Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On the Road Again

Well, I can only report one very short run of four miles yesterday morning, and after three miles the feeling in my quads reminded me of the 15th mile in Boston. I was glad to be home again after just over half an hour. Private sent me this link for an example of a post-marathon recovery. I have basically skipped the first week, and now I'm vaguely following the second one, which is why I took today off again. There will be 5 miles tomorrow, and very few miles in the days afterwards. Then I'll see. I do have plans.

Since there is nothing to tell about my running, I have a few titbits to show. The first thing is a video of me and Shea in Trabolgan. I know you can't see it, but this really is a video of me and Shea. You'll have to take my word for it.

And then there was the twins' birthday party. Niamh made two cakes, and this time she has truly surpassed herself. Those are genuinely made by her, no professionals involved. Unsurprisingly, the boys loved Sepron the Sea Serpent, while the nameless princess one was the girls' favourite. They didn't just look good, they also tasted yummy, which is why my weight keeps ballooning. Let's hope they are right when they say the pounds will come off once you're back into training. This didn't happen after Dublin, but maybe I'll have more luck this time.
28 Apr
4 miles, 33:38, 8:24 pace, HR 149

Monday, April 27, 2009

Short Update

I cannot believe it is already seven days since the Boston marathon. Since then I have managed to run exactly zero miles as I’m ever so slowly recovering. I generally seem to recover rather quickly from marathons, but this one has taken its toll. My quads are STILL sore when I get up from a chair; it’s a sign just how much my legs had been torn apart on those downhills.

There have been a few photos of me on the course courtesy of Mike and Jeanne, as well as the official ones. Jeanne was also nice enough to send me some more, one of which is my favourite:

Jeanne's reward for putting my name on a sign is to get a big sweaty hug from a smelling runner at mile 23.

Thanks to Davey the Clown for taking it and Jeanne for emailing it on to me.

We spent the weekend in Trabolgan, a family holiday village in county Cork where we celebrated the twins’ birthday. There were so many things to do that we had 48 hours of non-stop action and still not managed to do all the things they wanted to do. I even joined Shea in climbing a 33 feet high tower, and then do a zipwire off it. Stepping into the void was the scariest thing I had ever done since … actually I think it was the scariest thing ever, but once you realise the rope is actually going to hold, it’s great!

I saw some of the footage of Sunday’s London marathon and really felt the urge to go out and run another marathon myself. When I mentioned that to Niamh I got one of her looks, combined with the dry remark that she doesn’t feel the urge to go through childbirth again when she sees that on TV. I guess the implication was that she thinks I’m nuts. What’s new.

I still haven’t caught up on the sleep I missed on the journey home from Boston, and getting up at 5:45 today because we had to drop Niamh off at Cork and drive home in time for the kids’ school and my work means that I’m wrecked today. I won’t set my alarm tomorrow, but if I wake up early I’ll go for my first run in 8 days, otherwise I’ll delay for at least another 24 hours.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Detailed Breakdown

I’m back home in Caragh Lake, very tired after a night basically without sleep (a few minutes on the plane and the bus was all I managed). Tomorrow I have to be back at work (oh joy!) and life returns back to normal. Well, at least to what goes under normal in our manic six-people household.

It’s almost exactly 48 hours since I finished the race, and I’ve had plenty of time to think about it. Thanks for all those comments, I loved reading every single one of them. They gave me some additional pointers to chew.

Basically, I’m at peace with my performance. Now that I know the course and the fact that my quads were not ready to withstand the downhills I realise that sub-3 simply was not possible. I think I pretty much had the best race I was able to produce. Pulling the emergency breaks before the 15 mile mark (I thought it was a mile earlier, but I’m going by the Garmin’s chart now) was the right thing to do. As quite a few have pointed out, a 10 minute positive split was by no means a bad performance on Monday. I felt bad during the second half, in a lot of pain, and to run a 1:40 half marathon over the Newton hills on destroyed legs isn’t bad. Very few runners managed to run even splits; I can only congratulate them on a very good race, and they are very much the exception. The only one amongst runners I've met who DID have a good race was Mark - and he has permanent access to the course itself. Coincidence? I don't think so.

I forgot to mention the headwind in my report, mainly because it wasn’t responsible for my troubles. But there is no doubt that it was a factor. I hardly felt it during the first 10k but it became a lot worse afterwards. Apparently we had to deal with a constant breeze of 20 mph, not that I can verify that number. I also felt distinctly cold at times, and that takes a lot of cooling. There was no place to hide from it, all we could do was to suck it up and go on. It’s difficult to say how much time it cost me, but certainly not the 5 minutes I was off my PR.

My 5k splits during the first half were excellent, even if I say so myself. The figures are 21:15, 21:18, 21:23, 21:10, 21:54, 23:45, 25:19 (ouch) and 24:43. I had run well within myself during the first half, which is why I managed to keep the first 4 figures so close to each other. The slowest part of the course were the Newton Hills, of course. The listed 5k figures don’t include the last 2+k to the finish where I had managed to speed up again to 22:44 5k pace, not great, but a lot faster than the previous part. I take solace from these figures. They are not a disaster, and the way I was feeling at mile 16 I would have taken that gladly. I managed to salvage a half-decent performance from what could have been a complete wreck.

The post-marathon amnesia must have set in already. When Niamh said that next time she will come with me I didn’t even bat an eyelid. I don’t think it will be 2010, but I have that nagging feeling that Boston and me are not done with each other just yet.

So, what’s next? Well, for a start I won’t be running for a few days. We’ll be in Trabolgan next weekend which will more or less coincide with the twins’ eight birthday, and I won’t be bringing my running gear. After that I’ll see when I want to start running again, and that’s when I pick it up again.

Originally I thought I’d run Longford as my next marathon if I don’t break 3 hours in Boston. As far as I know it’s the only flat marathon in Ireland, and possibly my only hope of achieving that target. However, I’m presently leaning towards running Dingle early September, and I’m having dangerous thoughts of running Dublin as well, just 6 weeks and 2 days later. Hmm. As I’ve said, post-marathon amnesia must have set in already.

In conclusion I have to say that I had a fantastic weekend in Boston, and no regrets about anything. The hospitality that my hosts showed towards me was incredible; those people were great ambassadors for Americans, or at least Bostonians. Thank you so much. It was great to meet Mike, Michael, Hicham (very briefly), Mark and Jeanne. Thanks for everything. As that fellow countryman of mine used to say, I’ll be back.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It Chews You Up and Spits You Out

At mile 17 or 18 I thought I would call today's race report “Never Again”, but as you all know, this is never true. Mike and I came up with a few more titles on the way back home, including “Live and Learn”, “Live and Forget” and a few more that I can't remember due to post-marathon dementia. But I settled on the description of what the course is going to do to you, because that's exactly what the course did to me.

After the usual restless pre-marathon night we got ready, and got to Hopkinton in good time. The best tip I had gotten all day was to use the bathroom before entering the buses, I would have been in real trouble otherwise. We split when entering the corrals; I tried to catch the elite women's start but only got a glimpse of them heading off. I started in the middle of corral 3; it took about one minute to cross the start line, and we got up to pace fairly quickly, not too surprising on that steep downhill start. I knew all about starting conservatively and taking it easy on the downhills. I jogged the first few miles, the HR was in the low 160s, certainly pretty much where I would want it to be on your usual marathon. On the uphill stretches I kept checking the Garmin, and slowed down judiciously whenever the HR was too high, not particularly caring about the fact that people kept passing me whenever I did so.

However, I never felt good. My stomach was unsettled, and the legs just were not right. I have done plenty of marathons before (today was my ninth), and I know that it sometimes can take a while to find your rhythm. The pace was good though, and actually kept going down. On the Garmin it went as low as 6:45, but I have learned to add about 3 seconds per mile to that to get your official pace; I reached 10k in 42:23, 6:49 pace, which is what I thought you should aim for if you're heading for a sub-3 marathon. I took my first gel at that point, but unfortunately it seemed to really upset my already dodgy stomach. I stopped drinking Gatorade, and took water at miles 7 and 8, and eventually I felt better. This turned out to be my best stretch. The course is flat for several miles at that stage, and I managed to keep my pace and still felt reasonably fine in the legs while doing so. I certainly did not think that I had overdone it on the first few downhill miles, and I was reasonably optimistic that I might have a good race, even if the sub-3 was still a high-hanging fruit.

By mile 11 or 12 I got more pains in my stomach, and this time it felt like hunger pangs. Since I had not really eaten since 6am, this was of course possible. Despite having earlier decided not to take any more gels I took one, more to put something into my stomach than getting some carbs. I again took water at the next opportunity, and it seemed to work.

I already knew what would come next, and I heard the siren calls from half a mile away. Wellesley all-girl college is known as the tunnel of noise, and it is nothing like you have ever experienced. I tried to tune them out, but got sucked into it and started giving high-fives, but at least resisted temptation to stop for a kiss, despite the open invitations. The screams were so loud that my ears started ringing – no exaggeration. It seemed to go on forever, but eventually I reached the end of the noise. I glanced at the Garmin, and was astonished to see that I had been suckered into running 6:10 pace. Of course I slowed down immediately, but I knew that I might just have f*cked up my race.

I reached the halfway point in 1:29:38, 6:50 pace, the fastest half-distance mark I had ever set in a marathon. However, this still only gave me a 22 seconds cushion, and with the much tougher second half ahead of me I already knew that sub-3 was not on the cards today. However, I was taken completely by surprise by what happened next, and especially how quickly it happened. Within half a mile after crossing the halfway mark my legs started wobbling with every step. I was afraid they would buckle completely, and seemed to have given up the ghost. With supreme effort I was still able to stay on pace, but I knew immediately that this was not sustainable, and started thinking on my feet.

It would have been possible to keep the pace going for another 2 or 3 miles, but then I would have been completely and utterly out of it, and might even have to drop out of the race. I had not come from thousands of miles away to record a DNF, and running myself into the ground was too stupid even for me. I decided the only sensible course of action was to slow down right here and now, and jog towards the finish, however long this would take. I knew I was in for a long hard day, but was determined to make the most of it and take in the incredible atmosphere of the hundreds of thousand of spectators. You could say I was trying to enjoy the occasion, but enjoyment is rather relative when you're in agony.

The next few miles were bad. There is no other way of putting it. Runners kept streaming past me. I thought how many places I would lose between here and the end, 1000, 2000, maybe even 3000? Never mind, I wasn't running for place. I felt embarrassed about my performance. It's perfectly ok to blow up on the hills, but to have your race over and done with before the hills even start is bad. I thought I was in the worst pain ever, but then remembered that the Connemara Ultra had reduced me to 12-minute miles at one point last year, so it must have been worse then. I just had forgotten about it.

When I first started slowing down I thought I might still salvage a personal best, but within half a mile I knew that was out of question. I had slowed down to somewhere around 7:30 pace, and I knew I would slow down more later on, on the hills and on the last few miles. By the time we reached the first hill at Newton Lower Falls I was mightily relieved to be running uphill for a change, because my quads hurt less on the climbs. To my big surprise I actually started overtaking runners again here. Apparently others were suffering even worse than me. That's some sort of consolation, I guess. At one point I realised there was still over an hour of running left, which was rather hard to take; an hour of agony is not something to cherish.

Then the three Newton hills came in succession, culminating in Heartbreak Hill. Since I was basically jogging, the climbs were all manageable, but the downhills hurt, even though the pace at roughly 7:00 was fairly decent. After passing the top of Heartbreak at a Tudor Mansion (Thomas' mansion, as Michael insisted on calling it during our recce on Saturday) we came to Boston College, where the noise reached Wellesley levels, but sadly (or luckily) the spectators there were not nearly as pretty, and I didn't feel the urge to high-five them.

I kept counting down the miles, and by now there were only 5 left, a mere fifth of the marathon. I really wanted to walk, but I thought I would not be able to start running again, and walking 5 miles to the finish was the last thing I wanted to do. Better get that thing over with as soon as possible. Then I remembered that Jeanne would be somewhere around mile 22 or 23, and I started to look out for her. This was actually a very good thing to do, because it took my mind off the agony in my legs. Most of this mile was downhill and passed reasonably quickly. I even seemed to overtake more runners than were passing me. The sheer number of runners in trouble is a clear sign just how brutal that course is. Just as I was starting to worry that I might have missed her, I spotted Jeanne with a sign (my name on a sign. How sweet! Thank you!) I ran up to her and gave her a big hug. I wanted to say something, but no words came out, and I was off again. Later she told me that she had also been at the halfway mark, but I had been so much in my own bubble that I had not noticed a thing.

Disappearing into my own little world is something I do during marathons, and I actually managed to pretty much tune out the crowd from here on. This is quite a feat with the noise, the spectators standing 5 deep and shouting at the top of their voices, but it all became background noise to me. I had actually recovered a bit by now. That's a bonus of my heavy training mileage, I have the ability to pull through a low patch and eventually come back to run stronger again. I spotted the famous Citgo sign from very far away. It disappeared again, but then came into view, and then we spent a mile slowly, very slowly, drawing closer. Somewhere between miles 24 and 25 I took another sip of Gatorade when someone started talking to me. I looked to my left, and there was Michael. I was totally taken aback, he had looked fit and ready on Saturday, and I had expected him to be finished, showered and fed by now. Instead he had an even worse run than me, and he told me to push on, he'd finish a minute or two behind me.

There were 1.5 miles left, and somehow, against all odds, I actually got back on pace again, agony or not. I could smell the finish. A few runners that had been around me for the first half, and that had pulled away when I slowed down, came back to me and turned into roadkill. There was the guy in the green singlet and moeben sleeves, the guy with the great dreadlocks, the girl in pink, and quite a few more. We turned the last corner with about half a mile left, and I could see 5:54 pace on the Garmin (slightly downhill, admittedly). Why now, oh faithless legs, and not when I needed you most! I must have passed dozens of runners between there and the line, and 3:10:36 after crossing the start line I was finally done. I cannot even claim to have taken it easy today, because I had only slowed down in order to allow myself to finish at all. There was nothing left in my legs at the end.

Your first Boston is always a learning experience. I thought I had trained plenty to get ready for the downhills, and I genuinely thought I had run conservatively during the early miles, but to no avail. After Wellesley my legs felt like they each had a brick attached to them, and oh my, it hurt! They wobbled so much that I was worried about them buckling at each step. My calves were close to cramping at a couple of occasions but just about managed to behave. If it didn't involve crossing an entire Ocean in order to get here I would definitely be back to try and get it right, but as it is it might remain my one and only shot at the Newton hills. The spectators are something I had never experienced, they really give the rockstar treatment even to struggling runners, but it is the course itself that would entice me back. But not too soon. I have to forget that one first before I can even think about doing another one.
20 Apr
2009 Boston Marathon, 3:10:36, avg. pace 7:16, HR 165
2849th place out of 23162

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shivering with Anticipation

After half a year of training, we're so close. In a day's time I'll meet up with 25000 of my closest friends and then we'll tear down the road to Boston together. We might have different goals, from running 2:45 to enjoying the race and kissing the girls, but we're all very much looking forward to it now.

Friday's journey had been long, a drive to Tralee, an old coach to Limerick, a newer coach to Shannon, a plane to Boston and a drive to Waltham added up to many, many hours. All the immigration checks had been done in Shannon, which led to the slightly unreal realisation that the departure lounge might have physically been in Ireland, but politically we basically were in the states already.

We (that's me and Mike) picked up our numbers yesterday, and all plans of getting in and out as soon as possible went out of the window when we got sucked into the vortex that is the Boston marathon Expo. I saw all those things that I can't normally get because they're not shipping across the Atlantic, and eventually left with heavy bags and light wallets. I even had to stop Mike from buying a pair of racing flats for Monday's marathon. I thought he was to stop me from doing stupid things, not the other way round!

We picked up Michael and drove to Hopkinton for a recce of the race course. Both me and Michael were surprised by the size of the hills, and I sure am glad to have seen them yesterday rather than getting an unwelcome surprise on Monday. Then again, neither of them are the Hell of the West. The last few miles are sweet in the unlikely event that you still have some working quads left. There's nothing to do now but rest and get mentally prepared for the fun.

We met Mark and his family for dinner. Mark, you must change your blog photo because it makes you look 10 years older than you are in real life. Everyone had a good time, and we never ran out of running gossip. In fact, we could have continued for ages.

I did 5 miles yesterday and kept accusing the Garmin of being broken because it kept insisting I was doing 7:20 pace rather than the 8:30 pace it felt like. Eventually I managed to slow down, and I cut the run short in order not to wear myself out. 3 miles today were at genuinely easy effort, and that's it until tomorrow.

The weather forecast websites are all in agreement. We will have about 50F/10C and cloudy skies, which is perfect, but 20 mph headwinds, which is not. Not much we can do about it. As far as my outlook for the race goes, I have an outside chance of beating 3 hours, but no more than that. I'm determined to enjoy the occasion more than anything, and a great time would be an added, if very welcome, bonus. I assure you, it won't be for lack of trying.

Boston Runner #3780 signing out. See you on the other side.
18 Apr
5 miles, 38:46, 7:45 pace, HR 154
19 Apr
3+ miles, 23:57, 7:52 pace, HR 143

Friday, April 17, 2009

Training Summary

Training (excluding taper):
   21 weeks
Average mpw:
Average mpw if I don’t count the weeks compromised by sickness:
# runs of 20 miles or more:
Highest weekly mileage:
# of PRs:
   only 1 (10 miles), but that was a substantial one
  1. a cold at the start of December
  2. ankle sprain around New Year
  3. a severe cold in February
I didn’t have to deal with a real injury, the ankle problem was most likely caused by an overenthusiastic application of things like bounding, springing and jumping, and went away by itself without having to rest. The infection I had in February was probably the worst one I’ve had in a while (well, since the pneumonia, for sure), but happened just far enough out from the marathon date that it shouldn’t have an effect.

Various data points I can gather from my logs like the paces and HR on my runs show that I’m in better shape than before Dublin, and if everything goes to plan then maybe, just maybe, I could sneak under 3 hours. If not, then a new PR should still be possible, but I am well aware that Boston is generally not a course to go looking for PR; no need to point that out.

Anyway, I'm in Boston now. More of that later.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Last Workout

I can’t believe this is really happening. Tomorrow I’ll step onto an aeroplane that will take me across the Big Pond, ready to run the race of my live – at least that’s the plan. Time has certainly flown, it seems only like yesterday that I crossed the finish line of the Dublin marathon.

In order to bring my weight down to racing weight I decided to fast for the last three days, taking only water and orange juice on-board. This should ensure that I don’t have to carry excess fat around the Boston marathon course and should get me a few precious seconds per mile.

Just kidding, don’t worry. More than one person has implored me not to undertake any more experiments before the marathon, and for once I’m inclined to listen. I guess the stomach cramps in Dublin were a strong enough hint to stop that kind of behaviour. As an added insurance I have Mike to watch over me, and I get the impression he’s got an attitude-adjusting tool (baseball bat, cattle prod, that kind of thing) handy in case I’ll start doing anything stupid.

I managed to take it easy on Tuesday and Wednesday, as promised. I did 6 easy miles on Tuesday, slowing down each time I looked at the Garmin. I have a tendency to pick up speed as the run goes along, but managed to keep myself in check. On Wednesday I set the alarm for 6:30, 7 miles, and thought that if I woke earlier I could squeeze in an extra mile. But for some reason I was still groggy with sleep at half six, and reset the alarm to get another 15 minutes of sleep, cutting the run down to 5. I’m not sure why I was so tired, I had gone to bed at a reasonable time. Anyway, the run was easy again, even though the rain made for rather miserable conditions, and ideally I would have liked to see the heart rate a few beats lower.

This morning I did my last workout, to blow away the cobwebs that had gathered during the taper. After a warm-up I ran a 5k at about HM pace, followed by an easy mile and 10x100 strides. I had programmed the entire fancy workout into the Garmin, only to discover that a) I kept missing the beeps and b) I had inadvertently set the repeats at 1000 instead of 100 meters. Doh. But I managed just fine doing things without the toy. The legs felt very good at the end, begging me to run further and faster. Sorry guys, you’ll have to wait a bit longer, just 4 more days.
14 Apr
6 miles, 50:34, 8:26 pace, HR 135
15 Apr
5 miles, 40:16, 8:03 pace, HR 141
16 Apr
8 miles, 56:54, 7:07 pace, HR 159
incl. 5k @ 6:29, 10x100 strides

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easy Now, Thomas!

Lola declared Easter Sunday as her third favourite day of the year, behind birthday and Christmas Day. I tend to agree, getting 4 days off work without having to take a single day holiday id something I could get used to. In fact, I only have three days of work left before I'm off to Boston. Blimey, time's moving!

Yesterday I woke earlier than I would have liked ideally, but one look out of the window revealed such a stunningly beautiful blue sky that i didn't mind; I was merely looking forward to hitting the road. I had to wait a bit longer, but once the kids had their breakfast there was no stopping me, I had every intention of running easily but I felt so good that I just let the legs go as they pleased. Maybe it was the fact that I was finally able to wear a singlet rather than a t-shirt, but the miles just seemed to melt away. Looking at the Garmin and seeing that I was doing about marathon race pace I regretted the fact that I was wearing my heavy trainers rather than my racing shoes, but I just kept going. Originally I had planned on running 6 miles, but when I thought of all the Easter chocolate I was bound to eat later on I added two miles just to burn a few additional calories – not that it would make a real difference. Anyway, by the time I was back home less than 55 minutes had passed and I felt great. In marked contrast to some earlier runs I was sorry to be done.

We spent the rest of the day doing Easter things (see the end of this entry for proof). Thankfully the meteorologists had been utterly wrong and we had a beautiful day. They tried to make up for their errors and predicted the rain for today instead. Wrong again. I had been expecting to cover today's mile soaking wet, but again I was out there in a singlet, enjoying the early morning sunshine.

The legs were a bit heavy to start with, which didn't come as much of a surprise. I just intended to take it easy, so I didn't even look at the Garmin until 4 miles later. Then I did a double take, because I was almost at 7:30 pace. The miles had been downhill and, as I found out on the second part of the loop, must have been wind-assisted, but I really hadn't expected the easy effort to be faster than 8:00 pace. I then switched the Garmin into menu mode so that I wouldn't be tempted to peek at the readings and ran just by feel. As it turns out, that feeling was misleading; by the time I was back home I must have sped up even more, despite the second part being uphill and against the wind. Honestly, this was not a tempo effort, I had kept it easy all along. It just shows the effect of this week's reduced mileage.

I remember the same thing happening before Cork and Dublin last year; 7:30 pace suddenly feels like jogging. But I have to be careful, the marathon is only a week away, and I must not get carried away. I now have two easy days ahead of me, and I really have to take it genuinely easy. Thursday will see the last workout, sharp and short, and then it's off to Boston.

Things aren't all hunky dory, though. Cian threw up last night, and while we originally blamed overindulgence of chocolate he did do so again this morning and it looks like he has picked up a tummy bug (some friends of his had it too). I keep my fingers crossed that I won't be affected this close to Boston - or even at Boston. Banish the thought! Not that I would want to leave Niamh on her own with 4 vomiting children on my weekend away, either.

By the way, isn't modern technology amazing? Just a few years ago video calls were still part of science fiction, but on Saturday there I was, skyping with Mike, the two of us sitting on opposite sides of the Atlantic. We're all set for next week.

And if that's not enough, you can also take a video of your family and put it on the internet for the rest of the world to view, if you're so inclined. Fancy, or what?
12 Apr
8 miles, 54:36, 6:49 pace, Hr 161
13 Apr
13 miles, 1:35:57, 7:22 pace, HR 154
Weekly Mileage: 53+

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Potential Disaster

I didn’t want to mention it in my last post in the hope that it would go away, but that wish remained unfulfilled. When I woke on Monday morning, I had a sore throat. It wasn’t too bad, and I didn’t notice it again until later in the evening. On Tuesday it was there again, and by now I was getting worried. I need to be in top shape to have any hope of beating 3 hours in Boston, and if I’m fighting off an infection, that’s it. I felt fine on Wednesday, but Thursday morning I awoke with the by now familiar ache; I might have imagined it, but I thought I felt “something” in my chest as well. Friday was fine, and today I’m ok as well, and there’s not much I can do about it - I keep taking my vitamins anyway. I try not to think about it, and hope that everything will be just hunky dory 9 days from now.

Since this is my taper, I took it really easy after Wednesday’s MP run. Running short has the added bonus of extra time in bed, which was very welcome, and the 6 easy miles passed by quickly.

I was supposed to run 3x1 mile on Friday, but I just didn’t feel like it. I was all set to go out and run fast, but I really was not looking forward to it. As I got ready I changed my plans and just ran 7 easy miles (or it would have been 7 if I had remembered to turn around at the right spot). The legs felt very good, but the heart rate was higher that I would have expected. Hmm. Not a good sign.

After two easy days I didn’t have much of an excuse today, and out I went. I still wasn’t looking forward to the pain of running fast, but I thought I would be able to take it. After the warm up I stormed off on the first mile. Just like at last week’s race I was wheezing within a couple of minutes, and by the time I had covered half a mile I felt like collapsing. I don’t have access to a track, and the road has two small hills, but they felt like mountains today. By the time I finished the first mile I couldn’t help it but come to a complete stop and take HOK position, completely shattered. Even though 5:54 was 5 seconds slower than the first mile of last week’s race, I was done for. Incidentally, it was the fastest mile I had ever run in training. I had some faint hopes that 2 minutes of recovery would get me back to life, but as soon as the second repeat started I was immediately wheezing again. I pulled the plug after about 2 minutes. I jogged the rest of that mile, though looking at the time afterwards it must have been close to HMP pace. The third mile was never on the cards.

Ah well. My mind wasn’t in it today. With me being in full taper mode I wasn’t prepared to suffer through the workout, and I was worried about that sore throat. How I managed to run 3 consecutive miles at that pace last week is beyond me. Race day adrenaline is amazing.

I’ll forget about that workout today. The work for the marathon was done in previous weeks, now I feel more like relaxing and taking it easy. The thought that I won’t run a single step at faster than MP for quite some time is rather appealing right now.
9 Apr
6 miles, 49:31, 8:15 pace, HR 142
10 Apr
7.1 miles, 56:32, 7:58 pace, HR 145
11 Apr
6.25 miles, 45:12, 7:15 pace, HR 158
2x1 mile @ 5:54, 6:20

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Countdown: 12

Since Sunday’s race was only a 5k in preparation of my real race I won’t spend too much time thinking about it. I had a nagging feeling in my head that I should have run faster, after all I missed my PR by half a minute (an age in a 5k), and I’m sure with a better mindset I could at least have tried to pass the runner in front of me more than twice. Then I remember my HR data and think that no, I was really redlining from start to finish. I guess a faster finishing kick would have been possible, but that would have had a miniscule impact on my time. Time to move on.

As a side note, I definitely won’t be defending my O35 title next year because I’ll be in the next, and vastly more competitive age group by then. As it is I’m mildly embarrassed having won an age group award with my modest time. I’m pretty sure the winners of the 40, 45 and 50 age groups were all way ahead of me.

Enough of that. Since this is my taper I changed my plans and took it easy for two days after the race. I only managed 6 miles on Monday because I reset the alarm when it rang the first time, and then decided to treat myself to an additional recovery day with 8 slow miles on Tuesday. I was surprised to find no soreness at all on Monday and maybe I trifle of fatigue on Tuesday, no more than that. In light of that I’m not worried about fully recovering from the effort come marathon day.

In preceding weeks I had done two 15-milers consisting of 3 segments, the last ones at marathon effort. The schedule had called for a third of those workouts last Friday, but I moved it to this Tuesday in order to be somewhat rested for Sunday’s race. Because of the additional recovery day I pushed it out again to today, and then I felt that with only 12 days to go I should err on the side of caution and cut it down to 12 miles. On the other hand, I didn’t want to sacrifice any time spent at marathon pace, so I decided to warm-up for two miles and run the remaining 10 at ME.

It was a rather blustery day, and the Cromane loop is rather exposed to the wind coming from the Atlantic. Because the road drops by about 90 feet over the warm-up miles, the 10 faster miles had to climb the same elevation up again. Maybe that’s why the effort felt tougher than it should have. Maybe (or, in fact, more likely) the race was having an effect. Maybe the wind wasn’t in my favour. Whatever the reason, I did manage the required pace, but I don’t think I would have been able to keep the effort going for 26 miles. A runner’s confidence is fickle. Run a good workout, like I did on my last aforementioned 15 miler, and I’m sure I can run sub-3. Then have a day like today and I’m back to expecting 3:03 at best.

Even so, I’ll try and go for 2:59:59 in Boston. If I blow up on the Newton hills, so be it. I tried the same tactic in Dublin and paid for it over the last 7 miles, but I have no regrets. I mean, who is going to aim for a 3:02 or 3:03 marathon? That’s too close to the 3 hours mark, and I would forever be left wondering what might have been. I’ll try for the same target again.
6 Apr
6 miles, 48:49, 8:08 pace, HR 139
7 Apr
8 miles, 1:06:04, 8:15 pace, HR 139
8 Apr
12 miles, 1:23:35, 6:58 pace, HR 161
incl. 10 miles @ 6:49 pace

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Reigning Kerry 5k Road Champion (O35)

Having been reassured that this race was indeed taking place (whoever looks after the fixtures in the Kerry Athletics website didn’t do a very good job), we set off to Ardfert on Sunday morning. We found first the village and then the primary school after a slight detour. If I hadn’t known there would a race, I would have had serious doubts. Anyway, after signing up and warming up, we assembled at the start line. Niamh had thought this would be a very small and uncompetitive race, but I had checked the times of a few of the competitors and knew I would end up far down the field.

I lined up in the third row, where I usually start from, and was rather surprised to be overtaken by a number of runners early on. The first half mile was downhill but against the wind, and when I looked up I was definitely surprised by the number of runners ahead of me. I checked my pace on the Garmin and it came up with 5:13 (!!!) and there seemed to be at least 20, maybe even 30, runners in front! I have never been in such a competitive race. I knew I would not be able to keep that pace going, but starting like a lunatic can be a good, if painful tactic in a 5k. Despite this, I was still being overtaken by some runners! WTF??

Towards the end of the first mile the course turned off the Tralee road, which was good because it got us out of the traffic but bad because now we had to run uphill. I reached the first mile after 5:49, not my fastest mile in a race ever but close. Another turn pointed us back towards Ardfert, still going uphill. I could see the leaders ahead of me, charging up a steeper incline, though in all honesty the course was fairly flat considering we are in Kerry. I managed to gain one place, and as the course took a long sweeping curve to the right caught up with a group of 3, overtaking 2 of them but not the leader. It struck me that I was already at the halfway point, two steps behind the man in front but unable to go past. We crested the highest point of the course; the second mile had been a bit slower at 6:03, but take the elevation gain into consideration and it was at least even in effort to the first one. The third mile would be net downhill, but most of the drop would not come until the last quarter mile. I expected to be able to pass the man in front at the first downhill section, but as soon as I drew level he put in a surge that took him a couple of steps ahead of me and since I was already going full tilt I could not respond.

One thing I should probably mention is that I had started wheezing after half a mile. I always do that if the effort goes past a certain point, and today I was redlining from the start. I thought that it was a bit early to do that, but even though I might sound like I’m about to keel over in an asthmatic fit I am actually able to run just fine. But as we got into the final third of the race I could not help but notice that the breathing became increasingly loud and laboured. I was definitely looking forward to the finish line but at the same time kept thinking “I can’t believe this is almost over already!”. I tried to draw level once more but my pacer seemed to have found another gear himself. I managed to keep two steps behind him, but couldn’t get any closer. Despite all the effort, the third mile was slightly slower again at 6:04.

The finish line came in sight soon, I managed 5:14 pace on the final (downhill) 0.1 mile and was home in 18:39, 30 seconds behind my best but reasonably pleased all the same. A look at my heart rate in the chart confirms that I had been giving it all. My all-out max HR is about 190, today I had averaged 180 (that’s about 95%), and the avg HR had gone up with each mile, reaching a high of 186. That’s the highest average HR I have ever measured on a run, even including my best 5k from last year. I might have found a few extra seconds had I not run a very fast 20-miler on Tuesday, but marathon training will always get top priority.

Later on I managed a peek at the results and I was 21st overall, so there can’t have been quite as many runners ahead of me early on as I had thought. But the real surprise came at the prize ceremony: I had won the O35 category! I got a medal and my photo taken, and realised that this was the first time I had actually won a medal in running (as opposed to an everyone-gets-a-medal medal). Does that mean I am now the reigning Kerry 5k Road Racing Champion in the O35 category? Considering that there had been 20 guys ahead of me I won’t get too big-headed just yet, but I was very pleased all the same, and maybe the kids were a tiny wincy little bit impressed, but I’m not entirely sure about that.
4 Apr
5 miles, 39:41, 7:56 pace, HR 139
5 Apr
10 miles, including:

Kerry 5km Road Championships, Ardfert
21st overall, 1st O35, 18:39, 5:57 pace

Weekly mileage: 68.5 miles

Friday, April 03, 2009

Like a drowned rat

The heavens opened and I got thoroughly soaked while cycling home today. Add the wind to the equation, and imagine the misery. And while I am moaning already, am I the only one who got increasingly tired of the lame April Fools jokes on just about every web site two days ago? I didn’t see one that I thought was actually funny.

Never mind, that’s still a running blog. After Tuesday’s epic 20 miler I set my sights on recovering and slowly getting into taper mode. The 8 miles on Wednesday followed that blueprint surprisingly well because I ran the slowest pace I can remember in a long time. Funny that, as my workouts became harder my easy days became easier. Another lowest HR was duly recorded, but I thought afterwards that 6 miles would have been plenty, because I had started dragging after about 5.

Before I knew that I would be racing this weekend, and before I had decided to start my taper a bit earlier, I had pencilled 8 mile repeats for this week, but I cut that down to 6. I also decided not to go all-out (well, I decided that during the warm-up), but still give it a half-decent HM effort. I surprised myself by running about a second per mile faster than last week (which itself had been a second per mile than the week before) even though I always felt I had a bit more in me. The temperature didn’t help, it was about 2C/35F, and I was freezing. Nevertheless, it was a decent workout, and I was happy enough. It’s more about keeping what I’ve got rather than trying to squeeze out some extra fitness.

Another easy (if very windy) day today will be followed by an even easier one tomorrow, and I guess I will be fairly rested for Sunday, even taking Tuesday’s run into account. The strange thing is that I tried to find any sign of that race on the web and came up with a complete blank. Not even the Kerry Athletics web site, that supposedly organises the race, does mention it. I’m not entirely convinced that it will indeed take place, but I’ll go there and have a look anyway. If I can’t see any other runners we’ll declare it a family outing instead.
1 Apr
8 miles, 1:09:42, 8:43 pace, HR 130
2 Apr
10 miles, 1:13:14, 7:19 pace, HR 154
incl. 6xmile @ 6:31, 34, 28, 32, 51, 22 (6:33)
3 Apr
8 miles, 1:05:54, 8:14 pace, HR 140