Sunday, March 30, 2008


Now that those pesky speed workouts are out of the way I had to find a new way of inflicting immense pain upon myself, I guess. Why else would I have finally caved in to Niamh and visited the sports physio clinic in Killarney? I even took the afternoon off work for the pleasure.

I have to admit, the guy knew what he was doing. After a brief chat about my training I mentioned my cramping problems in my calves, and before I knew it he was having a good, deep poke around, and hit it pretty much where it hurt. He then used some acupuncture needles for a dry needle treatment. It took a few tries for him to find the exact trigger point, but when he found it my whole calf quivered, and I nearly jumped up to the ceiling in pain. That flippin hurt! He repeated the process on the other calf (where an identical trigger point was found on exactly the same spot), and then gave me a rather painful sports massage. Each time he asked “is that where it hurts” I could only confirm, and he kneaded the hell out of it. After a while I was tempted to lie about the painful spots, it hurt so much, but I managed to get through.

He also told me not to run on Saturday, but that I would be ok on Sunday. In the evening my calves were the most sore they had ever been (though, in fairness, I might simply have forgotten how much they hurt after my first marathon or last year's ultra), and with the combination of pain and the miserable weather I wasn't tempted to disobey his orders the following day.

But I felt fine on Sunday, and went out for my last double-digit run before the race. I have by now more-or-less chosen what I'm going to wear next Sunday, but each item has a back-up one, just in case, and today I wore all the B-list stuff, from top to toe. It meant running in a t-shirt, because I wanted to test if I can take the cold on my arms, after running in long sleeves every day since my recovery from pneumonia. All the items passed the test, and I'll wear the actual planned race outfit on Wednesday, just to make sure I get a proper dress rehearsal. The plan for the run was to run 8-minute miles for the entire 10 miles, which is my planned race pace. Initially it seemed harder than I would have liked, and it took about 7 miles to finally get into the groove, but from then on I was cruising, and I felt I could have kept at that pace forever, which is what I was looking for. Of course, doing the same thing 4 times longer is an entirely different proposition, but that's the challenge waiting for me.

28 Mar
6 miles, 46:58, 7:49 pace, HR 148
29 Mar
30 Mar
10 miles, 1:19:37, 7:57 pace, HR 143

Weekly Mileage: 44

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Too Slow

Most runners have workouts that they can handle very well, and others where they are struggling. I’d say my strength is the long run, and especially the quick recovery afterwards. On the other hand, speed workouts just do not agree with me. Maybe I’ll improve with more practise, which may be put to the test after the ultra, but that remains to be seen.

I didn’t feel very good on Wednesday morning, my stomach made it pretty clear it didn’t feel up to running, but there are no excuses for skipping a 6 mile recovery run – I should be able to do that any time I like. I ran slowly over the first three miles until the turnaround point, but gradually increased the pace on the way home. A call of nature made me rather desperate to get home sooner rather than later. I’ll spare you the details, but it wasn’t pleasant. I was just glad I had made it home in time.

I still felt rather iffy today, but went out to do Pfitz’s traditional 3x1600 10 days before race day. In contrast to the 400s I did on Sunday I made damn sure I wasn’t starting too fast. Unfortunately I turned the dial too much in the other direction – halfway through the first mile I glanced at my Garmin, and the average pace was slower than 7:00. I did speed up a bit, but it was a bit late already. The second mile went better; it was around the pace I expected. The third one was crap again, and I haven’t got any excuses. This wasn’t quite the workout I had in mind, but I’ll try and forget about it as soon as I can. I intend to run 39 miles at much slower pace 10 days from now, and that’s something I’m better at than running mile repeats, so there. And the stomach will surely have recovered by then.

26 Mar
6 miles, 50:30, 8:25 pace, HR 137
27 Mar
7.5 miles, 59:21, 7:55 pace, HR 148
including 3x1mile @ 6:42, 6:29. 6:39

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Taper Thoughts

I think this is going to be a short entry for once. There isn't that much to say about those short runs that form the taper. I had a quick look at Pfitz's schedules for the taper, and more or less copied them (well ... maybe less). I certainly did a double take on the mileage for Monday. 6 miles? That's hardly worth getting out of bed for! I think it's a new mindset that's required here. I did as it says on paper though. Grudgingly. I already wished the taper were over.

The legs felt surprisingly stiff after that recovery run, though. Those 400s are obviously still causing havoc. In light of that, the low mileage was probably advisable. Today wasn't much longer, 8.5 miles, with the middle 4 miles at tempo pace. I tried to start those at measured pace, unlike normally when I take off like I'm escaping from the haunted bogs, but I think I still started too fast. All in all those 4 miles took 27:50, which is almost a minute longer than what I had in mind. I can still use the 400s as an excuse though. Maybe doing a tempo or speed workout every second day is a bit much at that stage, I'm not recovered from the previous effort when the next one comes along. Then again, I've only one more planned. If you're familiar with Pfitz's schedule then you know about his 3x1600 about 10 days before race day, and I'll try and tackle those on Thursday. After that, it's just recovery.

I'm really tired today. I thought I would be able to catch up on sleep over the Easter weekend, but that didn't happen. I blame it on the Full Moon, I always have troubles sleeping around that time, and I was awake before 6am every apart from Sunday (so was Shea, which certainly didn't help). At least I don't have to get up early for my runs, thanks to the reduced mileage. There's still hope that I can catch up on sleep before race day. As Mike pointed out in a recent comment, rest and nutrition are probably more important than mileage during the taper, which is a view I completely subscribe to. I'm eating healthily anyway (that's a benefit of being married to a vegetarian), apart from the Easter chocolate (I never claimed to be ascetic), but there's definitely room for improvement on the rest front. I'll work on that.

24 Mar
6 miles, 50:27, 8:24, HR 135
25 Mar
8.5 miles, 1:05:01, 7:38 pace, HR 152
including 4 miles in 27:50 @ 6:57

Sunday, March 23, 2008

How Not To Do Intervals

Time's flying, I can barely keep track. Not only is it 3 days since my last blog update, it's only 2 weeks until the ultra. I'll be standing on that start line before I realise it. Am I really ready for it? With the interruption of pneumonia, this training cycle has been so short, it's like everything happened in fast-forward.

Following my plan of doing lower mileage at higher intensity during this taper, I started Friday with 7 miles, 2 warm-up, 3 tempo pace, 2 cool-down. I didn't have specific plans for the tempo part, apart from trying to run fast but relaxed. That relaxed bit is something I recalled just the other day; you run faster at lower effort if you're relaxed instead of pushing too hard. That's probably something I would have done well to remember in Ballycotton a fortnight ago, but it's too late to rectify that. The three miles and their heart rates came through in 6:50 (163), 6:52 (167) and 6:44 (172) . I'm happy enough with the pace, but the HR is definitely a bit higher than expected, especially for the last one, but then again I have hardly done any training at those paces, and there's bound to be room for improvement.

When you're doing tempo and speed sessions you should follow the hard-easy principle, which meant 10 easy miles on Saturday. I tried to ignore the pace figures on my Garmin and relaxed over the entire run. I was back home in about 85 minutes, but felt as fresh as a daisy, which was the point of the entire exercise, really.

I know that doing your first speed session 2 weeks before a major race isn't the normal thing to do, but I have already explained my thinking in the previous post. I think I read somewhere that your first interval session should consist of fairly short runs, so I chose 400s. And picked 10 of them, for no other reason than that it's a round number. I did give myself permission to bow out early if I felt like it, though. Up to now, with the lack of track access, these workouts were always rather awkward. I would either run purely by time (e.g. 90 seconds fast rather than 400 meters) which gave no feedback on the actual pace, or I would more or less estimate the required distance on the road, which was bound to be inaccurate. With my new Garmin toy on my wrist I had a new way, I could program the device and simply follow its beeps. The funny thing was, the way it was set up, I could not see the actual time per interval on the display, but I figured that that would be a good thing, I would have to rely more on my own feel for pacing.

1:21(173), 1:23(177), 1:24(177), 1:27(175), 1:29(176), 1:30(173), 1:30(175), 1:32(174), 1:35(170), 1:29(175)

Take it from me, you will start hating that slave driver hanging on your arm when doing those sessions. 90 seconds of recovery have never been so short, and I was always still out of breath by the start of the next one. I did the first 3 at very high intensity, and then felt like throwing up. I had the option of running until collapse (which seemed inevitable), pulling out, or slowing down a little bit, and chose the last one. I wanted to do at least 8, and started to concentrate more on relaxed form rather than pace or effort. Looking through the numbers now I can see a little jump in the times, but not as much as expected (I thought from the 4th repetition on I would be at least 10 seconds slower), which once more proves the importance of relaxed running form. The worst thing about the numbers is the fact that I got slower with each interval, exactly what you're supposed to avoid. The heart rate was pretty much where I expected it to be.

I just checked McMillan's calculator, and it would have me run 400s in 1:23-1:28, which I did for the first 4 but not for any of the others. Again, for the first session that probably wasn't too bad, but if I had started a bit slower I might have been able to do the rest of the session at the required pace as well. That's something I type nearly every time after one of those workouts. Will I ever learn?

I don't think I will do another workout like this before the race, I could not be sure to recover in time. Of course, you may ask, what's the point of doing just one workout? Well, maybe there isn't one, or maybe it will help for the races afterwards. I don't know, to be honest. I admit, I'm making this up as I go along.

21 Mar
7 miles, 53:45, 7:40 pace, HR 151
including 3 miles 6:50 (163), 6:52 (167), 6:44 (172)
22 Mar
10 miles, 1:25:42, 8:34 pace, HR 135
23 Mar
8.1 miles, 1:05:24, 8:04 pace, HR 151
including 10x400

Weekly Mileage: 69.6

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lonely Encounters

I guess I'm tapering now, though I still have to find that switch in my mind; I'm still thinking of miles, lots of them, and then have to scale down. I did 15 miles yesterday, just like I had planned, on an icy cold day. It was below 0C when I left and the ground was covered in frost (NO!! MY POTATOES!!!) but I quickly warmed up over the first miles, and especially on those wicked climbs that followed. I kept the effort reasonably easy, but accelerated over the last 5 miles, like I used to do. I didn't manage better than 38:16 (7:39 pace) for those 5, which initially pissed me off until I remembered that I had run 27.5 miles only 3 days previously. I have recovered amazingly quickly from that, there's no soreness in my legs at all, just in my right shoulder, but of course there's still some residue of fatigue in there.

I encountered a curious mix of lonely animals on the road; first a hare, then a cow (which ran away from me despite the fact that she could trample me to death), and young puppy dog that kept jumping right in front of me and a rabbit. All of them were on their own, which was a bit curious with the cow. I hate it when farmers can't keep their animals behind closed gates. Accidents happen rather easily that way.

There are probably as many ideas about the taper as there are runners. I intend to cut down on the mileage (70-ish this week, 50-ish next week, very little in the last week) but increase the intensity, so there will be a tempo run or two as well as an initial speed session. This will be unlikely to help me much for the ultra, but I also have an eye on the two races after that, and maybe, just maybe, doing a few faster sessions now will reap some rewards later on. In any case, the idea of increasing the intensity during the taper isn't just my own madness; several well-known coaches work that way (though you can find plenty who disagree, of course).

The weather has turned sour again, but I got away with it this morning; it was windy and the sky was covered in thick grey clouds, but luckily it didn't rain. I started at about 8:30 pace, added a few accelerations, ended up getting faster with each mile, got to 7:50 pace average, and it all felt really easy. I think I won't be quite in peak shape for the ultra, I simply did not have enough time after my pneumonia, and another 3 or 4 weeks would get me there, but I feel great nevertheless; and there's still hope that I will be in top condition for the Cork marathon, as long as I manage to recover in time.

19 Mar
15 miles, 2:01:03, 8:04 pace, HR 143
20 Mar
8.5 miles, 1:06:31, 7:49 pace, HR 142

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Naturally High

Wasn't I supposed to be completely knackered and in desperate need of recovery after running over 27 miles in one go? I was wiped after each of my marathons, and all of a sudden I apparently can run even further than that and still function normally afterwards. I was on a complete high after Sunday's run, and it kept going. On Monday morning I got up, fixed breakfast for the boys, baked a loaf of bread, run 7.5 miles and only stopped because I figured I shouldn't overdo things, did the laundry and got Maia ready for the day, all before 11 am. In the afternoon I joined Cian on his triumphal Paddy's Day Parade in Glenbeigh (his pre-school were taking part), then I dug three long trenches in the garden to plant potatoes (that's what the Irish do, you know), ran another 5 miles and still had plenty of energy left. It was only later in the evening when I sat down on the sofa that I started feeling tired, and my quads got sore. I thought that DOMS was finally catching up with me, but when I woke today shortly after 6 am I felt fresh and ready for another run, and I did 8.5 easy miles.

I really don't want to ruin my ultra by going completely bonkers 3 weeks before the race, but I can't stop marvelling how great I'm feeling, and I reckon that as long as I feel good I'm not overtraining. As mentioned in a previous post I was planning another long run this week, but I'm slightly cutting back. I'll do 15 miles tomorrow rather than 18 or so on Thursday, mainly because the weather forecast for Thursday is foul, and tomorrow is supposed to be cold but clear, just like today. After that, I'm definitely tapering.

Guess what's my only body part that's hurting? My right shoulder! I'm not making this up. Carrying a bottle for such a long time seemed to have upset something there; it's quite sore and wants rest. My left shoulder is fine, which is strange because it did the same amount of work, and I'm right-handed.

There's one more thing I forgot to mention about Sunday's run. After 10 miles, when coming off the cross country section and running back on the road, my right calf started cramping! Initially I really didn't know what had hit me, but I figured it must have been the change in surface that was responsible, and the climbing over the gates seemed to have upset my leg muscles. However, the spasms soon went away all by themselves and nothing bothered my legs for the next 17 miles.

My heart rate has dropped massively since Sunday, but only the other day I read on the letsrun board that a low heart rate can be a sign of empty glycogen stores, and the day after a 27 miles run that certainly can't be ruled out, even though I've been eating like the Ravenous Beast for two days since the event. Just like a high HR is not necessarily a bad sign, a low one isn't necessarily a good one. Personally I still think it's due to the extra fitness acquired over the last 2 weeks, mainly because I'm feeling so well and running is so easy. All my runs since Sunday have started at around 9:00 pace for the first mile or two, and then the legs slowly increased the pace slightly without being told to do so, until I was cruising at around 8:15 or so. This pace felt incredibly easy.
17 Mar
am: 7.5 miles, 1:04:25, 8:35 pace, HR 134
pm: 5 miles, 42:50, 8:34 pace, HR 135
18 Mar
8.5 miles, 1:11:36, 8:25 pace, HR 133

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Long Gone

When I re-started running after the Loch Ness Marathon I expected to do a lot of very long runs, like ultra runners are supposed to do. Of course, with my pneumonia, things didn't work out that way, and I was happy enough to increase my long runs to 20 miles. I still wanted to run longer than that at least once, and today was the day.

On the one hand I didn't want to start tired, on the other hand I didn't want to put my training on hold for the sake of one training day, so I did 10 miles each on Friday and Saturday, both of them at reasonably easy pace. I realised afterwards that Saturday was the only time all week I managed to get under 8:00 pace on average, which is of course down to last Sunday's race. With the whole week more or less (maybe less) dedicated to easy recovery, I felt in good shape today.

Originally I had envisaged myself running very slowly, with a few walking breaks, and laden with supplies. The closer I got to the day the more I changed my mind, and I decided to emulate what I would do on race day. This meant running with two bottles in my hands, one water the other one a carbs/protein drink, because that's how I ended up running for good stretches of last year's ultra. It also meant running the entire time, though I made sure to keep the pace easy. I also decided to have a good hearty breakfast 2 hours before running, which meant getting up at 6:30. That wasn't a problem, I got up as soon as I woke naturally, which is what happens when you're fast asleep by 10pm. I went back to bed after that but didn't manage any more sleep. At some stage it meant getting ready myself, making breakfast for the kids and preparing my bottles. The carbs/protein drink was a mixture of rice milk and slim fast, which I had used in last year's ultra, and it seemed to agree with me. I used 4 scoops for 500ml of rice milk, which made a very creamy mixture; while I was fine with it and even liked the taste, I'll probably reduce the amount of slim fast for the race, to make it a bit more drinkable.

Anyway, shortly after 8:30 I headed out, with Niamh's words “I must have married a madman” ringing in my ears. I took it very easy, and set off at around 9:00 pace, which I intended to keep for the entire distance if possible. The weather was better than predicted; despite the heavy cloud coverage it never rained, the wind was ok for most of the run, and the temperatures were just about perfect. For the first 8 miles I followed the road around Caragh Lake, and then I followed the “Kerry Way”, which took me off road for the first time in a long time. The road got muddier and muddier, and eventually the sign pointed straight into a wood, where I could not make out a way. I stopped for a second, eventually hesitantly following the signs, but managed to spot another sign further on. This section turned into a bit of an adventure course, after a trail covered in roots I crossed a swamp (they provided little bridges for the worst sections), I had to climb over a few gates, and at one stage had to climb on all fours up a few stony steps, which was a bit tricky with my two bottles. Just as I was wondering how far I was from civilisation, I met another soul, out fishing. “You must have run far” “About 10 miles”. Shortly after that the route left the cross-country section behind and I was on paved road for the rest of the run. I was now in Glencar, a very remote collection of houses deep inside the Kerry wilderness. There is one central point, the Climber's Inn, which happened to be open, and where the landlady refilled my water bottle while I had a short chat with the patrons inside. I set off again, now heading northwards on a steadily climbing road. I reached the summit near a stunningly beautiful lake called Loch Acoose, right at the foot of the Reeks, Ireland's highest mountains. On a clear day the view is incredibly spectacular; the four mountains of Skregmore, Beenkeeragh, Carrauntoohill and Caher are forming the Coomloughra Horseshoe, the three latter ones being the three highest mountains in the entire island. Unfortunately they all had their heads in the clouds, which made the view less awesome, though it made for better running conditions. The road had been climbing for four miles, which meant I would be descending for the next four. Interestingly, the next 5 miles turned out to be the worst part of the run, I started to feel tired and still had a long way to go. I could see the valley stretching out for miles in front of me, and I knew that I would be travelling along the entire route. Downhill running can be just as tough as uphill, and today it definitely felt worse. Eventually I reached the end of that stretch, and a sharp turn brought me into much more familiar territory on the road towards Caragh Lake. I could see back into the valley and the mountains where I had just come from, and felt quite proud to have run all that way, with this being only a small part of today's run. I soon reached the 20 miles point, and knew I wasn't far from home. I started to feel better again, and decided to keep going even after reaching our driveway; I had come all that way, at least I should cover the entire marathon distance. The best thing about our driveway was the opportunity to finally ditch the bottles; my shoulders were rather tired by now. I had covered exactly 24 miles at that point, and felt rather gung-ho, so I decided not just to add 2.2 miles on an out-and-back section but to run another little loop. I passed the marathon point in about 3:52, not exactly blazingly fast, but of course this was just a training run. I was back home after 27.5 miles, feeling mightily pleased with myself.

I considered doing another 2 miles to get my weekly mileage up to 100, but decided they would be pure vanity miles and I shouldn't overdo things. I felt great, but 2 extra miles could be the straw that broke the camel's back, as they say around here.

I expected to be completely shattered after that run, but I'm totally energetic. After family lunch I cleaned the kitchen, played with Cian and Shea, and now I'm about to drill a few holes into the wall to put up a book shelf for Lola. Niamh commented that I looked like someone who had just gotten out of bed and is ready for a new day, which I think was a compliment. She asked if I would do another run like that, but while I had a fantastic time, the race is only three weeks away. I still haven't decided if 2 or 3 weeks of taper would be better; I might compromise, do one more long run (not as long as today of course) in the middle of the week, and taper from then on. At the moment I feel like I could run forever, which is a good thing for someone looking forward to an ultra, I suppose.
14 Mar
10 miles, 1:21:04, 8:06 pace, HR 139
15 Mar
10 miles, 1:18:57, 7:53 pace, HR 148
16 Mar
27.5 miles, 4:03:10, 8:50 pace, HR 139

Weekly Mileage: 98.6

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Final Ballycotton Thoughts

Right, all you smart arses, how can you possibly tell from that photo that she was overtaking me, and not the other way round? In case you really want to know, there were 13 out of 698 women ahead of me at the finish, but I can't tell if the one in the photo is amongst them. So there.

I still can't quite work out why Ballycotton is so popular. It's great for the elites because of the incredibly strong field, and it's great for the once-a-year crowd because of the atmosphere created by the sheer number of runners. However, for the ones in-between like me it's less than ideal. You can't warm up, and the number of idiots who insist at starting near the front even though they have no business there makes the first 2 miles a complete pain, and completely wastes the downhill bonus. That doesn't take anything away from the incredibly well run organisation. How they managed to get well over 2000 people in and out of such a tiny place without any congestion is astounding, and the race went off without a glitch, like every year. Amazing. Still, I'm not sure if I'll go there again. I probably prefer smaller races.

Just like last week's tempo runs, the race is taking me a bit longer to recover from than I'm used to. On Wednesday my legs were still tired and heavy, and I made sure to take it really easy. It was only a short run, which was great because it meant I could catch up on sleep a little bit. It was still rather windy, but nowhere near the conditions like the previous two days. Mind you, I still got wet from one of those passing showers. The problem with those is that you stay wet even after they have passed over. Don't I know it!

I had toyed with the idea of running 20 miles today, but since I am planning a really long run on the weekend I cut it to 17, which also meant an extra 25 minutes of sleep. Sleep has been getting rather rare in the last week or two. I have tried sleeping about 8 hours on average since the New Year, and while I didn't quite get there, I wasn't too far off either. Somehow this has slipped, but I'll have to get it right again. I don't want to feel tired all the time.

Anyway, today's run. The wind had finally stopped, but I didn't trust the elements and in an attempt to avoid getting too wet I decided to run two loops around the Devil's Elbow instead, which would give me the option of getting changed half way through if needs be. As a water-avoiding plan this backfired spectacularly, because less than two miles into the run I came across a flooded section, and since it was still very dark (well before 6 am) I couldn't see where I was going and promptly ended up with my right foot in ankle-deep, icy cold water. I knew the next 15 miles wouldn't feel overly comfortably on that foot, but actually I managed to ignore the clammy feeling in my toes for most of the run. Of course I came across the same section again on my second loop, but by then it was much brighter, I could see where I was going and “only” ended up in an inch-deep foot bath. The rest of the run was pretty uneventful; I'm surprised how easy 17 miles are these days, even over very hilly terrain. For the most time I was happy enough to just plod along, but I did manage around 7:30 pace for the last 3 or 4 miles, even if that section is slightly net downhill.

I got permission from Niamh to run long on the weekend, probably Sunday because I have got a few chores to do on Saturday, and the weather forecast is pretty much the same for both days. I expect to get wet. I haven't decided how far exactly I'm going to run yet. Early today I thought that 4 hours might be too long because I haven't gone past 2:45 during my entire training, and maybe I should just run 3:30 at my planned race pace. Then I realised that this would mean running an entire marathon at quite some pace, which mightn't be the best idea if I want to be recovered come the actual race day. I still don't know. I tend to recover amazingly quickly from a long run, but this is new territory.
12 Mar
8.5 miles, 1:10:51, 8:20 pace, HR 141
13 Mar
17 miles, 2:19:13, 8:11 pace, HR 143

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

After the Race

Thanks everyone for the nice comments, they are all very much appreciated. The more I think about the race the happier I am with it. McMillan's running calculator has this as my best race ever, but the WAVA calculator rates it slightly less than the 10k I ran last year in Adare. When I crossed the finishing line I was disappointed to miss 65 minutes, but I have come to the conclusion that it was never on the cards. It all comes back to the pneumonia.6 weeks is not a lot of training by any means, and taking that into account I think I ran as well as I could. I have been wondering if I could have kept up with Grellan and Brendan when they pulled away from me at 3.5 miles, but looking at my heart rate chart tells me that my heart rate was already way too high. It had gone all the way up to 187 on the second mile, 97% of my max, and so far higher than is recommended for a 10 miler, it's off the scale. In light of that I'm surprised I managed to hold on as well as I did.

Grellan pointed out that I am on one of the race photos after all, a rather dark one though. I'm the one in the yellow singlet, Brendan is two steps in front of me. It must have been taken around the 3 mile marker, probably just as I was realising that I was falling apart.

Since this was only a preparation race for Connemara, I didn't hang around for recovery either. My first plan was to run a long run on Monday, following the possibly dumb theory that running on tired legs is good ultra training. However, the weather forecast had left no doubts, there were storms of serious magnitude on the way, and I wondered if I would be able to run at all. I woke at 5:30m which would have been enough time for 15 miles and turned around straight away, the wind and rain sounded just brutal. I did get up about an hour later and braved the elements for 7.5 miles. The legs were just as stiff as expected, but I managed ok. So much so, in fact, that I added 4 miles at lunchtime on the treadmill in the gym, while watching the world almost get blown apart outside.

The wind was even worse today, but I was determined to get my workout done anyway. The sound of the rain was discouraging as I was about to venture out, so I waited 5 minutes, and luck was on my side as the rain gradually lessened, enough to be able to go out. By some miracle I managed to avoid all puddles on our driveway and went on my way relatively dry. Unfortunately by mile 5 a torrential downpour started, and within half a minute I was soaked to the bones. I contemplated turning back home after the first loop, but just as I reached the junction in question the rain stopped again, and I headed towards the second loop. The wind never ceased, and it was bad, no doubts about it. I looked up the data in the weather pages afterwards, and it reported gusts of up to 100km/h (62mph). I don't think I had to face gales quite as bad as that, but it was challenging all the same. It seemed to brighten up later on and I cycled to work, but in the afternoon Niamh called me and basically forbade me to cycle home, it was too dangerous. She gave me a lift instead. The conditions are finally supposed to improve during the day tomorrow.

I'm planning a long training run on Saturday, or maybe Sunday. One of those runs only ultra runners do, 4 hours or so, slowly, just spending time on the feet. First I need to convince Niamh, and then I have to hope for better weather. The forecast is unsure, it depends on who you believe.

The heart rate for the runs since the race has been really low. I have noticed that phenomenon before; after each race my heart rate drops a level. I think that's a good thing. I would race more often if there were more races available.
10 Mar
am: 7.5 miles, 1:05:47, 8:46 pace, HR 140
pm: 4 miles, 34:40, 8:40 pace, treadmill
11 Mar
14.1 miles, 2:00:31, 8:32 pace, HR 138

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Cork 1 - Kerry 0

Ewen can relax, Mike will have to give up Guinness for Keith's Red Amber for an unspecified period - sorry, Mike. I've got plenty of excuses, but Grellan was unbeatable today.

I set off at about 8:50, a bit later than planned, at nice sunny weather. Within 20 miles it was raining heavily, and when crossing a small mountain on the Kerry-Cork border I ran into a snow storm. I tried not to think about what the conditions at the race would be like and pressed on. And wouldn't you believe it, by the time I was in Cork to pick up Grellan, the sun was shining again, though it was still rather cold with the unforgiving wind.

We got to Ballycotton in good time where we met Grellan's colleague, Brendan. All three of us had similar expectations for the race. It took me a while to make up my mind if I should wear a t-shirt or a singlet, and eventually ended up opting for the later. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, while most of the country was experiencing heavy rain we stood there in nice sunshine, albeit freezing in our flimsy outfits. Unfortunately you can't really warm up for the event. There were over 2200 people at the start, and Ballycotton is a tiny place with a narrow street, and if you weren't at your position 30 minutes before time you either need very sharp elbows or you are going to start behind everyone else. Thus the first miles would have to do for a warm-up.

As always, there were plenty of slower runners near the front who should have started well behind, and the first mile involved a lot of weaving. A guy helpfully shouted out splits at the 1 mile marker, and I was shocked to hear that almost 7 minutes had passed. I need to run faster than that, and accelerated. Only after the race did Grellan point out to me that I had forgotten to take the 15 seconds into account that it had taken us to cross the start line. I'm still trying to come to terms with the fact that I could have been such an idiot, but at the time all I could think was to run faster. What followed were two rather quick miles, where my HR went up all the way to 180, which should have been warning enough to slow down. At the 3 mile marker (19:45) it became apparent that 65 minutes were not on the menu today, I was behind time and the last two miles had sapped all strength out of my legs. Grellan caught up with me shortly afterwards, and he and Brendan continued to pull away from me, slowly but steadily, and I could not follow. The next three miles were really tough. I was gone, the race effort was getting to me, I wished it were all over and I could hardly keep my position in the field. Each climb, even hardly noticeable ones, took too much out of me, and it just wasn't my day. Then, around the 10k marker (41:06) a miracle happened, the fatigue left my legs, I could pull away from the runners around me, and apart from one very fast guy I was not passed any more. I kept looking out, more in hope than expectation, that Grellan and/or Brendan would turn up on the radar screen, but expected them to be too far ahead. The first two miles had been downhill, though that had been rather wasted because of all the weaving we had to do around the slow folks, which meant that the last two miles would be a very, very tough uphill finish. By mile 8 I finally managed to spot Brendan, but did not expect to be able to catch up, he was too far ahead. However, he was suffering badly, and the climb just about killed him; within half a mile I was level, and even though I tried to encourage him he could not keep up. I felt good, and against all logic I ran the two uphill miles towards the finish faster than the first two downhill miles from the start. However, in the end I ran out of road. The longer the race went on the better I felt, and I would have run a very good half marathon, but this was a 10 miler, and not even the final sprint could get me under 66 minutes, and I finished in 66:01, a minute slower than my target. Grellan won the direct contest by almost a minute, even though he was very gracious in victory. Congratulations, mate.

I was a little bit disappointed, but overall I'm ok. 6 weeks ago I was just getting out of the house for the first time after my pneumonia, and there just wasn't enough time to get into peak fitness. It is still the fastest time I have ever managed over 10 miles, and I think by the time Connemara comes along I will be in better shape than last year. Plus, I had run 20 miles only three days ago, Grellan wore racers compared to my trainers, and apart from Monday I hadn't done any tempo training, Those are all really stupid excuses, of course. I ran as fast as I could, and it was a minute slower than anticipated. End of story. I'll take the positives (i.e. I had a very enjoyable day), and the rest is just pointless whining. The race was incredibly well organised, we were extremely lucky with the weather, and a PR is a PR.

My mile splits were 6:42, 6:27, 6:39, 6:35, 6:48 (oh dear), 6:35, 6:30, 6:26 (oh yeah), 6:40 (uphill), 6:27(still uphill), plus another 11 seconds after that because the Garmin reported 10.03 miles, which, if you take the weaving into account, is pretty damn accurate.
9 Mar
12.4 miles, including
Ballycotton 10 miler, 66:01, 6:36 pace, avg. HR 174

Weekly mileage: 78.5

Official results are up already (that's incredibly fast), Grellan came 188th, I was 218th, Brendan 225th out of 2204. Photos are here, but I'm not on any of them as far as I can tell.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Race Preview

I’m flabbergasted, but tomorrow will really be my first race in over 5 months! I don’t know how I managed to leave such a gap. Well, I do know, actually. You can’t run a race if you’re suffering from pneumonia. This had ended my chances of participation in the Mallow 10 miler, and last week’s 10k in Adare had to be sacrificed for Mother’s Day. Well, it’s been a very long wait, and I’m all the more anticipating my return.

Yesterday was yet another easy 10 mile recovery effort. It was very windy, and I chose two loops of the Ard-na-Sidhe road rather than face the elements head-on on the exposed side of Caragh Lake. There’s nothing to report. The legs felt heavy, which isn’t newsworthy the day after a 20 miler.

Today, on the other hand, provided quite some contrast. For the first time since Monday’s pair of tempo runs the legs felt good. My one training compromise for tomorrow’s race was that I constrained myself to 5 miles today. I ran nice and easy again, expecting something like 8:30 pace, but was rather surprised at the turnaround point, when I looked at my Garmin and I was doing 8:00 pace. I didn’t complain, take the good days when they come along, as long as I don’t have to pay for it tomorrow. On the way home I added three accelerations to my supposed race pace (6:30), but got it a bit wrong and ended up doing around 6:00 instead. I’m sure I won’t repeat that tomorrow. In any case, that was the easiest 7:46 pace I’ve run in a very long time.

According to Mike and Ewen tomorrow will be the long-anticipated face off between Grellan and myself. In fact, it will be the first meeting of a three-race series, with the half marathon in Bantry and the Cork City marathon to follow. Since Bantry will be just 4 weeks after my ultra, Grellan will be the overwhelming favourite for that one. Which means I’ll have to beat him tomorrow, or it will be all over even before we get to the start line in Cork. Of course he’s bluffing in his blog, pretending to be slower than me. Who does he think he’s fooling? Actually, slightly more serious, the best outcome for tomorrow would be for us both to drag each other to a time that neither of us would be able to accomplish on our own. I’ll settle for that, no matter who crosses the line first.

It will be a PR of some sorts in any case, because I’ve never run a 10 mile race before. My best effort had come in last year’s Half marathon in Blarney, when I ran the first 10 miles in about 67:45. I sure hope to beat that time tomorrow. 65 minutes would be my A goal. We’ll see.
7 Mar
10 miles, 1:25:50, 8:35 pace, HR 142
8 Mar
5 miles, 38:54, 7:46 pace, HR 146

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Tired Legs

There’s no doubt about it, Monday’s two tough tempo runs took a lot out of me. I am used to recover quickly from workouts. It usually only takes two days to feel fully recovered from a long run, and I guess I expected the same to happen after a tempo run. Boy, was I in for a surprise. Yesterday, Wednesday, the legs were just as tired and heavy as on Tuesday, maybe even more so. This was a classic case of DOMS at work. Luckily, only 10 miles were on the cards and I made sure to take it easy. Taking it easy seems to be around 8:30 pace at the moment, and since I’ve long given up on the idea of running every run under 8:00 pace I was completely fine with it. I added two or three pickups into the run when I sped up to maybe 7:00 pace for a minute or two. This usually has a beneficial effect on my legs, and eventually I did feel better towards the end of the run. Mind you, I was still glad to be home.

This might be a cutback week, and I’m running a race on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean I want to neglect my endurance build up. I made the conscious decision last week not to compromise my ultra training for the sake of a faster 10-mile time, and I’m sticking to that. Hence the alarm clock went off again at 4:45 today, and off I went for another 20 miler. The first thing I noticed were still less than fresh legs. I was surprised by that, I had expected the DOMS to have gone away by now. The next problem was my headlamp. I might have forgotten to turn it off after the last use, though I don’t know how that could possibly have happened. Whatever the case, it only provided a truly pathetic minimal light that barely managed to reach the ground. I did manage to get out of our driveway, and then I could just about make out the outlines of the road, and decided that I would be ok even without light. I did wear a reflecting vest, so I wasn’t worried about being in danger from passing cars, and as it turned I didn’t come across any for over two hours, and by then it was bright anyway. I didn’t fall apart on the run, but I would have liked to run faster. After 11 miles the last of the big hills was behind me and I tried to speed up, but it wasn’t to be. I found it almost impossible to run faster than 8:00 pace. At about 16 miles my right foot developed the same pain I had suffered from during my 2 long runs last week, but it definitely wasn’t as painful as back then, and I presume that problem is about to go away. I finally managed to speed up on the last mile, when I could almost smell the sweet smell of home, and overall the time isn’t too shabby, it’s pretty much in line with recent long runs. I felt more tired than even after the second of last week’s 20/20 runs, though.

I’m sure running 20 miles 3 days before a race isn’t the best preparation, but I’m reasonably confident that I will have more or less recovered by then. Two easy days will not only give me the opportunity to recover the legs but also to catch on much needed sleep. As for the race itself, I’m very much looking forward to it.
5 Mar
10 miles, 1:25:27, 8:33 pace, HR 139
6 Mar
20 miles, 2:44:21, 8:13 pace, HR 144

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Double Tempo

I had been taking it fairly easy over the weekend, which meant that I felt fully recovered from my 20/20 double header by Monday. Unfortunately, driving my Dad to Cork airport for a 7:45 am flight meant getting up shortly after 4 am and still not being able to run. Actually I could have slept a bit longer, the drive didn’t take as long as anticipated. On the plus side it meant I was able to go shopping and still be home in time for the school run. The weather at lunchtime was foul indeed, and I went to the gym to run 5 miles on the treadmill. This was a tempo run, and I started out at 13 km/h, and gradually increased the pace until I was doing 16 km/h towards the end, almost 6:00 pace. I had set the incline to 1 percent, but I’m sure I would not have been able to sustain constantly faster paces like that on the road. Treadmill running is different. The biggest plus of the fast pace was that I could get off that infernal machine a little bit quicker.

5 miles isn’t exactly my normal daily range, and after coming home from work I threw on my runners and headed out for another quick 5 miles. The kids were behaving, and Niamh gave permission. This turned into another tempo run, slightly slower than the treadmill one, but faster than expected all the same. I haven’t got time to do another tempo effort before Sunday’s 10-mile race in Ballycotton, but I’m very happy with the way my pace has developed in the short period of time since I’ve returned to training. A fortnight ago I would have been happy with anything under 70 minutes for the race, now I’m back to my original, pre-sickness target of 65 minutes, sufficient training or not. That race-day adrenaline has given me a significant boost before, and I’m hoping for more of the same.

The one thing that had been lacking from my training the last week was sufficient sleep. I knew I was operating on a sleep deficit, but I still set the alarm for 5:30 this morning, in time for 15 miles. However, when the alarm clock went off I reset it. I guess I must have decided that this is indeed a cutback week, both to catch up on sleep and recovery, and to have the legs in slightly better shape for Sunday. It was a good decision anyway, the legs felt the heaviest they have for a long time, and the 11 miles that I managed to churn out were mostly at a rather pedestrian pace. After 2 tough tempo runs on Monday, this was always on the card, I suppose.

There’s one weird thing my Dad told me. He’s got one son, Richard, from an early relationship who is 15 years older than me. He grew up away from us, and we’ve met no more than 4 or 5 times, but always got on very well on those occasions. On Sunday my Dad told me that Richard not only runs marathons, he trains an average of 18 kilometers a day. I was stunned. Not only have the two of us, completely independent of each other, taken up the same hobby, we are both pursuing it in the same obsessive manner. If you think there must me some shared genes responsible, they must have skipped a generation. Our dad hasn’t run 26 miles if you add all the runs he’s ever done over his entire life, I think. It’s just bizarre!
3 Mar
am: 5 miles, 32:42, 6:32 pace, HR 163, treadmill
pm: 5 miles, 33:44, 6:44 pace, HR 164
4 Mar
11 miles, 1:33:51, 8:31 pace, HR 136

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Getting up at 4:45 am two days in a row isn’t the easiest thing to do, and in a way it was the most difficult part of my sandwich. As soon as my feet touched the ground I could feel the heavy legs from Thursday’s 20 mile run, and the thought of repeating the entire exercise wasn’t overly appealing. However, as soon as I stepped out of the house, I felt fine. The legs weren’t exactly fresh, but they were entirely adequate, and for the entire distance I never felt out of my depth. The one problem area was my right foot again. Just like the day before, it started hurting at mile 15, was rather sore for a while, but subsided with a mile or two to go. I had a similar pain last year when thoughts of a neuroma entered my head, but that had gone away after a few days. I’m hoping for a repeat. I wore a different pair of shoes, so it’s definitely not the Vomeros that are to blame. It could be just one of those niggles that are part of running. It could definitely be an injury brought on by my aggressive increase in mileage, who knows. I checked my feet last night. The balls of my right foot are definitely swollen (noticeable when compared to my left one), but the two shorter runs over the weekend were both fine. It seems like the problem only appears after about 2 hours on the road. I expect it to go away again. I sure don’t want to get into trouble 15 miles into the ultra, when there’s almost a marathon still left to do.

My Dad is here for a short visit, he’ll fly back from Cork on Monday. The drive to collect him was a bit of a nightmare, I got stuck behind an accident that had completely blocked the road, and had no choice but to sit there for almost an hour until the road was cleared. I can always feel long hours in the car in my hamstrings, and this time was no exception.

After that tasty sandwich, a couple of recovery efforts were all that was on the menu for the weekend. I duly started out slowly on Saturday, and ran the first half of my run comfortably at about 8:15 pace. The legs then had different ideas and took off, so much so that the average pace for the run had dropped below 8:00 by the time I was back home. That’s definitely not my recovery pace, and when the first 3 miles today flew by at 8:06 pace I decided to make two changes. I slowed down noticeably, and I decided to cut the run at 8 miles. I felt perfectly fine, but after a couple of high mileage efforts the general consensus is to take it easy. With 5 weeks to go to Connemara I really don’t want to invite a serious problem.

I’ll have to get up at 4:15 am on Monday, not to run but to drive my Dad to Cork to catch his plane back home. Of course I won’t be able to run. I might sneak in a few miles at lunchtime, and maybe a second run back home from work, but the weather forecast doesn’t look promising. In combination with next week’s race this might turn into a cutback week as far as mileage is concerned. We’ll see.
29 Feb
20 miles, 2:47:12, 8:21 pace, HR 143
1 Mar
10 miles, 1:19:58, 7:59 pace, HR 146
2 Mar
8 miles, 1:06:05, 8:15 pace, HR 142

Weekly mileage: 100+ in 9 runs
Monthly mileage: 327.6