Tuesday, March 30, 2010


For some reason, Sunday was the first day in a very long time when we did not have any plans. I could have gone swimming, but I relished staying at home doing nothing far too much to get off that sofa. It was great to join the idle masses for a while – after I had done my run, of course. Said run was another tempo effort, 10 miles with 2x3.5 miles at HMP, somewhere around 6:30 pace, but I mostly used my breathing to determine the effort. That worked quite well, and while it was a couple of seconds slower than the previous effort from 2 weeks ago, it was still better than anything I had managed last year or the year before. Now I just have to turn the training into decent race results.

When I got home, Niamh was really happy and bouncy, raving how she’d had a wonderful lie-in, how the kids had not made a noise and she had slept all the way until 8:30. However, her jaw dropped to the floor when I pointed out that the clocks had gone forward that night; she really wished I hadn’t said that. But she did remain bright and happy.

Since I’m tapering I took Monday off running and drove to the swimming pool in Killarney instead. I tried something new and switched the breathing pattern, and all of a sudden things clicked into place. I could do 200s and 400s without breaking and gasping for air, and I felt I could have done longer distances without break as well. I might survive the swimming part of the Valentia tri after all, and I climbed out of the pool really pleased. I arrived home to a still sleeping household – the daylight saving time obviously having quite some effect.

A short 6 mile run this morning in rather wild conditions followed. It was very windy, I got caught by the rain on couple of occasions, and when the hail started I thought things were getting rather bad, but luckily that stopped after a couple of seconds. In fact, I felt really good today. I think I know why.

I had felt really tired over the last couple of weeks but couldn’t quite work out why; it was definitely not because of overtraining this time. Even worse, I started to have lots of spells of light-headedness. We all have that from time to time when we get up too quickly, but it happened to me at least 5 times a day. There can be several reasons for this, low blood pressure being the most common, anaemia another one, and, due to several other things as well, I really wondered if the latter was the case. A few days ago I started taking an iron supplement that I had used in the past with good success and that does not mess up my stomach. It could be a placebo effect, or it could be coincidence, but the dizzy spells seem to have stopped and I think the way I felt much better during the run this morning might be an indication that a slight anaemia was indeed my problem and it might be getting sorted. Until I have my blood tested I can’t tell for sure, of course.

There was a second problem that could have been a major obstacle. I’ve had pains in my back on several occasions this year, and that returned with a vengeance a few days ago; I was in absolute agony. This is not a running injury. I’m pretty sure it is down to me being careless when lifting the laundry basket. Doing the laundry is my job and with six people in the household this is a major task; the basket is very heavy at times, especially when filled with wet clothes. I know how to lift heavy objects with a straight back; I just didn’t follow the rules. Stupid, I know. I have been much more careful recently, and my back has definitely improved. At one stage a few days ago it was so bad that I thought this might stop me from running Connemara altogether, but things are definitely on the up. I might still get some taper-induced phantom injuries, but I can deal with those. I don’t think anything will stop me from joining the other deranged ones at the start line.
28 Mar
10 miles, 1:09:13, 6:55 pace, HR 156
2x3.5 miles @ 6:28, 6:34
29 Mar
50 minutes swimming
30 Mar
6.1 miles, 47:58, 7:51 pace, HR 137

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The End of Magic

The other day, just as I came out of my shower, Niamh stormed into the room. The kids had just voiced their skepticism about the Tooth Fairy (Cian has just lost his first 2 teeth and bagged 3 Euros in the process), started inquiries about the Easter Bunny, and then *gasp* moved on to Santa, at which Niamh left the kitchen in a hurry to avoid digging deeper into that subject. I guess it was always a matter of time; the twins will be 9 in a month and we got as far as we could with that story, while avoiding telling an outright lie. They still haven't got absolute confirmation – one week before Easter isn't the best time for those revelations, and I'm afraid Maia might grow up without the magic.

Oh yes, running. Even three easy days had not been sufficient for a complete recovery from Ballycotton, and when I took my first step on Thursday morning I could immediately tell that the race was still in there. The run followed the same pattern as pretty much all of the previous long ones; a very slow start for the first 3 miles (which happened to be 8:26 pace), then a few miles of long hills and a stronger finish. The quads felt uncomfortable all the way through, but I was pleased to see that I could keep 7:30 pace without problem over the second half of the run, even with aching legs. I also figured that running for over 2 hours with painful quads would be good preparation for Connemara, because that's exactly what's going to happen there.

The weather was reasonably cooperative, the wind was manageable and I never got more than a few raindrops at a time, and that pattern held for the next few days as well. I did 5 miles on Friday with even heavier legs, but recorded the lowest heart rate of the present training cycle. I think that if I can run at sub-130 HR without having to crawl, I must be in good ultra shape. My race speed could be a tad better, as Ballycotton showed, but hey, who doesn't wish for that. On the other hand I really think that my endurance at comfortable speeds is better than ever before. Today's run felt just as easy as Friday's but was much closes to 8:00 pace, which is what I hope to hold for 39 miles in Connemara. That's good. Now I have to avoid doing anything stupid over the next 2 weeks.

25 Mar
18 miles, 2:22:41, 7:56 pace, HR 142
26 Mar
5.1 miles, 43:17, 8:29 pace, HR 129
27 Mar
6.2 miles, 50:05, 8:05 pace, HR 136

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Post Race

With all the buzz surrounding the event, it was not surprising that I found a few more photos of the Ballycotton race.

The one from somewhere around mile 6 (from the Eagle AC website) shows that maybe I should have relaxed a bit more. That’s easy to say afterwards, of course.

The next one (from Eagle AC again) shows me at probably the worst moment, about half a mile from the finish, and I have just been overtaken by an entire group of 4 runners. I checked the race numbers, they all finished ahead of me.

And I was really annoyed with myself when I saw that one (thanks, Private) for looking at the Garmin instead of racing to the finish. This was a quarter mile away from the line. What was there to do but to bust a gut and run like hell? I didn’t need to know anything on the watch. I cannot even remember looking at it and sure as hell don’t remember what the display might have said. I thought I had weaned myself off that kind of pointless behaviour!

As for my disappointing finish, I think the most likely explanation is fatigue from the 22/15 workout during the week. I had thought the previous week’s marathon was a tough workout and that double header would be easier on the body, but that didn’t seem to be the case. I think the fact that I ran the marathon at leisurely pace while I speeded up for the last 4 miles in both days of the double workout would explain that.

To be totally honest, my confidence has taken a slight knock. I thought I was in better shape than at the same stage last year and to finish in a slower time was an unwelcome surprise.

In order to give my legs some rest, I went swimming on Monday. Again, the pool workout was a bit too much like hard work for my liking and I seemed to get out of breath very easily. The only reason why I didn’t call it a day early is that I had paid for the pool time and didn’t want to see the money wasted.

Two more easy days followed which means that race day was the only hard day in 7 days, as I had taken 3 easy days before the race as well. With only 18 days until Connemara, I guess that means I’m tapering. 18 miles tomorrow, maybe 15 next week, and that’s it, apart from a few tempo miles and the obligatory recovery runs. The training is basically done. Already.
22 Mar
45 minutes swimming
23 Mar
5 miles, 40:19, 8:04 pace, HR 137
24 Mar
6.15 miles, 51:28, 8:22 pace, HR 134

Sunday, March 21, 2010


It was that time of the year again. Actually it was 2 weeks later than usual, but that suited me just fine. Today was Ballycotton Day, and even our beloved neighbours from across the Irish Sea think it's one of the 10 best races in the world.

With 3 weeks to go to Connemara, this was my last race in preparation for the Big One. But it had slightly more meaning to me than the other ones. All the Killarney races were C races, and this was a B one. I didn't compromise my Ultra training for this event, but I still wanted to do well. I was quite optimistic, especially after last week's excellent tempo run. I expected to run 63:xx for this, and who knows, even have a shot at a new PB, which stands at 63:01, my best race ever according to all comparison calculators out there.

I dropped by at Grellan's on my way for a cup of tea and some chat. We haven't met since Dublin, and I think the previous occasion was in Ballycotton last year, so this was a rare event. I collected his timing chip to return to the organisers, which would safe him having to post it, and was off to the race.

I arrived in good time, but somehow must have gotten confused about the time available before the start. Since the start line is at the end of a very small cul-de-sac with 3000 runners cramped into a tiny space, you have to there early or you're stuck at the end of a very long line. Guess what happened to me. Well, I must have said “excuse me” and “thank you” a hundred time as I wriggled my way through the masses, probably annoying quite a few others in the process. Apologies. But eventually, and against all odd, I ended up halfway between the 58 and 65 minutes sign, exactly where I was supposed to be in theory. Since everyone cheats at this, I was still further behind than optimal, though.

The weather was surprisingly nice, the rain clouds didn't turn up until much later and it was sunny all the way. The wind was definitely stronger than I would have liked, but no worse than last year. There would be no excuses.

It took me about 25 seconds to cross the line, and initially it was really frustrating because we were still shuffling at very slow speed, but things improved quickly enough and within half a minute I was running at race pace. I tried to keep the weaving around to a minimum, but of course there were plenty of idiots who had started way ahead of their abilities.

As I passed the first mile someone called out the time, and it was almost 6:50. For a second I panicked until I remembered that this of course included the time it took to cross the start line, and my actual time was 6:23, by far my fastest ever starting mile in Ballycotton. Note: the mile splits in this report are the Garmin's, which differ from the official ones. Of course, in the end the official ones are the only ones that count.

The second mile is still downhill, in fact it is more downhill than the first one. However, we're not talking about major hills here. I think no mile has more than 30 feet net elevation change. I was still passing runners by the dozen, but actually I was running with plenty spare. Eventually I attached myself to the shoulder of two runners who were doing decent pace, hoping to get some shelter from the blustery wind. The second mile passed in 6:19.

Halfway through the third mile I finally decided to put the hammer down and race at full effort. Up to then I felt like I always had a gear to spare, and now I was throwing caution to the wind; quite literally in fact, because now I had to face it myself. Despite this, the third mile took 6:25, definitely slower than I would have hoped.

Somewhere here I passed Seamus, whom I had battled with in the M40 age group in the recent Killarney race series. I told him I felt fantastic and, as if to prove it, injected another burst of speed. I also met a few other runners I knew as I pressed on. Mile 4 passed in 6:20, close to goal speed.

For a new PB I would need 6:18 pace and 6:23 would be the slowest possible for a 63:xx final time. At that time I was well on my way for the second and had certainly not given up on the first one yet. But the fifth mile was slightly uphill, and the wind did not help. 6:29 was not bad in the circumstances, but then I passed the 5 mile timer (the official one, not the Garmin's) pretty much exactly in 32 minutes, which was a bit slower than hoped for. But I still felt good, and was hoping for better in the second half.

The next mile was the worst as far as the wind was concerned. I tried to shelter behind some runners, but each time got impatient quickly and went past, catching up to the next one, which at times took quite a while because there were some fairly big gaps to close. Somewhere around here I was passed for the first time myself, two runners in quick succession went past at serious speed. I tried to hang on, but the pace was a bit too high and I let them go. Mile 6 was the slowest so far at 6:35, but that can be attributed to the wind. The problem was, even though for the rest of the race we would not have to face the wind head-on, I'm pretty sure we had to fight it more than it would help us.

Shortly after the 6 mile mark we passed the 10k line at 40:08. At that point I started having doubts, because this was definitely a bit slower than I had hoped for. Maybe it was the realisation that I didn't run quite as fast as hoped for, or maybe I was simply getting tired from the race effort, but from here on it felt markedly harder. But I was still passing runners by the bucket load and mile 7, slightly downhill, was quite quick again at 6:20.

The eighth mile contained the third water station and I tried to grab a cup from the last volunteer in the line. Just as I was about to take it he withdrew his outstretched hand and I was left grasping thin air. What was that all about? Anyway, I didn't really need water at that stage. I passed two familiar faces on this mile, the legend that is Mary Sweeney, and John Desmond, which was a bit of a surprise, because I normally don't pass sub-3 marathoners. I called out a greeting, but he didn't seem to hear me. He looked pretty knackered, to be honest and I know how that feels. Mile 8 was good again at 6:20 again.

However, this is where things were getting really tough. The last two miles are uphill, and the steepest part is during the ninth mile, leading to a sharp left bend in the road. This is where I lost it completely. I had just overtaken a few more runners and was right behind two more when all of a sudden the quads turned to lead, the lungs could not provide sufficient oxygen and the hill seemed much steeper than before. I checked the Garmin which displayed 8.8 miles, and at that point this seemed a very, very long way from the finish. Last year I had a great finish, still passing plenty of runners, but things were not to be repeated today. A 6:35 mile was the result, still not that bad, but my HR was getting out of control and the effort was sky high.

At that point I was being passed by a group of 4 or 5 runners, all of whom I had passed not long ago, and I did not have the strength to keep up. Eventually the road got more reasonable, at times levelling out, at other times rising more gradually, and I recovered from my low. With about half a mile to go I managed to edge closer to some runners again, and with a quarter mile left I started overtaking two or three again. Then we were already at the apex of the hill and a few seconds later we crossed the finish line. The last Garmin mile had taken 6:39, but there were still 19 seconds of running left for the real 10-mile marker, and I was done in 64:50.

To be honest, I was quite disappointed. I didn't even look at the finisher's mug, didn't really stop at the finish, just had a few words with Pat and then a couple of other runners I knew, then hurried through the baggage area. Since I was still on my no-sugar pledge for lent I packed the Mars bar away (Niamh enjoyed it later) and just had the banana. When I nearly threw it up again I wondered if the very slight cold I'd had over the last few days had some effect. It doesn't really bother me apart from some coughing in the morning, but after an hour at race effort things might be different. I had a couple of sandwiches, and forced myself to do a cool-down jog, even though I really did not feel like it, and once more almost got re-acquainted with the contents of my stomach, but got away with it. Having said that, within half an hour my stomach settled down again and I could eat without problems.

The results were delivered very quickly. I came 193rd, better than last year, even though my time was slower. I noticed that 61:58 was fast enough to come in the top 100, which is definitely slower than normal, so maybe conditions were a bit tougher than usual. If you go by chip time, I was 183rd. If I ever manage to start further ahead in the field, I think I could do better (but the top 100 t-shirt is out of reach, sadly). I must have passed about 200 runners during the race, and got passed about 7 times myself. I really need to start further ahead.

[Update: thank you to Paudie Birmingham for the race photos]

20 Mar
5 miles, 40:32, 8:06 pace, HR 135
21 Mar
18 miles, incl:
Ballycotton 10 mile race, 65:18, 193rd gun/ 64:50,183rd chip,
29th M40, avg. HR 173
6:23, 6:19, 6:25, 6:20, 6:29, 6:35, 6:20, 6:20, 6:35, 6:39 (0:19)

Weekly Mileage: 71

Friday, March 19, 2010

Budding Artist

With only 3 weeks left until Connemara I thought I had taken it relatively easy with my 22/15 workouts this week. What I had not quite factored in was how stiff I would feel after running the last few miles of both runs at a significantly faster pace. Well, I hadn’t exactly planned on doing it. But I’m dealing with the fallout now, I was quite sore yesterday and I really did not enjoy my swimming workout, which was a first. Things did improve today, but not by an awful lot. First of all, I overslept. I can’t even remember the last time this happened. I always set the radio alarm on my side of the bed to a barely audible volume. That ensures that Niamh doesn’t get woken but is sufficient to wake me – until today that is. I must have slept deeper than usual (in fact, most days I’m awake before the alarm anyway) and when I opened my eyes at 7 o’clock I realised I had slept through it.

It didn’t help that both Shea and Maia were awake as well, and I had to fix up breakfast before I was able to leave, but I still had time for 5 miles, as long as I hurried afterwards, getting ready for work. The first mile was still rather stiff and sore, but things improved and I included a set of strides towards the end. I should have done those much more regularly, but I simply don’t think of it most of the time.

Enough of that, have a look at this:

I think we have yet another child prodigy on our hands, Maia drew this picture of a “crawly, crawly spider”, and she’s still well over half a year away from her third birthday (no, Ewen, don’t make the joke about the signature even more impressive for a 2-year old). I had to scan it to preserve it through the ages. It’s at least as impressive as Cian’s early work.

Should I mention the change of plans I hinted at last time? I guess so. Sorry John, still no Fling this year. See, I drew up my plans for 2010 about half a year ago. I would run Connemara in April, a charity marathon (only one!) in July as a training run and Dingle in September. When I started contemplating racing the charity marathon rather than running it as a training run I knew I would be asking for trouble, 2 months before Dingle. Anyway, I decided to add an extra marathon there, 3 months before Dingle, which conveniently happens to be Cork. And I’ll race it. When I went through my old training diaries after Sunday’s tempo run I realised that I had never even gotten within 10 seconds per mile of that pace for a tempo run. I must be in good shape, not just for an ultra but also for a marathon, and I want to put that to the test. I know I can handle Connemara and Cork in the same year, because I did just that 2 years ago and had a great marathon (still my second fastest).
18 Mar
45 minutes swimming
19 Mar
5 miles, 40:32, 8:06 pace, HR 137
incl. 6x100 strides

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Paddys Day

I could see the orange glow before I even opened the door. At first I thought it was a reflection of our hall light, but as I stepped out I realised that the mountain was engulfed in flames. This didn't bode well for my run, because the loop around Caragh Lake would lead me right into this. I decided to give it a go anyway, but do it the other way round so that I would hit that area after 2 miles rather than 13, in which case turning around would be much less of an issue. I only got half a mile down the road when I encountered two fire engines blocking off the road. I approached them and asked one fireman if the road was closed. He said no, it was passable. But when I inquired if it would be safe for running, he did a double take. I could see the thought forming in his head. “It's not even 5 o'clock in the morning and that weirdo wants to go running?”. Anyway, he advised against it because of the smoke, I thanked him and turned around. I quickly came up with an alternative route, namely a few laps around the Devil's Elbow. This would give me even more climbing as each loop contains a steep nasty climb of about 500 feet. For the next 3 hours I did exactly that, 3 loops, and on top of the ridge I had a perfect view of the five huge fire columns on the other side of the lake. It looked very impressive, from a safe distance at least. The run went very well. One side effect of running 30 miles for training is that I now view 22 miles as an easy workout. Once I had left the hill behind me for the last time I increased the effort for the last 4.5 miles, which turned out to be 7:10 pace. I enjoyed myself so much that I missed the turnaround point on an out-and back section to make up the miles and ended up with a little bit extra. I felt great afterwards.

Paddy's Day today had the not inconsiderable advantage of being able to lie in and still put 15 miles on the road before breakfast. I was awake at 6, up at 6:30, and, after fixing breakfast for Shea (an early riser as well), was out of the door at 7. Luxury! It had been raining all night which finally took care of the fires, but I decided to revisit the Devil's Elbow for 2 more loops. Running the day after a long run is always challenging at first, your legs feel stiff and tired and you can't imagine spending a couple of hours running, but after 2 miles I was into my stride and the miles clicked by. As I was cresting the hill for the second time I did enjoy the fact that this was the fifth and last time I had to drag myself over that hill in 24 (ok, 27) hours.

Since I did not have to be home at a set time I toyed with the idea of adding a bit extra, but then thought that I would spend plenty of time on my feet for the rest of the day and went home. The time on feet did materialise later in form of Killorglin's Patrick Day's parade. We had to split up the family, Niamh took the boys to Glenbeigh for the walk with their school and I brought the girls to Killorglin for Lola's school's march. I got roped into walking the parade rather than watching it from the sidelines, which is why I don't have any real photos of it. The weather turned warm and sunny just in time, and nobody's parade got rained on. As you can imagine, the boys were thrilled to be inside a real fire engine. The kids all got their sweets, which ensured happy faces all round.

I got a slight change of plans for the next few months, but I'll keep that under wraps for now. Laters.
15 Mar
5 miles, 40:23, 8:04 pace, HR 131
16 Mar
22.1 miles, 2:54:23, 7:53 pace, HR 142
last 4.5 miles @ 7:10
17 Mar
15.15 miles, 2:01:08, 7:59 pace, HR 145
last 4 miles @ 7:25 pace

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mothers Day

I hardly know what to do with myself today. It’s the first weekend in 7 weeks without a race! After years of Kerry being almost entirely devoid of road races this sport has really taken off around here and these days I end up missing races within the county because of sheer numbers. However, today is the exception and since it coincides with Mothers Day, it’s quite a lucky coincidence.

After not feeling any muscle pain or fatigue on either Wednesday or Thursday after my early morning marathon, I was quite surprised when it all caught up with me on Friday. I was really tired, not just during my early morning run but all day, and on the run itself I felt rather stiff and awkward at first, though that rectified itself soon enough. My heart rate was very low, which is a very good sign and I’m rather confident I’ll be in Connemara right at peak shape.

Due to the lack of a race this weekend I did a faster training workout on Saturday. Since my training has been dominated by the long runs and then a short race at the weekend, I haven’t had many opportunities for tempo runs and this part of training has been rather neglected. Luckily I’m not training for a marathon, where this would definitely have consequences; I’m hopeful it won’t have much of an impact for an ultra. Anyway, I did 2x3.5 mile yesterday on the reasonably flat road to Killorglin. I used to do a lot of these runs 2 years ago when training for Dublin and was usually frustrated by my lack of ability to hit the intended pace and by the slowdown during the second tempo segment. These days I’m not bothered about the exact pace any more, but my goal was to run the fast segments somewhere around 6:30 pace. I was quite pleased when the first section came through in 6:25, though as soon as I hit the second part I pretty much knew that it would be slower. The half mile recovery between the fast runs always leaves me feeling stiff at the start of the second part. Anyway, the pace was still not bad and eventually averaged out at 6:32, which I definitely would have taken beforehand.

I knew the kids had planned a few surprises for Niamh for today and I also knew from experience that there will be a lot less cleaning up to do (and a lot fewer things broken) if they are supervised when doing this. When I heard whispering at around 7:30 this morning I was out of the bed in a flash and we got busy in the kitchen. Niamh got breakfast in bed (scrambled egg with smoked salmon), which she approved of, but she had even more praise for the kids’ presents. Later she asked to go for a walk and suggested to take the twins up to the Devil’s Elbow while I minded Cian and Maia. Maia is too big to be carried up the mountain but too small to walk all the way by herself at the moment. My alternative suggestion, that she’d take the three older ones while I run with Maia in the pram was accepted and we were soon off. We did not expect the road to the picnic spot to be blocked off for cars all of a sudden, which meant a longer walk for her, though it didn’t make any difference for Maia and me. As I found out, pushing a pram up a hill at about 8% gradient is rather hard work; who would have thought that 13-minute miles could be so strenuous. Actually, it did remind me of the mountain race last year, when an even slower pace was just as exhausting. Anyway, we managed to catch up with them halfway through, but the pram could not go to the top and we left the rest of them on their adventure, descending the road in the “speedy, speedy pram” (Maia’s words). She really seemed to enjoy the outing, but after being full of chat early on she got more and more quite as the run went on, and after 6 miles the 2 of us were back home. We should do that more often.

12 Mar
6.1 miles, 50:37, 8:16 pace, HR 131
13 Mar
10.1 miles, 1:10:21, 6:58 pace, HR 156
incl. 2x3.5 miles @ 6:26 (HR 164), 6:32 (HR 166)
14 Mar
6 miles, 53:01, 8:48 pace, HR 150
with Maia in the pram

Weekly Mileage: ~62 miles

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Race Review, Ultra Training

It certainly took a while, but on Tuesday I finally found some results from Saturday’s duathlon. I got a few surprises. I came 15th overall and 3rd M40, which is not the surprising bit. One thing that struck me is that I was just about the slowest person in both transitions. I already knew that I had left a lot of time in the second transition, but I had thought that the first transition had gone reasonably well. Apparently not. But what really blew my mind was the fact that I had the third fastest time in the second running leg! Only the overall winner and the fourth placed athlete had posted a faster second run time. What can I learn from it all?
  1. Practise transitions. They really are worth it.
  2. Buy some lock laces.
  3. Run the first run harder.
  4. Do some bike training.

Admittedly, none of that is too enlightening.

Moving on, the focus is very much back on Connemara. After three easy days following Saturday’s race, I was up early again on Wednesday. Niamh immediately knew what I was up to when she saw me prepare a sports drink on Tuesday evening.

Niamh: “Running long tomorrow?”
Thomas: “Yup”
Niamh: “It really must be long if even you admit to it being a long run”

Then I set the alarm for 3:45, got up after a few hours of sleep and ran a very hilly marathon.

Originally I had planned another 30 miler but decided to play it safe (well … different shades of safe) and “only” did a bit over 26 miles. But unlike the 30 miler from a fortnight ago and the 25 mile run before that, this time I ran around Caragh Lake, and I ran the loop counter-clockwise to get to the really big climb late in the run, to make it more specific to the Connemara topography. In fact, it was very specific, with 10 flat(-ish) miles at the start(just like Connemara) and more and bigger hills as the run went on (just like Connemara). I took a gel at mile 10 and then brought a bottle of sports drink with me. I had not tried that brand before, but an awful lot of American ultra runners are singing its praises, so a few weeks ago I ordered some (Shit! I paid how much for shipping???) and now it was time to try it out in the field. The good news is that my stomach seems to like it. The bad news is that my taste buds don’t. But I think I’ll use it for Connemara. It’s more trustworthy than my own concoction of slim-fast and rice milk, even though that seemed to work very well on my first Ultra, three years ago.

I also tested the Nike Lunar Elites on that run. They came through very well, and are now firm favourites to be used in Connemara. My feet were in excellent condition throughout. What amazed me was how fresh I felt after running over 26 miles in 3:39 on a ridiculously hilly course. I wasn’t even fatigued yet, even though I had lowered the pace to about 7:20 after 20 miles of 8:30. Niamh remarked that I did not look like someone who had just run long. I felt great, was full of energy for the rest of the day (no nodding off at work, Ewen), and one day later there is still no muscle soreness.

However, I did have some pains in my left shin. I noticed it first during some of the descents after mile 20, which I ran fairly hard, but it was still ok at the time. It became a lot worse during the day, and at one stage in the afternoon I was hobbling through the office. Cycling home seemed to do it some good and I played with the idea of adding a 15 mile run today, to make this a back-to-back workout. From an energy point of view I would have pulled it off easily, but in the end (in fact, in the middle of the night when my shin was still sore) I decided to play it safe and packed my swimming bag instead. With 4 weeks to go to Connemara I do not want to risk injury, and 45 minutes in the pool had to do instead. On the plus side, my shin seems to have recovered. I’m pain free already.

Niamh’s cold seems to have passed me by, my sore throat was gone yesterday morning and I feel perfectly fine. It’s really cool to be able to run a marathon and not even feel sore. I have never been in such ultra-running shape before, and I have to admit I like it.
10 Mar
26.3 miles, 3:39:17, 8:20 pace, HR 134
11 Mar
45 minutes swimming

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


I know I have been mentioning my weight a couple of times. I assure you, this has nothing to do with body image concerns and everything to do with trying to improve my running times. I can’t even spot 5 pounds of difference in the mirror, not that I keep a close eye. A few weeks ago I purchased a book about this issue, Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald (the author of Brain Training for Runners), and found it very, very good. He gives loads of information about nutrition, clears up a lot of myths about carbs, proteins, fat and their ratios and has several good suggestions; if you want to implement them is entirely up to you.

One thing I did for a week or two was to keep a food diary. I had tried that once before, but this time really made an effort to keep it as accurate as possible. Apparently I take in about 2500 calories a day, and the ratios tend to be around 60 carbs/20 protein/20 fat, or maybe a bit more carbs. From what I gather from the book, this is perfectly fine.

The other suggestion I followed was purchasing a scale that displays your body fat percentage. I really had to swallow my pride for that one as I had always taken the piss out of these contraptions before. Actually, I would not have gotten one had the local German discount supermarket not offered one in a special deal the other week. Even if it’s useless, 20 Euro is no big loss. When I set up my details (age, height and activity level) I got a bit of a surprise. The highest activity level sounded appropriate from the manual (it even mentions intensive running), and my body fat percentage came out as 5%. I know with absolute certainty that this can’t be right. I tried again with the next lower activity level (up to 20 mins jogging, 3-4 times a week) and all other setting left the same, and the much more believable result was about 11%. This does not exactly give me a lot of confidence in the algorithm used, but will do as a baseline. As Matt Fitzgerald points out, consistency is more important than accuracy, because even if the results are out by a few percent you can still follow your ups and downs.

Anyway, the irony is that after reading all those clever things the one thing that made a change had nothing to do with anything from the book. You might remember that I have given up sugar for lent (which I’m still adhering to), and by now the weight loss is over 5 pounds, from over 150lbs/10st10/68kg to 145lbs/10st5/65.8kg, and amazingly this has been achieved despite never going hungry in the mean time. Just how much chocolate had I been eating? What helps is having plenty of fruit right at my desk as well as in the fruit bowl at home, and things like peanuts and almonds for grazing (another one of Matt’s tips). This really seems to work. If only I had known earlier. Niamh refused to step on the scales as she was worried I might have caught up, but this was eventually proven wrong. There is still a gap between us, much to her relief.

As far as running is concerned, there was a fair amount of discomfort in my quads, and it felt different to anything I’ve ever gotten before, so I guess it’s the cycling that’s responsible for that. Looking back at the race, I was quite disappointed to see my HR graph for the cycle leg where the HR was dropping steadily from over 170 at the beginning to 160 at the end, which is not what I would like it to look like. But I can’t be too critical about my racing performance seeing as I had gone into the race on exactly zero bike specific training, just falling back onto my basic running fitness and the commuting miles. It was always clear that there would be room for improvement, and only losing 2 places during the entire cycle leg was much better than expected anyway.

I have been taking it very easy running wise since then; the one workout that pleased me most were just over 60 minutes of swimming in the pool on Sunday, which shows that my swimming fitness is definitely improving, even if the swimming pace still seems painfully slow.

6 miles on a beautiful Sunday morning were followed by 8 very slow ones in the icy cold temperatures of early Monday, with 5 more today. The HR on Monday was very low and there was a big jump in that reading today, even though I do not feel any different. There are two possible explanations for this. Either today’s reading was wrong, or my body is fighting off the cold that had affected Niamh over the last two days. She felt really rotten on Sunday and Monday but is much better now. I’ve had a sore throat for the last 2 days and the girls both have runny noses, so there is definitely something doing the rounds in our household. With just over 4 weeks to go to Connemara, getting sick now would be a complete disaster.
7 Mar
am: 6.1 miles, 49:32, 8:07 pace, HR 134
pm: 60+ minutes swimming
8 Mar
8 miles, 1:08:24, 8:33 pace, HR 130
9 Mar
5 miles, 41:18, 8:16 pace, HR 141(?)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Lure Of The Dark Side

After five years of running, mostly on roads (plus one mountain race), I decided to dip my toe … no, not into the water, because that would be the wrong picture as there’s no water involved in a duathlon. But it was my first ever competitive outing that required some strange mechanical contraption with wheels between myself and the road.

After taking it easy after the long midweek training runs I felt pretty much ready for anything. I measured my resting heart rate in the morning, for the first time in quite a while, which came up with 38, a figure I only get when I’m pretty much in top shape. But there was no denying that I was rather nervous.

Niamh took all the kids to Tralee, and shortly afterwards I hopped onto the bike for the short trip into Killorglin, where the race was staged. I got there almost an hour before the start and the place was buzzing and the bicycle racks were almost full already – a very different scene to what a running race would have looked like so far ahead of the start. After my usual warm-up we got a briefing from the race referee, and everything was rather serious. Even though I was mostly concerned with having fun, it was clear that many others were taking this very seriously indeed. There were some seriously mean looking bikes at display, and I felt a bit intimidated with my road bike, but when I took a second look I noticed that most bikes were much closer to mine in race worthiness than the mean machines.

The first leg was a 5K run, though it was a bit shorter than that in reality. I expected to be fairly close to the front, to be honest, then to fall back on the bike, and then see what would happen on the second run leg. I was therefore rather surprised by the sheer number of runners who sped off at the front at great speed. Since I would be out there for well over an hour, I was not going to tire myself out at 5K race pace and settled into a slower pace that felt closer to jogging. Or so I thought, because when I glanced at the Garmin after a couple of minutes it showed I was doing about 5:50 pace. That didn’t really matter as we were soon climbing the big hill, but to be fair it was the only real hill we had to battle today. I kept my place on the climb and gained half a dozen on the subsequent descent. Then we turned left onto the old road and took a long sweeping curve around the hill we had just climbed, back into Killorglin. While some of that road is not part of my usual training routes, I am familiar with all of it. There was not much to say about the first run, and I was back at the race HQ after just over 17 minutes of running, 6:21 pace.

Despite reading about the necessity of it, I had never practised a transition. I managed to put on my helmet before taking my bike of the rack, which was the major thing that had been hammered into us at the briefing. I changed my shoes, which went well, but had troubles switching my Garmin to running mode, which took about 3 tries. It only cost a couple of seconds, but I really wanted it on the bike setting so that it would display may cadence, the only bit of information I was really interested in.

I had no idea what to expect on this leg. I have not done any cycling training at all, but have been using the bike for my commute, about 5 miles each way. This today was to be twice as long and at much faster pace, and I was a bit worried about being shown up badly. Things started off pretty well when I immediately overtook another competitor, which was an unexpected bonus. For almost 4 miles we cycled along the main road in the direction of Glenbeigh. I lost two places on this stretch; the race referee had warned us about the drafting rules, but those guys were going past me at quite some pace and there was never any danger of me violating that rule, even if I had wanted to. But apart from these 2 minor setbacks, things went very smoothly and I felt like flying. But even at that stage I was aware that the main reason for this was the blustery wind at our backs, and obviously we would have to pay for that later on. One thing I noticed was that I held a much higher cadence than the other riders. I did check my Garmin on several occasions and I was usually a little over 90, while others were clearly doing less than that. But I felt more comfortable at spinning the crank faster and didn’t feel like I had the power in the quads to switch to a different gear.

Eventually we reached the school road towards Cromane, again a road that I’m rather familiar with, but usually I’m running it, and in the opposite direction. Anyway, I was still holding my own, and still spinning the wheels. In fact, I managed to keep the other rider in front at roughly the same distance. Almost 6 miles into the cycle leg we took a sharp right turn onto the Cromane road and headed back towards Killorglin. This is where the wind really became a factor. A time trial bike would have given a real advantage here, but me, and in fact all the riders close to me, had to battle the elements on more ordinary bikes. I lost one more place (a net loss of 2 on the cycle leg so far), and then the road became really, really bumpy. We had been told about this, and it didn’t catch me entirely by surprise, but it was a lot worse than I had thought. Between the wind and the very uneven road surface, the fun factor started dropping like a lead balloon, but all I could do was to keep going as fast as I could. Since I seemed to be the only rider in running shorts (I simply don’t have the cycle equipment and no inclination of spending my money on it either), it is entirely feasible that I was the only one whose bum was getting numb from being bounced on the saddle like that, but I doubt it. Eventually, after what seemed like a very long ride on the road to hell, we emerged back on the main road and things became smooth again. The roads were not closed to traffic, by the way, but it never became an issue. I had to cross the roads several times, both on the bike and on foot, and each time the stewards cleared the road for me. A big thank you should go to the flawless organisation of the event as well as the understanding drivers in Kerry (who aren’t always as accommodating).

I did lose contact to the riders ahead of me on the last stretch, but not by too much. As I was nearing the race HQ again, a steward reminded me to dismount the bike, which I would have forgotten otherwise in all the excitement. However, unaccustomed as I am to these things, I lost my balance as the cleats on my shoes came into contact with the tarmac of the road and I fell over, acquiring a bloody knee in the process. Full of endorphins as I was I didn’t feel any pain at all, just shouted “I’m ok, I’m ok” to whoever wanted to come to my aid, grabbed my bike and ran into the second transition. A tad over 9.5 miles had taken me almost exactly 31 minutes (~18.4 mph, avg. cadence 92).

The bike rack was pleasingly empty, and I found my place without problems. However, frantic as I was I had real troubles getting my shoes off my feet. I should have been easy enough, just press the red button and get out, but nothing moved. Eventually I told myself to calm down and take a few breaths, and when I tried it again it all worked as it should. Then I had troubles again tying the laces of my running shoes. That’s the one problem I’m ready to throw money at for the next time, triathlon lock laces would have saved me half a minute in there. When I finally emerged from the second transition area I saw three guys ahead of me that didn’t look at all like the guys I had been close to during the cycle leg. Sh*t, just how much time had I just spent in that transition?

I was so glad to be back to a real sport again and spun my legs for fun. There were three guys just ahead of me, who must have overtaken me while I was fighting my shoes, and three more guys in the far distance who presumably were the ones I had been close to during the cycle leg. I almost immediately went past the first guy, and even before the hill I was past the second one and close to the third one. The legs felt really weird. I have heard often enough that the main thing in triathlon running is how your legs feel after the bike, and I think I now know what they are talking about. My calves and hamstrings kept sending unfamiliar messages, nothing I had ever felt before, but it didn’t stop me from running pretty much all out. I followed the next guy up the hill, and by the time we had reached the top the cycle leg had been forgotten and I had my running legs back. I left the guy behind on the descent and started working on the massive gap to the guys in front.

I was making surprisingly good progress. Halfway into the run I was very close to the next guy, but as soon as I got within a couple of steps he took off and opened another gap. Ok, let’s try this again. Working as hard as I could I closed the gap again, and once more he took off. Bastard! On the plus side, we both went past another guy who had clearly slowed down. And we were chasing another runner, clad in orange. Gaps kept shrinking, but I was running out of road. I was still a good bit behind both of them when we turned onto the main road for the last time and saw the finish right in front of us. Had this been a true 5K I might have caught both of them, but I ran out of road and finished about 4 and 2 seconds behind them respectively. Ah well, gaining 4 places on the second running leg was good work, and the pace on that stretch had been 6:25, which isn’t bad, an hour into a race.

Anyway, before the race I had expected about 20 minutes for each running leg, 35 minutes for the bike and something for the transitions, which would have given me a time of 1:15 – 1:17, but in fact it only took about 1:08 (I haven’t seen any results at the time of writing) and I was quite pleased. There is definitely plenty of room for improvement, especially on the bike (where the HR was dropping all the way through) and in the transition, but for a first outing I was happy enough with the result. The runner I had chased over the last 2 miles came up to me and basically thanked me for pushing him along, and I managed to avoid telling him who much I would have loved to beat him. I kept hanging around for a while socialising, avoiding the chocolate bars (but pinching some for the kids), and eventually swung back on my bike and headed home. On a gorgeous day like today, this was great. But there’s no doubt about it, I’m still a runner.

All the best to Grellan in Barcelona. I really, really, really hope you can break 3 hours, mate.
4 Mar
50 minutes swimming
5 Mar
6.1 miles, 49:47, 8:10 pace, HR 134
6 Mar
11+ miles running, 9.5 miles cycling, including:
Puck Warriors Duathlon Killorglin, ~1:08

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


With less than 6 weeks to go until Connemara, it’s time to pick a pair of runners for said race, a not entirely inconsequential task, I might add. I have run virtually every race since last year in Nike Lunaracers, which happen to be the perfect racing shoe, in my humble opinion, from 5K to marathon. The trouble is, I’m probably too chicken to use a pair of flats for an Ultra. While I have run 3 marathons in these babies without any foot problems, adding another 13 mile distance may be pushing it a bit. I don’t know, but apart from trying it out once there is no real way of finding out.

Until 2 weeks ago, my shoe cabinet contained 4 pairs of runners:
  1. Asics Stratus, ~100 miles, 360 grams
  2. Nike Skylon, ~200 miles, 298 grams
  3. Nike Lunaracer, ~500 miles, 175 grams
  4. Nike Lunaracers, 80 miles, 186

The second pair of Lunas were supposed to be the replacement for the first, and indeed saw action in Dublin, but then I was too cheap to throw out the old pair and used it in every race since. Last Saturday I noticed that the upper has started detaching itself from the sole and it might finally be time to say good-bye. Anyway, I recently acquired 2 more pairs, one with the intention of using them in the Ultra, the other one to stay in the cupboard until being called upon:
  1. Nike Lunar Elite, by now 38 miles, 306 grams
  2. Asics Speedstar, 0 miles, 260 grams

I purchased the Elites after reading a review on the web where I got the impression that they were a slightly more cushioned version of the racers, which sounded just perfect for Connemara. When they arrived I was more than a bit annoyed to find them almost twice the weight of the racers and even heavier than the Skylons. They also included some stability features, which I neither need nor want. Having said that, after taking them for a few runs I have to admit that they seem quite comfortable, an the additional 8 grams in comparison to the Skylons are hardly telling (btw, I used the Skylons for my 30 mile run last week). At the moment they are probably slight favourites for the Connemara job, but I haven’t ruled out the Skylons or the Lunaracers either.

As for the training, Monday was an easy day, the second one in a row after Saturday’s race, and the original plan was to run another 20/20 sandwich on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday went according to plan, the conditions under an almost Full Moon were ideal and I ran reasonably close to 8:00 pace, my (dream) goal pace in Connemara, over the very hilly Caragh Lake route (yes, hillier than Connemara on average). But I could not fail but notice the soreness in my quads for the rest of the day, which made me question the wisdom of another 20 miler immediately afterwards.

I was still undecided by bed time, and set the alarm in time for 20 miles. But when I woke ion the middle of the night to go to the toilet, the quads seemed worse than during the day; but the real clincher was the rain and wind I could hear outside. It sounded truly miserable, and after some soul searching I reset the alarm for 5:10 am, in time for one 16.5 loop around the lake.

The forecast had been awful for the night, but it wasn’t quite as bad. It was raining, but not as heavy as I feared. But in contrast to the forecast it was not windy and that made all the difference. Thanks to the Full Moon it was very bright, even through the thick cloud cover, and the rain stopped about an hour into my run. My legs felt very weary, and I knew from the first step that the next 135 minutes would not be the most fun-filled ones I’d ever had, but I managed to drag myself across the hills and down into the valleys, and by the time I was back home the sun was shining, the clouds had completely disappeared and it was a really beautiful day. I felt I was the only person in Kerry who knew how miserable it had been 2 hours earlier, but kept that my little secret.

The quads are not actually sore, but they do feel very tired and heavy. I guess cutting down today’s run was the right thing to do, and I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there arguing that I’m overdoing it as it is, especially with last week’s 30 miler in mind.

It was so nice at lunchtime that I could not resist leaving the office for a 20 minutes extra spin on the bike in the sun. If the roads were not in such awful condition after last winter it would have been even better, but you can’t have everything.
1 Mar
5 miles, 42:12, 8:26 pace, HR 131
2 Mar
20 miles, 2:41:48, 8:05 pace, HR 143
3 Mar
16.5 miles, 2:17:08, 8:19 pace, HR 137