Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year's End

I felt surprisingly sore after Tuesday's sprints, which really surprised me; after all there had not been a lot of sprinting. I guess I'm just not adapted to that kind of running. I therefore took it easy on Wednesday, just 10 miles at very relaxed pace before we all got into the car and made it to Dublin to visit the grandparents. For some reason the kids had been really good during the journey itself but went completely off the rails once we reached our destination. I half expected to be asked to turn around again and take the misbehaving brood with us. I wouldn't have blamed them.

Anyway, after being treated leniently and being allowed to stay, I did a few hill sprints on Thursday morning in Deer Park. I expected the hill to be a bit steeper. I tried one repeat on grass, but that was too slippery so I did the others on road. I don't remember them being so tough - after 5 repeats I almost threw up, despite my empty stomach, so it left it at that and only did 6 miles in all. That was a lot harder than expected.

Having said that, the hill sprints were a lot better on the legs than Tuesday's sprints on the flat; I wasn't really sore the next day. I did 8 rather boring miles in Stillorgan, made up of loops just under half a mile in length. I find running short loops mentally much harder than out-and-backs or long loops. At least when I'm running on my own; the 30 1-mile loops in Sixmilebridge were fine, probably because of the 100 other runners keeping each other company.

I ended the year with a run from our house in Stillorgan to Ticknock and then up the mountain towards Three Rock. That's as far as I had intended to go, but when I saw that nice trail going up further I could not resist and went all the way up to the top, where a big cairn awaited me; Fairycastle, according to some hill friendly walkers I met on the way. The wind was quite strong and there was no view to be had thanks to the clouds, but that's not what I had come for anyway. The elevation gain from Stillorgan was about 1500 feet, but it was only just over 6 miles each way, which made this not really a long run, but a fun run instead. Still, I decided I had already sufficiently sabotaged any chances of a good race tomorrow, so I went straight back home.

It was a great run to end a great year! Happy 2012, everyone!
28 Dec
10 miles, 1:19:11, 7:55 pace, HR 144
29 Dec
6 miles, 48:48, 8:07 pace, HR 147
   incl. 5x15 sec all-out hill sprints
30 Dec
8 miles, 1:03:23, 7:55 pace, HR 140
31 Dec
12.5 miles, 1:50:03,8:49 pace, HR 145
   mountain run to Fairycastle

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Catching Up On Sleep

One of the best perks of Christmas, and holidays in general, is the fact that I can sleep in every single morning and still get my normal mileage. When I say sleep in, I mean until 8 o'clock, that is. Any later than that requires an unreasonable amount of staring at the ceiling and is just not my thing.

Having said that, my mileage this week is actually going to dip, for two reasons. One, I took it easy so far to let the legs recover from the weekend; Monday was especially slow. Two, I'm gradually transitioning into the next training phase, and it's better to take it a bit easier. No need to overdo things when your body has to adapt to a different kind of work.

As I said, Monday was very easy. I ran as slowly as I could without letting it affecting form. The pace turned out to be 8:09, still decent enough, and the HR was the lowest in a long, long time. The fact that I am able to run for an hour at such an easy effort actually pleases me as much as a tough tempo run. It's a mental thing.

Today started out in very similar fashion. I thought about adding a couple of miles but decided against it. After 7 easy miles, I changed things for the last mile, alternating not-quite all-out sprints and walking recoveries until the breathing and HR were back to normal. I did about 6 of these, but I find it challenging to count past 2 when doing repeats like that, so the actual number might be out (not that it matters). The idea is to start activating the "other" muscle fibres that don't do any work during a normal endurance run. You need to activate them before you can train them, and fast sprinting is one way of reaching them (hill sprints work even better).

The weather was slightly more reasonable today, less wind and just a bit of mist rather than rain, but that was just the calm before the storm which is just starting to build as I write this. Tomorrow's run might get interesting.

We're off to Dublin for a few days. I'll probably take in a race while I'm there, though I do feel guilty for missing the 10K in Beaufort yet again. Niamh needs to see her family - and there's another imminent arrival and she fully intends to be there when it happens. New babies are just the best, aren't they? Especially other people's babies that you can hand back for a nappy change and night-time feeds after cooing over them.
26 Dec
8 miles, 1:05:13, 8:09 pace, HR 134
27 Dec
8 miles, 1:04:05, 8:01 pace, HR 142
   actually 7 miles in 7:52 and 1 mile alternating sprinting/walking

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

I used to hate Christmas. Not in the indifferent, Scrooge kind of way; I utterly detested the commercialism, greedy materialism and blank greed that went with it. People haven't changed, but my feelings for Christmas have. Why? There are four reasons and they are by now aged 10, 10, 8 and 4. It's so different with children, for them the magic is still very much alive and the excitement built every single day. For the sake of these shining eyes, it's all worth it.

But of course I keep running. It keeps me sane. I heard an interview with Mo Farah the other day; they asked him, what's in store for Christmas day? “A 10 mile run”.


After a disappointing set of numbers from Tuesday's evaluation, by Wednesday the legs all of a sudden felt great; probably due to recovery from the weekend. I kept things easy, and again on Thursday.

Because I felt so good I resurrected Fast Friday and did 10 strong miles on the reasonably flat Killorglin loop. I made sure to keep the HR in check, apart from one stretch when I got a few cat calls from a couple of drunks. Not sure what they were doing at that time of day, usually it's a safe bet that they're asleep by the time I come along. Anyway, I always get a smile on my face when the pace on these runs averages less than 7 minutes per mile, and Friday was no exception.

I pretty much followed the coach's original weekend plan, where he had a fast run followed by two longer runs. My long training runs never built up to much this autumn, courtesy of the marathons and ultras I did in Dingle, Dublin and Sixmilebridge, and I never reached 20 miles in training outside of these. Saturday's 16.5 mile loop around Caragh Lake was my longest training run in a while. The gale force wind added a bit to the challenge. The weather forecast seems to have missed that and apparently the rest of the country was calm enough but out on the hills it was pretty bad and I had to work through it. At least I got plenty in return on the way home, I did a few miles pretty close to 7 minutes without straining. In fact, after crossing the worst of the hills I spent much of my time repeatedly slowing myself down. I had an eye on Sunday.

Sunday, Christmas day, was slightly easier as it only had 15 miles, but of course how easy that would feel depended very much on the recovery from the previous two days. I'm glad to say that the legs felt great. The wind was even stronger than the day before and the occasional heavy rain shower added to the fun, but what else would I want to do on Christmas day? Actually, I had spent the previous few hours with the kids, first unwrapping Santa's massive heap of presents and then helping them assemble various bits and pieces, putting in batteries, reading manuals, the things dads do on Christmas day. I left behind 4 blissfully happy children; they were still playing happily when I came back, and Niamh even managed to get some rest; we'd only gotten 5 hours of sleep between arranging the presents preparing for Santa and the kids unleashing their force.

The run? It went very well, despite the weather. I still held back a lot during the first half and finally let it loose on the last few miles. Whatever the evaluation said, right now I fell pretty damn good.

Happy Christmas everyone.

22 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:01, 7:48 pace, HR 144
23 Dec
10 miles, 1:09:40, 6:58 pace, HR 153
24 Dec
16.5 miles, 2:08:16, 7:46 pace, HR 149
25 Dec
15+ miles, 1:55:26, 7:40 pace, HR 150

Weekly Mileage: 81.5

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Battered and Bruised

I have a work colleagues who insists that bad things always happen in threes. For example, every time there are two aeroplane incidents in quick succession, he confidentially predicts a further, imminent one. I hope he’s wrong. I might not have been involved in a plane crash, but according to him I'm just waiting to be hit again.

It started on Sunday evening when I put a lot of things up the attic. I have been up and down that ladder countless times before, but somehow this time I managed to bump my head. Badly. Lying on the floor moaning for a minute badly. A 2-inch gash in the head badly. Blood on your hands badly. Niamh urged me not to run on Monday; she feared I might be suffering from concussion. I ran anyway, under the assumption that I don’t have a brain to get damaged in the first place, and the fact that I ran with a possible concussion only goes to prove the previous point.

The second incident happened when cycling home from work on Tuesday. It was pitch dark, I had a car coming the other way, completely blinding me, I had a lorry behind me and before I knew it I had a big pothole underneath me which I did not see because said car shone his headlights straight into my face in the best tradition of a Stasi interrogator. A short, unsuccessful fight against the pull of gravity was immediately followed by a rather desperate scramble to get off the road courtesy of the aforementioned lorry featuring rather heavily on my mind. I ended up with a bang on my right elbow, a pain in my right knee and some more pain radiating from my left side. Nothing serious, I was just a bit shaken. Apart from some very minor grazes on my elbow there is no visible damage, but the fact that I coughed up blood this morning was slightly alarming.

Inbetween these occurrences I managed not to miss my morning runs, especially my evaluation run on Tuesday. I had played with the idea of postponing this to Wednesday due to some fatigue from the weekend’s back-to-back long runs, but decided against it. Good decision, as Tuesday was a nice calm morning and Wednesday was ... not. Despite having some troubles keeping the heart rate at 161 (it oscillated rather more than I would have liked to see), the average values were ok. The pace, however, was slower than 2 weeks ago, very consistently 3-4 seconds slower on each mile, and the recovery period afterwards was identically long:
           6:46, HR 161
6:50, HR 162
6:55, HR 161
6:59, HR 160
41 sec to HR 130

I'm not exactly happy with these numbers. Sure, there was always going to be some fatigue from the weekend but considering that the last evaluation had been only 2 weeks after Sixmilebridge, this does not spell progression. If that means that I should move onto the next phase (because I’m not progressing) or extend the base building (because my legs are not ready for more work), I’m not entirely sure.

Actually, the evaluation didn’t really show me anything I did not already know. I have been running at an easy effort on basically all my runs for the last few weeks, but the HR has consistently been 5-10 bpm higher than what I would normally expect. It may be down to fatigue from too many marathons and ultras (Dingle, Dublin and Sixmilebridge in quick succession) or that damn cold that I can’t seem to shake or the stress at work or some other issues, but the bottom line is that right now I'm not in the shape I was hoping to be in.

I managed to get through a different kind of endurance workout as well: sitting through three sets of school Christmas plays in one week. It’s perfectly obvious to me that my own children are much more talented, interesting and better looking than other people’s children. I wonder if their parents can see it too, though.
19 Dec
8 miles, 1:02:45, 7:51 pace, HR 145
20 Dec
12 miles, 1:26:37, 7:13 pace, HR 152
   incl 4 miles evaluation
21 Dec
10 miles, 1:19:26, 7:57 pace, HR 145

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Back-To-Back Again

One the features of the training system I got introduced to by Mystery Coach a year ago was that base phase should not really feel like training. When things went the way they should I kept sending emails saying “it feels so easy, am I really training?”. It's fair to say that I went off the rails a bit after Dublin this year, but managed to correct course after Sixmilebridge. In fact, ever since that marvellous day, I have felt good every single day.

So maybe this weekend was a mistake. Not having the coach makes training feel like a tightrope walk without a net at times. Am I doing the right things or am I falling off? Am I doing too little or too much? Are the runs too slow or too fast? My mileage is a bit lower than at the same time last year, but of course I had to recover from those 30 miles at a strong pace 4 weeks ago. That was fine, until I remembered that last year I was working to being able to run 10 miles fast/20 miles/15 miles over Friday/Saturday/Sunday, and decided to up things a bit this weekend.

Friday's fast pace was shelved because I had inadvertently run that on Wednesday already. In fact, the legs felt a bit heavy early on, but came round very quickly. It was over the weekend that I upped to ant a bit, not 20/15, but 15/15, both times on the very hilly loop around Caragh Lake.

Saturday went very well indeed. I expected the legs to struggle on the big climbs during the first half, but I went up totally on autopilot, always a good sign. It had been raining and hail stoning over the first 5 miles but then the weather changed and I really enjoyed the beautiful sunny, calm day for the final 10 miles.

Sunday was always going to be more of a struggle. The legs might have felt fine after Saturday's run, but you never recover fully after only one day. I had to get up early, at 6:30, and was out of the door before 7 o'clock; the early start probably did not help. I still felt fine on the big hills but the legs definitely started dragging during the second half and while I got home still in fine shape, it was unquestionably a lot harder than all the runs since Sixmilebridge. They felt a bit sore for the rest of the day, which makes me wonder if the whole thing had been a bad idea.

Then again, the second leg of a back-to-back run is always tough. That's just the way it is. Anyway, what's done is done. I'll take it easy again early next week.

The reason for the early start today had been a trip to Dingle's climbing wall. Shea has been a regular recently, and today the entire family made the journey, including little Maia. There is some pedigree in that regard in my family, and all four of them kept climbing up and down for almost 90 minutes, Shea entirely without fear and the others with increasing confidence. It was great to see.

I just realised, I passed the 5000k mark this morning for 2011. I'll leave the champagne in the fridge, though.
16 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:39, 7:52 pace, HR 141
15+ miles, 1:56:40, 7:45 pace, HR 149
18 Dec
15+ miles, 1:59:41, 7:57 pace, HR 144

Weekly Mileage: 78+

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I thought I’d experienced just about every kind of weather that we get here in Kerry (often all of them within the same run), but Tuesday’s combination of gale force winds and hail stones was a new one, and a particularly nasty one at that. It had me howling in pain at one stage, getting pelted in the side of the face by a million needles just isn’t that great a feeling. After running through this, if there is any justice in the world I will have a great race in Connemara to make up for it.

Despite feeling great after Sunday’s 15 mile run, I had some pain in my left quads on Monday. I didn’t think too much of it, but when it was still there on Tuesday, I decided to be sensible and shortened the run to 8 miles (yes, that passes as sensible in my books). With the weather being as it was, that was more than enough.

Wednesday was different again, after a day and night of constantly being pelted by hails stones we awoke to a winter wonderland scene. I’m pretty sure it hadn’t been snowing at all and all the white stuff was indeed hail, but it didn’t stop the kids from throwing “snow balls” at each other, and Maia was satisfied that this was now winter (at the age of 4, she has now seen “snow” in Kerry every single winter. She obviously thinks that’s normal). But it was also the day of her Christmas play from pre-school, and I was told in no uncertain terms to take the day off work, so I would be able to attend – and since I have a whole load of untaken holidays left, I was in no position to argue (as if I had ever been!).

The play was mercifully short and I managed to run at lunch time. By then the rain had mostly cleared the slush off the road, but I made the same mistake I always do when running during the day. My perceived rate of effort is totally off and it took me 4 miles to realise that I had been running over half a minute per mile faster than planned, all the while blissfully unaware. To make sure that I would not push the recovery out more than necessary I cut the run short by a couple of miles for the second time in a row. I also heard very scary, loud, rolling thunder on two occasions, but never saw any lightning. I was about 3 miles away from home at the time but (correctly) figured that the storm would have passed by the time I would have made it back home, even if I had turned around there and then, so I kept running despite feeling rather anxious.

Today it was back to hail stones, but with the absence of gale force winds, it felt entirely tolerable. It’s amazing how quickly you adapt.

Life is very busy at the moment. I used to hate Christmas, mostly because of the rampant commercialism and cheap materialism, but with 4 young kids in the house there is still a bit of magic left.

12 Dec
10 miles, 1:19:09, 7:55 pace, HR 142
13 Dec
8 miles, 1:03:28, 7:56 pace, HR 146
14 Dec
10 miles, 1:13:20, 7:20 pace, HR 150
15 Dec
10 miles, 1:19:06, 7:55 pace, HR 141

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ireland Runs For Charity

As a first for me, I recently received a query if I would allow a guest post on my blog. I thought, why not, and as a result Jackie wrote an article about running and raising charity money, especially for cancer charities. If you have any questions, she has provided her email address and would be delighted to answer any queries you might have. It is probably unnecessary to add, but all views are entirely her own, of course. Enjoy.

By: Jackie Clark (

Wellbeing and happiness are important to any person, and proper nutrition and exercise are key factors in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For centuries, people have engaged in the activity of running for a variety of reasons; whether to escape danger or for pure enjoyment, it has served a purpose in human nature. Competitive running has been recorded as a contest of endurance in the Tailteann Games of Ireland in 1829 BC. The tradition continues under the sponsorship of Athletics Association of Ireland (AAI), which governs all athletic events from recreational running to professional competitions. Additionally, many novice and skilled runners participate in local, regional and national races for charitable causes.

Every year, Ireland hosts a number of philanthropic events to raise awareness and financially fund research efforts in the advancement of cures for many disorders and illnesses, such as mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that affects the thin layer of tissue that covers a majority of the internal organs. This rare cancer is aggressive and deadly leaving many of its victims without successful treatment options. Mesothelioma life expectancy of patients receiving a late diagnosis is short because symptoms usually are not detected until decades after exposure. Though there is no cure, there are medicines and therapies to assist in extending the life of the patient burdened with this disease. Mesothelioma sufferers will be challenged physically and mentally; however, nutrition and activity are crucial in maintaining a healthy weight. Research is vital to the success of discovering new and effective treatments for mesothelioma, as well as other cancers. Donations and fundraising events are key contributors to support the medical community’s efforts in reaching the goal of a cure.

Run4Life is a charitable group that raises monies for the Irish Cancer Society, the largest, single-most charitable sponsor in Ireland. The Society participates in Mini-Marathons benefiting cancer research, as well as completes Marathons and other active events. The Dingle Marathon and Half Marathon, both of which take place September 1, 2012 benefits a number of different charities, including BlueSeptember, Share A Dream Foundation, Bee for Battens, and Aware.

Charitable fundraising events are beneficial for all involved. The average and experienced athletes can use this passion of running to do something worthwhile. They not only are able to enjoy a social group activity, but they can use their enthusiasm for health and exercise to potentially advance the health of others.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Party Time

Mick Rice recently pointed out that Connemara is only 3-and-a-bit months away. That's actually pretty close, certainly too close to start messing around now. Which is why I have to tread carefully when it come to this season's party time.

It started on Thursday with Cian's 8th birthday. This served as a reminder how quickly I'm getting old. It also provided Niamh with yet another opportunity to show off her mad cake decorating skills, creating a sweets guzzling monster – entirely appropriate for Cian, as everyone agreed. He duly loved it. As always, she bought far too much stuff for the party, which meant dinner that night consisted of chocolate, sweets, cake, crisps, buns and plenty of fizzy drinks; I actually had a sugar hangover an hour later, but that did not stop next morning's breakfast to consist of pretty much the same stuff.

And since one party is not enough, my office's Christmas do was on on Friday night. Since my usual bedtime is generally several hours before everybody else's, I tend to cry off halfway through the proceedings, but I surprised myself by staying strong until 2 o'clock in the morning, and the only reason I left then was that I had to drive to Cork the next morning and could not risk still being over the blood alcohol limit. There had not been any embarrassing scenes until that time; I suppose I should hear on Monday if they happened after I left.

In the midst of all the madness, only Saturday's run suffered when I stumbled through 5 miles with a hangover. I could have run more, neither the stomach nor the head felt any worse during the run itself, and neither improved after I stopped running. I'm getting too old for all that. My hangovers are lasting longer and longer.

Thankfully I felt pretty much recovered after 10 hours of sleep before Sunday (I had left Niamh in sole charge of the kids watching the X-Factor). After a long absence, I returned to the hills of the Caragh Lake loop. I expected the legs to suffer on the long 3-mile climb with almost 600 feet elevation gain, but in actual fact I managed to run up entirely on autopilot. The pace was pedestrian, which was probably a good thing. After several weeks of nothing but relaxed running I am starting to reach that stage where all the runs are starting to feel so easy that it feels like I'm not training any more, the miles are just flying by effortlessly. I got there last year under the coach's guidance, and now I've managed to get there by myself (ok, with a couple of gentle nudges from the coach who still keeps an eye on me). This happened pretty quickly, considering that 3 weeks ago I stormed through 30 miles in Sixmilebridge. Now I just have to keep myself from doing stupid things for a few more weeks, and then the next training phase can begin.

Congratulations to Grellan and everyone else who ran the Clonakilty marathon. Sorry I missed all the fun.
8 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:23, 7:50 pace, HR 146
9 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:10, 7:49 pace, HR 144
10 Dec
5 miles, 37:49, 7:34 pace, HR 147
11 Dec
15.1 miles, 1:58:51, 7:52 pace, HR 146

Weekly Mileage: 69+

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


In marked contrast to the weeks following the Dublin marathon, I have taken it very easy following the race in Sixmilebridge and the legs have been thanking me for it. While the log after Dublin has a smattering of “heavy legs” entries, they have been feeling fine every morning of the last two weeks. With the sensible decision of giving Clonakilty a miss, I am hoping they will have recovered from the year’s racing by New Year to be in a position to soak up the training that is to come in 2012.

Sunday had been a good bit faster than planned (still not sure what happened there – it certainly did not feel fast at the time), so Monday was always going to be easy. Even though I did not keep an eye on the Garmin and the run did not really feel all that different, it was half a minute per mile slower. Make of that what you will, but it sure shows that my present pace judgement isn’t something I would want to rely on.

Subjective feeling is one thing, cold and hard figures are another, and the way I get those figures are by doing an evaluation run. I very nearly skipped this on Tuesday because I kept waking in the middle of the night listening to the storm outside, and one thing I have learned is that you don’t get meaningful figures in those conditions. I even re-set the alarm at some stage. However, I happened to wake up just before 6 o’clock, it was quiet outside and I decided to give it a go after all.

The last evaluation showed some real problems and I was a bit apprehensive what the figures would be like this time round. One early plus point was that I managed to stay out of the blackberry bushes this time, and then the figures weren’t too bad. In fact, they were better than expected.

I ran the 4 miles at a HR 161 in 6:42, 6:50, 6:54, 6:53 and then the HR took 41 seconds at standstill to drop down to 130. The pace from the second mile on was very stable, so that is a definite plus and an improvement to previous evaluations. The overall pace was ok, I have run a couple of faster ones but a lot more slower ones. The recovery time, however, was definitely high; I have seen it around 32 seconds before. There is still some serious amount of deep fatigue lingering in the system (but then again, it was 45 seconds 3 weeks ago). I will do another evaluation in 2 weeks’ time, after some more easy running. Let’s see.

I followed it up this morning with 9 easy miles. The weather keeps throwing some challenges my way, but I suppose I must have been toughening up lately. I used to run a different, slightly more sheltered, route in these windy conditions; now I just get on with it on the Caragh Lake road. Still, an end to the rain would be nice. I can’t remember the last time I came home dry.

5 Dec
8 miles, 1:03:35, 7:57 pace, HR 137
6 Dec
12 miles, 1:26:16, 7:11 pace, HR 151
   4 mile eval: 6:42, 6:50, 6:54, 6:53 (normalised figures)
   41 seconds to 130
7 Dec
9 miles, 1:11:22, 7:56 pace, HR 139

Sunday, December 04, 2011


As the days are passing by, the clouds in my mind are starting to clear; the ones in the sky seem to multiply. The weather has been pretty bad lately and I don't think there is much improvement in sight. Better dig out the long sleeves again. It might not get icy this winter, but rain at close to 0 degree is worse.

There was a vintage cars rally on Saturday, and just like the "real" event they chose Caragh Lake as one of the stages - pretty much the exact route as my favourite running option, in fact. It meant getting up early or I would have been trapped in our driveway, but I was awake at 6 o'clock and since by 6:30 staring at the ceiling had lost its fascination I was out of the door even sooner than planned. With so much time on my hands, I decided to add a bit to the run and upped it to 10 miles. A couple of cars were indeed out on the course, but obviously not at race pace.

Today was the coldest day yet, the thermometer got stuck at 3C, the icy wind did not help and neither did the couple of rain showers, but thankfully neither lasted more than a few minutes. Maybe it was the crispy conditions that made me run faster. I did not even notice it, I never check the Garmin on those easy runs any more; it was until after I got back home that I realised that I had inadvertently gone under 7:30 pace. It had felt very easy, but the HR was a bit higher than the previous days. Had I paid more attention I would have noticed the higher effort, I suppose, but then again easy runs like that are my form of meditation, I just run while my brain is basically switched off.

3 Dec
10 miles, 1:16:46, 7:40 pace, HR 148
4 Dec
12 miles, 1:29:57, 7:29 pace, HR 149

Weekly Mileage: 62

Friday, December 02, 2011

Checking Progress

Some runners love their Garmins, others, usually older folk, hate them. Personally I’m firmly on the love side, but with reservations. I use it to monitor my workouts, not dictate them. As such, I find it a very helpful tool and one thing I always keep an eye out is the pace/HR ratio. I have a spreadsheet that spits out a VDOT number for virtually any pace/HR combination. The higher the VDOT the better, and as I get fitter during base training, the number gradually moves up (or, at least, that’s what it’s supposed to do).

In my previous blog entry I mentioned how that ratio had suddenly jumped up by a significant amount. Sadly, that did not last and the last few days have all yielded a much lower VDOT number. The outside factors were all fairly similar, plenty of rain, wind and cold as I ran the exactly same 8 miles each morning.

I do have a bit of a cold at the moment; I think it’s finally on its way out, but there are still some lingering effects. Nothing major, but it’s certainly a possible factor for the higher than expected HR.

Life goes on and training goes on. I have been taking it very easy since Sixmilebridge and as a result have not had any issues with heavy, tired legs that felt like a pair of concrete pillars, in contrast to the post-Dublin weeks. I would like to increase the mileage again, but right now the HR data keeps me from doing so. It’s already December, the next training phase is only a few weeks away and I want to make sure that I'm not tired at the very start of it.

All other 4-year olds I know, including my (now older) own ones, have to be coerced into eating vegetables by playing silly games. You know, pretending to be an aeroplane and landing in the mouth, that kind of caper. Maia, on the other hand, only got to be persuaded to eat her broccoli when mummy pointed out that they look just like alveoli. And if you just had to check wikipedia then I know a 4-year old who is smarter than you (and, admittedly, has an unusual obsession with the human body).

30 Nov
8 miles, 1:02:30, 7:49 pace, HR 145
1 Dec
8 miles, 1:02:14, 7:47 pace, HR 145
2 Dec
8 miles, 1:02:59, 7:52 pace, HR 144

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


As it happens, Mick Rice just posted a very appropriate picture on his blog. I'm going to “borrow” it unashamedly.

Sometimes life gets tough. There are bumps in the road. You learn to deal with it. You adapt. You don’t forget, but you may learn from it all, let the wounds heal and come out stronger. Life goes on.

I took Monday off work, had a stressful day but nevertheless managed to run for an hour at lunch time. I never looked at the Garmin, just ran easily, and was totally blown away when I realised what pace I had just averaged; 4 days earlier I had run at the same HR 30 seconds per mile slower. I have seen jumps in HR before on plenty of occasions, always following a race, but never to such an extend in so short a time.

The HR/pace connection continued this morning. I never looked at the Garmin when running. At home, I was at first dismayed with the slow pace, but then realised how low the HR had been. I'm now wondering if I should run a bit faster or not. Last year the coach had told me to keep the HR mostly to the lower 140s (though he’s not that keen on HR in general); running at a rate of 135 is a fair amount below that level, but the legs felt no different, really.

The low HR was all the more surprising considering today’s conditions. Icy wind coupled with heavy rain and flooded roads made for some hardcore miles in the dark, which I would normally expect to drive the HR up by a few beats. Anyway, for the time being I’ll keep running at an easy effort and see how things develop. I might increase the mileage at some stage, but nothing crazy. I only ran 25 miles last week, following the off days after Sixmilebridge, and that’s obviously going to increase straight away.

Maia has her future planned already. When she’s big, Mummy and her brothers and sister will have to vacate the house, as she needs it for her own children. I'm allowed to stay – she needs a daddy to look after her kids, apparently. The gerbil can stay too – we’re both very grateful.

28 Nov
8 miles, 59:12, 7:24 pace, HR 143
29 Nov
8 miles, 1:03:18, 7:55 pace, HR 135

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Running Is My Therapy

We had a couple a traumatic days. I'm not sure if I would be able to cope had I not running as my valve to let of steam. Got very emotional at times.

It was very windy yesterday, a couple of hours before the real storm was supposed to hit. In marked contrast, today was stunningly beautiful, sunshine and little wind, and entirely unexpected. I probably ran too fast, but this one was entirely for the head, trying to get rid of some of the trauma.

Can't say too much - sorry. Normal service will resume. Let's just say I'm immensely grateful that running gives me something to hold on to.

Maia drew a couple of pictures on tissues, apparently THE arty thing to do when you're 4 years old. Apparently that's me in the background, running while being chased by the neighbours' dog. In the foreground that's her playing with her toys (ah sure, it's obvious, just look at it). Having a happy, enthusiastic and innocent 4 year old around helps as well.

24 Nov
5 miles, 39:36, 7:55 pace, HR 143
25 Nov
5 miles, 38:36, 7:43 pace, HR 146
26 Nov
7 miles, 55:39, 7:57 pace, HR 145
27 Nov
8 miles, 1:00:34, 7:34 pace, HR 143

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward

When I looked at the official results page I realised I made a mistake in my race report; since I stopped the Garmin several seconds after crossing the finish line, the last mile was actually a good bit faster than the 7:13 I reported – it was closer to 7:00, which comfortably makes it my fastest mile of the day. Being able to pull off a 7:00 mile without even pushing the pace at the end of a 30 mile race is a good place to be.

Despite the fact that I let my competitive instincts get the better of me, I don’t regret a single thing. Given the chance I’d do it again, without a second thought. Winning feels great, even in a non-competitive event like Sunday’s. Of course it goes without saying that a) if it had been a competitive event I would not have won and even so, b) the single most important factor in me winning the 30 mile race was the fact that Mick Rice had decided to “only” run the marathon.

I had not mentioned it, but in Dublin quite a few people told me that I looked a lot younger in real life than in the pictures from my blog. I got the same comments again on Sunday, with the clear suggestion to change my profile picture. The funny thing is, right at this moment I am actually 3.5 years OLDER than my profile picture, which was taken around mile 15 in the 2008 Cork marathon. I guess the 15 miles have added a few years to my face. Problem is, this is a running blog and I'm struggling to find a photo of me running where I don’t look like Quasimodo’s less handsome older brother. Just like that one from Sunday:

I also need a haircut.

I remember standing in the pub in Sixmilebridge before the prize ceremony, when they brought out a few plates of sandwiches. They made the mistake of putting one right in front of me. Without thinking and without noticing what I was doing, I gobbled up almost the entire plate on my own. I was genuinely embarrassed when I realised what I had done – not embarrassed enough to not grab yet another sandwich from another plate on my way out, though. I must have been craving that food after the race, and I firmly believe that the time immediately after such a run you should give in to those cravings; your body knows what it needs. Apologies to all the other runners who might have been left starving after my binge are in order, though.

Let’s move on. Every time I got asked on Sunday if I would go to Clonakilty in 3 weeks, I responded with “if I get permission”, elegantly shifting the blame to my lovely wife should I be unable to make an appearance. Actually, and reluctantly, I have now decided to give this a miss and it has nothing to do with Niamh and all to do with me trying not to overtrain.

The evaluation I ran last Thursday clearly showed some deep fatigue lingering in my system, and that was even before I added 30 miles at 7:23 pace on top of it. As much fun as I had on Sunday, my goal remains Connemara and I want to get there in the best possible shape and right now that means stepping back a bit and giving the legs a break. It’s not just the evaluation, ever since Dublin my running log has been filled with comments “fine”, “bad”, “good”, “legs like concrete pilars”, “fine again”, and so on, a complete mix of good and bad days without any noticeable pattern, and I can’t go into the next training phase like that. Sixmilebridge was a magic day, but I don’t want it to be a once-off, and for that I need to step back and relax for a while.

Following that, and in marked contrast to my days post Dublin, I have not run a single step yet this week, despite not feeling tired and not feeling sore at all; even walking down a staircase does not provide any discomfort whatsoever. That’s good, but I prefer erring on the side of caution for once, and my former coach, who still has an eye on my training, is very much in agreement.

Still, easy running will resume shortly and I'm looking forward to it.
21 Nov
0 miles
22 Nov
0 miles
23 Nov
0 miles

Sunday, November 20, 2011

More Than A Feeling

(If only Boston had gone as well).

I did not know Eddie very well, but I had met him on one or two occasions and I was shocked when hearing of his death last April. I all the more appreciated Tom Enright's plan of putting on a race in Eddie's memory, and all the proceedings went to the hospital charity nominated by Eddie's brothers. It was a wonderful gesture. Today was that day.

Of course this was not supposed to be a "race" race. The setting did not suit it and anyway, I am in the early phases of my training for Connemara. I have messed up my recovery from Dublin, I had not slept well the last couple of days, I had not tapered and I was treating this strictly as a long training run. I could not mess this one up even more, could I?

Though as Mike pointed out correctly, once you pin a number onto your shirt, all bets are off. I guess I should have known.

After some truly wild condition during the week, the weather forecast for Sunday had been ideal, no rain and 10C, not too much wind. It felt pretty cool when waiting at the start and I noticed I was the only competitor amongst 15 who was wearing a singlet, but I knew I would warm up as soon as we set off.

The plan was to start at around 8-minute pace, drop it to 7:45 or so once I warmed up and then see how it goes. You know what they say about plans. Mine didn't even last to the first corner.

Usually there is at least one fast guy running any race, which means the rest of us don't have to worry about winning. In this case though, the one fast guy around, the incomparable Mick Rice, had opted for the marathon, leaving the Ultra to us plodders.

There was also a double-marathon going on at the same time. The guys had started 3 hours ahead of us and looked weary already. I'm sure they were fed with us during our first few loops, when we were all bright, fresh and excited, in marked contrast to their own weary style.

The race course was a one mile loop, with a nice little hill in the middle, not too long and not steep at all, though sufficient to solicit plenty of moaning over the next few hours. There was a cone at the end of the start/finish area that created a short out-and-back section and required a very tight 180 degree turn. The rest of the loop went through the delights of Sixmilebridge. I never thought I'd ever study Sixmilebridge in such great detail

I might have been able to live with the fact that same other guy was running faster than me. Maybe. But when Deirdre Finn (who I think won the Belfast 24 hour race last July) took the lead, my fragile male ego could not take it. Idiocy triumphed over reason, testosterone won over grey matter, logic went out of the window, you name it. She was running about 7:30 pace, and I followed in her wake. Together with another guy, Declan, we formed the leading group.

Miles 1-5: 7:26, 7:26, 7:26, 7:25, 7:35

The first few miles were impressively even, which was absolutely not down to me. I was running right behind Declan and Deirdre most of the time, admiring the very, very even effort. I even commented on it.

We passed the start/finish area every mile and one of my targets was to spend very little time there. It is very tempting to stop every time and grab a drink, a gel, a
biscuit and/or whatever else springs to mind each time, but 30 stops can quickly add up to a lot of wasted time.

By mile 8, I took over the lead once more, expecting the others to stay right behind. I did not up the pace, just kept going at the same effort. I was a couple of seconds ahead at mile 9, and all of a sudden I was 30 seconds ahead at mile 10. That wasn't in the plan.

Miles 6-10: 7:43, 7:29, 7:23, 7:29, 7:27

Mind, I was feeling so comfortable I could have thought I was out for an easy Sunday jog. I decided to keep going at exactly the same effort level and see how things would develop. I was not worried about hitting the wall. I was feeling too good to worry about anything right now.

The marathon had started an hour after our Ultra, and the tenth and eleventh lap were rather congested, but then the field spread out and from then on there was always plenty of company around.

I can always test my levels of fatigue in the manner I treat runners when I overtake them. This also works very well in Connemara where you catch up the with the marathon and later the half marathon runners. It works even better on a loop course like this, where you meet the same runners several times and soon get very familiar with them. If I feel ok, I greet all of them, maybe just a quick hello, or some little motivation, "getting there", "looking good". As I get more fatigued, this changes into just a little "hi". And when things get bad, I become silent. Sorry, nothing personal. It's a surprisingly effective gauge.

Miles 11-15: 7:15, 7:15, 7:14, 7:10, 7:15

I was still at the chirpy stage. The miles were flying, the hill seemed flatter every time, I had a little chat with almost everyone on the course, high-fiving kids and volunteers and so on. I realised I was speeding up a little, but still felt so comfortable I just let it go on.

At that stage I had tuned totally into the effort and it becomes difficult to remember at which part of the race certain things happened. Mick Rice passed me, looking as comfortable running 6:25 miles as I was doing 7:25.

I was getting a thrill out being in front while knowing I had loads in reserve. I knew I was going to win today.

Miles 16-20: 7:19, 7:22, 7:21, 7:25, 7:19

Around mile 18, a little bit of fatigue slowly started creeping into the legs, but since I was already closer to the finish than the start, I was not worried at all. I tried to decide what to do if the pace started suffering. Should I accept it or should I increase the effort in an attempt to keep the pace even? As it turns out, since I did not keep an eye on the individual mile splits, I was never really aware when the pace did indeed slow down a little bit, so I never had to make that decision.

Miles 21-25: 7:37, 7:33, 7:24, 7:33, 7:32

I was getting closer to the marathon point and still feeling fresh as a daisy. Most of the other runners had become increasingly quiet by now. I noticed I wasn't quite as chirpy myself, but still had a few words for just about everyone on the road. I was enjoying myself so much, I cannot put it into words. I live for days like that.

I was almost sorry when I entered the last few miles because I did not want this to end.

Still, I got really excited towards the end, telling all the volunteers and a lot of the other runners that I was on my last lap, whether they wanted to hear it or not. Mick Rice caught me one more time and rightfully called my a sissy when I responded "not this year" to his question if I was going to do the Connemara 100. You can always count on Mick to keep things in perspective.

Miles 26-30: 7:34, 7:24, 7:27, 7:27, 7:13

On the final climb I wondered why I was busting a gut, chasing after Mick when I could soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the glory stretch instead, so I eased up a little bit, but I still produced my second fastest lap of the day. I could not wipe that grin off my face and breaking the tape gave me a big thrill. I just don't get a lot of wins.

I do not have the words to describe just how much I had enjoyed today's race. I have no idea where that performance came from. Not once did I push the pace all day, maybe apart from the very last hill. I could have run much, much further today, as well as faster, and if that had been Connemara the sub-5 would have fallen with plenty to spare. Coming into this race I had every intention of running 20 minutes slower, but I do not regret a thing. Days like today don't come very often, and when they come, you should grab them. Live's too short. Eddie would have agreed, I'm sure.

20 Nov
Sixmilebridge 30 mile Ultra
3:41:34, 7:23 pace, avg. HR 157

Thank you to Tom Enright for putting on a great race with excellent organisation, to all the volunteers and all the other runners. This really is a true runners' race, and I could not enjoyed it more.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pretend Taper, Pretend Carbo Loading

I think we can take one thing for granted; if I managed to run through the conditions of the last few days then there won't be any problems running through the winter. The weather has been absolutely atrocious. Caragh Lake and Caragh River's water are at the highest levels I have ever seen them. When Niamh went walking yesterday morning she remarked that the lake had changed its shape, all the flood plains surrounding it had become part of it. On Friday I ran through a piece of road that was a least one foot under water; there is a little wall at the side of the road, normally separating the road from the lake, which was entirely submerged. I had to run through that twice, on the way out as well as on the way back. Trail runners might be used to river crossings, I am not. Maybe the impromptu ice bath for the lower limbs was beneficial, you never know.

Running wise, I felt reasonably good, trying to forget the numbers from Wednesday's evaluation. I ran virtually the same run on Thursday and Friday and noticed a significant drop in HR between the two. Saturday's run was a mere 5 easy miles which basically makes up my taper for tomorrow's 30 mile race in Sixmilebridge, but of course that will only be a training effort for me, not a race as such. Nevertheless I am very much looking forward to it.

Niamh is in Cork all day today, the twins are out and I am tasked with minding the two little ones. The good thing about sitting around on your own the day before a long race is that you don't have to worry about carbo loading, the carbs seem to find their way into my mouth all by themselves. The bad thing about sitting around on your own the day before a long race is that you take the race as an excuse to totally pig out on anything that's sweet. I must have take more calories onboard that I will burn in tomorrow's race already, and it's not even three o'clock yet and City are going to be on the telly soon.

Well, I suppose the good thing about the recent weather was that it seems to have gotten it all out of the system. It's a lovely day today and the forecast for tomorrow is pretty benign. I don't think we will let get anything in the way of a serious day of good fun. I'll let you know how it went, of course.

17 Nov
8 miles, 1:01:19, 7:40 pace, HR 146
18 Nov
8 miles, 1:01:09, 7:39 pace, HR 143
19 Nov
5 miles, 38:38, 7:44 pace, HR 141

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Technical Issues

The week had started very well, with two great runs. I was surprised on Monday; I had expected the legs to feel very tired after two tough runs over the weekend. Instead I was back at the "effortlessly floating" stage. I took it easy and the HR reflected that. The pace for that kind of HR was pretty good though, getting close to pre-Dublin levels already.

Following my resolution to take it easy easier this week, I ran easily on Tuesday as well - at least I thought it was easy. Turns out, it was a good bit faster than on Monday, but being able to run 7:30 pace while taking it easy is not a bad place to be.

I was looking forward to today's evaluation workout. Not only would I be able to run a bit faster than usual, I was curious what the figures would look like.

The morning did not start well. As I tried to turn on the Garmin, it played dead. Thankfully I've read the manual and was able to revive it. Unfortunately, it replied with an "empty battery" message. I had charged it the night before, so this was annoying, if not entirely unprecedented. On any other day I might have gone out without Garmin but for an evaluation run it is absolutely vital, so I spent the next 10 minutes charging it, keeping an anxious eye on the clock.

I can't really be late for work so I ran the warm-up much faster than I would have otherwise, which may have had an influence on the subsequent numbers. During the second mile of the evaluation, the "battery low" message came on and with all the hassle and the dark and the pace I was getting really flustered and turned the thing off for a few seconds by mistake. To be honest, all those problems did not have much of an effect on the final numbers, stressed as I felt. The pace was significantly lower than 3 weeks ago; I clearly still have Dublin in my legs, even with all the good feeling over the last couple of days.

After the 4 miles, I stopped until the HR returned to 130. It took 45 seconds, much longer than last time. Again, a sign of not being fully recovered.

I added 3x800 on the way home. They were supposed to be run at a fast but controlled effort. Last time I got them right. This time I did not. I ran them much too fast, which would explain why they felt much harder.

Maybe I should have left the evaluation for another day, with me starting feeling all flustered and stressed out because of a technical hitch. The run was never going to feel great after that start. You live and learn.

14 Nov
8 miles, 1:01:58, 7:45 pace, HR 139
15 Nov
8 miles, 1:00:10, 7:32 pace, HR 147
16 Nov
11.7 miles, 1:23:06, 7:06 pace, HR 156
   4 mile eval: 6:55, 6:59, 7:02, 7:06 (normalised figures)
   45 seconds to 130
   3x800 in 3:05, 2:54, 2:53

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Training And Recovery

My feeling is that you are running too much during the week. Your legs / body needs time to repair after the Dublin Marathon. I would suggest that you do a run every second day. Your body is used to the marathon / ultra endurance now and all you need do is to keep your body "oiled". Give it time to recover for the next long race.

I freely admit, I sometimes tend to struggle with the optimum amount of training I should be doing. I have erred plenty of times. I try to read various signs and signals and adapt my training accordingly, but it's as much an art as it is science and I am no expert in either.

I do take note of the feeling in my legs. This has been very up and down since Dublin, on some days it feels like dragging a pair of concrete pillars along, on other days I am effortlessly floating across the road, and on one occasion both happened in the same run.

I record my heart rate, both during the runs and resting HR, and both sets of values are actually very encouraging at the moment, my heart for any given pace has gone down since Dublin, though it's not quite back to pre-Dublin levels yet.

I will do another evaluation workout next week, like the one I did before Dublin.

In short, I am trying to keep an eye on things. Maybe I am indeed running too many miles, but my thoughts went as follows: I would not take rest days for 20 or 22 or 24 mile training runs, so why would I do so after a 26 mile training runs, especially one that has been slower than almost any other training run? I am sure others can find a flaw in that argument, but then again, I am trying to get to the point where 26 miles is just another mile marker along the way.

Conditions on Friday were downright scary, heavy rain coming in horizontally, at times actually stinging the face from sheer force of impact. Hardcore stuff. Loved it. I had been awake since 4 am, up since 5 am and running since 6 am, so I did 11 miles before work.

Much better sleep and perfect running conditions on Saturday left the door open for a better run and I did my one "stretch the legs" run of the week where the effort goes higher than on previous days but is still very reasonable. I was quite surprised to see the pace faster than for the equivalent runs before Dublin, only 12 days after the marathon, which made me wonder if I am recovering particularly quickly this time.

I was proven wrong on Sunday when we were back to the concrete pillars stage, though in all honesty I put that down to the 10 miler on Saturday rather than the marathon 2 weeks ago. I knew from the word go that this would not be all fun and games so I just jogged my way around Caragh Lake, fighting the strong gale force wind that seemed to want me blow off the mountain at times. It was one of those runs where you just put your head down and get it over with. The legs pushed a faster pace than I would have expected, maybe they wanted to get home to be done sooner. That's 79 miles for the week and if you think that's too much, well, I was regularly doing 82-85 miles at he same stage when training under MC's guidance. Having said that, I will take it a bit easier next week in preparation for Sixmilebridge.
11 Nov
11 miles, 1:22:46, 7:31 pace, HR 147
12 Nov
10 miles, 1:09:04, 6:54 pace, HR 152
11 Nov
16.6 miles, 2:07:17, 7:40 pace, HR 149

Weekly Mileage: 79+

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Shock To The System

After taking the marathon week off work, the return to my desk was always going to feel strange. We drove back to Kerry on Friday for the kids’ swimming lessons, so I had time to adjust but that didn’t help. I spent Monday and Tuesday doing a rather intense work training course that pulled me way out of my comfort zone; as I sat down at my desk on Wednesday morning for what felt like the first time in ages, it came as a complete shock. Mind, the feeling of “what do I do now” dissipated very quickly, I came out of the first meeting with a massive to-do list that took care of that problem.

Cycling into work on Monday had felt strange too at first, but I got used to that in no time.

Dealing with an upset and confused 4-year old at 4 am in the morning wasn’t the easiest task either.

The legs seemed to come round nicely during the week, feeling pretty good on Wednesday; the next shock was delivered during the first half on Thursday’s run when I felt like dragging a pair of concrete pillars around. Mind, the second half of the same run was great; maybe I only had to shake off some cob webs. The HR has come down as well. It is always affected by a marathon for several weeks and will take some additional time to get back to where it was before Dublin, but it is moving pretty quickly.

The final shock came 10 minutes ago when I realised that it’s already Thursday, more than half of the week is already past and I haven’t updated the blog in 4 days. On the plus side I'm almost halfway through to next payday and still got some money in my bank account (something that had not been the case over the last couple of months).

Things will adjust. Except the recovery from Dublin won’t get the chance to run its full course because in 10 days I will run 30 1-mile loops around Sixmilebridge, and if you think that running 30 1-mile loops around Sixmilebridge does not sound like the best way to have oodles of fun then you and me are not on the same wave length.

Then there’s still the Clonakilty marathon to think about, 4 weeks from now. During the first half of today’s run I decided that my legs were not recovering quickly enough and doing 3 marathons and/or ultras in 6 weeks are not a good idea, not even when they’re all run at leisurely pace. But then I was floating effortlessly through the second half of today’s run and things changed again. I do not want fall into the same trap I did last year when training for Dingle, when too many marathon-length training runs in too short a time left my legs unable to recover in-between efforts and all the hard training made me slower rather than faster. I will have to see and adapt my plans. After Sixmilebridge I will have a week to decide on Clon.
7 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:00, 7:48 pace, HR 143
8 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:08, 7:49 pace, HR 143
9 Nov
11.5 miles, 1:30:16, 7:51 pace, HR 144
10 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:06, 7:49 pace, HR 140

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Back To Work Tomorrow

Thanks to Niamh for reminding me. I was just enjoying a beautiful sunny Sunday. Taking the week off was great, and once again we managed to leave before the grandparents were about to throw us out. It would be nice if the boys stopped fighting for a second, imagine the peace and quiet that would come over this family.

The week was of course all about recovering from the Dublin marathon. I had planned on taking a couple of days off, but the legs felt fine and the sunny weather on Tuesday called me out onto the road. Since then I have taken it reasonably easy, and I was surprised how quickly the pace has returned. After previous marathons I would not have dreamed of running 7:30 pace again within less than a week, this time it just happened. But I can clearly feel that the quads have not recovered yet. The pain is long gone, but they still feel distinctly heavy. Maybe I should have run a tad slower over the last few days.

Maia has now celebrated her 4th birthday and never misses an opportunity to remind us that she is now a Big Girl. Her mother once again surpassed herself in the cake making department, even Maia was impressed for once, and that's not an easy thing to do, believe you me. It's incredible how quickly they grow up. Not only can I vividly remember the day she was was born, her brothers and sister can too.

A week away in Dublin meant a week away from my weighing scales. I was slightly apprehensive stepping on it again. I had serious cravings for sweets the day after the marathon, then there was Maia's birthday and finally they had particularly yummy chocolate in the shop, but the scales tell me that I somehow got away with it. For the first time ever they have me at 10% body fat. If I can manage to leave it at that level over Christmas and drop a few more pounds before Connemara, I'll get closer to my optimum racing weight than ever before.

4 Nov
9 miles, 1:08:26, 7:36 pace, HR 150
5 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:13, 7:37 pace, HR 146
6 Nov
12+ miles, 1:30:05, 7:29 pace, HR 149

Weekly Mileage: 74

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Once Again, After The Marathon

There are always things that slip out of your mind when you write a race report, but I'm not quite sure how I managed to forget about him:

He started right with us but went ahead. At the 2 mile mark I noticed that the spectators were cheering particularly enthusiastically, until I noticed him again. He fell behind quickly, despite the crowd's support. Some people try and slip by unnoticed. Others might have to deal with interesting chafing problems.

Thanks to Ray for a good video, from right at the bottom of Fosters Avenue (mile 21.5 or so). My balloon comes into view at about 1:20 and slowly draws closer to pass the camera a minute later, with the other balloons about 10 seconds apart each (excellent formation, guys!). What really strikes me is the size of the group. No wonder I got tripped on a couple of occasions.

What will stay with me is the crowd support we received. I was not the only one to notice that the spectators seemed even more enthusiastic than usual. Dublin calls itself the friendly marathon, and it sure lived up to that. I feel sorry for anyone who ran with an ipod. You really missed out, and you probably don't even know it.

Recovery is going very well. I had not planned on going running the next day, but the weather was so nice that I eventually donned my shoes and went out for a 5 mile recovery jog, which incidentally matched the marathon pace from the day before. Tuesday's run was the same, except in lousy weather. That didn't change for today; I ran to Mount Merrion and circled Deer Park 5 times, which gave me 7 miles today, the second half in a downpour that left me drenched to the bones, but happy enough that the soreness in the quads is almost gone.

I'm not planning ahead and will take every day as it comes. Recovery is paramount. While last year's training for Dingle has shown that I can run a marathon per week fairly comfortably, this does not build me up and has me running significantly slower. My next long run is in 3 weeks (ok, 2-and-a-half weeks by now), and I'm planning on running roughly the same pace as on Monday. If that goes well, I'll sign up for Clonakilty, another 3 weeks later.

That would bring my marathons for 2011 to 6 and slowly it's dawning on me that I'm building up quite a sizeable number. It's probably time to officially sign up to the 100 marathon club; the bronze medal only needs 25 marathons and I can get it in Connemara.
1 Nov
5 miles, 39:52, 7:58 pace, HR 142
2 Nov
5 miles, 39:21, 7:52 pace, HR 143
3 Nov
7 miles, 57:07, 8:09 pace, HR 144

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Yellow Balloon Club

This was my sixth Dublin marathon, and my second time as a pacer. In the weeks and days before the race, I read plenty of musings from other participant, full of nervous anticipation, and was slightly envious because I personally could not get excited about it. It wasn't until I got to the Expo on Sunday, when I finally got that familiar pre-race feeling.

Manning the pacers' stand at the expo for 2 hours and then spending some more time looking around the stands was great fun. Plenty of runners came up to say hello, including some who remarked that I looked a lot younger in person than on the photos from the blog. I was thrilled when Aisling Coppinger recognised me, and I had great, long chats with plenty of others, including Seb Locteau (Portumna RD and of fame amongst other things) and Ray O'Connor (Connemara RD amongst other things). I felt right at home. It might not have been the best way to spend the evening before a marathon, but as I was not racing it, it didn't matter.

They really look after the pacers in Dublin, providing race uniforms, expenses and, most importantly, a night in a 5-star hotel before the race, with the option of bringing your spouse, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I took up that option. Niamh doesn't get many rewards for being married to a marathon runner, but this is one of them.

We met up early and were in position about half an hour before start time. For the first time, they introduced wave starts in Dublin, and our instructions were to be right at the front of wave 2. I wasn't entirely convinced that this was the best place (I still have my doubts), but of course we did as instructed. A few runners with wave 1 numbers joined us in wave 2. They obviously intended to go out with the pacers.

Starting right at the front of a wave does have one major advantage, namely the complete lack of congestion that usually mars the first half mile of every marathon. We were right on pace right from the start. Even without having agreed things in advance, the 3 pacers fell into position, me in front and Dave and Greg a few seconds behind. As you can see from the pictures, the balloons were of incredible size. Indeed, one of my main concerns over the next 26 miles were not to get tangled up in trees or in wires going across the road.

I ran as evenly paced as I could, the Garmin displaying about 7:55 pace, to the second right where I wanted it to be. I kept checking back, and the other balloons were always reasonably close behind, perfect.

From the 3rd or 4th mile marker on, slight doubts started entering my mind. The Garmin had me bang on pace, but according to the mile markers, I was a good few seconds slow. I'm perfectly aware that you have to compensate a few seconds to make up the difference between Garmin miles and official miles; I have been doing this for long enough now. It's just that here the compensation needed was twice as big as expected.

A few of my pacees started getting antsy as well and questions started to be asked, so I did accelerate a little bit from mile 6 onwards. According to the 6th mile marker, I was 15 seconds behind pace. By the time we reached mile 10, we were about 15 seconds ahead of pace; 30 seconds in 4 miles is just about ok. Any more and I might have burnt off some of my charges.

I'm not sure if I remember things differently from years gone by, but the course seemed a lot more congested than in the past. At times we had just one lane of the road, cordoned off from the traffic, and I invariably ran into problems there. Runners had started slowing, I had to get past, but there was very little room and being tethered to a massive balloon in rather windy conditions did not exactly make things easier. I also got tripped from behind on a few occasions, once very nearly falling, which could have been a major problem, seeing as there were at least 100 people right behind me.

Anyway, we lost a bit of time due to the congestion and reached the halfway time a few seconds behind pace again. Nobody said anything but I felt a bit anxious. Luckily, we had left most of the roped off parts behind at that stage and things were getting easier again.

I'm not the most outspoken person around, I'll never be much of a cheer leader who loudly cajoles and entertains his charges for a couple of hours. I tried to give encouragement to individuals, shouted out mile splits and things like "20 seconds ahead of target", shared water from the stations because due to the large group, some people invariably missed out on grabbing a drink, and most of all tried to run as evenly as possible.

We made up time again, by mile 18 or so we were 40 seconds ahead of target, just where I wanted us to be, the other balloons were maybe 20 seconds behind, good job so far. This is where you start losing the runners that have been with you from the start, and where you pick up new ones, the ones who manage to accelerate to your pace when you catch up with them. Being a pacer means not everyone is pleased to see you, I got plenty of "oh sh*t" and "oh f*ck" as I passed people but I assure you, I didn't take it personally, not even the "F**k off Thomas and keep behind me" one.

My legs felt perfectly fine, no bother whatsoever, I felt like I could keep running at that pace for the entire day. I was entirely relaxed and managed to soak up the atmosphere. Maybe it's due to my own perception; normally, when I race, I am so far inside my own bubble that I hardly take in things around me, including the crowds, but the support from the sidelines was absolutely exceptional today, more so that I can ever remember before. At times, it was almost like running in Boston. I could not stop smiling, I enjoyed every single step and did not want it to stop.

There was still time to goof things up one more time; I had missed the previous 2 mile markers (being short sighted and running without glasses means that's always tricky), and when a guy told me around mile 22.5 that we were behind time, I believed him. We were running down Nutley Lane faster than necessary but then I saw the 23 marker, we were one minute ahead of time and the panic subsided. At that stage I knew perfectly well what pace was required for the rest of the journey, I tried to persuade my runners to stay with me, gave plenty of shouts and also started to wring some extra support from the crowds, which worked like magic.

I tried to tell my runners to push ahead if they had anything left, but very few took up the offer. Most of them were just hanging on for dear life, and I felt slightly guilty for still feeling like I was out for a relaxed jog. The crowds were heaving over the last 2 miles, I could hardly make myself heard, and for most of it we just ran towards the finish. Over the last K I ran backwards at times, signalling my charges to give it all, but I could not fail to notice that almost all the runners right around me wore the orange numbers from wave 1, and unless they had moved back to wave 2 at the start, they were on 3:35 time rather than 3:30. I concentrated on giving extra encouragement to the couple of guys with green numbers.

I crossed the line in a net time of 3:29:10, actually right where I think the first balloon should be, so that was good, The other two pacers followed maybe 20 or 30 seconds later, so I call this a job well done, under tricky circumstances. Well done to Dave and Greg, my fellow pacers.

Because of the low number of runners with me at the line, I wasn't quite sure if I had been of much help, but plenty of guys and gals came up to thank us, and one sent me a note:
Thanks again. I don't think you have any idea how much it helped. You guys and the balloons became my focus. Distracted me that tiny bit from all my tiredness. I needed something to block out the pain. It was incredible. All I could think about was keeping focused on the balloons. I had absolutely nothing left until you guys gave me a renewed focus.
I would love to buy you all a pint some day because the feeling I have since it is something that will stay with me forever. I beat my target time by 11 secs so thank you for getting me there. I tried to go and thank you all but I couldn't go any further when I finished and you were gone when I started moving again. I barely remember the finish as I thought I was going to pass out.

The help you provided was MASSIVE. THANK YOU

which gave me that warm, fuzzy feeling. I don't want to plan too far ahead, but I'm pretty sure this was not my last stint as pacer. From a personal point of view, it helps ensuring that I remain on training effort and not be tempted to race this instead. My next real race is still some way off, but today was a big marker in the training for it.

29 Oct
8 miles, 57:03, 7:07 pace, HR 149
30 Oct
5 miles, 35:16, 7:03 pace, HR 148
31 Oct
Dublin Marathon, 3:30 pace group
   26.2 miles, 3:29:10, 7:58 pace, HR 151

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thorny Issues

I did a double take at the HR figure displayed on the Garmin after Wednesday’s run. Average pace 7:43 at a heart rate of only 137? This seemed too good to be true, and my first suspicion was that the battery in the chest strap was acting up once again. This would have been a problem because I had planned an evaluation workout for Thursday and a working HRM is absolutely vital for that.

I went along with the evaluation anyway and not only do the figures look good, I think they are accurate as well. I know reasonably well what it feels like to run at HR 161 and if the HRM had displayed wildly wrong numbers, I would have noticed.

One problem I have at the moment is the lack of an audible alarm feature in my Garmin. That stopped working half a year ago after I had dropped it onto the kitchen floor once too often. I used to use it to keep my effort in a narrow band of HR 159-163 for the evaluations; now all I can do is run as evenly as possible and keep an eye on the display. Luckily the coach had come up with a formula, for every 2 bpms you’re out add or subtract 7 seconds to your pace. I used that formula to normalize Thursday’s numbers and came up with the following result:

Mile 1 6:39, mile 2 6:39, mile 3 6:42, mile 4 6:35. Then it took 35 seconds for the HR to return to 130.

On the way home I added 3x800, run at a fast but relaxed effort in 3:08, 3:04, 3:03, though the second and possibly the third were net downhill. That’s the same workout the coach had recommended a year ago before my previous stint as pacer in Dublin.

The figures are very good. I'm way ahead of where I was least year around the same time. The hope now is to build on this, and running pacing marathons like the one coming on Monday is a corner stone to that. My aerobic engine is stronger than ever before and still building; my fears that I would go downhill once I reach the age of 40 were obviously premature.

Actually, there was one more problem yesterday. When I started the eval, I pressed the lap button and got confused by the display. It was still very dark but instead of looking at the road I kept fiddling with the watch while running 6:30 pace, and before I knew it I had run off the road, right into the blackberry bushes. Thankfully there were no witnesses and I got up and running again immediately, after all I was in the middle of a tempo run, but I noticed my right knee and elbow stinging a bit. I ignored that. It wasn’t until I came home that I could appreciate my war wounds in their full beauty, which were gross enough to freak Niamh out. The photo does not do it justice at all, my knee was covered in a layer of caked blood. But after a shower (Maia would have loved the lovely pink colour of the water going down the drain), only a set of superficial cuts remained. I will wait and see how long they take to heal; I might be in for a few interesting questions on Monday.

Friday’s run was great; no clouds, just a stunning star-covered sky as I seemingly headed straight for Orion in all its glory. I felt as good as the scenery, and a quick check through my logs indicate that I have never even come close to running sub-7:30 pace at such a low heart rate before, assuming that the HRM is working correctly. I’m going into Dublin in great shape; don’t destroy it, Thomas. The real race is still 5 months away.

Btw, I came across the same 2 loose horses again. That's the third time this week.

27 Oct
12 miles, 1:24:21, 7:02 pace, HR 152
   incl. 4 miles eval, “normalized” 6:39, 6:39, 6:42, 6:35, 0:35 to HR 130; 3x800 in 3:08, 3:04, 3:03
28 Oct
10 miles, 1:14:54, 7:29 pace, HR 141

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dream On

I must have fallen asleep at some stage on Sunday without realising, but ever since then I've had the most beautiful dream, and I haven't woken yet. I don't mind, it can go on like that forever. Just imagine, humiliating the swamp dwellers 6:1 at their own ground in the derby. That's the stuff dreams are made of.

Dream or not, I keep on running. I presume just about all the other participants in Dublin's marathon are tapering this week, but as I've said a few times already this is just another training run for me and I'm not tapering (I'll take it easy the day before though).

10 miles is now my standard run, usually I don't even have to set the alarm any more; I wake up, get up and run. The weather can be a bit of an issue, when it's raining at 5C it really freezes you to the bones. Running in icy rain feels colder than running through a -13C dry night, but I know there will be plenty more of that to come. If there is any justice in the world of running, a great race in Connemara will be the reward for consistency under these circumstances.

There was a scary moment on Monday when I came across a lonely, scared and very nervous horse in the middle of the road. I did manage to slowly walk past it, and luckily it had wandered off the road on my return leg.

Tuesday topped even that, this time there were 2 horses close to the same spot, one of them almost certainly the same horse as on Monday. This time they were not nearly as nervous, maybe because they had each other for company or maybe the horse remembered me from the day before, but I was still rather weary passing them.

No loose horses this morning, just one loose idiot running in the freezing rain. I guess most animals had the sense to seek shelter instead. It wasn't raining all the way, but a very heavy downpour between miles 4 and 7 left me drenched and freezing for the rest. I think I ran a good bit faster than I would have otherwise, just to warm up. Having said that, the measured HR was very low today. So low, that I do not trust the readings. My HRM has acted up in cold weather before, but usually it was down to the battery in the chest strap running low and I changed that one not too long ago. If the reading keeps being suspicious, I'll get a new one and see if they change. Not that I would mind today's reading being correct, it would point to me being in far better shape than at the same time last year.

I guess, I'm still dreaming!
24 Oct
10 miles, 1:19:11, 7:55 pace, HR 138
25 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:15, 7:43 pace, HR 141
26 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:05, 7:42 pace, HR 137

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Consistency Is Key

Utterly Unrelated Quick Update:
6:1! 6:1!! 6:1!!! 6:1!!!! 6:1!!!!! 6:1!!!!!! 6:1!!!!!!!

Friday morning, 6:00 am. The radio alarm goes off; very quietly, so that it only wakes me and not Niamh. For a second I wish I could turn around and go back to sleep, but then I get up anyway. 15-20 minutes later I'm out on the road.

It's raining, and heavily so, but the only difficult step is the first one, after that it's just a matter of tuning into the effort and getting on with it. It's dark because what little is left of the waning Moon is hidden behind the clouds, but the only tricky bit is our own driveway; once I've reached the road, I'm fine. I know the road so well, I can almost literally find my way with my eyes closed.

A bit over an hour later, another training run is in the bag. Day in, day out. Consistency is key.

Usually, the end of October means tapering for Dublin marathon, but since I'm not racing it, there is no need for a taper. Dublin will just be a long training run. And since there will be a 30-mile race/training run three weeks after Dublin, I'll get a pretty good idea about my recovery abilities.

- - -

Last January, I somehow got roped into buying a gerbil for the kids. Plus gerbil feed, stuffing, treats , … and a cage. After a few weeks, he managed to chew his way out of it. We caught him. He got a new cage. A big one. An expensive one. A gerbil-proof one, apparently. But, like with idiot-proof computers when the universe just came up with a better idiot, the little domestic rat seemed to take it as a challenge. He'd already managed to escape twice, but that was down to our own mistakes. Last week, however, he really did it. In fact, he clearly over-engineered the escape hole. We spent half an hour catching the little critter. Next time I'll get a cat to sort out the problem once and for all. Still, it's a cool escape tunnel.

- - -

Where was I? Oh yes, running. 8 easy miles on Thursday, 10 easy on Friday, 10 faster ones on Saturday (still very much controlled, though), 18 on Sunday. The long run was probably too fast at sub 7:30 pace, but the HR was reasonably low. That's 81 miles this week. As I said, consistency is key. Oh, and I've still got a sore throat.

20 Oct
8 miles, 1:01:45, 7:43 pace, HR 140
21 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:34, 7:45 pace, HR 147
22 Oct
10 miles, 1:09:33, 6:57 pace, HR 153
23 Oct
18 miles, 2:14:30, 7:28 pace, HR 147

Weekly Mileage: 81

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Icy Rain

For once I was glad I had looked at the weather forecast. Monday had been a reasonable morning, Tuesday had been okay as well, except that I did not appreciate the icy cold rain shower that started less than 5 minutes into my run but luckily did not last for long. Wednesday was a different level, though. The temperature at 5:50 in the morning was 3C/37F, but that did not take into account the freezing cold wind nor the occasional rain shower. Rain at these temperatures feels colder than snow; I prefer running in -13C dry nights than rain at +3C. However, running is an outdoor sport and you just have to HTFU; besides, for the majority of today’s run I enjoyed reasonable conditions and because I had managed to catch the weather forecast, I had brought my gloves along, the first time this year. Good move.

Getting up at 5:30 was probably to toughest part of the entire training. Readers of years gone by will of course remember that this used to be a regular occurrence (in fact, I used to get up significantly earlier at times). But I switched my long runs to the weekend when training for the Dingle Ultra last year, because running back-to-back 4 and 5 hour long runs in the morning before work was not a realistic option. I never switched back to weekday long runs, and have enjoyed longer sleeps ever since. With Connemara slowly drawing nearer, however, I want to do higher mileage than at the same stage last year, and that requires the occasional early morning.

Tuesday’s run was very pleasing; I never once looked at the Garmin (it’s too dark to read the display anyway), just ran easily and was really surprised to see an average pace of 7:35 at the end. I'm not complaining. I can’t help but compare the numbers with last year, and they are good. However, I will have to see how the Dublin marathon, more precisely my recovery from it, will impact on those numbers.

Still managing without headlamp ...
17 Oct
10 miles, 1:19:15, 7:55 pace, HR 138
18 Oct
10 miles, 1:15:48, 7:35 pace, HR 140
19 Oct
15 miles, 1:59:50, 7:56 pace, HR 141