Thursday, October 23, 2014

Late Evaluation

I was a bit worried about the conditions on Tuesday morning when the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo were paying us a visit after crossing the Atlantic. The wind did wake me up a few times during the night, though it never sounded too alarming, I have certainly seen worse. By the morning even those winds had mostly died down and conditions were pretty good actually, and apart from a few broken branches there was no sign of any nightly incidents. 10 miles near Ard-na-Sidhe it was.

I had been planning on doing an evaluation for a while yet. First I pulled my hamstring, which luckily did not put me out of action entirely but a couple of weeks of very easy running seemed the prudent thing to do. Then there was the raised HR when I was seemingly fighting off some bug, and then there were a couple of days of high winds. The evaluation works by running at a set HR (161 in my case), so a raised base HR would falsify the data and make comparisons with other evaluation impossible. Same goes for high winds, and I have learned that there is not much point in doing an evaluation under either circumstances, even less so when both factors apply.

However, by Wednesday morning all had settled down again and I was ready to go when the damn Garmin beeped sadly at me with a low battery warning (it must have turned itself on after charging - this has happened several times before, sometimes I notice it, sometimes I don't). For a normal run I might consider going without watch (ok, I did that about once in the last five years) but for an evaluation that's not an option, so I charged it for about 10 or 15 minutes before finally heading out.

Initially I was still going to go ahead as planned but after a couple of miles, and already warmed up and raring to go, I decided that there was not enough time because Niamh has to leave early on Wednesdays and I have to be back in time, so I switched plans mid-run and just did 10 easy miles. In some ways it was a waste of a good run because I felt absolutely awesome and had that effortlessly-floating-over-the-tarmac feeling and was tempted to knock out a few 6-6:30 miles but managed to control myself, mostly because the Dublin marathon awaits on Monday.

So, eventually, on Thursday I finally managed to run another evaluation, a whopping 54 days since the last one. Generally I want to run one every fortnight, so basically  I missed no less than 3 evaluations in a row due to various reasons, though in fact I do have an excuse for all of them - Dingle, hamstring and virus.

It was still a bit windy on Thursday morning, definitely a little bit more than I would have preferred but what can you do. I followed the exact same routine as usual, about 4 miles of warm up where I do pick up the pace a few times to gradually bring the HR up. The last quarter mile before I start the evaluation is slightly uphill, which helps to establish the HR at the right level.
        Mile 1    6:33   HR 161
        Mile 2    6:46   HR 161
        Mile 3    6:39   HR 161
        Mile 4    6:46   HR 161
        Recovery to HR 130: 36 seconds

Looking at the figures now, they do paint a pretty nice picture. The overall pace isn't as important as you might think, though of course a fast evaluation is always nice to have. The slowdown between miles 1 and 4 is more important and is in fact a tad higher than I would have liked (it was only 10 seconds last time). The recovery afterwards is again a bit higher than last time, though 36 seconds is still a decent figure, better than average.

Overall I'd say I'm coming along nicely but with definite room for improvement. I guess room for improvement is a good thing at that stage of training. Considering I am nowhere near peak shape, these are highly encouraging numbers.

Despite just saying that the overall pace isn't that important I have found that my marathon race pace tends to be within 10 seconds of the evaluation pace, so I guess I am probably in shape for a sub-3 marathon, there or thereabouts. Mind, since I haven't done any running at that pace that statement might not necessarily hold true due to lack of specific marathon fitness, but I expect to find pacing 3:10 on Monday perfectly doable.

20 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:53, 7:47 pace, HR 139
21 Oct
10 miles, 1:16:30, 7:39 pace, HR 140
22 Oct
10 miles, 1:15:57, 7:36 pace, HR 141
23 Oct
11.75 miles, 1:25:41, 7:17 pace, HR 148
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:33, 6:46, 6:39, 6:46, 36 sec recovery

Sunday, October 19, 2014

High Readings

As you probably know, I always run with a GPS and a HRM. I do not use them to dictate my pace (apart from some special workouts like the evaluation) but I do use them to record some data that I can subsequently analyse. The last few days did not require much analysis, my HR was elevated by a significant amount. I ran at the usual "natural" effort, just whatever pace felt easy, and the recorded HR did in no way reflect the effort I put in.

Straight away I can come up with 3 possible explanations (there are more, of course):
  1. I am overtrained
  2. The HRM is malfunctioning
  3. I am fighting off some (mild) infection
I am pretty sure the first does not apply; I am feeling good, have no other symptoms and have just had a couple of very easy weeks nursing my hamstring. The second explanation is a bit more likely but I still don't think that's the case, the Polar HR has an excellent track history. However, if the number remain elevated I'll eventually change the battery and see if that makes a difference.

However, I think number 3 is the most likely explanation. Both Shea and Maia have some slight colds, most likely acquired in school, and I may be fighting off whatever is affecting them. I don't have any other symptoms, no sore throat, no headache, no runny nose, nothing, and if I weren't running with a HRM I would not have noticed anything at all.

The answer is to ignore that for a few more days, chances are everything will be back to normal by then, as has happened before and will happen again. I keep running by feel and ignore if the HRM goes high again, at least for a few more days. Getting sick now wouldn't be good with Dublin just a week away, but chances are I won't.

I have been feeling pretty good the last few days and the pace of my runs has continued to go down. I did 12 miles on Thursday morning that went really well, certainly over the first half. I was working a bit harder on the way home as I was now running straight into a blustery headwind, and that's when I first noticed that the HR was higher than it should have been, but as I said the effort felt easy enough.
Due to those high readings I took it especially easy on Friday, but when the HR still came out as rather high I knew for sure that something was keeping it elevated, it wasn't that I was running too fast. Since I have plenty of experience with that kind of thing (4 young kids do bring home plenty of bugs) I just keep carrying on as usual.

Saturday was a very windy day, though I was lucky enough to be running in the morning, right between two fairly nasty storm fronts. I still got wet a few times and I ran out-and-back on the Ard-na-Sidhe and Coomnafanida roads where there is a bit of shelter from the wind, which made the conditions perfectly acceptable.

The weather had not improved by Sunday and I was back on the same roads once more. Running the same stretch of road three times in each direction does not make for the most inspiring of runs (and I do wonder at times what the locals think, not that I particularly care), but it was just a case of getting the miles. I ran the first 14 miles at ease pace, which turned out to be pretty much exactly 7:30, though I did start feeling a bit tired after mile 11 or so. By mile 14 I increased the effort to get some more running at 3:10 pace for Dublin, especially on tired legs. The pacing was a bit uneven, I inadvertently started out at 6:55 pace for the first half mile before becoming aware, so there is definitely room for improvement, I do not want to burn out my pacees next week, but that's exactly why there will be 3 of us.

The weather is not looking great for the next few days, tomorrow is supposed to be the same again before we start dealing with the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo, but the great news is that the forecast for Dublin is good (mind, things can and do change in 8 days).

There has not been a beep from my hamstring this week.
16 Oct
12 miles, 1:27:54, 7:19 pace, HR 148
17 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:14, 7:43 pace, HR 145
18 Oct
10+ miles, 1:16:26, 7:23 pace, HR 150
19 Oct
18.6 miles, 2:18:11, 7:25 pace, HR 148
   last 4.6 miles @ 7:07 pace
Weekly Mileage: 83

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tempting Fate

Well, the last time I said I was feeling great my hamstring popped, so let's see where the Gods are at it today.

I'm feeling great again!

There are no more niggles from my hamstring. I did ice it quite a few times over the last few days, despite initially saying how sceptical I am of that firm of treatment, but it seems to have had an effect, alright.

It really is dark now in the mornings, which has one side effect: I cannot read the numbers on the Garmin, unless I press a button to turn on the light. Since I don't do that unless there is a compelling reason for needing to read the numbers, it means I am absolutely guaranteed to be running by feel.

Monday was easy. Genuinely easy, and the HR was rather low.

On Tuesday I ran at the same objective effort level. It wasn't until I had finished my run that I took my first glance at the watch, and wouldn't you believe it, I had inadvertently run almost at marathon pace for Dublin. I had been too nervous about my hamstring to do such a session, even though I knew it would be a really good idea before Dublin. If you're going to run 26 miles at a certain pace it helps to get some practise at that pace. Well, I guess I won't have to worry about that any more. If I can run that pace on a very relaxed training run I'll be able to pull it off again in Dublin.

Wednesday was slower again, though once more at the same easy effort, running just whatever pace felt natural. In the last couple of weeks, that "natural" pace has come down from 8-minute to 7:30 pace, which is great.

Looking back through my logs I ran similar paces back in February. It really looks like I have gotten over Belfast (and Dingle, I suppose) and the legs have recovered, about a month sooner than expected.

I expect recovery from Dublin won't be much of an issue. The plan is to run the double in Sixmilebridge three weeks later, and once I feel recovered from that I'll add some speed training.

As long as the Gods are willing, of course.

13 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:37, 7:45 pace, HR 138
14 Oct
12 miles, 1:27:01, 7:15 pace, HR 146
15 Oct
10 miles, 1:15:09, 7:31 pace, HR 142

Sunday, October 12, 2014

On The Razor's Edge

My calves, which had already been sore on Wednesday, were even more so on Thursday. Classic DOMS, of course. I did not really have an influence on my run, which went just fine. As long as the pace is so relaxed, I never expect any difficulties.

I had been wondering why my HR had been fairly high for such a low pace on a couple of days. When I got some headache one evening I figured I was fighting off some bug that has been going round, both Maia and Cian had been sick for a day each. My immune system tends to do a rather good job and apart from that one evening I was fine but it would certainly explain a raised HR for a few days, and the numbers have since returned to a lower level.

I had a rather unusual encounter on Thursday when about 10 cows were standing on the side of the road and because it was still dark I only saw them when I was right beside them. I very slowly inched my way past in order not to startle them. However, since I was doing an out-and-back run I encountered them again on the way home, though they had drifted a quarter mile down the road and were now blocking the entire road. I had to very slowly walk past them, feeling rather apprehensive. Getting so close to cows is not without dangers and I was rather relieved to get by without any of them reacting.

There were actually still some of them out there the next morning, a mile away from that point, but this time there were 2 guys with them, obviously trying to gather them together. I hope that's the last of those close encounters, I'd rather do without bovine company on the road.

The Dublin marathon is getting rather close, and because of my dodgy hamstring I had not dared to run anything even approaching 3:10 pace over the last couple of weeks. But I do think I need to get some practise for that effort level, which is why I increased the pace after 6 miles on Saturday's run. The pace for a 3:10 marathon is 7:14 but GPS always measures a course slightly long and we really need to run 7:10 on the Garmin, so that was the target pace for those miles. I was pleasantly surprised how relaxed that pace felt, though I do need to work on my concentration as I have a tendency to drift gradually slower if I don't pay attention. However, at one point I felt a little ping from my hamstring, which was rather worrying, but I got home without any further incident.

However, I clearly need to be careful, so I binned the idea of some more marathon paced miles on Sunday and just ran at the pace that felt natural. I also eschewed the very hilly loop around the lake and ran a couple of loops through Killorglin instead, a much flatter road. I was a bit nervous how my hamstring would hold up as I could feel it all day yesterday, but it was perfectly fine. I get the impression that running at my normal pace is fine, but putting additional pressure on the hamstring by running faster or downhill causes problems. It really is a very fine balance. Anyway, the run went very well and the flatter route made a big difference to the pace, it was at least 20 seconds per mile faster than a loop around the lake at the same effort would have been.
9 Oct
8 miles, 1:04:44, 8:05 pace, HR 141
10 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:13, 7:46 pace, HR 139
11 Oct
10 miles, 1:14:12, 7:25 pace, HR 144
12 Oct
15.7 miles, 1:58:39, 7:33 pace, HR 144
Weekly Mileage: 71+

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Running With The Legend

I have been following Tony Mangan's blog pretty much from the start of his run 4 years ago. Since then he has almost covered 50000 km on foot, which adds up to a pretty impressive daily mileage. Because one loop around the world is not enough he is now adding a victory lap around Ireland, which is why I got the opportunity to run from Tralee to Killarney with him and Fozzy Forristal yesterday (Tuesday).

I joined them a few miles outside Tralee because I still had to drop off the kids to school, real life doesn't just go way of course. It was a beautiful day, Kerry showed itself from its best side. The pace was slow enough not to have to worry about my hamstring; in fact I think this may have been excellent therapy, getting the blood flowing through the muscle without it being strained. Tony has a lot of stories to tell from his travels, as I'm sure you can imagine.

The pace was slow, maybe about 14 minute miles. In fact, it was so slow that I tended to drift ahead of the guys again and again without noticing; I eventually tried to remedy this by running behind them instead.

With a few breaks along the way it took us about 4 hours to reach Killarney. Tony's crew wanted him to continue onwards because it was a rather easy day but Tony was delighted to have a shorter day for a change and was having none of it.

It was the longest run on my dodgy hamstring, but due to the slow pace it was not unduly taxed. Slightly emboldened by the recovery processes I ventured out for a bit longer on Wednesday morning, doing 8 miles. My calves were surprisingly sore, much more so than after a marathon. I guess I'm not used to Tony's pace. The rest felt fine though, including the hamstring, which was still a bit tight but not painful. It was a cold day and I wore tights in an attempt to keep the muscles warm. I don't know if it does make a difference, but apart from spoiling my good looks it doesn't do any harm.

I was just thinking that every time I head into a pacing gig in Dublin I always seem to have some body part to worry about, be it the Achilles, the hip or, this time, the hamstring. And yet I never had to pull out completely or even just drop down to a slower pace slot. Obviously I'm hoping history will repeat itself. I really should get some marathon pace miles under my belt before the big day but right now that would be too risky. Ah well. I still have 19 days.

6 Oct
5 miles, 41:01, 8:12 pace, HR 134
7 Oct
14.6 miles with Tony
8 Oct
8 miles, 1:04:44, 8:05 pace, HR 141

Sunday, October 05, 2014


I was rather nervous on Friday morning when I took my first step. I could feel the hamstring, but it didn't really hurt. Nevertheless, I was conscious that every step could be my last one for quite some time if something went wrong.

I've been there before. My left Achilles started acting up about 2 years ago and I followed the same recovery procedure, namely 5 easy miles every day. I was terrified I might rupture the tendon completely with each step but gradually grew in confidence and could tell early on that thing were improving - in fact, I am absolutely convinced that 40 minutes of running daily was a major part of the healing process, which is why I am following the same procedure once more.

Friday's run went as well as I could hope for. I could feel the hamstring with every tentative step, but it never actually hurt and I made it back home without bother. I was a bit more confident on Saturday but followed the exact same routine. I could feel improvements already but was not entirely sure if that wasn't merely wishful thinking. I was tempted to run longer but managed to contain myself.

Sunday morning, same 5 miles run once more. By now I can definitely tell that things are improving fairly rapidly. The hamstring feels a bit stiff, but that's all. I am highly tempted to run faster and longer but just about manage not to do that. I am not worried about losing fitness - it's the running itself that I am missing, 5 miles are just about enough to keep me from going loopy, but it's not satisfying.

Apart from those runs, I have done a few more things. I have read that worn out shoes can be a factor in hamstring injuries and have therefore thrown out my 2 oldest pairs of shoes, both of whom had about 1000 miles on them. The lightweight shoes I'm favouring never provide much cushioning in the first place, so there isn't much to lose as they get worn down and I tend to keep them for a long time. Nevertheless, off into the bin they both went.

I am icing the area a few times a day. I am not sure if it helps, but plenty of people swear by it and at the very least it doesn't do any harm, so I might as well do it.

I have been wearing compression gear when I was running. At the very least, it feels comfortable. It may or may not help, but I think it may provide a little bit of help.

What I'm not doing:

- no pain killers. First of all, if anything hurts I prefer to know about it. Secondly, inflammation is part of the natural healing process and anyone taking tablets in order to suppress inflammation is achieving the opposite effect of the desired one.

- no stretching. I never stretch anyway. When I did stretch my leg on the road on Thursday it was a pure act of desperation because I could not think of anything else to do. It didn't help, which was to be expected.

There's one more thing that may or may not have contributed to the problem. After feeling the hamstring a couple of times in recent week, last week I started to use The Stick on the area. I don't use it very often, but on the few occasions I have used it, the results have generally been good. It seems to work pretty well on the calf muscles. However, this time round I did not notice anything on the hamstring while I was using the stick, but I now can't help but wonder if it's a coincidence that my hamstring popped just a couple of days after I has started to work on it. Maybe if I had left it alone ...

Anyway, I'm pretty sure I am recovering very quickly. If I want to classify this as an injury of not depends very much on the definition of injury, not that it actually matters.

There was one side effect of the whole drama, namely that it solved my dilemma if I should run in the cross country race in Killarney today. The last couple of times I ran cross country a) it sucked and b) I sucked big time, so truth to be told I am not exactly devastated about missing out this time round.

I'm confident that my pacing gig in Dublin can go ahead as planned. I'm also looking forward to running with The Legend himself on Tuesday, something I have been keen on for ages.

3 Oct
5+ miles, 41:16, 8:10 pace, HR 134
4 Oct
5 miles, 40:22, 8:04 pace, HR 138
5 Oct
5 miles, 40:12, 8:02 pace, HR 139

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Injury! (or just a niggle?)

It's been so long since I last had to miss a day's training due to injury that I cannot even remember what it felt like. I've had niggles since, of course, and when that happens I reduce my mileage to nothing but short recover runs, but never anything that would have me miss a day; until now.

Monday felt pretty good, at least once I got past the 5-mile mark and the stiffness from the previous day had dissipated. I ran longer on Tuesday; the plan had been a 14 mile run around Rosbeigh mountain but one wrong turn (it was still dark and I don't know the road very well) meant I added a bit of bonus distance. Luckily I had gotten up a few minutes early, so at least it didn't cause any subsequent havoc with the real-life morning schedule. There was one very long climb in there (which forms part of the Glenbeigh 10k race) that had me working fairly hard, all the other miles were easy. I felt pretty good until about mile 11 but then got tired. I was happy to get home - the run had not turned ugly yet but was not far away from doing so.

Another easy 10 mile run followed on Wednesday with me taking it very easy to recover from that run.

All systems were go on Thursday morning. I got up bright and early (in contrast to the outside where it was still pitch dark), got ready and went off. I noticed it was freezing cold and it got even colder when I got towards Cromane, but that did not bother me the slightest. I felt really good and since I just happened to be in the vicinity of a certain strava segment decided I might as well bag that one, so I did (it's still a soft one - feel free to take it).

My pattern for the last few days has been to alternate easy 10 miles with longer runs and the longer runs usually contained at least one decent climb, which I usually ran at a decent effort. The idea was that running strongly uphill would not cause undue stress on the system because the pounding forces are much lower on the uphill.

I noticed at some of those runs that I always felt good until about mile 10 but sometimes started to feel the effort shortly afterwards. Today all still felt good and I was particularly pleased because at mile 11.5 I had managed to work out a solution to a work problem that had been bugging me all day yesterday.

Then, shortly after mile 12, my left hamstring started hurting. It's the same hamstring that had started hurting at mile 10 of the Dingle Ultra and I had felt it at times since, but it had always been very, very mild, never more than a 1 out of 10. Also, it felt differently; in Dingle I had gotten a sharp initial pain which improved quickly as I slowed the pace slightly and then dulled considerably for the rest of the race. This one, in contrast, just felt tight at first but within 5 minutes I was in agony. Slowing down did not provide any relief at all, and eventually I stopped and tried stretching it - a move of pure desperation, something I had never done before. Anyway, it did not really hurt when standing or stretching and stretching did not seem to have any effect, neither good nor bad, but as soon as I started moving again the pain immediately returned. Even walking was painful.

My immediate problem was that I was still 3 miles from home in the middle of pretty much nowhere and getting cold very quickly, so the only option was to clench my teeth and hobble home. Jogging at about 9-minute pace was just about bearable, running even the slightest downhill gradient was pure agony and never have I been more relieved to arrive back home than today.

So, now for the assessment. I can move about without much discomfort, so it's not severe, but I can definitely feel it. It would be obvious to conclude that I had injured the hamstring in Dingle and never properly healed, but since it feels very differently that may or may not be the case. I did ice it as soon as I got home, but I generally feel that icing does not make much of a difference.

I call any discomfort a niggle as long as I can still run through it without too much discomfort and there might still be a chance that this could be the case. I will assess it again this evening and once again tomorrow morning if I can still run. Compression gear might work, I will try and experiment, but the last thing I want to do is worsening it and putting myself out of the running business for a longer time. While I'm sure the general consensus is to rest completely, my personal experience is that things heal quicker if I keep running, but at a slow pace and always ready to go home if it gets worse. Cycling as cross training might be an option, but definitely not a preferred one.

I had been planning on doing an evaluation on Saturday to see if my body can handle the workload but it looks like reality has caught up a little bit quicker.

When was the last time I had to deal with a running-related injury? Several years ago, not sure exactly. I guess I can still count myself lucky. I probably have pushed things just that little bit too hard, but with my next goal race still 6 months away, this would not be the worst time to get injured, though it might jeopardise my pacing gig in Dublin at the end of the month,

29 Sep
10 miles, 1:17:55, 7:48 pace, HR 138
30 Sep
14.75 miles, 1:55:48, 7:51 pace, HR 143
1 Oct
10 miles, 1:19:41, 7:58 pace, HR 138
2 Oct
15.1 miles, 1:58:46, 7:52 pace, HR 138