So, a full year has passed since I put my plan in place. Dubbed ‘The Oregano Project’ for a bit of fun, it was a year long experiment in the face of uncertainty. Twelve months on, looking back on it all, there are more than a few reasons to break a smile. What an incredible year.
the oregano project by quarters
The year began with lots of steady running while I completed my guinea pig testing. When the final tests were completed in mid-February, I was free to start increasing the mileage. That I did for 5 weeks before taking on my first ultra distance run in the good company of fellow #BVSC co-conspirator Jason.
March also saw the start of ‘the experiments‘ – a series of runs undertaken throughout the year before the Dublin Marathon, which ultimately determined the pacing strategy for that race. Distance came easy and many things were learned – The Oregano Project was well and truly underway.
April brought the first official race of the year. The annual Bluewall Waterford AC Waterford to Tramore 7.5 mile road race. Incredibly I shaved 22 seconds from my PB on this route from last year with almost no speed training done. My mind began ticking after this… The week after, Jason took revenge for being ‘persuaded’ to run an ultra in March. He suggested a trial marathon for a laugh. Naturally one cannot say no to mileage! Near the end of May I picked up an odd issue with my left ankle that rendered running almost impossible – I became a failed runner for a while.
The Oregano Project was on hiatus and hopes of a good Viking Marathon began to disappear. Light cardio work and minimal running made up the month’s effort. Somehow I managed to get around the marathon in the exact same time as Dublin last year.
July did not start well. Struck down with a bout of bad health, I found myself in hospital for a short while and a few weeks of recovery. It was midway through August before I really got going again and at that stage the Clonmel Half-marathon arrived. Earlier in the year Clonmel was a sub-90 target race. However, the events of June and July, necessitated a revision of expectations. Sub-93 the new target and sub-93 was achieved. Still a huge new PB despite the downgraded effort. September brought the #BVSC roadtrip to Danesfort for the half-marathon there. No racing plans other than a slightly cocky confidence that I would run a 95-minute race, without trying to push for time. 95-minutes was over a minute quicker than my PB less than a month ago. Confidence was growing again – I followed through and ran it precisely.
September was character building. The toughest month of training I have ever completed and by far the greatest number of miles at 270 in a 30-day period. It was the last chance to assess ideas for the Dublin Marathon and to nail down the race strategy before October came along and taper with it.
October was all about confirming the Dublin Marathon plan and running the pacing strategy for one last 20-miler. Dublin came and went – a hollow but significant PB by 5mins. At the end of the race, I found myself physically in state of distress, unable to get it together. Later I spent a long time wondering why the plan had failed when training had gone so well.
November brought good tidings in the form of the annual Beat the Train 10-mile race, seeing a huge improvement on my 10-mile PB. December brought the Waterford AC Half-marathon and my second successive half-marathon PB this year, just missing the dream of sub-90 by 23 seconds. The good news is that it is now only 23 seconds away and a flatter route will bring it.
the highs and lows
Each of the medals shown above reflects a significant run from this year. Some mean something on a personal level alone, others are a result that I dearly treasure. If you have been reading my blog this year, you will be familiar with my race reports so I won’t bore you with details again. If I had to pick a top highlight from this bunch, I would be hard-pressed but I think it would have to be the first half-marathon PB of the year in Clonmel. It wasn’t the fastest half of the year but it was an incredible result for me following the terrible June/July period with my health throwing a spanner in the works. It really gave me the confidence to get back into the groove again and push through everything else that followed.
There are seven medals in the photograph above. All bar one are PBs in context, from 7.5 miles to 50km. That is not a reflection that I have ever had before, looking back on a year’s haul.
With good comes bad. It is inevitable. The lowest point for me this year was when a health issue, following a prolonged injury, gave me no choice but to stop everything I had achieved so far this year. I could not have avoided it – there is no reason that it struck me based on a paper analysis of the situation. Lying in a hospital bed, reading books about running legends, not knowing if I was going to be able to kick start things again before the Dublin Marathon… it was a tough time. An experience that triggered anxiety that I never knew I had and one that has impacted my life since. I will beat it though, every challenge can be overcome. I will be stronger than it.
Another low point for me was finishing the Dublin Marathon. “What an ass!” Yes, I would be the first to agree with you on that – never describe the finish of a marathon as a low point. However, I found myself in a truly distressed state, not really able to make much sense. Not able to relax nor come around from the incredibly overwhelming stress I was feeling, despite not doing anything but trying to rest. Being helped into my track pants was not something I envisaged as being the end of my marathon. A PB but so far short of what I truly thought was on the cards, made it even more difficult to stomach. I did dwell, even though I should have not. I also bounced back, like I should have.
Impressive is a relative term. Some may look at my 2400 miles and think “how?”, others may ask “is he even trying?”, others will think “nothing special”. It’s important not to get carried away with numbers either. However, for me, that tally is more than 600 miles further than I’ve ever covered in a year. To make it even better, I’m still in one piece.
The chart shows the unavoidable low points of June & July. However, it also shows that 9 of the 12 months have broken the 200-mile barrier. On average, for the year, I racked up roughly 47 miles per week.
Total mileage is one thing, impressive or not. However, the aim from the outset of this project was to “raise my foundation”. By that I mean, take my comfortable running pace into an uncomfortable zone until it became normal. So, a huge number of these miles are genuine quality, running outside of my comfort zone for prolonged periods. My weekly training summaries have been published on this blog every week and you can view the collection here.
I wouldn’t say that I have turned my back on speed training. That would be a naive thing to say. Likewise, it would be remiss not to mention that for my distance ambitions this year, I have not done any real interval sessions. The only exception to this is in the occasional week leading to a race. I have “woken” up the legs in advance of race day with some sharp intervals. This is what I wanted though: a relatively boring race strategy. A strategy whereby I know at the startline that I am capable of almost running the target in training. My head needs that, even if it means that I may underachieve what is possible with the “foundation” raised. I need to do this to have confidence in my ability to achieve the goal.
a tale of two boards
I put out a post on Instagram last year saying everyone should have a board. A board keeping track of their races for the year, all-time PBs, and any ambitions. It’s a very valuable tool, especially if it’s always in regular view. My board is right beside my desk in my study so I can never miss it. Side-by-side below are my boards from 2018 (left) and 2019 (right).
PBs are written in red, stars are for notes, and green is for a time I set to achieve at the outset without gunning for a PB. Looking at my PBs from my desired disciplines we can see the changes below (starred marathon time is because it wasn’t from a marathon in 2018 but was still my PB by the end of 2018).
It has been an incredible year. Definitely more highs than lows. I have learned so much while still being aware that I have so much more to learn. Questions hang over me for the future training to come. I need to examine my fueling strategy for marathon distance – there may be a significant problem here. Questions need to be answered as to whether my new attitude of a very light (no) taper before races is flawed despite the series of PBs this year. Alternatively does it really matter if I’m not trying to find so much in the unknown zone? Physically, has the cumulative quality mileage been the reason for my gains or could I have achieved as much with less miles and more recovery?
Strength training has been the game changing catalyst for me. Since embarking on the guinea pig trial, leg work days in the gym have become a regular feature in my weekly activities. Supplementing my training regime with a mix of squatting and stability exercises has created a noticeable difference to me. I feel more in control, more connected with my stride. It’s a difficult thing to fully explain but imagine being really confident pacing a friend to a goal well within your abilities. Take that feeling and apply it to running alone and beyond your typical comfort zone for 18+ miles. That’s pretty much how it feels.
Have I found a perfect recipe, taking 5 mins from my marathon PB, 6 minutes from my half-marathon PB, 2 minutes from my 10-mile PB, and being able to run further than ever for “shits and giggles”? I would be a very arrogant fool to say yes to that; I have not found any perfect recipe. What I have found is a way of building myself physically and mentally over a very long timeframe, such that I can achieve certain gains by tolerating prolonged suffering. I still haven’t cracked my dream 3:20 marathon nor have I broken the elusive 90-minute barrier for the half-marathon (despite getting very close). I still have a lot to learn.
The Oregano Project will push on into 2020 now with more marathons lined up and goals still waiting to be achieved. I believe I will get there. For now, if I had to choose one image to sum up the past 12 months, it would be this one below. Just over 9 miles into the Dublin Marathon, having a laugh and running stronger than ever with good buds from the #BVSC. That’s what it’s all about (even if I was heel-striking at the time 😬🙈).