Sunday, March 31, 2013

And So It Starts Again

I have been there quite a few times by now, when you're back in training after a marathon everything is a bit out and it takes a while to get in sync again.

My calf healed amazingly quickly. After 10 days of rest had achieved nothing I expected to be sore for a bit longer but after only 2 days of easy running the discomfort was 95% gone, there was just a trace left on Thursday and by now I cannot feel a thing. That's always a relief of course, but I certainly did expect it to go away, but maybe not quite so quickly.

What's mostly out of whack right now is not my body but my mind (no smart comments, please. That's Niamh's job). My pacing gauge seems to be completely misaligned at the moment, I had plenty of moments in the last few days where I could have sworn that I was running relaxed and easy 7:30 pace and then a look at the Garmin gave me everything down to 6:45 pace instead. I kept slowing down dozens of times, basically each time after glancing at the watch, but today I finally tired of this and let the body dictate its own natural pace. It's definitely faster than what I would advice a runner in the same situation to run, but then again I reckon that running entirely on feel cannot be all that bad.

The weather has been reasonably okay, it was freezing cold but dry until yesterday, and now it's rather windy but so far I haven't had to run in the rain yet. Obviously that's going to change sooner rather than later but right now I'm happy enough with the conditions.

Connemara is only a week away and I try not to think too much about it. It's not a race but a training run and I can slow down as much as I need without sacrificing a time goal. Of course I haven't done a lot of miles since Tralee, but I have been doing this ultra running before and I think I'll be ok.

The Easter egg hunt was a great success, we were down in Valentia and had 4 content children of our won plus two happy nieces. The Easter bunny has done his job for another year.

28 Mar
8 miles, 59:48, 7:29 pace, HR 149
29 Mar
8 miles, 58:39, 7:20 pace, HR 156
30 Mar
5 miles, 36:35, 7:17 pace, HR 149
31 Mar
10 miles, 1:11:18, 7:08 pace, HR 157

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On The Road Again

10 days after the Tralee marathon I was finally back on the road on Tuesday morning. I'm not sure what amount of time off would be the ideal one, but I was definitely itching to get out and get my daily fix again, and it was mostly with a feeling of relief that I took my first step.

It wasn't all plain sailing; within 2 miles my left calf was hurting again, the same one that had started cramping during the marathon and I'm sure there is a direct connection. It is interesting that 10 days of relative idleness did nothing to alleviate the problem, even though the main purpose of time off is supposed to be for healing. I did not rest entirely, I was still cycling to and from work during the week, and there was nothing coming from the calf. It took the pounding of running to restart that discomfort.

Going by similar past experiences this will work itself out within a few days of easy running. I don't quite know how this works, but easy running promotes healing of leg muscles much better than not running at all. It may have something to do with getting the blood flowing, though personally I think it's more a question of the body responding to a special need and adapting accordingly.

Anyway, apart from the perfectly bearable discomfort from my calf the runs yesterday and today went perfectly well. I ran at a relaxed and easy effort and was quite surprised to see the pace close to 7:30, but maybe that's still my easy pace, even after the marathon. The heart rate was a bit high, but that will work itself out over the next few days as well. I have been there often enough to know what to expect.

I did a dumb thing by wearing my shorts this morning. The bright sunshine had fooled me into thinking that it was much warmer than it really was and it wasn't until after coming home that I realised that the temperatures were a chilly -3C/26F, and my legs displayed some big bright red blotches in the shower. Thankfully a run of little more than half an hour does not cause any lasting damage. I still prefer icy cold but dry mornings to the freezing cold rain that we might otherwise, so there won't be any complaints coming from here.
26 Mar
5 miles, 37:28, 7:30 pace, HR 147
27 Mar
5 miles, 37:48, 7:34 pace, HR 146

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fun Run

There was a 5k/10k fun run organised locally just down the road from here; had I run it my warm-up would have been to run to the start from my doorstep, and I would probably have had to do a little bit more to be properly warmed up. However, since Niamh is away this weekend I was left in charge of the entire unruly brood (what was she thinking!) and could not have run anyway, and since I am still in recovery from Tralee I had two reasons not to race. But they also had another option, a 1k fun run for children and mine all took part, with enthusiasm levels ranging from "ok, I'll do it" to "fantastic, I'm so excited and can't wait". I did the loop with Maia, the others were well able to look after themselves, and at the end they were all very proud of themselves, and Daddy was, too.

I'm gonna be just like Dad!

I got some slight stick from some fellow club members who enjoyed the fact that their weekly mileage was higher than mine. Keep that going, guys, and you'll do well!

Luckily Niamh is back today and tomorrow I'll start running again, 10 days after Tralee. I started getting antsy by about Friday, but since I could see the end of the idle period in the foreseeable future, I could manage. I find it's much easier to set a fixed date for re-starting running after a break. If I decide to play it by ear entirely, I'm out of the door again after 5 days because I can't stand the idleness and need my fix.

And so training for the Connemara 100 (miles, that is) is about to commence. By coincidence, my training will start for real in - Connemara, where I'll do the 39 mile ultra as a fun run in 2 weeks' time. I could claim that I'm going to scout out the route (the 39 mile loop is part of the 100, except it goes the other way round) but in reality I know the route like the back of my hand already and simply don't want to miss the race as it's my favourite race of them all. I did the Dingle 50 as a fun run last year, enjoyed it and never regretted it, so I'll try and do the same once more. I have no idea what pace I will be doing; obviously all logic says that I should take it easy, but I have to admit I'm tempted to give it a good go, despite being well aware that it could be a really stupid thing to do, especially with my plans for the rest of the year. (Then again, I tend to do stupid things very well).

We shall see. Let the training commence.

Friday, March 22, 2013

From 4:36 to 2:55

A history lesson.

2004 was a very long time ago. I was "only" 34 but might have been heading towards an early midlife crisis. You'd think that the father of barely 3-year old twins and a newborn baby should not have been bored, but for some reason I was looking for a new challenge. I may have muttered the word "marathon" to Niamh before, and one day early summer 2004 she basically told me to get out and train for the DCM later that year, so I did.

Unlike today there was very little information available on the internet and I basically had to make up my own training schedule despite not having a clue. I thought I was doing a lot but actually nowadays I am amazed that I was able to go round at all, 4 months after getting off the couch for the first time, and after a maximum weekly mileage of 15. In light of that a time of 4:06 was actually quite good, certainly better than I thought at the time.

I wasn't happy though and determined to break 4 hours at my next attempt. I increased the training load to almost 20 miles per week, whoop-de-do. The result was sobering, after cramping at mile 12 and somehow, stubbornly toughing it out to the end despite passing the finishing area at mile 15 I had achieved a still-standing personal worst of 4:36. After the initial disgust at myself had worn off I decided that running marathons is a serious challenge and if you're doing it you might as well do it properly. I bought Advanced Marathoning (I was absolutely shocked by the fact that even the easiest plan went up to 55 miles per week and thought those guys were completely mental) and I also started writing a blog - this very one, hence the title which seemed more than apt at the time (it's all relative of course).

It took another year to start progressing properly, but then it went very quickly for a while. 3:55 in 2005, 3:28 in 2006, 3:12 in 2007 and 3:05 in 2008. Right then I became obsessed with the sub-3 marathon but that's also when progress started stalling for 2 years. It needed divine intervention, or at least a coach, to get me back on track, and I still cannot believe I was fortunate enough to acquire the use of a fantastic coach for half a year completely for free. Despite being generally utterly opposed to any form of authority (teachers, doctors, police, managers, ...) I surprised myself by doing exactly as I was told and never ever questioned his approach, trying to soak up as much knowledge and understanding as I could, being rewarded with a 2:59 in 2011.

However, preparation for that goal had taken its toll, mentally especially, and it took 2 years to get me excited about the marathon again. I used the time to do some serious Ultra racing, culminating in the 24 hours race in Bangor, but eventually regained the appetite for some faster running which led me to the start line in Tralee and the subsequent 2:55 and the M40 winner's trophy.

As for going forward, I'm back to my true love, the long ultra (it's ok, Niamh's not jealous), and my next goal race is the Connemara 100 in August, as some people have already guessed/heard. I'll do a few marathons as training - I'm already signed up for 14 before the end of July. As for the comments that I would be completely mad not to go for a 2:50 in Dublin, I thought that the question of me being mad was put to bed for good when I signed up for Bangor last year. That's not to say that I don't want to have a go at breaking 2:50, I just haven't decided quite when yet. Right now, I am focusing on Connemara and nothing else.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Post Marathon Ramblings

I haven't run since Tralee, so all I have on offer are various, unstructured thoughts on the marathon.
Looking at the Garmin data, my paces for the 5 mile splits in Tralee were:
    6:30, 6:41, 6:31, 6:44, 6:51, (6:45)
which in isolation doesn't tell you all that much because of the hilly nature of the course. It is clear that I did slow down after mile 15, though I already knew that before I even looked at the numbers.
Before the start there was plenty of banter on the front row, but I do remember one exchange rather clearly:
"John (meaning John Griffin), what time will the winner come in today?"
"Ooooh! I feel a surge of adrenaline coming on" (Joe O'Connor, to general laughter)
"I'll watch the winner come home the winner in 2:55" (John Griffin again, under his breath).
I did not pay much heed to the remark at the time, but I wonder if John already knew that he wasn't going to finish the race.
I saw the leaders on both out-and-back sections, and the leader, Julio Castro (who I had spoken with very briefly in Sixmilebridge last November when he won the marathon there) looked very comfortable. I was stunned when I heard he had not won and wondered if something strange had happened. That was, until I saw the name of the winner. Peter Mooney (who I had the privilege of talking to before the race) is a marathon runner of savage ability.
After the race I went shopping before going home. As I passed the sweets aisle I almost started gagging at the mere thought of eating chocolate, which is utterly alien to me. Usually I would expect to be craving sweets after a marathon, but all I could think of was salty food. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I wonder if there was some electrolyte imbalance, and if my cramping issues were related to all that.
My second half of the marathon was about 4 minutes slower than the first. Following the rule that every minute too fast in the first half costs you 2 in the second, had I run 90 seconds slower to the halfway point I would have gotten a 2:53:xx time.
At the start I had noticed a runner, Derek Griffin, because he looked fast and because his top was partly orange (and don't I know that an orange top stands out). He took off with John Griffin but I passed him at mile 16. I spoke to him for a while at the prize ceremony. It was his first marathon and he should have been able to run about 3:00. Instead he ran the first half at about 2:45 pace, and ended up with 3:16 (ouch!). He very closely matched the 2-minutes-for-every-one-too-fast mention in the above paragraph.
I keep looking at the M40 winner's trophies on the mantelpiece and I have to keep pinching myself. I still can't quite believe I walked home with those trophies.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Marathon Comeback

Even though I see myself as an ultra runner rather than a marathon runner these days, I had spent a lot of time preparing for this race. Due to my last goal race being as early as July last year I had plenty of time to get ready for this one, and I had been focussing on today since September. After investing so much time and effort into one single race that's not even your preferred distance, the result better be good.

One of the main advantages of this being a local race was that I could sleep the night before in my own bed, and I regard that as a massive bonus. The car's thermometer displayed -2C (28F) when I left Caragh Lake, and on the drive over the mountain I regretted not packing a long sleeved top. But while it was undoubtedly cold, the sun was shining directly at us and I felt almost pleasantly warm. There was no wind, which had been my major worry weather-wise because of the exposed nature of the course, and conditions were absolutely perfect. There would be no excuses!

I lined up right in front, not quite my usual place, and enjoyed the bit of banter and trash-talk before the start. As we set off a handful of runners went ahead of me but it soon settled down. I found myself running right beside the master himself, John Griffin, a 2:14 runner back in the nineties. As much as I would have liked to run in his shadow, after a quarter mile I decided the pace was a little bit too hot for me and backed off. I found myself in 14th place (I think) as we turned left into the Ardfert road.

The leader is already out of the frame and Joe O'Connor in second place is moving away from the pack. Eventual  winner Peter Mooney is in the pack, in a black/blue top. The orange spot in the background is me. Photo by Francis Foley

The first mile had passed in about 6:20, definitely too fast, and I tried to calm myself down. Unfortunately it meant that I was now running entirely on my own; I had hoped I would find a buddy or two to work together, at least for a while. Instead there was a gap ahead of me to a couple of runners, one in black and one in white, and I don't think anyone was right behind me, so I was already ploughing a lonely furrow.

The road rose gently but steadily and I did eventually draw closer to the pair in front when the runner in black started falling off the pace and fell behind quickly. We soon reached the highest point of the course, though that was in no way an indicator that it would be easier from here on. There was a good buzz in Ardfert, 6 miles into the race, and shortly before the 8-mile mark I caught up to the runner in white, when I finally recognised him as Vasiliy. He is a very solid runner and I wouldn't normally expect to be able to keep up with him, though that did not matter at that point. He didn't try to stay with me and his footsteps soon faded away and I found myself running entirely on my own again, well behind another pair of runners, one in green and one in blue.

I had driven the course last week and had a good feel for it. The real race did not start until mile 10, but from that point on it was going to be tough. In my mind I prepared myself for what I called the 4 stingers, steep hills at miles 10, 12, 18 and 22, but there were plenty of rollers in-between and not a lot of flat road. The steepest of them all hit us hard at mile 10 with a climb up to the golf course, and since it was part of an out-and-back part of the course it meant we had to run down the steep hill as well, something I hate. I was unsure how I should pace myself on either way, but in the end I just did the effort that came naturally. I enjoyed seeing the leaders passing the other way, and I definitely enjoyed the support and shouts of encouragement from the runners behind me when I was on my back. I had a solid cushion on the 3-hour pace group and I reached the end of the out-and-back section shortly after waving to Grellan and John who were on pacing duty at the 3:30 shift.

The next big climb up to Church Hill was tough again and definitely longer than the golf-course one. I could always see the blue and green pair about a minute ahead of me. We seemed to be doing pretty much the same pace, and while the gap seemed to shrink or expand by a small amount at times, it was always sizeable, certainly too wide to even think about catching up. There was no timing mat at the halfway point, but I must have averaged about 6:28 pace on the Garmin, which in real terms would probably mean 6:31 pace, or about 1:25:30. Since I was hoping for a 2:52 time that was not outrageously fast but in hindsight just a little bit too aggressive, and a little bit of patience would probably have paid off, but at that point I was not to know that. Instead I felt good and was looking forward to the second half of the course, where I knew that the real work would begin soon enough.

We ran into Fenit, where the course formed a second out-and-back part. We went all the way down the pier, close to St. Brendan, before turning around. Again I could see all the leaders, and from the sidelines I got a shout from Stazza that I was still in 12th place and that 2 of the runners ahead of me were dead on their feet. I could soon see one of them, a guy in an orange top, who I had noticed at the start because he had looked fast, but as I found out later when I talked to him it had been his first marathon and he was in for a painful lesson on how to pace yourself for 26 miles. I passed him halfway up the small hill going out of Fenit, around mile 16. Not even a mile later I saw that Stazza had been right, another runner, in a black top, had pulled out of the race entirely, but as I got closer I realised that it was no other than the master himself, John Griffin. I was totally shocked, I had expected him to run for the win, but apparently he was carrying an injury.

So, all of a sudden, I found myself in the top 10, not that I was too concerned about that right now. I enjoyed the rare luxury of almost 2 miles of reasonably flat road, and if I'd had some spare energy left I would have enjoyed the view in the unexpectedly good weather, but I was definitely feeling the strain, and there was still a lot of running left. My pace had started slowing, and I remember seeing an average pace of 6:32 on the Garmin. I tried to inject a little bit of extra effort but I knew that I didn't have a lot of reserves left. Earlier on during the race I had taken a gel and an isotonic drink, as well as water whenever I felt thirsty from one of the plentiful water stations, but from mile 12 onwards my stomach was no longer in the mood. Forcing down a gel at mile 15 might have been a bad idea, but it probably made little difference. From here on to the end I basically would have to rely on the fuel that was already on-board.

The potential disaster struck when I reached the third stinger at mile 18. I was not even three steps into it when my left calf went into spasms, and very painful ones at that. Luckily it didn't really turn into a full cramp but I was left with no other option than to take it a bit easier. I did not have to slow down by much, but I was walking a very fine line here and on a couple of occasions a painful spasm told me that I was very close to the edge.

I definitely hit a bit of a low point here. I soon reached the point where the half-marathon runners re-joined our route, and they had done 10 miles compared to our 20, but had started 20 minutes later. I guess there will be at least 100 half-marathon runners tonight telling stories about some marathon runner in an orange top making all kinds of strange noises, painfully moaning with each breath but refusing to slow down. I always used to moan and wheeze when I crossed a certain threshold. I have worked this year to better control my breathing, with good success as I noticed in my string of 5k races as well as in Ballycotton, but now I was beyond the point where I had any control and the noise returned, at least with every single uphill step.

Luckily there was not a lot of vehicle traffic on the road and I had plenty of room to cruise past the half-marathon runners, at least initially. When we reached Spa we turned off right into the much smaller road towards the Kerries, and it was at that point that I encountered a group of at least 6 half-marathon runners taking the entire width of the road.

"Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, ... oh for f*** sake!" Ok, I should not have sworn, all but one of the group had reacted and left a gap but I was annoyed that one lady, who happened to run right in my line, did not budge even by an inch. But there was enough of a gap for me to get through and I should just have thanked the ones who had moved aside, but I was in a bad place mentally at that point and annoyed at having to weave around her. She reacted rather indignantly, and in the unlikely case that she is reading this, I do apologise.
Car traffic - though it was nowhere near as bad as it may look in that picture

Let's move on. The last sting was waiting for us, and boy, did it hurt. It had not looked quite as bad from the car, but after over 21 miles of running hard it was a tough one. After every corner there seemed to be yet another piece of hill in front of us, and then another one, and then another one. It was endless. At least I did not waste time by looking at the Garmin and watching my pace slipping by, I just ran, trying to keep the left calf from cramping which was getting worse and worse. Eventually, finally, when my mood was hitting rock bottom I almost unexpectedly reached the top. And here, right beside another watering station, was Liz, handing me my sports drink that I had given her beforehand. Unfortunately my stomach was in absolutely no mood to break his strike. I forced down some drink, spat out plenty of it and eventually gave up and tossed the bottle away, still half full, probably.
Awful running form - I apologise!

At mile 18 I had started cramping on a big hill. At mile 22.5 it was so bad that my calf went into spasms every time I had to run over a speed bump! Luckily that was the end of the hills, but there was one more sting left, but one of a different kind. At this point we were back in Tralee, and at the end of the Spa road the half-marathon runners went straight towards the finish, maybe half a mile away. The marathon runners, on the other hand, turned right towards Lohercannon and Blennerville, almost 4 miles still left to run. The road went very quiet again, the support from the sidelines was sporadic, and after a mile or so we reached a crushed gravel surface.

That's supposed to be a great running surface but I hated it, I felt the pebbles against the soles of my feet and I felt like I did not get much traction, though I'm pretty sure that was all in my head. Fact is I was hurting badly and wanted this to be over. Stazza was there once more, assuring me that I was in the top 10 and there was nobody behind me. Unbeknownst to me a runner in front had pulled out, which is how I gained one more place. The green/blue pair in front of me was still there, still out of reach, but broke apart in the last mile. I did not have anything left to chase them down, though in the end I got within 13 seconds of one of them but that's still a sizeable gap.

We got back into Tralee, passed the Brandon hotel and then there was the final straight. I hit a clear stretch of road and cruised towards the finish, all of a sudden able to run sub-6 pace again without any danger of the calf cramping. I don't know how that works. I did the "aeroplane" thing as I crossed the line, don't ask me why, I don't know, but it felt the right thing to do at the time.

I had slowed down just that little bit too much over the second half and missed my sub-2:55 target by a few seconds, but I was delighted nevertheless. I could not fault my effort, and it is very tricky to get the pacing spot on in a marathon. I had not been overtaken by anyone in the race once the field had settled down after the first quarter mile or so, and had moved up 5 positions throughout the race; my pacing might not have been optimal but still pretty good I like to think.

When I had picked up my race number on Thursday I had sized up the M40 winner's trophy, but had not thought that I had a realistic chance of taking it home, though I had hoped for a top-3 place in my age group. After the marathon I went home (after some shopping, that is) and enjoyed some time with the family before returning to Tralee more in hope than expectation for the prize ceremony. Due to some miscommunication I arrived late, and within 30 seconds of my arrival I heard my name being announced and I walked up to receive the winner's trophy for the M40 Kerry champion (the Tralee half and full marathons doubled up as the Kerry county championship). Later I picked up another prize as well, because I had been the overall winner of the M40 category as well, which came as a total surprise, and my assessment of the race went from being delighted to being over the moon.

I call this a very successful return to the marathon distance. After my last real marathon it had taken me two years to race one again. I don't think I'll leave it as long this time.

16 Mar
2013Tralee marathon
   2:55:07, 9th place overall, 1st M40

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Pain Of The Feet

2:55:05, 9th place, I think.

Beautiful day for a marathon, could not have been any better, but boy it's a tough course if you're racing it. Went out a little bit too hard and paid for it by having to deal with cramping from mile 18 onwards, and subsequently missed out on a sub-2:55 by a few seconds.

Having said that, I am delighted, both with the race in general and my own performance.

It still felt easy at mile 1 - photo by Francis Foley

Update: I had not realised it, but I have won the M40 category, and by default that means I am also the Kerry County marathon champion for men over 40. My assessment of the race has gone from delighted to absolutely brilliant! I don't even mind that they bumped my time up to 2:55:07 in the official results. :-)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Almost There

I always write a small summary of my training before a goal race, so I might as well to the same again.

Training (from 24 Sep, 3 weeks after Dingle)
24 weeks (25 if counting this one)
Miles per week:
72, 75, 83, 84, 64, 76, 81, 84, 58, 83, 76, 85, 77, 68, 71, 79, 75, 67, 62, 59, 59, 50, 55, 49
Fairly high mileage in base training and a drop over the last few weeks
Average miles per week:
# runs of 20 miles or more:
6 (including DCM and SMB)
# of PBs:
2 (5k and 10 miles), though I ran 4 5ks with a faster time than my previous PB, and in Ballycotton I passed the 4 miles, 5 miles and 10k mark faster than in my "official" PBs
Going by the races I ran during training, I had a spectacular training cycle with me clearly running at a higher level than ever before. The hope is now that I did not stoke the fire too much and am now left with the dying embers, but I feel good and I am confident. It's always a dangerous thing to say, especially in the marathon, but a new PB should be a given. In fact I have set my sights a bit higher than that. The golden goal is 2:53, anything below that would be a bonus. Breaking 2:55 is the fallback option, and considering that it's a hilly course it may well be an ambitious target on its own. A new PB the bare minimum target, anything less and I will be disappointed.

When the winter returned on Sunday I did break my habit of not checking the weather report so far out from race day, but the indications are good. It looks like we will have a cold but calm day, which would be perfect apart from the odd rain shower (well, we're still in Kerry). It's not as if you could do anything about the weather anyway, but I'd take the predicted conditions any time.

The course has plenty of hills between miles 10 and 22, which can easily cost a minute or two. I guess I'll find out.

While I can only influence my own performance, I am hoping for some podium place, be it in my age group or the Kerry championships or my age group in the championship, but that's not something I am directly aiming for; if I run well enough, the finishing position will look after itself.

If there is a runner, or better still a group of runners, settling into a pace very similar to mine I will of course try to work with them. We shall see.

Training this week was of course minimal, I only did 3 miles on Monday and even less on Tuesday, where I basically did a mock warm-up for a 5k race but instead of racing I was done.

Today (Wednesday) I did the coach's taper workout. I started at 6:50 pace, worked my way down to 6:30 pace at one mile and then did 6:30 pace for 3 more miles, though I was a tad faster than planned in 6:26; on the other hand that was the Garmin's pace, which would probably match 6:30 in reality. That was followed by 15 minutes of easy running and then I did 3 half-mile repeats in 2:58, 2:52, 2:51 with about 2 minutes rest. It is a fairly easy workout, but 3 days before the marathon you don't want to do any more. In fact, I wonder if I should have done it yesterday instead, but what's done is done. I probably should not run at all tomorrow and Friday; if I get too itchy I might shake out the legs but no more than 2 miles and all at a very easy effort.

There is just one little detail that could derail the whole train. Lola has been sick with a bad cold since Monday. She is coughing a lot, and not exactly careful to avoid coughing into someone else's direction. Nobody else in the family has been affected yet. I do live in hope/fear/paranoia.
11 Mar
3 miles, 22:17, 7:26 pace
12 Mar
2 miles, 14:37, 7:18 pace
13 Mar
9 miles, 1:00:27, 6:43 pace
   4 miles @ 6:33, 3 x 800 in 2:58, 2:52, 2:51

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Playing In The Mud

When I crossed the line in Ballycotton, my watch said 60:14. The provisional results said 60:15, which is fine because the rules say you have to round up to full seconds. Now they added another second to 60:16. Hmpf. Not that it makes a difference, it's just another reminder of my near miss there.

Recovery has taken a bit longer that I would have hoped for, or maybe I should say recovery is taking a bit longer. I took it easy all week but when the legs were still sore during Thursday's run I decided to step back again and cut the distance down to 5 miles each on both Friday and Saturday. Now I finally feel fully recovered again. If that's really the case will be revealed 6 days from now, I suppose.

I spiced up those easy 5 milers with a faster final mile. On Friday I had averaged about 7:50 during the first 4, definitely recovery pace, and accelerated up to 6:30 pace on the final mile, which is marathon pace. I did the same again on Saturday but I must have felt better because I inadvertently ran 7:17 miles for the first 4 and a 6:06 mile at the end; maybe I should have checked my Garmin but I only realised it after I had gotten home and looked at the numbers. Then again, if you can almost run a 6-minute mile without noticing, I don't suppose you should complain.

For a bit of fun on the last weekend before the marathon I did an excursion to the Kerry Way, climbing all the way to Windy Gap, about 1000 feet higher up. My original idea was to drop down to Glenbeigh and turn around there, but I had taken me 43 minutes to reach the top and I really did not want to exceed 90 minutes. To add to that, the trail was very slippery and muddy and the steep road was a bit dangerous. Of course I should have worn my off-road runners in conditions like that. The way down from the Gap was rather hairy, I slipped on three different occasions and the last time was quite severe, I was just about to crack my head open on some stones when I somehow miraculously managed to re-gain my balance and avoided disaster. The last week before a marathon is all about not doing anything stupid. I failed in that respect but it looks like I got away with it.

The run was great fun but I was almost screaming in pain in the bath afterwards when the warm water got the blood flowing again into the numb, frozen toes. They were striped bright red and white. Surely you don't get frost bite that quickly, do you? Anyway, they did manage to thaw eventually, but boy, that hurt!

Update: In the afternoon I drove the Tralee marathon course. It's not the same as running it but I think I got a pretty good feel for it. There are a few hills in there, alright!
7 Mar
8 miles, 1:00:01, 7:30 pace, HR 142
8 Mar
5 miles, 37:02, 7:24 pace, HR 139
9 Mar
5 miles, 35:17, 7:03 pace, HR 147
10 Mar
10.75 miles, 1:22:41, 7:40 pace, HR 151
   Windy Gap, playing in the mud
Weekly Mileage: ~48

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Post Race, Pre Race

Sadly, the dry weather was never going to last forever. At least we got a couple of nice weeks out of it. Now the rainy season has returned. If it follows last year's pattern it will rain for a solid 11 months. We live in hope.

It's only 10 days to Tralee, so I am far busier looking forward to this than looking back to the near miss in Ballycotton. I try not to think about the fact that my time would have been good enough for a t-shirt last year, but then again in 1993 the 100th man ran 56:17, which puts today's general standard into stark perspective. It was still my best race ever, and by quite some margin too, and the WMA calculator gave me a rating of 79.03%, far higher than the 75% I can usually expect when I run well.

I had a chat with Keith during our cool down after the race, he thinks the Bangor race provided a shock to my system and it adapted accordingly; once I had recovered from that (which took most of the rest of the year) I was running at a higher level than ever before. I concur with this view. It certainly contrasts to some of the warnings I received a year ago that this kind of race would permanently slow me down.

The runs since Ballycotton have all been relatively short and easy. The legs still had some residue of soreness this morning and my heart rate is still a bit elevated, so taking it easy is an absolute no-brainer. The training for Tralee is done and dusted anyway. I might do a leisurely run on the Kerry Way at the weekend, depending on the weather, and one mellow workout next Wednesday (the coach's "taper workout") but certainly nothing strenuous.

10 days to go. It's getting close!
4 Mar
6 miles, 46:06, 7:41 pace, HR 141
5 Mar
6+ miles, 47:02, 7:46 pace, HR 136
6 Mar
8 miles, 1:00:39, 7:34 pace, HR 140

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Almost Always Never Nearly

Tralee might be my target race this spring, but in my heart Ballycotton was a close second. I did (still do) wonder if it really is a good idea to race 10 miles only 13 days before a marathon, but I just was not going to miss this race. Any other one, maybe, but not this one.

So I found myself once more shivering in the cold before the start, which is pretty much part of the Ballycotton experience. I lined up reasonably close to the start, which is always a bit tricky, it can be hard to gauge where you should stand, certainly not amongst the elites, though of course there is always the usual contingent of idiots who don't get that.

The start came as a bit of a surprise, according to my watch it started a minute early, unheard of in Ireland! There was a small amount of weaving around some of the slower starters who had placed themselves inappropriately (my fear is that one day one of them will be causing a serious accident with 3000 runner following closely behind on such a narrow road), but all in all I got off very well. I found myself right next to Paul Moran, who I had paced Limerick with last year, but I knew I wouldn't be able to quite stay with him so wasn't too bothered when he slowly moved away.
I'm in that bright orange t-shirt a minute into the video

Before the race I wondered if I would be able to pace myself off Angela McCann, a previous winner of the race and usually just a little bit faster than me. After half a mile I managed to spot her, just about 10 steps ahead of me. Over the next mile I managed to close the gap and a group of about half a dozen runners formed and that pretty much defined the entire rest of the race for me.

Last year I had started a little bit too hard, started suffering after only 3 miles and had to drag my sorry backside home for a very, very long time, though I still set a new PB. This year it felt distinctively easier though the pace was very similar, maybe even a touch faster. Mile 3 came and went and I felt comfortable enough; well, it's what runners call comfortably hard, at the high end of what felt just about sustainable.

The cold temperature made for excellent running conditions but there was a little breeze that was a little bit stronger than I would have liked. It helped us during the first half of the race, and we passed the 5 mile mark still in one group well under the 30 minute mark; I think they called the time as 29:26, though I could have misheard that. At that point I was still feeling okay and was wondering if I was inside the top 100 places. The top 100 finishers in Ballycotton receive a highly coveted t-shirt and it is a long-standing dream of mine to bag my own one day. Before the race I had stated that I had an outside chance of one, but probably not. But maybe, just maybe, this year would be the one?

Photo by Gearoid O Laoi
I started suffering at the 6 mile mark. I took a gel, which is what I usually do at that point. I know you won't run out of glycogen in a 10-mile race, but even if it gives me just a psychological boost, purely by placebo, that would do me just fine. I learned from last year that you do overtake the odd runner who falls off the pace, but once you start falling off the pace yourself you get swallowed by packs on 5s or more at a time and you can very quickly lose a lot of places. So I hung on grimly to the end of our group, having to work harder and harder, but being determined to keep going for as long as humanly possible. The wind was now right into our faces and I reckoned the group would provide at least a minimum amount of shelter that would be gone immediately once I dropped off, so that was to be avoided at all costs.

I was really counting down the miles now. Mile 7 came and went and I still hung on. We passed mile 8, where Rene had overtaken me last year looking relaxed and fresh, but this time I was still going. Then the hill started with about 1.5 miles to go and I just could not quite keep up with Angela. What was left of our group pretty much splintered at that point anyway, Angela doing very well but the rest of us clearly struggling and suffering.

I did not lose much ground and I did not get caught from behind and I fought hard to keep my place. When I passed the 9 mile mark they called the time as 54:06, at which point I realised that I would most likely not break the hour mark but I would be very close. I did not have the energy to think, but a new PB was already in the bag, I would have gotten that even if I had jogged to the finish, but of course I pressed on even though I was running entirely on fumes and had been doing so for a considerable amount of time.

I struggled and suffered through the final mile, never giving up but not quite managing to catch the guys in front of me. When I started my finishing sprint with what little I had left they did so themselves, which put them just out of reach. I don't remember seeing the time on the gantry but my own Garmin had me at 60:14, which was basically a minute faster than last year (they correctly rounded that up to 60:15 in the results). I could see the runners in front of me collecting their t-shirts, Angela got hers, but 3 runners in front of me that stopped. I had missed out on a top-100 shirt by 3 places and 5 seconds! I want to keep this post reasonably clean so I won't repeat the next 2 dozen words I voiced; let's say I gave a good Father Jack impression. There were dozens of guys hanging around all wearing their new t-shirts. I looked at the ground in front of me and walked off.

Luckily I did calm down very quickly. Pat Quill had finished shortly behind me (unlike in the Dingle ultra) and we chatted for a bit, I met a few other guys on the way back down, including one runner who greeted me with the words "aren't you that crazy fella from Kerry", which I suppose I was, and I met Keith in the car park and we ran 2 miles together for our cool down. You can't be upset in Ballycotton on race day. There is such a fantastic buzz in town, you can almost feel the energy and it's a great place to be. The positives easily outweigh the negatives and I was left with one thought:

Two weeks ago I ran a disappointing time in a 5k and used that to pump me up for the next race and got a new PB for it. Today I just missed out on a dream in Ballycotton and will use that to push me to a better time in Tralee instead, and since I have improved both my time and my place in every single year since I started running Ballycotton 5 or 6 years ago I will collect my t-shirt next year instead.

Provisional results are here.
1 Mar
8 miles, 58:42, 7:20 pace
2 Mar
5 miles, 35:30, 7:05 pace, HR 144
3 Mar
13 miles, including:
   Ballycotton 10, 60:15, 103rd place