Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Speedy Returns

It is one feature of my training that I don't do much speed work. I have been told quite a few times that I would be a faster runner if I did more speed workouts, maybe even all year round. Maybe so. What I do know, though, is that I get injured a lot less than your average runner (I can't even remember when I last had to take a day off due to injury. It's several years ago) and that consistency is very important. I also found it very telling that the one coach I ever had never pressed me into speed work, and in fact dialled it back quickly once I started because he noticed how quickly I responded to it.

Anyway, after a short hill phase and an easy recovery week after the 50k (still only 10 days ago!) I did my first speed workout this morning. The weather forecast almost had me reconsider, and it sounded truly scary out there when I wok at 3 am, but I decided to go ahead nevertheless, and if it was too windy I would do quarter mile repeats on the piece of road outside our house that is somewhat sheltered by trees.

However, it was much nicer at 6:30, so I programmed the Garmin for half mile repeats. I did two easy miles as my warm up, and wouldn't you know it, the wind picked up considerably and it also started raining extremely heavily. But I'm naturally lazy and couldn't be bothered to re-program the Garmin while standing out there so I stuck two proverbial fingers to the elements and went ahead.

3:02 (158), 2:57 (158), 2:56 (164), 2:51 (163), 2:54 (167), 2:48 (165) - 2 minutes recovery

I did 6 repeat, just as planned. The odd numbers are straight into a fierce headwind, the even ones obviously with the wind on my back. I ran this entirely by feel and not once checked the watch for either time or HR, just clicked off the numbers and looked at the numbers afterwards.

Wouldn't you know it, I felt so smug afterwards! The session was just perfect; the effort maintainable and always under full control, I always concentrated mostly on remaining relaxed rather than hammering out a fast repeat, I got faster the longer the session went on, I finished in the knowledge that I still had one or two more in me and to top it all off the pace was quicker than expected.

Next time I might not even dread speed work!

24 Feb
10 miles, 1:18:22, 7:50 pace, HR 142
25 Feb
8+ miles, 59:01, HR 146
   6 x half mile in 3:02, 2:57, 2:56, 2:51, 2:54, 2:48

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Easy Does It

The last couple of days I've been increasing the mileage but always kept the effort very easy. It all worked very well, I am feeling good and the legs are feeling very good. From the way I feel I could swear I did not run a 50k; maybe I just imagined the entire thing.

After yet another 8 miler on Friday I did 10 on Saturday. It was very blustery, but that had been the case all week, so I can't blame the conditions for the higher HR. Problem is, I can't think of anything else, the effort was the same very easy one as for any other day. Just one of those things, I suppose.

Originally I had planned on keeping Sunday's run shorter as well, but since the legs had responded so well I decided to join the club run after all. I did the same thing I always do, I run the 5 miles into Killorglin to meet the others, do the club run with them and then run back home, which gives me a nice long workout and I still get the benefits of company. The pace today was a bit slower than what I would have run on my own but I made up for most of that by hammering home the last few miles. Thanks especially to Sean and Eddie for the company, the time and miles just flew by, and most times I hardly noticed that we were running into gale force winds.

I was particularly pleased to see the HR remain stable even toward the end of a 20 mile run, rather than drifting upwards. I clearly do have the endurance, even if my speed has completely gone (I know, I know, I never had speed in the first place). I'll do a few faster runs next week, but I've long given up on doing a decent time in Ballycotton. Last year I knocked on the door of a sub-60, in 2 weeks' time I'd be happy to go 63 minutes - any thoughts of a t-shirt will have to be shelved for at least another year. In reality I just cannot see myself ever targeting a 10 mile race - that's just not me. Ah well.

21 Feb
8 miles, 1:01:20, 7:40 pace, HR 138
22 Feb
10 miles, 1:16:06, 7:36 pace, HR 145
23 Feb
20 miles, 2:40:06, 8:00 pace, HR 136
Weekly Mileage: 64

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Healing And Recovering

Andrew, me, Don and Liam after lap 1
Photo by Paul Kiely.
Jeez, I really am getting old confused. I was convinced today was Wednesday until about a minute ago when I accidentally checked my calendar and realised I was living in the past. I didn't know my senility was that advanced already - but then again, that's the nature of that beast.

By far the best news is that my legs are feeling really good. I was never sore at all after the 50k, walking down staircases didn't elicit any response at all, in fact it took me two days to even realise how well they had taken the load, simply because of the complete absence of any soreness.

I did feel a bit stiff on Sunday morning for my easy 5 mile recovery run, but by Monday I was already cruising along nicely, if still a little bit slow. The pace has increased a bit every day without any increase in effort, and yesterday I decided to increase the length of my morning runs from 5 to 8 miles simply because the legs felt so well that running so short did not seem justified.

On Wednesday the legs felt a bit heavy, very much as if I had done a workout the day before. This morning even that was gone and I felt just normal. I might have run a few minutes slower than expected on Saturday but I think from a training point of view I got it spot on. Now if I can do the same again in the Tralee marathon I'll give myself a good pat on the shoulder.

Half a second earlier I had been well airborne
doing an Eamonn across the finish line. Honestly!
Photo by Sportsmassage Ireland
There is still some discomfort coming from the right hip, but it's no worse when running than during the normal working day. In fact, the only time it could be called slightly painful is when getting up after sitting down for an hour or two. I could feel the hip at times during the 50k on Saturday but it never bothered me and it never got any worse. But I decided to take some remedial action - my usual response to a niggle is to throw out my older pair of shoes. And indeed, my Kinvaras had almost 1000 miles on them, so were due for a one-way ticket to the bin anyway. I compared the wear of the old pair to a brand new pair of the same kind (bought cheaply together in bulk a few months ago) and could see that while the wear on the heel wasn't too bad, the bumps beneath the balls of the feet had been completely worn away, a difference of several millimetres. Since changing shoes always seems to magically heal any issues I have I am highly optimistic for the same again; no need for a physio.

The HR has come down remarkably since Saturday; my VDOT values seem to have jumped from 55 to 60. I have seen it all before numerous times, it's no reason to get too excited. I'm still in recovery, after all I did run an ultra distance race 5 days ago. Any chances of doing well in Ballycotton are, well, remote, and the slower I run Tralee the better. I want to do well in Connemara, but the big goal is still 5 months away.

17 Feb
5 miles, 40:08, 8:02 pace, HR 132
18 Feb
5 miles, 39:59, 8:00 pace, HR 136
19 Feb
8 miles, 1:02:32, 7:48 pace, HR 136
20 Feb
8 miles, 1:01:28, 7:41 pace, HR 137

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Longest Day

The alarm went off at 4:50 am. I had my breakfast and just before 5:30 left to drive across the country to drive towards county Kildare. It might have been easier to do this the day before and stay overnight in Dublin, but I didn't think leaving my wife alone with 4 kids on Valentine's Day would be a good move.

Anyway, I arrived in Donadea in good time. The short walk to the registration tent took me about half an hour because I met so many friends. Then I got ready and we started almost on time.

I did not have much of a plan apart from treating this purely as a training run. Two years ago I had run the first half of this race in 2 hours and then sped up a bit to run the second half in 1:50, and if things went well I'd maybe do something similar again, but on the whole I was playing this entirely by ear.

The course consists of 10 laps through Donadea Forest Park, which is a lovely setting, but after 2 months of rather solid storm weather the road had turned very muddy in places and there were puddles, including one across the entire road, which gave us the option of either a long jump or cold wet feet.

I started slowly and the first lap was rather slow. I had started way too far in the back a spent the first few miles slowly overtaking people. Another runner, Andrew, who had been part of the 3:10 pacing group in Dublin, joined me in the fun. We made up for the slow start by running the second lap a bit faster, catching up to a big group of about 10 runners who all seemed to have an eye on a sub-4, but had run the first lap a bit too hard. I thought about joining then but didn't because my own pace had felt perfectly comfortable and I decided to run my own race. Niall gave me a bit of grief for that, but since I had foolishly said I'd jump into the pond if he finished ahead of me, hey!

The next few laps were all pretty much the same. We settled into a very constant pace that felt pretty much effortless - at least to me, I can't speak for Andrew. I'm not much of a talker at best of times, so a lot of times we ran in silence, though Andrew did not seem to mind. We got lapped the first time right as we went through the finish area after 3 laps by Gary O'Hanlon. I did a few calculations in my head and realised that he was on sub-3 pace. Wow! I did worry that he might blow up later on, after all this was his first ever 50k, but obviously he is the top-class runner, not me, so chances were he knew exactly what he was doing.

At the end of lap 5 the timer was at 1:58, so we were clearly at just below 4 hours pace. Around that time I noticed a little grumbling coming from my stomach, but mostly ignored it, However, it came back and gradually got more and more noticeable. I became more and more aware that it was now 12 o'clock and I would have been hungry after not eating for 7 hours anyway, never mind when burning through an awful lot of calories by running an ultra-distance race. Visions of hot dogs or steaks starting flashing through my mind but that wasn't going to happen. I didn't bring anything substantial with me so I didn't have much choice but keep going with my original feeding strategy of a gel after each second lap.

The pace held up and apart from my stomach everything else was still working well, but I ditched the plan of speeding up at halfway and just kept going at the same effort. The legs were feeling surprisingly fresh and running was still easy. However, after lap 7 Andrew dropped off and sent me ahead (unfortunately he would drop out completely another lap later), so I was now entirely on my own, which was a shame. Even if we were mostly quiet, it's still nice to share the running with someone else.

Things kept going very well until I reached the marathon mark, but then things started going south quickly. I was running entirely on fumes and it started showing. I did get a quick boost after downing a bottle of powerade from the organiser's table, but that did not last. However, I still managed to keep the same pace going. One runner asked if I was about to finish when I overtook him but I told him I still had a lap to go.

Turns out I should have lied - I had just overtaken him, not lapped, and now he was chasing me! I started the final lap just ahead of him but within a mile he had caught me again, went past strongly and my spirits dropped after that. I just wanted this to be over, but at least I found a tiny ounce of energy for the finish sprint and did an "Eamonn" across the finish line - I sincerely hope someone has a photo of that!

The official time was 3:55:34 (official results are here), I finished in 27th place, 5th M40. This was my slowest 50k ever (well, it was only my third), but in actual fact I have never raced one, they were always just training runs. I guess had I actually eaten something I would have finished a bit quicker, but then again running a sub-4 50k on an empty stomach isn't all that bad either. The slippery road surface made it all a bit more difficult, every step just took that little bit more energy than normal, though considering that Gary O'Hanlon managed to run sub-3, this isn't much of an excuse.

I got cold quickly afterwards and didn't hang around for too long so made my way home - it was a long drive again. I slept well that night

Race photos by Peter Mooney.
14 Feb
6+ miles, 47:05, 7:43 pace, HR 139
15 Feb
Donadea 50k, 3:55:34, 7:31 pace, HR 149
16 Feb
5+ miles, 40:59, 8:06 pace, HR 136
Weekly Mileage: 83.4 miles

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hurricane and Tornado

As all runners know only too well, we are quite susceptible to injury. Every runner has plenty of stories to tell. I have been lucky enough to avoid any injury that would require one or more off days for several years now. But marathon or ultra training is always a fine line, you're trying to train hard enough to be at your best but stay on the right side of recovery and hopefully injury won't strike.

I might be teetering right at the brink. About 3 weeks ago I started getting some slight pain at the top of my right hip. It started out very lightly but gradually got a little bit more noticeable. It's still very much manageable, about 3 out of 10, and certainly won't stop me as long as it doesn't get any worse, but it's a bit of a worry.

I got another twinge on Monday. I had followed up Sunday's long hilly run with a set of hill drills on Monday. I came home feeling tired but fine, but as the day wore on I started to notice some twinge in my right hamstring. Two days later this is still with me. Again, it's not too bad at the moment and as long as it doesn't get any worse it's perfectly manageable but like the hip pain, it's a bit of a worry.

I did a second set of hill drills on Tuesday, though I did the thigh drive in a more measured way to protect my hamstring. It might have worked in as much as it didn't get any worse.

Wednesday was an interesting one. I had followed the weather forecast with some interest and figured I could squeeze in my run before the storm was about to strike, so I did 10 miles in heavy wind and rain, but I certainly felt the conditions were just about okay. Niamh seems to have disagreed, her only comment on my return was “are you nuts?”, and we left it at that. The most noteworthy thing from my point of view was the low HR – 10 beats lower than the same pace would have yielded only a few weeks ago. The effect of just over one week of hill work are absolutely flabbergasting!

Running sure would not have been possible three hours later later when the storm hit Kerry with up-to-then unheard-of ferocity. Our road was blocked by several fallen trees and worse, our neighbour's house was hit by a fallen tree with some serious amount of damage. There is debris everywhere and the power in Caragh Lake was out for almost 8 hours – it only just came back close to bedtime. We still don’t have internet or telly. And we’re one of the lucky ones - there is no damage to our house, Killorglin was still without power in the morning and some people in the country will be without power for several days!

It was almost eerily calm on Thursday morning. The trees had been moved off the road but there was an almost Christmassy smell of fresh wood in the air. I had to find a new hill for my repeats as the road in the Coillte land was completely blocked by several fallen trees (I wasn't surprised), and the road was slippery from hail/sleet/ground frost. I managed just fine but didn't go all-out as I'm supposed to have a race on Saturday.

The weather forecast for Saturday is not too bad, though the race director made same dark, cryptic comments about hoping we're able to swim. The course is in a forest park that is susceptible to mud; let's wait and see how that will go. I don't feel anywhere near race ready, but since this is only a training run I should be okay.

10 Feb
10+ miles, 1:40:53, HR 137
   Hill Drills: strides, thigh drive, high knees, ankle drive
11 Feb
10+ miles, 1:39:19, HR 137
   Hill Drills: strides, thigh drive, downhill strides, high knees
12 Feb
10 miles, 1:14:40, 7:28 pace, HR 138
13 Feb
10 miles, 1:33:40, HR 141
   Hill Drills: strides, thigh drive, high knees, downhill strides

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Lucky Me

I guess I managed to carry a bit of luck from last week over to this one. I was cycling past the primary school just as at least a dozen parents dropped off their kids. It's a narrow road, there are no less than five roads converging and you've got kids running from all directions, so it's all rather chaotic at the best of times. I was passing a car and right at that moment the driver opened his door without looking. I'm not sure who got more of a fright, him or me, as he missed me by probably less than an inch. As it was I was just able to continue on, but just one split second made all the difference and I could have taken a very, very nasty spill.

Running this week was different to usual due to all those hill drills I am doing. I did drills three times this week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with 10 easy miles the other days, and I have noticed how my HR has dropped significantly  all of a sudden. I didn't think my usual fast run on Saturday would be a good idea as my legs were feeling the effects of all those hills, so I settled into a reasonably comfortable pace, roughly the effort I'm hoping to do in Connemara in 2 months. That felt very much sustainable, though in Connemara I will have to do it 4 times longer, which is a completely different ask altogether.

After quite some deliberating I decided not to join the club run on Sunday but do a much hillier circuit instead. I ran up the Devil's Elbow climb and dropped down the other side of the hill and continued to loop around it, which is an elevation gain of about 500 feet, with one mile being particularly steep. I did that 3 times and was pleasantly surprised how well the legs were able to take it. In fact, the first loop had been the worst, the legs had felt distinctly heavy and took about 6 or 7 miles to get going properly. I even met the guys from the club run, though I felt a bit guilty about not joining them. The run was a bit longer than expected, I had planned to keep it closer to 18 miles but by the time I got home I had accumulated 20 miles once more.

The mileage this week is a bit higher than expected but I'm feeling pretty good. I'll keep going as is for a few more days and will decide later on if I'll train through teh week before the 50k in Donadea or if I should take a few easy days.
6 Feb
10 miles, 1:19:23, 7:56 pace, HR 133
7 Feb
10+ miles, 1:38:51, HR 136
   Hill Drills: strides, thigh drive, ankle drive, high knees
8 Feb
10+ miles, 1:13:55, 7:19 pace, HR 150
9 Feb
20 miles, 2:37:30, 7:53 pace, HR 143
Weekly Mileage: 81+

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Here Comes The Rain Again

I’m starting to think Eurhythmics songs just be banned in Ireland. Too depressing.

Nevertheless, I’ve started a new training phase. I did deliberate if I should do a hills phase (or transition, as MC used to call it) at all but eventually remembered that on at least one occasion I went into the hills phase feeling so-so and came out feeling great, so at least it was worth a shot, especially as I was generally feeling so-so during training.

I required a search through my old training logs to remember how those hill sessions are supposed to work, but eventually caught up again and on Monday morning the alarm went off bit earlier than usual and I was up and ready.

I did wonder if it was a wise move to start hills the day after a 20 mile run, but told myself that Lydiard had his runners do 6 hill workouts a week with a 22 mile run on the seventh, so in comparison I was still taking it rather easy. However, I followed MC’s protocol for hills rather than Lydiard’s, as described in that little doclet here.

On Sunday evening I had been wondering if it would be possible to run at all but luckily the storm abated by 5 am and the rain had mostly stopped by 6 and the conditions were almost pleasant. However, the roads were completely waterlogged on several points and I ran through ankle-deep sections more often that I could count, and I ended up running through several of them several times.

So, on that Monday after the compulsory initial 4 x 30 second sprints I did 3 x 2 min of high knees (tough), then 3 x 1 min thigh drive (absolutely brutal, and I didn’t manage the entire 60 seconds on the last one) and finally a minute session of ankle drive (easy), all drills separated by 15 minutes of easy running (ok, so I cheated and did about 12) before splashing my way home again. The hill had resembled a river bed more than a road and the water had been so cold that my feet, and even more so my toes, were completely numb and the pins and needles in the shower just rounded up a "fun" workout.

I had sore calves on Tuesday. Actually, I welcomed that. I haven’t had any sore muscles in this training cycle at all until now and finally I can tell myself that I really am pushing my body. However, I didn’t feel the sore legs when running 10 easy miles.

Wednesday called for hill drills once more, though I did it on a different hill as the Caragh Lake Coillte road that I had used on Monday is completely unsuitable for downhill strides. The downside of the other hill is that the steep section is very short and not as well suited for all the other drills, so it is always a trade-off. Anyway, it was a similar workout again, after the sprints and the downhill strides I did the thigh drive (ugh) and the high knees again.

It might just be in my head, but I’m starting to feel good again. Maybe it’s the sore calf muscles’ soothing call.

3 Feb
10+ miles, 1:39:22, HR 132
    Hill Drills: strides, high knees, thigh drive, ankle drive
4 Feb
10 miles, 1:18:06, HR 140
5 Feb
10+ miles, 1:34:14, HR 135
    Hill Drills: strides, downhill strides,thigh drive, high knees

Sunday, February 02, 2014

On A Roll

The last few days were like a whirlwind. Every day would bring totally unexpected but very welcome good news.

I received an email on Wednesday indicating that I might be running Ballycotton after all. And I'm not talking about a number transfer or any other nefarious business (I got a few offers for that as well, thanks but no thanks), but a perfectly legit number and I'll be running in my own name. There is a slight downside to that as I'm nowhere near the same shape I was in last year around the same time, so my sequence of running a little bit faster every year is almost definitely going to end (and I'm not hunting for a top-100 t-shirt this year), but I'll enjoy running it all the same.

Another surprise came on Thursday when the kitchen lady in our office produced my Ballycotton mug that had gone missing a few weeks ago. That is nothing short of a miracle, nothing ever turns up in that place that has gone missing. I was absolutely delighted and the office coffee immediately tasted a lot better (though it's still fairly awful, to be honest).

The biggest surprise, however, came on Friday, when Niamh sent me a message if I was expecting a parcel from the AAI, to which I obviously said no because I could not think why on earth they would send me something. Well, wouldn't you know it, all of a sudden I can honestly say that I have a genuine National Championship medal at home. I knew they got medals in 2013 and I was thinking "that's strange, we didn't get any last year", but thought no more of it. Obviously someone felt differently.

Boom boom boom. The good news just keeps on coming, I'm obviously on a roll. Let's hope it lasts!

Oh yes, running. I have been doing that as well. I took it easy again for two days after Wednesday's evaluation. The HR was sky high on Thursday (almost 10 beats higher than expected), which I still attribute to fighting off some virus but had come down by Friday. Then, on Saturday, the weather turned nasty once more and I headed out into the kind of weather that makes it clear to Niamh that she's married to an idiot, though it wasn't quite as bad as it seemed. I did a few mile repeats, probably with those news from Ballycotton in mind, but they just confirmed that I'm not in shape to run fast at the moment. On Sunday I ran into town to meet up with a few guys from the club. I had meant to joint them on these runs for a while but in the last few weeks something always got in the way. I did 5 miles on my own on the way to town, 10 miles with the guys and 5 back home, giving me an easy 20 miler. I was quite amazed how easy it felt, the legs were not even tired at the end (which isn't necessarily a good sign according to MC).

The mileage is a tad lower than last week because I took a small step backwards to ensure that I remain on the right side of recovery.

30 Jan
10 miles, 1:19:26, 7:57 pace, HR 148
31 Jan
10 miles, 1:18:25, 7:50 pace, HR 141
1 Feb
8 miles, 57:08, 7:08 pace, HR 156
   incl 3 x 1 mile @ 6:17, 6:17, 6:19
2 Feb
20 miles, 2:35:16, 7:46 pace, HR 146
Weekly Mileage: 80