Sunday, December 08, 2013

Run Like An Idiot

The weekend was always going to be a tough one. Work Christmas party on Friday, a marathon on Saturday and Cian's 10th birthday on Sunday were never going to be a piece of cake. But of course I could make things easier for myself by being clever and running the marathon in a sensible way that would not endanger all those recent training gains. So did I do that? Did I ****!

My first problem on Saturday morning, apart from having to get up at 5:30 am that is, was finding the place, because as it turns out the signposting between Macroom and Clonakilty is non-existent and driving on an unfamiliar road in the dark and through heavy fog doesn't help navigation. Nevertheless, I arrived in good time, very much looking forward to the race.

I started near the front, and for the first mile or so found myself running beside Keith Whyte yet again, just like in Sixmilebridge three weeks ago, but this time surrounded by plenty of other runners. A quick count gave me well over 30 runners ahead of me and I wondered if the field had increased in quality since last year or if some people were going to pay a price later on (oh how little did I know!).

Happy at the start, running alongside Keith once more. Photo by Kieran Minihane.

There was a group right ahead of me and I decided to join them; running in a group is always easier than running on your own. Angela McCann was part of it, which should have set off my alarm bells but did not. There were close to 10 runners in that group, including a second lady, Maura Regan. The atmosphere was very relaxed, Angela and Maura were chatting for a while ("aren't you supposed to race each other rather than having a friendly chat") and I was discussing everything from teenage daughters to Manchester City with Conor. At one point Angela asked us to stop making jokes as she couldn't stop laughing and it cost her energy - ever the consummate professional.

Conor remarked at mile 7 how chatty and relaxed we all were and in 10 miles it would all be so different. He was wrong. Within a mile we were labouring hard on the first of a series of brutal climbs (there had been several non-brutal climbs already by that point) and the group disintegrated rapidly, with Angela going off the front, obviously. I hung back a bit, trying not to kill myself on the uphill and being reasonably confident that I would catch up on the downhill again, which was only partially the case. Within a mile or two I started feeling the effort and had to labour rather hard, certainly harder than I would have liked, and wondering how it all had fallen apart so rapidly after feeling so relaxed only 15 minutes earlier.

I fought on for about another mile before deciding that I had indeed been an idiot, especially so as I had made exactly the same mistake 3 weeks earlier in Sixmilebridge, and that by far the best option was to relax a bit, and, reluctantly, let all the other runners in the group go (except one runner, John, who was suffering even more). I started cruising at a slightly more relaxed pace but I felt very rough.

I think taking a caffeine tablet at that point turned out to be a rather inspired move. I reached the halfway point in slightly over 91 minutes but knew I wasn't going to be able to keep the pace and not exactly looking forward to the second half. However, I was right behind Maura and Emmet again all of a sudden, which came very much as a surprise, seeing as I had resigned myself to never seeing them again until the finish. Had I sped up or did they slow down? I did not say it out loud, but a look at the Garmin indicated that it was the latter. Shortly after halfway the course turned decidedly brutal with a series of very tough climbs, one tougher than the other and all of them adding another layer of fatigue on already overworked legs. Conor and a couple of other runners from our group were clearly feeling the effort as well and we kept leapfrogging each other, depending on who was feeling low at the time or who was better at climbing or descending. Two runners from behind caught up with us in quick succession somewhere around mile 16, but rather surprisingly they were the only ones.

There was a very steep drop at around mile 18 and it kept going for a mile, losing all the elevation that we had worked so hard for. My way to run these steep drops is to visualise my body being perpendicular to the road, which causes me to lean forward and the effect of gravity keeps pulling me down the hill very quickly and with little effort; all I have to do is keep spinning the legs enough to not fall on my face. It worked very well, I was doing sub-6 pace at times and gained 5 places or so with no real effort. Unfortunately, running on the flat, and the next climb, felt all the harder. I gained another place, with the caught runner clearly suffering badly, and then hit the worst climb of them all at mile 20.

This really was brutal, steep and well over a mile long, and the fact that we had over 20 miles in our legs made it feel twice as steep and at least twice as long. There was nothing to do but keep working hard, trying to ignore the screaming quads and hamstrings and just get on with it. I made up a good bit of distance to the runner ahead but could not quite catch up, and when I finally reached the top there was a sharp right turn and I caught a quick glimpse of the runners behind me. Maura had overtaken all the boys and was about half a minute behind, with all the guys strung out behind.

The descent was brutally steep once more, which was very hard on our suffering quads, but I got on alright. I was suffering and counting down the miles and got completely paranoid about getting caught from behind. I had taken a coke from the aid station at mile 20 and did the same again at mile 23. To my surprise the runner ahead of me got closer and I managed to overtake him and started chasing the next one. At that point something started to work again. Maybe it was the second coke, but all of a sudden I was flying again and the pace increased remarkably. At one point I caught a glimpse of my Garmin and saw sub-7 pace, which I had not managed for the last 15 miles on the flat (wait, what flat?). I got right behind the next runner, Joe Walsh I think, who had been in our big group earlier on, but then disaster struck.

Getting there. Photo by Kieran Minihane
My calves had sent the odd spasm before, but all of a sudden the cramping got really bad at mile 24. It happened in both legs, which brought back unwelcome memories of the first Dingle marathon when I had hit the deck after both legs started cramping simultaneously and could not support my weight any more, but thankfully I was spared a full repeat. It still was bad enough, very very painful, and at one point I started screaming out in pain, which alerted Joe to my presence and I think he sped up after that. I was tempted to stop and try to stretch out the cramps which were really taking hold of both calf muscles, but that would have cost me some places and I kept going, desperately trying to get things back under control. The right calf was worse and at one point it felt like my toes were turning outwards with each stride (or the heel was turning inwards) and I could feel the leg shaking and struggling to support my weight with each stride, which really did not feel good at all. Even trying to run as relaxed as possible did not help, in fact that seemed to bring on more cramps. For at least a mile I was fighting wave after wave of cramps, all the while desperately trying to keep the pace at a reasonable level. I could see two more runners just ahead of me who a mile earlier had been completely out of reach. This was immensely frustrating, I had the energy levels to run much faster and would have caught them easily but the calves just would not cooperate and forced a much slower pace on me. It was was clearly a case of the chain being only as strong as the weakest link, and the high energy levels were to remain untapped.

Clearly showing the effort at the end. Photo by Peter Mooney.

We got back into Clonakilty and the finish line came all too early (as in trying to catch the runners ahead of me) or all too late (as in dealing with the cramps), but once I crossed it I was happy again once more. My time was 3:09:21, only marginally faster than the pacing effort in Dublin but requiring far more effort due to me being a complete idiot by running much too fast in the first half. Admittedly, it was a much tougher course than Dublin, one of the toughest in Ireland, ranking only just behind Dingle in my view (and almost as scenic and beautiful as that one). I ran 98 minutes for the second half, not a good split, though the second half contained the majority of the increasingly brutal climbs. I also made up about 5 place in the second half, so others had paced themselves even worse, not that that is any excuse for my own stupidity. I came in 18th and the cramps had cost me 3 places, but in the end it does not matter one bit if you come 15th or 18th in a race like that.

Within seconds of crossing the line I was whisked away to a video interview with Frank Greally, the editor of the Irish Runner magazine, and then Pat O'Keeffe, the chairman of the marathon club presented me with my 50 marathons medal, which was a great honour and I am ever so grateful for Pat to come down all the way to Clonakilty even though he was not running himself. Clonakilty RD Bob Hilliard could not have been more welcoming and supporting, but eventually I felt cold and started shivering so I headed for the shower (yes, they even provided shower facilities for the runners!)

Halfway there ;-)

I have plenty of thoughts regarding that run but will leave them for the next post. Stay tuned.

5 Dec
8 miles, 1:01:05, 7:38 pace, HR 143
6 Dec
8 miles, 1:04:50, 8:06 pace, HR 137
7 Dec
Clonakilty Marathon
   3:09:21, 18th place
8 Dec
5 miles, 42:37, 8:31 pace, HR 144


  1. Absolutely amazing race effort and marathons achievement! Congratulations, Thomas! It's too bad about the cramps, but 18th overall place on that course is a fantastic result! Wishing you all the best for the upcoming 50!

  2. Thomas, that is one wonderful report.Though not at your level at all, at all, it makes me feel better about my own experience on the day. A head cold landed on Wednesday and I really wondered would I/should I do it at all. I still set out with the sub4 pacers, but lost them at that slow midpoint hill. It was survival all the way home then for a 4.22.30finish. I did vow to never run a marathon again, but your 50 marathon medal has me rethinking! Well done.

  3. What I was trying to say is that I can totally identify with your report - even if running at a whole other level.

  4. Ohh the delights of cramp, well done for keeping going through I know how tough it is trying to coax cramping muscles along. Fingers crossed that you recovery quickly.

    As for pacing, sounds like you did go out too fast, but I think pushing too hard on the hills may well be a factor too perhaps even more significant. Your HR trace should provide a good tool for looking at the times you pushed on too hard or too it took easy.

    I suspect running with the group is double edge sword - it can make running at faster paces feel easier, but faster paced running eats into your carb reserves faster and builds muscle fatigue and damage more rapidly so you have to eventually pay for it during a longer race like a marathon.

  5. Thomas ... twice in a row really ..... with 49 maratons or longer under your skinny belt :) one would think you could pace yourself!! well done on the finish, C U in Ballycotton... you will have to pace the 5.59 min miles better to get a T shirt.... PM.

  6. Class stuff again Thomas. You looked seriously under pressure in the photo but it is considered one of the toughest in the country. Well done again.

  7. thomas , first photo you have compression calf socks on, the other two the socks semm to have fallen down to your ankels , would this have attriubuated to your cramps?

    1. You do have keen eyes! Yes, it might have been a contributing factor, who knows. At one point a few years ago I thought that compression socks had solved my cramping problem and then changed my mind and thought it was salt tablets, but I kept using compression socks just in case. However, on Saturday I cramped despite the tablets and my last remaining pair of compression socks has obviously worn out, which may or may not have been a factor. I need to buy new ones.

  8. I read every word Thomas. But don't tell anyone.