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!


  1. Well, I guess you know what they say about the best laid plans...

    Nice time, great race, and possibly a lesson about how long and how much of a taper might give you the most benefit when/if you go back to the marathon (I'm more in favor of a shorter taper for workhorses).

  2. Outstanding result. That 2:49 marathon is there for you when you want it

  3. Well done

    Good to let the hair down every so often, what you might have lost in routine you gain with new discoveries and a marathon podium! motoring.

  4. Well run Thomas. You may have to re-visit your 'idiot proof plan':). Hope you recover quickly so that you can get back to your ultra training. That said, I think you would benefit more from lowering your marathon time. A sub 2:50 is there for the taking...


  5. yeah you really messed that one up ;-) Outstanding effort. Now you have established yourself as a sub 3 runner you can fully concentrate on the 100 miler and go back to the sub 3 stuff later. Yesterdays result was a win win situation for you- 12 weeks or so to the 100 miler gives you plenty of time

  6. I am not too surprised that you cast aside the "sensible" training plan and went with your instinct to race. I have always struggled with this in a race, knowing a race should just be training run might temper my effort a bit, but all too easily I get sucked along and into racing. Putting away 2:55 time without any taper or actual race focus before hand just goes to prove that you are in great shape.

    As you didn't hit the wall or have problem with cramp I suspect your recovery will be more rapid that last time around.

    For future marathon efforts in training perhaps it'd be best to be an official pacer, that way you can't go running 20 minutes faster than you intended. Perhaps it's time to consider pacing a 3 hour marathon, it's still a bit close to your marathon PB, but suspect the extra discipline on pacing might make for an easier marathon overall and quicker recovery.

  7. Good stuff Thomas. Worth giving Grellan the s#!ts by dumping him and going for the podium finish. Great sign that you can knock out a sub-3 marathon on a whim. No doubt you would have smashed your PB had you been able to taper for this one.

    1. When he moved ahead after the first mile Ewen, I shouted after him to come back and stick to the plan, but he was having none of it. Complete lack of discipline if you ask me ;-)

  8. Love the whole ditch the plan and go for it idea. That's the draw of the sport. Recover well :)

  9. Great running on Saturday Thomas and it was nice to meet you after the race!