Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Achilles Tenosynovitis

I didn’t know there was such a thing either, but I sure know what it feels like. Turns out it was not the achilles tendon itself that had been bothering me for the last few weeks but the sheath that surrounds it. That could explain why it took much longer to shift than any previous occurrences.

Anyway, in preparation for my cross-country début this Sunday I had been doing an interval session of sets of 200/200/400 with equal distance recoveries on Tuesday morning. Right at the end of the second 400 the discomfort level from my right heel suddenly jumped from 2 to 8 on a scale of 10. I stood there in the dark and rain, gasping for breath, whimpering in pain and trying to come to terms with the sudden realisation that I was injured for the first time in years all at the same time. Doing repeats on the road in front of our house had the advantage of getting home quickly, but I was rather despondent as I was limping the quarter mile back home. As I was getting into the shower I chided myself for being so stupid, doing repeats like that despite carrying a niggle, but eventually calmed down. If I stopped running every time I had some discomfort I would miss significant chunks of my training and since I had not been injured for several years I obviously had been doing something right all along.

A work colleague urged me to see a doctor and I was pleasantly surprised to get an appointment that very day. I actually felt better already by the time I was in the surgery. He started poking my achilles, “does this hurt?” “no”, “this?” “no”, “this?” “no”. Then he started pinching it “what about this?” “no”, “this?” “no”, “this?” “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!”, and the diagnosis was the aforementioned tenosynovitis. Then came the dreaded part about how to cure it, and I sure expected to be told to stop running for weeks. “When did it start hurting today?” “After 4 miles”. “Well, you can always run 3 miles then”. “But I ran 12 on Sunday without problems”. “What did you do differently then?” “Today I did speed work”. “Don’t do speed work”. Anyway, turns out I don’t have to rest at all (Great doctor, eh? I’ll make sure to see him again next time I’m crippled), just have to make sure to take it easy and avoid things that hurt. In my case that means no fast running. That also means that Sunday’s race is off, and I’m pretty sure next week’s as well. The Dublin marathon is in 4 weeks and I will have to make a decision eventually, but right now I’m still optimistic I can do it, 8-minute miles have not been troubling me in the last few weeks, but 26 of them in a row might, of course.

This morning I tried something new. I put on a brand new pair of off-road running shoes and climbed over a gate into a nearby field to run circles, away from the tarmac. One loop was about 0.2 miles and I did 3 miles, about 15 loops, not that I counted. The achilles seemed to take it fine, but later that day both hamstrings felt really sore, very much to my surprise. I had not expected the load from running on grass to be so different as to bother my hamstrings. Running circles round a field for any length of time is not exactly the most riveting option so I don’t think it will replace road running any time soon, but as a supplementary exercise it will be taken into account.

As far as my other news are concerned, sorry to keep you all waiting but since I haven’t yet gotten a reply from my last communication and therefore am still waiting for confirmation, I’d better not spill the beans just yet. Honestly, I’m not deliberately trying to pan things out.
28 Sep
4.1 miles, 33:55, 8:17 pace, HR 151
200/200/400 ~, aborted after 2 sets
29 Sep
3.3 miles, 31:56, 9:43 pace, HR 137

Monday, September 27, 2010

Things are definitely on the up:

  • My resting heart rate was down to 44 on Saturday.
  • On Sunday I ran at a faster pace with a lower HR than the previous week
  • This morning the HR for an easy run was as low as 138, a whopping 5 beats lower than on Wednesday for a run on the same route at virtually the same pace.

As far as selecting a training plan for next spring is concerned there has been a development that has stopped all the recent pondering in its tracks. I will give more details in due time, but suffice to say I am very excited.

On the downside, I don’t feel 100% today; a slightly sore throat and a vaguely light-headed feeling could be a sign of another oncoming cold; unusually, nobody else in the family is complaining at present; usually any bugs I pick up are contracted straight from my children.

Having said that, when Shea went to the doctor a few weeks ago, it was the first time in … I guess, at least half a year that any of us had to visit a doctor. We’re doing pretty well on the health front. Which is a very good thing, considering the appalling state of the health service in this country. I could go into a political rant here, but I better leave it at that.

A couple of guys I know, including some fellow pacers at the Dublin marathon in 4 weeks, ran some smashing times in Berlin yesterday. Congratulations to all.

25 Sep
5 miles, 41:06, 8:13 pace, HR 143
26 Sep
12 miles, 1:31:49, 7:39 pace, HR 154
27 Sep
5 miles, 43:00, 8:36 pace, HR 138

Friday, September 24, 2010


The main reason why I had decided to use the Brain Training plan again was the pure and simple fact that I had run my best marathon using that program. No other program has given me a faster time. The fact that M.F. later on got a coach is neither here nor there – plenty of athletes get a coach even if they do know what they’re doing, for the simple reason that 2 brains are better than 1. Yes, I had grown to hate the program – the speed work clearly pushed me way out of my comfort zone – which is exactly why I reasoned that it’s a good thing. I need to get pushed out of my comfort zone. I can run 5 hour back-to-back runs over hilly terrain, no problem, I won’t even bat an eyelid, but the first thing on waking up on a day that calls for intervals of any kind that goes through my head is “oh no, speed work!”. I take this as a sign that I need more speedwork.

Having said that, the negative feedback from people whose opinion I value has made me think again. The first thing I have decided is not to decide anything yet. I have 2 XC races coming up as well as the pacing duties for the Dublin marathon to look forward to, and only then will I start training for real.

Do I want to pay for a Marius Bakken plan? I don’t know. It’s probably the fact that I don’t like paying for a “coach” that won’t ever see me run and is only available via email. Maybe that’s a stupid reason as his plans are clearly cheap enough to be affordable, while I would never be able to afford a coach that would do hours of one-to-one coaching. I don’t know …

One other option is to do a 5k or 10k program for the next few weeks, at least as long as the Killarney 5k series is going on, and then put a shorter marathon build on top of that. I know of one runner, Gary, who finished 30 seconds ahead of me in Connemara half a year ago and whose marathon progression is just scary (and no doubt about to reach yet another level in Berlin this weekend), who uses this strategy with astounding success. I have plenty of plans for shorter race distances in the dozens of running books on my shelf, including the man’s himself, Jack Daniels. I have never followed a plan for anything shorter than marathon distance, so that would undoubtedly get me out of my comfort zone as well. Of course, asking to get out of one’s comfort zone is very much a case of “be careful what you wish for”.

As for the last few days, I can already feel my legs bouncing back. Wednesday was a nice, slow recovery run that left me feeling good, but then I could not sleep at night. That happens almost every Full Moon; I think I must have a werewolf gene. I finally fell asleep somewhere around 3 or 4 o’clock, and I turned off the alarm because sleep was more important than running (“that’s a first” – Niamh). The combination of one easy run and one full rest day meant bouncy legs this morning and I promptly ran my steady pace run a full 15 seconds per mile faster than on Sunday with a lower heart rate. It’s amazing how quickly things can improve at times (if only that rate could be sustained!).

The cold was shifted already, but I felt my achilles again for the last 3 miles today. I had thought I had overcome this because I had hardly felt it at all before that. I have diligently done eccentric calf raises over the last 2 weeks, a trick that has gotten rid of achilles problems in the past, and something I will keep doing. Right now I’m wondering if the Asics Speedstar shoes have something to do with it. I had never used that kind of shoe before, and while they feel comfortable maybe they’re aggravating things. I’ll keep an eye on that.
22 Sep
5 miles, 43:08, 8:38 pace, HR 143
23 Sep
24 Sep
9 miles, 1:07:08, 7:28 pace, HR 157

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Under The Weather

With the kids returning to school/preschool, it was only a matter of time until they picked up some germs, I just did not expect it to happen so quickly. Maia had a slight cold last week (with a few rough nights), Shea complained a bit a few days later, and now it seems to be my turn. I first noticed a sore throat on Sunday; it was a bit worse on Monday, and today, Tuesday, I definitely a bit off. This means the sore throat has now replace my Achilles as the most bothersome body part.

Sunday was still okay and I did 10 miles at steady pace. It felt better than the 8 miles on Saturday, but maybe that was due to the lighter shoes. Monday’s run was an easy effort, but I had planned some faster running for today.

The sore throat led to a less-than-ideal night and I spent plenty of time staring at the ceiling and listening to the wind and rain outside. This convinced me to reset the alarm from 10 miles to 8, but I got up before it went off and I had time for 9. My route just happened to pass the hill I use for hill repeats, so I did two 30-second efforts, which is the Brain Training book’s recommended way of kick-starting faster running. I will probably use the training plan in that book to prepare for my spring marathon. I used it for Dublin 2 years ago and swore never to use it again because the speed work made me feel exhausted and burnt out. But, two years later, I have never come even close to my Dublin time and am willing to give it another try. The one lesson I have learnt from last time is not to do 2 speed workouts on race weeks, which is the one thing I'm planning on doing differently this time round (that, and running 6 minutes faster during the race, hopefully). The training program is 24 weeks long and won’t start for another 2 weeks, so all I’m doing now is easing into it. The first few weeks of the plan are very low on mileage, which I will “adapt”, especially on the day of the Dublin marathon, which will be a rather long long run at easy training pace.

There are plenty of races again in Kerry between now and New Year, especially the Killarney 5k series where I had come an astonishing 4th last year (very much due to a lack of fast runners completing the series rather than my prolific speed). I’d love to complete it again this year, but since the twins will be doing their CTYI courses on most of the same days, I will have to see if I can squeeze in the races.
19 Sep
10 miles, 1:17:10, 7:43 pace, HR 158
20 Sep
6+ miles, 50:19, 8:10 pace, HR 148
21 Sep
9 miles, 1:10:53, 7:51 pace, HR 155

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Something, Finally

I had intended to take 2 weeks off. I lasted 11 days. Close.

The achilles is still an issue. On Wednesday I did not feel it at all any more, but as soon as I had taken 5 steps on Thursday morning, my first run since the ultra, I knew that this would bother me for quite some time. The conventional wisdom would probably have meant to rest more. However, there is method in my madness. I have run through niggles before, including achilles troubles, and they all went away eventually while running through it. The discomfort is easily manageable, so far. If it gets worse again, I will review the situation.

5 miles on Thursday were followed by 4 on Friday. I would have done more but I only woke at 7 o'clock. I did not set the alarm because I prefer to wake naturally. Once I get into the swing of things, this will become normal. I rarely need the alarm clock, even when I get up at 5 o'clock. Once I'm tuned in, I tend to waken just a couple of minutes before the alarm would have gone.

Sleeping in on Saturday would have been nice, but Maia got up at 7 o'clock, which brought an early end to my night. I gave her some breakfast and then parked her in front of the CBeebies while I went running. It might not be the ideal way of parenting but it the only chance for Niamh to give her an extra hour of sleep, and none of the kids have ever been complaining about one extra hour of kids' television.

Talking about the kids, they were very impressed to see Daddy's name mentioned in the Kerryman newspaper. The lower right corner of page 58 might not be the most prominent spot, but one eagle-eye friend of Niamh spotted it anyway. Fame at last! Well ... at least Lola thinks so.

It's definitely getting cold in the morning. I don't quite need the headlamp yet, but the time for singlets has passed and I even contemplated wearing gloves yesterday morning. Winter is approaching. This can be good and bad. I love running beneath the moon and the stars on clear winter nights, but sometime the rain can be relentless for weeks, which can be hard to handle. We'll see what's in store. I don't expect last year's Big Freeze to be repeated, though.

The heart rate was much too high for this morning's run, showing how much fitness I have lost over the last 2 weeks. It's amazing how quickly you lose it.

16 Sep
5 miles, 41:15, 8:15 pace, HR 145
17 Sep
4 miles, 32:45, 8:11 pace, HR 145
18 Sep
8 miles, 1:01:43, 7:42 pace, HR 159

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Still Nothing

My achilles was still a bit sore on Monday and Tuesday, which is why I delayed my return to running. I have nothing to gain from an early start; Dublin is still over 5 weeks away and I don't need to get into racing shape to run 3:30. The cross country I'm not too bothered about.

I did prepare my gear for this morning but did not set the alarm clock. Had I woken in time I would have gone running. I didn't, which meant another day off. I'll try the same again tonight. At some stage I'll start running again, I'm sure. The weather has been pretty foul over the last few days which made it easier to stay indoors, but that looks set to improve.

I haven't got much else to say, but I did think some more about Dingle. I tried to add up all the nutrition I took aboard during the race: 2 Amino (294 cals), 2 granola bars (190 cals), 4(?) Sis isotonic gels (360), 2 lucozade sport gels (166), 1 red bull energy shot (25), 1 banana (105), one orange slice and 1 jelly sweet, and as long as I haven't forgotten anything that's just under 1200 calories, probably at the high end of what my stomach was able to process over the first 6 hours (I didn't take much towards the end due to stomach cramps). What it does tell me is the value of liquid nutrition. The Amino went down better than anything solid but provided a lot of calories. I wonder how far I could run just on that stuff alone? (I might find out one day). Actually, since I burned about 5000 calories during the run and was pretty much unable to eat for the rest of the day, why did I not lose any weight? I must have been at a significant calorie deficit, but the scales did not show that.

That reminds me, Niamh is trying to sell some of her baking goods. She was told by two people that "your skinny husband is not a great advertisement for your baking skills". The fools don't realise that I eat tons of that stuff. Niamh, fool that she is, seems to have taken this as a challenge to fatten me up and keeps placing absolutely irresistible treats in front of me. Fool that I am, I am eating the lot. I'd better get back into running quickly, before I've turned into a fat slob.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


That's my combined total of exercise this week. No running, no cycling (apart from my normal commute to work), no stretching, no nothing. Instead I've systematically attempted to single-handedly reduce the world's stockpiles of chocolate and ice cream, which was pretty successful, according to the weighing scales.

My initial plan was to rest for 2 weeks after the Ultra. Then I got antsy earlier this week, and decided to hit the road again by Monday. The muscles have always felt amazingly well, but my Achilles was rather painful last Monday and has slowly but steadily improved from day to day. I did not feel any discomfort on Saturday, but after walking for 40 minutes today I could feel it again. Not bad, but enough to convince me to increase the recovery. If I get too jittery, I might do some cycling, but at the moment I think I might enjoy a few late mornings.

Niamh made use of my idle time to spend the weekend in Dublin to visit yet another new niece. There was nothing for 10 years and all of a sudden there were three new babies from her sisters and brother in the last 18 months. She took the girls with her, leaving the boys in my care. We both agreed that looking after only 2 children is so easy, it's basically a relaxing time. We made best use of our boys-only household to hold a pirate party, which went down a treat.

I'm using the time to work out some plans for 2011. It would help if someone could confirm (or deny) if the Killarney marathon will take place next March. I haven't heard anything official yet and the website, which had only been a template, has now gone completely offline. As an alternative I do have an eye on Barcelona, which for some reason always attracts a huge number of Irish runners and gets great reviews, but if there is a marathon here in Kerry my bank manager would definitely prefer me to do without an expensive trip to the continent.

Closer to now, I'll probably do a couple of cross country races this autumn. Normally they are too close to Dublin, but since I'm not racing it this year I can give it a try. I'm dying to find out if is it really as tough as everyone says

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


It is now Wednesday evening. I've had plenty of time to think about the race, not that I have come up with any earth shattering revelations.

Immediately after crossing the line, I was totally high and buzzing. Others might waste their lives on illegal drugs to get that feeling when all you have to do is run 50 miles. The feeling of complete elation and euphoria lasted for hours, but somehow the afterglow is still here. Having said that, I did catch my image in a mirror shortly after the race and had difficulties recognising the haggard face staring back at me; it's fair to say I did not look quite as good as I felt.

The one issue bothering me were quite severe stomach cramps that lasted for almost 12 hours; every time I tried eating, my stomach would cramp violently, which is why I did not follow the advice of the physio lady to refuel as much and as soon as possible. Luckily this resolved itself overnight, but my appetite was quite low for a couple of days. This is highly unusual for me, normally I am absolutely ravenous after a long race. I have always gained a few pounds over a race weekend.

As far as the race itself is concerned, I am more than happy with it. The organisation was impeccable, apart from the missing toilet at the start line, which is why you could see a few dozen runners disappearing into the woods all at the same time as soon as we got off the bus. Everything else was just right, even the weather. It was raining very heavily the next day; I was so happy I was not going over Conor Pass in those conditions!

Ken, who I shared a considerable part of the road with, left a very detailed comment and plenty of things to ponder about, mostly about running the uphills. I had thought about walking and was perfectly prepared to do so, but I found the gradient much more runnable than expected. I have read everything about Ultra running I could find for a couple of years and I am well aware that they tend to walk every incline in American Ultras, but keep in mind that the vast majority of these races are over trails, which tend to be significantly steeper than the road we were travelling on on Saturday. I might have walked had I not read Mick Rice's race report from the Connemara 100 a few days beforehand. He had managed to run the entire distance without a single walking break, in an absolutely gobsmacking time. While I am perfectly aware that I'm not in Mick's league, it shows that walking breaks are not the only way to skin that cat.

I figured that walking would yield about 16:00 pace and the chart from Saturday shows that I ran up at 11:00 pace. There were about 4 miles of climbing, which means walking would have taken 20 minutes longer and I very much doubt I would have been able to make this up by running the downhills hard. However, Ken says, and I have no reason to doubt his words, that he only lost just over 2 minutes on me by walking 75% of the climb, which means he must have walked at faster than 12:00 pace. That is very fast walking! I will test this out before my next Ultra (yes, there will be a next Ultra, to no one's surprise), if I can manage to walk that fast it would definitely be worth considering.

By the way, Ken was running the descend from Conor Pass very hard. I would not have dared to subject my quads to such punishment and I was not surprised when his legs started cramping a few miles later. On the other hand, numbers don't lie and the fact that he managed to run the last 17 miles 20 minutes faster than me speaks volumes. I think it has much to do with the fact that he was used to the distance while I was a novice at it. Just like Ken put 20 minutes on me over the last third in Dingle, I managed to put 15 minutes on Grellan and John over the last third in Connemara back in April. These things do get easier with experience, I have no doubt.

So what next? This was The One, the race I had been training for all year, and my 2010 season is finished. I decided to take 2 weeks complete break from running, but it's Wednesday now and I'm already itching to get out and run; I might not last for 2 weeks. The legs feel perfectly fine, I was able to walk up and down the staircase at work without problems on Monday and the only thing bothering me slightly is my Achilles, which will hopefully be benefiting from rest.

I will be in Dublin for the marathon, not to race but to pace; 26 miles at 8:00 pace sound more like a relaxed training run, and a training run it will be. I do want to take one more shot at a sub-3 marathon, and this will be my first target for 2011. As soon as I start running again, the training will be geared towards that goal. There will be more Ultras as well. Somebody mentioned Comrades in the comments section, and that is a long-standing dream of mine. Sadly, one look at our finances convinced me to push that dream back for at least another year, I just cannot afford to fly to South Africa right now. There's a 100k in Portumna next summer which is very much on my radar and it would enable me to run Connemara as a training run next year (I'd hate to miss Connemara). Then there is a 24-hour race in Belfast and I have heard mutterings about another timed race next year, so that's another one to consider. The Connemara 100 still feels a number too big for me right now, I might leave that one for later. And as John K keeps reminding me, I have yet to come true on my promise to run one of those Scottish off-road ultras. With the number of races increasing every year, I'm spoilt for choice. How times have changed!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Heaven And Hell

Ewen might want to read yesterday’s post again rather than subject himself to all of the following. The rest of you, grab a bevy and a comfortable cushion before reading on. You will be here for a considerable time. A long race deserves a long race report.

Just a few days after completing last year’s Dingle Marathon, I got an email from the organiser announcing a 46-mile Ultra for 2010. Of course I immediately responded, asking if he would consider extending it to 50 miles. He responded in the positive (and said he would point any casualties my way), and so, on 4 Sep 2010, I found myself with about 60 others standing in the middle of nowhere, waiting for the starting gun to go off.

The drive to Dingle had taken me almost an hour, but when I parked the car it struck me that the run I was about to do was a good bit longer than that drive. This was going to be a long day.

The course had been measured as 50 miles, but some last minute-changes meant we would start with a 1.5-mile out-and-back section rather than a straight-forward run. It also meant the first mile spotted a wicked climb, which got the heart rare soaring right from the start.

I found myself in about 10th position early on. I was absolutely determined not to start too quickly; my Garmin GPS was supposed to help me with that, but for the first 2 miles the heart rate display spiked and was useless until it eventually` settled down, so I had to rely on my own gut feeling.

One runner caught my eye immediately; he walked the uphills and ran the downhills rather hard, which meant we leapfrogged each other several times but had pretty much the same average pace. After about 4 miles, now on a tarmac road and properly on our way, we fell into step and started chatting. His name was Ken, he was from the states, had done a couple of 50-milers already and was training for his first 100-mile race later that year. A short while later we were joined by another runner, Alan, who like me (and most of the field) was a newbie at that distance. At one stage I fell back about 10 or 20 meters, but when the gap between the 2 guys and myself remained constant I accelerated and caught up because if we were doing the same pace we might as well do it together. The early miles passed quickly, helped by the conversation and after 8 miles we passed through a very quiet and sleep Castlegregory. At this stage Alan put the hammer down and accelerated away, Ken started walking an incline and our group split up. Ken soon enough passed me again on a downhill, only for me to push ahead on the next ascend.

Connor Pass is well known as the highest mountain pass in Ireland, and I had always assumed it means it’s the highest road in Ireland, but have learnt in the meantime that it’s merely the highest road with the name “pass” in it. Nevertheless, at 1350 feet it is a formidable obstacle for any runner. At the race briefing the RD had warned us about the 6 “severe” miles of climb to the top, but during our earlier conversation Alan told us it was only 4 miles of climb, with a few miles of rolling hills preceding that. I knew from studying the map that the top would be at 19 miles, and when the climb was still reasonably benign after 15.5 miles I was wondering what they had been talking about, only to round the next corner to see pretty much the entire road ahead of me; I could even make out the top, very, very far above my head. The next few miles were going to be fairly severe, alright.

Quite a few runners had been talking about walking this stretch but I had spent long hours of my training running up hills that were steeper than that and I found the gradient fairly reasonable, just right to put your head down, cruise along and don’t think about the rest of the journey. At one stage, about halfway to the top, I looked up and saw about half a dozen runners strung up like pearls on a chain. I spotted a cyclist climbing towards me, but it took her several minutes to draw level. When I joked if she minded me borrowing her bike for a while she responded that it wasn’t much easier that way. Just as I thought I was getting close to the top the road changed, becoming much steeper and narrower for the last quarter or half mile. I would not have fancied driving that bit against oncoming traffic, but running wasn’t any easier. I caught up with a runner just before the top, one other guy was almost drawing level with me and we reached the aid station at the top in quick succession.

As much as I tried to keep my time at the aid station as short as possible, frantically going through my bag took longer than it should have. I grabbed a couple of gels and a drink of Amino and then took a few items off the organiser’s table, a gel as well as a little bottle with the Red Bull logo on it. Despite a bad experience with Red Bull during the Dublin marathon 2 years ago, I was curious and resolved to check it out later on. One golden rule of running is to never try anything in a race that you have not used during training, which is one rule I have broken at almost any race and usually I get away with it (kids, don’t try that at home!).

It had been raining a bit earlier on and the mountains were covered in clouds but they parted in time for our arrival at the top of the pass and the views were indescribable, well worth the effort. But it was not the uphill part that had me worried. There were still 31 miles ahead of us, and I really did not want to destroy my legs, especially the quads, on the downhill. I had decided to walk some of the road if it was too steep, but was pleasantly surprised by the very runnable gradient. The next 5 miles brought us into Dingle for the first time, and when I looked back I noticed that I was steadily pulling away from the 2 runners that had arrived at the top at almost the same time. I was rather surprised when Ken, the American runner, went past me shortly after entering Dingle, running the downhill very hard. I would not have dared to subject my quads to that kind of punishment, but he was very good at it.

I followed Ken through Dingle. The town was busy and a lot of people were on the roads cheering us on. After the lonely early miles, this was a great boost. We turned right at a pub, directed by a steward and followed the signs that led us right through the town, arriving at the big roundabout at the other end. The marathon and half-marathon had started nearly 90 minutes earlier as we made our own way, following their footsteps.

Before the start the RD had told us that the roads would probably be closed for that stretch, but that turned out not to be the case. While it’s not exactly a major road, the traffic was busy enough to be a nuisance and we had to stick to the right side of the road at all times. Even then it got a bit hairy on a couple of occasions when cars came from both directions.

Two miles out of Dingle I passed the marathon distance after 3:46. This was 22 minutes slower than half a year earlier in Connemara, and I felt no better. Connor Pass has a lot to answer for.

Even though I was getting tired, others suffered a lot more. Just a couple of miles later I passed 3 ultra runners in quick succession. I remembered them from the early miles; about 3 miles into the run I had been right behind them when I noticed that we were doing 7:20 pace, much too fast, so I dropped back and let them go. They disappeared from view very quickly, but it was clear to me that their pace was unsustainable for me. Sadly, it turned out to be much too fast for them as well and I could see them suffering on the road with 22 miles still to go.

Ken also ran into troubles at that point. I could see him stretching his leg, and when I passed him I asked if he was ok, to which he responded “Charlie horse”. This was a redundant conversation, I knew he wasn’t ok and I could see that he was cramping, but he knew what to do.

Not much later, probably 6.5 miles outside Dingle, which would make this the halfway point of the half-marathon, a guy was removing some timing mats from the road, and he told me he thought I was in sixth position. That really surprised me. After the start I had counted the runners ahead of me and then kept track of anyone I passed or was being passed by and I had myself in eighth place at that time, though of course over several hours of exhausting exercise it’s easy for mistakes to creep in. It did not really matter; I just tried to reach the finish in the shortest time possible and as I was never going to win a price, the exact position was not important, but on the other hand, this was a race and as a competitive runner I want to end as far ahead as I can.

The mile markers for the Ultra kept confusing me, because the distance displayed on my Garmin was always a bit shorter than that. For example, at the 28 mile marker my Garmin only displayed about 27.7 miles, and this kept happening at all of those markers. So, when the steward told me I was two places further ahead than I thought I was, a terrible thought entered my head. Had I inadvertently cut the course? The only place for that to happen would have been in Dingle itself. I had mostly just followed Ken through town, but there were a few stewards directing us and I saw signs every few hundred meters. Still, what if one steward at a crucial junction had deserted his place just as we were passing by and now I had cut half a kilometre off the course? Would they disqualify me? Worse, would I be branded a cheat?

This all sounds rather melodramatic now, but out there on the course in the baking sunshine after running 30 miles, this was all rather real and I was seriously worried. I had trained like a maniac over the last couple of months and now I kept pushing as hard as I could through the steadily mounting pain, and I really did not want the effort to be in vain. All kind of scenarios went through my head. Would I still count this as a personal best, even if I was disqualified officially? Could I run an extra half mile after crossing the finish? Would there be trouble?

I was torturing myself and I knew that a negative mindset is the last thing you need when running an ultra; so much of it is in the mind, and I really needed to get a grip.

I had gone through Dingle 90 minutes after the marathon and half-marathon start, and I thought I might catch up with the back end of the field just as they finished their 13-mile trip. I was quite surprised when a steady trickle of walkers started appearing after 7 or 8 miles, and encounters became increasingly frequent. It made running much easier, I had a few words for most of them, even just a “hi” when I was too tired to speak, or a wave when even that became too arduous. A few of them asked if I was one on the ultra runners, and the inevitably following praise was always a boost.

Ken eventually caught up with me again somewhere around mile 33, and he was looking really good and strong. It did not take a genius to work out that this would be the last time we were leapfrogging each other. I was starting to struggle keeping the pace under 9-minutes per mile while he was jogging along happily. On several occasions I upped the effort, but even though I never consciously noticed slowing down, I always ended up back in a slow trot. As the muscles fatigued more and more, it became increasingly difficult to lift the legs and as a result the stride shortened and the pace slowed as the turnover remained reasonably constant. The feet come closer and closer to the ground, and eventually you are merely shuffling along.

The sun had been burning down mercilessly since Dingle and I was getting really thirsty. At a couple of drink stations I begged for a second bottle of water and eventually I managed to catch up on my hydration again. At one stage, before mile 30, I had emptied that bottle of Red Bull Energy Shot I had grabbed from the 19 miles aid station without even knowing what it was. It went down well enough, but there was not a lot in the bottle. If you ask me, it’s a marketing gimmick and nothing else. The other thing I had taken off that table, a Lucozade sport gel, went down much better. I had brought along my own gels, SiS Isotonic which have the advantage of not needing water, but the taste and texture are just horrible and taking one always takes some persuasion. The Lucozade gel, on the other hand, tasted really nice. Maybe it was just the fact that it was different, but I pretty much switched my brand allegiance at that point.

Details are getting hazy now. At one aid station around mile 30 or 33, I missed the gel and took a jelly sweet instead. This turned out to be a mistake, it immediately caused my stomach to cramp painfully, which lasted for a few minutes. At one point I tried eating a banana, but that did not sit well either. My stomach was slowly shutting down, and with 20 miles under the blazing sun still to go, this was not good news.

At mile 36 we had another big aid station where our own bags were located. Despite my reluctance I re-filled my short pockets with gels, took one Amino and also some dark chocolate, which by some miracle had not melted yet. The Amino went down as well as it always does, but ever since that jelly sweet anything other than water or Amino would cause immediate stomach cramps, the gels only for a minute, the chocolate considerably longer, and anything else was becoming seriously unappealing, so I left it at that.

After going through Dunquin, where the half-marathon finished, the road became lonely again. At first I feared I would be running on my own for the final 13 miles, but eventually I saw plenty of marathon walkers ahead. This would do for the rest of the race. Soon enough I spotted a runner ahead; it was easy enough to tell him apart from the marathon crowd, even before I made out the orange number that confirmed his ultra runner status. I caught up soon enough and we had a few words. His legs were cramping and he was resigned to run/walk the final miles to the finish.

The half-marathon section is the most scenic of the course, and even though the final 13 miles are still set in beautiful surroundings, it’s just a little less dramatic and feels like a bit of a let-down after the stunning views from earlier on. Or maybe that’s just because the ever-increasing fatigue plays a more and more dominating role in our thoughts.

I passed the Connemara distance of 39.3 miles in 5:46, half an hour slower than at that race half a year ago, but still going ok. This was now officially my longest run ever. The map was now blank, here be dragons. Every step was one into the unknown. But somehow I felt comforted when I saw 40 on my Garmin. Only 10 miles to go. I can always do 10 miles. This was the home stretch.

One ultra runner once mentioned that you hit the wall after 20 miles (marathoners know that too), enter the pit after 40 and the abyss at 80. Luckily I was not going long enough to experience the last one, but running became harder and harder. Unlike the wall, which generally comes suddenly, there was no noticeable impact, just a barely noticeable but steady deterioration. Still, when I ran a quick mental check over all the bits of my body, I was pleased to see that the pain was manageable and the energy levels clearly sufficient to get me home. My stomach was the worst part, but at that stage I would make it to the finish even without extra calories.

Around mile 42, a black Toyota pick-up truck that I had seen on a couple of occasions earlier, pulled up alongside. The driver asked if I wanted something, which I declined, but after a few seconds I frantically waved him to stop. I enquired if he was an official steward, which he confirmed, and then told him about my worries about potentially cutting the course in Dingle. I described the route I had taken through town and the road I had left Dingle on, at which point he assured me that I had been on the correct course all along and nothing was wrong. As I ran off, I shouted “God, I have been worrying about that for 15 miles”, to which he replied “worry no more”. I was much happier as I ran along.

I passed one more ultra runner on the way, suffering as much as I was, but was then caught myself by an older runner in an Irish singlet, at least the colours were green, white and orange. His pace was unbelievable and I told him so, for which he thanked me. I would have liked some company for the last few miles, but I could not hope to latch onto him, his pace was much too fast for me. I was really surprised when I saw him walking a mile later and regained my place, but I guessed he might be back.

At mile 44 I got some water from some kids that I threw over my head. I laughed when one of them said “only 6 miles to go”. “ONLY!”

Last year we had to climb a brutally steep mountain on our way home. They changed the course for 2010. We still have to go over the same mountain, but on a much more gradual road, which makes things a lot easier. This route is shorter and they had to add an extra out-and-back section at Gallarus to make up the distance. That section was very well stewarded, which was good to avoid both confusion and cheating. I quite liked that part, on the out section you could see who was within half a mile of yourself and on the back you could see who was behind you. This included the three runners I had overtaken since Dunquin; we greeted each other happily and even exchanged high-fives, much to the amusement of one marathon participant. Towards the end of the section, one ultra runner asked how far this out-and-back section was. I did not want to tell him “well over half a mile” because that might sound discouraging, and I did not want to lie either, so I said “all the way to the corner”, which was both true as well as rather vague (and possibly completely useless).

At the corner that marked the end of that section, one kid shouted loud “5 miles to go”. “Thanks”. “But there’s a really big hill coming”. I had to laugh. “Thanks, but actually I knew that already”.

Last year, this was a killer hill. This year it was nothing compared to Connor Pass, but with over 400 feet elevation gain it was still a formidable obstacle with 45 miles already in the legs. Just like at Connor Pass I put my head down and one foot in front of the other. I got passed again by the Irish singlet, and again I could not hope to match his speed. No matter, just concentrate on getting to the top. I had to be careful, ever since mile 30 my legs went into spasms every now and again, and on climbs it happened a lot more. I wanted to avoid cramping at all costs, which put a limit on the maximum effort I could give.

Every hill comes to an end eventually, and as we crested the road at 46.5 miles we could see all the way onto Dingle, but that seemed still pretty far away. Last year during the marathon I had an ugly and very painful episode on that downhill stretch when both legs cramped at the same time and I hit the deck screaming in agony. This year it went smoothly but slowly. At one point I checked the Garmin and wasn’t too happy to see the pace at 10:00, even though it was downhill. So basically the pace had slowed for the uphill without giving back anything for the downhill.

Eventually I decided to try and alter my stride. It went against what my legs wanted and they resisted, but I strode out more strongly, taking bigger strides again, and eventually this paid off and my pace increased again. The odd spasm told me to be careful, especially at one point when I saw the Irish singlet ahead and increased the effort in a last-gasp attempt to gain one more place, but the legs very nearly started cramping almost immediately and told me to put those fancy thoughts out of my head.

From miles 47 to 49 the road is completely straight for over 2 miles; you can see it all and it looks incredibly long and discouraging. I started playing tricks, convinced myself to just run to the next tree, then the next pole, then the next driveway, and so on. For some reason a song entered my head and got stuck there, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth”, by Belinda Carlisle (Jesus, is that really 23 years ago!), which seemed completely inappropriate at the time because if Heaven hurts as much as it did right now I don’t want to know what Hell is like. But it reminded me of another mantra, “this is exactly where you want to be”, which hit home. I had anticipated this race for an entire year, had trained for months, could not wait for it and now it was here, so better enjoy the occasion, it took a lot to get here. I also told myself that this was the glory stretch. The last 3 miles of the Ultra, the end in sight, literally, now soak up the atmosphere and energy and enjoy!

All those mind games worked incredibly well, with the finish approaching I got my spring back into my stride and I raced down towards Dingle. The Irish singlet came closer and closer and I started chasing it again, but after 50 miles I ran out of road and missed out by about 30 seconds. But that did not matter a dot, I went over the line absolutely delighted, let out a primal scream and then it was all over.

I was incredibly elated, did not feel any pain and was immensely pleased with how the day had gone.

I could have sworn the timer said 7:27:xx when I crossed the line, but I forgot to press the stop button on my Garmin and the official results have me in 7th place in a time of 7:28:51, so I guess I must have misread the time. Before the race, whenever people asked me how long it would take, I had responded with between 7:30 and 8 hours, so to beat that time in my first ever attempt at the distance was great. I had hoped for a top-10 finish, which I achieved easily, coming seventh.

Running 50 miles is a formidable task and the first attempt is always a bit of a learning experience. It had gone very well indeed, but I think under ideal circumstances I could chop 20 minutes off my time. But I don’t want to think about that right now. This is the time to take a breath, appreciate the achievement and rest and recover. It’s all good.

04 Sep
Dingle Ultra Marathon
50 miles, 7:28:51, 8:59 pace, HR 151
7th place

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Dingle Rocks

7:27:xx, somewhere around 7th or 9th place apparently, not entirely sure.

We had a fantastic day, I just loved the run across Connor Pass and the brilliant views all round, even if I wasn't quite able to enjoy them over the last 10 miles.

We got a bit of rain early on and Connor Pass was quite breezy but the second half was roasting hot and we paid for that, even if it enhanced the stunning scenery.

The legs feel fantastic, hardly any pain yet, but that will change tomorrow. I'm high as a kite, but my stomach is cramping badly whenever I eat anything (that started round mile 30, and never let up).

Can't wait for next year.

No energy whatsoever for a race report today, this will have to wait until at least tomorrow.

Friday, September 03, 2010

T Minus 12 hours

I'm so nervous I can hardly type; I keep hitting the wrong keys, so if this post contains even more typos than usual, you know why.

I haven't been as nervous before a race for a long time. After 13 marathons, they are no longer something to lose sleep about. 3 Connemara Ultras make me a veteran in that respect as well. But the 50 mile distance is new and I'm a bundle of nerves.

I could not sleep Wednesday night and despite spending 9 hours in bed I only slept for 5 of those. I figured that's not too bad, it might mean I should be able to sleep Thursday night, which was almost true. I fell asleep at 10:30, but was awake at 5 am, so only partial success on that front. I don't expect to sleep much tonight. I'll be getting up at stupid o'clock and have already set 2 alarm clocks, but I don't expect to need either of them, really.

The training was short but intensive. I took it easy for a couple of weeks after the Cork City marathon, but the Killarney leg of the 32-marathon challenge forced me to up the long runs faster than normal. This turned out to be a good thing, I had no trouble adjusting and it meant I got more long runs under the belt than I would have otherwise. The meat and bones of this training cycle were the marathon-or-longer training runs, and I managed no less than 7 of those over a 5 week period, starting with that Killarney marathon and ending with 2 weekends of 30+/26.5+ back-to-back long runs. This had been looking extremely daunting on the training schedule, but I managed it by never looking further than the next run. When it came to it, I just did it and it turned out to be much easier than anticipated, though of course I had started training from a very high endurance base.

If this kind of training was the right thing to do, I cannot tell. I do wonder if a marathon-style training with a few long runs would have been better, because that's what worked extremely well for Connemara, but at the same time I'm glad I did it this way, for no other reason than that I now know that I can handle this style of training.

Training (excluding taper):
7 weeks
Total Number of Miles (excluding taper):
70, 75, 79, 77, 64, 92, 85
Average mpw:
Highest weekly mileage:
# runs of 26.2 or more:
# of PRs:
1 complaining achilles tendon (didn't miss any training runs though)
1 nasty allergy attack (still scarred)

One thing that was different this time was the lack of races. Since most races take part over the weekend, I would have had to sacrifice a long run to participate and I did not think this would be a good idea. So I only ran one race in that period, the 4 miler in Kilgobnet that was held on a Friday evening and which had gone surprisingly well.

My troubles from earlier this week seem to have gone up in smoke. My knee is fine, my achilles is fine, my resting HR was back to 43 yesterday. Maybe it really was just your bog-standard taper madness.

One more night, sleepless or not, and then it's time. I have been waiting for this moment for an entire year.

1 Sep
5 miles, 42:28, 8:29 pace, HR 138
2 Sep
3 miles, 24:46, 8:15 pace, HR 135