Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Two Germans And An Englishman

The weather forecast had started to get rather ominous the week before the marathon with a massive storm predicted, and it got worse every time they updated the forecast - until Thursday or Friday when it started to get a little better again every time. It's still fair to say that we expected a rather tough day at the office when most of the pacers met up the evening before. The joke about doing a Mary Poppins came up more than once.

Therefore Monday morning came as a nice surprise with the rain already gone and the wind much calmer than expected. I was rather cold before the start but once we got going the conditions were pretty good.

There were three 3:10 pacers; apart from me there was Torben from Hamburg and Martin Rea, a former winner of the Connemara Ultra and rather accomplished runner, and a certain race director gave our group the title mentioned in the headline - 1 out of 3 ain't bad, I suppose.

Running a (sub) 3:10 marathon is about 7:15 pace. Because a Garmin almost invariably measures long, you need to run about 4 second per mile faster in reality and since we wanted to come home slightly under 3:10 that was another second. 7:10 on the Garmin was the target pace.

In my recent training runs I had troubles getting up to speed over the first mile, but with the congestion that comes with a big city marathon that was not an issue. We hit the first mile slightly slower than 7:30, which was to be expected. The second mile was pretty much on pace and over the next 3 or 4 miles we made up the difference. By the time we exited Phoenix Park we were bang on time.

At that point I was maybe 20 meters behind my fellow pacers, but I noticed that they were running a bit faster than goal pace. They were too far ahead to give them a shout and eventually I decided to fall back a bit and remain on actual target pace, even if it meant that the 3:10 pacing group got slightly split up. There was some doubt in my mind if I was doing the right thing but I have paced plenty of times before and decided to trust my own experience.

The spirit amongst the runners surrounding me was very good. The water stations tended to be a bit congested but elsewhere it was mostly fine; it got fairly bad with the 3:30 and 4:00 pace groups, I think, though.

Crumlin road is a tough part of the course, slightly uphill and always against a headwind, but despite earlier worries it was no worse than any other year. My own part of the 3:10 group crossed the halfway line half a minute ahead of time, pretty much where I wanted them to be. The other pacers were almost exactly half a minute ahead of us, so the gap wasn't as big as it might have seemed. It might have grown by a few more seconds until mile 15 or 16 but then started to shrink again. Since I certainly had not sped up, the others must have slowed down slightly, but we are really only talking about 2 or 3 seconds per mile and I doubt any of the pacees noticed any real difference.

My part of the 3:10 pace group - photo by Lindie Naughton

The group of runners surrounding me remained remarkably stable, usually the pacing group more or less falls apart after mile 20 but a remarkable number of runners managed to stick with me. Mile 20 to 23 are slightly downhill but then it is 3 flat miles to the finish and that's where most of the carnage happens. We caught a lot of runners/walkers on that stretch and the pace difference between us and them was at times huge. I suppose most of them were crash victims of the 3:00 bus - I've been there myself, of course.

By that time we had almost caught up to the other part of the 3:10 pace group, entirely without having to increase the pace. One of the pacers, Torben, got into trouble here and fell behind. That's why there are 3 pacers by group I suppose, and he was not the only pacer in trouble today, but overall the pacing was at the usual high standard.

There is a video of that shows the 3:10 group close to the end as well - we get into it 2:40 into the video.

The conditions kept the worst till last, there was a really strong headwind between miles 24 and 25, and anyone struggling to keep up would have been in real trouble here. We were a little bit ahead of schedule, which turned out to be a good thing I suppose because it meant we did not have to kill ourselves and/or burn off the pacees to remain on target.

As we were nearing the finish I did my usual thing at the end of a pacing job and ran backwards at times, trying to encourage anyone behind me to push ahead and get the best time possible, which usually works remarkably well and just about everyone behind me managed a sprint and finished just ahead of me. I crossed the line in 3:09:45 (DCM's time) which is just about perfect, even if I say so myself.

Before the marathon I had been a bit nervous about pacing 3:10, the fastest time I have ever paced, especially since I was still recovering from Connemara and my own stupidity. Running 7:10 pace in training had felt manageable but tough enough after a few miles, so I was really surprised by how comfortable I felt throughout the marathon. It was not until the last 1 or 2 miles that the legs started sending some fatigue signals, and even then it was not bad at all.

Having the pacing group split up by half a minute was not planned but actually worked out very well. I did notice a sizeable number of runners who had started dropping off the pace behind the first group and were starting to become dispirited only to have me catch up several minutes later and realising that all was not lost yet. A few of them managed to hang to me, when otherwise they would have dropped off completely. While it is hard to work out the optimum method of pacing a group, we may just have stumbled upon a great way to maximise success.

Well done to all the pacees who stuck with us from the start to the finish, so well done to Liam and Stephen and Rolando and Robbie and all the others, congratulations. I'm still reeling from a massive bear hug from one particularly happy runner who had just managed to break 3:10 for the first time in 14 attempts, and it's fair to say that the real joy and gratitude of the runners makes pacing a really rewarding experience.

I even managed to get onto the telly, the winner just happened to be interviewed as I was finishing in the background and with that butterfly wing on my back I was rather easy to spot. A few minutes later, who would be shouting my name but Rik Vercoe, the winner of the 10in10 in Sixmilebridge back in July, who had just run his first ever sub-3 marathon after running 32 marathons in a row (and some people have the cheek to suggest that I am mad). He got a big hug as well, obviously.

It was a great day, as ever. The Dublin marathon really is special. I can't wait to do it again.

28 Oct
Dublin City Marathon, 3:09:45, 7:14 pace, HR 160
   pacing the 3:10 group

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

DCM 2013 - update

Pacing the 3:10 group went exceptionally well, I'm really pleased. Came home in 3:09:44 (my Garmin) or 3:09:45 (DCM's as yet unofficial time), which is just about perfect. While I was a bit nervous before the start because this was the fastest time I've ever paced, I felt very comfortable all the way. Race pace report to follow later - got to go home first.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Once More

Monday morning I will be running my eighth Dublin marathon, which I suppose means that I like that race. The atmosphere is definitely unique, nowhere in Ireland will you get as many spectators for a road race and for the last few miles the crowd is always buzzing. It will also be my fourth time in a row as a pacer, which does put a bit of pressure on me but I'm reasonably confident I'll be able to handle it. The weather could be quite interesting, according to the latest forecast we might just about escape the worst of the storm, but we'll see how it goes. Let's hope the rain won't drive away the spectators, the race would be so much poorer without the crowd support.

I have been doing nothing but easy running since the evaluation workout on Wednesday. The legs have felt very good and the pace has come down quite a bit for the same level of effort compared to a few weeks ago. I think I really managed to get out of that hole just in time for Dublin; let's hope the next 26.2 miles won't drop me right back in. I will certainly have to be careful with my recovery but let's get the marathon out of the way first.

The drive up from Kerry was without incident, at least if you ignore the usual self-inflicted dramas that come with a drive for several hours in a car full of children. I did have a couple of scares during the week when Shea had a sore throat on Monday and then again on Thursday, but nothing came of either. Maia seemed to fall sick Friday night, she had a temperature and slept for hours in the afternoon, but then we remembered that she'd had an immunisation shot the day before, which did explain it. She was right as rain when she finally woke up, though it meant she missed her school's Halloween party, which was very disappointing, poor thing.

Dublin City Marathon will always have a special place in my heart. While there are one or two other races that I would rank ahead of it, Dublin 2004 was my first ever marathon (as well as my first ever road race - not that I would recommend that sort of action in general) and it's always a great race to return to. It helps that the organisation is always to the highest standard and the reputation as the friendly marathon well deserved.

I guess that's enough free advertisement for now. If you're at the expo late Sunday at the pacer stand or the race start on Monday with the 3:10 group, be sure to say hello.

24 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:23, 7:47 pace, HR 137
25 Oct
8 miles, 1:00:53, 7:36 pace, HR 143
26 Oct
5+ miles, 39:25, 7:48 pace, HR 138
27 Oct
2 miles, 14:35, 7:17 pace, HR 149

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


As you know if you have been reading this for more than a couple of weeks, I have been struggling a bit with finding the correct level of training recently. Running 10 marathons in 10 days in July followed by a 100 mile race in August did put quite a strain on my body (yes I know, who'd have thunk it!), which was exacerbated by me misjudging the level of recovery required. The last few weeks have provided quite some lesson, and I had to completely change my definition of an easy week.

Having said that, there has been some definite and real progress over the last few weeks and I can feel that I'm climbing out of the hole I managed to dig myself into. One very clear indication was the way I felt on Monday; I expected the usual sore legs after a fast run on Sunday, but in actual fact I felt very good - not just the legs, I felt better than usual in general as well.

Noticing progress by subjective feeling is one thing but seeing it in cold hard figures is another, and my evaluation run today provided just that. I ran the evaluation on Wednesday rather than Tuesday to have 2 recovery days after Sunday's 10 mile run, as stipulated in last week's post.

Luckily for me the wind died down overnight, just in time for my evaluation and the conditions were pretty good.

        Mile 1    6:39   HR 161
        Mile 2    6:43   HR 161
        Mile 3    6:49   HR 161
        Mile 4    6:43   HR 161
        Recovery to HR 130: 34 seconds

These numbers show a clear progression from two weeks ago. The pace for each mile is a few seconds faster and the subsequent recovery much faster. The pace is very stable even though I'm not quite sure why mile 3 is a little bit out, but I won't worry about that. All in all these are quite solid figures, considering how bad I had been feeling only a month ago.

On the downside, I somehow managed to bang my head last night (that wall viciously jumped at me - inexplicably, I was completely sober at the time) and felt a slight headache this morning (after my run, I hasten to add). Let's see how it feels tomorrow. While there might not be an awful lot of brain to damage in my case it might still come useful some day, so I'd better take care.

21 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:06, 7:46 pace, HR 139
22 Oct
7 miles, 54:16, 7:45 pace, HR 141
23 Oct
11.75 miles, 1:24:00, 7:09 pace, HR 152
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:39, 6:43, 6:49, 6:43, 34 sec recovery

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pacing Practise

When is Friday not a Friday? When it falls on a Thursday!

Admittedly, that doesn't make any sense. My thinking was that if I do my usual Fast Friday run on Friday there would only be one day of recovery before Sunday, so I moved it to Thursday instead. Wrong weekday aside, I tried to run more or less the same workout again, though I tried to keep the pace of the faster segment at about 7:10 pace, the pace I need to run in Dublin, and a little bit of practise doesn't do any harm. I managed well enough, though I could not fail but notice that the HR was higher than expected, and higher than last week, so that was a bit worrying. It fits in right with the same observations I made in the last post, as soon as I run faster or longer my HR immediately starts climbing much faster than it should.

Following on from that, two easy days followed, and true to form the legs were fairly heavy on Friday but felt better on Saturday, at least once the first two miles were out of the way.

With the Dublin marathon only one week away, I was wondering what I should do on Sunday. I'm not doing a taper as such, mostly because I have no training done that I would now need to taper from, but I still don't want to turn up tired and thoughts of another 15 mile run were quickly set aside.

In the end I decided to do another pace practise. Chances are that Mystery Coach won't like it, but that was a workout for my head, not for my body. I have never paced 3:10 before and I am fairly nervous about it. A little bit of reassurance would go a long way; at least I hoped it would.

Since in the marathon I will have to hit the right pace right from the start I did away with the usual 2 easy miles of warm up. Even so, the first mile was still way too slow (7:30) but then I managed to pick up the speed. Too much, as it turned out, because the next time I checked the Garmin, about 2 miles in, I was doing 6:40 pace and the average was almost down to 7. Oops. I guess that's why they use 3 pacers per band, that way we can keep an eye on each other. The wind made pacing rather tricky; I had it on my back for the first half, which is why I felt averaging 7:00 pace was just about right (no more 6:40 miles, though). Fighting the wind on the way back home was tricky and now that the effort had been established I tried to go by feel rather than watch, which was acting strangely anyway, I kept seeing paces ranging from 5:50 to 7:40 with neither one being right.

In the end I only used up half my cushion and came home about a minute earlier than planned. I'll need to pay a bit more attention in Dublin, I wouldn't want to burn out my pacees with a few fast early miles, but, as I said, there the responsibility will be shared. I do hope my body will cope; it certainly was a much-needed boost for the mind and I feel much more at ease with the thought of pacing 3:10 now. From that point of view, it was definitely a good workout, I suppose.

17 Oct
10 miles, 1:13:43, 7:22 pace, HR 150
   incl. 8 miles @ 7:09 pace (HR 154)
18 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:55, 7:59 pace, HR 138
19 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:37, 7:49 pace, HR 142
20 Oct
10 miles, 1:10:59, 7:05 pace, HR 153
Weekly Mileage: 56

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Psychrolutes Marcidus

Me right now
I think the weighing scales start whimpering in fear every time I get close. It's slightly puzzling because I'm still running over 60 miles a week and my weight has been increasing steadily ever since Connemara in August, but the last couple of week that has accelerated significantly and I am now 7 pound heavier and at my heaviest level for the entire year. Admittedly, right now I see no real reason to curb my chocolate addiction, but it's not like I'm stuffing myself with a bar every day. I do believe that it is beneficial to indulge yourself from time to time and put on a few pounds, as long as you find the discipline to cut out the entire range of junk once the racing season gets going.

I have been dragging all of my 151 blobby pounds over the Caragh Lake road the last few days, but the figures from the HRM are puzzling and I'm left scratching my head. If I run slow, short, easy runs I am getting VDOT values that are as high as I've ever seen, which would indicate that I am in great shape aerobically. On the other hand, as soon as I start running faster or longer I start struggling almost immediately. The weekend showed this up in rather stark light, on Sunday I ran 6 seconds per mile slower than on Saturday, yet my HR was 6 beats higher! It was definitely not a HRM malfunction, I really was struggling and the last few miles were dragging. I'm pretty sure running an evaluation on Wednesday and a few faster miles on Friday had something to do with it, but neither workout was particularly hard - in fact, the effort at both had been distinctly mellow.

For now I assume that I'm capable of doing the odd workout, either a faster or a longer one (and still rather mellow for each variable), but need plenty of recovery in-between, and one easy day between workouts just does not cut it. Let's try with two or more recovery days and see how that goes.

Well, this week I have been doing only short and slower runs so far, not only for recovery but also for family reasons; real life just has a habit of intruding into my running life, though if you're married with four kids that doesn't come as much of a surprise, and it's definitely preferable to have these disruptions now rather than next July! Plus, the way I see it, I am building up credit for the odd weekend away ("Darling, there happens to be that half/marathon/ultra in [insert destination] on [insert date]..."), but don't tell her (and it might not work out anyway).

Meanwhile, life goes on.
14 Oct
8 miles, 1:04:09, 8:01 pace, HR 132
15 Oct
5 miles, 39:29, 7:54 pace, HR 133
16 Oct
7 miles, 55:00, 7:51 pace, HR 137

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Dumb And Dumber

I have a projection clock that displays the time on the ceiling. I love it. Unfortunately I did not reset it after Wednesday’s power cut, so when the alarm went off I saw 5 am up there and actually thought I must have dreamt the alarm going off (yes, I really am that stupid). To make matters worse, I did not even manage to fall back asleep and just lay there dozing. Eventually I got suspicious (“this does not feel like 5:30 am!”) and checked a little but closer, and by then I barely had enough time for 5 miles. Btw, Niamh had a very similar experience when her alarm went off, but she got one crucial step further than me by thinking “if it’s 6 am, why would my alarm just have gone off”. Ah yes, at least there’s only one idiot in our marriage. That’s the second time in three days I managed to mess up the alarm. That Alzheimer must be progressing quicker than I realised.

I tried not to rush the 5 miles by running faster than I should, even though I was clearly under time pressure, and almost succeeded.

Friday saw the return of "Fast Friday", or in that case it should probably be called "Mellow Friday" because the pace was much more relaxed than on my previous attempts. Just over a week ago MC had suggested I try running 7:20 pace at HR 150; so what was I to do when his prediction turned out wrong (now there's a first!) as it turned out that the HR would be nowhere near 150 for 7:20 pace? I quickly settled on running relaxed without worrying too much about either pace or HR, and I just happened to fall somewhere in-between, running a bit faster at a slightly lower HR. I like to think that I got that on just right (now there's a first!).

The outside conditions have changed quite dramatically, the temperatures at 7 o'clock in the morning dropped from 12C/53F on Wednesday to 4C/39F on Thursday, and it looks like they will remain there for a while. I don't mind at all, I dug out my gloves and that's all I need. I much prefer cold and dry to rain, not that I get my wish very often here in Kerry.

The legs felt a bit heavy on Saturday and I cut the run down from the planned 10 mile to 8. I did raise an eyebrow or two when I saw the pace on the Garmin, I had not intended to run 7:40 pace, nor had it felt like it. Running two workouts in the space of three days must have reset my Central Governor. The heavy legs were a warning sign, and I got a far more pronounced warning on Sunday when the legs started to feel distinctly heavy after 10 miles and the last few miles became a bit of a drag. I ran around Caragh Lake and the long steep hills might have had something to do with it as well, but it brought back some very unwelcome memories of that crash of a run 3 weeks ago, though it was nowhere near as bad. Still, this time I'll heed the warning - it is back to short and easy runs next week.

10 Oct
5 miles, 38:54, 7:46 pace, HR 137
11 Oct
10 miles, 1:13:39, 7:21 pace, HR 146
   incl 8 miles @ 7:14 pace (HR 148)
12 Oct
8+ miles, 1:01:41, 7:40 pace, HR 140
13 Oct
15.1 miles, 1:57:20, 7:46 pace, HR 146
Weekly Mileage: 65.9

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Belated Evaluation

In order to find out where I stand at the moment, I was planning on doing an evaluation this week (MC had suggested it as well). My usual schedule for an evaluation is Tuesday, enabling me to have an easy day after the weekend and 2 easy days before an eventual faster run on Friday. That was the plan for this week as well.

What I did not plan for is the fact that I'm an idiot; I dutifully changed the alarm time on Monday evening but then completely forgot to actually turn the thing on. What can I say, the senility isn't going to get any better with old age, is it? At least my body is well used to getting up early and I still woke up in time for 8 miles, so at least it did not end up a wasted day. I was a bit worried that the conditions wouldn't be the same, a windy day makes the evaluation numbers pretty much useless and a stormy Monday morning had been followed by ideal conditions on Tuesday but my luck was in and Wednesday morning was just as calm.
        Mile 1    6:43   HR 161
        Mile 2    6:54   HR 161
        Mile 3    6:50   HR 161
        Mile 4    6:50   HR 161
        Recovery to HR 130: 39 seconds

These are not the best figures I have ever produced, not by a long shot, but they let me know where I stand and in fact they are better than I expected. At the very least they tell me that I will be just fine for the pacing gig in Dublin, and anyway I still have 19 days to get ready for that. A couple of years ago I produced very similar numbers back in December and I suppose seeing them in October is a good sign. I'm certainly happy enough that I managed to keep the pace very stable and the recovery time isn't bad, but of course there is plenty of room for improvement on all fronts (which is what you'd want at this stage).

Oh, and I'm definitely not doing Valentia this weekend. Shame. But it's definitely for the best.

7 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:37, 7:57 pace, HR 137
8 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:44, 7:58 pace, HR 135
9 Oct
11.75 miles, 1:26:25, 7:21 pace, HR 149
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:43, 6:54, 6:50, 6:50, 39 sec recovery

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Pick Up the Pieces

I cannot believe how much better I am feeling right now than 2 weeks ago. The transformation is just magic. Those 2 weeks of nothing but short and easy runs were obviously exactly what I needed, and the difference this has made is enormous.

I got the green light to pick it up again on Friday but for once decided to err on the side of caution and did yet another easy 8 miler. I still don't have full confidence in my body. But I did put it up a notch over the weekend, doing 10 miles on Saturday and 12 on Sunday, all at the same easy effort. I did several months of that kind of running 3 years ago, and I was very surprised how much my pace increased for the same effort when it felt like I did not do any real training at all. On the downside, these were not exactly the most exciting months of my life and I did get frustrated and bored after a while. Back then MC held me on a short leash, but I never managed to show the same restraint when training under my own tuition. We'll see what this year will bring. Considering that the end goal of the present training cycle is a long ultra with a goal pace of 10:30, fast running will not exactly be a requirement.

Saturday was a gorgeous autumn morning with the sun shining so brightly that my only regret was not bringing my shades (it never even occurred to me that they might be required). What a contrast to today when the wind was driving the rain horizontally across Dingle Bay and the Cromane road was decidedly uncomfortable to run on with the water splashing right into the face. That's running in Kerry for you - and it does have its advantages, like it did in Bangor when everyone else was complaining about the conditions and the race had been in danger of being cancelled for health and safety reasons, and I just spooled off lap after lap with my head down, being well used to running in this.

My achilles has been very good and basically unnoticeable until it suddenly hurt quite a bit on the last mile today, a sharp pain out of nowhere and without notice. That's a bummer, but I'm hopeful that this was just a short episode and not a sign of a real setback.

4 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:22, 7:48 pace, HR 140
5 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:15, 7:43 pace, HR 143
6 Oct
12 miles, 1:33:53, 7:49 pace, HR 141

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Down In A Hole

Oops, is it really four days already since my last update? Problem is the same as usual, I’m running out of things to say, at least things that I haven’t said plenty of times before.

The good news is that after a lot of slow easy short runs I can finally feel that I’m starting to climb out of that hole that I managed to dig myself into. The legs had not felt the same ever since that 17 mile run death march 11 days ago, but today, finally, I started to feel good again during a run, hallelujah.

Looking back at the data for the past three days I can see that my HR has been higher than I would have expected. I was not sure where that was coming from, even compared to last week this is elevated and I’m not fighting off any infection as far as I can tell and I am not unduly stressed. But MC seems to take this as a very good sign and managed to alleviate my worries. Funnily enough the data for Tuesday and Thursday is virtually identical, and yet I felt fairly crap on Tuesday and great this morning, which goes to show that HRM data alone only tells you part of the story.

The one thing that was particularly noticeable on Tuesday was the number of midges out there, it was just unreal. There must have been millions of the little tormentors beside the lake, for a while I was running with my mouth closed to stop inhaling the beasts and I still ended up with a few of them down my throat, never mind being covered in a few dozen of them when I got home. Yuck.

So, with the legs finally feeling better, I am actually looking forward to running again, something that was not always true over the last couple of weeks. I still told Niamh that I would skip the Valentia half marathon. As much as I’d love to run it, I just know I would start racing as soon as the gun went off and fall right back into that overtraining hole I’m presently trying to climb out of. Maybe next year.

Ohm and the Achilles feels much, much better. The discomfort is completely gone, and the stiffness first thing in the morning is almost gone. I'm pretty pretty hopeful that this might resolve itself completely sooner rather than later.

30 Sep
8 miles, 1:04:24, 8:03 pace, HR 138
1 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:32, 7:49 pace, HR 143
2 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:22, 7:55 pace, HR 141
3 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:35, 7:49 pace, HR 143