Saturday, August 29, 2009

Easy, Easy, Easy, Hard

Plenty of you have given out to me for not including sufficient recovery into my program, but I don’t think you have any reasons for complaints this time. After Tuesday’s 20-miler I knew I had to take it easy, because the one thing that it brought to light was the fact that I had not recovered from my two previous races.

Accordingly I took it easy on Wednesday and Thursday with only 8 and 6 miles respectively, and all at easy pace. Somehow the legs were still stiff and tired on Thursday evening, which prompted me to add an additional easy day and move my interval workout from Friday to Saturday. The fact that we had been dealing with the tail-end of Hurricane Bill during the week and gale force winds were blowing across the country all day didn’t exactly prompt me to run a workout during that time either.

On Friday morning I felt much better though and the legs started spinning again. I had gotten up 20 minutes earlier than originally planned because a certain toddler had kept me awake; when she finally drifted off to sleep again at 6 am I got up and left for a run. Work had organised a family evening on Thursday which went very well and had been highly appreciated by everyone, but it also meant I had eaten far too much at the BBQ and I added an extra mile to burn off some calories. Even though I hadn’t touched a drink, my stomach felt rather upset. Maybe BBQ isn’t the ideal nutrition. Despite that, the legs felt very good and I had to slow myself down on more than one occasion, so as not to wear myself out on what was supposed to be another easy day.

Saturday turned out to be dull and drizzly, but the wind had quietened down considerably and around 8 o’clock I went out for a set of half-mile repeats. I had been up for over two hours at that point, again thanks to that certain toddler in our midst. Because the marathon is only 14 days away I decided to err on the side of caution and only did 6 intervals. I wasn’t sure where the pace should be; going by my 1000s workout 2 weeks ago it would have been around 3:05 or so, and putting last week’s race into McMillan gave 2:48 to 2:56, but I’ve never managed to come even close to McMillan’s figures. The rest period between each repeat was 2 minutes.

Anyway, I was pleased to see the first one in 3:00 exactly, but the second in 2:48 left me stunned, but also completely knackered. I was really suffering on the third one, the second half was pure torture, but 2:57 wasn’t bad. The fourth one was even worse of course. I could not spin the legs fast enough, the quads were on fire and I knew this would be bad. I decided to call it a day and declare the workout a fail, because the second interval had destroyed me. I rationalised that you should call off a workout if it’s not going to plan, but was perfectly aware that I’ve never called off a long run, no matter what. Anyway, all this was going through my head while I was still doing the repeat, my mind was obviously not entirely focused on the task, and I was absolutely amazed to see me coming through in 2:56. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I had assumed, and somewhat reluctantly realised that I would have to do the final two repeats after all. The fifth one was bad as I didn’t push hard enough at 3:05. I tried to make up for it on the last one at 2:55, and that was that. I definitely could have done more but stuck to my initial plan and went home while I was still ahead.

I was rather pleased. Running them at an average of 2:57 was better than I had expected. In fact, I had even come close to McMillan’s numbers. I think that’s a first. Maybe it just shows what I can do on reasonably rested legs.
26 Aug
8 miles, 1:05:00, 8:07 pace, HR 140
27 Aug
6.1 miles, 47:58, 7:51 pace, HR 136
28 Aug
8.7 miles, 1:06:31, 7:38 pace, HR 143
incl 6x100 strides
29 Aug
7.5 miles, 54:46, 7:18 pace, HR 157
6x800 in 3:00, 2:48, 2:57, 2:56, 3:05, 2:55 (2:57 avg)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Deja Vu

With less than 3 weeks to go before the Dingle marathon, my schedule has been thrown into confusion. I had not planned on a 4 weeks taper, but my vastly extended recovery time from the mountain race meant last week’s mileage fell off a cliff, there was not one serious workout, and as a result I guess I was tapering without even knowing.

Saturday’s race had left my legs in a rather tired state. On Sunday morning, as I got ready to go out, Niamh asked me how long I would be running for and I replied “8 or 10 miles”. In 95% of all cases this would mean 10 miles, but the legs felt so heavy after only 3 miles that I only did 8; the fact that I was running in the mother of all summer downpours helped with that decision as well. The roads couldn’t take all that water and I was running through ankle-deep rivers crossing the road on several occasions. Still, as Mangerton has taught me, road surfaces make for easy running compared to what you’re getting away from them.

In an effort to recover from the race I ran just as little on Monday. The legs had felt stiff on Sunday evening and I was very pleasantly surprised by how springy they felt the following morning. I probably should have taken it easier on what was supposed to be a recovery run, but that’s always easy to say afterwards. During my time on the roads I was just happy to run along at a decent pace, feeling very good.

I’m sure you remember the anguish after the 20-mile workout two weeks ago. I was less than pleased with my performance that day, and resolved to try again. I wondered if I should take one additional recovery day after the race, but Dingle is only 18 days away and I figured there was more risk in delaying the workout. As a result, my alarm went off very early this morning and I stepped into a very dark scene when I left the house. It looked to become a very nice day though, the stars were out and I was heading in the general direction of Orion as I set off.

The idea was to run 10 miles at 90% marathon pace and 10 miles at marathon pace. As Michael commented last time round, this is a freaking hard workout, which is why I’d like to do it well because it has served as a tremendous confidence booster in the past.

Initially I thought I was going to breeze through it. I had to slow down considerably during the first few miles to get to about 7:20 pace, and I was cruising along with the heart rate in the low 140s, feeling very good, effortlessly eating up the miles. The first signs that things weren’t all going my way appeared on the return leg of the first loop, when I realised that the easy pace had been caused by the wind pushing me along, and the second half of the loop would be payback time. From mile 7 on the legs started fatiguing at an alarming rate, which really caught me by surprise. Sure, because of the long recovery I had not run more than 10 miles for an entire fortnight, but you don’t lose endurance that quickly. Or do you? By the time I reached our driveway I was in no doubt that the second part would be much harder then it had felt like an hour ago.

What followed was a carbon copy of last time. Initially I got reasonably close to goal pace, but that was again with wind-assistance. By the time I passed through Killorglin again I knew I would not be averaging 6:50, but still hoped to run under 7:00 pace for the second loop. It was then that my legs betrayed me. I felt like I had a brick attached to each leg, a feeling that brought me back all the way to Boston, and one that I had not hoped to be going through again. For a while I managed to dig deep, increase the effort despite the growing discomfort and hang on by sheer willpower. Alas, this is never a long-term solution, and I think my muscle fibres were simply too exhausted to sustain the effort. This was reflected in the heart rate, which was consistently in the high 160s; it definitely felt tougher than marathon effort, and yet I struggled to even maintain 7:20 pace. Eventually I ended up with almost the same numbers as last time, though back then I had felt like I could have run for longer, albeit not at target pace. Today I was utterly exhausted and could not contemplate running another step. When Niamh asked how my run had gone I responded that someone should have knocked me out with a baseball bat at the start; it would have been less painful and over much sooner.

But, unlike a fortnight ago, I didn’t wallow in self-pity, instead I just gave a resigned shrug of the shoulders. You can’t force yourself into form. I won't try and guess what time I might do in Dingle based on this run; probably not what I'd want to, but not a disaster either.

In the office, my right hamstring cramped while sitting in my chair not once but twice. A colleague suggested taking salt onboard, so I went to the shop next door and bought the bag of crisps with the highest sodium content, not exactly my normal approach. However, it seemed to work, at least the cramping stopped.

With only 18 days to go, I’m now definitely in tapering mode, though in reality I have been so for the last 9 days, I just had not realised it. There will still be a couple of workouts, but with plenty of recovery in-between, and much reduced mileage. I hope the taper-induced madness won’t be too bad.
23 Aug
8 miles, 1:03:08, 7:53 pace, HR 144
24 Aug
8 miles, 1:01:23, 7:40 pace, HR 148
25 Aug
20 miles, 2:23:35, 7:11 pace, HR 155
incl. 10 miles @ 7:20, 10 miles @ 7:04

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Bonus Race

This week has seen me almost pretty much out of action after Sunday’s race on Mangerton Mountain. Every single day from Monday to Friday I would get up and the first thing that came into my mind was “this hurts”. As I recovered the pain became more and more manageable, and on Saturday morning I could finally do the first step without wincing.

Five days of easy running did nothing to alleviate my fears that I might be losing fitness before the Dingle marathon, but there was nothing I could do about it. I had vague plans of doing a workout once my legs were up to it again, but each day the decision to run slowly was a no-brainer. With my legs finally turning the corner a weekend speed workout seemed like a good idea. Then I remembered on Friday that there would be a 5K in Killarney today. Surely that would give me a much better workout! I wasn’t entirely sure where the start would be, but with Niamh’s help I found the name of the hotel where the registration would be. Thanks honey!

The promise of doing the weekly shopping as well gave me a free pass, and off I went for the 3 o’clock start. I failed to take into account the fact that the cycling Tour of Ireland was reaching Killarney today, and the town was heaving. Eventually I had to leave the car in a place where it wasn’t supposed to be and hope it would not be clamped in my absence. I got changed there and ran the 1.5 miles to the start – this would be my warm-up as time was running out. I was really surprised by the number of runners, especially taking into account the cycling event; I guess there were about 250 participants.

Anyway, we assembled at the start barely 10 minutes late (that’s really early around here) and took off. Right from the start a big number of people sprinted past me. I could only wonder if everyone had gone mad, because at least half of them were clearly running way ahead of themselves. I settled in fairly close behind the 2 leading ladies at a rather aggressive pace.

The course was the same as for all the summer fest 5Ks in July, and I know it pretty well by now. It is very flat apart from the short but cruel climb right at the end, and certainly well suited to a fast time.

The legs didn’t feel too fresh; I could clearly tell that the recovery from Sunday had not been complete. But I did not want to use that as an excuse and pushed an aggressive pace. By the time the first mile had passed I had overtaken a whole lot of the early sprinters, and the second lady was soon caught as well. I could see the first lady ahead of me. Back in July she had beaten me by maybe 20 seconds, close enough for me to have ideas of ending up ahead today. But she maintained a consistent lead of a few seconds.

The first mile had passed in 5:46, blinding fast for me, though I only saw that afterwards as I managed not to look at the Garmin for the entire race. At the start I had resolved to really put a massive effort into the second mile, because that’s where I always slow down. Accordingly I put in some surges and always tried to give a maximum effort. Despite the ever-increasing discomfort I managed pretty well. Retrospectively, this is the part of the race I am most happy with. I closed in on a couple of runners, but the leading lady was still a few seconds ahead, but a pace of 5:52 is the fastest second mile I have ever managed.

By the time we got into third mile the effort started to tell and I started wheezing. There just did not seem to be enough oxygen in the air to support the effort. I didn’t give up, but I did slow down a bit, want it or not. The last mile is slightly uphill, but that does not entirely excuse the slow-down. The leading lady overtook a runner and I managed to slowly close in on him myself. With the finish drawing nearer I tried the old imagine-a-bungee-rope trick again, but it seemed to have lost its elasticity and the only thing that drew me closer was to fall into a pace that felt like an all-out sprint. When the final climb started I was still about 10 steps behind, but suddenly I could tell that I was getting closer. He must have been suffering even more than me. Inch by inch the distance was melting away, but the pain in my legs was increasingly reaching boiling point. I was even wishing for him to start his final kick so that I could abandon hope of catching him. He must have known that I was there; I was just a step behind him when, with maybe 10 seconds to go, I got my wish – he sped up, I had nothing left to respond with because I was already maxing out, and he beat me to the line by about a second.

It was only here that I looked at my watch and saw my time of 18:19. I was more than happy. It’s 12 seconds behind my personal best, but that had been a once-in-a-lifetime effort that I have never been able to even come close to – until today. Now it suddenly seems within reach, though not this year, because the marathon in 3 weeks will put a stop to all that running at 5K pace.

Looking at the mile splits now I can see that I was within reach of a new PB until the last mile, where I slowed down to 6:12. Having said that, a look at my heart rate chart tells me that there was not much I could have done. The last quarter mile was a true maximum effort when I tried to gain one more place in the field. It may have been in vain, but it gave me a better finishing time and the knowledge that I had tried as hard as I could. With 3 weeks to go before Dingle it served as a booster, both for the legs and the confidence.

Of course I missed the cycling race, including Lance Armstrong and Mark Cavendish’s amazing sprint finish, but you can’t have everything. At least my car was still there when I got back.
20 Aug
9 miles, 1:09:40, 7:45 pace, HR 142
21 Aug
10 miles, 1:17:01, 7:42 pace, HR 142
22 Aug
11 miles, including:
 Killarney 5K, 18:19, 5:56 pace, HR 177

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Hurt

I did go over some figures from Sunday’s race (results here, btw), and they just make my head spin. Not my run – that was mediocre enough. It’s the course than I can’t quite get my head around.

The overall elevation gain was well over 2100 feet, and with 3 miles of climbing that gives an average gradient of 14%. The downhill as a tad shorter, which of course means on average it was even steeper, though in actual fact most of the way was shared. Of course that’s just the average. The first mile of the climb was consistently between 20% and 30%, and the bit between mile 2.7 and 2.8 (the climb out of the Devil’s Punchbowl) averaged well over 40%, with bits of 50% thrown in for fun. What the figures don’t tell you is the awful footing, at least for someone used to tarmac roads. The stony path was bad enough, but the bog just defied belief. I can’t quite believe I even made it up there.

But it’s the downhill that I’m now paying the price for.

I’ve been told off more than once for not taking enough recovery after a race, especially the one a fortnight ago. Believe me, this time it is different. I should have known, of course. Dropping 2100 feet in 26 minutes on a surface that does not allow you to run, only to execute a series of jumps, was bound to shred my quads to pieces.

I thought I was being conservative when I set the alarm in time for 8 miles on Monday. It turned out to be the most painful 8 miles in a very long time. I was waiting for the endorphins to kick in to provide some pain relief, but that never really happened. At work I was moaning loudly each time I had to get in or out of a seat, but I still I scoffed at the remark of the colleague who predicted I would feel even worse tomorrow. What does she think, that I have never done this before?

Of course I had indeed never done this before, and I woke on Tuesday in a sea of pain. Somehow I managed to drag myself out of bed, and somehow I made it out of the door. The first half-mile was a series of baby steps on tippy toes before I could fall into some action that vaguely resembled running. The road was fairly flat, and while the flat bits hurt, the gentle climbs hurt more, and the still gentle downhills hurt like hell. I think my legs are being rebuilt from scratch, and I cannot help but think that I have been less sore after my last few marathons, with the possible exception of Boston.

Today, Wednesday, I’m still in pain, but at least I can tell that the worst is behind me. I made it out for 6 miles, but real training is still not on the cards. By now I’m more than a bit worried about the effect this might have on the Dingle marathon; I’m sure the quads will have recovered by then, but I’m missing a good bit of training at a time when I was planning to do the last few proper workouts. However, the message from my legs is loud and clear. Recover first!

But while I’m sitting here whinging I cannot help but remember that one group of Irish runners has much more reason to be in pain right now. Last weekend, while I did my poor impression of a mountain goat, the Connemara 100 took place, and the winner, Mick Rice, ran an absolutely mind-boggling time of 14:31:53! In the past he even commented once or twice on this very blog, so I guess I should feel honoured. Sadly I expect the official Irish ultra running organisation to be acting the maggot and refuse to accept this as an official national record, but at least there are plenty of people who know about Mick’s out-of-this-world performance. I wish I had been there instead of pretending to be a fell runner. Absolutely stunning!
17 Aug
8 miles, 1:04:30, 8:04 pace, HR 141
18 Aug
5 miles, 40:51, 8:10 pace, HR 139
19 Aug
6 miles, 47:13, 7:52 pace, HR 142

Sunday, August 16, 2009



You can’t run a mountain too hard – you will collapse well before it is hurt.

One important part of my marathon training this summer has been to race every fortnight. I still can’t believe how well the race calendar has supported this idea. There was a race every 2 weeks within Kerry, something that would have been unheard of until this year. I took full advantage of this, but my luck seemed to have run out this weekend – until I checked the website of the Irish Mountain Running Association.

The race up Mangerton Mountain near Killarney had me interested for a few years, and with the race seemingly fitting into my calendar I decided to be adventurous and give this one a go. I had vague ideas of a training run before the race, but that never came to fruition. My first mountain race would be on unknown territory.

Information on the website was sparse and we got there in good time to be safe. Alas, there was nobody there apart from 2 guys who were looking to run the race as well but didn’t have any more information either. Over the next half hour more people arrived, and eventually it transpired that we were supposed to sign up in the pub at the bottom of the road, but the organiser would come up and we could sign up at the trailhead. This took a long time – by the time the race was supposed to start, we were still waiting, eventually he turned up, and with at least a dozen people signing up it was not until 13:40 that we finally got underway. Even for Kerry standards, that’s rather late.

I was a bit self-conscious because I only had street runners, but there was no need to worry. While the proper mountain runners had proper trail shoes, at least half of the field were in attire similar to mine. We got some explanation of the course, which left me and almost everyone else thinking they’d follow the person in front, and then we were finally off. I started halfway down the field, not knowing what was in store.

Niamh took a video of the start. We are going to run up the mountain towards the right, but you can’t see the actual summit from there.

It became very clear very soon that running up that steep, rocky mountain path was not in store. Not for me, and not for the vast majority of competitors either. The trail was very uneven, and you had to be careful every time you planted your foot. It was also very steep, at least from a roadrunner’s point of view. After a while I found myself right behind a lady who later turned out to be the winner of the lady’s competition. I noticed two things. First, it’s better to keep at least 2 steps distance, otherwise you won’t be able to see where you are going to put your foot. Secondly, she was running and I was hiking, but could keep up easily, and I’m sure I spent a lot less energy. For the first 1.5 miles this was the most brutal climb I had every experienced. Despite me walking, the heart rate was consistently in the high 170s, and more than once I nearly ended up flat on my face. The calves were screaming, and I was still only in the middle of the climb. Eventually, after an absolute age, it became a bit flatter, and I was able to run a bit. I was surprised how well I was running here compared to the people around me – I moved up 3 or 4 positions in a short space of time. Then it was time for walking again.

Close to the 2-mile point we turned off the path towards the left. I would have missed it on my own, but luckily I had others to follow. The organiser had mentioned something about boggy ground. I very soon found out how boggy, when my right foot disappeared up to its knee in mud (or whatever that was). Luckily the shoe was still there when I managed to pull out my leg at the second attempt. “Welcome to mountain running”, an amused fella remarked dryly. The next half mile was probably the worst bit, very steep and with very bad footing. But it eventually became worthwhile when we emerged into the Devil’s Punchbowl, a little mountain lake surrounded by the high ridge of Mangerton Mountain itself. The view was breathtaking, but there was still a race going on and we hurried along the flatter piece, only to end up at what looked like a nearly vertical cliff face. I tried not to think about what would happen if I slipped here, and on more than one occasion had to use all fours to pull myself further up towards the peak. We arrived at the top all in one piece, and, following the ridgeline, soon saw the cairn that marked the top. It had taken me 47 minutes for the 3 miles (and 2000+ feet elevation gain).

Following the ridgeline further was pretty terrifying. One yard to the right was an almost vertical drop of 300 feet towards the lake and I actually ran 2 yards beside the trail, too scared to get any closer to the edge.

And then down we went. Initially I lost contact to the 2 guys ahead of me. Running down a steep mountain slope is an art that I haven’t mastered yet due to lack of practise. “Don’t do anything stupid, think of Dingle”. I was fully prepared to sacrifice a few places in the field in order to arrive back down safely. It was still hairy at times, with rocks tripping me and me almost planting my face on more than one occasion. One guy disappeared into the distance, but I could still see the other one ahead of me, which greatly assisted navigation. Eventually I must have gotten into the swing of things, I stopped losing ground, and to my surprise nobody ever appeared from behind. One (originally very very fast) runner was walking down the track having pulled both of his quads, but he managed to get down by himself eventually. And I surprised myself by getting closer to the frontrunner, mostly by successfully cutting a few corners and descending down the most direct route whenever possible. Eventually I even managed to overtake, again by taking a more direct route. This had the disadvantage of having to find my own way from here on, but the path was reasonably clear and I managed. I could see another runner further ahead, but even though I got closer towards the end I never threatened him.

On the flatter bits I tried to actually run, and was surprised to feel the quads burning. On the steep descends I was so concentrated on not falling that I didn’t feel any pain; it was the flat bits that hurt. However, I could always hear footsteps not far behind which urged me on, and I never dared to slow down. Since I always had to fully concentrate on the trail ahead I was never tempted to look behind though. Eventually we got to the last bit, I once again almost keeled forwards and just about managed to catch myself with my hands, and then I crossed the line in 1:13:42, not that the time has any real meaning on such a course, a bit shorter than 10k.

I am sore in places that I never knew would be used for running. My calves, my quads and my lower back are all tender, and the rest is recuperating as well. I have my doubts how useful that was as preparation for the Dingle marathon, but as an afternoon of fun it received full marks, and then some. Watching the top racers defy gravity on the climb was awesome, and unfortunately I was nowhere near to admire their descending skills, but they have my full respect. The friendly banter at the end was fun, and I will be doing that again.

Niamh was slightly less amused, having dealt with 4 fighting children for 2 hours. She announced next year she’d be the one running up the mountain and I would be minding the cantankerous brood. Oh dear.

There was nobody to take photos, but the ones from the 2006 race give you a pretty good impression of the area. I recommend having a good look.

15 Aug
8 miles, 1:03:40, 7:57 pace, HR 139
16 Aug
10 miles, including:
Mangerton Mountain Race, 1:13:42, 12:34 pace, HR 168

Weekly Mileage: 76.5

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thank You

Even though it might sound like an Oscar speech, I’d like to thank you for the comments you left for my last entry. You guys are worth your weight in gold, every single one of you!

I had written most of that entry pretty much straight after Tuesday’s workout, but didn’t post it. On Wednesday I deleted the worst of the whiny passages, left others in, and that’s what you got to read.

Giving up was never on my mind; when I said I’m not going to run under 3 hours I never meant I wasn’t even going to try. It was more a resigned statement that even though I would try I could predict coming up short once more. On reflection, breaking three hours in Dingle was never likely anyway. The elevation profile of that race hasn’t changed. It’s just that the last 10k seemed to indicate that I was in better shape than I appear to be, and that’s why I was so frustrated on Tuesday.

I was thinking about adding some faster running, like mile repeats, but envisaged a gust of comments saying “why are you starting intervals 4 weeks before the marathon you idiot”, except that most of you are too polite to put the idiot bit into writing. Then Mike’s comment suggested doing just that, expect for 1000s rather than miles, and that’s what I ended up doing on Thursday.

It wouldn’t be me just to go out and do a straightforward set of intervals, so I checked JD’s book and copied a workout from on of his marathon plans with the same amount of time before the target race. 6x1000 at I pace (2 mins rest), followed by 4x400 at R pace (3 mins rest). A look into his tables gave my projected times as 3:41 and 82 respectively, which is 5:56 and 5:30 pace. Let’s all have a good laugh at that. One thing I have learned last year is that I am not one to hit projected paces in training and I decided not to worry about them, just do the best I could.

I guess jumping straight into such a workout isn’t what most coaches would recommend, but time is not on my side. I was not looking forward to it, though. My last thought before falling asleep the night before was a feeling of dread, which was repeated first thing in the morning.

After 2 miles of warm-up, the 1000s were upon me. Since I don’t have a track, I ran them on a reasonably straight piece of Caragh Lake road, though that has a little hill in the middle. Consistency on these workouts has never been my strong point, and predictably the numbers fluctuated like a seismograph at an earthquake.

3:58, 3:48, 3:53, 3:56, 3:59, 3:51 (pace between 6:10 and 6:27)

Not exactly brilliant. But I tried. The 400s went a bit better.

88, 88, 84, 87 (pace between 5:39 and 5:53)

I went home feeling I could have done one or two more, but that’s what you’re supposed be feeling. The hamstrings were aching for the rest of the day.

I followed this today with 10 easy miles. The legs were predictably sore, and I picked up the pace on several occasions, which generally helps. It was maybe a tad fast for a recovery run, but I felt reasonably comfortable. Funnily enough, the quads seemed to feel better at 7:45 pace than at 8:20, or maybe they were just better warmed up at that stage.

Tomorrow will be easy again, and on Sunday I’m heading up into the mountains. If I don’t break my leg, it should be fun.
13 Aug
10.5 miles, 1:21:30, 7:46 pace, HR 152
incl. 6x1000: 3:58,48,53,56,59,51 and 4x400: 88,88,84,87
14 Aug
10 miles, 1:19:11, 7:55 pace, HR 143

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


After a set of delays, the time of The One Workout had finally arrived. My old favourite of 10 miles at slower than marathon pace and 10 miles at marathon pace was waiting to be done. I had gotten plenty of sleep and was fully rested despite the early rising hour of 5 o’clock. I was surprised by how dark it was outside. The heavy cloud cover didn’t help in that regard, but it was not raining and the wind had lessened considerably. I would not be able to find better conditions.

As soon as I set off, I started having doubts. While I clicked into about 7:20 pace handily enough it felt harder than expected and I somehow doubted that I would be able to run 30 seconds per mile faster on tired legs. Anyway, I got down to business. I had done the same workout on the same course a few weeks before Boston, feeling really good and averaging 7:18 on the first 10-mile loop and 6:48 on the second. These figures were a bit of a millstone around my neck; I knew I would struggle to match them.

The Caragh Lake road was a bit busier than normal at this time (i.e. there actually were cars on it) because it is used to by-pass Killorglin in times of Puck Fair by people in the know. When I reached town halfway through my first loop (still before 6 o’clock) I was surprised by the number of people busying around. Usually I don’t see a soul. No bother, it didn’t interfere with my running. The return leg of the loop was uneventful, but I clearly noticed the headwind. I knew this might spell trouble for later.

After a very quick stop for a gel and water I headed out again and let go off the breaks. It became clear early on that I was not going to match my pre-Boston workout. The question was by how much I would miss it. I concentrated on running rather than looking at the Garmin, but the figures I got on the 3 occasions I did look tell their own story. After 3.5 miles, I was still within reach of a half-decent performance with a pace of 6:55. Two miles later, just past the halfway point of the second loop, it had deteriorated slightly to 6:57. But it was over the following stretch, which consisted mainly of a very long section of over 1.5 miles of completely straight road, slightly uphill and right against the wind, where I completely lost it. Every time I tried to inject some pace, the legs refused to comply. As much as I tried to ignore the fact that I had already covered over 17 miles, there was no denying that I was tired. After finally reaching the apex of that miserable piece of thoroughfare the average loop pace had slowed down all the way to 7:04. The last (not quite) 2 miles would be slightly downhill and I harboured hopes of at least getting below 7:00 pace. Sadly, this wasn’t forthcoming either. When I got home, the Garmin was still stuck on 7:04.

Numbers don’t lie. Last time round I ran 7:18 and 6:48. This time I only managed 7:24 and 7:04. While averaging 7:14 pace over 20 miles is not a bad workout, the implications are clear.

I’m not going to run under 3 hours.

It made me realise how little I know about training. I have no idea what might have caused such a poor show. The gardening work from the weekend? Too little rest? Too much rest over the weekend? Lack of speedy runs? Too many miles? Too few MP miles? Was it something fundamental in the training or a single issue, like not recovering after last week’s race? Basically, I have no idea.

In Dublin last year I had the pace for a sub-3 marathon but not the stamina to hold it beyond 20 miles. I subsequently tried to adjust my training to the effect that today I thought I could have kept that pace (7:04) for the entire marathon distance but felt unable to run any faster.

On the other hand, since I was basically only doing base training this time round I should not be surprised that my pace isn’t great. It was that last race that made me think I was fast enough. If you’re able to run 6:10 pace over a very hilly 10k, 6:50 over a marathon isn’t an outlandish target. Sadly, I still seem to slow by at least 5 minutes from my calculated marathon times. Unfortunately nobody told my leg muscles about McMillan.

I followed that run with 8 miles in the rain this morning. There’s not much to say about it, apart from the fact that I was surprised how hypnotic 8:20 pace can be. I started running stuck in one gear and hardly noticed the miles go by. After 5 miles I did some strides, more to get out of the ever-same pace than anything else. As soon as they were finished, I fell back into the old trot again. I guess it will do for a recovery run.
11 Aug
20 miles, 2:24:32, 7:14 pace, HR151
incl. 10 miles @ 7:24, 10 miles @ 7:04
12 Aug
8 miles, 1:06:19, 8:17 pace, HR 135

Monday, August 10, 2009

Not much Point

It’s 10 Aug, and Killorglin has slipped into the annual state of anarchy that is Puck Fair. Since I’m aware of the hypnotic attraction of revelling crowds I try to give it a miss. Too many people at work have gone out at lunchtime for a meal and failed to return to their desks over the years.

Following my promise to take it easier between workouts I only ran easy miles over the weekend. The problem was that a gap in the otherwise incessant rain enabled me to spend some much-needed hours in the garden, to turn it from advanced jungle back into civilised lawn. It was only the next morning when I realised (and remembered) how much that takes out of my legs, and by then it was too late already.

I felt really good on Saturday. Despite taking it easy the miles just flew by, and at times I had to put on the breaks; I was cruising along at 7:20 pace, which, despite feeling so easy, is not exactly my usual easy pace. The 12.5 miles left me with enough energy to spend the next 6 or so hours in the garden. I guess that’s the problem.

As soon as I woke on Sunday I knew I was in trouble. The legs hurt more than after any training session I can remember this year. Since I only had 8 miles to end the weeks on another 100 I went out for those, just as planned, but every single step was a miniature test of character. I expected to feel ok after a mile or two. That’s what usually happens if I go running on tired legs. Not so this time, even the last half-mile was a chore, and I really could not wait to be done. At that stage I really doubted my ability to do Monday’s workout. I know I’ve said that on numerous occasions, but this time it was different.

The whole point of taking it easy over the weekend was to be rested for the next real workout. I was planning my standard 20-mile key run, with 10 miles at 90% marathon pace and 10 miles at marathon pace. This is an old favourite of mine; if it goes well it is a great confidence booster and I didn’t want to mess it up by starting on tired legs.

I set my alarm for 5am, in time for the workout, but when I woke up I immediately noticed my sore legs and, after several hours of staring at the ceiling unable to sleep, was extremely tired. The fact that I could hear the rain against my window did not help. For once I reset my alarm and tried to sleep for another hour.

When I eventually made it out of the house for 10 miles, I noticed 2 things. One, the weather was much worse than forecast, and two, my legs felt much better than I had thought an hour earlier. There wasn’t much point wondering if I could have done the workout after all. I ran 10 miles along Caragh Lake in fairly foul conditions, but feeling much better than yesterday. Maybe Sunday had just been one of those days, who knows. It’s too late now to ponder. Tomorrow I’ll try again.
8 Aug
12.5+ miles, 1:38:21, 7:50 pace, HR 138
9 Aug
8 miles, 1:04:58, 8:07 pace, HR 133
10 Aug
10 miles, 1:20:35, 8:03 pace, HR 135

Weekly Mileage: 100+

Friday, August 07, 2009


Last week, Niamh had come home from Dublin with a cold that had us miss our anniversary dinner. We made up for it on Tuesday night, had a few drinks, left the car in town and I volunteered to pick it up the next morning.

Killorglin is about 5 miles away from home, but I was planning on doing a little detour to boost my mileage. The first thing I felt after the alarm went off was a hangover, but I dragged myself out of bed and onto the road anyway. I went towards Dooks and Cromane, the route I had suffered on two weeks ago on my 22 mile run. This time I was running it the other way and had the wind behind me, helping me along the way. The first 5 miles passed soon enough, but then I really started suffering. For the next few miles I was looking at the Garmin far too often, not understanding how the mileage figure could go up so slowly. Since the misery was both deserved and self-inflicted I kept going, but seriously considered taking a shorter route into town. Then, at the 10 miles point, the worst was over all of a sudden. Maybe I had sweated out the worst of the poison, and I really started enjoying the run. I went down 2 roads that I had never been on before, all the way down to Ballykissane pier, and eventually got to my car with 15 miles under the belt just as the heavens opened. Luckily enough I had managed to remember bringing the car key along.

Since the rain did not let up, Niamh drove me into work, and since the weather was so nice in the evening I ran home. This wasn’t quite what I had planned for a recovery day, but surprisingly enough I felt very good after both runs. The day’s mileage of 20 miles might have been a bit high, but running it in 2 shifts, hours apart, made it much, much easier than one long run would have been.

Thursday is always the day of hill repeats, which meant 3 tempo miles at first and then a series of painful charges up that by now very, very familiar hill. I was seriously dreading the oncoming pain today, but having taken 50 seconds off my 10k time over the last 2 weeks I can clearly see the benefits. The workout is painful, the legs hurt for the entire rest of the day, but it is worth it.

There are only so many ways to describe an ever-repeating workout, and I won’t bother with the details. The workout seemed to be getting easier as the weeks have gone by, but I took that as a hint to work harder. For some reason, I was almost floored after the seventh repeat; it took an awful long time to regain a normal breathing pattern after that. Because of that, I left it at the standard 8 repeats rather than adding a bonus one, like I had done last week. It was enough to turn the legs into jelly anyway.

I was all set to run 18 miles today, I had already set the alarm for 5:05am, when I checked the computer one last time and read Mike’s comment. Not that I want to give the impression that I ignore everyone else, but Mike made me sit up and think, because he has been through the 100-miles-a-week training several times before (in fact, he inspired me towards it more than anyone else). Eventually I decided to listen. I reset the alarm for 5:30, which I was grateful for when I got up, because the extra 25 minutes of sleep were highly welcome. It meant only 15 miles for today, and even though I felt good it was rather slow, certainly slower than normally. Maybe it's a sign that cutting off the last 3 miles was a good idea, though I felt perfectly fine all the way through.

With 5 weeks to go before the marathon I’m not quite tapering yet, but with Mike’s (and everyone else’s) warning ringing in the ears the highest mileage is now behind me. I’ll take it easy over the weekend, but will still get to 100 miles for this week. Two easy days should provide enough rest for a strong long marathon-effort run on Monday, followed by another couple of easy days. This might not sound like me and will require keeping my runner's OCD in check, but I’ll get used to it, I’m sure.
5 Aug
am: 15 miles, 1:57:21, 7:49 pace, HR 141
pm: 5 miles, 38:25, 7:41 pace, HR 141
6 Aug
10.5 miles, 1:29:52, 8:34 pace, HR 143
incl. 3 miles @ 6:46, 8x60 secs hill sprints
7 Aug
15 miles, 2:00:59. 8:04 pace, HR 139

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

My Kind of Recovery

I’ll try to pre-empt the otherwise inevitable avalanche of “take it easier” comments. I’m perfectly aware of the generally accepted wisdom of taking easy days and easy weeks between hard workouts, I know all about the hard-easy principle and I’ve experimented with several training philosophies myself. I just happen to think that this summer I have inadvertently stumbled into a training method that works very well for me. And it doesn’t include a lot of easy days.

While I tend to train reasonably hard on most days, I am very careful to work different systems from day to day. Any long run is always followed by a day of tempo repeats, or hill sprints, or marathon effort, and vice-versa. I never do the same workout two days in a row. That way the muscles are not used the same way in quick succession and I feel that this way I can recover even without a lot of easy days in-between. When I felt really tired after the London trip, I took an easy week. If I feel like that again, I’ll take another easy week. If I feel strong, I’ll continue training like a lunatic.

With this out of the way, let’s talk about training. After Sunday’s highly successful race I initially intended to run 15 miles on Monday. That would give me a decent endurance workout and still be light enough to recover from a strenuous race. Then I remembered that Monday was a bank holiday. Hmm. It meant I would be able to sleep in and still run long. Then again, how would my legs react to the race? I decided to leave my options open. I got up at 7 am on Monday and left a note for Niamh that I may be gone for quite some time. Then I set off around Caragh Lake.

The route I chose would take 16.5 miles without the possibility of bailing out. This set the minimum distance I would have to do, no matter what. Depending on how I felt, I would add more to that. As it happened, 16.5 miles was just about the distance I managed to run without feeling bad. Of course I still had the race in my legs, but up to that point that did not bother me. I passed our driveway and went on. I felt thirsty, but I feared that if I went home for a refill I would not be able to set out again, so I ventured on. The next miles were definitely a challenge. Setting off on already tired legs means you are going to eventually use new muscle fibres as the runs goes on. That’s the whole idea. You want to train the lazy fibres that usually just hang in there, because you are going to need them at the end of a marathon. Well, I could feel them coming online unwillingly. I also noticed that my pace hovered around the 8:00 mark, and beating that became the aim for the rest of the run. It kept me from falling into a slow, unproductive slog. Normally I would expect the HR to be in the low 140s for that pace. At that stage it was in the high 150s. Interesting, but manageable.

After passing our driveway I ran 3 miles alongside the Devil’s Elbow and turned around there. That gave me (almost) 22.5 miles when I reached home for a second time. This time I was really tempted to stop. I was exhausted and I was dehydrated. But I went on for just one more, tiny out-and back section. Three quarters of a mile out, the same distance back, and then I was finally done, 24 miles to the good. On a normal weekday I would have to get up at 4:20 am to do that. It was well worth the effort.

The main problem was probably dehydration. Afterwards I was 6 pounds lighter than the day before. I was also absolutely ravenous and started on a marathon session of a different kind as soon as I sat down at the kitchen table. Luckily there was enough food there to feed an army, because I ate the lot. Afterwards my weight was back to normal.

With that in mind, I decided to take it a tad easier on Tuesday and cut the run from 12 miles down to 10. As this would not leave enough road for 3x3 miles, I reverted to the old 2x3 session, but had the seemingly bright idea of adding one fast mile after the second 3-mile repeat. The legs were stiff and tired at the start (no big surprise there), and I had my by now standard Tuesday morning feeling of “I cannot do this workout”. However, when I got down to it, the first repeat went by surprisingly quickly at 6:40 pace, albeit assisted by a blustery wind. I had to pay for that on the second leg, of course. The fatigue of the previous days may also have finally caught up with me. Be it the wind, the uphill road, or the fatigue, the second part was no faster than 6:54, despite feeling a lot harder than the first one. If a last, fast mile was really a good idea after that I don’t know, but I went ahead anyway. I found out that surprisingly one mile is enough time to lose concentration not just once but twice. That used to be a problem at tempo runs; after doing enough of them I can now run the required effort without thinking these days. The same is not true for a faster mile repeat, and I could definitely have run faster then 6:27. Never mind.

For once I think I’ve done enough. Tomorrow will be easier. No worries.
3 Aug
24 miles, 3:10:55, 7:57 pace, HR 150
4 Aug
10 miles, 1:13:05, 7:18 pace, HR 152
2x3 miles @ 6:40, 6:54, 1 mile @ 6:27

Sunday, August 02, 2009

On the Inca Trail

I was all set for a complicated manoeuvre on Friday, the company’s day out and the day of the Kilgobnet 4-mile race. I was planning on spending the day with my work colleagues and leave at 6pm in my car to drive to Kilgobnet and race. It wasn’t exactly ideal, but what can you do. Then, on Thursday afternoon, when checking out the Kenmare tourism website I came across a flyer of a 10k in Kenmare on Sunday. You mean I can enjoy the entire Friday out and still run a race on the weekend? Perfect! Despite the strange name (Inca Trail 10km run), it was a road race.

It also meant a slight change to my training plan. Out went the idea of a sleep-in on Friday; I ran my usual 18 miles in the wind and rain. Niamh refused to let me cycle to work at 9 o’clock because of the bad weather and insisted on giving me a lift. Then, on Saturday I ran 10 miles, but took it really easy, apart from a set of strides to turn over the legs.

We took off towards Kenmare on Sunday lunchtime. We left in plenty of time but did not factor in the ***** tourists on the road driving at 50 kph. I was getting worried about missing the start but we made it with 10 minutes to spare. Since Kerry races never start on time I even had time for a warm-up.

There were not a lot of runners who looked fast, so I lined up right at the front. Right from the off a kid in a cotton t-shirt took the lead, joined by a mate in a similar outfit. I did wonder how long they would last the pace, but knew that looks could be deceptive. I was in third place, leading the chase group, when another kid stormed past me. Unlike his friends, I just knew that he would definitely not last the pace. A runner in a khaki t-shirt took position at my shoulder, and over the first km we went on to drop the rest of the group.

Just after the first km the kid in third place stopped to re-tie his laces, and that was the last time I saw him (he finished way back, which was inevitable). I didn’t stay in third place for long because khaki t-shirt went past me on the first uphill stretch to pull a few meters ahead, and then I heard footsteps coming from behind. Eventually another runner passed me, wearing a t-shirt from a Swiss mountain marathon. He was obviously at home at climbing up that hill.

Climbing up that hill soon became the name of the game. It was steep, I was suffering badly, the top two runners disappeared into the distance and the next two were pulling slowly but steadily away from me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I could see a bend in the road ahead, but when I reached it all I could see the road climbing up at the same gradient for as far as I could see. At one stage I glanced at my Garmin and saw the HR at 181. No wonder I was redlining, but I managed to keep the effort going. This wasn’t a race; this was torture! After another turn the road was still climbing, but at least not quite as steep. I could just about see the guy in the khaki t-shirt ahead of me; the top 3 guys had disappeared beyond the horizon. Since there were prizes for the top 3 runners I knew I wasn’t in the hunt for those, not that I had ever expected to be, of course. Eventually, after 3.2 miles, well past the halfway mark, we finally crested the blasted hill, well over 200 feet higher than the start had been.

Downhill it went. I had thought the climb had been steep, but the descent was a lot steeper. Fell runners might have been comfortable on that gradient, but I was not. I tried to spin the legs as fast as they would go, and looking at the chart I reached 4:36 pace at one point. It was mad, I was barely in control, but took heart from the fact that the vast gap between me and the khaki t-shirt was melting. I was still behind when we reached the bottom of the hill, but I was now within striking distance. The road was flat for the next mile, and I somehow seemed to carry the momentum from our downhill descent with me. I did my old trick of imagining a bungee rope pulling me towards the front-runner. This worked its magic once more; I was soon level. At that stage I looked at my Garmin for the first time since the second mile. I was in for a major surprise.

When climbing up that monster of a hill, my one overriding thought was “at least I didn’t sacrifice any training to run that race. A new PR on that mountain course would have been impossible anyway”. I also remember getting really angry with the organisers. I know the area around Kenmare is very hilly, but I’m sure they could have found a saner racecourse. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather run a fast race than a mountainous one.

Anyway, I had set a new 10k PR two weeks ago in Ballydavid. The pace had been 6:15. When I checked the Garmin about 4.5 miles into today's race, after climbing that mountain, I did not expect to see 6:11 on the display. I did a double take. I even wiped the raindrops from the casing, thinking that I must have misread the numbers. No, they were still there, 6:11 average pace it was.

I know you’re not supposed to pace a race off your watch. That mistake has cost me on more than one occasion in the past. But seeing those numbers gave me a massive boost. Khaki t-shirt didn’t stand a chance after that. I went past and left him behind, chasing the fastest time I could possibly achieve. I could not see any runners ahead of me, and third place was never an option. But a new PR was so close, and I was not going to let the opportunity go by.

The climbing didn’t stop there. We still had to crest another hill, passing the very swanky and exclusive Sheen Falls Lodge on the way, but didn’t have time (or money) to stop for a spa treatment. Then it was downhill again, and after what seemed to be a very long time I finally reached the bridge over the Kenmare River, and I knew this would be over in a few minutes.

I also knew that the finish would be uphill, and uphill running isn’t my forte, despite all the hill repeats I’ve done this summer. I was a bit worried about my fourth place, but wasn’t tempted to look behind to check. All I did was run as fast as I could. Twice cars passed me coming the other way and beeped their horn in encouragement (I presume). I must have made an ugly sight, mouth wide open, gasping for air up the final hill, but I could see the last turn ahead. The volunteers stopped the traffic for me, I crossed the road into the finishing chute and was done, 39:16 on the clock.

The race director had said before the start that the distance wasn’t accurate. It was over 10k, but I missed the actual figure he gave. All I can do is follow the number on my Garmin, which measured 6.35 miles. 39:16 over 6.35 miles equals 38:24 over 10k. Later, at home, I checked the computer how long the first 10k had taken me, which came up with 38:24 as well. So, after yet another inaccurate race distance (but longer rather than shorter this time, which I definitely prefer), I again have to decide if I accept that as a new PR. Since the improvement is so massive, I decided to take it. It’s obviously a better indicator of my present level. And who would say no to a half-minute improvement in the 10k?

I congratulated the three top-runners (the kids never let up their pace, very impressive), and had a chat with khaki t-shirt (“Are you the guy with the blog?”), and then it was back for family time again. It was raining heavily at that stage and Niamh and the kids took refuge in a cake shop while I was doing my cool-down (nobody complained). I asked Niamh if it had been raining throughout the race, which she confirmed. Funny that. I had not noticed a thing!

31 Jul
18 miles, 2:22:25, 7:54 pace, HR 143
1 Aug
10 miles, 1:22:30, 8:15 pace, HR 135
2 Aug
14 miles, including:
  Kenmare Inca Trail 10km run, 39:16, 6:10 pace, HR 177
  Equivalent 10k time 38:24

Weekly Mileage: 100+
July Mileage: 417+