Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year That Was

As it happens, today is New Year’s Eve, and since I must be the last blogger not to have written an analysis of 2008, I’d better do one right now.

At the start of the year I set 3 targets: run 4000 miles, drop the weight to 140 pounds and sleep 8 hours a day. Within a fortnight something happened that made the first target unachievable and delivered the second one in one go, but not as I had planned it. I had already been ill in December 2007, but things really went downhill fast, and within a few days of January I was lying in bed with pneumonia, seemingly coughing my lungs out in a very painful manner. This cost me virtually the whole of the month, and training was still hampered in February when I slowly started to recover. Looking back now I was always going to have a hard time at the Connemara Ultra; I could count the number of good training weeks on the fingers of one hand. I made up for it 2 months later in Cork were I ran my best marathon ever, dropping under 3:10 for the first time.

I changed things during the summer, completely foregoing the mileage target in order to do more speedwork, according to the Brain Training book. After an avalanche of personal bests over the lower distances I managed to PR in Dublin but missed the 3 hours target after hitting the wall and crawling towards the finish. After the marathon I needed a few days to recharge my batteries, especially my mental ones, but now I am really looking forward to Boston.

I didn’t quite reach the sleep target either, which was in no small part due to Maia. That girl cost me a fair number of hours of sleep along the year; however, that was always going to be the case. Babies do that to you. But I did establish a regular bedtime of 10 o’clock, which is good, and if I can stick to that I’ll get plenty of sleep in future.

As far as the ankle is concerned, I still haven’t quite decided on the best course of action. Boston is still in the far distance, and if I were to take 2 weeks off, now would be the time to do it. However, I’m still hopeful that I can avoid rest, grit my teeth for a while and still recover in time. Most of my problems respond to that.

The 10k is on tomorrow, and I had visions of me being the only sober one amongst a group of badly hungover runners. However, since you all recommend the magic Irish potion for treatment, I might be in as bad a state as everyone else. I have run with a hangover before, but never raced. That would be an interesting new experience.

The drive back from Dublin was uneventful, and we’re all safely back home. The house was absolutely freezing as we entered, but has slowly thawed out by now. I ran 11 farewell miles yesterday before our trip, and since I won’t have access to a track anymore I ran 10 loops of straights and curves on it (sprint the straights, jog the curves). Today, back on ye Olde Faithful Caragh Lake road, I was surprised by the strong wind. I didn’t have to deal with that in Dublin. It made me work a lot harder than planned, and for some reason I kept the same effort up on the way home with the wind on my back. It’s probably not the best preparation for tomorrow’s race, but tomorrow’s race is not what I’m training for.

I don’t want to set specific targets for next year. I especially want to avoid setting a mileage goal because then I’d be in danger of running miles simply for the miles’ sake. My sidebar shows that I had a very successful year of running, the ultra PR being the only one to survive from 12 months ago (and it will last 2009 as well because I’m not doing Connemara this year). My big goal for 2009 is to drop 5 minutes and 38 seconds from my present marathon PR. I’m getting old, and I don’t know how much time I have got before the inevitable slowdown sets in. Once that is achieved I can look at knocking off a few targets from my to-do list.

30 Dec
11.1 miles, 1:28:15, 7:57 pace, HR 149
incl. 10 laps of straights and curves
31 Dec
8.1 miles, 1:03:22, 7:49 pace, HR 150

December Mileage: 336.8
2008 Mileage: 3143

Monday, December 29, 2008


I’ve failed to mention something in my few recent posts. About 10 days ago I started to develop a pain near the outside ankle of my right leg, about an inch above and towards the front of the leg. Even though I can feel it pretty much all the time, it doesn’t bother me during the day. However, it can become rather painful at times when running, especially downhill. From looking at pictures of the foot on the web it could be the anterior inferior tibiofibular ligament, but that’s just my own wild guess. And anyway, knowing the name of the part in itself doesn’t really help in treatment. My ice pack is in Kerry, and I don’t believe in painkillers, so at the moment I’m not doing much at all about it. It has gone past the stage where I can just ignore it, but has not quite reached the bit where I admit defeat and start resting yet. When Niamh asked the other day how my run was, my answer of “my foot hurts like hell but the rest of me feels great” I was only half-joking.

So far I’ve been able to keep pretty much to the schedule, even though I’ve muddled up the days of the workout a bit. It’s great to be able to sleep in until 6:30, run 18 miles and still be home for breakfast before the other adults are awake. Well, it didn’t quite work out like that this morning, Maia must have woken as I was leaving, and Niamh wasn’t too impressed by the early start. I ran from Stillorgan to Killiney, up the hill and down the other side. Since that didn’t deliver the required mileage I ran to Cabinteely Park on my way home and started churning out 4 loops on that. With my sore foot I was getting slower and slower until I spotted another runner ahead of me on the third loop. My competitive juices got stirred and I dropped the pace from 8:50 to 7:20 until I caught up. Unfortunately I went back into jogging mode on the way back home.

It was rather cold this morning, the fields were covered in a thick layer of frost which made it easy to imagine running through a winter wonderland. Unfortunately at times the path was covered in ice as well, which made for very uneasy footing and was partially responsible for the pedestrian pace today. At one stage I actually slipped but somehow managed to execute a perfect rolling landing and didn’t get hurt. That could have ended a lot worse.

There is not much else to say at the moment. We’re going to head for home tomorrow and I’ll take it easy for two days, running wise; not just because of my hurt foot (I refuse to call it an injury) but also because there is a 10k on New Year’s Day, and I’ll give that a go. I don’t know if I will be able to run properly with that ankle, but I’ll find out. If it’s too bad I’m going to miss the 10-mile race in Mallow for the fourth year in a row.
28 Dec
10 miles, 1:19:23, 7:56 pace, HR 152
29 Dec
18 miles, 2:34:41, 8:35 pace, HR 144

Weekly mileage: 89+ miles

Saturday, December 27, 2008


A few days ago, TeddS left a comment:
I am interested in how you were able to go from "Connemara 26 Mar 2006 4:11:45" to "Dublin 30 Oct 2006 3:28:42."

And a bit later, Mick said:
I commend your commitment but wonder if the mileage is excessive? I say that as someone who does well to average 70k a week never mind 90+ miles :-)

Mick’s comment inadvertently answers Tedd’s question. When training for Connemara I ran a maximum of 55 miles per week in 5 days. For Dublin, 6 months later, I trained 6 days a week for a max of 70 miles per week. As you all know, I have since increased my mileage further, am running every day, and managed to knock another 23 minutes off my marathon PR.
I am well aware that others train less and that there are those who run faster race times on fewer miles. But my personal experience has been that the more miles I run the better I race. My take on that is that I have to run more miles to make up for a certain lack of talent. Then again, the fact that I’m able to run day in, day out no matter the circumstances is a talent as well. I tested the waters last summer with fewer miles and more speedwork, and I can honestly say that 90 miles at mostly steady pace is easier than 75 miles with 2 or 3 speed sessions. For someone who never ran that much, 90 miles a week might seem excessive, but I’m used to it and it feels easy enough. Honestly.

There is an Irish message board about running that I started visiting regularly recently. They had a thread about running over Christmas, and most runners seemed to say they would take one or two weeks off running. I can’t get my head around that. Over the holidays I can finally run close to 90 miles per week without having to get up at 5:30 all the time. I am not going to pass up on the chance of being both able to sleep and run.

After all that rambling I might as well mention my runs since the last post. I had gotten an early start on Christmas Day; last year the kids were up at some utterly ridiculous hour like 1 or 2 am and started opening presents. This year we made sure they would not be in place until 5 am. Luckily there is one adult in the family who thinks nothing of waking at that time. The timing was good, by 5:30 the boys were awake, and by 6 am the hall was covered three layers deep in toys, boxes and wrapping paper. Eventually we tried to get more sleep, but sleep was not forthcoming and eventually I set off on my run. I had planned no more than 10 miles and ran in the general direction of the city centre. After a mile I found myself on the marathon course and followed that for a while, but going the other way. I just kept going straight, and by the time I was supposed to turn around I was almost at Grafton Street so I kept going until I had passed through that.
Of course I got lost on the way home, but eventually found myself back on the marathon course, right at the point where things had started falling apart 2 months ago. I followed the course from Milltown to Fosters Avenue, and the hill that just about killed me at the race seemed hardly noticeable this time. I guess that’s the difference between hitting it after 11 steady miles rather than 20 fast ones. I got home after 13.5 miles and realised that I had inadvertently run tomorrow’s workout, 15 miles at steady pace, so I added a bit extra to complete it.

Subsequently I took it easier on Friday. I ran towards Cabinteely Park which contains an almost ideal hilly loop of about 1.2 miles. I ran 4 loops of that, and together with the way to and from the park it was 11 miles.

With a dirt track available, something I don’t have in Kerry, I opted for quarters today. The track is over 4 miles from here so I drove half the way, parked the car, and set off. I think this was the first time ever that I had driven to a training run rather than just leave from wherever I was staying. It is a clear but cold day today, the thermometer read –1C/30F at the start, colder than anything we’ve had in Kerry all year. At the track I shed the extra layers and ran 16 quarter repeats at 10k pace. I was surprised that the pace was almost exactly the same as last week; on a smooth and flat track I expected it to be a bit faster. However, I was happy enough with the workout. For a while I managed to pretty much tune out and just run the repeats without a thought in my mind. Eventually I returned to the Real World, ran back towards the car, and drove home. Family time was beckoning.

We had some wonderful days. I hope you enjoyed Christmas as much as we did.
25 Dec
15.1 miles, 1:57:05, 7:45 pace, HR 150
26 Dec
11 miles, 1:29:48, 8:09 pace, HR 148
27 Dec
10 miles, 1:17:07, 7:42 pace, HR 162
16x400(100) at 6:22 avg

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Twas Three Nights Before Christmas

When all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,

...except for the idiot runner who insisted on getting in his long run. 20 miles were on the program, and 20 miles it was going to be, no matter what. I was slightly apprehensive because I was so exhausted after last week's 18 miles, but somehow my endurance must have returned in the meantime. I ran the 15 miles loop around Caragh Lake feeling good, and after a few sips of water set off on a 5 mile out-and-back run towards Ard-na-Sidhe. I am a stubborn creature and I like running under the moon and the stars. The moon is getting small and half the time it was hidden beneath the clouds so that I could hardly make out the road. Bringing some light would have been the more logical choice, but I managed to survive without running off the road. I was surprised how fresh I felt afterwards. Sure, it wasn't very fast, but it was just about the same pace as last week, and there was a world of difference in my legs. Can endurance really return so quickly?

I expected to be sore on Tuesday, but I felt really good. In fact, I had to hold myself back, because this was an easy run. I'm not sure where that good feeling came from; after 15 quarters on Sunday and 20 miles on Monday I should have been knackered. Not that I'm complaining, I'll take a good day over a bad one any time.

As soon as I came back we got ready to leave for Dublin. There was so much stuff to be loaded into the car that I thought we might have to choose to bring either the presents or the clothes, but somehow I managed to squeeze it all in. Actually I felt a little bit guilty for making sure that my runners would be the first thing in the car, but you know where my priorities lie. Since they opened a new stretch of motorway just a fortnight ago we drove a different route to Dublin than usual, and got there a bit faster than we used to. After 10 years of a booming economy a few half-built motorways might be all we have to show for it, but at least we have these, and once the recession is over, you never know, they might even start filling the gaps, 50+ years later than anywhere else in Europe. Ah well.

This morning I had my first run in Dublin. I went over 12 miles with 9 mile repeats at roughly marathon effort, the same workout as last week. You can never entirely compare workouts, especially over completely different roads, but I felt a lot better than last week. Some 4 miles behind Stillorgan there is a dirt-track, and I could not resist running a few of my mile repeats on that one. It was good to get the feet off the tarmac for a bit, and running in circles took less energy because I didn't have to dodge cyclists, walkers or dogs in Santa costumes (I kid you not) and I didn't have to cross any major roads either. Like I said, I felt a lot better than last week. It's great to feel an improvement in such a short time. Still, I can't quite comprehend how I managed to run 19 consecutive miles faster than that in Dublin, and how I am supposed to stretch that to the entire 26 miles is beyond me at the moment. Race day adrenaline really must be some powerful stuff!

Anyway, today is the one day of the year when the kids actually listen when you tell them to be good for Santa; we might be in for an easier day. It doesn't quite work with Maia yet, though; she's keeping us all on our toes.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!

22 Dec
20 miles, 2:43:57, 8:12 pace, HR 146
23 Dec
11 miles, 1:27:49, 7:59 pace, HR 146
24 Dec
12.1 miles, 1:29:49, 7:25 pace, HR 156
9 x 1 mile @ 7:06 pace avg.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Racing News

No, I haven’t run a race recently, but there are positive developments regarding two races next year.

The first is the Ballycotton 10 miler in March. This is one of the biggest dates in the Irish racing calendar, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to get in. The application forms went out on Monday 1 Dec, and early Tuesday morning mine was in the post with a cheque. From then on I had to rely on the Kerry postal service, and that’s increasingly getting lousy. The race was sold out within 2 days, and from then on I was getting increasingly anxious about my application. There aren’t any entry lists published yet, but 3 days ago my cheque was cashed, and that’s the sign that I’m in. Good! There are not many other races around at this time of year, and I really felt I needed that race in my preparation for Boston.

And Boston is the other race with news. A few weeks ago I checked out the flight dates and prices, and the cheapest I could come up with was a bit over 600 Euros, but leaving on Monday evening, which would have seen me rushing from the finish line to the airport. I didn’t book it then because I speculated that the falling oil might yield cheaper tickets. Yesterday I checked the airlines again and came up trumps. My flights are booked, cost about 450 Euros and will depart Boston on Tuesday, leaving me plenty of time to celebrate/drown my sorrows (delete as applicable). Great! I’m getting really excited about that trip now.

Saturday is my easiest day of the week, with only 8 easy miles on the program. That is needed in preparation for two harder days, a fast run on Sunday and a long one on Monday. I went out for quarter mile repeats today. The idea with those early in the season is to run them not too fast but with short recoveries, just 100 meters in my case. That’s very short, believe me, and running the repeats too fast will soon teach you a lesson. It was very windy with the occasional shower, which hopefully didn’t have much of an effect. I planned to run them at about 6:30 pace (i.e. in 97.5 seconds), but got worried that the first one at 6:25 might have been too fast and badly affected the entire workout. I needn’t have worried, I was fine for all 15 of them. When I got markedly slower on the 10th I suspected that I was reaching the end of was good for me and should cut it short, but a fast 11th convinced me to finish the workout as planned. In fact, the last 3 were the fastest ones and I felt I still might have had one or two more in me. What was noticeable was that every time I remembered to concentrate on my form I ran markedly faster without increased effort. I wish I could learn that lesson without having to re-discover it again and again. Having said that, I was more than happy with the run.
20 Dec
8 miles, 1:04:26, 8:03 pace, HR 148
21 Dec
9 miles, 1:08:28, 7:37 pace, HR 159
15x400(100 rest) at 6:22 avg.

Weekly mileage: 87

Friday, December 19, 2008


What a difference a day makes!

Running 15 miles on Tuesday, albeit on 2 runs, was a mistake. This was supposed to be my easy day, much needed after a tempo run on Sunday and a long run on Monday, and with all those miles I didn’t recover sufficiently for a decent workout on Wednesday.

I had my doubts about the workout from the first step, but decided to give it a try anyway. I was doing mile repeats at MP effort again. Last Tuesday I had left 2 minutes between each mile, which had been too long so I cut the recovery down to one minute. The run was 12 miles, and I did 9 mile repeats altogether. The break between the miles did not really seem necessary from a physical point of few, the pace was not fast enough to warrant a recovery, but it helped a lot from a psychological point of view because it meant a break from the harder effort was always near. The first few miles were ok, but I got slower towards the end. That in itself is not too surprising because on that loop the first half is net downhill and the second half accordingly net uphill. But I felt a lot more tired than I should have, and was utterly knackered by the end. I had originally intended to add a few minutes of additional exercises to the end of the run (skipping, bouncing, and so on), but I gave up soon, my legs were toast.

I did not need anyone to tell me to take it easy on Thursday. I could not have it taken differently any other way. I can’t remember the last time my legs had felt so sore, certainly not for quite some time. To add to the woe the wind was absolutely brutal. Normally I would have gone on the Ard-na-Sidhe road in those conditions, but for some reason I cannot remember I chose to brave the Caragh Lake road instead. It was tough, and I toyed with the idea of turning around after 2.5 miles and do the second half on a more sheltered loop. But with my tired legs I didn’t trust myself to pass our driveway without calling it a day. I’m usually very disciplined when it comes to running consistently, but there was no need to tempt me unnecessarily, and I continued on the Caragh Lake road, weary as I was. Of course, cutting the run short on an easy day would not have been that big a deal. However, I don't want to get into the habit of cutting runs short. Next time, it might be a more important workout.

However, I did notice that I felt ok for the rest of the day. By contrast, on Monday, after my first 18 mile run in a while, I had felt sore all day. I was therefore reasonably optimistic that I would have a decent run today. My main worry was the weather. We had a major storm coming, and I wondered if I would be able to run at all. However, when I woke at 5:30 I was pleasantly surprised by the calm outside. I headed off on my loop around the lake, hoping that the weather would hold at least for a few miles. It was very windy up in the hills where the area is completely exposed to the elements, but otherwise it was fine; in fact it was a lot better than the day before. As far as my legs went, the difference to Thursday was simply amazing. I felt good, and ran the last 5 miles faster again. I managed an average pace of 7:27 on those last miles, which is a lot faster than last week’s 7:35 but a lot slower than what I used to do before the Dublin marathon. Initially those figures worried me a bit, but when I checked my logs from the summer I came across two 15 miles runs in July at almost exactly the same pace. This was reassuring; at the very least I’m in no worse shape now than I was 3 months before Dublin. With all of the marathon specific training yet to come, that will do me.

17 Dec
12 miles, 1:32:12, 7:41 pace, HR 159
incl. 9 x 1 mile @ 7:12 avg
18 Dec
10 miles, 1:24:01, 8:24 pace, HR 148
19 Dec
15 miles, 1:59:21, 7:57 pace, HR 153
last 5 @ 7:27

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh me Legs!

Running your long run on Monday has the big advantage that it will be over as soon as the training week starts. You don’t have it hanging above your head all week. I only started worrying about running long on Sunday evening, but I told myself that 18 miles were just my usual 15 miles around Caragh Lake with a short 3 mile run attached to the end of it.

That’s how I approached it, and that’s how it went, but when the legs grew wearier and wearier after passing the 13 miles mark I knew that it wasn’t quite so easy. This was the longest run since the marathon, and the legs were definitely not used to being out there for so long. I was knackered by the time I got home, and I kept moaning all day that the legs were killing me. Niamh took it as a sign that I had overdone it; I took it as a sign that I had been in desperate need of a long run.

One thing I noticed is that I run slower when I can’t see the figures on the Garmin. I turned off the backlight, and despite the moon being nearly full it is not possible to read the display. If I had peeked I would have seen a pace slower than 8:00 which would have urged me to up the effort a bit – I know, because that’s what happened on so many runs in the summer. But with me being ignorant of the exact pace I was content to just keep going at the same easy effort. The pace I tuned into is about 80 percent of my goal marathon pace; some experts recommend exactly that pace for your long run, but of course you can find plenty others with different opinions.

My legs were very heavy this morning, and I struggled through 10 miles. Maybe I should stop paying attention to the weather forecast. That just scared me unnecessarily last night. The predicted heavy gale force winds never quite materialised, and the rain wasn’t anywhere near as bad as imagined either. I’m used to wind and rain by now, and can handle it. I did cut the morning run from 11 to 10 miles though, because it was a bit too windy to cycle into work and whenever I get a lift from Niamh into town it means I’ll be running the 5 miles home in the evening. Even so it’s still an awful lot of miles for an easy day.

At least the pain in the legs can be attributed to proper marathon training. It beats the hangover from binge drinking, even though that opinion isn’t widely shared here in Ireland, especially not around Christmas time.

15 Dec
18 miles, 2:27:20, 8:11 pace, HR 149
16 Dec
am: 10 miles, 1:22:24, 8:14 pace, HR 144
pm: 5 miles, 39:56, 7:59 pace, HR 143

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Oh me 'ead!

With the recession upon us it is time to remember the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not to spend ridiculous amounts of money, but to get raucously drunk during the office party. At least that’s the impression I got on Friday, and, trying not to be a scrooge, I joined in the spirit. But having gotten up at 5:30 am I didn’t last the distance and did a Cinderella; I stumbled home just before midnight.

Thankfully Maia chose this night to start sleeping through again, but unsurprisingly I wasn’t feeling my very best on Saturday. After heaving myself out of bed and fixing breakfast for the boys (they did not care much for my headache), I got ready for 8 miles on the road. I was grateful that the shortest run of the week was in order. It was rather cold, but I didn’t quite register that in my state. After an hour in the cold crisp air my head was in much better shape, if not entirely recovered. I did a double take when I stepped on the weighing scales. I know I spent the time from 5 pm to 11 pm eating and drinking non-stop, and I’m perfectly aware that Guinness contains a lot of calories, but to put on 6 pounds in 24 hours seemed rather excessive. Six pounds! At least half of them were gone a day later, but looking at it the other way I could argue that half of them are still on me somewhere. Maybe it was that extra layer of fat that prevented me from freezing during my redemption run because a couple of hours later it started snowing heavily, much to the kids’ excitement. It didn’t stay though.

Luckily my head was fully recovered today as another fartlek workout was on the menu, and I don’t think I could have pulled that off with a hangover. Today I opted for half mile repeats with one minute in-between. That way I would be able to run a bit faster than on Wednesday, and there was less opportunity for the mind to start drifting and me slowing down due to loss of focus. My timing was not the best, within 2 minutes of the start it started hail stoning, and I got a painful beaning for the next 10 minutes. It cleared up afterwards, and apart from a short and quick rain shower, it stayed dry. After Friday’s massive storm the road was still flooded on two occasions, but it wasn’t too deep and my feet seemed to dry pretty quickly both times.

I was quite happy with the workout. I did 13 half-miles at an average pace of 6:45, and even though I tried to run them all at the same effort level, the last one was the fastest. That was quiet a bit faster than on Wednesday; let’s see how I fare next week.
13 Dec
8 miles, 1:05:18, 8:09 pace, HR 146
badly hungover
14 Dec
10.3 miles, 1:16:46, 7:27 pace, HR 159
13x800, avg. pace 6:45

Weekly Mileage: 84+

Friday, December 12, 2008


After her illness two weeks ago (which she managed to pass on to me), Maia had still not fully recovered before she caught the next one. She is in decent form during the day, but she is definitely keeping us awake at night. I would have gotten adequate sleep over the last two nights but lost 90 minutes to the screaming baby on each occasion, and I can definitely feel the effects. Sleep deprivation is a kind of torture, and at the moment Maia the Merciless could qualify for a job in Guantanamo. At least she seems to be over the worst, and we have hopes of eventually being able to sleep again.

I felt really guilty this morning because when I got up at 5:30, I could still hear her cry. Luckily she fell asleep even before I was ready to leave for my run, which went some way to alleviate my shame.

Just to clarify Tuesday’s workout, the miles were never meant to be faster than MP effort and 7:10 is probably my present marathon pace, though I was working on perceived exertion, not pace. In that light, 7 mile repeats are not a hard workout. There will be a lot more of that to come, and hopefully my pace will improve. After all, that’s what I’m doing the training for.

Yesterday’s run was an easy 10 miler. I used to run loads of them last year; 10 miles were my bread-and-butter workout and the base for the higher mileage. After experimenting with a different training philosophy for the Dublin marathon, I’m back on the high mileage bandwagon. I hope this will enable me to avoid hitting the wall like I did in Dublin; time will tell. I felt good on Thursday, and I was surprised that the pace was so much faster than on Tuesday, when I had done the same run on the same stretch of road; the effort had felt pretty much the same.

Today was a bit tougher again, especially in my sleep-deprived state. All higher mileage plans include a mid-week medium long run, and today it was time for one of those (my weeks are a bit skewed because I do my long runs on Monday). I ran around Caragh Lake, and because Ron Daws’ schedule called for a medium effort rather than an easy one I ran a bit faster than on Monday. I also tried to up the effort over the last 5 miles. I like ending long runs with a good strong effort over the last few miles, and 7:30 pace would have satisfied me. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to be done. 7:35 was all I had in my legs this morning, which does not compare favourably with workouts from my previous training cycles. There is a lot of room for improvement here. The base phase will last for 6 weeks, and I really hope to be able to get those times down significantly. Maybe I’m a bit hard on myself, I have noticeably increased my mileage, and the legs are bound to feel sluggish at the moment. At least I managed to avoid the worst of the weather; the next storm front hit us today, but that early in the morning I was merely dealing with light rain and gale force winds rather than the full brunt of what was in store for later. Be grateful for small mercies!
11 Dec
10 miles, 1:21:15, 8:07 pace, HR 147
12 Dec
15 miles, 2:00:02, 8:00 pace, HR 152

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

End of Recovery

I can’t believe how dark it is! I really needed my headlamp today, and as much as I dislike running with that thing on top of my head (and I tend to turn it off as soon as I can make out the side of the road), it is an absolute necessity at the moment. It is still dark even when I get home, though the moon should be out in a day or two, which will help. Up to then I’m stuck with the artificial light.

The mileage has really taken off now. Because of last week’s break there will be a big jump, but it’s only up to levels that I have reached on numerous occasions in the past, which is why I don’t think I have to stick too closely to the 10-percent rule.

So far, I can tell the effect of the miles on my legs – they are quite heavy at times. This was particularly noticeable on Tuesday. Because I ran home from work on Monday, I had accumulated 20 miles that day, and my quads would not let me forget it for the entire 10 miles on Tuesday. It sure is a lot easier to remain under my heart rate threshold on a day like that! I ran with the backlight of the Garmin turned off, which gives me the beast of both worlds – I run totally by feel but still get the numbers to put into the log afterwards. However, I was quite surprised when I saw just how slow the run had been. I guess I was in dire need of recovery pace.

Today was markedly different. I’m following Ron Daws’ schedule, and today called for the first aerobic fartlek run. His idea of fartleks doesn’t quite match mine, he seems to prefer a structured run with faster bits of between 800 and 2000 meters, so I settled on mile repeats. Because this was my first fast training run since the marathon I wanted to ease into it and set an expected pace of about 7:00, but resolved not to get too hung up on the actual pace. The heart rate should be somewhere in the 160s, and that’s pretty much how it turned out. The route I chose was reasonably flat, but a few ups and downs are always included around here, and the mile splits pretty much reflect the topography. I did jog easily for 2 minutes between each mile, but that probably was a bit too long. Since the pace was not particularly fast, I didn’t need much recovery in-between. I originally planned 6 repeats but realised that I could do a seventh and still have a few minutes of cool-down. The first 6 repeats felt all a bit awkward, but on that seventh I finally managed to relax, and promptly delivered the fastest pace of the morning despite it being slightly uphill. I think the fact that this was run on the familiar Caragh Lake Road helped, because on the other ones I always had to pay attention to the footing rather than just concentrate on running. I still felt fresh at the end; future runs will be a bit faster, this was more a gentle introduction rather than a tough workout.
9 Dec
10 miles, 1:24:59, 8:30 pace, HR 142
10 Dec
11 miles, 1:23:37. 7:36 pace, HR 157
7x1 miles @ 7:13, 7:08, 7:02, 7:26, 7:24, 7:10, 6:57

Monday, December 08, 2008

Happy Birthday, Cian

When is a child’s birthday present the perfect one? You could argue it should be educational as well as entertaining; something you make yourself is better than something bought in a shop; it should not be connected to some overhyped cartoon character; it shouldn’t be made from plastic.

I tell you what, forget all that snobbish highbrow crap. If the child’s eyes light up like candles, you’ve hit bulls eye. It doesn’t matter that you overpaid for what is essentially a cheap piece of plastic; that it’s a mass-produced bit of crap with several thousand identical items sitting on store shelves around the world, and the cynical advertising doesn’t matter to a 5-year old. Cian loves his Ben10 watch. He’s not taken it off his wrist, and I’m pretty sure it will stay there for a long time.

I slept in on Sunday until 8 o’clock and went for an easy 12 mile run. The world around me was frozen over and the footing was treacherous at times, but I made it through without incident. The long sleeves and the running tights both got a first airing of the season, and I was glad for both; I would have become frozen solid otherwise. In the afternoon we went to see Santa, an annual event that has been long awaited by three members of our household. Now they better be good for the rest of the month, or the Christmas list might get cut down.

We stayed up late on Sunday making a Rocket Birthday cake (2 actually), though I cannot take any artistic credit whatsoever, that belongs entirely to Niamh and her sister. I had taken Monday morning off work, so I got yet another lie in, until 6:45 am (I have a different concept of a lie in compared to the average adult). After two clear, if cold, days I could not believe my ears when the first thing I registered was the rain against our window. Why does it always have to rain on my long run day? Because of last week’s four off days, I cut today’s run from 18 miles down to 15, in an effort to somewhat ease back into running. I had luck of some kind, it stopped raining while I got ready, and I had 2 dry miles; the 13 following miles were divided between light and heavy rain, and the wind wasn’t particularly pleasant either.

Whatever, I made it through, and the legs held up fine. However, I was about to start writing hate mail to all those scientists and coaches that tell you that you don’t lose any fitness after 4 days of not running. I knew how my legs had felt before my enforced break and how they felt this morning, and a loss in fitness seemed more than noticeable. However, I ran home from work tonight, and all of a sudden it was like everything clicked again. I was running easy at a decent pace and seemed to effortlessly float above the pavement. More of that, please.

Now that the mileage buildup is over, I will gradually add a few faster runs; the first of which will be on Wednesday. Somehow I’m both looking forward to it and dreading it.
7 Dec
12.1 miles, 1:38:31, 8:09 pace, HR 150
8 Dec
am: 15 miles, 2:05:55, 8:24 pace, HR 150
pm: 5 miles, 37:55, 7:35 pace, HR 147

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Little Geniuses (Genii?)

I felt fully recovered on Thursday. I did not have any headache or other signs of flu, and I definitely did not have a fever. I was well enough to be back in the office, and I managed to cycle home (though I got soaking wet when it started raining heavily on the way home). But I still had a cough, and with a rather heavy heart I stayed in bed on Friday morning. The feelings of frustration were somewhat alleviated by listening to the storm outside (“wind speeds between gale force and heavy gale force”), but that had subsided by the morning.

My patience was wearing a bit thin by then, and there was no stopping me on Saturday morning, especially as the sky was clear and it promised to be a nice day. I wore two layers on top, and even though I originally thought of this as being overly cautious it turned out to be a good move because it was freezing cold outside, with frost on the ground until well after I had come back home. I ran a loop towards Cromane which turned out to be a little bit further than I thought, and the quads were starting to get surprisingly heavy towards the end. Apparently four days off are enough to lose some fitness. I still got home in good shape, and will jump more or less straight back at the schedule, but will cut down Monday’s long run by a few miles.

A few weeks ago, after reading this article, Niamh took the twins to Cork for an assessment by the Centre for Talented Youth of Ireland. I didn’t realise this, but the threshold they apply is extremely high. The child has to be better than 95% of its age groups students in either verbal or abstract ability to qualify. And guess what? They both passed! We are now confirmed parents of two little Einsteins (Zweisteins?), though the two of them seem to just shrug it off. Which is great, I'd much rather have happy kids with normal interests than a pair of sociopathic recluses. Anyway, we’ll have to take turns in spring to drive them to Cork for some extra classes. I know they will love those; the only fly in the ointment is that none of these days are coinciding with a road race in Cork. You can’t have everything I guess.
5 Dec
6 Dec
10.5 miles, 1:24:57, 8:06 pace, HR 148

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Leave of absence

I found a picture of myself from Saturday's race. Well, sort of.

Mike keeps berating me for my lack of common sense. Honestly, mate, I would have thought that when dealing with someone who runs marathons and ultras for fun, the complete absence of common sense should be a given!

But, believe it or not, I have actually stopped running for now. I felt bad enough on Monday to leave work early. A colleague gave me a lift home so that I did not have to cycle, and I went straight to bed. My temperature went up over 39C/102F, confirming that I was indeed sick. I staid home Tuesday and Wednesday, but today I’m back in the office – after all, I don’t get that much of a rest at home with four hyperactive children around. Still, after sleeping for 10 hours straight on Tuesday and enjoying an additional 2 hours nap before lunchtime, I felt almost human again. I was much better on Wednesday, and today I would feel recovered if that chesty cough was not lingering deep inside me. It is definitely the same bug that had bothered Maia last week; my symptoms are exactly the same as hers and arrived in the same order. Since she seems to be fully recovered by now, I expect the same for me within a day or two.

Because of said cough I’m still off running, and as long as it does not clear up it will remain that way. While it is almost painful for me to see all those blank entries in the log, I really really really don’t want to get as sick as last year again. A few missed days now are much preferable to a few missed weeks in January, and remembering how painful pneumonia can be is a potent reminder to be cautious.

At least the weather made it easy to stay at home. I was warm and secure snuggled up in bed while the gale force wind threw the rain against our bedroom windows, making me almost grateful for the fact that I wasn’t well and had a very good excuse to stay home. Niamh seems to be worried about me getting as sick as last year again, she mentioned that she would buy me a treadmill for Christmas if only she could afford it (which makes me almost grateful that she can’t – I hate those things).

The weather is supposed to improve over the weekend, which might coincide with my return to running form. Of course I’m looking forward to it. This was supposed to be my last week of the mileage build-up before the proper training starts, and instead it became more or less a wash-out. Better now than in April, I suppose.
2 Dec
3 Dec
4 Dec

Monday, December 01, 2008


I had a quick look at my mile splits on Saturday. As it turns out, my first 3 miles went by in 6:04, 6:11 and 6:17 respectively, meaning that I was well on the way to a new PR (which would have been 6:18 average pace) until I hit that hill. I guess it means that I really have to be satisfied with the way I raced, especially considering the fact that I had come into it with exactly zero speedwork under the belt.

I did have to pay a price though. The legs were not about to let me get away with running 2 minutes per mile faster all of a sudden. My quads were really sore all day on Saturday, and even more so on Sunday, when I went out for a 9 mile recovery run. I suspect the kamikaze style descent from Sunhill towards the end of the race is responsible for most of the discomfort but that’s ok, I gained 10th place that way.

Worse was to come though. As you know, I have spent quite a few miles running through icy cold wind and rain recently, and coupled with the fact that Maia had been sick for several days it does not come as a big surprise that I don’t feel well myself now. I was really cold on Sunday evening, and when I was shivering after going to bed I was all set and ready to cancel today’s run. Last year I started getting sick exactly at that time of the year, and because I didn’t take it seriously enough it developed into full-blown pneumonia that completely knocked me out for several weeks in January. I have sworn never to be so stupid again, and I’m rather keen to avoid that mistake this year.

However, I seemed to improve during the night, even though I did not sleep particularly well. I got up at 5:15 and decided that despite the fact that I definitely was not well I did pass the neck test (i.e. no symptoms beyond the neck), and was therefore ok to run. Maybe doing my long run wasn’t such a good idea, and I decided that I would bail out after 5 miles if I didn’t feel too good. I got another sign that things were not right when I strapped on the HR monitor. Usually my HR is about 65 when I put the thing on; today it was just over 100. That’s a significant difference, and I really wondered if I was about to do something monumentally stupid.

As I set off on the run, I felt ok though. The most recent rain shower had just passed and I was lucky enough to be dry. The first 3 miles were flat, and I noticed a distinctly raised HR level, but I was still able to remain under my self-imposed threshold. Then the climb started, and I was surprised how well I felt, even though the next rain shower caught up with me at that stage. When I passed the bailout junction I did not even consider taking the short cut home. But once you’re past that point it’s all the way around the lake without any further opportunity to bail out. With the quads still rather sore and the fact that I was not entirely healthy heavy on my mind I ran at a very easy level, almost Andrew-esque in its slow pace. On the plus side I did not bother the HR alarm, not even on the climbs, which convinced me that things could not be that bad after all. But I didn’t particularly welcome the next icy cold rain shower, about 5 miles from home.

I reached our driveway after 16.5 miles of an extended Caragh Lake loop feeling fine. But the second I stopped running I felt dizzy and staggered towards our front door like a drunk. I was quite shocked about how bad I felt, but luckily recovered within a minute.

Maia is much better by now, and I expect to feel better soon myself, but maybe running for almost 2.5 hours in the freezing cold today wasn’t such a good idea after all.
30 Nov
9 miles, 1:13:08, 8:08 pace, HR 146
1 Dec
16.5 miles, 2:25:17, 8:48 pace, HR 144
Probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done

Weekly mileage: 70+
Monthly mileage: 245+

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Over the Hill and Far Away

The weather forecast for today’s race was pretty much the same as for the last 2 days, cold, clear skies with the occasional wintery shower. There were 2 rather heavy showers in the morning which didn’t bode too well, but luckily it remained dry for the actual race.

Niamh had done a pub quiz the night before, and came home well past midnight; coupled with Maia’s sickness it meant a very busy evening for me, especially as she refused to sleep in her bed – she slept soundly in my arms though. It could have been worse I guess, and somehow I still got plenty of sleep. As it turns out, Niamh’s team won the quiz and she came home with a very nice looking hamper (cheese, wine, chocolate, …) and gained my perpetual permission to go on pub quizzes. I told her that unfortunately I would be unlikely to continue the family's winning streak today.

I had a rather unconventional warm-up; I ran the 4.5 miles from our house into town. It sure guaranteed me being warm enough for the race, and I don’t think I had done myself any harm. There were a lot of runners at the start, the turn-out was about 130 which delighted the organisers. I pushed myself towards the front of the field, and when we set off I went out with the front-runners. One guy in a green singlet took off at the front like a rocket, and the rest of us settled into place. I was in about 6th position, and it felt comfortably hard, but a glance at the Garmin told me that I unfortunately was running way ahead of my abilities at 5:30. By the time we left town I was at a more realistic pace, just a tad slower than 6:00, and in 10th position.

I have mentioned it before, I always lose time on the ups and regain it on the downs; it wasn’t even a hill, just a bridge with a big hump, but it was enough to send me back into 13th position, and – male ego being stung – behind the first female runner. I was tempted to ease up, let them go and keep my place in the field but eventually managed to kick myself into action. About 2 miles into the race I was over 20 steps behind a group of 3 runners, but when the course dropped a bit I managed to pull level, and just before the halfway mark I had overtaken them all, including the eventual female winner (who afterwards told me she tried to stay with me but could not).

I even managed to get a gap between us, but a look at the elevation profile shows you that we were about to climb 200 feet in less than a mile. This ensured two things; one, a personal best was out of the question today, and two, I lost one place. Actually I was pleased that only one runner managed to get past me, and that it took him half of that climb. Up on top we had a breathtaking view over Dingle Bay, or maybe I was merely out of breath from the brutal climb. I was about 20 steps behind 10th place, and I knew that I would have a chance to regain that position on the eventual downhill. We remained like that while running along Sunhill; I might have managed to pull a little bit closer, but not much.

With a mile to go the course finally dropped again, very steeply back into the centre of Killorglin. The descent went very well, the distance between myself and the runner in front melted like ice in the sun, I flew past, and despite being barely in control (one false step would have sent me into hospital) I arrived at the foot in one piece and with a commanding lead on 10th place. The rest was flat along the main road to the other end of town. I managed not to look back, because what good would that have done anyway? All I could do was to run to the finish as fast as possible, no matter how close or far away I was. Gaining another place was not on, the runner was way ahead of me, and I crossed the line in 10th place, 39:28 according to my own watch, or 39:30 official time. I was pleased with that, after all I haven’t done any fast running since the marathon 5 weeks ago. Who knows, on a flat course I might even have threatened my PR, but with that massive hill this was out of question today.

Racing felt great today!
29 Nov
13.2 miles, including:
Killorglin Puck Warriors Jingle Bells 10k, 39:30, 6:23 pace, HR 177, 10th place

Friday, November 28, 2008

Someone said:

Hi Thomas,
I'm hoping that you or somebody on your blog will be able to give me some advise. The week after completing the Dublin marathon I developed a pain just below my ankle. It is at its worst first thing in the morning when I get out of bed. The strange thing is that it seems fine when I run on it. I have replaced running with an hour on the bike in the gym each night for the past two weeks but the problem remains. Do you think I should go back running, stay on the bike or give it complete rest. (I hate rest!!)

My answer: I have a rather more casual view on injuries than most runners, something that backfired rather spectacularly on me at the beginning of the year. I can’t speculate on the nature of the problem, but if it seems fine when you run on it, it would do just that – run on it (I hate rest just as much). Other people would be much more cautious, and the decision is yours only. I’ve had a pain in my left foot since April, and I’m still running. Massaging the foot regularly has helped a lot.

Enviably fast runner Eric recently spent 21 miles on a treadmill, something I cannot even begin to contemplate. His answer to my comment also reveals a difference in our winter outlook. He prefers running in –20F and snow rather than 40F and rain. I disagree, which probably means we should never swap locations.

Incidentally, 40F and rain was pretty much what I have been dealing with over the last few mornings. On days like that the most difficult part of the workout is opening the front door. Once you have mastered that obstacle, the run itself will be fine. As a result of the slowly increasing mileage, Wednesday went into double digits, but 10 miles at an easy effort doesn’t particularly tax me. I was more worried about Thursday. After Tuesday’s scare I had real doubts if doing the same set of exercises was a good idea, but eventually decided to go ahead with them anyway because I didn’t think it was the exercises that brought on the episode. I made sure to pause long enough between each drill to bring the heart rate down, and guess what? I felt fine. The only reason why I cut it short by a minute or two was the next freezing cold rain shower.

Because there is a race on tomorrow I limited myself to 6 miles this morning. I added a few strides on the way home, to remind the legs what faster running feels like. If that helps for tomorrow or not I don’t know, but it sure was fun the stretch them out once more. Obviously I turned off the HR alarm for that, which felt strangely satisfying. I have vowed to turn it on again after the race, though.

26 Nov
10 miles, 1:20:38, 8:04 pace, HR 146
27 Nov
9 miles, 1:11:34, 7:57 pace, HR 147
28 Nov
6 miles, 47:08, 7:51 pace, HR 148
including about 8 x 20-30 secs sprints

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Good News and Bad News

Look what arrived in Monday’s post. On the back side it says that I am accepted into the 113th Boston marathon, and to confirm this, a search on their website has me listened as one of the entrants. I guess it’s time to book a flight; and to check the Visa requirements.

I’m slowly cranking up my mileage and I can already feel an improvement in my fitness. Those runs of 2 hours seem to have a magic effect on me, I can feel a drop in the HR even one day later. Surely I’m not imagining the figures on the Garmin, especially now that the new battery seems to have fixed the problems. I noticed a lower heart rate last Tuesday, and the same happened again today.

Monday’s run was not without difficulties. The forecast frosty temperatures never arrived, but the wind and rain did. I had fallen asleep listening to the storm outside, and when the alarm sounded at 5:25 am it still didn’t sound any better. As I was getting ready I could not help looking out of the kitchen window into the darkness and thinking that it felt less than inviting. Of course I went out anyway, and it wasn’t as bad as it had sounded. This was my first lap around the lake since the marathon, and beforehand I had been wondering if I would be able to run all those hills and still remain under the HR threshold. I needn’t have worried. The HR alarm did beep at times, but I was always able to get it back under control without problems. In fact I reached the high point in a time that I would have regarded as decent in the previous training cycle despite being careful not to exert myself; admittedly I may have been assisted by the strong wind pushing me from behind. Then I had the chance to test my downhill running skills, which will be sorely tested in Boston. I felt a bit awkward at times; I guess there is room for improvement. The second half of the run was a lot more challenging against the blustery wind (average wind speed 30mph, gusts of 40 mph), but I was surprised how well I felt, even on the last miles I was not the least bit tired. What did bother me was my left hamstring, which started tightening up badly with a few miles to go. When I reached home I felt like I could run a second lap without problems as long as someone took care of my left leg in the meantime. This area kept bothering me for the entire day. I’m not sure what to do. I can easily reach my toes without bending the knees, so tightness should not be a problem; I keep stretching it regularly, and that does provide some relief, but only for a short while.

As already mentioned, today’s reward for running 2 hours on Monday was an improved heart rate. I managed my first run under 8:00 pace since the marathon which pleased me no end, but then disaster struck. I was doing some exercises afterwards (bounding, skipping, high knees, …) and about 5 minutes into that my heart went mental. The HR on the Garmin went beyond 220, and when I felt my pulse it was extremely fast, shallow and irregular. It was a bit scary, but this has happened twice before and I wasn’t worried about dropping dead. Of course I stopped exercising immediately, but didn’t feel quite right for another couple of hours.

The whole episode could be caffeine related, but that is only a theory. After the last episode, two years ago, I completely cut my coffee intake and did not experience any more problems afterwards. In the last few weeks I have drunk between 1 and 2 cups each day, which isn’t exactly a lot, but it’s one or two cups more than I used to drink before the marathon, and eliminating coffee is the first thing on my list. Back then I had a health check which stated that I was completely healthy and that my heart was perfectly fine.

I have a sore throat at the moment (like Shea and Niamh, and Cian had been sick already), which might have something to do with it. I was also quite tired because Maia had woken at 4 am and kept torturing us for the next 90 minutes (most likely she’s got a sore throat as well), and the sleep deprivation did get to me. As far as running is concerned, I’m not too worried. The last time this happened was during the warm up for a half-marathon; for some reason I still decided to race, and subsequently had my best ever race up to then. If anything, regular exercise should be beneficial. Anyway, it’s definitely not a heart attack, it doesn’t fit any of the symptoms. I’d still like to know what it is, though, but the doctor didn’t come up with anything last time. I’m not a complete idiot (I said complete, right?), if I thought there was something seriously wrong I’d stop running immediately.

24 Nov
15 miles, 2:04:16, 8:17 pace, HR 146
25 Nov
8 miles, 1:03:32, 7:57 pace, HR 147
subsequent heart palpitations

Sunday, November 23, 2008

End of Week Report

I love running, and for as long as I can I will continue running. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated from time to time.

The weather recently has been shite as we say around here, excuse my language. A few weeks ago that amount of wind would have sent me to the elves of the Ard-na-Sidhe road, but I decided to be less of a softy and face the conditions head-on on the Caragh Lake road. It’s never as bad as it sounds anyway. The road is still somewhat sheltered by two mountains, Seefin and Callahaniska, but there is one corner where the wind comes through the gap between the two of them and you get some kind of funnel effect. I’ve named that stretch “Windy Corner”, and twice on the last few days the wall of wind hit me so suddenly that it quite literally took my breath away. Today was particularly bad; I had seriously considered the Ard-na-Sidhe road, but running up and down the same stretch of road 3 times in each direction just doesn’t have that much of an appeal to me. I might have reconsidered had I known that by mile 1.5 I would be caught in a short but sharp rain shower. That happened a second time, around the 5-mile mark, when it rained so heavily that I was soaked right through within seconds.

The little bits of technology I keep carrying around are even more frustrating. The Garmin’s chest strap has finally given up completely, and I’ve been wearing the Polar HR as well as the Garmin on my recent runs. The biggest problem I have is remembering to press the start and stop buttons on both devices. That won't be a problem in the future because by now the Polar has finally given up the ghost as well. At least I have finally managed to purchase a replacement battery for the Garmin. Let’s hope this will solve the problem from tomorrow on.

I have noticed an improvement in my paces recently, but with the lack of a proper HR monitor this might have been the result of me inadvertently crossing my self-imposed threshold. But my runs are still all of the easy variety. I will keep building my mileage for the next two weeks, and then the proper aerobic base training phase will commence. I’m looking forward to a few faster runs already.

My legs will get a faster workout before that though, because there is a 10k race in Killorglin next Saturday. It does not fit into my training schedule and I certainly won’t be in my best 10k shape, but with a race so nearby I can’t possibly refuse participation.

The weekend has been stressful. Niamh had some work to do on Saturday and had to leave at 8:30, which meant I had to get up early for my run, and then I had to mind our entire unruly brood on my own. I still managed to bake my most complicated dinner ever, which went down extremely well. Unfortunately Niamh forgot to reset the alarm clock, and since it woke not only us but also the boys it meant yet another early morning. At least it enabled me to have time for some clandestine shopping; Cian’s birthday is in a fortnight, and I managed to track down the perfect present. I’m almost as excited as he is.
20 Nov
10 miles, 1:22:49, 8:17 pace, HR 148
21 Nov
9 miles, 1:13:54, 8:13 pace, HR 146
22 Nov
7 miles, 57:06, 8:10 pace, HR ???
23 Nov
9 miles, 1:12:26, 8:03 pace, HR ???

Weekly mileage: 63+

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Darkness Falls

We have now definitely entered the part of the year when a day without heavy rain and winds under the gale-force marker automatically qualifies as a nice day. Add to that the inevitable darkness, both in the morning when I’m running and in the evening when I’m cycling home from work and the conditions are generally getting more challenging.

At least I’m starting to get used to running slowly all the time. The mileage is still fairly low, at least compared to what I’m used to, but that will change soon enough. I recently studied my training plan and thought about adding a few miles here and there, but managed to reign myself in so far. I’ll see how I get on first before I make any drastic changes.

For real-life reasons, my long run day is going to be Monday this training cycle, and I ran 14 miles on Monday to get into the swing of things. That does not qualify as a long run yet, but that too will change soon enough. It was quite windy, which I noticed especially after the turnaround point, but at least the forecast rain held off until after I had gotten home – I did have to pay for that good fortune during my cycle commute, though. Tuesday and Wednesday were both easy 7 milers. The Garmin HR sensor started acting up again yesterday; it really is time to change the battery, but I haven’t yet managed to get a replacement. This morning I decided to wear my ancient Polar HR monitor as well as the Garmin. It meant strapping on not just one but two chest straps, and it felt like running in a corset; all too typically, the Garmin behaved impeccably and the data was the same on both. I was amazed that the Polar HR thing is still working. I got it almost 4 years ago, and never changed the battery that was only supposed to last for 2 years (and I’m sure I used it a lot more than the average user would have).

Anyway, yesterday I got soaking wet, but today was a nice day, at least according to the definition from the start of this entry. At least I don’t need a headlamp in the morning at the moment because the moon is so bright. Since that won’t be the case next week, I’ve ordered a new one. My trusty old Petzl is definitely on its way out. The case has developed a big crack, and the rainwater is killing the batteries. I remember talking to some runners in Cork a while ago who all called me a weirdo for running with a headlamp. It’s different for those pampered city guys; they can always find a lit street. The nearest street light from my house is at the kids’ school, 2 miles away (I could run around the school yard – hours of fun) or in Killorglin, 5 miles away (I could run up and down the main street – just as much fun). I think I’ll stay on my beloved Caragh Lake loop and risk being called a weirdo.

17 Nov
14+ miles, 1:56:47, 8:19 pace, HR 143
18 Nov
7 miles, 58:03, 8:18 pace, HR ???
19 Nov
7 miles, 56:43, 8:06 pace, HR 146

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Downhill Training

It’s a given fact, real life does interfere with running. You just have to work around it. Yesterday Niamh drove to Cork with the twins for an assessment. Since I had slept longer than expected I sacrificed a mile of my early morning run to ensure I’d be home in time and not delay her departure. It was a sacrifice in vain, she left half an hour late anyway, and it wasn’t down to me. I had to mind Cian and Maia on my own for basically the entire day, which was harder than predicted because Maia eschewed her lunchtime nap. I still responded negatively to Niamh’s question if I had found more respect for her daily task. I am a father of four children, and have looked after them plenty of times. I was already well aware how much work it is.

During the run itself I had managed not to look at the Garmin at all. Afterwards I was a bit surprised at how slow the pace had been, but all of my runs are more like gentle strolls through the Kerry countryside rather than hard training these days. 8:30 pace just happened to be my easy pace that day.

As Mike and Yvonne have commented and a lot of people have written countless times, training for the downhill sections is key for Boston. So, how DO you train for downhills?

My number one method is doing a lot of downhill running. The loop around Caragh Lake contains a 3-mile downhill section, from the highest point to Blackstones Bridge, and if I run this twice a week it should give my legs a good workout. In fact, I do believe that this training enabled me to run the last miles so fast in Cork, and who knows, maybe I would not have suffered as much in Dublin had I not preferred the flatter Cromane loop for my long runs in the most recent training cycles (I tried to go for speed rather than strength. It was worth a try).

The second, and less important method, is trying to improve the strength of my legs, and I started doing squats for that. When I say I started, I do mean that – I did the first such workout on Saturday. After a few sets of air squats and squats with dumbbells (I’ll add one-legged squats as well) I originally felt I had not done much because I wanted to ease into that kind of thing. But when my leg almost buckled under me on my way to a well-deserved cup of tea I figured that I probably had done more than enough already.

Guess what, I was sore today. I slept for 9 hours (with one interruption at 4 am for Maia’s bottle), and would have slept longer had Shea not demanded breakfast. With the legs begging for mercy I expected to be even slower than yesterday, but that was not the case. The weather was the opposite of yesterday, rather than a lot of wind and little rain it was little wind and lots of rain (those are the only options at the moment, apparently). I was passed by two cars whose drivers must have thought I was completely bonkers, running around in the rain on a Sunday morning.

Before going out I measured my resting heart rate. It had been as low as 38 before the marathon, but didn’t go under 43 today. I wonder how long it will take for that to drop again.

Running at such an easy effort day after day enables me to increase the mileage and still feel like I’m recovering from the marathon as well as the previous training cycle. I think I need this mentally more than physically. I had felt stale and chronically exhausted from the amount of speedwork during the summer, and a break from that is exactly what I’m yearning for. The miles themselves are all fun, it’s the speed that kills me.
15 Nov
9 miles, 1:16:34, 8:30 pace, HR 144
16 Nov
8+ miles, 1:06:55, 8:19 pace, HR 144

Weekly mileage: 56+

Friday, November 14, 2008

Small Steps

I got my hopes up a little bit too early. On Wednesday I thought I was making real progress, when I ran my 6 miles at 8:06 average pace, and without setting off the HR alarm. This was clearly a nice, decent improvement on earlier runs.

Then I did 12 miles on Thursday. Originally I planned to run the Cromane loop, but then changed my mind and ran the much hillier Caragh Lake road instead. The out-and-back route contains 6 proper climbs; since Boston is hilly, my training runs are going to be hilly as well.

It took a lot of slowing down on those climbs. The one leading to the turnaround point featured nearly 250 feet elevation gain in less than a mile, and at times I had to slow down to a virtual crawl to keep the heart rate down. It clearly showed that I still have plenty of work to do. This comes as no great surprise. The last marathon had been a mere 17 days ago, and I’m basically on week one of my Boston training. I just didn’t expect the run to be quite so slow.

I also suffered from a severe case of the stupids. “12 miles at 8:00 pace, that will take me 1:20, let’s say 1:25 to take into account my slower pace these days and set the alarm for 6:10 am.” I was a bit surprised at how bright it was when I set off, but so close to Full Moon that wasn’t particularly alarming. It wasn’t until I was back home and saw that the run had take 1:40 that I finally and belatedly realised that 1:20 at 8:00 pace will give you 10 miles rather than 12. Thomas, you idiot. I was late for work.

Today’s run reinforced just how much out of shape I am. I was stiff and tired and the legs were distinctly unhappy about having to move again. This did come as a real surprise. 12 miles aren’t exactly a long run anymore, and I can’t remember the last time I was so sore the day after a run at such leisurely pace. And of course I was slow again today. In all honesty, I do expect rapid improvements from here.

My mum has just left, the week has passed very quickly. She even had a few nice days, weather wise. She’ll be back in spring.

12 Nov
6 miles, 48:35, 8:06 pace, HR 144
13 Nov
12 miles, 1:40:54, 8:24 pace, HR 147
14 Nov
6+ miles, 50:53, 8:25 pace, HR 143

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Questionable Rewards

The marathon was over two weeks ago, but I’m still in the “I deserve a reward” state of mind. Even before the race I had firmly decided to let the discipline slide. I had been very restrained for a lot of weeks, eating raw food, going to bed early, cutting down on sweets (apart from Niamh’s desserts), no caffeine, and so on. But now is the time to relax, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I discovered that drinking coffee black with 2 sugars gives me a massive buzz that rivals that of several illegal drugs, and that’s why I’ve got one beside my keyboard right now (NO! Not an illegal drug. Black coffee!). My sweet tooth is in paradise, and the chocolate bars in the kitchen cabinet are cowering in fear whenever I go anywhere near. Extra cream and sugar on the porridge? Ah go on, have another one! At some stage I’ll have to start reigning myself in again, especially since the weighing scales start whimpering whenever I step on them; I’ve gained 6 pounds since the marathon (well, since 3 days before the marathon, when I started carbo-loading). I hope they’ll melt off once the mileage goes up again.

The worst of the last storm left us on Monday morning, but not until after my run which left me rather frozen. 4C/40F feels cold, especially in the rain and gusty wind. I was thinking about digging out the long sleeves and the tights, but luckily the temperature has picked up again.

The Garmin seems to behave again, or at least the HR readings are believable. With my fitness picking up/my recovery going on it gets easier to stay under my self-imposed HR threshold, and yesterday was the first run that passed by without the HR alarm going off even once. Today I went out alongside Caragh Lake for the first time since the race and managed to repeat that feat, even though the road is much more undulating than the Ard-na-Sidhe road that I had been using up to now. I would have enjoyed it more if the wind hadn’t been quite as strong and quite as cold, but that too is supposed to improve tomorrow (if only for the rain to return on Thursday).

My mum is here this week, and with the improving weather she can hopefully enjoy the scenery if Niamh can drag her away from the housework she keeps insisting on doing (she broke our Hoover yesterday, which should make this easier). She was thrilled when Maia managed to say “Oma” (German for grandmother) last night, but it might have been a once-off. The kids all love having visitors, but if that is because they enjoy the company or the presents that these people invariably bring, I’m not quite sure.
10 Nov
8 miles, 1:06:20, 8:18 pace, HR 143
11 Nov
7 miles, 58:39, 8:22 pace, HR 144

Sunday, November 09, 2008


I have to be careful what I’m writing these days. Niamh occasionally reads this blog, some work colleagues have mentioned it, and now my kids started reading when they saw the Halloween pictures of themselves. Niamh asked me slightly worried if the content is suitable for them. I assured her it is. I think I swore once or twice, but apart from that it’s child friendly. Apart from the fact that it makes Daddy look like a nutcase, that is.

Case in point, I went running yesterday and today even though the weather was all but inviting. I somehow managed to time both runs to perfection; both Saturday and Sunday featured downpours of biblical proportion, and yet I managed to squeeze in a run into a nice window of opportunity. I hardly got wet, and the rain either held of or was down to a mere drizzle. I got lucky, because on both occasions it started raining very heavily within minutes of my return.

I was tempted to remove the whining last paragraph from Friday’s entry as soon as I posted it. In reality, running easy isn’t as bad as I made it sound, and most of the time I’m perfectly ok with it. I can relax, and enjoy my me-time. If the weather is nice I can also enjoy the surroundings because after all Caragh Lake does have some stunning scenery, and I never get tired of it. As I found out today, mentally I find it easier to run for 10 miles; 5 miles are so short that it hardly seems worthwhile.

My Garmin started acting up this morning. Initially it didn’t report any HR data at all. When I re-paired it, it picked up the signal again, but as soon as I started running I noticed that the HR was stuck around 100 bpm, which cannot be right. I suspected the battery in the chest strap might be empty, but after 4 miles it suddenly started behaving again, and the readings were fine afterwards. Because of these problems I didn’t get any initial feedback on my HR and it didn’t sound the alarm if I went over 152, so I might have run a little bit fast on the inclines. It was still an easy run, and I enjoyed it. Our garden is water-logged, some local roads are closed, parts of the country are bound to be flooded, but at least I managed to get my runs in.

I started working on my training plan for Boston. I will be following the training schedules outlined in Ron Daws’ book Running Your Best, which is basically Lydiard training. Starting tomorrow there will be 4 weeks of building the mileage, 6 weeks of aerobic base, 4 weeks of preliminary speed, 4 weeks of anaerobic training, 3 weeks of sharpening and 2 weeks of taper. I haven’t got the details worked out yet (and they’ll change as the weeks go on anyway), but I know what I’m going to do over the next few weeks at least.

8 Nov
7 miles, 57:56, 8:15 pace, HR 145
9 Nov
10+ miles, 1:22:12, 8:10 pace, HR 144

Friday, November 07, 2008

Taking Stock

With the marathon almost two weeks behind us, I have recovered from all the usual immediate ailments like stiff calves or quads, but some things have stayed with me. My left hamstring still hurts; that’s no surprise, it has been hurting since the Connemara Ultra in April, and I didn’t think that abusing it for 26 miles would be a cure. It’s rather annoying though; it doesn’t just hurt when I’m running, the pain is there all the time. Stretching does temporarily alleviate the discomfort somewhat, which at least forces me to stretch regularly. Maybe I should be more worried about the problem than I am, but the fact is that I have run on it at all speeds and distances, from 30 seconds all-out intervals to a 3:05 marathon, and it never got any worse. It’s just “something” I can’t get rid of. I’ll probably get some more massage in the next few weeks, but nobody in Killorglin offers a sports massage (not that I would expect it in a small place like that) and driving to Killarney after work has provided too many scheduling headaches to make it worthwhile, as I found out in spring.

The other area that has flared up is my right heel. I’ve had that pain in my left heel since April and finally managed to get on top of it after massaging it rigorously twice a day, but since the marathon the right heel started acting up in the same way. I’ve started massaging that as well, and I’m already experiencing some noticeable improvements. Unfortunately, massaging my hamstring doesn’t work in the same way. It might if I actually knew what I was doing, who knows. Maybe I should invest in a foam roller? It would certainly be cheaper than a regular trip to the massage centre (not as relaxing, though).

I’m still running nothing but slow 5-milers, and I’m already getting bored of them. I did set the alarm for 6 miles this morning, but Maia had a bad night, and when Maia has a bad night then Daddy has a bad night, and I opted for 10 more minutes of a warm bed. In fact I had woken at 5am with a fearsome storm howling outside and decided to skip the run. By 6:40 it seemed much better, and I went out anyway. It did cross my mind that I’m a nutcase to go running in those conditions when the next marathon is still half a year away, but I figured I’d better get used to running in the wind and rain again, because if this winter is anything like the last two, there will be plenty of that to come. As it turned out, the conditions were not half as bad as feared.

I was tempted to ignore the 80% HR training threshold. I know that my pace will come down eventually as I’m recovering from the marathon, but so far I’m only plodding along at 8:20 pace, and I’m already wondering if those slow and short runs are doing anything for me. In a rare moment of sanity I did figure out that I should give the low HR training a little more time. But if I'm already impatient after just one week, the next few weeks might become taxing.

6 Nov
5 miles, 42:05, 8:25 pace, HR 147
7 Nov
am: 5 miles, 41:35, 8:19 pace, HR 145
pm: 5 miles, 40:20, 8:04 pace, HR 149

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

More Photos

Since there is very little to tell about my running, I thought I might as well post some more Halloween photos. After all, they are worth posting.

Lola’s costume was the only one we bought, but we had to try half a dozen shops until we found a devil’s fork. She loved it, but when Mummy painted her face, she initially thought she looked stupid and wanted to hide her face. As you can see, she eventually changed her mind.

Cian made a vampire mask in school, which he demonstrated very proudly to me last week. But after Mummy put on his face paint, he refused to wear the mask because he decided that he already looked perfect. We didn’t argue, and in my opinion Mummy’s talent for face painting is stunning.

Shea recently got interested in Greek mythology (I bet you thought 7-year olds don’t do Greek mythology) and his favourite story is Theseus and the Minotaur. He decided to make his own mask, which he designed himself, and with Mummy’s help it took shape. I thought it was the scariest mask I saw all evening, but the most impressive thing is that it’s all his own work.

I guess it doesn’t hurt to sat a few things about my running. To answer Mike’s question, my max HR is about 190, and 152 is 80% of that, which is why I chose it as the upper threshold for the next few weeks of recovery running. It's easy to stay under that on the flat, but I have to slow down considerably on climbs. What struck me is that yesterday’s run was a good bit faster than Monday or today, at the same HR. Since the conditions were pretty much identical, I guess it must have been the lighter shoes (Nike Luna Trainers vs. Asics Stratus). I am really surprised to see such a difference.
4 Nov
5 miles, 41:02, 8:12 pace, HR 146
5 Nov
5 miles, 41:50, 8:22 pace, HR 147

Monday, November 03, 2008

Back to the Daily Grind

… as Niamh ruefully said last night. I’m not sure what’s grinding her down since I’m the one who had to go off to the office this morning when the holiday had ended much too soon, as holidays invariably do.

It was good to take a week off after the marathon. It definitely helped recharging my batteries, especially the mental ones. After the marathon I had felt like never running again, but within 4 days the old itch had returned, and I was back out, just like Niamh had predicted. She might know me better than I do myself.

The week in Dublin included Halloween, and all the three older ones unanimously decided that we should spend every Halloween in Dublin. There are a lot more houses in Dublin than in Caragh Lake, and trick-or-treating is much more rewarding. They came back with bags loaded with loot. I think they’re still on that sugar high, even though they’ve still not finished all their sweets. We also managed to carve the least scary pumpkin in history.

Even more importantly, at least for the parents, was Maia’s first birthday. Isn’t it amazing how quickly time passes? The birthday girl didn’t quite understand what was going on, of course, but she definitely liked the attention, and she loved the toys she got. We all enjoyed the birthday cake, and since I had just run a marathon, Niamh and Nana insisted that I would get two pieces. I didn’t complain. There’s a time for restraint, and this was not it.

Coincidentally, this also marks the anniversary of me getting rid of my car, something I remembered as I was cycling to work this morning. For once I had managed to be ahead of time, I had done that before the oil price had gone into orbit, and not just for financial reasons either. That’s not to say that it wasn’t worthwhile financially; the money used to run out well before the end of the month, these days I’ve actually still got something left by payday. With the recession amongst us, that’s definitely a plus.

I have cautiously returned to running. I have set the Garmin to beep whenever the HR goes over 152, which so far has happened at each run. As the recovery from the marathon goes on I should be able to increase the pace without crossing that threshold. At least I hope so. At the present rate I’d go nuts if I had to crawl around like that for 5 more weeks.
2 Nov
4.5 miles, 36:58, 8:14 pace, HR 146
3 Nov
5 miles, 42:15, 8:26 pace, HR 146

Saturday, November 01, 2008

On the Way to Boston

I didn’t know how long I would rest for. On Monday evening I felt like never running again, on Wednesday I still felt like taking two weeks off, and on Friday the old itch seemed to return. When I saw the weather forecast and got annoyed by the prediction of rain, I knew I was ready for a return.

My legs had already been fine, but mentally I needed the break more than physically. It’s a bit strange because the heart keeps thinking of Cork as a very successful run and Dublin as somewhat of a failure, and then the head points out that the Dublin time was 4 minutes faster.

Anyway, I managed to squeeze a run between the early morning rain showers. This proved that Niamh knows me better than I know myself, because she had predicted a return to running before the week is out. It was not long, and it probably was faster than I should have, but I guess after four days of idleness the legs were itching to burn some rubber. We’re still in Dublin, and will drive home tomorrow, and I will only run if I have time and if the weather is agreeable. Next week is still an easy recovery week of unstructured running before the next training cycle will commence, provided I feel ready. I will type out a proper training plan once I find the time, but I’ve already decided that the first 4-6 weeks will consist of only easy runs with a ceiling of 80% HR. I’ll set the alarm on the Garmin to make sure I’ll stay there (I didn’t today).

The official marathon photos are finally ready, after a long wait of 5 days. Needless to say, I won’t be spending my money on any of these shots. I think that all of them were taken during the last mile, and Niamh’s comments were not too flattering.

There are at least a dozen sets of photos from private photographers to be found on the Internet, but somehow I managed to squeeze past all of them without registering apart from one that shows me being chicked at mile 25. Not that I’m overly keen on being reminded how wrecked I looked.

The kids enjoyed Halloween, and I’ll post some photos next time. There’s no need to mix those lovely shots with the ugly ones of me in the same post.

1 Nov
4.5 miles, 35:27, 7:57 pace, HR 154

October mileage: 210

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Post Mortem

If you spend months preparing for a marathon, an analysis is inevitable, isn’t it? I have now had two days to think about the race, what went well and what didn’t, and what I can do differently next time. Yes, I’m already looking forward to the next one.

I have absolutely no regrets about going for a sub 3 hours time. I’m sure I could have shaved a minute or two off my final time with even pacing, but what would have been the point of that? Nobody is going to aim for a 3:03 marathon, at least nobody I can think of. It’s too close to 3 hours, and you inevitably start aiming for that.

Before the race I was quite confident that I could pull it off, and during the race I kept believing for a long time. The timer at the halfway mark, when I realised I was 20 seconds behind target rather than 20 seconds ahead as I had thought up to then, was the first time that doubts crept into my mind, and even then I still thought I had a good chance. It wasn’t until mile 19 that I had to admit to myself that the target was slipping away, and at that point my legs went boom and 5 minutes later I knew I was out of the hunt.

I did mention the stomach cramps in my race report, and I think they were a major factor. I initially blamed the untested brand of carbohydrate gel at mile 15 for almost throwing up, but in actual fact my stomach had been revolting for several miles already, and I don’t think the gel was directly responsible for the reaction. I also couldn’t stomach any of the sports drink. Each time it was on offer I would take a bottle, just sip a minimum amount, and then threw the bottle away, feeling guilty about wasting the content. I just could not swallow the sweet stuff, and I think I just ran out of glycogen at mile 20, the classic cause and the classic distance for hitting the wall.

I really had not expected for that to happen! Two years ago, in the Dublin marathon, I held up well until mile 22, last year in Loch Ness I was fine until mile 24, and in Cork I was fine until the end. After that sequence I don’t think it was unreasonable to think that I would be able to last the distance on Monday as well. I now know better.

What caused the stomach cramps? Well, I had been stupid, and I can only blame myself. In the days before the race I had been reading about the positive effects of caffeine for long distance running, and decided to give that a try. Of course I had not tested that in training, but let’s get real. For a long run I have to get up at around 4:50am. If I wanted to ingest caffeine an hour before that I would have to get up at 3:50, and that’s just not going to happen. I don’t think my stomach took well to the 335ml of Red Bull, delivering about 100mg of caffeine if I read the label right, an hour before the race started, and eventually it rebelled. The stomach cramps didn’t stop at the finishing line, they went on for the rest of the day and the following night, and it wasn’t until Tuesday evening that it felt somewhat ok again.

My legs, on the other hand, are recovering well. I can walk down the staircase without wincing, which is good because I seem to be going up and down like a yo-yo all day. On the other hand, I have absolutely no intentions of running at the moment, and I won’t be heading out of the door until the urge to hit the road again comes back in earnest, however long that takes. The fact that it’s absolutely freezing and miserable outside doesn’t help I guess, but even the perfect weather conditions couldn’t entice me at the moment.

So, what’s next? The plans haven’t changed, my next marathon will be Boston in April. I don’t know if I can break 3 hours there, the course is difficult, and the number of runners on the road might be a problem. First and foremost I am determined to enjoy that occasion, it’s not every day that you cross the Atlantic to run a race.

I will also change my training again. I feel almost ungrateful to diss the Brain Training approach, after all it DID deliver a 4 minutes PR. But I really think that it is not for me, the amount of speed work kept grinding me down, and the fact that I never hit the projected training paces didn’t help. It did open my eyes to the fact that I had not done enough speed work up to now, and now it is question of finding the right balance. So, for my next training cycle I’ll hop back onto the mileage bandwagon, but hope to incorporate more fast running than last year. I have yet to plan it in detail. This will have to wait until we get back home to Kerry on the weekend. For the rest of the week we’re in Dublin for a holiday. Maybe I’ll be able to face the road again once we’re back home.