Sunday, May 21, 2017

RIP Curley

I was totally shocked and saddened to hear those awful news. I regarded Mike Curley Cunningham as a friend of mine. He was a fantastic running who represented Ireland on the international stage, but much more so he was a friendly and always supportive human being, a true gent.

I have come second to Mike in more than one race, and it was never a close call. But he never failed to compliment me on my own race, no matter how much slower it had been than his. I will miss him.

After that, my own running doesn't even seem worthwhile mentioning, but I'll post details anyway just for sake of this being a running blog.

Despite expecting a few more easy days, the coach gave me a workout on Friday, 2 x 4 times 1-1.5 miles at faster than marathon pace interspersed by a mile at 40 seconds slower. The loop behind the in-laws' house, seemingly known by everyone as the St. Raphaela's loop after the nearby school, officially named Clonmore Park (not that I have every heard that name mentioned), is very well suited to such a workout. 3 laps constitute 1.4 miles, and that was my workout segment, with 2 laps for the slower segments. It saved me from having to check the watch to see how much was left, I only had to count to 3, though that was a challenge in itself at times. During the first segment I tried to pace myself off the HR (supposed to be 165-168) but that was slow to come up so I ended up running a bit faster than expected even though the HR was lower. The "recovery"segments in those workouts aren't much for recovery but they help psychologically as the end of a segment is never too far away.

Despite the fast start I got on just fine and braced myself for the full 4 segments when halfway through the third I seemed to have run out of energy. I kept that segment going until the end, waiting to see if I would recover, but didn't, so I called it a day. That's why the coach prescribes a 2-4 intervals, it's up to me to see what number would be best (it tends to be the middle one). I was tired afterwards but happy with how the run had gone,

I was back in Kerry for the weekend and managed to catch up with my old route along the lake, something I had missed more than I had realised. I did 15 miles on Saturday on whatever pace came easily. The legs were fine but I could sense that if I ran any faster they would not be. Even so, after 13 miles I pretty much had enough and dragged my backside back home.

Sunday's 8 miles, just the run I used to run all the time, was on fresher legs, even with the blustery wind,

I'll run the next few miles for you, Curley.

19 May
9 miles, 1:07:47, 7:31 pace, HR 155
   6:45 (161), 7:29, 6:55 (165), 7:28, 6:52 (167)
20 May
15 miles, 2:03:05, 8:12 pace, HR 144
21 May
8 miles, 1:03:20, 7:55 pace, HR 143

Thursday, May 18, 2017

After The Marathon

Recovery from Saturday’s marathon has gone pretty well. Initially I thought I had aggravated my leg injury; Niamh noticed me limping on Sunday and a work colleague did the same on Monday, though I had been aware of it on neither occasion. However, it then improved remarkably quickly, by Tuesday it was much better already, as good as it had had been at any time the days before the marathon, and by Thursday morning everything is down to “barely noticeable”,  around 1/10 or 2/10. I’ll take that.

Muscle soreness was never a factor, from that point of view it seems to have gone particularly well. Taking it very easy this week sure helped, no doubles or anything longer than one commute at a time. On Wednesday morning I played around with the pace a little bit, going up to marathon effort once I hit the seafront (probably a bit too fast) and another pickup through one of the parks towards the end of the commute. On both occasions I felt really good, though the HR spiked much higher than I would have liked.

One thing I have noticed since moving to Dublin is that I find it very hard to relax while on the run. The leg definitely had a major impact on that, it’s hard to run relaxed when one leg keeps sending signals that something is wrong. Running in unfamiliar surroundings hasn’t helped, and running with a backpack definitely has not helped. However, on Wednesday, especially during the pickups, I finally managed to get into a groove and relax a lot more than at any other time since moving here. Maybe things are finally settling down.

I'm also trying to get as organised as possible, bringing several days' worth of clothing into the office at a time so I can run unencumbered on the other days.

Anyway, the legs felt a bit lethargic again on Thursday, with the triple-whammy of marathon, backpack and faster miles the day before clearly not helping. I’ll be taking it easy for a bit longer, I guess.
15 May
3 miles, 25:35, 8:31 pace, HR 139
16 May
5.5 miles, 45:54, 8:20 pace, HR 145
17 May
5.55 miles, 42:55, 7:43 pace, HR 149
18 May
5.5 miles, 44:56, 8:10 pace, HR 147

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The One Legged Marathon

When I initially earmarked the Lakes of Killarney marathon in my race calendar I obviously assumed it would be my most local race of the year. As things turned out I had to drive across the country instead, though since I wanted to see my family I didn't make that journey purely for the sake of the marathon.

Training had been going very well until about 2 weeks ago when my right leg started to act up, with an issue in the knee which then moved down into the Achilles. However, it never particularly hurt and on the morning of the marathon it felt better than any previous day, virtually unnoticeable, so I was confident I would get through the day in one piece. The planned pace was reasonable at 7:40 (roughly a 3:22 marathon) but I was always going to adapt depending how I felt.

I started out with Chris and Fozzy who were manning the 3:30 pace group and stuck with them for a mile. On the first downhill I started drifting ahead naturally and before I even knew it I was already well ahead of the pace group, so I just kept going.

The course consisted of 3 laps through the Demesne of Killarney National Park, a stunningly beautiful setting. In previous years we had always been blessed with beautiful sunshine but today was rainy and windy, though in the woods the wind didn't bother us and even the rain felt less noticeable in those surroundings. On the other hand it's a rather hilly course with a rather big climb at the start of each loop and a very rolling section for about 2 miles behind Ross Castle.

The first loop passed by rather quickly. My leg felt fine even though the right calf was rather stiff, which did affect my stride a bit. Once I started the second loop, however, trouble started immediately at the big climb. My calf just would not cooperate, I could not put my toes down and ended up hobbling up the hill in a very awkward way, very slowly but also very exhausting. I lost 2 places and had to watch them pull away as if I was standing still (what wasn't all that far away from the truth). I knew I was in trouble, with 2 roller sections and one more big hill climb yet to come.

Running on the flat was still fine, though. I was alse to keep going at 7:40 pace, or at least close, without too much bother but my right leg just wasn't right. It felt like I could not produce any power, it was just standing there, moving further purely by momentum and it was the left leg that kept propelling me forward on its own. The roller section was as tough as expected, with me getting slower with each and every hill and exhaustion starting to become a real factor.

Once I had left that section behind I was still moving somewhat ok, though when Dolores Duffy caught up she stormed past like a rocket, once more making me feel like standing still.

I knew the last loop would be tough. I struggled badly up the hill, slowing down to 10-minute pace yet requiring an effort that felt like sprinting. The subsequent downhill was purely for recovery and the road to Ross castle seemed to have drawn out considerably since the last time. Mind, I wasn't looking forward to reaching the end of that section because the rollers would be really tough. So it proved. After one climb I actually turned round, relieved to see that there had been nobody behind me to witness the pathetic shuffle I had just produced.

Again, the section seemed to have gotten longer than last time. However, when I emerged I spotted a white top ahead of me, and from the way he was moving he clearly was another marathon runner on the last lap, not one of the many lapped runners. I actually must have gotten closer to him over the last few miles, despite my own troubles (I was surprised that nobody had passed me since Dolores on mile 16). Seeing him was good news, it gave me a target to chase for the last 3 miles instead of feeling sorry for myself on my shuffle back home. On the flats I was still able to keep going under 8-minute pace, though every time we got to even the tiniest of hills I slowed down dramatically, so I never got any closer to my target. Nevertheless, he pulled me towards the finish line which I reached in 3:26:01.

I could claim I had just jogged around at an easy effort, which would be perfectly believable, but unfortunately that's not how it happened. I felt exhausted at the end and totally depleted. I commandeered a coke bottle and emptied it and must have eaten half my body weight in sandwiches and bananas. I didn't hang around, though, because I quickly started getting cold in the rain, so I headed back towards the car. My right leg was rather sore, even when walking, which wasn't good, though a few hours later it was much better again,

I went out for a very short and easy run on Sunday morning. By that point I could walk around just fine, but Niamh noticed that I was limping a bit (I had not noticed). Running felt odd, with a very tight calf muscle that put me off my stride. There is actually no muscle soreness from the marathon as such, just that injured calf. We've chucked out the training schedule. I'm having a very easy week.

11 May
am: 5.5 miles, 43:02, 7:49 pace, HR 146
pm: 5.5 miles, 43:54, 7:58 pace, HR 146
12 May
4 miles, 32:52, 8:13 pace, HR 145
13 May
Lakes of Killarney marathon, 3:26:01, 12th place
14 May
3 miles, 26:49, 8:56 pace, HR 135

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Adapting

After turning my life upside down with my move to Dublin, it will take time to settle into a new routine and work out things until everything is running smoothly again. As stated in my last post, I initially struggled to keep my training going, between the unfamiliar roads and the heavy traffic and my reduced time due to the unexpectedly long commute, but I'm starting to figure things out.

After spending yet another 90 minutes on the commute back home on Monday evening (and then being too tired for an evening run) I decided to make some immediate changes. On Tuesday morning I packed everything I needed into a backpack and ran to work instead. This had some immediate benefits: no more frustration while waiting for the bus and being stuck in traffic, and I didn't have to get up at 5:30 in order to run before work any more. That immediately gave me over 2 extra hours of my day: a total win!

It's not all entirely straightforward. My backpack is basically unsuited to running (it's not a running backpack), it's way too big and it bounces like mad due to the lack of chest straps. It really does put me off my stride, I feel uncoordinated and my HR is all over the place. Not ideal. I actually do own a running backpack but that's in Kerry at the moment. However, for next week I'm planning on bringing one week's worth of clothing into work on Monday, so I only have to use the backpack on Monday morning and Friday evening and can run unencumbered for the rest of time.

It's 5.5 miles from home to work, which gives me 11 miles a day, which is plenty. However, running no more than 5.5 miles in one go won't do in preparation for a 24 hours race, so on Wednesday morning I set off earlier, dropped the backpack off at work and immediately set off again to the nearest park for another 5.5 miles, this time unencumbered, which felt a lot nicer. I still didn't quite get as many miles as planned because everything took a bit longer than estimated - I will figure it out eventually.

The last couple of weeks I have been troubled by some niggles in my right Achilles and knee. Undoubtedly those two issues are closely related. The Achilles seemed to calm down by the weekend only for the knee to act up again. It's on the inside of the leg, about 2 inches below the knee cap. When I googled it I came across "pes anserine bursitis" a lot, which sounded a bit scary, especially with the long recommended rest - the Belfast race would be over by the time I'm back running. Fortunately things have improved again this week and while I can still feel "something" in both areas, it's more a bit of stiffness than proper pain, and definitely getting better. My worry is that driving home will aggravate it again, as prolonged periods of sitting down seems to particularly bad - I'll have to wait and see.

Oh, and congratulations to Kathryn Shaw for winning the free copy of the book I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. It's on its way.
8 May
9 miles, 1:13:35, 8:10 pace, HR 141
9 May
am: 5.5 miles, 42:27, 7:43 pace, HR 149
pm: 5.5 miles, 45:45, 8:19 pace, HR 146
10 May
am: 11 miles, 1:26:31, 7:51 pace, HR 148
pm: 5.5 miles, 44:20, 8:03 pace, HR 148

Sunday, May 07, 2017

My Achilles Heel

I might not be a Greek demigod but I do share a weakness with one of Old Homer's finest. My right Achilles has a tendency to act up every now and again.

To be fair, it's been 4 years since the latest flare up, so I certainly can't complain too loudly. But complain I did, eventually, whining to my coach. He identified the problem not as tendinitis but an issue at the point where the tendon connects with the calf muscle. Most interestingly, the prescribed cure was not rest but to keep on training; exercise being more beneficial than idleness - something that I have learned time and time again to be true (with one exception in the last 10 years).

Anyway, my normal runs were manageable. The Achilles did hurt a little bit but it was definitely manageable. What it did hamper was my workout on Friday when I tried my usual few miles at a faster effort. The Achilles started to hurt as soon as I got above a certain threshold and I very quickly learned that forcing the issue was not on the cards, so I just kept the effort at a level where it all was still somewhat okay. Interestingly, looking at the data afterwards showed that I managed to go slightly faster as the run went on, from 7:30 pace initially to 7:13 on the 7th miles, with an average of 7:22. That was significantly slower than last week but what can you do.

Saturday was more telling, though. Following the advice that the long run was still on the cards, I combined the run with a tour through my new South Dublin neighbourhood, but never straying too far away from home in case the Achilles started acting up. What I found was that the Achilles was much better already, thank Goodness, that South Dublin is very hilly and that I cannot afford a house in the immediate vicinity (a lottery win being my only hope). I still have a bit of an issue with my right knee, which has felt a bit stiff ever since Longford, but as far as I can tell that seems to be on the mend as well.

After 5 days in Dublin I can state a couple of things. First, commuting by bus sucks. I actually live pretty much the same distance from work as I did in Kerry but instead of 10 minutes it's taking me an hour. I'm trying to get my bike to Dublin and I'm playing with the idea of running to work but I need to get organised first and a lot of the things I need for that are still in Kerry.

Secondly, running on Dublin roads is far less enjoyable than running on the quiet country roads near Caragh Lake. One glaringly obvious thing is my much higher HR the last few days compared to previous weeks, and I'm pretty sure the fact that my brain can't switch off in these new surrounding while I'm pounding the roads is a very real factor. It may improve as I get used to it but at the moment it's either sharing the road with far more cars than I'd like or running circles in a park, which does get mind numbing very quickly. Oh, and if you have some secret tips on how best to run here (I'm not driving to Phoenix Park for my runs - or anywhere else for that matter), I'd appreciate your input.

There are definite upside to living here as well, though. Last night's Iron Maiden concert was a 20 minute drive away rather than a 4 hour trip as it would have been otherwise. I certainly did appreciate that. And it did remind me of my last Maiden concert - in Vienna, 1993. Great stuff.

4 May
am: 7 miles, 1:01:10, 8:44 pace, HR 134
pm: 5 miles, 38:52, 7:46 pace, HR 145
5 May
10 miles, 1:17:43, 7:46 pace, HR 149
   incl. 7 @ 7:22 pace (HR 154)
6 May
18 miles, 2:23:50, 7:59 pace, HR 147
7 May
am: 8+ miles, 1:04:24, 8:00 pace, HR 144
pm: 5 miles, 37:53, 7:34 pace, HR 145

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A New Beginning

In my ideal world I can run as much as I want without any intrusion from the outside world. Alas, this is not my ideal world and real life does have a habit of rearing its head from time to time. Balancing my running life in such a way that it doesn't interfere with work or family is one of the things I had to learn - I like to think I'm pretty good at it.

Sometimes, however, things happen on a grander scale just to be glossed over. Last Friday, after over 13 years, I walked out of the office in Killorglin for the last time, wondering if I was utterly foolish to leave such a save job behind to look at the greener grass on the other side. I spent the weekend at home with the family and on Tuesday loaded up my little car and drove to Dublin. I'm starting my new job on Thursday.

From a running point of view, the timing is less than ideal, with the inevitable stress that comes with such a big change unlikely to be helpful in my preparations for a World Championship. On the other hand this was such an exciting opportunity after years of stagnation in the same job without much hope for promotion that I just could not let it pass. I'll just have to adapt to the new circumstances and make the best of it.

Running hasn't gone all that well this week, pretty much the first time I can say that since this training cycle began. On Monday I actually felt pretty good but the numbers were rather unimpressive. On Tuesday I felt like the legs were stuck in mud but the numbers were excellent, as good as I have seen all year. On Wednesday morning, now in Dublin, I posted the worst figures in months! I'm not sure what's to blame, the long drive to Dublin maybe, but I've done that journey plenty of times before. The hilly course, the wind, the stress of the move, all of the above?

I went out for a second time that day, for a short run just before dinner. The figures looked much better but the run itself was awful. I felt dehydrated and low on blood sugar - I need to get used to running doubles, I think.

Well, the move was bound to have some impact. I need to see how I feel and adjust accordingly. The worst thing I could do now is push too hard and waste all that great base training I have done so far.

1 May
8 miles, 1:03:45, 7:58 pace, HR 140
2 May
8 miles, 1:04:39, 8:04 pace, HR 135
3 May
am:6 miles, 48:56, 8:09 pace, HR 145
pm:5 miles, 39:37, 7:55 pace, HR 142

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lessons In Recovery

It's one of MC's favourite sayings, that how you recover from a workout says more about your conditioning than how the workout went.

My workout was the Longford ultra. It had gone very well, much better than expected. Now I had to recover from it.

Cute!
I launched into my standard tried and tested recovery protocol. The day after the ultra I hobbled through 4 uncomfortable miles when I would have preferred to wrap myself in cotton wool, but that's the tried and tested part of the recovery program. Gentle exercise significantly speeds up recovery compared to total rest, as counter-intuitive as it may sound at first.

I kept taking it very easy for several more days, which of course included skipping the weekly mountain run. The legs felt better with each day but I could still sense some fatigue in the quads, which is a bit strange because during the ultra itself it was primarily the hamstrings that were aching. On Friday I felt sufficiently brave to launch into another workout, the usual Fast Friday 7 miles with the HR close to 155, though I was prepared to pull the plug any time, depending how the legs felt.

Well, as it turns out, the legs felt much better than anticipated. I have never managed to surprise the coach with a workout, until now that is. Even he did not expect me to cruise through those mile the way I did, though in all honesty I was even more surprised to post better numbers than 2 and 3 weeks ago.

Turns out, though, it wasn't all as rosy as it looked at first. Saturday was the second part of the back-to-back workout. Nine easy miles followed by 6 at 7:15 pace, or a little bit faster if I felt like it. It looked easy enough, that's slower and for a shorter distance than Friday's fast part, but once I started the workout I could immediately sense that the legs were compromised. If you've heard about the central governor theory, I felt it today as the CG left me with a very limited number of muscle fibres to work with. As hard as I tried, 7:21 pace was as good as it got and I only managed to elevate my HR to 160 on uphill sections, otherwise the legs just would not respond no matter how hard I tried. That's the thing with those back-to-back workouts, they mercilessly show up deficient recovery, so it's back to another week of easy running.

24 Apr
5 miles, 42:35, 8:31 pace, HR 136
25 Apr
5 miles, 42:20, 8:28 pace, HR 133
26 Apr
7 miles, 56:51, 8:07 pace, HR 136
27 Apr
7 miles, 54:53, 7:50 pace, HR 144
28 Apr
10 miles, 1:13:07, 7:18 pace, HR 150
   incl.7 @ 7:04 (HR 153)
29 Apr
15 miles, 1:55:38, 7:42 pace, HR 147
   incl.6 @ 7:21 (HR 156)
30 Apr
7 miles, 58:28, 8:21 pace, HR 136