Sunday, September 30, 2012


Canute, a very experienced runner whose opinion I very much respect, left a very good comment on my most recent post. It's worth reading in its entirety but I'll pick a few bits and pieces.

Are your hill sessions for strength development, aerobic development or both? They probably qualify as HIIT and hence according to the evidence supporting HIIT, provide a strong stimulus to aerobic development via brief bursts at anaerobic intensity

The hill sprints are for leg strength/neuromuscular development, not for aerobic development. Because of their short length and the full recovery they are mostly alactic, which is why I think they don't interfere with aerobic training. Having said that, I have heard that Lydiard's statement that aerobic development stops as soon as anaerobic training starts is not being backed up by physiological research, though I'm definitely not in a position to comment on that.

I think that Canova would argue that a runner who has already done many years of base-building, does not need to develop capillaries any further, so neither Lydiard nor Maffetone type base-building are necessary. Perhaps you now have a long enough training history to adopt parts of Canova’s approach – though I suppose Canova is really better for HM and M than for ultras.

That possibility did cross my mind, especially with me coming off a cycle that included running 126 miles in one go and running a very hilly 50 mile ultra purely for fun. I do think that my aerobic base is fairly formidable by now; I just hope that's not just wishful thinking.


The base training I'm doing now is at a higher intensity compared to what I would have done the previous two years. There are no killer workouts but I'm working a little bit harder each day.

One problem with Lydiard's training is that the schedules in his books often bears very little resemblance to the training his charges used to do. One reason is that elite runners train differently to the rest of us. Another one is that Lydiard constantly monitored the effect of training and changed it accordingly, something you cannot do when printing a schedule.

Anyway, he said that in base training you should train close but under your “steady state”. There are plenty of opinions what “steady state” is, some writers seem to think it's close to your lactate threshold, others disagree; however, that's not really my point. When I was being coached by Mystery Coach I was surprised by the mellow effort for virtually all training runs in base training. He responded that he did not know where my steady state was, but from my feedback he knew that I was remaining below and that was what counted most. We only went through one training cycle. I think that had we gone through more, he would have increased the training intensity in subsequent ones. In a way that's basically what I'm trying to do now.

I don't know if that will be my last ever shot at my marathon PB, so I'm prepared to take a few risks. But I'm not flying blind. I will still do the evaluation workouts and take that feedback into account; if I am overtraining I hope I will be able to spot that in time.


The last few days have gone fairly well and the training has definitely gone up by a notch or two. Thursday's 10 miles were steady, but I ran a much faster workout on Friday. The legs felt flat during the first two warm-up miles but then I was really surprised by how well I was moving with very little effort. Unfortunately, when I reached the halfway point I realised that I had been pushed along by a very nice tailwind and would now be paying the price on the homewards leg. Unsurprisingly the second half felt a lot harder. The average HR was too high for my liking; there is clearly a lot of work still to be done but then I remembered that I had run my last race only 4 weeks ago and then taken 10 days off, so I was back in training for less than 3 weeks and the figures clearly reflect this.

Saturday is our club's group run. I ran to the meeting point at a good clip (almost 7:00 pace), had 4 very relaxed miles with the group and went home faster again, but more relaxed this time (7:20-ish, which felt very easy).

I was back on the Caragh Lake loop on Sunday morning for my long run. The big climbs felt a lot harder than expected; I think I tend to lose leg strength very quickly if I don't keep running hills. But I was moving well on the rest of the loop, despite the windy and rainy conditions. The weather picked up during the second half of the run and so did my pace. I was happy enough with how the legs felt after the first 70+ miles week. Endurance has never been a problem. If I could add a little bit more speed, that would be great.

27 Sep
10 miles, 1:16:35, 7:39 pace, HR 148
28 Sep
10 miles, 1:11:24, 7:08 pace, HR 159
29 Sep
13.25 miles, 1:43:23, 7:48 pace, HR 146
   4.6 miles @ 7:03 (HR 157), 4+ miles @ 9:12 (group run, HR 130), 4.6 miles @ 7:22 (HR 153)
30 Sep
15.15 miles, 1:55:24, 7:37 pace, HR 155
Weekly Mileage: 72+

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gone In 65 Seconds

It's hard to figure out what works best for you. You can follow an online training plan, you can buy a book with training schedules or you can get a coach and follow his or her guidelines to take the thinking out of training. The problem is, you will invariably come across a multitude of opinions, and how are you supposed to find out which on works best? The whole conundrum is made even trickier by the fact that we all react differently to the same kind of training. What is a man to do?

I am lucky enough to have been coached to one marathon by Mystery Coach, and the lessons I learned ion those months still stand me very well; my running has definitely moved up a level, and stayed there even when I had to look after myself again (he still gives me the odd nudge when I do something particularly silly, though).

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I am trying to add a few sprinkles of Canova to an otherwise firmly Lydiard-base training schedule. One of the recommended things are hills sprints. Other coaches, like Brad Hudson, swear by that as well; he also includes that in his base training. That's similar to strides, which feature in a lot of training manuals as well.

In a word, that's what I did this morning. Monday and Tuesday had been standard runs of 8 and 10 miles each, neither of which was particularly noteworthy, maybe apart from the fact that the legs were feeling pretty good, despite Sunday's faster-than-planned pace.

I kept an open mind on the number of hill sprints I was going to do. The hill was about 2 miles from home, it's the same hill I have used on numerous occasions for sprints and drills and general hill repeats before. 2 miles form a nice warm./up, because you definitely do not want to start sprinting with cold muscles.

It went all very well at first. There is a gate across the road that took me about 17-or-so seconds to reach, so that was the length of each sprint. I walked down the hill, making sure not to hyperventilate (that's a lesson from last year). I was fine until the fourth one when all of a sudden I was hit by a wave of nausea and started feeling lightheaded. I even had stars in front of my eyes for a few seconds. That was the sign to stop. Next time I'd hope to stop before reaching that point, but I had felt fine right up to that point, it was amazing how quickly the hit came. It all only added to just over a minute of real work; I find it quite amazing that so little work is supposed to have a real impact.

Such a short, sharp workout is always over very quickly. I had allocated an hour but was home again after less than 50 minutes. In a way I am looking forward to the next one. It makes a change from the usual constant, steady (and yes, at times boring) effort.

Oh, and the mention in this article was nice. It's not often that my mother-in-law is impressed by what I'm doing.
24 Sep
8 miles, 1:02:04, 7:46 pace, HR 144
25 Sep
10 miles, 1:16:25, 7:32 pace, HR 149
26 Sep
6 miles, 49:04, 8:11 pace, HR 148
   incl. 4 all-out hill sprints

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tiger Stripes

A few hours after finishing Dingle I noticed a red mark on my chest; I hadn't noticed a thing during the race or immediately afterwards, and only saw it when I took off my shirt to take a shower back home. At first I thought it was from the pins that kept my number in place rubbing against my skin, as had happened in Bangor (and those marks are still visible(!)), but the new mark seemed to be in the wrong place, too close to the centre.

Anyway, I didn't think much of it until a week ago when I got a new mark, just like the one from Dingle. Eventually I figured that the marks were caused by my new HR chest strap. The old one had reached its end after over 4 years of heavy use and I got a replacement about a month ago. It may feel more comfortable, but there are obviously issues with the new design, because I am clearly not the only one with those problems. Trying to wear them in a slightly different position only resulted in several parallel marks on my chest and I started to look like I had been in a fight with a big cat. Eventually I tried a few of the recommended solutions in those articles and putting a bit of moleskin onto the HR strap seems to do the trick. You do have to wonder about Garmin, though; their testing seems to be haphazard at best, and reacting to customer feedback doesn't seem to be their strong point either - that make of strap has been on the market for over 2 years by now.

I'm slowly building up my mileage and the runs are getting longer. Friday was my first double-digits run since Dingle; since I had only been doing 5 miles the day before my legs were very fresh and I didn't have any problems. Saturday was the club's group run; I was a few minutes late and was greeted by the biggest crowd we've ever had for a run, there were at least 20 or 30 people gathered. This time Sean took the beginners out on his own and I went on a more conventional training run. The pace was mellow and the distance short enough to count as an easy day. As long as I'm not in full training, that's perfectly fine. Once I'm getting closer to the marathon, I might have to skip those group runs. The program usually has Saturdays taken up by 10 mile tempo runs and I don't think anyone in the club at the moment fancies 10 miles at 6:20-or-so pace, but that's still a good few months off.

Today's run was a bit strange. Maybe I have been reading too much about Canova and his faster long runs lately because my legs seemed to insist on doing their own thing. Time and time again I noticed the HR in the 160s and slowed down, but each time the legs sped up again as soon as my mind wandered. I felt very good and the conditions were perfect for running, so maybe that has something to do with it. I will monitor the legs in the coming days how they feel. Mystery Coach has always warned against running too fast in base training, especially early on. The pace has to come down naturally.

Dublin is 5 weeks away. At the moment I don't know yet if I'm pacing 3:15 or 3:30. My marathon PB would put me firmly in the 3:30 pacing slot, but a couple of injuries to the faster pacers mean things could get swapped round late on. I'll be ok. In Limerick I was bumped up to the 3:15 slot at very short notice and everything was fine. I would not agree to pace a group I wasn't confident about, but 3:15 is fine.
21 Sep
10 miles, 1:16:33, 7:39 pace, HR 148
22 Sep
6+ miles, 51:23, 8:06 pace, HR 139
23 Sep
12 miles, 1:27:07, 7:15 pace, HR 155

Thursday, September 20, 2012

That Day Again

18th September was the day this year. I ran in the morning, as I always do, and my hands felt freezing cold. For me, that one occasion always marks the end of summer. Accordingly I wore gloves yesterday and today. I also noticed that it's still dark when I leave the house. Not dark enough for a headlamp, but enough to don the reflective gear. Now it's time to HTFU and get used to the dark and the cold and the freezing cold rain in the dark.

Actually, Niamh was amazed when I turned on the heating that evening. Usually we play that game, she turns the heating on, I turn it off, she turns it on again and so on until one of us gives up (usually me). Apparently we have different body temperature gauges. But on Tuesday it was me who turned it on. There's a first for everything. Maybe it's a sign that I'm getting old.

Darker mornings usually mean that the Dublin marathon is getting close. In years past this would have meant the training for my "A" event would be reaching its peak, but these days Dublin is just a long training run combined with a social outing, both friends and family-wise.

I have increased the mileage a little bit this week, running 8 miles both Tuesday and Wednesday, but yesterday's HR was a bit higher than I would have liked to see, so I cut today's run down to 5 miles, only to see today's HR just as high but at a slower pace. The effort level for all these runs has been pretty much the same. I don't ever check the Garmin, just turn it on at the start and press the stop button at the end. Tuesday was even more telling, I took my first step, noticed the cold temperatures and pretty much the next thing I remembered was that I had just completed 8 miles entirely on autopilot, despite the freezing hands.

I have read a few things about Renato Canova's training recently. Of course he is training the super elites in Kenya, not some hobby runner, but there are plenty of online articles and forum discussions (some even with the man's input) that translate that kind of training for the non-elite runner. I do think, however, that I do not know nearly enough about this training to do it unsupervised, but I am tempted to incorporate a few things into my training while still staying true to the Lydiard training I am familiar with. More runs, including long ones, at close to marathon pace, regular hill sprints as well as runs where you alternate faster than MP segments with recovery segments that are only a little bit slower - interestingly, Mystery Coach had me do a few of these sessions, and he still called it Lydiard training, so I do think the training concepts are somewhat compatible.
18 Sep
8 miles, 1:01:20, 07:40 pace, HR 148
19 Sep
8 miles, 1:00:52, 07:36 pace, HR 151
20 Sep
5 miles, 38:34, 07:42 pace, HR 151

Monday, September 17, 2012


I had a new experience on Saturday. I drove to the meeting point of the club's group run (usually I'd run, but I'm only just back into running) and there were 2 experienced runners and 3 novices. After a bit of deliberating we decided that the experienced runners would be able to look after themselves and I went with the newbies (I promised to crack the whip).

Obviously they weren't killing themselves. We followed a program of 3 minutes walking and 2 minutes running, 4 times each. At the start they were all nervous and might have doubted their ability to go round - on their own, they might not even have attempted it. The contrast to the end could not have been greater. They were delighted, surprised by how (relatively) easy it had been and chuffed that they had just covered well over 1.5 miles under their own steam. I think they had not expected to last even a mile.

I warned them not to ruin it all by rewarding themselves with a big slice of cake or similar caloric bomb, but you could argue that is a case of do as I say, not as I do. My own diet is still one of heaps of sugar and calories - I promised myself a few weeks break from the healthy living after months of restraint. I'll be back on the ascetic bandwagon soon enough; as long as my weight is still under 11 stone and my waist under 30 inches, it can't be that bad.

Anyway, seeing these new runners enjoy themselves so much was a somewhat new experience, though of course I have been there myself, 8 long years ago. It did remind me once more how much I love running.

Of course there is no guarantee that they will stick to running. But I'm sure when they finished Saturday's run they were all full of good intentions of keeping it all going. If they can stick with it, they will receive all the benefits, from increased health and confidence, reduced weight and cholesterol and whatever else comes with it. To be honest, I'd rather have a few non-runners take up the sport on a recreational basis than to get one runner in the club into the top level. To me, the main benefits of sport are not at the elite level - they are at the back of the pack, and the biggest reward is not a winner's trophy but the joy of running itself.

As for my own running, it's getting along. It's still less than a week since I've laced up my shoes again, but the progress is already clear and rapid. If only one could improve every week like the first one! The mileage is still very modest, but that will change over time. I'll keep in mind that this is base training. It's not my most favourite part of training, but if it can get me back into the same shape I was a year earlier, the Tralee marathon is going to be a good one.

15 Sep
5 miles, 37:54, 7:34 pace, HR 145
16 Sep
8 miles, 1:01:01, 7:37 pace, HR 149
17 Sep
5 miles, 38:59, 7:48 pace, HR 145

Friday, September 14, 2012


Time flies when you're having fun, especially my favourite kind of fun, out on the road. After taking 10 days off, there will now come at least a month of easy jogging with gradually increased mileage (that advice is from Alberto Salazar no less - but no, I didn't get it straight from him). Apparently there are a couple of cross-country races in a few weeks that I might be expected to attend because all of a sudden there are enough members in our running club to send a team, but right now that's of no concern to me. If my presence in said races will be required then I shall be at the start line more or less unprepared apart from my usual sense of optimism and idiocy (hey, it worked well enough in Bangor and Dingle!).

So, the kids are back in school, Daddy is back running, things have all of a sudden returned to normal.

I have run 4 ultras and 3 marathons so far this year, though the marathons were all as pacer. If things go to plan for the rest of the year I'll add two more paced marathons and one fun ultra, all of which will be training runs for my next marathon (I can sense Mystery Coach's exasperation). That means I'll end the year with 10 marathon-or-longer races for 2012. That's by far the most I've ever done, though when I compare that to some of the other figures in the marathon club I still seem to be one of the more sane ones.

I do believe, however, that if you run a marathon significantly slower than your racing pace it can build you up rather than tear you down, provided you are fit enough. I also believe I have achieved that level of fitness, but I know that not everyone is entirely convinced by that.

Anyway, running has come easy, I am getting into it very quickly. Thursday's HR was a bit high and I took it a tad easier on Friday, but drawing from past experience the HR will come down and the pace will improve quickly, without me pushing the effort. No need to rush things.
12 Sep
5 miles, 39:52, 7:58 pace, HR 147
13 Sep
5 miles, 39:25, 7:53 pace, HR 151
14 Sep
5 miles, 39:05, 7:49 pace, HR 147

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


The one thing that had my attention over the weekend was the combined European/World 24 hours running championship race in Katowice, Poland. It featured, amongst many others, John O'Regan And Eddie Gallen who had come first and third respectively in Bangor, just 9 weeks ago. Both had great races and finished with new PBs in 31st and 42nd places in the World championship. However, both results were overshadowed by Ruthann Sheahan of Athenry AC who placed 7th in the World, 5th in Europe with a new Irish record of 229.3 km! I know Ruthann reasonably well (I know all 4 Irish competitors - the ultra running scene really is not very big) and right now I'm really inspired to follow in her footsteps and try and run a similar distance in my next 24 hours race. That's right, I've now moved through the various stages of denial from "I'll never run another step" via "I'll never run another 24 hours" to "sure it wasn't that bad, I'll do that again". I still have to decide where and when, though. I kind of have my mind set on the Connemara 100 next year, which would rule out a return to the Irish championship in 2013, at least as long as I've got at least a couple of working brain cells left.

However, that's still a good bit off. My next target race will be a mere marathon and I still have 6 months to prepare for that. It might well be my last attempt at a fast marathon; age is not on my side, and if I concentrate on long ultras I probably won't have enough time to train for another marathon PB as well. However, before Vienna I was wondering if THAT would be my last go at the sub-3 marathon and here I am now, having another go, so let's not rule out anything just yet.

One advantage of running in Bangor was that I have completely lost the fear of 50 miles races and could regard Dingle as a fun run. On the flip side, the pace required for a 2:55 marathon now seems rather scary. I have hardly run even a single mile at that pace in what seems like a very long time.

Anyway, today marks 10 days of not running since Dingle. After Bangor I made the mistake of saying "I'll run again when I feel like it", with the result that when I got itchy feet after 5 days I was out again on the road. This time I resolved to take at least 10 days off and it was much easier to mentally adjust to that. I also enjoyed the finer things in life, i.e. cake, biscuit and chocolate in generous amounts. I still feel slightly guilty every time I shove yet another motherload of sugar into my mouth, but after a few months of restraint a few weeks of excess just feel right, even if the weighing scales are tipping ever closer to 11 stone.

I'll probably run again tomorrow. I won't set the alarm and if I sleep in then so be it. An extra hour or two of sleep was one of the most appreciated luxuries over the last few days and if my body feels like sleeping in once more, I will let it. If I wake up in time (as I tend to do), then I'll start running again.

By the way, I just came across two interesting race reports, Tom Meany's from Bangor and John Healy's from Dingle. I always enjoy reading race reports (that's why I enjoy writing them, I suppose), if you're interested as well then check them out.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Importance Of Being Idle

Someone said to me last night, now that you have taken a break from running you have plenty of time to blog. I told him that I have nothing to write about.

I haven't run a single step since crossing the line in Dingle and I'm still only halfway through my rest period. But in contrast to the aftermath following Bangor I am perfectly content with being a couch potato, eating tons of chocolate and biscuits and just being lazy. I'll probably have gained a stone by the time I'm back on the road and subsequently curse myself for letting myself go, but right now I'd rather have another cookie, thank you very much.

Funnily enough, my right Achilles has not bothered me once ever since the climb up to Conor Pass. I know it might come back when I start running, but before Dingle there was always some discomfort when I got up in the morning, and at the moment that is completely gone. It seems impossible to get rid of something like that by running 50 miles, but I'm not complaining. Even if it worked, I'm not sure if it would really catch on as a cure.

As predicted, this has been the week with the nicest weather all year; just as the kids are back in school and I am not running. Somewhere up there is obviously having a laugh.

Now for something completely different. When I was running the Boston marathon a few years ago, after a few miles I passed a man in his 70s pushing a wheelchair with a grown man in it along the marathon course. I was already aware of them, as were a lot of other runners as the "Go Hoyts" calls showed. That man was Dick Hoyt and the man in the wheelchair was his son Rick. If you google their names, you will read a truly remarkable story. Anyway, a few weeks ago I was contacted by a man called Todd Civin to tell me that he had co-authored a book together with Rick. If you are looking for some inspiration you could do a lot worse than check it out.

"One Letter at a Time" by Dick and Rick Hoyt with Todd Civin.  Read the inspirational story as told by Rick Hoyt, who uses his specially designed computer along with his unique method of communicating to share his amazing story. "One Letter at a Time" also contains dozens of stories written by those who have had their lives positively impacted by Rick  
Contact us at or Todd Civin at to pre-order yours today. 

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


Doesn't time fly? Dingle was already 4 days ago. My legs were in a fairly reasonable state following the race, there certainly was no comparison to what they felt like after Bangor. I was able to walk down the staircase in the office building on Monday without wincing, even if I wasn't entirely comfortable. Today, Wednesday, is the first day I'm not feeling stiff any more.

I have to decide how many days I will take off running. It will be at least a week, and right now I'm thinking more like 10 days, but that may well change come the weekend. It is of course entirely typical that this week would be the first week of continuous sunshine, and I can safely predict that by the time I'm back running it will be raining again.

The most important event this week was of course not Daddy's long race but Maia's first day of school, something she has been looking forward to for a long time. I'm trying to stop her older siblings from telling her how awful school will be in only a couple of weeks, but to no avail so far.

As for my race, I am still perfectly happy with how I did. Two years ago, after finishing in 7:28, I knew that I would be able to run at least 20 minutes faster. Well, I chopped 27 minutes off that time and I still think I can run at least 20 minutes faster. The difference would not be the way I race (I am perfectly happy with that) but with the preparation. I'm not going to run 6:40 unless I declare this an "A" race and train for it accordingly. Therefore a 6:40 won't happen next year, but following that, you never know.

Early during the race, when we were chatting along as we approached Conor Pass, I was thinking how much I like ultras and their relaxed pace. At the same time I wasn't sure how I would managed because my left Achilles was hurting at the time. Luckily, once the quads started hurting the Achilles was not noticeable any more, and I haven't felt any problem since.

According to the Dingle marathon facebook page, Keith Whyte's time puts him at World no.2 and European no. 1 in the latest world ranking for 50 miles. I have no idea if that is true or not, but it shows what an amazing runner he is. Over such a difficult course this is just mindboggling! Overall I'm still surprised how competitive the field was this year. Apart from Keith, who was always going to win it, there was nobody "famous" running, but times were still fantastic. I knew Ray Lanigan was going to do well, but if I had not met him in Connemara I would not have known him at all, and some of the other names might be familiar from results listings but not well known as such. Ultra running in Ireland is becoming competitive, and not just at the top level!

But it doesn't show the wind - nor the incline!
Someone commented about my shoes. I usually race in Nike Lunaracers, but when I tried them out a week before the race they hurt my Achilles, so I switched to the Brooks Green Silence instead. I knew they would be fine - I had been wearing the same pair in Bangor for the entire 126 miles and they had felt comfortable all the way through. Actually, I am not picky about my shoes at all. As long as they are lightweight and feel ok, I use them. I have no particular brand loyalty, in recent years I have used Brooks, Nike, Adidas, Mizuno, Asics and Saucony. I always buy my shoes online whenever I find a bargain - a few months ago I picked up 2 pairs of Green Silence and 1 pair of Saucony Kinvara for the combined outlay of €140. I tend to get 800-1000 miles out of a pair, so that one single order basically does me for almost a year.

Oh, and as for the raised hands when crossing the finish line - I did the same when winning in Sixmilebridge last year, so there is no need to change it for all those oh-so-numerous occasions when I walk away with the trophy. No idea why I'm doing it, though.

Once I start running again, preparation for Tralee will begin. I'm planning on using the rest of the year as base training. This will include at least 2 paced marathons, and maybe a short ultra (oxymoron or what!). The marathon-specific preparation will start around New Year.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Into The Wind

Going into this race I found it impossible to predict how it would go. Ultras can be hard to predict at the best of times of course, but my unorthodox preparation made it even more difficult. My last long run had basically been 8 weeks beforehand at the 24-hours Championship in Bangor, anything since then has mostly been recovery from that effort. Usually I would not attempt a serious ultra like that basically on a whim but Dingle is more or less my local race, certainly my local ultra race, and I really did not want to miss it even if it meant running at less than peak form.

The course had been slightly changed since last time; we started on the road between Annascaul and Camp, right in the middle of nowhere. I met a few friends on the bus and the start; the ultra running community is small enough to become very familiar with plenty of faces very quickly. The second I spotted Keith Whyte on the bus I knew the name of the winner. An early, unexpected highlight of the day arrived when Keith came up to me to congratulate me on my performance in Bangor - blimey! Thankfully I had the presence of mind to reciprocate for his win at the Anglo Celtic Plate.

Anyway, we gathered at the line and straight away Ray Lanigan took off like a bat out of hell; he must have been doing well under 6:00 pace (minutes per mile, as always), he even left Keith in his wake initially. The rest of us started at a much more sedate effort. The first mile was uphill, basically going over the spine of the Dingle peninsula, and then we started descending into Camp overlooking Gleann-na-nGealt, the "Valley of the Mad", the perfect spot to start an ultra marathon, really.

There was a bit of leapfrogging going on and eventually I settled into around 10th place. I couldn't really tell how my legs were feeling, it was too early, and I just wanted to make sure not to hammer my quads on even the first downhill of the day. Just as we got into Camp I saw a flag fluttering very strongly in the wind. Uh-oh!  We were about to turn right into that exact direction - and we were going to do it for the next 30+ miles!

Even though I was determined to run my own race and not care about my place in the field, I tried to count the runners ahead and thought there were 6 ahead of us when I fell in step with Gavin Murtagh, who I had been in contact with before the race. Our pace was about 7:30, a little bit fast, especially into such a strong headwind, but I definitely preferred some company in these early miles and was ok with going a little bit faster. Having said that, we probably slowed down as we were chatting away because one by one other runners kept coming up from behind until we had formed a group of six runners that would stay together for a good while. At times we were all chatting happily, at others we went single file to battle the headwind when it picked up yet again. But mostly conversation flowed and in no time at all we were at the foot of Conor Pass. Pretty much my last words to the guys were "don't kill yourselves going up that hill" when they all went ahead. The group splintered immediately as everyone went at a different pace, quite dramatically different in fact. My own pace was the slowest of all because I was really determined not to ruin my race this early. I even got caught by one more runner coming from behind.

As it so happens, just the other day I had gotten word from Ken Zemach who had finished fourth here last time round after running the early miles with me, and he had implored me to walk at least some of the climb. Maybe it was his message, maybe it was because I wasn't in full racing mode, but when I saw that my HR was in the 160s and climbing steadily I indeed stopped running and proceeded to hike. Looking back now I think it was the right thing to do. The road was really steep and the ever stronger blowing gale force made it worse still and the runners ahead were only inching away from me very slowly as my own HR gradually recovered into the 140s (not that I advocate pacing yourself by Garmin and HR). The climb is very long, obviously, going up to Ireland's highest mountain pass (though there are higher roads), and pretty damn steep (I think I mentioned that already). My calves started hurting but there was nothing I could do about that except literally keep my head down and keep going. I tried to start running again on a couple of occasions but gave up quickly as the effort just seemed too high.

To my big surprise, Micheal Mangan from our running club appeared seemingly out of nowhere. He gave me a bottle of water as well as a gel later on, but by far the biggest benefit was simply the fact that there was a friendly face amidst all the effort. He proceeded to cheer me on every half mile or so, which really helped.

Pat Quill on Conor Pass
Eventually I managed to run again, and wouldn't you believe it, I immediately and very quickly made up a lot of ground on the lads ahead of me. By the time I reached the top of Conor pass I had already caught two of them, despite all of my walking (or maybe because of?). Having said that, reaching the top of the pass was like hitting a wall, the wind was just brutal and right into our faces. It felt like running to stand still. Looking at the weather history now I can see the wind speeds between 10 and 25 mph, but that was at sea level; it was significantly stronger up here. There were a few supporters up there cheering us on enthusiastically, which helped. But there was nothing to do but keep going. Running right into what felt like a miniature hurricane meant that the pace didn't drop anywhere near as much as I had expected it on the descent; the overall pace was now well slower than 8-minute-miles and I wasn't really getting anything back. I could see a couple of lads ahead of me but we all seemed to run more or less the same pace and there was no movement in the field position until right at the bottom when I caught up with John Fitzgerald who seemed to be suffering in his quads judging by his running style.

Dingle marked the halfway point and there was also the first drop-off aid station. My plan for these aid stations was very simple, I quickly picked up two bottles of sports drink and re-filled my bum bag with gels and was off again in just a few seconds. I had started the run with two bottles which I had drained over the first 15 miles; there were two more bottles now and two more were waiting for me at mile 36. Each time I used one bottle of Lucozade (leftover from my stash for Bangor) and on bottle of Orbana. I had a few gels in my bag and initially had taken one roughly every half hour but I always had to force those down and eventually stopped using them (I had 8 or 9 during the entire race). I also had one rice krispie square coming down the pass, and that was it as far as my entire race nutrition was concerned. I picked up water bottles from the aid station if I did not have a sports drink in my hand at the time.

I checked my watch as I went up Dingle's Main Street and 3:23 had passed since our start. It meant I was 83 minutes behind the half- and full marathon runners who had started right here. I also realised that the faster half-marathon runners had finished already, not that that was of any concern to me. There was a good bit of support from the locals, which of course helps, as it always does.

Anyway, my quads let me know that they were not happy at all. All along I had been more worried about the descent from the pass rather than the climb, and I was proven right. Halfway through the race and I started suffering. With basically a marathon still to go this had the potential to turn into a very long day. I saw one runner half a minute ahead of me, I'm pretty sure it was James Slowey from out group earlier on, but he gradually started to pull away from me. I never checked behind me so I never knew if I was being chased. I would not have been surprised if someone caught up because my pace was now almost a minute per mile slower than it had been before the pass, despite the effort being at least equal and the discomfort being significantly higher. The road was very lonely; there was quite a bit of car traffic coming out of Dingle but after a couple of miles that stopped almost completely and I was literally on my own. Support was sparse, but one very enthusiastic guy a couple of miles outside Dingle, stood out.

Mentally this was definitely the most challenging party of the race. Dunquin was still a half marathon away, the headwind was still as fierce as ever, the road was lonely and the legs were trashed. It was very tempting to take it easy, maybe even walk for a while, especially since this was not a goal race of mine. But I still had a bit of pride left and resolved not walk another step for the entire rest of the race and keep on pushing, no matter what.

It took me about 7 or 8 miles to catch up with the back of the pack. I presume the people I encountered early on were half-marathon walkers; if they were doing the full it would be a very long day indeed. Some of them gave a cheer, most were indifferent or just too much inside their own little bubble. By mile 10 the crowds had swelled and the last few miles into Dunquin were by far the busiest of the entire day. To be honest, this was my favourite part of the race. A bit of human interaction goes a long way to lift your spirit.

I picked up my drinks from the second drop-off station, again only taking a couple of seconds. The support there was great, the girl had seen my number and handed me my bag as I approached. I took the bottles and was off again. A Formula 1 pit stop could not have been more efficient.

Going through Dunquin I got my biggest cheer of the day from the assembled half-marathon finishers, and then the the road immediately turned lonely again. On the plus side, after battling the headwind for a gruelling 50 kilometer stretch, we finally had it on our back.

After going through a dark patch after leaving Dingle I had finally pulled through. My legs were still hurting but I was able to pick up the pace again. Nobody had caught me since Conor Pass and I was confident nobody was going to do so for the rest of the race. Very gradually a few marathon walkers came and went, but for the next 5 miles I was still pretty much on my own, ticking off the miles one by one, getting the job done.

With about 6 miles to go Michael was there again, and once again the main benefit was not the water bottle he gave me (I refused anything else, my stomach wasn't up for it and at that point I did not really need anything else), but the friendly face. I really appreciated the fact that he had basically given up his entire day to offer support. Thank you very much!

The full marathon course has a 1.5 mile out-and-back section before hitting the last hill but the ultra runners just went straight ahead instead. It felt a bit like taking a shortcut, and from that moment on the road was busier again, sharing it with the runners who finished just after 5 hours.

The last hill was a challenge. On the ultra course profile it looks like a little bump because Conor Pass is so overwhelming, but on the marathon profile it looks much more formidable. It is a little bit higher, steeper and longer than Connemara's Hell of the West, and after 45 miles it sure feels tough. I kept to my resolve to run the entire rest of the race. I overtook a good few runners; as far as I knew at the time they were all marathon runners. After the race James Slowey said I had been flying past him but did not elaborate where that had been, and I had not noticed. Anyway, I got to the top in good enough shape and tried to push the pace for the final 3+ miles in Dingle but paid the price for pushing a little bit too hard when my left calf started cramping. I tried to hobble on; keeping the foot in a dorsiflexed position kept the cramp somewhat at bay. On several occasions I tried to run in a more relaxed manner, but the spasms returned immediately. Just as I got the thing somewhat under control the right calf joined in on the fun and we went for a repeat performance on the other side. Under different circumstances I would have stopped to stretch out the cramp but with just over a mile to go it seemed worthwhile to run through it. All those fun and games finally came to an end when I reached the bottom of the hill. Running on an even surface did not give me any troubles and I picked up the pace again, but this time in a slightly more measured way.

The last mile into Dingle was the glory stretch, I enjoyed it, just as much as I enjoyed the fact that I would be able to stop soon. I knew I had run a good race, I wasn't even disappointed when I realised that I had missed the 7 hours by a hair's breadth. My last Dingle ultra had been a bit of a death march for the last 17 miles, this time I had kept a decent enough pace for the entire stretch, even picking it up again after coming through a dark patch.

Finish line photos by Mick Hanney

I finished in 7:01:41 in 8th place. Two years ago this would have been good enough for second place, but I always knew that this year would be more competitive, though I was surprised by how much more competitive it was. Keith had won it by breaking 6 hours, a mind-boggling achievement. It puts my own performance into perspective. In Connemara he had put half an hour on me in a race of just under 40 miles; therefore I should not really be a full hour behind after 50 miles. I guess that's the difference between Connemara being a goal race and Dingle a fun run.

Conor Pass makes a huge difference. Not only does your pace suffer as you go across the hill, it also trashes your legs for the final 25 miles. The 30+ miles of headwind significantly added to the challenge, on another day the same effort would easily have yielded a sub-7 time - Keith's time was all the more impressive under these circumstances. 

Anyway, I was satisfied and happy enough. It showed that I can put in a reasonable performance in an ultra even if it's not an A race. I know the next sentence sounds stupid, but it also showed me that 50 miles is basically too short to play to my strengths. I was still moving very well at the end. Had the race been longer I am convinced I would have caught a few runners and ended up further up the field. In short, I had a decent enough race, not great but good enough to be happy.

1 Sep
Dingle 50-mile Ultra 2012
7:01:41, 8:25 pace, HR 151, 8th place

Saturday, September 01, 2012


7:01:41, 8th place. To put that into some sort of context, that time would have been good enough for second place last time round.

Relentless headwind from mile 5 to 36, Conor Pass felt like hitting a wall.

Suffered for a bit after coming down from the pass but recovered and started moving well again. Ran out of road towards the end; 50 miles is too short for me, apparently.

Thanks to Mick Hanney for the photos