Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Long Mile

On Sunday evening I checked out this week's scheduled program. When looking at the 2 prescribed speed workout, Tuesday's 10x400 at 5:40 (3k pace) and Thursday's 3x1 mile at 6:07 (10k pace), I somehow expected Tuesday to be tough but manageable, and Thursday to be relatively easy. After all, this was almost 30 seconds per mile slower.

Imagine my surprise then, when I simply could not hit the pace today. I felt perfectly fine at Tuesday's intervals, and I would have run additional repeats if I'd had the time. Today, however, I was repeatedly reminded how long a mile can be. True, the legs didn't feel brilliant when I left home, but they never do these days; the previous workouts always leave me with heavy legs for the first mile or two, and I start feeling much better once I'm warmed up properly. It's not that I felt any worse today, I just could not move the legs quickly enough. The paces I managed to hit were 6:16, 6:19 and 6:21, which incidentally is pretty much my 10k pace from the Ballydavid race 3 weeks ago, so if I had not busted my gut in Killarney a week later I would have been totally happy with my times.

However, the paces do not compare favourably with the mile repeats I did a week before the Cork City marathon, when I averaged 6:05. Now that's interesting. My quarter mile repeats 2 days ago were the fastest I've ever done, but my mile repeats are slow. I'm sure I have not recovered from Tuesday's session yet, but that doesn't explain all of it. I think my speed has come along the last few weeks, but the stamina is poor. Well, there is still a lot of time until the marathon to work on that, and it might assuage my worries about peaking too early. As long as there are systems that are in dire need of improvement, I'm not peaking yet - at least that's what I think.

There might be a 4-mile race tomorrow evening in Kilgobnet, only a couple of miles from us. I got the race flyer in Ballydavid, but haven't heard anything else about it, so I'm not sure where exactly it will be, or even if it will be on at all. I had considered skipping today's mile repeats for the race, but the uncertainty led me to go ahead anyway, even though it probably messed up any chances of a good race.

The best development recently has been the fact that Maia has started sleeping through the night. That makes life so much easier, as all parents will be able to testify. Today I gave her a bottle as I got up in the morning, and Niamh managed to sleep all the way until 8:10am. What untold luxury!

30 Jul
8 miles, 1:04:00, 8:00 pace, HR 141
31 Jul
8.1 miles, 1:01:57, 7:39 pace, HR 157
3x1 mile @ 616, 6:19, 6:21

Monthly Mileage: 277

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nibble, Nibble Little Mouse

Just to clarify a few things about my new diet, it's not entirely raw food. I mostly followed the recommendations in that book, where the author suggests getting 50-75% of your food in raw form, which suits me very well. It means we can still have the usual family dinner together, without me easting something else, or forcing the raw food on Niamh or the kids. And there is definitely no question about me having less energy. The way the 17-miler on Friday went I'd say the opposite is the case. However, I get the sneaking suspicion that Niamh must have thought I was getting too thin as well, because how else can you explain this:

I could not resist! And as if that wasn't adding sufficient calories, then last night's meal surely did the rest. We celebrated our 11th anniversary with a night out at Jack's Restaurant in Cromane. The food was spectacular, as was the bill. We both very much enjoyed our evening out, which made it totally worth it. We took a taxi home, and in the morning I ran back to the restaurant to collect the car. Niamh had to agree that from time to time it can be handy to have a runner in the house. Anyway, my weight is back up where it came from.

The running over the past few days has been very good. Normally I would feel like this when the marathon date is getting close, approaching my peak fitness. I surely hope that this doesn't mean that I'm peaking early, with 13 weeks to go. On the other hand, if I'm not peaking yet and there is yet more to come then it means that I have never even remotely approached my real peak. I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Sunday was an easy run, and I duly ran the first mile in about 9 minutes with heavy legs, but then started to feel better and better, and by the time I came home I had pushed the average well below 8:00 pace, and I even added an extra loop to the run because I did not want it to end.

Monday was fairly similar; over the past few weeks I always felt beaten up on Monday, and the runs were slow enough to reflect the fact. Yesterday I somehow felt much better (maybe because I didn't race for a change?), and again I pushed the average pace below 8:00 pace, without straining at all. In fact the heart rate was so low that I initially though my HRM was malfunctioning.

I iced my achilles injury several times on Sunday, which seems to have done the trick. While the issue is not entirely resolved, it feels a lot better already. I have to admit I'm very relieved.

I've now moved into the second phase of the marathon training, and the hill repeats got replaced with 10x400 repeats, to be run at 3k pace with 3 minutes rest. This made it a very similar to last Thursday's fartlek workout, and I felt well prepared to do it. What could have caused a problem was the aforementioned night out, especially the fact that we had shared an entire bottle of wine between the 2 of us, which in reality meant that Niamh drunk a quarter of the bottle, and I the rest. However, it seems like the quality of the wine reflected the price tag, and I didn't have any hangover to speak of. The fact that I had only gotten about half my usual amount of sleep, and that it was raining heavily did weigh on my mind, but since I had to run to Cromane anyway to collect the car meant I didn't even have a choice.

400s at 5:41 pace means running them in about 85 or 86 seconds, and what I produced was this: 87,82,85,88,84,85,88,83,85,83, with an average of exactly 85. I still felt good after the last one and could have gone on further, but I was out of time. I'm not sure if less waterlogged roads would have produced a faster time, but with no wind to speak of the conditions were very favourable, really. I was happy enough with the run, but got a lift from Niamh into work, so as not to arrive at my desk drenched like a drowning rat. To safe Niamh from having to pack the entire family into the car to collect me, I ran home in the evening – which was excellent timing, because the schedule had prescribed a double for today, and circumstances just kind of fell into my lap.

27 Jul
11.2 miles, 1:26:10, 7:41 pace, HR 144
28 Jul
8 miles, 1:02:40, 7:50 pace, HR 138
29 Jul
am: 9.1 miles, 1:09:29, 7:38 pace, HR 152
incl. 10x400 in 87,82,85,88,84,85,88,83,85,83
pm: 5 miles, 37:46, 7:33 pace, HR 141

Weekly mileage: 68.5

Saturday, July 26, 2008


I guess I have to come clean about the remark regarding my weight in my previous entry. I hesitate even to say it, because it might make me sound like a fully subscribed member of the self-reliant earth-centred revolution, which I most definitely am not. Well here’s the thing. Nearly a year ago I decided to follow Niamh in her vegetarianism (well, almost. We still eat fish and shellfish), but the practical change was minimal, as all food at home had always been vegetarian, and we don’t often go out to eat. Anyway, a few weeks ago I decided to take the whole nutrition thing one step further and started experimenting with a raw food diet. It’s not entirely raw food, I still have a cooked dinner, but I only eat fruit in the morning, and have a salad for lunch, usually with things like self-sprouted beans and such. I feel pretty good about it, I certainly have a lot of energy, and I think I might keep it going for a bit longer. One side-effect was that the pounds have melted away from my frame at the rate of about one pound per week. All this was achieved without going hungry, because I certainly was not looking to lose weight. In fact, when I look into the mirror I keep thinking that I look almost too thin, and I thought the same about the video from Ballydavid. However, if it is true that you run 2 seconds per mile faster for each pound lost then I certainly won’t deliberately try to regain the weight; at least not until after Dublin.

You might think this is a bit radical, and it probably is. I’m getting ever so slightly obsessed with my sub 3hr target and I’m prepared to push the boat out further than ever before. If it requires a few radical steps like eating raw food, then so be it, as long as it doesn’t have any negative effect on my family.

The last few days have been pretty good running-wise. Thursday saw the last fartlek workout, and because it required a lot of running at very fast pace I decided to wear my racing shoes; all other workouts in the training cycle were done with normal trainers. I was supposed to run 8x2 minutes at my 3k pace, which, after my blazing fast 5k last Saturday is now allegedly 5:41. I didn’t quite hit that pace, but I came close. The paces were 5:58, 5:45, 5:46, 5:49, 5:40, 5:45, 6:09, 6:01; the first and seventh were uphill, and the last one ended in a steep hill sprint because I ran out of flat road. All in all I did close to 3 miles at nearly my 3k pace, which made this a rather strenuous workout, but I was pretty happy with it.

Since I do my long runs immediately following a fast workout I ran 17 miles on Friday. I had to get up at 5:15 am, which is not something I am used to any more, and it felt awfully early. It took me a while to wake up properly, but the initial sluggish pace increased soon enough. I’m always trying to end my long runs strongly, and I started accelerating after 11 miles. I wasn’t sure what pace I would tune into, and ran by feel. 7:15 felt good, and that’s what I kept at for the first 3 miles. Then I lost my concentration on the next mile, which took 7:40. This annoyed me sufficiently to accelerate further, and I ran the final 2 miles at almost 7:00 pace. Rather surprisingly, the legs felt much better than last week. I never felt tired, and even after 17 miles, including 6 fast ones, I still had plenty in the tank, and could have kept it up for longer. Things were looking quite good, but my left achilles started hurting a bit towards the end. I didn’t pay it too much attention, and it didn’t bother me at all for the rest of the day.

However, it was really sore as soon as I hit the road today for an easy 7-miler. The first mile was rather painful, things improved over the next one, and I was ok for the rest of the run. I think it was just the endorphins kicking in rather than a real improvement though, because it hurt quite a bit once I returned back home. It’s not too bad yet, and I’m still hoping that it will go away all by itself soon enough without interfering with my training. The last thing I need is an injury.

24 Jul
9 miles, 1:08:11, 7:34 pace, HR 153
incl. 8x2mins @ 5:58, 5:45, 5:46, 5:49, 5:40, 5:45, 6:09, 6:01
25 Jul
17 miles, 2:14:06, 7:53 pace, HR 145
26 Jul
7 miles, 54:25, 7:46 pace, HR 142

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Just not in it

The most important thing for me was the gorgeous smile I got from Maia when I came home after my run on Monday. She's definitely over her virus, and we have our happy and smiley baby back. My, how I missed that. She's also started waving goodbye every time she sees me. It's just too cute.

Oh yes, running. I forgot to mention one thing about the Killarney race on Saturday. It used to be a very competitive event, but last year they decided to make it a fun run only – no numbers, not t-shirts, no timer. None of that bothered me the least. But this year they went one further and did not provide water at the end! There was a café where you could buy water, which I would have refused out of principle even if I'd had money on me. I could not believe it, I have never heard of a running event where they did not provide water at the end.

If you really want, you can check out that video from the Ballydavid race. I caught a mere glimpse of myself at the start, but my finish is there. I'm the runner in the yellow singlet, coming around the bend 6:10 into the video. I noticed three things: 1) I came eight rather than seventh. I must have missed one runner when I counted them during the first mile. 2) The runner in front of me finished 20 seconds ahead of me. Considering that I was no more than 5 steps behind him with 1.5 miles to go, and that I had a decent last mile, that is a staggering gap. Not sure how that happened. 3) I took one look at myself and thought that I looked almost painfully thin. There is a reason for that, but I'll keep it for another post.

Tuesday is hill repeats day, and I have learned to hate hill repeats in the last few weeks. As soon as I left home I knew that I would not have a good workout. I was tired, and I felt stiff, especially around the hips. The right thing would have been to bin the workout and do an easy run instead, but I kept to the original schedule because I knew that I would not do the hill repeats at all if not today, because I hate them so much. And since it was the last hill workout in the schedule I thought I'd better get it done.

I did 8x2 minutes with 3 minutes rest. For the first 6 repeats I only got my HR into the low 170s, much lower than on previous workouts. Things slightly improved on the last 2, when I decided to give at least a little bit more effort. I've read that a lower heart rate can be a sign of overtraining, but that was not the case here. I was just not prepared to push myself as hard as during previous weeks. I had 2 races and 4 tough workouts in the previous 2 weeks, and I just could not bring myself to commit myself to the pain.

I guess there was not much point in stubbornly going ahead when my heart was not in it. So be it. I've got a fartlek workout tomorrow, and I'll try and hit the correct paces. In marked contrast to the hill sprints I like the fartleks and am therefore much more likely to fully commit myself.

One advantage of not giving 100% on Tuesday was that I felt much fresher than usual on Wednesday. The miles flew by, and the heart rate of 144 was quite low. I checked my log, and spookily the last 4 Wednesday runs all produced the same heart rate. The pace figures are telling though:

2 Jul: 8:06 pace, 9 Jul: 8:01 pace, 16 Jul: 7:58 pace, 23 Jul: 7:49 pace

That's some nice progress, don't you think?

22 Jul
8.3 miles, 1:13:19, 8:50 pace, HR 142
incl. 8x2 mins hill sprints
23 Jul
8 miles, 1:02:33, 7:49 pace, HR 144

Monday, July 21, 2008


Having to go to work on Monday was a bit of a let down. After taking Thursday and Friday off I was getting used to staying at home. Lola was equally confused; she asked why I had to work during the summer holidays. Enjoy school while it lasts, my dear.

There have been various thoughts going round my head about Saturday's race. For a start, the course may or may not have been slightly short. My Garmin showed 3.06 miles at the end, which is why I noted down my average pace as 5:55 rather than the 5:50 that would normally produce a 18:07 finish. However, last year one runner with a Garmin complained loudly about the course being too long (which later led me to write a note about Garmin weenies), and with most of it under tree cover the accuracy of the Garmin might be called into question. I'll leave the time as it is, and anyway, my previous PR had been set last year at the same race, so I definitely improved my time by over a minute.

Assuming the Garmin was correct, my equivalent 5k time was 18:23, which still sounds mindboggingly fast to me. I punched both times into Macmillan's Running Calculator, and the predicted marathon times were 2:56:37, and 2:59:13 respectively. Unfortunately, while the predictions tend to be fairly accurate for anything up to the half-marathon I've never managed to get close to my predicted marathon time, and I'm not going to assume that this year all will be different. However, it's still nice and very encouraging to see a predicted time on the other side of 3 hours for the first time.

The use of the Garmin in a race can be a double-edged sword. I found the feedback invaluable during the Cork City marathon; in fact, I'm absolutely sure I would not have broken 3:10 without it. In last week's race in Ballydavid, on the other hand, it caused me to seize up. Taking the HR display off was a direct result of that lesson, but in fact I hardly looked at the watch during Saturday's race. This wasn't a race run with the brain cells engaged. On the opposite, any rational thought during the opening 2 miles would have put on the brakes, so I'm glad I opted for pure animal instinct instead. It is perfectly plausible to me that during longer races, especially the marathon, the Garmin can be a massive help, but during shorter races, where you run until you're redlining, you're better off running by feel.

I can't help but remember Eric's comment after last year's race, when he predicted that not only would my 5k time soon move into the 18s but into the 17s as well. It wasn't that I did not believe him (he's been spot on far too often), but it seemed so far away that it was slightly unreal. While I'm not quite there yet I'm getting close, and it sounds like a rather credible prediction now. Thanks for your faith, Eric.

I've run plenty of 5ks beforehand, but for some reason they were always towards the beginning of a training cycle, and I came to them on zero speed work. This race was just as early into the training, but with the change in my program I had plenty of fast miles under the belt. The effect this had on my finishing time is rather staggering.

One last thought, on the off chance that you're still reading. I have a tendency of sabotaging my own races with a long run 2 or 3 days beforehand. This time I didn't do that, and I guess my legs were grateful and repaid me for it. I might rethink my training schedules for future races; but it depends on how important the race is to me, and if I can re-schedule the long run. I'm not prepared to damage my marathon preparation by completely cancelling a long run, unless someone can convince me that doing so would not hamper the marathon training.

Following the notion that if a workout sounds tough it must be good for me, I did my long run on Sunday, less than 20 hours after the race. Well, I might have called it a long run when it was only 15 miles, but with the race in my legs and the hills around Caragh Lake as high and steep as ever it was a rather tough workout. Just like last week I was knackered after 7 or 8 miles and contemplated on jogging home rather than trying to increase the pace over the last 5 miles, but just like last week I found another gear and ran those miles at 7:27 pace, though admittedly the last mile in 7:07 was responsible for lowering that average by quite some margin.

Today's run, on the other hand, was just slow. I needed some rest, and for once was prepared to grant myself some respite. There is no race this week, which is most definitely a good thing, but the hill repeats and fartlek workouts are still on the menu. Marathon training can be exhausting.
20 Jul
15 miles, 1:58:48, 7:56 pace, HR 148
last 5 in 37:20 @ 7:28, last in 7:07
21 Jul
7 miles, 1:02:50, 8:59 pace, HR 127

Weekly mileage: 62.5

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Every once in a lifetime you get a race where everything goes according to plan, the pace feels easy and you cruise to the finish.

This was not that race.

Since I had taken yesterday off work as well, I got a nice lie-in until about 7:30, which is incredibly late for me. I helped Niamh to get the whole gang ready for summer camp, and when they set off so did I. I ran towards Cromane, where I scouted one road that I had seen a while ago, and wondered where it led. It soon turned into a dirt road, and eventually ended at the road towards Cromane School. My curiosity satisfied, I finished the loop and got home, exactly 9 miles under the belt.

We had another rough night with Maia. Niamh checked some books, and we now think she suffers from Roseola. It’s a perfect match for the symptoms, first the fever, then she seemed better, and now the rash and increased irritability. Well, we should soon be over it, but sleep last night definitely suffered.

To add to it all, I had to collect 20 concrete blocks from a quarry yesterday (we’re getting a shed), and while they were not overly heavy, lifting 20 of them was a good bit of work. There is a reason why my sport of choice is running, not weight lifting. When unloading the car, I suddenly got a massive pain shooting through my lower back. My vision turned black, I saw stars in front of my eyes, and for an instant I very nearly fainted from the pain. After recovering a little, I still managed to unload the car, but I was in agony. It’s funny the things that go through your head at times. My first thought was “at least I’ve already finished my run today”, my second was “I hope this won’t f*ck up tomorrow’s race”. I admit, I might be too running centred the moment.

Things come in threes, and I awoke today with an upset stomach. Lola complained too, so maybe it was something we ate. My back was still sore, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to run, so I laced up my shoes and headed out for 3 test miles. Normally I would not run before a race, but I first wanted to know if I would be able to run at all. Luckily, after a mile I felt much better, and after two there was no back pain left whatsoever. I think it was the body’s natural endorphins kicking in, because the pain came back not long after I had returned home. However, the race was on.

As I was warming up, I could not help but think that I didn’t have much luck with my races this year; the pneumonia in January, the severe stomach troubles in Ennis, and now the triple whammy of bad night, stomach and back pain. However, as soon as the race started, all of that was completely forgotten.

Learning a lesson from last week’s race in Ballydavid I made one change to my Garmin; I removed the heart rate from the display. Soon after the start, once all the kids had dropped out, I found myself around 25th position. Here I ran past Niamh and the kids, where I got some encouragement. I found myself about 5 steps behind Ann Marie Costello, who had won the ladies’ division in Ballydavid where I had ended up in front of her. I knew that I should not fall behind, but a look at the Garmin told me that we were running 5:40 pace. That’s faster than the apparent 3k pace I had been training with during my fartlek runs! This was suicidal pace, but I decided to hang on for three reasons. Firstly, I remembered an article (ok, Runner’s World, but spare with me) about 5k strategy, and that an insane pace at the start can yield a faster finishing time (don’t try it at longer distances, though). Secondly, the goal was once again to suffer as much as possible, and that pace should pretty much guarantee as much. Thirdly, there was a girl running in front of me, and I can’t let a girl beat me!!! I followed a few steps behind her as we passed a couple of runners who had started even faster and were tiring already. I was straining, but kept going. After about a mile I noticed that Ann Marie seemed to slow down, I slowly drew level and went past, around the halfway mark. This could have been the end of the insane pace, but I spotted yet another female runner ahead of me, and gave chase.

I might be giving the impression that I was merely chasing girls around the course, but that’s wrong. Male runners who seem within reach have the same effect, but the urge to overtake seems to be stronger if the runner ahead happens to be of the fairer gender. I was still running well ahead of myself, but I managed to draw nearer. At one stage a family stood beside the road and loudly counted the runners, and I was in about 20th place, apparently. By now I was in serious oxygen deficit, I was hurting badly, I wanted the whole thing to be over, but I also wanted to overtake the runners ahead of me, male or female. Somewhere after the second mile I managed to pass about three runners, including the lady, and there was a big gap to the runners ahead, which seemed impossible to close in the remaining time. Nevertheless, I continued to give chase. “Just 5 more minutes”, “Go on, pain is good”, “Your goal was to suffer as much as possible, now don’t complain”. I drew closer. By now I was straining so hard that each breath drew a moaning sound. I ran past a group of young lads who were laughing at me because of that. F*ck them. Just keep pushing.

The course is almost ideal for a race. Killarney national park is very beautiful, it's almost flat, and the trees provide shade from the sun and shelter from the wind, both very welcome. The only problem is the finish, it’s uphill, and by God, that’s the last thing I needed at the end of a brutal 5k. However, the runner ahead of me seemed to suffer even more, I pushed with all I had, and with the last bit of strength that I didn’t even know I had, I drew level about 10 meters before the finish and went past. I thought “wouldn’t it be nice if Niamh and the kids saw me finish”, and suddenly I saw them. I crossed the line, somehow remembered to press the stop button on my watch, staggered towards my family, and collapsed on the grass, unable to move for a minute. Eventually I recovered, and managed to look at my time. I did a double take: 18:07, more than a minute better than my previous PR, which, incidentally, had been set last year on the same race. No wonder I was so knackered.

This was my best race ever by quite some distance. There is not a hope in hell that I would have been able to reproduce that pace in a training run. Chasing the runners ahead of me kept me busy, the mindset to deliberately suffer as much as possible helped, and the legs did the rest. I really could not have run any faster, I left everything I had out on the road, and was completely spent when I crossed the line.

Hard Work. Extremely satisfying! That afterglow will last for a while.

18 Jul
9 miles, 1:10:30, 7:50 pace, HR 146
19 Jul
am: 3 miles, 26:37, 8:53 pace, HR 130
pm: 6.2 miles, including:
   5k Killarney Fun Run, 18:07, 5:55 pace, HR 179, 17th overall, massive new PR

Thursday, July 17, 2008

At Home

This is a very unusual day for me; I’ve taken the rest of the week off work, and I’m not going anywhere, just chilling out. As Niamh pointed out, I had never done that before. At least chilling out was the idea, but Maia is still not back to normal and needs a lot of TLC. She has been crying basically non-stop on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so much so that Niamh called me at work just to have someone to talk to – and then I could hardly hear what she was saying because Maia was screaming at the top of her voice. Anyway, she seems to be better today, but in the previous days she had gotten worse as the day wore on, so we might not have reached the end of it just yet.

Yesterday’s run started very slowly, I was stiff and tired (again!) from the hill repeats, and maybe from Sunday’s race as well. The first mile took 9 minutes, but I felt better the longer I went on, and by the end I felt like flying again.

Since I didn’t have to go to work I got up late today and slowly got ready for my run. Only when I was about to head out of the door did I realise that this would mean Niamh had to get the entire gang ready on her own, so I stayed home for another hour until everyone had had their breakfast and was dressed, clean and ready for the day. The kids are at summer camp this week, which makes things just a bit easier, at least until they come home again.

I left at the same time I would usually leave for work, but instead of cycling towards Killorglin I was running towards Cromane. Today’s workout was a fartlek, with 8x90 seconds at my 3k pace, which, according to the book, is 5:52. I felt pretty good, and while some of the repeats were made a bit more difficult by the breeze coming from the sea, others were easier for the same reason. Anyway, I was really pleased with the way it went, the paces for the fast bits were 6:05, 5:32, 5:45, 5:40, 5:42, 5:35, 6:21, 5:40 (avg. 5:47), and the two slower ones were both uphill, which makes this a very good workout. What surprised me was the heart rate, it went up to 188, higher than the HR that caused me to tense up in Sunday’s race, and it was definitely the first time ever I managed to raise my heart rate so high in a training run. I think it means that my body is opening up to that kind of effort, but once again, I’m not even sure if I want my body to adapt to that kind of pace so far out from the marathon.

On the other hand, raising one’s 10k pace is a good way to better your marathon time as well. Damn it, Thomas, just trust the program. After all, you’re committed to it.
16 Jul
7 miles, 55:44, 7:57 pace, HR 144
17 Jul
8.1 miles, 59:53, 7:23 pace, HR 162
8x90 sec @ 6:05, 5:32, 5:45, 5:40, 5:42, 5:35, 6:21, 5:40 (avg. 5:47)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Treat

Look what I made on Sunday morning as a surprise for the homecoming family members. I was dead proud of myself, and Niamh and the kids were suitably impressed. If that running thingy doesn’t work out, I could always try my hand at baking.

It was great to have the family back home, but unfortunately Maia developed a fever in the middle of the night, and she has not improved since. She’s really whiny, and during the day someone has to carry her at all times. She starts screaming as soon as you try putting her down. Of course, it also means neither Niamh nor me are getting a good night’s sleep. I got maybe 7 hours on Monday, and 2x4 hours last night, with a one-hour break in the middle until we managed to get some medicine into the girl and waited until it started to take effect. Poor Maia.

I felt surprisingly fresh on Monday morning, taking into account that the race had only been about 15 hours earlier. I took it easy of course, with 7 miles in just under 60 minutes. The weather wasn’t very good; rain and wind are part of life around here, but that’s the 3rd year in a row with an absolutely awful July. I feel sorry for the tourists who come here. They must think this is a truly miserable place.

I wasn’t sure if running hill sprints would be a good idea for today, and decided to gauge the soreness level in the morning. Well, I didn’t feel 100% on top of the world, but fresh enough to go ahead with the workout. On the menu were 8x90 seconds of hill sprints. The prescribed pace has been reduced from earlier weeks, it’s no longer mile pace but 3k pace. Between you and me, that’s just as unrealistic, and I decided to go by effort rather than trying to match an unattainable pace. I only had 2 minutes of rest between the sprints, which was only just about sufficient time to jog back to the base of the hill before the next repeat. I was slower than last week, but I still got the HR to the other side of 180, so the effort was definitely there. I left something in the tank for the first 7 repeats, and then gave it all I had left on the last one, but in contrast to earlier weeks I remembered to pay attention to form and control, rather than just storming up like a madman. As a result, the last repeat was the fastest one (by some margin, too), and I was completely spent afterwards. I had a hard time running the 2 miles home.

With the race on Sunday, maybe it would have been wiser to bin one of the speed workouts last week. However, some time ago I read an article about the Chinese runners, Ma’s army, and their overload training. Basically, for a period of one or two weeks they did a truly ridiculous amount of training (as opposed to the mere brutal training of normal weeks), which gave them a major boost. Leaving aside all the questions about their drug use, they surely performed well, if only for a short period of time. I didn’t set out to copy them, but with the two races in two weeks (Sunday’s 10k, and a 5k this Saturday) I decided to go ahead and keep all the speed workouts in the schedule. I’ll take it easier next week, because as Mike has pointed out, it’s during the rest periods that you get stronger.

On a different note, one of the purposes of the 10k was to set my level for the training. Sunday’s time leaves me on level 27, with an equivalent marathon race pace of 6:56, which would give me a 3:01:47 time. In contrast, McMillan's Running Calculator gives me a marathon time of 3:03:44. Unfortunately, I have never managed to match my predicted times, but it’s still nice to see those numbers getting close to the 3 hours mark. With plenty of training still to come there’s still hope that I can improve sufficiently until Dublin, but I know full and well that a sub-3 marathon is probably a bit over-ambitious. It won’t be for lack of trying though.

P.S. Niamh just brought Maia to the doctor. She has a throat infection. Poor thing.
14 Jul
7 miles, 59:41, 8:31 pace, HR 139
15 Jul
7.1 miles, 1:01:21, 8:38 pace, HR 148
with 8x90 seconds hill sprints

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Clash

For the second night this week I hardly slept last night. I got not much more than 3 hours of sleep, and spent the rest reading and watching a DVD. I sincerely hope this will not turn into a regular occurrence.

The race started unusually late at 3pm, which gave me the opportunity to eat lunch at home before setting off. It’s quite some trip to Ballydavid, it’s almost at the tip of the Dingle peninsula, and it took me nearly 75 minutes to get there. The scenery is stunning, but unfortunately the weather was not cooperating. Very low clouds obscured the mountains, but you could still see that it is an awesome setting.

I met a work colleague there, Micheál, who was working as a volunteer at the start area. He told me he’d fancy me to win, but one look at one guy warming up told me that that was far out of reach. If that guy in the green shorts would be racing as fast as he was warming up, then the rest of us would be fighting for the scraps.

Word was going round that the course would be a bit short. Micheál had asked me last week if runners would be upset if the course was short, which I had confirmed. Instead of lengthening the loop they seemed to have decided to tell everyone in advance. I guess that’s one way of dealing with the issue, but as far as I know it worked from the organiser’s point of view. I don’t think anyone got upset.

We started a few minutes late, which seems to be customary around here. You get used to that kind of thing. The guy in the green shorts took off like a rocket, a pack of about 15 runners formed behind him, and I was lagging a bit behind in a second group. Both groups included a few kids sprinting all out, and the last of them dropped at about half a mile. I looked at my Garmin, and we were doing about 6:10 pace, which is already a lot faster than my 10k PR pace. Despite this I was wondering if I should try and catch up with the front pack, which didn’t seem to be moving faster than I was. But I was already running faster than planned.

Should I stay or should I go now? Should I stay or should I go now? If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay … Fuck it, I’ll go for it.

The plan had been to suffer as much as possible, and gunning it out with the top 10 guys was the best way to ensure that. I gradually moved closer to the runners in front, but by the time I reached the end of the group it had already broken up. I could still see all the runners in front to me, and I was tenth. I overtook one runner. Ninth. Then one guy shot past me at incredible speed, which I immediately decided not to match. Tenth. And we were still only one mile into the race. It became apparent that this would be a tough run, the course was really hilly, and the wind was blowing strongly. It was also raining, but that was the least of my troubles. I managed to close the gap to another runner and went past. Ninth. “Well Done” he said, “not done yet” I replied. We passed a group of spectators, and one girl shouted “Yeah for the first lady”. *Chauvinism alert on*. "That’s one runner I do not want to be overtaken by", was my only thought. *Chauvinism alert off*. Around the two-mile mark I managed to go past another runner. “Well Done” he said, “not done yet” I replied. Eight. Half a mile later there was one more for the road kill. Seventh. I checked my watch when I passed the 5km marker, and it said 19:01, which would be a 5k PR, but this was only seconds after the Garmin had beeped to signal mile 3, so I don’t think the markings were particularly accurate. The race became smoking fast at that point, and I felt good, right at the edge of my abilities. I was chasing the guy in front of me (the guy who had overtaken me earlier on), and I seemed to be getting closer. He kept looking back, and I knew he was worried about me. I could not resist looking back myself, but the runners behind me seemed to have disappeared. There was no danger of losing my place. The fourth mile went by in 6:07, and my average pace dropped to 6:15, way ahead of PR pace. Unfortunately, we then turned almost 180 degrees, and I realised why it had felt so easy, the strong wind had been at our back, and for the rest of the race we would be fighting a very strong headwind.

The road also started climbing again, and at that point I made the mistake of looking at my Garmin. Until then I had felt in control, but when I saw the heart rate of 186 I immediately tensed up and running started to feel really tough. The guys subscribing to the central governor theory would have had a field day. Nothing had changed physiologically, but my brain seemed to have reset my threshold, and I slowed down by a few seconds per mile and couldn’t do much about it. I remembered about the plan of suffering as much as possible, and put in a few surges, which really hurt badly, but the guy in front edged further away. With 1 km to go we reached a hilltop, we could see the tiny village of Ballydavid right in front of us, and the rest would be downhill. I tried to relax and push hard at the same time, which seemed to work because the last mile went by in 6:04, which is faster than fast for me, even if it was slightly downhill. I crossed the line in 37:46, 7th position.

Now remember that the course was short, exactly 6 miles according to my Garmin. I can’t claim a PR of 37:46, but calculating the same pace over an exact 10k course gave me a time of 39:09, which I will now claim as my new 10k PR, albeit with an asterisk. I would definitely have broken my 10k PR from last year, and it felt unfair to let all the good work I did today go up in smoke.

I wasn’t celebrating loudly, but I was really pleased with the effort. I really had given it all, and I had come home in a very good position. Arthur Lydiard had said you can’t train hard and race well at the same time, and while I had definitely been training hard recently, I raced as well as I could today. That will do for the moment.
12 Jul
6 miles, 51:33, 8:35 pace, HR 138
13 Jul
9.3 miles, including:
Ballydavid 10k, 37:46, (equivalent to 39:09, claiming as new PR), 7th overall

Weekly mileage: 58.5

Friday, July 11, 2008


I really miss Niamh and the kids, and I can't wait until Sunday when they come back from Dublin, but there is no doubt that running life is much easier in a single household. There are no problems with delays in the morning because the boys are awake and want breakfast and/or entertainment, I can do my strengthening exercises without an interfering baby or 4-year old, and I have plenty of peace and quiet in the evening to relax. I guess I should make the best of it while it still lasts. The barely controlled chaos that comes with 4 young children will return in 2 days.

In the last few weeks, Wednesday's workouts have always been slow, because I'm always stiff and tired the day after the hill repeats, and this week was no exception. The first mile took more than 9 minutes, but luckily I found a groove thereafter and managed to bring the pace down to almost average 8-minute miles at the end. The biggest mishap of the day happened in the evening when I managed to spill an almost full cup of tea all over my computer's keyboard, which promptly expired. Luckily I work in an IT department, and there were plenty of spare old keyboards around, one of which is now at home. As a work colleague mentioned, I should count myself lucky it was not a laptop. That would have been expensive.

Yesterday, Thursday, was fartlek day again, with 8x75 seconds at 1-mile pace. Again, I aimed at 5:40 pace, which is my mile pace according to the book's charts, even though I cannot imagine running an entire mile at that pace. I was already knackered after 75 seconds of that, which covered less than a quarter of a mile. I ran the repeats along the Caragh Lake road towards Killorglin, which is fairly flat, but not quite. I was quite surprised afterwards when I checked the results that the first seven repeats were all within a few seconds of each other, despite the fact that some would have been on a net uphill, and others on a net downhill part of the road. The last repeat was at 5:18 pace, but don't get excited, there was a drop of almost 30 feet over the length of it. Still, it was cool to see such a low figure on the screen. I was really pleased with myself when I got home. This was a tough workout, but I had nailed it.

I'm basically phasing in the double headers, where you run tempo one day and a long run with a strong finish the next. The fartleks are standing in for the tempo runs at the moment, and I upped my long run to 15 miles today. Since that happens to be the distance of the loop around Caragh Lake I was back on that old favourite of mine, for the first time in about 7 weeks, well before the Cork marathon. The hamstrings were both rather tired from yesterday's workout, and I wondered how I would be able to get over those major hills, but I managed ok. I was a bit slow, but from a cardio point of view I was doing fine. It was just the legs that were not really cooperating. By mile 7 fatigue crept into the system, and I was wondering if I would be able to stick to the original plan and speed up from mile 10. Speeding up I managed, but it was very, very hard work. The faster section starts with a hill, so if you try to hit a pace you're playing catch up almost from the start. I didn't quite hit the pace I wanted, 7:27 was all I could do. That was a lot faster than what I would have thought possible at mile 7, but a lot slower than the marathon-pace figure I had in mind when writing the schedule. It didn't help that I was running against an increasingly strong wind, and that it started raining at that point.

The rain never stopped, and after breakfast it was lashing no holds barred. This gave me the perfect excuse to take the car to work for the first time this week instead of the bike, but in all honesty I had made that decision at mile 7 already, and not even beautiful blue skies would have gotten me on the bike today. I kept telling myself that I should not be so exhausted after only 15 miles, but I guess I have to take the lingering fatigue from Thursday's workout into account.

I won't be at my best for Sunday's race, of course, but that's fine. The target is again to suffer as much as possible. I just hope this time it's because of the pace rather than a stomach upset.

9 Jul
7 miles, 56:10, 8:01 pace, HR 144
10 Jul
7 miles 53:28, 7:38 pace, HR 154
incl. 8x75 secs @ 5:41 pace average
11 Jul
15 miles, 2:00:13, 8:01 pace, HR 147
last 5 @ 7:27 pace

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Keep … On … Running

I had a good easy run yesterday. I’m still getting used to the idea that I can run sub-8 pace at those low heart rates, but you won’t find me complaining. I was cruising along, and it just felt so easy. Afterwards I had some nagging doubts if I should have run slower to save myself for today’s workout, but the effort had been genuinely easy, and 7 miles should not leave my legs tired.

What has felt sore over the last few days is my midriff. I did a few core strengthening exercise on Saturday, and felt perfectly fine afterwards and on Sunday. Then I stupidly decided to do a few push-ups on Sunday evening, and within two or three of those my stomach muscles felt sore. They’re still uncomfortable today, which is weird because up to Sunday evening I had not felt a twinge. I don’t think I pulled something, it feels just like fatigued muscles do. The main thing for me is that it does not seem to interfere with running, and I can live with the rest.

I went to bed rather early last night, and after reading for almost an hour quickly fell asleep. When I woke at 2 am I did not think much of it, and expected to be able to fall back sleep promptly. Nope. At about 3 am I started reading again, and after several unsuccessful attempts at snoozing, did so until 5. I managed about half an hour of sleep after that, and then I was staring at the ceiling until I got up. This had been happening a lot lately, though not quite from 2 am usually. Maybe if I upped my mileage back to 100 mpw it would knock me out sufficiently to sleep thorough the night again like I used to?

I know full and well that this is turning into a weekly whinge-fest, but those hill repeats are well and truly kicking my backside. Running 75 seconds up a hill of 8-10% grade at 1-mile pace? I don’t think so. And repeating it 8 times? Nope. Not me. I gave it my best shot, but it was s-l-o-w. I checked my times and paces afterwards, and noticed a weird pattern. The first five repeats were all at more or less the same pace, then there was a slowdown of almost 20 seconds per mile on the sixth, which is the pace I kept for the last two repeats as well. There was no drop in effort, I can assure you, but the pace dropped a level all of a sudden. I haven’t really seen anything like that before. Anyway, after 8 hill repeats I was ready to crawl back home, but seemed to recover within a couple minutes. Usually I feel dead on my feet after those repeats, today I was basically cruising home. My first thought was that I had not run the repeats hard enough, but with the heart rate crossing over 180 on each of them I don’t think I could have worked much harder.

I do have some doubts if those lactic acid inducing repeats are such a good idea. It’s still almost 16 weeks until the marathon, and anaerobic workouts at that stage might well be counter-productive. However, I’m committed to the program, and will see it through until the race. The way I see it, the last few years of high mileage were my base building phase, now I’m trying to move on to the next stage. Ok, I admit it, that’s wishful thinking.
7 Jul
7 miles, 55:40, 7:57 pace, HR 142
8 Jul
7.2 miles, 1:02:47, 8:43 pace. HR 148
incl. 8x75 secs hill repeats with 2:30 rest

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Home Alone

I just dropped Niamh and the kids off at Killarney train station. They will spend a week at Nana and Gaga’s house in Dublin, and I’m left to my own devices. Unfortunately I have to go to work each day and I’ve got a ton of chores to do, so I don’t think I’ll have much time to enjoy the high life single-style.

The weather has been slightly challenging the last few days, we haven’t seen the sun in a while, and the dark grey clouds keep dropping rain shower after rain shower on top of us. It’s ever so slightly depressing. To relieve the boredom we went to a party last night, and the theme had been super heroes. It might not have been the most innovative idea, but I went as Marathon Man. It sure beat the ready-made costumes rented from a shop, and was definitely better than putting a superman t-shirt on top of a pair of jeans, in my eyes. Anyway, we greatly enjoyed it, and I just about managed to drink sufficient beer to be in a very relaxed mood but still not have a hangover today.

Friday was the day of my “long” run. It was the longest run since the marathon, but it will be quite some time before a long run will be that short again as the training is starting to hot up. I went towards Cromane, which somehow seems to have become my favourite place for long runs. I guess it’s a change of scenery, and the reasonably flat road allows a decent pace. But I’ll be back to loops around Caragh Lake once my long run hits 15 miles (i.e. this week). I felt pretty good all along, but 13 miles isn’t really long enough to get into trouble yet.

Yesterday was an easy jaunt alongside Caragh Lake, just in time to get really wet when it started raining heavily. The sun had been shining when I left home, and I had wondered if I should bring along my shades, but I was soaking wet even before the turnaround point. Such is life in Kerry.

From that point of view, today’s run was similar, because once again it started raining around the halfway mark. The stomach had felt a bit funny early on (it can’t be the beers from the previous night, can it?) but settled soon enough, and I started cruising along at a pace that not too long ago would have been closer to my tempo pace, and yet it felt pretty easy all the way through. I’m really enjoying running at the moment. I feel good, and I think I’m still getting faster from year to year (I had my doubts earlier this year). Even the mad jumping exercises seem to be getting easier. I’m still a panting wreck afterwards, but the number of jumps I can do before collapsing in a heap has increased. Let’s hope it will do something for my running as well.
4 Jul
13.1 miles, 1:43:12, 7:52 pace, HR 148
5 Jul
7 miles, 55:47, 7:58 pace, HR 146
6 Jul
10.2 miles, 1:18:02, 7:39 pace, HR 151

Weekly mileage: 55

Thursday, July 03, 2008


As the week goes on, our stomachs seem to have calmed down as much as I have over Saturday's disastrous race. After two vomit-less nights I think we're definitely over the worst, even though the appetite hasn't quite returned yet. Niamh found a positive spin on the entire situation when she stepped off the weighing scales yesterday, though I can't quite share her enthusiasm over one or two lost pounds. Must be a gender thing.

I was still a bit sore yesterday, probably from Tuesday's hill sprints, and initially I was excruciatingly slow. When it took over 9 minutes for the first mile I thought that I must be in the middle of an involuntary slow-running week, but after another mile I started to accelerate, even without any noticeable increase in effort. I felt better the longer the run went on, and by the time I got home I had cruised to an average pace of close to 8:00. Even though I really don't want to push myself hard on those easy days, I was still pleased to see the pace come down from the initial sluggishness.

Another fartlek run was on the menu today, and just like the hill sprints they are starting to get serious. I still don't quite know what pace I should run them in; I had hoped Saturday's race would give me a proper 10k time to gauge my fitness level, but that didn't happen. I think running the fast bits at about 5:40 pace is what I should be aiming for. Of course, those bits don't last long enough to get some usable feedback from the Garmin as regards to pace, so I end up running them purely by feel, and can check afterwards if I did ok or not. Today's speed sections featured paces ranging from 5:21 to 6:00, but since I ran them over fairly undulating terrain that was more a direct reflection of the up-and downhill nature of the course, and not a sign of an uneven effort. The average pace was pretty much exactly 5:40, which is what I was aiming for anyway. After being so slow during Tuesday's hill sprints I was relieved to see that I was able to hit the right pace. I'm still amazed just how much tougher the hill sprints are in comparison to the fartlek workouts. Don't get me wrong – of course I know that sprinting up a hill is harder than doing the same thing on a flattish piece of road. I just didn't realise how much harder.

Maia has gotten a new boyfriend. Our next door neighbours had a baby boy a few days ago, and our kids are all very excited about having yet another friend to play with, in good time. They (the neighbours, that is, not our kids) had been trying for a baby for a long time, and she had quite a few scares during the pregnancy, so we're all delighted with the happy outcome. As you can see in the photo, Maia has learned a new skill to celebrate the new arrival. That girl will be walking soon, and she's only just 8 months old! She'll be overtaking Daddy on his training runs soon.

2 Jul
6 miles, 48:35. 8:06 pace, HR 143
3 Jul
7.1 miles, 54:29, 7:40 pace, HR 157
incl. 8x45 secs @ 5:40 pace average

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Aftermath

On Saturday evening I was seriously wondering how many days I would have to take off. If you've been following this blog for a while you know that I hate zero days, but I was so utterly exhausted that running was out of the question. In fact, thinking back, I was really amazed that I had managed to finish the race, no matter in what time.

However, 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep did wonders to my constitution. All of a sudden I was full of energy again, and the first thing I did on Sunday morning was to head out of the door for a quick 6-miler. On Friday, I had felt fine. On Sunday, I felt fine. It was just on Saturday that I felt absolutely crap, and as luck had it, that happened to be race day. In my frustration I hammered the last mile in 6:30, just to show the body "look, that's what you should have done yesterday!". In order to prove to myself that I was indeed fine, I spent the next 7 hours working in the garden, and since I spent far too much of that time thinking about the race, I ran another5 miles in the evening, in an unsuccessful attempt to banish the demons.

As a direct result of all that, on Monday I was the sorest I have been in quite some time, but it wasn't just the legs, my shoulder were achy, too, which I obviously attributed to the yard work. I missed out on one mile because the boys woke up just as I was about to head out, and by the time I had made breakfast for both of them and listened to the story that Cian insisted on telling me in excruciating detail, my available time had shrunk and 5 miles was all I could do. In my sore state that was more than enough anyway. I seriously doubted if I would be able to run hill sprints on Tuesday, and expected to have to shift those by at least one day.

Last night was another rough one, with Lola, Shea and Maia all having issues on either end of the digestive system, but I'll spare you the details for once. Luckily I had gone to bed early, which meant I still got a reasonable amount of sleep once the situation had settled down. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself almost free of soreness, and decided to go ahead with the hill sprints after all.

Grellan had warned me about those. How you are supposed to run up a hill at mile pace I do not know. Either Matt Fitzgerald's hills are not very steep, or he means that more as guidelines rather than realistic pace recommendations. In any case, 8x45 seconds was tough, and I didn't even get close to mile pace. All repeats were between 7:00 and 7:30 pace, which was almost a minute slower than last week's repeats (those had been for 30 seconds only, though). I guess I must still have been tired from the weekend, and maybe I would have been better off with an extra rest day, but it's too late for that. It was not for lack of effort, I managed to get my heart rate from 140 to 180 in those 45 seconds every time, and the quads felt like they were on fire. I also got one lesson in relaxation, the last repeat was the one with the most effort, and promptly ended up as the slowest one! I guess concentrating on form would have been the better option, though concentrating on form when all you can think of is the pain is difficult; I kept telling myself that pain is good, but towards the end of each repeat I invariably started to have doubts about the truth of that statement. Anyway, I was glad to have those over and done with, and the fact that they had not exactly gone to plan caused hardly a shrug of the shoulders.

According to the results from Saturday's race I came 84th out of over 1600 runners, which theoretically sounds ok, but in reality only shows how this was a fun run for most people, with the vast majority having heaved themselves straight off the couch. As expected, my age group had been much more competitive this year, I came 17th. Even if I had run as well as I know I am capable of, I would have ended up around 30th position, 6th or 7th in my age group, which meant that a podium finish was never on the cards. In fact, the overall winner of the race had been from the O35 age group. I found a quantum of solace from the fact that at least my stomach had not prevented me from receiving a prize.

My stomach seems to be almost back to normal, let's hope the kids' ones will follow soon as well.
29 Jun
am: 6 miles, 46:17, 7:43 pace, HR 147
pm: 5 miles, 39:28, 7:54 pace, HR 150
30 Jun
5 miles, 43:30, 8:42 pace, HR 138
1 Jul
6.6 miles, 59:02, 8:57 pace, HR 148
including 8x45 hill sprints @ 7:00-7:30 pace

Weekly mileage: 51.5
Monthly mileage: 194