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]