Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Win Of Sorts

The timing was not ideal. Recovery from the Dublin marathon had taken a lot longer than I would have hoped and even though there had been some significant improvement in the last week I would have preferred one additional easy week before my next race. Therefore, when  going into this year's Sixmilebridge race my hope was that someone would run away at the start and the rest of us would not have to worry about victory and could just run at some easy effort that would get us through in one piece. When I saw John at the start I thought that runner might be him, but apparently he had other plans.

There is always someone at such a race that storms off at sub-7 pace. I fully expected that. What I did not expect was for that runner to be me!

Having fun early on
In my defence, it felt easy. I was surprised to be in the lead. But then I looked at my watch and saw 6:40 pace. Oops. Ok, it was downhill but still. I slowed down a good bit but I was still ahead of everyone else. I could hear footsteps behind me but nobody went by. I took it easy on the uphill but was still in the lead. I finished the first of the 30 one-mile-loops in the lead, unexpectedly. At the out-and-back section I could see one runner close behind, John a little bit further back, and Denis as well, though I knew Denis was in the 52-mile race, so not really a factor here.

The pace felt very comfortable, so I just kept it going. It was a touch slower that Dublin had been, which seemed to make sense. I kept hearing those steps right behind me, but the other runner did not attempt to pass. I wasn't going to get sucked into a stupid race at the start of an ultra so just kept going at my own pace, which just happened to keep me at the front of the field, without particularly trying to win the race.

After about 5 laps the other runner eventually appeared at my shoulder and introduced himself as Ted, apologised for chasing me but said that my pace just happened to be his comfortable pace as well. We chatted a bit for a couple of miles, during which the pace slowed a little bit, not that I noticed at the time. He got a couple of steps ahead of me when I picked up a drink and led for 2 laps before I went past again, still doing roughly 7:20 pace, maybe a little bit slower.

The (in)famous 1-mile loop in Sixmilebridge has only 1 hill. That hill is the entire course though. You run up one side and come down another, and the start-finish area has a little out-and-back section to make it exactly 1 mile, which is the only flat section. The hill has the nasty habit of getting a little bit steeper with each lap, as is pretty much customary on such a course.

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An hour after our start, about 8 miles into my race, the full marathon started and from now on it was significantly busier. They started just ahead of me, so my first real task was to make my way past most of the marathon field on that narrow path without incident, which worked well. Eventually I ended up right behind one marathon runner that pretty much went the same pace as I felt comfortable with at that point, so I followed him for 2 or 3 laps, eventually apologising for shadowing him, just as Ted had done to me earlier.

Right around that time it started to dawn on me that the early pace had been a little bit too fast and no longer felt comfortable. In fact, I did not like the way my quads felt during the steeper part of the downhill at all, I was afraid they were going to cramp eventually. I have misjudged the pace in Sixmilebridge on at least one occasion before; I guess I hadn't quite learned the lesson. Halfway came in 1:50, which would have sounded perfectly reasonable before the race but by now I knew I wasn't going to hold that pace for the second half and went into damage-control mode.

I did manage to keep going at a reasonable pace for a while longer but had a bit of a dip around the 20 mile mark, which is exactly what had happened in Dublin 3 weeks ago, though this time I was still a bit further away from the finish. I took in some extra fuel and mostly just put my head down and tried to keep the show on the road. A few marathon runners lapped me around that time, including one lady who was obviously winning. I didn't take too much notice and just kept going.

With Denis, winner of the 52 miler
As I went through the start/finish area at 23 miles, Richie asked me how many miles I had done and if I was in the lead, which was a slightly strange question to ask for an RD, and alarm bells went off in my head if the timing system had failed. It distracted me sufficiently to stumble over the timing mat and take a full nosedive, which caused a few scrapes on my hands as well as my legs, though I didn't even notice the latter until after the race. My right calf started cramping but was fine once I got up again and re-started running. Richie apologised, not that he had done anything wrong - I should have lifted my feet!

It was definitely a lot harder now. My breathing got ragged, especially on the uphill, but that is fairly normal for me and probably sounded worse that it was. I definitely was nowhere near race mode and expected to be caught any moment now for quite some time. It wasn't until I happened to lap John around the 25 mile mark, very much to my surprise, that I started to believe that I might win this thing after all. Not that it made much difference - I still had to cover the last few laps all the same.

I must have gone through the marathon in about 3:20 but was only doing about 8-minute miles at the time. I could have gone a bit faster but did not feel inclined to do so, and I was a bit worried about cramping, probably more than I should have been. After 28 mile I just about had enough and the last 2 laps were a bit of a sufferfest, though by then I could smell the finish and got through it.

Happy - mostly to be done!
They pretty much missed me coming in and only realised I was a finisher when I stopped, which is easy to do on a loop course, of course. I had a bit of a Gary O'Hanlon moment in that I crossed the line thinking I had won the race only to be told that I had come second. Remember the lady from mile 20? Turns out she wasn't the winner of the marathon but the 30 miler instead, and we had a female overall winner. I was still first male, which meant I had won my category, albeit in my slowest ever time in Sixmilebridge, and admittedly not against the most competitive field ever, and whoever was here was still hampered from the Dublin marathon 3 weeks earlier (as was I, of course).

So, big congratulations to Deirdre, well done. I probably wouldn't have been able to keep up even had I realised that she was in the ultra. I definitely misjudged the early pace (again!). I ran the first half in 1:50 and the second in 2:00, which is not a catastrophic slowdown but it's not particularly great either. It actually sounds worse if I say I was 40 seconds per mile slower in the second half.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed my run in Sixmilebridge, as well as the very unexpected (category) win and will definitely be back. However, now I seriously need to recover or I 'll end up back where I was 2 years ago and I definitely do not want to go there.

 All photos by Jane Doyle Fitzpatrick. Thank you!



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sixmilebridge 30 miler - ultra short version

Came home first male but was beaten by the better woman into second overall. Started at an effort that felt very comfortable but turned out to be too fast. Ah well. Full report to follow, eventually.
19 Nov
30 miles, 3:50:01, 7:40 pace

Saturday, November 18, 2017

My Achy Breaky Heart

Bump, pause, double bump. Bump, pause, double bump. Bump, pause, double bump. That's what my heart beat felt like pretty much all week. Not when I was running - I can't really tell what it was like when I was running, but at rest. It was a bit disconcerting but I've had similar episodes several times before so I didn't panic and just got on with life. I don't think it has anything to do with overtraining because previous episodes have happened at stages when I definitely was not overtrained but in reality I have no idea what the cause of all that is. Googling the issue was strangely reassuring and anyway, I've seen a cardiologist only 2 months ago.

All this happened just the one week in 10 years when I am without my HRM, which is of course absolutely typical. I do have a little gadget that clips onto my finger and is really handy for measuring morning HR but completely unsuited to running. By Thursday, after a few days of clearly noticeable irregular heart beat, I thought it was resolved as I could not really feel it any more but said little gadget still showed an oscillating heart rate going between 45 and 50 at strangely regular intervals.

All the while I kept running, easily and with a reduced mileage. The legs are definitely feeling much better, I'd say they are finally over Dublin. I could feel my asthma but at such a slow pace it's just not a limiting factor, just a little bit uncomfortable.

Now it's Saturday evening and as far as I can tell the episode is behind me. I was unsure if I should skip Sixmilebridge this Sunday but this is a true soul race of mine and organised by some very good friends who I really want to see again, so I'll give it a go. It's probably one of those daft decisions that makes MC shake his head sadly and full of resignation, but I'll go anyway.
16 Nov
7.6 miles, 1:03:56, 8:24 pace
17 Nov
7.5 miles, 1:00:07, 8:01 pace
18 Nov
5 miles, 40:25, 8:05 pace

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Training Troubles, Work Woes

I did more of the same reasonably easy miles on the weekend. They went the same as most of the other ones: I felt so-so. Not bad but I'm certainly not in the groove I used to be in before the Dublin marathon. So, with a bit of nudging from MC, I decided to dial it back a bit.

I have slowed right down over the last few days. It's not as if I had run brutally fast the days before - I had just run at whatever effort came naturally which usually works very well for me, but following DCM it might have been just a tad too fast. I also pulled back the mileage a bit, which is actually a right pain because if I can't run all the way into work I have to take the car, and being stuck in traffic for an hour twice a day does nothing good for my stress levels, which can't be helpful with regards to recovery either. In that light I guess it's a Good Thing that my new bike arrived today, so I will probably be back in the saddle from now on - which happens to be by far the fastest way of commuting in Dublin, saves tons of money and is a lot of fun - I was surprised how much I enjoyed cycling here. Oh, and the additional fitness boost can't be bad either. Just don't crash! (or have the new bike stolen as well).

Measuring training progress has gotten a bit more complicated due to the fact that I somehow lost my HRM on the journey from Dublin to Kerry last Friday. I put it into my bag at home and failed to find it at the other end of the journey. It's not in our house in Kerry, it's not in my apartment in Dublin and it's not in the office. Eventually I had to admit that it was gone. I have ordered a new one but that will take a few days to arrive.

Work wise I basically have a new line of work since yesterday, namely looking for a new job. Being made redundant was a new experience for me but I already have a couple of interviews lined up, so I'm fairly sure I'll be back in meaningful employment quickly enough. And I'm still in my old job for another month. Let's see how that goes - I was actually kind of looking forward to being able to train every day without wasting away your day in the office. But the bills still have to be paid, and with the rent prices in South Dublin nobody can afford being out of work for long (until I win all those millions in the lottery, that is).
11 Nov
8 miles, 1:02:17, 7:47 pace
12 Nov
10 miles, 1:17:23, 7:44 pace
13 Nov
9.25 miles, 1:17:02, 8:20 pace
14 Nov
5 miles, 40:04, 8:01 pace
15 Nov
8 miles, 1:05:46, 8:13 pace

Friday, November 10, 2017

Recovery Lessons

One thing I learned the last 2 weeks is that recovery from a 3:10 marathon is a completely different animal compared to recovery from a 3:30 marathon, even back-to-back 3:30 marathons. A few days after Monaghan I was fully back in the saddle, knowing that the adaptations had been absorbed. It is taking a lot longer now, almost 2 weeks after Dublin the legs are still missing their spring and I have already dialled back the mileage on a couple of occasions in order to give them more to time to recover.

The reason this surprised me is that I definitely did not run Dublin at race effort. While I kept a decent enough effort it was well short of an all-out race effort, so I expected the damage to be a lot less. I guess those last 2-3 miles of fun at the end caused some damage I could have done without but what's done is done and there aren't any regrets.

All the while now I'm keeping the effort at an easy level, though it is noticeable that the pace is picking up again and getting closer to what it was like before DCM, without any change to subjective effort. That's good, because I have another race next week, in Sixmilebridge. I have very fond memories of that race ever since it had been the scene of a very rare all-out victory, and not even the painful finish the following year could tamper that. I'm not planning on racing it but a nice, decent long run should be fun - as long as the legs have sufficiently recovered from Dublin, of course.

I got another taste of living in Dublin last night at the Alice Cooper concert in the Olympia theatre. That's a rather unusual venue for a rock concert but that didn't do the atmosphere any harm, and the man sure knows who to put on a good show. Ever since I moved to Dublin the bands I used to listen to half a lifetime ago are coming here to play, so far I've had Green Day, Iron Maiden, GnR, and now the man himself. It's still waiting on Metallica and AC/DC but surely they are just patiently waiting for their turn at that stage.
5 Nov
8 miles, 1:04:13, 8:01 pace, HR 138
6 Nov
9.25 miles, 1:12:24, 7:49 pace, HR 138
7 Nov
9.6 miles, 1:14:40, 7:46 pace, HR 142
8 Nov
9.15 miles, 1:13:28, 8:01 pace, HR 143
9 Nov
6.25 miles, 50:07, 8:01 pace, HR 140
10 Nov
6.25 miles, 48:57, 7:49 pace, HR 142

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Recovery

When you run a race, it is all about that one race, nothing else matters. But when you do a training run, the magic actually happens off-screen: the recovery afterwards, with the adaptation that follows.

I ran Dublin as a training run and as much as I enjoyed the raceday atmosphere, it wasn't why I was running that day. Now I need to ensure I recover well, otherwise I won't get the benefits of the adaptation. And I sure don't want to dig myself back into that deep dark hole that is overtraining; I have only just managed to climb out of it.

Over the years I have found a post-race recovery program that works exceptionally well for me. After the race I run for 5 miles a day, slowly, until the legs feel better again, then I add a few miles and after a surprisingly short amount of time I'm back in the groove.

This time round it worked very well initially. I did 3 5-mile runs, feeling better and getting a little bit each day. In fact, on the third such run I really had to hold myself back; the legs kept pushing on and time and time again I reigned them back in. So, on the Thursday I ran a little bit longer and this time just let the legs go as they pleased, which seemed like the right thing to do. I didn't push the effort and the HR of 136 supports this. However, the legs felt a lot more sluggish again on Friday, and it probably didn't help that I ran back home from work. That's just over 9 miles, a little bit longer than would have been ideal in my post-marathon recovery program, but you can't stop halfway in the middle of nowhere. On Saturday morning the legs definitely didn't feel great so I stepped right back and did 5 miles at a very slow pace, just like I did the day after the marathon. I'll take it by ear now. I'll decide pace and distance depending on how I feel each morning, until I feel recovered again.
1 Nov
5 miles, 41:18, 8:15 pace, HR 134
2 Nov
6.35 miles, 50:25, 7:56 pace, HR 136
3 Nov
9.2 miles, 1:14:47, 8:07 pace, HR 138
4 Nov
5 miles, 43:41, 8:44 pace, HR 129

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Back In The Game

Going into the Dublin marathon I knew I was in pretty good shape. Once again, this was a training run so I was not going to run at a full race effort but I knew I would be able to run 3:15 without going to the well. I had not tapered for it, the only concession being a very slow 5-miler on Saturday to keep the legs reasonably fresh for Sunday. My one slight worry, a pain in my left hamstring/gluten area was just about noticeable when I got up on Sunday morning but even as I walked towards the start it was completely forgotten about, and that was that.

Some old geezers from Kerry
I chatted to a few friends on the way, had plenty of friendly banter with the DBRC crew and met some old geezers from Kerry before lining up somewhere between the 3:10 and 3:20 pacers. I had no intentions of keeping up with 3:10 and even less of getting caught by 3:20, so here I was, stuck in the middle with you.

The first mile was a bit congested, as it always is, but the road soon opened up and we could run freely. I tried to get into a comfortable rhythm as soon as possible and by the second mile I had found my groove and tried to remain there. For me that means running the uphills a little bit slower than most around me and the downhills a bit faster, that is just the effort level I feel most comfortable with. I checked the watch a couple of times early on, mostly to ensure I wasn't doing anything stupid like running at sub-7 pace, but I settled in at around 7:15, so a marathon time of 3:12 or 3:13 looked likely, which I was more than happy with.

I kept taking it easy all the way through Phoenix Park, so I barely noticed the long uphill stretch that got us to the highest point, still early in the course. I passed a lot of runners on the following downhill miles, which also brought the average pace down a bit, but gave up a bit of both again on the other side of the Liffey when the climbs started again.

I felt exceptionally comfortable as we neared Crumlin Road, though I knew that was always my least favourite part of the course. No matter where the wind is supposed to be coming from, there is always a headwind on that stretch and it is a long, drawn out climb that always feels a bit harder than it should. However, today I felt better than usual. Maybe it was down to the fact that unlike in previous years we were not hemmed into a single lane but had the entire road to ourselves, which means all of a sudden it was not one of the most congested parts of the course but an exceptionally open one, which I felt much more comfortable with. Anyway, I reached the halfway point in about 1:35:20 on my watch, definitely a bit faster than expected but at the same time feeling a lot better than expected as well. The one thing that surprised me was that the 3:10 balloons still seemed to be a long way ahead of me; whether there was some confusion on the watch or if the gap just looked bigger than it actually was I cannot say for sure.

The next few miles often feel like a bit of a dead spot in the marathon as you run through a few non-descript suburbs where the buildings all look more or less the same to me and you're just there to make up some miles. The one thing that kept things interesting were the spectators, who were as spectacular as ever. No other race in Ireland comes even close with regards to crowd support, it is on a totally different level. The only place I have ever seen with even more enthusiastic supporters was Boston, but that's almost on a different planet.

Meeting some friends on Saturday,
 on The Road to Sparta
Anyway, I passed through Terenure, Milltown and Clonskeagh, a section that holds some good and some painful memories, as is bound to happen when you're doing a marathon for the 10th time. The Milltown viaduct will always be associated with a lot of pain because that's where the cramping started on my first marathon. The other painful memory would come a bit later on Roebuck road, where I had buried my hopes of a first sub-3 marathon back in 2008, though that memory eventually got a lot sweeter when I finally made it, albeit elsewhere. I was still feeling very good and relaxed until the 20 mile mark, by which time I had long started making my way through the field, past many a broken dream. I had not sped up but a lot of runners sure had started to slow down. Been there, done that, of course.

I had my own dip for a couple of miles when my energy levels started to sag and the legs became noticeable heavier. I took it a tad easier on the many little hills that await here and managed to take a gel as well as some sports drink. I guess it was that motherload of sugar that got me out of the funk pretty quickly. On the next hill I noticed that I was overtaking runners again even without trying, and when I looked up I realised that I was already halfway up "Heartbreak Hill" (yes, they copied that from Boston), and since that was the last hill of the course I knew I'd have a good finish of the race.

I heard a DJ giving a shout out to "Declan Murphy from Glenbeigh" and sure enough spotted him just a few seconds later, just ahead of me. Unfortunately he was walking and I caught up with him right at the top of the hill. I gave him a pat on the back and tried to coax him into following me but he just wearily shook his head and the look in his eyes told me he definitely wasn't going to run with me, so I reluctantly had to leave him behind.

I had one more issue, namely a side stitch. I think I got it when trying to drink from a cup and messing up my breathing for a bit, and now I struggled to get rid of it. Eventually I had to slow down a bit and take very, very deep breaths, which eventually loosened the grip. When I was able to run properly again I had just passed the 23 mile mark. There were 3 mile left.

At that point I decided I still had tons of energy in the tank and might as well have some fun. I put in a little bit more effort, cautiously at first down Nutley Lane, but once we hit the last left hand turn at the bottom we were on the final 2 miles and I put the hammer down and went for it. I did my fastest 2 miles of today and indeed, I had tons of fun. I passed a few friends as I made my way through the field, including Mike, another Kerryman, though he wouldn't come with me either. As we got closer to the finish the legs started to complain, sub-7 pace wasn't quite what they had expected at the end of a marathon, but I was close enough to keep going until the end. I crossed the line in 3:10:20, which I was very, very happy with. I would have been perfectly happy with 3:15, and if that had felt too hard I would have been satisfied with 3:20 as well. Instead I got the easiest 3:10 of my life, so all was good.

The last 2 years have been very challenging and at times incredibly frustrating. I had started to question if I was simply too old for this and doubted I would ever feel like that again. My times were going backwards and running often just felt hard, too hard for my liking. But in the last few weeks I had noticed the transformation and I had already dared to mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I am finally starting to feel like myself again, and the Dublin marathon finally confirmed this.

Watch out, world. I'm back!
29 Oct
Dublin City Marathon, 3:10:20, 7:15 pace, HR 152
30 Oct
5 miles, 42:45, 8:33 pace, HR 132
31 Oct
5 miles, 44:25, 8:52 pace, HR 125