Wednesday, May 29, 2013


I admit it, I'm not very good at being sick. This is slightly weird because as a child I used to be sick all the time, every year in school I would easily amass the highest number of absences, well ahead of even the most dedicated skiver. Things improved somewhat as I got older, but the real change only happened when I started running, not quite 10 years ago, and since then I must have gotten used to feeling super fit as well as super healthy.

I have been running a little bit the last few days. Normally I wouldn't have, feeling as I did, but as mentioned previously I've had plenty of time to read Phil Maffetone's book while being bed-bound, and his recommendation is that gentle aerobic exercise can greatly enhance recovery, and we're not just talking about recovery from injury. Actually, it does make sense to me, I have long ago discovered that any niggles I have go away much quicker when I keep running rather that rest completely, but obviously you have to make sure you do not aggravate things. Things may be well the same when recovering from sickness, but again, you need to make sure you do not aggravate things.

The legs had turned into two concrete pillars after 5 days of not running at all, so when I went out for a gentle 5 mile run on Monday morning I quickly changed my mind and cut it down to 4, even though after a mile or two there was some serious improvement already. Things felt easier on Tuesday but I was a bit alarmed by the HR readings for such a slow pace. There were mixed results this morning, the legs felt awful again for the first mile but the HR improved, albeit only slightly.

I always keep track of my pace, HR and their ratio in a very simple spreadsheet. When I'm in top shape I tend to see number above 60 (55 for races), and it's been a long time since I've had to look at figures in the low 50s for a training run. That spreadsheet is a very good thing to have in situations like this, I can easily convince myself that I'm feeling better, but cold hard figures from a HR monitor transferred into a spreadsheet can't be fooled.

At the moment, my participation as pacer in Monday's Cork City marathon is definitely under threat. There is no way running a 3:15 marathon can be described as gentle aerobic exercise, so I won't try and pull that particular excuse. I still have 5 days and right now I won't rule anything out. It is still possible that I will be standing on the start line wondering if I'm about to do the most stupid thing I have ever done in my life, but then again that would be a very familiar feeling, as experienced here and here and here and on a couple more occasions as well ( I tend to do idiotic things very well, apparently).
27 May
4 miles, 32:36, 8:09 pace, HR 141
28 May
5+ miles, 40:27, 8:01 pace, HR 145
29 May
5 miles, 40:32, 8:05 pace, HR 141

Sunday, May 26, 2013


I really am not used to being sick. Usually my immune system takes care of anything natures throws at it; no matter what kind of bugs the kids bring home from school, it's not unusual for me to be the only one of the family to remain unaffected. As a result, I am a lousy patient when I finally do get struck down, like I did this week.

It started on Tuesday afternoon, and it came very quickly. In the morning I had run 8 miles, marvelling how well I was feeling and how little the marathon had taken out of me and a few hours later all of a sudden my energy levels plummeted towards zero and I got a splitting headache.

Not only did I not run on Wednesday, I took the day off work as well. I then tried to force the issue by telling myself that I was getting better and went to work on Thursday but very, very quickly realised how stupid that had been and went home again even before lunchtime. Friday was spent mostly in bed again, feeling utterly miserable and contemplating far too many things.

It was so bad that I seriously considered going to the doctor, and if you know me then you'd know that I must have felt really sick, because I do have some serious reservations regarding the "health" service, both in general and the substandard Irish one in particular.

However, as quickly as I had succumbed, just as quickly I seemed to recover. All of a sudden I started to feel much better on Friday evening and I knew I was on the mend. That's not to say that I have recovered. I am still somewhere between sick and healthy but feeling better every day. I will resume running tomorrow, though carefully and slowly, and with the proviso that I can turn back at any time. I won't have lost any real fitness after 5 days, in fact it might have helped with recovery from Killarney, at least from a muscular point of view.

I had plenty of time to ponder if that cold was a sign that I was overtraining, and while I will keep an open mind I honestly do not think so because none of the other symptoms apply to me, so I really put that one down to hanging around at the finish line in Killarney for too long and getting too cold.

Always try and turn and problem into an opportunity. The long hours at home enabled me to finally read the Maffetone book that had been lying on my shelf for far too long, and I think it is excellent. I was always sceptical about his approach and felt that his way of training was much more suited to very-long-endurance events like Ironmans or very long ultras, but last year I twigged that I was moving into that area myself and therefore his ideas might apply to me as well. Actually, I found the chapters about lifestyle and especially nutrition far more enlightening than his theories about training itself (plenty of which I had been implementing all along anyway), and I am trying to make some changes, which actually does have me quite excited. I have made some great progress in the last few years, much more than I would ever have dared to dream. Just get a tiny little bit faster and I'll be satisfied. *

* yeah, right ...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Price To Pay

I was never under any illusions that I could just get away with running an unplanned 2:56 marathon without repercussions, but I did not expect payback to happen quite so quickly.

I didn't do myself any favours by hanging around at the finish for well over half an hour, dressed in my singlet and getting cold, before finally heading for the showers which were another 15 minutes walk away. I felt good on Sunday but had a headache on Monday evening, which I did not pay too much attention to, but during the course of Tuesday I got progressively worse. Initially I wasn't sure if it was a head cold or my usual, twice-annual hayfever (or maybe both), but eventually I was left in no doubt that, yes, I did indeed have that most lethal of illnesses, the dreaded man-flu.

It has to be bad when I don't even consider going for a run, and right now I'm much too busy feeling sorry for myself to worry how long recover will take. Since I am supposed to run another marathon 12 days from now, it better be quick. At least next time I'll be carrying a balloon with 3:15 written onto it around the course so there won't be any danger of repeating Saturday's shenanigans and racing away.

That brings me to my other point. I clearly need to rethink my marathon-as-training-runs strategy. It worked beautifully last year in Donadea when I ran the 50k at a decent clip but definitely at training effort. Thing is, Donadea was the national 50k championship so I let the elites up front do their own thing and the idea of racing never entered my mind. It was different in Killarney when I saw the runners ahead of me and knew I could keep up with them if I wanted to. Apart from races with elites up front, I guess the only way I can ensure that I will stick to the plan is by running as one of the official pacers. I've done that often enough by now, after all.

Up until I got sick, recovery had gone well, the legs had felt fine of Sunday and Monday, at least after the first couple of gingerly steps were out of the way, and the HR was low enough to suggest that my body was still in good shape. All I need right now is to shake of that cold, take it easy, and I'll be good again to go.
19 May
5 miles, 40:06, 8:01 pace, HR 137
20 May
5 miles, 39:59, 8:00 pace, HR 133
21 May
8 miles, 1:02:20, 7:47 pace, HR 137
22 May

Saturday, May 18, 2013

How Not To Run A Training Run

Running long ultras requires marathon-length training runs, and since running for so long on your own just sucks, running official marathons at training effort is just perfect. I had it all worked out. I had trained right through, in fact this week had been reasonably tough. I did not bring any gels and did not drink any sports drink. I did not wear my racing shoes and, most importantly, I had a plan: run the first half with the 3:15 pacer (Grellan, in that case), which would ensure that I would never be tempted to race this, and which would make it easier to hold back, because even if I got impatient I would always be able to tell myself that I would allow the brakes to come off later on.

It was an idiot-proof plan. However, the universe responded by making a better idiot: I lasted exactly 0.8 miles. Then I looked ahead, saw that Vasiliy would invariably win but I did fancy my chances against everyone else. The temptation was too much, even as I was chiding myself for being so stupid I dropped down to 6:30 pace and chased after the lads. Grellan even shouted after me "Thomas come back", but I defied that order.
Yes, this was early in the race!

I moved up a few places very quickly but then found myself a good bit behind a bigger group. At one point, maybe 3 or 4 miles in, I counted that I was 60 steps behind, about 20 seconds. I repeated the same exercise shortly after 6 miles and came up with more or less the same number. I decided this was ridiculous - if I ran the same pace as the lads then I should run with the lads, as running in a group is easier. I surged ahead, maybe a bit too hard because at one point I looked at the Garmin and saw sub-6 pace, so I dialled back the effort marginally, but within a mile I had caught up. There were 6 of us - Vasiliy was way ahead, but we made up places 2-7. You could have called this the chasing pack, except we were not chasing after him.

Photo by Joe Murphy
Apart from the first mile, the course was entirely within the demesne of Killarney National Park, and on a few occasions I did allow myself the luxury to look around and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. The demesne isn't big enough for 26 miles, so we had to run 3 laps of slightly more than 8 miles. I hate running laps in training, it just does my head in and I can hardly count the laps if it's more than two, but in a race I am in a completely different mindset and I don't mind at all.

The pace of the group wasn't entirely even, there was always someone pushing the pace. A gap appeared at the start of lap 2 as we were running up Knockreer hill and I resolved not to kill myself running up a hill, but I comfortably caught up again on the downhill. During that second lap, one by one some guys were spat out the back of our group until there were only three left, Stephen, Jason and me. Jason was breathing hard and I sure expected him to drop back sooner rather than later. Stephen, on the other hand, was obviously feeling good and kept pushing the pace; I remarked to Jason that he was making it look easy.

The mining trail behind Ross Castle was very undulating, a constant up and down, and the climbs were getting bigger with each lap, but I was still holding on and feeling reasonably good. The other parts were okay. It's not the easiest of marathon courses but definitely not particularly hard, easier than Tralee. As we were nearing the end of the second lap, about 18 miles into it, I finally started feeling the effort. Keeping up with Stephen was tough enough but when Jason started putting the hammer down at the start of the third lap I was no longer able to match yet another surge and let them go, especially as we were going up Knockreer hill for the final time. I had lost contact by the time I reached the top but "Thank God I don't have to climb that f***** again".
Photo by Joe Murphy

At that point I was in fourth place and facing the prospect that I had messed up my training by running at race effort, but would not have anything to show for it. However, to my surprise Stephen did not pull any further ahead; in fact I caught up with him again. He had hit the wall, and rather hard. He asked if I would mind if he hung on for a while, which of course I did not, but as soon as we reached the next climb his footsteps faded very quickly.

I was counting down the miles myself. I cursed myself for not bringing any gels because I was quickly running out of energy and was worried about hitting the wall myself. The mining trail had turned into a roller coaster since our last visit and it was not going to get any easier. At least I did not have to deal with cramping today, unlike in Tralee, but I was hurting just as badly over the last few miles.

My pace suffered. Twice I looked at the Garmin and it was showing 7:20 pace, but I did manage to pick it up again, though that was at the risk of blowing up soon. I got completely paranoid about being caught from behind and started looking behind me - something I never ever do, and definitely a bad thing. However, there was nobody there. I could have done with a bit more rationality, but I wasn't functioning properly any more.

Thankfully the miles melted away, and with about a mile to go I very unexpectedly caught a glimpse of Jason ahead. I actually wasn't too pleased - it meant I would have to push through the pain barrier in an effort to catch second place instead of cruising to the finish. I did put the hammer down and the distance between us did indeed shrink. It did hurt, I assure you, I could not have given any more. But, as Jason told me afterwards, my footsteps gave me away, he heard me coming and responded in kind, and from that moment on the outcome was secured. We raced to the finish at a good clip, him taking second place and me five seconds behind, but absolutely delighted all the same - I have never finished on the podium of a marathon before, what more could you possibly ask for?

Photo by Marek Hajdasz

The weather was very good, the course was absolutely lovely and the setting in the National Park was spectacular. The organisation was very good, especially for a first effort, apart from the fact that the water stations were overwhelmed at times when runners came from two directions. However, my Garmin only showed 26.12 miles at the end. Now, I have run in the demesne plenty of times and the Garmin has been all over the place at times, so I cannot make any definite statements. I spoke to the lady who had measured it with a Jones counter and she was confident the distance was correct. In the end, it doesn't matter much - it was not a PB and I will definitely count it in my list of marathons.

Young Stephen and four old codgers - photo by Jackie Murphy
However, I know there will be a price to pay - my training schedule is completely messed up, it will take ages to recover from this effort and if I have left my Connemara performance here in Killarney I only have myself to blame. Mais je ne regrette rien.

Late Update: Looks like the RD got quite a few questions regarding the distance. He assures us that both the half and the full have been measured twice via Jones counter to absolutely ensure accuracy. That's good enough for me.
18 May
Killarney Marathon Of The Lakes
   2:56:16, 6:43 pace, HR 165. Third place!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Well I Never

My tired legs on Saturday have really messed with my head. Even though I have felt good every day since, it left my wondering if I was overdoing my training and what would be the best way forward. In light of that, it was almost certainly a good thing that I had an evaluation workout on the cards anyway.

After the great numbers last time round I was unsure what to expect. I certainly feared that this week's figures would be worse, especially as I really wasn't feeling all that great while doing the evaluation itself. I did get quite some surprise when I checked the new numbers, though. As always, the numbers in brackets are adjusted pace, 7 seconds for every 2 heart beats off the 161 target:
        Mile 1    6:21   HR 160    (6:18)
        Mile 2    6:21   HR 161    (6:21)
        Mile 3    6:24   HR 162    (6:27)
        Mile 4    6:21   HR 161    (6:21)
        Recovery to HR 130: 33 seconds

That's very similar to last time round, with the same slight slowdown on mile 3 but subsequent pickup at mile 4, and the one second difference in recovery time is within the margin of measurement error, so basically that's the same pattern again, expect that each mile was about 5 seconds faster.


Of course I have already gotten a load of "what a shame that you're wasting this form on a 100 miler", but I got the same last year and Bangor sure did not feel like a waste to me.

I followed that up with a mountain run on Wednesday morning but scaled it back again to a mere two crossings of Windy Gap because 1) the 3 crossings might have caused the fatigued legs last week due to overwork and 2) I do have a marathon on Saturday; even if it's only a training run and I'll train right through it, I sure don't want to feel like last week for 26 miles.

By the way, as mentioned a few weeks ago, I have been considering adding another marathon to my schedule this summer ever since having to cancel Connemara. I have now signed up to another one, though it's a 50k rather than a marathon, in Portumna. I have been wanting to run that race for years after hearing so many good things about it and I have a long standing promise to the RD that I was going to do it and this year I'll finally come good on that.
13 May
10 miles, 1:15:38, 7:34 pace, HR 138
14 May
11.75 miles, 1:22:10, 7:00 pace, HR 147
   4 mile eval: 6:21, 6:21, 6:24, 6:21, 33 sec recovery
15 May
12.25 miles, 1:47:27, 8:46 pace, HR 142
   mountain run, Windy Gap x 2

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Not Quite Smooth Sailing

I thought I had settled into a nice, sustainable training rhythm, doing a longer run at the weekend and a mountain run in midweek with 2 easy days following each, but maybe I need to rethink my strategy. I know I did a longer mountain run on Wednesday, but I would have expected to be recovered from that by Saturday, especially since I had taken it really easy on Thursday and Friday, but it didn't work out like that.

I definitely had one problem, namely my big left toe. On Friday it became increasingly uncomfortable during the office hours and when I got back home I inspected the damage. It was swollen, bright red, very warm, and one area was very, very sore to the touch. Taking off the shoes made a big difference in the comfort levels because the sore area was longer being compressed, but the toe sure did not look good. The next morning, before running, I had another look. The overall swelling had gone down except at the one area that had been sore the day before, and some pus had leaked out onto the toe nail (lovely image, I know. At that point I should probably point out that you should definitely not do an image search on Google for "Big Toe" during lunch time. You're welcome). I was worried that it might be too sore for running, but actually it was perfectly fine; maybe my habit of wearing running shoes a full size bigger than my office shoe helped me out here.

However, while my toe felt fine my quads did not. From the very first step I noticed that something was off and the idea of a tempo run did not feel too appealing. In the end I went ahead but at a significantly lower HR than last week. In fact, my max HR yesterday was lower than last week's average for a similar run! On the plus side, it meant that this time I remained within the parameters that Mystery Coach had set me all those years ago.

I need to stay ahead of my recovery and therefore decided to cut Sunday's long run down by a few miles, depending on how I would feel. As it turns out, I felt great. I cannot explain it, I do not know how that works. I still left it at 18 miles, over 3 miles less than last week, just to be sure. Wearing a singlet in the hope of catching a few rays of sunshine proofed hopelessly optimistic as it kept raining throughout, but I was fine.

Initially I thought I'd take an easy week next week, but maybe that won't be necessary. I'll cut the mountain run back to 2 Windy Gap crossing, though. I will take an easy week following the marathon in Killarney on Saturday, but otherwise the idea is to train through as long as I feel I can recover from it.

9 May
10 miles, 1:16:26, 7:38 pace, HR 139
10 May
10 miles, 1:17:10, 7:43 pace, HR 139
11 May
10 miles, 1:09:41, 6:58 pace, HR 150
   incl. 8 miles @ 6:47 pace, HR 153
12 May
18 miles, 2:13:34, 7:25 pace, HR 145
Weekly Mileage: 81+

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Short Update

Things are definitely getting back to normal - Niamh and the kids are back home, it is raining and my weekly mileage has settled in the 80s.

I definitely felt the effects of Sunday's 21 hilly miles in the legs on Monday. They weren't sore as such, but there was definitely some sluggishness in my early morning run, though the nice sunny weather coupled with some warmer temperatures more than made up for that.

The weird thing happened on Tuesday, despite the legs feeling better than the day before the pace was much slower. I ran the same effort level as for all of my easy runs, but somehow I only barely crept under 8-minute miles pace. While it would be obvious to blame Sunday's run, I suspect the  hours of working in the garden on Monday were much more to blame. That usually does a number on my legs - unlike running, I am not used to it. On the plus side, the HR was really low.

The nice weather just wasn't going to last, sadly missed as it is. Actually, so far it has not been quite as bad as the forecast had made us believe; when I saw the warnings of wind and heavy rain I initially considered binning my mountain run, but now I'm glad that I went ahead with it. A couple of hours at dawn in wind and rain can be much more fun than it may sound. I had planned on going over Windy Gap 4 times but had left the house too late (or ran too slowly) and had to settle for 3 climbs, twice from the Caragh Lake and once from the Glenbeigh side. It's quite a cool sight to be running right along the wisps of clouds as they are twirling around the mountain tops. There is definitely an eerie feeling to that place. The legs felt fine, I was surprised to find that the calves had absolutely no problems doing that very steep climb three times in quick succession.

I haven't said much about my achilles recently; it has mostly settled down; I can feel a little twinge from time to time, usually during the first mile or so, but that's all that's left of it. I don't think this will bother me any more for the foreseeable future.
6 May
10 miles, 1:17:55, 7:46 pace, HR 142
7 May
10 miles, 1:19:28, 7:56 pace, HR 133
8 May
13+ miles, 2:06:18, 9:32 pace, HR 136
   mountain run, Windy Gap x 3

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Hail To The Chairman!

First and foremost, congratulations to Pat O'Keeffe for running his 100th marathon today in Limerick. That's a fantastic achievement and not something a lot of other people have managed. Well done, Pat!

Me, I'm nowhere near that figure, but I do hope to get there one day myself. The next marathon will be in a fortnight in Killarney, though of course to me this will be a training run, but since it's an official event it will count all the same. As you know, training is going well so far. I felt a bit tired after the mountain run on Wednesday, as always, and took it easy for the next 2 days, both of which saw a nice, easy, relaxed 10 mile stroll in the morning.

Niamh has taken Maia and the twins to Dublin on Friday, mostly so that the twins would get the chance to meet their favourite author, Michael Grant, which left me all alone with Cian. It made training a bit tricky, but as long as there is a will there is always a way. In my case it meant getting up at 5 am on Friday so that I could run before driving them to the station in Killarney. It meant getting a neighbour to look after Cian for an hour on Saturday, and it meant getting a babysitter on Sunday.

Training-wise, things got a bit more serious on Saturday. In fact, I got way too serious. Last week I got that workout just right, running reasonably fast but perfectly relaxed. This week I ran too fast, the effort was too high and the heart rate was much too high. I found it very hard to relax and pushed too hard, especially when running into a rather breezy headwind. I only really realised my mistake when I looked at the watch afterwards, but of course I should have caught on sooner.

I can get away with this every now and then, but in the grand scheme of things I'd be much better off showing a bit more restraint. In the end, there was no real harm done. The legs felt fine on Sunday and I even enjoyed the rare glimpses of sunshine. In fact I felt good enough to tack another mile to the end of my long run. What I noticed was that the pace during the second half was dropping below 7-minute pace at times while the effort was still low enough for the HR to remain in the 140s. I don't think I have ever been in that kind of shape before, and I do hope I can build on that even further.

 The temperatures have risen considerably recently and for the first time this year I was actually running in a singlet this weekend. Let's hope that will continue for a while; the last three summers have been desperate and nobody here wants a fourth one of the same kind. A bit more sunshine and Kerry is the best place in the world to live in.
2 May
10 miles, 1:17:07, 7:42 pace, HR 141
3 May
10 miles, 1:16:27, 7:38 pace, HR 141
4 May
10 miles, 1:06:53, 6:41 pace, HR 164
   incl. 8 miles @ 6:29 pace
5 May
21.1 miles, 2:35:55, 7:23 pace, HR 149
Weekly Mileage: 85+ miles

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Getting older

Perfect for my two bookworms!
The twins just celebrated their 12th birthday. I think this is supposed to make me feel old, but since I started bringing home trophies the moment I hit 40 I don't mind being old; age definitely has its privileges. Niamh once again surpassed herself with her cake-baking skills. In many ways, baking is to Niamh what running is to me and luckily these two fields are perfectly compatible; she bakes, I eat and then run off the calories. It's the perfect match.

Back to running. The legs were a bit heavy on Monday morning, Sunday's 20 miles had clearly left their mark. I ran on autopilot, but what blew me away was the low heart rate which basically brought me into Maffetone territory. I got used to seeing low HRs for decent enough paces when training for Tralee, but did not expect to see those figures again so early in the new training cycle.

With my training settling down now that I have reached a decent weekly mileage and it so far basically being marathon training, I felt it was time for another evaluation workout. With this being the first evaluation in this training cycle and the legs probably not entirely recovered from Sunday I did not expect much from the numbers, apart from giving me a baseline with plenty of room for improvement.

This is what I got instead: (the numbers in brackets are adjusted pace, 7 seconds for every 2 heart beats off the 161 target):
        Mile 1    6:28   HR 161    (6:28)
        Mile 2    6:25   HR 162    (6:28)
        Mile 3    6:32   HR 161    (6:32)
        Mile 4    6:26   HR 161    (6:26)
        Recovery to HR 130: 32 seconds

I found these numbers nothing short of astounding. These are just about the best numbers I have ever seen (regarding my own evaluations, that is), but I did get an email from MC saying that they ARE the best figures I have ever produced. He did not seem surprised, but I was, little over 6 weeks since the Tralee marathon and my training has only just started! (MC also said that a sub-2:50 marathon has my name on it [though that will probably have to wait until next year]).

Something is clearly working, though if it's the best preparation for a 100 mile run is still as open to discussion as ever. The one workout I value most as far as ultras are concerned is my by now routine and weekly mountain run on the Kerry Way over Windy Gap, and that's what I did this morning. I followed the same route on the trail towards Glenbeigh and back, which gives me 2 crossings of Windy Gap and a combined elevation gain of about 2000 feet, most of it on the very steep climb up to the Gap itself. I'll never be a great mountain runner, I just cannot let go on the downhill, but I do enjoy these outings a lot and I also enjoy what they're doing to my fitness.

My achilles has improved a lot since I started doing the exercises mentioned in the last post. It was just about noticeable this morning, but definitely improved. I just have to keep doing those eccentric calf raises - actually remembering it is the hardest part.
29 Apr
10 miles, 1:14:49, 7:29 pace, HR 141
30 Apr
11.8 miles, 1:21:53, 6:56 pace, HR 153
   4 mile eval: 6:28, 6:25, 6:32, 6:26, 32 sec recovery
1 May
12.25 miles, 1:47:01, 8:44 pace, HR 145
   mountain run, Windy Gap x 2