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

1 comment:

  1. Well done Thomas - I can always rely on you to be more reckless than me. That's a very solid performance so soon after Cork.