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


  1. A very consistent run Thomas, which bodes well for Connemara. To get a podium finish and a sub 3:40 result, when running a relaxed race, is a fantastic result!!!

  2. Great run and great report Thomas. Congrats on third place - even though it was 'only' a training run. Your body seems to be holding up well, which is a good sign for Connemara...


    1. [Connemara]: meant 10 in 10:)

  3. Well done Thomas, outstanding running and love the 'Glide' finish. best of luck for the 10 in 10.

  4. Don't tell anyone I read the long version.

  5. Well done Thomas, have you any plan for the 10 in 10? Is it a simple case of listening to the body or are you hoping for the same time every day or try to get faster every day?