Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cough, Cough

The last few days have been remarkably similar. My cold is not shifting, and I don’t feel very well. On the other hand, it’s not bad enough to stop me from running or going to work, I just feel a distinct lack of energy. Each evening I wonder if I can go running the next day, but come early morning I’m out and about.

Tuesday was the day of my last hill session. I know that the hip pains are most likely connected to running on hills, but I didn’t want to miss the very last of those sessions, especially as I haven’t done as many of them as I probably should have. Can 6 sessions really make a big difference? (For the record, yes, I think they really pushed my pace). Plus, Sunday’s hill session was the only run in the last few days where the hip didn’t actually hurt. The drills themselves were as torturous as always, and after the last one I thought “that’s it, no more hill drills”, but was too knackered to actually celebrate. The fact that it was raining and windy didn’t help the mood either. I did the by now usual 4 repeats, with some bounding over the last two. Bounding really is something else. I tried to concentrate on pushing off forcefully and fully extending my legs, and within seconds my heart rate would shoot up to 180 and more. I couldn’t do it for more than 45 seconds without totally losing form.

I developed another problem on Monday evening, all of a sudden the outside of my right calf started to hurt quite badly. It was a strange problem. It hurt when I was standing, walking or even sitting. The one activity that didn’t hurt was running. It was bad on Monday, felt a bit better on Tuesday and has all but disappeared today, Wednesday. Whenever a runner develops a pain in the legs, it’s only natural to suspect a running-related problem, but I wonder if that particular pain was caused by something else, whatever “something“ may be.

Since I was still feeling under the weather I decided to take it really easy today. The weather forecast had been pretty good, but I when I woke in the middle of the night the rain against the window sounded like someone was playing with a fire hose in a wind tunnel. By the time I got up and left the rain was thankfully reduced to a drizzle, but the wind was still at gale force levels. Such conditions always mean the same thing, a trip to Ard-na-Sidhe. Thank God for that little piece of woodland, it’s the only road that’s somewhat sheltered from the elements. I did take it easy, and actually enjoyed the run, even when the rain started again.

I’m in a bit of a quandary now. I had planned the last of my long double headers for Thursday and Friday, but with my cold and my lingering hip problem that might not be the wisest of actions. Unfortunately I have to set the alarm if I intend to run, and I hate being woken at such an uncivilised hour without the firm commitment to do the workout. After all, who wants to sacrifice precious sleep for nothing? I’ll see how I feel tomorrow. A fortnight ago I ran 20 hilly miles as the second part of a double header when feeling like poop, and afterwards was glad to have done it. Because of my hip problem, tomorrow’s run would be over a reasonably flat course, and should be easier. In all likelihood I’ll get up early and run, and if I feel up to it, I’ll finish what I’ve started.

27 Feb: 4 hill repeats, 1:08:30, avg. HR 151
28 Feb: 7 miles, 58:36, 8:22 pace, avg. HR 145

Mileage for February: 292.5

Monday, February 26, 2007

Weekend Report

As predicted on Friday, Saturday’s run was very enjoyable. I am doing all kinds of workouts these days, hill running, mile repeats, long double headers, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that I’m doing this purely for the joy of running. I set out in the morning with the main aim of enjoying myself. I felt very stiff and slow initially, and that was confirmed when I passed the first (imaginary) mile marker in 8:40. I am always a slow starter, and I didn’t see the need to push any harder. However, the legs came round very soon after that, and running became both easier and faster. I started to inject some surges into the effort, every mile or so I accelerated for about a minute before dropping back to the old pace. I checked my clock once or twice and noticed that I kept getting faster, and reached the turnaround point (5.5 miles) in 42:40 (7:45 pace), which was sooner than expected, especially considering the slow first mile. I kept the surges going, and eventually the legs tuned into that higher pace all by themselves, without me really intending to do so. I felt very good, kept smiling and running, and completed the second 5.5 mile stint in 39:48 (7:14 pace). I’m not kidding myself and pretend that it was an easy run. It wasn’t, I definitely kept pushing the pace, but it wasn’t a tempo effort either, despite the fact that a year ago this would have been a slightly ambitious pace for a hard tempo run. I have gotten faster yet again in the last few weeks, and I think it’s the hill repeats that are responsible for that. Coming back to my original point, doing technical stuff like hill or mile repeats might not nearly be as enjoyable as a straightforward run like today’s, but if they make me faster and stronger like this then they’re definitely worth the effort.

Since this was supposed to be a 90-minute run, and I was back home nearly 8 minutes early, I added a cool down mile, something I probably should do more often, but never do. Unfortunately, not everything was plain sailing. I got some pain in my right hip over the last 2 miles, and it was fairly sore. I had noticed it towards the end of Friday’s long run, but had hoped it would go away again. However, it was worse on Saturday.

Sunday saw me back on the hills again, for another set of 4 hill repeats. I planned on performing the same workout as on Tuesday, mostly steep hill running with some bounding thrown in for the last two repeats. Each repeats lasts less than 4 minutes, but 4 minutes can be a very long time when you’re being tortured like that. I didn’t quite make the 90 seconds of bounding I had hoped for, both times I cut them after 60 seconds and switched back to steep hill running. Sometimes I don’t have the strength, either in the legs or in the minds. On the plus side, the hip problem didn’t even register.

Today I’ve got a sore throat again. Niamh’s sisters were here over the weekend (to the delight of the kids, especially Cian), and brought some unwanted germs into the house. Today all the kids are coughing, and Daddy isn’t feeling too great either. It didn’t stop me from running, but it did stop me from feeling at my best (at least I’m blaming the cold rather than the hill repeats). I went out with the same mindset as on Saturday, to enjoy 90 minutes of running on a reasonably flat course (well, with just a few climbs thrown in for variety). The first mile was even slower this time in around 9:00, and I put in the same surges. I didn’t quite speed up as much, and covered the 5.5 sections in 44:52 (8:10 pace) and 40:20 (7:20 pace). It kind of validates last Wednesday’s mileage though. Back then I had doubts if I could have run 7:15 pace at that effort. I have more or less repeated that twice since then, which points to the possibility that Wednesday was indeed as fast as originally calculated.

Alas, my hip hurt again, and more so than on Saturday. I googled a bit, and it might be bursitis, which generally affects runners (check!) who run a lot of hills (check!) and on hard surfaces (check!). I’ll try icing, stretching, and flatter routes over the next week (apart from tomorrow’s hill session, that is), and will hope to cure it that way. The other option is ibuprofen, but I generally avoid stuff like that as much as I can.

24 Feb: 12 miles, 1:30:46, 7:33 pace, avg. HR 151
25 Feb: 4 hill repeats, 1:10, avg. HR 148
26 Feb: 11 miles, 1:25:12, 7:44 pace, avg. HR 144

Weekly mileage: 85.5 miles

Friday, February 23, 2007

Shouldn’t this be getting easier?

Good God, was I glad when I finally stumbled back into our house today after the run. I really was at the end of my strength. Not for the first time I did wonder if I had bitten off more than I can chew, but those thoughts are usually forgotten come the next workout. These double headers are tough, no doubt about it. I guess that’s the point, though.

Niamh gave me a bemused look when I said I was off to bed at 9:30 Wednesday evening. I knew I would need my sleep, and for once I went to bed on time. I’m usually very disciplined regarding running-related things, but going to bed on time is the one exception to that rule. But I sure was glad that I had bucked that trend for once when the alarm clock went off at 4:45 next morning. As I got ready I checked the weather outside. Luck was on my side; the gale force winds had blown themselves out already, leaving just the rain behind. It was drizzly early on, but that soon turned into a heavy downpour, soaking me to the bones. The heavy rain lasted for about an hour, and for the rest of the run it scaled back to a steady drizzle. I was a bit worried that the wind might pick up again and ran 3 loops around the devil’s elbow again rather than risk being stranded miles away from home on the far side of Caragh Lake. That fear proved to be unfounded, but it also meant more hills that way, especially the big, steep climb up to the ridge of the hill. Doing it once is easy by now, doing it twice is harder, doing it three times is a challenge. On the second loop a dog started barking at me. That was at least one mile away from the nearest dwelling, I have no idea how it got there. It sounded like a big dog and I was a bit worried at first, but as I got close I could see that he wasn’t actually out on the road but in a field, separated from me via a fence. I could hear his angry barks for some time, but that didn’t bother me. The last few miles started to drag a bit, but I finished feeling pretty good. I was a bit surprised when I calculated my average pace, the effort felt faster than about 8:30. Maybe the distance is slightly off, but it’s the opposite problem to Wednesday, when I thought that I might have over-estimated the miles. But, as Marc rightly pointed out, a few tenth of a mile don’t make a difference come race day, and 20 miles is what I put down into my log.

I managed another early night, and once again felt pretty well rested at 4:45. The weather was a carbon copy of Thursday, it started as a drizzle, turned into a torrential downpour for an hour or so and eased off again, maybe not quite as much as the day before. I felt a bit chilly at times due to the wind, but I don’t seem to catch colds that way. I used to be worried about getting sick running in those conditions, but I have completed so many runs like that this winter that I’ve stopped worrying. The only times I got a bit sick this year was when the kids brought home some germs, and none of those episodes were bad enough to miss even a single day of running. I did feel a bit weary from the start of this run, and this was confirmed when I ran the first loop a whole three minutes slower than yesterday. I though “well, I’ll be late for work” and just kept going. The climbs were definitely tougher than the day before. At mile 6 I got some hunger pangs, and that was repeated about 5 miles later, but I managed to ignore those feelings until they went away again. From the halfway point on I was definitely tired. I guess my glycogen stores were running empty, and my usual muscle fibres were fatigued. Mike’s Mystery Coach uses fast double headers to get the usual fibres fatigued in order to get new fibres conditioned. I guess my slower but longer double headers fulfil the same role. That’s good as far as development is concerned, but you can take it from me, it’s not pretty at the time. At the 12.5 mile point, at the end of the second loop, I was definitely knackered and ready to go home, but managed to push myself to begin the third and final loop. The climb was hard work – very hard work. If you believe Mike, all my muscles had to work with were mouldy old mushrooms, and they didn’t like the taste. There was nothing to do but to go on and on and on, and eventually I crested the summit, and while the rest of it wasn’t exactly plain sailing, it was manageable. Right when I felt worst, the mp3 player chose a song by Nickelback, and one line of the lyrics went “Are we having fun yet?”. It was good timing, and brought a smile to my face.

To add to the pain, I got some friction burns on my neck from the shirt (hmm, they're bright red, but it doesn't really show in that picture). I’ve worn that same shirt dozens of times before, I haven’t changed my washing powder or anything else that would explain why it suddenly started hurting, but it did. And it wasn’t only my shirt, the chest strap of my heart rate monitor did the same to my left side, which is just as inexplicable. Unsurprisingly in that context, I also got some good old-fashioned chafing. Has my skin gotten soft all of a sudden? Sure, I spent over 5-and-a-half hours running in the rain on Thursday and Friday, but I still wouldn’t expect that reaction.

Whatever the reasons, I’m definitely looking forward to tomorrow, when I can just run comfortably over a flat course and without having to get up at some ridiculous time. It will be a breeze.

22 Feb: 20 miles, 2:49:09, 8:27 pace, avg. HR 148
23 Feb: 20 miles, 2:54:12, 8:42 pace, avg. HR 142

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Calm Before the Storm

The last few days have been miserable as far as the weather is concerned, wind and rain, rain and wind, wind and rain … apart from the 2 hours when I was out running apparently, because I didn’t get rained on once. Maybe it was a miracle, but in all likelihood I will pay for this tomorrow, when gale-force winds and heavy downpours are in store again (together with the flood warnings that always accompany that kind of weather). Lovely. I’m already dreading tomorrow’s long run.

Tuesday saw a quick return to the hill for another torture session. I gave myself a few extra minutes, just to be sure to be able to complete the whole workout without having to worry about being late for work (again). I duly ran up that hill with those silly looking high steps for about 3-and-a-half minutes, only to be confused by my heart rate monitor, which gave a rather low reading of about 160. The same happened on the second repeat. Right, if I can’t get my heart rate up high enough that way, I’ll have to switch to bounding. The third repeat saw me doing 2 minutes of those high knees, then I switched styles. I tried to concentrate on a forceful push-off and extending my legs fully. I also noticed that for some strange reason I have a tendency of swinging my arms across my chest when doing that, so I tried to concentrate on correcting this as well. The good news was that the HR did indeed shoot up into the required 170s, the bad news was that I felt pretty much wiped out after that. I’m a sucker for punishment, and came back for a fourth time, but after 2 minutes of steep hill running and just over 60 seconds of bounding I gave up, the legs felt like falling off. As I said two days ago, there’s still room for improvement. I practically crawled the two miles home, but nevertheless consternation reigned once I checked my average HR for the workout. I was working my socks off, and all I have to show for is a 137? That’s the lowest heart rate I’ve produced in the whole training cycle, but rather than a nice easy recovery run it was a very tenuous hill circuit. I’m not sure what to think of that. Did I not work hard enough, or are those hill repeats primarily workouts for the muscles, and the cardio system simply isn’t taxed as much?

Whatever the answer, I was already looking forward to today’s run, just 60 minutes of joyful running on a reasonably flat course, without any interruptions like strides or goofy hill repeats. My legs felt better than following previous hill repeats (either I really wasn’t working hard enough, or I’m getting used to them), and the miles just flew by. I turned around after 31 minutes, at what I thought at the time was the 4 miles point. The return leg was even quicker; it took just a handful of seconds over 29 minutes for the same distance. Now the doubts started creeping in. Did I really run 4 miles in 29 minutes (7:15 pace) without even pushing the pace? That seems way too fast for such an effort. Sure, I wasn’t hanging around and ran at a good clip, but 7:15 seems too fast. I tried to remember exactly where I had turned around, but in the early hours of morning my brain had partially shut down (Shea had woken me early, cutting nearly an hour off my sleep, which didn’t help), and I couldn’t come up with a definite answer. Whatever the true distance, I put 8 miles into my log, but it might have been slightly less, and a question mark remains. Maybe I should get a Garmin after all.

20 Feb: 4 hill repeats, 1:11, avg. HR 137
21 Feb: 8 miles(?), 1:00:06, 7:30 pace (?), avg. HR 149

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Long Weekend

I was slightly worried how long it would take to recover from my double header, especially as I was slightly sick. I usually recover very quickly from long runs (much faster than from speed workouts), but I had never run nearly 40 miles in two days, and doing so when not feeling 100% healthy added to the uncertainty. As it turns out, I must have recovered pretty well; the signs of sickness are gone and the legs are still able to carry me on my workouts.

I usually head up the devil’s elbow on Saturday, but as I had covered that loop 5 times over the last two days I decided to change the scenery and ran the considerably flatter route along Caragh Lake instead. I used to regard that road as hilly, but my perception has changed in the last 4 months. The legs were very heavy to start with but got better as the run went on. I did decide to add a few fast strides, just to get the legs moving again after so many hours and miles at comparatively slow pace. The weather was nice, the road was empty and the workout was much better than I could have hoped for.

Since the recovery from my last hill workout had been so much better then the preceding week, I decided to add a second day of hills to my weekly schedule, and Sunday was the day that had to be changed. I decided that I should no longer push my luck as far as running on a private driveway was concerned, and chose a different road. It’s on the opposite side of the same hill, and leads up to a picnic area with a stunning view of Caragh Lake and Dingle Bay (and, judging from the used condoms off the far side of said area, can be used for a different purpose as well). I wasn’t going up that high, however. I decided that 3:30 was as long as I could manage of the steep hill running while still being able to lift those knees. After that I jogged along for a minute or so (on a still quite steep section, so I ran really slowly), before turning around. I did measure my heart rates, and found the readings quite interesting. The steep hill running pushed the HR up to 175, after a minute of further (uphill) jogging it was down to about 160, back at the bottom of the hill it was as low as 120, and the first set of 150m windsprints pushed it up to 165 again, each cycle taking about 10 minutes. That’s a greater disparity of heart rates than I would have expected. The steep hill running was really tough work, and despite that I decided to up the ante on the last one and halfway up the hill I switched to bounding. 90 seconds later I was reduced to a drooling wreck, the HR up to 180, feeling slightly nauseous and close to fainting. There is clear room for improvement here. On the way down one particularly masochistic part of my brain contemplated doing a 5th repeat, but the thought of Niamh’s scones was too tempting and I headed for home instead. I was pretty much wiped out for the rest of the day, but watching my beloved Manchester City reach the quarterfinals of the FA Cup for the second year in a row lifted my spirits no end (last year I had predicted it would take another 15 years to reach that stage of the competition again).

Unfortunately the brief interlude of acceptable weather turned out to be very brief indeed, the rain returned Sunday afternoon, and our driveway turned into a shallow swimming pool overnight. I was drenched as soon as I stepped out of the house today, and the legs decided to take it easy once more. I ran the old Ard-na-sidhe out-and-back route twice, and the splits for the 2.5 miles sections were about 22:00-20:45-20:15-19:55. Apart from the first part, when the legs were not quite cooperating I was reasonably pleased with the effort, especially with the fact that each section was faster then the previous one without any increase in effort. Tomorrow I’ll bound up that hill once more, and then I’ll mentally prepare for my next double header. The weather forecast is bad, but then what’s new.

17 Feb: 11 miles, 1:26:14, 7:50 pace, avg. HR 147, including 10x100 strides
18 Feb: 4 hill repeats, 1:10, avg. HR 147
19 Feb: 10.5 miles, 1:27:42, 8:21 pace, avg. HR 145

Weekly mileage: 83.5 miles (including 2 hill workouts)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Double whammy

I decided to up the ante once more and increase the distance for my double header. Last week I did 17 and 20 miles, this time I was aiming for 20 back-to-back. This would finally get me into long runs that cover the ultra distance, albeit over two days.

Things didn’t start out too well Thursday morning. Actually, my first mistake was going to bed late on Wednesday. I was just about to hit the hay when I realised that football was on TV, and against all expectations the Bolton vs. Arsenal FA Cup match proved to be too riveting to go to bed. As a result I got less than 6 hours of sleep. Then the zip of my running tights broke just as I put them on (the one over the right calf). I tried to fix it there and then but only managed to completely destroy it in the process. Luckily I had a second pair washed and dry. Then Shea woke and I got into an argument with him (“Turn off your bedside lamp again”. “No, I’m not comfortable”. “Turn it off”. “No, I’m not comfortable”. “It’s too bright”. “No, I’m not comfortable”. “You’ll wake up Cian”. “No, I’m not comfortable”. …) I gave up on the stubborn mule (he fell back asleep again for 30 minutes, then got up – at 5:30, to his mother’s disgust.) Eventually I managed to leave the house, 10 minutes late.

The weather forecast had predicted heavy rain, and they were right on that score. What they didn’t anticipate were the gale force winds. I did what I always do in those circumstances, I chose to run the devil’s elbow loop rather than around Caragh Lake. The loop is 5.5 – 5.6 miles, it’s 1.5 miles away from our house, so 3 loops and the there-and-back section make up more than 19.5 miles, and a detour on the way home would get me to a round 20. The loops include a big and steep climb, and to run this 3 times would be a good challenge. I managed the first loop without too many problems, but the wind got worse and worse, and during the second loop it became nearly unbearable. Right on top of the crest it came exactly from the side, and I had to lean into it, while trying not to trip over my own feet. At the same time the rain got blown straight into my side, and that hurt. It might be a sign of selective memory loss, but I decided those were the worst conditions I ever run in, apart from two hail showers (but those lasted only for a short time). The second loop took me about 49 minutes (nearly as slow as 9:00 pace) and I decided to reroute, as a third loop in ever worsening conditions did not seem particularly palatable. Instead I ran back home and added an out-and-back section to Ard-na-Sidhe into the mix. After 15 miles I really started to feel like crap, I felt totally out of energy and had to force myself on every step. I did time myself for those final 5 miles, and how I managed 8:10 pace I will never know. I practically had to crawl once I got home; I was utterly drained of energy and seriously doubted my ability to do another long run 24 hours later.

During the day it became obvious that I wasn’t ok, apart from a runny nose, stiff neck, headache and feeling cold (but no temperature) I had absolutely no appetite, when usually I’m ravenous after a long run. I did force myself to eat plenty of food, I felt I had to fill my batteries somehow. I know that the immune system tends to be suppressed after a long run, which might have caused the symptoms, but all the kids were complaining about various aches and pains throughout the day, so I guess it’s something that’s doing the rounds in our house at the moment. Niamh didn’t even want me to go to work on Friday, never mind running, but I promised I’d be sensible and see how I felt.

I was very tired, went to bed at 9:30 and was fast asleep by 10 o’clock. I slept like a baby until the alarm went off at 4:45, for the second morning in a row. I felt much better, and decided to head out. The conditions were much better than the previous day, no wind and no rain, but I decided not to run the Caragh Lake loop but to head for the devil’s elbow instead, because if I felt I had to bail out I would never be further than 4 miles away from home. I started slower than yesterday at 8:30 pace rather than 8:20, and just kept going steadily. The climb was a challenge each time, but to be honest it wasn’t too bad. I had expected to really hurt on the third ascend, but it was definitely manageable. Midway during the second loop the rain returned, but due to the low winds it was no comparison to Thursday’s conditions. All in all I was ok, considering how bad I had felt all of yesterday. It was quite slow, not that pace particularly matters on that kind of run. The last 3 miles were dragging a bit, and I was definitely glad for it to be over and done with.

I’m still not 100% ok, but I’m glad I did go out today. The way I figured, running when feeling crap and devoid of energy should be good ultra training, as long as you don’t do any additional damage to yourself. I kept checking my HR, and it was always quite low. Maybe it was stupid to run 20 miles like that, but given the same circumstances, I think I would do it again.

There is a great advantage in training under unfavorable conditions. It is better to train under bad conditions, for the difference is then a tremendous relief in a race.

Emil Zatopek

15 Feb: 19.5 miles, 2:44:43, 8:26 pace, avg. HR 147
16 Feb: 20 miles, 2:53:41, 8:41 pace, avg. HR 144

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Note the Difference

Certain gadgets never fail to amaze me: my mp3 player magically came to live again. I love self-healing technology.

Tuesday saw a return of the hill workout that had me seriously hampered for 4 days last week. Apparently I'm not alone in the suffering. Mike commented how his calves had been almost comically sore after that workout (a long time ago), the main difference being that he returned for more punishment twice that week, while I chickened out of any further hill repeats up to now. I chose the same driveway again, but I'm pretty sure nobody saw me this time. I still want to get that issue resolved though - I don't run past any houses, but personally I would like to know if someone ran up and down my driveway four times in the early morning hours. Since I had to cut the workout short last week I gave myself 10 extra minutes, and proceeded to run up the hill four times, each repeat taking about 3:45 minutes. I tried to concentrate on various aspects, like lifting the knees, leaning slightly forward (otherwise I ran on the spot), lifting the knees, taking off and landing on the toes, lifting those damn knees ... the quads just about killed me, but I survived. I don't quite understand how the calves got so sore last weeks, because during the workout it's definitely the quads that are screaming for mercy. I was a bit stumped when I checked my average HR after the workout, a measly 142. That's 8 beats lower than last time, despite spending more time on the hill. True, I took it seriously easy on the warm up and cool down, but that low reading had me very surprised. I definitely worked as hard as 7 days ago.

I came home to a scene of moderate chaos. Cian had prepared his own breakfast, but decided to substitute the boring milk with the much more exciting sugar. Unfortunately the sugar bag had been nearly full. There was sugar on the table, sugar on the chair, sugar in his glass (up to the rim), sugar on the floor and plenty of sugar on the boy himself. He knew exactly how naughty he had been, and surveyed the scene with a very smug grin on his face.

It’s funny how sometimes things repeat themselves. Last week Lola woke me at 4am in the night after my hill workout. Back then I could hardly walk because my calves were so sore. Last night Lola woke me again at the same time, but this times my calves were nearly fine, there was just a little bit of tenderness. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to fall asleep again for the next 2 hours, and when I finally drifted off again I was soon woken again by the alarm.

Today’s workout was the confirmation that my calves were in much better shape than last week. The difference is like day and night. They did feel a bit stiff, but in comparison to last time it just doesn’t register. I tried to work at a decent clip, but found it tough going during the first few miles. At one point I felt like working hard, but when I checked the HR it was a measly 142. I guess I should be pleased, a low heart rate is a good sign as far as fitness is concerned. The second half of the run went a lot better than the first one, not only did I manage about 7:30 pace without even trying hard, I completely managed to Zen out again. The legs ran on their own and my mind was miles away. This went on until half a mile from home when a passing car got me out of my trance. I love it when I get into that zone. I happens all to rarely.

Niamh isn’t really one for Valentine’s Day. Instead of spending a romantic evening with her husband she’s off to the theatre with an equally unromantic friend, leaving me home alone to look after the unruly kids. If that entry has a disjointed read to it, that’s because it took me over 2 hours to write it with various children bouncing in and out of the room calling for my attention. It’s story time now, I’d better finish.

13 Feb: 7.5 miles (est.), 1:09. 4 hill repeats of 3:45 each, avg. HR 142
14 Feb: 8 miles, 1:01:23, 7:40 pace, avg. HR 146

Monday, February 12, 2007

Techological Breakdown

This must have been the busiest weekend in quite some time, between running, kids, household chores and a few “projects” I didn’t sit down for 2 days. I think normal people use their weekends to relax. What an alien concept.

The weather did interfere with my training over the weekend, but it also taught me a lesson that I won’t forget in a hurry. I awoke on Sunday to the sound of wind and rain, and it really did not sound particularly inviting. I did delay for an hour, and, lo and behold, it got better. The wind was still at or near gale force level, but the rain had eased, and on occasions it even stopped. I have learned in the past that tempo runs alongside Caragh Lake in those conditions are not really feasible, so I thought I’d do the smart thing and adapt to the conditions. A lot of wind means running the road to Ard-na-Sidhe to get some shelter from the trees, and since that road is a bit over a mile until the next big hill the choice of mile repeats seemed a very logical one. Now, as you might remember, I got a new watch for my birthday. With that incredibly advanced amazing piece of technology (ok, ok, a 30 Euro watch) I can finally time my splits. Stunning or what. I have done intervals in the past, but they were purely measure by time, i.e. 6 minutes hard/2 minutes easy, while running continuously on a road. That was fine, but it didn’t allow me to compare splits. I guess being new to that kind of workout should have told me that it was never going to be as easy as I thought it would be. I didn’t want to run foam-at-mouth, hands-on-knees anaerobic intervals, I was rather shooting at tempo run pace, with 2 minutes recovery; that way I would be able to do more that 3. After warming up I started off on the first mile, but got the effort wrong. Too fast. Despite that, it took longer than expected. The splits for the whole sequence were: 6:37, 6:40, 6:45, 6:51, 6:53, 6:45. Neither the times nor the fact that I got slower and slower (apart from the last one) are particularly glorious, and I wasn’t very satisfied, and I tried to come up with excuses. 1 - The distance might have been more than 1 mile (possibly, but it should be reasonably accurate). 2 - Saturday’s “recovery” run was too fast (probably, but Mike’s Mystery Coach seems to think that’s a good thing). 3 - I hadn’t recovered yet from the double header (who knows). 4 – From the third repeat on I tried to concentrate more on relaxed and controlled form than pace (true, but I still got slower and slower).

Whatever, you live and learn. Maybe I should have tried to run all repeats at about 6:45, but since I don’t do a series of 400s on a track it’s very difficult to gauge exactly how far I am into the effort. I might repeat the same workout next week just to have something to compare it to. On the other hand, if the conditions are better I’ll probably opt for a continuous tempo run.

Today was yet another recovery run, but unlike Saturday I tried to keep the pace down and not push myself. It was completely unremarkable until one mile before the end when my nearly new mp3 player gave up and died. One minute Marilyn Manson was sweetly wishing me sweet dreams, the next one all I got was static noise, and then nothing. I changed the battery, tried to connect it to the computer, but it looks like it has gone the way of the Dodo. It looks like I’ll rejoin the silent masses again. I don’t think I’ll have troubles adapting again, but in view of my forthcoming ultra I would have preferred some music in my ears for those long hours. It’s only 2 months old and still under guarantee, maybe I’ll get a replacement in time.

The weather has turned foul again. I hate it.

11 Feb: 10 miles, 1:15, avg. HR 157, 6 “mile“ repeats 6:37, 6:40, 6:45, 6:51, 6:53, 6:45
12 Feb: 10.5 miles, 1:27:50, 8:21 pace, avg. HR 144

Weekly mileage: 84 miles

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Long Run, Part II

No rest for the weary; the alarm went off at 4:45 and I had to get up. The biggest drawback of doing long run double headers during the week is the lack of sleep, I get just about 6 hours for two consecutive nights, and that’s not really enough for me. But at least the scenery outside the bedroom window looked inviting, and I got ready to go out. I was surprised to see water glistening all over the driveway; it must have been raining heavily all night. Looking up I could still see a very dark cloud completely blanking out one half of the sky. Luckily, the other half was entirely free and the stars put on a spectacular display, later to be joined by the moon once that big cloud had moved on. There were two slight worries on my mind, one that I might run out of energy at some stage due to Thursday’s run being a bit faster than planned, and secondly the pain in my left calf. As it happened, the first problem never materialised, and the calf did behave itself for most of the way. It only hurt on the downhill stretches, and even then it wasn’t particularly bad. I have run through worse pain. I did time myself after about 5 miles, and less than 41 minutes had passed, meaning I had averaged about 8:10 pace during that stretch. That’s good, I usually start slower. I got a nice surprise at one point. I had slightly lost track where I was and estimated I had covered about 12 miles when I saw some familiar landmarks ahead of me and realised that I was nearly on mile 14. Hurray. I felt tired when I passed our driveway after completing one loop after 17 miles, but continued on for another 3 miles to make up the full 20. The distance estimation might be slightly conservative, but it should be reasonably accurate.

I felt pretty good for the rest of the day, considering that I had covered about 37 miles in the last 2 days at roughly 8:00 pace average. But after sitting in the office chair for several hours, my calf started hurting again in the evening. That’s strange. How can a muscle take several hours of running without much notice, but start hurting after what should be several hours of rest?

Even so, that was the last I had felt of the pain. Today, Saturday, I am finally pain free again. I did go out for my 90 minutes recovery run, though as it turned out I ran at pretty much the same pace as I had done over the last few days. I should probably try to get some more variation into my legs; I covered the last 56 miles in the last 4 days all at nearly the same pace. The long-lasting soreness in my left calf has made up my mind about how many days of hill repeats I should do this week, it will remain at one. It took 4 days to get rid of the pain, and I don’t want to risk injury by bounding up the same hill again tomorrow. I’ll run the customary Sunday tempo run instead, and won’t bounce up the hill again until Tuesday. It means I won’t be getting a lot of hill running under my belt, but there is no point in forcing the issue. I should have started hill training earlier, now I have to adapt and get on with it.

9 Feb: 20 miles, 2:41:04, 8:03 pace, avg. HR 144
10 Feb: 11.5 miles, 1:32:59, 8:05 pace, avg. HR 150

Thursday, February 08, 2007


As soon as I woke on Wednesday I realised that I would be reminded of Tuesday’s hill session for some time to come. I had expected the quads to be sore, but they were absolutely fine. Instead my calves were in pretty bad shape. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to running on that pair of stumps, but Wednesday is the easiest day of my week, and I guess that helped. I ran alongside Caragh Lake, and when the watch said 30:30, I turned around. I usually run the second part a bit faster than the first and expected to be back home in exactly one hour, but must have accelerated a bit more than expected, because I was back in just over 59 minutes. The calves did behave somewhat while out running, but were rather sore for the rest of the day. Walking from one part of the office to the next one without anyone noticing my funny walk was a challenge.

I could only hope that I would feel better for today’s first part of my long run double header, but expected to actually feel worse. This was confirmed at 4 o’clock in the morning when I was woken by Cian’s crying. I limped to his bed, and he eventually calmed down (he’d had a nightmare), but refused to go back asleep in his bed because he was scared. I carried him into our bed, but it basically meant the end of my night’s sleep – it’s almost impossible to sleep beside that boy, he keep trashing about. What little sleep I got after that was finally brought to an end by the alarm clock at 5:10 am. The heavy rain that had fallen all night had thankfully stopped, but the gale force wind had not, and I resolved to cancel my initial plans to run around Caragh Lake and do two devil’s elbow loops instead, where there is some shelter on the part of the road that heads into the wind. I was just about to leave when the rain returned with a vengeance, and waited for about 3 minutes until the worst of that particular downpour was over. I correctly suspected that I would have to deal with similar conditions later out on the road though. Most of the country had snow today. Kerry had torrential rain.

The course did include the steep climb up to the devil’s elbow not just once but twice, and boy, was it hard work. I have run it so often in the last few weeks that I no longer think of it as particularly challenging, but today it was hard work, especially on the second loop. Cresting the hill has never felt so good, and I celebrated by running the second loop a good bit faster than the first (1:10 for the first, 1:07 for the second). Considering how bad my calves felt I was surprised by my pace, especially the sub-8 pace for the second loop. I’m not complaining, but I do hope that I won’t have to pay for my exuberance on tomorrow’s second part of the double header.

The calves, especially the left one, are still dealing with the fallout from Tuesday’s hill session. I was so sore at lunchtime that I wondered if it really is DOMS or some more serious signs of injury, but I’ve stopped being paranoid since. I guess I’ll know more by tomorrow. I expect to feel better in the morning; let’s wait and see.

7 Feb: 7.5 miles, 59:02, 7:52 pace, avg. HR 149
8 Feb: 17 miles, 2:17:26, 8:05 pace, avg. HR 151

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


I’ve jumped back into my normal training week, which meant 90 minutes on Monday morning. Somehow I had forgotten what it means to get up early each and every day, and when the alarm sounded at 6 am I was initially completely confused why I had set it (plus I had been watching the Super Bowl until the early hours of morning). Once my brain started working, I got ready to go out. I got slightly delayed, because when I opened the door I realised how cold it was (about –5C/23F) and went back once more to put on an extra layer underneath my long sleeved top. The workout went pretty well despite my legs feeling very heavy initially (I think I’ve typed that sentence many many times). Once I crested the devil’s elbow I managed to get a real good rhythm going and I was flying along the road for the next 4 or so miles, until I remembered to do a few strides. I did them, but it broke my rhythm and I didn’t manage to get that free-flowing feeling back. It was still a good workout. My work colleagues thought I was completely mad to go running in “that freezing cold”. (Clarification: -5C is as cold as it gets in Kerry, usually). Maybe I should have pointed them to some other blogs, but better not.

I know I’ve just said I jumped back into my normal training, but I made one fairly big change today, because I swapped the tempo run for a hill session. When I started this training cycle I played with the idea of a hill phase, but left the decision for a later date. I only just realised that I have less than 8 weeks to go, and somehow decided that a hill phase would do me good, primarily because it strengthens the quads, and apparently that’s particularly important for an ultra. It’s not as if I jumped straight into a hill workout; I have been running the steepest hills I could find as part of my normal runs for many weeks now. Anyway, this was my first ever go at some of the weirder kind of hill workouts, like “steep hill running” or “bounding”, excellently demonstrated in this video. I selected a hill about 2 miles away from home; it’s actually a driveway to a couple of houses on the flanks of the devil’s elbow. I think it’s a private road, though there are no signs. I figured nobody would see me anyway, so it doesn’t matter. When I started the first repeat of running up with strange high knee lift, I initially thought “this feels too easy” and stupidly switched to bounding for a bit. I learned my lesson pretty soon. Bounding is a killer. Pretty soon I switched back to “steep hill running”, but after 3 minutes I thought I couldn’t take any more of that, did a few easy steps, and turned around. I did a few strides at the bottom of the hill, and came back for more. I had learned my lesson and just did the goofy high knees bit, and managed to hold on for about 3:30, before going easy again. That’s when I noticed that the road flattens out a bit further on, which would make it a pretty perfect hill for that kind of training. On my third repeat I managed to run all the way to that area, which took just under 4 minutes. I came back for a 4th time, but turned around halfway through, because I was rather late and decided that I‘d better get home right now or else I’d be late for work.

So that’s it, my first hill session of that kind. This was more to test the waters and give me an introduction to that kind of thing. Now I have to decide what I’ll do next week. With long runs, tempo runs and hills, the week seems a bit too short now. I won’t cut back on my back-to-back long runs, and I can’t do 2 hill sessions as well as one tempo run in that same week, so either the second hill workout or the tempo run will have to be sacrificed. I’ve got one week to decide.

Niamh’s battling a cold at the moment; she started to feel unwell yesterday, and even worse today. She’s overloading on Vitamin C and Echinacea, and so far neither the kids nor me have caught it. Let’s keep the fingers crossed.

At lunchtime I started talking to her about my run this morning. “You know Dianne, who lives up that hill? Well, this morning I did a hill workout up their driveway. I didn’t think anyone would mind, and I didn’t think anyone would see me, but on one occasion a car came down that road, presumably driven by her husband. If you see her today, would you mind asking her if it’s ok to train there once or twice a week? If they’ll mind, I’ll find a different hill”. Niamh's grin got bigger and bigger as I kept on rambling, and by the end she was laughing out loud. “They’ll just think you’re a complete nutcase”. “That’s ok, as long as they let me train there”. She promised she’d ask. Dianne's daughter is one of Lola’s best friends at school, which might make things easier for me. Poor Lola might have to live with the fact that her dad is the village idiot, though.

5 Feb: 10.5 miles, 1:25:26, 8:08 pace, avg. HR 149
6 Feb: 7.5 miles (est.), 1:03, hill work, avg. HR 150

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Now Look What You’ve Done!

I should not have listened to you. All that talk about flowers and chocolate, I should have ignored it and moved on. Instead I traipsed to the shop. The florist was closed, but I got a box of very nice Swiss chocolate. And what was the result? Niamh didn’t believe that I would buy expensive chocolate just to apologise for that little row in the car on Tuesday night. As much as I insisted that I hadn’t committed any other offences, she remained suspicious. Sigh. I blame you lot. Yes, you. (Just in case that kind of humour doesn’t translate over the Atlantic, yes, I am kidding. [Niamh’s still suspicious though].)


I don’t know how it could happen so fast. I was only off the road for 4 days, but I’ve gained nearly 5 pounds in the meantime. If I ever give up running, I’ll turn into a walrus within half a year!

So, after four days off, I’ve started running again. The head wasn’t entirely healed, but I felt 98% recovered, the headache was gone, there was just a little bit of “something” at the back of my head, and I wanted to test the waters. Any sign of trouble and I would have returned immediately. As it was, I was fine. The doctor had insisted I wouldn’t run as far as 10k, so I figured 5 miles would be perfectly acceptable. I tried to run in a measured way, but after gathering dust for 4 days the legs refused to be reined in, as I knew they would. They say you don’t lose any fitness over 4 days. Well, let them say that, but I definitely started to breathe hard after 3 miles, and was quite happy to be home again after less than 40 minutes. It was enough to blow away the cobwebs.

Saturday turned out to be a really nice and warm day (spring in February???), and I spent several hours working in the garden. After that my lower back really hurt, and to top it all off, I was totally exhausted in the evening and fell asleep at 10 pm. I slept for nearly 11 hours.

I want to jump straight back into my normal training week, and Sunday is the day of my fast run, so once I managed to peel myself out of bed it was time to put on the fast shoes and start working hard. The legs didn’t feel very responsive though. I don’t know if it was the enforced pause, yesterday’s too-fast run, the hours in the garden or all of those things together, but I didn’t feel too good initially. But when I passed the first mile in about 7:11, I thought I might have a good workout after all. Initially I struggled to get the heart rate high enough into the tempo run zone, it continued to hover around the 162 mark. I tried pushing the effort on a few occasions, but fell back into the slower pace each time. Apart from one hill, the road is reasonably flat until about 3.75 miles, then there’s a climb until the 4.5 mile point, where I would turn around. I pushed it a bit too hard up that incline, the heart rate shot up all the way to 180 and my breathing had long gone haywire, but I recovered on the way down again, and after that it seemed to go better. I was quite pleased with the second part of the run. The first leg had taken me 30:27, the return was a little bit faster at 30:10, which gave me a total of 1:00:37. I’d have taken that before the workout started.

Nana and Gaga are here for a short visit from Dublin, and I used the trip to Killarney to collect them to go into the Nike shop to get a new pair of runners. I know Mike didn’t approve when I bought my previous pair of Nike 360s a few months ago, but I was really happy with them and resolved to buy a new pair to replace them. My preferred shoes are Asics Nimbus, but I like alternating shoes for each run, and my legs seem to respond best to alternating two different kinds of shoes. Wearing Nike one day and Asics the next seems to work perfectly well. As it turns out, they had a special offer, if you buy two (already heavily reduced) pairs you get the second one at half price, and I couldn’t resist. Even Niamh grudgingly admitted that it made sense, though she despairs at the fact that I've now got 6 pairs of runners again (2 for training, 1 for racing and tempo runs, 1 for football and now 2 new ones), only weeks after chucking out a whole lot of them. But hey, 140 Euros for 2 new pairs, that’s less than the rrp for one pair of 360s alone.

I’m playing with the idea of putting my present pair of Nimbus at the back of the cupboard and saving them for the ultra in April. They’ve got 160 miles on them and feel just about perfect now. If I preserve them for a few weeks and then use them for 2 or 3 long runs before the race, I should have the perfect pair of shoes for the race. Hmm, I might do just that.

3 Feb: 5 miles, 37:32, 7:30 pace, avg. HR 156
4 Feb: 9 miles, 1:00:37, 6:44 pace, avg. HR 165

Weekly mileage: 25 (ah well)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Catching Up

In the name of self-defence, I guess I should point out two things: Firstly, indoor soccer is generally played on wooded floors. It’s not the same kind of floor you may have in your living room; instead it’s softer and slightly bouncy to protect people who choose to go into silly tackles and end up landing head first. Secondly, Niamh doesn’t “have to put up” with my running. As evidence, your Honour, I wish to submit the following transcript of a discussion we had just yesterday:

N: When are you running again?
T: Not yet, maybe on Saturday if I feel better
N: You should go running again. You’re a much happier person on your running days.
T: You notice a difference?
N: Yes, and you were always cranky on Saturdays last year
T: You mean that last year, when I ran 6 days a week, the fact that I deliberately left Saturday free to be able to spend the whole day with the family, backfired?
N: It was nice idea, but yeah, it backfired.
N: Mind, I’m glad you do your long runs at 5 am in the morning. That's nice of you.

There you have it. I didn’t invent any of that. Not only does she not have to suffer for my running, she actively asked me to go and run as soon as I can.

And now it’s confession time. Big time. Something happened back in September, and I never told anyone about it, but it’s been at the back of my mind ever since. I guess I’d better come clean, and now is the perfect opportunity. It was a post in Eric’s blog a few days ago about a runner suffering from tachycardia that reminded me about it again.

Back in September, I ran the Blarney Half Marathon. We made a family day out of it, but that’s a different story altogether. I made one tiny reference in my race report to the incident in question when I said “I didn’t do much of a warm-up, less than I had intended”. Well, there was a reason for that.

About 20 minutes before the race start I started jogging lightly in a field beside the race HQ. After 5 minutes of that I suddenly felt dizzy, my vision blurred, I saw black spots in front of my eyes and nearly fainted. I had to lie down there and then, just to avoid collapsing in a heap. I put my legs up to help the circulation. I already wore my HRM and had a look; it read over 200, and after a minute or two the display stopped. I felt my pulse and it was extremely fast but also irregular, like dub, dub, <pause> dub, dub, dub <even longer pause>, dub, dub, … you get the picture. This went on for, I guess, 5 minutes, and then I slowly started to feel better. Eventually I managed to get up again and since I thought that I couldn’t possibly run a race after that, I went towards the HQ to look for some medical help. I couldn’t see an ambulance, and was about to go inside to ask for a doctor when a loudspeaker came on, “all runners please go to the start line”. I don’t know why I felt compelled to follow that order, but I did. I kept thinking “I can’t possibly run, I’ll faint before the half-mile mark.” However, as I took my place in the field and waited for the five or ten minutes until the gun sounded, I felt ok. So, when the start came and everyone started moving, I moved along with them. Within 2 minutes I had completely forgotten about the problem, and 95 minutes later I had completed the up to then best race of my life.

I haven’t encountered anything like that since. It was really scary, especially when the heart stopped for a beat or two. I definitely felt it was the end of my running, and was afraid of having some defect in my cardiac system. But, I have been fine ever since, and my running has come on in leaps and bounds since then. I certainly don’t intend to give up running, and while I would like to find out what exactly had happened, I’m convinced that it was not a serious or even debilitating issue.

Having gotten that off my chest, let's come back to the present. I’m still off the wagon. The head is improving, instead of a splitting headache I’ve now got a manageable headache, and I might try a run tomorrow, but I will have to wait and see. I’m definitely itching to get back out on the road, but if I feel pain, or if I think that I’m not ready to resume running, I’ll wait longer. My plans for Connemara haven’t changed, in fact we’ve booked a room there for the whole family for the weekend in question. It’s only 8 weeks. Good God, it’s only 8 weeks!!!

1 Feb: 0 miles
2 Feb: 0 miles