Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Short Viking

Waterford is a very long way from Kerry. I only realised just how long a way when Google maps told me the drive was well over 3 hours from home, and at that realisation I ditched the original plan of making it there on Saturday morning, booked a B&B instead and drove there Friday after work.

Unlike the B&B in Portumna this one worked out well and I managed to get a reasonable amount of sleep. For once I arrived at a start line well rested. Maybe that was a factor why I felt better than expected.

When asked of my plans I had no real idea and would have been happy with anything between 3:15 and 3:30. I only had started feeling okay again a few days ago following the 100k in Portumna and hadn't done a lot of running in the meantime, at least by my standards. I therefore positioned myself a good bit behind the 3:15 pacers and then we set off.

I took it very easy during the first mile and then gradually, almost imperceptibly, accelerated a bit. Before I knew it I was alongside the 3:15 pacers and had a little chat with Alan before heading off, hoping that his call of "see you later" would come true after I had crossed the finish line, not several miles beforehand.

The course criss-crossed the city of Waterford for the first 8 miles in a seemingly random fashion, taking in a few hills, but nothing major, or at least certainly nothing that would have felt like a major hill so early in the game. I noticed that I kept storming past dozens of runners, especially on the uphills, and quietly wondered if I was running a bit too fast.

This was not a goal race of mine but the last long training run before Belfast. The idea was to run it at 95% effort, injecting a good workout into the leg muscles without destroying them. When I checked the HR I was a bit surprised to see the numbers in the high 150s, even low 160s on some climbs. That wouldn't be alarming, but in the last few months, since I started doing all those long runs, I have never really managed to get the HR up into those levels, except when climbing really steep mountain trails. I dialled the effort back a smidgen but still kept moving up the field.

The half marathon and full marathon runners had started together, which is why there were plenty of runners around me and catching them one by one was great fun and kept my spirits high during those early miles. We finally turned away from Waterford heading into the countryside after 8 miles, and the support from the sidelines reduced to virtually zero. But I kept seeing enough runners ahead of me to keep the chase and the fun going. I just managed to catch up to a reasonably big group at mile 10 when the half-marathon runners finally split off and every single runner near me went the other way. I went from being surrounded by a dozen runners to being completely on my own in an instant. The next marathon runner was at least a minute ahead of me and I only saw him on a long stretch of straight road, apart from that I might as well have been on a training run, albeit one with regular water stations.

At the 10-mile marker my Garmin showed 10.1 miles, a fairly normal reading in a marathon. However, the 12-mile marker came into view much too early and I passed it with only 11.67 miles on the Garmin. I wasn't particularly bothered, I have seen a lot of misplaced mile markers over the years. However, it did not correct itself by mile 13 or at the timing mats at halfway. Indeed, when one of the 3-hour pacers who had finished his job and handed over duties at that point, asked me what the mileage was on my Garmin (12.9), it confirmed to me that I wasn't the only one who had noticed that something was amiss here.

Nevermind, I still had my race to run and made it into Tramore, which eventually appeared another mile later. It was good to have some support again from the sidelines. I still felt mostly good and fresh, but my right hamstrings and glutes were a bit tight, which was a bit of a pain in the arse. It did not affect my running pace and not my enjoyment either. Somewhere around the 15 mile mark I saw race leader and serial marathon winner Gary O'Hanlon come the other way looking good and with a respectable lead on his pursuers as I headed towards the promenade.

This was probably the stretch I enjoyed the most, the place was buzzing with loads of spectators giving generous applause, the weather was nice without being too hot (just about) and I enjoyed running along the seaside. I had never been to Tramore but it sure is a very nice place in a lovely setting.

We did a little loop through the town, avoiding the one steep climb that had people moaning and bitching like mad last year and eventually headed back towards Waterford, seeing the runners behind us come the other way. I managed to pass one runner, my first one since mile 10. I saw the 3:30, 3:45 and 4:00 pacing groups come the other way, Grellan and John Desmond especially telling me I was running way too fast, the jokers.

And still all the mile markers kept coming too early, generally 0.2 miles ahead of the Garmin, and by now I was seriously wondering if the course was going to be short.

The climb out of Tramore turned out to be a real drag. It was one of those climbs that would have felt fine after 5 miles, but with 18 miles in the legs it was a different story, and the fact that there was a stiff breeze against us didn't help either. I started wondering if I had overcooked myself rather that taking it a touch easy, as had been planned. One runner passed me, local man Michael O'Mahony, who I had traded places with a couple of times earlier on, and he was moving very well indeed.

I noticed one curious thing. All mile signs were placed where someone had painted a little red number on the tarmac.It was the same at mile 20, the big white sign right beside a little red painted 20, except that it had come with only 19.8 miles on the Garmin, just like all the other recent mile markers. However, when my Garmin said about 20.1 miles there was another little "20" painted on the pavement, in the same writing and exactly the same colour but crossed out. For crying out loud, that one would have most likely been spot on!

We finally crested that hill soon afterwards. I had passed an ambulance with one runners sitting inside, so I guessed I had gained another place (he didn't look too bad. No idea if he finished, though). Another runner came into view and it was the familiar face of Barry Casserly. He asked if he could tag along when I caught up with him, which I obviously had no objections to. Barry is a quickly improving runner and had hoped for a sub-3 today but had blown up at mile 18 and that hill had given him a good beating, which is of course a rather familiar story, my own first sub-3 attempt had been an exact carbon copy of that. I told him I wasn't exactly feeling too hot either, but we shared the next couple of miles together. In fact, I think my pace increased a tiny bit with his presence, but maybe that was just a false subjective feeling with the growing fatigue. He had also noticed the wrong mile markers and we both agreed that the course was most likely going to be short. Somewhere between miles 23 and 24 he dropped off again, having struggled for a while, but he would still finish right behind me in the final results.

Closer to mile 25 we turned off the road into some "Eco Park", which wasn't what I would have liked at the time as it took us away from any potential support from the sidelines and back into loneliness. I did pass a few half-marathoners, so at least I wasn't entirely on my own. The legs were rather tired at that point and wanted this to be over. However, the end came very quickly, just after we left the Eco Park we turned into a stadium, ran three quarters of the lap (the soft bouncy surface felt weird after almost 26 miles on tarmac) and finished in front of the grandstand.

My time was 3:05:26, but the Garmin had recorded 26.04 miles and I guess this was about a quarter of a mile short, so on a correctly measured marathon this would have been a 3:07 time. Indeed, a few minutes after I had finished I saw one lad receiving his medal and without breaking stride he ran another stadium lap before finally stopping. He may well have been the only runner to have run a full marathon today.

I chatted to a lot of other runners, including the pacers from 3:00 all the way to 4:00, and every single one of them confirmed the short course. It was worse for the pacers because the never knew if the course was going to be short or if there would be a long mile towards the end to make up for it, and they all came in 2-3 minutes early, despite all of them running a very slow stadium lap (I have seen faster laps in the 24 hours race!). It was worse still for guys running for a time, a friend of mine (hi Pat!) was going for his first sub-3 and had finished in 2:57, which would still have been sub-3 on a correct course but it left a slightly bitter taste with him.

It is a real shame. Everything else about the race was good, I liked the course, the water stations were just right and enthusiastically manned, Tramore was particularly good and the overall organisation of a high standard. But providing a correctly measured course (the half was correct, btw. Only the full was out) is an absolutely fundamental requirement and relegates all the positives into minor territory. It did not really affect me as I got my desired training run, but I do feel sorry for some of the other runners.
27 Jun
5 miles, 40:25, 8:04 pace, HR 134
28 Jun
26 miles, 3:05:26, 7:07 pace, HR 157
   Waterford Viking marathon, 19th place, 5th M40
29 Jun
5 miles, 42:59, 8:35 pace, HR 131
Weekly Mileage: 78

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fatigue And Recovery

I guess I can't complain.

When I started on my present training cycle, I knew there was a decent chance of me getting injured. The mileage was unprecedented and the long runs even more so. I heard the words "you are mental" on several occasions, including from guys who have run very long races themselves and I always knew I was pushing my boundaries.

Well, I never got injured. Just tired.

Magic happens only when you go outside your comfort zone, and that was very much what I was trying to do.

The last few runs the legs have felt reasonably okay (apart from Monday morning), but goodness gracious me, the pace had slowed down to such an extent that a snail on Prozac might be tempted to charge past me.

A few things since Portumna have been a bit confusing; I have mentioned my weight already in a previous post, which has now almost returned to pre-Portumna level (maybe still half a pound heavier). The HR data is even stranger, initially my HR bounced back quickly, just like after all the other long races I have done recently, only to all of a sudden slump again. I'm not sure why that would be the case. Overtraining could obviously be a factor, but I can't rule out my hayfever either, which right now is very bad but hopefully the worst of that will soon be behind me, partially because it always recedes around that time of year, partially because the weather is about to worsen again. One thing of note is that the values were improving as long as I did only 5 miles each day but dropped as soon as I ran a bit longer, though correlation does not imply causation and I'm not convinced that running 8 or 10 easy miles would cause such a slump.

Anyway, this morning (Thursday) all seems to have changed and running felt so much easier, it's hardly believable that we are talking about the same runner here. The legs felt fine, the effort was easier, the pace faster, you name it. Maybe it's because it was raining - it certainly helps the hayfever.

I'm running the Waterford marathon on Saturday, which will be my last long run before Belfast. As I'm not pacing, there is no pressure whatsoever. I have no idea how it will go, until yesterday I thought even 3:30 might be ambitious, today this is looking a lot better already.
23 Jun
am:10 miles, 1:20:29, 8:03 pace, HR 135
pm: 5 miles, 38:41, 7:44 pace, HR 141
24 Jun
10.8 miles, 1:38:12, 9:06 pace; trail run up to Windy Gap
25 Jun
8 miles, 1:04:38, 8:05 pace, HR 134
26 Jun
8 miles, 1:01:44, 7:43 pace, HR 138

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lonely Boy

To be honest, I haven't got a lot to say, just too much time on my hand.

Niamh and the kids packed up and left for Dublin for 2 weeks, leaving me alone to look after the cat (at least I think that's what I'm supposed to be doing). As much as I'm going to miss them, this arrangement has 3 major benefits:
  1. I can run when I want to
  2. I can use the car for Saturday's trip to Waterford
  3. I get to watch the World Cup in peace
The timing couldn't be better, then :)

Last week was an exceptionally easy one (I know, I've mentioned that before) with only 43 miles, the second lowest mileage of the year (the lowest was the week after Connemara). The legs sure took their time to recover but got a little bit faster every day. They are still not back to normal, but normal is a very relative term. It took a while for the mind to recover as well, it wasn't until the weekend that I actually felt like running a bit more than 5 miles at recovery pace.

My weight has been a bit strange, I kept adding on weight every day after Portumna until about Wednesday and then it gradually started to come down again, though I'm still up a bit. I'm used to seeing an additional 2 or 3 pounds for a few days after an ultra, it's mostly water retention where the fluid keeps seeping from damaged muscle fibres. After a few days that gets fixed and I spend a day visiting the toilet every few minutes. This time it wasn't like that at all, the weight kept creeping up gradually and is now disappearing just as slowly.

One more thing. I had the sad news that the 50-mile Dingle Ultra is going to be held for the last time this year, it will be replaced with a 39-miler in future, which somehow doesn't attract me at all - who wants to do a fun run if you're used to be doing the real thing! That's a real shame as the 50 miler could have become a real classic. Anyway, it would be great to see the race bow out on a high and if you want to do it (I know you do!), this is your last chance, so off you go and sign up. I just did.

20 Jun
5 miles, 40:42, 8:08 pace, HR 129
21 Jun
8 miles, 1:03:19, 7:54 pace, HR 136
22 Jun
10 miles, 1:17:55, 7:47 pace, HR 140
Weekly Mileage: 43

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Post Portumna

I had a closer look at my 5k splits from Portumna:

00 -  25k: 25:13 25:09 25:12 25:04 25:00
25 -  50k: 24:23 24:23 24:38 25:12 25:22
50 -  75k: 25:34 25:37 25:21 25:07 25:55
75 - 100k: 26:53 26:53 27:19 27:41 28:06

The first 70k are pretty impressive, if you don't mind me saying so. The pace did slow down after that but never in a disastrous fashion. The last two laps were slower but more because I conciously decided not to push as hard and risk a cramp; had I been in a close fight for a place I'd have taken that risk, obviously with uncertain outcome.

Overall I'm pretty happy with this. In Doneadea, back in February, I started strugging after the marathon mark. In Staplestown I got to 50k before seriously feeling the effort, and in Portumna I got to 70k, which is very nice progress. I'm far better conditioned for a long ultra race than I've ever been.

That's another point that I still have to get my head round properly: training is more or less done. Belfast is only 4 weeks away. Yikes! This week is an exceptionally easy recovery week, next week will see some higher mileage, though I don't know how high yet. I'll play it by ear. It will also see the Waterford marathon, and again I don't know what I'll do there and will play it by ear (I won't be setting any records, that much is certain).

I am still undecided on what shoes I will wear in Belfast; I recently started breaking in my final (sniff!) pair of Brooks Green Silence; my pair of Saucony Kinvara, which I used in Portumna, has now over 700 miles on them, which should make the decision to opt for the Brooks a no-brainer, except that I find the Kinvaras wonderfully comfortable at the moment. The temptation is definitely there to use them in Belfast, but it seems rather unwise to use such an old pair for a 24 hours race. I'll definitely bring 2 pairs, but I have never switched shoes in a race before and don't really plan on doing so in Belfast either, so in all likelihood whatever pair I am wearing at the start will still be on my feet 24 hours later.

This week has been exceptionally easy, and will remain so for a bit longer. My tried and tested recovery strategy is to run 5 miles each day, which leads to faster recovery than full rest. Sunday's run started with a truly pathetic hobble at 14-minute mile pace but thankfully got better soon. I have been getting a little bit quicker every day, but I'm only running once a day - I think doing 2 runs a day prolonged my recovery after Staplestown. I'll see and compare next week to find out which works better.

17 Jun
5 miles, 43:48, 8:46 pace, HR 123
18 Jun
5 miles, 42:13, 8:27 pace, HR 127
19 Jun
5 miles, 41:48, 8:22 pace, HR 126

Monday, June 16, 2014

I Ran 100 Kilometres ...

and all I got was this lousy medal!


I Ran 100 Kilometres ... and gained 2 bloody pounds!


I Ran 100 Kilometres ... and had the best time ever!

Ok, I like the last one best. Let's stick with that.

After running very well in last year's 50k and enjoying every single step along the way, I decided that the following year I'd be back for the Big Boys' race. I did waver a few times but finally got the courage to sign up for it - only to find out that it had been sold out! Luckily, they re-opened registration for a limited number of extra entrants and I got it.

The immediate race preparation wasn't all plain sailing either. I had booked a B&B in Portumna for the night before the race so that I would be able to get a good night's sleep and wouldn't have to get up at three o'clock in the morning, but unfortunately my room turned out to be above the bar where they played music until well after midnight and the bed was the most uncomfortable one I have ever slept in, so that effort backfired and I arrived at the start line feeling distinctly sleep-deprived. Having said that, I rarely sleep well the night before a race and it never seems to have any effect on the eventual outcome.

The lesson in Staplestown 4 week ago had been to pace myself a little bit better and I formulated a very simple race plan. I resolved to head out at 8-minute-mile pace (5 mins per km) and hold that for as long as I could, and then somehow make my way to the finish, however long that would take. I had entered my Staplestown race time into some calculators and got an expected 100k time of approximately 8:55, which seemed rather slow, as my initial hunch had been a 8:30-ish finish. However, 50 miles and 100k seem rather closely related distances and my expectations at the start were closer to 9 hours.

Nevermind, 8-minute-miles it was and it sure felt exceedingly easy at the start, easy enough that anything slower would probably have felt awkward. Gerry Duffy ran alongside me right at the start but must have decided to back off a little bit, the painful memories from Staplestown obviously still etched into his mind. At the out-and-back section the 2 Polish runners, Thomas Klimas and Maciej "Magic" Sawicki, were a bit ahead of me and Magic told me to catch up and run with them, but the pace felt a little bit too hard and I decided against it. Thomas had run with me for 7 laps in last year's 50k here before falling slightly behind and finishing a couple of minutes behind me, but had since proven his fine form by finishing second in the 127k Wicklow Way race, giving eventual winner Don Hannon an almighty fright and a real battle. Magic has nothing left to prove either as a serial finisher of the Connemara 100 (miles, that is). I very much expected the eventual winner to be Vasiliy Neumerzhitskiy, the defending champion as well as course record holder, which saved me from fretting about a potential victory and ensuring I could relax and just enjoy my own race.

Two runners joined me, Vilnis Pleite, a fellow sufferer in Bangor's dreadful conditions two years ago, and Andrew Greaney, who I had paced in last year's DCM and who had shared most of the laps in Donadea back in February with me. The three of us were chatting along happily as we made our way around the early laps of the course. The race is held in Portumna Forest Park, a lovely setting, and passed the Marina as well as the remains of Portumna castle on its 5k loop, which we would have to complete 20 times. Because just over 2k is on an out-and-back stretch, you invariably meet all other runners plenty of times, no matter if they are running faster or slower than you. I guess it also makes it easy to see where your rivals are, but that was of no concern to me today.

The 50k started with us, so it was busy right from the go and all the faster runners were doing the other distance - with one notable exception. I had told Billy Holden before the start that if he took off at 7-minute pace once more I was going to kill him; he seemed to read that in a slightly different way and figured that 6:20 pace would therefore be okay. He was well ahead of everyone else and at one point, much too early, (25k? 30k?) lapped our little group and was soon gone again. I was left shaking my head at his pacing tactics.

Vilnis was completely surprised at 25k, marvelling that a quarter of the race had already passed. We all felt as fresh as daisies, though I'm sure nobody was under any illusions that things would remain like that. In fact, it was only about a lap later that I noticed that my hamstrings were getting tight. This was still a bit early to be getting into trouble, barely a third into the race. But for the time being it was still easy enough to remain on pace, even if it meant I had to start working for it. In fact, the pace must have increased slightly as the average pace figure on my Garmin eventually went from 8:00 to 7:57. Having said that, I paced myself by feel, not by watch.

This race doubled as my last really long training run for Belfast and I had one more thing to experiment with. In Connemara as well as in Staplestown my stomach had started revolting at some point and I think it was down to sugar overload from gels and sports drink. I had since done a bit of research on the internet and settled for some new sports nutrition, Hammer Perpetuem. It sounded pretty good with all natural ingredients, plenty of protein and no simple sugars, and I was sold. I got a big tub of Caffe Latte flavour, though Vilnis told me that Strawberry tasted much better. In fact, I was rather disappointed by my first bottle, which tasted somewhat like an incredibly watery coffee and took me 7k to finish, but further bottles went down much easier and I was spared the sickly sweet feeling in my stomach that had bothered me in those previous two races (not that it had stopped me from having a great race in Connemara).

There was some slight confusion at km 40 when Vilnis thought we had covered 45, but no such luck. The other man in trouble was Billy, who clearly started to pay the price for his early pace. He would have run a great marathon in about 3:05, but unfortunately he had signed up for the 100k. By that point we had unlapped ourselves and kept gaining about 1k per lap. I told the other guys that I feared for the worst and doubted that Billy would be able to finish.

Mind, I no longer felt all that great myself. I actually got plenty of compliments from many of the other runners out on the course how relaxed I was looking, but I certainly did not feel overly relaxed. The pace was still holding steady but it was no longer easy and the legs felt rather heavy. I thought I still had Staplestown in my legs, plus the Cork marathon and all the other long races I have done this year and the accumulated fatigue might have been telling. However, a certain amount of suffering is inevitable in a 100k and was very much part of the plan, and no amount of whining would help.

We passed the marathon in about 3:30 and kept going through 50k in about 4:10 (give or take a minute) and then we were in the second half already. The course had been rather busy since the half-marathon start at 9 and was getting very quiet again, but all that changed when the marathon commenced at 12 o'clock, by which time we had already accumulated 5 hours of running each. We were still doing 8-minute pace and I figured that maybe at some point late in the race I might be able to tag along with the 3:45 pacer (my friend Chris) for a while, hoping that that would be roughly my pace closer to the finish.

As I grew tired, I noticed that my gait was changing and I started running more on my toes. This seems counter-intuitive, I'd usually expect a runner to go more on his heels as fatigue grows. However, striking with your forefoot when tired doesn't strike me as the worst thing that could happen and I was quite happy to leave the legs and feet to whatever gait they came up with naturally.

Vilnis had started complaining at some point and I gave him one of my s-caps (sodium and electrolyte tablets, highly recommended) to help him out, but as we went through the finish for the 12th time at 60k, he announced that he would be dropping back now and our group was down to Andrew and me. Andrew had his own stomach troubles that got worse and worse, and neither an s-cap nor a bottle of Perpetuem seemed to sort him out and by 65k he wanted to drop back as well. I managed to goad him along until the next aid station at 68k, but at that point he dropped back as well and from here on I was on my own, though still surrounded by all the other racers in the 50k, 100k and marathon.

For all of the first half the 3 of us had been in 8th, 9th and 10th place. By now we had caught one runner and I was quickly making up grounds on two or three others. Thomas Klimas was looking very strong and quickly decimating the leader's advantage. Magic and Vasilij were running together and looking good, until all of a sudden Vasilij was gone - he had dropped, very much to my surprise. I never made up any ground on Magic, we must have been running the same pace for most of the race and always passed each other on the same spot at the out-and-back section between the Marina and the castle. To be honest, I did expect him to falter at some stage. Thomas Klimas, on the other hand, looked like a dead-cert for the win, even when he was still minutes behind the leader. It also started dawning on me that Billy was looking much better and moving a lot faster again than he had a couple of hours ago. I did draw level with him eventually, but that had taken much longer than I would have expected. He clearly had recovered very well.

At 70k I went through the finish looking and feeling good and soaking up the applause once more. By 71k I had hit the wall. It really happened that quickly. I struggled badly through the next lap. Every step hurt, every breath hurt, everything hurt. I remembered that the last 30k in Staplestown, 4 weeks ago, had been rather ugly (I won't forget them in a hurry), and reckoned I was in for a repeat. 4 very painful kilometres later I went through the finish once more, now feeling utterly spent and completely empty. I even felt like the applause from the spectators was hesitant. I must have looked like crap.

Then I saw one of the helpers with a banana slice in her hand. I don't think I have ever eaten banana in a race before, but somehow it felt right so I grabbed it and ate it in one go.

The effect was magic. Within a couple of minutes I was running happily again, bouncing along the forest road and up the little hill. The quick turnaround seemed nothing short of magic. It didn't quite last, the last k before the finish kept growing longer and longer again, but I kept taking one slice of banana after each lap and it would pretty much get me around one more lap.

Somewhere around 80k I lapped a couple of friends once more, and one of them made a comment along the lines of "great to see that you are getting tired as well", which I found funny though it probably isn't exactly the most encouraging thing I'd heard that day. And believe it or not, he was right.

I went through the 80k mark with 6:44 on the clock, so I must have run pretty much the same pace as in Staplestown for the same distance, but thankfully I was feeling a lot better. Some of that was certainly attributable to the better pacing, but I'm sure the weather had something to do with it as well. The weather forecast had been very hot but luckily for us runners it was a fairly cloudy day. The temperatures may just about have touched 20 degrees but with the lack of direct sunlight it was much more manageable.

The 3:15 pacer went past me at some stage, moving so fast that I was startled. In fact, the pace difference was so great that I first thought they must be the 3:00 group, even though there was no such thing that day. Even so, I was still moving reasonably well, catching another struggling 100k runner, and I noticed that the guy who had taken over the lead from Billy had pulled out himself, though he very sportingly stayed on at the finish and kept encouraging the other runners.

I still thought the marathon runners had been on the course for only a short time when I caught a glimpse of the race clock at what must have been 90k and realised that they had been going for 2:38. Wow, doesn't time fly when you're having so much fun!

With 90k on the clock I had to deal with one more problem, namely the calves started cramping. This did not come as a complete surprise after so many hours of running, especially with the forefoot striking taking a greater toll on my calves. I took one more s-cap tablet, which may or may not have helped, but the real response was to slow down a little bit. There was nothing much to gain, I was several minutes behind Magic and several minutes ahead of Billy, so third place was assured, and a minute more or less really didn't mean much at the time. Going slightly slower caused less of a risk - if the legs had gone into full cramping mode, it certainly would have cost a lot more time, never mind the pain that would have accompanied that, so I was content to just jog my way round the last 2 laps.

The stomach felt full from the bananas and I didn't take one for the last lap, but at that point I could smell the finish and did my best to enjoy the glory stretch. Coming round the final corner I saw 8:33 on the clock and stretched out my arms as I crossed the line, more to signal to the spectators and marshalls that I was done rather than a means of celebration, though I was rather glad that I could finally stop running.

I had come third behind Thomas Klimas and Magic, a strong Central European showing, with Billy as the first Irishman in fourth place after his Lazarus-like resurrection halfway through the race. Thomas K's performance was incredibly impressive, last year he had not been able to stay with me and just one year later I wouldn't have had a hope of beating him. He has only been running for 3 years - it's scary to think how good he might become in another couple of years. Magic had impressed me just as much, I think this was the first time he had beaten me, and my expectations of him faltering and me catching up were clearly wrong. I was delighted that my other prediction had been even more wrong though, and Billy had not only finished but finished very well, and if he keeps improving and learns how to pace himself better I'll be left in the dust by yet another up-and-coming runner.

I had beaten the calculators' predictions by a massive amount, which felt rather good. I was pleased with the time, the performance and the podium finish. Most of all, I had a great time. I'll be back again.

All race photos by Iain Shaw. Thank you for the sterling work, Iain, and the consistently high quality photos!

11 Jun
8 miles, 1:03:36, 7:57 pace, HR 131
12 Jun
5 miles, 40:38, 8:07 pace, HR 129
13 Jun
5 miles, 39:12, 7:50 pace, HR 131
14 Jun
Portumna 100k
8:34:02, 8:15 pace, HR 144, Third place
15 Jun
5 miles, 48:18, 9:39 pace, HR 124
16 Jun
5 miles, 46:23, 9:16 pace, HR 121

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ups And Downs

I had a great little 10 mile run on Saturday morning and sure thought that the recovery from Cork was now well under way. Unfortunately I followed that up with an entire series of blah runs. Very unusually, I felt worse on my afternoon run that day than for my morning run, and that was followed by an 11 mile run on Sunday morning where I had to grind out every single mile out of the legs. I tried to tell myself that I had felt a lot better towards the end of the run than at the beginning, though in retrospect that was most likely just wishful thinking - or, maybe, I had felt truly awful at the beginning.

The legs felt bad enough for me not to run a second time on Sunday, even though I was very tempted, seeing as I had amassed 95 miles during the week and a short little recovery run would have pushed me into 3 digits once more. However, in the end I decided that would be running miles entirely for the miles sake and left it at that. It was almost certainly the right decision, the legs still felt like crap on Monday morning and not at all inclined to run faster.

With the Portumna 100k looming rather ominous in my very near future, that's not the best position to be in. I have obviously gotten myself well ahead of my recovery and need to step back a bit. I decided to ditch every evening run this week and just be content with running once a week. I also cut back today's (Tuesday's) mountain run and climbed up the Windy Gap just once rather than the planned double ascend. I considered binning the mountain altogether but reasoned that an entirely different stimulus to the road miles might do the legs some good (possibly wishful thinking, again).

The weather forecast was a bit ominous with thunderstorm warnings all day today and I was rather nervous looking out of the window at 6 am. I mean, I'm as daft as they come but not even I would consider running up a mountain in thunderstorms, but a blue sky and beautiful sunshine spoke an entirely different language and off I went, enjoying the view as well as the weather, and the legs felt surprisingly good. maybe I could have done the double crossing after all - no, let's not go there.

I'm now going to do 3 very easy days, which suits me very well as it works both as recovery as well as a mini-taper for Portumna. I have no idea what to expect; my vague notion was to run around 8:30 but my recent time in Staplestown would have me much closer to 9 hours. As a result, I don't even know what pace I should go out with - chances are, it will be too fast. Ah well.

I checked my body fat this morning, for the first time in ages. The scales give me 9.8%. usually I need to be under 144 pounds for the body fat to show below 10%, this time I'm still a pound or 2 heavier. I think I may have more legs muscles from all those mountain running, which is probably a good thing. (Note: the body fat scales might not be accurate but they are consistent, and if they give me a reading of under 10% for 146 pounds rather than 144 then I'm fairly confident that they indeed show a change in my body composition)

I'm getting old and senile. Twice this week I forgot to set the alarm clock. Both times I woke up on time anyway, but I better not keep pushing my luck.

7 Jun
am: 10 miles, 1:16:00, 7:36 pace, HR 130
pm: 5 miles, 39:49, 7:57 pace, HR 135
8 Jun
11 miles, 1:24:55, 7:43 pace, HR 134
9 Jun
10 miles, 1:18:34, 7:51 pace, HR 134
10 Jun
10.7 miles, 1:32:19, 8:37 pace, HR 137, Windy Gap

Friday, June 06, 2014


With the Cork marathon run at a relatively pedestrian pace, I was hoping I would not be in need of much recovery and might even get a week of "real" training under the belt.

I probably should have known better. The legs, while not sore, were quite stiff and I had the usual post-marathon concrete pillars effect. It meant I had to follow my usual recovery routine af nothing but 5 mile runs, though I could not help but notice that a couple of those afternoon runs this week were a lot faster than what I would normally call recovery pace. It's not as if I had pushed the pace - I just switched on the autopilot as soon as I started running and 5 miles later noticed that I had been a lot quicker than expected.

The HR has once again rebounded immediately after the marathon, which is always reassuring.

It's still only 4 days since the marathon, so I guess I can't complain. Since I have been going through the same routine a few times already this year, I pretty much know what to expect. In a few days the heavy feeling will lift one morning and I can run for joy again. But with a 100k to follow next weekend there won't be an opportunity to go mad (well, unless I really want to punish myself next Saturday), so easy running is pretty much all that's on the menu, with one mountain run thrown in for good measure.

The weather has mostly been lovely this week and I'm developing quite a nice tan, so much so that I keep getting asked where I had been on holiday. Sadly, this sunny weather seems to have ended now, today was rather miserable and the forecast for the weekend isn't great either. I was a little bit sad I'm not doing the Dingle Adventure Race this year, but looking at the weather I'm rather relieved I don't have to climb Mount Brandon over slippery stones. Good luck to all the competitors.

3 Jun
am: 5+ miles, 42:03, 8:19 pace, HR 126
pm: 5+ miles, 39:05, 7:54 pace, HR 128
4 Jun
am: 5 miles, 40:05, 8:01 pace, HR 132
pm: 5 miles, 37:30, 7:30 pace, HR 139
5 Jun
am: 5 miles, 40:30, 8:05 pace, HR 129
pm: 5 miles, 38:04, 7:36 pace, HR 137
6 Jun
am: 8 miles, 1:03:34, 7:56 pace, HR 132
pm: 5 miles, 38:52, 7:46 pace, HR 130

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Easy Shift

I had plenty of guilty feelings as I stood at the start of the Cork City marathon. I have been pacing it for the last 3 years, always doing the 3:15 pace group. In fact, back in 2011 Jo had given me my first ever 3:15 pacing gig when I was still nervous about doing that pace band and her confidence in me had been very re-assuring. However, 2 weeks ago, somewhere around mile 35 in Staplestown, it dawned on me that I would not have the legs to run that pace so soon after a 50 miler and I sent her an email. As a result, the one 3:15 pacer was entirely on his own while the 3:30 group was oversubscribed with 3 guys, and it was clearly my fault.
The Cork City marathon pacers
The least I could do was to at least do a good job at the 3:30 group. Pacing in Cork is always made trickier than expected by the funny Garmin readings. I don't know if it's because we are losing the satellite signal when we go through the tunnel but my Garmin always read at least 26.5 miles at the end. We had to keep a close eye on the official mile markers (thank God they are accurate!) and run a little bit faster on the Garmin than expected. Luckily, running 3:30 makes the maths trivial, 8-minute miles are all that's required and I was confident I would be able to work that out.

Still easy at 2.5 miles
I acquired a new friend because Aishling from Ennis was in a very chatty mood and we soon were BFFs. However after a few miles she must have decided that I wasn't a good enough friend (or maybe just not fast enough) and she moved a bit further ahead (she eventually finished in 3:27, well done)

The 3:30 pacers, and it's busy. Photo by Doug Minihane
Whatever you do when you talk about running, don't start whining to me. Distance running is a sport for people who get their head down and get things done rather than whinge and whine about it, and anyone complaining that the Cork course is tough will get short shrift, including the one runner who started whinging and whining to me at some point during the race. Sorry, the Agony Aunt was elsewhere today.

Water, water everywhere. Photo by Doug Minihane
Another runner who was with us that day was my friend Marty, who I had been in contact with for several years and who I first met in person here in Cork, at the start of the 2010 marathon. We happen to support the same football team. He promised to teach me some of the new songs (I haven't been to Manchester in a very long time) and I was looking forward to belting out "Who the f*ck are Man United" at mile 20, but around mile 17 or 18 he was gone. I was worried he might have run into trouble, but as it turns out he had felt too good to stay with us slow coaches and finished 5 minutes ahead of us.

"We're 30 seconds ahead!" Photo by Doug Minihane
At mile 15 the half marathon route merged with the full marathon and it got really busy for a while. Initially the half marathon runners around us were running a tad faster than our pace but that soon settled, and for the last few miles our group consisted of runners from both distances.

It was quite warm, though nowhere near as hot as some people claimed. It threatened to heat up on several occasions when the sun shone directly onto us but for the majority of time it was cloudy and much more manageable. The organisers were very well prepared and put on plenty of extra water stops, for most of the route we got water at almost every mile, which made a very big difference.
1.5 miles to go. Photo by Peter Mooney

As is inevitable we lost a lot of runners from our group on the hilly section between miles 17 and 20 but most runners who made it that far seemed to be able to stay with us. However, I noticed in the results that I moved from 282nd at halfway to 201st at the finish, which I found both very surprising and rather shocking.

At the end we urged everyone to move ahead and get the best possible time, which a few managed to do. We still had about eight marathon runners with us, plus a sizeable number of half runners. I checked behind me and decided that the gap to the next runner was too great for him to still break 3:30 and the pacers crossed the finish in one line (think Arsenal 1990 defensive line). Turns out I had underestimated one runner's determination and a strong sprint finish got him home just in time, though with chip time he actually had a much bigger cushion.

The plan had been to finish in 3:29:30 and we did it in 3:29:28, which is rather precise pacing, even if I say so myself.

3 pacers finished in unison

Splits. Note the positions!
The Garmin had measured a whopping 26.66 miles at the end; a good thing we did not have to rely on those measurements (and I am not even for a second claiming that the course is mis-measured). Unfortunately my HRM started misbehaving during the second half, which makes it hard to read any meaningful amounts of data, but I think the HR drift was minimal.

While I still felt guilty about not pacing 3:15, I got the bonus of still feeling very fresh at the finish. The legs felt like they could have gone around a second time without bother, not that I was about to test that theory. I was a lot stiffer after driving home to Kerry but a few hours of working in the garden actually improved things significantly and got some bonus points from Niamh.

I really enjoyed every minute of it. I can't wait to do it again. And hopefully next time I won't cry off at such a late stage.

2 Jun
Cork City Marathon, 3:30 pacer
3:29:28, 7:59 pace, HR ~141

Sunday, June 01, 2014

No Taper

I'm in a bit of a rush because strictly speaking I should be hopping into the car and heading for Cork right now. I'm taking a rather relaxed approach to tomorrow's run ever since I got confirmation that I had been moved back to the 3:30 group, which will make this the easiest of the long runs in this training cycle. Accordingly there was no need to taper for tomorrow, though since I was still in recovery mode from Staplestown I wasn't going mad anyway.

The legs had the customary heavy feeling that always comes the day after a mountain run, no more and no less than that. The miles passed quickly enough. Friday was easier again, with the same runs coming just that little bit easier.

By now I had realised why my HR data seems to be up and down a bit, as mentioned in the last post. Turns out it wasn't my body but the HRM fluctuating; the graphs showed plenty of spikes that I knew for certain were not there in real life. I have been using this HR strap for half a year, so I got a new battery in the expectation that this will fix the problem. So far so good. I'm curious what 26 miles at 8-minute pace will do, and if there will be any HR drift.

Since I have spent most of teh last weeks constantly in recovery mode from the most recent marathon/ultra, I haven't been doing much running at faster pace. With the legs feeling much better already I did 8 miles at a higher effort level than usual on Saturday morning. I didn't quite manage to hold 7-minute pace; maybe if I pushed harder I might haven but that would have defeated the purpose of the training run. It's almost certainly a good thing I'm not pacing 3:15 tomorrow - if I can't hold 7-minute pace for 8 miles I'd almost certainly be in trouble going 7:20-ish for 26.

The legs made me pay for it, today (Sunday) I had to grind out every single mile. I called it a good training for tomorrow's marathon pacing effort, but it had not been planned that way.

I better head off now.

Funnily enough I still managed 100 miles this week, even without a long run. This high-mileage running lark is easy.

30 May
am: 10 miles, 1:19:05, 7:54 pace, HR ???
pm: 5+ miles, 39:13, 7:45 pace, HR 131
31 May
am: 10 miles, 1:13:23, 7:20 pace, HR 143, incl 8 miles @ 7:05
pm: 5+ miles, 38:57, 7:42 pace, HR 136
1 Jun
11.5 miles, 1:32:23, 8:02 pace, HR 130
Weekly Mileage: 100+