Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mini Taper

I had a busy weekend so far. I registered for my 4 summer races, all of which will be used as training runs, for a combined mileage of 153.837 miles

Which, incidentally, almost exactly matches the length of the goal race they are going to prepare me for. It's a sign!

The other thing I did was going for 3 short and easy runs. Since I still don't have full confidence in my legs I thought I'd better do a mini-taper for Cork, 8-5-5 miles. This will hopefully leave me nicely rested for the task of running 26.2 miles at an unaccustomed pace (Christ, what have I let myself in for!).

The legs always felt a bit stiff and tired over the first mile, but they pretty much always do that so that's not really a cause for alarm. They always loosened up pretty quickly for the rest of the run. The faster miles from Thursday don't seem to have taxed me too much, so that's good. One thing the numbers showed me is that I am a lot less efficient at 7:20 pace, though that did not come as much of a surprise, seeing as I did not exactly spend a lot of time at that training pace. Sunday's run was bit faster because the legs felt really good and I had troubles keeping them at bay. I guess that's a good sign for Cork - they were raring to go at bit faster.

Let's hope the geriatric pacing duo that's supposed to take care of the 3:15 runners (combined age a whopping 94 years!!!) won't have too many troubles with the course. The weather forecast is pretty bad, though slightly improving as we're get closer to race day, so maybe we'll be spared the worst (the slower runners might not). Or else it will be just like 2010 again. Actually, there is now a yellow rain and wind warning on for Munster for teh duration of the race. We might be revisiting the miniature hurricane of 2010, alright.

Anyway, if you're going to run in Cork, come and say hello. Unfortunately I won't make it to the Expo this year (family life interfering) but I'll be there at the start, big promise!
29 May
8 miles, 1:04:58, 8:07 pace, HR 138
30 May
5 miles, 41:44, 8:20 pace, HR 137
31 May
5 miles, 39:24, 7:52 pace, HR 143

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Good Run

I'm perfectly aware that this blog has sounded like a broken record in the last few weeks, at least to the oldies here who still remember what a broken record sounded like. With the recovery from Turin taking an absolutely ridiculous amount of time, things haven't looked all that great and my patience has been tested like never before.

Any time I did anything but a reasonably short and very slow run, my legs would protest for days. It was like I was starting running again from zero, any run would just take far too much out of the legs. While things did improve, it happened so slowly it seemed almost imperceptible at times.

But, finally, things seem to be gathering pace so to speak. I expected to be stiff and sore on Monday after Sunday's long-ish run but in actual fact I felt perfectly fine. I only did 8 miles but from the way the legs were feeling I certainly could have done more. It was Tuesday, however, that finally felt like a breakthrough. Once again I wasn't sure how the legs would behave because sometimes it takes 2 days for any stiffness to manifest itself but I felt better than on any day since Turin. I wasn't getting carried away and kept the effort to the same easy level as alway but ended up running a little bit faster anyway, almost 20 seconds per mile faster than the day before. The HR was still in the expected zone. Actually, I could already tell it was going to be a good run when I crested the first hill without the HR alarm going off and, if anything, things improved further from there on. I almost felt like a real runner again!

Wednesday wasn't quite so good with the legs being a bit heavy once more but even that day had its plus points by posting the lowest HR for several weeks.

With 3 easy days under the belt I felt encouraged to slightly push the effort once more. I know MC had advised me to stick to easy running but with Cork looming on the very near horizon I wanted to get a feel for 7:20 pace. Shortly after reaching the halfway point of my 10-mile run I started to accelerate. I got into the pace fairly quickly and the legs and lungs were all able to cope. If anything it started to feel easier after a few miles. I was probably working a bit harder than necessary because those faster miles were all against a headwind - not a strong one but noticeable all the same. Under those circumstances doing 7:25 or 7:30 pace would probably have done the trick effort-wise but I needed to see 7:20 on the watch for the head, and you know what? It worked! I feel a lot more confident about Cork now than I did 24 hours ago.

One slight area for concern is my left knee. I started feeling a tiny niggle on its outside a few weeks ago and it kept coming back. It was never bad, no worse than 1 or 2 out of 10, but one day this week, I'm not even sure which one, it felt worse, maybe 4 or 5 out of 10. Still not bad and if it doesn't get any worse then I don't have anything to worry about it. Indeed it went back to 1 or 2 the following day and most of the time I can't even feel it, so I won't be losing any sleep just yet. I know my run of not being injured for about 7 years is going to come to an end at some stage but I don't think this is that point just yet.
25 May
8 miles, 1:07:27, 8:26 pace, HR 137
26 May
12 miles, 1:37:46, 8:09 pace, HR 141
27 May
10 miles, 1:23:30, 8:21 pace, HR 136
28 May
10 miles, 1:18:38, 7:52 pace, HR 146
   incl. 4.5 miles @ 7:20 (HR 158)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ups And Downs

I started doing evaluations a bit over 4 years ago, when MC successfully coached me for the 2011 Vienna marathon. There is nothing particularly magic about those evaluations; in fact there are a number of similar testing protocols (Hadd, Maffetone, Coconi, ...) that all pretty much serve the same purpose, to see where you are training wise. Of course, doing the evaluations is one thing, to draw the right conclusions and react accordingly is another. That's why I am very grateful that 4 years after successfully guiding me to my first sub-3 marathon MC still chimes in from time to time, usually when I've done something too stupid to ignore but occasionally just to help me along.

Wednesday's evaluation shows that there is some lingering fatigue at a deep level, possibly mitochondrial. The recommendation is to stick with easy running. Luckily, that's pretty much what I've been doing anywhere since Turin, though I never expected that the legs would still be feeling so tired 6 weeks after that race - previous 24 hours or 100 mile races did not require anything like such a long recovery time.

My strategy in the last 2 weeks has been to do a very mellow workout and then to 3 easy days for recovery. That's a much lighter load than what I would do normally, though there is still the possibility that I'm doing too much. However, I find sprinkling the occasional different kind of run into the mix pretty much essential for the mind - I might be a creature of habit but running the same easy run day in day out fills me with dread.

The evaluation is always a rather easy workout so I was a bit surprised that the legs felt rather heavy on Thursday. The numbers were still okay and I did not think too much of it but to my dismay the legs felt a lot worse on Friday. DOMS after just 4 miles of 7-minute pace - you've got to be kidding me! Thankfully things felt a lot better on Saturday and I enjoyed running on nicely behaved legs for a change. I still had my HR monitor on me to stop me from running too fast, or so I thought. I did have it beeping at me on some of the climbs but didn't think I was pushing the effort. Well, I maybe I was wrong. On Sunday morning even the first step did not feel good and it did not improve after a mile or two either.

Over the years I've had some bad runs on tired legs, sometimes 20 miles or more where every single step was a struggle, so this particular run was not the worst I've ever had, not by a long stretch. But it wasn't all that much fun either. The original plan was to do 16 or 17 miles, to get the legs used to being out there for over 2 hours, after all Cork is just one single week away. In the end I cut it short and went home after just a little over 15 miles, though I did run a bit faster over the last 1 or 2 miles - I think I just wanted to go home and get this over with. Interestingly, running 7:30 pace did not feel any harder than 8:15. I guess that's good , considering that I have to do 26 of them 8 days from now.

Week on week there is still some progress, I can see it in the numbers . However, we are talking about baby steps. I certainly had hoped to be in much better shape right now. There is no panic, the Spartathlon is still 4 months away and the worst thing I could do is rush and force things at this stage.
21 May
10 miles, 1:21:44, 8:10 pace, HR 142
22 May
10 miles, 1:24:06, 8:24 pace, HR 141
23 May
10 miles, 1:20:53, 8:05 pace, HR 143
24 May
15+ miles, 2:05:26, 8:10 pace, HR 142

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Evaluation, Slow

Things started improving rapidly after Sunday's long run, just as I had hoped. The legs were still a bit heavy on Monday but I only ran 8 miles that day, which is unusually restrained for me, again. The real breakthrough came on Tuesday when I ran 10 miles and despite some fairly wild conditions with plenty of wind and some heavy rain showers, the legs felt great and the pace was 20 seconds per mile faster than for the same run just a few days earlier, for the same perceived effort and the same HR. It looks like it took 5 weeks to get the worst of Turin out of the system but that finally seems to be happening.

On advice of MC I ran an evaluation on Wednesday, when the weather had finally calmed down a bit. I already knew I was on the up but I wanted to put some cold and hard numbers onto the table (err, spreadsheet) to see where I was at.

The reason I keep wearing two watches for this type of workout is that the Garmin and the Ambit never agree on pace; the Ambit is always 5 or 10 seconds per mile slower, and if you don't believe me you can check out the respective GPS tracks here (7:00, 7:03, 7:06, 7:06) and here (7:08, 7:17, 7:17, 7:16). However, I have a whole set of old evaluations with the Garmin done over the years and want to be able to easily compare them, hence the continued use of the Garmin for evaluations.

Anyway, today's numbers came out as follows. In brackets are adjusted number, what the pace would most likely have been had I hit the target HR of 161.
        Mile 1    7:00   HR 162    (7:03)
        Mile 2    7:03   HR 162    (7:06)
        Mile 3    7:06   HR 162    (7:09)
        Mile 4    7:06   HR 161    (7:06)

The bad news is, that's my slowest evaluation in 4 years. The good news is that pace itself isn't the most important thing to look out for. The pace is relatively stable (yes, I've seen better) and the recovery time a lot better than I had dared to hope for (yes, I've seen better), so all in all a decent enough set of figures, though by the time I hit some resemblance of form they should be 20-30 seconds per mile faster, more stable still and with a shorter recovery time as the cherry on top. There is clearly a lot of work to be done yet. However, I do take solace from the fact that my evaluation is always reasonably close to my marathon race pace and therefore a 3:15 paced marathon should be perfectly doable in 2 weeks' time (and should not take too much out of me - thanks for your concern in that regard).
18 May
8 miles, 1:06:59, 8:22 pace, HR 140
19 May
10 miles, 1:21:49, 8:11 pace, HR 139
20 May
11.7 miles, 1:29:34, 7:39 pace, HR 153
   incl. 4 mile eval: 7:00, 7:03, 7:06, 7:06; 40 sec recovery

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Progress, Definite

I have been whinging and whining more than enough over the last few weeks about my lack of progress. Fact is that recovery from Turin took much longer than I would have thought, especially when compared to how it went after Belfast where I ran almost 10k more (MC, on the other hand, wasn't surprised at all). 7 weeks after Belfast I ran the Dingle Ultra and came third after finishing strongly; 7 weeks after Turin I'm supposed to pace 3:15 in the Cork City marathon, which right now fills me with dread and horror!

After the faster few miles on Wednesday I was curious how the next few days would go. My past experience has shown that my HR often drops quite a bit in the days after the first one or two faster workouts, but since the last few weeks had been so different to my usual recovery patterns I wasn't quite sure if I had any right to expect a similar outcome.

I was pleasantly surprised how the legs felt on Thursday; there was no stiffness from those faster miles, though I knew perfectly well that that could still be in store the next day. I barely dared to hope when I saw the (relatively - it's all relative) low HR - would that downward trend continue?

Yes it would! I only ran 8 miles on Friday, unusually restrained for myself, and the average HR dropped below 140 for the first time since Turin! I know the pace was rather slow, but I knew straight away that things were looking good when I went over the first few hills without the watch beeping at me. Saturday's run was very similar, back to the usual 10 miles and with an even lower HR - albeit at the same slow pace.

At that point there was no doubt that things were finally looking up again. Emboldened by that progress I decided to run a first long (relatively - it's all relative) run on Sunday. The plan was 15 miles but after one loop through Killorglin I decided to go closer to home and criss-cross around the local roads so that I would be able to bale out earlier if I had to. The legs held up pretty well until 12 or 13 miles but when the deterioration started it happened very quickly and the last 2 miles weren't all that much fun. It wasn't just the legs - even when I was running really slowly the watch's HR alarm kept beeping at me, relentlessly. Swearing at the watch had remarkably little effect so eventually I just turned off the alarm (yes, I know, the sensible thing would have been to slow down even more). The numbers actually look quite good. The HR was fine and the pace a bit quicker than usual (a bit surprised by that - I went out at the same easy effort), but the lack of endurance is a bit of a worry. Right now I do have my doubts if I will be able to pace in Cork - but I won't give up hope just yet. I have felt doubtful before previous pacing jobs and they always went well in the end, so I first want to give myself every chance to do it. I still have 2 weeks and with the form curve finally pointing upwards all is not lost yet.
14 May
10 miles, 1:24:15, 8:25 pace, HR 140
15 May
8 miles, 1:08:10, 8:31 pace, HR 139
16 May
10 miles, 1:25:15, 8:31 pace, HR 136
17 May
15 miles, 2:03:16, 8:13 pace, HR 143

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Progress, Or Is It?

After Saturday's mountain run it was always clear that I would need a few days to recover. The legs never actually felt sore but there was a a certain amount heaviness in each step that could not be denied. I also brought a memento from the trail with me in the form of a hurting right ankle. I had already noticed that it wasn't 100% when I almost went over it on the uneven, stony mountain road. Luckily I made it back down without incident but for the next few days it started hurting a few miles into each run, not bad but clearly noticeable. It finally seems to have cleared up on Wednesday.

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were similar in that they were all slow, easy 10 mile runs in heavy gale force winds and on heavy legs, as mentioned. The HR was way higher than I would have wanted on every single one of them, which was partially attributable to the conditions but mostly to the legs just not coming round from Turin.

I was string to get both pissed off and worried about the lack of progress in my recovery. The race was well over 4 weeks ago and surely there should have been some improvement? The numbers did improve at first but have remained more or less on the same level since the start of May. I know I have messed up my recovery in the past by running too hard, but the last 4 weeks have seen me running slower than ever in a recovery program and yet the legs don't seem to acknowledge that.

I knew I was taking a risk and might have set back my recovery once again but with only 19 days to go until the Cork marathon I was starting to panic, so I decided to run a few 7:20 miles this morning, the pace required for a 3:15 marathon (7:25 in reality, which comes out as 7:20-ish on a GPS watch). In past years I would have jumped in straight away and done 8-10 miles at that pace so I think I was actually being sensible by doing only 3 miles after 7 at the usual recovery pace (not sure what MC would think of that, though). It actually felt better than expected but I could tell I was rather close to my threshold because when I went just a little bit faster my breathing started to become distinctly laboured, which isn't great. I still have a couple of weeks to improve. As it happens, today's pace/HR figures look at lot better, especially for the slower miles, so all hope is not lost just yet.

One weird thing was that the Ambit watch clearly showed an average lap of 7:20 after those 3 miles but once I uploaded them into movescount/strava, it came out as 7:25 pace. Bizarre! But either way, the pace was there or thereabouts and in addition to the watch I'll have the use of a pace band and the mile markers in Cork to make sure I'll get it right.

On a much lighter note, for a bit of fun I played around with Microsoft's how-old app and my race photos. Marathons do tend to take quite a bit out of you - I usually age by 20 years between the start and the finish. The one glorious exception was Portumna last year - a mere 3 extra years, and that wasn't a marathon but a 100k!

There were a few interesting results, though, One day, when I feel particularly reckless and suicidal I'll start uploading a few pictures of Niamh and show her how old the computer thinks she is. I better make sure my will is in order before that, though.
10 May
10 miles, 1:25:05, 8:31 pace, HR 145
11 May
10 miles, 1:25:15, 8:32 pace, HR 141
12 May
10 miles, 1:24:58, 8:30 pace, HR 142
13 May
10 miles, 1:20:11, 8:01 pace, HR 146
   incl. 3 miles @ 7:20 (HR 158)

Saturday, May 09, 2015

A New Horizon

Oh shit! What have I done!

Right now I'm barely able to run 10 miles. I'm not even sure how I'm going to pace Cork in 3 weeks. And now there is the formal confirmation that I am going to run 153 miles in one go, across a mountain, in the heat, against some tough cutoffs.

A friend of mine once told me "you are looking for the race you cannot finish!" I cannot help but wonder if this is it.

Ah well. I still have over 4 month to get those legs into shape!

The past week has been a bit up and down, Wednesday felt tough, Friday felt good, and I can never quite put the finger down what is causing those swings because I did the same run every morning, at the same easy effort. I can't even blame the weather because on the one day with the most miserable conditions I actually felt my best.

The form graph is pointing slightly upwards but at  much more gradual angle than I would like and with a few dips in there as well. In past years there usually was a day when I suddenly felt a lot better. I'm still waiting for that day to come. Having said that, I undoubtedly feel a lot better than 2 weeks ago, there's no denying that.

On Saturday morning I finally decided to do something else or a change and headed back into the mountains. I had originally been planning on doing that last week but chickened out at the last minute because the weather was so bad. It was probably a good decision because my legs most likely would not have been up to it anyway. It was still tough enough this morning, no matter how easy I went. The first thing I did was to turn off the HR alarm, this was not a run for the watch to beep at me relentlessly. I was surprised how high the HR climbed on that steep gradient up to Windy Gap. The legs actually felt okay. I gave myself a free pass to turn around and go home whenever I felt like but managed it up to the top without much of a struggle. Mind, I took 30 seconds rest at the top before turning around - it felt unsafe to attempt running down that slope with quivering quads. I didn't pay any attention to pace and expected this to be the slowest mountain run I had ever done. Surprisingly this was several minutes quicker than back in February.

Maybe the legs aren't as bad as I thought? Anyway, I know I will feel the effects of today's efforts for a few days. Time to take it easy - not that I anything else would have been on the menu anyway.

6 May
10 miles, 1:25:40, 8:34 pace, HR 144
7 May
10 miles, 1:24:33, 8:27 pace, HR 142
8 May
10 miles, 1:25:00, 8:30 pace, HR 140
9 May
10.7 miles, 1:34:37, 8:50 pace, HR 155
   Windy Gap

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Restart Anew - Again!

So I listened to my body, mainly because it started screaming at me, and made some changes. Not a lot, just enough to hopefully get through this recovery period.

I put the HR alarm back onto my watch. At the start of the year I gradually started to develop a psychotic hate relationship with the constant "beep beep" every time I started to move my legs and eventually took it off, promising myself never to put it back on again, However, the recent couple of weeks have made me break my promise to myself, though I set the alarm threshold at a higher level, which is hopefully a reasonable compromise between keeping myself in check and still being able to enjoy a run.

I did that on Sunday. The HR of each run since has been coming down gradually, and I can already feel some positive effects. After a rather frightening weather forecast, the brilliant sunshine on Tuesday morning came as a complete and very welcome surprise. It sure started the day off on a positive note, and maybe that was the reason why I actually started enjoying running again. The legs finally felt better, though the fact that I had run the previous days at a slightly more sedate pace may be a more rational explanation. I even felt brave enough to add 2 miles to my run, mostly because I thought running the same 8 mile run on the same route 7 times in a row was already more than enough. I might be a creature of habit but I do have some limits.

The legs were still in good shape after 8 miles, though they did start to complain towards the end but since this had been the first double digit run since Turin this wasn't overly alarming.

My feet are in a funny state, ever since Turin. My toes almost feel like they are tingling, except they are not quite (not sure if that makes sense). One of my toenails has gone a distinctly darker shade of grey - I'm not sure if that means it's eventually going to fall off, because I have never had that happen to me, a rather unusual state of affairs for an ultra runner but there you go.

My Achilles/calves area in both legs feels very stiff, especially first thing in the morning. Old age has something to do with it because I have been noticing this for at least a year now but it has become significantly worse since Turin and is the main reason why the first mile of each run is always so pathetically slow,

I tried to use The Stick on my legs muscles. This is a tried and tested way to get some relief for aching legs but no joy. They are not sore in the usual way, there are no knots or tight muscles; whatever damage Turin has done to my legs, it's more fundamental than your usual heavy legs after a marathon.

Anyway, with the legs finally feeling better this morning, this feels like a minor miracle. I'll see how it goes but I'm rather hopeful that the worst is now behind me and proper recovery can finally commence. I'm supposed to pace the Cork marathon in 4 weeks. Right now I'm scratching my head how on Earth I could possibly be fit enough by then to run 26.2 miles at some half-decent pace but I know that I have felt doubtful before previous pacing jobs and in the end they have always gone reasonably well, so maybe there's still hope.
2 May
8 miles, 1:06:04, 8:15 pace, HR 148
3 May
8 miles, 1:06:25, 8:18 pace, HR 144
4 May
8 miles, 1:07:36, 8:27 pace, HR 142
5 May
10 miles, 1:24:31, 8:27 pace, HR 140

Friday, May 01, 2015

Too Much Too Soon?

I guess this is a post just for the sake of providing an update - I don't actually have an awful lot of things to say.

This is a graph of my VDOT values during the month of April. It's a very simple graph, taking into account pace and HR, ignoring things like weather conditions, course elevation or even distance covered, all of which do have an effect on HR but are ignored for the sake of simplicity.

The first 2 dots are before Turin (and actually quite low - when I'm in super top shape the numbers easily exceed 60), the drop off a cliff is obviously due to me running for 134 miles. As you can see, the graph then climbs up steadily, if not evenly, after literally being off the scale at first. I can expect further improvements all throughout May and beyond, plotting my gradual recovery from that effort. It also shows just how much there is still yo do. My VDOT at the moment is about 50. It will take some time and work to get back to 60!

The drop off after previous 24 hour races was never anywhere near as bad, btw. 49 or 50 was as bad as it ever got, up to now. I really must have pushed myself exceptionally hard in Turin. I'm not sure if that should be a reason to be proud or if it should start sounding some alarm bells.

I finally managed to run sub-8 pace on Wednesday and Thursday, though at the expense of a rather high HR. I did do a double take both times when I saw the HR numbers; on both occasions I had thought I had run at a rather easy effort, just running at the pace that came naturally without pushing it. Thing is, if it's just the watch reporting a high effort then I dismiss it, putting it down as one of those funny things that happen shortly after a major race. But on Friday my legs told me the same message, they were heavy and unwilling and every single step was a mini-struggle. Later that day in the office they were clearly tired and even hurting a bit - I need to be more careful. Even though I could have sworn I had been running easily every morning, I can now tell that things aren't quite so.

I guess most of all I need to be patient. Very patient.

28 Apr
8 miles, 1:04:04, 8:00 pace, HR 150
29 Apr
8 miles, 1:03:04, 7:53 pace, HR 150
30 Apr
8 miles, 1:03:33, 7:57 pace, HR 151
1 May
8 miles, 1:04:50, 8:06 pace, HR 147