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

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bark At The Moon

hi thomas. looking for a training plan specifically designed to cover the connemara ultra. doing dublin in 2 weeks (my 3rd) and hope to commence training within a week of it for connemara. any ideas?

Quick answer, there is no training plan specifically designed for the Connemara Ultra, at least none that I am aware of. Slow answer, and I know this sounds weird, but look at Connemara as a long marathon. There have been countless discussions about this on and some people disagree, but basically if you can run a marathon, then you can run Connemara as well as long as you run slower from the very start of the race (that second part of the advice is where a lot of people, especially men, get it wrong). My own experience is that you can take a bog standard marathon run and replace some of the long runs by back-to-back long runs, i.e. instead of running 20 miles on Sunday, run 20 miles on Saturday and again on Sunday. Do this 3 or 4 times, and you will be in great shape. Good Luck in Dublin, btw.

Then again, I know that Mick Rice does not do back-to-back long runs, and since he has been in the top 3 more often than anyone else he must be doing something right. My own plan this time round is to run high mileage (ok, nothing new here) and do a long race (marathon to 50k) on a few occasions at training effort, not race pace. The Dublin marathon will be the first of these, there is a 30 miler in Sixmilebridge in November, I may do the Clonakilty marathon in December if recovery from the first 2 long runs goes well (I will make a late decision) and I have signed up for a 50k in February already. To build up my aerobic conditioning, I will not do any races between now and New Year at least (which sadly means skipping the 5k series in Killarney this year [I actually feel guilty about that]), but might do some actual races in 2012 (Mallow or Ballycotton spring to mind, but I haven't decided anything yet). If this works better than the plan I followed 2 years ago will become apparent on 1 April 2012.

Having finally overcome my particularly nasty shin problem, I immediately had to deal with yet another issue. On Monday and Tuesday I had an awful metallic taste in my mouth. Niamh dryly remarked that this used to be one of her early signs of pregnancy, but I think we can rule that out in my case. I was not surprised to have a sore throat on Wednesday, but that's as far as it went. I still have a sore throat today, but my running is not affected and I sure don't feel ill. I guess my immune system is fighting off whatever is trying to invade my body and since my immune system has an excellent track record of getting on top of these things without confining me to rest, I am not worried.

October is the time of the year when I become interested in the Moon phases again, That's not because of a keen interest in astronomy (though there is that as well), but because the Moon is a very handy light source early in the morning. I got a nice surprise on Thursday when a bright Moon provided a huge contrast to the pitch dark, rainy morning of the previous days. No wind, no rain, just a stunning star-lit sky and then an explosion of pink and orange as the sun rose. Unfortunately, the rain had returned by Friday.

Saturday was the one day of the week when I allowed myself to run faster, though still very much in control. This used to be Fast Friday under the coach's guidance and it still works the same way, with the heart rate no higher than 155. I enjoyed the faster pace so much that I did not even notice the driving rain, except when I stepped into a 2-inch deep puddle a mile away from home.

Sunday morning was beautiful again; I regretted not bringing my sun glasses early on as the sun shone right into my face, but it stopped me from looking like a right tool when running in the rain an hour later. It was bright and sunny again by the time I got home - this is Kerry, after all. I spent much of the first half slowing myself down, but let the autopilot take over during the second half and cruised home in a meditative trance. One thing I noticed was that I automatically ran on my toes on the long, fairly steep climbs around Caragh Lake. If that was due to the slightly faster pace or if I'm adapting to the hill runs, I'm not sure.

I almost averaged 7:30 pace on a very hilly run and would easily have run faster had I not reigned myself in so much. The last time I was in similar shape I ran 2:59 in Vienna, and the 1:23 I ran on the brutally hilly Valentia course 2 weeks ago points the same way, though I am not entirely convinced that I would have the stamina to hold the effort for 26 miles right now. My real hope is to be able to build on that over the winter. Connemara is still over 5 months away.
13 Oct
12 miles, 1:34:55, 7:55 pace, HR 138
14 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:27, 7:45 pace, HR 146
15 Oct
8 miles, 55:55, 6:59 pace, HR 154
16 Oct
16.6 miles, 2:05:50, 7:35 pace, HR 146

Weekly Mileage: 75+

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Looking Ahead

I should not have been surprised, but I was. The quads were rather sore on Monday, following my little mountain run, and the pace was fairly slow. As is generally the case with DOMS, it was a good bit worse again the next day. For some reason, the left leg always seems to be more affected than the right one, and this time was no exception. What was far more important to me was the fact that my shin did not hurt at all, for the first time in well over a month. After carrying this for so long, recovery was amazingly quickly. I guess putting the Kinvaras to rest really was the right thing to do. It's a shame, I loved their light weight and the 525 miles I wore them for is not excessive by my standards, I generally expect to get at least 650 miles out of a pair. I might still get another pair, but will obviously have to be careful once they reach a certain mileage.

I'm surprised nobody called me out on the last paragraph of the previous entry (that's assuming that there are still some readers out there, of course). I do not want to put myself through yet another gruelling marathon training cycle, but have no qualms targeting an ambitious ultra time. I just like the slower pace of the ultras; it was the long marathon-pace and faster-than-marathon-pace workouts that I found really challenging in the build-up for Vienna. On the other hand, I have always loved the slower long runs and never worried much about the distance.

I will try and put a few things into place that I learned from last year's Dingle training cycle. There won't be back-to-back 5 hour runs this time; they undoubtedly built up my endurance but cost me a lot of speed, and my easy cruising pace in Dingle was 30 seconds per mile slower than in Connemara. That won't do.

What I will do is run a couple of long races around the 50k mark for training purposes. I've already signed up for 2 and I might throw in another marathon, depending on how recovery goes.

The pace for a 5 hour Connemara is 7:38. It does sound eminently doable, but I will have to build up a cushion over the first 26 miles because of the 2 tough climbs over the last third. If I can cruise through the marathon at 7:30 pace while still feeling good, sub-5 will be on the cards.

Actually, I'm getting way ahead of myself here. There is the small matter of Dublin yet to come. With my shin now healed, that doesn't worry me, though.
10 Oct
10 miles, 1:19:17, 7:55 pace, HR 142
11 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:55, 7:59 pace, HR 143
12 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:33, 7:45 pace, HR 145

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Over The Hills And Far Away

I was agonising all week if I should add yet another race to my already extended racing season, namely the Kerry Athletics cross country in Kenmare on Sunday. I was worried about my shin, but cross-country running would probably be a lot better for it due to the reduced impact off the road. I even had a chat with a team mate on Saturday, and he told me I could wait pretty much until the last minute to make up my mind.

In the end, I decided against it, but I'm not sure if I chickened out of the challenge, did not fancy the long drive to Kenmare or simply tried to nurse my leg. Whatever the reason, I was not there at the start line. Maybe next year, but that's exactly what I said last year and the year before that. I suppose Grellan had it right when he said I really was a road runner.

Having said that, in order to get 2 hours of running without the pounding on the road I headed for the Kerry way this morning, crossed Windy Gap (it was a very windy day, no prizes for guessing what the conditions up on the saddle were like), dropped down all the way into Glenbeigh and then turned around and did it all again. The double crossing of Windy Gap gave the legs quite some workout, I think it's the ideal way to build up some leg strength without running yourself into the ground. The shin behaved itself fairly well; I could notice some discomfort but no more than that.

It had been a bit worse yesterday, when I decided to put in a slightly higher effort than the recovery runs that had marked the rest of the week after the Valentia race. The quads told me early on that they didn't really feel like working and the shin started protesting last into the run as well, so it was not an unqualified success.
One question: what's the next challenge? will be going for another of sub 3?
Excellent question. In one way, I do want to have another go at the marathon because I know I didn't quite reach my potential in Vienna. On the other hand, I still don't really feel putting myself through a gruelling marathon training cycle again. Instead I'll aim for sub-5 in the Connemara Ultra instead, and if everything goes to plan, this will be a stepping stone for my big goal race later in 2012. But you know what they say about men and plans and all that.
8 Oct
8 miles, 58:07, 7:15 pace, HR 151
9 Oct
12.2 miles, 1:50:27, 9:03 pace, HR 148

Friday, October 07, 2011


The numbers from the last 3 days shows a very straightforward recovery from the Valentia half marathon. Each run was at the same easy effort, which is borne out by the virtually identical heart rate, but I got faster by a few seconds per mile each day. I'm not far off where I was before the race, so everything is going very well on that count.

What’s going merely ok is my shin. I can still feel a certain amount of discomfort, but get solace from the fact that it is definitely on the “acceptable” part of the scale. I experimented with the shoes and there is a noticeable difference between wearing a heavier, cushioning pair and a lighter pair like the Kinvaras. As much as the Kinvaras have become my favourite trainer, they do seem to aggravate the shin. They are nearing the end of their useful life anyway with well over 500 miles on them, but I haven’t quite got the heart to throw them out just yet. Luckily there is a pair of Lunar Swifts in my cupboard, which will now be taken into regular rotation. I might keep the Kinvaras for the odd run once my shin has recovered, but I'm not rushing to buy another pair, which had been the initial plan when I had started falling head over heels in love with them.

The weather was rather wild on Wednesday as yet another ex-hurricane paid a visit to these shores. It sounded so bad at night that I started to wonder if it would be safe to run, but luckily things did quieten down sufficiently to be able to get out and run and still be confident of a safe return. It really is getting dark now. The moonless nights make navigating through our driveway a bit tricky; once I reach the road, I’m fine. I know the road so well I can almost literally run it with my eyes closed, but the reflective gear has obviously become mandatory. That always happens in the month before Dublin. I’ve still got the same dislike for the headlamp that I developed last winter, which is why it has stayed at home so far.

With Dublin only 3 weeks away, I suppose it’s time to start concentrating on that task. While the vast majority of participants would have spent the last few months concentrating on that event, I have hardly wasted a single thought on it. I know I can run 3:30 pace without having to train for it specifically (Dingle has proven that beyond a doubt) and my shin won’t be an issue, I'm sure of that. I guess the thing I'm most looking forward to is staying in the 5-star Conrad hotel beforehand; incidentally, Niamh feels the same way, funny that.

5 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:08, 7:53 pace, HR 145
6 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:04, 7:46 pace, HR 146
7 Oct
10 miles, 1:16:34, 7:39 pace, HR 146

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Random Post-Race Thoughts Again

My shin hurt like hell on Saturday, felt fine for 5 easy miles on Sunday morning and was really painful again later that day. I pondered if I should go running on Monday, but of course I was awake early and I'm not one to stare at the ceiling for hours, so off I went. In order to protect my shin, I ran back and forwards on the old, disused, overgrown railway line behind our house, but running a series of completely straight 0.8 mile stretches isn’t exactly ideal. The footing was bad enough in the dim early morning light and now that the road is no longer being used to transport vehicles to illegal building sites (the recession has its plus points), the gorse is taking over and I have the scratches to prove it.

I'm perfectly aware that my racing flats need replacing; they probably should have been thrown out at the start of the year, but I could not afford a new pair while the old one is still holding together somewhat (yes, money is tight). Niamh already agreed to your suggestion of using the prize money for new shoes, albeit shoes for the boys. Daddy’s feet will have to wait, but the racing season is over anyway and I won’t need flats for a good while.

I entered Saturday’s time and my age into the WMA age-grading calculator, and it gave me an age-equivalent time of 1:19:37 – wow, though I’d much rather run a sub-80 half marathon in reality rather than in an algorithm.

I was probably slightly exuberant when I said it may have been my best racing performance ever. My 61:51 10-miler in Ballycotton back in March was a better performance, but Valentia was much more satisfying. Ballycotton was basically a time trial. Valentia was a real race. I went out hard in order to keep up with Pat and it took until mile 9 or so for him to finally pull away from me. Luckily, it was enough to get me an age-group win (by a nice margin, too). Former marathon world record holder Steve Jones once said that they should knock him over if he was still standing at the finish line because it would mean he did not run hard enough. Not that I can compare myself to the likes of him, but in Valentia I managed the rare feat of passing that particular test – I basically collapsed after the line, entirely spent. Knowing that I had left everything out there just feels really good (well ... it felt good once I had recovered).

Just a minute after the start some spectator at the sideline shouted out loud “hey, look at that old man there”, meaning Pat of course (I didn’t look old enough at that point yet to qualify). While in one way it was a compliment, pointing out that the “old guy” was right there at the front, it really was an exceptionally stupid thing to blurt out loud. Whoever you are, consider yourself filed under “idiot”. The rest of the spectators were a different class though – they all knew Pat by name and gave him plenty of encouragement to drop me.

The shin was so bad on Sunday that I could not even dorsiflex it. It was significantly improved on Monday and better still today. I know how to nurse it, and teh short, very easy 5-mile runs of the last few days are part of that. My quads are quite sore as well, which is the price you pay for running all those downhill miles hard, but that will be gone soon.
3 Oct
5 miles, 45:24, 9:04 pace, HR 131
4 Oct
5 miles, 41:24, 8:17 pace, HR 136

Saturday, October 01, 2011

In My Own Backyard

When Niamh dropped me off to the Valentia ferry on Friday night, I jokingly remarked that I was going to my running camp. There was nothing in the holiday house, all I could do was eat, sleep and run, and that's exactly what I was going for, but of course only for half a day. But it was handy to have a house a quarter of a mile away from the start and finish line.

My shin had been hurting all week but had definitely improved and I knew it would not slow me down. In fact, when I got up on Saturday, I did not feel it at all.

Quite unusually for Kerry, we started almost on time; it would have been bang on time had the starter not waited for one Seamus M, but I don't think anyone minded.

I had told Pat O'Shea beforehand that I would let him pull me to a fast time, so it seemed perfectly obvious to stay with him at the start. It was only a quarter mile later that I started wondering why I was right up there in the leading group, hanging on to the likes of Ed and Cian Murphy. A look at the Garmin told me that yes, I had started at 5:30 pace, nice and conservative – NOT! Right there the hill started, and if you look at the elevation profile you know what I'm talking about. I counted the runners and had myself in eighth place, but at least the top guys started to move away and I was right on Pat's shoulder.

Did I mention that Pat is 60 years old? He used to be a 2:26 marathon runner and his age group ratings are always close to world class level, and I'm well used to being beaten by him. In fact, I have never managed to finish ahead of him in any race (and there have been quite a few).

Running uphill was never my strength and I reckoned that if I managed to hang on until the top, at the slate quarry, I would be right in the mix. I was actually surprised that I managed to stick with Pat. I felt he surged on several occasions, possibly trying to drop me, but maybe that was just my impression. What was noteworthy was that 3 guys caught up with us, going past, but they were only a couple of steps ahead when we finally reached the top. This was at the end of an out-and-back section, where it would have been handy to check out the opposition but 3 miles into a half marathon is a bit early for that and anyway, I was too exhausted to pay much notice.

I got an unpleasant surprise. I had expected to be able to keep up fairly easily once we had reached the top but was quickly proven wrong. I had to pull out all the stops to keep up and only just about managed it.

Then we turned right, up a short but very sharp climb. I was glad that I knew the road so well, otherwise I would have fallen away here, but knowing that the top was so close meant I knew I could push hard enough to keep up.

The next few miles were easier because the road very gradually drops as we neared Bray Head at the other end of the island. A look at the Garmin told me that I had averaged 6:33 miles up to here, but that included climbing over 400 feet. A new PB would require 6:30 pace and that was very much on the cards. So far so good, but unfortunately it turned out that Pat is an excellent downhill runner, and for the first time in my running history I was unable to keep pace with someone on a downhill stretch. Somewhere between miles 4 and 5 I lost contact and fell about 20 steps behind. Pat caught up to a group and there were now 4 runners 20 steps in front of me but I was unable to close the gap, no matter how hard I tried.

I started calculating how many miles there were left before the finish, much too early to do so and not a good sign. At that stage, my race was on the verge of falling down.

Of course the road was not uniformly going down, there were a couple of rollers and each time my legs felt like jelly, but at least I did not lose any further ground. I took a gel somewhere around here. Maybe it gave me a genuine boost, maybe it was just psychological, maybe the sharp drop in the road did me some favours, but much to my surprise the entire group came back to me and I finally caught up, after being on my own for almost 3 miles.

I passed one runner in a black singlet and later on another one in a grey t-shirt, which brought me right back onto Pat's shoulder. He shot me a look, but didn't say anything.

There were a couple more hills on the way, and things were really getting tough. I started wheezing on the uphills, which always sounds as if I'm going to collapse, but it's just something that always happens when I cross a certain threshold and I'm still able to keep on pace. I realised how exhausted I was when I started looking for the bridge to Portmagee and only realised after looking around that we had already passed the junction.

There was one more hill. I knew it was the final climb, which was probably the only thing that kept me going because I was really right at my limit. I had swapped places with a runner in a white top on a couple of occasions, but on that last climb I was unable to keep up. My breathing went out of control, I started hyperventilating and even started feeling lightheaded. Surely I was not going to faint here, was I? Thank God for the apex! I took a second gel. I wasn't sure if it would help, but I figured it would not do any harm.

Unfortunately, Pat was now well ahead, but the white top was still close enough to catch, which I did on the downhill stretch towards Chapeltown. Then we turned off the main road and onto the shore road, which I am extremely familiar with. In fact, I started running on that very stretch of road in 2004, beginning my training for my first ever marathon in Dublin that year. Four years later, I named one particular stretch “the road of neverending misery”, when a series of weekly 1000 meter repeats started to get out of hand.

Things were not getting any easier, but maybe the second gel started to kick in. A look at the Garmin told me that a new PB was in the bag. The runner in that white top had passed me once more but I was not going to give up my place without a fight. We passed the Marina, we went past the old observatory, and when we went by the old factory I knew there was less than a mile to go and put the hammer down, though I had to be careful as my left calf had gone into spasms on a couple of occasions and was very close to cramping. I caught up to my adversary, but he accelerated when we sensed me coming. He also kept pulling more and more towards the right, into my line. “He's not going to block me, is he?” To be fair, he did not, there was still enough road left and I first drew level and then ahead. I was genuinely surprised to hear his footsteps fading, I had expected a counter-surge and a fight to the very end, which would most likely have ended in defeat for me because of my lack of sprinting speed. But of course if I wanted to keep my place I wasn't able to let up and had no choice but to keep going all out.

I passed the entrance to Knightstown, our house, the church and then there was the finish right ahead and crossed the line in 1:23:36, a personal best by almost 2 minutes on a very tough course, but completely spent and basically collapsed over the line. As I was lying on the road catching my breath, the runner in the white top came up to me and very sportingly congratulated me on a strong finish, a volunteer inquired slightly worried if I was ok, but eventually I managed to get up again, if still feeling a bit wobbly.

I could have sworn I was eighth, but the final results had me in ninth place; no idea where that extra runner had come from. But much more important, I had come first in the M40 age group. Never mind that I was 30 seconds behind the first M60, but Pat told me that at some stage he thought he'd never be able to shake me, so at least I had made him work for once.

The kids were reasonably impressed by me being called up at the prize ceremony; Maia liked the medal, Shea liked the box and Niamh liked the money, so everyone was happy. I stumbled through 1.5 miles slow and painful cooldown miles, but probably did more harm than good as my shin was all of a sudden hurting like hell. Maybe running 13 miles at very hard pace on a pair of racing flats (worn out racing flats with well over 500 miles on them, that is) wasn't the best thing, but that result made it all worthwhile. It may well have been my best racing performance ever.

29 Sep
5 miles, 37:57, 7:35 pace, HR 145
30 Sep
5 miles, 37:19, 7:27 pace, HR 147
1 Oct
~17 miles, including:
   Valentia Half Marathon, 1:23:36, 6:23 pace, HR 174
   9th overall, 1st M40, in the money
2 Oct
5 miles, 41:50, 8:20 pace, HR 140