Saturday, March 31, 2007

Just a Short Note

I've only got a few minutes, here from an Intenet cafe. We drove up to Clifden on Friday, and got to our accomodation at 9pm. I slept like a log, woke up and thought "wow, what a great night of sleep". Then I checked my watch, and it was only 3:27am! It took me nearly an hour to fall back asleep, but I managed to sleep until 7:30. I hope I'll be able to sleep tonight, cause I'm already a bag of nerves.

Thanks for all the well-wishes, I'll try and not let you down. I don't know how long it will take to find a computer after the race; you might have to wait until Monday night.

The weather is gorgeous; I don't know if I should wear a t-shirt or a singlet, and my brain is unable to come to a rational conclusion.

Signing out, shaking like a leaf in anticipation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


With four days to go, it's time for another summary post of my training. This will make it easy to get a quick overview of each training cycle in times to come.

Training: 20 weeks
Miles (with a few yet to come): 1286
# runs of 20 miles or more: 10
Highest weekly mileage: 86.5
# of weeks over 80 miles: 7
# of PRs: 2 (5k and 10k)
injuries: one, my hip problem

All in all I'm very pleased with that training cycle. I was pleasantly surprised about the number of 20-milers, I expected that number to be around 7 or so. The best weeks were the ones with the back-to-back 20-mile runs, and it's those double headers that give me the most reason for optimism. I think I will have a good race.

My hip feels good in the morning, and hurts more the longer the day goes on. I think sitting in an office chair for hours is the worst thing to do. As long as I manage to survive the drive to Connemara without problems, I will be ok.

I did some running in the last few days, namely 5 very easy miles on Monday, and 8 miles today, with a big fat goose egg in the middle. Monday's run was as slow as I could run without feeling uncomfortable. I don't think running as slowly as that would be a good idea, even for the beginning of the ultra. I felt cumbersome, and not really into it. I did produce my lowest heart rate for a training run ever, though. Tuesday produced my first voluntary zero, the only other days I had to take off were at the end of January, after I nearly cracked my skull open playing indoor soccer. And today was a dress rehearsal for the race. I wore the shoes, socks and top that will probably form my wardrobe on Sunday (depending on the Connemara weather), and tried to tune into the pace that felt easy enough to be sustainable, but faster than Monday’s clumsy run. I was a bit dismayed to find it raining, especially after yesterday had been such a gorgeous day, but I guess that’s preparation for Connemara as well – you can never rule out rain in the west of Ireland. After a first mile at around 8:40 and a second one at 8:20 I settled into about 8:00 pace, and felt thoroughly comfortable. If it’s the correct pace for Sunday, I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out one way or another. The return leg was against a fairly strong headwind, which is the most likely cause for the fact that the return leg took longer than the outgoing one, something that’s very unusual for me. I did manage to keep it easy until the end though, headwind or not.

I’m as ready as I will ever be. I can’t wait. Bring it on! My race number is 39061 (the 39 is for the ultra distance, they don't have 40000 runners there), but that information won't help you. Tracking? You've gotta be joking, This is a low-tech race for down-to-earth runners.

26 Mar: 5 miles, 44:09. 8:49 pace, HR 133 (felt too slow)
27 Mar: 0
29 Mar: 8 miles, 1:05:11, 8:08 pace, HR 139 (felt just right)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Far Too Long, But Hey

So what is your race day plan? How fast do you go out for a 39.3 mile race? 7:30's could be deadly later on...

Canada Mike made a very good point in his last comment. For the last week I have been running mostly at “reasonably easy” effort, and felt great about the way my times just kept dropping and dropping. But 39.3 miles is an awfully long distance, and to set off at that pace, even if it feels easy enough, would have serious repercussions during the second half of the race. It will be hard enough to keep running for such a long time even without a suicidal pacing strategy.

The race itself is on Sunday, 1 April, exactly 7 days from now. Time has flown, and I get butterflies in my stomach whenever I remember what I’m about to do. I sometimes regret that I chose to run an ultra rather than a marathon. I feel in great form, and suspect I would be able to break 3:10, but of course there is a difference between suspecting it and actually doing it. I don’t know what that ultra will do to my fitness. I would like to run a strong half marathon 5 weeks later, but that would require sufficient recovery.

This is the first time ever that I can feel the effects of a taper on my body. Previous attempts just left me frustrated at the low mileage, and I never felt more rested or stronger. This time it’s different. I feel better and faster on a daily basis, and rather than being frustrated I’m very much looking forward to the race. I guess reducing the mileage from 85 to 50 miles has more of a tapering effect than going from 50 to 30.

Friday was my last run of double figures, an easy 10 miler in the early morning sun, at a pace that would have been a tempo run half a year ago. As always I got faster during the second half, the first 5 miles went by in 38:01 (7:36 pace), the back section passed in 36:26 (7:17 pace), without any noticeable increase of effort. I think I’m just a slow starter, which is something I experience in every race I’ve run.

If you’re familiar with Pfitzinger’s schedules then you know that he always prescribes 3x1600 10 days before a marathon. I missed that opportunity, but decided to do 2x1600 on Saturday, 8 days before the ultra. It hopefully put some zip into my legs, leaving sufficient time to recover fully before Sunday. Unlike on previous mile repeats I did allow myself to go anaerobic, and was rewarded with a lightning fast mile of 6:05. Look mummy, I’m flying! It was slightly downhill, but when I ran the second, uphill, mile in 6:08 I was even more satisfied. I was glad that I didn’t have to do of for a third time though. The whole workout was over in less than 39 minutes, short but sweet.

After nursing my hip injury for the last few weeks I finally relented and took some anti-inflammatory tablets on Friday night. This was very much a last resort. I’m a great believer in the body’s natural healing process, and had hoped time, icing and gentle stretching would get the better of it. It never got better than 95%, and I finally lost my patience. To both my disgust and relief the hip felt better than at any time since the injury flared up within a few hours of taking the tables. Disgust because it was the chemicals that made me feel better, relief because I could finally sense an improvement.

It was really foggy out there this morning, so much so that I contemplated bringing my headlamp for safety. But the fog was lifting as the morning wore on and I headed out without. I even brought my shades because I correctly anticipated a very sunny day on the way home. Again, it felt reasonably easy.

But for the last week I have to get one thing into my thick skull, namely to take it really easy. I have done far too much good work over the last few months to damage my chances now with a few days to go. I haven’t quite decided on my mileage for the coming days, but I’ll put in some zeros towards the end of the week. And I’ll slow down. I will.

23 Mar: 10 miles, 1:14:27, 7:26 pace, avg. HR 150
24 Mar: 5.2 miles, 38:30, 7:24 pace, 2 “mile” repeats 6:05, 6:08
25 Mar: 8 miles, 59:19, 7:24 pace

Weekly mileage: 50.3 miles

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dog Days

What can I say that I haven’t said before? I’m in the middle of my taper, the serious training is over and done, and despite itching to run more I’m enjoying myself more than ever. The hip still hurts, and I guess I’ll have to run through it on race day, but I’m confident that I’ll be able to handle it. Once the fatigue gets worse than the pain, I’ll stop noticing it.

Wednesday’s run was a bit of a surprise. I’ve noticed that my pace has continued dropping recently, but I ran at an easy effort, as seen by the heart rate, and still ended up with 7:24 pace. Wow. I’ve said that before every marathon I’ve ever run, but I’m in better shape than ever before. It’s great to see that I’m still improving from training cycle to training cycle, and it keeps me very motivated. I don’t know how long that will hold true, but it’s great as long as it lasts.

Today’s workout would have been even less remarkable had I not been attacked by the same bloody dogs again. In fact I had an encounter with them on Monday, but didn’t mention it (it may have been responsible for the raised heart rate). I ran past the same house again, and 4 of them came out looking very aggressive. Shouting “no” towards them stopped them from actually trying to bite, but one came back again and again. I finally picked up a stone and hurled it at the pest. It jumped aside and the projectile missed, unfortunately, but it finally got the message and stopped attacking me. I’m so pissed off about it, and the fact that the f***ing useless Garda Síochána (= police in Ireland, before you ask) refuse to do anything about it. Apparently some child has to bitten first before they get off their arses.

Anyway, I came home unscathed, if a bit grumpy. I refuse to change my running route just because of them, and I guess we’ll have some more encounters in the future.

People in the office keep coming by my desk asking if I’m ready for the race (they know about it because I’ve been collecting for charity). I’d better not drop out, I won’t be able to show my face at work if I do.

Did I ever tell you that I have crossed toes? My third toe on my right foot is crooked, and curls underneath my second toe. It’s usually not a problem, but I have to keep the toenail short at all times. The other day I woke in the morning to find that the nail had been digging in the other toe overnight, and it was bleeding. It was rather uncomfortable, but once I started running I hardly felt anything at all. I guess it’s one of the little things you just have to deal with. I think it’s inherited, because Shea has exactly the same issue on the same foot.

I’m rambling because I can’t think of anything else to write. I’d better stop.

21 Mar: 8 miles, 59:16, 7:24 pace, HR 146
22 Mar: 6 miles, 47:52, 7:58 pace, HR 145

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Winter's Last Stand

Monday was a bank holiday in Ireland (bank holiday = public holiday), but, as Niamh said, they shouldn’t have bank holidays in March; they’re a waste of a free day. The weather was atrocious; the storm that had plagued us on Saturday and Sunday kept going, perversely interspersed with periods of bright sunshine. I was resigned to a big goose egg, when the weather brightened and I decided on the spot to head out after all; within 5 minutes I was out on the road. I intended just 5 miles, but it was so nice and sunny that I went on the 6-mile loop instead. Less than 4 miles later the situation had changed dramatically, as I was engulfed in a massive hail shower, by far the worst I’ve had to endure. I got a thorough beaning, but when I came to one particular crossroad decided to add 2 miles nevertheless. I figured that the hail would have abated by the time I reached home anyway, and that I might as well add a few miles after that, because they were bound to be in better conditions. I was correct, when the hail finally stopped it turned sunny again, if rather windy. All in all I managed 8 miles, which wasn’t bad considering all Mother Nature had thrown my way. A work colleague’s car passed me towards the end of the worst weather, and I greeted him with a big smile. God knows what he must have been thinking.

It has gotten rather cold again, temperatures this morning were around 0C/32F, and I dug out the tights form the back of my cupboard. I had hoped they would stay there until next winter, but I’d rather dig them out again than facing the cold in unsuitable attire. Today was the shorted run in a while, just 5 miles. I guess I am really tapering now. I kept the pace at an easy effort but still managed 8:00 pace. I was very surprised to see my heart rate so low at the end of the run, I don’t expect 8:00 pace to be recovery pace. Not that I’m complaining, but that’s the lowest heart rate I managed in the whole training cycle, even though it was not the slowest run by any means. I can only assume that the lack of a long run for more than one week means I’m already better rested than at any time during the previous months. That’s not down to more sleep though – on the 3 days of the long weekend, Shea woke us at 5:30 every single morning, and it took longer and longer to persuade him to go back to bed (and he invariably was back within 20 minutes each time).

Nothing else to report, apart from the fact that I’m definitely in Niamh’s good book for the time being. I think the Mother’s Day treats went down well.

19 Mar: 8 miles, 1:03:07, 7:47 pace, avg. HR 152
20 Mar: 5 miles, 40:00, 8:00 pace, avg. HR 140

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Long Weekend

I did some more soul searching Thursday evening regarding the length of Friday’s run. I studied some more marathon training plans on the web like Hal Higdon’s, and noticed that they don’t run more than 12 miles two weeks before race day, even on the advanced schedule. I therefore settled on running 12.5 miles, which is the loop to the southern tip of Caragh Lake and back via the Kerry Way. Before winter I had planned to do most of my hill training on that trail, but the weather put me off, running through ankle deep puddles, mud and very slippery stones didn’t exactly appeal on pitch dark mornings at 5am in December or January. The last three or fours day had been mainly dry and I reckoned the trail should be ok. I was right, and it proved to be a fantastic run. The big climb starts shortly after the 5-mile point, and goes up by about 250 meters (800 feet) over the next 3 miles. The climb was less challenging that expected, and the view there is unbeatable. I might bring a camera later in the year, when the lightning conditions are more favourable. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and was almost disappointed when I rejoined the road on my way home.

Afterwards I checked Pfitzinger’s plan, and he recommends 17 miles for the long run 2 weeks before the race. Ah well. It won’t make a noticeable difference come race day, and I enjoyed myself so much that I have absolutely no regrets. Unfortunately, my hip started hurting again in the hours after the run. It had never gone back to feeling 100% right, but it was just some niggle that I could live with. Now I’m a bit worried, but hopefully stretching and icing will get the better of it again.

I tried to take it easy on Saturday; I imagined myself on the beginning of the ultra, and tired to get into a nice steady rhythm. The plan fell apart when I thought back to Sunday’s 10k race, and before I knew it I was running 30 seconds per mile faster than intended. Once again I enjoyed running so much that I decided to keep going like that. But I know full well that if I set off at that pace in Connemara, I will be toast by the halfway point.

I had left quite early on Saturday, around 8am, because a storm had been predicted, and I wanted to get my run done before it arrived. I timed it very well, less than an hour later the wind and rain started and made it a rather miserable St. Patrick’s Day. We gave the parade a miss, and went to an indoor children’s party later that afternoon instead. The kids enjoyed it, but of course it was all rather chaotic, and I was relieved when we finally left.

Today is Mother’s Day in Ireland, and I started to day cooking breakfast in bed for my beloved, as well as feeding the offspring, all the while starving myself because I intended to go running later. Niamh certainly looked like she enjoyed both the breakfast as well as the cards we made. Between the storm, the pain in my hip and not wanting to leave Niamh to look after our unruly brood I was about to give up hope for a run when she told me to go. She must have seen the look in my eyes. The storm had abated somewhat, and off I went towards Ard-na-Sidhe for a set of mile repeats. I much prefer continuous running, but in gale force winds the only reasonable way to run fast is the one sheltered part of that road, and since it’s only about one mile long I have to settle for repeats. I’m almost embarrassed to write down the numbers. The first one went ok, for the second one I felt very slow and kept pushing and pushing only to end it much faster than intended. That one knocked the stuffing out of me, and I was just hanging on for the last 2, trying to avoid embarrassing time. The windy conditions didn’t help, and the actual times were 6:33, 6:19, 6:36 and 6:44. The odd ones are on a net downhill but against the wind, the even ones are uphill but wind-assisted. I can never quite figure out which ones should be faster, I guess it depends on the wind, but since I only do mile repeats on very windy days, it tends to be rather strong in places. Also, if I want to run good mile repeats, I shouldn’t run 7:30 the day before. Doh!

I’d better go, Mother’s Day isn’t over yet, and I’ve got some more treats in store. Have a Good One!

16 Mar: 12.5 miles, 1:41:06, 8:05 pace, HR 145
17 Mar: 7 miles, 53:00, 7:34 pace, HR 152
18 Mar: 7.5 miles, 55:11, 7:21 pace, HR 152, 4 miles repeats 6:33, 6:19, 6:36, 6:44

Weekly mileage: 75 miles

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Still Dreaming of Sunday

Allow me to indulge one more time into the afterglow of Sunday’s race. I know I’m straining your patience, but if you break 40 minutes at your first attempt, it’s something you will want to keep thinking about.

The main thing about the race was how easy it felt. Cindy hit the nail on the head with her comment that I seemed to enjoy myself. I most certainly did. Afterwards I did question myself, maybe I should have run harder; if you’re not suffering during a 10k, isn’t that a sign that you’re not working hard enough? I did think about that quite a bit, and came to the conclusion that no, I really don’t think I could have run any faster. I have read that from quite a few people, their best races always felt easy. Any more pushing and I would not have been as relaxed, my form would have suffered and I would most likely have slowed down rather than accelerated. If anything, the race was too short for me. I still felt great at the end and could have kept going like that for longer. I like to think that a 10 miler would have resulted in an even better time. But I’ll never know for certain, and I’m sure as hell very happy with that race.

Wednesday saw me back on the road for a fast attempt. As soon as I started I knew that this would not be a proper tempo run, the legs were stiff and tired, and I settled on a “strong effort”. The race together with Monday’s 22-miler formed a double header, and it takes a bit more than 2 days to recover. I was still happy with the run. The first mile was slower than 8:00 pace, but by the time I came back home I had worked it down to 7:00 pace. It’s not long ago that I would have been ecstatic to hit that pace with fresh legs, never mind tired ones.

Initially I decided to run the devil’s elbow loop for today, but my hip is still not 100% right and I don’t want to aggravate it. Besides, I calculated what my mileage would be for this week, and due to Monday’s long run it will end up rather high, considering that I’m supposed to be tapering. I therefore decided to give myself 30 extra minutes of sleep (which didn’t exactly work out, thanks to Shea waking early), and just ran 7 easy miles on the flat(-ish) part of that loop. I did spot another runner ahead of me once, which is an extremely rare occurrence. Unfortunately I was past him within 30 seconds, and didn’t see him again after that, but a brief encounter is better than none at all. I still live in hope that someday someone around here will join me on my training.

I know that I already did a long run on Monday, but I’m planning to do one loop around Caragh Lake tomorrow, because Friday is my usual long run day, and Monday was just a delayed effort from last week. I originally intended to do the 17-mile loop, but after studying other people’s tapers I decided to cut it to the shorter 15.5 miles course instead. After that I will take tapering more seriously. Next week should see the mileage between 45 and 50 miles, and the week after that below 30 – not counting the race, obviously.

45 miles. One year ago that would have been an average week. Now I don’t know how I will survive on so little running.

14 Mar: 8 miles, 58:36, 7:19 pace, avg. HR 152
15 Mar: 7 miles, 57:11, 8:10 pace, avg. HR 144

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Long and Windind

I managed to find a spreadsheet with the results from Sunday’s race (Google Docs are cool, btw). I came 43rd out of 200 runners, which isn’t particularly remarkable. What surprised me most was the fact that the fastest woman was over 2 minutes slower than me. I think that’s more a sign of the lack of class in the women’s field rather than my blistering pace.

A few weeks ago I was wondering if I should run that race, as it’s only 3 weeks out from my ultra. Olga advised me to run, and do a long run the day after. I’m in no position to argue with her experience, so I followed her advice to the letter. I wasn’t sure how far a long run was supposed to be – for her, it’s probably in the range of 30 miles, but that’s out of my league. I settled for 22. It meant getting up at 4:25 in the morning, after about 5 hours of sleep, and since the race had started in the afternoon it also meant much less recovery time than I’m accustomed to between runs. No wonder I was tired, but I didn’t notice any soreness from the race and felt in good enough shape to last the distance. One thought did cross my mind though, namely that I was almost definitely the only runner of yesterday’s race that was mad enough to be running again, before even 5am in the morning.

I started with what I thought was about 8:40 pace, but when I checked the time after 3 miles I realised I had been going at 9:00 pace instead. Maybe the race had take more out of me than I thought, but I wasn’t worried about my run. I did worry about being late for work later on, but that’s a different matter. After about an hour my MP3 player went silent – the battery had died. I had meant to change it, but forgot. For the rest of the run I had only the sound of chirping birds to accompany me, which was not a bad option either. The sky had been very clear to start with, with half a moon and plenty of stars, but when I looked up around 6 miles into the run all I could see was black. Uh-oh. Indeed, 5 minutes later the heavens opened and I got a good trenching of freezing cold water (did I mention that it was quite windy). At least it stopped after a few minutes, and when the road entered Ahane woodland I got some shelter from the wind. The next 10 miles seemed to fly by. I think I was still half asleep and didn’t really register anything, just kept going on autopilot. Conscious thoughts didn’t return until the end of the lake loop, 17 miles into the run. Now it was time for an experiment. I had left out a bottle half filled with a mixture of slim-fast powder and soya milk. It’s my usual recovery drink after a long run, and I’m toying with the idea of planting a bottle of that some way along the ultra. This was a test if my stomach would take it. It didn’t taste very nice (the strawberry powder taste is just plain awful – I’ll pass on that in future), and my stomach felt a little bit funny for the next few miles, but on the other hand I kept running for 5 more miles and never felt fatigued. Of course I don’t know for sure if that drink made a difference, but my feeling is that I would have been just fine without it. I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I think I’ll do without on race day.

Anyway, I was very pleased with the way I felt after 22 miles, just half a day after a (for me) storming fast 10k race. Fatigue was never an issue, the legs felt fine, and the hills didn’t bother me, though they were mostly in the first half of the run. My main thought as I entered our driveway again was “training’s over, now I’m tapering”. I hope I can go through that period without going nuts again.

The first run of said taper was today’s 11-miler. My legs were definitely sorer than the day before, but if it’s a delayed reaction from the race or a result of the long run I can’t tell for sure. There’s not much to tell, I started the first 2 miles at 9:00 pace again, did the next 3 at 8:00, and picked it up a bit more further on, but it was still all at easy effort. I started doing strides, mostly as a wake-up call to the stiff muscles. Usually they start feeling much more responsive by the time of the fourth or fifth sprint, but when they still felt as stiff after 7, I gave up and was content to jog home from there. I got lucky, 10 minutes after getting home the heavens opened to a torrential rain shower. Good timing.

12 Mar: 22 miles, 3:03:48, 8:21 pace, HR 142
13 Mar: 11 miles, 1:28:55, 8:05 pace, HR 143, including 7x100 strides

Sunday, March 11, 2007

It’s my Day

Even though it feels longer, my last race was less than 10 weeks ago, on New Year’s Day. On that day I managed to surprise myself by posting my first ever sub-20 5k, lowing my PR (itself only a few weeks old) by nearly one minute. It was a bit of a milestone, but of course to many runners the standard for being good is a sub-40 10k. I had never run a 10k before, and anyway, sub-40, while being there on the horizon, was still a long way away.

I have run a lot of miles in those 10 weeks, but nearly all of them at relatively slow pace, with hardly any speedwork. The training for the ultra had taken over, especially with those 20-20 double headers, which left no room for fast running. It was only in the last week that I added tempo runs to my training repertoire again. According to McMillan, a 19:52 5k translates to a 41:16 10k; accordingly, my target time for today was 41:00. I did dream of a sub-40, but since it was so much better that anything I’ve ever managed, I didn’t mention it to anyone, especially not on my blog.

It was a pretty miserable day, rainy and windy from the start, just as predicted by the weathermen. I left home at 11am – in fact it was the first time in ages when I didn’t get up early for my run, which was nice, truth to be told. The 65 miles drive to Adare was unremarkable, but once there I had a hard time to find the race HQ. I eventually parked the car and started walking. Adare isn’t very big, and I soon spotted a few runners and followed them to the registration building. (Note to the organisers: a sign would have been nice). After signing up, getting a t-shirt (as if I really needed yet another one) and getting changed I still had about 30 minutes to get warmed up. One look out of the door changed my mind, but the rain didn’t let up and with 20 minutes to go I started warming up. Is it still called warming up if it’s in the cold outside? The runners did gather around the starting line with a couple of minutes to spare, but there was a delay of about 10 minutes until we finally got going. The organiser did hold a speech while we huddled like penguins in the freezing rain, and eventually he relented and gave the signal to start.

For once I started very close to the starting line, but everyone around me set off at a furious pace. There were a few speed demons amongst us, but it wasn’t only them to take off like that, half the field seemed to stream past me. I did my best to ignore them and set my own pace. It’s the same in every race. I start slowly, and from about a third into the race I start picking off my victims. I expected this to happen again, but the fact is that I started overtaking after less than 2 minutes. A few of the runners were already breathing very heavily at that stage. What makes those people set off like that? Anyway, I felt comfortable, so much so that I did indeed question my pace. “It’s not hurting, shouldn't each mile in a 10k hurt?” However, I did pass the 1-mile marker in 6:27, which was reassuring. It was exactly the pace I had been planning. The next mile was into a fairly strong headwind, as well as mostly uphill, and I tried to draft as much as I could. It never lasted long, as soon as I settled right behind someone, the pace felt too slow, I went past, and the game started again with the next guy. Mile 2 went by in 6:31, considering the wind and the terrain I was happy with it. The next mile wasn’t as much into the wind, but even more uphill. I still picked up runner after runner, and then the biggest hill of all awaited. This was hard work, and the HR went up to around 185. It was at that stage that I noticed that the course seemed rather sparsely populated. There were three guys far ahead of me, and then so much of a gap in front of them that I couldn’t see anyone else. I guessed that I would spend most of the rest battling with those guys. We crested the hill shortly before the 3-mile mark, where a girl stood shouting encouragement “well done guys, the worst is behind you.” I had to laugh, we’re not even halfway and I expected worse things yet to come. Anyway, mile 3 went by in 6:28, which felt fast considering that hill. There was a bend in the road further on which I decided must be the half-way point, and I checked my watch.19:54. Hmm. Less than 20 minutes, I feel very strong, and the second half is bound to be downhill. Could it really be? I put those thoughts to the back of my mind and started hunting down my prey. By now I had closed the gap, one guy seemed to slow down, and by I went. I chased after the next one, and half a mile later I was ahead. By now one more runner from further ahead must have slowed down, and he fell victim before the 4 mile marker, which came in 6:23, the fastest mile yet. The last guy from that group turned out to be a much tougher opponent than the previous victims, and we spent the next mile battling for position. I surged to draw level, he responded to pull away again. On the next slight uphill I surged again, got right behind him, and once more he responded with a surge of his own. But I noticed he was turning his head to look behind, which I took as a sign of weakness. “He’s obviously worried about me. Let’s prove him right”. It was all the encouragement I needed, one strong surge and he was history. I have to admit he was very gracious in defeat. “Good man” he said as I went by. Honestly, there is no way I would have been as good a sport as that in his position. That battle had brought me to the 5 mile marker in 6:17 and I still felt great. One more guy appeared in front who had slowed down dramatically, and from there on I seemed to be on my own. We were now back in Adare, and with about half a mile to go I gave it all I got. Amazingly, mile 6 passed in 6:12, which is definitely the fastest mile I have ever run in my life. For the last bit I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to run on the road or the pavement. The pavement was slippery and I opted for the road. A car hooted at me. Was that supposed to be encouragement, or was he pissed off with me for being on the road? If so, then I didn’t give a damn. I was sprinting all out and finished the last .2 miles in 1:07 to finish in 39:27. I was ecstatic. I did calm down in time to congratulate my rival from the fifth mile, who was pleased with his time as well “not bad for a 49-year old”. But to me, it’s still my day.

I cool down, then go to the car to get changed. The second I close the boot (trunk to Americans) I go “sh*t, I just locked in my car keys!!!!” In desperation I go through my bag – there they are. Thank goodness for that! Being stranded in the pouring rain 65 miles from home would have put a dampener on my time. But it’s my day.

I go back to the racing HQ for some very welcome tea, biscuits and sandwiches, and then they start giving out prizes to runners randomly drawn from the list. And would you believe it, my name comes up, though I do get some ripping for my surname. I get a nice looking scarf for Niamh. It really is my day.

There’s a lesson in that race report: if you’re ahead, never look back. The encouragement I got from that was priceless.

Weekly mileage: 73.3 miles

11 Mar: 10 miles, including the Adare 10k in 39:27, 6:21 pace, avg. HR 178

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Easy Does It

I intended to taper for three weeks, but if I look at my training schedule, it turned out to be more like three-and-a-half weeks. Because of tomorrow’s race I’ve been taking it easy since Wednesday’s long run, and apart from my last long run, coming this Monday, there won’t be any more particularly strenuous workouts in my way.

I pondered quite some time about the mileage for Friday. Originally I intended 15 miles, but then decided there was not much to gain at this late stage, and 15 miles 2 days before a 10k race could leave me with heavy legs; I settled on a relaxing 11 miles run. This had the added benefit of an extra half hour of sleep; to be honest, I needed that more than 4 additional miles. I went ahead with that, but I’m no longer sure what easy pace is for me; I run strictly by feel, and I can’t quite get my head around the fact that 8:00 pace feels so easy. Four months ago I was ecstatic to run a marathon just a whisker faster than that; now it feels a lot slower than marathon pace. But, with an eye on Sunday, I kept my legs in check, the only fast section being a set of 5x100 strides on the way home. Despite feeling so slow, the home stretch took only 43:10 (7:50 pace).

Pretty much the same was in store today, except that I ran a bit shorter as well as a bit slower. It was quite windy, but luckily the rain was reduced to a drizzle, and it wasn’t bad. I stopped wearing tights a few days ago; I should have done that at least 2 weeks earlier, because it’s been warm enough for shorts for quite some time. I just didn’t have the courage to try running with bare legs after that awful winter.

I guess running at such a relaxed pace will be good training for the ultra. I haven’t really got a clue what my ultra pace should be like, but naturally it’s slower than marathon pace. One part of me thinks starting the ultra at the same pace I’ve been running over the last 2 days should be just about right. You’re supposed to feel too slow for the first 10 miles at least. The other part thinks 8:10 pace would be much too fast. If I start at 8:10 pace, what would my average pace for the race be (assuming I won’t run into any major troubles)? 8:30? That would leave me with a 5:34 time, which would have been good enough for 11th place last year, and it just sounds too ambitious. I guess I’ll find out on race day.

Anyway, tomorrow is a different race. It looks like I will be able to test my hardiness in the rain. I’ll be sure to let you know.

9 Mar: 11 miles, 1:28:47, 8:04 pace, avg. HR 143, including 5x100 strides
10 Mar: 8 miles, 1:05:53, 8:14 pace, avg. HR 145

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Looking Forward

For the last few months I have focused solely on the ultra, but I guess at some stage I have to look past that. Therefore I decided to sign up for another race, the Bantry Half marathon. I don’t know if I will be able to make it, because it’s only 5 weeks after the ultra, and somehow I can’t imagine being able to run again soon after pounding the roads of Connemara for several hours. But since the entry will close on 31 March I had to decide to sign up now, before I knew how I would feel after the ultra. If I feel like running on stumps (or if the mere thought of running will send me into a tailspin), I’ll forgo the race.

I finished my double headers last week, and I’ll run the last long run on Monday, so I had to decide how far I would run for this week’s long run, and when. I settled on 17 miles, mainly because that’s the length of one loop around Caragh Lake plus the Devil’s Elbow, and ran in on Wednesday to ensure sufficient recovery before Sunday’s 10k. After Tuesday’s tempo run the legs were as dead as expected, and the first mile saw me crawling at 9:10 pace. I did pick it up slightly, and went through the imaginary 3-mile marker in 26 minutes, 8:40 pace average. At that point the legs really wanted to speed up, but I told them to relax and that pace was not an issue today. They grumbled a bit, so I promised them to run the last 3 (flat) miles at a strong effort if they behaved through the series of hills that make up the Caragh Lake loop from miles 5 to 14. As a matter of fact the run went better and better with each passing mile, and when I came down the last hill with 3 miles to go I moved the effort up several notches, as promised. I felt fantastic, and not even the barking dogs could bother me this time. I don’t know how I did it, but I ran those miles in 21:15 (7:05 pace), which was faster than the tempo run the day before. I guess the 14 miles had served as a useful warm-up. Whenever I manage a run like that I question the accuracy of my mileage, but the answer is always the same, namely that it should be reasonably accurate. Even if it’s out, I still know that I’m improving, because I can still compare that time to previous times over the same course.

My achilles tendon started hurting again on Tuesday, which I presume was caused by the two tempo efforts in three days. As a result I decided to take it easy today and run very relaxed. I had planned two miles in a sprint/float fashion, but decided to cut that in half. I ran 4.5 miles at easy pace, then did the fast mile over the same course I had done the mile repeats on Sunday. I bet these workouts are easier on a track. For one thing, the road isn’t entirely flat, and sprinting uphill feels like someone is sucking the strength out of your legs with a straw. Secondly, how was I supposed to know when to stop sprinting and when to restart again? I did them purely by feel, and I guess the sprints were longer than 100 meters and the floats were shorter than the sprints, and the whole mile took 6:32. Interesting, that’s faster than the mile repeats on Sunday, though I have to point out that Sunday’s effort was strictly aerobic. I felt pretty good after that and was tempted to run the return mile in the same way but thought of my achilles and just jogged home.

I’ll take it seriously easy tomorrow and on Saturday, and I’m very much looking forward to Sunday. I have run a lot of miles since my last race, and I can’t wait to update my sidebar again.

7 Mar: 17 miles, 2:20:12, 8:14 pace, avg. HR 141, 3 final miles at 7:05
8 Mar: 8 miles, 1:06:12, 8:16 pace, avg. HR 141, 1 “mile” sprint/float in 6:32

P.S.: Note the heart rate. It’s still dropping!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


I experienced what was basically a flat tyre the other day; but not on my car, no, on my shoe. Those Nike 360s are cushioned on air, and one of the side panels blew, leaving me with a lopsided gait. Luckily it didn’t happen 5 miles away from home, or it would have been an uncomfortable ride back home. The shoe in question had lasted 498 miles, which is a decent mileage (in fact the second highest miles I ever accumulated on a pair), which is why it didn’t put me off trying the same pair of runners again. In fact, I already had an identical replacement in my shoe cabinet, because of a buy-one-get-second-half-price offer a few weeks ago. If the new pair holds as long as their predecessors, I’ll be happy enough.

Monday was all about recovery, not just from Sunday’s mile repeats but also from the double headers that still left a residue of fatigue in my legs. I ran at a very easy effort, and rather enjoyed myself. Later at work I chatted to a colleague who had run the 10-mile race in Ballycotton on Sunday (the same race that rejected my application), and who was slightly taken aback when he realised that his time for a 10 mile race was longer than mine for an easy 11 mile training run. I don’t know what he expected – he had done basically no training apart from playing football twice a week, plus two or three runs at about 6 miles several weeks ago. I wasn’t trying to show off, but of course I’m running faster than him. That’s the effect of training like a lunatic.

The weather has been abysmal over the last few days with torrential downpours basically all day – apart from the hour or so each day when I was out running, apparently. I can’t believe my luck. I woke Monday morning at about 3 o’clock to hear the storm ravaging outside and thought “if it stays like this I’ll bin the workout”. By 6 o’clock it was still very windy, but the rain had stopped, and didn’t restart until I had completed 10 out of 11 miles. Today was similar; the storm blew all night, but calmed down just in time for my run, only to pick up again for the last 5 minutes of the workout. I had planned a continuous tempo run, in contrast to Sunday’s mile repeats, and while the wind was strong enough to make it a bit tougher than necessary, the conditions were definitely acceptable. I managed an average pace of 7:15, which I was reasonably pleased about. As always the second half was about a minute faster than the first one, which meant that I ran the second 4 miles closer to 7:00 pace, though I didn’t quite reach it. I’m planning one more pace workout this week, probably a mile or two of 100on/100off or similar, just to get the legs moving a bit quicker for a bit without wearing myself out.

Shea, at the ripe old age of 5, has reached the existentialist phase of philosophy. How do you answer those questions: “If the world started with a Big Bang, who was there to hear it” or “Did God make the universe, or did the universe make God?” Maybe I should have shown more interest in philosophy when I had the chance.

5 Mar: 11 miles, 1:33:20, 8:29 pace, HR 141
6 Mar: 8.3 miles, 1:00:12, 7:15 pace, HR 155

Sunday, March 04, 2007


After spending the last few weeks doing those insanely long double headers, I tried to inject a little bit of pace into my running. I don’t have time for an anaerobic phase, and I wasn’t planning on doing one anyway – I don’t see the point of anaerobic training for an ultra. But I do have an eye on the 10k next week. For some strange reason I’ve never run a 10k race before, so I guess it’s going to be a PR no matter what. On the other hand I don’t want an embarrassingly slow time on my sidebar, so I’d better get into gear.

Saturday was all about taking it easy after the combined 40 miles from the two preceding workouts. At least that was the plan, but not for the first time I found the legs moving faster than the head intended. I clearly remember the times when I had to go all out to run a workout at sub-8:00 pace, after all it’s less than 2 years ago. I still can’t quite get my head around the idea of running 11 easy miles and ending up with 7:45 pace. Sure, it wasn’t exactly recovery pace, but the effort was nice and relaxed, and I certainly didn’t strain myself. The only thing I added into the mix were 10 strides, and for the first 3 or 4 it felt as if I were running through a swamp. The legs weren’t tired as such, but they felt very stiff and slow moving. They did loosen up eventually, and maybe that’s what caused the pace increase on the way home. The weather was very nice, btw. For the first time in months I brought along a pair of shades, and I got good use out of them too. It didn’t stop me from being caught by one of those scattered rain showers towards the end of the run though.

I added a few hours working in the garden after lunch, and could gradually feel my left hamstring tighten up. A wiser person would have stopped the yard work then, I guess, but I kept going for a couple of hours. Luckily there was no sign of trouble the next morning. I don’t quite understand my muscles, but as long as they keep propelling me forward, I won’t complain.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I plunged back into some faster paces for Sunday’s workout. I couldn’t decide between mile repeats or a continuous tempo run, but the weather made up my mind for me. The forecast had predicted rain and gusts of up to 70 mph, and while it never got anywhere as bad as that it was windy enough to send me back to Ard-na-Sidhe, and that automatically meant mile-repeats, back and forwards on the road between the kids’ school and the posh hotel. I did the same workout 3 weeks ago, so I had something to compare this one to. Back then I got slower and slower with each repeat and today I was determined to avoid the same mistake. I wanted to stay away from getting anaerobic, which meant heart rates in the high 160s for the early repeats and low 170s for the later ones, though I never use the heart rate monitor to dictate the pace; it’s strictly a tool for measurement. I concentrated on staying relaxed for the first effort and came through in 6:34, which felt good. I tried the same effort on the second repeat but was rather dismayed to clock a time of 6:50. Doubts started to appear in my mind, but I got slightly reassured when the third repeat was faster again in 6:45. After that uneven start the rest of the workout fell into place with splits of 6:43, 6:40 and 6:34. I’ve yet to learn to run them more evenly, but I preferred getting faster for the later repeats rather than slower. The average time was 6:41, about 4 seconds quicker then 21 days ago. I guess I would have taken that.

I’d like to think that I can run faster than that next Sunday, but if I have to strain to reach that pace during mile repeats with recovery breaks in-between, how am I going to manage in a continuous effort? That race-day adrenaline better be good stuff.

3 Mar: 11 miles, 1:25:25, 7:45 pace, avg. HR 149, including 10x100 strides
4 Mar: 10 miles, 1:16:10, 7:37 pace, avg. HR 155, 6 “mile” repeats in 6:34, 6:50, 6:45, 6:43, 6:40, 6:34

Weekly mileage: 86.5 miles

Friday, March 02, 2007

Twenty – Twenty

I was more than a little apprehensive about this particular double-header. All of you who suggested caution were right, of course. I was already pretty fit, and overtraining is worse than undertraining. Not only did my hip bother me, I had a cold, which wasn’t just constricted to the head, as the frequent coughs can testify. However, this was my last double header, and I thought that if I could just push through one more time, I can rest after that. So I set my alarm for 4:40 in the morning, and when the time arrived I got up and got ready. The scenery was spectacular, a nearly full moon, plenty of stars, and hardly a cloud in sight. It was so bright that I was tempted to leave the headlamp behind, but brought it with me as a safety device. Due to my hip complaints I chose the less hilly route on the western side of Caragh Lake, though it isn’t exactly flat; I guess undulating would describe it pretty well. It doesn’t have any killer climbs, though. I felt pretty good for the first 5 miles, then turned around, and felt even better on the next segment. Once I reached our driveway I quickly went back into our house to get some water (I really should have left a bottle outside), and sneaked out again before anyone would wake. The hip had started to become noticeable, and I decided to add two loops to Ard-na-Sidhe rather than go back to the lake, to give me the option of bailing out after 15 miles. I started to tire on that third loop, but I still felt pretty good, and since the hip mostly behaved itself I never seriously contemplated bailing out. The last loop went amazingly well. I upped the pace with 3 miles to spare, and two miles later all I could think of was “wow, I’ve never felt so good at mile 19”. I guess all those double headers are paying off, I’m markedly stronger than I used to be. I felt really good, and the 5 miles splits for that run were 40:34, 39:36, 41:18 and 39:15. It was particularly pleasing to run the last section at the fastest pace.

Today’s repeat performance was slightly less glorious. The pain in my hip is actually getting better. Jeff had sent me an email earlier this week, telling me how he'd had a very similar problem when training for his ultra on the hills, and how it got better within a week of running on flatter roads. It looks like I’m following the same pattern. Maybe I shouldn't jinx it by shouting it out loud, but I think I managed to just about stay on the right side of the training/overtraining fence. It can be a balancing act, and I definitely started to wobble, but I think I got away with it. Anyway, my workout today followed the same route as the day before, apart from remembering to leave some water on the driveway to be picked up after 10 miles. The first two 5-mile sections were about 1 minute slower than Thursday’s, but then I slowed down more and more, and the last loop was the slowest of them all. No negative splits this time, I’m afraid. I tried to up the pace again with 3 miles to go, but the legs were running on empty by then (or old mushrooms, if that’s your preferred analogy), and in the end I was just glad to come home while still being able to run upright. This time the splits were 41:06, 40:36, 41:20 and 42:28. Those double headers are tough, and I’m sure one or two more would do me good, but I’m out of time, the ultra is just 4 weeks away. There is a 10k nine days from now, and while it clearly is not the focus of my training, I still want to do well in it. Therefore I’ll take it easy towards the end of next week, run the race, and add one more long run the day after that before officially starting my taper. Let’s hope the various aches and pains will be gone soon after.

1 Mar: 20 miles, 2:40:43, 8:02 pace, avg. HR 145
2 Mar: 20 miles, 2:45:32, 8:16 pace, avg. HR 142

(P.S. It's highly satisfying to be able to note down 2 20-milers in a row like this)