Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Post Mortem

If you spend months preparing for a marathon, an analysis is inevitable, isn’t it? I have now had two days to think about the race, what went well and what didn’t, and what I can do differently next time. Yes, I’m already looking forward to the next one.

I have absolutely no regrets about going for a sub 3 hours time. I’m sure I could have shaved a minute or two off my final time with even pacing, but what would have been the point of that? Nobody is going to aim for a 3:03 marathon, at least nobody I can think of. It’s too close to 3 hours, and you inevitably start aiming for that.

Before the race I was quite confident that I could pull it off, and during the race I kept believing for a long time. The timer at the halfway mark, when I realised I was 20 seconds behind target rather than 20 seconds ahead as I had thought up to then, was the first time that doubts crept into my mind, and even then I still thought I had a good chance. It wasn’t until mile 19 that I had to admit to myself that the target was slipping away, and at that point my legs went boom and 5 minutes later I knew I was out of the hunt.

I did mention the stomach cramps in my race report, and I think they were a major factor. I initially blamed the untested brand of carbohydrate gel at mile 15 for almost throwing up, but in actual fact my stomach had been revolting for several miles already, and I don’t think the gel was directly responsible for the reaction. I also couldn’t stomach any of the sports drink. Each time it was on offer I would take a bottle, just sip a minimum amount, and then threw the bottle away, feeling guilty about wasting the content. I just could not swallow the sweet stuff, and I think I just ran out of glycogen at mile 20, the classic cause and the classic distance for hitting the wall.

I really had not expected for that to happen! Two years ago, in the Dublin marathon, I held up well until mile 22, last year in Loch Ness I was fine until mile 24, and in Cork I was fine until the end. After that sequence I don’t think it was unreasonable to think that I would be able to last the distance on Monday as well. I now know better.

What caused the stomach cramps? Well, I had been stupid, and I can only blame myself. In the days before the race I had been reading about the positive effects of caffeine for long distance running, and decided to give that a try. Of course I had not tested that in training, but let’s get real. For a long run I have to get up at around 4:50am. If I wanted to ingest caffeine an hour before that I would have to get up at 3:50, and that’s just not going to happen. I don’t think my stomach took well to the 335ml of Red Bull, delivering about 100mg of caffeine if I read the label right, an hour before the race started, and eventually it rebelled. The stomach cramps didn’t stop at the finishing line, they went on for the rest of the day and the following night, and it wasn’t until Tuesday evening that it felt somewhat ok again.

My legs, on the other hand, are recovering well. I can walk down the staircase without wincing, which is good because I seem to be going up and down like a yo-yo all day. On the other hand, I have absolutely no intentions of running at the moment, and I won’t be heading out of the door until the urge to hit the road again comes back in earnest, however long that takes. The fact that it’s absolutely freezing and miserable outside doesn’t help I guess, but even the perfect weather conditions couldn’t entice me at the moment.

So, what’s next? The plans haven’t changed, my next marathon will be Boston in April. I don’t know if I can break 3 hours there, the course is difficult, and the number of runners on the road might be a problem. First and foremost I am determined to enjoy that occasion, it’s not every day that you cross the Atlantic to run a race.

I will also change my training again. I feel almost ungrateful to diss the Brain Training approach, after all it DID deliver a 4 minutes PR. But I really think that it is not for me, the amount of speed work kept grinding me down, and the fact that I never hit the projected training paces didn’t help. It did open my eyes to the fact that I had not done enough speed work up to now, and now it is question of finding the right balance. So, for my next training cycle I’ll hop back onto the mileage bandwagon, but hope to incorporate more fast running than last year. I have yet to plan it in detail. This will have to wait until we get back home to Kerry on the weekend. For the rest of the week we’re in Dublin for a holiday. Maybe I’ll be able to face the road again once we’re back home.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Time Waits for No Man

And time waits for no one, and it won't wait for me
Yes, time waits for no one, and it won't wait for me
(Rolling Stones)

I have been training hard all summer. In fact, I think this was the hardest training cycle I have ever put myself through. Because the Cork City marathon had been as late as June, it meant a shorter than usual buildup for Dublin, and I made one big change: I sacrificed miles for speed. I was following the “Brain Training for Runners” program, with all its various types of speed workout, and with fewer miles than in previous training cycles. Unfortunately the training didn’t go quite as hoped for, I was consistently unable to achieve the training paces I was aiming for, and eventually I cut back on the speed training because I felt tired and stale. At that stage I was happy to settle for less. But then I had two great preparation races, running 1:25 in the Blarney half marathon, and then did even better, running the 15 miles from Cork to Cobh in 1:37 and feeling absolutely fantastic all the way. This reset my expectation: I was again aiming for sub-3 hours.

Prior to the race I had been in contact with two runners, John Desmond and John McLaughlin. John D wanted to set off at 6:45 pace (minutes per mile, that is), John McL was in favour of 6:55, with my preferred pace of 6:50 right in the middle, which left me wondering if I would be running on my own. I met John McL at the Expo the day before the race, and I bumped into John D and the start of the race, all by chance.

It was a freezing cold day, and it made me swap my trademark green singlet in favour of a t-shirt, and I also wore gloves. Despite that I was shivering at the start, and the gun could not come soon enough. When it finally sounded I was originally blocked in by the sheer number of runners, and it took almost half a mile to push through the worst. I am used to much smaller races, and after half a mile the field is usually settled. Not so here, which I found confusing, but I put my head down and tried to run my own race.

I could see John D ahead of me, and by the second mile I was just a few steps behind. I thought about pushing ahead and joining him, but when I looked up a few minutes later I could not see a sign of him. I hoped for his own sake that he had not started too fast, and just got on with running on my own, surrounded as I was by plenty of people.

The first miles passed in 6:54, 6:42, 6:59 and 6:44. I am quite surprised now to see the figures going up and down that much, I felt I was running at a much more even pace, around 6:50.

That’s the pace on my Garmin GPS, of course. The official miles were always a few seconds late, adding about 2 seconds per mile, I guess. I had taken that into account, which was why I was aiming for 6:50 pace rather than 6:52, which is the pace required for a sub-3.

By mile 3 my calves already felt heavy, which was a seriously bad sign; it was far too early to get into trouble. I was especially surprised that it would be my calves acting up. If it had been my left hamstring (sore since April), my left foot (inflamed since April) or my right foot (dermatitis since September) I would have understood, but my calves had waited until now to act up. But I was still on pace, I was still feeling strong, and eventually the heavy feeling went away as I settled into the race. By mile 5 someone called “Hello Thomas”, and, unaccustomed as I am to that, I was too startled to really react to the call from a spectator who had come up all the way from Killorglin with a group of 28 runners from my company who were all running for charity today. Sorry.

Miles 5 and 6 (6:44 and 6:58) went through Phoenix Park towards the 10k mark. We had climbed a bit by now, not that I really noticed it. But I was right on time (6:50 average), and I was running behind 5 runners from Athenry AC, a rather well known running club. I figured that they were all aiming for sub-3, and stayed close by. I also saw a guy in a “Runner’s World pacer” t-shirt. I was not aware of any official pacing group, and the organisers certainly had not mentioned anything on the web site, but he was certainly right on pace for 3 hours. I kept in close proximity for the next mile (6:52), and then the course dropped steeply over the next mile towards the river Liffey.

When running in a race, any race, I always run faster than everyone around me on the downhill, and slower on the uphill. I don’t push the pace on the drop, and I don’t take it easy on the climb, but it always happens. Accordingly I left the Athenry runners behind me on my 6:30 mile. There was a water station at the bottom and I took a carbohydrate gel, which I had bought the day before to be taken at that point. I felt good and was at overall 6:48 pace by now, just where I wanted to be. Not too fast, but with a little cushion for the climbing miles that were to come. First of all we climbed rather steeply out on the other side of the Liffey valley, then there were a few slightly undulating miles until we turned into Crumlin Road at mile 11. Anyway, I did better than expected on that stretch, covering those miles in 6:47, 6:52 and 6:45.

The day before my sister-in-law had asked me where the worst part or the race would be, and I had pointed to Crumlin Road, from mile 11 to the halfway-mark. I hate that stretch. It is uphill, and for some reason unknown to me it is always against a headwind. Even drafting doesn’t help, and all I could do was to get it over and done with, without losing too much time, and without exhausting myself in the process. I did more or less as expected in 7:02 and 7:04. My Garmin was back to 6:50 average pace, just as it had been before that big drop in Phoenix Park. I was pretty pleased, but when we crossed the timing mat at the halfway stage, the timer displayed 1:30:27. It had taken me only a few seconds to cross the starting line, and I had assumed up to now to be a few seconds ahead of target, not 20 seconds behind. This definitely knocked me back psychologically, but I was still optimistic. Two years ago I had aimed to break 3:30 on that course, and managed it by running the second half faster than the first one. Since I had managed that in Cork as well, I was reasonably confident that I would be able to pull it off once more.

I like to think that I had been confident rather than cocky before the race. My confidence had come from previous race results, and I always tend to finish races strongly. In Cork I had made up a whopping 47 places during the second half, catapulting me from position 118 at the halfway mark up to 71st at the finish. With this in mind, I think it was well justified to expect a good finish here as well.

Alas! Maybe it was the blow from that timer, or maybe I had worn myself out a bit too much over the last few miles, but I got overtaken by at least a dozen runners immediately after halfway. I recognised a few runners from earlier, and when four of the Athenry gaggle came by I figured that this was the 3 hours group. Then I saw a yellow vest with a black bar across, and realised that I was a step behind John McLaughlin. I caught up, and we started running together for a few miles. I admitted to feeling rather low at that point, and John warned me not to push too hard. But the idea of settling for a mere personal best wasn’t on my agenda today. “I will run at sub-3 pace for as long as I can, and if I blow up, so be it”, or words to that effect were my response. In reality I was struggling with stomach cramps at the time, and the idea of taking any more carbohydrates was rather unsettling, but with 90 minutes of running ahead of me I would have to take some on board.

I managed to keep pace with John, just behind the 3hrs group, and eventually I felt better again. Maybe the signals from my stomach were merely hunger pangs? Anyway, I had struggled through mile 14 in 6:57 and recovered to mile 15 in 6:51. There I took a gel that was provided by the course organisers. I had never tried that brand before, which meant I was committing sin number 1 in marathoning: never do anything during the race that you haven’t tried in training. To my defence, I had sinned on nearly all my previous marathons and always got away with it. My stomach seems to be rather sturdy, which is why I never took heed of that advice.

To cut it short, two minutes later I almost threw up. I just about managed to keep myself from bending over, but it wasn’t pretty, and I’ll spare you the details. Then I got side stitch. John, who was oblivious to what I was going through, slowly pulled away from me. I concentrated on my breathing, exhaling forcefully in synch with my footsteps, and after a minute or two it slowly subsided and I could run on without losing too much time. Even though it was a downhill stretch I am quite surprised I managed to run that miles as fast as 6:55. On the next mile (6:44) I slowly caught up with John who seemed rather surprised to find me at his side again. I was quite pleased myself. Catching up after you’ve been dropped isn’t easy especially not at mile 17. We did increase the pace a bit and drew closer to the 3hrs group again. This was a downhill mile, but 6:33 was still rather fast. Maybe we had overdone it a bit, but it had felt fine at the time.

Alas! The downhill didn’t last, and I remembered that I had nominated the following stretch as my second least favourite part of the course. There are two hills. The first is short and sharp after a viaduct at Milltown Road. I will never forget that road, because on my first marathon I had started cramping at that point, a problem that had stayed with my first the entire painful rest of the race, which as not something I like to be reminded of. Today it wasn’t nearly as bad, the hill seemed a lot less steep than it was in my memory, but I still fell behind John again. This didn’t worry me. As already mentioned, I always slow down on the climbs. But I could not draw level again on the next, short downhill (mile 19 in 6:54), and I knew that this time I really was in trouble. The next, last, long hill was yet to come and I had no cushion whatsoever. It was bad. I struggled and I decided I had a new least favourite part of the course. It took me 7:13 to pass the 20-mile marker.

Basically, at mile 19 I knew I was in trouble, but with the memory of my strong finish in Cork still fresh in memory I still reckoned I was in with a chance. By the time I crested the last hill (around the 20.5 mile point) I was not only behind in time, my calves had started cramping, I had trouble lifting my knees (a sign that the quads are gone), and I knew it was over.

This might sound defeatist. I assure you I didn’t take it lying down. I surged a few times, hoping to make up time and get through that stretch. I fought on. Niamh and the kids were waiting at mile 21. I had told her that I would be there 2:23 into the race, and if I was a few minutes late I would not break 3 hours. Niamh told me afterwards she was thrilled to see me at exactly 11:23am. At that point she was convinced her husband was on his way to achieving a lifetime goal. I, on the other hand, felt differently.

I had given Niamh a bottle of de-fizzed Coke to pass on to me. This is a very old-school runner’s remedy. It had worked brilliantly in the Cork-to-Cobh race, where it had given me an incredible boost, which is why I decided to take some today. Unfortunately, I was already dying on my feet at that stage.

My stomach cramps, which had started shortly before the halfway mark, had never stopped for long and by now they were really bad, and I felt like curling up in foetal position. This wasn’t really an option at that point, and I struggled on. When asked about the race course I had always mentioned the fact that it is downhill over the last 6 miles, and whoever still has intact legs will finish strongly. Of course, I had expected to be amongst the lucky few, because that is exactly how it had played itself out in Cork. Not so today. My quads were shot, and my calves kept cramping. I hated the downhills. I tried to shorten my stride and increase the turnover to make up for it, which worked for a while, but not for too long. The figures on the Garmin don’t lie. I managed to keep things somewhat together for a while. Mile 21 took 7:11, mile 22 7:03. While it was clear that 3 hours was out of reach I was not far behind, and at that stage I was still looking at a 3:02 finish. The other problem was that the
Garmin’s and the official mile markers were coming increasingly further apart. By mile 10 the discrepancy was only a few seconds, by mile 20 it was about a minute and it became worse the longer it went on. By now I was almost glad that I was out of the 3 hours race. Missing the target by a few seconds because the course may (or may not) have been long would have been incredibly annoying. As things stood, I didn’t particularly care. 3:02 or 3:09 were all slower than my target but faster than my previous PR, and I would just accept it.

However, things were going downhill rapidly, and I’m talking about my pace here, not the course elevation. The miles were pure agony, and I kept being overtaken. A few runners were walking at that point, and those are the ones I managed to catch, but I definitely lost a lot more places than I gained. This is very unusual, and of course I hated it. I still didn’t give up. I tried to latch on to a few runners as they went past, but with my cramping calves I was never able to keep up for long. Things went from bad to worse, mile 23 in 7:33, 24 in 7:57 and 25 in 8:03! Goodness gracious me! I was not running, I was crawling, and the projected finishing time got pushed back further and further.

At least the crowds, who had been rather sparse for most of the course, were now lining the path. I felt somewhat unworthy of the praise they heaped upon us, and was mildly embarrassed. They helped psychologically, but I was still getting slower rather than faster, with a last mile of 8:11, but, as I’ve said, that’s a Garmin mile, and the official 26 mile marker was still far ahead of me when the last beep from the device sounded. To my surprise I actually managed to speed up again for the last half mile; it’s amazing how the brain can loosen the brakes once it finally cops on to the fact that we’re almost done. A 7:10 pace for the last stretch gave me hopes of a sub-3:05 finish, but I had long missed that boat. I crossed the line in 3:05:37, which, even with all the ugliness of the last 6 miles, was still a PR by almost exactly 4 minutes.

I had expected to be distraught to miss out on a sub-3, but I was fine. I’d had the last 50 minutes to come to terms with it, and by now I could accept it, but of course I was disappointed and did mutter a few choice words. I met John McL who had crossed the line 2 minutes ahead of me, and just like me had a new PR but no sub-3. I looked up John D’s time when I got home, and at least he had succeeded, coming home in 02:58:26. Congratulations, John. I’ll target that for my next marathon.

I still have one big consolation: I have now managed to take more than 1 hour off my first marathon time, set here in Dublin only 4 years ago. Even though I missed out on my real target, this is still something I am immensely proud of.
27 Oct
Dublin City Marahon, 3:05:37, 344th/11700, 74th in M35 age group
average pace 7:04, average HR 164

Friday, October 24, 2008


I bet a lot of runners for Monday’s Dublin marathon introduced a rest day yesterday, planned or not. I actually had a decent workout in mind, with a few miles at marathon pace and a couple of 800s, but when I woke around 6 am the house was being battered by the storm, which persuaded me to give this one a miss. Cycling into work was completely out of question. The wind was really gusty with wind speeds of up to 60mph – running or cycling would have been suicidal. Kenmare and Killarney, neither of them far away from here, got so badly flooded that they made it into the main evening news. As long as the storm blows itself out over the weekend, that’s ok with me. The conditions on Monday are going to be fairly cold but manageable. We will be fine.

As a result of the weather running amok my mileage has dropped off a cliff this week, which made this a more radical taper than originally anticipated. I guess I’ll see how I will feel on Monday, but in all honesty I don’t think a missed 8 mile run 4 days before the big day will have any measurable effect either way.

It was surprisingly calm this morning, and I managed to squeeze in 5 miles between two very heavy rain showers. After a warm-up mile I increased the pace to MP and intended to hold it for 3 miles. It felt much too fast, and the old doubts started creeping in. Then, with half a mile to go, it all clicked again and I cruised along, confidence restored. I went easy again on the last mile home, but when I glanced at the Garmin with half a mile to go I realised that I was jogging along at 7:00 pace, and my confidence for Monday soared. I spent the last few minutes forcing myself to slow down, and with 3 days to go it is time to get plenty of rest. Any miles yet to come will be very slow and easy, just enough to keep the legs moving.

I got two emails in the last few days, one from a John who wants to run under 3 hours and suggested working together, and one from a different John who knows yet another John who wants to run under 3 hours and suggested we should be working together. It looks like I won’t have to set the pace on my own, but things might be getting confusing with all those Johns around me.

3 days to go. We’re driving up to Dublin tomorrow (the weather forecast is atrocious), and I will hopefully manage to relax on Sunday. And then …

23 Oct
24 Oct
5 miles, 35:16, 7:03 pace, HR 160
incl. 3 miles at @ 6:49

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I always give a short training summary a few days before a marathon, and here is the one for this build:

Training (excluding this week):
18 weeks
Average mpw:
# runs of 20 miles or more:
Highest weekly mileage:
# of PRs:
6 (5k, 4 miles, 8k, 10k, half, 15 miles)
  1. PF in left foot (leftover from Connemara in April)
  2. pain in left hamstring (almost certainly connected to 1)
  3. dermatitis in right foot

It was an unusual training cycle for me. I followed the Brain Training program, which meant fewer miles but more speedwork than usual. I found this a very tough program, and the massive amount of speedwork paid off spectacularly initially with a slew of new PRs over the shorter distances. However, I eventually decided that there was too much speedwork for a marathon build and started to back off. I had felt really tired and stale at the end of August, but I’ve come around and I am now in hopefully my best shape ever. In any case, it’s too late to do anything about it now.

The week started in total alien fashion, namely without a run on Monday morning. The weather was awful, I could not possible have cycled into work, so I got a lift off Niamh in the morning and ran home in the evening. Evening runs are always faster than morning runs, and it was an easy one, despite being faster than my usual easy runs. The weather almost cooperated, for 3.5 miles it was windy but fine, and then the heavens opened and I was soaked through within 10 seconds. As a result, the last miles and a bit were faster than planned – I just wanted to get out of the deluge as soon as possible.

My right foot started itching about 5 weeks ago, just after the Blarney half-marathon in fact. I assumed it was Athlete’s Foot, picked up from the shower room there. Apart from making sure to wash it very carefully each day I treated it with cream, but that didn’t help; eventually I tried some powder, which was no use either. I purchased some spray, and that didn’t get rid of it either. Eventually the foot started swelling, and it got rather painful. Niamh kept nagging me to go to the Doctor, and eventually I gave in, and had an appointment today. He said it was dermatitis, and after I refused to go on antibiotics he prescribed another cream. It should get rid of the problem within a few days, which would be just in time for the marathon. Funnily enough, even with all the unpleasant symptoms I have experienced over the last few weeks (blisters, crusty skin, irritation, itching, rash, redness, swelling) I was never worried about the marathon.

Because of the foot swelling, and because Niamh kept pestering me to be careful, I took Tuesday off, my first rest day of the entire training. I originally planned the same for today, but I woke at 4am, and when I was still awake at 6:30 I finally got up and ran 5 very easy miles. It felt good.

The one thing I am nervous about is the weather forecast. They keep changing their minds every day. A few days ago they predicted gale force winds with gusts of over 50mph on the day. Thankfully they have changed that by now. It keeps changing every day, though. I still don’t like metcheck’s forecast of 15 mph winds, while wunderground is slightly more benevolent with 11 mph. With 5 days to go, there is still plenty of error in those.
20 Oct
5 miles, 37:26, 7:29 pace, HR 145
21 Oct
22 Oct
5+ miles, 41:23, 8:15 pace, HR 140

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Clock is Ticking

I’m just glad I’m not running right this moment. There’s a nasty storm blowing outside, and nobody in their right minds would face that deliberately. I was lucky enough to have somewhat better conditions in the morning; it just started to get really bad when I came home. I can only hope it won’t be like this come race day, or any thoughts of a fast time will go right out of the window.

Since this is the last weekend before the marathon I’m trying to relax as much as I can, as far as that’s possible with my young brood around me. Cian got a special treat yesterday for being such a good boy. I took him to town, just the two of us, for a bit of one-to-one time. He loved the undivided attention, and he definitely loved the smoothie and the biscuit in the café. I just about managed to resist the temptation of all those lovely chocolate cakes and limited myself to a croissant, but if that was any sounder from a nutritional point of view I don’t know. But I’m looking forward to carbo-loading, and I usually start a sweet binge the week after a marathon as a reward for all the hard work during training. I’m looking forward to that as much as I am to the marathon.

There isn’t much to tell about my running. I managed to limit myself to 5 miles on Saturday, and I ran them as slowly as I possibly could. The HR was a bit higher than I would have expected. Generally my HR on those easy runs is a good indicator of my fitness, and I’m a teeny bit concerned about the higher readings I’ve had this week. Let’s hope it won’t mean anything on marathon day.

I had originally planned a loop around Cromane for today but the wind was already blowing at close to gale force and I opted for the only sheltered piece of road and decided to run up and down the Ard-na-Sidhe mile. Since running back- and forwards four times didn’t sound too appealing I though I could run three of the miles at marathon pace and use the three return miles as recovery. However, the legs just took off, even on the warm-up section, and I was already doing MP before I had even started the real workout. I did slow myself down a bit, then ran two miles in 6:52 and 6:45 respectively, but then decided to go home. Not because I was feeling bad, but because I was feeling too good! I did not want to wear myself out by running needlessly fast, and decided to cut the run short before I was tempted to speed up even further. Running MP was entirely effortless today. If I can repeat that sensation 8 days from now, I will be a very happy man. But I didn’t want to use up all of that goodness today, and since the real part of the storm had found its way towards Caragh Lake at the time, it was better to head inside anyway.

If only I could bottle that feeling from today! I could use it on race day and practically guarantee a great race. Or if I could bottle and sell it, I’d be rich in no time at all.
18 Oct
5 miles, 42:23, 8:28 pace, HR 137
19 Oct
9.1 miles, 1:07:35, 7:25 pace, HR 153
incl. 2 uneven miles at 6:52, 6:45

Weekly Mileage: 50+

Friday, October 17, 2008

Holding Back

After Tuesday’s tempo run I definitely went into taper mode. I had two easy days on Wednesday and Thursday, and the mileage has definitely dropped now. As always, the most important thing during the taper is not to do anything too stupid. With 10 days to go until the marathon I’m reasonably confident that I will manage to keep myself in check.

I ran easily along Caragh Lake on Wednesday, but added 2 or 3 short pickups into the run. Maybe they were responsible for the average heart rate being a bit higher than expected. I certainly did raise an eyebrow when I checked the numbers, but I don’t think it’s a sign of impending doom.

I went even easier on Thursday with 5 miles on the Ard-na-Sidhe road. I remember doing a lot of 5 mile runs along that road when I was following the Pfitzinger marathon plan. It seems like ages ago now. These days the Ard-na-Sidhe road is part of my long runs around the lake, but I very rarely go there just to turn around at the 2.5-mile mark.

Much more painful then that run was a visit to the dentist. At the age of 38 I still had two baby teeth in my mouth, and for some unknown reason one of them split up all of a sudden last week. The dentist confirmed that it literally broke into pieces in my mouth. He managed to get most of it out, but one part had become fused to the bone due to being there for so long. He could not remove it, but had to file it down. I felt fine during the procedure itself, but when the anaesthetic wore off later on I felt distinctly uncomfortable, and it still hurt on Thursday. I’m fine now, but I still have to get used to that gap in my teeth. At least it’s far enough towards the back not to be visible.

I have mentioned a few times how I keep massaging my left foot to keep the PF in check. I could always feel quite a bump in that heel, and yesterday, while pressing at a sore spot a sharp pain shot through my foot, and when that had subsided the big knot was almost gone. There’s still a bit of a bump compared to the other foot, but it’s much smaller than it used to be. I think I just happened to hit a trigger point, which would be good news, I guess. Having said that, the foot didn’t feel any different this morning. But I will be fine during the marathon.

Despite not following the Pfitzinger plan any more I’m still doing that 3x1 miles workout 10 days before a marathon each time. I felt a bit apprehensive today, especially since I had not done any intervals for a while – I has eased off before the last race, and been recovering/tapering ever since. It took a bit to get used to the 6:00 pace during the first interval, and I concentrated mainly on keeping good from and remaining in full control rather than going all out. At the start of the second interval I got the same thought that I always have at the start of a second interval, namely to chuck it all in and go home, but I managed to do what I always do, which is to carry on. Funnily enough, the second interval would be the fastest of the three, despite being slightly uphill (the other ones being slightly downhill going to other way). The last one was done to the thought of just getting it over with. The end result was a set of intervals that were a bit slower than the same workout before the Cork marathon, but unlike then I always felt in full control this time round, and I think that’s what you’re supposed to do rather than an all-out-until-you-drop effort. There was also that little voice in my head telling me not to wear myself out too much before the marathon. In any case, it’s done now, and I’m reasonably content with the workout. Of course I’d like to have run faster. Don’t we all?

Good luck to all you guys running a marathon on Sunday of which there seem to be quite a few, i.e. PEI, MDI and Amsterdam. I’ll be thinking of you, and eagerly await the race reports.

15 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:36, 7:57 pace, HR 145
16 Oct
5 miles, 39:52, 7:58 pace, HR 140
17 Oct
6 miles, 44:05, 7:21 pace, HR 155
3x1 mile @ 6:10 (165/171), 6:07 (171/178), 6:13 (176/180)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


One of my first thoughts each day is “how many days are there left until the marathon”, which is quite normal behaviour for me during the taper. As of today, we are down to 13. Sometimes it feels like time is crawling, but in all honesty I have to admit that the magic number is going down pretty rapidly.

From a household point of view, this was a bad month. We’ve had the car, the hoover and the washing machine all fail within a few days of each other, and since they are all rather important items for a family of six, we have been struggling to cover at times. At least by now they are all repaired, the bills didn’t entirely cripple us financially, and we have our fingers crossed that we’ve reached the end of that series.

My biggest worry, as far as the marathon is concerned, is getting sick. Two weeks ago the entire family apart from me had some cold; not too bad but it took Maia especially several days to get better. I’m taking heart from the fact that I didn’t get any symptoms whatsoever. If my immune system can ward off that particular bug then I guess it should be in decent shape. Just don’t let me catch a cold too close to race day, please please please!

If you read a few Irish running blogs you probably get the impression that we’re all obsessed with the weather. Maybe we are, but if you pursue an outdoor hobby in this country it tends to get challenging around this time of the year (not that we had a good summer). Yesterday’s 8 easy miles saw plenty of wind but no rain, today it was pretty much reversed, no wind but heavy rain. Niamh happened to be up at 6:40, the time I left for my run, and just took one look at the weather, one look at me, and went to bed shaking her head in disbelief. You’d think she’s used to it by now.

I had planned an easy tempo run, 2x2.5 miles, at roughly half-marathon pace. For some reason I had set my mind on 6:40 rather than 6:30, but maybe I’ve just learned my lesson from all the frustrating summer workouts. Mind, that’s still 25 seconds per mile faster than the pace I used for tempo runs before the Cork marathon. I had originally planned to use the racing shoes but for some reason didn’t want them to get soaked in all that rain and wore normal trainers instead. The first interval went pretty well, I felt good and the pace came without pushing much. The second interval started the same, but for some reasons not entirely clear to me I completely fell apart over the last mile. While it was slightly uphill, that should not have been sufficient reason to slow down all the way to 7:20. I got incredibly tense and never managed to relax at all. I can’t quite figure out why, but I won’t dwell on it. One botched mile is not worth worrying over.

Just have a look at this instead:

13 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:01, 7:53 pace, HR 142
14 Oct
9.15 miles, 1:07:55, 7:25 pace, HR 154
incl. 2x2.5 miles @ 6:41, 6:58

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Caragh Lake once more

I’m still trying to get to grips with this tapering business. I’m just not made for it. I’m a relatively high-mileage guy, and if I can’t run high mileage, something feels wrong.

Friday was a very unusual day for me because I did not go run a single mile in the morning. The weather forecast had been truly awful and I knew I would not be able to cycle into work. Niamh doesn’t mind giving me a lift in the morning because she has to do the school run anyway, but collecting me in the evening is a major hassle, so I tend to run home whenever I get a lift in the morning. Since running twice a day isn’t what you’re supposed to do when tapering I omitted the morning run entirely. I hoped for more sleep until the incredibly late point of 8am, but Maia woke at 4:30, and while she managed to get back to sleep after a bottle, I did not (maybe I should have had a bottle myself). After staring at the ceiling for far too long I got up, did some core-strengthening exercises which I had badly neglected over the last couple of weeks, and basically waited for the rest of the family to wake up eventually. The run in the evening was marked by pouring rain, but that didn’t bother me. I quite enjoyed it.

On Saturday morning I got very annoyed about something, and I was still angry by the time I laced up my shoes and headed out of the door. I took my frustration out on the asphalt and what was planned as an easy run ended up as 8 miles at 7:11 pace. But I felt much better afterwards!

Today, with 15 days to go, I ran around Caragh Lake for the last time before the marathon. I haven’t done that loop nearly as often as during previous training cycles, but I managed a fair number of loops all the same. It was freezing cold despite the sun being out, and the sky featured hardly a cloud. I got a fantastic view of the lake after about 9 miles, the rest of the fog lifting in the early morning sun, and the song “Smoke on the Water” popping into my head for obvious reasons. Of course I didn’t have a camera with me, it would have been a great photo. The song was still in my head over the last few miles where I increased the effort to marathon pace, and unlike previous attempt I did indeed manage to get down to 6:50 pace. The confidence I have found on the road to Cobh is truly making quite some difference. I’ll just have to find a way of not going bananas over the next fortnight.

10 Oct
5 miles, 37:48, 7:33 pace, HR 141
11 Oct
8 miles, 57:28, 7:11 pace, HR 153
12 Oct
15 miles, 1:53:29, 7:34 pace, HR 151
last 4 miles at 6:50 pace

Weekly Mileage: 65.6

Thursday, October 09, 2008


There were two sets of photos for the Cork-to-Cobh race on Sunday. The first series is from around the 5 mile point, where you can spot me as the runner in my favourite green singlet. As you can see, it really was a fairly big group. If I’d shown the next two photos in that series they would feature Grellan. He was just behind us at that point.

The second shows David O’Callaghan about to be overtaken by some runner with a faster finish despite heel striking badly. If he had worn a less distinctive outfit I might not have recognised him, and might not have chased him down the same way. Who knows.

My recovery from the race is going well. I ran 10 slow and relaxed miles under a beautifully starry sky alongside Caragh Lake yesterday – just about my favourite running scenario. I probably felt a little bit of soreness in the hamstrings, but maybe it was more psychological than real.

After reading Rick’s recommendation to forget about doing Yasso 800s, I originally thought 10 miles with a few at marathon pace would be a decent workout. But then I thought about the mileage I’m doing this week and the fact that I’m supposed to be tapering, so I cut it down to 8 miles with 6 at MP. The weather has taken another turn for the worse – again – and it would have been too windy for decent 800s anyway. Previous MP workouts have always found me doing about 7:00 pace. I was curious if I would tune into 6:50 with my new-found confidence following Sunday’s race.

Apart from a few drops at the halfway point I managed to escape the rain, but the wind was very strong. I ran the first half of the speed effort at roughly 6:40 pace, but unlike last week I was not fooled. This time I was prepared for the wind effect, and the second half was slow enough to bring the average pace down to 6:51, despite keeping the effort level as constant as I could. In any case I was happy enough with the way I had managed to hit the planned marathon pace, a first in this training cycle.

Now all I have to do is get my head into tapering mode. I’ll try and cut the mileage a bit more. It’s against my nature, but I’m very much looking forward to marathon day already. 18 days to go.

8 Oct
10 miles, 1:21:36, 8:10 pace, HR 137
9 Oct
8.1 miles, 56:27, 6:58 pace, HR 162
incl. 6 miles @ 6:51 pace

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Great News

Maia took her first steps today! We are all celebrating

Have a look at my HR data from Sunday's Cork-to-Cobh race. It's not hard to see where I decided to ditch the group and start racing in earnest, is it?

I got a surprise when I inserted the data from the race into my training spreadsheet on Monday. There is a scoring function that is handy to compare your performance over different race distances, and Sunday’s race equalled my previous highscore, the 5k from Killarney back in July. Obviously the score from a 15 miler is much more relevant to me than the score from a 5k, especially so close to the marathon. It really came as a big surprise, seeing that I hadn’t raced all-out over the first 11+ miles.

I could not sleep on Sunday night. I was still buzzing from the race, and all kinds of thoughts went through my head. For a second I had the dangerous idea of going for a faster marathon time. After all, 6:35 had still felt totally comfortable at mile 11. I did manage to banish that thought, though. The Dublin marathon sports a nasty climb up to the 20-mile mark; if I get up there still feeling good, there will be ample opportunity to make up time. Marathons are long, and patience is a virtue.

My ideal scenario for Dublin would be to find a group that’s doing my pace and joining it, just like I did with that big group last Sunday. This made a big difference, especially psychologically. I think this was a major factor behind that pace feeling so easy. All my mind had to do was follow the leaders in front of me, and I could do that completely on autopilot. Unlike many marathons in America they don’t do official pace groups over here, and somehow it would feel like cheating anyway (don’t ask). But if a group of runners just happened to be running at 6:45-6:50 pace I would be very happy to join them. Of course, this is all just speculation.

I’m not sure if I’m officially tapering yet or if I’m merely recovering from the race, but the last two days were definitely on the easy side. I still felt pretty well for the 9 miles on Monday, but I could feel my hamstrings tightening up more and more as the day wore on. This is classic DOMS at work. I guess you can’t run such a long race and expect to come away without issues the next days. The race definitely left a few marks. My PF was flared up again, but nowhere near as bad as after the Liscarroll race in August, and a good bit of massaging seems to have worked wonders again. My right achilles was aching yesterday, but that went away overnight. Today, Tuesday, it’s mostly the achy hamstrings bothering me. I had my slowest run in quite some time this morning. I brought the Garmin along but turned off the backlight, which ensured that I would not be able to make out any numbers. Not tempted to speed up at all, I just plodded along my lonely path in the pouring rain.

I can’t believe how luck we had been on Sunday with the weather. Sandwiched between two spells of foul conditions, we had the perfect day for running. By Monday morning it had already changed, the rain arrived in Caragh Lake exactly at 5:19 am (I was awake at the time), and the wind was rather strong. Today it was less windy but with heavier rain in the morning, which is why I got a lift from Niamh into work rather than cycle. I did run home though, which added a few unplanned but easy miles, and I didn’t even bring a watch along (not on purpose, I simply forgot). I’ll take it easy again on Wednesday, and will have to decide what I want to do for Thursday. Before the Cork marathon I had done a set of Yasso 800s, which had predicted my subsequent marathon time with spooking accuracy. I had some vague plans of repeating that experiment for Dublin, but it would have to happen this week, and at the moment I simply don’t fancy running so fast. I might be persuaded to do a tempo run instead. I’ll see. Realistically, neither will make much difference in Dublin.

6 Oct
9 miles, 1:13:08, 8:08 pace, HR 141
7 Oct
am: 8 miles, 1:06:06, 8:16 pace, HR 136
pm: 2.5 miles, ~20 minutes

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Shifting Gear

Intentionally or not, the last week was by far the easiest in a long time. My mixed intervals on Tuesday were a lot slower than planned and therefore less stressful, and Thursday’s long run was short in order go easy on my legs for today’s race, which would be run over the unusual distance of 15 miles.

I ran 8 easy miles on Friday and 5 even easier miles on Saturday. Especially yesterday I started out very, very slowly, close to 9:00 pace, and intended to keep it at the same easy level. As I glanced at my Garmin with about 1 mile to go I saw the HR (139, fine), and the pace (7:05, what???) and I still felt like jogging. Whatever the intended pace, it felt absolutely awesome to run almost marathon pace at such an easy effort level – but it was slightly downhill, and that certainly made a big difference.

Whatever, I had felt better and better with each day this week, and I was confident about today’s race. My only worry was the pace that I should run. Marathon effort (6:50) or closer to half marathon effort (6:30)? McMillan’s running calculator gives 6:34 pace as the equivalent effort to Blarney’s 1:25:15 half marathon, but in actual fact I had not even checked that until right now – well after the race. I reckoned that 1:40 would be a very good effort, and 1:38 would be an all-out race, better than the Blarney result from 3 weeks ago.

We had to get up at the ungodly hour of 6:00 am, and the children were not overly impressed by having to get up so early on a Sunday, but they perked up very quickly – all credit to them. Niamh dropped me off in Cork and drove on to Cobh where we would meet up after the race. I was still undecided on my race pace, when I met Grellan, literally one minute before the start. “What pace are you running”, he asked. “6:40” I replied, pretty much deciding here and now. I think he chose to start out close to me, but to hang back.

The gun went off twice, first for the wheelchair competitor, and then for the rest of us. After quickly overtaking the usual bunch of idiots who started far too far ahead, I very quickly settled into a nice, relaxed pace, and was quite surprised to see Grellan at my side. After half a mile I remarked to him how this felt like jogging when the same pace during a training tempo run would have me hanging on for dear life. A group of runners was forming just ahead of us, with two guys seemingly very popular with a lot of the supporting stewards, because they kept shouting encouragement to John and Pat. Afterwards I found out they were John Desmond and Pat Murphy, two runners very well known to Grellan. He also pointed out another runner to me who looked familiar, Der Maloney, who I had battled with in Bantry last year, him then going under the name of “Yellow Shoes”.

I decided to hang with them, and so did a lot of others to form a sizeable group of at least 20 runners, but of course that size tends to change throughout the course of a race. The first miles looked familiar, they coincided with the early miles of the Cork City marathon. The pace was just a tad faster than the time I had given Grellan, and the Garmin seemed stuck at 6:37 average pace whenever I looked at it. Checking the mile splits now, the first 5 miles went by in 6:35, 6:30, 6:36, 6:36 and 6:39. That was amazingly consistent, and in my mind it justified my decision of sticking with those guys. I did notice one drawback of running in a group, when we passed the first (undermanned) water station after about 3 miles I very nearly missed out on a drink, I just about managed to grab a cup from the last man standing there, all the other helpers having already been relieved of their drink by the other group members. While I’m more than used to running 15 miles without a drink, I’d rather not repeat that in a race.

From a race point of view there was not much happening. At one stage I found myself right beside Der and introduced myself to him, reminding him of our run in Bantry 18 months ago. He knew me as “the blogman”, I guess that’s my identity around here. And I kept marvelling how well I was feeling, and how much 6:37 pace still felt like jogging. I was sure I could run a tick faster, but was not tempted. This was definitely a preparation race for Dublin rather than an all-out effort. But I decided to put the hammer down at mile 12 if I still felt as good by then.

The next miles were still rather uneventful. The roads were not closed, the early miles were on a dual carriageway where we used the left lane, and the hard shoulder where it was available, with some sparse traffic whizzing past us. This sounds much more dramatic than it was, in reality there was no issue with cars whatsoever. I don’t expect the road to be closed when I’m training, and things don’t change when I’m racing. We turned off the dual carriageway after a few miles and continued the race on secondary roads, and again there would be no problems, at least not for anyone near me. Mile 6 passed in 6:35 and mile 7 in 6:37. A guy beside me commented how the pace had picked up, but I could not confirm this, neither with the feeling in my legs nor the numbers on the Garmin. We had run eastwards for all those miles, now the road turned southwards, which had me worried before the race because I had expected this section to be windy. Luckily there was no need to worry, the conditions were right on perfect, no clouds in the October sky but the temperatures not exceeding 12C/53F and hardly a breeze to be felt.

We passed the halfway point at the apex of a bridge, and continued our way. I missed out on a drink at the second water station (too many runners in the group again), but it didn’t matter. I was not thirsty. At mile 8 (6:34 pace) I felt slightly tempted to speed up but I noticed that a few others seemed to feel the same urge and the pace seemed to increase a little bit. Apparently a few runners started to fall off the back of our group at that stage but that all happened behind me; I had kept towards the head of the group for the entire race. Again I wondered if I should start racing harder at mile 9, but with the pace increasing to 6:30 that didn’t seem necessary, and we passed the entrance of Fota Wildlife Park, where I knew I would spend most of the afternoon. At that stage a red car overtook our group and stopped shortly ahead. A young kid jumped out and passed a bottle of flat coke to “Dad”, a runner in our group. After he had finished half of it he asked if anyone else wanted some, and before I knew what I was doing I had raised my voice. I graciously accepted the gift, and when nobody else wanted it I drained the rest of the bottle. Thank you!

Mile 10 passed in 6:36, maybe the water stop had slowed us down a little bit, but the pace must have picked up again a little bit to 6:33 for mile 11. At that stage I became impatient. I still felt like jogging, which absolutely blew my mind. Over the summer I had tried again and again to run these paces in training runs and invariably ended up disappointed and frustrated by my inability to run fast enough. What a contrast to today, where not only did I keep the pace, I still felt like jogging comfortably doing so, and we had almost covered a half-marathon by now. Maybe it was the sugar and caffeine from the coke entering my system, but I was getting into aggressive racing mood. In my mind I was racing all the members in the group that I had joined up with since the start, and I was determined to come ahead of all of them. I also decided not to wait until mile 12 for my surge; with slightly more that 3.5 miles to go I decisively increased pace and effort, went to the front of the group and headed off on my own. The footsteps behind me faded quickly, and I heard some older, wiser guy telling someone else “don’t go with him”. I, on the other hand, really went for it. There were two runners ahead of us, and before even mile 12 I had overtaken them. Then I spotted a familiar runner ahead of me in the form of Nollaig Hunter, who would end up third female today. For some reason I seem to have a habit of catching her towards the end of races over that distance. This year I had passed her in Bantry just before the end, in Blarney with about a mile to go, and today again just before the half-marathon mark. I know her name from the result lists, but I don’t think she knows who I am, and I was wondering if she started recognising that fella who kept overtaking her at always the same point (she convincingly beat me by a minute in the Cork City marathon though).

Anyway, mile 12 went by in 6:19, and I did not take the foot off the gas for the next mile, in 6:13. For a second I started having doubts, what was I doing running my 10k race pace in a 15-miler? But I felt good, no, I felt great, and I knew I would not blow up in the next two miles. Of course I no longer felt comfortable, but the mixture of caffeine, sugar, adrenaline and endorphins in my blood made me feel fantastic; I was totally high. Mile 14 is the toughest part of an otherwise very flat course with an elevation gain of about 50 feet, and while that’s not a lot by any means it was enough to slow me down to 6:30 pace, but I caught up to another 2 or 3 runners, and I went past.

The last mile was hard. I gave it all I had, and that guy in a yellow singlet who had seemed well out of reach was swallowed up with half a mile to go. Then I saw a runner in a distinctive purple outfit ahead of me, which I recognised because three weeks ago in Blarney I had ended up right behind him. This became my last target for my final surge, and I gleefully went past just as we crested the final hill. The last bit is downhill, I flew towards the finish, and after a last mile in 6:03 I crossed the line in 1:37:29, feeling very, very satisfied with today’s race.

I still can’t believe how easy the pace had felt over the first 12 miles. Before the race I had thought that 6:35 pace would be an all-out effort over that distance, and yet it felt so comfortable. And putting the hammer down over the last few miles gave me such a buzz, indescribable. The second I crossed the line I knew I would definitely be going for a sub-3 hrs marathon in Dublin, 22 days from today, and if I feel anything like I did today then I will make it. I have no doubt in my mind.

What more can you ask for?

3 Oct
8 miles, 1:01:32, 7:42 pace, HR 144
4 Oct
5 miles, 39:20, 7:50 pace, HR 139
5 Oct
19 miles, including:
Cork-to-Cobh 15 miles race, 1:37:29, 6:30 pace, HR 168

Weekly Mileage: 67

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Easy Does It

Following on from my last entry, I thought that maybe I should take it a bit easier from now until the marathon. I’ve still got a race on Sunday, and from then on it’s 22 days until the marathon, which will be my taper time anyway. I originally intended to have a short two-week taper, but it would make a lot more sense to recover from Sunday’s race first, which means a three-week taper is the only real option. I have yet to decide what to go for on Sunday. Should I race it, or should I run somewhat slower, let’s say 6:50, which could arguably be a marathon pace workout. The idea of running a race at less than race pace is totally alien to me. If I wanted to run at less than race effort I might as well run at home, there is no need to travel all the way to Cork. I will have to think about that. Grellan warned me that apparently many a Cork runner has left his best Dublin marathon somewhere on the road between Cork and Cobh, but somehow I find it unlikely that I won’t be able to completely recover from a 15-mile effort within 22 days.

The weather has definitely taken a turn for the worse, and we’re getting an indication of what winter running will be like again. For some reason I did not wear my gloves both yesterday and today; each time I only thought about it once I was out on the road, and each time I decided against turning around. I’m a sucker for punishment, I think.

Yesterday was an easy effort, and I felt quite good. Tuesday’s less than stellar workout might have left my legs in better condition than they would normally be on a Wednesday. I still felt pretty good today. The plan was to do a tempo run, and since I had decided to take it easy I opted for 2x2 miles, which, incidentally, had been on the original schedule for last week. I was hoping to be able to run a bit faster on those shorter cruise intervals than on previous tempo efforts, thus breaking my cycle of slower and slower HMP efforts. This worked out pretty well. I managed 6:35 pace on the way out, and 6:39 pace on the way back home, even with the wind, the rain, the cold and the undulating Caragh Lake road. I was pretty happy with the workout, but I don’t think I would have been able to hold the pace for longer tempo runs.

What was weird was that after the run the fingers on my right hand and the toes on my right foot were frozen while the extremities on my left side were fine. I’m not sure why that would be, but the pins-and-needles feeling during the re-thawing process was easier to bear with only half the body experiencing it.

Sleep was less than satisfying once again last night with both Cian and Maia ending up in our bed. I’m surprised I managed to get any rest at all, sandwiched as I was between the two of them, so I guess it could have been even worse. I’ll have to think of something soon, at some stage I need an uninterrupted night or I’ll go bananas.

1 Oct
9 miles, 1:11:25, 7:56 pace, HR 143
2 Oct
8.5 miles, 1:03:37, 7:29 pace, HR 152
incl. 2x2 miles @ 6:35 (160/173), 6:39 (169/176)