Sunday, February 15, 2015

The One That (Probably) Should Not have Been

I awoke on Friday morning at around 3:30 and immediately regretted it. My head hurt, my heart was racing, I was sweating bucket loads and I just generally felt awful. For the fourth or maybe fifth time this winter I obviously had picked up some bug that the kids had brought home; Cian and Lola had already had it and now it was my turn.

I almost panicked. The Donadea 50k on Saturday was one of the key workouts in my training and I would not be able to make it up. This was having a really serious impact on my preparations for Turin. In addition to that, I had promised Tom Enright a lift to the race. How was he going to get an alternative in 24 hours?

Eventually I managed to fall back asleep and when I woke a few hours later I felt so much better I could hardly believe it. I did not go running that morning (yes, that's how awful I had felt!) and the thundery rain did nothing to persuade me otherwise.

I felt okay throughout the day and, with a fair amount of doubt in my head, I decided to risk it and go ahead. I got up Saturday morning at 5 o'clock, got ready and pointed the car northeastwards. It was the same scenario as last week ("let's try this again"), and this time I made it past the 2-mile mark without a crash. I picked up Tom in Limerick and we got to Donadea pretty much at 9 o'clock, perfect.

Billy and me, still smiling before the start.
Photo by James Shelley
It took a while to pick up my number because I kept bumping into so many friendly face, all of whom enquired about my car and my own well being. Seems like word had spread rather quickly.

The race started pretty much on time and from the word go I felt very good. I tried to keep the pace at about 7:30 but the guys running right in front of me kept telling me to go ahead ("if I'm ahead of you I know I'm doing this wrong"), so eventually I gave into their wishes and pulled ahead. I should have left it at that but I kept going at a faster pace, at first without even realising. I did pull myself back when I saw 6:45 pace on the watch but 7:10 pace felt utterly comfortable. This immediately should have set off some internal alarm bells but I have run 50ks at that pace (and faster) in the past and my alarm settings were a bit off.

Feeling good early on. This would not last.
Photo by James Shelley
The course consists of 10 laps of almost 5k with a bit of extra at the beginning. For the first 2 laps I felt the most comfortable I had felt in a long time. The road surface had been redone since last year and we were running much of it on crushed gravel, which felt nice and soft and just perfect, much better than last year's mudbath. However, predictably, this did not last. As early as the third lap I noticed my energy levels dropping, and rapidly at that. Barely 7 miles into a 50k is a bit early to get into trouble! I reduced the pace to about 7:30, which lead to a few runners going past me over the next few miles, including the eventual ladies' winner. Past champions Orna and Olwyn were marshalling at one junction and cheering on the runners, and when they enquired about my pace I told them 7:25 - that was my present pace, the average at that point was still 7:10.

Lap 4 and I was starting to have serious doubts if I would finish the race. In fact, finishing the race may well have been a bad idea, it's just not a good idea to push your body to its limits when you are already sick; that kind of nonsense can have serious repercussions. On the other hand, a bit of suffering is not a bad thing to experience in training when you are preparing for a 24 hours race - no matter how badly today would hurt, it would still be nothing compared to what's in store in 8 weeks' time. I kept going. Vasilij and Vilnis overtook me at one point and I wasn't sure if they were overtaking or lapping me. In turn, we all caught up to Billy, who once again had started a bit too fast and was paying the price as well.

We let the boys go and Billy and me spent about a lap running together. It felt so much easier to run in company and I did seem to recover a fair bit. However, looking at the results now I can see that the times were still going the wrong way, each lap was slightly slower than the previous one, even if I felt a bit more comfortable. Brian Ankers went past us, looking exceptionally comfortable and very, very happy. He was realising one of his stated dream goals, namely beating me in a race!

Billy dropped back at the start of the next lap and I pushed on alone. Ideally you should still be feeling comfortable at halfway but today was definitely not an ideal day. I did wonder once more how far I should be running and if pushing on was a good idea, but for the time being things did not look too badly and I kept going.

Vasilij and Vilnis caught up once more "where the f*ck are you coming from!?!" They could not possibly have lapped me so quickly (even Gary O'Hanlon took three laps for that), turns out they had a bit of a toilet break. I hung on to their coat tails for a while and the pace felt a lot quicker straight away though with company it felt manageable. We talked about the good old times and the lap passed quickly; despite feeling a lot faster it was only 3 seconds faster than my previous one, and still the second slowest so far. I lost a few seconds picking up a drink bottle and immediately the boys were gone. For about a mile I tried to catch up with them but the legs were not cooperating any more, the best I could do was to keep the distance roughly the same, and eventually I gave up and fell back into my own pace again, resigned to be seeing out the rest of the race on my own.

The drop in pace at that point was dramatic. Lap 8 was more than 90 seconds slower than even the slowest of all the previous laps, and that over a mere 5k loop! I was suffering quite badly at that point and was counting down every single kilometre, going from marker to marker. At least I could sense the finish line by now, the majority of the running was already done and the outstanding number of miles was down to single figures. To make matters worse the legs started to experience spasms and I was worried about getting a cramp. Usually I would take an electrolyte tablet at that point which generally seems to help but I was entirely out of them and had not ordered any new ones yet.

I took some caffeine after lap 8 and within a couple of minutes started feeling a lot better. It made a big difference to my mood, even if the pace did not really change. I guess I should have taken it a bit earlier, but what can you do. From here on things were not looking anywhere near as bleak any more, the worst of the suffering was behind me and even though I was very much looking forward to finishing I knew this would be over in a reasonable amount of time.

I had crossed halfway in 1:55:3x, so a sub-4 finish seemed safe with such a safety margin. However, a look at the watch eventually told me how much the pace had dropped and all of a sudden I wasn't so sure any more. I definitely was not racing this because it was a training run for Turin and nothing more but I still had some pride left and an above 4 hours finishing time would have stung. As I got to the end of lap 9 I tried to read the time on the clock but that little kid was standing right in front of the timer and I could not make it out until I was right beside it (for some reason it did not come to me to check my own watch!). Anyway, I had 25 minutes and 8 seconds left - pretty much 8-minute miles, and to my horror I realised that the last few laps had been slower than that so I better get going!

Photo by Paul Daly
Into the pain cave once more. I knew I could deal with the discomfort but the legs were experiencing spasms at a much-too-frequent rate and I was very close to cramping on several occasions, and I knew that if a cramp took hold properly any ideas of time went right out of the window. Right at the halfway mark, almost at the top of the "hill", the right hamstring did indeed start cramping but walking half a dozen steps brought immediate relief and then I was over the top of the hill and running downhill felt easier straight away and the pace dropped to about 7-minute miles, for the first time in hours!

Looking at the results now I can see that I overtook 3 runners on the last lap and I ran this 2 minutes faster than the previous ones, so obviously I did have more left in me than I was prepared to give on the day. The last stretch before the finish is uphill and I knew a sub-4 finish was in the bag. The legs threatened to cramp again, no matter how much I promised them that the finish was imminent. I unwisely decided to finish with a Dargan jump, which was pathetic as I barely was able to clear the ground and I paid for it straight away with a rather painful cramp. Ah well.
If you try and finish in style ...
(Photo by Jumping The Gun)
I finished in 3:58:27, 29th overall and 3rd M45, but most of all I was happy to be finished at all. It doesn't take a genius to work out that I am in dire need of recovery, from the cold as much (or more) as from the 50k so that's what's in store now.

... don't ruin it all by starting to cramp!
You might end up looking like a right muppet.
(Photo by Jumping The Gun)

P.S. Congratulations to Gary O'Hanlon for not only defending his title as national champion but also breaking the Irish record while doing so! Unreal performance!
13 Feb
14 Feb
Donadea 50k, Irish National 50k champs
3:58:27, 7:41 pace, HR 155
   29th place, 3rd M45
15 Feb
3.1 miles, 29:59, 9:36 pace, HR 135


  1. Marathon (Check)
    50k. (Check)

    Aprils not too far away to complete 'the dream'
    Enjoyed the read.

  2. Well done sir. You have been doing a fair amount of miles in the car let alone running these past few weeks! Recover well.

  3. It's not as if you need more adversity right now, but we don't control as much of life as we would like, do we? Recover well, Thomas.

  4. Hope you're having an easy week after that effort. And hope you've sweated out the sickness rather than made it worse.

  5. OOo boy that sounded far tougher than just a training run. Clearly cold is playing havoc with your ability to run. Still unwell and still able to do a sub 4hr 50k is very respectable. Once your are recovered from the 50k and the cold you'll bounce back.

    One thing I learnt from reading Paula Radcliffe's autobiography is that there were times she got ill and really struggled in training and didn't feel ready at all but got better and went on to do some great performances. I'll never run as fast as Paula but not loosing sight of what lies the other side of getting over illness is something I'll take away from her experiences.

  6. Great race photos, you look so happy! Congratulations on your sub 4 hour finish during such an adverse time!