Thursday, November 29, 2007

Contrasting Sleep Patterns

I was half-dead on Wednesday. I had a few things to do on the computer, and didn’t get them finished until after 10 o’clock. As a result, when the alarm went off at 4 am, I had gotten considerably less than 6 hours of sleep. For a split-second I contemplated binning the workout, but of course I got up and went out for 17 miles. My thigh felt a lot better still, during the first half it only hurt on the downhill stretches, and during the second half it only started hurting when I tried to run faster over the last 5 miles, which is why I held back again. While the run had gone well, I was knocked out for the rest of the day, a deep-seating fatigue had taken hold of me and would not relinquish its grip.

I must have looked as bad as I felt, because Niamh basically sent me to bed before 9 o’clock. This is almost funny, because on several evenings I would have liked to go to bed earlier but wanted to spend some time with Niamh instead; after all, that’s the only time we really have to spend together. If I had realised that she preferred me to catch up on sleep, I would have done so. Anyway, I did read for a few minutes and then was fast asleep before even 9:30, and as a result got close to 8 hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 5 o’clock. The difference this made was amazing, I was almost reborn today, not just for the run (though that had gone very well, too), but for the entire day. I’ll heed that lesson. Sleep is vital.

I have noticed that I’m getting fewer comments than I used to, which is obviously related to the fact that I’m writing a lot fewer comments on other people’s blogs. I just don’t have the time at the moment. I’m still reading all those blogs via bloglines, but mostly as a lurker. I’ll definitely keep my own blog going, it keeps me honest, and reading all those running blogs is a very big part of keeping me motivated to do my own training. I’m sure there will be a time when I can participate a bit more actively again, most likely when Maia is a little bit older.

The temperatures have picked up considerably since last weekend, it’s now around 10C/50F again, but with plenty of wind and the occasional rain shower. Tomorrow’s forecast is pretty bad, I expect to get wet. On Wednesday a torrential downpour had started just as I was about to leave for my run. It made me wait 5 minutes until the worst was over, but of course I got cold and wet early on. If the weather people are right, tomorrow will be at least as bad. Wish me luck.
28 Nov
17 miles, 2:11:48, 7:45 pace, HR 143
last 5 in 36:40 @ 7:22, last mile in 7:08
29 Nov
10 miles, 1:17:45, 7:46 pace, HR 139

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blogging With One Hand

I’m typing this one-handed while simultaneously holding Maia, so if my thought processes are a bit disjointed, you know why.

Despite their well-deserved reputation for being welcoming and friendly, Irish people can actually be quite reserved when dealing with strangers, and especially so early in the morning (this is not a country of early risers). There is a farmer who lives on the Caragh Lake road, about a mile from here. I see him nearly every morning, at least during the week. For months, or is it years, I always gave him a cheerful “Good Morning” only to be pretty much ignored. During the summer he suddenly started warming towards me, and sometimes even looked up as I passed by. A few weeks ago he began to respond to my greetings, and recently he’s even said good morning before I did. This is major progress. Last week he really startled me once when I was passing him in near total darkness and all of a sudden a dark shadow on the roadside said hello. Since then he tends to give a little cough as I’m approaching, and then we wish each other a good morning, two near strangers at around 6:20 am on the side of the lake, but by now very familiar with each other’s presence.

My mileage is pretty much settled now. I had hoped to be able to get into 90 mpw territory in November, which I managed last week, and that’s where I intent to stay. Don’t forget than in addition to running I'm also cycling 50 miles per week on my way to and from work, and I don’t want to overdo things. I’m comfortable with that sort of mileage, and it took over 11 hours to run that mileage; any more might well mean overdoing things.

Three miles into yesterday’s 15.5 miles run my left thigh started hurting. I kept going in the hope that it would be just a temporary glitch, but it got quite painful. Despite the fact that it started on a climb, the pain was most pronounced on the downhill sections, and it really started hurting quite a bit, and on 2 or 3 occasions a short sharp pain shot all the way through my leg. I tend to run the downhill sections reasonably hard, but had to hold back yesterday. I had hoped to run the last 5 miles at a strong pace, which would have made this a double header in combination with Sunday’s tempo run, but had to hold back a little bit due to the pain. The more I tried to relax my stride the lesser the pain seemed to be, and that’s how I managed to finish the entire loop.

Maia’s off for a feed now and I can type freely again.

Now, you probably think I’m a complete idiot, and you may even be right, but I went out again today, despite still being handicapped. I have collected numerous aches and pains over the last few years, and if I had stopped running at each of them I would have missed half of my training. I have therefore developed the strategy of running for a few days through each pain, even if it hurts quite a bit, and almost always the pain started receding even without sacrificing any miles. I was a bit apprehensive, but actually felt better than on Monday. I re-graded the sensation from pain back to mere discomfort, and on the second half even felt adventurous enough to add a few strides. I didn’t run them all-out and held back just enough not to stress my leg too much, but considering the circumstances it was a decent run. The best thing about both Monday and Tuesday was the low heart rate. With each training cycle so far my heart rate has kept dropping, and this one is following the same pattern. Even half a year ago I would have laughed in your face had you told me that I would be able to run sub-8 pace at less than 140 bpm.
26 Nov
15.5 miles 2:00:22, 7:45 pace, HR 141
last 5 in 37:14 @ 7:26
27 Nov
10 miles 1:19:19, 7:55 pace, HR 138
including 9x100 strides

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I hope everyone in the states had a great Thanksgiving, and everyone else had a nice weekend. Let me give you a short recap of the last 3 days before I get to the rest of the news.

The alarm went off early again on Friday, at 4 am. I only got 5-and-a-half hours of sleep, but somehow felt reasonably refreshed. I also felt warmer for some reason and decided to leave the long sleeves at home and go out in shorts and t-shirt. Maybe I should have checked the weather forecast because it had gotten a bit colder again, the temperatures had gone down all the way to 0C/32F, and that’s definitely long-sleeve territory. In fact, if I could go back in time, I’d change two things about my run: I’d wear long sleeves (brrr), and I’d wear two sets of pants (ugh). The run itself was pretty good, I was slightly faster than on Wednesday, not that I had been racing my time. Once again I ran the last 5 miles strongly, and when I got to the 1-mile point I thought to myself “stop hammering the last mile, that doesn’t do much for your fitness”, but as soon as I passed that point I couldn’t help it and the legs took off once more. Maybe I’ll stop that kind of behaviour once I’ve grown up, but I was still please as punch to run the last mile in 6:40.

I needed an easy run on Saturday and got it, though I can’t quite explain why the heart rate was higher than on Friday, despite this being slower run. The weather probably didn’t help; it was very windy with plenty of rain showers, but still. Maybe the shoes made a difference? Or was I just in need of recovery?

Whatever the cause, I felt a lot fresher today and felt a good effort was in store the second I left the house. I covered the first mile in 7:11, and took it from there. It was still a bit windy, which meant plenty of head wind on the way out and plenty of help on the way back. I felt good all the way, never particularly pushed the pace, but always kept it at a moderately high effort. Again I couldn't resist pushing a bit more on the last mile, and when I got home my first words to Niamh were “that’s the best 10 miles I’ve ever run in a training run”. She more or less ignored me.

I want to tell you about a little scene before Saturday’s run, but let me give you a little background information first. The training over the last few weeks had gone really well, I seem to have found a workable way to combine a young baby with high mileage, and I’ve been thinking about races in the spring. I know I said at the beginning of the year that I want to concentrate on lowering my marathon time, but somehow that has lost its priority. I guess I’m reasonably happy with 3:12, and I’m still optimistic I can improve my time further in one year’s time (sub-3 at Boston 2009? I can always dream!). Anyway, I did weigh up two possibilities. First choice, bettering my time at the Connemara Ultra. I think I might be able to run the 39 miles in 5:15 (8:00 pace), which would have given me a top-10 finish last year. Then I could run the Bantry half-marathon in May, like last year. And if (and only if) my legs somehow made it through all that punishment in decent shape, I could run the Cork marathon in June, 8 weeks after the ultra. The second choice is to run a 53-mile ultra in Scotland, called Highland Fling, in April. I’d really fancy that one, but if I do it I can do none of the other three races, and that’s why I was already tipping towards the first choice. Anyway, on Saturday I decided to wear long sleeves, and just happened to pull the Connemara shirt out of the cupboard. When I went into the kitchen, Lola’s eyes lit up like candles. “Connemara, I love Connemara. We had such a great time there. Daddy, daddy, can we go there again?” “Funny you should say that Lola, …” I gave a sideways glance to Niamh, and she was smiling knowingly. “I think Daddy can race there again, Lola, and we can all come with him”. And then, 10 minutes later, as I was about to leave the house, Niamh called after me “The marathon or the ultra?” This time I just smiled. I think I’d better sign up soon.
23 Nov
17 miles, 2:09:30, 7:37 pace, HR 144
last 5 in 36:30 @ 7:18, last in 6:40
24 Nov
11.5 miles, 1:31:22, 7:56 pace, HR 148
25 Nov
10 miles, 1:10:38, 7:03 pace, HR 154
last mile in 6:40

Weekly mileage: 91

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Time flies

Is it really 2 days since my last blog entry already? Gracious me, how time flies! I haven't got much to report, so it's probably just as well that Cian produced this picture of his favourite baby sister. He even signed his artwork. Isn't that just dead cute?

As promised, I did pump up the long run to 17 miles on Wednesday. It required getting up at 4:00 am in the morning, which is the earliest I've ever set my alarm clock to. I don't think I'll run any longer runs than that for as long as I'm supposed to be back home at 6:30, because setting the alarm for 3:xx would feel too early, at some stage even I tend to say enough is enough. Anyway, the run went pretty well, but the weather wasn't quite ideal. It had cooled down even more to about 2 or 3C, and in addition to that it kept raining on and off for the entire 2 hours. There's a saying in Ireland, if you don't like the weather, just wait 5 minutes, and at the moment that's definitely accurate. It's constantly changing, but unfortunately I'm not drying out between rain showers. The bigger problem was a very thick fog. It was so thick that at times I wasn't sure if I could make out the road even with the headlamp turned on! I was still stubborn enough to wear shorts and t-shirt, but promised myself to dig out the long sleeves for Thursday. As is my usual these days I finished the last 5 miles strongly, and ran them in exactly 37 minutes, to the second the same pace as on Monday. That kind of thing keeps happening recently, and it's starting to sound freaky.

The legs felt rather tired today and I opted for a recovery run. I felt warmer than yesterday when getting up and decided to wear a t-shirt after all, but today's weather page says it was just as cold. I experienced the same merry dance of rain showers and clear skies as on Wednesday, but didn't feel too cold. The first 5 miles felt really slow, which is the point of a recovery run, of course, and I added a few strides on the way back home, partly to ensure that I keep doing them at least once a week, but also to add a little bit of variety into what was a fairly boring run. The legs actually felt better during the second half, it's like the strides woke up some of the sleeping muscle fibres, and I ran negative splits by quite some margin (8:20 pace first half, 8:00 pace second). What pleased me most was the average heart rate, which was very low. Considering that two years ago I would have regarded 8:10 pace as pretty fast, and last year it was a typical pace for my long runs, this is good progress.
21 Nov
17 miles, 2:10:04, 7:39 pace, HR 144
last 5 in 37:00 @7:24 pace
22 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:40, 8:10 pace, HR 139
including 11x100 strides

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


This is doing the rounds again. My perspective on those is perfectly schizophrenic. If somebody tags me, I start rolling my eyes. If nobody tags me, I feel left out, so thanks, Eric. I'll play along half way - I'll answer the questions, but I won't tag anyone. I just don't like chain letters. Ok, here are 5 facts about myself, some random, some weird.

  1. I used to be the nerdy kid at school that was crap at most sports. I was quite good at skiing, though (that was in Austria, not Ireland).
  2. I can't tell left and right apart. I always have to think, and I get it wrong plenty of times.
  3. I started going out with that Irish girl in Vienna, 2 months before she went back for good. Everyone said we were mad. Not true, we were just mad about each other. When she left, we wrote a letter to each other every day, for two years. We're now happily married, with 4 children (yes, I'm perfectly aware it sounds like a soppy Hollywood story)
  4. Despite running high mileage I think of myself as lazy.
  5. My passport says I've got blue eyes, my wife insists they're green.

Let's get back to running. The weather forecast for this week was absolutely foul, but reality was much better than anticipated. It was very windy, both today and yesterday, but manageable. The wind came straight from the north, which explains the drop of temperature; it's now around 4C/39F, but much colder if you take the wind-chill into account. So far I'm still running in t-shirt and shorts, but if it gets any colder I'll dig out the long sleeves and the tights.

Monday saw me back on the 15.5 mile loop around Caragh Lake yet again. I started quite slowly with an 8:20 mile, but got into the groove soon after that. After cresting the highest point of the loop, around 40 minutes into the run, I tend to run the following downhill miles fairly hard, and take it from there. I tried pushing it again over the last 5 miles, but they were against the wind, and the pace doesn't really reflect the effort. I felt good though. The most spectacular sight was a shooting star that came from behind into my field of view and exploded in a shower of sparks. It was quite a spectacle, if short-lived. Running with the headlamp turned off has its rewards. Unfortunately the clouds took over the sky towards the end of the run, and I got drenched once again, which wasn't particularly appreciated in the cold.

Immediately after the run my eyes started hurting, and I could feel them swelling up. It was yet another allergic reaction, most likely to something a farmer had sprayed on the fields. I checked my blog entries, and it last happened in December last year, which is close enough to be called the same time of the year. I'm almost used to that by now, and an anti-histamine tablet took care of the effect, though it left me a bit drowsy for the entire morning. It's a good thing I didn't drive to work.

I decided I need to get more sleep, and stayed away from the computer in the evening. There's always one more website I'm interested in, or one other thing to do, and I tend to stay online much longer than anticipated. The only solution that seems to work is to leave the box turned off entirely. As a result once I managed to go to bed early for once, and subsequently felt very good this morning. I decided to push the pace a bit more than in recent days, but made sure to stay aerobic for the entire workout. It was quite cloudy, which was a shame, because the annual Leonid meteor shower must have been on display. Due to the clouds I couldn't see any of the actual shooting stars, but noticed one bright flash after the other. It felt like being flash-photographed all the time. In the 71 minutes I was out there I counted no less than 15 meteors, and I only counted the ones I was quite sure about. I still managed to sufficiently concentrate on the run to handle a very good pace. But the most encouraging sign was afterwards, I didn't feel tired at all and felt like I could have gone out and run the workout again (though in reality that most likely would not have been the case). I know I've said it before, I feel in great shape and wished there was a race in the vicinity now. I'm aware that you're not supposed to race during base training, I just feel in such good shape that I'd love to test it out for real.
19 Nov
15.5 miles, 1:56:19, 7:30 pace, HR 147
last 5 miles in 37:00 @ 7:24, last mile @ 6:54

20 Nov
10 miles, 1:11:29, 7:09 pace, HR 153

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Maia and Ryan

Ok, let’s get the formalities out of the way. Someone asked to see more pictures of Maia, and I don’t need to be asked twice (be warned). I’m only too happy to oblige, and here are some more.

Next, to the running. It’s been three days since my last entry. On Friday I once more set the alarm for 4:15 for another loop around Caragh Lake. In the evening, Niamh had said she wouldn’t tell her parents at what time her husband is getting up. Apparently she’s worried about what they might think, and the fact that they’re going to be asleep for another three hours even after my return is a bit mind boggling. The weather was a bit better than on Wednesday, but I still got wet at some stage. We’ve had a very mild autumn after that awful summer, with the temperatures around 10C/50F, so I can’t complain too much. The run went well, I’m now routinely running that loop in less than 2 hours without even trying. Again I ran the last few miles stronger, and accelerated more on the last mile. A lorry came up the road behind me and I tried to reach our driveway before it caught up with me, which I managed with a couple of seconds spare, which explains a mile in 6:34. It’s amazing what a bit of competition can do. I’ve done the 15.5 Caragh Lake loop three times this week; next week I’ll add the extra loop around the Devil’s Elbow into the mix on one or two occasions, and then my mileage will have reached its target of 90 mpw.

For Saturday, Jeff had a great idea, and advertised it, and I just had to take part myself. As you all know, 2 weeks ago Ryan Shay lost his life after 5.5 miles in the trials marathon, and Jeff’s idea was to run 5.5 miles on Saturday in memory of Ryan, or to run a longer run and dedicate 5.5 miles to him. I thought it appropriate to run 11 miles, the first 5.5 in memory of Ryan, and the next 5.5 dedicated to my baby daughter Maia, who had been born the day before his tragic death. One half of the run for a life lost, one half for a life gained. Poignantly, I came across 2 dead birds on the road during the first half of my run, and gently pushed them to the side of the road. It was quite windy and after 3 miles it started raining. I was tempted to go home when I passed our driveway halfway through, but I still had a job to do and went out for a second loop. I also included 10x100 strides into the second half of the run. Nobody said I couldn’t incorporate a proper workout into the run, and, in fact, I think Ryan would have approved (and Maia wouldn’t object either). Rest in peace, Ryan.

Today’s run was rather mundane in comparison, just a plain old 10 mile run, but I included a 2 miles time trial into it. The idea was not to run 2 miles at race pace but at a good aerobic effort and compare how it the times and recovery develops over the weeks. Last time I botched the workout a bit by looking at the HRM every 30 seconds. This time I ran it mostly by feel, and only checked the HRM 2 or 3 times per mile. I still got it slightly wrong on the second mile, I had taken it a bit easy on the uphill section and promptly forgot to push it more on the following downhill, but it still doesn’t quite explain why the second mile was 20 seconds slower than the first one. I didn’t feel tired, the run wasn’t fast enough to wear me out after 2 miles, or at least so I though, and I’m scratching my head trying to explain the time difference. At least the recovery was quick, the HR was down to 120 in less than 45 seconds, and only a handful of seconds later it was at 110.

I’ll go ahead with another week of very early runs, and see if I can manage it. I didn’t manage to get more than 6 hours of sleep most nights, which isn’t enough. I’m feeling refreshed now because I managed almost 9 hours both Saturday and Sunday, but I’ll have to see if I can handle a second week of sleep deprivation. The weather forecast for the next few days is rather foul, which doesn’t help.

16 Nov
15.5 miles, 1:57:22, 7:34 pace, HR 147
last mile in 6:37
17 Nov
11 miles, 1:27:39, 7:59 pace, HR 145
Ryan Shay Memorial Run, including 10x100 strides
18 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:37, 7:39 pace, HR 149
2 miles TT @ HR 165 in 6:34,6:54, recovery 120/44,110/52

Weekly mileage: 87.5

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Various Musings

As mentioned, I'm now cycling to work each day. The weather has been pretty benign so far (I know I'll pay for this), but I can definitely feel the effect in my quads. I don't know if that will do anything for my running though (experts' opinions are divided, to say the least).

The other day I carried a few things to work in a rucksack. On the way home, when it was dark already, after 1 mile I suddenly realised that carrying the rucksack on my back will obscure the high-visibility sash I'm wearing. Luckily I managed to fix the bag to the back of my bike.

Niamh must think I'm merely pretending to cycle to work, and secretly have a pick-up truck parked around the corner. Yesterday she gave me a humungous shopping list, of which I eventually managed to fit half into my rucksack, with the other half in a carrier bag precariously dangling from a handle bar. Later in the day she sent me a text message for further shopping items. I had to decline, and explain to her that the amount of stuff I can carry is limited.

Maia is a very easy baby so far, the easiest of the four we've had so far. Her only bad spell so far was on Tuesday evening when she cried a lot, and never seemed to stop. Eventually I put her into the sling and just kept walking her around the house. Eventually she fell asleep. She's been fine ever since, though.

I got up at 4:15 to go running again on Wednesday. The weather wasn't great; it was cloudy and windy, and the cloud cover meant it was literally pitch dark. I love running under the stars with the headlamp switched off, but on that day it was impossible. I tried, and thought I could just about make out the outlines of the road. It worked for a mile or two, and then I inadvertently ran off the road and nearly tumbled down a ditch. I left the lamp on for the rest of the run.

Running in the dark in a wooden area with just your headlamp gives you the impression of running through a narrow tunnel, and it's a bit spooky. When the rain started and further reduced the visibility I started to become claustrophobic; I had the distinct impression of the wall of trees moving into me. Not a nice feeling at all, and I was immensely relieved to reach the end of said wood eventually after what felt like a very long time. I've never experienced anything like that before. The run itself was fine though, and I finished it strongly. I was a lot more relaxed on the last miles, once I was out in the open.

I wore the basic shoes again today for my 10 miler. The first thing I noticed is that I can feel every stone through the soles. The expensively cushioned shoes are definitely more comfortable. I haven't weighed those shoes yet, but I think they are lighter than my usually trainers. They gave me a small blister on the balls of my left foot though, but that's manageable. In any case, I had a good run. I increased the pace after the turnaround point, accelerated a bit more half-way towards home, and ran the last mile yet faster again. I concentrated on running relaxed and well within my aerobic parameters, though. The last mile took 6:54, which isn't bad for me, considering it's about 50 feet net uphill and I made sure that my breathing was always fully under control.

I'm not sure if I can keep up with those 4:15 am starts. I'm knocked out in the evening, and I never really get the opportunity to catch up on sleep. Maybe the weekend will help. I'll stick with the new routine for the time being and hope I'll adapt.
14 Nov
15.5 miles, 1:58:39, 7:39 pace, HR 149
last 5 miles @ 7:25 pace, last one @ 6:57
15 Nov
10 miles, 1:13:40, 7:22 pace, HR 151
5-mile splits 37:33, 36:06 (7:30, 7:13 pace), last mile @ 6:54

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Return to Work

It had to happen sooner or later, and neither Niamh nor me were looking forward to it, but I had to get back to work on Monday. Niamh managed to organise a whole troupe of friends and neighbours to get the kids to and from school/preschool, so she can still take it easy during the day. But she had asked me not to go running in the morning (or at least cut it to 3 times during the week), because she can't look after Maia and prepare breakfast/entertain whoever gets up early at the same time.

This was totally reasonable, of course, but I was still desperate to go running. When she asked me not to go running in the morning, she meant from around 6 to 8 am, which is my normal time. However, she had no objections to running between 4 and 6, because even our kids are sleep by then - and if they're not, then we tell them to get back to bed. I did get "The Look" from her when I asked for permission, but she obviously decided that if I was deranged enough to seriously consider getting up at 4 am to go running, it would be better not to get into my way. In fact, she gave permission to stay out until 6:30, giving me an extra 30 minutes of sleep.

So, that's what I did. My reasoning was that if you go to bed at 10 o'clock, you still get over 6 hours of sleep before getting up at 4:15, being out of the house at 4:30 and running 15 miles around Caragh Lake. Unfortunately I had to organise a few things that took much longer than anticipated on Sunday evening, and didn't make it to bed until after 11. I just about managed 5 hours of sleep before getting up. I decided that I would be able to pull that off once, but not on a regular basis. The men in the straightjackets are probably getting ready for me by now, but I did indeed run the Caragh Lake loop, and was back home at 6:30. It was a bit slower than the previous three runs on the same loop, which may be due to the early time, or maybe I just settled on a more maintainable pace. Mind, it's still faster than what I used to run in the previous training cycle. After a shower and a bowl of cereal I even managed to get back to bed for an hour, but sleep was prevented by Cian who by then was wide-awake and chirpy, and in our bed. Typically, Shea chose that day to sleep until we had to wake him at 8 o'clock, which he has never done before. I could have slept for an additional hour, had I known.

Unsurprisingly, I was rather knackered in the evening, and went to bed soon after the kids. Niamh didn't mind, she had an early night too, and by 10 o'clock I was asleep. I had planned a shorter 10-mile run for today, so I had a lie-in until 4:50 (oh the luxury!), which meant almost 7 hours of sleep, as much as I usually get. I wasn't sure how fast I should run today, and just went with whatever the legs had in them. The quads felt rather stiff, which might be related to the fact that I'm cycling the 5 miles each way to work, and I'm not yet used to it. At the turnaround point I had to decide if I wanted a tempo effort or a slower effort with strides on the way home and opted for the later. I still managed a perfectly acceptable pace, and again was home by 6:30. This time Shea got up as soon as I came home, and any plans of going to bed again were shelved for some early-morning father-son-time. He deserves some of my undivided attention, especially now that the baby is here, and I wasn't going to deprive him. After eating some breakfast, doing a dinosaur jigsaw puzzle together and having a great old chat between pals it was time for the rest of the family to get up, too. As long as I manage to go to bed early enough, I think this will be sustainable.
12 Nov
15.5 miles, 1:59:04, 7:41 pace, HR 149
13 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:55, 7:53 pace, HR 147
including 9x100 strides

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Sling

That’s as close as I'll ever come to feeling what it’s like being pregnant, carrying the baby in the sling. You’ll have to take my word for it, she’s in there.

That’s what it looks like from my point of view. I know I'm biased, but isn't she gorgeous?

Oh, I forgot again. That’s the Diary of a Rubbish Marathon Runner, not of a Besotted Dad. Actually, she’s turning me into someone else. All of a sudden I find myself listening to the likes of Gary Jules and Joshua Kadison rather than my usual fare of Iron Maiden and AC/DC. What’s happening to me? I don’t remember that kind of stuff happening with the other three children. I have to say though, she’s a very good baby. She hardly ever cries, and she sleeps soundly, including during the nighttime. Unfortunately, she’s the only well-behaved child in the house at the moment. I realise that the other three are feeling a bit left out at the moment, but boy, that’s hard to remember after a whole weekend of misbehaviour.

Anyway, let’s mention the running as well. I did take it easy on Saturday, and ran at my slowest for quite some time. I’m also experimenting with a new pair of shoes, some cheap, basic ones. I want to see how my feet react to something like that, but I’m being cautious and won’t wear them more than once a week for the time being, and wear my usual cushioning ones (Asics Nimbus and Mizuno Wave Rider) for the other days. The Wave Riders are extremely comfortable, by the way. I used to love the Nimbus 8, but am a lot less fond of the 9s, which is why I bought the Mizunos, and for the time being it’s a love affair, but we’ve only covered about 60 miles together so far.

I ran the same 10 miles today, but a bit faster again. My legs felt great after the easy day, and after a slow start I just started to get faster as the run wore on. I was still running relaxed after 8.5 miles and started to push it a lot harder for the rest of the way. Some people advocate finishing your runs strongly, others are against it, and I’m undecided if it’s beneficiary or not. In any case, I ran the last (uphill) mile in 6:30, and felt good about it.
10 Nov
10 miles, 1:22:15, 8:13 pace, HR 147
including 10x100 strides
11 Nov
10 miles, 1:14:49, 7:29 pace, HR 154
last mile in 6:30

Weekly Mileage: 78

Friday, November 09, 2007


I’m sure one day I’ll manage to write a post without mentioning Maia, but that might take some time. In the meantime, you’ll have to grin and bear it. I had some brush with the local bureaucracy; on Thursday I drove to Tralee to register her birth, but unfortunately only brought one form rather than the required two. Why they need two forms with virtually the same information on it is beyond me, especially since they then store that information electronically. Thus I had to drive to Killarney today for a second attempt. This time I took Cian with me, and we went to the swimming pool for an hour of quality father-son time. Niamh doesn’t want him to feel neglected, now that the baby is taking so much of mummy’s attention, and she’s absolutely right. He loved the swim as well as daddy’s undivided attention, and Maia is a fully registered Irish citizen by now.

The running is still going well. In fact, I would not have dared to dream about being able to run so much before the birth, and I’m also very pleased with the way the individual runs are going. Because of my trip to Tralee Thursday’s run was a bit shorter than usual, just 7 miles, and since it was a very windy day I ran it on the Ard-na-Sidhe road. I decided to do a 2 miles time trial. It’s one of Mystery Coach’s recipes, if you do the same time trial every week or every fortnight you can compare the figures and get a very good understanding of you the way your fitness is developing. I decided to try and run it at heart rate 165, which seemed reasonable, as it’s a good aerobic effort, but with some buffer towards the anaerobic zone. The first mile went very well indeed, I kept checking the HRM every 30 seconds but it was always between 163 and 167, spot on, and the time was 6:47. The second mile was much more uneven (by effort I mean, the terrain was the same, just going the other way), and the HR fluctuated between 169 (due to a hill) and 157 (me overcompensating for said hill) and took 6:59. The extra 12 seconds were not because I got tired but because I had kept such an uneven effort in the vain attempt to keep the heart rate at the required level. Next time I might try to ignore the HR and just run it by feel, which is the way I usually run anyway. What pleased me was the recovery after the time trial, the HR took just 43 seconds to reach 120, and an additional 14 for 110, which is less than expected.

Niamh gave a disapproving scowl when I told her this morning that I would be out for two hours, but let me go anyway. For 22 hours a day I’m her dedicated servant, I do the laundry, hoovering, dishes, cooking, cleaning, shopping and provide her with whatever she wants, but the time on the road is me-time, and probably required to keep me sane. It was just enough time to run around Caragh Lake again. I surprised myself when I checked the time after 10.5 miles, because I reached it almost 2.5 minutes earlier than on the same run on Tuesday. However, back then I had started accelerating at that point and additionally hammered the last mile, today I just ran the rest at a relaxed pace. I did laugh out loud when I got home and pressed the stop button, because I had finished the loop to the second in the same time as Tuesday, and with the same average HR to boot. What are the chances? In any case, I’m running much faster than anytime before in my training. While I can’t completely rule out the possibility that I’m running too fast and will pay for it later on, I think it could be because my body has finally managed to soak up all the miles I had done for the Loch Ness marathon and has gained some strength in the weeks of recovery since that race. I’ll find out soon enough, if I’m overcooking myself I’ll pay the price soon, and if I’m merely getting stronger, it will show.
8 Nov
7 miles, 51:14, 7:19 pace
2 miles TT @ HR 165 in 6:47,6:59, recovery 120/43,110/57
9 Nov
15.5 miles, 1:54:52, 7:24 pace, HR 155

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

So Far So Good

Before Maia was born, we were worried about how Cian would react. After all, he was losing his status as the baby in the house, and this might not go down well. However, we need not have worried. He is absolutely nuts about his baby sister. Last might he wanted me to give her to him to hold, and once I had them both secure on the sofa, he kept smothering her with kisses. Long may it last.

Since I’m off work this week, finding time for running is not a problem. Once the older three kids are in school/preschool, Niamh usually settles down for a feed with Maia, and then they both fall asleep. That’s my time to head out. I can’t have more than two hours, which means the 15.5 mile loop around Caragh Lake is the most I can do, but I can live with that. Yesterday was a very sunny day, so much that I brought a bottle of water along with me, which is something I very rarely do (in fact, I can’t remember the last time I actually carried water with me on a training run). The run itself was great, I felt fantastic. But I’m not sure how much longer I can go on and call this easy running. I just ran normally for the first 12 miles, after that the mountains are behind me and the terrain is merely undulating, and I pushed the pace a bit. Not too much, I tried to keep the HR under 160 at all times, apart from the last mile, which I hammered in 6:52, for no other reason than that I could. It’s fun to run like that.

I took it a bit easier today, not only to recover but also because I only had one hour. Niamh wanted to have a peaceful breakfast after the kids were in school, as well as a bath, and since Maia refused to sleep it was left to me to hold her in the meantime (yes, I know, what an awful job, but someone’s got to do it). I experimented with various songs, I sang German, English and French lullabies, as well as football songs, and she definitely preferred the football chants, though Niamh doesn’t believe me. I’m telling you, that girl is already into sport. Oh, and the run was fine. 8 miles, with 9x100 strides on the way back. I was surprised to see the HR relatively low, for what was still well below 8:00 pace. Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this running thing. Just a shame that I might be forced to take a break once I have to get back to work. Niamh already asked me not to go running in the morning. We haven’t decided yet, but I know that I promised to compromise, and I still know where my priorities are.
6 Nov
15.5 miles, 1:54:52, 7:24 pace, HR 155
last 5 in 35:37 (7:07 pace), last in 6:52
7 Nov
8 miles, 1:02:13, 7:46 pace, HR 147
including 9x100 strides

Monday, November 05, 2007


You’ll have to excuse me for a little bit longer. This is still a running blog, and, just to prove it, I’ll write mostly about running today, but you can expect a lot of photos like this in the coming days/weeks/months:

How could I resist? If Niamh stops me from running, I can just sit at the side of her cot and stare at her for hours. This might not do much for my aerobic conditioning, but it will do just fine for my mental side.

Anyway, as promised, the rest of this post will be about running again. After Saturday’s run Niamh had asked me to delay running for the next day to ensure that her helpers will be out of bed, so I didn’t leave until about 9 o’clock on Sunday. I ran all the way along Caragh Lake and added an extra hill at the end of that road to the proceedings, to make this a 12-mile run. At the turnaround point I noticed that I had been running pretty fast and expected a slower second half, but was wrong about that. Not that I hammered the pace on the way back home, but somehow I managed to run the 6 return miles at 7:17 pace. It wasn’t like that run about two weeks ago when I nearly ran myself into the ground, I just felt good and strong, and the pace just developed. My legs feel really good at the moment. I’m sure I have recovered fully from Loch Ness, and in fact I basically feel ready to run another marathon right here and now. Of course, racing season is over. If there were a shorter race anywhere nearby, I’d run it and expect a good time, alas there is none, and all I can do is train and run for fun – not a bad option anyway. Of course, theoretically I could hop on a plane and run a race in the UK, but that’s not my style, and leaving Niamh alone with the baby and the other kids is utterly out of the question. I’ll have to be content with the way things are, and guess what? I am!

If you compare my present paces with any other time of training, you immediately that at the moment I’m running at least 30 seconds per mile faster. I can’t really explain why that is. It’s not that my legs have suddenly mutated; my heart rate is a good bit higher than normal, so I guess I must be working harder. However, it doesn’t feel like it. I just run what I think is my normal training effort, but when I look at my watch or HRM they tell me I’m hammering the runs without even realising it. What will come from it? In base training, as long as your rate of recovery matches your rate of breakdown, you’re doing just fine. If I’m exceeding that threshold I guess I’ll find out soon enough. In one way this wouldn’t be the worst time getting injured, with no races planned, but of course I don’t want to be sidelined, races or not. During the last training cycle my paces automatically got slower as the miles added up. Maybe the same will happen this time again once I crank up the mileage again – if Niamh and Maia will let me crank up the miles, that is.

I’m off work this week (that’s what I saved a week of holidays for), and after dropping the children off to school and preschool respectively I had a good 90 minutes for a run, while Maia was sleeping, and decided to go for a route that I had always wanted to run. There is a part of the Kerry Way that passes high up between two mountains, and the climb from Caragh Lake is over 300 meters/1000 feet. It’s called Windy Gap, and I found out why. The trail was very steep, there are no switchbacks, it just goes straight up. I nearly managed to run all the way, with the HR climbing all the time. It was around 175 for most of the way, and by the time it reached 181 I had to compromise and hiked. As I found out, the summit was just around the corner, and would certainly have managed to run that far had I known. I’ll keep that in mind for the next time. I even took my camera with me, but it didn't handle the light very well, and the pictures are not doing justice to the majesty of the view, which was breathtaking, despite the weather not being great; halfway down the mountain on the descent towards the village of Glenbeigh it started raining. That would have been a real problem higher up with the stony trail, but at that stage the worst was well behind me and I managed just fine. I don’t know how far it was, according to the map it should be about as far as my normal Kerry Way loop, and I’ll call it 12 miles. I’ll do the same run again one day, but I might wait for some nicer weather.
4 Nov
12 miles, 1:28:53, 7:24 pace, HR 155
half splits 45:11, 43:43 (7:31, 7:17 pace)
5 Nov
12 miles, 1:42:32, 8:32 pace, HR 155
crossed a 300 meter mountain along the way

Weekly mileage: 67.75

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Peripheral Character’s View

It’s time to take a break from The Olde Running Tales and focus on slightly more important things, like a new life. Anyone not interested in that sort of stuff (i.e. men) should click away right now before they get queasy.

Niamh had started showing signs of things to come on Wednesday, so when I left work on Thursday evening I left detailed instructions for my co-workers in case I would not be in the office on Friday. My suspicions were more or less confirmed during dinner when Niamh had 3 contractions of increasing strength, and we soon retired to our bedroom to get everything ready.

Our midwife, Anne, had a lecture in Killarney until 10pm, but this was our fourth baby and we knew there would be more than enough time for her to finish the lecture and then come over here. We Niamh had chosen a home birth. If you check the statistics you’ll find that the success rate for those is as high as for hospital births (granted, this may not take into account the fact that high risk pregnancies always go into hospital). I don’t doubt that today’s doctors are highly competent in dealing with medical emergencies. My main problem with them is their attitude; they see everything as a potential medical emergency rather than a perfectly natural process, and in their eagerness to fix things often cause the very problems they claim to be handling. One person summed it up perfectly (I paraphrase): “we read lots of birth stories. The hospital stories were all about problems and how the medical people had saved the day. The home births stories simply did not feature any problems”. Anyway, let’s get back to our story.

By the time Anne arrived, Niamh’s contractions were less than 5 minutes apart, and generally lasted for over a minute; and they kept increasing in intensity. I had mentioned to Niamh how the on/off nature of contractions reminded me of interval training. She gracefully decided to agree with me, but thankfully that was the only time I felt it necessary to add some nerdy running thoughts to the proceedings. Things kept developing calmly for some time. Eventually Niamh started voicing her pain during contractions, but was fine in-between. By midnight she was in serious pain, and when I say serious pain I mean pain of the excruciating kind, the one that men will never have to endure, no matter what (good thing too, we wouldn’t be able to handle it). This was the worst part of the night; not just for her, but also for me. It’s hard to see your loved one in such agony and be completely helpless about it. Things started to progress, eventually the contractions weren’t as bad anymore and Niamh felt the urge to push. She had not taken any drugs whatsoever, and as a result she was completely with it, and instinctively knew the right things to do. The midwife’s role seemed to be to reassure her that she was doing perfect.

At that time we (that’s me, and Meg, a friend of Niamh) woke the children. That might horrify some people, but we had discussed it numerous times before. Shea had long ago stated categorically that he wanted to witness his sister being born. We initially refused, saying he would be scared by the blood and slime and by mummy crying in pain. However, he was adamant. He assured us he had read all of Niamh’s pregnancy books, he knew about the blood, the slime and the pain, and he definitely wanted to be there (btw, he’s 6 years old). Then Lola, his twin sister, decided she wanted to be there as well. Cian, our 3 year old, was flip-flopping on the issue like a politician, but the last instructions before going to bed had been to be woken, and that’s what we did. There was still some time before the birth, so Meg took them away into the kitchen, fed them biscuits, and brought them into our room with a couple of minutes to spare. Labour was progressing, and when the kids joined us, Niamh was pushing hard and well. The children’s faces spoke volumes. They were beaming with joy and excitement, and that's when I knew for sure that we had been right to allow them to be there. Shea twice took an alarmingly close look when the head was crowning. Later he described it as “in the shape of an eye”, which is both a perfect description and something only a child can come up with. I didn’t really see things at detail – I was required at the other end, holding Niamh’s hand and stroking her face. After what seemed like an age but was surely only a small amount of time Anne finally pulled the rest of the baby’s body out and gave her to Niamh to hold. She (the baby, that is) gave a little whimper when the air rushed into her lungs for the first time, but was quiet and placid, and, may I say it, content, for the rest of time. She was immediately alert, kept looking around her with great big eyes, taking in all she could. As soppy as it is, I’ve never been in a room so full of love as at that moment in time.

I’m so glad we had a home birth. There would have been plenty of opportunity for the medical people to interfere. The waters broke quite late, and the cord had been wrapped around the baby’s neck which initially alarmed me, or at least it would have had the midwife not been so calm and matter-of-factly about it. And surely Lola whispering into Niamh’s ear “that’s Good Pain, mummy” beats a doctor shouting “push, push” anytime.

As you might be relieved to know, I did not run on Friday. I knew all along that the 15 mile run that would have been on the cards had the baby not arrived that day was out of question, but thought I would be able to sneak out for 4 or 5 miles. However, it never happened. In the evening Niamh said to Maia, “your daddy didn’t run today because of you. You have no idea how big a deal that is.” I fell to bed utterly exhausted at 9:30, slept like a log until 4:30 am, and then watched Niamh nursing the baby, and later I changed her nappy. By 6 am I was wide-awake and decided to go out for the run that I had missed on Friday. Niamh had her parents and her sister for help, and I very much enjoyed my guilt-free 2 hours of solitude on a lap around Caragh Lake. I’ll still have to compromise over the next few days and weeks, and there’s no doubt where the priorities will be.
2 Nov
0 miles
3 Nov
15.5 miles, 1:55:44, 7:28 pace, HR 156

Friday, November 02, 2007

Happy Birthday!

Baby Maia was born on November 2 at 1:25am. She weighed 7lb 11 (3.5 kg)

She was born at home. I knew a few people would question our sanity for choosing a home birth, but we knew what we were doing (except that it was Niamh's choice, of course, and I merely supported her in it).

Lola, Shea and Cian were all in the room when she was born. I know a few people will definitely question our sanity for allowing that to happen, but they were well prepared, and were very excited and happy about it.

Mother and baby are doing well.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

We've been here before

I have a feeling this could be the last time I'm saying this, but the main news is still the same, i.e. no news. We're waiting. Niamh's parents are here until Monday, and I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be a new family member by the time they're heading back to Dublin. Of course, I could be wrong.

There's an unrelated bit of news though; I've gotten rid of my car. It had 15 years and almost 100000 miles of service under the hood, and was definitely nearing the end of its life. Yesterday the insurance ran out, the road tax would have been due next month and the mechanic had already told me that the NCT (National Car Test) in December would be the end of the vehicle, so I decided not to renew insurance and tax and got rid of it entirely, without purchasing a replacement. I started cycling the 5 miles to work, and while the beginning of November might not be the ideal time to start cycling, that's the way circumstances have worked out. If I like cycling I'll purchase my own bike in due time. At the moment I'm borrowing Niamh's cheap and cheerful lady bike (as well as her purple cycling helmet).

The last two runs have actually been very good. On Wednesday I headed out to the trails of the Kerry Way. This is one of my favourite runs; usually I only run there after at least one week without rain, but decided to give it a go anyway. The loop is something over 12 miles long, I usually call it 12-and-a-quarter miles, which should be reasonably correct. More important to me are the 800 feet of net elevation gain and subsequent drop over the 4-5 miles of stony/muddy trail. Running the climb in the dim early morning light was a new experience, but a very nice one. When I came out back on the road on the other side, I cranked up the pace a bit for the return home. It wasn't anything too strenuous, just a bit under 8:00 pace. I think it was the fastest I've ever run that loop, not that I have any intentions of racing my training runs.

For some reason I felt even better today; I started fairly slowly at the outset of my 9-mile run, but gradually got going. I reached the turnaround point only 35 minutes later and thought "that was quite fast. The return might take longer". I was wrong. I want to stress that at no point did I press the pace. In fact, I spent almost the entire run thinking about the babies and/or cars, and the legs did their own thing. Well, I was back home less than 33 minutes later. Despite running faster than on my idiot day 11 days ago, I felt absolutely fine, and my heart rate was 10 beats lower than back then. I just had a very good day, and took it while I had the chance.

I have noticed that my runs have been a good bit faster than comparable ones at the same stage of the last training cycle, despite my assurances that I'm running easy all the time. Maybe I'm just feeling good at the moment, or maybe I'm subconsciously banking on the fact that I might be in for an enforced break very soon, and will get the recovery then. But I'm still running well within myself, honestly.
31 Oct
12.25 miles, 1:39:44, 8:08 pace, HR 154

1 Nov
9 miles, 1:07:45, 7:32 pace, HR 153
half splits 35:05, 32:39 (7:47, 7:15 pace)