Sunday, June 28, 2015


Starting a new training phase can often be tiring while the body is adapting to the new stressors. I find it quite hard to gauge the correct level of work required. Right now I'm tired and my right hip is hurting a bit. Have I done too much too soon? Possibly. Monday will be an easy day, after that I'll see.

I was quite tired on Friday and the legs were sore. However, it was a different kind of sore to the usual one. I think it was a direct result of the hill drills working different muscle groups than the usual running. If that's the case I guess the soreness is a sign that the drills are working. Let's hope that's not just wishful thinking. However, a very easy Friday left the legs feeling a lot better on Saturday morning.

On Saturday I fulfilled a longstanding promise and ran my first parkrun. The Killarney parkrun had opened at the start of June and I tried to persuade my daughter, who already does a little bit of running without my prompting, to run this. She agreed and we headed for Killarney on Saturday morning. Getting a teenager out of bed before 8 o'clock on a Saturday morning can be hard work and I was surprised how willingly she got up - she really must have been looking forward to this! Since there was a 10k race on that day only a few miles away (we even passed it on the way!), all the fast local runners were absent, every single one of them. I had told Lola that I would run with her and she initially agreed but after a quarter mile she told me to go away - I got the message the third time and at that time headed off on my own. I chased after the leaders, caught the last guy with about 1k to go and actually won this one, though it really was a case of not a single competitive runner being there. I never went into the pain cave, which tells its own story because a well run 5k would be a sufferfest of the highest order. Anyway, Lola finished as well, was nowhere near last and there was one proud father, I can tell you!

Once we got home I was very surprised to see that the HR during the parkrun had climbed all the way to 181, even though it was nowhere near full effort, but the race day adrenaline must have been flowing nevertheless. I did add a few more miles at home and noticed a rather high HR, which I attribute to the parkrun.

Tired legs were obviously still an issue on Sunday morning and I was a bit apprehensive before heading out. I took it very easy but the long climbs on the road around the lake are never that easy, no matter what. Looking at the splits I seemed to have fallen apart a bit after 14 miles when the pace dropped from about 8-minute miles to 8:30ish, though I wasn't really aware of that while running. The legs had been tired, alright, but they had been tired all along and there didn't seem any real change. The worst thing about the run, however, was that little insect that flew into my right eye and which kept being uncomfortable for the last couple of miles and afterwards. It took me a couple of hours to get the thing out! Ouch!

I did acquire a new niggle on Saturday, almost certainly during the parkrun. My right hip started hurting on Saturday afternoon and kept bothering me for the rest of the evening. I could still feel it this morning when I set off, though the discomfort mostly went away within the first mile. It did start hurting again once I had finished, though now it's more the right groin rather than the hip. Sitting down for too long seems to aggravate it, so I make sure to get up and walk around a bit every now and then. I don't think it's more than one of those usual niggles you invariably pick up on occasions and I'll do what I always do: I ignore it and keep running.

26 Jun
am: 8 miles, 1:05:58, 8:14 pace, HR 138
pm: 5 miles, 38:11, 7:38 pace, HR 144
27 Jun
1 mile, 8:00 w/u and c/d for parkrun
Killarney parkrun, 20:20, 6:34 pace, HR 167
6 miles, 47:21, 7:53 pace, HR 149
28 Jun
18 miles, 2:31:45, 8:25 pace, HR 146
Weekly Mileage: 90+

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Change Of Plan

The original plan for this week, at least for the first few days, was to take it very easy and make sure I recover from a rather tough extended weekend. I did follow that plan initially and ran eight very slow, easy miles on Monday but then decided to do something else entirely.

For the last few years, ever since training for the Vienna marathon 4 years ago, I always did a hill phase with plenty of drills and such. I usually started hating the drills after a week but I was able to see their benefits. I'm not quite sure why I didn't do that phase for Turin, I think I basically just never made it out of base training.

I decided to bring that phase back, and straight away. I am worried that I have done too many slow and nowhere near enough fast miles for about a year and a hills phase would be the tried and tested approach to phase that in. I also reckon that hill drills are by definition there to stimulate different muscles to the "normal" running once, hence the usual running muscles are getting an easy ride for a bit, almost acting like a recovery - that theory may be up to debate, though.

I have experimented with different lengths, 4 weeks seemed a bit long and I wasn't sure if the last week brought any real benefits. I've usually done 2 weeks, which suited me better, but since I haven't done that phase for a while I think 3 weeks would probably be more appropriate.

On Tuesday I did high knees, which I found okay, and thigh drive, which I found very, very tough, so on Thursday I swapped them around to be able to do the thigh drive on fresh legs. It still was tough and I basically can't do them for more than one minute at a time while I can last twice as long with the high knees. I also did a few hill sprints on both days, though in Thursday I did them on the road on the way home and found that this particular hill wasn't really steep enough.

Oh, and I started running twice a day now. I usually find that running more than 80 weekly miles on single runs leaves me rather tired most of the time, and if I want to add more miles it's better to do so by adding a second run of the day while slightly shortening the morning run (which has the additional benefit of getting slightly more sleep). Those evening runs are meant to be easy recovery runs and I have to be careful not to run fast - something I find can happen very easily if I'm not paying attention; evening runs just feel differently to mornings.

It's 92 days to the Spartathlon. Even though I hadn't been planning things in advance in detail, 3 months to go before the goal race seems a good time to start "real" training.
22 Jun
8 miles, 1:05:29, 8:11 pace, HR 137
23 Jun
am:9.6 miles, 1:28:12, 9:11 pace, HR 141
   Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints; high knees; thigh drive; hill sprints
pm:5 miles, 39:28, 7:54 pace, HR 142
24 Jun
am:8 miles, 1:03:46, 7:58 pace, HR 143
pm:5 miles, 38:10, 7:38 pace, HR 144
25 Jun
am:8.7 miles, 1:26:36, 9:57 pace, HR 141
   Hill drills: 4x30 sec sprints; thigh drive; high knees; hill sprints
pm:5 miles, 39:36, 7:55 pace, HR 144

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Solstice

Last weekend I thought I was developing a cold, with the usual symptoms of runny nose, sore throat, mild headache and so on. It took me a bit to realise that it was instead the start of my second annual bout of hayfever. I get this twice every year, once in April/May and once in June/July, but this year the second one came a little bit earlier than usual. For some reason it does not seem to affect me when I'm running but I can clearly feel the effects at any other time. Antihistamines do help but I generally avoid taking tablets, which means I just have to suck it up and get on with things.

Even if I can't feel the symptoms while running it's unlikely to help and I'm sure it does explain some higher HR numbers this week, though it is certainly not the only factor.

With the HR alarm now banned from the watch I was immediately looking forward to my next run. Thursday had been the company day out but I had managed to abstain from drinking and got home at a very civilised hour (yes, I'm getting old). The benefits of that were accrued on Friday when I was in good form, in marked contrast to some of my colleagues. I ran the Cromane loop for the first time in a while. With the HR alarm gone I was supposed to pace myself sensibly but got this slightly wrong. The effort had felt easy enough but one look at the pace afterward told me I had run a bit too hard for what was supposed to be an easy day. When I'm in good shape then 7:40 is easy enough but right now it's too aggressive.

The effect made itself known on Saturday. I was planning a similar run to last week with a couple of miles at easy pace followed by 8 miles at a faster effort. I looked at the HR shortly after starting the faster segment and it was in the low 150s , just where I wanted it to be. However, 3 miles later, by now running into a headwind, it had somehow crept up into the high 160s; not entirely sure how that had happened. After 4 miles I was completely roasted and pulled the plug, 8 miles were clearly not happening today. After a few miles of jogging I felt somewhat recovered to up the pace once more for one final mile. It might not have been such a great idea, I was knackered when I got home. At the same time, once the torture was over I was somewhat pleased that I had pushed the boundaries for once. I think I have made a mistake in running too many slow and not enough fast miles over the last year; however, I have to avoid going into the other extreme now, which would be a lot worse.

Oh, and of course 3 years ago my marathon pace was a good bit faster than the pace that now has me knackered after 4 miles. That sucks.

Sunday was a tired affair, as it was always going to be after those preceding runs. I was planning on running around Caragh Lake on a slightly extended loop. The first 3 miles are reasonably flat. I kept debating with myself if running those long steep hills that were to follow was really such a great idea on already tired legs until I finally told myself to HTFU and stop whining, one loop around the lake it was. While it wasn't a complete struggle it certainly was a tough run. I got home still in somewhat decent shape but would not have lasted for much longer, I think. How I'm supposed to run for almost 10 times as long as that in September I'm not entirely sure but let's not think about that just yet. Mind, how I'm supposed to run 4 times as long in merely 6 weeks I'm not entirely sure either but let's not think about that as well.

Monday and Tuesday will definitely be very easy days and if I'm still feeling tired then Wednesday will be as well.
19 Jun
11.25 miles, 1:26:14, 7:39 pace, HR 147
20 Jun
10 miles, 1:14:59, 7:30 pace, HR 156
   4 miles @ 6:55, 1 mile @ 6:47
21 Jun
16.5 miles, 2:13:13, 8:04 pace, HR 151
Weekly Mileage: 80+

Thursday, June 18, 2015


I felt surprisingly good on Monday morning. I expected to be tired after a reasonably heavy workload over the weekend but in actual fact I felt really good. I had done Saturday's run in the hope that a few faster miles would start decreasing my HR, though Monday might have been a bit early to expect improvements already. However, the numbers were indeed pretty good.

Of course, things are never that simple. Tuesday was everything I had feared Monday would be like, and worse. The fatigue seemed to have finally caught up with the legs, which felt sluggish for the entire 10 miles. However, the conditions very much added to the misery. It was really humid. My top was utterly drenched in sweat and of course my HR was way higher. I found it pretty much impossible to stop the HR from beeping and after 6 miles I finally had enough and turned it off. I was frustrated enough to decide to take the alarm off the watch entirely. Until last year I always ran my easy runs entirely by feel. In the early stages of a training cycle the HR was invariably higher and it always came down after a few weeks. At the end of base training I would usually run at my MAF heart rate - it's just that I had approached that value from the top rather from down as you would normally do. I tried that other approach in the last 2 training cycles and the result haven't been particularly encouraging - training was very often rather frustrating and my race in Turin wasn't stellar (though not bad either).

Taking off the HR app immediately improved my spirit. I think that alone makes it a good choice. Despite that lengthy treatise I've just written, the actual difference will be quite minimal, I think. The majority of my runs will be exactly the same. But I no longer have to slow down halfway through each climb on each and every hill along the way,

On Wednesday I did an evaluation, 4 weeks since the last one. The number in may had been a bit sobering and I sure hoped for a good improvement. The weather wasn't great and as I lay awake in bed a few minuted before the alarm would have gone off I wondered if I should postpone it by a dat because the humidity would surely have a negative impact on the numbers but in the end I decided to go ahead as planned.

The legs felt a lot better than on Tuesday and the humidity did not affect me much . If it had an effect on the numbers it was a small one.
        Mile 1    6:56   HR 161
        Mile 2    6:59   HR 161
        Mile 3    7:03   HR 161
        Mile 4    7:07   HR 161
        Recovery to HR 130: 39 seconds

Those aren't exactly brilliant numbers. There is some miniscule improvement to May but not a lot. I did slow down by more than 10 seconds per mile and this wasn't exactly fast. On the plus side, I found the effort fast but reasonably relaxed and managed to keep the HR very stable, which was better than last time when I struggled to keep the HR at the right level and it had oscillated way too much for my liking.

I'm pretty sure the Cork marathon still has some effect, without it the number would have been better. However, if the numbers are still in the same ballpark next month I will most likely start to panic.
15 Jun
10 miles, 1:21:30, 8:09 pace, HR 139
16 Jun
10 miles, 1:20:36, 8:04 pace, HR 147
17 Jun
11.8 miles, 1:30:10, 7:38 pace, HR 151
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:56, 6:59, 7:03, 7:07; 39 sec recovery
18 Jun
11 miles, 1:26:48, 7:53 pace, HR 144

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Product Review: GoodSport Natural Anti-chafe Sports Cream

About every couple of months I get asked to review a product. In the majority of cases I decline the offer, either because it is not a product I would consider using (I just don't use a lot of stuff) or because I don't like something about the company or the offer. I do review goods if I think there is a genuine chance that I would end up using them but I always warn the company in question that I will say it very clearly if I don't like the product.

Anyway, when I got an offer for an anti-chafing cream towards the end of April from a chap called Robert, I did agree. It was shipped from New Zealand, but they sent it for free and it arrived some time in May. With the Cork marathon just a couple of weeks away, it was good timing. I usually use vaseline, which works reasonably well, even for 24 hour races, but has a few drawbacks - it's greasy and it leaves stains on your clothes. I find bodyglide too expensive in our local shop but I would certainly consider an alternative.

When opening the container, the first thing that hit me was the smell. It was much stronger than anticipated and reminded me of bees wax. Niamh was a lot less kind, however ("more like horse sh*t!"). Looking at the label proved me right, it is made of manuka oil, beeswax and lanolin and there is no mention of horse dung.

The consistency is more solid than vaseline and it is not greasy at all, so that's a plus. However, the one and only fact I was interested in was how it work against chafing.

Apart from the Cork marathon I had an immediate need for an anti-chafing product in a rather unusual area. After wearing my HR chest strap for 24 hours in Turin I was left with a big red itchy stripe across my chest as if a tiger had caressed me with some tough love. Subsequent runs with the same HR strap were rather uncomfortable at times and my skin just would not improve. Vaseline was not the answer and plasters did not work either, and on a couple of occasions in previous years I ended up running without HR for a couple of weeks, something I would prefer to avoid as I do use my HR data for training feedback a lot.

The instructions on the tin say "apply liberally to all chafe prone areas". Actually, I found that a liberal coating left a strange white residue on the HR strap after the run, which does not happen if I only use small amounts. Apart from that (and I managed to wipe that residue away), it worked extremely well, my tiger stripe got immediately better and had more or less disappeared within a week or two.

The Cork marathon was run in heavy rain at times, which makes the skin very prone to possible chafing, and the cream came through that tough test with flying colours. I had no problems whatsoever, though to be fair I would have expected vaseline to work just as well.

I got used to the smell very quickly, and in fact quite like it by now. As a product it works very well, definitely the best anti-chafing product I have used so far. The one thing that would put me off is the price, a look at their website says one container costs a whopping €22.90! I would expect 100g to last me for maybe a year, so it's still affordable, but still.

But, you know, if you get a kindly offer like I did I strongly suggest you say yes.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Which Way

The last 4 days have been very contrasting. Thursday and Friday had me rather worried where my training and my fitness were going. The legs felt reasonably okay whenever I was running but the HR graph was pointing in the wrong direction all of a sudden and seemed to getting worse.

It is really frustrating to be running with the HR alarm at times. The effort is really easy and relaxed and yet that damn thing keeps bitching at me, relentlessly. I was tempted at times to turn it off (actually, I was tempted at times to fire the thing into the ditch!) but kept going. Crawling along at what feels like snails pace isn't really what keeps me going day in day out, and something had to change.

I know from experience that the HR tends to drop a few days after a faster run, once muscle fibres have had time to recover from the workout and adapt accordingly. Build on that over a few weeks and you get a lot fitter. I have done very little fast running for quite a few months now, but I did run the Cork marathon less than 2 weeks ago, which would have stressed my already fatigued muscles. That's where the problem lies. With the legs still in recovery after Turin I have to be really careful not to tax them too much, yet I really felt it was time to give them a workout. Without too much grounding in physiology and just going by whatever experience I have gathered along the years, a lot of this is just guesswork.

Anyway, I headed out on Saturday morning with the aim of running a few faster miles. I had reprogrammed my HR alarm app on the Ambit to raise the alarm threshold after the warm up but that did not work - I noticed after the run that there was a mistake in the script. Oops. So I just turned off the alarm, not out of frustration but because it would have been useless anyway. I did check the HR from time to time on the display but it was always higher than I would have hoped, usually around 162, and slowing down only seemed to have a temporary effect because the next time I checked it was up to the same level again.

For the majority of time I was running entirely by feel, however. It felt relaxed enough, even when that little breeze always seemed to blow against me no matter which way the road was turning. Still feeling reasonably good after 9 miles, 7 at a higher effort, I upped the effort for the last mile to get some proper leg turnover done for a bit.

The numbers show that speed is all very relative; two years ago even my marathon pace was significantly faster than that. It would take a good bit of work to get that back, but since I'm not training for a marathon I won't - not in this training cycle. But I think I might have made a mistake by mostly neglecting faster paces before Turin and I do intend to add more speedwork this time round, not much, just to get a little bit of stimulation to those faster fibres.

I was worried how the legs would feel on Sunday and was very pleasantly surprised by how good they felt. I wanted to do a long-ish run but decided against the loop around the lake to give me the chance of bailing out early, just in case. The main decision point was at a junction at the planned halfway point, 7.5 miles into the run: turn right and go home or turn left for a second loop through Killorglin. With the legs feeling as good it was not much of a decision, of course I opted for the longer distance. I still felt good by the time I got home, good enough to be tempted to add a few extra miles but decided that too little was better than too much.

It was with a bleeding heart that I read all those race reports from Portumna on Saturday. This was my key workout last year before Belfast, the one run that did the most to get me into shape to break into the national team. This year I just could not do it, it would have been a bad mistake with those still tired legs. But congratulation to everyone who ran, and to the runners in the Kerry head half marathon as well. I would have loved to join you!

11 Jun
10 miles, 1:20:37, 8:03 pace, HR 142
12 Jun
10 miles, 1:21:39, 8:09 pace, HR 145
13 Jun
10 miles, 1:14:28, 7:26 pace, HR 155
   incl ~8 miles @ 7:11 pace, HR 159
14 Jun
15 miles, 1:58:21, 7:53 pace, HR 145
Weekly Mileage: 77

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

On The Up

One day I'll stop updating my blog without even realising it. I find it hard to believe that 4 days have passed since the last update already!

The one bit of news is that I am starting to feel good now. That needs to be taken with a pinch of salt at the moment because the objective numbers, especially the HR, don't entirely back this up, but the subjective feeling is all good. If I didn't run with a GPS watch I would swear that all is well now and I am recovered from Turin (plus Cork). I know from previous 24 races that it takes about 4 months for the numbers to get back to normal, basically a day per mile raced,  and since recovery from Turin has been extra slow so far I expect this to take even longer. If it's 5 months then I'll be back to my best pretty much the day I'll race the Spartathlon!

Anyway, since Cork has only been just over a week ago, I am still taking it easy, at least so far. I think I'll test the waters with a few faster miles in a few days and I'm planning on doing an evaluation next week, which will hopefully see an improvement since the last one. I have been rebuilding the distance after a few very short days following Cork but I'm basically back to normal now.

My left knee keeps being a bit of a worry; I did not feel it at all during Cork but the discomfort came back after a few days. I could feel it yesterday (Tuesday), but today it's pretty much unnoticeable, except when I specifically think about (i.e. now!) . It is never bad, yesterday I gave it a 3 out of 10 on the pain scale, which is still well below the level where I start considering doing something about it. So far I'll do what I always do - I ignore it, apart from the odd bit of whinging every now and then. This approach seems to work for me.

8 miles on Sunday, 10 on Monday and Tuesday, 12 on Wednesday. The pace keeps zoning in on 8-minute miles, the effort is always easy, the HR a bit up and down, definitely higher than I would want it to be at times. I find it hard to slow down when the watch starts beeping at me when I'm already running at such an easy effort and sometimes I ignore the alarm for longer than it would be advisable. I do feel a lot better than 2 or 3 weeks ago, so I'm a bit more daring when it comes to running a tad faster.

I'll try to remember that I ran a marathon 9 days ago, never mind 134 miles 2 months ago.

7 Jun
8 miles, 1:03:45, 7:58 pace, HR 144
8 Jun
10 miles, 1:21:58, 8:12 pace, HR 139
9 Jun
10 miles, 1:20:00, 8:00 pace, HR 143
10 Jun
12 miles, 1:36:26, 8:02 pace, HR 145

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Recovery, Again

Seriously, it's Saturday already? It feels like yesterday that I ran in Cork. The weather has been a lot better since, which is of course absolutely typical. That said, the last two days have been rather windy, though still less so than marathon day had been.

Obviously I have spent the week recovering from Cork. The extra fatigue added to the still existing one from Turin has been unquestionable. My VDOT values on Tuesday had dropped off the chart once more, just like they had been in the aftermath of Turin, but have thankfully rebounded reasonably well since then.

I did 3 runs of 5 miles each and since I progressed fairly quickly from a pathetic hobble on Tuesday to something almost resembling running on Thursday I upped the daily mileage to 8 on Friday. I wasn't entirely sure if running for an hour already was a wise move but to be honest the legs were itching to add a bit of a workload. The one major problem I had both yesterday and today was to keep the HR down. Today was particularly frustrating as the legs felt pretty good and were begging me to run faster. I tried to keep a lid on things and ran at a really low effort, yet the watch kept beeping at me almost relentlessly. I'll be glad when that settles down - I have been doing far too much recovery running this year for my liking already!

The weather is supposed to improve over the next week; maybe we'll even get something remotely resembling a summer! The kids sure would approve. The twins have been on their holidays already but haven't managed to spend a lot of time outside yet. It would be a godsend - one of them has started running all of a sudden, much to my delight of course, and a few nice days would greatly improve the chances of them sticking to it.

I won't be running in Portumna this year as that would just add to my already overloaded fatigue levels. But there is now a parkrun in Killarney, in addition to the one in Tralee, and I really have to start showing my face in those. It's a fantastic idea and deserves to be supported.

And, by the way, congratulation to Tom Enright for running his 100th marathon in Cork. Despite all his protestations to the contrary I don't believe for a second that it was his last one, though.

3 Jun
5 miles, 44:52, 8:58 pace, HR 138
4 Jun
5 miles, 43:00, 8:35 pace, HR 143
5 Jun
8 miles, 1:06:02, 8:17 pace, HR 143
6 Jun
8 miles, 1:05:17, 8:09 pace, HR 147

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Good Times In Cork

I have been pacing in the Cork City marathon for 5 years in a row now. I enjoy it very much and it would take quite something for me to miss that, and the small matter of a World Championship 7 weeks beforehand was certainly not reason to break that sequence. The pacers are always very well looked after in Cork and the pacing gear, which we get to keep, is always top quality. That's in contrast to Dublin where we are equally well looked after but the gear isn't always up to scratch.

Anyway, about a week before the race Niamh asked "are you staying in the River Lee hotel", and since that probably happens to be our favourite hotel in Ireland (not that we have sampled a lot of them) she more or less insisted on coming along. We then added daughter Lola to the mix and this quickly started to resemble a family outing rather than a pacing job. Family circumstances also dictated that I would miss the Expo entirely (a Frozen sing-along and dress-up is basically compulsory for Maia, no compromises) but I did manage to show up at the pacers' meeting point on Monday morning in time and it all worked out well.

I gave Grellan a bit of an earful for bailing out of the 3:15 pace group and leaving me to get the job done on my own but he didn't seem too bothered. It did deprive me of the chance to be part of the oldest 3:15 pacing duo in history but maybe we can do that next year as long as our creaking bodies hold up for another 12 months. Jo had organised for another lad to jump in at mile 10 to help out in case I wasn't quite up to the job for 26.2 miles, but until then I had the responsibility for the entire 3:15 group resting on my shoulders alone.

The weather forecast had been scary at times but seemed to improve slightly as the race date got closer. We knew that plenty of rain and wind were going to arrive at some stage, the question remained when. General consensus amongst the pacers was that we would be alright; we just hoped for dry weather at the start. Once you get moving, a bit of rain isn't too bothersome.

About to get going. Photo by Derek Costello
We started on time and got going. The first quarter mile was the usual game of dodging the idiots who had started right at the front and then proceeded to block the runners behind (I'm deliberately not mincing my words here. If you start right at the front and then run at 10-minute mile pace you're an idiot who is endangering yourself as well as the runners behind you), but thankfully we got past that stage quickly and without incident and from thereon settled into our pace, which I expected to be around 7:20 on my GPS device. I had done a few pacing miles on Thursday to get a feel for the pace and while it had felt manageable, it was definitely a bit challenging. I was therefore surprised how easy it felt on marathonday. I was basically jogging along perfectly relaxed and with very little apparent effort. So far so good.

Mile 1. Photo by Derek Costello
I missed the first 2 mile markers and at mile 3 found that we were 2 seconds behind. Ideally you want to be a few seconds ahead, and while the gap was too small to be a problem I realised that I had to up the pace slightly - 7:20 on the watch wasn't going to do it, 7:16-7:18 was more like it. That was faster than expected but I still felt perfectly comfortable at that pace. None of the pacees complained either, but the fact that the wind would have been at our backs at that point sure did help.

Passing the first relay exchange shortly after mile 5 provided a bit of excitement. Having a relay in a marathon can be a two-edged sword. There is always a big buzz at the relay stations and if you're feeling good, this is going to make you feel even better. If you're having a bad day, however, being overtaken by a new batch of fresh runners every 5 miles can be soul-destroying. Luckily, as a pacer I've never had that problem (yet!).

We went through the tunnel and after we had climbed out at the other side I could tell my group that they had already mastered the worst climb of the day. The next stretch was the first one to be a bit more challenging as we were running right into the headwind for a while and it clearly required an increase in effort. With only about a third of the race done everyone (at least everyone I could see) was still felt fresh enough to respond.

After 9 miles we were joined by our second pacer. I had been a bit dubious about the idea of having a new pacer jump in but have to admit that it was a good idea. It certainly took the pressure off me being solely responsible for the entire group and I knew the guys and lady would be taken care off even if I had to drop off for whatever reason.

Because the pace between the mile markers and the watch was so different, I had to keep a close eye on the markers to keep us on pace, because obviously it's the official markers that count, not the virtual miles on your watch. It wasn't a major issue but it made things a little bit more complicated. It certainly was a factor for miles 10 and 11 being a bit fast - not by much but closer to 7-minute pace than I would have planned. The fact that they were net downhill and with an increasingly strong wind at our back was undoubtedly the main contributor. I did apologise to the group but the main consensus was that having half a minute extra in the bag wasn't a bad thing with a few miles against that wind just about to come.
Photo by Doug Minihane
As we went around the sharp corner at Blackrock castle, one runner in the group had a fall. I don't know if he was tripped or stumbled over the kerb, but he executed a perfect side roll manoeuvre and got up quickly, having lost no time and luckily unhurt. I was actually quite impressed by the nimble reaction. I don't look anything like that when I take a fall!
Photo by Doug Minihane
The next couple of miles along the water, and right into the wind, were as challenging as expected. The group still held together well. The first casualty arrived just before mile 13, when a loud POP signalled that for the first time ever I was going to arrive at the end of a pacing job without my balloon. I'm sure some of the runners behind me weren't particularly sad as it meant no more balloon bouncing on heads or into faces in the windy conditions.

We got to the halfway mark about 40 seconds ahead of time, pretty much where I would have wanted to be. The next few miles were a bit of a breather, sheltered against the conditions on the old railway line. I really like that stretch and on the rare occasions when I'm in Cork for a training run I generally go there as it's ideal for running. Close to the 15 mile mark the other balloon popped as well. Luckily, at that point most of the runners recognised us as pacers even without the balloons, and we still had blue signs on our back identifying as as 3:15 pacers for anyone running behind us.

Photo by Kieran Minihane
After passing the marina, another relay point and a good crowd making plenty of noise, it was time to start working hard and getting the job done. Mile 18 especially was tough climbing up the South Link Road and once more right into a headwind that seemed to be getting stronger. It didn't get any easier after that because what followed were a few miles with rolling hills, still very much wind affected. This stretch was going to make or break your race.

For the most of it I was still feeling reasonably comfortable but on a few of those climbs I definitely started breathing hard and had to put in a real effort. Still, by that time I knew for sure that I was going to be able to finish the job.

Photo by Joe Murphy
The legendary Mary Sweeney had been just ahead of the group for quite some time and then ran with us for a while. Her pace had been so steady that at one stage I remarked that next year there was no need for 3:15 pacers, just follow Mary. Unfortunately she eventually did fall behind a bit but she finished not far behind me.

Just like last every year, these were the miles where the group fell apart. It always happens that way, the pacing group stays together until a few miles after the halfway point and then runners drop off one by one. If you're lucky, a fair few runners will manage to stay with you and you might add to the group when catching a runner ahead who will then be able to hang on. If you're unlucky you will cross the finish line on your own.

Thankfully, Cork is a big enough marathon to provide a sufficient number of runners to keep a core group together even for the later miles. A few runners would finish 2, 3, 5 or more minutes behind but as the 3:15 pacer you can expect to bring about half a dozen runners with you all the way.

Photo by Gearóid Ó Laoi

Shortly after passing the 22 mile point there is a downhill stretch followed by two right turns and that signals you're on the home straight. There are still 4 miles to be completed but the hills are behind you and on most days, including today, you have the wind mostly on your back. A group of 4 or 5 runners pulled slightly ahead of me and for a few minutes I ran at their pace before I realised that the guys had upped the pace a bit and I was going a little bit too fast. At that point I was about 40 or 50 seconds ahead of time and maybe 20 metres ahead of the other pacer so I eased up a little bit. Every time I caught up to another runner I encouraged them to stay with me. Only one of them let me know that there was nothing left, all others at least hung on for a while. Once they fell behind they got further encouragement from the rest of the group just behind me, which helped them again.

The rest of our group caught up to me just after 25 miles and we ran home together. A few guys and girls were struggling, cramps not helping, but everyone dug in deep and then, finally, we crossed the bridge and headed for the finish. I crossed the line in a official chip time of 3:14:38, which is pretty accurate pacing and I was rather pleased with that. Coincidentally, my gun time was exactly 3:15:00. I could claim to be a pacing genius but that was complete coincidence (and in fact, when I crossed the line I thought I had about 2 seconds in hand on gun time).

The watch showed 26.52 miles at the end, which is rather long but consistent with previous Cork marathons. Strangely enough, the difference between the official mile markers and the watch seemed to decrease over the last 10 miles after steadily growing for the first 16. I really had to keep a close eye on the markers today. Please note, however, that I do not question the accuracy of the course. I know the guy who measured it and have full confidence in him.

Due to my slow recovery after Turin I had been a bit nervous beforehand, but I had felt much more comfortable than I could have expected. However, once I stopped running my legs started feeling rather sore, more so than usual, and the walk back to the hotel was less than comfortable. The weather was also turning nasty at that point. We had been caught by a few rain showers and a few hefty gusts of wind on the road but until 12 o'clock it was still mostly okay, After that, however, it got worse by the minute and while the 3:15 pace group had clearly escaped the worst I felt sorry for the slower runners who had to battle some awful conditions.

Congratulations to all the runners in Cork, especially of course my own pace group. Thank you to everyone who said hello and who congratulated me on the run in Turin, either before, during or after the race, I was really flattered by the attention. I really enjoyed running this marathon, I hope you did as well.

Incidentally, my two ladies enjoyed being pampered in the spa of the River Lee hotel as well. I think they already booked themselves in for next year. I better be ready once more.

1 Jun
Cork City Marathon
3:14:38, 7:25 pace, HR 158, 3:15 pacer
2 Jun
5 miles, 47:25, 9:24 pace, HR 141