Thursday, May 31, 2012

Up And Down

Thankfully my spell of sickness was very short lived; by Tuesday evening I was already feeling a little bit better and after a good night's sleep I was a new man. I ran my usual 8 mile route and added a small extra to pick up the car we had left at the restaurant the night before - it's always good to prove to the good lady wife that having a runner in the house has its advantages. I felt really good and was delighted that the Cork marathon was definitely back on.

I was optimistic enough to immediately plan a longer run around the lake. It meant yet another very early rise, despite already operating on a sleep deficit at the moment, but the weather had been so nice recently that I never minded getting up early; it basically meant an extra hour of sunshine.

I heard some rain against the window at some stage. No matter, they did predict the occasional scattered shower. Imagine my dismay when it was raining when I got up, and we are definitely not talking scattered shower here, these were full blown miserable conditions once more. Of course I ran anyway. You don't get to run much in Ireland if rain puts you off.

Higher up on the hills the weather added a nasty headwind to the misery, but that was as bad as it got. It even stopped raining for a while, eventually, though that did not last. What was more of a problem was the very flat feeling in my legs. Was it a very delayed reaction from Monday's mountain run? I had felt great on Wednesday, so those dead legs came as a bit of a surprise. Having said that, when I started pushing the effort a bit more, they did respond but the HR started to climb into far higher levels that it should have.

I guess it means I should take it easier again until Cork, which is only 4 days away after all. A 3:15 marathon sounds very much like routine at this stage, but you still have to respect the distance. I'm quite looking forward to it. There should be plenty of friendly and familiar faces in the 3:15 group.

30 May
8.65 miles, 1:06:46, 7:43 pace, HR 142
31 May
16.6 miles, 2:06:45, 7:38 pace, HR 152

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In The Doghouse

Niamh: I've read your blog and wish to add in the interest of fairness and accuracy that my timing was not bad. It was my (censored)th birthday!
Thomas: I didn't think you would want me to broadcast your age to the entire world.

So I did.

After the madness of the weekend I could not wait to get out and do some real running again, so I got up at 5 o'clock in the morning and ran the Kerry Way to Glenbeigh again, the same mountain run that had destroyed my legs last week. This time I was about 5 minutes slower but the difference was enormous, there was just no comparison. I felt so much better! When I came back I knew I wasn't going to suffer from the same soreness again. If that's due to the slightly slower pace or the fact that the legs have adapted extremely quickly, I'm not entirely sure. Fact is that last week I was really taken by surprise by how sore I felt afterwards and this time I was equally surprised by how well I handled it.

Niamh thought I was really funny, obviously being very happy after my run. She knows I need to run for my sanity.

Unfortunately, things turned sour overnight. I was shivering in bed, feeling really cold. That's generally the sign of another cold coming along, but I didn't feel the usual achy joints and headache and wasn't entirely sure what was going on. But I was absolutely freezing (a hot water bottle eventually solved that problem), very thirsty and slept extremely badly, waking up every few minutes. Maia had a rough night was well, we may well be fighting the same thing. I felt like crap on Tuesday morning, from the cold as well as the lack of sleep, but of course I went running anyway. The legs were a bit heavy following the mountain run, but worlds better than last week. However, I felt exhausted and the HR was elevated by a significant amount. I have lymph nodes that are so swollen that they hurt and I am just generally feeling lousy.

With 6 days to go before the Cork marathon, things are a bit dicey. If I were racing it, that would most likely spell the end of any hopes for a decent performance, but I'm only doing it as a pacer and I'm still reasonably optimistic that I will be able to do it. I don't even want to contemplate what I'd be doing if something like that happened before Bangor.
28 May
12.25 miles, 1:47:15, 8:45 pace, HR 148
   off road on the Kerry Way
29 May
8 miles, 1:03:22, 7:55 pace, HR 148
   feeling like crap

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Being A Hamster

I have to admit I was not exactly thrilled when Niamh announced that she would be gone for the entire weekend and that I would be minding the boys on my own. It's not that I don't like spending time with my boys, of course I do. It's that I thought I would not be able to run at all for an entire weekend, 6 weeks before the Big Bangor. Her timing could hardly have been worse.

Boredom was unlikely to be a factor with the schedule she left me with. I had to go to Tralee twice (one orchestra, one concert), Killarney three times (one swimming lesson, plus putting the girls on the train and collecting them) and the trip to Dingle (climbing wall) got cancelled at the last minute. It left precious little time for anything else.

I was half resigned to Friday being my only workout (and I had to get up at 5 am to do it before driving her to Killarney), and I still felt a little residue of the soreness from last week's mountain run. It did not impact on the run though, I felt great and inadvertently ran the pace I need to hold next week in Cork when pacing the 3:15 group again. It felt remarkably easy.

Well, they say you should take problems as opportunities, and eventually I had an idea. I always find running laps in training mentally tough, and since I will have to do a ridiculous number of laps in Bangor, I decided I might as well try and do something about it.

One lap in our front garden is about 100 meters, and if you run enough laps you still build up some distance. The main problem would probably be boredom, something you have to be prepared for in Bangor as well, according to veterans. I tested out my mp3 player, eating rice krispy squares while running, had a sequence of 25 minutes running and 5 minutes walking and did close to 200 laps. Ideally I would have done more, but the swimming lesson would not wait. I was never more than 30 seconds away from the house and the boys knew I was out there (though sadly declined to join me for a while). Oh, and I switched direction every 30 minutes, for the excitement of it all (and to spare my knees).

I also inadvertently got to test the accuracy of the GPS signal. It's not that great. In reality. every lap followed the same rather narrow "path", not quite what came out of the watch.

On Sunday, I managed to wriggle out of the straitjacket and the padded cell for a repeat performance, but 2 hours this time because I had a bit more time (with a break in the middle to check on the boys). I learned a few lessons:

- I take rice krispy squares well
- Running with a stomach full of porridge sucks, but is manageable
- if you forget to charge your mp3 player you will eventually end up in silence
- if you leave rice krispy squares at floor level, the neighbours' dog will steal them
- you can get used to anything

One of the neighbours' dogs watched me for the last 20 minutes with a bemused look on her face. She obviously could not figure out what that idiot human was doing. I'm glad for Niamh's return, though. Even my dedication has its limits.
25 May
10 miles, 1:13:44, 7:22 pace, HR 146
26 May
10 miles, 1:34:08, 9:24 pace, HR 133
27 May
13 miles, 1:59:58, 9:13 pace
Weekly Mileage: 65 miles

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Error Of Judgement

When I ran up those mountains on Sunday, I intended to give the legs a new kind of workout to give the muscles a bit of a rest after two consecutive marathons. I did not intent to completely hammer them, but it sure looks like I completely misjudged the stress a couple of mountain crossings would expose them to. And to think that I thought this would be an easy run because it was only 12 miles!

I was really surprised to feel rather sore on Monday and any thoughts of a longer run in the middle of the week had to be shelved immediately. Instead I hobbled through 8 miles of mild torture, just over an hour. I still felt reasonably okay for the rest of the day.

The big surprise came on Tuesday when I was considerably more sore than on Monday. That's classic DOMS, of course, and maybe I should not have been surprised, but I really thought that after being able to run two marathons on two weekends without feeling tired, my legs would be able to withstand a mountain run much better than they did.

By then it was clear that recovery would take a few more days and that the weekly mileage would be rather moderate. With Niamh gone over the weekend I had hoped to cram a few extra miles into a kind of crash training week, but that idea had to be shelved. I might have an idea of what to do on Saturday, but it may not work; I'll see.

By Thursday morning I was well on my way to being able to run properly again. I was able to run the downhills without feeling like being stabbed in the legs and I don't have to pull a grimace anymore when walking down the stairs in the office.

The whole episode shows how much my legs are in need of strengthening. A lot of ultra training advice I have come across mentions the need for strong quads, and running steep hill is the best and most specific way to do that, even when training for a flat race. I just thought I was much further down that line than I obviously am.
21 May
8 miles, 1:02:32, 7:49 pace, HR 145
22 May
8 miles, 1:02:38, 7:50 pace, HR 149
23 May
8 miles, 1:00:36, 7:34 pace, HR 151
24 May
8 miles, 1:00:25, 7:33 pace, HR 148

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Review: The Ultimate Beginner’s Running Guide

I was contacted by author Ryan Robert quite a while ago to review his book. I do not have any connections with Robert, and I made it clear that I would write my own opinions about his book, no matter how positive or negative. He agreed to that and sent me an ebook. I certainly did not receive any payments in any shape or form.

Despite being a fairly geeky techy, I do not own a Kindle or any other e-reader device, so I had to do with software versions. I tried them on 2 completely different devices, my PC and my smartphone, and both worked surprisingly well. Reading a book like that has clear advantages when you’re out and about, though I’m certainly not advocating getting rid of paper.

Anyway, the book.

As the title shows, this is aimed at complete beginners, and I wasn’t exactly the target audience, but I tried not let that deter me.

The book is quite short. It has 5 chapters: 1 Getting Ready To Run, 2 Raising the Bar and Staying Motivated to Run, 3 Hydration, Running in Adverse Conditions and Common Injuries, 4 Running Inspired and 5 Training Schedules.

You can read it all in a day or two. As you would expect from a book aimed squarely at beginners, the advice is fairly basic and pretty much to the point. It’s easy to understand without much jargon and should be accessible by anyone. There are a few things I might disagree with (you’ll never get two runners to agree on everything), but on the whole the advice is very sensible. The author warns against static stretching, something I wholeheartedly agree with but something that is sadly still recommended a lot, no matter how outdated the research it is based on.

There was one section where 2 sentenced were repeated on the next page. I did notice a couple of spelling mistakes and the layout isn’t quite what I’m used to from a professional book. I don’t know if that is a limitation of the e-reader format or lack of professional editing, but it feels a little less polished than maybe it should be.

There are four sets of training schedules, for Active Beginners, Non-Exercisers, Weight Loss and People over 50. Personally I think this is overkill, 2 sets would have sufficed in my view but others might disagree.

Experienced runners won’t find much in there they don’t already know, as should be perfectly clearly from the title alone.

If you’re a complete beginner and desperate for some practical advice, you could do worse than having a look at this book. It’s $6.14 from (unavailable from, not that it matters for an e-book), probably less than you’d pay for a paper copy, and if you follow all the advice you will be well able to take your first steps on the road to running fitness. Reading a book is not as good having an experienced runner as your running buddy, but that’s something you can throw at any running book. If you’re looking for basic advice, give this one a go.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Twin Peaks

Amazingly, there was no marathon on this weekend. I almost feel like a slacker now. I'm also constantly questioning what I'm doing, it just does not feel like I'm getting ready for a 24 hours race. Then I remember that I just ran two marathons and my 39 mile race was not that many weeks back and I think I'm doing alright.

By Thursday I knew I was over the worst of the man-flu, which was a short-lived nuisance, thankfully. I slightly upped  the mileage to 8 on Friday and felt good all the way. The heart rate was also reduced compared to previous days, so I figured I was well on my way to recovery from both marathons as well as the head cold.

I ran a bit faster on Saturday in an attempt to not complete lose my leg turnover, and also to have a bit of fun. I found it hard initially to get my heart rate up; it seemed stuck in the 150s, despite working against a (slight) headwind. The HR graph afterwards was revealing, it climbed constantly for the entire duration of the run. The last mile was good bit faster than the rest, about 6:10 pace, all the other ones had been much more restrained. It felt really good to get the legs moving again.

Niamh was away for much of Sunday and I had to squeeze my run in after lunchtime. Since I did not want to run with a full stomach, it pretty much meant cancelling lunch itself. I did pay the prize late into the run with a few hunger pangs and I had turned into the ravenous beast by the time I was back home, but I don't think the run itself suffered. Running in the afternoon always throws out my pacing, I started out at what felt like an easy effort, until I looked at the Garmin and saw that I was doing about 7:00 pace. I quickly left the road behind and got onto the Kerry Way, climbing all the way to Windy Gap and down the other side towards Glenbeigh. I turned around at the gate and went back the same way, which made for a nice twin peaks shape in the elevation chart, but of course it was just the same hill twice in a row.

The views on this route are just out of this world, amongst the best the Kingdom has to offer. I looked across the Glenbeigh horseshoe with Drung and Beenmore mountains, and could not help but go hmmmm. Tempting. Running (ok, hiking more like) along those ridges is either fantastic ultra training or a waste of time, depending on who you believe, but it sure would make for a few interesting hours. The Reeks weren't bad looking either. The IMRA Carrauntoohil race is on in two weeks, but I'm doing the Cork marathon instead, of course.

I met quite a few walkers on the trail, but I think I was the only one under 60 out there. I felt like gatecrashing an OAP party. I'm certainly not dissing the older generation - quite the opposite, I'm disgusted that the younger one obviously can't peel itself away from the damn telly.

Climbing all those steep hills (the Windy Gap trail has a gradient of well over 20 percent) is an attempt to strengthen the legs. After running a couple of marathons, today I tried to get a different kind of stress into the legs, to help build up muscle strength rather than endurance. It was badly needed. The quads were quivering after the second climb and I was more exhausted than after last week's marathon, even though the distance was less than a half.

I have to figure out what I'm going to do next weekend. With Niamh gone, I might not get any training done at all, which is a right pain at a crucial time.

18 May
8 miles, 1:01:20, 7:40 pace, HR 145
19 May
10 miles, 1:07:20, 6:42 pace, HR 161
20 May
12.25 miles, 1:42:15, 8:20 pace, HR 158
   off road on the Kerry Way

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Post-Race Fallout

Niamh: You look awful
Thomas: I know
Niamh: You should take tomorrow off work
Thomas: (pause) I don't think that will be necessary
Niamh: The only reason you go to work is so you can justify going for a run
Thomas: How did you know that?

Ok, so that one wasn't all that difficult to guess, but she's right. It's exactly the reason why I don't want to take a day off sick - if someone saw me running the same day, I'd be in serious trouble, and since I'm feeling good enough to go for a run I'm also feeling good enough to go to work.

I had a sore throat, a headache and I was generally feeling lousy and exhausted, but all the symptoms were above the neck, which is why I could justify going for my morning run with a clear conscience (though to be honest, past experience shows that I still tend to run even with symptoms below the neck, except that then I'm feeling guilty because I know I'm being an idiot).

Getting respiratory infections after a marathon is quite common apparently, but I am very rarely afflicted. The fact that I ran 2 marathons in a week might have something to do with it, of course. The good news is that today, Thursday, I'm already feeling better and the worst should be behind me. I'm looking forward to resume proper training again.

The fly in the ointment as far as training is concerned is that Niamh wants to have a weekend life as well and has booked me in for a couple of weekends of babysitting when she will be the one to indulge. It's not good news as far as training goes, especially with July approaching at an alarming rate, but since I have already taken two weekends this month to run a marathon and am planning two further trips away from home in June, I am really not in a position to argue.

Right now I'm wondering where the tipping point is between between recovering from my double marathon excursion and further training. It really is a fine balance and optimal training is difficult to achieve, especially as I'm in uncharted territory. I like to think that I have a reasonable handle on marathon training by now, but long ultras are different and my most relevant experience in that regard, when training for Dingle 2 years ago, mostly tells me a few things on how not to do it. I still have to figure out how to do it, and trial and error unfortunately includes error

15 May
5 miles, 40:04, 8:01 pace, HR 139
16 May
5 miles, 39:28, 7:54 pace, HR 149
17 May
5 miles, 39:08, 7:50 pace, HR 147

Monday, May 14, 2012

What A Beautiful Day

As you can imagine, Sunday was a wonderful day. It could have been oh so different. At the crucial time, I was sitting on a train, unable to get wifi working and wondering how the match went on, but still highly confident. I was absolutely stunned when Niamh rang me with 15 minutes to go and we were 1-2 down. That sick feeling in your stomach is all too familiar to a City supporter. Then she rang again. I spent the last few minutes of the match glued to the phone while she held the other one against the telly. I tried not to get too mental when Aguero scored the winner (it was a packed train); one guy gave me the evil eye, the rest of the passengers seemed reasonably pleased for me. I even heard my kids screaming excitedly - up to now they had never given a hoot about City. Glory hunters! Still, somehow it's good to know that even after spending a billion quid or so, we STILL have to do things the City way.

Oh, sorry, I forgot. This is a running blog. That reminds me. I ran a marathon as well.

I had been a bit nervous about pacing 2 marathons on consecutive weekends, especially when I got bumped up to 3:15 in Limerick. But I recovered very quickly and on Thursday I knew I would not have any difficulties with the 3:30 pace in Kildare.

It was a lovely, sunny day but very windy. It became clear very early on that the blustery conditions would have some influence today. The pacers got special treatment with a big changing room and secure storage, and we were able to have showers afterwards. Great stuff. I felt almost like an elite athlete. Someone who would be much more used to that treatment was John O'Regan, who asked me if there was a marathon I wasn't doing these days. It was pure flattery on John's behalf, of course, but still nice.

Gathering at the start was slightly chaotic, but by the time the gun sounded somehow we were all lining up correctly. My pacing buddy was John, and since we both had those screaming orange pacing uniforms we were easy enough to spot. John's balloon popped with a loud bang less than half a mile into it, and I could see two red balloons rising up to the sky - I guess the 3-hour lads decided they were not going to bother with balloons in such windy conditions.

We settled into pace quickly and hit all the early mile markers spot on. They had affixed the signs to the nearest lamp posts, but they took that notion a bit too far because sometimes the nearest lamp post was a bit too far off the correct mark and they should have used some other means of fixing up the markers. It would have made pacing a little bit less tricky.

We had a good group going, well over a dozen runners. Mo was fooling around at mile 5, sprinting past us. When he drifted back to us a mile later I pointed out to him that by now he should know how to run a marathon, he really has enough of them under his belt by now, but he was having none of it.

The wind was really strong, and we were grateful enough for the high hedges. A few of our group kept getting whacked by my balloon, which also threatened to strangle me on a couple of occasions. I could have let it go but wanted to keep my 100% record of bringing the pacing balloon to the finish line going.

There was some sideline support passing through Newbridge and Athgarvan but for most of it it was very quiet. The banter in our group died soon enough as fighting the wind was taking enough energy. We kept our pace very well, always a little bit ahead at the mile markers. We were about 20 seconds up at the halfway mark, just where I would want it to be.

I didn't realise that the biggest climb of the day was awaiting us just here, and a few runners were definitely struggling with the combined forces of the fairly steep gradient and the blustery headwind. We hoovered up a couple of runners who had been in front of us to that point, which kept the overall size of our group reasonably constant.

Mile marker 14 was the odd one out, my Garmin showed 14.6 miles as we passed it, but that was followed by mile marker 15 at 15.05. We joked that we must have been close to setting a new world record, but apart from that one, all the other markers were reasonably ok.

I probably made one guy's day when we passed him around mile 16 and he thought we were the 3:45 group. He lightened up when we told him we were the 3:30s, though I do wonder how his timing/pacing could have been out by so much.

I can only talk for myself of course, but the miles were ticking away very quickly. John, my pacing partner felt the same, but it was clear that some in our group really started suffering. As always happens in a pacing group, the numbers started dwindling, and quickly. I started giving a few pep talks, encouraging the guys and telling them we were about a minute ahead of pace at the mile markers, and things like "only a 10k to go" at the 20 mile mark. I have no idea if that kind of thing helps to be honest, but at least nobody told me to shut up.

At one point I noticed a new runner in our group, Dipak Vala, who was running his 100th marathon today. That is quite some number. I still have a long way to go. He ran with us for a couple of miles but then pushed on for a strong finish. Respect!

We passed through Kildare around mile 23. One boy begged be for my balloon, but as it was tied to my wrist I wasn't able to get it off while running 8-minute miles at the same time.

Photo by Peter Mooney
With a couple of miles to go we encouraged our last remaining 5 runners to push ahead while we kept on pace, and to my surprise they all took us up on the offer. One guy was struggling with his hamstring and had to stop and stretch every half mile, but he managed to catch up again every time and made it in the end. As a result, John and me ran the last mile on our own. We were both still in good shape. I enjoyed the run so much that I was almost sorry for it to end, but it had to end eventually. We tried to get one more runner to come with us but his legs had completely seized up and he had to walk it in, a couple of minutes behind us. We crossed the finish line in 3:29:37, pretty much spot on. I like to think we did a pretty good job. I got a very nice compliment from one of our pacees, which felt particularly good.

I told Anto, who had organised the pacers, about the mile 14 marker and he thought we must have taken a wrong turn. If that's the case then a lot of people took a wrong turn as everyone within sight had followed the same route. To be honest, I cannot imagine that happening, there were signposts and marshals all along the course and my Garmin showed 26.47 miles at the end, exactly what I would expect to see. If we had left the course we would have by some coincidence still run the right distance; it seems rather unlikely. 

There was an incident where two runners did indeed take one wrong turn - the 2 front runners had not been directed onto the right path with only a quarter of a mile to go and ran past the finish line (and apparently continued on for 2 more miles), because one single marshal had not done his job. It shows how one otherwise very well organised event can suddenly turn sour with one single detail. From what I gather, the organisers handled the fallout pretty well, giving winners' cheques to both the original front runner and the guy who had broken the tape, admitting their mistake as well as apologising for it. I guess that's as good as they could have done, once the error had happened. I saw the guys in the winners enclosure afterwards and they seemed happy enough,

My own special thanks have to go to Anto, who organised the pacers, and Joe Cawley, one of the 3-hour pacers, who gave me a lift from and to Dublin. I would have been stranded without you guys. And congratulations to my friend Gary Condon for a 4th place marathon finish, just 4 weeks after running Boston. Not bad for a clown.

11 May
6.1 miles, 47:28, 7:47 pace, HR 142
12 May
5 miles, 39:01, 7:48 pace, HR 140
13 May
26.2 miles, 3:29:37, 8:00 pace, HR 149
   Kildare Marathon, 3:30 pacer
14 May
5 miles, 39:55, 7:59 pace, HR 142
   incessantly whistling "You are my City" all along the way ;-)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Last Mention Of Limerick, Honestly

Maia, my 4-year old, was puzzled about 2 things after I came home from Limerick. First, she wanted to know why I got a medal if I hadn't won the race. She clearly disapproves of the whole "everyone-is-a-winner" mentality. More pressing, however, were her questions how I had gotten my yellow balloon, because that was something NOT everyone got. She lightened up when we discovered the following picture:

(photo by Salvatore Conte photographer)
"You are running away from all the other ones! They could not keep up and that's why you kept the balloon". She is actually closer to the truth than you might think, the photo was from mile 22 and we have just lost most of our group. There were 4 guys with us at that point and a mile later that was down to 2.

Oh, and I'm not heel striking in this picture ;-) . I tend to be a heel striker with one foot and a midfoot striker with the other if the pace is quick enough. That asymmetrical gait started about 2 years ago, up to then I was heel striking with both feet. I never consciously tried to change my gait, it just happened, and I have been waiting for 2 years for the other foot to follow but no dice. Since then I have run about 7000 miles like that without getting injured; I am therefore not too worried about either my knee or the rest of my legs.

Paul and me made it into the highlights video as well, at 6:24 into it; I find the contrast between the frantic sprint finish of the other runners and our relaxed jog to the line quite funny.

Recovery is going reasonably well, I have been doing a series of easy 5 mile runs ever since and 8 this morning at "Kildare" pace. Luckily there have been no frantic phone calls this week to bump me up another pace group, so 3:30 it is. I'm kinda questioning the wisdom of crossing the entire country just to run a training marathon when I could do it from my door step, but the thought of sharing the run with others, helping them to achieve a time and also having it count as an official marathon finish is far more appealing than spending 3-4 hours entirely on my own.
9 May
5 miles, 38:47, 7:45 pace, HR 146
10 May
8 miles, 1:03:04, 7:53 pace, HR 145

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


The Limerick marathon had several highlights for me. One of them was sitting outside that cafe just past the finishing line with Mick Rice when a gentleman (who I had seen earlier with Frank Greally) walked by, saw my Boston Jacket and started talking to me.

Him: Did you go to Boston?
Me: Yes.
Him: Did you run the marathon?
Me: Yes.
Him: I won it.

It's not every day you get to shake hands with a winner of a major marathon, and I have to admit that I would not have recognised Neil Cusack if he had passed me on the street (unless he started talking and introducing himself to me, of course), but he is damn good looking for a man at the age of 60, and he is a true gentleman indeed.

Could the day get any better after that? Sure, by City beating Newcastle, which is a game I had a really bad feeling about. And then, just to impress the kids, I made it into the Irish Times with a name check on Tuesday. (Paul's left hand made it as well but did not get named).

There were plenty of other photos over the internet. The biggest advantage of running with a big yellow balloon is that you can spot yourself immediately.

Coming off the noisy bridge in UL

Pacing with a Garmin

We've lost our group!

Everyone's heel striking!

Photos by Munster Images, Kieran Clancy Photography, Mike Johnson and Shelly Kirwan.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day, but reviews from other runners have been decidedly mixed. The mile markers got a few mentions, and if you think accurate mile markers are vital then of course you won't have liked the race. There were quite a few complaints about congestion, something we did not have to deal with in the 3:15 group but others did, especially ones that got caught by the half-marathon runners. It was my first time doing it, but from what I hear there have been clear improvements from a very dodgy start 2 years ago. I'd still recommend the race, but there is definitely room for further progress.

As for myself, I have been feeling pretty good. Walking down a staircase did not pose a problem and since I saw after Connemara that I recover faster with short recovery runs than complete rest I have been doing exactly that for the last 2 days. I won't do any "real" running before Kildare, but at the same time I am not planning any off days either.

7 May
5 miles, 40:34, 8:07 pace, HR 138
8 May
5 miles, 40:03, 8:01 pace, HR 145

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Marker Troubles

There once was a runner from Kerry
Who ran with a group oh so merry
They were all very keen
To break 3:15
But at the end some of them looked quite weary

(ok, I won't give up the daytime job to become a poet just yet)

I know I said I was not very excited about the race, but once I had made it to Limerick on Saturday and experienced the buzz of the expo, I got caught up in the general excitement.

I wasn't too worried about being bumped up to the 3:15 pace group. That's almost exactly the pace I've just run for 39 miles in Connemara and I knew I would be able to do it without any problems. My main concern was the time it would take to recover afterwards - I cannot afford to sacrifice too much training time right now.

The pacers were pretty much the usual suspects. We had our own little room to get ready in (we felt like elites with that special treatment) and gathered at the start about 10 minutes before the gun went off.

I was pacing with Paul who had come 5th come fifth in Connemara 5 weeks ago, only beaten by some extraordinary runners, and knew that he would be a great help. We started out with a fairly big group, as it always happens when you're pacing.

I didn't feel too great in the early couple of miles; the breakfast was still in my stomach and the quads felt a bit heavy, but once I warmed up those problems all disappeared by themselves. The course consists more or less of three loops from the city centre, a bit like a clover. The first loop goes towards the East. There is an out-and-back section between miles 6 and 8 and it was great to see all the other runners on the course, first the elites and then Mick Rice's 3:00 pace group, and then the other pacers with their groups, the slower the bigger. Plenty of hellos were exchanges in either direction.

A working Garmin is invaluable for pacing, but you still need to know what you're doing. A 3:15 marathon is 7:26 pace. However, your actual distance will be longer than the measured marathon course because you don't cut the tangent for all corners and you invariably end up weaving around the road when overtaking other runners or for water stops, and you have to take that into account. It means running 3-4 seconds per mile faster than what it says on the Garmin. Plus, we wanted to come home half a minute early, that's another second per mile. In short, we would like to see about 7:21 pace on the Garmin all the way through.

Our biggest problem became clear early on, and it was a problem we had anticipated because we had been warned by people who had paced it last year. The mile markers were completely out of place, some of them ridiculously so. At one point, possibly mile 6, we were about 40 seconds too slow according to the miles markers but well ahead according to our Garmins. As much as you want to go with your Garmin, when you're being told conflicting information time and again you start doubting yourself and we decided to run a tiny bit faster, just in case, because it's better to be a minute early than a minute late.

There was plenty of chatter in our group early on but it gradually subsided as the miles went by. Paul and me were probably the chattiest of the lot because we were clearly operating well below our respective limits. I did notice everyone becoming particularly quiet when we gradually caught up with a female runner around mile 11 and I wondered if the lads were too busy staring at her, but the group remained just as quiet after we had overtaken her so I probably did the lads a disservice there with my suspicions.

At halfway we were back almost at the start, and a timer confirmed that we were over a minute ahead of time as we crossed the mat in 1:36:30, but neither of the previous mile markers had been able to confirm that with any degree of certainty. The second loop brought us south of the city. It was by far the loneliest stretch of the course as we left the urban area behind and entered the country side. To be honest, it was my least favourite part of the course, out of character with the rest of the race and it felt very much like a "let's find some miles to make up the distance" kind of thing. We slowed down a little bit and within a few miles the nagging doubts returned as we were very, very close to projected 3:15 pace according to the markers again.

We caught another lady, Deirdre Finn, at about mile 20 (she came 4th in the end) who I know from Sixmilebridge, but she wasn't able to hang on with us. We still had most of our group with us as we started the third and final loop, this time across the river and heading westwards, but unfortunately they melted away like wax in the sun on the drags up towards Thomond Park. Limerick is a very flat marathon and none of the climbs is either long or steep, but if you're already at the edge it does not take much to throw you off. Around mile 23 my shouts of "well done lads" turned into "well done ... lad" as only a single runner was still with us, but luckily another runner managed to claw his way back to us on a downhill stretch.

We tried to encourage runners to stick with us as we passed them, but not a single one took us up on the offer. We had the same two guys with us for the final miles, and every time I looked behind there was a huge gap with nobody even close.

I was surprised by how well I felt and how easy a 3:15 marathon now is to me, but I was happy to be close to the finish all the same. We had been going for a long time.

Pacer paraphernalia. Balloon, sign, pace band, Garmin
We managed to bully our 2 pacees into a sprint finish and hung back a little bit. We knew we were a bit fast but there was nobody, and I really mean nobody, behind us and there was absolutely no point hanging around just to have a time closer to the target pace, so we ended up crossing the line in 3:13:45, about a minute faster than what would have been optimal. I don't think we burnt off any of our group due to those 2 seconds per mile faster than planned pace and we did manage to bring 2 guys all the way around the course, which is not all that bad for a pacing group as fast as 3:15. A few runners thanked us afterwards, including some who did not make the 3:15, as they still felt we had provided plenty of help for 20+ miles.

We would have been more on time with correct mile markers, I'm sure. It wasn't a perfect job, but I think we did pretty well. Personally I really enjoyed it; the race had gotten some bad reviews 2 years ago but they clearly took the feedback to heart and this year it was really well organised and I can recommend it to anyone interested in another city marathon.

Let's see how quickly I can recover. Bring on Kildare.
5 May
8.2 miles, 1:03:10, 7:42 pace, HR 150
6 May
26.2 miles, 3:13:45, 7:21 pace, HR 153
   Limerick Marathon, 3:15 pacer
Weekly Mileage: 85+

Friday, May 04, 2012

Nerves Are Showing

Two days until Limerick. I'm not worried about running 3:15. In Connemara I jogged the first 26.2 miles in 3:12 and had enough juice for the final 13.1, so that's no problem. What I am worried about is recovery afterwards. I cannot afford to lose weeks of training, the Big Bangor is only 9 weeks away.

Let's look at it the other way. One day I will have figured out how to train for long races, and the mistakes I am making right now will provide invaluable lessons.

It's strange to read blog or forum entries from other Limerick runners who are getting seriously excited now while feeling utterly detached from it myself because it really is only a training run for me. The difference is all in the mind, but that difference is huge.

Last Sunday was supposed to be a dummy run for Limerick at the correct pace, but of course that went out of the window with that phone call on Monday morning. I did another dummy run on Wednesday but I had to keep the distance down because it was too close to Limerick for a serious workout. I just wanted to get used to the pace. I was surprised by how easy it felt, and indeed I lost concentration over the last few miles and inadvertently dropped down to about 7:00 pace without realizing. That's why we have 2 pacers per band, of course, to keep tabs on each other (except for 3:00. Mick Rice doesn't need that kind of thing). With Paul's help we all will run 3:14:30 in Limerick, I'm sure. By the way, Paul is the runner who came 5th in Connemara 5 weeks ago. The 3:15 group will be in good hands.

Yesterday and today were easy again, though the pace was a bit faster than expected, especially today. For any other training cycle I would be delighted to see my pace for easy runs drop like that, but with Bangor approaching I really am wondering if I am doing the right thing.

I'm starting to sound like a broken record. I better stop right here.
2 May
13 miles, 1:35:00, 7:18 pace, HR 153
3 May
10 miles, 1:17:08, 7:43 pace, HR 146
4 May
10 miles, 1:14:52, 7:29 pace, HR 147

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

What Have I Done!

Monday morning, 10 o'clock. The phone rings. It's the T.E., who organises the pacers for Limerick.

T.E.: Hi Tom, how's it going. Good luck tonight, but you'll blow it against Newcastle. Anyway, Dave dropped out of the pacing group. Is it ok if I bump you up from 3:30 to 3:15?
Me.: Oh, uhm, err ... only if you're REALLY desperate ...
T.E.: I am. That's great, see you then. Thanks a million.
Me: Oh, uhm, err ...
beep, beep, beep
Me: What the hell have I just agreed to (well, kinda)???

It's not that I don't think I won't be able to pace 3:15. I'm fairly confident that I can. But I am pacing Kildare the week after and God only knows if I am able to recover, and I really do not want to let my prospective Kildare pacees down. So much for pacing gigs being ideal training runs because the pace will be so comfortable!

At least I can now claim that the pace I ran for most of the previous weeks was in preparation for Limerick.

Just to prove that recovery is not guaranteed, my legs felt really heavy on Monday morning. Knowing that the mileage would take a leap next Sunday, I had already decided to cut it down a little bit during the week, and after the first step was most grateful for that decision. I was not sure how long the "concrete pillar" stage would last and with two marathons coming up straight away I was wondering just how deep a hole I was digging for myself.

Then something happened that evening to squarely put me back into a positive frame of mind.

Don't know about anyone else, but I feel absolutely fantastic this morning.
Despite being unable to sleep for half the night (I was incredibly tense during the match and then replayed the whole game at least twice in my mind instead of sleeping), I'm suddenly feeling great again. Whatever the reason, I was flying this morning, effortlessly gliding over the tarmac. It's a wonderful feeling.
30 Apr
8 miles, 1:03:56, 7:59 pace, HR 137
1 May
10 miles, 1:17:47, 7:46 pace, HR 148