Sunday, April 28, 2013

Achilles Heel

I am quite fond of saying that I have not been injured in years, especially when someone tries to take me to task over my training regime, usually criticising the mileage I tend to run on roads. I just remembered the last time when I had what I would classify as an injury, it was Achilles tenosynovitis after the Dingle marathon in 2010. The reason why I remembered is the fact that my Achilles has been acting up again recently, though I can't remember if it was the same leg or not. It's just a niggle and as long as it doesn't get any worse I won't call it an injury, and it does remind me that I'm certainly not bullet proof and that my Achilles tendon tends to be my metaphorical Achilles heel [sorry...].

I have had quite a few niggles in that area before, and my go-to cure, which has worked every time except on that one occasion back in 2010, is to do eccentric calf raises (described here, and criticised here), which gives it a great success rate and I'm more than happy to do it once more.

I'm pretty sure it was the mountain running that brought this on, the load on the back of the legs on these steep trails is far greater than it would be on roads with their much gentler gradients, though those extra load are of course the very reason why I am seeking out those trails. Right now the discomfort is definitely manageable (let's say 3 out of 10, worst I've felt last week was 5 / 10), and so far it hasn't had any impact on my training - which is why I call it a niggle and not an injury.

Training wise I'm still building up the mileage, I followed up last week's 74 miles with just over 80 and as long as everything goes to plan I'll do a few more in the next week. The effort has been easy, I never once checked the Garmin when I was out running, the pace always came naturally, though I did raise an eyebrow on more than one occasion when the pace was a good bit faster than would I would have expected.

The one exception to the "natural" pace was on Friday when I did a few faster miles. I was still fairly relaxed doing 6:34 pace over 8 miles, though I did find it quite astonishing that I managed to run an entire marathon at pretty much the same pace last month.

Today's 20 miles went by smoothly, though I did start to tire after 15 miles, which turned the fact that I was going past our driveway after 16.5 miles into a bit of a character test, though I managed to come through that one.

Right now this is identical to a marathon base training phase. As I get closer to race day it will become more ultra specific, though I'm still unsure what the effort will look like. I can't see myself doing 8-hour training runs at 10-minute-pace, and I know that elite ultra runners like Keith Whyte tend to do a fairly fast pace during most of their training. Obviously, and there's no need for reminders, I am not an elite ultra runner and training like an elite runner generally isn't a good idea for the rest of us, and that's exactly where I'm struggling right now. At the moment the plan is to keep doing what I'm doing, run the Killarney marathon at a decent enough pace (not at race pace, of course) and the Cork marathon as a pacer, add maybe another marathon to the list (maybe, maybe not) and then re-assess where I'm standing, how I'm feeling and how quickly I am recovering from these efforts, which will help in deciding how I'm going to approach the 10in10. If that sounds like I'm winging it, maybe I am, but I like to think it's educated guessing, not just pure guessing.
25 Apr
10 miles, 1:15:09, 7:31 pace, HR 143
26 Apr
10 miles, 1:07:30, 6:45 pace, HR 155
   incl. 8 miles @ 6:34 pace
27 Apr
10 miles, 1:10:48, 7:05 pace, HR 147
28 Apr
20 miles, 2:27:17, 7:21 pace, HR 147

Weekly Mileage: 80+

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ultra Training

I do get asked fairly regularly how I manage to get up early every single morning to go running. For a start, running in the evening is simply not an option for me, with 4 small (or not so small any more) children at home it's all hands on deck, so early morning it has to be. I have been doing this for so long by now that it really has become second nature. I don't even need the alarm clock any more. Point in case, the last 3 days I got up at 3 different times yet I was awake 5 minutes before the alarm would have gone off on each occasions. I have no idea how that works, but it does. Once I get up I follow a set routine that I can do entirely on autopilot while still being half asleep; that way I can get out of the door in about 15 minutes. On weekends, when I have time to faff around, it can take me much longer. That routine has become so ingrained that usually I am already half a mile down the road before my first conscious thought of the day (and sometimes that even has to wait until after my return back home).

As for my training, I'm trying to find a way to build myself up for 100 miles on the road. Following last year's lessons from Bangor I definitely want to incorporate steep mountain trails like the one up to Windy Gap on a regular basis. There is no better way to bullet-proof your quads. At the same time I need to get my long runs done on tarmac to get the legs used to the pounding, therefore long runs on the Kerry Way are not the way to go. Right now I'm thinking I can do the mountain run as my mid-week medium-long effort and my long run every weekend on the roads around Caragh Lake. This is exactly what I have been doing the last few days.

The legs felt rather stiff during the early miles on Sunday, no doubt because of the faster pace of the preceding days, but they came round soon enough and I was cruising on autopilot for most of the rest. The pace came down gradually and naturally as well, just the way it should be.

I took it a bit easier on Monday, but on Tuesday I was up on the Kerry Way, crossing Windy Gap on my way to Glenbeigh before turning around and doing the same thing in reverse, which gave me about 2000 feet of accumulated elevation gain. The last time I had done that run, 9 days earlier, I could clearly feel it in the legs for the following two days. This time round recovery was already much improved; there was definitely some fatigue in the legs but not much - though of course it could still be a lot worse tomorrow.

What I'm most unsure about right now is the pace I should be running at. 7:30 pace is very easy at the moment and I have always subscribed to the theory your pace for the easy runs should be whatever pace comes naturally, and the Garmin's input should not be used, neither to slow down nor to speed up. That has served me very well up to now. At the same time I can't help but realise that a 100-mile race is run at a much slower pace (7:30 pace would get me close to world record!). Right now I'm thinking that I should keep doing what I'm doing for the time being and the 10in10 will slow me down to get me used to ultra-race pace. It is the equivalent of marathon training where you start at your generic speed and gradually run more and more faster miles until you are used to race pace, except that in this case I'd be slowing down to race pace instead. Since nobody seems to have figured out training for long ultras for good I suppose we're all guessing here.
21 Apr
18 miles, 2:12:08, 7:20 pace, HR 150
22 Apr
8 miles, 58:35, 7:19 pace, HR 143
23 Apr
12.25 miles, 1:48:41, 8:55 pace, HR 145
   mountain run, Windy Gap x 2
24 Apr
10 miles, 1:15:54, 7:35 pace, HR 145

Saturday, April 20, 2013


The general rule of thumb is that it takes a day for every mile raced to recover. I was thinking back over my last two goal races, the 24 hours championship in Bangor last July and the Tralee marathon back in March and the rule holds surprisingly true. After Bangor I was even joking once that according to that rule I'd be recovered by November, but whether by coincidence or not, that indeed turned out to be the time when the legs finally started feeling good again. I know I ran the Dingle Ultra and paced the Dublin marathon in that time period, which wouldn't be on most people's list of recommendations for recovery, but neither was run at race effort. And wouldn't you believe it, last week was the time when I felt a spring back in the legs, just 4 weeks after Tralee, once again more or less confirming that rule. It may hold true after all, even for completely different distances raced.

The weather this week has been completely manic; even by Kerry standards, April has been mad. On Wednesday it was raining so hard that the animals stated queuing in pairs looking for a guy with a big boat. The road was waterlogged on at least a dozen occasions during my 8 mile run, every incline had turned into a miniature waterfall. Epic stuff. Thursday, by contrast, was a stunningly beautiful day with bright blue sunshine, though the water levels of both the lake and the river were just about as high as I have ever seen them.

Friday saw another beautiful sunrise; in fact, my run that day went very, very well after a strange start. I had to try and fix the oven at 6 o'clock in the morning for Niamh (don't ask), leading to me leaving late and then running faster than planned. I kept telling myself to relax and slow down as coming home 5 minutes later would not be a problem but to no avail, my subconscious kept pushing the pace just that little bit higher than I would have had I felt more relaxed and at ease. Having said that, my main issue was that I should have brought my shades. The sunrise was spectacular but I was left staring straight at the sun for half an hour after that, which isn't ideal and surprisingly painful after a while.

Today, Saturday, I was determined to take it easier again and started out at a more relaxed effort but something must have gotten hold of me and by the time I had finished I had averaged almost the same pace as the day before. But I keep feeling good, the legs are fine and I guess I can just go along with it. A longer run tomorrow will show how much fatigue those last two days have left behind in the legs.

17 Apr
8 miles, 59:14, 7:24 pace, HR 147
18 Apr
10 miles, 1:13:46, 7:22 pace, HR 148
19 Apr
12 miles, 1:25:19, 7:06 pace, HR 151
20 Apr
8 miles, 57:07. 7:08 pace, HR 147

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I was too numb with shock last night to write an entry. I ran the Boston marathon 4 years ago and I know at least a dozen people who ran it yesterday, so there is a very personal connection to those events. Indeed, I did get a worried phone call from my Dad this morning making sure that I had not been there myself. In light of these happenings my own little problems are of course utterly irrelevant.

But since this a kind of diary, I decided to do a write-up anyway, even if it's clearly not at the forefront of my mind right now. Maia spent last week at home with a stomach bug, which did cause a few scenes and at least one rough night, though between her bouts of ---censored--- she was as chirpy and energetic as ever. The rest of the family seemed unaffected until yesterday when both me and Cian complained of stomach pains. Neither of us has had to spend any unpleasant times on the toilet yet, and judging by his appetite he seems to be alright. I felt decidedly off-key last evening (and that was before the news from Boston came through) and still not quite there this morning, but I don't think I will be too badly affected.

The wild weather on Sunday did not stop me from running on the Kerry Way up to Windy Gap, which sure lived up to its name that day. On the way there I was basically running on the spot at times while on the way back I was doing the easiest 5:50 miles in history, though that pace does come with its own problems on a stony, uneven trail. I did the climb twice, once from Caragh Lake and once from the Glenbeigh side and was surprised to be able to do it without any major problems; I do remember how tough that climb had felt last year when I started that kind of training. I did pay for it though, with sore legs on Monday and Tuesday, but then again that's more or less the point of those mountain runs, put pressure on the leg muscles until they adapt. I definitely attribute by performance in Bangor last year to those tough mountain runs. I also noticed the difference between doing that run in road shoes (as  I did 5 weeks ago) and mountain running shoes. Needless to say I'll be using my Inov-8s in future, even if the first and last 2.5 miles, from home to the trail head, are on the road..

It was still very windy on Monday and Tuesday, but not quite as bad and certainly not as noticeable on road level. The legs were a bit sore yesterday and more so today, though the main issue were definitely the images from Boston going round and round in my head in a non-stop loop, which had already stopped me from sleeping last night. Thank Goodness all my friends in Boston escaped the blasts as they had all finished at that time, though my thoughts are with the dead and injured, and especially their families.

Who on Earth could possibly think they can gain any advantage whatsoever from planting bombs at such an event, where the only victims would ever be members of the public, including completely innocent little children! This is so sickening, and I just cannot make head or tail of it.

13 Apr
8 miles, 59:06, 7:23 pace, HR 145
14 Apr
12.25 miles, 1:45:39, 8:37 pace, HR 157
   mountain run, Windy Gap x 2
15 Apr
10 miles, 1:12:33, 7:15 pace, HR 152
16 Apr
8 miles, 1:00:41, 7:35 pace, HR 147

Friday, April 12, 2013

And Miles To Go

Rebuilding your conditioning after the racing season is not everyone's favourite time of the season, but I'm not complaining. I believe that a structured training plan with periodisation is highly beneficial; I certainly attribute my continuous improvements over the last few years to that kind of training. The immediate recovery from Tralee is over, now it's time to put in mile after mile after mile, don't try to go too fast and let the aerobic system build yet another layer on top of all the other ones already there.

Tralee was almost 4 weeks ago, and I think I can finally feel the legs coming round. Running has felt a little bit like a struggle at times recently but this morning I finally ran 10 miles entirely on autopilot, and I do take that as a positive sign.

Unfortunately I have pretty much lost faith in my HRM; I don't use it to pace myself but I do use it to roughly monitor my progress over the weeks, and inconsistent readings are no good. For years it's been the case that Polar do good HRM but their GPS sucks and Garmin do good GPS but their HRM sucks, and it looks like nothing has changed.

March was the coldest one in recorded history, but I was perfectly happy with the conditions. I prefer cold dry days to "mild" wet ones any time. This morning was a case in point; the temperatures have risen sufficiently for me to run in a short-sleeved t-shirt for the first time in ages, and while that felt borderline okay at the start I did not exactly feel comfortable once the rain started. The weather forecast for the weekend and the following days isn't exactly promising. I don't think we'll be organising any outdoor BBQs any time soon.

From a training point of view, missing Connemara was almost certainly a good thing, now that my legs are well on their way to recovery I can start putting on some decent amount of mileage, which will then hopefully see me through those long races I have planned for the summer. I am really looking forward to those - the pleasant anticipation makes those long training miles in the cold rain bearable.
9 Apr
8 miles, 59:23, 7:25 pace
10 Apr
10 miles, 1:15:53, 7:35 pace, HR 147
11 Apr
8 miles, 59:15, 7:24 pace, HR 149
12 Apr
10 miles, 1:14:11, 7:25 pace, HR 148

Monday, April 08, 2013

Back On My Feet

It was a long and draining weekend and I'm totally exhausted and rather emotional, but I won't go into any details. It's something we all have to go through at some stage I suppose, and there will be even more where that came from in future years, though I do hope it won't happen again for a very long time.

Of course I brought my running shoes with me, something had to keep me sane, at least for my low level of sanity. Bad Aussee is a beautiful spot and certainly not the worst place to get a few runs in, even if it could not make up for missing Connemara.

The elevation of that place is slightly over 2000 feet and while that's not all that high I'm pretty sure I could feel the difference. Jogging along was fine but as soon as the effort level rose a bit I could feel something missing, as if the oxygen were unable to flow fast enough. With all those hills in Austria that was a bit of a challenge, but I guess it does provide an extra training boost - not that 3 days of running at those elevation levels will make any noticeable difference.

I ran three times while over there, on the first day I ran all the way up to Lake Toplitz, though I did not manage to find any fabled Nazi treasures. I could see how a secluded spot like that would appeal to anyone trying to hide something, though. My main problem wasn't the connection to the dark past however, but the fact that it was further than I thought, which came to bite me on the way back home. By mile 12 I'd had enough, by mile 14 I was suffering and an extremely steep climb at mile 16 had me reduced first to a walk and then I had to stop altogether to catch my breath, something I never had to do before. Boy was I glad when I finally made it home.

I took it considerably easier the second day with a loop around the Altaussee Lake, with a mile or two on a trail that was still covered in snow, which also caused me to face plant once, though the only thing hurt was my pride.

On the third day I ran up a local mountain pass, though it was no substitute for Connemara's Hell of the West where I would have preferred to be that day. The main problem was not running uphill but the pounding on the way down. It did not help that it was the third run in a row in the same worn-out pair of shoes; usually I always rotate my runners but I had only brought one pair. My shin hurt for the rest of the day and I subsequently took a rest day today, which was almost certainly a good idea anyway due to exhaustion, both from the emotional trauma as well as the long journey back home.

So now I'm back home and hopefully ready to get on with the rest of my life as well as my training. There is yet another marathon in three weeks, but that will be a training run, not a race effort. And I keep hoping that running will provide an outlet, much needed at the moment.

Apologies for a rather subdued entry. I'm sure usual service will be restored soon.
4 Apr
8 miles, 59:02, 7:22 pace, HR 150
5 Apr
17.5 miles, 2:16:14, 7:47 pace, HR 158
   Lake Toplitz, incl a few miles on trail
6 Apr
8.2 miles, 1:06:47, 8:08 pace, HR 148
   Lake Altaussee, incl a mile on slippery trail
7 Apr
12.6 miles, 1:38:46, 7:50 pace, HR 148
   up and down Pötschen Pass

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


I guess I should not have said that I would not miss the Connemara for anything. Turns out there are things that are more important.

My step dad died yesterday. The funeral will be on Saturday; I'm flying out tomorrow and will come back on Sunday. Obviously it means there will be no race.

While I am a little bit disappointed at missing my favourite race, it pales into insignificance.

Purely on the running front, there was one development. After doubting the data from my HR monitor for quite some time now, I finally changed the battery on the HR strap. Lo and behold, today's HR data is 10 beats lower than the previous days. So, forget the HR values from the last few weeks. It's a good thing I ran by feel rather than let the watch dictate my pace, and there definitely is a valuable lesson in that.

1 Apr
8 miles, 58:16, 7:17 pace
2 Apr
10 miles, 1:53:43, 7:22 pace
3 Apr
7 miles, 51:16, 7:19 pace, HR 145