Friday, September 28, 2007


The marathon countdown has now reached single digits, and there’s no doubt about it. It’s getting close.

The main thing I noticed the last two days when I left for my run was that: the sky is immensely beautiful. Yesterday I stepped out of our house to look up in wonder. On the right was the moon, on my left bright Venus, and after looking for a few seconds I could make out a number of stars, and Orion was straight ahead of me, all stars perfectly visible despite dawn getting quite bright. I stood there staring for half a minute, until a second sensation became overwhelming: it was freezing cold, about 2C/35F. I did wear my gloves but shorts and t-shirt, and while that is usually good enough when running at a decent pace, just standing there nearly turned me into an icicle, and I had to set off. I jogged for half a mile, then I thought I’m still cold and increased the pace by a lot, just to keep warm. Actually, the cold was an excuse, and I knew it even back then. I wanted an excuse to run faster than recovery pace, because after Wednesday’s workout I needed some reassurance that I can still run at a decent pace. So I tuned into marathon pace. I hit it too, and it didn’t feel too hard either. On my way back home, from about the 3 miles point, I did start to question myself, not only if running MP at that stage was really such a clever idea, but also how I would be able to sustain that for 25 miles rather than 5. I got slightly reassured when I reached home, because the second 2.5 miles stretch had only taken me 17:55, 7:10 pace exactly. I thought back to the back-to-back marathon pace efforts when I usually struggled to reach 7:15 pace and more often than not ended up with 7:25. Today 7:10 felt much easier. Maybe not while I was running, then it had felt tough enough. But once I stopped and calculated my pace, my mind decided that it had felt easy. Easy enough for 26 miles? Who knows.

Today was a slightly more restrained effort, but since I left home before even 6 o’clock, the night was still very dark and the sky looked even more impressive. I love running beneath the moon and the stars, and it was so bright that I even left the headlamp at home, despite my intentions to run the trails of the Kerry Way. Again I stared up transfixed for a minute when I stepped through the door, and again the cold eventually forced me to move on. The run was magical, the legs felt fast and swift, and climbing about 215m/700ft in elevation did not feel particularly tough either. I love it when climbing feels so manageable (I won’t pretend that it felt easy). After the trail portion I was back on the undulating 5 miles alongside Caragh Lake on my way back home that are part of my long runs, and I increased the pace for a bit. I timed myself for the last 3, and covered them in 22:26 (7:29 pace). It was strange to run with the HR seemingly stuck at 141 and knowing that I was covering the ground at 7:30 pace. I don’t know what HR I can run at the marathon, probably around 160, though I will run by feel, not dictated by the HRM, and with so many beats to spare, things are looking good.

Apart from the fact that I’ve got a sore throat! It started to bother me yesterday, and today it’s worse. I’m absolutely determined not to let this develop into anything else. I could dismiss it as one of those phantom pains that always develop during the taper, but Niamh is complaining too. I started taking Echinacea and vitamins, and considering the fact that I can’t remember the last time I was actually sick, I won’t get sick in the last week before the marathon. No I will not.

Tomorrow is a rest day. Zero mileage, shock, horror. If the world comes to an end, you know why.
27 Sep
5 miles, 37:11, 7:26 pace, HR 150
last 2.5 in 17:55 (7:10 pace)
28 Sep
12.25 very hilly miles, 1:38:20, 8:01 pace, HR 145
last 3 in 22:26 (7:29 pace)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Counting the Days

I think I’m still reasonably sane, considering that I’m in the middle of the taper by now. At least Niamh hasn’t commented on any mood swings or similar behaviour as of yet. I am getting the familiar butterflies in the stomach whenever I think of the marathon, but that’s to be expected.

There isn’t much to say about the recent running. I did 5 easy miles on Tuesday, which were fine apart from the freezing cold rain that caught me in the middle. Autumn is definitely here, but since we never really had a summer, that’s not saying much. Today, with 11 days to go before the race, I tried to run my last interval workout, but that didn’t go very well. I had originally planned to do this tomorrow, but a post from Mystery Coach had specifically mentioned day 11 for this, and who am I to argue with the voice of wisdom? I felt quite good and expected a good workout, and 3x1 miles with 2 minutes rest were on the menu. When the first mile went through in 6:03, I was pretty happy. Unfortunately, things went downhill quickly from there on, mile 2 took 6:11, which was a bit of a downer, but I completely crashed and burned on the last one. I knew from the first step that it wouldn’t go well because the legs were heavy and tired from the word go, but to run it in 6:23 was still a bit of a blow. I guess I ran the first one too fast, but still. This kind of slowdown was ridiculous. It wasn’t due to a lack of trying, the heart rate reached 180 on each of the three repeats. If it’s a sign of a bad day, tired legs despite the easy days or a glaring lack of stamina, I don’t know, but since it’s too late to do anything about it now, I’ll try to purge today’s events from memory. After all, I’m going to run 26.2 consecutive miles, not 3 miles at all-out effort, and those are two entirely different things, right?

And now for something completely different, my car refused to start last Thursday. I guess after 15 years of service (only the last one for me) that tends to happen, but the engine is still in good shape, and I hope the starter motor can be fixed without much ado, because a new one would not be worth it. Niamh drove me to work on Thursday, Friday and Monday, but yesterday I took Niamh’s bike and her purple cycling helmet and cycled into work instead. The 5 miles took me 22 minutes each way, which is faster than expected, and if I hadn’t been caught in a short but hefty rain shower yesterday morning, it would have been an even better experience. I have been thinking about cycling to work for quite some time. I couldn’t do it last year because I had to deliver Cian to his crèche, but he’s going to a different place this year which is not on my way, and there was nothing to stop me apart from my own lethargy. I realise that it’s not the ideal time to start cycling, this being the beginning of autumn and the marathon less than two weeks away, but it was kind of forced on me by the circumstances. I hope to have the car back by the end of the week, and I’ll drive to work next week, but after that I’m seriously contemplating switching to the bike for most days. We’ll see.

For the time being I’m blaming today's bad workout on the additional fatigue brought on by the unaccustomed bike ride. Actually I have no idea if 2x22 minutes on the bike would have any effect whatsoever, but I like that excuse anyway.
25 Sep
5 miles, 42:57, 8:35 pace, HR 133
26 Sep
7.5 miles, 58:33, 7:48 pace, HR 150
incl. 3x1 mile in 6:03, 6:11, 6:23

Monday, September 24, 2007

Where I'd Rather Be

Places I could have been on Saturday:

  • -in Killorglin, running a 10k. How typical is that? They finally organise a 10k just outside my doorstep, and I’m not here. I would have won it, too.
  • -in Dublin, running the half marathon. To be honest, this one was too close to the Loch Ness marathon to be a realistic alternative.
  • -in London, Craven Cottage to be more precise, to watch the match between Fulham and Man City, for which I had been offered free tickets. A cracking match it turned out to be, too.
  • -in Tralee, at a colleague’s bbq. Perfect weather they had, too.

Instead we had to drive all the way to Slane, County Meath, where Niamh’s brother got married. They were incredibly lucky with the weather, Friday and Sunday were foul, Saturday was perfect. The ceremony was nice, the food was good, the people there were relaxed, happy and casual, and yet … constantly having to keep an eye on your three children means you can never relax and enjoy the party. But, having total strangers come up to you and mention how incredibly beautiful your children are, feels nice.

Niamh’s least favourite moment: her older sister coming up to her, looking at her bump and shouting out loud “Oh my God, you’re so enormous!! This can’t possibly get any bigger!!!” No, Niamh’s sister isn’t very good on tact. She also doesn’t know much about pregnancy, apparently.

Running wise, I went on two runs in Dublin, both by time rather than mileage, but I guess they were all at around 8:00 pace. People in South Dublin are still as aloof as ever, a “good morning” never gets a reply, no matter how cheerful I try to sound. With one notable exception I was completely ignored, but one guy greeted me with something like “Good morning, lad. You’re up very early”, which almost bowled me over because it was so unexpected.

We drove back on Sunday, and I fully intended to run 9 miles today with 4 faster miles in the middle, maybe even an exchange workout of I felt really good. However, the weather overnight was beyond dreadful, I woke up several times and it sounded like the wind and rain were just about to blow in the windows. I decided to skip running in that mini-hurricane and turned off the alarm, but had troubles sleeping in, mostly because Cian was there in bed with us, and he kept kicking me in the kidneys every couple of minutes. I got up eventually, noticed that the rain had stopped, and went out for 5 quick miles. To liven up the time I ran one mile in a sprint/float fashion, which is reported to be a great workout for sharpening. I covered that mile in 6:17, though the time isn’t particularly meaningful when run like that. The legs felt fine but the lungs let me know that this was way beyond the usual limits. It took a long time to get my breath back afterwards.

I realise now that the weather had done me a favour. The marathon is less than 2 weeks away, and I have to seriously cut the mileage. My mind isn’t in tapering mode yet, and somehow still thinks that 10 miles are fine for an easy day. I’m planning on doing another speed workout, probably on Thursday, 10 days out from the marathon, and I’m thinking of 3x1 miles, like Pfitzinger has them in each of his schedules. Having said that, I’ll take each day as it comes, try to relax, and keep an eye on the weather forecast. If there are days of particularly bad weather ahead, I’ll skip a workout.
22 Sep
1:20, ~10 miles, HR 144

23 Sep
1:05, ~8 miles, HR 144

24 Sep
5 miles, 39:33, 7:54 pace, HR 149
incl. 1 mile run/float in 6:17

Weekly mileage: 72

Friday, September 21, 2007

Running with my Head in the Clouds

Beep! Thursday, 5:10am, and the smoke alarm lets me know that its battery is running low. Which is great in one way, we wouldn’t want to be caught out by a faulty device if worse comes to worse. Problem is, at 5 am in the morning I can’t change the bloody thing, and every 30 seconds ... “beep”. Great. The one night Cian actually sleeps through in his own bed instead of bouncing around in mine, I get this. Beep. I could get up and remove the battery, but it’s 5 am and I’m too tired to get up and surely I’m just about to fall asleep again. Beep. No I’m not. Sigh. This equivalent of Chinese water torture lasts until I finally get up at the planned time of 6:10 am. I’ve just lost an hour of sleep, though the rest of the family kept sleeping peacefully and I remove the offending unit before I go out running – and I do buy a new battery at lunchtime.

The run itself was good; since this is supposed to be a taper I added a second easy day after Tuesday's 800s, and I spend the next 81 minutes trying to keep myself from running too fast. The legs want to go faster but the mind is keeping the breaks on. I ran sub-8:00 on Saturday because it felt so easy, and had a bad workout the next day. I want to avoid the same mistake. It works reasonable well.

Friday is the day of the dress rehearsal. I’m wearing the same shoes, socks, shorts and maybe even the same t-shirt (though that’s weather dependant) that I’m planning to use on race day, and I want to run as much as I can at race effort. I deliberately said effort rather than pace, because I’m going around Caragh Lake, and that’s a lot hillier than the marathon course. The one thing I’m keen on testing are a new pair of insoles in my shoes. The lightweight trainers are notorious for giving me big bad blisters on my left foot, and I’m hoping new insoles will do the trick. Unfortunately it’s raining heavily, but who knows. This may well happen on race day, too.

The first mile goes by in 8:10, which is fast enough for a warm-up mile, but it does leave doubts in my head. I don’t want to lose nearly a minute over the first mile, but I try to keep that thought out of my head for the time being. I try to gradually accelerate over the next two miles, and get the pace down to 7:40. Then the hills start, first 1.5 miles of continuous climbing, then some ups-and-downs, and two or three miles of downhill. At the top of the hills I notice a dense fog, then I realise that it’s the low clouds coverage that’s responsible for that. I’m literally running with my head in the clouds. After about 40 minutes at least it gets bright enough for me to turn off my headlamp. I much prefer running without; whenever the lamp is on I only see the small cone of light in front of me, and I’m much more aware of my surroundings when I can turn the damn thing off, just as long as I can make out the road.

I hammer the climbs and run reasonably hard on the downhill sections, and I reach Blackstones Bridge, slightly over 9 miles into the run, in 1:07. Not bad, considering the terrain. There’s no time to relax, another 200 feet climb is starting, and by mile 12 the worst of the hills is behind me and it’s taken me 1:30 to get that far. The rest of the road isn’t exactly flat, I guess you could describe it as undulating, but that’s where I want to get down to marathon pace. I feel pretty well, the biggest concern is once more the fact that I’m prone to lose focus, and whenever that happens I slow down a bit. But I manage pretty well, and I cover the last 5 miles in 36:25 (7:17 pace). It's close enough for me to be satisfied, with the race-day adrenalin and the hopefully flatter course the same effort should yield at least 7:15. I feel ready. I just have to try and avoid doing anything stupid for the next 16 days.

The new insoles seem to work, I'm officially blister-free. The main area of concern is my right hamstring, which got painfully tight over the last 2 miles, but there's no need to panic just yet.
20 Sep
10 miles, 1:20:57, 8:05 pace, HR 139

21 Sep
17 miles, 2:06:07, 7:25 pace, HR 151
last 5 in 36:25 (7:17 pace)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


The taper did sneak on me this time round. I lowered my mileage two weeks ago, not because I was tapering for the marathon but because I inserted three easy days before the race. Then I added another three easy days after the race, and all of a sudden my mileage had already decreased sufficiently for the beginning of a taper, without me even realising it. So, I guess I’m already in the middle of the taper, but since there are still a few tough workouts to be done, albeit at shorter mileage, I’m not yet crawling the walls.

Mike’s Mystery Coach had mentioned the need for “sharper (faster than race pace) speed workouts that are hard but not exhausting” in this phase of training, so I opted for a set of 800s, and to ensure that I got sufficient recovery I decided to rest for 800 between the intervals, i.e. I jogged back to the start line after each repeat. I used the same stretch of road as for my last attempt at 800s. I tried to measure it in google maps, and apparently it’s about 25 meters long, but it’s difficult to be accurate because that part of road is under cloud cover and I have to guess where exactly the end point is. Never mind, in order to be able to compare this and future workouts I’ll stick with that route.

After warming up I started with the first repeat and tried to concentrate on good form, running relaxed rather than pushing too hard and keep the concentration going. After 300 meters the pain started and I thought this would be embarrassingly slow.


Nice! I jogged back, but feared that I hadn’t recovered fully when the HR was still around 135 at the start of the next run. The pain started even earlier. I guess I had pushed too hard on the first repeat. I remember the thoughts exactly. This one will be embarrassingly slow, and I’ll have to confess about yet another botched workout in the blog.


Nicer. Maybe this is working after all. I jogged back, and again the HR was in the same territory. In fact, the HR returned to 133-137 on all the rest periods, except the last one when I didn’t check. The legs grew heavier with that repeat, and I wondered if I would have to call it a day after only 3.


This is turning into a nice workout! However, the legs were definitely starting to tire at that stage. I’ll try another one and see how that goes.


Yes, definitely getting tired. I could have left it at that, but thought I might have another good one in me. However, as soon as I started it, I knew it wouldn’t be great; from the first step I was unable to relax properly, it was a laboured effort from the word go, and pushing the hips forward, lifting the knees and swinging the arms didn’t seem to do much good.


and HOK time. Definitely had enough by now. Better call it a day.

I relaxed sufficiently at the cooldown to stop by the side of the road for 5 minutes to pick the blackberries that had been tempting me not just today but for weeks! Instant refuelling, full with vitamins and nutrients. Delicious! There’s definitely something to be said about running in the country side. I wouldn't have got that at the side of your average junior high track.

I was definitely pleased with that (read: “I have never run so fast before in my entire life”). When I tried to run my last set of 800s, several weeks ago, the fastest one had been 3:04, and to cut 7 seconds of that time is a very nice improvement indeed, albeit with longer rest intervals. Wednesday was an easy recovery effort, slightly hampered by the fact that it was raining, very cold and quite windy. It wasn’t quite as bad as some of the runs from last winter, but nature is turning the screw. I wore my gloves for the last 2 days, and was glad that I hadn’t forgotten about them. It doesn’t look like it’s going to get better any time soon. Better get that winter gear ready.
18 Sep
8 miles, 1:05:38, incl. 5x800(800) 2:59, 2:57, 2:59, 3:04, 3:06

19 Sep
10 miles, 1:24:43, 8:28 pace, HR 137

Monday, September 17, 2007


Sunday was the day the whole county had been waiting for, the day of the All-Ireland Senior Football Final between Kerry and our beloved neighbours, Cork (basically the equivalent of the Superbowl). Confidence in the country was high, and the players had the added incentive of knowing that if they were to lose this game, they would most likely be hung, drawn and quartered on return. There was no need to worry, and after the expected 70 minutes of low-level violence that passes as sport, assisted by some comical defending from the opposition, Kerry became the first county in 17 years to successfully defend the title. For some reason, attendance of today’s morning meeting in the office was sparse, and the few people who attended had mainly come to gloat. Good Days.

My own workout on Sunday, on the other hand, went rather less well. I had planned another exchange workout, but it was clear from the outset that all was not well. My quads were as stiff and tired as they have ever been, and I did question if there was any point on even trying to run fast, but decided to give it a go anyway. The weather didn’t help; rain and gale force winds had delayed my departure until there was a lull in the downpour, but the wind remained just as bad. The Ard-na-Sidhe road does offer some shelter, but not an awful lot. I got going with the initial first mile, supposedly at MP, which once more I got completely wrong, and ran in 6:50, 25 seconds faster than planned. Will I ever learn? The return leg, supposedly at a higher effort, was hampered by the fact that it was against the wind, and when I came through in 6:52, slower than the first mile, I knew I had blown the workout. It didn’t help that the rain returned during the third mile, and on reaching the turnaround point decided to cut my losses run straight towards home. I ran another mile at the higher effort, but how accurate my estimation of that last mile was is anyone’s guess. It meant a very short cool-down, but given the choice of running in the brewing storm and sampling Niamh’s scones with home-made blackberry jam, the scones won by at least the same margin as Kerry did later that day.

I think my legs had suffered a delayed reaction from Friday’s long run, and the fact that Saturday’s run was considerably faster than a usual recovery run – even though it had felt really easy - certainly didn’t help. I still don’t worry about my fitness. Today’s recovery run was a case in point, another run at HR 128, like last Monday, but 30 seconds per mile faster. The main drawback today was the weather. While it had mostly stopped raining (I still got caught for a few minutes), it was very cold. At 9 o’clock, Niamh checked the temperatures, and it was 8C/46F. My run had been two hours earlier, when it had definitely been colder than that. In fact, I should have brought my gloves. Just a week ago I felt like melting in the sun during the race. Today my hands got numb in the cold; autumn has arrived, no doubt about it, and the weather forecast for the rest of the week is lousy.
16 Sep
7 miles, 53:31, 7:38 pace, HR 152
with 4 miles in 6:50, 6:52, 7:10, 6:52

17 Sep
9 miles, 1:17:35, HR 128

Weekly mileage: 74

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Not Long Now

Getting up early is definitely the biggest drawback of running all your runs in the morning, especially so if you’re doing your long runs during the week. Once more this meant getting up before even 5am, but I took solace from the fact that this would be the last time for a while.

It was a moonless and cloudy night, and for the first time this year I had to accept the fact that it was pitch dark when I left the house. I literally could not see the hand in front of my eyes; I stumbled around for a minute, hoping that once my eyes got adjusted to the dark I would be able to make out the road, but to no avail. I had to get back home, dig out my headlamp, find some batteries, figure out how to change the batteries in the damn thing, and finally I was ready to go again. The rain had started in the meantime, which was an unwelcome surprise, but turning around and going back to bed never crossed my mind.

I was surprised at my starting pace. The last few weeks have always seen me start at around 9:00 pace, but on Friday I churned out 8:20 from the start, and it was only going to get faster. I ran the same route as for last week’s long run, clockwise around Caragh Lake. Not even the hills slowed me down this morning, or at least I made up for it again on the downhills, and by the time I reached the 13 mile point I was well below 8:00 pace on average. At that point I accelerated again, and hoped to run the next 7 miles at marathon pace, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. I think I could have run faster, but it would have felt faster than marathon pace effort. I thought it would be wiser to stick to an effort that felt like I would be able to keep up for 26 miles rather than force the pace, but if that sounds like a bad excuse then maybe it is. Anyway, I covered the last 7 miles in 52:18, which would equate to 7:28 pace, but I think it was slightly longer than 7 miles, and the pace might have been a tad faster, but not by much. However, the entire workout had only taken me 2:35:01, which is definitely the fastest I have ever covered 20 miles, and that includes any race.

Today (Saturday) called for a recovery effort after that long run, and I duly headed out in the morning sunshine, taking it easy and just letting the legs do their own thing. Each time I checked the watch I was surprised by the pace, but it really was an easy effort. There isn’t much to say about the run apart from the fact that I never had a run at sub-8:00 pace that felt so incredibly easy. Some people measure their fitness by doing tempo runs, or time trials, or speed workouts. I can always tell how well I’m developing by the pace and the heart rate of my easy runs, and with 3 weeks to go to the marathon I’m nearing peak fitness. Before every single one of my marathons (and the one ultra) I have always felt in the best shape ever, and this one is no exception. I can’t wait!
14 Sep
20 miles, 2:35:01, 7:45 pace, HR 147

15 Sep
10 miles, 1:19:55, 7:59 pace, HR 142

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bouncing Back

There’s one more snippet from Sunday’s marathon that I forgot to mention, and then I’ll stop boring you with it. When I mentioned to Niamh that “one day I'll run a half-marathon that’s not full of hills”, she dryly responsed “not in Ireland!”. She’s probably right. I think Longford has a flat course, but I’m unlikely to ever drive 4 hours each way in order to run 13 miles (I might be tempted to do the full marathon though).

My recovery is coming along very nicely indeed. I put in a third recover day in a row on Wednesday, but noticed that I was floating along a lot faster than the day before, but with the same effort, and the same heart rate. In fact, I think my heart rate for the same pace has dropped again. This is something I have noticed after a lot of my races, especially half marathons. Once the initial tiredness has worn off, my heart rate returns to a lower level than before. The same seems to be happening again. All in all I managed 10 miles at a bit slower than 8:00 pace. The run was unusual because the return leg was slower than the outward segment. That was not down to me getting tired, I was just making sure to keep the effort nice and easy. It was still faster that what I had expected.

Since I felt so well, I decided it was safe to do a few miles at marathon pace today. I ran yet another 10 miler (that has become my standard distance over the last few weeks), and after 2.5 miles I turned the screw. Once more I got the effort wrong in the early stages, when I reached the turn-around point I calculated the pace and realised that I was doing 7:00. I slowed down, but got it wrong again, this time I slowed down too much. I noticed the error and tried to correct, but once more I lost my focus and didn’t keep at the pace. All in all, the return leg was done at 7:27 average pace, though my real pace was rather uneven as I kept speeding up and slowing down in a vain attempt of tuning into the right pace. Oh well. I averaged 7:17 over the 7.5 faster miles, which is very close to the desired effort, even though I never seemed to run at that pace.

While I was less than pleased about the way I had executed the workout, I was much happier with the way it had felt. Even 7:00 pace had felt very comfortable, and 7:27 pace was downright pedestrian. I guess three recovery days in a row will do that to me, and the legs thanked me for it.

Of course I could not resist putting my half marathon time into McMillan’s calculator, and it came up with a marathon time of 3:05:19, 7:05 pace. After a run like today I can nearly believe that I could run 7:05 for the entire 26 miles, but I have never come close to my predicted marathon time in the past. Last year was a good example of that, after a half marathon time of 1:35:42 the predicted time came out as 3:21. While my goal time was 3:30, I secretly hoped to be able to come at least close to 3:21, but it wasn’t to be. I ran 7 minutes slower than that, and only after giving it all. There’s still something that’s stopping me from running close to the predicted times (which generally are very accurate for anything up to half-marathon), and I’m not sure if it’s in my head or in my legs.
12 Sep
10 miles, 1:21:48, 8:10 pace, HR 137

13 Sep
10 miles, 1:15:06, 7:30 pace, HR 150
2/5 @ 7:00, 5 @ 7:26 (= 7.5 @ 7:17)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Thanks for all the nice comments about the race, they are all very welcome. I can’t take credit for the “chicked” expression, I got that from Eric’s most recent race report, and it actually was a woman who had come up with it. I found it funny enough to plagiarise, though (and I'm relieved that nobody took exception).

Andrew and Mike between them came up with the perfect outlook for the future: I’ll be one of the old guys myself soon enough, but on the other hand there are always a few oldies around to humiliate the whippersnappers, and that’s something to look forward to. That reminds me, I hope that Neil O’Conaill, the “oldie” who put me into my place, won’t ever read my race report, since I estimated his age to be 50. He actually ran in the M40 category. Oops.

The other thing I learned from the results is that the two girls who I tried to hunt down in vain were the only women in the race to beat me. Somehow I think that makes up for beating me. I don’t mind being outclassed by top runners.

Niamh suggested that next year she’d run 13 miles in the heat while I mind the children. She’s convinced that running is the easier job.

I’m probably known by now as the idiot whose race reports are longer than the race. You probably won’t believe me when I say that I actually left out a few things, like the fact that before the race I felt a distinctive pain in my right shin (that’s the ongoing shin splints issue) and in my left hamstring (most likely caused by sitting in the car for 2 hours), but neither was noticeable during the race itself. And I didn’t tell you that I still can’t drink from a cup and run fast at the same time. At each water stop I lost some ground while trying to sip a little bit of water. I ended up pouring most of it down my neck anyway. For the last 2 stops I grabbed a cup form the first person, poured it over my head, then grabbed a second cup for drinking. That worked pretty well. And did I mention that I got a blister on my left foot? No, I didn’t. See? I could have written a race report twice as long, but I don’t think anyone would have bothered reading it.

My right shin has been fairly painful ever since, and I’m back to icing it again several times a day. It’ll get better again soon.

As for my running since the race, it has all been slow. I’m still in recovery mode, and today’s HR was a few beats higher than similarly paced runs in the last two weeks. I will definitely do another recovery run tomorrow and maybe try to run a bit faster on Thursday, but only if I feel ok. The next long run won’t be until Friday, when I’m going to do my last 20-miler. The marathon is getting close.

10 Sep
7 miles, 1:03:54, 9:07 pace, HR 128(!)

11 Sep
10 miles, 1:24:46, 8:28 pace, HR 137

Sunday, September 09, 2007


After one of the most atrocious summers in recorded history as far as the weather went, it suddenly turned bright, sunny and very warm about a week ago. Everyone in southern Ireland was very pleased, including me – until yesterday, when I belatedly realised that I would have to race in those rather hot conditions, totally unprepared. The weather forecast for Sunday was 22C/72F, and while that won’t sound impressive to the vast majority of readers, for Ireland in September that’s almost unheard of. Since I do my entire running in the early morning, I definitely haven’t been running at more than 15C/60F, and the difference is telling. Needless to say, I was apprehensive.

When I got the race details sent to me, I thought that 5 water stations for a half marathon would be complete overkill, but with those temperatures that was definitely a wise decision by the organisers. As it turned out, I was gasping for water towards the second half of the race, and the stations couldn’t come soon enough. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Lets start at the beginning.

With the fine weather we decided to make a family day out of the occasion, and at 8 am all five-and-three-quarter of us piled into our car and set off towards County Cork. It was extremely foggy for the first half hour, and Niamh drove slowly and carefully, and I was glad that we had left in plenty of time. It took us about 2 hours to get to Blarney, and I still had nearly an hour until race start. I kissed Niamh and the kids good-bye, and they went off for breakfast and a playground, but Niamh promised to be there at the finish line, and this time should would make sure to be there in time to see me coming in. I started warming up with about 20 minutes to go, and by 11 o’clock we were all assembled at the line. I had hoped to bump into Grellan at some stage, and made a nuisance of myself by asking two or three complete strangers if their name happened to be Grellan if they looked a bit like the photo in his profile (i.e. bearded and in his 40s). The answer was always negative, and eventually I gave up.

The gun went, and we set off. I started close to the front, and in the first minute I went past 2 people and got overtaken by about 20. It was the least amount of jostling I had ever encountered at the beginning of a race, and I settled into a fast but relaxed pace early on. The course is a kind of lollipop shape, 5 miles out, a loop of 4 miles and 4 miles back towards Blarney, with the finish being about 1 mile out from the start. I remembered two things from last year. First, there is plenty of shade along the way, which I was immensely grateful for today, and second, the course relentlessly climbs for 7 miles and then drops back down for the remaining six, which was somewhat less endearing. I thought the climb would be very gradual and gentle, but it felt a lot tougher than that today. The first mile passed by in 6:40, which was exactly what I was looking for. I felt totally in control, and the fact that I had just run 1 uphill mile at an unaccustomed pace had not yet registered. A big pack had formed and I was part of it, but it lost contact with the runners ahead, and since I felt that I could run a tad faster I left the group behind me and chased after the people in front, which I had reeled in before mile 2 (6:39). Maybe I had slightly overestimated my capabilities or maybe the climb got a bit more pronounced, but on the third mile the going got tougher, I felt slightly out of breath and three runners went past me. A split of 6:52 confirmed the problems, but by then I had regained my strength, went past those guys to regain my old position and went through the next mile in 6:46. My PR for the half had been 1:29:57, 6:51 pace, and I was well ahead of target, especially considering that the road was still climbing. However, at that stage my calves started protesting about the relentless chase, and the running got more difficult. I missed the next mile marker, but I could tell that I had definitely slowed down again. Around that time we went round a bend and the climb got considerably steeper. It was at that point that first a group of 6 men ran past me, and I could hear more footsteps approaching from behind. Just as they were closing in on me a spectator shouted “well done girls”, which snapped me out of my thoughts back into reality and realised that I was being sandwiched by two women, one passing me on the left, the other one on the right. Before I could recover from the shock, yet another one went past. I had gotten chicked three times in one minute! I tell you what, as polite and friendly as I usually am, a tired male with a wounded ego throws off the thin veneer of civilisation in an instant, and with all the subtlety of a caveman with a four-foot club all I could think was “at least I’ll have some prey to chase in the second half of the race!”, and I didn’t give two hoots about the fact that this was sexist in the extreme. Ahem.

Anyway, shortly afterwards we reached mile 6 (14:41 for the last 2), and my cushion towards my PR had melted away, not that I was worried. The climb would soon be at an end. By now we had reached the only real hill of the course, and the going had gotten tough. But unlike the previous miles I actually started overtaking runners again on that part, not the women, but the guys from the group that had passed me just before. I was seriously sick of the relentless climb by now, and when we finally crested the monster I loudly proclaimed “Hallelujah!” The guys around me inquired if that meant the end of the climb, which I confirmed, before leaving them in the dust and set off after my prey. The next mile marker came into view surprisingly early in 6:32, which was great, considering that the first part of that mile had included the steepest part of the entire course. I went passed one of the women, which was pure tonic for my wounded male ego, but I couldn’t even see the other two. The thing is, I’m rather short-sighted, and I was wearing shades for that race (the sun required it, really), which meant I couldn’t really see who was ahead of me until I was within a few steps of them. I really pressed the pace now, and while I overtook a lot of runners, they were all male, and I was still chasing. The next miles all flew by in 6:27, 6:25 and 6:27. I must have improved my position in the field by at lease a dozen places along that stretch towards mile 10, but while I knew that the road must be downhill, it didn’t feel that way. I remembered the same from last year. On the way out it felt like climbing without a single step of respite, on the way home it felt like running on even ground. Passing through mile 10 in 1:07 (plus change) was good, but I really started to feel it by now, and the thought of the end was sweet. I heard footsteps approaching for a minute or two, and naturally assumed it was one of the runners I had just overtaken, but was surprised to see an older gentleman (let’s guess about 50) going past me as if I was standing still. Now I was being oldied? I kept learning things about myself today. Not only am I sexist, I’m ageist as well. That guy was unbelievable though; the pace with which he went past me was something else. I did question why it had taken him 10 miles to catch up if he could run so fast. I felt a tinge of regret of losing a hard-fought place in the field, and that's when I thought of Mike’s recent race report. He’d had a very decent race but was annoyed that he hadn’t kept up with people he is capable of beating. In my comment I had stated the hope of having the kind of race he had wished for (albeit a lot slower, of course). This pushed me into action. That man was running a lot faster than what I thought I was capable of, but with less than 3 miles remaining, what’s the worst that could happen? I was hardly going to collapse before the end, and with that in mind I went into the red zone and gave chase. At the very least I managed to keep the distance between us constant, and while the next mile marker passed slower rather than faster than the previous ones (6:33), it wasn’t for lack of effort. I think the course had flattened out again a bit, and of course I was getting more and more tired. I kept pushing hard, and tried to get closer to the man in front. We went past a number of runners, and none of them tried to keep up with us, but I could not close in. I did expect to see one or both of those women again that had stung me at mile 5.5, but none of them showed up on my radar screen. To be honest, at that stage I didn’t care. I just tried to give as much as I could, and I tried to overtake my rabbit. In the heat of the battle (and the actual, real heat) I missed the next mile marker, and when we finally came to mile 13, the split for the last 2 miles was 13:05. I definitely had expected that to be less, with the effort I put into the case, but at least I hadn’t slowed down. The last 0.1 mile went by in 38 seconds, and I crossed the line in 1:27:51, a PR by over 2 minutes and a very satisfying result of a very hard day’s work. Niamh and the kids were there indeed, and all sufficiently proud of the husband/daddy. I congratulated my rabbit, and had a short chat with Mary Sweeney, the third woman who had overtaken me at mile 5.5 (the one I had managed to catch again). She’s very nice, and a very good runner. I had noticed her name in the result pages on a few occasions before, she tends to have similar race times to me. And no, I didn't let on how her overtaking me had stung me.

So, a new PR, and I finished the course over 8 minutes faster than last year, despite the heat. If that means that I’ll be able to cut 16 minutes off my marathon time 4 weeks from now remains to be seen (my target is to cut over 18 minutes, but I’d probably be satisfied with 16). The fact that the older runner went past me was a slice of good luck, without him I wouldn’t have gone into the red zone as much as I had, and probably finished some 30 seconds further back.

The family day continued afterwards, we went on a family trip to Fota wildlife park, where we saw Giraffes, Zebras, Cheetahs, Tapirs, Wallabies, Lemurs, Gibbons, Lamas, Pelicans, Penguins, Flamingos, and at least another dozen types of exotic creatures. The kids were thrilled, Niamh was happy, and I didn’t have to feel guilty about subjecting the entire family to my running obsession. A very good day. Hallelujah.

7 Sep
7 miles, 1:00:06, 8:35 pace, avg. HR 133

8 Sep
5 miles, 43:15, 8:39 pace

9 Sep
~16 miles incl.
Blarney Half-Marathon, 1:27:51, 6:42 pace, avg. HR 176. New PR.

Update 1:

Weekly mileage: 77 miles

Update 2:

I don't know how official that page is, but the time looks correct (they added one second to my watch). Assuming they're the final results I came 63rd, 8th in the M35 age group.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Race Preview

I usually don’t spend too much time thinking about my non-marathon races. They are never the focus of my attention, and just there to ultimately support the marathon training. However, with the 10k in August cancelled, this will be my first race in 6 weeks, and the first race of more than 5k in over four months. That’s a long time without a proper race (both 5ks were more fun runs than races; neither had numbers for a start), and I’m itching to get out and feel the pain in my legs. I know I’ll feel differently at mile 10, when I’ll be desperate to stop, and if I’m not then I’m having a bad race. I do expect a PR (I’ll panic over my marathon if I don’t get one), and I have a certain time in mind that I’d really like to hit, but I won’t announce it in advance, so there won't be a need to wipe egg off my face afterwards. I have no real idea how fast I can run 13 miles. I have done very little running at sub-7 pace, but that’s a standard feature of my training. A week before the Bantry half-marathon I was wondering how I could possible run 6:50 pace for 90 minutes when I couldn’t keep that pace for half the distance in training, but race-day adrenaline is powerful stuff indeed and I’m banking on more of the same on Sunday.

There was still a strenuous workout to be done on Wednesday, the second part of my double header. The first part of which had gone well on Tuesday, but Wednesday was a much tougher proposition. The plan was 3 slow miles to warm up, 10 steady miles @ 8:00 pace and 7 @ 7:15. I have done almost all of the previous runs on a flat road, but yesterday I got more ambitions and ran around the lake; climbs, wildlife and all. I ran it clockwise because that way the worst of the hills would be behind me come mile 13 when the MP portion started. I promptly took a wrong turn at the start, realised my mistake 10 seconds later, swore loudly at myself and turned around. I guess it’s been a while since I ran that route, and at 5:20 am the brain wasn’t entirely conscious yet. The first 13 miles were unremarkable and I felt good; maybe a bit too good because I started to accelerate after 10 miles or so, which I shouldn’t have. When the fast segment started I soon came to the realisation that running MP over an undulating terrain is more difficult than doing so on the flat, and the fact that I had well over 1000 feet of elevation change in my legs from the first part of the run didn’t help either. I think I managed to stay on pace for the first half of that segment, but started to fall behind afterwards. When I reached our driveway after 17 miles I still had a 3 miles out-and-back segment to do, and with each step the legs grew ever more weary. The HR wasn’t particularly high, in the low 150s, if I remember correctly, but I didn’t have it in me to push any harder. I felt like I was running on muscle fibers that had never been used before, and that’s probably pretty close to the truth. It’s also the whole point of that workout. When I reached the turnaround point I could at least flick that little Devil off my shoulder that had been urging me to turn around prematurely for the last 10 minutes, but any hopes that the last mile would feel easier remained unfulfilled. I was completely knackered afterwards.

That leaves three more days until race day, and of course they will be easy days. Today was a much-needed recovery run, and I cut off one mile at the end, both in order to save the legs a little bit and to get a few minutes more sleep. The HR keeps going down and down on these runs; I've come to regard my recovery-run HR as the primary indicator of my fitness, and the signs have been improving steadily all summer.

Strictly speaking, my legs probably won’t have recovered entirely from Wednesday’s workout come Sunday. That’s the price I have to pay, but with three easy days until then I’m quietly confident I can run a good race.
5 Sep
20 miles, 2:37:59, 7:53 pace, HR 147
last 7 in 51:47 (7:23 pace)

6 Sep
9 miles, 1:16:13, 8:28 pace, HR 131

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Back to School

Niamh is a relieved woman, the kids are back in school. Lola and Shea are in first class, Cian is in preschool. She might actually be able to get some rest in the mornings, which would be welcome at week 31 of pregnancy, I guess.

I neglected to update you on my shin splints (yeah I know, as if you really wanted the details). I’ve been icing them several times a day last week, and I noted a definite improvement. Then I got lazy/I forgot, and they got more noticeable again, so I started icing again, noticed some further improvement, got lazy again and paid the price again. In short, it’s been a bit up and down, but that’s down to me being sloppy. On the whole I’m definitely on top of the issue and it will affect neither my race on Sunday nor the marathon four weeks later.

I took it easy again on Monday after Sunday’s faster workout, but the legs felt pretty fresh anyway. I was fighting the temptation to pick up the pace for the entire 10 miles and was a good boy for about 8 of them. Then I spotted another runner about a minute ahead of me (I even timed that on my watch), and most of the resolve went out of the window. I didn’t quite speed up as much as I could have, but went below 8:00 pace, which is definitely not recovery pace for me. I went past him on the last climb before home, and after exchanging a short greeting he was behind me. Maybe one day, when I’ve grown up, I might be able to hold myself back sufficiently, but clearly not yet. The HR was a bit higher than it would have been without that little private race, but it was still pretty low.

The main reason why I wanted to take it so easy on Monday despite feeling rather fresh was the fact that I’m planning another double-header for Tuesday/Wednesday. The first part of that consists of 10 miles, with 3 miles as a warm-up and 7 at marathon pace. I’ve run nearly all of the previous runs of that kind on the flat Ard-na-Sidhe road, but today the legs opted for the hillier and more scenic Caragh Lake route. I was already half a mile down the road before I realised that I was going into that direction, and I wasn’t going to turn around by then. It meant a few hills on the way during the marathon segment, but since the marathon itself won’t be flat either I reasoned that it would be a better choice anyway. I gradually increased the pace during the first 3 miles, and then went into MP mode. I actually surprised myself this time, because all of the miles splits were basically within 5 seconds of the target. Accurate pacing was always a weak spot of mine, but I guess I’m slowly able to tune into that effort, which bodes well for the marathon. I’m not quite there yet, though; I still have to concentrate to keep 7:15 pace going. As soon as the mind starts wandering, the legs will slow down. I’m hoping there will be others around me in Loch Ness going at my pace. That has never been a concern before, but as I’m slowly moving up the field, the numbers around me are thinning out. Looking at last year’s result, there was only 1 runner at 3:09, 4 at 3:10 and 5 at 3:11. I guess that should be sufficient to keep some company, assuming of course that that’s indeed the pace I can hold for 26 miles.
3 Sep
10 miles, 1:24:07, 8:24 pace, avg. HR 134

4 Sep
10 miles, 1:14:53, 7:29 pace, avg. HR 151
last 7 in 50:33 (7:13 pace)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

More Workouts

On Friday I went out for a 15-mile progression run despite the fact that I wasn’t entirely sure if I had recovered from the intervals/long run double workout earlier in the week. What I had in mind were 5 easy miles, 5 miles at MP, and 5 miles faster than MP. I took my time and started as slowly as I wanted, because it always takes me a few miles to get warmed up properly. After 5 miles I cranked up the pace, but it took some time to get used to the higher effort. I didn’t quite manage MP for that segment, but wasn’t too far off it. I think the slower-than-planned first mile was mostly responsible for the missed target. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to add 5 faster miles after that, but surprised myself for once. The last bit wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as hard as I had expected it, and the faster-than-MP pace felt manageable. I was pleased.

I decided to make a change from the usual 10-mile recovery run on Saturday, and went for a loop around the Devil’s Elbow. That’s 2.5 mile flat miles, then 1.5 miles of very steep climbing, about 2 miles of downhill, less steep than the climb, and then a flat road back home. I used to run that loop all the time on my previous training cycle, when I prepared for the Connemara Ultra. No matter how stiff I felt at the beginning, the climb always had a good effect on the legs, and they always felt better afterwards. The climb was tough, as usual, and the fatigue in the legs never went away, but I ran slowly enough for a recovery run, even though the HR was a bit higher than I felt it should be. On the other hand, my normal recovery runs don’t include a big climb, and I have nothing to compare it with. I did over 5 hours of gardening work afterwards, which was necessary but maybe not ideal in regards to recovery.

Sunday seems to have become the day of the Exchange Workout, and since I felt that last week’s effort had been shorter than necessary I decided to increase the distance to 4x1 miles, alternating MP and faster pace with each mile. I had to overcome two mental hurdles for this run; the first one was to leave the house at all because the weather was miserable, windy and rainy, and the second one was to speed up after the warm-up, which just felt impossible initially. Once again, I got the pace wrong for the first mile. I was much too fast, and even though I realised the error halfway through the first mile and tried to slow down a little bit, I didn’t slow down nearly enough and came through in 6:48, ridiculously early. The second mile was only a few seconds faster than that, but at least I can claim to have stayed “in control” this time, and I concentrated mainly on form and relaxation, just like I had learned on Tuesday. The third mile at MP felt ridiculously slow in comparison, but at least I very nearly got the pace right this time. The last mile was tough, but going through the mantras “hips forward”, “lift the knees”, “swing the arms” helped a lot to run both fast and relaxed, and I came through in 6:38. I had hoped for faster times in the speed segments, but at least I can say for once that I had stayed in control all the way through, and remained relaxed for the entire time, which is in contrast to previous attempts at that workout. It took 65 seconds for the HR to return to 120 and 81 for 110, which is a bit slower than last week but better than the week before that; but because today’s workout was longer than last week’s, I can’t really compare the numbers.

I have to decide what to do next week because of the half-marathon on Sunday. I’ll probably do a long run on Wednesday and take it easy on the 3 days before race day, with maybe a fast mile or two thrown in for good measure. I’ll see.
31 Aug
15 miles, 1:55:45, 7:43 pace, avg. HR 147
3x5 mile in 43:04, 36:54, 35:47 (8:36, 7:22, 7:09 pace)

1 Sep
8.5 miles, 1:14:00, 8:42 pace, avg. HR 139, very hilly

2 Sep
9 miles, 1:10:02, 7:46 pace, avg. HR 147
4x1 mile in 6:49, 6:40, 7:18, 6:38, HR 120/65, 110/81

Weekly mileage: 83.5
Monthly mileage for August: 387