Sunday, June 30, 2013

That's Why

If you were wondering why I was running the 10 marathons for Liam's Lodge, watch this video where the Meehan family explains what Liam's Lodge would mean to them.

(This is the point where you get out your credit card out and click on this link)

We're down to 4 days to go now, and I am not entirely sure if I should rest and taper or just keep training normally. This isn't going to be a marathon race, so maybe tapering is unnecessary, but on the other hand I don't want to show up tired and hobbling for the first marathon either.

But in the end I decided to go with the theory that it is always better to be slightly undertrained than overtrained and therefore I am taking it easy, which is why I didn't do a long run this weekend.

Basically, this week has seen a succession of 10 mile runs, enough to keep me ticking over without building up extra stress, hopefully. Tuesday's mountain run was the one workout where I broke that sequence. I was pleasantly surprised by the complete absence of sore quads in the days following that, but very unpleasantly surprised by the state of my left Achilles.

It wasn't that bad, on a scale of 1-10 it was maybe a 2 for a few days and down to 1 on Saturday; in fact, I wasn't even sure if I was just imagining the discomfort yesterday. If that were an isolated incident I would not even think about it, but it is a recurring one, and just about the last thing I would want to acquire is a chronically inflamed Achilles. Actually I think it's not the tendon itself but the sheath that surrounds it, but that's only because the last time I went to a doctor about it (3 years ago), that was the problem and now it feels similar. Back then I got some ointment and the advice to take it easy. I have long run out of the medicine and as for taking it easy ... well, 10 marathons in 10 days probably don't quite satisfy that description.

I had originally planned on doing one more mountain run this weekend in place of a long run, but since it is the mountain runs that keep inflaming the Achilles I had to bin that idea and just stayed on the road instead, which had the pleasant side effect that the Achilles felt better every day; I might even get away with it for Sixmilebridge, you never know.

Friday was like the good old days, getting up at silly o'clock in order to run 10 miles before dropping off the rest of the family in Killarney for the early train to Dublin. I'm pretty sure the slower pace was down to the ridiculously early hour.

I tried running a few faster miles on Saturday but quickly found that my legs were not responding. I ran a marathon at close to 6:40 pace only 5 weeks ago, so it was a bit disconcerting that I was only barely able to keep that pace for 8 miles. I did notice that the HR just was not coming up, as if the brain were limiting the maximum output (which is of course exactly what the Central Governor theory claims). I'm not worried, I have been there before; if I were looking for pace it would come back within a few weeks with the appropriate workouts, but since pace isn't what will be required over the next few weeks there won't be any need for that.

4 days to go before the 10in10. And don't forget to click on this link, like I said.

Weekly Mileage: 74.2
27 Jun
10 miles, 1:13:48, 7:22 pace, HR 142
28 Jun
10 miles, 1:15:24, 7:32 pace, HR 138
29 Jun
10 miles, 1:07:35, 6:45 pace, HR 156
   incl. 8 miles @ 6:38 (HR 161)
30 Jun
12 miles, 1:28:39, 7:23 pace, HR 143

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Clear Progress

A few days ago my daughter asked during family dinner, "if you suddenly had loads and loads of money, what would you do?", and I immediately responded with "fly to Death Valley and run the Badwater ultramarathon", which even my own family found bonkers. Maybe I'll settle for the Spartathlon next time, though I expect an identical response (but at least I do have a realistic chance of making that start line).

And while I'm on family business, the twins just finished primary school, even though it was only like about yesterday when the photo of their first day as junior infants made the local newspaper (with an even more adventurous spelling of their names than usual). Where has all the time gone?

Talking about time, as scary as the passage of time over the last 8 years, or the fact that half of the present year has already passed (how did that happen, did I blink or what?) might be, it is definitely crawling this week, which may just be related to the fact that the countdown for the 10in10 has reached single figures. I can't remember any of my other recent training runs slowing time as dramatically as this one (ok, these ones).

Training is going very well once more. I was surprised to find myself in possession of a pair of fresh legs on Monday because I certainly expected Sunday's run to have left some marks, but no. I had enough spare energy to drop the pace over the last few miles without feeling particularly pushed. If I wouldn't remember for sure that I had run a 50k not so long ago I would not believe myself because I am not able to tell from the pace, the HR numbers or the feeling in the legs.

Because everything felt so fresh I went up into the mountains again on Tuesday, though I happened to pick the one rainy day of the week. No matter, while it did spoil the otherwise breathtaking views, they were not the reason for me venturing up there anyway. The climb up to the Gap was mostly on autopilot, always an excellent sign, but I was still surprised at the end when I saw that I had just completed one of my faster mountain runs even though I really had not pushed the effort, as can be seen by the low HR.

These mountain runs do usually leave me with slightly sore legs, but not even that is happening right now (though it may still come tomorrow). I think aerobically my engine is just about as developed as it can be. I wouldn't be in top racing shape because I haven't done any fast paced running at all over the last few months, but I bet I could fairly comfortably break my marathon PR this summer if I switched focus. Now, that is clearly not going to happen, especially since they just announced the date of the Connemara 100, 10th August (I hope to be finished before the 11th starts), though I still have to organise a crew (anyone fancy spending one very, very long and exhausting day looking after an increasingly cranky runner, please join the queue).

Before that, I have the small matter of the 10in10 to attend.

Still 8 days to go. How can a week take so long when 8 years have just passed me by?

24 Jun
10 miles, 1:12:13, 7:13 pace, HR 146
25 Jun
12+ miles, 1:47:16, 8:48 pace, HR 141
   mountain run, Windy Gap x 2
26 Jun
10 miles, 1:14:33, 7:27 pace, HR 140

Sunday, June 23, 2013

One Week Later

First of all, congratulations to Grellan for winning the Le Cheile midnight marathon. He sure is on a roll, lowering his PB twice in quick succession and now a famous win! Great stuff, mate.

It amazing how fast you forget. I kept getting frustrated at the start of almost every run this week because there was no zip in the legs and while the pace was perfectly fine, that certain "something" was definitely absent. Eventually I remembered that I had run a 50k last Saturday; of course my legs were not back to their usual self yet!

I took it fairly easy all week, the standard run was 8 miles at easy effort and I did that 4 times in a row. I got a little bit more adventurous on Saturday with 10 miles, which still felt easy; I ran it all on autopilot and was back home before I even knew that was I out running, really. The "long" run this week was one loop around Caragh Lake using the shortest option, which gives me just over 15 miles. It includes a rather steep climb up the Devil's elbow road and beyond, but again I managed it on autopilot, which is always a good sign. I'm in good shape if I can climb 550 feet over 3 miles entirely on autopilot.

There isn't much more to report from my week, it was rather mundane as far as running goes. Work has been mental, but poor Maia definitely had it worse suffering from chickenpox, which she had gotten from school, she even had to miss her end of year school tour, which she really had been looking forward to. Wednesday was a rough day but then she recovered very quickly, the spots are fading rapidly and she is in good form again.

There is one potentially big change I started a few weeks ago. I made a few changes in my diet, mostly inspired by the book from Dr. Maffetone. In previous years I always did a few weeks of sugar-free eating before a target race, and I also used to cut my lunch down to very small portions but eat decent sized meals for breakfast and dinner. That would always drop my weight down a few pounds, usually from about 150 to about 145 pounds (10 st 10 lb to 10 st 5 lb, or 68 kg to 65.5 kg, whichever units you are more familiar with). I always put the weight back on very, very quickly after the race. The changes I just implemented are a big salad for lunch, which gives me plenty of raw vegetables as well as a handful of nuts and seeds. I also cut my bread intake down to almost nothing, though I am not claiming to have gone gluten-free. As a result I have gone from 150 lb to 142 lb in the last 5-or-so weeks despite never going hungry once, and I still have my fill of chocolate, so there might still be room for improvement before an eventual target marathon (though I'm not planning one of those any time soon). I'm not sure how much weight I can still drop, my weighing scales have me at less than 9% body fat already (though that's not particularly reliable), so there isn't much scope for further weight loss. It's my lowest weight for 5 years, and back then it was pneumonia that got me so low, not something I would recommend to anyone.

I've read that the most reliable sign that you are nearing race weight is that you keep getting told that you are too thin, and that already happened in Portumna last week (and when they start an intervention and try force-feeding you, you have reached your ideal race weight ;-) ).

Right now the 10in10 is only 11 days away. Until a few weeks ago I did not spend too much time thinking about it, but now it is looming rather large on the horizon. If you thought about sponsoring me for the Liam's Lodge charity (I know you did!), now is a good time to do so.
20 Jun
8 miles, 1:00:04, 7:30 pace, HR 145
21 Jun
8 miles, 59:19, 7:24 pace, HR 142
22 Jun
10 miles, 1:14:03, 7:24 pace, HR 147
23 Jun
15.1 miles, 1:52:02, 7:25 pace, HR 145

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

After The Races

First of all, more photos.

In pensive mood before the start - Photo by Iain Shaw
The 3 guys in front at the start were the same 3 guys in front at the finish, even in the same order - Photo by Iain Shaw

Awful running form, I do apologise - Photo by Iain Shaw
Photo by Iain Shaw
And some observations from Portumna that did not make it into the race report:

When Niamh told him that I had come third, Cian said "why does he always come second or third but never wins!" (tough critic, that one), to which Niamh apparently replied "because he is getting old". I'm not sure if I ever want Niamh to defend me ever again.

"Thomas, you need to eat some pies. You are fading away!"

When I was about to lap Mo, he called out "hello Thomas" without turning around while I was still a few steps behind him. He had done the same in Donadea last year, which spooked me. I did not know my gait was so distinctive that I can be identified so easily, but Mo claims special powers in that regard and says my cadence is distinctively high.

Despite that apparently high cadence I am heel striking in every picture.

Recovery from the 50k is going amazingly well. My left shin was quite sore on Sunday morning, the same area that had been painful early in the race, but an easy 5 mile run that morning seems to have done the trick. I am convinced a full rest day would have led to slower healing.

I think my shoes were slightly worn out, and I am blaming that for the shin. The Saucony Kinvaras are lovely shoes, but they tend to wear out a little bit quicker than other shoes. I had about 650 miles on the pair I wore in Portumna. With the Brooks Green Silence that I have in rotation as well I don't even think about changing them before at least 800 miles. As a result, the reward for several months of faithful service for over a thousand kilometres on the road was a one-way ticket into the bin.

Running a race with a loop setup like Portumna is one of the very, very few situations where you can frequently tell the ladies that they are looking really good, without having to fear repercussions from either the ladies or your own wife.

I had a look at my 5k splits from the official results. As expected, my times were very consistent. Apart from the last lap, where I lost some time by goofing around at the finish, all other splits were between 21:42 and 22:04. I did slow down a little bit over the last 3 laps but not much, certainly when compared to some of the other times.

Recovery has been going very well indeed. My left shin was very sore on Sunday morning and I wasn't sure if running 5 miles was a good idea but went anyway, and after a rather gingerly start I started feeling better with each step. By the time I was back home I was already much better, and by evening time my shin was virtually pain free. I am convinced it would not have subsided so quickly had I had a complete rest day. The leg muscles have also been recovering well, I was never sore but there were definitely some heavy legs in the mornings, something that's still not entirely resolved but getting better every day.

This week will be an easy one to recover from the 50k. As long as I'm feeling good I will do some decent mileage next week and then it's time for some sort of mini taper before the 10in10, which is approaching at a rather alarming rate.

17 Jun
5 miles, 38:53, 7:46 pace, HR 136
18 Jun
8 miles, 1:01:36, 7:42 pace, HR 143
19 Jun
8 miles, 1:00:01, 7:30 pace, HR 143

Sunday, June 16, 2013

At My Happy Place

The Ewen Special:

- Started at 7 minute pace, felt comfortable
- Kept running 7 minute pace until the end. Still felt comfortable.

Anyone else, keep reading.

It was an early start, the alarm was set for 6 o'clock, though our damn cat made sure I didn't need it and was up 20 minutes early. The drive across half of Ireland passed without incident, though the relentlessly heavy rain early on had me wondering how the day would go, but once I was past Limerick things improved markedly.

I treated this strictly as a relaxed training run, I even picked up my sports drink in Portumna when I happened to pass a shop just before the entrance to the forest park. I had been wondering what I would do if the situation were similar to Killarney 4 weeks ago (or Sixmilebridge last year), but when I spotted Rory Mooney at the start I was actually relieved because it meant I really could relax and would not have to worry about racing for victory. They even did a presentation before the start, honouring (and slightly embarrassing) Rory for running his 50th marathon (that includes ultras, obviously) today, though they ignored my suggestion that they might as well give him the winner's trophy straight away.

The course consists of 10 laps of 5k each inside Portumna forest park. It is a lovely setting and I knew even before the start that I would enjoy it. I like running loops in races as much as I hate doing them in training; it's the fact that you constantly meet other runners that makes all the difference. The 100k had already started 2 hours earlier, our 50k started at 10 o'clock, the marathon would start at noon with the half marathon following at 2 (and a 10k even later), but I reckoned that by the time of the half-marathon start I would be finished and would not have to worry about congestion.
Photo by Peter Mooney
We started in very pleasant conditions and I immediately settled into a pace that felt comfortable, which turned out be more or less exactly 7 minutes per mile pace. I was in fifth position during much of the first lap but was pipped once more and would spend most of the next few hours  in sixth.

The lap contains a fairly long out-and-back section and it's there where most of the social interaction takes place. The marathon club was out in force and there were dozens of friendly and familiar faces. "Hello Mo" - "Hello Thomas". "Hello Alan" - "Hello Thomas". "Hello Graeme" - "Hello Thomas". "Hello Frank" - "Hello Thomas". "Hello " ... you get the picture. Actually, past experience has shown me that my level of social interaction serves as a very accurate gauge of how I'm feeling. As long as I have a few words for the other runners, I'm fine. When I get tired I might just give them a wave. Once I start withdrawing into my own bubble and shut out the rest of the world, alarm bells start ringing regarding my energy levels.

But right now all systems were green. I kept close to the runner in front of me. It might have looked as if I were pacing myself off him, but actually I was running entirely my own race at the pace I felt most comfortable with, and it just happened to more or less coincide with his pace. At times I was 10 steps behind him, a couple of minutes later I would be right at his shoulder again. We did exchange a few words, but not a lot considering that we were running so close to each other for quite a long time.

More or less together for the first 6 laps - photo by Peter Mooney

The 100k had promised to deliver a great race up front with Shane storming off at the start and Vasiliy not far behind, but sadly it became apparent that Shane ran into troubles early on and was in for a very tough day. Our own 50k race was comfortably led by Rory Mooney, his victory was never in doubt. When I saw him leading the race and brother Peter taking photographs I was wondering what was going on, did Peter gift his brother a victory today, but the Mooney family strategy became apparent when the marathon got under way, they were obviously set on returning home with two winner trophies (which they did).

The weather was quite changeable. The lovely conditions at the start did not last forever, it started raining during lap 3 but settled again at lap 4, there was another shower later on followed by a massive downpour after 2 hours, right when the marathon got under way, and each time we were back to running in bright sunshine one lap later. While running in the rain wasn't all that great, it ensured that the temperatures were always pretty much ideal, so in the grand scheme of things that was actually a good thing. Conditions were great today, no excuses.

Things were not all smooth sailing for me. Yesterday my left Achilles had started hurting again out of the blue, which was bad news not just regarding today's race but the state of my legs in general. I've had Achilles troubles a few weeks ago but thought I had gotten on top of things. To have a recurring problem is worrying, especially with the 10in10 approaching rapidly. However, at lap 3 in Portumna it was not the Achilles that was causing problems but the front of the leg, just above ankle height (basically opposite the Achilles). It was quite painful for a few miles but eventually settled down again. Next lap I got a side stitch, which caught me completely by surprise. I was running entirely within myself, nowhere near the limit and feeling very comfortable, so where did that stitch come from? I concentrated on my breathing for the next mile or two, trying to manage the situation as well as I could, and eventually it released its grip and let me run again without a bother. After those two episodes everything was rosy again, but I did worry what the second half of the race would bring.
After rain comes the sun - photo by Peter Mooney
The halfway point came so quickly I almost missed it. I was feeling very comfortable and optimistic. I did take my second gel around that time which kept the energy level steady. The weather was nice and sunny at the time without being too hot, but during the sixth lap the heavens truly opened and there was a massive downpour. The marathon was starting right at that time, they must have been miserable standing around waiting for the start.

Just as we finished the sixth lap we merged with the marathon field coming down the other road (the marathon start was outside the park) and I wasn't particularly looking forward to the congestion that was to follow, especially on the next lap while the marathon field was spreading out. However, it was nowhere near as bad as feared, congestion was never a problem. While a lap course like that can only ever support a limited number of runners, they have gotten it pretty much right.

My running companion had to have a short nature break and all of a sudden I found myself running on my own, but it did not have real effect, I just kept cruising along at the same 7-minute pace as ever. I met Grellan, who was doing the marathon, at the out-and-back section and he accused me of racing, a charge I strenuously denied. I was still feeling comfortable.

I had been wondering if it would happen, but my running buddy for the first 6 miles did indeed catch up again, by the time I was going through the finish area once more he was back right at my side. "That was quick" I quipped. Unfortunately it looks like he overcooked himself on that lap because within half a lap I was ahead of him again, and this time he remained behind. I was starting to feel the effort myself and was breathing noticeably harder on the two very slight uphill drags, but the pace remained virtually the same. One of my friends running the marathon asked what position I was in and I responded with "sixth ... , no fifth, fifth", remembering that I had just dropped my companion after running most of the earlier miles in his wake.
Photo by Peter Mooney

I picked up a drinks bottle from the table after lap 7, the one I had bought about 3 hours earlier. It might have been a rather casual way to approach such a long race, but it was clearly working for me. It took me quite awhile to empty it, but once I had finished it I knew it would sustain me for the rest of the race. I'm not sure if the next happened on lap 8 or 9, but one runner gave me a shout "third place is right ahead of you", which really confused me - surely that should have been fourth? It did not change my approach to the race, I just kept the pace at exactly the same level as ever and I soon saw the yellow shirt ahead of me. He must have hit the wall because he had slowed down considerably and there was no question that I would catch him very quickly. It was not even an overtaking manoeuvre, I went past him when he stopped at the water station for a couple of seconds. Unbeknownst to me the previously second placed runner had dropped out, and so I found myself in third place, more or less by accident.

From the start of lap 9, and even more so on the final lap, I could sniff the finish ahead of me. At one point I calculated if Rory would lap me but I was safe in that regard, and of course the possibility stopped entirely as soon as I started my last lap. I really enjoyed that one, I soaked up the wonderful atmosphere and tried to encourage most of my friends for one last time. The last kilometre was actually the hardest because it was right into the headwind, which may not have been particularly strong but after almost 4 hours of running you do start to feel the extra effort. I celebrated the last hundred meters, doing the aeroplane and just generally fooling around before crossing the line in 3:39:11, a few minutes faster than expected and 10 minutes below my previous PB, though that had been a training run as well and I still have a few minutes spare should I ever decide to fully race a 50k at top effort. Race Director Seb Locteau seemed a bit taken aback that I had finished in a podium position, but I probably was just as surprised as he was (and to be fair, they'd had more top runners last year, apart from Rory of course, who broke the course record!).

Some idiot goofing around at the finish - Photos by Peter Mooney

I rarely looked at my Garmin, for the first 6 laps I always saw an average pace of 6:57, somewhere on lap 7 it switched to 6:58 and stayed there. That's Garmin pace of course, as always the pace according to the official mile markers was about 4 seconds slower. I might have slowed down by a small amount over the last few laps but I would expect my lap splits were all within a few seconds of each other.

This was possibly the most I have ever enjoyed a race, I loved running those laps surrounded by friends in a beautiful forest park in nice conditions. While I was clearly running faster than on your average long run, I was always running well within myself and never pushed the effort particularly high - quite possibly the very reason why I could enjoy it so much. Congratulations go to Seb and his fantastic team of volunteers for putting on a top race with impeccable organisation while at the same time providing a very friendly atmosphere.

Congratulations also have to go to Grellan, who only 12 days after setting a new marathon PB somehow managed to lower it again to 2:54, which left me gobsmacked as I really did not expect he would have the legs for such a fantastic effort so soon after Cork.

And seeing so many runners giving their best was truly awesome, both at the top end where Vasiliy put in a truly magnificent effort in the 100k as well as the back of the pack where the resilience and sheer determination of the runners was absolutely inspiring. Very well done to all concerned.
13 Jun
8 miles, 58:41, 7:20 pace, HR 147
14 Jun
5 miles, 37:36, 7:31 pace, HR 140
15 Jun
Portumna Forest Marathon series of races, 50k
   3:39:11, 7:03 pace, HR 159, 3rd place
16 Jun
5+ miles, 39:42, 7:52 pace, HR 139

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

From Recovery Straight Into The Taper

The previous week was basically a recovery week for me following the Cork City marathon. In some ways it was the opposite of the aftermath of the Killarney marathon, instead of getting sick I was getting healthy again. I could see straight away that the HR values had returned to normal levels, exactly what I would expect to see so soon after a marathon basically. Great!

Since I ran a marathon that Monday and will be running a 50k on Saturday, I took it easy on the weekend, at least as far as running was concerned, and limited the “long” run to a mere 13 miles. What surprised me was the pace, I never intended to run faster than easy pace, maybe the bright sunshine inspired me. I kind of had to pay the price for that on Monday, though that may well have more to do with the fact that I spent the entire weekend working in the garden and was suitably knackered. It probably had more effect on me than the running.

Initially I had planned on doing another mountain run on Wednesday, but since Portumna will be on Saturday I moved it to Tuesday to give me an extra day of recovery. I think those mountain runs are the key workout of my week even though I take it reasonably easy on the trail, but if you’re running a 20% grade for over 10 minutes at a time, taking it easy is rather relative. I had not done a mountain run in 4 weeks and expected it to feel very tough but the legs must have remembered it and it felt much easier than anticipated.

Unfortunately the beautiful summer weather is a thing of the past, it was quite wet up there on the Gap and the wind is a given anyway (the name speaks for itself). On the plus side, it was quite nice out this morning, in marked contrast to the weather forecast, but I always forget that the weather forecast is for Dublin only, no matter that they pretend otherwise. The legs felt a bit heavy early on today but the spring returned within the first mile; I might still have to pay some dues to the mountain tomorrow. As long as the fatigue is gone by Saturday, that;s ok.

I will do a mini-taper for the next 2 days, maybe 8 tomorrow and 5 on Friday. With a 50k to come the weekly mileage will be decent enough anyway, no need to push things unnecessarily.

The 10in10 is getting scarily close! According to the munsterrunning blog, 20 participants have signed up for the full 10 marathons; apparently this is the biggest field anywhere in Europe to tackle this kind of challenge. Wow – history is being made!

9 Jun
13 miles, 1:34:55, 7:18 pace, HR 150
10 Jun
9 miles, 1:09:40, 7:44 pace, HR 137
11 Jun
12.3 miles, 1:50:30, 8:59 pace, HR 144
    mountain run, Windy Gap x 2
12 Jun
10 miles, 1:14:08, 7:25 pace, HR 144

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Easy Week

Even if you're running a marathon as a training run (and don't get carried away), the most important thing is to recover from it, so an easy week it was. I followed Monday's marathon with 5 miles on Tuesday and then a rather repetitive sequence of 8 miles on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

What really counted for me was the fact that the HR readings were much better than the week before, so it looks like my shock therapy of running a marathon actually worked, believe it or not. The HR values are exactly what I would expect after a marathon, and once that is out of my legs I fully expect them to return to pre-sickness levels.

The weather has been absolutely glorious, I cannot remember the last time we had a full week of sunshine, and there is still another day or even two left before the rain returns. To be honest, the only reason I did 8 miles on Wednesday rather than 5 is because I wanted to spend more time in the early sunshine. I even got something resembling a tan over the last few days, though I am under no illusions that it might last.

The one change in the routine was Friday when we had our company's day out and went to the Eclipse Centre near Kenmare, same place as last year because everyone had enjoyed it so much back then. We sure picked the right day! I even managed not to bang my knee on the assault course this time, a major bonus. I enjoyed the day's activities very much, at least until about 8 or 9 o'clock when most of the colleagues started to get drunk and I was merely getting dead tired as my bed time approached and then passed. It took a very long time to get back home, I didn't hit the hay until 1:20 in the morning, when I usually would be halfway through my beauty sleep at that time already.

The post-marathon legs were never sore, walking down a staircase never caused any problems, but they were definitely fairly heavy on Tuesday and Wednesday. I inexplicably felt really good on Thursday but had to pay the price on Friday. They were a bit heavy again this morning, but I'm sure being on my feet all day had at least as much to do with it as the marathon.

I'm hoping for a fairly normal training week next week, including a mountain run which hasn't happened in a few weeks because I had gotten ill after Killarney, and then of course there is the small matter of 50k next Saturday in Portumna, which I am already very much looking forward to. I have heard so many good things about that race that I cannot wait to sample it myself. I won't be breaking any records though and hopefully I won't do what I did in Killarney.

4 Jun
5 miles, 40:25, 8:04 pace, HR 137
5 Jun
8 miles, 1:02:16, 7:46 pace, HR 141
6 Jun
8 miles, 59:14, 7:24 pace, HR 145
7 Jun
8 miles, 1:00:45, 7:35 pace, HR 146
8 Jun
8 miles, 59:43, 7:27 pace, HR 146

Monday, June 03, 2013

Shock Therapy

Photo by Niall O Crualaoich
Contrary to my prediction I was not thinking I was going to do something really stupid when I was standing at the start of the Cork City Marathon even though I was still recovering from a cold. No, I was far too pre-occupied with the seriously dodgy feeling from my stomach to be thinking anything, really. I did not mention it to anyone, certainly not to my prospective pacees, because they were expecting me to be the expert who would pull them around the course in the allocated time of 3:15, and whining and whinging before we even started would not have made the best impression, I think.
The pacers - Photo by Anne Lucey Murphy

The gun went on time and me and fellow pacer Alan quickly settled into the right pace. I have run Cork plenty of times before and know that the course always measures long on the Garmin, usually around 26.5 miles, and that has to be taken into account. A 3:15 marathon is 7:26 pace (minutes per mile, obviously, as always), we want to come home 30 seconds early, that's 7:25 pace on the official mile markers, and the Garmin should show 7:19/7:20. Once you know it, it's easy.

Unfortunately, during the early miles I was far too busy feeling sorry for myself to either take in the atmosphere or keep the pacees informed on our progress. I never even noticed the first 4 mile markers, that would have required looking elsewhere than the spot just ahead of my feet, which is where I had fixed my gaze because it seemed the best way to keep the nausea in check. Initially I felt absolutely parched and grabbed a small water bottle at the mile 2.5 water station, but even the first gulp almost made me throw up, so I proceeded to drink tiny sips for the next few miles (I still had half the bottle left by mile 10 where I exchanged it for a fresh one, half of which lasted to mile 16 - and those were small bottles, 250 ml/8.5oz).

With the pace band's help I did notice that we were 10 seconds behind target at mile 5, 10 seconds ahead of target at mile 6 and slightly behind again at 7, which was definitely down to some misplaced mile signs because the other pacers told similar stories. But after going through the tunnel at mile 8 we were definitely a few seconds behind because at that point the average pace on the Garmin had deteriorated to 7:23. For the first time today I wasn't just hanging on but injected a little pace into the proceedings. Alan was totally switched on and reacted immediately, which was good because the next wave of nausea hit me soon after and then I was once again pre-occupied with not having to make a quick side stop. He did enquire once about how I was feeling but regretted it immediately when I let slip that my stomach was feeling awful and I wasn't sure which direction its contents were eventually going to leave by.

I had been feeling like that before and knew that eventually it had to settle down. My initial guess was 10 miles, and I was reasonably sure I could hang on until then, and when we went through the relay changeover stations or the half-marathon start I could put on a fake smile and wave.

I hadn't said much up to that point, even by my own standards, but when we turned into the walkway off Blackrock Castle around mile 11 I inquired if anyone remembered running here in the Hurricane of 2010 when the conditions had been absolutely awful with the rain coming in horizontally. I realised that I must be feeling better because up to then I was afraid opening my mouth and inviting the nausea in. I wasn't completely out of the woods yet, I still had a few of waves to fight off over the next couple of hours, but I knew that the worst was behind me, and I might even finish that marathon, and maybe even on time.

2 pints at the finish, please - photo by Mark McManus / Power For Sport
We were back on target pace as well, the Garmin averaged 7:19 again and we went through halfway in 1:37 flat, just where I wanted to be. There was a bit of a surprise at mile 15 when the full and half marathon courses merged and with this year's new start time I had expected to hit them in the middle of the field but there was no sign of them. The idea that we might have miscalculated and we would catch them later on was quickly proven wrong and we soon enough twigged that their start must have gotten delayed (There was an organisational glitch. I have heard no complaints yet, but that's just a matter of time). We also had caught up to my friend Seamus, who as a sub-3 marathoner should have been much further down the road but didn't seem to have the best of days. For now he managed to hang on to us, though.

I looked around as the hilly section started at mile 17, and we had a sizeable group of lads with us, though sadly no lady. Unfortunately that group melted away like snow in the sun over the next few miles. The hills, while not bad at all, did not help but I think a lot of runners started suffering with the humidity and the higher temperatures. 20C/68F might not sound much to anyone outside Ireland, but for anyone who had trained here (i.e. just about everyone) this would have been significantly warmer than what they were used to, and the high humidity made things worse. Before the start I had been bitching about how I did not like the pacing gear because I can't stand zippers in my shirt, and since we were in Ireland it would never be hot enough to require opening it, but half a race later I was proven wrong and opening the zipper did indeed help (I still don't like the material, but I am perfectly aware that bitching about free running gear is pathetic).

By mile 21 there were just 2 pacees left with us 2 pacers, but at least both of them looked comfortable and the hills were now behind us. For the only time in the race I pulled rank as the more experienced pacer when we turned into the Straight Road and told Alan to ease up a bit, we were about 50 seconds ahead of time and there was no point racing into the headwind. The Straight Road (Carrigrohane Road to non-locals) is a bit of a mental test as the Cork County Hall can be seen all the way in the distance yet it never seems to be getting any closer, but at least it's slightly downhill (initially at least), though that advantage was being negated by the headwind which, just like the temperatures, could have been a lot worse but still, it wasn't ideal.

My legs were getting heavy at that stage as well. A pacer is supposed to feel comfortable all the way round and I was under more pressure than I should have been, even though me dropping off the pace was never under consideration, and certainly would not have happened so late in the race. While this was still short of race effort, it was a bit closer to my limits than I would have liked.

The top half marathon runners eventually caught us, three of them towards the end of the Straight Road and two or three more before the finish. One of our pacees felt good enough to inject some serious pace himself and we managed to pick up two more who managed to hang on with us. We certainly milked the crowd when the roads finally became crowded over the last half mile, which was great fun. The pacees all sprinted ahead to squeeze a few more seconds out of their time and we went over the finish line with a big smile on our faces in 3:14:31 on both our watches, excellent pacing if I may say so myself. Most of the credit has to go to Alan because for the first 8 miles I myself was merely hanging on and even afterwards he mostly set the pace himself. My Garmin displayed 26.51 miles at the end, just as predicted - at least I got that one right, it made the actual pacing much easier because we were bang on the correct pace right from the start.

I kinda hoped that running a reasonably fast marathon would provide sufficient shock therapy to knock the cold out of my system. The drawback of that strategy is that it's a rather painful way to treat yourself, and I don't know yet if it worked. I guess I'll find out.

Finally, big congratulations to Grellan who found an even more unusual way to dump a pacer and his group on the way to a 2:56 marathon than I had done 2 weeks ago.
2 Jun
8 miles, 59:44, 7:28 pace, HR 148
3 Jun
26.22 miles, 3;14:31, 7:25 pace, HR 148
   3:15 pacer, Garmin distance 26.51 miles (which would have been 7:20 pace)

Saturday, June 01, 2013

We Are Go

I did a couple of tests the last few days to give me a clearer picture of where I stand and if I would be able to do Cork at all. After a set of excessively easy 5-mile runs I eventually got itchy feet, not entirely surprising, and one mile into Thursday's run I decided to keep the distance at 5 miles but run at a faster clip. I averaged about 7:10 pace, much faster than what I would have expected, and all of a sudden the prospect of running Cork seemed a lot less daunting.

On Friday I ran 8 miles at the same effort level that I would have run before I got sick. What I found was that the pace was marginally slower, the HR was at least 5 bpm elevated and hills seemed to feel a lot tougher. Still, all in all that was promising. By now I now longer felt sick. Were I not a runner I would have sworn I was fully recovered, and even if I were a runner without a HRM I probably would have thought I was almost entirely recovered. It's the readings of the HRM that give me some concern now, they are clearly well above what I would see had I not gotten sick last week, and I clearly am still recovering from that episode.

The most important test came this morning, Saturday. I ran 10 miles all at 3:15-marathon-pacing pace, which would be 7:25 in real terms and 7:20 on the Garmin (Cork always measures long on my Garmin). All went well, the pace is easy enough even if the HR is higher than usual. The hills feel harder, which shows me that I am running closer to my threshold than I would ideally like. If this were a race I would give it a miss, I am clearly in no condition to get the maximum out of my body right now, but this will be a marathon at a reasonably relaxed pace and I am confident everything will be just peachy. Cork is definitely back on and Alan, my co-pacer, can breathe a sigh of relief.

Not sure why they used that brutal picture - and Paul looks even worse
With that worry out of my way, I can start focusing on my next target. Last Sunday I did a photo shoot with a photographer in Tralee, together with another local endurance athlete, Paul Gosney. Paul is doing a double Ironman right now, as I am typing this he should be roughly halfway through the cycle. He is doing that in support of a great charity, Liam's Lodge, which is the sister charity of Bee for Battens, which has been making quite a splash the last few years. My involvement will come next month, when I do the 10 marathons in 10 days event in Sixmilebridge in support of the same charity. If you can find it in your heart to support some desperately needed help for very sick children and their families, click here (or the image on the side of my blog). I hope I can get a bit more media exposure over the next few weeks to raise a few more funds. Any donations, even if it were just a Euro, would be very gratefully received. Thank you.

30 May
5+ miles, 36:17, 7:11 pace, HR 155
31 May
8 miles, 1:00:28, 7:33 pace, HR 148
1 Jun
10 miles, 1:13:18, 7:19 pace, HR 152