Sunday, April 23, 2017

I'm back! I'm back!

Let's start with a confession: I would not have gone to Longford if I had picked my own race. I would have gone to Connemara instead, a race very close to my heart. But I guess the coach preferred a race 6 miles shorter, thus requiring less recovery time. To be honest, it seems a lot more sensible. In the last 6 months I have done exactly one run of 17 miles and that's it for long runs. It seems extraordinary to even attempt an ultra on so little endurance training, even a (relatively) short one. Nevertheless, that's what I was in for.

Longford is a long way from Kerry. This better be worthwhile! To be honest, I didn't sleep well the night before. I was too nervous.

The plan was very simple, start out at 8-minute pace, or whatever felt easy and natural, and stick with it for as long as I reasonably can and then suffer until I'm done. I would re-assess at miles 15 and 23 how I felt and adjust accordingly, but that seemed a long way off at the start.

Aidan Hogan was there, which was great because it meant I would never have to worry about potentially winning this race, leaving me to run this as a training run, just as planned (I would have gotten into serious trouble with the coach had I raced a training run). He asked me what my plan was and didn't look too pleased. I guess he had hoped for some company but my pace was too slow for him to even consider.

Anyway, at 8:30 in the morning (ok, a bit later) we were off, together with the early marathon starters. Aidan and another runner stormed off at the front and I was left in third place, at first pursued by a few others but they slowed after a while and I knew I would have to run on my own for a long time. Two marathon runners passed me after a bit, one of them usually finishes closer to 4 hours so I have no idea why he felt the need to start at 7:30 pace, the other one slightly more sensible but I caught him later on as well, close to the half marathon mark.

The course consisted of 10 laps along the Royal Canal, each lap being about 5.2k, plus about 1k extra at the start. The run along the canal was very flat but there were three bumps along the way past some bridges, which I knew would grow with each lap. About 2k were tarmac, 1k was smooth but narrow single track and the rest double track, which was rather uneven and stony, which I didn't particularly like to be honest. On each lap I was looking forward to the tarmac section, and while the single track was nice and smooth, it did make overtaking bit tricky, and there would be a lot of overtaking today.

At various stages we were joined today by a 10k, a half-marathon and a full marathon, 700 runners in all apparently (that's amazing on the same weekend as Connemara and London!), and while the better runners of those races were obviously moving faster than me, most did not and I have no idea how many times I went past another runner but it could have been over 1000 times, all on a rather narrow course. On the plus side, it ensured I never felt lonely and there was always someone to chase - a welcome change to most other ultras. I do like the company of other runners!

Anyway, the pace I settled in was a bit faster than 8-minute pace, which initially worried me a bit. I did slow down a few times but every time I checked the watch I found I had unwittingly accelerated again, and soon enough I stopped looking at the watch and just ran by feel alone.

I did expect to suffer. I hoped I would get to halfway feeling good, which would still leave plenty of scope for suffering, and I hoped to be done in roughly 4:30. I also worried about cramping - surely running twice as far as your single longest training run, at pretty much the same pace, was almost guaranteed to bring on some cramps, going by past experience. On the other hand, a bit of suffering might be character-building, or at least I keep telling myself.

There was one minor incident after 3 laps when the 10k runners were assembling at their start line. Since the course is so narrow, it really required everyone to be careful with everyone else, especially when one large groups assembles on the path while other runners are already in the middle of their race. Actually, the other runners were all great, for all races. My problem came when one of the marshalls stepped out, right into my path. "Excuse me" - still stepping out. "Excuse Me!" - still stepping, and now he's getting uncomfortably close. "EXCUSE ME!" and bang, I bumped into him. I could not step aside because there was absolutely no room to do so, and I hadn't slowed down because I really had not expected him to fully block my path, especially with me shouting 3 warnings. Anyway, no harm done, though I did wonder how he possibly could not have seen or heard me!

That was as exciting as it got, really. I did notice 2 runners running less than 30 seconds behind me for over 20 miles, but when they accelerated and finally overtook me they turned out to be marathon runners from the early start, so I didn't lose my place in the ultra field.

At mile 15 I re-assessed and decided that I felt surprisingly good but accelerating was most likely a bad idea with so much race still left and I just kept going at the same pace.

I did the same at mile 24 or 25, a little bit later than planned but the miles were still ticking by so fast I had missed my cue. At that point my hamstrings were definitely tired and my hip flexors were starting to complain as well, but overall I was feeling a lot better than expected; before the race I had expected to be in a world of pain by that point. Instead my running form seemed still solid (as far as I could tell at least) and I was still moving at the same pace. I decided to try and keep going as I was, but without increasing the effort past a certain threshold, which realistically meant I would slow down a tad. That's ok. Aidan lapped me, moving at the same pace as the faster half-marathon runners, which was very impressive to say the least. He still looked totally comfortable going considerably faster than 7-minute pace well past the marathon distance. Afterwards he told me he finished with a sub-6 mile. Blimey!

Anyway, my own pace did drop just below 8-minute pace but I was well ahead of schedule and, most importantly, feeling so much better than expected I could hardly believe it. I passed the marathon mark in about 3:24, still very comfortable though at that point I definitely started tiring and it got a bit harder from here on. But with the finish in sight that wasn't much of an issue.

Right at the end of my last lap the microphone guy announced an ultra runner just finishing, which I obviously took to be me, until he said "number 7", which was not my number, and it was only then that I realised that I had almost completely caught up to the second runner who had headed off fast at the start, but finished maybe 2 or 3 seconds behind him. Honestly, had I known that I would have run just a tiny bit faster, not that it mattered. Both of us were so far behind Aidan that he had time to shower, change and eat, and he could probably have finished reading a book or paint a landscape to pass the time waiting for us.

So, I finished in third place (at least as far as I know, not having seen any official result), 32.85miles on the watch, in 4:16:40, which translates to 7:48 pace, a bit faster than expected, but feeling so much better than I thought I would. I was really pleased, not with the time, I didn't care about that, but with how well this had gone. I had no business to believe this would go so well, with my reduced training the last few months, but apparently I don't have to run 100 miles a week to get into some decent shape. Maybe it's muscle memory.

Anyway, now there's some time for recovery. But my confidence level has increased by an enormous amount, which is the main thing I take away from Longford.

Lap paces: 7:46, 7:45, 7:49, 7:42, 7:43, 7:33, 7:46, 7:56, 8:03, 8:03. I'm very happy with those numbers and how well they held up.

I'm an ultra runner again!

21 Apr
4 miles, 32:52, 8:13 pace, HR 135
22 Apr
Longford Royal Canal Ultra, 53k
4:16:40, 7:48 pace, HR 154
23 Apr
4 miles, 33:57, 8:29 pace, HR 141

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Plateau

In the early stages of the week I couldn't make up my mind if I was recovering properly from the mountain or not. The legs sure felt a lot better on Monday than they had on Sunday but for some reason the HR was a little bit higher even though the effort had felt easier. But the difference was so
small I didn't think any more about it - these things can be affected by all kinds of external factors and we're talking about very minor blips here.

Tuesday was similar, the legs felt pretty much fully recovered but the HR was just a tad higher than I would have wanted.

At that point I decided I was overthinking the whole thing. A HR difference of one single beat is nothing, that's a rounding error. I might have hit a bit of a plateau at the moment but this happens. I'm taking it a bit easier right now anyway.

I did feel up to another trip up the Windy Gap. I have a rather long run on schedule for Saturday, so one climb would have to do. The legs felt a bit funny starting out but once I hit the steep slopes I pushed the effort a bit and they responded immediately. The weather was quite nice again, I had a good view towards the Reeks and my new mate Carrauntoohil, and Windy Gap just being Gap, really.

And on Thursday it was back on the road again. There was no trace of fatigue in the legs but I made sure to take it very, very easy anyway, with my eyes firmly fixed on Saturday.
17 Apr
7 miles, 54:16, 7:45 pace, HR 144
18 Apr
7 miles, 54:10, 7:44 pace, HR 143
19 Apr
10.7 miles, 1:31:12, 8:31 pace, HR 148
   Windy Gap
20 Apr
7 miles, 54:55, 7:51 pace, HR 141

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Carauntoohil

I shouldn't have said that the curve is always pointing upwards I guess, because it did get a kink on Friday. Looks like I jinxed myself. Not that 7 miles at 7:06 pace is a particularly bad workout but with the HR stuck at 159 it wasn't quite what I wanted to see.

It had all started so well with me ticking off 6:50 miles while feeling exceptionally relaxed, until I turned sharply left twice and now had that wind right in my face! To make matters worse, the way the loop was shaped meant I had the wind at my back for about 2 miles and against my face closer to 4, which didn't do the average much good. Once I turned into the wind I found it next to impossible to get the HR down. I felt like I was crawling and I still had the HR alarm beeping relentlessly. I was doing about 7:20, which wasn't all that slow into a headwind but after the 6:50 miles it felt like almost standing still.

Ah well, so the numbers are worse than last week. How much that is due to the wind and how much to latent fatigue from the weekend or the Windy Gap I'm not entirely sure. What I do know is that I did something COMPLETELY different on Saturday.

You see, I have been living here for 13 year and I can see Carauntoohil right from my front door. However, to my eternal shame, I have never climbed it. I must have said something to Niamh because she bought me a voucher for a guided tour, which meant now I had to quit talking about it and go and do it instead. I guess that was the main reason why I had never gone up there before: having grown up in the mountains (different mountains altogether) I have way too much respect for them to go up there on my own on a first attempt, so it was always going to be a guided tour and it took Niamh to break the inertia and just go ahead and book something.

Originally I was planning on going on Friday but one look at the weather forecast earlier this week made me change it to Saturday. That made it worse for Niamh as she had to taxi the kids on a busy day all on her own but it was definitely the right choice. Friday was a miserable wet day without any views and Saturday turned out much better than I could have hoped for. We had some non-athletes in our group, so we took our sweet time. It meant 7 hours on my legs, which should actually be surprisingly good ultra training - a way of training that is definitely under-utilised, not just by me but most runners. Last year I spent a weekend in Wicklow soaking up Barry Murray's wisdom and I know he would have enthusiastically recommended it. MC was all for it as well. Anyway, the clouds all lifted when we got to the top and the views are just to die for (Caher, btw, looking by far the best) and I even had a good view at our house but just couldn't see them waving back.

It's definitely something I can warmly recommend and going with an extremely knowledgeable tour guide was great too. Not only did he point out all kinds of landmarks that I would have missed otherwise, he also told us plenty of stories from the mountains and we got a lot of education about how to treat the mountain with respect and how to minimise our impact, all delivered by a man who lives and breaths the mountains.

Anyway, Sunday's easy run was rather mundane in comparison, yet another easy 7 miler like I have done so many times before. The legs were definitely feeling the mountain and I would have sworn I was plodding ahead at a very slow pace. The numbers on the watch did surprise me when I got back home.

13 Apr
7 miles, 55:52, 7:59 pace, HR 136
14 Apr
10 miles, 1:13:08, 7:18 pace, HR 154
   incl 7 @ 7:06 (HR 159)
15 Apr
Carauntoohil, 7:30, 9.5 miles
16 Apr
7 miles, 53:48, 7:41 pace, HR 143
















Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Up

Ah well, I guess the form curve can't always point steeply upwards when you're in training ...

Actually, scratch that. Looks like it can.

Cian playing at a concert last Sunday
Alright, I've had a few days of rather heavy legs after the weekend but by now they have bounced back and the numbers are getting higher once again and so far there seems to be no ceiling in sight, unless I just jinxed myself with that last sentence.

It got a little bit better with every passing day, and after three easy days I felt sufficiently recovered to head back up Windy Gap once more this morning, this time carrying on over the pass itself and dropping down towards Glenbeigh before turning around for a second climb. It certainly lived up to its name today; the ascent from the Caragh lake side was one of my slowest and the one from Glenbeigh close to my personal best without even trying, but that one felt assisted by a magic hand relentlessly pushing me up. A little bit of wind is part of all the fun of course but I appreciated it being a dry morning. I bought new trail running shoes after my old ones had more or less fallen apart in Aherlow last September, a pair of Asics Tambora, the main draw being that they seem to be okay for both road and trail, but which probably comes with the drawback that they won't excel in slippery wet conditions. I guess I'll find out eventually.

Getting the right pair of shoes for trail running seems to be much trickier than for road running. I have worn dozens of different shoes from all kinds of brands on the road and was comfortable with almost all of them but neither of the 2 off-road shoes I've used so far (Inov-8 Talon and Inov-8 Terrafly) have been quite what I have been looking for. Let's see how the new ones work out, so far so good.

10 Apr
7 miles, 57:05, 8:09 pace, HR 135
11 Apr
7 miles, 55:34, 7:56 pace, HR 136
12 Apr
12+ miles, 1:50:07, 9:08 pace, HR 145
   Windy Gap

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Finally A Long Run

The good news is that my back gradually got better with each passing day, to the extent that it is only just about noticeable by Sunday. That's definitely a big bonus - a painful back can be downright debilitating, even if it never stopped me from running (and, in fact, running seemed beneficial).

I also got some good training runs under the belt. Gradually this is starting to feel like actual training rather than just jogging around at easy effort.

Thursday was an easy run but very good in as far as the legs didn't feel any tiredness following the mountain run the previous day. I was also pleased by the fact that I ran at a very easy effort and still was well under 8-minute pace. A couple of months ago that pace would have felt like a tempo run, now it's a recovery effort.

Speaking of tempo runs, that was in store on  Fast Friday. Things have gone up a notch again, with 7 miles at the higher effort (not quite at what would usually be a regarded a tempo run, though). I checked the watch just once or twice at the start and then ran entirely by feel. What came out the end was 7:07 pace at HR 153 - very, very nice numbers. Not so long ago I did an evaluation where I ran 7:11 at HR 161, now I'm running faster than that at a substantially lower heart rate. I'm actually amazed at these numbers - I thought I'd never see the likes again! That's as good a set of numbers as I've ever seen, comparable to 4 years ago when I ran a 2:55 marathon on a very hilly course. And I'm getting closer and closer to 50 - maybe age really is just a number!

Saturday was a return to my old hunting grounds, a loop around Caragh lake. Despite the lake itself being as flat as any other accumulation of  water, this is a very hilly loop with over 500 feet climbing on one hill alone and over 1500 feet along the entire loop. To be honest, I wasn't exactly looking forward to it, not having done a long run for months, and with slightly pre-fatigued legs to boot. However the only way to do it is to - just go and do it. It actually went better than expected. The legs gradually got tired over the second half but were still in reasonably good shape by the time I got back home. I was rather tired for the rest of the day, though, and I could feel the legs all day.

Sunday was probably the most difficult run, this time really on tired legs. I took it as easy as I could and got it done. Running on tired legs is supposed to be good training for an ultra, so chalk up 7 miles on that particular board.
6 Apr
7 miles, 54:38, 7:48 pace, HR 138
7 Apr
10 miles, 1:13:48, 7:11 pace, HR 149
   incl. 7 miles @ 7:07, HR 153
8 Apr
17 miles, 2:13:05, 7:49 pace, HR 147
9 Apr
7 miles, 56:41, 7:05 pace, HR 138

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

And It's The Back Again

On Monday morning I got up at the usual time and got ready for my run. Things were progressing like they do every other morning, me mostly on autopilot, until the point where I put on my socks (which happens just before going out, I do potter around bare feet before that). Just as I was balancing on my left leg to put on my right sock, just like I have done hundreds of times before, I felt like being stabbed in my lower back and for an instant a massive pain wave shot through my body.

This has happened before. In fact, this one wasn't the worst. Once it had hurt so badly I basically blacked out from sheer pain for a split second, so this was a mild one in comparison. I still manged to somewhat bend over, carefully, and put the sock on, and managed the shoes as well.

Running doesn't aggravate my lower back, so I went out for the run just like normal. In fact, it helped. Once the endorphins kicked in, the back was much more bearable.

In the office later that day I was uncomfortable rather than in pain. I managed to go to Yoga as well, and apart from the back no feeling quiet right when attempting a handstand (against the wall, don't get excited!) it was just fine. It was a bit better on Tuesday and another bit better on Wednesday, so I guess this will go away once more soon enough, but I know that there is some weakness somewhere and it does manifest itself in my lower back far more often than I would like.

The view from Windy Gap - not today, though
Anyway, like I said, I kept on running as if nothing had happened. Easy runs on Monday and Tuesday felt good and the legs seem to have gotten over Saturday's overenthusiastic pace very quickly, so I dared to head for the trails on Wednesday morning and went up Windy Gap for the first time this year. I didn't push the effort and running up to the Gap itself was challenging enough but I got through it in once piece and was actually quite pleased by how well it had gone. The light was still quite low. the overcast sky not helping, in the so there was not much of a view to be had, but that's not why I had gone up there anyway.

Running mountain trails has proven to be a very effective training tool in the past, even when preparing for a totally flat race, so I'll keep doing that. The Gap hasn't seen the last of me.
3 Apr
7+ miles, 57:01, 8:05 pace, HR 138
4 Apr
7 miles, 54:26, 7:46 pace, HR 142
5 Apr
10.7 miles, 1:35:38, 8:56 pace, HR 145
   Windy Gap

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Someone Else's Turn

There was another 5k on this weekend, even closer to home. It was also closer to my heart because this really was one for the local community. It also doesn't hurt that I won it a couple of years ago, which obviously provides lovely memories. However, I once more decided not to run the big boys' race; my training felt rather disrupted this week, having to recover from Sunday's race, and I did not want to disrupt it any further. As lovely as the Glounaguillagh race would have been, I decided to accompany my youngest daughter around the kids' course instead. This didn't provide much of a workout but it was great to see her having fun and enjoying herself so much. Good choice!
The athlete with her prize

Anyway, after running no more than 5 miles at the start of last week and then feeling pretty much recovered, I thought it would be safe to run a bit longer on Saturday. That in itself might have been fine but somehow I got it into my head to push the effort a little bit. I'm not sure where that had come from, it certainly wasn't planned that way. It's not that I ran like a complete lunatic but I definitely ran a bit harder than would have been optimal. The legs started hurting after 10 miles but I kept going. The last few miles were dragging a bit but I got home before things fell apart. The numbers don't look too bad and an average heart rate of 147 doesn't seem all that excessive but the legs were a bit sore all day afterwards and they still didn't feel quite right the next day. My best guess is that plenty of  my muscle fibres were still in recovery and got overworked - I'd better take it easy again for a bit.

I thought I'd taken it easy on Sunday morning, especially with the blustery wind, but was rather surprised to see 7:44 pace on the watch. I could have sworn I had run much slower than that! Maybe the sunshine had provided some extra energy? It's rare enough round here.

31 Mar
7 miles, 54:26, 7:46 pace, HR 144
1 Apr
14 miles, 1:47:11, 7:39 pace, HR 147
2 Apr
7 miles, 54:12, 7:44 pace, HR 143