Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Best Laid Plans

Training has been rather mundane so far. I've only just started running again and anything fancy will have to wait a little bit longer, so all I did every morning was to run 8 miles. To be honest, I expected to seem some form of improvement by this time already, but so far the pace might have improved but at the expense of a higher average HR. The perceived effort was always the same, so I was a bit surprised by some of the HR readings. I won’t take any real notice of that yet and just have to tell myself to show a little bit of patience.

My next race will be the half marathon in Valentia (no, not the one in Spain) a little over 6 weeks from now, but it will very much be a fun day out rather than a goal race. I really enjoyed the race the last time I did it, 2 years ago, which also happens to be the last time I ran a half. The fact that I set a new PB on a tough course and managed to win my age group helped of course.

After that, well, I will do my annual pacing duty at the Dublin marathon, this time for the 3:10 pace group. In November I will try and wipe the memory of last year’s traumatic finish in Sixmilebridge away (I don’t need to win, just not throw away a winnable race this time) and I am already looking forward to a nice December marathon in Clonakilty, which promises to be a good day already. All of these races are just training runs and there will be plenty more of that in 2014; the plan is to use plenty of marathons as my long runs to whip myself into shape to tackle my next real ultra.

26 Aug
8 miles, 1:05:22, 8:10 pace, HR 141
27 Aug
8 miles, 1:04:32, 8:04 pace, HR 144
28 Aug
8 miles, 1:03:38, 7:57 pace, HR 145
29 Aug
8 miles, 1:03:05, 7:53 pace, HR 149

Sunday, August 25, 2013

And Niamh is Happy Too

It has been a long 2 weeks, it has to be said. I started taking 2 weeks of rest after major efforts on advice of Mystery Coach quite some time ago (ok, so he said a minimum of 2 weeks ...), and there were occasions when I was glad to take a full rest and time passed quickly enough. This time, though, I was really looking forward to getting back and could not wait. You might expect someone who just beat his body up by running 100 miles on the road to be glad for some rest, but that was not the case.

It's great to be back! Not even the rain could dampen my spirits.

The five miles on Sunday were just to get used to running again and I basically went as slowly as I could. Sunday was a good bit faster, though the effort was still very easy. I was stunned when I saw the HR on the screen, but this will come down very quickly. Within 2 weeks I expect to be running a minute per mile faster at the same HR.

24 Aug
5 miles, 42:00, 8:24 pace, HR 140
25 Aug
5 miles, 39:23, 7:52 pace, HR 151

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Intermission (Still)

Niamh already enquired what I'm writing on my blog when I'm not running. I made a few suggestions but most of them were dismissed out of hand (what's new!). Luckily this state of affairs won't last much longer.

I had a funny encounter the other day. I was cycling to work when a car pulled up alongside me and the driver shouted "well done in Connemara!". That's a first one.

My self-imposed exile from running is nearing its end, I will be back on the road on Saturday. I have already been asked a couple of times if not running is making me cranky. I'm not sure if they are concerned about my mental health or if I'm starting to get obnoxious without noticing, but I think I will just about manage the next three days without any major incidents. But I am definitely looking forward to running again, which is a good sign.

There is one last thing about Connemara, if you allow me to indulge myself. I only noticed it now, but looking at the pace chart from the Garmin track, you can see that from  mile 93 onwards I did a lot more walking breaks than before. I was not aware of it at the time, but all of a sudden I must have switched from mostly running with the odd walking break to mostly walking with the odd running break. I don't know if that has any real meaning, but for someone who hopes to be able to transfer that sort of race from 100 miles to a 24 hours race this is slightly worrying. If I want to break 220k I need to keep the pace up.

I am very much aware that over the years I have read countless of blog entries stating "I will now push on to the next level" only for the runner in question to more or less disappear from the horizon, be it because of a lack of hunger (they obviously never really meant it, which happens all the time) or injuries. After stating in my last post that I want to push on to the next level, I hope I won't be joining that particular group. I'm pretty sure lack of desire won't apply. I have not been injured in years, but the state of my achilles does have me worried. I count injuries as things that stop me from running, anything else is just a niggle and usually gets ignored (a surprisingly effective treatment). I hope I can keep it that way - I've had achilles issues before and they always went away eventually, though I do not remember it ever taking quite so long.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

More Nothings

I've had some interesting comments on my last post, but I'm still one week from resuming running and there is no need to rush a decision. Meanwhile, I remembered that I put my name down for the London marathon ballot, but my chances of getting in are slim indeed. However, should my name get drawn I have to think long and hard about it - running London would be one of the highlights of my running life and I don't think I could treat it as a long training run. Then again, chances are I won't have to make that decision.

Instead of looking too far forward, I tried to gather a few more memories of Connemara.

My crew sent me their photos, but unless someone is incredibly keen of seeing dozens of photos of my backside I don't think I'll post them. They do tell their own story with the changing weather and conditions, but then I'd really have to post them all.

I also have a list of all the things I consumed while running 100 miles; food, drink and Happy Pills. Looking at it now I am surprised that I included hardly any protein - all the sweets are carbs and even the savoury food was potatoes and pasta, again mostly carbs. It's hard to tell if protein would have made any difference - from the way the race went I'd say probably not.

I was in remarkably good spirits for most of the race, but Iain found out that it wasn't all good when after my first lap in Clifden he shouted "5 more laps to go" and I went "What? ..... THAT'S NOT FUNNY, GO AWAY!!!!". In my defence, mile 98 isn't the best place to make fun of a runner and from what I've heard I am not the first runner to suffer a serious loss of humour failure at that point (apparently this is usually Seb's joke). Iain was scared enough to hide in the shadows when I finished - I had to seek him out to apologise!

Unfortunately I missed the last finisher coming through on Sunday morning. I had checked out the facebook messages but miscalculated the expected finishing times - by the time I wanted to head off, the last man had already finished. Ray said during the presentation that this was the fastest ever time for the final runner to come through.

I cannot thank the organisers enough for everything they had been doing. This will never be a big race, it is far too extreme to ever attract a big crowd and there will never be any money in it. And yet there is always a team there who know that they will be out the entire day as well as the night, and still they keep volunteering. The runners are the ones who get all the glory, but they wouldn't be able to do anything without the selfless work of everyone else.

With every runner having a car at his or her disposal, I did worry if there might be the potential for some cheating going on, but throughout the day I kept seeing the race official on dozens of occasions and in different cars as well. Having experienced it, I am now confident that nobody in the race, neither this year nor any other one, ever went even an inch by car.

Grellan got his crew to write a report, and very worthwhile reading it is. Check it out.

For most of it I have recovered very quickly, but there was a tightness in my iliotibial band that lasted most of the week. I noticed an issue there at one point late in the race, but at that stage there was no part of my body that did not hurt, so I did not take much notice. My achilles has been rather stiff most mornings but did not hurt. I'm not entirely sure if that's a running issue or if I'm just getting old, but for the last few months I have been managing this issue rather than getting rid of it.

Lola let me know in no uncertain terms that coming second out of 12 was a lousy result. Second out of 100 or 1000 would be acceptable, but out of 12? That's no good. Who said that one's kids are always your harshest critics?

When running in Connemara, it did cross my mind that I was somewhat the picture of a frugal ultra runner. Almost everything I had on me was cheap - the tops were free, the shoes €40 from a sale, the rain jacket was €10 from Aldi, even the headlamp was 3.99 from the same source. While the shoes were top quality stuff (I'm not THAT stupid), in some ways you do get what you pay for; the jacket's zip is rather temperamental and I did worry if the headlamp would make it to Clifden, but it all worked out well and fancy stuff would not have gotten me into Clifden a second sooner. There might a lesson in there - mind, I would use better stuff for a run in the mountains!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Best Laid Plans

Following Saturday's 100 mile race, I am of course in full recovery mode. The plan was always to take 2 weeks completely off and nothing has changed in that regard.

I actually feel surprisingly good, certainly much better than after the 24 hours race last year when I was completely wrecked for a considerable amount of time. I was able to drive home to Kerry on Sunday without any problems, though on Monday we went to Banna beach, and when I saw Niamh and the kids running across the sand I wistfully thought to myself "I wish I could do that".

My quads were stiff and reasonably sore, though I was able to walk up and down a staircase on Tuesday without looking funny. Cycling to and from work is also fine, and in fact will probably help the healing process because it gets a little bit of blood pumping through the legs.

Thinking back to the race, I am still very happy with how it went and how I applied myself over 100 miles. I'm reasonably confident that the equivalent performance in a 24 hours race would have seen me to over 220 km, which is the present IAAF / IAU Grade B standard. Maybe I will indeed don a National jersey one day, something that would have been so far beyond the realm of possibility not so long ago, it wasn't even on the same planet.

I still think Grellan should go for the same target, despite his protestations. Interestingly enough he claims it would require divorce. The situation could not be different in my own household where Niamh keeps proclaiming confidently that we would be heading for divorce as soon as I stopped running, so I'll just keep running for the sake of the children (who, by the way, weren't too impressed by me coming second yet again).

Talking about coming second, I have now been the bridesmaid in all of my last 3 big ultra events, Bangor, Sixmilebridge and Connemara. I am wondering if I lack a certain killer instinct that will push me just that bit more even if it's at the risk of blowing up completely, but looking at it rationally I think these races are usually decided in the months preceding the race rather than on the day itself. I can't help but notice that Grellan has run marathon after marathon, including back-to-back ones, all year, while I have been much more conservative in my approach, apart from the 10-in-10 - and even then, Grellan did over 150 miles that same week.

Graeme Colhoun confirmed his belief that marathons don't really cut it as long runs for a long ultra when I chatted to him briefly on Sunday, and you do need some longer runs as well. Finally, I did notice that Ruthann Sheahan ran 100km in Portumna only 5 weeks before setting an incredible new record in Belfast.

Therefore, right now I'm playing with the idea of really pushing the envelope for the first half of next year, though right now this is still only a fairly vague idea in my head. Right now is definitely the time to make new plans, though. I've had most of my recent racing planned all the way back to the start of 2012 when I decided to run the 24 hours in Bangor that year followed by the Connemara 100 in 2013, with a goal marathon in-between. That's 18 months of racing planned in advance, much more than usual, but I am very happy with how it all turned out.

I never planned beyond Connemara though. After my 2:55 in Tralee I thought I might aim for another spring marathon and then go for Belfast in July, but the idea that is slowly forming in my head is to concentrate solely on the ultra and forget about a 2:50 marathon (probably forever - age is not on my side temporarily), but right now I am still keeping my options open. At the very least, I still have over a week of no running ahead of me, something my marriage which will hopefully survive.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Always The Bridesmaid

Ideally you want to be calm and relaxed the day before any race, never mind a 100 miler. Things started to go haywire much earlier than anticipated when my car broke down less than a mile from home! A few frantic phone calls later Niamh had organised a taxi to the airport, I picked up my hire car and drove towards Clifden flustered and late, but I got there even if it was late. It was not the ideal preparation, but sometime you just roll with the punches.

Twelve highly trained runners/hardy souls/lunatics/feckin eejits (choose one or all, as appropriate) gathered at the Station House in Clifden shortly before 6 o'clock on Saturday morning, 10th August 2013. With serial winner Mick Rice absent for the first time, it was clear that a new name would be on top of the podium. I thought the win would be contested between 4 runners, namely Maciej “Magic” Sawicki and Graeme Colhoun who had both finished second before, myself and Grellan. I even pointed Grellan out to my crew, “he's gonna be dangerous”.

Grellan told me he would probably curse the day he came across my blog at some stage today. (Niamh's comment: So does Abina!)

We started exactly at 6 o'clock. Most runners ran off at what they expected to be their race pace, except two of them – me and Grellan. I trotted down the hill very slowly and when I walked the uphill on the other side I turned around expecting Grellan to be right behind me but there was no sign of him. He was obviously walking the entire first mile. I immediately fathomed that he obviously knew what he was doing. He really was going to he reckoned with today.

We completed one loop around town and then headed northwards out of Clifden. The road climbs steeply and I walked a lot of it, starting to run every now and then when the gradient lessened. I caught a couple of runners soon enough but was rather surprised when Grellan caught up with me within about half an hour. Once he had started running he was obviously moving a lot faster than I was. We leapfrogged each other a couple of occasions as one or the other started walking, reminiscent of our first Connemara Ultra (the 39 miler), but he soon enough took off and disappeared very quickly.

The view when I reached the top was absolutely fabulous, even my crew noticed my excitement. That's one of the main draws of such an event compared to running 24 hours around a track – the scenery in a place like Connemara is worth the extra effort. I caught a few more runners as we descended towards Letterfrack and I fell in step with Paddy Quinn, who I had shared a lot of miles with last year in Bangor, though Paddy has run both the 24 hours as well as the Connemara 100 in both years. We chatted about running and football and a few other things until I took off again, wishing him good luck.

The next runner I caught was Magic around mile 15. He commented that we were running too fast. He had a point of course. We were doing about 9:15 pace at that point, which would give us a finishing time of 15:25. Mick Rice can do it, we can't. However, I felt I was running as slowly as I could without feeling awkward, so I kept the pace and Magic soon fell back a bit.

Running through Lettergesh provided some more stunning vistas and I soaked up the atmosphere while I was still fresh enough to enjoy it. Last year, when I was crewing at this event, this was the stretch I had enjoyed the most, where the scenery was stunning and my runner still in good spirits, though this year was even better as I was able to run myself.

By now my crew and I had developed a good understanding of what was required and we were working well as a team. They were keeping an eye on what I was consuming, making suggestions at times and always handing me the goods with great efficiency, so all I had to do was run. My nutrition at that point consisted mainly of potatoes and pasta for food as well as sports drink and electrolytes for drink. I had plenty of different options, but right now I felt that the sports drink provided more than enough carbs to lay off the sweets for the time being. I definitely preferred savoury food at that point.

I reached the road between Leenane and Kylemore and turned right. I was now on the Connemara 39 (and marathon) course, and would remain on it for a long while, though we were running it the other direction. I am very familiar with that road after running the Ultra 4 times and the marathon once and I feel I know every stone. I passed the “Stop and Pray” church after 22 miles, funnily enough pretty much the same distance you would go on the Connemara 39 to reach this point. More importantly, I was feeling very good. I kept seeing two runners not far ahead of me who seemed to be moving at more or less the same pace as I was because the distance between us seemed to remain constant. I was still determined to entirely run my own race and not get sucked into anyone else's pace, so I did my best to ignore them and just do my own thing.

We turned left into the Inagh Valley, another stunningly beautiful area (I keep saying that, I know), though the scenery started to get spoilt by the rain which started as a drizzle and gradually and steadily turned into rather heavy rain. This caught me by surprise, the weather forecast had mentioned potentially heavy rain later on, and I sure had not expected it so soon. I was too slow to get into my rain jacket (I should have listened to my crew of course) and I got soaked, wet and miserable. I guess the race had turned serious.

I checked the Garmin when I reached roughly the first marathon and saw the pace at 9:09, so this was a 4-hour marathon. Of course this was too fast. Keeping the same pace would mean I would equal the Irish National record for 100 miles (the official one, not Mick Rice's real but unrecognised one), and that was obviously not going to happen.

I reached the first checkpoint, Loch Inagh Lodge, at about mile 28. I changed into a new shirt which immediately made me feel better. My aim was to spend as little time as possible at any of the checkpoints and I was out again in about a minute (which later got me a rebuke from Angela for being anti-social). A minute standing still meant two seconds added to the average pace at that point. At this point I figured out a rough strategy. I had averaged under 9:15 pace for the first quarter of the race, if I could keep the average pace at 9:30 by mile 50 and 9:45 by mile 75 and 10:00 by mile 100 I would reach the end in 16:40, and I would still have a 12 second per mile cushion to break 17 hours. Maybe it was a stupid plan, but at that point it was something to focus on.

The rain kept coming down heavily, and when I saw a road sign “Road liable to flooding” I didn't take it as a great sign, but reckoned I would make it out of here in any case. My feet got soaked and I was worried about getting a blister, which can be a serious problem in a long ultra, but the main problem was that it dampened my spirit and I started feeling rather low.

Running a race like that will always provide a few highs and lows, and the way you are able to deal with the low points will mostly define your race and its outcome. I just put my head down and kept moving, just about the only way I know how to deal with that problem. Eventually we reached the end of the road and turned left into the main Galway to Clifden road. We had been warned about this stretch, the traffic was rather heavy and I found it rather unpleasant. Adding to the difficulties was the fact that the side of the road was waterlogged, forcing me to run far more towards the middle of the lane than I would have liked. I was not in a good place.

Luckily the rain stopped, I could take off my rain jacket and the road stopped being waterlogged. Only one driver had hooted at me angrily (a BMW of course) and then Seb and Iain turned up in their fancy little sports car and their cheers lifted my spirits a bit more. The road widened, making dealing with the traffic much easier. At mile 38, I turned to the crew with a big grin on my face “only 100 km to go”, which shows that I must have felt much better already (we had agreed beforehand that I could make 5 statements of that kind that before they would punch me).

Still, I was mightily relieved when I got to Maam's Cross and could turn off the main road after 9 miles. I had expected this to be a quiet spot with loads of room for the crew for the next food and drinks handover but it was heaving with a Farmer's market in full swing. We first had to make our way through all of it for the next feed. I also caught up with the 2 runners I had seen ahead of me over 20 miles earlier, and it turned out they were Sammy and Graeme. Reaching Maam's Cross also meant we had arrived at the Hell of the West, though going the other direction meant the climb was significantly shorter than from the other side – but then again, we already had 43 miles in our legs. Easy it wasn't. Sammy, Graeme and me were all within a minute of each other and I got the impression that Graeme tried to drop me as he seemed to run strongly and determinedly, though I passed both of them in quick succession when they were being looked after at the side of the road by their respective crews.

I was feeling reasonably good, but my legs started cramping and, strangely enough, so did my neck. The cramps subsided when I stopped running and started walking, but covering 55 miles that way would not be fun and I was seriously worried. I discussed it briefly with my crew and we tried a few things. It only improved a few miles later after I took a salt tablet. That really surprised me. The potatoes and pasta were all very salty and I kept drinking plenty of electrolytes so I would have thought I took on enough sodium, but apparently not.

My hands felt tingly and I started feeling light-headed at times, though I kept that secret from even my crew as I did not want to worry them. I briefly wondered what would happen if I fainted on the road but quickly put that thought away.

We saw a lot of cyclists coming the other way on a charity cycle, and many of them were aware of the Connemara 100 and we got a lot of cheers and encouragement on that stretch, which was an immense help. Of course we were all tired at that point, but we all knew that the worst was still ahead of us, and a few cheers went a long way to help.

I passed the halfway point and was looking forward to the second checkpoint at Leenane. Niall was waiting there on behalf of the organisers. Before the race he had given me a message from Jo, his wife, who had crewed for me in Bangor last year, telling me not to mess up the weather this time. She is blaming me for the monsoon in Bangor and the heatwave in Sixmilebridge. When it was raining so hard in Inagh valley I wondered if he would give out to me but by now it was quite nice. We still had the odd shower but it never lasted and on a few occasions we even had the sun coming out.

The average pace had dropped to 9:30 by mile 50, just about within the limits I had set 25 miles earlier, though I was perfectly aware that these limits were completely arbitrary. But it was something to hold onto, and I did gauge my progress against it.

I had intended to more or less run straight through the checkpoint but had noticed the sock rubbing against my left foot so decided to sit down and change socks. I sent the crew ahead and they had prepared everything for my arrival, and we worked through it with the efficiency of a Formula 1 pit stop crew. Niall even chided me afterwards for being unsocial (seems to be a theme developing here). I did ask who was ahead of me, and he confirmed that it was just Grellan, though I confirmed to my crew that I was not going to chase him down, but would still run my own race.

Get out of the chair”

I don't want to get out of the chair”
Get out of the chair”

I got out of the chair. Even with the efficiency of my crew the pace had immediately dropped to 9:34 and already taken much of the allowed slowdown out of the game.

In contrast to my own crew, who kept very closely to me for almost the entire race, Graeme, Sammy and Magic's crews had the tendency of driving ahead by maybe half a mile and setting up a quick aid station, which meant I always knew their runners were fairly close. After leaving Leenane I realised that I stopped seeing Graeme's crew altogether and I only saw Sammy's crew on a couple of occasions, but Magic's crew became a very familiar sight indeed. We always had a nice hello and a friendly wave for each other, but of course we were on rival teams and I would have preferred not to see them quite so often. I had no idea where exactly Magic was and I never turned around to check. I wasn't even remotely tempted to do so, I was so focused on my own race.

It was a long climb out of Leenane and I did not enjoy it, especially as I was running right into a nasty headwind. There has always been a headwind when I had been running that stretch, but this time I was heading the other way, uphill, and the wind was still in my face! I did have to walk more and more of the course, not just because of the uphill but also because of the exhaustion which threatened to take over. At the 60 mile point Seb and Iain showed off their sport number once more, inquiring how I felt and suggesting that the fact that I has just run 60 miles was somewhat responsible for the “f***ing knackered”. I admitted they might have a point.

I passed the “Stop and Pray” church for a second time and shortly afterwards turned left once more into the Inagh Valley for our second pass. On the plus side the weather was much better than during the first visit, but it could not be denied that the 100 km I had already run at that point had left their mark, and I was utterly exhausted. The pace on the Garmin kept coming down much quicker than I would have hoped and the thoughts of breaking 17 hours seemed more and more fanciful. Mind, at that moment just finishing was still the only game. I hardly even cared about the outcome. I was way beyond the point of full exhaustion and just staggered on.

"Find the level of intolerance you can tolerate and stay there." - David Horton

We went through Checkpoint 3, Loch Inagh Lodge again and this time I really ran through it without stopping. I was now two thirds through the race, but mentally I reckoned I wasn't even halfway through. I did not help that, just as had happened at the first pass through the valley, I felt really low again, and at that point I had definitely lost all interest in the lovely landscape. I could no longer stomach either the potatoes or the pasta, but the sweets now seemed rather palatable. “Open the package of chocolate wafers and give me at least one”. (they gave me two, and some jelly babies as well). However, food did not provide a lift. What did help were a couple of painkillers, something I absolutely hate taking and in some way I do not understand how their use can be regarded as legal by the sports authorities because they are definitely performance enhancing, but at that point I started calling them my Happy Pills, which probably means it was a good thing that I had given strict instructions to the crew not to overdose me.

I was maybe a mile from the end of Inagh Valley, 70 miles into it, when Darren told me “your German friend is right behind you”. I looked back, and indeed, Magic was right behind me. “He's Polish”. “Oh”. Never mind his nationality, all of a sudden I was worried about being caught. Magic is well known as a strong finisher and I already started formulating my race report in my head “Magic caught me at mile 70 and I could not keep up with him”. I did some soul searching, trying to figure out how much I would care about being caught, and the initial answer was surprisingly little, but eventually my competitive instincts kicked in and I notched the effort up a bit.

Up to now I had been running entirely my own race, not caring one bit about my position in the field or the distance to the other runners, but being caught late sounds nasty and besides, now seemed a good time to actually do some racing. I ran more and walked less than I had done before and I also kept half an eye on the Garmin, as I figured racing might improve the numbers as the average pace had kept dropping massively to about 9:49, well behind “schedule”, and by now I felt that breaking 17 hours was rather fanciful indeed.In retrospect, Magic sneaking up on me was just the kick up the arse I needed. My crew told me later that they had been debating for 15 miles if they should tell me as they could see him inching closer and closer. Eventually they figured that I would be going like “Why the hell did you not tell me” if he passed, and decided to tell. It was a good move.

This time we turned right on the main Clifden road and once more I did not like the traffic at all, but it was only for 2 miles, which always seemed manageable. I just wished they would not signpost junctions quite so prematurely, it must have been at least half a mile from the first sign to the actual junction.I had been warned about the road towards Roundstone, at least 2 people have called it the “Valley of Death”. I thought it would be around 7 miles but a sign, shortly after turning off the main road, said 15km to Roundstone, so I know it would be almost 10 miles. It really is a testing stretch where climb follows climb follows climb. Under normal circumstances I would have loved the desolate landscape which I find so beautiful, but these were not normal circumstances by any stretch of the imagination. All those runners who had warned me about that stretch – they were right. It really dragged on for what seemed like an eternity.Eventually I reached the houses and my crew pushed on to the checkpoint. Then I passed more houses and more houses and then some more houses, and then I rounded a corner and saw a little bay and the actual village of Roundstone at the other side, still 2 miles away. Yes, those runners definitely had been even more right than I would have thought. I could not quite understand what the sea was doing here, though. I reckoned I had been climbing by at least 300 feet since leaving the main road, and as far as I know that is not located in a deep depression.

My crew - Chris, Carole and Darren

Roundstone was buzzing, at least the pubs were, and I got plenty of odd looks but no hassle. I did ask Ken, the race marshal, what the official mileage was at that point and he said 82, which was much more in alignment with my Garmin than the 80 miles I had been told before the race, and I left the village with some feeling of relief. An extra 2 miles at that point would not have felt appealing.I did not know this stretch, so the big climb out of Roundstone came as a bit of a surprise, but in some way I did not mind as it gave me plenty of excuses to walk instead of running, and running really hurt at that point while walking provided at least some level of respite. I'm sure the view would have been nice, but I no longer had an eye for it.

Eventually it dawned on me that Magic's crew did not turn up as often as they had used to, and when I eventually saw them again they did not set up an aid station but turned around again, so they were obviously checking out my progress and Magic must have fallen behind. Apparently he spent a couple of hours praying “please let him die” but luckily the prayers went unanswered (and I won't take it personally).The wind had really picked up by now and I was once more heading pretty much right into it, which again was not a lot of fun. I might have thought that it was a long road into Roundstone, but it turns out that the road out of Roundstone is even longer.

By now I had concluded that the repeated turns of feeling light-headed were caused by pure exhaustion and since I had not fainted over the last 50 miles I reckoned I would be okay for the rest of the race as well.Darren eventually told me that the wind would turn into a tailwind after the next bend. Unfortunately he had misjudged the distance to the next bend, since Ballyconneely has the same feature as Roundstone, you pass the first houses miles away from the actual village. It meant a longer fight against the elements than I would have liked, but I did go through the very quiet village eventually, what a contrast to the buzzing Roundstone, turned northwards, finally heading for Clifden, and Darren triumphantly announced that he had delivered once more.

I felt easier running with the wind for a change, not that I appreciated it at the time. It was now dark and I was using my headlamp, not that it provided much light, but it certainly was a safety feature. The miles dragged by slowly, and my head was wrecked trying to figure out how far it was; I did not know how closely the Garmin was corresponding to the real mileage. At one point I even asked the crew what the mileage was, adding “be honest”, but they weren't entirely sure either, though it turns out that their guess of 94 miles was very accurate.

Because the last 3 miles are made up of 3 loops through Clifden, the same loop we had done at the very start a long time ago, you get into Clifden itself a little bit earlier than you would expect when you're only focusing on the target of 100 miles, and the sign “Clifden 3km” was the sweetest thing I had experienced all day. From here it was only a few more bends and a few more hills and one more climb into the town centre, and then I was back in civilisation. There were plenty of people out on the road and quite a few seemed to know what we were doing, so I got a lot of cheers on those last few miles, which might explain why I felt so much better all of a sudden.

I expected to absolutely hate the last 3 miles, having to pass the finish gantry again and again without being allowed to stop, but the cheers I got from the assembled crowd was always uplifting and carried me through all the way to the next loop. With one loop to go I saw Grellan, already finished and managed to give him a quick shout to voice my respect and congratulations, and then the crew (well 2 of them) joined me for the final lap. They confirmed that there was nobody behind me so I could relax mentally, but I felt good enough to keep the pace up, at least for someone past the 99 miles point.

I even managed a sprint finish, though I don't think Mo Farah will be worried any time soon. First and foremost I felt relieved to be able to stop running. I was also very proud of having finished a 100 mile race, and was absolutely delighted with my time, breaking 17 hours with almost 20 minutes spare. I was also immensely grateful for all the crew had done for me all day. There were plenty of sweaty hugs.

Grellan had been ahead by about 30 minutes at almost all checkpoints and I had managed to cut 10 minutes off his lead on the way from Roundstone but his assured victory was never in doubt. Would I have liked to have won it myself? Of course I would have, but at the same time I am delighted that one of my best friends has won, and it will provide an incentive to push myself to the next level. I have urged (and still do) Grellan to sign up for a 24 hours race [sorry Abina] because the equivalent performance would easily see him qualify for an Ireland singlet at the next European and World Championship. And if Grellan can do it, so can I ...
10 Aug
Connemara 100 miles race
16:41:49, 10:01 pace, HR 136, 2nd place

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Magic Will Happen

Time has passed much too quickly, I cannot believe I am supposed to leave for Connemara tomorrow already. Do I feel ready? Hell, no!

I feel I haven’t done any training over the last few weeks. Of course that was all by design, recovery from the 10in10 was the main purpose and the 10in10 was always meant to be a training effort for Connemara. Right now all I can do is trusty in my training and give my best on Saturday, though the heart doesn’t quite agree with what the head keeps saying.

This is my big A race of the year and there is nothing like it.  I found it hard/impossible to concentrate at work (let’s hope the boss does not read this) and I am getting rather nervous every time I think of the race, which is basically all the time. Actually scratch that, make that scared rather than nervous. I found it hard to fall asleep last night, thoughts of the race kept going round and round in my head and the heart got pumping every time as if I were out there on the road already.

In short, I’m a quivering, useless wreck and a complete head case right now (yes, I know, it’s hard to tell the difference). I can’t quite remember if I was equally nervous last year before the 24hrs, or before my first marathon, or before my first ultra, but I do remember quite a few sleepless nights, so I guess I must have been.

Not knowing what the best taper is for such a race, I’m making it up as I go along (then again, I’ll be doing the same on Saturday on the road). I did not run yesterday and slowly shuffled my way through 4 miles this morning, just for the head, not for the legs. The next step I run will be the first in Connemara.

Magic will happen. Let’s hope it’s not of the Dark kind.

P.S. According to my DM stats counter I have run 2013 miles in 2013 so far. Let’s pretend that means something and take it as a good omen.
6 Aug
5 miles, 44:58, 9:00 pace, HR 126
7 Aug
Zero. Zilch. Zip. Nothing. Nada. Nil. Nichts. Rien.
8 Aug
4 miles, 35:15, 8:38 pace, HR 135

Monday, August 05, 2013


The other day I inadvertently found a new way to wind Niamh up. I innocently picked up a measuring tape that she has left lying around and, as you do, wrapped it around my waist. The screams of jealousy from herself when she saw that it stopped at 29 inches were something else.

The last week before the Big Race has arrived. Obviously I'm not doing any more real training, but I kinda feel that I haven't done any real training since the 10in10 anyway because all I have been doing since then was recovering. Of course the 10in10 was always meant to be the big training push for Connemara, so this is all going to plan. If it's a good plan will be revealed.

There was no soreness after Friday's race, in contrast to last week, thanks to the flat course no doubt. I'm still surprised that I managed to run under 6-minute pace without any speedwork whatsoever. I'm a bit curious what time I could run in a 5k after 4 or 5 weeks of specific training at this point, but that's not going to happen. What I'm doing is basically the complete opposite of 5k specific training.

On Sunday and Monday I tried to dial into ultra effort. I ran very slowly, shuffling rather than running, and on Sunday I walked most of the uphill segments. It took the 5 most boring miles of my life to get into it, but once I tuned into the rhythm I was okay, in fact I zoned out so much that I completely forgot about walking the uphills. The same happened this morning, I intended to walk a couple of uphill segments again but again completely forgot about it as I was way back in my own little bubble shuffling away. I guess that's a good sign, in Connemara I will have to completely zone out and shuffle along, otherwise I'll never be able to run for 17 or 18 (or however long it will take) hours in a row. I sure won't lose any sleep if I'm so far in the zone that I forget to walk.

The pace was still faster than what I will be doing in Connemara; just to point it out, averaging 9-minute miles would break the National Irish record by over 15 minutes, and that's obviously not going to happen. But I'm pretty sure that if I start out at 9-minute pace I'll be at the back of the field. The main advantage of that is that I will not get sucked into any silly battles up front. Suits me just fine.
3 Aug
5 miles, 39:17, 7:51 pace, HR 136
4 Aug
10 miles, 1:29:07, 8:54 pace, HR 128
5 Aug
5 miles, 43:01, 8:36 pace, HR 134

Saturday, August 03, 2013


Once again, I wasn't entirely sure if running that race was really such a good idea, 8 days before Connemara, but it is my club's own race and since I was not injured I didn't think I had a valid excuse not to. Besides, I always enjoy it.

I sure did not expect much, the only time I have run at anything vaguely resembling pace was last Saturday's 10k in Glenbeigh and that only brought me home in 40 minutes. I was pretty sure it would be my slowest outing on that course yet. Overshadowed by the Reeks it sure made for some spectacular scenery, but the course itself was mostly flat.

There was the usual banter, I think Seamus and me are incapable of not throwing mild insults at each other immediately before and after a race, but it's all in good spirit. A few guys ran off at breakneck pace right from the gun and I found myself in 7th position at first, but by mile 1 I was in fourth. Right beside me was our club's great big young hope (I won't mention his name for privacy reason, just in case) and while I expected him to fall back, as every other youngster I have ever caught in the first mile has ever done, he clung on and refused to be dropped.

The first two miles felt reasonably good but that was slightly downhill and with a slight tailwind, and while neither was particularity worthwhile, it would ensure that the return journey would feel considerably harder. On a slight uphill at the halfway point the cheeky youngster left the old man in his wake all of a sudden, and while said old geezer expected to catch up again sooner rather than later, this geriatric was wrong and fell further and further behind. I did move back into fourth position by catching another whippersnapper who might have gone off a little bit aggressively, but I was starting to feel every single one of those past 43 years in my legs and lungs.

I passed the 3 mile sign already pretty deep in the red, and then ran and ran and ran, up a very slight incline that usually you wouldn't even notice, and when after a long time of running hard I sneaked a quick look at the Garmin and saw 3.15 miles displayed I could not help but think "you gotta be f*ckin kidding me!", though in retrospect the 3 mile sign might have been a tad early. At that point I was actually looking forward to running in Connemara when 10 minute miles would be regarded as fast, rather than those painful 6 minute ones I was trying to do right now.

The finish line drew nearer, which was good because I was completely goosed and by now I was pretty sure that those footsteps I kept hearing were not a figment of my imagination. Even though I convinced myself that I would be capable of holding my position, reality spoke otherwise and Robert Jr. re-took his place from a mile earlier. With about a quarter of a mile left I did what you should never do, namely look behind me at a corner, and saw that I was being chased by yet another runner who was drawing uncomfortably close, so I made damn sure to put every effort into the last minute of running and salvaged fifth place by 3 seconds. He told me afterwards that he had notice me looking back and thought he would catch me but ran out of road (I know how that feels - it's good to be the other guy for a change!).

Despite clearly faltering towards the end it was still good enough for first man over 40, and I got a nice surprise when I checked my Garmin and realised I had comfortably broken 24 minutes in 23:41 (correctly rounded to 23:42 in the results), so I had actually run my fastest time on that course (a 4-mile PB in fact) rather than the slowest one, and had run half a minute per mile faster than in Glenbeigh, quite some improvement though it sure helps if you don't have to climb a mountain halfway through.

Idiot me had left his jacket at home (and right at the door too!) and I got a bit cold but the prize giving came soon enough. The feeling when they call out your name and you walk up to receive your prize to the generous applause of your fellow runners is something I won't get tired of any time soon, it does give me a real buzz every time. The club committee have also very, very generously decided to give half of the takings to the Liam's Lodge charity, the one I had run the 10in10 for (with the other half going to another charity), which I am immensely grateful for, and which makes my worries if I should have run the race or not completely irrelevant.

Thank you very much everyone.
1 Aug
5 miles, 40:05, 8:01 pace, HR 138
2 Aug
7.5 miles, including:
   Kilgobnet 4 miles race, 23:41, 5:55 pace, avg. HR 177
   5th place overall, first M40
3 Aug
5 miles, 39:17, 7:51 pace, HR 136