Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The last long Run

I have this key workout that has been very effective in previous builds, namely 20 miles with the first 10 at 90% marathon pace and the second 10 at marathon pace. I don’t claim coming up with this myself; like all other training runs I got the idea from someone else, and apparently it is a staple in many marathoners’ programs including Ryan Hall's.

When training for Dublin I had done this as part of a back-to-back double, but this time I wanted to run it on fresh legs (remember last week? I do!) and I ran 7.5 very easy miles on Monday. This should have been 8, but because the clocks had just gone forward it felt too early to get up initially. Incidentally, my heart rate for that run was lower than for any other run in the present training cycle, so a) I really did take it easy and b) I’m still gaining fitness.

I had to get up at 5 am today, which is not the earliest I have ever risen, but my body clock is still on winter time, which meant it was basically 4 in the morning for me. My limbs were shaking as I got out of bed, but I slowly managed to wake up properly. It took me a bit longer than normal to get ready (blame the drowsiness), and I was slightly worried about not having enough time to finish the workout.

When I opened the door the light of my headlamp was reflected back by millions of tiny droplets right in front of me. Not only was it still pitch dark, we had the heaviest fog I can remember. It was so thick that I could barely see the road markings, even with the light set to full strength.

I got into the run straight from the off. Normally I run the first one or two miles at leisurely pace, but this was marathon preparation and I tried to get up to speed from the start. I soon discovered that I was doing better than planned. 90% of marathon pace is about 7:30, and I was easily running 7:15 pace. I did dial the effort down a little bit because I wanted to make sure I would not ruin the more important second half of the run. The coolest moment came at about 6 miles when I was passing a field with about 7 horses that all started to run alongside me. Because of the thick fog and the still forbidden darkness I could only catch a few glimpses of them, but I could hear them very clearly. Sadly, their field was fenced off after half a mile of equine companionship and I had to continue on my own. The third quarter of the loop is the toughest with a few climbs; not big or steep but enough to slow you down. I came back to our driveway after 10 miles at 7:18 pace, and the heart rate had mostly stayed in the low 150s, well below marathon effort.

After a gel and a few sips of water I was out for the second loop, sans headlamp, hoping to run at 6:50 pace. Obviously the effort was a lot stronger now, and when I checked the Garmin after about 2 miles I was rather disappointed to see an average pace of 7:15. I pushed a bit harder to make up the lost time, but when I was well past the 3 mile point of that loop and the average pace was still only around 7:10 I finally caught on to the fact that I was looking at the average pace for the entire run rather than just for that loop! Thomas you idiot!! One button later that was rectified and I gazed at an average loop pace of 6:48, much better and well on target. I passed the same group of horses again, finally being able to see the beautiful creatures properly. I lost a few seconds per mile on the climb again but made up for it on the other side and came home a second time, just under 68 minutes later, average pace 6:48.

I am highly pleased with that effort, and who knows, it might even indicate that I’m in shape for a sub-3 marathon in Boston, something that I had doubted beforehand. I can’t really compare the workout to the one I had done before Dublin because of the rested legs, but I was substantially faster today. At the very least this was a great confidence booster.

And now I guess I’m tapering.

There is a change of plan for the weekend. I got a phone call last night inviting me to join a local running club and to turn up on Sunday for a 5k in Ardfert, which is much closer to home than Cork. I pretty much accepted, and we will probably make this a family day out (I wanted the kids to see Ardfert for quite some time anyway), and I have less worries about a 5k 2 weeks before the marathon than I would have with a 10k. It looks like I will have to wait a bit longer to go under 39 minutes. Ah well.
30 Mar
7.5 miles, 1:04:19 pace, HR 131
31 Mar
20 miles, 2:20:57, 7:03 pace, HR 154
incl. 10 miles @ 7:18, 10 miles @ 6:48

Monthly mileage: 353

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Signs of Progress

Some workouts you like, some you don't. I’m generally apprehensive before speed workouts, and sometimes before log runs. It doesn’t stop me from doing them, of course, but I’m always glad when they’re done. Friday’s progression run, on the other hand, was one I was really looking forward to. I knew it would be a tough workout, but I was confident I would be able to do well and I love the idea of running strongly over a long distance.

The plan was the same as last week, namely 3x4.5 miles divided by half mile of recovery. I didn’t program this into the Garmin but pressed the lap button manually. The problem was that without the helpful beep of the watch I ran past my slowdown points not just once but twice. However, that was the only thing that went wrong; the rest went swimmingly.

Not even the weather could stop me. I woke several times during the night listening to the wind splashing the rain against our window. I thought I might have to divert the run to the Ard-na-Sidhe road, but it stopped raining just as I got up, and I decided to run the same Cromane loop as last week. The general idea was to run the first segment at 7:30(ish), the second closer to marathon pace, and the third one at marathon pace or a tad faster if I had the legs for it.

From the outset I had to battle the wind, and the rain returned within the first mile. I struggled against the elements, but halfway through the first section I reached a turn, and from there on the wind would be supportive. I checked the watch and was very surprised to see the pace much closer to 7:00 than 7:30. I thought about slowing down, but now, with the wind pushing me on, running 7:00 pace was so comfortable that I kept at it. Admittedly I also benefited from the 60 feet net elevation drop over those miles. As mentioned, I felt so good that I inadvertently ran half a mile longer than planned and decided to cut the second segment accordingly. On the middle part I had to climb those same 60 feet again and the wind wasn’t as helpful any more. I still managed to get close to marathon pace and if that had been on a level road I’m pretty sure the same effort would have yielded 6:52. I was still reasonably comfortable at the beginning of the third segment, though I definitely started to tire during those miles. I managed to hit the pace though, and was so happy to be running at 6:48 that I missed my turn-around point and ended up with an extra half mile – again. Never mind.

I kept wondering why the run went so much better than last week until I remembered that 7 days ago I had done this the day after mile repeats, while today I ran them on fresh legs following a recovery day. Who would have thought that a strong workout is better on rested legs? Another lesson learned, and if I keep improving my training lore at that rate I might even know how to train for a marathon by the time Boston comes round.

I was really happy with the run, and especially with the way the legs felt afterwards. I took an even easier recovery day on Saturday with only 6 slow miles. But I got a real surprise when I assessed my resting heart rate. Despite Shea’s best attempts to disrupt it came up with 37, the lowest number I have ever seen. It had been 43 only six weeks ago and has steadily come down since then. I must be doing something right.

Unfortunately the foul weather returned today, just in time for the daylight saving time to arrive. I got up, had one look at the lousy conditions outside and decided to wait. It could only get better. Niamh eventually joined the rest of the family, slightly puzzled why I was still indoors at 9am, but very understanding of my reasoning. If this had been a recovery day I would have binned the entire workout but I did not want to miss out on half-mile repeats. I eventually ventured out when the rain died down, but I still had to battle the gale force winds. Maybe they were responsible for my slower-than-planned pace, at least that's my excuse. I did 7 repeats, 2 more than last week, but I missed out on the sub-6 target pace I had hoped for (with an eye on Yasso). However, I won’t lose any sleep over it.

I know that opinion has been divided, but I decided to run the 10k in Cork next Sunday. While it is definitely not my target race I still want to do reasonably well and accordingly I’ll take it a bit easier this week. This means that effectively I will be starting my taper soon, earlier than originally planned. I can’t call this a taper just yet because my most telling key workout, 20 miles with half at goal marathon pace, will be on Tuesday. That will be the last of the big workouts, and I’ll think of Wednesday as the start of the taper. I have moved the last of the progression runs to next week, where it will take over the long run. The pieces are falling into place, the hay is in the barn, and I'm running out of clichés.
27 Mar
15.5 miles, 1:49:24, 7:03 pace, HR 157
incl. 5,4,5 miles @ 7:01, 6:54, 6:48 pace
28 Mar
6 miles, 48:59, 8:10 pace, HR 137
29 Mar
9.6 miles, 1:13:20, 7:39 pace, HR 155
incl. 7x800, 6:06 pace avg.

Weekly mileage: 80.6

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Windy Weather

Mike isn’t the only one concerned about my lack of sleep on Monday; I’d had the same thoughts already. Luckily I didn’t have to suffer any more sleepless nights, the last three evenings I got rather tired by 9:30 and went to bed, to sleep for about 8 hours each time. On the downside, this meant being awake before 6 am. I’m definitely a morning person.

Of course I took it easy on Tuesday, but I was actually surprised how decent the legs felt. I was exhausted after my 23 mile run on Monday, but the fatigue was more due to lack of sleep, the legs handled the distance just fine. I guess the slow pace just left them with plenty of reserves. I did notice another drop in my HR. I ran 8:12 pace with an average HR of 133; on the same run after lest week’s long run I measured the same average HR but 8:30 pace. That’s quite some difference. I generally tend to notice fitness gains by the low heart rate on recovery runs like these, and the data is promising. At the very least I know that I’m not suffering from overtraining symptoms.

Wednesday’s workout consisted of mile repeats. Last week I had done 6 of them, today I added an extra one. During the second repeat I didn’t think I would be able to finish the workout, but somehow the legs came round. The weather didn’t help, it was very windy, which made me do those repeats on the Ard-na-Sidhe road rather than run my usual loop to Killorglin. Repeatedly running up and down the same stretch of road isn’t the most exciting way to run, but I was so caught up in the effort that it didn’t matter. The workout went reasonably well: 6:28, 6:33, 6:31, 6:31, 6:45, 6:38, 6:21, which meant I slightly improved my average pace compared to last week despite the conditions. The fifth repeat was a bit off, and the first half of the sixth was even slower, but I managed to increase the effort a bit for the rest of the workout.

I was pleasantly surprised once again this morning by how well the legs felt. It looks like I have gotten over the worst of the weekend’s epic training already. I ran 8 miles at 8:00 pace, and would have been incredibly comfortable had it not been for the gale force winds. At one stage I was rounding a corner to see a veil of rain ahead of me, with the wind providing a stunning and clearly visible rippling effect. My appreciation of this natural spectacle was ever so slightly tempered by the fact that I knew I would be enveloped by it within a few seconds.

Apparently the windy conditions will remain with us for at least another week. I tell you what, if we have to battle gale force winds at Boston I’ll be the best prepared runner of them all. With less than 4 weeks to go I had a few thoughts about my racing strategy. The plan is to start slowly and not get caught up in the excitement. Starting from controlled corrals means I should be surrounded by runners of very similar ability, doesn’t it? If I can take it reasonably easy over the first, say, 10k, I should be in good enough shape to run the final 20 miles at a good effort. And with the first downhill miles, I shouldn’t lose much (or any?) time at the start, even if I hold back. All that sounds easy enough. But as they say, no plans survive first contact.
24 Mar
8 miles, 1:05:35, 8:12 pace, HR 133
25 Mar
10.5 miles, 1:18:43, 7:30 pace, HR 155
incl. 7xmile @ 6:28, 33, 31, 31, 45, 38, 21 (6:33 avg)
25 Mar
8 miles, 1:04:02, 8:00 pace, HR 140

Monday, March 23, 2009

Overload Training

For a change the most important sporting event over the weekend wasn’t my training runs but Ireland’s Rugby team win over Wales in the Six nations Tournament, thereby achieving the Grand Slam for the first time in 61 years (and, as one commentator put it, fulfilling their destiny). Even though I much prefer soccer to rugby I got completely sucked into the hype for the game, and the celebratory mood seems to have swept away the general darkness of recession for a while.

I still went running, of course. In fact, I ran a lot.

After two tempo-style workouts a recovery run was the only option for Saturday, and I got up bright and early for my 6 mile run. The rest of the day was mainly spent on chores and looking after Cian and Maia while Niamh was in Cork with the twins. This is at least a tiring as a tough run.

Somehow Sunday has become my traditional speed day. I had done the last of the 60/60 workouts last week, and following this article I moved on to 180/180. I quickly found out that this is a completely different workout. The thing about 60/60s is the short recovery time, and the HR goes up and up. 3 minutes of recovery, on the other hand, unfailingly brought my heart rate down below 140 each time. Unsurprisingly I was not able to run at the same pace, and the entire workout turned out to be a set of half-mile repeats. The average pace was 6:01, but if you left out the first one it would have been 5:57. Maybe I should add more strides to my warm-up routine, because I generally tend to feel stiff and awkward on the first repeat.

Since it was a nice sunny day (the last one for a while, apparently) we went for yet another family hike, this time a shorter trip up to the top of the Devil’s Elbow. This happens to be the place where my header photo had been taken; you should be familiar enough with it by now. We were back at the car within an hour, and I hoped my legs hadn’t taken much extra fatigue onboard.

Last week I had a great 22 mile run, and today called for the last really long run of the schedule, 24 miles. The distance didn’t worry me, after all this was just a bit longer than last week. What I was not looking forward to was the ridiculously early time I had to be out of bed. As it turned out, things were a lot worse than imagined; I was unable to sleep most night, and didn’t even need the alarm at 4:20. I was up 5 minutes early to make a bottle for Maia who didn’t have the best of nights herself. I had gotten less than 3 hours of sleep at that stage, and even those had been interrupted several times. It was so early that I needed the headlamp again for the first time in a few weeks. Once the sky brightened up a little bit I could see a few ominously dark clouds, and the wind was at gale force strength at times. Last week I had started slowly and gotten faster gradually. Today I was merely slow. I think the mental fatigue from lack of sleep was just as much responsible for that as the actual fatigue in my legs. I just kept plodding on, barely awake at times. I did manage to work out that with the slow pace I would have to cut the run short, or I would have been seriously late for work. I reset my expectations to 23 miles. Eventually, after over 13 miles, I finally started to shake myself awake, threw in a few surges and generally upped the pace. Believe it or not, the run felt easier from then on; finally I had something to focus the mind on rather then crawling along on autopilot. Not that I started flying, but at least the pace finally dropped under 8:00 minutes per mile.

I eventually returned home weary and tried after over 190 minutes. I had just spent more time running than I had slept during the entire night, and I remarked to Niamh that finally I might have overdone things. One lesson I learned is that running 22 miles on fresh legs is a completely different task to running 23 miles on tired ones. Starting long runs with heavy legs after a preceding speed or tempo workout is a good way to build your endurance. However, once the distance goes beyond 20 miles I’m better off recovering first.

I have done some savage training over the last 5 days, and the hardest block of training is definitely behind me now. With 4 weeks to go I hopefully have left enough time for the body to absorb the work. I have one more tough long workout in the schedule; next week I’ll try and run 20 miles with 10 miles at 7:30(ish) pace and 10 miles at marathon goal pace. But I’ll slightly re-jig my schedule and make sure to have an easy recovery day prior to that. Don’t say I never learn.
21 Mar
6 miles, 49:53, 8:19 pace, HR 135
22 Mar
8 miles, 1:00:38, 7:36 pace, HR 155
incl. 5x180/180 @ 6:18, 5:57, 5:55, 6:07, 5:50 (6:01 avg)
23 Mar
23 miles, 3:11:03, 8:18 pace, HR 140

Weekly mileage: 81.5

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tempo Training

If you’re reading plenty of runners’ blogs you know that the Boston bib numbers have been allocated. Apparently I ended up in corral 3, which is pretty far forward if you think about it. I can only hope I’ll be able to keep the pace realistic for the first few miles. When travelling thousands of miles to attend a race the last thing I want to do is ruin it with exuberance within the first two!

After feeling so great after my 22 mile on Tuesday, the very, very heavy legs on Wednesday came as a bit of a surprise. I wonder how much my fast last mile was responsible for this, but I guess the sheer distance and time on feet were more accountable. Taking it easy was the only option, and 8 miles at slower than 8:30 pace is what came out of it. On the plus side, the heart rate seemed to be dropping again.

There was still some fatigue in the hamstrings on Thursday, but not enough to stop me from attempting mile repeats. The schedule had them pencilled in for Wednesday, but of course running the 22 miler a day later than planned meant the entire week was a bit jumbled. I deliberated on the pace I should attempt; 10k pace was out of the question, as I had 6 repeats ahead of me, and half-marathon pace seemed a lot more sensible, so I guess about 6:30 should do the trick. As soon as I got up and had a peek out of the window I knew it was going to be a beautiful clear day, but at that time it was still foggy and there was even some frost on the ground. Maybe wearing a singlet was a bit daft, but I got away with it. When I checked the temperatures later it turned out that it had been no more than 4C/40F at 7 am, quite a contrast to the 18C/65F later in the day. Anyway, I managed to hit the pace on the flat or downhill miles, but unsurprisingly not on the uphill ones, and ended up with 6:35 pace on average. Considering that 2 weeks ago I had struggled to run 10k at 6:58 pace on the same course, I was happy enough with the outcome.

For today’s run I was back on the normal schedule, but not without hesitation. The plans was a but unclear, I was to run 15 miles in 3 faster 4.5 miles segments, but unless I missed it he (Ron Daws that is) never mentioned how fast those faster segments were supposed to be. I thought that progression run with the last 5 at marathon pace seemed reasonable enough, but that was purely my own guess. Since I had a tempo workout on Thursday I suspected that running fast again on Friday might not be the best idea, but since the pace was slower I decided to give it a go anyway. If in doubt I generally tend to opt for the tougher workout, not the smart one.

Anyway, I ran the first segment at 7:20 pace which felt incredibly easy, even considering that it was net-downhill. I sped up for the middle on and ended up with 7:03 pace, and since that had been net uphill it must have been pretty close to a marathon effort. I felt quiet tired after that, but had enough in my legs to give the third segment a good go. I did indeed manage to just about beat marathon goal pace with a 6:51, but the effort felt harder than one I expect to be able to hold for 26 miles. Of course I still have 4 weeks to get used to that pace, and on marathon day I hope the old race-day magic will kick in, but in all honesty at the moment I have my doubts about the sub-3 goal. I compared my recent training runs to the ones I did before Dublin and they don’t seem to be any better, maybe even a tad slower. While this doesn’t rule out a better effort on race day, it’s not a particularly good omen.

The day turned into a rather epic one when Niamh brought my bicycle to the repair man, and I ended up running to him after work to pick up my fixed bike. Despite feeling really stiff and sore early on and running at an easy effort, I somehow got faster and faster. The difference between morning and evening runs is absolutely amazing! Maybe they should start marathons at 5pm.

18 Mar
8 miles, 1:08:03, 8:30 pace, HR 133
19 Mar
10 miles, 1:13:02, 7:18 pace, HR 152
incl. 6xmile @ 6:29, 50, 31, 30, 54, 19 (6:35 avg)
20 Mar
am: 15 miles, 1:48:02, 7:12 pace, HR 157
   incl. 3x4.5 miles @ 7:20, 7:03, 6:51
pm: 4.55 miles, 34:42, 7:37 pace, HR 142

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Perfect Paddy's Day

After writing Sunday's entry about my great but strenuous 60/60 workout, Niamh and Lola announced that we would go for another walk in the woods like we had done a few weeks ago. This can be surprisingly tough, especially since I am the one carrying Maia on my back. We chose to walk Rosbeigh Mountain, and even though we never got lost, because we always knew where we were, we often didn't know which way to proceed, and out map turned out to be hopelessly outdated. We returned to the car after over 2 hours, and Cian especially was completely exhausted. It was another nice day with the family though.

The price I paid was very sore sore legs on Monday, just as expected. This would normally have been my long run day, but I had planned a 22 mile run, which would have necessitated a 4:35 alarm call. With Paddy's Day on Tuesday I decided to re-jig my schedule, and a 8 mile run allowed me to sleep in until 6:20. Oh the luxury! The legs were slow and heavy, and I felt surprisingly warm, especially once the sun rose above the horizon.

With that in mind I decided to wear a singlet on Tuesday. While it is technically still winter, the temperatures seemed to call for lighter garments. I didn't want to leave it too late and left the alarm at 6:20, but I woke just after 5:30, and when I was still awake 20 minutes later I got up and got ready. It was quite bright at 6:15 and I had a waning gibbous moon straight ahead of me, and even though it was chilly I knew that problem would not last.

I had been fairly apprehensive about the run because of the distance and started quite conservatively at 8:30 pace, but the climb up the hills went well and I knew I would be ok for the day. The sun joined me on my journey at 7 am, and the temperatures rose significantly. The first half of the run was very hilly, the second half merely undulating. I was really surprised by how fresh I felt. I stopped by our driveway at mile 16.5 for a few sips of water, and then took about half a mile to get back into my rhythm. Because of the length of the run I kept resisting the temptation of speeding up until the last 1.5 miles, when I finally let go of the breaks and did the last bit at 6:50 pace.

Niamh commented that I looked like I had merely run around the block, and that's pretty much how I felt. I could easily have run longer and/or faster. I guess there's nothing wrong with my endurance.

It was still a glorious day, not a cloud in the sky and hardly a breeze, and we set off for the Patrick's Day parade in Glenbeigh. Shea and Cian took part in this as part of their school and Niamh walked with them. I joined the spectators with Lola and Maia. The best thing about small-town parades is that they are over quickly, the kids got some sweets, and we were back home after two hours. For once I declined Niamh's offer for a long walk in the woods, and just stayed behind with Cian for some entertainment in the garden. A few ball games with the twins and a few cuddles with Maia rounded off the day. It couldn't have gone better.
16 Mar
8 miles, 1:06:31, 8:19 pace, HR 136
17 Mar
22 miles, 2:55:29, 7:58 pace, HR 146

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Working Out

When I asked for opinions at the end of my last post I should have known that I would get a rather wide array of answers. Thank you to everyone who took the time to write a comment; it just didn’t help me to make up my mind about that 10k. As Grellan pointed out there is actually a race in Beaufort next week, just about 10 miles from here, but I don’t have the brass neck to just turn up and run when I’m not eligible. As for what I would like to get out of one more race, the answer is one final fitness boost before the marathon. Races are excellent workouts, and I can always feel an effect afterwards, be it lower HR or faster subsequent training times.

My legs felt surprisingly fresh on Friday morning as I set off for my 18 mile run. I started out at measured pace, laboured up the big hill, and then just stared feeling better and better. I gradually improved the pace without even noticing, and was pleasantly surprised by my 10-mile split. I put some extra effort into the next few miles that ended up at 7:21 pace, and then ran the last 3 miles at a strong effort coming up with 6:51 pace. For once an effort like that actually yielded faster than marathon goal pace, if only by the smallest of margins. I seemed to get into really good shape at the start of February, but the illness I contracted just then set me back by a significant amount. I think I am finally getting back into that shape, which would be just in time. If things keep improving I’ll probably be at my peak fitness just in time for the marathon. Anyway, I was quite happy with that run, but my quads were very sore for the rest of the day.

Because that soreness was still there on Saturday I started wondering if I had overdone things after the race. I know I didn’t do any real recovery workouts, but I have never done those, and I have always recovered in reasonable time. My run on Saturday was very slow and short, but didn’t alleviate the feeling in the legs. However, I must have a really short memory, because when I felt better on Sunday morning I went ahead with the next 60/60 session as if nothing had been wrong. It was a beautiful morning, and while the temperature of 8C/46F wasn’t exactly balmy I decided to wear a singlet for the first time this year. The wind was still a factor, but nowhere near as strong as it had been in the past week. I had felt slightly apprehensive before the run, but felt surprisingly good at the start of the first interval. The first half of the run was into the wind but with a net downhill, the second half saw be battling uphill but with the wind at my back, and those two elements seemed to cancel each other out. Of course I got tired, and I could have sworn the 10th repeat was way too slow, but when I checked the Garmin I as still doing 5:3x pace. I had never done more than 13, but since I was still on pace I kept going on. Unfortunately I ran out of road after the 15th, because that’s where a big hill awaits. Only afterwards did I realise that I could have turned around and done at least one more repeat going the other way, but at the time my oxygen-starved brain wasn’t capable of producing bright ideas like that, so I stopped after 15 repeats. I was really happy with that workout, I had done more repeats than ever before at a faster pace than ever before, and I still felt like I could have done some more. Maybe the sickness in February prevented me from peaking early. At the moment I feel better every week, and while I’m pretty sure I would not be able to run a 2:59 marathon right now I am hopeful that the next 5 weeks will bring sufficient improvements to do exactly that.
13 Mar
18 miles, 2:18:04, 7:40 pace, HR 150
4 miles @ 7:21 pace, last 3 @ 6:51
14 Mar
6 miles, 49:41, 8:16 pace, HR 138
15 Mar
8.5 miles, 1:03:01, 7:25 pace, HR 158
incl 15x60/60 (5:37 avg)

Weekly mileage: 73.5

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Use and Abuse

Of course I still have Sunday's race in the legs, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'll take it easy. If you've been reading this blog for a while, that won't come as much of a surprise to you.

The legs felt stiff and heavy when I left the house Wednesday morning for my workout. Last week I had tried a 10k time trial and was less than pleased with the result. After some deliberation I decided to attempt 3x2 miles at roughly the same pace. I knew that Sunday's race would have an impact on the legs, and I gave myself permission to bail out any time. During the warm-up I wasn't particularly looking forward to the faster part, but when it started it actually felt ok. The first pace segment was with the wind at my back, and I managed 6:36 pace, which I was quite pleased with. The second was half with the wind and half against it and yielded 6:44. which actually came as a pleasant surprise because I had expected a lot worse. The third segment saw me battling the wind and mounting fatigue, and if there were such a thing as a helpline for abused legs they would have dialled the number at that point. I managed to complete it in 6:58, which meant that I had run those 6 miles a good bit faster than last week, albeit with half-mile breaks in-between. But with the race still in my legs, this was a much better workout than I had dared to hope for. I know I had gotten slower with each segment, but if you take the wind into account, it would explain a lot of the difference.

My training paces are always slower than you would predict from my race results. I prefer to look at it from the other side: my race results are better than my training paces would predict. That's something I can definitely live with, I just have to learn not to have an eye on the training pace all the time.

Despite being sore all day yesterday I did notice a marked improvement in the legs for today's easy run. It looks like I have recovered from the worst bits of fatigue from the race, despite my workouts. I think my heart rate has dropped slightly as well, which is a normal post-race effect.

I was hoping to run another race before Boston, but it's not looking good. There is a 10k in Limerick next week, but I just found out that it's on Saturday, which makes it impossible for me to attend because either Niamh or me will have to drive the twins to Cork that day and the other one has to mind Cian and Maia. The only other race within reach is in Cork on 5 April, but I don't think running a 10k two weeks before the marathon would be a good idea. What do you think?
11 Mar
10 miles, 1:13:14, 7:19 pace, HR 158
incl. 3x2 miles @ 6:36, 6:44, 6:58
12 Mar
8 miles, 1:04:40, 8:05 pace, HR 139

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Analyse That

I guess 10 miles races are long enough to deserve a bit of an analysis. I didn’t get round to connecting my Garmin to the computer on Sunday, and I got a real surprise when I finally caught up on Monday. Have a look at it.

Firstly, you can ignore the HR reading over the first mile and a bit, that’s a false reading that happens when the contacts aren’t moist. Secondly, you can see the slow pace at the start. The first quarter had an average pace of 7:20, at least a minute per mile slower than what I would have run on an open road. And since I still had to weave around plenty of people after that point I estimate that the start cost me about 20 seconds. Not enough to get anywhere near my mallow time, but I most likely would have ended up under 64 minutes. Ah well, never mind.

But what really struck me was that HR spike at 3.5 miles. If you remember the race report you can see that I actually noticed something funny happening to my heart at that point. I had no idea this actually showed up on the HR monitor. I googled for tachycardia and hear rate spikes, and the answers are reasonably reassuring, so I don’t think I’m about to drop dead. As I’ve mentioned, this has happened before, but never during a race, and I did have a medical check-up that came up blank. I have no idea what exactly is going on, but I honestly think it’s not as serious as it sounds.

Anyway, the other bit of information I gathered from the data is that I did not run hard enough! I know the HR is not an exact replication of effort, but the average HR of 176 in Mallow was significantly higher than the 172 in Ballycotton, and I can only conclude that I could have pushed an ounce harder. My easiest mile was the fifth, for which I actually have an excuse because I was sheltering from the wind behind a group. Apart from that, most miles should have been a tad harder. I only pushed hard enough on the last 2.

There were some photos as well. I didn’t spot myself at the start, but with 2500 other runners on a narrow street that’s not very surprising. I found one with about half a mile to go, which won’t win a prize for beauty. Well, I was redlining at the time. There was also an official photographer at the finish, where you can see me with the two guys I had just outsprinted. According to the SportTracks software I was doing about 4:40 pace at the time. It looks like I have finally acquired a finishing kick; all those 30/30 workouts have gained me two places on Sunday.

Following the possibly flawed theory that running on tired legs builds your endurance I went out for 15 miles on Monday. I chickened out of doing 20, but resisted the temptation of cutting it even further. Richard had made a comment on Sunday that my bed must be really uncomfortable, otherwise I would never get up so early. Well, that night Maia had been with us since 4 o’clock, and if you have to share a pillow with a thrashing toddler then getting up at 5:30 gets a lot easier, I can assure you. I was labouring badly up the steep hills, and the wind up there was less than inviting, but at least it wasn’t raining at the time. That came at the halfway mark, and for the next 2 miles I was distinctly cold and uncomfortable. I did question what I was doing, and I wondered how many other runners of Sunday’s race were stupid enough to be out and about at this time of morning. I felt a lot better once the rain subsided and had enough willpower to speed up over the last 4 miles, but not enough muscle fibres to do better than 7:25 pace. Coming home was a massive relief, though.

I finally got my recovery run today with 8 easy miles, again ever so slightly compromised by the wind and the odd rain shower. We’ve had it easy, weather wise, in February, and now it’s payback time. According to the weather forecast the worst is already behind us, but it didn’t feel like that today. The legs are as stiff and tired as I expected them to be. Tomorrow’s effort level will depend on how I’ll feel in the morning.
9 Mar
15 miles, 1:59:54, 7:59 pace, HR 146
last 4 @ 7:25 pace
10 Mar
8 miles, 1:05:05, 8:08 pace, HR 141

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Things We Do for Fun

After much deliberation I eventually decided to run 12 miles on Friday, and to run them as a progression run. The first 4 miles were very easy, which eventually turned out to be 8:02 pace. The middle 4 miles were at a better effort and came up at 7:42, though quite a bit of that was uphill., The last 4 miles, still net uphill came out at 7:03 effort, which isn't bad, but I ran them at a higher level than marathon effort, I think, and of course they came out a good bit slower than my goal pace. Never mind.

A parcel arrived during Friday, containing two new pairs of shoes, including a pair of Nike Lunaracers. I had been using a pair of Lunatrainers for a while, and was keen to give the racers a shot, after my previous racers had reached the end of their useful life. I took them out for an easy spin on Saturday, to test if I could wear them on Sunday. The run was fine, the shoes felt good, and I was on for the race.

My recent race preparation includes 3 easy miles in the morning, and I got up reasonably early on Sunday. I managed to wait out a hail storm followed by very heavy rain, and managed to squeeze in my run between two sets of truly nasty conditions. I set off in good time, the weather seemed to improve a bit on my way to Cork, and met Grellan and his neighbour, Pat. Grellan was kind enough to give us all a lift to Ballycotton. The wind there was blowing rather strongly, it was biting cold, and we knew it would not be a particularly easy day. After plenty of waiting around, we went for a warm up. With 15 minutes to go, Grellan went to the start line, but a call to nature delayed me for another 5 minutes. This turned out to be crucial. By the time I approached the start area, a wall of people blocked my way from way back. I followed two more guys who were pushing their way towards the front. Eventually, there were no more gaps to squeeze through, and I was stuck well behind where I wanted to be. I could see Grellan and Brendan well ahead of me, but there was no way to get closer.

The start came soon enough, and it took me 30 seconds to cross the line. The first minute was ridiculous, I was squashed in the crowd, and could not run properly. There were so many others around me, and dozens of morons who had started way ahead of where the should have been. Eventually a few gaps appeared and I managed to speed up. By the half way mile I was pretty much at the pace I was hoping to do. I expected Brendan and Grellan to be so far ahead of me that I would not see them again until the end, but was very surprised to catch up with Grellan just before the first mile mark. We exchanged a few words, and eventually I pulled slightly ahead. As I passed the one mile marker, a guy shouted out the times, and I passed just after 7 minutes. Unlike last year I remembered that I had crossed the start line after a delay, and my net time was just a bit slower than 6:30. By now I had a reasonably free road, and the second mile is the most downhill one, but I did start to notice the strong headwind. It was at that point that I noticed a guy in a white singlet with green and black striped across; we seemed to trade places regularly, as we sped past dozens of slower runners who had started ahead of us. Mile 2 went by in about 6:15, giving me an average pace of 6:25 so far. The next mile continued in much the same way, but the wind really started to bother me. What became clear very quickly that I was slower than in Mallow 2 months ago, but faster than in Ballycotton last year.

I took a drink at the first water station, and must have slowed down, because that's where I lost contact with the guy in the striped singlet. I wondered if I should keep up, but I was already pretty much at the edge. This became very clear when all of a sudden I felt rather odd. It's like my heart just went into overdrive. I was a bit worried; I've had tachycardia before, but never during a run like this. I changed the view of my Garmin to display the heart rate, which came up as 172, certainly not very high. This seemed to reassure me enough to basically forget about it and continue with the race.

With the headwind so strong, I found it basically impossible to keep up the pace. The average pace started slipping, until it reached about 6:30 by the halfway mark. I was still passing people, and eventually I caught up with a group containing Mary Sweeney, a local running legend. I started drafting behind her and her fellow runners. I felt I could have run a tad faster, but it did not seem worthwhile the extra effort in the wind. By the halfway mark we would turn out of the wind, and then it would be coming from behind. I could hardly wait, but until then I was content to sit and wait. Eventually we turned a corner, where Mary got her customary ovation from spectators. I mentioned to her that it must be great to have so many fans, which she agreed on, and then I was ahead and on the way towards the finish.

I heard a runner approaching from behind, and was absolutely convinced that it was Grellan. However, when he drew level it turned out to be someone else, though Grellan later confirmed that he was very close behind and actually saw me looking around. This was just about the only runner who had passed me for a long time, though I think I managed to re-pass him later on. At about the 6-mile mark I took my secret weapon, a gel. This seemed to have worked well in Mallow, and I tried to replicate this. While I was waiting for the boost to kick in I passed the 10k mark in about 40:20, which was slightly disappointing, about a minute slower than in Mallow.

Whether it was the gel or something else, but I started feeling better. By mile 6 I had thought that there must be easier ways to get a mug, by mile 7 I was doing a lot better. The average pace had become faster again, to 6:26. That mile contained a few downhill parts, and on each of those I flew past a few more runners. This is something I have always done. I gain on the downhills, and I used to lose on the climbs. By now I have worked on my climbing strength; I am still able to run the downhills better than most, but I'm now able to keep my position on the uphill sections. Anyway, at one point someone I had just overtaken said something like “I'm going to hitch a ride”. I wasn't able to respond, but didn't mind the company. He didn't manage to stay with me for half a mile, though.

One of the guys I passed was the runner in the white singlet with the green and black stripes, who had pulled away from me 4 miles earlier. That little victory pleased me no end.

The 8 mile marker came earlier than I thought. Normally that's a good sign, but it was also the beginning of the section that I dreaded most. The 9th mile is a bitch, with a steep uphill, and several more smaller ones. However, I could smell the finish, and I had a new target, namely to beat 65 minutes, not just on chip time but also on gun time, which would be about 64:30 chip time. I was still on target, but with the climbs ahead this was less than assured. I gave as much as I could, and I still managed to overtake a few more runners. This was where I had caught up with Brendan last year, but I knew very well that I would see no sign of him today. But, I managed to keep on pace, and that was all that mattered to me.

With one mile to go, I thought our places were pretty much settled, but I heard footsteps approaching from behind. I managed to hold the guy off for a while, and the even higher effort meant I gained another place. But I could not prevent the runner from passing me eventually. With about a quarter of a mile to go I thought I could not possibly gain another place, but I started running like a madman. To my surprise I gained on the guys ahead, and managed to pass not just one but two other runners. The only one of that group who stayed ahead was the guy who had just overtaken me, and I crossed the line at 64:48 on the clock, with a chip time of 64:19. I was a bit disappointed to be over a minute slower than in Mallow. The congestion at the start certainly cost some time, but not enough to make up for the time difference.

One guy came up to me, thanking me for pulling him and his friend along. You're very welcome, mate, but in all honesty I was only looking after myself today.

Results are here. (Looks like a lost a place since the first, unofficial results. I used to be 199th, now I'm 200th)

Grellan came in half a minute later. He thought he had broken 65 minutes, but the official results have him at 65 on the dot. I wonder what he said when he saw that. Brendan, on the other hand, had a chip time of 61:39. Wow! Congratulations, mate! Richard caught up with us and took some photos. Looks like we had some fun.

6 Mar
12 miles, 1:31:29, 7:36 pace, HR 149
incl. 3x4 miles at 8:02, 7:42, 7:03
7 Mar
5 miles, 39:40, 7:56 pace, HR 145
8 Mar
17+ miles, incl:
Ballycotton 10, 1:04:19, 6:25 pace, HR 172
199th out of 2398

Weekly Mileage: 80+
Edited Monday morning to get rid of the worst of the grammatical violations. Writing a race report at 10 o'clock at night does not yield brilliant prose, apparently.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

No Tempo

I don’t quite remember how this started, but ever since last year tempo runs and me don’t mix. We just don’t see eye-to-eye, metaphorically speaking. I’ve ranted and raved enough about this by now, and I guess I’ll spare you this time round. Let’s just state that my tempo runs aren’t tempo runs any more, and I’m not entirely sure how to fix this.

Sure, I’ve got the usual excuses. It was early on Wednesday, about 6:30 local time, and early morning hours aren’t conductive to fast running. Plus, the weather didn’t exactly help. In the middle of the warm-up, I started hearing precipitation fall against the trees and for several seconds couldn’t quite figure out why I wasn’t wet from the rain yet, until I finally realised that it was snowing, not raining. According to the weather pages the wind was at gale force levels, and I could never quite figure out where it came from – it usually seemed to come head on, of course. Oh, and it started hail stoning when I was about half a mile away from home, which is why I ended up with 9.9 miles. I did not feel like adding an extra 0.1 miles in those conditions just to get to a round number.

Anyway, I recently did start to worry about an important component missing from my training, namely sustained hard(ish) efforts. I did 2 or 3 runs at marathon effort and some short tempo runs before the hill sprints, but that was it, and it’s not a lot. The training schedule finally included a 10k time trial this week, but I was left wondering at what effort level that should be run. It was never going to be 10k race pace, I simply can’t do that without a number pinned to my chest. I always thought that tempo runs should be run at half-marathon pace, which would be 6:30 according to my PR, but I have run a 10-miler at 6:18 pace 2 months ago, which probably means that my HM PR is a bit soft. Never mind, I can’t seem to hit 6:30 in a training run, so I decided to run mainly by feel, and ideally the HR should be somewhere in the 160s.

What I ended up was 6:40 during the first half, and a big slowdown due to wind, snow, hills, fatigue and probably laziness on the second half, and I ended up with 6:58 average pace for the 10k segment, which is even slower than the planned marathon pace. Slightly worried I checked last year’s log, and was re-assured to find similar paces during the Dublin build-up. At the very least I don’t seem to have slowed down. I might break next week’s tempo run into 2 shorter segments (that’s what I did last year, even though I hated the break in the middle), and I’m thinking about swapping the tempo and speed sessions, i.e. do the speed sessions on Wednesday and the tempos on Sunday, because on Sunday I tend to run 2 hours later in the day, and the legs just feel so different. I do wonder if I should try and run a tempo run after work once a week, rather than do my entire running in the early morning. How I would do that without impacting on my family life I don't know, though. And let’s be clear, family will always come first.

Niamh refused to let my cycle to work because of the weather, and absolutely insisted on driving me. I didn’t think it was quite that bad, but gave in.

Today’s easy run was unremarkable. The weather forecast was bad, and I woke a few times in the night from the wind and rain but got lucky during the run. It remained dry until mile 6, and it only started raining more heavily on the last mile, which I can endure. This time I had to cycle to work, though.
4 Mar
9.9 miles, 1:12:59, 7:22 pace, HR 154
incl. 10k @ 6:58 pace, HR 162
5 Mar
8 miles, 1:07:07, 8:23 pace, HR 138

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Back Home

I guess I’m a creature of habit, which is why I don’t even think about getting up early each day any more; I just do it. Being back home in Caragh Lake provided me with my usual roads, which I found comforting. It struck me on Monday that for the last 5 days I had run in different areas of the country each day: Thursday Cork, Friday Kerry, Saturday Cork, Sunday Dublin, Monday Kerry. I don’t particularly want to repeat the insane amount of travel that happened between each of these runs ever again.

With the Ballycotton 10 miler being on Sunday, I did hesitate on the mileage for Monday’s long run. The original plan had said 20 and the revised one 18, but the last thing I did on Sunday evening was to set the alarm for 4:50, time for 20 miles. Things got a bit more complicated when Maia woke as I got ready and I had to spend some time preparing a bottle and settling her back in her cot; I thought I probably wouldn’t have time for 20 miles and would end up doing 18 or 19 after all.

Since I had turned Saturday’s planned easy run into a tempo workout I couldn’t help but wonder how my legs would hold up.

I set off into the very dark night. In marked contrast to all the runs in Cork it was dead still; I did not encounter another human being for the next 2 hours. The weather wasn’t great with plenty of wind and the occasional rain shower, which is never a good combination. But the legs held up much better than they did the previous Monday, and when I reached our driveway after 15 miles I decided to go for the entire 20 miles and to put some extra effort into the final 5. I started that last section at around 7:30 pace but surprisingly managed to gradually increase it until I ended up with an average pace of 7:22 for the last 5 miles, 7:47 pace for the entire run. That’s a decent improvement to last week, but definitely not yet where I want to be.

Cycling to and from work was a chore, with the tired legs and the increasingly strong wind. At times like that I really want to buy a new car, but the journey is over after 20 minutes and then I’m happy enough with my bike again.

I took it really easy today, my first easy run in a few days, and something I really needed. For once I didn’t have to keep an eye on the Garmin to ensure that I wouldn’t speed up unnecessarily, the legs dictated the pace and the rest followed. I should have worn long sleeves though; the temperature of 3C/37 F would have warranted that, especially as the wind was definitely picking up again. One day I’ll learn.

I still haven’t quite decided yet how much I am prepared to compromise the marathon training for Sunday’s race. I’ll definitely do a time trial tomorrow; the question remains how long I should run on Friday. On a normal week this would be 18 miles. I’ll definitely cut this to 15 at most, but I’m thinking about doing no more than 10 or 12. Decisions, decisions.
2 Mar
20 miles, 2:35:34, 7:47 pace, HR 152
last 5 @ 7:22 pace
3 Mar
8 miles, 1:06:56, 8:22 pace, HR 140

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Magic Insoles

I'm writing this text in Dublin on my fancy new netbook with Maia sitting on my lap, so I'm a bit distracted. If my thoughts seem disjointed, you know why.

Niamh took a plane to Dublin on Friday evening with Cian and Maia, leaving me in sole charge of the twins. They had to attend their classes in Cork on Saturday, and that's where we drove the following morning. While they spent their 2 hours in UCC I took the opportunity to go for my run. I headed towards the Lough, which I knew from the marathon. I figured that a loop around some water should be a lot flatter than the rest of Cork's roads. Grellan once told me that amongst Cork runners a loop around the Lough equates to one mile, but my Garmin came up with less than 0.7 miles – sorry, guys! I didn't know if there was an etiquette towards the direction you're supposed to run and chose to run counter-clockwise. I met two runners who did it the other way, a girl running fairly slow, and a guy running a lot faster, and from his heavy breathing and the pained expression on his face I figured he was on a hard tempo run. This was supposed to be my easy day and I tried not to get sucked into an imaginary race, but the legs did have a mind of their own and gradually increased the pace with each loop.

Since we would not be heading home after the twins' classes and I was planning some speed work for Sunday, I only brought my racers; Saturday was my first ever “slow” run in flats, and somehow the feet seemed to turn over much quicker, without me telling them to do so. Maybe they put some magic insoles into those shoes, but I found it impossible to slow down. After 7 loops around the Lough it was time to head back to UCC. The fast guy was still doing his tempo run, I guess at about 7:00 pace. Top marks for effort, man! Personally I found it hard to run even 7 loops, from a psychological point of view.

When I was back at the car I realised that I had averaged 7:17 pace – I had done the fastest run of the week on what was supposed to be the easiest day! My first thought was that Ewen and Mike are going to give me grief for this – and that they would be absolutely right. But don't blame me, blame the magic insoles!

When Niamh had explained her plan of flying to Dublin, she apologised for making me miss my weekend runs because nobody would be there to mind the kids. Luckily I figured I could run in Cork on Saturday, and then I had the ingenious idea of driving to Dublin straight from Cork, thus enabling me to get a run on Sunday see my new niece. Everyone seemed to agree that this was a great idea, and we arrived at Nana's and Gaga's at about 7:30, not too late.

In the meantime, Ireland had beaten England at rugby at the historically loaded venue of Croke Park. As the coach said in his interview afterwards, every day you beat England is a good day!

I missed today's 10k race in Adare, but at least I was able to run a 60/60. I programmed the Garmin for 15 repeats, but that is only the max, not necessarily the correct number I'll end up doing. I wondered how much yesterday's much-too-fast run and the 5 hours in the car had cost me, but the things that bothered me most were dodging walkers with dogs and crossing a road. It felt a bit strange, I never felt like the legs were moving as fast than they should, but on the the other hand I felt pretty good for the first 10 repeats. Things deteriorated very, very quickly after that, though, and when the 13th was markedly slower than the previous ones I called it a day. Not one of my better workouts, for various reasons. Not even the magic insoles could save me today.

We're driving back to Kerry tonight, and I hope for a spell of uninterrupted training for a few weeks. There is still room for improvement in my running, which I will need to fill if I want to break 3 hours, and especially for anaerobic workouts I feel the need for my familiar routes in Caragh Lake, otherwise I can't seem to do them.
28 Feb
6 miles, 43:42, 7:17 pace, HR 158
1 Mar
9.4 miles, 1:11:33, 7:37 pace, HR 156
incl 13x60/60 (5:52 avg)

Weekly Mileage: 86.7
February Mileage: 235.5