Thursday, February 28, 2013

Taper Week

Even if I hadn't started the taper a bit earlier than planned, by now it would be upon me. The run on Monday was easy again, easier even than Sunday. The only remarkable thing was that I pressed the "stop" button exactly 1 hour after starting, on the dot and not by design. I guess if you do enough one hour runs you'll eventually end up with one that is exactly one hour.

I awoke Tuesday with a slightly sore throat, very similar to a couple of weeks ago and because back then I had continued running without any issues I saw no reason to change this time. Good call, when I was running I could not feel any soreness in the throat and completely forgot about it. The workout I did was a set of half-mile repeats, just like last week, and since last week had gone well I wasn't too apprehensive this time round either.

With my former coach's warnings ringing in my ears to be taking it easy in training in order to be able to race well I cut the number of repeats down by one to five, but the target (2:50-3:00) and the rest (2 minutes) all remained the same. Nature provided a spectacular background as I ran my repeats back- and forwards on the Caragh Lake road with the moonset in one direction and sunrise in the other, though I could only admire that during the rest intervals, certainly not during the fast segments. It went even better than last week with slightly faster pace feeling a little bit easier at a slightly lower heart rate - just the kind of progress you want to see.

2:54 (HR 150), 2:54 (152), 2:51 (158), 2:51 (166), 2:51 (163)

Unfortunately, my werewolf genes came to the fore again that night as I was unable to get to sleep. I get that fairly regularly, and always at or close to Full Moon. It has nothing to do with light in our bedroom as we have perfectly good blackout curtains, but something is stopping me from falling asleep those nights, and staring at the ceiling until 3 am really doesn't do it for me. Thankfully the lack of sleep does not seem to affect me. After the previous day's intervals it was an easy day again, and the sore throat had cleared already. It was one of those effortlessly-floating-along-the-road kind of runs where everything comes so easily. The former coach has this axiom that he likes to throw at me at regular intervals:
"When you get toward peak shape your brain ignores fatigue, this is good for racing but bad for training".
Up to now I had always denied that I was in that state - workouts had left me tired and sore often enough to conclude that my brain was not ignoring fatigue, but now I think I might have indeed reached that state. And with Tralee less than 3 weeks away, that's exactly where I want to be.

With an eye on Sunday's race in Ballycotton I did another little workout this morning, namely a set of hill sprints in an attempt to sharpen up the legs. I did a few of those earlier in my training cycle on the same hill. The main difference this time round was that it is now much brighter in the morning and I could actually see the road I was running on, which does indeed have its advantages. I stopped once the sprints started feeling a little bit tough, which was pretty soon to be honest, but it was never meant to be an exhausting workout.

There will be more easy days, then Ballycotton, then recovery from that, followed by maybe one or two mellow workouts and next thing I'll be at the Tralee startline.
25 Feb
8 miles, 1:00:00, 7:30 pace, HR 135
26 Feb
7 miles, 50:21, 7:11 pace, HR 151
   5 x half mile in 2:54, 2:54, 2:51, 2:51, 2:51
27 Feb
8 miles, 58:33, 7:19 pace, HR 138
28 Feb
6+ miles, 47:48, 7:42 pace, HR 148
   hill sprints

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fastest Old Guy

well, apart from the real fast ones ...

Saturday was the final race of the Gneeveguilla AC race series. While I had done well in the first 2 races, setting a new PB in the process, I wasn't too happy with the third race and paired with the slow 10k time I had set in Kenmare I had started to worry that I might have peaked already and was on my way down, which would have been seriously bad news for Tralee, especially after getting into such a good shape at the start of the year.

However, there were some positive signs as well, not least the fact that my no-sugar diet is starting to show some effects. I stood on the scales on Saturday morning to see that my weight had dropped below 145 pounds (10 stone 5, 65.7 kg) for the first time in 11 months! Most of all, I drilled into myself to give a better effort than last week, come what may!

It was a freezing cold day and everyone was shivering at the start. I noticed a lot of people wearing long sleeves, but at the fast end there were still plenty of t-shirts and singlets in view.

George took off ahead of me again, but I was close behind him. When the field had settled I found myself matching stride with Donal Kelly, so I figured I must be doing well. After about a km I was unsure if the pace/effort was okay (the last 2 races had knocked the confidence in my pacing a bit) so I did what I usually never do in a race, I checked my Garmin to have a look at the figures.

In my experience, nine out of ten time it's a bad idea to pace yourself off a gadget, especially in such a short, fast race as a 5k. However, this was the one time it worked. While the average pace of 5:44 was fine, the present pace of 5:58 was too slow, just as I had suspected, and I put the hurt on. I got my nose just ahead of Donal, he responded and we both increased the effort. The turnaround disrupted my rhythm and I fell a step or two behind but recovered and we kept pushing each other hard for most of the rest of the race until he finally managed to put a little bit of daylight between us on the last half k when I struggled up that tiny little hill. I pushed hard until the end and was rewarded, and very pleasantly surprised, with a new 2-second PB at the end as I crossed the line in 17:51.

According to the Garmin my mile splits were 5:41, 5:50 and 5:42, which is remarkable because I am absolutely certain that this is the first time I ever managed to speed up in the last mile of a 5k instead of getting progressively slower. I'm also pretty sure that it was my fastest third mile in a 5k ever and obviously that's where I got my new PB. I can't help but be very happy with that result, I did exactly what I intended to do and got my reward.

There was a prize ceremony afterwards for the race series. The prize structure was very generous, going 10 deep overall and prizes for the top 2 in each age category on top of that. I would have been ninth overall but they gave me first M40 instead because that was deemed better with a higher reward, though I have to point out that George and Donal are M40s and John and Rob M45s and they all finished ahead of me, so I was the fastest old guys apart from the actually fast old guys who managed to place better in the overall standings. However, I was happy, and I think so was everyone else. Well done to Gneeveguilla for hosting yet another great race series.

Sunday was easy again, or at least I thought it was easy and never checked the Garmin, so I was a bit surprised to see that I had averaged 7:17 pace. There must have been a massive gorse fire at the lakeside during the night but it was in the process of dying out when I passed it. It's that time of the year again, I suppose.
22 Feb
5 miles, 38:37, 7:43 pace
23 Feb
7 3/4 miles, including:
   Gneeveguilla 5k 4/4, 17:51, 5:44 pace, 10th place
24 Feb
10 miles, 1:12:56, 7:17 pace, HR 142

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dodged Yet Another Bullet

I knew there was trouble brewing. I awoke several times on Tuesday night with a sore throat, something that was still with me when I finally got up at around 6:30 in the morning. It was uncomfortable but not too bad, so I went ahead with the workout.

My very first thought on speedwork days used to be “oh no, speedwork!” but I wasn’t too bothered this time round; maybe because the workout didn’t seem too hard, especially after running 18-minute 5ks several times this year already. The plan, which originally came from my previous coach, was to run 6 half miles around 2:50-3:00 with 2 minutes of recovery. Perfectly doable.

I felt awkward and slow during the warm up but once I got going I was fine and the sore throat was completely forgotten. The workout went very well, I hit all the paces and was always in full control and reasonably relaxed.

2:56 (HR 156), 2:57 (160), 2:53 (163), 2:54 (165), 2:52 (164), 2:51 (169)

The last one was tougher than the previous ones but still nowhere near all-out. I was very happy with it and that’s not something I tend to say after intervals.

However, I did not feel great for the rest of the day with some cold coming on, and Niamh chided me for not wrapping up the day before when it was cold. I thought that kind of talking-to had stopped about 35 years ago when my mum gave up, but apparently not.

The sore throat was worse on Wednesday, and this time I seriously contemplated binning the run. What is there to gain from an easy run if you’re on the verge of being sick? Then I decided that I had no symptoms below the neck, my usual cut-off point, and that yesterday’s intervals had gone exceedingly well despite the sore throat and went out after all, but only for 6 easy miles. The HR monitor supports my decision I suppose, the HR was not elevated. If something had been properly wrong I would have expected to see a different value.

I guess I got away with it. I still felt some very minor discomfort this morning but it’s definitely a lot better, and I’m feeling perfectly fine otherwise. I did another mellow workout, 8 miles at 7-ish pace with a surge towards 6-minute-pace every mile for 0.3 - 0.4 miles before falling back to 7-minute pace, which felt like jogging after surging. Due to the strong gale force winds I did not take much notice of the actual pace and went by feel only, which was about 5:50 pace with the wind at my back and closer to 6:30 against the wind, and I cut the very last surge short with an eye on Saturday’s final 5k of the race series.

I have basically decided that I am tapering for Tralee already, so there won’t be any more real long runs. Ballycotton will be the last big workout, and I’ll do a few more faster but shorter runs, in the hope that it will make running at 6:30 – 6:40 pace feel easier.

My biggest worry for Tralee is that we will have to deal with winds like today. It would blow away any chances of a decent time, and it’s a factor I cannot control (so why worry?). I’ll need to get my head around this before race day.
19 Feb
7 miles, 50:14, 7:10 pace, HR 147
     6 half mile repeats: 2:56 (HR 156), 2:57 (160), 2:53 (163), 2:54 (165), 2:52 (164), 2:51 (169)
20 Feb
6 miles, 45:25, 7:34 pace, HR 138
21 Feb
8 miles, 54:57, 6:52 pace, HR 154

Monday, February 18, 2013

Race Weekend

When Niamh first informed me that we were going up to Dublin for that weekend, my first thought was "what about my training!", especially as I knew it would already have been disrupted by our trip to Disneyland, and with Tralee only 4 weeks away it really did not seem like the ideal time to go travelling yet again. As it happened, my previous coach has already told me to take it easy (in fact he did so twice. I more or less ignored him the first time round) and training lost from now on can be seen as recovery gained.

There was also the small matter of another race in the Gneeveguilla race series, though that one really was a small matter. My main problem was that Niamh had already left for Dublin on Thursday, leaving me without a car, but thankfully Michael gave me a lift to the race. The 5k itself ... well, I wasn't too happy. It started differently to all the other races in that George took off ahead of me instead of catching me after 1 km, but I was pretty sure that was because he started faster rather than me running slower. He told me afterwards that he did that deliberately after reading my previous race reports on the blog. After that I just kept going at the effort level that seemed appropriate, very similar to all the other races in the series. I slipped at the turnaround point, but that was a minor incident. It wasn't until right at the end when I saw the timer already in the 18s that I realised that I had run slower than at all the other races so far this year. The picture from the finish confirms this; the contrast to a fortnight ago when I laid everything out on the line for a new PB compared to this time round when I look like I just finish a nice relaxing jog and you know I could and definitely should have run faster. I could beat myself over the head about it, but instead I'll take next week's final race as an opportunity to put things right again.

After the race it was time to hop on a train and go to Dublin. I only did 2 easy runs while in the smoke, though I was quite pleased to see that the HR reading has returned to better levels. The main challenge was to resist temptation at Grandad's 80 birthday party, but I managed to say no to trifle, cake, jelly and biscuits, which was no mean feat, believe you me. Definitely a better performance than at Saturday's race.
16 Feb
~6 miles, including:
   Killarney 5k, 18:10, 5:50 pace, HR 180
17 Feb
6+ miles, 45:23, 7:22 pace, HR 140
18 Feb
6 miles, 43:13, 7:12 pace, HR 142

Friday, February 15, 2013

My Favourite Workout

I'm not religious, but the last two years I have always used lent as an excuse to give up sugar. This has nothing to do with faith, just a convenient opportunity to shed a few pounds. The Tralee  marathon is earlier in the year than any other spring marathon I have ever done, so I was planning on starting the sugar-free period earlier, but it just never happened. My will power obviously has its limits. I wasn't even sure if I would do any sugar-free time this year at all but when Niamh asked me on Sunday if I would give up sugar for lent again I said yes - so here I am, jonesing chocolate already, but hopeful that the cravings will stop eventually. I know going off sugar has plenty of benefits, and I am not even talking about running; apart from a couple of shed pounds I always notice that my skin improves and I feel better. I still can't see myself going off chocolate completely. It's my one dirty little secret. But my main motivation is still that I will have a couple of pounds less on my frame than the present 148 ones when we gather on the Tralee start line.

After the series of easy runs following last week's race I did one workout this week. After getting up at dark-thirty once more I ran 15 miles yesterday morning, alternating half-miles at slightly faster-than-marathon pace (6:20-6:30) with miles at slightly slower than MP (6:40-6:50) eight times, and the numbers came out as follows (pace in minutes per mile, as always):
     6:20 6:43
     6:28 6:43
     6:28 6:39
     6:24 6:41
     6:27 6:45
     6:18 6:45
     6:27 6:48
     6:28 6:47
The effort oscillated between comfortable and bloody damn hard, depending on wind direction and elevation change, but I am very happy with the numbers; I could have done more at the end. After some feedback I decided that this was probably my last big workout for Tralee, from here on I need recovery more than additional work, but I will do a few faster runs, like half-mile repeats, to get the legs used to faster paces. Hopefully this will make marathon pace feel easier come race day.

Oh, and there are still a couple of races at the weekends.
14 Feb
15 miles, 1:42:00, 6:48 pace, HR 159
   8 x (0.5 miles MP+, 1 mile MP-)
15 Feb
8 miles, 1:00:18, 7:32 pace, HR 139

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Dip

It was last Friday that I first noticed a strange HR value after my run; I had expected it to be much lower. However, Garmin’s HR solution isn’t exactly the best, owing to their sub-standard chest straps and I have seen isolated funny readings before, so I did not take much notice.

Then I ran the race on Saturday and again noticed a sky-high HR. In fact I had recorded a higher average HR for that 10K then for any of the three 5K races I had done this year, which seemed a bit weird. At that point I still thought a faulty HR reading was most likely to blame and considered swapping the battery in the HR strap, but then I didn’t have a battery handy and kept going, again recording strangely high readings on Sunday, but when the values started improving on Monday I started suspecting that the readings might actually have been real.

I always keep a very simple spreadsheet where I calculate a number from the HR/pace combination, which gives some surprisingly effective feedback on the state of my fitness. Looking at the graph for February you can clearly see a massive dip, starting on Friday, bottoming out for Saturday’s race and gradually recovering over the following days until returning more or less back to normal today, Wednesday.

While I still can’t be 100% sure that the HR data was correct, I am now inclined to believe the readings. An interesting observation is that Cian was off school on Monday after not feeling well and Niamh told me yesterday that she had felt a bit off as well. Usually I would expect to be able to tell straight away if anything was out of whack when I’m running, certainly when running a race, but I never felt anything unusual, just noticed the strange HR readings on the Garmin. My best guess is that I was fighting some infection which was just about enough to affect the HR rate but still low-level enough to not be felt. It might even explain my slower-than-expected time for Saturday’s race, though I’ll never know for sure (there was still that hill and the fact that I was running on my own most of the time).

On a different note, I was not surprised by some rather sore legs on Monday but what did come as a surprise was that it was the hamstrings that were mostly affected while the quads were ok. I was still sore on Tuesday and there was still some residue left on Wednesday which prompted a change in plan and I ran easily all days instead of a planned workout this morning. But I’m just about back to normal and with the HR seemingly recovered I am going to get some more proper training under the belt. There is not much time left before the taper for Tralee starts.
11 Feb
8 miles, 1:01:38, 7:42 pace, HR 139
12 Feb
8 miles, 1:02:09, 7:46 pace, HR 137
8 miles, 1:00:15, 7:32 pace, HR 138

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Only One Hill

South Kerry isn't exactly blessed with a lot of road races, so a 10k in Kenmare came as a nice change of scenery. After running 3 times under 18 minutes for a 5k (even if one of them was rounded up to 18), I expected a pretty good time for Saturday's 10k run. I regard my present 10k PB as rather soft at this stage and was quite confident yet another PB was winging its way to me. I had been doing nothing but short and easy runs all week, a combination of Disneyland and recovery from last week's mega sessions, so in theory I should have been well rested and raring to go. In reality I felt as sluggish on Saturday as I had on Friday, something I could not quite explain, but I was still highly confident. Some of my best races had come after feeling sluggish during the warm up.

Four guys went off at the front and I was right behind. I was unsure how to pace myself for a 10k, so I guessed I'd better back off a little because following right behind Ed and Arthur isn't generally a good idea for me. The downside of it all was that I had a group disappearing up front and another group well behind me, and I was left running entirely on my own in fifth place for much of the race; this had become a glorified tempo run all of a sudden.

After two miles it became something else entirely because now we were climbing the hill. I had run a 10k with a monster hill in Kenmare two years ago and was wondering if the course was the same. Turns out - it was, at least for the first 7k, and yes, that included the entire hill. With nobody around me I found it very tricky to find the right effort, so I just kept going at a level that felt tough but just about sustainable. Twice I heard something/somebody behind me and it sure felt like somebody was closing in, but I resisted temptation of turning back and just sped up instead. After finally reaching the top, well over 200 feet higher, the downhill run was very, very steep with plenty of loose gravel around, so you had to mind your step if you wanted to avoid a face plant, though that's all relative when running at sub-5 pace (not something I can say very often!).

At 7k I saw another runner ahead of me, a rather surprising development. I closed in very quickly and saw that it was Ed. There was something not quite right, Ed is one of the top road racers in the county and should have been about 4 minutes ahead of me at that time. "Ed, what's wrong?" "I don't know!" "You're not overtrained, are you?" "Don't think so". I had caught up very quickly but he must have matched my pace once I had drawn level because we were running side by side for the rest of the race. Right at the end I sped up for the finish. I am sure he could have beaten me easily if he had wanted to but he clearly was no longer in race mode and so I crossed the the line in fourth place. That was mightily pleasing, but then I got a shock when I looked at my watch and saw a time of 38:54 (rounded up already, to safe them from doing so. Hmpf!)  That was a whole minute slower than what I would have expected! So much for a new PB. I blame the hill, though I did run the other 10k on almost the same course faster, two years ago. Maybe the difference is that back then I was fighting tooth and nail with another guy for much of the race, quite in contrast to today's lonely run. An average HR of 179 indicates that I had run very hard indeed - it was higher than for my 5ks the previous weeks!

At the prize giving ceremony they gave out prizes to the top 3 men and women, and then gave the first F40 prize to the second F40 because the fastest F40 had already received a prize, but gave the first M40 prize to the runner who had already received a prize for 3rd overall. I was rather miffed to be honest, and at first did not say anything, but eventually decided that I am not Irish enough yet for grumbling in silence and made an inquiry. Turns out that they seemed to have missed me from the results sheet altogether (I was wearing a bright orange top. Nobody could have missed me on the road!), and she apologised and gave me a prize after all. Much happier, I made my way back home.

I expected my quads to be very sore on Sunday after that monster hill, but in actual fact it was my hamstrings that were a bit sore, the quads were fine. The run was more like hard work than fun, and after the first loop through Killorglin I was tempted to turn right for home rather than left for a second loop but went left after all. There were no sub-7 miles today, just the pace that came naturally, which was 7:30 at the beginning and close to 7:00 for much of the rest. The HR was very high, as it had already been on Friday, as well as for the race, but right now I'm not sure if it's my HR monitor acting up or something "real". I'll probably replace the battery in the HR strap and if tomorrow's reading is as high it's time to re-assess the situation.
8 Feb
8 miles, 59:57, 7:29 pace, HR 149
9 Feb
~10 miles, including:
   Kenmare 3-Bridges-Run 10k, 38:54, 4th place, 2nd M40
10 Feb
15 miles, 1:47:37, 7:10 pace. HR 152
Weekly Mileage: 59-

Thursday, February 07, 2013


Honestly, I did not even think about the lost training and if those few days would impact on my marathon. I knew we would be away for a few days right at the time when I should be doing the heaviest training load, and I contemplated what to do. In the end I overloaded my training for a few days before we left and I regarded those last 4 days as much needed recovery. I ran nothing on Sunday and 6 miles each on the next few days in the flat French countryside around Chessy and Magny-le-Hongre. Of course I also spent much of these days on my legs walking around the place.

When Princess Maia met Princess Ariel. Probably the highlight of the entire trip.

Disneyland had everyone giddy with excitement and we all enjoyed the spectacle. Of course everything there is fake - it is Disneyland after all. The food is eye-wateringly expensive and the merchandise so ridiculously overpriced I was lost for words at times, but the smiling eyes for four days were worth it.

Oh, and remeber my race on Saturday? My watch read 17:51 when I crossed the line, so I rounded the time up to 17:52. When I came back from France I found that they had rounded it even further to 17:53. It's still a PB, though.
4 Feb
6+ miles, 47:01, 7:42 pace, HR 139
5 Feb
6 miles, 45:54, 7:38 pace, HR 141
6 Feb
6 miles, 45:52, 7:38 pace, HR 139
7 Feb
8 miles, 59:48, 7:28 pace, HR 142

Saturday, February 02, 2013


I laughed at Niamh when she predicted that I would end up on the committee as I left for the running club's AGM on Thursday evening. I really should have know so much better. Of course she was right, and I ended up the new PRO. Ah well.

I took it very, very easy the two days following Wednesday's tough workout, even easier than usual. I did no more than 5 miles on Thursday and 8 on Friday, all at a very easy effort. What I liked best about it was the improving weather; it has mostly stopped raining but more importantly the wind that has battered us for over a week has finally died down, thank God for that. We must have had a dozen power cuts this week, which does not speak much for the strength of the power supply in rural Ireland, something that will not come as a shock to anyone.

Saturday was a completely different story altogether. If you have read a few things about Canova's training you will have heard about his special sessions where you cover the full marathon distance in two runs over one day, the second half of each run being at marathon pace (there are a couple of variations to that). I initially intended doing just that, maybe a mile or two shorter, but then another idea really started appealing to me.

The second race of the 5k series in Killarney was on today, and instead of missing that race I decided to do it and then run a long-ish marathon effort run immediately afterwards, as a replacement of the special session, the idea being that running marathon effort on already tired legs should be excellent preparation for the marathon. Quite possibly MC will be complete exasperated when he finds out, but I liked the idea.

The weather was much improved compared to last week, which promised better times. I was quite determined to push that little bit harder than last week when I felt I didn't quite leave it all out there. The start was a bit tricky as the front rows had been pretty much taken over by an entire contingent of teenagers which required a bit of weaving in and out over the first hill, but after that the field was settled. George passed me shortly before the 1k marker, which has by now become a consistent pattern. I played leapfrog with three other runners, we kept passing each other several times. By the halfway mark there was only me and one other youngster left, and on the way home I had to pass him three times. The first two times he sprinted all out as soon as I had gone past to regain his spot but by the third time he finally remained behind. I kept chasing another runner to the line, which at least ensured a strong finish, even if the pursuit itself was futile. Most pleasingly of all, I passed the finish line with the clock displaying 17:51, which I rounded up to 17:52 in my head after last week's happenings, but that's still a PB and very, very welcome.

That done and dusted it was time to relax and refuel for a bit and then I changed out of my racing shoes and set off again, criss-crossing the various trails in the demesne of the National Park. It was a lovely day and there were plenty of other people out and about as well, including a few runners. I started at an easy effort to give the legs a chance to recover but gradually increased the pace over the next couple of miles until I was doing 6:30 pace. The idea was to keep that going for as long as I could and stop when I was no longer able to hit the pace. It was a tough workout, but eventually I noticed that while the legs were clearly hurting I had no real problems staying on pace, and after 12 miles of marathon effort I decided to call it a day. At that point I had almost covered 20 miles for the day, including an all-out 5k race, and that really seemed more than enough. Whether or not doing such a workout is a good idea, it sure is great for the confidence (and highly satisfying!) which has to count for something,

You might be wondering why I'm doing these massive workouts all of a sudden, and doing them fairly close together. Well, as of now I'm on an extended and scheduled R&R for a few days, and I might not be able to do any running, so I thought I might as well do some running that will require a few days of recovery anyway. It might not be ideal for a training point-of-view, but I will be back on the Caragh Lake road before I had the chance of losing any fitness.

31 Jan
5 miles, 38:12, 7:38 pace, HR 136
1 Feb
8 miles, 59:53, 7:28 pace, HR 141
2 Feb
19+ miles, including:
   Killarney 5k, 17:52, 5:43 pace, HR 178
   and 12 miles @ 6:33 pace, HR 163