Thursday, February 28, 2008

Long Run, Part I

Good God, I’m busy at the moment. Who would have thought that four young children would be so much work (kidding)? Plus, my dad is coming tomorrow for a visit, he only told us yesterday, and that adds to the stress.

I’ll keep it reasonably short. On Wednesday I had my blood tested in the morning, and had to go there on an empty stomach, which meant running long beforehand was out of the question. I settled for 6 miles, but added 2 faster miles at 6:45 pace into the middle. When choosing which pair of shoes I should wear, I impulsively decided on my racing shoes. I’ll wear them in Ballycotton next week, and this was the first time for them on the road since the Loch Ness marathon, I think. It was time to blow off the dust. The run went well, and I wasn’t as starved as I thought I would be by the time my appointment came along. I’ll have the results in about 10 days. I also ran home from work to give me a few more miles for the day, and the legs felt really great. I was surprised this was sub-8 pace, because I really had taken it easy. I’ve read somewhere that one automatically runs faster in the evenings, and my experience bears this out.

Since I’ve just had two easy days it was time to go long again today. The weather was nice enough for a proper loop around Caragh Lake, this time including the extra detour around a hill called the Devil’s Elbow, which is my preferred long run route. It turned out to be about 16.6 miles, a bit shorter than the 17 I used to write into the log. I added an out-and-back section to get me to 20 miles, but from mile 15 on it was pretty hard going because my right foot was getting really sore. It felt like my right shoe wasn’t fitting properly (the left one was perfect), I felt “something” underneath the balls of the foot, and my toes felt like they were ramming into the front of the shoe. Then, after 19 miles, the pain went away on a slight downhill stretch. I don’t know if it’s an issue with the Nike Vomeros, they’re still quite new and have about 75 miles on them, but up to today they had felt really comfortable. The other thing that bothered me was the drinks bottle I had been carrying with me. I noticed in the fancy Garmin charts that my heart rate has a tendency to creep up as the run goes on, and though that dehydration might be an issue. However, I found that I hate carrying a bottle all the time, and might do without in future, just like I’ve done all along.

I’m planning another 20 miler tomorrow to make this a sandwich. I know how much they drag towards the end, but I think they gave my endurance such a boost last year that I definitely want to do them again. Those ultras are awfully long, even the short 39 mile ones.
27 Feb
am: 6 miles, 46:00, 7:40 pace, HR 150 incl. 2 @ 6:45
pm: 5 miles, 37:58, 7:35 pace, HR 146
28 Feb
20 miles, 2:43:13, 8:09 pace, HR 147

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

Sometimes things just don’t go the way you planned. Sunday had, against all forecasts, turned into a stunningly beautiful day with plenty of sunshine. I had proudly taken my new bike for a spin (ok, not so proudly. It had been one of the cheapest bikes in the shop), and grandly announced that from Monday I’d be cycling to work again. Instead the weather turned decidedly nasty overnight, and on Monday morning I was once again battling gale force winds on my run. It meant shelving the Caragh Lake loop yet another time and settling for the Devil’s Elbow, but I guess those climbs will be good for me in the long term. It was rather hard going, and after 12 miles I definitely felt the effort in my legs. That was the low point though; somehow I started feeling better for the rest of the way. Since I had asked Niamh to once again drive me into work (it was much too windy for cycling), I ran home again in the evening, all 5 miles against a nasty headwind.

The conditions weren’t much better today, and my legs felt decidedly heavy. Initially I had left myself enough time for 13 miles, but with the sluggish pace I had to shorten the distance if I wanted to be home in time, and I eventually decided to cut it earlier than strictly necessary after 11 miles, because by then I had enough of the torture. Bad days are part of running, and I’m bound to feel the effect of all those recent miles in my legs. The main reason why I had wanted to do 13 miles today is that tomorrow is an enforced easy day. I have a doctor’s appointment to check my blood, and I’m not allowed to eat after midnight. Since running a lot of miles is not advisable if you can’t fuel up again afterwards, I’ll probably settle for something like 6 miles, which I think I’ll be able to survive. Niamh suggested not running at all, and when I mentioned my desire for 5 or 6 miles, she wryly suggested that I’ve got an addiction problem. Still, I reckon it’s not a bad addiction to have.

Coming Sunday there would be a nice race, the 10k in Adare where I broke sub-40 last year. I would have loved to go there again, but I realised that it coincides with Mother’s Day. Back in December I struck a deal with Niamh, if she lets me go she can have a night out with her friends in return. I subsequently got a bad conscience about leaving Niamh alone with 4 children on Mother’s Day when she should be pampered instead, and I told her I’d forget about the race. She’s still allowed to have her night out. Yes, I’m a lousy negotiator. Of course, this all happened before I got sick, and now the race would come too early for me anyway. I don’t think I have run faster than 7:00 pace at all this year, at least not on even grounds.

But at least the postman delivered my race number for the 10 miler in Ballycotton, which is on the Sunday after that. It’s still too early to run a fast race, but it might provide an excellent training stimulus to my rusted legs. I’ve been thinking about cutting the mileage before the race, but decided against it. It would be silly to compromise the ultra training for a preparation race.

Since I had been feeling much more optimistic over the last few days, I’ve signed up for 2 more races. One is the Bantry Bay half marathon, 4 weeks after the ultra, and the other one is the Cork City marathon, another 4 weeks later. I have no idea how the legs will take the punishment of running a marathon just 8 weeks after an ultra, but I’m keen to find out. I know at least one runner who has run his marathon PR shortly after an ultra, and while this might not happen to me, I think it’s worth a try.
25 Feb
am:15 miles, 2:03:54, 8:15 pace, HR 148
pm: 5 miles, 42:06, 8:25 pace, HR 146
26 Feb
11.1 miles, 1:36:30, 8:41 pace, HR 143 incl. 10x100 strides

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Long Run

Friday night did not go well. I had gone to bed early, and by 10 o’clock I had been sleeping like a baby. Unfortunately, by 2 am I was awake and could not fall back asleep. The noise didn’t help, from my right came the sound of the wind howling outside, and from my left came the sounds of Maia sleeping rather noisily. But I think the main reason was the nearly Full Moon, I often have troubles sleeping around that time. I kept watching the minutes on the clock tick by, and no position in bed would result in sleep. The alarm was set for 5:15, because I wanted to run 17 miles, but after 2 and a half hours of lying awake I had enough and got up to run at 4:30 in the morning. Despite a heavy cloud cover it was fairly bright outside, but the strong winds made a loop around the lake a bad option and I chose to run the Devil’s Elbow loop, my usual fall-back option. It includes a murderous climb up to a ridge (as can be seen on the chart), but has a much gentler gradient on the descent, which is why I always run it the same counter-clockwise direction. I wanted to take it reasonably easy but the legs started out at sub-8:00 pace, and never let up. During the first loop I had a little voice whisper in my ear “you have enough time for 20 miles!”, but I ignored it. It became louder during the second loop, and when I got back home after the planned 17 miles I automatically turned around again for an out-and-back section to make up 20 miles. I thought I would feel completely shattered afterwards, but actually I felt great. I was not exhausted during the day, just extremely hungry, and I continued to eat every single piece of fruit I could get my hands on.

Niamh had offered to come and collect me after work, but I declined the offer. I could have gotten a lift home from a colleague, but I was too stubborn. For some reason I really wanted to run home, and that’s what I did. I took it easy, but was surprised how easy those extra 5 miles felt. It seems there’s nothing wrong with my endurance.

I took it very easy on Saturday, just 6 relaxed miles, and a lot of rest. On Sunday I expected to feel sore from the long effort, but the legs were fine. I decided to add a few faster miles, not threshold pace, but faster than my usual miles. I picked 7:30 pace as my target, for no particular reason other than that it was achievable without straining too much. The lesson was that while my endurance is in good shape, my stamina needs some improvement. I managed 6 miles at 7:23, which is pretty much the pace I ran the Loch Ness marathon last October. I managed those 6 miles without falling apart, but it was definitely more than marathon pace. In fact, I was amazed that I used to be able to hold that pace for over 3 hours. But, looking back at the last few weeks, I am more than happy with the way things are going. My heart rate has gone down while my mileage has gone up and to top it all up the pace has improved while the effort has remained steady. Things are going splendidly! The downside is that the ultra is only 6 weeks away. I just know that I will feel better with each passing week, and that the race will come a little too soon for me, but there’s nothing I can do about that. I will have to decide how much time I will leave for the taper. Because of the enforced break in January I am tempted to cut it from 3 weeks to 2 to cram in more training, but that may be the wrong thing to do. I’ll think about it some more.

My mileage this week was rather high, but that was because I ran no less than 4 times in the evening (that's 3 times more than ever before). This was a once off.
22 Feb
am: 20 miles, 2:38:23, 7:55 pace, HR 152
pm: 5 miles, 43:23, 8:40 pace, HR 141
23 Feb
6 miles, 49:34, 8:15 pace, HR 142
24 Feb
10.2 miles, 1:19:18, 7:46 pace, HR 157, with 6 miles in 44:17 (7:23 pace)

Weekly mileage: 93.7 miles (in 11 runs)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Quick update

Those evening runs are certainly one way of boosting my mileage, but they will most likely be a temporary thing. Weather permitting, I will start cycling to work from Monday, and that will be the end of me running home. I guess I might be hard pressed next week to even match this week’s mileage, but I’ll see how I will get on.

I wanted a few faster miles on Wednesday, but after getting carried away on the treadmill 12 hours before, I had to deal with some sluggish legs first. After 2 easy warm-up miles I gradually got faster, but never really managed to get under 7:30 consistently. Still, it was the first run of that kind for a very long time, and if past history is anything to go by those runs will get better each week. I could write a mental note to myself not to get into a juvenile treadmill race the evening before a planned tempo run, but I knew that already.

I ran home again after work, which was the third evening run in a row, if you count the 2.5 miles on the treadmill on Tuesday (which I do). Niamh had to drive to Tralee early today, and I had to get up at 6 to just about manage 8.5 miles before helping her to get ready. Afterwards it was left to me to get the older 3 children ready for school, a task made harder by Lola not feeling well. Since she had a ballet exam later today, I decided to get her to school anyway (she herself insisted). When they finally left, another incident, which I really do not want to get into, left me completely stressed for work, and somehow that never left my system, I was still feeling the strain at lunchtime. I did not have a particularly good day.

To everyone's disgust the weather has finally turned, the sun has disappeared behind a big layer of clouds again, and the wind has picked up considerably. Luckily there hasn’t been much rain so far, but that could change. I would like to run my extended loop around Caragh Lake tomorrow, which I always estimated at nearly 17 miles, but I haven’t the chance to do that run with the Garmin yet. This route has always been my long run, and when I wanted to run 20 miles I tacked an out-and-back section from our house to the kids’ school to the end of it. It includes all the hills of the 15-mile Caragh Lake loop, and if the wind is too bad, this part tends to be really exposed and not much fun. I’ll see how the conditions are tomorrow.
20 Feb
am: 8.5 miles, 1:05:37, 7:43 pace, HR 154
pm: 5 miles, 40:32, 8:06 pace, HR 145
21 Feb
8.5 miles, 1:10:17, 8:16 pace, HR 149

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Even more mileage

I’m thankful there is an entire ocean between us, otherwise Mike might be tempted to strangle me. If he thought last week’s 73 miles were bad, what would he think about the present one? First of all, I don’t think the 10% rule applies when you’re rebuilding your mileage after a hiatus like the one I’ve had. I’ve been doing around 95 miles per week in December, and I think that makes it ok to up the mileage rather quickly now. Secondly, the additional 5 miles on my run home from work last Friday had not been planned, and that kind of caught me out.

The same thing happened at the start of this week, but like any excuse it isn’t quite as valid the second time round. I didn’t really plan the daily miles in advance, but drew up a rough outline in my head what I should be doing, namely slowly get into a pattern of longer runs on Monday-Wednesday-Friday. Accordingly I started the week with 13 miles on a freezing cold Monday morning. What I hadn’t considered is the fact that it’s too cold in the morning to cycle to work, hence I got a lift from Niamh, and ended up running home again on Monday. If the temperatures don’t lift soon, this might become a rather frequent occurrence. I’m able to get a lift on Tuesday when Niamh is coming home from Killarney just at the right time, and on Thursday, which means I might run home 3 days this week, giving me an additional 15 miles. If you add that to the planned increase of my morning runs you’re getting rather close to 100 miles, and not even I think that increasing your mileage from 73 to 100 is a good idea. Therefore, Wednesday’s long run will be cut short, which might be good timing anyway, because after two weeks of nice weather the rain is predicted to return that day.

I felt pretty good on Monday, and the celestial bodies put on a great show. The moon was just about to disappear when I started at 6am, and half an hour later I noticed that half the sky was covered in orange. It was a truly magical display; sunrise was still an hour away, but the first beams of light had clearly penetrated the sky. I kept looking up for the next few minutes as the orange glow started to creep back down towards the eastern horizon, ever decreasing in size but increasing in brightness. The sun was just about to rise when I returned home, and that’s when I realised that once again I hadn’t looked at my watch once, I had been far too enthralled. On days like that I feel blessed living in this part of the world. It makes up for the utter misery of December and January.

After 13 miles on Monday morning and 5 in the evening, the legs felt very stiff today. Maybe cutting today’s mileage down by a few miles would have been the intelligent thing to do, but since I was up already it would have meant a needless sacrifice of precious sleep time, and I’m loath to do that. So I dragged myself over 10 miles, taking it easy, but the heavy feeling in the legs never left. Still, the scenery helped taking my mind off things.

I went to the gym after work before Niamh would come by to collect me, and after my usual core-strengthening routine I still had over 20 minutes left, and I hopped onto the treadmill. I started with 12 km/h (8:00 pace), but seemed to get into a competition with the guy beside me, and we kept on cranking up the pace, until he dropped off at 16 km/h. Only afterwards did I put the number on the calculator, and that’s 6:02 pace? It hadn’t felt that fast, I was still comfortable enough to keep going for quite some time. I guess running on the treadmill really is different, you can’t quite compare the pace with your road running one.

My left foot was hurting in the morning for the last few days. Niggles like that are usually a sign that I need new shoes, and I’ve already got a pair of Nike Vomeros in the cupboard. I bought them at the New Year’s sales, but my enforced rest in January meant they only got their first outing 6 weeks later. Magically enough, my foot was already pain free today.

18 Feb
am: 13 miles, 1:45:23, 8:06 pace, HR 145
pm: 5 miles, 39:35, 7:55 pace, HR 147
19 Feb
am: 10 miles, 1:27:01, 8:42 pace, HR 143
pm: 2.5 miles, 18:34, 7:25 pace, treadmill

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Honestly, guv, I thought I had increased my mileage really slowly, and I was being good; I did raise my eyebrow when I added this week’s totals, because it was way more than expected. I guess that’s what an extra run does to you, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

When I left for my run on Friday morning I entertained thought about a faster run. I had awoken in time for 10 miles but the bed felt too nice and warm, and I delayed getting up until I was hard-pressed to finish 8.5. As soon as I did the first few steps I was in for a surprise though, because my quads were rather sore. It must have been a leftover from Wednesday’s 15 mile loop, and a sign that I’m definitely still way off peak shape. 2 months ago 15 miles didn’t even register on my quads (not even 20 miles, really). In the end I sucked it up and didn’t let it affect my miles for the day, but any ideas about a faster run had to be shelved. It went ok, but the soreness in my quads never went away.

Since I got rid of my car in October and I’m not allowed to cycle by doctor’s orders, Niamh had to drive me to and from work each day. The morning drop-offs were no problem because she had to get the kids to school anyway, but the evening pickup was a major inconvenience, because she had to get 4 kids ready and into the car every time, just for a 10-minute drive. On Friday I told her I’d run home from work instead. Initially she was confused (“what, instead of your morning run” “no, in addition”), and I’m sure I heard her mutter something that sounded suspiciously like “nutcase”, but she didn’t protest. On leaving office I packed my work clothes into a backpack and jogged home. It wasn’t ideal; the pack clearly wasn’t designed for running and started swinging wildly. I had to grab the straps with both hands and run with a slightly awkward pose, but I made it home. I had thought about running home in the evening before, it seems an easy way to boost my mileage, but I’ll probably start cycling again next week instead.

The weekend brought some much-needed rest, well, after my Saturday repeat of the Caragh Lake loop, that is. I usually don’t run long on the weekend to spend more time with the family, but I had gotten to bed really early and was up well before sunrise, so 2 hours out of the house when everyone else was still asleep seemed acceptable. I had fun over the hills with my Garmin toy. I ran the downhills aggressively, and it was great to see 5:30 pace displayed in all its glory. So that’s what the fast guys are doing, albeit on the flat rather than half-falling down a cliff. Admittedly, running downhill aggressively isn’t particularly advisable when your quads are sore to start with, and I promise I’ll stop doing that as soon as I’ve grown up. Until then I’ll have some more fun.

Today, Sunday, was a gorgeous clear day, with temperatures around 0C/32F and without any wind for a change. Caragh Lake was incredibly peaceful; I saw a few ducks, one swan, a family of wild goats with some very small babies, and a fish jumping out of the water for insects, apart from the usual collection of birds, sheep and cats. This is a remote road in a remote part of a remote county, and always very quiet. I usually encounter no more than 2 or 3 cars on a morning run, and maybe twice as many on the weekends when I generally run an hour or two later. The sun rose as I was on my way back home and added to the scenery. When I arrived back home I realised that this was the first time since I purchased the Garmin that I hadn’t looked at it even once during my run. The scenery must have been enough to completely take my mind off the effort. I was all the more pleased to see the low heart rate. Things are definitely going the right way.
15 Feb
am: 8.5 miles, 1:08:26, 8:03 pace, HR 154
pm: 5 miles, 41:28, 8:17 pace, HR 151
16 Feb
15.1 miles, 2:01:36, 8:03 pace, HR 153
17 Feb
10 miles, 1:19:59, 8:00 pace, HR 147

Weekly mileage: 73.7 miles in 8 runs

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Back in the Loop

I said I would post another chart as soon as I would manage a run around Caragh Lake, and true to my word here it is. When I kept telling you that there are some serious climbs on the way, I wasn’t lying, and here is the proof. The toughest part are the three climbs in succession up to the highest part of the course, then it drops all the way down only to have another, albeit smaller, hill follow immediately. And the rest of the loop isn’t exactly flat either, but I guess that’s all good for me. Since I’m still recovering from pneumonia I took it easy on the climbs, but that’s a rather relative term. The HR was fairly high, but it didn’t feel as high. Oh, and one loop around the lake is just over 15 miles. I used to log 15.5. Ah well. Let’s say I gave myself a bonus half mile for all those hills.

It felt good to be on my old loop again. I hadn’t been there since that death march a few days before Christmas, when I felt like dying for the last 7 miles. Of course now I know that my lung infection was having a big effect on my body, and I should have been able to read the signs back then, but instead I kept ignoring them. I have resolved never to be so stupid again.

The run was great, the legs were fine, especially considering how long it had been since I had managed a run of that length. I felt some fatigue on the last 2 or 3 miles, but that was to be expected. I could easily have managed a bit extra towards the end, but I have to leave something for another run, don’t I?

And I got a phone call from my doctor, my x-ray results came back, and according to them I’m officially pneumonia-free. Actually, I noticed this morning that if I lie on my left side and take a really deep breath I can still feel “something” inside my chest. Apart from the obvious answer (“then don’t do that!”) it tells me that there is still some residue left, even if it didn’t show up in the x-ray. But, 2 weeks ago I was still in constant discomfort, and that’s definitely gone, so I know that I’m getting better. The weather has been spectacular over the last few days, there is not a cloud in the sky and there is no problem with the “no running in the rain” rule. Clear skies in February mean warm days but cold mornings, and the temperatures are always around the freezing point when I do my runs. I have noticed some icy patches on the road the last few days, but nothing major. I still refuse to set my alarm and instead get up whenever I wake up naturally, but I’ll have to change that next week if I want to do some decent mileage. Considering that the ultra is less than 8 weeks away I guess that’s settled.

13 Feb
15.05 miles, 2:04:37, 8:16 pace, HR 154
14 Feb
10.05 miles, 1:24:57, 8:27 pace, HR 149

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Home Alone

Monday’s wake-up call was unusual. I’ve gotten up at 4:50 before, or even earlier, but at least then I got to run. Yesterday I had to get up at so early in order to drive across the entire country and get to work on time. I don’t think a lot of people ever had to commute from Dublin to Kerry, but since I could not possibly miss Gaga’s 75th birthday party on Sunday, and didn’t want to take an extra day off work, it required a very early start. I didn’t mind, after Manchester City’s win over the Old Enemy (also known as Manchester United, or the Filth, or the Scum, or a few slightly less endearing terms) I was so deliriously happy that nothing could possibly upset me. Actually I didn’t head straight to work, I drove via Tralee for my chest x-ray, the results of which I haven’t received yet. Niamh and the kids are still in Dublin, they will arrive tomorrow by train.

Of course I could not run before work, but I made up for it at lunchtime when I did a 5-mile loop in the bright sunshine. The weather was fabulous, so much so that I was definitely overdressed (I’m still overly cautious because of my pneumonia). The bigger problem was that I was anxious not to get back late, and ran a good bit faster than planned. I kept telling myself to slow down, but the legs had other ideas. In the end I was really pleased though, because I didn’t even know that I was still able to run at sub 7:30 pace, even at the expense of a rather high heart rate. To make up for it I ran very slowly today, and only after having a good night’s sleep. This time I was pleased to have the HR well into the 140s, but I know that I used to run that pace at much lower levels. But I can see some progress now, and am reasonably sure that I will be able to finish the Connemara Ultra 8 weeks from now, even though my original target of 5:15 seems to be well out of reach.

Since I don’t have to get the kids ready for school in the morning, I can afford to sleep a few minutes longer because it takes 20 minutes less to get ready. I might run around Caragh Lake tomorrow, for the first time since Christmas. I’ve felt absolutely fine on all of my runs since my latest comeback, and I’m sure I will be ok. I promise to take it easy over the hills, though.

11 Feb
5 miles, 37:05, 7:25 pace, HR 158
12 Feb
5 miles, 44:22, 8:52 pace, HR 146

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Old Dublin, New Dublin

We made it to Dublin on Friday, and I have hardly been able to sit down since. Yesterday we were at a wedding all day, at a very posh and surely excruciatingly expensive venue in Central Dublin. We managed to organise child care for the older kids, even though Niamh's sister didn't make herself universally popular by turning up for baby sitting a whopping 5-and-a-half hours late. We took Maia with us, and she pretty much stole the show. I don't think I've ever had so many women smile at me (at least not since I've been walking around with the last baby), and we got tons of remarks how beautiful she is. That's always nice to hear, isn't it?

Even the running seems to go better here. I remarked to Niamh that either the world is shaped differently here or the roads just happen to be a lot flatter than the undulating ones in Kerry, but all of a sudden I'm running a lot faster at the same effort level and with a lower HR. Maybe me whining about all that in my previous post had some effect? Anyway, things are definitely on the up. I had plenty of people yesterday enquiring about how I felt (news of my pneumonia must have travelled far), and I constantly assured them that I feel fully recovered. Maybe it's psychosomatic that I seemed to feel some twinge in my left chest today? Anyway, I'm travelling back to Kerry tomorrow morning (very early morning!) and will have a chest x-ray in Tralee as soon as I get there, and I'm pretty sure I will get the all-clear.

I admit I ran a good bit faster over the last 2 miles yesterday because when the Garmin gave me an average pace of 8:01 I got a bit excited and put down the accelerator to get my first run under 8:00 pace in ages. To make up for that, I took it really easy today. Yesterday was a stunningly beautiful day and I had spotted some gentle green hills in the distance and decided to try and get there today. After a few tries I managed to find a twisty little road that led me out of the suburbs into what was essentially country side; a road that looked like most roads were like in Ireland 20 years ago, small, quaint, accident-prone and somehow very likeable. I couldn't help but notice the big building site whose obvious function is to replace that little country road with a broad, straight major through road, so that whoever wants to get from A to B can do so without the distraction of trees, fields and horses, and I was glad that I had found that little spot before the Celtic Tiger will eat up yet another piece of Old Ireland and replace it with concrete and steel.

The road eventually crossed the M50 motorway on a shiny, expensive, brand-new bridge, only to end 20 meters further at a gate with a mud track. Bizarre. Mary, my mother-in-law, knew what I was talking about when I described it. She's quite sure that there will be further developments soon in that area. Sometimes I really think there is far too much new money in this country.

8 Feb
8.5 miles, 1:11:47, 8:26 pace, HR 153
9 Feb
11.1 miles, 1:28:27, 7:58 pace, HR 159
10 Feb
13 miles, 1:47:31, 8:16 pace, HR 150

Thursday, February 07, 2008


For the past years I have generally been able to tell the state of my fitness by monitoring my heart rate during my runs, especially my easy runs. Accordingly I've kept a close eye on my HR since I've resumed running after my pneumonia, and the results aren't exactly what I was hoping for. The heart rate did drop by quite a few beats for the first few days, but hasn't really improved since. The situation is slightly complicated by the fact that I have changed from my trusty basic Polar HRM to a more fancy and less reliable Garmin, but I can still track the progress - or lack of it. Maybe I'm just too impatient, and an improvement is just around the corner, but somehow I'm getting doubts about how much those 5-mile easy runs are doing for me. I'm slowly increasing the mileage of my runs in the hope that the situation will improve. I'm still running exclusively easy runs, even though the HR is up to levels that were previously reserved for high tempo runs. I seem to have adopted 8:30 pace as my cruising pace over the last few days, and comparing those workouts to past ones doesn't make pretty reading. On 22 November I ran 10 miles at 8:20 pace with a HR of 139. Yesterday I ran 10 miles over the same course at 8:24 pace with an average HR of 158. Not good. But, as I've said, maybe I'm just too impatient.

The worst thing was running 10 miles alongside Caragh Lake with the Garmin at my wrist and realising that the 5-mile turnaround point was almost 50 seconds further out than previously thought. I'm not going to go back through my running logs and add 10 seconds per mile to the pace for each run on the course, but that would have been the correct pace, I'm afraid. Ah well.

Actually, saying that I'm increasing the mileage of my runs isn't entirely accurate. I'm not setting my alarm in the morning, just get up whenever I wake naturally, and that pretty much determines the miles I have time for (and if Shea wakes up with me I have to sacrifice a mile or two to make him breakfast and have a chat). As it happens, yesterday I got up at 6:10, which left enough time for 10 miles, today I got up 10 minutes later and managed 8.5 miles, which was perfectly fine by me. The weather has improved, I didn't get any rain, even though the dark clouds looked rather ominous this morning. The temperature yesterday had been 0C/32F, today it was balmy 13C/55F, and I was roasting in my two layers.

We're off to Dublin tomorrow for a wedding. My miles will most likely take a slight hit there. And I have to avoid the evil eye of my mother-in-law. For years she has insisted that all that running is very bad for me, and I'm going to make a young widow out of Niamh (she really said that). She was almost triumphant when I developed pneumonia, because it had proved her right. She'll be absolutely disgusted to see me running again.

6 Feb
10 miles, 1:23:55, 8:24 pace, HR 158
7 Feb
8.5 miles, 1:12:02, 8:28 pace, HR 158

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Slow Improvements

Thank you everyone who took the time to comment on my strange HR readings, this is really appreciated. You know, the thought of a malfunctioning HRM didn’t even cross my mind. I’ve had a Polar HRM for almost 3 years, and have come to completely trust its readings. I’ve obviously transferred the same trust to the Garmin HRM, which isn’t quite as justified. That toy is brand new, I really don’t think an empty battery is the problem. As for things like wetting the contacts, I always do that anyway; I might try some contact gel as well. Having said all that, the last 2 workouts didn’t repeat the same strange readings. Maybe the aliens in their passing UFOs were still asleep.

Update: Today, after half a mile, I stopped for a moment to redo my strap that felt like slipping off my chest. And guess what? The HRM chart is showing a big spike for those few seconds. It really looks like a bad contact is causing those high readings.

On Monday I had the same conversation twice in the office: “Good morning, Thomas, how are you feeling today?” “Thanks, much better” “Good, because you looked absolutely horrible last week.” (!!!) The second person wasn’t quite as blunt, but the message was the same. Maybe they should have said something last week when I was apparently as pale as a sheet of paper, because I had felt reasonably ok.

I had hoped to run slightly longer than 5 miles either yesterday or today, but it never happened. I deliberately didn’t set the alarm, just got up whenever I woke up, which always seems to happen at 6:20 these days. Both times it took longer than usual to get out of the door. Yesterday I had to make Shea some breakfast, today I waited until that rain shower had passed. It still looked a bit dodgy towards the West, so for the first time ever I wore that rain poncho that I had gotten as a freebie from M&B a few months ago. It looks like a garbage bag with holes, but I was surprised how well it worked. Other waterproofs always left me feeling much too hot, it was like I was steaming in my own sauna, but that sleeveless poncho worked much better. The only drawback is that due to its, well, generous proportions it blows up like a balloon in the wind. Originally the hood kept coming off my head, but then I had a brainwave and used my headlamp on top of the hood to keep it in place. It did start raining again while I was out there on the course, and I expected Niamh to scald me for running in wet conditions against the doctor's orders, but she didn’t seem to mind.

The weather is supposed to improve for the next few days, and I’m keen to add a few miles to my runs. I’ll start leaving out my running gear in the evening to shorten the time it takes to get ready in the morning, and if that’s not sufficient preparation to get more miles I’ll have to give in and start setting my alarm clock again. I just prefer to wake up naturally, but at least I won’t be forced to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning any more.

4 Feb
5 miles, 41:32, 8:18 pace, HR 161
5 Feb
5 miles, 42:25, 8:29 pace, HR 155

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Strange Readings

I know I promised not to post any charts, but I think this is a bit extraordinary. Can anyone with some physiological understanding explain to me just what happened during the first 7-or-so minutes of Friday’s workout? That heart rate is just insane, and it’s not like I was sprinting up a hill, I was running along relaxed and easily. There’s a drop and then a climb out of our house (the pace chart pretty much conforms to the elevation of the road), but we’re not talking real hills there. The drop is about 35 feet and the subsequent climb about 70 feet and neither is very steep. And the heart rate remained elevated for a few further minutes on relatively flat road, until it suddenly dropped from the 170s into the 140s. I know that the aerobic system takes a few minutes to kick in, is that what happened? Is my anaerobic system shot to shreds while my aerobic engine in relatively decent condition? Any answers are appreciated.

I did those 5 miles on Friday, and remained relaxed and easy until about 1.5 miles before the end when the weather gods sent hail and sleet along my way, and I accelerated a bit to get out of that. Of course the spook had stopped by the time I was back home. The weather forecast for Saturday had predicted a reasonably dry start and rain for the rest of the day, so I set out early while I was still allowed outside. I extended my run from 5 miles to 7, partly because I’m feeling a bit better each day, and partly because I was itching to get a reading of the Caragh Lake road on my new Garmin toy. I had been smug how accurate my distances on the Ard-na-Sidhe road had been, unfortunately the readings on the Caragh Lake road didn’t quite follow. The first 3 miles turned out to be longer than I had always assumed, and if you want to add 10 seconds per mile for each past workout along that route, you can do so. Interestingly, I clawed back some of the inaccuracies on the next half mile, which is where I turned around, but I assume that the 5 mile point, to where I tended to go for my numerous 10 mile runs, is a bit further out than previously thought. I’ll check that out once I’m off the restraint. And I’ll try not to worry about the fact that the Caragh Lake loop might be half a mile shorter. Whatever the case may be, at least my race times in the sidebar won’t be affected.

The weather forecast for Sunday had been rain, rain and more rain, and I fully expected an enforced rest day (the gym is closed on Sundays). This was indeed confirmed when I looked out of the window first thing in the morning, and I eventually got into the shower. However, then the rain stopped and the sky looked reasonably bright towards the west, and I said to Niamh “I know it’s stupid because I just had a shower, but I’ll go for a short run”. “You’ve said it yourself”. I headed out for 5 miles to Ard-na-Sidhe again, making sure to take it exceptionally easy for the first few minutes to avoid a heart rate disaster like on Friday, and managed indeed to get back home before the rain restarted for good.

At some stage they will have to allow me to run in the rain again. I just don’t know when yet. I guess the next chest x-ray will give us some clues.

1 Feb
5 miles, 43:52, 8:46 pace, HR156
2 Feb
7 miles, 1:01:02, 8:43 pace, HR 156
3 Feb
5 miles, 42:25, 8:29 pace, HR 155