Thursday, October 29, 2009

Photos and Splits and Thoughts

There is not an awful lot to be learnt from my mile splits that I didn’t already know. When I went through them I basically went like “yes, here where I felt good, here’s where the trouble started, here’s where I blew up”. The one thing I noticed was the high heart rate despite the slow pace. My time clearly didn’t come from lack of trying.

For completeness sake, here are the splits, average heart rate readings and a few thoughts. The miles are from the Garmin, so the actual miles from the official measurements would be about 4 seconds per mile slower on average.

1 7:30 172
2 6:59 170
3 7:30 173
4 7:14 173 I had no idea the HR was so high early on
5 7:20 170
6 7:42 168
7 7:19 166
8 6:42 168 That’s where I took off
9 6:55 170 Interestingly, the HR is lower than early on
10 7:23 170 Still, in hindsight, I paid for those later on
11 7:01 170 Mais je ne regrette rien
12 7:17 169
13 7:26 168
14 7:22 168
15 7:12 168
16 7:41 167 That’s where I blew, but the HR didn't really drop
17 7:48 164
18 7:24 168
19 7:53 169 And that’s where I really blew!
20 9:29 160 Including a walk break, this was surprisingly fast
21 8:40 164 The last climb up to Fosters Avenue
22 8:38 160
23 8:59 160 Oh the pain!
24 9:29 158 OH THE PAIN!!!
25 8:40 164 picking it up again … well, it’s all relative
26 7:47 171
rest (7:26 pace) 178 going all out

As for photos, despite there being thousands of photos from the marathon on the flickr, I only managed to find those of myself. The first one with me in the background includes my dreadlocked pacer from miles 9-15. He finished in 3:10, sporting an impressive negative split. Well done that man, and I hope he didn’t mind me being close to his shoulder for over 6 miles. Late Update: Thanks go to Private for the photos.

Considering how much pain I went through during the marathon and the hours afterwards I have been recovering amazingly quickly. I can walk down the staircase in Nana and Gaga’s house without wincing by now, and there is only a small residue of soreness left. Despite bringing a second set of running gear (just in case) I won’t be running until after we have travelled back home to Dublin. We’re in Cork on Saturday morning and I have to collect my Mum from Kerry airport in the afternoon, so it looks like I’ll be heading out no sooner than Sunday.

The near future will bring a little bit of running at slow recovery paces.

The further future will bring a lot of running at slow paces. I’m done with marathons for the time being. 2010 is the year of the Ultras, and I mean more than one. First I’ll get my revenge in Connemara then I’ll train for a slightly longer one. Since the other race (or races?) are not official yet, I won’t shout it out too loudly just yet.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The One Too Far

I was already going through a number of possible titles for today's race report at mile 15, which is never a good sign. The actual names that went through my head weren't exactly uplifting either,like “Some days you have it, today I did not” or “Falling to Pieces”, but I think I chose the most descriptive one.

The day started well, I got up just before 6 without troubling the alarm, made some breakfast for me and Shea, placed the boy in front of the screen in order to enable the rest of the family to sleep some more and left the house in good time. I had plenty of time to deposit my bag and casually walked towards the front, sub-3:30 starting pen. I met Grellan, his neighbour Pat and a few of his club mates, and just after 9 o'clock, almost on time, we were off.

I initially lost sight of Grellan in the crowds but found him again, jokingly accusing him of overtaking me on the sly, to which he replied that he had been focusing on the wrong orange singlet. The plan was to take it fairly easy over the first few miles and then drop the pace down to 7:00 and see where that gets us. The first mile was a bit slower than planned at 7:30, thanks to a good bit of congestion, but I wasn't bothered. We pushed the pace a little bit more over the next mile, but Pat started following another runner at sub-7:00 pace. I thought he was getting a bit over-excited, but Grellan soon started to pick up the pace as well, and by the 3-mile mark I had already decided to let them go and run my own race. I knew by then that I was in for a difficult morning, and hoped that I would not see any of them again for the rest of the race – for their own sake.

The legs, while not in bad condition, lacked every bit of spring, and I ran along at about 7:20 pace. What was astonishing me was the high heart rate of over 170. I know from experience that I'm heading for trouble if the HR is so high early on, but I was already running at what amounts to snail pace when racing a marathon, and I simply could not believe that 7:20 would be too slow. I knew this could blow up, but since I was treating this marathon as an experiment rather than an A-race, I was willing to see what would happen.

I was loaded up with gels; 6 on my belt, 2 more in my shorts, and I knew that there would be 2 gel stations later on. I had never taken more than 3 gels in a marathon (or even 2?), and this was yet another experiment. The water stations were all roughly at 3 mile intervals, and before each one I would take one gel, and also take half a tablet of Nuun for electrolytes to be dissolved in the water. It required a lot of fumbling at each station. The belt was also rather heavy early on. I have always shaken my head at people who run a marathon laden like a mule and now I was one of them!

Shortly after the 6 mile point I was feeling really good. Maybe the second gel had just kicked in and put me into overdrive. The next 2 miles were downhill, and I'm always quick on the downhills. I simply took off. I haven't got the analysis software here in Dublin and can't check my mile splits, but I must have gone as fast as 6:30 at times. By 6 miles, my average pace had been 7:23. By the time the course bottomed out 2 miles later the average was down to 7:15. I knew perfectly well that this could set off a disaster later on. I was willing to take the risk and see what would happen.

At that stage I placed myself onto the shoulder of a runner in a blue vest with a seriously cool dreadlocks haircut (other might disagree on that assessment, but here at mile 9 it looked cool). More important was his strong pace, but it seemed perfectly manageable. Basically he seemed the perfect pacer, and I unashamedly hitched a lift.

I usually hate the bit between miles 11 and 13. The Crumlin road rises slowly but steadily, and on each previous occasion I had to battle a nasty headwind. The wind was quiet today, and I was running along at a good pace. The average pace was still stuck at 7:15, which would give me a 3:11 finish if it could be sustained. However, that was the pace on the Garmin, and as always the official miles were several seconds longer. I passed the halfway mat in about 1:36:30, on course for a 3:13 finish.

By then I knew that I was most likely headed for trouble. The legs, especially the left hamstrings, were sending clear signals of fatigue. I also could not really stomach any more gels. By mile 12 I had taken an energy drink rather than a gel, but discarded the bottle after only a few sips, feeling a bit guilty about the waste. I thought I might be able to force another gel or two down my throat, but at that stage I already felt clear signs that adding more carbs to my stomach wasn't the answer. It wasn't going to take the fatigue out of my legs. I still kept following my pacer. Actually, for a stretch of maybe half a mile I took the lead and let him draft off me. Then he passed me again and I hung on for a bit longer.

Somewhere around there I saw a female runner sitting at the sidewalk, looking utterly exhausted. When I passed I saw that she didn't have a number on her bib but a name, Mackintosh. Obviously, one of the elites had an even worse day than me.

I took one gel from a volunteer at the 15 mile aid station (actually closer to 16), and as soon as I swallowed it my legs stopped cooperating. I'm not blaming the gel, but I think the mere fact that I took my mind off the simple act of running for a moment disrupted the system. Suddenly I was wading knee deep through molasses, and I simply could not keep the pace. I passed the 16 mile marker, thinking that I was in for 10 difficult, painful and slow miles. I was not looking forward to any of them.

What I was looking forward was seeing Niamh at the 17.5 mile point. She used to await me at the 21 mile point, closest to her parents' home, but that left her unable to see me at the finish. This year we changed tactics. She took the Luas (Dublin tram) to Milltown to see me at the course, and then hopped back onto it to head into town. However, I could not see her there. Since I was a bit slower than anticipated I worried if she had given up waiting, thinking that she had missed me. But a mile later I saw her dancing and waving at the road side. I took off my belt and gave it to her, since it wasn't doing me much good. I still had 2 gels in my short pockets and another gel would be provided later on, and I definitely would not be taking any more than that. I was glad to be rid of the extra weight.

Somewhere between miles 16 and 17 I felt a tap on my shoulder, and a runner started taking to me. He said he was a great fan of my blog and enjoyed reading it. Flattered as I was, I didn't feel I deserved any praise today, having just slowed down to about 7:45 pace. But as I tried to send him on his way (he was looking good, a lot better than me) he invited me to keep up. I did so, very surprised to see the legs responding. At the very least the conversation was taking my mind off the ever growing fatigue and bringing me closer to the finish. But since his wife might read this blog as well I had to promise not to reveal any of the conversation. What's said on the course stays on the course! Actually, it was all very pleasant and entirely civilised. Alas, after pushing through the pain barrier for two miles I lost contact and dropped back.

Very shortly afterwards I saw an orange singlet ahead of me that looked suspiciously like the one I was wearing. Could it be my club mate Anthony? Even at my modest pace I caught up much sooner than expected, and it was indeed him. We shook hands, but he was really struggling at that point and even though we tried running together for a bit, he soon fell behind. Still, unlike me he was destined for a PR, unless he started crawling.

Not soon afterwards I was struggling badly myself. The last big climb, up to Fosters Avenue, had killed my chances of a sub-3 marathon last year, and today it wasn't a barrel of fun either. That's when I thought back to last year's Connemara Ultra. I had been struggling badly from mile 30 on, much more so than today, but a toilet break after 35 miles revived me so much that I stormed the last 4 miles to the finish. Trying to replicate the revival, I started walking. I wasn't too tired to keep running yet, I merely hoped that a walk break would give me a boost to get me over this low. It didn't start very well, as soon as I stopped running my legs went into spasms, but luckily didn't cramp. I kept a reasonable pace, the Garmin seemed to indicate 13-minute miles, which was not that much slower than the running I had been doing before that. However, the revitalising effect I was waiting for never materialised. My mind started drifting off into dreamland, and eventually I was jerked back into reality when Anthony passed by and told me to hitch a ride. Together we climbed up the hill, then he fell back again. We both kept having lows that stopped us from keeping pace with the other.

I spotted an insect at my shoulder and tried to flick it off. As I turned my head, my neck went into spasms! Has anyone ever had a cramp in a more bizarre body part during a marathon? My legs were behaving in that respect, and after a few painful seconds my neck was ok again. What was that all about?

A friend, Fionnuala, awaited me at mile 21. It's always good to have someone cheering for you, and I really appreciated her taking an early lunch break to support me on the course. I indicated that things were not going too well, but she kept her cheery composure. Thanks, Fionnuala.

5 miles to go and by now I was submerged in a sea of pain. It did cross my mind that I had nothing to gain from that marathon. I was obviously headed for my slowest time in years and God knows what damage I was doing to my legs. It was pure boneheaded stubbornness that kept me going. I do not want to have a DNF to my name, not in a marathon. I might have been tempted to start crying in pain, but I wasn't going to stop and I was going to finish that blasted race. The pain was going to last for another 45 minutes or so. The DNF would stand for life.

Anthony passed me again, and this time it was me who was unable to keep up, despite being urged on, and despite trying pretty damn hard. I was unable to lift my knees any longer, and just stumbled towards the end. As we were passing the UCD flyover, everyone else hopped over the curb. I took a slight detour (actually, I was the one staying on course I think) because the curb seemed a formidable obstacle and hurdling it might have sent me flying.

Tempted as I was, I didn't fall back into a walk. The last one had failed to revive me, and I didn't think another one would succeed at that either. Instead I slouched towards the finish, painfully slow, not even managing 9:00 pace at times. This was bad!

The mile from 23 to 24 was definitely the worst, and by quite some margin. It may have taken close to 10 minutes, but it felt a lot longer. When the 24 mile marker finally came into view I felt like it had been half an hour since the last one, and I was not looking forward to 2 more of the same. Things were so bad at that point that a final time of above 3:30 seemed on the cards. In that case I would have started in the wrong pen, which would have truly embarrassed me.

Despite the slow pace, the heart rate was still around 165. I cannot explain this!

At that point I thought I spotted Pat ahead, Grellan's neighbour. I really did not wish a bad race on anyone, even less so on an acquaintance, but I felt happy to see a familiar face (or back, in that case). I upped the pace, trying to suppress the new wave of pain from my legs. When I finally caught up, it wasn't Pat at all, but a Dutch runner who happened to wear the same t-shirt and who had a similar build and haircut. Instead of falling in line with a friend I continued on, and since I was already doing a better pace I kept at it. It hurt like hell, but it would bring me to the finish in less time. While I didn't really care about the final time any more, the thought of this torture being over sooner rather than later was highly appealing.

The crowds became really thick at that point. They even started encroaching onto the course, leaving just a narrow channel for the runners, barely wide enough for two runner running side-by-side, making overtaking a bit tricky at times. I don't remember the crowds being so much in your face in previous years, but the support did help. Since I was now running faster again than most around me, I didn't have to feel like hiding any more.

With about a mile to go I spotted Anthony again. Because of the congestion it seemed to take a tad longer than necessary to catch up, but eventually we were running side-by-side again. We gave each other a hug (a very manly one, of course) while keeping pace, but he soon fell behind again, and I started the afterburners, smelling the finish ahead. I did question why I was running all out. The few seconds gained were hardly telling, and the pain had multiplied, but I managed to suppress those voices and just pushed the effort with all I had. Funny, 2 miles ago I was slouching at 10-minute pace, and all of a sudden I was doing sub-7 for the first time. It was too late, but I could see the finish line.

I was so focused on the line that I plotted out the entire rest of the universe. My world consisted of nothing but the ever-shrinking stretch of road that separated me from the end to this torture, and so I somehow neither heard nor saw Niamh who was apparently screaming my name so loudly that the people around her laughed, assuring her that I must have heard her. Alas, I only saw the finish, and as soon as I was across in 3:24:55 according to my own watch I could finally stop running. To my disappointment the pain didn't stop with the race, though.

I really should have waited for Anthony who surely was only a short while behind, but all I could think of was getting the hell out of here. That's the one thing I'm sorry about today. As quickly as my thrashed legs would take me I went through the medal and goody bag area and headed for the exit where Niamh was waiting. She graciously forgave me for blanking her 10 minutes earlier.

This was my slowest marathon in years, but it was an interesting learning experience. I now know that racing 2 marathons 6 weeks apart is not on the cards. Running at a slower pace is ok, but my 3:12 in Dingle was worth at least 3:05 in Dublin in my estimation, and a repeat of the same effort in so short a time was not possible. I also found that loading up on carbohydrate gels and electrolyte tablets will not solve my cramping problems – while my legs did not actually cramp I could tell they were on the verge, and only the slow pace saved me from the iron grip. Another lesson was that walking is not a cure for dead legs – damn, I had high hopes for that. And a high heart rate at the start is a harbinger of doom, no matter the actual pace. Next time I'll take heed. Finally, I now also know for sure that I'm a stubborn idiot, but that is not an entirely new insight.

Grellan did very well indeed, finishing under 3:09 apparently (I haven't seen any results yet and have to go by what he told me) and Pat was merely a minute behind. What a fantastic achievement lads, I'm well and truly chuffed for you. As for me, I'm in more pain that after any other marathon I can remember. While memory tends to be unreliable on that count, I know that I tend to be in better shape usually. And this time I told Niamh that I was definitely not going to run Dublin again next year. I know I had said that 12 months ago as well, but this time I meant it. Niamh's prompt reply was to suggest doing New York instead. Hang on! Since when is she an expert on marathon dates? Something's going on here!

26 Oct
Dublin City Marathon, 3:24:54 (unofficial), 1067th
  7:49 pace (7:45 on Garmin), avg. HR 167

Sunday, October 25, 2009

T Minus One

It’s past 4 o’clock in the afternoon and in less than 17 hours we’re off. Finally, on the last day, I’m starting to get nervous. I have been waiting for this, and to be honest my total lack of nerves was starting to worry me. I’ll never be a nervous wreck again like I was before my first ever marathon, but marathons are races that always demand respect or else they cut you back to size in no time.

This will be my 11th marathon, or the 13th if you include the ultras, which makes me a relatively old hand, I suppose.

I’m back from the number pick-up and the Expo, where I managed to keep the wallet in my pocket. Once you’ve seen the Boston Expo the Dublin one isn’t much to get excited about (you also get a lot fewer freebies, sadly). One person I bumped into was John Walshe from Ballycotton. I knew he was a formidable runner, but I had no idea that he is one of the select few who have run every single Dublin City marathon, with number 30 on the cards tomorrow. Way to go, John. All the best!

If things go to plan, I’ll meet up with Grellan at the start tomorrow, running the first 2 miles at about 7:15 pace, dropping down to 7:00 pace and taking things from there.

I know I have said that I never really recovered from Dingle, but the real problem was that cold that caught me 2 weeks ago and which is still affecting me. I’m perfectly fine sitting in an office chair, but running 26 miles at race pace is an entirely different matter. I have been keeping a very close eye on my resting HR over the last two weeks. It hovered around 45 recently, only to drop down to 42 for the first time this very morning, though the fact that I didn’t have 4 kids climbing all over me for a change might have had some influence, too.

I have not been running for 3 entire days and my combined mileage since Monday is a not exactly awe inspiring 8. Since things have been so messed up I decided to use tomorrow's race to experiment with nutrition. It breaks the golden rule of never doing anything in a marathon that you haven’t done in training, but I have broken that rule in one form or another in nearly every one of my big races. After last year’s Dublin marathon I got a fuel belt for a freebie. Yesterday I took it out of its wrapper for the first time. It can carry 6 gels, plus 2 in my shorts and 2 from the race course makes 10 gels. Let’s see how many I can take, and how that feels like. Stupid? Maybe. But there’s only one way to find out.

The weather has been pretty wild at times yesterday, and a few icy cold rain showers have followed on today. In contrast, tomorrow’s forecast is nigh on perfect for a marathon, cold and dry. We’ll be freezing at the start, but once we get going we’ll have dream conditions. Maybe it will inspire me.

Time to get relaxing again. My bib number is 1201, and tomorrow me and 12500 close friends are going for a run.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


When feeling like death after Monday’s 13 miles I decided that the best action was to take no action at all. The fewer miles run the better. However, the mere thought of no running for an entire week, especially the week before a marathon, gave me the heebie-jeebies, so I decided to come up with a compromise. I would not set the alarm clock at all, but should I wake in time for a run and it wasn’t raining, then I’d go for a few easy miles. Otherwise there would be no run.

Well, I woke shortly before 7 o’clock on Tuesday (the longest I have been sleeping in a very long time, including weekends), the sky was entirely clear and I threw on some clothes and did no more than 3 miles. I can even claim to have run without my watch, but the truth is that I forgot to press the start button. That’s never happened before. Anyway, I guess it took about 25 minutes, and the HR for the last 1.5 miles (when I did turn on the Garmin) was 137, reasonably low.

Despite waking in time on Wednesday again and no rain I decided to sleep inread. Less is More.

Today, Thursday, was the last day of some proper running. The original plan would have called for 7 miles with 2 miles at marathon effort but I cut that down to 5 despite waking up early again. The 5 miles were easy enough, and on the last 2 I upped the effort to about 6:55 pace with a heart rate of 167. That’s at the upper end of marathon effort; in fact it’s what I started out with in Dingle 5 weeks ago. But the road was slightly downhill, and that certainly does make a difference. Maybe I can just about keep up with Grellan’s little 7:00 pace group on Monday. I can try. If they let me, that is.

For the rest of the week I’m planning on doing the total sum of zero miles between now and the marathon. That’s the most drastic taper I’ve ever even contemplated, but I don’t think running is doing me much good at the moment. I tried to measure my resting HR this morning, hoping that it would have come down from the weekend’s 45. It never went lower than 47, but the fact that our kitten was keeping me company, repeatedly attacking my feet, hands, face and even the Garmin might make that reading irrelevant. It’s hard to relax when you have a miniature tiger trying to take chunks out of your toes/fingers/eyes/watch.

Maia had a good week; she finally managed to break the child lock at the kitchen cabinet, after months of incessant trying. I didn’t have a spare one, and by the time I got round to replacing it we were down 2 cereals and several juice boxes. And I’m not entirely sure if the cat appreciated orange juice in her food bowl as much as Maia expected her to. She also managed to scribble on the walls with pencil and broke one baking dish. *sigh* I still remember Cian going through all that not very long ago, and we’re obviously in for a repeat.

Next week she’ll have the chance to wreck Nana’s and Gaga’s house instead. I think a couple of years ago we were on the verge of being exiled for good when Cian was on the toddler rampage. Let’s see how Maia compares.
20 Oct
3 miles, ~25:00, ~8:20 pace, HR 137
21 Oct
0 miles
22 Oct
5 miles, 36:49, 7:22 pace, HR 157
incl. 2 miles @ 6:55

Monday, October 19, 2009

Slightly Jaded

The Dublin marathon is exactly 7 days from now and I have never been so lukewarm about a race as this one. I do read a busy online forum and some people are downright giddy with excitement; all I can think is “oh calm down, it’s only a marathon”.

The legs have never really gotten that spring back after the Dingle marathon, but the biggest issue is the cold that had me down last week. While I feel perfectly fine now, the effects are still in my system and they are clearly measurable. My resting HR yesterday was still 45, and I don’t think it will come down by any meaningful amount until next Monday. I always knew that running two marathons within 6 weeks was a risk, of course, but right now can’t help but wonder what I let myself in for.

We all drove to Cork early on Saturday, and I originally planned to bin my run. There’s no need to get up at 6 am on the weekend for a recovery run. However, I was wide awake at 5:30, and when I was still wide awake at 6:10 I got up, threw on some shorts and shoes and went for a quick 5 miler. I was actually pleased to see the HR down in comparison to Thursday. Maybe some progress is being made after all?

Cork was great fun, the rest of us went swimming while Lola had her course, and since the boys are slowly getting the hang of the water, Niamh and me took turns holding the baby and doing some actual swimming, something that wasn’t on the cards for years when we had to look after 2/3/4 young children at all times in the pool. We then went to Blackrock Castle, the outside of which was familiar to me from the Cork marathon. The kids loved the interactive observatory stuff, we spent well over an hour in there, and I can heartily recommend it for a family outing.

Maybe it was the drive, or the swimming, or just one of those days, but I was much more sluggish on Sunday. I did 6 miles with a set of strides. It was supposed to be a slow run and I ran the first half slightly slower than 8:00 pace. Somehow I must have speeded up on the way home, not just for the strides but also for the supposed jogs in-between, and I felt surprisingly tired at the end.

With 7 days to go I went for 13 miles this morning, my last run of any sort of distance. It was pitch dark outside and the headlamp saw another outing. I ran the reasonably flat route through Cromane and added a couple of miles afterwards to get the required miles. However, the wind was quite blustery at times and for some reason I was really feeling some soreness in various parts of my body. This was not a good run.

There are some pace groups in this year’s Dublin marathon and the 3-hours one obviously caught my interest. And Grellan seems to have found a set of mates who intend on going out at 7:00 pace. Both groups are very tempting for tagging along and I was wavering which one would be better. Of course I want to break 3 hours, but if you can’t keep that pace it would be a big mistake in going out that fast. After all, even 7:00 pace would get me a new PR. However, coming home this morning feeling exhausted after 13 miles at 7:40 pace I was wondering who I’m trying to kid, I can’t keep either pace for 26 miles! While Grellan is doing his marathon pace runs I’m slugging along a minute per mile slower and end up exhausted just the same.

There’s still hope that another week of rest will miraculously transform me back into a marathon runner, but I won’t be holding my breath. I’ll definitely run the race, there’s no chickening out, but right now my expectations aren’t exactly high. At the moment I just want the whole thing to be over with.
17 Oct
5 miles, 40:28, 8:06 pace, HR 140
18 Oct
6 miles, 46:53, 7:49 pace, HR 152
incl. 8x100 strides
19 Oct
13 miles, 1:39:49, 7:41 pace, HR 153

Friday, October 16, 2009

Progress(?) Report

I can finally state with absolute confidence that I’m getting over that blasted cold that has had a hold on me for the last 10 days. On Wednesday I was coughing early morning as I got out of bed. Yesterday I was coughing maybe once. Today I’m officially cough-free.

However, one look at the HR for the last few runs shows that not everything is hunky dory just yet. I have always been able to measure my fitness from the average heart rate on my slow recovery runs, and the numbers clearly show that the HR is a few beats higher than it should be. Yesterday’s run, for example, should have yielded an HR well below 140; instead I got 141. And I’d normally expect my resting HR at this stage to be below 40; when I measured it on Wednesday I got 45. That’s better than a few days earlier, but still rather high. With 10 days to go until Dublin I’ll wait and see if those figures will come down. However, I’ll be there at the starting line no matter what.

After Tuesday’s goose egg I did 8 miles on Wednesday with a set of strides. The highlight of that run came the second I opened the front door. The sky was entirely clear, and I was presented with a million glittering stars and a tiny sliver of moon. Brilliant. I even made out 3 planets to my left, Venus, Saturn and Mars in reasonably close proximity. I love running beneath the stars.

The low point of said run came about 10 seconds later. We share our driveway with our nextdoor neighbours, and for some reason that night they had decided to close the gate, for the first time in 6 years. Had I run with a headlamp I would have seen it, but I didn’t and I sure didn’t expect it. I saw it about a tenth of a second before my left knee slammed into it. I’m sure it would have made one hilarious video, but standing there cursing it didn’t quite feel so funny at the time. Anyway, I managed to unlock the gate in the darkness and was on my way. The knee didn’t bother ne during the run, but was really painful later that day. It wasn’t swollen, but I could hardly bend it, and cycling home from work was a challenge.

It was still sore the next day, except for the 40+ minutes of my run when the endorphins suppressed all pain. I also made sure to look out for the gate. Slamming into it twice in a row would have made me feel even more stupid than usual, but it was open anyway.

Today, Friday, I wore my headlamp for the first time. With the moon now gone in the morning it was pitch dark outside. I guess it’s time to get used to that again. Anyway, it’s 10 days until the marathon, and the P&D schedule always has a set of 3x1600 on the cards for that day. Originally I thought about replacing that with a set of 800s, but then decided to go ahead with the prescribed workout. I didn’t want to tire myself out at that stage and opted for slightly slower than 5k pace; 6:20 would have been ok. On the first mile I opted to run relaxed, concentrating on my form, running fast but not all-out. I had done exactly that on Sunday during the race, and back then I had managed sub-6 for the first mile. Today I was absolutely dismayed to find the clock at 6:36. I had avoided looking at it during the run, running entirely by feel. Maybe that was a mistake. The second repeat wasn’t much better. Even though I was forewarned and determined to do better, it took me 6:31. Blimey, what’s wrong with me! For the last repeat I opted to run homewards rather than turn back towards Ard-na-Sidhe; that way the next mile would be slightly downhill, not much (maybe 20 feet or so) but noticeable. It might have been cheating, but I reckoned a faster time would at least fool my confidence. It worked somewhat and produced a 6:10 mile, but I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory that morning.

I just don’t do intervals very well. It probably means that I should do more of them. Of course, I had 3 excuses today: the Dingle marathon, Sunday’s race and Monday’s 18- miler were all still in my legs. Then again, marathon training always happens on a tired set of legs. Time to move on and forget. Again.
14 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:16, 7:55 pace, HR 152
incl. 8x100 strides
15 Oct
5 miles, 41:45, 8:21 pace, HR 141
16 Oct
7 miles, 53:20, 7:37 pace, HR 157
incl. 3xmile @ 6:36, 6:31, 6:10 (2 mins rest)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Niamh: We’re going to Dublin soon
Maia: uuuhhh!
N: who lives in Dublin?
M: Gaga!
N: Yes, and who else?
M: Nana!
N: And we’re going to see Clara
M: Baba!!!!!
N: That’s right, she’s a baby and her mummy is Sara
M: Rara!
N: And we’ll see aunty Cliona
M: Wawa!
N: do you remember what gift Cliona gave you?
M: Yaya aow! Yaya aow! (translation: Maia’s Cat! Maia’s Cat!)

She’s not even 2 years old, but you can already have a conversation, as long as you know her baby words. But the girl herself understands every single word you say.

A different conversation went on this morning:

Niamh: I didn’t like the sound of your cough this morning
Thomas: Neither did I
N: Don’t you have something of a neck test
T: What do you mean?
N: You promised you wouldn’t go running if there are symptoms below the neck
N: Oh (silence) You didn’t?
T: What do you mean? I was in bed right beside you!
N: I don’t notice these things. I just sleep.

At least it tells me I’m not missed when I’m out running.

There were 2 photos from Sunday’s race:

Being chased by the leading lady (Hey, I don't usually get chased by the girls!):

Just before the finish:

As far as training goes, I have been following P&D’s 6 weeks between marathons schedule fairly closely, just adding a few miles here and there. The 4 main workouts in that program are 2 interval workouts, a race on day 15 and an 18-miler on day 14. The last one really surprised me when I read it – I would have been much more conservative when creating my own schedule. Being lucky enough to find a race exactly 15 days before Dublin I felt compelled to do the following day’s workout as well, cold or no cold.

If Mike would have sabotaged my car on Sunday to prevent me going to Killarney, he probably would have been lying in wait by my driveway on Monday morning with at least a stun gun to prevent me from doing a long run. I guess it’s a good thing that he’s on the opposite side of the Atlantic then. I had set the alarm for 5 o’clock but woke shortly after 3 and started coughing. The one thing I said would stop me from running! However, I decided to be boneheaded and force through that one workout, but start a more disciplined approach immediately afterwards. The coughing stopped eventually, and just as I was drifting off to sleep again the alarm told me it was time to go.

I set off under a beautiful starry sky, but after a minute or two noticed that I had left my reflective bib at home. I hesitated for a bit, but then decided that going out for a long run with a cold the day after a race was stupid enough in itself; there was no need to add another layer of idiocy on top by running without wearing a hi-viz item. I turned around and rectified the problem. The run was surprisingly good, but a freezing cold headwind made me turn homewards after passing through Cromane rather than completing the entire loop via Killorglin. Instead I added a 6 miles out-and-back section after passing our driveway. On this section I tried to increased the pace again but had neither the legs nor the spirit to really push the effort, and 7:20 pace was all I had to show for. On the other hand, I didn’t feel tired during the entire run. While I think I can still feel some lingering effects from Dingle in my slightly sluggish legs, there is nothing wrong with my endurance. I can run 18 miles before breakfast without even batting an eyelid.

What I haven’t decided yet is the time I’m aiming for in Dublin, which is why Grellan is still waiting for an answer after asking twice. Sorry mate, the way things are going I might only make up my mind after crossing the start line.

Today the alarm went off at 6:40 for a 5-mile recovery run. I turned it off and snuggled into my blanket instead. Not that anyone took notice.
12 Oct
18 miles, 2:17:03, 7:37 pace, HR 149
last 6 @ 7:20 pace
13 Oct
0 miles *gasp*

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Does that mean the 5k is out?

So asked Grellan on Friday, and with good reason. The cold just wasn’t shifting and I was lacking energy just as much as I had a week before. Was I ever going to get better?

I tried to test my resting HR on Saturday morning, and the figure just would not go under 54. That’s 15 beats higher than it should be. I then went back into bed for another hour, keeping the HR monitor on. I managed to doze for a bit longer, and when I looked at the HR data later on I saw that eventually it had gone down to 49. Still very high, but better.

I wasn’t sure if going for a run would be a good idea, but if in doubt I always go for a run. I took it very easy, and there were only 5 miles on the program. Of course, the program did this in view of next day’s race, which at that stage didn’t look too likely. However, once I got past the first mile I perked up considerably. The HR was still high, but I felt much better than on Friday. Later that day I finally gave in and took some tablets; until then I had tried to sweat it out. Paracetamol turned out to be useless, but ibuprofen had a magic effect. I felt energised sufficiently to go out and mow the grass for 2 hours. What can I say, it had to be done.

Today I awoke at 7:30 feeling a bit better, and went out for another 5-mile run. This was to test the waters – quite literally in that case, because it was raining. Both the subjective data (feeling better) and the objective one (lower HR) came out on top, and I decided to do the race, but not run all-out.

I felt ok-ish during the warm-up, but slightly apprehensive. When the gun went (almost on time, that’s a new one!) I set off just behind the leaders. Normally the top runners go off at frightening pace and I’m left behind admiring their stride; this time I more or less kept pace for the first half kilometer, when they finally started to pull ahead. I felt I could have gone a bit faster in an all-out race, but I always kept a lid on the effort level today. As far as discomfort goes, this was the easiest 5K in a long time.

Just before the 2K mark the leading lady pulled level with me and went past. Normally my male ego would have been stung badly, but today I didn’t feel put out and I let her go. Having said that, she only managed to gain about 5 steps on me, then either she slowed down or I speeded up, because I slowly got closer again. We both overtook a runner, and then it was my turn to pull level and go ahead. A few minutes later the same game played itself out once more with reversed roles and she went past me again. We overtook another runner or 2, and by now we were almost done. With less than half a mile to go I pushed hard for the first time in the race. Since I had run with plenty of reserves today I had loads left in the tank for a good finish and left her behind. Even the final climb was manageable, though I started wheezing badly once more. But at that stage we were basically done, and I crossed the finish line in 18:52.

I was well pleased with that. For most of the race I had not run all-out, and anything under 20 minutes would have been perfectly acceptable. To easily go under 19 minutes was definitely better than expected. I looked at the HR graph later on and was really surprised to find the HR as lofty as that, with a sustained high of 189 – that is my max HR. I definitely have run this course harder in past races, but with a lower HR. It’s a clear sign that I’m still not recovered from the cold, though I knew that anyway.

I chatted to a few people afterwards, especially John Walshe of Ballycotton fame, and a couple of his friends. John could not resist calling me the man with the famous web site, and when you’re reading this – hi guys, nice talking to you!

I was well pleased to survive today in one piece, and with 15 days to Dublin will take it very easy very soon, which will hopefully get me over this cold.
10 Oct
5 miles, 41:58, 8:24 pace, HR 144
11 Oct
10 miles, including:
   FeetFirst 5K, 18:52, 6:05 pace, HR 177

Weekly Mileage: 66

Friday, October 09, 2009

Same Old, Same Old

I’m still affected by that blasted cold, and I’m not the only one. Out of my team of 7 people at the office 3 have taken days off this week due to sickness. I hope there isn’t more than one bug doing the rounds. I seem to have a hard enough time to recover from the one I’ve got already. Having said that, the neckline test still comes back trumps, and I’m still out running.

Thursday’s run was very nice, under a moon and star-filled sky on the Cromane loop. I took it fairly easy, but still managed a nice pace. After the wind and rain earlier this week, this was a very nice change, and I really appreciated it. The 12 miles passed in no time at all.

In the evening I found out that playing football the day after intervals isn’t a very good idea. I was really sore, and my accelerations was absolutely nowhere – I was constantly half a step off the pace, rendering me even more useless than usual. If I want to continue with that I have to find a way so that the running doesn’t interfere too badly with the football. I still think I can get some training out of football that will stand me in good stead.

Today’s run was a setback in two ways: the weather was lousy again, and the HR was way too high. Even taking the set of strides into account, I was running over half a minute per mile slower than the day before, so how could the average HR be the same? I’m sure the footy didn’t have that much an effect on my running, especially since I took it easier than ever. I can only blame that cold. Niamh said she’s feeling a lot better already, so when is it going to be my turn?
8 Oct
12 miles, 1:32:57, 7:44 pace, HR 144
9 Oct
6 miles, 50:11, 8:21 pace, HR 144
incl. 7x100 strides

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Under the Weather

The bad news is that I’m definitely not quite right at the moment. The good news is that the worst seems to be behind me. I guess I caught whatever had been affecting Cian since the weekend. He’s better now, though still not entirely recovered, and I think I’m improving as well. For the past few days I could tell that something wasn’t right, but never enough to justify staying off work or cancelling workouts. Having said that, I definitely was not at my best, neither in the office nor on the road.

From that point of view it was probably a good thing that yesterday was a recovery day. The weather was absolutely appalling, the remnants of tropical storm Grace passed right over us and the country was almost flooded. While running in those conditions when already suffering from a cold might not be most people’s idea of a clever move, I didn’t have any symptoms below the neck, which would have kept me indoors. I checked my HR data before leaving the house, and that seemed ok. Having said that, when I came hone I was surprised both by the slow pace and the high HR. An elevated heart rate reading during my slow runs is always a sign that I’m not at my best. That day it was a sign that my body was too busy fighting off whatever germs were circulating inside me to give the running its full attention.

I did question if today’s interval workout should go ahead, but since I could definitely sense an improvement last night I decided to proceed. In fact, the morning HR was lower than normal, which I took as a good sign. The weather was in stark contrast to the day before, the sky was almost completely clear with an almost Full Moon, but it felt bitterly cold. 2C/35F were definitely the coldest temperatures I’ve had to deal with in a long time; in fact, most Irish winter mornings are warmer than that. While these conditions are not ideal for an interval workout, in the end I don’t think it mattered. My body just wasn’t up for it today.

I had pondered on the exact nature of the workout for some time, and settled for a repeat of last week’s 8x800 with 2 minutes rest. Obviously I was hoping for an improvement, but last week’s workout had been before I had gotten sick. The first interval, at 3:10, already told me plenty. The next on at 3:01 was better, just like last week, but then I settled into a fairly consistent pace of about 3:08. I also noticed that the HR never went above 175, significantly lower than last week, no matter how hard I was trying to push. As a reader of Canute’s blog I was well aware of his essays on the parasympathetic nervous system; but I wondered if I would be able to run faster had I not been reading them. In the end I decided to call it a day after 7 repeats. I clearly was not getting any faster, and I didn’t want to incur the wrath of Mike for overdoing it while sick (I could already sense the Evil Eye on me). For some reason I thought I had been 10 seconds per repeat slower than last week, but the actual figure was closer to 3.

It’s funny how the HR can be elevated for a slow run and lowered for a fast one, and yet it still seems to make sense. In one case some energy is diverted away from running, and in the other a threshold is imposed on the maximum level of exertion. I hope 19 day will be enough to purge all those germs out of my system. I don’t really fancy running another marathon while not being entirely healthy. I’ve done that last in 2006, and it wasn’t all that much fun.
6 Oct
8 miles, 1:06:18, 8:17 pace, HR 140
7 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:00, 7:45 pace, HR 151
7x800: 3:10, 01, 07, 08, 11, 07, 08 (3:08 avg)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Bugs around me

The weather over the weekend was unexpectedly nice, something that carried over to Monday as well, actually. We had planned to make the most of it and go to Dingle to re-live my recent triumph sample the delights of the local Food&Wine festival. Alas, Cian came down with some bug that caused him to sleep through virtually the entire weekend, and neither Niamh nor me fancied going on our own. To top it all up, this doesn’t seem to be the only sickness doing the rounds in the family because Maia has developed a consistent cough that kept her awake and me busy during the nights.

Normally the weekend is where I catch up on some sleep, but both Maia and Cian made their way into our bed each night, and wedged in between 2 sick children I a) got no sleep and b) almost certainly got exposed to whatever they’ve got. I felt slightly unwell on Sunday, and today I had a sore throat in the morning and a low-grade headache all day. It’s not enough to stop me from running, but with only three weeks to go before Dublin I do feel a bit worried. Apart from taking my vitamins there isn’t much I can do – staying away from the kids is not an option.

Anyway, training goes on. During the Dingle training the Sunday tempo run on the Cromane loop was pretty much a constant feature that I revived yesterday. As ever I was hoping to break 7-minute pace, and once that was achieved tried to break 6:50, which has so far eluded me. While this doesn’t bode well for a sub-3 attempt, it does indicate that a personal best may be within reach. It wasn’t my fastest run on that course but it was reasonably close. What pleased me was the fact that I managed to pull through a low point around 7 or 8 miles and accelerate again for a strong finish. I hadn’t managed that one before. Of course, with the Dingle marathon only 3 weeks gone my legs are not yet back to their best. That’s where the taper will hopefully work its magic.

I made the mistake of telling Niamh that I didn’t feel too well last night, which immediately prompted an interrogation.

N: you are going to take it easy tomorrow then, aren’t you?
T: Er, … yes, of course
N: what’s on your plan?
T: 18 miles

In the end I slightly adjusted the figure and cut the run down to 16.5 miles, which also gave me a few more minutes of much-needed sleep. Thanks to the Full Moon I didn’t need a headlamp and avoided tumbling off the road for a change. I did test a few things for the Dublin marathon: I wore the shoes that I’m planning to use, and the compression socks I’m still unsure about (Niamh isn’t overly taken in by the looks, it has to be said). I also carried a drink with me, spiked with a tablet of Nuun. Again, the jury is out on that one. I have worked out the logistics of carrying them with me on the marathon, the fact that Dublin use water bottles rather than cups works in my favour, the taste is nice, but it did seem to cause reflux on more than occasion. I might do a second trial run and decide on result of that.

Oh, and I tried to run today’s final 5 miles at marathon pace, to make this a double-header workout. It didn’t work out entirely; my pace over those last few miles was 7:18. While not a disaster, that figure did disappoint me; I had been hoping for 7:00 pace. Yes, the course is undulating and sports a 50 feet net elevation gain, and yes, the lack of sleep and possibly compromised state didn’t help, but I was annoyed by the fact that I seemed to work hard and yet was unable to raise the HR over 160, unless going uphill. Canute probably has some theories how the subconscious brain tries to stop me from overdoing things, but I felt like miles away from my threshold. I felt I could have continued that effort level for ages but wasn’t able to run any faster. If it hadn’t been as cold and if I would have had a buddy at my side and if that had been a race, …. Ah, forget it. I’ll move on.
4 Oct
10.5 miles, 1:12:47, 6:56 pace, HR 163
5 Oct
16.6 miles, 2:09:34, 7:48 pace, HR 148
last 5+ miles @ 7:18 pace

Weekly Mileage: 63.5

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Sea of Pain

When the alarm went off at 6:20 on Friday morning my first thought was “Oh no, speedwork”. That’s exactly the same thought as the last time speed work was on the cards, and it will probably be the same next time. I think it’s fair to say that I don’t like intervals. I can deal with the pain that comes from running for hours, no problem. The pain that comes from speeding for minutes is a different matter.

Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, and off I went. Things didn’t look too great during the warm-up, and I seriously questioned the wisdom of playing football the evening before a fast workout. A few strides managed to get the worst of the stiffness out of the legs and off I went, up and down the Caragh Lake road. The road is slightly tilted, according to the chart there is a drop of 7 feet one way, and obviously a climb of the same on the way back. The wind was quite strong (they called it gale force on the forecast), and interestingly the uphill repeats (with the wind) were consistently faster than the downhill ones (against the wind) by a few seconds. Rest between was 2 minutes; the shortest 2 minutes you can imagine.

The first few went ok even though I felt like giving up early on. That always happens. By the time I finished the fourth I was tired, and the fifth was a sea of pain. When I checked the chart afterwards I found that this had been the repeat with both the highest average (177) and max (184) heart rate of the entire workout, even though it wasn’t particularly fast. After that I was just hanging on, and maybe it would have been prudent to call it a day after six, but hindsight is a great thing. I finished the planned 8 repeats with an average time between 3:04 and 3:05.

I was tired afterwards, and during the day I could feel myself stiffen up more and more. By evening time I was feeling quite sore, more so than immediately after the run, and on Saturday morning I felt as stiff as a board. Luckily I only had a recovery day on the program, otherwise I would have had to chicken out. Six slow miles are always manageable, but the set of strides during the second half were much tougher than expected. Not only did I feel like wading through molasses, striding out actually hurt. How I managed to get through 7 of them I don’t know, they just seemed to blur into one, and I didn’t even manage to count them correctly (I had only intended to do 6). Interestingly, the first 3 miles had been done at 8:31 pace; the return leg must have been a lot faster to get the overall pace under 8:00, but with that set of strides in there the average pace has little meaning. The heart rate on that run was definitely much higher than anticipated, even though my resting heart rate continues to drop. It was down to 40 this morning, 2 beats lower than last week. At least that is heading the right direction.

In the afternoon I went for a bike ride with Shea. He clearly feels left out when he sees me cycling off to school with his twin sister on weekday mornings, and I had promised to go for a bike ride just with him during the weekend. Hopefully that will balance things out a little.

2 Oct
9 miles, 1:09:11, 7:41 pace, HR 161
8x800: 3:03, 2:57, 3:06, 3:00, 3:05, 3:05, 3:09, 3:04 (avg 3:04)
3 Oct
6 miles, 47:45, 7:57 pace, HR 146

Thursday, October 01, 2009

No Moon

If you’re reading this blog directly from its source rather than google reader or similar, you might have spotted that Moon gadget on the right hand side. This isn’t there due to my keen interest in astronomy (though there is some of that as well), but because it’s around this time of the year that I start taking notice of the moon phases again. From about 2 days before Full Moon to about 10 days later, cloud conditions permitting, I get a natural light source that means I don’t have to bring a head lamp on my runs, something I hate for some reason. Sadly, yesterday wasn’t in that window, and I was still used to not needing a light source after all those summer months.

It was almost completely dark when I left the house, but I know that the darkest bit is our driveway, and once I’m out on the road I can usually at least make out the side. Not this time. After stumbling all the way out to the road I took off, only to land in a bush within 3 steps. I didn’t get hurt, and since nobody else was around at 5:30 in the morning there was no need to get embarrassed either. I was being stupid and stubbornly decided to press on, which was quite a challenge for the next half mile. Eventually I was literally out of the woods and there was enough light to just about see where I was going. Since this first stretch had been done at about 11:00 pace I slightly pushed the effort for the rest of the workout because somewhere in the back of my mind there was this little voice telling me to make up time. This was my first run around Caragh Lake since Dingle, but after doing it 3 times a week during the summer it still felt very familiar. I passed the hills without problems, but started to feel a little bit weary after 12 or so miles. The rest of the run went ok, but I was glad to be home. There is something about running more than a half-marathon distance. It might just be a mental thing.

I took it much easier today, with only 5 miles to make sure I’m recovered from that run as well as the weekend excursions. I took it very easy, but the heart was a little high, not sure why. The legs felt fine.

I also played an hour of indoor soccer in the evening, something I haven’t done in ages. I used to play religiously two times a week, until running well and truly took over. But I do remember that there is something in my legs that running doesn’t seem to reach. Maybe the series of short sprints that are inherent to football will do some good, but I won’t be doing a lot of sessions before Dublin, that’s for sure. This is for fun, not training, and I didn't get hurt either.
30 Sep
15 miles, 1:56:51, 7:47 pace, HR 154
1 Oct
5 miles, 40:54, 8:11 pace, HR 141