Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Home, Sweet Home

Well, it was 25 degrees and beautiful sunshine in Vienna and when we landed in Dublin it was 15 degrees and cloudy and just generally miserable. I ran 6 miles the next morning in Dublin's Deer Park before driving home to Kerry. Tuesday's run was done in very windy and cold weather and it was raining during my cycle commute to work, and I definitely wondered why the heck we are living in Ireland when we could live elsewhere (but then remembered the shocking level of support for the fascists in the Austrian opinion polls and remember again why I left as soon as I could).

There is no doubt that Austria is a much richer country than Ireland. The houses are bigger, the roads better, the public transport clean, efficient and (at least in comparison to here) cheap. I can't put my finger on why that is, though, because I know from personal experience that the politicians there are just the same despicable breed of greedy, incompetent and self-centred bastards as they are over here.

Anyway, I'm still living off the gentle warm glow from my marathon performance, and not even my return to work could change that. I must be experiencing the complete opposite of the post-marathon blues.

Things were much better on Wednesday anyway, a beautiful sunny day, little wind and only half a day's work because I took the afternoon off, because I did not want to miss the twins' 10th birthday party. What do you think of the cake? Cool or what! The party served as a very welcome reminder that other people's children are just as boisterous and destructive as ours, but the house suffered only minor damage and we all declared this a resounding success.

After quite some hesitation, and not without some trepidation, I stepped on the weighing scales again. I was completely baffled when it told me that I was still the same 147 pound I had been when I left for Vienna. I cannot explain this, I have always put on at least 5 pounds immediately after a marathon, and I sure did not hold back when it came to ice cream, chocolate or beer last week. In fact, I was surprised they still had some left by the time we were on the plane back home. Have I inadvertently stumbled over the ice cream-chocolate-beer diet?

One thing I continue to get wrong is the pace of my morning runs. After 6 miles the heart rate rises even when I try my best to slow down, and even though I never push the pace I have been ending up with average heart rates well in the 150s, much too high. I know of course that I'm still recovering from the marathon, even though the soreness is long gone.

Michael, and a few others, have asked me what's next. The answer is, I don't know. I deliberately only set one goal for this year as I wanted to make sure I would not be distracted. Now that I have achieved my sub-3 marathon in April already, I'm a bit at a loss. Had I not managed it in Vienna, I would have aimed for another go in Longford in August, partly because it is supposed to be the flattest marathon course in Ireland but also because it is the only traditional Irish marathon still missing on my list. But things changed in Vienna. I am tempted to concentrate on shorter distances over the summer; after all, I have voiced my regret that I never got the chance to have a go at my 5k to 10k times. I have not decided about a marathon or even ultra later in the year; Dublin will always be a possibility, but if the opportunity arose to run it again as a pace maker, I would probably do it that way. I really enjoyed it last year, and I felt it was a rare opportunity to give a little bit back to the running community.
25 Apr
6 miles, 46:57, 7:49 pace, HR 148
26 Apr
8 miles, 1:02:05, 7:45 pace, HR 154
27 Apr
10 miles, 1:17:45, 7:46 pace, HR 153

Sunday, April 24, 2011

All Good Things Come To An End

After yet another long journey, not made easier by our entourage of four children all under the age of ten, we are back on Irish soil. I've had one week to reflect on the marathon; the pain has largely been forgotten, the warm glow is still there.

- Considering the type of shape I was in the weeks before the marathon, I basically underperfomed. All my training indicated that I was in 2:55 shape, on the day I had to fight tooth and nail for my 2:59. Having said that,

- I don't mean I did not perform in the actual race itself. As someone else said, and I entirely agree, I may run a marathon faster one day, but I'm unlikely ever to run harder.

- The main reason why I struggled was that a strenuous 12-hour journey to Vienna and a few stressful sightseeing days with kids had me worn out (at least that's my theory). I tried to relax, especially the day before the race, but it did not work nearly as well it should have. Therefore:

- If you want to run a fast marathon, don't fly a long distance to a destination marathon, especially not with four kids in tow. Having said that

- the Vienna marathon course is ideally suited to a fast time. Just as long as you don't have to travel to it. All if which leads to:

- If you want to break 3 hours, it pays to be in 2:55 shape. In that case you can have a bad day and still break 3 hours. And

- Running right at the edge of your abilities for 3 hours and then achieve your target by a margin of less than 1 second per mile is extremely satisfying. They will eventually have to surgically remove that grin from my face.

The training really came through for me, not only in the obvious way that meant that I was running faster than ever before. It did more than that, especially on the mental side. There was one particularly brutal 20 mile run on a Sunday, following an already exhausting tempo run on Saturday, that had me on the brink the entire time. For the whole workout I was convinced that I would not be able to do it; I just ran one more mile, then one more, then another one until I finally realised that I was almost done. The marathon was very much a carbon copy of that. Since I had been there before, I managed to hold on for the entire 26 miles.

Before the marathon I stated my regret of not having raced any 5 or 10Ks, knowing that I would have pulverised my existing PBs. I sure am glad that the coach did not compromise the training at all. I needed every single ounce of marathon specific fitness at the end.

I tend to hate racing photos of me. They make me look even uglier than I already am. But I love the shot from my previous entry, right at the finish. If ever there was a photo that contained everything about a race in one shot, that's it.

Chances are that it won't be, but during the race I could not help wondering if that would be my one and only shot at breaking three hours. I guess that's the thing that kept me going. The main reason why I managed to break 3 hours is that I wanted it badly enough.
22 Apr
8.4 miles, 1:04:43, 7:42 pace, HR 153
   Bad Aussee – Grundlsee and back. Ran too hard.
23 Apr
5 miles, 39:06, 7:49 pace, HR 146
   Bad Aussee – Altaussee and back. Better.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thoughts, Photos, .... , Chocolate, Wine, Beer, ...

And there was me thinking my readership had whittled down to about 3, over 40 comments and counting, with the added bonus of making Ewen green with envy. Thank you very much, everyone! This really means a lot to me (the comments, not the envy).

I found Eric's comment funny, scalding me for using the Garmin's HR because after Boston, Roberto, a marathon runner of almost equal ability to Eric, chided me for NOT following the HR. I'm perfectly aware that your race HR is higher than in training; on Sunday I was comparing it to past races, not training runs, and that's why I eased up, but only by a small amount. I'm still glad I did, I had very little left at the end and I think I used my energy rather wisely.

After the marathon I met a mate from my school days who could not get over his amazement that the least sporty kid in school, who was always picked last for football, managed to run a marathon in less than 3 hours. I think it's fair to say that my talent has always been on the mental side of things. I will never run a quarter in 60 seconds, but ask me to run a lot of them and I'll get my head down and do the work. Tenacity is just as important for a marathon as your leg fibres.

I'm recovering quite quickly, the legs were fine the very next day, which was good because I was walking up and down the staircase half a dozen times on Monday morning, packing the car. The coach had prescribed 4 days of no running, I did 3 but went out this morning because I could no longer resist the scenery.

The day after the marathon we drove to Bad Aussee, at the geographic centre of Austria, in in the middle of the Alps. The weather has turned hot and the mountains are just stunning. Maybe we should have come here before the marathon, not after, because it's much more relaxing here and I might have saved my legs for the race.

Now in my post-marathon recuperation period, I have switched from a monk-like life style to one closer resembling Homer Simpson's. I have been looking forward to this, and the fact that the chocolate tastes so good here is great (and there is no weighing scale around here).

21 Apr
8 miles, 1:05:08, 8:08 pace, HR 147

Monday, April 18, 2011

What I Always Wanted

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted - One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
Eminem, Lose Yourself

6 years ago, after finishing my second marathon in a very disappointing time, I decided that if you're doing things as demanding as running marathons, it is worth doing it properly. I bought a book called “Advanced Marathoning”, and one thing they mentioned was that you should have a short, a medium and a long time goal. The latter should be very challenging, so much so that it could feel like boasting. For some reason I decided that a sub-3 marathon would be my long-time goal. For someone who had not even broken 4 hours at the time it seemed as far away as the moon and I did not really expect to ever come close. For several years I did not even mention it to anyone.

I had a (relatively) close call in Dublin 2008 but fell short, and when I turned 40 last year I feared my chance had gone for good, which is why I spent last year running ultras rather than marathons. I liked the slower, casual pace, but the little voice in the back of my had never stopped whispering “sub-3, sub-3”. When I got the incredible offer to be coached to one marathon by the Mystery Coach, it was an opportunity far too good to be missed and I did not have to think twice to accept. Training went very well indeed and I grew increasingly confident. In fact, I thought 2:55 was definitely achievable. But one lesson I learned in the last few days is that flying across a continent to a destination marathon is not the ideal way to run a fast time. As much fun as it was to bring Niamh and all four kids, I spent far more time on my feet the days before the race than I would have wanted and wondered if I was to wear myself out before I had even reached the start line.

Marathon Day was sunny and warm, with not a cloud in sight. Apparently the temperatures at the start were still a moderate 9 degrees, but while it was cool in the shade, it already felt warm in the sun. The race director called those “ideal running conditions”, but I was not entirely convinced, not if you are used to running in no more that 5 degrees in the early Irish mornings.

I found the start layout very confusing, there were no signs for the corrals and the layout did not match the map and I inadvertently ended up in the red corral rather than the blue one, but one fellow runner quipped that the blue corral was already filled with yellow bibs. It hardly mattered, even so I was way behind the start line, which seemed strange, considering all the other runners in here were supposed to be sub-3 runners (or sub-90 halfs). I was only a few meters away from Haile Gebrselassie and even though I did not manage to catch a glimpse of the great man himself, his mere presence put the entire event onto a new level.

The gun went and we set off. It took me 48 seconds to cross the start line, in position 793 apparently, not counting the half marathoners and the relay runners. There was a sea of runners ahead of me and of course the usual idiots who started right at the front and went out at crawling pace, two or three abreast, making a complete nuisance of themselves. I ended up elbowing one of them and did not even feel guilty.

We started right at a bridge which meant the first km was uphill and the second downhill, and by the time we were back over land the jostling for position had stopped and I tuned into target marathon pace, 6:40 per mile or 4:08 per km. The course was obviously measured in km, but my Garmin was still set to miles because that's what I'm used to. The other thing I used the Garmin for was measuring my HR, but that can be useless for the first mile or two until the strap picks up the signal properly, so I was not too worried at reading a sky-high number of 177 early on. However, when I checked it later and saw 170 and then 172, it dawned on me that I was actually running at far too high an effort.

That was seriously bad news. Even though the legs felt fine, I have learned on a couple of occasions that a high HR reading is more relevant than the feeling in the legs at that stage and if I ignore the HR reading I inevitable end up suffering badly and slowing down considerably, even over a short distance, never mind a long marathon. I did slow down a little bit, but I still thought Roberto was going to give me plenty of grief for running too hard (he rightly did so after Boston), and I sure was worried I was going to blow up later on.

5k: 21:00, place 497 (gained 296), projected finish time 2:57:14

After crossing the 5k mat slightly later than the planned 20:40, I realised that my HR had never dropped below 170 and was now hovering around 172, which was far too high and I reluctantly slowed down a little bit more. Logic and past experience would have said to drop until the HR was in the low 160s or even lower, but that would have meant going slower than sub-3 pace already and I was not prepared to give up the dream just yet. I feared that I would have to pay for that. The marathon is a question of preserving energy rather than banking time, and for every second you run too fast early on you pay back with interest. The coach had also had one final word of wisdom: The first third of the marathon is to mile 15, the second to mile 22.5 and the last one to the finish, and only then will you give it all. I was afraid I was going to use up all my energy reserves by mile 20, and that I would be walking by mile 20 and crawling by mile 23.

10k: 42:38, place 522 (lost 25), projected finish time 2:59:53

After a run through the leafy Prater amusement park we went onto the grand Ring road and then the “Linke Wien Zeile”. I would have preferred to run along the “Rechte Wien Zeile” because that was in the shade while we were baking in the relentless sun. I am pretty sure that the forecast 16C were in the shade, it was a lot hotter than that in the sun and there was not one cloud in the sky to give us some break. Even if it wasn't that hot, it felt like that to me and it was really getting to me now. I passed my sister's house at km 12.5, and waved to her. I wondered why Niamh and the kids were not with them, as arranged, but I saw them a couple of minutes later. Niamh called out “how do you feel”, and my long answer would have been “Well, I'm still on pace but only just and I don't feel too good, it's too hot and my heart rate far too high and I'm really worried about blowing up and I'm getting tired already”, but all I had time for was “ok”, which did not really pass on the entire message. I also did not want to give her bad news, though it struck me as slightly bizarre, seeing that I was the runner that should be shielded from bad news, not the other way round.

To add to the task, this part was also uphill. It was not noticeable as such but I had studied the course map and the elevation chart. At least I could tell myself that the tough going was due to the elevation gain, not the tiredness already building up in my legs. I knew that negative thoughts can have a real impact on a marathon performance and was ready to believe anything that would keep the dark thoughts at bay.

15k: 1:03:50, place 501 (gained 21), projected finish time 2:59:34

Then Schönbrunn Castle came into view and after two sharp right turns we had reached the highest elevation of the course and the next few miles would be easier. I kept looking at the Garmin, always seeing a HR of between 170 and 172 and the average pace was at 6:48, which meant that I had used up my entire time cushion from the first 5k already. The average pace needed for sub-3 26.2 miles is 6:52, but you never run the perfect racing line and our marathons will always be longer, usually around 26.4 miles on a Garmin and you have to take that into account; 6:48 was the slowest Garmin pace I would want to average and still break 3 hours.

Every time I checked the present pace on the next 3 downhill miles it was significantly faster, between 6:15 and 6:25, but the average kept stubbornly stuck at 6:48, which really started to frustrate me. At one point I actually saw a heart rate of 168, but that turned out to be a once-off. Just as I was about to cross the 20k timing mat, the average pace display finally gave me back 1 second to 6:47, which meant that at least I had a tiny bit of a cushion, even if it was rather immaterial.

One feature of the Vienna marathon is that you are able to drop to the half-marathon because the finish diverts off right at the end. The organisers see that as a plus, to me it is a minus. The thought of calling it a day did cross my mind. I was exhausted already, I did not think my chances of breaking 3 hours today were realistic and I was tempted to spare myself 90+ further minutes of agony and pain, but eventually decided that I had not flown across the continent and spent a couple of thousand Euro for a mere half marathon. Even if it meant crawling home on my teeth, I was going to finish this marathon, no matter how painful. As the half marathoners turned off towards the right, I deliberately looked towards the left. If I could not see the finish line, I would not be tempted by its Siren call.

21.1k: 1:29:42, place 440 (gained 61), projected finish time 3:00:15

I had basically matched my 21k time from Boston 2 years ago, but back then that was achieved with the help of a lot of downhill miles and at the cost of totally shredded quads. I was in better shape right now, but seeing how there was virtually no cushion was not exactly encouraging. I did remember that I had on a couple of occasions managed to run very even or even negative splits, including the last marathon I had raced, Cork last year, and I clung onto that hope.

I had taken a gel at 10k and 15k, and each time it had given me a little bit of a lift. It may have been entirely psychological, but that does not matter. Unfortunately that lift never lasted more than a couple of minutes and was always followed by another low. I took another gel at this point and used the boost to hang on to a runner with a Portuguese flag on his shirt. He seemed to be running strongly and I hoped he would be pulling me along. My pace actually picked up again for a while, there was more shade on the course which made a real difference and I decided that the battle was not over yet. There was still some life left in the old dog.

I also took note as I crossed the 15 mile mark. This was the end of the coach's designated first section and I was still on pace. In fact, the average pace display on the Garmin eventually jumped to 6:46, which cheered me up a lot.

25k: 1:45:55, place 420 (gained 20), projected finish time 2:58:47

I felt like a complete impostor. I felt I was surrounded by strong sub-3 runners and getting totally ahead of myself. If someone had turned to me and told me to piss off back to my own section, I think I would have accepted it. But eventually it dawned on me that the runners around me were suffering just as much from the heat, the miles and the pace and that I was in fact steadily overtaking runner after runner.

We were making our way back to the Prater park and the course just happens to take the same road on the way back home, and somewhere around our km 27, the leaders came the other way on their km 38 or so. That was a seriously cool sight and for the next couple of miles I was distracted by the smooth running style of the elite Kenyans and Ethiopians and the odd Eastern European passing by. I was actually surprised that even at that level you could tell the difference between the runners, the semi-elites looking a lot less smooth than the top runners; I had never seen that before, and here I was having the best view possible.

My Portuguese pace maker eventually faltered but I managed to find another strong looking guy to leech onto, a runner in a black t-shirt, and funnily enough he seemed to be doing the same to a Polish guy in a red and white top. The three of kept running closely together and we overtook a lot of runners as a group. There were several guys who tried to hang on to us, but none lasted longer than a kilometre.

30k: 2:07:28, place 394 (gained 26), projected finish time 2:59:18

Just as we were getting back into the Prater I started faltering again. I lost a bit of time at a drinks station and all of a sudden my two running buddies were 10 steps ahead of me and I was unable to bridge the gap. “There we go, it's Dublin 2008 all over again” I thought, remembering that back then it was at that point that my sub-3 dream had fallen to pieces. I had to find another gear, something, anything, and quickly. We were doing a little out-and back section to the national Stadium, and I could see the runners coming the other way. “The lucky bastards, they are going to break 3 hours and I'm not”.

Then something happened, maybe it was the next gel kicking in, maybe it was just pure desperation, but I knew I had to pick it up and somehow I managed to catch up with my little group again. A runner in a blue top had joined us and the 4 of us took on the completely straight and flat out section to the final turnaround point.

At that point I realised that, as bad as I was feeling, I was feeling no worse than at the halfway point and if I manged to keep that going for another 10k I would still make it. I kept dropping back at each drink station, each time I would have to speed up again immediately to keep in touch, but each time I managed it. I must have been on the verge of dropping behind half a dozen times, but I closed the gap again and again. The runner in the blue top did not last the pace and fell off again and it was back to the original three amigos (who had not talked a word to each other).

35k: 2:28:53 place 351 (gained 43), projected finish time 2:59:30

All of a sudden, and very much to my surprise, the Polish guy who had mostly lead our little group up to now, fell of the pace as well. The runner in black went past and a few second later so did I, trying to re-establish contact with the only runner that seemed strong enough to keep going. I was now entering the coach's final section and that meant it was time to give my full effort and put everything on the line. I was surprised to still being on pace, for the last 25 km I had expected to falter at any moment. Now the finish was getting closer and closer and I was still in the game. I had never come so far still within a shout and I was wondering if the opportunity would ever come again. I'm 41 and I'm not getting any younger.

The day before I had heard an interview by a former Austrian top runner who had stated that the final 5k of the Vienna marathon are tough. Obviously, the final 5k of any marathon are tough but in Vienna the final 5k are uphill. Not much, and when we had run on that road the first time, 30k ago, we had hardly noticed it. This time we noticed it, alright. I had to dig deep and the runner in the black t-shirt kept pulling away. I don't know if he tried to drop me or if my own pace faltered, but again and again I fell a few steps behind and it was getting more and more difficult to catch up.

I started recognising the grand buildings as we crossed the final bridge and turned into the Ring road again. Running on the tram tracks was difficult and unforgiving but it was the shortest distance and I did not have anything spare.

A friend of mine, who I had met a few days earlier, recognised me and gave me a shout. She would then ring another friend to tell him that I was looking really bad, but luckily I did not know this at the time. Actually, I kind of knew. I was hurting so badly, I do not have the words.

40k: 2:50:23 place 318 (gained 33), projected finish time 2:59:44

Eventually I was no longer able to keep up with the black t-shirt and had to look at him slowly inching away, unable to bridge the gap for what would probably have been the twentieth time. I saw that the average pace on the Garmin was back to 6:48. I had absolutely no cushion whatsoever.

The road was uphill indeed and one look at the Garmin told me the present pace was 7:20 or so. This would not do and I gave it one more injection of pace. For the last 3 hours I had started digging deeper and deeper in the hope that I would get home before I hit rock bottom. Now I was so near to the end and Oh My God, I knew this would be incredibly close. Then I looked at the Garmin again and once more the present pace was 7:20. I swore out loudly, startling another runner in the process, and tried to pick it up one more time.

I saw the fabulous Opera house but had no eye for its beauty. My only concern was how away from the finish it was. There was a inflatable arch. Did it signal 1k to the finish? I don't know but I switched the Garmin's display from the pace and HR fields, now largely irrelevant, to just the time, now highly relevant. There were 2:55:xx on the clock. I tried to figure out if I was inside or outside the pace but did not have the energy to do so. All I could do was to run as fast as I could.

I saw the twin museums on the left, Kunsthistorisch and Naturhistorisch, and I knew the final corner into the Hofburg was somewhere around there but could not make it out. At that point I really thought it was all over. I clearly saw the headline of my own blog saying “Noooooooooooooo” with a time of 3:00:08 or so, and in pure desperation started sprinting all out, the final, panicked move of a man who had run out of options. I did not even know how far it was, I could not not see the final turn until I was nearly upon it. Then, all of a sudden, there I was, one more turn, the Garmin said 2:59:00, and all of a sudden I realised that all was not lost after all. I could see the finish line. Despite me sprinting all out two runners went past, but that was entirely irrelevant. I only had an eye for the timer.

In the unlikely case that you were at the finish line of the 2011 Vienna marathon just as the gun time was reaching 3 hours, you would have seen a middle-aged runner in an orange top and black shorts, sprinting all out, screaming his head off in a deranged way, releasing all the tension and anxiety of the last 3 hours, the last 3 years in fact, in one go, at the point where desperation turned into ecstasy, and who crossed the line 2:59:35 after he had started.

That night, when I brushed my teeth, I looked into the mirror and saw a sub-3 marathon runner looking back at me.

Net: 2:59:35
HM1: 1:29:42
HM2: 1:29:52
Rank: 313
M40: 65

Avg. HR: 171 (!!!)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Vienna Calling

Caragh Lake to Vienna, door to door, 12 hours, with a bunch of 4 lunaticschildren in attendance, left us absolutely knackered but 11 and 9 hours of sleep in the following 2 nights got us back on our feet. I will try and stay off my feet tomorrow as much as possible. The weather forecast for Sunday is still just about perfect.

I only did a couple of short runs yesterday and today, 2.5 miles each. The coach told me I could run, but with a limit of 2-3 miles. Think of doing a warm up for a 5k without doing the race. My legs felt like lead yesterday and I started fearing the worst, but today felt much better and the optimism is back.

There's nothing left but the sub-3 marathon itself.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Even though my training under MC’s guidance has been different to my self-tutored attempts, I decided to keep the same summary format that I used before all my other big races. You would not be able to follow it by the summary alone, though. The genius was in the detail.

Training (from 4 Oct – 3 Apr):
26 weeks
Miles per week:
52, 53, 44, 70, 68, 75, 79, 81, 54, 61, 83, 84, 76, 86, 73, 74, 73, 73, 74, 72, 77, 70, 76, 75, 72, 65 (average: 71)
the jump from 44 to 70 was the Dublin marathon, the drop to 54 was a knee injury. I’m actually amazed how consistent I was.
# runs of 20 miles:
# runs over 20 miles:
1 (pacing the Dublin marathon)
# of PBs:
1 (or 3 if you count in the fact that I broke my 5 miles and 10k PBs along the way during the Ballycotton 10 miler)
- one ballooned knee after running on ice in December (missed 3 days)
- several sore throats that made me miss exactly 0 runs

The seeming lack of long runs is counter-acted by the fact that many of the weekends were back-to-back workouts that were much tougher than a standalone long run. In fact, some of those runs felt suspiciously like the last miles of a marathon (as much as it can do that in a training run). The essence of the training, as far as I can tell, were the steady runs day after day, week after week, always slower than I could have run, for the basic fitness and the back-to-back workouts for the marathon specific fitness. I only raced one single race in the entire training cycle, in Ballycotton, which went so well it almost blew me over.

If I have one regret then it’s the fact that I did not run any 5k or 10k races. Even without specific training I know I would have blown my existing PBs out of the water. That was sacrificed for the sake of the best marathon preparation I could have had. I’m perfectly fine with that, of course, but it leaves a tinge of regret, looking at my existing PBs knowing that I could run much faster.

I was scared enough by Sunday’s high heart rate to take Monday completely off (gasp!). Today I did what the coach calls a Taper Workout. It starts like the marathon might, trying to gradually get down to marathon pace, first half mile 7:20 pace, second half mile 7:00 pace, then gradually speed up to 6:40 pace (planned marathon pace) and hold it for 2 more miles. Jog for 10 – 15 minutes (which was 7:25 pace) and then run 3x800 every 5 minutes 2:54 pace.

My main problem with the first half of the workout was trying not to run too fast. I did the first half mile in 7:10 (a tad fast) and the second in 7:00 (spot on). The marathon pace miles were a bit fast at 6:34 pace and felt a bit harder than expected, not just because of the pace but also because I still felt the porridge that I had eaten 90 minutes earlier in my stomach, something that won’t happen on Sunday. The 800s went in 2:54, 2:50 and 2:52, just about right. The first and third repeats were not helped by the headwind; the second was, obviously, but it did not feel like it. The fact that it started raining was not overly welcome.

Talking about rain, that’s what seems to happening in Vienna right now; the forecast for the weekend is cloudy skies and 14C temperatures, much to my delight and Niamh’s disgust, but it is supposed to be sunny again the following week, which would suit me just perfect. The headache and tiredness from the weekend has gone as well. It’s all systems go and no excuses.

11 Apr
12 Apr
9 miles, 1:03:26, 7:02 pace, HR 155
   incl. 3 miles at 6:35, 3x800 in 2:54, 2:50, 2:52

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Haunted by Phantoms

Right now, as I'm sitting here, I'm desperately hoping that the tiredness than engulfed me all weekend and the headache from today are just taper phantom symptoms and not the harbingers of the same illness that had affected Cian last week and Niamh the week before. After all that great training over the last few months I do not know how I would cope with having my sub-3 marathon ripped away from me by illness.

Maybe thinking about Connemara exacerbated the symptoms. I was very surprised how much I missed running the Ultra today and how much I thought about it, especially during my run today where I could not get it out of my head.

Yesterday I ran another 5 easy miles, constantly pulling the brakes, trying to stop myself from running too fast. The coach mentioned something about not running every day, but I guess to stop me from running he will have to state it more definite than that (or, on some days, he would have to come over here and tie me down). Anyway, during almost the entire run I felt like I was running as slowly as possible without it feeling awkward, so to average 7:33 pace cam as a bit of a surprise.

Today was supposed to be my final long run but since we had to re-jig next week's one single workout because of my travelling schedule, the coach told me to only run for one hour, which cannot be called a long run by any stretch of the imagination. Throughout the training I almost always ran my “normal” long runs on the very hilly loop around Caragh Lake, but since I ran a lot of runs trying to match a certain pace, I always chose a much flatter alternative for those. I have missed out on a good number of loops and I think my legs are not as strong as they could be due to missing out on those climbs, so I gave them one more workout on the Devil's Elbow climb, the steepest bit of road amongst my standard running routes. I also let the legs go by whatever pace came naturally, without constantly checking the Garmin and subsequently putting on the brakes. This all sounded rather fine, but unfortunately I now realise that I ran too hard, especially on the climb. I now await the chastening by the coach.

The afternoon was just manic, having to bring Maia to see the Peppa Pig show (which is definitely aimed at 3-year olds, not their Daddys), then going to see Lola do her exam for Drama and Speech on stage and finally collecting Shea from a violin concert, I felt like I had run the Connemara Ultra after all. I wonder how Grellan got on.

9 Apr
5 miles, 37:39, 7:33 pace, HR 143
10 Apr
8.5 miles, 1:02:43, 7:22 pace, HR 155

Weekly Mileage: 45+

Friday, April 08, 2011

T Minus Nine

Just like many others I used to follow the Pfitzinger&Douglas plans for some of my earlier marathons. They are solid and intelligent plans, but there was always one particular workout that had me puzzled because I never understood the point of it – a 3x1 mile interval workout, 10 days before the marathon.

Having a coach rather than a book comes with the advantage of being able to pick the knowledge of someone who really knows what this is all about, and Thursday's workout of 800s came with the following explanation:
Tomorrow is warm up the system day, (stretch the heart and capillaries out, fire the nervous system and generally rev everything up), notice I said nothing about exhausting anything

My main worry was not the pace (I knew I would be able to run 2:54) but how to know when to stop. This was supposed to happen while I still had 2-3 more workout in me, no matter if that would happen after 3 or 10.

After the warm-up, I got going. It was a bit more windy than I would have liked with the odd numbered intervals into the wind and the even numbered ones with wind assistance. I ran all of them mostly without looking at the Garmin, relying much more on feel, trying to stay as smooth as possible.

avgHR maxHR time to 130
2:55  163    170      50
2:50  163    172      45
2:50  169    177      40
2:55  165    173      50
2:57  169    174      45
2:44  172    179      45

The first is always a bit of a warm-up, but the second was already faster than anticipated while still feeling perfectly smooth. The same cannot be said about the third one because I followed the instructions of running every third repeat faster than the others. I was already wondering if I should leave it at that but I kept a close eye on the time it took for the HR getting back to 130 while walking, and that looked fine. The fourth was good, the fifth maybe less so and I might have left it at that but could not resist the temptation of running one fast interval with wind assistance, so I cranked out a final, sixth one with a stronger effort.

Despite feeling guilty about the sixth one I noticed later in the day that I had absolutely no soreness in the legs, something that continued into the next day. A very easy run this morning should hopefully have left my legs in a good state.

I had a look at the Vienna marathon course, nabbing an elevation profile off There is a long drag up to the halfway point. I know that road, it alongside a river,so obviously it is uphill but it feels completely even when walking, so I'm actually surprised that the elevation gain is as much as 150 feet. The rest seems quite flat, apart from the final 2 miles; it might not be as easy as the likes of Berlin or Chicago but I think this is one of the flatter marathon courses around. I'm still a bit worried about the potential heat and the possibility of getting sick (Cian is finally feeling better), but there's not much I can do about that.

With 9 days to go, I'm very much looking forward to the race.
7 Apr
8 miles, 59:00, 7:21 pace, HR 151
   6x800, avg. in 2:52
8 Apr
5 miles, 38:46, 7:45 pace, HR 140

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Definitely Tapering

Taper madness has not set in yet, at least not enough for myself to notice, but I can sleep in every morning and still get the run done before work, it is bright outside even by the time I leave the house and sore legs are a thing of the past.

I'm brimming with energy but can’t use it. If someone forced me to run 20 miles right here and now I’d be out on the road before they had even finished their sentence.

I took it easy on Monday, just 7 miles, only to find an email from the coach on my return asking me to do something even easier. I should have checked my email the night before, my bad. I did what he asked on Tuesday instead, and it was the strangest “workout” ever: 2 miles warm-up, 1 mile walking (!!!) while visualising myself on the last miles of the marathon, then an easy run home to cool down (from what?). The walking part felt as weird as expected and during the visualisation I could not help but notice that I was trying to see myself in the middle of a very urban environment on a very grand street with thousands of spectators by the side, while in reality I was walking on a totally empty, tiny road beside a beautiful, hidden lake in the middle of the Kerry wilderness. The contrast could not have been greater.

I followed that up with 6 more easy miles this morning. I started the first mile at 8:00 pace and just kept running easily, only to find on my return that the pace had dropped steadily so that I ended up with an average pace of 7:30. It shows how careful you have to be in the taper, especially so as I ran again wrapped up in several layers with a heavy jacket on top to simulate warm weather in case we get that in Vienna. I did notice that the HR was much lower than on a similar run last week, so maybe that’s actually having an effect already.

I am really confident of running under 3 hours in Vienna, in fact I have my sights set a good few minutes below that now. However, there are two things I am worried about. One is the potential for a really hot day; the last week they seemed to get over 20C degrees every day, and for someone who is used to running in 5 degrees that’s a big difference. The other thing is being sick. There has been “something” going round in the family, Niamh has been coughing for over 2 weeks now, Lola is on antibiotics as we speak, Cian is off school feeling awful and Shea had a sore throat, just like me. This has been going on for over two weeks now, and while I can’t tell any negative influence on my running from looking at pace, heart rate or perceived effort, I am worried.

Then again, maybe all those negative thoughts are merely the taper madness slowly taking hold. I'm still confident. My form points to a time well below 3 hours, so even on a bad day I should be able to crack that particular nut.
4 Apr
7+ miles, 54:53, 7:47 pace, HR 139
5 Apr
5 miles, 46:02, 9:11 pace, HR 130
    including a mile walking
6 Apr
6+ miles, 45:27, 7:30 pace, HR 159
    wrapped up in layers for heat acclimatisation

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sign O' The Times

It's yet another sign of old age, but time is certainly flying. I can hardly believe the marathon is only a fortnight away. I could even look up the long term weather forecast for marathon day, but I have yet to come across a forecast that far out that was actually correct so I won't even bother.

The last week was the first of the taper, but it never feels like that because the mileage is still relatively high. My main worry was a health scare earlier on but that seems to have passed, even though I still have a bit of a sore throat and the rest of the family are affected to various degrees. We binned the planned speed workout because “if in doubt, always rest” (I'll have to put that somewhere visible). I could tell on Thursday that the legs were getting restless as keeping the pace down turned into a constant struggle with my inner autopilot. I guess that's why the coach put on a session of hill repeats on Friday. Nominally to wake up the system for the weekend (his words) but probably to stop me from going gaga and doing something stupid (my interpretation).

He said 2-3 x 90 seconds uphill, which to me means 3, to be honest. Since I vividly remembered me almost running myself into the ground by taking off like an idiot last time, I started at a much more measured effort. Or so I thought. Imagine my surprise when the twin terrors of lactic acid and shortness of breath engulfed me once more after only 30 seconds. I struggled to the top to raise an eyebrow at the readings on the Garmin that had my HR at 179. Last time I only got up to 175, and I thought I had taken it easier this time! The second repeat was more of the same but the third got off to a bad start mentally when I immediately questioned the need for it (remember, the coach said 2-3) and worried about the weekend's back-to-back workouts. When a wind gust came halfway through it was enough to put me over the edge and I bailed out. Interestingly enough, I did not even feel guilty.

Saturday's runs have been very similar in recent weeks, today's had two variations. It was shorter, due to the taper, and I was encouraged to play around with pace and effort a bit.

The weather at night had been scary all week, I woke up frequently to the sound of very heavy wind and rain but it generally brightened up for the morning, except on Friday and only to a certain extend on Saturday. It had stopped raining but the wind was still a major factor and it definitely had some effect on the run. After a few miles at 6:25-6:30 pace I put the foot down, accelerated to 6:20 and held it for a while, but it became apparent that I was overcooking myself, the HR went well over 170 and the breathing became ragged so eventually I backed off again. Maybe it would have gone better without the wind, but in all honesty the legs never felt particularly fresh and I wondered if yesterday's hill repeats had put some dampener on them. Still, it was not a bad run by any means and I had timed it exceedingly well – 2 minutes after coming home the heavens opened; even an ice bath was preferable to being outside (Niamh still declined joining me, though).

Sunday again was easier than on previous weeks with 7 miles easy and 7 at marathon effort, with the added twist that I was to run the fast half without the Garmin's help. I got off to a very late start as Niamh's main wish for Mother's Day was a long sleep and by some miracle she genuinely got this. For once all 4 kids were well behaved and quiet all morning (this really is a miracle, you have no idea!), and it was almost lunch time when I made it out of the house.

The seven easy miles turned into one of the most frustrating runs of the entire training cycle with me constantly having to put on the brakes as I was going sub-7 even though the effort felt like jogging and the HR was in the low 140s. It took me 5 miles to realise that I had been pushed all the way by the wind, which also meant that the majority of the marathon effort would be into the wind, not something I was particularly looking forward to. After 7 miles I pressed the lap button on the Garmin and changed the screen to make sure that I would not peak at it. Unlike the last “blind” run I was not overly bothered by the fact that I had to rely on pure feel alone; battling the wind took enough mental effort alone. After 5 miles in these conditions I was worn down, it felt harder than marathon effort and I was really looking forward to the end, worrying a bit about Vienna (but not too much). Eventually I finished, was a little bit disappointed that all the effort had only yielded 6:40 pace (then again, it was against the wind), and realised that I had just finished the last longish run before the marathon.

31 Mar
10 miles, 1:15:32, 7:33 pace, HR 146
1 Apr
8 miles, 1:01:14, 7:39 pace, HR 149
   incl. 2x90 sec hill repeats, bailed on third
2 Apr
8 miles, 53:21, 6:40 pace, HR 159
   incl. 5 miles @ 6:28, HR 163
3 Apr
15 miles, 1:45:25, 7:01 pace, HR 154
   incl. 7 miles @ 7:19, HR 146, 7 miles @ 6:41, HR 163 sans Garmin feedback

Weekly Mileage: 65