Sunday, May 02, 2021

Parklife

We moved house about six weeks ago. Not very far, just from one end of Bray to the other, so not a big deal. However, what that did for me was to put Shanganagh Park within easy reach. Initially I thought that was great, having a nice, big park available for a few easy laps any time, but as it turns out it doesn't actually quite work that way.

There are printed signs on the tarmac saying "Keep Left", and there are arrows all along the loop to reinforce that message. It's a actually quite a simple concept really, you'd think people would get the hang of it quickly enough. 

I had seen the exact same thing on the prom in Bray, last year when the pandemic started. It took a couple of month until everyone managed to get it, but from then on it was plain sailing (I usually run along Strand Road, though. The prom can be crowded). However, 14 months clearly weren't enough to get the same through to the population of South Dublin. Groups of up to 10 spread out across the road? Check! People walking on the right, making no effort whatsoever to move aside for the 75% of people who do actually move on the left? Check! Dog walkers with extensible leads spread across the entire path? Check! 

South Dublin really is full of fucking wankers. Irish people from anywhere else were right all along.

Enough about other folks' shortcomings, I've a few myself. Running-wise, the most glaring one is that I seem unable to slow down properly. My usual training runs tend to be around 8 minute pace. That's similar enough to the pace I used to do for years and years. Problem is, I'm far from the runner I used to be all those years ago. You're supposed to do your easy runs (as in at least 80% of your runs) at least 1 minute slower than your marathon pace. As I'm fairly sure I would not be able to run anywhere near a 3:30 marathon these days, that means I'm actually running faster than my marathon pace. That's a very common mistake runners make, almost certainly the most common one. Thing is, I really should know better but somehow I can't seem to slow down. I start out nice and easy but as soon as my conscious self switches off, my pace falls into the 8 minute trot that I have done for thousands of miles. It seems to be hard-wired into my brain. 

Also, I tend to zone out very quickly. Five minutes into any run and I'm spaced out. That should be a great thing, though with that disconnect between what my brain thinks I can do and what my legs can actually do, there's an issue.

I can see that it's not really working. I did a 5k time trial last week and had to suffer for 21:24, which is just shockingly slow. And I can barely run 13 miles without feeling wiped out afterwards. I tried to go for a flatter rout this morning, avoiding steep hills like Quarry Road, but turns out that's not the solution either.

Ah well. I'm still on track for Ray's marathon challenge, running at least a marathon a week, though I got rather lazy and on some weeks I barely ran more than that rather modest target. To give myself a kick up the backside I just signed up for another virtual Last Man Standing, in the hope of giving me an incentive to move a bit more. There is no hope whatsoever of making it to the end of that but if it gives me a reason to get moving it will have served its purpose.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Hiatus

Ok, this time I really left is too late with the update. I actually had things to say - what was lacking was the motivation. I guess the lockdown is starting to get to me. I'm sure it the same for most of you out there.

Early February was the anniversary of my last real race, the famous Donadea 50k. I might have had a shocking run but it was my only race last year, so something of a highlight, if rather unexpected.

We did a virtual 50k. It would not be Anto if there were no event. On the day of the race itself I woke up to a surprise scene, there was snow outside and the roads were icy, so I went on the treadmill instead. Obviously the plan was to run 50k but after about 15k my left Achilles started to hurt and by halfway it was bad enough for me to call it a day and step off. If it had been a real race I undoubtedly would have soldiered on but for a virtual event I really could not build up the enthusiasm to run through the pain. I gave it some rest for the rest of the day and went on again the next day to finish it off. Surprisingly I felt much better on Sunday, though it was still on the treadmill because the weather was still rather uninviting. I finished off the second half of the race and was actually tempted to do the whole thing but it was also Valentines Day and my date was waiting for me, and sacrificing my marriage for a virtual race was definitely not on.

Funnily enough, that Saturday was the last time my left Achilles bothered me, it's been fine since that 25/25 double. Mind, I also changed the shoes I use for the treadmill, which may or may not have something to do with it as well.

Ever since then I have definitely lacked some motivation. I started going up the local mountains again, now that the snow has melted. Since then I've been up Bray Head twice and Great Sugarloaf once. I'm lucky enough to have these within my 5k radius, which I definitely appreciate. Lockdown would be a lot worse otherwise.

I did have one attempt at a speedy workout, mostly because my local running club has a league going, a virtual one obviously, and this month it was a 10k. I didn't race it but went at it at tempo effort but was still a bit shocked to clock up a whopping 46 minutes. Sure, I had done next to no speedwork and I'm yet another year older but that's just ridiculous. 

I eventually decided that there is a chance that doing speedwork in Peoples Park isn't a real reflection of my pace. I had done a mile TT there around Christmas and that had been equally shocking, and a bit out of kilter with other runs. It might have something to do with the fact that half of the lap consists of a dirt/gravel path which may, just may be a slow surface. I guess I'll pick somewhere else for my next time trial and see how that compares.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

My Achilles Heel

In my prime I went for years without injury, quite unusual for a runner, but my Achilles heel has always been my, er, Achilles. It started again a couple of months ago when my right Achilles tendon started to feel a bit stiff, especially in the mornings but I could definitely feel it throughout the day.

This eventually just about settled down when all of a sudden my left Achilles decided to step into the action as well, which is a bit unusual because almost all of my niggled and injuries (and cramps!) happen on my right leg. In fact it stepped into the action with a vengeance because it was worse than the other leg had been.

The first time I had this, many years ago, I was quite worried about it, enough to have it seen to in fact, but by now I have experienced it often enough to have a reasonably chill outlook. The tendon doesn't just snap and it does get better eventually. Still, I am over 50 now and healing is slower, so I spent 1 or 2 days a week cycling instead of running. Strangely enough running on the treadmill seems to worsen it because in general I can feel it when running a hill and level ground should be fine; maybe there's something about the way the treadmill is a bit bouncy that disagrees with me.

It was almost back to normal until last Sunday, when it flared up again in the middle of a long run, painful enough for me to cut it short and hobble off the treadmill. Thankfully it seems to have settled again but I can definitely still feel that something is a bit off, so a few days on the bike will remain to be part of my training for the next couple of weeks at least.

Obviously, with us all in lockdown and no races on the horizon, it doesn't really matter. Just keep ticking over, enjoy it and stay healthy.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Slow Start

Well, some things are hard to explain.

After running a lot of easy miles I decided to stretch my legs a bit again and anyway, I had to catch up on some of those virtual events I had signed up some time around Christmas but was too lazy to actually do. The one on my mind was the virtual Beaufort 10k, because that's the annual race organised by my old club in Kerry.

In order to get some zip into the old legs I did a fast mile on Friday morning in Bray's Peoples Park. I certainly didn't do an all-out mile time trial but I thought I did put some decent effort into it, so I was a bit shocked to see a time of 6:45 for that mile. Now, I know I have slowed down a fair amount the last few years but it doesn't seem THAT long ago that I ran a couple of marathons faster than that, so that's quite a shocking performance. The fact that it was on a slightly snowy surface didn't serve as an excuse. While I did slow down a tad at the corners in order not to lose my grip that should not have cost much, and nowhere near enough to explain such a slow time.

I awoke suitably chastised the next morning to be greeted by a blanket of snow covering our garden as well as the roads, with a layer of ice underneath, so there was no way I would be able to run a time trial on that and back onto the treadmill it was.

I'm not sure how much effect the treadmill has on speed/effort. I know I get really hot, so longer efforts add some extra effort but shorter runs may well be easier on the treadmill. I guess that would explain why I managed to run 10k at virtually the same pace as that mile the day before and again, it wasn't an all-out effort. Still, that's quite startling. But at least it does indicate that a 6:45 mile time doesn't fully reflect my actual present state of fitness. I'd be worried if it did.

The other thing to mention is that Ray's Marathon Challenge hast started. As a reminder, the aim is to run at least one marathon every week, not all in one go, and so far so good. I'm halfway through my fund raising target already, so that's good and I should definitely get there by the end of the year. But if you could click on the link and donate a few quid, that would be great. It is for Laura Lynn, and they are desperate for your support. Thank you!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Happy Solstice

And so, finally, 2020 draws to an end. One thing we can all agree on, it was a truly shitty year, so good fucking riddance.

There might have been a few positives. No Christmas office party, for example, which is one major plus in my book. And the fact how I finally realised that working from home has plenty of plus points. But all in all it's good to leave this year behind us, write it off as a massive clusterfuck and move on to better things.

Mileage-wise it was another low for me, but I have the funny feeling that's just one more step on that particularly slope. By the time we hit New Year I'll be very close to 2300 running miles, and I'm not counting the cycling ones. I've gotten slower again, though I did manage a few plus points like a 5:54 mile, which was faster than any mile I've run for several years, and that 19:13 5k on the treadmill was better than I expected as well. As for races, I didn't realise how lucky I was to have signed up for Donadea in February, so at least I got one proper race under the belt before it all came crashing down.

For next year I'd love to catch up on all the races I missed out on this year but that would almost certainly a really bad idea. I no longer have the ability to do a marathon and recover quickly, so I will have to limit my races. So I guess that Ironman that was supposed to be this June but has been postponed to next August will be my focus for 2021; unfortunately I have no idea how I'll get the swim training done because I am not at all comfortable with going to a swimming pool for the time being, and swimming in the sea on a regular basis isn't all that high on my wish list either, to be honest. Make no mistake, I badly need to learn to swim properly before August and this will take some time, so that's something I need to figure out sooner rather than later.

I've been ticking over the last few weeks with most runs a 12 k loop around Bray, a shorter run when my legs felt particularly heavy and one longer run on Sunday, though nothing that I could call a long run in good conscience. The pace was generally somewhere between 8 and 8:30 minute miles, and a couple of attempts at a workout showed that I have serious issues when it comes to running faster.

For next year I do have one goal. I signed up for Ray's Marathon Challenge, a charity event with Ray D'Arcy as the figure head, but more importantly in support of LauraLynn, which to me is the single most deserving cause in Ireland, and one I really want to support. It means running at least 26.2 miles each and every week in 2021 (not in one go - that would kill me). I would really appreciate it if you could help out and donate, even if it's just a little bit. They have been really taking a hit with donations in 2020 and anything you can do to help will be highly appreciated.

Please follow the link to my donation page . Thank you!

Sunday, November 29, 2020

I'm Still Here

Clearly there are still some of you out there reading this because I got admonished this week for not updating this blog often enough not just once but twice (twice!).

I guess they have a point. It's been a while. In my defence, there wasn't much to write about. I took it very easy the first couple of weeks after the marathon. You're supposed to take it easy after any marathon, even one where you didn't really push the effort and didn't feel particularly sore afterwards. And someone with my history of overtraining should definitely take it easy.

And then ... well, I just didn't feel overly motivated to push myself. There are still no races anywhere in the foreseeable future and it's hard to plan ahead. I'm kind of hoping that this easy year will have given my body the chance to repair some of the damage I did to it over the years, and when I finally can bring myself to push myself in training again I might see some improvements, but if that's how it will turn out, only time will tell.

Today was the first time I did double figure mileage, so this really was an easy period. Also, about a week ago I got the notion of adding some strengthening work by doing rope skipping, and on the second try I promptly felt a sharp pain in my right Achilles, so that's that idea right out of the window. I can still feel the Achilles occasionally when running, it feels a bit stiff and when running up a steep hill on my toes it feels like putting too much stress on the tendon, so I don't. Tendons heal slowly, though since it's not giving me any real troubles I'm not too worried about it. It just means that big hills or hill sprints are off the menu for a few weeks.

I guess it looks like it will be a few more easy weeks to see out the year. Then we all collectively forget about a truly shitty 2020 and start again.


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Let's Be Grateful

 In a strange masochistic way, I always wanted to know what it would be like to run an entire marathon on a treadmill. I think it was Jo Fearon a few years ago when she ran 12 marathons on the 12 days of Christmas (she had to restrain herself to the marathon distance because she was nursing a baby at the time - talk about hardcore!) that started my curiosity, but knowing how miserable an experience even a single hour on the treadmill usually is I wasn't ever tempted to follow up on that in reality.

Two things have happened since that made the difference. The first was the emergence of online training platforms like Zwift with their virtual worlds tied to your own performance on a treadmill or bike trainer. It should not really make a difference, you are still working away without moving from the spot, but seeing your avatar moving along in a 3D world is a complete game changer. The second thing was obviously a worldwide pandemic that made it rather unwise to hold mass events, to be putting it mildly, and virtual events have taken over instead, poor replacements they may be.

I had waited for a long time to sign up for the virtual Dublin City Marathon, not really being tempted by virtual races, but eventually I did. I was a bit unsure where I should do my running; laps were an obvious choice, especially as it allowed you to stow away some sports drink, in the hope nobody would interfere with it, and I had the option of Bray's People Park (1 km loops), Shanganagh Park (2 km loops) and Boghall Road - Southern Cross Road (5 km loops), plus the distance it would take to run there and back home.

Then level 5 lockdown came to Ireland, and while all those options were entirely inside my 5 km radius and therefore perfectly within the guidelines, I opted to cocoon and went for the treadmill, though in all honesty more out of curiosity to finally grab the chance to see what it's like rather than an overblown sense of civil obedience. It also solved the drinks problem, all I had to do was to put them on the windowsill beside me.

Once all was in place, it was just a matter of starting the computer and the treadmill and start running.

The first 5k were rather tedious. Time just didn't want to pass and I thought this was going to be a VERY long day. Mind, I have plenty of experience of very long days running and today wasn't going to be one of the tough ones, not really. Eventually I managed to tune out and get into the Zone, which helped a lot and made the next 90 minutes or so mostly just fly by.

The pacing was maybe a tad optimistic. I hadn't done any marathon specific training and was falling back on muscle memory, though I had covered plenty of miles in that last person standing challenge, which I reckoned would stand me in good stead, so I set the pace of the treadmill to 12 kph, 5 minutes per k, which would get me home just under 3:30. That was fine for the first 25 km and I was doing pretty well, mentally as well as physically. Of course, I've been in that game long enough to know that the first 25 k are not the ones that really count. And true enough, at that point I felt the first spasm in my right calf, the bane of my life, yet again. Fuck.

The treadmill adds another dimension to the cramps game, assuming that you don't want to be spat out at the end when you seize up, which could easily lead to further injury, something I was keen to avoid. So when I felt the second spasm I decided to play it safe and slowed down. At that point I still felt pretty good and managed to get another 10 k out of my legs but then the fun started again, and this time with rather more vehemence. I narrowly avoided an undignified treadmill exit out of the back end, but it was perfectly clear that the only way to avoid further drama was to slow right down, which I did, and I jogged home the last 7k in rather pedestrian fashion and finished up in 3:37:49.

To be honest, I was happy enough with that, not a complete disgrace and I was definitely feeling it for the last few miles and not exactly in perfect shape when I finally stepped off.

So, the Virtual Dublin City Marathon is done and I have satisfied my curiosity regarding treadmill marathons. And I got the badge on Zwift. 

The final verdict: In all honesty I'm not particularly keen to repeat the experience, I much prefer a real marathon. But you know, one day there will be the day when I cannot run any more. Today is not that day. Let's be grateful for that!


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