Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Most Romantic Setting

I can’t imagine why, but this is where Niamh’s sister is going to get married on Saturday. Her fiancé is three-quarters Italian and one quarter Slovenian, and with some of his family still living near Lake Bled, they decided to get married there. The ceremony will take place in the church on the island, and the reception is going to be held in the castle in the background. Isn’t it fabulous? Let’s just hope the weather will be nice. Apparently it’s raining there at the moment, but according to some of the weather forecasts, it should stop come Saturday.

As an aside, the loop around the lake is 3.7 miles long. I checked on Google Maps. Depending on how many laps I’m doing, it should give me a decent enough estimation on the length of the workouts. I’m not planning on running through a monster hangover, though.

I will see if I can find an Internet café, but if not then this will be my last entry for a while. If you don’t hear back from me within the next 14 days, I’m just enjoying my holidays too much to write about them.

The last 2 runs went pretty well. I’ve finally managed to shake off the cold, and not only has the spring in my step returned, my heart rate has dropped noticeably again. It’s amazing the difference feeling well can make.

I managed 13 miles on Monday, but was dead slow initially; the first mile was close to 9:00 pace, and the second one around 8:00 pace. I tried to resist temptation to speed up, and just ran my normal pace, whatever that came to. Still, I was pleased to come home at sub-8 average pace, and the run felt just great. The sun is shining at the moment and there is not a cloud in the sky, but it’s biting cold at 6:30 am, and I regretted not bringing my gloves. But it was a very enjoyable run nonetheless.

After spending an hour in the gym on Monday evening, I knew that Tuesday’s run would feel a bit strenuous, and wasn’t disappointed in that respect. The legs creaked and moaned as if I was breaking a speed record, but the HRM told a different story. After 2 or 3 miles I got into my stride and things went better after that. I was surprised to come home in just over an hour, I expected it to be slightly longer.

I’m planning on doing a long run tomorrow morning, before we leave, but will have to check with Niamh about departure time. Usually she says something like 9, which turns into 12 in the real world, but it’s better not to give her a reason to blame me for the late departure. Believe me.


I won't be here to celebrate it, but on Thursday this blog will be 2 years old. On one hand I can't believe how quickly time has passed, on the other hand I can't believe that it was only two years ago that I was dreading the 55-mile weeks that were to come as part of the Pfitzinger/Douglas plan.


28 May: 13 miles, 1:41:59, 7:50 pace, avg. HR 144
29 May: 8 miles, 1:00:55, 7:36 pace, avg. HR 150

Sunday, May 27, 2007


I had hoped that the cold would disappear within a day, but for once I was wrong. I’ve fought off quite a number of colds during the winter, and none of them bothered me particularly, and all of them very gone within a day or two. This one, however, is a lot more persistent. I felt pretty bad on Thursday evening, and wondered if I should even set my alarm for Friday morning. I eventually did so, reasoning that I could always turn it off and sleep in if I wouldn’t feel up to it.

However, once the alarm went off I got up and got ready. After all, I was awake anyway, so I might as well go out and run. I did make one concession to my lower energy levels, namely that I didn’t force the pace at all, and was happy enough to run easily, even though it meant running at above 8:00 pace for the first time in ages. It’s a bit of a mental barrier, but at the beginning of the training I had resolved that I would not force myself to run under that threshold if I had an off-day, and today was definitely one of those. I did wonder if running 17 miles when feeling like that was a good idea, but once I was on the road I pretty much ran on autopilot for most of the way. After about 5 miles I came across the last crossroad where I had the chance to bail out, but didn’t even glance at it, and continued all the way around Caragh Lake. Just before the halfway point I ran past a sign “Road Closed”, which was a little disconcerting, but I reasoned that the road should always be passable to a runner, even if it’s closed to cars. I was correct. They are in the middle of re-doing the road surface (it’s amazing the amount of work that goes on around here when an election looms). A stretch of nearly 2 miles was covered in a thick layer of dirt, and they hadn’t got round to putting the tarmac on top of it. As far as I’m concerned they could leave it that way, it felt lovely and soft. Mind, had it been raining it would have turned into a massive mudslide. Anyway, after two miles I passed the opposing “Road Closed” sign on the other end of that stretch, and from then on it was back to the hard, unforgiving surface, to the regret of my knees. I also felt some hunger pains around that time, but they went away after a minute or two. I did tire towards the end of the run, but managed to get home just fine.

I still felt like crap on Saturday, and Niamh told me not to go running, but since when do I listen to a non-runner’s advice? I had just gotten a new pair of shoes, and wanted to give them a spin. I was a bit nervous, because my favourite kind of shoe is the Asics Nimbus, and that was my first pair of the new version 9. A new version of your favourite shoe is often hit-and-miss, but after covering 10 miles in the new pair I can report that I’m perfectly happy, they felt just right. What felt less perfect was the fact that it started raining at the halfway point, and coupled with the freezing wind it made for some uncomfortably cold miles on the way back home. Just the thing you don’t need when you’re already suffering from a cold. While the run itself was fine, I felt knocked out for the rest of the day, and once again Niamh asked me not to go running the next morning.

But since when do I listen to a non-runner’s advice? I compromised and only went for 6+ miles, and I’m finally getting better. My energy levels are seeping up again, and my head doesn’t have that horrible stuffed feeling any more. The weather could be better, it’s still raining on and off, and it’s rather windy, but we’re off to Slovenia in 3 days’ time, and the weather there is supposed to be a lot better at the moment. I’m bound to discover a whole new area for running.

25 May: 17 miles, 2:18:33, 8:09 pace, avg. HR 150
26 May: 10 miles, 1:17:18, 7:43 pace, avg. HR 153
27 May: 6.1 miles, 46:52, 7:40 pace, avg. HR 153

Weekly mileage: 73

Thursday, May 24, 2007


After feeling so good on Monday, the week has been pretty tough so far. This could be down to the fact that I have increased my mileage again, but from today I’ve got a new and more convincing explanation. I’ve got a sore throat, a headache and the general feeling of unwellness that comes with that sort of thing; in other words I’m coming down with a cold. As long as it stays above the neck I’ll run through it, as always, and hope that it goes away soon. I’ve started taking Vitamin C, which usually keeps them at bay. In a way I’m relieved, because it explains why I’ve felt like crap for the last three days, and it’s not because of my training.

Since I’m bumping up my mileage, my midweek runs are getting longer. Wednesday called for 13 miles, which meant another early wake-up call. The run itself went well enough, once I got past the first 2 miles. The weather conditions are pretty decent at the moment, though I could do with less wind. For some unknown reason the soles of my feet started hurting towards the end of the run. I felt like running on hot coals, which is something that happened once or twice before, and I don’t know why. It didn’t really interfere with my stride, but it made for an uncomfortable second half of the run.

Since Wednesday’s run had been on the long side, today was one for a bit more pace. I wasn’t sure if I would be up for it initially. Immediately after getting up the main thought in my head was how the constant early mornings are getting to me, and how I would love to sleep in on some occasions. But the weekend isn’t far away, and from next Wednesday on we will be on holiday, and then the early sessions will be on hold, at least for a fortnight. I don’t even know if I will be able to drag myself out onto the road while we’re away, but I’ll definitely bring my gear.

Anyway, the first two miles felt rather bad again, the legs didn’t want to turn over and the rest of the body wasn’t too enthusiastic either, but after I had warmed up and increased the pace things fell into place and the next 6 miles went by a lot quicker. I’m never quite sure of my exact pace (no garmin, and my built-in speedometer isn’t that good yet) but I guessed it would be around 7:15 to 7:20 pace, a fact I later confirmed when I calculated my pace. This is close to my planned marathon pace in October. Did it feel fast? Sure. Would I be able to run this for 26 miles? Of course not, not at the moment. Will I be able to do so in October? I’m hopeful.

But let’s get that cold out of the way first. Shea had it too, I think, and it didn’t last long.

23 May: 13 miles, 1:42:54, 7:54 pace, avg. HR 149
24 May: 8 miles, 59:13, 7:24 pace, avg. HR 156

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Carpe Diem

I could never resist the Scottish charm, and if she wants to read about a “'typical day' in the life of Thomas”, how can I refuse? But you should know that it puts you into a minority of one, Yvonne.

Monday, 5:55am. The alarm goes off and I immediately and silently curse myself for going to bed late once again last night. Every morning I swear that from tonight on I’ll hit the hay at 10 pm, and every evening the vow is broken. Anyway, 12 miles are on the program, and less than 15 minutes after getting up I’m out of the house. The run goes exceedingly well, and I’m on a high when I come back, a few minutes before my usual return time of 7:45. It’s early enough to catch my wife in bed with another man – but since he’s only 3 years old, I won’t cause a scene. The other boy, Shea, is up by now, of course, and demands porridge for breakfast. It takes longer to make than cereal, and by the time I’ve prepared it for him, Cian has extricated himself from mummy's bed and demands the same, so I go through the same procedure for a second time. Then I can finally have my shower, and after that I wake Niamh from her beauty sleep. Lola is more difficulty to wake, that girl is a real sleepyhead. After finally coaxing her out of bed we can have a family breakfast. While Niamh packs lunch boxes for the kids, I get them dressed. Lola can usually be persuaded to dress herself, Shea usually can’t (unless you’re prepared to leave a few hours late), and Cian obviously needs my help. By now it’s time to leave, I kiss mummy and the twins goodbye (which can take 5 minutes) and Cian and me head off towards Killorglin. I drop him off at the crèche, and arrive at work, usually a few minutes late. My boss isn’t reading this, so I can admit that work is the one place where I don’t feel under pressure to perform 100%. If fact, I sometime feel guilty about not being fully committed to my work. The managers higher up in the food chain seem to disagree though, why else would they have given me a promotion this year? Anyway, nine hours later (I tend to work late, which is why my late arrivals are tolerated, I guess) I’m a free man again. Today is Monday, and I’m off to the gym for an hour. This means missing family dinner, but we do eat together 5 days of the week, which isn’t bad, I suppose. Coming home the first thing to do is to load up the washing machine (Niamh is banned from doing the laundry. I don’t want any more pink running socks or t-shirts, thank you very much) then I can eat my dinner, because by now I’ve turned into the Ravenous Beast. I try to find some time to fold away the cleaned laundry from the day before, and then it’s already time to get the kids ready for bed. On Monday, it’s a shared job, which makes it easier. On Tuesday (Niamh’s evening course), Wednesday (Yoga) and Thursday (Niamh’s working) I’ve got to do it on my own, which is more stressful than a day in the office. Eventually we manage to give baths to Cian, Lola and Shea (in random order); we tried giving them baths together, but each time it ended in a fight/mess/major flooding, and this practise is now officially banned. I don’t know how, but by now it’s about 8:30 pm, and that means story time. Each kid may pick one story and we (that’s the 3 of them and daddy) sit together and read them one by one. After teeth and wee-wees it’s time for bed, but they usually read for a few more minutes on their own (well, the twins read, Cian looks at pictures). We used to have them in bed by 9 pm, but as summer draws closer it’s usually closer to 9:30. Then I finally have some spare time, which I more often than not spend in front of the computer, blogging or emailing. Oh, and don’t forget to hang up the laundry. Of course this takes longer than 30 minutes, and my promise to be in bed by 10 o’clock is long forgotten – until the next morning, when I will be cursing myself again.

What do we learn from that? No, apart from the fact that my weekdays are rather boring, I mean. Firstly, if I don’t go running early morning, I never will. There simply isn’t the opportunity to do so. Secondly, we managed to establish a routine. Maybe it makes the average day less exciting, but once you’ve got a bunch of kids to look after, it’s rather essential.

Monday’s run was great, as mentioned. My heart rate is dropping again. Just a few days ago Mystery Coach mentioned that that can be a sign of overtraining, but that’s definitely not the case here. I just felt really good. Today was less enjoyable, 7 miles on the day after 12 miles in the morning and a strenuous hour in the gym in the evening felt much tougher, but even so I can notice progress. I don’t have to push the pace any more to stay under 8:00 pace. In fact, if I push the pace I end up running 7:30. Things are looking up.

21 May: 12 miles, 1:32:21, 7:41 pace, avg. HR 147 (cool and sunny, felt great)
22 May: 7 miles, 54:21, 7:45 pace, avg. HR 152 (rain. not funny)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Vortex

The question of mileage and/or intensity keeps creeping up. Michael questioned my decision to increase my mileage and advocates higher intensity instead. Well, as numerous comments have shown, nobody seems to be sure how the best training effects can be gained. To some respect I’m doing both, because not only am I planning on running higher mileage than ever before, I’m also covering those miles a bit faster than during my previous training cycle. And don’t forget, this is mainly my base training we’re talking about. Once I switch to the hills phase, and later the anaerobic phase, my mileage will surely come down again, in order to accommodate the increased intensity.

I ran 15 miles on Friday, and I expected it to be quite tough, because it was the first time I’d covered more than 13 miles since the ultra, seven weeks ago. I kept to the by now familiar sub-8 pace, and felt mostly comfortable. The weather was downright awful, very windy with gale force gusts, and rain. I ran three loops from my house to Ard-na-Sidhe, pretty much the only sheltered road I’ve got, but I managed just fine. There had been many days of worse conditions over the winter months. I tried to run each 5-mile segment a little bit faster than the previous one, but didn’t succeed, because the last one was a few seconds slower then the middle one. Still, it went pretty well. I felt quite tired at mile 12 but recovered to finish reasonably strong.

Yesterday’s run was still on the same stretch of road, because while the rain had subsided and the wind calmed down, it was still quite blustery. Running the Ard-na-Sidhe stretch of the road back-and-forwards three times (if someone watched me, they would probably think I’m completely nuts [they might be right]), I covered 9 miles. Since many strong runners seem to advocate finishing your runs strongly, I accelerated towards the end, and was surprised to find the last 3.5 miles had only taken 26 minutes (7:25 pace, but neither the distance nor the time were measured particularly accurate). I felt rather good about that run.

Today, just after finishing my preparations and on the verge of getting out of the house for my run, I got sucked into what Mike once very aptly called the vortex. Shea got hungry, and I made him a bowl of breakfast, then Lola demanded one too, then Cian joined in on the act, then Lola wanted a drink, and Shea a second bowl of cereal, and then a drink for Cian, … you get the picture. After half an hour the brood seemed to be getting satisfied and I managed to leave. I hoped they would get back to their games afterwards and let Niamh sleep, but apparently two minutes later Cian stormed into our bedroom shouting “Get up mummy, mummy get up”. So much for that, but it was nearly 9 o’clock by then and Niamh didn’t mind too much.

Oh yes, the run. After finally extracting myself from the flock I covered the first mile in what felt like reasonable pace (close to 8:00) when I glanced at the HRM to find it displaying some ridiculously low number, 137 or so, despite running up a small incline. I did speed up after that and held my heart beat about 15-20 beats higher for the rest of the run. As a result I covered the 7 miles in 52:20, 7:28 pace, which is much faster than any other run recently. And it didn’t feel like a tempo run, just a reasonably strong aerobic effort. I’m still not sure where my best training intensity would be. Obviously I don’t want to run so hard that I end up injured, but I don’t want to miss out on further improvement either. On the other hand, I’ve improved so much over the last 12 months that I probably shouldn’t second-guess my training too much, it obviously worked well.

Shouts go out to Mark, who is running his first marathon in years just as I’m typing this, and congratulations go to Jack who survived a tough 50 km crawl in the mud and Cindy who finished her (first?) half-marathon in a storming time of 1:31. But the man on the moment is undoubtedly Cindy’s husband Eric, who managed a second-place finish in 2:33 at his debut marathon in Fargo. The only problem is, he either doesn’t quite grasp the enormity of his achievement, or he is way too modest. Either way, I’m awed.

18 May: 15 miles, 1:57:50, 7:51 pace, avg. HR 152 (wind and rain, awful)
19 May: 9 miles, 1:09:48, 7:45 pace, avg. HR 150 (still windy)
20 May: 7 miles, 52:20, 7:28 pace, avg. HR 152 (calm and sunny. Go figure)

Weekly mileage: 65

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Don't Mention the B Word

I should never have mentioned Boston. Now look what you’ve done! All of a sudden I really want to go there, but I can already imagine the conversation with Niamh come October. “Honey, I know you have just given birth to yet another baby, but would you mind if I crossed the Atlantic for a few days to run a marathon on the other side?” I can guess the answer, and it’s most likely going to be unprintable, but it probably could be summarised as “yes, actually, I do mind”. To top it all off, the whole scenario is based on the assumption that I’m indeed be able to run the required time, which isn’t a given, considering that it’s 13 minutes below my current PR.

Yvonne’s comment had me smile when she mentioned that the audacity to state such a goal in public must be down to male confidence. Yvonne, I think it’s more down to dumbness, male or not. After all, I’m setting myself up for failure here.

The one thing that’s mostly on my mind is the worry that yet another increase in my training could leave me injured. That isn’t exactly a new thing. When I upped my training from Pfitzinger’s 55 miles to his 70 miles plan last year, I was worried about getting injured. In the end, I was fine. For the following training cycle, when I increased from that level to 85 mpw, I was worried again, and once again, I was just fine. Now I’m going for yet another increase, and again I’m a bit worried. Ron Daws said it best in his book “Running Your Best”. I haven’t got the book here with me, but he’s saying something like “you won’t know how much is too much until you actually do too much”. I now know for sure that 85 miles isn’t too much, in fact, after several weeks of that volume it started feeling downright comfortable. That’s why I think 100 miles might be ok. But there’s only one way to find out for sure.

Our office building has several car parks, and the one I always use is on top of a small hill. When I started my previous training cycle I always noticed how heavy the legs felt when walking up that little incline. After several weeks of training that heavy feeling went away. Instead of congratulating myself on how fit I was, I should have taken it as a sign to move on to the next training phase. My body didn’t get particularly stressed anymore, and all the next few weeks of training did was to keep my level of conditioning at that level. Now I think I should have started hill training at that point, just to give the body something different to adapt to. If the base training goes well, I’ll try to take clues like that to decide when to move on. Live and learn.

I’m slowly building up my mileage, but at the same time I’m trying to stay under 8:00 pace at all times. This can get a bit stressful. I’m a slow starter, and it means I’m usually trying to catch up after the first mile or so. Each of the last few runs felt mildly strenuous. I did question myself if I would be able to keep that level of pressure on at all times, but then I had another thought. According to Lydiard, you are supposed to keep the pressure on at all times, and maybe that means I’m hitting the right pace after all. I’m not exhausting myself. Each run is reasonably challenging, but after each run I know that I could have run a little bit faster if I had to. But I’m only at the start of the training cycle, and I’ll find out soon enough if I’m making or breaking myself.

I had another bizarre encounter yesterday. I thought I was hallucinating as I turned a corner, but there were indeed a dozen or so cows coming towards me. Initially I thought they must have broken out of their field, but I eventually I spotted the farmer following 100 meters behind them. Since they were coming the other way, at least that didn’t interfere with my workout, in contrast to last Friday.

16 May: 11 miles, 1:26:40, 7:52 pace, avg. HR 154 (very windy and drizzly)
17 May: 7 miles, 54:32, 7:47 pace, avg. HR 151 (still windy, but better)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My Decision

I have signed up for my next marathon, and Loch Ness it is. From what I’ve heard I have to take back anything I said about it being a fast course, apparently it’s quite hilly. I still went with that instead of Berlin, because I’m allergic to Big City events, I much prefer smaller races. It’s not exactly tiny either, last year they had over 2000 participants for the marathon alone. My major concern about Berlin was that I might get stuck in the crowd, and I hate having to weave around people, it feels like such a waste of energy. In any case, the flight connections from here to Scotland are better than to Germany, and I might be able to meet some friends while I’m over there.

As I’ve said, I’ve now signed up and I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m dumb enough to publicly mention a time goal, and it will be 3:10, which equates to 7:15 pace. I definitely think that I will be able to pull that off five months from now, and if I miss that then a fallback will be 3:15:59, which is the Boston qualifying time for someone of my increasingly advanced age. I don’t actually plan on running Boston, but I would love to have the BQ badge. And if I do manage to qualify, then who knows, I might change my mind. It might be an experience to run close to someone wearing a pair of shorts with a maple leaf and protruding stem, as Andrew pointed out so succinctly.

The last two runs were rather contrasting, Monday’s 10 miles just flew by as I managed to tune into the easy zone and let the feet do their own thing. I did add some strides on the backstretch, which slightly upset my rhythm, but I still ran the second leg faster than the first one. But after Monday evening’s strenuous gym session I felt a lot worse today and had to strain to keep at sub-8 pace. I know I said only one post ago that I would not force the pace if the legs don’t feel like it, but the lungs felt fine, the heart rate was low, it really was only the legs that didn’t play ball. I'll have to think about the gym; running 100 high mileage might be tough enough, to add some additional exercise could prove too much. The overall pace of about 7:50 is not particularly out of the ordinary, but I did the first 3 miles in 8:20 and the home stretch in 7:20, which isn’t exactly even pacing. I probably should have slowed down and just accepted an 8-plus overall pace. One day I’ll learn that lesson.

14 May: 10 miles, 1:19:02, 7:54 pace, avg. HR 149, incl. 10x100 strides
15 May: 6 miles, 47:03, 7:50 pace, avg. HR 152, sluggish feeling

Sunday, May 13, 2007


My first week of the new marathon-training block is over and done with. The first half of the week was dominated by the need to recover from the half-marathon that left me much more stiff and tired than I expected to be. It wasn’t until Thursday that I felt ready to let the legs go properly again. But the last few runs have all been pretty decent and I feel ready to build up my mileage again.

My last training cycle was heavily influenced by Lydiard’s training methods, though I made a few changes that I thought were beneficiary for an ultra, like the back-to-back 20-20 runs. In fact, those blocks were so effective that I toyed with the idea of keeping them even for a standard marathon, but I have gone off that idea by now. I will try and follow the classic Lydiard build as demonstrated and documented so brilliantly in Mike’s blog. I’ve also written down a few notes from his Mystery Coach, which I found all over the place in Mike’s blog, his comment section as well as cunningly hidden gems in Eric’s training diary. That includes explanations of the stamina-building back-to back efforts and other gems of wisdom.

Using one of the coach's formula I gathered that for an estimated marathon pace of 7:15 the steady state pace that I should follow for most of my runs would be in the 7:28 – 7:58 segment, though I think it’s pretty save to round that up into more even numbers 7:30-8:00. I’ll try and stay within those parameters, but I won’t force it. If my legs feel too heavy to go sub-8 I’ll just back off and let them recover. One other formula gave my 3/4 effort at 7:00 pace, which is slower than I thought it would be. It’s certainly a good bit slower than the pace I used for my tempo runs in the build-up for the half-marathon, and the occasional tempo efforts I did before the ultra.

My weekly mileage maxed out at 86.5 miles last time round, and of course one of the classic Lydiard fundamentals is the 100-mile week. I’ll wait and see how I feel. If I added a mere two mile to each run, it would turn a 86 mile week into a 100 one, which doesn’t sound too outrageous. I know that Andrew is a great believer in that mileage, but then again his injury record doesn’t inspire 100% confidence. Interestingly enough, Mike seems to have dropped his mileage ever since the Mystery Coach took him under his wing, and is concentrating more on faster efforts, In fact I think I could do worse than blindly follow Mike’s training schedule but add one minute to each of his paces (e.g. run 7:40 when he does 6:40), but I’d be better off listening to my own body rather than trying to slavishly follow someone else’s training, modified or not.

Of course I did some more running since my last post. My pace has been steadily dropping until it reached sub-8 pace without pushing. I’m pretty happy with the way it’s going, apart from one run-in I had yesterday. I was slightly over 11 miles into a supposed 13-mile effort when a farmer chose that time and place to move his humungous herd of cows from one field into another. There was no way past, and I had no option but to come to a stop and walk behind the stinking creatures while trying to avoid stepping into a fresh spattering of manure (yuck!). I even swore loudly, but quickly apologised when the farmer shot me a filthy look. That went on for about half a mile, after which I ran the last (uphill) mile home in about 6:50, hammering the road in sheer frustration.

My hay fever is bothering me as well at the moment, but strangely enough it's never an issue while running, just before and afterwards.

11 May: 5 miles, 39:08. 7:49 pace, avg. HR 149
12 May: 12.5 miles, 1:35, 7:36 pace, avg. HR 155
13 May: 7 miles, 55:04, 7:52 pace, avg. HR 149

Weekly mileage: 52.5

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Breeding Like Rabbits

If I ever write our family history, I might have to give it the same name as this post. Now that the twins are starting to develop some sense and Cian has mostly stopped destroying the house twice-a-day we obviously decided that life was getting much too easy, we were getting too much sleep and we’re not enough in debt yet. So, Niamh is expecting another baby (admit it, you thought running was my only physical activity). She thinks it’s a girl, I’m convinced it’s a boy, and the existing children, especially Lola, are very excited about the new arrival, though Cian obviously is in for a shock once he realises that he is no longer the baby of the family.

What has that got to do with my running, and with the cryptic comment I made at the end of my previous entry? Glad you asked. See, the due date is October 31. If you check a marathon calendar then you will find that this year’s Dublin marathon will be held on October 29. My first, and obviously brilliant, suggestion was that she should come with me, and if she happens to go into labour on marathon day then book into Holles Street Maternity Hospital, where Cian was born, and which happens to be just beside the finish; let me know and I’ll continue running for an extra 5 minutes after crossing the line and join her for the rest of the proceedings, no need to thank me. Despite the obvious beauty of that plan it was rejected out of hand, and apparently I’ll have to find a different marathon.

Of all the possibilities there are two that appeal to me: the Berlin marathon at the end of September, and the Loch Ness marathon on October 7. Niamh already sanctioned those dates; apparently she’s not worried about going into labour prematurely. I think I favour the Loch Ness one; I might be able to combine it with visiting friends in Glasgow over the weekend. The course is supposed to be fast apart from a monster hill on mile 17. The entry ballot is already closed but since I would count as an overseas runner that does not apply to me. I’ll think about it a bit more, but I most definitely want to run a marathon this autumn. Who knows when I will be able to train seriously again.

9 May: 6 miles, 50:36, 8:26 pace, avg. HR 146
10 May: 9 miles, 1:13:45, 8:11 pace, avg. HR49

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


As always, I’ll bore you some more after the race, even though I’ve said more than enough in the actual report. How did I manage to get it so long? I had no idea anyone could write so much about a mere 13.1 miles.

I even left out a few things. Like at mile 5, when I started to feel my blisters developing. That’s a standard feature with those shoes. My feet and the Asics-DS trainers just don’t get along. Initially I thought I would just have to get used to the shoes, but by now I’ve covered over 220 miles in them and developed at least two dozen blisters in the process. In fact, each time I cover 5 miles, my left foot starts blistering, and the right one usually follows suit within a mile or two. You could argue that I should have chucked those shoes a long time ago. I swore as much at mile 5 on Sunday, and not for the first time. But come on. I made it by 3 seconds. Heavier shoes would most likely have cost me just a bit more than that (though, of course, I will never know for sure). Btw, does anyone know how many miles those shoes are supposed to last? I’d love to finally toss them out and replace them with a pair that actually suits my feet without feeling guilty for wasting money.

I had a little banter after the race with Yellow Shoes, who, btw, isn’t actually called Yellow Shoes. His real name is Der Moloney, and he came third in the M40 age category. I told him that he was just that little bit too fast for me, and he mentioned how I had kept coming back again and again. Apparently he had to dig deep to hold me off, which is always nice to know, even if he did finish 15 seconds ahead of me.

There’s even a series of shots of me crossing the finishing line, even though I look like each mile added a year to my face. Those are the photos I would have loved to see at the end of the Connemara Ultra. Sigh.

I never had any soreness after previous half marathons, but I’m still stiff and tired now, two days after the race. Apparently my body has developed a faster pair of legs in the last few months, but its ability to withstand that sort of torture hasn’t increased by the same amount. I had two slow and awkward runs on Monday and Tuesday, and I decided to skip the gym today. I might make up for it tomorrow, but only if I feel better. At the moment I still wished I could just lie on a soft bed of feathers without being disturbed.

I know Eric and Bruce were only teasing me with their comments, but I’m definitely not in shape to run another 13.1 miles at the same pace. I couldn’t resist temptation and inserted my time into one or two of those race predictor calculators, and they came up with a marathon time of 3:08 or 3:09. Past experience has told me that I’m always a few minutes slower than the predicted time, so I guess I’m in about 3:15 shape. Still, that would be fast enough for a Boston qualifier. On the other hand, Joey Keillor once said there’s no such thing as being in shape for a certain time. You either do it, or you’re not in that kind of shape.

A few things led me to believe that I wasn’t quite in peak form anymore on Sunday. I think I was in my best shape ever for the 10k in Adare back in March, and – not entirely surprising – the ultra has dragged me down a peg or two. Not by much, but I think back in March I would have been able to run a minute faster given the same circumstances.

That concludes my racing season. Is it still a season if it only consists of three races? I’m starting to rebuild for a marathon this coming autumn, as soon as I feel recovered from the race. I initially planned to rest for a week or two, but we’re going away on a two-weeks holiday to Slovenia and Austria in three weeks’ time, and I will most likely end up “resting” then (I’ll bring my running gear, but I doubt I’ll be able to sneak out every morning). There are one or two things I should mention about my next marathon, but I’ll keep you in suspense until my next post.

7 May: 5 miles, 44:00, 8:48 pace, avg. HR 145
8 May: 8.1 miles, 1:10:10, 8:39 pace, avg. HR 141 (notice the drop in HR)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

By the Skin of my Teeth

Unusually for me, I did go out for a run the day before a race. I just felt the legs needed a bit of an outing, and subsequently I had the worst run in ages. 4 slow miles with a sky-high heart rate left me wondering what was going on. I sure wouldn’t be able to run a decent race with legs like that. I did come to the conclusion that tempo runs followed by complete rest days are not the ideal preparation. I spent the rest of the day trying to convince myself that I’d be fine by tomorrow.

Race Day started early, at 6am. I had a hard time waking the kids, because, understandably, they weren’t overly keen on getting up early, on a Sunday no less. However, they perked up soon enough and we left on time. We had our seven-seater filled to the brim, with me, Niamh, 3 children and my mum and her husband. That’s the biggest support team I’ve ever had. The weather looked promising, overcast but not too cold, a little bit of wind with the occasional bout of rain.

The drive went better than expected and we got to Glengarriff earlier than anticipated. But we managed to find a playground to ensure that the brood was happy. I got changed, collected my timing chip and started warming up with half an hour to go. Time passed quickly, and we soon lined up at the start. Some local politician took the microphone and started waffling on and on and on, until he was shut up by a deliberate round of applause from 728 runners and walkers. The gun sounded and off we went. I started close to the line, maybe 3 deep, and crossed it within a second. One guy took off like a rocket and was soon out of sight (he won in 1:07, extremely impressive on such a hilly course). After waving to my personal fans about a minute after the start I tried to settle into a conservative pace to start with. I latched on to a big group and ran well within myself. A voice in my head told me to speed up because I was losing time on my 1:30 goal already but I managed to steady myself. There’s a big climb from miles 3 to 5 and I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be knackered even at the base of the hill. The first mile marker came into sight soon enough, and what did I read? 6:30! Holy sh*t! I couldn’t be sure if the marker was accurate, but I was glad I hadn’t set off any faster. The second mile had some climbs in it as we passed through the Glengarriff nature reserve (stunning, btw, and well recommended, but I was in no position to enjoy my surroundings), and I clocked it in 7:01. Ah well, that’s probably closer to my realistic half-marathon pace. What comes up must come down, and since we were passing the starting line again close to the 3rd mile marker, but going in the opposite direction, it meant some downhill sections and I ran the next mile in 6:49. I was about 15 second ahead of my target time, but the moment of truth was approaching fast. The race website mentions a one-mile climb out of Glengarriff. That’s a barefaced lie. It’s very nearly two miles (I measured it twice by car last year), and it’s also pretty steep. Of course I lost my entire cushion as the next 2 miles passed in 7:57 (ugh) and 6:58. I had a difficult decision to make at that hill. A pack had formed, and I was just about hanging on to the end of it. There was a slight headwind, and I had the option of either dropping back and battling the wind on my own or to run slightly faster than felt realistic to seek some shelter in the group. That’s new territory for me, I’ve never run in a pack before, and I felt like I was playing in the big league all of a sudden. Anyway, I chose the second option and clung on to the back of that group, which held about a dozen runners. One or two people got spat out at the back but I managed to hang on until the top of the climb. There a big guy in bright yellow shoes drew level with me and cheerfully remarked “that’s the worst behind us” and it took me a few seconds to find enough breath to respond with something silly like “let’s roll with it”. He also made a strange slapping sound with each stride, which made it easy to figure out how far ahead or behind him I would be for the reminder of the race. As I’ve mentioned before, what comes up must come down and the next 3 miles were all gradual downhill and passed in 6:45, 6:29 and 6:26. The pack had broken up by then, and I reckon I had left the majority of them behind me. I kept battling with two guys in particular, a guy in white shirt and dark shorts, and the yellow shoe guy. We kept passing each other, and each time someone would answer with a surge of his own. Eventually this wore me out, and by mile 8, back at sea level, I was feeling pretty exhausted. White Shirt and Yellow Shoes formed a group with 2 more runners, and I followed maybe 20 meters behind. I remembered most of the course from last year; it’s never flat, after the big hill there is a series of slight up- and downhills all the way to the end. I was hurting pretty bad at that stage and kept wishing for it to be over, but was determined to give the 1:30 target a good shot. I started to feel better eventually, and by mile 9 (6:53 split) the group in front of me had broken up and I had drawn close to 2 of the guys. I surged again to leave them behind, but started to feel the strain again soon enough and had to slow down a little bit. I knew I was pretty much on target, but I also knew I was very close to the edge. On each hill I started gasping for air, which, according to Mike, is a sign that you’re too fast for a half-marathon. I did recover on the downhills, and this went on for another mile, in 6:55. White Shirt and Yellow Shoes must have slowed down, because quite unexpectedly I found myself right behind them. I went past White Shirt, but Yellow Shoes kept ahead of me. On the next hill I pushed really hard with all I had and went past. I gained a few meters on him, and I could her the slap-slap sounds of his strides falling further behind, but then disaster struck: stitch! I’ve experienced this once before in a race; strangely enough it was the very race I was running now, just one year earlier, and at the same point, too. If I were Haile Gebreselassie I would chuck it in right now, but unlike him I still have a few thing to prove and fought on. I tried to change my breathing pattern, but eventually I had no choice but to slow down a little bit until I was able to breath properly again. The slower pace coupled with a more controlled breathing pattern soon got the better of the stitch, but the damage had been done. Yellow Shoes had past me again, and this time I knew that it was for good. Remember back in March, when after a long battle I went past a guy in the Adare 10k, and he had complimented me on it? It was time to repay a debt, and I spent what little breath I had spare to say “Good Man” as he went by. He mumbled something in return, I guess he was at the edge himself. Having repaid my debt to the universe I hoped to be rewarded with mercy from the Running Gods, but I had covered mile 11 no faster than 7:13, which meant kissing Good Bye to 1:30, maybe another time. I was really disappointed, but kept battling on, mainly to protect my place in the field. I could hear White Shirt not far behind me, but there was quite some gap to the front, where I could witness Yellow Shoes going past one more runner.

I know I’ve mentioned that I remember the course from last year, but I had forgotten all about the climb on mile 12. Maybe my memory is deceiving me now, but it all seemed to be uphill. Of course I was already knackered at that stage, as well as disappointed with my time, but I found some reserves and pushed on once more. Despite my own advice of never looking back I could not resist temptation. White Shirt was about 10 meters behind me, while I was some 50 meters behind the runner in front. It seemed a hopeless task to close the gap, but I was determined not to lose my place and pushed as hard as I could dare without risking disaster again. Eventually the road levelled out again and I saw the 12th mile marker. I expected the time to be somewhere in the sevens, but in fact it was 6:49. Since the last mile was downhill again I sensed some faint hope. I thought a 6:30 mile would get me there or thereabouts, and maybe all was not lost yet. I pushed on as hard as I could. Just a few minutes more, then I can relax. The legs filled with lactic acid and I felt the burn, but the gap in front of me was shrinking rapidly and I closed in on my last victim. I also made the mistake of looking behind me for a second time, but was reassured by the fact that I had nothing to fear from there. I shot passed the runner and tried to hunt down Yellow Shoes, but I already knew that it was futile – he had accelerated himself by now. I passed a point where there had been a sign last year “400 to go” and started to sprint all out. However, as I turned a corner, already gasping for air, I could see the actual point where the sign had been. My memory must have failed me somehow. There was nothing to do but to push on as hard as I could, and the last mile marker came into sight, 6:26. I wasn’t sure if that was sufficient, but the line was already in sight.

About 10 years ago Niamh and I had gone to Australia and witnessed the Canberra marathon as spectators (that was years before I took up running). I very clearly remember that the biggest cheer of the day had not gone to the winner. Instead, when the clock read about 3:59:45, one guy started sprinting all out. It was clear that he was desperate to beat 4 hours. He must have been in agony, his face was a grimace and tears were streaming down his face, but he never gave up, ran his heart out and made it with a second or two to spare. He got celebrated like a world record holder. I’ve felt jealous of him ever since.

By the time I could make out the clock it read 1:29:52. I only had a few meters to go and sprinted as hard as I could. Unlike that Australian guy I didn’t cry in pain, and I knew soon enough that I would make it, but I got a big cheer from the crowd all the same. I passed the line in 1:29:57. Oh the sweet smell of victory.


PS: I got a post-race massage, and Ye Gods, did it feel good. Well, maybe not at the time. In fact at one stage he had me yelping in pain. But my calves felt so much better afterwards. He also remarked that I probably don’t stretch enough. I laughed and said that may well be the case.

Result: I came 26th, out of 568 runners, and 7th in my age group. It sounds rather impressive, doesn’t it? Maybe I have indeed moved up into the Big Boys’ league.


5 May: 4 miles, 33:00, 8:15 pace, avg HR 156(!!!), incl. 5x100 strides
6 May: 15 miles, including Bantry Bay Half marathon in 1:29:57, 6:51 pace. 26th overall, 7th in age group

Friday, May 04, 2007


God, I’m tired. And that’s while tapering. Just imagine what would happen if I had gotten up running at 6am instead of sleeping in for another 2 hours. Well, one hour; Shea woke me at 7 am, and I couldn’t get back to sleep after that. The reason for that tiredness is that I had to drive the 90 miles plus to Shannon last night to collect my mum from the airport. It was a late flight anyway, and then it was delayed by 30 minutes. It could have been worse, I guess, they had taken off an hour late, but apparently the pilot had managed to cut that deficit by half. Of course I had to drive all the way back home, and didn’t get to bed before 2 am. That’s so far past my usual bedtime it’s unreal.

I did manage yet another tempo run on Thursday. I’ve done so many of them in the last two weeks that I’ve lost count (no, I haven’t, actually. I’ve managed 6). This one followed the sequence of improvements like all its predecessors, and I managed to slice a few seconds of Tuesday’s time. During the first two warm-up miles the legs felt seriously tired, and I resolved to cut the tempo segment from 4 to 3 miles. Except that when I got to the point in question I just continued on for another half mile, and ran my usual 4 fast miles. It made it easier to compare the effort with all the previous ones, I guess. I’m quite pleased with the way my pace has improved over the last 2 weeks, and I think I’m ready for sub 1:30. I don’t know yet how much those hills will cost me, but my training routes aren’t exactly flat either, and I believe I’ll be fine.

The weather has been really nice the last couple of weeks, which is great news for mum, because she’s never seen Kerry in really nice weather before. It’s a slight worry for my race on Sunday, but would you believe it, that’s the day for which they were forecasting rain. They have since retracted that prediction, and their latest guess is overcast, 13C/55F. Perfect! No excuses. Just go out and run. I’ll let you know how it went.

3 May: 8 miles, 59:12, 7:24 pace, avg. HR 162, incl. 4 miles in 26:25 (6:36 pace)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


After the monster weekend (Friday: party, Saturday: Disney on Ice, Sunday: Ballet) I was in dire need of recovery, even if it was not running related. I therefore declined to run on Monday morning, which also enabled me to sleep for 8 hours straight, a rather unusual occurrence these days. As I’m tapering for Sunday’s race, the 0 mileage is definitely not a problem.

I’m trying a new tapering method this time. I’m still trying to find the best values for length and training intensity for the last few weeks before a marathon (who isn’t!), and came across this article. They basically suggest cutting the mileage quite radically, but increasing the intensity of the runs. The most radical approach is cutting the mileage by 90% and running the rest at fast interval pace. I won’t try to emulate this, but the plan is to do a tempo run on Tuesday, another one on Thursday, and to rest every other day. If I feel like it, I might run 2 or 3 easy miles on Saturday to loosen up the legs. Who knows, this may well be a stupid way to prepare for the race, but I decided that this half would be the perfect opportunity to test it out. I won’t have too many regrets if the race falls flat, it certainly means a lot less to me than a marathon or ultra. On the other hand, if the experiment goes well I might apply the same strategy for my next big race. Of course what works for a half-marathon might not be such a clever idea for the full distance. Whatever the result, I’ll know more after the race.

So, I did another tempo run today after resting on Monday. Well, resting is relative; I didn’t do any running, but I spent an hour in the gym. The new gym, that I mentioned a few weeks ago, has opened, and my employers are paying half the fee for the first three months as a special bonus, making this a rather cheap option. The trainer, Áine, gave me a set of drills to improve core strength and endurance. Between you and me, I think she's trying to kill me. I did an hour last night, and expected to be really sore in the abs, chest and shoulders today, but I'm fine so far. Of course, the DOMS might still hit tomorrow.

Where was I? Oh yes, today’s tempo run. Those efforts are going very well indeed, every run is faster than the previous one, and they also feel easier. My paces have nearly dropped to the same speed that I had before the ultra, and I wished I had another one or two weeks to prepare for the race, but that’s obviously not happening. I’m quite looking forward to the race. My goal is to beat 1:30, and I’m feeling very optimistic. The fallback target is my half-marathon PR of 1:35:40, and as long as I don’t suffer some serious setback, I’ll definitely beat that. Funny, it cost me blood, sweat and tears to get that time just half a year ago, and now I regard it as a seriously soft target. Times are a-changing.

1 May: 8 miles, 59:27, 7:25 pace, incl. 4 miles in 26:29 (6:37 pace)

Monthly mileage for April: 220