Sunday, March 29, 2015

Visiting Charles Stewart Parnell

Photo by Marcus Howlett
It's been a busy few days. On Thursday evening I headed to Tralee to give a talk about training for the upcoming 100k in August. I was a bit nervous, public speaking is not something that comes naturally to me, but it went really well, the audience (about 20 or 25 people) was appreciative and even laughed at a couple of little jokes (a sure sign that they are listening), so all in all it was a surprisingly pleasant evening.

Friday I headed up to Dublin straight after work for Saturday's MCI marathon in Rathdrum. I generally prefer to sleep in my own bed but it would have required leaving at 4 am in the morning and since my car crash in February I avoid driving in the morning when it's still pitch dark. It meant a pleasantly relaxed start to Saturday and I still got to the start line in plenty of time.

They should have called it the Avondale marathon rather than Rathdrum, for the historic connection as well as a more accurate description of the actual location. Indeed, we would pass Avondale house twice on each loop and the start/finish was literally just around the corner. We assembled at the start but they made no real attempt to explain the course, more along the lines of "2 miles on the road outside and 3 miles on a second loop inside the gate, no worries, stewards are at all junctions to guide you". He also told us to throw the GPS devices away as they don't work inside the forest ("I don't care if it shows 24 or 28 miles at the end!"). Nevertheless I decided to keep mine and from his slightly annoyed tone I'd guess he had been asked about the accuracy of the course measurements at least once too often already.

Start. Photo by Vincent Doran
He led us around a mini loop of one mile and then we were put onto the "real" 5 mile loop, to be run 5 times. Two guys ran slightly ahead and I ran the first few miles with Don Hannon, talking about this and that, until at mile 3 he accelerated and I decided to hang back. This was my last long run before the championships and for once I was going to stick to the plan of taking it very easy.

There were indeed plenty of stewards on the first loop and all went well. I felt very good, the pace and effort were relaxed and the conditions better than expected. The weather forecast had been pretty bad but the rain mostly held off, which left the wind. It was very strong on a steep half-mile climb at the start of each loop it was right into our faces, which was tough. But inside the forest itself if was almost unnoticeable, which made for much better conditions than I could have hoped for. The loop was very challenging, two steep climbs on the road outside were even bettered by a couple of climbs inside the gate on the second, forest, part of the loop, with one bit right at the lowest part definitely pointing towards the "severe" end of the scale (at least as far as climbs on roads go - we weren't climbing any mountains). The majority of it was on a trail, but thankfully a smooth one and thanks to the recent dry weather there was not a lot of mud.

For the second loop I more or less followed the red shirt in front of me, still keeping the effort very relaxed, so it was lucky that he more or less set a pace that felt just right for me. All was well for the road part of the loop but as we neared Avondale house close to the aid station Don Hannon came running against us and I knew straight away that someone had taken a wrong turn, though at that point I thought it would have been Don. But a minute later we approached the aid station and it was quickly becoming clear that we were coming from the wrong direction. Twice they tried to send us out of the gate but I knew that was wrong as we has just done that part of the loop and eventually my running buddy in the red top seemed to realise where we had taken the wrong turn and we headed back. I was still mightily confused at that point. When we got back to the junction where we had gone straight when we should have turned left I mentioned to the steward she should have directed us rather than let us continue straight (I'll get back to that). This time we were on the right track and went on to do the second part of the loop. However, towards the end of that loop we got to the same steward and this time she sent us left, which was wrong once more and added another little extra to our miles, at which point my running mate lost any interest in the race and dropped back, but he did continue to finish the race, albeit at a slower pace. I decided to just keep running normally and regard the ~1 mile detour as bonus training.

A mile into the third loop I caught up to Ruthann Sheahan who had gone off with the early start and was on her last lap already. Of course we chatted about the upcoming world championship. She is already a veteran compared to my novice status and the more she told me about the experience the more I was looking forward to it. She also told me that she had taken a wrong turn on a couple of occasions and was unsure how many miles she would clock up, but she would probably run a little bit extra afterwards anyway ("maybe 30 miles or so"). I'll tell you what, keep an eye out for her, I think she is ready to do a Big One in Turin. You never know how a race will go but she is in fantastic form. We even saw a couple of rainbows in a field that seemed to be almost within touching distance. There might have been a pot of gold right under that tree beside the road.

As we got towards the end of the loop Ruthann was confused because her GPS only showed 25 miles when she expected it to show more than 26 miles after her detours, but she finished and I still saw her jogging around half an hour later, so I guess she did indeed do 30 miles and she still looked as fresh as a daisy afterwards. I continued on alone. By now I had finally sussed out the route. The confusing thing is that you approached the same junction twice from the same direction. The first time you were supposed to go left (that's where we had gone wrong on lap 2), the second time you had to go straight, so it really had not been the steward's fault when she let us go straight, she could not have known which part of the loop we were on (she was still nice and friendly and smiling every other time I saw her, so I guess she did not mind). What they should have done is explain it more clearly before the start, I suppose. Loop 4 passed without incident but I was definitely starting to get tired, all those hills were taking their toll on my legs. Also, Seamus stopped me for a quick chat, telling me that one steward had been misdirecting runners. It actually just confused me because at this point I thought I had a handle on the course.

At the start of lap 5 I met up with another MCI runner (Jim Nugent I think) and asked if he was on his last lap, but he said he was adding 4k to make up the distance as he had taken a wrong turn at some point. I can see my own numbers now and see that I slowed down a little bit but nothing too drastic. I was definitely getting tired but still very much enjoyed the lovely scenery. It sure is a nice part of the country and a lovely setting for a marathon. There were no more wrong turns and I made my way to the finish. After my couple of detours I expected to have run about 27 miles but in actual fact the GPS only showed 25.9 miles at the end, so after receiving my medal and having a short chat with RD Vincent I ran a couple of loops around the car park until the watch said 26.22.

Showing off my new gear.
Photo by Vincent Doran
I really enjoyed the run and I got some good training into my legs, which is exactly what I had come here for. The MCI people are always nice and friendly without fail, the spread at the end was spectacular (I think I ate my body weight in sandwiches and sweets afterwards, I had been starving) and I have absolutely no complaints and can warmly recommend those marathons.

The course on this occasion, however, needs to be looked into. A significant part of the field had taken a wrong turn on at least one occasion, and to approach the same junction from the same direction twice is almost asking for trouble; it definitely is too confusing. Also, while I am perfectly aware that GPS watches are not an accurate tool for measurement, my GPS track shows no deviations from the road and to have the course measure short despite running almost an extra mile is highly unusual. I will not and cannot make any substantiated claims on the accuracy of the course but I can't help my private suspicions.

Nevertheless, none of the above would stop me from running there again. If I had taken a wrong turn in, say, Tralee, I would have been fuming, but for those training runs I do not mind the slightest. I really enjoyed my day out and I got my last long run into my legs. I did my usual 5 mile recovery run on Sunday morning and the legs, while a bit heavy, felt much better than I could have expected.

And with that, the training for Turin is done!
27 Mar
8 miles, 1:02:06, 7:45 pace, HR 141
28 Mar
MCI Rathdrum marathon, Avondale
3:26:xx, 7:55 pace, HR 151
29 Mar
5 miles, 39:09, 7:49 pace, HR 139

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Would You Look At That!

It's time for another update, I guess. The legs had their usual post-race heaviness on Monday, though I could not help but notice that a 5k leaves a very different kind of heavy leg behind than a marathon or ultra. Also, when I added up the miles I had done the previous week I realised that I had done over 70 - not exactly a recovery week, and since we are now less than 3 weeks away from the championships I decided to ease up this week, which automatically implies I will be doing a 3-week taper. I have been experimenting a lot with different taper length and generally prefer a 2-week taper but after listening to my body decided to change things this time round. It's not as if I'm just sitting on my backside for 3 weeks; there is still a fair amount of training to be done, just not quite as much as in the preceding weeks,

On Tuesday the heavy legs had already disappeared and were replaced by wings that had my coasting along the road seemingly without any effort. I love it when that happens and would not really have expected it 2 days after a race effort. 7:40 pace was definitely faster than my usual easy training runs but I had not put in any real effort. There is definitely a sharpening effect going on.

The good feeling was not going to last forever, there was a noticeable feeling of heavy legs once
more on Wednesday, which had me scratching my head in confusion after everything had felt so easy just one day before. However, if you just looked at the numbers you would not have been able to tell: it was pretty much the same pace and HR as on Tuesday. Halfway through the run I suddenly remembered that I had been planning on running up to Windy Gap this week, making use of finally having some light in the early mornings, just before they turn teh clock forward this weekend. Obviously it was too late for that day but I decided to do it on Thursday instead, even though that would only give me one easy day before the final marathon of the training phase. On the plus side, going into a marathon with slightly heavy legs will ensure I will take it very easy - at least that's my present theory.

So, up to the mountains it was again on Thursday, and wouldn't you know it, the legs felt fantastic again. Even going up the steep 20% gradient of the final climb up to the gap was basically easy - I just did not feel any fatigue! The original plan had been to drop down to Glenbeigh after the first climb and do a second climb from that side but I had shattered a glass on teh kitchen floor when getting ready this morning and spent a good while cleaning up the mess, which meant less time for running. To be honest, I might still have been able to do the original run and still make it to work more or less in time, however I decided that it was a sign and one climb would be enough for the day (either that, or I simply chickened out).

As you can see from the photos, I received a parcel this morning. I usually don't get excited about new running gear, but this is different. Very different. I still can't quite believe this is actually happening but it's starting to feel rather real. I very much remember the days when I was running marathons in over 4 hours - who could possibly have predicted I was going to wear my country's colours one day!
23 Mar
5 miles, 41:10, 8:10 pace, HR 140
24 Mar
8 miles, 1:01:23, 7:40 pace, HR 141
25 Mar
10 miles, 1:16:58, 7:42 pace, HR 140
26 Mar
10.7 miles, 1:35:53, 8:52 pace, HR 142
   Windy Gap

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Yet Another Kerry County Championship

Last year, exactly one week after the Tralee marathon, there was a local 5k/10k fundraiser at the school just around the corner from here. Despite the legs still feeling the marathon I took part, was lucky enough that no fast runner turned up in the 5k and won a lovely Easter Egg, as well as the warm glow that comes from supporting your local community. I had every intention this year of either doing the same again or let Niamh run it if she wanted to, but at the start of the week was informed that the county Kerry championship road race would be held on at exactly the same time. I still preferred the local option until Sean badgered me into running the championship because with Roland, our new star runner, we might have a good team, so I decided to take one for the team.

Turns out, Roland had gotten an email on Friday that he had gotten a place in the Wicklow Way Ultra on Saturday (yes, the very next day), ran that one instead, and used that as an excuse not to race a 5k on Sunday, which left me as the "star" runner and pop went our chances in the team results.

Before that I had done my very best to torpedo my own performance by running a fairly hefty mileage, considering that I was still recovering from the Tralee marathon, and going on a trail run on Saturday myself, though a much shorter option than the one that had done for Roland. I also ran 5 miles on Sunday morning, allegedly to shake out my legs but it all meant that my legs were aching slightly even during the warm up.

The race started while I was still busy fiddling with the buttons on my watch (seriously, I'm an idiot) and then I started chasing Maria McCarthy because I figured she would pull me to a faster time. It quickly became apparent that my legs just would not move fast enough to keep up with her, though the slightly downhill nature of the first mile and the wind at our back meant this was still a 5:34 opening mile. Obviously I was going to pay for that, with headwind, uphill and tired legs yielding a rather modest 6:22 second mile (I got those numbers from strava afterwards, I know better than to consult my watch during a 5k). After 1 mile I already wished for this to be over, rather early for those kind of thoughts, and at the halfway point Niamh O'Sullivan passed me looking strong, but at least she provided some reason to push harder. She pulled away from me very slightly over the next mile, but with my male ego finally making itself felt I put the hammer down at the top of the last hill. Quite to my surprise I actually closed the gap and moved ahead of her again, expecting the finish line to be just ahead, but we went on to the next corner and then there was still a quarter mile left, which just drew out forever and by the time I finally crossed the line I was close to collapsing, but was left with a rather mediocre time of about 18:41, my slowest 5k in quite some time and 45 seconds slower than last year's championship.

Actually, I take that modest time as a good sign because I certainly do not want to be in top shape for a 5k now, 3 weeks before a 24 hours championship. My main goal today was to come through without pulling my hamstring, or any other muscle, and that was achieved. I also got third place in the M45 category, which meant I had a medal to compare to Maia's, which she had gotten from doing the kids race at the aforementioned school fundraiser. Cian had done the same and Shea had done the 5k, so thankfully the Bubendorfer honour was upheld while the old man had been pre-occupied. However, I promised myself never ever to miss a race again that my girl is taking part in just to run in some championship.
19 Mar
8 miles, 1:03:01, 7:52 pace, HR 140
20 Mar
am: 8 miles, 1:02:42, 7:50 pace, HR 140
pm: 5 miles, 38:18, 7:40 pace, HR 143
21 Mar
12.1 miles, 1:53:37, 9:22 pace, HR 142
   Windy Gap x 2
22 Mar
am: 5 miles, 40:19, 8:04 pace, HR 138
pm: 7+ miles, including:
   Kerry County road championship
   5k in 18:41, 6:02 pace, HR 173
   3rd M45
Weekly Mileage: 70+

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Post Tralee

I was quite surprised when I read a fair amount of criticism of Sunday's Tralee marathon. I really enjoyed the race but others have found quite a few things they did not agree with. To be honest, most of them I noticed but none of them bothered me in the slightest, so maybe it's just a case of having a different set of priorities/expectations.
  • the Expo was a joke with 2 stands (I have yet to see a small marathon with a decent sized Expo)
  • no goody bag (I could not possibly care less)
  • no timer at the end (I noticed that, but I have my own watch. Apparently the timer guy forgot to bring a clock!)
  • lack of support on the route (it's a rural marathon, people! And not really something I would blame the organisers for - mind in previous years there used to be a DJ in Fenit which was great and I did miss him on Sunday)
  • no sports drink or gels on the course (I have been running for long enough to regard this as normal. I still think of sports drink from an aid station as an unexpected bonus. Maybe I'm just showing my age here)
  • mile markers were out (I did not really notice but I know it's a pain for pacers when that happens)
That's a fair amount of criticism and the organisers would do well to take it on-board. Numbers were down this year, especially in the half marathon, but I think that was more down to the fact that it coincided with Mother's Day this year (it very nearly stopped me from running) than anything the organisers did or didn't do. But if the public feels the organisers are starting to cut corners and worsening the marathon experience as a result, the race will be in trouble.

However, I can't help but compare it to last year's Waterford marathon. They had gotten all the little details right but forgot to provide the single most important thing, namely an accurate course. In Tralee a fair few minor things are open to improvement but the course was the best one yet. I do prefer the Tralee way, but I also do hope the race will listen to feedback.

Anyway, one other minor change was that I got bumped up in the results from 20th to 19th because one runner had run the half marathon with a full marathon chip and slightly messed up the results, but no harm done and hardly a big deal.

Recovery has been going well. I know I sound like a broken record (again, showing my age here, Do people even remember what a broken record is?) but my tried-and-tested recovery strategy is to run 5 miles easy until the legs feel better. I felt surprisingly good even on Monday, so it seemed perfectly reasonable to run twice on Tuesday and Wednesday as long as I kept the effort easy and the distance short. However, I did a double-take at the watch at the end of Wednesday's evening run. The effort had felt much easier that 7:33 pace. Recovery must be going well.
16 Mar
5 miles, 43:11, 8:38 pace, HR 136
17 Mar
am: 5 miles, 40:54, 8:11 pace, HR 137
pm: 5 miles, 39:13, 7:51 pace, HR 146
18 Mar
am: 5 miles, 40:30, 8:06 pace, HR 137
pm: 5 miles, 37:51, 7:33 pace, HR 140

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Beware The Ides Of March

March 15 is an ominous date if you're into history. Luckily, I'm no dictator, though there was indeed scope for potential doom because it also coincided with Mothers Day. At first Niamh completely ruled out the idea of me running a marathon that day, but later she relented, though not without the words "it will cost you". I can only hope she meant financially and not emotional blackmail for the next 20 years!

I had hoped to run some big mileage this week but family commitments meant I only managed to run one single double during the week. I finally would have had time for an additional evening run on Friday and Saturday but by then had decided that the Tralee marathon means more to me than yet another routine training marathon and I did a mini taper in order to have fresher legs on race day.

Why is there always some idiot with his eyes closed!
Photo by Chris Grayson
At the start line I could see Gary O'Hanlon and Annameria Costello talking to each other and said something like "the winners are having a chat", which 3 hours later would proven to be correct, though it wasn't a particularly surprising prophecy. It was very cold and I had a hard time deciding between long and short sleeves but eventually went for the short option. It meant I was freezing before the start but once we got going it was definitely the right choice.

Anyway, the plan was to go out somewhat fast but still conservative and re-evaluate at the halfway point. I started at a fairly measured pace and right at the start a lot of people seemed to fly by me but even before the first mile I had caught half a dozen of them already. I fell into step with David Toomey, who had had some great runs in the back-to-back at Loch Derg 2 weeks ago and who hoped to break 3:10 for the first time today, which meant it made sense to run together. For the next few miles we chatted relentlessly while reeling in a fair number of some overambitious starters. I did keep half an eye on the watch and was a bit worried because the pace was close to 6:50, more like 3 hours than 3:10. However, the effort felt so easy it just seemed wrong to run slower. On the other hand, I have run a few marathons before and am very much aware that all races of spectacular blow-ups contain the line "the effort felt easy so I ran faster than planned" in the early miles, so I was definitely a bit wary, just not enough to actually do something about it.

Very early on - photo by Chris Grayson
Chatting with David made the miles just fly by. We were through Ardfert in no time at all and on the new section of the course towards Banna. This was also the flattest part of today and it still felt incredibly easy. Then, shortly after passing the 9 mile marker, we turned sharp left and all of a sudden into a rather strong headwind. Ah! That's why it had felt so easy. It all made sense now. However, I figured we had done the right thing by running at the pace we had done; as long as the wind is at your back you may as well make use of it. We just had not been aware of any wind, though that did not change anything.

The next 3 miles back towards Ardfert were definitely harder and of course the pace suffered a bit. This is where we could have made a mistake by trying to maintain it and pushing too hard but I say we got it just right. We caught a lady and later on a male runner, two more victims of the early pace. Usually the field is rather settled after a mile or two and overtaking runners rather rare, but today we really worked our way through the field.

It got easier again when we turned right at Ardfert and we passed the halfway mark in about 1:32. We knew the hills were about to start, but David hoped the sun would come out and maybe burn off the wind, which would have been tremendously helpful but not something we could influence.

The highest point of the course had been before even mile 5, but with fresh legs we had hardly noticed the very gradual climb. The first real climb of the day awaited at mile 16 and it was a tough one, alright, and the wind did not help. However, we were both still feeling good and made good progress. More than once we commented that the miles were still flying by. On a good day you should feel comfortable to mile 15 in a marathon. We had passed mile 17 and it was still remarkably easy! By now I was reasonably sure we were not going to blow up and the early pace had indeed been due to wind assistance rather than stupidity (makes a nice change I suppose).

Just before Fenit a direction marker was a bit ambiguous at a junction that (highly unusually) had no marshall in attendance and David almost went down the wrong road. Luckily this was my third time on the course, and when scouting out the course via car before the first running 2 years ago I had gone down the wrong road right at that point, so I knew exactly where we should be heading and a minor disaster was averted (it's a short cul-de-sac and we would have figured it out soon enough, but still!). Luckily that was to be the only potential organisational mishap today, it was excellently organised otherwise.

We got into Fenit passing more runners but witnessed a fall by one of the runners from the sub-3 pacing group, but thankfully he got up unhurt. We turned around before the pier (another change in the course) and headed straight for Tralee.

That's when the wind hit us straight in the face and instead of easing up as we had hoped it seemed to have picked up, and considerably at that, though that may well have been just our perception. The good news was that we had covered over 20 miles already. The bad news was that we would be fighting a stiff breeze all the way into Tralee and it was perfectly clear that this was going to be tough. After jogging my way for most of the way, there finally was some real work to be done.

After a couple of minutes I figured running side-by-side was not the best option and suggested David should tug behind me instead and we would take turns leading every half mile or so. We also caught up with a runner in a red top, who joined us as well. However, not long after David informed me that he was really feeling the effort now and was not sure how much longer he would be able to keep up, so I told him to tuck in and keep going for as long as he could. Thankfully the runner in red took his fair share of leading into the wind and we worked together for a good while. Then we hit the next hill going up to mile 22 and I noticed the footsteps behind me gradually falling back. By the time I had reached the top I knew I was going to be on my own for the rest of the way.

Not long after we merged with the half marathon route and I had to work my way past a lot of slower runners, very reminiscent of Connemara. I did not mind one bit, quite the opposite, it seemed to spur me on and looking at the mile splits now I can see that I picked up the pace again after just starting to slightly flag over the previous mile. I don't know if I passed any more full marathon runners, it was impossible to tell, not that it really mattered. All I wanted at that point is to get to the finish as quickly as possible. I still felt very strong and knew I would definitely be able to keep the effort going to the end, though it certainly required plenty of work and the easy miles were long gone.

There was one more hill that had felt very tough the first year I had run Tralee, a lot easier last year, and somewhere in-between this time. The main difference was that due to the course changes we no longer had to do an extra loop in Tralee and headed straight towards the finish which also meant that hill came much later in the race today, at mile 25 rather than mile 22. It may have felt a bit tougher as a result but it had the major advantage of a downhill final mile, which is a very rare luxury but one I relished today. As long as your quads are still working at that point, and mine were, this is a great way to finish a marathon.

Happy Star of the Laune members
The final streets inside Tralee itself just seemed to fly by and before I knew it I was going underneath the finish banner in a time of 3:06:29, a time I was definitely pleased by. I still felt good, I guess I could have run longer, if not much faster, which is of course just what you want if you're training for an ultra, and one more sign that I'm hitting top form just in time.

I had come 20th overall, which means that the standards are still improving (last year I was 15th in 3:07). I was 3rd man over 45 but since the other two lads were not from Kerry it meant I had once more won my age group in the Kerry county marathon championship, for the third time in a row, though at the M45 level this year. I was well pleased, it was not a bad result for a training run!

The loot of the day

12 Mar
10 miles, 1:19:44, 7:58 pace, HR 140
13 Mar
8 miles, 1:05:20, 8:09 pace, HR 134
14 Mar
5 miles, 40:36, 8:07 pace, HR 138
15 Mar
Tralee marathon, 3:06:29, 7:06 pace, HR 159
   20th overall, 3rd M45, 1st M45 in the Kerry county championship
Weekly Mileage: ~86

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Contrasting Conditions

You would have thought I know by now what time I should set my alarm to for a 10 mile run; after all I must have done hundreds of those in the last few years. However, it seems that is not the case because on Monday morning I got it wrong. To top the annoyance factor, I was awake early anyway because the wind and rain kept banging loudly against our window. By the time I suddenly realised my mistake I had just enough time for 9 miles. Not a biggy, just mildly annoying, Mind, considering the conditions and my tired legs from the speed work and mountain running over the weekend, 9 miles were almost certainly sufficient anyway.

The conditions could not have been any different on Tuesday. It was a bright sunny day and even when I set off it was already bright and the birds were twittering loudly, all of which was a first for the year. It was rather cold (2C/36F) and initially I regretted wearing shorts rather than tights but after a mile or so the legs felt reasonably warmed up. There was virtually no breeze and the lake looked just stunning and incredibly peaceful in the morning light. The legs felt good as well, though I was still able to feel some residual fatigue from the weekend, but that did not take away anything from the enjoyment. I was thinking how lucky I was, running in such stunning scenery, very fit and reasonably healthy (I had a bit of a sore throat, though it did not really bother me). The pace was a little bit faster than most recent runs without the effort or HR being any higher - I really might be getting into shape at just the right time for once!

On Wednesday it was back to being utterly miserable. It only started raining at around 5:30 (I know because it woke me up) and it stopped only 4 or so hours later, but my morning run fell right into that time slot. I wanted to do one light-ish session before the Tralee marathon, with a few miles alternating slightly slower and slightly faster than marathon pace. Since I am not training for a marathon I don't really know what my present marathon pace is (and of course I am not going to race Tralee), so I figured a 3:10(ish) marathon is 7:15 pace and accordingly I alternated 7 and 7:30 miles. Actually, I ran back and forwards on the same piece of road towards Ard-na-Sidhe which is slightly longer than a mile. The last mile and a bit were on the way home, but conditions were still the same.

The exact paces on the movescount website were 6:58 / 7:32 / 6:58 / 7:32 / 7:00 / 7:36 / 7:00 / 7:27, which is a couple of seconds slower than the watch had displayed at the time, which is slightly interesting from a geeky data point of view but rather irrelevant from a training one. I was really please by how the run went and how the pace had felt reasonably comfortable and relaxed at all times.

I still have a bit of a sore throat but looking at my numbers it does not seem to have any effect on my running. There is always the possibility that a more extreme effort (as in the Tralee marathon) will bring up otherwise hidden health issues, but I think I'll be okay. If things start going wrong I'll re-adjust my pace, like I did in Donadea.

As for Turin, I'm half-wishing that the weather will be utterly miserable with hours and hours of wind and rain. After the last few months I sure would be better adapted to those conditions than most of my competitors! (ok, be careful what you wish for!)

Late Update: I just came across this. This is so utterly wrong, stupid and discriminating, words just fail me. I know Sinead (and John as well, of course). She is a real inspiration to visually impaired people, setting a wonderful positive example. What the organisers are thinking is beyond me.

9 Mar
9 miles, 1:11:41, 7:58 pace, HR 140
10 Mar
10 miles, 1:16:43, 7:40 pace, HR 142
11 Mar
am: 12.25 miles, 1:31:02, 7:26 pace, HR 151
   6:58 / 7:32 / 6:58 / 7:32 / 7:00 / 7:36 / 7:00 / 7:27
pm: 5 miles, 38:10, 7:38 pace, HR 141

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Pleasantly Tired

With the back-to-back marathons still only a week ago I had a fairly low mileage weekend. I wasn't even remotely tempted by the 3-in-2 weekend in Ballina, but kudos to all who did that one. I opted for a couple of back-to-back workouts instead.

After an easy Friday I was ready for a few faster miles on Saturday. Normally that would have meant a 10 mile loop through Killorglin with 8 miles at tempo pace, but we had a yellow wind warning and the strong gale force winds would have meant 5 miles where 6-minute miles would have felt reasonably easy and 5 miles home where 8-minute miles would have been a challenge, so I opted for a different workout.

The Ard-na-Sidhe road always provides a little bit of shelter, at the very least it takes the worst of the sting out of the wind. It is just over a mile long which makes it suitable for mile repeats but it's not particularly flat which makes it a bit more challenging. I ran 2 miles in each direction, with the odd numbered ones with the wind but slightly uphill and the even numbered ones against the wind but slightly downhill, though the wind was so strong that it definitely had a greater effect than the gradient that day.

6:13 (168), 6:19 (171), 6:17 (170), 6:18 (166)

I got the first two slightly wrong by running too hard, especially towards the end, but the last two felt just spot on, just the right intensity level I wanted to hit. I don't do a lot of speedwork, usually just 2 or 3 sessions closer to a race when I want to sharpen up, and I never try to give it my all. Running their speed workouts too hard is one of the most common mistakes runners make and I generally try to avoid falling into the same trap myself.

The legs definitely felt the effort for the rest of the day and I binned an eventual second run that day. Playing with the kids was a better way to spend the Saturday in every regard possible.

On Sunday I ran up to Windy Gap again. It was an unexpectedly beautiful day, even if it was still fairly cold and windy nearer the top of the mountain, as the name implies. Two weeks ago I had felt like dying on that climb so I decided to run up once and see how I would feel, and only if all systems were green would I descend into Glenbeigh and tackle the mountain once more from the other side. I was actually surprised by how well I felt (I was tired but nothing like last time), so I did indeed do the second climb, alright. I didn't particularly push the effort, there is no need to do so on such a prolonged and very steep climb, and once more felt okay when I reached the top, though I was not at all tempted to add a third repeat.

The mileage over the weekend was only just a touch over 20 miles, which I'm sure is a lot less than most or all of my fellow competitors have been doing, but I feel more tired than if I had done a long run today. I did 52 miles last weekend and I'll do another marathon next week, so the long runs are there as well; this time was more a "quality" based weekend, though I hate that term.

I was still recovering from Limerick this week. Next week will see bigger mileage again.

6 Mar
8 miles, 1:02:54, 7:59 pace, HR 143
7 Mar
8.25 miles, 1:01:32, 7:27 pace, HR 155
   incl 4 x 1 miles in 6:13 (168), 6:19 (171), 6:17 (170), 6:18 (166)
8 Mar
12.15 miles, 1:53:54, 9:22 pace, HR 147
   Windy Gap x 2
Weekly Mileage: 61+

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Switch

I haven't been feeling well for long stretches of this training cycle. I did not do myself any favours by getting a bit ahead of myself (no news here) and for weeks things were not looking good. It got so far that I seriously started to question my place in the team - I know I qualified on merit but that seemed a long time ago and I could not see how I could possibly do myself justice in Turin. Go to the biggest race of my life out of shape and far away from peak fitness? That prospect seemed very real.

It feels like a switch has been flicked on Monday. I felt pretty wrecked on Sunday evening after a weekend of back-to-back marathons and really was not looking forward to Monday's run. If you have been following this blog even for a reasonably short time you know that I have a set recovery protocol after every marathon/short ultra, which consists of running 5 easy miles every morning until I feel better and then gradually increase the daily distance. It works exceptionally well and I tend to bounce back from these long efforts very quickly. However, the first 2 days of this regime usually resemble a form of torture when the last things I want to do is hobble for 45-ish minutes on stiff, tired, hurting legs. It's only the fact that I know for sure how well this works that gets me out of the door.

The first mile on Monday was just that, and a fairly sharp pain in my left shin only added to the misery, giving me reasons to worry that I had picked up an injury on the Loch Derg trail. The stiffness and the shin pain mostly dissipated over the next few miles, but the shin really started hurting again later that day. It oscillated between being barely noticeable and excruciatingly painful several times; on one occasion I wasn't even able to walk to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea as I was unable to put any weight on the leg. Thankfully it got markedly better towards the evening but I was now seriously worried. It did not feel like shin splints (as far as I remember - I last had those almost 10 years ago), though it seemed to be in the same area.

A good night's sleep can do wonder for you and the very next morning my world was transformed. The stiffness in the legs had miraculously disappeared and even the shin was 95% better - I could still feel it, but only just. The run went very well, so well in fact that I was immediately sorry I was only doing 5 miles.

Wednesday was even better, I just about managed to resist temptation to run more miles and the legs certainly felt very, very well, better than on any day for several months. I don't know where all that good feeling came from all of a sudden but I sure am not complaining.

With all the positive energy it seemed reasonable to finally add a second run to my days. I had been doing that before Belfast, and while I'm not trying to copy that training cycle entirely I don't want to change it too much either. Right up to now I always felt I needed recovery more than miles but this has now changed. I got the okay from Niamh, which may have been the biggest hurdle, and off I went. Again I felt great, though I most likely ran a bit too fast. It was very bright when I left but at the turnaround point I noticed that it was getting dark very quickly and ran home at pace because I felt unsafe. There are a lot more cars on the road at this time of day than during my usual run hour in the morning and I preferred to get home as quickly as possible.

Thursday was similar to Wednesday, except that I did add a few miles to my morning run. It was quite windy but it is finally getting warmer. For the first time this week I could not feel my shin at all, which is great news. I guess I got away with yet another one. The only thing that is still hurting from the weekend is my shoulder. There is a big chunk of skin missing from where I landed on that concrete bridge and it's still rather sore. It's definitely a rather unusual running injury, thats for sure.

I have one more reminder from those weekend runs, namely me feet still don't look clean. I've had no less than 7 showers since Sunday, but I can still see some dark streaks at the bottom of my soles. That mud must have injected itself into my feet. Is that what life as a trail runner is like?

2 Mar
5 miles, 44:51, 8:58 pace, HR 135
3 Mar
5 miles, 40:46, 8:09 pace, HR 140
4 Mar
am: 5 miles, 40:39, 8:08 pace, HR 138
pm: 5 miles, 37:45, 7:32 pace, HR 144
5 Mar
am: 8 miles, 1:04:28, 8:03 pace, HR 141
pm: 5 miles, 38:08, 7:37 pace, HR 143

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Back To Back

This was always planned as the biggest training weekend before the championships. Six weeks out seems just about perfect for a big weekend, it leaves enough time to recover and big gains can be made that way. When I heard that the Marathon Club were putting on back-to-back marathons that weekend it seemed like a gift from heaven as I was desperately looking for training opportunities, and the thought of running 50 or more miles on my own just never appealed. I signed up straight away.

I did start having doubts when I realised that those were trail marathons. It's not that I hate trails - I do spend plenty of time on the Kerry Way - but I had hated the last trail marathon when the stones on the trail really started hurting my feet. Then they had to change the course completely as the original Loch Derg trail was deemed unsuitable for a race (runners would have had dozens of opportunities to get lost, apparently) and we were switched to a trail loop close to Limerick instead, which was a lot less scenic but much more manageable.

Limerick is close enough to home not to require a hotel and I did not even have to leave home in the dark, which took on extra significance after my car crash three weeks ago. I got there in good time, got ready, and off we went.

When on a training run I prefer not to lead a race as that invariably leads to running faster than planned. However, as I set off at 8-minute pace nobody else took off any faster than that. Instead, Aidan Hogan, who I had run the Oylegate marathon with, joined me up front. Both of us would be back tomorrow and nobody had any inclinations of racing this one, so we just jogged along easily. I checked my watch after a couple of miles and we were just a few seconds per mile ahead of target, which seemed just right.

The majority of the loop was on a trail but there were a few miles on road as well. We certainly noticed how much easier the road bits were and we invariably and unintentionally sped up a bit on those, though we never got carried away. The weather was ideal with nice temperatures and a cloudy sky, but we were all aware of the weather forecast and the Orange wind and rain warning later on, though we expected to be finished before that struck - at least for today!

The course sounded a bit complicated when described the first time, I sure had troubles following once the explanation had gone past the first three junctions, but it actually was rather straightforward, with one little loop at the start, an out-and-back section and one section along both sides of the canal. It left plenty of opportunities to meet all the other runners on the road, but it also meant getting dirty on the muddy bits of the trail, trying to pass each other amongst the puddles.

The first loop passed quickly and the second one as well. In fact, I barely remember anything about them. Aidan and me just kept ticking along, chatting as we did, and not breaking too much of a sweat. However, I definitely started dragging on loop three. I was still able to run with Aidan without slowing him down but the effort was higher than I would have liked. Mostly he set the pace and I just followed. I did contemplate slowing down a bit and letting him go but could never get myself to do so. I didn't care a dot about leading the race - our pace was so slow that a "win" wouldn't have meant much - but I did not fancy running on my own and decided to remain with company.

Somehow I started feeling better again once we started on loop four. Maybe I could start smelling the finish line but whatever the reason was, running definitely felt easier again and also a lot more enjoyable. I no longer had to worry if the effort was too high, it felt just right again. However, with a couple of miles left Aidan enquired if we were on time to break 3:30 and a quick look at my watch - the first one in over 20 miles - revealed that we were basically on 3:20 pace, definitely faster than planned, though overall the effort had not been hard, a few rough miles after the halfway mark notwithstanding.

We finished together in 3:19:41. We had been the fastest runners that had set off at the main 9:30 start but a couple of lads from the early 8:00 start had run faster than we had done (not that I actually cared). A lovely hot shower and a few sandwiches later I hit the road. The legs felt a lot more sore than expected in the evening but a good night's sleep took care of that and I felt right as rain when I woke up on Sunday morning.

Rain was the operative word. I might not have noticed much of a high wind in Kerry but it was raining a lot, and to make things worse it got heavier the closer I got to Limerick. I expected the trail to be rather messy and brought my trail running shoes (Inov-8 Terrafly) instead of my usual road runner. Those shoes work very well on mixed road and trail events and I hoped they would stop me from slipping and sliding all over the place. They were heavier than my roadies but that seemed a price worth paying for a change.

We were still all in the tea room at the designated start time of 9:30 and I joked that we would start as soon as the rain would stop ("what, some time tomorrow?"). I was gobsmacked when we went to the start 10 minutes later in bright blue sunshine - a gift from the Gods, just in time.

I made a point starting a couple of runners behind from the front and let Aidan and his new buddy go off the front straight away. Today I really wanted to run at my pace, not somebody else's. I ran the first two miles with Ruthann but decided that she was running a tad faster as well and dropped behind. A guy in a red jacket joined me for a bit but eventually he also pulled ahead. It was perfectly clear that I would be running the next 20+ miles on my own. If you really want to run at your own pace that's basically inevitable, I suppose.

The legs felt surprisingly good early on. After a couple of miles I (and probably everyone else as well) decided that there was absolutely no point in prancing gingerly around the puddles in the slippery mud and started running straight through them, which was easier and still left you with the exact same amount of dirt on your legs. That was fine with the fellow runners but I bet a few local hikers out for a walk on the trail that day got a bit more splattered than they would have expected.

I was going at just a few seconds below 8 minutes per mile, just as planned for a change. I hoped to avoid the rough few miles from the day before by eating a gel after each lap and I also had brought along a bottle of Perpetuem, my protein sports drink for Ultras, which I hoped would keep me fuelled and going.

Just like Saturday, the first loop went by quickly. The second loop was more noticeable, not because of my legs but the rapidly changing weather. First it started raining, pretty much right as I started that loop, which did the trail no favours. The sun came back for a bit but then the wind picked up considerably and it started hail stoning. It caught me at probably the worst possible part of the course, heading right into the wind and without the shelter of the woods that would have been there for the majority of the course. Thankfully it did not last long but the wind kept blowing.

Starting my third lap the wind picked up a lot and now things were quickly turning rather wild. Gale force or even strong gale force winds had me almost running on the spot for a bit, the trail was totally churned up by now and my spirits were dropping like a lead balloon. Once more I had a few very rough miles, four or five of them, where I started to feel rather sorry for myself and started wondering why on Earth I was doing this to myself. The thought that a bit of suffering was good training for an ultra runner was quickly losing its shine (those things always sound better in theory) and I really wanted this to be over. The pace started to suffer and I started to doubt that I would finish under 3:30, though to be honest I did not particularly care. Back-to-back marathons are not something you do if a good finishing time is of any importance. With about a mile left of the third loop my toe somehow seemed to catch the only stone on the entire trail and I promptly dived head first into the mud, getting a mouth full in the process. I was more in shock than hurt, though my calf muscle threatened to cramp so I got up as quickly as I could and proceeded as if nothing had happened, except that I was covered head to toe in muck, of course.

Miraculously, just like yesterday I started feeling a lot better again on the last lap. Funny how things work at times and I do wonder if an adrenaline boost following my fall had something to do with it. I should have been utterly exhausted after almost 50 miles in two days but was feeling surprisingly good. I caught the runner in the red jacket, though that was entirely down to him hitting the wall rather than me giving chase. The course had become very quiet by now because most of the early starters had finished by now (they even had a 7 o'clock start so that people would be able to watch the rugby) and it was just a matter of putting one leg in front of the other until I reached the finish. Some local youngsters were looking rather confused, asking if the marathon was on today (yup, but I guess they meant the Great Limerick run which is still a few weeks off).

The pace picked up again, which at this point was almost certainly down to me sensing the finish. On the last mile of trail I got closer and closer to a bike rider and just as I was wondering how best to pass I once more stumbled while going over one of the little concrete humpback bridges, this time catching the fall with my left shoulder instead. Again I was not hurt and I quickly got up and ran the last quarter mile before yet another mishap had time to catch up with me. I finished in about 3:28:30 (give or take a couple of seconds), happy to be done but actually feeling surprisingly okay.

On the drive home the legs actually felt better than they had on Saturday, though once I made it home I started feeling rather wrecked with the legs, the stomach and the shoulder all complaining.

Recovery is one the card again. Five easy miles every day - it really works.

27 Feb
8 miles, 1:03:06, 7:53 pace, HR 141
28 Feb
Loch Derg trail marathon; back-to-back, day 1
3:19:41, 7:37 pace, HR 154
1 Mar
Loch Derg trail marathon; back-to-back, day 2
3:28:30, 7:57 pace, HR 150
Weekly Mileage: 93