Thursday, July 30, 2009

Duly noted

“Is a tempo interval really the best idea the day after a tough long run?”

Good point, but as mentioned in my previous post, I’m basically still in my base building phase, pretty much following a Lydiard style schedule. There is no real easy day in that training, and that’s very much deliberate. You keep constant pressure on the body; that’s how it adapts to the rigours of marathon running. Having said that, I tend to go a bit easier on Saturdays in order to be able to do a strong Sunday run. The idea was always to keep doing this as long as I can see improvements from week to week. That’s still the case, and that’s why I’m still sticking with it.

I have noticed before that Wednesday’s 15-mile run tends to be one of the toughest of the week. I’m not entirely sure why, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the previous tough days have something to do with it. Then again, years ago, when training for my first and second marathon I run a lap around the lake just once. Not per week, once in the entire training cycle, and running up the climbs without walking break wasn’t even contemplated. Nowadays I do this 3 times a week without much fuss. Anyway, I struggled a bit during the early miles on Wednesday, but slowly got round to it and finished the run with a few stronger miles, ending up with my usual average pace, just under 8:00.

As on every Thursday, the hill sprints weren’t something I was particularly looking forward to. Initially I was dreading the 3-mile tempo run. Again I felt awful during the warm-up, and even the first half mile of the tempo run was worse, as well as slower, than usual. Possibly by pushing a bit harder than normal I got back on pace and ended up with a 6:46 pace average. The wind didn’t help, but that has been true for virtually every single one of these workouts. Then it was time for the hill repeats. I was back on my usual Caragh Lake hill for the first time in three weeks, and decided to go for the full 60 seconds. The first 4 repeats were ok, then it got harder. I started faltering during the sixth but managed a half-decent seventh. The eighth one was supposed to be the last one, but after losing my concentration I ended up with a lame halfhearted attempt that didn’t push the HR up to the usual level. As happy as I was to be done initially, this irked me enough to turn around once more at the bottom of the hill and charge up one more time, this time in balls out fashion. That one was much better; at the top it was HOK time, and then a matter of crawling home on jelly legs. The quads are still sore half a day later, but if past experience is anything to go by I’ll be right as rain by tomorrow.

Talking about rain, apparently this has been the wettest July since recordings began. This surprised me somewhat because I remember last year’s July as worse. Sure, we had plenty of at times very heavy rain, but at least we saw the sun between those spells, unlike last year when the whole country had disappeared under a blanket of never-ending drizzly misery.

On the positive side, today’s run was the first this week when the right calf didn’t bother me. This may be down to a re-found enthusiasm for The Stick which saw plenty of use over the last few days after several weeks of shameful neglect. I take this as a sign that I should use it on a regular basis, not just when a potential injury appears. Note taken.
29 Jul
15 miles, 1:58:46, 7:55 pace, HR 145
30 Jul
11 miles, 1:33:35, 8:30 pace, HR 148
incl. 3 miles @ 6:46, 9x60 secs hill sprints

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Amazing Endurance

You might associate endurance with long-distance running, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. As of today, Niamh qualifies for the gold standard for the patient, understanding, supporting wife, having been married to that dork of a husband for exactly 12 years. Happy Anniversary, darling! Unfortunately, she came home from Dublin with a nasty cold, which might stop us from going out tonight. We’ll make up for it at a later date if that’s the case.

Back to running. With less than 7 weeks to go until Dingle I’m wavering if I should continue my training as it is at the moment or make some changes (speed work, rest days, etc). Basically, I never got out of base training. That’s quite deliberate. I resolved months ago to keep at that training until I stop improving. With the improvements still coming, I’m favouring keeping the existing approach for another 3 weeks, by when it will be taper time. My, hasn’t time flown. In past marathon builds I have tended to divide training into several segments of about 4-6 weeks. But I was never sure if moving on to a new phase was ever the best thing to do, because I never felt like getting towards the optimum stage of the ongoing build. So far I’m very happy with my new training regime; the lack of speed work has not stopped me from setting a new PR in the 10k, and my hope is that it’s even less likely to stop me from doing well in the marathon. The truth will be revealed in a few weeks, I guess.

If there was one thing I would change from the last few weeks it would probably the length of my longest run. I seem to have a problem committing to runs of 20 miles or more. With that in mind, I set out for exactly that on Monday. Interestingly, my main worry on Sunday evening was not covering the distance but getting up before 5 am. No matter how you look at it, that is very early. It was still quite dark when I got up (2 minutes before the alarm would have gone off), but by the time I got out of the door it was definitely bright enough to run without light.

My right calf started hurting on the first climb, just about 3 miles into the run. It didn’t stop me from running, but it made the next few miles distinctly uncomfortable. The soreness eventually went away, but not before giving me a few worries. Apart from that, running 20 miles wasn’t much of a problem. I felt weary during the first half, but concentrating on a quick turnover seemed to keep the pace honest without tiring me out. I felt better later on, and cranked up the effort level by a notch. I basically ran the first half at 8:10 pace and the second half closer to 7:30. Neither caused any problems, and I still felt ok, but could have done without the rain that had started with 2 miles to go.

Doing tempo intervals the day after 20 miles is more of a challenge than the long run itself. Having said that, it seems to be a mental issue rather than a physical one. I felt awful during today’s 1.5 warm-up miles and really questioned my ability of doing justice to the workout. Then again, that tends to happen every Tuesday morning. When I got down to business, it felt much better than anticipated, as usual. The weather wasn’t cooperating though. Gale force winds are bad enough, but to start raining the very moment I open the door was nature playing nasty. I grimaced as I started out, but got used to it eventually. That’s when it stopped raining. The wind, on the other hand, kept blowing. It did definitely have an effect on my run. The first tempo segment, wind-assisted and downhill, flew by faster than usual at 6:39 pace. The second, into the wind (and uphill), was slower at 6:53. The last one, partially with and against the wind (downhill) evened thing out at 6:46. Not brilliant, but pretty much in line with expectations. If it’s an indication that I should stick with the present training or not is open to interpretation. But as I’ve said, I’ll probably keep doing what I’ve been doing all along. At the very least it will serve as a solid foundation for future training cycles.
27 Jul
20 miles, 2:37:23, 7:52 pace, HR 144
28 Jul
12 miles, 1:26:40, 7:13 pace, HR 152
incl. 3x3 miles @ 6:39, 6:53, 6:46

Sunday, July 26, 2009

And Miles To Go

After Wednesday's less than brilliant long run I kept asking myself where all that training was going. There is no doubt that I have been training hard, and the new PR in the 10k was a clear sign that I was doing something right, but one botched workout later all the old doubts had come up to the surface again.

The dark clouds on Friday morning matched my mood. The weather had been awful during the night, I had woken several times by the storm outside. When the alarm went off the first thing I heard was the rain against the window. Just as I decided the use the snooze button for once and cut the run from 18 to 16.5 miles, the rain stopped and I took that as a sign to get up and run the planned distance after all.

I got as far as 5 miles, almost reaching the apex of the big hill when the rain returned. It only stayed for half a mile or so, but it was poring enough for me to get soaked right through. The one advantage was that I didn't have to worry about the puddles all over the road. With my fees and socks dripping wet already I just splashed through them.

However, I did not let that stop me from having a good run. For some reason I felt great and once the hills were behind me after 10 miles, I decided to put the pressure on a bit more. I didn't quite reach marathon effort, but I was cruising along at a nice pace, 7:20 at first and down to 7:10 later on. The thought struck me that I was having the workout I had hoped to have on Wednesday. Ironically, then I had avoided the Caragh Lake hills in order to run a bit faster. Today I did run those hills, and the pace came as soon as the worst of the course was behind me.

With Niamh gone I decided to swap around the weekend runs, because on Saturday I still did not know if I would be able to run on Sunday. Unless there is a race on I always have a fast long training run at the weekend. Ideally this should be on Sunday to recover from Friday's long run. But I decided to do that workout on Saturday; I'd rather run it on tired legs than not at all. The grandparents were here but wanted to leave at 8:30 in the morning, which meant an early rise at 6 o'clock, very early for a weekend run. The weather was taking a bit of a breather, I caught a window between two storm fronts, and at times the sun managed to come out, making for very nice conditions. Even though yesterday's 18 miles were clearly still in my legs, I felt pretty good and did the first half at almost 6:45 pace. This was never going to hold as I climbed back up, but I still was able to keep a decent effort. I passed our driveway at 10.5 miles but kept going for a bit longer. I had easily enough time for 14 miles, and that's what I resolved to do. On that last bit I started to feel the fatigue in my legs but I managed to hold on. At 6:53 I didn't quite hit sub-3 marathon pace, but it was close and of course there is still some time left for further improvements. I only realised at one point much later, in the afternoon, that I had covered no less than 109 miles in the last 7 days. It wasn't planned that way, but that's how the week so far had turned out.

Being married to the best wife of them all has its advantages. Niamh actually managed to talk to our neighbour who agreed to look after Cian for a while on Sunday lunch time, enabling me to run after all. The wind was fierce, and I decided to run on the Ard-na-Sidhe road, my usual shelter on stormy days. I took it easy, or at least so I thought. When I checked the Garmin after a few miles I was astounded to see the average pace close to 7:30. It felt like jogging. Since it felt so easy I just kept going. Towards the end I added a set of strides into the mix. After 7 miles, when 100 miles for the week had been covered, the legs started to feel very weary. It must have been purely psychological; yesterday nothing like that had happened. Even so, things seemed to get back together again after a while. Running 100 miles a week isn't that tiring if you're used to high mileage.
24 Jul
18 miles, 2:19:39, 7:45 pace, HR 147
last 6 miles @ 7:17 pace
25 Jul
14 miles, 1:36:37, 6:53 pace, HR 160
26 Jul
10 miles, 1:14:50, 7:27 pace, HR 146
incl. 12x100 strides

Weekly Mileage: 103

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Finally a long run

Despite the mileage I’m doing, my long runs haven’t actually been very long so far. I had only managed two 20-milers, one before our holiday in London and one afterwards. With the memory of me blowing up at mile 19 in Dublin last year still being very vivid (I doubt that will ever go away), I was anxious to run at least 2 longer runs in this training cycle.

It necessitated an early rise, of course, but because I’m in Caragh Lake rather than Valentia, and because there wouldn’t be any kids to feed in the morning I gave myself a bit of leeway, enough to sleep in a few minutes longer than for last week’s 18-mile run. But it was still dark when I got up. The heavy clouds and the New Moon didn’t help, of course, but I was relieved to see that the weather forecast had once more been wrong. 22 miles sounded intimidating enough as it was, and I didn’t need heavy rain to add to the challenge.

Because the marathon is less than 8 weeks away I decided not to run the very hilly Caragh Lake loop and opted for a flatter route through Killorglin and Cromane in the hope that I would be able to run a bit faster. It was the same 16-mile loop I had done 10 days earlier for my JD workout. That, and a 6-mile out-and-back spur would give me the required distance. It also sounded much less daunting that way. I can always run a 16-mile loop; the following 3 miles to the turn-around point are short enough, as are the same 3 miles back home.

After 2 very slow miles at the start that bore more resemblance to sleepwalking than running I got down to business. The next few miles saw me doing 7:30-7:40 pace, and it felt easy enough. It was not until I reached a big corner just past Killorglin when I realised why. The wind was quite wild, the trees were swaying a lot, and so far I had been pushed along. No wonder it had felt easy. The problem was, the next 7 miles towards Cromane would be right against the headwind, and I knew immediately that it would be brutal.

I counted down the miles, and grew wearier with each step. It felt like running up a never-ending incline. After fighting the elements for almost an hour I finally reached the corner of Dooks golf club at the end of that horrible stretch. By now I was utterly exhausted. I didn’t just have the previous 7 miles in my legs; the accumulated fatigue from the 3 previous days, including a race, was very noticeable. I struggled homewards, having long ago given up any plans of running fast. I no longer cared about the pace and just wanted to get this run over and done with. A gel at mile 16 revived my spirits sufficiently to feel able to continue past our driveway, and after surviving the final out-and-back section I was done in just under 3 hours. I realised that I had run over 68 miles in the last 4 days – more than 17 miles per day on average. Ok, I admit it. I’m prone to overdoing things at times.

I drove down to Valentia in the evening to visit Cian, who is having the time of his life being spoilt rotten by his grandparents in the absence of his brother, sisters and parents. He actually seemed happy to see me.

And since the mountain of Geokaun with its stupidly steep road was within reach, I used it again for hill repeats this morning. It seemed much harder work than last week though. After 4 repeats I had to pause for a few seconds, hands on knees, in order to get sufficient oxygen into my body to stop me from keeling over. Then I noticed that the following 2 repeats didn’t push the HR to the same level; I must have taken it easier. I gave myself a stern talking-to and had to promise myself to stop being such a wimp. The next repeat was full-out effort again, followed by another spell in HOK position. I only did the eighth one because I knew it would be the last one. I hope those hill repeats really do give some benefits. I’d hate the idea of all that pain being for nothing!

With Niamh still in Dublin, my training for the weekend is in doubt. Nana and Gaga will pass by on Friday, delivering Cian back home. I hope they will stay long enough on Saturday to enable me to run. Then I’ll be a single dad, unable to run, until Niamh comes back on Sunday afternoon. I’ll see how that will turn out.
22 Jul
22 miles, 2:56:16, 8:01 pace, HR 142
23 Jul
9 miles, 1:20:21, 8:56 pace, HR 142
incl. 8x45 secs steep hill sprints

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

After the Races

The more I thought about Sunday’s race the more amazed I was about the fact that I set a new PR. Following the Brain Training program I used to do a lot of speedwork last summer, and a whole host of PRs followed. Since I did exactly 0 interval workouts this year, I really did not expect to be able to better my 10k (ok, 6 miles) time.

The only times I ran fast were the two 5Ks in the preceding weeks. I was struck by the fact that my average HR on Sunday was higher than for the 5k in Killarney two weeks prior. Some other runner once described how he felt his body started “opening up” for high intensity runs as the training came along. It’s entirely possible that I was just able to push harder on Sunday because of the earlier races. Whatever the case, I was still amazed that the lack of interval training has not prevented me from bettering last year’s time.

I’m not sure how many runners of Sunday’s race found it necessary to get up at 5:30 on Monday to head out for a 15 mile run, but I did. The focus is still very much on Dingle, and with less than 8 weeks to go now is not the time for slacking. I felt really stiff and tired, which was not surprising, barely 14 hours after finishing the race. Having said that, the run went reasonably well. I pushed the effort a bit over the last couple of miles to get under 2 hours, but I’ve done that on several occasions before. Later on I just about managed to resist the temptation of taking the car to work, but the bike won out. Luckily it wasn’t raining, despite the gloomy forecast.

Stiff and tired were still the appropriate words to describe my legs this morning, and, not for the first time, I was wondering if I was up for a tempo session. The answer was affirmative, as always, though after 2 miles of warming up I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the prospect of running at a significantly harder effort. With the tired legs I did not expect a stellar performance, but was pleasantly surprised to average 6:42 pace over the 3 miles. Half a mile later I started another tempo segment, this time even less keen. I resolved to keep the tempo effort going for one mile. Of course, once I managed to tune into the effort I just kept going. That second tempo segment passed by at 6:46 pace, which, taking the net elevation gain into account, wasn’t bad. I was pleased with the result, but even more pleased to be done.

With Niamh and the kids out of the house I took the opportunity to add a second run today. You probably thought I was kidding when I said I’d be able to do extra training with them gone. Actually I was at the time, but decided to do so after all. I brought my running clothes into work and ran 5 easy miles home. I don’t think I’ll add another double run to the schedule this week though. There's only so much madness that's advisable.
20 Jul
15 miles, 1:59:30, 7:58 pace, HR 143
21 Jul
am: 10 miles, 1:12:35, 7:15 pace, HR 153
incl. 2x3 miles @ 6:42, 6:46
pm: 5 miles, 39:07, 7:49 pace, HR 138

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Unexpected But Welcome

I have been agonizing this week how I would approach this race. Should I train through completely and take the race as just another workout, or should I take it easy beforehand? In the end I took 2 easy days with 10 miles on Friday and 6 on Saturday.

I had been looking forward to this race ever since I heard that it was taking place again. The scenery is just stunning, even the drive along the Dingle peninsula is worth the journey alone. A slight downer was the fact that I had put Niamh and 3 of our kids on the train to Dublin earlier on. I’ll be on my own this week (Yeah! I have the run of the house! I can train for hours on end!), and the fact that they had not changed the route from last year. I don’t mind all those hills that much, but the fact that the course is 0.2 miles short is a bit annoying.

Anyway, I arrived in Ballydavid (or maybe I should say Baile na nGall. This is a Gaeltacht after all) a bit later than planned, but with the customary delayed start (we're in Kerry!) I had plenty of time for my warm-up. Last year I had come eighth overall, but looking around I could see that this year would be a bit more competitive. At the start a whole group of runners shot off at breakneck speed. Surely they couldn’t all be top runners? I was doing a rather aggressive pace myself, definitely faster than what I would be able to hold. There were almost 20 runners ahead in that group, pulling slowly ahead of me, and I was caught in no-man’s land between the leaders and the rest. Still in the first mile two runners caught up to me and I tried to stay in their slipstream, but the pace was too hard and I could not quite keep up. On the other hand, the leading group was breaking apart and a few runners kept coming back to me. I was at least holding my place, and after that first mile nobody would go past me again.

Last year’s weather had been pretty bad, strong winds combined with at times heavy rain. The wind was still there, but at least we were running in full sunshine. It just made for a nicer atmosphere, especially considering the scenery around us. Not that I had time to admire my surroundings. Instead I was running hell for leather. Since I knew the course to be short I did not trust the km markers. I tried not to look at my Garmin, but on a couple of occasions could not resist. After a mile the pace had been 6:06, despite the fact that the second half had consisted of a steep hill, and we had gained 60 feet in elevation. I could not possibly hold that effort, but I remembered my motto from last summer’s races, suffer as much as possible, and today I was once more true to that. I invariably slowed down a bit, but I kept picking up a runner ahead of me every now and again. After about 3 or 4 km I caught up with a guy from “An Riocht”, the Castleisland running club that seems to contain all the really fast runners in Kerry. I tried to stay behind him to get some respite from the blustery wind. At first I thought it did not make any difference, but once I pulled out from behind him to overtake I could clearly feel that there was indeed a difference. He did not give up easily and pulled away from me twice, but eventually we caught up to another runner ahead who I then started using as a windshield, and eventually the An Riocht guy dropped back.

For the next mile I used that new runner in his yellow-orange vest as my pacer, and more importantly as a wind shield. I think he tried to drop me at least once because he put in surge, but I stuck to him. Eventually I felt guilty about using him to set the pace and pulled level, but he would have nothing of it. I was only ahead for a few seconds when he went by me again.

There were about 3 km left and we went over the next set of hills, but by now the wind was no longer coming from the front. Last year I had fallen apart on that stretch, lost contact with the runner ahead of me and dropped up to 20 seconds of my time. A peep at the Garmin told me that I was slightly behind last year’s pace, but if I could keep things together a new PR was still within reach. With the wind now pushing from behind this was definitely not over yet.

I was hurting really badly by now, but was determined to push on with all I had. Then, with maybe one mile left, the runner ahead of me suddenly started limping. At first I though he was pulling up entirely, but he kept on running, though clearly slowing down. As I went by I asked if he was ok and he said he thought his hamstring had gone. I told him to take it easy. I don’t know how he fared because I didn’t see him afterwards, but I fear he might be out of action for a few weeks.

With my immediate adversary gone all of a sudden I looked ahead for the next potential victim. There was quite a gap, enough to make a pass unlikely, but I tried anyway. I counted the steps between us and came up with 33. With less than a mile left I pushed with what I thought was all there was left inside. The gap was slowly melting away, and I got to within 12 steps, but then he looked back, saw me coming and started kicking for the line himself. If the course had been the full 10k I would have caught him but even though I tried to find yet another gear I ran out of road in the end. I’m not sure where I ended up, somewhere around 14th place overall I think.

My time was 37:34, which I realised was a few seconds faster than last year, and the Garmin showed exactly 6.00 miles. When I calculated the equivalent time for a 10k I came up with 38:55, and I’ll claim this as my new PR. The short course is a bit annoying, and I know some others would disregard times set on it, but I decided to take it, albeit with an asterisk. I haven’t set a PR since January and had started wondering if age was creeping up on me and the time for new personal bests was already gone, so I take it when I can. After the effort I put into today’s race I felt I deserved it.

After the race quite a few people recognised me from my blog. The best thing about that was that I had someone to chat to after the race. Otherwise I would have stood there like Billy-no-mates. Hi to everyone! I hope you all enjoyed the day as much as I did.

On my way back home I stopped in Dingle for 3 scoops of the best ice cream in the world. Sitting on Dingle pier in the sunshine eating ice cream, after having just set a new personal best, made for a pretty good day. Apart from Niamh’s and the kids’ absence I was perfectly content for once.

17 Jul
10 miles, 1:17:35, 7:45 pace, HR 140
18 Jul
6 miles, 46:24, 7:44 pace, HR 143
incl. 9x100 strides
19 Jul
16.5 miles, including:
  Ballydavid (Baile na nGall) 6 miles, 37:34,6:15 pace, HR 178
  Equivalent 10k time 38:55

Weekly Mileage: 87 miles

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Reluctant as she may be, Niamh has clearly picked up some knowledge about running and training in the last couple of years. On Tuesday she enquired how much I would be running the next morning, and clearly did not like my reply of 18 miles. “Shouldn’t you take it easier before Sunday’s race?” A very good question, but I decided I’m training for the marathon and don’t want to interrupt that training for a mere 10k. I’ll take it easier on Friday and Saturday.

Because of the longer work commute I had to get up as early as 4:40 for yesterday’s 18 miles, which is earlier than for a 20 mile run in Caragh Lake. Despite the ungodly hour I didn’t even need the alarm. It was still fairly dark when I left. Not dark enough to need a light, but there were still a couple of stars visible between the thick clouds. I did two loops around Valentia, first a grand tour of the entire island and then a second, smaller one. Running 18 miles felt easy enough; there was no real soreness from Tuesday’s tempo repeats and I was still reasonably fresh at the end. Those long runs are quickly becoming routine. I still need a few longer ones before the marathon though.

The weather improved a lot during yesterday and I was greeted by glorious sunshine this morning. I seized the opportunity and ran up to Geokaun Mountain, Valentia’s highest point. First I did a set of hill sprint up the insanely steep pathway. I could tell that the road was much steeper than the hill I normally use for repeats in Caragh Lake. The quads were almost screaming with pain after 45 seconds, the HR shot up higher than normal, and 60-second repeats were utterly out of the question. I kinda wished I’d find a road as steep as that at home. The legs get much more of a workout that way. Mind, I was not wishing it that badly during the actual repeats themselves. There’s only so much suffering I can wish for.

Anyway, after the eighth repeat I continued on up the rest of the mountain, but at a significantly more sedate pace. The view from up there is truly breathtaking, towards Dingle in the North, Iveragh to the East, Portmagee to the South and the void of the Atlantic to the West. Even though I was pressed for time I did give myself the luxury of a minute or two just enjoying the sights.

The legs recovered surprisingly quickly. When I set off for the 3-mile run back home I thought I’d struggle with my aching quads, but by the time I was nearing the end I was cruising along at sub-7 pace. It’s funny how the hill-induced soreness always seems to dissipate so quickly. I might still be sore tomorrow, of course. I’ll find out soon enough.

As mentioned, there’s a 10k race on Sunday. It’s the course where I set my PR over that distance last year. I’d love to beat that, but chances are I won’t due to lack of speedwork, even though I feel it’s one of my weaker PRs. I’ll see. It won’t be for lack of trying.
15 Jul
18 miles, 2:22:24, 7:55 pace, HR 142
16 Jul
9.5 miles, 1:20:55, 8:31 pace, HR 145
incl. 8x45 secs steep hill sprints

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Island Dwellers

Following Niamh’s grand plan we are spending this week in Valentia. Well, at least I’m sleeping there. I still have to spend my day in the office. As unusual as it may be to have a holiday house within commuting distance of your office, that’s the situation I find myself in every year. I initially thought my mother-in-law was trying to wind me up when she asked if I was enjoying the holidays yet since I’m to only family member not on actual vacation, but I now think she was genuine.

The one problem with this set-up is that I have to leave shortly after 8 o’clock in the morning to be at work on time. Which means I have to finish my morning run 30 minutes earlier than usual. Which in turn means to sacrifice 30 minutes of either running or sleeping.

I chose the first option on Monday, especially after being completely knackered after Sunday’s run. I regretted that decision for the entire run. I felt completely recovered from Sunday and would have been able to do 20 miles without problems. And the early rise would not have been a problem either. The combined forces of Maia, a noisy window and the unaccustomed-to bed meant I was awake every 20 minutes anyway, and spent large parts of the night staring at the ceiling. For what was left of my run I chose a grand circle around the island. This is flatter than the Caragh Lake loop, but the road still rises from sea level to about 400 feet. The weather was brutal though, as well as being battered by the wind coming in from the Atlantic I was also being drenched by the heavy rain. Nature was teasing me at one stage around the halfway mark when the rain stopped, only to come again barely a minute later.

I thought the loop would be about 14 miles but it was only just over 11, and I added a second stint towards Chapeltown and back to get me to 15 miles for the day. When I got home I realised that a couple of years ago I would have gotten a feeling of “wow, I’m hardcore” from running in conditions like that. These days I just get on with my run without a second thought. I’ve been running in Kerry for too long to take much notice any more.

Later in the day my mother-in-law asked Niamh why I would not cut down on the mileage during my holidays. Niamh informed her “he did”.

Mind, there was one clear benefit from running 15 miles in the rain rather than 20. The chafing is pretty bad again as it is; five extra miles would probably have rubbed the sorry rest of my skin off as well.

I was glad to see that conditions were much improved this morning. I had been wondering if I would be able to do a proper workout in the storm, but lo and behold, the rain had stopped and the wind had quieted down considerably. The shore road in Valentia, exposed as it is to the elements, might be the flattest 2.5 miles in the entire county Kerry, which made it a good choice for my 3-mile repeats. Obviously, each segment necessitated a u-turn at one stage, but that would help to cancel out the remaining effects of the wind. I felt good today and produced average paces of 6:42, 6:45 and 6:44. That’s decent enough for me, and I was particularly pleased that the last one was not the slowest, quite unlike my usual modus operandi. The last time I had done 3x3 miles, 4 weeks ago, the paces were between 12 and 15 seconds per mile slower. That’s good progress.

Enough of all that running business. The last thing I did before leaving for Valentia on Sunday was to cobble together a few videos of Maia from the last few weeks. I think it’s particularly cute, but freely admit to massive bias.

13 Jul
15 miles, 1:59:33, 7:58 pace, HR 136
14 Jul
12 miles, 1:25:37, 7:08 pace, HR 156
incl. 3x3 miles @ 6:42, 6:45, 6:44

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Gender-Related Shortcomings

On Friday Niamh casually informed me that we would be going to Valentia on Sunday, rather than Saturday. I was fine with that, but it wasn’t until yesterday that she mentioned that we would actually be staying there for a week, rather than for a day trip as I had assumed. Apparently I should have been able to work that out for myself, but my telepathic skills are sadly lacking; something I seem to have in common with most married men, if general talk is to be believed.

Anyway, the weekend weather has been pretty abysmal, but somehow I managed to avoid the worst of it. I slept for over 9 hours on Saturday, something I have not managed in a very long time. I gave breakfast to Shea and then left him on front of the television, which meant the rest of the family got even more of a lie-in, before I headed out for 10 easy miles. I could still sense some after-effects of Thursday’s hill repeats in the glutes, but that was gone before the second mile. Despite trying to keep the effort as easy as possible, the pace dropped well below 8-minute-miles, but the heart rate was low all the way through. Most importantly, I felt well recovered afterwards.

I had something new planned for today’s workout. The idea had come from Jack Daniels. Basically, I tried to run 16 miles in 4 segments, which each section one level faster on the VDOT scale. I had memorised the paces the night before, 7:17, 7:09, 7:02 and 6:56 respectively. As it turns out, I need not have bothered.

I had chosen a loop of 16 miles that would bring me via Cromane, Ballykissane and Killorglin back to Caragh Lake. It is reasonably flat, certainly as flat as you find around here. Unfortunately the weather was pretty wild, it was raining heavily every 30 minutes, and the wind was howling at 20 mph with gusts of over 30 mph. It would be on my back for the first half, and I would be fighting it on the way back home, when I was supposed to run the fastest times. Not ideal, but I set out just after 8 o’clock anyway. Somehow I managed to pick the only 2-hours window of the day without rain, but the sun, when it shone, made me feel uncomfortably hot. The first segment was net downhill, and I found it very hard to tune into the right pace. I was a good bit faster, and every time I tried to reign myself in, I found myself at the old, fast, pace again after a minute or two. I knew I would be paying the price for that later on. After 4 miles I could actually slow down for the second quarter. This was the flattest segment, and with the wind mostly at my back I found it very easy. It was slightly weird to have the HR around 155 when this was supposed to be a tough workout, but I knew the real work was yet to come. After 4 more miles I had to accelerate a little bit, which I found hard psychologically after the easy segment. When I checked the Garmin half a mile later, I could see why it was so hard – I was doing 6:30 pace rather than 7:02. Thomas you idiot! I slowed down a bit, which made the next 2 miles go fairly easy again, but then I turned into the wind, and it was brutal! I made the mistake of working much too hard in order to stay under the pace threshold, even though the road was climbing and the wind was threatening to blow me back at times. Accordingly I was already knackered by the time the fourth and final segment started. I had all kinds of excuses: I had started too fast, the wind made the running much tougher than it should have been, and I was about to finish 100 miles this week. I toyed with the idea of running 2 miles at that harder effort and then jogging home, but at that point I passed the apex of the entire course, and the rest would be slightly downhill. Jogging downhill felt like a waste and I kept the effort going. For the last mile I imagined myself to be at the end of the Dingle marathon, which made me push harder for the way home. I was still surprised to see the pace for the last segment at 6:56, exactly on target. I’ll gladly take that. But tomorrow’s 20 miler is off the agenda. I need some rest.
11 Jul
10 miles, 1:18:05, 7:48 pace, HR 142
12 Jul
16 miles, 1:52:05, 7:00 pace, HR 159
4x4 miles @ 7:00 (HR 154), 7:05 (155), 6:59 (161), 6:56 (169)

Weekly Mileage: 100

Friday, July 10, 2009

Time is Flying

A look at my countdown timer tells me there are only 9 weeks left until Dingle. Subtract 3 weeks of tapering and you realise that there are only 6 weeks of full training ahead. That’s just enough time to build one new set of mitochondria. Let’s get going.

All my previous hill sprint session consisted of 45 seconds repeats. I toyed with the idea of extending that to 60 seconds last week but decided against it because of Friday’s race. This week there was no such excuse, and one-minute repeats it was. After getting the tempo run out of the way I tackled the hill. I timed myself for the first repeat, and the other ones were done until the same point, which saved me from having to check the watch when I’m hardly able to breathe. There is no doubt that this was a tough session. After reaching 4 I was tempted to call it a day, because that was the number I had deemed the absolute minimum, but I kept going. After 5 I checked the watch and saw that there was enough time for at least 2 more. Damn. At that stage I would have taken any excuse to call it a day. I duly ran up twice more, but after seven was so exhausted that I thought I might collapse if I did another one. This was almost certainly untrue, but I didn’t feel inclined to test that theory and went home instead.

The last few weeks I was always sore for the rest of the day after hill repeats but felt surprisingly fresh the next day. Today was different; running was a pain in the backside because my glutes were strongly feeling the after-effects of that workout. Friday’s 18-miler normally feels reasonably easy, but on this occasion every single step was a bit of a challenge. I was not in pain as such, but lifting the legs was uncomfortable every single time, and doing that for 18 miles is a very very long time. Having said that, the pace was ok. On such a hilly run I deem everything under 8-minute-pace as decent, and if I run faster than that without pushing the pace at all, I normally call it a good run.

It had looked like a nice morning when I left the house, but halfway through the run it started raining. This had happened on Wednesday as well, but then the rain had stopped after a mile or two. Not so today when the heavens well and truly opened and left me soaked for the rest of the run. According to the forecast this should not have happened until lunchtime; shows what they know. Anyway, I was glad to be finished, but jotting down 18 miles into the log was highly satisfying. Overcoming a struggle is always a good feeling.
9 Jul
11 miles, 1:30:30, 8:13 pace, HR 145
incl. 3 miles @ 6:53, 7x60 secs hill sprints
10 Jul
18 miles, 2:22:36, 7:55 pace, HR 144

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Separation Angst

Maia seems to have gotten over her anxiety; she spent the last 2 nights sleeping peacefully in her own bed for the entire night, which greatly increases the quality of my own sleep. Now I just have to learn to get to bed earlier. It’s no good deciding to go to bed at 9:30 if you then spend half an hour sitting around and another half an hour reading, which is then taken straight off your sleep time. Before the week in London I used to wake up just before the alarm clock sounded nearly every morning. I haven’t managed that feat since then. Must do better! Sleep is an important part of training. I know, I’ve said that before.

The running itself, on the other hand, is going pretty well. The 10 miles yesterday might have been a few seconds slower than last week, but the general trend is good. Besides, yesterday’s run was following a 20-miler, rather than a mere 15, which was bound to have some effect. I felt really good at the end, and could definitely have run another repeat, which is what I may do next week.

On the negative side, I had yet another flat on my bike last evening. That’s the fifth one this year already. I guess my tyres are worn out. Since cycling is commuting, not training, I haven’t kept a log, but I must have done in the region of 3000 miles on that very cheap bike. Good value, but some parts may be reaching the end of their useful life.

Today I was back on the Caragh Lake loop. In theory, the 15-mile-Wednesday run should be one of the easiest of the week, but in the past it has often felt rather tough with tired legs. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the fact that the legs were cooperating fully. I started at a slow pace but gradually picked up the effort without even noticing. It always remained in the easy zone though, don’t worry. I was a few minutes faster than my usual 2-hours, but apart from my apparently compulsory low at the 13-mile mark I felt good all the way. If I could figure out why I always seem to get knackered at the half-marathon mark I’d be happier, but half a mile later I tend to feel ok again.

Niamh plans on spending a week in Dublin with 3 of our kids starting 10 days from now, while Cian will be looked after by his grandparents in Valentia. The only one left behind is poor Thomas. Someone has to earn the money to support that life style, I guess. I may also have to sacrifice a day or two of training either at the start or the end of that week when the arrangements aren’t in place yet. How does Niamh get me to agree to all that? It happens every time!

7 Jul
10 miles, 1:11:49, 7:11 pace, HR 152
incl. 2x3 miles @ 6:42, 6:52
8 Jul
15 miles, 1:56:57, 7:48 pace, HR 147

Monday, July 06, 2009

Dogs and Rain

After returning to form on Friday, it was time to crank the training volume up again. I’ve basically had 2 easy weeks of just over 75 miles; the fatigue is gone, I’ve raced well, now let’s get knackered all over again.

Saturday was easy enough with 10 miles at pedestrian pace. I basically didn’t even look at the Garmin, just ran along Caragh Lake at whatever pace happened to feel easy. I was surprisingly sore. The last few 5Ks hadn’t really left any tenderness behind and I was surprised to feel so stiff and tired over the weekend. The race had been the first time in 3 months that I had run 6-minute pace apart from strides, which may have something to do with it. The HR on the run was a bit high, but it was only 12 hours after the race.

I was still sore on Sunday morning, which made me question if going out for a strong, long marathon-effort run was really a good idea. But if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that my answer to “should I really do the run” is always yes, and off I went. Since reading in Jack Daniel’s book that marathon-effort runs should be up to 15 miles I have gradually increased the length of these runs, and today 13 miles were on the cards. I started out on the same Cromane loop that I have done those runs on for the entire training cycle, but once I reached the village I headed straight towards the harbour instead of following the main road towards the right. The original idea had been to add a little out-and-back section to my normal route, but for some reason I changed my mind, and after I had reached 6.5 miles (almost reaching the end of the spit that protrudes out into the bay) I turned back to go the way I had come from, thus ensuring I wouldn’t have to do any extra distance. The first half had been net downhill and with the wind mainly on my back, and I had managed 6:51 pace. Now I had to pay for that, but I felt reasonably fresh and pushed on. One angry dog encounter and 6.5 miles later I was back home, now considerably more tired, and realised that I had missed my target of 7-minute-miles by 2 seconds. Ah well. Bloody dog!

By the way, I measured my resting HR. It’s down to 39. My lowest reading ever was 37, shortly before Boston. So far out from my next marathon it has never been so low.

This put my weekly mileage just above last week’s level. This week I’m aiming for 100 again, legs permitting. I started with the long run of 20 miles. The distance did not worry me, but getting up at 4:50 did. I was still punch-drunk with sleepiness when I left, partly caused by Maia. That girl has spent at least some part of the night in our bed every night since the holidays. She’s obviously worried about being left alone again. And since Niamh claims not to hear a beep every single night, dealing with that falls to me. And the weather could have been a bit more cooperative as well, I was heading straight towards the ominously dark clouds.

For a change of scenery I did not run around Caragh Lake but headed towards Glenbeigh and further up the Iveragh peninsula on the Kerry Way. I have done parts of that route before, but never in one piece, and never far beyond Glenbeigh. That’s where the mountain started, and the rain joined in to add to the misery. I got pretty far, and after 8 miles started on a very stony, wet and slippery trail up the side of a mountain. I followed this for a while, ankle-deep in mud at times, ankle-deep in water at others, but it was slow going, and I was mindful of the fact that I had to be at work on time. After the third gate I decided to run to the fourth one and turn around there. Reaching that point I stopped for a minute to reward myself with the stunning view; both the wind-swept Atlantic and Dingle peninsula were in full view, even if the mountaintops were hidden away in the clouds. I managed not to break my ankle on the way back down (which seemed a real possibility), and soon enough was back on even footing. Actually I hadn’t spent much more than a mile on that trail, but it had felt a lot longer. I’ll be back when I have more time.

The return journey was ok, apart from the growing fatigue and the at times very heavy rain. I checked my watch when I got back home and decided I had enough time to add the 3 extra miles to get me up to 20 for the day, though it meant a hurried breakfast afterwards. My endurance hasn’t suffered during the “easy” weeks, and I felt fine at the end, apart form the chafing that is. Bloody rain!

Weekly Mileage: 76.5
4 Jul
10 miles, 1:19:55, 7:59 pace, HR 145
5 Jul
13 miles, 1:31:02, 7:00 pace, HR 160
6 Jul
20 miles, 2:43:58, 8:12 pace, HR 142
very hilly, and including a small section on a tricky wet trail

Saturday, July 04, 2009


I was a bit unsure how much I should rest before today's race. I didn't want to take too much time off the hard training, but I had been feeling so fatigued at the start of the week that some downtime was required anyway. On the other hand, I already started feeling better on Tuesday.

So, after consulting Jack Daniels' oeuvre, I decided to run hill repeats on Wednesday, which made it 2 workout days in a row after Tuesday's 3-mile repeats. But I always recover very quickly from hill repeats, and so it proved again. Then it was time to take it really easy on Thursday. I even cut down the planned 8 miles to 7 because of a mishap; but I was really pleased to see the low HR during the run. The humidity has receded somewhat, and I can tell the difference.

Today, Friday, was the day of the race. I have done this 5K 4 times in a row now, which makes this my most frequently participated race of all. After last week's disaster I was rather apprehensive. Another bad performance would pretty much confirm that I am out of shape, and with 10 weeks until Dingle there would not really be time to make major changes.

The start was supposed to be at 7 pm, which made for a rather tight time frame to get there after work. But the queue at the signup told me that the start would be delayed by even more than the usual amount. I took my time with the warm-up, and had to opportunity to chat to some guys I had known only “virtually” up to now. It's always fun to meet up in real life and put a face to the name (or nick). I was also asked two or three times if I'm the guy “with the website”.

Anyway, more than 20 minutes late we finally gathered at the start line, and we were off. I quickly settled into a pace that felt slightly aggressive but manageable. I was surprised to find myself behind a group of no less than 5 female runners, but that group broke up soon enough. One, the leading lady, pushed ahead, then there were 2 more right in front of me, and the rest fell behind. I knew one of the pair in front of me, Ann-Marie, from last year. She tends to start fast, but I know that if I can keep up initially and then manage to overtake her, I'm running a decent race. History repeated itself, somewhere between km 1 and 2 I went past her, and settled behind lady no. 2. She managed to pull away slightly at one point, we both passed 2 runners who obviously had started too fast, and on a slight uphill segment I managed to draw up to her. That's rather unusual, normally I tend to lose time on the uphill and gain it back on the downhill; maybe the weekly hill repeat sessions are starting to pay off. Anyway, on the next uphill segment I managed to pass her and she soon fell behind.

We had already passed the 3 km marker, my calves were hurting, but I knew this would be over soon. I imagined a bungee rope pulling me towards the next runner in front of me, maybe 10 meters ahead. It seemed to work, I slowly managed to draw closer, and just before the 4 km marker I went past. The next guy was a good bit further ahead, and I knew that I would be unlikely to close the gap, but I tried anyway. I concentrated on keeping a quick turnover, lifting the knees and pumping the arms, but by now I was redlining and didn't have much more to give. The finish is the only cruel part of an otherwise easy course, it's a drawn-out uphill that really saps the strength out of your legs. I got closer to my runner ahead, but I did not have the required finishing speed to draw level, and we crossed the line in quick succession.

I had managed not to look at the Garmin for the entire race, and only now got an indication of how I had been doing. The time was 18:38, a whopping 46 seconds faster than last week, and virtually the same pace as during the Kerry RR championship back in April, before Boston. Before the race I had stated that I would be happy to beat 19 minutes, so obviously I was really happy about this. I was on a real high afterwards.

The HR data on the chart is remarkably smooth. I don't think I have ever seen a HR line rising steadily all the way to the finish like this, at least not one that had been produced by myself. I take this a sign of a well executed race. The other thing of note is that I didn't start wheezing at all, in marked contrast to the race in Ardfert 2 months ago, when I had been wheezing like a steam engine for virtually the entire race. I presume it means that my aerobic engine is in remarkable shape, which would be great news as far as my marathon training is concerned.

This is what you race for, the feeling of satisfaction after pushing hard during a race is something most people won't ever appreciate. Even better, now I know that I'm indeed getting into decent shape. The recent hard training wasn't wasted time and effort after all.

1 Jul
10.5 miles, 1:24:54, 8:05 pace, HR 146
incl. 3 miles @ 6:48, 8x45 secs hill sprints
2 Jul
7 miles, 57:54, 8:16 pace, HR 133
3 Jul
11 miles, including:
Killarney Summerfest 5K, 18:38, 6:01 pace, HR 176