Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Just A Blip?

I know I had described Sunday's long run as a bit of a sufferfest, but the numbers do deserve a closer look. All week my HR had been in the 130s or low 140s. Even for Saturday's tempo effort I averaged in the 140s, which I took as a sign that I'm in pretty damn good shape. But on Sunday the HR was way up to 154, even though the pace actually rather pedestrian. Some of it was down to the very hilly course, but that explains only a fraction of the rise. I do have a rather simple spreadsheet where I track my HR/pace ratio. For April the chart looks as follows:

Races, especially of marathon or greater distance, almost always have a lower ratio and the dip for Connemara is clearly visible, though you can also see how quickly I recovered. However, Sunday's run was nothing short of alarming, the dip is even greater than the one for the ultra. There are a couple of possible reasons:
  1. I had a long week of high mileage behind me
  2. It was fairly hot
  3. I was quite dehydrated in the end (my weight was down by over 4 pounds)
  4. I had not eaten for 15 hours before running
My best guess is that all these factor played their part. However, since the numbers picked up again the very next day I think I'm okay, but should probably be a bit more careful.

This week so far has been a carbon copy of last week with 10 miles in the morning and 5 in the evening, except Wednesday when I ran on the Kerry Way up to Windy Gap in the morning. The pace was generally a bit slower but that was on purpose as I tried not to overdo it.

I will ease off slightly over the next few days because I'm doing the Wings for Life run on Sunday. I want to do at least a marathon, which requires me to run 3:08 or faster, something I am perfectly capable of but it won't exactly be a walk in the park, especially with all those training miles in my legs.
28 Apr
am: 10 miles, 1:18:29, 7:51 pace, HR 133
pm: 5+ miles, 37:37, 7:27 pace, HR 138
29 Apr
am: 10 miles, 1:16:47, 7:41 pace, HR 135
pm: 5 miles, 37:39, 7:31 pace, HR 138
30 Apr
am: 12+ miles, 1:50:51, 9:03 pace, HR 138, Windy Gap x 2
pm: 5+ miles, 37:53, 7:30 pace, HR 138

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Double Trouble

I have run higher weekly mileage before, but only in conjunction with long events like a 100 miler or 10 marathons in 10 days. This week was my highest ever pure training mileage. You would expect me to be knackered as a result, but that's not really the case. In fact, until Saturday I found running well over 100 miles in a week almost ridiculously easy. Using trial and error I did establish a couple of years ago that 85 miles is about the maximum I can do in a week in singles, going for more was counter-productive. I have always wondered what running doubles would do to my running but family life has always stopped me from trying it out.

I have run 13 times this week, Sunday was the only single day, but still the day with the highest mileage. For the most of it, apart from stressing over having enough running gear, I did not encounter any real problems. The legs were a little bit tired on Thursday, but that could be entirely explained by Wednesday's mountain run and indeed, they were back to their normal on Friday. On Saturday evening I was all smug and satisfied. Things were a little bit different on Sunday morning. Even the first step of the run was a bit of a struggle and it only got worse over the next 20 miles. I was highly tempted to call it a day after passing our driveway after 16.5 miles but pure pig-headedness kept me going for an additional out-and-back to make up the distance. I reckon it was good mental training for an ultra runner.

It does teach me that I am probably okay to run high mileage like that if I only do easy runs, but as soon as I add a workout or two I have to be more careful.

Anyway. The kids are all older now than they used to be, which may well make all the difference as far as running in the evening is concerned, but next week they're back in school and it remains to be seen if running twice a week is still compatible with family life. I certainly hope so. I felt incredibly strong at times and I could knock out 7-minute miles on Saturday while running comfortably relaxed with the HR still in the 140s. Wow.

It sure helps to have a very supportive wife! Runners, choose your spouse carefully and you might get as lucky as I am.

The biggest event of the week was undoubtedly the twins' 13th birthday. I pointed out to Niamh that we will now have at least one teenager in the family for the next 13 years, a thought that fills us both with dread and horror, but I guess we just have to take it one little bit at a time. Just like running an ultra, then. As if to prove the point, we already had to deal with a massive teenage tantrum each. They're surprisingly similar to toddler tantrums though, so it's nothing new.
24 Apr
am: 10 miles, 1:17:06, 7:43 pace, HR 139
pm: 5 miles, 36:26, 7:17 pace, HR 144
25 Apr
am: 10 miles, 1:16:15, 7:37 pace, HR 136
pm: 5 miles, 36:20, 7:16 pace, HR 140
26 Apr
am: 10 miles, 1:12:05, 7:12 pace, HR 145, incl. 8 miles @ 7:00 pace (HR 149)
pm: 5+ miles, 36:57, 7:19 pace, HR 140
27 Apr
20 miles, 2:33:35, 7:40 pace, HR 154
Weekly Mileage: 112+ miles

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sunrise, Sunset

Running twice a day means you are on your feet a lot. I'm starting to learn that. I have no issues with fatigue or overtraining (at least not yet), but the next run is never far away. Running in the evening also has the disadvantage that you have all day to come up with an excuse not to run. So far I have always managed to overcome any attacks of laziness. The only day I didn't run in the evening was Sunday and that had been planned all along because I had already done a long run in the morning.

I can see the sunrise every morning and I'm out again when it's getting close to sunset. In a way that's a neat symmetry.

There are other immediate benefits as well. My weight is coming down, and considering that we just had the Easter weekend makes that a minor miracle. I have 4 children but bought chocolate for 8, as always, and of course ended up eating most of the extra chocolate myself, as always. Despite that the weight is still falling off me. In fact, for someone with a sweet tooth this is basically a lottery win. I can eat what I want without feeling guilty, and after being fairly monk-like in my nutritional approach since New Year this is positively liberating (I'll clean up my act again in time, don't worry). I also sleep pretty well.

I measured my resting HR a few days ago. It was down to 38, about 5 beats lower than it had been for most of last year and the second-lowest reading I have ever seen. The lowest had been 5 years ago at 36, though interestingly enough that was followed by a disappointing marathon.

It's the season of gorse fires and I have run past 3 still smoldering fields in the last few days but so far have not had to adapt any running routes. God, I hate that stupid tradition.

I am going through a ton of running gear. I have more t-shirts than fit into my wardrobe but I'm chronically short on shorts and socks. Half the time I am putting them on straight off the washing line.

This is all just fluff, of course. The real question is, will running twice a day make me a better runner. For that I will have to find a way to keep that schedule going once school starts again, which is still an open issue.

So far the legs are feeling very good. Because I want to get used to the new stressors first, most of the runs are still easy runs, which helps with the adaptation. I made one exception this morning when I went into the mountains again for a double crossing of Windy Gap. The weather forecast had been lousy but instead I got treated to a beautiful sunrise to match the stunning scenery, which is a very nice, unexpected bonus. I do question, however, how I ever managed to run the Gap 4 times in one run last year. I must have been in good shape.

21 Apr
am: 10 miles, 1:15:35, 7:33 pace, HR 138
pm: 5 miles, 36:57, 7:23 pace, HR 142
22 Apr
am: 10 miles, 1:16:03, 7:36 pace, HR 137
pm: 5+ miles, 37:06, 7:20 pace, HR 138
23 Apr
am: 12+ miles, 1:47:58, 8:49 pace, HR 144, Windy Gap x 2
pm: 5 miles, 37:12, 7:26 pace, HR 139

Sunday, April 20, 2014


On Wednesday evening I decided that while my back was still in pretty bad shape (I was basically in chronic pain), running definitely did not make it worse; quite the opposite in fact, it seemed to provide relief, which may have been purely down to the endorphins. Therefore I didn't have to restrict myself to short runs only, I might as well resume "proper" training and accordingly I ran up to Windy Gap on Thursday morning. The weather has been nice all week with plenty of sunshine, if a little cold, but Thursday morning was probably the least nice time when it was quite overcast and Windy Gap stood up to its name. I only did one climb, which was quite enough only 11 days after Connemara, but the legs were able to take it, no bother.

I must have read dozens of books about running in the last few years. In fact, Niamh keeps complaining that while I read virtually every day, I never seem to read any "real" books. Anyway, it's rare to come across an eye opener after reading so  much but this book definitely is one. I know I am not in the same league as some of the guys in there but then again, if I don't do the training I never will be. I decided to give it a good go until the 24 hours in July. I already implemented one big change; all week I have been doing 2 runs a day. I always knew (or at least suspected) that running twice would make me a better runner but family life always prevented me from doing so. And make no mistake, family will always come first. It was easy this week with Niamh and the kids in Dublin. Now they're back but with the kids still on their Easter holidays, it should be no problem. I'll have to see how it goes once they're back to school. They do have various activities most evenings, which might put a stop to my fancy ideas. I'll have to see if I can work around it without upsetting anyone.

The other big thing is that I'll try and run a marathon or ultra every fortnight. This will either make me or break me.

If someone asked me how my back was, my subjective impression would be that it's just as bad as ever. But if I stop and think about it I realise that it's actually a lot better already. It's still sore and I'm still in chronic discomfort, but my mobility is much better already. On Monday, putting on socks or shoes was a major problem and I only just managed to do so; now I can do it without any troubles and it doesn't leave me in searing pain for a minute either. It's just that improvement is so slow and gradual that it's almost unnoticeable. I won't be doing any gardening this weekend, which is a shame as the weather is so nice, there is plenty of work to be done and I might not get another chance, but I just can't.

After almost posting a PB in the county championship I was tempted to run the Good Friday race in Killarney but in the end managed to resist, mostly because of my back but it would probably have been rather bad for my recovering legs and body anyway. I might feel okay but it's still only 2 weeks since I ran an ultra at rather fast pace. Interestingly, running twice a day does not seem to cause any fatigue. This might be a good thing, but the often repeated warning from my former coach keeps doing the rounds in my head:
"When you get toward peak shape your brain ignores fatigue, this is good for racing but bad for training"

I'm basically building mileage at the moment, so I'm restraining myself from speed work in an attempt to limit the stressors. I did 12 runs this week, which makes the mileage just shoot up so quickly and easily, it almost feels like cheating.

17 Apr
am: 10.75 miles, 1:34:15, 8:46 pace, HR 140, Windy Gap
pm: 5+ miles, 38:01, 7:31 pace, HR 138
18 Apr
am: 10 miles, 1:16:08, 7:36 pace, HR 143
pm: 5 miles, 37:25, 7:28 pace, HR 141
19 Apr
am: 10 miles, 1:17:27, 7:44 pace, HR 137
pm: 5 miles, 37:45, 7:32 pace, HR 138
20 Apr
16.7 miles, 2:06:48, 7:35 pace, HR 143
Weekly Mileage: 88+

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


There are different kind of splits that we get to look at today. First of all, my 13.1-mile splits from Connemara:

1:33:51 (16th) 1:34:43 (14th)  1:40:35 (6th)

That's quite interesting I think. Despite slowing down by well over 6 minutes my third split was way better relative to the field than the other two. Of course, 6 minutes isn't too bad considering the two major hills, that mad headwind as well as the fatigue, but an ideal run would have seen me doing a faster final third. Mind, the only runner to pass me was Thomas Klimas, who has the highly unusual distinction of having run the final third faster than the previous two. The next best runner to achieve that came 93rd!

The other splits were the mile splits from the 5k last Sunday:

5:35 5:52 6:00

That's the third time I've started a 5k with exactly the same mile split of a 5:35 split. Weird. The second mile is a bit disappointing. I think had I known that I was so close to my PB I might have been able to push a bit harder. The third was actually okay, considering that it included the hill. Mind, I did lose 3 places there, so maybe not so okay after all.

There is one other thing that seems to have split that day, namely the muscle fibres around my lumbar spine. It's actually quite ironic. My main target for Sunday's race had been not to get injured. In that I succeeded, only to do my back in when mowing the grass later that day. It wasn't one specific moment, I just noticed at some point that my back was hurting but kept on going, after all there was a lawn to be done. Big mistake as it turns out, come evening I was in absolute agony.

I have had back trouble before. It's very painful but does go away after a few days. Running doesn't have any effect on it, neither positive nor negative. Sitting down is the major problem, which isn't ideal if you have a desk job as you might imagine. Interestingly, the supposedly comfy chairs in the office's conference room are by far the worst; I had a meeting there yesterday and became more and more uncomfortable until I was squirming in agony. Cycling is poison too, due to its sitting posture. Unfortunately it's my only way of getting in and out of work, but I'm in agony after each 5 mile journey.

Running has been on the back burner, less because of the post-race recovery but more because of my back. I had initially planned on doing a mountain run on Wednesday but postponed that. Seeing as running doesn't seem to make any difference at all it's probably unnecessary caution.

It's a shame as I have the run of the house this week. I could have been running as much as I wanted without having to mind that gaggle of misbehaving children that Niamh keeps insisting are all mine. Ah well. I did go running twice a day on Tuesday and Wednesday, though. The RPE was the same but the pace for the evening runs was about half a minute per mile faster. Interesting but entirely expected, it's what happens every time (not that I do much running in the evening, owing to the aforementioned little treasures).

14 Apr
5 miles, 41:30, 8:18 pace, HR 132
15 Apr
am: 5 miles, 39:01, 7:48 pace, HR 136
pm: 5+ miles, 36:54, 7:18 pace, HR 143
16 Apr
am: 6+ miles, 47:54, 7:51 pace, HR 136
pm: 5+ miles, 37:36, 7:27 pace, HR 141

Sunday, April 13, 2014

County Kerry 5k Road Championship

"What do you think about Sunday 13th April?" "That's the worst date possible!" Sean might have been slightly taken aback by my reaction when he told me about the date for the county championship, but at that point it was already decided. I promised to turn up and might even put in an honest effort, but one week after the Connemara Ultra I would never be able to produce my best performance. In fact, my main goal for today's race was not to get injured!

Still, I could not miss it. It was held in Killorglin and my local club, Star of the Laune, acted as organisers. We are a small club but aimed to bring a decent team both for the men's as well as the women's division, though as the men were all old geezers we were squarely aiming for the masters categories.

I had to stop watching the London marathon halfway through to head off to the start. I could still clearly feel the heavy legs from Connemara, which didn't bode too well. I guess I would have to rely on Adrenaline alone to get me through this today.

I have run in these championship races before and know far away I am from the standard up front so I started well down the field, probably too far as I spent the first half mile overtaking a lot of runners. It didn't cost me any real time, though. I could see a very big pack right up front not too far away and just one or two runners between them and me, but after about a mile they started pulling away and I started to feel the effort.

The one thing that got me through is the knowledge that this would be over reasonably soon. 5ks are the complete opposite to marathons or ultras, the pain is high but the effort does not have to be sustainable for long. They go completely against my strengths but to be honest I do like the fact that they show that I am able to run well below 6-minute pace, something that's completely out of the question in training.

The first two miles were exceptionally flat but we had to pay the price in the third mile in shape of a 100 feet high hill. The gradient is about 5% on the steepest section and my only aim was to get to the top without killing myself. I didn't have much strength left, in fact I lost 2 places. Even when it flattened out it was still uphill for a while until we could finally descend back towards town. After losing 2 places on the climb I didn't exactly cover myself in glory by losing 2 further places on the way down. At least it did sting my pride and I did put the hammer down on the final 500 meters that were flat towards the finish and managed to get one place back.

I didn't press the button immediately after crossing the line, I was too busy trying to breathe, but pressed it when the watch showed 18:20, so I estimated my time must have been around 18:10, pretty much the same time I had done in the fun run a few weeks ago, but looking at the Garmin track now I can see that it drops off after 17:58, so let's say my time was pretty much 18 flat, give or take a second.

I was well pleased with my time, certainly faster than I would have thought possible only 7 days after Connemara and possibly even more pleased with my bronze medal for coming third in the M40 age group, an nice bonus. It's fairly rare to get a "real" medal, as opposed to the usual everyone-gets-a-medal, and I do treasure them all. The club had done very well with about half a dozen medals and I think both the ladies as well as the masters men finished in teh top three in the teams rankings, but they did not announce them yet.

Let's just hope it didn't set my recovery back too much.

P.S.: Congratulations to Chris Grayson for storming to his first sub-3 in London with an official time of 2:56:54. Smoked it, mate! I'm chuffed for you, I know how much you wanted it!

P.P.S. Final results have me in 21st place in 17:56. That's damn close to my PB! Now I'm wondering if I could break it ...

I knew I needed a haircut but I had no idea I needed one so desperately!
Finishing sprint
Definitely happy to get a medal!
Star of the Laune medal winners
Star of the Laune
All photos by Carol Naughton
11 Apr
5 miles, 40:14, 8:03 pace, HR 130
12 Apr
5 miles, 39:04, 7:48 pace, HR 133
13 Apr
6.5 miles, including:
   County Kerry 5k Road Championship
   ~18:00, 5:47 pace, HR 175, 3rd M40

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cloud Nine

The last few days I have looked at the results for the Connemara Ultra at least once a day to reassure myself that a) I wasn't imagining it and b) they haven't made a mistake and corrected it, taking the M40 win away from me, but so far I'm still awake and I'm still top of that list so maybe it's true after all. Wow. Well, that more than makes up for the cruel blow I received in Ballycotton. If someone had offered me either an age group win in Connemara or a Ballycotton t-shirt, of course I would have taken the win, it's not even a close decision.

Around mile 8. Daibhi is about to overtake our little group.
I'm about to remind the lads that it's ONLY 50 k to go.
Damien and Gerry are getting ready to punch me for being a smart arse.
Photo by Beata Ewa Czajka-Banatowska
I still can't quite believe it, though. This is Ireland's premier ultra and I had no right whatsoever expecting such a result. I guess all the stars aligned for that one. Much better master runners than me like Mick Rice or Shane James Whitty were or are injured (get better soon, lads!) or not in their usual shape (Vasiliy) and I managed to have just that tiny little bit more left at the end than Gerry or Alastair. Even so I was still in fourth position at the foot of the Hell with only 4 miles to go. It just happened to be that Sunday was my day.

At some point in the near-ish future it will be time to get back to Earth I suppose, but until then I'll just keep walking on clouds, thank you very much.

My recovery program since Sunday has followed my usual tried-and-trusted but scientifically unproven method of running 5 very easy miles every morning, which I swear leads to faster recovery than full rest. The legs have felt surprisingly good even on Monday, I never felt sore and even walking down the staircase in the office did not provide any noticeable discomfort, but the pace an all 4 days so far has remained significantly slower than 8-minute miles, so I'll keep that going until the pace picks up naturally. The way the HR is dropping is very encouraging and the legs are fine, but not screaming at me to go faster yet. I'd like to get back to "real" training as soon as I can, but recovery has to come first.

7 Apr
5 miles, 42:46, 8:33 pace, HR 130
8 Apr
5 miles, 41:09, 8:13 pace, HR 130
9 Apr
5 miles, 41:45, 8:20 pace, HR 128
10 Apr
5 miles, 41:28, 8:17 pace, HR 126

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Walk Straight Through Hell With A Smile

It’s funny how perception changes things. When I focus on a goal race, the days and weeks preceding it seem to be drawn into incredible lengths. It was the other way round this time. Just three weeks after the Tralee marathon I was on the bus to Connemara thinking “I can’t believe it's that time already”.

I had a minor scare the day before when I developed a splitting headache after the journey to Galway. I suspected I was dehydrated and drank lots of water which seemed to help but did not get rid of the problem entirely. I woke up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep for at least 2 hours still suffering from the same headache but finally managed to fall asleep again and when I awoke I was feeling fine.

I was rather relaxed before the start, only got nervous in the final few minutes. Mainly I was just feeling cold from the biting wind but knew I would be fine once the race got underway. It didn't really help that I knew that we would be heading right into that wind for the first 10 miles, though.

The plan was to run about 7:10 pace (on the Garmin that is, so probably more like 7:14 pace in real miles) until the marathon point in Leenane and then hang on over the last few miles. The hope and expectation was that the wind would have died down by then, which would make for rather good conditions.

I started off slightly slower, entirely be design in order not to burn unnecessary energy before I had warmed up. What did take me entirely by surprise was the amount of runners ahead of me; I counted no less than 20 of them. I had run the first mile in 7:15; anyone holding that pace until the end could reasonably expect to come in, or at least near, fifth place, so there were definitely a few very optimistic runners on the road today.

One runner who definitely knew what she was doing was Ruthann Sheahan and I was tempted to run with her when I caught up to her, but I saw another pair of runners straight ahead, and one of them was Gerry Duffy of 32-marathons and deca-ironman fame, and I decided to catch up to them instead. The only comment when I reached them was ”just the man I expected”.

The first 10 miles of an ultra are all about pacing yourself and keeping comfortable. I was a bit concerned about the headwind; we were running right at my planned pace, but since we had to fight the wind, would we have been better off a little bit slower? However, I figured that running in a group, especially against the wind, was better than running alone and well worth the risk of running a smidgen faster. Besides, I was feeling very comfortable. The only time the guys gave me a filthy look was when I joked at mile 8 that there were now only 50k left. Ah well, it’s ultra runner humour, I suppose.

“Thank f*** for that” was my only comment when we reached mile 10 and turned sharply right. All of a sudden the wind was now mainly on our backs and running felt a lot easier. The pace did increase a little bit but not too much. We could see the assembled marathon field at the start as we neared mile 13 and several hundred marathoners forming an elongated snake on the bendy road along Loch Inagh as their starting gun sounded. We reached 13.1 miles in just under 1:34, pretty much on pace, and caught up to the back-end of the marathon field in less than half a mile.

Running past the marathon field gave me a massive jolt of energy. Plenty of runners gave us a good shout as we were passing them and I fed on the positive energy that was in the air. I met and said hello to a big number of friends and all of them had nothing but encouragement for us. That lasted for about 3 or 4 miles, by which time we were catching people at a much slower rate and the previous miles started to make their presence felt in the legs. My hamstrings weren’t all that happy.

Still, it might have required a little bit more effort but I could easily remain on target and our little group stayed together. When we broke up at mile 19 it was because we all took separate amounts of times at the feed table, and from here on I was running mostly on my own.

I was ahead of the guys initially but was definitely feeling the miles and both of them caught and passed me within 2 miles. I made up one place myself when I caught Billy Holden, the first ultra runner I passed since the first couple of miles. He was paying the price for a slightly ambitious early pace but looked reasonably okay and indeed would hold it together just fine until the end. We chatted briefly and he expected me to catch a lot of the runners ahead. I wasn't quite so optimistic, I wasn't feeling too hot at the time.

Luckily that low did not last long and by the time we started the descent into Leenane I felt a lot better again already. I did think back to August when I had run that same stretch of road going the other way and feeling pretty rough with about 60 miles in the legs; it definitely was a lot more fun going downhill with "only" 22 miles covered yet.

I went through the marathon in 3:08:42 (on my own watch), about 80 seconds ahead of plan and feeling reasonably good at the time. So far it was going to plan but the defining part of the race was still ahead of me.

The climb out of Leenane isn't just the first real test, it can also be dangerous. Two years ago I definitely ran this too hard, trying to keep up with Liam and Ray and paying the price for it soon after when the legs started cramping. This time I was running on my own and setting my own pace, which was beneficial, but I think I probably did a similar pace as I was feeling strong at the time and the climb did not bother me at all. Maybe those runs on the Kerry Way up to Windy Gap are already paying dividends.

I caught the tail end of the half marathon well before I reached the summit, and I knew from here on the road would be busy all the way to the finish. I would pass about 1500 runners from Leenane to Maam's Cross, that's well over 100 per mile. It means a lot of weaving around, trying to find gaps when groups are running 5 abreast and dodging headphone wearers that are unaware of their surroundings. When I'm tired then all that can really get to me, but today I did not mind it at all, quite the opposite. Like at the marathon start, I was feeding off the energy from the field, and every shout of "Well done Ultra" gave me a little bit of extra energy. By the way, at least 90% of those encouragements came from female runners - I'm sure psychologists can have a field day with that kind of stuff, but thank you, ladies, all of you!

Unfortunately the prediction of the wind calming down turned out to be incorrect. The opposite was the case and the last 13 miles were against a swirling headwind with some gusts that felt rather severe and were accompanied by heavy rain on a few occasions. It did not help our tired legs.

An ultra is very much defined by how you work through your low points. You will go through several of them, it is just inevitable, but keep at it and eventually you will get through it. I started feeling seriously bad soon after mile 30. I was by now on my third sports drink and had taken 5 gels and my stomach was telling me that enough was enough. I forced the rest of the drink down, partially to get some energy aboard but also to lighten the weight of the bottle which seemed to weigh a ton. There was no way I was going to eat the last gel, I knew I would not be able to force that down and I eventually chucked it away unopened. I was afraid I would have to do an unplanned pitstop but luckily the stomach settled down once I stopped forcing more sugar into it.

However, the stomach troubles did transfer into the legs and my pace slowed down considerably. I still managed to pass two ultra runners in those miles, but that was entirely down to the fact that they were struggling even more than I did. Going through the half marathoner field gave me the false illusion of decent progress, but if you are passing runners doing 9:00 miles while running 8:30 miles you will of course make your way through the field but it was nowhere near target pace.

I could see the numbers on the Garmin deteriorate at an alarming rate. The average pace had been 7:08 or 7:09 in Leenane, had declined to 7:12 after the long climb and was now at 7:16 and dropping like a stone. At that rate, I would not even get close to a new PB, I was losing way too much time. I saw 7:40 for the present pace on 2 or 3 occasions, but neither swearing nor increasing the effort seemed to do the trick because before I knew it I was seeing 8:30.

Just as I was thinking that it was strange that no other ultra runner had caught me despite me slowing down so dramatically, Thomas Klimas came from behind, cheerfully shouting "caught you". He said he had seen my bright orange t-shirt from the far distance for most of the race and seemed more than happy to pull ahead. He also told me that he had been running with Magic for a long while, and when I asked if that meant that Magic was going to catch me as well soon, he certainly did not rule out the possibility. And then he was gone, pulling ahead at some amazing speed.

I was shocked. I have run with him before and we have similar abilities, and it must have flicked a switch in my head "if he can run that pace then so can I!!" It took a minute or two the rev up the legs but eventually I was doing 7:30 pace again, and it even felt sustainable, at least for a while. I had been in a funk for about 3 miles, I was now just past 33 with about 6 miles yet to come. I had lost quite some time, but if I could keep going, there was plenty of road ahead to make up for it. I knew the Hell was just 1.5 miles ahead, but that didn't worry me too much yet.

It's all in the head. Thomas catching up with me and giving me a jolt was the best thing that had happened to me all day. All of a sudden I was able to run a minute per mile faster again. Nothing physically had changed, the legs were just as fatigued as before, the blood sugar at the same level, the muscle damage done, and yet I was running properly again.

I caught another ultra runner just as we turned right the last time, crossing the bridge and heading straight for Connemara's signature piece, the Hell of the West, the feared 2-mile climb that has to be conquered before the finish. It's not that big, it's not that steep, but you are hitting it with tired legs and that's what makes it so tough.

I have had good times and bad times on that road, but today was the best of them all. It started with me passing Shane Whitty, usually a much better runner than me but obviously suffering now. Then I could see no less than 2 ultra runners amongst the field ahead, and one of them was Gerry Duffy, who I had not expected to see again. I caught the first ultra runner about half a mile into the climb "how you're holding up" "not as good as you", and Gerry just after the hairpin turn halfway up the mountain. When passing runners, always run strongly to discourage them from hanging on to you and that's exactly what I did, though it did require a supreme effort. I never looked behind me (another big no-no) and was never quite sure if I had dropped them but all I could do was to run as fast as I could, so that's exactly what I did.

I was surprised to see yet another ultra runner ahead of me when I reached the top and with even more effort I passed him on the downhill stretch. The wind was howling and made it twice as hard but as the other runners seemed to suffer a lot more than me, it seemed to be in my favour because I was feeling good and could handle it. I was still in fear that one or even all of those runners I had just passed would hang on to me and outsprint me on the line so I pushed harder and harder.

The mile to the finish seemed to drag on forever, I could see the tower in the far distance and with all that headwind it felt even further away. I could hardly believe my eyes when I spotted yet another ultra runner ahead of me! I wasn't even pleased, I was already pushing as hard as I could and I didn't want a race to the finish line. I was hurting too much for that, but the gap melted away surprisingly quickly and I gained yet another place, and my fear of yet another runner chasing me increased by another notch.

And then I could see the gantry ahead! I did not dare to slow down even by a smidgen because I did not want to lose any of those places I had so unexpectedly gained late on, but I should not have feared, I had left them all behind and crossed the line with the timer at 4:49, an absolute dream time. Race director Ray O'Connor got yet another sweaty hug from me, and confirmed that I had come in the top 10.

Before the race I had announced to anyone who wanted to hear it that I would be very happy with a new PB (4:53:33), still happy with sub-5 and ecstatic with sub-4:50, and ecstatic I was. The last 6 miles were the kind of finish a runner can usually only dream about, making my way through the field to improve my position from 15th to 9th in just a few miles. The legs never once cramped, but my stomach was in bits and I was unable to eat solids for a long time afterwards. I guess it was a good thing the race wasn't any longer, at some point the stomach troubles would have come to haunt me. I might have cut it fine, but this was a new PB by well over 4 minutes, and the next day brought an even bigger surprise when I saw in the results that I had come first man over 40! To win my age group in what is in many ways Ireland's premier ultra is an absolute dream come true, I never would have thought that even remotely possible.

It's great to be on a high.
6 Apr 2014
Connemara Ultra 2014
39.3 miles, 4:49:09, 7:19 pace, 9th place, 1st M40

Sunday, April 06, 2014


I had a few dodgy miles between 31 and 33 but rallied to have the kind of finish runners only tend to dream about - caught no less than 5 runners on the Hell of the West to finish in the top 10 apparently. 4:49:xx is a new ultra PB by over 4 minutes, despite the savage wind over the last few miles, so I'm absolutely delighted. Great day!

Real race report in a day or two.

Update: I came 9th overall and first man over 40!!!!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014


I used to very much believe in the taper before a race, and to some extend I still do. But I have come to the conclusion that there are exceptions to that rule. A taper does not guarantee a good race and you can have a very good race without being tapered. My 2:56 in Killarney after a heavy period of training last year was one such case in point, I really surprised myself that day. Since Connemara is not my goal race I decided not to disrupt my training for Belfast any more than necessary and because I've just had 2 easy weeks after Tralee I suspect I don't have a lot a fatigue in the legs left that would require tapering anyway.

Mind, I could certainly feel the two faster weekend runs in the legs on Monday and took it easy. I took it even easier on Tuesday when I ran only 8 miles instead of 10. I also seem to have recovered from that cold during those days, my chest feels perfectly clear again.

While you don't want to tire yourself out with a massive effort, four days before I race is usually a good day to perform one last decent workout. Like last week I went up into the clouds again, and with the drizzly rain you can take that literally. It was still dark when I left the house and I was unpleasantly surprised that light levels were still low when I reached the trail which required a rather cautious approach for the first couple of miles there. It was also the perfect opportunity to test the the Terraflies in tricky circumstances and was very happy to see them perform admirably, I never once slipped even on the steepest sections, be it on stone, grass or mud, neither uphill nor downhill. I did up the ante compared to last week by climbing up to Windy Gap twice but the overall effort was rather measured.

I have four days to recover from this before Connemara, which should hopefully do the trick, and even if it doesn't then I can find solace in the fact that it's not my main race. As you can tell I am going into the race with a rather relaxed mindset, which may well work in my favour, you never know. I'll find out, I guess.

31 Mar
10 miles, 1:18:06, 7:48 pace, HR 139
1 Apr
8 miles, 1:01:35, 7:41 pace, HR 137
2 Apr
12+ miles, 1:51:04, 9:04 pace, HR 141
   2 x Windy Gap