Yesterday marked the penultimate race of what, for me, been a long and demanding year of competitive running and training.
In recent years, November has represented my ‘post-Autumn marathon’ off-season. A time of year when the mileage is reduced for a few weeks and you’ll be more likely to find me at a gig, or sitting by the fire in a local pub, than running a set of 400 metre repeats on the track. But this year is different. Since I’ve put marathon running on the back-burner, I’m now working to a new schedule that has me racing right up until mid-December. Whilst I am not, in principle, averse to the extended season, my body seems unwilling to cooperate.
After running well and training hard through the summer, I hit form in September. The run-of-form culminated in a solid performance at the national half marathon (1:12:15), and another decent run at the Dublin Novice XC Championships. However, it wasn’t to last. At this point, I have to cast my mind back several weeks to the last time that I ran well and felt a spring in my stride. It was on Saturday 15th October at Bushy Park when we ran a 35 minute (10.1km) XC pace run. Since then, my form has taken a dive, compounded by a nasty cold/chest infection last month, and a series of back-to-back niggles. Training has been a constant battle.
My training diary over the period is revealing. Where my September log is upbeat and full of positive reports along these lines - ‘felt strong’ and ‘ran well’ - my October and November logs reflects a period of struggle that has manifested itself in the following ways: constant fatigue/lack of energy, illness, muscle soreness, non-recovery between sessions, falling behind at training. There was no actual change in my training over this period. It just started feeling much harder.
This photo fails to capture the despair, because you can't see the guys that I'm chasing
For these reasons, I was a little tentative heading into the Dublin Intermediate XC championships in Tymon Park on Sunday. My trepidation was justified, because (true to form) I failed to fire. Right from the start I lacked the energy and strength that I had in the Dublin Novice XC Championships on 2 October. In a search of answers, I have undertaken a grim analysis of yesterday’s results compared with the Dublin Novice XC results.
Yesterday I finished in 16th place, whereas I was fifth in the Dublin Novice (only ten seconds short of a bronze medal). Of the guys who beat me yesterday, seven are lads whom I beat in Dublin Novice (including yesterday’s second place finisher).
By my calculations (taking a sample group of runners who ran both the Dublin Novice and Dublin intermediate races, averaging out and comparing their times between the two races), and based on my time from the Dublin Novice race last month, I would've expected to finish Sunday's race in 30:15. Whereas I finished in 30:35. This highlights the extent of my underperformance: twenty seconds. In these competitive XC fixtures, twenty seconds makes a huge difference to your result, and the result of your team.
Although not surprising (given recent form in training), this is rather disappointing because I trained very hard in the intervening period, and I even rested up in preparation for the race on Sunday. On the face of it, there is no reason why I should be going backwards.
Assuming I can get over the gluteus medius injury that I'm currently managing, the last race of my season (and the year) is the National Novice XC Championships on 11 December. In the absence of some sort of dramatic turn-around in form, I can’t really see the national novice going well for me. Don’t get me wrong, and I’ll have a good crack at it, and I'm by no means writing myself off. But training seems to have become ineffective for the timebeing, and in any case it’s difficult to design a training plan that would bring me to be where I want to be within such a short time-frame.
On the other hand, maybe form can change quickly in both directions.