Saturday, December 29, 2012

End Of Year Report

2012 is drawing to a close, and if I had to describe it in one single word in the style of a Premier League footballer, it would probably be: "F***ing Awesome!".

Yesterday, on the long drive from Kerry to Dublin, Niamh asked me my 3 greatest achievements of 2012 and I responded with "coming top 10 in Connemara, top 10 in Dingle and finishing second place in a National Championship race", to which she complained that all these are running related, so I changed it to "all of the above while still remaining married to her", which she agreed was some sort of achievement, alright.

Purely from a running point of view, 2012 certainly surpassed my expectations by quite some margin and I'm obviously hoping for more of the same in 2013 (apart from losing a race in a sprint finish, maybe. I could have done without that). I'm in excellent shape already as the St.Stephen's Day race has shown, now I have to try and carry that into the marathon in March. I pretty much have most of my season planned in my head already, but right now I'm focusing on Tralee only, so I won't go into any detail on what is in store after that.

I just ran my 3400th mile of the year this morning and obviously there are still two more days to come. It's not my highest annual mileage ever but it's close, and if things continue to go well I'm about to get into the best shape of my life (so far); the year is definitely ending on a high.

The last few days have shown that I need to be careful, though. I ran reasonably easy on Thursday, following Wednesday's race, but the heavy legs on Friday told me that it was probably still too fast. I did a hill session on Friday, despite the tired quads, because experience from previous years tells me that those hill drills train slightly different muscles than normal running, and it's possible for your "normal" running muscles to recover while those "new" muscles are taking a bit of a beating. I certainly found some of the drills rather tough. Bouncing off the ankles is easy, but high knees and driving with the thighs (the same drills as MC had me doing when I was training for Vienna 2 years ago) are really tough. It definitely shows some weakness in those areas. I took it exceptionally easy this morning, because the legs had to recover not only from the race and the hills but also the long car journey.

There is another race here in Dublin on New Year's Day, a 5k in Phoenix Park. I ran reasonably well last year in 18:22; I can't help but wonder what I can do this year with my improved form. I will be racing on tired legs because I'm not interrupting my marathon training for a 5k; still, I'm definitely looking forward to it.
27 Dec
8 miles, 1:00:43, 7:35 pace, HR 142
28 Dec
10 miles, 1:31:52, 9:11 pace, HR 143
   Hill Drills: strides, thigh drive, ankles, high knees
29 Dec
8 miles, 1:02:43, 7:50 pace, HR 141

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Farranfore St.Stephen's Day Race

I had more or less taken a year absence from the local road racing scene. A low-key 10k in Tralee in June was the only local short road race I had done all year, so this was a comeback of some sort. I saw plenty of very familiar faces that I hadn't seen in a while.

The kids were all happy with their heaps of new Christmas presents and I was able to leave for a couple of hours without feeling guilty.

Yesterday my left hamstring had started hurting on the last mile and as soon as I started my warm-up I could feel it again. Running a race with a dodgy hamstring is unlikely to be a good idea; if I got hurt now it would destroy my chances of a good Tralee marathon, which would be devastating after the excellent base training I had managed in the last few months. However, I decided to go ahead anyway. What can I say, I'm the guy who thought running for 24 hours straight was a great idea; idiocy comes easy to me.

This was the 51st annual Farranfore road race, very much a credit to the local running club for keeping it going for such an amazingly long time. It's an old-school race as far as the odd distance is concerned, about 4 miles and a quarter. Back then they didn't care much for PBs over certain distances, it was all about racing each other, and that's exactly what I had in mind today.

The race course is tough, you start by going up a hill right from the off, then a slightly undulating straight road to Firies is followed by a small loop and then the same road back, which means that for the finish you have to cross that same hill again, which has seemingly doubled in size since 20 minutes ago.

The front row was pretty much packed with the usual fast guys. Two guys shot off from the start and would contest the eventual winner between themselves, but the pack right behind them contained all the familiar faces, including John, Simon, Cian, Arthur, Ed, Rob and ... me??? I was wondering what was going on, I am used to being a slow climber but reasonably fast descender, so to hang on to the back of these guys despite going uphill and not even working too hard was odd. When we reached the top of the hill I was still right there but then it felt like they all accelerated in unison and left me behind, struggling on my own against the fierce headwind. On the following downhill section I was caught by about 5 runners, including the first 2 ladies. This was the complete opposite of what I'm used to, usually I lose a few places on the climbs and gain them back afterwards. I'm not sure how that happened, but I must have become much stronger since last year but at the same time can't seem to spin my legs fast enough on the descent.

I tried to hang on to the backs of the runners who had just caught me, but with limited success. All I could do was try and keep the gap reasonably small. Just as we got into Firies George overtook me. I'm used to him disappearing into the distance right from the start, so I figured I must be running well even if I was unable to match his pace from here on.

Positions and gaps were maintained through Firies and on the way back home I noticed I was gaining on the runner ahead of me. He held me off when I drew level and together we closed the gap to the runner ahead until the three of us were running level. That's when the final climb started, gently at first but getting steeper with each step. Again, in highly unusual fashion, I was strangely strong here and not only gapped the two guys but caught the next runner in front of me as well. Then we reached the top and from here on I tried to spin the legs as fast as possible until the finish so as not to lose those places I had worked so hard for, which was successful, happy days!

I finished in 17th position, 3rd M40 (George overtaking me was the decisive move as far as finishing in the prize money was concerned), in 24:30, official results are here. That's 5:52 pace over a hilly course in very windy conditions, much better than I would have thought possible! Funnily enough, I had been talking to John O'Regan beforehand and somehow I had been running the race he had hoped for himself while he ran the race I had predicted for myself.

The hamstring did not hamper me at all, after a mile or two I did not even notice it any more. I knew I was in good shape, but had no idea I was in SUCH good shape. Happy Days!
24 Dec
8.5+ miles, 1:15:08, 8:46 pace, HR 138
   Hill Drills: strides, high knees, thigh drive
25 Dec
8 miles, 57:58, 7:14 pace, HR 149
26 Dec
8 miles, including:
   Farranfore 4.2 mile race, 24:33, 5:52 pace, avg. HR 178, max HR 185, 17th place, 3rd M40

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Post Apocalyptic Training

Happy New Bak'tun everyone, I hope you had a pleasant apocalypse. Our twins took the whole thing seriously enough to pack a survival bag, though that did not include any provisions for the adults ("sceptics don't get saved, Dad!"). The Hunger Games have a lot to answer for.

After Saturday's hangover had passed (I exaggerate - I only had 3 drinks at Friday's party), I realised that the world was still standing and I better get on with my training. I tried to repeat last week's tempo run under the same guidelines, namely as soon as the pace started dropping or the effort got too hard I'd pull the plug, no matter how far (or not) I had gotten. The legs didn't exactly feel the love during the warm up, but that's not a good indicator for the following workout as I have learned over the years. When I hit the tempo segment I felt decent enough for the first few miles but as soon as I reached the far point of my loop I realised that I had to face the gale force wind on the way back home, and predictably the pace started suffering immediately. Despite all the good intentions I did struggle on for a bit but pulled the plug after only just over 3 miles, significantly less than last week. Of course runners always have a good excuse when it comes to sub-par workouts, and I am no exception. The gale force winds interfered badly, the previous day's run might have been a tad too fast and surely yesterday's drinks didn't help. Actually, later that day I noticed an even better excuse, namely a sore throat that I hadn't felt during the morning but the germs responsible for that may already have made their present felt in my system at the time of my run.

In reality I won't lose any sleep over it, I had expected a better workout but that did not happen, ah well. It still was a decent enough session, especially as I added another two miles of tempo pace at the end, though that was slightly downhill and might have overcompensated for the headwind.

The sore throat was still there on Sunday morning but did not stop me from going out on my long run, once more around Caragh Lake. I kept the effort easy enough but the legs kept moving well over the long climbs. I picked up the effort a little towards the end. 7-minute pace is starting to feel pretty easy. For some reason I was bothered with a side stitch that took ages to work out after about 7 miles, but I think that may have something to do with eating a couple of cookies right before heading out.

And so I have arrived at the end of the base training phase. Tomorrow I'm doing my first hill drills session.
21 Dec
10 miles, 1:13:25, 7:20 pace, HR 145
22 Dec
10 miles, 1:07:37, 6:45 pace, HR 160
   3.25 miles @ 6:16 pace (HR 165), 2 miles @ 6:14 pace (HR 170)
23 Dec
18 miles, 2:11:23, 7:18 pace, HR 146

Weekly Mileage: 77+

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End Of the World Training Cycle

Assuming the world will go on, Tralee marathon will be in 12 weeks' time. For me, that means that base building is finished and the marathon specific preparation is about to begin.

I thought about this long and hard and eventually decided that I will do a hill drills phase, similar to the one I had been doing under Mystery Coach's guidance. There is no hills phase in Canova's training, but I vividly remember how great I felt last year; every single day of the hills phase was better than the previous one and I carried the momentum all the way to my top-10 finish in Connemara and beyond. Of course there is no guarantee this will work again, especially as I am in quite different shape compared to last year, but I will give it a go nevertheless.

This base training phase has gone extraordinarily well, and if things go right for the next few months a string of PBs is basically guaranteed. I'm really looking forward to racing already.

The week has been very good so far, even the easy efforts are now at a pace that a few years ago would have been the goal pace of a tempo run. That's great. There is a voice in my head that keeps reminding me that I'm almost 43 already and the time when my performances will decline can't be too far away, but do far so good and I'll enjoy the ride for as long as I can.

Because last week's fartlek had started to feel decidedly easier I decided to extend it this week, from 20 to 25 repeats. That went well enough, but I could not fail to notice that the pace had been slower this week, even though I could have sworn the effort had been the same.

Wednesday's easy run was probably the most satisfying run of them all, and that's not something I usually say about easy runs. It just felt great, the pace was nice enough and yet I felt like I could go on like that forever, there seemed to be absolutely no effort involved.

That's not to say that today's run was bad. It was a good bit faster, but still very much controlled, less than marathon effort I'd say. It's great to be in sub-3 shape already. Two years ago, when I broke 3 hours for the first and so far only time, I had to give blood sweat and tears to achieve 2:59. This time it will be easier.

17 Dec
10 miles, 1:15:40, 7:34 pace, HR 138
18 Dec
9.25 miles, 1:08:00, 7:21 pace, HR 151
   25 x 1 min hard, 1 min easy
19 Dec
10 miles, 1:13:04, 7:19 pace, HR 146
20 Dec
10 miles, 1:07:15, 6:43 pace, HR 154

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Different Outlook

One thing that differentiates Canova'a approach to the standard one is that pace is more important than distance. I read one interview with the man where he states that a westerner would run 20 miles, no matter what, but a Kenyan would target a certain pace (effort, actually), and once he can't hold it any longer the workout is over, no matter how far he had gone. He also states that one approach isn't necessarily superior to the other, it's just how they act differently (cultural differences, maybe)?

I can't say I have followed that particular Canova principle so far, despite my attempts to base my training on the things I have read about and from the man, but I gave it a go on Saturday. The idea was to hit tempo pace, 6:15 - 6:20, which should more or less coincide with my present half-marathon pace (I haven't run a half in well over a year, which makes this a bit tricky), and not worry about the distance. As soon as I wasn't able to hit the pace any longer, or once it started feeling too hard, I would ease up. At the same time I did not want to give myself a license to pull out prematurely just because it felt tough; it was a fine line to be tread.

Last week's attempt at hitting that sort of pace was a bit of a disaster and I was ever so slightly apprehensive, but this new way of looking at things made it easier. The pace felt comfortable enough initially, but after 2 miles I started breathing harder. A few ups and downs in effort followed, at times I lost concentration for a bit, and once I was past 4 miles it definitely became harder. The pace had already started suffering when I finally pulled the plug on the effort after about 4.7 miles. After about 10 minutes of easy running I felt sufficiently recovered to give it another go and did a bit over a mile, albeit at a slightly slower pace. I think I got that workout right. I hung in there for as long as it seemed sensible but pulled the plug when I got into anaerobic territory. The hope is that next time it will feel that little bit easier and I can keep the same pace for longer, rather than try to hit a faster pace.

There's no rest for the wicked, and out I went again on Sunday morning. I waited out one rain shower, but that was of limited use on a day like today. I had sun, rain, hail, rain, sun, rain, sun, and a few other bits thrown in as well, the only constant being the wind, with a few very bright rainbows as a nice bonus. After about 15 miles I ran into Mark and we shared a mile or two, which was nice and those miles flew by particularly quickly. I did not even have to slow down for these, instead Mark increased his own pace to match mine, which makes me suspect that he is able to run faster than he presently knows himself. I didn't run any heroic sub-7 miles this time, just held a very steady effort over very hilly territory. These long runs are fine, but I am looking forward to some faster long ones as well (I might regret those words).

It rounded off another good week, with plenty of decent pace, and good mileage as well.
14 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:13, 7:49 pace, HR 139
15 Dec
10 miles, 1:07:22, 6:44 pace, HR 158
   4.7 miles @ 6:15, 1.3 miles @ 6:20
16 Dec
20 miles, 2:30:35, 7:31 pace, HR 145
Weekly Mileage: 85+

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Healthy Training

Last week, Maia was fighting off a cold all week. It was just one of the many bugs that a 5-year old brings home from school all the time. On Sunday, both Niamh and me felt a touch of the cold ourselves, but that's where our respective paths diverged. While a good night's sleep did wonders for me and I felt right as rain again, Niamh got it full on. She felt rotten for a couple of days and was only getting better by Wednesday, though she is still coughing quite severely today. This kind of thing isn't exactly unusual. Four school kids in the house mean they bring a lot of germs back home and usually some other family members catch it too, except me. My immune system must be exceptionally strong, and I sure attribute this to my running. It's because of these repeated occurrences that I do not pay any heed to the repeated scare stories about running that get printed in the press on a regular basis, one of them quite recently. While I know that a strong immune system is not an indicator that you won't get a heart attack, I simply cannot believe that an activity that demonstrably keeps me so healthy would be - well, unhealthy.

The training keeps going exceptionally well. After an exceptionally easy 10-miler on Monday it was time again for an evaluation. The last one had produced an excellent set of figures and I was quite curious what this week would bring. The conditions were not quite as ideal as 2 weeks ago, it was a little bit windy and I wondered if that would have an effect. I found it quite hard to get the heart rate up to 160 initially, I felt I had to work unusually hard for it. But as it turns out, once I got going I was flying.

(The numbers in brackets are adjusted pace, 7 seconds for every 2 heart beats off the 161 target):
        Mile 1    6:21   HR 160    (6:18)
        Mile 2    6:26   HR 160    (6:23)
        Mile 3    6:23   HR 161    (6:23)
        Mile 4    6:30   HR 162    (6:33)
        Recovery to HR 130: 30 seconds

I think I was still in the process of stabilising the heart rate during the first mile, which is why is was so fast - the HR basically took a bit to catch up. After that it felt smoother and it's another step up from 2 weeks ago. The short recovery time especially is a great sign; never mind that the average pace for these is just getting faster and faster.

Since the evaluation is such a mellow workout that does not require a recovery day I felt it safe to follow it up with a fartlek, which followed the usual formula of 1 minute hard / 1 minute easy. This used to feel quite hard a couple of weeks ago, but after 20 repeats I still felt quite good this time. Time to add more repeats, I guess.

Another fast run would definitely have been a bad idea after that, but I did a medium long run on Thursday, getting up very early like in the Good Old Times to run around the lake. It really was pitch dark, without the head lamp I would have run off the road on a couple of occasions. It was also fairly cold, at least judging by Kerry standards (which is not really cold, I know, I know).

I'm definitely in far better shape at this point in time than any previous year. My main worry at the moment is not to peak too early. Tralee is still 13 weeks away. The specific marathon training has not even started yet.
10 Dec
10 miles, 1:15:59, 7:35 pace, HR 135
11 Dec
12 miles, 1:23:32, 6:57 pace, HR 148
   4 mile eval: 6:18, 6:23, 6:23, 6:33 (adjusted), 30 sec recovery
12 Dec
8 miles, 56:43, 7:05 pace, HR 153
   20 x 1 min hard / 1 min easy
13 Dec
15+ miles, 1:45:14, 7:33 pace, HR 142

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Next Step

The training has definitely gone up a notch this week. I am still following my vague outline of a Canova build, and the advice for the last month of the base phase is to add a hilly fartlek run as well as a tempo run once per week.

This meant that the average training pace made a bit of a jump this week. The other by-product is that I was running a lot of miles at race pace or faster. I know that most elites, as well as a lot of not-so-elites, tend to run about 26 miles per week at marathon pace, which makes a lot of sense because the way to get good at running at a certain pace is to run at that certain pace, and now I'm basically trying to do just that myself (minus the elite bit, obviously).

The mileage dropped a bit, which helped keeping the legs reasonably fresh despite the increase in intensity. It is the standard thing to do when you start running faster, though I didn't plan a reduced mileage, just tried to adapt to the way my legs were feeling.

They definitely needed a bit of encouragement after Thursday. I tried to run that tempo run, with 6 miles at roughly half-marathon effort. I haven't raced a half-marathon in well over a year, but figured 6:20 pace should be pretty much it. Unfortunately, on the day itself I never managed to get going properly. Right from the start the pace was not there. The heart rate was quite low and I never managed to push it up to a higher level and I could not even hold 6:30 pace. I figured I was still fatigued from Tuesday's fartlek; I haven't really got any other explanation.

I took it especially easy on Friday to give the legs a break; I also happened to fast all day that day. I was a bit nervous how that would impact on my training, especially on Saturday. Although I had eaten again by the time I hit the road, I wasn't sure if running at a reasonably hard effort with definitely still reduced glycogen levels was really such a great idea, but got a pleasant surprise. I easily managed to run faster for 10 miles than I had managed for 6 on Thursday, and the expected sugar crash never came, so all was good.

My sugar levels definitely hit a high again at Cian's birthday party, but I wasn't the only one who loved Niamh's cake. It wasn't as sugary sweet as the photo suggested (see previous post) as the icing coating was quite thin, but the cake itself was just fabulous. It's a good thing I am a high mileage runner, imagine what I'd look like if all those extra calories weren't burned off day after day!

I decided to take it easy again on Sunday and just go for a fairly leisurely stroll around the lake. Halfway through the run I hit a rough patch that I initially attributed to empty glycogen stores, still a hangover from Friday's fast; when I felt better again a few miles later I dismissed that theory. With about 5 miles to go all of a sudden I decided to inject a bit of pace into the proceedings and dropped the pace from 7:45 to 6:45. It was a spur of the moment thing and initially I thought I'd do it just for one single mile but ended up running that pace for the rest of the run; I guess my glycogen stores were definitely not empty, then.
6 Dec
10 miles, 1:09:14, 6:55 pace, HR 152
   6 miles @ 6:32 pace, HR 159
7 Dec
10 miles, 1:14:46, 7:29 pace, HR 144
8 Dec
10 miles, 1:04:43, 6:28 pace, HR 159
9 Dec
18 miles, 2:14:18, 7:28 pace, HR 144
   13 miles @ 7:45, 5 miles @ 6:45
Weekly Mileage: 76

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Intermittent Fasting Report

I have been mildly curious about intermittent fasting for a while, reading a bit about it e.g form this guy. I have always been rather sceptical about the claimed health benefits and no real intentions of ever doing that myself. However, when I came across an ad for the Concern Fast something spoke to me, though not the fasting itself (which still smacks a bit of a "let's play suffering for a day" stunt to me) but the opportunity to raise some money and maybe make a tiny bit of difference for some. Before I had the opportunity to think things through I had already signed up.

Friday 7 December was not exactly the best date for fasting - it was also the day of my department's Christmas do, and I very much enjoy that every year. I might no look like it but I absolutely love food, and Jack's Seafood Restaurant in Cromane is one of the best eateries I have ever visited. I wasn't going to subject myself watching everyone else eating some of the most delicious food on the planet and then get drunk in unison, so the party had to go ahead without me.

Fasting was supposed to last from midnight to midnight, but I ate my last snack at 10 pm on Thursday; any later and I reckoned I would have trouble sleeping. Morning started as usual, I still went for my 10 mile run in the morning, except I only had water for "breakfast".

I started to get hunger pangs at about 9 o'clock when I arrived at the office and suspected I would be in for a long day. Turns out a cup of coffee is a surprisingly effective hunger depressant, though it's probably not the best thing for your stomach. As the day wore on, more and more people started asking how the fast was going, though I could not tell any difference. It did occur to me that today I could behave as grumpy as I liked and still have a good excuse, though I'm not sure anyone would have noticed a difference. The hunger pangs did not get any worse during the day; I even worked through breakfast and most of my lunch break. Keeping busy was a good thing.

Towards the evening I noticed I started getting slightly dizzy if I got up from my chair a bit too quickly, though that was as bad as it got. Cycling home was no problem, and skipping dinner was easy enough as I knew this would be over soon. Niamh tried to get me to eat at 10 o'clock, pointing out that I had been fasting for 24 hours already, but I insisted it would have to be midnight to midnight and went to bed instead. I woke a few times, and at 2 o'clock went to the kitchen and raided the fridge after 28 hours of fasting. Unfortunately I slept very badly that night, which included another feed at 5 o'clock in the morning.

I went running again at 7:30 in the morning, which went surprisingly well.

Would I do it again? Well, unless it was another charity gig that was supposed to last from midnight to midnight, I would do it from evening time to the following day's evening time, simply to avoid the sleeping problems. Otherwise it was actually pretty easy. I kept comparing it to running for 24 hours straight, and not eating for a day did not even register on the scale compared to that.

I also was 2 pounds lighter this morning, despite my 2 night feeds, but that may be temporary only.

I raised €157 so far, with a few more being pledged. Thanks everyone who chipped in, this is very much appreciated.

And while 7 December might not have been the ideal date for me, 8 December would have been a lot worse. Happy Birthday, Cian. I don't think my blood sugar levels will remain low for long today.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Not A Kenyan

I was reading this book recently and I have to admit I am deeply envious of the author. Living in Kenya for a few months, concentrating on nothing but running (well, and writing a book, I suppose), would be just great. Unfortunately, I don't think Niamh's reaction would be the same as the author's wife if I suggested dropping everything and moving to Africa (admittedly, I never asked), so my chances of doing the same are probably rather slim.

So, instead of getting some high-altitude training with the world's best distance runners, I am stuck at sea-level, running on my own in the dark in temperatures only just above freezing (mind, that's still almost 20 degrees warmer than this time 2 years ago). The one Kenyan-like thing I'm doing is a fartlek workout that is also mentioned in that book, consisting of 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy, in my case repeated 20 times.

This was sandwiched between 2 easy runs. The legs felt distinctly heavy on Monday, which was probably caused not only by Sunday's 20-miler but also the increased pace of last week in general. Luckily, 10 easy miles seemed exactly what was required to get them back by Tuesday. The fartlek workout was challenging again, just like last week, but this kind of speedwork is mentally easier than, say, quarter-mile repeats where you are trying to hit a certain pace, which is why I find it much more agreeable. I was concerned when I saw the high heart rate reading afterwards, but a look at the graph later indicated that it was more a glitch of the HRM, which was not picking up the signal properly over the first mile and recorded readings around the 200 mark, than an actually  raised HR. That's something that tends to happen with Garmin HRMs, especially in cold conditions.

By the way, there is still time for you to click on this link and give a vital donation to a very worthwhile charity. Thank you so much to the ones amongst you who have already donated (or pledged to do so).

3 Dec
10 miles, 1:16:21, 7:38 pace, HR 137
4 Dec
8 miles, 57:52, 7:12 pace, HR 160 (not!)
   20 x 1 min hard / 1 min easy
5 Dec
10 miles, 1:16:19, 7:37 pace, HR 140

Sunday, December 02, 2012


I did a silly thing. I heard about the Concern Fast on the radio, and before I had a chance to think things through, I had signed up myself. To be honest, I do feel a bit uneasy about the whole idea. It smacks of a stunt, and comfortable Westerners playing hungry for a day, in the full knowledge that they can tuck in heartily the next day has absolutely nothing in common with people who are genuinely starving and suffering. Having said that, the underlying cause is a worthwhile one, and if you could find it in your heart to give a few quid to a deserving charity (and ignore what I just said), I would very much appreciate if you would follow this link and support me with a few quid.

The running has gone pretty well this week. My adductor felt a little bit better every day until I could feel no more discomfort yesterday. Things like that may be a sign of getting old, as I have been told by an authoritative source, but there isn't much I can do about that particular problem. The most important thing to me is that it did not hamper my training and went away again.

After a reasonably easy 10 miler on Thursday I followed the next step up on my Canova spreadsheet and introduced a tempo run. There are countless options, I settled on 2x2 miles and the pace I targeted was 6:20, giving myself the option to speed up a little if it felt too comfortable or to slow down if it felt too tough. In the end, 6:20 was just fine, my biggest problem was that I kept losing concentration and kept cruising at autopilot, but then again, being able to cruise at 6:20 pace isn't that bad a situation to be in. This isn't particularly fast. I am still in base training, and that is not the place for heroic workouts. But it is another stepping stone; I haven't been doing a lot of running at faster than planned marathon pace up to now. What I found remarkable was that I was taking it easy between the tempo segments, and when I checked my pace on my watch I was seemingly jogging at 7:00 pace; again, not a bad place to be in. All this bodes very well for Tralee.

Saturday's "group" run consisted only of Mark and me; I let him set the pace and it was a good bit faster than the usual group run. I probably won't be able to make a lot more group runs. As I am nearing the end of base training my runs will become much more specific and most Saturdays will probably see much faster pace; unfortunately right now there aren't any training partners for tempo pace runs at the club, though this may well change over time, you never know.

Sunday's long run was a little bit of a struggle. From the very first step it all felt a bit laboured, though the fact that I didn't feel any worse 20 miles later isn't such a bad sign either. The weather conditions were downright miserable, rainy and windy and cold. But I got the run done, and it always provides some satisfaction to jot down a run that starts with a "2" in your training log.
29 Nov
10 miles, 1:14:05, 7:24 pace, HR 152
30 Nov
10 miles, 1:08:45, 6:52 pace, HR 157
   2x2 miles @ 6:20 (HR 157), 6:21 (167)
1 Dec
13+ miles, 1:34:13, 7:07 pace, HR 148
2 Dec
20 miles, 2:29:17, 7:27 pace, HR 150

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Evaluation, Again!

It only feels like yesterday that I did my last evaluation workout. I'm not sure where all that time went. However, there was a significant event since the last evaluation, namely the 30-mile race only 9 days prior.

It was because of that race that I approached Tuesday's evaluation with a slight sense of trepidation. My legs have recovered very well but I do know from past experience that a marathon can show up for weeks in the evaluation numbers, an ultra, even a short one, should do even more so.

For a change the conditions were pretty much ideal, in contrast to what the weather lady had predicted, but I always forgive her. The evaluation workout is rather mellow as far as workouts go and time passed very quickly. It wasn't until I got home and checked the numbers on the Garmin that I started to raise an eyebrow or two.
        Mile 1    6:24   HR 161
        Mile 2    6:25   HR 161
        Mile 3    6:29   HR 161
        Mile 4    6:32   HR 161
        Recovery to HR 130: 35 seconds

These are the best numbers I have ever produced in an evaluation. I might have messed up Sixmilebridge as a race but as a training run I seem to have gotten it absolutely spot on. I'm not sure if my former coach would claim that there was a sharpening effect from the strong last mile, but I've had sharpening effects before and still the numbers were never as good as that.

I'm pretty excited about that. It sure bodes well for Tralee. Considering how well I seem to be able to recover from fast long runs these days I'm all the more sorry that I will miss Clonakilty, but there's nothing I can do about that.

Since the evaluation is such a mellow workout I didn't worry about following it up with another workout on Wednesday. Following Canova's guidelines I added a hilly fartlek run to my weekly repertoire, and in Kenya they're doing fartleks by running a minute hard/a minute easy (at least according to that book). Apparently they're doing it for an hour at a time, I thought it prudent to start with the less ambitious target of 40 minutes, plus warm/up and cool/down of course.

Twice during the faster repeats I caught a glimpse of my pace on the Garmin, and both times it showed 5:3x. I wasn't entirely killing myself but it sure amounted to a lot of fast running, more than 5k at faster than 5k race pace, apparently. I survived by concentrating on my breathing and trying not to start hyperventilating, an old problem of mine at high effort levels. After about 17 repeats I pretty much had enough, but slavishly followed the watch for three more; not sure if that was a good idea or not, but I survived.

It's a nice enough introduction to speedwork, nowhere near as daunting as quarter-mile repeats on a track but it keeps the legs moving nicely. Interestingly, Ron Daws in his excellent book on Lydiard training recommends fartleks at the end of the base phase as well; just goes to show that there's nothing new under the sun.

It's not all plain sailing, a few days ago as I was reaching the top of a hill towards the end of an easy run I felt a pain in my right adductor, or maybe just my right adductor tendons because that seems to match the area I felt the pain on. It didn't last and I made it home without problems, but Tuesday morning I felt it again after getting up. It went away completely when I was running but became rather sore later that day.

I wan't sure if running at fast pace on Wednesday was such a smart idea with that niggle, but (as always) went ahead anyway. Just like yesterday I did not feel it at all when I was running but it came back during the day.

I've had plenty of niggles over the last few years but despite never following the usual advise of taking a rest break I haven't been injured in ages, and that's just another niggle along the way. If I had taken a rest break every time something starts bothering me I would have missed a lot of training over the years (not much so recently, my body seems to be holding up very well indeed these days).
26 Nov
10 miles, 1:15:51, 7:35 pace, HR 140
27 Nov
12 miles, 1:22:39, 6:53 pace, HR 155
   4 mile eval: 6:24, 6:25, 6:29, 6:32; 35 sec recovery
28 Nov
8 miles, 58:11, 7:16 pace, HR 152
   20 x 60/60

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Active Recovery

I was never going to break any mileage records this week. The emphasis was clearly on recovery from the 30 miles on Sunday. I might not have run it at race effort (and don't I know it!) but it was still a significant effort and recovery was needed.

Accordingly I did not do any workouts, just ran at what felt like a reasonably comfortable pace. The HR was always a bit higher that what I would have liked to see. I never looked at the Garmin during the runs, they was done always purely by feel. It was only afterwards that I checked out the numbers, and I was always surprised by the high HR figure. This only changed today, Sunday, when the HR finally went below 150. All these runs have been at pretty much the same perceived effort, though.

The most challenging feature this week may well have been the weather, with heavy wind and rain and partially flooded road at the start of the week and icy cold temperatures towards the end. I don't mind either too much, I have run in worse conditions, though there was a short hail shower as well one day, and that's a bit too painful to be called "fun". Otherwise I was ok with it, I see it as additional mental training. I remember the winner of the championship in Bangor, John O'Regan, remarking to someone else after that race "who would train in such conditions!", and, well, I do. It's a side-product of always running in the morning. I get up and then I run, no matter what.

The pace has generally been pretty fast for an easy effort, maybe a bit faster than would have been advisable in a recovery week. Today I ran the last few miles, after the big hills had been left behind, at about 7:00 pace and felt comfortable enough. This bodes very well for Tralee. My present marathon PB pace is 6:50. If I can already run virtually the same pace feeling as good as that, that's a great place to be in, and yet the real training is still to come. The race is 16 weeks away, and the next phase of training, when things will finally start ramping up, is not too far off. I'm already looking forward to it.
23 Nov
10 miles, 1:12:53, 7:17 pace, HR 150
24 Nov
10 miles, 1:12:39, 7:15 pace, HR 157
25 Nov
14.75 miles, 1:49:25, 7:25 pace, HR 147
Weekly Mileage: 58

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Handling The Trauma

Obviously, I've spent some some time in the last few days thinking about Sunday's race. There's no point hitting myself over the head repeatedly. I threw away a possible victory due to a series of mistakes. To be fair, I haven't exactly had much reason or opportunity to hone my tactical racing skills up to now. I'll file Sunday's experience under "lesson learned (hard way)" and move on.

If Fergus really ran 3:35 in last year's DCM and one year later ran the same time for a 30 miler, that's a phenomenal improvement - if you're reading this, congratulations, mate! Don't worry about people thinking you were a bit too intense. You were intense, I was relaxed. You won, I lost. There's a connection here.

In Dublin I ran 26+ miles at 7:24 pace with a HR of 156. In Sixmilebridge I ran 30 miles at 7:11 pace with a HR of 158. That's in the same ball park, but marks a nice little improvement. Going purely by HR, my training is going well.

By the way, I can't quite believe I managed to close out the race out with 6:16 mile. I have run 5Ks where the last mile was slower than that. Just shows how much faster I could have run had I tried properly.

Let's move on, for real this time.

On the definite plus side, the one factor that cost me my win, namely the fact that I regarded it more a training run than a real race, has reaped benefits ever since. After Dublin I wasn't sore but I felt a bit stiff for a couple of days. This time, there is not even a trace of stiffness. I did not run on Monday because I thought a rest day might be a good idea after that race, but was surprised by how well I felt.

Accordingly, I went out for 5 miles on Tuesday.Why only 5 miles? Glad you asked. I got up in time for more but realised that I had forgotten to hang out the laundry the previous evening, so I did it there and then. When that was finished, I only had time for 5 miles before work. Ah yes, there's something like Real Life as well. I bet Mo Farah never had to worry about the state of the laundry before going for a training run.

Tuesday's HR was super low, which came as a bit of a surprise, but Wednesday and Thursday told a different story. The same happened three weeks ago. Two days after DCM, my HR was surprisingly low but increased significantly the following days. The exact same is happening now. If it follows the same pattern (which I think it will), it will improve again within a week.

The weather has been pretty wild this week, with plenty of wind and rain, flooded roads and icy cold temperatures. Great stuff! Makes you feel like hard core after 10 miles. I wasn't too bothered about the conditions in Sixmilebridge on Sunday - I've seen it all before, it was just like home.
20 Nov
5+ miles, 38:29, 7:32 pace, HR 142
21 Nov
8 miles, 59:56, 7:29 pace, HR 154
22 Nov
10 miles, 1:15:15, 7:31 pace, HR 154

Monday, November 19, 2012

So Near And Yet So Far

I went into this race with unclear targets. It was not a goal race, not even close. I don't run goal races 3 weeks after a marathon. I did not taper for it, just took it easy for two days, otherwise I was training right through it. Nevertheless I was very much looking forward to it. Tom Enright and his crew always put on a fantastic event.

And yet, last year I had somehow managed to win this race, and a repeat would be nice. The plan was to run it as a training run, and if there was a chance of winning (which obviously depended more on who would turn up rather than my own performance) then push that little bit harder and see what happens.

I arrived in Sixmilebridge in good time and all we talked about were the freezing conditions, but we were sure we would be fine once we started moving. Time passed quickly and before I knew it we were at the start line. There were many familiar faces around, but no fast guys that I would have recognised.

Right at the start I took off together with Deirdre Finn, running 7:30 pace, exactly like last year. The main difference was that one other runner in a yellow top and red shorts was doing 7:00 miles and quickly opened a gap. I was undecided if I should go with him, but decided to wait and see, which would save me from putting out an effort that would unduly set back my training for Tralee, because Tralee was and still is my actual goal race and I did not want to compromise my preparations for that race.

There were 4 races going on today, the double-marathon runners had already been out for 3 hours by the time we started and the marathon and half-marathon runners would join us later on. The race course was very unusual, a 1-mile loop through Sixmilebridge, and included a hill that climbs by 17 or 18 meters. Over 30 miles that adds up to over 500 meters of elevation change, a rather significant number. I find 30 small hills much easier than a long, sustained climb, but opinion amongst runners remained firmly divided on that matter.

Photo by Jason Fahy

I got a bit of feedback from the double-marathon runners as I passed them, some telling me that the "other guy" was huffing and puffing up the hill and would blow up eventually, but I mostly kept an eye out for him myself, seeing that he gained 10-20 seconds per mile, while I spent the first 3 miles mostly chatting with Dee. Eventfully, going up the hill the fourth time, I decided to push a bit harder to make sure the gap to the leader would not grow too big. I wasn't worried about blowing up myself - after all, at that point there was only  one marathon left.

I initially gained back some distance, but on the fifth lap (or was it the sixth) I spent a minute chatting to Ray, the leader and eventual winner of the double-marathon, and when I took up the chase up again the guy in front had dropped from sight. I was confused, I couldn't understand how he had opened up such a gap all of a sudden, but decided to just keep a steady pace; if he blew up I would catch him later, if he was able to genuinely keep at 7:00 minute pace for 30 miles then all kudos to him.

According to the weather forecast the rain was supposed to hold off until after midday. We had started at 10 o'clock and I hoped I would have done most of the race by the time the rain arrived. Unfortunately it started drizzling about 45 minutes into the race, and by the time the marathon started at 11 it was already getting seriously wet. For the rest of the day there was to be no respite, the conditions got progressively worse. With the rain came the wind and the cold, eventually big puddles formed and by the end parts of the course were basically flooded. But hey, living in Kerry means I'm used to that.

Photo by Jason Fahy
The average pace on my Garmin dropped steadily, from 7:20 early on down to 7:03, 7:02 and 7:01 after a while. Obviously that means that I ran a few sub-7 miles, which I always felt was a bit fast for an ultra, but I was always quite comfortable, though I might indeed have blown up myself had I run any faster. Looking at the splits from the race results now, I can see that my adversary steadily ran a few seconds per lap faster, gaining about 10 seconds each time.

Unfortunately it was far from plain sailing, my stomach started acting up even before the 10 mile point. It was manageable at first, more like hunger pains, but it started cramping badly later on as the race progressed. I took 2 gels and a couple of sports drink, which I could stomach easily enough, but any more would have been pushing my luck.

I went going through the halfway point still feeling pretty good but as I was nearing the 20 mile mark I started slowing down, and my stomach took a turn for the worse. I considered going to the toilet each time I passed the GAA ground, but each time felt it might settle again and hoped that I would be able to finish before a pitstop became required.

Running laps and laps and laps of the same course means all events become jumbled in your memory, and it all blends into one. Early on I was chatty enough each time I passed another runner, later on I became quieter and quieter, and eventually I basically stopped talking altogether. That happens every time in similar circumstances, I can use my willingness to exchange a few words as a gauge of how fresh I am.

Getting close to the marathon  point I was really starting to suffer. The legs, while tired, were still holding up but the stomach was in knots. At one point Niall Campbell, who was stewarding, told me I was about 4 minutes behind the leader and he was slowing down, but I told him it didn't matter because I was f*cked myself (excuse my language). And still I kept running past the GAA ground without stopping.

Just as I about to finish the 26th mile I realised that I was slowing down so much that the runners I had just overtaken were going past me again. I basically admitted defeat in the race, and this time I stopped at the GAA ground for a pitstop. To be honest, it was very much needed, I would not have lasted another half hour.

I lost about 90 extra seconds in there, but as soon as I started running again I realised that I had my running legs back. Apparently my stomach cramps had sapped much of my energy, now with that problem out of the way I was able to speed up considerably, from 7:33 in lap 25 to 7:16 in lap 27 and 7:04 in 28. I passed the marathon in 3:09, despite the emergency stop, which actually makes this one of my faster marathons, despite the fact that I still had almost 4 miles to run at that point.

Chasing victory seemed futile, but I gave the race my best shot, more for my own satisfaction than a real conviction that I could actually win. The announcer at the finish line noticed it as well, he commented that I was looking strong again all of a sudden.

Going into the last lap I still could not see the leader, which means I was more than a minute behind him. Pointless. I still ran as fast as I could. Then, halfway through the lap, all of a sudden I could see him, for the first time in 25 miles, halfway up the hill just as I was at the bottom. I gave it my best shot, ran as fast as I could, but when he turned the corner at the top he still seemed too far ahead. When I reached that point myself he was much closer than I thought he would be and I gave chase with seemingly all that I had left.

I caught him with less than a quarter mile to go. For a couple of seconds the thought that I was going to win the race after all was filling my head, but then I heard him, cursing loudly and coming after me. I'm not sure if he was swearing directly at me (which would have been a bit severe, considering the kind of language he used), or at himself, or if it was just his way to pump himself up for the finish, but he caught me again, still cursing loudly. I was slow to react and let him go past instead of trying properly to hold him off and all of a sudden I found myself a couple of meters behind again, with next to nothing left in the race.

29.99 miles into it. Photos by Sean Power

Sprinting was never my forte, I have absolutely no natural speed, and despite giving it all I was up against it. I can't say I didn't try, and I might even have managed to close the gap a little bit at the end but it was futile and now I know what it feels like to be losing out by a whisker.

I lay on the ground, completely exhausted and in utter disbelief of what had just happened. Ultra races are not decided in a sprint finish! But here we were, him celebrating, me sucking oxygen into desperately empty lungs as if through a straw. Eventually he helped me up and we gave each other a (manly) hug, each acknowledging the other's effort.

Race over, friends again!

All finish line photos kindly provided by Sean Power.

It was only then that I could ask his name and found out that my conqueror was called Fergus McCarthy, up to then he had just been that nameless competitor up front.

Obviously I was disappointed to have missed out on a rare victory by the smallest of margins, but I could live with that. I had a warm shower but started shaking and shivering. As I went back towards the tent at the finish, Tom Enright took one look at me and immediately dragged me off to the ambulance where I spent the next 10 or 15 minuted recovering from mild hypothermia. Eventually the shivering stopped and a few minutes later I was feeling sufficiently recovered to leave. I didn't hang around much longer, though. The freezing cold, rain and wind were still there and I was better off making an exit with the car's heating turned up full blast.

I had plenty of time thinking about the race since. This was a race I definitely could have won. I'm not blaming my lack of speed - I could have avoided a sprint finish. It was a tactical mistake to let Fergus go at the start. I have learned last year that holding a commanding lead in a race gives you a big boost, and I handed that boost to him on a plate. When I started chasing him I should have done so with more conviction rather that keeping a steady pace and hoping that he would eventually blow up.

Most of all, I should have set a clear target. Either treat a race as a training run and leave it at that, or decide that you are going for the win, but do not mix the two. Trying to win without giving it your best shot is a stupid tactic, and just because I managed to win last year did not mean a repeat performance was on the cards. In light of that, I'm happy enough that I came second - I did not deserve first place. If the opportunity will come again I do not know, but should it ever do so then I will be better prepared, tactically as well as mentally.

Sixmilebridge has not seen the last of me.

18 Nov
Eddie Murphy memorial race, 30 miles
3:35:46, 7:11 pace, HR 158, second place

Sunday, November 18, 2012


30 mile race in Sixmilebridge,
3:35 (ish), 2nd place. Lost out in a sprint finish by a second.
Spent some time in the ambulance, recovering from hypothermia. More to follow

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


1. To ascertain or fix the value or worth of
2. To examine and judge carefully; appraise

This time there was a slightly bigger gap than the usual two weeks between evaluations because of the Dublin city marathon. Of course said race might also have a significant impact on the actual figures. The evaluation workout is very sensitive to fatigue and will show it up straight away. The last few runs last week had indicated that I had recovered remarkably well from the marathon. I was curious to see if the numbers would confirm this.

(The numbers in brackets are adjusted pace, 7 seconds for every 2 heart beats off the 161 target):
        Mile 1    6:37   HR 161    (6:37)
        Mile 2    6:50   HR 160    (6:47)
        Mile 3    6:45   HR 161    (6:45)
        Mile 4    6:47   HR 160    (6:44)
        Recovery to HR 130: 38 seconds

The pace is remarkably similar to the last evaluation, apart from a slower second mile. Once I'm settled into the workout, the pace remains remarkably stable. Plus, the recovery time has reduced yet again. I think it confirms that I had recovered very well from Dublin. That's great, especially considering that I'm doing a 30 mile race on Sunday, which I wouldn't fancy on pre-fatigued legs.

The conditions for the evaluation weren't ideal. For some strange reason all evaluations I have done in this training cycle so far have seen plenty of rain and breezy conditions but this time they were particularly bad, which may or may not have had an effect on the numbers. The rain wasn't as heavy as the forecast had indicated but the wind was significant. It's surprisingly tricky to keep an even heart rate if you alternate half miles with and against the wind.

Some toes on my left foot started hurting badly right at the end. When I took off my shoes I could see the damage, the skin on one of the toes had been completely ripped off. I could blame the shoes, which have just over 700 miles on them, but I think the real reason was a hole in my sock, which left the toe rubbing directly against the upper of the shoe. Time for the bin. Should have done this earlier. It was really sore for the rest of the day, but a piece of moleskin eventually made a big difference. Being stupid and hurting your foot is not ideal 5 days before a long race, but I'll manage.

The other runs since Sunday have been easy efforts. My legs had felt tired on Monday, no wonder considering the pace on Sunday's long run, and a few slow miles were exactly what they needed to recover.

Today I got up shortly after 6, got ready, left the house before I was awake properly, hardly noticed the rain and could barely remember anything when I had gotten back home; 10 miles entirely on autopilot. The Garmin confirmed that I had indeed been running, and the pace had been decent enough.

12 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:29, 7:51 pace, HR 141
13 Nov
12 miles, 1:27:05, 7:15 pace, HR 149
   4 mile eval: 6:37, 6:47, 6:45, 6:45; 38 sec recovery
14 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:01, 7:36 pace, HR 142

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Definite Progress!

On Thursday morning I knew that I was pushing the boundaries. After hill repeats on Tuesday and 15 hilly miles on Wednesday I was in definite need of a little bit of recovery. 8 miles at a very easy effort did me a lot of good, and in actual fact I was quite heartened that even such an easy effort on tired legs now gives me 7:40 pace. That's a good place to be.

I assessed the situation again on Friday morning. A couple of weeks ago I had made the mistake of stubbornly going ahead with a harder effort even though the legs had not felt like it. However, they felt genuinely good that morning and I could go ahead in good conscience. I ended up with my fastest 10 mile time this training cycle (though I am not racing these workouts - the effort is strictly limited) and felt good all the way through. The one fly in the ointment was the fairly high HR of 162 - all other similar workouts had been in the high 150s, though the perceived effort was still pretty much the same.

Saturday is always a relaxed day because of the group run. I boost my mileage by running to and from the meeting point, accepting the fact that some people take it as proof that I'm slightly deranged, and since it was rather cold I did a few strides on the gravel road beside the GAA pitch instead of waiting around and freezing my bits off.

Strides are definitely an element missing in my training. In almost every training cycle I reach the point where I promise to add 2-3 sets of strides per week to my training, and so far I have alway failed to keep that going for any length of time. I just forget about them. I'll put a note somewhere to keep reminding me. Maybe that will solve that problem.

I managed to keep a good effort going for Sunday's long run. I have generally tried to run my runs at a faster pace this time round, while still keeping an eye on the all-important recovery. I think this is starting to pay off. I used to think of runs at almost 7:15 pace as tempo runs - to be able to run long, hilly runs at that pace and still feel reasonably comfortable is great.

I measured my resting HR on Sunday morning. Even though the measurement might have been compromised by the 3 children running around me at the time, the resting HR has gone down to 44, which is actually lower than before Dublin. I found that rather amazing. I might indeed have managed to get away with running the Dublin marathon as a training effort and subsequently continue training without the need for any time off.

Now let's turn the dial up by another notch and try that again.
8 Nov
8 miles, 1:01:39, 7:42 pace, HR 142
9 Nov
10 miles, 1:07:49, 6:47 pace, HR 162
10 Nov
14 miles, 1:44:37, 7:28 pace, HR 144
   7:03 pace - 5 x 100 strides - 7:59 pace - 7:20 pace
11 Nov
18 miles, 2:10:56, 7:16 pace, HR 153
Weekly Mileage: 81

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Up And Down

I checked my logs from last year what I had done between Dublin and Sixmilebridge, and my first thought was that I had done a lot. Then I remembered what I had done last week, immediately following the Dublin marathons and realised that I was already doing a similar number of miles with a few workouts thrown into the mix - sometimes the weeks might look tough but the body is holding up fine.

In fact, I felt fantastic on Monday; I ran what I thought was a fairly slow pace, it certainly felt very easy. It was not until I had come back home that I realised I had averaged 7:35 pace. It's great when 7:35 pace feels so easy. That kind of thing started to happen two years ago, when I was being coached. After a few months, the same pace that had always been challenging suddenly felt easy. It's always great when that happens.

I followed that up with a set of hill repeats on Tuesday. I wasn't exactly looking forward to that, the last time I had done them, just before Dublin, they had felt rather tough. I got a nice surprise; the first few once again were tough, but once I got into the rhythm of the workout I was doing them on autopilot, even though I was definitely breathing hard at the end of each repeat. I did not count them - on previous occasions I went back home when I got tired. Not so this time. I could have done a good few more, I went home only because I was out of time. Counting the spikes on the HR graph afterwards I came up with 14 - one more than last time while feeling much better. There is definitely progress being made.

In contrast to all the good things, today's midweek longish run felt much more like hard work than fun. I guess the hill repeats were still in my legs. The fact that a stone found its way into my right shoe and almost caused a blister did not help. Maybe the early hour had something to do with it as well, I had gotten plenty of sleep but 5:30 in the morning is still pretty damn early, no matter how you look at it.

I guess it's a sign to be careful. I am amazed how quickly I seem to have recovered from Dublin, but that was still only just over a week ago. The legs might feel fine but I know that deep down they are still being affected. Let's have an easy day tomorrow and take stock afterwards.
5 Nov
8 miles, 1:00:44, 7:35 pace, HR 140
6 Nov
8.1 miles, 1:12:17, 8:55 pace, HR 150
   14 x 60 sec hill repeats
7 Nov
15 miles, 1:54:57, 7:40 pace, HR 147

Sunday, November 04, 2012


Running a marathon as a training run for a marathon is fairly unusual, I admit. But having done a significant number of them, including several as training runs (though usually for ultras), I like to think I know what I'd doing by now (ok, up to a point).

The most important thing is recovery afterwards. After my first marathon I was so sore I never wanted to run another step (which is exactly what I did for a couple of months). Things have improved since then, and after Dublin I did not even feel sore, just a little bit stiff.

I did not take any days off but reduced the mileage for several days until I could no longer feel the effects of the marathon. I know they are still there. I measured my resting HR this morning and it came out as 49, about 5 beats higher than it had been before Monday and it will remain elevated for a few more weeks. But I could not tell that from the way the legs felt over the last two days. They have forgotten the marathon already.

This week I have steadily increased the mileage, never coming home feeling like I should have done less, which is good. Including the marathon it added up to a decent enough week and now I'm basically back in normal training mode. I will more or less replicate what I did last year, get a few decent weeks of training under the belt and then run the 30 mile race in Sixmilebridge. That went exceedingly well last year, so I don't see a reason to change anything. Of course I can't promise another win – that depends far more on who will be on the start line than anything I can influence myself.

Dublin was fun. I love pacing (which is why I'm doing it so often) and because it had felt so easy I already suspected that recovery would be very quick. I'm already looking forward to the next one, but now it's time to move on.
2 Nov
8 miles, 59:52, 7:29 pace, HR 155
3 Nov
10 miles, 1:14:12, 7:25 pace, HR 149
2 Nov
15.1 miles, 1:51:34, 7:23 pace, HR 154

Weekly mileage: 76+

Thursday, November 01, 2012


And there was me smugly thinking I had done a perfect job when pacing the 3:15 group in Monday's marathon, when I get a comment from the boss (no, not Niamh, the other one) that the brief had been to come home within 30 seconds of target, rather than 30-60 seconds as I had thought. So, the target for next year will be to run 17 seconds slower. Still, I don't think I did too badly. I certainly didn't get any complaints from my pacees, and that's the one group that counts.

Photo courtesy of Alan Murphy
There are lots of photos available of the runners, but I didn't see many of me, which is a bit surprising considering I was wearing a huge pink fairy wing. Actually that suits me just fine, I don't tend to be at my photogenic best when I'm running a marathon.

As regards to recovery, Dublin was just another training run (a rather long one, admittedly), and I never intended to take time off. You still have to respect the distance and therefore this week is a very easy low-mileage one, but training keeps going on uninterrupted. Walking down the staircase in Nana's house is an excellent indicator for the state of sore quads, and since I managed that without problems on Tuesday morning I went out of a short 5-miler straight away.

I thought I was running easily until I caught a glimpse of the Garmin and realised I was going at 7:30 pace, which is definitely too fast the day after a marathon. The HR reading was strange, very low. Either the Garmin was wrong or my leg muscles did a number on me. A low heart rate is not necessarily a sign of fitness, it can be a warning sign that the muscles are severely fatigued and most fibres just do not get activated, something I clearly cannot rule out in that case.

Anyway, I ran at a much more relaxed pace on Wednesday, and this time the low HR is certainly believable due to the easy effort.
Today, Thursday, the legs felt almost back to normal, though I know perfectly well that it takes a lot longer to be fully recovered, even after the stiffness has gone. I did an extra couple of miles (an extra two loops in Deer Park, that is), starting out slowly and gradually speeding up without even realising. In theory I should probably be running a little bit slower than that. In reality, I take the fact that the legs keep speeding up while on autopilot as a good sign.
There will be a few more easy days; I might do a longer run on the weekend; I will decide then, depending on how I feel. Next week I'll get back into proper training again. Last year I ran 2 weeks of 80-something miles after Dublin and had a fantastic race in Sixmilebridge, which came as a complete surprise. If I can replicate that, it would be great.
30 Oct
5 miles, 38:07, 7:37 pace, HR 138
31 Oct
5 miles, 40:11, 8:02 pace, HR 136
1 Nov
7 miles, 53:49, 7:41 pace, HR 150

Monday, October 29, 2012

Easy Does It

October bank holiday Monday can only mean one thing, the marathon is back in town. Like the last two years I was donning my pacing gear in the morning, rather than prepare to run it all-out. Unlike the last two year, I had gotten bumped up into the 3:15 pace group.

I wasn't worried about the pace, I have paced 3:15 before and during a couple of test runs last week the effort had felt remarkably easy.

For once I was glad that the marathon was on the Monday because Sunday had been a miserable wet and windy day. The conditions on Monday, on the other hand, were absolutely perfect. Cool, no rain and very little wind made for a slightly chilly time waiting for the start but it was perfect once we started moving.

What was slightly less than perfect was me not pushing the start button of the Garmin as we crossed the line. I can't remember if I forgot to press it or if it just did not register, fact is that I ended up starting my timer several seconds late (I guessed about 15), and since I was supposed to keep a very close eye on the clock, this wasn't ideal. Right after the start there was plenty of congestion, partially because of the usual idiots starting right at the front and then jogging at snails pace, but also because of a very tight right corner where we almost came to a stop. However, this proved to be the last time of the day where things didn't quite work out as planned.

There were three pacers for 3:15, apart from myself there was Greg who had paced 3:30 with us last year and Ray who I ran with in Connemara for the first 30 miles and who had just come second in the Dingle Ultra. The 3:15 pacees were in good hands.

Greg took off a bit too fast for my liking; maybe he tried to quickly make up the time we had lost at the slow start. Ray and myself were starting in a more measured way; we would make up the time gradually over the next few miles.

The course climbs slightly on its way to Phoenix Park, but you don't even notice it because your legs are so fresh. There was the usual mad scramble for water at the first water stop, something I stayed well clear of, even if it meant I would have to wait another three miles for my first drink. Because of the cool temperatures it wasn't critical.

We had almost caught up with Greg when there was trouble at the second aid station. I think someone slipped and fell and with all those runners heading for the same table it almost caused a pile-up. Greg escaped unscathed, but seemed to take it as a sign to take off again and within half a mile he was once more a good bit ahead of us. One or two runners made a comment about his uneven pacing, but they were being unfair, overall he kept a very steady pace. I heard that he kept his pacees entertained with plenty of jokes, which went down very well - something I'm not comfortable doing when I'm pacing. I just run. (It gives the runners a choice of which type of pacer they want to run with, I suppose).

I was well into my stride by now but kept having troubles with my backpack. They tried a new system, instead of balloons we were carrying backpacks with big, coloured flags sticking out. The were very light, but no matter what I tried the pack kept bouncing on my shoulders and the straps were rubbing against my neck. I was having visions of two bright red marks either side, as if I had been attacked by Dracula, which would have been fitting for Halloween, I suppose. Every time I tried to fasten the straps a bit more it was better for a short time, but within a quarter mile I was invariably feeling uncomfortable again.

The downhill mile from Phoenix Park ensured we got a few seconds ahead of 3:15 pace, and we kept a little cushion over the next few miles. I thought a few extra seconds would be handy for Crumlin Road. Last year that had been a real trouble spot with very bad congestion, verging on being dangerous and we had lost some time there. I was quite surprised to see that they had changed the layout this year, we had the entire road to ourselves instead of having cars whisk by on the other side of the line of cones, and it made a massive difference, a problematic spot had instantly transformed into a much more comfortable mile or two. Of course there was still the usual headwind to contend with. That seems to be a law of nature on that stretch of road.

We reached the halfway point in good time, with about half a minute of cushion, which I felt very comfortable with. The pacees around us seemed happy enough as well.

The next few miles just seemed to fly by. I felt very comfortable with the effort, staying on pace happened entirely on autopilot and we were cruising along. Admittedly, not everyone felt quite as happy, it was at this point that we gradually started overtaking people as they started getting into trouble, but for most of it I kept recognising the runners around me.

There are no big hills in Dublin and all the climbs are very gradual, but I know from experience that even the small climbs can feel a lot tougher with more and more miles in the legs. The last climb of the day leads up to Fosters Avenue and was marked with a big "Heartbreak Hill" poster (though Boston's famous hill is a lot worse). A few years ago I was indeed heart broken when my dream of a sub-3 marathon fell apart here, but that's old history now. Today I hardly noticed it and reached the top almost before I knew it. There really is a massive difference between racing a marathon and pacing it. The distance might be the same, but that's it.

The legs might have felt fine but my neck was anything but comfortable and by now the straps were proving distinctly painful. I was ever so slightly tempted to take off the contraption and throw it into a ditch, but having carried it all day, I might as well finish the job.

The last 5 miles in Dublin are actually very runner-friendly. There are a couple of miles with a very nice downhill grade that ensure that you can keep on pace with less effort than before, and the last three miles are packed with spectators that provide an at times almost Boston-like experience (ok, maybe not quite). That's if you're feeling good, that is. If you're struggling, the final miles of any marathon can be rather painful, something I know only too well.

Today was not a day for struggles, though. I think the great weather conditions ensured that a far greater percentage of runners had a good day. Usually pacing groups fall apart on these miles; sometimes you hoover up runners that had been ahead of you and some of them manage to hang on, which can mean that you cross the finish line with an entirely new set of pacees than the one you had shared most of the race with, but today I kept seeing many of the same faces right until the end.

I really enjoyed those final miles, and I told my runners to do the same as this was the glory stretch with the fantastic support from the sidelines, even if not all of their faces spoke of enjoyment. We cruised to the end, soaking up the atmosphere and closing in on the finish. Somehow all three of us pacers ended up in very close proximity as we entered the final stretch. Our pacees broke into a sprint finish as we tried to entice others, who were struggling a bit, to come to the line with us.

Because of my early mishap with the Garmin I wasn't entirely sure what my exact time was as I crossed the line but reckoned it must be close to 3:14. Indeed the (unofficial) time I got was 3:14:13. As our brief had been to come home between half and one minute ahead of target, I call this a success.

There was a big number of runners coming up to us afterwards and thanking us for our efforts, which is always great and quite possibly the most rewarding part of pacing a marathon. People are genuinely grateful and it makes for a very satisfying end of a long day.

This was great fun! Can't wait to do it again
29 Oct
2012 Dublin City Marathon, 3:15 pacer
   3:14:13, 7:24 pace, HR 156

Thursday, October 25, 2012


I know I said in my last post that my 20 mile run had put me in an indefatigable state, but unfortunately that was not going to last. A few hours later, after the endorphins had worn off and I had come down from my apparent runner's high, I was feeling the effort, alright.

It was enough to convince me and turn Monday's run into a very easy and relaxed 8-miler, which seems to be my go-to fall back option these days whenever I feel the need for a bit of active recovery. That run went very well and I was fine for the rest of the day, so on Tuesday I felt well enough to do a few more hill repeats. It was pretty much the same workout as the previous week, 60 seconds of fairly hard effort up a hill and a very slow jog down back the hill. Again, I didn't count them, just left it when I started feeling tired.

Actually, that's not quite right. The first few were a struggle, then I got into it, but when I started to feel the effort again, I called it a day. When I counted the spikes on the HR graph afterwards there were 13 of them - one less than last week, and last week the last one had probably been one too many, so I call this a success and a lesson learned.

With the marathon coming up on Monday I will be taking it easy towards the end of this week; the flip side was that I did a bit of cramming at the beginning of the week. I ran 12 miles on Wednesday at 7:20 pace, practising the pace I need to run in Dublin as one of the 3:15 pacers. In case you're wondering why 7:20 when a 3:15 marathon would be 7:26 pace, 1) we want to run about 30 seconds faster than the target time and 2) Garmin miles tend to be about 4 or 5 second off official miles in races, so to be running 7:26 officially you really want the Garmin to display 7:20. The same holds true for all other paces as well or course, for a 3:30 marathon you want to see no slower than 7:55 on your Garmin and when I ran my sub-3 marathon in Vienna last year I knew I had to keep the Garmin at 6:48 pace and not a second slower.

Anyway, the run went well, even with yesterday's hill repeats making their presence known the pace felt relaxed enough to be confident that Monday will go off without a hitch and I won't let my pacees down.

Usually I would be doing my evaluation workouts every second Tuesday, but that would mean doing the next one the day after the marathon, which is not going to happen. I therefore moved it forward to today instead. With the legs feeling a bit heavy I wasn't sure if the numbers would live up to last week's figures, and after a series of very calm mornings today had to be wet and windy, typical. Thankfully the numbers are fine, similar enough to last week when I thought I could see the impact of the sharpening effect from the XC race.
        Mile 1    6:37   HR 161
        Mile 2    6:39   HR 161
        Mile 3    6:43   HR 161
        Mile 4    6:45   HR 161
        Recovery to HR 130: 41 seconds

That's a tad slower than last week and the recovery took a bit longer, but nothing to worry about, I think that can all be explained by the legs still feeling the hill repeats and yesterday's miles. I'm happy enough. It's the next evaluation I'm worried about, because it will show the impact of the Dublin marathon. There's bound to be some (hopefully temporary) regression.

But right now I'm really looking forward to pacing Dublin again. The buzz there is always great. If you happen to be reading this and planning on going with the 3:15 pacers on Monday, make sure to say hello.

22 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:09, 7:54 pace, HR 136
23 Oct
7.7 miles, 1:09:35, 9:02 pace, HR 143
   13 x 60 sec hill repeats
24 Oct
11.3 miles, 1:22:56, 7:20 pace, HR 151
25 Oct
11.8 miles, 1:25:21, 7:14 pace, HR 148
   4 mile eval: 6:37, 6:39, 6:43, 6:45

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Recovery Lessons

The last thing I said in my previous post was that I would assess on Friday morning if I should do an easy or a faster effort that day, depending on how the legs felt. The problem with that approach is that you need to be absolutely honest with yourself; once you start arguing with yourself "ah sure it's not THAT bad, I'll be fine" it should set the alarm bells ringing straight away. Well, I didn't heed my own advice, stubbornly went ahead with a faster effort and knew pretty much straight away that I had been stupid.

The most important lesson Mystery Coach had hammered into me was that the base phase is all about recovery, both long term from your previous race as well as day-to-day recovery from training session to training session. Just one look at Friday's numbers shows what happens when you ignore that. The pace was slower than last week, though I can swear that the effort was at least the same. What's quite revealing is the low heart rate: I just was not able to raise the HR, it was about 5 bpm lower than last week, though, as I said, the perceived effort was the same. It would have been better to take it easy on Friday and leave the faster stuff for another morning. The way I did it I ended up with some mediocre pace and a lot of fatigue.

I was late for Saturday's group run. My thinking was that someone who gets up at 6 am every morning during the week won't need an alarm to get up at 8 on Saturday. That has been true every week up to now, but yesterday I overslept. Thankfully it wasn't too bad, I only missed the start by a minute and quickly caught up with the group.

For whatever reason, the pace for the group run was much sharper than usual, but that suited me just fine. Maybe it was because we had the ladies that had come 3th and 4th in the recent Valentia half marathon amongst us, or maybe they are all getting much fitter already. As always I added the runs to and from the meeting point, which gives me a decent mileage for the day, but towards the end I was definitely feeling the miles, another sign that I was behind in my recovery.

I wasn't exactly looking forward to today's long run, but felt that I had to do it. I was prepared to take it really easy, no matter how slow, and just get it done. The 20 miles were made tougher by the hills and the rather windy conditions, and with my legs feeling so fatigued the day before this had the potential to get very ugly.

Instead I was moving well from the word go, cruised over the hills on autopilot, pushed the effort a bit more on the flats and was back home in about 2 hours 30, feeling pretty damn good. I felt I could have done the same loop a second time, though I wasn't THAT tempted to test that theory. So, all of a sudden and without knowing why, I went from feeling like toast the one day to indefatigable the next. There clearly are still a few things about running that I have not figured out yet.

And to finish the post with something completely different, Shea spent the weekend creating a trailer to a movie and editing the pieces together. I don't think there are any actual plans to film the whole thing, but what he did already looks rather awesome, though I freely admit to being biased.

19 Oct
10 miles, 1:09:25, 6:57 pace, HR 153
20 Oct
16 miles, 2:02:47, 7:40 pace, HR 145
21 Oct
20 miles, 2:30:45, 7:32 pace, HR 151
Weekly Mileage: 84.8

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Evaluating Again

I already knew from Friday's faster run that my shape has gone up a notch or two, so I was quite looking forward to Tuesday's evaluation workout. I knew the numbers would look good - at least the pace numbers. I wasn't quite sure what to make of the excruciatingly long recovery time two weeks ago and was curious what it would look like this time round.

I always do the evaluations the same way. The warm up is 4 miles long. The first 2 miles are easy and relaxed. During the third mile I pick up the pace a few times to get the legs spinning and to raise the heart rate. During the fourth mile I steadily increase the effort until the heart rate reaches the 161 target. Ideally I want to be running the last quarter mile of the warm up at HR 161 to ensure it is well established by the time the evaluation proper starts.

It was windy again, but not quite as strong as it had been two weeks ago. I can try and keep all the other variables as constant as possible. I run the same course in the same shoes at the same time after the same warm/up. The weather is the one major variable I cannot influence, and the wind especially can cause problems, but it wasn't too bad.

I always run the same half mile back-and forwards 4 times, which ensures that all 4 miles are done on the same course, and running that way also lessens the wind effect as you end up with half a mile of tail- and half a mile of headwind each time. A track would be better, and a treadmill might work very well for that kind of test, but I have access to neither. My flat stretch of road will have to do.

I end up using the Garmin's display a lot during the workout because of the need to keep the HR constant. I always avoid looking at the pace, though. It might wreck my head if I did.

Anyway, the numbers were as follows: (The number in brackets is adjusted pace, 7 seconds for every 2 heart beats off the 161 target):
        Mile 1    6:36   HR 161    (6:36)
        Mile 2    6:37   HR 161    (6:37)
        Mile 3    6:36   HR 162    (6:39)
        Mile 4    6:41   HR 162    (6:44)
        Recovery to HR 130: 36 seconds

That's remarkably stable, especially after such an improvement in pace compared to last time, and the recovery time is worlds better. I got these kind of numbers towards the end of my Vienna training two years ago. Seeing them now is either a sign that I am running at a higher level or that I am getting into shape too early. I'm not entirely sure which, but I definitely prefer these figures to the ones from two weeks ago.

I took it easy the day after the evaluation and did a hill workout this morning. I changed from hill sprints to 60-second-repeats, jogging back slowly each time, doing 14 repeats (I didn't count them, but checked the Garmin file later on). Next time I'll take a headlamp because I could barely make out the road going up the woods and got surprised by low-hanging twigs on more than once occasion. I did one repeat too many because I got very nauseous at the to of the last one (there's definitely a benefit to doing these sessions on an empty stomach. It would not have been pretty). The reason why I changed the workout is that Canova says you stop getting much benefit after doing the same session three times and should always vary training. On the other hand, I would probably have been better off doing those hill repeats on Wednesday because right now my legs are sore and I might not be able to do a faster run tomorrow, Friday. I'll see how I feel in the morning, but might have to substitute the session for an easy run.

16 Oct
12 miles, 1:25:42, 7:09 pace, HR 154
   4 mile eval: 6:36, 6:37, 6:39, 6:44 (adjusted figures)
   36 seconds recovery to 130
17 Oct
10 miles, 1:16:50, 7:41 pace, HR 142
18 Oct
7.8 miles, 1:09:57, 7:09 pace, HR 145
   14 x 60 sec hill repeats