Saturday, December 28, 2013

This Was My Year

2013 had started in rather spectacular fashion on New Year's Day by breaking 18 minutes for the 5k for the first time ever. While I don't particularly care about my 5k time, I was rather chuffed to be breaking into 17 territory and subsequently managed to lower that time twice more over the next few weeks, picking up a nice prize from the Gneeveguilla  race series in the process. Another big PB followed in the Ballycotton 10 miler, incidentally also lowering my 5 miles and 10k PBs, though that was overshadowed by missing out on a top-100 finisher t-shirts by 5 seconds/3 places. However, the big prize for Spring 2013 had always been the Tralee marathon where I more than made up for the missing t-shirt by not only setting a new marathon PB but also winning the M40 trophy, which has taken pride of place on the shelf ever since.

Focus shifted immediately to the Connemara 100, but I managed to place 3rd in Killarney and Portumna, run 10 marathons in 10 days and a new 4-mile PB during that training, the latter one especially coming as a complete surprise because I thought my legs would be sluggish as hell after all those marathons and no speed work. Connemara went very well, reaching my dream time of sub-17, but coming second once more. With that the running year was basically done, it took a few months to recover from running 100 miles on the road and a couple of marathons in Dublin (running as a pacer) and Clonakilty (running as an idiot) sandwiched yet another second place in Sixmilebridge.

I ran new PBs over 5k, 4 miles, 10 miles, marathon, 50k and 100 miles (plus unofficial PB split times over 5 miles and 10k), which at the age of 43 and after 9 years of running is a rather spectacular return. Things could only have been topped if one or two of those second or third places had turned into victories, but you can't have everything I suppose.

One particular highlight was running my 50th marathon, with the chairman of the Marathon Club handing me my medal. I was chuffed to bits by that one.


Since Christmas I have run 10 easy miles on St. Stephens Day, giving the Farranfore race a miss as I did not think a sudden load of anaerobic miles would do much for my only just emerging conditioning. Then the weather turned very nasty indeed. We've had an unprecedented series of storms hitting us, but all others hit land further up North. For this one Kerry took the brunt. Apart from a very interrupted night of sleep we actually got away lightly in Caragh Lake, there was no real damage when half the county was without power, but running in the morning was still out, it was too dangerous. I did manage to catch up at lunchtime and do another 10 miles, but the pace and HR were a bit too high without me noticing. I think running later in the day had something to do with it, it always throws out my gauge.

That might have had some impact on Saturday's run where I tried to do 8 miles at a higher effort, my one faster run of the week. The legs were a little bit sluggish at first but I thought I had the effort very much under control. When I checked the Garmin afterwards I found that once again I had run a little bit too hard, something I tend to do when not paying attention (or, in that case, only running by feel without paying attention to the watch). I'll get it right one day.

26 Dec
10 miles, 1:17:10, 7:43 pace, HR 144
27 Dec
10 miles, 1:13:21, 7:20 pace, HR 151
28 Dec
10 miles, 1:11:09, 7:06 pace, HR 157
   incl. 8 miles @ 6:56 pace (HR 160)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Stormy Christmas

It's been a stormy few days, but so far I have managed to get a run in every day.

Sunday was reasonably okay, but I preferred the somewhat sheltered road past Ard-na-Sidhe to the totally exposed Caragh Lake one. Then I had the brain wave that I could a full loop on the Devil's Elbow, which might be as exposed as it gets up in the hills but the wind would be mainly at my back. I managed the steep climb well enough but then I heard a loud thunder coming from somewhere behind me and got a bit scared as I was far away from any shelter and being caught in a thunderstorm out in the hills isn't a good position to be in. Luckily, this one single thunder turned out to be the only one of its kind and all I had to deal with was a hail storm, which was painful but not dangerous. I was very pleased by how well the legs felt and how easily they had managed the long steep climb.

Monday morning was very dark but the wind was manageable once more, at least in Ard-na-Sidhe. I ran the out-and-back route twice, which added up to 10 miles. Conditions changed every five minutes, from calm, to very gusty, with rain, hail and even sleet all making a few appearances. Once again, the feeling in the legs was by far the best part of the run.

When I put out my running gear on Monday evening I somewhat doubted that I would be able to run the following morning as the weather forecast was quite frightening with the weather already rather wild and a bad storm on its way. However, things were much brighter in the morning - well, it was pitch dark, but the wind was definitely a lot calmer than what I had feared and running was never in doubt. I did the same route as the day before, and once more, even though I'm sounding like a broken record (wait, do people still know what a broken record actually is/was??),  the best part was the feeling in the legs as the entire run was completely effortless. The HR was a bit high (I eventually remembered my ancient hard plastic Garmin HR strap and dug it out, it seems to work), though that was not really reflected in subjective effort which was entirely comfortable and, you know, just ... right.

I guess I have reached that point in training when it doesn't feel like training any more because running is becoming so easy.

The contrast to Wednesday, Christmas, could not have been greater, with a lovely crisp blue sky greeting us all. I ran later than usual because obviously Santa took precedence, and I was astonished by the amount of presents on display; the kids must have been much better behaved throughout the year than I had realised! Anyway, around 12 o'clock I managed to get an hour for myself that I used for some hill repeats. It was my first workout of that kind for a long time and I decided to err on the side of caution. You should always leave it be with at least 1 or 2 more repeats in you, and I followed that advice. Besides, I am still concerned about my Achilles, while it has been fine for a good while now I really do not want to aggravate it again, so the rather modest number of 9 repeats, 1 minute each, was all that was on the menu. Obviously, this is going to increase in the coming weeks.

Happy Christmas everyone. I hope Santa has been good for you.
22 Dec
13+ miles, 1:38:12, 7:30 pace, HR 152 (est)
23 Dec
10 miles, 1:15:33, 7:33 pace, HR 147
24 Dec
10 miles, 1:14:16, 7:26 pace, HR 148
25 Dec
6.59ish miles, 54:51, 8:22 pace, HR 150
   incl. 9 x 60 sec hill repeats

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Happy Solstice

Make no mistake, I am not complaining about the weather. We had a great summer followed by a nice autumn and we have had nothing to moan about (not that that would stop some people, of course). The last few days, however, have been rather wild and it's almost as if nature had decided to throw all the usual autumn/winter storms at us at once.

Right now it really seems to pay off that I always run in the morning. Two out of the last three days were mostly fine in the morning but running would have been too dangerous in the evenings. I know from experience that when the weather chart says "gale", I can handle it. "Strong gale" is rather uncomfortable but still doable, but "storm" means it's better to stay at home. Thankfully the latter is usually rare but has been seen all too often the last few days. One saving grace is that Kerry is in the South of Ireland - the North got hit a lot worse.

Thursday night did not sound promising but the storm abated just in time for my run and I got away lightly, apart from a hail shower over the last half mile, which inadvertently made a good training opportunity for a sprint finish; you never know when the need for that should arise again. As I laid out my clothes for Friday I doubted if I would be able to use them but once again the conditions in the morning were better than forecast and I made full use of it. For the first time in a few weeks I added a few faster miles to the mix. The windy conditions and the lack of an HRM made pacing a tricky affair. I did end up running just a little bit harder than would have been optimal, but the legs felt very good.

It was pretty much the same on Saturday with the conditions once more windy but definitely manageable, something that would not have been the case a couple of hours later. I half expected the legs to be sluggish after Friday's faster miles but instead they felt fantastic and I got that "effortlessly gliding over the tarmac" feeling.

It was really dark this morning; of course, it was the shortest day of the year. It will get brighter soon enough, and with the Christmas holidays just ahead, things will get easier again.

I'm not feeling 100 percent at the moment, I had a sore throat on a few occasions and am lacking just a little bit of energy during the day, but it does not seem to have any noticeable effect on my running. With half the office coughing all day and the kids bringing home all kinds of germs from school, the situation is not entirely surprising. As long as it doesn't get any worse I'll be able to handle it (just like the weather, then).

The HRM is worse than ever before, it really seems to be beyond help and the HR graphs are all over the place. I have ordered a new unit and am awaiting its arrival with bated breath, though I don't think I'll get my hands on it before Christmas.

I haven't decided yet if I'll do any races over the Christmas/New Year period. Even if I do, I have no expectations after not doing any speed work, so that would all be mostly for fun.

19 Dec
8 miles, 1:01:16, 7:39 pace, HR 142 (est)
20 Dec
10 miles, 1:10:55, 7:05 pace, HR 158 (est)
   incl. 8 miles @ 6:59 pace
21 Dec
10 miles, 1:15:53, 7:35 pace, HR 146 (est)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


My lower back started hurting on Sunday after sleeping in an awkward position (blame that damn cat of ours). It got really bad on Monday after sitting in the office chair for too many hours, which just goes to show how bad and unnatural the sitting position is. Luckily, things got gradually better and today I'm able to bend down again. Even more luckily, running was not affected. In fact, exercise was the one thing that helped the most, both running and cycling provided some much needed relief. Maybe that's the universe's punishment for never getting injured while running (yeah I know, that's just asking for trouble).

The weather has been very changeable this week, but so far I have managed to escape the worst. I did fear for today's run after watching the weather forecast but in fact I managed to run right between two major storm fronts during the night and around lunch time. Things might still get awkward later this week and the weekend.

I thought I might have been able to fix the HRM on my own after spending some considerable time cleaning up the rusty bits on the transmitter unit and getting some believable data on Monday and Tuesday, but unfortunately it all went wonky again on Wednesday and I am back to square one. The HR values this week are all more or less educated guesses, and any values since the Clonakilty marathon are suspect. Like I said, it does not really impact training at the moment, but I'm lacking a little bit of feedback that I would prefer to have. Silly technology. Why don't things just work?

Meanwhile I have been busy planning for next year. I have signed up for several races for 2014, ranging from 10 miles to 24 hours, the latter being the big A goal for next year of course. My running schedule is mostly decided but I am still undecided if I should do one or two other things as well like the Dingle Adventure Race, which I think was a very good training effort before the Bangor 24 hours race in 2012. I still have plenty of time to make up my mind. I'll be busy, that's for sure.
16 Dec
8 miles, 1:01:15, 7:39 pace, HR 144
17 Dec
8+ miles, 1:01:11, 7:35 pace, HR 146
18 Dec
10 miles, 1:17:45, 7:46 pace, HR 144

Sunday, December 15, 2013

No Heart (Rate)

It has to be said, we've had some very good weather here in Ireland over the last few months. Not only did we have an actual summer with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees (it wasn't the weather's fault that I had to run 10 marathons during that time), we also had a very good autumn which was cold but dry earlier on and warm but dry later. Even the one storm we had blew itself out overnight just for the Dublin marathon to go ahead unhindered.

It was never going to last forever, so I won't be complaining too much about the present conditions, challenging and not entirely without danger as they may be. It was pretty wild out there yesterday, the combination of very heavy gale force winds with pouring rain always makes for interesting runs. I managed to go half a mile down the road towards Caragh Lake before admitting temporary defeat; the gale whipping the wind straight into my face actually hurt and I didn't fancy spending an entire hour like this. So I turned around and headed for Ard-na-Sidhe, where the trees provide a decent amount of shelter, though the amount of wooden debris on the road showed that things could potentially go very wrong here if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, though I think the actual chance of being hit by a falling branch is quite small.

Anyway, Niamh wasn't too happy with me going out and let me know so on my return. "Not many runners would go out into weather like this". "No, and they won't be running 220 km in July as a result". Good comeback you have to admit, though I am not sure the case is closed to be honest.

I'm fine and unhurt, but the same cannot be said about my HRM, which is well and truly banjaxed. It has been acting up ever since the Clonakilty marathon. On previous occasions a change of battery has always fixed similar problems, but no such luck this time. I have a sneaking suspicion that the problem is with the transmitter rather than the HR strap as I found some rust on the unit, but will have to confirm that first. While it does not affect my training right now, I do use HR data to gauge my state of recovery, so I want that fixed sooner rather than later. And I can't do an evaluation without a working HRM, so that's on hold at the moment.

Yesterday I looked up the cross country results from 2 weeks ago and I finished in a rather modest 77th position out of 127 finishers. I can't remember the last time I finished in the bottom half of a field, but I guess it might have been the one other time I tried my hand at cross country, which confirms the fish out of water feeling that comes with me running through mud. Mind, despite the poor finishing position I still managed to be one of the points scorers for Kerry, which strikes me as slightly bizarre.

12 Dec
5+ miles, 40:27, 7:55 pace, HR 137
13 Dec
8 miles, 1:02:44, 7:50 pace, HR 141
14 Dec
8 miles, 1:02:31, 7:48 pace
15 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:11, 7:49 pace, HR 147
Weekly Mileage: 46+

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Blame It On Killarney

It’s always good for a distance runner to be confident. In fact, it is absolutely crucial. However, there is a fine line between being confident and delusional.

It’s all Killarney’s fault. Of course. When I ran 2:56 there in May I learned that I was now able to easily run a sub-3 marathon in a training run without having to do the usual marathony things like race pace runs or tapering or any such like.

When I saw that last year’s first M40 runner in Clonakilty had run 3:05 I figured I had an excellent chance of taking that position myself. There was no prize money for age groups, which meant I wasn’t going to win any prizes, but that’s not the point anyway.

What I had not considered was the fact that I had been in excellent shape following the Tralee marathon in March, and it was that fitness that got me the 2:56 in Killarney. I’m not in the same shape right now – even literally, seeing as I weigh 8 pounds more now (the diet begins after New Year). In the meantime I have run things like 10 marathons in 10 days and a 100 mile run, which means that I can now easily run a marathon whenever I want to, even in 20 day intervals, but not particularly fast ones.

The marathon distance needs to be respected, and if you start the first half in a delusional state you will learn a lesson or two in the second half. Smart people learn that lesson and benefit from it. Others repeat the same mistake another 20 days later. Doh!

The other lesson, also one I have encountered before, is that I cannot trust myself when I have a race number pinned onto my chest. I was well aware that I was running faster than I should during the first few miles, but there is an obvious difference between rationally knowing what one should do, and what one actually does when the adrenaline is flowing. I know I can run easy marathons – if I carry a pacer’s balloon. If I run entirely for myself, things are obviously different. How that will work out next March in Tralee might be interesting.

So, right now I see myself as a runner who can knock out a 3:10 marathon whenever he likes, but it’s probably not a good idea to test how long that theory would hold. I’ll skip any longer races for the next 10 weeks.

First things first, and in this case that obviously means recovery, even I managed to work that out. I have run 5 very easy miles every morning since the marathon and it took until Wednesday for the soreness in the quads to go away. Until Thursday I’m a single dad with 2 kids at home, so training would have taken a back seat anyway.

9 Dec
5 miles, 43:02, 8:36 pace, HR 131
10 Dec
5 miles, 42:04, 8:25 pace, HR 135
11 Dec
5 miles, 41:22, 8:16 pace, HR 148

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Run Like An Idiot

The weekend was always going to be a tough one. Work Christmas party on Friday, a marathon on Saturday and Cian's 10th birthday on Sunday were never going to be a piece of cake. But of course I could make things easier for myself by being clever and running the marathon in a sensible way that would not endanger all those recent training gains. So did I do that? Did I ****!

My first problem on Saturday morning, apart from having to get up at 5:30 am that is, was finding the place, because as it turns out the signposting between Macroom and Clonakilty is non-existent and driving on an unfamiliar road in the dark and through heavy fog doesn't help navigation. Nevertheless, I arrived in good time, very much looking forward to the race.

I started near the front, and for the first mile or so found myself running beside Keith Whyte yet again, just like in Sixmilebridge three weeks ago, but this time surrounded by plenty of other runners. A quick count gave me well over 30 runners ahead of me and I wondered if the field had increased in quality since last year or if some people were going to pay a price later on (oh how little did I know!).

Happy at the start, running alongside Keith once more. Photo by Kieran Minihane.

There was a group right ahead of me and I decided to join them; running in a group is always easier than running on your own. Angela McCann was part of it, which should have set off my alarm bells but did not. There were close to 10 runners in that group, including a second lady, Maura Regan. The atmosphere was very relaxed, Angela and Maura were chatting for a while ("aren't you supposed to race each other rather than having a friendly chat") and I was discussing everything from teenage daughters to Manchester City with Conor. At one point Angela asked us to stop making jokes as she couldn't stop laughing and it cost her energy - ever the consummate professional.

Conor remarked at mile 7 how chatty and relaxed we all were and in 10 miles it would all be so different. He was wrong. Within a mile we were labouring hard on the first of a series of brutal climbs (there had been several non-brutal climbs already by that point) and the group disintegrated rapidly, with Angela going off the front, obviously. I hung back a bit, trying not to kill myself on the uphill and being reasonably confident that I would catch up on the downhill again, which was only partially the case. Within a mile or two I started feeling the effort and had to labour rather hard, certainly harder than I would have liked, and wondering how it all had fallen apart so rapidly after feeling so relaxed only 15 minutes earlier.

I fought on for about another mile before deciding that I had indeed been an idiot, especially so as I had made exactly the same mistake 3 weeks earlier in Sixmilebridge, and that by far the best option was to relax a bit, and, reluctantly, let all the other runners in the group go (except one runner, John, who was suffering even more). I started cruising at a slightly more relaxed pace but I felt very rough.

I think taking a caffeine tablet at that point turned out to be a rather inspired move. I reached the halfway point in slightly over 91 minutes but knew I wasn't going to be able to keep the pace and not exactly looking forward to the second half. However, I was right behind Maura and Emmet again all of a sudden, which came very much as a surprise, seeing as I had resigned myself to never seeing them again until the finish. Had I sped up or did they slow down? I did not say it out loud, but a look at the Garmin indicated that it was the latter. Shortly after halfway the course turned decidedly brutal with a series of very tough climbs, one tougher than the other and all of them adding another layer of fatigue on already overworked legs. Conor and a couple of other runners from our group were clearly feeling the effort as well and we kept leapfrogging each other, depending on who was feeling low at the time or who was better at climbing or descending. Two runners from behind caught up with us in quick succession somewhere around mile 16, but rather surprisingly they were the only ones.

There was a very steep drop at around mile 18 and it kept going for a mile, losing all the elevation that we had worked so hard for. My way to run these steep drops is to visualise my body being perpendicular to the road, which causes me to lean forward and the effect of gravity keeps pulling me down the hill very quickly and with little effort; all I have to do is keep spinning the legs enough to not fall on my face. It worked very well, I was doing sub-6 pace at times and gained 5 places or so with no real effort. Unfortunately, running on the flat, and the next climb, felt all the harder. I gained another place, with the caught runner clearly suffering badly, and then hit the worst climb of them all at mile 20.

This really was brutal, steep and well over a mile long, and the fact that we had over 20 miles in our legs made it feel twice as steep and at least twice as long. There was nothing to do but keep working hard, trying to ignore the screaming quads and hamstrings and just get on with it. I made up a good bit of distance to the runner ahead but could not quite catch up, and when I finally reached the top there was a sharp right turn and I caught a quick glimpse of the runners behind me. Maura had overtaken all the boys and was about half a minute behind, with all the guys strung out behind.

The descent was brutally steep once more, which was very hard on our suffering quads, but I got on alright. I was suffering and counting down the miles and got completely paranoid about getting caught from behind. I had taken a coke from the aid station at mile 20 and did the same again at mile 23. To my surprise the runner ahead of me got closer and I managed to overtake him and started chasing the next one. At that point something started to work again. Maybe it was the second coke, but all of a sudden I was flying again and the pace increased remarkably. At one point I caught a glimpse of my Garmin and saw sub-7 pace, which I had not managed for the last 15 miles on the flat (wait, what flat?). I got right behind the next runner, Joe Walsh I think, who had been in our big group earlier on, but then disaster struck.

Getting there. Photo by Kieran Minihane
My calves had sent the odd spasm before, but all of a sudden the cramping got really bad at mile 24. It happened in both legs, which brought back unwelcome memories of the first Dingle marathon when I had hit the deck after both legs started cramping simultaneously and could not support my weight any more, but thankfully I was spared a full repeat. It still was bad enough, very very painful, and at one point I started screaming out in pain, which alerted Joe to my presence and I think he sped up after that. I was tempted to stop and try to stretch out the cramps which were really taking hold of both calf muscles, but that would have cost me some places and I kept going, desperately trying to get things back under control. The right calf was worse and at one point it felt like my toes were turning outwards with each stride (or the heel was turning inwards) and I could feel the leg shaking and struggling to support my weight with each stride, which really did not feel good at all. Even trying to run as relaxed as possible did not help, in fact that seemed to bring on more cramps. For at least a mile I was fighting wave after wave of cramps, all the while desperately trying to keep the pace at a reasonable level. I could see two more runners just ahead of me who a mile earlier had been completely out of reach. This was immensely frustrating, I had the energy levels to run much faster and would have caught them easily but the calves just would not cooperate and forced a much slower pace on me. It was was clearly a case of the chain being only as strong as the weakest link, and the high energy levels were to remain untapped.

Clearly showing the effort at the end. Photo by Peter Mooney.

We got back into Clonakilty and the finish line came all too early (as in trying to catch the runners ahead of me) or all too late (as in dealing with the cramps), but once I crossed it I was happy again once more. My time was 3:09:21, only marginally faster than the pacing effort in Dublin but requiring far more effort due to me being a complete idiot by running much too fast in the first half. Admittedly, it was a much tougher course than Dublin, one of the toughest in Ireland, ranking only just behind Dingle in my view (and almost as scenic and beautiful as that one). I ran 98 minutes for the second half, not a good split, though the second half contained the majority of the increasingly brutal climbs. I also made up about 5 place in the second half, so others had paced themselves even worse, not that that is any excuse for my own stupidity. I came in 18th and the cramps had cost me 3 places, but in the end it does not matter one bit if you come 15th or 18th in a race like that.

Within seconds of crossing the line I was whisked away to a video interview with Frank Greally, the editor of the Irish Runner magazine, and then Pat O'Keeffe, the chairman of the marathon club presented me with my 50 marathons medal, which was a great honour and I am ever so grateful for Pat to come down all the way to Clonakilty even though he was not running himself. Clonakilty RD Bob Hilliard could not have been more welcoming and supporting, but eventually I felt cold and started shivering so I headed for the shower (yes, they even provided shower facilities for the runners!)

Halfway there ;-)

I have plenty of thoughts regarding that run but will leave them for the next post. Stay tuned.

5 Dec
8 miles, 1:01:05, 7:38 pace, HR 143
6 Dec
8 miles, 1:04:50, 8:06 pace, HR 137
7 Dec
Clonakilty Marathon
   3:09:21, 18th place
8 Dec
5 miles, 42:37, 8:31 pace, HR 144

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


I did not expect any great insights from today's evaluation. In fact, any deviation from the last evaluation would have come as quite a surprise. Well, that's why I do these things. It's always to easy to guess wrongly.

The conditions were much better than expected, the heavy overnight rain and the wind had both ceased, leaving me with almost perfect running weather.

For some reason I found it tougher to maintain an even HR than usual. I have done dozens of these evaluations by now and am quite tuned to the required effort, but I just could not get it right this morning. The HR alarm kept beeping at me almost incessantly, to the point where I was highly tempted to chuck the thing over the nearest fence and go home. However, the average HR happened to be just about right, even if the effort was a bit uneven.

        Mile 1    6:36   HR 161
        Mile 2    6:34   HR 160
        Mile 3    6:35   HR 161
        Mile 4    6:39   HR 161
        Recovery to HR 130: 36 seconds

The pace figures are slightly falsified by a sharpening effect from Sunday's cross country race, so they don't entirely reflect my present aerobic conditioning. However, I am pleased by the fact that the pace was remarkably stable, but much more so by the recovery time which is significantly shorter than last time round. Back then I had seen that I had clearly not recovered from Dublin; I seem to have a much easier time in my recovery from Sixmilebridge, something I had already felt before, but this time I have some numbers to prove it.

Well, with yet another marathon just round the corner I hope that I'm not destroying whatever gains I managed to achieve over the last few weeks. After that it will get a little bit saner without any marathons or ultras for about 10 weeks, by which time I hope to get to some mini-peak in early spring for a couple of races, before the big push towards the summer.

2 Dec
8 miles, 1:04:19, 8:02 pace, HR 138
3 Dec
8 miles, 1:02:21, 7:47 pace, HR 141
4 Dec
11.75 miles, 1:25:00, 7:14 pace, HR 149
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:36, 6:34, 6:35, 6:39, 36 sec recovery

Sunday, December 01, 2013


When I arrived at that field in Beaufort, I immediately noticed two things: the scenery was absolutely stunning with the Reeks in the background, and Michael and Sean both had a seriously worried look on their faces when I approached them. They had obviously been reading my blog. I did assure them that I might have exaggerated my feelings a little bit and was happy enough to run.

Well, happy probably still isn't the right word. Truth to be told, I wasn't all that keen on it. I am very much a road runner, and every time I have tried something else (triathlon, mountain running, adventure racing) I very quickly came to the conclusion that these things are fun but not nearly as much fun as road running. Nevertheless, this was a team event and I was fully prepared to put the required effort into it. Admittedly, I would not have run 10 miles the day before a road race, but that's the way it goes.

Last year I had gotten my backside firmly handed to me in the Kerry novices race, so I was under no illusion how the Munster race would go. The field for the men's master race was gargantuan in comparison to the juvenile and women's races that had preceded it. And since this was cross county, everyone shot out of the blocks at breakneck speed, which seems to be the traditional way to run these things.

I immediately was working harder than I would have liked but was still way behind the faster guys. Over the next 2 or 3 laps I gradually made some limited progress through the field catching the guys who were clearly paying the price for some early kamikaze pacing. At one point I used Pat O'Shea as a pacer but eventually was unable to keep up any more and he inched away from me.

I still made up 1 or 2 places on the next laps; I generally caught people on the downhill section and tried to hold them off on the uphill. The section at the bottom was very muddy and completely churned up after countless foot strikes from all the previous races and I found that a wider line was faster, I caught at least one runner there on every lap.

With half a mile to go I felt a few guys catching up on me and put in some extra effort to stop them breathing down my neck, as hard as that came. I caught up with the runner in front of me and we both overtook one other runner but I never quite managed to get my nose in front of the other guy and 50 meters from the finish line the one runner we had overtaken a minute ago went past me at a tremendous pace as if I were standing still, so I ended up without a net gain, but definitely relieved that I had survived the torture.

In the end we did not even get a team result because we did not have the required four finishers due to some misunderstanding of the rules. Ah well. Better luck next time (wait - what next time?!?).

30 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:16, 7:35 pace, HR 142
1 Dec
7 miles, including:
   Munster master cross country 7k, 28:40, 6:28 pace, HR 177

Friday, November 29, 2013

Morituri Te Salutant

Ah sweet Jesus, what is it about the Irish and not taking "no" for an answer. I ran the cross country last year and not only did I not particularly enjoy it, I also ran really badly. It was akin to one of those dreams when you run and run and run and you're barely moving. I told the club secretary in no uncertain terms that for next year he'd have to find another victim.

He must have forgotten because he started badgering me again and of course I refused. And then some other club mate got into the act, and then we might not get a team together if I don't run and wouldn't you know it, now I'm signed up, not entirely sure how that happened. Last year, when I got handed my backside to me in such a big way it was Kerry only and the novices at that. On Sunday I'll be competing against the cream of Munster's masters, though I'm using the word "competing" in a rather loose way, as in I'll try not to get lapped twice.

Ah Ferchristsakes. This is going to suck. And it's messing up my training. And why on Earth am I whining so much?

Running, road running that is, has been going very well the last few days. I'm definitely feeling a lot better than a few weeks ago and I'm starting to get that "effortlessly floating over the tarmac" kind of feeling again. I ran 10 miles on Wednesday, just do do something different than the usual 8 miles, and was actually quite excited by that fact. Yes, I need to get out more. The pace has dropped remarkably since Sixmilebridge at the same easy effort. The weather has been unusually nice, normally I'm running through 4 degrees and wind and rain at this time of the year; this morning I seriously wondered if I should wear a t-shirt again, though I wasn't quite brave enough for that at the end. In short, it's all really good. And then there comes Sunday ...

27 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:53, 7:41 pace, HR 142
28 Nov
8 miles, 1:00:47, 7:35 pace, HR 142
29 Nov
8 miles, 1:01:21, 7:40 pace, HR 143
   including a few strides

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I don’t know what the difference is, but I am feeling so much better than after the Dublin marathon, it is unreal. It doesn’t make sense to me, I ran both at a similar pace and I would expect a 30 mile race to leave me worse off than a marathon 3 weeks later, but that’s not the case. I’m wondering if the backpack we had to carry for the flag might have caused some subtle change in my stride pattern, but that’s a complete guess and quite probably wrong.

Obviously I’m not complaining about feeling good – I’d just like to know what made the difference so I’ll know for next time. Maybe it was just the fact that an additional 3 weeks had passed since Connemara and my legs are finally more or less recovered from that effort. Incidentally, that was just over 100 days ago and with the old adage of a day recovery for each mile race that could even be true, who knows. Last year it took pretty much a day per mile to recover from the 24 hrs, so maybe that is indeed the case.

Anyway, I’m feeling really good at the moment. The weather helped, while most of the rest of the country are moaning about the cold, I just love running on crisp bright mornings. Compared to the usual lousy weather this time of year, this is just pure bliss and I’m loving every minute of it. Even my Achilles is behaving, while I can still feel the odd stiffness every now and then it is 99% better. I’m still scared of running the mountain trails again for fear of undoing all the healing that happened over the last few months, but maybe I’ll change my mind if thing keep going well. Mind, running those trails when it’s pitch dark isn’t something that I would recommend, so it would be a weekend exercise only, when I run slightly later in the day.

I haven’t done any workouts since Sixmilebridge but will probably do a rather mellow tempo run later this week, just like I did 3 weeks ago. I noticed yesterday in particular that the legs were itching to run faster and I kept putting the brakes on again and again. I take that as a very good sign.

23 Nov
8 miles, 1:02:20, 7:48 pace, HR 137
24 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:38, 7:40 pace, HR 143
25 Nov
8 miles, 1:03:10, 7:54 pace, HR 137
26 Nov
8 miles, 1:03:41, 7:58 pace, HR 136

Friday, November 22, 2013

Post Race Recovery

Oh my, it is Friday already? Apologies for the lack of updates, it is mostly related to the lack of any report worthy running.

Not a pretty picture, but happy to be done. Photo by Sean Power
I felt surprisingly good after running 30 miles, much better than after running 26 miles 3 weeks earlier at a similar pace, go figure. I wasn’t sore at all the next day, just a little bit stiff. I did not run on Monday to be on the safe side but did 5 miles every day since and increased that to 8 miles this morning, all of which went by without anything worthwhile happening.

Note: even current national record holders do the heel strike. Photo by Sean Power

With that I’m finally ready to leave Sixmilebridge behind; I had a nice long training run there on Sunday and enjoyed it very much. I was never going to win there with the calibre of runners on display and would not change anything I did there.

It has been getting rather cold this week, at least by Irish standards. The temperature is below freezing but I’ll take -1C and dry over 4C and wet any time, thank you very much. With the moon just past full it is really bright in the morning right now, though I did have my one sleepless night like I do virtually every month. I have no idea why this keeps happening. We have perfectly good blinds and curtains and the bedroom is pitch dark yet I’m left staring at the ceiling for hours on end once every Full Moon. There must be some werewolf in my ancestry that I don’t know about.

Too bad I don’t have time on Saturday because I’m going to miss the 10k in Killorglin yet again, but family time comes first and Saturday is when the kids have swimming/coding/music/whatever on the agenda and Daddy can’t go racing. Not that I’m complaining – racing a 10k this weekend would be a bad idea anyway.

19 Nov
5 miles, 42:43, 8:33 pace, HR 140
20 Nov
5 miles, 41:44, 8:21 pace, HR 134
21 Nov
5+ miles, 40:51, 8:05 pace, HR 140
22 Nov
8+ miles, 1:03:40, 7:55 pace, HR 135

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How Not To Pace

Middle of November is the time of the quickly becoming famous Sixmilebridge loop race. Like last year they offered four distance choices, namely half marathon, full marathon, 30 miles and double marathon. I was tempted by the double but had a few demons to wipe out of the system first, so the 30 miler it was once again.

The weather forecast had been pretty good but as I drove towards county Clare I got the distinct impression that we might be in for a repeat of last year's atrocious conditions. As a result, I picked my outfit with the intention of keeping warm rather than looking stylish. I ended up sporting an orange t-shirt, blue girly arm warmers, black shorts with black compression short peeping out, grey compression socks and dark grey shoes of the ugliest colour scheme I've ever come across. It was definitely a question of function over anything else.

As soon as Mark saw me his face went "oh f*ck, I won't win today". I'm very familiar with that expression because a minute earlier it had come across my own face when I spotted first Keith Whyte and then Mike "Curly" Cunningham in quick succession. I would not have to worry about losing a sprint finish today, that much was immediately clear. Keith actually told me he had only just started running again after an injury and was going to pull out after 20 miles, though in all honesty I was not entirely convinced.

I started at the front just behind Mike and Keith. Mike immediately meant business and stormed ahead; for a couple of seconds I actually wondered if I should go with him but that would have been exceptionally stupid, so I didn't. Instead I fell into step right behind Keith who was clearly taking it very easy today. Very easy for him that is - he was doing 7 minute miles. At first that felt very comfortable and I was happy to tag along. I remembered that I had kept that pace in Portuma for the entire 50k and felt very comfortable, so it certainly did not seem out of order. First doubts started creeping in after mile 3 when I realised that we were now doing sub-7 miles, and on loop 5 I glanced my HR from the Garmin as we were going up the hill and it was in the high 160s. Again, that's not outrageous, I have run at least one marathon at a higher average HR, but it just felt a little bit too quick and soon later I let Keith go. He inched away from me very slowly but steadily, and a few laps later he was out of sight.

I was still feeling okay for a while, but somewhere around mile 8 or so I had a bit of a low, which is rather early. I did try and pull myself out of it by taking a gel or a few sips of coke when I passed the aid station. It seemed to work for a bit but soon returned, and by mile 12 or 13 I was already knackered and supposed that I was going to pay the price for the early pace. I guess I'm not in the same kind of shape as in Portumna and the Dublin marathon is still in my legs as evidenced by the evaluation earlier this week. Oh, and the fact that we had to climb a hill on every loop did not exactly make things easier.

Most people who have never run that race think I'm completely bonkers running a 30 mile race on a 1 mile loop, but anyone who has tried it can understand how that very fact makes it a very social event as you're constantly meeting lots of other runners and the atmosphere is unique. The enthusiastic marshalling just adds to that; I love that race and I'm not alone in that.

Anyway, I was feeling knackered and still had about 17 or 18 miles to run. I resolved that the best way to deal with the situation was to cruise to the finish, or at least for as long as I was still able to cruise. Basically I tried to expend as little energy as possible while still doing some half-decent pace. I wasn't going to win the race no matter what and there was no pressure from behind either (one other runner had started at the same pace as me a Keith but had long since fallen back), so my race position seemed set and taking the foot off the gas seemed perfectly logical, so that's exactly what I did.

I did go through another few lows over the coming miles and kept fuelling in the hope that that would pull me through. A bottle of Lucozade that I had stashed earlier came in very handy and I had 4 gels with me, all of which I consumed (I think that was the first time ever that I took all my gels), in addition to plenty of coke from the aid station. I wonder if all those carbs messed up my fat burning, but it did seem to work. I kept getting plenty of compliments that I was flying and looking good, but you get that kind of talk anyway no matter what you look like, so that's not a reliable gauge.

Looking at the mile splits now I ran the first 10 miles at about 7:00 pace, the next 9 at about 7:30 and the next 10 at about 7:40. I did manage to hold things together reasonably enough but it was never going to be an outstanding performance. Somewhere around mile 23 I did wish I had signed up for the marathon rather than the 30, but those thoughts vanished soon enough. Mind, I'm glad I didn't go for the double.

For a while I answered all questions how I was feeling with "f*ing knackered" but it did eventually dawn on me that negative talk isn't a good thing and switched to "getting there". Switching my mindset from negative to positive had a definite and real impact. My pace might still have been the same but the enjoyment returned and I felt much better. That's definitely a lesson I can take away from it.

I went through the marathon in 3:12 or 3:13, definitely not one of my better performances but no disgrace either, especially since I still managed to add 4 miles on top of that. Towards the end of the second-last mile Ruthann went past me, but once I started the final lap I put a bit more effort into it, which made it look like I was chasing her. I caught up with her right at the top of the hill, said "final lap" as a way of explanation and stormed towards the finish. I ran into traffic right at the end, so the finish line photo won't be a classic if there is one but I was happy to be done.

Keith had indeed pulled out, so I finished in second place, again! I congratulated Curly on his victory and a very impressive performance. Shane James Whitty had won the marathon but seemed more concerned with me coming second once more. The second place finisher in the marathon was Thomas Klimas, who I had run together with for 30 or 35k in Portumna, and we had a chat as well.

It sure was not the best paced race I've ever run, but since I will most likely never ever get the chance to run shoulder-to-shoulder with the present Irish National 100k record holder again I am actually glad that I did run with Keith for a few miles. I did manage to salvage a race when things threatened to fall apart and since I managed to finish with a 7-minute mile I guess I would have been able to race faster had the situation required it, but since I finished 20 minutes behind and 8 ahead of places 1 and 3 respectively, cruising to the finish without killing myself seemed like the best option.

I had said beforehand that I would be perfectly happy to be beaten by a better runner, and what's more, I actually meant it. Unlike last year I did not have to drive home in the knowledge that I had thrown away a rare possible victory, and that alone is enough to make me happy.

The Eddie Murphy memorial one-mile loop race in Sixmilebridge is an absolute classic. I already can't wait to do it again.

17 Nov
Sixmilebridge 30 mile race, 3:40:54, 7:21 pace, HR 159
   Second place

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Six Miles From Nowhere

I'm not sure if it's just psychological after Wednesday's evaluation figures showed that I'm not recovered from Dublin yet, but I'm definitely not feeling as good as I did last week. The legs were distinctly heavy on Thursday and the entire run was a bit of a struggle. Friday went better, and Saturday was just a very short and very easy run to shake out the legs before tomorrow's race in Sixmilebridge.

More than one person has mentioned that they thought I'd seen enough of Sixmilebridge by now, which incidentally includes me as well. But in actual fact I have been looking forward to this race ever since crossing the finishing line last year one second too late after being outsprinted at the end of a 30 mile race. I still can't quite believe that a 30 mile race came down to a mad sprint over the last quarter mile, but that's exactly what happened on that occasion. However, I was always painfully aware that I had not lost the race on that quarter mile stretch but instead over the first 25 miles when I clearly had not taken it seriously and deciding only by the time I was almost at the marathon distance that I should actually try and win this.

I don't have to win this tomorrow. I'm perfectly aware that there are plenty of runners who can beat me easily over that distance and if only a single one of them shows up tomorrow, so be it. That's fine by me, I'm totally cool with that. I just do not want to go home again in the knowledge that I have thrown away a win. I don't exactly win a lot of races. That very same race two years ago was my last outright win. So to lose a winnable race due to my own idiocy was bad. Tomorrow is all about about getting rid of that f***ing demon.

14 Nov
8 miles, 1:02:51, 7:51 pace, HR 143
15 Nov
8 miles, 1:02:59, 7:51 pace, HR 138
16 Nov
5 miles, 40:12, 8:02 pace, HR 136

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


My youngest daughter is now 6 years old and she is showing worrying signs of following in the footsteps of one of her parents as far as her behavioural patterns go. 3 days ago she wrote a letter to the Tooth Fairy telling her about her wobbly tooth that will be up for collection soon. The next day, thrilled by receiving a reply from Fairy Land by her Magic Highness herself, she wrote no less than 6 (six!!!) letters, all saying pretty much the same thing. This was followed by yet another letter (this time with a drawing) yet another day later. If I were the Tooth Fairy I'd be thinking about getting a restraining order. We also might need to have a talk about obsessive behaviour.

Myself, on the other hand, carefree as I am, did a little bit of running in the meantime. I lost 10 minutes on Monday morning trying to get a Garmin working that steadfastly refused to even look at the satellite signals coming from the sky. Eventually I left sans GPS device on my wrist, that should teach it a lesson. I probably ran a bit faster than I should have due to being a) late and b) frustrated, but since I had neither watch nor HRM I can't tell. Things were restored back to normal on Tuesday (an IT background does have its advantages), though the legs felt a bit off, which was either a hangover from Sunday's longer run (even if it was far from being an actual long run) or a result of having run too fast the day before, with the former sounding more likely to me.

I took the unusual step of checking the weather forecast for Wednesday and Thursday to set my schedule, and with a windy morning predicted for Thursday I fixed my next evaluation workout for Wednesday. It was a little bit breezy, a bit more than I would have liked. Wind is the enemy of the evaluation because it can really mess up the numbers to the point of making them utterly irrelevant. It was mostly fine but I did notice it picking up for miles 3 and 4, though it was never particularly strong and unlikely to have a significant impact on the actual pace.

        Mile 1    6:49   HR 161
        Mile 2    6:52   HR 161
        Mile 3    6:59   HR 161
        Mile 4    6:57   HR 161
        Recovery to HR 130: 49 seconds

The pace is roughly comparable to the beginning of October but the recovery time is rather excessive, which shows that while I might feel good at the moment I clearly have not yet recovered from the Dublin marathon, which should not come as a great surprise, seeing as it was only 16 days ago. Somehow I was hoping for a better result but that's exactly what the evaluations are for, to take hope and guesswork out of the equation and replace them with cold hard factual numbers.
I won't obsess over them, I think.

11 Nov
8 miles, 1:01:00 (estimated)
12 Nov
8 miles, 1:03:38, 7:57 pace, HR 139
13 Nov
11.8 miles, 1:26:41, 7:20 pace, HR 151
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:49, 6:52, 6:59, 6:57, 49 sec recovery

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Autumn Blues

It is 6:40 am Friday morning, it is cold, dark, windy and raining heavily. My left Achilles is feeling rather stiff, as is my right knee. I can only move slowly and everything feels awkward. I am feeling distinctly uncomfortable and would definitely prefer a warm cosy bed to this. Heck, even a cold, hard bed would be better than this.

Half a mile later I am warmed up, feeling much better and running smoothly now. Another half mile later and the rain has stopped. Perfect. Just keep running. The next 7 miles pass by mostly on autopilot.

Saturday was a bit nicer. There was a shower while I got ready but I could see the blue skies in the west and did not dally. The last drop fell just after I had started my run and half an hour later even the sun came out to join me. Lovely. What surprised me even more was the pace on the Garmin when I gave it a quick peek. I'm not sure if I should be annoyed with myself for running a bit too fast on an easy day or if I should be delighted that 7:34 pace felt so remarkably easy.

It was downright miserable again on Sunday and this time I could see no break in the clouds, so out in the rain I went. And come to think of it, Met Eireann had promised us a dry morning; shows what they know. Anyway, it was a rather lousy day for being outside and somewhere around mile 7 or 8 I wished to be anywhere else, but felt better again after a while.

There is no such thing as bad weather. Just bad excuses. And it did occur to me that training in those kind of conditions was exactly what made me come second last year in Bangor amongst a group of amazing runners that I would not have a business competing against in normal circumstances.

The other thing I remembered was that last year it was at the middle of November that I finally started to feel good again after several months of recovery from running 126 miles. This year I "only" ran 100 miles five weeks later in the year, but I seem to be coming round exactly the same time again. Things are definitely looking good on the running front.
8 Nov
8 miles, 1:01:54, 7:44 pace, HR 139
9 Nov
8 miles, 1:00:34, 7:34 pace, HR 144
10 Nov
13 miles, 1:41:13, 7:47 pace, HR 139

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Revving Up Just A Little

The next event in Sixmilebridge is only 10 days away, so I do not have much of a window to do some "proper" training. I'm not entirely sure how much damage the Dublin marathon has done to my legs, but I keep checking my heart rate / pace ratio and for the last 3 days I had been in the "neutral" zone, neither too high nor too low, so I thought it safe enough to run just a little bit faster today (Thursday) morning after a long series of easy recovery runs.

The last faster run before Dublin had been 8 miles at roughly 3:10 marathon pace (which had served as a neat test for Dublin), though the heart rate (154) had been a little bit higher than I would have liked. Today's plan was to run at about HR 150 and see where that leaves me.

It was raining heavily when I left but it stopped after only half a mile, though by then I was already soaked right through. Ah well. I felt pretty good during the first two warm up miles and then accelerated to the effort that felt appropriate. At first I had troubles getting my HR up, but I was also running with the wind on my back and I knew it would feel much tougher on the way back home. This turned out to be absolutely correct. I found it really hard to keep the HR at one level and the blustery wind sure did not help. In the end I averaged 151 over those 8 miles, which was surprisingly close to target (I had expected the number to be higher) but in reality it had been 8 miles with the HR fluctuating between 145 and 155 and the effort being rather uneven as well. On the plus side, the legs felt very well and I could have kept going for much, much longer while the pace was actually faster than at that run before Dublin.

The rule that I set last month, namely that every workout, even a rather modest one like today's, will always be followed by two recovery days and which has served me very well, helping me to get out of my overtraining hole, will of course still apply.

5 Nov
8 miles, 1:02:32, 7:48 pace, HR 144
6 Nov
8 miles, 1:03:03, 7:52 pace, HR 139
7 Nov
10 miles, 1:12:53, 7:17 pace, HR 149
   incl. 8 miles @ 7:07 pace (HR 151)

Monday, November 04, 2013

Really Big Girl

Apparently the villager should not be so far away from his village
(yes, tough critic, that one)
Real life just keeps happening, I can hardly keep up. As of Saturday, the erstwhile baby of the family has reached the ripe old age of six, which obviously elevates her from Big Girl to Really Big Girl. Just to underline her growing maturity she decided at fairly short notice to change the design for her birthday cake from Princess to Mindcraft, which is quite a radical change in direction. Yes, she does have older siblings, how did you know? I don't think there are many girls who not only want a Minecraft cake for their sixth birthday but also have a mother able to pull it off, which might indeed make her as unique as she already knows she is - and well done to Niamh, colour me impressed. And by the way darling, I do know they are all mine, so can I please move out of the shed again? It's getting cold at night.

Temperatures have indeed plunged, it was down to a mere 3 degrees C this morning (36F in old money). For once I managed to adapt in advance and brought my gloves to my run, which is a minor miracle in itself. Running is still very much defined by recovery from Dublin. I did a series of 5 mile runs (skilfully dodging two major rain showers on Saturday) and moved to 8 mile runs. On Sunday the HR was all the way up to 150, for reasons entirely unclear to me. I ran at the same easy effort as every other run. I noticed the high HR and tried to relax, even though I was already taking it easy. Nothing would change the HR, and yes, I'm pretty sure my HRM is working just fine. Things had changed on Monday morning when I was running just a tad faster at the same subjective easy effort but with a HR over 10 beats lower. I have no idea what's going on here, but as long as I keep taking it easy I don't think I can do much wrong.

2 Nov
5 miles, 40:22, 8:04 pace, HR 145
3 Nov
8 miles, 1:03:36, 7:57 pace, HR 150
4 Nov
8 miles, 1:02:52, 7:51 pace, HR 139

Friday, November 01, 2013

Trick Or Treat

I only realised it afterwards, but Dublin on Monday was my 10th marathon as a pacer. It really is amazing how quickly those things add up.

Despite feeling really good during the marathon I was quite sore on Tuesday, certainly more than expected. I still managed to walk down the staircase in the in-laws' house without wincing, which is a good thing as I had to do it several times when loading the car, but I was definitely feeling uncomfortable doing so. I was still a bit sore on Wednesday but by Thursday that was gone and that's when I re-started running, though I have only done very short and very easy runs so far.

puffle, halloween, creeper and friendly pumpkin

Zombie, Enderman, Vampire and Witch on the hunt for sweets
Thursday was obviously Halloween, which has been rather Americanised in the last 10 years or so, not that I particularly care - it's a day for the kids. The four kids that Niamh keeps insisting are all mine could not agree on a pumpkin design and in the end I got 4 pumpkins from the shop to put an end to the bickering. Well worth the little bit of piece and quiet we gained that way. Trick or Treating went very well, there had been some grumbling from the troops when they learned that we would be in Kerry, not Dublin, for that night but they have learned since that Kerry people are far more generous than those stingy bastards from the smoke and they all returned with as much sweets as they could carry, or maybe even a bit more. God knows what their sugar levels are right now, but maybe for once they have a valid reason for misbehaving. Cian got so much loot that he even has been off-loading stuff to his dad. Well, obviously I'm prepared to sacrifice myself for the good of my child. No need to have him overdose on sugar any more than he already does.

As for training, right now I need to get Dublin out of my legs and that will take a while, and once that is done I'll destroy them all over again in Sixmilebridge, which may or may not be a good idea but which I cannot possibly miss. I need to get some demons out of my system that have been lingering there since last year.

31 Oct
5 miles, 41:57, 8:23 pace, HR 143
1 Nov
5 miles, 40:19, 8:03 pace, HR 145

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Two Germans And An Englishman

The weather forecast had started to get rather ominous the week before the marathon with a massive storm predicted, and it got worse every time they updated the forecast - until Thursday or Friday when it started to get a little better again every time. It's still fair to say that we expected a rather tough day at the office when most of the pacers met up the evening before. The joke about doing a Mary Poppins came up more than once.

Therefore Monday morning came as a nice surprise with the rain already gone and the wind much calmer than expected. I was rather cold before the start but once we got going the conditions were pretty good.

There were three 3:10 pacers; apart from me there was Torben from Hamburg and Martin Rea, a former winner of the Connemara Ultra and rather accomplished runner, and a certain race director gave our group the title mentioned in the headline - 1 out of 3 ain't bad, I suppose.

Running a (sub) 3:10 marathon is about 7:15 pace. Because a Garmin almost invariably measures long, you need to run about 4 second per mile faster in reality and since we wanted to come home slightly under 3:10 that was another second. 7:10 on the Garmin was the target pace.

In my recent training runs I had troubles getting up to speed over the first mile, but with the congestion that comes with a big city marathon that was not an issue. We hit the first mile slightly slower than 7:30, which was to be expected. The second mile was pretty much on pace and over the next 3 or 4 miles we made up the difference. By the time we exited Phoenix Park we were bang on time.

At that point I was maybe 20 meters behind my fellow pacers, but I noticed that they were running a bit faster than goal pace. They were too far ahead to give them a shout and eventually I decided to fall back a bit and remain on actual target pace, even if it meant that the 3:10 pacing group got slightly split up. There was some doubt in my mind if I was doing the right thing but I have paced plenty of times before and decided to trust my own experience.

The spirit amongst the runners surrounding me was very good. The water stations tended to be a bit congested but elsewhere it was mostly fine; it got fairly bad with the 3:30 and 4:00 pace groups, I think, though.

Crumlin road is a tough part of the course, slightly uphill and always against a headwind, but despite earlier worries it was no worse than any other year. My own part of the 3:10 group crossed the halfway line half a minute ahead of time, pretty much where I wanted them to be. The other pacers were almost exactly half a minute ahead of us, so the gap wasn't as big as it might have seemed. It might have grown by a few more seconds until mile 15 or 16 but then started to shrink again. Since I certainly had not sped up, the others must have slowed down slightly, but we are really only talking about 2 or 3 seconds per mile and I doubt any of the pacees noticed any real difference.

My part of the 3:10 pace group - photo by Lindie Naughton

The group of runners surrounding me remained remarkably stable, usually the pacing group more or less falls apart after mile 20 but a remarkable number of runners managed to stick with me. Mile 20 to 23 are slightly downhill but then it is 3 flat miles to the finish and that's where most of the carnage happens. We caught a lot of runners/walkers on that stretch and the pace difference between us and them was at times huge. I suppose most of them were crash victims of the 3:00 bus - I've been there myself, of course.

By that time we had almost caught up to the other part of the 3:10 pace group, entirely without having to increase the pace. One of the pacers, Torben, got into trouble here and fell behind. That's why there are 3 pacers by group I suppose, and he was not the only pacer in trouble today, but overall the pacing was at the usual high standard.

There is a video of that shows the 3:10 group close to the end as well - we get into it 2:40 into the video.

The conditions kept the worst till last, there was a really strong headwind between miles 24 and 25, and anyone struggling to keep up would have been in real trouble here. We were a little bit ahead of schedule, which turned out to be a good thing I suppose because it meant we did not have to kill ourselves and/or burn off the pacees to remain on target.

As we were nearing the finish I did my usual thing at the end of a pacing job and ran backwards at times, trying to encourage anyone behind me to push ahead and get the best time possible, which usually works remarkably well and just about everyone behind me managed a sprint and finished just ahead of me. I crossed the line in 3:09:45 (DCM's time) which is just about perfect, even if I say so myself.

Before the marathon I had been a bit nervous about pacing 3:10, the fastest time I have ever paced, especially since I was still recovering from Connemara and my own stupidity. Running 7:10 pace in training had felt manageable but tough enough after a few miles, so I was really surprised by how comfortable I felt throughout the marathon. It was not until the last 1 or 2 miles that the legs started sending some fatigue signals, and even then it was not bad at all.

Having the pacing group split up by half a minute was not planned but actually worked out very well. I did notice a sizeable number of runners who had started dropping off the pace behind the first group and were starting to become dispirited only to have me catch up several minutes later and realising that all was not lost yet. A few of them managed to hang to me, when otherwise they would have dropped off completely. While it is hard to work out the optimum method of pacing a group, we may just have stumbled upon a great way to maximise success.

Well done to all the pacees who stuck with us from the start to the finish, so well done to Liam and Stephen and Rolando and Robbie and all the others, congratulations. I'm still reeling from a massive bear hug from one particularly happy runner who had just managed to break 3:10 for the first time in 14 attempts, and it's fair to say that the real joy and gratitude of the runners makes pacing a really rewarding experience.

I even managed to get onto the telly, the winner just happened to be interviewed as I was finishing in the background and with that butterfly wing on my back I was rather easy to spot. A few minutes later, who would be shouting my name but Rik Vercoe, the winner of the 10in10 in Sixmilebridge back in July, who had just run his first ever sub-3 marathon after running 32 marathons in a row (and some people have the cheek to suggest that I am mad). He got a big hug as well, obviously.

It was a great day, as ever. The Dublin marathon really is special. I can't wait to do it again.

28 Oct
Dublin City Marathon, 3:09:45, 7:14 pace, HR 160
   pacing the 3:10 group

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

DCM 2013 - update

Pacing the 3:10 group went exceptionally well, I'm really pleased. Came home in 3:09:44 (my Garmin) or 3:09:45 (DCM's as yet unofficial time), which is just about perfect. While I was a bit nervous before the start because this was the fastest time I've ever paced, I felt very comfortable all the way. Race pace report to follow later - got to go home first.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Once More

Monday morning I will be running my eighth Dublin marathon, which I suppose means that I like that race. The atmosphere is definitely unique, nowhere in Ireland will you get as many spectators for a road race and for the last few miles the crowd is always buzzing. It will also be my fourth time in a row as a pacer, which does put a bit of pressure on me but I'm reasonably confident I'll be able to handle it. The weather could be quite interesting, according to the latest forecast we might just about escape the worst of the storm, but we'll see how it goes. Let's hope the rain won't drive away the spectators, the race would be so much poorer without the crowd support.

I have been doing nothing but easy running since the evaluation workout on Wednesday. The legs have felt very good and the pace has come down quite a bit for the same level of effort compared to a few weeks ago. I think I really managed to get out of that hole just in time for Dublin; let's hope the next 26.2 miles won't drop me right back in. I will certainly have to be careful with my recovery but let's get the marathon out of the way first.

The drive up from Kerry was without incident, at least if you ignore the usual self-inflicted dramas that come with a drive for several hours in a car full of children. I did have a couple of scares during the week when Shea had a sore throat on Monday and then again on Thursday, but nothing came of either. Maia seemed to fall sick Friday night, she had a temperature and slept for hours in the afternoon, but then we remembered that she'd had an immunisation shot the day before, which did explain it. She was right as rain when she finally woke up, though it meant she missed her school's Halloween party, which was very disappointing, poor thing.

Dublin City Marathon will always have a special place in my heart. While there are one or two other races that I would rank ahead of it, Dublin 2004 was my first ever marathon (as well as my first ever road race - not that I would recommend that sort of action in general) and it's always a great race to return to. It helps that the organisation is always to the highest standard and the reputation as the friendly marathon well deserved.

I guess that's enough free advertisement for now. If you're at the expo late Sunday at the pacer stand or the race start on Monday with the 3:10 group, be sure to say hello.

24 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:23, 7:47 pace, HR 137
25 Oct
8 miles, 1:00:53, 7:36 pace, HR 143
26 Oct
5+ miles, 39:25, 7:48 pace, HR 138
27 Oct
2 miles, 14:35, 7:17 pace, HR 149

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


As you know if you have been reading this for more than a couple of weeks, I have been struggling a bit with finding the correct level of training recently. Running 10 marathons in 10 days in July followed by a 100 mile race in August did put quite a strain on my body (yes I know, who'd have thunk it!), which was exacerbated by me misjudging the level of recovery required. The last few weeks have provided quite some lesson, and I had to completely change my definition of an easy week.

Having said that, there has been some definite and real progress over the last few weeks and I can feel that I'm climbing out of the hole I managed to dig myself into. One very clear indication was the way I felt on Monday; I expected the usual sore legs after a fast run on Sunday, but in actual fact I felt very good - not just the legs, I felt better than usual in general as well.

Noticing progress by subjective feeling is one thing but seeing it in cold hard figures is another, and my evaluation run today provided just that. I ran the evaluation on Wednesday rather than Tuesday to have 2 recovery days after Sunday's 10 mile run, as stipulated in last week's post.

Luckily for me the wind died down overnight, just in time for my evaluation and the conditions were pretty good.

        Mile 1    6:39   HR 161
        Mile 2    6:43   HR 161
        Mile 3    6:49   HR 161
        Mile 4    6:43   HR 161
        Recovery to HR 130: 34 seconds

These numbers show a clear progression from two weeks ago. The pace for each mile is a few seconds faster and the subsequent recovery much faster. The pace is very stable even though I'm not quite sure why mile 3 is a little bit out, but I won't worry about that. All in all these are quite solid figures, considering how bad I had been feeling only a month ago.

On the downside, I somehow managed to bang my head last night (that wall viciously jumped at me - inexplicably, I was completely sober at the time) and felt a slight headache this morning (after my run, I hasten to add). Let's see how it feels tomorrow. While there might not be an awful lot of brain to damage in my case it might still come useful some day, so I'd better take care.

21 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:06, 7:46 pace, HR 139
22 Oct
7 miles, 54:16, 7:45 pace, HR 141
23 Oct
11.75 miles, 1:24:00, 7:09 pace, HR 152
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:39, 6:43, 6:49, 6:43, 34 sec recovery

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pacing Practise

When is Friday not a Friday? When it falls on a Thursday!

Admittedly, that doesn't make any sense. My thinking was that if I do my usual Fast Friday run on Friday there would only be one day of recovery before Sunday, so I moved it to Thursday instead. Wrong weekday aside, I tried to run more or less the same workout again, though I tried to keep the pace of the faster segment at about 7:10 pace, the pace I need to run in Dublin, and a little bit of practise doesn't do any harm. I managed well enough, though I could not fail but notice that the HR was higher than expected, and higher than last week, so that was a bit worrying. It fits in right with the same observations I made in the last post, as soon as I run faster or longer my HR immediately starts climbing much faster than it should.

Following on from that, two easy days followed, and true to form the legs were fairly heavy on Friday but felt better on Saturday, at least once the first two miles were out of the way.

With the Dublin marathon only one week away, I was wondering what I should do on Sunday. I'm not doing a taper as such, mostly because I have no training done that I would now need to taper from, but I still don't want to turn up tired and thoughts of another 15 mile run were quickly set aside.

In the end I decided to do another pace practise. Chances are that Mystery Coach won't like it, but that was a workout for my head, not for my body. I have never paced 3:10 before and I am fairly nervous about it. A little bit of reassurance would go a long way; at least I hoped it would.

Since in the marathon I will have to hit the right pace right from the start I did away with the usual 2 easy miles of warm up. Even so, the first mile was still way too slow (7:30) but then I managed to pick up the speed. Too much, as it turned out, because the next time I checked the Garmin, about 2 miles in, I was doing 6:40 pace and the average was almost down to 7. Oops. I guess that's why they use 3 pacers per band, that way we can keep an eye on each other. The wind made pacing rather tricky; I had it on my back for the first half, which is why I felt averaging 7:00 pace was just about right (no more 6:40 miles, though). Fighting the wind on the way back home was tricky and now that the effort had been established I tried to go by feel rather than watch, which was acting strangely anyway, I kept seeing paces ranging from 5:50 to 7:40 with neither one being right.

In the end I only used up half my cushion and came home about a minute earlier than planned. I'll need to pay a bit more attention in Dublin, I wouldn't want to burn out my pacees with a few fast early miles, but, as I said, there the responsibility will be shared. I do hope my body will cope; it certainly was a much-needed boost for the mind and I feel much more at ease with the thought of pacing 3:10 now. From that point of view, it was definitely a good workout, I suppose.

17 Oct
10 miles, 1:13:43, 7:22 pace, HR 150
   incl. 8 miles @ 7:09 pace (HR 154)
18 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:55, 7:59 pace, HR 138
19 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:37, 7:49 pace, HR 142
20 Oct
10 miles, 1:10:59, 7:05 pace, HR 153
Weekly Mileage: 56

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Psychrolutes Marcidus

Me right now
I think the weighing scales start whimpering in fear every time I get close. It's slightly puzzling because I'm still running over 60 miles a week and my weight has been increasing steadily ever since Connemara in August, but the last couple of week that has accelerated significantly and I am now 7 pound heavier and at my heaviest level for the entire year. Admittedly, right now I see no real reason to curb my chocolate addiction, but it's not like I'm stuffing myself with a bar every day. I do believe that it is beneficial to indulge yourself from time to time and put on a few pounds, as long as you find the discipline to cut out the entire range of junk once the racing season gets going.

I have been dragging all of my 151 blobby pounds over the Caragh Lake road the last few days, but the figures from the HRM are puzzling and I'm left scratching my head. If I run slow, short, easy runs I am getting VDOT values that are as high as I've ever seen, which would indicate that I am in great shape aerobically. On the other hand, as soon as I start running faster or longer I start struggling almost immediately. The weekend showed this up in rather stark light, on Sunday I ran 6 seconds per mile slower than on Saturday, yet my HR was 6 beats higher! It was definitely not a HRM malfunction, I really was struggling and the last few miles were dragging. I'm pretty sure running an evaluation on Wednesday and a few faster miles on Friday had something to do with it, but neither workout was particularly hard - in fact, the effort at both had been distinctly mellow.

For now I assume that I'm capable of doing the odd workout, either a faster or a longer one (and still rather mellow for each variable), but need plenty of recovery in-between, and one easy day between workouts just does not cut it. Let's try with two or more recovery days and see how that goes.

Well, this week I have been doing only short and slower runs so far, not only for recovery but also for family reasons; real life just has a habit of intruding into my running life, though if you're married with four kids that doesn't come as much of a surprise, and it's definitely preferable to have these disruptions now rather than next July! Plus, the way I see it, I am building up credit for the odd weekend away ("Darling, there happens to be that half/marathon/ultra in [insert destination] on [insert date]..."), but don't tell her (and it might not work out anyway).

Meanwhile, life goes on.
14 Oct
8 miles, 1:04:09, 8:01 pace, HR 132
15 Oct
5 miles, 39:29, 7:54 pace, HR 133
16 Oct
7 miles, 55:00, 7:51 pace, HR 137

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Dumb And Dumber

I have a projection clock that displays the time on the ceiling. I love it. Unfortunately I did not reset it after Wednesday’s power cut, so when the alarm went off I saw 5 am up there and actually thought I must have dreamt the alarm going off (yes, I really am that stupid). To make matters worse, I did not even manage to fall back asleep and just lay there dozing. Eventually I got suspicious (“this does not feel like 5:30 am!”) and checked a little but closer, and by then I barely had enough time for 5 miles. Btw, Niamh had a very similar experience when her alarm went off, but she got one crucial step further than me by thinking “if it’s 6 am, why would my alarm just have gone off”. Ah yes, at least there’s only one idiot in our marriage. That’s the second time in three days I managed to mess up the alarm. That Alzheimer must be progressing quicker than I realised.

I tried not to rush the 5 miles by running faster than I should, even though I was clearly under time pressure, and almost succeeded.

Friday saw the return of "Fast Friday", or in that case it should probably be called "Mellow Friday" because the pace was much more relaxed than on my previous attempts. Just over a week ago MC had suggested I try running 7:20 pace at HR 150; so what was I to do when his prediction turned out wrong (now there's a first!) as it turned out that the HR would be nowhere near 150 for 7:20 pace? I quickly settled on running relaxed without worrying too much about either pace or HR, and I just happened to fall somewhere in-between, running a bit faster at a slightly lower HR. I like to think that I got that on just right (now there's a first!).

The outside conditions have changed quite dramatically, the temperatures at 7 o'clock in the morning dropped from 12C/53F on Wednesday to 4C/39F on Thursday, and it looks like they will remain there for a while. I don't mind at all, I dug out my gloves and that's all I need. I much prefer cold and dry to rain, not that I get my wish very often here in Kerry.

The legs felt a bit heavy on Saturday and I cut the run down from the planned 10 mile to 8. I did raise an eyebrow or two when I saw the pace on the Garmin, I had not intended to run 7:40 pace, nor had it felt like it. Running two workouts in the space of three days must have reset my Central Governor. The heavy legs were a warning sign, and I got a far more pronounced warning on Sunday when the legs started to feel distinctly heavy after 10 miles and the last few miles became a bit of a drag. I ran around Caragh Lake and the long steep hills might have had something to do with it as well, but it brought back some very unwelcome memories of that crash of a run 3 weeks ago, though it was nowhere near as bad. Still, this time I'll heed the warning - it is back to short and easy runs next week.

10 Oct
5 miles, 38:54, 7:46 pace, HR 137
11 Oct
10 miles, 1:13:39, 7:21 pace, HR 146
   incl 8 miles @ 7:14 pace (HR 148)
12 Oct
8+ miles, 1:01:41, 7:40 pace, HR 140
13 Oct
15.1 miles, 1:57:20, 7:46 pace, HR 146
Weekly Mileage: 65.9

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Belated Evaluation

In order to find out where I stand at the moment, I was planning on doing an evaluation this week (MC had suggested it as well). My usual schedule for an evaluation is Tuesday, enabling me to have an easy day after the weekend and 2 easy days before an eventual faster run on Friday. That was the plan for this week as well.

What I did not plan for is the fact that I'm an idiot; I dutifully changed the alarm time on Monday evening but then completely forgot to actually turn the thing on. What can I say, the senility isn't going to get any better with old age, is it? At least my body is well used to getting up early and I still woke up in time for 8 miles, so at least it did not end up a wasted day. I was a bit worried that the conditions wouldn't be the same, a windy day makes the evaluation numbers pretty much useless and a stormy Monday morning had been followed by ideal conditions on Tuesday but my luck was in and Wednesday morning was just as calm.
        Mile 1    6:43   HR 161
        Mile 2    6:54   HR 161
        Mile 3    6:50   HR 161
        Mile 4    6:50   HR 161
        Recovery to HR 130: 39 seconds

These are not the best figures I have ever produced, not by a long shot, but they let me know where I stand and in fact they are better than I expected. At the very least they tell me that I will be just fine for the pacing gig in Dublin, and anyway I still have 19 days to get ready for that. A couple of years ago I produced very similar numbers back in December and I suppose seeing them in October is a good sign. I'm certainly happy enough that I managed to keep the pace very stable and the recovery time isn't bad, but of course there is plenty of room for improvement on all fronts (which is what you'd want at this stage).

Oh, and I'm definitely not doing Valentia this weekend. Shame. But it's definitely for the best.

7 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:37, 7:57 pace, HR 137
8 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:44, 7:58 pace, HR 135
9 Oct
11.75 miles, 1:26:25, 7:21 pace, HR 149
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:43, 6:54, 6:50, 6:50, 39 sec recovery

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Pick Up the Pieces

I cannot believe how much better I am feeling right now than 2 weeks ago. The transformation is just magic. Those 2 weeks of nothing but short and easy runs were obviously exactly what I needed, and the difference this has made is enormous.

I got the green light to pick it up again on Friday but for once decided to err on the side of caution and did yet another easy 8 miler. I still don't have full confidence in my body. But I did put it up a notch over the weekend, doing 10 miles on Saturday and 12 on Sunday, all at the same easy effort. I did several months of that kind of running 3 years ago, and I was very surprised how much my pace increased for the same effort when it felt like I did not do any real training at all. On the downside, these were not exactly the most exciting months of my life and I did get frustrated and bored after a while. Back then MC held me on a short leash, but I never managed to show the same restraint when training under my own tuition. We'll see what this year will bring. Considering that the end goal of the present training cycle is a long ultra with a goal pace of 10:30, fast running will not exactly be a requirement.

Saturday was a gorgeous autumn morning with the sun shining so brightly that my only regret was not bringing my shades (it never even occurred to me that they might be required). What a contrast to today when the wind was driving the rain horizontally across Dingle Bay and the Cromane road was decidedly uncomfortable to run on with the water splashing right into the face. That's running in Kerry for you - and it does have its advantages, like it did in Bangor when everyone else was complaining about the conditions and the race had been in danger of being cancelled for health and safety reasons, and I just spooled off lap after lap with my head down, being well used to running in this.

My achilles has been very good and basically unnoticeable until it suddenly hurt quite a bit on the last mile today, a sharp pain out of nowhere and without notice. That's a bummer, but I'm hopeful that this was just a short episode and not a sign of a real setback.

4 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:22, 7:48 pace, HR 140
5 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:15, 7:43 pace, HR 143
6 Oct
12 miles, 1:33:53, 7:49 pace, HR 141