Saturday, June 26, 2010

An Easy Double

After running a lot of 100-plus-miles-weeks last summer, I have come to the conclusion that this is too much for me in singles. I still think that doing that sort of volume in doubles might be ideal, but real life issues mean this is not going to happen. I run in the morning when the rest of the family are asleep, and that’s that. Just recently Niamh was asked if she didn’t mind me spending so much time training, her answer being that she is asleep at the time, so how could she possibly mind? Doubles don’t work that way, the second run of the day would have to happen at the most busy time for the family, either dinner time of getting-the–kids-to-bed time, and my absence would not be appreciated at either. Family comes first, and doubles simply are not going to happen.

Unless I strike lucky on occasions like yesterday. The company I work for has an annual summer day out. Last year happened to fall on miserable rainy day and ended being a day in the pub, which I hated. This year was at the opposite end of the scale. A boat trip across the Killarney Lakes into the stunningly beautiful Black Valley was followed by a cycle through the Gap of Dunloe, only that I opted to run rather than cycle. Initially several people had said they would hike, in the end I was the only one to do it on foot, which once more confirmed my status as the odd one out. What’s new. However, I immensely enjoyed the run. The scenery is breathtaking (well, so is the 800-feet climb), just as you reach the top of the Gap there is a view across Black Valley and Upper Lake, which is probably my favourite view in the whole world.

Last November I had done a race on this very course but that had been out-and-back and today I was only doing it one way. I took it reasonably easy, or so I thought, but when I checked the Garmin (yes, I had brought the Garmin along for the occasion) I realised that I was running faster than I had done so during the race. Then I remembered that I had taken it relatively easy in that race because it had been only 3 weeks after the Dublin marathon. Of course, then I remembered that today was less than 3 weeks after the Cork City marathon. I guess it is fair to say that I have recovered a lot quicker this time. I think the Connemara training has improved my legs no end.

Two colleagues asked me if I had been running earlier that day, which I quietly confirmed. There’s no need to appear even more odd. Several inquired when my next race would be, and it took me a while to remember that I have another marathon in a fortnight. Crikey! Better not forget about that!

Training is going well so far. The legs are fresh and I’m looking forward to some proper long runs. This might have to wait for a week because we’re off on our holidays and I’m not sure how much running I will be able to squeeze in. I’m bringing my gear, that goes without saying.

24 Jun
6.1 miles, 49:50, 8:10 pace, HR 141
25 Jun
am: 10 miles, 1:16:22, 7:38 pace, HR 151
pm: 7 miles, 51:00, 7:17 pace, HR 167, very hilly
26 Jun
5 miles, 40:38, 8:07 pace, HR 141

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I got an interesting anonymous comment to my last entry.

I know your ultimate running goal is to run a sub 3 marathon... in order to maximise your potential at any discipline, ones training has to be focused and it has to be consistent... Dublin in October should be the main focus. Triathlons and Ultras are unnecessary distractions... [shortened]

Thank you. At first I was weary to see a lengthy anonymous comment because they sometimes tend to be unpleasant, but this one is really good. However, you got one fundamental thing wrong: my ultimate goal is not to run a sub-3. I don’t know what my ultimate goal is, or if I even have one. Running a sub-3 is still important to me, but shaping myself into a good ultra runner is at least as significant. In fact, if you asked me right now if I preferred to run a very good ultra or a sub-3, I’d opt for the ultra. A year ago the answer would have been different, and maybe next year I will have changed my mind again, who knows. In all likelihood I will indeed be in Dublin this year, though not to race it but as one of the official pacers. The line-up is yet to be confirmed, but I do expect to get the gig. My next real go at a marathon will be early 2011. I will have all winter to work on my marathon speed and hope to break that sub-3 target once and for all. But right now I can only think of 50 miles in Dingle and quite frankly, right now that is all I care about. But I very much appreciated your thoughts and input.

I don’t like even tennis and I had never heard of either Isner or Mahut, but when I turned on the telly yesterday evening and saw the 5th set score at 35-35, I thought that was just ludicrous but could not stop watching. Then it was dinner time. They were still playing when I came back. Then it was time to get the kids to bed. They were still playing when I came back. The way Isner was moving very much reminded me of mile 34 in Connemara 2 years ago, the one where I had sworn an oath never to do anything like that ever again (I did not keep it). Crash Reality TV at its best! Too bad it had to end on the 3rd day.

I have yet to get used to getting up early again. The alarm went off at 5:30 yesterday and I was still half asleep when I left the house 15 minutes later. But the run went very well. My usual measurement after climbing the big hill past Cappanalea at mile 5 is that I’m doing well if the average pace is under 9:00. That morning it was 8:22, it was well below 8:00 at the bottom of the hill and by the time I was back home it was 7:45, all without unduly pushing the effort. My singlet was drenched in sweat though; the air seemed very humid, much more so than I am used to. But it was good to be out there for close to 2 hours. I have missed the feeling of heavy legs for the rest of the day, in the office. It’s a sign that I’m working hard enough for the body to adapt, and I thrive on it.

6 easy miles this morning, don’t want to over-do it. In fact, one goal of mine for this training cycle is to keep all easy runs slower than 8:00 pace at all times.
23 Jun
15 miles, 1:56:21, 7:45 pace. HR 152
24 Jun
6.1 miles, 49:50, 8:10 pace, HR 141

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Start Again

I played around with the Excel file from Saturday’s triathlon. I already knew that I was 71st overall, but a more detailed list of the splits is as follows:

swim 18:28 (194th)
T1 1:41 (131st)
bike 40:47 (68th)
T2 00:44 (104th)
run 21:03 (32nd)

The report on the race website mentions 400 competitors while the results list exactly 300 with the relay option accounting for the difference. In light of that my 32nd best time in the run is much better than that bare, unimpressive figure of 21:03. And that includes the relay runners, amongst the pure triathletes I had come 22nd! Immediately after the race I had been absolutely disgusted with myself after seeing a time of over 21 minutes on my watch, but I guess I have to retract that. Most importantly, my run time was 11 seconds faster than Grellan’s which is obviously the only thing that counts (because who could possibly care about those silly swim and bike sections). Oh, and the 44 seconds T2 time was a major improvement on the 64 seconds from Valentia. At least that one worked out. Using different shoes might cut a few more seconds off that, should there ever be a next time (and by the way, Ewen, yes, I do have elastic laces. The problem with the Lunaracers is that the upper material is so thin that it basically collapses when you try to slide your foot in. You have to hold the heel part with one hand and the tongue with the other, which is fine for running but not for a triathlon where the clock is ticking as you do so).

Anyway, the realisation that it is less than 10 weeks to Dingle hit me hard and the Ultra training has to start here and now. Obviously I’m not starting from scratch and my base should be rather high after Connemara and Cork, but I have to re-build my training mileage. The first run was 8 miles on Sunday, Father’s Day. Incidentally, on Saturday evening Niamh had said that she would let me have a lie-in, but it is totally pointless for me as I never sleep in the morning. For once she was wrong, the combination of a sleepless night the night before and an exhausting triathlon made me sleep for almost 10 hours until 8:30 (yes, that counts as late), and by some miracle the kids slept in as well. After that and breakfast in bed I went for my 8-mile run. I expected to be sore from the triathlon but somehow the legs took off and I ran much faster than anticipated. I guess 5K had not been enough to destroy the legs and the long sleep had gotten rid of the general exhaustion. What surprised me even more was finding Niamh asleep in bed when I came back home. Someone else had gotten an unexpected bonus as well by the looks of it.

Originally I intended to take it easy on Monday and run longer on Tuesday, but reality prevented that and I had to up my Monday mileage. A 12 mile loop in Cromane followed. That’s not exactly a long run by any stretch of the imagination, but more will follow during the week. Again I felt ok; maybe the sunny weather helps. This must be the longest stretch of sunshine in Kerry in recorded history, and training is pure pleasure.

As mentioned, things got a bit more complicated this morning because Shea had to be at his school at 7:30 to get on the coach for his end-of-year school trip. For some reason they are going all the way to Limerick, which baffles me but has him very excited. A long run was out of the question but I snuck in 4 miles. I thought about not running at all, but I don’t want to start the ultra training by taking days off needlessly. It really is time to get serious.

Originally I planned to do another sprint triathlon in August, but might not do it. I really hated the swim portion in Caherciveen and as long as I’m such a poor swimmer, that won’t change. I won’t have time or opportunity to do any real swim training between now and then as I must concentrate on running, and I hesitate doing another triathlon as long as I can’t do it justice. Anyway, I don’t have to decide now.

Oh, and the cheating French are out of the World Cup. Not that we’re bitter or anything.
20 Jun
8 miles, 58:33, 7:19 pace, HR 159
21 Jun
12 miles, 1:33:52, 7:49 pace, HR 147
22 Jun
4 miles, 32:35, 8:09 pace, HR 138

Saturday, June 19, 2010

That Hill! And That Other Hill!

For some reason that is now not entirely clear to me, I decided after the Valentia triathlon 4 weeks ago to tackle another one, with the Sive Triathlon in Caherciveen being at a very convenient location. I was a bit worried that doing a triathlon 12 days after the Cork City marathon might be a bit reckless, but of course at that time I did not know yet that I would end up running another race between those two. As Niamh dryly remarked, the question is no longer if Thomas was doing a race this weekend but which race he is doing!

Anyway, I spent another restless night in Valentia and got up feeling exhausted already. It’s funny that by now I sleep like a baby before a marathon but can’t get an ounce of sleep before a mere sprint triathlon. Anyway, after breakfast I cycled the 5km from the ferry to the race start. Having a house in Valentia proofed to be great once more. Niamh and the kids would come down from Caragh Lake later on for the start.

I had been slightly shocked to find that I was starting in wave 1 and my first target was not to be DFL amongst the wave 1 swimmers. Before the start I had a few words with Grellan, Pat and a few work colleagues. Since Grellan is a much better swimmer than me I expected him to get out of the water about 5 minutes ahead of me, and the other goal was at least to match his cycle and running times. There was never a question of finishing ahead of him; even if I had followed Ewen’s advice to let his tyres down, slip the chain off and tie his shoelaces together, he’d still have finished ahead of me.

Unlike Valentia, the start was from open water and assembling at the start line was a bit tricky because the (very small) tidal current kept pushing us across the line. But eventually the whistle blew and we were off, 15 minutes late (that still counts as strictly on time in Kerry, I suppose). I had started behind the main throng, which saved me from the worst of the mass swim chaos and made navigation relatively easy. Early on I was right beside another swimmer who kept hitting me first in the shoulder, then the hip and eventually the feet, so I suppose I was on target for not being the slowest swimmer. But my memory from Valentia seems to have played a nasty trick on me. I distinctly remember the swim feeling relatively easy and I thought I might be able to improve on my time by swimming at a stronger effort. That turned out to be false hope. Maybe it’s because my swim training has suffered severely since that first race and I was soon knackered and I had not even reached the first buoy yet. It did cross my mind that I was not enjoying this at all and really wondered what the heck I had been thinking. Eventually I could hear cheers from my right, which I suppose meant that the first swimmers had finished already, the lucky b*st*rds. I eventually reached the first buoy, well past the halfway mark, and I could sense the end of this stage. It would have helped if after rounding the second buoy I had spotted the third one but I first headed into the wrong direction before noticing my mistake. I did not go far wrong and it did not cost me much, but still, it added even more time to an already poor performance. Eventually I reached the pier, heaved myself out of the water and ran into transition, waving to Niamh and the kids. I reckoned the worst was now over.

Improving my transition time was my big target for today and I had made some changes. I already wore my number on the swim so that I would not need to fiddle with the belt. I had left the Garmin at home and used a cheap stopwatch that I already wore during the swim, again saving me the hassle of fiddling with it during T1 (so no fancy graphs this time, sorry). I had rehearsed the drill. Wetsuit off, glasses on, helmet on, socks on (I decided to sacrifice a few seconds because I really do not need blisters for the Ultra training to come), shoes on, take the bike and off you go. It all started well enough until the time when I tried to put on the cycling shoes and I got wobbly and nearly fell over, almost feeling like fainting. It took some time to readjust and then I was off. My combined swim + T1 time was almost exactly 20- minutes, I guess about 17:30 for the swim (just like Valentia) and 2:30 for T1, but once I get the official results I hopefully know more.

The cycle almost immediately starts with a climb up to the main street and I started overtaking others from the off. I loved the bike section! After about 2km we turned right off the main road and soon the road started climbing relentlessly. The gradient was fine, never particularly steep, but for 5km it was all uphill. I did not count the number of cyclists I passed but it must have been several dozen, including (and that was particularly pleasing) a few cyclists with fancy looking triathlon bikes featuring aero bars. Since this was an out-and-back course, I expected the leading cyclists to come into view soon enough and was genuinely surprised that it took over 16 minutes for the leader to appear, and then another minute for the next guy. Eventually the road levelled out and even dropped a bit until the turnaround point and then it was our turn to descend the mountain. To be honest, I thought this was quite dangerous. There were still several hundred competitors climbing the road with plenty of overtaking manoeuvres while we descended at breakneck speed. I tried to ignore the thought that a head-on collision would probably be fatal and instead wondered why I didn’t see anyone ahead of me on my side of the road. Apparently we were descending all at roughly the same speed, so the overtaking stopped for basically the entire next 5 km. Late on one guy on yet another TT bike passed me, I passed him back and the whole process started again, repeating itself a few times until we reached the foot of the mountain and I managed to get away from him. I did pick up a couple more places but on the very last climb, on the Caherciveen main road, I had the entirely new and highly unpleasant sensation of my left hip cramping. It wasn’t too bad and I was able to continue, but it was very uncomfortable. Luckily I was soon at the top of that short climb and it went away.

Just like in Valentia I did not manage to get both feet out of my shoes while still on the bike (I ran out of road) and once more entered T2 with one foot bare and one shod. No matter.

T2 went well, I think. Bike on rack, helmet off, cycling shoes off, running shoes on, run. I am curious to see the results, but I think I will use different shoes next time. My Lunaracers are great running shoes but not made for easy entry. Using lightweight trainers like the Skylon should make things easier (and faster).

I did notice one mishap, but one that had already happened, on the bike. Very early into the cycling leg I noticed something snapping and there may have been something falling off, but it happened too quickly to be sure. At first I thought my pump had fallen off, but that was still there and a quick, panicked scan indicated that the bike was fine. My number belt felt funny, but I could feel that the number was till there. Now, in T2, I finally realised that the belt had somehow come loose and was at it widest girth, which my runner’s frame was nowhere near of filling out. But the number was till there, even if it hung down looking more like a fig leave. It would do for the next 20 minutes.

The cycle leg had been challenging, but the running leg was just brutal! We immediately climbed a very steep hill up to the main street, but after crossing that we kept going straight up the mountain at an even steeper gradient. I saw the guy ahead of me walking and was highly tempted to do the same, but my pride prevented me. I’m a runner, I don’t walk, not on a 5k road stage, no matter how steep. Passing that particular competitor felt good because I no longer had to look at him walking.

This time it did not take long for the leader to appear, I was only about 2 minutes into my run, and after another minute 2 more runners came flying down the hill. Lucky b*st*rds, almost finished! I, on the other hand, kept struggling up the hill. At least I gained a few more places, but nowhere near as many as in Valentia. That’s the problem with starting in wave 1, I guess, there were nowhere near as many targets in view today. After running for ages and suffering badly, a sign came into view. 1km! OH! MY!! GOD!!! All that work for one measly kilometre? And it had taken over 5 minutes! At least it was not as steep any more. One runner passed me, but in that case I did not mind because a) he was doing a relay and b) Pat O’Shea is a former 2:2x marathon runner. He would be the only man to go past me, and I could definitely live with that. I missed my drink at the 2K point because I dropped the cup, which made the sun feel even stronger. Somewhere around here I saw Grellan coming down, probably more than 5 minutes ahead, but what can you do! Eventually I reached the turnaround point and it was all downhill from here. Unfortunately I didn’t pass anywhere near as many runners as on the uphill. I saw Arthur Fitzgerald, a very fast runner, coming against me and very much expected him to catch me, but he never did. I was hurting, exhausted, thirsty, and even my competitive juices stopped flowing when I saw a runner ahead of me and my mind point blankly refused to chase him down. It took a female runner to appear in my sights to belatedly spur me into action again, and after that shameful and blatant instance of pure sexism I was running at full effort again.

I caught a few more runners and shortly before the end I saw Pat, Grellan’s neighbour, coming against me, who I would have expected to be way further ahead in the field. Just before the end I also spotted Shauna from work and then I was almost done. If the runner ahead had worn a normal top he would have kept his place, but he was wearing one with garish big sesame street characters and I could not possibly let a runner in a sesame street top beat me, so I went hell for leather and eventually went by. Then the torture was finally over. I forgot to press the stop button on my watch but it must have been close to 1:22, which is 5 minutes slower than Valentia. The course today had been much, much tougher and Valentia’s cycle leg had been short, which explains some of the difference. But I cannot deny that my legs felt worse today and I did not have that spring in me, which is no wonder, 12 days after a marathon, followed 5 days later by a downhill race.

I unsuccessfully kept looking for Niamh, and 10 minutes later met a few work colleagues. I was still so exhausted that I virtually fell into Jacqo’s arms (which Niamh would not have approved of, I guess), and could only mumble some delirious nonsense about this hill and that hill, which made Jacqo forbid me to drive home in my state. I found my family eventually when they let us back into the transition area where my mobile was located. Valentia Ice Cream has never tasted so good!

And with that, I’m going to rest. Niamh was slightly wrong, there’s no race next weekend.

Action photography by Shea Bubendorfer (aged 9)

2010 Caherciveen Sive Triathlon
1:22:39, 71st place
swim 18:28, T1 1:41, bike 40:47, T2 00:44, run 21:03

Friday, June 18, 2010

Good News, Bad News

Aren’t credit cards great? Even if you have no money whatsoever, they still enable you to purchase goods right here and now without having to wait until you can actually afford them. And all you have to do is sign your life away until you have paid back approximately three times the amount you borrowed in the first place. Well, after taking one look at our half-mowed lawn and the burnt wreck of our old mower, Niamh forced me to purchase a replacement no matter what. The good news is, the lawn is cut.

We had our 9 weeks old niece for a short visit over the weekend (the one that was born at the same time I did the Connemara Ultra). Her exhausted parents took a day off to attend a wedding (no, not their own) to leave Niamh and me in charge (ok, ok, just Niamh) of their little offspring. What can I say, looking after only one baby is so easy, I don’t know what people are complaining about! Still, handing her back the next day was welcome. There’s only so much lullaby singing I can do without aggravating the rest of my family. The great news is, the baby now knows at least a dozen Man City songs and she likes them all.

My quads have gradually forgiven me for putting them through the manger for a second time in 5 days. Running a downhill race 5 days after a marathon was always a big ask (read: the kind of stupid thing only I do), but by now they seem ready for some more punishment. As it just so happens, there is another triathlon this Saturday. The bad news is, Grellan will be there as well and he’s going to humiliate me. Since when exactly do we allow those Cork people across the county border? Ideally they should just be allowed 70 minutes in Fitzgerald stadium before driving back home, crying.

After two days of cycling and swimming I took to the roads again in proper fashion on Wednesday in form of an 8 mile run alongside the lake. It was a beautiful morning, which made for a very nice run. The quads did behave themselves but my right hamstring felt uncomfortably tight. Not sure where that came from, it had been fine both after the marathon and the downhill race. The run went pretty well nevertheless and the pace was surprisingly quick.

On Tuesday I thought I should have turned the cycle workout into a brick; on Thursday I did exactly that. After cycling for an hour (which passed so quickly I had to double-check my watch) I ran 4 miles in 30 minutes. As always, the legs felt wobbly for the first few minutes but did not affect my pace. The right hamstring was uncomfortably tight again but I really don’t think this is a real issue. I fully expect it to go away sooner rather than later. What’s always funny about running off the bike is that my pace is rather strong even though it feels awkward and slow. Without pushing the effort I got close to 7:00 pace. Oh, and I managed to get out of my cycling shoes while still on the bike. That’s one thing I want to improve during T2 compared to my last (and so far only) triathlon in Valentia.

It was just 6 easy miles this morning, with a wry smile on my face after France proved that cheats don’t prosper. The hamstring troubles were still there, but definitely improving. The HR was pleasingly low; I seem to have recovered surprisingly well considering what I’ve just put my body through.

As I’ve just found out, they put me into Wave 1 for tomorrow’s triathlon. After overcoming the initial shock, my new target is not to be the last wave 1 swimmer out of the water. Beating Grellan is not on the agenda, I estimate he will have 5 minutes on me by the time I reach dry land and unless I manage to fiddle with his bike that’s that matter settled. My only other target for tomorrow is to improve my transition times. I’m a desperately slow transitioner and there’s plenty of room for improvement. I have a few ideas in my head on what I will do differently from 4 weeks ago; let’s see how it all works out.
16 Jun
8 miles, 1:02:20, 7:48 pace, HR 151
17 Jun
60 mins cycling (about 18.5 miles)
4.2 miles running, 29:52, 7:02 pace, HR 153
19 Jun
6.1 miles, 49:56, 8:11 pace, HR 142

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Run, Cycle, Swim

Check out these photos from Saturday's adventure race, and there's plenty more where they came from. Is it any wonder that I'm now frantically trying to figure out a way of doing this next year without having to skip any other major targets? As far as Adventure Races go, this one would suit me perfectly: it is close to home, the kayak part is mercifully short and the cycling part is on the road but still tough enough to stop anyone from saying you chickened out of a proper challenge. I'm not sure if I can fit this in next year; road running will always be my top priority, but I have the sneaking suspicion that I will be on the start line of that event sooner rather than later, and this time I'm not talking about the relay option.

Anyway, my quads were indeed sore on Sunday, though not as bad as they had been after the Wexford half marathon, which leave me hopeful that the real training for Dingle can start sooner rather than later. I did 5 easy miles on Sunday and then opted for the bike on Monday in order to get some blood flowing into the legs without subjecting them to the trauma of running on tarmac. It wasn't until the end of the workout that I thought I should have turned this into a brick workout with a short running section. Maybe next time.

Today I received a benefit for sacrificing my legs for the team on Saturday in form of a swim buddy for an open water swim. My swimming has taken a dive (lousy pun, sorry) since the triathlon mainly because I detest having to drive to Killarney and back on my swim mornings. This costs me over an hour of my very precious morning time and I really did not like it. On the other hand, I live in an area called “Caragh Lake”, which should give you a clue for an alternative option. However, I had never dared to swim there because a) I don't want to do it on my own and b) I was worried about an algae infestation. Well, on Saturday Kathryn (who had done the mountain running) told me that the algae had not been blooming this year due to the lack of rain in spring (now that is an unexpected bonus!) and offered to come with me this morning. So we met up at 7 o'clock in the morning at the one available path to the lake, which luckily happens to be merely a quarter mile from home. I also put my Garmin into my swim cap, a trick I had learned from this chap (and this one, too), to get an idea on the distance covered. This worked very well indeed, much better than expected, but Kathryn seemed to have enough after 20 minutes and we called it a day then. I think her thin wetsuit isn't as suited to swimming in Irish waters than mine. Me, I'm very grateful for every molecule of insulation on mine, even though getting in and out seems to be getting more difficult each time.
13 Jun
5 miles, 40:46, 8:09 pace, HR 150
14 Jun
15+ miles cycling
15 Jun
25 minutes swimming

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Recovery? Well ...

When looking at the results of the Cork marathon, I realised that the split time had been taken at the 13 mile mark rather than at halfway. When I re-calculated my pace for both sections with this in mind, I found that I had run the first one at 7:20.6 and the second at 7:20.3 pace, which means I managed to run negative splits after all. Funnily enough I had managed the same rare feat 2 years ago in the same race. It might be a sign that I ran the first half a tad too conservative, but certainly not by much. It's better to have something in the tank for the last few miles than to hit the wall with a few miles yet to come.

Anyway, a few days ago on Wednesday evening I got a phone call. Kathryn, who organised a relay team for the Dingle Adventure Race, was in desperate need of a runner as her original team member had dropped out with 60 hours to go. I could not leave the lady in a lurch, so I got permission from Niamh and accepted. I did warn her that I had run a marathon 2 days ago and that I would be taking things easy; she was fine with that.

The race starts in dingle with a cycle across Connor Pass, then a "hike" across Mount Brandon, a road run towards Dingle and a Kayak section across Dingle Bay. Unsurprisingly, I was to do the road run.

Since I though it would be better to have a few miles in my leg before running 8 miles in a race, even an “easy” one, I set the alarm clock after all and went running for 5 miles both on Thursday and Friday morning. I was very pleasantly surprised just how well my legs felt. There was only a tiny remnant of stiffness in the quads, the rest felt perfectly fine. I also measured a resting HR of 45 on Wednesday – that's lower than 2 days before the marathon! In light of that I thought I could risk a race.

My enthusiasm waned a tad when I realised that a lot of the run would be downhill; not the best idea when you're supposed to be recovering from a marathon. Then I realised that I would have to be in Dingle at 8 o'clock in the morning for the briefing and my leg would not start until about noon at the earliest (the website even mentioned something about 2 o'clock). Clearly I would have to kill a lot of time in Dingle. Then, on Friday, my left quads starter hurting. Things were not looking too good, but by now it was much too late for Kathryn to find another runner and I did not even mention my troubles to her. I merely told her that I would be running no faster than 8-minute-miles, which was perfectly fine by her (maybe she knew something I didn't).

Anyway, we went to Dingle in the morning, saw off the bike start and had a coffee while waiting for my shuttle bus. I wasn't even on the bus yet when word came through that Liz, our cyclist, had already finished her stage, in less than an hour. That was much faster than I had anticipated. All of a sudden I felt under pressure. Surely she was taking this rather seriously. Would I be letting the team down by running easily?

I caught the first bus and got to the run start shortly before 11 o'clock. Within a few minutes the first mountain runner came into view. John Lenihan is a true world class athlete, and watching him glide seemingly effortlessly down the mountain at speed was a sight to behold. In fact, I felt rather privileged to witness it and to be able to appreciate the beauty of his performance. It took a few minutes for the next runner to appear, and then the numbers increased steadily. At that stage I received a rather panicky sounding text message from Kathryn who thought it would take her 2 hours to even reach the top of the mountain. Luckily she managed to pull through, I got another text when she went over the top and figured I had about 20 minutes to the start of my leg.

I wondered if I should even do a warm-up, because I figured the fewer miles I spent on my still recovering legs the better. The decision was pretty much taken out of my hands when I spotted Kathryn's pink top coming down the mountain. I did just under a quarter mile of warm-up, just to get the legs moving, then she was here and I was off.

The first mile dropped very steeply down the rest of the mountain. I took it easy – or so I thought. I definitely did not run at race effort but looking at the figures now I ran the first mile in 5:36, though that included an elevation drop of 344 feet. I had already passed several runners but told most of them that I was only a relay runner, so they did not have to worry. In fact I felt like a complete fraud. The real athletes had already cycled across Ireland's highest pass before crossing a mountain to get to this spot, while I had done nothing of the sort. I was embarrassed every time I passed someone, and over the next hour, with my much fresher legs, I had plenty of opportunity to be embarrassed.

The second mile featured a hill with 135 feet elevation gain (“it's a small hill but will feel like a big hill at that stage”, the RD had said in the morning [well, not to a relay runner]), and passed in 6:49, probably way too fast. A lot of the adventure racers were walking, looking rather knackered. Then the road dropped gently all the way down to Dingle for the next 4 miles and I tried to take it reasonably easy. I certainly didn't do 8-minute-miles like I promised Kathryn (and especially myself), but I was not doing 8-mile race pace either. In reality this was about tempo effort, comfortably hard. Not all-out racing, but certainly a far cry from an easy run. The next 4 miles passed in 6:11, 6:27, 7:05 and 6:34, and were mostly unremarkable. It was rather hot; it was a hazy day but for a while to sun broke through and the temperatures rose noticeably. I took a drink at about half way from a well-stocked water station, but when a car came by handing out extra bottles I declined because I felt these bottles should go to the adventure racers, not relay-only posers like myself.

I reached the roundabout outside Dingle after exactly 6 miles, passing Liz and Kathryn. Looking at the map I had thought this was just a mile from the finish, in which case the run section would have been shorter than the advertised 8 miles. It was also part of the Dingle marathon route, meaning I had run on this very stretch of road exactly 9 months ago. Somehow I must have forgotten the steep climb to the garage and past the graveyard because it caught my entirely by surprise. I felt very dehydrated, and passing the graveyard thought that at least the didn't have to carry me far if I collapsed here. It very soon became apparent that this final stretch but would be a lot longer than a mile. Twisty as the road was, I could always see runners further ahead and each bend and each hill just led to the next one. My pace suffered at that point. I was tired and thirsty, and I really wondered just how long this was going to take (miles 7 and 8 at 7:15 and 7:20).

I finally reached the turn-off point after 8 miles, and we still had to cross through the grounds towards the sea, including a very muddy stretch where you really had to mind your footing, which is why that last section was slower than anything else. Eventually I reached the end after 56:26 minutes of running and passed the baton (well, the timing chip) on to Noddy, our Kayak specialist.

I missed his finish because he was faster across the water than my bus around it, but apparently we came home as the 5th team, which would be a great result, though I have yet to see the results at the web site. I certainly had run much faster than anticipated and walking through Dingle I wondered just how I had gotten away with that rather reckless pace on a downhill course only 5 days after a rather grueling marathon. At least I think I got away with it because my quads feel absolutely fine. I guess I'll find out tomorrow if that's not the case.

There was still plenty of day left when I got back home, so I managed to do the gardening after all. Well, until the lawn mower caught fire. Now I have a half-done lawn at the front of the house, no appliance to tackle the rest with and no money to rectify the situation. Oops.

10 Jun
5 miles, 39:15, 7:50 pace, HR 147
11 Jun
5 miles, 40:00, 8:00 pace, HR 145
12 Jun
Dingle Adventure Race, Relay, Run Section:
8.4 miles, 56:26, 6:43 pace, HR 180

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Cork Photos

Two days on and I’ve had time to reflect on my 15th marathon/ultra. Considering how low my expectations had been before the race, this has gone very well. I would gladly have taken 3:12 at the start, so I have no reason to complain about that time now.

Michael left a lengthy comment, wondering if I’m overtrained. I gave this careful thought, but I really do not think this is the case. The main reason why I was not very enthusiastic about the race was that it was a late addition to my racing calendar this year, I signed up a few weeks ago, mostly on a whim. Then, when I got sick with a week to go, I expected a long slow disaster, and this wasn’t something I was really looking forward to. In contrast, I am very much looking forward to Dingle, both the training and the race. I take this as a good sign.

My legs are feeling very good. I can even skip down the staircase at work without a bother. That’s a new one after a marathon. Still, I haven’t run yet. I might in the next few days if I happen to wake early enough, but I won’t set my alarm.

Unlike a few other marathons, there were loads of photos around, and I have been busy scouring the net. I found plenty of pictures of myself, looking ugly in basically all of them. That’s ok, a marathon is no beauty contest. Thanks To Paudi, Private, the official photographers and everyone who posted a picture on flickr.

Early on, you can see me (673) with Seamus (1470) tucked close behind.

Very close by, we’ve temporarily attached ourselves to a bigger group.

At mile 10, probably the stretch where I felt best, Seamus was still very much with me.

Mile 11, and we all just realised that we would be running straight into the wind for the next 2 miles. Seamus, of course, knew it too but at least had a handy wind shield in front of him. And you can admire Blackrock Castle in the background.

Close to the halfway point and we found a fairly big group that stayed together for a good few miles. Seamus is right behind me.

Pretty much the same group at mile 15. Me and my shadow Seamus.

And shortly afterwards. Seamus is – you guessed it – right behind me.

By mile 20 things have changed and I'm on my own. I can hardly recognise myself in that picture. I look about 10 years older.

Crossing the finish line.

Blimey, that was hard work.

I should have left my glasses at home. I was running blind half of the time.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Plan for the worst and hope for the best

So said Mike, and who am I to question the voice of wisdom. I had a long list of excuses why this would not be a good marathon, especially the fact that I had been sick a week ago and still felt the effects of it on marathon day. I finally got excited about the race on Sunday night, but when I awoke on Monday morning my mood immediately nosedived when I saw the trees bending over in the wind and the roads covered in puddles from heavy rain.

I paid a fortune for the taxi to get me to City Hall, and then assembled with the rest of the field on St. Patrick's Street. I could see the balloon for the 3:00 group not far ahead of me (and presumably Mick Rice at the other end of the tether) and had to resist the temptation of walking up to him and starting out at suicidal pace. Instead I stayed put and by pure coincidence ended up right beside Marty, so we exchanged a few words and wished each other well. Then we were off, and about 10 seconds later I crossed the line and my race began.

I did not have a fixed time goal, so I ran purely by feel. Not wishing to wear myself out within the first miles I started at what felt like rather leisurely pace, though it really was a bit faster than that. I thought I might see the leading runners at the initial almost-out-and-back section, but I must have been too far ahead in the field for that, the road was still empty coming down the other way. I saw Seamus ahead of me who I had raced with a lot of times in Kerry over the recent months. He seemed to be doing exactly my pace, just 10 steps ahead of me. Somewhere close to the 2-mile marker I finally caught up with him. I reminded him that we were in the same age group when he called me a young man and after a bit of banter I got ahead of him.

Right at the 3-mile sign we were back beside the river and on our way eastwards out of the city. The wind hit us immediately and I tried to tuck behind other runners as much as possible, but it was very hard going and I spent a lot of energy. Of course the conditions were the same for everyone else, but the combination of wind and rain is nasty, especially for a specs-wearer like me. I felt like flying blind, and I lost count of the occasions when I had to adjust or even wipe my glasses because my sight was severely curtailed.

Miles 1-5: 7:11, 7:06, 7:25, 7:13, 7:17

The Cork marathon also features a relay, and the relay stations are all a bit more than 5 miles apart. This makes it easy to divide the course into 5 much more manageable chunks and the relay runners provide a great atmosphere at the changeover points. You just have to careful not to get carried away there, and not to mind being overtaken by a few runners with fresh legs after each station. It was towards the end of the first station that I realised that Seamus was right behind me when someone called his name. The cheeky rascal had stuck to my coattails for the last 3 miles, letting me do all the work in the wind! We headed the same direction for about 2 more miles until we got off the dual carriageway and after a set of slip roads (short steep hills for us runners) we entered the most unusual stretch of any marathon course I have ever experienced, the Jack Lynch tunnel. The road is fairly steep, first in our favour on the way in, but of course we had to pay for that on our way out. I very much appreciated the break in the wind, but it did not last long enough. Seamus must have felt really guilty about using me as a wind shield earlier on because he went ahead to do the work himself for a while. Another set of hills finally got us out of the Link Road, and for a couple of miles the wind was at our back, which explains the 2 fast miles 10 and 11 (7:09 and 6:55 pace).

Miles 6-10: 7:18, 7:21, 7:21, 7:18, 7:09

Just before Blackrock Castle we basically turned around onto a path right beside the water. As I said at the time, on a lovely day this would have been a lovely stretch, but today was not that day. Instead it turned into a few miles of hell as we ran right into a miniature hurricane. Seamus was tucked behind me once more, but I found a little group, mostly lead by two guys in white singlets and for a change hitched a lift myself. Even though the pace felt rather strong, the slowest mile of the day came on that stretch and the fact that the path was entirely flat apart from two overpasses was totally negated by being blown backward with each step. Finally we turned westwards and I knew that for a few miles we did not have to worry about it any more. We re-joined last year's course and passed the halfway point in 1:35:22 on my watch, still in the same group with the 2 white singlets, Seamus, and a couple of others. The pace picked up a bit, but I still felt entirely comfortable.

Miles 11-15: 6:55, 7:19, 7:37, 7:21, 7:12

In fact I felt so comfortable that at mile 15 that I decided to inject some pace. I passed the white singlets and left Seamus behind, having earlier agreed that it's every man for himself. The next 2 miles were pretty good, but I knew that the hilly part of the race was yet to come, so maybe I was just trying to bank some time. The average pace on the Garmin so far had mostly shown 7:14, then dropped back to 7:17 on the windy path and we recovered to 7:15 by halfway. My surge at that point got me back to 7:14. I also passed a tattooed runner in a black singlet after a little chat. However, as soon as the hills started I started to struggle. I have never been the strongest of uphill runners and it showed. The runner in the black singlet went ahead again looking very strong, but I think he was the only marathon runner to pass me (plus a couple of relay runners). On my previous run here, 2 years ago, I had struggled on that stretch as well but found my legs again for a very strong finish and obviously I was hoping for the same again. However, I was starting to cough at that point, and each cough would produce some phlegm from deep within my lungs (sorry for that description). It was a clear sign that not all was hunky dory, but there was nothing I could do about it apart from hoping that I would manage to hold things together for the final 8 or 9 miles.

My left hamstring had started hurting by mile 10, but that was entirely manageable, if slightly worrying. From miles 18 to 20 this turned into agony, but the drop in pace was more down to the hills on that stretch. It was my experience that got me through that stretch. I have been there plenty of times and knew there was a chance that I would recover eventually. It took a while and felt even longer, but by the time I passed the Lough I started feeling better again and I was kind of looking forward to the last few miles. Would I be able to repeat my performance from 2 years ago and have a good finish?

Miles 16-20: 7:06, 6:57, 7:07, 7:20, 7:22

There were a few more hills to cover, but I could tell that I was doing better by the fact that I managed to catch up with the black singlet again, and somewhere around the last relay station I passed him again, this time for good. I'm pretty sure that by re-passing him I had overtaken the only marathon runner to have passed me since mile 10. I, on the other hand, starting catching runners by the dozen, but it was difficult to tell if they were marathon or relay runners, because plenty of relay runners ignored the rules of wearing a number both on the front and the back, not that it really matters in the end. But it's always a boost to gain one more place in your own race.

I am a bit disappointed now with the numbers on the Garmin, which really do not seem to reflect the massive effort I put into those miles. They might have been slower than 7:20 but were a lot harder than the ones closer to 7:00 pace earlier on. It did not help that we first had to deal with the hills, and when we turned onto the straight road that would bring us back into the city we were heading straight into the wind again. My timing was particularly bad; I had just passed a fairly big group and now there was a massive gap ahead of me; no runners, just wind. It took me half the road, but finally I gained a few more places. Mile 24 might only have been 7:24 pace but I must have passed a dozen runners.

Miles 20-25: 7:09, 7:30, 7:18, 7:27, 7:24

Of course all those mile times are from my Garmin, which never quite matches the real numbers. Normally it shows about 26.4 miles at the end of a marathon, but it had long ago become apparent that this time the discrepancy would be higher, even though I had been careful following the race line for most of the race. However, on quite a few occasions we all had to take a wider turn because of the massive and deep puddles on the road, especially on some corners that we ideally would have cut much finer. But looking at my figures and remembering the lines many of the other races took, some runners must have gone a long way more than the normal 26.22 miles at the end.

Anyway, the 25 mile marker was my sign to push the effort even further and I red-lined. My heart rate would eventually reach 180, which I had never managed in a marathon before, I'm sure. I was still passing runners, though I had no real idea of my pace or time and I did not waste effort looking at the Garmin, just pushed with all I had. The last mile really seemed to drag out a lot and the pain was immense.

Miles 26 + rest: 7:05, 6:48 pace for the final 0.5

Eventually we crossed the river again to head into the finish. For the last few seconds I finally saw the timer and at first was quite disappointed to see it at 3:12. All that hard work and suffering for a mere 3:12 marathon? But considering the circumstances, my sickness (I was still coughing up the content of my lungs), the wind, my less-than-ideal training since Connemara, this was pretty good. I guess the lesson is that if I want to run faster than that, I have to train specifically for a fast marathon.

I waited for a few minutes in the finish area and shook hands with a few runners I remembered from the course, and gave some stick to John D for missing his 3:15 pacing target (sorry John. I know you looked shattered). I was just starting to worry about Seamus when he crossed the line in 3:19, having suffered from cramps over the last 10 miles but happy with his effort.

Thinking back, I'm happy enough with mine as well. This was my 4th fastest marathon to date, and considering the circumstances I had done well enough. The first half had felt easy enough to wonder if I had started too conservatively, but considering that I had not managed to run negative splits despite the massive rise in effort during the second half, this is questionable. I easily managed to run another Boston Qualifier (not that I will run Boston next year), and I'm sure I managed to get they marathon racing fever out of my system. Now I can start training for Dingle. After all, that's only 3 months away.

Blurry race photo by Paudie.

2010 Cork City Marathon
3:12:10, 7:19 pace, HR 162
93rd out of 1427 finishers

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Getting Your Excuses In Early


Why I don’t think I will have a good marathon
  • I was sick a week ago. I have run marathons after being sick before. They were a disaster.
  • My resting heart rate this morning was 47. It should be below 40.
  • The site of my dental procedure still hurts like hell.
  • I haven’t been training properly for 8 weeks.
  • I might be tempted to run with Mick Rice and burn horribly over the second half.
  • Niamh wanted me to walk the 2 miles from the hotel to the start.
  • Both calf muscles cramped horribly 2 nights ago – while getting off the sofa!
  • I’m fat: 151 pounds. About 6 more than in Connemara.
  • My stomach has started acting up. I was a very frequent visitor to the toilet yesterday.
  • I can’t get excited about the race.
To be perfectly honest, I can’t even figure why I’m running this race. I am running a charity marathon in 5 weeks and if that were my only marathon this year, I might be tempted to race it and completely scupper my chances of a good race in Dingle. Cork is there to get the racing fever out of my system, and the charity marathon will be a glorified training run for Dingle. So far so good. Except that with my lack of enthusiasm for Monday’s race, there is no racing fever to get out of my system in the first place.

Niamh asked if I was excited about the race. I emphatically answered in the negative. The she asked if I was resigned. I guess that just about hits it. As soon as I got sick a week ago, my hopes for a good race went out of the window. Of course I’ll still go ahead, and of course I’ll drag my ageing body across the finish line. That’s what I always do. At the moment I just want to get it out of the way so that I can start training properly again.

Sorry ‘bout all that. I’m sure I’ll find my enthusiasm again somewhere down the line. I had a great race in Connemara. Maybe that’s just the post-ultra blues.
3 Jun
5 miles, 39:39, 7:56 pace, HR 150
4 Jun
5 Jun
4 miles, 32:10, 8:02 pace, HR 146

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


No, I’m not about to reveal my undercover secret service identity, that’s my mileage for the last 3 days I'm talking about. I had told you that I had been sick over the weekend, but since the symptoms were all above the neck, I initially decided to go ahead with my normal taper program, which is easy enough anyway. I was just about to go to bed on Sunday when I just happened to read this article by Private on how stupid he had been running with a throat infection. It served as a wake-up call; I put my running gear back into the cupboard and re-set my alarm clock.

Since I didn’t feel great on Monday I didn’t run on Tuesday either. Since I picked up the infection exactly 2 days after Shea, I could see all along how I was about to progress. It started with 2 days of sore throat (Shea Thursday/Friday, me Saturday/Sunday) followed by 2 days of feeling exhausted and achy (Shea Saturday/Sunday, me Monday/Tuesday) and a really annoying cough (Shea Sunday /Monday, me Tuesday/Wednesday). Shea is fine now and I guess I will feel fully restored by tomorrow. Niamh and Maia are following in our footsteps 2 days after me, which meant a couple of rough nights due to Maia crying regularly (5 times between 1 and 4 o’clock on Monday, and Niamh insists she genuinely slept through it Every Single Time).

As if being sick were not enough trouble on its own, I went to the dentist today. My last baby tooth had literally started falling apart (they are not meant to last for 40 years), but it had been in there long enough to fuse with my jaw bone and the dentist spent half an hour breaking it into smaller pieces and pulling out what he could bit by bit, leaving behind the roots and the rest that was too close to the bone. The procedure was as lovely as you can imagine, but I kept thinking I’d be hurting a lot more on Monday, so I could easily take this. But by now the anaesthetic has worn off and I'm in agony.

Anyway, I was back on the road this morning for a marathon dress rehearsal, 7 miles altogether with 3 at MP. I went by effort and heart rate to gauge where my marathon pace was. The result were 3 miles at 6:56 pace with an average HR of 164, which means I am in pretty good shape but just that little bit shy of sub-3 shape.

This is not taking the effects of my illness into account, of course. I felt well enough this morning, but 7 miles are not enough to bring out the effects that you feel after 15 or 20 miles at race effort. I have run marathons after getting sick before; the result was always an ugly, painful race and a disappointing time. I only have to look back at Dublin last year, which is still very much in my memory. Chances are this will happen again, but I’m stupid enough to give it a go anyway and go down in flames once more.

Still, in the morning right after my run I was perfectly content to aim for about 7:00 pace, which would leave me shy of 3 hours but still get me a new PR. Then I heard that Mick Rice, a class act in more than one way, will be pacing the 3-hour group in Cork (he was supposed to do 3:15 and I was hoping to keep him behind me). Now I’m thinking that running a few miles in his company might be worth the inevitable crash, but maybe that’s just the sickness affecting my brain or the after-effect of today’s local anaesthetic shutting down the more reasonable parts of my mind. I guess I might stand on the start line on Monday still not sure what to do.

5 days to go. I’m about to do something really stupid, am I not?
31 May
1 Jun
2 Jun
7.1 miles, 50:48, 7:09 pace, HR 156
incl. 3 miles at 6:56 pace, HR 164