Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Slow And Fast(ish)

All the talk about future training strategies will have to be put to the back of my mind for a few more weeks. The Cork marathon comes first, and with less than 5 weeks to go there is not much time left. And of course there is still the half marathon in Bantry, just 5 days from now.

I was thoroughly proud of myself after Monday's workout, but not because I ran it so fast, on the opposite. I ran it really slowly, the slowest I have run in a long time, and I think I really needed that. I had set the alarm a few minutes early to give myself some extra time, to ensure that I wouldn't feel the need to speed up at some stage. The weather forecast had been pretty dire, but it turned out to be better than that, I never experienced more than a few drops of rain; the wind could have been better, but nothing I could not handle. I managed to stay slow for the entire 8 miles. I'm not entirely sure what that does to my form, my stride felt a bit short and choppy, but the heart rate was low, the lowest in quite some time. I can tell that I'm not in peak shape yet. Before Loch Ness, my HR would drop under 130 for such a run, so there is still room for improvement. If said improvement will materialise in time for Cork is questionable, but I'll persevere with my training and see where that will get me.

After the easy Monday, I was all set for a much harder Tuesday. I had my mind set on yet another tempo run, and since I did 8 miles last week I opted for 9 miles today. Initially I found it hard going. I started at measured pace and tried to increase the effort steadily over the first two miles, but somehow it never felt right until about mile 5. I wondered if I'd be better off doing shorter, faster cruise intervals, like 2 or 3 times 2 miles. I think Daniels likes them, but Pfitz, on the other hand, definitely recommends longer tempo runs for marathoners, and I can follow his reasoning. Anyway, the mile splits were 7:28, 7:13, 6:55, 7:30, 7:24, 7:11, 7:10, 6:56, 6:31; the course was reasonably flat, and it's difficult to tell where the wind had some major influence (e.g. mile 3 was with the wind and mile 4 was against it, which explains at least some of the time difference). As I've said, I felt better during the second half, but where exactly my half-marathon pace lies will only be revealed on Sunday. Somehow I find it impossible to hit those paces without a bib pinned onto my shirt. I'm reasonably hopeful to be able to beat 1:30, but not so sure if I can run a PR, and the course is rather hilly. Tomorrow I'll run around the lake for this week's long run, Thursday is a scheduled easy day, and Friday and Saturday will form a mini taper for the race; then I'll get a good tempo workout on Sunday, and then there will be 2 more weeks of full training until the marathon.

Either Grellan is bluffing again, or he really is injured and might have to miss the race in Bantry. In that case I would of course claim victory, and level our race series. Which, incidentally, is the only way I can possibly beat him, but that's the way it is. Who knows, he may well end up on the start line.

Maia, even though she isn't yet 6 months old, has already started crawling, albeit backwards only; but she is definitely mobile. We're clearly dealing with an early developer here, I wonder when she'll join Daddy on his early morning runs. She's also started on solid foods, which finally makes her sleepy enough to spend more than a minute on her own in her cot. Michael, all that fun is in your own near future, too.

28 Apr
8 miles, 1:12:18, 9:02 pace, HR 134
29 Apr
9 miles, 1:04:25, 7:09 pace, HR 156

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Happy Birthday

I started Saturday morning with a set of half mile repeats. I wasn't exactly looking forward to that; in the recent past, those workouts have tended to be less than satisfying. Well, I don't know what's changed, but things are looking on the up. I was planning 6-8 repeats, and the times were the following:

3:16, 3:05, 3:18, 3:04, 3:16, 3:00, 3:09

The odd ones were against the wind and the even ones with the wind, which explains the difference. I once more tried to concentrate more on form than on running as fast as I can, and I'm chuffed by the fact that for once the times were not dropping off with each repeat. Maybe I'm finally getting the hang of this. Don't ask me why the sixth was that fast, but I may have paid the price on the seventh, which was tough. After 400, I was thinking about cutting it short. After 600 I was really struggling. And the last 100 were a pure fight for survival with my breathing completely gone and the head bobbing left and right. After that one I knew I had enough, it was HOK time and I was grateful that I hadn't had any breakfast, or I would have reacquainted myself with the content. But at the same time I was pleased that I had managed to push so far.

The afternoon was completely taken over by the twins' seventh birthday party. 30 children are a lot, and this was probably the last time we could get away with one party for the two of them. In future years this might deteriorate into a running battle between boys and girls. I tell you, those kids can be rather rough, and don't think that the girls are any better. But afterwards everyone seemed to think that it had been a great party and left happy. And the twins left the venue with tons of loot – it pays to be a kid.

Today I ran a reasonably long run early in the morning. I tend to forget, but it's still only 3 weeks since the ultra, and today's 13 miles have been the longest run since then. I did 8 miles along Caragh Lake at a measured pace, and then added 5 miles to Ard-na-Sidhe at a stronger effort. Again, it went really well, despite the weather turning nasty, and I got soaked to the bones on the last 3 miles. I was pleased with the effort, the last 5 miles went by in 36:50 (7:22 pace), but it was more like 3.5 miles at 7:30 and the last 1.5 miles at 7:00, and I still had plenty left in the tank afterwards.

We drove to Millstreet after lunch to watch the annual Disney on Ice show, which the kids all loved, even Maia. She kept marvelling at the light show and giggled a few times at the antics on the stage. I don't know what exactly delighted her so much, but she definitely enjoyed it. Poor Lola didn't feel very well, but she had insisted on going, and with the help of some medicine she was in good enough form at the show itself. And they all accepted the fact that we refused to splash out on the merchandise, even though we saw people laden with stuff on the way out.

I got an unexpected extra run in the evening because I had to bring the car to the mechanic, who happens to live 4 miles from here, and he'll replace the cam belt tomorrow. So, on Niamh's orders, I changed into my running gear, drove the way to drop off the car and ran back home. Niamh has finally come round to the idea that it can be handy to have a runner in the house, but, admittedly, most other people wouldn't have bothered bringing the Garmin along to ensure that every step was measured. What surprised me was how much easier it is to run in the evening. I took it really easy and relaxed and still ended up with 8:00 pace. That's amazing, the same effort in the morning would have been no faster than 8:30.

If there was one piece of bad news this weekend, it came from the weighing scales. When I measured myself after Saturday's workout, it came up with 146. Today, after my morning run, it was up to 149. Shit! Just how much sugar did I eat at that party? Thankfully there won't be another birthday party for over half a year.
26 Apr
7.55 miles, 57:25, 7:36 pace, HR 154
7x800 in 3:16, 3:05, 3:18, 3:04, 3:16, 3:00, 3:09
27 Apr
am: 13+ miles, 1:42:16, 7:50 pace, HR 148 (last 5 in 36:50 @ 7:22)
pm: 4 miles, 32:04, 8:01 pace, HR 140

Weekly mileage: 70

Friday, April 25, 2008

Kerry Way

Michael just left a very good comment. He thinks with my mileage base it would be time to increase the intensity of my training, to take advantage of those base miles. In all honesty, I have been thinking about that approach myself already. It's not a secret that I would love to break 3 hours in the marathon, and I'm wondering if faster running in training is what's needed to get me there. Of course, I may be wrong. High mileage has brought very good results for me, my times have already come down to a level that I would have put into the realms of fantasy two years ago, and maybe continuing on that approach would do the trick. In any case, I have recently purchased Brain Training for Runners, and a quick peek into the schedules seems to indicate a possible approach. However, all this will not be relevant until after the Cork marathon – and not until I have recovered from that, of course.

The Kerry Way loop is one of my favourites, because it's pretty much my only chance to get off road and onto trails without having to drive. However, I'm definitely still a road runner and don't like playing in the mud, which is why I only run there after several days of nice weather. It was altogether typical that it started raining the very night before my planned venture there. I was ready to change my plans, but then decided to stick with the original route. That was a good choice, it was a lot less muddy than expected, and I enjoyed it. The run starts with a rather brutal climb of over 700 feet (actually I thought it would be more than 800), and then keeps going up and down. The second half of the loop brings me back on my usual Caragh Lake road route, and that's where I tried to increase the pace a bit. I managed 5 miles in 37:50, which is 7:34 pace. Not exactly blazingly fast, but I peeped into my log at some workouts before the Loch Ness marathon, and I hit similar paces back then, so I might be in half decent shape after all.

As you can see, I also started playing around with SportTrack's export feature. Exporting your data and importing into Google Earth is so easy, and so cool, I could have played around for hours. Isn't it great when things just work?

In the evening I played my first hour of football (that's soccer for the uninitiated) since September, and despite fearing that I would have forgotten what a ball looked like, I played much better than expected. The hardest part, however, was cycling back home afterwards. It's tough to use your legs for a different sport after an exhausting hour on your feet, and triathletes have just gained a bit more respect from me.

My legs were really heavy this morning, which I definitely attribute to the football. There's some spot in my legs that running doesn't hit, but football gets it every time. I already had plans for an easy recovery day, and those legs made sure that it would be an especially easy one. In fact I was so slow that I had to cut it short from 8 to 7 miles, or I would have been late for work. I was slower than 9:00 pace on the first section, and while I managed to pick it up a bit on the way home (probably due to the wind assistance), this was by far the slowest I have run in quite some time. My legs are still sore now, and I hope I'll feel better tomorrow. Not only have I got some faster running in mind, I'll be up on my feet all weekend, because it's the twins' 7th birthday, with a big party on Saturday and a trip to Millstreet on Sunday, to see a “Disney on Ice” show. That is always on around the time of their birthdays, and this is becoming an annual pilgrimage for us, it's the fourth year in a row. At least they know that we will not buy any of the ridiculously overpriced merchandise. It's going to be yet another action-packed weekend. There's just to rest for the weary here.

24 Apr
12 miles, 1:38:49, 8:14 pace, HR 154
with 5 miles in 37:50 @ 7:34
25 Apr
7 miles, 1:02:19, 8:54 pace, HR 139

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pondering Once More

I'm starting to have real doubts about the wisdom of my choice to race both an ultra and a marathon this spring. I did a few workouts before the ultra that were aimed more at the following races, and they may have adversely affected my performance in Connemara; and of course now my legs are still very much in recovery mode, and yet the next race is just over 10 days away, and I can't decide if it would be better to opt for softer workouts to help recovery or harder ones to build myself up for the race. Things are much easier if you have only one major race in mind, you concentrate on that one, and simply accept the fact that all other races will be compromised.

Anyway, after returning from Trabolgan my legs felt rather heavy on Monday morning. If that was a result of the hours sitting in the car or the numerous hours on my feet over the action-packed weekend I'm not sure, but I was content in taking it easy. I had 10 miles on the program, and settled into a very comfortable pace on the way out which turned out to be around 8:20. I kept the same easy effort on the way back home, and was pleased to find that the pace had quickened slightly to almost 8:10. I was really pleased with that run, it had felt so easy despite the initial heavy legs, and the pace was definitely still decent.

Tuesday saw a return of the Devil's Elbow loop, which meant having to run up the monster climb again. According to the smoothed elevation data from my Garmin the steepest part of the road has a gradient of about 12%, and believe me, that feels steep. This climb is not only a good workout, it's also a good feedback device, telling me how fit I am. As expected, it felt rather tough, but I survived, and I will be back there, undoubtedly. The one thing that went really well in Connemara was running uphill, on all the three major climbs I was flying past dozens of other runners, and I felt completely comfortable on those stretches. I have no doubt that all those hills during my training runs have paid off, and I have no intentions of letting that advantage slip away. Hills are good. However, I caught myself running much too fast on the way home; I was thinking about the tempo run scheduled for the next day, and that must have gotten translated into my legs, because when I glanced at my Garmin at one stage I was doing 7:00 pace, much too fast for an easy day, even if the road was slightly downhill. I did slow down, but was the damage already being done?

At least that would provide an excuse for yet another less-than-stellar performance today. I know, I keep writing that after every faster session these days. Maybe I'm just expecting too much of my tempo runs, but I can never hit the intended pace. What really annoyed me was the fact that I was slower than on my last tempo run 6 days ago. With the additional recovery time since the ultra I would expect to get faster with each run. That's what happened last year, and that's what I expected this year.

Mile splits: 7:36, 7:08, 7:20, 7:20, 7:06, 7:05, 7:15, 7:13

Sure, today's workout saw me running on the Caragh Lake road, which is much hillier than the one I had chosen last Thursday, and the strong wind didn't help either, but I was still unhappy with my performance. A proper recovery day yesterday might have made a difference. Still, there were two good things about today. After 5 miles I finally started to feel more comfortable, which may be related to the fact that all miles up to then were either mostly uphill or against the wind, and secondly, at about the same time the incredibly annoying Barney the Dinosaur tune ("I love you. You love me. We're a happy family") that had been going round and round in my head got replaced by Oasis' Up in the Sky, which was definitely more to my liking, even if Cian would protest vehemently. Running with a kids' tune stuck in your head can drive you mental.

I'm thinking about adopting a pattern of one day tempo, next day long (with maybe a strong finish to make this a double header) and then a proper recovery day, short and slow, on the third day.

Maybe a lack of recovery days is my biggest failing, or maybe I'm just overreacting a bit. I'll think about it same more. Tomorrow I hope to hit the Kerry Way trail, which would give me about 12 miles, the first half very, very hilly, and the second half with a few strong stamina-building faster miles. At least that's the idea.
21 Apr
10 miles, 1:22:40, 8:16 pace, HR 140
22 Apr
8.5 miles, 1:09:45, 8:13 pace, HR 154
23 Apr
8 miles, 58:07, 7:16 pace, HR 161

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Quick weekend notes

We've just come back from an action-packed weekend at the family entertainment trap in Trabolgan. My company offered a special discount for a weekend trip, and even though we had just been on a short break to Connemara, we decided to take the offer and go. The kids absolutely loved every minute of it, they did climbing&abseiling, playground, swimming, cinema, trampoline, ballet, watched a panto and shows with Bob the Builder, Barney the Dinosaur and Angelina Ballerina (plus anything that I've forgot to mention), and the general consensus was that Trabolgan is the Best Place Ever! The parents are completely worn out (actually so are the kids, they slept the entire way back), and Niamh once dryly commented that this was exactly the place she never really expected to go to. Things change once you've got kids, I guess.

I did some running as well, bit not a lot. I ran 8 miles on Saturday, taking a random turn at each junction and ended up in Roche's Point, a very scenic lighthouse, and a well-know place because of the weather station there. Yesterday evening I read about the history of Trabolgan (it used to be a posh residence), and they mentioned the half-mile long avenue, and for some reason decided that half-mile repeats along that road were a good idea. Which in a way they were, because the trees did shelter me a bit from the icy and blustery wind that threatened to blow me over each time I ventured out into the open. However, I decided to concentrate more on form and a relaxed stride, which explains the slightly slower than usual times. Or maybe that's just an excuse. The road wasn't as flat as I thought it would be, which explains why the even numbered repeats were a good bit faster than the odd ones. I had to call it a day after 6, because we had a busy schedule – remember, the kids were calling the shots for those two days. At least we got a lie-in today – well, until 7:30, which is a massive lie-in if you happen to be the parent of a boy like Shea. I'm sure one he'll sleep until lunchtime once he becomes a teenager.

19 Apr
8 miles, 1:03:52, 7:59 pace, HR 151
20 Apr
6 miles, 47:00, 7:50 pace, HR 151
6x800 @ 6:43, 6:13, 6:50, 6:19, 6:53, 6:27 (avg. pace 6:34)

Friday, April 18, 2008

It is on!

Did he really say that? Ewen was right when he predicted that Grellan would beat me in Ballycotton, but now he’s stuck his head out too far. Surely I will be able to keep within 3 minutes of the man in Bantry! Let’s see, Macmillan says his 38:15 10k equates to a 1:25:07 half marathon, while my 66:01 10 miler in Ballycotton gives me 1:27:40 for the half (let’s ignore those hills between Glengarriff and Bantry for a minute). The three minute chase is on, and this time the loud mouthed Ozzie is gonna cough up.

I did my tempo run yesterday. I got a new pair of racers and hoped they would make me feel faster, but that didn’t really happen. It still wasn’t too bad, considering that the ultra had only been 11 days previously. My mile splits were 7:21, 7:17, 7:07, 6:56, 6:51, 6:47, and maybe I should take comfort from the fact that I got faster with each mile, even though I had not planned it that way. The course is 3 miles each way out-and-back, reasonably flat, but there is about 30 feet elevation gain in the middle mile (and the same loss on the way back, obviously). It was quite windy, and I had to face the headwind on the way out, but of course got the benefit of that on the way home. It would have been a bit faster if I wouldn’t have lost concentration on several occasions – an old problem of mine during tempo runs. I guess I should be happy enough, but of course I’d like to be faster. I guess I should be able to push the average pace below 7:00 by the time I’ll try that again next week, when the legs will have recovered that bit more.

I settled for a more relaxed pace today, and got back into double figures for the first time since Connemara. It looked like a nice day, but the icy wind made for rather chilly conditions. I was glad that I had brought along my gloves, I think my fingers would have frozen solid otherwise. The run went well, but there is a bit of a twinge in my left hamstring. It’s not painful, it’s not even a real discomfort, just a bit of a twinge, but enough to keep reminding me to be careful. I really started enjoying myself out there, the sun came up while I was running along the lakeshore, and the twin baby lambs in the field were fooling around (I imagined showing them to my own twins, they would have enjoyed the scene). A good day, and not even the biting breeze could spoil it.

17 Apr
6 miles, 42:18, 7:03 pace, HR 162
18 Apr
10 miles, 1:18:42, 7:52 pace, HR 148

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Second week of recovery

Is this still recovery, or am I already moving on to the next phase? The ultra was only 10 days ago, but I'm already straining to run more. As Niamh pointed out, I think I've got an addiction problem.

I know I shouldn't, but I can't help but think about the half marathon in just over 2 weeks, and I really want to get ready for it, even though I have abandoned all plans of racing against Grellan. First he ran away from me in Ballycotton like I was standing still, then he ran an absolutely incredible time at a 10k while I was systematically destroying my quads in Connemara at the same time. Last year I was a few minutes faster then he in Bantry, this time he's having his breakthrough year, and I won't pretend to be able to keep up. However, I'd still like to at least match last year's time. Back then the half was 5 weeks after the ultra, this year that break has been cut to 4, and that's a big difference. On the plus side, I seem to be recovering well from the ultra, so much so that I'm seriously contemplating a tempo run tomorrow morning. Mike has just warned me against that very kind of thing, and while I have ignored his advice in the past, it was usually to my detriment. I guess I just have to make my own mistakes rather than learn from someone else's wisdom.

Niamh has had a cold last week, she's only now recovering from it, and Cian has had the same problems. I fully expected to get sick myself, after all your immune system is supposed to be dragged down after a marathon, and did more than that. However, I haven't had any symptoms whatsoever, and by now I don't think I'll get them at all. Great!

The running over the last few days hasn't been overly interesting. I'm raising my mileage ever so slowly, and I'm also getting some pace back into my legs. The heart rate for Monday's run was satisfyingly low, but it's still elevated, which is of course to be expected, so soon after the ultra. The half marathon will come too soon for me, and I strongly suspect the same will be true for the Cork City marathon, but that's the way I chose the racing schedule this season. It wanted to know how I can handle a marathon so soon after an ultra, and I'm going to find out. I added 10x100 strides to today's run, and for the first time used my Garmin to help me sprint the correct distance, and remind me when the rest was over. The biggest advantage, however, was that I didn't have to count the 10 repetitions myself – that can be surprisingly difficult, as I've found out more than once.

14 Apr
6 miles, 49:17, 8:12 pace, HR 143
15 Apr
6 miles, 44:57, 7:29 pace, HR 155
16 Apr
8 miles, 1:03:35, 7:56 pace, HR 152
including 10x100 strides

Sunday, April 13, 2008

For the last time

I know I said I'd let things be regarding Connemara after the last post, but I just went over the photos again and noticed a few things:

For one, why do I look so grumpy in that picture? Is it because I have just been overtaken by a fellow ultra runner? And is the guy so happy for the same reason?

Secondly, I told it was windy!

And remember how I kept going on about the fact that I could not lift my knees any more? I think that picture was taken somewhere between miles 30 an 34, and look how close my foot is above the road surface, and I don't think it's because I'm about to set it down again. I lifted the knees as far as I could, but that was all I could manage. The same thing is also noticeable in the first photo.

Recovery continues, and I'm feeling better by the day. My quads are a little bit less stiff with each run, and my left hamstring is getting better, too. On Thursday it hurt after 2 miles, on Friday after 3, on Saturday after 4, and today after 4 again but that disappeared half a mile later. I ran 7 miles today, because I had a peek into Pfitz's book and his schedules for 2 marathons 8 weeks apart. I won't be following that schedule (I want to do some extra tempo runs for the half marathon in 3 weeks if my legs come around quickly enough), but I figured I can still get some pointers from it. I felt pretty good today, but was surprised to see the pace creep below 8:00. It felt easy. If only 8-minute-miles would have felt equally easy after mile 10 last Sunday. Oh well. Time to move on, I guess.

I have noticed a change in my attitude. Ever since recovering from pneumonia I have kept a close eye on my weight, and it used to hover around 143 pounds. I did not diet, but I did eat very healthily and I did deny myself chocolate, biscuits or ice cream most evenings, even when I felt peckish. I've changed my tune since the ultra, I'm eating what I want, and when I want, and feel good about it. The scales still don't show more than 146 pounds, which is still lower than before the pneumonia, and I'm already looking forward to my next piece of chocolate. Yummy! Life's pretty good, really.

I did watch the BBC's coverage of the London marathon today. The men's race was mindbogglingly fast. Simply amazing!
12 Apr
5 miles, 41:46, 8:21 pace, HR 149
13 Apr
7 miles, 55:34, 7:56 pace, HR 152

Weekly mileage: 21

Friday, April 11, 2008

Where did it all go wrong?

I have started running again, but two easy recovery runs don’t yield a lot of tales to tell, so you’ll have to forgive me if I’m still harking on about Sunday’s race. The thing is, apart from my quads I was ok, it’s just that my quads had fallen to the wayside, and unfortunately a pair of quads is rather essential when running. But I never felt low on energy, and the way I flew past everyone on the hills has me wondering what could have been. The climb out of Leenaun was the most striking example, the miles before I felt like crap, then I was storming up that hill, and as soon as the road levelled out it was back to feeling like crap again. Maybe I’d be good at the Jungfrau marathon? That one is on my to-do list anyway.

Where DID it all go wrong? I have gone over this again and again. I might have worn too much – 2 layers on top, long tights. That wasn’t the initial plan; when I picked up my race number I pinned it to a t-shirt. I changed my mind on Saturday evening when we walked home from the restaurant and I was freezing in the biting wind, despite wearing a warm coat. During the race I was warm when the sun was shining and cold when it wasn’t – I guess there is no one correct outfit for conditions like that.

I think the taper was sub-optimal. As by7 commented, I might have done too many experiments. Doing faster runs during the taper may have been a bad idea. Who knows. I now also think that I should have run more during the last week. I only ran 14 miles in the week before the race, in 3 workouts, and maybe 3 days of 0 didn’t do me any favours. Again, who knows!

The west-Australian carboloading workout the day before the race could have been a bad idea as well. 2.5 minutes of fast running followed by a 30 seconds all-out sprint was a fairly easy workout to be honest, because it was over so quickly. But it might have had a negative effect on my legs. Who knows! By the way, I have decided not to do any special carboloading in future. The way I never ran out of energy over 39 miles had me thinking that I don’t need to carboload, really. I can still try and eat a high carbohydrate diet the days before a major race, and forget about any fancier strategies.

Sprinting to-and-from the bus in the morning was definitely one of the more stupid things I have done in my life. What can I say. I completely panicked and my brain hadn’t kicked in. Hopefully that was a once off, never to be repeated.

The one thing I mostly suspect of ruining my race is the hilly 27.5 miles training run I had done three weeks before the race. Yes, I felt good when doing it, and yes, I felt incredibly energetic for the next few days following it, but I now think that my legs had not recovered from it. If you slowly build up to that mileage you’re probably able to handle it. But due to the pneumonia I did not have the time to do so. If I could go back in time and change just one thing, I would replace that workout with two back-to-back 20 milers, because I know they have worked for me in the past. Since time travelling isn’t on the agenda, I can only try and not repeat that mistake in future.

There are a few more things. I might have worn the wrong shoes. Maybe. I might have over fuelled during the race, but I don’t think that had a major effect. My stomach had been dodgy for the last few weeks, but there was not much I could do about that. I might still have been weakened from the pneumonia, like Olga suspects. Who knows, who knows, who knows.

The photos from the race are finally online, and there are loads of me (the one race where I looked at my worst, typically). The ones from the finish are almost funny. I look well and truly shattered – but actually I felt good and was doing 6-minute pace at the time! I can only imagine what I had looked like an hour earlier, when I was ready to curl up and die. Anyway, I find the photos almost comical, because I did that to myself, willingly.

By the way, why the photographer stood 10 meters before the finish line rather than 10 meters behind, so that he would be able to get the clock into the frame, is a mystery to me. They did the same last year; back then it really pissed me off, this time I couldn’t care less.

My two runs yesterday and today have been similar. The quads were very stiff and sore initially, but settled down after 2 or 3 miles. I was toying with running 5 miles yesterday, but the left hamstring started hurting after 2 miles, so I turned back. Today I did 5 miles, because when the same hamstring started giving out at mile 3 I was already on the way home. I did manage a short strip at about 7:00 pace, and felt surprisingly good when doing so, better than during the 9:00 pace I did for the majority of the run. I slowed down after 100 yards or so, I didn’t want to risk injury. All in all, I feel surprisingly good, but it may be a bit longer until my legs forgive me for the unreasonable punishment I had put them through on Sunday.

10 Apr
4 miles, 35:27, 8:52 pace, HR 140
11 Apr
5 miles, 42:05, 8:25 pace, HR 148

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Analysis and Recovery

I can't run 39 miles then then miss out on analysing the whole thing, can I? Let's start with the result first, I came 23rd out of 90 finishers, 22nd male. Beating the leading lady was never an option, Helena Crossan finished in the absolutely astonishing time of 4:40, now that is class! Let's have a look at my mile splits, then:

1 7:49
2 8:03
3 7:59
4 8:08 (very good so far)
5 8:12 (slowing slightly, I ditched my “pacer” from the first 5 miles)
6 7:52
7 7:49
8 8:02
9 7:53
10 7:34 (no idea why that was so fast. It didn't feel any faster)
11 8:29 (headwind started. And my right leg started giving me troubles)
12 8:31
13 8:25
14 8:43
15 8:50
16 8:47 (the left leg is giving out too. I'm heading for trouble)
17 9:03
18 9:08
19 8:29
20 8:52 (uphill)
21 8:38
22 9:26
23 9:30 (downhill! I told you the downhills were more difficult)
24 9:08
25 9:10
26 9:15
27 9:37 (uphill. Pretty good, actually)
28 9:57 (steepest part of the course)
29 9:01
30 9:08
31 8:59 (not too bad. Can I hold on?)
32 10:01 (no. My quads are dead)
33 10:15
34 10:25
35 10:06
36 11:30 (potty break and Hell)
37 10:29 (Hell. Actually, this is really fast)
38 8:14 (downhill, and I can run again!)
39 7:29 (fastest mile of the course. Too late. Shame.)
change (no exact time, forgot to press the stop button.)

The times speak for itself. I started out at goal pace, and genuinely thought I would be able to hold on. Then came the wind and then my quads started giving up. I kind of managed to hold things together until mile 31, and then it felt like my body was shutting down. The miraculous recovery over the last 4 miles came too late, but left me wondering what might have been.

I can tell that I'm not very excited about the race by the fact that I hardly care that the race photos are still not online. After a good race I check every 10 minutes – this time I've checked about twice since the race.

My race might have been less than stellar, but my recovery since then has been nothing short of amazing. The day after the marathon I had no troubles walking up and down the stairs of our house while loading the suitcases and things into the car, and I had to do the trip almost a dozen times. I took my share while driving, and today cycled the 5 miles each way to work without problems, though I did take it easy. The quads are still slightly sore, and I get the odd twinge in my left hamstring, but considering what I put my legs through, the lack of pain is astounding. I had a sports massage yesterday evening (a first for me), and the physio was amazed how relaxed my muscles felt. Only the ITB was a bit tight, he said. He also said I had Haglund's Heel in my right foot, but since I don't have any problems in that area there is no need to do anything about it.

I haven't been running yet, today's cycling and a walk with the entire family were the only bits of exercise I've done since the race. Since I'm feeling so well I'll go out for 4 or 5 easy miles tomorrow morning, and I'll see how that goes. I have a half marathon in 3-and-a-half weeks, but there is nothing to gain from jumping back into training too quickly. I'll play things by ear.

Monday, April 07, 2008

It never always gets worse

The day before the race we had a briefing in Clifden, with 21 ultra runners in the room, but only 2 of those had done the race before, me and one other guy. Apparently, even the majority of ultra runners are content to put themselves through that kind of torture just once. My training had been interrupted, to say the least, by a nasty bout of pneumonia that had me grounded for almost the entire January, and of course still hampered my training all through February. I had doubts if I would even make it to the start line, but I felt great all through March, and got more optimistic by the day. Unfortunately, my stomach had given me troubles for the last 2 or 3 weeks, but I didn't know if that would be a problem come race day. I guessed I would find out soon enough.

I started the day in less than ideal fashion. The bus from Clifden to the start was supposed to leave at 8am, and I was on it at 7:57. Exactly at that moment I realised that I had forgotten my “Ultra Runner” tag. You were supposed to wear your number at the front and the tag on your back, so that everyone would be able to spot you. I should have left it at that, but I panicked, ran all the way back to our house, frantically searched by belongings and raced back to the bus. That meant at least half a mile at near-sprint pace, an hour before I was supposed to run 39 miles! Not only was this stupid in the extreme, it was also completely pointless. The bus didn't actually leave until 8:20 (I could have walked!), and at least half of the ultra runners didn't wear their tag.

We cut it rather fine, we got off the bus at 8:58 to join the 100 other runners who were already at the start, looking frozen. A guy called Peter celebrated his birthday today, so, on the urging of Ray, the race director, we gave a loud and cheery rendition of “Happy Birthday”, and I could only mutter “what a way to spend your birthday” when the start signal came, pretty much to everyone's surprise.

A group of 5 runners steamed off at the front, the rest of us were content with a rather more measured pace. I very quickly settled into 8-minute-per-mile pace (12 km/h, 7.5 mph), and at the first corner counted the runners ahead of me; I was around 30th place. After some of the inevitable early jostling for position had abated I found myself behind a runner in shorts and t-shirt, which made me cold just by looking at him. In contrast, I wore 2 layers at the top, a singlet and a thin long-sleeved shirt, and long running tights at my legs, because I felt it was absolutely freezing. I followed that guy for about 5 miles, until about 8 runners went past in quick succession, and a look at my Garmin GPS told me that we had slowed down a little bit, which made me increase the effort slightly, and I followed at the heels of the group in front. I collected my first bottle at the mile 5 aid station, a mixture of rice milk and slim fast, which should provide both carbohydrates and protein, and which had worked very well last year. It tasted nice, I drained it rather quickly, but afterwards my stomach felt uncomfortably full, and I felt I had made the mixture too strong. It also made me slightly thirsty, but I had to wait until the next aid station at mile 10 before I could get some water.

The weather was changeable, to say the least. The sun was shining most of the time, but a strong wind from the North, out right, provided plenty of cooling, and at the first 10 miles provided at least 4 quick rain showers. Classic Connemara weather! Later on it also started hail stoning several times, very lightly most times, but twice we got quite some beaning. Unfortunately, after 10 miles we turned right, and for the next 10 miles we would have to fight against that very wind. The pace immediately dropped, even if the effort stayed constant, to about 8:20 mins/mile, and when I checked the Garmin a few miles later, it was down to 8:45! It wasn't just me who had to fight against the elements, of course, we were all affected by it, and in fact I started overtaking quite a few runners. At mile 6, someone had shouted out the positions of each runner as we went past, and according to him I was 31st. If that was right, and if I counted correctly each time I overtook someone or was overtaken myself, I was 26th by the time we passed the Full Marathon start sign, 13.1 miles into the race, and with 1:46 on the clock, 2 minutes slower than last year.

I had an ambitious time goal, 5:15, which would have been good enough for 10th place last year, but by now it was already apparent that I would have to lower my sights. The wind was bad enough, but since mile 10 my right legs was giving me troubles. At each step it felt like it was in danger of buckling underneath my weight, and it only seemed my momentum that still carried me forward. It was still an awful long way until the finish, and definitely too early to get into trouble. I was a bit scared, because I did not know what was wrong. I had visions of my quads detaching themselves from the bone, and me hitting the road screaming in agony. I had no real choice but to carry on and hope for the best, and when my left leg started the same spiel at mile 16, I finally realised that this was simply fatigue setting in. On one hand, this was good to know, on the other hand this seemed way too far away from the finish to start tiring already. I started to suspect that I was in for a difficult few hours.

I had to fight a second problem as well. At mile 13 I had collected my second bottle. This one contained chocolate milk rather than slim fast, because I was worried about getting sick of the taste if I drank too much of the same mixture. The chocolate milk tasted fantastic, and again I gulped it all down very quickly. Unfortunately, this made me queasy, and over the next few miles I was fighting off wave after wave of nausea. Every half mile or so I was about to throw up, but just about managed to hold it in. I wasn't even sure fighting the nausea was a good idea, I had read that in ultra running the body usually knows what's good for it, and if you're feeling sick it's better to get rid of the content. However, my mindset was set on relentless forward motion, and the very idea of stopping for half a minute was unthinkable. By the time I reached mile 18 or 19, the stomach had settled again, and I felt better. I knew that the next bottle was waiting for me at mile 26, slim-fast again, and I was actually dreading it, I didn't want to feel as bad again.

The road until then had been slightly undulating, but we're talking about Connemara here, so let's say it was as flat as it gets in that part of the country. Mile 20 brings the first real climb, and I felt surprisingly good. By now I had caught up with the slower marathon runners, and I went past a steady stream of slower runners, including 2 or 3 ultra runners. But I did notice one major difference to last year. Back then I had a quick word with everyone I passed, even if it just was a simple “hello”. This time I was too tired to say anything, I only responded if someone else said something first, and eventually I was too exhausted even for that, and turned entirely antisocial. I was fully aware of the difference to last year's race, and it was not a good sign. The other problem was that we still seemed to run against the wind, even though the course had turned another 90 degrees. I think the geographic setting has something to do with it, the valley seems to provide a funnel effect, because last year showed the same phenomenon. It is at the top of the 20-mile climb that the road passes a church with a big sign saying “Stop and Pray”, and believe me, stopping and praying seemed a very tempting alternative to running at that point. However, I ventured on. A mile or two later we pass the race director's favourite sight, you turn a corner and a very pretty stone bridge appears. Unfortunately I was in no mood to enjoy the view. I was getting wiped out. At least I was past the half way point by now.

What comes up has to come down, and the road drops rather steeply into Killary Harbour. You might think that running downhill is easier, but take into account my aching quads. This was not easy. I could not lift my knees. I was in agony. In fact, I hurt so much that I started voicing my pain with each breath. I must have made a truly pathetic figure of a runner, slowly shuffling down the road, moaning loudly. I also lost my place to 2 or 3 more ultra runners, which annoyed me.

The ultra mentality is a funny one. You're on the road for so long, and you will endure so much discomfort in the process that it's purely a contest between you and the course. Other runners should not come into it. Cover the distance at the best of your ability, and the result will follow. Running over 39 miles is an achievement in itself. However, this is still a race. Each time I passed an ultra runner it gave me a lift, each time I was passed it felt like a knock.

We eventually came into Leenaun, the 26 mile mark, and I passed the (imaginary) marathon distance line in 3 hours and 43 minutes, 8 minutes slower than last year. Despite all the problems I've had, this was still the 4th fastest time I have ever run over 26.2 miles. At the aid station I grabbed my third and last bottle, and someone offered me a couple of mini Mars bars. I probably shouldn't. The will sit in my stomach. They are sticky. They might make me sick – and they look delicious, so I grab them. Only then do I realised that now I have my bottle in one hand and the chocolate in the other and I can't carry any water. I have to pass, and the chocolate is the best I've ever tasted in my life. And the slim fast seems to agree with my stomach.

The climb out of Leenaun is well known to Connemara veterans. It's the steepest part of the course, and the worst of the torture lasts for 1.5 miles, but even after the worst of the climb is over the road keeps going uphill for another mile. Somehow this is all I need. My quads are shot, but the rest of me is still in good shape and I run past runner after runner, and I'm sure that must have included some ultra runners as well. Today I love the uphills, it's the only part where I don't feel like screaming in pain. But then we reach the top, 28.5 miles into the race, and that is where my hope of at least matching last year's time comes to an end. I get slower and slower with each mile, even though the effort remains the same, and it's not for lack of trying. But you can't run if your quads are unable to lift the knees. All I can do is shuffle, with the soles of my shoes a millimetre above the road surface. My leg turnover is very quick, and my stride length is shortened dramatically, and it's getting worse. I can see the disaster unfolding, and by mile 30 I'm reduced to 11 minutes per mile, which is the slowest I have ever run in my life.

I hope you're not reading this during your lunch time, because things are getting worse. I need a toilet. Badly. Then, oh sweet miracle, I spot a portapotty straight ahead of me. Oh thank you! I'm heading straight for it, and I'm 2 meters away when the female runner ahead of me stops, and enters. “Noooooo” is what I say out loud (I really do), but the words forming in my head are others, ruing the lack of bladder control in the fairer sex, or to the same effect but phrased a tad differently, but luckily I manage to keep them to myself. I could have waited for a minute, my race is long gone anyway. But I've got the wrong mindset, waiting in front of the toilet is out of question and I run on, disgruntled.

Ever since about mile 20, each time an ultra runner passed me, I felt tempted to rip the ultra runner tag identifying me as a race rival off my back. It must feel like a magnet to anyone else in the same race. I know, because that's what the tags I can spot are to me. But the longer the race goes on the more comforting it is. Many marathon runners give plenty of compliments when they see it, and it provided a lift. Shortly before mile 33 I overtake 2 ladies, and we have a little chat. I don't know why I can talk to those two, I didn't have the energy to open my mouth for anyone else. They spot my ultra runner tag and wish me luck. Luck doesn't really come into it in long distance running, you tend to make or break yourself. And this is not my day. Things are getting worse, I can tell, because now the marathon runners that I managed to overtake are going past me again, and it includes the two ladies from half a mile earlier. One of them seems to notice how incredibly bad I'm feeling and tries to talk things up. “It's only 6 miles to the finish, and for you that should be nothing”. “6 miles are a lot on those legs, I'm afraid”. Then they are gone, disappearing in the distance.

For the last hour or two I have clung to an ultra mantra. “It never always gets worse." Eventually you are going to be feeling as bad as you can and then the pain and discomfort will level off. For what I can tell, it's true. I've been in agony for quite some time now, and it has levelled off. I'm merely still in the same agony.

At mile 35, Hell awaits. Or, less cryptically, the “Hell of the West”, two miles of climbing, the signature piece of the Connemara races. It's not as steep as the climb out of Leenaun, but if you've ever tried running up a hill with 35 miles under the belt you will know that it doesn't have to be steep to hurt. However, the Gods must have decided that I have suffered enough and give me a break. Another portapotty appears on the horizon, and when I'm 3 meters away from me the door opens, someone steps out, and 2 second later I'm in. I don't know how long I'm in there, 1 minute or 2? I leave, and walk for 3 steps. Oh, how wonderful it feels to walk, very tempting. Then I run again. One step, two steps, hmm. This feels ok. More running, uphill already. It's a miracle, I can run again! This is truly amazing. I'm still in pain, of course, but I can lift the knees, and I'm flying up the course. I'm going past runner after runner, though most of them are actually walking at that stage. Halfway up the hill I'm passing the two ladies from mile 33 again. They recognise me, shout encouragement, and seem to be amazed by the way I have recovered. So am I! Last year I twice cramped on that bit, this time I'm flying and in no time at all I'm at the top. I look up, and I can see the finish, but it's still 2 miles away, some considerable distance. I'm worried about the downhill, but it feels ok. I spot an ultra runner ahead of me, he's going pretty fast himself, but it's all the incentive I need. Over the downhill mile I slowly get closer, the last mile and a bit is flat and that's where I put the hammer down. I check my mile splits afterwards, and this is by far the fastest mile of my race, 7:29. When overtaking a race rival it's always best to go as fast as you can, to discourage a response, and that's exactly what I'm doing. When I'm past him I increase the effort even more, to make sure he'll stay behind me (which he does, by 46 seconds). I pass the last marathon mile marker and go all out for the last 0.2 miles. According to my GPS toy, I'm running 5:55 pace at the finish, which I could not even do at the and of a 10 mile race 4 weeks ago. I get plenty of applause, I hear things like “Wow”, “what a finish”, “come on, ultra”, and then the agony is over and I can finally relax.

My time is 5:50:11, 10 minutes slower than last year, and a whopping 35 minutes slower than my lofty goal. I had some decent 10 miles at the beginning, and some truly exceptional 4 miles at the end. It's just a pity about the 25 miles in the middle.

I'm not entirely sure what went wrong, but I have a few theories. A 27.5 miles training run 3 weeks ago was probably a mistake, as was the running to-and-from the bus in the morning (what was I doing there!!!). Missing a month of training due to pneumonia must have had some effect as well. Maybe I wore the wrong shoes, I wore lightweight runners, and they were already pretty much worn out (they went straight into the bin afterwards, not that I blamed them).

My mindset was wrong. 90 seconds of break was all I needed to relax the quads, and then I could run again. Had I done that at mile 25, or even 30, things might have gone very differently. I still have the marathon runner mentality, always push as hard as you can, but ultras are different.

You learn from your mistakes, and this was a massive learning experience, much more so than last year. By mile 34 I swore to myself that I would never do anything like that again. Never. Ever. By mile 36 I swore to myself to come back and put into practise what I had learned today. I already have different plans for 2009, but mark my words. I'll be back.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Pre-race Jitters

I know I said in my last post that I would call again after the race, but this is different. It is Friday, almost exactly 5am in the morning, and I have been awake since 1:20, and I just cannot get back to sleep. I've had a drink, I've had some cereal, I've read for over an hour, I've been back to bed, I've had some more drink, some more food, some more bedtime, and nothing has worked. I keep thinking about the race, and I guess I must be nervous.

This is different to last year. Back then I slept soundly until the night before the race, when I didn't sleep at all and just lay awake, actually scared of the next day. This time, in contrast, I'm confident I'll be able to do well, but my sleep this week has been patchy, alternating between 9-hour sleeps and hours of lying awake in bed.

The other problem I've got are nocturnal cramps. That's something I've been dealing with since my teenage years, but over the last few years it was reduced to 2 or 3 episodes per year. However, I've had no less than 3 nocturnal bouts of cramp this week alone, twice in my left calf and once in my right, and tonight my right calf felt like it was going to cramp, but didn't since I've been walking around a lot because of my restlessness. I really don't know what's causing it. According to wikipedia dehydration is a common cause, but I'm definitely not dehydrated. I'm ruling out a lack of magnesium, potassium, calcium, and sodium as well, because my diet should provide plenty of each. Reduced blood flow through the muscles attendant in prolonged sitting or lying down? Well, sure, I've got a desk job, but why would that be any different this week? Could it be the reduced mileage? I've run 12 miles this week, which is less than my daily average during full training, but still. I would not expect the short-term absence of training to cause cramps. As a runner who is prone to cramps anyway (I've experienced cramping in 3 of my 6 marathons, as well as my only ultra to date), this is rather worrying.

And guess what? The weather forecast is less than appealing. We had a gorgeous day yesterday, 16C/60F at lunchtime, just like during last year's race. And guess when this is going to end? Yup, Sunday. Apparently the rain will set in when I'm about 10 miles from the end. And guess some more, of the next 5 days which one is supposed to be the most windy? Yes, Sunday again. 17 mph / 28 km/h isn't exactly unprecedented, but I'd rather do without.

According to the organisers, the ultra will feature a very strong field this year, including, amongst others, Jez Bragg, the best ultra runner in the UK. I think I can forget about a top 10 finish, even if I manage to reach my time goal.

It's almost 5:30. Maybe I'll try and sleep again. Thanks for indulging me.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Taper Madness

It was just a matter of time until I lost the grip on reality during the taper, I guess. The only surprise is that I managed to hold on until this week. I aggravated the symptoms by doing a 3-days carbs depletion phase before I start eating anything that doesn’t move fast enough tomorrow. I know, I know, you generally read these days that a depletion phase is unnecessary and won’t have any real effect. To be honest, I decided to do it when my weight went up from around 142 (where it had been since I recovered from pneumonia) to 145 last week, and for some reason I really wanted to lose those extra pounds again. Well, I did weigh myself this morning and I’m back at 142, but if that’s just part of the natural up-and-down swings of body weight or if the depletion had an effect I cannot tell. What I can tell is that I’m hungry and grumpy and can’t wait for tomorrow, and that I’m unlikely to ever try that again.

There was some running involved as well, short runs at surprisingly high pace with not much effort. The clocks went forward on Sunday, so when I woke on Monday morning I was still too tired to get up for 6 miles, and decided to skip the run and do it on Tuesday instead. However, 10 minutes later I was wide awake and decided to go out after all, but cut it to 5 miles due to time constraints. Sub-8 mile pace has hardly ever felt so easy (I think I felt like that before Loch Ness), and I did surprise myself with the low heart rate. That’s good.

Tuesday was another 0, and today I ran 7 miles, and again I was just jogging along at sub 8-pace. I did add 3 half-mile pickups on the way back home, which explains the higher heart rate. Those last two runs put some dangerous thoughts into my head, maybe I should try to run faster than 8-minute-miles on Sunday; after all, they felt so easy. But 39 miles is a very, very long way, and I don’t think storming off like a man possessed is the ideal strategy to run an ultra. If I can keep myself in check for the first 26 miles, I can still increase the effort over the last, brutally hilly 13 miles, and storm over the Hell of The West at 7:00 pace like Aisling is prone to do. Yeah, right, dream on.

Normally I would come up with an analysis of my training at that stage, but I think there isn’t much point, because it was so disrupted by the pneumonia in January. In the last few days I got asked a lot if I think I’ve recovered from that. Well, of course I think so, otherwise I wouldn’t try to run an ultra, but there’s nothing that I can do about the missed chunk of training. Besides, there will be a second major race in my calendar this spring, maybe I’ll write a summary then.

Tomorrow and Friday are 0 days, and on Saturday I’ll try the West Australian carboloading workout. I hope I won’t pull a muscle.

My right knee hurts, as did my left shin this morning. I presume these are taper-induced phantom pains.

We’re off to Clifden on Friday, and if that Internet Café there is still open, I might write a few lines. Otherwise you’ll hear from me again from the other side.

31 Mar
5 miles, 37:15, 7:27 pace, HR 146
2 Apr
7 miles, 53:05, 7:35 pace, HR 153