Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Jog In The Park

I went into this race knowing fine and full well that I had sabotaged any hopes of doing well with my 30 miles training run on Wednesday. My main worry was not to get injured, because 2 easy days after such a long run are hardly enough to recover fully. Before the race I had a chat with John Foley, he was complaining about his hamstrings and I was moaning about my quads, so between the two of us we had one fully working set of legs.

After opening miles of 5:45 in the first 2 races of series I decided to back off the suicidal early pace for a start. I ignored the 10 or so runner that streamed past me over the first quarter mile, and watched both John and Pat slowly pull away from me. Shortly after the first km marker I counted the steps between myself and John and came up with 20, which meant I was about 7 seconds behind, which would equate to maybe 10 seconds per mile pace difference. If he started at the same pace as always, I was doing just fine.

I was definitely having an easier time than last week. Close to the halfway point of the course I remembered how I had started falling apart here one week ago, and could not help but notice that I was feeling far more comfortable today. To my surprise I was actually getting closer to John and Part again, they were less than 10 steps ahead at that point and I was toying with the idea of trying to close the gap. I did go past one runner in a red singlet, but either the pace started catching up with me again or John and Pat both found another gear, because they started pulling away again. With 1 km to go I did try and push harder, but I simply did not have what it takes mentally today to push myself to the absolute limit. Shortly afterwards the red singlet passed me again like I was standing still. Had he done so at a slightly more reasonable pace I might have tried to hitch a ride in his shadow, but I could not possibly match that pace. Over that last half mile I watched in amazement as he went past Pat and John (and possibly even one more runner, my memory is slightly hazy), while I was trying to survive the last part of the course with the obligatory killer hill finish. When I saw the finish clock I was surprised to see that it had only just gone past 18:00 and I crossed the line with it displaying 18:13, which they correctly rounded up to 18:14 in the final standings, equalling my time from the first race of the series and 10 seconds faster than last week but in far better shape.

That's not due to the mile splits. When I checked them later, at home, to my utter astonishment they were 5:41, 5:54 and 6:07. So much for starting easily, and apparently I blew my chances for a new PB only on the final hill. I really had no idea!

A little devil on my shoulder kept reminding me that I was only 7 seconds off my PB and that I would have broken it had I pushed harder. However, my far more relaxed attitude today may well have been the reason for a good time. But I can't help but wonder if I could have broken that time had Wednesday's run been 20 miles rather than 30. There's no point crying about a lost opportunity, though. My A race is Connemara, everything else is just a training run for that. A new PB today would have been nice (and completely unexpected), but a PB in Connemara means worlds more to me.

After a couple of minutes I remembered that Shauna from work was running as well, so I jogged back along the course, spotted her after a minute, and kept encouraging her for the rest of her race. To my surprise I found that I would have made a good slave driver (“Don't slow down! Push harder! Sprint to the finish! Don't slow down!”), but rather than hating me for it she thanked me afterwards for the support.

I managed to resist all the chocolate at the spread afterwards (I nicked some for the kids), and waited for the prize ceremony. I told Pat that one day I'll catch him, but he put me into my place when he told me that his marathon PB was 2:26. Holy cow! What a runner!

Anyway, when the prizes were given out it turned out that I didn't even have to fall back to my old age to collect a reward. They rather generously awarded prizes for the top 8 men, and I just happened to have come 8th in the series, leaving the top M40 spot to Seamus. News of the 20 Euro gift voucher was very well received by Niamh!

Addendum: A belated comment to last week's race by an anonymous reader was this:
hey i think the 5k in killarney is short unless you are running some kind of wordld record for the last 172 metres. if you're garmin is correct for 3 miles then the race looks about 60 metres short.

I know that there was a discrepancy between the Garmin and what it should have displayed on an accurate 5k. Last week it showed 3.07 miles at the finish, and 3:08 this week, rather than 3:11 as it should have. However, that's a difference of about 1%, well within the Garmin's error margin. I have heard that the course has been measured with a Jones counter on more than one occasion. In the end you can only trust the organisers to come up with an accurate course. If the course is indeed short by 50 meters, there's nothing I can do about that. But to me, personally, my times on that course count as genuine 5k races.
27 Feb
11+ miles, including:
Gneeveguilla 5k race series, race 4, 18:14, HR 179
12th place, 2nd M40, 8th overall in series. 20 Euro prize money
28 Feb
6.1 miles, 48:56, 8:01 pace, HR 144

Weekly Mileage: 66+

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Ultra Before Breakfast

I just realised that I can receive the wireless Internet signal here in the doghouse where I have been sleeping ever since Niamh read my previous entry. Just kidding of course, one of the many benefits of being married to the best wife of all is that I can get away with stuff like that. Unless she’s really clever about it and tries to lull me into a false sense of security…

Anyway, unlike last time I have actually done some running that is worth mentioning. On Wednesday morning I was awake at 2:30, listening to the rain outside, having visions of a truly miserable slog through the forbidden darkness in the freezing rain for several hours. Luck was on my side, it stopped raining at about 3 o’clock, and at 3:14 I got up, a minute before the alarm would have sounded, and in the process broke my first record of the day, namely that for the earliest rise for the sake of a run.

When I wrote the outline of my training several weeks ago, I concentrated mostly on the long runs. When I pencilled in 30 for this week, I definitely thought I might move that to the weekend, because nobody in their right mind would get up in time for a run like this during the week before a normal 8-hour workday. As it turns out, a right mind doesn’t come into it when I’m around and just after 3:30 I opened the door and off I went.

I did not fear the distance, but I was definitely worried about my quads, which had not stopped sending signals since the Bantry race, 10 days ago. As a result, I started out very slowly. I first checked my Garmin when I reached the streetlights in Killorglin, over 4 miles later, and saw the average pace at 8:27. That would do nicely. I had expected to find a totally quiet town and was rather surprised when two cars slowly passed me on the main road. They then turned into the (empty) petrol station, and one of the drivers got out and started shouting and hollering after me. That wasn’t particularly pleasant, the fella sure did not sound particularly sober, and I was relieved when I turned off the main road on my way back to Caragh Lake and a minute later heard the cars continue straight on that junction, bringing peace and quite back into my little bubble once more.

Just before the 10 mile mark I was back home, took a gel and some water and headed out again on the same loop for a second time. It was still completely dark, and still before 5 o’clock. I increased the pace by a notch, and a check in Killorglin, now at the halfway point of both my run and that loop, revealed that the pace for that loop had gone down to 8:16. Again, I encountered a car on the main road, but thankfully without incident this time. There were also one or two cars on the Caragh Lake road on the way home. I took a muesli bar at mile 15 and another gel just as I got back home (gels during a long being explicitly allowed during my otherwise no-sugar pledge).

Almost 20 miles down I took stock. I felt ok, the quads were definitely behaving and my energy levels were good. The balls of my right foot sent out a few pain messages, but nothing severe. I was good to go out again.

The original plan was to do a third loop into Killorglin, but I changed my mind. A short loop meant I could return home sooner if I got into trouble. And today I really treasured being out there on my own; I knew I would encounter a few cars on the road to Killorglin if I ran that way again and I chose a different loop that would be quieter. Plus, the 3 miles out-and-back section was easier to handle mentally as the next turnaround point was never far away. As I was nearing 23 miles I realised that my pace had deteriorated again, I was merely trudging along at 8:30 pace and since I did not have to safe myself for anything and had found some confidence in my quads I increased the pace, dipping below 8:00 for the first time today. That loop went very well, and I did not hesitate in heading out for one final time. I passed the imaginary marathon distance marker in about 3:38, still feeling good, but over the next mile or two I did notice some fatigue; the sub-8 pace was definitely a lot tougher than jogging at 30 seconds per mile slower, but I kept it going until the end. The energy levels were still good and I decided not to eat the second bar that I had carried around me for several hours.

With a quarter mile to go, the balls of my right foot started burning like hell. It was really painful and I was very grateful to be almost done. My theory is that the pain signals had been there all along but my brain had filtered them out until it knew I was almost done.

I reached our driveway after 4 hours and 8 minutes, having completed my longest training run ever, feeling rather proud of myself, to be honest. Each loop had been faster than the previous one, which was very good. If it had not been for the pain in my foot, I would have felt perfectly ready to do 9 more miles, which is excellent news for Connemara.

Cycling to work was fine for the first 4.5 miles, but I had to stop for traffic before crossing the main road and when I stepped back onto the bike, my left calf started cramping. Not too severe, but it served as a reminder that you can’t run for 30 miles and think you can get away without repercussions.

After that excursion, Thursday was always going to be a rest day, which I used to visit the pool again for a 45 minutes swim session. For obvious reasons I chose not to do any kicking drills. Sorry, coach.

I was back out on the road again today, Friday, for 6 very easy miles. The legs are definitely stiff and tired, even though they had felt perfectly fine since the long run, apart form that one cramp. Unsurprisingly I don’t have high expectations for tomorrow’s race. Maybe the rational thing would be to skip it, but it’s the final race of the series and I need one more result to make it into the final standings. I have no intentions of missing out on that one. If I have to, I’ll jog around the course.
24 Feb
30 miles, 4:08:24, 8:17 pace, HR 138
(9.7 miles @ 8:30, 9.7 miles @ 8:17,
6 miles @ 8:12, 4.6 miles @7:56)
25 Feb
45 minutes swimming
26 Feb
6.1 miles, 51:35, 8:27 pace, HR 137

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rambling, Very Little Running

With apologies to Donald.

Cian (aged 6): “Daddy, what’s your job?” Me: “I work with computers” Cian (disgusted)”That’s not a job!!!” Lola (aged 8): “He keeps the Internet going”. Hmm. I’m afraid Cian might be closer to the truth than his big sister.

My no-sugar pledge is still going strong. There have been a few interesting things I noticed. The weighing scales are showing 3 pounds less than a week ago. I’m a bit sceptical about the alleged rapid weight loss, especially since I’m not actually dieting and sure haven’t gone hungry, but when I put on my trousers on Monday, they almost dropped down again and I had to dig in my cupboard for a belt, which supports the scales’ findings.

Since sugar in coffee is off the list as well I realised just how awful coffee tastes, at least the stuff they have here in the office. I must have used the sugar purely to drown out the taste. So, an unexpected side effect of my no-sugar diet has been a radical drop in my coffee intake, from 1-2 cups a day no nothing at all during the week, though Niamh’s coffee at home is still good to go.

Talking about Niamh, she didn’t seem to have grasped the concept of no sugar, which became apparent a few evenings ago when she created a big trifle with sinful amounts of custard on top. To my exasperated refusal (“I said I’m off sugar!!” Stop tempting me!!!”) she responded with “what? Not even a small portion?”, which means she’s turning into her mother.

Talking about her mother, I should create a new web page that lists her gems. That list would include the old classics like “make sure Thomas takes plenty of breaks when he’s running” and “tell him to run the marathon slower so that you can see him finish” as well as new ones like “make sure Thomas does not exert himself during the race; after all he’s 40 now”. I’m not entirely sure why I just wrote that paragraph for the world and his dog to see. It might get me into trouble. Real trouble, and with Niamh as well.

Talking about Niamh again, I know she reads this blog, because that’s how she finds out what I’m up to these days. Whoever said the Internet kills communication in the family?

Since my weight seems to be dropping all by itself I have set the target of weighing less than my good lady wife, a challenge she seems to have accepted, if not officially. Since she has now started sharing my no-sugar desserts, this might have become a moving target. And by the way, according to this website, my present body fat count is only 10.6%, though I’m rather sceptical about the accuracy of the calculator, especially for athletes.

If you're wondering why on earth I started rambling like that, maybe all that no-sugar business is playing havoc with my sanity, which was in short supply to start with, according to quite a few people (including the fella from Saturday’s race. “If you want to run 50 miles there MUST be something wrong with your head”. He did know that I was standing right beside him, too. He was looking at me at the time!)

My quads still don’t feel right, which makes me wonder if I’m just imagining things by now. To be on the safe side I have now done no less than 3 easy days in a row since Saturday’s race. Sunday’s 6 miles were followed by 8 miles on Monday and 5 miles this morning, all of them at very easy pace.

To help the healing process in my quads along, I decided to wear some compression shorts to work on Monday. I know some people who use recovery tights regularly (“I used to live in them”) and swear by them, but all I had were some half-tights, which should do for my quads, or so I thought. As I found out to my discomfort, if you sit around the office all day then the quads are not the only part of your body that get compressed, and the whole experience became rather uncomfortable. I guess they’re not meant to be worn for hours at a time, and certainly not by someone who’s worried about maintaining his fertility (which I’m not. I can’t handle the 4 kids we’ve got already!). There’s no need for you to try this out yourself. You can learn from my mistakes without doing them yourself. You’re welcome.

I better stop now before I embarrass myself even more.

22 Feb
8+ miles, 1:06:07, 8:14 pace, HR 137
23 Feb
5+ miles, 42:41, 8:27 pace, HR 134

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Not So Fast

As soon as I got up on Saturday I knew that the race would not go all that smoothly. The quads were still sore as a combination from last Sunday's race in Bantry and the subsequent 20-mile training run on Wednesday. Recovery was clearly taking longer than would have be ideal.

I had the same routine as for the first race of the series a fortnight ago. After a short run in the morning to wake up I drove Shea to Tralee for his CTY classes and then headed towards Killarney just in time to sign up for the race. The mountain before Tralee was covered in snow and Tralee's pavements were covered by a thick layer of ice, and I doubted if the race was going ahead at all. However, the closer I got to Killarney the clearer the road became, and Killarney itself was ice-free.

After a decent warm-up we gathered at the start line and were off just a few minutes late. The fast guys took off in front and I was a few steps behind John, who I had shared the entire last race with. Today I was never quite able to draw level, but I kept in close contact. The other guy around us was Pat O'Shea, who always seems to be running just a few steps ahead of me whenever we are in the same race. The fact that Pat is in the M55 age group serves as a humbling reminder to myself. The first mile seemed a little bit easier than last time, and at some stage I went past Pat in pursuit of John. This has happened before, for example in Farranfore at the end of January, but he always manages to pass me again. It was deja vu all over again when he emphatically went by at great speed somewhere during the second mile. I took the opportunity and hitched a ride. Had this been a 2.5K workout at 5K pace I would have done well, but alas, it was not. Things became increasingly painful and difficult, and I was simply unable to keep up with John and Pat. Slowly, very very slowly they pulled away from me and as much as I fought to keep in touch it was all in vain. Wheezing badly I passed the 4km marker, highly tempted to pull up and jog towards the finish but also thinking the the torture would be over in less than four minutes, and surely I would be able to hang on for that long.

I have raced a lot on this course in the last few months and know it very well by now. I was looking forward to the last left turn that would bring us out into the open and tried to once more increase the effort. But as hard as I tried, and I tried pretty damn hard, I could not prevent John and Pat from moving further and further away. The finish is the same killer hill as always and I really struggled to keep going. I had no idea what my time was, but when Pat went through the finish I could see a timer, saying 18:10 or so, and I knew that I was slower than last time. I finally crossed the line in 18:24, 10 seconds slower than a fortnight ago but as fast as anything I have done last year.

I was totally, utterly, completely spent. I staggered a few steps and then lay down on the floor in the middle of the road, spreadeagled, breathing heavily, unable to move. I must have been there for close to a minute, and eventually revived sufficiently to move again, rolled over and slowly returned to the vertical. At least I did not have to wonder if I had given everything I had.

The mile splits tell their own story with 5:43, 6:00 and 6:16, and if you compare them to last time (5:44, 5:58, 6:08) then the pattern is very similar, a steady slowdown after a fast (too fast) start, but I was a bit slower over the last mile this time round. The average HR was 180 according to the Garmin, but if you look at the chart it went over 180 before the first mile and never returned. In fact, it gradually grew up to a max of 186, which is very close to my absolute maximum.

It was only after the race that I remembered the old rule of recovering one day for each mile raced. There were never enough races around here for me to violate this rule in the past, but today I was at the start line only 6 days after the very hilly 10-mile run in Bantry, and my legs were not entirely ready for another go. I was so exhausted afterwards that I could not even write a race report later on, but a good night's sleep did wonders and I'm much better today. I'm even looking forward to next week's final race of the series. With a recovered set of legs I might have an outside chance of bettering my PB, but next week's training won't be all nice and easy. I've still got an Ultra to run in the not-so-distant future.
19 Feb
6 miles, 50:51, 8:28 pace, HR 131
20 Feb
10 miles, including:
  Killarney Gneeveguilla 5k, race 3 in series
  18:24, avg. HR 180. 8th overall, 1st M40
21 Feb
am: 6 miles, 41:38, 8:19 pace, HR 135
pm: 30+ minutes swimming

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The First Day of ... Lent

To start with the good news, I survived the first day of lent with my pledge still intact. The bad news is, the next 45 days are going to be looooooooong. As I sat down in front of the telly last night, I almost got up and went to the sweets cupboard, because that’s what I have been doing virtually every evening in the last 3/4/5 months (not sure when exactly that habit started). Drinking my cuppa without nibbling on chocolate felt entirely alien.

And can you believe it, they started selling scones in the office on the first day of lent. Beautiful, big, sugary, sinful ones at that. Luckily it was still the first day of lent and I was never going to cave in so quickly, but I’ve got a feeling that the next 45 days are going to be looooooooong.

And, by the way, I did some training as well. I lied in my last post when I said that I would go back to bed if I noticed some discomfort in my legs on Wednesday morning. I might have meant it at the time, but when I got up and noticed some discomfort in my legs I decided it was not THAT bad and went running anyway. It was freezing cold and I got caught by a rain shower around mile 9, but that only lasted for half a mile and was no big issue. What was a big issue was the pain in the quads that I noticed on each and every downhill. It got progressively worse, but when I passed our driveway after 16.5 miles it was still manageable and since there were no big hills on the out-and-back section I continued on. It was on that section that the pain really started, gradually but surely, and not just on the downhills. I am familiar enough with that kind of pain, when every single muscle fibre in the front of you thighs seems to be ripped apart with every step and you have trouble lifting your knees. This was a different problem to the one I had on the second run of my first back-to-back workouts a few weeks ago. Back then it was a lack of energy. Yesterday my energy levels were perfectly fine, the problem was muscular. This is exactly what it felt like in Connemara at mile 30, only tonight I was back home just as the real agony was about to hit and I was spared the worst.

If this was good training for Connemara (after all, that’s how your legs are going to adapt) or not (because I clearly was not recovered sufficiently to run 20 miles) is anyone’s guess. It is obvious that my kamikaze style descents during Sunday’s race have caused plenty of damage to my quads and I hope yesterday’s 20-mile run did not set back the recovery process by too much. I did not run today and went swimming instead (and a good session it was too. I’m definitely improving with every week) but the present feeling in my legs, especially the quads, is one of discomfort.

I’ll take it very easy tomorrow. There’s yet another 5K on Saturday, which may not be such a great idea but if I miss another one I won’t qualify for the results of the race series after skipping last week’s race, and I do have high hopes of winning the M40 age group. I could do the race and take it reasonably easy, but deliberately holding back in a race isn’t something I do.
17 Feb
20 miles, 2:46:14, 8:18 pace, HR 141
18 Feb
45 minutes swimming

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Irish people, with the country’s strong catholic background, still take lent surprisingly seriously. While not many use it for the initially intended spiritual purpose, for most it represents a period of will power. I never saw much point in joining in, but this year is different.

Last week I told Niamh that I would be giving up sugar for lent. That’s cakes, biscuits, chocolate, sweets, sugar in coffee and so on. Niamh’s reply “but you’re not religious” was countered with “it’s about the sugar, not religion”, and that’s that. I’ve been raiding the sweet cabinet far too often over the last few months, and a bit of restraint should do me good. If my weight drops by the odd pound, that would be a highly welcome bonus. Two years ago, when I set most of my still standing PRs, I weighed less than 145 pounds, following my pneumonia-induced weight loss (a highly effective but definitely not recommended way of losing weight). These days I’m carrying around at least 5 extra pounds and if you believe the usually cited formula, that adds up to 10 additional seconds per mile. Since my present racing times are very similar to the ones from 2 years ago, the thought of cutting 10 seconds per mile by shifting a few pounds of fat is very appealing. Alas, in the past I have found it much easier to train more rather than eat less, and my weight never really dropped, not even during last summer’s mad set of repeated 100-mile weeks. We shall see what happens if I manage to cut out the white death crystals.

My legs have been very sore since Sunday’s race. I did notice the stiffness even during the cool down, and the 2 hours drive home didn’t do me any favours either. Accordingly I did 5 easy miles on Monday and 6 even easier miles this morning. I’m hoping my legs will be recovered by tomorrow morning for a long run, and if they are not I’ll get straight back to bed. One thing is for sure, the originally planned back-to-back workout is not going to happen this week, which I have now turned into a recovery week. I don’t want to wear out my legs, and racing 10 miles over an extremely tough and hilly course does call for some down time. I have in the past often neglected recovery and if I race well in Connemara I will know that that has been a mistake. If I collapse at mile 30, well, then I should have done more miles this time round.

15 Feb
5 miles, 43:23, 8:40 pace, HR 136
16 Feb
6.1 miles, 53:43, 8:48 pace, HR 134

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Roller Coaster Ride

Well, what a fine Valentine’s Weekend it was. We spent Saturday shopping in Cork, after unashamedly ensuring we got our money’s worth from the breakfast buffet and after hitting the pool in the leisure centre. And even I got the benefits of the shopping trip, having purchased a wetsuit and other triathlon paraphernalia that had up to now been missing from my wardrobe. As Niamh pointed out, after spending all that money on stuff there is no way I can pull out of the Valentia race now.

In the afternoon we headed for Bantry for some more swimming and a wonderful meal. We really hit the jackpot on that one. After not booking a table it looked a bit hairy at one stage regarding dinner, but the lady in the hotel reception found us a table in the Fish Kitchen, and if you ever find yourself in Bantry one evening and like seafood, this is the place for you. Thia was a real find.

Anyway, Sunday came along and after my obligatory 3-mile pre-race run in the morning it was soon time to head towards the Mealagh Valley where the race would take place. I was glad to have left on time for a change because the drive took a lot longer than expected and when I got there the car park was full (“there are a lot more people than we had expected”) and we all had to get a bit creative about parking.

Anyway, I got my number and the run towards the start line was sufficiently long to serve as my warm-up. We had an unofficial reunion of the Gauntlet race from last November as three of us were wearing that race shirt and at least 3 more runners from that race were there as well. I also spoke briefly to John Walshe from Ballycotton, Pat O’Connor (Grellan’s neighbour) and John Desmond, the proprietor of South Ireland’s most important running websites.

The race started after a brief but moving speech from the RD about her young grandson and then we went our way. Alan O’Shea was there and he stormed off as if he was trying to lap the field and we mere mortals followed behind. We started by going over a hill and I was in maybe 20th place, but soon we were looking down a very long and extremely steep drop and with a loud cry of “woohoo” I just took off. I was not trying to show off or clown around, I was merely taking advantage of the gravity assistance and spun my legs as fast as they would move, which apparently was 4:30 pace. This catapulted me past almost the entire field and having survived the breakneck speed I found myself in fourth position, where I really had no place. Over the next mile as the course started going uphill at steeper and steeper gradients I gradually dropped back and didn’t attempt to keep pace with the much better runners.

Eventually John Desmond pulled up alongside me and I was able to keep up with him, at least for a while. We chatted for a bit and eventually he moved ahead, which was not surprising (John is a sub-3 marathoner, and I don’t usually manage to keep up with those folks). The climbs were getting ridiculously steep, we had to round some hairpin bends, and according to John I sounded like I was about to give birth. One more runner went past with the words “I’m not going to talk to you any more”, and it took me a couple of seconds to place him, until I remembered Phil Coffey from the Dublin marathon where he had pulled me along for about 2 miles when my wheels started falling off until I was no longer able to keep up. History initially repeated itself here as he pulled up to John, about 10 steps ahead of me, and I was unable to follow.

Somewhere between miles 3 and 4 I heard yet another set of footsteps, and when the runner pulled level I was about to say “Good Man” when I realised that the person in question was a) a woman, Moreen Harrington, and b) said exactly those words to me (we were both wearing the same outfit, the Gauntlet race shirt). It took half a second of processing to come back with reply. Now, having seen all those men go past me had been fine, but how would my fragile, vulnerably, insecure male ego deal with the fact of being chicked? The answer was not at all, and I jolted back into action and remained right behind her. Then the course dropped for a change, and half a mile of descent was all I needed. First Maureen and me pulled level with John and Phil, and since I felt I could run faster I went past all three of them and opened up a gap. I fully expected them to catch up with me again on the next climb that inevitably drew nearer, but I kept my momentum going and instead of being pulled back I managed to pull closer to two runners in front and eventually passed them as well. The fact that the road was not as steep any more was definitely a major plus point, I managed to keep a really good and strong rhythm going in that part of the race. John later told me that the gap between ourselves remained constant for the next 5 miles, but since I never looked back I was not to know this.

Eventually we reached the halfway point and I expected the road to drop from here on but was taught a lesson not to assume anything. Every drop was immediately followed by a climb back up to virtually the same elevation. I had the next runner in my sights. He initially had a good gap on me but I very slowly edged closer to maybe 20 or 30 steps behind him, but that’s where we stayed for a while.

I have to give a mention to the very enthusiastic support by the people of the Mealagh Valley. They really were out in force, at almost every driveway there was a family standing cheering loudly, there were signs all over the place, water stations being manned and the general support was great. They really added a lot to the atmosphere of the race and seemed genuinely excited about the event.

Anyway, on a long but not very steep drop towards mile 8 I was getting closer to my front-runner again. I started hearing his footsteps, which was worrying initially because they sounded like someone was catching up with me, but I eventually realised that the sounds were coming from ahead. At the foot of the climb I was right behind him only to find all the work for nothing as I lost contact again on the next climb. He opened up a good gap again, but shortly before the 9-mile sign the road started dropping steeply again and I was back in kamikaze mode, almost falling rather than running down the hill without too much thought for the consequences of one small misstep. The distance between us melted away, I gained one more place and immediately opened a gap. Then we turned left once more, passed the start line from which it was about half a mile of ups and downs (mostly downs though) towards the finish. Having gone from being the hunter to the hunted I was worried about losing my place again and pushed that last section with all I had. I was wheezing badly, and I don’t know what John would have made of it had he heard me at that point.

Someone must have added a few extra pieces of road since we had started an hour ago because it seemed a lot more drawn out, each time I thought the finish was straight ahead there was yet another bend and/or climb, but eventually I saw the line and crossed it in 1:05:39 on my watch (1:05:41 officially), in 13th place and ahead of a few runners that I normally have no business of beating, so I must have run well.

The course profile resembles the Big One in Blackpool more than a road race. The legs are letting me know that I had been in quite some race.

The post-race spread was spectacular, the socialising great, but eventually I had to head back towards Bantry where Niamh was waiting patiently and full of understanding. Hey, what could possibly be more romantic than running a race on a beautifully sunny day in stunning surroundings?

13 Feb
am: 6 miles, 46:40, 7:47 pace, HR 137
am: 30-40 minutes swimming
pm: 30-40 minutes swimming
14 Feb
15 miles, including:
  Valley Ring 10, Bantry, 1:05:41, 6:34 pace, HR 172
  13th overall, 3rd M40
  extremely spectacular but tough race

Friday, February 12, 2010

Whisked Away

I'll try and keep this short, mainly to force Ewen to come up with a new joke, but also because I'm in a nice comfy hotel room in Cork and we're off to dinner soon.

After Tuesday near-marathon I didn't run on Wednesday but drove to Killarney to the pool instead. Starting a new sport is fun in that you make progress rapidly, and I can feel my swimming improving from week to week. Obviously I'm still very much a beginner and won't be looking towards the business end of the tri in May, but by now I'm reasonably assured that I might make it across Valentia Harbour without drowning in 3 months' time.

In the past few weeks it was easy to come up with training because there always seemed to be only 2 days between the long runs and the next race, and it was always a no-brainer to keep things slow and short. This week I have no less than 4 days after my long run and Sunday's race, and I thought I should probably do one fast day. But what workout would be appropriate? Mile repeats, like Grellan seems to be doing for fun these days? 1000S? Yassos? 400s? Then I thought back towards the start of the training when I did an 8-mile progression run, with each mile faster than the previous one. This sounded like fun, ans at the same time it would not be particularly strenuous because only the last 2 miles would be at a fast pace, really.

I changed my mind on Thursday because the legs were still rather tired, which is not too surprising really, come to think about it. It takes more than one day to recover from a 25 mile run, and I just went for 6 slow and easy miles instead. I did notice that the HR was a bit higher than it was in previous weeks, which is obviously a hangover from Tuesday.

I felt fresher this morning and decided to go ahead with the progression run. After all, I could always pull the plug if it seemed to get out of hand. The first few miles were very easy, I gradually turned the screw over the next. In fact, miles 4 and 5 were a bit frustrating as I felt I was getting into a very good rhythm but slowed down to have something in store for the next miles. It wasn't until the last 2 miles that the actual workout started, and I had no real trouble increasing the pace to 6:41 and 6:31 respectively. I had been right – this was a fun way to run, and it definitely was not strenuous at all. I might do that again.

And since Niamh followed the rule that you should always give a present that you enjoy yourself, she booked a Valentine's weekend away for us for my birthday, while the grandparents are minding the kids at home. And since she is the best wife of all, we're in Cork so that I can run my race in Bantry on Sunday. Isn't she great?
10 Feb
45 minutes swimming
11 Feb
6 miles, 51:37, 8:36 pace, HR 137
12 Feb
8 miles, 59:48, 7:28 pace, HR 150
progression: 8:28, 8:08, 7:52, 7:38, 7:22, 7:03, 6:41, 6:31

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


After Saturday’s race, Sunday was never going to be anything but an easy day. I did 5 slow recovery miles in the morning before heading for the pool for another lesson. What should have been a relaxing hour did cause major problems later on when I stubbed my big left toe quite badly. It hurt a lot at first but subsided quickly enough. It wasn’t until the evening that the pain really started. It got so bad that Niamh got me some pain killers, and if you know how much I avoid these things under normal circumstances then you know how much it hurt.

The originally planned long run for Monday had already been shelved at that stage because my quads were still a bit sore. But on Sunday evening I seriously doubted I’d be able to run at all. Things looked a lot brighter after a good night’s sleep; when I got out of bed on Monday I still felt something in the toe (and it was slightly swollen), but I could put my weight on it without problems and I repeated the same 5 mile recovery run from the day before, except that I could not find my Garmin despite searching frantically. And my toe started hurting again later that day. I was hobbling around the office, wondering how I had managed to run in the morning and if I had done some real damage doing that.

Luckily, the precious toy turned up again on Monday evening and the toe magically healed itself again overnight. Well, over half-night, because that’s all the sleep I got.

I can’t quite remember the word Niamh used to describe me when I told her about today’s run. It might have been lunatic or nutcase, I have forgotten already (old age and all, you know), but the meaning is pretty clear. She was glad to report that she had not heard me leave and only woke when I was already in the shower, 4 hours later.

I had been up at 4 o’clock in the morning. Yes, that’s early, even for me – I have never gotten up earlier than that. Having said that, I felt reasonably awake as I got ready and within less than 20 minutes I was out on the road. For some reason I felt a bit self-conscious about the fact that I was out running when every single person with even an ounce of sense would have been tucked away peacefully at the time, but then again, anyone who would have seen me at the time would have been just as mad for the very same reason.

I had pondered what route to take. Out of respect for the long distance I decided against the hilly Caragh Lake loop and opted for the road to Killorglin instead. It’s not entirely flat, just a bit undulating. In fact, it’s very similar to the first half of the Ultra course in Connemara. I deposited a bottle at our driveway and went on my way. I did not encounter anyone during my first loop. I first checked the Garmin as I got into Killorglin, about 4 miles into the run, and saw an average pace of 8:12, very much on target. I must have accelerated slightly on the way home because by the time I reached our driveway, almost 10 miles in, the pace had dropped to 8:07. I took one gel at that point and went out again. I expected the moon to make an appearance (moonrise 5:43 according to my notes) but that never happened. The clouds must have been too thick. Never mind, I was able to make out the road and that’s all I needed.

Cars started to make an occasional appearance, but it was still very peaceful. I ran most of that loop totally on autopilot. I didn’t feel tired and the miles seemed to melt away. Mindful of the hard time I’d had three weeks ago on a long run I took a granola bar at mile 15 and another gel at mile 20. At no time did I feel the need to add some fuel, but on my first training run of such length I felt it safer to add some fuel before I started bonking. I’ll probably take less fuel on board next time. Anyway, the second loop went a bit faster that the first one at 7:55 pace and I was very surprised about the complete lack of fatigue. I had expected to be tempted to call it a day at that point, instead I just took another swig from my bottle and headed out again for the last loop, not even considering quitting.

I added 5+ miles out-and-back on the Ard-na-Sidhe road to make a total of 25 miles. I could not help but marvel at the feeling in my legs compared to the way they typically feel during the last few miles of a marathon. Just for the fun of it I speeded up a little over the last two miles to about 7:10 pace which brought the average pace of the last section down to 7:39. The whole run was only marginally slower than my Dublin marathon just over 3 months ago, for which I had gone through hell. This time I was so fresh that I felt I could easily do another loop. In fact, the only thing I regret is that I did not get up 10 minutes earlier, in which case I could have run an entire marathon before breakfast. Well, there’s always next time. I just have to convince Niamh not to call the men in the white coats.
7 Feb
5 miles, 41:38, 8:19 pace, HR 135
8 Feb
5 miles, 41:31, 8:18 pace
9 Feb
25 miles, 3:18:37, 7:56 pace, HR 141
10 miles @ 8:07, 10 miles @ 7:55, 5 miles @ 7:39

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Pair Running

After the double workout on Tuesday and Wednesday I took a day off running and drove to Killarney in the morning for a pool session instead. It didn't quite work as intended because it still left my quads feeling rather tired but another easy day on Friday sorted out that problem. In years past I have always noticed that my HR on short easy runs drops on an almost weekly basis as I get fitter. I can see the same thing happening again right now. My HR on those easy runs keeps going down, and I see this as a very good sign. I am getting fitter.

The other way to test your fitness is at the other end of the speed scale, by running a race. All of a sudden Killarney has become a Mecca for runners; after last autumn's 5k series there is another one being organised right now, with a 5K race every Saturday in February. Luck was on my side, because at the end of last year I could not do Saturday races because we had to go to Cork for Lola's CTY classes. This spring Shea opted for the one course taking place in Tralee. This enabled me to drive him to Tralee for 10 o'clock, drive to Killarney just in time to sign up for the race and run it, and then head back to Tralee to collect him. The timing is a bit tight, and I was 5 minutes late today because a tractor held up the traffic all the way to Farranfore, but it is manageable. And I sure prefer to be able to race! For the next few weeks I'll keep concentrating on the long, slow runs in training to build me up for the ultra and run a race every weekend as my speed workout. Since the only time I'm ever able to hit 5K pace is running a 5K race, this may well be the best speed training I'm ever going to get.

Anyway, I made it to the start line in time, but of course it was delayed by the customary 10 minutes. The route was essentially the same as the Killarney summerfest one, except that we started inside Killarney National Park itself rather than on the road outside. This meant the road did not have to be closed for a few minutes but I was a bit concerned that things might become a bit crowded at the start on the rather narrow path. Luckily, as it turns out, I started out far enough in front for that not to be an issue. If some crowding took place behind me, I can't tell.

3 guys took off right from the start, and a gap appeared between them and the rest of us. And that rest of us was headed by me, which was a rather unusual position to find myself in. Right next to me was the figure of John Foley, who I had run side-by-side with for the first 3 miles in Farranfore a week ago, and history was very much repeating itself.

The temperatures were about 8C with no wind whatsoever. I had been a really foggy morning but that had lifted just in time for the race and conditions were absolutely perfect. What caused a slight problem were the walkers on the path. While almost all of them moved to the side as they saw us coming, 2 fellas refused to move even an inch and I ended elbowing one of them as I edged past, John probably doing the same to the other one on the other side. I murmured a not-so-friendly description, and John concurred.

The course was measured in kilometers and they seemed to pass reasonably quickly, though I avoided looking at the Garmin while racing, because I know from experience that looking at those figures isn't helpful during a fast race. The three amigos at the front slowly disappeared from view, John and me made up the next two positions, and I kept hearing steps behind us. Every time I thought the next guy was gaining I upped the effort; this kept repeating itself a few times until, somewhere during the second mile, we went up a small hill and a runner all clad in red (who I know by his face but not by name) managed to pass the two of us. John upped the pace to keep in step and for a short while I was afraid I was going to lose contact, but then I managed to push on again and kept right in touch.

Shortly afterwards a runner in white moved past us as well. In fact he passed us at such a pace while looking extremely smooth and relaxed that I wondered where he came from. Was it a fast guy who had missed the start by a minute or two? Nevermind, for a short while I managed to hang in his slipstream and that brought me past John and Red, and while John managed once more to up the pace and remain at my shoulder, the other guy dropped back a bit (he told me afterwards he was saving himself for Mallow tomorrow).

By now we were heading towards the finish. The course is very flat for most of the race with each climb no more than 10 feet or so, but the finish is brutal if you have left everything on the line already. As we passed the 4km marker I tried to up the effort once more, but each time I gained a bit John would respond, and each time he gained a little bit I would do the same and we were still locked in place. By the time we approached the final hill, with maybe a quarter mile left, we had spent virtually the entire race side-by-side, never separated by more than half a step. As we pushed up to the line for a second I thought I had the better of him as he seemed to fall behind but it was just an illusion and once more he managed to pull level. And then, over the last twenty steps, he proved to have what I don't, namely a finishing kick and for the first time in the entire race there was daylight between us as he crossed the line in fifth place with me coming home a second or two later in sixth.

One look at the Garmin showed me that I had a very good race in 18:14, my second best ever over the distance and only 7 seconds behind my PB that I had always thought of as a once off that may never be repeated. By now it certainly looks to be within reach, and maybe I can go below 18 minutes this year, not that I have any intentions of training specifically for a 5K.

The Good: I managed to push my HR up to 188 on the final hill. I didn't even know I can reach that figure in my old age.
The Bad: My mile splits were 5:43, 5:57 and 6:08. I need to learn to keep on pace.

After chatting to a few runners I had to get going, do a cool-down and head towards Tralee to pick up Shea. He forgave me for being late, and he'd had almost as good a time as me.

Unfortunately I'll miss tomorrow's 10 mile race in Mallow, but leaving the family behind for both days of the weekend is not on the cards. There's a 10 miler in Bantry next week that I will do instead of the 5K in Killarney because we happen to be in Cork that weekend, and then it's back to Killarney for the last 2 races of the series.

4 Feb
45 minutes swim
5 Feb
6 miles, 50:51, 8:28 pace, HR 131
6 Feb
9+ miles, including:
 Killarney 5K, race 1 in winter series
 18:14, HR 180, 6th overall

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Groundhog Day

Because of Sunday’s race I took it very easy on Monday. The original schedule might have called for another back-to-back sandwich for Monday and Tuesday, but I opted to give my legs some rest and just did 5 very slow miles instead. The quads very surprisingly sore, almost certainly a result of running down those hills between Farranfore and Firies at breakneck speed. Still, the trophy looks good in my cabinet.

I still did my back-to-back workouts, of course, merely delayed by 24 hours. I got up on Tuesday at 4:45 am, got ready and headed out of the door just after 5 o’clock. It was raining slightly and the wind was blowing, but luckily Full Moon had only been a few days earlier and despite the thick cloud cover the light was easily bright enough to run without headlamp. The wind picked up as I climbed up the hills on the eastern side of Caragh Lake, the rain turned from a drizzle into a downpour and the next 3 miles were rather challenging. Once I had crested the apex (and avoided being run over by two cars on the narrow road) things improved markedly. I was about to cross Black Stones Bridge, 9 miles away from home, when I heard some rustling noises coming from my left. This happens all the time and I didn’t pay them any attention when all of a sudden a big animal crossed the road immediately in front of me. It seemed at least 2 feet long but not very tall. I’m fairly sure it was a badger and I very nearly ran into it. Judging by its panicked grunting noised it was even more frightened than I was. The encounter was over in a flash, and I continued on my way (as did the badger, presumably).

For the sake of change I ran down some new roads for some extra miles, and both turned out to be very hilly, which cost me a bit of pace but should hopefully have increased the return my legs received from the run. The rain stopped eventually, even if the wind did not, and I got home without any further incidents, still feeling good.

The legs got stiffer and stiffer during the day, though. It’s amazing how they can feel perfectly fine after running 20 miles but turn into wooden boards after a few hours in the office chair, even though I always make sure to walk around every now and again.

I got up on Wednesday at 4:45 am, got ready and headed out of the door just after 5 o’clock. It was raining slightly and the wind was blowing, but luckily Full Moon had only been a few days earlier and despite the thick cloud cover the light was easily bright enough to run without headlamp. The wind picked up as I climbed up the hills on the eastern side of Caragh Lake, the rain turned from a drizzle into a downpour and the next 3 miles were rather challenging. Once I had crested the apex (and avoided being run over by [presumably the same] two cars on the narrow road) things improved markedly. It wasn’t until I reached Black Stones Bridge and did not encounter a badger that the day started differing from the previous one, up to then it had been an almost perfect carbon copy, even the cars had passed me at the same spots. Anyway, I did not run down the same roads as yesterday but did my “standard” loop until mile 13 when I decided to turn left and ran up another hill that would cut off part of the way but was rather steep and challenging on my tiring legs. I got into The Zone then and the rest of the run went by in a flash. I hardly remember anything about it, the miles ticked by on pure autopilot and before I knew it I was back home, another sandwich workout completed. It had not gone quite as smooth as the previous week, but a lot better than the week before that. I did notice, however, that my HR was higher than the previous week. The slightly hillier course might account for some of it, but definitely not all of it. I guess I’m still recuperating from the race. Tomorrow I’ll head for the pool to give the legs an opportunity to recover.
1 Feb
5 miles, 43:42, 8:44 pace, HR 132
2 Feb
20 miles, 2:45:59, 8:18 pace, HR 145
3 Feb
20 miles, 2:46:42, 8:20 pace, HR 144