Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hard and Easy

I have found in the past that I can easily string together two tough workouts in a row as long as they are different, e.g. a hill workout and a long run the next day, or, as it happened this week, an interval workout and a long run. On past evidence I need only one recovery day after those to feel good again, and I guess I’ll know by tomorrow if that still stands.

This is the last week of the kids’ summer holidays, and once they're going back to school I will have to get back home earlier after my runs to help get them ready. This will mean getting up earlier, and therefore I chose this week for one last 22 mile run, while I still have the luxury of sleeping in until 4:45 and still get the workout done. I wasn’t sure how the legs would hold up after Tuesday’s half-mile repeats, so I gave myself permission to bail out after 17 miles (1 loop around Caragh Lake).

The legs felt much better than expected initially, but while I wasn’t nearly as tired as I thought I would be, the first 3 miles were very slow, just a tad faster than 9:00 pace. I did manage to pick it up after that, but crossed Blackstones Bridge (~8 miles) in 1:08, which is as slow as I was a few weeks ago during my sleepwalking run. However, I felt pretty good and the running got stronger the more I got into it. Nature produced a few interesting effects to take my mind off the running, first I ran into a flock of bats; they circled around my head so close that I think I could have touched them had I extended my arm, and then the nearly full moon came out to provide an eerie light to the surroundings. I saw a huge ominous dark cloud around Seefin mountain, which didn’t bode too well because that was the direction I was heading for, but by the time I got there the road was glistening wet (which looked cool in the moonlight), but the rain had already moved on.

I reached our driveway in 2:20, which isn’t particularly fast, but the legs felt as fresh as daisies, and I decided not only to add the 5 miles to Ard-na-Sidhe, I also wanted to run them at marathon pace. I set out strongly, and reached the turnaround point 18 mins and 20 secs later, just a little bit slower than MP. But on the return leg I definitely reached the edge of what I was capable of. I had to slow down, and while I had the feeling that I could run for another 10 miles if only I slowed down a lot more, I found it impossible to keep the old pace going. Mind you, I still managed about 7:35 pace on the way back, which isn’t too shabby for miles 20-22, especially considering the tough workout from the previous day. When I got home I was quite happy with the run, but I was also happy to stop, in all honesty. I had reached my ceiling.

After those two days, today's was always going to be a slow recovery run. The legs were at their heaviest I can remember, and even after the usual three warm-up miles I was still feeling the effects of the previous workouts. I had originally planned 10 miles, but since progress was pretty slow and I had left the house a few minutes late, I turned around after 4.5 miles instead of 5 to make it 9 miles.

My fitness is coming along really well, as shown by yesterday's run, but there is a cloud on the horizon as well. Since Wednesday last week my right shin hurts. It started out as a faint pain, but has grown more pronounced since then. I think it's a mild case of shin splints, and my main worry is not to let it develop into anything more. I know what caused it. My old shoes had almost 600 miles on them (the most I've ever put on a pair), and I had worn my lightweight trainers twice a week for the speed workouts. The increased strain from the lessened cushioning obviously was enough to cause my shin to act up. I've retired the old pair, and I've put the fast shoes back to the back of the wardrobe; all of the faster runs, including Tuesday's 800s were done in heavier trainers. I'm also icing several times a day. There are two-and-a-half weeks of heavy training left before the taper. I think I'll be able to hold off the worst of the shin splints until then, and from then on the reduced mileage should help. At least that's the plan. With 38 days until the marathon I really don't want to get a bad injury, and if the pain gets any worse, I'll cut my mileage.

29 Aug
22 miles, 2:59:22, 8:09 pace, avg. HR 140
last 5 in 37:18 (7:27 pace)

30 Aug
9 miles, 1:17:31, 8:36 pace, avg. HR 132

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Slow and Fast

It’s less than 6 weeks to the marathon, and I’m starting to feel slightly nervous about it whenever I think about it. I shouldn’t be. My training has been solid and I’m not a complete newcomer anymore, but the butterflies in my stomach won’t go away. Six weeks. That’s nothing. I’ll be crossing that line in no time.

There’s still some work to be done until then, though. After the exchange workout on Sunday I ran 10 very easy miles on Monday. My recovery paces are all over the place these days, and I don’t take too much notice of them; I run purely by feel. I had another all-time low as far as the HR went on Monday, despite the fact that I ran 28 seconds per mile faster than the equivalent run on the previous Monday. Figure that one out. I was definitely happy with the way it went. The first 2 or 3 miles were stiff and awkward, as always, but once I got into my stride I just ran along seemingly effortless. It’s good to feel fit.

I got a bit more ambitious today, and opted for half-mile intervals. Why half-miles? Why not. I can’t remember the last time I did those, probably one or two workouts when I was following the Pfitzinger plan, and this morning they sounded line fun. How hard can it be to run 800 meters at the time. How much recovery? 2 minutes. Why? Because that’s the first figure that came into my head. I was quite relaxed about those details. How accurate was the distance (remember, no track)? Well, I ran 4 minutes at supposed 8-minute pace a few days ago to measure it, and that’s perfectly accurate, right? Was the road flat? Er, no. It was bowl-shaped, each repeat started with a slight downhill and ended with a slight uphill, and the middle bit was up-and down as well. Sorry. They don’t really do flat road around here, unless you want to run on the main national road, which I don’t.

I ran 3 miles as a warm-up, and then got going. I’ll give you the numbers first, and then my thoughts about them.

3:16, 3:05, 3:09, 3:21, 3:09, 3:05, 3:06, 3:04.

The first one was more of a warm-up effort than anything else, and the fourth one was my fault for totally losing concentration and running much too slow. If you ignored those two, the pace becomes a mot more even. That botched fourth repeat was a blessing in disguise, because after that I finally started to put my mind to the task at hand and managed to tune into the effort. It was like the first 4 were prelude and the last 4 the actual workout. I hadn’t planned on a fixed number of repeats, but the general wisdom is that you should cover 3-4 miles at the fast pace, which meant 6-8 repeats. After the fourth repeat I shortly played with the idea of quitting, but thankfully kept going. However, it wasn’t until the middle of the sixth repeat that I had a kind of epiphany and realised that instead of pushing as hard as I could I should concentrate on form and relax a bit instead of mindlessly pushing as hard as I could. The figures after that speak for themselves, I managed the best times in my last few repeats despite the fact that the legs got more and more tired. In fact, after 6 repeats or so I felt like becoming addicted to the pain, which is why I did 2 two more. For those last two I just went through the same mantras in my head, “push those hips forward”, and “lift those knees”. Later I added “swing those arms”, and that all helped. I’m not actually surprised that running was both faster and easier once I started concentrating on form because I’ve read about that before, but it was an eye-opener all the same. Now all I have to do it remember the same thing in my next race. Maybe I should write it on the back of my hands to remind myself. Anyway, I felt tempted to add 2 more repeats after the eighth but called it a day because 4 miles at speed is supposed to be enough, and since I’m new to that kind of thing I didn’t want to overdo things. If the legs are all springy and fresh tomorrow I know I should have done more, but in all honesty I doubt it. I’m in for some slow and stiff early miles, I just know it.

27 Aug
10 miles, 1:23:14, 8:19 pace, avg. HR 132

28 Aug
10 miles, 1:17:59, 7:47 pace
with 8x800 in 3:16, 3:05, 3:09, 3:21, 3:09, 3:05, 3:06, 3:04

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dolphins and Football

Michelle asked a very good question:

If you qualify for Boston, will you come over? I ask because some can't afford the trip, but want to qualify anyway - to prove they can.

Well, you see, I haven’t made up my mind yet. Initially my goal was just to qualify, because that’s a target within reach (or to prove that I can as you've said). But as soon as I announced it, plenty of people commented that I should come over and do the marathon, which wet my appetite. But sadly, the realities of life make it unpractical to cross the Atlantic in half a year. Niamh would have her hands full with the new baby, and we would still be broke. As it is, running the required time in Loch Ness would enable me to run 2008 and 2009 (as long as they don’t adjust their qualifying times, that is), and for 2010 I would be in the next age group, which will make qualification an easier proposition. In short, I think I’ll have plenty of opportunities to run Boston, and future years might be more practical. In any case, I have to qualify first. As long as that’s outstanding, all talk is just hot air.

When I reached the bottom of my usual hill on Friday morning, I knew that I didn’t have the mind for hill drills, and just proceeded to run the hill in a more conventional way. I ran up 5 times, relatively easy at first and a little more strenuous with each repeat. The last one was the only one that I was satisfied with; it was the only time my HR went over 170. I wasn’t happy with the way I had done the workout. I should have pushed harder all along. If I had done 4 repeats like the last one, it would have been a much better workout. If I do another set of hills, I’ll opt for the drills again.

Since Friday hadn’t been very strenuous, I didn’t really need a recovery day on Saturday, and chose to run the very hilly Kerry Way loop instead of a flat(-ish) 10-miler. I usually run this clockwise, but chose to go the other way for once. The reason for that is a stony section of the trail that’s usually covered in water. You have to be very careful along there, and it’s better to run it uphill rather than downhill. The drawback of that direction was that the climb starts less than one mile from our house, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for warming up. Despite that, I felt just great on that run, and ran a lot faster than planned. I passed the 5-miles-to-go point in exactly one hour, and was home 38 minutes later. At first I didn’t really think about that, but when I put the number into a calculator I did a double take when I realised that I had covered that part at 7:36 pace. Wow. I knew that it was sub-8 pace, but it really hadn’t felt anywhere near as fast as that. I immediately feared for Sunday’s workout. Had I taken too much out of my legs to run a few decent fast miles the next day?

The fear seemed to be confirmed initially today. I felt stiff and tired, especially the quads were moaning with every step. When I reached the point where I had planned to start the speed workout from, I didn’t feel ready, and ran an extra 1.5 miles out-and-back to get warmed up properly. I put in 2 or 3 surges to wake up the leg muscles. After that I still wasn’t sure if I was up for it, but went ahead anyway. Since last week’s workout had been hindered by a lack of accuracy in my judgement of distance, I had opted to run 4x0.75 miles back-and-forwards on the same stretch of the Ard-na-Sidhe road. While I still couldn’t guarantee how accurate the 0.75 miles were, at least this would ensure that each section would be of equal length. I set off for the first part, supposedly marathon pace. It should have taken me 5:26 to cover the distance, but once again I got it wrong and reached the first turn-around-point in 5:05. The second part was as fast as I could while still being in full control, and went by in 4:48, which felt good. Then it was back to MP again, which felt like crawling after that faster section. I got much closer to the required pace this time, but erred a bit on the side of caution, 5:30. Mind you, it’s very difficult to judge your pace for 1200 meters without any feedback along the way. The last segment was faster again, and went by in 4:40, but, to be honest, towards the end the word “controlled” didn’t really apply. Nevertheless, I was pleased with the workout. The paces for the 4 sections were 6:46, 6:24, 7:20 and 6:13 respectively (assuming that the distance was accurate, of course). However, I think I still had plenty in the tank afterwards and could have extended the speed part for longer. I’ll probably try and run 4x1 miles next time.

We had a great family day afterwards. We drove to Dingle, went on a boat to see Fungie the dolphin, who did indeed turn up, to the great excitement of the children ( as well as the adults, to be honest). It’s amazing, nobody can explain why this dolphin has chosen to stay in Dingle harbour permanently, and the fact that he loves swimming beside boats makes him the perfect tourist attraction. Afterwards we went to the Aquarium, which went down very well, as well as the museum shop which went down even better. A trip to the Prehistoric History museum to satisfy Shea, our budding Archaeologist at the ripe old age of 6, turned out to be just as successful. And the fact that Kerry beat Dublin in the Gaelic football semi-final to reach the final for the 4th time in a row (of course we'll win the final. Kerry have a God-given right to win the final!) rounded off a pretty perfect day. Combining a running life with family has never gone better than today.

24 Aug:
12 miles, 1:38:24, 5 hill repeats, avg. HR 138

25 Aug:
12.25 miles, 1:38:02, 8:00 pace, avg. HR 143 (last 5 miles in 38:02, 7:36 pace)

26 Aug:
9.75 miles, 1:17:53. 7:59 pace; exchange workout 4x0.75 miles in 5:05, 4:48, 5:30, 4:40 (6:46, 6:24, 7:20, 6:13 pace)

Thursday, August 23, 2007


After Tuesday’s tempo run, I expected Wednesday’s long run to be a tough one, on stiff and tired legs. I did indeed feel some of that in the first three miles, but once I got into the groove things started to improve rapidly and I managed to go a good bit faster than expected. Planning a slower run rather than the 20-miles-with-7.5-at-MP one had the advantage that I could run over the hilly Caragh Lake loop without having to worry about preserving the legs for the faster bits later on. Nevertheless, the legs felt pretty good once I had left the hills behind me at mile 14, and I managed to turn up the pace another notch. I didn’t take split times initially, but I did take them for the last 3 miles, which went by in 22:22, which is 7:27 pace, something I was very pleased about. I hadn’t expected to be able to finish the run at such a strong pace.

Since Tuesday and Wednesday had been pretty tough, I took it much easier today. But the legs felt really good, and despite taking it easy all the way I got fairly close to 8:00 pace, something that used to be much tougher. It confirms something that I have noticed before, namely that my legs can handle long runs much better than fast efforts. Today I felt like I could easily have run further or faster, and the easy effort might have been a bit overcautious. Not that I’m second-guessing my schedule, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. But I’m very pleased with the way my fitness is developing. I’ve gotten a few comments stating that they expect me to break my PR in Loch Ness. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but merely breaking my PR would leave me rather disappointed. My goal is still 3:10, which will be tough, but I think it is within reach. If I miss that I’ll definitely want to break 3:15 and qualify for Boston, anything less and I’ll be upset, PR or not.

I nearly forgot, I had a rare encounter with a fox during my long run yesterday. It was in the hills east of the lake, at least 2 miles away from the nearest house, and that fox crossed the road just in front of me. He sat down about 5 meters off the road as I passed and we eyed each other suspiciously, each of us surprised by the presence of the other. I used to see foxes regularly when we were living in London, but around here they are much rarer (or maybe they’re shy). I think it’s only the second time in four years that I have spotted a fox in Kerry.

There are hill repeats on the schedule for tomorrow, but I will have to decide if I want to do the steep-hill running and bounding drills, or run up in a more conventional way. I got so fed up with those drills a couple of weeks ago that I don’t know if I want to perform them again. I’ll see.

22 Aug: 20 miles, 2:38:36, 7:55 pace, avg. HR 147; with 3 miles in 22:22 (7:27 pace)
23 Aug: 10 miles, 1:21:08, 8:06 pace, avg. HR 142

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Non-American Idiot

It was easy to come up with a workout for Monday. After my first attempt at dipping into the anaerobic zone for longer than a few seconds on Sunday, an easy run was always on the cards. Since easy runs always seem to be 10-milers for me these days, that’s what it was. It was quite windy, which is why I switched from the Caragh Lake road to the Ard-na-Sidhe one, but other than that I did as planned. My calves were stiff and tired, and the first 2.5 mile section took about 23 minutes, which is way slower than even 9:00 pace. The ego immediately kicked in and tried to press on the accelerator, but I managed to keep it in check and just plod along. I did get a bit faster, but that always happens after the first couple of miles. The main thing is, I managed to keep the effort at recovery level, and indeed came home with the lowest average HR for a run ever. 10 miles were in the book, but I still didn’t really feel recovered for the rest of the day.

I think listening to Green Day on Monday evening must have fried my brain, because I had a severe case of the stupids today. I have done that workout often enough by now, and really should know better. For Tuesday I had planned 10 miles with 7.5 miles at marathon pace, which means each 2.5 miles segment should take 18:07 (let’s ignore the extra half-second). But today, for some reason I had it in my basket case of a brain that the target time was 17:07. I really don’t know where that came from; I must be cracking up. Unsurprisingly, I missed the “target” time (I managed 17:33) , which led me to the conclusion that I had not yet recovered from Sunday’s workout, and kept pushing hard. The stupids didn’t stop there. When I finished the second segment in 17:45, I knew that this was a good 20 seconds faster than the actual target. I still didn’t connect the dots and kept believing that the first segment had been slow. Not only that, the target time switched back to 17:07 for the third segment. Don’t ask. I kept thinking “that’s too hard, I can’t possibly run like that for 26 miles”, but no, the truth didn’t dawn on me until after I had come home. I had felt like a mug on Sunday, but I felt a lot more like an idiot today. The original plan for tomorrow had been to do a long run with 7.5 miles at MP, but after today’s inadvertent tempo run this will be too hard, I think. I’ll just do a slow 20-miler, and if I feel like speeding up in the last few miles I’ll do so, but I doubt it, to be honest. I hope my brain will have switched itself back on by then.

20 Aug: 10 miles, 1:27:55, 8:47 pace, avg. HR 133
21 Aug: 10 miles, 1:14:55, 7:29 pace, avg. HR 153, with 7.5 miles @ 7:03 pace

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Weekend Report

After Thursday’s successful long run I was looking forward to 10 easy miles on Friday. My legs deserved some recovery effort and I kept the pace easy. Despite this, I ran a bit faster than it felt. Most of my recent easy runs were around 8:30 pace, but Thursday's was at 8:12. I think this was due to the reduced mileage of this week, an 80-week mile just feels so much easier when you’ve put in a few 100s and 90s. I wanted to cut back the mileage a few weeks ago, but it took a while to change my mindset, and I think I’ve finally cracked it. I expect the next few weeks to be all around 80 mpw, and then the taper will start.

What I wasn’t looking forward to was Saturday’s hill repeats. It was the last session of hill repeats of my hill phase, and after all my moaning and bitching about hills this couldn’t end soon enough. The original plan was to keep one hill session per week going all the way to the taper, but I got so fed up with those drills that I changed my mind. However, Saturday went really well. I think the main difference was the fact that I hadn’t done a hill session for 4 days. Monday was the 4th day of hills in 7 days, and, in retrospect, that was too much. My legs (and my mind) just didn’t recover in time for the next workout. But after 4 days of a different schedule they felt good again, and the hills didn’t tax me unduly. I guess I’ve just learned a lesson. I’ve now gone back to the original idea of keeping one day of hill repeats going for the next few weeks.

With the marathon 7 weeks away, I’m now starting my next phase. I don’t want to call it the anaerobic phase because there will be little anaerobic running. I could call it “speed phase” but that sounds a bit silly. I tried to do an “exchange workout” of 4x0.75 miles slow/fast/slow/fast. Originally I thought the fast sections should be 7:00 pace and the faster ones 6:30, but Mike has corrected me since. Apparently the slow sections should be marathon pace and the fast ones “as fast as you can while running controlled”, which could mean around 10k pace, I guess. After 5 easy miles I set off, and since I don’t have a track I did it on a 1.5 mile section of the road towards the school. I ran MP to where I thought the halfway point was, then accelerated for the second section, turned around for another bit of MP (which felt really slow after that faster part) to crank it up again after the supposed halfway point. That last section was tough, and towards the end there was no way I could describe the effort as “controlled”, it was simply as fast as I could run on my increasingly tired legs. I stopped afterwards and checked how quickly my heart rate would go down. It took 73 second to come down from 177 to 120, and another 22 to drop to 110. I haven’t got anything to compare them to yet, but will keep an eye on these numbers on future workouts. I was really pleased with myself immediately after the run, but when I checked the lap times on my stopwatch afterwards, I was in for a surprise. The times for the 4 sections were 5:30, 4:35, 4:51 and 4:56, and since there is no way that the third section was faster than the fourth it follows that the supposed halfway point was off by a significant margin, and I felt like a complete mug. I guess from a workout point it’s not such a big deal; I did the work and hopefully the body will take something from it. But next time I’ll probably run it back-and forwards 4 times on the Ard-na-Sidhe road. I have the option of running either 4x0.75 or 4x1 mile, and while the measurements aren’t exact, they should be reasonable accurate. It will mean turning around 3 times rather than once, but at least it will ensure that all segments are of equal distance.

I got a very disappointing email yesterday, the 10k race that was supposed to take place next Saturday in Killorglin was cancelled. Actually it was moved to 22 September, and since Niamh’s brother will get married on that day in Dublin I can’t possibly make it (strictly speaking I could, but Niamh would kill me. Really. She would. And I couldn’t even blame her. So I won’t.) I had hopes of another win, but even more so I was looking forward to the chance of lowering my PR, which will now not be happening. My next race, and the only one before the marathon, will be the half-marathon in Blarney on 9 September, 3 weeks from now. I’m very much looking forward to that, especially after that cancellation.

17 Aug: 10 miles, 1:22:08, 8:12 pace, avg. HR 139
18 Aug: 4 hill repeats, 1:41:55, ~11 miles, avg. HR 145
19 Aug: 9 miles, 1:10:25 7:49 pace, with 3 miles MP/fast/MP/fast in 19:52

Weekly mileage: 81

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Doubled Up

I’ll say it first, the best thing about doing that double header this week was not to have to run up that hill again for a few days. Those who have commented that I’m fed up with hill repeats are only too right. I think hill repeats feel too much like work to me. As much as I want to improve as a runner, my main objective is to enjoy the time on my feet, and as far as those hill repeats go, well, enjoyment doesn’t quite cover it.

Anyway, the first part of the double header were 10 miles on Wednesday, with 2.5 easy miles to start with and 7.5 at marathon pace, 7:15. I ran out-and-back sections to Ard-na-Sidhe; each section is 2.5 miles long, which meant an easy jog on the first trip out, and 3 faster segments after that. At least it meant I didn’t have to think about where to speed up. It went pretty well, really. I’m generally hopeless at running at the correct effort whenever I have a specific pace in mind, but the faster 2.5 mile sections (target time: 18:07) went by in 18:05, 18:30 and 17:52 (7:14, 7:24, 7:08 pace). The reason for the slower middle section was a loss of concentration, something I had to fight with all the way through. I generally tried to reduce the effort on the inclines in order not to sap too much energy, and promptly forgot to push harder again on the next downhill. I caught myself napping quite a few times, but there was a longer bit in the middle of the run where I was daydreaming instead of pushing the pace, and it's reflected in the time. I tried not to make up for it on the last part and just run 7:15 again, but that didn’t quite work. However, the overall pace for the effort was almost exactly spot on, and I was pretty happy with it. 7:15 pace didn’t feel too bad either. At first I had my doubts if I could sustain that pace, but once I had tuned into it, it was definitely manageable, as long as I kept my mind at it.

I went to bed early last night, but going to bed early is all in vain if you just can’t manage to fall asleep. I very rarely have that problem, usually I’m zonked within half a minute, but last night I kept tossing and turning for well over an hour. It meant that I slept for less than 6 hours rather then the 7 anticipated. I was still tired when the alarm went off at 5am, but woke up soon enough once out on the road; the low temperatures made sure my mind started working. I ran back and forwards on the same road as yesterday, which isn’t too exciting, but well suited to that kind of workout. The idea was to run easily for 2.5 miles, 8:00 pace for the next 7.5 miles, 7:15 pace for the following 7.5 and easily on the 2.5 miles back home. I did give myself permission to turn around early on the last segment if I couldn’t keep the effort going, after all that was the first time I’ve tried to extend the fast part of the long run for such a distance. Previous efforts always saw a maximum of 4 or 5 faster miles. Anyway, the first half went by pretty easily, I managed to hit 8:00 pace almost exactly, and when I got to 10 miles, I accelerated. My main problem was the same as yesterday, namely to keep my concentration going. As soon as my mind started to wander I would invariably start to slow down, and I lost concentration quite a few times. It brought home the fact that I have to train my mind just as much as my legs. I don’t want to moan after the race that I could have run faster but forgot to do so. I didn’t quite hit the times required, the numbers for the 3 faster segments are 18:27, 18:17, 18:24 (7:22, 7:18, 7:21 pace), which is close but not quite. I reasoned that I had worn my lightweight runners on the day before, but my much heavier Asics Nimbus today and that should have accounted for about 5 seconds per mile. At least that’s my excuse, and I’ll stick to it. Despite missing the target, I was quite happy with the effort. It was definitely the best double header I’ve ever had, and with less than 8 weeks to go until the marathon it was about time to get at least close to marathon pace.

Maybe those hill workouts have had some effect and are responsible for the recent improvements. At least that would make the misery worthwhile.

15 Aug: 10 miles, 1:16:43, 7:40 pace, avg. HR 149; with 7.5 miles @ 7:15
16 Aug: 20 miles, 2:37:07, 7:51 pace, avg. HR 148; with 7.5 miles @ 7:59 and 7.5 miles @ 7:21

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ranting and Raving

A few weeks ago Niamh and I watched a program on the BBC about sick babies. Once upon a time they used to produce high-quality documentaries, and I still can’t quite get used to the crap they have been serving over the last couple of years. The sensationalist tabloid-style voiceover really started to get to me. At one stage they started operating on a very young infant and the voiceover announced that its heart rate was now up to 160, which is so high that an adult would suffer a heart attack if that happened to him/her. Sad person that I am I actually started arguing with the telly, and he must have picked up on my words because he made exactly the same claim twice more. I had to shut up when Niamh started to get annoyed with me (Me! I was just defending the truth!), but I still get pissed off whenever I think about that program - which is every time my own HR reaches that level. (See! Still no f***ing heart attack!!)

What that has to do with my recent running? Very little, apart from the fact that it tells you where my mind goes these days when I should be concentrating on the effort instead. Since I reach heart rates in excess of 160 on each and every hill repeat as well as on nearly every windsprint at the bottom of said hill, I keep getting reminded about that program, and I just can’t seem to shake the frustration about the low-quality stuff served by a sender that still claims to be better than that.

Yes, hill repeats were on the menu again on Monday, and I can assure you I’m relieved that that particular phase is about to end. The legs felt very heavy from the very start, which must have been a leftover from Sunday’s fast paces. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go through the entire program of 4 hill repeats, but I did manage it. I might have thought my legs felt heavy at the beginning of the workout; it was no comparison with what they felt like at the end, I nearly had to crawl home. I think I’m getting close to the ceiling of how far I can push myself, and I’m very much looking forward to a few days of non-hill running, when I can just glide along the road instead of lifting the knees as high as I can, or bounce up and down, behaving more like a kangaroo than a marathon runner.

Today was already scheduled as an easy run, which suited me just fine, considering how tired I had been all day yesterday. I contemplated cutting the mileage down to 8, but went out for the customary 10 miles instead. The difference between 8 and 10 easy miles isn’t very noticeable as far as the legs go, but double-digit numbers look better in the log, don’t you think? I kept the effort at an easy level, and apart from an encounter with a flock of sheep (I could start ranting again at this point, but two rants in one entry would be overkill) there is not much to report. Oh, there is. It was the first run in at least a week when it wasn’t raining. It had been drizzly all week, and I always caught some rain at one stage or another during all of my previous runs, today was an exception. It’s still the same depressing weather though, it started raining later on. We have by now accepted the fact that the 3 nice weeks we had in April were our entire summer. As beautiful as the landscape around here is when the weather is nice, after the last few months I can’t quite remember why we chose to settle in the west of Ireland of all places. (That’s two rants in one entry after all. Apologies.)

There’s a double header on schedule for the next two days. I'm actually looking forward to it.

13 Aug: 4 hill repeats, 1:45:35, ~11 miles, avg. HR 140
14 Aug: 10 miles, 1:24:44, 8:28 pace, avg. HR 137

Sunday, August 12, 2007

No Time for Puck

The last three days have coincided with Killorglin’s annual Puck Fair, which is by far and away the biggest event in the local calendar. According to the radio, up to 60000 visitors are expected each year. If that’s true, I can’t tell, but it sounds a bit high to me. Anyway, apparently it’s the one event in Ireland where the most Guinness per head is consumed – unfortunately, taking part in said festivities is rather incompatible with marathon training. I went there at lunchtime on Friday, but my stomach didn’t feel well (similar to the day before), so I returned back to the office soon, just about the only employee to do so (normal work rules are suspended during Puck).

After the long run on Thursday my legs felt very heavy on Friday, which isn’t particularly surprising. My main problem was a very queasy feeling in the stomach though, and I felt like throwing up a few times. I managed to get through the workout, but it very much felt like hard work. Then again, hill workouts tend to feel like that anyway.

I took it easy on Saturday, with 10 miles at whatever pace felt comfortable. Funnily enough, I felt great that day, and could have run a lot faster. I managed to keep myself in check, but the legs felt like flying and 8:00 pace has rarely felt so easy. Maybe the extra strength from the hills is already telling, or maybe it was just one of those days when the running just feels easy.

Last week I ran 3 fairly fast miles on Sunday and felt like I could have run the same workout again. Today I tried to put that theory to the test. The idea was to run 3 miles at sub-7 pace and, if I felt good, do the same thing immediately again. After a 5-mile warm-up I changed into my fast shoes and took off for the first 3-mile section. I kept the HR around 160, which is still very much aerobic pace. It was a bit slower than last week but it felt easy enough, and it still was faster than 7:00 pace. As expected I felt fine after 3 miles of that, and went out for another loop. I didn’t hang around for a recovery, there were just about 30 seconds between those efforts. The second loop was actually a bit faster then the first one, and the HR was a bit higher. It still went well, and I felt I could have done a third one. Maybe I should have, but I went home afterwards. The effort was definitely aerobic all the way, I guess it would be around half-marathon pace, which would be nice because that’s faster than the pace I ran my last half-marathon in, and that was a PR.

Next week is the last one of my hills phase, but I decided to cut back already and only do two hill repeats. I need the extra day because I want to do another one of those stamina-building double headers. I’ve gone through my training log and while I have done a lot of running, I have done very little at marathon pace, and I want to rectify the situation. The marathon is 8 weeks from now; there is still plenty of time to get used to that pace. I need to be able to hold it for over 3 hours, and at the moment I don’t think that I can.

Niamh and the kids have gone to Dublin for a week and I have the house to myself. Just about everyone else I know would use the opportunity to go to the pub as often as they can. I'll have early nights instead. Maybe they're right when they say I'm nuts.

10 Aug: 4 hill repeats, 1:44:26, ~11 miles, avg. HR 136
11 Aug: 10 miles, 1:20:19, 8:01 pace, avg. HR 140
12 Aug: 11.25 miles, 1:25:47, 7:37 pace, 5.25 easy pace @ 8:35 (HR 140), then 2x3miles in 20:24 (6:48, HR 160) and 20:14 (6:44, HR 163)

Weekly mileage: 91+

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Miracle Cure

It was Wednesday morning, and that meant it was time for yet another hill session. I know I have constantly been whinging about how tired the legs felt, but this time I really groaned as soon as I took my first steps. I couldn’t imagine running up that hill again. Running the two miles towards the hill seemed like a challenge. I managed that (though it took me close to 20 minutes), and as soon as I forced myself to start the first of the hill drills I was surprised that I actually felt ok. I’m not sure if I managed to lift the knees as high as during the previous sessions, but I gave it the same effort and the HR stayed in the usual range. The other thing I had to force myself to do was the first of the windsprints at the bottom of the hill, but that followed the same pattern; the fear was much worse than the act itself. I did the same workout as on Monday in nearly the same time, and I felt just as tired afterwards.

I resolved to put in an easy day for Thursday, because I’m getting those doubts about overtraining again. I still can’t quite reconcile the fact that most of my training runs are getting slower and slower while the races are getting faster and faster. I was so tired after work that I went straight to bed and slept for half an hour. And I took an iron supplement that Niamh uses during her pregnancy. The sleep revived me for the evening (surely it can’t have been the supplement. They don’t work that fast), so much so that I played with the idea of doing a long run on Thursday and have the easy day either on Friday or Saturday. Unfortunately Cian had snuggled in beside me in bed while I was asleep, and unlike me he was down for good. Niamh wasn’t too impressed “If he wakes at 5 am you will be the one to entertain him.” I didn’t tell her that if everything went to plan I wouldn’t be here at that time of the morning to deal with the problem.

I settled on a kind of compromise. I would get up in time for a long run, but if I felt like crap I would go back to bed. Otherwise I would run the 17 miles of the Caragh Lake loop, and according to how I felt then I would either go home, or add any number of miles. The alarm went off at 4:45, I actually felt good and rested and got ready. A minute before heading out it started raining heavily, which I could have taken as a sign from fate to stay at home but didn’t. It was only a temporary shower; by the time I was out of the door the worst had already passed and within a few minutes it was reduced to a drizzle that would stay with me for the next hour or so.

The loop went very well, I ran a bit slower than last week (when I had to prove to myself that I got something in the tank) but faster than two weeks ago (when I was sleepwalking the course). I didn’t meet a soul for the first 12 miles, and even then it was still very quiet. The wind was blowing rather strongly (the weather website says 21 mph/33kmh, but it felt worse than that – I must be getting soft) and I had to fight it for the first 5 miles, but it meant I had the wind on my back later on. Those first miles were a bit on the slow side but I settled into 8:00 pace for most of the run. When I got home I felt good enough to add the whole 5 miles of the Ard-na-Sidhe loop to the workout. I tried to pick up the pace a bit but slipped back again when I lost my concentration. I was still in reasonable shape when I got home. It wasn’t my best long run effort ever but I was pleased, and I sure was glad that I had gone out for the long run instead of chickening out.

I felt rather weary later on in the office and my stomach had a few issues but both those problems sorted themselves out after a few hours, by lunchtime I felt like I could go running again. I won’t, not least because somehow I managed to chafe myself rather badly. I can’t explain why, I wore the same outfit as for the last few long runs. Maybe the fact that it had been raining form the start had some effect. But my energy levels are back to where I want them to be. I don’t know what brought the turnaround. It could have been the iron supplement, it has helped before. Maybe my iron levels are borderline low, but that’s just a wild guess.

Oh, and Cian slept until 7:30. Niamh managed to go back to sleep after giving him some breakfast, and I let her sleep until nearly 9 o'clock when I had to leave for work. Everyone's happy.

8 Aug: 4 hill repeats, 1:42:16, ~11 miles, avg. HR 140
9 Aug: 22 miles, 3:01:55, 8:16 pace, avg. HR 143

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Less is More

God, how time flies. I’m already in the third week of my hills phase and the marathon is drawing ever closer. I do have to trust my training now, because there is no way to turn back and try something different. I’ve had good days and bad days; funnily enough, the good ones seemed to coincide with the days when I was running faster, while the bad ones were usually reserved for slower, recovery kind of days.

It was time for more leg punishment on Monday (love that phrase, so apt). I can tell how I’m getting stronger when I do the bounding. I used to be able to do these only for a few seconds at most, now I’m able to hold on for a good section of that hill, four times a row. The one thing that’s changed is the area of my legs that’s hurting during those exercise. It used to really eat into my calves and hamstrings, but they are fine now. What’s hurting now are what Ron Daws calls “the lifters”, the muscles near the hip and groin that lift your legs when you raise the knees high off the ground. I guess that’s down to me now being able to lift the knees higher than before, causing those muscles to work harder. I guess that’s the essence of these exercises, stronger muscles in those areas should automatically result in a stronger stride. Let’s hope the theory is correct.

I wasn’t sure how long I should run for today. Last week I did only a bit over 12 miles for the equivalent run and felt that I hadn’t worked much towards the end. I was also a bit concerned that I had only one run over 2 hours for the entire week, compared to 4 per week during the later stages of my base building phase. I bumped the mileage up to 15 for today’s run, but ran it easily, after all this is supposed to be a recovery effort between the hill workouts. I started out easily but was still surprised that the first two miles were slower than 9:00 pace. The weather didn’t help, it was raining and combined with the cold wind and the fact that I wasn’t warmed up yet made for some uncomfortable conditions. As always I managed to go faster once warmed up (and the rain had stopped) without increasing the effort. To be honest, I probably should have left it at 12 miles; by that time I’d had enough. The fact that I was running uphill, against the wind and the freezing cold rain at that point didn’t help, I suppose. If someone had offered me a lift home there and then I would have taken it, but not even the Irish would welcome a sweaty and soaked stranger into their car at this hour of the morning. It got better once I crested the hill (just an incline, really), the wind calmed down and the rain stopped, but the last miles were still dragging a bit. At least I got a great welcome, the twins were standing in the doorway, loudly celebrating the fact that Daddy had come back home. I was glad to be done with, but the heart rate for these runs keeps dropping steadily, which is definitely a good sign.

6 Aug: 4 hill repeats, 1:42:22, ~11 miles, avg. HR 141
7 Aug: 15 miles, 2:08:04, 8:32 pace, avg. HR 135

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Punishment and Judgment

As expected, I felt much better on Saturday than I had done on Friday, and there never was a doubt that I would do a hill workout as soon as I stepped through the front door. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever tried to have 3 of those sessions in one week, but my base training is a great help; I didn’t feel tired at all. That changed once I started on the hill sessions, obviously. My heart rate was a bit higher than it was on Wednesday. I can’t tell if that’s because I worked a tick harder or because I still hadn’t recovered entirely from previous hard training days. In any case, the difference during the hill repeats wasn’t very big. It was a lot bigger during the windsprints. Last time my heart rate would typically be around 160 at the end of these, and on Saturday it went up to 170 nearly every time. Mike once mentioned he felt his body “opening up” to a new kind of workout after a few sessions. I don’t really know what that means, but if it’s meaningful then maybe that’s what’s happening to me right now.

As I jogged down the hill after the first session, an older runner came running along. He ran very strongly, and his dog followed at some distance. I saw him again 10 minutes later when I was on my way up for the second repeat, and he came down. I felt a bit silly doing those drills, but kept going. He smiled at me as he passed and said “leg punishment, eh?”. I could only grunt in response. I saw him again later on my way home, but from a distance. I haven’t seen him around before; he probably is on his vacation, but he clearly is a serious runner.

My anaerobic phase starts two weeks from now, but in order to make the transition smoothly I did 3 fast miles for today’s run. A while ago the Mystery Coach mention something called an “Exchange Workout” in Mike’s blog. I think the post has been deleted since because I can’t find it any more, but luckily I’ve got a copy on my own hard drive. It entails 3 miles with 4 sections slow/fast/slow/fast at 0.75 miles each. The “slow” parts are at 5k race pace+45 second, the fast ones are 30 seconds faster than that. In order to prepare for that workout I started out today with 4 slow sections. My 5k race pace from 3 weeks ago was 6:12, and adding 45 seconds to that plus rounding to the next number gives 7:00 pace, and that’s what I tried to do. That wouldn’t be particularly hard, it’s meant to be preparation for the time when the workout starts in earnest. It was also meant to help me in pace judgment, something I’m desperately bad at. As always, I don’t have a track so the workout was done on the road. After 5 easy miles I started on a 1.5 miles long section, then turned around and did the same thing again. I guessed that the HR should be somewhere between 160 and 165 for that, and that’s what I went for. I noticed early on that I was too fast, but felt pretty comfortable at that pace. At the turnaround point I was way ahead of time (despite running slightly uphill), and eased the effort a little bit on the way back, but the road back home was slightly downhill and I covered it in roughly the same time. All in all it took me 19:57, which is 6:39 pace.

* head scratching time*

As far as the effort was concerned, this was much easier than what I expected 6:39 pace to feel like. I wasn’t very tired at the end of that and felt that I could have run the same workout again immediately afterwards. I can give myself a pat on the back as far as the pace went, but I’ve bombed as far as pace judgment went. I think the fact that I’ve never ever run on a track has something to do with that. On the other hand, I’m not really bothered. I’ve almost always been satisfied with the pace I’ve gone out in a race, and that’s what really counts. I want to do the same workout again next week, but have to decide if I want to drop back to 7:00 pace or run it again the same way as today.

The weather is appalling again. Today’s run was done in pouring rain, but that didn’t have any effect on the actual workout. If anything, it helped.

4 Aug: 4 hill repeats, 1:51:35, ~13 miles, avg. HR 148
5 Aug: 11 miles, 1:25:09, 7:44 pace, avg. HR 148, with 3 miles in 19:57 (6:39 pace, HR 160-165)

Weekly mileage: 89+

Friday, August 03, 2007


With the hill workouts pencilled in for Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I moved this week’s long run to Thursday. With my resolve to cut down on the miles still in place I decided to “only” run 20 miles. But, with those doubts about my sluggish legs fresh in my minds, I also chose to push the pace a little bit more than usual and see where that leaves me.

For the first 17 miles I ran my trusty Caragh Lake Loop, with all its ups and downs. It was still quite dark when I left at 5:10 am, and a bit windy, but the conditions were pretty good. After one or two slow miles to warm up I increased the pace ever so slightly, and kept going. Last week it had taken me 68 minutes for the first 8 miles, this time I was 4 minutes faster and still feeling good. At that point the long 3-mile climb started, but my legs are sufficiently strong by now to take that in their stride, so to speak. I felt pretty good on the climbs and the knee held out on the downhills, and when I reached the flat section after 14 miles and still felt good I cranked the pace up a bit more. I decided to turn the run into what coach McMillan calls a fast-finish long run, except that I didn’t go as fast as 10k pace for the last bit, and of course I ran the whole workout on an empty stomach and without any extra carbs on the way. I timed myself for the last 3 miles and covered them in 21:52 (7:17 pace), which I was very pleased about. That’s almost the pace I’d like to run in the marathon, and it didn’t feel outrageously fast. Of course I couldn’t yet hold it for 26 miles, but to crank it out for the last miles of a hilly long run was a very satisfying experience. That was by far the best long run I’ve ever had, and as a result I’m much more confident about the race now. To be honest, I should have trusted my training all along, but when you try something new for the first time you can never be sure about the outcome. I’m definitely much happier now than I was before that run, and gained a lot of confidence.

As mentioned at the beginning, Friday’s workout was supposed to be another hill session, but my legs got stiffer by the minute as Thursday dragged on, and by the end of the day I knew that I had to throw in an easy day. I didn’t mind, and I take the fact that I gave myself a bit of flexibility as a good sign, rather than stubbornly stick to the training plan. 10 miles at a very easy pace felt good, and I just went by whatever felt like recovery pace. The first mile was as slow as 9:20, and the legs felt so heavy that I seriously considered turning around and bagging the run entirely, but they felt a lot better once they warmed up and after the first 5-mile loop settled into a comfortable 8:30 pace without complaining.

I've provisionally pencilled in a hill workout for tomorrow to make up for today, but if I’m still tired I’ll completely scratch it. I’ll head out for the Devil’s Elbow, and once I get there I’ll decide if hills feel like a good idea or not. Whichever way I decide, this week’s mileage will be a lot less than the previous few weeks, somewhere in the mid-80s. Funny, last week I got suckered into running more miles than planned, this weeks I swung the other way much more than planned. That’s fine by me, now that I’ve finally got some reassurance that the training is working I feel a lot more relaxed.

2 Aug: 20 miles, 2:36:59, 7:50 pace; last 3 miles in 21:52 (7:17 pace)
3 Aug: 10 miles, 1:26:55, 8:41 pace, avg. HR 137

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Finally Cutting Back, Maybe

I felt very tired after Monday’s workout, and so I resolved to finally cut my mileage by a noticeable amount. I don’t know how I managed to amass so many miles last week, I definitely had intended to cut back. But the celebratory extra miles after Saturday’s race and the longer-than-planned run on Sunday added up, I guess. But I think my training runs have gotten slower recently and this could well be a sign that I should take it a bit easier. Interestingly, my heart rate continues to drop. This could mean more than one thing though. It could be a sign of increased fitness, but it could also be a sign of overtraining. Whatever it is, I resolved to run the Kerry Way loop on Tuesday, which happens to be one of my favourite routes because of the stunning scenery, but is only really recommended after a few days of nice weather, unlike you like playing in the mud for several miles. It’s only about 12.5 miles long, but with a lot of ups and downs, and a nice big long climb in the middle, 3 miles long with about 250m/800feet elevation gain. This served as a useful test for my strength, if I can manage that climb without feeling like collapsing I’m in good shape, and so it proved. It felt good to gain all that height and still be able to enjoy the scenery of Seefin mountain on one side and Caragh Lake dropping back on the other. I ran at a reasonable pace, but with a mile to go I felt like I hadn’t done any work yet and put in a bit more effort for the final stretch, which I covered in about 7:00, give or take a few seconds. With the weather being close to perfect, it was a fantastic run.

Today is Wednesday, and it was time for another hill session. They are coming thick and fast now; when you’re doing them 3 times a week that tends to be the case, I guess. The first thing I noticed when I reached my usual road at the foot of the Devil’s Elbow was that it is a lot flatter than the Geokaun road in Valentia that I had used for my last 3 hill workouts. Either someone came along and flattened the road in my absence, or my legs have gotten used to hills again. During the first repeat I thought this is no good, I have to find a steeper road, but when I switched to bounding I easily managed to get the HR up into the mid-170s again, and steep-hill running felt difficult enough as soon as I concentrated on lifting the knees as high as I could. I guess that road will do after all. What I find amazing about those workouts is the different heart rates I’m going through, from 175 on top of the hill to 120 after jogging back down (I’m taking it very easy on the downhills because of my knee), back to 160 or more on the windsprints and back to 130 on the jogging before the fun starts again. I managed 4 repeats, but then my quads felt very, very heavy and I definitely had enough. I could tell that a fifth repeat would have been impossible, not that I had planned one.

I get slightly contradicting signals from my body at the moment. My heart keeps dropping, but so are my training paces. I feel really strong running up those hills and the last two 5k races brought my 2 fastest ever times, yet I fell stiff and slow at times. I hope a cut in mileage will inject some zip into my legs, and a few faster runs in preparation for the anaerobic phase may or may not help. I’ll see.

31 Jul: 12.5 miles, 1:42:17, 8:10 pace, avg. HR 140, last mile in ~7:00
1 Aug: 4 hill repeats, 1:41:55, ~11 miles, avg. HR 140

Monthly mileage in July: 427+ (easily my highest ever)