Sunday, November 29, 2015

Blown Away

I almost called this entry "Sick and Tired" which would have been somewhat accurate but deemed it too negative.

Training for a marathon or an ultra isn't exactly glamorous, especially so in the winter. It often boils down to putting in the miles, one after the other, often on tired legs and almost always on your own, in the dark, away from everyone and everything.

This week was rather challenging as I was always struggling to recover. I needed recovery from the race last Saturday and recovery from whatever bug affected me as well as half of the family. I know some people think I'm an idiot for always trying to run, never mind the circumstances. Feeling sick? Go for a run. Pain in the leg? Go for a run. Having to drive someone to an airport or train station a 6 am? Get up at 4 am and run. Tired or hungover? Definitely go for a run, that's not even an excuse. Storm blowing outside? Try to find a lull in the storm and find a somewhat sheltered piece of road and run.

I freely admit I got it badly wrong on two occasions. 8 years ago I stubbornly ran through a cold with a cough that got worse and worse until I developed pneumonia and was bedridden for 3 weeks (boy that hurt!). And this summer I ran for two weeks through a hip pain that just did not get any better until I finally had to admit defeat and subsequently missed 6 weeks of what should have been a crucial training period.

On all other occasions I was right to keep on running. The way I see it I'm still way ahead of where I would be training-wise than if I accepted excuses for not running, despite those 2 setbacks. I would not have gotten to the World Championship if my mindset wasn't to go for a run under virtually any circumstances.

I didn't feel great on Thursday, though I was already better than the day before. I took it reasonably easy because the legs were tired from the long run on Wednesday, otherwise there isn't much to report. I ran the same road again but a little bit quicker on Friday. On both days I was a little bit slower that I would have thought effort-wise. I'm pretty sure that's the cold knocking my system slightly out of whack. I can see in my HR graphs that the numbers dipped badly on Wednesday and then gradually recovered until they were more or less back to where I would have expected them on Saturday.

I ran a bit faster on Saturday, though the conditions weren't exactly ideal. The blustery wind on its own was bad enough but when it blew the rain straight into my face it was less than pleasant and not exactly conducive to a great run. I was still pleased with how it went, though.

On Sunday I awoke to the sound of the storm raging outside. Actually, I did that on several occasions as the wind kept waking me until I finally got up at around 7 o'clock. Storm Clodagh is the third storm of the season worthy of its own name, though once more it was the North that took the brunt of it and we got away relatively lightly. I checked the Met Eireann website but failed to notice the orange alert being issued (orange for wind, yellow for rain) - having said that, in retrospect they were being overcautious. I could not fail to notice the wind and the debris on the road and wondered where to run. I reluctantly settled on running back-and forwards on the Ard-na-Sidhe road but was stopped dead in my tracks less than two miles into my run by a fallen tree blocking the entire road. After a bit of hesitation I climbed through the branches and continued on. There were no other major bits of debris around (plenty of minor ones, though) and I decided to run between that tree and where the road starts to climb in earnest towards the Devil's Elbow, a stretch of just under a mile. To be honest, the prospect of running back-and-forwards on that road no less than 9 times each way didn't exactly fill me with anticipation and I somewhat doubted I would last the distance but in the end I just got on with it and ran. The legs were tired straight away due to yesterday's run and started to hurt properly after 8 miles, the conditions got pretty bad at times and running on the same stretch of road so many times was really stretching it but somehow I got through it all, climbed through the tree once more, joked with a couple walking their dog what a nice morning it was for a stroll and headed for home.

There has to be some bonus for getting through that kind of stuff!

26 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:16, 8:07 pace, HR 145
27 Nov
10 miles, 1:20:19, 8:02 pace, HR 143
28 Nov
12 miles, 1:30:07, 7:30 pace, HR 152
29 Nov
20 miles, 2:43:06, 8:09 pace, HR 147
Weekly Mileage: 85

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Toil And Reward

On Monday morning my first impression was that the legs felt much better than expected after a fairly tough weekend (which seems to be something I am saying after every weekend). I still took it reasonably easy on my run, though the pace was definitely slower than what I would have expected.  A couple of miles before the finish I somehow manage to trip over nothing but the flat road surface and took a tumble. Nothing was hurt but my pride and I have no idea how that happened. I have always been a bit clumsy, which is one of the main reasons why I prefer road running to trail or mountain running, but stumbling over nothing at all?

Later that day my legs felt really achy - I think it was a very delayed reaction to the tough weekend.

I could of course claim that I therefore decided to take it a bit easier on Tuesday by only running 8 miles but truth is that I overslept and only had time for 8, and if the cat had not woken me shortly after 6 o'clock it would have been even less. It was cold and windy and then it started raining as well - we're definitely heading towards my least favourite weather conditions, icy cold rain and wind, horrible. We're not quite there yet though, thankfully.

The "Run The Kingdom" group had an awards night in Tralee on Tuesday and I was very honoured to receive an achievement award for my races in 2015, specifically the World Championship and the Spartathlon. Funnily enough I'm not entirely happy with my performance in either race as I think I could have done better in both but I accepted the award nevertheless - it was a great honour, thank you very much!

What I am distinctly less grateful for is the fact that we have now firmly moved into the colds and flu season, and with 4 kids at school age we are assured a constant stream of new infections. Maia was very snuffly at the weekend but is already feeling much better. Cian, on the other hand, is at home at the moment, recovering, as are half of his classmates. I'm not sure whose bug I caught but I've got a sore throat and am generally feeling achy and not 100% myself. I didn't sleep too well and wondered if going for a run was a good idea but my default setting is to always go for a run and see how it goes. As it turns out I felt perfectly fine while running, better then when not running in fact. However, I'm sure the very high HR this morning is a direct result of my body having to fight off an infection. The facts that I ran over a very hilly course and had to deal with a blustery wind only added to that. I also managed to take a wrong turn at a junction early on but  luckily noticed it after a minute or so. It would have taken me on a longer route around the lake, which is the road I had used last Sunday. I must have still been half asleep.

23 Nov
10 miles, 1:23:51, 8:23 pace, HR 137
24 Nov
8 miles, 1:06:34, 8:19 pace, HR 137
25 Nov
15.3 miles, 2:07:58, 8:20 pace, HR 147

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Ultra runners are creatures of habits. I guess there's no denying that: I have only been using Strava since August 2014 and yet I have already amassed a three-figure number of 10 mile runs on the same road alongside Caragh Lake (someone called me "Mr 10 miles a couple of months ago). Yes, this is my standard run. I think I recently ran it 5 times in a row. It has everything: beautiful scenery, several hills and a very quiet road. Perfect. Having said that, I have upped my training a bit over the last 2 weeks, which meant a more varied approach.

Saturday was the day of our local race, the Killorglin Puck Warrior 10k. I have missed it the last 4 or 5 years because I never felt up for a 10k after running a long race during summer followed by the Dublin marathon and one or two more ultras in Dingle and Sixmilebridge. This year I have not raced since the Spartathlon 8 weeks ago and while racing during base building isn't particularly encouraged (depends who you ask, though) I just could not miss our home town race - some support for the local running community doesn't go amiss, I'm bad enough at that as it is.

Aine loves hills in her races! I'm pretty sure she has never put on a race over a flat course. Actually, the 5k was okay but to make up for that she put not just 1 but 2 killer climbs into the 10k, which was the distance I had opted for. I kept a steady pace with a few other guys in a little group, somewhere around 6th place. After the first hill that group had dwindled down to 3 and we ran together towards Cromane, though at that point I was hanging on for dear life. I lost contact by a couple of metres on 2 or 3 occasions but each time managed to claw my way back as I did not want to run into the wind on my own. Turning the corner only provided short respite because in no time at all we were at the second hill. At first I managed to somewhat stay in contact but then the imaginary bungee cord snapped and the guys pulled away. I could not make up the deficit on the downhill either, though it wasn't for lack of trying, I finished the race with a 6-minute mile, my fastest of the day, to finish in 7th position in 39:46 (on my own watch). So much effort for such a modest time! Just for the heck of it I took a screenshot to prove that I got into 4:xx pace at some point (yes it was downhill. Obviously!)

Before the start Seamus had jokingly suggested I pace him to 40 minutes so of course I gave out to him for not keeping up and missing out by 4 seconds while he gave out to me for not waiting for him - all in good spirit, obviously. Unfortunately I could not hang around as I had to immediately hurry home for the kids' music lessons in Tralee. I did a 2 mile cooldown run later on but after 10 minutes my blood sugar level had dropped and all I could do was crawl home while my heart seemed to be racing. Watermelon has never tasted so good!

I expected the legs to be totally dead on Sunday morning and was pleasantly surprised to find them in very good order (I guess the hit will come on Monday instead). I ran around the lake for the first time in ages and it went much better than expected. Last week the last 5 miles had been quite some drag, today they were much better, though admittedly I wasn't exactly feeling sprightly towards the end. It was a lovely sunny morning for a run - haven't had one of those in quite some time!

20 Nov
10 miles, 1:22:45, 8:16 pace, HR 138
21 Nov
10 miles, including:
Puck Warrior 10k, 39:46, 6:24 pace, HR 172, 7th place
22 Nov
18 miles, 2:21:20, 7:51 pace, HR 149
Weekly mileage: 85

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Attack Of The Purple Dinosaur

The weather has certainly been interesting the last few days, that's for sure. Storm Abigail wad followed by Barney and the weather front between those two had felt quite severe as well - there sure was not much of a respite for a wet and weary runner. The saving grace was that both severe storms had the good grace of hitting after I had already finished my morning run and blowing themselves out before the next run, but I've had more than a fair share of wind and rain in the last few days.

The legs felt pretty much dead on Monday morning so I took it exceptionally easy. Running on tired legs is not a bad thing in itself for an ultrarunner but you have to make sure it doesn't happen too often and it's always best to listen to your body and dial back the effort when needed, even by quite some bit as I did on Monday.

Tuesday did not start out well. It was pitch dark, I could not see a thing and got my angle wrong when running down our driveway and promptly ran right into a tree. Nobody witnessed it and nothing got hurt apart for a few scrapes but I finally relented and got out my headlamp (yes, I should have done that earlier). Things improved markedly following that calamity, the legs felt so much better and I decided to run a little bit faster. Nothing mad, always measured and in control but with the effort level just a tad higher to vary things. Things were helped by the fact that Tuesday morning had the best conditions for a while with little wind though that did not stop me from getting soaked because there simply was no getting away from the rain.

In marked contrast once again, conditions on Wednesday were atrocious. I got up very early, like in the good old days, to run for 2 hours. The wind and rain sounded ominous when I got ready and didn't disappoint either. The first few miles were almost acceptable but around mile 6 the heavens well and truly opened and it was bucketing it down. Add to that the strong gale force wind and you get the picture. It still wasn't the worst conditions I had ever run in but with the temperature dropping we're heading that way: once the rain feels icy cold we're at its worst. I had actually planned to run 15 miles but when I checked the watch after 10 I misread the numbers (which can happen quite easily  when it's pitch dark and you're running through a miniature hurricane) and thought I was running slower than expected and out of time, so I cut it short.

I had to get up just as early on Thursday morning but this time it was to drive Lola to the very early morning train in Killarney. I still had time to run 6 miles before work, which was twice as far as I thought I'd be able to, so that was an unexpected bonus. Because the run was so short I decided to spice it up a few times and put in quite a few surges and just generally played around with pace and effort. I managed to go out a second time after work but to be honest I didn't particularly enjoy running in the dark with considerably more traffic than I'm used to at 6 am, even if it's still a quiet country road.

What pleased me most about the last few days is the fact that 2 months after the Spartathlon the HR data has started to move fairly rapidly into the right direction. I think I'm finally getting over that race, though it will still take a bit longer until I can feel 100% recovered.

16 Nov
10 miles, 1:25:18, 8:32 pace, HR 134
17 Nov
12 miles, 1:33:43, 7:49 pace, HR 147
18 Nov
14 miles, 1:54:24, 8:10 pace, HR 143
19 Nov
am:6 miles, 45:30, 7:35 pace, HR 146
pm:5 miles, 38:57, 7:45 pace, HR 142

Sunday, November 15, 2015


The first of the winter storms hit us on Thursday. Most of these storms affect mainly the northern part of the island and here in Kerry we tend to get away lightly in comparison (until we don't). This one was somewhat cooperating in as much as it only struck properly once I had already finished my run on Thursday morning and mostly blew itself out before I went out again on Friday but I still had to deal with interesting conditions on both days. My standard procedure on particularly windy days is to run on the Ard-na-Sidhe road, where the trees give the advantage of providing some sort of wind shield but considering the amount of broken branches of all sizes on the road, this comes with its own dangers. I don't know how likely it is to be hit by a falling branch - clearly not very likely but it does happen and at times I do wonder.

Anyway, I got through it all without a scrape and a few more miles in the legs. I think my recent adjustments to my training worked very well. I still try to run a bit faster once a week but no longer at 7:10 pace and HR 160, more at 7:30 pace and HR 150, which leaves the body in much better condition and doesn't require two recovery days on stiff and tired legs. I'm pretty much back to the base training MC had me do - it only took me about 4.5 years to work that out for myself.

Abigail's yellow weather warning had only been in place until Friday morning but unfortunately the next one fit in seamlessly. The plan had been to run over the Windy Gap on Saturday but I was not sure how safe that would have been in those conditions and pored over the map for an alternative. I like to think I found a pretty good one - 4 loops of a hilly run with a very steep road for climbing and a gentler one for descending and the overall elevation change was similar to what the mountain run would have been like. Conditions were testing at times - at one point I thought it may have been hailstoning but it was just the rain being blown sideways with quite some force by the rather strong wind. The legs, however, handled it all pretty well - I must have been building up some decent amount of leg strength by now.

An unusual amount of procrastination brought some unexpected and undeserved rewards on Sunday. After looking out of the window for an hour until finally putting on the shoes and going for a run I realised that the rain had unexpectedly pretty much died down. The wind was still here, of course, but that was never going to go away today. I made it unnecessarily hard for myself by running too fast over the first half. Two or three times I consciously slowed down but each time the legs spun up again as soon as I stopped paying attention. I paid the price for that towards the end and the last 4, 5 miles sucked more than they had to.

Even so, it was a pretty good week of training. I managed over 83 miles and the pace is moving towards 8-minute miles on my easy runs.

12 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:10, 8:07 pace, HR 146
13 Nov
12 miles, 1:37:10, 8:06 pace, HR 144
14 Nov
12.6 miles, 1:43:59, 8:15 pace, HR 149
   very hilly
15 Nov
17 miles, 2:16:39, 8:02 pace, HR 146

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Gone With The Wind

It was always going to happen, of course, and now the unexpectedly nice spell of weather we had at the beginning of November is well and truly over. The last few days, with the exception of Saturday, have all been marked by gale force winds and varying degrees of rain. On Monday a colleague asked me "you didn't go running in this weather, did you?", to which I could only reply "I've seen a lot worse". That pretty much says it all - it wasn't particularly bad and worse is undoubtedly yet to come, but it was the first hint of the winter storms.

I changed my weekend training in an attempt to avoid feeling like a ton on bricks for the first half of the week. Instead of doing a faster run on Saturday and then dragging myself over the mountain on heavy feet on Sunday I ventured into the mountain on Saturday. Following several days of rain the Kerry Way was waterlogged in many places but perfectly runnable (apart from the one spot where there had been some minor earth slide a couple of months ago) and I gave it a good, honest effort - but was VERY surprised to see a segment PB popping up for one climb when I uploaded the data into the computer afterwards. Make no mistake, this is still a soft segment, I am nowhere near top fitness and I ran nowhere near top effort. Running this on fresh legs for a change must have made quite some difference.

The legs did feel the effort on Sunday, of course, but it was the lousy weather that made me change my mind about running around the lake because I really did not fancy facing the high winds on higher ground. I chose the most boring option, namely running to Ard-na-Sidhe and back three times in a row, which is the only piece of road I know in the vicinity where the trees provide some sort of shelter against the worst of the winds. The time passed surprisingly quickly and the legs were okay - a little bit heave but it never got any worse, despite this being the longest run since Sparta by 3 miles.
Entirely by accident I reached a figure of 77.7 miles for the week. Neat!

The legs felt a lot better this Monday than on previous Mondays so I call the change in my training a success. Remember, this is still about recovery at the moment, not building fitness. The numbers on Monday were definitely encouraging, the best ones so far since Sparta, which is good. Tuesday's weren't quite as good but with the gale force winds I had to battle that's not overly surprising. But at least I do get the distinct impression that things are going into the right direction. Finally!
7 Nov
10.7 miles, 1:33:56, 8:47 pace, HR 152
   Windy Gap
8 Nov
15 miles, 2:02:19, 8:09 pace, HR 146
9 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:08, 8:07 pace, HR 143
10 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:04, 8:06 pace, HR 146

Friday, November 06, 2015

Getting Old

I seem to be having the same discussion again and again:

"Did you run the Dublin marathon?"
"No, I decided on no more marathons for the rest of the year because I'm still recovering from my last race"
"How long was that?"
"153 miles"
"Over how many days was that?"

(big mistake - it gives away the fact that they don't read my blog).

Anyway, training. It's still stuttering along. I keep thinking that I'm taking it easy and my body keeps telling me that apparently I ain't.

The issue this week seems to be with Wednesday's run. I wanted to run just a little bit longer so I ran 12 miles instead of 10. No big deal. I kept the effort easy, at the same easy RPE that I run on most days. Apparently I wasn't: the HR that day was 148, about 5 beats higher than I would have thought and the pace was slightly below 8 minutes, again a bit faster than I would have thought but I only gleaned both bits of information when I checked the watch after the run. During the run I could have sworn I was running as the same level as usual. I did notice the legs getting a bit tired towards the end but since this was the longest run since Sparta this was only to be expected.

Well, wouldn't you know it, I have felt tired ever since. The legs felt stiff on Thursday but got gradually better as the run went long. On Friday it was the left hip that felt off and resulted in the slowest opening mile in weeks (and that says something as I always start very slowly - the first mile is my warm up) before gradually getting better. The weather didn't help, there was plenty of wind and rain on both days but that definitely doesn't explain the high HR on its own. I'm guessing that Wednesday's run inadvertently pushed the level a but too much and I had to pay the price.

This sucks. I hate having to run slowly every day. Recovery is so slow - I must be getting old.

Maia just had her 8th birthday. I called her old. Of course she corrected me: 8 years is not old, 40 is!

4 Nov
12 miles, 1:34:53, 7:54 pace, HR 148
5 Nov
10 miles, 1:22:57, 8:18 pace, HR 143
6 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:41, 8:10 pace, HR 148

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Stress And Recovery

As I'm sure you are aware, training is a never-ending story of stress, adaptation and recovery. You stress your body (in fact, you stress your mind as well), it adapts and recovers and the game starts again. This goes on at various levels and on various time scales, and on and on and on.

I obviously knew I was in dire need of recovery after the Spartathlon. However, I expected it to be somewhat similar to my previous 24-hour races. After all, I had covered 140 and 134 miles in my last 2 of those, so a 153 mile race seemed to be in the same league.

Except that it wasn't!

The varied terrain, the fact that we crossed two mountains, the much longer time on our feet and probably the changing weather conditions as well all added up to a much bigger stress factor. In the last few weeks I kept comparing my figures from now to the ones after Belfast and Turin and was left in no doubt, they were way worse this time round.

So, it was a matter of patience, which, as mentioned before, isn't always my greatest asset, though I'm still doing better than some. At the end of last week I could finally see some real improvement in the numbers as well as how I felt, so that was highly encouraging. Probably a bit too much so because on Saturday, after 5 days of nothing but slow running, I went out with the intention of giving the legs a decent workout once more. I'm still following MC's old guidelines (though I'm not 100% sure if he would agree) so I knew the thresholds of HR/effort that I was not to cross - except that, of course, I did cross them.

The problem is that my HR keeps drifting upwards when I do a tempo run. That is perfectly normal and expected, especially when I'm still in the very early days of a training cycle. So when I was right at the upper parameters right from the start the script was basically written. I just could not get myself to slow down and so the HR kept drifting up and up and up until I finally had to concede that I had f*cked this up. Ah well. Too late now.

I paid an immediate price the next day as the legs were exceptionally stiff and tired and I kept the effort on my mountain run as easy as it is possible while climbing a (minor) mountain. That run took me several minutes more than the week before, when the effort has already been rather easy (for similar reasons).

Then, on Monday, I compared the numbers to the previous Monday and they did not make happy reading. Stressing your body is fine and good but it needs to be at the appropriate level. There is no point in running so hard that you set yourself back, you want to build yourself up, gradually and slowly. With that in mind, I'm back at running slowly again this week. I'll make changes to my training because I don't want to fall into the same trap every weekend. I have a couple of ideas but I'll have to think them through first.

On the plus side, Tuesday's run was much better and the expected DOMS from Sunday's mountain run never materialised - almost certainly because I had taken it so easy. I'll still take it easy for a few more days.

My eldest daughter has a cold at the moment and I can feel it a bit as well - all the more reason to take it easy, of course.

31 Oct
10 miles, 1:14:35, 7:28 pace, HR 155
   incl. 8 miles @ 7:12 pace
1 Nov
10.7 miles, 1:37:02, 9:04 pace, HR 15o
   Windy Gap
2 Nov
10 miles, 1:24:08, 8:25 pace, HR 144
3 Nov
10 miles, 1:21:43, 8:10 pace, HR 145