Friday, December 31, 2010

The End Of The Year

I know there are more runners in Dublin than in Kerry, but I fail to understand how this is possible. Dealing with all the traffic, red lights and walkers/dogs/cyclists on the paths makes this a much less relaxing experience than a run around the mostly deserted roads of Caragh Lake. I can easily tolerate this for a few days, but I'm always looking forward to being back on my usual haunts.

There are good points here as well, of course, the existence of dedicated running clubs being one of them, but that's no use to me on my infrequent stays. The existence of a dirt track 4 miles from the in-laws house is another, unexpected, plus.

After a run on Thursday that went like most others in recent days – felt good during the first half, lousy during the second – I started to get rather worried about my recent state of fatigue. On the other hand, I did entertain the possibility of the problem being in my mind. An evaluation workout would hopefully bring some answers.

On the coach's advice I had postponed the evaluation on Tuesday and continued to run easily until the legs felt better. Today (Friday) I ran the first 4 miles with an average HR of 140 at a pace of 7:40, a much better set of numbers than on previous days, and this would do as my warm-up. For the evaluation itself I did 16 laps on the Kilbogget Park dirt track, though I used the Garmin to display distance rather than counting laps. The track is perfectly usable for a training run, even though it's ever so slightly disconcerting to see the surface covered in tyre marks and a few other signs of, er, misuse of the facilities, but at my time of 9 o'clock in the morning it's a good bet that the miscreants are all in bed. Running 16 laps takes a bit of getting used to, but after a while I managed to tune into The Zone and just ran at the correct effort level, the Garmin's HR alarm hardly ever being needed.

The figures for today’s evaluation were:

Mile 1 6:50 (HR 161)
Mile 2 6:54 (HR 161)
Mile 3 7:00 (HR 161)
Mile 4 6:58 (HR 161)

Time to 130 33

The pace is a smidgen slower than last time but faster than expected. I could not hold the pace quite as well as last time but it's still better than any evaluation before December. And the recovery time to 130 was the fastest ever, which I found really surprising. I have no real idea what that means as regards to my present state of fitness; that's where the coach and his knowledge comes in. All in all, the evaluation had gone much better than feared after feeling like crap for a week, ending the year on good terms. I've got high hopes for 2011.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

30 Dec
10.1 miles, 1:18:45, 7:48 pace, HR 144
31 Dec
12.55 miles, 1:35:45, 7:37 pace, HR 148
incl. 4 miles evaluation:
    6:50, 6:54, 7:00, 6:58; 33 seconds to HR 130

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

That Was 2010

This was supposed to be a post about my latest evaluation run, but that had to be postponed. Sunday's 20 miler was one of the toughest training runs I've done and left me severely exhausted (though I'm mostly blaming Saturday's run); when I inquired what to do the coach told me to run easily until the legs feel better, and that's exactly what I've done since. I left for 10 miles on Monday but cut it down to 8 after the legs felt really tired. I followed that with 10 on Tuesday but was knackered after 7 – though since I was already on my way back home there was nothing I could do but run home. I initially thought I felt better at the start of today's run, but after 4 miles into a strong headwind felt tired enough to turn around early once more and cut it down to 8 again. Funnily enough, the return leg felt much easier with the blustery wind now on my back, but I decided not to re-extend it. The last thing I want is to dig myself into a hole of exhaustion, and erring on the side of caution is definitely preferable. Later on we all jumped into the car and drove to Dublin to spend New Year with Niamh's family. I have started to wonder if the recent feelings of fatigue are just in my head. Maybe a change in scenery will do me good.

Since the year is almost at an end, I might as well do a review, and quickly look forward to 2011.

Miles so far: 2918, with about 20 still to come. That's actually the lowest mileage in a long time. I reduced my overall mileage when training for the ultras, otherwise the long weekend runs would have killed me. I'd try a different approach next time, to be honest.

Highlight: Running 5:15 in Connemara. It had taken me 3 tries to get that race right and it felt all the better for finally achieving what I felt was a very good time.

Single Best Moment: Crossing the finish line of the Dingle 50 mile Ultra. The euphoria of that moment cannot be surpassed. Better than sex. Better than drugs.

Lowlight: Getting injured twice in the last few months, first the Achilles, then the knee. I always prided myself in my very low injury rate for a marathon runner. Taking days off was a blow.

I'd set 4 goals for 2010: The major ones were a new PB in Connemara and finishing Dingle. Both were a complete success. The two minor goals were a new PB at one of the shorter distances and writing shorter blog entries. I failed in the PB task, but came reasonably close, missing my 5k time by only 7 seconds twice. Ewen will undoubtedly tell you that the blog posts one was an utter disaster.

I also did 2 triathlons, which were great fun, but they reinforced the fact that I'm a runner, not a multi-sport athlete. I still would love to do an Ironman one day, but I would have to figure out a way on how to do the swim training. Driving more than one hour from and to Killarney for each swim day is just not on.

I'm more than happy with how the year has gone and I really think it was a good idea to step back from the marathon and concentrate on Ultras. Now I have gotten them out of my system for the time being and will have one more go at the marathon.

I have only one goal for 2011, and that is to break 3 hours. No other goals, no detractions, no excuses.
27 Dec
8 miles, 1:03:05, 7:53 pace, HR 141
28 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:40, 7:52 pace, HR 146
29 Dec
8 miles, 1:02:06, 7:45 pace, HR 147

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas

I used to hate Christmas, from the awful songs on the radio to the enforced happiness all around, but since the children have become old enough to enjoy it I have come round and the sight of children's eyes glowing in delight is worth the baggage. The kids must have been really good this year. When I saw the heaps of presents I remarked to Niamh that something must have gone wrong somewhere. Santa clearly was overly generous.

Obviously I was not able to go running early in the morning – family comes first and I would not have missed the opening of the presents for anything. The plan would have seen me running 20 miles but I simply did not have time for that, so I swapped Saturday and Sunday around. I know that 15/20 is not the same as 20/15, but sometimes Real Life just happens to interfere.

I left just after 10 o'clock and since I figured that the main road would be much busier than at 6 o'clock on my previous runs I decided to take my chances on the Caragh Lake road. My hopes that the recent sunshine would have softened the ice covering the road were dashed. It was about -10C, and ice does not soften in these temperatures. I managed to get into Killorglin without a fall but decided to stick to the main road after that and hope the traffic would not be too bad. I did 2 more miles towards Milltown before turning around. The Glenbeigh road was much busier than I would have hoped. Several cars were hooting as they went past. If that meant “hello Thomas, nice to see you” or “get off the road you moron” I could never tell. While running was definitely possible and I did not think the traffic was dangerous, I just could never relax and eventually I got fed up with it and took a shortcut home, cutting the run down by a mile.

Our outside water pipe froze that morning, leaving us with no water bar the water tank in the attic and we knew that would not last long. But we also knew that the thaw was predicted to come overnight; I reckoned we would easily manage until then, Niamh said she admired my optimism.

I did have one big worry though, my knee was swollen again by the evening. This time I'm pretty sure it was down to me kneeling on the floor for several hours, helping Lola building her new hospital (it's bigger than anything Mary Harney ever delivered). I slept with my knee wrapped in a bandage and of course I wore one on my run today.

The thaw came overnight, together with heavy rain and gale force wind. The children were not too happy to see their snowmen melting away and I was not too happy to see the water freezing on the road surface. Eventually I ventured out. The first 1.5 miles were just ridiculous, like running on a polished mirror but once I passed the school things improved and I decided to keep running. I had been running too fast on Saturday and I could feel the effect on my legs. After 6 miles I was already knackered and wondered how I would get through the run. The gale force winds did not help, each time I went against it it felt like climbing a mountain. At least it stopped raining after a few miles.

The idea was to run three loops around Killorglin, 5 miles each, and since it took me 2.5 miles to reach that loop this would add up to 20 miles. After the first loop (7.5 miles) I was sorely tempted to head back home but turned left after all for a second loop, but I really did not expect to be able to do another one. But somehow I found a few reserves of energy and when it came to decision time I turned left once more for more punishment. Eventually I remembered that I had brought an emergency gel and took that around mile 14, but to be honest it didn't do anything for me, the extra energy just seemed to burn up in empty fumes. I managed to drag myself through the final loop and on the way home found that the road surface had improved in the last 2 hours, it was almost runnable, though there were one or two hairy moments. There was plenty of discomfort from the knee but it did not get any worse throughout the run, and I hope plenty of icing afterwards will do the magic once more.

This was my first 20 mile training run in a very, very long time. I have not done 20 in training since before Dingle, back in August; that's a very long time ago. My overall mileage has been pretty decent in the last few weeks but there was a distinct lack of proper long runs. Let's hope I can add that on a consistent basis for the next few weeks.
25 Dec
14 miles, 1:45:45, 7:33 pace, HR 148
26 Dec
20 miles, 2:37:17, 7:52 pace, HR 148

Weekly Mileage: 84

Friday, December 24, 2010

Broken Record

It did not feel all that cold on Thursday, not colder than the day before, really. I had not looked at the thermometer and sometimes ignorance is bliss. It was not until 2 hours later when I saw the car's thermometer that I realised just how cold it had become. It originally said -13C but had switched to -12 by the time I had the camera out. A colleague who passed me in his car while I was running had the same number on his thermometer at that time - apparently he felt rather snug and warm in his car when he saw me. Another colleague had photographic evidence of -14C in Tralee (we're having a competition in the office hence all the photos), so I did not have the record for myself.

As ever the main road was the only possible running surface and I went down to Glenbeigh and then further on to Mountain Stage until I reached my turnaround point. I felt comfortable enough, as soon as you reach a certain effort level you feel snug and toasty, just the fingers are closer to frostbite than ideal. I ran at a reasonably easy pace, easier than the previous mornings.

The Deep Freeze did not let up and we had another bitterly cold night. I never thought I'd see temperatures like that in our Gulfstream-kissed little patch. One crank on the radio blamed BP's oil spill in the summer. Blaming the Brits is generally popular round here but to the best of my knowledge this is the first time ever they got blamed for our weather!

For once I had no excuses not to do a "Fast Friday" and I did a faster effort today. I paced myself by feel but set the HR alarm on the Garmin to help me in this. I thought it was my imagination when it got colder the closer I got to Killorglin, but later on the car's thermometer confirmed this, it was a comparably balmy -6C in Caragh Lake but a nippy -12C five miles further down in town, how extraordinary.The pace was 10 seconds per mile faster than what I would have expected. The coach may still give me a slap on the wrists for that, but I swear I ran well within myself and the HR never went beyond the set limits.

The thaw is supposed to come by Sunday, when the muppets on the radio will have to find something else to moan about. Personally I am loving these conditions, it's is so pretty outside and as long as our heating is working I'm fine with it. I don't want them to start moaning about the economy again, I prefer being cold to being broke.

Happy Christmas everyone!
23 Dec
12 miles, 1:32:38, 7:43 pace, HR 145
24 Dec
11.2 miles, 1:18:38, 7:01 pace, HR 152
   incl. 10 miles @ 6:57

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Colder Than Ever

Your comments have been rather unanimous this time and believe it or not, on Saturday I had my mouse pointer hovering over the "Buy" button for a pair of Yaktrax, but then figured that the cold spell would be over by the time they arrived and they would just end up gathering dust in some corner.

Despite feeling a bit tired immediately after Sunday’s run, I soon forgot about it and went on with the rest of my day. Imagine my horror when I caught sight of my right knee in the evening and noticed that it was swollen again! I really had no desire to go through the same pain again as last time and immediately started treating it with ice, put on my compression sleeve and elevated it high on the sofa, which added rest to the equation because that’s where I remained for the rest of the day.

While I was absolutely dismayed with the state of my knee, it helped to understand it better, though it’s a bit early to detect a pattern after only two occurrences. Running on a slippery surface seems to add some extra stress that sends it over the edge. I never fell, I never twisted or bumped it, just the additional strain of slightly slipping at toe-off seems to be a bit too much.

Following plummeting temperatures the road was in rather desperate state on Monday and with the worried about my knee it seemed sensible to stay at home. However, after waking much too early and staring at the ceiling for far too long I decided to try something. I put on my rarely used off-road shoes to see if they made a difference. I followed the Caragh Lake road for one mile in one direction, decided that the surface was getting worse with each step, turned around, ran home, did the same for a mile into the other direction, decided it was not worth the risk and turned around for good. Just over 4 miles left me slightly wiser and still with an intact knee, but they had been enough for the heel of the left shoe to cut into my Achilles so much that it bled.

I kept applying the treatment and by Tuesday evening I could not make out any difference between the knees, briefly wondering if I had just imagined it all. I decided it was worth taking a risk as long as my knee was wrapped up tightly and set off towards Killorglin. The Caragh Lake roads was once more in a rather desperate state, so when I reached town I decided to change the route and ran back via the main road, which happens to be the only treated and therefore ice-free surface anywhere. At this time of the year and this time in the morning, traffic was very sparse, which made this less of a problem than it may sound – there were no more than 5 cars going the same direction I was taking, and it wasn’t exactly busy the other way either.

I had set off under a brilliant clear sky with a bright Full Moon and I was hoping to get a prime view of the eclipse. This started out well, by the time I was halfway through my run a quarter of the moon had slipped into the Earth’s shadow, but at that stage the big clouds appeared and that was the end of the spectacle, the rest was just a very dark morning. But the run went well, for the first time in almost a week I felt healthy and managed a good pace without pushing the effort. The surface of the main road was perfectly ice free and I thought I had finally cracked the conditions.

That believe lasted until about 10 o'clock that morning when a look outside the office window revealed that it was snowing, and hard at that. It kept going for about 6 hours and by then the roads were once more covered in a big blanket of snow, including the main road. My hope that the snow would provide some traction was dashed – if there was some traction it was neglible.

This morning I started running alongside the lake but soon changed my mind and took a junction that would leave me over a hill onto the main road towards Glenbeigh. As it turned out, not even the main road had been treated but the cars had carved out two channels per lane into the surface and there was sufficient traction in those to keep running uninhabited. The traffic was sparse again and I even had the almost full moon for company and light. Once I passed Glenbeigh it was apparent that there had been a lot less traffic and the road surface became trickier but that was quite close to my turnaround point anyway. On the way back home a colleague passed me on his way to the early shift and later told me that his car thermometer read -9C (15F) when he saw me running. That's my reputation as the office fool sealed for another year. The weather station confirms that temperature reading, though I was surprised, I did not feel that cold. But I seemed to find it hard to relax, the effort was always a notch higher than normal; maybe I was subconsciously running a bit harder just to keep warm. The pace/HR relationship has been all over the place the last few days, but I put that down to the conditions entirely. It's hard enough to keep the training going at the moment. If there is any justice in the universe, I just have to get a good marathon in return.
20 Dec
4.1 miles, 31:23, 7:39 pace, HR 152
21 Dec
12 miles, 1:29:29, 7:27 pace, HR 145
22 Dec
10.75 miles, 1:20:43, 7:30 pace, HR 150

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Iced In

Unlike the last cold spell which affected mainly the eastern part of the island, the present one dumped most of its load on the West and this time it's our roads that are converted into ice rinks. I cannot overstate how unusual this is. This is my eighth winter here in Kerry; until a year ago, I had seen snow here only once and that was gone within a day. Now we're in the middle of the third Big Freeze in 12 months, and for the third time the powers that be are completely unprepared and unable to cope. I just laugh when they say on the news that they have to stop treating secondary roads – the 5 miles between here and Killorglin have not seen a single grain of salt or grit, ever, and it's left to us to cope. The fact that there is no complete carnage on the roads is a tribute to drivers here. As much as I moan about the ones that can't be bothered to leave more than a couple of inches of space when overtaking or can't be bothered to dip their headlights in the dark for a mere cyclist, the majority is obviously able to manage highly dangerous road conditions for weeks just fine.

Anyway, we woke yesterday to yet more snow. This turned out to be a godsend. I set off for my long run at about 7:30 in the morning, planning to run the road to Killorglin and then somehow come up with a second loop to make up the miles. The road was covered in maybe an inch of fresh snow, covering the ice from the day before and it was only this new layer that rendered the surface runnable. I pondered which route to take and then decided to run around the lake after all. This turned out to be an inspired choice. While I kept running on virginal roads, the Killorglin road was made more and more impassable by every passing car, compacting the snow into perfectly flat and extremely slippery ice. I, on the other hand, really got to enjoy the scenery. The area is stunning as it is, but a layer of fresh and untouched snow added yet a new dimension to it, it was just breathtakingly beautiful. It took 14.84 miles (yes, I checked the Garmin) to come across the first other human being on my run (and that was a boy racer in his souped up car, obviously trying to find a quiet spot for spinning his wheels). The distance did not bother me, I was still feeling fine after 18 miles, but I was surprised to find the HR so high. I'm sure the running surface added a bit, but I'm also still affected by that bug I caught last week.

There was no further snowfall last night and this morning I was left to find some runnable road surface. The road into Killorglin was out and I decided to try my luck alongside Caragh Lake again. It was probably the best choice available. Parts of the road were clear, some were icy and on some I could still see my footprints from the day before! It was borderline, but as mentioned before, if in doubt I always go running. After 12 miles I started to feel rather low. My suspicion is that I ran low on glycogen – after yesterday's long run I may have been starting out with partially empty stores, especially since my appetite isn't great at the moment and the last 2 miles home were a bit of a drag. For once I was glad to be done, something I have not had to say for quite some time.

Say, is this normal or is it just our kids that are apparently unable to cope with Christmas? They know Santa is watching but they are constantly fighting, hurting, punching, screaming, crying, .... Niamh is seriously considering chucking out the presents and replacing them with a lump of coal and it has been the same every Christmas since ... since they have been old enough to misbehave, really.

18 Dec
18.1 miles, 2:24:27, 7:58 pace, HR 148
19 Dec
14.25 miles, 1:50:40, 7:45 pace, HR 145

Weekly Mileage: 83+ miles

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sick. Again.

In case you’re interested, the coach thinks the faster pace on the previous evaluation was due to some sharpening effect from the 5k races in Killarney. But of course I do not want to have a sharpening effect right now, 4 months before the marathon, so the loss of pace over those two weeks is not really an issue. Instead I am working on my base fitness, and the fact that I was able to hold the pace so well for the 4 miles is very encouraging. There is definitely progress being made. I will skip all potential races for the next few weeks. Sadly, that means no Mallow date for me. A fast time in that race would be great but the only thing that counts is the marathon in April.

At the end of November I just about managed to avoid one of the bugs that did the rounds. I was the only family member not to get sick, just had a bit of a sore throat. This time round I was not quite so lucky. Lola picked up something and was off school for the first three days of the week and I was next in the line; by Wednesday my throat was sore and the following night was really bad. It did not help that Maia woke twice and took a long time to fall back asleep and that Cian had nightmares and ended up in our bed, in addition to me waking at least once every hour. Rest was not to be had and I decided to bin the run, but the ibuprofen I took around 4:30 must have been magic – when I got up at 6 o’clock I felt well enough to go running after all.

Now I fully admit that this might have been a very stupid thing to do (I know I’ve said that before). Three years ago I stubbornly went running through a gradually worsening cold until it had developed into a full-blown and very painful pneumonia that knocked me out for several weeks and kept affecting me for months. I certainly do not wish to repeat the experience, but my general mindset has not changed and if in doubt, I always end up running. I have not managed to string together a few weeks of uninterrupted high mileage recently and the lack of consistency is worrying me. So I went running.

I felt surprisingly good once I got going, but I made damn sure to run slowly and took it really easy. The first mile was no faster than about 8:30 and I only gradually accelerated as I warmed up. My one concession to sanity was to stay close to home and instead of running along Caragh Lake as I would have done otherwise I ran two shorter loops, to enable me to bail out in case I felt like collapsing. Luckily that was not required, but it was a forbiddingly dark morning. Without the headlamp I would not have been able to even make out the road. A cloudy, moonless night so close to Winter solstice does that, I suppose. All in all the run went surprisingly well, even though looking at the HR and pace numbers I guess the sickness added at least 5 beats.

In the office I had a hard time not to fall asleep at my desk at first but a few cups of coffee seemed to do the trick, but at the price of an unhappy stomach. I felt like crap all day and really did not expect to be able to run this morning, but 8+ hours of uninterrupted sleep were just the thing I needed. I was amazed at how well I felt when I got up.

Still, I decided to forget about “Fast Friday” and kept the effort easy. I'm pushing my luck enough as it is. The second cold spell arrived overnight, just as forecast, and the road were covered in fresh snow. It was pretty, and, most important to me, it was not slippery. I did not encounter a single icy patch, just left my footprints behind, something that looked nice on the way home, my own prints on otherwise untouched snow. The pace ended up being a good bit faster than expected, which really surprised me.

While Lola had been sick for three days, I think I got away lightly as I'm feeling much, much better already. At the very least it tells me that I did not prolong recovery by going running. Looking forward, the weather is still a factor. The roads may well be icy over the weekend and into next week. I won’t run on ice again, one blown knee is more than enough, thank you very much. I’ll assess on a day-to-day basis. I’d just like to string together a few weeks of consistent mileage, if that’s possible.
15 Dec
9 miles, 1:12:05, 8:01 pace, HR 140
16 Dec
11+ miles, 1:27:58, 7:59 pace, HR 145
17 Dec
10 miles, 1:16:52, 7:41 pace, HR 148

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

That Time Again

True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.
Winston Churchill

I knew I had run a bit too hard over the weekend so I made double sure to slow down on Monday. It was really windy, which took me completely by surprise, the weather forecast had made no mention of it. The first half was into the wind and rather challenging (not to mention cold!) but obviously I got re-paid on the way home. For some reason it had taken me 25 minutes to get ready in the morning, which meant I had to cut the run short by a mile; I did not want to be late for work. The pace was the slowest in quite some time – a fact that actually pleased me. Mission accomplished!

My legs were surprisingly sore, I’m not entirely sure where that came from. The weekend runs had not been THAT hard. There was still some lingering effect on Tuesday morning, but I felt well able to do another evaluation run. These evaluations are the only time I’m allowed to run at a decent pace and I’m always looking forward to them. There is never a thought of “oh no, speedwork” as I used to in previous training cycles when intervals were on the program. They are a rather moderate workout, just challenging enough to leave you satisfied but never exhausted.

I knew already that the figures would not match the ones from a fortnight ago, but they were better than 4 weeks ago, and better than I expected. I have no idea where the “you don’t lose fitness over three days” saying comes from but take it from me, it’s complete bullshit. I’m hopeful that by the time the next evaluation comes round I will be back to on pace, as long as the injury does not come back and as long as the next predicted cold spell will leave the roads in a runnable condition.

Anyway, the figures for today’s evaluation, run on the same stretch of road as last time, were:

Mile 1 6:51 (HR 161)
Mile 2 6:53 (HR 161)
Mile 3 6:56 (HR 161)
Mile 4 6:55 (HR 161)

Time to 130 36

The pace was a good bit slower than last time and the recovery to 130 took longer but I’m very pleased to see how well I was able to hold the pace. Again, I let the coach do the interpretation but I think the stable pace is a very encouraging sign. I might have lost some speed over my short enforced absence, but other factors are better than ever. Conditions were absolutely perfect for running, by the way; temperatures about 2C/35F, very little wind, a lovely star-spangled clear sky. I love it!
13 Dec
9 miles, 1:12:01, 8:00 pace, HR 143
14 Dec
11.7 miles, 1:25:13, 7:17 pace, HR 151
incl. 4 miles evaluation:
    6:51, 6:53, 6:56, 6:55; 36 seconds to HR 130

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Restart

It's been a very busy weekend. Because Niamh had to get the twins to their CTY course (the last one for this term), I had to get up early to run. What's new. Since I'm still not trusting my knee I cut the long run down to 15 miles, just the one loop around Caragh Lake. If things keep going well I will get back to my pre-injury mileage next week. The roads are clear of ice at the moment, but if you believe the weather forecast it might be back next week, so better make use of the conditions right now. Last year I used to feel low around the 12 or 13 mile mark on my long runs. This has definitely not been the case in this training cycle. I was back home after 15 miles, just under 2 hours, perfectly fresh and fine; I felt like I could do it all again right there and then.

Instead I ran after Maia for the next few hours and when Niamh came back from Tralee I went Christmas shopping, which was at least as tiring as another loop around the lake. Unusually for me I had checked out prices and availability before setting off, and I had done it early enough to be able to fall back to online shopping for stuff I could not get my hands on (online shopping for toys is extremely frustrating because for some absolutely incomprehensible reason Amazon don't deliver toys to Ireland). Anyway, we're now prepared for Santa.

Talking about Santa, that's exactly who we went to see on Sunday evening¬. The trip to Crag Cave with their play area and Santa's grotto has become an annual ritual and the kids would start revolting at the bare suggestion of not going. Before all that I had to run of course, and since Niamh's presence was required at Cromane's cake sale I was out early once more. One day I'll get to sleep in, I'm sure. Ideally, Friday/Saturday/Sunday would consist of a fast 10 miler, a long run and a medium long run but I have cut corners due to my knee, so Saturday was a mere 15 miles and today 13. All these runs went well enough but I was a bit disappointed to see rather high HR values today and yesterday, which might be a sign that Friday's run was a bit too fast. My resting HR was 46 this morning, shockingly high compared to the 37 I measured a fortnight ago. Before my knee gave out I was marvelling how quickly I was improving, now my numbers are similar to those from 3 or 4 weeks ago and I'm basically catching up, trying to get to the same level again. It's important to remember that I got there by running easily – pushing hard is counter productive at this stage. That's the one lesson that has been loud and clear in the past few weeks and I'm well advised to heed it. As frustrating as it is to run slower than just over a week ago, that's what I have to do.

11 Dec
15+ miles, 1:57:58, 7:50 pace, HR 149
12 Dec
13 miles, 1:39:59, 7:41 pace, HR 150

Friday, December 10, 2010

Spring Marathon

Not only have we just spent several thousand Euro re-building our house (roof repairs, new heating system, wall insulation, attic insulation, plumbing, ...), now the most incompetent government in history decided we all have to pay a few thousand Euro each per year to chuck them into the Black Hole those wbankers have created. After initially being all gung-ho on a foreign trip for my spring marathon (she even checked out apartments in Barcelona), Niamh sensibly decided we can’t afford a family trip to the continent. After playing around with the idea of running either Limerick or Belfast, I rejected them both (the first got really bad reviews for last year, the latter one I swore never to run again [though I reckon I'm quite likely to break that oath one day]) and decided to fly to Rotterdam on my own. After all, that was my preferred marathon all along, due to its reputation as a fast course. And then .... then I came up with one more destination.



Screw the government and screw Europe’s worst finance minister for the second year in a row. We might as well spend the last of our money on ourselves before it gets completely wasted on yet more banking dept. Vienna is where Niamh and I met 17 years ago and it’s going to be where I’m going to break 3 hours in the marathon on 17 April 2011, ojalá. And Niamh and the kids will be there with me.

The knee is in a funny state. It does not hurt any more but the last couple of days it was still slightly swollen, though today I can’t make out a difference to the other knee any more. I’m wearing a €6 knee wrap from the pharmacy, just in case, but if that makes any difference I can’t tell. Then again, I have run through plenty of pain in the past, especially where my Achilles is concerned, and that always turned out well. So I’m running with a possibly wonky knee, even if I don’t entirely trust it.

I have definitely lost some fitness over my 3 days of not running. I have a spreadsheet that I'm using to compare HR/pace combination from day to day, and the figures are definitely worse since my little break, though the graph is pointing upwards again and I’ll get back to where I used to be in no time. Since Vienna is 4 weeks later than Killarney would have been I have time for a longer base phase, giving me more than enough time to catch up.

Thursday’s run was a little bit better than the previous ones and today was better still as my fitness is picking up again. It was “Fast Friday”, but I made sure to run slower than the 6:51 from a fortnight ago when I definitely pushed too hard; setting the HR alarm on the Garmin helped, though ideally I should be able to tell from listening to my body alone but unfortunately I'm definitely not that much in tune with it. I lost concentration between miles 6 and 8 and let the intensity drop but picked it up again for a stronger finish. The temperatures today were no less than 10 degrees higher than before (from -4 to +6C) and all the ice is gone from the roads. I’m curious where my marathon pace is going to end up; it should definitely be faster than those runs with the HR in the mid 150s. The coach is promising gains of 15-20 seconds per mile during the peaking training. That would be scary fast and almost too good to be true. But he’s been right about everything so far, so I'm definitely looking forward to it. At the moment things are easy. The hard work is yet to come and I'm actually looking forward to it.
9 Dec
10 miles, 1:16:00, 7:36 pace, HR 149
10 Dec
10 miles, 1:11:39, 7:10 pace, HR 156

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

GET OUT!!!

Word in the family is that I get grumpy and much less pleasant to be around when I'm not able to run in the morning. While I don’t really notice any difference myself, I am inclined to believe them. By Monday evening, Niamh had had enough. “Get out and run or else”.

I wasn’t entirely convinced it was a good idea as my knee was still swollen and felt stiff, even though there was no pain to deal with any more. However, with the family’s peace at stake I sacrificed myself and headed towards Ard-na-Sidhe on Tuesday morning for an easy 5 mile run.

They say you don’t lose any fitness over 3 days, but I'm not convinced. Even after such a short break the legs feel tight and the HR ends up elevated and this time was no exception. But I know that as long as I don’t suffer another setback what little fitness I have lost will return just as quickly.

I did not feel any adverse reaction, but I could not fail but notice in the evening that my right knee seemed to be a bit more swollen than on Monday. Maybe it’s because I was not icing it as much, but the main suspect is the fact that I ran on it, simple as that.

I still went out again this morning, for 8 miles. I hold up my hands, this is OCD behaviour and if my knee falls apart again it will be entirely down to me, no excuses. There’s no need to comment on how stupid I am, I’m perfectly aware of it. The run was fine again, a bit faster than yesterday and feeling a bit better, but with the same worries about my knee hanging over me.

On a much cheerier note, Cian’s long awaited seventh birthday has finally arrived. I missed the party but there were plenty of sweets left and the party was a great success, which is entirely down to the skills of his mother who once more came up trumps with yet another spectacular cake. Life’s not easy for Cian – sandwiched between two older siblings who love to beat him up if they think they can get away with it and a younger sister who gets most of the affection, he’s in a bad position. But he is cute, affectionate and very smart and he is the only one who promised to run a marathon with me one day. Seeing him as the only one of the kids who prefers watching telly to playing outside I’m not entirely convinced, but let’s wait and see.
7 Dec
5 miles, 39:21, 7:52 pace, HR 148
8 Dec
8 miles, 1:01:11, 7:39 pace, HR 149

Monday, December 06, 2010

Injury Update

I had planned to do both the office party on Friday night and the race on Saturday morning, but both only half-hearted. I ended up doing neither. My knee was too sore to move and I stayed glued to the sofa. It was very strange, I felt reasonably comfortable either sitting or lying down, but every time I got up my knee would be so sore for about half a minute that I thought I would pass out from the pain. Then the pain would subside and I was again reasonably comfortable walking around. It was the shifting of position that was brutal.

I tried to rest as much as possible on Saturday, but you can only rest so much if you share the house with a bossy wife 4 young children. I had to look after the younger two when Niamh brought the twins to their CTY courses, which required a lot more walking around the house than I would have liked. However, after a lot of icing and trying to rest as much as I could I eventually noticed at bed time that the swelling must have reduced; after looking grotesquely deformed all day I could make out the shape of my knee underneath the skin again, so I knew things were improving.

I took it easy again on Sunday, at least as much as I could under the same constraints as on Saturday, but the difference to Saturday was quite spectacular. The swelling had gone down substantially overnight and I could move around again without pain. A major plus, I can assure you. I had planned on going to the doctor on Monday but now I don’t think I’ll bother. This is clearly improving all by itself and I don’t see the need of spending upwards of €50 for consulting the expert.

I carefully and slightly reluctantly prodded the affected area and located a sore spot right at the outside of the knee. While the whole area is clearly swollen, the rest of it is not actually sore, just one hot spot, possibly where the lateral collateral ligament ("fibular") connects to the fibula, but my entire knowledge of the knee is based on wikipedia, so I may well be wrong.

I have no idea what exactly caused the problem. I certainly did not fall on the ice, I did not twist the knee at any stage nor was there anything else that would have caused a trauma. I woke on Friday with a barely noticeable twinge that I did not think much about, went running, cycled to work and one hour later I was in agony. I was seriously despondent on Saturday, thinking I would be out for several weeks, losing all the fitness just as I was feeling on top of the world. I really do not think it was an overuse injury. I have run both further and harder in the past than during the last few weeks; in fact, training had never felt so easy, so much so that I felt like I was not really training at all, things were happening so easily. To lose all that was a massive blow, but on Sunday my world became a much happier place again.

I still did not run. Monday’s cycle into work was a bit of a test that went well enough. I had no problem getting into work, the knee held up well and there is no real pain. But there is still some swelling, it still feels warm to the touch and while it does not hurt it feels a bit stiff. The last thing I want is another setback, but at the same time I’m aching to get out on the road again. The cold spell is supposed to be over by around Thursday, and while I'm no expert I do suspect that the low temperatures and/or running on ice have something to do with my problem. As much as I loved running in the fresh mornings, what I have just been through was not worth it.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Ice Outside, Ice Inside

I felt a bit tired on Wednesday, probably a hangover from the evaluation, so I took it nice and easy. The temperatures were as cold as Monday, -7C, but two thin layers on top and running tights had me almost too warm. I like my cold, apparently.

I felt a tad better on Thursday and extended the run by a couple of miles to 12. Since it had been dry all week here in Kerry (very much in contrast to just about the entire rest of the country) the roads have improved day by day. There were still a few icy patches but I knew where they were and could slalom around them even in the dark. Which, incidentally, is exactly what I did.

Things changed overnight though. Westerly winds took over again, bringing rain clouds from the Atlantic, pushing the dry, cold air away. It was raining a good bit at night and the rain froze on the roads, covering them with a layer of very thin but extremely slippery ice.

I got up just after 6 and felt a little twinge in my right knee. I compared the knees to see if it was swollen but could not decide, which probably means that it was swollen. Twinges like that come and go and I did not think much about it. Running outside was challenging. Read, it was a really stupid thing to do. Virtually every step felt like my foot was slipping in the ice for a couple of inches and how I managed to stay upright for the entire run is beyond me. The road really was one gigantic ice rink, something that became much more apparent once it became lighter and I could actually see where I was going. However, I made it home without any incidents, but my knee started hurting a bit more once I was finished. I still did not think much about it, got to work (which was difficult but I made it) and within one hour I was in pure agony. When I checked the knee again it was definitely swollen, red, throbbing and warm, and putting weight on it was almost impossible. I made it to 3 o'clock but then went home because I could not stand it any longer (not a problem. It’s the evening of the office Christmas party and most of my colleagues were already in the pubs by then).

Right now I'm hoping Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation will do the trick, but no luck so far. Just yesterday I was thinking how much I appreciated being fit and uninjured. I’m supposed to run the last race of the Killarney 5k series tomorrow, but I cannot possibly see me making that. Looking at the weather forecast, it is quite likely to be cancelled anyway. After running all the other races, including one 2 days before the Dublin marathon, it would be incredibly annoying to miss out on the last one, even though I ran all of them with the brakes on and never raced outright.
1 Dec
10 miles, 1:16:51, 7:41 pace, HR 142
2 Dec
12 miles, 1:30:37, 7:33 pace, HR 144
3 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:24, 7:50 pace, HR 143

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

I know some people will find it hard to heat their homes and I know that some people will invariably get injured slipping on ice, but I simply cannot help it. I am just loving these conditions!

Maybe I'm completely deluded, but I feel perfectly balanced running on the road, including the icy bits. I tried to look into things like YakTrax, but found they are not suitable. The roads are not really covered, for most of it they are dry but with some icy patches that you have to take care on, and that’s not what those devices are developed for. So I just put on my shoes and head out. So far I’ve had no problems.

“Oh Dear, this is cold” was what came to my mind as I opened the door on Monday, though the actually words were slightly different, but let’s keep this blog clean for a change. -7C/20F is without a shadow of a doubt the coldest I have ever been running in, and you know what? It was just great! Maybe it’s subliminal memories from my childhood, but I could stay out in the cold all day. Give me that over the icy cold rain we normally get in November any time. Despite having to slow down on a few occasions to mind my footing, I was flying along the road, almost effortlessly. The temperatures must suit me; assuming that the HRM is correct I recorded yet another best on the HR/pace spreadsheet. In fact, on a couple of occasions I caught myself inadvertently doing sub-7 pace and put on the brakes to keep the effort nice and easy. Despite relaxing as much as I could I ended up with an average pace of 7:37.

The coach keeps reminding me that there is a lot of time left until the marathon and keeps urging me to stay on the relaxed side. Honestly, I keep doing that. An average HR of 140 is very much on the lower end of the scale and the perceived effort level was easy.

Of course, heart rate is not everything and that’s where the evaluation runs come in. Monday’s run doubled as a scouting session to find an ice-free flat half-mile stretch of road, because the road where I had done the last evaluation on was completely covered in ice. I found a good one, but rather far away from home. It meant 3.5 miles of warm-up, but it was the only stretch I could come up with. Apart from the distance from home it was perfect and I ended up going back-and forwards 4 times each way. The Garmin was set on alarm to help me keep the HR close to 161, which for some reason I needed a lot more often than last time round. I managed not to look at the pace numbers at all during the run, but I already knew that the change from last week was significant when I measured the recovery time to HR 130 – 32 seconds, compared to 38 a fortnight ago and 42 before that! Back home I finally looked up the pace figures and my jaw hit the floor. Check this out:

Here are the numbers from the last 3 evaluations:

Mile 1 6:40 6:44 6:44
Mile 2 6:55 7:07 6:57
Mile 3 7:14 7:26 6:59
Mile 4 7:16 7:36 7:02

Time to 130 42 42 38

And this is what I got today. Get your heads around this!

Mile 1 6:32 (HR 160)
Mile 2 6:38 (HR 162)
Mile 3 6:31 (HR 162)
Mile 4 6:41 (HR 161)

Time to 130 32

I’ll leave the interpretation of these figures to the coach and hope he won’t come back with “your Garmin must be faulty”. Just looking at this, I like what I see. By the way, the coach thinks my recent improvements might be down to me reaping the rewards from my ultra training this year rather than his own input. I think he is being overly modest.

I was quite surprised to see that I had run my highest monthly mileage of the year this November with 326. I had not aimed at setting a high mileage, nor has this month felt particularly tiring. Amazing!
29 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:08, 7:37 pace, HR 140
30 Nov
12 miles, 1:26:30, 7:13 pace, HR 147
incl. 4 miles evaluation:
   6:32, 6:38, 6:31, 6:41; 32 seconds to HR 130

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Winter Wonderland

A few weeks ago the coach told me he wanted to see a faster Friday, a long Saturday and a medium long Sunday. The last 2 weeks there was a race that got in the way (so I raced on Saturday and ran long on Sunday instead) and this week was the first time I implemented this. I'm still building the mileage and the long runs are a bit shorter than they will be eventually, but I'm getting close.

To ensure I would enter this 3-day spell rested I took it easy on Thursday with only 8 miles on the book. It was a beautiful clear morning, but I was a bit worried about that very dark cloud I could make out in the moonlight. Luckily it seemed to move elsewhere and I did not get rained on. I still had a sore throat and during the day I did not feel 100%, but nowhere near as bad as Niamh had been. My heart rate was slightly elevated, which I mainly attribute to the body fighting off the infection.

I was looking forward to Friday and the opportunity to run a bit faster. There is no denying, running fast is more fun than running slowly. However, I did learn that there can be a drawback to running purely by feel. Since it was dark I didn't look a the Garmin at all (thanks for your comment, Rick!) and ran purely by feel, but as soon as I looked at the numbers back home I immediately knew I had goofed up. Running fast is relative and I was still to remain within certain parameters, with the heart rate not exceeding about 155 and the pace a bit slower than 7-minute pace. What I had done instead was 6:51 average pace and 161 average heart rate. While it is cool to run sub-3 marathon pace at this time of training already, this is exactly the type of effort that kept undermining my conditioning in previous training circles. The main thing about base training is not to run impressive workouts. It is to run consistently, day after day, and for that you need to recover from run to run. I was really annoyed with myself.

Most people (read everyone but me) use the weekend to catch up on sleep and have a rest. We, on the other hand, had to leave shortly after 9 o'clock to get the twins to their course in Tralee in time, so I ended up setting the alarm clock for 5:30. I was still in denial about my own madness by the time I hit the road.

I opened the door to a scene of Winter Wonderland, lit up by the moon. It was absolutely beautiful. Snow in Kerry in November? Now that is a new one! For the first time this winter I had to wear my tights, the temperatures were well under 0C. I encountered one car, right at the start, and then was entirely on my own for the next 2+ hours, not a soul to be seen or heard. The roads were fine, there was a sprinkling of snow when I hit the higher grounds and only Blackstone Bridge itself was icy, the rest was fine. Running 18 miles was easy, but I made doubly sure to run slowly, especially after Friday's cock-up.

The rest of the day was just mad busy, with the twins at their CTY course and Niamh at her own training course I first had the 2 younger ones and later all four of them to entertain on my own. Running 18 miles had been the easier part of the day by far.

We had even more snow overnight and by Sunday morning the roads were indeed icy. I ran the Cromane loop, and the two people that saw me while in their driveways did make a comment about me running in these conditions. I had to be careful on a couple of occasions when the ice covered the entire road surface, but made it home fine and without any incidents. I was not the slightest bit surprised to find that not even the main road had been treated by 10 o'clock. That's the kind of service we got used to last winter. After all, they are using our taxes to cover the billions of losses the fucking bankers have pissed away over the last few years. We can't expect them to spend any money on keeping the roads safe.

Whatever bugs had been threatening me seem to have been defeated and my resting heart rate this morning was a staggering 37. Only once have I seen a lower number, and that was shortly before a marathon. It's the lowest number I have ever seen in base training by far and another sign that the coach definitely has me on the right track.

25 Nov
8 miles, 1:00:54, 7:36 pace, HR 145
26 Nov
10 miles, 1:08:36, 6:51 pace, HR 161
27 Nov
18 miles, 2:23:15, 7:57 pace, HR 142
28 Nov
13 miles, 1:39:22, 7:38 pace, HR 144

Weekly Mileage: 81

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A New Level

One problem with having a whole gang of kids at primary school level is the number of bugs they bring back home. Shea started coughing last week but was never too bad. This week it seemed to have caught all the females in the family as they were all complaining of a cold yesterday. I have been fine so far but I did wake this morning with a sore throat, so I might not escaped the general malaise. I’ll see how I feel in the coming days.

Getting sick would be a real shame because right now I’m feeling in absolutely incredible shape. Since it is dark in the mornings I can’t read the display on my Garmin while I'm running, so I’m “forced” to run be feel. On Monday I did not check the Garmin until after the run – and had a real WTF! moment, looking at the average heart rate (141) and pace (7:39). I went back through my running logs if I had ever run so fast at such a low heart rate and came up with one single workout, shortly before the 2008 Dublin marathon where I set my still-standing PB, but that was very much an isolated figure. The last few days have brought an entire set of these readings, absolutely unprecedented. The VDOT spreadsheet has me at level 57-58 (I would normally see myself at level 55), and all I had to do to get into this shape was to run easily! And it’s still only November! The funny thing is, the coach hasn’t even said all that much as far as direct training advice is concerned, most emails could be condensed into “run more and run slower”. The man is a genius! Things will get more complicated once I move into the next training phase, but looking at my running log is enough to get me seriously excited already. I am slowly starting to believe MC when he says I might be selling myself short aiming for a mere 2:59:59, though I would still be ecstatic if I ran exactly that.

Monday was a clear but freezing morning, the conditions I love most. My quads had been slightly sore after Sunday’s hilly long run so I took it very easy over 9 miles and was just flabbergasted when I saw the pace afterwards. I even suspected the HR of being wrong, but since the figure is not out of line with subsequent ones I have come round to believing them to be true. Since HR 141 is right at the lower end of the suggested effort level, I upped the pace for Tuesday, but not by much. I took one lesson from Monday; from now on I’m running in long sleeves rather than t-shirts, though I’m still in shorts until the temperatures drop below 0C. The effort was still on the easy side, so I was once more genuinely surprised by the numbers, having run 7:22 pace without once pressing the pace. I have run that fast numerous times before, but always classed that as a tempo run because of the effort required. It really feels like I have moved up a level. But I did discover that a low HR does not automatically equal low effort when my legs felt a bit stiff later on. My cardio system might be improving fast but my leg muscles are lagging behind. It is a clear reminder to be careful. The lesson so far, loud and clear, is that it is far better to err on the side of caution.

Not watching the news (far too depressing!) means I have missed the weather forecast, so I was completely taken by surprise by the miserable morning today. It was raining when I left, started again after 3 miles and then really started pouring after 10, just as I was passing our driveway on my way to a short second loop, tempting me to cut the run short but not succeeding. I got drenched and running in rain in those cold temperatures (about 4C/40F) is really uncomfortable. The HR/pace combination, still better than basically ever before, wasn’t quite as sweet as on the previous 2 days, maybe due to the less than perfect conditions or maybe the longer miles. I have noticed that my VDOT levels are lower on long run days, but since my long runs tend to be over much hillier roads than the shorter ones, I don’t take too much notice.
22 Nov
9 miles, 1:08:54, 7:39 pace, HR 142
23 Nov
10 miles, 1:13:56, 7:22 pace, HR 146
24 Nov
13 miles, 1:39:01, 7:37 pace, HR 144

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Kind Of Magic

After two weeks of at times atrocious weather, Saturday was much better than the weather forecast had predicted. Nobody was complaining, least of all the over 250 runners of the third race of Killarney's 5K race series. After once more dropping the twins off in Tralee I left for Killarney in time, arrived there with plenty to spare and, in contrast to last week, had time for a proper warm-up rather than a frantic sprint to the start.

I started a line or two further back than usual and made damn sure not to start as fast as normal, which of course meant I was way behind the people I usually run with. But within half a mile I was already overtaking people who had been overly optimistic at the start. One fella said afterwards "you started slowly and accelerated after half a kilometre, didn't you", but I don't think this was accurate, I merely tried to keep as even a pace as possible, which meant to increase the effort gradually all the way through. At times I was stuck behind a line of people spread across the road, but I always got by reasonably quickly. The mile splits were 6:15, 6:01, 6:14 and 5:34 pace for the (uphill!) finishing sprint, which pretty much tells you the entire story of the race. I'm surprised the second mile was as fast as that, otherwise I have no issues. The Garmin showed 3.12 miles at the end, slightly longer than last week's 3.10 at the exactly same course, and I'm pretty sure this is now an accurately measured 5K. In a few months I hope to be able to race properly again over the distance rather than having to keep the brakes on at all times (well, apart from the finish).

The Garmin said 6:08 average pace, when I uploaded the data into SportTracks it said 6:09 pace, and if you calculate 19:08 5K pace you get 6:10, so I claim to be within the confines the coach has set me, if only just. Just to show that I am definitely holding back, the average HR was again 175 (though I pushed it all the way to 188 at the sprint finish). When I raced the same course in February it was 179 and 180.

I woke on Sunday to a beautiful blue sky, but it was freezing cold. I got ready before anyone else in the house stirred and was out of the door at 8 o'clock. The roads were just as quiet, the conditions were absolutely perfect for running and I enjoyed it very much. I thought I was plodding along at a rather slow pace, but when I checked the Garmin upon arrival at the highest point of the course, just over 6 miles in, I realised that in actual fact I was going at a fairly decent pace. I didn't push the effort, just kept gliding along on autopilot, enjoying the peace and quiet of the remote Kerry countryside. There are not a lot of places any more where you can claim to be a mile or two miles from the nearest dwelling, but there are still some left around here and I enjoyed the solitude. I also enjoyed how good I felt and how easy running at 7:45 pace was. I was back home before I got tired, the emergency gel in my pocket went back into the cupboard unopened, and I was ready for the rest of the day. This involved the weekly shopping as well as taking the kids to the new Harry Potter movie (they could not possibly wait another day), and was basically just as hectic as a day in the office. Thank God for the 2 hours of relaxing peace and quiet and had gotten on the roads in the morning.
20 Nov
11.5 miles, including:
Killarney 5k, race 3. 19:08, 6:10 pace, HR 175, 29th place
21 Nov
16.5 miles, 2:07:52, 7:43 pace, HR 146

Weekly Mileage: 80+

Friday, November 19, 2010

Punctured

The good news is that the coach thinks the latest numbers from the evaluation were very good (“Your conditioning is improving at a steady rate at this level of effort”). The bad news is that as a result I'm confined to keep running slowly (“add more but not faster”). I exaggerate, of course. Running is always fun and I'm not exactly crawling along; all runs are under 8:00 pace. But the instructions are clear enough.

Actually, there is still my one opportunity for cheating on the slow running, namely the 5k race series in Killarney, the third race being tomorrow. Just as with the previous two races I have to run with the handbrake engaged, no faster than 6:10-6:15 pace. I'll try and NOT start out at 5:30 pace this time, which probably means I should start from further back and try not to get sucked into other people's suicidal starting pace.

I'm feeling very good at the moment, running always feels easy, which is at least partly related to the fact that under MC's tutelage so far I'm running easier than I would have done otherwise. The time for workouts will come (and I may well wish myself back to the easy phase when that happens). The one thing I need to change is the amount of sleep. I get up around 6 o'clock every morning and I rarely get 7 hours of sleep. That's unlikely to be sufficient in the long term and needs to change. The waking hours are fixed and I need to go to bed earlier.

Cycling to work has been well and truly challenging this week, and not just because it has been raining every day bar today. On Tuesday the wind was almost as strong as last Thursday, but the real problem was that it came from the side and each gust of wind literally blew me into the middle of the road. This was highly dangerous and I had to stop each time a car approached in order to ensure my safe arrival home. Luckily I am cycling on very quiet roads. The wind had died down by Wednesday morning but my good mood was shattered when I punctured a tire, still 1.5 miles away from the office. I dragged the bike to work and got a lift home from Niamh. That tube had only been there for a week, and when I tried to patch it in the evening I found a big hole, probably a nail. I put in a brand new tube, my last one. Imagine my surprise when that lasted not even 3 miles on Thursday morning. I was completely stunned, standing there by the road side, staring at my fourth flat tire in one week! As a result I have now switched back to my old bike, a cheap, crappy city bike with much wider rims, which should hopefully be more puncture resistant to all the grit that's over the road at this time of year. It's much less fun to cycle, takes longer and causes my back to hurt from the different, upright posture, but at least it got me in and out of work today without problems, which is more than can be said of the other bike.

I'm glad I'm a runner, not as cyclist. Seriously!
17 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:09, 7:48 pace, HR 144
18 Nov
12+ miles, 1:35:23, 7:55 pace, HR 143
19 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:49, 7:53 pace, HR 141

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Evaluation Time

Is it really 2 weeks since my last evaluation? Time flies! At that rate, my next marathon will be around the corner before I can say “lactate threshold”.

I was surprisingly sore on Monday. I thought the double stress of a race (albeit at sub-max effort) on Saturday and 15 hilly miles on Sunday were to blame, but the coach attributes it mainly to not being recovered from Dublin yet. Obviously I took it easy on Monday; having said that, I felt much better once I was moving, the run went rather well and my heart rate continues to drop for comparable paces.

There might have been a small residue of soreness noticeable on Tuesday morning but I went ahead with the evaluation anyway. After all the grief you guys gave me last time I decided to change the venue and ran back-and forwards on a reasonably flat half-mile stretch of road. The flat part turned out to be a tad less than half a mile, so the 4-mile evaluation needed 8 u-turns rather than the planned 7, but that was hardly much of an issue. The point was, all 4 miles had the same conditions. The bar numbers are much better than on the previous 2 occasions, with the last mile “only” 18 seconds slower than the first one rather than almost a minute like 12 days ago. The recovery time to 130 was also significantly reduced, though I changed my method of measuring it: rather than frantically pressing buttons on my Garmin I used a second stopwatch, brought along specifically to measure the recovery time, so maybe the there’s a second difference due to the different measurement method. Anyway, I’m much happier with these figures:

6:44 (HR 161)
6:57 (HR 161)
6:59 (HR 161)
7:02 (HR 160); 38 seconds to HR 130

After finishing the evaluation I did another 5.5 miles at what seemed like fairly leisurely pace. I didn’t check my Garmin again until I was almost back home, by which time I realised that I had run just under 7:30 pace for that section without even knowing. After 4 miles of evaluation, 7:30 felt like jogging slowly.

Those evaluation workouts are fun. It’s the only time in training that I’m allowed to stretch the legs a bit and I’m actually looking forward to them each time. As far as workouts go, they are fairly easy. I could keep that effort for much, much longer; they are not stressful, just fun.

On a completely unrelated note, I let my inner geek run riot and just finished this after one week of work. The ground and tower took one evening. The sky took 6. It’s another form of endurance workout. And once it was done, I broke it up and put it back into the box. Just like marathons, the journey is the destination. And just like marathons, you can only do so many 1000 piece jigsaws in a year.

15 Nov
8 miles, 1:03:44, 7:58 pace, HR 140
16 Nov
12 miles, 1:27:54, 7:18 pace, HR 152
incl. 4 miles evaluation:
    6:44, 6:57, 6:59, 7:02; 38 seconds to HR 130

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Remarkably Accurate Song Title

T: “Niamh, you know the song by the Beautiful South? [starts singing (badly)] It could be Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome?”
N: “Yes ….”
T: “Well, which one would you choose?” [she’s gonna love this]
N: “…”
T: “except for Liverpool, say Barcelona” [she’s gonna melt any second now]
N: [rolls eyes] “I can see a marathon coming on …”
T: *sigh* [I guess she knows me by now]

The reason for this scene was a talk I had with Catriona from Feet First in Killarney about the local marathon that I had been hearing about, but not for quite a while. She said she would not do it unless it can be done really well, and due to lack of support it looks like it won’t be held until 2012. It’s a view I totally agree with, and in a way I’m relieved because it really sounds like the potential marathon is in very capable hands, and once it comes round it will be well worth participating.

The non-event for 2011 had not come entirely unexpected, and I had already scouted out some suitable replacements, hence my list for Niamh. For a minute I considered just giving her a destination rather than letting her choose, because I figured given the alternative options Rotterdam might not make the cut, and that’s supposed to be the fastest course. Then the family instincts won out. Apparently she's already checked flights for Barcelona, but she’s also mentioned Rome more than once. I’ll give her a week to decide. Rome is on the same weekend Killarney would have been, 20 March, while Barcelona is a fortnight earlier, which means the next training phases would have to be pushed forward by the same amount. For the time being base training is unaffected.

The reason I had the opportunity to talk to Catriona was the second race of the Killarney 5k series. I had cut it extremely fine. After dropping off the twins in Tralee for their course, Niamh and the two younger ones went to a play centre. This would have been fine, but Niamh insisted on getting a newspaper, which for some unfathomable reason took 15 minutes, which meant I left for Killarney 15 minutes later than I should have. I parked the car at the first reasonably suitable spot, ran to the race HQ to pick up the number (I’m pretty sure I was the last person to get a number), ran back to the car to get dressed and then ran to the start, all at a rather frantic pace, to arrive there at 10:59 for a 11:00 start, but it wasn’t quite as close as it sounds because this is Kerry and the race started the obligatory 5 minutes late.

The start was a bit confusing because cars kept coming down the road where we were supposed to be running. Normally a Garda car stops these from coming, but while there was indeed a Garda car there, it was stationed behind us rather than in front, which did not make much sense to me. Never mind, we went off, even if half of us seemed to be taken by surprise by the start.

My orders from the coach are to race no faster than 6:10 – 6:15 pace (or slower), which will allow my peak to be higher during the peaking phase, when it actually counts. Therefore I took it easy right from the start, and when I thought I was still going a little bit fast I relaxed even more. So what did I see on the Garmin when I checked it after the first quarter mile? 5:30. Oops! Time to relax a lot more.

A few people did go past me, but before the first mile was up I had started overtaking people myself, and that would continue all the way to the end as I kept my pace while everyone else slowed down. I could not resist a bit of trash talk when I caught up to Seamus (“come on you lazy b*st*rd, this is supposed to be a race”), for which he would have been entitled to give me a good kick up the arse, but either he managed to resist or he missed. Three weeks ago, at the first race of the series I had slowed down far too much in the second mile, this time I managed to hold my pace very well as I ran past runner after runner. I even had the strength for a good finishing kick, which isn’t easy on that wicked uphill finish. Normally I am already toast by the time I get there, this time I managed to tune into a whole new gear as I started hearing steps coming up from behind and instead of losing a place I gained one as I seemed to be flying up the hill.

My Garmin always used to show a slightly short course, but we were always told that it had been measured plenty of times. I (and a few others) noticed that for this race series the start had been moved back a bit. John Walshe told me that Catriona had re-measured the course, and the results speak for themselves. This means that my true 5k PB is probably about 15 seconds slower than what it says on the right-hand side of my web site, but since it’s been there for 2 years already I’m not going to change it. Instead I’ll just have to try and beat it one day.

Doing 15 miles today felt really good. I was a bit apprehensive beforehand, but as soon as I was on my way I felt great. Long runs are a great form of meditation. I can literally run for hours with hardly a conscious thought. It felt good to be back in that groove again, and the loop around Caragh Lake is just as scenic as ever.


13 Nov
10 miles, including:
Killarney 5k, race 2. 19:13, 6:11 pace, HR 175, 25th place
14 Nov
15 miles, 1:58:10, 7:52 pace, HR 148

Weekly Mileage: 75+

Friday, November 12, 2010

There Was A Storm After All

Wouldn’t you believe it, while the announced storm didn’t really happen at the weekend the weather made up for it yesterday, hitting us with winds of over 100km/h and if you don’t believe me, here’s proof. Cycling in those conditions is obviously not ideal, but I didn’t quite appreciate just how bad it was until I came out of a corner and that massive tractor on that narrow road seemed to fill my entire field of vision and for a second I thought that was it. Luckily he was stationary and I survived after all. Niamh was all set to collect me from work but conditions improved sufficiently for me to make my own way home, but cycling for 5 miles straight into a 60 km/h (38 mph) wind was, well, interesting.

Following the coach’s orders, the last two days were a bit slower than previously.

After feeling incredibly good on Wednesday it was back to earth on Thursday, but the atrocious conditions may well have played their part. Since I did not want to run back-and forwards on the same stretch of road for 12 miles I chose to avoid the Ard-na-Sidhe road but got reminded that there was a good reason why I tend to run there when the weather is bad, because running straight into a strong wind that belts heavy rain straight into your face really is as uncomfortable as it sounds. Still, you get a kick when you finish 12 miles in those conditions, knowing that everyone else was bunkering down. At least I do.

It was a bit calmer this morning, but I wasn’t too pleased to find it still raining when I stepped out of the house. I had been feeling great for quite a while, but today the legs were rather heavy and I took it easy. The wind was still a factor, but in contrast to yesterday running along Caragh Lake was tolerable. The legs might not have felt the most comfortable, but when I put the numbers into my newest toy, the VDOT spreadsheet, the resulting number was back to over 54, thanks to the low HR. Considering how tired I had felt early on, I had expected a lower number. What that means, or if it actually means anything, I don’t really know. There’s still a lot to be learnt.

There’s another 5k tomorrow in Killarney and while I’ll be there to run it I won’t be racing it. I’m still in my base training and not allowed to run all out. I’ll just try and have fun instead.

I eventually remembered that the Javelina Jundred 100-mile race had been held in Arizona on the same weekend as the Dublin marathon. The reason why I was interested in it was Ken Zamach, the guy I had shared much of the early miles with in Dingle back in September. Well, wouldn’t you know it, he had an absolute stormer of a race, finishing in fourth place, 3rd man. It did make me wonder, briefly, what I could do over such a distance. Running sub-20 should be well within my capabilities, but that’s where I stopped thinking. 2011 will be a marathon year and if I yearn too much after an Ultra I merely have to bear in mind what Dingle did to my Achilles. But it does answer Mike’s question if I got those Ultras out of my system for good, I suppose.
11 Nov
12+ miles, 1:34:55, 7:51 pace, HR 150
12 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:50, 7:53 pace, HR 144

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Early Mornings

Well, the storm turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. I got a bit wet on Monday and there was a bit of wind, but I have run through much, much worse. I did let the weather forecast psyche me out and ran on the Ard-na-Sidhe road, which is my usual fall-back whenever the wind reaches gale force (or higher), but I could have run on the Caragh Lake road without problems.

The rain did cause an unexpected problem later on, though. I know the many pot holes on the road by heart and can do the slalom around them even in the dark (literally, when cycling home from work), but the rain must have opened up a nasty new one, big and deep, and the first I knew of it was last night when I felt a big bump on the bike, followed by some crunching metallic sound and then a hiss from both directions as both of my tyres gave up the ghost simultaneously. That was a major annoyance, still 1.5 miles away from home, but I made it home in one piece, if a bit delayed and I managed to fix the damage. I'm half tempted to bill the council for 2 inner tubes, though. The road has been in absolutely desperate condition since January's Big Freeze and nobody has ever bothered to fix it.

There was one problem with Monday's run, namely the fact that it took me longer than expected to get ready in the morning and by the time I was finally out of the door I only had time for 7 miles. For some reason I seem to have gotten really slow getting ready. It used to take no more than 15 minutes, now it is closer to 20. Maybe the rain outside wasn't particularly motivating, but I'm equally slow on clear mornings.

The wind actually picked up for Tuesday, which meant I was back on the Ard-na-Sidhe road. I tend to get rather familiar with that one-mile stretch of road during the winter. Doing 11 miles meant going back and forwards 4 times each. It got rather embarrassing at one stage when I passed the same person for the third time. He must have been wondering what that idiot was doing, running in the dark on the same stretch of road again and again.

Conditions had changed dramatically by this morning. Yesterday it had been 7C/45F degrees with 20mph wind and rain. This morning was crystal clear, -1C/30F degrees and absolutely no wind. I ran 10 miles via Killorglin, marvelling how well I was feeling. I got a major shock afterwards when looking at the average heart rate. I don't remember ever running 7:30 pace at a heart rate in the 140s and I cannot rule out some technical glitch with the heart rate monitor. But I did feel very good and the crisp conditions didn't do any harm either. But I am a bit sceptical about these figures. When I put them into a Jack-Daniels inspired spreadsheet, the VDOT value was almost 55 rather than around 52 for every other run over the last 7 days. You don't just jump 3 levels overnight, do you?

Anyway, according to the coach's instructions I've got to slow down a little bit and bump up the mileage: "One or two days at the upper end (7:30 pace), the rest of the week work on longer at an easier pace." It means getting up earlier, I guess.
8 Nov
7+ miles, 53:53, 7:38 pace, HR 152
9 Nov
11+ miles, 1:25:26, 7:42 pace, HR 150
10 Nov
10 miles, 1:14:57, 7:30 pace, HR 149

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Calm Before The Storm

The met office spent most of the last 2 days warning us about the impending “first major storm” of the winter. Lying in my bed last night it sure felt like it had arrived a day early, but listening to the wind howling outside right now I guess they were right after all, last night did not sound half as bad and the storm proper is yet to arrive. At least it gave us plenty of time to bring all the outside furniture into the shed for the winter months. As far as running is concerned, I guess it's time to suck it up.

After almost a week of agony I finally did something about my back. No, not going to to the doctor as Niamh had been nagging me to do, but googling for a cure. The one about keeping the affected area warm appealed to me the most and after judicious use of the hot water bottle (much to Niamh's disapproval), I can only call this a miracle cure. All of a sudden I feel much, much better.

Last week had been really stressful at work, something I can deal with very well normally but it really started to get to me towards the end. Having mostly finished the item that had been taking most of my time, things should hopefully improve next week.

I took it reasonably easy on Friday, running 9 miles along Caragh Lake. I can't even remember it now, so it can't have been particularly interesting. Saturday was a day for sleeping in for everyone but me; I had to get up at 6:45 to be able to run because I had to leave early to get the twins to Tralee for their CTY course. At least they chose the one course that was offered in Tralee or else we'd be driving to Cork every week, four times as far. By now this has become routine: I run in the morning, drive to Tralee, do the weekly shopping while they're there and drive them back home. This works fine but it feels like sacrificing half of my weekend. And the next two weekends will be different because instead of going shopping I will drive to Killarney to run a 5K instead. I did that in February and the timing works out beautifully as long as I don't hang around at either place.

Saturday's run was quite quick without really noticing until I was back home, which I take as a good sign. I added about 6 strides towards the end of it, which also brought the average pace down by about 5 seconds (and obviously increased the HR). Today was an easier version of last week's run through Cromane. A week ago this had been too much and too soon after the Dublin marathon, today I cut it by one mile, but felt much better anyway. I had a bit of a rough patch around mile 8 but managed to recover. 7:30 pace is starting to feel fairly comfortable. But I do remember that in summer of 2009 I used to run this loop at sub-7 pace on several occasions and I'm pretty far away from that shape right now. Then again I think the coach would say that's actually a good thing, so far out from the next race.

5 Nov
9 miles, 1:10:21, 7:49 pace, HR 146
6 Nov
10 miles, 1:14:30, 7:27 pace, HR 156
incl. 6 strides
7 Nov
12 miles, 1:30:19, 7:31 pace, HR 154

Weekly Mileage: 67.5

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Evaluating Recovery

With the Dublin marathon out of the way I finally feel free to start “proper” base training, with no goal race for several months. I think recovery from Dublin has been going quite well. I felt better virtually every day and the figures do back me up on that: on Monday and Wednesday I ran the same course but was significantly faster (8:00 / 7:45 pace) 48 hours later even with a lower heart rate.

Of course, one single such data point is rather useless, and this morning I followed the coach’s orders and did another 4-mile evaluation. If you remember back, I first did this a fortnight ago a few days before the Dublin marathon. After listening to the wind howling outside for much of the night I was a bit apprehensive, but as always the actual conditions were much better than they seemed.

I did the evaluation on almost the same course as last time, but with a slightly different start point in an attempt to iron out some of the elevation figures. Of course, running being an outdoor sport, conditions will never be the same for two runs. While the wind was not as bad as it had seemed, I still had it on my back for the first 2 miles and as a head wind for the final 2. I again used the Garmin to beep whenever the heart rate would deviate, which worked quite well but I did notice a tendency to run at a higher effort when running against the wind and had to ease up on several occasions. In the end, each mile was run at exactly the same average heart rate, but all of them one single beat higher than what I aimed for rolls eyes. The bare figures come up as follows:

6:44 (HR 162, -30 ft, with wind)
7:04 (HR 162, -1 ft, with wind)
7:26 (HR 162, +1 ft, against wind)
7:36 (HR 162, +30 ft, against wind); 42 seconds to HR 130

The pace is about 10 seconds per mile slower than last time and the recovery time to 130 identical. I sure wished the pace would not slow so much over the 4 miles, but it's hard to say how much of that is down to fatigue (I certainly don't feel fatigued after those 4 miles) and how much to the road elevation and wind.

On more important matters, Maia celebrated her third birthday on Tuesday. She broke into floods of tears in the morning, did not want to be there, wanted to refuse all presents and told us in no uncertain terms to cancel the party, but eventually agreed to a compromise. She would accept presents and party but still be 2. Thankfully she eventually managed to overcome her reluctance to accept her new age, with all the burden of responsibility that come with it.

2 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:00, 7:48 pace, HR 154
3 Nov
8 miles, 1:02:01, 7:45 pace, HR 147
4 Nov
10.5 miles, 1:18:32, 7:29 pace, HR 155
incl. 4 miles evaluation:
    6:44, 7:04, 7:26, 7:36; 42 seconds to HR 130

Monday, November 01, 2010

Trick Or Treat

First the kids turned our house into a spooky mansion, then they set off to relieve the neighbours off their sweets. Even though this was made slightly awkward by the fact that little Maia was utterly terrified of Shea's mask, even though she knew it was him ("when he takes off his mask he will be my Shea again"), they succeeded on both counts and came home laden with treasure. Cian announced that Halloween is his second most favourite holiday, after Christmas but ahead of Summer and Easter. Naturally the evening turned into a "eat as many sweets as you can" party and they all refused dinner. Later that night Maia woke up crying and demanded another sweet party. Apart from the fact that it was pitch dark outside, she'd already had a pre-birthday party in Nana's house on Thursday and will have a birthday party on Tuesday, so we found this demand slightly unreasonable and eventually managed to get her back to bed. Oh the joys!

Turning back the clocks gives me one extra hour of light in the morning which means I don't need a headlamp but I pretty much forgot to take the opposite effect in the evenings into account and left for work without reflective clothing and a light source, which made the commute home far more dangerous than it should have been. Since this is my fourth winter of cycling to work you might have thought I would have caught on by now, but obviously not. I made it home in one piece and my first trip was to dig out the required gear. That should make things a lot better from now on, but the fact that a lot of drivers don't bother dipping their headlights for a mere cyclist remains an unsolved problem. They obviously have no clue just how much they are blinding me. I have a decent health insurance package but don't actually want to test it out.

The post-marathon soreness in the quads had disappeared by Friday but on Sunday I made a mistake and ran much too hard and probably too long as well. I set off feeling pretty good and did not check my Garmin until well after 3 miles when I saw a pace figure of 7:20 and immediately eased the effort, but probably not enough. By mile 11 I was pretty knackered and had enough but was still 2 miles away from home. I've just run a marathon, there really is no need to overdo it right now. Consequently I took it much easier this morning, running only 8 miles and at a much more sedate pace. It felt a lot easier, despite the windy conditions.

Talking about the marathon, apparently there are 30 seconds of footage of me in the extended highlights package. One of our pace team ran with a head camera and from what I've heard my attempts at whipping up crowd support on Nassau Street made it into the coverage. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be able to see it for myself. It will be repeated on Wednesday, but Niamh might not be too impressed if I subscribed to Setanta Ireland for an entire month just for an ego trip.

Running a marathon seems to miraculously have healed my achilles, I have not felt a beep from it since Tuesday. Unfortunately my back is more than making up for it, sitting in the office chair for several hours is pure agony. At least it's not a running injury!

31 Oct
13.1 miles, 1:39:10, 7:34 pace, HR 163
1 Nov
8 miles, 1:04:01, 8:00 pace, HR 147

Weekly Mileage: 70+