Friday, January 30, 2009

This Better Be Worth It

Maybe I should not call this the hill phase, as I’m only doing one hill workout a week. I might do 2 next week, but haven’t decided yet. That’s not to say that I’m taking it easy. Far from it. I’m far more tired than I was during my 85+ mile weeks. Running fast is exhausting, who would have thought!

Wednesday I headed for the hills again, in what was basically a repeat of last week’s workout. The first things I noted as soon as I left the house were the tired legs. I wondered if there was any point in even attempting that workout. I could have run easily again and done the hills on Thursday. However, if I get up in time for a longer workout but only end up running, say, 8 miles, I would have sacrificed half an hour of sleep for nothing. It’s probably not a very good reason for persevering with the original plan, but it was good enough for me.

The tempo part of the run wasn’t very good, there’s no denying. I ran 2.65 miles at an average pace of 6:47, 6 seconds per mile slower than last week, and if I had not kicked in for the last quarter mile the figures would have been even worse. The legs just were not cooperating. I tried to convince myself that the effort is more important than the pace, and that I might still get the same benefits out of the hill sprints. Well, I did the same all-out efforts up the same segment of hill. Of course, we humans only ever do true all-out efforts if a sabre toothed tiger or one of its relatives is chasing us, and when doing a simple training run then you always find you can push some more, no matter how hard you’re already trying. I did notice that the max HR at the top was 2-3 beats lower than last week, but I cannot say for sure if I ran less hard or if it was the result of my body already adapting to that sort of training. The positive thing was that I managed 9 repeats compared to 7 last week, but next time I will definitely try to extend the hill sprints to 60 seconds, even though I generally feel like collapsing after 45 seconds. As I said, I’ll try.

Thursday was an easy day, slightly hampered by the awful conditions. The wind and rain was enough to make me do 2 out-and-back runs to Ard-na-Sidhe rather than run alongside Caragh Lake. The legs, especially the quads, felt very stiff and heavy. Once again I was glad to be back home 81 minutes after leaving. I wonder how I managed to go out for a second loop, because the temptation to call it quits halfway through was definitely there. Maybe it was the urge not to have sacrificed sleep needlessly again.

Last Friday I had done a marathon effort workout and I decided to repeat that today, but to extend the fast section. I warmed up for the first 1.5 miles, then ran 8.5 miles at marathon effort, with half a mile to cool down at the end. I felt very good initially, but that was when the wind was at my back. To nobody’s surprise the second half was a lot tougher, and my average pace didn’t hold up. I was a bit annoyed with myself because I kept losing focus and slowed down to 7:30 on more than one occasion. The HR was supposed to be in the low 160s, but the average ended up just below 160. Still, it was 5 seconds per mile faster than last week, which is not a bad improvement at all. I take that, and I know there is more where that came from.
28 Jan
10.5 milesm 1:27:11, 8:18 pace, HR 147
incl. 2.65 miles @ 6:47, 9x45sec hill sprints
29 Jan
10 miles, 1:21:01, 8:06 pace, HR 142
30 Jan
10.5 miles, 1:16:20, 7:16 pace, HR 155
incl. 8.5 miles @ 7:03 (159 HR)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Another Return

Running your long run on Monday morning has the disadvantage that your weeks starts awfully early. This week it started even earlier in the middle of the might with the not particularly task of changing a nappy of the truly fearful kind. Having accomplished that, I left a content baby in the care of her mother and set out on another customary loop around Caragh Lake.

There’s not much to say about that run, apart from the fact that I felt pretty good. After crossing over most of the hills I did speed up for the last 4 miles and managed an average pace of 7:11 on those. The idea is to get that down to 6:50 at the same effort level once the marathon approaches. The night sky was absolutely beautiful and I enjoyed looking at the stars, but unfortunately that didn’t hold for the day and I got completely and utterly soaked when cycling home from work in the evening.

Today was an easy day, and I managed to sleep for over 8 hours. Despite that I was still half asleep when I hit the road, and I was at least 2 miles down the road when I suddenly realised that today was my birthday. So, here I am, starting my last year in the general age group. Niamh asked me if I was dreading the approaching Big Four Zero, but I said I couldn’t wait moving into a new age group category, which caused plenty of eye rolling on her part.

The run wasn’t quite as funny, I was stiff and sore, especially in the quads, but during all the uphill segments the calves were just as unwilling. I guess Sunday's workout has left some belated marks. I didn’t check my pace and ended up doing almost exactly 8:00. But I was seriously glad to be home again after 10 miles; sometimes you feel better after a mile or two, but today I was just tired. Maybe it’s old age? Anyway, word in the family is that a surprise party is on the agenda - the kids aren’t very good at keeping secrets. But I assure you, I’ll be very surprised all the same.
26 Jan
15 miles, 1:57:48, 7:51 pace, HR 148
last 4 @7:11 pace
27 Jan
10 miles, 1:20:08. 8:01 pace, HR 140
39 today

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Speed Matters

With 12 weeks to Boston, the time to start the fun and games has well and truly arrived, as Michael pointed out. Since I started my hill training this week, I’m right on schedule for the hard work. The thing that’s not quite going as planned is the speed I’m running all of a sudden.

And I’m talking about running faster than I normally do, not slower. I already noticed that on Thursday, when my easy run inadvertently was much faster than anticipated, without me realising it until afterwards. Pretty much the same happened on Saturday, but to an even greater extend. I came back from the 8 mile run with an average pace of 7:48, and when I checked the mile splits afterwards I could see that I had gotten faster with each mile until I ran 7:30 on the last, uphill mile. The thing is, I genuinely ran easily and I never pressed the pace, and the fairly low heart rate supports that point. But normally I would definitely not expect to run that kind of pace on an easy run so far ahead of the marathon. I did similar easy workouts before Dublin, but only in the final weeks before the race. I have three different theories. One, I might be reaching my peak far too early. That would be bad. Two, I might be on my way to a new level of fitness. That would be good. Or three, and maybe the most likely, the lower mileage this week left my legs in a much more rested state than in previous weeks and therefore able to run faster with a lower effort. Whatever it is, for the time being I’ll continue as planned; not that I have any alternative ideas anyway.

Today I was out again for another 30/30 workout, and I noticed a huge improvement to last week. It wasn’t easy. I had planned up to 25, and I started labouring hard after about the ninth one; the chart does indeed show a marked increase in the heart rate from that point onward. I kept going on, and by the 18th I pretty much had enough. I kept going on for 4 more, but after the 22nd I was so exhausted that I felt like collapsing at the road side and called it a day. The fact that the last 3 had been slightly uphill and against a headwind didn’t make it any easier, I guess. Even though I felt utterly wiped out immediately after the repeats I recovered very quickly on the way home, enough to put in a bit of an effort over the last mile or two.

When Niamh asked how the run had been I said it might have been my best workout ever, because I had pushed myself harder than possibly ever before in training and yet recovered very quickly. The pace showed a marked improvement to last week’s 6:10, with an average pace of 5:44 for the fast segments. If I had stopped after 18 the average pace would have been 5:37. Maybe I should have left it then, but from a psychological viewpoint those last repeats were important. The coming week will pretty much mirror this one. But it will be yet another week closer to Boston!
24 Jan
8 miles, 1:02:33, 7:48 pace, HR 143
25 Jan
8 miles, 58:37, 7:20 pace, HR 161
incl. 21x30/30 (5:44 avg)

Weekly mileage: 71

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tick Tock

Is it just me or is time flying at the moment? Recently I noticed that my Boston countdown timer had gone beneath 100, and now we’re down to 86 already. Blimey! At that rate I’ll be at that starting line before long. Let’s get some training in beforehand, shall we?

My prediction that Thursday’s run would be very slow turned out to be wrong. My quads were sore from the hill sprints but much less than anticipated. I ran my 10 easy miles without looking at the Garmin, and was almost stunned when I saw the number at the end. I did not expect to have run under 8:00 pace, and the heart rate was higher than it should have been for a recovery run. Ideally I would have run slower, but honestly, I had no idea I was doing that pace. Maybe I should have checked the numbers of the Garmin while out on the road, but I tend to accelerate when I do that, not slow down.

My quads still felt ok this morning. When I wrote the schedule originally I had this as a time trial day, which do feature heavily in Lydiard’s training. But with hill sprints on Wednesday and a 30/30 workout on Sunday it felt unwise to run too fast today, so I decided to run a few miles at marathon effort. I deliberately said effort, not pace, because my pace at that effort level will hopefully come down over the next few weeks. The plan was to warm up for 3 miles, run 3-4 miles at marathon effort and cool down for the rest. I hit a small problem when my mind switched to autopilot and I cruised easily for 3.5 miles until I finally remembered what I had planned for today. When I belatedly accelerated, I felt pretty comfortable with a heart rate around 160. I still felt good after 3 miles at that and decided to keep it up for a bit longer. Because of the lopsided way I ran the workout I had to run against a headwind for the majority of the marathon effort, not that it was exceedingly windy today. When I finally switched to the cool down I had covered the previous 5.5 miles at an average pace of 7:08 and a heart rate of 160. The idea is to get this down to 6:50 pace by the time the marathon comes around. I felt pretty comfortable and could have gone on at that pace for much longer. I’ll repeat the same workout next week and see where that leaves me.

Life is rather more stressful at the moment than I would like it to be. The work situation isn’t exactly ideal, but I have learned to cope with that. At home things aren’t much easier, Cian has been quite sick the last few days, but so far nobody else has gotten it. Lola and Mummy are coughing, Maia seems to be ok, and Shea and me are definitely fine. This is the time of the year when the kids pick up lots of germs at school, but we tend to be healthier than most people around us. Let’s hope this will continue.

P.S. some guys were asking about the grade of my hill on Wednesday. The SportTracks chart says 8% which sounds about right, and I haven't got any other source for that info.

22 Jan
10 miles. 1:19:00, 7:54 pace, HR 145
23 Jan
10 miles, 1:14:25, 7:26 pace, HR 152
incl. 5.5 miles @ 7:08 pace with avg. HR 160

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

135 To 170 And Back

On Monday, the second phase of my Boston training cycle started with a long run. The first thing I noticed about this cycle is that the long run is no longer than 15 miles. Normally I would not class this as a long run (that starts at 18 miles), but I’m not going to argue with Ron Daws, he’s the expert and I’m following the prescribed workouts. 15 miles is still close to 2 hours of running for me, which may well be enough, especially at this stage.

Since 15 miles happens to be the length of the Caragh Lake loop this is my normal route. However, it was very windy on Monday, and when it started hail stoning during the second mile I decided not to head up into the hills but stay closer to home. I ran three different routes, and in the end they all added up to the required distance. I also got caught by the hail for a second time in one run, something that had never happened before (and hopefully will never again). The mixture of hail, snow and sleet created a thick layer of ice on the road which made for slippery conditions and put a stop to my plan of ending with a few strong miles. I simply did not have the footing to do so. I also let Niamh drive me to work; cycling would have been suicidal under those conditions. I even managed to get a lift home from work in the evening, which meant I didn’t have to add a second run that day.

Tuesday was an easy day. When setting the alarm I decided to cut the mileage from 10 to 8 and sleep a bit longer. However, Maia woke at 5:30 and since that got me out of bed anyway I decided to run 10 miles after all. I kept the effort easy, but was once again caught out by the hail, for the fourth time in 3 runs! At that time I was thoroughly pissed off with the weather conditions, but not in a position to do anything about it.

It got warmer today, which was proven by the fact that the precipitation came in the form of rain rather than hail. More importantly it was the day of my first hill workout. Last year I did them in the way Lydiard had described them, with high knees running and bounding. In no time at all I grew to loath that type of workout, and ended up skipping a few towards the end. With that still in memory I decided to try something different. I have just finished reading Running with the Legends, and the chapter about Rob the Castella describes his hill workouts. After a warm-up he would do 2-3 miles at tempo pace, followed by a jog to the next hill. There he would run the hill 8 times at a very strong effort. I quote from the book: “It is more important to run strongly and aggressively for a short hill than to go longer and lose form. … The greatest benefit comes from sprinting all-out at the start of a short, fairly steep hill, rather than running steadily and trying to sprint at the end”.

I followed this format; after 2 miles of warm-up I ran 2.5 miles at 6:41 pace, followed by a jog to a hill. I got slower and slower on that jog, not only to get more recovery but also out of apprehension of what was to come. Since this was my first try I decided to run as far as I felt I could and as often as I felt like and not worry too much about the numbers. Balls out effort on the hills it was. As it turned out, I ran 45 seconds on each repeat which was enough to get the HR from 135 to over 170, and in the anaerobic haze I promptly lost track of the count, but afterwards on the chart I counted 7 repeats. My legs were shot at the end, and the run home was a struggle, but I made it back in one piece. Cycling to work wasn’t easy either, but not as bad as cycling back home in the evening; the quads seemed to have turned into jelly during the day. I predict tomorrow to be a slow day.
19 Jan
15 miles, 1:56:53, 7:47 pace, HR 139
20 Jan
10 miles, 1:20:15, 8:02 pace, HR 140
21 Jan
10 miles, 1:20:16, 8:02 pace, HR 148
incl. 2.5 miles @ 6:41 and 7x45 secs hill sprints

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stormy Nights

We are just experiencing the worst storm of the winter so far, and the most important factor in running was to time your run in-between lulls, to ensure a safe return. Yesterday, Saturday, I was quite keen to get out early because the weather forecast had left us in no doubt that a serious storm front was on its way and expected to hit us by lunch time.

I set off on the Caragh Lake road initially, but the heavy wind changed my mind very quickly and I turned around towards the Ard-na-Sidhe road. I just about managed to resist temptation as I was passing our driveway, it would have been so easy to get back inside rather than battling the elements. Anyone seeing me out there would have thought I’m completely mad; but actually it wasn’t the worst weather I have ever run in by any means. 8 easy miles passed by fairly quickly. Considering that I had covered 19 miles on Friday, albeit in two runs, I felt surprisingly fresh. The most pleasing aspect of the run was the realisation that my dead-easy pace is zoning in on 8:00. There’s progress.

The storm did indeed come, and boy was I glad to be inside. Further north they apparently measured wind speed of over 100mph. Here it wasn’t as bad, but we did go past the 60mph point, and today there were a number of fallen trees on some remote roads. Luckily we got away without damage around here, but the storm outside was nothing in comparison to Hurricane Maia inside our walls. She woke at 1 am, just as I was drifting off to sleep, and kept us awake until 4:30! She just kept going and going, and didn’t take too well to us trying to get some sleep. Eventually I managed to rock her to sleep on my chest, but somehow she woke again less than 3 hours later, and that was the end of my night! At some stage during the night I made the final decision not to have any more children (Niamh has come to that conclusion 14 months ago. I’m just slow in catching up). Niamh managed to add a couple of hours sleep in the morning, but I didn’t. I predict an early night for myself.

Bleary eyed as I was, I did manage to get out for a run. For my speed work during this training cycle I’m trying something new, as described here and here. I ran one 30/30 workout last year and decided to give this a proper go. Once a week I’ll do one of those runs. I’m starting out with 30/30 (30 seconds fast, 30 seconds slow, that is), in a few weeks I’ll switch to 60/60, and closer to the marathon I’ll attempt 3min/5min. I believe this is compatible with Ron Daws’ training program. He gives plenty of options for speed training, including steady runs, 400s, or 200s. I only cover about 150m in 30 seconds, but I don’t think that’s a sticking point.

After a false start (it started hailstoning literally as I was leaving the house), I was on my way. (I still got a beaning later on). Today’s intervals were rather slow, about 6:10 pace on average, definitely slower that they’re supposed to be. Since this was my first attempt at that kind of workout, I’m not too worried. I expect to improve as the legs get used to that workout. In fact, this improvement is the entire point.

As Private once pointed out, I like to experiment a lot, and he’s absolutely right about that. This has backfired quite a few times (remember the Red Bull before the Dublin marathon? I do!), and this is yet another experiment. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ll see how it goes.
17 Jan
8.1 miles, 1:06:07, 8:09 pace, HR 135
18 Jan
8 miles, 1:01:12, 7:39 pace, HR 155
including 21x30/30

Weekly mileage: 87+

Friday, January 16, 2009


I sometimes forget that I ran a rather strenuous race on Sunday, but my legs tend to remind me very quickly. They say it takes about a day per mile raced to fully recover, and even though I usually feel recovered quicker than that, this week was definitely all about getting my strength back.

Wednesday’s fartlek was a case in point. I found this a much better way to get some faster miles under the belt than a prescribed set of mile repeats. I could increase the speed when I wanted to and take as much recovery in-between as I felt like. That way I managed to run fast at times and still feel ok at the end of the workout. In fact, even though the overall pace was nothing to be proud of, I was surprised to find that the pace had been the same as last Wednesday’s fartlek session (where I hadn’t felt particularly good). Overall, I was reasonably pleased with that run.

And since the weather was absolutely foul that day I got a lift from Niamh into work and ran home in the evening, as I always do when I get a lift. This meant over 17 miles for the day, which left me a bit tired for Thursday. The first mile was very slow but I felt better with each mile, and by the end running was fun again. Maybe the fact that it was a nice day helped in that regard.

Sadly, that was only a break between two storm systems, and the next one arrived over Kerry this morning just in time for my run. Somehow I managed to oversleep by a few minutes, which left me short of time and I decided to give the lap around Caragh Lake a miss. The fact that my stomach felt dodgy was another argument, because I didn’t want to stray too far away from home in that case. Add to that the strong wind and I had all the reasons to remain in the vicinity of the Ard-na-Sidhe road to get some shelter from the elements. Running back and forwards three times on the same stretch of road is not the most exciting way to accumulate miles, but on a day like that it would have to do. For the first time since Sunday's race I thought I felt some zip in the legs, but somehow the pace didn't quite reflect that. And of course I did the same “get-a-lift-to-work-and-run-home” spiel again, as dictated by the elements. The strange thing was that on the evening run I didn't even try to run fast, yet ended up with the fastest pace of the week. With the way I have organised things I run more miles during bad weather spells than during nice weeks. Something's odd here. Maybe it’s me.
14 Jan
am: 12.1 miles fartlek, 1:32:59, 7:41 pace, HR 145
pm: 5 miles, 39:15, 7:51 pace, HR 145
15 Jan
10 miles, 1:20:20, 8:02 pace, HR 141
16 Jan
am: 14 miles, 1:48:29, 7:45 pace, HR 142
pm: 5 miles

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mallow Photos

I found a few photos from Sunday’s race. The overhead shot (about 1 mile into the race) is as cool as it is unusual, and they didn’t even have to hire a helicopter for it. Brendan (22) and me (415) are running side-by-side, and Grellan (523) is not far behind. That’s when I still felt good of course. On the other photo, just before the finish, the strain of the last hour is clearly showing. I wasn’t even aware that it had started raining again at that point.

We were actually lucky with the weather. Sure, it was windy and we had some intermittent rain, but it really turned seriously nasty about an hour later, with torrential downpours and high winds. In light of that I did not expect to be able to cycle into work on Monday morning. When that happens I get a lift from Niamh into work and run the 5 miles home. Accordingly I cut my normal Monday long run from 18 miles to 15, otherwise I might end up with 23 combined miles the day after a race. Even I agree that that would be excessive.

I was caught by surprise when Monday morning turned out to sport a beautiful moonlight scenery with hardly a cloud in sight. By that time it was too late to change, because I had obviously set my alarm for just enough time for 15 miles, no more. Since the legs had been very stiff and tired on Sunday evening I expected to be very slow, but it went pretty well, actually. I regretted not having gone for the 18 miles, but changed my mind on the last mile when fatigue crept in all of a sudden, and was rather glad to be done. I also had John Walshe’s warning in mind; he advised me not to overdo the training when I chatted to him briefly after Sunday’s race.

I felt tired but ok for most of Monday, but towards the evening my appetite took off big time. After dinner I helped myself to a second helping, plus some chocolate. That didn’t satisfy me, and I ate some bread with cheese. Still being hungry, I devoured a bowl of cereal, and the hunger only abated after some more chocolate. Luckily I don’t believe in restricted calories when you’re training, or even racing.

With the legs still carrying the load of the race I expected to be very slow on today’s easy morning run. Again, I cut down the mileage, from 12 to 10, because of the weariness I had felt on Monday. I felt a lot better though, despite the worsening conditions. It started raining just as I left the house and shortly after the turnaround point I got caught in a hailstorm and had to endure a fairly painful few minutes. With the rain and wind it was rather freezing; long sleeves would have been the better option today. But what was remarkable was the vastly reduced heart rate. This is quite normal after a race, but the sheer amount of the drop surprised me. I checked through my logs, but unless I missed something I have never run even close to that pace at such a low HR. I’ll see how the training goes this week, but I think I’m already in good shape, aerobically. That’s good because on Monday the next phase of the training commences and the hills are calling.
12 Jan
15 miles, 2:02:18, 8:09 pace, HR 143
13 Jan
10 miles, 1:21:58, 8:12 pace, HR 134

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Turbo Charged

When you’re new to racing you are pretty much going to PR in almost any race. Eventually this settles a bit, but for a while you are still in with a good shot at a PR at each race. This is exciting, and it’s easy to stay motivated. I’ve now been running for 4.5 years, and PRs are definitely no longer guaranteed. But from time to time you still manage to surprise yourself.

I slept really badly last night, and this time I blame the Full Moon. I often have troubles sleeping at that time of the month. Eventually I managed to doze off, but 6 hours later, at 7 o’clock, the kids woke and that was the end of the rest for me. I made the best of it, and after they had been fed and settled in front of the telly, I sneaked out for an easy 3 mile run, which has become my preferred way of starting race day.

I left for Mallow shortly before 10 and got there in good time. They were expecting over 500 runners, but the weather had turned nasty just in time for today’s race and I doubted they would be able to get that sort of number (I was wrong). The wind was at gale force strength and the rain came and went; but, as I said to Grellan and Brendan when I met them at the race HQ, I have run in worse conditions. My goal was to go under 65 minutes, 6:30 pace.

After a good warm-up we assembled at the start line. Grellan insisted he would be slow today, and wanted me to play rabbit for him rather then the other way round. I still thought he was kidding when the gun went, and we set off. After the customary weaving around the idiots who start way too far ahead we settled into about 6:20 pace, and I remarked to Brendan how it never ceases to amaze me how that pace can feel like jogging in a race when I am unable to hit it at training. Grellan was right at my shoulder at the first mile marker at 6:31, very much on pace. The course had been slightly uphill and got a bit steeper as we continued on, right into the headwind. The conditions were blustery, but so early in the race it didn’t bother me yet. We got our rewards from the elements after about 1.5 miles when we turned sharply left onto the main Cork road and had the wind at our back on a nice downhill stretch. I like downhills, and I always make up plenty of places, and accordingly I increased the pace noticeably. I passed Brendan, and a few other runners, and I kept trading places with an older gentleman, who Brendan later identified as Denis Carroll, whom I knew from looking at race results. Anyway, the pace dropped dramatically on that stretch. While the second mile had taken 6:32, the third was a blazingly fast 5:52, but with a 100 feet elevation drop as well as wind assisted. I felt great, and somehow managed to carry the momentum onwards even as we turned into the Killarney road, and left the downhill behind. The rest of the race would be fairly flat.

I kept passing plenty of runners with a 6:13 mile, and by now I was pretty sure I was going to get a substantial new PR. The wind started to become an annoyance again, and running on the shoulder of another runner didn’t seem to help, but I felt too good for that to really bother me. I never looked back and had no idea where Brendan and Grellan would be, but expected them to be a good bit behind. Imagine my surprise when Brendan suddenly appeared at my shoulder. I could only remark “I didn’t expect to see you here”, and then he was gone, leaving me in the dust. We continued westwards past the race course and a 6:25 mile brought me to the halfway mark at around 31:40, way ahead of schedule. Shortly afterwards we turned off the Killarney road, and the rest of the race would be on small country roads, something I’m rather familiar with. By now I was behind a trio of master runners, one of them Denis Carroll, and another one looking familiar from previous races. I kept as close to them as I could, and together we made up a couple of places. I felt good, but my left hamstring started tightening at that point. It has never really recovered from the Connemara Ultra last year, and tends to tighten up towards the end of races. Having said that, I don’t think it’s slowing me down.

Mile 6 at 6:24 was still reasonably quick, and I passed to 10k mark in about 39:15, which was faster than my 10k race on New Year’s Day! Of course I knew already that I was having a really good race, but that really drove home the message. At that point I decided to start the drive home. Despite the pace I was feeling reasonably comfortable, and it was time to go into the uncomfortable zone. I drew level with the trio ahead of me and started pulling away. Two of them responded, and we battled for another mile, which included a hill that explains the 6:30 pace, despite the increased effort. Eventually one of them fell back and the other one pulled ahead, and I tried in vain to keep up.

I could see Brendan quite some distance ahead of me, probably too far to catch. But I remembered the race in Ballycotton last year when he visibly started suffering towards the end. He had pace to burn but not the stamina to keep it up until the end, and with that in mind I started giving chase. The rest of the course was very level, and the increased effort started being reflected in the pace; it took me just 6:10 to reach the 8 mile point. It was clear that Brendan was having a much better day than in last year’s Ballycotton because he was picking up runner after runner, who shortly later got passed by me as well. I drew level with a guy in a red singlet who obviously didn’t like being passed because he responded with an impressive surge that took him away from me again. I drew closer again, and again he surged away. And once more. By now we had reached mile 9, again in 6:10. I’m rather persistent, and when I drew level for a fourth time he had nothing left to respond and finally I managed to get away from him. By now we are just half a mile from the finish, and I was maybe 10 steps behind Brendan. But now he started kicking for home himself, and with my legs aching badly from the last 2 miles’ effort I soon realised that I would not be able to catch him. On the opposite, he drew away from me as he started chasing a runner in front of him. I managed to gain one more place, and on the last hill towards the line I could hear steps approaching from behind, which made me squeeze the last ounce of strength out of my legs. I could see the clock approaching 1:03 and tried hard to stay under it, but crossed the line exactly at 1:03:00, which probably means they will round my final time up to 1:03:01 (update: correct). The last mile took 6:01.

Still, this was a PR by 3 minutes, and even though my old PR had been soft I would have been happy with a time 2 minutes slower, and certainly did not mind being beaten by Brendan by 8 seconds. Grellan, who arrived 3 minutes after us, remarked that McMillan’s calculator would probably have this as my best race ever, which I confirmed after returning home. Brendan was always the one with the natural pace, and now that he started building his endurance he is going to have a fantastic year ahead of him. My own prospects don’t look too shabby either, and if I can manage to build on today’s effort a sub-3 marathon might indeed be on the cards for 2009. Grellan is behind in his training, but I know that by the time Ballycotton comes along he will be tough to beat. Roll on the year!
10 Jan
6 miles, 47:44, 7:57 pace, HR 141
11 Jan
am: 3 miles, 25:08, 8:23 pace, HR 137
pm: 13.5 miles, including:
     Mallow 10 mile race, 1:03:01, 6:18 pace, HR 176

Weekly mileage: 87.6

Race Results: Brendan 63rd in 1:02:54, Thomas 66th in 1:03:01, Grellan 114th in 1:05:51

Friday, January 09, 2009

Before the Race

Thank you all for your supporting comments. This really means a lot to me. I do feel a bit better now as I am starting to cope. The weekend will do me a world of good.

To add to the misery I had no less than two flat tires (on two different bikes) this week, already as many as over the entire last year. What’s going on?

I was wondering when the sudden lack of sleep caused by those things would affect my running performance, but so far it’s going fine. I ran 10 miles on Thursday at fairly easy effort, and managed to go under 8:00 pace without even trying. In fact, I never looked at the Garmin except at the turnaround point and at the end. It was quite windy, and the wind chill factor added significantly to the cold.

My normal Friday run is the 15 miles loop around Caragh Lake, but in view of Sunday’s race I cut that by 2 miles, which also meant that I avoided the toughest climbs, but it was still a hilly run. Again I ran under 8:00 pace without really trying; I only pushed the pace over the last half mile when I got down to 6:20 pace, 10k effort, and felt fairly comfortable. I’m fairly hopeful of a new PR on Sunday. In fact, I have covered 10 miles faster than my official 10 mile best both in the Blarney half marathon and the Cork-to-Cobh 15 miler. Thinking about it, my only 10 mile race to date was last year’s Ballycotton, barely one month after recovering from pneumonia. If I can’t beat that time, something’s wrong.

I started wearing my HR strap again, and the HR rate yesterday and today was reassuringly low.
8 Jan
10 miles, 1:19:08, 7:55 pace, HR 144
9 Jan
13 miles, 1:42:42, 7:54 pace, HR 144

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Bitterly Cold

were the words used by the weather forecast last night to describe the –6C degrees expected overnight. I did laugh at that, pointing out to Niamh that in countries where it actually does get cold, this would not qualify for the term bitterly. She agreed, but mentioned that it’s all relative, and for Ireland that’s a lot colder than usual.

The weather has been good recently, and I did not have to run in rain for weeks. Since this caused my pneumonia a year ago, I’m rather grateful for the break. We did have some overnight rain on Monday, but luckily, and against the forecast, it had already cleared by the time I started my run.

With yet another race on the calendar for Sunday I decided to train through again but take the edge of some of the workouts to leave a semblance of life in the old legs. Accordingly I cut my long run from the originally planned 20 miles down to 18. Last Friday my legs had become progressively heavier over the Caragh Lake loop, but on Monday they felt so much better. I took a few sips of water after completing the 15 miles loop and then added another 3 miles. The pace on those dropped to 7:24, and I could have run faster. After feeling rather flat since basically the Dublin marathon I slowly notice some fizz returning. I’m nowhere near where I want to be yet, but I do notice an improvement.

The temperatures didn’t quite reach –6C here in Kerry, that was reserved for the midlands, but it was about –2C/28F both today and yesterday morning, and if you’re not used to that it does indeed feel very cold. Maybe the weather forecast on the telly had been right after all. Yesterday I was really slow, but the day after a long run I do not take much notice of the pace. It would have been interesting to get some HR data because I can usually tell from the HR on those runs where my fitness is heading, but I won’t be wearing the HR strap until the chafing on my left side has abated (next week, I suppose).

I was supposed to go faster today, as a fartlek was on program. Since I had so much fun last Sunday I decided to do that again rather than try to run mile repeats at some set pace. This didn’t quite go as planned; each time I tried to dip below 7:00 pace I ran into troubles, and I wasn’t too happy with that performance. I have two explanations for this. Either the unaccustomed temperatures are affecting my legs, or the fact that a very nasty work situation is very heavy on my mind is playing havoc with me. I’m very grateful to be a runner as it is the only release I have at the moment. I have never felt as low and depressed as I did on Tuesday, and the knowledge that things won’t improve in the near future doesn’t help.
5 Jan
18.1 miles, 2:23:59, 7:57 pace
6 Jan
12 miles, 1:41:30, 8:28 pace
7 Jan
12 miles fartlek, 1:32:08, 7:41 pace

Sunday, January 04, 2009


I forgot to mention the most important thing about Thursday’s race. I used it to test my hurting ankle. I expected to have to grit my teeth as the miles wore on, and worried a bit if I would end up damaging the area even further. But I had bought an ankle strap a few days ago, and it seems to have made a huge difference. Not only did I manage to finish the race, the ankle didn’t even hurt. And while I can still feel it on a few occasions, the difference to last week is huge.

Since I had been training all the way through that race there was never a question of taking it easy afterwards. I just continued on with my normal training schedule, and since 15 miles were marked in on Friday, 15 miles it was going to be.

The most daunting task was to get up at 5:30 in the morning. Since I have been able to sleep in all through the holidays (apart from Christmas Day), I was no longer used to getting up in the middle of the night, and I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the alarm going off. However, I surprised myself by waking up a minute before time. Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for the entire day. I ran at what felt like pretty decent effort, but the Garmin had me crawling along at snail’s pace. I do of course realise that the legs were tired from the race, but the extend of the slowdown surprised me. This became particularly apparent on the last 5 miles where I tried to put in a stronger effort, but only managed a very pedestrian 8:10 pace. Since I obviously still had the race in my legs this didn’t bother me, but I was quite shocked by realising just how much the legs were affected.

I was knackered when I got home, and the 5 miles cycle into work against the wind just about finished me off. And if I thought that the first day back in the office would be easy, I was badly mistaken. I had the most unpleasant experience of my entire career, which not only left me shaken for the rest of the day, it ruined my entire weekend as I spent the days brooding about the incident and the nights staring up at the ceiling. And I still don’t know how this will be resolved.

Apart from that, the runs over the weekend were a lot better. I took it reasonably easy on Saturday and was pleased to see some live returning to the legs. During the 8 miles I felt better with each step, which also helped to clear my head, at least partially. Today was even better. I ran a fartlek session, but this time I ran it the way I understand fartleks to be, unstructured, with surges and recovery jogs just like I felt. Again, I felt better with each step. During the first few miles I surged at about 7:20 pace and wondered how I had ever managed to run 7:05 for a marathon or 6:21 for a 10k just 3 days ago. But as the miles went by I felt better and better, and by the end I was flying.

A few days ago I noticed a painful red mark on my left side; the HRM chest strap must have rubbed against my skin, and I decided to give the strap a few days off until I can wear it again without discomfort. This is strange, I have used the HRM without problems for ages, and I haven’t got a clue why it started hurting all of a sudden. Despite being a numbers geek I can live without HR data for a while, I suppose.
2 Jan
15 miles, 2:07:08, 8:28 pace
3 Jan
8 miles, 1:03:28, 7:56 pace
4 Jan
10 miles fartlek, 1:13:59, 7:23 pace

Weekly Mileage: 84.5

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year

One of my problems with running is the lack of local races (and if they are on, I sometimes don’t hear about them), so when they put on this 10k in Beaufort, about 20 minutes drive from Caragh Lake, I was always going to do it. You can’t miss an opportunity like that.

The start was at 2pm, and since I have had good experiences with running a few easy miles before a race, I ran 5 miles in the morning. The weather was nice enough, but the blustery wind was less than ideal. Despite a certain lack of sleep, which goes with that date, my head wasn’t too bad, and I was looking forward to the race. I definitely hoped to start the year with a new PR.

It’s funny, but when racing I recognise way more faces in Cork than in Kerry, and even the few familiar faces here tend to be from Cork, like Mary Sweeney and especially John Walshe, who had made a long trip today. John was helping out with the registration. That man’s dedication to the sport is unparalleled and very commendable. He even emailed me the results afterwards. Thanks a million John, you’re a legend. No wonder the Ballycotton race is so famous.

Anyway, we lined up at the start a few minutes later than advertised. If they ever start an event in Kerry on time, I’d be very surprised (in fact, I’d probably miss it). Following a by now familiar pattern I followed a few steps behind Mary Sweeney early on. She and two other ladies threatened to pull away from me, but I was already running a 6 minute mile and thought it unwise to increase the effort even further. The course is a lollipop route with a mile going out, followed by a 4-mile-plus loop and one mile back towards the village. It seemed reasonably flat, but in fact it was a series of never-ending gentle climbs and drops. Still, a good time was definitely doable today. The first mile passed by in 6:05, and eventually I managed to close the gap to the runners ahead, and halfway through the second mile I passed them all. I greeted Ms. Sweeney with “hello Mary” as I went by and she responded back, but I don’t think she had a clue who she was talking to.

By now I was a step behind an older gentleman who looked familiar. I thought I recognised him from the 8k in Liscarroll last August where I had slowly fallen behind the eventual winners of the M45 and M50 category, and I thought it might be one of them (Update: I was right, it was Tom Fitzgerald who had finished a place ahead of me in Liscarroll). Same fella or not, this time I managed to keep up, at least for now. Mile 2 passed by in 6:18. As long as I could keep this pace I would get a new PR.

It happens all the time, in every race. I lose time on the climbs and regain it on the drops. Today was no different; as we were nearing the halfway point, two runners approached from behind on a climb. The young guy passed by but the older only managed to draw level as we reached the apex, and I soon left him behind again. I also regained my place against the younger one on the downhill. The same game started again on the next incline (there were at least a dozen of them). It kept the effort high, but the Garmin says I had slowed down some more to 6:21 on the third mile, which surprises me, to be honest. I certainly wasn’t taking it any easier. I passed the 5k marker in 19:12, which definitely put me into a position for a PR, but I now think that the sign was a bit out and came too early.

The main problem was that now we were turning towards Beaufort and into the wind. I also thought that the first half was net downhill with a net uphill on the way home, but the map disagrees and has both halves pretty much even. Anyway, running became a lot more difficult with the growing fatigue and the blustery headwind. The young guy eventually managed to pull away from me (and overtook at least 5 more runners until the end) but the other one fell behind. Nobody else went past me, and I gained a few places on the return journey, but was too occupied to count them. I was still close behind the older familiar looking runner. I tried not to let him get away from me, which probably explains the little pace increase for a 6:19 fourth mile. We then turned into the main Beaufort road, which I am reasonably familiar with. I hoped the fact that I knew the course from now on would help, but a few short but steep climbs took a lot out of me; I actually started swearing at one point because I felt like standing still battling uphill against the wind. I slowly, very slowly, lost contact to Mr. Familiar, with a 6:32 fifth mile not looking good, being followed by an even worse sixth one in 6:35. I pushed with all I had left to close the gap over the last half kilometre through Beaufort village, but I only managed to halve it; closing it was never on the cards, and I crossed the line in 39:24, 15 seconds behind target.

I was a bit disappointed. I had hoped for a new PR to start the year with a bang, but came up short. 15 seconds is so little, I’m sure I could have found them somewhere along the line if only I had pushed a tiny bit harder.

I hadn’t taken any easy days before the race, which might have cost me just that much. I had taken the decision to train through the race in full knowledge that it would impede today’s performance, and there’s no point in wondering what might have been. It was not my target race, end of story.

I didn’t have time to hang around and had to drive back home pretty sharpish because Niamh needed the car to take the older kids to the cinema, leaving me behind to mind Maia and cook the dinner (lovely it was, too, thanks for asking). It’s great to drive to a race, run it and drive home again in less time than it takes for a long run. Definitely a rarity for me.
1 Jan
am: 5+ miles, 41:19, 8:03 pace
pm: 9.2 miles, including:
  Beaufort 10k, 39:25, 6:21 pace, 20th place