Sunday, May 30, 2010

Another One

Niamh: Say, are you serious about running for almost 8 hours in Dingle?
Thomas: Stop reading my private email!
Niamh: It’s a joint email address. Get your own one if you don’t want me to read it. Well, are you serious about running for almost 8 hours?
Thomas: Initially I said 8 hours. It took me 5:15 for 39 miles in Connemara, that would leave me 2-and a half hours for the last 11 miles to reach 7:45.
Niamh: You’re insane.

Maybe I am. She’s not the first one to say that, and she’s not the first the first one to say it referring to Dingle either.

Potential disaster struck the other day. On Thursday, Shea complained about a sore throat, and on Friday it was bad enough for him to stay home from school. You see where this is going, don’t you? On Saturday, it was my turn, and it was distinctly uncomfortable all day, especially since it came with a dull headache. Today, it’s similar, but slightly worse. Shea was fine after 48 hours, which means I should be ok again by tomorrow; we shall see. But I have been sick before marathons before, and while you may feel recovered when sitting on your chair it’s always different after running 15 miles, and there is now a big question mark over my Cork marathon.

Since it passed the neck test (no symptoms below the neck), I still went out running on both days, though I did notice a raised heart rate today. That’s not good. I’ll see how I feel tomorrow.

29 May
5 miles, 39:29, 7:53 pace, HR 144
30 May
7 miles, 53:28, 7:38 pace, HR 153
incl. 7x100 strides

Friday, May 28, 2010


Niamh: I cannot believe you went running on the morning of the triathlon!
Thomas: You've read my race report, then?
Niamh: Don't you think that was a bit silly?
Thomas: Er, no.
Niamh: Didn't it tire you out?
Thomas: no...
Niamh: And what was that about the happiest day?
Thomas: er... (uh, oh)
Niamh: Bloody Football! And you didn't even mention our Wedding Day!
Thomas: er ...
Niamh: At least the children's births got a mention. But not our Wedding Day!!
Thomas: I said happiest moment, not day!
Niamh: What is it with you and football?
Thomas: I was only joking! And you're not listening to anything I say, do you?
Niamh: Our Wedding Day!!! Bloody Football!!!!

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Sometimes things really come out of nowhere. I didn't see that coming at all. But I did manage to change the subject eventually.

With the marathon only 10 days away, I'm of course tapering. After all the excitement of the triathlon, this week has been rather low-key, and I'm not bouncing off the walls yet. But with only just over a week to go, I don't think I will. Once the countdown hits single digits, time tends to pass quickly enough.

I did 8 miles on Wednesday feeling great. I'm sure Tuesday's complete rest had something to do with that. The pace got rather close to 7:00 while feeling easy before I put on the breaks, just in case. I did a set of 10x100 strides on the way home, which is something I probably should have done much more often, I just keep forgetting about these.

5 easy miles on Thursday were followed by a speed workout of 800s this morning. As ever, my first thought at waking up was “oh no, speedwork”. I don't think this will ever change. The original plan was to do 6 half-mile repeats, but the fifth one was hurting from the first step, so I called it a day after that. This is not the time to wear yourself out and I'm perfectly at peace with that decision. The pace for the repeats was not bad with an average of just under 3:00 per interval, as ever slightly slower against the wind and faster with the wind. I compared them to other workouts before my two fastest marathons, Cork and Dublin 2008, and they stood up well. As long as my legs are able to withstand 26 miles, I'll do well.
26 May
8 miles, 58:40, 7:20 pace, HR 149
27 May
5 miles, 38:39, 7:44 pace, HR 141
28 May
7 miles, 50:52, 7:15 pace, HR 158
incl. 5x800 in 3:05, 2:55, 3:01, 2:57, 2:59

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I really did not think this would happen, but I decided that the triathlon had been so much fun that I immediately signed up for another one, in Caherciveen in 4 weeks time. Funnily enough, this will be so close to Valentia that the swim start will be less than 2 miles from where we had started last Saturday, but the cycle and run will be on the mainland. It will also be a lot less competitive. The Valentia triathlon had been part of the National League series which meant the top triathletes from the entire country had gathered there. In contrast, my time from Valentia, which only got me 150th place, would have been good enough for 19th last year in Caherciveen!

The kids loved watching too, which makes a change from running races. The constant buzz of the transition area had kept them entertained and the fact that they got smoothies and ice cream didn't do any harm either, I guess.

And one look in the results told me that the only athlete who had passed me during the run section was actually a relay runner, and in fact he posted the fastest run time of the day. His pace had been quite an impressive sight, I can assure you.

As for my training, I did 6 easy miles on Sunday morning in Valentia. It was still very quiet at that time, but all day long you could see plenty of very fit looking people either cycling or running all over the place. It was never hard to tell the triathletes from the “normal” tourists. The weather was so spectacularly nice, it felt so much like being on my summer holidays that I had a hard time believing that I would be back in the office the next day.

Before that, there was the small matter of my last longish run, 15 miles on Monday. The legs had still some fatigue from the triathlon in them but managed to get me round Caragh Lake without problems. On the last 3 miles Mother Nature pulled out all the stops to provide me with an amazing spectacle; all of a sudden I could see a huge cloud rolling over the mountains down towards me as I made my way home, and within 5 minutes the absolutely clear morning had turned into an amazingly thick fog, almost plotting out the sun. It felt like being in an old horror movie, only in 3D and life-sized. Niamh did not believe me that it had been bright and sunny earlier on.

Today was a complete rest day *gasp*, to recover not only from that run but also the triathlon. All of a sudden I'm in my taper for Cork. The last few weeks had seen the strangest set of training I've ever done due to the recovery from Connemara. As a result I might not be in my best possible marathon shape, but I'll give it a go anyway.

23 May
6+ miles, 48:22, 7:57 pace, HR 142
24 May
15+ miles, 1:57:24, 7:48 pace, HR 142
25 May

Sunday, May 23, 2010


It was 4 am on Saturday morning and I was wide awake after about 5 hours of sleep. The thought of swimming through the Atlantic was rather heavy on my mind, heavy enough to prevent any more sleep for the rest of the night. No doubt about it – I was rather nervous.

By 7 o'clock staring at the ceiling had lost its fascination and I got up. For lack of anything better to do, I went for a run. I usually go for an early morning run before short races, so why not today? I followed the route that would constitute the run portion of today's triathlon, which is basically up a hill and then turn around and come back again.

Eventually the rest of the family as well as Fionnuala, a friend who would do the race as well, joined me and we slowly got ready. The transition area was supposed to be open at 8am, but when I got there at 9:30, it was still cordoned off. Sigh. We're still in Ireland.

Sitting around doing nothing was not good for my rising anxiety levels and I think at one stage Fionnuala was tempted to throw me out of my own house, my constant fidgeting making even the veteran competitor nervous. Eventually it really was time to go and set up stall. Having Fionnuala around was really helpful and I gathered plenty of little hints and tips. I also appreciated the fact that putting on your wetsuit is not part of the actual race or else I would have been well behind everyone else already. Maybe Niamh was right when she made her remark about my ballooning weight. Having said that, putting it on the wrong way round wasn't the smartest way to start. Ahem.

The Valentia triathlon has a rather unique setting in that the swim portion is from the Irish mainland across the channel to Valentia Island itself. It's a great idea, but swimming through the Atlantic Ocean without any dry piece of land anywhere between the start and the finish was rather intimidating and the major reason for my anxiety.

The transition area was right at the harbour and then all 500 competitors gathered on the ferry for the short journey to the mainland. Well, short if you're on a boat. It's a lot longer if you have to swim. It all happened rather quickly from here on. I had a very quick dip into the water before the first wave set off (after a false start) and there was just enough time for the second wave to assemble at the start and off we were.

Having read enough about the potential mayhem of a mass swim start I kept to the right side of the field, trying to stay out of the worst of the mayhem. Still, for the next 750 meters I kept bumping into bodies coming from all sorts of angles and directions and I had no way of telling if it was me who was swimming zig-zag or them. I kept looking up every now and then and just followed the general direction of the yellow hats in front of me. I had absolutely no idea if I was towards the front, the end or the middle of the field and just tried to keep swimming at a steady rhythm. I had been worried about the fact that there was no wall every 25 meters, but if you don't have the option of resting every now and then you just don't do it and I simply kept going, keeping the effort low enough not to tire myself out unnecessarily. I was very reluctant to look behind because I was worried to see that I had only covered a tiny portion of the swim. The complete lack of reference points made it impossible to tell where we were. For the first half I only saw murky green water, then it must have become shallower because I could sea fern every few meters. I did get a few elbows and feet into the face and inadvertently kicked a few people myself, but no major incidents. Eventually I saw the pier ahead of me and knew this would indeed be over soon, and then came the happiest moment of my life when my feet touched firm ground again and I could stop my poor imitation of a fish. (I'm exaggerating, of course. The happiest moment of my life was of course Paul Dickov's 95th minute equalizer in Wembley against Gillingham in 1999. [What do you mean what about the birth of my children? Go away!])

Apparently for the last 50 meters Fionnuala and me had been swimming side-by-side but I had not noticed a thing, just concentrated on the exit. I quickly waved to Niamh and the kids who very cheering and made my way into transition where I was very surprised to see Fionnuala's bike still on the rack. Having said that, she was there a few seconds after me and I was still struggling to get out of my wetsuit when she took her super fancy TT bike with aero bars and racing wheels off the rack. I followed a good bit later, but eventually I was on my way myself. Niamh tried to take a few photos, but she might not yet make it as action photographer. To be fair, the camera probably did not help.

The cycle starts with slightly over 2 miles of continuous climbing to an elevation of about 100 meters, but the gradient is smooth enough to stay in your saddle at all times. I surprised myself by passing scores of people. It really must have been dozens, and some of them did not exactly look super-fit. My overwhelming thought at this was “I really have to learn to swim better”; maybe it's arrogant but those guys did not look like they should ever have been ahead of me at all.

Anyway, just one guy went by me on that climb, and towards the end of it I even passed Fionnuala. I expected her to fly ahead again at the next part (and so did she), but for the time being I just enjoyed overtaking. I got passed once more, but it turned out to be the same guy again! I have no idea when I had gone past him and if I caught him again later on.

Obviously the climb was followed by a dro and while I did not go past people at the same rate any more, I still kept moving up the field gradually. My proudest moment came shortly afterwards when I overtook a guy on a fancy TT bike in full aero position, and there was me going past on my relatively cheap and heavy frame.

Soon enough we reached the other end of the island where we had to take it easy on a set of tight blind corners, but I went through without incident. I had expected the wind to be on our back for the return trip, but actually it came from the side and was rather strong. Fionnuala later told me that it caused real problem with her deep-rimmed racing wheels and she was really scared most of the way. I, on the other hand, had an entirely different mishap. At one stage, doing quite some pace on a downhill stretch, felt something tugging at the top of my head and a few seconds later, before I knew what was going on, there was another, heavier, tug and all of a sudden it was ok again. Something seemed not quite right, and when I touched the top of my helmet I realised that the plastic cover had completely blown off and just left the styrofoam behind. How bizarre is that. Technically I had just violated the no-littering rule, but I was not going to turn around and start looking for the rest of my helmet, and what was left would just have to do for the rest.

I expected to tire out on the bike eventually. 20 km might not be long, but it's a lot longer than my usual 8 km ride to work which constituted 90% of my “training”. In actual fact I felt great all the way through and kept passing people. Just before the end one rider passed me on an aero bike and I entered transition right behind her. I tried to get out of my shoes while still on the bike, but when I got my first foot out the shoe started dragging on the ground and I was worried about my balance if I took out the other foot, so I got off the bike one foot still in my bike shoe and the other one bare. At least my stall was stationed close to the entrance.

Since I had acquired a blister yesterday I decided to wear socks on the run after all and it was that delay that enabled Fionnuala to once more pass me during transition. Having said that, her 28 seconds transition time was rather spectacular, but taking more than twice that time was still poor. It didn't help that I started running and noticed after about 5 steps that I still had my helmet on! At least I noticed it before going out of transition.

Finally, a real sport! Setting out on the run I passed my personal cheer leaders and action photographer once more and set off, 2.5 km uphill, 2.5 km downhill. I found it rather disconcerting that the overall winners finished their race just as I started my run, 20 minutes behind. Then I remembered that they had been on wave 1, meaning I was “only” 15 minutes behind. At first all the runners coming down looked like super serious athletes (which they were), but the sheer amount of runners ahead of me was not a sight that I particularly appreciated. I did the best I could to recover the situation and passed out scores of people, including Fionnuala. “There won't be any more transitions for you to pass me” I quipped, though I should have saved my breath for the run up that mountain. I could have sworn it had grown since the morning. At least passing people kept me focused and the pace honest. One runner overtook me, and he ran like a whippet, probably one of those 15-minute 5k dudes I have no business competing with. As I neared the top I kept looking at the runners coming downhill, wondering how many of them I would be able to catch. Eventually I reached the turnaround point.

I had expected the run part to be the most enjoyable one, but in actual fact I found it the hardest. The swim had gone much better than expected, the cycle was oodles of fun, but the run was really tough. It didn't help that we were running up the side of a mountain and that the sun was blazing at full setting, of course, but I think there was a different factor. On the swim and the bike my exercise threshold had been lower. But having completed dozens of runs I know how hard I can push my body, and pushing hard means pain. On the plus side, I must have gained a few dozen places. In the downside, it hurt.

As I got closer to Knightstown again I was both looking forward to the end of the torture and ruing the fact that I could still see loads of slower runners who would finish ahead of me because I was running out of road. I always kept concentrating not on the runner directly ahead of me but on the one before that to make sure I would always have a target in front of me, even after I had passed someone. I even found the legs for a sprint finish somewhere, focusing on the woman ahead of me who I passed one step before the finish, gaining one last place (or so I thought. Turns out she was a wave 1 swimmer, so was 5 minutes slower anyway).

After surviving the swim everything else was just a bonus and I was happy enough. It sure had been fun and I guess I'll do that again, but I am definitely a runner, not a triathlete. This was reflected in the final results; I came 150th, 19th M40, and in a race of 500 runners I would have been significantly further ahead. For the next time there is plenty of scope for improvement, during the transitions especially, and of course I could make a radical change and actually train for the swim and the bike parts. Now there's a thought. But for the time being I'll focus on my upcoming marathons and ultra instead.

Update: I was 340th on the swim, 152nd on the bike and 44th on the run. I think I know where to improve.

22 May
Valentia Island Sprint Triathlon 2010
1:17:37, 150th overall, 19th M40
swim: 17:24, T1 + cycle: 38:54, T2: 1:06, run: 20:13 (11:09 up, 9:04 down)

Friday, May 21, 2010


Is there really no way I can gracefully pull out of this stupid triathlon thingy now? All week I have been praying for an unexpected storm front with gale force winds that would force them to cancel the swim section, but with half a day to go it looks like that’s not gonna happen. Instead we’ll have a clear, sunny day. That means I’ll be expected to swim from the mainland all the way past dozens of sharks to some island out in the middle of the Atlantic.

Of course I’m woefully underprepared. Swimming was nothing but cross-training to me, and cycling was mainly commuting to work, and even the running has been very low key because I’m still recovering from Connemara.

SLAP SLAP SLAP. Stop crying, you wimp!

Back to reality. On Wednesday I ran another interval workout, 10x400s again with plenty of recovery. I did 87,84,89,84,85,87,86,91,86,87, which makes an average of 86.6, almost a second faster than the previous workout. I call that a success.

Both yesterday and today were easy runs in light of tomorrow’s race. Just as long as I make it as far as the run! I put lock laces on my shoes last night and took them out for a spin this morning. The laces were fine, but I also tested running without socks and promptly got a blister on my left foot. Brilliant! I’ll take socks to the transition area, but still plan on doing without.

The targets for tomorrow are:

Bronze: Survive the swim
Silver: Don’t come out of the water DFL
Gold: Have fun!
19 May
8.1 miles, 1:00:26, 7:28 pace, HR 157
incl. 10x400 in 87,84,89,84,85,87,86,91,86,87
20 May
7 miles, 55:25, 7:55 pace, HR 142
21 May
5 miles, 39:23, 7:53 pace, HR 142

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


The alarm went off at 5:15 on Monday as I was planning my one proper long workout for the Cork City marathon. Everything else was just recovery from Connemara, really.

Within a minute I noticed that my legs, especially the right hamstrings, felt very stiff and tired and decided, for the first time ever, to completely abandon the workout and go back to bed.

Then I thought about Saturday’s triathlon, and the fact that now I would not be able to do a speed session this week without tiring myself out for that race, so I turned round for a second time and went ahead with the workout after all.

What I had in mind were 5/4/3/2/1 miles at marathon effort with maybe 2 minutes of recovery in-between. That’s 15 miles of marathon pace, and 18 miles in total. This was going to be tough.

At least as important as the fitness boost from that workout would be the feedback from the pace I would be able to hold. Up to then I had no idea where I was, fitness-wise. Running and recovering from an ultra has messed up my system.

Well, I got going. The 5-mile section was always going to be do-able. I went by feel, and was very surprised by the low heart rate. The legs definitely told me not to go faster, but the HR seemed to be lodged in the high 140s, low 150s. By contrast, I expected to see something closer to 165. That difference is massive. But the pace, 7:00 exactly according to Garmin, was good.

After a brief recovery I launched into the 4-mile part. This started with the only climb of the day, which took some toll on my legs. I managed to make up for that, but I did notice that the pace was faltering towards the end. Had I run too fast?

At that point I took a gel and some drink. This revived me sufficiently to start the 3-mile run with renewed vigour. In fact, I broke 7:00 pace for the first time on this section, and the HR was still below 160. I did start getting tired, but it was definitely manageable.

The last 2 sections were always going to be easy due to their short length. I started the 2-mile section too fast because I was basically chasing after 2 girls who were jogging down the same road and had to put on the breaks when the Garmin told me I was doing 6:12 pace (Thomas you idiot!), and on the last section I just ran fast while still being in full aerobic control without looking at the watch once.

Considering I had very tired legs, this had gone brilliantly. I must be in better shape than expected. I compared this with other workouts for my marathons and found only one, before Boston (10 miles @ 7:18, 10 miles @ 6:48), that seemed better than this. It probably trumped what I had done before Cork in 2008 (17 miles with 15 @ 7:10 pace), so I guess I should be able to better that time (3:09). However, there is only one way to find out and as always in marathons, you only get one shot.

Today, in contrast, I went swimming. I saved the petrol driving to Killarney and went to the sea instead. I was rather nervous about an open water swim early in the morning, and the shock of the cold water literally took my breath away at first. However, 30 seconds later I was swimming properly, and in marked contrast to my 2 previous attempts in Rosbeigh I actually noticed that I was moving. I didn’t stay in there long, about 15 minutes, but now I can sign that waiver in Valentia saying that I have completed an OWS with a clear conscience.
17 May
18 miles, 2:09:01, 7:10 pace, HR 153
incl: 5 miles @ 7:00 (HR 152), 4 @ 7:01 (157), 3 @ 6:58 (157), 2 @ 6:59 (159), 1 @ 6:48 (163)
18 May
15 minutes OWS

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Yet Another Weekend

Since I was still stiff as a board even after an off day, Saturday became another easy day of 6 miles. These 6 mile runs seem to have become a staple of my running; I hesitate calling it training because I still remember the times when twice this would have been seen as an easy day. But it set me up for a workout on Saturday.

Following Michael's advice I kept my speed work short and sharp and only did 8x400. By some coincidence, Grellan's latest entry describes a set of 400s as well, and it's interesting to see the differences. For once, he did 10. Secondly, he ran them significantly faster than me; in Daniels' terms, his would have been at R-pace, mine at I-pace. Well, I intentionally held back at each one, running them at my 5K race pace, which equals to 90 seconds per 400, or maybe a second or 2 faster. Even though I didn't check the Garmin while running, that's pretty much the pace I managed to achieve. It was a rather windy day and the repeats kept alternating in and out of the breeze, which is why the even numbered ones were all about 3 seconds faster than the odd ones. With only 8 repeats on the menu, this was over soon enough, whether measured in time or fatigue. Opinions vary wildly, but plenty of people say this is how an interval workout is supposed to be done, at least an I-paced one.

More gardening work didn't help and tired legs led to another easy run on Sunday. I would have loved sleeping in, but at 7:20 Maia walked into our room and rather forcefully demanded breakfast; that was the end of my time in bed. As Niamh later said, just another 16 or so years of that to come.

I might have just complained about my legs, but actually there has been a major improvement this week. The Stick has seen a lot of action, so much so that Niamh commented that I'm sure getting my money's worth out of that thing. Rather than hurting a lot, the legs are now merely stiff from the previous day's training and I finally feel recovered from Connemara and Wexford (which, in hindsight, I should not have raced). With the triathlon coming in a week and the Cork marathon 16 days after that, this may be just in time, but I'm still more than a bit weary about the marathon. I seriously considered pulling out of the race altogether. I had wondered what pace I might be able to achieve, and after Wednesday's run 7:20 seemed optimistic. There will be a pace group going out for 3:15 (7:26 pace), but aiming for a 3:15 marathon seems a bit pointless. It's 10 minutes slower than my PB and I really cannot get excited about this. I feel my only options that seem worthwhile are either to race it and aim for at least 3:10, or jog it to 3:30 and call it a long training run. Anything in-between will take too long to recover from without the chance of providing a satisfactory outcome.

Anyway, let's move on. I also measured my resting HR today. I did the same last week and was shocked to see an inability of my heart to go under 49 beats. That's incredibly high for me. Luckily, my fears were somewhat allayed this morning with a reading of 40, and that coming a day after intervals which probably caused a slightly raised reading. As I've said, I've seen some real improvement this week.

Oh, and I did another open water swim in the sea today. I hope I'll be able to cope next Saturday.
14 May
6.1 miles, 49:44, 8:09 pace, HR 145
15 May
7.1 miles, 51:12, 7:12 pace, HR 160
incl. 8X400 @ 88, 86, 89, 86, 91, 87, 87, 85
16 May
am: 6.1 miles, 50:10, 8:13 pace, HR 138
pm: 20 minutes OWS

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dear Legs,

I know you go on a break after a marathon and ultra, and I know you like staying away for a while, but it is now almost 5 weeks since Connemara and you know what? I really miss you! Those empty shells you left behind in your place might look similar but feel entirely different. They're just not up to the job.

Remember the great times we used to have? Like that morning when we shared the road for 30 miles and then cycled to work? Or a similar pre-breakfast marathon? How we laughed when you started cramping violently on the bike! Or the hill repeats, the tempo runs and of course the countless insanely hilly loops around Caragh Lake, pure magic during sunrise. Please come back. It will be great again. I promise, this time I won't push you too hard.

Those placeholders could not even handle yesterday's 15 mile run. When I asked them to speed up over the last 4 miles they complained like mad, pretending it was impossible. Liars, the two of them. They did get down to 7:22 pace eventually when I insisted, uphill and against the wind. But it's just not the same.

Dear Readers,

I know you wanted to take out your credit card straight away and sponsor my marathon in July, but it just was not to hand. Don't worry. I don't mind. You can still do it now. It's a great cause and I know you want to help. Now's your chance. Thanks. And thank you very much to the guys who have done so already. You rule!
12 May
15 miles, 1:56:45, 7:47 pace, HR 154
incl. 4 miles @ 7:22 (HR 164)
13 May
45 mins swimming

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Asking for Help

I had planned to do a faster session on Monday but the legs were very stiff and sore, which I attribute mostly to the hours of gardening work rather than running. Still, during the first two miles of the run, when still warming up, I repeatedly tried to spin the legs and the pace never went faster than 6:30, so I decided to not even try a tempo session. Instead I thought I'd see if I could hold 6:50 pace for any real period of time, and was prepared to stop at any time. It started out reasonably well, but after less than 2 miles it became tough. I hung on for a bit longer – to the next bend, the next tree, the next house, until I eventually fell back into the groove. The same thing happened again after about 4 or 5 miles, and again I managed to keep going. After 6 miles my average pace was still about 6:48, but I did flag a little bit from there until I reached home and ended up with 6:50 over 8 miles and I don't think I could have kept it up for much longer. Thinking about it, that's not too surprising – a week ago I had not managed to run faster than 6:46 pace for a half marathon race. The strange thing was that today my legs kept complaining while at the same time I had real troubles elevating my heart rate, which was the complete opposite to what it had been like last week.

Sadly, the legs were really sore for the rest of the day, and I only did 5 miles today. On the plus side, I started out with really sore legs and returned home with perfectly fine ones. Endorphins are great stuff. Remarkably, the temperates were only around 2 degrees in the morning. No wonder it felt a bit chilly.

I have started another no-sugar diet. Since Easter my weight has ballooned from 144 to 153 pounds, which equals my heaviest reading for the last three years. Just like during lent, I'm cutting out sweets and chocolate. I decided not to be quite as strict this time. While things like sweets, chocolate and ice cream are banned, I do allow myself some more reasonable things like jam on my toast for breakfast. That way I hope it will be easier to maintain, but hopefully will still cause a few pounds to drop off my frame. On Sunday, when Niamh saw me in my wetsuit, she said “Thomas, how many pounds have you put on?” Thanks, honey! Of course we all know that if the roles had been reversed, she would have killed me.

But there is something much more important on my mind. You might remember that I'm running another marathon 5 weeks after Cork, this time for charity. I have created a donation page and would be thrilled if you could spare a few quid. The 32 marathon challenge is a really great way of raising funds and deserves support. Any donation, even the smallest one, will be gratefully received.
10 May
10 miles, 1:10:32, 7:03 pace, HR 159
incl. 8 miles @ 6:50 (HR 164)
11 May
5 miles, 41:03, 8:12 pace, HR 141

Sunday, May 09, 2010


Woke at 6:20, tried for half an hour to get back to sleep, gave up, got up, got ready. Went on bike for what was supposed to be a 90 minute ride but extended it a bit to get to Kate Kearney's Cottage (where the Gauntlet Half Marathon started and finished last November) and missed a turn on the way home. All in all just over 29 miles in 102 minutes, which comes to 17 mph (no, I didn't exactly kill myself). Immediately went for a run to make this a brick workout. The feeling in the legs when running off the bike is very weird, but it didn't slow me down. I started out at about 7:30 and got faster with each step until the average pace was down to 6:48. I had vague ideas of adding a second run later that day, but that fell victim to gardening work which took up the rest of the day.

Woke up at 6:15, tried for half an hour to get back to sleep, gave up, got up, got ready. Had planned to run longer but sore legs convinced me to take it easy, so 6 miles at easy pace it was. More gardening work followed, but I stopped at 5 o'clock to drive to Rosbeigh for my first open water swim. I felt like a right langer walking down to the beach in my wetsuit but it worked a treat; while my feet were freezing, the rest of me felt fine. I didn't stay in long, but I now know what's in store. Ideally I'd like to do another OWS before the tri, but we'll see.

The weather was much better than forecast. At least I think she said there would be scattered showers, but I tend to get slightly distracted by the tight fitting leather dresses worn by the weather lady. I thought it might be early signs of an oncoming midlife crisis, but apparently I'm not alone.

Thank God tomorrow is Monday. I'm shattered and need some office hours for recovery.
8 May
29 miles cycling, 1:42, 17mph
3 miles, 20:29, 6:48 pace, HR 158
9 May
6.1 miles, 48:34, 7:57 pace, HR 143
open water swim

Friday, May 07, 2010

Short and Concise

Whenever I think of the training for the Cork marathon, I get two opposing panic attacks. The first is “Oh my God, I need more long runs, I haven’t run longer than 13 miles since Connemara” and the second “Oh my God, I need to rest more”. This contradiction is so far unresolved.

And then there is the small matter of my first ever triathlon. The closer the date gets, the more I’m dreading it. I think that’s not a unique perception of your first tri. But luckily I have told far too many people about it, there is no chance to get out of this now. We might get to Valentia this weekend and I’ll make sure to bring my wetsuit.

The last few days have been really windy, which I can feel both on my runs and on my bike commute. I had the wind behind me for the first half of yesterday’s run, which of course meant fighting it for the return leg. But I found that it doesn’t really matter on easy days. The effort remains the same, and the fact that the pace slows a bit does not matter.

It might be way late, but I thought I’d post our video from the Easter Egg hunt anyway. The kids had great fun, and you would not believe how much organisation has to go into setting up a dozen or so treasure stations. Unfortunately my computer is more a museum piece by now and had real troubles with the size of the video files, which is why the final video isn’t quite as nice as I’d have liked, but it’s the best I could do with limited resources. The kids love watching it anyway.

Ewen, how’s that for a short post?

6 May
8 miles, 1:03:45, 7:58 pace, HR 146
7 May
5 miles, 40:35, 8:07 pace, HR 143

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Restarting Recovery

I found myself in 2 pictures from Sunday’s half marathon. In the first one, shortly after the start, I’m strong and confident, looking forward to the next 13 miles. The other one from the finishing line shows me in slightly less flattering light. Every single one of the previous 13 miles has left its mark, leaving me looking like Quasimodo’s less handsome older brother.

I didn’t know a half marathon can take that much out of your legs. I wasn’t too worried about being sore on Monday, but when I was grimacing walking down a stair on Tuesday I realised that my legs were in the same sate I usually am immediately after a marathon. On the plus side, they feel much better today, so the recovery is definitely happening. I have no idea on how best to train for Cork, so I guess I’ll just have to wing it. The whole business might feel like a really bad idea come mile 15. I know, because I’ve been exactly there in Dublin last year. Problem is, apparently I’m refusing to take in the lesson.

Had I been at home on Monday I would have gone swimming, but I wasn’t and therefore I didn’t. Instead I did a very easy 5 mile double-loop around the Stillorgan reservoir before jumping into the car driving home. Thanks to a new stretch og motorway, that only took 4 hours. Give it a bit more time and the Irish road network might even get to the state where most of Western Europe was 50 years ago, yippee!

Anyway, I belatedly entered the swimming pool on Tuesday. I won’t follow Grellan’s lead in posting details about the swimming itself because my training is just too pathetic and I’d look like a complete idiot in comparison. (Note to self: don’t ever enter a triathlon that he’s competing in). I still have to do an open water swim. We might go to Valentia over the weekend in which case I could do it there, or I might head to Rossbeigh at some stage. But I really, really, really have to do this. The triathlon is a mere 17 days from now. Crikey! I didn’t even realise it was that close until I just checked the calendar. Oh, and I did a bit of cycling during my lunchtime. I thought I might as well take advantage of the nice weather.

Another easy run followed this morning, and the legs are definitely much better than on Monday. On the downside, one weekend in Nana’s house has seen my weight balloon up to 151 pounds again, basically the same level I used to be before my no-sugar diet over lent. Accordingly I‘ll start the same regime again until the Cork City marathon. I just have to empty the chocolate cupboard first. I might get there by Friday.

3 May
5 miles, 43:04, 8:37 pace, HR 139
4 May
swimming, cycling
5 May
6.1 miles, 49:54, 8:11 pace, HR 145

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Damage Limitation

It's fair to say that I expected better things of today's race. Going into it I knew perfectly well that I was pushing my luck, racing a half marathon a mere 3 weeks after giving it all at the Connemara Ultra. During the last week my body kept giving me conflicting signals; on the one hand my paces for tempo runs were better than ever before, on the other hand my heart rates were sky high and the pain in my quads told me I had not yet recovered from the Ultra.

With that in mind I decided to go ahead full steam and keep my chances of a new personal best alive during the early miles. If I blew up, well, it's only a half marathon, how painful could that be?

We left Dublin early with a car full of tired children but the journey was much faster than expected and I was at the race registration at 9 o'clock, well before the 9:30 deadline. Niamh scampered off to visit a friend (which is how I had managed to sell the trip to her) and I warmed up before we all assembled at the start line. We got introduced to last year's male and female winners, and then we were off.

I made sure not to get carried away and started nice and slowly. After all, the first thing we did was to cross a big bridge and that meant going uphill at first. It wasn't until I reached the apex of said structure that I checked my Garmin – 6:08 pace. Oops. I put on the brakes, or rather took it a bit easier coming down the bridge and a few runners went past me, leaving me somewhere around 13th position. We headed down the quay and then onto the road towards Rosslare. At that stage a few more runners caught up to me and we formed a group of 5 runners, though we tended to get torn apart on each little hill and reassembled again on the downhills. So far this was mostly flat and the little bits of elevation change hardly deserved to be called hills. One look at the Garmin told me that we were doing 6:23 pace, which would easily get me a new PB. Things were looking good.

Unusually for Ireland the course was marked in kilometers, and while I'm perfectly able to calculate that into miles I relied mostly on my Garmin to figure out where we were. I knew there was a big hill waiting during the first half and a look to my right gave me a pretty good idea of what was in store. I had checked out the elevation profile in advance, and from what I gathered it would be a climb of about 250 feet and then it looked like a gradual descent over the next few miles. Then again, I seemed to remember quite a few people moaning about the hills after last year's race, and they were definitely talking about more than one. We would see.

While the legs felt perfectly fine, the heart rate on the Garmin gave me cause to worry because each time it was coming up as 180 and more. That's what I would usually see in a 5K, not a half marathon. Still, I pressed on, trying to stay in touch with the rest of the group. After all, this was only a half marathon. How hard could that be?

We took a right turn and the climb started soon enough. It was really steep and I was suffering. I think I once made the mistake of looking at the Garmin and saw a HR of 184, but that memory is a bit hazy. What I do know is that our group fragmented for good with 2 guys storming off ahead and the 2 others falling back, leaving me on my own in the middle. Then I saw a the road flattening out ahead of me at a junction and decided that this was nowhere near as bad as expected. Fooled! Seeing the road rising again right behind the next bend was a blow, and I was really suffering now. Then, oh sweet Lord, the water station came into view. That's the top, thank Goodness. However, as I approached the water table, the steward did not seem particularly inclined to hand me a cup. “Come on, water!!” That came out of my mouth before I knew what I was doing, and it struck me a rather rude, but I was past it now and it was too late to apologize. I really detest runners who abuse volunteers, so if the guy in question reads this, I am really sorry! Anyway, my punishment followed on the spot as it turned out that there was yet more climbing to do, but as far as I can tell every runner got punished that way, not just the one who deserved it.

When I finally reached the top, this time the real one, I glanced at my Garmin to see if I had used up all of my cushion required for a new PB, which would require 6:30 pace. To my horror, I had moved back all the way to 6:39! This was much worse than expected, but I might be able to catch up again on the downhill. Or so I thought.

What I had not factored in was the wind, and it was really strong, much worse than forecast. Even though the road descended at a gradient that allowed striding out very well, it felt like we got blown halfway back with each step and it was hard work. One thing I noticed was that last year's female winner came back into view, and since I had seen another lady ahead of my group early on it meant she would probably have to settle for the runner-up spot this time. But I had my own problems to worry about. When we reached the bottom of the hill I had indeed made up some time – all of one second, with the average now at 6:38. I kissed all hopes of a new PB good bye and was highly tempted to jog the rest of the way to the finish. I was absolutely knackered by now. I vaguely remembered a race a couple of years ago when the legs had felt fresh but the HR was too high, and as it turned out it was the HR that won out. And now I was heading straight for a repeat performance. I think the one thing that kept me pushing hard was the sight of last year's top lady. Beating a woman is still one thing that keeps a fragile male ego going.

I was still only about a third into the race. I was totally knackered and each breath was accompanied by a moaning sound. It was way too soon to be feeling like that. I had known that I might have been headed for trouble, but I had expected only the quads to be acting up. Instead it was that all-encompassing feeling of pain and exhaustion that was getting a hold of me, with every muscle in my body singing a slightly different note of pain to perform the full-body harmony of agony.

As it turns out, the conflicting information about the elevation was resolved in favour of last year's moaners. There was no gradual drop back towards sea level but a grueling sequence of up and down, up and down, up and down. All of it seemed to be against the wind and that was getting even stronger, or maybe it just felt like that. Who would have thought a half-marathon can hurt so much. The next miles are just a blur of hill after hill, step after step, breath after breath. I caught up to the walkers who had started well ahead of the runners and on more than one occasion got really annoyed because they were walking three abreast at times and the runners had to find their way around them. On one occasion, shortly after the halfway mark, we went off the road for a short stretch onto a narrow path, and the two girls ahead completely blocked it. It could only shout “Oy” and one of them stepped aside just in time, which was the second time I had been a bit rude today. Maybe it just wasn't my day.

Last year's womens' winner kept her distance from me for most of that stretch. At times she seemed to be getting closer, at other times I thought I was losing ground, but eventually, on a long downhill stretch (which unfortunately was against the string wind again, like all the others) around the 9-mile mark I finally caught up with her. I wanted to say something but nothing came out of my mouth and I just passed her in silence. Actually, I was really surprised that I had not lost a single place in the field since the first mile. Maybe everyone else was having just as hard a time as me? That theory was disproven about a mile later when a runner in a yellow shirt went past. We quickly exchanged a few words and then he was gone, running quite a bit faster than I could manage. Where had he come from all of a sudden?

Not much later we were back in Wexford town, and a very pretty town it turned out to be (it was my first ever visit here). We went through a maze of little streets which you don't see very often any more, well preserved and even in my exhausted state I could appreciate the neat surroundings. I lost sight of the runner ahead at times on those twisty passages, but a steady stream of walkers was there to keep me company. I heard the announcer at the finish, but a look at the Garmin told me there was still a bit over a mile left. Eventually we arrived at the quay again, where another runner managed to pass me. I tried to hang on and had faint hopes of re-passing him on the final stretch. To be honest, I have no idea where that idea came from. Since I don't have a finishing kick, I never catch runners on the line. It must have been my oxygen-starved brain fantasizing wildly.

And then my left quads finally went into the long expected state of total agony, though it was more on the outside of the leg rather than right in front where they had been hurting all week.

The last stretch included a zig-zag with two U-turns that were obviously there to make up the distance. Straightforward as they were, in my state I found them really confusing, and had I not been following the runner that had just passed me I would have gone the wrong way. Incidentally, exactly that happened to a guy in a white t-shirt that came steaming down the wrong way against us, looking confused, but I think a steward managed to steer him onto the right path. Try as I might, not only did I lose contact to the guy ahead, I was passed once more, this time by a heavily tattooed guy. Losing not just one but two places on the last half mile really annoyed me, and it really summed up my day.

The bridge, which had seemed a world away as we entered the quay, finally came closer and I crossed the line in 1:28:41, over three minutes slower than my PB and hurting badly. I think I heard the announcer saying I was 16th, out of about 750 but that figure must include the walkers. I limped towards the exit, collected my medal, some water and a banana before finding a bench where I could sit for a minute until the worst of the pain subsided. I recovered reasonably quickly and rang Niamh who collected me half an hour later. I used the time to walk around Wexford, taking in the scenery at a more sedate pace than earlier. My legs felt too painful to do a real cool-down (I tried), but walking around for half an hour did me a world of good. Obviously the long miles of Connemara are still in there. I really have to take care of my legs over the next few weeks. Recovery is paramount, and right now I'm not so sure the Cork marathon is really such a good idea.

If you're wondering how the photos fit into that report, they are from Mount Usher Gardens where we stopped for a walk on the way home. They're stunningly beautiful, even if the admission fee is rather steep.
2 May
15+ miles, including:
Wexford Half Marathon, 1:28:41, 6:46 pace, avg. HR 176 (ouch!)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

East Coast, Ireland

As Niamh pointed out, this is her fourth trip on consecutive weekends, Connemara, Dublin, Trabolgan and Dublin again, and while I didn't partake in her first Dublin trip I did bring the twins to Cork that day, so it definitely has been a busy month for all of us. Of course, this also included the small matter of a 39+ mile race around the Connemara country side, which is why there is still a question mark about the state of my legs, especially the quads.

After the tempo session early this week I was really getting worried about that pain that was getting chronic by now. I don't remember ever being sore for so long after a race, which was even more surprising considering how great I had felt the day (and days) immediately after the race. Eventually I dug out The Stick from the back of my possessions and not only started using it then, I also brought it with me to Dublin, an unprecedented course of action. Maybe it was the regular treatments with that glorified rolling pin, maybe the compression tights that I have been sneakily wearing underneath my trousers, maybe the succession of easy runs or maybe just the inevitable outcome after giving it enough time, but my legs are definitely feeling better now, and I'm reasonably confident that they'll get me through tomorrow's race in one piece.

If that race is really such a good idea is still open to question, of course. In fact, I do have a sneaky feeling that it might not be. But why let reasonable caution interfere with the fun?

With an eye on tomorrow's race as well as the pain in my quads, the last few runs have all been easy. 6 miles in Kerry on Thursday were followed by 5 in Dublin on Friday, and another 5 this morning together with a short session of 10x10 sec hill sprints in Deer Park. Just like last week's equivalent workout in Trabolgan, the hill in Deer Park had seemed much steeper in my memory than it turned out to be once I got there, but once again it would have to do. At least it was on grass rather than road, and nobody told me to get off the grass either. The heart rates for all those runs were higher than what I would have liked to see. The hills of Connemara are definitely still in there.

Anyway, tomorrow will require an early morning morning for a day trip down the coast to Wexford. Niamh will visit some friends while I will measure myself against the local running scene.
29 Apr
6.1 miles, 48:10, 7:54 pace, HR 146
30 Apr
5 miles, 38:45, 7:45 pace, HR 149
1 May
5 miles, 40:34, 8:07 pace, HR 156
incl. 10X10 sec hill sprints