Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It’s Due ...

... but it’s not coming out just yet. Yesterday Niamh was convinced she was about to go into labour, so much so that she convinced her sister to stay for an extra day. She also started to tease me when I started ironing my shirts “do you really think you’re going to work tomorrow?” Alas, we’re still waiting. Her official due date is today, but since it’s past 7pm already, I don’t think she going to arrive on time.

Cian is still feeling a bit down, he’s still not having much appetite, but the fever is gone and the vomiting has stopped. I’m in the same boat as him, sans the throwing up, but like him I don’t feel much like eating. I can usually force myself to swallow down one bowl of cereal in the morning and some lunch and dinner, but not much. I’ve still got enough energy to go running, and as a result I’m losing weight fast at the moment. In fact, my present weight of 147 is the lowest I can remember; I don’t think I have been lighter than that since my teenage years. I don’t think I’ll stay down there once my appetite returns, though. The most important thing is that Niamh seems to be unaffected, though.

The running is still going fairly well, but the mornings aren’t overly inviting. Due to the end of daylight saving time it’s bright enough to run without artificial light again, but it’s always wet, cold and windy. On Monday I ran the same 10 miles on the same course as on Sunday, and wouldn’t you know it, I ran them at the exact same pace, I was back home at the same time, down to the second. Niamh thinks I’m turning into a robot, especially after I measured my resting heart rate on Monday morning, and it came down to 40, the lowest I’ve ever measured.

Even though I’ve basically run at the same effort level for the last few days, today was markedly slower. It could be down to a number of reasons, maybe my lower food intake is catching up with me, or maybe it was because I ran immediately after getting up, while on the weekend I ran after being up for two hours. Whatever, one slower run isn’t something I worry about. I’m just building up my mileage and running all of the runs at an easy effort. Ideally I’d like to get to 90 or more mpw in November, but how realistic that is with the imminent new arrival I’ve yet to find out.
29 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:20, 7:44 pace, HR 151
30 Oct
8 miles, 1:05:29, 8:11 pace, HR 148
including 7x100 strides

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ho Hum

“What are your plans for the long weekend?” “Waiting for the baby to be born”.
I had that short conversation at least three times at work on Friday. Of course we might still be 2 weeks away from the event, but all we can do is wait. And wait. And wait.

I still have permission to go for a run every morning. I offered to take my mobile phone with me, just in case, but I knew that Niamh would laugh that off. Giving birth doesn’t happen that quickly, and I wouldn’t miss it by being out of the house for an hour.

To recap the last three days, they were all slightly under 8:00 pace, and the heart rate was slightly higher than I would it expect to be for that kind of pace. I guess that’s a sign that my aerobic conditioning has taken a bit of a knock in Loch Ness, which doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. A winter of base building is what’s ahead of me, if I manage to get out of the house, that is. It has been really wet and windy over the last few days, enough to make me choose the somewhat sheltered Ard-na-Sidhe road rather than the Caragh Lake road instead, but it looks a bit nicer today. The weather forecast for the next few days is less than promising, though.

It’s a long weekend with a bank holiday Monday, but not just any bank holiday Monday. It’s the Monday of the Dublin marathon, and it feels weird to be at home instead. Niamh’s sister is here for a weekend visit, and asked me why I’m not running it. Niamh pointed to her bump and said “that’s why”. There’s no arguing with that.

Cian complained about a pain in his tummy for the last two days, and now he’s in bed with a 39C/102F temperature. I’m sure he’ll be better soon, but I’ve had a pain in my stomach since yesterday myself. It caused a night of very interrupted sleep, and while I’m not showing any other symptoms so far, this might yet happen. My main concern is not passing it on to Niamh, but how that’s supposed to be prevented I don’t know.

Finally, good luck to Liam and Grellan and everyone else who is running in Dublin tomorrow. I hope you don’t mind a bit of wind and rain, guys.
26 Oct
13 miles, 1:43:24, 7:57 pace, HR 150
27 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:08, 7:53 pace, HR 154
28 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:20, 7:44 pace, HR 149

Weekly mileage: 65

Thursday, October 25, 2007


With work being both manic and interesting at the same time, and Niamh in the last few days before the bay is born, running is probably the least interesting part of my daily routine at the moment. I can't tell you tales of hard intervals or great tempo runs, hill runs or long runs. All I'm doing at the moment are short(ish) runs at easy effort, day in, day out, and since Sunday's madness has cleared my immediate need for stupidity, I'm actually sticking to the plan for the time being.

The weather has cleared up again, and both today and yesterday I enjoyed a run under a magnificent starry sky. I was so distracted early on yesterday that I nearly ran off the road on one occasion. After that I started concentrating more on the running effort rather than gazing up towards Orion. Clear skies at that time of year also mean very cold mornings, and on both occasions I was glad I had remembered to bring my gloves along for the ride.

I started doing some strides as part of these runs. That's something I tend to neglect, but I hope I can stick with it this time. Strides are supposed to be the best workout for increasing your running efficiency, and even though that's a slow process it's also a worthwhile one. Some coaches like tinman suggest doing strides as often as four times a week during base training. I have yet to decide if I want to them so frequently. They can be a right nuisance; they interrupt your run, and they continually break your rhythm. They throw off my heart rate, but interestingly seem to have very little influence on the average pace (at least I find that interesting. Your mileage may vary).

On the home front, Cian, after a few months of reasonably good behaviour (at least in comparison to what he used to be like - frequent readers will still remember a few of his escapades) has turned into the devil incarnate. We think he has figured out that the baby will take his place as the most needy member of the family, and it looks like he decided to get his retaliation in first. He's certainly not stupid. At the age of three he is already able to write his own name (learned auto didactically from his older siblings), and he showed it off by writing it in very big letters all over the walls, floors and furniture of the house. The boy is a genius, but momentarily one of the evil kind, I'm afraid. On the other hand, I guess most parents of other three-year olds can relate.
24 Oct
10 miles, 1:19:50, 7:59 pace, HR 146

25 Oct
8 miles, 1:04:01, 8:00 pace, HR 149
including 8x100 strides

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Darkening

There’s not much to tell about the last two days; I’ll try and keep this mercifully short. The weather turned nasty on Monday. I woke a few times during the night to hear the wind and rain outside, but the worst seemed to have been over by the time I got up. When I opened the door I noticed that it was still raining, and when I got out of the wood I noticed that it was still windy. Initially both weren’t too bad, and I kept thinking of it as a smooth introduction to the winter weather – if the coming winter is like the last one, that is. Unfortunately as the miles got on the weather got progressively worse. The wind stopped bothering me too much once I reached the turnaround point but the rain was a nuisance. I love running in rain, but once it starts pouring and your feet are soaking wet, the fun ends, especially in combination with the biting wind. The last half-mile was almost apocalyptic with the way the water came down. I was really glad to reach our front door and some shelter. I got an additional shock when I checked my HRM afterwards (it had been too dark on the road to read the display), 153 for a slow run was way higher than expected. I’m still paying for Sunday’s idiocy.

I repeated the same 8 miles today, with nicer weather (though it still started raining after the halfway point), and with better recovered legs. The effort level was basically the same as yesterday, but I ran over a minute faster with a much lower heart rate. Today was fun again, but I don’t know if I’ll have the required discipline to keep running all through the dark and cold winter nights if the weather will be as atrocious as last year. Last year I had the ultra to look forward to, and the thought of running 39 miles in one go kept me scared enough to keep training through the worst of the elements. This year, without any plans apart from the hope of building a good base for whatever race next year will bring, the motivation might not be as high. I’ll see.

Both days it was pitch dark when I left home. The end of daylight saving time can't come soon enough for me.

22 Oct
8 miles, 1:06:44, 8:20 pace, HR 153
incl. 6x100 strides
23 Oct
8 miles, 1:05:13, 8:09 pace, HR 146

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Stupid Thomas

Maybe you should read Donald’s recent post before you start with mine; but beware. It seems to be contagious. Donald went at length to discuss the dialogue between Smart Donald and Stupid Donald in his latest race report. When I read it, little did I know that Stupid Thomas was looking up and decided he could do better. He would out-stupid Stupid Donald. He managed to do so quite handsomely.

He held back initially. Smart Thomas had decided that a slow, short recovery effort on Saturday would be just the thing to do. Remember, it’s only two weeks ago since my last marathon, and my HR data is very clear: I’m not yet recovered. A recovery run on Saturday morning, slow and steady with a low heart rate was therefore a good thing. It confirmed that the recovery is still ongoing, my heart rate keeps going down, but it’s still higher than it was before the race.

Then Stupid Thomas took over. Considering my back pain, working in the garden for two hours was never a very smart idea. I thought I was doing well by cutting it short after only 2 hours, but the damage was already done. When I awoke today, I was in pain again; I had been in discomfort for the last few days, but this was worse again. It’s a very clear reminder that you don’t take risks with your back. If it hurts, pay attention. It takes quite some time to clear up. Did you listen, Stupid?

He didn’t. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s two weeks since the marathon, and I’m slowly and steadily increasing the mileage. Today called for 10 miles, the first run of double digits since the marathon. The last time I had increased my mileage I made sure I ran slowly. Today the pace was still reasonably measured for the first 2 miles at about 8:00 pace, maybe a tad faster. I don’t know what possessed me to start an imaginary race against myself at that point, but something did. Stupid Thomas had well and truly taken over. I even knew at the time that running at tempo pace was an idiotic thing to do, but it didn’t stop me. Maybe I tried to outdo Stupid Donald. Or maybe I was running in sympathy with Mike, who seems to have issues with his own Irrational Half by running a gut-busting fast 10-mile race today; not only did he run a marathon 2 weeks ago, he has also gone under the surgeon’s knife in the meantime (all the best, Mike). Anyway, I covered 10 miles in a bit over 75 minutes, which is made worse by the fact that the first 2 miles had been significantly slower. I didn't calculate what the pace was for the other 8 - I don't even want to know. Plus, I can’t believe that 2 weeks ago I managed to run 26 miles at that pace. I must have been in really good shape back then, because today I was knocked out after 10.
20 Oct
5 miles, 42:19, 8:27 pace, HR 143
21 Oct
10 miles, 1:15:24, 7:32 pace, HR 163

Weekly mileage: 47

Friday, October 19, 2007

Nightly Encounter

First things first, my back is much better. In fact, I’m amazed how quickly it came round. Tuesday I was in agony, Wednesday was just painful, and by Thursday the feeling had shrunk to mere discomfort, which still remains to date. I took some painkillers on Wednesday night right before bed time, to ensure a full night of sleep. I avoid medicine and doctors as much as I possibly can, but after a night of agony on Tuesday the little white pills were the lesser evil. Luckily, it worked; I slept through the entire night until the alarm clock went off at 6:30, telling me it was time for my 7-mile run. For a second I contemplated staying in bed and sleeping some more, but then I got up, just like I always do.

The run went very well. I had gotten bored with the recovery pace day after day, and let the legs turn over a little bit quicker, but still kept the going at the easy level. In all honesty I was surprised how easy sub-8 pace felt, less than 2 weeks after the marathon.

I’m slowly building up my mileage, and after two runs of seven miles I opted for 8 today. I went back to recovery pace again, just to be extra cautious. It’s very dark in the morning now (at least until the daylight saving time ends) and I had my headlamp with me. However, I prefer to turn off the light as long as there are no cars around me, and as long as I can make out the road, of course. Just before the turnaround point suddenly a huge scary shadowy figure appeared right in front of me and gave me quite a fright. I turned on the light, and the menacing creature morphed into a young man with a friendly face. Amazing the way your mind works in the dark. He even said “morning, lovely”, which is a chatty as the Irish get at that time of night. The rest of the run was uneventful. I had expected the heart rate to be a bit lower, but overall it’s still going the right way. I can’t call myself recovered just yet, even though I can’t feel any effects from the marathon any more.
18 Oct
7 miles, 54:45, 7:50 pace, HR 150
19 Oct
8 miles, 1:05:53, 8:14 pace, HR 146

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Remember how I hurt my back just before the marathon, and how I have mentioned once or twice that my back felt worse than my legs afterwards? Well, yesterday I went to the gym, and I didn't even think about my back, which had been fine for a few days. After about 5 minutes on the rowing machine I felt an immensely painful shock right there in my back, and I have been in agony ever since. Of course you could say I shouldn't have gone to the gym, but hindsight is always a great thing. I had been feeling fine, and it wasn't until I did my back in that I remembered that I had hurt that particular part of my body. In the middle of a rather disturbed night of sleep (not helped by the presence of a certain 3-year old. As much as I like enthusiastic hugs and kisses, 3am is not the right time) I eventually got up at 4am and took some painkillers, something I haven't done in ages, but I really wanted some more sleep. I didn't know if I would be able to run, but I thought that I had run a marathon without problems immediately after injuring the back for the first time, and decided to risk it. The most difficult part was putting on socks and shoes. I started running gingerly at first but more confidently after a minute. The back held out very well. It isn't a running-related injury, and running doesn't aggravate it. In fact, the best I've felt for the last 24 hours was during my run and for the first hour afterwards. Sitting in the office chair for hours, on the other hand, is pure agony.

Running wise, the recovery is progressing very well. I ran 5 miles yesterday and 7 miles today, and felt very good both times. In fact, today was one of those magical runs, with an amazing set of stars on a completely clear sky, and then the first light of dawn - wonderful! Running can be so rewarding, yet the majority of people will never know, and don't even believe you when you tell them.

The heart rate keeps dropping as well, but it's still nearly 10 beats higher than before the marathon. I can always track my aerobic fitness by measuring the heart rate during my recovery runs, and I can also notice a steady progress from training cycle to training cycle that way. It's fool proof, and just as much as I could tell with absolute certainty before the marathon that I had been in my best shape ever, I can now follow the heart rate on its way southwards until I can call myself fully recovered.

The back injury is as annoying as it is painful, but it looks like it won't stop me from running at all. I don't need painkillers to deal with it, but might take some for a peaceful night of sleep.

And finally, thank you Mark for pointing out this (scroll down a bit to see it). I had never expected to see myself linked to from that particular site, at least not in a positive mention. Wow. Fame at last. It explains why my visitor numbers spiked the other day.

16 Oct
5 miles, 42:04, 8:25 pace, HR 149
17 Oct
7 miles, 56:56, 8:08 pace, HR 146

Monday, October 15, 2007

I don’t get it

What’s so offensive about whales? Any anyway, Niamh still has a sense of humour. I tried singing a whale song to her, and she merely told me to “f*ck off” rather than beat me to death with a frying pan, so I guess all is still in order.

Recovery from a marathon is probably my least favourite part of running, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels like that. All the immediate aches and pains are gone, including the one that had manifested itself deep inside my left calf muscle. A few stretching sessions seemed to get rid of it for good. But out on the road it will take a lot longer until I can honestly say that I’m fully recovered.

Despite all that whining, recovery is actually going very well. There’s definitely something said for being well prepared for a marathon. Not only do you have a much better time during the actual race, the time afterwards is also a lot more agreeable. Since I can honestly vouch for the fact that I had been very well prepared for my latest race, recovery should pass by reasonably quickly. Yet I still don’t like it. Running 5 miles at slow pace isn’t exactly the most exciting way to spend your early mornings, and I yearn for slightly faster stuff. However, so far I have by and large managed to hold myself back. I think I’ll hold out for a bit longer.

Sunday’s run went remarkably well. I was surprised when I checked my watch at the end; I had only intended to cover the 5 miles at very easy pace, but got close to 8:30 instead, which was a bit faster than expected. Not that I’m complaining. In contrast, today’s run was both slower and at a slightly higher heart rate, which I blame on the conditions. I woke at 6 to hear the wind and rain outside and decided not to go running. I was even proud of the restrained I showed. However, half an hour later I couldn’t hear anything, so I decided to get up and run after all. It wasn’t until I opened the front door, kitted out and all, that I realised that the rain was still as bas as ever. Having come so far I decided to run the 5 miles anyway. It wasn’t too bad. I thought Niamh would say something along the lines of “why are you running in the rain? What are you training for?” but she didn’t. Maybe she’s too used to that behaviour by now to even notice it.
14 Oct
5 miles, 43:19, 8:40 pace, HR 145
15 Oct
5 miles, 44:12, 8:50 pace, HR 146

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Back to Life, Back to Reality

It’s incredible how quickly time passes. It’s already 6 days since the marathon! I’m still taking it easy, I didn’t run at all on Friday, and just 5 recovery miles today. It went better again, the quads were fine this time, but the left calf is still a bit troublesome. It felt like I had a knot somewhere deep inside that muscle. It’s a bit strange, because it was the right calf that was cramping in the late stages of the marathon, yet it’s the left one that’s playing up now. I’ve started stretching it in hope of alleviating the problem, but if past history is anything to go by, I’ll keep that up for maybe three days.

The one part of my body that’s really sore is my lower back, though. I think it’s related to the fall right before the marathon start, but I can’t say for sure. I was in agony last night, but it’s better today. Sitting in an office chair for 8 hours is probably the worst thing I can do for it, which is why it is better during the weekend. Several Yoga poses that stretch the back seemed to help, but again, past history tells me that I’m not very good at keeping at that sort of thing.

Niamh is reaching the beached whale stage of pregnancy. She’s running out of clothes that fit over her bump, and she’s getting more and more uncomfortable. The official due date is still a bit more than two weeks away. She’s willing for time to pass quickly. Two nights ago she thought she felt the early signs of oncoming labour, but that may have been wishful thinking. In any case, the house is ready for a new occupant, but my guess is that it will be early November until we can welcome her to the world. Exciting as well as tiring times are ahead.

And finally, I want to wish the Three Blind Moose and their Mountain Goat all the best for the MDI marathon. Two of them should theoretically still be in recovery mode after a marathon and a 100-miler respectively, and the other two have spent most of summer licking their wounds. They're all set for a great experience then. Good Luck, guys!

13 Oct
5 miles, 44:45, 8:57 pace, HR 147

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Photos and Analysis

The photo people have come up with a few snapshots of mine, but since they’re too ugly to view in bigger size, I won’t put them up in any greater detail than that.

Right after finishing the race I sent a text message to Niamh stating my time was “good but not brilliant”. I haven’t changed my mind since. My goal had been 3:10, and I always knew that it was very ambitious. I missed it, but I came close enough to be satisfied. Therefore I wasn’t as ecstatic as I had been a year ago after the Dublin marathon, but nevertheless the warm feeling of having done a good job has surrounded me ever since. I’m not disappointed with my time; I’m quite happy with it, and I know I couldn’t have run much faster on the day, no matter what.

In fact, I think I cut it mightily fine. One more mile and the cramps would most likely have forced me to walk. A slightly slower start may have resulted in a faster finishing time, because I basically lost one minute over the last 2 miles. On the other hand a 3.5 minutes positive split isn't particularly bad on a course like that, with its early downhill miles and that big hill during the second half.

The course is potentially fast with those downhills, but it’s also quite challenging. The early miles are unlike Boston because it’s not a steady downhill stretch but a constant up and down, obviously with more downs than ups. The undulating nature continues all the way to the end, you can never completely settle in your rhythm. In that respect, my usual training routes along Caragh Lake were the perfect preparation because they show the same characteristics. In fact, despite the fact that I had never run there, I almost felt at home on the course. An undulating, small rural road alongside a very scenic lake – how could anything have been more familiar to me?

The race was extremely well organised, and I can heartily recommend it to anyone in the vicinity around that time of the year. The food at the pasta party was yummy and plentiful, the live music entertaining, the race day transport perfect, the bag pipers a lovely local touch, and the soup and food at the finish were well received by yours truly. The one downside was the £10 charge for a post-race massage, which I declined, but I can definitely live with that. I’m more likely to run Dublin in future years because of the easier logistics, but Loch Ness will always be a possible alternative.

I felt reasonably good the next day, which was a plus because I was travelling all day. My calves were sore, but not too bad. I was even able to walk down a staircase, which was severely tested when leaving the plane in Dublin airport, but managed pretty well. I was a bit worried if I was up to driving 200 miles from Dublin to Kerry, but again managed just fine.

I was a lot sorer on Tuesday, but managed to get in and out of chairs without wincing in pain. Nobody made any smart comments in the office, so I must have done reasonably well. By Wednesday I was almost fine again. The one part that hurt most was actually my back. I hurt it when falling over before the start of the marathon, and while it didn’t bother me at all during the race, I was in minor agony while sitting in the seats of the train, plane and car for hours the next day. It’s slowly getting better now.

Last night I was deliberating if I should go running again this morning, but definitely showed a tendency towards staying in bed, when Niamh brought my attention towards her increasingly big bump and pointed out that I might want to go running while I still can. Therefore I put on my shoes this morning for a short 4 mile haul. The left calf was quite tight initially, but settled down after a mile or two. On the way home the quads got heavier and heavier, and by the time I was back home I was glad to be done. I haven’t got any set plans for recovery at the moment. I’ll run whenever I feel like it, as long as Niamh will let me out of the house. This is also the first time in ages that I don’t know what I’m training for. The general idea is to do base training through the winter and then decide if I want to run a marathon in spring. That way the baby can’t upset my plans, because I haven’t got any.

11 Oct
4 miles, 36:23, 9:06 pace, HR 144

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Monster Race

I was still 40 miles from Dublin on my way towards Inverness when it hit me: what I’m doing is utterly insane by most people’s standards. Spending a lot of money and travelling a long distance in order to run 26 miles in a foreign place is a weird thing to do. However, at that stage I was committed to the task, and pressed on.

I made awfully sure that I would not oversleep on Sunday: I set the alarm on my watch, on my mobile phone and on the alarm clock that was part of the room. In the end I didn’t need any of those, I was wide awake an hour early. After a hearty breakfast I went to Queen’s Park stadium to catch a bus to the start line. Once there I got changed, and had a slight mishap: as I tried to take off my running tights, balancing on one leg, I fell over in rather comical fashion. The guy beside me laughed out loud. “You didn’t see that”. “No, but I heard it.” I didn’t mind the loss of dignity, but somehow I had managed to injure my back in the fall, and it hurt quite a bit. I tried stretching it out for a while, but it didn’t make much of a difference. Eventually we assembled near the start line, me around the “3hrs” sign. I heard another runner in a yellow singlet say to his friends that he’d aim for 3:10 to 3:15, and I thought I could do worse than stick with him – he looked like he knew what he was doing.

The start was signalled by a group of bag pipers walking towards the start line, and to the tunes of “Scotland the Brave” we set off on our journey. I forgot all about my bad back and joined the other 2000 runners.

The start is on high ground east of Loch Ness, a mile away from the tiny village of Whitebridge. The first 8 miles of the course are downhill, but the course profile I had studied before the race is misleading. There are plenty of ups and downs along the way, and the biggest drops in elevation come from 3 very steep sections of road – so steep that it’s nearly impossible to run relaxed, and certainly not as good for a fast time as you might imagine from simply looking at the elevation drop.

My plan was to run the first mile in 7:30 and the next 25 in 7:15. Immediately after the start I was blocked by scores of slower runners in front, and I felt like jogging for the first 5 minutes. I did crank up the effort slightly once the roads cleared a bit, but expected a slow start. Imagine my surprise when the watch said 7:23! And then a look at my heart rate monitor nearly made me freeze in panic, because the display said 175 or 176. Good God, much too high! However, I still felt like jogging, and kept going at the same effort. Then mile 2 came into view, 6:44! That’s my half-marathon race pace! I felt rather conflicted at that point. Both my watch and my HRM told me I was going too fast, but my legs still only felt like jogging along nicely. I knew this could blow up spectacularly later on, but I decided to stick with the perceived effort rather than follow whatever the gadgets said. In that fashion mile 3 in 6:47 didn’t come as a big surprise. I have to admit to being worried at that stage. I knew about the hill waiting for us at mile 18, and had visions of me slowly walking up the entire way in death-march mode, but I kept going anyway. The next mile sported a nasty hill where I felt a lot worse than on the previous sections, and a few runners ran past me, only to fall behind again at the next downhill. By now the aforementioned runner in the yellow singlet had become a very familiar sight. He kept overtaking me at the climbs, I regained my place at the downhills, and on average we were running side-by-side. After a few miles we did acknowledge each others presence and started chatting. I didn’t know his name then, but looked it up in the results later on where I found out that he’s called John, has a running blog himself and is a very experienced ultra runner. I guess I had chosen the perfect running partner. We passed miles 4 to 8 in 7:25, 7:14, 6:54, 7:13 and 6:55, which alternated between being on pace and going a little bit too fast, but this was more a reflection of the undulating terrain than an uneven effort. By mile 6 we passed through the village of Foyers with plenty of spectators, and each time we passed someone they shouted out “well done, John”, though that was not directed towards my running buddy but to another John a few steps behind us who had his name displayed across his chest in 2-inch high letters. This did get on my nerves I have to admit. “Never mind bloody John, you could clap for me as well”! (I didn’t say it out loud though). Next mile split 7:08. Shortly afterwards I dropped behind, and both Johns as well as about 5 more runners (including a girl) went past me. I originally thought I was still running on pace and everyone else must have accelerated, but a mile split of 7:29 told a different story. Up to here I had felt like jogging along, but now my pace was sagging and I made the conscious decision of increasing the effort to get back on pace. I was still worried about the hill, and the heart rate was still the wrong side of 170, but I was chasing my target time and decided that it was worth taking risks. However, the next few miles turned into one big low point. Mile 11 was still respectable at 7:17, but the effort was getting to me, and miles 12 and 13 passed by in 7:21 and 7:28. This was the worst part of the race by far. I entertained thoughts of stopping, and really wanted to do anything else but running yet another 13 miles. John and the girl from mile 9 (called Mhairi, but again I didn’t know that at the time) had joined up by now, I could see them running together for a few miles, half a minute ahead of me. I had taken a gel at mile 12, and either it was the effect of the gel or the inspiring views of Loch Ness or maybe my training paying off, but I started to feel better again. One particular runner had drawn to me by now who was extremely noisy, he kept coughing every 2 seconds, accompanied by spitting, rasping breathing and other not entirely pleasant sounds. Accelerating just to get away from him was worth the extra effort alone, but I actually felt good all of a sudden and started going faster without any real increase in effort. The next 3 miles were encouraging at 7:09, 7:19 and 7:21, but what was more important than the slightly improved splits was my vastly improved mood, I enjoyed running again, simply felt good and stopped worrying about that hill, which was by now getting rather close. We reached the end of Loch Ness and entered Dores, where some more spectators had gathered to give much-needed encouragement. But guess what they said when I passed? “Well done John!” Not again! I had just overtaken the “other John” again, the one with the big letters, and once again he sucked the spectators’ attention away from me. He drew up with me a minute or two later, and in a half-sarcastic mood I greeted him with a “Hello John”. Actually, he turned out to be very nice and friendly; he knew the course and gave me a rather detailed description of the miles ahead. Eventually he dropped back, or maybe I accelerated again, because all of a sudden I started overtaking runners by the bucket load. The road started rising as soon as we left Dores, but gently at first. I asked a guy beside me if that was “The Hill” already, but he put me right. That was just the start, and it would get a lot steeper very soon. Not what I wanted to hear, but I thanked him anyway, before pulling away again.

The real climb started right behind the next bend. It’s the biggest obstacle along the marathon course, and the climb is well over two miles long. I wondered why nobody calls it The Monster, we’re at Loch Ness after all, but maybe that would be too obvious and unoriginal. Having said all that, it’s not half as bad as the “Hell of the West” in Connemara, and it’s not as bad as the hills I run week in, week out in Kerry. I must have passed at least a dozen runners, and the mile splits of 7:37 and 7:23 are pretty decent, taking the terrain into account. By mile 19 I had drawn level with John again (the one in the yellow shirt), we exchanged a few words, and then I was off again. The 19 mile marker, pretty much at the top of the hill, turned up ridiculously early in 6:47, but I knew immediately that that couldn’t be right, which was confirmed 50 seconds later when I passed a painted 19 marker on the road, because 7:37 is much more realistic for an uphill mile. The next mile split confirmed that even more, if you counted from the original marker it was 8:18, but my “corrected” time of 7:28 is a lot more believable. By now I had spotted that girl from mile 9, Mhairi, again, and, disgustingly chauvinistic male that I am decided to give chase. I checked the watch when she passed a signpost and timed myself to be 40 seconds behind her. The hunting instincts brought the next mile in 7:16 (and within 28 seconds of Mhairi), despite featuring another hill, not long but rather steep. I might have overdone things there, because that’s where the first signs of the oncoming train crash started appearing. There had been an awful lot of downhill miles along the way, and the quads let me know in no uncertain terms that they’d had enough. I found it increasingly difficult to lift the knees, and despite the next mile being downhill again it was no faster than 7:38, and I started to tip into the “agony” side of things. Just after the 22-mile marker there’s the “Welcome to Inverness” road sign. The night before I had tried to engage in positive thinking and imagined myself running past said sign and putting in 4 strong miles until the finish. Unfortunately, turning those thoughts into reality was a lot harder. I did try to increase the effort, but the times don’t really reflect that. What did surprise me was the amount of overtaking that went on over those final miles. Normally you’d expect the field to be very much settled at that point, but that was not the case. I wasn’t the fastest guy around by any means, a fair number of runners went past me, but I think I overtook about twice that number myself. I had a bit of fun with a group of spectators, when they started to cheer as I passed I blew them a kiss. “That’s the first one who offered to kiss me!!”, and I got a few extra cheers. Anyway, the miles here went by in 7:35 (ugh) and 7:19 (very respectable, not sure where that came from). Alas, here’s where the train hit the buffers. The course runs along one side of the river Ness, and you can see your faster peers going the other way on the opposite bank. They’re nearly there, the lucky bastards! Just as I got onto the bridge, my right calf started cramping. Just for a split second, and I had just enough time to cry out in pain, then it was gone again. I crossed the bridge, and now we were running back the other way, watching our slower peers on the other side where we had just come from. All of a sudden Mhairi was straight ahead of me. I had long forgotten about giving chase to her, but there she was; she had slowed down dramatically, didn’t look happy at all, and I felt bad for her as I passed her (she eventually finished 50 seconds behind me). Twice more my calf started cramping, just for one spasm, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to run much further. I was hurting badly by now, and mile 25 was the slowest by far at 7:50, with the next mile in 7:49 not much better. The course is cruel at that point, you can already see the stadium, but you have to loop around the entire complex and enter it from the other side. Just before the 26 mile marker it hit me again, and if anyone was nearby they would have heard me shouting out something like “ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaooooouuuuu”, until the iron grip on my calf started loosening again. Thankfully by now the end was in sight – literally. I was actually disappointed when I saw the finishing clock, the timer was already at 3:10 and that had been my dream target. There was nothing I could do about it, I entered the stadium, the announcer said “Number 1771, that’s Thomas (pause) Bubbybobo, from (pause) Kyle (pause) orgayn (pause), and he’s come all the way from Austria!!!” The last bit wasn’t strictly true, but the crowd seemed to like it, gave a big cheer, which I milked for all I could, and then I crossed the line and was done.

Official chip time:
Average HR:
Average pace per mile:
First half:
Second half:
Pounds lost:

Monday, October 08, 2007

Planes, Trains And Automobiles

... shaped the majority of today. I woke at 6 am in Inverness, caught the train to Aberdeen, a plane to Dublin, the airport coach to Nana and Gaga’s house, and then proceeded to drive 200 miles across the country to Kerry - 24 hours after running a marathon. It’s now nearly 11 pm, and I’m about to fall asleep. You might think I’m teasing you, but the race report will have to wait another day.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Short Version

I'm posting from an Internet Cafe in Inverness, and have to pay by the minute, so a full race report is out of question (plus, I'm waaaay too tired to write one). You'll have to wait until Monday evening.

3:12:32 (according to my watch)

I didn't quite make the 3:10 I was hoping for, but I'm pretty happy nevertheless. The last two miles were pretty tough and my right calf started cramping, but I just about made it over the line without having to slow down dramatically. It's a PR by over 16 minutes, and I have to be satisfied with that, don't I? Boston 2009 seems to be a real option now.

The weather was pefect, mostly cloudy, hardly any wind, and the temperatures around 13C/55F at the finish.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Last Call

A lot of people who are running Chicago or TCM this weekend seem to be freaking out about the weather forecast. I guess that’s one thing I have on my side. Hot temperatures in the Scottish Highlands in October were never on the cards. I did have visions about running through the autumn storms, but the weather gods are on my side, it seems. It looks like wunderground, accuweather and the UK met office respectively are all pretty much in agreement:

I could do without the passing showers, but I’m not complaining. That’s pretty close to ideal.

What’s less than ideal is the cold that’s still in my system. On Wednesday I finally started to feel good again. Yesterday my sore throat was back, and I felt like crap again in the morning; however, I felt better as the day wore on. Today I woke with a sore throat but sans the feeling of fatigue. There’s not much I seem to be able to do at that stage, apart from hoping for the best. It’s just so bloody annoying that I’ve been as healthy as I’ve ever been throughout the training, and now that. Niamh thinks it’s taper related, that’s the third time out of 7 marathons/ultras that I’ve got sick during the taper, and it’s unlikely to be a coincidence. What I don’t know is how to avoid it.

Enough of that. I usually give a summary of my training before the race, and that’s my last chance of doing so:

22 weeks
Average mpw:
# runs of 20 miles or more:
Highest weekly mileage:
# of weeks 100+ miles:
# of PRs:
2 (5k and half)
two; left knee in June, right shin in August, but neither caused me to miss any workouts

It’s a progression compared to last time round; I ran a lot of miles, but most of them rather slowly. If that’s good or bad depends on your training philosophy. I might have dropped the miles a bit too much in the last few weeks – the half marathon did cause a bit of havoc with my schedule, because I took 3 easy days either side of that race. What pleases me most is the consistency of my long runs. I ran 20+ miles once per week on 11 consecutive weeks, and not one of them left me feeling too tired. Looking back at the training I think I can handle a lot of volume very well. I always recovered very well from 2 hours+ runs, and never felt overwhelmed. I had a few weeks where I ran 4 runs of 2 hours or more, and I think that was the best training I’ve ever done. The one step back from the ultra training last spring was the lack of back-to-back 20 milers. They were tough, but I think they did a good job in building my endurance. There might be a place for them even in standard marathon training. I will have to think about it.

I’m driving to Dublin tonight after work, and I’m flying to Scotland tomorrow (Saturday) morning. I might not be back on a computer until Monday night. For anybody in Inverness (both of you) who want to spot me, I will be wearing either a green singlet or a grey t-shirt, depending on the mood and/or weather (singlet, probably). More specifically, I’m wearing glasses (that should be easier to spot), and my race number is 1771.

There are a lot of races this weekend, apart from Loch Ness I “know” people running Chicago, TCM, Mohawk-Hudson, Portland and Ottawa. Good luck to every single one of you!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

One More Step

You never know, but things might be looking up. Yesterday was the first day in about a week when I didn’t feel slightly sick. The headache is gone, and just a bit of a cough remains. With four days to go I think I have fought off most of the cold, and who knows, I might actually be healthy on the start line.

I’m following the taper that the Mystery Coach has outlined in a post a while ago, and it’s a taper, no doubt about it. Today might have been my last running day before the marathon. I’m travelling to Inverness on Saturday, and might not feel like running that day, which would mean three consecutive days of zero right before the race. Today’s run was a last test before the race itself. I got a up a few minutes early, to have time for a warm-up. I followed the same routine I’ll try to do on Sunday, namely running about 100 meters and then walking back, then repeat with a slightly faster run until you’re close to the intended pace. I only did 3 of those, and then I was too anxious to get started. The idea was to be able to hit marathon pace pretty much from the word go, just like on race day. I started out much too quickly, after a minute I reigned myself in a bit. The idea was to run the first mile in about 7:30 and the next 2.5 at 7:15 pace. Of course I got it wrong initially, and the first mile went by in 7:02. That’s definitely the fastest opening mile I’ve ever done in a training run. I slowed down just a little bit, and was curious what the next mile would bring, as there was a fairly steep hill in the middle, but I hit bullseye with 7:15. The third mile saw me questioning the pace. The calves and the hamstrings felt much heavier than I would want them to feel just a tenth into the marathon distance, but I kept going. That mile was slightly downhill but against a headwind, and I came through in 7:11. From then on the same pace started to feel considerably easier, but I’m not sure if that’s because I had warmed up by then, because the worst of the headwind was behind me, or because I knew that the effort would be over very soon. Anyway, the last half-mile passed by in 3:37, right on pace, and I turned around and jogged easily for a mile. The one thing I noticed here was that my HR was in the high 150s and refused to come down. I proceeded with a set of strides, and again noticed that the HR was very slow to come down afterwards. I felt fine all the way home, but the high heart rate is a bit of a concern. It might be related to the cold, in which case I can just hope that I can recover fully over the next 4 days.

And now, look what I just found. For months I have unsuccessfully been trying to find an elevation profile of the Loch Ness marathon. And judging by the search terms that keep leading people to my blog, I’m not the only one. Therefore I was quite pleased when someone posted this in the Loch Ness forum the other day:

The start is on high ground, and keeps dropping until mile 8. Then it’s reasonably flat until mile 16.5m where more than 2 miles of climbing await the weary traveller. Another hill at mile 21 is all that stands in the way until the finish. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks that this elevation profile is extremely similar to the Boston marathon. As I’ve heard often enough by now, Boston can be fast but it is a difficult course, and the most important thing is not to get carried away on the early downhill miles. I’ll try and keep that in mind.
2 Oct
0 miles
3 Oct
7 miles, 53:10, 7:35 pace, HR 160
first 3.5 miles in 7:02, 7:15, 7:11, 3:37 (avg. 7:10 pace), 5x150 strides on way home

Monday, October 01, 2007

Haile the Weekend

When I awoke on Sunday morning, I wondered if Saturday’s zero mileage had indeed resulted in the end of the world: either everything had disappeared, or the fog was just incredibly thick. I got dressed and headed out for a run to check, and it turned out to be the second option. Whew! I would have hated to be single handedly responsible for the destruction of my entire planet. I ran along the Caragh Lake route for a standard 7 mile run, but when the first mile had passed I did a double take at the watch: 7:30. Holy Christ, and I thought I just had been jogging along! I tried to tone down the effort a bit, only to cover the second mile in 7:17. After that I really tried to tone down the effort, because the calves felt a bit heavy, certainly heavier than I would like them to feel at mile 2 of a marathon. I ended doing sub 7:30 for the rest of the run, and it all felt far too easy. If one rest day can do that to my legs, then my major concern next Sunday will be not to get too excited early on and wreck my chances with a few fast starting miles.

When I got home I logged on to the Internet to check the Berlin marathon website, and received news of Haile Gebrselassie’s new world record. All very exciting, but my first thought was to feel sorry for Paul Tergat. HG has taken just about everything from him: Two Olympic gold medals, and now the marathon world record. A lesser man would be screaming in pain and frustration. My morning didn’t end here, I transferred in front of the telly to watch BBC’s life coverage of the Great North Run. It’s so incredibly rare to see a major road running event being broadcast live, I couldn’t miss it, and Shea stayed there watching it all with me. We watched Kara Goucher pull away from Paula Radcliffe, and we witnessed Martin Lel’s incredible sprint finish at the end of the men’s race. It all left me ruing the fact that running receives so little attention in the media. I’d love to watch more, nearly as much as running myself.

I tried to keep myself in check on Sunday, but somehow still ended up working in the garden for 4 hours – the time just flew past. Therefore I can’t really tell what’s responsible for today’s heavy legs, Sunday’s fast miles or the gardening. Mind, the miles still passed reasonably quickly, but the legs definitely had some extra weight attached to them.

Tomorrow is yet another rest day, and Wednesday might end up the last run before the marathon, depending on how I feel. Apparently, some guys in the office are talking about organising a sweepstake on my finishing time. Unfortunately they banned me from taking part myself. Shame.
29 Sep
0 miles, world nearly ended
30 Sep
7 miles, 51:37, 7:22 pace, HR 150
1 Oct
5 miles, 39:40, 7:56 pace, HR 148

Weekly mileage: 41.75 (yes, I’m definitely tapering)

Health Update: The sore throat is gone, to be replaced by a headache and a mild cough, coupled with a general feeling of tiredness.