crucially, missing the 59-minute limit and having to take the slower way down, losing more time in the process.

A hopeful runner had taken from the start but the staggering runner in red who arrived at the top in 1:00:18, 1:33 down on last year, had been stripped of everything: pride, joy, confidence and certainly hope. But no, not everything, a shred of self-respect remained and I plummeted myself into a workmanlike descent. Not having the sniff of glory to chase like last year and in the slippy conditions I lost another 90 seconds on the descent, only gaining some ground on the tarmac which I ran well in 3:20.

The dream that started in 2007 of international glory had been brought brutally down to earth. Perhaps I did have a bug for I went on to climb ferociously at Fairfield just 5 days later, but the signs have been there all season in the hills. I've played on many horses, become as much a road-runner as a hill-runner and suffered for it.

It's not all doom and gloom, however, I remain fitter and faster than ever before, but lack the strength and exposure to the hills I used to have. So I've made a choice: From now on road and cross-country will only be a priority outside the hill-running season and I will return my full focus to the hills.

Adapting the Approach
Here's my "fix it" plan to reboot my hill-running career:

  1. Focus on strength all of autumn/winter: I've devised a change to the Lydiard system which will allow me to focus primarily on uphill strength which I'll share here later
  2. Race More: I miss racing as much as I used to and think I've lost my competitive edge because of it
  3. Race Longer: My heart and soul is in the longer runs. By depriving myself of the things that give me joy in running, I've lost my inspirition and I think this detriments performance
  4. Bring back what works: I've neglected some things I know work for me because they weren't part of the system. These must be integrated into the system
  5. Run Longer: I respond terrifically well to long excursions in the hills such as those in the Lakes and as I did in 2008. I'll up most long runs to 3 hours and include a very long 4-6 hour hill run every month or so
  6. Run Harder: Even in the aerobic phase I need to set more hard goals for myself. The ascents of Camaderry and Mullacor from my home will become "aerobic time trials" on a weekly basis. I will bring my summit time for Camaderry below 50-minutes at half-marathon effort this Winter or die trying...
  7. Run with people: I love running alone but it's known you run better with some pressure on. I'll go out of my way to try and make some sessions with my club-mates and others
  8. Bring in Uphill Reps: Different forms of uphill reps will take the place of track work at the appropriate place of the cycle. I've got the sufficient aerobic base now to handle this sort of workout and I need it.
  9. Use shorter peaks: This year seems to show I may be a "short-swing" athlete, meaning I peak quickly and go stale quickly after too much hard training. I'll pursue multiple smaller peaks rather than few bigger in the coming years. Also to avoid the long race-breaks and gambling everything on one race as I did at Snowdon, and lose...
  10. Pursue mountain challenges: My mind needs this challenge. Some of my long runs will be specific preparation for the Bob Graham in some year's time and I am devising routes in Wicklow to mimic the challenges over there.
  11. Lose weight! I've not managed to instil any discipline into my eating really. Myself and Aoife took a good look at the elite English and Scottish athlete and it was clear that a good plan for healthy eating is necessary. Every kilo is worth its weight in minutes going up and I'm too heavy.
  12. Strengthen: Yoga, plyometrics and fast uphill walking are things I enjoy and know will help my hill-running from 2008. It must come back.
  13. Enjoy! I always enjoy training, but rarely enjoy racing. It used to be the opposite. I need to take the pressure of myself and just focus on the simple process of enjoying a race again, then results will come back in due time.
13 good learnings from Snowdon. I'll probably take a break as well from Snowdon 2011, before it goes stale and focus on other races for a while.

Edit: A fourteenth lesson came to mind - my taper needs to be more aggressive, Lydiard suggests 10-14 days sharpening whereas some of my sharpening, in hindsight, probably resembled hard workouts more.