Tuesday, January 19, 2010


According to wikipedia, a sandwich is a food item consisting of two or more slices of bread with one or more fillings between them. According to ultra runners, on the other hand, a sandwich is a training item consisting of two (or more?) long runs on consecutive days. It was the latter kind that formed my training so far this week, and that’s what I was talking about when I said that the training would get tougher from now on.

Getting up before 5 o’clock is always a bit of a challenge, even more so if your 2-year old daughter has ensured a rather interrupted night. But I managed to wriggle myself out of her snuggle without waking her and got ready. The weather was pretty good, but the moonless night was very dark. I’m not sure why I decided I would be able to make do without the headlamp.

I was tempted to go for the easier option of the reasonably flat loop through Cromane and Killorglin, but with an eye to Connemara’s hills I opted for the unreasonably hilly loop around Caragh Lake instead. Seemingly guided by a million stars overhead I did not encounter a single soul for well over 2 hours, and only the occasional rustle from the side of the road gave an indication of other life. I checked the initial pace after the first 3, flat, miles; last year I would have chided myself over the slow average pace of 8:18, but this year I’m far more relaxed about that, and time on feet is more important than pace. The legs felt good, but my back gradually became very painful. During the second half of the run I kept rubbing my lower back, but the discomfort grew into pain and by the time I was home I was in agony. I googled the issue and since I don’t think my running form has deteriorated all of a sudden I concluded that worn out shoes might be the problem. Indeed, the pair I had run in had just finished their 760th mile. They went straight into the bin, for all the loyal service over the last few months.

The second run of that kind of training is always a lot more challenging. In fact, I have never managed to run the second run even close to the pace of the first one. For some reason I didn’t feel too good when I got ready on Tuesday morning, and the HR seemed to be elevated by about 10 beats before I had even started. For a second or two I wondered if it was wise to go ahead, but having managed to heave myself out of bed at 4:45 for a second time in a row I decided to go ahead. I’d hate getting up so early for nothing.

From the very first step it was clear that this would not be easy. The legs, especially the quads were weary from the get go as I eased into the run. I was surprised after 3 miles when I saw that the initial pace (8:14) had been a tad faster than yesterday but I knew this would not continue. Unlike yesterday it was really windy and the stars were hiding behind some ominously dark clouds, but apart from a few drops every now and again I didn’t get wet. The wind, on the other hand, did cause a few problems, especially at the top of the hills where I was completely exposed to the elements. It was here that I encountered a car. What the driver must have been thinking when he saw the lonely figure running in the middle of nowhere, at least 2 miles from the nearest house in any direction, still before even 6 am in the morning, I do not know but I don’t think it would have been too flattering.

The gusty wind combined with the dark night and my ever-growing exhaustion started to provide some interesting sensations. After about 11 miles I passed a tree and when its branches overhead started moving it looked like to me like someone (or something) was about to jump on me. Shortly afterwards the road surface became darker, and to me it appeared to be a deep abyss immediately in front. Had I not turned on the headlamp the legs would have refused another step, even though I knew full and well that no chasm had appeared since yesterday. I was getting worried if these mini-hallucinations were a sign of me becoming hypoglycaemic, which would had been a problem, halfway through the loop and miles away from home, but I seemed to recover, and apart from a few minor sudden movements spotted out of the corner of my eyes I did not notice any further spooky encounters.

At 13 miles I got some hunger pangs, but they died down within a minute. At some stage, not sure when exactly, my left knee gave me a sort sharp pain, but didn’t act up again afterwards. The same happened to my right hamstring. After 16.5 miles I had to pass a test of character when I completed the initial loop and the siren call of our driveway became very, very tempting. Somehow I managed to continue on for an out-and-back section that would complete the 20 miles. The hunger pangs returned after 19 miles, but at the same time the mere thought of solid food almost made me retch in disgust. I made it home shortly afterwards. All I can say is thank god for chocolate milk! I was unable to stomach anything else. Even several hours later the mere thought of solid food feels repulsive, which is a dramatic change from my usual behaviour because normally I get so ravenous I feel like eating my body weight in food after a long run. I’m not sure what happened there, but I’m hopeful I will be able to look at dinner tonight without throwing up.

That second run was one of the toughest training runs I have ever done. Every single step was laboured and the exhaustion was ever growing. I really don’t know why it was so bad. I have done back-to-back runs before, and unless my memory fails me they were never quite as bad as today. The stupidly fast “easy” run on Sunday sure did not help, but still. This was bad.
18 Jan
20 miles, 2:43:30, 8:11 pace, HR 141
19 Jan
20 miles, 2:47:52, 8:24 pace, HR 144


  1. Right idea, it gets better... enjoy. Oh, and try mixing it up, i.e. 1h30-2h, 2h-2h30, 3h-2h, etc...

  2. I think your second 20 miler clearly demonstates the need for a recovery day after a long run. Hopefully as your 'ultra' training progresses you'll not see the elevated heart rate on the second day.

  3. I wish you luck in your endeavor.

  4. Great back-to-back workouts and great write-up! Back-to-backs are the thing that got me through my few ultras.

    You know it was a long run when you come back tired and hungry.

    Good job!

  5. Good solid runs Thomas particularly for consecutive early mornings - onwards and upwards. The real battle is in the head not the legs.

  6. Nice pair of runs!

    You are at a whole different level then me, but my back to back long runs for Comrades consist of a two hour run on Saturday then a four hour run on Sunday.

    I'm pretty sure my body wouldn't hold up to pairs of 20s.

  7. Nice sandwich Thomas. I don't think you've bitten off more than you can chew.

  8. I used sandwich training quite successfully last year training for my 100K race, its tough, but thats the point. I usually ran 5 kilometers less on Sunday than on Saturday, but only because that worked out that way with my running partners. I think you're heading for a good year, keep it up!

    Interesting that you mentioned lower back pain, I have had similar problems of late. For the most part I have been wearing older shoes trying to get the last mileage out of them before I heave them.