Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Guts And Glory

Health Warning: Very long and very rambling race report ahead. Typing this took nearly as long as running the marathon.

My goal for this marathon was to finish under 3:30. This would be a massive improvement of my previous PR, but my training had been solid and basically uninterrupted from injury for the first time ever. I had run 1:35 in a half-marathon 7 weeks earlier, and this indicated that my goal time was indeed within reach.

Ideally you would go into a marathon feeling as strong as possible. That wasn’t exactly the case for me. My right quads hurt near the knee. My left hamstring hurt near the knee. I had gotten a sharp pain in my left hamstring when stretching 36 hours before the start. And to top it all off, my back was very sore the day before the race, so much so that I was worried about not making it to the starting line.

Come race day most of that was forgotten. I got up before 6, had some porridge, plenty of water, and eventually headed into town. Niamh was there to support me, which enabled me to shed some extra clothing at the last minute and just give it to her. The weather forecast had been bad, but as it turned out the meteorologists at Met Eireann should all be sacked. It never rained a single drop, and I think the temperatures were about 15C/60F. Perfect.

The start is very crowded, and when the gun sounds we shuffle forwards. I cross the start line about 90 seconds later, and off we go. I had expected a lot of weaving in and out for the first two or three miles, but it is much better than expected, it looks like most of the slow runners started behind me (though there are always exceptions). In fact, there are definitely more people overtaking me than the other way round. But remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

My plan was to start at around 8:20 pace, and gradually speed up to 7:50 over the next 6 miles. I miss the first two mile markers, which means I don’t get any feedback on my actual pace. As most people keep telling me, the first miles in the marathon are always faster than you think, so maybe I’m doing 8:00 pace? Then the 3-mile sign comes into view, and it’s taken me 25:30 so far– that’s 8:30 pace, slower than planned. Damn. I resist the temptation of speeding up, and still hope that 7:50 pace will come naturally. At that stage a runner starts chatting to me, he’s noticed my t-shirt from the Bantry half-marathon 6 months ago, and we talk for a bit. His goal is 3:40, I tell him mine is 3:30 but I’m already behind. He eventually pulls away from me, and I don’t see him again (though I expect I passed him at some stage later on). By mile 4 I’m on 8:20 pace, and by mile 5 I’m on 8:15, and it becomes clear that I’m not getting into the groove as hoped. I’m filled with negative thoughts. Did I eat breakfast too late? I’m hot. I should have worn a singlet. Why did I opt for a t-shirt? Everyone else is in a singlet. Maybe my training runs were short? Maybe I measured the courses wrongly, and my 20 mile runs were only 18 miles, thus giving me less of a fitness boost than expected, and at a slower pace? Eventually I reach mile 6; it’s another 8:15 one. To reach 3:30 I have to do 26 8:00 miles in a row. I’m 2:30 minutes behind schedule already, and I decide to stop wallowing in self-pity and do something about the situation. I wasn’t sure if that was the best thing to do. I remembered Zeke’s quote from a few weeks ago about other people’s race reports “I felt really good at mile 2 so I picked up the pace… Then I scroll down to about mile 16 in the report and look for the gory details”. I know perfectly well that I might be about to become another victim in that statistic, but what the hell. If I keep churning out 8:20, I’ll finish in 3:40 and will be disappointed. If I speed up now and blow up at mile 20 I might finish in 3:50 and be just as disappointed, but if it works I might be able to rescue the situation.

I speed up, but it feels faster than marathon pace. Will I really be able to hold that for 20 more miles? When the 7 mile sign come into view 7:50 have passed. Good. In fact, the best thing about speeding up is psychological: The self-pity stops, and I focus on the task in hand. And, I’m finally on pace. But my HR reads 171. Damn, that’s much too high, I’ll pay for that later on. The next mile is downhill, which is lucky because it means I can speed up and drop the effort at the same time. I also notice that I start reeling in other runners from here on. At first that worries me, but then I remember that in all of my races this year I’ve started overtaking lots of runners from a third into the race, so maybe that’s ok. The next mile is 7:40, but, as I’ve said, it was downhill. I do remember the next mile from last time. It’s climbing up from the Liffey valley, making up for the downhill mile we’ve just had. 2 years ago I had to walk some if it. In fact, I was astounded that most people were running it. Today it feels easy. It’s less steep than any of the hills along Caragh Lake, and I manage 8:00 pace without too much effort. From here on I’ve got one problem: my timer doesn’t display the seconds of my time once I’m past the hour mark, which means I won’t be able to tell my pace anymore. I decided it doesn’t matter. I’m running by effort, not by timer. By mile 8, the time is 1:05. Of course, that could also mean 1:05:59. In fact, it is definitely closer to 1:06, because after the faster two miles I should now be about 2 minutes behind schedule. I keep going at what I think is 7:50 pace, and by now it feels ok. Maybe it’s marathon pace after all.

The day before the race I had a chat with Cliona, my sister-in-law. She mentioned that her house is just beside the 10-mile marker, or maybe it’s the 11-mile marker, she’s not sure. Whatever, I press a bag of gel into her hand, with instructions of handing it to me as I pass. From 9 mile on I keep to the left side of the course and start scanning the spectators by the side of the road. I’m not wearing my specs, and I’m rather shortsighted, which means I have to be careful or I’ll miss her. And of course I still have to concentrate on staying on pace. Eventually I spot her, at the very last moment. I just about manage to grab the gel, and I’m off again. From mile 8 onwards to mile 15 the course is gradually climbing; not very steep, but steadily, and we are running into quite some headwind. I try drafting behind some big guys for a while, but can’t really tell it if makes a difference or not. I never spend much time behind anyone else, each time I soon feel the urge to speed up a little, overtake them, and repeat the same thing with the next runner. Eventually I reach the halfway mark. The official time says 1:47:30, my clock says 1:46, and since it took me 90 seconds to cross the starting line, it looks correct to me. It means that I’ve made up a good bit of time, but I’m still one minute behind schedule. If I want to reach 3:30, I’ll have to run negative splits by at least 2 minutes. I know it’s a tall order, but I think I can do it.

Very shortly after the half-way mark I spot Fionnuala, one of Niamh’s best friends, ahead of me. I surge towards her, and we start chatting for a bit. We both have got blisters developing, but we’re both feeling good. Her target time is 3:40, and we start running together for a while. I think it’s the first time ever I’m running beside someone I actually know, and it feels good, as if you reinforce each other. We stay together for the next 2 miles. Eventually she looks at her timer, and I immediately feel she’s dropping back a bit. My guess is her watch told her she’s running a little bit too fast. There is a water stop at mile 15, and after finishing my bottle I notice she’s no longer beside me. I start looking around and hear her shouting “Keep going Thomas”. I wish her good luck, and I’m off again on my own.

The stretch between mile 15 and 20 is usually my death-match stretch. I’ve always felt very tired at that point, but still miles away from the finish. Literally. This time it’s different. I feel really good. The mile markers, normally spaced out far and wide between, keep flying by. For the first time today I keep thinking “this is fun”. I know that goes against everything Dianna ever said, but I am really enjoying myself. I recognise the stretch at mile 18. This is where the cramps started 2 years ago. Yup, there’s that yellow building to my right, there’s the viaduct, and that’s the hill where my right calf blew up. This time I fly by. I do receive a warning shortly afterwards though. The course is again climbing, all the way until mile 20.5. A good mile before the crest a painful spasm shoots through my right hamstring, and I know that I’m about to cramp badly. I immediately ease back considerably; quite a few runners that I’ve just overtaken go past me again, and I’m desperately hoping that my leg will hold up. Just one more mile of climbing, then it’s downhill all the way. Please, Hammy, don’t do this to me. I’m not sure how long this lasts, but I feel better eventually, and dare to up the effort again, ever so slightly. The leg is ok, and by the time we crest the final hill I’m back on pace again. Shortly afterwards, I see Niamh and the kids at the side of the road. I shout that I feel great, receive another gel, and I’m off again.

The next 1.5 miles are downhill, and then there are 4 flat miles towards the finish line. I feel amazingly well and manage some great pace on that stretch, though with that stupid cheapo watch of mine I can’t tell how fast exactly I am. Up to this point I’ve counted the minutes from the start, and tried to figure out how far into the run I should be by now. From mile 22 on, I start counting backwards instead. 4 miles at 8:00 pace take 32 minutes. I’m passing said sign at 2:55, so I’ve got 35 minutes left, and I still feel great. I will make it. Then, all of a sudden, a huge big bear falls from heaven, lands right on my shoulders and wants to be carried. The sudden change in my legs is startling. At mile 22 I keep marvelling how well I’m feeling, and 4 minutes later I’m completely, totally and utterly exhausted. Come on Thomas, come on, keep going. I push on. God, that hurts. All of a sudden the signs are miles apart. Finally, mile 23. 3:03. Good. Still on target. Keep pushing. That hurts. I keep thinking “this must be the worst pain possible, as bad as childbirth” (though I have been reliably informed that that’s not the case). A few minutes later I think “just 20 more minutes of this and I’m done”, and nearly stop running, because 20 minutes of this seems more than I can manage. And I still keep overtaking loads of runners. I fact, at least a quarter of the participants seem to be walking at that stage. When I was still a 4-hours marathoner I thought that the walkers would all be confined to my part of the pack, or further behind, but apparently this is not so. Whatever, if they’re not trained enough, that’s their problem, I keep on pushing. Mile 24. 3:11, I think (to be honest, I can’t remember). Good ….

Then it hits me. I’m a complete idiot. I’ve been counting backwards from 26 miles. But a marathon is 26.2 miles. That’s an additional .2 miles, and those will take, what, 2 additional minutes? Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t, sh*t. I might miss 3:30 after all. All that pain for nothing. Well, I’ve come that far, and I’m still in with a chance, and I’m damned if I don’t give it all from now on. The legs are screaming, and I desperately want to stop. Then I remember Mike’s advice. If you want to slow down, try speeding up first. If you’ve ever been there, it makes some kind of sense. Running at a different pace uses different muscles, or at least it uses the same muscles in a different way, and what the hell, it might just work. I accelerate. I keep flying past everyone else. My face is a grimace, I’ve never been in so much pain before. A few spectators call out “Go on Timberland” (that’s what it says on my t-shirt). That helps. It really does. But it still hurts. A lot. Mile 25. One more mile. More pushing. More pain. I nearly burst into tears, partly because of the emotions (6 months of training might finally pay off) and partly because I’m in agony. Wuss. God, I’m in agony. Mile 26. Nearly there. Have I mentioned that it hurts? It hurts. One thing I don’t like about the Dublin marathon is that you can’t see the finish until about 50 meters before the end. There’s the last corner. There’s the line. The timer says 3:30:09, but I was always only concerned about the net time, so I can safely subtract the 90 seconds it took me to cross the starting line. I’ve made it with a minute to spare. The pain disappears without a trace. I’m so elated I raise my arms as I cross the line. I always thought that looks stupid when anyone but the actual winner does that, but what the heck.

Official net time: 3:28:42

I’m a sub 3:30 marathon runner.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Short Version

Gun time 3:30:09, chip time estimated 3:28:30, I haven't got anything official yet. I've never been in as much pain as over the last 3 miles, but I did manage negative splits by about 3 or 4 minutes.

Very happy, very tired, very sore. I'll post a proper race report once I find the energy. It might have to wait until tomorrow.


Update: It's official, my chip time was 03:28:42, place overall 934 (out of 10000 starters), 175 in my age group.

I'm travelling all the way to Kerry by train tomorrow, and won't be at a computer until the evening. You've got to be patient about the race report, I'm afraid.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Final Countdown

I had promised not to run on Friday if it was raining. Well, I got up in time, got dressed, put on my shoes, opened the door, noticed the lashing rain, and closed it again. There is no point risking a cold so close to the marathon and I bagged the entire workout. It means I’ll have 3 days of 0 before the start, which will hopefully leave me rested rather than rusty. I probably needed some extra rest, because as Mike pointed out, the dress rehearsal should have been 7 miles with 2 miles at MP, rather than 7 miles at MP. Oops! Because I’m not really following the program this week, I hadn’t checked the schedule at all, and just remembered something about 7 miles and MP. Oh well. I didn’t quite reach MP during the run anyway; I just tried to ease into that pace over 7 miles. It probably was a worthwhile workout anyway, because it taught me to get into marathon pace naturally without pushing the effort.

We drove up to Dublin yesterday morning, and apart from the fact that it was raining most of the time, it was rather unremarkable. The problem, as ever, were the kids. Lola came into our room just after 5am, and wanted to know if it was time to go to Dublin yet. We managed to persuade her that this was not the case, but at 6am Cian came in and demanded to go, and that was the end of any hopes for more sleep. Surprisingly I managed 3 hours of sleep yesterday afternoon, after we arrived, but that also meant I couldn’t fall asleep until after midnight at bedtime. Thankfully for once the kids let us sleep for 8 hours, and that will do me. I don’t expect to sleep much the night before the marathon.

My biggest worry is still the state of my legs. My left hamstring and right quads are still as painful as ever, and I guess it’s a bit late to expect some major improvement. To compound matters, I did some stretching yesterday, which I felt necessary after the long drive, and suddenly felt a sharp pain in the back of my left leg. I immediately stopped stretching of course, and feared to worst, but today the area seems fine, so I might just about have got away with it. Phew.

The weather forecast is a bit confused, it very much depends on who you believe. Met Éireann predict a windy day with heavy rain, according to the Irish Times it will be cloudy and damp with spells of rain, heaviest and steadiest early in the day, wunderground are promising a clear day, and Accuweather are opting for a cloudy day. The one thing they seem agree is that it will be around 10C/50F up to 14C/57F, which means I will probably give the singlet a miss, and will most likely wear a t-shirt.

Thanks very much for all the good wishes, and I will try to deliver on all the high expectations. You guys and gals are really great.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dress Rehearsal

As predicted, driving to Shannon on Tuesday evening didn't do me any favours. My right hamstring got tighter and tighter the longer I sat in the car, and by the time I got back home, it wasn’t just stiff, it actually hurt. So, now I've got 2 dodgy hamstrings rather than one, in addition to the pain in my left quads. Great! But it won’t stop me on Monday. Nothing will.

I did run 5 recovery miles on Wednesday morning towards Ard-na-Sidhe. This used to be one of my favourite routes, but lately it started freaking me out. Running in darkness through the woods, with the inevitable noises from all kinds of animals, is kinda spooky. Or maybe it's just the fairies trying to stop me from visiting them all the time? For whatever reason, I ran a bit faster than my usual recovery pace, but not outrageously so.

Today was a dress rehearsal for the marathon, with 7 miles at marathon pace. Pfitz recommends wearing the same shoes and outfit as for the marathon. I didn't go quite as far, my marathon outfit has been stored away a while ago, and I don't want to mess it up now. But I did test my pacing. The first 3.5 miles went by in about 28:30, roughly 8:10 pace, exactly the kind of pace I want to hit for the first miles in Dublin. Good. For the return leg my initial reaction was to speed up to hit 7:50 on the way back, but I did manage to reign myself in. I always speed up automatically a few miles into any run without having to up the effort, and I expected to hit 7:50 without pushing any harder. It very nearly worked, the time for the second half of the run was 27:40, about 7:55 pace. If I manage to hit those times in Dublin, I shall be happy enough. Of course it's one thing running 7 miles on my own on my usual routes, and a completely different thing to repeat that packed into the streets of Dublin with 10000 other people. But the work is now done, and I'm so looking forward to the marathon, I do not have the words to describe it. I will most likely run another 5 easy miles tomorrow morning, and that's it then. If it's raining, I'll bag the workout (I would have done the same today, but it stopped raining just before I got up). I don’t want to get another cold.

My bib number for the marathon is 10176, and the website is http://www.dublincitymarathon.ie. They don't have a tracking facility though as far as I can see.

25 Oct: 5 miles, 44:54, 8:58 pace
26 Oct: 7 miles, 56:11, 8:01 pace

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Mike does that thing before his marathons where he summarises his training from the last few months. While I hope nobody will compare his and my notes, I thought it would be a neat idea to plagiarise. So, here’s the raw data.

Training: 24 weeks
Miles (with about 17 still to come): 1415
# Runs of 20 miles or more: 7
Longest run: 23 miles
Highest weekly mileage: 70
# of times this was reached: 4
avg. miles per week (without taper): 62
# of PRs: 2 (5k and half)
injuries: just one mentionable one, a pain in the left achilles/calf a few weeks ago.

All in all I’m very satisfied with that. When I started the program back in May I half-expected to get injured due to the increased mileage, but that never happened. In fact, I’ve never run for so long without any major disruptions. This might be due to my body finally getting used to the act of running, or maybe I just got lucky.

My cold/sore throat still isn’t shifting, in fact, it seems to be getting worse. I’ve still got 6 days to recover, and even if it doesn’t get any better than that, I don’t think it will impact on Monday’s performance, just as long as it doesn’t get any worse. I’m still icing my left hamstring and right quads, and I’m still popping those ibuprofen pills.

I was contemplating all of yesterday evening if I should go out for a run this morning. It was while I was sitting on the sofa late last night, icing my hamstring that my brain had a rare moment of insight: Since I’m sitting here desperately trying to treat some running-related damage, it might actually make sense to give it some rest. Great idea, so I went to bed without setting the alarm and was looking forward to some 8-9 hours of blissful sleep to heal my battered body. Unfortunately, I’ve got 3 kids with an uncanny sense of timing. They all got up at 5:30, and proceeded to sing, dance, jump around, run around, fight and scream for the rest of the morning. I finally got up at 7am, and the first thing that happened was that my glasses broke. Bummer. I do have a spare pair of specs, unfortunately I was already wearing my spare one. My “main” glasses broke over a year ago, and I never got a replacement. Since I’m blind as a bat, and I’m working on a computer all day, a trip to the optician was in store, and all the money I managed to save this month won’t go towards the credit card bill after all. Bummer.

Maybe it’s just not my day.

That’s fine.

As long as all the misery is compounded towards this part of the week.

I have to drive to Shannon tonight to bring my mum to the airport. That's another 4 hours in the car, and my hamstring is wincing at the mere thought of it.

I very nearly forgot. I did run on Monday morning, 13 miles in the cold clear crisp air of Caragh Lake. The sky was almost completely clear. During the first hour, when it was till pitch dark, I saw no less than 5 shooting stars. I did make a wish at each of them, but I’m not allowed to tell you what it was.

23 Oct: 13 miles, 1:44, 8:00 pace

Sunday, October 22, 2006

8 days To Go

There was plenty to ponder about in the last section of comments. First of all, I’ve been doing some of the recommendations already; e.g. stretching and icing. I’ve been icing my quads more vigorously since reading Mike’s comment, but it hasn’t brought on any improvement so far. I’m usually very anti-drugs, and have avoided taking ibuprofen so far, but have made an exception since Andrew urged me to do so. The marathon is a week away, and I’m apparently willing to poison myself up to then.

The goal time hasn’t changed with all those minor troubles, it’s still 3:2x. The plan is to run the first 2 miles at 8:00ish (probably slightly slower), then gradually accelerate up to 7:50 pace, and hold that for as long as I can. If I’m still feeling like it at mile 20 (yeah, right), there will be plenty of time to put the pressure on a bit more. If I remember correctly, the course is slightly downhill from miles 20 to 22, which would be good for a couple of fast miles, as long as I’ve still got some quads left at that stage.

What have I been doing since the last entry? Not much, I’m afraid. I did 8 miles on Friday with 3x1600 repeats. Andrew recommended not to do any speedwork with a dodgy hamstring, but I only read those comments after the workout. While I had been looking forward to get some fast training done, I stopped enjoying it soon enough, as predicted. I nearly missed my turn-around point in my oxygen-starved stage, but remembered it just in time, or I would have been rather late for work that day.

Saturday is usually my rest day, but after missing Wednesday’s workout, I went out for a 5 mile recovery run. I couldn’t really relax, and noticed that my HR was higher than it should be for a recovery run. Coming home I realised that I had run faster than I should have, which explains the higher heart rate. I guess with all the tapering, my pace judgement is a bit off at the moment.

This was confirmed today again, on my 7-miler. I eased into the run over the first 2 miles, and then tried to tune into marathon pace effort for the next 1.5 miles, but when I reached to turn-around point, I saw that the pace had been more like 7:30. I must not do that on marathon day. 7:30 is way too fast for me. The rest of the run was taken over by a set of 8x100 strides, and a relaxed 2 miles cool-down.

I’ll cut a few miles out of next week’s schedule. The one thing I don’t like about Pfitz’s schedule is the amount of mileage right before the marathon. He recommends 9 miles in the 2 days before the race. I’m set on binning those 2 workouts. I did them for my marathon last year, and felt like they cost me precious energy. This time I’ll try and rest instead.

Lastly, Good Luck to anyone who’s running Chicago today. I’m envious. I want to run, too.

20 Oct: 8 miles, 1:02, 7:45 pace, including 3x1600 repeats
21 Oct: 5 miles, 44:08, 8:49 pace
22 Oct: 7 miles, 56:30, 8:04 pace, including 8x100 strides

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Holding on to Sanity

My exercise withdrawal isn’t getting better, and I really can’t wait for the marathon. Somehow I’ll have to try and survive the next 11 days without going nuts. It’s a challenge.

As predicted, I didn’t run on Wednesday. I had to go to Shannon Airport, and my mum’s flight did not arrive until 23:15. It’s a long drive home, and by the time I went to bed, the clock said 1:48. The last thing I did before falling asleep was to turn off the alarm. A little bit of extra sleep was much more important than 8 or so miles on the road, and I can make up for it on Saturday anyway.

I did run for 8 miles this morning, and even though I didn’t feel very well or very fast, I reached the turnaround point in less than 32 minutes. Since the first 2 miles had been around 8:20 pace, I guess that means the next 2 were about 7:40. It didn’t feel that fast, but it did feel tougher than marathon pace. I did the second half slower because I added 8x100 strides to the mix.

Tomorrow will be the last strenuous workout, 8 miles with 3x1600 repeats. I’m actually looking forward to a bit of speed work now, but I probably won’t feel like that halfway through the first repeat. I hope the weather will be ok. It has been really changeable in the last few days; the next rain shower is never far away.

I’ve got two areas that are bothering me. One is a pain in my left hamstring. This developed quite a few weeks ago, just after my problem with the left calf/achilles. I thought it was a follow-on injury, but it’s still there. Some days I can run with hardly any sign of pain, on other days it’s much more pronounced. However, the other pain is worse. It’s in my right quads, and it started about 2 or 3 weeks ago. Originally it hurt only for the first minute or so of each run, but now it’s there all the time, and it’s not going away. I had hoped the reduced mileage would clear both problems, but no such luck yet. Neither of them are taper-induced phantom pains, because both areas started to hurt well before the taper began. By now I’m resigned to the fact that they will most likely still be there on marathon day, but I’m reasonably sure that they won’t bother me too badly. Once the fatigue gets worse than the muscle pain, I’ll have something else to concentrate on. As long as neither muscle seizes up on me during the race, I will be ok.

19 Oct: 8 miles, 1:06, 8:15 pace, including 8x100 strides

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Early Rising Once More

When the alarm went off at 5:05am yesterday morning I was really tempted to stay in bed and get some more sleep instead of hitting the road again. But I did remember that this would be the last time for quite a while that I had to get up at such an unreasonable hour, and managed to drag my sorry self out of bed. The weather was quite benign; it has gotten warmer again, and even at 5:30 am it’s quite warm, about 10C/50F. Lola says we’re having an autumn-summer, and I couldn’t describe it any better than that. Unfortunately the weather forecast says that’s coming to an end now, and there will be rain for the next few days.

Anyway, the reason why I had to get up so early was a 17 mile training run, the last run of “serious” distance, 14 days before the marathon. I was a bit concerned how my right calf had tightened last week and decided to wear the DS-trainers once more, both to check if there would be any problems with my calf, and to get used to the reduced heel lift. The run itself went pretty well, but I really should have slowed down a bit. The first 5 miles went by in less than 42 minutes, and I pretty much kept to 8-minute miles for the rest of the run. It didn’t really feel that fast. If it’s the lighter shoes, or my imagination of how light the shoes are, of if it’s the reduced mileage from last week, but the pace felt less-than-marathon-pace to me. Maybe I shouldn’t say that out loud though, it might come back to haunt me on the 31st. The legs felt ok, but the soles of my feet were quite painful during the run. I’m not sure where that came from, I certainly didn’t get that pain last week, but if if happens again on marathon day I’m confident I’ll be able to push through it. I expect the legs to hurt a lot more in the final miles.

Remember how I managed to avoid getting a cold from the kids last week? Well, it didn’t last. I don’t think I picked it up from them, and it might be a different bug; I haven’t got a runny nose, but a sore throat instead. I keep picking up those little bouts of sickness at an alarming rate these days. I’m back on the Echinacea, and I was never off the Vitamin C anyway, and it will get better soon. It still passes the neck test, and I was out for a short but sweet 5-mile recovery run this morning. I was surprised how dark it was, even by the end of the run. I guess winter is coming closer and closer.

I have to drive to Shannon airport tonight to collect my mum, who is visiting us again. It means I won’t be able to get to bed until after 1 o’clock in the morning, which probably means that I might forego tomorrow’s run. I’ll see how I feel at the time. If I’m too tired, I’ll sleep in. If the kids wake me up anyway (and judging by the last few mornings, they will), I might go out, cause there’s no point trying to sleep while they’re bouncing on my head.

16 Oct: 17 miles, 2:17, 8:03 pace
17 Oct: 5 miles, 45:23, 9:04 pace

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Too Much

I’m almost one week into my taper, and the madness is slowly taking hold of me. It started on Wednesday. The symptom: I can hardly remember my runs any more. I run in the mornings, and then I forget what I’ve done. All Wednesday I was thinking how I only did a recovery run, only to remember each time that, no, actually I did a 12-miler at decent pace. Weird.

I did a tempo-run on Friday, the first tempo run in ages. As I’ve done all week, I left home without my headlamp and just ran under the moon. As a result it was too dark to make out the HR figure during the tempo phase and I had to run purely by effort. I’m not sure why I still bother with the HRM. I never check my heart rate during a normal run, and when I do a tempo run, where I always used to check my HR to make sure I was doing them at the right intensity, I can now tell from the effort if I’m going ok or not. A simple watch would do me these days. I guess I’m just so used to running with a HRM that I always strap it on, automatically.

You know the feeling during the taper that you’re bursting with energy and just feel that you have to do “something” to burn it off? I know that I’m supposed to be resting during this time, but mentally I’m not quite prepared for that. It’s still 15 days to the marathon, and I can’t justify to myself lazing around when there are so many thing to be done in the house. As a result I spent a considerable amount of time and energy yesterday to go to the dump. I got rid of 160kg of rubbish – and I’ve got the receipt to prove it. And since that wasn’t enough, I spent between 4 and 5 hours working in the garden today, after running 8 easy-ish miles before breakfast. Note to self: relax. Take it easy. Tapering is important. Next weekend I’ll just relax. No strenuous work. No gardening. No big chores. Read a book, or watch a film. Just stop doing 100 things around the house, you idiot.

13 Oct: 9 miles, 1:08, 7:40 pace, with 5 miles at 7:00 pace
15 Oct: 8 miles, 1:06, 8:15 pace, including 9x100 strides

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I’ve started the taper, and I can already tell that the intensity has decreased. The usual 15 mile midweek run has been reduced to a mere 12, and there is only one of those medium length runs, rather than two.

I still had to get up early yesterday. It had been raining heavily earlier on, but it stopped at some stage, and the sky was once again brilliantly illuminated by a crescent moon, and once again I left my headlamp behind. I chose to run alongside Caragh Lake. After 5 miles the road climbs quite steeply away from the lake towards the mountains, and one mile into that climb I turned around and headed back, As there are two hill on the way, which I had to cross twice, this made for 5 decent climbs, plus a few more smaller ones. I have long lost count of how often I have run on this road, but it’s still my favourite running route, and in the moonlight it is just magic. Maybe one day I’ll be able to shoot a decent photo, but I doubt it. Some things just cannot be captured in a still picture.

Anyway, I took 50 minutes for the 6 miles on the way out, but only 45 minutes on the way back, and felt quite good afterwards, even though I got caught by the rain over the last mile. Niamh questioned how I could get motivated to get up on such a lousy morning, and didn’t really believe me when I told her how wonderful the first 11 miles of the run had been.

Today I just ran 7 easy miles. I should have included a few strides into the run, but I completely forgot. Ah well, next time. I originally intended to run to Ard-na-Sidhe, and run the 1 mile stretch between the hotel and the main road twice in each direction, but it was so dark on that stretch of road, and I did hear a few strange noises (at least one of them was from a bird-of-prey, and that definitely was unnerving, even though I knew it wouldn’t perceive me as breakfast) that I got freaked out, and instead ran the 2 extra miles on the open road. I still encountered only one car.

Since I ran 20 miles on Monday, I won’t do another long run this week. This just feels wrong. I look at the schedule and wonder where the hard days have gone. I guess I’d better get used to that taper thingy again.

The kids all have a slight cold at the moment. I’ve been waiting for a few days to get it myself, but so far I’ve managed to escape. We’ll see.

11 Oct: 12 miles, 1:35, 7:55 pace
12 Oct: 7 miles, 1:02, 8:51 pace

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Reaching the end of the road

After being slightly held back last week, I finally managed to run my last 20 miler this Monday. Despite this being three days later than originally planned, I ran it exactly 3 weeks before the marathon, which happens to be the recommended time for the last long run. As an additional challenge I wore the DS trainers for this run, as a test for the marathon.

It all went pretty well. I got up at 4:40 and left at about 5am. I got my headlamp out of the cupboard, but it was nearly Full Moon, and it was so bright that I decided to run without artificial light source (but I did wear a sash of reflective material for obvious safety reasons). It had been raining heavily earlier in the night, because the first thing I did outside our gate was to step right into a puddle. Great start. The sky was brilliant though, apart from one dark cloud far away, which I didn’t really register. I did notice it 4 miles later though, because that’s when it unloaded its load right on top of me. Soaked through I continued on, and reached the 5 mile point in about 42:30, a bit faster than intended, but I did run very relaxed, not pushing the pace at all. I wasn’t able to read my time at the 10-mile point, because that was in the woods, and the moonlight wasn’t bright enough through the trees to make out the numbers on my HRM display. As usual for such a run, the second part consisted of two loops to Ard-na-Sidhe and back, which includes a visit to the local elven population. During the first loop I had to concentrate to make out the road, because the light was fairly dim amongst the trees, but I managed it fine. During the final loop it finally started to get bright. I hardly met a soul on the way, I think saw about 3 cars in all. At mile 18 my right calf started to feel tighter and tighter, and I was worried about cramping. The problem was much more noticeable on climbs, but after a mile or so it seemed to ease again, and I could finish the run without further problems. The shoes held up fine, and they are hereby pencilled in for the marathon, despite Mike’s reservations. The calf issues may have been caused by the lesser heel support in those shoes, but then again I did run 31 miles in 22 hours, which I won’t be repeating on marathon day.

I came home feeling really happy about this run and my level of fitness, but as soon as I got home I encountered Niamh in a seriously pissed off state. “They woke up at 6am, fought for half an hour, and have been complete nightmares ever since”. She didn’t elaborate any details, but I found it prudent to take over child minding duties for the rest of the morning until it was time for school. It’s a good thing I didn’t feel exhausted after the run.

All that was in store for today was a much-needed recovery run. I ran it slowly and very relaxed, and was rewarded with a new low record for the heart rate. Each time my HR seems to drop to a new level I do question the accuracy of my HR monitor, but it has never let me down before, and I tend to believe its readings eventually. Whether it was the twice-weekly speedwork over the last few weeks or the three 20-milers in three weeks, I seem to have gained one last level of fitness, just in time for the taper. Let’s hope I can manage to stay sane for the next 20 days. The other noteworthy occurrence today was an obviously insane driver in an SUV coming round a bend much too fast for such a narrow road. I heard it coming just in time and managed to jump out of the way into the bushes. Had I been on a bike, or reacted slightly slower, this could have ended very badly.

9 Oct: 20 miles, 2:45, 8:15 pace
10 Oct: 5 miles, 45:44, 9:08 pace

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Once more, Recovering

I do listen to you guys and gals, honestly, at least sort of. As advised, I didn’t do my 20 miler on Friday. I woke up at 5 am, and listened to the gale force wind howling outside the window, and just couldn’t help but wishing to be out there. But I didn’t go. I can’t take any credit for that decision though. Niamh had decided to go to Dublin for an extended weekend (she had offered to take 1 kid with her. I demanded she take 2. The tough negotiations had lasted for hours, but I won), and left at 6:40 in the morning, meaning I couldn’t have gone out for a long run anyway (going out at 3 am is not an option, not even for me). I didn’t get any more sleep after that, because about 30 seconds after Niamh had left, Shea got up and wanted breakfast. (That would be a reoccurring theme for the following two mornings, btw).

I had to take Friday afternoon off work to look after Shea after collecting him from school at 2 o’clock. However, at 12:50, with 10 minutes to go I thought “if I go home right now, I’ll have time for a quick run before collecting him”. I left immediately (my boss isn’t reading this, I trust. If he does, I’ll find out soon), and changed into my running gear as soon as I got home. I had 40 minutes for 5 miles, and was a bit anxious about taking too much time, so I stepped on the pace a bit. In fact, I stepped on the pace a bit more than I had to, because when I got back home, the elapsed time was 37:01, much faster than planned. That means I inadvertently got a decent tempo run into my training, and it also meant I had time for a shower before collecting Shea, definitely a bonus.

I didn’t have the chance to run on Saturday, apart from running after Shea, that is. I had promised to take him wherever he wanted to, and he chose to go to Crag Cave, a cave about 30 miles from here, with a big play area. He loved it – so much that we stayed for 3 hours. I’m not sure how much that counts as recovery, but he had a blast.

For today, Niamh had organised me a babysitter for 10 am to look after Shea while I was out running. It might be a tad unusual to get a babysitter at that time and for that purpose, but it meant I could get on with my training. I did a repeat of the time trial from 2 weeks ago, 2.4 miles warm-up, 10k time trial, and 2.4 miles cool-down. After the first 2 miles of the time trial I thought I had started out too fast, but managed to pull myself together and push on. I reached the turn-around point in 20:56, and headed back. The conditions weren’t ideal, it was raining and quite windy, but I should be used to that by now. At least it wasn’t gale-force winds any more. I finished strongly and stopped the clock at 41:56 – that’s 1 second faster than the identical time-trial 2 weeks ago, ah well. I was pleased by the fact that the second half had only taken 4 seconds more than the first one. Not quite even or negative splits, but nearly.

Oh, and I did measure my resting HR this morning. Last year it was 48. A few months ago it was 46. Today it was down to 43. I take this as proof that I’m definitely not over-trained, and my little bouts of sickness are just that. I usually get them around this time of the year. The only unusual thing is that I got sick even before the taper started. Usually getting sick is part and parcel of my taper, but I live in hope that this time it will be different.

6 Oct: 5 miles, 37:01, 7:24 pace
9 Oct: 11 miles, 1:22, 7:27 pace, with 6.2 miles at 6:45 pace

Thursday, October 05, 2006


The good news is that I don’t have to fly to Dublin on Friday. The whole meeting has been cancelled, and I’m off the hook. The bad news is that it probably is irrelevant as far as my training is concerned. I’ve once again managed to pick up some bug, and I really don’t feel like running at the moment, not for 100 meters, and definitely not for 20 miles.

I set out on Wednesday for 9 miles with 6x600 repeats. After doing 6x1200 last week, that didn’t faze me, but I soon discovered that speedwork is never easy, and I struggled from the third repeat onwards. To put me even further off, my HRM died on me during the fifth repeat. The watch unit still displayed some data, but it didn’t get a signal from the chest strap anymore. As a result of that, the fifth repeat was cut short, while I tried to revive the bloody thing. To my surprise that actually worked, and I could do a sixth repeat. Since the fifth repeat had been short I thought about extending the final one, but as soon as I hit the 600 mark I really had enough. What didn’t help was that I had underestimated the weather; it was quite cold, and being caught by the rain twice definitely didn't do me any good, and I didn’t feel too comfortable in my flimsy singlet. If that was responsible for me feeling progressively worse as the day wore on or if I had already picked up the relevant germs I don’t know, but I felt really crap last night. My stomach was unhappy, and I felt cold all the time, though oddly enough I didn’t have a temperature.

I wasn’t sure if I should go running this morning, but decided to go out, because a) I couldn’t sleep anyway and b) I wanted to gauge the state of my body. We’ve had storms all night, but when I left home the rain had subsided and only the wind remained. Unfortunately one mile later it returned, and I was drenched once again, not the best thing in my already weakened state. I was a bit better prepared than the day before; I wore a t-shirt and running tights (which Niamh had begged me never to display in public, but anyone who sees me running in those conditions would see me as completely bonkers anyway), but it didn’t do a lot of good. I struggled home, and 6 miles felt like 16. My HR was about 10 bpm higher than a run at this effort level should produce, a definite sign that I’m not ok.

I will have to decide soon if I go out for a run tomorrow. My guess is that even if I decide to go running, it won’t be for 20 miles. It’s not a big deal. As long as I recover over the weekend I’ll do the 20 on Monday morning, which is exactly 3 weeks before the marathon, the recommended day for the last long run. That way I won’t miss out on any of my long runs. It means this week’s mileage will be reduced, but I doubt it will have any effect whatsoever come marathon day.

4 Oct: 9 miles, 1:09, 7:40 pace, including 5.5x600 repeats
5 Oct: 6 miles, 56:44, 9:27 pace, including 8x100 strides

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Hey Stupid

I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent person. This doesn’t prevent me from doing stupid things from time to time. Take Monday morning. I set out for a 13 mile run, which was supposed to be a run from our house to an area at the southern end of Caragh Lake called Bunglasha, and then the whole way back. Well, I got to Bunglasha, and since I started to feel adventurous decided to take a different route back home. There is a series of trails called the Kerry Way. It roughly follows the famous Ring of Kerry, but uses old roads and trails, usually high up in the mountains. One section of that is close to our house, but for some reason I’ve never run there. I decided on the spot to change that, and headed back home via this very hilly section of the Kerry Way, mostly dirt track, with a few stony sections. The stupid thing was that of course I hadn’t told anyone, and if something had happened to me there, like spraining an ankle (which certainly can’t be ruled out on that kind of running surface), I would have been in serious trouble. As it happened, I had a fantastic run, with some seriously gorgeous views over Caragh Lake, standing up to 250 meters (800 feet) higher than the lake’s surface. Add to that the dawn, and it was pretty magic. I’ll definitely repeat the experience, but next time I’ll be sure to let Niamh know where I am. The return leg took less time than the outbound section, which meant that it must have been shorter. At the end I called it 12.5 miles, which I’m confident is reasonably accurate.

Today was a much less noticeable run, but I definitely needed a bit of recovery. I felt as stiff as a plank, with my quads feeling especially dead. I did have one scary moment though. About 1.5 miles away from home I noticed a dog sleeping on the side of the road. I’m actually familiar with that animal, he’s always around there, and I’ve passed him dozens of times before. Today I must have startled him; he probably woke up as I was passing by. He immediately ran towards me, barking rather aggressively – and he was rather big, though I don’t know what kind of breed. But as soon as he reached me, all he did was to put his head against my thigh, and then he let me continue. That’s a rather bizarre behaviour for a dog, but from my point of view certainly preferable to shredding my legs to bits. He repeated the same thing on my way back home, only this time he nearly tripped me up by coming up against me from behind. I managed to continue unharmed, though understandably with a slightly raised heart rate.

Some manager in the office wants to send me to Dublin again on Friday. I really don’t want to go. Firstly this would once more be a complete waste of time, and more importantly, Friday is the day of my long run, and it’s the date of my last 20 miler to boot. Please don’t mess with my training!

2 Oct: 12.5 miles, 1:43, 8:14 pace
3 Oct: 6 miles, 54:00, 9:00 pace

Sunday, October 01, 2006


On Thursday evening I went to bed at around 9:30. I set the alarm for 4:25, but didn’t even need it; I was awake at 4:22 and got up quietly, so as not to wake Niamh. Getting ready took a few minutes longer than usual, with putting plasters over my nipples and a big blister pad on my left instep. By 4:50, I was out of the door. It had been raining most of the night but by that time it had stopped, and my main concern over the first 10 miles was to avoid stepping into puddles in the dark, which wasn’t entirely successful. I ran most of the first 16 miles at about 8:20 pace, which is a little bit faster than intended, but my legs felt fine. At mile 16, as I started the final 5-mile loop, I decided to follow the plan I’d had in my mind all along and make this a fast-finish-long-run, as described by McMillan. Twice over the next mile the legs didn’t cooperate and fell back into the old drudgery. At the third attempt I finally managed to lock onto the new pace and noticeably upped the effort. I didn’t know how long I would be able to sustain that, but it went better than expected. At mile 19 my right hamstring started to tighten, but I managed to get around that problem by shortening my stride length and slightly increasing the turnover, and one mile later it felt fine again. I further increased the effort over the last half mile, and sprinted up the final climb to our driveway. All in all the 21 miles took 2:52, with the final 5 miles in 39 minutes. I re-read the McMillan article again afterwards, and his suggestion is actually more radical, he suggests doing 10k race pace over the last 2-3 miles, which I definitely didn’t do. Still, I was very pleased with my run.

We had a bit of a drama Friday night, when Niamh sprained her ankle, and demanded to be brought to hospital. My suggestion of taking painkillers and driving to the hospital tomorrow morning was brushed aside, so we had to ring around a few friends until someone agreed to take the children (it was already 9:30 pm at that time), but we had to promise to collect them again in the middle of the night, because the lady in question had to leave early Saturday morning. We eventually got to Tralee hospital at about 10:30, and had to wait 3 hours to see a doctor, by which time Niamh was actually feeling a lot better already. The examination took maybe 5 minutes, then she got a special bandage and a pair of crutches, and we were on the way back home. After picking the kids out of their beds again (which they didn’t appreciate, as you can imagine) we went home. When I finally got to bed it was 3 am, and I had been awake for over 22 and a half hours.

Saturday wasn’t exactly a rest day, with Niamh “taking it easy”, and me doing the dishes, the washing, the shopping, the cooking, as well as breaking up fights between various children every 10 minutes or so. I wasn’t even allowed to cook pasta, but then again, I do make a mean vegetarian moussaka, even if I say so myself.

Niamh’s much better today, and I was allowed out of the house for a 10-mile run. I once again wore my new shoes, and once again I got some small blisters in my left instep, but apart from that I’m getting well used to them already. I intended to run them at easy pace, but covered the first 6 miles in about 46:30, 7:45 pace. Oops. Maybe the shoes made me do it. Mike has given me an awful lot of stick (totally justified, I hasten to add) about buying the wrong shoes. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, but have come to the conclusion that it probably isn’t a major issue. While I definitely feel more comfortable in cushioning shoes than stability shoes, I still haven’t entirely made up my mind about the correct kind of shoes. I’ve had a few stability shoes before, and they didn’t mess up my feet either. My main worry about those shoes is the lesser heel support and how my calves will deal with that over 26.2 miles, and that issue would be the same with the DS trainers as well as the Speedstars that I apparently should have bought. I will run Friday’s 20 miler in those shoes, even though I hadn’t planned on doing so originally. If this goes ok, I’ll stick with them. I could take the safe option and wear the Nimbuses, but I’m probably willing to risk it for the sake of a few ounces less. And most importantly, the DS trainers have funky orange stripes on the side. That means they must be perfect for running a marathon, doesn’t it?

Weekly mileage: 70 miles
Mileage for September: 291 miles (new personal best)

29 Sep: 21 miles, 2:52, 8:11 pace, with the last 5 miles in 7:48
1 Oct: 10 miles, 1:19. 7:54 pace, including 10x100 strides