Thursday, June 28, 2012


It had to happen sooner or later, but it happened sooner than I would have wished for. Despite starting to get rather nervous as race day slowly approaches, I had managed to sleep soundly every night - until last night. Believe it or not, I was dreaming of running in circles all night! I woke up several times, but every time I fell asleep I was back on the same loop. I'm not sure if that counts as extra training - now that would be handy!

I have been off coffee for almost 2 weeks and I'm slowly getting over the cravings, not that I have any plans of staying off the stuff once the race is behind me. With chocolate off the menu as well I'm actually shedding a couple of pounds, though last night I really had to battle the munchies. I came as close as opening the door to the sweets cabinet but somehow managed to stop right there. With a 24 hours race on the horizon, a little bit of self-control would be handy; psychologically more than anything else.

The training consisted of something I could never envisage me doing - walking. As mentioned before, I am planning on doing a 25 minutes run / 5 minutes walk schedule but because that would lead to only a miniscule amount of walking in a 1-hour training session I did 5/5 instead. It was raining yesterday, which did not help, but the sun was shining for today's otherwise virtually identical session. I find the walking strangely comforting - I was slightly reluctant to start running again every time the alarm beeped; I sure expected the opposite to be the case.

In a clear example of do as I say, not as I do, I started looking at weather forecast sites, which is a rather useless endeavour with 8 days to go. I know they can't even forecast next day's weather with any degree of acceptable accuracy, I just could not help myself.

Metcheck have an "interesting" forecast:

Oh God, please, no!
Accuweather disagrees, but I'm not sure I'd fancy those temperatures. is different again.

I can't help but notice that they all recommend bringing the waterproof jackets. I don't even want to think about the potential chafing issues this would bring.

What the heck, what do they know!

27 Jun
6.1 miles, 1:01:48, 10:08 pace, HR 117
   5 mins run / 5 mins walk
28 Jun
6.1 miles, 1:01:41, 10:07 pace, HR 117
   5 mins run / 5 mins walk

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Specific Preparation

With the countdown now at 10 days, I can almost smell the race already. The nerves are starting to show but as long as I can still sleep soundly, it's not that bad.

The training is done as far as endurance is concerned, but there are still a few specific things I want to address. The benefits might mainly be psychological now, but never underestimate the value of that, especially when it comes to ultra where a lot of things are decided in the head, not the legs.

On Monday I did my strangest workout of the training cycle yet. As mentioned before,I am planning on doing 5 minutes walking twice an hour, which over 24 hours would add up to no less than 4 hours of walking. In all likelihood I will end up doing even more walking than that. I haven't done much walking in my training (though I got a lot of it done on Mount Brandon), until now. Walking every 25 minutes would not add up to much so I did a schedule of 5 minutes running, 5 minutes walking instead. After feeling rather awkward at first, I soon got into the rhythm and found it strangely hypnotic. I ran/walked a loop at Glounagillagh of about three quarters of a mile and was so absorbed by it that I almost forgot to turn homewards in time. The walking pace increased from 16 to 14 minutes a mile, though I wouldn't bet on keeping that up in Bangor. I surprised myself by actually liking the walking sections. It's definitely an encouraging sign.

Many marathon plans tend to have one last workout about 10 days before the race, and I generally did the same for ultras, including this time. Apart from the pacing marathons, my key workouts have been those off-road runs on the Kerry Way and I added one more double-crossing of Windy Gap. I found it so much easier than I used to, it really is unreal. It really shows that road running alone does not build much leg strength, but I was also surprised by how quickly I managed to adapt. Anyway, the only tough part of today's run was to get out of bed at 5:30, the rest came easy, and I don't think I will ever tire of the views you get from up there, even if I can't fully enjoy them when I'm running.

I had another, rather unexpected, endurance workout in the evening - sitting through a primary school's set of school plays. I don't mean to denigrate the performances and certainly not the effort, which were all great, but if you ever sat through something like that constantly trying to deal with a 4-year old who is bored and cranky and excited and hungry and lonely and giddy and ... in quick succession, you know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, there will be a few more outings aimed at specific things for Bangor, but on the whole, that's it. As far as a complete novice can tell, I'm ready.

25 Jun
6.1 miles, 1:02:58, 10:19 pace, HR 112
   5 mins run / 5 mins walk
26 Jun
12.2 miles, 1:47:30, 8:49 pace, HR 152
   Kerry Way

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Solstice Run

I had heard about the upcoming 10k race in Tralee before but completely forgot about it again. When someone mentioned it again on Tuesday I decided rather impulsively to sign up. I did not go into it with the greatest of expectations. I haven't done speed work in ... how many months? I can't even remember. I haven't come close to running 6-minute miles since Ballycotton, back in March, and of course I had all those recent marathons in my legs.

The logical thing would have been to skip running on Saturday morning but I really did not want to miss the group run, and when I remembered that I was training for an ultra and that this 10K was just a little bit of fun I decided that I would do the morning run as planned and add the race as a second workout. Therefore I already had 12 miles in my legs for the day as I was standing on the starting line, but they felt good nevertheless.

There weren't a lot of familiar faces around; I did recognise a few and had a couple of chats, but the majority of Kerry runners had other obligations, apparently.

At the start I took off with the lead pack, but of course the top guys soon started drifting away. I was initially in seventh place but that turned into sixth within half a mile as one guy had obviously started at a rather ambitious pace and was already starting to pay the penalty.

Having said that, before I had finished the second mile I was wondering if the same applied to me as the suffering started rather early for my liking. The top 4 guys were already far ahead, even though I kept seeing them on the long straight stretches. One runner in a black top was closer but kept steadily pulling away from me. I could not hear any footsteps behind, but since I never looked back I have no idea how far back the next runners were.

The course was marked every kilometre but I missed the third one, which played a few nasty tricks in my head until I reached number four. At that point I was wondering if I had run the first 4k at my 5k race pace and if I was in for a disastrous second half.

I took a gel at the water station between km 4 and 5. That's purely a psychological ploy to give my brain a boost. You don't need a gel for 10k but I find it tends to lift my spirits if I'm struggling.

Whether it was the gel or something else, the runner in front stopped pulling away though he was a good bit ahead of me, enough to make the idea of catching him sound rather fanciful. He did run into an unexpected problem at an unmarked junction and clearly slowed down until he heard a shout from one of the marshals. I passed the same junction a few seconds later, and to be fair to the organisers it was quite obvious to follow the road straight before a right corner, but when running at full tilt the brain doesn't always work very well and one can get confused very easily (believe me, I know), so it would have been better to mark the route and/or put an extra steward at that point, just to be sure.

Anyway, he was still a good bit ahead and we were now on a very, very, very long and very straight upwards drag. I could see the leaders far away in the distance and it really was quite discouraging to look up such a long hill, even if the climb was rather gradual.

Now, normally I am a bad uphill but strong downhill runner. I always lose ground on the climb and win it back on the way down. I eventually realised that for once I did not lose any ground to the black shirt ahead; in fact I was pretty sure I kept inching closer, giving me tons of encouragement. Around the 7k mark we finally reached the top and turned left and true to form I got closer and closer to my prey and soon caught up. I toyed with the idea of taking it easy and staying on his shoulder but instead did the right thing by keeping the momentum going after passing him and opening up a gap.

Then I saw the one thing I really did not want to see, namely another hill. For some reason I had been convinced it would be all the way downhill to the finish, so to see the biggest climb of the day right in front did nothing for me. It was mostly the fear of getting caught that kept me going. I pushed hard, as hard as I could, legs and lungs screaming for mercy.

I was still ahead when we finally reached the top and from then on I pretty much knew that I would not be caught again. A steep downhill was tricky on tired legs and the last k seemed to drag on forever but I eventually passed the 10k marker, though the finishing timing mats were another 20 meters ahead. I had 6.29 miles on my Garmin, which probably means that it was an accurate course (something that's not always the case). I finished in fifth place in 38:46.

I race 10Ks so rarely that I didn't even know if that was a PB or not, but of course it was not. I was happy enough with my time and even more so with my performance. I had pushed hard all the way and fought hard to overtake that one runner. I managed to resist temptation to look at the Garmin and never looked behind me, two little things that I take as small victories.

My main goal was to have a bit of fun, which I achieved. It's not a bad 10K time for someone purely concentrating on ultra running at the moment. I got the legs moving at a fast pace, maybe activating a few dormant muscle fibres that could come in handy in two weeks' time.

Mile splits: 5:55, 6:06, 6:16, 6:16, 6:20, 6:19, 5:44 pace for rest

Results are here.

23 Jun
am: 11+ miles, 1:29:21, 7:58 pace, HR 138
pm: Tralee Solstice 10k, 5th place, 38:46, 6:14 pace (6:09 on Garmin), HR 176
24 Jun
8 miles, 1:00:59, 7:37 pace, HR 148

Friday, June 22, 2012

Insane In The Membrane

With only 2 weeks left until Bangor I'm trying to keep sane* but at times it seems like a losing battle. On the one hand time seems to be flying. Are we really that close to the race already? On the other hand, I just can't wait. The closer we get to the date, the more I keep thinking about it. At least I'm still able to sleep soundly. I don't expect that to be the case the last 2 or 3 nights before the race.

I'm trying to do a few little things that might make a difference. I stopped drinking coffee a week ago. Caffeine is a stimulant, but it works much better if you're not used to it, so I'm weaning myself off the stuff until after the race. To go from 4-5 cups a day to 0 isn't pretty and my first thought as soon as I enter the kitchen is still to grab a cup, then I realise that I will have to go without and I don't like it.

One slight bummer about the race is the fact that I'm going to miss an awesome event in Killorglin. This would have been right up my street. You might not think it if you saw me, but I love food.

Maia has graduated from pre-school. They had a great little ceremony, funny and well done. All the kids apart from one shy boy seemed to love it. Ours sure did.

The legs have felt very good following Wednesday's tempo run. I'm cruising at 7:30 pace again, totally on autopilot. Actually, I felt a bit lethargic at the start of today's run, but felt better the longer I went on. i also did a few strides at the end.

I've decided to jump into one more race. There is a 10k in Tralee on Saturday evening and I'm going to do it, just for fun and to get the legs moving fast one last time. I'm not in 10k PB shape, even though my existing PB is very soft (I ran the first 10K in Ballycotton faster than my official 10k PB). With all the training for ultras I haven't done much racing this year and that's not going to change for the rest of 2012 either; I'm seeing tomorrow as a little bit of fun before the real, earnest, proper race.

21 Jun
8 miles, 1:00:35, 7:34 pace, HR 145
22 Jun
8 miles, 59:59, 7:29 pace, HR 146

* I'm talking about a certain, relative, degree of sanity. I am perfectly aware of what most people think of someone who wants to take part in a 24 hrs race.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tapering? Already?

The weight issue is not going away, apparently. The other day Niamh disappeared into the bathroom, stepped onto the weighing scales and accused me of being anorexic whilst looking just a tad annoyed. Ah well.

Sunday's mountain run took less out of me than expected. It really is amazing how quickly the body can adapt. Only four weeks ago a shorter session had me almost crippled for a week, now I can do significantly tougher workouts without being particularly affected the next day.

That's not to say that I didn't feel the hills in my legs at all. There was definitely some soreness on Monday and some stiffness on Tuesday, but compared to last month the difference was truly remarkable. Actually, I would have been worried if I had felt no soreness at all - good workouts produce some aches, otherwise there won't be adaptation.

After taking it very easy on Monday and Tuesday (not only was I recovering, this is also the start of the taper), I ran 10 faster miles this morning on the Killorglin loop. It was a beautiful morning, sunny and no wind, just perfect in time for the solstice. I haven't done any tempo runs in a while - you can't do everything. I can clearly see that the faster paces have suffered. The workout wasn't bad, I averaged 6:44 pace after easing into it over the first mile, but compared to the shape I was in only four short months ago, this is disappointing. Back then I would have been able to run about 20 seconds per mile faster with the same effort. Of course, I wasn't training to churn out great tempo runs recently. It shows.

I tried to break in a new pair of shoes that I am considering for Bangor. They gave me a hot spot. They might still come good but it's the first time in several years I have come even close to having a blister.

"Can't do everything" could stand in as the theme of the entire training cycle. There were less than three months between Connemara and Bangor and between recovering from the former and tapering for the latter it did not leave an awful lot of room for training. I managed to squeeze in three marathons and an adventure race, so I'm sure my endurance is rather decent. But I never got in those really long runs I had been planning on doing (real life interfering didn't help. I do have a wife, a job and four young children) and my overall mileage was fairly modest because I spent much of the intervening weeks recovering from those efforts.

Bangor is only 16 days away. The training has been done and any heroic workouts now would just backfire. I'll just have to work with what I've got.

18 Jun
5 miles, 40:12, 8:02 pace, HR 137
19 Jun
5 miles, 38:56, 7:47 pace, HR 143
20 Jun
10 miles, 1:07:21, 6:44 pace, HR 163

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Weighty Matters

Not too long ago I read something in the papers that dark chocolate can help you lose weight. For the last few weeks I have selflessly conducted an experiment to test that theory and I'm afraid the results are unanimous, clear and conclusive. Maybe it was the testing protocol, but I can openly state that stuffing your face with chocolate night after night after night will not lead to weight loss, much to my dismay. On Friday morning the weighing scales reached 150 pounds for the first time in quite a long time, 7 pound heavier than I was before Connemara, and it's time to get serious again.

Niamh disputes the fact that I am a fat slob, pointing out that I needed a belt to hold up my trousers, but what does that woman know about fat and weight anyway. The weighing scales don't lie (and neither does a certain 4-year old). Niamh also disputes that the XL sized t-shirt she got me for Father's Day was a subtle hint.

My left quads have felt a bit weird ever since I came off Mount Brandon. The soreness of the first three days was just as expected, but even after that had subsided there was still one area of my left leg that just did not feel right. I have therefore been taking it easier than planned all week, only doing short and easy runs. On Friday I finally started tackling the problem with The Stick and the results have been very promising. I probably should have done that a couple of day earlier.

I got in a few faster miles on Saturday on my way to the group run meeting point. I started out at a very relaxed pace and gradually increased the effort until I averaged just under 7-minute miles. The group run itself was much more mellow, taking into account that there are a few beginners with us. They are doing very well, I just wished the numbers were a bit bigger. A lot of people seem to be put off by cloudy conditions, not realising that this is actually perfect running weather. Again, if you're in the area and want to start running, joining us on Saturday 9am at the A Fit Body Gym will be your best ever opportunity.

On Sunday morning I was back on the Kerry Way, trying to squeeze some more vertical gains into my training, in the hope that it will build up my leg strength. A double crossing of Windy Gap had left me totally knackered a few weeks ago; it's astounding how quickly the body can adapt, today I went over that same mountain pass 4 times for a total elevation gain of 3000 feet and managed just fine. I wish I could have done at least one more double-crossing, but I was already 20 minutes later than what I had promised Niamh would be the latest arrival time. Maybe the climbing wall in Dingle added a small extra training stimulus. It certainly felt like hard work. I can't believe how easy Shea makes it look.

With that run in the bag, I guess I am now officially tapering, even though last week very much felt like a taper anyway. The race is only 19 days away.

16 Jun
10.55 miles, 1:24:04, 7:58 pace, HR 140
   5 faster miles followed by a group run
17 Jun
14.75 miles, 2:19:18, 9:26 pace, HR 154

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bangor Strategies

Someone asked:
just curious - what if any visualisation techniques / strategies will u take on board for bangor?
I started replying but it became longer and longer until it was long enough to warrant its own post.

To be honest, I'm not much for visualisation techniques. I've tried them on several occasions in the past and they don't seem work for me. Maybe I'm doing it wrong but I cannot translate the visualised images into actual performance on the road/track.

As for strategy, I'm planning on doing a sequence of 25 minutes run / 5 minutes walk for as long as I can and use the walks to take in food and drink.

While I do have a mileage goal in my head, I will try and ignore it as much as I can during the race and instead go by how I feel.

I will try and concentrate on the present lap only and never worry about how far there is to go.

I will concern myself with my race and my race only, ignoring what other competitors are doing. I don't mean that I will ignore all the other runners. Quite the opposite, I am very much looking forward to all of us encouraging each other throughout the day. What I mean is, I won't be drawn into some private race and instead concentrate on my own performance only.

I will have a couple of mp3 players to get me through the night. Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Guns&Roses and the like will be my muses at 3 am in the morning.

I will listen to my crew. They are much more experienced than me and will hopefully dish out just the right amount of abuse to keep me going for as long as possible.

I might change shoes at some stage.

I will have a variety of food with me, both of the sweet and the savoury variety. I will have gels and sports drinks and electrolyte replacements, but there will be real food like sandwiches as well. The organisers will provide plenty of food as well as far as I understand, and the general idea is to take in anything that feels palatable. I will start out trying to take in 300 - 400 calories an hour, but drawing from past experience that won't last very long, and after a while I think I will just end up eating whatever feels somewhat edible at the time or whatever my crew will force me to eat.

But you know what they say about men and their plans and all that. I have never done anything even remotely like that before and anything I plan on doing right now might be completely ludicrous after 8, 12, 16, or 20 hours.

As for my own training in the last few days, I have been taking it very easy to recover from Saturday's excursion on Mount Brandon. There is some weird feeling in my left quads. The original soreness from the mountain has gone but something is not quite right. As a result I just did a few miles each morning at an easy effort. That easy effort grew a bit faster every day, but even the 7:30 pace this morning felt easy enough.

13 Jun
5 miles, 39:06, 7:49 pace, HR 141
14 Jun
6+ miles, 46:18, 7:35 pace, HR 145
15 Jun
6+ miles, 45:33, 7:27 pace, HR 148

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

One For The Scrapbook

Would you believe it, I made the papers again! This time it was the Examiner, with the same photo I had printed in my race report, and with my name as well. Thanks to Keith for bringing it to my attention. If this keeps going at the same rate I need to get my image rights sorted soon!

I did bring quite a few things with me from that mountain: sore legs, mild sunburn and a set of memories stoked by some more photos. Mountain running lends itself to spectacular images, much more so than road running, and the stunning images on the race's facebook site are well worth checking out. On the scenic shots, if you zoom into it you see some little dots strewn about. That's us racers, being completely dwarfed by nature.

My legs have been sore ever since, as expected, but less so than after my first run over Windy Gap a few weeks ago; my legs strength has definitely improved since then. I have taken it easy every day and will do so until the legs are better. By then it will be rather close to Bangor and the taper will start. I might be able to do another run over Windy Gap, but that's it then and the taper madness can commence.

Niamh pointed out that there is a race in Glenbeigh at the end of July and automatically assumed that I would be running it. When I responded that I didn't think my legs would be up for it so soon after Bangor, her eyes went wide in fear and horror. "You mean you might not be able to run for the entire month of July???" She obviously thinks I won't be able to cope without running for a couple of week. Anyway, she soon calmed down, reasoning that there would be no chance whatsoever of me taking off so much time and therefore our marriage might last after all.
10 Jun
5 miles, 39:43, 7:57 pace, HR 144
11 Jun
5 miles, 40:35, 8:07 pace, HR 140
12 Jun
5 miles, 40:19, 8:04 pace, HR 139

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Adventure Time

Liz Fenton clearly is a very persuasive woman. She keeps organising dozens of runners to the Dingle Adventure Race each year, be it as part of a relay team or doing the full event. After spending hours last year waiting in the wind, rain and hail at the foot of the mountain I told her I wouldn’t do it again, so she worked on me to do the full one instead. Since the date is always 5 days after the Cork City marathon I could never envisage me actually doing the race, but in the end she wore me down.

With the marathon still in my legs, I took this as a fun day out and a valuable training exercise, especially the crossing of Mount Brandon. Niamh asked me the day before how long it would take and I answered that I had no idea, but a rough estimate would be an hour for the cycle, 90 minutes for the mountain, an hour for the road run and half an hour for the kayak/finish, which adds up to 4 hours.

Liz also organized a lift for me to Dingle, which meant an hour’s drive in the presence of four lovely and friendly ladies. The day certainly started on a very positive note. We arrived in Dingle at 7:30, registered and got ready. With so many Killorglin people in the field, I was surrounded by plenty of familiar and friendly faces and was very much looking forward to it.

My bike took a fair amount of criticism from the guy giving it a quick check and I was left rather embarrassed watching him turning this screw and that one, fixing one thing after another before letting me go. For a second I feared he was going to pull me from the race but he told me I was good for today. Still slightly embarrassed I made my way into the start area. I started fairly far back since I had no real intentions of racing this.

The start was a neutralized cycle through Dingle town and the actual race was signalled by an air horn, but I never heard that. Instead I eventually figured that we must be on our way for real and put some more effort into it. You hit the climb straight away, and it’s 4 miles to the top of Conor Pass, often described as Ireland’s highest pass but that description is misleading as there are higher roads without the word “pass” in it. Having said that, we were still in for a long climb.

Having started back in the field I started overtaking cyclists straight away and picked up bike after bike after bike. For a mile I was at the backwheel of another competitor but I eventually managed to pass her as well and kept climbing up the road as well as the field. My HR was in the 170s for most of it so I must have been working hard but I never felt I was at my limit, definitely a good thing considering what still lay ahead. I remember the road from the Dingle Ultra 2 years ago, though coming the other way. I always thought of the Dingle side of Conor Pass of having a nice, steady, runnable gradient, but it turns out that it feels a lot steeper when climbing up on a bike. Funny that. At one point I tried to find an easier gear only to realise that there was no easier gear left and I was left working with what I got.

The second we reached the top we immediately went into the steep descent down the other side. It happened so quickly that I barely had time to switch gears. The first half mile or so is the steepest part and rather scary with a 1000 foot drop immediately to our left. In addition to that, the road was not entirely closed and even though traffic was very sparse, it meant there might be no margin for error going round the bends, a thought I tried to keep out of my head. Despite being totally unfamiliar with cycling down a mountain at breakneck speed, I held my own. I was overtaken by a few riders but overtook a few ones myself in turn. At one point I got a bit closer to the edge of the road than I would have liked. There was still plenty of room but I took the hint and got more cautious for the rest of the descent, definitely overbraking on a couple of occasions but well worth it if it meant that I made it down in one piece.

As it turns out, a slightly more aggressive ride might have meant ending the descent with a group of 4 or 5 riders, but instead I was 100 meters back on my own, trying to close the gap for the second half of the cycle. I figured riding in a group would save a lot of strength, but right then I was struck by some technical hitch.

I tried to take a sip of water from the water belt I was wearing, but as I tried to open the valve, the whole mouthpiece came off, leaving the pipe from the bladder open with all the water gushing out. That was the water that was supposed to sustain me while climbing the mountain later on! It was a hot day and I figured I might be in real trouble all of a sudden. For the rest of the cycle I kept the pipe in my mouth, sucking out the rest of the water, so at least it would not be all completely wasted. All this meant that I completely lost contact to the group in front and had to cycle on my own. Shortly before Cloghane I got caught by a couple of riders and managed to hang on to them until the end of that stage. I took a little 250 ml water bottle out of my bike bag. For some unknown reason I had brought it along for emergency backup, which turned out to be an inspired move. I also took a gel here as I figured my stomach would be full of water for the last time today and I doubted I would be able to digest another gel without liquid

I had been looking forward to the mountain stage but as soon as I got off the bike my competitive drive completely evaporated. I really did not feel like running, something entirely alien to me. Maybe it was the fact that we immediately hit a steep climb through some rough, muddy terrain, but at first I didn’t run the short, runnable sections either. I lost a couple of places but eventually shamed myself into putting some more effort into it. Then we hit a road, which did not please me at all because it meant I had no excuse for walking, steep as it was. To my surprise it turned out that my run pace was a good bit faster than that of the people who had just hiked past me and I made up a good few places, at least until we reached the end of the road and the real climbing started.

The race organisers call this the hiking stage but before the race I had thought of it as the “mountain running” stage. This just shows how clueless I was. I had absolutely no idea what was in store. Mount Brandon is the ninth highest peak in Ireland and the highest outside the Macgillycuddy's Reeks. I did not see the elites, but I doubt they managed to run much of it either. There certainly was no question of us mortals doing anything but hiking. I tried to put a positive spin on it. I need some hiking practise for Bangor and I was bound to get plenty of it.

This did not change the fact that my calves were soon screaming in pain and my mind drifted into dark territory. I kept thinking that this was only 5 days after the marathon and I wasn’t supposed to race, nothing of which did much for my effort. Despite that, I more than held my place in the field. Some guys and girls went past me but I caught a few people myself and gradually started moving up the field. After a long, steep initial climb the terrain became more runnable, much more suited to my strengths. But it was rough territory, not something I would be used to and I stumbled a few times. Halfway up the mountain, battling with another guy, I stubbed my toe no less than four times within maybe 2 or 3 minutes, each time only just avoiding a full faceplant. At that stage I felt an eventual tumble was only a matter of time and that I would be lucky to come home with a full set of bones, never mind a full set of teeth.

Despite being clearly competitive, everyone was very courteous to each other, moving aside when someone wanted to pass, giving each other plenty of encouragement. I twice managed to glimpse the reading of my HR on my Garmin; despite not running I was in the high 160s both times.

The trail became very stony and we had to climb over some massive boulders. Then I looked up and “Holy Jesus F***ing Christ!!!” there was this enormous vertical wall of stone right in front of me and what’s worse, I could clearly see the line of yellow shirts dotted on it, meaning that’s where I was headed for. It wasn’t the only time that I was reduced to swearing today.

I was glad it was a dry day. I would not have fancied that seemingly vertical ascent on a slippery surface. Especially close to the top it became extremely rough, requiring the use of hands, knees and anything else to heave yourself up and, most importantly of all, not looking down.

Eventually, and to my immense relief, we reached the top ridge, my Garmin displaying well over 3100 feet elevation, only to be greeted by a wall of clouds and/or fog. I could hardly see because drops of water kept running down my glasses; I wasn't sure if it was sweat or condensation, but my vision was seriously hampered, which did cause a fair amount of problems over the next few minutes.

I had managed to more than hold my own on the climb up the mountain but I was in real trouble here. Runners kept passing me so quickly that they dropped out of sight within a few seconds. My compromised vision was major factor but the second problem was that I just could not bring myself to stride out properly. I am not used to running on that kind of territory, much too rough for a road runner. Eventually we dropped out of the fog, the vision improved, and eventually I managed to hang on to a couple of guys, striding out much more confidently instead of constantly breaking with the quads. I even managed to re-pass one or two guys.

When I arrived at the transition point I realised how dehydrated I was. Apart from the 5 or 10 foggy minutes at the top it was a very sunny day and my water bottle had long been emptied. I drained 3 cups of water in quick succession before hitting the road.

Even though we were now on a road, the first mile was still rather steep downhill. My quads were screaming in pain and I wondered if I was already too exhausted to use my road running background to my advantage. I just about managed to keep up with the guy in front as we ticked off the first mile in 6:18, but as soon as we reached the second, uphill, mile, I immediately started gaining ground very quickly. Another cup of water from a helpful family helped a lot, especially as I used it to take my second gel.

Running on a road with mountain running shoes wasn’t ideal but I managed just fine. My hurting quads and my general exhaustion were much more of an issue, but despite feeling so tired I steadily gained on everyone ahead of me and the positive race energy I got from passing runner after runner kept me going.

Last year, when doing only this one stage as part of a relay, I had been averaging about 6:20 pace, today, with two mountains already in the legs, I was about 45 seconds per mile slower, but it was still fast enough to make big strides up the field. I wasn’t entirely killing myself but I ran hard. I felt something rubbing and realised that the chest strap of my HRM had come loose but could not fix it so I just ignored it. My bag seemed to weigh a ton, but again I just tried to get on with it. Despite having run on that road before, I could not remember all those ups and downs and it really started dragging. I had conflicting feelings. On the one hand I knew how much this road running stretch worked to my advantage, on the other hand I really wanted it to end because I was utterly exhausted and just felt like hanging on.

The “1 km to Kayak” sign came as a massive relief, but because of the low tide we had to run further than last year on a grassy stretch that just did not seem to end. After a few more swear words I finally reached the transition.

The best bit about the kayaking seemed to be the fact that I was told to take off my backpack in order to fit the floatation device. It was such a relief to get rid of the weight. Then I stepped into the kayak and set off, following the guy in front.

This was only the third time in my life in a kayak. One had come last year during an activity day where I had chosen kayaking specifically with an eye on eventual future adventure races. The second time had been a couple of weeks ago as a practise for today. This was the first time on my own.

Thankfully the water was incredibly calm and it all started rather well. I gained on the kayak in front and caught him before the first buoy. The second buoy seemed incredibly far away. Then I got caught myself, by a lady who I had overtaken only a few minutes earlier towards the end of the road section. She certainly knew how to handle a kayak, unlike myself, or the guy in front of me who seemed to zig-zag all over the place, but even though I steadily reduced the gap, he was still a good few seconds ahead of me when we reached the shore. I hadn’t known what to expect on this section, being a complete novice. But from what I gather, that seems rather common in adventure races, most people are just winging it and the equipment is always provided by the race itself. It was definitely by far the most enjoyable part of the race.

The lady who had overtaken me on the kayak and the other guy were a good bit ahead of me and there was barely a kilometer left until the finish, but I was prepared for an all-out effort in an attempt to catch them. However, as I tried to pick up my bag, it was not there.

Frantic and flustered as I was, I could not think straight. When the marshal asked me the colour I wasn’t even sure if my answer (grey) was correct (it was). Then I picked up a bag, only to realise after 5 more seconds that it wasn’t mine. Eventually they told me to forget about it and just run. I have no idea how much time I had needlessly left there, but it was enough to forget about catching anyone, and since there was nobody behind me, my place in the field was now set and I ran home with a decent enough effort but without killing myself. The lady who had caught me turned out to be the ladies' winner.

I timed out for the last time in 3:50:18, pretty close to what I had estimated but much, much, MUCH more exhausted than expected. I compared the effort to Monday’s marathon and this had been so much harder. For the rest of the day I kept telling everyone who wanted to hear it (and some who didn’t, no doubt) that this had been tougher than running a marathon and that anyone who had completed it should try one, earning a few sceptic looks in return. I am perfectly aware that I am trained for a marathon and that I had started the race on already tired legs, but still.

Analysing the split times from the results confirms pretty much what I already knew. The descent from the mountain was my weakest stage and I did pretty well on the road.

I was 48th after the cycle, 39th at the top of Mount Brandon (39th for the stage as well), dropped 4 places to 43th on the descent after being 69th for the stage but the ninth fastest road time catapulted me forward no less than 18 places to 25th. A 65th time in the kayak did not change the overall position and neither did being the eighth fastest on the short sprint to the finish.

Considering that I do no cycle training apart from my short work commute, am utterly unused to mountain running and a complete novice at kayaking, and had to rely entirely on a road running fitness that had been severely compromised by running a marathon only 5 days before this race, a 25th place amongst a field of 260 finishers is far better than I had a right to expect.

I just about got away with the water belt mishap. I probably had a bit too much respect for the mountain and was overdressed with tights and arm warmers (Ewen will love this, no doubt), but the warmth of the day caught everyone by surprise and it's better to have too much respect than too little.

The winner, Tim O'Donoghue produced an awesome performance, winning not just the overall race but every single stage of the race!

And as I kept saying for the rest of the day:
That was great fun! … I’ll never do that again!

Thanks to Liz for tirelessly organising the sizeable Killorglin contingent and Kay Bermingham and the other ladies for the lift to and from Dingle.

Photo of the three of us descending Mount Brandon by Valerie O'Sullivan. I don't know the names of the other photographers; all the pictures are from the race's facebook page. If you know the photographer I will add the name to the credits.
9 Jun
Dingle Adventure Race
   3:50:18, 25th place

Thursday, June 07, 2012

More Media Outings

I didn't mention it in my Cork race pace report because it had nothing to do with the race itself, but the Irish Times ran a piece on running on Monday after I had been interviewed by Shane Hegarty late last week. It was in the print edition, and their website features it as well:

(not sure how long they have articles available for free before archiving them behind a pay wall)

No, I don't usually get mentioned in the same sentence as Vinny Mulvey. It's well worth reading, and no, I'm not saying that because of my own modest contribution.

I knew about that one. The other one came as a surprise today. And highly flattering it is, too.

For some unknown reason I'm really racking up media appearances all of a sudden. There was me in the news about the Connemara Ultra (twice!), my photo in the Irish Times after Limerick, I was in the highlights video for both Limerick and Kildare and now those two articles. My kids are definitely starting to get impressed (not an easy feat, believe you me).

When they started bringing in the pink pacer balloons on Monday morning, there were a few comments about the colour. My own immediate reaction was "Brilliant, Maia is going to love this!", and so it proved. As big as the support was from the Cork spectators, I received my biggest cheer when I arrived home with a big pink balloon. "Daddy, you won a pink balloon!!", which to her is just the best price possible, ever. Niamh was slightly less enthusiastic ("the last balloon you brought home has only just deflated!"), but you can't please all of them all the time.

My own recovery is going exceedingly well. I had absolutely no soreness in the legs whatsoever, not even when descending that flight of stairs at the office. I had to slow myself down on Tuesday time and time again because the legs felt like going much faster than I was prepared to let them. On Wednesday I gave in a bit more and ran 5 miles on autopilot.

This morning, Thursday, I wore a backpack to test it out for Saturday's adventure race. I know I left it rather late, two days before the event is not the best time to start experimenting with new equipment, but it went very well. I could feel the extra weight from the water bladder, but it is perfectly fine for running and doesn't bounce, not even at higher speeds.

As well as I am recovering from the marathon, obviously I won't be at my best on Saturday, but that's okay. I'm doing this purely for fun, and for a nice training effect to boot.
5 Jun
5 miles, 39:23, 7:52 pace, HR 141
6 Jun
5+ miles, 38:14, 7:33 pace, HR 145
7 Jun
8 miles, 1:00:18, 7:32 pace, HR 148

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Another One In The Bag

As Ewen pointed out the other day, this was my sixth pacing marathon in a row, though I did race a couple of ultras during that time. This is not entirely by coincidence; I find pacing a marathon to be an excellent training run. Experience has told me that I tend to run too fast when I try and use a proper race for training purposes, but when I'm pacing speeding up is not an option and therefore suits my purposes very well.

It's still a marathon though, and you can't take them lightly. I went into the race with a couple of problems. I've had problems with the skin on my right foot for a couple of weeks. I think it's dermatitis and the day before the race it became really painful when the skin started blistering. Don't worry, I won't subject you to photos. I had a second problem as well, and that was purely down to my own idiocy. I can never resist a good breakfast, and despite feeling fairly full after a bowl of cereal, a bowl of fruit with yoghurt and a couple of slices of toast, that chocolate chip muffin kept calling my name and eventually I gave in. That was 90 minutes before the start and I could still feel it in my stomach by the time we set off. I really should have known better.

My pacing buddy was Tony Brennan. We have paced before and I have utter confidence in his abilities, but he had hurt his back a week before and had tried to swap for an easier pace band without luck. As a result we started our pacing gig with question marks over both of our heads, but of course we didn't mention it to our pacees.

Tony set off at a pace I thought was about 5 seconds per mile too fast, at least that's what my Garmin kept telling me. He had a rather big bunch around him. For the first few miles I hung back by about 10 steps, with another group of runners around me. Cork is a bigger marathon than Limerick and we were always going to have more runners around us than at that race, but it was inevitable that plenty of guys were starting at a pace that was way ahead of their true fitness level.

By comparing the time and pace at the mile markers with the Garmin's display it eventually dawned on me that we would have to give a bit more extra than the usual 5 seconds to make up for the Garmin's measurement errors. Tony's pace had been correct all along.

The only time I fell behind a bit further was the climb out of the tunnel around mile 8. I thought Tony was pushing just a bit too hard for what was one of the biggest climbs of the day and took it a bit easier, which left me playing catch up for the next 2 miles, but at mile 10 we were all together again.

There was a great buzz at all the relay changeover stations and at the half marathon start, and Tony has just the right knack to get the spectators cheering particularly loud. It never failed to give everyone in the group a big lift, and that includes the pacers.

The weather forecast had been rather mixed but at the start there was not a cloud in the sky and it soon became rather warm. It regretted the fact that the pacer uniforms were t-shirts rather then sleeveless singlets, not that I could do anything about it. My foot kept bothering me for the first 5 miles until the endorphins kicked in properly and was fine from then on. My stomach, on the other hand, felt distinctly uncomfortable. I played with the idea of trying to get rid of the contents, but a) did not think I would be able to make myself do so and b) felt that the sight of one of the pacers throwing up at the roadside would not exactly instill confidence in our charges, so I kept going instead, taking the discomfort as deserved punishment for my gluttony.

By halfway we were about 30 seconds ahead of time, just where we wanted to be. The group had settled down to maybe a dozen runners, most of them looking reasonably comfortable. It was at that point that my stomach finally settled down and some clouds started appearing at the sky, dropping the temperatures down to much more comfortable levels. I finally started to feel good, and it was from that point onwards that I really enjoyed the race.

I chatted to a few of our pacees, they all had their own stories and their own motivations for running marathons. Plenty were locals with family and friends providing support from the sidelines, some had run marathons only a few weeks ago (or even one week ago in one case) and the mood was pretty good.

Miles 15 - 20 are the most challenging in Cork; it is a rather flat marathon in general but there are a few undulations in those miles and the runners who were just about hanging on to this point clearly started suffering and some started to drop off. We were about 40 seconds to the good, meaning that we could take it just that little bit easier on the climbs, and we implored out charges to hang on for as long as they could.

Apparently I ran past Brendan at mile 18 while he was walking off a cramp, but have to admit that I never even noticed him. I guess he paid the same price most of us have paid in our first marathon; it's a learning experience, and he has plenty of room for improvement.

After mile 20 or 21, the hills are a thing of the past and in theory you can cruise home from here on. The main problem was the easterly wind, which we would have to battle head on for the final 4 miles, especially on the Straight Road between miles 22 and 24. We passed plenty of runners along that stretch, most of whom had no inclinations of hanging on to us.

I checked around me with about 4 miles to go and we still had a dozen or so runners with us. For a while I was hoping that we would have a really big group with us at the end for a change. I checked again when we reached the end of the straight road, and sadly we were down to half that number. Two guys took up Tony's call to push ahead and get a better time (well, one had left a mile earlier), the rest were hanging on. With a mile to go I tried again, telling them to go ahead if they could, but the answer was "I can't". I was a little bit worried about the time lost fighting the headwind at the straight road but once we reached Mardyke it was much more sheltered and not really an issue any more.

When I was pacing Limerick 4 weeks ago, I had started feeling tired with a couple of miles to go. While there was never any doubt that I would be able to finish the pacing in time, I was happy enough to see the finish line. I was in much better shape in Cork. I felt like I could have kept going forever.

There was a great turnout of spectators at the end and the final stretch on Patrick Street was really the glory stretch. All four guys who had managed to stay with us made it across the line under 3:15, and the two who had successfully pushed ahead made it half a dozen satisfied customers. The thanks you get immediately after crossing the line are always very worthwhile. It won't have been my last pacing gig.

Race photos by Doug Minihane, Iain Shaw, Darren SpringNoel Kelleher and Gearoid O'Laoi.

4 Jun
2012 Cork City Marathon, 3:15 pacer
   3:14:27, 7:25 pace, HR 159

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Rainy Days

In my next life, I want to be a meteorologist. Those guys can get away with anything, and apparently they are not even embarrassed about their constant failures to predict the weather. It took them until Friday afternoon to change the weekend's forecast from hot and scorching to rainy and miserable. Did they really miss that massive cloud system or what?

It must have been a while since I have last run in rain, because I had forgotten about the chafing issues that come with that, but I do remember now, alright.

After feeling a bit flat during the week, probably a result of that virus I'd gotten on Tuesday, I have gradually been getting better day after day. With the Cork marathon this Monday I couldn't go mad anyway and the mileage as well as the effort level had to remain reasonably low.

I did 10 miles on Friday morning and was pleasantly surprised by the pace I managed to produce without pushing the effort. It was not far off the pace I need on Monday for the 3:15 pace group, and therefore Monday should be reasonably comfortable.

Saturday was different, very different to normal. There are attempts to revive the Star of the Laune running club, which has been pretty much dormant over the last few year, and a new group has formed in Killorglin, in addition to the already existing one in Beaufort. It is aimed mostly at new runners; if you are living in the area and are thinking of taking up running, this is the best opportunity you will ever get, so come and join us on Saturday 9 o'clock in the morning at the Laune Rangers grounds. The loop is 5k (ok, 4.5k), nobody is too slow and anyone who wants to run more can join us for a second loop. I got a couple of questions if the pace was too slow for me, but a relaxed run like that was very much my intention with the marathon on Monday, and I need to get used to that pace for Bangor as well. The turnout was decent enough considering the lousy conditions, there were 10 people doing to first loop.

I can't not run for a day so I did 5 more miles this morning, the last run before Cork. I'm looking forward to my next marathon - it's been three weeks already since my last ;-).
1 Jun
10 miles, 1:15:42, 7:34 pace, HR 148
2 Jun
11+ miles, 1:33:30, 8:26 pace, HR 148
   5 miles beforehand, then 2x3 miles with the club
3 Jun
5 miles, 38:25, 7:40 pace, HR 141