Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nothing Short Of Spectacular!

Even though my runner’s heart belongs to the marathon (and beyond), I have been aware for a few years that I consistently get my best results in shorter races, 10 miles or half marathons, which is why I had high hopes for today’s 15 mile race. As an added bonus, the scenery is absolutely stunning. The race t-shirt talks about the world’s most beautiful road race and while this is of course entirely subjective, I am inclined to agree. This almost makes up for the stupid name of the race and the unreasonably high entrance fee, though I did have a plan for the latter problem.

I have read somewhere that 1000 people had signed up, but that can’t be right, my estimate would be about half that, but that’s still a fairly big race. Nevertheless, looking at last year’s result I could not fail but notice that the M40 category had been won in 1:41, a time I would beat easily, but I was fully aware that I would not be the only one to spot this. It was bound to be more competitive this year.

The time was basically guaranteed to be fast because the course features a net elevation drop of 650 feet, we had tailwind practically all the way and the temperatures were ideal 10-12C, with the showers mostly staying away. No excuses whatsoever.

A group of 5 stormed off right at the start, never to be seen again. I was in the second “group”, though it was more a line of runners that stretched more and more as the first mile went on and soon splintered apart for good. Pat, Grellan’s neighbour and a runner with very similar times to mine, was a bit ahead and I followed the first lady, Angela McCann, for a while until I pulled past. I also caught Pat as well as a few other runners and I knew I was in the top 10, almost too good to be true. I know I was playing a dangerous game, running fairly fast at the start of what is still a long distance, but I was prepared to gamble for a prize.

Mile 1, 6:36, +136 feet, avg. HR ???

For an uphill first mile of a 15-mile race, this was blazing fast.

Mile 2, 6:27, -29 feet, avg. HR 169
Mile 3, 5:51, -233 feet, avg. HR 171

We passed Moll’s Gap after mile 2 and then it was fairly steep downhill. I kept trading places with Angela, but the steep downhill played to my strengths and I flew past her. I totally avoided looking at the Garmin, though. I thought seeing the pace numbers would just scare me.

Mile 4, 6:21, -21 feet, avg. HR 172
Mile 5, 6:28, +38 feet, avg. HR 173

Angela’s high cadence footsteps drew closer very quickly when we reached the flatter bits and I started suffering on the short uphill in mile 5, but I knew I was going well. The quads still felt fine, despite the hammering they were getting from running the slopes so hard.

Mile 6, 5:44, -194 feet, avg. HR 169
Mile 7, 5:47, -261 feet, avg. HR 168

Pat later told me how cool it felt to be rattling off a couple of sub-6 miles at that stage, but I wasn’t quite aware of the pace because I still avoided looking at the Garmin. One thing I noticed was that I was aggressively running the race line, looking ahead and cutting all the tangents as much as I could while the other 3 runners in my view were basically running in the middle of the road. Despite this, I lost touch once we reached the flat parts, Angela and two male runners drew slowly but steadily away from me.

Mile 8, 6:14, -71 feet, avg. HR 170
Mile 9, 6:35, -31 feet, avg. HR 170

Somewhere here a runner in a black top shot past me at absolutely awesome pace. I’m sure he had not been going like that for long and had only put on the afterburners to leave me in the dust, but it worked. I could not respond. This was all the more worrying because I suspected he was older than 40 and therefore a direct rival – but looks can be deceiving of course.

I really starter suffering and wondered how long I would be able to keep going at that rate. Slowing down seemed a real possibility. All of a sudden Angela took a break, enabling me to re-gain a place, but I would have preferred to catch up with the runner in black instead. Angela was not going to be a rival for the M40 prize.

All the downhill miles of the first half made these miles feel much worse than they were. The road was undulating and every uphill part seemed to suck the strength from my legs. I really wondered for how much longer I would be able to keep up the intensity and worried about blowing up after the fast start. But I tried hard to keep a positive mental attitude, which eventually got me out of the low.

Mile 10, 6:45, +46 feet, avg. HR 170
Mile 11, 6:41, -7 feet, avg. HR 170

Deep down I was aware that I was slowing down, but I still avoided the Garmin’s screen like the plague.

At 10.5 miles we turned off the main Killarney road and into the walkways of the National Park. I had been aware of that, but had not realised what it meant. For the last 4.5 miles, the course constantly went up and down like a roller coaster, with a lot of short, sharp hills followed by drops of the same kind. It was also very twisty and the road surface wasn’t great. While the first 7.5 miles make this a very fast course, no doubt about it, the second half makes it a tough one. Every runner I spoke to afterwards said the same.

Mile 12 6:46 –12 feet, avg. HR 172
Mile 13 6:51, +34 feet, avg. HR 172

Very much on the plus side, I caught up to one runner and eventually went past. He tried to hang on for a bit but half a mile later his footsteps had faded. Therefore I was very surprised to hear steps approaching from behind again, but they turned out to belong to Angela, who chicked me in style. She then stopped to tie her laces, enabling me to catch her once more, but somehow she caught me again! Worse, more footsteps soon followed, and when the runner caught up with me I realised it was Pat. That was bad news: I knew Pat was another M40 runner.

Mile 14 6:36, -26 feet, avg. HR 172

As much I was suffering, I quickly decided I would not give up my age group spot without a good fight and stuck to his shoulder. Over the next mile or two he repeatedly tried to drop me, but for every step I fell behind on the uphills I made one good on the downhill and we were pretty much inseparable, so much so that us two old geezers caught up with Angela. The three of us ran towards the finish in one group.

I have never been in a position where I would have to fight for a podium place, so this was new territory. I am painfully aware that I do not have much natural speed and am consistently outpaced in a finishing sprint, so sitting on Pat’s shoulder was no good. On the other hand, just hanging on to him took all my strength; I was hanging on for dear life as it was. “Pat is the stronger runner today”. “Pat will beat me”. “Pat’s still looking good”. “I am totally f****ed as it is, no way can I increase the pace”. “I can’t go, I am toast already”. “SHUT UP AND GO!!!”

With half a mile to go, I went for it. As I went past, Pat muttered something like “hat off to you”, which was great from a mate’s point of view but a serious error on his part as far as race rivalry is concerned. It may have been just the boost my fragile mindset needed. Within 10 seconds I was deep in the red, the anaerobic mist engulfing me, the legs screaming in agony but I would not yield. I could not hear them behind me, so I guessed I must have created a decent gap. I’m not looking forward to seeing photos of me finishing. They will be able to use them to scare young children, my face contorted by the effort and the agony, but on a sharp right turn just before the finish I caught a glimpse of my pursuers and knew they would not be able to catch up. The final 100 meters were the glory stretch and I finished 15 miles in 1:35:28, according to my Garmin as well as the gantry clock.

Mile 15 6:11 pace, -5 feet, avg. HR 176

There was some confusion about the M40 podium, but eventually it turned out that the age group winner was the runner in black who had caught me at mile 8 or 9, just like I had feared. I had indeed outsprinted Pat for second place, which put me into the money. Pat lost out, because even though the web site clearly states cash prizes for the top 3, they only went 2 deep, and I am sure he was disappointed. I know I would have been.

After a very painful massage (I think my screams as she dug her thumbs mercilessly into my calves caused plenty of entertainment in the tent) I found Grellan and Seamus and had a good chat. The course might have been a shade short of 15 miles; my Garmin showed 14.93 miles, Grellan’s 14.91, and while this is within the Garmin’s accuracy, it would be rather unusual for a correctly measured course (it WAS measured with a Jones counter though, and it was AAI approved). Everyone agreed that the last 4 miles were very tough, but I was extremely pleased with the result, the prize money and the way I had run the last half mile in exactly 3 minutes, even though my legs had been in agony to start with.

Coming 8th in such a big field was by far and away the best result I have ever been able to produce, by quite some margin. I will be able to feed off that haze of glory engulfing me right now for some time to come.

16 Jul
Killarney 15 mile race, 1:35:28, 6:23 pace, HR 172
   8th overall, 2nd M40, in the money!


  1. Well done amazing performance for a guy without an "A race" for the rest of this year!! the way i have just been looking at the results on the race it my imagination or have the organisers published the mobile phone number of every competitor?..another curious feature of the results is that in some cases,competitors with slower chip times placed higher than those with faster chip times

  2. Spectacular performance indeed Thomas, well done. From the runner up in the "fat bastard" category.

  3. Fantastico result, just goes to show that those self tests over 4 miles are a waist of time!
    Tests always limit one, be it school, college or even running!
    The true limit to your true performance is your belief in yourself and what you can acheive!
    Just look at Thomas in the yellow jersey to see what I mean!

  4. Well done Thomas - great effort and a great result.

  5. Re: whether it was 15 miles or not, my Garmin showed 14.79 miles. But mine always reads shorter than everyone else. I've seen 14.85 to 14.90 in Garmin Connect (if you search for location "Molls Gap" you can find them).

    Later, a bit after the race my wife asked: "Did you run in the left lane?" I said: "Hah?" It's in the race pack she explains. So, sure enough, I had a read and found "Runners are asked to keep to the left of the road when running as on occasion the official race car will be passing" on page 2.

    My response to that is "Bollocks!" I'm going to run the quickest route I can and would tend to ignore vague instructions like that even if I had read it in advance. I mean, what does keep to the left mean? Stick the wall?

    Did they measure the course on the left of the road or what? Anyway....

  6. fantastic race, especially the strong finish. many congrats. 2011 is turning into a vintage year for you.

  7. Great result Thomas, fantastic long kick to secure the 2nd place and a great race report.

  8. This was also posted in a previous comment section. MC


    I think you are misinterpreting the intent of the evaluation runs. They show how well you are recovering and what type of recovery is needed.

    Let's look at Thomas' results:

    Date 28 Jun 13 Jul
    Mile 1 6:55 7:11
    Mile 2 7:03 7:11
    Mile 3 7:06 7:17
    Mile 4 6:57 7:20
    Time to 130 32 50

    As you pointed out heart rate pace relationships can vary from day to day (Both Peter Janssen and Marius Bakken have extensive data on this). Looking at the above results indicates that Thomas had reached a point of general fatigue. The the HR/pace is stable but slower as is the recovery. Thomas' condition did not vanish over two weeks but he did wear himself down a bit (He got a note from me taking him to task for wasting his good condition on hard training efforts instead of racing hard).

    During the racing season specific fatigue can be identified by a big drop off in miles 3 and 4 (you might see 7:35, 7:50) indicating to much or too hard speed sessions (or maybe too many races in a short time period). This type of fatigue is harder to recover from but as long as you catch it early (cut out the speed ) you'll still race well. The evealuation runs just show you where you are and what is needed to get to you next step.

  9. Fair Play Thomas for reinacting"The Little Engine That Could"....I think I can,I think I can I think I can

  10. Great effort overall and nice push at the finish!

  11. What a result! Great post too - did it last year so know the challenge of final miles (changed this year); only read this year of damage to quads from downhills but it explained the torture in legs after that race! Never to be forgotten!!! And have already complained to organisers about name. Does not make sense! Well done! Inspiring! If you are in Dingle I would lI've to say hello.

  12. great race report, inspirational running

  13. And here was me thinking you would go back to the ultras after your sub 3 marathon.. And now you're getting podium finishes at the lesser distances!

    "Hats off to you"! If you ever pass me like that I'll just have one word for you ;)