Wednesday, December 31, 2014


December 31 is always a good time to reflect on the past year and if you read a few blogs then you will invariably read a fair few of these types of posts these days.

A year can be measured in may ways, even if we're just talking about running.

One of these ways is by numbers. According to my logs I have run 3838 miles this year, which is the most of any year since I started running over 10 years ago. For a while I thought I might get to 4000, but that would have required things to go right, and I did have a few hiccups along the way, most recently my hamstring issues and then of course that heart scare that thankfully turned out to be nothing serious. This is a fairly impressive number of miles but I can assure you that I never ran a mile purely for mileage sake (well, except those two miles one day back in summer when I realised I had run 98 miles for the week so far).

Another, probably better, way is to check back on last year's goals and see if you have achieved them. 2014 was quite unusual in that respect because I had set only one single goal; even more daunting, realistically I only had one single shot at it. Despite this, it all came through and I managed to achieve my target of qualifying for the championships on a beautiful day in July on the Belfast track. This single day (ok, 24 hours) really defined my entire year. Every mile I had run until that point had been with that target in mind and pretty much every morning since then I have woken up hoping it all hadn't been some very elaborate dream.

I still can't quite believe it - the nerdy kid that was so utterly useless at sport in school is going to run in the world championships, representing his country. Wow.

Even though I only had that one goal race, I did fairly well in a few other races as well. Coming third in the Dingle Ultra was a highlight, as was reaching the same position in the Portumna 100k, which had been one of my favourite races of the year. I still can't quite believe I had felt so good after running non-stop for over 8 hours. Another top-10 finish in Connemara and a successful defense of my Kerry M40 marathon title were other highlights.

I did set a few new PBs; funnily enough, all of them at ultra distances. With Belfast being the sole target, I didn't exactly do a lot of speedwork. Even so, I still managed a 17:55 5k in April, only one week after the Connemara Ultra, which came as a real surprise.

It's been a damn good year! I could not have asked for more!

Anyway .... the last few days I have been a little bit naughty and departed from the Maffetone schedule that I had adhered to for the previous few weeks. I have my club's annual race on New Year's Day and I really feel I cannot miss it. Just to ensure that my legs get at least a minimum of speed work before the start line I did a few strides during yesterday's run, just to get the legs spinning for a change. It's unlikely to make any real difference tomorrow, it probably was more for the head. Expectations are rather modest, if I can get through the 10k without pulling my hamstring I will be happy enough. I've got bigger things to fry in 2015.

Happy New Year!

29 Dec
10 miles, 1:21:49, 8:11 pace, HR 135
30 Dec
8.5 miles, 1:02:23, 8:09 pace, HR 140
31 Dec
10 miles, 1:21:28, 8:09 pace, HR 137

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Winter Running

As I'm sure you are already very much aware, Ireland has a rather moderate climate and outside conditions are just about never a proper excuse not to go running. All the way back in January I missed one run because of thunder and lightning, but that's the total sum of environmentally caused training interruptions for the year. Winter running can have its challenges from time to time, from all those dark hours to winter storms, but on the whole conditions here are very much suited to running all year round.

I felt a bit flat on Christmas Day, which I could not quite explain. Surely those four faster miles from the evaluations wouldn't have had such an effect on my legs? I didn't pig out over the holidays either, so maybe it was just one of those days. Friday was a bit character-forming early on with gale force winds blowing the heavy rain in sideways but conditions improved as the miles ticked by and by the end the rain had stopped (the wind was still a bit of a challenge).

It made the much improved conditions over the weekend all the sweeter. I waited out one rather hefty rain shower on Saturday morning and then headed out into unexpectedly nice weather. I did have to contend with a couple of rain showers, this is still Kerry after all, but I did 19 miles around the lake feeling rather good. The slower pace can be very frustrating at times but it sure is easier on the legs.

Sunday was very much a surprise. It was the first run in sub-zero conditions this winter but the sun was out (I even needed my shades) and it was crispy clear and fresh, and running was a sheer pleasure. The legs felt fine and did not mind the miles over the last few days.

However, I would have hoped I would be used to the Maffetone pace by now but that is not the case. I can cruise along when it's flat but as soon as the road climbs or the wind comes from the front, the HR alarm almost invariably starts beeping, no matter how easy I'm trying to run. When encountering a climb my instinct is to attack it; now I have to do the opposite and ease up considerably. It still does not work on the steep climbs around the lake, on those I'm just resigned that the watch will keep on beeping at me until I reach the top.

My numbers are going backwards. That's to be expected, and is pretty much the point of this type of training. The body is returning to base line, which has to be done because you cannot keep it in a sharpened state forever. Still, it doesn't make great reading when you churn out over 80 miles over a week and see your number declining. Of course, it is a long game. The aim is to step back so that you can reach a higher peak once you start building again. It has worked for me exceptionally well in the past, and it will work again.

Despite all that, I will commit a sin against the system on Thursday and run our club's 10k race on New Year's Day. I'm usually away in Dublin for that and really feel I cannot miss it this year when I happen to be around. Let's hope the old body will cope. I sure don't expect a stellar time - I can't even remember the last time I actually tried to run fast.
25 Dec
10 miles, 1:20:25, 8:03 pace, HR 139
26 Dec
10 miles, 1:23:07, 8:18 pace, HR 138
27 Dec
19 miles, 2:36:20, 8:13 pace, HR 140
28 Dec
13 miles, 1:46:04, 8:09 pace, HR 138
Weekly Mileage: 84

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Evaluating Christmas

The high winds had prevented me from running an evaluation last week and conditions were still on the challenging side of the spectrum on Monday and Tuesday, but the forecast for the Christmas Days was better and I figured I should seize the window of opportunity. Tuesday evening I still wasn't quite sure if the wind would be quiet enough but conditions were actually beautiful and close to ideal.

I had troubles getting my HR up initially. I guess I'm no longer used to running anything faster than snail's pace.

The numbers in brackets are adjusted pace, 3 seconds for every beat off the 161 target.
        Mile 1    6:38   HR 161    (6:38)
        Mile 2    6:42   HR 161    (6:42)
        Mile 3    6:43   HR 161    (6:43)
        Mile 4    6:51   HR 160    (6:48)
        Recovery to HR 130: 38 seconds

The numbers are a bit slower than the previous evaluation. Because I have significantly dialled back the training intensity since then that is a) expected and b) okay. After running so slowly for a few weeks the pace felt faster than usual, but even so the evaluation is still a very mellow workout. The recovery time is a bit higher than I would have expected (maybe because last time it was so low) but it's not an outlier either.

I had been rather looking forward to this, just to get a break from the relentless drudgery that Maffetone training can be at times. Just to get the legs moving for a change was basically a Christmas present to myself.

Since nobody is reading this due to Christmas, and the ones who do should be with their families instead, I'll leave it at that. Merry Christmas!
22 Dec
10 miles, 1:25:14, 8:31 pace, HR 137
23 Dec
10 miles, 1:24:24, 8:26 pace, HR 135
24 Dec
11.9 miles, 1:28:57, 7:28 pace, HR 146
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:38, 6:42, 6:43, 6:48, 38 sec recovery [cleaned up paces]

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Train, Don't Strain

It was another one of those very difficult decisions and I have been mulling over it for a couple of months but I eventually decided, with a very heavy heart, that I won't be running in this year's Ballycotton. It is too close to the championships for a 10 miler, which is a vastly different event from a 24 hours race and I could not possibly hope to be in decent shape for both. I don't want to do Ballycotton without at least an outside chance of getting into the top 100 and I guess that will have to wait until 2016 (yes, I will be even older and by then, I know).

With the all-clear from the cardiologist, normal training has started again. My running has been rather stop-start in recent months with the hamstring niggles and then the heart scare. The championship is still almost 4 months away and if I can get a clear run at training, I will be fine but I sure could do without any further issues.

Actually, I am presently dealing with some minor issue, namely a cold virus that seems hard to shift but doesn't affect me too badly.

Considering that I had a sore throat, a (mild) headache and was not feeling particularly well, Thursday's run went pretty well, especially considering the gale force wind and occasional rain. I know there will be some of you thinking I'm an idiot from running in the wind and rain despite having a cold, and you well may have a point, but then it's this kind of idiocy that got me into next year's championship (and you've got to be an idiot to be running 24 hour races anyway).

Friday was a very similar run on the same course but under more pleasant conditions and I also felt a lot better as regards to that cold. The one remarkable thing about that run was the extremely low heart rate. I have run in the 120s before on a couple of occasions but those were recovery runs at excessively slow pace (slower than 9-minute pace); this one was new.

I didn't quite manage to keep the HR sl low over the weekend, but that was never going to happen on a run over the steep and long climbs of the Caragh lake loop. I pretty much accepted the fact that the watch would keep on beeping at me, just took it very easy. The pace is a lot slower than what I usually run, but it does leave my legs in a very fresh condition and even 17 miles are just a walk in the park. I did notice, however, that I found it hard to keep the HR down below the alarm threshold on the last 5 miles, which are fairly flat and part of my normal running route. on Thursday and Friday I had no problems with the alarm even when climbing a few minor hills. Late into my long runs, those same hills at the same effort level had the watch beeping.

Sunday was a lovely morning with the weather much better than the forecast had predicted. I ran through Killorglin and onto Ballykissane pier, an almost historic route. There are loudspeakers out in town covering the area with Christmas music; to be honest, I much prefer the AC/DC they played in Sixmilebridge during the double marathon last month. I ran just a tad too fast; on the way back home, against a stiff headwind, it was very hard to keep the watch quiet and I think I got desensitised towards the beeping after a while, which is of course not quite what I'm looking for when I'm talking about adapting.

Running at that effort level doesn't really feel like training. As Robert keeps pointing out, this is still faster than the pace I will be running in April. Still, this is slower than my 100k pace(!!!) and on fresh legs it sometimes feels like I'm wasting a perfectly good workout. I do, however, remember training for the Vienna marathon under MC's guidance, and "not feeling like training" was exactly what he wanted to hear during base training, so I guess I may well be on the right track this time.

18 Dec
10 miles, 1:24:25, 8:26 pace, HR 135
19 Dec
10 miles, 1:24:18, 8:25 pace, HR 129
20 Dec
17 miles, 2:21:18, 8:18 pace, HR 141
21 Dec
13 miles, 1:45:44, 8:07 pace, HR 139

Weekly Mileage: 82

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

All Clear

So ... I went to see the cardiologist after he'd had a chance to look at my data from the 3 tests I'd had done last week. He was impressed by what he saw and declared me healthy. He also sanctioned me running the 24 hours championships. Oh, and apparently I am very fit.

I'm kind of wondering what I just spent several hundred Euros on, after all I already had a certain inkling that I'm reasonably fit, but then again it's a lot better to be told that you're fit and healthy than to be told that you're sick and wasting away. I am healthy and I am still able to run, and 2 weeks ago I would gladly have given away every single cent I own to get such an outcome, so what's a few hundred quid!

Having said that, no sooner had I found out that I am a scientifically certified picture of health that I started developing a sore throat. Once more that's not entirely surprising as Maia has been coughing a lot recently and a 7 year old isn't always aware where she is coughing at, so somebody was bound to catch it and it happened to be me. But I am very much aware that my heart scare 2 weeks ago was most likely triggered by some viral infection that I had caught from my other daughter and obviously I'm not particularly keen on a repeat. I was a bit anxious before my run this morning because while I was feeling reasonably fine I definitely was not 100%, which is pretty much how I had felt before that episode but I got through 12 miles just fine, despite the wind and weather.

Running at Maffetone intensity is becoming easier, though I think that's mostly down to me getting used to it rather than the body adapting to the training. I can now run up most hills without the alarm triggering. This morning was very windy and while I had it on my back for the first 6 miles I kept wondering how I would get back home fighting against the headwind while trying to keep my HR down, but when it finally came to it I found it surprisingly easy.

My initial plan for Wednesday had been to do an evaluation but the weather had me change my mind; evaluations just don't work very well in windy conditions because that plays havoc with my HR. I considered running it on Tuesday but decided that I should see the cardiologist in a more rested state (in the end it wouldn't have made any difference). The forecast is for a few more days of high winds and I decided that it's better that way anyway, I'll do strict Maffetone training for another week before breaking it for an evaluation - the HR for the 4 miles of the evaluation is 20 beats higher than the Maffetone threshold!

15 Dec
10 miles, 1:23:01, 8:18 pace, HR 133
16 Dec
10 miles, 1:23:30, 8:21 pace, HR 134
17 Dec
12 miles, 1:38:46, 8:13 pace, HR 132

Sunday, December 14, 2014


The good news is that I have been feeling pretty good over the last few days. After hitting rock bottom on Friday I have been feeling a bit better every day and by about Wednesday I felt completely recovered. The bad news is that I find running with a HR alarm at Maffetone effort very frustrating.

Obviously I realise that after a heart scare the good news is far more important and everything else pales into insignificance. It doesn't, however, mean that I am entirely happy about the situation. I should be grateful that I am still able to run at all, so this is probably me being greedy, but I'd much prefer running a bit faster than that.

I have been reading enough reports from people using the Maffetone method to know that this can test the patience of a saint, and in fact compared to a lot of other runners I'm still doing pretty well. I don't have to walk up every incline and my pace is reasonably close to 8-minute miles, but still, this just isn't all that much fun.

Ok, ok, I'll stop whining.

So, I've been running with the alarm programmed into the watch and the little **** keeps beeping at me every time the effort goes above anything faster than a gentle jog. Actually, that's not quite right. When running up a very steep incline, like I did today (Sunday morning), even crawling pace has the thing beeping and there's not much I can do about it. On the other hand, running down a steep incline means I can hammer out the pace until my quads turn to jelly and the HR is still beneath the alarm threshold. HR alone is definitely not the sole measurement for effort but it's all I have.

I have increased the distance of my runs every day; tentatively at first as I did not want to stress my heart but it all went well and I felt good so I got more confident. The other factor was that the slow pace and exceptionally easy effort meant I would not get tired at all, not even after running further than usual. The downside, obviously, was the slow pace; I sure had hoped my pace would be closer to 8-minute miles.

Saturday was the one run that went reasonably well. Conditions were good, no wind, clear skies and temperatures around the freezing point but without icy roads, perfect. That day I came reasonably close to averaging 8-minute miles, which was a lot nicer than crawling around at 8:30-ish.

On Sunday I went back on the loop around the lake for the first time since my hamstring started hurting, which seems like a very long time ago. I quickly realised that it is basically impossible to run slowly enough on the steep slope to satisfy the watch, but I was not going to walk, beep or no beep. However, the low effort meant I reached the top not even out of breath when usually I struggle towards the end if I'm not in climbing shape. Running up the steep road is usually a very good indicator of my fitness, so I was surprised to find it so easy. On the downhill I could run as fast as my legs would spin and the alarm still would not go off, but I found it hard to settle back into the slow effort once I reached the flat.

Despite this being my longest training run in a while I couldn't feel any fatigue at the end. In fact, I was slightly tempted to add a second loop, despite the wind and rain, but decided against it (for a start, Niamh would go apeshit if I disappeared for 4+ hours without telling her first). This leaves me with a rather modest weekly mileage total, but, as said, I should probably be grateful for being able to run at all.

11 Dec
8 miles, 1:06:20, 8:17 pace, HR 135
12 Dec
10 miles, 1:23:52, 8:23 pace, HR 134
13 Dec
12 miles, 1:36:53, 8:04 pace, HR 136
14 Dec
15 miles, 2:06:09, 8:24 pace, HR 139

Weekly Mileage: 57

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


I got some tests done on Tuesday at the hospital and will see a specialist next Tuesday once he's had the chance to look at the data. In the meantime I'm still allowed to go running, in fact they very much encouraged me to go running on Wednesday morning wearing their own HRM so that they would be able to see what's happening to my heart under those conditions.

After feeling pretty damn awful on Friday morning I seem to have mostly recovered but I don't know if that very slight discomfort in my chest is a figment of my overworked imagination or real, and if it's real if it's significant.

I went out for a very, very easy 5 mile run on Monday morning, did not run on Tuesday because I knew I would be on a treadmill doing a stress test just a couple of hours later in the hospital and did another easy run on Wednesday, this time wearing both the HRM from the hospital (with awkward cables sticking out) as well as my own HR strap.

Apparently I broke their record for the longest time on the stress test treadmill, but since they asked me to stop BEFORE I was going all-out I'd guess they just never had a runner on that thing, so that's not much to boast about,

Assuming that I get to go running properly again I will fall back to a Maffetone-style program. I wrote yet another quick app for the Suunto to give me a HR alarm (btw, any other GPS watch I've ever seen has this built into it from the start - the lack of such basic features is definitely the Ambit's biggest drawback) which I tested out this morning and which seems to work very well. I fully intend to stick with this protocol for several weeks. It's definitely not the most exciting form of training. In fact, I unsuccessfully tried to talk myself out of it but lost the argument with my more logical self because I know that it can achieve spectacular results for long endurance athletes of the very patient kind.

I've been feeling a little bit better every day since Friday and 5 days later I'm pretty much back to normal, assuming that the HR monitor that's still attached to me hasn't picked up anything abnormal. Since they never told me to stop running I'll keep doing just that; probably a bit paranoid at the beginning but hopefully a little bit more confident every time.

One lesson I learned is having your heart acting up is pretty scary.

8 Dec
5 miles, 42:07, 8:25 pace, HR 130
9 Dec
Stress test on treadmill (Bruce protocol, I think) for 19:10
10 Dec
5 miles, 40:48, 8:10 pace, HR 134

Sunday, December 07, 2014


I was really happy with the results from Wednesday's evaluation and was still determined to take it rather easy in training. So when I got up on Thursday morning I expected yet another easy, slow, mundane 10 mile run like I have done hundreds of times before.

I started at a very easy effort, as always, gradually warmed up over the first mile or two and by mile 3 I was well within my stride and just gliding along when all of a sudden my chest started feeling restricted and breathing became laborious. It felt like I had something heavy sitting right in the centre of my chest and I thought that it felt like a mild asthma attack. Lola has just been sick for 2-3 weeks with a virus infection that had kept her coughing and feeling weak and I was fairly sure I was fighting off the same bug. I kept on running; I might have felt a bit uncomfortable but nothing major. Right at the end I tested how my breathing would react if I upped the pace; the answer was, it almost knocked me out.

Still, I didn't think too much of it until I uploaded my run onto the computer and had a look at the HR graph. That's when I almost fell off my chair with shock.

The spike at mile 3 is the most shocking thing but the flat line afterwards is just as unusual. I ran over several hills and the HR should have had a few ups and downs, just like you can see in the first 3 miles.

I uploaded that image onto facebook to ask some more experienced friends what they thought of it (it only occurred to me afterwards that posting medical stuff on FB isn't the smartest move, probably). A few dismissed it as a malfunctioning HRM, but I knew that was not the case because I know I had felt "something" at mile 3; this was real. The feedback from the ones that took it more seriously was mostly reassuring, but I was worried enough to see my GP straight away. She took a few measurements (my systolic BP was rather high) and gave me a referral letter for a cardiologist, though what really struck me was the rather worried look on her face. She did not tell me to stop running, though.

I did feel like crap for the rest of the day, and in fact thought I was about to faint when driving home (taking deep breaths got that under control), which is obviously highly dangerous and not something to take lightly. The next morning I decided to test how I was and started my usual pre-run preparations. That included gently bouncing up and down for a minute and after that I was so exhausted and felt lightheaded I had to sit down on the kitchen floor to avoid keeling over. Not good. Not good at all. I went to work and hardly made it through our stand-up meeting without collapsing, so went home again and into bed, which is where I should have stayed all along.

I gradually felt better again after lunchtime, and almost back to normal in the evening. I wore my HRM for a while, and my resting HR was at 80 initially but dropped to 50 by the end of the day. I still took another rest day on Saturday but was okay for a long day of music lessons, Christmas shopping and other errands, so on Sunday morning I got out my shoes once more and started running. I was perfectly fine at first, if a bit paranoid and kept checking my HR, which I normally never do. After about 2.5 mile I thought I felt a bit off so turned around. I got home without any incidents. My HR was a bit high but nothing out of the ordinary, and after 2 days of not running it always is a bit elevated, so that's okay.

Chances are you won't get rid of me so easily and I'll be okay. I will take it very easy for a while and forget about training for a World Championship. I still suspect that virus from Lola has something to do with it, but I will have to wait and see until I get my appointment with the cardiologist to get some more professional feedback. I've had some HR spikes before, on an almost annual basis in fact, but nothing for over five years. I read through my blog entries from those happenings and felt rather reassured; they had felt very similar and did not stop me from running or developing into a more serious runner.

4 Dec
10 miles, 1:22:03, 8:12 pace, HR 147
5 Dec
6 Dec
7 Dec
5 miles, 38:48, 7:45 pace, HR 143

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Evaluation Surprise

After feeling a crash coming on during the second half of Sunday's run, I knew I had to take it easy. It wasn't just potential overtraining that was on my mind. I also had a bad headache on Sunday evening, and with Lola having been sick for almost 2 weeks I pretty much expected to wake up coughing and feeling like sh*t the next morning.

Even though I didn't sleep very well, that turned out not to be the case. I definitely did not fell 100% on top of the world but there was no sign of coughing or the muscle pain that goes with most sicknesses, so I did my normal 10-mile morning run, though I did make absolutely sure I was taking it very, very easy.

That went well, and I repeated the same on Tuesday morning; I still wasn't feeling all that great but once again the run was fine. I was a bit shocked when I saw just how slowly I had run, but that was a good thing really. Your easy days should be easy, something I'm guilty of neglecting at times as much as most runners.

My hamstring had started hurting again after the fartlek workout last week but gradually improved again, and those two easy runs seem to have been just the ticket. There was not a beep of discomfort left in the hamstring on Wednesday, so I went ahead as planned and did an evaluation workout.

I presume you know the format by now, otherwise you can read back on all the other evaluations I have done over the years. The numbers in brackets are adjusted pace, 3 seconds for every beat off the 161 target.
        Mile 1    6:31   HR 160    (6:28)
        Mile 2    6:36   HR 160    (6:33)
        Mile 3    6:39   HR 161    (6:39)
        Mile 4    6:42   HR 161    (6:42)
        Recovery to HR 130: 28 seconds

The numbers are nothing short of spectacular. The one fly in the ointment is that I'd prefer the pace to be more stable, but apart from that! Not only was I running over 10 seconds per mile faster than last time round (20 days ago), my recovery time is in fact the fastest recovery in my entire evaluation history, which is made even more remarkable by the fact that it's still only 17 days ago that I ran a double marathon at a fairly competitive pace.

It wasn't all happy and sunshine; my left calf felt very tight, uncomfortably so, though obviously that did not interfere with my running. The 4 miles of cool down felt a lot longer than usual, due to the calf as well as some fatigue, and was unusually slow at 8:12 pace. I've jogged home at 7:30-ish pace on occasions.

My Suunto Ambit has a "recovery time" feature, and it accumulates if you train again before your recovery time has expired. After Sixmilebridge it was up to 120 hours, from that race alone. Following an easy recovery week, it was down to 40, but after last weekend I was back to 80 again! I don't know how this is calculated (HR is involved, I know that much) and I would certainly never let a generic feature on some watch dictate my training, but the jump in recovery time did have me worried, alright. However, I prefer the feedback from tried-and-tested things like an evaluation workout, which has the added bonus that I know where the figures are coming from and is also subjective to me (because I compare them to my previous history).

All in all, this is going well.

P.S. Since I do have an evaluation workout programmed into my Garmin but not the Suunto, I wore both watches on Wednesday. The evaluation mile paces are from the Garmin. the Suunto would have had them about 5 seconds per mile slower. Also, the Suunto gave me 11.7 miles at the end compared to the Garmin's 11.8. I always suspected the 310 to slightly over-report distances (and thereby displaying a pace that was a bit too fast), ever since I started using it 3 years ago because it generally tended to report slightly longer distances than the 305 I used to have before. However, I'll keep using the 310 for evaluations, solely to make comparisons with historical evaluations easier, and the Suunto for all other runs.
1 Dec
10 miles, 1:20:58, 8:06 pace, HR 134
2 Dec
10 miles, 1:21:53, 8:11 pace, HR 131
3 Dec
11.7 miles, 1:28:32, 7:34 pace, HR 144
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:28, 6:33, 6:39, 6:42, 28 sec recovery [cleaned up paces]

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Too Much, Too Soon

The mileage this week was back to normal, but I could feel the effects of it all today and the signs are that I have to stop getting ahead of myself. Since Wednesday there has been a slightly longer run, a fartlek session and then a tempo run as part of a back-to-back weekend; looking at it now, it's no wonder today's run wasn't great.

Friday was reasonably easy, just the standard 10 miles at my "natural pace". That was fine. On Saturday I ran 2 slow warm-up miles followed by 8 miles at a faster pace, (mostly) keeping the same HR limit of 155 the coach had given me 4 years ago. That went pretty well and the pace was easily under 7-minute pace, which did please me - not that pace means anything at this point in training.

I did ponder what to run on Sunday. The original idea was to run 18 miles, including the very hilly loop around the lake, but then remembered that Sixmilbridge had only been 2 weeks ago and my hamstring had started hurting again after fartlek, so I ditched the idea of the hills altogether and also decided to run only 16 miles.

The run started well. It was a really lovely, sunny morning (it had been a good while since I had to bring my shades along again), but after 12 or so miles I seriously started dragging and hanging on and decided to take the shortest route back home which gave me 15 miles for the day; only 1 less than planned, but I was glad to be home.

So, the plan for next week is to take it a bit easier again. I am planning on doing an evaluation on Wednesday, otherwise I'll just be running easily. I will take stock at the end of the week and decide what mileage seems appropriate for the weekend. Any faster running will most likely be shelved, unless I make an unexpectedly quick recovery.

There could be something else at work. Lola has been feeling sick for almost 2 weeks now, the doctor says it's viral and she just has to recover by herself. I do have a headache today, which has me worried, though of course I can't say if I caught whatever is affecting her. So far my heart rate data indicates no sickness; I'll see what tomorrow brings. I rarely pick up the bugs the kids keep bringing home, but sometimes it does happen. We'll see.

28 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:31, 7:51 pace, HR 141
29 Nov
10 miles, 1:11:55, 7:11 pace, HR 149
   incl. 8 miles @ 6:57 pace (HR 153)
30 Nov
15 miles, 1:15:58, 7:43 pace, HR 140
Weekly Mileage: 77

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Wednesday morning, stupid o'clock.

The alarm was set for 5:45 but, as usual, I did not need it and naturally awoke a few minute before that (I don't know how that works, but it does). I got up, got dressed, and even before 6 o'clock was out on the road.

It was one of those crispy clear cold mornings that I love. Not even the moon was out, it was just me and a million stars on the dark Kerry night sky, but I had enough light to see the road. Not one car, and in fact not any other creature was to be seen until I got into Killorglin, over 30 minutes later. Killorglin itself was an island of light that I left behind again soon on the road towards Ballykissane, once again entirely on my own. I reached the turnaround point and headed back for the lights once more, but this being the end of November it was still dark when I emerged on the other side of town once more, and I still had the road mostly to myself - I only encountered 2 cars on the remaining 5 miles home.

My breathing was calm and fully controlled, 7-minute miles were passing effortlessly and my running motion was so smooth I felt like floating over the pavement rather than pounding it 190 times per minute.

It was one of the runs I live for. Even when I will no longer be able to run competitively, if I still get to run and experience mornings like that every now and then, I will be a very happy and content old man.


On Thursday it was back to Earth. It was a cloudy and windy morning and I ran 5 easy miles on the way out and then used/tested a little app I wrote for the Ambit to do a "Kenyan fartlek" (60 seconds fast/ 60 seconds easy), though since this was the first run of that kind and I am still a bit worried about my hamstring I didn't exactly kill myself on the fast bit (6 - 6:30 pace, recovery was 8-8:30 pace). This explains the slightly higher HR on Thursday's run; overall I'm very happy with how training is going so far.

24 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:58, 7:54 pace, HR 140
25 Nov
10 miles, 1:18:39, 7:52 pace, HR 136
26 Nov
12 miles, 1:31:24, 7:37 pace, HR 141
27 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:17, 7:38 pace, HR 144

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Real Life

When I as a kid watching the top-class skiers or footballers perform at the top of their game I always presumed they would only ever have to concentrate on their craft, the rest of their lives were taken care of. Eventually I realised that those people, for all their talents, still had to put out their own bins and do their own laundry. Real Life. What a shame.

Turns out, runners who qualify for a 24 hours World Championship still have to get on with real life as well. I just spent several hours taking down and building new beds for the kids, entirely on my own. Next time Niamh goes to Dublin leaving me with one simple job like rearranging the bedrooms, I might me able to smell the trap.

Well, the hands are sore but the legs are fine, which is definitely preferential to the other way round. As you might know by now, I always keep a close eye on my heart rate (not when running - afterwards!) and by the looks of it I have more or less recovered from Sixmilebridge already. I know that the cardio-vascular system is only one of several and things like the skeletal muscles or the endocrine system recover on different schedules, but as long as I don't go mad I'll be okay.

The plan is to do a bit of speedwork over the next couple of months, to ensure a system that isn't used very often by an ultra runner doesn't get dormant entirely. Leg speed isn't important over 24 hours, which is why you wouldn't train for it in the weeks before the race itself; 5 months is a better time, that leaves plenty of time for the more specific training to come after New Year.

After a set of 5 mile runs I increased the daily distance to 8 and on Sunday to 10. That's my tried-and-tested recovery system that I have used dozens of times and seems to work exceedingly well. The coming week will see mainly 10-mile runs, a longer run at the weekend, and if the legs feel okay I'll test them with a few short bursts of speed.

I usually incorporate a 2-4 weeks period of hill drills. I haven't made up my mind if I'm going to do them again. In light of my recent problems with my hamstrings it would probably be a good idea. I'll think about it some more. I'll check last years training logs and make a decision sooner rather than later.

As you can see, I do not write down a detailed training plan in advance, but I do have a certain structure in place that I will adapt depending on how training goes. With a bit of experience that is a better approach than slavishly following a daily routine from a book or website, but you do need to have at least a bit of knowledge of what you are doing (hang on, isn't there some saying about a little knowledge being dangerous - nah!). I do sometimes wonder what a degree in Exercise physiology would do for me, but I can't see me having the time to commit to that.

Real Life. What a shame.

21 Nov
8 miles, 1:04:32, 8:04 pace, HR 137
22 Nov
8 miles, 1:01:47, 7:43 pace, HR 141
23 Nov
10 miles, 1:17:05, 7:42 pace, HR 140

Thursday, November 20, 2014


On Monday I got the most exciting piece of news I have received in quite a while when the Austrian team for the World Championship was announced and yes, my name is on the list. I had known for a while that I had made the cut but to see it confirmed officially was still something else.

On a related note, Cian asked me the other day what place I would have come in the last championship with my Belfast performance, and I told him about 45th.

The poor boy was devastated!

In one split second his dad had dropped from potential champion to complete no-hoper!

I tried the angle that being in the top 50 in the world isn't actually that bad but was chasing a lost cause. I'll never live up to his standards, I guess.

Right now my Belfast result has me in 49th place (men only, that is, though they only have 4 women listed with better 2014 results [can't be right, can it!?!]) in the DUV statistics for 2014, though I don't know how complete that database is and of course there are still some races yet to come. Still, I like to think that's not a bad result for the nerdy kid who used to be the last one picked for football in school because he was so useless at sport. Oh, and the other way of reading this data is that I am in 16th place in my age group.

Anyway, recovery from Sixmilebridge is going very well. As always, my recovery program consists of running 5 slow and easy miles each morning until I feel better and then slowly increase the distance. The first half mile on Monday morning was a rather painful, awkward and pathetic hobble until the legs loosened up a bit. Tuesday was already a lot better, the hobble part lasted only as far as our driveway. On Wednesday I was almost back to normal, the HR had almost gone back to pre-race levels and apart from one bit, there was no more soreness.

The one bit that hurt a bit was my right hamstring, but get over this, that's not the hamstring that has given me grief over the last few weeks but the other leg. I'm reasonably sure that it's nothing serious and will get better within another day or two, but in my geeky way I find it interesting that the troubled part of my physique seems to have been completely unaffected by running 52+ miles. Anyway, by Thursday morning all that was left was it feeling a bit tight, no more than that. The HR had recovered even further, to pre-race levels already, which is rather mind-boggling. I must be in good shape to be able to recover that quickly.

Oh, and for the question if I raced Sixmilebridge or treated it as a training run: I ran it at the same effort level as I had done the races in Staplestown and Portumna, before Belfast. That training had led me to qualify for the world championships, so I figured something is working rather well - don't change it.

17 Nov
5 miles, 45:26, 9:05 pace, HR 131
18 Nov
5 miles, 43:46, 8:45 pace, HR 134
19 Nov
5 miles, 40:56, 8:11 pace, HR 135
20 Nov
8 miles, 1:04:07, 8:01 pace, HR 136

Monday, November 17, 2014

Back At The Bridge

“Welcome back to The Bridge”
“It’s always good to be here”

It was still dark at 6:20 am when I arrived at the race HQ. There was so little life at first that I wondered where everyone had gone but within minutes the place had gotten lively. After running the 30 mile option 3 years in a row I had finally decided to give the fun runs a miss and moved up to the Double. I was very much looking forward to it, though I was a bit nervous as well – running more than 50 miles is always an ever so slightly daunting task. Thomas Klimas was there, just like I had expected as this was almost in his backyard. It also meant I would not have to worry about the outcome of today’s race. Last year we were running at more or less the same level, this year he is well out of sight (and he’s only going to get better – scary, really). The only surprise was his beard, but in some circles that goes as the authentic ultra runner's look. He told me his wife was running the half marathon, which was scheduled to start 7 hours after the double, and he would have to be finished by then to take over babysitting duties. Talk about putting extra pressure on yourself!

We assembled at the start line the seemingly obligatory 20 minutes late and set off. Thomas K soon disappeared over the hill and far away. I found myself in 4th place over the first mile but moved into second position, which I was pretty sure I was going to hold until the end. Stu Wilkins, a fellow veteran of last year’s 10in10 was here, but since he had already run 2 marathons over the previous 2 days he was never going to race today. His mission was survival.

The race is held on the famous 1-mile Sixmilebridge loop, or should I say infamous. Half of it is uphill and half of it downhill and the only flat bit is the tiny out-and-back section at the race HQ that ensures one loop equals one mile. There seems to be some confusion how much elevation change there is (I have seen wildly differing numbers) but my shiny new Ambit comes with a barometer and tells me that it’s about 50 feet per lap, which over a double marathon adds up to 2600 feet, or about 800 meters. It’s not exactly mountainous, but it sure adds up. Mind, climbing the elevation in small chunks is much easier than a sustained climb like Conor Pass.

The plan was to run about 8-minute miles for as long as that felt doable and then hang on until the finish when it no longer does. Having said that, I never pace myself either via the GPS device or the timer but always strictly by feel. The first mile was in fact a good bit slower than that as I eased into the effort but then I gradually got faster. There was a clock at the race HQ and on the couple of occasions early on when I remembered the previous lap’s time I could figure out my present pace and saw that I was moving a bit faster than planned, though even the fastest mile all day was still reasonably restrained at 7:37.

Time passed very quickly. I was still dark when we started but it got bright very quickly, within 3 miles. I was already contemplating ditching my headlamp and reflective vest when a thick fog descended upon us, and for safety reasons decided to keep both of them on. It took about 2 hours for visibility to return to normal and to get rid of the safety equipment. My bright yellow t-shirt was nice and shiny anyway.

I passed a runner in a blue shirt and almost missed Brian Ankers. He had not been at the start (apparently he had arrived late) and therefore this was rather unexpected. He said he'd run a lap with me but that turned into 3. This was very welcome as I was just starting to drag a bit and a friendly face to talk to and run with was just what I needed. He didn't entirely believe me when I told him we were running 8-minute miles, they felt slower to him. I checked the watch and if it was slower than only by a couple of seconds - I had averaged 7:56 pace at that time, very close. Brian would later drop out after 35 miles. He has bigger fish to fry, and anyway, he already had a marathon from Saturday in his legs.

Time kept passing quickly. As some point I looked at my watch and saw about 21 miles already done and realised there were only 50k left but unlike in Connemara there wasn't anyone running with me, so I could not blurt it out loud and get a kick out of the incredulous looks they'd give me. I could only make my smart-ass comment when I passed the next set of runners, and it wasn't quite the same.

The 1 mile loop format makes this a very unique event. Usually in ultras you spend hours running completely on your own. Sixmilebridge, on the other hand, is a very social race. You constantly pass other runners or they pass you and there is plenty of banter to be had, and always a friendly and encouraging word when you need one. I know perfectly well how mad it sounds to be running 52 laps, and even if I didn't know I have been enlightened several times by now, but it really makes this a special occasion. There is not a hope in hell I would be running anything like that on my own in training. I hate running even two loops of anything on my own. But in a race setting with so many friendly faces on and around the course this becomes something entirely different.

Don Hannon was one of the friendly faces hanging around but since he is still recovering from a very recent 24 hours race he wasn't running himself, just helping out. I went through the marathon in about 3:29, feeling reasonably good, and when I joked to Don that I should have signed up for the marathon instead, I didn't really mean it.

4 miles later I came up with the same lame joke about the 30 mile race, though at that time I meant it a tiny bit more. While I was still feeling ok, I could already tell that at some point in the reasonably near future that would no longer be the case.

The 30 mile race started about 4 hours later, which increased the number of runners on the loop by a bit. 4 of them were running faster than me, so that's where I started being overtaken regularly rather than going past other runners myself. Last year's winner Mike "Curley" Cunningham looked particularly impressive, his pace and smooth running style marking him out amongst of the competition.

The real change in scenery came at 12 o'clock when the marathon started. All of a sudden the course became really busy. Somehow I managed to pass the marathon startline just seconds after their start and was immediately blocked by a wall of runners but once I had made my way past the worst of the congestion, there were no more barriers. The field spread out within a mile and passing was no problem. They were obviously feeling fresh and excited and I really fed off their positive energy; it made a real difference to me, just when I started flagging for real. I also got the opportunity to shake hands with Eamonn and congratulate him on his recent 100th marathon. He obviously wasn't hanging round and immediately had to add number 101 to the list.

A few laps later the official lap counter gave me a shout of "40 miles done". A lady standing close by incredulously exclaimed "he's run HOW far!", which I got a kick out of. It was a completely random occurrence but it did make me feel good again for a while.

Thomas Klimas had lapped me twice by that time and not long after mile 40 he came round for a third and final time. Each time he slowed down sufficiently for me to hang around for a lap or two and we had a little chat before he sped off again. By now it was clear that he would easily make his target of finishing before the half-marathon start and also bag the course record. He didn't even look tired and the results show that he barely slowed down towards the end and indeed sped up again over the last 5 miles.

While not quite up to the same standard I had been running pretty well up to then and even though the pace had dropped a bit I was still averaging almost 8-minute miles, maybe 8:03 or so, but now the wheels started falling off. A look at the chart now confirms what I already knew at the time. I was doing well until about the 42 miles mark and then I started slowing down for real. With only 10 miles to go I always knew that I would finish reasonably well, but I had to work a lot harder. The hill had grown a little bit steeper with each loop and by now it was becoming a real challenge. A little devil started sitting on my shoulder and whispered into my ear how much easier it would be to walk the hill instead of enduring the ever-growing pain of running it at an ever-growing effort, but luckily I was far enough into the race to see the light at the end of the tunnel and manage to brush him off.

On one of those climbs Ger O'Donoghue passed me like I was standing still. I'm pretty sure he has never passed me before, and after complaining last year how the faster 30 mile runners had left him standing during his own fastest lap, I'm sure he enjoyed that one. He went on to have a great marathon after a tough first 5 miles - good man, Ger.

I probably felt worst with about 5 or 6 miles left and while the slowest mile was yet to come I was now within sniffing distance of the finish and could smell the coffee (quite literally, in fact). I took a sip of coke after each lap from the aid station table, which got me around yet another lap and the remaining number started melting down surprisingly and satisfyingly quickly. I expected I would be cursing the person who had decided to make this a 52.44 mile race rather than a 50 miler to high heavens over the last couple of miles, but surprisingly that was not the case. I almost enjoyed myself over the last few miles, soaking up the atmosphere save in the knowledge that the torturous part of the day would be over very soon.

I even managed to break into something vaguely resembling a finishing sprint, though I do have a painful history as far as sprint finishes in Sixmilebridge are concerned. And then it was all over. I had come second in my race in Sixmilebridge for the third year in a row, but since that had been entirely expected I did not mind. Instead I was content to have gotten the fastest ever non-winning time in the double marathon. I got a few hugs, ate and drank a few bits and pieces, had a lovely warm shower and hung around for a good while before returning back home. The two hours drive was a rather uncomfortable one because my legs were stiff and tired, but what can you do.

My left hamstring, the one that had been trouble me in recent weeks, behaved impeccably, which as a major bonus. In fact, during the race it was my right hamstring that hurt, and that was purely due to fatigue, which is a normal part of ultra running.

My Ambit shows a shortened distance, off by half a mile which equates to about 1%, which is well within the accuracy rate of any GPS device. I can assure you that this is not down to me cutting the course, I always remained on the road, on every single lap. I had already noticed in training that the Ambit always shows a shorter distance than my old 310 had and I'm sure the Garmin would have shown more than 52.44 miles. In the end you can only trust the fact that the course was certified. Looking at the map it looks like the Ambit sometimes cuts corners in the path, even when the runner goes a longer way round, and I do suspect that the 180 degree turn at each lap might have led to a shortened measured distance.
16 Nov
Sixmilebridge Double Marathon
52.44 miles, 7:05:14, 8:06 pace, HR 146

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Another Evaluation

The weekend hadn't been particularly tough, but since I still have the Dublin marathon in my legs it didn't need a tough weekend for the legs to feel a bit tired. Accordingly I took it very easy on Monday (as I do virtually every Monday), and felt all the better for it on Tuesday.

Even teh weather was better on Tuesday and it was a clear, crisp morning illuminated by a very bright moon as I set off from home. I felt really good and the legs were itching to run a bit faster but I made sure to keep them in check. It would have been a great run but was unfortunately blighted a mile from home when my hamstring started hurting once more. It wasn't bad but it did remind me of the morning a few weeks ago when the hamstring started hurting a tiny bit and 2 miles later I was in agony. Luckily I was only a mile from home this time and it didn't get any worse, but I was definitely worried. I could also feel it for the rest of the day and started icing it again in the evening.

I have one theory regarding that hamstring, namely that it might not be the actual muscle itself that is affected but the sheath surrounding it, because it feels somewhat similar to the Achilles issue I've had in the past. That could be bad as sheath tissue does take longer to heal, but then again I managed to run through all of my Achilles niggles without too much trouble. It may well be wishful thinking but right now I still believe the odds are in my favour that this will go away eventually as well.

It's been 3 weeks since the last evaluation, but I've run the Dublin marathon in the meantime, so I already knew there would not be a smooth progression showing in the numbers from the last one. Because of the hamstring issues I wasn't sure if I should go ahead but then decided to be bold rather than fearful.

Another unexpected hurdle was thrown by my GPS gadgets. Evaluation is the one workout that requires a GPS device. I don't have the Suunto set up for that, so the old, trusty Garmin it was. Unfortunately, I had to reset it the day before the Dublin marathon which wiped all the data from it, including any custom workouts, and was unpleasantly surprised by an empty selection option this morning. 6 am when you're about to leave for your run is not the time to start up the computer and sync the watch which would have taken 10-15 minutes that I did not have, so it was all done manually. Not a big issue, but I also lacked the HR alarm that normally goes off whenever I run too slow or too fast during the evaluation, so it all was a bit more uneven that usual.

Never mind.
“First get your facts; then you can distort them at your leisure”
Mark Twain
The numbers in brackets are adjusted pace, 3 seconds for every beat off the 161 target.
        Mile 1    6:44   HR 161    (6:44)
        Mile 2    6:50   HR 160    (6:47)
        Mile 3    6:46   HR 162    (6:49)
        Mile 4    6:51   HR 161    (6:51)
        Recovery to HR 130: 38 seconds

The pace drop is remarkably stable, at least when you're looking at the "cleaned" numbers. Overall, those are actually pretty good numbers. I am still dealing with some fatigue from the marathon, but not as much as might be expected. While I have seen better figures with regards to all variable(pace, stability, recovery), that's a nice set of numbers 16 days after a marathon that had been tougher than expected.

However, my main reason for being cheerful is that there was not a beep from the hamstring.

Thursday was only 8 miles at a very easy effort. I'm doing a mini taper before the Double in Sixmilebridge on Sunday.

10 Nov
10 miles, 1:19:16, 7:56 pace, HR 140
11 Nov
10 miles, 1:17:29, 7:45 pace, HR 142
12 Nov
11.8 miles, 1:25:29, 7:15 pace, HR 150
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:44, 6:47, 6:49, 6:51, 38 sec recovery [cleaned up paces]
13 Nov
8+ miles, 1:02:41, 7:47 pace, HR 140

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Calf Trouble

I woke at about 2 am on Thursday morning with my right calf muscle about to go into a rather painful cramp. I used to get these nightly episodes rather regularly but they have stopped for a year or two. I'm not sure what brought it on again - well, nobody seems to know what causes them in the first place. I know a lack of magnesium sometimes gets mentioned but I don't want to go back on supplements just because someone on the internet says so.

Subsequently my calf felt very tight during that morning's run, but I have been there plenty of times before and I know that it doesn't affect my run. However, I was a bit surprised to still be feeling the same tightness on Friday morning as well as on Saturday. I finally started digging out the Stick again before going to bed last night and got to work, which seems to have made a difference. I could still feel some tightness early on but for once it loosened up after a mile or two, so I think that episode is behind me now. There may well be further repeats to come, of course.

Thursday's 10 mile run was easy and I felt really good. The HR was at a rather low level for once, which was good to see. I'm under no illusion that recovery from Dublin is complete, but it was good to see a more familiar pace/HR ratio for once.

That was encouraging enough to run a bit faster on Saturday again. While I am still in base training, it's always good to move the legs a bit faster once a week, though that still has to be a relaxed and controlled run. I didn't get that right, the effort and the HR that goes with it was too high during the middle miles. I dialled it back once I became aware of it, but by then I already knew that I would feel the effort on Sunday's run.

That proved to be the case, alright. There was no real zip in the legs for all of 16 miles on Sunday, though all in all it was a perfectly reasonable run. I started to feel a bit tired towards the end, but the fact that I had to run the final 5 miles right into a headwind had undoubtedly something to do with that. Mind I was still moving well enough at the end and could have gone further.

I got a new toy to play around with on Thursday, and on Friday I took my new Suunto Ambit 2 out for a spin for the first time. Just to make sure, I brought my old Garmin along as well, but it worked well enough to bring only the Suunto on Sunday. It looks like a great piece of kit overall but there is one significant drawback, namely complex workouts aren't very well supported. I had a look on the web how to program an evaluation workout into the thing (w/u, 4x1 miles, pause, c/d) and while I might eventually be able to create my own app, I think my Garmin will still have its uses, certainly for this week. It seems strange that Suunto are providing all kinds of advanced functionality but lack the ability for users to create their own bespoke workouts in a straightforward manner.

7 Nov
10 miles, 1:17:11, 7:43 pace, HR 139
8 Nov
10 miles, 1:13:31, 7:21 pace, HR 151
   incl. 8 miles @ 7:07 pace (HR 155)
9 Nov
16 miles, 2:01:24, 7:35 pace, HR 145
Weekly Mileage: 79 miles

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Even More Recovery

Yes, I'm running out of creativity with regards to my headings!

Mind, it does accurately represent the present state of my training. The Dublin marathon was only 10 days ago and it's still in my legs, so recovery is still paramount. Recovery to me does not mean doing nothing, it means I am running at an easy effort. Running at an easy effort doesn't mean hanging around entirely either; I did get down to about 7:30 pace on a couple of occasions, though I did feel that in my legs this morning and scaled back accordingly.

Easy effort can mean a different pace each day, depending how I feel. While I do wear my Garmin, I don't let it dictate my run. In the winter, this is even easier than in the summer. I am running with the back light of the watch turned off, so I can't even see the numbers and there is never any temptation to cheat.

10 easy miles on Tuesday felt good, 13 on Wednesday even better. The weather was reasonable on both days, as long as you don't mind the occasional shower.

Thursday morning was a little bit more challenging, both from the weather (hard rain and plenty of wind) as well as the legs (a bit tired, and a calf cramp during the night didn't help), so I ran even easier. This resulted in the the slowest run in a week after getting a little bit faster every day beforehand.

The HR is still elevated compared to normal base levels and I'm wondering if I had been running a tad too fast since Dublin, but it's hard to slow down when you're already rather relaxed.

Sixmilebridge is getting closer at a slightly alarming rate - right now I wouldn't fancy doing a double marathon and I have the sneaking suspicion that I might still be feeling the same next week, so a certain amount of trepidation cannot be denied.

4 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:32, 7:39 pace, HR 145
5 Nov
13 miles, 1:38:13, 7:33 pace, HR 145
6 Nov
10 miles, 1:19:39, 7:58 pace, HR 142

Monday, November 03, 2014

More Recovery

I keep thinking that the double marathon in Sixmilebridge is 3 weeks away but in actual fact one week has already passed since I started thinking that and it's now less than 2 weeks. Crikey - was that really such a great idea?

Considering that I ran Dublin at an average HR of 160, which makes it sound pretty damn close to a race effort, I will take a bit longer than just the one week to recover. The legs might be feeling fine but I have noticed that the HR is still elevated, so I will have to take it easy between now and that next race - not that I had any plans for particularly heroic workouts anyway.

My hamstring keeps behaving reasonably well. I can feel it at times, but it's not bothersome. The whole situation reminds me of the Achilles issues I had last year. It never really hurt but I could feel "something" for months, and it never went away entirely. Right now I seem to be at the same stage with my hamstring. I have said that following sentence before, more than once: as long as it doesn't get any worse, I'll be ok.

What does worry me is that my left hip has now started acting up as well. I do wonder if that is a secondary issue caused by the hamstring, even though I don't think I have changed by gait as a result. However, the hip has started to feel really stiff at the beginning of each run, and I can feel it after sitting in a chair for too long as well, not ideal for someone with a desk job. It does loosen up within the first mile, so there's not too much to worry about right now, and the same thing applies once more:  as long as it doesn't get any worse, I'll be ok.

My suspicion is that all these niggly little things may well be related to me getting older, which means that there will be more and more of them, not exactly a thought that fills me with joy.

Let's stop whining and be positive. Just by looking at the figures for the last few runs I can see that recovery is coming along nicely. The last 3 runs have each been about a minute faster than the previous one for the same level of effort. The conditions aren't great at the moment with plenty of wind, rain and low temperatures, though I sure have run in worse. Just be grateful for what you have - I am able to run every morning, what more do you want!

1 Nov
10 miles, 1:19:02, 7:54 pace, HR 143
2 Nov
10 miles, 1:17:53, 7:47 pace, HR 143
3 Nov
10 miles, 1:16:59, 7:42 pace, HR 144

Friday, October 31, 2014


Obviously it goes to reason that recovery from your 61st marathon will take less time than from your first, especially so if you did not race all-out, but my recent rate of recovery has taken me by surprise.

The first 5 mile recovery run, less than 20 hours after crossing the finish line, was a little bit stiff but even then there was no soreness. All subsequent runs have lacked even that stiffness and there was never any sign of DOMS whatsoever. Walking down the staircase in the in-laws' house was always fine - this is great!

Usually I only run 5 miles for several days after a long race, but I felt sufficiently confident to increase that a little bit to 8 miles by Thursday and I'll probably do 10 on the weekend. I ran all at an easy effort, whatever came naturally, but I still need to be careful. Today's HR was 149, which is too high. It might have felt easy but this was too hard.

Life has been rather busy this week. On Monday I ran a marathon. On Tuesday we had Maia's birthday party. On Wednesday we saw the Book of Kells and then travelled home to Kerry. On Thursday Cian had a friend over most of the day (actually, that made life easier). On Friday I had to bring two kids to Tralee for music lessons and we're going trick-and-treating later on. The weekend is fully booked as well.

I need to get back to work. Holidays are too stressful!

29 Oct
5 miles, 4:09, 8:02 pace, HR 135
30 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:48, 7:50 pace, HR 143
31 Oct
8 miles, 1:01:13, 7:39 pace, HR 149

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

It's A Tough Job

... but someone's gotta do it.

Pacing the Dublin marathon has quickly become an annual tradition, this was the fifth year in a row I have worn the pacing gear and tried to bring a group of runner home in time.

The 2014 DCM pacers
3:10 is a reasonably tough assignment, my PB is borderline acceptable, but obviously that's for the pacing coordinator to judge. I was always confident I would be well able to do the job, otherwise I would not have volunteered for it, but that's a fast enough time and I had to be in decent shape; there wasn't much chance of a relaxing jog through the capital.

There were 36 pacers at DCM today. About 34 of them native English speakers. Guess who got "volunteered" into doing the interview

The weather forecast had gotten progressively worse throughout the week, though it depended on which web site you believed - not that it made any difference on the day. Marathon day itself turned out to be unseasonably warm but the biggest issue was the blustery wind that got very strong at times.

My fellow pacers were John and Trevor, both of them very experienced runners (and a multiple national champion in John's case) and there was never a question about the quality of the pacing group.

A 3:10 marathon means 7:15 pace, but on the Garmin that has to be 7:10. We were also supposed to come home up to half a minute early, so that's 7:09 on the Garmin, with no more than a second to play with. As it always happens, the congestion at the start and the early miles means that it is basically impossible to run at the correct pace at first. I missed the first mile marker but our pace must have been closer to 7:45. Since we don't want to burn out our pacees with a 6:45 mile it means we were gradually playing catch-up right from the start.

The course has changed a bit since last year due to Luas works and there has been a fair amount of discussion if the new course is tougher than the previous one. To be honest, I don't think it makes much of a difference - 90% is still the same and there are no major hills on the new sections, so the overall level of difficulty is pretty much the same in my view.

It meant, however, a very long straight run through all of Phoenix Park and beyond, which was quite the uphill drag from about mile 3 through to 7. The wind at that section was very strong,and it came in sideways. However, I found that crosswind was causing me more problems today than headwind because of the big fairy wing I was carrying around which caught the wind full on and kept dragging me sideways. I had a quick chat with one of my fellow pacers, Trevor, and we agreed to run about 10 seconds per mile slower through that section, trying to avoid burning out our runners, and make up the difference again on the downhill section that was to follow. It meant we were about half a minute behind schedule at mile 7 but our prediction came through and we made it all up over the next 2 miles without any increase in effort.

By now it had become clear to me that this was going to be a fairly tough day. The pace felt challenging enough. I was still reasonably confident I was going to make it all the way through but I had to work harder than I would have liked.

At least we were back on pace, which had me relax a little bit mentally. We kept going and the next few miles clicked by reasonably quickly. I knew this was a good time to enjoy a few miles because the next section was going to be tough.

Crumlin Road is well known amongst Dublin marathon runners as a really tough stretch. It is a long uphill drag and it is always into a headwind. Today was worse than usual, the wind felt really strong. On the way up to the halfway mark (which was much earlier than usual due to the changes in the course) I started to feel rather rough and for the first time today I was starting having my doubts if I was really going to remain on pace. This was really not an appealing thought at all. I was doing my 12th marathon as a pacer and I would have hated letting anyone down. But for the time being I was still able to keep going and I was going to hang on for as long as I could, but for a mile or two I was more hanging on than being a pacer, to be honest.

The road was very narrow at times and you had to mind your step all the way while at the same time hoping that nobody was going to trip you from behind. Pacing groups are always crowded and it was not entirely safe. Indeed, one lady, just 2 or 3 runners ahead of me, got tripped up and she ended up flat on the pavement. She was okay and able to rejoin our group, but I do think that the organisers have to rethink the course, or at least the amount of road they give to the runner, because with the growing numbers every year this problem is only going to get worse and the runners' safety is already being compromised.

A bottle of sports drink went a long way to pulling me out of my difficulties and by mile 14 I was feeling okay again. However, I noticed that we were a few seconds behind pace again and signalled it to Trevor, who agreed and we upped the pace by a little bit; not much, just a few seconds per mile, but even so it was probably enough to lose a few of our runners already. However, what can you do, we had to remain on pace.

Usually a pacing group remains fairly constant until about mile 17 or so and then you start losing runners that have been with you from the start but you also pick up runners that had been ahead and have slowed down. This happens every time, it is more or less inevitable.

Cork blogger Kealan O'Connor suddenly was right beside me and introduced himself. I thought he was looking good and comfortable at the time but looking at the results I can see that he had a rather tough few miles towards the end - still on a learning curve, I guess.

At mile 17, with Kealan. Photo by Dave Bradshaw.

So, as we made our way through Milltown and Clonskeagh and headed for the last hill (recently dubbed Heartbreak Hill, though it's not much of a hill compared to the one in Boston), the composition of our group changed. We picked up about 2 or 3 seconds per mile, which really is not much but it still was too much for some. We got to Fosters Avenue at about mile 22 and then it was all downhill to the finish. I passed a friend of mine, Andrew, just as we got onto the Stillorgan Road. He had been one of the few runners to stay with the 3:10 group from start to finish last year and had hoped to run sub-3 today, but the dream had obviously fallen apart. I tried to coax him to hang on to us but he was too far gone already.

Photo by Dave Bradshaw

You always see plenty of runners struggling in the last few miles of a marathon but I'm sure the carnage was worse than usual this year, The unseasonably warm temperatures had definitely something to do with it. Maybe the new course had been a bit harder but the main factor had to be the strong, blustery wind which makes you use up more energy, energy that is then missing at the end.

I kept checking the watch and my pace band against the mile markers and we were about half a minute ahead of pace. The Garmin displayed an average pace of 7:09, just as last year. We kept passing a few more runners and I tried to encourage anyone who was still moving reasonably well - some responded, some did not.

The three pacers had always run within a few seconds of each other and we crossed the line in quick succession. My official (chip) time was 3:09:27. The goal was to run with half a minute of your pace time, so for a perfect pacing score we should have run a few seconds slower but on the whole I think we did a pretty good job on a rather tough day.

When pacing a marathon you are supposed to feel quite comfortable with the pace and have plenty in reserve. This wasn't really the case today, to be honest. While I was never in any danger of falling behind (one or two rough miles at the halfway mark being the worst part), I was closer to my limits than I would have liked. The wind affected me the same as anyone else, of course, which did not help.

Plenty of runners had inquired about my hamstring, both before the race as well as during it. Either they are all a very caring bunch or they were wondering if their pacer was going to be up to scratch. Well, I could feel the hamstring during the first few miles but after we had gone through Phoenix Park there was no more beep from it all the way through the end, which was as good a scenario as I could have hoped for.

So, all in all I was happy with my pacing performance and happy to have yet another marathon under my belt. After a shower I went back out to offer a bit of support to the runners still on the course. I saw the 5 hour pacers at the end and was lucky enough to witness Colette O'Hagan finish her 300th marathon!

I also met up with Tony Mangan as he finished his 50000 km trip around the world, though that is Tony's story to tell, not mine.

Right after the marathon I did wonder if signing up for the double in Sixmilebride in three weeks' time was really such a great idea, but after a good night's sleep I am already feeling much fresher, the legs are feeling fine (stiff, but no pain or soreness) and things will go ahead as planned - as always.

27 Oct
Dublin City Marathon, 3:09:27, 7:14 pace, HR 160
28 Oct
5 miles, 41:55, 8:22 pace, HR 139

Sunday, October 26, 2014

This Really Is Happening

I got some exciting news today. When I opened my email this morning there was an application form for the World/European championship in my inbox. It really looks like this is indeed going to happen!

The last few days were all easy, obviously with tomorrow's DCM in mind. I took it especially easy on Friday because of the faster miles during the evaluation on Thursday, even though the evaluation is not a taxing workout by any stretch. I tried to take it just as easy on Saturday but that didn't entirely work out like that. I was really surprised to see the pace in the 7:30s. Well, if 7:38 feels that easy I guess I can't complain.

The weeks and days before a goal race are always passing excruciatingly slowly. Training races, like tomorrow's marathon on the other hand, always seem to creep up on me almost unnoticed. I almost feel like I almost forgot to hop into the car yesterday and come up to Dublin. And the race is on tomorrow - blimey, that was quick!

I did only 5 miles this morning, which is my one sacrifice for the marathon. I am training through it, but just to be absolutely sure the legs won't be too tired I always take it very easy the day before. Well, 4 of the miles were very easy. I tried to run 1 mile at tomorrow's pace (3:10 marathon - 7:15 pace - 7:10 on the Garmin) but once more was running too fast - whoops. The other two guys will have to keep me on a leash for the first few miles. Once I'm tuned into the pace, I'll be alright.

Good luck everyone who is running it! Come up and say hello if you see me, either in the Expo today or the marathon tomorrow.

24 Oct
10 miles, 1:20:22, 8:02 pace, HR 138
25 Oct
10 miles, 1:16:23, 7:38 pace, HR 145
26 Oct
5 miles, 38:45, 7:45 pace
Weekly Mileage: 66.75 (no long run, of course)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Late Evaluation

I was a bit worried about the conditions on Tuesday morning when the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo were paying us a visit after crossing the Atlantic. The wind did wake me up a few times during the night, though it never sounded too alarming, I have certainly seen worse. By the morning even those winds had mostly died down and conditions were pretty good actually, and apart from a few broken branches there was no sign of any nightly incidents. 10 miles near Ard-na-Sidhe it was.

I had been planning on doing an evaluation for a while yet. First I pulled my hamstring, which luckily did not put me out of action entirely but a couple of weeks of very easy running seemed the prudent thing to do. Then there was the raised HR when I was seemingly fighting off some bug, and then there were a couple of days of high winds. The evaluation works by running at a set HR (161 in my case), so a raised base HR would falsify the data and make comparisons with other evaluation impossible. Same goes for high winds, and I have learned that there is not much point in doing an evaluation under either circumstances, even less so when both factors apply.

However, by Wednesday morning all had settled down again and I was ready to go when the damn Garmin beeped sadly at me with a low battery warning (it must have turned itself on after charging - this has happened several times before, sometimes I notice it, sometimes I don't). For a normal run I might consider going without watch (ok, I did that about once in the last five years) but for an evaluation that's not an option, so I charged it for about 10 or 15 minutes before finally heading out.

Initially I was still going to go ahead as planned but after a couple of miles, and already warmed up and raring to go, I decided that there was not enough time because Niamh has to leave early on Wednesdays and I have to be back in time, so I switched plans mid-run and just did 10 easy miles. In some ways it was a waste of a good run because I felt absolutely awesome and had that effortlessly-floating-over-the-tarmac feeling and was tempted to knock out a few 6-6:30 miles but managed to control myself, mostly because the Dublin marathon awaits on Monday.

So, eventually, on Thursday I finally managed to run another evaluation, a whopping 54 days since the last one. Generally I want to run one every fortnight, so basically  I missed no less than 3 evaluations in a row due to various reasons, though in fact I do have an excuse for all of them - Dingle, hamstring and virus.

It was still a bit windy on Thursday morning, definitely a little bit more than I would have preferred but what can you do. I followed the exact same routine as usual, about 4 miles of warm up where I do pick up the pace a few times to gradually bring the HR up. The last quarter mile before I start the evaluation is slightly uphill, which helps to establish the HR at the right level.
        Mile 1    6:33   HR 161
        Mile 2    6:46   HR 161
        Mile 3    6:39   HR 161
        Mile 4    6:46   HR 161
        Recovery to HR 130: 36 seconds

Looking at the figures now, they do paint a pretty nice picture. The overall pace isn't as important as you might think, though of course a fast evaluation is always nice to have. The slowdown between miles 1 and 4 is more important and is in fact a tad higher than I would have liked (it was only 10 seconds last time). The recovery afterwards is again a bit higher than last time, though 36 seconds is still a decent figure, better than average.

Overall I'd say I'm coming along nicely but with definite room for improvement. I guess room for improvement is a good thing at that stage of training. Considering I am nowhere near peak shape, these are highly encouraging numbers.

Despite just saying that the overall pace isn't that important I have found that my marathon race pace tends to be within 10 seconds of the evaluation pace, so I guess I am probably in shape for a sub-3 marathon, there or thereabouts. Mind, since I haven't done any running at that pace that statement might not necessarily hold true due to lack of specific marathon fitness, but I expect to find pacing 3:10 on Monday perfectly doable.

20 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:53, 7:47 pace, HR 139
21 Oct
10 miles, 1:16:30, 7:39 pace, HR 140
22 Oct
10 miles, 1:15:57, 7:36 pace, HR 141
23 Oct
11.75 miles, 1:25:41, 7:17 pace, HR 148
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:33, 6:46, 6:39, 6:46, 36 sec recovery

Sunday, October 19, 2014

High Readings

As you probably know, I always run with a GPS and a HRM. I do not use them to dictate my pace (apart from some special workouts like the evaluation) but I do use them to record some data that I can subsequently analyse. The last few days did not require much analysis, my HR was elevated by a significant amount. I ran at the usual "natural" effort, just whatever pace felt easy, and the recorded HR did in no way reflect the effort I put in.

Straight away I can come up with 3 possible explanations (there are more, of course):
  1. I am overtrained
  2. The HRM is malfunctioning
  3. I am fighting off some (mild) infection
I am pretty sure the first does not apply; I am feeling good, have no other symptoms and have just had a couple of very easy weeks nursing my hamstring. The second explanation is a bit more likely but I still don't think that's the case, the Polar HR has an excellent track history. However, if the number remain elevated I'll eventually change the battery and see if that makes a difference.

However, I think number 3 is the most likely explanation. Both Shea and Maia have some slight colds, most likely acquired in school, and I may be fighting off whatever is affecting them. I don't have any other symptoms, no sore throat, no headache, no runny nose, nothing, and if I weren't running with a HRM I would not have noticed anything at all.

The answer is to ignore that for a few more days, chances are everything will be back to normal by then, as has happened before and will happen again. I keep running by feel and ignore if the HRM goes high again, at least for a few more days. Getting sick now wouldn't be good with Dublin just a week away, but chances are I won't.

I have been feeling pretty good the last few days and the pace of my runs has continued to go down. I did 12 miles on Thursday morning that went really well, certainly over the first half. I was working a bit harder on the way home as I was now running straight into a blustery headwind, and that's when I first noticed that the HR was higher than it should have been, but as I said the effort felt easy enough.
Due to those high readings I took it especially easy on Friday, but when the HR still came out as rather high I knew for sure that something was keeping it elevated, it wasn't that I was running too fast. Since I have plenty of experience with that kind of thing (4 young kids do bring home plenty of bugs) I just keep carrying on as usual.

Saturday was a very windy day, though I was lucky enough to be running in the morning, right between two fairly nasty storm fronts. I still got wet a few times and I ran out-and-back on the Ard-na-Sidhe and Coomnafanida roads where there is a bit of shelter from the wind, which made the conditions perfectly acceptable.

The weather had not improved by Sunday and I was back on the same roads once more. Running the same stretch of road three times in each direction does not make for the most inspiring of runs (and I do wonder at times what the locals think, not that I particularly care), but it was just a case of getting the miles. I ran the first 14 miles at ease pace, which turned out to be pretty much exactly 7:30, though I did start feeling a bit tired after mile 11 or so. By mile 14 I increased the effort to get some more running at 3:10 pace for Dublin, especially on tired legs. The pacing was a bit uneven, I inadvertently started out at 6:55 pace for the first half mile before becoming aware, so there is definitely room for improvement, I do not want to burn out my pacees next week, but that's exactly why there will be 3 of us.

The weather is not looking great for the next few days, tomorrow is supposed to be the same again before we start dealing with the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo, but the great news is that the forecast for Dublin is good (mind, things can and do change in 8 days).

There has not been a beep from my hamstring this week.
16 Oct
12 miles, 1:27:54, 7:19 pace, HR 148
17 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:14, 7:43 pace, HR 145
18 Oct
10+ miles, 1:16:26, 7:23 pace, HR 150
19 Oct
18.6 miles, 2:18:11, 7:25 pace, HR 148
   last 4.6 miles @ 7:07 pace
Weekly Mileage: 83

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tempting Fate

Well, the last time I said I was feeling great my hamstring popped, so let's see where the Gods are at it today.

I'm feeling great again!

There are no more niggles from my hamstring. I did ice it quite a few times over the last few days, despite initially saying how sceptical I am of that firm of treatment, but it seems to have had an effect, alright.

It really is dark now in the mornings, which has one side effect: I cannot read the numbers on the Garmin, unless I press a button to turn on the light. Since I don't do that unless there is a compelling reason for needing to read the numbers, it means I am absolutely guaranteed to be running by feel.

Monday was easy. Genuinely easy, and the HR was rather low.

On Tuesday I ran at the same objective effort level. It wasn't until I had finished my run that I took my first glance at the watch, and wouldn't you believe it, I had inadvertently run almost at marathon pace for Dublin. I had been too nervous about my hamstring to do such a session, even though I knew it would be a really good idea before Dublin. If you're going to run 26 miles at a certain pace it helps to get some practise at that pace. Well, I guess I won't have to worry about that any more. If I can run that pace on a very relaxed training run I'll be able to pull it off again in Dublin.

Wednesday was slower again, though once more at the same easy effort, running just whatever pace felt natural. In the last couple of weeks, that "natural" pace has come down from 8-minute to 7:30 pace, which is great.

Looking back through my logs I ran similar paces back in February. It really looks like I have gotten over Belfast (and Dingle, I suppose) and the legs have recovered, about a month sooner than expected.

I expect recovery from Dublin won't be much of an issue. The plan is to run the double in Sixmilebridge three weeks later, and once I feel recovered from that I'll add some speed training.

As long as the Gods are willing, of course.

13 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:37, 7:45 pace, HR 138
14 Oct
12 miles, 1:27:01, 7:15 pace, HR 146
15 Oct
10 miles, 1:15:09, 7:31 pace, HR 142

Sunday, October 12, 2014

On The Razor's Edge

My calves, which had already been sore on Wednesday, were even more so on Thursday. Classic DOMS, of course. I did not really have an influence on my run, which went just fine. As long as the pace is so relaxed, I never expect any difficulties.

I had been wondering why my HR had been fairly high for such a low pace on a couple of days. When I got some headache one evening I figured I was fighting off some bug that has been going round, both Maia and Cian had been sick for a day each. My immune system tends to do a rather good job and apart from that one evening I was fine but it would certainly explain a raised HR for a few days, and the numbers have since returned to a lower level.

I had a rather unusual encounter on Thursday when about 10 cows were standing on the side of the road and because it was still dark I only saw them when I was right beside them. I very slowly inched my way past in order not to startle them. However, since I was doing an out-and-back run I encountered them again on the way home, though they had drifted a quarter mile down the road and were now blocking the entire road. I had to very slowly walk past them, feeling rather apprehensive. Getting so close to cows is not without dangers and I was rather relieved to get by without any of them reacting.

There were actually still some of them out there the next morning, a mile away from that point, but this time there were 2 guys with them, obviously trying to gather them together. I hope that's the last of those close encounters, I'd rather do without bovine company on the road.

The Dublin marathon is getting rather close, and because of my dodgy hamstring I had not dared to run anything even approaching 3:10 pace over the last couple of weeks. But I do think I need to get some practise for that effort level, which is why I increased the pace after 6 miles on Saturday's run. The pace for a 3:10 marathon is 7:14 but GPS always measures a course slightly long and we really need to run 7:10 on the Garmin, so that was the target pace for those miles. I was pleasantly surprised how relaxed that pace felt, though I do need to work on my concentration as I have a tendency to drift gradually slower if I don't pay attention. However, at one point I felt a little ping from my hamstring, which was rather worrying, but I got home without any further incident.

However, I clearly need to be careful, so I binned the idea of some more marathon paced miles on Sunday and just ran at the pace that felt natural. I also eschewed the very hilly loop around the lake and ran a couple of loops through Killorglin instead, a much flatter road. I was a bit nervous how my hamstring would hold up as I could feel it all day yesterday, but it was perfectly fine. I get the impression that running at my normal pace is fine, but putting additional pressure on the hamstring by running faster or downhill causes problems. It really is a very fine balance. Anyway, the run went very well and the flatter route made a big difference to the pace, it was at least 20 seconds per mile faster than a loop around the lake at the same effort would have been.
9 Oct
8 miles, 1:04:44, 8:05 pace, HR 141
10 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:13, 7:46 pace, HR 139
11 Oct
10 miles, 1:14:12, 7:25 pace, HR 144
12 Oct
15.7 miles, 1:58:39, 7:33 pace, HR 144
Weekly Mileage: 71+