Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Various Ailments

As you might know, I have four small children. The fact that they bring home a constant stream of germs from school/preschool comes with the territory. I had plenty of opportunity to test my immune system over the winter, but the usual outcome was that between 2 and 5 other family members became sick while I got away with a little bit of sore throat that went away after a day or two.

Therefore I was not particularly bothered by another sore throat on Sunday. Niamh and Lola had been coughing persistently for at least 10 days but no further symptoms. My throat felt worse than usual on Monday, but it was not until I started spitting blood on Tuesday morning that I took note. It may not have been much because a small amount of blood in a lot of mucus does look like a lot of blood, but it did freak me out. Trying hard not to panic, I decided that I still did not have any symptoms below the neck (my usual test) and went running.

The run went well, the HR was perfectly normal and this morning my throat was still sore but thankfully no further sign of blood. With less than 3 weeks to go to the marathon I was rather worried, but I think once more I managed to get away with it.

It was not the only ailment that has befallen me during this training cycle, but I kept most of them to myself. You know about the blown up knee at the start of December, but only the coach knew about my back pain a couple of months ago. I’ve had that before and I think it is not a running injury, but it can be very painful and it can affect my running as well as everyday life.

I also had a very sore left hip for a few weeks, it was either the gluteus medius or the gluteus minimus that was affected. It made the first half mile of each run rather awkward, but that too disappeared eventually, all by itself. The fact that it cleared up straight after I replaced my oldest pair of runners with a new one may or may not have been the solution.

Still, as the coach let me know in no uncertain terms, if in doubt always rest so today’s speed session was cancelled, to be replaced by yet another easy run. I did one thing though, I ran in extra layers with a jacket on top that had me steaming in my own sweat, to try and get some heat acclimatisation going. The temperature in Vienna at the moment is about 20C, and while that’s not very hot by any means it is about 15 degrees warmer than what I'm used to and I’d rather get prepared, just in case. It meant a very high heart rate today (I guess I should have run slower), my shirt was utterly soaked with sweat and I was over 2 pounds lighter than yesterday, but I felt fine. I would not have fancied running 26 miles like that, though.

With the throat returning back to normal and me calming down, we can get back to normal. Since I’m now in the taper phase there are no major workouts planned anyway.
28 Mar
8 miles, 1:01:48, 7:44 pace, HR 139
29 Mar
8 miles, 1:01:27, 7:41 pace, HR 141
30 Mar
8 miles, 1:01:37, 7:42 pace, HR 155
   Wrapped up in layers for heat acclimatisation

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Volume Pickups

In previous training cycles I have often seen improvements at various times of training and stagnation at others. In fact, I have come to see this as normal. Training under Mystery Coach's guidance has been a revelation. Not only has my fitness already been better than ever after base training alone, the improvements have kept coming almost on a week-by-week basis.

Thursday and Friday were both easy days. The main issue was that Niamh and the girls took the train to Dublin on Friday morning and I had to drive them to Killarney, which meant either binning the run, shortening it or getting up at 5am.

I got up at 5am. Just like old times.

I was told once that if you get a babysitter for the sole purpose of going for a run, you're completely nuts. They may well have been right. I got a babysitter for both Saturday and Sunday. Yes, running is important to me.

Saturday's run was another one of what has become a routine run by now, 10 miles with 7 at 10 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace, though I have always tried to run by feel, not by pace. The coach's instructions contained two subtle changes, the target pace window got narrowed down from 6:25-6:35 to 6:25-6:30, and I was to try and switch to autopilot rather than pushing the pace.

I am not sure if the coach can predict workouts with incredible precision or if his subtle hints put subliminal messages into my brain that make me do the workout just like he said. This time, just like he said, I managed to switch to autopilot for basically all of the run and still hit the pace. In fact, since the last mile of the speedy part is slightly downhill I slipped out of the target pace window where I had remained for all of the previous miles, but I did not think it was a big deal. Besides, I knew that Sunday's second part of the back-to-back workout would leave me in no doubt. There is no hiding and no way of faking these workouts. If you don't get it right on Saturday you pay the price on Sunday.

Sunday was a new kind of workout altogether. It was originally scheduled for last week but the coach changed it as part of the re-adjustment to stop me from peaking too early. The idea was to alternate running half a mile in 3:12 (6:24 pace, obviously) with a mile at 7:00. There were two surprises: One, that the miles were the more important part of the workout, not the faster half miles. Two, that I should play around with the pace for the half miles, e.g. run the first half faster and the second half slower, or the other way round, or change pace every 200, or whatever I could think of. Just as long as it would not affect the miles.

I pondered where I should run; the Killorglin loop is reasonably flat but there are 3 little climbs and some of the half miles were bound to fall onto those. Eventually I realised the this would not hinder but in fact help alternating the speed and effort during the half miles, and was therefore better suited to that kind of workout than a completely flat course.

Once I got going I found that the pace was no problem whatsoever. What was a problem, one that I had not anticipated at all, was dealing with the constant change of rhythm. It took me half a mile to get into the 6:24 rhythm and as soon as I hit that I had to change pace to 7:00, which felt really awkward. Once I had gotten used to that it was soon time to switch pace again. The Garmin saw some heavy use, I checked it every minute or so and had to change pace a lot to keep within the parameters of the workout, but virtually every time I had to slow down rather than speed up.

After about 4 repeats I finally got used to it, which meant I could start running by feel a bit more, but it had the side effect that I got it wrong on a couple of occasions and a few of the paces were a bit out.

0.5 @ 6:24 pace (HR 157), 1 mile @ 7:01 (HR 153)
0.5 @ 6:18 pace (HR 163), 1 mile @ 6:58 (HR 152)
0.5 @ 6:23 pace (HR 162), 1 mile @ 7:01 (HR 156)
0.5 @ 6:24 pace (HR 167), 1 mile @ 6:53 (HR 162)
0.5 @ 6:25 pace (HR 167), 1 mile @ 6:49 (HR 159)
0.5 @ 6:24 pace (HR 160), 1 mile @ 6:52 (HR 155)
0.5 @ 6:22 pace (HR 165), 1 mile @ 6:55 (HR 163)

As instructed (twice!) I stopped after 7 repeats, but I felt like I could have run a lot more. I was not even tired yet, even with yesterday's run in the legs. Mentally this was doing my head in early on, but physically this was the easiest workout the coach has given me, ever.
24 Mar
10 miles, 1:16:36, 7:39 pace, HR 143
25 Mar
10 miles, 1:16:39, 7:39 pace, HR 140
26 Mar
10 miles, 1:05:53, 6:35 pace, HR 161
   incl. 7 miles at 6:24 pace, HR 164
27 Mar
15 miles, 1:42:44, 6:51 pace, HR 156
   Alternating 0.5 and one mile

Weekly Mileage: 72+ miles

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hill Repeats

Fear not, Ewen, I have no immediate plans of kicking this blog into touch just because of the existence of dailymiles, but you never know. One thing I like about dailymiles is that I finally found a use for my facebook account. I did not have to create a new account, just use my facebook one. As far as facebook itself is concerned, I'm still as baffled as ever about the point of it. I just don’t get it. Must be a (yet another) sign of old age.

Talking about old age, right now I can feel every one of my 41 years weighing heavily on me, due to this morning’s hill repeats. After two easy days on Monday and Tuesday, the first one an awkward stumble on heavy legs, the second one a beautiful effortless glide along the road (with a pace of 5 secs per mile faster and an HR of 4 bpm lower than the day before – figure that one out), it was once more time to get serious.

The coach offered me 2 options, either another set of 800s like last week or a set of 90 second hill repeats, depending on what I felt like. The second I read this I felt much more like hill repeats and the mood had not changed by 5:50 am this morning. This was 20 minutes earlier than usual, due to a certain 3-year old demanding food. She completely refused all offers of fruit or yoghurt until I gave in and made her breakfast. I don’t know why I even tried arguing. She’s so much better at arguing than me it really is no contest.

Anyway, after making sure she was fed and happy, I was off. After a long warm-up I approached the dirt road leading into Coillte Forest Park Caragh Lake, which is my standard hill repeats road. The coach had mentioned something about marathon pace or slightly slower, and within 30 seconds I had learned two more lessons.

One, when running up a road of (estimated) 8 percent gradient, you don’t do marathon pace. Slightly slower is what I should have aimed for.

Two, if I had chosen hill repeats over 800s in order to get the easier option, I had just been suckered into the wrong one. Again.

Partially due to me initially taking off like a lunatic, this turned into a 5x90 seconds of torture session. Well, I exaggerate, the first 30 seconds each were reasonable; it’s just the 60 seconds thereafter that formed the torture, enough to raise the HR from about 130 well into the 170s each time. Rest consisted of jogging down very slowly, which took about 2 minutes, apart from the third one when I stopped to get a stone out of my shoe that had started to dig into my heel. Maybe I should have left it there, just to provide a counter-pain to the quads that increasingly felt like being filled with battery acid.

I should learn to read the coach’s clues. When he says things like “Watch your legs on these because they can sneak up on you quickly leg fatigue wise”, he really means it.

Cycling into work with fried quads was another, unexpected, extension of the joys of today’s workout.

Actually, once the immediate session is over I quite like the feeling of sore legs. It tells me that I'm working hard enough to improve. Then again, that exactly used to be the very problem that caused me not to improve. It was running easily at all times during base training that caused me to improve this time round, but base training feels like a long time ago, right now.

Anyway, the taper is not far off.
21 Mar
8 miles, 1:02:18, 7:47 pace, HR 142
22 Mar
10 miles, 1:17:04, 7:42 pace, HR 139
23 Mar
9+ miles, 1:12:26, 7:55 pace, HR 144
    incl. 5x90 seconds hill repeats

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reverse Fatigue

Since we waited until Thursday to do the interval workout it was inevitable that I would not be fully recovered by the weekend so the coach binned the back-to-back workouts and told me to do a "normal" long run on Sunday instead.

Saturday was unchanged though, so I went out for 10 miles with 7 faster than MP. It was a nice sunny morning but with plenty of wind, which did not help. I made things worse by starting out too fast. You'd have thought that I should have learned to control Saturday's pace by now, but you'd be wrong. I paid the price for my stupidity towards the end of that run; not only could I feel the fast early pace but also each of Thursday's intervals, and I could not help but think that I really should have known better.

I had initially toyed with the idea of running my workout in Cork in the afternoon as I had over 2 hours there during the twins' classes, but was glad that I did not because it was a truly miserable afternoon with plenty of wind and heavy rain. Be grateful for small mercies, Thomas.

Well, I sure was grateful that I did not have to kill myself today. When I'm aiming for a certain pace I tend to run the reasonably flat loop through Killorglin but when I'm out for a plain old long run you can always find me on the very hilly loop around Caragh Lake. Climbing up almost 600 feet was very hard work, especially after the two hard runs over the last three days, but every time I glanced at the Garmin I saw that I was clipping along at a good pace. The HR, however, was really high, much higher then I would have expected from perceived effort alone. I guess it's down to fatigue from the past few days. I found it basically impossible to slow down; I ran the entire run on autopilot, and every time I tried to slow down I was back in the old groove as soon as I switched back to automatic.

The legs had been very heavy at the start of the run but felt better with every mile. It was like fatigue was working backwards today.

One loop is 16.5 miles; as I passed our driveway I wondered how much I should add on. Initially I had planned on doing 20 miles but with the high HR that seemed unwise, so I decided to do only 18. However, when I reached the turnaround point a little devil on my shoulder whispered seductively into my ear to go on for a wee bit longer. It did the same again on the turnaround point for mile 19, but this time I did not listen and turned around anyway, a last token effort towards sanity.

The high HR today was really abnormal. I felt better and better the longer I ran for and the effort level seemed to drop as the HR kept rising. I haven't seen this before, but after intervals on Thursday, faster than MP on Saturday and a long run on Sunday it does not take a genius to work out that I'm fatigued, no matter how good I'm feeling.

By the way, I've started logging my daily workouts here if you want to keep track, but since I've only just started, there is not much there yet. I'm toying with the idea of putting the entire training cycle up there, but that would take a lot of work so don't hold your breath.
19 Mar
10 miles, 1:06:34, 6:39 pace, HR 162
   incl. 7 miles @ 6:32 pace, HR 166
20 Mar
19 miles, 2:20:36, 7:24 pace, HR 154

Weekly Mileage: 75

Friday, March 18, 2011


For the first time in the entire marathon training cycle, with just over 4 weeks to go before the marathon, the coach sent me out for a classic interval session.
Try 3-? X 800 starting on 5 minutes, (I'm thinking you should be able to run about 2:55 or so without straining) ... the workout will factor a lot of things in together (speed efficiency, recovery capacity, latent fatigue, fuel supply, etc)

I wasn’t too worried, for a start 5:50 pace seemed reasonable enough after the pace I had run in Ballycotton, and three intervals were never going to kill me, though I knew I was going to do more than 3.

It had been raining overnight but it cleared just in time for my run. In marked contrast to previous days it was overcast and a little bit gloomy looking. Maybe that’s why my heart was not really into it as I set off. I did not feel like torturing myself today. Turns out, I did not have to.

Repeats were half a mile each. The odd numbers against the wind, the even numbers with it, but there was very little wind, just enough to notice it when you're trying to run at interval pace against it.

#1: 2:57, avg HR 164, max HR 170, ~80 seconds jog recovery to 130
#2: 2:52, avg HR 167, max HR 173, ~80 seconds jog recovery to 130
#3: 2:54, avg HR 169, max HR 177, ~60 seconds walk recovery to 130
#4: 2:53, avg HR 169, max HR 176, ~55 seconds walk recovery to 130
#5: 2:55, avg HR 171, max HR 177, ~55 seconds walk recovery to 130
#6: 2:52, avg HR 168, max HR 176, ~52 seconds walk recovery to 130
#7: 2:55, avg HR 170, max HR 177, ~55 seconds walk recovery to 130

I was never even close to a maximum effort, every single repeat could have been done faster. The one thing that worried me was the long time for the HR to drop back to 130, which is why I switched from jogging to walking recoveries (walking until the HR reached 130, jogging thereafter).

While never exactly comfortable, I always felt in total control. Neither the pace nor the HR suffered during the later repeats and the one reason I stopped at 7 is that I started to worry about the weekend. The seventh repeat felt pretty much the same as the first.

I think this was the first time I ran an interval session the way it’s meant to be run. There was no need for HOK or dry heaves at the end and I stopped before I had run myself into exhaustion. I’ve never walked away from an interval session feeling good before. Good stuff!

And the coach’s verdict?
no doubt you're in great shape

It feels good to read that, believe you me!

The Glenbeigh St.Partick’s Day parade was mercifully short, which was welcome especially by Cian who was just about to reach his whining threshold as we got to the end, but they all agreed that the bag of sweeties at the end made the entire effort worthwhile. Lola ran one full mile later that day. That’s my girl!

17 Mar
8 miles, 58:00, 7:15 pace, HR 155
8x800+: 2:57, 52, 54, 53, 55, 52, 55, (2:54 avg) felt good, great stuff
18 Mar
10 miles, 1:16:20, 7:38 pace, HR 141

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Easy Running

Roberto, taking time from running a sub-2:40 marathon, had a perfectly valid point:
I am quite puzzled by how fast your run your "Easy" run... Because let's say that the general rule would be recovery-easy run: max 75% HRmax

75% of my HRmax of about 190 would be 142 and if you look at the two runs Roberto was talking about, the HRs were 145 and 147 respectively. I guess it’s mostly a sign that I started getting impatient with plodding along after 5 consecutive days of easy running following the Ballycotton race. If you look at the HRs of the 3 previous easy runs, you get HRs of 139, 140 and 140, well within Roberto’s range. He definitely has a point, though. I believe that running the easy runs too hard is the single most common mistake runners make, and I sure have been guilty often enough myself. Having said that, the coach seems to be fine with it. At the start of base training he kept telling me to run slower but he has not brought it up again in the couple of months since.

After the epic weekend training I felt surprisingly sprightly on Monday. I particularly noticed this on Monday afternoon when I realised that my hips and glutes were very slightly sore but the quads, which almost always are by far the worst affected part, were absolutely fine. Those magic ice baths are working, I’m telling you (I should tell Niamh as well).

Of course the running since then has been all easy, and incidentally within Roberto’s parameters, not that I tried specifically to stay there. Monday was very easy, but Tuesday’s numbers had me do a double take. The combination of low HR (141) and fast pace (7:28) was new, and running had never seemed so easy, floating effortlessly over the pavement at sub-7:30 pace. The coach, however, was significantly less enthusiastic and immediately sounded a warning. That kind of feeling is dangerous; it may well be a good sign but it’s very early, we are still over 4 weeks away from the marathon, and there is a danger of me being worn out come race day.

As a result, he is monitoring my pace and HR figures very closely and will decide on the next training accordingly. This is where training becomes a black art to me. I think I have understood most of it so far, from base training to preliminary speed work, but were I left to my own devices at this point in time I would not have a clue on the best way forward.

Good thing I have the coach advising me, then.
14 Mar
8 miles, 1:03:35, 7:57 pace, HR 136
15 Mar
10 miles, 1:14:44, 7:28 pace, HR 141
16 Mar
10 miles, 1:16:44, 7:40 pace, HR 142

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Back to Back-to-Back

Following the glory of Sunday's race it was time to knuckle down and get serious about training again. Marathon running isn't all about glitz and glamour, you know, at times you have to do some work.

The coach had prescribed 5 full days of easy running after Ballycotton, almost certainly more than I would have done on my own accord but definitely needed, seeing as the last remnant of soreness did not disappear until Thursday. By Friday I felt good again and started itching for faster work. I did not have to wait long.

Five weeks before the marathon is a rather crucial time, the taper is not far away but some of the toughest training workouts are yet to be done. The coach had devised the next back-to-back session, the hardest one so far.

Saturday was 7 miles at 10 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace, but as always the coach gave me a window to aim for, 6:25-6:35, rather than a sharp time target, with clear instructions not to run any faster.

As it turned out, running faster was not on my mind anyway. I had done an identical Saturday run three weeks ago but had run just a tad too hard. I tried to avoid making the same mistake again and kept myself in check at all times. The weather was not great, it was icy cold and raining; higher grounds got snow, we just got freezing rain but if you're running at 6:30 pace keeping warm is not a problem. Luckily it was not windy, which actually made for decent conditions.

I was quite pleased to see that the pace matched the previous workout but the effort level was a good bit easier. I felt in full control at all times and even though I got rather tired towards the end I always knew I would finish with plenty spare.

Another ice bath followed in hope to revive the legs sufficiently for Sunday's run, but that did not work as well as hoped for. The legs were rather sore when I went to bed and I was not looking forward to Sunday.

Sunday surprised me with beautiful sunshine, very little wind and temperatures around 8 degrees, pretty much perfect. I would not be able to use the conditions as an excuse for a sub-par performance.

The plan was to run 10 easy miles at 7:35 pace, followed by 8-10 miles at marathon effort, 6:40 pace. The ominous bit was the coach's warming about the last few miles feeling like the last miles of a marathon. Normally he sets me a maximum heart rate, this time he told me not to be surprised if I needed to raise the HR up to 175 to stay on pace. This was going to be tough.

10 easy and 10 fast miles has been a key workout in previous marathon builds, but I always ran it well rested, not after a tough Saturday. I started out with already tired legs and rather worried about the second half.

Usually I do not even bother with bringing water on my long runs, but I went completely the other way today. Two gels in my pocket were complemented by a bottle of sports drink, which I stashed by the road side. I ran 3 loops through Killorglin, which enabled me to pick up the drink on my way.

The first 10 miles were a tad on the fast side, but not by much. I kept myself well in check and found a groove that brought me through 10 miles on autopilot. There are 3 little climbs on each loop and I was really questioning how I would feel like on these later on.

10 miles came and went, and as soon as I upped the effort I knew I was way out of my depth. There is no way I would want to feel like that on mile 16 of a marathon with 10 miles yet to come. I came up with a whole list of excuses, the best one being that Ballycotton was still in my legs. But before I had to use them, I had to at least try and get as far as I could.

I just ran step-by-step, minute-by-minute, not thinking too far ahead. I was bang on pace for the first 2 miles but then I turned into the wind and two of the aforementioned climbs followed and by the time I was going through town for the third and final time I was behind, 6:43 pace. Luckily I knew that the wind would be at my back for a couple of miles, but I tried not to look at the Garmin too much, run purely by feel and relax as much as possible.

I would have been perfectly content to keep the pace at that, after all that's still sub-3. But I rather surprised myself by slowly catching up again. I started to suffer at the last climb, doing my moaning with each breath and fully expecting to be falling off pace, but the hill passed by, I was back on pace and all of a sudden I realised that there were only three more miles to go and that I would be able to finish this after all and not need to use my excuses after all.

The HR never reached the high levels I had been warned about, barely touching 170 even when the going was tough.

Mind, I was rather glad to be done. Another ice bath followed. Niamh declined to join me but found the whole spectacle highly amusing as I was moaning my way through 10 minutes of being tortured and cursing the coach. She came up with a string of very helpful suggestions, from “you do not HAVE to do this, you know” to “are you sure this is going to help anyway?”. Thanks honey!

There is no way I would have gone through today's workout had the coach not shown confidence in me hitting the targets. I would have pulled out way early, bemoaning the fact that I'm unable to do the required work. It shows yet another advantage of being coached. Not only did he draw up a schedule, he is also able to actually make me do it.
10 Mar
10 miles, 1:16:58, 7:42 pace, HR 145
11 Mar
10 miles, 1:16:40, 7:40 pace, HR 147
12 Mar
10 miles, 1:06:27, 6:39 pace, HR 161
   incl. 7 miles @ 6:29 pace, HR 164
13 Mar
20 miles, 2:21:39, 7:05 pace, HR 154
   10 miles @ 7:31 pace, avg. HR 146,
   10 miles @ 6:38 pace, avg. HR 164

Weekly Mileage: 76

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Race Reflections

Before I get sued, let’s rectify one mistake in my race report. Gary has pointed out that he has already run a 2:48 marathon and has a more ambitious target for later this year (I vaguely remember something about a 2:42 marathon?). All the more reason to confirm that he is out of my league, of course (though I’m used to being out of my league, generally. I'm married to Niamh after all).

I found a good few photos of myself (plus a great one of Grellan), thanks to Paudie Birmingham, Andy Gibson, Gearoid O'Laoi and Evin.

As for what this result means for the marathon, I’ll let myself be surprised. In the past I always had to add at least 5 minutes to MacMillan’s predictions, but maybe Mystery Coach can put an end to that. Even so, things are looking good for a sub-3. I know there are plenty of signs that point to an even faster race, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too high. Thing is, if you’re in 2:55 shape you can have a bad race and still break 3 hours, and I'm still going to be happy with anything that starts with a 2.

My legs were not very sore, but what soreness there was is very slow to clear. There is still a sore spot in my left quads that’s very reluctant to budge. Must be old age.

Accordingly, there is very little to report on the running front, I took it easy every day since Sunday and I'm going to take it easy for 2 more days. Training under the coach’s guidance isn’t all about hard work. In fact, it seems to be more about recovery than anything else.

Actually, putting my time and age into the WMA calculator gives me a rating of 75.78 and the equivalent time of 58:34 for a younger man! I did not even realise that I'm so old already that the calculator makes such a difference.

Mind, I did finish 3 places behind Pat O’Shea from Caherciveen, aged 60. He is a former 2:2x marathon runner. No matter what I do, I have never finished ahead of him in any race we’ve both done and there have been quite a few. He’s always just that little bit faster than me and nothing seems to have changed in that regard.

On the way home I did philosophise about always wanting to run a bit faster, no matter what. Running sub-62 over 10 miles was completely out of question until Sunday. Now I’m ruing the fact that I’m so far away from breaking the hour mark, and that the top 100 finish is still as far off as ever. It’s all relative, of course. Jason Reid, who finished in 20th position, is just as rueful about the gap to the top 10 as I am with regards to the top 100. And if we kept following that thought we’d probably kept finding runners that want to go just that little bit faster until we arrive at Kenenisa Bekele.

7 Mar
8 miles, 1:03:32, 7:55 pace, HR 139
8 Mar
8 miles, 1:02:02, 7:45 pace, HR 140
9 Mar
10 miles, 1:18:26, 7:51 pace, HR 140

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Personal Bests

I had absolutely no idea what today’s race had in store. I have not raced since September 4th , more than half a year ago (I have done races at less than race pace since), and that was an ultra. The last time I raced a “fast” race was back in July. I haven’t done any speedwork in the classical sense under Mystery Coach’s guidance. I was not tapered. Ballycotton is not a particularly fast course. Even though training had been going very well, had I been mad to even mention the hope for a PB prior to the race?

I arrived at Grellan’s place at 10:30, we picked up his neighbour Pat and the 3 of us arrived in Ballycotton in good time. Pat was sick and overdosed on various medicines as we were driving (good thing he was not called up for a doping test), Grellan was running this for fun, and I was the only one with high hopes. Grellan also intended to run this in his Vibram Five Finger shoes, which prompted the clear instruction to stay as far away from me as possible. I mean, who wants to admit he knows that langer with the Gorilla Feet?

Sitting around freezing an hour before the start is part of the Ballycotton experience, as is meeting plenty of friends, but I was glad when it was time to strip down to the vest and start warming up. This was my fourth Ballycotton in a row and so far I have always gotten stuck in the field at the start. To avoid this I resolved to be at the start line half an hour beforehand. This might sound extreme at any other race, on the very narrow street of Ballycotton with 3000 runners it is a necessity.

I was just a few minutes late, enough to have to fight my way to the front, but for the first time ever here I got where I wanted to.

It took me just 8 seconds to cross the line after the signal had sounded and for once I was not stuck behind hundreds of slower runners who had started ridiculously far forward. I got it spot on, virtually everyone around me set off at the same pace and for the first time ever I could take advantage of the first downhill mile instead of weaving my way around. I took it easy; I could have run much faster but I knew how fast you go with the immediate rush of adrenaline. Running a 6-minute mile at the start of a race feels like jogging when the same in training would have you almost keel over with the effort.

Mile 1: 6:02, Mile 2: 6:05

Halfway through the second mile the road flattens out and for the next 6 miles it is as flat as it gets in this part of the world. There are plenty of tiny drags up and down but nothing you’d notice were you not running flat out. One thing I did notice was that after less than 2 miles I started overtaking people by the bucket load. Most runners start too fast. This makes racing a lot more fun if you pace yourself correctly.

Mile 3: 6:09, Mile 4: 6:12

After about 3 miles I passed Pat, who looked a lot less sick than an hour or two earlier. The timer there read about 18:25 and I knew I was flying, especially since this was gun time, obviously. I also felt I was running well within myself and was optimistic I would be able to keep the effort going until the end. John D became a victim another mile later. I always know I have an excellent race if I’m passing him, normally I have no business beating sub-3 marathon runners.

Mile 5: 6:13

I think the timer at the halfway mark showed 30:25 as I passed it, but looking at the numbers from my Garmin now it says 30:42. That’s still a personal best for 5 miles, even considering that the course up to here had been net downhill. I was still overtaking people. I think one runner passed me here, the first one since just after the start, but I caught him back later on. That’s where I started to falter. Luckily I remembered the gel in my pocket. I took it and within half a mile I felt a big boost. Maybe it was all in my head, but even that would be good enough for me. Whatever works!

Mile 6: 6:16

There was a line at the 10 k mark but no timer and I did not want to mess around with buttons at the Garmin at the time, but I did see an average pace of 6:09, which confirmed that this was a new personal best for 10k. Looking at the Garmin now, the time was 38:18. I had no idea I could run so fast over 10k and still have the legs for more!

Mile 7: 6:06, Mile 8: 6:10

The next 2 miles were the best ones as far as effort is concerned. By now I was really hurting but I tried to do a Yuki and ran as fast as I could, even with my face distorted into a painful grimace. I just hope for everyone’s sake that there are no photos of me from that stretch, it would not be pretty. But the pace was a fast as I could possibly go and I gained yet another few positions.

I knew that last year a time of about 61:40 was enough to earn a top-100 finisher shirt. I had very faint hopes of reaching that time but around here I realised that this was just out of reach, considering the uphill finish was yet to come. As it turns out, the cut-off time for top 100 was 59:38 this year, the fastest in a long time I’m sure and a sign of the absolutely perfect conditions today. Top 100 was never even remotely on the cards for me.

8.5 mile was where the climb started. I started suffering immediately and promptly lost 2 places, one to a guy in grey and one in blue. I’m not a strong climber, never have been and probably never will be. But the steepest bit does not last long and everything from there on is much more manageable. So much so that I passed the grey shirt again and pulled level with the blue one. Together we made up another few places.

Mile 9: 6:19, Mile 10: 6:03

The final mile is still uphill, but very gradual. Everyone around me seemed to have one spot where they were recognised and fired on by name, and with about half a mile to go my own cheering corner came, which gave me a big boost. Thanks, Nora! I tried to up the effort once more, but lost one place when Gary stormed past me at incredible speed (he’s aiming for a 2:46 or 2:48 marathon this year. That’s out of my league), a flash in black. With about 400 to go I put everything that was left into it. I passed 2 more runners (I’ve never passed so many runners at the end of any race), the only one that managed to hold me off was the guy in blue and I finished right behind him, with Gary another place ahead. The clock was still under 62 minutes, which meant I had just improved my personal best at the distance by over a full minute! (The quoted figures are Garmin miles. There were still 14 second left to cross the line at the end)

Provisional results are here.

To say I was immensely pleased does not even half describe it! My old 10 mile PB had been my best ever race, according to MacMillan’s calculator, and to vaporise it like that is just out of this world! According to the calculator, today’s chip time of 61:51 is the equivalent of 2:53:14! While I have learned to take this with a pinch of salt, it sure bodes well for a sub-3 marathon 6 weeks from now.

3 Mar
8 miles, 1:01:16, 7:39 pace, HR 142
4 Mar
10 miles, 1:18:58, 7:54 pace, HR 137
5 Mar
7 miles, 51:53, 7:25 pace, HR 147
6 Mar
14.5 miles, including:
   Ballycotton 10 miles, 1:01:51, 6:11 pace, HR 175, 145th overall
   Personal Bests over 5 miles, 10k and 10 miles

Weekly Mileage: 70+

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Volume Speed

By Monday I had figured out what had knocked me sideways during Sunday’s run. It was not fatigue, it was not the cold, it was the medicine. After a really rough first half of the night after taking the medicine one more time, I slept soundly once the effects had worn off and when I stopped taking it, I suddenly felt so much better, it was a complete transformation.

I guess the lesson is not to take medicine for the first time as you’re about to go for a long run. Who would have thought! I really have to stop doing daft things like that at some stage, but I know I’ve said that before.

Anyway, I felt really good on Monday and was immensely pleased to see the pace/HR numbers come down significantly. I initially worried about having run too fast but the low HR and the fact that I was feeling great allayed my worries. I could have run repeats on Tuesday but decided to play it safe and did another easy run that day. The repeats were pushed to Wednesday.
"Two to Four repeats 1.5 mile to 2 miles in length with 1 mile at 7:15 pace between. The paces for the fast segments try 6:30 for the first then 6:20 and maybe 6:10, if you do 1 more try for another 6:10."

I only really read 6:30 and 6:20, knew I could do that and did not worry about the rest. As a result, I did not wake up to the dreaded thought of “Oh no, speed work!”, just a vague Fear of the Unknown. Ignorance is bliss.

I ran back and forwards on the last mile of the Caragh Lake road towards the Red Fox Inn. It’s not entirely flat, but it’s as flat as an entire mile gets around here, really.

The first repeat caught me out slightly by the fact that the required effort was a bit harder than anticipated. I had run that pace during a tempo run last week and must have forgotten what it felt like. But I managed just fine.

The “recovery” at 7:15 pace meant there was no hanging around. That’s pretty much the pace of most of my recent marathons. It’s not what I would call recovery. I had missed that bit in my initial assessment but reality caught up straight away.
The second repeat was ok but for the fact that I lost concentration after the turnaround and the pace suffered a bit. I could have caught up but decided against it. In the end, I was only out by a couple of seconds.

As soon as I took the first step of the third repeat, I knew I was in trouble. Not only was this the pace of my 10k PB, I had already run 8 miles at that point and was tired even at the very start. What got me through was the thought of my new hero, Yuki Kawauchi. Cheesy as it sounds, the vision of his pained grimace kept me going. The coach had told me to mind my breathing and if it got too ragged I should back off, but it was mainly the legs that were the limiters. The second mile especially felt like I was running all out, deeply in pain, wondering who on Earth would dream up a torture session like that and just how long 2 miles can be. For most of it I did not think I would make it to the end, but eventually I did. Thank you, Yuki.

The first thing that went straight out of the window at that point was the 7:15 “recovery” (haha) pace, I just staggered for the first quarter of a mile until I felt better. I really did not think I would be able to run that pace again, but one mile later had recovered sufficiently (and the memory of the pain must have dissipated already) to give it another go.

“I’ll just do half a mile”. Surprisingly enough, I was bang on pace after half a mile, so I added another half mile. What really surprised me was the fact that my pain threshold seemed to have been re-set slightly, the pace that had felt like pure hell a few minutes earlier now seemed just a tad more tolerable and I was running slightly more relaxed. I was still almost on pace at the 1-mile turnaround point and decided to give it one more half mile. The coach had clearly stated that the repeats were 1.5-2 miles, so I would not even be cutting the repeat short. What sustained me over those final 3+ minutes was the focus on the road sign that marked the end. I never even dreamed of running past that. As soon as I was done I checked the Garmin and was really surprised to see that I had been bang on pace. Immediately the guilt trip started, surely I could have added a final half mile?

2 miles @ 6:29 (HR 161), 1 mile “recovery” @ 7:19
2 miles @ 6:22 (HR 166), 1 mile “recovery” @ 7:13
2 miles @ 6:12 (HR 171), 1 mile recovery @ 7:46
1.5 miles @ 6:10 (HR 169)

I eventually managed to push that thought to the side and was actually really pleased with the workout. Let’s hope I did not burn myself out 4 days before Ballycotton.

I even voluntarily jumped into another ice bath back home, if only for 5 minutes rather than 10, because being late at work would not have been particularly clever.

The coach has promised that MP effort would become easier once the volume repeats kick in. This better be true!

28 Feb
8 miles, 1:01:06, 7:38 pace, HR 143
1 Mar
10 miles, 1:16:27, 7:39 pace, HR 142
2 Mar
13.1 miles, 1:30:01, 6:52 pace, HR 159
   2 @ 6:29, 2 @ 6:22, 2 @ 6:12, 1.5 @ 6:10