Sunday, March 16, 2014

Title Defense

The original plan had been to train reasonably hard this week and run the marathon as a long run at the end of it. The sore legs following Ballycotton caught me completely by surprise and enforced a change of plan. All of a sudden I was doing nothing but short and slow recovery runs, which incidentally means I was basically tapering for Tralee. Funny how this works sometimes.

The plan had been to run at a fast but reasonable pace, which I figured out to be 3:10 because that's what I paced in Dublin last October and felt pretty good afterwards. Of course Tralee is a harder marathon course than Dublin, but I figured it would not make much of a difference. It had been with a heavy heart that I decided not to race this one. I had won the M40 age group last year and defending my title was definitely very tempting but in the end I just could not fit it into my program this year. I have bigger fish to fry.

I got rather upset on Saturday evening when I realised that I had been supposed to sign up separately for the Kerry county marathon championship at the Expo, which I only realised back home. Luckily the race director came through and signed me up before the start. It's great to have an RD that helps even with these minute details. I did not think I would be a factor in this year's championship but you never know. I really appreciate Marcus' help with this - I definitely owe him one, bigtime.

It had been a nice morning in Killorglin but as soon as we crossed the mountain into Tralee it became cold and drizzly and felt a bit miserable, to be honest. I wondered if I should ditch the singlet but in the end was too lazy to re-attach the number. I was a bit cold at the start but luckily we started on time and as soon as we were moving I was just fine.

Early days
I made sure to stay well behind the 3-hour pace group, which made finding the right pace a bit easier. I remembered that last year I had run the entire marathon completely on my own and tried to avoid a repeat scenario, so when I fell in step behind two other guys I decided to stick with them. It was a good move.

The course is very exposed to the moods of the Atlantic weather system and one year we are going to have to battle a major storm in this race I am sure, but this year was not that year. It was still challenging enough and the first 10 miles were all pretty much into the wind. The other lads did mentione that I was using them as a windshield, but then again they always pulled ahead quickly whenever I tried to put in a shift at the front. Mind, we all have the build of marathon runners so are generally pretty useless as windshields and we all had to battle the wind ourselves.

The climb to the golf course at mile 10 was just as brutal as I remembered it, but in fact I think the real damage is done on the downhill section when it really hammers your quads. I, for one, could certainly feel the strain and my legs weren't entirely happy for a couple of miles afterwards. I did wonder if I was already paying the price for those 10 hard miles in Ballycotton, I knew I had not entirely recovered from that effort, it takes longer than 7 days, but I was feeling reasonably comfortable.

We passed the halfway mark in about 1:34, just a little bit ahead of schedule but I was feeling relaxed and the pace was still easy and the series of rolling hills did not unduly bother me. For a rural course there was a decent amount of support, the public definitely seems to like the event and we passed a lot of cheering groups. We got into Fenit still in good shape but I didn't really like running on the concrete of the pier itself.

On the climb out of Fenit I once more took over the lead of our little group and after a while I twigged that I was on my own all of a sudden. I never meant to drop the lads but that's what happened and of course I wasn't going to wait, so I eventually decided to press the pace.

The main reason for that was a slight miscalculation on my point. I could see the next runner maybe a minute ahead of me and knew it was Fozzy Forristal, who I thought was in the M40 age group as well as a Kerryman so he would have been a direct rival for in the county championship. It was only after the finish that Seamus told me that Fozzy is still at a younger age level, but I was not to know that and went on the hunt instead. We had a few miles into Tralee with the wind on our backs and I dropped the pace below 7-minute miles for the first time today.

I wasn't sure at first if it was working but I did draw closer, if slowly. It took until mile 20 to pass him, and at that point the course joined in with the half marathon runners and we had to make our way through the tail end of that race, though unlike last year it did not bother me.

Last year I really suffered on the hill up to mile 22, which just seemed to drag on forever. This year I got the benefit of much fresher legs at that point (due to the slower pace, obviously) and it felt so much easier. One thing I definitely had not expected was to pass Vasiliy, he must have taken it exceptionally easy today.

Mile 24.5. Photo by Proinsias Ó Foghlú
Once we got into Tralee there was a sting in the tail: while the half marathoners headed straight to the finish, we had to go back out on the Ardfert road again. What had felt so easy on the first mile was now a much tougher task uphill and into the wind. I kept hearing people shouting for Fozzy (he's a local, and a popular one by the sounds of it) and was basically running scared. I caught two more runners but was passed by a runner myself - of course I thought it was Fozzy but it was different guy. I tried to stay with him but he eventually got away from me.

The last mile and a half was downhill again and with the wind on our back and from here on it was cruising time. I eventually twigged that there was nobody behind me and could relax, though I did keep a fairly good pace going. The legs hurt, but to be honest they didn't hurt all that badly. Considering that I had gone into this marathon with pre-fatigued legs, things had gone exceptionally well. I pushed the pace to the finish and was done in 3:07:17, a little bit faster than planned, but I was always going to be happy to sacrifice my legs for a county championship medal. I had run the second half a minute faster than the first half, which isn't bad.

The organisers were very switched on, within seconds of crossing the line I was told that I had won the Kerry county marathon championship in my age group, which absolutely made my day and called for celebrations! I had not expected it, but I had managed to defend one of my titles from last year. It won't happen again next year - I'll be in a new age group.

Happy lads. Photo by Jackie Murphy (I think)

13 Mar
8 miles, 1:02:23, 7:47 pace, HR 136
14 Mar
8 miles, 1:02:30, 7:48 pace, HR 134
15 Mar
5 miles, 38:00, 7:35 pace, HR 138
16 Mar
Tralee marathon, 3:07:17, 7:08 pace, HR 155
   15th place overall, 2nd M40, Winner M40 Kerry county championship


  1. well defended champ and great overall placing.

  2. Well done again Thomas, that's a super time for someone "taking it easy" !

  3. Nicely done, Thomas. It looks like you did everything right from conserving your legs to defending your title. A great day indeed!

  4. Great effort Thomas, I just completed my first marathon attempt here -

  5. Congratulation buddy. Who said ultrarunning slows you down eh :-) Great to see you getting some recognition. Well done.

  6. Seriously good going Thomas, impressive stuff...and only a training run :)

  7. Great running Thomas, not often you get a prize for doing training!

    I am curious, how did your RPE and HR this year compare to last year when you raced?

    I'm wondering as I'll be running a marathon as training run this weekend and plan to keep the intensity down enough for it not to cause too much disruption to my training schedule. Normally I see an average HR of around 169/170 for marathon races, but feel that a HR of 160/161 should be a reasonable target and ensure that I don't over do it.

    1. Excellent question, Robert. My HR was 155 vs. 166 and the RPE matched that - especially the hill at mile 22 was much easier this year.

    2. So a HR differnce of 11bpm resulted in a time difference of 12 minutes. That's almost a perfect round number to work with - which I'm sure we can put down to you not being quite in the peak shape you were last year ;-)

      So we rounding down to 1bpm equal to 1minute.

      I keep a spread sheet of my training runs and have a set of columns for computing what that runs HR/pace/distance might map to for a race at different distance. My column for a marathon has a sensitivity of roughly 1bpm approximately 2 minutes.

      I think the difference on bpm to minutes will be partly down to estimates vs real-world data, and partly down to my own HR vs pace profile being flater than yours. I.e. your heart rate at 8min/mile pace is 15bm lower than mine, while pace at 7 min/mile is probably around 5 to 10bpm lower.

  8. Well done Thomas. Great splits, time and a title to boot.

  9. You are an inspiration. Nice work!

  10. Great achivement, congrats on the county championship medal!