DIARY: A proper long run

51 weeks after breaking down for the first time and the slow implosion of my 2011 season, I was back at the Vartry Reservoir for “a proper long run” to be done the way Lydiard wanted it: at a comfortably hard pace (some would call this steady).

We have had some extremely busy weekends of late and this was no exception with the Crusaders “Do” on in Irishtown which left us returning to Glendalough past 2 o’clock in the morning. The evening was great though especially with our coach Michael reciting all the great wins and performances by the teams this year. Of course, I managed to miss my own “moment in the sun” as I was in the restrooms as I got called up as “Club Man of the Year”. At least I have the trophy!


Jason, Aoife, Tressan, I and other “Cru” at the annual “Do”

What pace for an out and back?

I had been positively surprised with my first Out and Back: I always run from my house in Glendalough towards Laragh and then out the Glenmacnass road as this makes the first half harder than the second helping along the “negative split” that is the ideal scenario for an Out and Back workout. At first my head-cold had left chest and everything else feel slightly rusty but eventually, especially once the worst climb passed, I got into a strong motoring rhythm.

My average pace for the run was 4:23min/km. This compares very favourably to my 4:25min/km pace for the same route in my first run last year but (there is a but) I did manage a much longer run then. This is 13.6kph which is currently just below my lactate threshold and exactly the type of sub-threshold intensity this workout calls for in the early stages of the programme. Running faster induces greater glycogen depletion, more endocrine (hormonal) stress and more muscle damage, all of which hampers the ability to run well in the Sunday long run and can linger on as a fatigue for several days destroying the overall quality of the week. For every week that passes, this pace will drop slightly and distance increase before, once I enter the hill phase, the pace becomes essentially threshold pace or just beyond it.

Long run “exam”

I was nervous like a schoolboy before his first exam this morning: would my ankle hold up? Would I still be able to produce the quality I did last year? The answer came quickly enough, from the first stride my legs were neither tired nor sore and only a narrow slippery trail on the first small loop at the Vartry Reservoir kept me from the expected 4:53min/km pace.

As the run continued, I felt increasingly confident even when the ankle acted up a bit or I skidded around in my Inov-8 Recolite sandals on a particularly wet bit. Whenever the going was hard and fast, such as the short road bits, my pace dropped to 4:39-4:40min/km without pushing unduly. When the time passed 90 minutes I remembered that this was the period that counts when the fast-twitch fibres are beginning to deplete and become fatigued. This is when are trained for endurance giving you the strength you need late in races. “Run until exhausted and then begin meaningful work”, I heard Percy Cerutty’s voice say in my head and on call, I sped up for the last kilometres running strongly to the end to finish off 25.2km in 2:01. Such ended the shortest of my marathon long runs!

Coming home I compared the time to last year: I had run at 4:49min/km pace and I rated my effort at “5 out of 10”. The previous year I had run 27km in 2:10 for my first Vartry run and rated it a “4 out of 10”.  My heart rate had been 150 for that run back then while unfortunately my problems with the new Garmin strap meant I am not currently recording mine. My Lydiard programme predicts that ideally, a runner with my resting heart rate should not go beyond 149 for this workout but Romain Denis’ test in a few weeks time with UCD will confirm the precise zones for me.

Evaluating where I stand

Looking at the two workouts, it seems clear that biomechanically and strength-wise I am not far off last year (in fact, I reckon I am better, as my running has a better flow now) but I likely am a little bit shorter on endurance at this time. Again, once the last of the head-cold passes, hopefully I will have yet another gear. It is a pity to stand at the same point of performance one year on but at least any regression seems to have been slight and if I can build back to 80-minute half-marathon shape in seven weeks like I did last year, I would have a chance of achieving my Copenhagen objectives.

Reference to the Boards.ie discussion

For those reading my blog who followed the discussion on Canova on Boards.ie, you will notice that the paces I ran at constitute what the Italian coach would term 110% of marathon pace (my Out and Back) and 120% of marathon pace (my long run). Lydiard would have referred to the effort at 1/4 effort for my long run and 3/4 effort for the Out and Back.

Of course, this assumes I am in sub-2:49 shape right now (which is almost certainly not true). Best case scenario, my current marathon “form” is 2:53:20 based on previous results and this is even slightly optimistic after a poor spring, so a marathon race pace of 4:06/min/km. This would make my paces 106% and 117% of race pace. This ignores tiredness, temperature, illness, form and a myriad of other factors influencing what constitutes “race pace” on any given day. To avoid being caught out by such factors and partly caught up in an “unpredictable” equation, I always go by intensity first, e.g. “how it feels” and pace is just a reference point for evaluating the work done.