Sunday, June 23, 2019

Fallen Warrior

A few years ago someone posted a question on a popular Irish discussion forum about falling over while running. I remember thinking there must be something wrong with that guy if he keeps falling over while running on roads. Oh my, how I have changed my mind! The difference is all about running on roads in Kerry, where you actually do run on roads, and in the greater Dublin area, where you mostly run on sidewalks. And since for some daft reason they a) construct sidewalks out of concrete blocks that often don't fit together particularly well b) think that they don't have to maintain them, they become a serious trip hazard. Since moving here I must have stumbled over some minuscule but virtually invisible step about once a week, and on a handful of occasions I have taken a full spill, including once that sidelined me for 6 weeks with injury earlier this year.

I had yet another one on Monday and my right knee looked rather gruesome, together with some serious lacerations on both hands. There will always be a part of me left behind in Shankill, though Niamh was more worried that some part of Shankill will now forever be left inside of me because the wounds looked so dark and dirty. A week on I guess the risk of infection might have subsided, though I'll bear the scars for a while longer, but at least this time I didn't get injured, which is definitely good news.

Apart from that little drama it was a week similar to the last few. I did manage to run a bit over 80 miles and I did a long cycle with the group from work on Tuesday as well. Most of the week I did feel pretty well, though the legs were a bit tired on Wednesday after that long cycle. However, I did get it wrong over the weekend.

I did another workout on Saturday in Bray's People's Park, this time doing half laps fast(-ish) with the second half of each lap as recovery. The idea was to work a bit on my leg turnover and half laps should do that better than full laps. As always I left after feeling that I had one more lap in me, but actually I thought I had done six when looking at the data afterwards revealed I had done only five! Apart from that I was pleased with the workout, going at pretty much the same pace with each repeat and the effort felt right, even though the HR never rose above 164, which I cannot quite explain - I seem to have lost the ability to raise my HR over the last year!

The drawback of that was that I started Sunday's long run on already tired legs, and I chose to run to Dun Laoghaire and turn around after 10 miles. This can work both ways - when you're tired you might curse yourself for being still so far away from home on dead legs, but it can work in your favour by not giving you the option of cutting a run short unnecessarily. On the way out I did question if that really was such a good idea, and on the way back home I gradually came to the realisation that this had indeed been a bad idea and the last few miles were a struggle and not pretty. I also passed Norbert out on his own run in the area, though thankfully I was on a downhill stretch at the time and could fake to be moving reasonably well. About a mile from home I had yet another fall, re-opening a few barely healed wounds in my hands but no real damage done. This one was almost certainly due to me being too tired to lift the legs properly any more, but I did curse and "not again" at the time.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Quarry Road

At the tail end of last year I did one run with Gary when he slowed down to my snail's pace and I sped up close to breaking point, which ended up as almost the same pace. Towards the end we ran past yet another innocuous side road when he told me about Quarry Road, and how tough the hill repeats on it were. I was too tired already by that point to take much notice, desperately trying not to collapse while he jogged on as slowly as he could.

When I saw Norbert on strava running that very road the other day I remembered it again, and decided to give it a go. In fact, it seemed such a good idea that I decided to do it three times, following my usual rule that anything worth doing is worth doing to excess (which is what ultra running is all about, after all).

One thing you can be sure is that if Gary says a road is tough then it really it is tough! The climb itself is just under a mile long but the sting towards the end when it turns from really steep into really fucking stupid steep is particularly stingy. At least the trail for the downhill is nice, though Norbert since told me the alternative route is much nicer. Next time. Wait, what bloody next time?

Before that it was yet another week of quite high mileage but it feels totally doable. Tuesday was a big day with a run into work, a short-ish run at lunchtime with the group from work (which was very small, but still) and then a bike ride in the evening with yet another group (this one a big one), which all added up to well over 4 hours of exercise, which did indeed leave me a bit tired on Wednesday. At least the calves were because they kept feeling a bit tender for the rest of the week, not that it had any real impact on my running. In fact, on Thursday I felt good enough to run a bit faster on my commute home, something I had vague ideas of doing for a while but up to now never felt up to it. But now I can finally feel my fitness levels really picking up.

Maybe I should say my fitness levels are finally returning. The disastrous race in Irding was almost a year ago and I have been feeling it ever since. I finally seem to have started getting over it, a full year later. I don't know why it was quite so bad - a month before that race I had felt really good and then it all came just crashing down, and the effects lasted for a year. However, my fears that I was done for good seem to have been unfounded - I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Just Like Heaven

I can't remember if it was for Christmas or my birthday but Niamh gave me 2 tickets for The Cure in Malahide in June, which also solved the dilemma if I should go to see The Cure or Metallica, which for some inexplicable reason were on at the exact same time. While Metallica would have been my natural choice, Slane is such a nightmare to come home from afterwards, and The Cure happen to be just about the only band both Niamh and me like (we tried to think of another one and couldn't come up with any!), so off the Malahide it was. The concert was great, and while I was struck by the fact that virtually the entire crowd was about my age (including the guys on stage, of course) I appreciated the fact that afterwards we just walked to the Dart station and straight away got on a train that brought us all the way to Bray. Metallica would have seen me back home by 3 o'clock in the morning at best.

Anyway, this was a pretty good week. I did a modest workout on Tuesday, something I have tried and failed to do on several occasions because I found it hard to believe just how modest a modest workout would be, but I finally found a sustainable pace. maybe a tad too sustainable, but it left me free to run a few extra miles on Wednesday by running both into work as well as back, which went much better than expected.

Two more commutes on Thursday and Friday were starting to feel rather heavy on the legs, especially on Friday because a run in the morning after an evening run the day before always feel tough, but I was amazed by the difference another day made - a mere 24 hours later on Saturday morning the legs felt fantastic!

For that I headed for the hills again, well, just the one hill in form of Bray Head, but to make up for that I ran it 5 times. At the start I actually had to reign myself in, I felt so good that the legs were just itching to take off. Just as I was thinking of doing 6 repeats this morning, I started to stumble a few times during the fifth ascend, so I reasoned that I was getting tired after all and binned the sixth repeat, mostly because I didn't want to trip and smash my face in. Running on stony trails is tricky enough for me, short-sighted as I am, and fatigued legs with compromised perception is asking for trouble.

As mentioned that was followed by The Cure concert, and great as that was it meant several extra hours on my feet and by Sunday I did notice that, alright. So I decided against a run to Dun Laoghaire because I didn't want to find myself dead on my feet 10 hilly miles away from home and headed for Shanganah Park instead, doing a few laps until I would start to feel tired. That was definitely a good move and after 10 miles I could definitely feel the form starting to deteriorate and the breathing to become more laboured, and I was home after just under 2 hours. I really don't think any longer would have been a good idea.

It still added up to over 80 miles for the week, which is just about the mileage I was always able to maintain comfortably, so I will see if that's still the case in the next few weeks.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Clinging On

I've heard it a lot. To become a better runner you must run with someone faster than you. In Kerry I never had that luxury - while there clearly were plenty of runners faster than me, they weren't around at 6 o'clock in the morning in Caragh Lake, and I did the vast majority of my miles on my own. Maybe that's why I always preferred the longer distances - long miles are easier done on your own than speed workouts. However, I got a bit of a taste of that medicine on Tuesday when running with the group from work.

Usually we just do a few miles but occasionally someone does a workout, and this week I decided to do a "Kenyan fartlek", one minute on, one minute off. And I didn't have to do it on my own, and the other guy was definitely faster than me, and so, just by trying to keep up, it became a much harder workout than it would have been otherwise.

If that's a good thing or not, actually, isn't quite so obvious. I don't want to work myself into the ground again and I have learned that running tough workouts in base training is doing exactly that to me, so I better don't do that too often.

Because I got a taste of speed workout on Tuesday I chose to do some hill repeats again on my "other" workout day, Saturday. Bray Head has become my venue of choice for that. I'd prefer a longer climb, like the Windy Gap in Caragh lake, but I haven't found a runnable one close enough to home, so Bray Head it is for the time being, and I tend to do several repeats. Actually, because I was caught for time I only did 4 repeats this week, one less than last week. However, despite definitely trying not to go too hard I am getting faster at these, so something is definitely working. Also, despite feeling a bit worn out at the start I somehow felt much better as the workout went on, until I felt really good at the fourth one, enough to wish I'd have time for more.

Then again, limiting that to 4 repeats was most likely a good thing because the next day I crashed and burned on my long run. It was a warm and humid day and leaving it to 9 o'clock before heading out was not a good idea, and after 12 or so miles I was burning up in the heat, relative as it may have been. I had planned 18 miles but cut it short and was home just after 17, totally done - 12 would have done me that day, thank you very much, and the last 5 were definitely a struggle.

It all added up to about 66 miles this week, a bit less than last week but still in the same ballpark, plus a fair amount of cycling,.

Oh, and I'm actually signed up for another race, though I don't have to worry about it for a while yet. The Donadea 50k in February was close to being full up already, so I signed up before it was too late. And I never expected to get an elite entry into a race ever again, so that was an ego-boost that I didn't say no to - just try and not be the slowest "elite" on the day.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Finding A New Routine

I actually thought I was doing an easy week. It sure started very easy with 5 and 4.5 miles on Monday/Tuesday. After that it got a bit more complicated because with work being very busy the easiest option by far was to run either in or out of work, and that's exactly what I did, which means about 10 miles a day. However, I felt pretty good, so I think my body is finally able to handle that kind of mileage again, building itself up while doing it rather than breaking down.

Saturday has become the day of a (modest) workout, and I have been alternating hills and faster stuff recently and saw no real reason to change things. Back to hill running it was, in my case a few repeats up and down Bray Head. It has become my "Windy Gap" replacement after my move from Kerry. It's not quite the same but not a bad option.

Last time round I was pretty shattered after 4 repeats and the quads were sore for at least 2 days, so I was rather pleased to be able to do 5 and go home with at least one more in me if I had to, and the quads were perfectly fine the next day. The one thing I remember most, however, was another hill runner doing almost the same route on one of my repeats. On the uphill we were doing a very similar pace but boy things changed on the downhill! He went down the hill so fast, and on the steep, stony part he just seemed to float over the trail while I awkwardly picked my steps. Great technique, awesome to watch!

Anyway, the fact that my quads were fine on Sunday meant this time I didn't have to bin the long run and I went along the coast to Dun Laoghaire. The 10 mile point was about a quarter along the pier, and there I turned around and ran the same way back home. I swear the damn wind must have turned right at the same time because I seemed to run into a headwind in both directions! The outward leg had passed so quickly I could barely believe I was already in Dun Laoghaire but the return journey was a bit more challenging. However I was still in reasonable shape when I got home, so all good.

I'm keeping a reasonably close eyes on my numbers and they have been steadily going upwards, which is great to see. Let's hope it will continue, and if it doesn't I will rethink my approach.

I did one other thing this week, namely a group ride with another dozen cyclists from work on Tuesday evening. We will be doing a charity ride in September, in Kerry, which I am really looking forward to, but I need a few hours in the saddle to get used to being on the bike for a few hours at a time. I won't have any issues with fitness - during the ride my average HR was 98, which is barely higher than most people have from standing still. I don't think I will get much training benefit from it, but it's definitely a good bit of fun.

Total mileage this week was just under 70 miles, which I expect will be fairly typical for the next few weeks.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Running Camp

I was basically forced to take a week's holiday. Well, not exactly forced as such, but still having some leftover days from last year's allocation it was either take them now or lose them entirely, and as much as I like my job I don't think my present employer is in much need of unnecessary gifts, so home I stayed for a week.

Not someone to sit around on the couch all day (and daytime television is a particularly savage version of hell) I did a bit of running while I had the time. Ok, so I did plenty of running. I was basically an attempt to overreach for a bit and then pull back and let the gains sink in. The overreaching bit definitely worked, I was knackered around Wednesday, let's see if the taking it easy bit works - never a strength of mine.

The weather was really nice for the first few days. Well, at least the sun was shining, though it was accompanied by a surprisingly cold wind but it was enough for me to get a bit of a tan, which is obviously what's supposed to happen in your holidays, though it generally doesn't happen when you spend your entire time in Bray.

I did 82 miles this week, with a couple of long-ish runs (not quite 17 on Wednesday, 18 on Sunday), and felt like hell on Wednesday but surprisingly good on Sunday. The fact that I was down to 140.6 pounds after Wednesday's run gives you a clue why I suffered - it was over 5 pounds less than on the day before and afterwards. Running for over 2 hours in the sun can severely dehydrate you, by the looks of it. I know, what amazing wisdom!

I did attempt some sort of workout on Friday. Since a HR of 160 turned out to be too much last time I tried, I went to 150-155, while doing repeats in Bray's Peoples Park, alternating one loop (pretty much 1k) at pace and half a loop for recovery. I had modest expectations but it was even worse than I imagined - on the plus side this time I didn't fell like keeling over, but I was toast after 3 repeats, and the pace was barely faster than 7-minute miles. Jesus Christ, only a few years ago I ran entire marathons half a minute per mile faster than that! Admittedly it was after a fairly tough week, but still.

So basically my endurance as such seems to be coming back nicely but as soon as the legs are turning over a bit faster I start to fall apart very quickly. The one thing I don't want to do now is force the issue and whip myself into shape with a set of brutal workouts - that doesn't work, I've learned as much. I need to try and nudge myself along gently - like I said already, never exactly a strength of mine.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Upwards and Onwards

The past week was the one where I finally felt some real progress had been made. The legs might not have felt perfect but all of a sudden my pace is dropping, the HR is somewhat stable (not entirely) and I'm starting to wonder if there might actually be some life left in the old dog.

I did a couple of runs that felt as easy as the other ones but the pace was below 8-minute miles, and it's been quite some time that I have been able to write such a sentence. While an 8-minute mile is just as arbitrary as any other pace it feels like a bit of a threshold and it happened to be my easy run pace for many years. I do want to point out, though, that I never paced myself deliberately to run a certain pace - on my easy runs I just run the pace that comes naturally and an 8-minute mile was generally the outcome.

I'm sure the recent improvement in form is related to a bit of faster running I did recently, and it's quite amazing just how much effect just a little workout can have in that regard and how quickly it starts to work. All the same, I have to be careful - my history of overtraining is directly related to running too many fast miles, and they don't even have to be particularly fast. Just a bit too fast and things can crumble.

My one workout this week was a little bit different. Instead of running intervals or a tempo run I headed to Bray Head and ran up that little mountain. The original plan had been to go up and down two or three times but the lower third of that climb, the one inside the wood, was very muddy and I was slipping all over the place so on subsequent attempts I ran back down only to that point where the mud started before turning around, and I did that smaller section three times in addition to the full climb at the beginning. All in all it added up to a bit over 9 miles of running and 1650 feet / 500 meters of elevation change, and I got home feeling I had done just the right amount of work.

Well, looks like my quads disagreed and on Sunday morning they were distinctly sore. I had forgotten how tough a few steep downhill miles are on unaccustomed legs. As a result I postponed the long run I had planned for that day and just did a bog-standard 10 miler instead, which went surprisingly well, even on less than perfect legs.

I'm up to about 60 miles a week, give or take a little, which is a lot less than I used to do but my legs seem to be okay with that kind of mileage at the moment. I'm actually off work this week, staying at home, and the weather is gorgeous, so I guess I'll take advantage of that fact and do a bit more. I'll keep an eye on the recovery - or at least I'll try to, restraint has not exactly been my strong point in the past.