Sunday, July 18, 2010

Training Camp

It was Saturday morning, exactly 10 o’clock that I waved Niamh and the kids good-bye. They were on their way to Dublin for an entire week, leaving me to fend on my own for 9 days. Freed from the shackles of family life, I fully intend on doing what every other married man with children would do in the same situation: I will run a lot!*

This week will be my Dingle Ultra training camp, but unfortunately and highly inconveniently I still have to go to work from Monday to Friday. I still have one wife, four children, one mortgage and one racing habit to maintain, and neither of those comes cheap.

As Maia very rightly pointed out, “Daddy has to stay home to do running and working.” She might only be 2, but she’s clearly clued up.

Anyway, 5 minutes after the car had gone down the driveway I followed along the same route myself. I was keen to get going because the weather forecast was not promising and as I was heading into the mountains I intended to make the best of the last few dry hours. I headed up to the Kerry Way, the closest point of which is just over 2 miles from home, and headed towards Windy Gap. I was completely caught by surprise by the fact that the Rás na Ríochta adventure race was on at the same time and I encountered a few dozen mountain bikers over the next 4 miles, first the ones from the mini-version, but shortly after crossing my first mountain pass** of the day at Windy Gap the leaders of the real race came along. I was completely taken by surprise by the fact that the second rider greeted me with “hello Thomas, marathon man”, and he was gone before I had recovered from the shock of being recognised. I had only barely been aware that the race would be on that day and since I never looked at the race map I did not know that I would be running along the course. I would have chosen a different route had I known. In the end it didn’t really matter and I didn’t interfere with anyone’s race.

Anyway, after Windy Gap the road dropped all the way down to sea level, first on a very stony trail, then on a small road. After Glenbeigh and Rosbeigh there was a mile of single track before another couple of miles on the road uphill to Mountain Stage and then the best part of the day, a few miles along the slopes of Drung Hill, 800 feet above the sea (and 700 feet above the main road) with views to die for, along the Iveragh peninsula and across the bay towards Dingle. The photos really don’t do it more than 1% justice. Oh yes, I did carry a camera in my waist pack. After last Saturday I decided not to pile too much stuff into my short pockets any more and brought a little waist pack, and since there was some extra space I brought the camera along with me. Don’t expect it to be a regular occurrence, though. I even had my mobile with me and sent a few pictures to Niamh while she was on her journey.

Anyway, after crossing another mountain pass beyond Drung and about 15 miles and 2:18 into the run I reached a little sign that I took as the turnaround point. I intended to cut out Windy Gap on my way home, and the shorter return journey should give me roughly 4 hours of running, or so I thought. My main problem was that despite rationing my drink, my only bottle was now empty. Unless I took a detour I was at least 5 miles from the next house and I was getting rather thirsty, so eventually I re-filled my bottle from a stream. I had encountered plenty of water, but with loads of sheep within the vicinity I did not trust the water. This little stream came out of a forest straight down the mountain and I decided to take the risk. The yellow-brownish colour was not too appealing, but the peat surface meant this in itself was not a bad sign. I retraced my footsteps back towards Mountain Stage and then towards Glenbeigh. I was getting really tired now. It probably was not just the miles but the vertical gains and drops that killed my quads and I was really struggling. A gel revived me sufficiently to make it to Glenbeigh, but I had to fight some serious nausea; I wondered if the water was responsible for that. When I finally made it into Glenbeigh itself I stopped by the Tower Hotel where they graciously re-filled my (empty again) bottle. I was so thirsty that I finished two-thirds of it before I had even left the premises, but decided that I would make the last 4 miles home without another top-up. I surprisingly managed to tune into The Zone for the rest of the run and made it home after 27.5 miles in 4:17:08, about 20 of them off-road, completely and utterly exhausted and aching just about everywhere. I stepped on the scales to find that my weight had dropped from 152.8 pounds pre-run to 148, a loss of just under 5 pounds. Considering that you can expect to lose 4 pounds from depleted glycogen stores alone, this was better than expected, about 3% weight loss. After feeling so dehydrated I had expected a much greater loss. I was no good for anything for the rest of the day, just slumped on the sofa watching the Tour de France. These guys are spending 4+ hours on the bike day after day, but at least their sport is not weight bearing. I did wonder how I was supposed to run again tomorrow, aching as I was all over. In hindsight I had started out too fast, but what’s done is done.

I slept less than expected and was up well before 8 o’clock, only to find that the weather forecast had been wrong and the rain had not moved on overnight. I did plenty of housework (yes, I’m a domesticated man, me) despite my sore legs, and by 10:30 got fed up with waiting for better conditions and got ready to head out again. The plan for the weekend had been 4 hours on Saturday and 3:30 on Sunday, but my legs were so sore I decided to cut it short. However, to ensure that I would not take it too easy I did the loop around Caragh Lake, which would give me 16.5 miles without the opportunity of bailing out early, which I guessed would be a good thing. I briefly wondered if it was really such a good idea heading out with already weary legs, but of course that was pretty much the entire point of today’s run. I took it very slowly, not even doing 9-minute miles. By mile 3 I reached the base of the first hill and surprisingly it got easier from then on as I tuned into The Zone again, where I have spent a surprising amount of time recently. The weather didn’t help, the wind blew the rain straight into my face but I hardly noticed. The uphills were fine, but the legs were on fire on the downhills and I really had to stop myself from moaning loudly. A flatter route would have been much easier today, but again, putting myself through the wringer was the entire point of that run. I felt really bad after about 11 miles, but a gel at that point had amazing effects and revived me so much that I didn’t even mind running out of drink again a few miles short of home.

As soon as I got home I emptied an entire bottle of sports drink in one go. Then I got into the house, refilled my water bottle … and headed out for another 6 miles. I’m not sure what possessed me at that point, but I thought it would be neat to cover 50 miles over the weekend and I was 6 miles short. On the way to the turnaround point I was surprised to see that my pace had declined all the way to 10-minute miles, but I guess for an Ultra runner that’s not a bad pace to train in. After turning around 3 miles later I decided to end my dead man’s shuffle and stride out a bit more, which immediately dropped the pace to about 8:30, very slowly accelerating further. I was still hurting, but it felt good to feel like a runner again. I had noticed that my form had deteriorated badly whenever I was not concentrating; I was running hunched over, taking short steps, looking like an old man. It took conscious effort to straighten up, but over the last few miles I could feel the form improving again. The last mile was much faster again as I could smell the barn, and even the downhills hurt a lot less that way. The schedule had suggested running the last hour at marathon pace, but that was cloud cuckoo land nonsense and never going to happen. I surprised myself by managing the last mile at that pace, but that was it.

These were by far the hardest back-to-back training runs I’ve ever done but surprisingly I felt much better than the day before. A week ago I had gotten cocky by running almost 30 miles feeling really good and this weekend has brought me back down to earth. Ultra running is tough, after all it’s supposed to be hard, and a lesson in humility was well needed. Somehow I don’t think the mile repeats are going to happen next week. Instead I’ll try and recover over the next 5 days to do it all over again. Eventually I hope to get the hang of it.

Btw, in case someone is interested, I deliberately kept the nutrition on the low side to get my body used to running in a depleted state. On Saturday I took 500 ml of Amino, about 800 ml of water and 2 gels (318 calories). On Sunday I took 500 ml of Amino, 500 ml of sports drink, 500 ml of water and one gel (373 calories).

Weight: Saturday: pre-run 152.8, post-run 148
Sunday: pre-run 150, post-run 148.2

* no, there’s no need to comment on that particular point
** yes, I use the term rather loosely. Anything over 1000 feet is a mountain pass here.

17 Jul
27.5 miles, 4:17:08, 9:21 pace, HR 147
18 Jul
22.67 miles, 3:31:30, 9:19 pace, HR 140


  1. Great running Thomas. Watch out for those mountain streams, although you should be pretty safe if there are no animals upstream. The views a certainly spectacular along the Iveragh Peninsula - was the path along the line of the old railway lin or highr up?

  2. Grellan, the path was much higher than the old railway, at least 500 feet higher. I could see some old tunnels and of course Gleensk viaduct is in one of the photos.

  3. Great stuff Thomas. You are indeed harcore, though after reading about drinking water from a stream I am inclined to liken you to a bog monster :)

  4. if I can't comment on that * particular point, then not much to say really ;)

    Wish I could train in a place like that Thomas, much cooler than here too, I'd expect.

  5. Great to see you had time to take such nice pictures. Now let me get it straight; I thought you were training for a marathon but you're doing ultra training instead for the 50 miler? You are mad!!

  6. Great running and photos, very much enjoyed. Ally and I were looking at them and fondly remembering Ireland. Enjoy your 'training camp'.

  7. Some fantastic views indeed. I'd love to get my feet on some of those trails.

  8. Thanks for sharing your photo's, great trail, my ideal training terrain :]

  9. Those are some great pics! My wife and I honeymooned in Ireland a couple years ago and I loved it. It is such a beautiful country! It must be wonderful to live there.

  10. Your photos are wonderful, really gives me a sense of being there. Can't wait. Perhaps we shall pass one day on that very trail. :0)