RACES: Shanganagh 3k

I broke two things tonight: my second PB in five days and the stern rule of Lydiard marathon training never to do sustained efforts faster than 5k intensity. Or perhaps not, let me recount tonight’s excellently located Shanganagh 3k, organised by Wicklow Fit4Life, in Shankill.

Crossing the finish line today I had succeeded in not being mowed down in the strait again and held my position but I couldn’t contain a few outbursts of dissatisfaction. I was not happy with the race and work had just left me very stressed and tense and only during my 7km cool-down could I truly start to settle down.

VivoBarefoot virgin
The race was planned to be my first in my new VivoBarefoot Aqualite shoes, the distance was short enough to risk it but I struggled to get comfortable in them today. When Tony Riddle was here he talked briefly about something he calls “parasympathetic and sympathetic muscle tone”. I was familiar with the two nervous systems from my studies of the little known physical therapy system called “somatics” (pioneered by Thomas Hannah). Essentially, once your sympathetic nervous system takes control, you’re in “fight of flight mode” and if you’re in this state too long, you get drained and your muscle tension levels become high, inhibiting relaxed running form and energy-efficient movement.

During the race there was no discomfort, but the slower running before and after, while pleasant enough, left a bit of ankle soreness and just never really got into “the groove”. Tony seems to have it exactly right when he points to a lot of problems coming from us spending all day in a stressful job (sympathetic tone) and then going into a race when they need to draw more from that same nervous system. Eventually you get a psychosomatic and emotional response. The body ideally needs to spend significant time being relaxed in the parasympathetic tone, and that just did not happen for me today. One reason I prefer weekend races.

Race report – k by k
I positioned myself in a brain-dead position in the field, showing that my new-found confidence had not quite translated itself to the 3k. I should have gone straight to the front, instead I got trapped somewhere in 12th-15th position and had to struggle to get through the field on the first. By running aggressively I eventually managed to release myself enough to hit my target pace of 3:20.

Next the course had a little bit of bite to it and while I felt I kept pushing, especially as one runner came back and tried to pass me out, which spurred me on to move away again, the next kilometre was in 3:32 and now I knew I had to run a 3:08 for the final kilomtre, a pace I am currently not very well practiced in holding for any longer than a short stride. I worked into the slight gradient and tried to hammer off the downhill section but the pace just never really came, rather it was just a steady murmuring of the engine. I closed in on a Kilcoole runner but he kept himself out of reach, yet thankfully my consistent attempt to increase pace towards the end kept me from being chased down by the next runner who did his best to get within reach for his own sprint finish.

I looked at the clock and saw “10:25”, I had done the last kilometre in 3:26, better but still below target. Still a 17 seconds personal best, and I won a voucher as third senior man overall (I reckon 1-3 veterans must have been ahead of me as well, although I’ll need to wait for the results). Eventually I put any disappointment aside. I have to remind myself that 3.5 months ago I was essentially still a “washed up club runner”, constantly underperforming and always injured. Had I been a boxer I would have been one of those paid to go a few tidy round against the any local champ before taking a dive in the third. Now, things are different, as Cormac O’Ceallaigh (fresh of a good 38 minute 10k) said “you’ve broken the glass ceiling”, referring to the half-marathon on Sunday. All the hard work remains ahead and I need to be careful going out and putting in half-hearted performances, lacing real bite and passion, as it can become a habit if done too often.

Apart from the problem that I could just not get the body properly relaxed, I felt that today showed me mainly my technical limitations as a runner currently. To break 10 minutes for three kilometres you only need to run 20 seconds per 100m which is not fast running no matter how you break it down or from whose perspective you view it. Done as a short stride it is extremely leisurely and if someone sprinted next to you, you would look like you were standing still. Endurance was fine, once again, as expected on marathon training, and my collapse was by no means imminent by the end of the race, so the bottle-neck today was a mixture of mental fatigue, stress and lack of ability to run well at paces faster than 3:30min/km.

Part of this is simply familiarity, my only faster sessions this year has been Ron Daws’ 20x400m with 100m float @ 10k pace and the 4x 1km @ 5k pace with 1k steady running recovery, so hardly blistering stuff. 3km pace is 100% VO2max, so to get the best out of the body for that event, I should expect to need to expose myself more to that type of pace. This, of course, is something I cannot do when following Lydiard’s marathon rules.

Why not 3k pace?
From a purely physiological perspective you can gain as many benefits from running at 5k intensity (95% VO2max) as 3k pace (100% VO2max). Both types of training come with the risk of sabotaging the aerobic energy system (it does so in six ways: stress, raising insulin to inhibit fat burning, by decreasing aerobic muscle fibres, raising the respiratory quotient, impairment of aerobic enzymes and encouraging a diet high on processed carbs. So today was a great risk from this perspective and apart from the 5k and 10k lying ahead, I will now do very little faster work and focus on fortifying my aerobic base before any damage is done to it and polish off my technique as much as I can. Trying to cram more fast anaerobic work in now would almost certainly undo me in the marathon as it has undone so many Western runners.

The marathon and 3k are also fairly different events with over 99% of energy in a marathon being provided by the aerobic system with only 85% when running events around 10 minutes, so my endurance base has less value in a race like this, although it remains the dominant factor for performance. Summary is, I went out to chase "the quick buck" and "an easy PB" and that's not the best starting point for a race. Going into it with this mindset I should have focused on having fun instead which would probably have set me up for a better run-out.