Thursday, November 27, 2014

Magic

Wednesday morning, stupid o'clock.

The alarm was set for 5:45 but, as usual, I did not need it and naturally awoke a few minute before that (I don't know how that works, but it does). I got up, got dressed, and even before 6 o'clock was out on the road.

It was one of those crispy clear cold mornings that I love. Not even the moon was out, it was just me and a million stars on the dark Kerry night sky, but I had enough light to see the road. Not one car, and if fact not any other creature was to be seen until I got into Killorglin, over 30 minutes later. Killorglin itself was an island of light that I left behind again soon on the road towards Ballykissane, once again entirely on my own. I reached the turnaround point and headed back for the lights once more, but this being the end of November it was still dark when I emerged on the other side of town once more, and I still had the road mostly to myself - I only encountered 2 cars on the remaining 5 miles home.

My breathing was calm and fully controlled, 7-minute miles were passing effortlessly and my running motion was so smooth I felt like floating over the pavement rather than pounding it 190 time per minute.

It was one of the runs I live for. Even when I will no longer be able to run competitively, if I still get to run and experience mornings like that every now and then, I will be a very happy and content old man.

---

On Thursday it was back to Earth. It was a cloudy and windy morning and I ran 5 easy miles on the way out and then used/tested a little app I wrote for the Ambit to do a "Kenyan fartlek" (60 seconds fast/ 60 seconds easy), though since this was the first run of that kind and I am still a bit worried about my hamstring I didn't exactly kill myself on the fast bit (6 - 6:30 pace, recovery was 8-8:30 pace). This explains the slightly higher HR on Thursday's run; overall I'm very happy with how training is going so far.

24 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:58, 7:54 pace, HR 140
25 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:39, 7:52 pace, HR 136
26 Nov
12 miles, 1:31:24, 7:37 pace, HR 141
27 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:17, 7:38 pace, HR 144

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Real Life

When I as a kid watching the top-class skiers or footballers perform at the top of their game I always presumed they would only ever have to concentrate on their craft, the rest of their lives were taken care of. Eventually I realised that those people, for all their talents, still had to put out their own bins and do their own laundry. Real Life. What a shame.

Turns out, runners who qualify for a 24 hours World Championship still have to get on with real life as well. I just spent several hours taking down and building new beds for the kids, entirely on my own. Next time Niamh goes to Dublin leaving me with one simple job like rearranging the bedrooms, I might me able to smell the trap.

Well, the hands are sore but the legs are fine, which is definitely preferential to the other way round. As you might know by now, I always keep a close eye on my heart rate (not when running - afterwards!) and by the looks of it I have more or less recovered from Sixmilebridge already. I know that the cardio-vascular system is only one of several and things like the skeletal muscles or the endocrine system recover on different schedules, but as long as I don't go mad I'll be okay.

The plan is to do a bit of speedwork over the next couple of months, to ensure a system that isn't used very often by an ultra runner doesn't get dormant entirely. Leg speed isn't important over 24 hours, which is why you wouldn't train for it in the weeks before the race itself; 5 months is a better time, that leaves plenty of time for the more specific training to come after New Year.

After a set of 5 mile runs I increased the daily distance to 8 and on Sunday to 10. That's my tried-and-tested recovery system that I have used dozens of times and seems to work exceedingly well. The coming week will see mainly 10-mile runs, a longer run at the weekend, and if the legs feel okay I'll test them with a few short bursts of speed.

I usually incorporate a 2-4 weeks period of hill drills. I haven't made up my mind if I'm going to do them again. In light of my recent problems with my hamstrings it would probably be a good idea. I'll think about it some more. I'll check last years training logs and make a decision sooner rather than later.

As you can see, I do not write down a detailed training plan in advance, but I do have a certain structure in place that I will adapt depending on how training goes. With a bit of experience that is a better approach than slavishly following a daily routine from a book or website, but you do need to have at least a bit of knowledge of what you are doing (hang on, isn't there some saying about a little knowledge being dangerous - nah!). I do sometimes wonder what a degree in Exercise physiology would do for me, but I can't see me having the time to commit to that.

Real Life. What a shame.

21 Nov
8 miles, 1:04:32, 8:04 pace, HR 137
22 Nov
8 miles, 1:01:47, 7:43 pace, HR 141
23 Nov
10 miles, 1:17:05, 7:42 pace, HR 140

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Selected!

On Monday I got the most exciting piece of news I have received in quite a while when the Austrian team for the World Championship was announced and yes, my name is on the list. I had known for a while that I had made the cut but to see it confirmed officially was still something else.

On a related note, Cian asked me the other day what place I would have come in the last championship with my Belfast performance, and I told him about 45th.

The poor boy was devastated!

In one split second his dad had dropped from potential champion to complete no-hoper!

I tried the angle that being in the top 50 in the world isn't actually that bad but was chasing a lost cause. I'll never live up to his standards, I guess.

Right now my Belfast result has me in 49th place (men only, that is, though they only have 4 women listed with better 2014 results [can't be right, can it!?!]) in the DUV statistics for 2014, though I don't know how complete that database is and of course there are still some races yet to come. Still, I like to think that's not a bad result for the nerdy kid who used to be the last one picked for football in school because he was so useless at sport. Oh, and the other way of reading this data is that I am in 16th place in my age group.

Anyway, recovery from Sixmilebridge is going very well. As always, my recovery program consists of running 5 slow and easy miles each morning until I feel better and then slowly increase the distance. The first half mile on Monday morning was a rather painful, awkward and pathetic hobble until the legs loosened up a bit. Tuesday was already a lot better, the hobble part lasted only as far as our driveway. On Wednesday I was almost back to normal, the HR had almost gone back to pre-race levels and apart from one bit, there was no more soreness.

The one bit that hurt a bit was my right hamstring, but get over this, that's not the hamstring that has given me grief over the last few weeks but the other leg. I'm reasonably sure that it's nothing serious and will get better within another day or two, but in my geeky way I find it interesting that the troubled part of my physique seems to have been completely unaffected by running 52+ miles. Anyway, by Thursday morning all that was left was it feeling a bit tight, no more than that. The HR had recovered even further, to pre-race levels already, which is rather mind-boggling. I must be in good shape to be able to recover that quickly.

Oh, and for the question if I raced Sixmilebridge or treated it as a training run: I ran it at the same effort level as I had done the races in Staplestown and Portumna, before Belfast. That training had led me to qualify for the world championships, so I figured something is working rather well - don't change it.

17 Nov
5 miles, 45:26, 9:05 pace, HR 131
18 Nov
5 miles, 43:46, 8:45 pace, HR 134
19 Nov
5 miles, 40:56, 8:11 pace, HR 135
20 Nov
8 miles, 1:04:07, 8:01 pace, HR 136

Monday, November 17, 2014

Back At The Bridge

“Welcome back to The Bridge”
“It’s always good to be here”

It was still dark at 6:20 am when I arrived at the race HQ. There was so little life at first that I wondered where everyone had gone but within minutes the place had gotten lively. After running the 30 mile option 3 years in a row I had finally decided to give the fun runs a miss and moved up to the Double. I was very much looking forward to it, though I was a bit nervous as well – running more than 50 miles is always an ever so slightly daunting task. Thomas Klimas was there, just like I had expected as this was almost in his backyard. It also meant I would not have to worry about the outcome of today’s race. Last year we were running at more or less the same level, this year he is well out of sight (and he’s only going to get better – scary, really). The only surprise was his beard, but in some circles that goes as the authentic ultra runner's look. He told me his wife was running the half marathon, which was scheduled to start 7 hours after the double, and he would have to be finished by then to take over babysitting duties. Talk about putting extra pressure on yourself!

We assembled at the start line the seemingly obligatory 20 minutes late and set off. Thomas K soon disappeared over the hill and far away. I found myself in 4th place over the first mile but moved into second position, which I was pretty sure I was going to hold until the end. Stu Wilkins, a fellow veteran of last year’s 10in10 was here, but since he had already run 2 marathons over the previous 2 days he was never going to race today. His mission was survival.

The race is held on the famous 1-mile Sixmilebridge loop, or should I say infamous. Half of it is uphill and half of it downhill and the only flat bit is the tiny out-and-back section at the race HQ that ensures one loop equals one mile. There seems to be some confusion how much elevation change there is (I have seen wildly differing numbers) but my shiny new Ambit comes with a barometer and tells me that it’s about 50 feet per lap, which over a double marathon adds up to 2600 feet, or about 800 meters. It’s not exactly mountainous, but it sure adds up. Mind, climbing the elevation in small chunks is much easier than a sustained climb like Conor Pass.

The plan was to run about 8-minute miles for as long as that felt doable and then hang on until the finish when it no longer does. Having said that, I never pace myself either via the GPS device or the timer but always strictly by feel. The first mile was in fact a good bit slower than that as I eased into the effort but then I gradually got faster. There was a clock at the race HQ and on the couple of occasions early on when I remembered the previous lap’s time I could figure out my present pace and saw that I was moving a bit faster than planned, though even the fastest mile all day was still reasonably restrained at 7:37.

Time passed very quickly. I was still dark when we started but it got bright very quickly, within 3 miles. I was already contemplating ditching my headlamp and reflective vest when a thick fog descended upon us, and for safety reasons decided to keep both of them on. It took about 2 hours for visibility to return to normal and to get rid of the safety equipment. My bright yellow t-shirt was nice and shiny anyway.

I passed a runner in a blue shirt and almost missed Brian Ankers. He had not been at the start (apparently he had arrived late) and therefore this was rather unexpected. He said he'd run a lap with me but that turned into 3. This was very welcome as I was just starting to drag a bit and a friendly face to talk to and run with was just what I needed. He didn't entirely believe me when I told him we were running 8-minute miles, they felt slower to him. I checked the watch and if it was slower than only by a couple of seconds - I had averaged 7:56 pace at that time, very close. Brian would later drop out after 35 miles. He has bigger fish to fry, and anyway, he already had a marathon from Saturday in his legs.

Time kept passing quickly. As some point I looked at my watch and saw about 21 miles already done and realised there were only 50k left but unlike in Connemara there wasn't anyone running with me, so I could not blurt it out loud and get a kick out of the incredulous looks they'd give me. I could only make my smart-ass comment when I passed the next set of runners, and it wasn't quite the same.

The 1 mile loop format makes this a very unique event. Usually in ultras you spend hours running completely on your own. Sixmilebridge, on the other hand, is a very social race. You constantly pass other runners or they pass you and there is plenty of banter to be had, and always a friendly and encouraging word when you need one. I know perfectly well how mad it sounds to be running 52 laps, and even if I didn't know I have been enlightened several times by now, but it really makes this a special occasion. There is not a hope in hell I would be running anything like that on my own in training. I hate running even two loops of anything on my own. But in a race setting with so many friendly faces on and around the course this becomes something entirely different.

Don Hannon was one of the friendly faces hanging around but since he is still recovering from a very recent 24 hours race he wasn't running himself, just helping out. I went through the marathon in about 3:29, feeling reasonably good, and when I joked to Don that I should have signed up for the marathon instead, I didn't really mean it.

4 miles later I came up with the same lame joke about the 30 mile race, though at that time I meant it a tiny bit more. While I was still feeling ok, I could already tell that at some point in the reasonably near future that would no longer be the case.

The 30 mile race started about 4 hours later, which increased the number of runners on the loop by a bit. 4 of them were running faster than me, so that's where I started being overtaken regularly rather than going past other runners myself. Last year's winner Mike "Curley" Cunningham looked particularly impressive, his pace and smooth running style marking him out amongst of the competition.

The real change in scenery came at 12 o'clock when the marathon started. All of a sudden the course became really busy. Somehow I managed to pass the marathon startline just seconds after their start and was immediately blocked by a wall of runners but once I had made my way past the worst of the congestion, there were no more barriers. The field spread out within a mile and passing was no problem. They were obviously feeling fresh and excited and I really fed off their positive energy; it made a real difference to me, just when I started flagging for real. I also got the opportunity to shake hands with Eamonn and congratulate him on his recent 100th marathon. He obviously wasn't hanging round and immediately had to add number 101 to the list.

A few laps later the official lap counter gave me a shout of "40 miles done". A lady standing close by incredulously exclaimed "he's run HOW far!", which I got a kick out of. It was a completely random occurrence but it did make me feel good again for a while.

Thomas Klimas had lapped me twice by that time and not long after mile 40 he came round for a third and final time. Each time he slowed down sufficiently for me to hang around for a lap or two and we had a little chat before he sped off again. By now it was clear that he would easily make his target of finishing before the half-marathon start and also bag the course record. He didn't even look tired and the results show that he barely slowed down towards the end and indeed sped up again over the last 5 miles.

While not quite up to the same standard I had been running pretty well up to then and even though the pace had dropped a bit I was still averaging almost 8-minute miles, maybe 8:03 or so, but now the wheels started falling off. A look at the chart now confirms what I already knew at the time. I was doing well until about the 42 miles mark and then I started slowing down for real. With only 10 miles to go I always knew that I would finish reasonably well, but I had to work a lot harder. The hill had grown a little bit steeper with each loop and by now it was becoming a real challenge. A little devil started sitting on my shoulder and whispered into my ear how much easier it would be to walk the hill instead of enduring the ever-growing pain of running it at an ever-growing effort, but luckily I was far enough into the race to see the light at the end of the tunnel and manage to brush him off.

On one of those climbs Ger O'Donoghue passed me like I was standing still. I'm pretty sure he has never passed me before, and after complaining last year how the faster 30 mile runners had left him standing during his own fastest lap, I'm sure he enjoyed that one. He went on to have a great marathon after a tough first 5 miles - good man, Ger.

I probably felt worst with about 5 or 6 miles left and while the slowest mile was yet to come I was now within sniffing distance of the finish and could smell the coffee (quite literally, in fact). I took a sip of coke after each lap from the aid station table, which got me around yet another lap and the remaining number started melting down surprisingly and satisfyingly quickly. I expected I would be cursing the person who had decided to make this a 52.44 mile race rather than a 50 miler to high heavens over the last couple of miles, but surprisingly that was not the case. I almost enjoyed myself over the last few miles, soaking up the atmosphere save in the knowledge that the torturous part of the day would be over very soon.

I even managed to break into something vaguely resembling a finishing sprint, though I do have a painful history as far as sprint finishes in Sixmilebridge are concerned. And then it was all over. I had come second in my race in Sixmilebridge for the third year in a row, but since that had been entirely expected I did not mind. Instead I was content to have gotten the fastest ever non-winning time in the double marathon. I got a few hugs, ate and drank a few bits and pieces, had a lovely warm shower and hung around for a good while before returning back home. The two hours drive was a rather uncomfortable one because my legs were stiff and tired, but what can you do.

My left hamstring, the one that had been trouble me in recent weeks, behaved impeccably, which as a major bonus. In fact, during the race it was my right hamstring that hurt, and that was purely due to fatigue, which is a normal part of ultra running.

My Ambit shows a shortened distance, off by half a mile which equates to about 1%, which is well within the accuracy rate of any GPS device. I can assure you that this is not down to me cutting the course, I always remained on the road, on every single lap. I had already noticed in training that the Ambit always shows a shorter distance than my old 310 had and I'm sure the Garmin would have shown more than 52.44 miles. In the end you can only trust the fact that the course was certified. Looking at the map it looks like the Ambit sometimes cuts corners in the path, even when the runner goes a longer way round, and I do suspect that the 180 degree turn at each lap might have led to a shortened measured distance.
16 Nov
Sixmilebridge Double Marathon
52.44 miles, 7:05:14, 8:06 pace, HR 146

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Another Evaluation

The weekend hadn't been particularly tough, but since I still have the Dublin marathon in my legs it didn't need a tough weekend for the legs to feel a bit tired. Accordingly I took it very easy on Monday (as I do virtually every Monday), and felt all the better for it on Tuesday.

Even teh weather was better on Tuesday and it was a clear, crisp morning illuminated by a very bright moon as I set off from home. I felt really good and the legs were itching to run a bit faster but I made sure to keep them in check. It would have been a great run but was unfortunately blighted a mile from home when my hamstring started hurting once more. It wasn't bad but it did remind me of the morning a few weeks ago when the hamstring started hurting a tiny bit and 2 miles later I was in agony. Luckily I was only a mile from home this time and it didn't get any worse, but I was definitely worried. I could also feel it for the rest of the day and started icing it again in the evening.

I have one theory regarding that hamstring, namely that it might not be the actual muscle itself that is affected but the sheath surrounding it, because it feels somewhat similar to the Achilles issue I've had in the past. That could be bad as sheath tissue does take longer to heal, but then again I managed to run through all of my Achilles niggles without too much trouble. It may well be wishful thinking but right now I still believe the odds are in my favour that this will go away eventually as well.

It's been 3 weeks since the last evaluation, but I've run the Dublin marathon in the meantime, so I already knew there would not be a smooth progression showing in the numbers from the last one. Because of the hamstring issues I wasn't sure if I should go ahead but then decided to be bold rather than fearful.

Another unexpected hurdle was thrown by my GPS gadgets. Evaluation is the one workout that requires a GPS device. I don't have the Suunto set up for that, so the old, trusty Garmin it was. Unfortunately, I had to reset it the day before the Dublin marathon which wiped all the data from it, including any custom workouts, and was unpleasantly surprised by an empty selection option this morning. 6 am when you're about to leave for your run is not the time to start up the computer and sync the watch which would have taken 10-15 minutes that I did not have, so it was all done manually. Not a big issue, but I also lacked the HR alarm that normally goes off whenever I run too slow or too fast during the evaluation, so it all was a bit more uneven that usual.

Never mind.
“First get your facts; then you can distort them at your leisure”
Mark Twain
The numbers in brackets are adjusted pace, 3 seconds for every beat off the 161 target.
       
        Mile 1    6:44   HR 161    (6:44)
        Mile 2    6:50   HR 160    (6:47)
        Mile 3    6:46   HR 162    (6:49)
        Mile 4    6:51   HR 161    (6:51)
        Recovery to HR 130: 38 seconds

The pace drop is remarkably stable, at least when you're looking at the "cleaned" numbers. Overall, those are actually pretty good numbers. I am still dealing with some fatigue from the marathon, but not as much as might be expected. While I have seen better figures with regards to all variable(pace, stability, recovery), that's a nice set of numbers 16 days after a marathon that had been tougher than expected.

However, my main reason for being cheerful is that there was not a beep from the hamstring.

Thursday was only 8 miles at a very easy effort. I'm doing a mini taper before the Double in Sixmilebridge on Sunday.

10 Nov
10 miles, 1:19:16, 7:56 pace, HR 140
11 Nov
10 miles, 1:17:29, 7:45 pace, HR 142
12 Nov
11.8 miles, 1:25:29, 7:15 pace, HR 150
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:44, 6:47, 6:49, 6:51, 38 sec recovery [cleaned up paces]
13 Nov
8+ miles, 1:02:41, 7:47 pace, HR 140

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Calf Trouble

I woke at about 2 am on Thursday morning with my right calf muscle about to go into a rather painful cramp. I used to get these nightly episodes rather regularly but they have stopped for a year or two. I'm not sure what brought it on again - well, nobody seems to know what causes them in the first place. I know a lack of magnesium sometimes gets mentioned but I don't want to go back on supplements just because someone on the internet says so.

Subsequently my calf felt very tight during that morning's run, but I have been there plenty of times before and I know that it doesn't affect my run. However, I was a bit surprised to still be feeling the same tightness on Friday morning as well as on Saturday. I finally started digging out the Stick again before going to bed last night and got to work, which seems to have made a difference. I could still feel some tightness early on but for once it loosened up after a mile or two, so I think that episode is behind me now. There may well be further repeats to come, of course.

Thursday's 10 mile run was easy and I felt really good. The HR was at a rather low level for once, which was good to see. I'm under no illusion that recovery from Dublin is complete, but it was good to see a more familiar pace/HR ratio for once.

That was encouraging enough to run a bit faster on Saturday again. While I am still in base training, it's always good to move the legs a bit faster once a week, though that still has to be a relaxed and controlled run. I didn't get that right, the effort and the HR that goes with it was too high during the middle miles. I dialled it back once I became aware of it, but by then I already knew that I would feel the effort on Sunday's run.

That proved to be the case, alright. There was no real zip in the legs for all of 16 miles on Sunday, though all in all it was a perfectly reasonable run. I started to feel a bit tired towards the end, but the fact that I had to run the final 5 miles right into a headwind had undoubtedly something to do with that. Mind I was still moving well enough at the end and could have gone further.

I got a new toy to play around with on Thursday, and on Friday I took my new Suunto Ambit 2 out for a spin for the first time. Just to make sure, I brought my old Garmin along as well, but it worked well enough to bring only the Suunto on Sunday. It looks like a great piece of kit overall but there is one significant drawback, namely complex workouts aren't very well supported. I had a look on the web how to program an evaluation workout into the thing (w/u, 4x1 miles, pause, c/d) and while I might eventually be able to create my own app, I think my Garmin will still have its uses, certainly for this week. It seems strange that Suunto are providing all kinds of advanced functionality but lack the ability for users to create their own bespoke workouts in a straightforward manner.

7 Nov
10 miles, 1:17:11, 7:43 pace, HR 139
8 Nov
10 miles, 1:13:31, 7:21 pace, HR 151
   incl. 8 miles @ 7:07 pace (HR 155)
9 Nov
16 miles, 2:01:24, 7:35 pace, HR 145
Weekly Mileage: 79 miles

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Even More Recovery

Yes, I'm running out of creativity with regards to my headings!

Mind, it does accurately represent the present state of my training. The Dublin marathon was only 10 days ago and it's still in my legs, so recovery is still paramount. Recovery to me does not mean doing nothing, it means I am running at an easy effort. Running at an easy effort doesn't mean hanging around entirely either; I did get down to about 7:30 pace on a couple of occasions, though I did feel that in my legs this morning and scaled back accordingly.

Easy effort can mean a different pace each day, depending how I feel. While I do wear my Garmin, I don't let it dictate my run. In the winter, this is even easier than in the summer. I am running with the back light of the watch turned off, so I can't even see the numbers and there is never any temptation to cheat.

10 easy miles on Tuesday felt good, 13 on Wednesday even better. The weather was reasonable on both days, as long as you don't mind the occasional shower.

Thursday morning was a little bit more challenging, both from the weather (hard rain and plenty of wind) as well as the legs (a bit tired, and a calf cramp during the night didn't help), so I ran even easier. This resulted in the the slowest run in a week after getting a little bit faster every day beforehand.

The HR is still elevated compared to normal base levels and I'm wondering if I had been running a tad too fast since Dublin, but it's hard to slow down when you're already rather relaxed.

Sixmilebridge is getting closer at a slightly alarming rate - right now I wouldn't fancy doing a double marathon and I have the sneaking suspicion that I might still be feeling the same next week, so a certain amount of trepidation cannot be denied.

4 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:32, 7:39 pace, HR 145
5 Nov
13 miles, 1:38:13, 7:33 pace, HR 145
6 Nov
10 miles, 1:19:39, 7:58 pace, HR 142