Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Testing Times

After Sunday’s crash and burn, Monday was never going to be more than a short, easy, slow run. In fact, I surprised myself by being able to get out of bed at all. Once out on the road the legs took a few miles to feel better but eventually I started enjoying the run. I sure felt a lot better than the day before.

I wondered if there was any point in doing the evaluation workout on Tuesday, but in the end I figured that fatigue is one of the things these workouts are supposed to flag up, so I went ahead as planned. I was quite surprised by the way my legs reacted. The first two evaluation workouts in this training cycle were a bit of an effort; while it is a rather mellow workout, I still had to work for it. Yesterday I managed to run at HR 161 pretty much on autopilot and keeping the heart rate at that level felt a lot easier. I also managed much better to stay close to 161 than on the previous 2 occasions, even without the help of the audible alarm feature.
Date          2 Jun   16 Jun    28 Jun
Mile 1 7:19 7:16 6:55
Mile 2 7:17 7:20 7:03
Mile 3 7:16 7:27 7:06
Mile 4 7:16 7:23 6:57
Time to 130 34 40 32

I was very pleasantly surprised by the figures. Not only has my pace increased, I was able to keep it reasonably constant throughout the 4 miles and the time it took for the HR to recover to 130 was the shortest yet. While there is still a good bit of speed missing until I can match the best evaluations from the Vienna training cycle, this is rather encouraging and I stopped worrying about the effects from Sunday.

Having said that, I decided nevertheless to cut back the mileage a little bit and after an email from the old coach, rapping my knuckles a bit, even managed to keep the pace very mellow for another day. Maybe I’ll get the hang of this slow running business after all. Train slower to race faster (well, at the right time, that is) – it worked last time round.

I probably should not write the next paragraph at all, it’s just tempting fate, but my knee seems to have come round. Rick pointed me to an article that exactly described my pain and blamed the ITB, so I dug out The Stick and started working. I noticed an immediate improvement, and when I got lazy on a couple of occasions and stopped using it, the knee threatened to act up again, so I’d say there is a good chance that I have finally found the solution, as long as I remember to keep using it. As much as paying 48 dollars for a glorified plastic rolling pin seemed outrageous at first, that thing has been excellent value for money after all.
27 Jun
8 miles, 1:04:01, 8:00 pace, HR 143
28 Jun
12 miles, 1:28:56, 7:25 pace, HR 150
   incl. 4 miles evaluation: 6:55, 7:03, 7:06, 6:57 (rec. 00:32)
29 Jun
8 miles, 1:03:02, 7:53 pace, HR 140

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bonked. Hard.

Stop sniggering at the back, I’m strictly talking about the American, running related meaning of that word rather than the decidedly more fun British interpretation. Today’s run was not pretty.

Actually, the last few days had been fairly good. The HR showed a bit of a wobble on Thursday when it was several beats higher than expected for the slowest training run in ages. It may have been the shoes. I always used to swap between two pairs of shoes, one reasonably light (e.g. Nike Lunar Elite) and one heavier and cushioning (e.g. Asics Stratus), always worn on alternate days. After my knee troubles, which started in April, I exiled the heavier shoes (Saucony ProGrid Ride), which meant that I was now swapping between two lighter pairs (Nike Lunar Elite and Saucony Kinvara). On Thursday I wanted to save the Kinvaras for Friday, and in order to avoid wearing the same pair twice in succession, I dug out the Rides again.

It felt like having two bricks strapped to the feet. I still don’t think it entirely explains the relatively high HR, but it goes some way. I have gotten so used to the lighter shoes, I never want to go back to the cushioning ones again.

I resurrected Fast Friday, which was my one day of fun under Mystery Coach’s base training, which means running 10 miles a bit faster than the rest of the week but still very much within limits, with a HR of no higher than 155. That’s still a very limited effort, but when you try and stay in the lower 140s for the rest of the week it is something to look forward to. As it happens, I ran a bit too hard but the 7-minute pace was much better than expected, a bit of payback for Thursday I suppose.

Niamh took the kids to Dublin on Saturday to gawk at her newest Nephew, which is why I delayed my run until the afternoon, after they had left. I run 98% of my runs in the early morning and running in the afternoon had the effect that my RPE was completely out. It did not come as a surprise, it happens every time when I run in the afternoon, but I found it impossible to correct. I felt like I was crawling along virtually at walking pace even though the pace and HR fields of the Garmin told a very different story. I found it impossible to slow down even further, I already felt awkward. Of course I ended up with a HR that was way higher than planned.

Which brings me to today. After the highest weekly mileage in months and some way-faster-than-planned runs on the preceding days, running the steep hills around Caragh Lake for my long run was quite possibly never the brightest idea. I was a bit worried about my knee, but that never became a factor. I could tell early on that my legs were totally unused to the effort of climbing 600-feet hills; the HR went past 170 even though I tried to keep the effort as low as possible. I guess I then should not have tried to stride out on the downhill, going the next 2 or 3 downhill miles at 6:30 pace wasn’t that great an idea either. By mile 10 I could tell I was faltering and within 2 or 3 miles I had hit the wall, hard. It was ugly from here on. I kept telling myself that it’s those runs where you really have to push yourself where you gain the biggest fitness from, but did not believe myself. I just wanted to lie down beside the road and die in peace. The sun had come out, which did not help as I was getting dehydrated and did not carry any water with me.

4 miles of being hungry, thirsty, knackered and then starving, parched and completely exhausted turned into a death trot. I could almost imagine myself in the final miles of the Western States 100, which was held at exactly the same time, a good few miles away in California (ok, not really). Despite crawling along at 8-minute pace, my HR was in the high 160 (!!!) and I could not get home soon enough. As soon as the Garmin hit 17 miles I stopped running and very, very slowly walked up our driveway. A drink and some liquid carbs revived me sufficiently, but there is a lesson to be learnt somewhere I guess.

23 Jun
10 miles, 1:20:05, 8:01 pace, HR 145
24 Jun
10 miles, 1:10:16, 7:02 pace, HR 156
25 Jun
10 miles, 1:15:36, 7:34 pace, HR 153
26 Jun
17 miles, 2:14:05, 7:54 pace, HR 160 (!!!)

Weekly Mileage: 77

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Back on Track

It sure has taken a long time. Ever since the Vienna marathon the legs have not felt quite right, the HR was always too high for the given pace and there was no pep in the legs.

All of a sudden I can feel the difference. The shift is subtle and if some scientist took some measurement, she might not spot it. But I can feel it.

So it’s time to increase the mileage and get a few weeks of proper base training. I have finally managed to slow down a little bit to keep the HR where I want it.

Monday saw some more progress in my injury rehabilitation. For the first time in ages I ran without my knee strap. I was a bit apprehensive but figured that the shortest run of the week would be the best opportunity to try this. It went reasonably well, but there was some discomfort during the last 3 miles.

I felt absolutely knackered on Monday, btw. Early Sunday afternoon Niamh made some bitchy comment about the lawn mower gathering dust. I could not possibly go out and do the garden after that, it would have looked like I'm following orders. So I waited 5 minutes and THEN went out to make it look like it had been my idea all along. Score! (I wish). It didn’t change the fact, though, that by the time I was finished 5 hours later I was toast; I was more tired than after all of my recent marathons. The fact that then I could not sleep at night and got less than 5 hours did not help.

A good night’s sleep on Tuesday made all the difference and I felt reborn. I was a bit hesitant about the knee strap but on the way out of the door made the decision to leave it at home. I felt fully vindicated when I made it through 10 miles without the slightest amount of trouble. I thought I had finally left that chapter behind.

So it was all the more disappointing that I felt some discomfort again this morning, halfway through my run. Nothing bad and certainly not interfering with my run but disappointing nevertheless. I’ll get over it, eventually, but I need to show a little more patience, I suppose.

Today was “National Cycle to School and Work Day”, so me and Lola cycled together to her school, I then continued on to work and at 3 o’clock Niamh collected her by bike as well. Luckily the weather just about managed to cooperate. They really should advertise these things. Nobody else at work seemed to be aware of this.
20 Jun
8 miles, 1:03:55, 7:59 pace, HR 140
21 Jun
10 miles, 1:18:23, 7:50 pace, HR 146
22 Jun
12 miles, 1:33:21, 7:46 pace, HR 146

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dad's Day

Might indeed help others training for their first sub-3. Having MC himself (or herself) at the end of an email must have been invaluable too.

Just to re-iterate this, Ewen is absolutely right. Having MC helping me with my training was absolutely invaluable. The training plan I posted got me under 3 hours, but without help it would not have been enough. I don't want to discourage anyone from at least reading through this and picking up some pointers, but I won't take any heat if your marathon isn't as good as you hoped.

Actually, Ewen's right on another point, MC may just as likely have been female. I'm embarrassed to say I never even considered that. Give me a whack over the head for misogyny.

I could still do with some help, actually. If someone could force me to slow down on my training runs, I'd probably benefit. Maybe I should set up an automated email account that periodically sends me an email saying "run more and run slower" in various shapes and form. It worked when I got them from MC, but telling myself at the start of each run (and during) is not half as effective.

I still haven't quite gathered the courage to run the big hills around Caragh Lake again, despite the fact that my knee handled the steep downhill of the DAR just fine. I have been running plenty of miles along the undulation road on the other side of the lake instead, my preferred running route anyway, which will hopefully build up the leg sufficiently to handle the big hills soon enough. Thank to Rick, btw, for pointing me towards this article. It's yet another theory of what might have gone wrong, but using The Stick on my ITB is well worth trying. It won't do any harm.

I can't believe it's the 19th of June already. Where did half the year go? I really must be getting old, because that's what all the old people used to say all the time when I was young. The fact that the weather was so bad hasn't helped. It really does not feel like summer.

"Do you want breakfast in bed for Father's Day", asked Niamh? "Err, ... no ... unless you want to get up at 6 o'clock". That offer was declined. Instead we had pancakes after my run at 10 o'clock. It also gave the kids time to make their own card. Everyone signed it. Niamh, all 4 kids, and the gerbil had a good nibble as well.

I must have been tired and cranky on the last mile of today's 15 mile run because when that car came up from behind and hooted at me, I was about to turn around and give him a mouthful of abuse for hooting at me for no reason - it was at the very last split second that I recognised Ed at the wheel. He was only being friendly. That would have made for quite some story, I guess, the next day at work. I'm squirming at the mere thought.

Now head over to Grellan's and leave your congratulations on a mind-boggling achievement.
18 Jun
10 miles, 1:17:31, 7:45 pace, HR 151
19 Jun
15 miles, 1:54:21, 7:37 pace, HR 150

Weekly Mileage: 68

Friday, June 17, 2011

This Was My LifeTraining

After I finished the Vienna marathon quite a few people asked me about my training. I have of course described every single workout in this blog, but reading all that is not the easiest way to get a grasp of the system. I have therefore written a little document, outlining the training plan and the ideas behind it, as well as a few observations from the time when I followed it.

I am making no claims whatsoever on the benefits of said document. The training I did was never meant to be followed slavishly, the coach tweaked it as we went along, responding to feedback from my workouts. But I managed to break 3 hours in the marathon that way and maybe someone else can do, too.

The document is available here. If you read it and have any feedback (apart from abuse), you can let me know.

Maybe the best thing about writing it was me remembering a few things about the training again. I am well aware that I should follow the coach's recommendations more closely at the moment. But thinking "I should run more and I should run slower" is just not the same as getting an email from the coach telling me exactly that.

One thing I did remember was doing an evaluation run. It worked the same way as always, 4 miles at HR 161 and then coming to a full stop, measuring the time it takes for the HR to fall back to 130. It was quite windy, which isn't ideal as it has a clear influence on the numbers, but such is life.

Because my Garmin's sound has died I can no longer use the alarm to keep the HR in a very narrow band and have to check the watch more often as relying on perceived effort doesn't work particularly well. As a result I once more ran the first mile too hard but managed to tune into it quite well for the rest. The coach's formula to work around that problem was to add 3.5 seconds for each beat too high, and the adjusted figures are as follows:

7:16, 7:20, 7:27, 7:23, recovery 40 sec

I am doing surprisingly well keeping the pace constant but Good God, this is slow! I know I still have the marathon and the DAR in the legs, but still! Unfortunately, wishful thinking alone won't make me any faster.

The evaluation is a rather mellow workout, but I still paid for it with heavy legs this morning. Luckily I only went out for 8 miles, which passed quickly enough, but I really should finally start following my own orders and run more and run slower.
15 Jun
10 miles, 1:17:32, 7:45 pace, HR 150
16 Jun
12 miles, 1:29:55, 7:29 pace, HR 156
   incl. 4 miles evaluation: 7:16, 7:20, 7:27, 7:23
17 Jun
8 miles, 1:01:37, 7:43 pace, HR 151

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Don't Mind Me

Apparently, the prizes given out at the Dingle Adventure race were very nice. Amazing even, according to one competitor. Which is why I can only stare wistfully at the results page, noting that I managed the second fastest 10k time as well as the fastest 1k-sprint time, and that Noddy had the fastest kayak time of the entire field. Our mountain "runner", on the other hand, ... ok, I'll let it go. As a team we came in 15th out of 39 and that's the only statistic that counts and there are no prizes for that.

With the Cork marathon and the DAR now finally out of the way and my knee under control I can finally start training properly, I hope. Since I have no "A" race, I can do whatever I want, but it also means that the training I did for Vienna won't really work here because without a target race you can't implement a proper periodisation. I'll start out with weeks and weeks of base training, but since there will be some races in there, that's not base training as the coach had in mind. It means I won't hit the highest possible peak. That's ok, I suppose, because if there's no "A" race there is nothing to peak for. I just can't bring myself to train like I did for Vienna again. I was training for that single event for 7 months and it took a lot out of me, mentally. I need to re-charge those batteries before I commit to anything serious again.

That all sounds rather familiar, I think. I might start sounding like a broken record.

Actually, does anyone still remember records? It's not the same as a broken CD, and definitely not the same as a corrupted mp3 file. Weird. So familiar once, and now a complete anachronism.

I think I'll cut this short before I ramble even more nonsense. Shorter posts. How am I doing, Ewen?

13 Jun
5 miles, 38:38, 7:44 pace, HR 147
14 Jun
8 miles, 1:02:05, 7:46 pace, HR 149

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Not Very Adventurous

I was not going to post another picture from Cork, but the pacers one is great and I had to put it in! And while I was at it, I thought I might as well put the one from the finish up as well. It looks like I've just had a very nice, enjoyable jog.

Last year I got a phone call from Kathryn a day or 2 after the Cork marathon asking me to run the road section of their relay team in the Dingle Adventure Race because their original runner had to withdraw due to a dodgy knee. After a bit of hesitation I agreed, even though the timing wasn't great, 5 days after a marathon. This year Liz, one of the team members, took the whole thing to a new level entirely and rounded up at least 20 people to do the event, with 2 of them (Kathryn and Ed) doing the entire race and the rest in several relay teams. Unsurprisingly, I got the road section again. And once more, the race was a mere 5 days after the Cork marathon.

Being part of a relay team means spending several hours standing around, waiting for your turn to start. This was especially hard early on when we were gathered at the base of Mount Brandon in the freezing rain without a shelter nearby. Luckily the weather improved eventually but not my mood when it became clear that there was a certain mismatch in our team. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great when someone finally gets his backside out of the door to get some exercise, but in all honesty I'd prefer for that to happen at a different time than the one when I'm freezing my bits off at the mountainside in the Kerry rain. Most of the field had long passed by when I finally got going.

The first mile is steep downhill with 350 feet of elevation drop, which is decidedly sub-optimal when you've got a) sore quads from a marathon b) a dodgy knee and c) both, but after waiting around for hours I hammered it pretty hard to work off the frustration and ended up with an opening mile of 5:22. The second mile is uphill with a gain of 150 feet and I ended up paying for the fast start, and the next 4 miles gradually drop another 350 feet, and yes, I kept paying for the first mile, in addition to the already leaden legs from the marathon. Having said that, since most runners had just cycled across Connor Pass and hiked/run across Mount Brandon, I picked up runner after runner in quick succession. Kathryn and Ed took well over an hour for that section, and they were not moving any slower than the guys and gals around them, so I took about 25 minutes off most of the other athletes out there. It left me embarrassed to be skipping past people who had been out for 3 hours already at that stage, and I just ended up wishing most of them good luck, but not everyone appreciated being left in the dust like that by a relay runner with fresh legs.

Kathryn ended up somewhere around 6th of the ladies - respect, what a fantastic result!

After my 10k run I passed the timing chip on to our Kayak man, Noddy, and since there was another 1k left at the end of the kayak leg I took it off him again after his paddle and ran the last k pretty hard to the finish. Apparently Noddy had expected to run this section, but because I was the runner on our team I had not even considered the possibility that he had wanted to finish it off himself, and he may have been a bit annoyed. Sorry man, no offence intended.

Anyway, as I told Liz, this was my last year of doing this as part of a relay. Next year it's all or nothing. If it's 5 days after Cork yet again in 2012 I may well end up with nothing because I'm pretty sure I'll get roped into pacing Cork again, but if the dates change I'll do the entire race. I have no intentions of feeling guilty for every man and woman I pass on the road ever again.

As I'm sure you are aware, running hard down a mountain is not the ideal way to recover your post-marathon legs and I'm a bit sore again today. The good news, however, is that there is not a twinge from my knee. I think I'm finally over this.

Finally, and on a complete different note, massive congratulations go out to Gerry Duffy who is right now in the middle of doing his 10th Ironman in 10 days. Gerry was one of the 32-marathons guys last year, and is an all-round top bloke. Please go over and sponsor his absolutely mind-boggling achievement with a couple of quid. You owe it to yourself.

10 Jun
5 miles, 38:48, 7:45 pace, HR 149
11 Jun
8 miles at the DAR, including:
   6.26 miles, 39:35, 6:18 pace, HR 176 (max 186)
   0.69 miles, 4:08, 5:59 pace, HR 169 (max 186)
12 Jun
5 miles, 39:33, 7:54 pace, HR 146

Thursday, June 09, 2011


I just realised one distinctive advantage of running a marathon with a balloon and a very distinctive singlet – you find lots of images of you. Actually, considering how I usually look like Quasimodo’s less handsome older brother in those pictures, maybe that’s more a drawback. But I don't think I've ever had such a big smile at the end of a marathon.

Credits for the photos go to Darren Spring and Gearoid O'Laoi as well as a couple of other people whose name I did not manage to dig up. If one of these pictures is yours you can always drop me a comment and I’ll credit you.

In last year’s marathon, when I was NOT running as a pacer, Seamus stuck to me like a shadow for 15 miles until I dropped him. This year I inadvertently managed to finish the job, this time as one of the official pacers, of course. Funny how things work at times.

I had a look at the provisional results. Apart from the fact that there is a glaring empty space where my name should be at position 116 (what’s going on here? They had my name!) I checked out how many of our group managed to break 3:15. Looking at runners with a half-time split within a couple of seconds of mine and Tony’s 1:37:33, there were 5 who finished between 3:13:35 and 3:14:08. Two more got a time of 3:14:26 and 3:14:28 (that’s got to be the 2 lads who went ahead with a mile to go), and, sadly, that’s it for the guys who were with us at the halfway mark, though we picked up 6 runners between halfway and the finish who stuck with us to the end. There’s no less than 9 runners (unless I missed some) who dropped off at some stage after halfway and finished between 3:15 and 3:19, and some more who finished a bit further back. It shows how difficult it is to maintain even splits for a marathon – most of the guys who stuck with us for a considerable time did not manage to hang on until the end. But I hope the ones who made it found the pacing helpful – we certainly had plenty of people thanking us afterwards and leaving comments on various sites.

Anyway, after taking a rest I was back on the road this morning. The quads were a little bit sore, but not much considering it was only 3 days after a 3:14 marathon, and the knee was perfectly fine. I’ve started weaning myself off the strap, I no longer wear it for 24 hours a day and so far so good. I can feel it improving all the time, which is why him and him and him can bitch as much as they want on twitter. I’ve run through every other running injury I’ve ever had and this one gets the same treatment.

I got chatting to Mick Rice the evening before the race, which is always a great pleasure. He convinced me that it’s ok not to have an A goal for the rest of the year. Ever since Vienna I feel like my mental batteries are completely drained, and while I enjoy running as much as ever (I can’t even rest a dodgy knee, for crying out loud), I am not going to subject myself to another gruelling marathon training cycle until I feel ready again. This will be the summer of fun running without a goal race.
9 Jun
5 miles, 39:35, 7:55 pace, HR 145

Monday, June 06, 2011

A Job Well Done

I enjoyed pacing the 3:30 pace group in last year's Dublin marathon sufficiently to volunteer for another stint, this time at the Cork City marathon. I have raced this marathon twice before, once in 2008 when I first broke 3:10 and last year when I had a decent enough race just a few weeks after Connemara. But when the original pacer decided to run up Carrauntoohil the day before instead (a novel excuse, admittedly) me and Tony, who has paced that group in Dublin with me, got bumped up to the 3:15 group. We were both a bit nervous about it but just got on with it.

After three years of stone-splitting heat and last year's hurricane the marathon finally got a well deserved break with almost perfect running conditions today. It's about time.

All the pacers got their own uniform, bright yellow singlets that really stood out, which was a great idea. We also got green balloons and the choice of two different signs for the back. I let vanity rule and picked the one with my name on it. There was to be no hiding. Grellan had also produced some top notch pace bands; there was to be no excuse.

We lined up between Mick's 3:00 and Grellan's 3:30 balloon. Quite a few guys came up to me and congratulated me on Vienna, which was really nice and a great start to the day, so thank you every single one of you. Right at the start I thought Tony got a bit overexcited and sped off with a gap appearing, but within half a mile we were all together again. A sizeable group formed around us and we tried our best to keep the pace steady.

The Garmin is invaluable when you're doing a pacing job, it takes all the thinking out of it. The only thing you have to take into consideration is that the Garmin will always display more than 26.22 miles at the end because we never manage to run the perfect racing line. We were also aiming to run a little bit faster than target time so that runners crossing the line right behind us would still break 3:15. All this combined to give us a target pace of 7:20 or so on the Garmin. All we had to do now was run at the right pace and check the watch periodically. The pace band helped to re-inforce the pace with periodic feedback at the mile markers.

The early miles ticked along nicely. At mile 4.5 I felt a twinge in my knee, but it went away again quickly. We passed the first relay changeover (where Tony berated the waiting runners to give us a louder cheer) and then headed into the tunnel, a rather unique feature of the Cork marathon. I think the climb out of the tunnel is actually the longest hill of the day, but since it comes early on, just before the 8-mile mark, it's still easy enough.

We had built up a couple of seconds of cushion in the early miles but the long climb and a bit of a headwind coming out of the tunnel ate most of that up again and I put a bit more effort into it. The early miles had obviously been wind assisted. There was a good bit of wind around Blackrock, but nowhere near what we had to contend with last year. At one stage my balloon actually went past me - a certain sign of a reasonably strong tailwind. Around mile 11 we passed the half-marathon starting area, still over an hour before their start, but there was a good contingent there and we got the biggest cheer of the day.

Just before the halfway mark my knee sent out some discomfort signals again, and again they went away quickly. While I was slightly worried, this was actually going well.

The course turned into a rather sheltered walkway and the wind stopped being a factor. The road here was very narrow. It was just about big enough for our reasonably small group, but I'm sure later, bigger groups like the 4:00 one would have more troubles.

We passed the halfway point about 20 seconds to the good, just where we wanted to be. A few in the group gave a big thank to the pacers here, which I found a really nice touch. Thanks guys, it was very much appreciated!

The next few miles were the toughest ones, but it's all relative. Every year you hear some runners moaning about the tough second half, but that's just nonsense. The elevation profile is rather flat, easier than Dublin in fact, and there is nothing to be feared. But the stretch from mile 15 to about 21 or 22 is undulating and there are quite a few drags to conquer, and one very steep bit going up an overpass, but that is very short, thankfully.

Between miles 15 and 16 I suddenly started laughing. Tony, apparently concerned that I had just dropped my marbles, inquired. I had just realised that this was now my longest run since Vienna - but don't tell the lads in the group (there was no lady in our group, sadly). Actually, Tony's last 2 long runs had been marathons as well, he had been pacing in Limerick and Kildare. That's quite a schedule, but this stint here was the only one at 3:15 pace.

Despite my lack of long runs the miles ticked away nicely and I still felt great. We passed the Lough where there was a good group of residents cheering us on and continued on.

At mile 20 Tony and me suddenly got into a tangle - at least our balloons did. We tried to sort it out and just as it looked like we had succeeded the balloons came off their strings. One took off into the sky and I as left holding the other one in my hands.

Have you ever tried tying a piece of string to a balloon that threatens to take off while running at 7:20 pace? It's as tricky as it sounds but eventually I succeeded, though at a reduce string length. I had lost a bit of ground, which enabled me to see who was just about hanging on to our group. There were about 20 runners left, some of them clearly struggling. I tried to encourage them as much as I could while speeding past them to catch up, but I'm not sure if I had much success.

Somewhere between miles 21 and 22 I saw a familiar figure ahead of me. Seamus always runs with a calf guard on his right leg, which makes him rather easy to identify. We slowly drew nearer and then I caught up with him. "I'm on 3:20 pace" he said, "No you're not, you're right on 3:15". "Oh, I'd forgotten you're a pacer today". I encouraged him to stay with us for as long as he could. We were virtually at the end of the hills and the last miles would be a bit easier, at least when not taking the tired legs into account.

After a couple of right turns we arrived at the Straight Road, and this was definitely the home stretch. Tony kept imploring the group to keep running with us; ignore the legs, feel the rhythm and stay with us until the end. For some reason this really seemed to work.

We counted down the miles as well as the minutes left running. By now we started catching up with a lot of runners who had fallen off the early pace. All were encouraged to stay with us, but I don't think a lot took up the offer.

With one mile to go I told everyone who still had something left to go for it. Two guys started speeding up and we told them we would not want to see them again until the end. They ended up crossing the line 10 seconds ahead of us, so well done to both of you. The others stuck closely to us, and to my surprise Seamus was still here. For this he gets my full respect. It is very difficult to up the pace so late into a marathon when you get caught and he had managed this rare feat very, very well.

We were soon into the last mile and then on the glory stretch of St.Patrick's Street. Our group had whittled down to 10 runners, but for a time as ambitious as 3:15 I think that's a more than decent size.

Once we were across the line all of them came up to us and thanked us for our efforts, which felt really rewarding. A few runners who had clung on until late did the same. Seamus was especially grateful, but all the lads had done the work all by themselves. Our own efforts were a very small contribution.

I was very pleased with how this had gone. Despite not running more than 15 miles even once since Vienna I did not have the slightest problem staying on pace for the entire distance. The quads started getting heavy around mile 24, but that is to be expected. The knee held up very, very well indeed, but as soon as I had done 5 steps past the finish line it started hurting, so I'm definitely not out of the woods yet.

As far as the pacing job is concerned, we had hit every single mile marker right on and kept on pace right to the end, always encouraging the guys around us. Even if I say so myself, this was a job well done.

Pacer paraphernalia: balloon, pace band, sign with name and target time.

6 Jun
26.22 miles (26.44 on Garmin), 3:14:26, 7:20 pace, HR 160
Cork City Marathon, part of the 3:15 pace group

Saturday, June 04, 2011

A Short Taper

I'm following pretty much the same routine I did before pacing the Dublin marathon. It worked well then and will hopefully do so again. Since I have not done a lot of training in the weeks since Vienna there was no fatigue to taper from.

I did the coach's "taper workout" on Thursday which included a 4-mile evaluation run, just like the ones I used to do a dozen times when training for Vienna, and then 2x800 on the way back home. The evaluation run consists of 4 miles of flat road (I'm running back and forwards 4 times on the same half-mile stretch) at heart rate 161, comparing the mile splits and then measuring how long the HR takes to get back to 130 while standing still. My main problem was that the Garmin's sound has stopped working a couple of weeks ago (I dropped it onto the kitchen floor once too often) which means I could no longer use the automatic alarm to keep the HR in a very narrow band around 161. As a result I ran a little bit too hard on each mile, but the coach had a way to correct that, by adding 3.5 seconds to the pace for each beat too high. The raw figures were 7:09 (164), 7:10 (163), 7:09 (163) and 7:06 (164), which give me "corrected" figures of 7:19, 7:17, 7:16 and 7:16. The time to drop the HR to 130 was 34 seconds.

I'm now left scratching my head at these numbers. There was no slowing down at all over the 4 miles (in fact I was speeding up), which should mean my aerobic system is in great form, the recovery time was excellent as well but I was 20-30 seconds slower than during my peak shape. Luckily there is no need to guess how to proceed from here. I'm pacing the Cork marathon on Monday, will then spend a couple of weeks recovering from that and do another evaluation once I feel ready. Thursday's effort served to provide a base line that I can compare the next evaluation to.

Oh, and unsurprisingly I messed up the 800s. I should have run them in about 3:10 - 3:20 and the first one was ok in 3:16 but the second one was way too fast at 3:01. Oops.

Anyway, that was the last "serious" run, I did merely 5 miles both Friday and Saturday, running as slowly as I could without feeling awkward. This produced pretty much the expected pace on Friday but I did a double-take when looking at the figure this morning. It looks like one day into the taper I'm feeling great already.

It may have given me a few anxious weeks but now I am glad I got bumped up from the 3:30 to the 3:15 pace band for Cork. My knee has improved immeasurably over the last couple of weeks but starts hurting whenever I run slower, about 8:00 pace. I can't explain it either but it's the main reason why all runs over the last few weeks have been a bit faster than what I would have done under the coach's guidance. I will re-assess the whole situation after the marathon, which has always been the plan.
2 Jun
12 miles, 1:26:57, 7:14 pace, HR 158
   incl. 4 miles evaluation plus 2x800
3 Jun
5 miles, 39:21, 7:52 pace, HR 145
4 Jun
5 miles, 37:56, 7:35 pace, HR 146

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Not Chasing Skirts, Honestly

With the knee improving every day, I tried a few things. The first was my return to the Caragh Lake road on Monday. It is quite a hilly run, and that used to aggravate the knee a lot, but I felt ready. After 5 weeks of almost relentless gale force wind, the conditions had finally improved and I did not feel the need for the sheltered but much more boring road towards Ard-na-Sidhe or the Devil's Elbow any more.

My knee held up well, but I definitely felt a bit of a twinge. I'm getting there, things are undoubtedly improving, but slowly.

Still, I was encouraged to try something else on Tuesday, namely stopping to wear the knee strap 24/7. This worked out less well, after a day in the office my knee was quiet sore again. Strange as it sounds, sitting in a chair seems to aggravate the knee more than running. As much as I would want to, I can't stop attending my desk job and the knee strap was back on for today.

I had planned a fairly slow run on Tuesday. I am well aware that I have been running a bit fast the previous week and tried to reign myself in; after all, there is a marathon to be run on Monday. I started out slowly enough, 7:50 pace or so for the first couple of miles. I switched off at that point and by mile 6 the average had dropped just below 7:30. Still, the heart rate was not particularly high and the legs felt perfectly fine and I was content to just keep going like that for the final stretch. Then I spotted a group of runners half a mile ahead of me, and I did what any of you would have done: I put the foot down.

Now, I am short sighted and I did not wear my glasses, so I could not possibly see who was so far ahead of me. That's my excuse. Otherwise you might accuse me of chasing skirts, because the group just happened to consist of 5 girls on their morning run. I knew some of them but had never met them out on the road at that time of day. Apparently I am not the only early riser round here any more. Once I passed them (after a mile at tempo pace, 6:30 or so) I kept going for a bit longer (otherwise they would have thought I had sped up just to catch up to them, wouldn't they?) and took it a bit easier on the last mile home. Obviously, the average pace of that run was significantly faster than originally planned. Oops.

I guess the universe made me pay for all that caper. This morning my knee hurt from not wearing the strap last night, the wind had picked up again, it was raining and I had slept through the alarm, leaving me just enough time for 6 miles. Then again, with the marathon just around the corner that might have been fortuitous anyway.

I got a bit of a scare on Monday night when the weather forecast predicted 25 degrees for Friday, just in time for another scorcher of a marathon, but relaxed when the next sentence was "but it won't last the weekend". Whew, that's lucky, but Niamh didn't quite see it that way.

I'm finally starting to look forward to the marathon on Monday. Now that I have found some confidence in both my knee and my fitness, they can bring it on.
30 May
8 miles, 1:03:00, 7:52 pace, HR 144
31 May
10 miles, 1:12:55, 7:17 pace, HR 154
1 Jun
6.05 miles, 46:50, 7:44 pace, HR 148