Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Anaerobically Overtrained?

It doesn’t come as a big surprise, but life can be challenging with a little baby in the house. After taking her time sleeping through the night, she has now started to wake far too often. And for some unknown reason, we seem to have settled on a parental pattern – during the day she’s Niamh’s baby, during the night she’s mine. A 4:29 am wake-up call on Monday was the low point so far, because even though Maia managed to fall back asleep afterwards, I did not. Last night was almost a relief in comparison, a 1 am nappy change was enough to send her (and myself) back to sleep until 6:13, and since my alarm had been set to 6:15, this didn’t cause any problem for once, especially since she fell back asleep after a bottle.

The original schedule for Monday had called for 11 miles, but with my recent rant about not recovering enough I cut that down to 9. I felt very good, actually, and the miles passed by very quickly. I t was probably a tad fast for an easy run, but the heart rate was pretty low, and I felt good, so why not take it.

Today was a different matter. It started badly and got worse, basically. After dealing with the aforementioned Maia problem, I got the shock of the day when my Garmin refused to come to life. And that on the day of mixed intervals, the one workout where I definitely need the damn thing! Dead as a dodo it seemed, but I remembered reading about other people having the same problem and booted up the computer. I found the solution, pressing the Mode and Lap/Reset keys together for a few seconds brought the device back to life. This is even mentioned in the manual, but for some reason only known to the technical writer it's not in the troubleshooting section but on page 6 where the function of each key is explained. Strangely enough the battery was half-empty despite being fully charged last night, but it had enough juice to last my workout.

Eventually, and of course a good bit later than planned, I made it out of the house, functioning Garmin on the wrist. Unfortunately the weather has turned again and it was really windy (the weather page lists wind speeds of 20-25mph, with gusts of up to 40 mph). I could have gone to Ard-na-Sidhe, but that road was so dark that I thought I’d probably run into a tree there and I opted for the road towards Killorglin instead. Initially the weather didn’t seem too bad, and 2 miles of HMP were no problem. As soon as the first recovery interval started I thought that this had not felt like HMP effort, and when I turned around and felt the full force of the wind against my face I knew why. To make things worse, the next 2 fast segments were not only against the wind but slightly uphill as well. The 2k at supposed 10k pace were as slow as 6:49, and then I completely lost focus during the mile at 5k pace, caught myself jogging along at 7:20 pace after my mind had started drifting, and did no better than a totally embarrassing 6:59! I even hesitate to put down those numbers because they are so bad. Half a mile at 3k pace (which should have been sub 6:00 pace, wind or no wind, especially since it was slightly downhill) brought a slight improvement but still only 6:17 pace.

I’ve had plenty of less than satisfying workouts during this build-up, and I have done plenty of moaning about it, but this one was by far the worst. I don’t feel the need to go on about it any further. I didn’t feel good today, but I also worked a lot less hard than I should have, no excuses. With less than 4 weeks to go I’m wondering if there is a point in trying to push myself faster than HMP pace if my subconscious self is seemingly unwilling to do so. Well, there’s one last race coming up on Sunday, and I’ll see how that goes. Somehow I’m always able to find a few extra seconds out of nothing if there is a bib on my shirt.

One more source of slight frustration is provided by my weight. I’m about 145 pounds at the moment, pretty much the same I was for my last marathon but 3 pounds heavier than a few weeks ago, and despite attempts to lose a few, the weight curve is actually pointing upwards. I’m definitely blaming Niamh for this. Imagine the scenario. You have eaten a healthy breakfast, a healthy lunch and a nice, decent dinner. Maybe you’re a tiny bit peckish, but nothing you can’t handle. Then this appears in front of you:

And the next day it’s tiramisu, followed by rice-cream the next day, and maybe some blackberry ice cream the day after. All of it homemade and all of it absolutely delicious. You could not resist either, don’t pretend otherwise. I’m definitely up against it here.

29 Sep
9 miles, 1:10:37, 7:51 pace, HR 140
30 Sep
8.5 miles, 1:03:48, 7:30 pace, HR 153
2m @ 6:41 (157/170), 2k @ 6:49 (167/175), 1m @ 6:59 (170/176), 0.5m @ 6:17 (169/174)

Monthly Mileage: 327

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Not so Good

With 4 weeks to go, I’m in the last stages of heavy training for Dublin. I’ve still got one race to go, next week, and after that the taper awaits. I’m in two minds about that. On one hand, I can’t wait to get to Dublin and put into practice what I have been training for all those months. On the other hand, I wish I could come up with some magic formula that would hand me the 5-10 seconds per mile improvement that I would need to break 3 hours. Alas, no such formula exists. Now I’m unsure if I should accept that the 3 hours might be just outside my grasp this time round, or if that is merely a defeatist, self-fulfilling attitude. One thing is pretty clear; if I don’t expect to break 3 hours, I won’t manage it. The mindset would be all wrong.

After Thursday’s and Friday’s hefty dose of back-to-back workouts I was in dire need of some rest and recovery. Alas, neither was to be had in the required amounts, and I only have myself to blame. I spent all of Friday evening trying to add a few video clips of Maia into one sequence, and since this was the first time I had been doing anything like that it took much longer than it should have. It was well past midnight when I finally made it to bed, and with Maia waking screaming well before 7 am, I did not get much sleep.

Saturday’s run was strange too, but this time it wasn’t my fault for a change. I went for 8 miles along Caragh Lake, 4 miles out and 4 miles back. To my surprise I passed not just one but two crews of workers on my way out, and by the time I was on the way home they had started re-surfacing the road, and I could not pass. At least there was an alternative route back home, but that meant crossing the saddle between Seefin Mountain and the Water Witch, and a 300 feet climb within a mile was not exactly what I’d had in mind on my recovery day. It was my only option of getting home, though, short of a swim across the lake in my running gear.

I went to bed 2 hours earlier last night, but with Maia waking before 6am I still didn’t get the right amount of sleep. After a bottle, some cuddles and a nappy change I brought her into our bed, where she promptly fell asleep again. Alas, no such luck for me. After staring at the ceiling for a long time the boys eventually woke, and after their breakfast Niamh got up herself, and I got ready to go out.

As I was putting the Garmin on my wrist, Niamh, out of the blue, commented “Are you running half-marathon pace today?” I was stunned. “How did you know that?” “You have the look in your face of somebody who is about to be tortured!” Up to now I had assumed she had never even heard the term “half-marathon pace”, but I was wrong, obviously.

Well, the plan was indeed 2x4.25 miles at HMP, with half a mile recovery in the middle. I had tried to come up with an alternative route that would not feature all those hills on my way to Cromane, but failed. The road is very similar to the second half of the Bantry half marathon. No big hills but steadily up and down, and all the climbs are longer than you’d wish. I didn’t feel too good from the start. I’ve obviously not completely recovered from the rather strenuous double header, and yesterday’s unexpected mountain stage didn’t help either. I managed to somehow resemble half-marathon pace on the first interval with an average pace of 6:42 and avg/max heart rates of 165 and 171 respectively. Things fell apart completely on the way home, though. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but initially I could not even get under 7:00 pace. Salvation of some kind came in the form of two dogs who started chasing me a mile into that effort. I managed to shake them, and all of my sudden my heart rate was in the correct zone and my speed had increased. But I was still struggling to get under 6:45, and when the hills started again on the last mile I was at the end of my strength, underlined by the fact that I was wheezing badly. That’s something I always do once I pass a certain threshold, and I’m wondering if I’ve got a mild form of exercise-induced asthma. It doesn’t really bother me though; I still manage to get sufficient amounts of oxygen, even though it might not sound like that. Anyway, I seriously contemplated calling it quits a mile early, but I knew that if I kept going the torture would be over within 7 minutes. If I dropped out, on the other hand, I’d hate myself for the rest of the day. So on I went, but the shocking truth is that I didn’t even manage marathon pace over those miles, never mind HMP. The heart rates were almost identical to the first interval (164 avg/171 max), but the pace was 12 seconds per mile slower.

Numbers don’t lie. I did ask too much from myself today, and I’m obviously not getting enough recovery between workouts. There’s no need to comment any further on that. Next week will be slightly lighter with the race in mind, and then we’re entering taper time. That’s probably a good thing, because I might be tempted to overdo things even more otherwise.

I hesitated to embed my video from Friday night because it’s probably mind-bogglingly boring to anyone but family, but I’d probably get requests anyway if I didn’t post it. Watch it if you want, but don’t complain if it won’t provide the 4 most riveting moment of your life.

27 Sep
8 miles, 1:03:40, 7:57 pace, HR 143
28 Sep
13 miles, 1:35:30, 7:20 pace, HR 155
2 x 4.25 miles @ 6:42 (HR 165/171) and 6:54 (HR 164/171)

Weekly mileage: 75

Friday, September 26, 2008

Back To Back

We’re having the nicest spell of sunny weather since probably the start of the year, but it’s also getting really cold during my runs. The temperatures were about 5C/40F over the last few mornings, and that feels really cold, especially at the start of the run when I'm not warmed up yet. I’m sure I will get used to it quickly enough.

I also saw the stars for the first time in a long, long time. Throughout the summer it was cloudy every single morning. At least I think it was every single morning – I genuinely cannot remember when I last saw a brilliant night sky, until this week that is.

I took it easy on Wednesday, but I think the low temperatures made me run a bit faster than I otherwise would have. My fingers felt like falling off, and the first thing I did on my return was to dig into my winter clothes until I found my light gloves. I wanted to make sure that I would not leave the gloves behind for another day. This turned out to be a good move.

As I was already making changes to this week’s schedule, I fiddled with the workouts a bit more. Over the last few weeks I have done tempo runs on Thursday followed by a long run on Friday, with the exception of the race week, of course. Yesterday I decided to run a marathon pace run instead, followed by a long run today, which is the "classic" back-to-back workout that had been proposed by Mike’s Mystery Coach.

Out I went on Thursday for 10 miles, with 7 at marathon pace, which should have been 6:52, but, like almost all training runs of that kind, ended up being closer to 7:00. At least I managed to run 6:56 this time round, which is the fastest “marathon pace” run I’ve done so far. Of course my true marathon pace will not be revealed until the end of October, but that’s a different issue. In any case, I was reasonably pleased with the run. I felt ok, and I was reasonably confident that the effort level had been correct.

For today’s long run I decided to wear my racing shoes. This was the first time I have worn that pair outside a race for the entire training cycle. My problems with PF had stopped me from wearing them for any training runs, but since that has been improving ever since I started massaging my left foot twice a day I decided I could risk it. The hope was, of course, that the lighter shoes would enable me to run fast enough to hit the proper pace for a change. In fact, I was quite looking forward to the run, even though I knew it would be a tough workout. The plan was to run 10 miles at 91% of marathon pace (7:30) and 10 miles at marathon pace (6:52).

I started out really well. Normally it takes me about 2 miles to get warmed up properly, and that’s when I start hitting the correct pace. Not so today, within half a mile I was doing 7:30, and for the next few miles I continually had to slow myself down whenever I glanced at the Garmin because the figures kept being around 7:00-7:20 more often than not. I eventually turned off the backlight of the watch and decided to run purely by feel. I must have slowed down towards the end of that loop, which was unsurprising because it starts getting hilly at that stage, with mile 8-9 sporting a 100-feet raise in elevation. I turned the light back on when I got close to our driveway, and the pace was almost spot on at 7:29. After having a drink (and subsequently feeling too full for a few minutes afterwards) I set out for the second half of that run. Initially I almost hit the pace, but eventually things started to go downhill, and not just from an elevation point of view. Try as you might, 6:52 was as elusive as ever, and the figures seemed to gather around the 6:58 mark. By mile 15 I definitely started to tire, and my mile 17 I was suffering, though that coincided with a return of the hills, which definitely contributed to that feeling. The Dublin marathon sports a few hills from the halfway point to the 20-mile mark, and my route today resembled that fairly closely, so it should have been a fairly specific workout. Mile 18-19 sported the same nasty climb again, and even a stronger last mile didn’t get me under the 7:00 pace mark for that loop. On the plus side, I felt ok afterwards. My endurance is there; in fact I'm sure it was there all along. I could have run a marathon on pretty much any day in the summer; however, racing a marathon is an entirely different task altogether.

I should take solace from the fact that despite not hitting the desired paces I’m still in my best shape ever. On 15 May I had run 17 miles with 15 miles at (then) marathon pace of 7:10 and was ecstatic afterwards, because it showed me that I was in shape to run 3:10 in Cork, which subsequently happened. Today’s run was better than that, and a new PR is pretty much a given unless I get ill or injured (and/or do something truly stupid). However, my target is more ambitious than that, possibly over-ambitious this time round. Of course there will be more marathons to come, and if I can keep on improving for a little bit longer then the 3 hours barrier will fall sooner or later. Distance running is a long game in more than one sense. I’ll try and keep that in mind.

24 Sep
9 miles, 1:10:50, 7:52 pace, HR 139
25 Sep
10 mile, 1:11:59, 7:12 pace, HR 156
incl. 7 miles @ 6:56
26 Sep
20 miles, 2:25:04, 7:15 pace, HR 152
with 10 miles @ 7:29, 10 miles @ 7:01

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Small Changes

Both yesterday and today Cian got up at the same time as me, just like his older brother used to do last year. I really hope he is not going to make a habit of this. Firstly because preparing his breakfast means I’m delayed in getting out of the house (I had to sacrifice a mile yesterday because of that), and secondly because getting up so early invariably means he is absolutely knackered in the evening and turns into the 4-year old from hell.

For some reason I had originally determined that this would be a recovery week. Well, I know the reason – I blindly followed the original schedules from the Brain Training book, and this week just happened to be one of the easy ones. It only occurred to me yesterday that it would have made a lot more sense to have the previous week as an easy week, to aid my recovery from the race. Ah well. Feeling really stupid is a powerful motivator to remember your mistakes and avoid them next time.

I decided to deviate from the schedule this week. I didn’t fancy today’s mixed intervals even though the recovery-inspired easier version of the usual workout didn’t look too daunting. I just wanted a change. I had recently read something about Veronique Billat, and decided to run her 30/30 workout today. I know perfectly well that doing this type of workout just once isn’t going to bring a lot of improvements. I just fancied a different kind of speedwork to keep things more interesting, and that’s the one that sounded appealing.

The above websites mentioned that 20 intervals would be normal, so I programmed the Garmin for 22 and gave myself permission to call it quits earlier. It was a strange workout, hard and easy at the same time. Hard because running so much at mile race pace is tough, and easy because 30 seconds are always manageable, even when you’re already knackered. In the end I did the entire 22 intervals, and probably could have done a couple more. The average pace was 5:35, which is better than expected. All in all, I was pleased.

And my homemade blackberry ice cream (made from self-picked blackberries, of course) is divine. I just thought I should mention that, for no reason other than to make you jealous.

22 Sep
8 miles, 1:03:05, 7:53 pace, HR 139
23 Sep
7 miles, 54:17, 7:45 pace, HR 149
22 x 30/30 @ 5:35 avg.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


The apocalypse is upon us. What was never supposed to happen, has happened. Doom and Gloom. Unbelievable. The sky is falling. Kerry have lost the All-Ireland Football Final. How could that possibly happen? Everyone around here knows that Kerry have a God-given right to win the Football Final. There will be repercussions. I bet the manager won’t be sleeping easily for a while.

Let’s concentrate on running, there is more fun to be had that way. Saturday was always going to be an easy run, after the very tough workouts on Thursday and Friday. I felt very stiff initially, but was surprised how quickly I managed to settle into some decent pace, and the miles passed by easily. I know that I tend to recover very quickly form the long runs, but this time I manage to surprise myself.

The one thing I haven’t done a lot is running at marathon pace, and I’ve started adding a few of those runs to my training recently. I decided to attempt that run again today. Two weeks ago I was happy enough to settle for 7:00 pace, but of course after last week’s race the expectations have changed, and I was aiming for 6:50. I managed just fine for the first half of the run, but started to struggle on the second half. Maybe I was asking too much from my legs, or maybe the fact that there was a 90 feet elevation gain over those miles had more impact than expected, but I wasn’t able to keep the pace going. I ended up running slower than on my last attempt, which is disappointing. I will probably try the same again next week and hope that by then the legs will have recovered from the race. That should give me a better view of where I’m standing right now.

This week has served more than one reminder why I hadn’t expected to run 1:25 in Blarney. My training paces never managed to emulate my race efforts, and the same is still holding true. It’s not for lack of trying, and it’s not for lack of confidence. I definitely expected better times before all of my workouts this week and ended up slightly disappointed each time. I guess there is just no replacement for race day adrenaline.
20 Sep
8 miles, 1:03:06, 7:52 pace, HR 140
21 Sep
12 miles, 1:25:41, 7:08 pace, HR 153
incl. 9 miles @ 6:59

Weekly mileage: 81

Friday, September 19, 2008

Recovery? What Recovery?

I have one last note about the Blarney half marathon. There is a series of videos on YouTube, apparently taken around the 12-mile mark, though I think it was closer to the end. This particular video features both Grellan and me. Grellan is the runner in white singlet and black headband, 3:00 into the video. I’m the idiot in the dark outfit (not the purple one, two runners later) who’s checking his watch not just once but twice, almost a minute later.

Am I just paranoid, or is there something odd about my running style?

After 9 easy miles on Wednesday, I had another pair of cruise intervals on schedule. I wondered if it was wise to run at HMP yet again, 4 days after the race, but went ahead anyway. I was quite confident I’d be able to run at 6:30 pace, after all I have proven conclusively that this is my true race pace for that distance. It was quite surprised when it turned out that my HMP training speed was essentially the same as last week. It wasn’t because I was not working as hard as on Sunday; my heart rate during the intervals was actually higher than the average HR from the race. Maybe the fact that I was wearing my normal trainers rather than my racing shoes is a factor? They are 3.5 ounces each heavier, which allegedly means a slowdown of 7 seconds per mile, which would account for at least some of the discrepancy. That of course begs the question if I should wear my racing shoes for those workouts. I haven’t worn them at all outside of racing. My was worried about my PF, because the pain always seemed to flare up in the days after a race. Now that there seems to be an improvement I might be able to get away with wearing them more often.

If you’re reading this blog on a regular basis you know that I always do my long runs on the day immediately following a tempo run, and this week was no exception. I decide to run 22 miles, the longest run of the present training cycle so far. In the past weeks and months the long runs have always served as a great confidence booster. Even if my speedier workouts were below par, I could always take heart from how well the long runs went. I was therefore quite confident about today’s run.

Things didn’t quite work out to plan. I felt slow and sluggish from the word go. When I checked the watch at mile3, my pace was slower than 8:20, even though it definitely felt faster than that to me. I also noticed that I started to check the distance on the Garmin every 30 seconds or so, barely 4 miles into the run. That is a seriously bad sign, and the first thing I did was to turn off the backlight of said device. It was almost pitch dark, more than two hours before sunrise and with the moon hiding behind the clouds. I could make out the road but not much else, and this meant I could no longer see the figures on the watch. This worked, I eventually managed to tune into the run, but it never felt particularly smooth. I got back to our driveway at the halfway mark, had some water, and decided to run the same loop for a second time. I had toyed with the idea of running a couple of shorter loops, but deliberately went back towards Cromane, to make sure that I would not be able to bail out early. This was probably a good idea, because around mile 18 or 19 I had a rather bad low and felt like dying on my feet. However, I managed to pull through that and even had a decent finish.

With the heavy legs I was never even remotely tempted to speed up towards MP, and boy was I glad when I got home. I was almost crawling into the kitchen, and could only mumble “this better be worth it in the end” when Niamh enquired about my run. Cycling to and from work did not come easy today. But it felt very satisfying to note a big fat 22 into the log.
17 Sep
9 miles, 1:10:42, 7:51 pace, HR 140
18 Sep
12 miles, 1:25:53, 7:09 pace, HR 159
incl. 2x4 miles @ 6:40, 6:44
19 Sep
22 miles, 2:54:56, 7:57 pace, HR 144
first half @ 8:03, second half @ 7:50

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Looking Back, But Not In Anger

I’m in two minds about Sunday’s race. On one hand, I lowered my PR by a significant amount into a territory that I would have rejected as fantasy when I was standing on the start line. On the other hand, I can’t stop wondering what would have happened had I tried to stay with Grellan.

I had felt comfortable enough when I let him go, it was the numbers on the Garmin that made me slow down. Smart move or chicken? Judging from his report, he seems to have managed to reach the finish line just as his strength was running out. I, on the other hand, still felt like I had plenty in the tank, but that didn’t help with cutting the 50 seconds deficit I had on him at the end. I can tell one thing for sure. Put into the same position again I would try and stay with him, if only to find out what would have happened.

I found plenty of photos of myself from the race, from miles 4, 5, 5, 12 and 13 respectively. As I mentioned to Niamh, long distance running is not a beauty contest.

I felt pretty good on Monday, if a little tired. That tiredness was mainly caused by Maia, though, who did not accept the fact that Daddy had run a strenuous race as sufficient reason to have a peaceful night. It was still 5:37 in the morning when she woke me for the last time. I had planned to get up at 6am, and there was no more sleep to be had after I had dealt with the problem. She did sleep peacefully once I went out for my run, making things easy for Niamh. Typical.

10 easy miles on Monday went by without a hitch, and I felt good. There was less soreness than expected in the legs, and I felt rather comfortable. Today was a bit tricky. The schedule has mixed intervals on Tuesday, but I did not think that would be too smart a move. Running 10k, 5k and 3k pace a mere 41 hours after crossing the line of a half-marathon is asking for a bit much. For some reason, though, I had already programmed the Garmin with the workout, and even though I had initially decided to simply run 8 easy miles, I could not quite resist temptation. I successfully argued with myself that running the intervals at marathon pace would be a good idea. Of course, the marathon pace target has moved as well on Sunday. Until the moment I was over the line I was content with an MP of 7:00, but the target has shifted to 6:50 now. It was that pace I started to tune into for the first interval. After that, I got a bit careless, didn’t even check the Garmin for most of the other repeats, and ran a bit faster than that. Last week I would not have been able to tune into that pace with still slightly stiff legs. Today it wasn’t even particularly hard. It’s amazing the difference a bit of confidence can make. I guess the Brain Training guys would regard this as a given.

Anyway, I ran 2 miles at 6:49, 2 k at 6:35, 1 mile at 6:37 and half a mile at 6:24 pace, and I should probably point out that the last two were on an uphill road, because I ran alongside Caragh Lake and those two sections just happened to fall on a climb. I hope I haven’t completely f***ed up my recovery. Tomorrow is definitely an easy day, and Thursday’s intervals at half marathon pace (which should of course be run at my “new” HMP of 6:30) will tell how I’m coming along.

15 Sep
10 miles, 1:23:09, 8:19 pace, HR 136
16 Sep
8 miles, 58:21, 7:18 pace, HR 154
2m @ 6:49, 2k @ 6:35, 1m @ 6:37, 0.5m @ 6:24

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Good Times

I did a lot of races this summer, more so than usual. I had a fantastic 5k in Killarney where the “equivalent” time for the marathon went under 3:00 for the first time ever. However, since then I have not managed to replicate that achievement, and I have lost my earlier optimism about being able to break that mark in Dublin. Today’s half marathon in Blarney was the first long distance race in along time. I felt that I needed to run about 1:25 in this race to have a realistic chance of breaking 3:00 for a full marathon. However, recent races as well as training runs have shown that to be out of reach. As we drove towards Blarney today, I was merely hoping to better my personal best of 1:27:52, set last year in that very race, on a scorching hot day (well, scorching for Ireland, that is).

A few weeks ago I had been interviewed, by the Irish Times no less, and had mentioned to the journalist that I’d prefer racing in the rain than the sun. Today was the day where that statement would be put to the test.

Niamh only decided at 8:25 today that she and the kids would come with me. It had become obvious that the rain would not cease for the entire day, and with 4 children in tow, this would be a problem for her. However, she decided to bundle everyone into the car, and by 8:48 we were on the road.

This was my third time in a row at this race, so we knew the road well and I got ready in good time. I’m starting to recognise quite a few faces these days, and I’m also being recognised, which meant I had a few chats before the race. I met Grellan at the starting line, we only had time for few words before the start, and off we went.

I found myself immediately behind Mary Sweeney (a running legend around here) and Grellan, but after about half a mile I checked my Garmin, and the 6:18 pace made me back off a little bit, despite feeling perfectly comfortable at the time. Mary did slow down a little bit further on and I went past her shortly before the first mile marker, just like I had done in Liscarroll 3 weeks ago, but Grellan was about 10 steps ahead of me at the time (mile 1 in 6:35). Over the next 2 miles I managed to keep contact; in fact, I’m sure I managed to close the gap. I could have drawn level if I surged, but surging uphill so early in the race is not a good idea; at that stage I still expected to be able to catch him later on. (miles 2 and 3 and 6:29, 6:41)

The course is not easy by any means. The first half is uphill, the second half is downhill. That’s what the course profile says, but that’s not what it feels like. You do notice the uphill part, no doubt. However, I could have sworn the second half is mostly even. This had confused me last year and the year before, but this time I was already familiar with that peculiar sensation, and was prepared for it. (mile 4 in 6:37)

Eventually the course got steeper, and by mile 5 it got really steep. It was at that stage that I completely lost contact with Grellan. I don’t know how far ahead he got, but it must have been well over a minute, maybe even two. I more or less held my place in the field at that stage, though I was not concerned about that. I just put my head down and ran, trying not to cook myself. I know my pattern these days. Despite all the hills I’m running day-in, day-out in training, I tend to lose ground on the climbs. I do, however, make up for that on the downhills, and my time was soon to come. On a positive note, I noticed that the official mile markers coincided very closely with the figures on my GPS. At least I could trust those numbers (miles 5 and 6 in 6:53 and 7:23). By the time I reached the apex of the course, close to the halfway mark, my average pace was at around 6:50. I could not remember what it had been last year, but I knew it had been slower. A new PR was almost a given at that stage; I still felt very comfortable, and the better part of the race was yet to come. I overtook no less than 4 runners on the first, steep downhill (mile 7 in 6:20). At the foot of that I looked ahead and saw a number of runners ahead of me, but not the white shirt I was looking out for. Grellan, where are you? The chase was on!

In Liscarroll I had been ahead of him, this time I was behind. Psychologically it is better to be the hunter, but if you are too far back, that’s not going to help. However, for the next miles I flew down the road at unprecedented pace for such along distance. I must have overtaken at least 5 runners per mile, probably more. What surprised me was the number of female runners amongst them. Last year I had been overtaken by 3 women at mile 5; I had managed to draw one place back later on, but the other two stayed ahead, and they were the two fastest women in the race. This year the female contest was far more competitive.

Anyway, I felt I was running great. The road felt level, but I was doing 6:08, 6:12, 6:19 and 6:13 pace until the 11-mile marker, and I could not possibly do that on a level ground on such a long race. I really enjoyed it. I knew I was flying along to a new PR, the pace was hard but manageable, and I was able to keep a relaxed but fast running form, always a good sign. Even better, I kept overtaking runners the entire time, and there was never any danger of being overtaken myself. However, that white shirt was still not on the radar screen. I forgot to check the watch at the 10 mile marker, but I was faster than I had been in Ballycotton earlier this year when I had set my PR for the 10-mile distance. Mathematically speaking I had set a new PR already at that stage. In that race I had felt crap earlier on, due to a too-fast start, but recovered and had some very good late miles. I felt I would have run an excellent race over a longer distance, but ran out of road. If that had been a half-marathon, I would have done very well. Today, I was running that race.

I kept pressing hard, but despite all the effort I must have slowed down eventually, on the second-last mile. It passed in 6:32, the slowest mile for a while, but still not too shabby. It was at that stage that I was starting to feel the effort. In almost every race there comes a point when you really wish this were over and you could finally relax. I had reached that point.

With one mile to go I spotted a fairly large group of runners a good bit ahead of me, and I thought I saw Grellan’s white singlet amongst them. However, this was too close to the finish and I would not be able to catch up. In a longer race I would have managed it, I guess, but the race is over when you cross the line, not when you manage to catch up. With the finishing line coming into sniffing distance, I managed to increase to pace again, giving it all. It was downhill, but running 5:50 pace with 12 miles already under the belt still feels awesome. I still caught more runners, and after a final sprint (5:47 pace on the last bit) I crossed the line.

The provisional results have me in 56th place in a time of 1:25:10, but my own watch said 1:25:15, and that’s what I’m going by. I more than pleased to have bettered my previous PR by well over 2-and-a-half minutes; I had thought the times of cutting so much off my PR were over already. Grellan got credited with 1:24:21; I congratulated him to the run of his life, but he didn’t agree (he obviously thinks that one is still ahead of him). I didn’t mind being beaten – my own time was more than satisfying. I met Niamh later on (they had been to a play centre), and we went to Blarney Castle, which the children enjoyed immensely. Niamh later said she was glad we all had come – good times were had by everyone.

I definitely proved myself right about the racing conditions. Racing in the rain is preferable. You might not find anyone but 508 running idiots out there in the wet, but they will have a good time.

And the marathon predictions? Well, MacMillan gives me an equivalent time of 2:59:48. Damn! A bit faster, and I could relax. I bit slower, and I could accept. As it is, I will have to run the race of my life in Dublin. This is going to hurt.

12 Sep
8 miles, 1:04:02, 8:00 pace, HR 137
13 Sep
5 miles, 40:01, 8:00 pace, HR 136
13 Sep
16 miles incl:
Blarney Half Marathon, 1:25:15, 6:30 pace, HR 170
56th overall, 10th in M35 age group

Weekly Mileage: 73

Thursday, September 11, 2008


To answer by7’s question: no, I don’t feel the PF at night. I feel some discomfort after getting up and walking around in my bare feet, but it usually only really hurts on the first mile of a run (which is always early in the morning). I can also feel some discomfort after a massage or strengthening exercise, but that’s different, I guess.

Niamh rang me from Tralee on Sunday; our car’s clutch had given up while she was there with Maia and the boys. Luckily we are still with the AA (and even better, that’s the Automobile Association rather than Alcoholics Anonymous), and she got it towed to our mechanic and 48 hours use of a replacement car for free. I managed to pick the fixed car up yesterday evening. I had to run there – one more reason why it’s good to have a runner in the house, as I had to point out to Niamh.

The weather in the last few days has been … challenging. I got kind of lucky yesterday because by pure chance I managed to coincide my easy run in the morning with a break in the rain and only had to deal with the gale force wind as a result. Running up and down the Ard-na-Sidhe road three times was soon getting old though. I have done that same mile-long stretch of road far too often this week.

I therefore tried to think of an alternative route for today’s HMP intervals, but did not come up with anything. If the wind had quietened down overnight I would have gone to Cromane instead, but that’s totally exposed and the wind is coming straight from the Atlantic, so back to Ard-na-Sidhe it was. The first interval went okay, but I got fed up with trying to avoid all those potholes and opted for the Caragh Lake road towards home for the second repeat. Just as I was passing our driveway I spotted one of our neighbours slowly cycling along. I was astounded that he would go cycling in that weather, and he was astonished that I managed to overtake him while running, even on a slightly downhill stretch. Sadly, the rest of the second fast segment didn’t go quite as well, and I missed my target pace of 6:40 by a few seconds. I guess I should be content though; it was faster than last week.

I’m skipping the long run this week because I don’t want to wear myself out before Sunday’s half-marathon. On the road early today I reckoned it would have made more sense binning the tempo workout instead, because now I’m running HMP twice within four days. However, by that time it was too late to swap and I went ahead with the workout.

At least the worst of the weather is supposed to be behind us; at least for now. But I can still expect to get wet on Sunday. That way I can decide if I really prefer racing in the rain to racing on the hottest day of the year, which was the case last year.

10 Sep
am: 8 miles, 1:05:51, 8:14 pace, HR 141
pm: 2.5 miles, 20:14, 8:06 pace, HR 140
11 Sep
am: 11.3 miles, 1:22:13, 7:17 pace, HR 160
        incl. 2x3.75 miles @ 6:38, 6:44
pm: 5 miles, 37:58, 7:35 pace, HR 142

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Getting Better

A few days after the Connemara Ultra, all the way back in April, my left foot started hurting. I ran through it. It got rather painful over the last 6 miles in Cork, but I managed to run through that as well. Ever since, the problem has been there. The first mile of each run hurt, sometimes more, sometimes less. I think it is PF, but since I never got it checked out I can’t be entirely sure. I was hoping it would go away, like most ailments do, but 5 months later it’s still there. The pain is never bad enough to convince me to stop running, but it got markedly worse in the days after the Liscarroll race two week ago. I also got some discomfort in my left hamstring, and occasionally a twinge in the outside of my left knee, but I think they are follow-on injuries, caused by a subtle change in gait due to the foot pain.

I started stretching more regularly and I started doing a few strengthening exercises. But what seems to make a difference is massaging it every day. I can easily find a number of sore spots. Interestingly, when running it hurts in the arch of the foot, but the massaging clearly shows that all the sore spots are in the heel. Anyway, early signs indicate that massaging the heel once or twice a day seems to lead to some improvement. Today was the first run in ages where I didn’t wince at all at the start.

The weekend weather was not too bad, which we used to plant a number of fruit trees in a newly cleared section of our garden. In 2 or 3 years we will hopefully have our own apples, pears, cherries and plums to harvest. I can hardly wait! Unfortunately, the weather forecast got it right for today, the heavy rain duly arrived, and tomorrow is supposed to be worse again with high winds as well. Just like last Tuesday, I had mixed intervals on the schedule, and again I opted for the Ard-na-Sidhe road. I probably could have run it on a different stretch because there was very little wind, and a less uneven road surface might have been preferential. At times I was slaloming around barely visible waterlogged potholes while running close to 6:00 pace, which wasn’t ideal to say the least. I was still happy with the way the workout went, especially when I compared the figures to last time.

2 Sep: 3k @ 6:42, 1m @ 6:28, 1k @ 6:14, 0.5m @ 6:02
9 Sep: 3k @ 6:38, 2k @ 6:28, 1k @ 6:12, 0.5m @ 5:53

I’ll take that improvement, especially with the longer second segment. Those mixed intervals will get harder as the length of the segments are increasing; I’ll see how I get on, but I’ll have to decide if I should opt for a different road. Even if there are no flat roads, I could at least opt for one with a smooth surface. It seems rather obvious when putting it like that, doesn’t it?

8 Sep
9 miles, 1:13:46, 8:12 pace, HR 135
9 Sep
8 miles, 1:00:32, 7:34 pace, HR 158
3k @ 6:38, 2k @ 6:28, 1k @ 6:12, 0.5m @ 5:53

Sunday, September 07, 2008

What's Marathon Pace?

After a back-to-back workout on Thursday and Friday, a very easy 8-mile run was all I had in mind for Saturday. A lie-in would have been nice, but with 4 children sleep can be a lottery, and this weekend I’ve drawn a blank. Ah well. I’m sure I’ll sleep again someday.

I passed lots and lots of blackberry bushes on yesterday's run, and on the return leg I could no longer resist temptation. I stopped for 5 or 10 minutes and just shoved as many of them into my mouth as I could manage. If that included the odd worm, so be it (it’s the only way for my to get animal protein anyway). Yummy. Eventually I managed to wean myself off nature’s buffet and continued with my run.

Talking about blackberries, another advantage of cycling to work became apparent a week ago. I had spotted a massive array of bushes with gazillions of juicy berries, and the next day I made sure I brought along a container, which I filled to the brim on my way home. In a car I would not have noticed them. I did the same the following day, and again once or twice this week. Add to that the berries we picked in our garden and some more I picked from another spot beside the Lake over the last two weekends and you can imagine the masses of berries we have managed to bring home. So far we’ve had blackberry crumble, blackberry brioche, cinnamon-and-blackberry cake, blackberry muffins and just plain blackberries, as well as about 10 pots of blackberry jam, some of them for giving away, and the season is still going on. My usual diet is taking a bit of a hit at the moment with all the added sugar, but that’s a sacrifice I’m more than willing to pay.

Because I didn’t quite manage to get down to marathon pace on Friday I decided to give it another go, but this time without running 15 miles in advance. It went really well. After 2 miles of warming up I hit 7:00 pace pretty much instantly, and held it fairly comfortably over the next 8 miles. The heart rate surprised me, apart from a few climbs it stayed below 160 all the time rather than going into the low 160s as I would have expected. On days like that I still dare to hope that 6:52 pace on race day is not completely out of the question yet. With 7 weeks to go there are still a few weeks of full training left, and with plenty of miles at MP and HMP, maybe I’ll manage to squeeze out a few extra seconds. Plus with lighter shoes and possibly a few pounds less on my frame I might still be in with a chance this time round. As I’ve said, on days like this I still dare to hope.
6 Sep
8 miles, 1:05:51, 8:13 pace, HR 135
7 Sep
12+ miles, 1:27:35, 7:14 pace, HR 155
incl. 8 miles @ 6:57 pace

Weekly mileage: 80+

Friday, September 05, 2008


I think the weather is getting to me a bit. It certainly seems to knock everyone else as well. There is hardly a smile to be seen around the office at the moment.

Wednesday’s run was an easy 8 miler that would not have been worth mentioning had it not been for the conditions – heavy rain and gale force winds. My thought when leaving the house was “I wish I had a treadmill”, which I presume will be repeated a few times over the winter. I tried to find some shelter on the Ard-na-Sidhe road, and despite being battered by the wind and drenched by the rain I managed to pretty much tune out of it and hardly noticed the repetitive pattern of running up-and-down the same stretch of road three time. Niamh sarcastically inquired how my run had been, and gave me “that look” again when I responded with “strangely enjoyable”.

Thankfully the conditions were much better on Thursday, no rain and just a bit of a breeze, which enable me to do my cruise intervals on the Cromane loop. The plan was fairly simple, 2 miles warm-up, 2x3.5 miles tempo with half a mile of recovery in-between, followed by a cool-down. I followed my recent decision not to get too stuck on the actual pace; anything around 6:40 would do me just fine. I felt a bit stiff and awkward when the first tempo part started; it took me about 2 miles to really get into it, but from then on I was flying, below 6:30 pace and feeling good. That part of the road may have been very slightly downhill, but if so then it only made up for some earlier uphill parts. I was tempted to keep going through the recovery interval because I had such a great rhythm going but settled for recovery pace after all. Again I felt stiff and awkward when the second tempo section started, and again it took some time to get into it. The last half-mile of that tempo run was uphill, which added to the challenge. I ended up with 6:43 and 6:46 pace for the two tempo runs, but I think I would have been faster without the recovery interval, which really had broken my rhythm.

The weather forecast for today, Friday, had been dire, and unfortunately it proved all too accurate. The rain came down by the bucket load, and the wind had picked up again. I guess I should be grateful that it topped out at 25 mph rather than reach gale force again; small mercies and all that. The schedule had originally called for a short-ish MP run, but since my last two long runs had been fairly short (18 and 17 miles respectively) and I’m not planning on a long run next week (because of the half marathon race) I decided to change it to a 20-miler. It was ridiculously dark when I stepped outside just before 5:10am, and after stumbling around the driveway and nearly running into the bushes I went back to pick up a light source. My trusty old headlamp has given up the ghost and I haven’t got a replacement yet, but borrowing Shea’s cheap toy-flashlight did the trick. It even survived the run in the rain, which somewhat surprised me.

I felt surprisingly good early on and crossed the hills that make up the first 10 miles in very good time. Last month I had done 20 miles on the same route, and had accelerated to 7:30 pace after mile 10, and to 7:00 pace at mile 15. I decided to try and replicate that workout, which would form a nice back-to-back workout with yesterday’s cruise intervals. I felt confident I would be able to pull it off. The first 10 miles went by quickly, and holding 7:30 pace felt easy over the next 5. It was then that I hit the buffers. Try as you might, I could not get down to 7:00 pace. It was not for lack of trying but the legs were gone. In the end I worked as hard as felt prudent and ended up with 7:15 pace. I was wiped out afterwards.

At breakfast I remarked to Niamh “I know it’s not something normal people would ever say, but I should not feel so tired after running 20 miles”. I got “that look” again.
3 Sep
8 miles, 1:05:57, 8:15 pace, HR 141
4 Sep
11 miles, 1:20:06, 7:17 pace, HR 158
2x3.5 miles @ 6:43, 6:46
5 Sep
20 miles, 2:33:43, 7:41 pace, HR 151
miles 10-15 @ 7:28, miles 15-20 @ 7:15

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The First Day

It’s a great moment in every Big Boy’s life: the first school day.

I could not possibly miss Cian’s big event, so I went along to the school, and Niamh dropped me at work afterwards. It meant I had to run home in the evening because there was no way to put the bike into the car with all the kids in it. It wasn’t ideal because I had planned a speed workout for Tuesday, and I usually feel quite stiff the day after a double. I made very sure I ran very easily on both of Monday’s runs. Interestingly, the heart rate was the same for both runs, however, the evening one was a whopping 26 seconds per mile faster, despite the same very easy effort. I have noticed that same evening effect before, but not at such a margin. I’ll still be a morning runner, though. The practicalities of life do not leave me any other option.

I had made very sure that I would take it very easy on Sunday and Monday to feel ready for Tuesday’s mixed intervals. This was a completely new type of workout for me, and I had been intrigued as soon as I had read about it in the schedules, months ago. It will get tougher, but today it meant 3k at HMP, 1 mile at 10k pace, 1k at 5k pace and half a mile at 3k pace. With all the negative experiences at faster paces in the recent weeks I had already decided not to get too hung up with the actual paces; if I would hut something like 6:40 as HMP, 6:30 as 10k, 6:15 as 5k and 6:00 as 3k pace, I would be happy.

Alas, the workout was hindered by the truly appalling conditions. I had woken several times during the night when the howling wind threw some ferocious rain against our window. Of course I still went out running, but it had to be along the Ard-na-Sidhe road, where a few trees provide at least a minimum of shelter. The road is very uneven, with a bad road surface and a few ups and downs, but I have run mile repeats on it plenty of times before in previous training cycles. I followed the schedule to the letter and only did 1 mile of warm-up, which meant I was still not quite ready when the alarm for the HMP section came on. I was struggling over the first k or so, but settled eventually. The rest period between the faster runs lasted only 2 minutes, which brought bad memories of some botched mile repeats. I did not feel good over the first half of the 10k section, but then, out of nothing, things changed. Without any conscious input from myself I started to relax all of a sudden, and the workout, which had started to turn into a struggle, was transformed. All of a sudden I was able to run faster with less effort; I settled into a fast but somehow still relaxed pace, and felt pretty good about it. I tried to repeat the same fast-but-relaxed style over the final two segments, and more or less got it right. The constantly undulating road didn’t help, but I managed reasonably well. I more or less hit the times I had in mind, even if they don’t match the times in the schedule. I felt pretty good about the workout, and am already looking forward to next week’s second instalment. That has to be a good sign, as it stands in marked contrast to how I felt about the mile or 1k repeats. At the very least I should get some more enjoyment out of my training, which has been lacking at times this summer.

1 Sep
am: 9 miles, 1:19:54, 8:52 pace, HR 131
pm: 5 miles, 42:11, 8:26 pace, HR 131
2 Sep
7 miles, 52:57, 7:34 pace, HR 154
3k @ 6:42, 1m @ 6:28, 1k @ 6:14, 0.5m @ 6:02