Monday, December 31, 2007

Nice timing

For once, December 31 is falling nicely into the week where I have no running news, so I can use that space for the obligatory end-of-year post.

Looking back at it, I had a spectacular year of running. One year ago I had gone to bed thinking how nice it would be to break 20 minutes for 5k, but realistically I would have to wait until 2008 for my running to reach that level. Little did I know that it would take me just 12 hours to reach that level when I ran 19:52 in the New Year’s race in Phoenix park, and within half a year I had taken another 36 seconds off that time, which was mind boggling. Even better was my time in Adare in March, when I broke sub-40 in my still only-ever 10k race. That was even more unexpected, and something to celebrate, particularly so because this was merely a preparation race for the Connemara ultra, and even then it was just a mere consolation for missing out on Ballycotton. My first ever ultra went extremely well, and even though now I look at the time and am not overly impressed, back then I was in high heaven just for finishing the race. I’d love to run a longer ultra (I think I’ve already mentioned that, uh, about a dozen times this year), but Connemara is the only ultra on the entire island (not counting that silly orienteering thingy they do in the Wicklow mountains), and those ultras in the UK keep messing up the rest of my schedule, so I’ve yet to commit to any of those. Lastly, I ran 3:12 in my only 2007 marathon, which was fast enough to qualify for Boston, a goal that had looked further away than the stars only one year ago. One glance at my sideboard confirms that I had a good 2007, every single PR is from this year. I wonder if there will ever be a year again when I can say that?

There are no miracles in running, all those race times came as a direct result of my training, and the whole idea of that was basically to run as many miles as I could. The final counter stopped at 3704, which is about as many miles for one single year as I had done in all my running time together before that, not I have been running for very long. Health permitting, I’m confident I’ll surpass that mileage again in 2008, but we’ll see, especially so as I’m still grounded.

As far as my “quite severe” chest infection goes, I’m definitely getting better, but I’m still coughing a lot. It took a day for the antibiotics to kick in, but at least by now I don’t feel like I’m about to cough up half of my lungs each time. However, my breathing is still rasping at times, and I’m already halfway through my medication. My participation in Sunday’s race is rather doubtful at that point, and a second visit to the doctor towards the end of the week is more likely than a trip to Mallow. Niamh wouldn’t let me take the car anyway if she were in any doubt about my health, and who can blame her? Even though Mallow is one of the closest races to me, I’ve never made it there yet.

Thanks for reading my blog, it’s been a great 2007, and Happy New Year to everyone out there. Have a good 2008.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


After two weeks of coughing my way through each workout, I finally gave in and went to see the doctor. I continually had tried to convince myself that I was getting better, but I finally had to accept that I was not, and a chest infection was the most likely source of my discomfort. Friday's workout was the last straw; while I had a decent enough run, the heart rate was way too high, and even if I hadn't started coughing up half my lungs afterwards, I would have known that something was not right.

At least I didn't have to wait for an appointment, the doctor saw me straight away. I think I spent less than 5 minutes in her surgery, but she confirmed that it was a “quite severe chest infection” (her words), and gave me a prescription for antibiotics. Then came the hammer blow: no running for at least one week! In fact, if I don't feel 100% recovered after a week I am to see my doctor in Kerry, and maybe have a chest x-ray. To be honest, I wasn't entirely convinced by her. She's a very conservative medic of the “pump them full of drugs” variety, in other words the kind of doctor I'm generally suspicious of, but I will heed her advice for this week, take my drugs and abstain from running. When I told her that I was still running every day, she seemed rather shocked. Anyway, immediately after the appointment, still in shock, my first words to Niamh were “no running for a week!” and her first reaction was “oh no!”.

The worst case scenario is that I'll get cabin fever, go completely nuts, Niamh files for divorce before changing her mind and strangling me instead. The best case scenario would be to give my body a week's rest to fully absorb the training I've done already and be rested and fresh for the weeks ahead when I get ready for the Connemara ultra. That race is still 14 weeks away and there is no reason to panic.

My 10 miler on Sunday week, on the other hand, is definitely in jeopardy, but I will assess the situation a day or two before that race. It's obviously not my target race, and missing it would not really be a problem, even though I'd definitely like to run. If I do end up running, at least I will be well rested, something that's definitely not always the case for a practice race like that.

This is a bit of a downer at the end of a very successful year, but not the end of the world. I had a great year, from a running, professional and family point of view, and who could ask for more? All in all I'm still a very lucky guy.
28 Dec
9 miles, 1:09:53, 7:45 pace, HR 159
29 Dec

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cough Cough

I've had that cough for longer than I can remember now, and each time I think I'm getting better I get another coughing fit. I haven't seen a doctor yet because I generally fight those kind of things with the likes of Vitamin C, but I have to say, my patience is wearing a bit thin by now. Niamh keeps asking me to stop running, but so far I can still convince myself that the whole thing is not running related, even if I can't do the same for her. Whenever I come home from a run I give a very convincing display of a chain smoking asthmatic on his last legs for the next 30 minutes, but that's because of the deep breathing associated with running rather than running causing the actual damage itself. But, as I said, my patience is starting to wear thin, and while Niamh and Shea and the rest of the family (apart from Maia) are coughing as well, I'm doing as much as the rest of them combined.

At least Maia is in good form, and when I held her yesterday morning she kept producing a series of one gorgeous smile after the other, which eventually made me find my camera and take a photo with one hand while holding her in the other. It was slightly awkward, but the result is cute enough.

Oh, yes, running. I did 8 miles yesterday, slowly and relaxed, to get the heavy feeling from that one fast mile out of my legs. I had planned a longer run for today; first I intended to head over to Cabinteely Park and do a few laps in there (a lap is a bit over a mile), but realised that it would not be open yet by the time I got there, and decided to head towards Killiney instead. However, after 3 or so miles I started to feel really crap. I suspected a bit of illness manifesting itself and thought about turning around, but kept going for another mile. That's where the dirt track is located, and I opted to do a few laps around there. At the start of the second loop I decided to do a few laps of straights and curves (sprint the straights, jog the curves), and time passed so quickly while doing those that I has managed 2 miles like that before I knew it, and that's when I decided to be cautious and head back home. The next 4 miles were challenging again because of an increasingly strong headwind that drove the rain right into my face, but once I reached the driveway I felt a lot better and went out for a mile out-and-back towards Sandyford, which gave me 13 miles for the entire run. Not exactly a long run, but I'm still in my recovery week, and with me not being healthy I felt it was enough (I know, I know, plenty of you will be thinking 13 miles were mad anyway). I could have gone on for longer, in fact I tended to feel better the longer the run went on, but where do you draw the line? In any case, my cough is still there, and if it doesn't get better soon I'll run to the doctor and beg him or her for some antibiotic or similar poison.
26 Dec
8 miles, 1:07:50, 8:28 pace, HR 143
27 Dec
13 miles, 1:47:38, 8:16 pace, HR 147
including 16x100 strides (straights and curves)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ho Ho Ho

Niamh and me had those two slightly contrasting conversations recently:

Scene 1: In the car, somewhere around Limerick, on the way to Dublin:
Niamh: (sounding slightly alarmed) Did you pack you runners?
Thomas: Of course I did
Niamh: Oh, thank God. It's my worst nightmare that we arrive in Dublin and you've forgotten your gear.
Thomas: YOUR worst nightmare?
Niamh: Yes, apart from the one where you get injured and can't run for weeks.


Scene 2: In Dublin, in our room
Niamh: (shaking her head disapprovingly) Did you really HAVE to bring 3 pairs of runners?
Thomas: (innocently) Two pairs for alternating days, and one for speed training.
Niamh: (shaking head in a resigned manner)
Thomas: Hey, I though I was being restrained for leaving the fourth pair at home.
Niamh: (shaking head even more)


I'll keep the running details to a minimum today. I did a bit over 8 very relaxed miles in Cabinteely Park, not far from here on Monday. The weather had been atrocious all night, but the rain had turned into a mere drizzle by 8 o'clock, and I headed out for a run after initially being resigned to a rest day. Today, in contrast, is a splendid day with hardly a cloud in the sky, and perfect for putting everyone into the right Christmas spirit. I went out for a run after the kids had unpacked their presents (at the second attempt. They originally tried at 1:46 am, but I sent them back to bed). I ran to a dirt track in Ballybrack, and ran one mile (4 laps plus 9 meters). I've never run a mile on a track, and this run was the reason I had brought my speed trainers. I haven't got access to a track in Kerry, and simply could not miss the opportunity, even though it neither fits into my base training phase nor into my recovery week program. I was hoping for sub-6:00, and the first lap saw me going through in 1:28, good. Lap 2, 3:00, exactly on time but slowing down, not so good. Lap 3, 4:30, still just on time. Lap 4, the legs are full of lactic acid and my throat not able to pass through sufficient amounts of oxygen, but remembering to concentrate on form and pushing hard, 5:58. Success, and I punched the air in mock triumph.

The kids are playing with their toys (I told you I got a bit carried away), they'll have new stuff lasting for the entire week, and are blissfully happy. I used to hate Christmas, with its emphasis on consumerism and pretend happiness, but the four little children in the house have enough excitement to spill over and reach even the cynical old adult in the corner.

Happy Christmas!
24 Dec
8.2 miles, 1:06:30, 8:06 pace, HR 146
25 Dec
12 miles, 1:31:44, 7:38 pace, HR 149
including 1 mile in 5:58

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Looking Back and Ahead

Christmas is approaching at increasing speed, and I've got to hurry a bit. The most important news from a running point of view is that over the last three days my running has steadily improved with each day, and I'm feeling a lot better, too. I've still got a cough, but I think my energy levels are returning to their old level, and things are definitely on the up again.

Since I decided for this to be a recovery period, I cut Friday's long run down to 15 miles, which is even shorter than the death march I suffered through last Monday. I still gave myself the option of bailing out at any moment by running three out-and-back loops to Ard-na-Sidhe rather than looping around the entire lake. That precaution turned out to be unnecessary, I felt good all the way through, and I was heartened by the fact that each loop was faster than the previous one, without me pushing any harder. I still felt perfectly fine at the end, and I knew I could have run both faster and further, but was contend with the way it had been going.

Friday evening was my company's Christmas party, where I had a great time, despite virtually abstaining from alcohol, a very un-Irish concept. I left rather early though, around half past ten, which was already an hour past my usual bed time these days. As a result, I was well able to get in a quick run in the morning before we headed off for Dublin. Niamh was rather surprised when I told her I had only done 8 miles; she's quite aware that that's less than my usual mileage. It was also the first run this week under 8:00 pace, but I hadn't unduly pushed the pace. That's just the pace that came out of the effort, which was still reasonably easy. I added a few strides to the second half, but was quite surprised when that half was faster than the first one.

We managed the long drive to Dublin without any incident, which was helped by the fact that Maia slept for basically the entire journey – things could have been a lot worse otherwise. However, we all arrived in good spirits, and the kids are full of excitement at Santa's impending arrival.

It was still surprisingly dark at half past seven this morning, when I set off for my run. Shea had already been awake for a while, but by that time I had finally settled him back into his bed, reading a magazine, and with a breakfast in his belly. I headed off into a freezing cold Dublin morning. The sidewalks were covered with an icy sprinkling of frost, and you had to be very careful with your footing, but I felt just great. I ran on a bicycle path Nana had pointed out to me about two years ago, and which has since become my usual Dublin running route. It leads all the way to Ballybrack, and after 4.3 miles there is a dirt track to the right, and I figured one lap around the track together with the out-and-back journey should add up to exactly 9 miles. There were only a handful of people braving the temperatures, and again I had a very good run, and could feel that zap in the legs that has sorely been missing over the last few days.

I'm quite happy with the way this has been turning out. I'll keep my promise and will do reduced mileage this week, and then I'm hopefully ready to resume high mileage training again, but I'll make sure I'll slow down at least twice a week this time.

We're returning back to Kerry on the weekend, which is why I'll miss the New Year's 5k at Phoenix Park for the first time in three years. I like this race, it was always great to start the year with a new PR on the very first occasion. I'll get compensation on the 6th of January, when there is a 10 mile race in Mallow, County Cork. I'm assured of a PR of some kind, because for some bizarre reason I have never run a race over that distance before. I'd love to break 65 minutes over that distance this year. My last half marathon saw me going through 10 miles in about 67:30, and 65 minutes is a bit ambitious, but I'd like to think I have a chance. I'll have a second chance in March in Ballycotton, because while I haven't heard anything official yet, I have noticed that they have cashed my cheque, which I take as a sign that my entry has been accepted this year. My only other race before Connemara will probably be a 10k in Adare, which last year was one week after Ballycotton, and where I broke 40 minutes last year, something I'd love to repeat.
21 Dec
15 miles, 2:05:16, 8:21 pace, HR 139
22 Dec
8 miles, 1:03:11, 7:53 pace, HR 145
23 Dec
9 miles, 1:09:38, 7:44 pace, HR 147

Weekly Mileage: 81.25

Thursday, December 20, 2007

As Slow As You Like

Every time I run I bring along a watch and my HRM, but usually I rarely check them. One exception is generally after the first mile when I have a peek to check my pace, which gives me a pretty good indication how the rest of the run will go. On Wednesday it read 8:35, which is the slowest opening mile for a very long time. Initially I started accelerating because I didn’t want to end up with such a slow average pace, but after a minute I finally came to the conclusion that I should start my recovery week right there and then, because I was really running myself into the ground, and over the last few days I had gotten slower each time. I’m still adamant that I never reached my tipping point, and I haven’t overtrained. Fact is, I have caught a cold, and while I don’t feel any effects while sitting in my office chair, or even while cycling to and from work, it does have an effect on my running. It’s a bit strange though, because the heart rate doesn’t seem to be affected, it’s just my legs that refuse to go any faster. For the rest of the run I was content with jogging along at snail’s pace, and even though I had the chance to go home after 5 miles I felt perfectly fine to continue with a second loop. The result of it all was the slowest run in ages, with my lowest heart rate ever.

With us being in Dublin next week, the recovery period will actually be in excess of 10 days rather than one week, but I’ve come to the conclusion that that will probably help me with the training rather than hinder. The race is still over 15 weeks away, and there will be more than enough time for some serious training, and by the looks of it I won’t need to drop my mileage by too much as long as I’m happy to just plod along. Andrew is barely moving on his easy days, and his race times are considerably better than mine, so what’s good enough for him should be good enough for me.

With that newly found peace I set off for a loop of the Kerry Way trail, the only real off-road alternative I’ve got without having to drive. I never run there when it has been raining because the surface tends to get rather treacherous, but a dry week has opened this possibility again, and I was looking forward to it. The climb up to the highest point is relentless, but I felt good, and since I wasn’t pushing the pace I managed it easily. I happily jogged my way along the side of the mountain, and came back on the Caragh Lake road, my usual haunt. A fairly strong headwind made the last few miles a bit more challenging than expected (usually the wind is on my back on that stretch), but again, with the slow pace I could handle it easily.

I finished yesterday and today both knowing that I could easily have run faster and further, but felt fine with my decision to scale back. I’ve still got that cold in my system, because there’s that very annoying cough from deep inside my lungs about once an hour, but as long as I’m no exerting myself unduly, I’m fine with it. By the time we’re back home from Dublin I expect to be healthy again, and ready to go.
19 Dec
10 miles, 1:31:27, 9:08 pace, HR 126
20 Dec
12.25 miles, 1:48:56, 8:53 pace, HR 137

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Dark Side

I wasn’t sure if I should write an entry today or wait until tomorrow, but I’ve got more than enough material, so I guess I’d better write it all off my chest. As I mentioned on Sunday, I didn’t feel too well, and wasn’t sure if I would go running on Monday. I still hadn’t made up my mind by bedtime, but when I woke at 3:30 I felt perfectly fine, and at 4 am I decided to go running just as normal. It was quite cold and windy outside, so I wore two layers on top (for the first time this year) as well as tights instead of shorts (again, for the first time this year).

The run started slowly with an 8:20 mile, but that’s not particularly out of the ordinary. I put in some surges over the next 2 miles, which is what I usually do to wake up the legs, but raised my eyebrows in puzzlement when 25 minutes had passed for the first 3 miles, which was the first faint sign of things going awry. That point marks the start of a series of climbs, and they happened to be all against an increasingly strong headwind, but it was always manageable. I reached the top of the last climb, and the highest point of the loop in 54 minutes, when my normal time is about 50 minutes. Then the road drops all the way down again, and when I crossed the Caragh River at Blackstones Bridge, about 9 miles into the run, I really started dragging. I was already on my slowest run in ages, and I was distinctly feeling out of energy. Things went downhill rapidly from here, apart from the road which was climbing again. By mile 12 I was feeling so sick and tired that I felt a huge urge to just curl up by the side of the road and fall asleep. Death by hypothermia isn’t a nice option, so I continued on, as bad as I felt. Even though I tried my best to put in some decent pace over the last few miles, I never got quicker than 8:00 pace, though the effort I had to put into those miles was huge. When I finally, finally reached our drive way I almost had to crawl, and I hardly had the energy to cook my breakfast afterwards, or eat it. When Niamh got up at 8 o’clock (4 hours after me) she took one look at me and sent me straight to bed, though with Shea in particular running riot, I didn’t really get any more sleep. Somehow I managed to cycle into work, but I don’t know how.

I freely admit it, I fucked up royally. I should not have been running that day, and definitely not 17 miles. I knew that I had been feeling low the day before, and should have opted for a series of smaller loops that would have given me the option of bailing out. I don’t think I did any damage to myself. The heart rate was quite low, as low as I would normally expect it to be for such a pace, but the gains from such a run were in no relation to the pain and effort I had to put in just to drag my sorry self safely back home.

If you haven’t done so already you will definitely give up hope for my sanity if I tell you that despite yesterday’s misery I went out again this morning. I guess it’s all relative. When I got up at 5 am, Niamh woke and her first thought was “oh good, for once he’s getting up at a reasonable hour”; it only dawned on her afterwards that it just seems reasonable compared to the time I had gotten up the day before (or 3 times the week before that, and the week before, and …). I had learned a bit of a lesson though; I ran three little loops, I ran a lot less and I would have gone back home early had I started to feel even remotely as bad as the day before. In fact I felt fine, but I was still slow. The heart rate again perfectly reflects the pace, but it had felt faster while on the run. I want those legs back that I used to have until last Thursday! One thought crossed my mind, namely that I might have been overdressed, with two layers on top again, but it’s still very windy outside, and at 5:30 am it just feels cold!

Will I run again tomorrow? Yes, but I’ll cap it at 10 miles. Will I run longer later in the week? I might, but even if I do I will definitely forego the Caragh Lake loop and run smaller segments, and if there’s trouble I’ll head back home.


I guess it’s what I do. I run for fun, and while the last two workouts weren’t exactly filled with joy, running stops me from indulging in other, potentially more destructive habits. I don’t want to stop running, because I don’t want to find out what I pick up instead.

Update: Wednesday morning, 12 hours later. I have belatedly decided to stop being so stupid, and to stop trying to force the issue. I'm starting the cut-back week right now, and I'll run as little as I want, even *gasp* single-digit mileage, and I'll run as slowly as I feel like, without pressure from the watch.
17 Dec
17 miles, 2:20:14, 8:14 pace, HR 139
death march. horrible.
18 Dec
10 miles, 1:21:39, 8:09 pace, HR 139
including 12x100 strides

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tipping Point

Are you searching to find your tipping point or are you simply addicted to running?

Mike left that comment to my last entry. I can’t even pretend he’s exaggerating. 18 months ago, when I started training for the 2006 Dublin marathon, I consciously made the decision to ramp up my training, up to 70 miles per week, which back then sounded like an enormous amount of running. I was worried if that kind of volume would leave me injured, but as it turned out, I did just fine. I have since increased my mileage further with every training cycle, and my racing times have steadily improved at all distances, while the number of injuries has actually gone down. I’m sure there is a plateau somewhere, but I don’t think I’ve reached it yet. What the last two years have taught me is that the human body can take much more stress than we think. As for being addicted to running, I guess I can’t really deny that; on the other hand, neither can a lot of you.

Having said all that, I’m actually feeling like complete crap at the moment, but I think that’s a temporary setback and unrelated to running. Niamh had felt awful on Thursday, and now it’s my turn. She had originally suspected it to be mastitis, but I think we can rule out that possibility for me. It didn’t help that the kids, especially the twins, are an absolute nightmare today, so much so that I suggested to Niamh to drop them at the side of the road and start again, but she refused. I don’t know why, she must have been tempted too.

After that sandwich, a recovery run was all I had in mind for Saturday. Just as expected, the legs felt awkward and sluggish early on, and I feared this would be an embarrassingly slow run. Imagine my surprise when I checked my watch at the first mile, and read 7:30! Any fears of a slow run evaporated, but of course this wasn’t recovery pace by any stretch of imagination. However, I just started to feel good. I’ve once read a quote by someone “I’ll start running as soon as I see a runner smiling”. Had that person been around Caragh Lake yesterday he or she would have had to tie up the laces, because I just couldn’t help but smile and enjoy the run. As a result, I ran way too fast, and I knew it, even at the time, but I simply felt too good to slow down.

Sunday is my day for a tempo effort, but with the sandwich still in my legs and the nonexistent recovery I wasn’t sure what I would be able to achieve. I started out reasonably fast with a 7:13 mile, and the first loop went by quickly enough at 7:07 pace, but I could not quite keep up that effort, and the second loop was about half a minute slower. I could either blame the sandwich, yesterday’s faster run or whatever bug is messing up my body right now, but taking all those factors into account I think it was a reasonable effort. I’ll have to decide tomorrow morning if I’m up for a run. Niamh only felt affected for one day, and there’s still hope that the same might be true for me.
15 Dec
10 miles, 1:14:48, 7:28 pace, HR 147
including 12x100 strides
16 Dec
10 miles, 1:11:44. 7:10 pace, HR 154

Weekly mileage: 94

Friday, December 14, 2007

Make Mine a Sandwich

Just in case you’re wondering if the two easy days on Tuesday and Wednesday is a sign that I’ve become sensible, it’s not. I just wanted to make sure I would be somewhat fresh for the double-header I was planning for Thursday and Friday. When training for last year’s Connemara Ultra, I incorporated 3 weeks of 2 20 milers on consecutive days, and I think they did a great job boosting my endurance, which enabled me to have a great experience on my first, and so far only, ultra outing. I therefore decided to bring them back.

Amongst ultra runners, this kind of double workout is apparently called a sandwich, though it’s not one of the most palatable variety. I decided to ease into it by running only 17 miles on Thursday. Unfortunately, the wind has picked up again considerably, and while it was nowhere near as bad as last week, it was enough to send me back to the Devil’s Elbow loop with its vicious climb. I managed 2 loops well enough, but the driver who passed me shortly after the start, at around 4:30 am, probably thought he was hallucinating when the lonely figure of a runner in the dark came into view. As I’ve mentioned, the distance on that route is probably slightly longer than 17 miles, but again, it doesn’t matter; 17 miles is what I’m putting into the log. With an eye on the following day’s workout I wasn’t sure if I should run the last miles faster again, but decided to do it anyway, and ran the last 3 miles in 21:10 (7:03 pace), not my best, but not too bad either.

Compared to what I’ve been through recently, today’s weather was positively benign. Sure, the wind was still rather strong, but there was not a cloud in the sky as I left home, and only a handful would pass my way over the next hours, thus breaking the sequence of runs in the rain after 11 days. With the wind making the loop around Caragh Lake distinctly unappealing, I decided on 3 loops around the Devil’s Elbow, but running only the actual loop part, leaving out the out-and-back section to our house. One loop is slightly over 5.5 miles with a net elevation gain and subsequent drop of slightly less than 500 feet (I think), but with a few ups and downs to add to the fun. Running it that way meant encountering the climb every 5.5 miles rather than every 8.5 miles, which would add to the challenge. I usually try and run faster than 8 minutes per mile pace, but today’s objective was merely to survive the distance, and pace would be secondary. I therefore started rather slowly, as I wasn’t sure how the legs would hold up. I’m quite pleased about the fact that each loop ended up being faster than the previous one. The first climb was ok, but at the beginning of the second one my quads felt like they were about to lock up, but luckily that went away as I pushed on. I was a bit worried about the third loop, because that was the fifth time I had to climb up the side of that mounting in 24 hours (ok, 26), but surprised myself by managing alright. I just concentrated on the bit of road immediately in front of me and tried not to look up too far ahead, and eventually I reached the top, and the worst was behind me. I tried to run a bit faster on the final 3 miles, but the legs wouldn’t give me more than 7:43 pace. However, considering that this was my first double of that kind in almost a year, I was quite pleased. I checked last year’s log, and the pace for the second run was generally around 8:45. To manage this run 30 seconds per mile faster is a good sign. I don’t feel wiped out from the effort, but a certain amount of fatigue cannot be denied, and I took it rather easy on the cycle commute to work.

I’ve completely forgot to mention, I’ve signed up for two races last week. One is the Ballycotton 10 miler, which is one of the biggest annual running events in the Irish calendar, despite the fact the nobody outside Ireland has ever heard of it. Each year they have to cap the numbers of participants, and I didn’t get in last year. I’m hoping for better luck this time round. The second race, and the one I’m actually training for, is the Connemara Ultra. I decided against the Highway Fling (sorry, John), because not only is a weekend in Connemara much easier to sell to the family than one in Glasgow, I also don’t need a support crew in Connemara, and since I haven’t got one it makes things considerably easier. Besides, last year’s Connemara Ultra has been my favourite race of all times (at least so far), and I can’t wait to get back there. I thought I did pretty well last year, finishing 20th in 5:40, but I’ll try to better that by quite some margin. I think I should definitely be able to run the race at 8:00 pace average, and that’s my target: 5:15. Last year, that would have been 10th place (not that you get anything for finishing 10th).
13 Dec
17 miles, 2:12:30, 7:48 pace, HR 145
loop1 1:06:35, loop2 1:05:49, last 3 in 21:10 @ 7:03
14 Dec
20 miles, 2:44:22, 8:13 pace, HR 140
loop1 47:23, loop2 47:07, loop3 45:58, last 3 in 23:10 @ 7:43

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tempted by the Snooze Button

I'm not entirely sure, but the lack of sleep might be catching up with me. I could have been more intelligent over the last few days, because both on Monday and Tuesday I went to bed well after 10 pm. I deliberately stayed off the computer yesterday (hence no update) and was in bed shortly after 9 o'clock, but despite getting about 7-and-a-half hours of sleep I actually feel more tired today. What's disconcerting is the fact that since I just had two easy days in a row, I would expect to feel better, not worse. I also noticed that I'm losing patience quickly, both at home and at work. As a result I decided to take an easy week over the Christmas holidays. Running over 90 miles during that week would have been quite a challenge anyway, and I'll just have to try and hang on until then.

The week started very well with a big improvement in the weather. The high winds finally stopped Sunday evening, and when I left the house early Monday morning I was glad to be back on the Caragh Lake loop. I even managed to run it faster than before the enforced weather break, but looking at time and effort I put into it I think the supposed 17 miles around Caragh Lake are a bit shorter than the supposed 17 miles of 2 Devil's Elbow loops. Google maps seems to think that the Caragh Lake loop is indeed a bit shy of 17 miles while the Devil's Elbow loop is a tad longer, but when comparing the "map" view with the actual road you can see that it doesn't follow the real road exactly - accurate maps would be nice, you know. I decided not to worry about it. I recorded 17 miles at 7:35 pace into the log. If the loop is only 16.8 miles, the real pace would be 7:41. It doesn't really matter, the effect that it has on my body is what counts, not the numbers I put down in the log, and if some of the runs are slightly shorter, it won't have a major effect, I'm sure. Besides, any of you Garmin junkies should be aware that your toys usually slightly overstate the distance. If you don't believe me, check out any running forum after a certified marathon, and you invariably see dozens of Garmin weenies** whining that the race was too long. Anyway, I ran the last 5 miles at a higher pace, and I ran the last mile rather strongly, in 6:52. That happens to be the pace required for a sub-3 marathon, and it was quite sobering - I really can't imagine holding that effort for 26 miles.

I took 2 easy days for Tuesday and Wednesday, along Caragh Lake yesterday, and on the Ard-na-Sidhe road today, because unfortunately the wind has picked up again. Actually there was plenty of wind on Tuesday, and normally I would have mentioned something like "a fairly strong headwind on the way out", but compared what I have been through the previous week it was nothing, so I decided to simply ignore it. One baffling thing about the two easy runs was the difference in heart rate. How two runs of basically equal distance at virtually the same pace and effort can differ by 6 bpm is beyond me, especially considering the fact that I should have been well rested today after the easy run on Tuesday and the decent amount of sleep. The weather was more challenging today, but not by that much. I wore the basic shoes on Tuesday and cushioning trainers today, but again, the HR difference is startling, and besides, the basic shoes weigh nearly as much. I'm puzzled.

I had a great end-of-year meeting with my manager the other day. The company had its best year ever, and as a result not only do I get a decent pay rise, but also a bonus that's big enough to pay off my credit card bill. Woohoo! Plus, the fact that I got rid of my car has already made a noticeable difference in my monthly outgoings, and with Niamh's car loan being almost paid off, all of a sudden our financial situation seems to have gone from calamitous to comfortable, despite the fact that there's an extra mouth to feed. Somehow it makes for a more relaxed Christmas, even though I got slightly carried away when buying presents for the kids. Maybe they'll be good enough over the next fortnight to justify the outlay, but somehow I doubt it.
10 Dec
17 miles, 2:08:57, 7:35 pace, HR 147
last 5 in 36:19 @ 7:15, last @ 6:52
11 Dec
10 miles, 1:19:13, 7:55 pace, HR 139
including 12x100 strides
12 Dec
10 miles, 1:19:17, 7:56 pace, HR 145

Consecutive Days of Running in Rain: 10

** only the ones who whine are weenies, not all Garmin wearers. No need to send hate mail.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Happy Birthday Again

The fun and games just don't stop at the moment. Maia is only 5 weeks old, and it’s already time to celebrate the next birthday, Cian was 4 on Saturday, a big party was had in Glenbeigh sports hall, and everyone had a great time. The cake looks spectacular, doesn’t it? Usually if you buy a cake like that it looks cool but tastes like nothing, but that one was actually really nice. Of course, my resolution to stay off the sweets will have to take a temporary break, especially because we have loads of party food left over, and then it’s Christmas, and that’s not the time for an ascetic life style.

Because I had felt so fresh after last week’s long run, I decided to extend my run on Friday. I resolved to run my normal 2 loops around the Devil’s Elbow, and then decide if I fancied another 3 miles. I didn’t use to be able to do that because I used to leave the house in time so that I would be back home at 7:45 to get the kids ready for school, but with my 4 am starts I now have spare time to play around with. The weather keeps being challenging, the storm still hasn’t stopped, the only thing that changes is the amount of water that accompanies the wind. Cresting the hill during the loop had the wind coming from the side and it felt like I was about to be blown off course, but there were sheltered part along the way, too. At the end of the second loop the next rain shower began, just to test my resolve of running another 3 miles, but I had long made up my mind and did indeed turn around for some more punishment. I tried to run the last 6 miles strongly again, but somehow the legs would not cooperate, and I never got faster than 7:40 pace. I didn’t feel particularly tired, and I felt like I could have run for quite a few more miles, just not any faster. Still, that was my longest run since the marathon in October, and I’m just pleased to have in under the belt. There will be times when the weather is less challenging, and maybe then I’ll be able to crank up the pace a bit more towards the end.

Saturday saw me out again to more or less the same conditions. I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have liked, because at 5 am Shea had gotten the fixed idea that he had to wake up his little brother to wish him all the best for his birthday. We managed to stop the little maniac, but he repeated the same stunt 30 minutes later, and this time he succeeded in waking Cian, and from then on sleep was a scarce commodity. “at least he never does it 2 days in a row”, Niamh said. I managed 12 miles, with 12 sets of strides, and felt pretty good.

The weather forecast for Sunday was especially dire, storm gusts of up to 130 km/h(80 mph) were predicted, and I was worried about my workout. Running obsessed or not, when it becomes dangerous to be outside not even I am stupid enough to force a run. It sounded pretty bad the few times I woke during the night, but the wind seemed to abate a bit in the early morning hours. Shea again woke at 5 am (so much for Niamh’s prediction), but at least this time he seemed happy enough to play on his own, mostly with the toys Cian had gotten the day before. I normally try to have a fast run on Sunday and cranked up the pace a bit, and it felt pretty much like last week’s run. The pace wasn’t bad compared to what I used to run, but I’d like to get closer to 7 minutes per mile. At the same time, I don’t want to race my workouts, and if the pace doesn’t come by, I’m not going to force it. It will come down over time.
7 Dec
20 miles, 2:38:05, 7:54 pace, HR 144
8 Dec
12 miles, 1:34:19, 7:51 pace, HR 144
including 12x100 strides
9 Dec
10 miles, 1:11:36, 7:09 pace, HR 155

Consecutive Days of High Winds: 10
Consecutive Days of Rain: 7

Weekly Mileage: 96

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Blown Away

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. As soon as someone mentions the words Maia and photo in the same sentence, something like this will pop up straight away. That’s a vibrating chair, and it is the only place she tolerates being put into. She has amazing powers. She can sleep through the loudest noises of the twins without twitching, but put her down in her cot and she’ll start screaming down the house within 30 seconds. I think my arms will fall off soon from carrying her around all the time. Spoiled? Possibly.

The weather has been challenging all week. The strong winds haven’t stopped since Friday; we just had varying levels of rain in the meantime. According to, Wednesday should have been ok and Thursday should have been atrocious, but in truth there was very little between them, it was windy, and every now and again the heavens would open.

I’m getting very familiar with the Devil’s Elbow loop again, just like last winter. The beauty of that route is that one half of the loop is slightly sheltered due to some trees, and with the wind usually coming from the west or southwest it just happens to shield you from the worst of the headwind. The hills are completely exposed, but the wind is coming from behind, and helps you with the climbing. I did 2 loops of that again on Wednesday, and felt quite good about it. I put in a stronger effort over the last 3 miles of each loop again (that’s the flat bit), but didn’t think I’d match Monday’s pace, until about 1 mile away from home. All of a sudden I was engulfed in a blindingly bright flash of light that lasted for about a second, and had no idea what was going on. “What the f*ck was that?”. A few seconds later a massive roll of thunder gave me the answer. This caught me completely by surprise, and it sounded worryingly near (I later heard that that very lightning strike had taken out the electricity in Cromane, about 3 miles away) and I had never had more of an incentive to run home as fast as I could. The last 3 miles weren’t quite as fast as Monday’s. I guess if that lightning had struck 2 minutes earlier, they would have been.

The legs felt rather heavy today, and I took it reasonably easy. I did put in some accelerations, not really strides, just a few faster steps. This often helps to get some juice into tired legs, and once I was happy with the way I felt I just cruised all the way. The heart rate was a bit higher than what I would have expected, but I think the present woeful climatic conditions have an effect on that. Apparently it’s going to get colder from tomorrow, down to 1C/34F on Saturday night, but every day up to Monday they’re mentioning the word showery. I guess I’d better get used to being wet.
5 Dec
17 miles, 2:10:48, 7:41 pace, HR 145
loop 1 1:06:22 @ 7:48, loop 2 1:04:25 @ 7:34, last 3 in 20:48 @ 6:56
6 Dec
10 miles, 1:19:05, 7:59 pace, HR 143

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Weighty Thoughts

Just to let you know that I wasn’t exaggerating about the storm, this photo was taken last weekend, but not in Hawaii, but off the Irish Atlantic coast. The Guardian newspaper even had an article about it.

Once more I fell into the late-night trap. I know I sound like a broken record, but I have to get a handle on that. Basically, on Monday I ran 17 miles, cycled 5 miles to work, spent lunchtime in the gym doing weights, cycled 5 miles back home and did plenty of household chores in the evening, all on less than 5.5 hours of sleep. Sustainable this is not. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good all day; I presume I drew some sleep-credit from the weekend, when I slept close to 9 hours each night.

Monday’s run itself was pretty good. The rain had mostly stopped, just a bit of drizzle every now and then remained, but the wind was still rather strong, and I reran Friday’s loops around the Devil’s Elbow. Running two loops gives you the option of comparing the first and second half of the run; if the second is considerably slower than the first, then you have gone out too fast. The opposite was true for me, the second loop was almost 4 minutes quicker. The long climb up to the ridge of the mountain hill felt tougher than on Friday, but definitely manageable. After crossing the spine of the hill, the last 3 miles of each loop are flat, and that’s where I ran strongly on both occasions. Nevertheless I did a double take on my stopwatch, because after the second loop it said that the last 3 miles had only taken 20:38, and when I calculated the pace it came up with 6:53. I tried to figure out where I could have made a mistake, but where could I have gone wrong? I pressed the split button at the beginning and the stop button at the end, no surprises there. I just can’t figure out how I was able to run that pace at the end of a hilly long run when the day before I had tried to do a tempo run and was 15 seconds per mile slower. Don’t tell me it now takes me 14 miles to get warmed up. True, it wasn’t quite as windy as on Sunday, but it was still rather blustery, and those 3 miles had all been against the wind.

All the head scratching isn’t going to lead me anywhere, and I wasn’t too surprised that the legs felt rather heavy today. In addition to the fast miles, they always feel awkward initially when I wear my minimalistic shoes. For the first 3 or 4 miles I feel out of balance, and each step feels ever so slightly wrong. I usually get into the swing of things eventually, it feels like my feet eventually adapt and start the rolling action by themselves instead of relying on the cushioned shoes to do the work. At least, as I said, that’s what it feels like. I don’t know what’s really going on, but something is different in my gait with those shoes. Maybe I’d adapt more if I wore those trainers more often than once a week, but so far I’m still chickening out.

I’m not running for weight related reasons, but I have taken an interest in my weight anyway. Before I started running it used to be around 158 pounds, and the last few years have always been very stable around the 150 mark. Since the Loch Ness marathon, my weight has slowly but steadily crept downwards, and I’m now around 145. I’m not on a diet, because I think that kind of thing is incompatible with long distance running, especially when doing high mileage, but I do watch my food intake. I have always eaten healthily (living with a vegetarian tends to have that effect), but recently I have stopped raiding the sweet cabinet in the evening. When I get hungry, I usually eat some fruit, which more often than not is enough to satisfy my appetite. The odd biscuit or chocolate is still allowed; after all I don’t subscribe to the ascetic lifestyle. Twice over the last month I failed to resist temptation and gorged out on sweets, but apparently twice a month is fine from a weight maintenance point of view. I don’t mind a bit of weight loss. I don’t see the difference in the mirror, but your running times are bound to be faster if you don’t have to carry around some extra layers of fat. By chance, a few days ago I stumbled across this article. Using my own height for the calculations, the average idle guy would weigh around 158 pound, 10 percent less than that would be 140 (still some way to go, but if my weight keeps dropping like in the last 2 months, this is where I might be headed), while the ideal racing weight for distance running would be 15% lower at 134 pounds (which seems extreme, and I doubt I’ll ever weigh so little. I’m also unsure how healthy that would be). Despite writing an entire paragraph about all that, I’m actually not obsessed with my weight. I’m just taking a reasonably detached interest.
3 Dec
17 miles, 2:11:28, 7:44 pace, HR 141
first loop 1:07:35 @ 7:57, second loop 1:03:52 @ 7:30. Last 3 @ 6:53
4 Dec
10 miles, 1:19:05, 7:54 pace, HR145
including 10x100 strides

Sunday, December 02, 2007


The first of this season’s winter storms blew over us this weekend, and severely tested my enthusiasm for running, but I’m happy to report that I made it through, and the forecast for Monday is predicting seriously improved conditions. I’ve run through worse last winter, and in all likelihood I’ll run through worse conditions again, so it was basically an introduction into winter running.

It started early on Friday, at 4 am. I could hear the wind and rain rattling the windows, but once I tentatively set my foot outside the door it wasn’t as bad as it had sounded. Still, the wind was going to be a real problem, and during the first mile I decided to change my route. The hills on the eastern side of Caragh Lake are totally exposed, and I didn’t fancy five miles of brutal headwinds, so I chose to run two loops around the Devil’s Elbow instead. The loop part of it is a bit over 5.5 miles, and the out-and-back section from our house to the start of the loop is just under 3 miles, which makes it 8.5 hilly miles, and if you run it twice it adds up to 17 miles, exactly the same distance I had planned on running that morning (it’s a good thing I can work out the math in my head at 4:20 while battling the brewing storm). The loop includes a rather brutal climb of over two miles, which obviously I had to do twice. Last year I used it as a measurement of my fitness, if I could reach the top without being completely out of breath I was in good shape. I surprised myself, even on the second loop I ran this basically on autopilot and never went into the “this-is-too-steep-please-let-it-stop” mode. In fact, I felt as fresh as a daisy after coming home. Looking at it from one angle I could say that I must be in good shape already, but on the other hand I wondered if I’m training hard enough. When you’re feeling so fresh after your long run it’s probably a sign that you should run longer. I know I said only last week that I intend to stay on that mileage for a while, but Friday’s run made me change my mind. I think I have to start running 20 miles once a week to get the best out of my training.

As an aside, after battling wind and rain for over two hours, I didn’t fancy doing it again on the bike, even for a short 20 minutes ride. I asked Niamh to drive me into work, and I got a lift from a colleague on the way home. I clearly still have some bounds.

Saturday’s weather forecast was especially brutal, but I got lucky. Shea had woken at 6 am, and by 7:30 all the kids had had their breakfast and I was free to go for a run. By pure chance this coincided with a lull in the storm. During the night I had woken several times from the sound of hailstones banging against the window, but by the time of my run the rain had almost stopped, and I just had the wind to battle against; but of course I didn’t escape the showers entirely. Nevertheless I had managed to find just that little window in the storm, because shortly after my 90 minutes of fun the hail returned, and the conditions were atrocious for the rest of the day. Everyone I met moaned about the miserable weather, but I was happy to have gotten my run in anyway.

Today, according to the weather page, the wind speeds were generally around 35mph, with wind gusts up to 55 mph, which pretty much tells you what it was like once again. Strangely enough, the rain had ceased, and I didn’t even get rained on (though it returned later on with a vengeance). Sunday is usually the day of a tempo run, and I ran at a reasonably strong effort. To be honest, I was disappointed with my pace; I had expected to run the 10 miles a minutes faster. I don’t know how much of that was due to the miserable conditions, but even taking them into account I would have thought I’d be able to run close to 7:00 pace. I guess I’ll see what the next tempo run will bring, but I certainly won’t fall into the trap of racing my workouts.

P.S.: Guess who gave her Daddy a big smile yesterday. I’m so happy!
30 Nov
17 miles, 2:12:36, 7:46 pace, HR 147
last 3 in 22:00 @ 7:20
1 Dec
12 miles, 1:34:31, 7:52 pace, HR 144
including 10x100 strides
2 Dec
10 miles, 1:11:29, 7:09 pace, HR 155

Weekly Mileage: 91.5 miles
November mileage: 362.5 miles