Monday, April 27, 2015

Slow Recovery

I owe the 24 hours race a lot. It elevated me from average part-time jogger at any other distance to a holder of 2 national medals and an international runner to boot. I have represented the country of my birth in a world championship, which still seems a ridiculous statement, even months after I qualified and was selected, and after the event itself. For some reason that I cannot explain myself I seem to be able to cope with the demands of a 24 hours race better than most. In short, I have much to be grateful for.

But there is one thing that I absolutely hate about the 24 hours race:

It's the recovery period afterwards.

Going on past experience it will take 3-4 months until I finally feel more or less recovered. Until then, things will gradually get better, but that's the thing. They can't help but getting better because I re-start at such a low level.

I started running again last week. I could barely run, it was such a pathetic shuffle; I was almost unable to lift the legs. I don't know what it looked like - I would not want to know!

One week later and my watch clearly tells me that things are a lot better already but I can barely feel it. The first mile of each run especially is still a pathetic hobble. I know I'm not exactly a spring chicken at the age of 45 but I feel twice my age for the first 5-10 minutes of each run. Once the muscles warm up things do improve but running an 8-minute mile is still a bit of a challenge. Having said that, I'm not actually trying to run a certain pace. I just run at whatever pace feels natural - the one thing I'm consciously trying to do is keep a reasonably quick cadence, and even that becomes automatic after a mile or two.

The pace was a bit quicker over the weekend, but at the expense of a higher HR - not that I would have noticed without the watch. When I'm in shape, I really have to push the effort to average 151 bpm. Right now that happens without any real effort.

My HR/pace ratio is improving, slowly, after literally being off the scale at first. Still, there is a lot of scope for further improvements.

I was just dead tired on Monday. Not only did I have to survive 2 birthday parties for the twins, the unexpected nice weather meant a few hours of work in the garden, which I am no longer used after teh winter, and of course today just about everything hurts, from my legs to my back to my shoulders. As  a result, I cut today's mileage back to 5 again - mostly to give me an extra 20 minutes of sleep - well worth it! Oh, and those 2 birthday parties over one weekend meant that my weight is basically back to pre-race levels!

24 Apr
5 miles, 43:21, 8:38 pace, HR 147
25 Apr
5 miles, 40:38, 8:07 pace, HR 151
26 Apr
8 miles, 1:04:56, 8:07 pace, HR 151
27 Apr
5 miles, 42:08, 8:25 pace, HR 142

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I did a double take on the weighing scales Tuesday morning. I had not weighed myself for a couple of weeks. I usually put on a couple of pounds during the weekend and especially the week after a target race, so was expecting something like 148 pounds, hoping for it to be under 150. It was 141.8! That's the lowest weight in years, the only other time in my adulthood I have been so light was 7 years ago when I had pneumonia and been unable to eat for a couple of weeks.

I'm sure the stomach upsets I had 2 days before Turin are a major contributor to that unexpected weight loss, which now makes me wonder if they indeed did have a negative effect on my race - up to now I had thought that I had gotten away with it, if only just.

Whatever the circumstances, I am reasonably pleased with my performance in Turin. It was a tough course on a tough day and I gave it everything I had - I could not have asked for more, and neither could the team. Before the race I probably would have been slightly disappointed with 215.7k but afterwards it seemed a perfectly reasonable performance. Not outstanding and not entirely what I would have hoped for but easily good enough to justify my place on the team.

As I sat there on the sofa the other night with a glass filled with alcohol, a mountain of chocolate half eaten, watching the football on the telly, I thought to myself, so this is how the Normals live. I guess I could get used to that - better start running before I do!

And with that, we move on. Another target race done, another cycle begins. I'm not ready to retire from competitive running just yet, so this will go on for a while longer. I started on Tuesday morning with a very slow 5 mile jog, starting with my tried-and-tested recovery protocol. Usually it's not quite as slow as that, but after running 134 miles my legs aren't quite bouncy yet. I will still be able to feel the lingering effects from Turin until August if previous experiences are anything to go by. At least it's already getting better.
21 Apr
5 miles, 47:06, 9:25 pace, HR 144
22 Apr
5 miles, 45:48, 9:10 pace, HR 143
23 Apr
5 miles, 47:59, 8:48 pace, HR 144

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Work Of Fiction

Darling, I love you, you deserve a reward for all the support you have given me over the years. What about we go on a week long holiday. Let's leave the kids at home, just you and me.

Mediterranean sounds good!

What about Greece? I've been there, it's a magical place, we'll just love it.

Let's go in late September. The weather will still be nice without being scorching hot. It's the best time to go there. I found us some lovely place!






Oh look there's a race on. What a coincidence! Just the one little run, though - you don't mind, do you?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

2015 24 Hours World Championships, Turin. Part II, The Race

After going through the pre-race check-in and having a nice little chat with American runner Maggie Guterl we assembled at the start line. The Austrian team consisted of Heinz (national champion as well as the team's character), Klemens (12 hours champion but has yet to run a decent 24 hrs race), Andreas (rapidly improving youngster), myself (what the f*ck is he doing here), Georg (veteran), Gerhard (grandad) and Tom (48 hours specialist) for the men and Ulli, Alex and Pauline for the far better looking gender.

At 10 o'clock we went off. A couple of hundred metres behind us the open race, which would be held over the exact same course, would start as well. A couple of Latvians and one Lithuanian did a Billy Holden and took off at almost sprinting pace but some of the real favourites like Germany's Florian Reus and Japan's Yoshikazu Hara were moving rather rapidly as well, except they were expected to keep that going.

I started at whatever pace felt comfortable, which turned out to be about 9-minute miles, right where I would have expected it, really. Eoin Keith was right in front of me, chatting with a Serbian runner he had met at TdG last year, and when I went past them I quickly found myself right behind 4 of the Americans. That definitely surprised me. The American team is very strong (I would not have a hope of making it) and such a conservative start was not what I would have expected. In marked contrast, the American ladies for most of it started rather aggressively and were way ahead of the gents.

1 lady, 4 strong runners and me.
Photo by Franco Varesio.
I then found myself running beside the one American girl who did not seem intent on flying out of the blocks. Her name was Jennifer Hoffman and she was a bit disappointed about not being one of the 6 ladies on the scoring panel despite being the national champion. However, she very much appreciated being here at all and we ran together for 2 or 3 laps until she started moving ahead of me. At that point I realised one major difference between this race and the likes of Belfast - the runners were almost all running in silence instead of the constant chat that goes on in the races I am used to. Maybe it was time for me to shut up and get going as well.

The first lap of the course had been just over a mile and all subsequent ones were exactly 2 kilometres long with a few corners and one u-turn. It featured a lap through the stadium itself, which was great because it provided facilities for the supporters and provided some great atmosphere, but we had to pay the price for it by having to run down a fairly narrow, winding ramp with an elevation drop of about 6 metres to get into the stadium and then up again to get out. All the national support facilities were on the backstretch of the track, a very long line of white tents, most of them covered in national flags for easy identification even when the runners were tired. My own crew was Petra, who also looked after Georg. It worked very well but caused a few panicky moments when we both arrived at the tent in very quick succession.

National champ Heinz had lapped me a couple of times already and each time made a little joke. He also called me Bubi, which made me laugh because while that had been my nickname all throughout school I had not been called that for about 20 years. The one joke I could have done without was whispering into my ear "this is going to get really, really tough today" because as soon as he said that it all felt tougher straight away, but I managed to get over it quickly again. Unfortunately, that was the last time I saw him and when Andreas started talking to me a couple of hours later he told me that Heinz had ruptured his Achilles and literally had to be carried off the track (it eventually turned out to be a muscle problem - either way, his race was over). Me: "That's the team score gone, then" A:"It's down to us now" Me:"That's the team score gone, then!" I guess Heinz wasn't the only one with silly jokes on the day.

I never knew my place in the field but I was 115th after 5 hours. There was a screen at the far end of the stadium that displayed your name and number of laps completed when you crossed the timing mat but you had to be quick to look because you would drop off the screen in a matter of seconds. I did noticed that my number of laps was always amongst the higher ones amongst the ones displayed but since we shared the course with the ladies as well as the open race this obviously did not mean that I was doing all that well in the men's field, which was all that counted today.

Due to logistics, my feeding strategy had to be changed from Belfast. I was unable to get some proper spuds, and even if I had gotten some I still would have been unable to cook them, so that was my most tried and tested food stuff off the menu straight away. Instead I brought a lot of sweets and dates (best replacement for potatoes I could think of) as well as a couple of gels and 2 kinds of sports drink (High 5 and Perpetuem). To get some more variety going I started to take some stuff off the general table, especially once I started getting tired. There was one drink that I thought was grapefruit juice and I must have taken close to a dozen cups over a few hours when I overheard one of the helpers explaining to a runner that it was alcohol-free beer! Oops. I decided to hold off for a while.

After several hours I noticed that my watch had rubbed my left wrist raw. I probably could have prevented that by tightening the strap by one more notch. It wasn't a big problem, I just switched it over to the right arm. Thankfully that was fine for the rest of the race as I didn't have a third option.

John and me
Photo by Niamh Swan
I reached 50 miles/80k after about 8 hours and pretty much immediately had my first major slump of the day. That is to be expected. Everyone, and I really mean everyone, including the elites, will suffer at times in a 24 hours race and it is the way you deal with these lows that makes or breaks your race. I felt absolutely awful and I was only a third into the race! The main thing that kept me going was the fact that I knew I would be feeling better eventually so I just kept my head down and plodded along, most likely at a slower pace though I never paid too much attention to the watch. It was soon after that point that I took my first dose of paracetamols. I absolutely hate taking pain killers, it can lead to serious complications and long term health problems are clearly not worth it, but there was a point where I would have done anything to lessen the pain. They did work - it is usually a once-off shot - and I soon felt better again. Had I felt better without the pills? Who knows.

It had become apparent that Eoin Keith had troubles today (apparently an old injury had flared up) and when I passed John O'Regan three times in quick succession I knew that it wasn't his day either. I paused to ask what was wrong; he said his stomach was acting up in the heat and he was basically waiting for the sun to go down to get going properly. Eddie, the third man on Irish team, just did his steady laps without any fuss, as he always does. On the Irish ladies side, Susan had started rather aggressively and was starting to show the strains but Ruthann was looking imperious. I knew she was in incredible form and had told anyone who wanted to hear it, and a few who didn't, that she had a realistic shot at a medal, and nothing I had seen so far had changed my mind.

Eventually it got dark. This was another change from what I am used to, Belfast starts in the evening and you do the night first. The temperatures dropped and most runners changed into warmer tops. I did not. I figured that we now had finally reached the conditions I am used to. I have trained all winter mostly at 6/7 o'clock in the morning; the cold was a permanent companion through the months.

I reached 100k in about 9:50, which was a couple of minutes slower than Belfast. It was at that point that I figured that today's total would not match up to my best performance. Maybe I should have run a bit slower during the daytime heat? Too late now anyway. Just do the best you can.

By 11 hours I had made some progress through the field and was now in 94th position. With 179 men at the championship race, I was honing in on the top half. Having said that, I was blissfully unaware of any of that. What I did know was that Hara, the Japanese favourite, was leading by a big stretch. He looked untouchable. He is very small and can't weigh much but half his weight seems to be in his quads, which are absolutely gigantic. He looks like they took the quads from a weightlifter and grafted them onto a particularly wiry runner. There might be a lesson in there, though I very much doubt I will ever resemble anything like that, no matter what.

By now I still had not gone to the toilet! I had drunk buckets of fluids but most of it came back out as sweat during the hot day (hot for Ireland that is! I'm sure the Australians are wondering what the heck I am talking about). Once the sun went down and the temperatures dropped I could slowly feel my bladder filling up, but it was a rather slow process. As I was getting close to half time I decided to pay the portapotty a visit. I still wasn't exactly desperate to go, I just wanted to make sure that some urine had indeed gathered in my bladder by now. If not that would have been a serious sign of kidney problems. Thankfully there was no need to worry. My kidneys had indeed been working,

12 hours
Photo by Franco Varesio
The open race was really starting to bother me. While there were clearly some very good runners in that race (the top 2 finished ahead of me and the winner particularly would have been better off in the championship race), many were not. While I am obviously delighted that ordinary people attempt extraordinary feats, the World championship doesn't seem the obvious place to do so. Some of them were walking 3 abreast at times and especially on the narrow tunnel they did cause a few problems. We constantly had to weave around these runners, and after a few hours it really started to get to me.

Such thoughts were a clear sign that I was headed into negative thoughts territory and just after half time I asked my crew for my ipod shuffle. I never ever run with a music player - expect in races of at least 100 miles when there comes the time when focusing on your body is no longer advisable. Music players had specifically been permitted and I noticed that the American ladies were all tuned in right from the start. My player is a fifth generation shuffle. It is with this generation that Apple have finally managed to miniaturise a gadget past the point of usefulness. The thing is so tiny that the clip is very hard to use at the best of times. Now imagine attempting the same after 12 hours of running and in the dark. I kept trying. I had already been swearing loudly in 2 different languages and was about to start on a third one when I was finally able to clip it onto my shirt. Almost an entire kilometre away from the stadium I was finally having some Sex on Fire.

For the next few hours I was cruising along relatively comfortable. The music did help to distract my mind, especially when AC/DC was blaring through the earphones. I'm not sure what the pace was but I think it remained reasonably constant. What I did seem to notice was that I was one of the slowest runners in the men's field. I rarely overtook others out on the road. However, many others took a lot of little breaks, some even bigger breaks; many stopped completely at the food tables. I, on the other hand, always tried to keep running. Food and drinks were handed and consumed on the go and there wasn't much reason to ever stop running. The one part of the course where I did overtake other championship runners was the ramp - in either direction I was able to run faster than most and the downhill especially seemed to work in my favour. I just let gravity pull me down and it even helped to keep the momentum for the tiny little subsequent rise onto the track itself.

This got me to 15 hours and then my world just seemed to collapse. From one lap to the next I was virtually unable to lift the knees any more. A look at the watch told me that I was shuffling along at a pathetic 13 minute miles. I can walk faster than that so I decided to do just that. Turns out, after 15 hours my walking pace suffers as well and it wasn't faster after all, though it did not hurt quite so much. At the tent I told my handler that I thought my race was over, I could not run any more, before slouching off despondently into the night once again. I figured I might recover somewhat if I ate a decent amount of food, just for energy, and was barely able to contain my excitement when I saw a big plate of spuds on the general food table. The one bit of magic food I had been lacking! I took a massive amount - one of the German coaches even commented on my appetite. When I passed our tent Reinhold, the team manager, ordered me inside and told me to sit down and have the physio try her magic. This was completely against my instincts; as I said, I prefer to keep moving at all times, but I knew straight away that we really had to try something else. She started to work on my quads but I told her that the problem was with my hamstrings. I'm not sure what exactly she did next. She pushed her thumb very hard into my hamstrings and told me to stretch the leg. She tried it on 3 or 4 subtly different positions and knew she had hit the right spot when I started screaming. Then the procedure was repeated with the other leg, with the same results. Reinhold also made me eat a bit of raw ginger to settle the stomach. At least my face when chewing that disgusting root caused plenty of merriment in the busy Austrian tent. She also insisted on putting some bandage around my knees. They had been rubbing together and it looked rather gruesome with plenty of smeared blood but I could not even feel it. Once the bandage was on I looked okay again and was finally allowed to leave the tent. Despite all the activity it had been an extremely efficient stop and had only taken about 4 minutes.

The team was in a bit of trouble. Our number 2 runner, Klemens, had once more been unable to transform his incredible 12 hours ability into the longer distance and Gerhard, who never had managed to get going at all, had dropped out as well. Time to get going and rescue what there was left to rescue, I suppose.

I walked for about 5 steps and then started to run again. This was a miracle! I was able to run again! I had the time lost during the enforced stop made up within 2 laps and was able to resume my happy cruising pace for a while longer (I was doing 10-ish minute miles around that the time). 100 miles were reached at some point after 16:30 (not entirely sure) and I was now comfortably in the top half of the field in 76th position, not that I knew anything about that.

At some point I took another dose of painkillers but they just puffed away empty into the void and provided no relief. I was past that point, I suppose. Time to HTFU.

Around 3 or 3:30 am I once more dropped down the ramp into the stadium and something felt differently. As soon as I turned the corner I could see the problem. Or, I couldn't see a thing. What! The! F*ck! The stadium was pitch dark!

The floodlights had gone out! A few dozen people had brought along headlamps, something that had not even occurred to me, and those was the only source of light. You could just about make out the shadowy shapes of runners right in front of you and it was really hard to find the right food tent, and of course the handlers could not see us either, so I shouted every time I was near the tent. To add to the spooky atmosphere, there was a strong smell of burned plastic in the air. The scoreboard was not working, obviously, but thankfully the timing mats were, so at least the lap data was not lost.

The lights in the park were still on, it was just the 400 meters in the stadium itself that were in the dark. After a while 2 big fire engines came blaring along and after 3 or 4 laps in darkness I turned into stadium once more and Happy Days! the floodlights were back on.

The next time I could not believe my eye was when Hara was walking! Up to then he had looked untouchable and his lead at that point was well over 4 laps. Maybe he is human after all. He dropped out soon after.

Another top class runner in trouble was Ivan Cudin, the reigning Spartathlon champion. Maybe the fact that this was a home championship for him had put too much pressure on him? He may not have been fully fit coming into today, which is a problem in a 24 hours race.

Team mate Tom told me that he was taking some time off. This was so much against my own instincts that he had to say it twice before I could comprehend the meaning. It's the mentality of the 48 hours runner, I suppose. They do take rests.

One part of me kept telling me to start making deals when it would be acceptable to start walking. I managed to shut it up but it came back more and more frequently. I passed 18 hours, the point when I had started run/walking in Belfast, and I was still running, albeit quite a bit behind the mileage I had done that day, but at least there was some progress being done at some aspects.

Another couple of hours later I went down that ramp again, this time to be greeted by a cloud of very thick smoke and more burning smell, this time from the other side of the main stand. The race, of course, just went on. Another while later we heard the familiar sound of the big fire engines once more. The boys were back for another visit. We certainly kept them busy that night!

At 19:26 my watch stopped recording. I should not have worn the HR strap. Ah well. It still kept going as a normal watch.

Faking it after 21:36, almost 200k
Photo by Martin Mayrhofer
By 20 hours I was in 64th position and the team manager seemed happy enough. I know I am not a fast runner, but this really was a classic hare and turtle scenario. A lot of runners had gone off too fast and now the turtle was crawling past them as they were taking their rest breaks.

At that point I was finally unable to keep running. I switched into run/walk. In Belfast, that had been easy, just run the straights and walk the curves. Here it was a bit more complicated. For about the second half of the course it was marked every 50 meters, before that I had to mostly guess. Also, my legs threatened to buckle every time I had to step onto the track after running down the ramp. I had to be careful.

At some point I no longer took the food from my handler. I think she was still relatively inexperienced in regards to ultra runners and when I just waved her away she looked really confused. The rest of the Austrian crew had seen it all before, of course. I think they told her to badger me into taking some drink at some laps, because that's what she did from here on until the rest of the race.

Unfortunately, at around the same time Ruthann finally started to falter after looking incredibly good for most of the race. She gradually lost her medal places and with 45 minutes remaining her husband eventually dragged her off the track - quite literally from what he told me afterwards, and against her will but with her health in mind. She is an absolutely awesome runner. She came so close to a medal this time, but there will be more championships in the future.

The sun arrived much later than I expected it. My watch said 7:09 am when I finally saw a red fire ball rising between two houses.

It was just a question to keep going. Don and Brian, the two Irish lads who were running in the open race, both finished very strongly but both had to take some time off during the night which cost them in their totals. I know Brian especially really wanted to beat me (that's ok, I wanted to beat him as well), but when at some point late in the race I saw my name with 95 laps and his with 85 it was clear that he would have to wait for another time. He is a damn good runner - it is absolutely inevitable that one day he will finish a 24 hrs race ahead of me. He asked me if I thought he had a realistic shot at 200k and I told him to go for it. For a while I'm sure he hated me for saying that and he came so close, 199k, which was good enough for 5th place in the open race; well done!

With about 22 hours gone I visited the portapotty again, only for the second time in the race. May I just say that whoever had left it in that state was a complete and utter pig! Sitting down was out of the question but I could still use it (as long as I managed to ignore the utterly filthy surroundings) - this was a good time to be male. The one thing I noticed straight away were the streaks of red blood in my urine. Bloody urine is almost always caused by running for hours with an empty bladder and the walls of the bladder rubbing against each other, causing some blood to seep into it. This is completely harmless as such - the problem is when the blood is caused by other things, especially kidney problems, which can be very dangerous. I figured that since I had indeed been running with an empty bladder for many hours earlier today this was almost guaranteed to be the case and ventured on. I decided not to take any more painkillers, though, just in case - not that they would have done any good at that point anyway.

Team mate Tom had eventually rejoined the race after 3 hours of break but was obviously not going to end up in the team scoring positions, justifying the manager's decision to leave me in there. Tom is a very nice guy but if he had beaten me while not being used as a scorer, that really would have stung.

Almost there!
Photo by Niamh Swan
At some point me and Andreas were pretty much level but he was having a much stronger finish than me and pulled away significantly in the final few hours. He was one of the few athletes today who set a new PB - a remarkable feat on such a difficult course. I have to mention team mate Alexandra, who achieved a new PB as well. Respect!

My legs picked it up again when they started sensing the finish and I was finally running more than walking again. With 11 or 12 minutes to go I left the stadium for a final time. An entire lap did not seem possible but I would at least be back very close and Niamh might see me actually finish.

It's amazing how this works. I actually managed to run the entire final lap and while I do not have the lap splits I am pretty sure that it was the fastest lap of the entire second half of my race. I was racing down the ramp when the one minute to go signal came and did my best sprint impression to get to the timing mat one more time to just add one more lap. I got there with a couple of seconds to spare.There were three runners just ahead of me, including a Japanese and a Czech runner, and if I'd had 10 more seconds I would have gotten them but I didn't and I finished just behind them. As it turns out, they both had been on the same lap - position 58 would have been achievable.

Ah well. 60th in the Worlds is hardly a bad result for someone who started running with a 4:06 and a 4:36 marathon! There were plenty of hugs and tears, for fellow competitors, team members, crew and of course family. I was so glad that I had brought Niamh and the kids along. This was one of the undisputed highlights of my life and having them part of it made it all the sweeter.

Is there a word to describe an athlete who has taken part in a world championship?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

2015 24 Hours World Championships, Turin. Part I, The Dramas

Going to your first international championship is a nerve wracking thing. I had not slept well for several days already when on Saturday, exactly one week before the race, I got an email from Reinhold, the Austrian team manager, that the team had been moved to a new hotel, 60km out of Turin. If I had been travelling on my own I would not have minded too much but I was travelling with family and Niamh completely and utterly ruled out the possibility of being stuck so far away in a place without public transport. It really was not an option.

Austria and Australia
I was already in a fragile mental state and it did not take much to push me over the edge. I barely managed to sleep at all over the next few nights. I was always confident that we would have SOME place to sleep, but the uncertainty was too much to take. Our situation finally got resolved on Tuesday when the organisers accepted my plea and put us back into the original hotel. Only us (me and family) not the team, which wasn't ideal either as it would isolate me from the team, and I was already a complete outsider. Still, it was the best I could have hoped for,

Apparently the original local organising committee had not paid the hotels, tried to move the race to September with less than 2 weeks to go and had to be replaced by FIDAL, the Italian Athletics organisation. I even heard rumours that the original organisers had been arrested for fraud but I have no idea if that is correct. I do, however, have full admiration for the way FIDAL stepped in at extremely short notice and pulled the race out of the fire at the last moment.

With the hotel situation resolved I thought the drama was finally over and I could be looking forward to a couple of nice and quiet days before the race. Oh boy.

We arrived in Turin on Thursday morning after a disgustingly early flight from Stansted. My joy of meeting Jan Uzik was immediately tempered when he told me he was injured and would not be able to run. He was only going there to support his Slovakian team mates. On the shuttle bus to the hotel my stomach hurt, which I put down to hunger pangs because breakfast had been many hours ago. I did not have much appetite at lunch time but made myself eat anyway because I knew I would need every ounce of energy. Things rapidly went downhill over the next couple of hours and then I spent the rest of the afternoon either wrapped around the toilet or doubled over in bed with excruciating stomach pains. Niamh insisted that the room temperature was hot but I was shivering, feeling extremely cold, but I did not seem to have a temperature.

At dinner time I went to the meal hall and tried to force some food into me but as soon as I started smelling the food I had to make a rapid exit or it would have been a very unsavoury scene. For some reason I walked up the two flights of stairs to our room instead of taking the elevator and by the time I reached our floor I was dizzy and almost fainted, took some downtime and literally crawled into our room.
At 10 o'clock Niamh called a taxi and got me to the nearest hospital. In the waiting room I was close to tears. I had been preparing for this since August 2013, straight after the Connemara 100. 20 months of preparation had just gone out of the window! It wasn't just me, I had been asking a lot of Niamh in that time - being married to an ultra runner is not all about fame and glamour, believe it or not. We managed to locate an English speaking nurse who did a few tests, Blood pressure was okay (actually, lower than usual but he thought it was fine), pulse was still there (elevated!), no fever, nothing seriously wrong. He seemed to think I should just take a few paracetamol (which are allowed as per anti-doping) and would recover in a day. Problem was, the race was starting in less than 36 hours. Even if I felt well by then, if I got to the start line not having eaten for a couple of days my chances of having a decent race were absolute zero. I felt a bit better by now, the acute pain was gone, but mentally I was still on a very low point.

Last minute preparations.
Photo by Martin Mayrhofer

For the first time in a week I slept really well, probably due to complete exhaustion. After 8 or 9 hours in bed (with a couple of interruptions) I felt a hundred times better than the evening before. The stomach still wasn't entirely settled and I had a mild headache but I managed to force down some food for breakfast. My appetite was still low but I reckoned that I had to eat to have any chance of making it through tomorrow. We went into Turin itself for some family time and then met the team at the stadium for the pre-race meetings and the opening ceremony. The team manager had a difficult decision to make; you can only nominate 6 runners for the team scores but we had 7 men. He toyed with the idea of moving me back to number 7 and move the other Tom up into the scoring places. He did discuss this with me and initially I agreed. However, when I asked what Tom's chances were to be in the top 3 of the team, he said it was unlikely (you can nominate 6 runners but only the first 3 count as scorers). I think that clinched it, he left everything as it was. It did add an extra bit of pressure on me but I was okay with that and I very much appreciated the confidence shown in me.

By dinner time my appetite was back to normal and for the first time in what felt like an eternity I dared to hope that everything might turn out alright after all. I slept for 6 hours that night - about 5 more than I could usually hope for the day before such a massive race. Another decent breakfast confirmed that I was seemingly back to normal, though how my body would cope with the extreme requirements I was about to subject it to was yet to revealed. I still had a light lingering headache but mostly managed to completely ignore that. Both my own Austrian team mates as well as my Irish friends joked about it and figured that the 3 pounds I might have lost during that ordeal might be to my advantage now - less weight to carry around for the next 24 hours.

I paid a last-minute visit to the GB tent to have a chat with Marco Consani, otherwise John Kynaston would have given out to me for not saying hello to his mates yet again. Nice guy! His better half was still busy and I decided to leave her alone. Not everyone wants to chat to some random guy they had never met before when they are about to start a World Championship.

Getting last minute encouragement.
Photo by Martin Mayrhofer
I soaked up the electric atmosphere with athletes, officials and supporters all buzzing. No matter what would happen over the next few hours, I felt incredibly lucky and privileged to be here and the drama of the last couple of days only served to magnify that feeling.

Ultra running is not an Olympic sport and the World Championship is the absolute pinnacle of it all. Somehow, don't ask me how, I had made it all the way to here.

The biggest day of my running life was about to begin,

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

2015 24 Hours World Championships, Turin. Part III, The Aftermath

If Tarantino can stitch his film scenes together in a funny order then so can I with my race reports!

Quite frankly, I'm in bits!

The race finished well over 2 days ago and on Sunday Niamh initially remarked how good I looked compared to my previous two 24 races. However, it was not going to last. One day later and I was aching all over the place, with the right shoulder (!?!) being particularly sore, but the right Achilles was just brutal. The journey back home was very uncomfortable, especially on the flight from Turin to London I just could not get comfortable, no matter what I tried. The second flight from London back home was better but still no bed of roses.

The men
My stomach has shrunk to half its size. I am ravenous most of the time but after only three spoonfuls I am stuffed and can't eat any more.

My feet, on the other hand, have swollen by about 2 sizes, which makes wearing the shoes, any shoes, really uncomfortable. The security guard in Stansted asked me to take off my shoes - of all the times I have flown, this was the one time they asked me to take them off! Putting them back on was torture.

By the way, I hate Stansted airport and the way they force you to walk across the entire damn building past all the shops on your way to the plane. It was a very long, slow and painful walk.

I am coughing a lot and I don't feel too well. Niamh is actually worried I might have pneumonia and said I felt roasting hot last night, though I slept through that. I did notice that my top was completely soaked in the morning, though. For the record, I'm absolutely sure it's not pneumonia but I have certainly acquired some respiratory tract infection, which is quite common after races, the more so after long ultras.

Looking back, most of all I am satisfied. Even though nobody ever said a word, I felt a bit under pressure to justify my place in the Austrian team, coming in as a complete outsider. My team mates, the crew and the team manager are all exceptionally sound people and never made me feel any less than a full part of the team but after coming home as our second runner I can now tell myself that my selection was fully justified. Even though the 2 best runners in the Austrian team were unable to finish the race we achieved the best team result since 4 world championships ago - it might have been below the initial high expectations (top 10) but it sure was not for lack of effort.

The ladies
Considering that I spent €300 on a very fancy running watch especially for this very race, I was a bit disappointed to see it drop out after 19:26 hours. I knew straight away that I had made a mistake by wearing my HR strap but at that point it was too late. However, the GPS track is even more disappointing. A 5 seconds GPS interval should not be as all over the place as that. Bizarrely, when those 19:26 hours got imported into strava it cut the mileage from 116 to 107 miles! However, I'm pretty sure the former is closer to the actual mileage at that point.

I placed ahead of the likes of Ivan Cudin, the reigning Spartathlon champion, and Marco Consani of the very strong British team, and just a whisker behind Yoshikazu Hara, the overwhelming favourite. Obviously I am not suggesting for even a second that I am anywhere near those guys in ability but on the day the course provided a few surprises.

My ambition had been to finish in the top 50, which I obviously missed. It was always a rather ambitious target and to be honest I don't mind at all. I ran as hard as I could have and I do have the scars to prove it.

I might have started a bit too fast (more of that in part II), but I was 115th after 5 hours, 94th after 11, 76th after 16, 64th after 20 hours and 60th at the end, which is rather steady progress through the field.

I have no idea when I'll run again. After Belfast I was planning on taking 2 weeks off but after 10 days Niamh threw me out of the house telling me not to even think of coming back within an hour. I'll play it by ear. Since I am presently barely able to walk, running is completely off the menu for a while anyway.

The spirit of international friendship was exceptional in this race. I got on particularly well with the Taipei team, the single runner from Mongolia and the Americans - Maggie Guterl especially is my new favourite ultra runner. Thanks for all the encouragement and especially the big hug at the end, Maggie!

Monday, April 13, 2015


215.691 km / 134 miles

60th in the World.
2nd Austrian.
1st Irishman. :)

The carnage even amongst the super elite was huge. I'm not sure if the heat or that ramp that we had to run up and down each lap was the bigger contributor but it was very, very tough. I would not have missed it for anything in the world! What a privilege to be there!

We just got home, I am completely wrecked and in a fair amount of pain and the race report will have to wait a bit longer.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Bella Italia!

Ciao! We made it into Turin. Nice sunny weather; if I were here on holidays I sure would not complain but for running a race it may be a tad hot for us Irishised :-).

Yep, international Athletes.
Norway, France, Canada, Russia, Taiwan 
There are plenty of very fit looking people in this hotel. I'll keep in mind that I got here on merit and will try not to be intimidated. My performance last year has me placed well within the top half of the field - my head knows it, my heart isn't quite so sure.

Nerves are definitely acting up. I haven't been sleeping properly for the last 5 nights. First I kept worrying about an issue with the hotel, now that that got resolved I am just plain nervous.

I ran 5 miles on Monday, 10 on Tuesday in Windsor which should have been no more than 6 or 7 but I got completely lost! Nothing since but walking around Legoland/Windsor/London feels like training on the legs as well. Now that we have arrived in Turin I'm putting up my legs and try not to move at all.

I'm not sure if my upset stomach is from nerves or something I ate but can only hope that it will resolve itself sooner rather than later.

Oh! My! God! This is the World Championship! How did I get here!

Updates during the race might be available here.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Race Strategy

Grellan asked about race strategy in a comment. I'm actually not a big believer in setting detailed targets. There are too many variables, plenty of which I have no control over, and the basic idea is to run by feel. However, that doesn't mean I'll be flying entirely by the seats of my pants.

Last year in Belfast I went through 100k in 9:48. That's 9:27 pace.
I went through 100 miles in about 16:10. That's 9:42 pace.
I did almost 140 miles. That's 10:17 pace.

Ideally I would like to avoid the last hour in Belfast when I was reduced to walking and could not run a single step (I tried). On the plus side my walking pace was surprisingly solid, still faster than at least one other athlete's running pace at that time. I do wonder occasionally if I could have pushed myself a bit harder and at least give John and Eddie something to worry about (and actually get over 140 miles rather than falling 37 meters short!), but considering that I basically collapsed immediately after stopping (thankfully Niamh caught me and they propped me up until a chair was ready) I'd say I got pretty damn close to my limit that day. Niamh took a couple of photos at what must have been around 23:30 into the race and I do look exhausted, alright.

Parco Ruffini, part of the race course.
Pictured here is Florian Reus, reigning European champion
The biggest mistake I made that day wasn't lack of effort but quite the opposite, running too hard halfway through the race. I'm not sure of the exact timing but I took the lead around 10 hours into the race and started getting excited at some point. I remember running past Grellan, who comfortably won the 12 hours race, and leaving him in the dust by doing 7:30 pace! I figured that since I was 11 or so hours into the race, running too fast was not a problem as my already tired legs would have been screaming if I pushed too hard. Wrong. Around 14 hours I reached the point of apparently total exhaustion and the last 10 hours were mind over matter. In Bangor I had actually enjoyed the last few hours and had a big smile on my face for most of it, so if I run sensibly I can indeed keep going for a very, very long time. The hope is that I can find that edge where I push just hard enough to last for 24 hours, or at least close to that.

Start slowly and then taper off. I think I started at 9-minute pace in Belfast (give or take a bit) and was sensible enough for the first 10 hours. The damn Garmin lost my GPS track when the battery died after 16 hours, so I can't go over that data (that's the main reason why there is a Suunto Ambit on my wrist now).

As I've said, I'm not one for detailed planning, which is why I struggled with the very detailed nutrition plan that our team manager insisted we all prepare. I have never done anything like that, in my previous races my instructions more or less came down to "give me something every 30 minutes". I think I have something reasonable in place now, though I put a note on the sheet that it's only a rough guidance. However, if things go well I will of course use that new feeding strategy for future races.

I also changed the setting on my Ambit to 5-seconds GPS, which should hopefully make the battery last the entire race. One more sign that it's getting close now. I noticed that it slightly overreports distance at that setting - about 8.1 miles compared to 8 miles at the 1 second setting, roughly 1% out.


Ramp to the stadium. It will become a mountain after a while.
Picture by Florian Reus.
In training I am now trying to run at slow pace. It was 8:44 on Thursday, which was too fast but every time my mind started wandering the legs started to accelerate.

Despite all the best intentions, Friday was even quicker at 8:39 pace. I ran covered in three layers as well as tights in the hope of getting some heat acclimatisation going, but the biting cold Atlantic wind meant any heat adaptation was unlikely. Maybe I should have worn that fleece jacket that I had already put on but took off because it was black and I wondered if it was safe on the road that way.

By Saturday I had given up on forcing myself slower than the legs were willing to move so I just ran at the easiest effort that came naturally, which averaged out at 8:35 pace - so close to yesterday's pace that it is unlikely to make any difference. This time I wore that fleece jacket but the wind still made me feel cold at times. I was sweating loads, though, so maybe it did help.

On Sunday I did the last proper workout before Turin, going up into the mountains one last time to give the legs one more push. I felt really good on the climbs; the fact that it was a gorgeous day most likely helped.

Forecast for Turin is about 20 degrees, sunny; I'd prefer a cooler day. Obviously it's still a bit early to pay too much attention to the weather forecast. It may still rain!

There have been a few organistorial hiccups from the Italian side that I could do without. I won't go into any details, though I'm dying to go off on a rant. I'll try to ignore all that. Saturday at 10 am I will be at that start line with the best ultra runners on the planet, come what may.
2 Apr
8 miles, 1:11:10, 8:44 pace, HR 130
3 Apr
8 miles, 1:10:06, 8:39 pace, HR 136
4 Apr
8 miles, 1:09:37, 8:35 pace, HR 132
5 Apr
12.35 miles, 1:49:07, 8:50 pace, HR 148
   Windy Gap x 2

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Countdown 10

You can't read the internet properly today for all the April Fool stories. I have yet to come across an actually funny one but there's still time.

Mind, time is passing at a rather rapid and ever increasing rate, not just due to my advanced age but right now mostly because the championships are only 10 days away! Christ, how did that happen, did I blink or something? I started reading my blog posts from July, leading up to the race in Belfast, to see what I had been doing then - until now I had no idea I had been such a nervous wreck. I don't think it will be any better this time round, but maybe the fact that we are basically on our holidays from Monday on will help take my mind off things.

Since I had run a marathon on Saturday I took it easy for a few days and followed my standard "5 easy miles a day" recovery protocol for a few days. By Tuesday the legs seemed to have forgotten that they had run a marathon, though that may have been due to the fact that I ran very, very slowly, in an attempt to get used to ultra pace again. Mind, as slow as it was, it was still too fast. However, I have several more days to work on that.

One thing I copied from July was doing a last tempo workout 10 days before the race. I opted for 3x2 miles, for no other reason than that it seems to have worked exceedingly well for Belfast. Because of Saturday's marathon I was dithering on the exact day for the workout; 10 days before the race was only 4 days after the marathon, so maybe wait another day to recover a bit more, but then that would leave one day less to recover from THAT workout before Turin. I set the alarm for a short run but when I woke up in plenty of time I decided to give it a go today. In the grand scheme of things it probably won't make much of a difference (I have never believed in The One crucial workout).

I had a vague idea of 6:30 pace in my head but that was only ever a rough guideline, I would go by how I felt. It was quite windy, which complicated things a bit, but as long as I ran by feel rather than let the watch dictate the pace that wouldn't really matter. The first segment was with the wind and therefore came in a few seconds ahead. The last 2 segments were against the wind and were always going to slower as a result, 6:44 and 6:40. Recovery was a gentle 5 minutes jog, though it struck me on both occasions that I did not really need recovery, the pace had not been particularly tough. I might never have worked too hard but it did occur to me that this used to be my marathon pace 2 years ago, something I certainly cannot claim right now. It drove home the fact that marathon and ultra fitness are two different things - I could not possibly hope to run a 2:55 marathon right now but I am very confident that I can run a much better 24 hours race than I could have done back then. That's specificity, I suppose.

10 days to go.

30 Mar
5 miles, 41:01, 8:12 pace, HR 137
31 Mar
5 miles, 44:16, 8:51 pace, HR 127
1 Apr
10 miles, 1:13:06, 7:19 pace, HR 151
   3 x 2 miles in 6:29 (158), 6:43 (160), 6:40 (163)