Monday, July 30, 2007

A Win Is a Win Is a Win

There you have it, my first ever win in a road race, the 5k organised by the local gym in Killorglin. Now, you might ask, if that guy won, what on earth were the other ones like, and you wouldn’t be wrong. There wasn’t much of a competition, not a single fast runner turned up (by default, or I would not have won), but you can only beat whatever competition is there on the day, and on Saturday I was the fastest guy in town.

Not that I had a great race, I was a bit disappointed with my time of 19:39. I have plenty of excuses (runners tend to have lots of them), e.g. there was a big hill after 3 km, and the fact that the next runner was about 500 meters behind me meant I never got that extra gear that competition brings on, and my legs felt heavy from the training (no taper here). I still should have run faster, heck, I ran 23 seconds faster than that only a fortnight ago. But whatever, it felt really good to finish first, and the fact that the next guy didn’t come home much faster than 22:00 isn’t my fault. To be honest, when we stood on the start line (only about 15 or so runners were there) I silently declared myself the race favourite, and once the gun went I knew within 10 seconds that I was going to win this easily, there simply wasn’t anybody there to challenge me. Oh, and I won one month free gym membership. That was definitely a nice surprise.

Niamh was there at the finish, which was nice too, and she seemed reasonably proud of her man. But that was nothing compared to the excitement of the twins once we came home. “You’re the best Daddy in the world! … pause… But I already thought that, even before you won”. And Shea gave me a superhero trophy. It looks like his faith in me has been restored, after him voicing doubts earlier this week.

Despite the fact that the race wasn’t exactly a glorious achievement, I went out for a few extra miles after coming home. I was on a high. I recommend winning, it feels good.

Sunday was a gorgeous day and I seized the opportunity for a longer loop in Valentia that I had meant to run for a while. I ran along the southern side of the island all the way to the western tip, up to the signal tower in Bray Head, and came back via the northern side. It was a seriously hilly run, and the views were breathtaking, especially towards the Skelligs. The whole loop is about 14.5 miles long, and when I added up this week’s miles in my head I realised that this would put me on 98.5. I was supposed to cut back the mileage now, but with me being so close to 100 I could not resist adding an extra out-and-back section to give me one and a half extra miles. Those were pure vanity miles, only there to boost my mileage up to triple figures. I’m not even sure about the correct mileage, because the distance covered during the hill repeats is just a guess, but my training log shows 100 miles, and I’ll stick with that. I should probably start cutting back for real this week. It’s not that I feel overtrained. My legs might feel heavy, but that’s not overtraining. It’s just that everybody else tells me to go easy, including guys who know a lot more about running than I do.

What makes up for the reduced mileage is the greater intensity on the hills. I’m planning to do 3 hill workouts per week for the next 3 weeks, and today was the first one for this week. I returned to Geokaun for one last time, and 4 repeats were what followed. By the time of the second repeat the sun had risen and shone directly from the side, enabling me to see my shadow, which was a great way to check out my form. I’ve never been sure if I’m doing those drills correctly, but from what I could see it looked good. At least my shadow seems to perform them properly, maybe the rest of me does so too. I also added some bounding to the mix of steep-hill running, which is always a very tough workout. There is still some work to do before I can do those for any length of time before gasping for air within seconds.

Today is our last day in Valentia, and of course the weather has turned absolutely beautiful all of a sudden. I shouldn’t complain, I’ll still be able to enjoy the sunshine while at home, and running through a beautiful summer morning sure beats the rain we’ve had to endure for much too long.

28 Jul: 9 miles, incl. 5k race in 19:39, 6:20 pace, 1st place. First ever win.
29 Jul: 16 miles, 2:12:51, 8:18 pace, avg. HR 143
30 Jul: 4 hill repeats, 1:47:30, ~12 miles, avg. HR 138

Weekly mileage: 100+ miles

Friday, July 27, 2007

Proceed with Care

Should you ever find yourself driving in a country where they drive on the opposite side of the road than the one you’re accustomed to, please take extra care. And if you are in that situation, and someone else comes along on the same side of the road as your are, flashing his light, breaking, but not moving out of the way, then please take that as a clue to reconsider your positioning. Unlike that numbskull I came across on Wednesday night who wouldn’t budge, forced me into an emergency break, and finally moved over once I was basically standing still, with a few meters left spare. We were just lucky that it was on a straight stretch of road and I was driving well below the speed limit. One of Niamh’s friends suffered a head-on collision with some tourist two or three years ago on nearly exactly the same place. I prefer to get a raised heart rate from running, not from a near-death experience.

Anyway, let’s return to the subject of running. Thursday called for hill repeats again. I left myself with plenty of time for a change and managed 4 hill repeats up Geokaun. But I got a surprise when I took off for the windsprints at the bottom of the hill. The muddy road that I used for that purpose had a metal wire hanging across it all of a sudden. If that was because the farmer didn’t like me using that road or if it was for some unrelated reason I don’t know. I contemplated my options and decide to do the strides at the top of the hill instead of the bottom. There is a flat(ish) road from the upper car park to the Fogher Cliffs, where, incidentally, I had never been before, despite running past the car park numerous times. It turns out those cliffs are absolutely stunning, but as I found out afterwards, they are the place where famous climber Michael Reardon tragically lost his life 2 weeks ago. I didn’t know that at the time and just carried on with my workout, which, as ever, was reasonably stressful. I also got caught by some heavy rain showers, which I could have done without.

I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do, but I more or less continued with my heavy mileage through the first week of the hill phase. As a result, my legs are feeling more and more tired. I did three laps in Valentia this morning, which came to over 17 miles. That’s a tad less than during the last few weeks of the base building phase, but it’s still more miles than I’ve ever done before. Today’s pace definitely felt faster than 8:20. Either my legs are getting more and more beaten up by the training, or there is a slight error in the mile measurements, and the courses in Valentia a slightly long (or, alternatively, the ones in Caragh Lake are short). I’ll be back in Caragh Lake on Monday, and if I’m still slow then I might cut down on my miles. I don’t want to get too hung up on the pace of my long runs so far out from the marathon, but 8:20 pace just should not feel as hard as it did today, hills or no hills.

I also got rained on twice today, and one of those downpours was so heavy that I wasn’t sure if it was hail stoning. On the other hand, it turned into a beautiful day. The weather forecast for the next few days is similar: changeable. I guess it’s better than what they have in Southern Europe at the moment, where people are literally dying due to the excessive heat. Take care.

26 Jul: 4 hill repeats, 1:40:31, ~ 11.5 miles
27 Jul: 17.1 miles, 2:22:35, 8:20 pace, avg. HR 143

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lazy and Insane, Apparently

“Daddy won’t win. He’s not running much.” It looks like Shea has lost faith in my abilities, when Niamh told him about my next race. While the prediction is almost certainly correct, isn’t a dad supposed to be the all-powerful idol for a 6-year old? And what’s that about not running much???

I did another hill session yesterday. Learning from Monday's mistake I took the direct route to Geokaun, paid my 1 Euro toll and proceeded with 3 repeats up that road. The sun came exactly from the side, which enabled me to see my own shadow as I did the steep-hill running. I still can’t lift my knees as high as I’d like to, but I like to think that I’ve improved already. The sessions were tough again, as ever. After the third one all I could mutter was “this better be worth it!”

Two weeks ago I did my long run the day after a hill workout and struggled to make it through. Last week’s long run was a walk in the park in comparison. Today I did the same thing again as two weeks ago, and again I struggled for most of the course. I ran three loops of the Knightstown-Chapeltown-Shore Road loop, but ran it counter clockwise for a change. It was really windy and I hoped that the hilly part might be a tad more sheltered, and then I’d have the wind on my back on the Shore Road. Not entirely surprising, the climb got tougher with each loop, and I sure was glad when I reached the apex for the last time. It was slow progress, but the legs didn’t seem to have anything else in them. After completing the third loop I still had a 3-mile out-and-back section to do to make up 20 miles. This time I ran on the shore road, because that’s the only road where I know where the (imaginary) mile markers are. Either the wind had picked up by now or the shore road really is more exposed, but I definitely had to fight against the wind this time. The turn-around point couldn’t come soon enough, and when I reached it at long last I could finally brush that little devil off my shoulder that had incessantly been whispering “turn around. You’ve already run long enough. Just turn around” into my ear. Running felt so much better on the way back home that I put the foot down and got some decent pace, but of course this was with the wind.

For the first time in weeks, Niamh was up when I got home. “Shea woke at half past six, and I haven’t slept since”. She didn’t look happy, and maybe answering with “so you got a lie-in then” wasn’t exactly the smartest thing to do. She also came up with “Mum and Dad think you’re insane”. “I know … maybe they’re right”. “Maybe they are”.


24 Jul: 3 hill circuits, 1:31:41, est. 10.5 miles
25 Jul: 20 miles, 2:49:46, 8:29 pace, avg. HR 142; last 1.5 miles in 11:15 (7:30 pace, albeit wind-assisted)

Monday, July 23, 2007

And so the streak ends

No, not the one about me running day for day, that’s still ongoing. The one about correctly predicting the gender of our children, I mean. After guessing correctly for the first 3 I made the confident prediction that we’re in for another boy. On Friday we had a scan (very late, Niamh is already 25 weeks). It’s a girl. Lola is thrilled, she really really really wanted a sister. Cian on the other hand burst into tears. He wants three brothers. Because 3 is his favourite number. Because he himself is 3. Sorry, Cian, that’s just not happening.

I faced a problem over the weekend, because after staying home in Caragh Lake for a couple of days (for the scan and the concert), we went back to Valentia and I promptly forgot to take my HRM and my stopwatch with me. It meant three runs without a timing device, and I felt half-naked without the chest strap. Of course it didn’t really matter. I got a pretty good idea of how long I’d been out from looking at the clock in the hall, and the training effect isn’t actually altered even if you get the time wrong by a minute or two, even though it hurts my geeky fondness for numbers.

I went back to the hills on Friday for another set of repeats. The highest hill in Valentia is called Geokaun (with loads of different spellings) and there is a private road up to the very top. The cost for pedestrians is 1 Euro, which I brought along with me. I proceeded with 3 sets of steep-hill running, each followed by a few laps around the car park up there, gingerly jogging down the steep hill (my knee is still dodgy) and 3x200 meters of sprints on a dirt road at the bottom. After the third repeat I actually ran the extra half mile up to the very top, but I didn’t do the high knee lift for that section, just ran normally. The view up there was breathtaking, even though it was a bit hazy. I had inadvertently taken the long way round on my way there. By the time I started my first hill repeat I had already covered more than 5 miles, which isn’t quite ideal, but as I found out there is a shorter way via the lighthouse road. I’ll keep that in mind for the next time. I didn’t know how much distance I had covered, but the whole run had taken well over 2 hours and I settled for a 14.5 miles estimate.

I still felt pretty good on Sunday, and was looking forward to the 10 miles to finish off the week. Somehow it was liberating to run without a stopwatch, and I turned the run into a fartlek session, with a faster segment each mile or so. Obviously I didn’t time it, but I kept up a good pace even on the recovery parts, and was back home in about 1:15. It was a very good run at the end of yet another 100-mile week, and I was pleased to be able to crank out a few faster miles even after such a high mileage.

I expected to be sore again today, because that’s what happened after the last hill repeat workout. But I awoke without any soreness and happily went on my way for another 16 miles. I’m officially going into my hill phase now, but to ease into it I’ll only do 2 sets of hills this week. My mileage will drop a bit, which means those 2 100mpw weeks will remain there on their own. I haven’t decided on quite how much I will run, but I will cut down the longest run from 22 to 20 miles. At the very least it will give me an extra 15 minutes of sleep on Wednesday, and I’m happy to take that after last week’s madness. I managed to catch up on sleep over the weekend, I got in excess of 8 each night, including the one to Monday.

I drove via Caragh Lake on my way to work today to pick up my stopwatch and HRM (plus a few other things). It was fun to run without a timing device for a while, but I’m glad to be able to satisfy my obsession for numbers again.

21 Jul: 3 hill repeats, 2:06, ~14.5 miles
22 Jul: 10 miles, ~1:15, ~7:30 pace
23 Jul: 16 miles, ~2:12, ~ 8:15 pace

Weekly mileage: 102.5 miles

Friday, July 20, 2007


I know I recently complained about not getting enough sleep. If I had known what was in store, I would have shut up. I guess it’s all down to my whining. Fate has a habit of punishing whiners.

The night from Wednesday to Thursday was bad. I went to bed a bit late (my own fault, of course), but then it really started. At 2 am Shea complained that he didn’t want to sleep in the same room as Cian (after 2 years!). Too tired to argue we let him sleep in our bed. He promptly fell asleep top to toe, and twice viciously kicked me in the face. At 3 am Cian turned up. I carried Shea back into his own bed and Cian stayed with us. At 4 am Lola cried. She needed to go to the bathroom but was scared of the dark, so Daddy had to stand guard. Each time it took ages to fall back asleep again, and what should have been a long sleep until 6.10 am turned out to be much too little.

The run on Thursday was fine. 10 slow and easy miles were on the program, and passed without incident. I can’t think of anything to write, apart from the fact that I managed to get my lowest heart rate for a run ever, despite the fact that I added 8x100 strides towards the end of the run. I was surprised by how quickly the HR came down each time.

The next night was even worse. Niamh had gone out for a concert, and should have been back around midnight. It also meant that bath time, tooth brushing, story time and putting the unruly brood to bed was left to me alone, which was stressful enough. But when Cian woke me at 2:35 am (he wanted to come into our bed) and there was no sign of Niamh I immediately got worried. She didn’t have her mobile phone with her, so I sent some text messages to the friends she had gone out with, and when I didn’t get an answer rang them up after some hesitation (it was nearly 3 am by now). Eventually one of them answered the call and said that Niamh had dropped her off just 5 minutes ago and would be home soon. Sure enough she turned up eventually. I didn’t really say much apart from “never do that to me again” and went back to bed. Unfortunately I was wide awake and couldn’t sleep for another hour. I finally drifted off to sleep around 4 am, but when the alarm went off at 4:30, I didn’t have much more than 4 hours of sleep behind me. I contemplated going back to sleep but eventually got up anyway, got ready and headed out of the door. It was still fairly dark, which is something I haven’t been used to for months, but not enough to require a headlamp.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about the first half of the run. I think I was basically still asleep, but the legs were on autopilot and found the way all by themselves. I had deliberated if I should do a similar run to last week (3 reasonably flat out-and-back segments) or return to my loop around Caragh Lake. I eventually settled for the latter. One loop around the lake is 17 miles and a second loop to Ard-na-Sidhe makes 22 miles, which was just too beautiful to resist. It meant a lot of hills, which worried me because of the pain in my knee on all those downhills, but decided that my knee was getting better and I would be able to run through any pain. This worked out reasonably well. It did hurt, especially on the steep bits, but now I’m convinced that I’m definitely on the way to recovery again, and I need some more hills for my running. All those flat miles won’t cut it.

I kinda woke up for the second half, and started noticing the various life forms around me, apart from the usual assortments of cats, dogs and birds I came across millions of gnats (annoying), sheep (panicked), cows (mating, not a pretty sight), horses (beautiful), rabbits (fast) and one badger (dead). Eventually a few early risers on their way to work appeared on the road as well. The run went well enough, much better than last week when the second half had turned more and more into a death march with each mile. On the other hand I was much slower than anticipated, and certainly slower than it felt like. I guess the sleepwalking first half was mostly responsible for that, I remember looking at my watch after 8 miles, seeing 1:08, managing to calculate the pace (8:30) in my head and being surprised at the slow progress. I resisted the temptation to speed up, especially as the long 3-mile climb was about to start, which didn’t exactly help the average pace. I guess I should be reasonably happy with the second half of the run, which must have been around 8:10 to make up a bit of time. That’s still slow, but it was a long run, and after so little sleep I won’t split hairs. Maybe I should take all those hills into account. They were bound to slow me down.

I think I’ll sleep in on the weekend. Any screaming kids will be Niamh’s problem (yeah, right!).

19 Jul: 10 miles, 1:24:43, 8:28 pace, avg. HR 135
20 Jul: 22 miles, 3:03:41, 8:20 pace, avg. HR 145

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I guess there are still one or two points I have yet to learn about running – no surprise here. The last two workouts went exactly the opposite way I expected them to go, one good and one bad. Now, if I could figure out those things in advance rather than with help of hindsight I might be able to train smarter.

I was already writing my next blog entry in my head before yesterday’s workout. On the cards were 12 miles, with 9 of them at 7:15. Okay, the original plan said 10 with 8, but I added a mile to both the warm-up and the faster part. I have tried that workout twice before in the last month and never managed to get the pace better than 7:25. I expected the same again and already formulated sentences in my head about how I can’t understand how I can run 6:12 in a race and it feels almost effortless but can’t hit a minute slower than that in a training run.

Well. After 3 slow miles I pushed the accelerator and took off. The first half mile was slightly downhill, which helped I guess. This was in Valentia, relatively unknown territory to me, which meant I wasn’t quite sure where the imaginary mile markers are, but it became obvious soon enough that not only was I running the required pace, I was exceeding it by a good margin. This was confirmed at the turn-around point after 3 miles, when only 21:04 had passed (7:01 pace). I took it a bit easier on the return leg, but keep in mind that the last half-mile was uphill, and in light of that 7:21 pace isn’t too far out. The third sector (with the downhill half-mile again, obviously) was closer to target pace, 7:12. I faced an unusual problem on that stretch, namely that I was staring right into the sun. I had left my shades at home, and by now the ubiquitous clouds were gone and the sun had risen and I was running straight towards it. Whenever I tried to look down my running form became hunched, and as soon as I corrected that I was looking into the ball of fire again. This went on for nearly two miles, when the road finally turned a few degrees, enough for me to avoid the straight gaze.

I was a happy man after that workout. I had hit the target time and the effort had definitely been manageable. I finished the run with the knowledge that I could have run further or faster, which is what you should always feel like after a workout, isn’t it?

I was already looking forward to today’s run, the second part of that double header, and I was confident I’d finally be able to nail both parts of the workout. Maybe it would have gone better had I been a bit more cautious? After another slow warm-up I was supposed to hit 8:00 pace for the next 10.5 miles. I did very well for the first 2.5 miles of that, but then got a bit taken away. Without really noticing I sped up, and even when I realised that I was getting ahead of target I didn’t reign myself in, which, in hindsight, I should have done. As I was flying along at 7:45 I felt really good, and was still confident that I had another gear or two in store for later on. The first doubts didn’t appear until near the end of the segment, when I finally started to tire. The plan was to get down to 7:15 pace again for the next 3 miles, and even though I tried really hard, the legs were gone. I didn’t get faster than 7:30, and even then the end of that segment couldn’t come fast enough. The last time I tried this kind of run I managed to draw out the faster part for a bit longer, but there was no chance of that happening today. I couldn’t believe that the massive increase in effort only resulted in a lousy 15 seconds per mile improvement, but I can’t really argue with my watch.

The obvious answer is that I shouldn’t have run the preceding part faster than planned, and I’ll keep the lesson in mind. Next time I try this I won’t be quite so cocky, believe me. The figures for the run aren’t that bad, actually. The average pace was sub-8, even with a very slow warm-up, but the point is that the 3 fast miles were the most important part of it, and I screwed that one up. I'm tired and sore now. Tomorrow will be easy.

17 Jul: 12 miles, 1:30:28, 7:32 pace, avg. HR 151, with 9 miles @ 7:12
18 Jul: 18 miles, 2:23:36, 7:58 pace, avg. HR 148, with 10.5 miles @ 7:50 and 3 miles @ 7:32

Monday, July 16, 2007

Mile High

I sure hope this Valentia holiday won’t be the end of me. Due to the longer commute I have to get up earlier than usual, and since everyone else is on holiday and staying up late I tend to get to bed later than normal as well. For the past weeks I’ve been surviving on 6 hours of sleep each night, and even though I got closer to 8 during the weekend I don’t think that’s sufficient.

As already mentioned in my race report, I kept the mileage up on Saturday and ran 15 miles in spite of the race the day after. It was quite warm to start with, but after a short and sharp rain shower any fears of overheating had dissipated. I did the Valentia loop again, twice, with some out-and-back section tagged to the end of it. The road is becoming very familiar by now.

On Sunday I managed somewhere between 6 and 7 miles, with the race, the warm-up and the cool-down. The race went reasonably well, and with those miles I pushed myself to over 100 miles for those 7 days. All in singles, and all of them at slow pace, apart from the race, obviously. Now, most people wouldn’t recommend running your first ever 100-mile-week on the same week as your first hill training session and with a race as well. I’m perfectly aware that I’m playing with fire here. It just happened like that, I increased my miles each week, and the week where I reached 100 just coincided with the hill training and the race. The thing is, I feel pretty good. I expected to be constantly fatigued on that kind of training, but the truth is that I feel totally fine. The legs are heavy at the beginning of each workout, but always come round after two or three miles.

I’m probably the slowest 100 mpw runner on the planet. That’s ok, someone has to be, and the point of that training is to become faster, and eventually someone else will become the slowest. Of course I’m spending a lot more time on the road than the average runner at that distance. All I can point to is the sentence in my previous paragraph: I feel fine.

I keep reading articles on the Internet and as well as the odd comment here that I’m overdoing things, and that that kind of mileage is counter-productive. I always shrug my shoulders when I come across that. It works for me. I’ve gotten faster with each mileage increase, and my time in yesterday’s race is a clear sign that the improvement is still ongoing. As long as that continues I don’t see the point in trying a different strategy.

I’ll continue with the same mileage this week. I ran 16 miles this morning, slow and steady to recover the legs from the race, especially the calves, which started to complain each time I pushed the pace a bit. I’ll try another double header tomorrow and Wednesday, but may pull out of it if I think I can’t pull it off.

14 Jul: 15 miles, 2:00:28, 8:02 pace, avg. HR 146
15 Jul: 6+ miles, incl. 5k race in 19:16
16 Jul: 16 miles, 2:14:40, 8:25 pace, avg. HR 143

Weekly mileage: 100+ (I’ve been looking forward to typing this for a long time)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Killarney 5k Fun Run

I’m not supposed to sit on the computer, so in marked contrast to my usual epic race reports, this one will be short.

With the dearth of races around here I can never resist this event, even though the timing is less than perfect, it’s always in my base building phase. I told myself to run it as a hard workout, but knew perfectly well that I would not hold back as soon as I was over the start line. I even contemplated to taper for a day or two, but decided against it. I’m not training for a 5k, I’m training for a marathon, and kept my heavy mileage going. It meant a race on tired legs, but that’s a feature of all my short races.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. As ecstatic as I had been with my previous PR of 19:52 when I ran it, by now it was looking embarrassingly soft, especially when compared to my best 10k time. On the other hand I hadn’t done a single speed workout in months, and my legs were tired from the high mileage. But I suspected that a new PR might be on the cards anyway.

The event is definitely not for the purist racer. It’s a fun run, not a competitive race, which shows by the number of, let’s say, less-than-athletic runners at the start. They went even more towards the fun run part this year by not giving out numbers, so I guess we won’t be seeing any online results either. Anyway, I started near the front, but hesitated for a split second at the start and was immediately boxed in by a bunch of kids. They seemed to form a solid barrier in front of me, but ran a bit slower than the pace I had in mind. Eventually I had to deliberately drop back behind a few people to be able to get to the side and run past all of them. From then on I had a clear run all the way.

I kept reeling in runner after runner, which is always fun. Usually the overtaking part more or less stops after a while when the field is settled, but I managed to keep it going all the way to the end. For the first half, some guy was right on my shoulder and wouldn’t relinquish this place. I expected him to stay there for the entire race and outkick me at the end but around the 3k mark we went up a small incline and he fell back. This seemed to set the tone for the rest of the race, on the flat bits I usually managed to draw up to the person in front of me and on the next incline I went past. Not that there were any hills, just tiny changes in elevation. I felt comfortable all the way, so much so that I questioned my commitment to the race. I’ve definitely got the marathon runner’s mindset, and I never pushed far enough into the pain zone to feel the acid burn in the legs and the breath of fire in the throat that you’re supposed to feel when you’re running a 5k. On the other hand I never seemed able to run any faster. I had plenty of strength in the legs but was definitely lacking speed.

Anyway, the finish is the only hard part of the course, going up the only real hill. I pushed as hard as I could and pressed the button on my stopwatch as I crossed the non-existing finishing line in 19:16. In comparison to my 10k time this is still soft, but then again I was nearing the peak of my fitness for that 10k, while I’m still in the building phase as of now, as mentioned. I was reasonably pleased with my time. I have another chance to better it in 2 weeks' time.

Killarney 5k Fun Run, 19:16, 6:12 pace, a PR by 36 seconds.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday the 13th

Unlucky for some, unremarkable for most. My training is going pretty well and I’m happy with it. I admit I did exaggerate a bit in my last entry when I said I deliberately tried to break my knee. It was more a rigorous test rather than a calculated ploy to cripple myself, but I was definitely happy with the result. A few people have cautioned me because the hill circuit and the following long run were two had runs in a row. That is true, but I think they were stressing two different parts of the system, which is why I think I can get away with that sort of behaviour. It’s all part of testing my boundaries. I’m sure I’ll cross the line eventually if I go on like that, but I should be able to learn form that experience. I have found that I’m much more capable of withstanding heavy training than I used to think. If I had never tried to test myself I would never have found out.

Nevertheless I took it easy on Thursday. Since I’m commuting from Valentia it meant that even a 12-mile run necessitated an early 5:30 wake-up call, and coupled with a feeble attempt at something resembling a social life the evening before it meant a rather short night. As soon as I got up I noticed the calves were quite sore, much more so than the day before. Tuesday’s hill run had finally bitten, DOMS be cursed. If I needed another reminder to take it easy, that was definitely the most effective one. I consequently ran the 12 miles at leisurely pace, and I did two out-and-back samples of the flat shore road rather then the much hillier loop through the island. My knee started playing up with a few miles to go, so I accelerated a bit, which always brings relief. This worked again, at the expense of a slightly higher heart rate.

I felt much better today, both from a fatigue as well as a soreness point of view. Which is good, since 18 miles were on the program. This is the run that was originally pencilled in for Wednesday, but I ended up swapping those two round. Again I didn’t get more than 6 hours of sleep, but somehow I felt rested enough. It was still quite dark by the time I hit the road, 5 am. The streetlights were still on. Yesterday I had not met a single soul on the entire workout; the only living creatures I came across were birds, cows and rabbits. Today it was a bit busier, mainly because I ran the entire loop, which incorporates the “main” road through the island. From our house that means about 2.5 flat miles, 1.5 miles of climbing, 1.5 miles of downhill and another flat bit to complete the loop at 5.7 miles. I did that 3 times, and added just under a mile to the end of the workout to make up 18 miles. It went pretty well. Towards the end of the second loop my knee started hurting, but not the same way it usually does, a sharp pain rather than the familiar dull one. The pain went away again half a mile later, and I had forgotten all about it at the end of that loop, which is why I didn’t hesitate to go out a third time. I think it was not related to my already established knee problem, at least I like to think so. It totally cooperated during the third loop, which encouraged me no end.

I ran into a herd of cows just before the end of the third loop, almost literally. They started coming out of a field just as I was passing by, and I ended up surrounded by approximately 30 of those big beasts. They stank!!! Most of them were completely undisturbed about my presence, but a few of them seemed to panic and ran off. God knows why, they each weigh about 10 times as much as I do. Luckily the leading cow in the herd seemed to know where to go and walked into a side path and even the panicky ones followed her off the road. The whole encounter probably lasted less than a minute. That's my third close cow encounter in short succession.

My mother-in-law remains unable to comprehend the level of training I’m doing. Last night she suggested turning on the oven before I go out running so that it would be nicely warmed up on my return to bake some bread. I really didn’t want to tell her that I’d be out for 2 and a half hours, and therefore it didn’t seem such a good idea to me. I just pretended to forget in the morning.

On Thursday I forgot the key to the house and inadvertently locked myself out when I went for my run. The whole house was still asleep at the time of my return, and I really didn’t want to wake the kids by ringing the doorbell. I managed to crawl through the bathroom window like a burglar, and nobody woke. In fact they were all still asleep by the time I left for work. Lucky for some.

12 Jul: 12 miles, 1:39:28, 8:17 pace, avg. HR 141
13 Jul: 18 miles, 2:28:51, 8:16 pace, avg. HR 146

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Break a Leg

About ten years ago, Tony Adams (a very well known English football player) was suffering from a very persistent ankle injury that threatened to prematurely finish his career. Eventually his manager sent him to a specialist in France. The first thing he made him do was to jump one-legged up a staircase – on his injured foot! When Adams reached the top still in one piece the doctor told him to go home, he was fine. Within no time, he was playing again in the Premier League. In his subsequent autobiography Adams said that he felt the doctor was deliberately trying to break his ankle, and when it withstood the pressure he realised the problem was mainly in his head.

With that story in my mind I deliberately tried to break my knee yesterday.

This pain in my left knee has been a constant companion for three weeks now and I while I have managed some heavy mileage in the meantime I have been avoiding any hills because running downhill hurt a lot.

Yesterday I did hill repeats.

That wasn’t just out of self-loathing. When I drew up an outline of my training cycle I pencilled in the week beginning on 23 Jul as the first week of a hill phase. Since it’s advisable to introduce that kind of training gradually I planned one day of hill repeats in each of the 2 weeks before that, and therefore I was due one. But with my knee issues I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do even one hill run, never mind a whole set of them. Consequently, yesterday was primarily a way to see if the knee would withstand the workout.

I got a pleasant surprise when I arrived at the base of said hill. Last year that was a road in desperately bad condition, with potholes every few meters that on more than one occasion nearly made me go over my ankle. Not only have they filled the holes in the meantime, they even covered the entire surface with a layer of compact dirt. Perfect! How did they know? After that good start things could only go well. I started out with two ascends of steep hill running, concentrating on lifting the knees as high as possible. It felt surprisingly easy. On the third repeat I added a few steps of bounding into the mix on 3 occasions, and the HR immediately shot up by 10 bpm. I took it very easy on the downhills (no need to overdo things), and did 3x200 strides at the bottom with 200m of jogging in-between before starting the next set. After three sets my knee let me know that it had enough, and since you are supposed to take it easy on the first workout of that kind I said goodbye to the hills and was content to run the rest of the workout on flat terrain. I added a few miles at the end to boost the mileage a little bit.

The last time I tried that workout my calves were almost comically sore for 5 days afterwards. Today I felt mostly fine, but there was definitely some soreness at the top of the calves. Nevertheless I headed out for my long run. My normal long run day is Friday, but I will be in Valentia on Friday, and with the extended commute from there I would have to get up at 4 am for 22 miles. I decided to swap Wednesday and Friday around to take advantage of the fact that Niamh and the kids have already left Caragh Lake and I didn’t have to come home in time for family breakfast, which allowed me the luxury of a lie-in until 5 am. The weather was perfect today, cloudy and mostly calm, and I headed out for the first of 3 loops. I decided to start with a flat 5-mile loop to Ard-na-Sidhe, then a hillier 10 mile one along Caragh Lake, with a final loop on the same road again but with a closer turn-around point for 7 miles. I also resolved to ignore the pace and be content with whatever the legs would be able to deliver.

The first loop went okay, if a little bit slow. I mostly managed to suppress any urge to speed up, but the next 5 miles took exactly 40 minutes. After that the wheels started to come off. I wasn’t quite sure quite where the legs started to grow those extra weights, but it was getting increasingly difficult to keep going. The miles, which had been flying by until now, started to get more and more drawn out (don’t you just hate it when that happens?) and I had the feeling of slowing down a lot. In actual fact the pace only dropped by a few seconds per mile. I was quite weary when I reached our driveway, but headed out for the third loop anyway. “The turn-around point is just 3.5 miles from here”. That made it sound easy; 3.5 miles are always manageable, aren’t they? They were, but I was definitely feeling quite low. However, the point of running a loop like this was that I wouldn’t be able to bail with a mile or two to go. There is no option but to keep running until you’re home, and that’s exactly what I did. To be honest, running seemed to become a bit easier again on that stretch, but I put that down to being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I definitely had had enough at the end.

I didn’t hit the wall out there. I know what (suspected) hypoglycaemia felt like in the final miles of last year’s Dublin marathon, and today wasn’t anything like that. My glycogen stores might have been slightly low to start with today, but I think the legs were just a bit weary after all the running I had done over the last few days, and especially with that hill workout only 24 hours earlier. Besides, running 22 miles is supposed to be tough. That’s pretty much the point of the exercise. Next week will be easier, I hope.

10 Jul: 12 miles, 1:42:13, incl. 3 hill repeats, avg. HR 146
11 Jul: 22 miles, 3:01:12, 8:14 pace, avg. HR 147, 5/5/5/7 splits 42:26, 40:00, 40:46, 57:59 (8:29, 8:00, 8:09, 8:17 pace)

Monday, July 09, 2007

A Sunny Weekend

My, my, doesn’t time fly. It’s been three days since my last entry, and I feel slightly guilty because I spent most of the last three evenings in front of the computer but couldn’t wean myself off YouTube. The reason is, Caragh Lake has belatedly joined the civilised world and we finally got broadband in our house. I felt like a kid let loose in the candy store, but at least I managed to keep the bulk of each day computer free.

Despite the late nights my running over the weekend felt just great. I can’t quite explain why I felt so good. I expected to be crawling after Friday’s 20-miler, but the truth is that the legs felt fresher than they have for a while. I ran 13 miles on Saturday, very relaxed and easy initially, but then the fun took over and I got a little bit faster with each mile. I managed to hold myself back and didn’t move into tempo run territory because I didn’t want to ruin the legs again, but sub-8:00 pace has rarely felt so easy. And all this despite the fact that I went back to the much hillier Caragh Lake road. I got fed up with the same Ard-na-Sidhe loop again and again and decided to risk the up-and downhills despite the ongoing knee issues.

And since it went so well on Saturday I went back there on Sunday, but for a shorter loop. Again, my legs felt surprisingly fresh and again the pace kept surprising me. I certainly didn’t expect to feel so good, at the end of my highest mileage week ever. Not that I’m complaining, I take a good day or two anytime. Maybe it has something to do with the time of the day. Maybe the legs just feel better at the weekend when I’m running at 9am in the morning rather than at 6am. I’ve read somewhere that early mornings are the worst times for a run because your muscles are cold and stiff (not that I’m going to change my habits). Maybe there is something to it.

Just to prove that theory, today felt tougher again, but compared to last Monday’s painful jog it was a lot better. I combined the Ard-na-Sidhe loop with the Caragh Lake road, but did the flat loop first in order to force the legs over some hills later on when they were tired already. I didn’t feel anywhere near as fresh as the days before, but it wasn't too bad. Towards the end of the run I even added 6 or 7 strides into the mix. That's something I've badly neglected over the last few weeks and I felt guilty about it. But I was astounded how quickly my heart rate returned back to normal after each set. That's not something that happened all of a sudden, though. I’ve noticed in the last two weeks or so that my heart rate has been steadily dropping. I remember something similar happening during my last training cycle when I consistently hit 80 mpw. There seems to be some threshold in my legs; as soon as I hit that mileage they start improving. Which is good, I just hope that the improvements will continue.

There will be a bit of disruption over the next few weeks, because we’re off to Valentia Island again. In fact, Niamh and the kids will go there tomorrow, and I’ll follow a day later. Since I’ve used up a lot of my holiday allocation already for this year (I’m keeping one week for November when the baby arrives) , I’ll have to commute from there. It’s not far, the drive from there to Killorglin is about 45 minutes, but that’s a lot more than the 10 minutes it takes from Caragh Lake, and that will mean getting up 30 minutes earlier. Ugh. At least Valentia is a nice place to run, as long as the weather cooperates.

7 Jul: 13 miles, 1:41:52, 7:50 pace, avg. HR 149
8 Jul: 9 miles, 1:09:58, 7:46 pace, avg. HR 149
9 Jul: 15 miles, 2:03:16, 8:13 pace, avg. HR 142 (!), incl. 6-7x1000 strides

Weekly mileage: 92

Friday, July 06, 2007

Fame at Last

I checked out the Bantry Bay Half Marathon website the other day and lo-and-behold, they’ve got a trailer of their DVD online. And what do I see? Me! About two thirds into the video there are three second of a guy in a yellow singlet at the finish. Yup, you are looking at yours truly. My upper body is bouncing sideways like a dinghy in gale-force winds, but I was well and truly knackered at that point after desperately chasing a 1:30 finish. (blogline readers: the video doesn't display in bloglines. You'll have to come to my site to view it in all its glory)

Was that really only 2 months ago? It seems like ages since I have last raced. I’ve covered a lot of training miles since then, and there will be many more until the Loch Ness marathon.

After Wednesday’s strenuous run I was happy enough with 8 easy miles on Thursday. Just go out and get the miles in. The weather has been desperate during the last few weeks (I think we just had the wettest June since recordings began), but I have been generally lucky in the mornings, but not so over the last 2 days. It was raining heavily on Thursday, and for someone who’s wearing glasses this is a major nuisance. I should have left them at home, I would have seen a lot more. Strangely enough my knee acted up again. I didn’t expect that. Maybe it has something to do with the surface of the Caragh Lake road. It’s a road surface, alright, but somewhat rougher than a normal road. This shouldn’t really affect my knee, but maybe somehow it does. Anyway, I managed the required 8 miles just fine.

And today I finally got a 20 mile run under my belt. It has been quite a while since my last one. I originally planned 10 miles alongside Caragh Lake and two loops to Ard-na-Sidhe, but one look out of the window this morning was enough to change my mind. It was bucketing it down, and the trees were swaying in the wind, which almost always means a trip to Ard-na-Sidhe to get a little bit of shelter. 4 loops out-and-back it was, but that had the advantage that I could sneak back home after 5 miles to answer a call of nature and to change my shirt, which was soaked through. By now it had stopped raining and the next three loops were run in slightly more agreeable conditions. Check out the contrast for Mike’s long run this morning in Tucson, Arizona – 88F/31C at 4 am in the morning. Unimaginable to me! For running purposes I think I prefer the Irish rain. Anyway, the run went ok. It was a bit slower than expected but my resolve to be more relaxed about the pace held, I only accelerated a bit on the final loop which was the only one covered in less than 40 minutes. I was quite happy to have managed 3 runs of at least 2 hours this week. This should be just the thing I need to boost my endurance.

When I think about it, getting up at 4:50 am to go running is ridiculous. A car passed by a few minutes into the second loop, still before 6 am. The driver must have thought I was completely barmy. But what would he have thought had he known that I had already covered 6 miles by then? And to think that I’m planning to do this every week for a while. Maybe runners are a different breed.

5 Jul: 8 miles, 1:05:13. 8:09 pace, avg. HR 143
6 Jul: 20 miles, 2:45:27, 8:16 pace, avg. HR 143, 5-mile splits 43:03, 41:28, 41:01, 39:55 (8:36, 8:17, 8:12, 7:59 pace)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Rainy Day

Since it is July 4th today I don’t know how many people from across the Pond are going to read this, so I take the opportunity to draw on a point made my Grellan in his comment yesterday.

I’ve used running calculators like the McMillan one plenty of times, and I have found them to be reasonably accurate for anything up to the half-marathon distance. I never managed to get anywhere near my projected marathon time though. I think that is where the wall comes in. Very good runners may be able to push the wall past the 26-mile mark, but I and, I suspect, the majority of runners are not. Last year in Dublin running got markedly more difficult after the 23 mile mark, and even though I managed to keep the pace going pretty well, there is something that keeps me from running my predicted times; I’m always several minutes slower. Therefore, I don’t think that a marathon time of 3:25 a few weeks after a 1:32 half is bad. My prediction would have been between 3:20 and 3:25, and that’s where you ended up. But keep going. For someone who has been running for a year and a half those are impressive times. In fact, your marathon PR is better than mine (though I definitely intend to change that in October).

After feeling like someone needed to scrape me off the pavement on Monday I didn’t expect a brilliant workout on Tuesday. Nevertheless I decided to press ahead with the double header for as long as I could stomach it; I could always dial back the pace if it got too much. After a slow 2 miles warm-up I tried to press the accelerator to 7:15 pace, but like last week did not manage to reach that pace. In fact, it was worse than last week, my splits for each 2.5 mile segment were 18:34, 18:51 and 18:44 (7:25, 7:32 and 7:29 pace respectively). Don’t ask me what happened. My only comment in the logbook was “crap”, and let’s leave it at that.

After that, I definitely didn’t expect much for today. In fact I toyed with the idea of just running slowly at recovery pace, but once I was out on the road decided to give it a try anyway. A slow warm-up was followed by 10 miles at 8:00-8:05 pace. That was pretty much acceptable, and I surprised myself by how well I felt. Well enough, in fact, to push the foot down once again for 3.5 miles at 7:15 pace, and this time I definitely surprised myself by actually hitting that pace. I really don’t know why I’m seemingly unable to run 7:15 for a normal run, but have now managed it twice with 12 miles in the legs. It just doesn’t seem to make an awful lot of sense. However, I’m not complaining. All of a sudden my fears of overtraining are gone (to return again, no doubt) and I’m feeling good again. I’ll follow this up with 8 very easy miles tomorrow. No need to push the pace. I noticed that I’ve slowed down a little bit over the last 2 or 3 weeks. Mainly this is down to me not being so hung up about pace any more. I used to run every single run under 8:00 pace, now I’m a lot more relaxed about it. As my mileage is creeping upwards again, this is probably a good thing.

I made once change in the office. I think my knee felt so bad because my chair was quite low down, so I changed it and adjusted it a good bit higher on Monday. This resulted in me looking down at the screen all day, which gave me a really bad pain in the neck. On Tuesday I gathered the fattest computer manuals I could find and used them as a monitor stand. The pain in the neck is gone, and my knee seems to be getting better, now that the lower leg is at a different angle. I dare to hope again.

3 Jul: 10 miles, 1:17:28, 7:44 pace, avg. HR 153 (?), 2.5 miles split paces 8:30, 7:25, 7:32, 7:29
4 Jul: 17 miles, 2:16:36, 8:02 pace, avg. HR 149, 2.5 miles w/u, 9.5 miles @ 8:00-8:05, 3.5 miles @ 7:13, 1.5 miles c/d. Much better.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Monday Blues

What’s the best bit about the weekend? That you don’t have to go to work, of course. And what’s the best bit about not having to go to work? That you don’t have to sit in an office chair that causes a world of pain in your knee.

I spent two blissfully pain free days at home, even though I definitely didn’t hold back on my training runs. Today, Monday, I’m back in the office, and within 2 hours my knee was so sore that I sat down in the middle of the floor and started doing stretching. Of course I got funny looks from all sides. I didn’t care, as long as my knee felt better afterwards.

I’ve harboured hopes that I’m slowly getting better. Maybe I am. But today’s pain is a stark reminder that I’m nowhere near recovered.

12 miles on Saturday didn’t sound too tough; after all it was the same workout as the week before. The weather was changeable, mostly cloudy with the occasional shower. At one point the sun came out at the same moment as the rain started. Anyone in Killorglin looking towards Caragh Lake must have seen a beautiful rainbow, and I was there right beneath it (I didn’t find a crock of fairy gold, though). My knee started hurting after a small downhill section, plus I was a bit bored, so I decided to throw in a fast mile, both to alleviate the knee issues (it really hurts less when I speed up) and to have a bit of fun. I tried to stay aerobic at all times, and 6 minutes and 47 seconds later I thought “that was fun, let’s do it again”. But then I remembered that I had planned a faster run for Sunday. If one fast mile hadn’t already ruined my chances of a decent workout, a second one would surely have done so, and I decided to just drudge along at daydreaming pace for the reminder of the run.

I tried to put a bit of effort into Sunday’s workout, but it didn’t go entirely to plan. It could have been the residue of Saturday’s faster mile, or maybe the combined miles from the last few days, but the snap just wasn’t there and I didn’t get faster than 7:25 pace on average. That’s not even my planned MP, and after a run like that I always start doubting myself. It just doesn’t feel realistic to aim for a marathon pace of 7:15 when I can’t even hit it for a few miles during a training run. On the other hand, I ran a half-marathon at 6:51 pace two months ago, and in light of that 7:15 marathon pace doesn’t look particularly outrageous. Plus, prior to that race I struggled to run below 7:15 for even half the race distance during training, but the race day adrenaline proved to be powerful stuff. I guess I’m hoping for more of the same come October.

I got a bit of a surprise when I added up my miles for the week, because 85 was definitely a bit higher than expected. Not that I’m complaining, but I expected to feel a lot more fatigued when running that kind of mileage. Since the week went pretty well I’m adding a few more miles, which might bring me over 90, depending on how I feel.

I really have to admit that today’s run didn’t go too well, though. I’ve finally reached the level of 3 runs of 2 hours or more per week, and it might be taking its toll. It’s been a while since 15 miles felt so long, and I was definitely dragging my legs over the last 5-mile loop. The windy conditions didn’t help, but maybe I should be grateful for the low temperatures. I don’t think I’d be able to run my mileage if it were any hotter. By the end of the run I checked the HRM and couldn’t believe that it only read 147. My heart might have thought of it as a recovery run, but my legs had entirely different ideas.

Last week’s Monday run had been as easy as they come, which set me up for a double header on Tuesday and Wednesday. Today I don’t think I’ll be up for it. I might follow Eric’s advice once more and only do those every second week. I’ll decide tomorrow. If I can stomach a few faster miles, I’ll give it a try, otherwise I’ll just be happy to keep churning out the miles.

30 Jun: 12 miles, 1:35:46, 7:58 pace, avg. HR 148
1 Jul: 8 miles, 59:28, 7:26 pace, avg. HR 157
2 Jul: 15 miles, 2:05:36, 8:22 pace, avg. HR 147

Weekly mileage: 85