Saturday, May 31, 2008


It's almost time. Tomorrow I'll take the coach to Cork, get my race number, and after a hopefully good night's sleep I'll be on the starting line for the Cork marathon. I'm reasonably confident I'll be able to beat 3:10 this time, but I'm fully aware that I said the same before Loch Ness. I hope to avoid the one big mistake I made there, namely starting too fast. I thought for a while if I should wear the Garmin or not, and came out on the yes side. I will try and run by feel rather than by whatever a technical gadget, no matter how smart, dictates; but all the same, I think it will be reassuring to get some feedback. I've learned one lesson in Bantry though, namely that the official mile markers might deviate from the Garmin's, and it's the official ones that count, so don't rely on the toy's numbers.

I've got a few aches, niggles and worries, but nothing that will be a major problem on Monday. Right after Connemara my left hamstrings started to hurt with each run, and I dealt with it the way I always deal with that: I ignore it until it goes away, and about 2 weeks ago it did. Then my left heel (or rather the sole of the left foot towards the heel) started hurting, and I dealt with it the same way. Actually I did ice it once or twice, but that caused only temporary relief, and the pain always came back. This has cleared up recently; maybe because I avoided wearing my racing shoes (I did the speed workouts in normal trainers), and maybe because I finally chucked my oldest pair of runners after 621 miles, which is longer than I usually keep them. Whatever the cause, it's better now, and it won't be an issue on Monday either.

I'm a bit worried if my endurance will stretch for the entire distance. I know, I know, I ran 39 miles just 8 weeks ago, but there's the problem. 8 weeks is enough to lose some endurance, and I only managed one 20 miler since then, which is not a lot for a mileage junkie like myself. I guess I'll find out if that was sufficient or not.

The weather might turn out a bit hotter than I'd prefer, but the meteorologists are basically still unsure. Today it's mostly sunny, tomorrow will be the same, and Monday may or may not be more cloudy. Michael pointed out that someone in Ireland shouldn't worry much about the weather, and he's basically right. However, if you're used to running in 13C/55F, then 22C/72F resembles a heat wave. However, they've got 13 water stations on the road, which should be sufficient for any kind of weather.

My race number is 347. I'll let you know.

29 May
5 miles, 43:20, 8:40 pace, HR 136
30 May
4 miles, 30:22, 7:35 pace, HR 151
middle miles in 7:01, 7:07 (a bit too quick)
31 May
0 (I'm tapering, you know)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Usually I write a summary of my training a few days before a marathon, partly to create a little summary database of my marathon training, partly to convince myself that I've done enough and calm my nerves. I wasn't sure if that made sense this time because my training was rather disrupted first by pneumonia and then by the Connemara Ultra, but then I decided to do it anyway.

This was a highly unusual training cycle. After Loch Ness I was not sure if I would be able to train at all because of Maia being born, and after that turned out to be no problem (as well as a wonderful event, of course), I lost a full month to pneumonia and another one when I had to rebuild my mileage. Initially I thought of Connemara as my main race this spring, but after the pneumonia my focus shifted to the Cork marathon, because I felt there would not be enough time to get fully fit for Connemara (which, in retrospect, was indeed the case). Anyway, here are some bits of my training cycle:
Average miles:
This figure is probably meaningless due to those disruptions. To display all the ups and downs, my weekly mileage figures between recovering from Loch Ness and the start of the taper were: 65, 67, 78, 88, 91, 92, 96, 94, 81, 50, 22, 10, 0, 0, 11, 37, 61, 74, 94, 100, 79, 99, 70, 44, 53, 21, 50, 70, 66, 77, 74. That's 31 weeks. Loch Ness was a long, long time ago.
no real injuries, but the pneumonia more than made up for that
# of PRs:
1 in the Ballycotton 10 miler, but it was the only 10 mile race I've ever done (still, it's the fastest I've ever covered 10 miles in any race)

The weekly mileage has more ups and downs than the road around Caragh Lake. As I've said, this was a very unusual training cycle. However, I feel in top shape now, and I'm quite confident I'll be able to run a marathon PR on Monday.

I did one more workout today. Mystery Coach, who is helping fast guys Mike and Eric, has this taper workout that he makes them do a few days before the marathon. I ran a toned down version of it, 8 miles, with 4 miles at marathon pace and the 2x800 on the way home. The marathon pace section was maybe a little bit fast at 7:07 pace, but it featured 55 feet elevation drop. The 800s were 3:10 (19 feet climb) ad 2:56 (don't get excited, 32 feet drop). I liked that workout, it felt good to get the legs going at pace once more, and I'm looking forward to trying the same over 26 miles 5 days from now. My main worry at the moment is the weather forecast, it's changing daily, and some of their seemingly wild guesses are predicting rather higher temperatures than I would prefer. But I guess there is no point in panicking just yet.

27 May
5 miles, 44:42, 8:56 pace, HR 133
28 May
8 miles, 59:59, 7:30 pace, HR 152
incl. 4 miles in 28:27, 2x800 in 3:10 (uphill), 2:57(downhill)

Monday, May 26, 2008


In an ideal world I would have spent the weekend relaxing, putting my feet up and get tons of rest. Unfortunately, this is the real world, and if you think a father of 4 young children will ever get the chance to rest for an entire weekend, please let me in on your secret.

For a start, the grass needed cutting yet again, and since I'm sure as hell not going to do it next weekend, it had to be this one. And wouldn't you know it, within 10 minutes my old lawnmower sighed its last sigh and gave up for good. This required a trip to Killarney to purchase a replacement, and since I had to go there, I might as well do the weekly shopping. By the time I came back, half of the day was already gone, and I knew I wouldn't be able to finish the job in one day (that's the drawback of having a massive garden).

I got up reasonably early on Sunday (well, Shea woke me) to run the Kerry Way one last time before the marathon. The trail starts about 2.5 miles off our house, and on a nice sunny day I love running there. The original plan was to do the outward section of the loop on the trail, and then come back on the road with 2 or 3 miles at marathon pace, just to get used to that pace a little bit more. However, just after the junction towards the road I stopped dead in my tracks, hesitated for a second, and then turned around and headed up towards the mountain instead. I was just having too much fun on the trail, and the thought of running 7:10 pace in my old, clunky, heavy trainers just didn't appeal. I ran all the way up to the top, and got reminded why this is called "Windy Gap". After passing the summit of the road I went down on the other side towards Glenbeigh until the Garmin beeped to let me know that I had passed the 6-mile mark, and it was time to turn around. To my surprise I found that I much preferred running the trail upwards rather than downwards. It's a very technical, stony trail, and running downhill was rather tricky, and I'm totally unused to that sort of terrain. In addition to that, the top of my left foot started hurting each time I landed slightly harder than normal; running uphill, on the other hand, was fine. The road is ridiculously steep, if the elevation data is correct then it's over 1000 feet of climbing, plenty of which at about 20% grade, with the steepest bits well of 30%. Blimey. Of course it was a lot slower than a normal 12 miles run on the road would have been, and my quads were quite tired from all that climbing. I hope this run wasn't one of the stupid things I was supposed to avoid this week, but with 8 days to recover until race day I reckon I'll be ok.

Most of the afternoon (the part that didn't require me to work in Garden) was spent in Tralee where Shea took part in a show in the theatre there. According to him it was his first "real" show, because the school plays don't count, apparently. There we were, proud parents and all, and he had a great time. He's very proud of himself, and rightly so.

I've kept checking the weather forecast, and accuweather are starting to worry me. Each day they've added another degree to their forecast for 2 June, and earlier today they were predicting 22C/72F in full sunshine. This might not be excessively warm, but to someone who's used to 10C/50F that resembles a heat wave. Luckily, metcheck seem to disagree, 15C/60F and cloudy would be pretty much ideal. Let's hope accuweather are as useless as usual (actually, chances for that are pretty good - funnily enough, all of a sudden their forecast is for 17C/63F).

24 May
5 miles, 44:06, 8:49 pace, HR 133
25 May
12 miles, 1:54:52, 9:34 pace, HR 144
majority on trail
26 May
5 miles, 45:26, 9:05 pace, HR 132

Weekly mileage: 54

Friday, May 23, 2008

The last workout

Pfitz has this 3x1600 workout 10 days before the marathon in each of his schedules, and even though I'm not following these any more, doing that workout has become enough of a tradition for me to still do it before every race, even though me and Mike have recently admitted that we don't know what the exact purpose of that workout actually is. But doing the same workout before each marathon has one advantage, you can compare the figures with your previous attempt. On the other hand, conditions are never the same, so any comparisons are flawed.

I used to do these mile repeats on the Ard-na-Sidhe road, but opted to change the venue for the road that passes our driveway because it's a bit flatter. The elevation data I've got gives a drop/gain of 10 feet for 1 mile, and there are two little “hills” in the middle, but I can live with that. Funnily enough, the downhill second mile would turn out to be the slowest one.

I programmed my Garmin for 3x1 miles with 2 minutes break in the middle, and set off. It was slightly drizzly, and the rain got heavier just in time for my first fast mile. I tried to run somewhat controlled in that, but found out that one mile can be bloody long. Then I was surprised just how short 2 minutes can be. The legs started hurting pretty much as soon as the second mile started, and deep inside my mind there was a little voice suggesting bailing out, but I managed to tune out of that channel. The third repeat was really tough, and I can't claim that I was still running in controlled fashion, it was an all-out effort. A minute after the end I got nauseous and would have thrown up had I eaten breakfast beforehand, but with my empty stomach all I had to cope with was acid reflux in my throat. That was a clear sign that I already had enough, and I returned home after a short cool down. I'm still not used to returning home so quickly, a workout of less than an hour feels somewhat wrong. But it's just 10 days to go to the marathon.

And Maia is incredibly cute.
22 May
5 miles, 43:17, 8:39 pace, HR 137
23 May
6.1 miles, 46:24, 7:36 pace, HR 157
with 3x1600 in 6:04, 6:09, 6:01

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Early Taper Crisis

In autumn 2005, when preparing for the Three Country Marathon, the first marathon I trained properly for, I could not wait for the taper. My legs had been aching every day, I had numerous niggles, and I was probably never far off the next injury. In fact, shin splints did put quite some dent into my preparation. I was so happy when, with 3 weeks to go, I could finally relax a bit, and the reduced mileage preceding the marathon helped in getting myself sorted for the race.

Things have changed since then.

I've come to hate the taper. I want to run my usual miles. I'm a runner, I want to be out there at the crack of dawn, witness the sunrise, and enjoy my me-time. Instead, I have to scale back. I don't even get any additional sleep because I tend to wake at the same time and end up staring at the bedroom ceiling for an hour until it's finally time to rise.

Only three days into the taper, I'm already succumbing to the madness that comes with it, despite having run decent mileage today. The next 12 days are going to be taxing.

I had two easy days on Monday and Tuesday, 6 miles each. On Monday I took it easy, tried to enjoy the relaxed pace, and was back home all too soon. On Tuesday I expected to feel good; instead the legs were stiff and tired and running felt clumsy. Where that came from, I do not know. From the heavier shoes? Or the lower temperatures? There clearly are things I still don't understand about running. Maybe it was just a bad day, and it's better to have that now rather than on race day.

Today I ran around Caragh Lake for the last time before the marathon, and after the two easy days I felt full of energy, even though the weather has turned, the wind was blowing and the rain was really heavy at times. The plan was to run the first 10 miles at around 8:00 pace, which requires a bit more effort than expected because of the big hills on the way. The last 5 miles were at marathon pace, 7:10. It went pretty well, in fact I had to slow down a few times because the legs threatened to take off on more than one occasion. The last 5 miles were a bit tougher, and I got really annoyed with myself for losing concentration half way through and slowing down to 8:00 pace again, albeit on an uphill stretch. I probably shouldn't have, but I made up for that over the next mile, and I guess that's why the pace felt tougher than it should have been. Also, the road is quite undulating over those miles, which slightly increases the required effort. Then again, the marathon route isn't exactly flat either.

Whatever, on average I ran at just the expected pace and I was still in good shape at the end, wishing that I would have time to run further despite being soaked to the bones. I know that the weather forecast so far ahead of the date is utterly worthless, but I can't help but peek anyway. On Monday, they predicted sunshine and 19C/66F for 2 June. Yesterday they had changed their minds and predicted rain and wind instead. Today they're back to sunshine and 19C. "You don't know what you're doing" comes to mind. There's still plenty pf time to get it right. Last year it was an unexpectedly hot day. Let's hope for better conditions this time.

19 May
6 miles, 51:20, 8:33 pace, HR 132
20 May
6 miles, 51:12, 8:32 pace, HR 139
21 May
15 miles, 1:55:33, 7:42 pace, HR 152
with 5 miles in 35:47 @ 7:09 pace

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Yasso 800s

With running being such a competitive sport, it is rare that we can congratulate someone on a win. Even rarer are the occasions when we can congratulate someone on winning a marathon. When I saw the results of the Fargo marathon, I was truly in shock and awe. Eric, congratulations, Champion.

On Thursday evening I must have decided that running 17 miles at race pace isn't punishment enough and signed up for an hour of football after work. I did that, and then still had to cycle home for 5 miles. Maybe that was a bit too much, because on Friday my legs were extremely stiff and sore. The hip flexors especially were moaning a lot. In addition I slept really badly, Maia woke a few times during the night, and when she did sleep she was basically snoring into my ear. I had originally planned on running 6 miles, but at 6:20 I had enough of staring at the bedroom ceiling and got up for a run, and since I had all that extra time I added 2 more miles. To get rid of the stiff legs I did several short acceleration sprints, and gradually the feeling in the legs returned. I didn't count them, but looking at the charts of the Garmin afterwards I must have done 16.

I felt stiff and tired all day, and I wondered if I should move Saturday's planned interval workout to Sunday. But last week I had felt almost as bad and than the workout on Saturday had been good, so I decided to stick with the original schedule. I had a Yasso 800 workout in mind, not because I think it's a great predictor for your marathon time, but because it's a good workout. 10x800 means there will be 5 miles at interval speed, which is definitely a lot. I wanted to run each in about 3:10, and that's how it went:

3:08, 3:11, 3:08, 3:14, 3:11, 3:17, 3:11, 3:09, 3:01, 3:05

After the first 3 I decided to stop looking at the Garmin every 10 seconds and run more by feel. The “reward” for that over the next 4 repeats were 2 sub-standard and 2 half decent ones. After each of those intervals I felt I could and should have run a little bit faster, and over the last 3 I went pretty much all out, which is why the times were coming down for those. The way I understand it, the last few intervals are the most important ones, and according to that it was a good workout. I was surprised that I kept feeling fully recovered after each rest period, even during the last ones, but the last 2 were definitely tough, and I was glad to be finished. And for the record, the average time was 3:09.5; even though I don't really think much of the accuracy of that particular marathon prediction method, I'm happy enough to see it under 3:10 all the same.

The weather is supposed to turn nasty again today, but luckily it held off long enough to have another run in the morning sun. I ran towards Glenbeigh, following the Kerry Way, though it is almost all on roads for that section. Just after Glenbeigh, though, it leaves the road and goes on a single track trail steep over a hill through some magical woodland. Unfortunately that section is only one mile long, and then it was back to asphalt road. I was meant to turn around after 6 miles, but followed it a bit longer because I was curious where it would come out. Eventually I ended up where a railway station called “Mountain Stage” used to be 50 years ago, and yes, the name is justified. The road had been steadily climbing for the last 3 miles. I was surprised how well I felt, I ran as easy as I wanted over very hilly terrain, and still got close to 8:00 pace. I think the Cork marathon will be a good one, as long as I don't do anything stupid over the next 14 days. From today on, I'm tapering.

16 May
8 miles, 1:08:17, 8:32 pace, HR 140
incl. 16 accelerations
17 May
11 miles, 1:26:27, 7:51 pace, HR 151
incl. 10X800 @ 3:09 avg.
18 May
12.25 miles, 1:39:39, 8:08 pace, HR 139

Weekly mileage: 74

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Marathon Pace

The weather has been absolutely beautiful the last few days. It would have been even better if I would not have to spend all that time in the office, but it's still nice to enjoy some sunshine during lunch hour, and, of course, to run in the beautiful morning air.

I took it easy on Wednesday, to recover the legs from Tuesday's tempo run. It wasn't quite as slow as my last recovery effort on Monday, but I felt very relaxed all the same. Today, in contrast, was a tough workout. I had felt quite apprehensive before going out; I'm not quite sure why. Sure, 17 miles, with 15 at MP, is a tough workout, but I was always confident I'd be able to run it. The workout served two purposes; one, I would get the body used to running at that pace, and second, maybe more important, I would get some feedback if I would really be able to pull off that pace on race day.

I started with 2 easy miles, but a few doubts did creep in. 8:00 pace did feel tougher than it should initially (but then again, I wasn't warmed up yet), and 7:30 on a downhill segment during the second mile wasn't that easy either. But once I reach the 2-mile point I accelerated, and soon got into the swing of things. The plan was to run at 7:10-7:15 pace and hope that it would feel ok. The first 5 miles went by without problems. The roads in Cromane aren't entirely flat, but all the ups and downs are very gentle. After mile 7 or 8 the going got tougher, and the same effort that used to yield 7:12 for the previous miles resulted in 7:25. I had dark clouds forming in my mind, and thought about chucking it in and going home, but eventually kept at it. The rough patch lasted until about mile 11 or 12, when I started to feel better again. Interestingly, I had a rough patch at exactly the same miles during the Loch Ness marathon. Back then I attributed my recovery to a gel I had taken, but today I just recovered without aid. I felt really good for the next few miles, and the same effort started to give me 6:50 miles. At that point I started to have dangerous thoughts. Would I be able to pull off that pace in the marathon? That would be unlikely, because a 1:28 half marathon runner is unlikely to break 3:00 in the marathon, and when I hit another rough patch around mile 15, this was basically confirmed. I felt rough enough to run a downhill segment slower than when I had come the other way just a mile earlier, but I recovered towards the end (the finish was calling), and I ended the run still feeling good, and a look at the Garmin told me that I had hit 7:10 pace exactly, which pleased me no end.

I'm pretty sure I can pull off the same again in Cork. It's easy to say that now, but it didn't feel particularly hard. The HR was always in the 150s (apart from the odd climb), and even though I've learned in Bantry that you have to add a few seconds per mile from your Garmin pace to get your “official distance” pace, I think that the race day adrenaline will provide sufficient boost to make up for that. Of course there is always the possibility that in Cork I'll ruefully think back to today's workout and how manageable 7:10 pace had felt, but let's not be pessimistic.

I'm now really looking forward to the marathon. I'm quite confident I'll be able to beat 3:10, but of course I said that before Loch Ness, and it didn't happen then. There will be another interval workout over the weekend, and then I'll call it a taper.

14 May
8 miles, 1:12:04, 9:00 pace, HR 129
15 May
17 miles, 2:03:36, 7:16 pace, HR 153
incl. 15 miles @ 7:10

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


There are 20 days left until the Cork marathon, and, as I've said, I'm feeling like I'm hitting form just in time. Until very recently I was very unsure what time target I should shoot at, but the Bantry half marathon has made up my mind. Fours weeks before the Loch Ness marathon I ran the Blarney half in 1:27:52, and when I ran Bantry, which happens to be four weeks before Cork, in 1:27:27, I reckoned that I must be in similar shape. My time in Loch Ness was 3:12:29, so I'll try to better that. In fact, I'm hoping for anything under 3:10, as I did before Loch Ness. Of course I want to break 3 hours at some stage, but that's out of the question this time, and if I tried to run at that pace I would only ruin my race. So, 3:10 is the target.

I'm trying to implement a hard-easy schedule in the last few weeks before the race, but that doesn't mean that I'm strictly alternating hard and easy days all the time. What it really means to me is that I'm trying to ensure that my easy days are exactly that. As a result, I ran really really slowly on Monday. I have mentioned Andrew as a shining example of that art before, and while I'm trying to follow in his footsteps, I'm not able to match his paces entirely. Still, that was the slowest run I've had in a very long time, and it also resulted in the lowest heart in a long time. I felt that if I ran any slower I'd be going backwards.

The point of the easy day was to ensure that I would be able to run harder on today's tempo run, but unfortunately that didn't go exactly to plan. Tempo runs should be done somewhere around your half marathon pace, and since it's less than 10 days since my last half marathon I happen to know what pace I should be aiming at. Alas, take that pin off my chest and my pace drops by 20 seconds per mile, and I seem unable to make it up. I have been wondering if I'd be better off shooting for shorter cruise intervals at the same pace; I might be able to hit 6:40 for that distance, and 3 or 4 of those intervals would still make a good workout. However, so close to race day that's a moot point, but one I'll mull about for my next training cycle. Anyway, I decided to ease into the pace for once, started slowly over the first mile, steadily increased the pace over the next one, and then tried to do a tempo run over the following 8 miles. I ran a rarely visited loop to Killorglin, which isn't entirely flat but has plenty of gently ups and downs all the way. The return leg coincided with my commuting route, and I know every grass blade along the road. At the very least I was hoping for sub-7:00 pace, but I fell short even of that goal. I did run a bit faster over the last mile or two, but the bit before that was the problem. I recently seem to have gotten the hang of interval workouts, maybe I'll eventually manage to get used to tempo runs as well.

I've still got to decide what shoes to wear for the marathon. I ran Bantry in racing shoes, but I don't know if my legs will be able to last sufficiently long in a full marathon. I'll probably wear them on Thursday's planned 17 mile run (with 15 at MP), which should give me some feedback on that issue. That means another easy day tomorrow, and hopefully a pair of fresh legs for the day after. Till then.

12 May
7.5 miles, 1:11:23, 9:31 pace, HR 127
13 May
10 miles, 1:13:11, 7:19 pace, HR 152
with 8 miles @ 7:04

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Spent Weekend

Is it a crime to be relieved that the weekend is almost over? You, know, I like staying away from work for a couple of days a week as much as the next guy, but honestly, this is killing me. Working in front of the computer screen is a lot less exhausting than working in the garden for almost the same amount of time. Presently I'm relieved that tomorrow will be Monday. I think another day of slave work would kill me.

Until that great 800s workout about 10 days ago I used to dread intervals. I just could not get them right, I'd start at what seemed like reasonable pace, and then I'd fall apart, time and time again. Then I had one good workout, and all of a sudden things seem to drop in place. I opted for 400s yesterday, just to do a different kind of distance for a change. I thought 12 would be a good number to do, and that's what I programmed my Garmin for, with 90 seconds of rest between each. The first 3 were easy, and I thought I'd fly through this. The next ones a lot tougher, and I started sucking air, and the last 3 were a quest for survival, pushing hard and desperately hoping to reach the end soon. I kept telling myself that 400 meters is really short, and that I would always be able to push on to the end, but it didn't really feel like that. Then, after the 12th, I felt that I had not yet left everything out there, and did a 13th, this time stopping the lap button manually. If I had planned a different number to start with, say 15, then I'm pretty sure I would have done all those, but the 13th was already a bonus, and with running being done very much in my mind I gave up after that one, assuming HOK position, trying not to keel over. The times for each interval were 89, 90, 88, 90, 85, 89, 88, 90, 88, 90, 85, 92, 86, and now seeing that the 12th one was getting slower I was probably right to call it a day when I did. The HR did drop back into the 140s after each run, which was a nice surprise. I was quite pleased with the numbers and the way the workout went. The fast guys amongst you might not be impressed with the pace, but keep in mind that my 5k PR is 19:16, which is 6:12 pace. Actually, this probably only shows that my 5k PR is rather soft. It's almost a year old, and I should be able to better it in July.

After slaving for hours in the garden afterwards I expected to sleep really well, but my hay fever kept me from doing so. I eventually got up in the middle of the night to take some antihistamines. When I told Niamh she stated that it must have been really bad; she knows that I generally avoid taking tablets as much as I can.

Anyway, I eventually managed to sleep until about 7:20 when the boys woke up, which always signals the end of my night. I fixed them some breakfast, and then separated them, Shea in the kitchen doing some colouring and Cian in front of the telly, because they could not even look at each other without starting a fight. That tactic worked for once (Niamh and Maia slept until 9), and I set off for my run. I had originally planned a trip to the Kerry Way, then thought I should run the Kerry Way the other direction towards and beyond Glenbeigh, because I've never gone past that, and then opted for a third route, towards the neighbouring village of Cromane. There is a nice lake there, which Niamh once suggested might make a nice running background, and which I had never followed up. I was also treating this as a scouting mission. I'm planning 17 miles at marathon pace next week, and the mountainous Caragh Lake road isn't really ideal for that purpose. I could run three out-and-back segments to Ard-na-Side and the Devils' Elbow, but that's a bit boring, and I was hoping to find a new route. What I saw looked good, though Cromane is a bit of a maze with roads criss-crossing each other, and it's really easy to get lost if you're not familiar with the area. I guess the lake helps with navigation, but I didn't see much of it, the road mostly kept its distance. But I think I will indeed give it a go next week. Anyway, the run today was fine, rather uneventful, apart from the fact that a few times I had to guess which way to go. I'm very pleased about the fact that I managed to run sub-8:00 pace at 140 HR. I vaguely remember being able to do so just before the Loch Ness marathon, which probably means I'm in very similar shape right now. Things are falling into place just in time.

I spent the entire afternoon in the garden again. I'm utterly knackered now. How can a few hours in the garden be more exhausting than running 20 miles over hilly terrain?

10 May
9.6 miles, 1:14:26, 7:25 pace, HR 151
incl. 13X400 (90)
11 May
12 miles, 1:35:39, 7:58 pace, HR 140

Friday, May 09, 2008

Come On Bitch!

With Monday being a bank holiday, this was a really short working week. I can't believe it's Friday already. I'm not complaining, but just today a colleague asked me when the marathon would be, in 4 weeks' time? No, it's in 3. Wow! Just 3 weeks left. Time for some more training before it's too late.

I got up very early on Thursday, at 4:40, and before 5am I was out on the road. Luckily it's bright enough already at that time of day to run without light. The plan was to run 20 miles, and I intended to do it as a progression workout, the first 10 miles at whatever pace was comfortable, then 5 miles at 8:00 and the final 5 at 7:30. The 2 previous days had both been very easy, so I expected to feel fresh and ready to go, but that was not the case. Initially I felt really groggy and not quite awake yet (ok, it was ridiculously early in the morning), but even when that wore off my legs would still feel rather heavy and sluggish. I obviously still had the effects of Sunday's race in there. The first 5 miles, up to the highest point of the loop, took almost 90 seconds longer than on Monday. I had a bit of fun on the downhill part and ran one (steep) mile in 5:43, but the rest of it was more measured, and the average pace on the first 10 miles was 8:28. I did increase the effort at that point, but it took a while to get into the groove, and that section started with a short but nasty climb, and I was always playing catch-up after that. The undulating course makes it difficult to stay at a certain pace while trying to keep the effort steady at the same time, but I almost got it right. Then the really hard part began. I have not run longer than 15 miles since Connemara, and like on Monday the hamstrings started acting up. Then, out of nowhere, a mantra came into my head. “Come on bitch, f*ck the pain”. Now, this is so not me. I don't go for mantras, and I certainly don't usually use Americanisms. I'm clearly reading too many books about running written by authors from the wrong side of the Atlantic. I even know where it came from. The first part is from Running with the Buffaloes, the second one from Bob Glover's book. Anyway, it actually worked, I managed to push on and hit the turnaround point in 18:45, bang on time. I doubted I would be able to sustain the effort for the entire way back, but in actual fact I even managed to speed up a little bit. I was pretty much wiped out after that, but very pleased all the same.

Today was always going to be another easy day after that workout. I initially planned on running 8 miles but changed my mind and cut it down to a mere 6, mainly because I wanted to catch up on sleep. I really needed that, and even after a solid 8.5 hours of sleep I was still tired in the morning. The legs were incredibly stiff and heavy, and I felt like I was barely moving. Apart from plodding along at snail's pace I added a few strides into the mix, in the hope of injecting some life into those legs, and after 4 miles or so I finally started to feel a bit better, but I made sure I'd still keep at the leisurely pace for the rest of the run.

My left heel had been hurting for a while. It started about 10 days ago, and the race on Sunday clearly aggravated the symptoms, so I iced it rather aggressively on Monday. This kind of worked; it has not entirely cleared up, but it's a lot better. Unfortunately I must have overdone the icing, because I think the two big purple painful patches on my foot are frost bite. Have I ever mentioned that I can be a bit of an idiot at times? Anyway, that seems to be healing as well, and by the time my skin has recovered I expect the foot to be more or less ok again. But next time I'll take off the ice pad before the pain gets bad, not a minute afterwards.

8 May
20 miles, 2:41:54, 8:05 pace, HR 150
10 @ 8:27 (HR 145), 5 @ 8:02 (149), 5 @ 7:24 (162)
9 May
6 miles, 54:02, 9:00 pace, HR 135
incl. 5 or 6 x 100 strides

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Deteriorating Recovery

The official results from the half marathon were finally released, and I came 27th all in all (24th male), out of 629 runners. The pack of women that I had in front of me virtually the whole race were indeed the leading ladies, just like I'd thought. The weird thing about the official results is that they added 30 seconds to everyone's time. The timer clearly showed 1:27:57 when I crossed it, and my watch said the same; where those extra 30 seconds are coming from I really do not know. I'll stick by my original time, not that it matters. What the results did show is that I managed to overtake 8 runners on the second half of the race. That's pretty good, I reckon.

When I saw the photos from the finish I remembered that my statement that I had not been overtaken since mile 3.5 was incorrect. One of the guys I had overtaken over the last half mile managed to outkick me right on the line, which is probably why he looked so happy.

Instead of taking it easy on Monday, I followed my possibly flawed theory that running on tired legs is excellent endurance training. Therefore, less than 20 hours after crossing the line, I left home for a hilly 15-mile jaunt around Caragh Lake. The entire back of my left leg was a mess, my heel, my calf and my hamstring all hurt, and I made a deal with myself. I would run up to the Devil's Elbow ridge, until the t-junction. If my leg still hurt I'd go left for a 8.5 mile Devil's Elbow loop, otherwise I'd turn right for my original run around the lake. The legs came round surprisingly quickly, and by the time I reached the junction I was in full autopilot mode and turned right without even thinking. I only snapped back in consciousness half a mile later, and by then there was no doubt that I'd continue on. The run went surprisingly well, but my one concession to sanity was that I didn't try and push the pace over the last 5 miles, like I usually do; instead I was content plodding along at 8:30 pace. Usually my quads are the first things that start hurting late into a long run, but they were fine, instead my hamstrings got tighter as I got closer to home. I'm wondering if my quads have been strengthened by the 50 miles of cycling I do on my commute each week, or if that was just a once-off.

Apart from that run I was planning to recover, with lots of sleep, but alas, real life intervened. I did go to be early on Sunday, but Lola cried with pain in her legs. Niamh insisted on taking her to the doctor there and then (which I thought was entirely unnecessary, but Niamh doesn't share my mistrust of the medical profession), and the verdict was that it was lactic acid in her legs from running around all day. Kids these days, eh? Unfortunately, Maia was worse. She has the same sickness that had affected the entire rest of the family apart from me, and she was on antibiotics. Regrettably these seemed to really upset her, and we hardly got any sleep on Sunday and Monday night, her crying and our fruitless attempts to soothe her kept us awake for long hours. My bank holiday Monday was mostly spent carrying her around because she cried whenever I tried to put her down, and Daddy's shoulder is her Happy Place. It was clearly a case of the medicine being worse that the original problem, and Niamh finally managed to get a different prescription drug, which seems to agree with her. Let's hope that's the end of that particular episode.

I had originally intended to run long again today but opted for another recovery day instead, mostly to catch up on sleep; my legs are fine. As usually happens after a race, my heart rate drops a level in the aftermath, and that seems to happen again. I guess I'm getting into shape just in time for the Cork marathon, at least that's what I'm hoping for. There is one other problem though; my hay fever is really bad at the moment. I get this twice annually, once in April/May and a second, worse, time in June/July, and I don't think I've ever got the early bout as bad as this year. My eyes are itching like mad, and as much as I try to resist rubbing them, the urge to do so is overwhelming. In previous years I never had a problem while out running, but today I came home with tears streaming from my eyes. The one medicine that seems to help has the side effect of making me really drowsy, so I tend not to take it. I don't think falling asleep at work would be a good move. I can only hope this won't last much longer. It doesn't affect my training, but makes the rest of my day truly miserable.

5 May
15 miles, 2:06:34, 8:26 pace, HR 148
6 May
8.5 miles, 1:14:42, 8:47 pace, HR 135
7 May
6 miles, 51:32, 8:35 pace, HR 132

Sunday, May 04, 2008


I left Caragh Lake early on Sunday morning on my way to Glengarriff. Yesterday's weather had been absolutely atrocious with plenty of wind and rain, and I was relieved to find much better conditions on race day. I turned on the car radio, and they forecast a nice sunny day with temperatures between 16 and 21 degrees. Hang on. That's 10 degrees warmer than I'm used to! Maybe not quite ideal either, then.

I got to the start in plenty of time, and did some warm-up, but probably not quite as much as I usually like. I lined up pretty much at the front, where I met Grellan, who didn't think he would be able to run faster than 1:30, due to knee troubles. We set off almost on time. My planned pace for the start was about 6:30. Last year Niamh stood at the side of the road and took a video, about a minute into the race, and I was in about 60th position (I finished 26th). At the same point today I scanned ahead, and there were barely 20 runners in front of me. A quick look at my GPS gave my pace as 5:50. Good Grief! I felt good, but a half marathon is long enough to suffer for quite some time if you race like an idiot on the first mile, and I slowed down a little bit. A fair amount of runners went past me, which I tried to ignore as much as I could. The first mile went by in 6:27, which is pretty much on pace. I had set my Garmin to beep every time my heart rate went under 173 or over 178, which was an experiment. Unfortunately it takes a bit for your HR to build up, and for the first 2 miles the infernal device kept beeping at me (6:33 for mile 2). The jostling for position was still going on, and on mile 3 I got chicked. And again. And again. And bloody yet again. Last year, the third female finished in about 1:31, and with 200 Euros on offer for third place I guess a lot of decent runners thought they had a chance to take home a prize; and I had just ended up in the middle of the early battle. I wondered if I should try and stay with that pack of 4 females (with 2 or 3 males), but decided to run my own race. Shortly before mile 3 (6:37) the course comes back to the start line, but from the other direction, and the rest of the race follows the main road to Bantry.

The first taste of that road is a massive hill. I don't know why race directors in County Cork seem to think that crossing the Alps makes a good half marathon, but I've yet to run a flat one. In Bantry they're even lying about it on their web site, claiming that the climb lasts for one mile, when it's almost two. Ok, the steepest part just lasts for one mile (which took 7:44), but then you climb for another mile (6:59) until you reach the highest point of the course, almost 300 feet higher than the start line! At the foot of that climb I had been about 15 steps behind the aforementioned pack, by now the distance had about doubled, but I'm good at running downhill. If my memory serves me right then I had not been overtaken since mile 3.5, and, as it turned out, nobody would go past me for the entire rest of the race, and now it was my turn to hunt down the road kill. By now it was pretty clear that I would be able to match last year's time, but if I would be able to beat my PR wasn't clear yet.

What goes up must come down; the next 3 miles were all downhill, and flew by in 6:33, 6:21 and 6:09, and I must have overtaken at least 10 runners on that stretch, all of them male. The pack in front of me was still holding together, and I could see a fascinating race develop, and had a vantage viewpoint. At one point one of the ladies dropped behind a bit, but she managed to claw back the deficit and rejoined her competitors. I had my own troubles, my left calf muscle had gotten tighter and tighter, and by now it was distinctly uncomfortable. I could live with that but I hoped it would not cramp, that would well and truly end my race. At that stage my HRM started beeping again because my HR kept going under 173 (though it hardly ever dropped beneath 172). The incessant beeping really started to get on my nerves, and I was tempted to chuck the bloody thing into the sea, but that would have been a waste of 200 Euros that I don't really have. I tried to increase the effort, but while the heart might have said that I wasn't redlining yet, the legs begged to differ.

Mile 9 brought the next hill, small but significant enough to give me a side stitch both last year and the year before. This year I managed to go through without, in 6:29. I did remember from the 2 previous years that the rest of the course was rather undulating, there is not a single flat meter in the road, and I thought I was prepared for it. But I had actually forgotten just how long that hill to mile 11 really is (I think I said the same last year). The road just keeps going left and right, and up and up, and my pace slowed, 6:40 for mile 10 and 7:03 for mile 11. One woman of the pack in front of me fell behind, and I went past, and then they obviously started fighting tooth and nail for their places, because they increased the pace (or at least the effort, over those hills). I tried not to let the distance grow, but then the dreaded Bantry side stitch curse hit me. In all the races I have ever done, I've had stitch exactly 3 times: in Bantry 2006, Bantry 2007 and now in Bantry 2008. That gives a stitch hit rate of 100% for Bantry races and one of 0% for all other races combined. I had to slow down a little bit and breathe deeply, and after half a minute or so it disappeared, but by then the group in front of me had doubled the distance. I could see almost 10 runners ahead of me, but at that stage I doubted I would be able to reel in any of them. Despite the stitch, mile 12 wasn't too bad at 6:45, but one additional problem had become apparent at each mile marker; my Garmin showed shorter miles than were marked, and by then it took about 20 seconds between the mile-alarm coming from my watch to the actual passing of the road mile marker. This meant that while the Garmin told me I was on my way to a personal best, the official mile markers disagreed, and it's the official ones that count in the end. There is yet another blasted hill on the last mile, just to make sure you're working hard, and I really put the hammer down on that one. I went deep into the anaerobic zone, the HR alarm started beeping incessantly again, this time because I was running well above my limit, and I pushed and pushed and pushed. To my surprise the distance to the leaders ahead of me melted quickly, and I managed to overtake 4 or 5 runners, including another one of the female prize hunters, and then the finish line appeared behind the final bend. As soon as I saw the timer I knew that I would miss my PR by a matter of seconds. I ran my heart out; mile 13 took 6:26 and the pace on the last bit was 5:35, which I really didn't know I was capable of, and then I crossed the line in about 1:27:57, which meant that after 90 minutes of intense punishment I had managed to miss out on a personal best by 5 lousy seconds.

The day before I had stated that I would be happy with anything under 1:30, but for the first 30 seconds after crossing the line that didn't apply and I muttered a few unprintable choice words, but eventually calmed down and acknowledged to myself that I had run a good race, just 4 weeks after completely destroying my quads over the gruelling Connemara course. The day had one more surprise in for me, they have a hall for massage, and I was the first athlete in there! I must have run pretty well after all, because it started to fill up quickly while I had my aching legs massaged by a nice lady – hey, who's complaining.

The distance according to my Garmin was 13.22 miles, but the official one was the standard half marathon distance of 13.1, and I really do not want to question the accuracy of the course. The average pace according to the Garmin was 6:39, but the “corrected” one is 6:43. My average heart rate was 174, pretty much what it should be. I bumped into Grellan afterwards, and he had even more reason than me to be annoyed, he missed 1:30 by 2 seconds. He was nice enough to go out of his way and gave me a much appreciated lift back to Glengarriff, but our little race series has been equalised. Ewen take note. Cork will be the decider 29 days from today.

4 May
14 miles, incl:
Bantry Bay Half Marathon, 1:27:57

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Pre Race

The last two days have passed in a constant stage of paranoia. More than once I woke up in the middle of the night, each time convinced that I had a sore throat and that the sickness that had gripped the entire rest of the family had finally spread to me. I had a rough night. I'm quite used to being woken by Maia, but to be woken by Maia, Niamh, Lola and Cian was a new experience, and not one I care to repeat. The only one who slept peacefully was Shea, and he slept uninterrupted for 13 hours! Luckily the worst seems to be behind us; Niamh is feeling a lot better, as are the twins, and Cian was never very sick anyway. Just Maia seems to be suffering a bit more, she still has a raised temperature, and she's not entirely on form. I would offer to stay home, but Niamh's sister is here for the weekend and will be a helping hand, and besides, I'll be home shortly after lunch.

The weather is utterly miserable at the moment. It started raining in the morning just as I was about to leave for my run. For the third time this week I waited 15 minutes in hope that it was just a passing shower, but no such luck and eventually I got fed up with waiting and decided to brave to elements. It was wet and windy, but it was only a short 5 miles run, just enough to keep the legs and the mind occupied, and I hope to be at the start line tomorrow both healthy and rested.

I felt absolutely fantastic on yesterday's run, after crossing the Devil's Elbow I was cruising along effortlessly at 8:00 pace, and really had to stop myself from running any faster. It felt so easy and smooth, I can't remember the last time I had felt like that, and I very much enjoyed it. Unfortunately, the run was over all to quickly.

A work colleague asked me plenty of questions about running on Friday, from what goes through my mind during a run (everything and anything), if it hurts during a race (if it doesn't, then you're doing something wrong), did I ever think of quitting while racing (in just about every race), and if I ever quit (no ... not yet at least). Then the question I couldn't answer to his satisfaction, namely why? Because I love running! Except, from the previous answers he could not grasp what there is to love. I guess he would have to find out for himself.

A different colleague has started cycling into work, and I like to think that it was because of my influence. Chalk one up, even if it's only a mile or two from his house. It's so much better than driving.

I added a few more runs to my to-do list, namely the resurrected London-to-Brighton, a 24 hours race (not picky where, you don't do those for the scenery), Across The Years (the race reports are so great), and the Laugavegur Ultra (because I love Iceland). I mentioned them to Niamh, and she was like “You've gone completely mad. It's difficult enough already to explain to other people what you're doing”. And today she added “I don't doubt either your insanity or your determination”. I don't think she'll object to a holiday in South Africa for the Comrades or a few days in London, or any other interesting destination for that matter.

So. Tomorrow is race time. I have no idea what to expect, because I really don't know how well my legs have recovered from the ultra a mere 4 weeks ago. I'm reasonably confident I'll match last year's time of 1:29:57, and anything better would be a bonus. A PR would of course be welcome, but I won't be disappointed if that's out of reach. Till then.

2 May
8.5 miles, 1:10:53, 8:20 pace, HR 148
felt really good; had to hold back for Sunday's race
3 May
5 miles, 43:10, 8:38 pace, HR 140

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Utterly Random Thoughts

The rain fell hard against our window at 5:10 Wednesday morning, and the noise woke both me and Maia. Miraculously, both of us managed to fall back asleep, but unfortunately my alarm went off just 15 minutes later, and I got up, cursing the weather. Why did it have to start raining on the day of my long run? I was lucky though, the worst of it had stopped already by the time I was ready to go, and I never got more than a few drop at the time. The run went very well, I did the 15 hilly miles in a bit over 2 hours, and felt good all the way. I was a bit wistful, why oh why did I not feel like that during Connemara? By mile 15 my right quads had already been hurting for 5 miles and the left ones were about to join the misery. On Wednesday, in contrast, I felt like I could run the same loop immediately again.

Due to the race on Sunday I'll have a mini taper, but I thought 8.5 miles on the Devil's Elbow wouldn't do any harm. Alas, the rain shower started just as I was about to leave, and I delayed my departure for 10 minutes, which left me short on time, so I settled for 6 very slow miles. The rain returned shortly before the 4 mile mark, and I felt a bit cold and miserable, but that, too, passed. I want to keep those slow runs in my repertoire, especially if I include some harder runs on a regular basis. The toughest part is to persuade the mind that they are good for you. I'll try and follow Andrew's example. He's a much better runner than I am, and yet his recovery runs are slower than mine. I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned.

I checked the results of Saturday's Highway Fling, which I had considered doing this year, but it didn't fit into my schedule, and I couldn't have run it anyway, because it coincided with my twins' birthday. My running buddy from the Loch Ness marathon, John, had an absolute stormer and finished in 14th place in 9:44:41. It was won by Jez Bragg, the same guy who had won Connemara against tough opposition only 3 weeks earlier. How impressive is that! I compared Jez's time for Connemara and the Fling, and if my times would have shown the same correlation as his, I would have ended the Fling in 10:10. I guess that could set a target if I ever make it across the Irish Channel, I should try and stay under 10 hours.

Because today's run was so slow, I had plenty of time thinking about races I'd like to run in years to come. In distance-increasing order, there's Boston, the Jungfrau marathon, the Ausserfern Challenge, the Highland Fling, Comrades, the WHW, and, in the realms of fantasy, Malin Head to Mizen Head. Throw in an Iron Man as well, while we're at it. I can't help but detect a certain leaning towards the ultra distance here. I guess that's what I want. In case you're wondering, the one in Austria is in there because that's where I spent several (miserable) years, and I guess I'm feeling a bit sentimental at times. The rest should be self explanatory.

After all the trash talk about claiming victory in Bantry if Grellan doesn't turn up, things might actually be the other way round. Everyone in the family is sick with flu-like symptoms, even Maia, and Niamh is especially under the weather. I haven't got any symptoms at the moment, and I completely avoided the last bug that went round a few weeks ago, but if I get sick now then the race will most likely go ahead without me. I'll keep my fingers crossed.
30 Apr
15 miles, 2:02:12, 8:09 pace, HR 149
1 May
6 miles, 54:01, 9:00 pace, HR 135

April milage: 221 miles