Saturday, June 27, 2020

DOMS

Jesus, has it been 4 weeks already? I know time flies as you're getting older but this is going at hyperspeed.

The one thing I had genuinely forgotten about mountain runs is that your quads get shredded on the downhills and then you're in for a couple of days of pain. Which is, of course, exactly what happened to me after my first sojourn into the Wicklow mountains, tentative as it was. I repeated the same loop 2 weeks later, and while the DOMS struck again they were nowhere near as bad as the first time round, so I guess things are adapting already. Unfortunately the weather has turned again after a few days of nice sunshine, and there is not a hope in hell I'll go running in the mountains when there is a possibility of thunderstorms. Mind, my road runs are starting to accumulate a lot of elevation as well ever since I discovered a few new routes towards Enniskerry, which should hopefully help, but I know from personal experience that the only thing that properly trains you for a mountain run is a genuine mountain run.

Last week Niamh mentioned that this will be the first year in a very long time when I'm not doing any races, as the day of my cancelled Ironman passed, though I did remind her of the fact that I had done Donadea in February, so it's definitely not going to be a year of not racing at all. However, I did not hold out much hope for an autumn race, with DCM being cancelled long ago and the lockdown still in place. However, someone pointed out to me that the Ecotrail race was still on, at least for the time being. Initially I wasn't interested - I had done it last year and the pain of all those hours nursing my cramping legs across those mountains was still too fresh in my mind, and I sure thought I'd had enough of that kind of stupid masochism.

Then it was still on, and a few friends signed up, and then Norbert pretty much talked me into it, and so, eventually, I dug out my credit card and signed up. While there is no guarantee that it will indeed go ahead, I think there is a good chance that it will. Trail running makes it so much easier to enforce social distancing - hell, you'd be hard pressed to violate social distancing at times as you struggle across empty spaces far removed from civilisation for hours on your own. The only problem is, now I need to get fit for yet another 50 mile race, this time with mountains. I managed to drag my sorry arse across the Donadea loops in a sorry state, but there is no way you can fake your away across the mountains that way, so some serious training will have to be done. Let's hope the weather will improve. As I said, there's no way I'd head into the wilderness on my own in bad conditions. Growing up in the mountains does teach you a few things that won't leave you, even decades later.

And thanks for the shoutout this morning "how's the rubbish marathon going!". It's actually still nice to get recognised from time to time :)

Saturday, May 30, 2020

I Pity The Fool

Last week I finished off the 8 week 5k training program I had been following on Zwift. It was very strange in 2 completely separate ways - firstly that I was doing it on a treadmill and secondly that I was doing a 5k training program at all - me, the ultra runner with the Diesel engine and without a single fast twitch fibre. Anyway, I finished it off with the obligatory 5k time trial, obviously with a fair amount of trepidation, and ended it with a 19:16 treadmill TT, a pretty decent improvement compared to the 19:44 I had done 4 weeks earlier as part of the boards.ie TT.

As it happens, the community on boards.ie had gotten the taste for virtual races and today was the second installment, and this time it was the mile! That's even more fish-out-of-water territory for me, so of course I jumped at the chance and signed up (while trying to ignore the fact that Anto has been organising a series of virtual ultras all along).

I knew what to expect.



I was already chancing my luck bombing along at 5k pace on my home treadmill, so for that one I was definitely heading outwards, and the flattest piece of road anywhere nearby is obviously the Prom, though I avoided the Prom itself because, you know, people and social distancing, so I ran on the bike path parallel to it and don't worry, I jumped off onto the road whenever a cyclist was nearby.

The fact that my first glance at the watch in desperation was as early as 0.18 miles wasn't a good sign, though in my defence I was a bit paranoid about missing the turnaround point.

A 19:16 5k would translate into a 5:33 mile, though taking my speed-deprived legs into account you could probably add a few seconds to that, but even that always sounded way too optimistic - at the GOAL mile half a year ago I wasn't even able to break 6, so in the end I was actually pretty pleased with 5:56, faster than my previous fastest mile at the 2018 GOAL mile, and let's completely ignore the fact that I used to run a lot faster for 5Ks. Getting old sucks, but I think I might have mentioned that before.

Hey, it's good to be alive and we're having the sunniest spring in Irish history, which makes the lockdown so much more bearable.

Stay safe.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Still Alive

So I haven't written a single post about running since February, about 3 months ago. What happened? Nothing in particular, really. I just didn't feel like it any more. In fact, even in the weeks before that hiatus I sometimes had to force myself to sit down on a Sunday and write at least a short post about my running week, just to keep the blog going.

And then I ran Donadea, with very modest expectations, and I managed to do significantly worse even than that. It didn't come as a complete surprise, the body had been rebelling against running in the weeks before the race, I had to stop training or I would have run myself into the ground entirely and I ran the entire 50k basically on muscle memory, so the fact the the legs started cramping violently towards the end was always on the cards.

I could say I was licking my wounds afterwards, but that wouldn't be entirely correct, it was more mental than physical. Still, my calves were really sore for a full 5 days, which is the longest I have ever had sore muscles after a race (well, maybe with the exception of Sparta) and then I had a bit of a head cold. I know what you might be thinking but I'm pretty sure it had nothing to do with Covid; it was very mild, mid-February was too early to be in with a realistic chance to catch Covid here in Ireland and nobody around me got sick afterwards, so it was just one of those respiratory issues that do tend to come occasionally following long races.

Mind, I'd love it to have been Covid. A degree of immunity after a nothing illness would be great.

Anyway, I stopped running entirely for about 3 weeks and then I only picked it up very slowly, only a few days a week and only short distances at that. And then, of course, we got locked in, all of us.

I was actually in a very good spot, much better than most. I still had the treadmill that I had bought back in my competitive days, and it was still there, albeit much under-used. And since I had signed up for the Ironman here in June, I had purchased an indoors bike trainer in February, which turned out to be excellent timing for completely unforeseen reasons.

Now, I hate running on a treadmill as much as the next man, and the indoors trainer wasn't any better, but in the intervening years someone invented Zwift, and as it turns out it makes all the difference. It really is a complete game changer. Up to then I had once managed to last an entire hour on the treadmill and that had been pure mental torture. Now, being able to see your avatar on a screen and even run or cycle together with others, that mental boredom is gone and training indoors is actually fun. Not as good as running outside but fun nevertheless.

And then there's another thing. Ever since I started running 15 years ago I was always training for my next race, and of course it was always at least a marathon. And races of shorter distance were always just training races as part of the build-up. I always had the thought at the back of my mind that doing a training block aimed at a shorter distance, say a 5k, might be beneficial but there was always that next goal race on the horizon, so I never did one. Until now that is. Since all my long races have been cancelled, all of a sudden I had time and opportunity to do something completely different. I picked up an 8 week 5k training plan from Zwift and started pounding the treadmill in earnest, with intervals, hill sessions, tempo runs and what not. It's pretty good, much more fun that I would have expected a 5k training plan to be, still very challenging at times, just what you'd want it to be.

I did a 5k TT halfway through, which was definitely not on the plan but it was organised as a virtual race by someone on boards.ie, and managed to go sub-20, which would have been my fastest 5k in about 2 years, though I'm pretty sure 5k pace on a treadmill is easier than on the road, so how that would translate into an actual race I don't know, and I won't know for a long time either.

By the way, I'm definitely not sponsored by Zwift.

Last week they finally started to ease the lockdown restrictions and all of a sudden Enniskerry, Little Sugar Loaf and Bray Head are all in my zone, which makes running outside feasible again. The Prom would be as well, though from what I've heard it's too crowded to feel safe, so I won't go there. But it felt sooooo good to cover some real ground rather than a virtual one. Still, I'll finish that training program, and I'll definitely keep using Zwift for cycling. I can't see racing coming back this entire year, so it's really just to have fun, keep fit and remain healthy.

All the best.

Stay safe!









Tuesday, May 05, 2020

My Friend Michael

I do apologise in advance. I have been silent for 10 weeks, which has never happened before, and now I'm coming back with a real downer of a post. I just had to get that off my chest.

In all honesty, I didn't know Michael all that well. It was his wife that I had known for many years, and Michael came along much later. But we did meet on a few occasions and several years ago they stayed with us for a couple of days when some of us did the Valentia triathlon, down in Kerry. We got to talk a good bit and I knew him a little better after that.

The one quality I admire in people almost more than anything else is resilience. Michael had tons of that. He really had the odds stacked against him. He was born blind, caused by a genetic condition which he shared with some of his siblings. That alone would have been enough to stop almost everyone. Not Michael. He didn't let that get in his way. He became a successful athlete, doing triathlons and marathons and more, training when he could, despite the obvious obstacles.

He also met a wonderful, supportive partner, married her and had 2 children. And then, as if being blind wasn't enough, he got cancer. He didn't take that lying down either; he fought it with all he could. When things got worse, he opted for a dangerous operation rather than let it all drift away, which was of course typical of him. He was never the one to give up, no matter how hard it was.

Actually, the operation seemed to work, he got another lease of life, could see his little girls grow up for a bit longer, but then it all came back and this time there was to be no stopping it. The cancer had come back, he was told he had less than a year to live and this time there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

Michael passed away last night. My thought are with his family, particularly his wife and his girls, the youngest of whom is probably too young to ever remember him in years to come.

Life can be so fucking unfair! Good bye, Michael. You were one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. I will miss you!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Teamwork

Not for the first time it struck me how many people are involved in your race experience. I know running is a solitary pursuit at the majority of time and racing is an event where you concentrate solely on yourself, but in actual fact there is so much more to it.

So, while perfectly aware that I'm bound to forget some people, the following have had a real, positive effect on last Saturday.

Julian, for giving me a lift, which saved me from having to rent a car for the day, with the expense and hassle that comes with that.

Anto, for putting the show on the road 10 years ago and he has given it a personal touch that may rub some off wrongly but is highly appreciated by most.

All the volunteers who gave out numbers, put up tents, tables, chairs, finishing gantry and then spent hours handing out drinks, giving encouragement and so on. But out of all of them particularly Sharon, with her lovely smile making the pain of each lap melt away instantaneously.

Alex, Alistair and Tim, top 10 runners who all had time to shout out some encouragement while lapping me like I was standing still.

All the other runners who did the same, at a slightly slower pace but still fast enough to lap me at least once and still make a nice comment. Ray, Brian, Charlotte, Susan, Ger, Dave, ... Good to see you, I wish I could have joined you rather than see you pass by.

Gary and Ollie, great pacers, top job.

Anne, while I had hoped not to see her at all out on the course, but thanks a mill for handing me that bottle full of coke when she saw I was struggling. It didn't help, but you know, I very much appreciate the kindness.

And so on. If I didn't mention you, I apologise. I just realised there are way more people involved than even I thought.

Any muscles that are not my calves felt perfectly fine afterwards. Well, maybe the hamstrings were a bit heavier than normal the next day, but otherwise there was just nothing.

My calves, however, were really sore, even 5 days after the race they were still not right. I can't remember ever having such a long time with acutely sore muscles. to be honest, it kind of puts me off running - it's the thing about the weakest link in the chain again; if the weakest link is so much weaker than the rest, that sucks. Maybe some specific strength training might help, though I am a bit skeptical about that one.

I'll see. I'm signed up for some more races already, so I'm sure I'll do them as well. It wouldn't be me to just throw in the towel.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

This Used To Be So Much Easier

I was a tad nervous going into this year's Donadea, knowing full well that a tough day was ahead of me. I basically stopped training about 5 weeks ago when I realised that it was only getting me tired and hurting and I was getting slower and slower, so I decided there was no point to it and maybe even potentially damaging to my long term health.

However, I'm still as stubborn as ever and since I was already signed up, and places are hard to come by and the transfer window had long closed, there was never any question of not taking up my place rather than waste it.

It was my fifth time at that race. Going into it I had two sequences going: 1) I had finished slower and slower with each attempt and 2) I had always finished under 4 hours. There was not an ounce of doubt that sequence one would be kept going and sequence two was going to not just fall but be blown to smithereens.

I chose what I felt was the conservative option and started with the 4:30 pacers, which in fact brought some comments from fellow runners what I was doing back here, but I know my glory days are gone. As was perfectly predictable, it was very, very, very comfortable at the start, so easy that I almost felt strained - to keep running so slowly, that is. We chatted away, Gary and Ollie doing a great job as pacers, but I found running in a tightly packed group a bit uncomfortable, you just can't stride out properly when you're packed tightly on a fairly narrow path, so when after about 2 or 3 lap I got slightly ahead of the group at the start/finish area, I kept going just a tiny bit faster than the guys. It was never my goal to run away from them and chase a glory time - I merely found it easier to run just ahead of the group, nice chaps as they are. There were still plenty of friendly faces around and I chatted for quite some time to Barry, who was in a similar position to me: once a good runner but a bit burned out now, but still enjoying a day like today. In my case, as I told him, it was basically running a race too far - except that it clearly had been more than just one race.

Anyway, I felt very comfortable at that pace until 30k, which I had always felt was the minimum distance that I had to run comfortably in order to still be guaranteed to finish under the 5 hours cut off even if things were to fall apart completely. Not that I had ever been worried about missing a cut off, not in any race in the past, and not today either. But things did indeed start to fall apart here. At the very first climb, inside the first k of loop 7, both of my calves started to spasm, the first sign of a cramp.

Cramp. The bane of my running life. Cramping calves have destroyed many a good race of mine. I have cramped in about half of my races, and I never managed to figure out what exactly is causing it, though there was always a strong correlation to not being in top shape, which is why those cramps did not come as much of a surprise - today was always a question of when I was going to cramp, not if.

On the plus side, countless of miles on cramping legs have given me plenty of opportunity to learn how to nurse my legs along. The first, and by far the most important thing, was to slow down. There was no point in trying any heroics. I had to slow down or else those cramps were going to stop me in my tracks. So I slowed from 26/27 minutes per lap to 30 minutes, which got me through the next 2 laps and a bit. I had spasms shooting through my legs throughout but never a full cramp, and could keep going reasonably well. The 4:30 group passed by very quickly, and Gary asked if I wanted to hop along but I knew my legs would explode straight away if I tried, and therefore declined. (He also made some joke about me once being a superstar and now ... ah well)

That strategy got me to 41 km, almost the marathon point. And even though I thought I had a handle on things, at that point my legs just started to cramp really violently, and boy did that hurt! I had no choice but to walk off the cramps whenever they struck (basically on every incline, and on plenty of flat bits as well) and very, very carefully re-start running whenever I felt I was going to be able to, with plenty of very painful restarts along the way.

It wasn't the best fun I've ever had, though there was a funny moment towards the end of lap 9 when I passed by the loudspeaker belting out "encouragement", or at least Anto's version of it, and it said "Hey, I said no compression socks", which was funny with me waddling by in my gorgeous new bright pink patterned compression socks, purchased solely for this very race (btw, they were utterly useless as far as compression was concerned, I wore them purely for show. Considering my cramps, maybe I should have worn proper socks instead, it may or may not have made a difference)

The last 2 laps went by at snails pace, 34 and 33 minutes each, and looking at the results I would have finished a whopping 50 places ahead had I kept running at my earlier pace. Energy-wise I was perfectly fine, I wasn't even particularly tired, from that point of view I could have gone further and faster, but it was clearly a case of the chain only being as strong as its weakest link, and the weakest link turned out to be very weak indeed.

In fact, by the time I had finished 8 laps I was already past by personal best (!) and by the time I finished lap 9 I was already significantly past my up-to-now personal worst (!!!). Jesus!

Anyway, I eventually managed to drag my sorry arse over the line in 4:47:17, much slower than even my very modest expectation had been, but at least finish I did, and there's yet another t-shirt in my collection. Not sure how many more there will be, to be honest. This running crack isn't quite what it used to be.

Having said that, if you're not a burned out has-been, do yourself a massive favour and sign up for next year. It is such a super event! The vibe at that place is just brilliant and you will have the time of your life!



Photos by Anto Lee
8 Feb 2020
Donadea 50k, 4:47:17, 143rd place, 13th M50

Monday, February 03, 2020

M50

Exactly 10 years ago I was actually looking forward to my "significant" birthday. It was exactly at that time that the silverware started flowing - for the next few years, from almost every race I did I brought home some sort of trophy, usually in my age group but sometime even outright.

The glory years lasted about 5, 6 years, and then the decline became too obvious to deny, and since then things have gotten worse rather quickly.

I don't mean to whine or complain, getting older is part of it all and overall I am very happy how things have gone for the last 30 years, and anyway, my running had reached highs I had never even dared to dream about, so what's there to complain about?

However, I was a lot less excited about turning 50. I guess I've reached the stage that most people seem to hit at 30, when the new digit at the front of your age suddenly has become alarmingly high. Ah well. Time to face the fact that I might have started the middle third of my life.

And I've got to run 50k on Saturday. Oh f... But the fact that the distance matches my age is just coincidence. It's my 5th time doing that race.