Thursday, April 28, 2016

In Training

They used to be so cute, 15 years ago!
Coming home from Wicklow on Sunday my thoughts turned towards the following weeks. The next 6 weeks will see the major block of ultra training for Belfast, basically the weeks I had missed before the Spartathlon. It starts with a big jump in mileage this week, partially facilitated by running twice a day most days (at least on days where real life does allow), followed by a block of 3 marathons and then a 100k for funtraining. It's in many ways copied from the training I did 2 years ago because that's when I ran my best ever race, and obviously I'm hoping for a similar outcome.

I started incorporating a few things I had learned from Barry and Svein over the weekend. Each day I got up 10 minutes earlier that the running training on its own would have called for and did a few exercises barefoot in the garden. Squats, shoulders, lunges, kettlebells, throwing stones - fairly unstructured, just doing whatever came to mind at the time. As per Barry's advice, it will take a long time before this will make an actual difference to my running performances. I'm not doing that for Belfast, I'm thinking long term.

From Wednesday onwards I started skipping breakfast; that is, I had a coffee with butter and coconut fat dissolved in it. If you google for bulletproof coffee, that is basically it, though the marketing bullsh*t on the official website nearly made me reconsider. It doesn't taste nearly as bad as it sounds, though I admit it's not the finest cup of coffee I've ever tasted either. The things I do for fat adaptation!

Oh, and I didn't neglect the basic running either (and Barry was quick to remind me that specificity is still as important as ever). A fairly easy Monday was followed by doing some hill sprints on Tuesday, trying to get some neuromuscular developments going. I did not time the hill sprints nor did I count them at the time, just ran up to the same point each time, which happened to take about 15 seconds. Recovery was walking down the hill followed by a few more seconds of slow jogging at the bottom. After a few repeats my chest started to feel tight about 20 seconds after each repeat, and once that got uncomfortable I left it at that. I was surprised afterwards to count no less than 11 repeats on the GPS track, I would have thought I had done maybe 7 or 8.

I did my standard 10 mile morning run on Wednesday and a run up to Windy Gap on Thursday. That is, I intended to run up to the gap but the morning routine just took longer than planned and I turned around halfway up the steep final hill to get back home in time. With the marathon on Sunday that may have been a good thing anyway, though I am slightly conflicted about that because in some circles running a marathon on slightly tired legs is looked at as proper ultra training.

I'm still not entirely sure what pace I will run in Limerick on Sunday, something between 3:10 and 3:20 most likely but that's a fairly wide spread. I will see how I feel and adapt accordingly (or, as you might call it alternatively, I'll just wing it).

25 Apr
am: 10 miles, 1:10:50, 7:59 pace, HR 141
26 Apr
am: 7 miles, 1:01:48, 8:49 pace, HR 141, 11x15 sec hill sprints
pm: 5 miles, 38:49, 7:45 pace, HR 141
27 Apr
am: 10 miles, 1:20:34, 8:03 pace, HR 139
pm: 5 miles, 38:42, 7:44 pace, HR 141
28 Apr
am: 10+ miles, 1:28:10, 8:41 pace, HR 144, Windy Gap
pm: 5 miles, 38:48, 7:45 pace, HR 143

Monday, April 25, 2016

Some Weekend

Svein and Barry
When, a few weeks ago, I stumbled over an open invitation by nutritionist and ultra runner Barry Murray for a weekend “seminar” I was immediately excited by the prospect. Barry has serious credentials as a runner (numerous wins, including last year’s 200k Kerry Way ultra) as well as a nutritionist (e.g. with the BMC cycling racing team), and he was very highly recommended by the likes of Eoin Keith and Paul Tierney. That’s not all, though. His partner for the seminar was Svein Tuft, a professional cyclist with an enormous list of accolades to his name (wearer of the maglia rosa at the Giro, stage wins at the Giro and the Tour de France, Olympian, World championship medals, never mind his national titles and even more!). In short, once I got accepted to the (free!!!) seminar I knew I would be tutored by two of the most knowledgeable endurance athletes on the planet.

The one tiny downside was the long drive from Kerry to Wicklow, and I’m mightily sick of that road by now, though at least in this particular case I knew it would be well worth it. The very first thing I noticed when I got out of the car and was greeted by Barry was that he was in his bare feet, as was Svein, which came as no big surprise. The attendees of the workshop (still not sure what exactly I should call it) were cyclists, mountain biker, triathletes and me as the ultra runner, and the one thing Barry had asked us to bring along was an open mind. I could do that.

We started out in the garden where they lectured us about getting grounded (basically, standing in your bare feet on the grass), doing fundamental exercises (squats most of all) and making use of sunshine. Reading that now makes it sound like a hippy camp but it wasn’t, honestly. We then walked down to the beach, crawled of some boulders, did some exercises with big stones (throwing, catching, squats) and took a dip in the sea (ok, admittedly I refused to do that one. The last time I took a dip in the ice cold Irish Sea without a wetsuit was 20 years ago to impress a girl, and once she agreed to marry me I never saw the need to repeat that). Back home there was more training talk followed by a drive to Glendalough and a hike of several hours up and down Camaderry Mountain.

The mountain hike was very interesting. Barry talked at length about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Basically, athletes in training are always stimulating the sympathetic nervous system, neglecting the parasympathetic (“rest-and-digest”) one. The hike was low impact enough to stimulate the parasympathetic system but it was still a serious endurance workout, which had me sleep like a baby that night.

On Sunday we were back in the garden, and by now most of us joined the 2 main men in sitting there in our bare feet. Sunday’s talk was mostly confined to nutrition. I knew that Barry was a high fat low carb guy and was very surprised that he actually recommends carbs at the right times, basically post work-out (“you have to earn your carbs”). There was less surprise in the rest of the talk (natural food, no sugars, no supplements and so on, too much to go into specific details here).

Now back home in Kerry I need to think what I can implement immediately and what I want to consider for the future. Funnily enough I had implemented one of the most fundamental steps almost 10 years ago already, namely to train in the morning on an empty stomach, and I’ve already given up carb breakfast (porridge in my case) about half a year ago (yes, I manged to work those things out by myself). For the rest I’ll start doing it in small steps. On Monday morning I got up 10 minutes earlier than I would have otherwise and did my squats and lunges and used the kettlebell in my bare feet outside in the garden. I had my coffee with coconut fat and had a decent carbs meal for lunch.

Getting rid of carbs for dinner might be tricky. The kids love pasta, Niamh loves rice, and organ meat for dinner simply is not going to happen in a family where half are vegetarians.

Also, Barry lined out a week of training that saw heavy use of hikes and such instead of “proper” training. With the 24 hours race in Belfast only 2 months away I’m simply not prepared to jump into that kind of training while sacrificing half (or more) of my training miles. I do think that the biggest physical obstacle in 24 hours racing is muscle breakdown in the legs and can’t get my mind around the idea of dropping mileage right now. Once Belfast is out of the way I will reconsider. I do think that Barry’s approach might be extremely beneficial for post-race recovery, and right now the plan is to get to the race on “standard” training and try out more radical changes afterwards.

As for further seminars/workshops, one entire week with those guys sounds like a dream come true. If that ever came to fruition it would take a lot to keep me away.

Oh, and even though I suspect Barry wouldn’t approve I’m still listing out my daily training mileage:
23 Apr
4 miles, 30:51, 7:43 pace, HR 130
24 Apr
5 miles, 38:52, 7:46 pace, HR 143
25 Apr
10 miles, 1:19:50, 7:59 pace, HR 141

Friday, April 22, 2016

It's All In The Form

If you ever want some good photos of yourself and you happen to be in the Northwest of England, you could do a lot worse than contact Martin Lever. I should know. I have never seen a photo of me running that looks even remotely good - until Marty did his magic. His eye for a good frame is amazing and if he can make me look good just imagine what he could do for you!

Anyways.

I usually have my race recovery program dialled down to a fine art (I've had plenty of practice over the years) but this time it's not entirely the same. Maybe I'm getting old or maybe it's because I was pushing harder than what I've been uses to in a while. I do hope it's the latter and it does make sense - a 3:01 marathon is very different from a 3:15, which is roughly what I'd usually run when I do a marathon as a training run, give or take a bit.

Anyway, my legs still felt a bit sore 10 days after the marathon and I was not happy about that. I decided to try a different approach. I looked back at the training I did 2 years ago, when recovery just seemed to happen magically, and decided to copy the basic approach: 2 short runs a day instead of 1 medium one. The effects were almost instantaneous, there was no soreness on Thursday morning, neither during the run nor afterwards. Of course now I'm wondering if I was imagining things because things don't usually turn around that quickly. Maybe on Tuesday I was merely dealing with DOMS from Sunday's mountain run? Anyway, I'll keep the doubles going, at least on the days where real life will let that happen. As always, the evening run was a good bit faster than the morning run even though the subjective effort was basically the same. I've seen that many times before.

I did not have time for a second run on Thursday and won't be able to do so tonight (Friday) either, so I extended this morning's run to 8 again, despite what I just said. However, there will be a lot of doubles in the coming weeks.

The weekend will be very different - I'm doing a workshop, more about nutrition and s&c than training, but I'm really looking forward to it and hope to get a lot out of it.

Training will then step up a gear from Monday on. That's when the serious training for Belfast will start.

As for Manchester, I had heard the chatter last year about the marathon course being short. I refused to believe that because I could not fathom that an officially measured and certified course of a fairly major marathon could be short 3 years in a row. Turns out I was wrong! Thankfully they confirmed that it was correct this year (my GPS measurement of 26.37 miles bears this out). Of course, I would have broken 3 if the course would have been short still - though that news would have been highly unwelcome in that case.

19 Apr
10 miles, 1:19:38, 7:58 pace, HR 142
20 Apr
am: 5 miles, 41:32, 8:18 pace, HR 133
pm: 4 miles, 30:28, 7:36 pace, HR 141
21 Apr
5 miles, 41:28, 8:18 pace, HR 132
22 Apr
8 miles, 1:04:02, 8:00 pace, HR 137

Monday, April 18, 2016

Recovery

People keep congratulating me on my time in Manchester and I keep feeling like an ungrateful sod because I don't really want to be congratulated on a race where I missed my target. I know it wasn't a bad race, just not as good as I had hoped.

Ah well, I guess I'm still a bit in the "what if" post-race scenario.

Recovery is clearly taking its time. I can still feel the marathon in the legs, though it is definitely getting better. As always, my weight went up by several pounds and only started to come down on Saturday, 6 full days after the marathon, and it's still elevated compared to my pre-race weight (and no, it's not down to me overeating).

I tried to take it easy most days, which worked until Saturday when the HR was 10 beats higher all of a sudden. The pace had been a tad faster but the effort had been the same all along, so I'm really not quite sure what exactly happened that day. I never check the watch during my easy runs and only noticed the high numbers when I looked at it afterwards.

Despite that I headed up to the Windy Gap on Sunday. That route is unlikely to match anyone's description of a recovery run but I felt a change of scenery would do me good, and whatever pounding your legs get on a mountain trail is very different to the one you get during a road marathon so it wouldn't produce a setback in recovery (or at least that's my theory). Anyway, the HR levels were back down on Monday morning - in fact the pace/HR figures are very good, just looking at them in isolation I might think I'm in good shape.

However, on Sunday evening my left knee started to hurt. I'm pretty sure it's not caused by running, not even mountain running, but by sitting too many hours in the car driving. Niamh and me have spent a ridiculous amount of time in the car the last few weeks. Early last week I drove the road from Kerry to Dublin (or back) no less than 3 times in less than 48 hours, and all that sitting in cramped conditions is taking its toll. The good news is that running does not hurt at all, so I won't be taking any time off, and the stupid amount of driving should stop next weekend.

There isn't much time before Limerick, and since I won't be back in proper shape I won't be racing it. At least that's the plan, though I'm known not to stick to the plan occasionally when I pin a race number onto my chest. There are a few more long runs to come after Limerick as well - the only sure way to stop me from racing marathons I have found so far is to carry a pacer's balloon. It won't happen in Limerick but I did put my name down for the Lakes of Killarney marathon 2 weeks later. Let's hope I still enjoy running as a pacer more than I do running with a pacer.

15 Apr
8 miles, 1:02:42, 7:50 pace, HR 140
16 Apr
8 miles, 1:01:20, 7:40 pace, HR 150
17 Apr
10.65 miles, 1:31:39, 8:36 pace, HR 151, Kerry Way
18 Apr
8 miles, 1:03:09, 7:53 pace, HR 140

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Manchester Afterthoughts

There isn't an awful lot to say, really. I missed my target by a fairly small margin but I had gotten over that within a minute of finishing and haven't been dwelling on it. The fact that Manchester was not my main goal for the year definitely helped, no doubt about it.

I've learned a few things from a few mistakes I made during training, and maybe I'll still remember them for my next training cycle, if I ever target another marathon, that is. The race itself was very well executed I think. The one mistake I made was not to react at mile 21 when I realised that runners were starting to go past me and instead wait for another 2 miles until the pacer finally caught up to me. If the pacer had been on target that may actually have worked but he wasn't. Mind, I do not blame the pacer at all: I ran too slowly and that is the one and only reason why I did not break 3 hours.

I think the organisers should definitively deploy more than one pacer per time band, though. Not only does it help to spread out the group, the pacers can keep an eye on each other to ensure they remain on pace, two very crucial things.

Anyway, let's move on. My next marathon is only 3 weeks away (2-and-a-half at this stage), in Limerick. I haven't decided yet what pace I'm going to target; in fact I may well wait until a mile into the race and then make a decision depending on how the legs feel.

Recovery is going pretty well. My weight has shot up by a few pounds, as it does after every marathon, and I expect that to come down again in a few days. Monday's run wasn't much fun and Tuesday maybe even less so, but I got through them, though I had to cut them both down to 4 miles due to lack of time. However I already felt worlds better on Wednesday, which would explain why the pace was entire minuter per mile faster. It was enough to extend the mileage to 8 on Thursday, once again feeling a bit better, though I can clearly feel the effects of the marathon, even if they are diminishing. The pace/HR numbers have jumped up spectacularly already, let's hope that's not a false reading.

Right now I'm taking it day by day. There isn't time to do any real training before Limerick so I'll just try and not do anything particularly stupid in the meantime.

11 Apr
4 miles, 36:49, 9:12 pace, HR 136
12 Apr
4 miles, 37:12, 9:18 pace, HR 131
13 Apr
5 miles, 40:39, 8:08 pace, HR 141
14 Apr
8 miles, 1:04:06, 8:01 pace, HR 139

Monday, April 11, 2016

Don't Look Back In Anger

In one way it was the perfect weekend: City on Saturday, marathon on Sunday. In another way it wasn’t entirely ideal: with the race number pickup early on Saturday and the match moved to an evening kick-off it meant a lot of hours in Manchester when ideally I would have been resting with my feet up. Some things just can’t be helped and logistics for a race away from home sometimes do come with less than optimal conditions attached.

Steve and me. Photo by Martin Lever
Never mind, as I lined up for the start of the Manchester marathon I was reasonably hopeful of a good race. I knew from my training that a sub-3 marathon was a possibility but only on a good day. It certainly required a lot of things to go right. Since there was a 3-hour pacer it meant I would invariably be running in a group, want it or not. I have never run with a pacer so wasn’t entirely sure how it would work out but it did make for a very simple race strategy: run with the pacer. If at halfway I would feel good I could try and push ahead. If I felt bad I would try to hang on for dear life as long as I could. Simples.

The start area was suspiciously empty 10 minutes before the start but then filled up very quickly. I tried to line up where I thought the pacer would be and got it almost right – when he finally turned up I was just slightly ahead of him. Ideally I would have been just behind him but it had gotten so crowded that I decided against shuffling back. When the start gun went off very loudly (“we don’t start races like that in L.A. for a good reason!”) I got up to pace quickly but took it just a tad easy until I spotted the pacer beside me, maybe half a mile into it. It also meant my friend Marty, who I was staying with and who had to skip the race due to injury and decided to be a photographer for the day instead, missed me as he could not identify anyone in the sea on humanity streaming by.

The early miles passed quickly and the pace felt easy enough but running in such a packed group wasn’t particularly comfortable. In most marathons there are only a handful of runners in the sub-3 group and marathons like Dublin have 3 pacers per time band which helps to spread out the group. In Manchester they can have up to 500 runners under 3 hours and only one single pacer, which meant it was a very big group in a very small space. Invariably people would touch legs and at one point a runner tripped and I think he fell, and I had a few close calls as well, both for being tripped and accidentally almost tripping others. When we passed Old Trafford a bit after 4 miles I somehow got to the front of the group (I think I took a very slight uphill section a bit faster than the others) and decided to skip ahead a bit, not to build up a cushion, just to give myself some space. The difference was huge, just being able to stride out without fear of tripping someone made things so much easier and at that point I actually started to enjoy the race. It’s a bit strange that I very much enjoy running as a pacer but not at all with a pacer but that’s how it worked out.

There was still a group of us and I quickly started to focus on 3 or 4 other runners that seemed to be running well and at just the right pace. At times one of us would be ahead, at other times we would drop back a bit but in general we were running together. The pace felt doable but it was still very early.

The crowd support over those miles was brilliant and half of Manchester seemed to be out and about to lend their support to the runners. The best area was Brooklands where they were on the left, on the right and even on the middle of the road, and they made plenty of noise. Having the name printed on the bibs also meant that people would shout out your name for support, which was even better, even coming from total strangers.

I had expected Marty to be here but could not see him and wondered if I had missed him but what else was there to do than to keep running. The legs started to feel the first bit of strain as we closed in on 10 miles but I knew I would still be able to hold the pace for a lot longer, even if it wasn’t as comfortable any more.

The course is very flat, which is of course the main draw for this race. You do have to go over a few overpasses/bridges but the grade is always very gentle and none of them are very high. The weather was a bit cold with not much wind, though that was supposed to pick up later. All in all it is a great, fast course and we had excellent conditions and no excuses.

Photo by Martin Lever
Just before the halfway point we got to Altrincham and the only bridge that resembled a hill, and the loop through Altrincham itself was a bit hilly as well, but it probably only stood out because the rest of the course was so flat; on most other marathons I’ve done that would have counted as one of the flat parts. Marty was here with his camera, so I gave him a short wave. I didn’t look at  the watch but since I was still ahead of the 3-hour pacer I figured I must have run the first half just a bit under 90 minutes. I had no idea how far ahead of the pace group I was but it could never have been very far. I never once checked the watch for pace, just paced myself off the runners surrounding me, and I’m sure they did the same.

On the back out from Altrincham we saw the slower runners coming the other way, just like we had seen the elites and the wheelchair athletes speeding by shortly before. I noticed all the pace groups from 3:15 to 4:45 but it always seemed to be very, very busy even between pacers.

According to MC, 15 miles is the point where you should have expended a third of your mental energy, though I suspected I had spent more than that, though that has been the case in a lot of my marathons, even the good ones. I was definitely starting to feel tired and that would only get worse. Soon after we had passed the 16 mile marker the runner beside me muttered a slightly exasperated “10 miles left”, though to me that seemed challenging but doable at the time.

At that point, as we headed towards Carrington, the crowds thinned out considerably as we basically left the urban area and headed into the countryside. Fatigue started to play an ever bigger factor and I had to increase the effort just to remain on pace, though I was still holding steady. I started to calculate what my finishing time would be if I slowed down now, which is probably not particularly helpful but something I tend to do a lot. As we got further ahead, to 19, 20, 21 miles, gradually the runners in the group seemed to drift back one by one and I was left focusing on just one runner in a yellow singlet just ahead of me who seemed to be able to hold the pace. It did not help that, as we turned right, we were now heading into the wind for the final miles. There was not much wind but it was definitely noticeable and it definitely became a factor. With about 5 miles left I wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to hang on and gradually I became aware that runners were passing me. At one point one runner from Galloway told me he was a fan of my blog, which was a nice surprise as I felt a long way from home, but obviously I do know that I do have readers from across the Irish Sea as well. Anyway, I appreciated the shout-out and tried to hang on to him but didn’t manage it for long because around mile 22 the first spasm hit me.

In Tralee it had been the left calf. This time it was the right one. I have no idea why.

The first thought was that at least the cramps had stayed off for longer than in Tralee but I knew this was only going to get worse, and since I knew that I could not have much of a cushion this really was bad news. I tried to look behind me once or twice and once thought I saw the pacer’s flag but wasn’t sure. Anyway, all I could do was to keep running, try to relax just a little to stop the calf from going into full cramping mode which would have made running virtually impossible, and just hope those isolated spasms would somehow remain manageable. But the pace slowed invariably and seeing the runner in the yellow singlet almost pull up with his own cramping problems was unlikely to help.

I kept it going as fast as I dared for as long as I could but inevitably shortly after 23 miles the 3-hour pacer caught up with me. The group had thinned out significantly, so at least the confined space and danger of being tripped was no longer a factor. I wasn’t going to give up without a fight so I increased the effort, trying to hang on to the group, just as plan B had been before the race. The effort level required seemed to increase exponentially. Again and again I fell a few steps behind and had to put in a big effort to catch up again, constantly on the verge of cramping and by now in serious pain. My breathing had become very ragged and I knew this would not be sustainable for long.

Earlier at the race I had once noticed the heart rate at 165, which seemed just a bit high, but it went down to 163 and then 161, which seemed just about right and on the very few occasions when I checked the watch, that’s where it always was (I was not pacing myself by HR, though). Now it just went through the roof, well past 170. I was surprised that I was able to lift the effort to that level so late in a marathon but with a couple of miles still to go and cramping legs it really was the equivalent of barely hanging on by your fingertips.

From mile 24 on the crowds gradually increased again, finally! I really needed the support right now. Since this marathon was a goal race, but only a B-goal, I had wondered if I would have the gumption to really go into the pain cave when things got bad but I think I can honestly say that I made myself hurt as much as I have ever done in a marathon. Lack of effort was not the problem today.

A world of pain. Photo by Martin Lever
Something seemed strange about the pacer late on, all the runners in the group seemed to fall back as we neared the finish while he sped ahead. Try as I might I was no longer able to completely hold on but the gap was still very small until we came to a final overpass. It was so gradual that I might not even have noticed it earlier in the race but at that stage even a tiny gradient was enough to send the calf cramping and I had no choice but to ease up and struggle to the top, at which point the pacer was gone. I chased with all I had left, though that was very little. The finish banner just seemed stuck in the distance for ages but eventually got closer.

All hope was not lost. When I pace a marathon I try to come home about 15-30 seconds ahead of target and that was roughly the distance between me and the pacer, so maybe I could just sneak in just under 3 hours. However, when I finally saw the timer it had already gone well past 3 hours and I was still about half a minute away, so a sub-3 was not going to happen today. I think the pacer crossed the line as the timer said 3:01, and I was a bit further back, too demoralised for a finishing sprint, though with my cramping calf that might have ended badly anyway.

My watch said 3:01:03, the official chip time was 3:01:02, and that was that. My first words after crossing the line were unprintable but thankfully I have broken 3 hours before so it was never going to be a major disaster. The margins between success and failure were tiny, just 2 seconds per mile and a finishing sprint.

Maybe if I had spent less time on my legs on Saturday; maybe if I had not gotten sick in January; maybe if I had not have to deal with all that stress of the last few months; maybe if I had not run Tralee 4 weeks before (no regrets about that one, though), maybe, maybe , maybe. Ah well.

Funnily enough, when I uploaded the data onto strava it gave me a sub-3 marathon because the watch said 26.37 at the end, but marathons are run on the road and not on virtual GPS tracks. My mile splits were (according to GPS, so add about 3 seconds for “real” miles):

6:59, 6:43, 6:51, 6:50, 6:45, 6:49, 6:45, 6:49, 6:42, 6:48
6:54, 6:45, 6:48, 6:44, 6:50, 6:48, 6:55, 6:46, 6:50, 6:55,
6:54, 7:04, 7:12, 7:09, 6:57, 6:55 (6:50 for rest)

which looks like a well paced race to me. I did falter after 21 miles but managed to pick it up again when the pacer caught me (btw, the pacer must have run the last mile in 6:20 or 6:30).

It is what it is. I gave it a good go but missed out on another sub-3. I still very much enjoyed the race, can recommend it and may well be back another year.

10 Apr
Manchester Marathon
   3:01:02, 6:54 pace, HR 165, (6:51 pace on the watch)
   420th place, 49th M45

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Manchester

City won 2:1.

I ran 3:01:02.

Delighted with the first, obviously slightly disappointed with the second one. Was just that little bit too slow for a sub-3 today, though I gave it a good go.

Oh Manchester is wonderful.