Thursday, May 26, 2016

Conflicting Information

I'm not 100% where my fitness is right now because I am getting two conflicting sets of information:
  1. objectively, my HR data is already looking good and heading upwards towards "very good"
  2. subjectively, I am feeling rather sluggish and tired
And where does that leave me? I've been doing rather hefty mileage this week, which easily explains the tiredness and heavy legs. The fact that the HR numbers have continuously been improving over the same period came as a bit of a surprise to me but the upwards curve in the graph is perfectly obvious. This is the main reason why I keep a training log and why I created my spreadsheets with graphs, to have a view of objective data that does not rely on potentially unreliable subjective input like how the legs are feeling.

At the same time I cannot dismiss subjective feelings either. I'm feeling tired, and I do have to take note of that.

There's only one more week of heavy training left. Maybe feeling tired right now is where you'd want to be anyway. Just don't overstep the mark. Don't get injured. And try not to race on tired legs this time!

I did 2 fairly long morning runs this week, 15 miles on Tuesday and 18 on Thursday. Both required to get up rather early but thankfully with the sun rising at 6 am it was bright enough even at stupid o'clock. I felt a bit sluggish on Tuesday and was surprised afterwards by the faster than expected pace, and also by the fact that I had not slowed down towards the end. That just goes to show that you can't entirely trust subjective effort levels. On Thursday I felt better early on but I did get rather tired towards the end, and I could not help but notice that I had run 15 seconds per mile slower than on Tuesday when I would have thought I had run at the same pace and effort.

Sandwiched between those 2 runs were hill sprints on Wednesday. There was some clear improvement to previous efforts: for the first time this year I did not get a tight chest and I did not have to deal with waves of nausea either. I only headed for home because I had run out of time rather than out of steam as usual. At the very least I'm getting better at doing hill sprints.

My left knee remains am issue. I felt a sharp pain the other day when walking down some stairs, but that's the only time it actually hurt, at all other times it just feels a bit funny without being painful. I can just about feel it at the start of each run and have to ease into the effort but within a minute or two it feels fine, and running itself doesn't seem to aggravate it.

23 May
am: 10 miles, 1:21:00, 8:06 pace, HR 136
pm: 3 miles, 20:00, 8:40 pace, HR 127, treadmill
24 May
am: 15 miles, 1:55:05, 7:40 pace, HR 142
pm: 3 miles, 25:58, 8:39 pace, HR 129, treadmill
25 May
am: 7 miles, 1:04:07, 9:10 pace, HR 136, hill sprints
pm: 5 miles, 44:17, 8:51 pace, HR 131, treadmill
26 May
18 miles, 2:22:24, 7:55 pace, HR 137

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Different Stimulus

Very deliberately, this week's training was very different to the previous three. After a bout of heavy endurance training I am now trying to give the body a different stimulus.

The first few days were all about recovery; (almost) 3 marathons in a row are bound to leave some fatigue in the legs and while I might be flirting with overtraining I'm obviously trying not to overstep the mark. Once I felt better, which happened sooner than expected, I did a few extra things: first there were hill sprints on Thursday, which went reasonably well and doesn't ever seem to cause soreness the following days, no matter how sore the legs are for the rest of the day itself. After a few I start to get some tightness in the chest about 20 or 30 seconds after the sprint itself and I start to feel nauseous, which is generally the signal to pack it in for the day.

I followed this up with a parkrun on Saturday. It's been almost a year since my first and up-to-now only appearance at a parkrun. Back then I had gone with eldest daughter Lola but that was also the day I started feeling my injury, though I'm fairly sure the parkrun itself had a very minor role in this. This time round Lola declined my invitation and I went off on my own. With Alan in attendance, who had a few years ago paced 3:15 in Cork with me but who has gotten amazingly good since then, nobody else needed to worry about winning finishing first, but that was never my goal anyway, I ran at slightly below race effort, though it was still enough to put some pain on. I finished in exactly 19 minutes on my watch on a rolling course, though they took a second off in the official results, which gave me a sub-19, not that that is anything to write home about.

Despite some hesitation if it really was a good idea, I added a few more miles in the afternoon, and to ensure that the effort would remain very easy I did it on the treadmill, despite the sunshine outside.

I did manage to soak up plenty of rays on Sunday morning to make up for that by running on the mountainy Kerry Way trail over Windy Gap into Glenbeigh and then back again for a second climb, Since the legs left me in no doubt that the race parkrun had left its mark I kept the effort as easy as possible, though "easy" is relative on a mile-long climb that averages 17%.

The mileage has been fairly low this week due to the recovery part. I'm going to crank this up again but will try and make sure it will be done mostly at easy effort. Belfast is only 5 weeks away. There are really only 2 weeks of proper training left!

My left knee is a little bit sore. Not bad but obviously I don't want it to get any worse. I'll take it easy on the squats and the other S&C training for a bit.

19 May
7 miles, 1:03:35, 9:05 pace, HR 137, hill sprints
20 May
am: 8 miles, 1:02:58, 7:52 pace, HR 143
pm: 4 miles, 34:11, 8:32 pace, HR 130, treadmill
21 May
am: ~7 miles, including Killarney parkrun in 18:59, 6:12 pace, HR 173 (3rd place)
pm: 5 miles, 44:33, 8:54 pace, HR 136, treadmill
22 May
12+ miles, 1:54:45, 9:27 pace, HR 143, Windy Gap
Weekly Mileage: 68

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Hills And Recovery

After the heavy training block of 3 (almost) marathons on 3 consecutive weekends, right now I am in recovery mode. Results are somewhat mixed. On Wednesday morning I was really pleased with how the legs felt and thought that recovery was going exceptionally well. Thursday morning things looked a lot bleaker again with heavy legs and feeling a bit tired. I’ve had similar ups and downs in previous weeks as well, so this is nothing new. With no marathon this weekend to mess things up again I should soon be okay again.

My heart rate/pace data is looking reasonably good considering what I have subjected myself to in the last few weeks. The idea was always to overreach a bit but still be able to recover in a reasonable timeframe. So far I think this is going pretty well.

I have done a couple of evening runs as well, and like in previous weeks I did them on the treadmill. There are two reasons for that. First, I don’t like running on our windy roads with all that traffic. It’s not exactly busy but in the morning I usually see maybe 2 or 3 cars in an hour; in the evenings it’s closer to a car a minute or two. That’s not exactly a major highway, I’m perfectly aware of that, but it is a lot more traffic than I am comfortable with. The second reason is that the treadmill makes it easy to keep the effort at an exceptionally easy level. I always found it hard to run easily in the evenings – the subjective effort was always a bit off compared to morning runs and I always tended to run faster than planned. On the treadmill that is easily avoided, the only drawback being my daughter’s disapproval for being disturbed in her Netflix binge viewing.

The nice weather seems to have gone again after that gorgeous weekend we’ve just had, but even that comes with a major plus: all of a sudden the cloud of blood sucking midges that has repeatedly disrupted my S&C morning workout has gone. That alone is almost worth the rain, though I strongly suspect I won’t find much agreement on that point.

I decided to do some kind of workout this morning, though one with very little hard running: hill sprints. They always work the same: a good, long warm up and and then a few hill sprints that last about 15 seconds, followed by walking down the hill and a short jog at the bottom before the next sprint. Each circuit takes about 80 seconds, though I certainly don't time them. After a few sprints I always start getting a tight chest and get hit by a wave of nausea, maybe 20 seconds after the sprint, and once that starts getting seriously uncomfortable I go home.

The legs tend to hurt for the rest of the day after such a workout but will be fine again the next morning.

16 May
5 miles, 43:21, 8:40 pace, HR 132
17 May
am: 5 miles, 39:37, 7:55 pace, HR 142
pm: 3 miles, 25:05, 8:22 pace, HR 124
18 May
am: 8 miles, 1:02:08, 7:46 pace, HR 142
pm: 4 miles, 33:07, 8:17 pace, HR 132
19 May
7 miles, 1:03:35, 9:05 pace, HR 137, 12 hill sprints

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Lonely Pacer

... and after the marathon you go to Tralee and pick up the kids from their music lessons. Give them a treat and get Cian to the barber, Go shopping and pick up some weed killer as well. At home, cut the grass, cut down that tree and spray the path. Look after them, cook dinner, make sure they have their showers .."

Niamh is clearly a fan of active recovery after a marathon. There was to be no lying down, no matter how tired I would feel. For the record, the tree still stands and the hair didn't get cut either but I got the rest done, But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Getting ready. Photo by Mary Mockett
This was planned as the third marathon in as many weekends, though I didn't quite make it to the marathon mark last week in the Wings for Life run. However, I've run fairly hard the last 2 weekends and despite recovery going very well I knew there was a limit to what I could subject the legs to, so I agreed to pace 3:15 for the Lakes of Killarney marathon to remove any temptation to go out with Fozzy and co and fight for a podium position at 3-hour pace.

It's a reasonably small race but definitely deserves more recognition. The course consists of 3 laps in the Demesne of the National Park and the scenery is just to die for, at least on a sunny day, though they have always been lucky with the weather so far, With a rather bumpy profile it's not a course where you'd go looking for a PB, but that wasn't my aim anyway.

Right from the start Alex O'Shea was storming off for an undisputed win, followed by 5 chaps who would contest the podium places. The 3:30 group was behind us and all that was left between those groups were us 2 pacers and one single pacee for 3:15. I have paced races where I came home without a pace group but that's a first for the pacers outnumbering the pacees even at the start!

Brendan and his 2 personal pacers, Photo by Valerie O'Sullivan
My fellow pacer, Dermot Kearns, had paced 3 hours in Limerick a fortnight ago (I had seen his group for the first 5 miles or so). There was literally not one single runner between us and the 3:30 group, so Brendan really was our only client today, Therefore we didn't have to stick religiously to 3:15 pace, and I asked Brendan a couple of times if he wanted to speed up or slow down but he was happy with the pace we set (most of the credit goes to Dermot), a little bit faster than 3:15 pace.

As we clicked off mile after mile, time passed very quickly. This was a rather relaxed pacing gig and there was no pressure. As the first of 3 laps had passed I noticed the legs starting to get a bit heavy, the combination of Limerick and Wings for Life making its presence felt, but I had no trouble keeping going. There is one fairly big climb shortly after the start of each lap, which had me breathing a bit heavier than I would have liked on lap 2 but otherwise it was still a reasonably relaxed effort, the rolling hills of the rest of the course not providing any problems,

With the course featuring a section where you meet runners coming the other way, we had the chance to wave to a lot of runners, both the fast guys at the front as well as the other end of the field. Alex was way ahead in front and looking like he was out for a morning jog, Fozzy in second place and the chasers not too far behind.

At 14 miles I spotted John Foley ahead, and I could see that we was in trouble, having been dropped by the rest of the fast group. We caught up with him at mile 15 and I let Dermot and Brendan go ahead on their own and provided John some company, though I warned him that I would have to push ahead once we dropped behind 3:15 pace (we were about 2 minutes ahead at that point). For the next mile it was clear that he really was in trouble, breathing very hard even when we relaxed to pace to no faster than 7:45, and just a mile later he had enough of my presence and sent me ahead, The heat and humidity clearly had gotten to him and I had slight doubts if he would even bother to start the third loop (I was wrong, he did finish).

 a lonely pacer at mile 17. Photo by Artur Nowak
I was on my own all of a sudden, with Dermot and Brendan a good bit ahead, though I kept seeing them, I was still ahead of time and decided to keep at 3:15 pace, and if someone else from the faster runners would drop back I could try and coax him along. Until then I would just keep going, albeit on my own.

I took it fairly easy as I took on the big climb for a third time, which helped preserve energy for the rest of the loop, The good thing about having heavy legs from mile 8 onwards was that the heavy legs at mile 20 didn't feel any worse and I had gotten used to it.

Pacing was a bit tricky because the GPS signal and the mile markers didn't particularly agree. The RD swears that he measured the course more than once and that it is correct, and I know from racing a lot of 5ks in the National Park that the signal can indeed be unreliable beneath the forest cover. The only thing to do really is to rely on the mile markers and pace yourself off them. I still had over a minute in hand when I unexpectedly drew level with Dermot again at mile 24. He's a quality runner but the conditions had gotten to him as well, in addition to that sub-3 in Limerick, but we were still comfortably within 3:15 pace and made our way towards the finish as a re-united pace team. Brandon had pushed ahead (he finished in 3:12) and there wasn't much else for us to do, except finish the job.

We got there in 3:14:11, which I like to think was reasonably close to the target. In all fairness, there was no real need for 3:15 pacers today due to the lack of runners at that level, and Brandon would have gotten on just fine without us, albeit without the pleasure of my company, However, I very much enjoyed the race and can recommend it it to anyone looking for a scenic and well organised small marathon.

A few runners had suffered from the heat and the humidity, which always makes for tough conditions, even if the weather made the National Park shine even more gloriously than usual. I was glad I had been pacing this rather than racing; with the effort below race pace I found this much easier to handle.

I couldn't hang around for long because of Niamh's long todo list (and I had to collect the kids in time), so I made my way back towards the car park even before the 3:30 group had arrived, One of their pacers, Grellan, was in even more hurry than me; he can't have waited around for long and jogged past me on his way back to the car, a 3:30 marathon obviously not enough to tire him out (note to self, look out for him in Belfast).

All in all a very good day - but damn, I still have to cut down that tree!
14 May
Lakes of Killarney Marathon
3:14:11, 7:27 pace, HR 158, ran as 3:15 pacer
15 May
5 miles, 41:38, 8:18 pace, HR 136

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday 13th Update

I better not play ice hockey today. You never know who you'd run into.

Following that tough almost-marathon last weekend, this week was always about recovery. To some extend I was very pleased how the legs felt because I had expected the quads especially to be rather sore after all those long, and at times very steep, downhills but thankfully there was virtually no muscle soreness. However, I could not deny a general feeling of fatigue and from Monday to Wednesday every step was done with rather heavy legs.

Strangely enough, it was only after sitting in the office chair for several hours that the quads felt sore. Running was fine, sitting was not. So much for rest being recovery.

Because of that soreness I was rather reluctant to run in the evenings and waited until Wednesday. Even then I decided to run on the treadmill instead of the road to make absolutely sure that I would run at a very, very easy pace and effort. On the road I can sometimes inadvertently run a lot faster than anticipated but on the treadmill that is under full control. I also made sure to step off the treadmill after only 3 miles to be definitely on the safe side.

By Thursday morning things were definitely on the up, though. The legs felt a lot better and I actually enjoyed the run, the beautiful sunrise certainly not doing any harm in that regard. I added 3 more treadmill miles at an even slower pace than the day before, which really seemed to loosen up the legs after a long day of mostly sitting down.

My HR numbers have been improving day after day and are actually back to pretty decent values already. My cardio-vascular system clearly has no problems with me running a marathon on an almost weekly basis. Being fit has its advantages.

I have inquired about the possibility of getting a stand-up desk at work. I know I’ll be looked at as if I had two heads by some colleague but thankfully I don’t give a **** what anyone else thinks. Sitting down for so many hours does hurt my lower back and my legs would probably feel better standing up, once the initial adaptation period is over. I’m not sure if it’s going to happen, though.

One thing I had to omit the last few mornings was the barefoot exercise out in the garden. I got swarmed my midges and had at least 2 dozen itchy bites after less than 5 minutes and had to scamper Doing the same exercises indoors is not the same without being grounded to nature (yes, I know that sounds like New Age hippy stuff) but it will have to do for the time being.

And with that it’s almost the weekend again, and therefore time for another marathon. This time I was a little bit more sensible than before Limerick and agreed to run it as one of the 3:15 pacers. The Lakes of Killarney marathon is run in the National Park and the scenery is absolutely stunning. With the weather forecast as nice, sunny and warm, it will be a gorgeous day (if not entirely conductive to running your best time). I’m really looking forward to it.

Oh, and even being less-than-sensible before Limerick had its advantages. I knew the marathon counted as the Munster championship but didn't think much about it. Turns out I was the third male over 40 (they had 10-year age groups) and will be receiving a bronze medal. A medal at provincial level had up to now been missing from my collection, so that was delightful news. Maybe one day I'll get a medal in an even shinier colour, you never know.
10 May
5 miles, 41:05, 8:13 pace, HR 138
11 May
am: 8 miles, 1:02:45, 7:51 pace, HR 143
pm: 3 miles, 25:19, 8:26 pace, HR 133, treadmill
12 May
am: 8 miles, 1:03:23, 7:57 pace, HR 140
pm: 3 miles, 26:01, 8:40 pace, HR 130, treadmill
13 May
5 miles, 39:46, 7:57 pace, HR 137

Monday, May 09, 2016

Wings For Life - Ireland Run

It’s a good thing that I had checked the weather forecast. Sunday morning in Dublin was cold and grey and windy and you would have thought rain was just about round the corner. The forecast for the afternoon, however, could not have been any more different with sunshine high temperatures (for Ireland anyway), basically the first summer day of the year, the calendar still showing May notwithstanding.

For me this was stage 2 of a 3-step program to push myself towards greater endurance. I had run a 3:07 marathon in Limerick a week ago; recovery had gone very well, better than I could have expected really, and from the way the legs felt I could not have told that I had only recently run a marathon, never mind one with a decent time (and a 3:01 just 3 weeks before that)

As I made my way towards the start I bumped into Amy Masner, which finally gave me the opportunity to congratulate her on her outstanding performance in Finland back in February in person, rather than on social media. As we stood there chatting Alison walked by, so I got to introduce the 2 champs to each other (“Amy just ran 217 km; Alison won this race 2 years ago”), though as it turned out they actually had met before.

On the start line I had a chat with Dom, who put the Fear of God into me when describing the course and all those hills (that took a while). I also had a quick chat with Jamie, and since we were both hoping to run to the marathon distance it was clear that we would be close to each other for the duration of the race.

This was not a standard distance run; instead we were going to be chased by a car, and the faster you ran the longer you got to go. My mother-in-law seemed to have difficulties to comprehend the idea (“so, are you going to run a marathon or not?”) but some of the runners seemed to have problems with that regard as well, because a few went out at what must have been their 10k race pace. My advice is to use the calculator in advance and see what you are capable of. You had 3:08 to run a marathon. That’s what I was aiming for. I had run 3 sub-3:08 marathons already this year; this should be doable.

The 2 biggest problems of the day were apparent right from the start. It was already fairly warm and warming up further quickly. And pretty much from the start we went up the first climb. The first really big hill was not far away either; at mile 3 we were climbing up the steep Killiney hill but the drop down the other side was even steeper. There was a lady running just behind me (I think she was third lady at the time) and I could hear her shout as see seemed to fall, though when her clubmate passed me later he confirmed that she was alright. My standard way of running steep downhills is to lean forward and spin the legs as fast as you can, using gravity in your favour and don’t lean back because that destroys the quads when breaking. Right at the bottom of that insanely steep drop I glanced my pace on the watch - 4:55 minutes per mile! Blimey! My strava file later showed I had broken my 400m record on that stretch. This was supposed to be a marathon! It was going to a challenging run!

It was also getting hot! The temperature might “only” have reached 18 degrees but we were running in direct sunshine, which makes it feel a lot warmer. Plus, this was a lot warmer than any run since September and I soon felt parched. The drinks stations were 5k apart, which is pretty much standard and fine on most days but I started suffering between stations and was always parched as I approached the next one, and this only got worse as the day went on.

Once we had gone through Bray, about 13k into the race, the biggest challenge of them all awaited, a merciless 400 feet climb. Dom had warned me about it, as had Alison, so at least I knew what was coming. We had been going up and down for most of the race so far and the pattern was that I always lost a few places on the climbs and gained a few on the downhills, so it came as no big surprise that I went backward in the field as the climb went on for several miles. One of the runners going past was Jamie in his bright orange top, which made him fairly easy to identify. When we finally reached the top it was a long way down the other side and true to form I re-gained most of the places I had just lost.

Greystones was the half-marathon distance, and I had averaged about 7-minute miles to get there, though with all those hills that had taken a lot more energy that it sounds and my legs were already hurting. I also had the Limerick marathon lingering in there, which probably didn’t help, and the heat was definitely getting to me. From here on I would stop at each water station instead of grabbing a cup on the go, take 2 or 3 cups of water and maybe a red bull as well for caffeine stimulation. I would always feel better for 1 or 2k and then I was left looking forward to the next water stop.

Looking better than I felt at the time - photo by Andrew Hanney
There weren’t any more big hills but the course kept rolling up and down and there were very few flat stretches. I kept ticking along and the km markers passed by reasonably quickly. The photo of me going through Kilcoole shows me looking surprisingly fresh, certainly better than I felt at the time. However, I must have been in better shape than a lot of others around me because from here on I steadily started to make my way through the field. I even caught Jamie at 26k, though I could always sense him close behind when others seemed to drop off.

On the way to Newcastle I passed Barry Murray’s house where I had spent several very interesting hours only a couple of weeks ago. It made me wonder how my new mate Svein Tuft was getting on in the Giro d’Italia right now, but thoughts soon returned to my own increasing suffering. My pace suffered, my legs hurt, I was tired and thirsty and both dreading and awaiting the chaser car, which at that point couldn’t be much more than 10 minutes behind me. Tempting as it was to stop or slowly jog from here, I kept pushing onwards. Not everyone followed the same strategy though and I passed a number of runners who had given up the ghost and were reduced to walking.

Somewhere past the 30k mark the legs started cramping, which has become all too familiar this year. It left me with no choice but to reduce the effort a bit. By 35k it was becoming clear that the marathon was not going to happen today, I was already behind pace and only getting slower. Ah well. I would still try and make it to 40k at least.

Actually, the kilometers still kept ticking by reasonably quickly, but when Jamie caught me once more at 36k I knew I wasn’t going to catch him again. It might have been helpful, however, to have him within sight and try not to let the gap grow too large.

As we got to Rathnew there was a water stop at about 39.5k. If I had realised how close the catcher car was I would have run through it but I was too tired to think clearly and wasted precious time drinking several cups of water. The next hill was about to start and I was only seconds into it when a Garda motorbike drew up alongside me, informing me that the car was at the bottom of the hill. As it happened, I lost one place in the field as I was slow to grasp the idea that it was time for a finishing sprint, though going up that hill on cramping legs was never going to be particularity quick. At least I managed to go past the 40k mark but it was only a few second later that I was caught and the race was over. While feeling slightly disappointed that I had not made it to the marathon mark I knew I had given it a good effort on a tough day. I had run 25 miles at the pace of a 3:11 marathon rather than the required 3:08 one. On a flat course and more comfortable temperatures I would have made it I'm sure but let's not start making excuses.

I came 23rd overall and 3rd M45, which isn't a bad showing in a field of over 1400 runners. I'm happy enough with my effort. It's a unique race with a fun race format and I'll definitely consider doing it again next year

6 May
8 miles, 1:02:47, 7:49 pace, HR 141
7 May
5 miles, 40:41, 8:08 pace, HR 139
8 May
Wings for Life Run - Ireland
40.16k (24.95 miles), 3:02:18, 7:19 pace, HR 163
   23rd place, 3rd M45, 659th overall worldwide (54th M45)
9 May
5 miles, 42:42, 8:32 pace, HR 138

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Wings For Life Race Tracker

The race has a very impressive looking tracker website. Let's hope it works (it didn't 2 years ago). My number is 5181.

Here in Ireland it might be worthwhile to keep an eye out for Gary O'Hanlon 59981.

Update: A brutally hilly course on a hot day meant I didn't quite make the marathon - got caught by the catcher car just after the 40k mark. 23th position overall from just over 1400 runners.