Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Guest Post: The Role of Running in Fighting Cancer

I have another guest article today. Liz Davies wrote about a topic that means a lot to her. If you have any questions regarding anything mentioned in here, please do not hesitate to contact her.

If you think you have a topic I might publish on my blog, you can contact me about it. No commercial advertising, though. I've said no to several offers already.

The Role of Running in Fighting Cancer

Cancer affects millions of people of all ages throughout the world. While the disease is often deadly, a cancer diagnosis does not mean a patient has to surrender to the disease. Making simple lifestyle changes can help not only during treatments, but also as a patient recuperates post treatment. One beneficial lifestyle change with growing research supporting its use is regular physical exercise, such as running. When appropriate, activities like running can provide several benefits to both cancer treatment and recovery.

Muscle Strength

Running plays an important role in maintaining muscle when undergoing treatment, as well as building muscle after cancer treatments. While the time spent resting during and after treatments is important, the lack of movement can reduce muscle mass, increasing feelings of fatigue and weakness. Running places stress on the muscles, encouraging the muscle fibers to strengthen, combating negative muscle side effects.

Bone and Joint Health

Bone loss is another common concern during cancer treatments. When a person runs, they place stress on the bones. The body reacts by increasing the activity of osteoblasts, special cells which can increase bone density to better face the stress in future runs. Running also keeps the joints moving, which combats joint stiffness that can develop during recuperation periods.


Research suggests that those who exercise during and after cancer treatment have a tendency to live longer and have fewer recurrences than those who do not, according to Professor Kerry Courneya, PhD, from the University of Alberta. Part of this phenomenon is due to the effects exercise like running have on maintaining a healthy weight and combating obesity, which can sometimes develop during or after cancer treatment.

Mental Health

Not only can running affect overall physical health, it can also help prevent mental health side effects that can occur during and after treatments, such as feelings of anxiety or depression. Exercise activates the body to naturally release neurotransmitters and endorphins, which help increase feelings of wellness. Running or other physical activities also provide a healthy coping mechanism to help temporarily take the mind off of a cancer diagnosis, helping improve the mood of a cancer patient.

It's important to keep in mind that running is not appropriate for all cancers. Running is often an exercise that can be built up to. Cancers like mesothelioma and lung cancer causes patients to focus on cardio exercises for an increased lung capacity. Exercises like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking around the block are ways patients can start to build up their endurance. Patients should talk to their doctor or treatment team to determine whether other forms of exercise are more appropriate for each specific diagnosis before starting a running routine.

Liz Davies is a recent college graduate and aspiring writer especially interested in health and wellness.

She wants to make a difference in people’s lives because she sees how cancer has devastated so many people in this world. Liz also likes running, playing lacrosse, reading and playing with her dog, April.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

An Unforgettable Birthday

I received an unexpected, and very much appreciated, bonus from the organisers of the Dublin marathon who hosted an evening to give a big Thank You to all the pacers. It was in Dublin, of course, but Niamh didn't need much of an excuse to have another drool over her new baby niece, so we found ourselves on the long road across Ireland again. This also coincided with my 42nd birthday, but unlike someone I did not feel the need to run my age in either miles or kilometers, even though the latter would have been rather appropriate.

What wasn't quite in the plan was all the warning lights in the car starting to flash, including a big red "STOP" across the dashboard, while we were on the motorway just past Port Laoise. This has always been a nightmare scenario of mine, especially with 4 kids in the car, a really dangerous situation. Luckily, despite all our financial woes, we never stopped paying our AA membership and they plucked us from the side of the motorway, literally, and organised a hire car while towing our own crippled car back to Kerry. We arrived three hours late and with only half of our luggage, but when we were standing in the rain on the hard shoulder, trying to get the children away from the cars whizzing by, arriving three hours late but all in one piece had seemed like a wonderful outcome.

I still don't know if our car can be repaired. I just spent 800 Euro last month on tax, a new battery and four new tires. Bugger. I can hardly afford a new pair of runners, never mind another car big enough for the 6 of us.

Anyway, we're all safe and sound, the dinner in Dublin was great, the baby niece got plenty of admiration and now we're back home again as life goes on.

I did my final hill workout on Friday, and yes, I'm glad to be done. I did the usual sprints, high knees and thigh drive, and a set of downhill strides for good measure.

Most weekends in the coach's plan consist of back-to-back workouts from here on. I ran to Deer Park on Saturday, doing 8 loops, 10 seconds faster than marathon pace. The hilly park made this a bit tricky and I had to rely on feel rather than the watch. What I ended up with were 8 miles at 6:39 pace, just about right even if the HR was a bit lower than expected. What was remarkable was how fresh I felt, I was so comfortable at that pace and could have gone on for much longer.

This set me up nicely for Sunday. The original marathon plan called for about 2 hours with the last 40 minutes at marathon pace. However, since I'm not training for a marathon I reasoned that I should train a bit slower, closer to Connemara pace, but since I would not get as much out of the training run by running slower, the faster part should be longer. Does that make sense? I split the runs into two equal halves, an hour easy and an hour steady.

I took the scenic route to Cabinteely Park (well, if you describe Ballybrack as scenic) and arrived there just in time for the second part. Cabinteely is even more hilly than Deer park and I once more had to go by effort. I averaged 7:20 for the first mile and steadily got a little bit faster with each successive loop. With about 25 minutes left I turned homewards, the average pace now at 7:10, but that was down to 7:07 by the time I was done.

Despite the fact that I had gone into this run with pre-fatigued legs I was always running well within myself, and I definitely felt that I could have gone on like this for just about forever. But here lies the problem. The coach has always warned me that the brain does not register fatigue properly when you're reaching peak state. That's great for racing but not so great when you need to judge the effect of training without burning out your legs. Connemara is still 10 weeks away. I really need to be careful to rest and recover, even if I don't feel like it. A couple of easy days are in store, even on seemingly fresh legs.

Incidentally, the plan for Donadea in 3 weeks' time is pretty much an extended version of today with an easy first and a steady second half. It will take a lot of patience and a lot of swallowed pride when I see runners steaming away from me when I know I could easily keep up. I'm not entirely sure if I'll be able to slow down. I didn't manage it in Sixmilebridge, but at least there won't be the prospect of a win tempting me in Donadea.
26 Jan
8 miles, 1:03:44, 7:58 pace, HR 131
27 Jan
10.5 miles, 1:32:31, 8:48 pace, HR 138
   Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints; thigh drive (4 mins); downhill strides (3x200 m); high knees (4 mins)
28 Jan
10.5 miles, 1:12:27, 6:54 pace, HR 158
   incl. 8 miles @ 6:39 pace
29 Jan
16.5 miles, 2:02:48, 7:26 pace, HR 142
   incl. 1 hour @ 7:07 pace
Weekly Mileage: 75

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stormy Evaluation

My legs felt quite sore all day after Sunday’s long run, something I haven’t really experienced in a while. Of course, I haven’t run 20 miles in a while (since the 30 miles in Sixmilebridge, in fact). I took it especially easy on Monday as a result, probably even more so than usual, which explains the lowest heart rate in a long time, but actually the pace wasn’t bad at all for such an easy effort.

Because the weather forecast had predicted high winds for Wednesday, I played with the idea of swapping round Tuesday’s hill drills and Wednesday’s evaluation run, because windy conditions really can play havoc with the evaluation’s figures. But when my legs were still sore on Monday afternoon I thought an evaluation the next morning might not be the best idea.

So it was back to the hill instead, doing the by now very familiar drills, 4 minutes each. This is the last week of the hills phase, and with good reason. The drills feel a lot easier than three weeks ago, which almost certainly means I don’t get as much bang for the buck any more.

Wednesday morning actually started with a nice surprise; I braced myself for the predicted wind and the heavy rain when I opened the door, but it wasn’t actually raining (that came later). But the gale force wind was there, and I therefore used a different stretch of road for my evaluation. It isn’t as flat as the one I usually use, but the trees provide a decent amount of shelter and I got on ok. The wind did have some influence, but not nearly as much as it would have out in the open.

When I checked the data later on, I saw that the paces had been a tad faster than 2 weeks ago, just the gradual improvement I like to see, but the HR was more uneven. With the windy conditions, that means you can’t read too much into the figures, but I still like what I see. The number in brackets is adjusted pace, 7 seconds for every 2 heart beats off the 161 target, though it looks like overcompensation to me.
Mile 1 6:35 HR 160 (6:32)
Mile 2 6:45 HR 159 (6:38)
Mile 3 6:42 HR 162 (6:45)
Mile 4 6:44 HR 163 (6:51)
Recovery to HR: 35 seconds

The recovery afterwards was a bit strange, the HR remained at 160 for a long time, long enough for me to wonder if the Garmin was acting up, but then dropped like a stone. The shortened recovery time is something I take as a definite plus out of this session.

The last few weeks I have felt better virtually every day. The legs feel great, every single step is a joy and I can feel myself improving almost on a daily basis. The one thing worrying me is that Connemara is still over 10 weeks away. I don’t want to peak early and then go into the race on a downward slope. How Donadea will affect my legs is a completely different question of course. I’m clinging to the fact that I felt incredible in Sixmilebridge, just 3 weeks after the Dublin marathon, and I have 6 weeks of recovery between Donadea and Connemara.
23 Jan
8 miles, 1:05:02, 8:08 pace, HR 132
24 Jan
10.5 miles, 1:37:46, 9:19 pace, HR 140
    Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints; high knees (4 mins); ankles (4 mins); thigh drive (4 mins)
25 Jan
11 miles, 1:20:05, 7:17 pace, HR 148
    4 miles eval

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Heating Up

The training, that is, not the temperatures per se. Having said that, this is the mildest winter we’ve had in years. Nobody can use the weather as an excuse for not training (not that I would).

Anyway, back to the training. I have now made it through 3 out of 4 weeks of hill training. After one week I thought this would become a real challenge and I started hating the drills, but actually came round to it. I can see some clear improvements; the hope now is that improvements in hill drills will lead to improvements in running.

Thursday was easy. So easy in fact that the HR was below the lowest number in the spreadsheet that I use to calculate my VDOT numbers. But considering what the next 3 days had in store, I was definitely in need of all the recovery I could get.

Friday was the third hill drills day of the week and the fifth in 8 days, something I’m sure I had never managed before. The level of consistency is probably the main reason why I can see such a clear improvement, though I am aware of the fact that doing a lot of drill primarily makes you good at doing drills. Nevertheless, I like the fact that I now can do all drills for 4 minutes without a break and without feeling like I’m about to collapse. There is still one week of drills left; I won’t extend the time but will try and keep an eye on my form instead.

Last Saturday I had changed the program, replacing a marathon paced effort because I thought that since I’m not going to run a marathon I don’t need as many marathon paced runs. It is still important to run a certain, reasonably small, percentage of your training faster than race pace, so they won’t drop out of my training completely and yesterday was one of these days. Sandwiched between the warm up and the cool down were 7 miles of marathon effort. The blustery wind made this a bit tricky; I ran most of the first half close to 6:30 pace with the wind at my back and the second half between 6:50 and 7:00, fighting against the wind as well as the mounting fatigue. The result was slightly conflicting; while the perceived effort seemed a bit higher than marathon effort, the HR of 160 was lower; in all likelihood I wasn’t too far off. Of course this makes me think about my present marathon PB, which was at an average pace of 6:51 – as much as I had to fight tooth and nail for it at the time, it feels a little bit soft now.

Anyway, Sunday’s long run marked the end of the week, and for once I didn’t have to put mental quotes around the word long, 20 miles always qualify. It’s the first 20 mile training run in quite some time. That feels a bit strange, I used to run 20 miles or more week after week after week, but with the marathons and ultra I ran towards the end of 2011, the need for long training runs was diminished (in fact, it would almost certainly have been counter-productive). Going into a long run with pre-fatigued legs is always a bit of a challenge and I started dragging around mile 12. For once I actually took the emergency gel that I usually carry in my pockets but normally bring back home. It may have helped me to get all the way around the lake still in decent shape. That’s good, because Donadea is only 4 weeks from now and while I won’t start that one with already tired legs, 50K is definitely a distance that demands respect.

I even resurrected one of Mystery Coach’s favourite torture instruments, the ice bath. As soon as I got in I remembered just exactly why I had been putting this off. It literally takes your breath away when you lower yourself into a tub of cold water. The muscles all tense up, you’re hyperventilating, and between my high-pitched screams I could hear Lola asking Niamh if Dad was alright. But once you survive the first minute, the rest is actually easy.

I definitely deserved the scones afterwards. Thank you, darling. Very much appreciated.
19 Jan
8 miles, 1:05:13, 8:09 pace, HR 134
20 Jan
10.75 miles, 1:38:06, 9:07 pace, HR 144
   Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints; thigh drive (4 mins); ankles (4 mins); high knees (4 mins)
21 Jan
10 miles, 1:10:04, 7:00 pace, HR 153
   incl. 7 miles @ 6:44 pace, HR 160
22 Jan
20 miles, 2:38:09, 7:54 pace, HR 144

Weekly Mileage: 76.75

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blog Post #1001

Oh my, doesn’t time fly! Mentally, I still haven’t quite made the transition from base training, yet I'm more than halfway through the hills phase already. What I know is that I really enjoyed putting in a bit more effort into Sunday’s long run and that, so far, I am very much looking forward to the tempo runs yet to come. I know I may come to regret those words, of course.

Actually, maybe I have adapted to the hills after all. I remember stating at some point early on that I hated those drills, but that’s not really correct. While I’m not exactly looking forward to any of them, I do love the fact that I can clearly tell that I’m getting stronger and that real progress has been made. Of course, there’s always that little devil on my shoulder who keeps pointing out that getting good at doing drill is not the same as getting good at running, but I trust Mystery Coach enough to take his word for it.

Monday was of course an easy day; however, I did raise an eyebrow when I saw just how easy I had been taking it. I did the same thing I always do for these runs, I wear my Garmin but never look at it while running, so it caught me completely by surprise by how slow I had been running. It had felt absolutely right at the time.

I was back on the usual hill on Tuesday, the dirt road leading up to the Coillte site in Caragh Lake. I started with the toughest drill, high knees. It was at that point that I could definitely tell that my legs are getting better at this. 2x2 minutes had me breathing hard but not as close to the point of collapse as last week. In fact, I wondered if I should have gone longer. The second drill was ankles, always the easiest, so much so that I regard it as a bit of a breather between the harder workouts. That hard one was “driving with the thighs”, again I managed 2x2 minutes and again I wondered if I could have done more. In some ways, that’s a good place to be. The coach always told me to leave something in the tank.

In order to get all those drills done in time I had shortened the recovery period from 15 minutes to about 12 or 13. I’m pretty sure the coach would not have approved. The alternative would have been to either get up earlier or cut one drill, and neither option appealed to me, to be honest.

Mind, I was back on the very same hill this morning, Wednesday. I could feel during the initial sprints that the legs felt less than fresh, so this time I decided to indeed cut one drill from the program, which of course it meant I had time for the longer recovery. I started the hill drills with the thigh drive, and this time managed to keep it going for 4 full minutes. That felt tough. I won’t go any longer than that, any further improvements would be to concentrate more on form.

That alone was deemed sufficient as far as the hard work was concerned. I did ankles for my next drill and then went home. I think I got that one right at least.
16 Jan
8 miles, 1:05:53, 8:14 pace, HR 137
17 Jan
10.5 miles, 1:37:14, 9:16 pace, HR 138
   Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints; high knees (2x2 mins); ankles (4 mins); thigh drive (2x2 mins)
18 Jan
9.5 miles, 1:25:38, 9:01 pace, HR 139
   Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints; thigh drive (4 mins); ankles (4 mins)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Revving Up

All through winter I have noticed an elevated heart rate. Most of my runs produced a HR that was several beats higher than what I would have expected. My resting heart rate has shown the same effect, every time I measured it it was between 43 and 45 when I would usually expect it to to be around 40. I attribute this to the low-level cold that has been doggedly been affecting me for at least two months now. Were I not a runner I might not even have noticed it, but I am and I can tell the difference.
However, I did notice an improvement recently and indeed, when I measured my resting HR this morning, it was at 42. That's still a touch high, but it's the lowest value I have seen in months. Together with the improved numbers of Tuesday's evaluation, this is clearly moving the right way.

I had slightly heavy legs on Thursday, but running for an hour at about 8:00 pace did me a lot of good. I was back on the hill for more punishment on Friday. Not the one I usually go to, but a little back road in Ballintleave, because I needed a gradual downhill stretch for half a mile of downhill strides and the best place I can think of is the Ring of Kerry road between the Red Fox Inn and Caragh Bridge. At 6:30 in the morning that road is still quiet enough to feel safe; I wouldn't like to run on it during the day.

It wasn't entirely ideal; I need a steep road for the high knees drill and the one I found was very short and only gave me about 80 seconds. I tried to make up for it by doing it 3 times. The thigh drive worked better, on a more gradual piece of road, and I can tell a definite improvement in that drill.

The main worry was some discomfort in my left calf muscle during my cool down. It wasn't bad, maybe 3 out of 10 on the pain scale, but it was worrying. Lower leg injuries can easily happen during the hill phase.

Having said that, I did not feel any further discomfort for the rest of the day, so I did another hill workout on Saturday. Last year's program had a tempo run on the program but I changed it, reasoning that for an ultra I need any piece of leg strength I can get. In an attempt to be cautious I only did 2 hill drills, and of course no downhill strides, but I felt the calf again after the initial set of 30-second-sprints. Now I was definitely worried, but the rest of the workout went well, without any further pains.

I spiced up Sunday's long run with a fast finish. I made sure to take it very easy for the first miles, especially on the the big hills. I had a gel in my pocket, intending to take it at mile 12, to give me some fuel for the faster miles, but completely forgot to take it; not entirely surprising as I never take a gel during training. Anyway, I didn't need it. After 12.5 miles I accelerated from 8:00 pace to 7:00 pace and held it for the final 4.5 miles. I won't call it comfortable, that would be a lie. Maybe comfortably hard, whatever that oxymoron is supposed to mean? It felt great to be moving at a higher effort for once and I enjoyed every single step of these miles. In a way, I can't wait for some actual hard work next month.

12 Jan
8 miles, 1:03:33, 7:56 pace, HR 137
13 Jan
10.25 miles, 1:26:14, 8:24 pace, HR 145
   Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints; high knees (3x80 sec); downhill strides; thigh drive (2x90 sec)
14 Jan
9.25 miles, 1:23:31, 9:01 pace, HR 143
   Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints; ankles (4 mins); thigh drive (2x90 sec, 1x70 sec)
15 Jan
17 miles, 2:10:59, 7:42 pace, HR 146
   12.5 miles @ 7:58 (HR 143), 4.5 miles @ 5:57 (HR 158)

Weekly Mileage: 74

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Opposite Of Lonely

That’s what I am, according to Maia, now that the family has returned. Of course, there are times when, amidst all the fighting and screaming and shouting that comes with 4 children, loneliness seems to be an appealing alternative, but most of the time I’m not complaining.

Sunday’s run hadn’t been great and I was definitely worried about getting ahead of the recovery curve, as the coach used to call it. An easy run on Monday was always on the cards, but I was really surprised just how better I felt on Tuesday, the next hill drills day.

In an attempt not to overdo things I cut the number of drills by one; after the obligatory 4x30 seconds sprints I did a set of “driving with the thigh”. This usually feels rather tough, on previous attempts I usually managed 2x1 minute. This time I had 3 goes at it, lasting 80, 70 and 60 seconds respectively. I don’t set a target time for these – I stop whenever it starts to feel really tough. Actually, I noticed that the HR was a lot lower than last week for the same drill.

The second drill was ankles, which always feels much easier (and makes me wonder if I’m doing them correctly). I left it at that. It’s better to do too little than too much. Still, I did raise an eyebrow when I saw the average HR number back home. 139 for a workout that contained some sets of hill drills? I must have taken it seriously easy between sets (which, of course, is what I'm supposed to be doing).

Since last week’s evaluation workout had fallen victim to an idiot and his dog, I did another one this morning. Luckily the wind had died down just in time; I know from experience that the numbers get useless if it’s too windy. I set off towards my usual spot and for once I could actually see where I was going – Full Moon, I love you. Initially I had some troubles getting the HR up to the required level and then I had troubles keeping it there – it kept oscillating between 155 and 165 when it should have been stable at 161. Things finally started to improve halfway through the third mile. Remarkably, the Garmin recorded exactly the same HR for all four miles.

Mile 1 6:36 HR 160
Mile 2 6:46 HR 160
Mile 3 6:51 HR 160
Mile 4 6:51 HR 160
Recovery to HR: 39 seconds

The significantly faster pace compared to earlier evaluations is probably down to some sharpening effect from last week’s race, which wouldn’t please the coach because it’s too early for that, but I had chosen to race knowing full well what might happen. Sometimes you need to have a bit of fun. As you can see, the pace dropped after the first 2 miles before stabilising. More important, to me at least, was the quicker recovery time afterwards. It’s not the best number I have ever seen, but it’s the best since October.

I think I have been fighting a cold all through November and December. It never bothered me much, but the blocked sinuses kept giving me the occasional headache and I'm sure it was at least partially responsible for some of the elevated HRs I’ve seen during that time. I think I’m finally getting over it; not only has the HR/pace correlation has improved significantly over the last few days, the constant, irritating pressure from inside my head seems to have gone as well. Things are definitely looking up.
9 Jan
8 miles, 1:04:49, 8:06 pace, HR 136
10 Jan
9.5 miles, 1:25:54, 9:00 pace, HR 139
   Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints, thigh drive (80, 70, 60 sec), ankles (4 mins)
11 Jan
12 miles, 1:27:02, 7:15 pace, HR 149
   4 miles eval

Sunday, January 08, 2012


At some stage soon I need to decide how to proceed with my training. So far I have mostly been following Mystery Coach's blueprint from last year's marathon training, and I can continue doing so for the rest of the hill phase. But the peak training phase was aimed to get me used to running at marathon pace. I won't be running 6:50 miles in Connemara; but running the same workouts slower won't get me as fit as I can be. I don't think simply extending the length of the workouts would be ideal either. And what about the workouts that oscillated between running faster and slower than race pace? A bit more thought will have to go into all that.

Friday saw me back on the hills. After the customary first set, 4x30 seconds sprints, I added three more drills. First high knees, which I found really tough. I managed to keep going for 2 minutes. The next drill were ankles, like last time round; they felt much easier and I did them for 4 minutes. I left "driving with the thighs" for last, probably the toughest drill or maybe it's just the fact that I did them last, on already tired legs. I managed only one minute, so I walked back down the hill for another minute. My heart rate shot up to 177 and was still over 170 after walking halfway down the hill.

When I checked the training program, I wasn't overly pleased to see yet another hill workout for Saturday. Isn't there supposed to be some time for recovery? Anyway, this time, after the initial sprints, I did thighs, followed by high knees and finally a set of downhill strides. Unfortunately, the downhill stretch I picked wasn't very downhill at all, so it ended up being half a mile at fast pace, not a hill workout. I'll choose a different road next time, the one I used last year. Unfortunately it's not near the hill I like to use for the "uphill" drills, requiring a compromise.

Adding up the miles for this week already gave me more than 60 miles up to Saturday, so I ran a shorter long run, just one lap around the lake. I started dragging halfway through the loop; the legs were becoming increasingly weary, which can undoubtedly be attributed to the successive hill workouts. Not that I had much choice - on a loop course, all you can do is continue on until you're home. I'm pretty sure I ran too fast, the last few miles were all faster than 7:30. I guess I just wanted this to be over. When I checked my logs I found that I had done exactly the same last year on the identical workout.

This better be worth it - it's pretty damn hard work.

Niamh and the kids are back in Kerry - my monkish existence has come to an abrupt end. Now I have to get used again to all the screaming, fighting, and shouting (that's the kids I'm talking about, not me. Honestly.)

6 Jan
10.5 miles, 1:37:14, 9:15 pace, HR 141
   Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints, high knees (2 mins), ankles (4 mins), thighs (2x1 min)
7 Jan
10 miles, 1:21:24, 8:08 pace, HR 151
   Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints, high knees (2 mins), thigh drive (2x1 min), downhill strides
8 Jan
15 miles, 1:55:25, 7:42 pace, HR 152

Weekly Mileage: 76.5

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Hills and Drills

I'm unashamedly copying Mystery Coach's training plan that brought me a sub-3 marathon last year, even though I am training for an Ultra. At least I'm trying to - I can't help but notice that last year my pace/HR progression was significantly better than this time round. I'm not sure if I can blame it all on the marathons and ultras I did towards the end of 2011, or my lack of understanding.

Anyway, I'm now in the next phase, which is primarily filled with hill drills. That's not the same "bounding" drills Lydiard originally prescribed to his runners, but a set of things that are supposed to strengthen particular areas, like the ankles or thighs.

Every hill workout start with a 15 minutes warm up, then 4x30 second sprint efforts, which are then followed by the actual hill drills; 15 minutes of easy running between each set, and the same again for your cool down.

My first drill consisted of slowly springing up the hill primarily using the ankles. That felt surprisingly easy, and I got to 4 minutes without trying too hard.

The second set was "driving from the thighs", which turned out to be significantly harder. I did 90 seconds on the first try, walked back down and added 60 seconds for the second go. Neither time was pre-determined; I simply stopped when it started to feel rather hard. It's always better to do too little than too much, especially at the beginning.

I checked my training logs (and emails) from last year, and found that back then the ankle drills had felt easy enough and the others much harder - at least that particular aspect seems to work the same way as last year.

In an attempt to take it easy, I was only planning on 8 miles this morning. However, by 6 o'clock in the morning my good lady wife, who is still in Dublin, could obviously stand it no longer and texted me to give me an update on the status of her sister's progress in labour. Thanks, darling. Going back to sleep didn't work so I got up early and did 10 miles instead of 8, just to pass the time. Stupid? Maybe. But that's me, you should know by now.

I got another update at the more reasonable time of 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and I have a new baby niece called Maria, everyone is healthy and happy and congratulations to her parents and (now) big sister.

4 Jan
9+ miles, 1:19:30, 8:46 pace, HR 145
Hill workout: 1: 4x30sec sprints, 2: ankles (4 mins), 3: thighs (1x90 sec, 1x60 sec)
5 Jan
10 miles, 1:19:31, 7:57 pace, HR 145

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Dog Days

Following Sunday's race, Monday was of course an easy day. I ran towards UCD/Belfield because I had read somewhere that they have created a few nice running trails within the university grounds and I spent the best part of 6 miles trying to find them. What I found were a few disjointed pieces of trail, all of whom very nice on their own but never more than half a mile in length, most of them significantly shorter. Ah well.

This morning I thought I'd use my last day in Dublin to do an evaluation workout the way it was originally intended, namely on a track. There is a dirt track in Kilbogget Park, 4 miles from Stillorgan, perfect for a good warm/up and cool/down.

The blustery wind meant this was never going to be ideal, but the idea of doing 4 even miles without all those sharp 180 degree turns every half mile was too good to miss. Once I started it was immediately clear that the wind would have some major influence and the numbers might be meaningless as a result, but I persevered. All went ok for 11 laps. Than I heard some effing and blinding, obviously coming from the owner of that dog heading my way at full speed. I wasn't concerned - dog encounters are frequent enough when you're a runner. I can tell if a dog is aggressive or wants to play and I have no problems with it jumping up on my side; it's been happening countless times before. What doesn't usually happen is that the dog crosses right in front of me, tripping me up. He even had the perfect size to be a real hazard like that, and he came back for a repeat again and again. After very nearly faceplanting three times in less than 50 meters, I shoved the dog to the side with my leg, which gave me some space. When I saw the dog's owner running towards me, I fully expected him to apologize, which just shows how naive I am in the daily battle between jogger and dog owner in Ireland's capital.

He was handicapped by the fact that he was several stone overweight, which meant he was completely out of breath when he caught up to me. It took him 2 tries to say something, and I was rather taken aback when instead of an apology he screamed at me for kicking his dog. I could of course have explained to him that I had merely shoved the dog aside in a reasonable gentle way, an explanation that was supported by the fact that the dog hadn't yelped or made any other noise, but I was still trying to run my evaluation at sub-7 pace and the other guy didn't give the impression that he was overly interested in a calm, collected conversation, so I just mumbled something about trying not to get bitten, which was really lame, I admit, as I fully knew the dog was only playing. By then the guy had already reached the end of his anaerobic capabilities and the conversation ended fairly promptly.

Unfortunately, the encounter had been sufficient to drive my HR up by 10 beats, and when you happen to be in the middle of a workout that's based on running at an even heart rate, that's it for said workout. I kept going for the last mile, trying to keep the effort at the same level it had been for the first 3 miles, but the HR never came back, and it also meant my recovery to 130 after the workout was totally out as well as it took over 50 seconds. I was seriously pissed off. Pumped up as I was with adrenaline I was highly tempted to chase after the fat wanker and give him a piece of mind, but as he had gone the opposite way I instead turned back towards Stillorgan, eventually calming down after a few more miles, which saved the world from yet another, entirely useless and unproductive encounter.

I can't even be bothered to look at the individual mile splits from the evaluation. To be honest, the blustery wind might have made them useless anyway. Isn't it ironic that of all the places I had been running in, the one where I had been hampered the most was an actual running track!

2 Jan
10 miles, 1:20:03, 8:00 pace, HR 141
3 Jan
12 miles, 1:27:17, 7:16 pace, HR 153
   botched eval, 4 miles @ 6:59, 50 sec recovery

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Blowing Off The Cobwebs

There is no doubt about it, 2011 has been a terrific year for me, running-wise. I put all my eggs into one basket at the start, deciding that the sub-3 marathon would be the only goal worth pursuing, and Thank Goodness that came through when I crossed the finish line in Vienna.

I faced two immediate problems, one that now I had 8 months left of the year without a stated goal, and two that I felt rather burned out after preparing for 6 months for one single race. I therefore decided to take it easy over the summer, race just for fun, and wait for the mojo to return.

I could not have predicted what followed. I set new PBs in the 5k, 10K, half marathon and 15 miles, following the earlier marathon and 10 miles PBs. In addition to that, I picked up age-group prize money in the Killarney 15 mile race, won my age group in the Valentia half marathon, and as if all of that had not been enough yet I ended my season with an outright win at the 30-mile race in Sixmilebridge.

As I said, terrific. It will be hard to match that in 2012. I still haven't got much of an appetite for another fast marathon, despite the conviction that I should have run 2:55 in Vienna and that my best time is still ahead of me. However, until I feel that I really want to put myself through that mill again I will once again concentrate on the Ultra distances, and I do have a few ambitious targets in mind, the first of which will be to go sub-5 in Connemara.

And just to start the new year with a bit of fun, I raced a 5k this morning. I'm sure Mystery Coach would not have approved, but I did it anyway.

The most stressful part was the car journey through Dublin city centre, but once I had made it to Phoenix Park I was very much looking forward to 15 minutes of suffering (because the first 3 minutes don't hurt yet). There are always some top elite runners at this race and I immediately recognised Fionnuala Britton, back in Dublin after her astonishing run to secure the Gold medal in the European XC a few weeks ago.

The course consists of almost two laps of a virtually flat triangular course and is very fast, but the wind wasn't ideal. Still, no excuses today. I set off at about 5:35 pace, which is what I always tend to do in 5ks, but then managed not to look at the Garmin for the rest of the race, definitely a good thing. Even though I was running faster than what I would be able to hold myself, I found myself surrounded by a few runners who looked distinctly out of place with a few stone extra on the hips. Unsurprisingly they fell back soon enough and if that sounds a bit harsh then I apologize but it was perfectly predictable; I have yet to see a heavy guy running a sub-6 mile.

They weren't the only ones starting at Kamikaze pace. Despite my own fast start, I soon started to slowly make my way through the field, something that would go on for the rest of the race.

A lady called out the splits at the 1K mark, which I passed in 3:36. "Great, almost a third done" I thought, until I realised that this was 1 k, not 1 mile (wouldn't it be great to be able to run a mile in 3:36?). Never mind, just keep going. Somewhere near the 2K marker I started wheezing/moaning/breathing heavily, whatever you want to call it (actually, it has been likened to giving birth by at least 2 somewhat unkind fellow runners). It's what I sound like when I run a 5K, and if I don't sound like that then I'm not nearly working hard enough. 5Ks are for suffering.

Going through the finish banner for the first time felt a bit cruel as we're still not even at halfway at that point. It did not help that we were facing the wind pretty much head on at that point. I heard a few shouts of encouragement, including a few for "Tom", and decided that they were meant for me, no matter the actual realities. At one point "Tom" got the advice to stretch the legs properly, which I followed up by promptly overtaking a group of three.

Periods of feeling good and bad kept following each other in quick succession. I always tried to make up yet another place when I felt second wind and then to hang on for dear life to the back of the runner in front during the next low. I did not count how many runners I caught from 1K onwards, but it was well over a dozen. I, in turn, got passed exactly once, and by trying to hang on to that runner I gained another few places.

Turning into Chesterfield Avenue for the second time, with maybe 1K left to go, I passed another 2 or 3 runners, one of whom wondered out loud how anyone breathing so hard would be able to run fast enough to overtake him. Next time save your breath, mate, and it might help.

I kept chasing runners right to the end, one of which passed me back on the final sprint, but I managed to hold off the rest of them. I felt a twinge of disappointment when I saw the 18:2x on the clock, but eventually came round to the fact that since I hadn't done any speedwork and ran up a mountain the day before, this was the best I could have hoped for, realistically. I sure had no regrets about not working hard enough, I can't think of a single stretch of the race where I didn't push with all I had, and that's all I could have asked for.

As I said, I'm sure the coach would have his misgivings, but it was definitely a great way to start the new year. Happy 2012, everyone.

Race Photo courtesy of Peter Mooney.
1 Jan
9 miles, including:
Tom Brennan 5K, 18:22, 5:54 pace, HR 176

Weekly Mileage: 61.5