Monday, September 17, 2018

Take My Breath Away

I had signed up for the Berlin marathon last year as a bit of fun, not really expecting to get through the lottery because that's what I'm used to from London, but I did and so I was committed all of a sudden. Obviously Berlin is known as a very fast course but with Irding a few months earlier I always knew that I was not going to be chasing a PB. However, I had not expected to be in quite as bad a shape as I turned out to be, and to be honest I wasn't overly enthusiastic about the trip, especially after Niamh decided not to come after all. However, I was signed up and didn't want to miss out on the chance of running another Major, so off I went.

Travelling was worse than expected because the plane left Dublin an hour late, making me miss my connecting flight in Cologne (together with about a dozen other fit and slim looking people) and I got to Berlin 4 hours late, but hey, I made it and I had all of Saturday to get acclimatised.

The Expo was big but I managed to avoid spending any money, and I did some sightseeing before relaxing back in my room. I knew I had most likely spent a bit more time on my feet than ideal but I don't expect to get to spend time in Berlin any time soon and hey, it's just a marathon.

Sunday dawned and I got ready, as I have a hundred times before. The race is exceptionally well organised, as it has to be for such a large field, and I found myself in corral C, my assigned place, though I felt a bit out of place as I had no intentions of running fast so I stood right at the very back, with a few others obviously in the same situation, and when they removed the rope between corrals right before the start I let the runners from Corral D pass me as well.

Still, the start didn't seem far from where I was standing, so I'm a bit surprised it took me 2 minutes to cross the start line. Then there was the big unknown. What pace was I supposed to run at?

Putting the time of my 5k a last week into a calculator would have predicted a 3:15-3:20 marathon but I always knew that was not on the cards. What I remembered most was when I ran Dingle as a 3:30 pacer all the way back in 2011, after taking it very easy during the summer and my longest run being a solitary 15 miler and having no problems with that pace even on a tough course, so I hoped, foolishly maybe, that something similar might be on the cards again. 8-minute miles seemed very easy at the start, though I knew full well that this was a very poor indicator of how it would go later on.

The pace felt easy enough but I was sweating profusely and felt very hot. I actually wished I would have worn a singlet but that was a bit late now. I made sure to drink at each water station, which added up to a lot of water, but felt absolutely necessary today. It felt a lot better in the shade, and after a while there appeared a few clouds in the sky that took away the worst sting of direct sunlight.

The first 5 or so miles passed by without a hitch, but with that being the typical distance I have run recently I was all too soon in almost unknown territory, and by mile 7 or 8 I was already in trouble. The hamstrings felt very heavy and with not even a third of the race distance covered I knew I was in for a very tough day, so the theme for rest of the race was damage limitation.

I eased up the pace, easy as it had been all along, ignoring the thousands of runners gradually streaming past me. It didn't help much, the legs just got worse and worse and I got slower and slower. I'm not sure how to really describe the rest of the race because the previous sentence pretty much says it all. By halfway I was already a couple of minutes behind 3:30 pac and of course it only got worse and worse. My 5k splits really tell the entire story:

split    overall    diff     min/km   km/h
5 km     0:24:41    24:41    04:57    12.16
10 km    0:49:44    25:03    05:01    11.98
15 km    1:15:14    25:31    05:07    11.76
20 km    1:41:20    26:06    05:14    11.50
Halb     1:47:11    05:51    05:20    11.27
25 km    2:09:03    21:52    05:37    10.71
30 km    2:37:00    27:58    05:36    10.73
35 km    3:05:27    28:27    05:42    10.55
40 km    3:37:02    31:36    06:20    9.50
Finish   3:49:59    12:58    05:55    10.17

There was no big disaster, no hitting the wall, no point of no return, just a gradual deterioration with the legs getting worse and worse, the pain getting more and more unbearable and the pace getting slower and slower. I had a mini reprieve at 25 km, when I took a caffeine tablet and managed to hold the same pace for another 5k, but when I tried to take my next one I realised I had none left. I was stumped, I thought I had put a few into my bag but apparently not, and so I just had to make it to the finish without a caffeine shot.

At some point the quads took over as the worst of the muscles, and I barely could lift my legs any more. This resembled the final miles of an ultra, not a marathon.

The last 4 miles were an almost complete disaster when I slowed down to 10-minute miles, which is slower than I ran in that 100 k in April! I was actually surprised by how few people were walking - I'm sure the ratio of walkers late in the race is a magnitude higher in Dublin. Never mind, at least I managed to run all the way to the finish, even if it was crawling at snails pace.

I remember running down a very, very long road with a Coca Cola sign very far in the distance, over a mile away, and wondered if we would have to run all the way to there. As it turned out we did not have to make it quite that far but it wasn't far off. There were a few more turns and eventually we did yet another left turn and there was the Brandenburg Gate. Oh! thank! Fuck! for! that!

It was actually still about a kilometre to the finish from there because the finish is still a fair distance from the Gate itself, so don't think you're done just yet. But having come all the way we managed the rest as well. I crossed the line in a dismal 3:49:59 (provisional time) and swore to myself I was done with running, once and for all (admittedly not exactly for the first time).

Well, what can I say? In June I paced 3:30 in Cork and felt so comfortable at the finish I was almost tempted to go for a second lap. A week earlier I had run a mountainous trail marathon faster than today. I've run back-to-back marathon on the murderous Howth course faster than that. I've run ultras faster than that.

This used to be a lot more fun!

Ok, I'll stop whining now.

I know I suffered because of the low training mileage since Irdning, and this time apparently my base fitness was not enough to carry me round the course in reasonable shape. The thing is, I didn't run low mileage because I couldn't be arsed to train more - I ran low mileage because I had been waiting for the legs to finally come round again, and they never did.

So, right now I'm unsure what the better option would be - try higher mileage training again, at easy pace obviously, and let the legs get stronger, or go the complete opposite way and take a complete break from running for several months, let the muscles recover, and eventually start again from scratch.
16 Sep
Berlin marathon
3:49:59, 8:46 pace (8:38 on the watch), HR 152

Thursday, September 13, 2018

New Wisdom

Well, you learn something new every day.

I always used to run very early in the morning, not because I thought it was the best time of day for training but because it really was the only time I had available, with a full-time job and always a gaggle of very young children around.

I have read numerous times that from a training effect point of view it's the worst time to train because your muscles are cold and your body hasn't revved up yet and your training would always be somewhat compromised. I did notice, however, that I was still progressing at a very rapid pace earlier in my running career, which I attributed mainly to my consistency, considering that I was apparently training at a sub-optimal time.

Things changed a lot in the last year and a bit, and with my move to Dublin the early morning runs were gradually phased out, and in the last few months I was almost always running at lunch time, at least during the week. Despite the fact that this was supposed to be close to the optimal time of day, I usually felt pretty crap doing so, which I attributed mainly to my recovery from Irding not progressing very well at all.

On Tuesday, I just happened to wake up very early. I was awake at 3, at 4 and at 5, and then I just could not fall back asleep any more. Eventually staring at the ceiling lost its fascination. I got up, and due to lack of anything better to do I went for a run.

I was completely caught by surprised by how easy it felt. For the first time in months, the next step was not a mini struggle but something that happened just effortlessly. It was a short run, and a slow one at that, but I had almost forgotten how easy running can be.

Even the gadgets agreed. My numbers were significantly better all of a sudden.

I didn't set my alarm for the next days but I always woke up at 5:30 (-ish), and so I got up and ran in the dark. Just like in the good old times. It felt so good! It's a completely new ball game.

So, that's it. It's too late for Berlin to make a difference, but I'll revert to running early in the morning once I'm back. For the first time for month I'm actually optimistic that I'm not totally over the hill just yet.

Let's get Berlin out of the way first!

10 Sep
4.8 miles, 38:53, 8:06 pace, HR 151
11 Sep
4+ miles, 36:23, 8:57 pace, HR 135
12 Sep
4+ miles, 35:14, 8:39 pace, HR 138
13 Sep
4+ miles, 34:09, 8:23 pace, HR 141

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Recovery Slash Taper

Ok, so I ran that race on Wednesday, completely unprepared after not doing any speedwork for months, and when I had tried a few workouts I had to stop after 2 weeks because I started to feel overtrained straight away.

In light of that, I actually did reasonably well by running 20:29 on a long course, even if it certainly was nothing to write home about. About a month or two ago I considered concentrating on shorter races for a while but I think running that race reminded me that I was never particularly fond of short distances for a reason, so maybe I'll skip that. On the other hand, some fast running is supposed to be really beneficial for us older runners, so maybe I should anyway?

In the aftermath of the race I was feeling fine on Thursday morning, got gradually more sore throughout the day and felt really sore on Friday, which is of course classic DOMS. Saturday was already better, and I can't really tell if Sunday was an improvement because I ran a a really hilly loop.

Thursday's recovery run was dead slow, Friday was a bit faster, which is rather surprising because the legs felt like dead wood, and Saturday was another improvement.

Whether it was a bright idea to race a 5K fairly close to a marathon that I feel utterly unprepared for is another question, though a lot of marathon training plans tend to have a workout like 3 x 1 mile 10 days out, which is admittedly not the same as a 5K race but still somewhat similar.

What surprised me the most, and what I cannot explain at all, is why my VDOT number for the race was significantly better than for any training run I've done, at 54.6, when I usually don't even get to 50. With all the slow running I've done recently you'd think I'd be better at running slowly than at running fast.

Actually, the other thing that surprised me that I was even able to run at roughly sub-20 pace. I struggled to go faster than 7:30 in training, and running over a minute per mile faster in a race is a bit baffling, especially since I paced myself so badly and started with a sub-6 mile.

Anyway, I'm supposed to taper this week though I have done so little training that I'm not sure what I would be tapering from, and most of my training weeks look like I've been tapering for months already. Ah Jesus, how did I get myself into this mess?
6 Sep
4+ miles, 37:01, 9:05 pace, HR 141
7 Sep
4+ miles, 35:05, 8:36 pace, HR 143
8 Sep
4+ miles, 33:44, 8:17 pace, HR 146
9 Sep
7.5 miles, 1:05:52, 8:46 pace, HR 148

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The Immeasurable Fun Of The 5K

As I was standing on the start line of the Grant Thornton Corporate 5K Team Challenge, I was a bit apprehensive. I had not done any fast running in months, apart from a few strides or hill sprints, but those are over in a matter of seconds, so not really comparable. I had worn out my legs on Sunday during my long run. I had REALLY worn out my legs two months ago at the 24 hours race in Irding. And most of all, I was never particularly fond of racing 5Ks. I much prefer the slow burn pain of the marathon (and beyond) to the acid burn of the fast stuff. But when Dave at work had asked ages ago who was up to run as part of a team from work, I put my name down. And here I was.

Most of all I hoped I would not completely embarrass myself. Despite not having a clue what time I would be able to run I had put myself into the first wave for runners up to 20 minutes (and wave 2 started from 21 upwards, so I guess they meant up to 20:59 for us), especially since I know perfectly well that way too many people cheat in that game.

It was drizzly up to 5 minutes before the start, and then it started raining properly. It meant I had chosen the wrong option by wearing my glasses - I wasn't going to see much. By the time we finally started it was raining really heavily and we were soaked to the bone, and we had not even started yet.

I know it was raining heavily at the start, and not at all at the finish. However, I can't tell you if the rain stopped within a minute of us starting or if it kept raining until right at the end - my perception of that was turned off completely as soon as racing started.

The course was right in the city centre along the quays, crossing the Liffey three times, and included quite a few sharp turns, which didn't feel entirely safe with so many runners on a slippery surface. The roads are in shocking state really, especially considering this is right in the centre of the capital, with just one single downpour leaving parts completely waterlogged. The shocking state of infrastructure in this shithole really pisses me off at times!

Sorry - the race. I have completely forgotten how to race a 5K, and of course started way too fast. That kind of stuff never bodes well - the first mile was not yet done when I was already desperately wishing this to be over. I did ease up a bit and a few people went past me, but I was still hurting and breathing through a thin straw. My exercise-induced asthma made itself known as well, not as bad as on some occasions in the past but enough to be a nuisance. My sense of distance had completely gone as well. We did a 180 degree turn and I thought we were heading straight to the finish (hey, this 5k isn't so bad after all) when the course suddenly veered right over a bridge (oh fuck, this is bad after all), and the uphill section of that bridge wasn't helping either. The same happened once more, I thought we were finally heading for home only for another sharp turn to come up. I always slowed down a touch on the turns because I would not trust the surface, but that didn't make much difference to my time.

A bigger issue was my distinct lack of desire to put the hurt all the way to 10; it was maybe an 8 or a 9, but definitely not maxed out. Even out on the road I was kind of pissed off with myself for the lack of willingness to suffer properly, and yet it still hurt like hell. Anyway, after a lifetime of deep pain and with me just about losing the will to live, we finally crossed the Liffey for the last time and then there was the finish just a quarter mile ahead of us, which still felt far away at the time but we got there. 20 minutes had come and gone, ah well, and I finished in 20:29. Good God, that bloody hurt, even though I hadn't put everything into it. Just imagine if I had!

The watch had measured the course way long at 3.2 miles, which is the longest I have ever seen in a 5k. The watch actually had me at sub-20 pace. I know a GPS isn't accurate enough to make definite statement but I'm still pretty sure this was long, possibly by more than 100 meters.

I can't fault the general organisation, though. It was excellent and all went smoothly, which is quite impressive with the number of runners on show.

With me being soaking wet I got cold immediately and wasn't hanging around, so I cycled home, which served as a hell of a cool down. The next day I felt pretty good initially but got quite sore after a while, and my recovery run at lunch time was slow, stiff and awkward. I was actually glad to have the option of a standing desk, as that felt a lot more comfortable than sitting down. Figure that one out.
3 Sep
5+ miles, 43:09, 8:32 pace, HR 140
4 Sep
5 Sep
4+ miles, incl. 5K(+) race in 20:29, 6:23 pace, HR 172
6 Sep
4+ miles, 37:01, 9:05 pace, HR 141

Sunday, September 02, 2018


The good news first, as soon as I took that needle to that blister on my toe (which, it should probably be pointed out, you're not supposed to do due to infection risk) it felt a lot better, and one week later the discomfort has not returned. The tip of the toe is still dark red and the nail doesn't exactly look a picture of health (I'll spare you the photos) but it doesn't hurt, so that's that as far as I'm concerned.

VDOT August 2018
The bad news is that training - what training? Here's a chart with the numbers for last month, and it doesn't make for great reading. The numbers are as low as I've ever seen, but more importantly they aren't rising. I had hoped that a month of lower mileage would sort out recovery after Irdning and then I'd be able to move on, but whatever I tried, it doesn't seem to have worked.

Work has been absolutely manic this week in the office with meetings and customer calls coming back-to-back all day every day, so much so that there was not a chance to head out for a lunchtime run on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. I know I would have had the option to run either in the morning or evening but I felt too tired and with me being on lower mileage anyway I just took them as rest days.

Anyway, I'd radically change things and start picking up the miles again, except I have the Berlin marathon in 2 weeks' time, which doesn't make for ideal timing. I might do it anyway.

What few runs I managed during the week were all rather short and supposedly at an easy effort, not that the HR would confirm that. Saturday was actually rather positive, for the first time since I have forgotten when I got through the run entirely on autopilot, never wishing I were home now.

On Sunday I basically tried to force the issue and see how I would cope after a couple of hours out there. I ran at an easy effort but on a very hilly route from Bray to Kilternan and back via Cabinteely, which was a mile or two longer than I had expected (yes, I could have checked it out beforehand but didn't). I felt fine early on but it was very humid, my top was drenched after only two miles, and eventually the miles did tell; whether it was the effort or the dehydration that had the bigger effect is hard to tell but I'd go for the latter. I don't remember ever being as thirsty as that during a run. Of course I made it home and of course it was dead slow and of course I was tired afterwards but I'm still glad I did it - it doesn't bode particularly well for Berlin but I'll survive.
27 Aug
28 Aug
29 Aug
4.85 miles, 39:35, 8:09 pace, HR 151
30 Aug
31 Aug
5 miles, 41:25, 8:16 pace, HR 151
1 Sep
5.25 miles, 43:47, 8:20 pace, HR 148
2 Sep
16.83 miles, 2:31:45, 9:00 pace, HR 153

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Toe Troubles

When I ran to work on Friday, I noticed some serious discomfort from my right foot. I thought it was the sock rubbing against one of my toes, which does happen occasionally. It's not particularly serious but can be quite uncomfortable. However, once I got into work and got the chance to have a look at my foot, I could see it was something else. The top of my second toes was bright red and swollen and the toenail look a rather sickly milky white and seemed just about to come off completely. A quick google seemed to indicate a fungal infection, though I have since changed my mind and think it's a bacterial infection.

It was a lot word on Saturday, so much so that I really questioned if I should go running with this. But you know me, if in any doubt, I go for a run. The first mile was rather uncomfortable with some throbbing pain emanating from the area but then the endorphins kicked in and the rest of the run was fine. In fact, it was definitely one of my better runs recently - I saw a runner ahead of me after a couple of miles which gave me teh incentive to chase him down rather than keep plotting along. That was somewhat fun, even if I barely broke 8-minute miles, which renders teh term "chase" rather relative.

I also did a few hill sprints up our drive way at the end. That was pre-planned, not a result of feeling particularly energised.

Then the toe returned with a fury, enough to make me wonder if I'd have to visit a doctor for it. I eventually did what you're not supposed to do. There was a blister on top of my toe, right at the nail, and eventually I took a needle to it and drained it. Apparently there is a real danger of an infection when you do that but it has felt much better ever since, and on Sunday it also started to look better, so I guess I did the right thing.

What didn't go right at all on Sunday, however, was my run. I had planned a long-ish run, as you do on Sundays, but these days my long runs aren't particularly long anyway, so nothing to worry about you'd think. A was planning to go via Kilternan and set off at a very easy pace. However, after a few miles it became apparent that it wasn't all going to plan so I changed it to a shorter loop through Rathmichael. That was barely longer than 11 miles and shouldn't have been a problem but I only just about made it home, crawling at snails pace and was totally and utterly spent afterwards.

Thank God for chocolate cake!

What the fuck is going on here?
  • I was probably depleted, as I had waited out the rain and left it late, and still had not eaten breakfast by then.
  • I ran on cushioned shoes. Most people do, but for me that just seems to suck the energy out of my stride. I think I need to run on seriously non-cushioned shoes to be somewhat efficient.
  • The hill repeats from the day before might have sucked the power out of the hamstrings.
  • I might be overtrained again. I find that hard to believe because I have done so little training, but it feels a bit like that.

Now what?
23 Aug
4.97 miles, 42:19, 8:30 pace, HR 145
24 Aug
10.23 miles, 1:29:09, 8:42 pace, HR 145
25 Aug
4 miles, 32:29, 8:07 pace, HR 143
   4 x 12 sec hill sprints afterwards
26 Aug
11.41 miles, 1:42:12, 8:57 pace, HR 148

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Mayo and Me

As I was cycling into work this morning, it occurred to me: I'm just like Mayo.

No, not the condiment.

The Mayo Gaelic football team!

In fact there are two striking similarities.

One, just like Mayo I have come second more often than I care to remember. Not that coming second is particularly bad, it's better than third, fourth or any number following thereafter. But if you've come second (or third) about 10 times as often as you managed to top the podium, it kinda sucks.

Second, just like Mayo I keep finding new and interesting ways to fuck things up. They might miss last minute frees, I keep get overtrained, and always in a slightly new and novel way.

I managed it so damn quickly this time, I'm almost impressed. I didn't even do any fast intervals, there were just 2 workouts of any note, but couple that with running too hard on my easy days and too hard on my long days and too hard on the workout days and Boom! in yet another hole.

I can't even explain why I did that workout on Monday when I knew from the very first step that it was going to be bad. I guess my biggest strength is tenacity bordering on stubbornness, not mental flexibility, which also makes stubbornness my biggest weakness.

The workout was shit, running on tired legs, slower than only a few days earlier and feeling knackered afterwards.

On Tuesday I ran into work, which counts as my long run, and I felt surprisingly good. Until I finished and took a look at the watch and was shocked by slowly I had run. It's not that I finally found my long run groove - I could have sworn I had run at least 30 seconds per mile faster. So I ran slowly and it didn't even feel that slow. That's when I knew I was digging myself into yet another hole.

So, what are we going to do about it?

On Wednesday I didn't run at all. With work commitments, a run would have been awkward to fit into the day, not that that usually stops me, but in this case it was a welcome break. And I'll refrain from workouts for a bit. We'll see how quickly it takes to feel better again. Just take it easy.

20 Aug
4.95 miles, 39:16, 7:56 pace, HR 156
   3 miles @ 7:27 pace, HR 163
21 Aug
10.2 miles, 1:30:46, 8:53 pace, HR 145
22 Aug