Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Family Matters

About 3 weeks ago, while doing the school run, Niamh suddenly spotted a tiny kitten sitting bleeding by the roadside. It had obviously been hit by a car and was injured, but she could not tell how badly. Being a kind soul, she brought it to the vet who nurtured her back to life. Inquiries into whose cat it might be came to nothing; it was probably abandoned at the roadside. A few days after her brush with death, Dipsy became part of the family.

She’s probably wondering at times what she's gotten into, especially when Maia keeps torturing her. Not that she is really meaning to of course, but the treatment by an overexcited 2-year old amounts to the same. Dipsy is very keen on hunting two things: her own tail, and my ankles. I’m covered in scratches, but who cares, she’s too cute. Then, last Sunday, she went missing. We feared the worst, and especially the girls were very upset. Then, hours later, just as I was folding away some laundry, I noticed a bump in our bed, and guess what feline scallywag was having a great nap! The excitement was great, and we’re a happy family unit once more.

Later that day Niamh asked, pretty much out of the blue, if I would consider cycling to school with Lola in the morning. It would make her school run much easier and of course I didn’t mind the least. At 8:30 next morning off we went down the driveway, just the two of us. Her school is on my way to work anyway. Why didn’t we think of that earlier?

Oh, and I did some running as well. 8 easy miles on Monday passed much faster than anticipated, and the HR was below 140, which pleased me no end. I take it as a good sign. Today I wore my new pair of Lunaracers for the first time. They are replacing an identical but worn pair that have done good service in Boston and Dingle, and several races in-between. I compared the wear pattern on the old sole with the new ones, and was surprised to see that there was little wear at the heels but quite a bit at the balls of the foot. Almost all of the photos of me running show me as a heel striker and that’s where I would have expected the shoes to show most signs of use. Interesting. Anyway, the run was fine, including 12x100 strides on the way home. Things will intensify a little more very soon.
28 Sep
8 miles, 1:03:09, 7:53 pace, HR 139
29 Sep
10 miles, 1:17:25, 7:44 pace, HR 147
incl. 12x100 strides

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Into the Wild

My race up Mangerton Mountain 6 weeks ago whetted my appetite for more off-road running. After all, I do live in an area of outstanding beauty, and there are quite a few places worth exploring that don’t even require the use of a car. On the other hand I’m basically always in training for a marathon and I have my doubts how much those mountain treks would boost my running stamina. But since I am transitioning between recovery and training right now, I thought it would be a good morning for a trip up Rossbeigh mountain.

Since I expected some nice views, I took my camera with me. I ran a slightly scenic way towards Glenbeigh and took a shot of the Caragh River shortly before it enters the sea. Sadly our camera is crap and couldn’t really deal with the low lighting conditions (it was about 7:30 am at the time).

Passing through Glenbeigh I could see the target straight ahead of me. Just before the 5-mile mark I reached a picnic area that marked the end of the road and the beginning of the trail section. From here on it was steep uphill, first on a runnable trail, but soon on a section that went straight up the mountain. To my surprise I met a female runner coming down the mountain at that stretch. I really had not expected to see another human soul here.

I reached the tree line and was rewarded with some awesome sights. The trail disappeared completely and I was reduced to finding my way straight through the fern and later the heather. Eventually I decided to get to the fence that went all the way up to the top of the mountain, and found some sort of trail here. I even managed to run a few sections.

The view from the top was breathtaking, and the photos don’t do it justice in any way. I had great views of the Dingle peninsula, where I’d had 3 hours of fun 2 weeks ago, and where I will have twice the fun next year.

I also saw a cairn and wondered if it was the (ruined) Neolithic monument called Laghtshee (‘fairy monument’) I had read about, but when I checked the map afterwards it was at the wrong place. Of course there is always the chance that the map was wrong, but I don’t know.

Then it was time to turn homewards again, and the trail looked a lot steeper than on the way up, but the camera could not capture that. Once I was back at the picnic area I took a slightly more straightforward route because I was getting anxious to get home again, though the 4 minutes I saved that way weren’t exactly significant. The trip took 1:52 for 11+ miles (10-minute pace) in its entirety, and the running part on it’s own was 9.25 miles at 7:33 pace. It was fun, but I really don’t think those mountains are doing anything for me as far as road marathoning is concerned. But if I'd find a way to add them to my usual training rather than replacing it, I’d be more than happy.

I was still in the spirit, so I did another off-road run today, but a runnable one for a change. I followed the Kerry Way at the side of Seefin Mountain, scaring a few sheep in the process, and ran home on the road beside Caragh Lake. For some reason I decided to pretty much hammer the road portion and did the last 5 miles at 7:05 pace. It felt great to spin the legs at a faster rate for once, though. I always reach that point a few weeks after a marathon. I take it as a sign that I’m ready to do some actual training again, and this time it’s just in time for Dublin.
25 Sep
6.1 miles, 47.34, 7:47 pace, HR 146
26 Sep
11+ miles, 1:52:34, 10:07 pace, HR 146
or: 9.25 miles, 1:09:48, 7:33 pace, HR 151 (road only)
27 Sep
12+ miles, 1:30:48, 7:31 pace, HR 155

Weekly Mileage: 57+

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Me And Sam

The grammatically challenged Anonymous Coward tried to wind me up:

No pictures of manchester derby?

Only too happy to oblige. What about that one:

Seeing a gloryhunter being thumped is always worth a picture, which goes to show once more that good things can come out of bad situations.

Anyway, the real reason why I started talking about things not running once more is the fact that there isn’t much to talk about running. On Tuesday my HR had been sky-high on the climb up to the Devil’s Elbow and I decided to take it easy again, which meant 5 slow miles yesterday morning. Then I checked my running logs from the weeks after Boston, where I saw that my HR had generally been higher for similar runs than now, and decided not to worry too much. As a test, I ran the exact same course as on Tuesday again this morning, and the difference was stunning. I checked my HR at the point where I had reached 172 bpm just 48 hours earlier, and was very pleased to see it almost 10 beats lower. Just as telling was the world of difference in my legs. I felt so much better I found it hard to believe that we are talking about the same runner here. Since things were going so well I added a set of strides once I had left the hill behind me. Basically, I ran both faster and easier than 2 days prior, which means I can get a bit more adventurous over the weekend. The weather has been really decent this week, which is supposed to last for several more days. After the washed out summer we deserve a few days of sunshine before the winter darkness sets in.

Oh, and Sam (that’s the trophy won on Sunday, for those not in the know) is being shown around the Killorglin schools today, causing great excitement amongst the kids. They do make sure to brainwash them early.

And if you think it’s just the kids who get excited, have a look at this:

It’s quite possibly the worst photo ever, but that is indeed me holding the real, true and original Sam Maguire trophy. A fine cup it is too! To any Cork people reading this, it’s really heavy, but of course you’ll never have to worry about that.
23 Sep
5 miles. 40:14, 8:03 pace, HR 144
24 Sep
8.5 miles, 1:07:50, 7:59 pace, HR 150
incl. 7x100 strides

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ta Sam ag teacht abhaile

Is it churlish to still be going on about Kerry’s triumph over our neighbours? Probably. Do I care? Do I hell.

Ah, happy memories! (all pictures shamelessly grabbed from various web sites without any consideration for copyrights)

No major news on the running front. I did 7 miles yesterday, which went fine. I opted for a very hilly 8.5 loop this morning, which included the steep climb up to the Devil’s Elbow. Considering that I used to include this climb 3 times a week over the summer, it shouldn’t have been too taxing. But I found myself struggling to reach the top without having to walk. At one stage I looked at the Garmin and the HR was all the way up to 172, even though I definitely was not pushing the pace, merely trying to keep going. While I haven’t done that particular climb for a number of weeks I did manage to climb that hill in Dingle better than most, at least as far as the up part is concerned. I guess it shows that I still have some recovering to do. I also had a look at the HR rates for my recent runs and the numbers are a bit higher than I’d like them to be. Tomorrow’s planned 10 miles is shelved as a result, I’ll do 5 or 6 miles until things get back in line. I need to remember that my aerobic engine is as developed as it will be for Dublin. Recovering from Dingle is by far the most important part of the puzzle.
21 Sep
6 miles, 46:58, 7:50 pace, HR 148
22 Sep
8.5 miles, 1:09:27, 8:10 pace, HR 154

Sunday, September 20, 2009

All Hail The Kingdom

I had a very mixed Sunday Football afternoon. After a sickening 95th minute blow in the Manchester Derby I feared my day couldn’t be any worse, but Kerry compensated for that in the Gaelic version of the game, winning their 36th All-Ireland Football Championship (basically Ireland's equivalent of the Super Bowl), a fact made all the sweeter by beating our beloved neighbours from Cork, thus providing plenty of ammunition for a fun day at work tomorrow. I’m in two minds if that makes up for the earlier disappointment, not that I can do anything about it. The kids were very happy about Kerry's win and Maia enthusiastically joined the celebrations, as you can see.

Oh, I forgot, wrong sport. Since I’m no good at soccer and refuse to play Gaelic football because I don’t want my facial feature rearranged, I’m still a runner, albeit one in recovery mode. I did a few easy miles every morning, though both yesterday and today I was really surprised when I looked at the pace display of the Garmin. I didn’t feel like running at sub-8:00 pace, and normally I’d expect the legs to be far heavier than this the week after a marathon. While the pace tends to quicken during a low-mileage week, this isn’t normal straight after a marathon. It reinforces my plans for Dublin. If you guys are correct then I should be in the form of my life in five weeks’ time. Let’s hope it will happen.

Don’t say I never listen (hi Mike), I heard you loud and clearly about the Cork-to-Cobh race, which will now take part without me. Instead there is a 5K in Killarney on Sunday, 11 Oct, which should provide me with a short and sharp workout. While I don’t really like 5Ks, this year they have provided the majority of my races. I guess I can’t complain, I used to whinge about the lack of races in Kerry and now I have to be grateful that they are on, even if they are mostly short ones.

My weight has been acting funny this week. Straight after the Dingle marathon it went up by 5 pounds, only to came off again in the following days. I’ve heard from ultra runners that the body can keep fluids at cellular level after a race which will gradually be released again over the next few days, but haven’t noticed that on myself before after a marathon. Anyway, I’m back to slightly below 150 pounds, just where I was before Dingle.

I’m still in recovery mode this week and won’t rush things. This will be another easy week, with maybe a set of strides or two, but no workouts. In the meantime, I can think of more ways to wind up a few more Cork colleagues (I told you to take Monday off). This should be fun.
18 Sep
6 miles, 48:06, 8:01 pace, HR 144
19 Sep
8 miles, 1:02:07, 7:46 pace, HR 147
20 Sep
7 miles, 55:11, 7:53 pace, HR 146

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I think I should at least mention the video Niamh took of the start of the Dingle marathon on Saturday. The quality is poor, I’m afraid, which I of course blame entirely on the crapness of our cheap camera rather than on Niamh's awesome recording talents.

With this out of the way, I can put the Dingle marathon behind me, I think. In retrospect I’m very happy with that race. I ran well within myself during the first half and pushed harder during the second one. If you take the elevation profile and the unseasonably high temperatures into account I rate it at least as highly as last year’s 3:05 in Dublin.

Ok, I know you are going to hold me to my promise about a glimpse into my plans for the near future, but I’m pretty sure that anyone called Mike won’t approve.

As you might be aware, there’s a marathon in Dublin at the end of October. That’s six weeks after Dingle. Ok, six weeks and two days. And I’m going to be there, and that’s what I’m training for right now.

This isn’t a spur of the moment decision. I signed up for Dublin all the way back in July. I just didn’t tell anyone about it. I’m perfectly aware that this might be a very dumb idea, but the way I see it, you never really know for sure until you actually try it. I took a good look at Pfitzinger’s “6 weeks between 2 marathons” program, and it basically consists of 2 weeks recovery, 2 weeks training and 2 weeks taper, and that’s exactly what I have in mind.

So far, recovery is going very well. I have been doing a few short runs, and the soreness is already gone from my legs, just 5 days after the marathon. I don’t quite know why I’m feeling so good, but I’m sure the high training mileage has a lot to do with it, and I sure am not complaining. But don’t worry, I’m not about to get carried away. This week and next week are definitely still under the banner of recovery.

The one thing I am undecided about is if I should race between now and Dublin. The only suitable race I’m aware of is the Cork-to-Cobh 15 mile race in 2 weeks’ time. I did that last year and had a great race, but I also think it may have hurt my Dublin performance. Of course there is the option of doing it at marathon effort, but I don’t know if I have the discipline to run with the breaks engaged (read: I seriously doubt it). Plus, I don’t really fancy driving 2 hours each way to run at an effort level that I could have done during a normal training run at home. Though it would be nice to meet a few of the Cork runners again, if they happen to take part themselves. For various reasons I haven’t done a race in Cork since Ballycotton, and that was all the way back in March! Considering that I used to run almost all my races in that county, that’s quite remarkable. Anyway, I still have not signed up for it, and I still have not made my up mind.
16 Sep
4 miles, 31:44, 7:56 pace, HR 141
17 Sep
4 miles, 31:55, 7:59 pace, HR 139

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Aftermath

I am sure I had seen several photographers on the marathon course, so I’m a bit surprised there are only shots from two different locations, and one of them is the finish, without showing the actual finish line (they keep doing that, and I think it’s just daft). I don’t think I’ll be spending money on any of those pictures.

As far as recovery goes, I can’t believe how well I’m feeling. On Sunday I spent several hours mowing the grass in the garden, which was probably the best thing to do. On Monday Niamh offered to give me a lift to work, which I refused. I didn’t want to be at the end of dozens of “are you too tired to cycle” jokes. In actual fact, cycling was easy. My legs were hardly sore. That said, my calves are still tender to the touch. There’s definitely a leftover from the violent cramps in there. Last night I tried to use The Stick, but gave up soon. It was painful and I was worried I might do more harm than good.

I even took my new bike out for a spin the other day, and again the legs didn’t feel particularly tired. As a result, I went for a short 5-mile run this morning where I discovered that, ok, there is some soreness left, but considering that this was 3 days after a marathon, especially a hilly one, I’m feeling unbelievably good. I guess the high mileage from the training is coming through here.

Of course I have been thinking about the race, but there isn’t much analysis to be done. I think I pretty much hit the sweet spot as far as sustainable marathon effort was concerned. At least I would have, hadn’t they put a massive mountain in front of us at the end. I think on a normal marathon route I might have had a shot at a new PR, but not a sub-3 marathon. The hills did invariably cost some time, especially if you spend some time lying on the road screaming instead of running. Ahem.

Scientists still don’t know what causes a cramp and I don’t know either, but I’m pretty sure on Saturday it was a combination of several things. It was definitely related to the effort, because when I finally relented and slowed down I didn’t have any more problems. The gradient of the road was also a factor because I felt more and more comfortable as the road levelled out at the bottom of the hill. I don’t think I was dehydrated. I drank at every water station, every 3 miles, and at one stage I even felt some water sloshing around in my stomach. Electrolytes are another possibility. Interestingly, I kept cramping one a few occasions on Saturday evening, including my shoulder when I lifted my arm. I have been fine since Sunday, though.

I think I might follow Paula Radcliffe and purchase some compression socks. Maybe it would help, maybe not. The other thing to consider are Nuuun tablets. They don't cost the world, and if electrolytes are the issue they might just do the trick. I think both things are worth trying.

I’ll let you in on my plans in my next post.
15 Sep
5 miles, 41:06, 8:13 pace, HR 137

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Structural Failure

Marathons are beasts. Let’s be very clear about this from the beginning. You can spend ages preparing for one, making sure you have your nutrition and hydration sorted out, know the pace and effort you can sustain over the distance, and you can train hundreds of miles to get your body conditioned. But on the day, over the course of over 26 miles, some things will invariably pop up that you can’t control (like the weather) or that you seem to have overlooked. Sometimes you are just one tiny detail away from a horror story. While this one could have been worse, it didn’t exactly go to plan.

After sleeping surprisingly well I had my ritual pre-marathon breakfast of porridge, and we left Caragh Lake almost exactly on time. This was the first time I have been able to drive to a marathon start directly from home, and I appreciated the luxury. We arrived in Dingle about 40 minutes before the start, parked the car and went to the start area. I kissed Niamh and the kids good bye and entered the starting pen with about 5 minutes to spare. Perfect.

Normally, people cheat on this. They start at the 3-hour mark if they are 4-hour runners, and so on. However, I stood there at the 3-hour sign almost completely on my own. Almost everyone seemed to gather behind the 3:30 marker, and I was there with maybe 5 superfast looking guys. While I’m not entirely useless at running, the front line is not my area, and I felt rather self-conscious. But since I was in the right place according to the pace marker, I didn’t move either. It had the advantage that I managed to talk to John O’Regan. We had exchanged messages hoping to bump into each other, and had a few minutes of chat before the start. John had originally planned to run the marathon, but downgraded to the half, and accordingly took off like a rocket from the word go. I wasn’t even remotely tempted to stay with him.

I was determined not to start at a suicidal pace, but plenty of others did. A whole mass of people was streaming past me over the first half mile, possibly up to 50 runners. Obviously the better half-marathoners would be able to run a faster pace, but I guessed that a number of marathoners were asking for trouble here. It was difficult not to get sucked into it, and when I checked the Garmin at one stage I was doing 6:20. I slowed down immediately and all-in-all I didn’t do too badly, with a first mile of 6:51, almost exactly 3 hours pace. It was a tad faster than I had intended to start, but not a complete disaster either. I also started overtaking runners at that point. Just what were some people thinking at the start?

It depends on your viewpoint, but most people in Kerry would have described today’s weather as stunning. The sun was shining and there was not one cloud in the sky. Of course, if you are running a marathon, your view on what constitutes perfect weather is a bit different, and to be running on one of the hottest days of the year wasn’t going to be easy. We were in for an interesting day.

The first few miles went very, very well. I was running along at a very easy effort, I felt like jogging along and was completely relaxed and happy. The heart rate was always around 167, at the upper end of what I can hold for a marathon, but not off the scale. Shortly before the 3-mile mark I caught up with a ponytail that looked very familiar. It was Johnny Donnelly, the former(?) drummer of the Irish pop band Saw Doctors, who is on a mission to run 60 marathons in 4 years for charity. He was gracious enough to chat with me for a bit, even though I’m sure he’s getting fed up at times with total strangers trying to talk to him when he’s running a marathon. Anyway, I was soon away again, overtaking at least a dozen more runners over the next few miles.

I started following the race line, trying to run all corners at the inside of the road rather than running in the middle of the road as I normally do. The road was quite cambered, and I wasn’t entirely sure if this was a very good idea, but I sure ran a shorter course than some people out there. It also helped me to stay mentally alert all the time.

The course was very undulating, one little hill immediately gave way to the next one, and you never had the opportunity to settle into a constant rhythm. Shortly after the 7-mile mark I started talking to a runner who recognised me from the Ballydavid race 2 months prior. We talked for a while, about the race and the weather and a guy we both knew (Ireland, and Kerry especially, is small enough for that to happen a lot), and half a mile later he told me to move ahead. A look at the Garmin told me that indeed I had slowed down quite a bit over that stretch. On the plus side, my heart rate had dropped, and over the next few miles it was always at 165 when I checked, even though I was still doing roughly the same pace.

The sunny weather brought home just why we were running here: the scenery was absolutely stunning, and I was able to enjoy it. At one stage I actually told the runners around me “lads, look at the view!!!”. We could see the Blasket Islands ahead of us, the Iveragh peninsula to our left, with even the Skelligs in clear view. This was breathtaking!

The race continued to go well, I was at about 7:05 pace or thereabouts, which would give me a 3:05 finish time should I hold it until the end, very close to my existing marathon personal best, but let’s not get carried away. I still felt great. Around the 10-mile point the quads started showing the first signs of fatigue, but that’s what’s to be expected. I was still feeling very good.

After a few more climbs we passed through the village of Dunquin where the half marathon would end. The road suddenly became a lot quieter. I could only see 2 runners ahead of me, 3 maybe on some stretches, but we were all very far apart. I had no idea what position I had in the field, but obviously it was pretty far towards the front. I reckoned I was doing very well.

I had taken my first gel at the 9-mile point and was wondering when I should take a second one. When I got closer to the 15-mile water station I decided not to take one now because I really did not feel like swallowing it, and following my gut instincts (literally) is usually a good idea. However, one volunteer had a bottle of energy drink in his hand, which looked rather appealing. Up to here we had only been offered water. But after one sip I realised in horror that the stuff was carbonised! It so nearly came back up again, and it sprayed out of the bottle all over my hand. Lovely. I still drank the contents though. It was hot and I was thirsty, and I managed to hold it in. Two miles later, as I was approaching the village of Ballyferriter, I saw that my spit was bright orange from that drink. What on earth was that stuff? I decided to keep to water for the rest of the race.

One other thing had happened at mile 15, the runner in front of me entered a portaloo, and I gained one place in the field. Hurray! I gained a second one just after passing through Ballyferriter, when the runner in front of me started walking. Later on, as we were nearing mile 20, the runner from mile 15 re-took his place. He passed me going at some ferocious pace that I could not possible match. On the other hand, I re-gained a place shortly later; I think someone had hit the wall and slowed down markedly. So, I was still two places to the good from the halfway point.

Looking at the chart now I can see that I started losing it around the 19-mile mark. Up to then the pace had pretty much followed the frequent ups and downs of the course, but from here on I started slowing slightly. Having said that, it was not apparent to me at the time. I kept marvelling how well I was feeling, and I was pretty sure I had never felt so fresh at the 20-mile point in a marathon. The contrast to my last marathon, Boston, was particularly striking. Back then I had been in agony since mile 15 and was hanging on for dear life, today I still had plenty in the tank and even though the legs were tired, it was nothing I could not handle.

However, whenever I looked up I could see the mountain looming ahead. It reminded me very much of Connemara’s “Hell off the West”, and I was in no illusion about the task ahead. This was going to be tough, and just before the 21-mile water station I took my second gel, want it or not. I reckoned I needed a bit of energy.

Up to now we had been following the spectacular Slea Head Drive, but at mile 21 we took a right turn into a very small country road. It even had a grass strip in the middle. That wasn’t a problem. The fact that it led straight up the mountain was, though. And by straight I mean straight. No bends, no hairpin corner (switchbacks in America), just straight up. As a result, it was steep. The elevation chart on the web site was wrong. This one had a gradient of over 13 percent at one point, just after passing the 22-mile sign. When we reached the Dingle road it became a bit more reasonable, but there was still almost a mile of climbing left. It was at that point that I overtook the runner from mile 15 again, this time for good because he was walking up the hill, and he didn’t look like he was going to run anytime soon. “This is fun, eh” I quipped as I passed. “Pure Magic” he responded in the same spirit.

Fun aside, I was getting into trouble. Both legs started cramping, but it wasn’t too bad. Just one spasm every now and then, and with the top of the hill approaching rapidly, I felt I would be able to make it. I did. Just after the 23-mile marker, the worst was over. Or so I thought.

Before the race I had said that ideally I would have a pair of working quads left for the final 3 downhill miles. I was thrilled to find them in perfect working order and proceeded to speed up. I fully intended to make up time lost on the climb, and the pace dropped to 6:45 once more. After going through one sweeping bend the road was complete straight for over 2 miles. We could almost see the end ahead of us! But it was also a bit steeper than was good for me, as I found out when my calves started cramping again, and this time it hurt. And by that I mean it hurt.


That’s roughly what I sounded like when my entire right leg went into spasm. Still, it went away and I continued on, but I knew this wasn’t the end of it. The next one came exactly at the 24-mile marker, and this time I was in full view of a group of spectators. “Aaaahhh!!!”. I had to walk a few steps to get the legs back under control, and I let the worried looking people know that I was ok. I was more embarrassed than hurt. But if I thought that was bad, I had no idea what was in store. People of a nervous disposition might want to skip the next paragraph.

If you look at the pace graph you see two spikes at the downhill part. The first is the walking incident I just mentioned. The other one happened half a mile later. I had not learned my lesson and continued to press the pace, though I wasn’t able to go particularly fast any more. But I pressed as hard as I could. And then, without warning, both of my calves went into the most violent cramp I have ever experienced, and both of them at exactly the same moment. That pain was absolutely excruciating, but what was worse was the fact that my legs simply buckled beneath me and I fell backwards to the ground. I managed to catch myself with my hands, ripping a piece of skin off my right hand in the process, but I didn’t even notice that at the time. I was writhing in the middle of the road, screaming in agony at the top of my voice. I don’t know how long I was like this, but it was definitely for several seconds. Then, by some miracle, I managed to put one leg underneath my body, and when I put some pressure on it the cramp in it subsided. I then managed to repeat the process with the other one, and managed to get back upright. I could see the runner ahead of me, maybe a quarter mile further on, looking behind. He must have heard me screaming. I waved to signal that I was okay, and both of us proceeded towards the end.

Lying on the road I had definitely thought that my race would end there and then, but now, back on my feet, I was pretty sure that I would be able to run the last 1.5 miles towards the end as long as I took it easier. It also helped that the road gradually levelled out, and the flatter it became the more comfortable running was. I jogged towards the finish line at about 8:00 pace, and did not have to deal with any more spasms.

When turning the last corner I could see the finish line straight ahead. The MC welcomed me by number and name – I was quite surprised that he was able to pronounce it, most people don’t even try. I milked the occasion for all I could. Cruising into the finish, smiling, waving towards the spectators and doing the aeroplane as I crossed the line (what a t*sser). I heard Niamh shout my name and walked over to give her a kiss, all to the running commentary of the MC. It was only then that I realised that it was our next-door neighbour! That would explain why he knew me, and he proceeded to give the audience my full biography, and almost coaxed me into an interview there and then, which didn’t really happen because I was too exhausted to speak. But he did tell me (and everyone else) that I had come 12th, which sounded very impressive. Even the kids were impressed, and that doesn’t happen very often. The time was rather modest at 3:12:44. There’s no telling how much that hill had cost me, but 5 minutes would be at my lower estimate.

As I’ve said, when running a marathon, a lot of things can potentially go wrong. I was well prepared, I think I ran a fairly smart race (I gained 3 places in the second half, even with all my troubles), and my nutrition was spot on. I still had plenty of energy left, and I didn’t even feel very tired. But the calve muscles completely gave out on me today, which caught me entirely by surprise. I thought that as long as my quads would hold up I would be okay, but that was not the case, obviously. I’m not sure what I could have done differently, but I won’t spend time thinking about it right now. I’m too sore for that.
12 Sep
Inaugural Dingle Marathon: 3:12:44, 7:21 pace, HR 165
12th place (out of 314)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Dingle Training

It’s time again for another one of my standard marathon training summary posts.

Training (excluding taper):
14 weeks
Total Number of Miles (excluding taper):
1210: 62, 71, 73, 90, 95, 102, 75, 76, 100, 87, 103, 100, 100, 76
Average mpw (excluding taper):
# runs of 20 miles or more:
7 (1 x 24, 1 x 22, 5 x 20)
# weeks of 100 miles or more:
Highest weekly mileage:
Highest mileage over any 7 consecutive days:
109 (oops)
# of PRs:
1 (10K), or 2 if you want, because I lowered my 10k PR twice in successive races
None. In fact, I recovered from a longstanding mild case of PF while doing those 100-mile weeks. No kidding.

I don’t know if miles really make champions (that’s relative on my case, obviously), but I sure gave it a good go. I always tried to ensure that I didn’t run any miles purely for the miles’ sake. I had a few minor niggles, my left foot is a bit sore on the outside, just beneath the ankle, and has been so for the last few weeks. It won’t be an issue on Saturday. My right achilles seems to be slightly sore, but I think that’s a taper-induced phantom injury.

The taper was very long due to the excessive soreness from the Mangerton Mountain race 4 weeks ago. I’ve no regrets about doing that one, though, but ideally I would have preferred a standard 3 weeks taper. Indeed, I felt on top of my game during last Saturday’s run. I try to remember that you can’t lose much fitness in one week, but the legs felt truly stiff and heavy today, and it’s not down to excessive mileage for a change.

Tomorrow will be my first off day since 2 May. That’s a decent streak, not that I have any intentions of starting a running streak for its own sake. On Friday I’ll do 20 easy minutes, just to calm the nerves. On Saturday, I will race.

As someone just reminded me in his well-wishing message, Dingle is not a place to be looking for a personal best, so I can just relax and enjoy the occasion. In fact, that was one of the reasons why I signed up for it. I wanted to run a marathon without feeling that I have to shoot for a sub-3. Unfortunately my mind doesn’t really work that way and I keep thinking about that 2:59:59. But it’s not going to happen this weekend. The plan is to set out at a decent pace that will be sustainable but ideally keep a personal best within striking distance, maybe 7:10 or so, but I'll see how I feel on the day. If things are going great I might push harder, never forgetting that miles 21-23 are going to be severely punishing, and preferably still have some usable quads for the last 3 downhill miles (that’s a big ask though).
8 Sep
6 miles, 47:46m 7:58 pace, HR 142
incl. 5x100 strides
9 Sep
4 miles, 32:03, 8:00 pace, HR 139
incl. 4x100 strides

Monday, September 07, 2009

Two Different Grades of Easy

I did a pair of rather contrasting easy runs over the weekend. The plan for Saturday had been to run 90 minutes at easy pace, by far the longest run before the marathon. Initially the Garmin acted up big time when it refused to come alive. Apparently the battery had drained overnight. Since it had been fully charged and definitely turned off it’s a bit of a mystery, but this has happened before at least twice. I did recharge it for a while before heading out, but when the “low battery” warning came on within the first mile I decided to run by feel.

Running by feel has its drawbacks when you’re used to running 100 miles per week and have just cut that in half. When I glanced at the Garmin 3 miles later (it was still alive), I saw that the pace was somewhere around 7:15. Oops. Having said that, it felt super easy with the HR hardly above 150. I knew this was too fast to call it an easy run, but kept going as I felt good. I reckoned with 7 days to go I would not suffer any repercussions on marathon day. The only time I felt like straining was on the second-last mile, which climbs about 80 feet up from sea level. When I reached our driveway 10 minutes ahead of schedule I thought about adding 10 extra minutes, but decided against it. Less is More. And for an additional bonus, the Garmin was unexpectedly still working.

While this run had felt easy enough, I knew this would not do for the rest of the week. Before Sunday’s run I programmed the Garmin to beep whenever the HR went over 150. This kept the pace very much in check; the knowledge alone that the thing would start nagging at me as soon as I would run faster kept me from doing so. The only exception to this was a set of 6x100 strides, which I added towards the end of 7 easy miles. But, unlike Saturday, this was definitely an easy run.

I also measured my resting HR that morning. It came up with 37, equalling the lowest reading I’ve ever got. All signs are on that I’m in prime shape, no matter how much Rick complains that my training plan was badly structured.

Today, 5 days out, was the last workout, but strenuous it was not. Anything I do this week is for the mind, not the body. After 2 miles of warming up I did a set of 4 minutes at threshold pace, which, according to Jack Daniels, is around 6:20 pace. For once this was achievable, which I put down to the short nature of the repeats. I also welcomed the sunny morning, which was quite some contrast to the day before (“you’re going out into this?” Niamh had asked incredulously on Sunday, looking at the wind and rain). Anyway, the paces for the threshold repeats were 6:15, 6:22, 6:19 and 6:25, which reflect the slightly undulating road. It was over before I had gotten tired, which was of course what it was supposed to be like.

As Wayne just said in his latest entry, it's a great feeling to know all the hard work is done. That’s one way to look ate it. The other one is to get mad from the tapering. As much as I feel like running twice as much right now, exactly 5 days from here, around mile 20 or 22, the muscles will be screaming and I will be desperate to stop, and that’s when I hope to be able to remember that this is exactly where I want to be.
5 Sep
11.25 miles, 1:20:28, 7:09 pace, HR 154
6 Sep
7 miles, 54:12, 7:44 pace, HR 145
incl. 6x100 strides
7 Sep
7 miles, 50:37, 7:14 pace, HR 152
incl. 4x4 mins @ 6:15, 6:22, 6:18, 6:25 pace

Friday, September 04, 2009

Countdown: 8

We’re down to 8 days. That means there’s still an entire week of little running ahead of me. I don’t know how I will make it through that! And I sincerely hope the 3 pounds I gained this week are a sign of my muscles stocking up on glycogen rather than me putting on an extra fat layer. This tapering business is not easy.

My legs were very sore on Wednesday. I probably should not have been surprised after Tuesday’s tough run, but I was. Thankfully there were only 8 miles on the program, and I spooled them off without much thought. The weather was pretty bad, and the most difficult part was to open the front door. Once that was achieved, the rest was easy.

Thursday followed pretty much in the same footsteps, but only for 6 miles and sans rain. I got a moment of fright when a bat swooped very close to my face. I see them most mornings, but never quite so close. However, the situation was over before I had even realised what was going on. Still, it made my heart jump for a moment.

Today’s timing was exceptionally bad. I could see the dark rain cloud as soon as I stepped out of the house, and it came as no surprise when it started raining within the first mile. It kept it up until the last mile. As soon as I got back home, the sun appeared. Just my luck, it seems.

The run itself was fine. In previous builds I have always done Pfitzinger’s 3x1 mile workout at this stage. But since I never understood the point of this workout, I decided to do something different for once. Intervals didn’t appeal to me (ok, they never do), and I opted for 2 miles of 100 meters sprint/float. This is supposed to get your legs moving at fast speed without being too taxing. I encountered 2 problems: One, I had programmed the Garmin to beep every 100 meters, but most of the time I could not hear the beeps because of the wind. I had to keep a fairly close eye on the display. The second problem was that I didn’t really know what pace to run for the floats. I tried to just keep the legs turning over at a good rate without pushing hard, but frequently I found myself slowing down significantly at the start of each rest interval.

I did a bit over 2 miles that way. As promised, the legs felt very tired, but the rest of me was fine. Because the workout had been so short I recovered quickly. It’s a nice way to get the legs working without overdoing things, probably just what I needed today.

One more week!
2 Sep
8 miles, 1:03:11, 7:64 pace, HR 140
3 Sep
6 miles, 46:16, 7:42, HR 142
4 Sep
6 miles, 42:46, 7:07 pace, HR 152
incl. 2+ miles with 100/100 sprint/float

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Back To School

It was interesting to see the contrasting moods this morning as everyone got ready for the first day of the new school year. Shea was excited, Lola resigned, Cian obnoxious and Niamh delighted. But they all got there in time.

What we didn’t get was the promised improvement in the weather, but if unsubstantiated rumours are to be believed, this will happen by the time the weekend comes along. Just as long as it’s not too hot 11 days from now (a pretty safe bet, I’d say), I’m fine with that.

After the interval workout on Saturday I settled into a lazy weekend, the first race-free weekend in 3 weeks. With the taper upon me, all I could do was to take it easy both running-wise and in real life. Believe it or not, I managed to slip into couch potato mode very quickly. I could get used to that, especially since the weekend featured Kerry’s progress to a record-equalling sixth consecutive Football Final in a row, providing plenty of material to wind up my father-in-law in the process. I’ll go easy on him, promised; eventually.

Anyway. Running. Just under 9 miles on Sunday gave me 67 miles for the week, which is slightly below target, but as I’ve said, I’m in couch potato mode. Monday was even easier with 7 miles. I did notice that the legs really appreciated the reduced mileage. My easy running pace has dropped from 8:00 to 7:40, and I frequently have to reign myself in. While it feels cool to cruise along at 7:10 pace without pushing hard, the heart rate monitor tells me that this is not as easy as it feels. Still, I’m not complaining.

After two easy day it was time for another workout this morning. I dipped into Jack Daniel’s little book of wisdom once more, but made sure to scale down his workout from the elite to my level. The plan was to run 16 miles, with 3x1.5 miles at tempo pace. The unusual thing was that the tempo segments would all be during the first half of the run. I was looking forward to it.

It was still quite dark, but I managed without a light. The weather could have been better, with a blustery wind and the occasional rain shower. I might have made an odd sight wearing a singlet and fingerless gloves at the same time, but this felt appropriate for the elements, no matter how dorky it might have looked.

I got the tempo segments out of the way early on. It’s difficult to compare them because the first one was with the wind, the second one was mixed and the third one was against the wind, so naturally I got slower with each segment. Paces of 6:32, 6:36 and 6:48 seemed reasonably appropriate, and I continued on with the second half of the run at easy pace.

Easy pace turned out to be in the region of 7:30; I felt entirely comfortable at this level and had the feeling that I could cruise along forever – though I know from experience that this is not the case. Around mile 12 I felt the first signs of fatigue, but by mile 14 I was still fresh enough to decide to up the pace for the last stretch. In effect I added a fourth tempo segment as I finished the last 1.5 miles at an average pace of 6:33 with the last mile in 6:27. If it hadn’t been raining I would have been tempted to continue running, I felt really good.

If there is one problem it is the fact that the marathon is still 11 days out. I feel strong, fit and more than ready. I know I won’t lose fitness between now and race day, but there’s always the fear that this might happen no matter what the experts say.

Sigh. Just keep the taper madness in check; don’t get injured; don’t get sick.
30 Aug
8.75 miles, 1:07:15, 7:41 pace, HR 145
31 Aug
7 miles, 53:40, 7:40 pace, HR 146
1 Sep
16 miles, 1:55:39, 7:14 pace, HR 151
incl. 3x1.5 miles @ 6:32, 6:36, 6:48