Is running 18:56 for a 5k a big step back for a guy who ran 17:29 last year and 18:48 the very first time he towed the line in a 5k? You can rightly ask this question after my impromptu entry into the Craanford 5k this Saturday past.
Fifteen months ago, I had some tough decisions to make. Despite my most successful season with eight PBs and a strong marathon in Copenhagen, my body took a hammering. I could not recover and be back in hard training within the 2-3 weeks that I had set as an objective. I looked at the year ahead and all the priorities I needed to keep in the air: I was about to get married, I had to continue to build a start-up company while holding onto a demanding job in a top Irish multi-national company and also be there for my athletes ahead of myself. I barely had time to keep in touch with people as it was.
I eventually chose the long-term approach – gave away all my cushioned shoes and committed 100% to the technical coaching model pioneered by Tony Riddle. Throughout my running career I have and will continue to change my opinion about the specifics there is one guiding principle that has followed me all my life, in one permutation or the other: “to live my life in accordance with the laws that govern the natural world.”
In early 2012, I had tried to cheat these laws by adopting a hybrid version – Tony’s exercises but not his full model – and it had given me half success – a great result but at a heavy price. I decided it was time to put aside high mileage while I refocused on the technical pillar of my running skill – the weakest. While doing this I had to get “my own house in order” so I could be both a more effective coach and a more effective athlete in the future – my whole life turned into a set of building blocks in front of me – all of which had to be put into the right place to succeed on all fronts. It would require a very long-term view beyond the horizon of instant gratification.
Numbers never lie? Or do they?
Since my injury hell really took off in 2008, whatever mileage I have gotten in has more or less matched the performances I got out if you measure them by VDOT (a relative measure of a race result equated to the oxygen uptake needed to complete it).
I’ve performed as well as in 2009 this year with half the mileage but what is really important is of course the greater quality I have put into each workout and the innumerable exercises I have done – much of the natural movement I have done is simply not quantifiable.
I obviously still possess much of the fitness of the past years and my running has been very regular (I have run 285 out of 343 days this year – or 83%). Since beginning to change my stride in 2011, I am “by and large” as fast (or slow as you see it) as I always was – but this time without any specific training base. All races I entered where last-minute decisions with little or no specific preparations.
Every run this year has been done in VivoBarefoot Aqua Lite and VivoBarefoot Breatho or, a substantial amount, completely barefoot. I am determined to condition my technique and my physical abilities to match the psychological strength that drove me into injuries in the first place. Because that is the true pyramid of training: first you run well, then you run a lot, and then you run fast (to simplify it a bit). I had tried to run both a lot and fast without first running well.
The long-term plan
But I am getting close to “running well” now. Muscular recovery after the 5k happened much quicker than previously and while there are still some technical flaws left that I need to address, my gut feeling tells me I am close now. It will not take much longer. Whether I have enough time to contest a December half-marathon to the level I expect, I don’t know – a lot depends on how well I practice. But I won’t rush the process more than is necessary.
My long-term plan predicts that I need to hit a performance level of 59 VDOT (a 1:19 half-marathon, or about 1:30 faster than my previous time) to stay on my seven-year schedule. I am running a bit short on time but if I need to push the schedule by a few months to get where I need to be I will do that. You don’t stop building your foundation half-way through and start building your house on it just because your deadline is up. But I have to stay focused – I’ll be 40 years old by the end of the seven year period and want to enter a different type of, more relaxed, running and put a bit less into myself and more into others.