Saturday, June 28, 2008

An Unforgettable Weekend

We've done the routine before. Niamh collected me at Friday lunchtime from work, I had taken the afternoon off, and we set off towards Ennis, about 3 hours drive away (it would have been faster if I had been driving, but let's not go there). We found our hotel without problems, spent the afternoon in the pool, the gym, and the play area, and went for dinner. There we encountered the first signs of what was to come. Cian has had a tummy bug over the last few days, he once or twice threw up, and all 3 kids basically refused dinner. Lola and Cian ate little bits, Shea didn't even touch his. Since I was still hungry after my meal, I pretty much polished off their plates – hey, who's complaining. We went to bed, and eventually the kids were sleeping. I, however, was not.

Don't read this on a weak stomach. You have been warned.

Try as you might, I could not fall asleep. Be it that I had overeaten at dinner, or the fact that I never sleep well before a race, or the strange bed, by 1 am I had still not slept a wink. Then Shea woke up and promptly vomited all over the floor. Niamh and me spent the next 30 minutes cleaning up the mess, then we unsuccessfully tried to sleep again. Then Maia threw up in bed. We cleaned that up. Then Cian threw up. At least he had managed to get to the toilet in time, so there was no cleaning up to do. Then Maia threw up a second time. By now it was 4 am, I still had not slept for a minute, we were running out of clothes for Maia and sheets for the bed. Niamh and me actually had a cup of tea at that stage, because Maia was wide awake, very happy (babies can vomit and be happy at the same time) and in no mood to go back to sleep. Meanwhile Shea and Lola continued to moan in their beds, which caused us to jump up and check on them each time, but eventually we managed to get a little bit of sleep. I guess I might have got about 2 hours, but that might be overly optimistic. The bigger problem was that my own stomach started acting up. I hoped this was caused by the lack of sleep and the way I had spent cleaning up after the kids all night, but in reality I already knew that the stomach bug had caught up with me as well.

I could not stomach any breakfast in the morning, but eventually forced myself to down some yoghurt, even though it nearly made me gag. I also could not drink any of the sports drink I had brought along, the sickly sweet taste almost made me throw up from only looking at it. I did not dare to drink unboiled water, because they had had a cryptospiridium scare not long ago, and apparently the advice was still to boil water before consumption. As a result I was really dehydrated, and I hadn't even left my room yet. Niamh kept asking how I felt and if running the race was really such a good idea. I basically lied to her and said I was merely tired from lack of sleep, because I knew that if she had known how bad I was really feeling she would have stopped me from running.

Now, guess how the race went. I jogged the 2 miles from our hotel to the start, and my heart rate was close to 150 for 9:00 pace. I wasn't able to run any strides, because that was too much effort. I was still hoping for a miracle. Maybe digesting the yoghurt took too much energy, which I would get back once my stomach was empty?

Fat chance.

The goal for the race had been “to suffer as much as possible” (you'll have to read the Brain training book to get more details), and boy, was I going to get some of that. Be careful what you wish for, it might come true. I actually set off at some reasonable pace. After the early pushing and shoving had succumbed I ran about 6:30 pace, which was slower than the 6:20 I would need to equal my PR but a lot faster than I had imagined I would be able to run only 5 minutes ago. I managed to keep that up for about 1.5 miles, but I was already spent. I told myself that the first quarter is often the hardest part of a run, then you're warmed up, but I was just kidding myself. From mile 2 on I got slower with each step. I was also fighting nausea, which kept coming in waves, and on several occasions I was about to throw up, but just about managed to contain it.

The course was reasonably flat, there was some wind but not much, and it had been raining a few drops at the start but had stopped by now. The conditions would have been good, but I was running on empty. Unlike every other race I had ever done, I started to fall behind in the field. Niamh and the kids were waiting just after the halfway mark. They cheered, Shea shouted out "you came 66th, Daddy". I gave Niamh a thumbs down signal to show that things were not going according to plan. Around the 6k mark we got some water, which was great for me because I was massively dehydrated, but it also increased the nausea which had started to recede a bit beforehand. I still kept falling behind, which annoyed me no end. I thought about pulling out, but I really did not want to have a DNF to my name. If that had been a marathon there would have been no question about me being unable to run, but this was a mere 10k, and I should always be able to finish those, no matter what condition I'm in. With about 2 km to go I managed to push on a bit harder again, constantly being overtaken had spurred me into action. My pace had been constantly dropping, and I was too busy feeling sorry for myself to push any harder. A few days ago I had run 7:46 pace at 143 heart rate, and had felt great. Now I was running the same pace, with a HR of over 20 beats higher, and felt like dying. But with the finish within earshot (I heard them cheering a finisher, about 35 minutes into the run) I finally found another gear. At first the overtaking stopped, which was already a major plus, and then I managed to catch 2 runner ahead of me to restore a minimum of pride. The course had been flat but the finish is tough, and I eventually crossed the line way behind schedule at 43:12.

I can run a 10k 4 minutes faster than that!

This was not me. This was me fighting nausea, diarrhoea and a temperature (I got the chills in the shower afterwards, and felt like crap, but we didn't have a thermometer to confirm), and the pace had only been marginally faster than at the Cork marathon 26 days earlier. In fact, I'm sure I ran the final 10k in Cork faster than that. Time to forget and move on.

Before the race I had dared to dream of a podium finish. Last year, the winner of the men's O35 age group had won in 40:22 which is a minute slower than my PR. I suspected that this would cause a lot of O35 runners to raise their hopes and today's race would be a lot more competitive, but a man can still dream. However, there was nothing I could have done today anyway. Let's move on.

We didn't drive home straight away, we spent almost 2 hours in Cragganowen, because that had been the entire purpose of the trip, according to Niamh (this remark did cause me to raise my eyebrows, I have to say). The kids, even in their exhausted state, utterly loved it there. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who happens to be around Ennis or Limerick. How I managed to survive the walks I'm not quite sure, but at least I managed to sleep a lot on the way home. Maybe I'll feel human again soon.

In retrospect, I learned two things today. Lesson one, you cannot run a race if you've got issues with nausea and diarrhoea, after a sleepless night and with a temperature about to hit. Lesson two, I'm an idiot.

Neither lesson comes as a big surprise.

27 Jun
6 miles, 50:53, 8:29 pace, HR 146
28 Jun
10 miles, including the Clare 10k in 43:12
sick, exhausted, felt like death

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I'll keep the running bits short, or this will be a very long entry. I woke early yesterday, and eventually got up 20 minutes before the alarm went off because staring at the ceiling was starting to lose its lustre. I got slightly delayed because I had to fix some breakfast for the boys, but still managed to go out early enough to add one mile to the scheduled run, not that one extra mile 4 months before the race will make any difference whatsoever. The run would have been nice had it not started raining with a mile to go. I was drenched by the time I got home.

Today was the second "fartlek" workout of the program, but this time it included 6x30 seconds of fast running rather than the mere 2 of last week. I programmed the Garmin to help me count the repeats (the interval workout feature on the Garmin is a godsend), because I tend to have trouble counting to 3 when I'm running, never mind all the way up to 6. The pace during the speed sections on the average was faster than 5:30, which is a little bit quicker than I was supposed to go, but not by much. I can tell you that running 30 seconds on reasonably flat road is a lot easier than 30 seconds of hill sprints! I still cannot imagine running an entire mile at that pace, though. My legs are sore from that workout, and that was only about half the distance with big long breaks in-between. The run would have been nice had it not started raining with a mile to go. I was drenched by the time I got home. Again.

At lunchtime today a colleague asked me out of the blue "if there is a 10k road race and it's only 9.6k, would the runners be upset?" After some discussion, where he kept skirting around the issue, he eventually believed me that yes, a fair amount of runners might end up being a bit upset. Eventually I found out that he is organising a 10k road race on the Dingle peninsula, and I think he will try and find an extra loop for his route. In any case, I've added that unexpected race on July 13 to my schedule.

Niamh might have been right with her baby genius comment. Yesterday she carried Maia into the kitchen, and as soon as she saw me she said "dada". Coincidence? Well, possibly, except that she did the same again today. Maybe Niamh is secretly coaching her. Of course, being the subject of the only word she can say is flattering. Especially since that girl is so gorgeous.

We're heading off to Ennis in county Clare tomorrow afternoon for a family weekend, and, not entirely coincidental, there is a 10k race on Saturday. When I wrote my training schedule, I tentatively put that race into the spreadsheet, for no other reason than that it was held at that date. I did not really expect to actually go there, because driving more than 2 hours each way for a 10k run might be a bit excessive. However, when I mentioned it to Niamh the other day, she was suspiciously enthusiastic. Of course, what we ended up doing was booking a fancy hotel for the entire family, and she has every intention of being pampered for a day, in exchange of me being able to run the race. She's cunning, that woman. Anyway, my target for the race is "to suffer as much as possible". If that yields a good time, it would be a welcome bonus.

25 Jun
7 miles, 55:04, 7:52 pace, HR 150
26 Jun
6 miles, 46:33, 7:45 pace, HR 156
incl. 6x30 secs @ 5:26 pace avg

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

To The Hills Again

The second week of my Dublin training started pretty well with a run on Monday that went faster and faster without any real increase in effort. It was only over 6 miles, though. I started out easily and finished the first mile in about 8:20. Then, every subsequent mile was a little bit faster then the previous one. This was not planned, I ran just for fun, and I always kept the effort at the "easy" level. I felt rather good afterwards. Running 7:46 pace at a heart rate of 143 (which is rather low for me) is uncharted territory. Two years ago I was not able to get my HR down to those levels even on a recovery run. Earlier this year I started having doubts if I would still be able to improve my times. Now I'm much more optimistic.

I knew this week's workouts would be tougher than last week's, and in fact I was looking forward to that. After last Tuesday's 2 hill sprints I felt like I went home before getting any work done, and felt somewhat guilty about that – silly, I know. One look into this week's schedule, however, told me that I would not have to wait long for a "real" workout. Today's 6 hill sprints were a lot harder, even though they were still only 30 seconds long each. You might be surprised just how long 30 seconds can be. All in all I managed ok, the average pace was around 6:18, but the last one was a good bit slower then the other 5, and I don't think I would have managed another one, at least not at "sprint" speed. At the moment I don't know how I will be able to handle the longer hill sprints that lie in wait, but I guess I'll find out.

I wish the send congratulations across the Irish Channel to John, who I was lucky enough to run with in last year's Loch Ness marathon. We ran the first 8 or so miles at the same pace, then he pulled away from me, and I managed to catch up with him towards the end when his legs reminded him that he had run a 95-miles ultra not too long ago. Well, John ran the same ultra again this year, and managed to beat 20 hours by a matter of seconds! John, I'm in awe.
23 Jun
6 miles, 46:39, 7:46 pace, HR 143
24 Jun
5.5 miles, 49:25, 8:59 pace, HR 145
incl. 6x30 secs hill sprints with 2 mins recovery

Sunday, June 22, 2008


This was entirely predictable. We had weeks of nice weather, so what happens on the first official day of summer? The storm clouds take over! Just how typical is that. This took me completely by surprise yesterday morning, and I did delay the run by an hour until the conditions seemed a bit better, meaning that the wind wasn't quite blowing at gale force, and the rain was slightly lighter. I only did 6 miles, which was manageable, but I've run in better conditions.

Today was even worse, though at least this time I was forewarned. Again, I delayed going out until there seemed to be a window in the storm. I managed almost 1.5 dry miles, then the weather returned and within 5 minutes I was soaked through to the bones. Running along Caragh Lake in those conditions is out of the question, and I chose two out-and-back loops to Ard-na-Sidhe, which is the only somewhat sheltered road in our vicinity I know of. Turning around at our driveway after the fist loop to head out a second time is a bit of a test, but I managed to pass.

Apart from the weather, the run was just about perfect. I feel great at the moment. I keep thinking that the effects of the Cork marathon must be out of my system by now, but I thought the same last week, and the way I'm feeling even better today points to the fact that there was still some more recovery to do. In any case, I feel more than ready to take on more training load. One look at the schedule tells me that this wish will be fulfilled.

One thing I learned from last night's strengthening exercises is that broad jumps are no easier than squat jumps. I'm looking forward to the day when I've got enough power in my legs to bounce around like a kangaroo, but so far all I can do is try to avoid collapsing in a heap after each jump. Make no mistake, those exercises are tough, and I'm not the only one to have made that experience. I just hope they will indeed improve my running, because there's no races that feature bouncing.

There's another person who's developing at quite some rate in our house, though Niamh and me are not always of the same opinion on the exact level of progress. Niamh insists that Maia is saying “Dada”, while I think she's just babbling random syllables. Niamh also insists that she's able to wave bye-bye when I leave in the morning, while I think she's merely waving her arms about, like babies always do. However, there's no doubt about her one tooth, and the fact that there's a second one about to break though (which unfortunately doesn't improve the peace at night). She's also able to crawl across any room within seconds, is able to find the smallest pieces of dirt/food/toys on the floor and put them in her mouth, an she's starting to pull herself up. Niamh keeps telling me that she's well ahead of the average development schedule. Having three older sibling in the house does that to a baby, but I don't want to disagree with Niamh assessment that we're dealing with a baby genius here.

21 Jun
6 miles, 47:49, 7:58 pace, HR 142
22 Jun
10 miles, 1:17:08, 7:42 pace, HR 150

Weekly mileage: 50.5

Friday, June 20, 2008

Still the First Week

The first week of official training is coming along nicely, and I already seem to be speeding up. This is presumingly a temporary blip, and I guess I'll settle into a pace soon enough. Actually, I'm not sure what pace to follow for the workouts just yet. The book gives very precise workout paces for your level; looking at my recent marathon in Cork puts me around level 29, but my best 10k time from last year puts me at 27. You could of course argue that I have to go with my most recent time, which would be the marathon, but on the other hand I'm reasonably sure that if I ran a 10k now I'd get a better time than 40:35, which is the 3:09 marathon equivalent. My shorter races have always produced better times than my marathons, no matter what calculator you use for your predications, and I know for a fact that that's rather common for runners. One of my hopes for the new marathon program is that it will at least reduce that gap.

Wednesday was a rather mundane 6-mile run, the only remarkable thing was that it was raining and very windy. The weather has been very good here for the last few weeks, but it took only one day of rain for people to start moaning again. Don't live on the Irish west coast if you're water shy, guys. Luckily by Thursday the clouds had mostly disappeared again, and my first "fartlek" workout was done in decent conditions. I put that into quotes because 6 miles with 2x30 seconds at mile pace is not what I would call a fartlek. I was unsure how to set my mile pace; according to the charts it should be around 5:40, even though I cannot imagine running a mile that fast. The next problem was judging the pace during the actual workout. The garmin was no help in that regard; the pace display is always smoothed, it takes the average pace over the last few seconds, and if you only have 30 seconds for your run, that display is useless. Basically I just ended running at what felt rather fast, and looking at the workout data afterwards showed that I ran the 2 speed sections at 5:32 and 5:38 respectively, which meant I got it more or less right. Just like on Tuesday, the workout was over before it had even properly started, but that too will change very quickly in the next few weeks. The first week is easy. The second week will already be much tougher.

I did 12 miles today for my "long" run, but it will still take a while until I'll do a run that I can call a long run without having to use quotes. I ran a loop through the neighbouring village of Cromane because it's a reasonably flat road, and then added a detour over some hills on the way back home. I slightly misjudged the length of that detour and inadvertently ended up doing 12.5 miles, but since I had started a few minutes early this was not a problem. The legs felt surprisingly fresh and I easily got the pace down to 7:30 early on but forced myself to slow down a bit, because I should at least try to stay within the prescribed parameters of the program. For whatever reason, I had a bit of a low point between miles 6 and 8, but picked things up again towards the end. That's not the first time I've had troubles at that distance, but I'm always able to recover, and once I get over the low point I'm absolutely fine again.

The training plan also includes a few strengthening exercises; after running for several years, putting in a lot of miles and being able to run a 3:09 marathon I expected my legs to easily deal with anything. I was not prepared for how tough those squat jumps were. After 20 I was panting hard, and my quads were on fire. I guess that's a sign that there's plenty of room for improvement. That's good, of course. Room for improvement is what I need if I want to cut almost 10 minutes of my marathon time.

18 Jun
6 miles, 47:32, 7:55 pace, HR 151
19 Jun
6 miles, 47:36, 7:56 pace, HR 148
with 2x30 secs @ 5:32, 5:38
20 Jun
12 miles, 1:37:08, 7:46 pace, HR 150

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

First Hills

I knew I would receive a few warnings when I mentioned that the weeks that I had chucked out of the schedule were mostly recovery weeks, and I also know that those warnings are both well meant and justified. But I generally seem to recover very quickly from workouts and think that I'll be able to handle the workload, especially as the mileage will be lower than what I had done last year. If I'm doing optimal training is a different question, of course, but I will definitely keep an eye on the way the body responds to the training and make adjustments if I deem them necessary.

The official marathon training cycle started yesterday, but with a low-key 6 mile run that was less stressful than the runs I had done prior to that. While the schedule prescribes rather precise paces for the tempo workouts, it has a very broad range for the base and recovery runs, and on Monday I felt a bit tired and ended up at the lower end of the scale. My main problem was with the proprioceptive cue that I'm supposed to include in every run of the week, namely "falling forward". The author suggests starting with an exaggerated forward lean (from the ankle, not the hip), and then dialling it back until you feel in control. Somehow I had troubles getting to grips with that, and for the first 3 miles I ran a) slow and b) with a raised heart rate. At the turnaround point I decided that this was not working and changed my strategy. Instead of pretending to fall forward I imagined someone giving me a very gentle push between the shoulder blades, and that seemed to work much better. I'm supposed to work on one proprioceptive cue on every training run from now until forever. I've only just started that kind of thing, and it is bound to be difficult, but at the moment I've got my doubts if I will be able to implement that strategy.

The first new workout was today, but two hill sprints of only 30 seconds duration were never too daunting. This is supposed to activate all your muscle fibres, and the hill workouts will be getting a lot tougher very quickly. Grellan knows all about those. The pace recommendation was a bit strange, at "relaxed sprint" pace. I don't know what that's supposed to mean, sprinting uphill doesn't really go with relaxation in my view. I ended up running fast but not all out; the hill has a gradient between 6 and 8% (according to the Garmin); the fastest speed I saw on the Garmin was 6:20, but checking afterwards the readout gives me a "Best" of 5:45. The accuracy of either reading is open to question, and keep in mind that neither were the average pace. Anyway, the workout was over before it had even started properly, and I felt like I hadn't done enough work. The first week is clearly a rather gentle introduction.

16 Jun
6 miles, 50:04, 8:21 pace, HR 140
17 Jun
4.5 miles, 40:18, 8:57 pace, HR 141
incl. 2x30 seconds hill sprints

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Family Treat

As you don't have 24 weeks before Dublin, are you just going to jump into week 4 or 5 of the 24 week "Brain Training" programme?

Tomorrow I'm starting my training for the Dublin City marathon, and, as Grellan pointed out, I don't have the required 24 weeks time to follow the schedule in Matt Fitzgerald's book; if I counted correctly, Dublin is only 19 weeks away.

I think it would be a mistake to jump straight into week 6. The training is divided into several blocks (base – build 1 – build 2 – peak – taper), and I would miss out on most of the base phase. Instead I removed about one week from each block, mostly the recovery weeks. That might be a bad idea, and I'll keep evaluating the training over the next few weeks. If I think I'm doing too much, I will make changes. I have changed a few other aspects of the schedule as well. He has his workouts on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; I have mine on Tuesday, Thursday and then Friday or Saturday instead. Every second week I'll do back-to-back workouts (tempo on Thursday, long on Friday) to improve my stamina. I also added a few miles to some of the weeks, but if I feel this will prevent me from hitting the required intensity on the speed workouts, I will make further changes. On the other hand, if I think I need more endurance, and feel able to absorb it, I might add a second 2-hours run per week. As you can see, things are not set in stone. I will try and adapt the training as needed.

I have finally overcome the sore throat that had plagued me at the start of the week, and all of a sudden my legs have taken off. On Friday I started out slowly enough with 2 8-minute miles, and then I just kept going faster and faster, without even feeling much of an effort. I ended with 2 sub-7 miles, and I still didn't feel like I was really pushing the pace, and I ended up with the easiest tempo run I've ever done. Was it silly to push the pace? Maybe. Was it fun? Definitely. I'd love to bottle the feeling I had during those miles and take a sip on the bad days. I just felt incredibly good.

I decided to slow down on Saturday. After all, I do not want to feel tired before the actual marathon training has even started. I played with the idea of leaving the Garmin at home, but then I would have missed out on a day's data in sporttracks, and decided to bring it but not look at it. I almost stuck to that, and was rather surprised at my pace. I was almost doing 8-minute miles, when I thought I was running a minute slower. What can I say? I'm feeling good at the moment.

I had another good day today, with 10 miles alongside Caragh Lake, the first double-digit run since the marathon. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and the slight breeze was welcome because it kept me cool. I cruised along at easy pace, and just speeded up a bit for the last mile or two, but not by much. The training only starts on Monday (and then it starts with an easy day).

Today was Father's Day, even though I only realised that on Friday. Just like almost everyone else, we don't make much of a deal out of it. A few days ago Niamh found a mention of a Dino Cafe in a paper, and since it's not too far away from us, showed it to Shea. His brilliant idea was to go there for Father's Day (brilliant for him, that is). I didn't protest, and after my run we set off towards County Cork. The kids all L-O-V-E-D it, they all got way over-excited (together with some other kids we met at the place) and the sculptor himself gave us a very interesting tour. If anyone happens to have kids at the right age, I can highly recommend the place, they will just love it. Afterwards we went to some gardens that just happened to be in the same village, which was Niamh's treat for the day, and where we took all those photos. Hang on, this was supposed to be Father's Day, where was my treat? Never mind, we all had a great time, and with the weather cooperating, who can complain. Maia was in good spirits as well, and a good time was had by everyone.

13 Jun
6 miles, 44:27, 7:24 pace, HR 157
14 Jun
5 miles, 40:30, 8:06 pace, HR 144
15 Jun
10 miles, 1:19:42, 7:58 pace, HR 147

Weekly mileage: 41

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I can't see it

"I like your photo's, but I can see a lot of unnecessary tension in your face and body ... now all that tension in your body is just increasing your pain, wasting energy and slowing you down."

I looked at the photos for the apparent signs of being very tense, and in all honesty, I can't see them. Ignore that row of three photos – I was cramping at the time, and I dare you to look relaxed while your calf is in spasm. On the other photos I can detect that left lean that I've been talking about, but I don't think I look particularly tense. In fact, I always thought of myself as a runner with a fairly relaxed style.

I had been in a bit of a rut earlier this week. I didn't feel very well, my legs were very tired. Scratch that, I was very tired generally, despite getting close to 8 hours of sleep most nights. I have a very annoying sore throat, which is probably a reminder of the marathon, and which finally seems to be getting better, after bothering me for the entire week. Maybe I should have started taking Echinacea earlier. The other theory why I'm not feeling on top of the world is my hay fever, which is much worse this year than ever before. I hate taking the anti-histamine tablets because an hour after taking them I fall into a comatose sleep (which is why I can only take them in the evening), and I'm not entirely sure about other side-effects, but there is no doubt that they vastly improve the hay fever symptoms, and I end up taking a tablet about every 3 days.

Yesterday, on the homeward leg of the out-and-back route I finally got too bored with running at recovery pace and accelerated. It felt good to give the legs a bit of a stretch, and 7:00-7:30 pace over the last 1.5 miles were a nice change. I also thought I felt better afterwards, but that could be purely psychological. Today I set the alarm a few minutes earlier to break the monotonous sequence of 5-mile runs day after day, but the boys were awake, needed breakfast (and in Cian's case a shower) and by the time they were happy it was even later than usual, and my run was shortened to 5 miles again. In an attempt to change the scenery I turned right rather than left at the end of our driveway and ran towards Cromane. The first third of the road was flat, the second downhill and the final one uphill, and then it was time to turn around and do the same thing in reverse. I caught myself running 7:20 pace on one of the uphill bits and took that as a sign to slow down, but it was still by far the fastest run since the marathon. I have to keep reminding myself that I ran a marathon only 10 days ago, because the legs feel fine again, and don't show any real sign of damage. On the opposite, as mentioned, I feel the urge to take off, because too many runs at recovery pace have left me with a distinctive feeling of boredom.

I'll start the next marathon training cycle on Monday. That should keep me entertained.

Unlike her Daddy, the gorgeous Maia has been improving her motor skills at an alarming rate recently. She first managed to crawl forwards at the end of May (not even 7 months old!!!) and has by now perfected that mode of movement. No matter where you put her down, if you take your eyes off for a second she is in a completely different place, and unfortunately the improvements in motor skills are not accompanied by the development of common sense. She also steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the meaning of the word "NO", no matter if intonated in a stern or panicked voice. I still remember the havoc that Cian used to create all over the house. I can see a few damage reports in the near future (damage to the house, hopefully, not the gorgeous Maia).
10 Jun
5 miles, 42:16, 8:26 pace, HR 137
11 Jun
5 miles, 40:17, 8:03 pace, HR 145
12 Jun
5 miles, 39:10, 7:50 pace, HR 137

Monday, June 09, 2008


John tagged me a week ago, but I was a bit busy with the marathon. Since I haven't got much to write at the moment, I thought I'd take the opportunity and play along somewhat.

Tagging is easy. Just copy the following onto your post.
* The rules of the game are posted at the start of your blog post.
* In this case, I'm asking you 5 questions about running.
* Each player answers the 5 questions on their own blog.
* At the end of your post you tag 5 other people and post their names.
* Go to their blogs and leave a comment on their blogs telling them they've been tagged and to look at your blog for details.
* When they've answered the questions on their own blog, they come back to yours to tell you. Got that?

1.How would you describe your running 10 years ago?

Non-existent. I only started running 4 years ago, and I only started training properly 3 years ago.

2.What is your best and worst run/race experience?

I love running on clear nights with the moon and the stars bright enough so I don't need artificial light. Pure magic.

The worst experience was the Belfast marathon, my second marathon and my personal worst. I hated Belfast, the course, the weather, and running in general. On the other hand, it was that awful time that made me train properly from then on.

3.Why do you run?

Simply put, I love running.

4.What is the best or worst piece of advice you've been given about running?

I've received so much brilliant advice from the likes of Mike, Mike, Eric, Rob, Andrew and a dozen others that I can't possibly tell what the best piece of advice was. But blogging about running was a godsend for me.

The worst? Don't run too far. Don't run too fast. Don't overdo it ... all of it well meant, all of it useless.

5.Tell us something surprising about yourself that not many people would know.

Niamh and me met in Vienna and stayed together for only 2 months until she had to go back home to Dublin. We were separated for 2 years; I still can't believe we actually stayed together.

I'm not going to tag anyone else. Yes, that makes me a bit of a spoil sport.

The running over the weekend wasn't great. The weather was really humid, I was bathed in sweat after only half a mile, and felt pretty crap. If that had happened a few days earlier I would have blamed the marathon, and while that might still be a contributing factor, I think the conditions had more of an influence. Today I felt a bit better than yesterday, probably because I ran 3 hours earlier, and because I wore a singlet rather than a cotton t-shirt. I checked the weather website, and the dew point was basically identical with the temperature early in the morning, with 100% humidity. I'm mainly relieved I didn't have to run the marathon like that.

8 Jun
7 miles, 59:15, 8:27 pace, HR 143
9 Jun
5 miles, 44:10, 8:50 pace, HR 135

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Marathon running is not a beauty contest, and the photos are yet another proof to it. I actually like one or two of them, but the rest ... have a look.

I was completely unaware I was being photographed before the start, but when I saw the result, I had to laugh. Niamh commented I look like a Greek God. Personally it reminded more of someone else.

And if you ever wondered what I look like when I get a cramp just before crossing the finishing line, here's your chance to find out.

Surprisingly, some photos look ok; unsurprisingly, some don't. What struck me is that I seem to have a tendency of leaning slightly towards my left side. It's something I have seen in photos of other races as well, but I am complete unaware of it when running.

Browsing through the results I came up with two things. Firstly, I ended 15th in the 35-39 age group. That sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Secondly, I counted the number of finishers who were ahead of me at the halfway mark, but finished behind me, as well as the other way round. The result (I might have missed one or two, of course):

Marathon runners who overtook me between halfway and the end: 0
Marathon runners who I overtook between halfway and the end: A whopping 47!

Wow. It was an incredibly satisfying way to run a marathon, but I do have that niggling thought in the back of my head that I didn't run it optimally; I still had too much left in the tank at the end. I probably could have run a bit more aggressively in the first half, and eeked out another minute or two. But I try to ignore that voice. Marathons can be brutal, and it's better to be a little bit too conservative at the start than too aggressive. And the sub-3 would never have been on the cards anyway, and I'm not overly concerned about the fact that I might have been able to run 3:08 instead of 3:09.

One more thing I realised (and the Alien Lizard spotted it too) is that the Yasso 800 workout before the race had been spot on in its prediction. I'm still not entirely convinced that it is a good predictor, but it did work that one time, and it is still a good workout in its own right.

On Friday night before the race Niamh found me working on the training plan for Dublin this autumn. With the Cork marathon being on Monday, she wanted to know when the training for Dublin would start, Tuesday maybe? (That woman knows me too well buy now). I got slightly defensive and mumbled something about recovering for 2 weeks and then taking stock, but she was right of course. Dublin is a mere 20 weeks away, and I'm already anxious to get the training under way. But don't worry, even with the quick recovery I will be careful. The plan is to take it very easy this week and next, and the real training will not start until I feel well and truly up for it. I have finished reading "Brain Training for Runners" and will incorporate most of the things suggested in there, including drills, hill sprints and core workouts, some of which I was doing already anyway. I've got a few alterations to the printed schedules in mind, I want to include back-to-back workouts in the shape of a tempo run followed by a long run with a strong finish the next, and I've added a few miles to some of the weeks, especially the early ones. I'll take stock after a few weeks of training, and re-evaluate. But I'm getting slightly ahead now. There will be at least one more week of pure recovery. I felt really good today, there was not an ounce of stiffness left in my legs.

7 Jun
5 miles, 41:30, 8:18 pace, HR 139

Thursday, June 05, 2008


I feel good. It's amazing how quickly you can recover from a marathon once you get used to it. This was my ninth race at marathon distance or longer, and not only was it the fastest, it was also the one with the fastest recovery.

I hopped onto the coach to Mallow immediately after the race where I met Niamh and the kids, and we spent the afternoon at the donkey sanctuary, walking around the fields and adopting a donkey. I felt really good, Niamh mentioned that I really didn't look like someone who had just run a marathon, and the only thing I had to decline was to play catch with Shea. My left foot was too sore for that.

That left foot (PF or not) was the only part of my body that gave me any trouble in the immediate aftermath. I had no sunburn despite not using sun block (I was worried it would interfere with sweating), no chafing and no real soreness in the muscles. The foot was quite sore though, and in the evening I was hobbling around in pain. I didn't even get a good night's sleep because I had to write the race report as well as watch the season's finale of "Lost" (Niamh refused to wait for a day, and I just knew she would have spoilt it for me), and didn't get to bed until well after midnight. It still did the trick, the next morning my foot was much better, but both of my calves as well as my right IT band were a bit sore. I still insisted on cycling to work, but took it rather easy on the bike, understandably.

I slept for almost 10 hours the following night, which pretty much made up for it. I felt almost human again afterwards.

Three days after the marathon the foot seems to be ok, there is only a little residue of fatigue left in the calves, and when I went running this morning my ITB was slightly sore at the beginning but even that disappeared before the second mile. I was also mightily pleased with the low heart rate of today's run; my first run after Loch Ness had been slower but with a HR of 10 bpm higher. I think the 2 more-than-marathon-distance runs I had done (The Connemara ultra and the training run 3 weeks prior to that) are mostly responsible for that amazing rate of recovery. Once the body learns how to deal with 39 miles, 26 miles are easier to handle.

Looking back at the race I was wondering where I could have improved. The average HR had only been 162, in contrast to 170 in Loch Ness. Having said that, while the cardiovascular system seems to have had plenty in reserve, the legs had felt pretty much at the edge for most of the run. Then again, the way I was able to speed up for the final 4 miles indicates that I probably would have been able to edge out a bit more over the first 22. One or two people commented on the almost even splits, but it wasn't quite as straightforward. I had slowed down a bit between miles 12 and 22, and it was just the last very fast 4 miles that made up for all of that again (and a bit extra). But it was an extremely satisfying way to finish a marathon, feeling strong and reeling in runner after runner, being totally confident of achieving the time goal over the last 2 miles and still managing to push on as much as I could.

I still haven't seen any photos, but if they are as ugly as I expect them to be that's not necessarily a bad thing. I might have to censor them once they come out.
5 Jun
4.4 miles, 38:24, 8:44 pace, HR 135
feeling amazingly comfortable

Monday, June 02, 2008

Late Charge

Where do I start? Out of town races can be awkward with the organisation, from being unable to get some decent breakfast to having troubles getting to the start line, so I was extremely grateful to Grellan for offering me to stay in his house overnight – thanks a lot mate, this was extremely appreciated!

The days before the marathon I was deliberating what shoes to wear. People in the know tell you not to wear racers unless you're a 2:40 marathon runner, but this advise is a few years old, and shoes, even racing shoes, have improved since then. I knew I had problems in my left foot, which may or may not be Plantar Fasciitis, and I knew that the much reduced cushioning could cause problems in that area, but in the end I decided that some extra pain was a price I was willing to pay for the possibility of shaving a minute off my time, and against better advice I decided to wear the lightest shoes in my arsenal.

The weather forecast on Sunday had promised 22C/72F for Monday, which was not what we wanted to hear, but even then I kept my resolve of trying to go for a sub 3:10 time. I awoke well before the alarm was supposed to go off at 6am, the conditions were humid and hazy, and we expected that to lift by the time of the race start at 9 am. We got to the start without problems, and 10 minutes before the start, while I was doing some dynamic stretching exercises, I had the first ever celebrity moment of my running career. Someone came up to me and asked “Are you Thomas? I recognised you from the photo in your blog”. Well, Richard, thank you, I was flattered, and I hope you had a good race yourself.

We started on time, and I set off immediately at target pace. The Cork marathon also has a relay in operation. I experienced that once, in Belfast 3 years ago, and hated it, because it meant that every 5 miles you were overtaken by yet another batch of fresh runners. However, today I was planning to run 3 minutes per mile faster than back then, which should drastically reduce the number of relay runners around me. Nevertheless, for the first 2 miles they kept streaming past me, and it was difficult to swallow my pride and keep on pace. Eventually the field got somewhat settled and the constant overtaking stopped. I didn't feel comfortable yet, my left shin started to hurt, and I did not feel relaxed, but a look at the HRM told me that my heart rate was still in the low 160s, which was lower than what I would have expected. At least I didn't start too fast for once.

My target pace was 7:10, but that left me with a little bit of a safety margin. On the other hand, the lesson from Bantry, 4 weeks ago, had been that the official mile markers tend to be a little bit further apart then the once measured by my Garmin, and adding 2 seconds per mile was prudent (i.e. run 7:10 on the Garmin for an actual 7:12 mile). It took quite some time to get into the groove. By the time we passed the first relay point after the 5 mile mark I was about 10 seconds off pace. Good enough. I took my first carbohydrate gel, but can't tell if it made any difference. Soon after, the course sported a rather unique feature. We went down a tunnel, which apparently goes as low as 5 meters below sea level, and then went up again. Obviously I lost the satellite signal on my GPS, but it picked it up immediately at the other end. At that point I saw a female relay runner walking, looking utterly exhausted. I tried to be supportive and told her that she was already halfway through her stage, but was quite unprepared for the angry reply and being told to f*ck off. Suit yourself, then. B*tch.

I managed to speed up just a little bit, enough to hammer out 2 consecutive 7:10 miles, and then the course dropped a few meters over the next miles and I used that to basically get back on track, time wise. Something that I have noticed in all of my recent races (with the exception of Connemara) is that I'm good at running downhill. I basically relax and let gravity do its thing, and even with the reduced effort I always manage to overtake a number of runners. The Cork course did not sport a lot of ups and downs up to that point, but on the few occasions I always managed to make up a few places. More importantly, I felt good. The shins had long stopped causing trouble, and the rest of my legs were in good shape.

Unfortunately by now the haze had well and truly disappeared, and the sun was beating down rather mercilessly. Luckily the water stations were almost every 2 miles, but with the water in plastic cups rather than bottled it was difficult to take sufficient fluids on board without slowing down. After about 11 miles we were back alongside the river Lee, and the trees above us provided some welcome shade. What was less welcome was the concrete beneath our feet, and I felt like my legs got an extra bit of hammering from the unforgiving surface. A look at the watch also told me that I was slowing down again. I tried to speed up a little bit, but to no avail. I was soon back in the old, slow groove, and the pace dropped first to 7:15, and then even further to 7:20.

At that point I made a serious mistake. Shortly before the 13 mile water station I took another gel, but was a bit late. I was still trying to get to grips with the zip at the back of my shorts when I passed the first water line. I declined taking a cup because I could still see more volunteers further on. However, by the time I finally had my hands free I realised that they were no longer handing out water but soaked sponges. Damn! Now I had a belly full of sugar and no water to dilute it. After a moment of hesitation I decided to ignore basic hygiene rules, and started sucking the sponge! I don't know how they had treated the sponges before handing them out, but it did the trick, I got some water down my belly, and I could still wring the sponge on top of my head to get some cooling.

I passed the halfway point in 1:34:52, which meant that I had an 8 seconds cushion for the 3:10 target. Not a lot, especially taking into account that the hilly part of the course was yet to come. I had always known that breaking 3:10 would be a big challenge, and that sure proofed to be the case. At that stage I gave myself a 40% chance of making it.

Just before mile 15 I overtook two guys who were rather attached to each other – literally. They were attempting to break the world record in three-legged marathoning. Two of their legs were connected by a short rubber band and two of their arms were tied together completely. They had been doing good pace, but were slowing down now. I have no idea what the previous world record was, but apparently they made it. Congratulations! Still, that was completely mad.

We were now entering the toughest part of the course. It went uphill for the next two miles, and the sun still felt mercilessly hot. The next drink station had both water and gatorade, and I was really, really thirsty. I grabbed a cup of water, gulped it down as quickly as I could, and then took an entire bottle of gatorade. I'm sure I still had the gel in my stomach, and the additional water finally gave it the chance to be digested properly, but I could not resist, and over the next half mile I drained the entire bottle. I don't know if that was a good move or not, but I do know that I basically followed my instinct and drank according to thirst. My hunch is that it was the right thing to do.

Unfortunately with all the climbing I was getting slower and slower, and by now 7:28 miles were all I had in me, and I could feel the 3:10 slipping away. After mile 17 we were running around “The Lough”, a little lake up on a hill, and maybe it was just my imagination, but I felt cooler again and finally I could speed up again a little bit. It also helped that the following mile was downhill. The overall average pace on my Garmin, which had been around 7:11 until mile 12, had by now dropped to 7:14, and I was desperately trying to stop it from slipping even further. However, the course is rather tough at that point, after each downhill the next uphill followed with some vengeance, and we were slowly working our way towards the highest point of the course. By now my left calf muscle had started to hurt, which was most likely a result of all the uphill sections. For the two miles leading up to mile 21 I could only average 7:26. At one point there was a sign “This is the last hill”. I asked the people if this was true, but they just laughed. Turns out, it wasn't, it was the second from last. But at least we were at the highest point of the course. The next 2 miles would be downhill and then it was flat all the way to the finish. Anyone who still had full use of his or hers quads would be able to take advantage of this. The question was, would I be one of the select few?

Numbers don't lie. By now the average pace on the Garmin was 7:15, and since the official mile markers were by now almost a minute after the ones from the Garmin it meant that I was scheduled for a 3:11 finish. That would still be a personal best, but I knew I would not be satisfied with that. My goal was still 3:10, and by now I gave myself a chance of 10%. That wasn't much, but the downhill section once more gave me renewed vigour, I started passing people again, and I had one last bit of gel.

I had taken a gel at mile 5, and it didn't seem to have any effect. I had taken another one at 13, and that nearly brought on a disaster. But this one hit the spot. I took it right when I needed a boost, and I'm sure the effect was mostly psychological, but that didn't matter. I slowly but steadily started gaining pace again.

Just before the 22 mile point the course turns onto the Straight Road. That isn't the official name, but that's what the locals call it, and for good reason. It is totally straight for well over two miles. The first mile was downhill, very gently downhill, but that was enough. My pace soon went under 7:15, and I was still speeding up. I don't know how accurate the Garmin was at that point, and I had better things to do than keep a constant eye on the display, but the three or four times I looked I saw better and better figures. 7:10, 7:00, 6:50, 6:45, and by now I didn't even need the downhill any more, I could keep the pace even on the flat. At mile 23, a spectator shouted “nearly there” for the first time. I hate it when they say that. Three miles from the finish is not nearly there. Usually it's the hardest part still to come at that point.

My heart rate, which had been fluctuating around 160 for most of the race, took off as much as my pace went down. It kept climbing all the way to the finish, from 160 to 165 to 170 to 175 and even higher than that for the finishing kick. It reflects the effort I put into those miles. I don't know where the energy came from, but I think it's fair to say I really, really, really wanted to break 3:10, and I was prepared to suffer for it. My left foot was really hurting by now. That was the result of wearing racing shoes, and I was ok with that. I had made my choice before the race, and now I was prepared to pay the price. It didn't slow me down, and that was the only thing that counted at that moment.

I kept shooting past runner after runner. I didn't count them, and even discounting the relay runners I must have passed well over a dozen race rivals, maybe even as many as 20. There was never a question of anyone passing me. I haven't seen any photos, but if anyone took any of me at the final 4 miles, they must be exceedingly ugly. My mouth was either wide open in a desperate attempt to suck in a bit more oxygen or just a grimace from the effort, and it sure wasn't pretty.

I just happened to look at the Garmin as it showed 24.3 miles, and because it was about 0.1 miles ahead, this was the 24.2 miles point of the course, exactly 2 miles to go. I can't remember if there was a timer beside the road, or if I checked the time on my own watch, but I had been running exactly 2:56 at that point, and even my oxygen deprived brain managed to work out that two 7-minute miles would get me there in time.

Two miles earlier I would have scoffed at the preposterous thought of running 2 miles at that pace. Things had changed, however, and all of a sudden I felt really calm and relaxed, and I just knew I would do it. I knew it would hurt, I knew it would be by far the best finish I had ever produced in a marathon, but I was in The Zone, and I wasn't going to snap out of it. I still kept passing runner after runner, and I knew that I would be able to push on until the end. The last mile finally spots a decent number of spectators, and they finally made some noise, which was good. It was just after the 25 mile marker, with a mile to go, that I got hit by the first cramp. In my last marathon, in Loch Ness, a similar thing had happened over the last two miles, and I had slowed down a lot. This time it was different, however; the cramps were not caused by mere fatigue but by the fact that I was basically running faster than my body was able to do for a sustained period of time. However, the cramps never took hold. One painful spasm would should through one of the calf muscles, I would give a shout, and then it was gone again for half a minute or so until the next one. I kept looking at the Garmin, half a mile to go, .4 go go, .3 to go, and then the spectators were packed three deep all of a sudden, made a massive racket, and you just couldn't help but get carried into the finish by that. With a few seconds to go I saw the timer and it was one of the most satisfying sights ever to see it at 3:09:22. A few seconds later I was over the line, utterly elated, pumping my fist in triumph like a complete lunatic. 71st out of about 1400 runners, almost three minutes faster than my previous personal best, and yet another little bit closer to the 3-hours target that I crave. My official time was 3:09:38, and that was my gun time. It had taken me about 5 seconds to cross the starting line from the gun, which meant my net time was slightly better than that, but let's not be picky.

When changing back into civilian clothing I got cramps in my feet, my calves and my hips, much to Grellan's amusement. Glad to entertain you, mate. Dignity is overrated anyway.

I did not care. I'm a sub-3:10 marathon runner.

Official Time:
Net Time:
3:09:33 (self timed)
First half:
Second Half:
Calories burned: