Thursday, December 31, 2009

Review, Preview

When I wrote my last entry I expected my next article to be a race report of the New Year's 5k in Phoenix Park. Alas, that race has been cancelled, which didn't come as a complete surprise, seeing as every single race in Ireland seems to have been called off over the last fortnight. The cold snap is supposed to last for at least another week, which might cause us a serious problem on Sunday, when we're supposed to drive back to Kerry. I have to be back at work on Monday. We'll see how things stand.

Since I have nothing else to write about I might as well change my mind and review 2009 after all. As mentioned, it was a rather disappointing year from a running perspective; 2008 had ended with a whole panel of fresh, shiny, new personal bests (only the ultra one had survived), and when I ran 10 miles in 63 minutes at the beginning of January I thought another spectacular year might be ahead of me. In reality, it was pretty much downhill from then on. Looking back, I was probably overtrained from the summer on, though that did not stop me from running very well in the Dingle marathon, but that was pretty much the only other highlight. Getting sick put an end to any idea of a good Dublin marathon, and that was that. The fact that I took a minute off my 10K time (in 2 chunks) wasn't that much of an achievement – that time had been fairly soft to start with.

My big goal for 2009 had been to run a sub-3 marathon. I miserably failed in that. In fact, I didn't even PR.

So, the numbers for 2009 are as follows:

  • 3319 miles (less than 2008 because I cut down for the last 2 months)
  • 2 PRs (or 3 if you count the 2 10Ks as separate ones)
  • 3:12 in Dingle on one of the hottest days of the year is probably at least as good as a 3:05 in Dublin – from that point of view I did my best marathon to date
  • injuries: 0
  • sickness: 2

At the moment I'm operating on a significantly lower mileage base than usual. I'm really not sure if that's a good idea, but it's part of the ongoing try-and-error part of training. Last summer I decided to push the mileage into higher figures to see what would happen. This time I want to do plenty of long runs in preparation for the Connemara Ultra, but with plenty of recovery in-between, which is why the total mileage is lower than during my marathon training.

As for 2010, I did draw up a list of goals. Ordered by decreasing importance, they are:
  • finish a 50 mile race
  • lower my PR over 39 miles (5:40 at present)
  • don't get injured
  • write shorter blog posts
  • at least one PR over a lower distance, ideally either a sub-18 5K or sub-38 10K

Actually the last one isn't that important. I just want to avoid becoming one-paced with all the ultra training.

After the 21 miler on Tuesday, I took it much easier yesterday with only 4 slow miles. Then I got the phone call telling me that tomorrow's race was off, and decided to do a but of fast running today. There is a dirt track in Kilbogget Park, and I did 4 laps hoping to get under 6 minutes but failed by a whisker, posting a 6:00. I can blame the 21 miler or the biting cold wind, but mostly the fact that I can't push myself particularly hard when I'm running on my own. Considering that my first mile in the 4-mile race 5 days ago had been 5:39 (albeit slightly net downhill), I should be able to run significantly faster if I had to. I did 2 more 400s at slightly faster pace, then the legs already had enough and HOK beckoned. I didn't want to overdo things, and 400s are of limited use for an ultra runner anyway.

30 Dec
4 miles, 33:09, 8:17 pace, HR 139
31 Dec
7 miles, 50:53, 7:16 pace, HR 156
incl. 1 mile @ 6:00, 2x400 at 87, 86


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Big City Lights

I don’t really feel like writing a review of 2009 – from a running point of view it was a slightly disappointing year. It started so well, with a 63 minutes 10 miler in Mallow, but pretty much went downhill from then on. The other highlight was coming 12th in the Dingle marathon (Me! 12th!! In a marathon!!!), but I paid for that performance when I got sick shortly afterwards and subsequently felt down for the entire October and November. The Dublin marathon fell into that period and I had a rather hard time. Earlier that year, Boston was a great weekend but another slightly disappointing marathon. I do hope for a better 2010, old age notwithstanding.

After the first excitement of Christmas had worn off we bundled the kids into the car and set off towards Dublin. Our timing proved to be exceptionally good for a change – the ice had temporarily melted and we got to Dublin on Sunday before it re-appeared all over the country. At the moment we don’t know what it will be like for our return trip, but that’s something I’ll worry about when we get closer. At the moment we're just enjoying the days off.

Apparently, the Bubendorfer-less Christmas in Nana’s and Gaga’s house was quiet and civilised – or boring, depending on your point of view. But our absence sure made things easier for the older generation, and Christmas in Kerry might be on the program for future years. It’s weird, because I have spent 15 out of the last 16 Christmases here – even before Niamh and I were married.

I had managed to sneak out for a run on Sunday before our journey. After the last two 5Ks had left no soreness in my legs I expected another easy ride, and was subsequently really surprised by the weary legs. As a result I cut the planned 10 miles down to 8 and it almost became 7, but I managed to persuade myself to keep going for a little bit longer. After forcing myself through the first 5 miles I hit a groove, and the rest of the run felt much better. Maybe I just had to shake the legs for a while before the old spring returned.

However, 5 hours in the car left the hamstrings in a bit of a state and I decided to postpone my long run for a day. Thus I only covered 10 miles on Monday, but felt good enough to include a session of diagonals on a soccer pitch. The field was very bumpy and the pace of the runs not very fast as a result, but it made for a good workout. It was very cold, about –4C/25F, and I had stupidly left my tights in Kerry, but running in shorts was surprisingly comfortable. Luckily there was no wind, or I might have been in trouble.

There were no excuses this morning, and just before 7 o’clock I stepped out of the house into a very dark Dublin. Niamh had given me a new mp3 player for Christmas, which I wanted to try out; I thought it would be helpful during long, slow long runs, but to be honest I found it rather distracting. Maybe it’s just a matter of choosing the right playlist. The run went well initially, but I struggled a bit on the climb up Killiney Hill and up to the Obelisk, but I enjoyed the view from there for a few seconds, until the biting cold wind reminded me to keep moving. For the second half of the run I headed towards Cabinteely Park. Every time I go there I’m surprised how hilly it is. You might think I should have learnt that lesson by now. Having said that, I find running the loop in there very pleasant, and after 5 loop I headed homewards. I had underestimated the distance and ended up going well past the planned 20 miles. Since the legs had started struggling after 18 the end of the run was a bit of a struggle, but it was the first run over 20 miles since the Dublin marathon, and it was supposed to be tiring.

At lunchtime we headed towards a very posh fitness club where Nana had managed to get us some complimentary tickets. They are valid for the week and we don’t have to pay a cent. The pool is too hot for training really (30C!), but Niamh found it very relaxing. For me it was a good recovery session.

There is a race in Phoenix Park on New Year’s Day, provided that the roads remain ice-free, of course (just about every race over the holidays on the entire island had to be cancelled for that reason), and I’m looking forward to it. A flat, fast course should provide a good time, as long as I haven’t left my legs on the roads out today, that is.
27 Dec
8 miles, 1:02:27, 7:49 pace, HR 149
28 Dec
10 miles, 1:17:37, 7:46 pace, HR 156
incl. 15 minutes of diagonals
29 Dec
21 miles, 2:51:44, 8:11 pace, HR 149

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ho Ho Ho (... and a "race")

We asked the kids at bedtime yesterday if it had been a good Christmas, and the unanimous answer was yes, it had been highly successful. Santa had obviously forgotten about the recession and richly rewarded them all for their good behaviour (???) during the year. The only thing that didn’t quite cooperate was the weather; after a week of icy roads and heavy frost in the mornings (which would have done for a White Christmas) it was quite rainy, the ice has been washed away and we stayed mostly indoors. But since the kids were loaden with new toys, that was not a problem.

Since the road had still been icy on Thursday, I ran into work once more, but it was a short day and Niamh came to collect me in the afternoon when the roads had thawed out. It made for another easy running day. The program had called for a few faster efforts, but that was simply impossible under those conditions. And on Friday I didn’t find a window in the proceedings to head out. Family comes first.

Today, Saturday, was supposed to be race day; a traditional 4-mile race is held yearly in Farranfore, about 30 minutes drive from here. Since the ice had melted I drove there for the 12 o’clock start, only to (eventually) find a sign saying that the race was off due to the roads. I was wondering what to do when I talked to one of the guys hanging around and he told me that about 10 of them were doing the run anyway and I was welcome to join, so I did. In the end there were just over 20 of us assembled on the start line, and it sure felt just like a real race to me.

We headed off and 4 of us made up the leading group. The course starts with a long uphill and there was no place to hide. One of our group fell behind soon enough, and the three of us stormed ahead at what was breakneck speed for me. I barely managed to hang on and really had to strain to keep up, but I did not want to fall behind. Apart from me, the group consisted of a young guy and an older one (well – no more than in his forties, but that’s how I saw them at the time), and I somehow felt that the older guy was the one to watch out for. Indeed, he mostly led the way. Eventually we crested the hill, but any thoughts of an easier ride on the other side were dashed when the two of them inched away from me, and I really had to push with all I had to keep up. For the next mile they kept pulling ahead for a meter or two, I strained to close the gap again, and the whole thing would repeat itself. Just as we were nearing the neighbouring village of Firies, almost 2 miles into the race, the older guy made a break and pulled ahead. The younger guy could not respond; I tried my best, overtaking the young one, but it became clear soon enough that I wasn’t able to keep up with the leader either and the gap grew steadily. I didn’t know the exact course, but following the leader was easy enough; after a short loop through Firies we were soon back on our way to Farranfore. At the end of the loop we passed the slower half of the field coming the other way. I tried to say something like “looking good” when I passed, but didn’t have any breath left and just gave the runners a thumbs up instead. Anyway, I was at least 40 steps behind the leader, but could not hear footsteps behind me either, which meant second place was reasonably secure. I tried not to look up because the road was straight for over a mile and I could see the hill again that we would have to traverse before the end again, and I wasn’t looking forwards to that. Isolated as I was between the two other runners I didn’t have anyone to run with me, and the pace suffered. Had I been fighting for a place I’m sure I would have not slowed down as much as I did, but the searing early pace caught up with me and I struggled to keep going. The heart rate, which was always over 180, shows how hard I worked. As clear as it was that a win was not on the cards, I did not want to lose my runner-up spot, and that kept me going. The hill was very tough work again, it didn’t seem to end, but after the longest 4 miles I can remember I was finally heading towards the finish, and crossed the (imaginary) finish line at a time of 25:40. The distance had been advertised as 4 miles but the Garmin showed 4.18, so it was definitely a bit longer than that, which was confirmed by others who had done that race before. It’s supposed to be a race against others, not a time trial over a measured course, which is fine by me. With that hill to be climbed twice it’s not a PR course anyway, but as a speed workout this got 10 out of 10 points from me. Being in the front group made me work harder than I would have otherwise, and until our group broke up I could not possibly have run any harder. I left a few seconds out during the second half, but that was due to me running on my own. I’m really pleased with the way I raced today, I kept trying for as long as I could, and was only beaten by one runner, who was definitely the better racer.

All the really fast guys had stayed at home today, which is a bit of a shame, but what can you do. Personally it suited me fine, I would not have been in the leading group otherwise.

It started raining, and we all got very cold very quickly, so we dispersed fairly soon. I thanked the guys for the run, and started my cool down when someone called my name. The face looked familiar, but I couldn’t put a name to it. “It’s John”. Still blank (I must have been in the post-race anaerobic haze). “John O’Regan”. That’s when I finally recognised him. Thomas you nitwit! You come across an Irish running legend, and HE recognises YOU, but YOU don’t recognise HIM! Argh!! I could have slapped myself, but instead I had a bit of a chat with John (who had missed the race but was out for an informal run now), which was cut short again by the cold. See you next year John, and I’m sorry!!!
24 Dec
5.1 miles, 40:02, 7:51 pace, HR 150
25 Dec
0 miles, family time
26 Dec
9 miles, including:
  Farranfore 4+ mile race, unofficial
  25:40, 6:11 pace, avg. HR 180

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Killorglin On Ice

Killorglin made it into the news both yesterday and today by being unable to reach via public transport. The bus services to Killarney, Tralee and Cahersiveen have all been cancelled due to the road conditions and we are somewhat cut off from the rest of the world. Most people still manage to drive, though.

It is Wednesday now, and the local roads have been icy and untreated for 5 days in a row. I know for sure that I’m not the only one who is really pissed off with the council at the moment; a colleague rang them yesterday to complain. She got two excuses: 1) they have run out of salt and waiting for delivery from Cork (that’s a classic Irish one) and 2) they cannot send out the road crews early in the morning due to Health and Safety issues. What kind of Kafkaesque madhouse have I inadvertently landed in?

Since I binned the long run on Monday I set the alarm very early on Tuesday. I didn’t even need it. Apparently I was worried enough about the state of the roads in the early morning that I lay awake in bed, worrying if I would be able to run 20 miles in the darkness. Shortly after 4am I got up, got dressed and headed outside, because I decided that rather than stressing out about running I’d rather do some actual running.

I was partially right because the road was very icy, and in places it was extremely icy. As I was doing my miles it occurred to me that cycling into work was not an option today, and driving was out as well. Accordingly I decided to run into work – but running in and out of work after 20 miles of training would have been madness even by my standards, and I decided to cut the training run short. One loop around the Devil’s Elbow was 5.5 miles, if I ran a second one and added to bit from and to my house it would give me about 14.5 miles, which would still enable me to commute into town (and would deliver an awesome daily mileage figure). That was the new plan, but an urgent call of nature intervened just after starting my second loop. I don’t want to get too graphic – but I turned around and ran the 2 miles towards our house in increasing desperation and just about managed it. By now I had covered slightly over 9 miles and it was 6 o’clock in the morning. As I headed out for a second time for 5 additional miles, even though I still had the commute ahead of me, it occurred to me that what I was doing right now might not be training but OCD.

One bit of the road is worth mentioning, namely the last 50-or-so meters of descent from the Devil’s Elbow road. It is very steep (easily over 10% gradient) and the S-shaped bend makes it a tricky road at the best of times. That morning it was so icy that I stopped running but kept sliding down the entire distance on my two feet. How I managed to stay upright I don’t know, and how the cars managed to negotiate that corner later that morning I really don’t know.

In contrast, the commute in and out of work is hardly worth mentioning, even though I had to be really careful with every step. As I got into town I got some comments from 2 people who struggled to stay upright themselves, but maybe running was easier than walking in those conditions. Due to the lack of showers I never really anticipated running into work and a set of wipes had to do. Out of consideration for others it won’t become my normal way of commuting, but I didn’t even get a comment. Either people are too polite to comment on one’s odour or the wipes worked better than I would have thought.

Anyway, the runs added up to 25.2 miles of running in one single day. I’m surprised by the complete absence of soreness as well as the pace of those runs. Considering that the first run was over very hilly terrain, that I not once pushed the pace and that I had to slow down considerably at times due to the roads I would not have expected to hit anywhere near 8:00 pace, but that’s what I ended up with.

I considered driving into work today, Wednesday, but Niamh categorically vetoed the idea. That’s fair enough, I had told her not to drive anywhere unless absolutely necessary, and she merely applied the same rule to me. So, running it was again, and since today had to be a recovery day after yesterday’s big mileage I binned my usual early morning training run altogether and just ran into work. I gave me a much-needed lie-in as well, and for once even the kids cooperated. They are on the Christmas holidays by now and increasingly excited. Santa’s just around the corner. I wonder what he’s got in store for me!

Merry Christmas everyone!

22 Dec
1st run: 14.25 miles, 1:54:29, 8:01 pace, HR 146
2nd run: 5.9 miles, 47:17, 8:01 pace, HR 151
3rd run: 5 miles, 40:02, 8:00 pace, HR 148
23 Dec
am: 5.1 miles, 41:48, 8:14 pace, HR 152
pm: 5 miles, 38:53, 7:46 pace, HR 154

Monday, December 21, 2009

Slip-Sliding Away

I've just read a discussion on the Ultra list about running in cold temperatures, and (according to some, at least) the worst conditions are “just above freezing with very high humidity - that combination seems to suck out the body heat”. Of course, these are the exact conditions that make up our Kerry winters. Though, in all fairness, until I can test running in very cold conditions myself one day, I cannot personally state which is worse.

But it’s the driving conditions that are more concerning me at the moment. The roads have been covered by a layer of ice for three days now, and there is no sign whatsoever of them being gritted or salted. What the hell is going on with the council? All they do is warning drivers of bad conditions, and at the same time the f*****s are doing nothing to improve the situation. According to the weather forecast, this is going to last for several more days. We might have a White Christmas, as long as we manage to survive that long.

I’d better get back to the usual running content before I really start venting what I think about services here. On Saturday we were scheduled to drive to Cork for Lola’s final class and accordingly I got up early for my run. I had hill repeats on the schedule and headed off towards my normal hill. Once again I left my headlamp at home, but this time it proved to be a mistake. On the first hill repeat I tried to go all-out, but the mind simply refused because I simply could not see the road in the darkness. I aborted the attempt and moved half a mile further down the road where there is another hill with better visibility, and that’s where I did 9 more sprints, which turned to quads into some kind of jelly.

We set off on the road to Cork, but had not even got into Killorglin when we passed the site of an accident involving no less than 3 vehicles. That was the final straw and we (ok, Niamh did) decided to turn around and stay at home. Driving 70 miles each way in those conditions simply was not on.

I finally managed some sort of a lie-in on Sunday, though that was cut short by no less than 3 children joining us in bed. I got up at 7:30 (yes, that’s a lie-in) to make them breakfast and Niamh got 90 more minutes of rest, lucky her. Eventually I headed out into the cold, dressed in black tights and black long sleeves, which I called my Ninja outfit. Niamh usually frowns upon me heading out dressed in tights when it’s bright enough to be seen, but I was gone before she could react. I decided on running at a steady pace and was pleasantly surprised how easy that felt. The pace kept dropping from 7:50 for the first mile to 7:20 for much of the run and below 7:00 pace for the last few miles without any apparent change in effort. I still felt great when I got home. The road was rather slippery at times at the beginning, but noticeably improved over the next hour, which was good because I had a busy afternoon ahead of me.

First on the cards was an hour swimming in Killarney, where the coach wore me out with several sets of drills, both for the legs and the arms. I did not know that swimming could be tougher on the legs than steady running, but that’s the lesson I took home on that occasion. There was still no rest for the weary, as I spent the entire rest of the day Christmas shopping, in sync with half the population of Kerry. The battle for parking spaces was vicious at times, and the shops were just as manic. To make matter worse, I didn’t get half the stuff I wanted in Killarney and had to go to Tralee as well, or we would have ended up with a very disappointed set of kids on Friday.

I was so exhausted in the evening that I decided to bin Monday’s long run and set the alarm clock for 10 miles instead. I even chickened out of that and slept in for 15 extra minutes, which left me with enough time for 8 slow miles. Things were ok on the outbound leg, the crunch-crunch sound confirmed ice on the roads but provided plenty of traction. Things changed, and on the way home I was running over a blanket of fully frozen ice and had to be really careful.

Because of the ridiculous road conditions Niamh held off with the school run, and I just about made it into work on the bike, after only one fall and that didn’t hurt because I was almost standing still at the time. Right now it is actually snowing outside. At least the kids will be happy!
19 Dec
8 miles, 1:10:19, 8:47 pace, HR 148
incl. 10 hill sprints
pm: 30 mins drills on bike trainer
20 Dec
10.5 miles, 1:16:22, 7:16 pace, HT 158
pm: 1 hour swimming drills
21 Dec
8 miles, 1:05:30, 8:11 pace, HR 143

Weekly Mileage: 64.5

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter, Definitely

Well, Wednesday’s evening workout on the bike did not happen, mostly due to laziness on my side. What I did do was half an hour of core strengthening; I never even check that Yoga channel (wrong gender and all), but when I spotted that a core workout was on I flicked over out of sheer curiosity. Well, how hard could it be when that girlie is demonstrating it? Turns out, pretty damn hard, and my core is in obvious need of strengthening. We’ll see if I can do something about that.

Running is more my kind of thing, obviously, and an early Thursday morning call enabled me to do 12 miles, with a set of 60 second accelerations thrown into the mix. The temperatures are below freezing at the moment and I had to dig out the tights from the depths of my wardrobe without waking Niamh. Then I had to be really careful at times because there were quite a few spots of pure ice on the road, but I managed to keep upright. I didn’t check the Garmin during the run, but when I did afterwards I was a bit surprised about the slow pace. I think the cold weather has something to do with it. I seem to remember the same thing happening last year – as soon as the temperatures drop below freezing the pace slows even though the level of exertion remains the same. Since I’m trying to do most of my runs at easy level (I’m training for an Ultra after all), it didn’t bother me.

Thursday evening called for another endurance session in form of the boys’ school Christmas plays. As always, the standard of acting was, well, let’s just say I’m sure all the parents were proud. I managed to pull through but spare a thought for our poor babysitter who was given a very rough ride by Maia. She really did not like being left behind.

I’m still fiddling with my training plans, and interestingly I am usually cutting miles rather than adding them at the moment, very much unlike my normal behaviour. When setting the alarm clock last night I decided to do only 8 miles rather than 10 this morning, and the additional 15 minutes of sleep were highly appreciated, so I guess I made the right call. It was even colder than on Thursday, -4C/25F is just about as cold as it gets around here, and this is supposed to last for a few more days. I definitely prefer the cold clear nights to the more usual dreary rain that took up most of previous winters, so I’m definitely not complaining. For the kids a bit of snow would be great for Christmas, but that’s unlikely to happen. As soon as the clouds turn up the temperatures rise just enough for the snow to turn into rain of the worst sort. I’m glad to leave things as they are.

There is a race in Killarney on Saturday which I can’t make because of Lola’s CTY classes in Cork and there is another one in Newmarket on Sunday, which I won’t make because over an hour of driving each way is a bit much when there is a race on the calendar every other weekend anyway. I used to complain about the lack of races around here. Now I can’t even attend half of them. Good days, really.
17 Dec
12 miles, 1:37:27, 8:07 pace, HR 150
incl. 9x60 sec pickups
18 Dec
8 miles, 1:05:01, 8:08 pace, HR 142

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lots of Driving

There are two clear indications that I’m getting old. One is that I’m 6 weeks away from the Masters age category. The second one is the slow recovery – from a night out, that is. I didn’t even stay out late on Friday. When a colleague offered me a lift home shortly before midnight I was only too glad to accept. And even though I had not drunk THAT much, I was hungover all day Saturday. Luckily it didn’t affect Sunday’s race.

On Monday morning I was happy enough about the complete absence of post-race soreness and went out on my 18 miles around Caragh Lake. The sky had laid on a very special show for me. Not only was it completely clear, it was the night of the Geminid meteor shower and during the first 2 hours of my run I spotted no less then 13 shooting stars, with numbers 6, 12 and 13 particularly impressive. I’m sure I would have spotted a few more had I been concentrating on the sky rather than the road, but with the frequent icy patches on the road (it was well below freezing) that would have been a bad idea. The run was easy, but to my massive annoyance I realised that I had inadvertently turned off the Garmin after 3 miles. My data is lost, my miles and times are guesses, but the training effect in my legs is there, and that’s the one thing that counts. I was really pleased how easy it had felt. Running 18 miles has apparently become a doddle to me.

The mad part of the day started after my run. Since Niamh is an avid Eddie Izzard fan we deposited 2 kids at school where they would be collected by friends for a sleepover, put two more kids and ourselves into the car and headed up to Dublin. Nana and Gaga were excited to welcome our reduced family; Niamh and me headed into town for the show (which was excellent) and later on managed to stay awake for a chat by the fire until well after midnight.

Tuesday morning saw me running several laps in Dublin’s Deer Park to accumulate 8 miles, surprisingly again without any soreness. In fact, the only time my hamstrings hurt were during the last hour in the car journey, and that went away as soon as we arrived. At lunchtime we set off again homewards bound, collected the remaining offspring and returned to normal life. Driving to Dublin for one single night was entirely Niamh’s idea, but it plays into my hands. Never again will she be able to say things like “you want to drive how far for running [insert appropriate race distance here]???” without incurring a prompt reply of “well, you drove all the way to Dublin for one evening with Eddie Izzard!!!”. Sorted!

Wednesday is my semi-enforced rest day due to swim training and I was at the pool entrance shortly after 7 am. Sadly, nobody else was. A sign at the door announced the changed opening times for the Christmas period as from 9am to 9pm, which is totally useless for me. My swim coach turned up, noticed the same sign, and we re-arranged the class for Sunday. Since I didn’t have any other sporting equipment in the bag I couldn’t even go for a run, so I had to return to Caragh Lake after a completely wasted trip. I might hook my bike up to the trainer later tonight to get at least some training into my legs, or else the shock of a complete rest day might kill me.

By the way, both Niamh and me cannot believe how easy it is to look after only two children. All you parents of less than 3 kids have no right whatsoever to complain about the workload.
14 Dec
18+ miles, ~2:23, ~8:25 pace, HR ~140
15 Dec
8 miles, 1:02:18, 7:47 pace, HR 153

Monday, December 14, 2009


Last week's race had not gone badly but there were a few things I was not happy about, most of all my lack of racing enthusiasm. I was determined to put things right this time.

First of all, I did not tire myself out by swimming for an hour beforehand. I don't know how much of an effect this had on last week's race, but it sure was not the ideal preparation. Accordingly I left the house later today but would be away for longer; however, Niamh had given permission.

Maybe the mug of strong coffee half an hour before the race had an effect. I felt wired when I signed up, but the effects, if present at all, may well have been purely psychological. But I stood at the start line determined to better last week's time. The course was the same again, but the weather was different. It was icy cold, my car thermometer displayed 0 degrees C, but with the lack of wind it felt warmer than that in the bright sunshine.

Right at the start I took a decision that might have made the difference. Last week a group had slowly pulled away from me, and I ended up leading another group of runners a few meters behind. I was not going to let that happen again and held on to the end of the pack for dear life. The top runners (especially the eventual winner who took off on his own) pulled away, but my group wasn't too far behind. Eventually I got a grip on proceedings and managed to pass a few runners. I'm sure I was not speeding up, but others were slowing early and I made up a few places. Just one runner passed me, but he nearly threw me off my stride in surprise because he wore a massive backpack that obviously did not stop him from doing 6:00 pace. I wasn't going to let anyone with a bag big enough for a polar expedition show me up and managed to stay reasonably close. He dropped off his bag at the 1-mile point, very close to the eventual finish, and turned from backpack-guy into blue-t-shirt-guy, but remained a target nevertheless.

The second mile sports a big hill, but at first the climb was very gentle. I surprised myself by closing the gap to some runners ahead (including the leading lady) and even overtaking them without pushing stronger than before. Only two guys stayed with me, including Mr blue t-shirt, but as soon as the real climb started I immediately lost contact, no matter how hard I tried. I even lost a place as one guy strode past me looking annoyingly comfortable, and the three of them formed a group, with me about 12 steps behind by the time we finally crested the hill. I hoped, and expected, to at least close the gap on the downhill, but try as I might I could not quite manage it. With about a mile left I tried to find another gear but there was nothing to be found, all I could do was keep going. Eventually blue t-shirt seemed to tire, fell behind the others and I managed to close the gap.

He was still a step ahead of me when we took a right turn to cross the last bridge across the little river, which was my signal to finally start my kick for the finish. It was high time because I could hear steps approaching from behind and knew that if I did not move now I would lose a place rather than gain one. With the effort level full in the red zone I finally passed the blue t-shirt after trailing for two miles. I could hear both him and whoever had been closing in on me and really worried about being passed again. Fear can be a surprisingly effective motivator and the sheer horror that I might lose a place or two ensured that I did not let up by even an ounce. I didn't quite manage to reel in one more runner but I flew up the final hill towards the line with the HR at 187, a zone that I hadn't touched in ages and didn't even know I still could reach. I saw the clock at the end and knew I was way ahead of last week. My watch read 18:36 when I crossed the line.

I was really happy with the 24 seconds improvement, which was way better than expected. I'm sure last week's race had given the legs a boost, but the biggest change was in my attitude, with me being willing and prepared to hurt. The average HR during the race of 179 is my highest ever, I think. I wonder if I could have a shot at my PR after a few more weeks of training, but the races series is now over and 5Ks are in fairly short supply during the winter, so I will probably not get the opportunity.

Talking about the race series, they gave out prizes at the end. Since I had missed the second race I did not expect to even qualify, but as they counted the top 3 out of 4 I was in the results after all. Still, having come in 10th, 18th, and somewhere around 10th again [update: 13th] in my races I didn't have high expectations. BUT, when she stumbled over the name of the fourth placed runner, a certain “Thomas Boo, err, (pause)”, I realised that I had struck some unexpected loot. I have no illusions about being in the real top 4 - a few of the fast guys must have missed some races, but you take what you get and 4th place in the race series is what I got. The goodie bag contained a technical t-shirt, socks, a bag and a drinks bottle and was very appreciated.

After giving out prizes for the fast runner (and me), they also gave out awards to a few runners of the fit-4-life group as well as the biggest improver, which was a great touch. All of the women honoured this way were taken by surprise and clearly chuffed about being rewarded like that. It really seemed to make their day big time. It was a great idea – rewarding previously idle people who had taken charge and run not just one race but an entire series of a sport that most of them most likely had felt out of reach beforehand. Others should take note, and a big thank you has to go to the people from Feet First who organised the entire race series (and there is more to come).

12 Dec
5 miles, 42:37, 8:31 pace, HR 144
13 Dec
9 miles, incl:
  Killarney Feet First 5k, Race 4
    18:36, HR 179, 13th place

4th overall in race series !!!

Weekly mileage: 53

Friday, December 11, 2009

Little Big Man

The most important event this week was Cian’s sixth birthday, coupled with a very successful party and plenty of presents that he still enjoys very much. Six years! Doesn’t time fly? Only recently he was the baby in the family!

My own training is still very low key. The non-running day on Wednesday automatically produces low mileage weeks and I’m not used to seeing consistent sub-50 numbers on my weekly sheets. I’m wondering how much of my summer base building will carry me through. Endurance training is supposed to be cumulative; I guess I’m putting that theory to the test at present.

Wednesday’s swimming class went pretty well, even I could notice the improvements from the previous week. My swimming instructor is very positive – I wonder if that’s his encouraging nature or actual progress on my side, but he laughed when I told him about swimming for an hour before last Sunday’s race (“Man, give yourself a chance!”). I had to promise not to repeat that this week, which I will probably keep.

10 miles seem to be a long run all of a sudden, and getting up at 6:10 is early by my soft new standards, but I managed to get out of bed and out onto the road on Thursday. My reward was a brilliant clear sky, but that came at the price of distinctly lower temperatures. I just about got away with the shorts but the long sleeves were a must. I included 8x45 second “sprints” which I started every 5 minutes, ensuring that I recovered fully between each effort. This made the time pass surprisingly quickly; I was almost surprised when I reached my turnaround point. A curious thing happened on the last acceleration, even though it was uphill I seemed to fly up the road, effortlessly hitting 5:30 pace without even trying. I wish I could have bottled that feeling and if I could repeat the same feat on the uphill finish of Sunday’s race, even better.

I was planning on training through any races this cycle, but since I’m still at the beginning of training and don’t want to overload my legs I’m taking another easy day on Saturday, which is why I moved the planned hill sprints to today. I thought I did exactly the same run last week, but for some reason I ran half a mile longer today. It was only afterwards that I realised that I had done 6 hill sprints last week as opposed to 8 today. I didn’t quite manage to get the HR up to the same levels. I think I was working as hard and the lower heart rate is down to increased fitness, but I can’t be entirely sure. Those supposed maximum efforts are difficult to gauge.

Since my office is having the annual Christmas party tonight, moving the hill sprints out of Saturday’s way was most likely a good idea. Even if I manage to get out tomorrow morning, I cannot possibly imagine doing hill sprints with a hangover. Any negative effects will hopefully have worn off by Sunday. I want to better last week’s time, even if a PR is definitely not on the cards.

9 Dec
0 miles, 60 minutes swim
10 Dec
10 miles, 1:20:39, 8:04 pace, HR 149
incl. 8x45 sec strides
11 Dec
6.5 miles, 58:13, 8:57 pace, HR 147
incl. 8x25 sec hill sprints

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Ultra Running

Being under the mistaken impression that I know what I’m doing, Grellan asked a few questions a few days ago.

1 - Pace. If you're planning on 8 minute pace average (or sub 8 as the case may be), how do you think it would vary from start to finish & would you consider introducing walking breaks (before being forced to)

2. Nutrition, Would you vary it much from your recent approach to marathon nutrition or do you think you need to revert to the rice milk or an equivalent substitute or are you thinking of something completely different.

Now that I'm zoned in I have a third question/suggestion. Would you think compression socks would help prevent/relieve the calf cramps that are likely to arise during a road race of that distance.

Let’s see. I’d feel much more comfortable giving out advice had I been able to crack the Connemara Ultra in my two previous attempts. However, as things stand, I do know how to finish but still don’t know how to race the damn thing. Keep that disclaimer in mind.

Pace: As with virtually all long distance races I think that even pace is your best bet. Connemara complicates things a bit by becoming tougher with each section. However, I would not start out at faster than goal pace. If things are going smoothly at mile 30 you still have a lot of time to speed up. Therefore I’m planning on going out at 8:00 pace. On the other hand, I’ve changed my mind about walking breaks. At 39 miles, Connemara is still a short race by ultra standards and is more a long marathon. After the 2008 race I thought I had the answer when, following a break, my quads suddenly returned to life at mile 35 after being immensely painful for the previous 5. However, when I inserted a short walk break in this year’s Dublin marathon the effect was exactly 0, which put me off the idea again.

If you’re planning on walk breaks then 1) train that way and 2) do them early in the race. I, however, won’t be joining you in that. I feel that walk breaks disrupt my rhythm and do more harm than good. Things are different for longer ultras, but we’re strictly talking Connemara here.

Nutrition: I was really pleased how well my rice milk/slim fast mixture worked in 2007 and will most likely use it again, horrific as that combination might sound. Learning from my 2008 mistake I won’t be using chocolate milk on the course, but that still works as a recovery drink afterwards. You can always check out more professional nutrition, but since I seem to have stumbled on something that works for me personally, I’ll stick to that. I know I can’t take more than 3 gels in a marathon without retching, so I’ll keep maybe 2 of them in my pockets as emergency supply, but won’t rely on them. On the other hand, anyone who has more luck with gels (like you, Grellan), will probably be able to use them in an ultra as well. It’s very much an individual thing. Again, try it out in training and see what works.

Socks: The jury is still out, but I will probably wear my compression socks in Connemara. They may or may not have a positive effect, but I’m reasonably sure they won’t have a negative one, apart from looking even more ridiculous than usual. I might go one step further and get some compression shorts as well. My role model in this case is Tsuyoshi Kaburaki who came second in this year’s Western States. As the photo shows (and you can google for more) he wore that attire at that race. But I haven’t made my final decision yet.

Keep in mind, though, that the most important part of the race is already behind you when you stand at the start line. Training is where it is, and mine is finally beginning to take shape.

I increased the mileage of my long run to 16.5 miles on Monday, which was not that much of a jump from last week, but still enough to be taxing. The weather wasn’t the best. It was raining at the start, then stopped but returned with a vengeance after 5 miles. 10 minutes in these conditions left me utterly drenched, but it did stop eventually, only to return 2 or 3 more times before I got back home. Unlike last week I did not chicken out of the Caragh Lake loop but ran it counter-clockwise for a change. That way I hit the big hill later on, which is more like Connemara, and the 3 mile climb from miles 7.5 to 10.5 turned out to be quite a challenge. The moon was bright enough to shine even through the thick cloud cover, which enabled me to leave the headlamp at home (I really seem to have taken a dislike to the thing). What did surprise me was the complete lack of soreness after Sunday’s race, but the hamstrings started to complain after 13 miles. The same thing used to happen during most long runs this summer and the only option is to work through the discomfort. Since time on feet is more important than pace when training for an ultra I stuck to my easy pace at all times and intend on doing that for all of my long runs this training cycle.

I was sore this morning, though, and accordingly cut my run down to 6 miles, and slow ones at that. I think that as long as the swimming lessons are on Wednesday it would make more sense to move the long run to Tuesday to make better use of the following day’s recovery. However, we will be in Dublin early next week, which might complicate things a bit, but I’ll keep that in mind for the weeks after that.

7 Dec
16.5 miles, 2:14:01, 8:07 pace, HR 149
8 Dec
6 miles, 49:41, 8:17 pace, HR 143

Sunday, December 06, 2009

No Secrets

Having just re-started my training after a very long period of relative rest, I was not really in the mood for racing. I knew I would not be able to get anywhere near my personal best, and the pain of racing didn’t feel overly appealing either. Maybe that’s why I decided to deliberately sabotage my race today by going swimming for an hour beforehand. A swimming workout was necessary to practise my kick after Wednesday’s lesson, but I could have done it after the race. Nevertheless I decided to do it beforehand.

I left a bit late and didn’t quite manage an hour, but I was suitably tired when I heaved myself out of the swimming pool about 50 minutes before race start. But the heavy feeling did leave my legs eventually, and it is impossible to say if it had any influence on my race performance. Funnily enough, I met my swimming instructor at the start line – a minute later he would leave in the dust (or muck, as it were).

Due to flooding in the park we raced over a different course than the usual one, and I had heard from runners who had attended the race 4 weeks ago that it was a tough one. The start was at the same point, and I proceeded at what seemed appropriate pace, but I did notice that a fair amount of the field was ahead of me. I kept tracking a few runners that tend to be in my general vicinity in races and I thought I was going a bit slower than usual, but if so then not by much.

The big one came shortly after the 2km mark. For the last few minutes I had stayed tucked behind a white-haired runner from Eagles AC, trying to find some shelter from the rather strong wind. Then we turned and went up a hill, not steep but long. And up. And up. And up. It took all the way to the 3km marker to finally reach the top, by which I had lost a couple of places – I have never been the best of uphill runners. I did manage to make up a place or 2 at the following downhill section, and then things got a bit confusing. As we proceeded along the race course, a few runners came from the right. They must have cut off a part of the course, but I recognised 2 of them and they tend to be way ahead of me at all times; I have no idea how they ended up on that stretch. Anyway, the last mile mostly followed most of the early part of the racecourse, except that we didn’t make a sharp left turn at the end but had to race up the hill that always marks the end of races in Killarney National Park. I half-heartedly tried to close the gap to the old geezer in front (I’ll join that status soon) but was left floundering. When I saw the timer at the finish line it showed 18:50; I tried to come home under 19:00 but failed. My watch showed 19:00 exactly at the end, and they might add a second for the final result.

Considering that I’m at the very start of a training cycle and have forgotten how to hurt in a race I was reasonably happy with the time, if not with my lack of racing enthusiasm. But if 19:00 is the marker of my basic fitness on a tough course in less-than-ideal conditions, then I’m happy enough with that. I can build on that over the next few weeks. There are plenty of races over the holiday period, and I’ll use them as speed workouts. That seemed to work well during the summer and I’m hoping for more of the same. There is one more race of the same 5k race series in one week’s time, to make up for the race that had been cancelled a fortnight ago. Maybe I can improve on today's time if I won’t wear myself out by swimming to exhaustion beforehand. What did surprise me was my average heart rate of 177. I must have been working harder than I’d thought.

I chatted to several people after the race, including John Walshe from Ballycotton who confirmed that I have made it into next year’s race (that’s never a given due to its popularity), so that’s a bonus. But I noticed that every single time I tried to tell something to one of the guys I was chatting with, they responded with “I know, I’ve read that on your blog”. It looks like I’m man without secrets these days.

Shortly after coming home, Cian wore himself out racing up and down the house. Then he came to us, out of breath, and said: "I feel like a rubbish runner!" I know how that feels!

5 Dec
5 miles, 41:42, 8:18 pace, HR 140
6 Dec
45 minutes swim, 5 miles run including:
  Killarney 5K, 19:00, HR 177, ~20th position probably

Weekly Mileage: 46

Friday, December 04, 2009


I’ve finally written down my training plan for Connemara, but it is still open to change. I do need to have a plan or else I’m not training properly, and once I have it I tend to stick to it fairly closely. It contains fewer miles than during the summer training, but more and longer long runs to get me used to spending several hours on my feet during the ultra. It seems strange to run fewer miles in preparation for an ultra than for a marathon but I suppose after concluding that I was a bit overtrained a step backwards is needed. There is still room for several intensive workouts because I think they are just as critical to endurance as long runs. I have done the Connemara Ultra twice, and if I don’t manage to cut a significant chunk of time off my previous efforts, I will be disappointed. It should definitely be possible for me to run 39 miles at 8:00 pace, but I know I said the same 2 years ago and I know what happened then.

The cross training will definitely be adhered to and I had another swimming lesson on Wednesday. This time my coach did turn up, and he had a reasonably good excuse for dissing me last week: he had broken his finger while hammering in the dark. At the very least I have learnt one lesson from him then, namely don’t do that! Anyway, we spent the time in the pool working on my kick, which was in dire need of being worked at. I found it hard going; I might think that my legs are pretty strong after years of running but swimming is a different sport and I was pretty tired afterwards. I also found it impossible to concentrate on the arms and legs at the same time, but of course it is still early in the learning process.

The legs were a bit stiff during the first few miles on Thursday but came round once I started a set of 8x30 seconds of sprints. They did remind me of the 30/30 workouts I had done last year, but I took long recoveries this time. Then, during the last two miles, just after climbing a long hill, I took off. For pure fun I accelerated down to about 6:30 pace and held it until I was back home. I was having a ball and had a big grin on my face, running for the pure hell of it. I think my mojo is finally back.

Effortless Running
Gliding over the asphalt
Big smile on my face

Ok, that won’t win any prizes, sorry ‘bout that. Oh, I nearly forgot, I also saw a rainbow – in the moonlight! That’s a new one, and it showed how bright the moon was that night when it managed to sneak in between the heavy clouds.

Thursday evening was a bit stressful as Niamh was away and I was supposed to look after the children. Which ended badly when Maia cut the back of her head during a tumbling session with Shea and started bleeding. Actually, I didn’t even notice the blood for a few minutes, and by the time I finally realised what those red drops were she had long calmed down. I kept a close eye on her, but she was absolutely fine, and Niamh hasn’t killed me yet for apparent neglect of duty. My punishment came during the night when Maia woke at 3 o’clock in the morning requiring a nappy change and joined us in bed for the rest of the night, because I was unable to fall back asleep afterwards. 90 minutes later I got up, cleaned the kitchen and read a book for an hour before I finally was tired again. Of course it meant I felt completely exhausted when the alarm went off at 6:40 am and my sleeping time had been cut down from the expected 8 hours to less than 6. Tempted as I was to stay in bed I got up for 6 miles with a set of short hill sprints, a similar workout to last Saturday. I tried to put a true maximal effort into these, but initially the heart rate didn’t quite go as high as last week. It wasn’t until the last sprint that I got it all the way up to 177 again, but the wobbly feeling in my legs told me that I had done the work.
2 Dec
0 miles, 60 mins swim
3 Dec
8 miles, 1:02:01, 7:45 pace, HR 156
incl. 8x30 secs accelerations
4 Dec
6 miles, 51:42, 8:37 pace, HR 151
incl. 6x30 secs hill sprints

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The First Step of a Long Journey

I must be getting old because time is flying and I can hardly keep up with the pace. Official confirmation of my geezer status is less than 2 months away; it is coming soon, that’s for sure.

On Saturday evening I was suddenly struck by a very annoying cough that lasted for about half an hour. Niamh was all too familiar with it; she had been affected on and off for weeks, Maia started the same a couple of weeks ago and now it was my turn, apparently. Niamh predicted I would get another cough attack on Tuesday and further one on Thursday, and so far she has been right – no new ones so far.

Unbelievably, I slept for almost 10 hours on Sunday. That must be a new record, and the blinds that we installed in the kids’ bedrooms might have crippled me financially but they seem to be paying off. The first one of our offspring did not appear in out bed until about 8:40, but by 8:45 the entire family was gathered, and not much later I was dumped unceremoniously to make more room for the rest. Such is a dad’s fate.

I took the opportunity to go out for 5 miles, which were spiced up by a set of 5 hill sprints. I restricted them to very short dashes at a time, about 25 seconds each, but I did notice that my HR shot up all the way to 177 from the second one onwards. I have never managed to get the HR as high on longer hill sprints, which got me thinking. The efforts today were much closer to a true maximum effort than longer ones, and for pure power development it might be better to keep them at this short, almost a-lactic duration. Longer efforts lead to lactic acid build-up and are more a VO2max workout. It depends what you’re looking for, but for the sake of muscle strengthening I think I’ll try and give the shorter efforts a go.

The following night I clearly paid for the long sleep by hardly being able to sleep at all. I had set the alarm for 5:25 and intended to run 15 miles around Caragh Lake, but I was too exhausted to heave myself out of bed. I continuously drifted in and out of dreams and found it really confusing. At one stage I thought I had tried to reset my alarm clock and broken it in the process; then I thought I had turned it off; then I just set it an hour later. At the time I could not tell which of these had actually happened, but when I checked the alarm clock later that day it was still working but set to a different time altogether.

Whatever the case, an hour later than planned I did manage to get up, decided I had enough time for 8 miles and, just for fun, turned that into a progression run with each mile faster than the previous one. I set the Garmin on auto alert and off I went. The first mile was a bit fast for this kind of run at 8:00 exactly, and I knew I was making life difficult for myself. Never mind, I gave it a good try.

And this is where my stupidity comes in, or maybe I can use the lack of sleep as an excuse. Since the Garmin was on auto alert but not on auto lap, I got a beep every mile, but the lap-pace I was looking at was the cumulative average pace of the entire run, not the average pace of the present mile like I thought. I did not cop on to that at all until I uploaded the data into the computer in the evening and got totally confused about the completely new set of numbers for the mile splits than what had been displayed to me in the morning. This did explain why I was able to keep the average pace pretty fast even at the start of uphill miles. On the other hand, I could tell that I was getting into anaerobic territory by the 6th mile when I thought the pace was only about 7:25 and was shocked by the amount of fitness I had lost apparently. At the last mile I averaged a heart rate of 179. I’m pretty sure that’s the highest HR I have ever managed to achieve over an entire mile in a training run.

As I said, things cleared up all eventually in the evening, and I was relieved to see that my pace over the last few miles had been 30 seconds per mile faster than I had thought. I probably should have relied more on the feeling in my legs than a set of numbers on the screen, but after that sleepless night my brain was obviously not with me. Putting all those technical details aside, I felt this was a very good way to do a tempo run. I have never been able to tell with such certainty when I was crossing into anaerobic territory before, and I think this workout can serve as an excellent fitness gauge.

Monday morning had been crispy cold but reasonably calm and would have been a good day for the originally scheduled longer run. I made up for the lost miles on Tuesday, but the weather was just about to turn and conditions had deteriorated overnight. Hearing the wind howling outside I chickened out of the Caragh Lake loop and decided to do two loops of the Devil’s Elbow hill instead, which is slightly shorter overall but sports a nasty climb of about 500 feet elevation gain on each loop. It would give me the option of bailing out halfway through if I was too tired or if the conditions became too bad. As it turned out, time was just about on my side. It was extremely windy at the very top of that climb and I had to lean into the wind in order not to get blown off the road, but the rain didn’t start until later. I felt surprisingly good, much better than anticipated. The climb on the second loop was hard work, but the rest of it was fine and I got home still feeling ok. I could have run for longer, and I never even contemplated taking the gel I had tucked into my pocket in case of emergency. The fact that I kept the pace at a rather sedate level at all times was definitely a factor.

It did cross my mind that 14 very hilly miles are quite a run for someone who claims not to be training yet. Maybe I’ve started a week early after all. Considering that Connemara is less than 20 weeks away, it’s probably time to get serious anyway.
29 Nov
5 miles, 40:46, 8:09 pace, HR 154
incl. 5x25 seconds all-out hill sprints
30 Nov
8 miles , 58:04, 7:15 pace, HR 162
mile splits and HR: 8:00 (141), 7:45 (151), 7:29 (155), 7:09 (161), 7:09 (167), 6:55 (172), 6:48 (177), 6:47 (179)
1 Dec
14.1 miles, 1:56:47, 8:17 pace, HR 154, very hilly