RACES: Dublin Novice Cross-Country 2011

Thankfully, running does not include judges sitting by the side rating your performance. In such case a lot of “zeros” would have been recorded against my name after a dismal showing at yesterday’s Dublin Novice Cross-Country.

But positives first: Jason and Amidou acquitted themselves with top honours, both finishing with spectacular sprint finishes and Jason leading the team home in 12th with Amidou 20th. That moment they brought back to life the sight of Snell, usually one of the slowest kickers in the field, sprinting away from the field on the last lap, and confirming that it’s the man with most endurance that can hold on to his speed until the end. Jeff Fitzsimons, newly of my Thursday group and also newly of Crusaders, had a storming debut on the cross-country race with a fine run.

With little or no training and some other factors not right on the day, I had no chance of honouring the Lydiard system similarly, rather I had barely taken the first stride before I thought to myself “I feel like ****”. No power came from the legs. Despite this, when I looked down at the speed of the first kilometre and saw “3:20”, my reaction was similarly profane ("”oh ****”). On the plus side, the majority of the large field made this mistake and slowed inexorably afterwards. On the downside, this is only twelve seconds from my mile PB pace. Given my current low ebb of fitness, I probably was running at 1 mile pace.

Physiological side-track

Some interesting things happen at this pace and they likely buried the last faint chance I had of a decent performance that day: this is top-end glycolytic anaerobic exercise where glycogen is being burned off like you had endless stores available. To support this process, lactate is produced in huge quantities (your blood concentration raises to 8mmol/l and rising) and the waste product of this high concentration from this begin to seriously impair the functioning of the working muscles. Any buffers my few quality sessions have developed (basically, my body’s ability to create alkaline substances to neutralise the hydrogen ions and other junk resulting from this metabolic process) are quickly overwhelmed.

Oxygen debt soars: A healthy fully trained athlete can take a debt of around 15litres of oxygen. Incur a debt of 1 litre/minute and you can run for 15 minutes. Incur a debt of 5 litres and you can run for 3! My maximal oxygen intake has been measured at 5 litres/min (about 43% above average). We don’t know how much oxygen I use at 3:20min/km pace but its safe to say that I can run over thirty minutes at 3:45min/km, yet likely less than six minutes at 3:20. Once I had run the 3:20, most of my “15 litres” of oxygen debt where gone.

Race on

After some initial back and forth, I settled into what must have been 60th-63rd position during the second lap (my worst). Surprisingly, despite what, to me, seemed like a total collapse, only my team-mate Kenan Furlong (who paced himself well, one girl asked: “Why is Kenan jogging at the back of the field?”) passed me at this stage. This worked wonder as he pulled me with him past a Liffey Valley man, then one of our fellow Crusaders, and then two Rathfarnham runners.

On the third lap, I felt some semblance of power to up the pace, but my breathing was like a steam-train. The last hill killed my chances of catching Kenan back and I feared I would be hit by a massive group of people from behind. I kept trying to speed up but little happened. The pain had been intense enough that I kept picturing a towel in my hand that I felt like throwing into the woods. But in cross-country, of course, you never stop.

Turning the corner for the last 300m, I glanced over my shoulder and to my surprise I had 200m on the next group. My pace had returned to 3:38min/km and I had managed to push my breathing from asthmatic to erratic and, fearing a late kicker, kept pushing until I crossed the finish line and could lie down under the trees.

“You looked like ****,” Aoife told me, “you’re pale a ghost.” Despite this I recovered quickly both in energy levels and soreness. Only my ankles started throbbing away like something had injected fluid into them. Today, there’s no muscle soreness either, always a sign that something stopped the body from performing to its limit.

The facts


What was good

I came away pleased with my attitude. From early on, I had nothing to race for and few people to race. Stranded in no-man’s land with my A team colleagues far ahead and me unable to assist them, and frankly, feeling sick, I kept pushing as hard as I could. I can look myself in the mirror today.

My finish of 59th constitutes my best performance yet in the Novice until you count in that it was the smallest field yet, so that’s a purely statistical celebration and not one that fills me with much excitement.

What was bad

The race had been changed and was the longest novice race yet at 6.8km (versus 5.9km last year). 3:52min/km pace (my average) seems respectable on paper, but it’s only three seconds off my half-marathon pace and I had nothing to offer. Yet, my pace in previous years was 3:50 (2009) and 3:59 (2010) on a significantly shorter course. So despite being disappointed with myself, I am further ahead than the disparate performances of yesteryear.

My preparation has been all over the shop, here’s a list of the mistakes: too much food in the morning, too little food on the Saturday, hot bath the day before, 1am bed-time, major issues with my ankle arthritis (I was hobbling from Thursday evening to Sunday morning), and complete lack of structured training and mileage. ChampionsEverywhere content writing has kept me very busy this weekend and I am currently trying to work on a cure (article to come) for my arthritis as it often cripples me for 48-72 hours after a fast workout. This week I lost the Wednesday 90 minute run and the Friday jog on that account. Losing a third of the week’s work on a consistent basis can’t continue.

The food strategy was particularly stupid: I know I run best when I am half-starved so the body does not have any blood diverted into the gut for digestion. This keeps me sharp and alert and the blood glucose level of my bloodstream at maximal levels as long as I have eaten properly in the days leading up to race day.

Race rating: 2/5 (some rays of light in a poor tactical and physical showing)


Tim said…
Why does
a hot bath have a negative effect on performance?
Jimmy Mac said…
Super article,after 8 weeks out with an Achilles,calf? Injury I lined out for the Laois masters,as I was needed for the team,Suffice to say I finished back a bit in 8th but we won team gold so it was worth it.I agree that a rumbling stomach works best.Time 23.17,distance 6.05k,3.46,3.47,3.56,3.53,3.54,3.51.
blawlor7 said…
Ah Rene, don't be so hard on yourself!!
Renny said…
@ Good man, Jimmy, it's all about taking one for the team, and congratulations on the gold!

@ Brendan: Ok, I'll put down the self-flagellation whip already. ;)
Renny said…
@ Tim: It's not hard science backing the hot bath theory up at the moment, but prolonged exposure to heat leaves the body fatigued and sluggish. Increased perspiration can also lead to dehydration.

Some studies suggest it could be the opposite though, increasing blood flow and relaxing muscle (that's why I use it for my arthritis).

It's a personal thing more, I feel that sort of preparation leaves me sluggish and overly comfortable whereas a more Spartan pre-race phase (cold shower etc.) seems to get me more in the right frame of mind.