Sunday, November 17, 2013

How Not To Pace

Middle of November is the time of the quickly becoming famous Sixmilebridge loop race. Like last year they offered four distance choices, namely half marathon, full marathon, 30 miles and double marathon. I was tempted by the double but had a few demons to wipe out of the system first, so the 30 miler it was once again.

The weather forecast had been pretty good but as I drove towards county Clare I got the distinct impression that we might be in for a repeat of last year's atrocious conditions. As a result, I picked my outfit with the intention of keeping warm rather than looking stylish. I ended up sporting an orange t-shirt, blue girly arm warmers, black shorts with black compression short peeping out, grey compression socks and dark grey shoes of the ugliest colour scheme I've ever come across. It was definitely a question of function over anything else.

As soon as Mark saw me his face went "oh f*ck, I won't win today". I'm very familiar with that expression because a minute earlier it had come across my own face when I spotted first Keith Whyte and then Mike "Curly" Cunningham in quick succession. I would not have to worry about losing a sprint finish today, that much was immediately clear. Keith actually told me he had only just started running again after an injury and was going to pull out after 20 miles, though in all honesty I was not entirely convinced.

I started at the front just behind Mike and Keith. Mike immediately meant business and stormed ahead; for a couple of seconds I actually wondered if I should go with him but that would have been exceptionally stupid, so I didn't. Instead I fell into step right behind Keith who was clearly taking it very easy today. Very easy for him that is - he was doing 7 minute miles. At first that felt very comfortable and I was happy to tag along. I remembered that I had kept that pace in Portuma for the entire 50k and felt very comfortable, so it certainly did not seem out of order. First doubts started creeping in after mile 3 when I realised that we were now doing sub-7 miles, and on loop 5 I glanced my HR from the Garmin as we were going up the hill and it was in the high 160s. Again, that's not outrageous, I have run at least one marathon at a higher average HR, but it just felt a little bit too quick and soon later I let Keith go. He inched away from me very slowly but steadily, and a few laps later he was out of sight.

I was still feeling okay for a while, but somewhere around mile 8 or so I had a bit of a low, which is rather early. I did try and pull myself out of it by taking a gel or a few sips of coke when I passed the aid station. It seemed to work for a bit but soon returned, and by mile 12 or 13 I was already knackered and supposed that I was going to pay the price for the early pace. I guess I'm not in the same kind of shape as in Portumna and the Dublin marathon is still in my legs as evidenced by the evaluation earlier this week. Oh, and the fact that we had to climb a hill on every loop did not exactly make things easier.

Most people who have never run that race think I'm completely bonkers running a 30 mile race on a 1 mile loop, but anyone who has tried it can understand how that very fact makes it a very social event as you're constantly meeting lots of other runners and the atmosphere is unique. The enthusiastic marshalling just adds to that; I love that race and I'm not alone in that.

Anyway, I was feeling knackered and still had about 17 or 18 miles to run. I resolved that the best way to deal with the situation was to cruise to the finish, or at least for as long as I was still able to cruise. Basically I tried to expend as little energy as possible while still doing some half-decent pace. I wasn't going to win the race no matter what and there was no pressure from behind either (one other runner had started at the same pace as me a Keith but had long since fallen back), so my race position seemed set and taking the foot off the gas seemed perfectly logical, so that's exactly what I did.

I did go through another few lows over the coming miles and kept fuelling in the hope that that would pull me through. A bottle of Lucozade that I had stashed earlier came in very handy and I had 4 gels with me, all of which I consumed (I think that was the first time ever that I took all my gels), in addition to plenty of coke from the aid station. I wonder if all those carbs messed up my fat burning, but it did seem to work. I kept getting plenty of compliments that I was flying and looking good, but you get that kind of talk anyway no matter what you look like, so that's not a reliable gauge.

Looking at the mile splits now I ran the first 10 miles at about 7:00 pace, the next 9 at about 7:30 and the next 10 at about 7:40. I did manage to hold things together reasonably enough but it was never going to be an outstanding performance. Somewhere around mile 23 I did wish I had signed up for the marathon rather than the 30, but those thoughts vanished soon enough. Mind, I'm glad I didn't go for the double.

For a while I answered all questions how I was feeling with "f*ing knackered" but it did eventually dawn on me that negative talk isn't a good thing and switched to "getting there". Switching my mindset from negative to positive had a definite and real impact. My pace might still have been the same but the enjoyment returned and I felt much better. That's definitely a lesson I can take away from it.

I went through the marathon in 3:12 or 3:13, definitely not one of my better performances but no disgrace either, especially since I still managed to add 4 miles on top of that. Towards the end of the second-last mile Ruthann went past me, but once I started the final lap I put a bit more effort into it, which made it look like I was chasing her. I caught up with her right at the top of the hill, said "final lap" as a way of explanation and stormed towards the finish. I ran into traffic right at the end, so the finish line photo won't be a classic if there is one but I was happy to be done.

Keith had indeed pulled out, so I finished in second place, again! I congratulated Curly on his victory and a very impressive performance. Shane James Whitty had won the marathon but seemed more concerned with me coming second once more. The second place finisher in the marathon was Thomas Klimas, who I had run together with for 30 or 35k in Portumna, and we had a chat as well.

It sure was not the best paced race I've ever run, but since I will most likely never ever get the chance to run shoulder-to-shoulder with the present Irish National 100k record holder again I am actually glad that I did run with Keith for a few miles. I did manage to salvage a race when things threatened to fall apart and since I managed to finish with a 7-minute mile I guess I would have been able to race faster had the situation required it, but since I finished 20 minutes behind and 8 ahead of places 1 and 3 respectively, cruising to the finish without killing myself seemed like the best option.

I had said beforehand that I would be perfectly happy to be beaten by a better runner, and what's more, I actually meant it. Unlike last year I did not have to drive home in the knowledge that I had thrown away a rare possible victory, and that alone is enough to make me happy.

The Eddie Murphy memorial one-mile loop race in Sixmilebridge is an absolute classic. I already can't wait to do it again.

17 Nov
Sixmilebridge 30 mile race, 3:40:54, 7:21 pace, HR 159
   Second place


  1. There was certainly no point in killing yourself Thomas. Not only is Dublin still in your legs but my guess is that Connemara is still lurking in there somewhere. Still a very respectable time for someone who wasn't racing all out. A unique event indeed.

  2. No one would blast in the end, when the positions are already set, unless they were going for a personal best. And going out a bit fast for the pleasure of running with a national record holder when one feels good cannot be called a mistake, rather play. You did great, congratulations!

  3. Well done on putting in a very respectable performance from less than stella training cycle. It's worth remembering that you won back in 211 with a slower time.

    I also note that your average HR was higher than 2012 and 2013 so despite taking it easier in the later stages you put into pretty good effort.

    Pacing wise certainly not ideal. I am particularly surprised that you went out so fast given than your evaluation suggested you weren't in great shape. Do you have a HR trace for the whole event? It would be interesting to compare paces/HR over your three Sixmilebridge 30 runs to see how they compare.

    1. Like I said, 7 minute pace felt very comfortable at first and I was relishing the opportunity to run with the current Irish record holder. Garmin trace is here, and last year's is here. I don't have the one from 2011, apart from the graph in that race report.

      I ran 5 minutes slower than last year but I'm reasonably certain that I would have been able to run at least as fast again yesterday had the race situation required it.

  4. Thanks for the links. Your 2012 run looks far more evenly paced, but even the 2013 looks pretty even once you settled down after 70 minutes.

    One thing that is clear in both 2012 and 1013 is that your HR is fluctuating with the hills quite significantly - typically a 10bpm range each mile loop. In terms of physiological load and maximum efficient use of glycogen stores one would probably be best to try and keep the HR as even as possible, so with this big fluctuation there may be an opportunity to pace better and the micro scale even when outwardly the macro scale pacing looks fine.

    For the 2012 race it might been more efficient to run the ascent slightly easier and the descents harder to even out the HR. Such a strategy would make more efficient use of glycogen stores so your average pace could be increased.

    For the 2013 the faster start would be burnt disproportionately large amounts of glycogen leaving less for the rest of the race so that pace would have to be eased off. So going off more conservatively will likely have helped improve the average speed. Also like with 2012 running the ascents easer and the descents faster would again helped make more efficient use of glycogen stores and allowed for a higher average pace.

    Pacing this way is very hard to do just be feel, our own excitement and competitiveness overrules about ability to judge the actual physiological load. Even with my experiments with pacing by HR monitor myself I still find it tough to actually back off enough on ascents and hold back at the start.

  5. That's impessive. Nothing wrong with 2nd place and splitting a marathon in 3:12. Nothing wrong with heel-striking either!