Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fast And Loud

Not me, obviously. I'm slow and old. So old in fact that I can actually remember No Sleep ’til Hammersmith being released. The geek in me never quite managed to work out why they had a useless umlaut in their name, though. Thanks for the sounds, Lemmy!

It's December 30th, which means it's time for a review of the year past, I suppose. It's been a mixed year, actually. I had some lofty goals that I did not quite achieve and yet I had some of the best memories of my running career with some outstanding moments in two of the world's most prestigious races in road ultra running.

I could say that running in a world championship was a dream come true, except that until a couple of years ago I would not even have dared to dream about a world championship. I have always been a better than average runner but the gap to the elites is so big you can hardly see across the divide to the other side. Why I'm so much better over 24 hours I cannot say, except that the secret ingredient is not in the legs but in the head. Maybe I'm just too stubborn/stupid to quit when it hurts.

As amazing as running in a red-and-white top in a world championship was, I'm not entirely happy with my performance there. My training was interrupted and sub-optimal but what really hurt me was the fact that I did not have a target in mind. In Belfast 2014 I had a very ambitious target and kept pushing myself to the point of collapse until I got there - in Turin I did not have the same drive and ended up with almost 9km fewer. This is also reflected in this year's world rankings. I am 143rd for 2015 - in 2014 I was 70th. A return into the top 100 would be nice for 2016, though my target is aimed at my own performance and where that leaves me in the world rankings is of secondary importance.

The absolutely outstanding moment of 2015, however, was running towards the statue of Leonidas in Sparta with seemingly half the local population giving us a standing ovation. I get goosebumps just by thinking back, and as much as I had promised myself for 6 hours prior to that never to do anything like that ever again, I knew straight away that I would break that promise.

The low point of 2015 was undoubtedly getting injured at the end of June and subsequently missing 6 weeks of training, though despite my fears it did not stop me from finishing the Spartathlon. My statistics on Strava still give me 3330 miles for the year, with a day yet to come, which is mostly a reflection on how well the last couple of months have gone. As much as I hated not running the Dublin marathon and Sixmilebridge, it was well worth it as I needed to build up from scratch again, without a race disrupting training. It paid off - I am feeling great right now, and with me being off work this week I am finally getting enough sleep to recover from 90 miles a week; the fatigue that has been a constant present for the last 2 months has finally lifted and it did not even require a step back in training.

As per the same plan as the last few weeks, I did 15 miles on Monday, finishing off yet another 3 day workout (fast-long-medium long), feeling surprisingly good after Saturday's race and Sunday's long run. Tuesday was (relatively) easy again with just 10 miles, finishing my run just as storm Frank was about to hit. The legs were a bit heavy early on but felt better with each mile until I felt like flying towards the end. This seemingly carried over to Wednesday, or maybe it was the coffee I drank before setting off, waiting for the worst of the storm to subside. Conditions seemed okay around 9 o'clock but there still were a few wild moments over the next hour before things improved remarkably and I finished off in bright sunshine with a 6:40 mile feeling really good.

I need to bottle that feeling for 2016!

Happy New Year!

28 Dec
15 miles, 1:53:10, 7:33 pace, HR 145
29 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:21, 7:51 pace, HR 139
30 Dec
15 miles, 1:51:59, 7:28 pace, HR 145

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Back In The Ring

As promised, I kept the training going over Christmas. I took it slightly easier on Christmas Day with only 8 miles, but the rain was so cold it really felt like I had been doing enough already. I had some vague plans of adding a few extra miles later on but the turkey was too filling and running would almost certainly have been a bad idea. Btw, I got upgraded to Turkey Cook this Christmas, which makes sense as Niamh is vegetarian. Both Cian and me agreed that it was an excellent turkey, but maybe that was just the men sticking together.

I'm in orange, the one with the race face
Anyway, St. Stephen's Day, or Boxing Day as the English ones in the family still insist on calling it, was the day of the very traditional Farranfore 5k race. Well, the Farranfore race is traditional, the 5k distance was only introduced 3 years ago, before that it had been  4.2 mile race to Firies; now we're turning around just before entering Firies. Anyway, I expected a wet and rather miserable few miles because it was raining heavily as I drove towards Farranfore but once we got going it was pretty much perfect, no wind and if there was any rain then I did not notice it. I was astounded by how many people ran off at full speed, not for the first time, but I caught half of them before we had crested the hill half a mile later. I stuck to a group that also contained 3 ladies but when it broke apart after 2k I had a decision to make, do I stick with the runners I am with which was hard but doable or do I go with the runners pulling away at the front and suffer for it? I went for the suffering option and wouldn't you know it, it was perfectly doable as well, if not exactly easy. The return leg featured that hill again, of course, and my legs weren't at their best any more. I battled with 3 or 4 guys with varying success but just before the top of the hill the lad right in front of me blew up and I gained one extra place. I tried to chase down the guy in front of me on the downhill but even though I managed to cut most of the deficit, he was still a few metres ahead of me at the finish, as the pic shows. I took my time to catch my breath and eventually managed to get my time from my watch, 18:12. That was a lovely Christmas surprise, quite a bit faster than what I would have thought possible, especially since this isn't exactly the fastest of races course with that hill that has to be tackled twice. One slight downer was that we waited in the hall for the results, in the hope that I might or might not have picked up an age group award before being sent home after 90 minutes without results due to a technical glitch. Ah well, results have now been published, they even gave me 3 extra seconds on the official results with 18:09, but I was only the third M45 runner and 26th overall. The standard was remarkably high, for sixth place, the last one to pick up a prize, you would have needed a stonkingly fast 15:49!

I added 4 miles later that evening on the treadmill but took it exceptionally easy; this was a true recovery run. If it helped or hindered Sunday's long run I'm not entirely sure, the legs sure still felt the effort. The original plan had been for 20 miles once more but the legs were hurting and I needed to be home early because Niamh had to leave for Killarney at half ten, so I cut it down to 18 miles only, passing Niamh just as she left the house; perfect timing after all. The legs felt just as they had right at the start, so from that point of view I could easily have added another couple of miles but I've been wondering the last week or two if I'm getting too tired and not entirely able to soak up the training, so a bit of restraint is probably a good thing anyway.
28 Dec
8 miles, 1:02:48, 7:51 pace, HR 138
26 Dec
am: 7+miles, including Farranfore 5k in 18:12, 5:55 pace, HR 172
pm: 4 miles, 35:14, 8:48 pace, HR 139, treadmill
27 Dec
18 miles, 2:27:25, 8:11 pace, HR 139
Weekly Mileage: 90

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Ho Ho Ho

Well, just in time for Christmas the rain has gotten a lot colder overnight. It feels a lot more wintry now when the gale force wind blows the icy cold rain right into your face. Isn't it marvelous?

Actually, I got away lightly. The past three nights have all been atrocious and I know because the wind and rain outside kept waking me up. On each occasion, however, conditions had improved significantly by the time I stepped out of the door. With the winter solstice now behind us it will slowly get brighter again - thank God for that, right now it's still pitch dark even when I finish my run!

I made sure to take it very easy on Tuesday after the legs had felt like lead on Monday. To be on the safe side I cut the mileage down to 8 but thankfully they felt perfectly fine so I thought it safe to add 5 more in the evening on the treadmill - after I had waited my turn in the queue, that is; the novelty clearly hasn't worn off yet. The only family member not enthralled by the shiny new machine is the cat.

Because Tuesday had been going so well I did 15 again on Wednesday, trying to keep the midweek semi-long run going. The one problem with that is the lack of sleep. In fact, when the alarm went off I first thought there was a mistake because it felt like I had only gone to bed 5 minutes earlier and I felt groggy from still being half asleep even when I started running. I felt pretty good during the first half and a bit tired towards the end but nowhere near what it had been like on Monday. In general, the legs seemed to be fine but the pace was a bit slower than what I would have thought.

Because I felt a bit off on Thursday morning, probably the high mileage taking a bit of a toll, I didn't fancy doing another Kenyan fartlek, so I just ran 10 miles but added a few strides over the last 10 minutes. Once again, the run went well enough but the pace was a bit slower than what I would have thought.

There's two things I don't get about Christmas in this country. One is the refusal to do any physical activity "you're not running on Christmas Day, are you?" Of course I'm running on Christmas Day! I'd be cranky all day otherwise! (they even seem to be surprised that Mo Farah is going to train on Christmas Day - and he's a Muslim!). The other is the compulsion to get drunk. I don't see the connection between a family day and copious amounts of alcohol. Maybe that's what the guy who last week told me that I'm just not Irish was talking about.

Anyway, we won't have a White Christmas but it will be cold enough to feel like winter. Happy Christmas everyone!
22 Dec
am: 8 miles, 1:03:05, 7:52 pace, HR 136
pm: 5 miles, 39:50, 7:58 pace, HR 137, treadmill
23 Dec
15 miles, 1:58:39, 7:55 pace, HR 138
24 Dec
10 miles, 1:20:26, 8:03 pace, HR 136

Monday, December 21, 2015

Old And Soft

We're all getting old eventually and apparently we're increasingly craving creature comforts as we go along. While I'm not quite ready to retire to sofa, beer and 42-inch telly just yet (I was for a week after my first 24 hrs race in 2012 but subsequently changed my mind) I can see the signs as Santa must have visited us a week early as there is a whopping big treadmill in the corner by the tree where none used to be.

I'm not planning on cutting out the road just yet. The idea is to use it for potential second runs in the evening. I did one last month, and apart from hurting my foot I did not like the traffic. Running in the dark on twisty narrow country roads is fine at 6 am when there are almost no cars out there but things are very different at 6 pm and it just did not feel safe. In good old Western society tradition I'm trying to solve the problem by throwing money at it.

It got delivered on Friday and I used it for an inaugural run that evening. It was a slow, easy recovery run but in actual fact I was very slow working out that the 5/8 button was not minutes per km/miles but mph/kph instead, which translates into 12-minute miles. No wonder it felt excessively easy! One side-effect is that the kids have found a new toy, I can hardly get them off the treadmill! At least they're getting some exercise that way but if that will still be the case once the novelty has worn off remains to be seen.

I managed to do all the weekend runs on the road, despite the challenging conditions. The treadmill is strictly there to supplement road running, not replace it.

Saturday was the faster day once more. I actually ran a tad slower than last week but the effort was much more controlled and the lower HR shows that - it was a much better effort in the grand scheme of things. I could feel the benefits on Sunday. Last week's long run had turned into a bit of a slog over the last few miles, this one went much better. The last five miles were still challenging but that was more down to the fact that they were all right into a fairly strong headwind, which was never going to be easy. I felt remarkably good for the rest of the day, not tired at all, and was rather pleased with myself to be honest.

After feeling so good on Sunday, Monday's heavy legs came as a complete and very unwelcome surprise. There are several mitigating factors: conditions were rather awful with lashing rain and strong gale force winds, which was always going to force a slower pace. On top of that we had spent Sunday evening at a Christmas party. I might have been one of only 2 sober guests as I restricted myself to a single glass of wine, but I still ended up standing around for several hours and by the end my legs and lower back were killing me, which may well have been responsible for the heavy legs 7 hours later, especially coming on top of all the training. Lack of sleep didn't help either, 7 hours between the end of the party and the alarm clock just aren't enough (and that's after leaving the party early!).

Despite all those perfectly valid excuses there is still the possibility that I was running just that little bit too hard. MC used to warn me that too high an effort would invariably and mercilessly be revealed on the third day of the 10-20-15 combo, which is exactly how it felt. I could claim that I took it very easy, as shown by the low HR, but truth it the legs just didn't have it this morning.

Tuesday will be an easy day, and I will also try and get more sleep. With Christmas around the corner at least there's the chance of a few extra hours of sleep in the morning. I'll just have to hang on for a few more days.

Update: I was asked to pass on the following message:
I am unrolling news of my PhD project today. It is an exploration of community in ultrarunning. I am hoping to recruit AS MANY participants as possible. This includes runners, volunteers, directors, coaches, documentarians, fans. Elites and DFL. Veterans to the sport and those training for their first ultra. It is my hope to create the most extensive, comprehensive, and representative study of ultrarunning to-date and so I need your help!
If you're interested please contact me directly at my (new) project-specific email address: Please feel free to share news of the project with others that may be interested.

18 Dec
am: 8 miles, 1:02:51, 7:51 pace, HR 139
pm: 4 miles, 34:50, 8:43 pace, HR 131, treadmill
19 Dec
10 miles, 1:09:47, 6:59 pace, HR 154
20 Dec
20 miles, 2:35:16, 7:46 pace, HR 142
21 Dec
15 miles, 2:00:46, 8:03 pace, HR 138
Weekly Mileage (up to Sunday): 92 (88 road, 4 treadmill)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Late November I received an unexpected email:

Dear Thomas,

Entries for La Ultra - The High 2016 (7th edition) are now open, and you are invited ! World's cruelest race takes place in the mighty Himalayas of Ladakh, India. 7th edition is scheduled for August 11, 2016

What makes this race cruel ? 
    • 50 % oxygen of sea level.
    • Three 17,500 ft high mountain passes. 
    • 40 degree C HOT to minus 12 C COLD in 6-7 hours
For more on race, previous editions & registrations check our website - 

I took my time responding because I really needed to think this through first. Niamh did not want me to go because she wants me to come home alive but then again she had the exact same reservations about the Spartathlon and that worked out very well (she wants to go again!). However, running this race would rule out a 24 hours race in June/July and/or the Spartathlon, which quite possibly could impact my chances of running in the next world championships, so eventually I sent my regrets.

Ever since pressing that "send" button I cannot shake the feeling that I'm that idiot who just refused the offer of a lifetime!

Anyway, training goes on. After the last, extended weekend training I'm still feeling a bit tired, which means I'm very close to the edge and need to be a bit careful. My right calf was very tight after Tuesday's 10 mile run and I did wonder if running 15 miles on Wednesday was a great idea and would I be better served by some extra sleep? In the end I hated the thought of pulling back more than I worried about overtraining so went ahead. The calf felt perfectly fine but I'm still a bit tired. I did a 10 mile run on Thursday with a Kenyan fartlek (Kenyan in structure, not pace - ok, ok, I've been saying that every week, I know) because I think it's an easy way to get the legs moving fast without overworking them but I'll definitely take it easier on Friday and will assess over the weekend if I need to pull back.

Another lesson I'm only now starting to understand is how important it is to remove negativity from your environment. It really can be exceptionally draining.
15 Dec
10 miles, 1:16:43, 7:39 pace, HR 143
16 Dec
15 miles, 1:54:14, 7:37 pace, HR 147
17 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:30, 7:50 pace, HR 146
   Kenyan fartlek

Monday, December 14, 2015

Parting Water

The weekend had its challenges, though in actual fact it wasn't as bad as it might have been. For Saturday we had an orange weather alert in Kerry due to the expected amount of rain. It was wet and windy, alright, but nothing that would have justified an orange alert here, though people living in the lower Shannon region might have a different view, obviously. I was planning on doing 12 miles at a faster pace but changed that to 10, not because I was tired or getting lazy but because I'm trying not to overdo things. The pace was definitely a surprise, even with a slower warm-up mile I still averaged below 7-minute pace. A few weeks ago I had felt too tired after running a few miles at 7;13 pace, this was almost 20 seconds per mile faster and I actually felt okay afterwards. Mind, looking at the HR figures in the cold light of day afterwards told me that I had run a bit too hard on this occasion as well.

I did pay the price for that on Sunday, as you inevitably do. The weather had improved, it wasn't raining at all and the wind had mostly died down, which right now feels like a major improvement, albeit only a temporary one. There was no excuse not to run around the lake and I wasn't looking for one, but after 12 miles or so I definitely started to feel yesterday's effort. I did recover a bit but the last 5 miles were definitely hard work rather than enjoyable. I kept telling myself that it's those kind of miles that really build up your fitness which kept me going, and even passing our driveway after 16.5 miles didn't tempt me to cut it short but I was definitely glad to be done when it was finally over.

I did hesitate to set the alarm for 5:25 on Monday morning but thanks to a mostly sleepless night (don't ask!) I didn't even need it and I was glad to finally get out of bed instead of tossing and turning. I wasn't exactly relishing the thought of another 15 miles, especially as it was raining heavily (certainly a lot worse than during Saturday's orange alert), but this time I really managed to surprise myself. The legs just ran by themselves and the miles just flew by effortlessly, and tired as I was from lack of sleep and running through a pitch dark landscape I kind of wonder if I was merely dreaming it all but the watch says I did indeed run, alright.

Early on, during the second mile and unbeknownst to me at the time, I passed the 5000 km mark for the year. Considering that I was out injured for 6 weeks during the summer, that is some solid mileage. Obviously, miles alone don't make a good runner (though it helps). Let's hope I'll manage to turn a solid base into a some decent performances next year.

12 Dec
10 miles, 1:09:26, 6:57 pace, HR 158
13 Dec
20 miles, 2:34:47, 7:44 pace, HR 149
14 Dec
15 miles, 1:54:48, 7:39 pace, HR 143

Weekly Mileage (up to Sunday): 91

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Real Runner At Last!

There are some boxes that all need to be ticked before someone can call himself a real runner. That goes from running through all kinds of weathers, getting blisters, getting a few injuries, running until you throw up and, most importantly, having a mismatched number of toes and toenails.

It took me over 11 years and over 30000 miles but I finally can call myself a real runner! Pop the champagne!

The nail on the second toe of my left foot had been dark ever since the Spartathlon. The same had happened after Turin but it just grew out and I expected the same to happen again. However, a couple of weeks ago I noticed the toenail being rather loose - I didn't touch it and tried to be as gentle as possible but I noticed that at some stage during the last few days it must have fallen off. I always thought losing a toenail must be really painful  but not only does it not hurt, I did not even notice it! It has re-grown up to a point, so right now I have nine-and-a-half toenails. I'll spare you the photos and you'll just have to take my word for it.

Training as such is going swimmingly well but yesterdays (Thursday's) run was a series of mishaps.

I decided to do another Kenyan fartlek run (1 minute hard/1 minute easy). Things did not get off to the best of starts when the HR monitor refused to work. I tried to fiddle with the damn thing (and not for the first time either) but to no avail. Never mind, it's not needed for such a workout. A mile later I kept pressing the wrong button on the watch when I tried to turn on the fartlek app, I even turned off the watch completely at one point. I can only imagine that my brain was still in sleep mode at the time. Things went wrong during the workout itself as well, due to the howling wind it was easy to miss the beep of the watch every minute and I ended up with a slightly uneven pattern rather than a smooth 60/60 one, though I think I still ran the same amount of fast reps.

Most annoying of all, there is still debris one the road where the high water mark had been during Sunday night's flooding and on my way back home I promptly tripped over it and did a face plant. This was during a supposed "fast" segment, which did not help. I have a fair amount of road rash on my legs, though it looked a lot less gruesome once I washed off the blood in the shower (once more I'll spare you the photos unless you've seen them already on a dark corner of the interweb [someone made the mistake of "pics or it didn't happen" on FB - it did!]). I picked myself up and walked for a few steps, more out of shock than any real pain, and then continued with the workout. No harm done, though that's the second time I managed to trip up in about a fortnight!

Thankfully Friday was less eventful with 12 easy miles without any mishaps. After yesterday's misadventures I'll take that any day! I also managed to revive the HRM (take out the battery, insert it the wrong way round for 3 seconds, put it back in the right way - HRM works again. No kidding!)

For at least a month I've been planning on doing an evaluation workout but it just is not happening. First I was sick and then the wind started blowing, the two things that make an evaluation rather pointless as they impact the HR data. The sickness is well and truly gone by this stage but the wind doesn't show any signs of abating - that's the price you pay for living on the Atlantic coast, I suppose.

10 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:27, 7:51 pace
   Kenyan fartlek
11 Dec
12 miles, 1:32:31, 7:43 pace, HR 144

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Sole Hip

When MC was coaching me to my first sub-3 marathon, 5 years ago, at some stage during the base building phase I reached a point where running no longer felt like training. Even long runs of 20 miles passed by without much hassle and I ended every workout feeling "pleasantly tired" but never fatigued.

This time I managed to reach that point all on my own, and it feels great. I have been running rather high mileage the last few weeks and I can feel myself getting stronger almost on a daily basis, so the stubborn insistence on keeping running every day through a various amount of setbacks has definitely paid off.

It's not all plain sailing, of course. It never is. The last couple of weeks I had to deal with two troublesome issues: my right hip and my right foot.

The hip was hurting a little bit, which normally would not have been particularly alarming but it was the same area that bad been injured in July and I was therefore rather paranoid about it all. I could barely feel it when running but it was more pronounced later in the day. Thankfully it seems to have sorted itself out by now, without intervention, which is a great relief.

Happy 12th birthday, Cian!
Well done with the anti-gravity cake, Niamh!
The other bothersome spot, my right foot, was a bit more troublesome as well as a good bit more painful. Three weeks ago I had done a double run and on the second day the balls of my right foot really started hurting, which is the reason why I have not attempted another double day since. It felt like the sole of the shoe had worn all the way through and I suspiciously inspected the shoe after the run for a hole, but none was found. It would have been strange - it was the very same shoe that I had happily used during the Spartathlon for 153 miles and for them to be completely worn through only 200 miles later would have been highly unusual. Nevertheless, the foot kept hurting, and quite a bit at times. Even during office hours I noted a "scrunched-up sock" feeling that just would not go away. Googling seemed to indicate a neuroma but it was the fact that the foot kept hurting while wearing my office shoes while feeling much better when I wore slippers at home that eventually helped me to find a solution. I figured my foot might be hurting because it was too squashed inside the shoe. I replaced the insole with a different, thinner, one that I happened to have at home, which provided more room for the foot inside the shoe. The effect was amazing, within one single run I felt much better and the problem has mostly gone away, apart from a very slight tingly feeling when wearing office shoes but that doesn't bother me.

The miles keep on coming. I did 12 on Monday on slightly tired legs and the same again on Tuesday a little bit faster. The most achy body parts were both calves, which very much felt like DOMS, I'm pretty sure that was caused by running through knee-deep water during Sunday's long run and will go away all by itself. Since the roads don't tend to be flooded at all times I don't think that issue will re-occur any time soon. I did 15 miles on Wednesday morning, in time before the next weather front hit - doing the same run in the evening would have been a lot worse. What surprised me was how easy I found it all. I felt like I could have been running twice as far without any bother.
7 Dec
12 miles, 1:34:54, 7:54 pace, HR 143
8 Dec
12 miles, 1:32:51, 7:44 pace, HR 145
9 Dec
15 miles, 1:55:41, 7:43 pace, HR 145

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Water Running

Since they started to name storms this autumn, nature seems to regard this as a challenge. We've had 4 worthy of their own name already and it's still only the start of December. By that rate they're going to run out of letters before winter is over!

Thursday was almost reasonable and I used the opportunity to run beside the lake again rather than hiding in the Ard-na-Sidhe trees. In an attempt to get some zip into the legs I ran a Kenyan fartlek, though the Kenyan element refers strictly to the structure only, definitely not the pace. It simply means alternating running 1 minute hard and 1 minute easy, as ever bookended by an easy warm up and an easy cool down, of course. To help me, I have my watch beep at me every 60 seconds, though I only programmed 20 repeats into the watch. That's ok for 8 miles but not enough for 10, so that's one thing I'm going to change for next time. It's an easy way to get a decent amount of fast running into the legs and a good introduction to speed work (proper speed workouts are still quite some time away).

I felt pretty good on Friday and ran at a slightly faster pace, though nothing out of the ordinary. When I was in really good shape 3 years ago this would still have counted as my easy pace. The wind had picked up once more and I remained close to home, though I knew a lot worse was about to come.

Storm Desmond was by far the worst we've had so far this winter. The wind wasn't too bad but the amount of rain was just unreal. The forecast had been up to a full month's worth of rain in one day, though I think it wasn't quite as bad as that because it did ease up for a few hours on Saturday morning. This was the time when I managed to squeeze in 10 miles. Obviously I got completely soaked and the wind was bothersome but it could have been worse (a few hours either earlier or later and it would have been) and I have run through worse conditions. I played around with pace and effort and added a few surges and 3 of the miles were sub-7 pace, though how I am supposed to run an entire marathon at an even faster pace is a bit of a mystery to me right now - though that's perfectly normal at this stage of training.

Desmond finally relented at some point during the second night and Sunday morning was surprisingly nice. It was perfectly calm and even the sun was shining for a while. There was no excuse not to go running around the lake, so that's what I did. The weather might have been nice but the remnants of the storm were clearly still there. I saw a fallen tree precariously hanging off a telephone line and close to Blackstones Bridge, halfway around the lake, the river had formed a second lake that covered the road on 3 occasions, about 4 inches deep, enough to be well above ankle height and the only way through was to get your feet thoroughly soaked. I thought this was bad but worse was yet to come. The lake level was several feet higher than normal and on 2 occasions it covered the road knee-deep. At one corner there is a little wall separating road from lake, which was completely submerged. Running almost a quarter mile through knee-deep water is surprisingly tough - the feet are dragging through the water and the resistance requires hard work to overcome. At least it was safe enough to cross by foot - I don't think I would have driven my car through that. And the water was already receding very quickly. The high water mark was clearly visible and was at least a footy higher, and that could only have been a few hours earlier. I was rather amused to pass a "Road Flooded" sign a couple miles later - the section indicated wasn't even fully submerged!

Anyway, the legs felt really good and strong all the way. I felt really good on the long, steep climbs during the first 6 miles but that can sometimes be misleading and end in some miserable late miles. Not today, I ran 20 miles but could easily have run a marathon today and still felt good, despite working the legs fairly hard the last few days.

The flu seems to be behind me; I still have a cough when I get up in the morning but that eventually subsides and that's it for the day. It certainly doesn't have an impact on my running, not even at higher effort levels.

I have really come on a lot in the last few weeks. I have reached the stage where training doesn't feel like training any more because it feels so easy. The long mile are clearly showing their benefits.

3 Dec
10 miles, 1:15:44, 7:34 pace, HR 149
   Kenyan fartlek
4 Dec
12 miles, 1:32:01, 7:41 pace, HR 147
5 Dec
10 miles, 1:14:20, 7:25 pace, HR 151
6 Dec
20 miles, 2:35:09, 7:45 pace, HR 147
Weekly Mileage: 89

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Flu Fighters

We got a letter from the kids' primary school, warning parents to keep their children at home if they're feeling unwell because of a massive outbreak of influenza b. At the end of last week they had half of the children missing from school, including ours, as well as a couple of teachers and they have cancelled the Christmas performances, much to Cian's dismay. Anyway, I'm sure the bug I have been dealing with over the last week is the same pathogen because the symptoms are identical as well as a few oddities like feeling perfectly recovered one day (me on Saturday) and sick again the next. I thought I was suffering from man-flu, turns out it's the real flu after all. Thankfully it's a mild one, though that did not stop Niamh from ordering me to stop running and stay at home. Luckily she tends to be asleep at 6 am so I'm literally out of the house already by the time she notices me missing, and so far I have been able to deal with the subsequent inequitable scolding.

The reason I'm so intent on keeping running is that this is the most consistent spell of training I have been able to put together since April/June 2014! Something clicks in my body when I manage to put together several weeks of reasonably high mileage, about 80 in my case, in a row. I can feel the effects happening and I am loath to stop that. I've had a ton of minor complaints, plus on major one, in the last year, and now a bit of flu that I feel I can manage easily enough isn't enough to make me bring all those lovely adaptations to a sudden halt.

The one thing I'm missing is sleep. The flu may well have something to do with it but it's mostly the wind that keeps howling outside the window that keeps me awake. This is going to catch up with me sooner rather than later if it doesn't improve soon but I'm not sure what I can do about the weather. I have run through some pretty awful conditions in the last couple of weeks and the next storm front is only a couple of days away, oh joy.

Anyway, I did 10 miles on Monday, 12 on Tuesday and 15 this morning. I've also started to run a little bit faster, obviously hoping that the accumulated effort is still below my recovery threshold, though the way I'm feeling at the moment I'd say that is indeed the case. I do monitor my HR to keep a lid on things but a side-effect of the flu is that the HR is elevated by a few beats.

One other side effect of that flu (at least I presume it's caused by that) is a lower appetite, which had me lose a few pounds from an already rather low level over the last week or two. I presently weigh in at 141 lbs / 10 st 1 / 64 kg, which is the lowest weight I've had in 8 years. With a height of 5'10 / 178 cm the BMI is 20.3, which is great. Oh, and my waist is under 29 inches, though I only mention that to make Niamh jealous. :-)

I wouldn't mind if those extra pounds kept off until the spring races come round but we'll have to wait and see, especially with Christmas around the corner. I sure do not intend to starve myself in order to keep the weight off as I regard that as counterproductive to quality training.

30 Nov
10 miles, 1:20:25, 8:02 pace, HR 142
1 Dec
12 miles, 1:32:16, 7:41 pace, HR 150
2 Dec
15 miles, 1:55:04, 7:40 pace, HR 150

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Blown Away

I almost called this entry "Sick and Tired" which would have been somewhat accurate but deemed it too negative.

Training for a marathon or an ultra isn't exactly glamorous, especially so in the winter. It often boils down to putting in the miles, one after the other, often on tired legs and almost always on your own, in the dark, away from everyone and everything.

This week was rather challenging as I was always struggling to recover. I needed recovery from the race last Saturday and recovery from whatever bug affected me as well as half of the family. I know some people think I'm an idiot for always trying to run, never mind the circumstances. Feeling sick? Go for a run. Pain in the leg? Go for a run. Having to drive someone to an airport or train station a 6 am? Get up at 4 am and run. Tired or hungover? Definitely go for a run, that's not even an excuse. Storm blowing outside? Try to find a lull in the storm and find a somewhat sheltered piece of road and run.

I freely admit I got it badly wrong on two occasions. 8 years ago I stubbornly ran through a cold with a cough that got worse and worse until I developed pneumonia and was bedridden for 3 weeks (boy that hurt!). And this summer I ran for two weeks through a hip pain that just did not get any better until I finally had to admit defeat and subsequently missed 6 weeks of what should have been a crucial training period.

On all other occasions I was right to keep on running. The way I see it I'm still way ahead of where I would be training-wise than if I accepted excuses for not running, despite those 2 setbacks. I would not have gotten to the World Championship if my mindset wasn't to go for a run under virtually any circumstances.

I didn't feel great on Thursday, though I was already better than the day before. I took it reasonably easy because the legs were tired from the long run on Wednesday, otherwise there isn't much to report. I ran the same road again but a little bit quicker on Friday. On both days I was a little bit slower that I would have thought effort-wise. I'm pretty sure that's the cold knocking my system slightly out of whack. I can see in my HR graphs that the numbers dipped badly on Wednesday and then gradually recovered until they were more or less back to where I would have expected them on Saturday.

I ran a bit faster on Saturday, though the conditions weren't exactly ideal. The blustery wind on its own was bad enough but when it blew the rain straight into my face it was less than pleasant and not exactly conducive to a great run. I was still pleased with how it went, though.

On Sunday I awoke to the sound of the storm raging outside. Actually, I did that on several occasions as the wind kept waking me until I finally got up at around 7 o'clock. Storm Clodagh is the third storm of the season worthy of its own name, though once more it was the North that took the brunt of it and we got away relatively lightly. I checked the Met Eireann website but failed to notice the orange alert being issued (orange for wind, yellow for rain) - having said that, in retrospect they were being overcautious. I could not fail to notice the wind and the debris on the road and wondered where to run. I reluctantly settled on running back-and forwards on the Ard-na-Sidhe road but was stopped dead in my tracks less than two miles into my run by a fallen tree blocking the entire road. After a bit of hesitation I climbed through the branches and continued on. There were no other major bits of debris around (plenty of minor ones, though) and I decided to run between that tree and where the road starts to climb in earnest towards the Devil's Elbow, a stretch of just under a mile. To be honest, the prospect of running back-and-forwards on that road no less than 9 times each way didn't exactly fill me with anticipation and I somewhat doubted I would last the distance but in the end I just got on with it and ran. The legs were tired straight away due to yesterday's run and started to hurt properly after 8 miles, the conditions got pretty bad at times and running on the same stretch of road so many times was really stretching it but somehow I got through it all, climbed through the tree once more, joked with a couple walking their dog what a nice morning it was for a stroll and headed for home.

There has to be some bonus for getting through that kind of stuff!

26 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:16, 8:07 pace, HR 145
27 Nov
10 miles, 1:20:19, 8:02 pace, HR 143
28 Nov
12 miles, 1:30:07, 7:30 pace, HR 152
29 Nov
20 miles, 2:43:06, 8:09 pace, HR 147
Weekly Mileage: 85

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Toil And Reward

On Monday morning my first impression was that the legs felt much better than expected after a fairly tough weekend (which seems to be something I am saying after every weekend). I still took it reasonably easy on my run, though the pace was definitely slower than what I would have expected.  A couple of miles before the finish I somehow manage to trip over nothing but the flat road surface and took a tumble. Nothing was hurt but my pride and I have no idea how that happened. I have always been a bit clumsy, which is one of the main reasons why I prefer road running to trail or mountain running, but stumbling over nothing at all?

Later that day my legs felt really achy - I think it was a very delayed reaction to the tough weekend.

I could of course claim that I therefore decided to take it a bit easier on Tuesday by only running 8 miles but truth is that I overslept and only had time for 8, and if the cat had not woken me shortly after 6 o'clock it would have been even less. It was cold and windy and then it started raining as well - we're definitely heading towards my least favourite weather conditions, icy cold rain and wind, horrible. We're not quite there yet though, thankfully.

The "Run The Kingdom" group had an awards night in Tralee on Tuesday and I was very honoured to receive an achievement award for my races in 2015, specifically the World Championship and the Spartathlon. Funnily enough I'm not entirely happy with my performance in either race as I think I could have done better in both but I accepted the award nevertheless - it was a great honour, thank you very much!

What I am distinctly less grateful for is the fact that we have now firmly moved into the colds and flu season, and with 4 kids at school age we are assured a constant stream of new infections. Maia was very snuffly at the weekend but is already feeling much better. Cian, on the other hand, is at home at the moment, recovering, as are half of his classmates. I'm not sure whose bug I caught but I've got a sore throat and am generally feeling achy and not 100% myself. I didn't sleep too well and wondered if going for a run was a good idea but my default setting is to always go for a run and see how it goes. As it turns out I felt perfectly fine while running, better then when not running in fact. However, I'm sure the very high HR this morning is a direct result of my body having to fight off an infection. The facts that I ran over a very hilly course and had to deal with a blustery wind only added to that. I also managed to take a wrong turn at a junction early on but  luckily noticed it after a minute or so. It would have taken me on a longer route around the lake, which is the road I had used last Sunday. I must have still been half asleep.

23 Nov
10 miles, 1:23:51, 8:23 pace, HR 137
24 Nov
8 miles, 1:06:34, 8:19 pace, HR 137
25 Nov
15.3 miles, 2:07:58, 8:20 pace, HR 147

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Ultra runners are creatures of habits. I guess there's no denying that: I have only been using Strava since August 2014 and yet I have already amassed a three-figure number of 10 mile runs on the same road alongside Caragh Lake (someone called me "Mr 10 miles a couple of months ago). Yes, this is my standard run. I think I recently ran it 5 times in a row. It has everything: beautiful scenery, several hills and a very quiet road. Perfect. Having said that, I have upped my training a bit over the last 2 weeks, which meant a more varied approach.

Saturday was the day of our local race, the Killorglin Puck Warrior 10k. I have missed it the last 4 or 5 years because I never felt up for a 10k after running a long race during summer followed by the Dublin marathon and one or two more ultras in Dingle and Sixmilebridge. This year I have not raced since the Spartathlon 8 weeks ago and while racing during base building isn't particularly encouraged (depends who you ask, though) I just could not miss our home town race - some support for the local running community doesn't go amiss, I'm bad enough at that as it is.

Aine loves hills in her races! I'm pretty sure she has never put on a race over a flat course. Actually, the 5k was okay but to make up for that she put not just 1 but 2 killer climbs into the 10k, which was the distance I had opted for. I kept a steady pace with a few other guys in a little group, somewhere around 6th place. After the first hill that group had dwindled down to 3 and we ran together towards Cromane, though at that point I was hanging on for dear life. I lost contact by a couple of metres on 2 or 3 occasions but each time managed to claw my way back as I did not want to run into the wind on my own. Turning the corner only provided short respite because in no time at all we were at the second hill. At first I managed to somewhat stay in contact but then the imaginary bungee cord snapped and the guys pulled away. I could not make up the deficit on the downhill either, though it wasn't for lack of trying, I finished the race with a 6-minute mile, my fastest of the day, to finish in 7th position in 39:46 (on my own watch). So much effort for such a modest time! Just for the heck of it I took a screenshot to prove that I got into 4:xx pace at some point (yes it was downhill. Obviously!)

Before the start Seamus had jokingly suggested I pace him to 40 minutes so of course I gave out to him for not keeping up and missing out by 4 seconds while he gave out to me for not waiting for him - all in good spirit, obviously. Unfortunately I could not hang around as I had to immediately hurry home for the kids' music lessons in Tralee. I did a 2 mile cooldown run later on but after 10 minutes my blood sugar level had dropped and all I could do was crawl home while my heart seemed to be racing. Watermelon has never tasted so good!

I expected the legs to be totally dead on Sunday morning and was pleasantly surprised to find them in very good order (I guess the hit will come on Monday instead). I ran around the lake for the first time in ages and it went much better than expected. Last week the last 5 miles had been quite some drag, today they were much better, though admittedly I wasn't exactly feeling sprightly towards the end. It was a lovely sunny morning for a run - haven't had one of those in quite some time!

20 Nov
10 miles, 1:22:45, 8:16 pace, HR 138
21 Nov
10 miles, including:
Puck Warrior 10k, 39:46, 6:24 pace, HR 172, 7th place
22 Nov
18 miles, 2:21:20, 7:51 pace, HR 149
Weekly mileage: 85

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Attack Of The Purple Dinosaur

The weather has certainly been interesting the last few days, that's for sure. Storm Abigail wad followed by Barney and the weather front between those two had felt quite severe as well - there sure was not much of a respite for a wet and weary runner. The saving grace was that both severe storms had the good grace of hitting after I had already finished my morning run and blowing themselves out before the next run, but I've had more than a fair share of wind and rain in the last few days.

The legs felt pretty much dead on Monday morning so I took it exceptionally easy. Running on tired legs is not a bad thing in itself for an ultrarunner but you have to make sure it doesn't happen too often and it's always best to listen to your body and dial back the effort when needed, even by quite some bit as I did on Monday.

Tuesday did not start out well. It was pitch dark, I could not see a thing and got my angle wrong when running down our driveway and promptly ran right into a tree. Nobody witnessed it and nothing got hurt apart for a few scrapes but I finally relented and got out my headlamp (yes, I should have done that earlier). Things improved markedly following that calamity, the legs felt so much better and I decided to run a little bit faster. Nothing mad, always measured and in control but with the effort level just a tad higher to vary things. Things were helped by the fact that Tuesday morning had the best conditions for a while with little wind though that did not stop me from getting soaked because there simply was no getting away from the rain.

In marked contrast once again, conditions on Wednesday were atrocious. I got up very early, like in the good old days, to run for 2 hours. The wind and rain sounded ominous when I got ready and didn't disappoint either. The first few miles were almost acceptable but around mile 6 the heavens well and truly opened and it was bucketing it down. Add to that the strong gale force wind and you get the picture. It still wasn't the worst conditions I had ever run in but with the temperature dropping we're heading that way: once the rain feels icy cold we're at its worst. I had actually planned to run 15 miles but when I checked the watch after 10 I misread the numbers (which can happen quite easily  when it's pitch dark and you're running through a miniature hurricane) and thought I was running slower than expected and out of time, so I cut it short.

I had to get up just as early on Thursday morning but this time it was to drive Lola to the very early morning train in Killarney. I still had time to run 6 miles before work, which was twice as far as I thought I'd be able to, so that was an unexpected bonus. Because the run was so short I decided to spice it up a few times and put in quite a few surges and just generally played around with pace and effort. I managed to go out a second time after work but to be honest I didn't particularly enjoy running in the dark with considerably more traffic than I'm used to at 6 am, even if it's still a quiet country road.

What pleased me most about the last few days is the fact that 2 months after the Spartathlon the HR data has started to move fairly rapidly into the right direction. I think I'm finally getting over that race, though it will still take a bit longer until I can feel 100% recovered.

16 Nov
10 miles, 1:25:18, 8:32 pace, HR 134
17 Nov
12 miles, 1:33:43, 7:49 pace, HR 147
18 Nov
14 miles, 1:54:24, 8:10 pace, HR 143
19 Nov
am:6 miles, 45:30, 7:35 pace, HR 146
pm:5 miles, 38:57, 7:45 pace, HR 142

Sunday, November 15, 2015


The first of the winter storms hit us on Thursday. Most of these storms affect mainly the northern part of the island and here in Kerry we tend to get away lightly in comparison (until we don't). This one was somewhat cooperating in as much as it only struck properly once I had already finished my run on Thursday morning and mostly blew itself out before I went out again on Friday but I still had to deal with interesting conditions on both days. My standard procedure on particularly windy days is to run on the Ard-na-Sidhe road, where the trees give the advantage of providing some sort of wind shield but considering the amount of broken branches of all sizes on the road, this comes with its own dangers. I don't know how likely it is to be hit by a falling branch - clearly not very likely but it does happen and at times I do wonder.

Anyway, I got through it all without a scrape and a few more miles in the legs. I think my recent adjustments to my training worked very well. I still try to run a bit faster once a week but no longer at 7:10 pace and HR 160, more at 7:30 pace and HR 150, which leaves the body in much better condition and doesn't require two recovery days on stiff and tired legs. I'm pretty much back to the base training MC had me do - it only took me about 4.5 years to work that out for myself.

Abigail's yellow weather warning had only been in place until Friday morning but unfortunately the next one fit in seamlessly. The plan had been to run over the Windy Gap on Saturday but I was not sure how safe that would have been in those conditions and pored over the map for an alternative. I like to think I found a pretty good one - 4 loops of a hilly run with a very steep road for climbing and a gentler one for descending and the overall elevation change was similar to what the mountain run would have been like. Conditions were testing at times - at one point I thought it may have been hailstoning but it was just the rain being blown sideways with quite some force by the rather strong wind. The legs, however, handled it all pretty well - I must have been building up some decent amount of leg strength by now.

An unusual amount of procrastination brought some unexpected and undeserved rewards on Sunday. After looking out of the window for an hour until finally putting on the shoes and going for a run I realised that the rain had unexpectedly pretty much died down. The wind was still here, of course, but that was never going to go away today. I made it unnecessarily hard for myself by running too fast over the first half. Two or three times I consciously slowed down but each time the legs spun up again as soon as I stopped paying attention. I paid the price for that towards the end and the last 4, 5 miles sucked more than they had to.

Even so, it was a pretty good week of training. I managed over 83 miles and the pace is moving towards 8-minute miles on my easy runs.

12 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:10, 8:07 pace, HR 146
13 Nov
12 miles, 1:37:10, 8:06 pace, HR 144
14 Nov
12.6 miles, 1:43:59, 8:15 pace, HR 149
   very hilly
15 Nov
17 miles, 2:16:39, 8:02 pace, HR 146

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Gone With The Wind

It was always going to happen, of course, and now the unexpectedly nice spell of weather we had at the beginning of November is well and truly over. The last few days, with the exception of Saturday, have all been marked by gale force winds and varying degrees of rain. On Monday a colleague asked me "you didn't go running in this weather, did you?", to which I could only reply "I've seen a lot worse". That pretty much says it all - it wasn't particularly bad and worse is undoubtedly yet to come, but it was the first hint of the winter storms.

I changed my weekend training in an attempt to avoid feeling like a ton on bricks for the first half of the week. Instead of doing a faster run on Saturday and then dragging myself over the mountain on heavy feet on Sunday I ventured into the mountain on Saturday. Following several days of rain the Kerry Way was waterlogged in many places but perfectly runnable (apart from the one spot where there had been some minor earth slide a couple of months ago) and I gave it a good, honest effort - but was VERY surprised to see a segment PB popping up for one climb when I uploaded the data into the computer afterwards. Make no mistake, this is still a soft segment, I am nowhere near top fitness and I ran nowhere near top effort. Running this on fresh legs for a change must have made quite some difference.

The legs did feel the effort on Sunday, of course, but it was the lousy weather that made me change my mind about running around the lake because I really did not fancy facing the high winds on higher ground. I chose the most boring option, namely running to Ard-na-Sidhe and back three times in a row, which is the only piece of road I know in the vicinity where the trees provide some sort of shelter against the worst of the winds. The time passed surprisingly quickly and the legs were okay - a little bit heave but it never got any worse, despite this being the longest run since Sparta by 3 miles.
Entirely by accident I reached a figure of 77.7 miles for the week. Neat!

The legs felt a lot better this Monday than on previous Mondays so I call the change in my training a success. Remember, this is still about recovery at the moment, not building fitness. The numbers on Monday were definitely encouraging, the best ones so far since Sparta, which is good. Tuesday's weren't quite as good but with the gale force winds I had to battle that's not overly surprising. But at least I do get the distinct impression that things are going into the right direction. Finally!
7 Nov
10.7 miles, 1:33:56, 8:47 pace, HR 152
   Windy Gap
8 Nov
15 miles, 2:02:19, 8:09 pace, HR 146
9 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:08, 8:07 pace, HR 143
10 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:04, 8:06 pace, HR 146

Friday, November 06, 2015

Getting Old

I seem to be having the same discussion again and again:

"Did you run the Dublin marathon?"
"No, I decided on no more marathons for the rest of the year because I'm still recovering from my last race"
"How long was that?"
"153 miles"
"Over how many days was that?"

(big mistake - it gives away the fact that they don't read my blog).

Anyway, training. It's still stuttering along. I keep thinking that I'm taking it easy and my body keeps telling me that apparently I ain't.

The issue this week seems to be with Wednesday's run. I wanted to run just a little bit longer so I ran 12 miles instead of 10. No big deal. I kept the effort easy, at the same easy RPE that I run on most days. Apparently I wasn't: the HR that day was 148, about 5 beats higher than I would have thought and the pace was slightly below 8 minutes, again a bit faster than I would have thought but I only gleaned both bits of information when I checked the watch after the run. During the run I could have sworn I was running as the same level as usual. I did notice the legs getting a bit tired towards the end but since this was the longest run since Sparta this was only to be expected.

Well, wouldn't you know it, I have felt tired ever since. The legs felt stiff on Thursday but got gradually better as the run went long. On Friday it was the left hip that felt off and resulted in the slowest opening mile in weeks (and that says something as I always start very slowly - the first mile is my warm up) before gradually getting better. The weather didn't help, there was plenty of wind and rain on both days but that definitely doesn't explain the high HR on its own. I'm guessing that Wednesday's run inadvertently pushed the level a but too much and I had to pay the price.

This sucks. I hate having to run slowly every day. Recovery is so slow - I must be getting old.

Maia just had her 8th birthday. I called her old. Of course she corrected me: 8 years is not old, 40 is!

4 Nov
12 miles, 1:34:53, 7:54 pace, HR 148
5 Nov
10 miles, 1:22:57, 8:18 pace, HR 143
6 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:41, 8:10 pace, HR 148

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Stress And Recovery

As I'm sure you are aware, training is a never-ending story of stress, adaptation and recovery. You stress your body (in fact, you stress your mind as well), it adapts and recovers and the game starts again. This goes on at various levels and on various time scales, and on and on and on.

I obviously knew I was in dire need of recovery after the Spartathlon. However, I expected it to be somewhat similar to my previous 24-hour races. After all, I had covered 140 and 134 miles in my last 2 of those, so a 153 mile race seemed to be in the same league.

Except that it wasn't!

The varied terrain, the fact that we crossed two mountains, the much longer time on our feet and probably the changing weather conditions as well all added up to a much bigger stress factor. In the last few weeks I kept comparing my figures from now to the ones after Belfast and Turin and was left in no doubt, they were way worse this time round.

So, it was a matter of patience, which, as mentioned before, isn't always my greatest asset, though I'm still doing better than some. At the end of last week I could finally see some real improvement in the numbers as well as how I felt, so that was highly encouraging. Probably a bit too much so because on Saturday, after 5 days of nothing but slow running, I went out with the intention of giving the legs a decent workout once more. I'm still following MC's old guidelines (though I'm not 100% sure if he would agree) so I knew the thresholds of HR/effort that I was not to cross - except that, of course, I did cross them.

The problem is that my HR keeps drifting upwards when I do a tempo run. That is perfectly normal and expected, especially when I'm still in the very early days of a training cycle. So when I was right at the upper parameters right from the start the script was basically written. I just could not get myself to slow down and so the HR kept drifting up and up and up until I finally had to concede that I had f*cked this up. Ah well. Too late now.

I paid an immediate price the next day as the legs were exceptionally stiff and tired and I kept the effort on my mountain run as easy as it is possible while climbing a (minor) mountain. That run took me several minutes more than the week before, when the effort has already been rather easy (for similar reasons).

Then, on Monday, I compared the numbers to the previous Monday and they did not make happy reading. Stressing your body is fine and good but it needs to be at the appropriate level. There is no point in running so hard that you set yourself back, you want to build yourself up, gradually and slowly. With that in mind, I'm back at running slowly again this week. I'll make changes to my training because I don't want to fall into the same trap every weekend. I have a couple of ideas but I'll have to think them through first.

On the plus side, Tuesday's run was much better and the expected DOMS from Sunday's mountain run never materialised - almost certainly because I had taken it so easy. I'll still take it easy for a few more days.

My eldest daughter has a cold at the moment and I can feel it a bit as well - all the more reason to take it easy, of course.

31 Oct
10 miles, 1:14:35, 7:28 pace, HR 155
   incl. 8 miles @ 7:12 pace
1 Nov
10.7 miles, 1:37:02, 9:04 pace, HR 15o
   Windy Gap
2 Nov
10 miles, 1:24:08, 8:25 pace, HR 144
3 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:43, 8:10 pace, HR 145

Friday, October 30, 2015

Things Not To Say To An Ultrarunner

  • I would get tired driving that far (You're not the first one to come up with that joke. Honestly.)
  • You are nuts (I could personally feed an entire zoo of monkeys by now)
  • I don't know how you do it (I train for it)
  • Doesn't that hurt your knees (No it doesn't)
  • Your family must be very understanding (I get up at 6 am every day and run when they're still asleep)
For some reason I've been told every single one of those in the last 5 days, from various people. Not that I blame anyone but it is getting a bit old. At the very least I'd really appreciate it if someone came up with a new, original joke.

With that out of the way, there isn't an awful lot to say about the training this week so far. I felt a bit up and down at the beginning of the week, so cut out any notions of fartleks or other fast efforts and just ran easily. It seemed to work, I gradually started feeling better and over the last couple of days have finally noticed tentative signs that the HR is starting to come down (let's hope it lasts this time).

The weather has been mixed, Wednesday was a remarkably still day with the lake almost as flat as a mirror. Today, in contrast, it was raining heavily, though conditions gradually improved as the run wore on. One of the days (Monday? Tuesday?) was particularly windy, so I guess I've gone through just about all permutations in one single week.

For a few days a had a very weird pain in my left hip that would start about 2 minutes into my run and subside another 2 minutes later. Things like that come and go all the time but the same pain kept coming back again and again for about 8 days out of 10. Very strange. The last time I felt it was about Tuesday so it's probably resolved now anyway. I usually don't take too much notice of little twinges like that but after missing 6 weeks of training during summer due to a hip issue I;m a bit more paranoid than usual.

Anyway, that's all good now, things are finally on the up and I'm looking forward to starting a new training cycle soon.

27 Oct
10 miles, 1:23:41, 8:22 pace, HR 144
28 Oct
10 miles, 1:23:05, 8:19 pace, HR 145
29 Oct
10 miles, 1:23:16, 8:20 pace, HR 143
30 Oct
10 miles, 1:21:43, 8:10 pace, HR 144
If you think those last four runs are looking remarkably similar (in fact, you can add Monday's run as well to make it 5) then you would be right. They were all run over the same route and at the same time of day. I'm a creature of habit - a lot of ultra runners are, I bet. Just don't call us nuts!

Monday, October 26, 2015

My Beating Heart

When I mention words like "I need to be patient" then that is usually a clear sign that I am starting to struggle with that very concept. I clearly noticed this a couple of years ago when MC pointed out in a way that only he can that I had mentioned the need for patience in one blog post and then proceeded to display anything but over the next couple of weeks. I have to avoid running too hard too often - what I need now is recovery.

The problem is of course that running at an easy effort day in day out is just not particularly exciting, not even for an ultra runner. So, from time to time, I do feel the need to push the effort a bit higher. That in itself is not a bad thing, you need to give the system a little of a kick from time to time, the problem is to find the right amount of pushing, balancing everything according to your recovery needs. It's something that I clearly do not get right all the time.

After the fartlek last week I did a faster run on Saturday, though I only did 8 miles in the hope that a somewhat lower mileage would stop me from pushing over the edge. It felt really good to put a bit of effort into a run for a change, so from that point of view I have no regrets. I did wistfully remember the times when I averaged a faster pace than that in my easy runs. However, if things go to plan, those days will return in not too far a future. There's that concept again, patience.

I did pay for that effort, of course, with a pair of heavy legs on Sunday. Instead of drudging along for an hour on the road I headed up to the Windy Gap, though I did take it rather easy. The HR was as high as it had been the day before but the run felt completely different. I struggled a bit early on but once I got into it it went much better than I could have expected - the really steep long climb to the Gap itself went entirely on autopilot, which I usually can only do if I'm in great shape - maybe I've gotten used to it? Maybe I need a bigger mountain - there are plenty of those around here, unfortunately most would require me to drive there instead of running straight from home. That's not going to happen this winter - maybe next year.

Today, Monday, I just ran 10 easy miles while thinking of all my friends running the Dublin marathon at the same time. Or so I thought. I did do a double take when I looked at the HR number afterwards - I swear it was an easy run, why the HR was at the same level as the last 2 runs I don't quite know. I guess it's a lack of recovery, with the system still being compromised after Sparta. However, I don't feel particularly bad, in fact today's run was perfectly enjoyable. Somewhere there is a clear disconnect and I'm starting to think I need some help re-connecting things.

I have therefore asked for help.

23 Oct
10 miles, 1:24:11, 8:25 pace, HR 146
24 Oct
8 miles, 1:01:15, 7:39 pace, HR 154
25 Oct
10.7 miles, 1:33:30, 8:44 pace, HR 154
   Windy Gap
26 Oct
10 miles, 1:20:34, 8:03 pace, HR 153

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Winter Is Coming

It really is getting dark in the mornings! I can't believe how quickly the mornings have changed. It's pitch dark when I leave the house and it's still barely dawn when I come back home from my run. The clocks are going back this Sunday, which will make a big difference again but only for a few weeks. That time next month it will be Winter running, basically.

We had some unexpectedly nice weather last week. The sky was totally clear in the morning and the first thing I saw when I opened the door was Orion in all its beauty. It was also very cold - that goes hand in hand with clear skies, and one morning it got as cold as 2 degrees! The last few days it has turned again, Wednesday morning was fairly wild with wind and rain but it also got warmer again. I'm not sure what the weather is going to be like for the Dublin marathon on Monday - it could be windy or they could get lucky. I still can't quite believe I'm not running it this year!

Monday morning was an early call at stupid o'clock, just like in the old days when I used to do my long runs in the middle of the week. I left the house at 5 am, which was my only chance to run that day. I had considered skipping that run, after all I'm not training right now and still very much in my recovery phase from Sparta, but then decided to go ahead anyway. I don't want to get into the habit of skipping runs but you can call it OCD if you want.

I was back to my normal times the other days. My main concern at the moment is that the HR is really high, even when the effort is easy. It seemed to start coming down but that stalled or even reverted back. Obviously I'm aware that things are still out of whack after that extreme effort in Greece but at the same time I'm pretty sure I'm not suffering from overtraining - I sleep soundly, my appetite is good and all other signs are fine as well.

The HR often starts coming down when I start introducing a few runs at a higher effort, though I am hesitant to do that while I'm still deep in recovery. In an attempt to get the legs moving at a higher pace while not overtaxing my system I did a 60/60 on/off workout this morning, which I call a Kenyan fartlek because that workout is described in this book, though the Kenyan element clearly refers to the structure of the workout, not the pace. In fact, I made sure to take it reasonably easy and never pushed particularly hard. What I found interesting in the graph was how I seem to switch pace by changing my cadence rather than stride length, though I don't think that has any real practical implications.

During the last couple of miles my right foot was bothering me slightly - I thought I had developed a blister, which would be highly unusual - the only time I developed a blister in about the last 8 years was when I was running a race in excess of 100 miles. Anyway, when I got home I checked it out and it wasn't a new blister - it was a dead piece of skin hanging off, the last reminder of the one blister I got in Greece. Bloody damn big it was too, almost the size of  Euro coin. The other reminder I have from that race is a dark toenail on the left foot but I noticed it started growing back "normal" coloured already, so I guess it won't fall off, which means I still have never lost a toenail, which means I'm still not a proper runner!

19 Oct
8 miles, 1:08:57, 8:37 pace, HR 139
20 Oct
10 miles, 1:25:38, 8:34 pace, HR 145
21 Oct
8 miles, 1:05:25, 8:11 pace, HR 151
22 Oct
8 miles, 1:05:42, 8:13 pace, HR 150
   Kenyan fartlek

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Slow Recovery

After previous long races, like 100 miles or 24-hour races, my experience has been that it takes about 1 day per mile raced until I feel 100% recovered. That happens to be an old formula often applied to marathon recovery and I was surprised to find that the same recovery schedule still seems to hold true for much longer races, but it certainly was for me. There is nothing to indicate that things should be any different this time round so I guess I should not be surprised that things are happening at a very slow pace. In all likelihood it will take 5 months until I feel fully recovered - that would be towards the end of February!

Thankfully recovery does not mean I cannot run - I have run the Dingle Ultra or the Double Marathon in Sixmilebridge during those recovery phases in the last few years (as well as paced Dublin at 3:15 or 3:10 every year), but obviously never a as a goal race and never at full race effort (not that I was hanging around for either). This time I will take things easier. I have definitely decided not to run any marathons (or ultras) until those 5 months are over and I feel fully recovered. Once I have gotten over the worst, I still intend to train hard for my next marathon, but that will have to wait. I can clearly feel that things are still far from right at the moment.

The legs felt pretty good on most days but as soon as I hit a hill I can immediately feel the hamstrings. They feel achy and tired, as if in the last few miles of a marathon. I can still run on those legs just fine but it's obvious that I have to let them recover. I need to be patient - not always my strongest point, admittedly, though I am well used to working with a long term goal in mind.

The mileage has gone up to 10 miles by now. I don't feel much different after 6 miles or 10, so it's hard to say where the optimum lies. I'll cut back again when I feel I need to or when Real Life interferes. My main concern right now is that the HR is rather high on each run and doesn't really reflect the relatively easy effort I am putting in. I would have hoped for that to have come down a little bit by now but no such luck. Patience. Patience, please.

16 Oct
8 miles, 1:07:27, 8:25 pace, HR 142
17 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:36, 7:57 pace, HR 150
18 Oct
10 miles, 1:20:52, 8:05 pace, HR 149

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Breaking My Promise

I know, I know, I've been going on about the Spartathlon for too long already and I said I'd move on but hey. I found an online database with all results since 1983 (even 1982, though that was not an official race) and played around a bit. What I found is that if I count myself as Irish I am the third fastest finisher, which sounds far more impressive than my performance merited. As Austrian I am in more realistic 17th position - actually, that shows that there has been far too little interest in this classic race here in Ireland over the years. This finally looks like changing now, though; half the names on the Irish list are from the last 2 years. And what do we say about the fact that the top Irish performance is from a lady? One thing only, namely that some things don't ever seem to change, if you look at the results from Turin this year!

My post-race recovery is continuing. I am very cautious in ramping up the mileage. Usually I would go from 5 to 8 miles once the legs feel like they can take it but I stepped it to a mere 6, just to be on the safe side. I feel good while running and the numbers are already improving but the legs still feel sore at times; quads and calves especially.

The weather has been absolutely brilliant this week with icy clear mornings (the first thing I see when I open my door in the morning is Orion in all its beauty) and beautiful days with actual sunshine, something that's rare enough over here. It's a bit more cloudy today but teh forecast for the weekend is still pretty good. Can't complain for once!

I finally upped the daily mileage to 8 this morning, Thursday. The legs did feel a bit sluggish and I'll keep a close eye on recovery but all in all things are going okay, the HR is still higher than I would like but obviously I know what's causing that and over time this will improve of course.

I won't do any more racing this year, which means that not only am I going to miss the Dublin marathon, I'm also skipping Sixmilebridge, two races that have been absolute fixtures in my diary over the last 5 years! Can't be helped - that Spartathlon was tough.

Someone sent me a list of the "6 toughest races in the world". Apart from the fact MdS is more a trekking holiday rather than a race, I think someone's trying to kill me.

There's only one more thing I'll add about the Spartathlon. The general advice for anyone running it the first time is to only aim at finishing. In 90% of all cases this probably makes total sense but I think it cost me - once I was assured I was going to finish comfortably below the cut-off, I did no longer push as hard as I could have done, and I found it impossible to dig as deep as I know I can. Next time* I'll be more ambitious. I think I had a very similar problem in Turin - I did not have a set target. I don't think it's coincidence that my best race, last year's Belfast, was one where I had a very challenging but clearly defined goal.

12 Oct
5 miles, 42:59, 8:36 pace, HR 143
13 Oct
6 miles, 51:12, 8:32 pace, HR 141
14 Oct
6 miles, 50:52, 8:29 pace, HR 143
15 Oct
8 miles, 1:06:56, 8:22 pace, HR 147
* What next time??? Surely I can't be so stupid as putting myself through that again!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Back In The Ring

This time it was different. After previous long races I really felt like never running again and was glad to rest. But this time I had been feeling like going for a run since at least last Sunday. I did cycle to work once, just to test the legs, and they felt fine. I was waking early every day anyway, which meant I was looking at the ceiling every morning, wondering if the legs had recovered sufficiently to get me through a short run without troubles. On Thursday I decided that the paint pattern had lost its fascination, got dress and ran.

It was, of course, a short as well as a slow run. The same was repeated over the next few days. I haven't gone past 5 miles yet but even so my pace has already picked up a bit while the HR has already started to come down. I'm still only at the very beginning, of course. This is not training yet. I can also tell that some things are still out of whack. The week after the Spartathlon I was just tired, constantly feeling exhausted, but that lifted after a week. Yesterday my legs felt rather sore in the evening, as if I had run 20 miles earlier that day. On Friday I felt pretty crap after the run but on other days I felt much better. A bit of up and down might be in store while the body is still trying to get back into some sort of balance after being knocked sideways just 2 weeks ago, even if it already feels like half a lifetime ago.

As far as I know I did not have any mood swings that usually go with the post-race weeks. Niamh is usually not shy to let me know when I'm becoming a pain to live with, so I guess this time it really was different.

As Sparta starts to fade away into memory the plans for next year are slowly starting to take shape. I want to run a fast marathon in the spring, maybe have a (possibly final but let's not put limits onto anything) go at my marathon PB. I'd also fancy a go at Ballycotton again but only if I feel I will be able to do myself justice. I skipped it last year because I knew I would not be able to get anywhere near my potential but with some speed training during the winter I might be able to whip myself back into shape. As for which marathon to go for, I have not decided yet; I'm thinking about Tralee and/or Manchester and/or Limerick, and then get ready for another 24 hours race, probably Belfast. I want to make the team again for the 2017 world championships and a good performance in 2016 will be required to ensure that. The Spartathlon next year might be too close to Belfast, so that might have to take backseat for a year or two.

I'd love to run Badwater one year. Everyone who ran both seems to say that Spartathlon is harder. I have no idea how a race in one of the hottest environments on the planet during the summer can be easier but I am aware that Badwater is 18 miles shorter and you have 12 hours more to finish. The biggest problem, however, is that I would have to win the lottery first to finance that trip, so it may have to remain a dream. Who knows. Anyway, that definitely won't happen in 2016 even if I hit the jackpot.
8 Oct
5 miles, 45:15, 9:03 pace, HR 142
9 Oct
5 miles, 45:01, 9:00 pace
10 Oct
5 miles, 43:55, 8:44 pace, HR 146
11 Oct
5 miles, 44:25, 8:53 pace, HR 139

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Reflections, Once More

I will have one more look back at the Spartathlon before moving on. Since I am still not running, I have nothing else to write about anyway.

I had a look at the intermediate results from the major CPs (the ones with an electronic timing mat). My positions in the race at those points were:

CP   km   place
 4   19   269
11   42   196
22   81   119
28   100  106
35   124   91 (halfway)
47   159   78
52   172   74
60   195   64
69   227   71
75   246   73 (the end)

As you can see, after starting at a very measured pace I gradually worked my way through the field for most of the race. Around CP60 (almost 200k) I was at my best position before gradually sliding back once more. I was still further up the field at the end than I had been at the mountain (CP48 is at the top), though.

Nestani, after the mountain
One thing that struck me when I looked at things more closely was that it took me almost 3 hours to cover the 24 km from 100 to halfway (CP 28 to 35). That's 12:25 pace, almost crawling! I was not aware that I had slowed down so much - I overtook quite a few runners on that stretch and I built up a solid cushion on the cut-offs, so that slow pace came as a surprise. I know this was steadily uphill, which explains some of it, but on the other hand the temperatures dropped back to much more reasonable levels which should have helped. I think my loss of fitness due to lack of training during the summer really caught up with me on that section,. I'm sure there is plenty of room for improvement on those miles alone.

During the post-race celebrations on Monday they showed a video from this year's race. I was totally taken aback by the shots of Katalina Nagy running up the final mountain. I was completely dead on my feet at that point - not only was she running, she was running hard! Unbelievable! I'm not a bad ultra runner but that really drove home the difference between also-runs like myself and the top, top runners.

with the kids of Sparta as our escort
I read on one of the British runners' race report that the temperatures went over 30 degrees on Friday. I don't know if that is true (forecast was 28) but it would not surprise me - it really felt rather hot to someone accustomed to Irish weather and temperatures. However, I can warmly* recommend the hot weather adaptation training I had done in the 2 or 3 weeks beforehand. I could definitely sense that it made a big difference.

The obligatory manhug from Don
One thing that stuck with me is that the race itself was superbly organised but some of the surrounding events were not. The bus transfer from Sparta to our hotel in Gytheio stopped at 5, which doesn't make any sense whatsoever as the race does not even finish until 6. The lunch in Sparta on Sunday was chaotic and the ceremony in Athens on Monday half an hour sooner than stated on their website (and I wasn't the only one who very nearly missed the bus to that one - I'll keep a close eye on their facebook page as well next time**). However, as long as the organisation of the race itself remains as good, I can live with the rest. It is actually amazingly good value. The €450 entry fee includes accommodation, transport and food for an entire week. That is the cheapest holiday in Greece you could ever dream of! And both of our hotels were excellent, the quality of food especially being outstanding (something that could definitely have been improved in Turin).

I weighed myself for the first time on Tuesday morning. Usually I gain a few pounds in the week after a race but my weight is down 3 pounds compared to what it was before we left for Greece. I think something similar happened after Turin. It's not for lack of trying, I sure am not on a diet at the moment and my inner chocoholic is living it large.

I cycled to work for the first time as well this morning, purely to get the legs moving again after what already seems like a long break. I am slowly starting to think about  running again as well. No rush. Probably in a few days.

* excuse the pun
** what am I talking about, what next time??