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


  1. Great report as usual Thomas and congratulations on a solid run. Things are looking good for the big one in April.

  2. Roll on Turin - looks like you're in top form right on time! Good one Thomas.

  3. Great result - obviously in sub-3 shape, tapered and racing hard. Eyes are closed because of slow reactions - that's why you're not a sprinter ;-)

  4. Looks like you have your MOJO well and truly back, great to see.

  5. Congrats to your 3rd Kerry county championship winning!