While I have yet to kick-start my season, I have had plenty of excitement with several of my runners having had initial forays into some pre-season racing. Stakes are not as high at this point of the year obviously, and any nervousness is suitably laxer as well, but when you invest time providing coaching and advice to another runner, you invest yourself as well.
So with two runners lined up for the Connemara half-marathon, I stayed close to the phone on Sunday afternoon. Pre-season races can be unpredictable because taper is limited and the athlete’s training has not yet fully developed all racing skills. Yet, the half-marathon gives you a very good picture of your aerobic development and show the runner how much they can achieve purely with their aerobic engine.
The danger, of course, is any creeping tiredness or staleness in the legs, which may give the athlete the mistaken impression that they are unfit. This mistaken assumption often leads the competitor to make exactly the opposite decisions of what they should be making.
I know myself how important it is to get a bit of a lift and confidence in your training to take you onwards into the specialised phases ahead and the mentally more demanding summer season racing. And as another runner of mine mentioned “it’s good to do a pre-season race to remind myself why I’m putting in the work”. (this theory only works for a disciplined athlete with the ability to hold themselves back).
Luckily, all turned out well with both runners acquitting themselves extremely well in their half-marathon debuts. The Connemara course and warm conditions put extra onus on solid pacing as it is easy to burn out in such conditions. Both showed great affinity for self-pacing and finished strongly in and around their target times. Add summer season preparation and a faster course and I would see another 2-3 minutes easily off the times recorded. Most of all, the experience of running a “maiden” distance is priceless for future attempts.
A solid base has clearly been laid, but the real challenge begins now. The anaerobic and coordination phases shifts the coaches’ role from craftsman to artisan, variables become more volatile and reactions more unpredictable. For the athlete too, the difficulty rises. With plenty of strength, it is easy to spend your new-found power doing track sessions that would impress the Olympic gods. The problem is that you want to bank money on the track and not withdraw cash from your account. Thus the coach must guide the athlete conservatively while the athlete needs to gain the knowledge and experience to understand when they start to take more out than they put back in.
There are no easy and straightforward answers to these questions, but I will hopefully be able to share more of our experiences here on this blog as we progress.
My own return to racing looks on track for the Good Friday 5 Mile race in Killarnay (first 5 miler in four years!) which will make up for the disappointment of missing the Great Ireland Run (since I received my number in the post this morning, injury would not have been my only issue at the start!).