Sunday, February 16, 2020

Teamwork

Not for the first time it struck me how many people are involved in your race experience. I know running is a solitary pursuit at the majority of time and racing is an event where you concentrate solely on yourself, but in actual fact there is so much more to it.

So, while perfectly aware that I'm bound to forget some people, the following have had a real, positive effect on last Saturday.

Julian, for giving me a lift, which saved me from having to rent a car for the day, with the expense and hassle that comes with that.

Anto, for putting the show on the road 10 years ago and he has given it a personal touch that may rub some off wrongly but is highly appreciated by most.

All the volunteers who gave out numbers, put up tents, tables, chairs, finishing gantry and then spent hours handing out drinks, giving encouragement and so on. But out of all of them particularity Sharon, with her lovely smile making the pain of each lap melt away instantaneously.

Alex, Alistair and Tim, top 10 runners who all had time to shout out some encouragement while lapping me like I was standing still.

All the other runners who did the same, at a slightly slower pace but still fast enough to lap me at least once and still make a nice comment. Ray, Brian, Charlotte, Susan, Ger, Dave, ... Good to see you, I wish I could have joined you rather than see you pass by.

Gary and Ollie, great pacers, top job.

Anne, while I had hoped not to see her at all out on the course, but thanks a mill for handing me that bottle full of coke when she saw I was struggling. It didn't help, but you know, I very much appreciate the kindness.

And so on. If I didn't mention you, I apologise. I just realised there are way more people involved than even I thought.

Any muscles that are not my calves felt perfectly fine afterwards. Well, maybe the hamstrings were a bit heavier than normal the next day, but otherwise there was just nothing.

My calves, however, were really sore, even 5 days after the race they were still not right. I can't remember ever having such a long time with acutely sore muscles. to be honest, it kind of puts me off running - it's the thing about the weakest link in the chain again; if the weakest link is so much weaker than the rest, that sucks. Maybe some specific strength training might help, though I am a bit skeptical about that one.

I'll see. I'm signed up for some more races already, so I'm sure I'll do them as well. It wouldn't be me to just throw in the towel.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

This Used To Be So Much Easier

I was a tad nervous going into this year's Donadea, knowing full well that a tough day was ahead of me. I basically stopped training about 5 weeks ago when I realised that it was only getting me tired and hurting and I was getting slower and slower, so I decided there was no point to it and maybe even potentially damaging to my long term health.

However, I'm still as stubborn as ever and since I was already signed up, and places are hard to come by and the transfer window had long closed, there was never any question of not taking up my place rather than waste it.

It was my fifth time at that race. Going into it I had two sequences going: 1) I had finished slower and slower with each attempt and 2) I had always finished under 4 hours. There was not an ounce of doubt that sequence one would be kept going and sequence two was going to not just fall but be blown to smithereens.

I chose what I felt was the conservative option and started with the 4:30 pacers, which in fact brought some comments from fellow runners what I was doing back here, but I know my glory days are gone. As was perfectly predictable, it was very, very, very comfortable at the start, so easy that I almost felt strained - to keep running so slowly, that is. We chatted away, Gary and Ollie doing a great job as pacers, but I found running in a tightly packed group a bit uncomfortable, you just can't stride out properly when you're packed tightly on a fairly narrow path, so when after about 2 or 3 lap I got slightly ahead of the group at the start/finish area, I kept going just a tiny bit faster than the guys. It was never my goal to run away from them and chase a glory time - I merely found it easier to run just ahead of the group, nice chaps as they are. There were still plenty of friendly faces around and I chatted for quite some time to Barry, who was in a similar position to me: once a good runner but a bit burned out now, but still enjoying a day like today. In my case, as I told him, it was basically running a race too far - except that it clearly had been more than just one race.

Anyway, I felt very comfortable at that pace until 30k, which I had always felt was the minimum distance that I had to run comfortably in order to still be guaranteed to finish under the 5 hours cut off even if things were to fall apart completely. Not that I had ever been worried about missing a cut off, not in any race in the past, and not today either. But things did indeed start to fall apart here. At the very first climb, inside the first k of loop 7, both of my calves started to spasm, the first sign of a cramp.

Cramp. The bane of my running life. Cramping calves have destroyed many a good race of mine. I have cramped in about half of my races, and I never managed to figure out what exactly is causing it, though there was always a strong correlation to not being in top shape, which is why those cramps did not come as much of a surprise - today was always a question of when I was going to cramp, not if.

On the plus side, countless of miles on cramping legs have given me plenty of opportunity to learn how to nurse my legs along. The first, and by far the most important thing, was to slow down. There was no point in trying any heroics. I had to slow down or else those cramps were going to stop me in my tracks. So I slowed from 26/27 minutes per lap to 30 minutes, which got me through the next 2 laps and a bit. I had spasms shooting through my legs throughout but never a full cramp, and could keep going reasonably well. The 4:30 group passed by very quickly, and Gary asked if I wanted to hop along but I knew my legs would explode straight away if I tried, and therefore declined. (He also made some joke about me once being a superstar and now ... ah well)

That strategy got me to 41 km, almost the marathon point. And even though I thought I had a handle on things, at that point my legs just started to cramp really violently, and boy did that hurt! I had no choice but to walk off the cramps whenever they struck (basically on every incline, and on plenty of flat bits as well) and very, very carefully re-start running whenever I felt I was going to be able to, with plenty of very painful restarts along the way.

It wasn't the best fun I've ever had, though there was a funny moment towards the end of lap 9 when I passed by the loudspeaker belting out "encouragement", or at least Anto's version of it, and it said "Hey, I said no compression socks", which was funny with me waddling by in my gorgeous new bright pink patterned compression socks, purchased solely for this very race (btw, they were utterly useless as far as compression was concerned, I wore them purely for show. Considering my cramps, maybe I should have worn proper socks instead, it may or may not have made a difference)

The last 2 laps went by at snails pace, 34 and 33 minutes each, and looking at the results I would have finished a whopping 50 places ahead had I kept running at my earlier pace. Energy-wise I was perfectly fine, I wasn't even particularly tired, from that point of view I could have gone further and faster, but it was clearly a case of the chain only being as strong as its weakest link, and the weakest link turned out to be very weak indeed.

In fact, by the time I had finished 8 laps I was already past by personal best (!) and by the time I finished lap 9 I was already significantly past my up-to-now personal worst (!!!). Jesus!

Anyway, I eventually managed to drag my sorry arse over the line in 4:47:17, much slower than even my very modest expectation had been, but at least finish I did, and there's yet another t-shirt in my collection. Not sure how many more there will be, to be honest. This running crack isn't quite what it used to be.

Having said that, if you're not a burned out has-been, do yourself a massive favour and sign up for next year. It is such a super event! The vibe at that place is just brilliant and you will have the time of your life!



Photos by Anto Lee
8 Feb 2020
Donadea 50k, 4:47:17, 143rd place, 13th M50

Monday, February 03, 2020

M50

Exactly 10 years ago I was actually looking forward to my "significant" birthday. It was exactly at that time that the silverware started flowing - for the next few years, from almost every race I did I brought home some sort of trophy, usually in my age group but sometime even outright.

The glory years lasted about 5, 6 years, and then the decline became too obvious to deny, and since then things have gotten worse rather quickly.

I don't mean to whine or complain, getting older is part of it all and overall I am very happy how things have gone for the last 30 years, and anyway, my running had reached highs I had never even dared to dream about, so what's there to complain about?

However, I was a lot less excited about turning 50. I guess I've reached the stage that most people seem to hit at 30, when the new digit at the front of your age suddenly has become alarmingly high. Ah well. Time to face the fact that I might have started the middle third of my life.

And I've got to run 50k on Saturday. Oh f... But the fact that the distance matches my age is just coincidence. It's my 5th time doing that race.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Ouchy

Last Saturday I headed down to Shanganagh Park for the weekly parkrun. I'm not entirely sure why, I think it was that I felt good on Tuesday when I did a couple of faster miles and decided I may as well do the same with company, so off I went on Saturday morning.

It was a freezing cold day, there was frost all over the place, including the road, and there was a big patch of solid ice where usually the puddle is in park (and you do cross that patch 3 times in the parkrun, so definitely one to be careful). Obviously I have been around here for long enough to know that these things never start on time but that day they were a whopping 13 minutes late to get things going, which is almost Kerry-levels of timekeeping, or lack of it. If I had known about the delay I would have done a few little runs to keep warm but as it was I, and everyone else, was just standing around in the freezing cold, and when we finally got going I immediately noticed that my calves felt very stiff.

That feeling went away, and I did the parkun at about 85% of effort, enough to feel the muscles working but low enough not to feel wiped out, though I still tied up badly in the last k, and obviously I posted my slowest ever parkrun time but that's ok, there will be worse to come. However, as soon as I started my jog back home my calves were hurting straight away, and things didn't improve.

In fact, on Sunday there were so sore that I binned my morning run, and I changed my plan to go cycling instead when Niamh suggested to do a swim, so that was my workout for the day, imitating a lead balloon, and a particularly uncoordinated one at that. I survived; barely.

Anyway, the caves were still sore for about 3 more days. It felt very much like DOMS, but since it started straight after the parkun there was no delay involved, but I have no real idea what exactly was wrong, except that it did sort itself out eventually, no lasting harm done.

Parkrun is a fantastic institution and I would never complain about the volunteers who keep it going, they are delivering a fantastic service to so many people, but whatever the problem was on Saturday, they came damn close to do me in.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Quiet Time

There's not much to report, apart from the fact that I have indeed managed to stick to my new resolution of running less so far. I'm not cutting down entirely; I ran on Tuesday lunchtime with some work colleagues and then twice on the weekend, though my weekly mileage of about 15 miles is the lowest in a long time, and I have no intention of changing that approach any time soon.

I got a bit of a surprise on Saturday when I set a PB on a Strava segment, entirely by accident - I thought I was running at an easy effort, genuinely, honestly! Obviously it was on a stretch of road where I had never run anything approaching fast pace before but it still caught me completely off guard. Maybe the rest that comes with such a low mileage is really working. I guess that's what tapering is all about.

I still intent to run in Donadea in less than 4 weeks; it's probably not a great idea but it sure won't be the dumbest thing I have ever done, I have gotten away with way worse in the past. I try and think of it as an extreme taper - well, actually I don't, not really. I have no illusions about my chances of posting a decent time, I expect to finish in around 4:30, and just to keep that in context, I have never finished above 4 hours before. There will actually be a 4:30 pace group but I have no idea if I will try and go out with them or not, I will probably decide only on the day.

Actually, I do enjoy the fact that my legs are not hurting every day. Maybe I could get used to that. if that's such a good thing I'm not sure, though. A bit of discomfort is a good thing after all.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Resolution

To say that I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions would be quite the understatement but this year I'm going against my own beliefs and came up with a resolution, albeit a few days late:

Run less

Yup, pretty much the opposite of what most people would resolve, which is why I'm pretty happy with it after all.

It didn't come quite out of the blue. For the last 4 years I have been feeling less and less like a runner almost with each passing day - well, obviously there are better days sprinkled in between, but overall the decline has been rather alarming, not just in my performances but in the way running has felt. I just can't run properly any more, and it is getting worse.

I took 3 days off over Christmas because I had a slight head cold, nothing serious, and I did a few miles when I got back on my feet, and I felt absolutely awful. It hasn't gotten much better since. I ran 10 miles at some point, very slowly, and still felt beaten up for a day or two afterwards. I tried a long-ish run on Sunday, still nothing amazing at maybe 15 miles, and at mile 5 I was already struggling and had to cut it short.

It feels like overtraining, though where from I'm not sure because I swear I haven't done much training in the last few weeks and months - I used to do twice that and felt good! Anyway, it had been nagging at me for quite some time anyway, I need a break from running.

It's not as easy as it seems. I use running for mental health benefits at least as much as for physical improvement and I need my exercise, literally. I'll try and do more cycling and see if that does the trick, and the odd run every now and then hopefully won't do any harm.

Ah fuck, I have a 50k in 5 weeks. I even skipped a trip to Seattle for it!

Ah well. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Seven Seconds

Twas the night before Christmas ... actually, it was Christmas morning, and the creatures in the house had already been stirring and gone through the presents, which their behaviour throughout the year definitely had not really merrited - Santa, you sucker!

But at 9:30 I was standing on the start line of the annual GOAL mile in Shanganagh park. I had learned my lesson from last year, namely that it's a bad idea to start at the 9:40 slot if you want to run (relatively) fast because you run into the tail end of the 9:30 field, so this time I had made sure to leave early enough to still being able to easily jog down to the park on time.

There was a guy who was apparently pacing someone else to a 6-minute mile, which I thought was very handy and I would try and stay with him, but as soon as we started he tore down the road at what was definitely not 6-minute pace. In fact, looking at the GPS track later on I was actually pacing myself pretty well, so he must have done faster than 5:30 pace. I mean, obviously everyone is entitled to run at whatever pace they want, but surely if you announce that you're going to run at 6-minute pace ... ah well.

I lost a few places halfway through the mile as I started to get tired and there was just that old fella - no, not me, the OTHER old fella I mean! - and I tried to keep at his coat tails, and we did push each other along pretty well, and I'm sure he felt the acid burn in the legs just as badly as I did. I knew there was a reason why I had opted for ultra running. I would never have made a great miler, neither my muscle fibre composition nor my mental attitude would have been suitable. Anyway, I tried to give it wellies on the finish straight, as did the other guy, obviously, and try as you might my old legs just would not turn any faster and I finished in 6:05.

Seven seconds. Seven seconds slower than last year!

Now I have a measure how much I have slowed down over the last 12 months. And that was while actually feeling better than at the end of last year, when that 24 hours race still somehow had a grip on my legs muscles.

Seven seconds. Actually, that's not even a bad deterioration, considering that I have lost closer to a minute per mile since 2014, so that's actually a decreasing rate of deterioration if you can look at it like that.

And then I spent the next three days being sick.

It wasn't that GOAL mile, I already had a sore throat that morning but no, I'm absolutely sure it had no impact on my time in Shanganagh park at all, no excuses.

And how do the legs feel after three days of no running? Fresh and bouncy after a good recovery? Do they f*ck!!! I feel like I just spent half a year de-training on the couch, the hamstrings almost felt tingly from being overworked at 9:30 pace. Crikey. This getting old business really is a tough one!

Oh, and Happy New Year! Hope you had a nice break over Christmas.