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


  1. Great to see that the current training cycle is over for you Thomas. It's has been one of your tougher cycles but all will come good in 2 weeks for you.

  2. It's great that your were able to be philosophical about the poor race directions - perhaps this type of event will help with the mental resilience come race day.

    In an ultra you are on your feet for so long, eating and drinking so much food that it's almost impossible to do everything right every mile, some mishaps creep in. How you handle them can make a big difference - both in spotting mistakes early so you get back on track (perhaps literally ;-) but also to put problems behind you so you can get quickly back into your race focus.

    Looking at your runs since the marathon you seem to be bouncing back quickly too, good pace for a given heart rate. I did a marathon just over a week ago as a training run, and slower (3:34) and at a lower HR (averaged 145) than your's but I've noticed that my HR has been elevated for almost all my runs in the last week. 'm still pleased with how I'm recovering, certainly faster than I've done before with any other marathon run, but sill way behind how quickly you are bouncing back.

    This of course is exactly where you'd want to be a few weeks before a big race, you've done the training, your body is well adapted to the demands you are putting on it and recovers extremely quickly. You are ready. (on rocking the Austrian team T-Shirt too :-)