Sunday, January 31, 2010

Age Has Its Privileges

Merely 4 days after celebrating my 40th birthday, I stood at the start line of the re-scheduled 4-mile (4.2!) race in Farranfore. I was a bit nervous, not because I was the new boy in this division, but because I felt less than race-ready. The fact that I had climbed out of the pool in Killarney only two hours ago might have had something to do with it – my legs felt a bit like jelly after the swim, but had recovered in the meantime. The swim had not quite gone to plan as the coach did not turn up – his brother had been kicked by a cow and needed hospital treatment, which at least made for a novel excuse. Actually, it wasn't just me at the pool, Niamh and the kids were there, too. And since I did not actually have a lesson, we shared the parental responsibilities and I only spent half my time there actually swimming – which, in light of the race, was most likely a good thing.

The race started fashionably late, and when the gun went off everyone seemed to be taken slightly by surprise but then we all charged up the first of the hills. Five weeks earlier, when the original race here had been cancelled, I ran it with about 20 others and ended up second after a mad fast first mile when I desperately and successfully tried to hang on to the leaders. Today the fast guys were here as well, and staying with the leaders was never on the cards. I therefore expected a very different race to last time, and I did wonder if I would be able to match my time.

However, I was quite surprised to be there near the front. The top 3 guys took off, but behind them a fairly big group of at least a dozen runners formed, with me in the midst. Ok, with me at the end, once again desperately trying to hang on. So much for a different race.

The race starts with quite a hill, but things somehow don't become easier on the following downhill, everyone just charges at some mad pace. The first mile is net downhill, and 5 weeks ago I ran my fastest mile ever there in 5:39. I didn't check the Garmin, but as it turns out today was even faster in 5:33. Honestly, I had no idea. At that stage you can see the road all the way to Firies, over a mile ahead, and it's very, very long. I was wheezing, had been pretty much from the start, but I managed to hang on to the rest of the group for another good while, even as others were spat out at the end. From the start I had been running side-by-side with a young guy in a blue singlet, and so far we had been matching each other stride for stride. This continued all the way into Firies where we did a small loop and then the course turned back towards Farranfore, the same road we had just travelled on coming the other way.

At that little loop an older guy had managed to pass the pair of us (me and blue singlet) and I really tried hard to keep up with him. He wasn't in my age group, but I still did what I could to stay with him. Alas, while he remained within target range, he was just that tiny smidgen too fast for me to catch up. When we left Firies he was 5 steps ahead of me. With every single step he seemed to gain a millimetre. It was unnoticeable, but by the time we reach the bottom of the big hill again, he was 6 steps ahead (yes, I counted). By now my buddy from the first 3 miles had fallen a few steps behind, but another guy had gone past, and I was now in 12th place, but had no idea where I was in my age group.

At that point I felt like falling apart. For the first 3 miles I had run faster than I felt capable of sustaining, and with the big hill sucking the strength out of my legs I was clearly paying the price. However, with my chosen target still within striking range I somehow found some extra reserves and kept pushing hard. The hill kept going for ages, eventually we crossed the train tracks, then another false summit, and finally, almost 4 miles into the race, we reached the apex.

I was about 5 steps behind my pacer, which means I surprisingly had actually managed to gain some ground. But as soon as he reached the downhill part he took off, and there was nothing left in my legs that could match that. All I could do was letting the gap grow slower rather than faster, and hope that nobody behind me would be able to catch up. At least I was successful in that, even if the hopes of gaining another place or two were merely fancy wishful thinking. I crossed the line after almost 4.2 miles (4 mile race my arse!) in 25:16. I didn't know it at the time and had too look up my time from 5 weeks ago, but it was almost half a minute faster! I have to be pleased with that.

After rather shamelessly raiding the post-race buffet (I was ravenous after all the swimming and running on only a small breakfast and no lunch), I stayed on for the prize ceremony and was very pleased to find I had come 2nd in the M40 age group and received a little trophy. Had the race taken part on the original date, I would have come home empty handed. Age has its privileges.

And on an entirely different note, yesterday I took the plunge so to speak and signed up for the Valentia triathlon on 22 May. Registration opened at 9 o'clock, when I clicked the registration link at 9:07 there were nine places left, and when I checked it again after registering, at about 9:10, it was sold out. Blimey!

30 Jan
6 miles, 48:13, 8:06 pace, HR 143
31 Jan
~11 miles, including:
  Farranfore 4 mile (ha!) race, 25:16, 6:04 pace, HR 179
  12th overall, 2nd M40

Weekly Mileage: 62+

Friday, January 29, 2010


No, not the bolt-action sniper rifle used by the United States Marine Corps, nor the motorway between London and Birmingham, but the age group I suddenly find myself in. Since I’ve had ample time to prepare for that date it did not come as a complete shock and, as the office joker put it, I don’t look a day older than 45 anyway.

In theory I could start a whole new set of masters PBs but since I still have ambitions of bettering my existing ones I won’t do that (yet!). But I guess the age graded calculator will get used increasingly more often (though, in fairness, I’ve used it a lot in recent years anyway).

I had planned on going swimming on Wednesday, but as the alarm clock approached 6:20 I turned it off and, in a drastic deviation from my usual procedure, actually went back asleep. It was my birthday and I felt too old for sports.

We went to a restaurant in the evening and thoroughly enjoyed the evening but that got ruined afterwards when we walked into a pub, spotted the telly and within 10 seconds the fat one scored and put us out the Carling Cup. I walked straight out of the pub, feeling sick to the core.

Niamh vetoed my plan of a morning swim on Thursday because she thought I might still be over the legal alcohol limit by 7 o’clock for the drive to Killarney, so I did a slow 5 mile recovery run instead. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of a hangover, but was still thoroughly pissed of about the football result (but, let’s be generous. It’s gonna be their last hurrah before insolvency, followed by relegation and winding up order, by which time the entire pathetic bunch of glory hunters will have switched sides, so let’s not begrudge them their one last small victory).

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, training, or mostly not, as it happened. By Friday morning I finally found my way to the pool but only had time for 40 minutes. I tried to concentrate on the many points that the coach had given me, but there are so many things to concentrate on that I tend to get muddled. Nevertheless, I can tell there is progress being made.

If things go to plan then I will sign up for my first triathlon tomorrow, but the race won’t be until May and it will be very much a fun event to me rather than a serious race. I’m basically testing the waters, quite literally in this case. It will be only a few weeks after Connemara, so an all-out effort would not be on the cards anyway.

The Farranfore 4 (4.2!) mile race that had been cancelled (and run unofficially) on St. Stephens’s Day will be repeated on Sunday, and I’ll most likely be there. After all it’s not far from home. This means there is no time for an interval workout this week, but with 2 20 milers and a race I will still have done my important sessions.
27 Jan
0 miles. Feeling too old
28 Jan
5 miles, 42:01, 8:24 pace, HR 133
29 Jan
40 minutes swim

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Completely New Runner

One week can be a very long time. Last week, after my first back-to-back sandwich of the training cycle I was utterly exhausted. The second run had been one of the toughest training runs ever and the thought of doing all that mileage in one single day seemed like a very fancy idea indeed.

Seven days later, and someone must have replaced my legs with a much better pair. I feel almost reborn. I did learn a few lessons last week and made a few adjustments. For a start, I made sure the run on Sunday was easy (though I feared I might have shot myself in the foot again with the long swim). On Monday I brought a gel with me on the run and consumed it after about 16 miles. I did not feel the need for some carbs at the time but wanted to make sure that my glycogen levels would not bottom out (I know, there is a line of thinking that says that can be a good thing in training from time to time). Then, for the rest of the day, I made pretty damn sure to refuel. In other words, any carbohydrate molecule within vicinity ended up in my stomach. I freely admit. It felt good to pig out for the cause.

On Tuesday I took another gel with me as well as a granola bar. The latter was an experiment. Since my stomach is not great at digesting gels, especially during the later stages of a run, I thought maybe something else might be more agreeable. I took the bar after about 6 miles. I really did not feel like eating at the time but made myself do it. With the first bite I was converted, it tasted really nice and also settled into my stomach. I think I might just take a couple of those to Connemara with me. And I took the gel, again at the 16-mile point. Again, I did not feel like I needed it but after last week’s minor hallucinations I wanted to make sure that there would be no repeat performance.

Anyway, Monday’s run was fine and I felt fresh as a daisy afterwards. And as soon as I took the first step on Tuesday I knew that this would be a much better run than the one the week before. The first 3 miles were relative sedate (8:30 pace) and I took it easy on the next 3 or 4 miles of climbing, but from then on I nudged the effort up a bit because I felt good and at that point there was no more need to take it so easy in order to keep extra reserves in the tank. Things kept going well, and I ran the last mile at sub-7 pace, just because I could.

Even though it was not the goal of today’s run, this was the first time ever that I had managed to run the second run of a back-to-back workout faster than the first one.

By the way, my original schedule had not asked for 2 consecutive 20-milers. Instead I had planned for a 20/18 workout. Initially it seemed like a splendid idea, especially for the 15 minutes of extra sleep this would provide. But at some stage on Monday I told myself to HTFU and decided to run a proper 20-mile long run on Tuesday as well. Well, after feeling so good after my run I was glad about that decision. And because of what is in store tomorrow I found it more than appropriate to have covered 40 miles, albeit in 2 days.
25 Jan
20 miles, 2:45:13, 8:16 pace, HR 140
26 Jan
20 miles, 2:43:20, 8:10 pace, HR 140
last mile @ 6:55

Sunday, January 24, 2010


My training is very much centered around my long runs at the moment, which requires reasonably easy training on the intervening days. As a result, I'm doing more than half of my mileage on the first 2 days of the week. The 5 remaining days are made up of 3 easy days and 2 fairly short ones with some faster running. One of these slightly more intense workouts were Thursday's mile repeats. On Saturday I did some 400s. The running as much, much faster than anything I will require during the ultra, of course. I can only hope they are right when they say this will strengthen my legs for the long miles to come.

Actually, I wasn't quite as apprehensive as I normally tend to be before speed workouts. 400s are over in less than 90 seconds, and even when the pain strikes you know it will be over soon enough. I only had 10 repeats on the program, and I knew I'd make those. Maybe it was my relaxed attitude, or maybe it was the fact that it was about 9 o'clock rather than 6 o'clock as it tends to be during the week, but I had a pretty good workout, certainly in comparison to many of my previous attempts at intervals. I needed the first 2 repeats to get into the groove, but from then on I was surprisingly consistent.

88, 86, 83, 82, 84, 84, 83, 86, 83, 84. I'll take that.

I had to mind Maia for a while during the afternoon, and when I turned my back for about 3 minutes she used the opportunity to cause maximum havoc in the kitchen. I found her cracking eggs on the table top. In an attempt to rescue as much as I could I gathered some of the stuff and chucked it into a pan, though she would probably tell you that she did all the cooking herself. She certainly enjoyed her scrambled eggs.

After an easy 5-mile recovery run in the morning I set off towards Killarney for another swimming lesson. Since I had not been in the pool for 14 days I felt rather rusty at first, but things improved after a while. Still, I'm under no illusion about the task ahead. I'll never swim like a fish, but if I can cover at least the required distance of a sprint triathlon without drowning I'll declare this a success. Up to then it's no more than cross training.

Maia must really have liked her scrambled eggs yesterday. I found her at the counter again, cracking an egg. Luckily this time I managed to stop her after only one egg. She still enjoyed that one, scrambled. Maybe she wants to be a cook. Or maybe she's just a toddler on the rampage. We've had some of those before.
23 Jan
8 miles, 1:01:42, 7:44 pace, HR 55
10x400 in 88, 86, 83, 82, 84, 84, 83, 86, 83, 84
24 Jan
am: 5 miles, 40:35, 8:06 pace, HR 140
pm: 80 minutes swim

Weekly Mileage: 71.5

Friday, January 22, 2010

Easy Does It

After Monday’s and Tuesday’s double outing a swim workout would have been the ideal recovery program. Unfortunately, due to my own stupidity I did not arrange another class in time and my swim coach gave me a Friday slot instead. Not wanting to spend an entire day without a workout *gasp* I dragged myself out of the door for 5 miles. Unlike on Sunday I had no problem keeping with the slow pace. I just ran however slowly I could. The first mile felt rather awkward but I soon got into the groove. This recovery run worked wonders. By the time I got back home the legs felt worlds better than at the outset and they did not bother me again.

In order not to get too used to the constant slow pace I want to keep a bit of speed in my training. This is also important to strengthen the legs, which will be beneficial in the ultra. But, in all honesty, I’m merely repeating what I’ve heard elsewhere. Don’t be fooled into thinking that I actually know what I’m doing. Anyway, Thursday’s plan called for a set of mile repeats, just 3 of them to start with. I didn’t want to kill myself and set a target of “under 6:30”. Basically, anything faster than HMP would do me. Even so, I was rather apprehensive before the workout. Speedwork, even reasonably doable sessions, just don’t sit well with me. The real challenge was the weather, though. Gale force to strong gale force winds tied with heavy rain was the forecast, and they were not far off. But as soon as I dared myself out of the house I found the conditions “not that bad”. My usual escape route on stormy mornings is the Ard-na-Sidhe road, and that’s where I was headed for. The narrow, twisty road with its little hill in the middle is not entirely suited to speedwork, but I figured it was better than being blown about elsewhere. Once the speed portion of the morning got underway I concentrated more on running relaxed than pure speed and was reasonably pleased to see the first mile pass in 6:23. The next one, slightly downhill but against the wind, went a tad better in 6:19. I lost my concentration on the last one (something I keep doing) and ended up with a slow 6:27 mile. Ah well. 6:20 is probably fairly close to my present 10k pace, which is a good pace for mile repeats if you don’t want to overdo things.

I was all set to finally return to the pool when I got a text message at 4:52 in the morning from the swim coach. I’m not entirely sure if he had sent the message so late or if it simply took a few hours to reach my phone, but the swim was off and after thankfully managing to get back to sleep I did another 6 mile recovery run in the morning. I kept myself amused by studying the stars in the clear sky, until the only bright spot that was left was Mars and I was back home. The pace was a bit quicker than Wednesday’s, but the HR has definitely dropped again compared to a couple of weeks ago. I take it as a sign that training is going pretty well so far.
20 Jan
5 miles, 44:31, 8:54 pace, HR 131
21 Jan
7.5 miles, 57:06, 7:37 pace, HR 152
incl. 3x1 mile @ 6:23, 6:19, 6:27
22 Jan
6 miles, 49:19, 8:13 pace, HR 135

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


According to wikipedia, a sandwich is a food item consisting of two or more slices of bread with one or more fillings between them. According to ultra runners, on the other hand, a sandwich is a training item consisting of two (or more?) long runs on consecutive days. It was the latter kind that formed my training so far this week, and that’s what I was talking about when I said that the training would get tougher from now on.

Getting up before 5 o’clock is always a bit of a challenge, even more so if your 2-year old daughter has ensured a rather interrupted night. But I managed to wriggle myself out of her snuggle without waking her and got ready. The weather was pretty good, but the moonless night was very dark. I’m not sure why I decided I would be able to make do without the headlamp.

I was tempted to go for the easier option of the reasonably flat loop through Cromane and Killorglin, but with an eye to Connemara’s hills I opted for the unreasonably hilly loop around Caragh Lake instead. Seemingly guided by a million stars overhead I did not encounter a single soul for well over 2 hours, and only the occasional rustle from the side of the road gave an indication of other life. I checked the initial pace after the first 3, flat, miles; last year I would have chided myself over the slow average pace of 8:18, but this year I’m far more relaxed about that, and time on feet is more important than pace. The legs felt good, but my back gradually became very painful. During the second half of the run I kept rubbing my lower back, but the discomfort grew into pain and by the time I was home I was in agony. I googled the issue and since I don’t think my running form has deteriorated all of a sudden I concluded that worn out shoes might be the problem. Indeed, the pair I had run in had just finished their 760th mile. They went straight into the bin, for all the loyal service over the last few months.

The second run of that kind of training is always a lot more challenging. In fact, I have never managed to run the second run even close to the pace of the first one. For some reason I didn’t feel too good when I got ready on Tuesday morning, and the HR seemed to be elevated by about 10 beats before I had even started. For a second or two I wondered if it was wise to go ahead, but having managed to heave myself out of bed at 4:45 for a second time in a row I decided to go ahead. I’d hate getting up so early for nothing.

From the very first step it was clear that this would not be easy. The legs, especially the quads were weary from the get go as I eased into the run. I was surprised after 3 miles when I saw that the initial pace (8:14) had been a tad faster than yesterday but I knew this would not continue. Unlike yesterday it was really windy and the stars were hiding behind some ominously dark clouds, but apart from a few drops every now and again I didn’t get wet. The wind, on the other hand, did cause a few problems, especially at the top of the hills where I was completely exposed to the elements. It was here that I encountered a car. What the driver must have been thinking when he saw the lonely figure running in the middle of nowhere, at least 2 miles from the nearest house in any direction, still before even 6 am in the morning, I do not know but I don’t think it would have been too flattering.

The gusty wind combined with the dark night and my ever-growing exhaustion started to provide some interesting sensations. After about 11 miles I passed a tree and when its branches overhead started moving it looked like to me like someone (or something) was about to jump on me. Shortly afterwards the road surface became darker, and to me it appeared to be a deep abyss immediately in front. Had I not turned on the headlamp the legs would have refused another step, even though I knew full and well that no chasm had appeared since yesterday. I was getting worried if these mini-hallucinations were a sign of me becoming hypoglycaemic, which would had been a problem, halfway through the loop and miles away from home, but I seemed to recover, and apart from a few minor sudden movements spotted out of the corner of my eyes I did not notice any further spooky encounters.

At 13 miles I got some hunger pangs, but they died down within a minute. At some stage, not sure when exactly, my left knee gave me a sort sharp pain, but didn’t act up again afterwards. The same happened to my right hamstring. After 16.5 miles I had to pass a test of character when I completed the initial loop and the siren call of our driveway became very, very tempting. Somehow I managed to continue on for an out-and-back section that would complete the 20 miles. The hunger pangs returned after 19 miles, but at the same time the mere thought of solid food almost made me retch in disgust. I made it home shortly afterwards. All I can say is thank god for chocolate milk! I was unable to stomach anything else. Even several hours later the mere thought of solid food feels repulsive, which is a dramatic change from my usual behaviour because normally I get so ravenous I feel like eating my body weight in food after a long run. I’m not sure what happened there, but I’m hopeful I will be able to look at dinner tonight without throwing up.

That second run was one of the toughest training runs I have ever done. Every single step was laboured and the exhaustion was ever growing. I really don’t know why it was so bad. I have done back-to-back runs before, and unless my memory fails me they were never quite as bad as today. The stupidly fast “easy” run on Sunday sure did not help, but still. This was bad.
18 Jan
20 miles, 2:43:30, 8:11 pace, HR 141
19 Jan
20 miles, 2:47:52, 8:24 pace, HR 144

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Back At Last

So far I have failed miserably at my 2010 goal of writing shorter blog entries. Luckily there’s still plenty of time for improvement.

Since next week is the first of the heavy training I tried to keep this one reasonably easy. Saturday turned out to be a nice, fresh day after heavy downpours and stormy wind all through Friday. I wish I could have gotten more sleep but a certain hyperactive 8-year old who seems to have problems grasping the concept of a lie-in put an early stop to my rest. But the roads were ice-free, finally, and I set off for my first set of hill repeats in ages. I wasn’t sure how many to do and decided to play it by ear.

The first ones were no problem, but as soon as I finished the third one I felt light-headed and wondered if it was a good idea to continue. I did one more, just to test how I felt; not great, but let’s do one more just to be sure. And one more. Ok, just one final one more. After 7 repeats all-in-all I called it a day. It was not a particular exhaustive workout, but with my history of tachycardia I thought I was already pushing my luck more than necessary.

Rather than turning homewards I turned right towards Killorglin and ran into town to pick up my bike that I had left at work because the storm had been too wild to cycle home safely last night. Two miles after the hill sprints the quads had recovered somewhat and I ran along at a good rate, close but not quite at 7:00 pace. The 5-mile cycle home rounded off the workout. Any plans of going swimming afterwards had to be sacrificed for the good of family life. That will always come first.

Sunday arrived all too early again, this time in form of a certain 6-year old who had felt lonely in his bed. I’m sure one morning all our kids will sleep in, however long that may be from now. This was an easy day with only 6 miles on the cards and I set off on my standard, reasonably flat, recovery route. I turned around after 3 steps to bring along my mp3 player (Niamh’s present to me). I don’t wear it on most days, but recovery runs don’t require much attention. The first half went pretty much to plan, when I glanced at the Garmin shortly before the turnaround point I saw the pace at about 7:50 or so. That’s a bit faster than intended, but the HR of about 140 told me I was really taking it easy. Maybe I should change the music on the mp3 player; I don’t quite know what happened on the return leg but the next time I looked at my wrist, back home, the average pace had dropped to almost 7:30, and I must have done the return leg at about 7:10 pace without even noticing what I was doing. Maybe the mp3 player isn’t such a great idea on recovery runs after all. Having said that, the average HR was still pretty low.

I also managed to measure my resting HR on Saturday. Ever since September it had been elevated, around 45 or slightly higher at times. Well, it finally dropped back to 42. On Friday I wrote that I felt recovered from the autumn marathon double, and that reading pretty much confirms that. I think I’m back, at last.

The cold had more or less gone away but I felt really mucusy on Saturday (even if that word doesn’t exist) and kept coughing. I had just read a remedy in one blog, I can’t remember which one, namely two cloves of raw garlic, chased down with orange juice. No, it wasn’t the most pleasant thing I’ve ever ingested. It certainly worked – the mucus is gone and so is the cough. But I think I will hear Niamh’s complaints for years to come, and she, well, let’s say she indicated that I was not to repeat the same treatment again. I can vouch for the effectiveness, but you have been warned about the side effects.
16 Jan
9 miles, 1:12:43, 8:03 pace, HR 151
incl. 7 hill repeats, ~30 seconds each
17 Jan
6.1 miles, 46:12, 7:34 pace, HR 145

Weekly Mileage: 61+

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Last Of The Easy Weeks

I keep looking at my weekly mileage figures and can’t escape the fact that the figures are the lowest I have produced in years. And since I’m training for an event that is longer than the marathons I have trained for in the meantime, this is definitely worrying me. It may all be for the best – if I was overtrained in autumn then an adjustment had to be made. But I do worry.

With 12 weeks to go, the real training starts just about now. The mileage will increase, especially the long runs, and I’m confident I will be able to handle that. How all this will work out in April in Connemara will be seen.

I was really tired on Wednesday morning, so much so that I reset the alarm to get an extra 15 minutes of sleep, cutting my run from 10 miles to 8. When I opened the door I was stunned to finally notice the heavy rain and the complete darkness outside. After a second or two of hesitation I went back inside to get my headlamp. Once out on the road I eventually realised that I had been a tad optimistic about the rising temperatures. It was a bit premature to drop the tights for shorts and to wear only one layer on top and the lighter gloves. Of course, the heavy rain and the breezy wind didn’t exactly help. When I set off, it was raining buckets. By mile 2 things had improved a bit. At the turnaround point, mile 4, the rain had changed into a drizzle and by mile 6 even that stopped. But the heavy cloud cover still enveloped the entire countryside so much that I was wondering if I had gotten up an hour early by mistake. Surely it had bee much brighter on previous days. This turned out not to be the case, and an hour later the conditions had improved sufficiently for me to cycle into work rather than take the car. That was good because the schools had finally reopened and Niamh needed the car for the school run. Oh, and during the first few miles of my run I felt I was running really slowly. When I checked the Garmin after 2 miles I was really surprised to see my average pace at 7:46 – feelings can be deceptive. By the end of the run I had the average pace down to 7:40, despite running easily all the way. Maybe I’m getting back into shape.

On Thursday I wanted to add a few faster efforts into the run, but was undecided if that should take the shape of some accelerations or hill sprints. The weather took the decision out of my hand. As soon as I stepped out of the door I could hear the crunch-crunch of a thick layer of frost beneath my feet, the surface was rather slippery and hill sprints were out of the question. And I had thought we had finally left those conditions behind! Not feeling like letting the watch dictate my pace I turned the run into a fartlek and ran unstructured faster and slower segments just the way I felt at the time. There were a few hairy moments when I crossed some icy patches, but I made it through 10 miles. But after reading what happened to Brendan I probably should have been a lot more careful over the last few weeks. Luckily I seem to have gotten away with my at times reckless running.

Even 8 miles seemed like a lot today. The quads were really tired and heavy and I struggled through most of today’s run, always expecting to feel better any time now, which never seemed to happen. Maybe I paid for the faster pace over the last 2 days, maybe today’s pace was a little bit quick for an easy run, even though I never pushed the effort at all.

I can still feel the effects of that cold, but looking at the HR and the pace of my most recent runs it doesn’t seem to have an adverse effect on my running. Maia has also started to sleep through the night again, so I guess we’re past the worst (which wasn’t that bad, truth to be told). In fact, looking at my recent figures (7:41 pace at HR 146), this is very encouraging. That’s the kind of readings I tend to see when I’m getting into a good shape. Maybe it took up to now to fully recover from my Dingle/Dublin autumn marathon double.
13 Jan
8 miles, 1:01:24, 7:41 pace, HR 146
14 Jan
10 miles, 1:16:51, 7:41 pace, HR 148
fartlek run
15 Jan
8 miles, 1:02, 43, 7:50 pace, HR 145

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

And Just As I Was Getting Used To It, Too!

Did you look outside the window recently (or, if you’re outside Ireland, have you checked out our weather)? An hour later and things might have changed radically. We went to bed last night with the driveway still covered by 5cm/2in of snow. We woke to find it flooded under the same amount of water. Just like that, the snow was gone. Maia was not happy.

For once I had trusted the weather forecast and got up at silly o’clock on Monday morning because I knew that on Tuesday things might be bad. By 5 o’clock I was outside, marking the day with footprints on pristine snow. For once the road was easy to follow even without a headlamp, a white band in the darkness, and the crunch-crunch beneath my feet was clearly audible. Several miles into the run I saw some big lights slowly coming from a side road and for a second I thought it was a snowplough, which would have been a major surprise. Of course it wasn’t, it was just a truck on its way, and for the next mile I was breathing in the Diesel fumes because it was right ahead of me and didn’t move much faster than me.

Because of the adverse road conditions I avoided the Caragh Lake loop and did three loops around Killorglin instead. It’s reasonably flat, with a series of gentle short climbs giving way to descends of the same nature. Running in the snow, while initially fun, became noticeable tougher after a couple of hours. I never managed to figure out which was easier, running in the fresh snow or following in a car’s tracks. The latter was slippery, and with each foot strike I felt like slipping back a bit. The other felt like running through a thick layer of – well, snow, duh! Eventually, after the third loop, I turned right rather than left towards home and was back after exactly 20 miles. I think I should give myself a bonus for the conditions, every single step required just that little bit more energy than usual. While I still had something left in the tank, I tried not to think too much about the Ultra when I would be just about halfway through at that stage. Some things are better left for race day only.

For a second I toyed with the idea of adding a second long run immediately the next day, but reconsidered. After a tough 10-mile run on Sunday and an exhausting 20 miler through the snow on Monday I was better off recovering on Tuesday. After watching the weather forecast in the evening I changed my plans for 8 miles on Tuesday and set up the indoors bike trainer instead. Strong gale force winds coupled with very heavy rainfall didn’t sound too appealing, and I was worried about the snow turning into ice. That fear was never realised, but by morning the roads were covered with a myriad of broken branches, I saw 2 fallen trees on my way to work and there was local flooding on many spots. I take that as vindication of my decision to remain indoors.

I also have a mild cold, which I blame entirely on Niamh because she had it first. Now it’s Maia’s and my turn and the little girl isn’t handling it too well, which doesn’t bode well for our sleep. But Niamh only had it for a couple of days and I’m confident we will both have recovered by tomorrow or the day after. But I want to be careful about running in bad weather with a cold – that’s how I caught pneumonia two years ago.

Having said that, the wind is supposed to stop and the rain should at least ease, which might enable me to run again tomorrow morning. Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it.
10 Jan
20 miles, 2:46:41, 8:20 pace, HR 142
11 Jan
60 minutes bike

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Caragh Lake is a Winter Wonderland

As I was running along the icy roads yesterday morning I decided I like the present conditions after all. Sure, you have to watch your step like a hawk, but give me clear cold days like this anytime compared to the constant dreary rain we got over the last few winters. The country might have come to a standstill, they have run out of grit and salt (which makes no difference to us anyway – our road never got treated), the schools are closed for an extra week because the roads are too dangerous, but we all manage and the kids just love it. So, I decided to snap out of the misery and enjoy running at –4C/25F degrees in the sunshine instead.

On Thursday’s run I had noticed that the road along the western side of the lake was in better condition than most, so I used it for my run on Friday. Hill sprints are out at the moment because I can’t think of an ice-free hill, but a fartlek session was possible. I timed the accelerations so that I would be taking it easy on the icy spots (the locations of which I knew in advance) and it went pretty well – I didn’t slip once. The road was even more quiet than usual – just like on Thursday I only saw one single car during the entire workout.

In contrast, Saturday’s run was in broad daylight and for once I could actually see the surface I was running on. I brought my old camera with me, Mike style, and took a few photos. The frequent stops whenever I saw a pretty scene meant the run was rather disrupted, but it was only a short, easy recovery run anyway. I turned around at the first really icy spot, three miles away from home, and wondered how I had managed to cross it yesterday twice in the darkness without breaking my neck. I also saw ice floating on Caragh Lake (third last photo), which surprised me.

Since the forecast for Sunday was ominous we took the opportunity to drive the kids to Killarney where the ice rink was open for the final weekend. We had promised Lola to go there (like every year) and I knew she would be very disappointed if we broke that. Niamh was slightly hesitant at first but eventually agreed, because they had been housebound all week and needed a change of scenery. I used the hour while they were skating to make myself sparse and went to the pool instead (“I knew you were going to suggest that!” – Niamh) for 45 minutes of immersion.

The overnight snowstorm did not happen in Kerry, but we awoke to a landscape thickly covered in frost. As soon as the kids were fed I put on my trainers and headed out, anxious to get in a few miles while the roads were still usable. For some reason I felt very well and the miles just flew by. Last summer I frequently ran the Cromane loop on Sundays, trying to get the pace below 6:52, the pace required for a sub-3 marathon, but never quite got there. Today I made that without even trying particularly hard. I guess the lower mileage has left my legs in fresher condition, but considering I’m training for an Ultra, this may end up costly. I guess I’ll find out 13 weeks from now.

Today would have been the Mallow race, but considering that it has started snowing heavily and the roads are a death trap, I’m rather glad I did not try getting there. You can’t change the weather, and the hour I just spent outside with the kids in the snow was way more valuable. It has been snowing for a couple of hours by now and there is no sign of it stopping. We’ll have another hour outside before the end of the day, I'm sure, but how I’ll get to work tomorrow morning (or if I’ll be able to run) is anyone’s guess. Well, I’m just enjoying the time right now, and won’t worry about the rest until I’m faced with it.
8 Jan
10+ miles, 1:17:03, 7:41 pace, HR 149
including 8x120 sec accelerations
9 Jan
am: 6+ miles, 48:34, 8:03 pace, HR 138
pm: 45 minutes swimming
10 Jan
10.5 miles, 1:12:08, 6:52 pace. HR 160

Weekly Mileage: 55+ (5 runs), 2 x bike, 1 x swim

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Out There On The Ice

The present cold snap has gotten old by now. I know the alternative is rain at very uncomfortable temperatures, and after contracting pneumonia 2 years ago I know very well that running in those conditions isn’t exactly ideal either, but by now we’ve had 3 weeks of icy roads and everyone is more than a little fed up. Of course these are not extreme conditions by any stretch of the imagination, but they are sufficient to bring a badly run country to a standstill (things are equalled bad across the Irish channel).

After Tuesday’s horror show I decided not to risk running on Wednesday and set up the indoors trainer the night before. When the alarm woke me at 6 o’clock I came THAT close to turning around and going back to sleep. After all, I wasn’t even going for a run, so why punish myself by getting out of bed at silly o’clock? But then the old instincts took over, and seeing as I was awake anyway I might as well get up and do some training.

75 minutes on the trainer followed, including some drills that had my quads begging for mercy and that would probably even do my running a world of good if only I did them regularly. When I bought the indoors trainer I had visions of doing regular evening workouts on it to supplement my running. In reality I have only used it as an alternative to running. I still have not given up hope of using it more often, but usually I’m too lazy to set it up in the evening, even on the rare occasions when I actually think of the contraption.

Anyway, the roads were slightly improved on Wednesday compared to Tuesday’s absolutely ridiculous ice rink and I thought it would be okay to run on Thursday. Therefore I was out of the door shortly before 5:45 for a loop around the lake. The moon was bright enough to make out the icy spots in advance (something that is impossible if you have to use a headlamp) and I made steady progress initially. The highest points of the route were covered in snow, which gave decent enough traction on the climbs. The nightmare started after about 6 or 7 miles when the surface became increasingly icy and treacherous. I must have slipped at least half a dozen times, but somehow managed to avoid a fall each time. This could have ended truly nasty. Had I crashed there in the middle of nowhere and broken a bone, miles away from the nearest house, on a very quiet road (1 car in 2 hours) in freezing temperatures and only wearing my running outfit, I would have been in some serious trouble. Luckily I made it through, but I did realise that the risks of today’s run had not been worth it. Any injury would have taken me out of training far longer than sitting out the present cold weather. Having said all that, the run went well. The quads were tired at the end, which I blame on the cycling, but considering how careful I had to step at times, I was surprised to get as close to 8:00 pace as I did.

The road on the western side of the lake was in surprisingly good conditions, but even that included a few icy spots (I knew in advance where they would be, they are always at the same places) and is separated from our house by a stretch of half a mile of treacherous road. I just can’t win at the moment.

Next week had been pencilled in as an easy week after the 10-mile race in Mallow. That race has just been cancelled, and the present week has already taken over as an easy one; I can live with that, but the crucial 12-week period before Connemara is getting very close.

I was both disappointed and relieved to hear about the race’s cancellation. Disappointed because I ran my best race ever there last year. Relieved because it meant I would not be driving 60 miles on treacherous roads to get there.

The schools were supposed to be open today. They remain closed all over the country because it basically is too dangerous to drive there. The kids are rejoicing. Niamh is not.

The cold weather is supposed to last for another week. As I’ve said, this is getting old.
6 Jan
75 mins bike, HR 140
7 Jan
15 miles, 2:01:43, 8:06 pace, HR 147

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Cold As Ice

Conditions have been challenging in the past, but we’ve entered a new level. The problem isn’t so much the weather, which is far from extreme, but the level of unpreparedness by the councils all across Ireland (which can definitely be called extreme). Niamh was so worried about the drive that she planned to send me back to Kerry on Sunday on my own and, should I survive the journey, follow later via public transport once the roads were better. But with the present cold snap supposed to last for at least another week, this wasn’t ideal either, and when there was a thaw in Dublin on Sunday morning I managed to persuade her to come with me after all.

We managed to cross the island without incident, even though it turned out that the thaw was confined to Dublin only and the rest of the country’s roads in bad condition, only to find that the water pipe at home had frozen solid and we were without water. No baths or shower, no washing machine, no toilet, no nothing. It’s when you’re left without basic amenities that you realise how much you depend on them.

Btw, do you remember me complaining about the Lunar Trainers cutting into my achilles? I finally bothered to check the shoes. Not only is the back of the right shoe rubbed through, closer inspection revealed some soaked blood on the area. No wonder it hurt. After 608 miles, these once trusty companions got dumped rather unceremoniously.

Up to Monday I had managed to keep the daily morning run going despite the road conditions. Sunday in Dublin was awkward. The roads were clear but the sidewalk were deadly, and I jumped on and off the road each time a car approached. Luckily it wasn’t too bust at 8 o’clock on a Sunday, but after 6 miles I had enough of that. It left me with exactly 70 mile for the week.

Because my hamstrings tend to dislike long car journeys I didn’t do my long run on Monday morning, opting for 12 miles around Cromane instead. The roads were challenging again, but provided just enough grip to make a run feasible, as long as I stepped off the road one a couple of occasions when a car came along on a narrow country lane. The closer I got to Cromane the colder it became, and I was freezing despite wearing two layers. Later, when I got into the car to drive to work, the car’s thermometer displayed –6C/21F, the coldest I have seen so far in Ireland, and that did not include wind chill, which was significant. It seemed to be getting better again on the way back though. But after 12 miles my hands and feet were frozen stiff.

The adventures kept coming – the car’s handbrake was frozen solid when I tried to set off to work, was still frozen 20 minutes later and I ended up cycling to work, which resembled a balancing act but remarkably I got there without falling once.

I had the best intentions for this morning. I went to bed early in order to be ok for a very early start. I set the alarm for 4:30. I woke at midnight, partially dismayed by the sound of rain against the window, partially glad because it gave hopes to the water pipe returning to life. After a few hours of fitful sleep I got up, got dressed (into an unwashed running top – yuck!) and headed out. I had thought that the rain (which should have meant temperatures above freezing) would wash the remaining ice off the roads, but I was mistaken. The road surface must have been below freezing, because the rain water froze and provided a perfectly even and extremely slippery ice rink for miles each way. I tried running, but it was way too dangerous. At one stage I stopped running, and just kept on sliding off the camber until I ended up on the grass verge. No point. I turned around after less than a mile and since it was still before 5 o’clock in the morning and I was wide awake I set up the indoors bike trainer and spun on that for an hour. I would have done more, but Shea woke and that was the end of that. On the plus side, the water supply did indeed return – which was good because I needed the shower after sweating buckets on the bike.

The commute into town was ridiculously dangerous. Cars, including mine, were sliding all over the place.

I’m undecided what to do for tomorrow. I’d like to do a long run, but I don’t want to wake at 4:30 again and then be unable to run. That just sucks.
3 Jan
6 miles, 47:47, 7:58 pace, HR 149
4 Jan
12 miles, 1:33:15, 7:46 pace, HR 145
5 Jan
1.54 miles, 13:49, 8:56 pace, HR 134 – impossible!
60 minutes on bike, HR 119

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A Happy 2010 So Far

We did not have a White Christmas, but when we looked out of the door just before midnight on New Year’s Eve it was snowing heavily and by the next morning Nana’s garden had been transformed into a winter wonderland. As befits a bunch of kids who have hardly seen snow before, we had a very excited family on our hands.

I did not let a bit of snow and ice stop me from doing my runs. Forgetting my tights in Kerry was not a smart move and I had to make do with shorts, but that turned out not to be a problem. In normal circumstances I would not have ventured out in shorts in sub-zero temperatures, but the alternative was to stay at home all day, and that did not appeal.

The slippery roads were more of an issue, but in actual fact I had a blast. While the main roads were treacherous and icy, the paths in the parks were covered in fresh maiden snow and I had great fun leaving my own tracks. I did slip once, on the way from Clonkeen Park to Cabinteely Park but managed to catch myself in time. The cars I saw driving on the N11, on the other hand, had a much harder time and were sliding all over the place. I can’t believe that the N11, one of the major routes into Dublin, was still entirely untreated by 11 o’clock. They really must have spent all our taxes on the bankers’ lost gambles, because they can’t provide even the most basic services.

Anyway, since I had so much fun I stayed out for much longer than planned. 10 miles turned to 12 and then to 14 by the time I was back. Since I thought that I should add a second longish run into my weekly repertoire, that suited me well.

Today was a bit of a different story. I headed the other way into Deer Park, but found the conditions a lot worse. The fresh snow had by now been compacted into a much more slippery surface and you had to watch your step. Deer Park is divided into two parts, one with plenty of trees and the other one out in the open, and the tree area was a lot icier so I cut my loops in half for safety reasons. I didn’t feel quite as good as yesterday so I took it a bit easier, but added 6 pickups of about 90 seconds each, dropping to pace to about 6:15 or so. That felt like plenty.

My right heel is giving me trouble at the moment. It feels like the shoes are digging into the back of my achilles, and it’s starting to become rather uncomfortable. I always rotate two different pairs of shoes and the Asics Stratus are feeling fine, but the Nike Lunar Trainers are not. I just remembered that others have complained about the lunars digging into the achilles as well, but why that should happen after 600 miles on that pair (and the previous pair didn’t cause any problems) I’m not quite sure. I guess it’s time to switch. I already have a new pair waiting in the cupboard, but that’s in Kerry.

Getting to Kerry might be a bit of a problem. The road conditions are bad and driving 180 miles isn’t something I’m looking forward to. But the weather is supposed to remain like that for several more days and I don’t think my boss would be too pleased if I stayed in Dublin for an extra week.
1 Jan
14 miles, 1:50:45, 7:54 pace, HR 150
2 Jan
8 miles, 1:03:01, 7:52 pace, HR 150