TRAINING: Ten - a returning number

With the signs of shin-splints gone yesterday I only had to worry about my subtalar sprain which is seemingly not yet fully healed.It’s no surprise really, when you sprain an ankle you can usually feel it for months but it is a minor problem as long as you don’t go and twist your ankle. Problem with a subtalar sprain is that it sits on the mid-foot and thus you irritate it every time your foot moves up and down (that means each stride).

The nuisance was minor, though, so I decided to do a shorter but faster Out and Back than the one the program called for under the assumption that the leg couldn’t take the scheduled 81-minutes at pace, so instead I would run simply 5k out and 5k back. I was in a great frame of mind with a few of my runners having done well in early test-season races and even better, one of them broke the 60 mile barrier in training for the first time. No mean feat, an a door opened to a more professional level of training lying ahead.

I had it in my mind that it would be good to run around 40 minutes, or just a bit slower than half-marathon pace. The intensity needed would be faster because the first 5km climb 97m as you run from Glendalough to Laragh and out towards Glenmacnass with a particularly nasty third and fourth kilometre, the third having a very short steep climb (26m) and the fourth a long drag with 36m. This sounds like nothing for mountain runners, but it is a formidable obstacle when you are trying to drop as few seconds off your usual road pace as possible. But there-in lies the challenge which can only be met by a proper combination of strength, stamina, speed and obstinacy.

I decided to get some extra volume by doing a total of 5km of slow jogging on both sides of the run, a strategy I may be able to use with some success as I am trying to shake the rest of the injury over the coming weeks.

Glendalough to Laragh

You get a quick starting boost from the foot of my house as the road drops 19m quickly before it plateaus at the hotel. Here I swerve through carpark, dodge tourists over the wooden bridge before doing a quick skirt around the first grassy field, then dashing across the round-about and straight into the 15m climb as you exit the car-park. From here the run undulates up and down as I always steady my pace for the steep climb past the Glendalough Green and the Tea Conservatory out of Laragh.

It is funny how after this period of training I have done all my routes to death and know every little bump and curve. Joan Benoit Samuelsen used the same strategy, running the same few runs over and over and over again to better measure her improvement. I find a liking for the same mantric labour.

I crested the terminus of this steep kilometre in 4:14, feeling strong. This is just about as slow as a runner of my ability would be able to drop during an important half-marathon if it had one or two hard kilometres. 15-20 seconds dropped can just about be won back and dropping them can be a good strategy if a kilometre is particularly hard as it may throw you over the edge otherwise.

Half-marathon strategy

Rob de Castella said that the marathon is a 32km warm-up with a 10km race at the end and I always found this a very acute description and I view my half-marathon favoured distance the same way – it is simply an 11km run with a 10km race at the end. I go even further and suggest the 10km run features a strong 5k and 3k. This “countdown” approach is what I have used in the last two half-marathons I have run, upping the pace at 10k and then focusing on upping the pace to the level dictated by the distance left (e.g. at 5ks out I change to 5k pace, at 3k out to 3k pace and with 1500m to go middle-distance intensity).

If there ever was a need to race hard from the gun, for tactical reasons, I’d have no reservations about it, but when running against the clock, I feel this is the superior approach and it rewards the athlete with the best aerobic endurance as your high threshold allows you to coast for longer leaving you to unleash almost all of your anaerobic resources in the final parts of the race having used none for the start.

One result of this is that I need to be able to run sub-40 minute 10ks reasonably comfortably as I have needed to run sub-39 minutes to reach my goals earlier and this will keep dropping as I try to set new standard for myself this year.

The Turn

So when I reached the turn in 21:10, I thought I probably could not quite pull off sub-40 on the day. The hill had simply been too hard and I was trying not to “cheat” by straying too far beyond my aerobic threshold. Nevertheless, once gravity was no longer fighting me, I found myself comfortably breaking 4-minute kilometres, before throwing in a 5:49 mile for good measure as I hit Laragh.

I was playing with the speed now, briefly hitting 4:32min/mile pace for a 200m spell, before putting a leash on my inner speed demon. While I hoped to hit 40-minutes, I new I was working a little bit harder than planned, so fought the urge to surge and as I hit the last uphill to home, I knew it would take a painful sprint to deliver which I resisted.

5k joy

I got close though, with 40:03 for what is a tougher road stretch than any I have ever run in an official race. That is also the reason I use it for my fast aerobic runs. I don’t like false security and blasting out inflated times on a pancake stretch of tar somewhere would be useless to me.

My outwards 5k time didn’t quite do my intensity justice, whereas the 18:53 run on the way back flattered me somewhat but it must be the first sub-19 5k I have run in training although I may be mistaken.

Aerobic Phase over

With a bit of expected swelling from the left leg, I rolled out all the recovery battalions – energy drink, standing 10 minutes in ice water, good meal, and a quick snooze. Another bout of icing, foam-rolling and stretching should help me out and then I can start thinking about what I think the leg can take tomorrow.

My aerobic phase is  now officially over, week 7 to 10 were impacted by the injury with 17 of the 28 days off running. This time, however, I could cross-train throughout and have made strength gains and lost significant weight which will make up for some of the fitness gains I lost out on.

Now the strength phase begins with four weeks of hills and first early season test races are getting very close. Today was a good transition, so with a bit of careful management I should be able to prepare the body for the quality training ahead.