Monday, September 28, 2015

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Though the 1000 words will follow eventually, I promise. We're still in Athens and will be flying home tomorrow, Tuesday. I'll start writing my long-awaited race report then.

In the meantime, this will do.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Oh The Pain!

33:29, 73rd place.
I have no idea why anyone would want to do that to themselves!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Last Minute Preparations

I started running slower than 9-minute pace. I know at least one ultra runner who thinks I should be doing more training at ultra-pace but my view has always been that running 10-minute miles after more than 100 miles has absolutely nothing in common with running 10-minute miles on fresh legs, and I'm better off training at an effort level that will actually produce some fitness gains. Like previous long ultras I am only practising the shuffle the last few days before the race when there is no more extra fitness to be gained.

I did one more heat adaptation run, on Tuesday. Due to the lower effort I did not produce anywhere near as much sweat and the lower distance (6 miles vs. the usual 8) made this much easier as well as it's usually the last few miles where the hard work (and therefore most of the adaptation) happens. However, this was merely a last-minute top up to make sure whatever adaptation I have built up will not have eroded by Friday.

I created a new "ultra" mode on the watch. In Turin the battery died after 18 hours. I created a mode that does not use the HRM and only checks the GPS at 10 second intervals. Hopefully this should see the battery last for 25 hours. It still won't see me all the way into Sparta. In theory I could try using a re-charger on the road but I've got a serious race to run and I'll be damned if I let myself be distracted by fumbling around with cables and connectors. A complete GPS track still won't make me run faster, you know.

I stopped drinking coffee on Monday. It came as a shock to the system - I'm sure the headache I had all Tuesday, and which is still not entirely gone Wednesday morning, is caused by that.

I have packed my bags. I have checked my bags to make sure everything is packed. Then I checked my bags in case I had inadvertently removed anything while checking the bags. Yes, I started getting nervous.

I know Niamh is a bit worried. "Will you know when to stop?" "Yes, when I reach Sparta!". I know that's not what she meant but that's what I have in mind.

We'll arrive in Athens very late on Wednesday (probably not ideal but it's the best connection I could find, seeing as there were no direct flights). Sign-up and race meeting will be on Thursday.

And on Friday we run.

For anyone interested in following me and my fellow runners, the Spartathlon website mentions there will be a live video of the race broadcast on the net, and there is an athlete's tracker as well. My race number is 195.
21 Sep
5 miles, 45:57, 9:11 pace, HR 129
22 Sep
6 miles, 55:17, 9:13 pace
   heat adaptation
23 Sep
5 miles, 45:35, 9:07 pace

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Taper Madness

On Monday my right ankle hurt.
On Tuesday my left knee hurt.
On Wednesday my left calf felt very tight
On Thursday my left hip hurt.
On Friday my right hip hurt.
On Saturday my left hip hurt.
On Sunday my calves are both tight, my right hip hurts and my hamstrings are feeling tight.

Goodness gracious me, I do hate tapering!

On Thursday I did yet another heat adaptation run. It was hard work but I could tell there was some progress being made, so I was pleased with it.

On Friday I intended to run 10 miles. I got up in time and got ready, only to decide at the very last minute to cut it down to 8. The Spartathlon was only a week away, which must have been on my mind I guess. That was when I mentally accepted that I was tapering, I guess but I had been taking it reasonably easy for a while already.

On Saturday I once again donned the 4 layers for my heat adaptation run. I can definitely tell that my body is adapting: my HR is lower, my pace is higher and the required effort level well down. Heat adaptation is supposed to last for about a week; I'll do one more just to keep it all topped up.

I went up to Windy Gap on Sunday morning. Ideally I would have swapped the weekend runs around
but I did not have time for a mountain run on Saturday, real life not taking a break just yet. The weather was pretty wild when I left home and on the first climb up to Treanmanagh I was wondering what it would be like once I approached the Gap but in actual fact it calmed down considerably over the next few miles and it was almost pleasant. I took it easy and ran most of it on autopilot. If I can run that brutal climb up to the Gap on autopilot I must be in good form, I guess. On the way back home my calves felt unreasonably tight but when I tried to work on them with The Stick afterwards I could not feel any sore points.

This was the last run resembling a workout, I suppose. In 3 days we're flying out to Athens and in 5 days ...

17 Sep
8 miles, 1:05:32, 8:11 pace, HR 155
   heat adaptation
18 Sep
8 miles, 1:05:05, 8:08 pace, HR 139
19 Sep
8 miles, 1:04:52, 8:06 pace, HR 150
   heat adaptation
20 Sep
10.7 miles, 1:39:46, 9:19 pace, HR 142
   Windy Gap

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Single Digit Countdown

I probably should not have been surprised but I was: my quads were surprisingly sore on Monday, obviously a direct result of Sunday's mountain run. The fact that I had run it all at a very sedate effort had not saved me from a fair amount of DOMS. It sure felt a lot more sore than after the Dingle marathon or the Achill Ultra.

I took it easy on Monday anyway as it was another heat adaptation run wrapped in 4 layers. There is definitely some progress being made on that front. The HR was lower than on the previous adaptation runs (though the run being half a mile shorter affects that as well) and I did not get that dizzy feeling after finishing, which is definitely a plus. I will do a couple more, to make sure I do not lose the hard-gained adaptations so far. How much this is relevant in reality - I guess I'm going to find out!

After all those workouts I was actually looking forward to a bag-standard 10 mile run on Tuesday. I don't know how often I have run those 5 miles along the lake and back again but it must be in the hundreds, and yet I still enjoy the scenery and it never feels old. Only problem was, I have run 8 miles so often in recent times that I automatically turned around at the 4-mile point without thinking and it took me another mile to realise that I was supposed to run out for another mile. Ah well. I tagged on another out-and-back mile back home instead, no matter.

Wednesday was one last interval workout. Since the race is getting rather close I decided to deliberately run a bit slower than last time and rather teh 6:30-6:40 pace slot. I almost managed it during the first repeat; after that I concentrated on running as relaxed as possible instead of pushing the effort and wouldn't you believe it, I was actually running faster that way despite it feeling easier. It would have been an epiphany except that I have experienced it before and the lesson never seems to stick. I also cut the recovery even further, down to 0.15 miles which really did not feel very long. I started feeling the effort at the fourth repeat and even more so at the fifth and decided to call it a day there and then because you should always end an interval workout when you still have at least one more interval in you, even more so 9 days before your goal race. It was definitely the right call.

14 Sep
7.5 miles, 1:02:39, 8:21 pace, HR 151
   heat adaptation
15 Sep
10 miles, 1:21:29, 8:09 pace, HR 145
16 Sep
7 miles, 55:49, 7:58 pace, HR 151
   incl 5 x 800 @ 6:29, 6:26, 6:19, 6:25, 6:22 pace

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The 12 Days Of Sparta

The mileage this week was a rather modest 56 miles. Just looking at that number you might think I was recovering from Dingle and/or have started my taper, but in actual fact you'd be wrong.

Almost every run this week was a stressor, though I made sure to stress different elements on consecutive days. As for the taper, since I haven't done any training that would require tapering, this will be a rather short one. I've still got one week of training left, though I won't be doing any mad stuff. I'll then take it easy the last few days before the race but that's it.

The legs felt surprisingly fresh on Friday when I would have expected them to be stiff and tired after Thursday's intervals. I did another heat adaptation run, hoping that it would work despite the heavy rain. I wrapped myself into 4 layers once more but tried to take it a tad easier than on Tuesday when I felt I had gotten into slightly dangerous territory. This work is exhausting! The heart rate shows how hard I had to work despite the slow pace and I was definitely glad to be back home. Once I stopped running I had the same lightheaded feeling as on Tuesday, despite thinking I had taken it easier. Also, my HR was actually higher than on Tuesday, so something in my body did not agree with the easy effort. However, I recovered quickly and had none of the confused state that had scared me a bit two days earlier.

I did my standard 10 mile run on Saturday, the same run that would be the run-of-the-mill run in my training, except that I had not done one in months due to the time out with injury. Despite all the progress I have made over the last few weeks it did show that I am still a big bit off top shape - I could have sworn I was moving faster than 7:55 pace, pushing sub-8 still requires more effort than I would have thought. I'm really surprised that I managed to run Dingle at that pace last Saturday and how easy that had felt - race day adrenaline is powerful stuff!

Probably the 2nd best sight in the world! - Photo by Nick Papageorge
To cap off the week I ventured into the mountains once again, despite the heavy rain. There were no views to be had this morning (what a shame!) but that's not what I had come for. I needed to get some more strength into those calf muscles. The left calf has felt very tight all week but some work with The Stick three times a day seems to have gotten me over the worst. Anyway, I took it very easy on that mountain, I wasn't out to break any records. The heavy rain has left its marks, I actually came across a spot where a very recent landslide (maybe as recent as last night, it looked rather fresh) has redecorated the road - I did wonder if it was safe to continue but thankfully the rest of the way was unaffected by anything. The plan had been to spend 2 hours on that mountain. I expected that road to take a few minutes less but due to the slow pace I hit the time almost exactly. Yes, I can run faster than that but today was all about time on feet and getting some strength into the climbing legs.

Sparta is getting close.

11 Sep
8 miles, 1:06:49, 8:21 pace, HR 154
   heat adaptation run
12 Sep
10 miles, 1:19:18, 7:55 pace, HR 146
13 Sep
12.15 miles, 2:00:13, 9:53 pace, HR 145
   Windy Gap x 2

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Recovery? What Recovery?

Recovery from Dingle was swift - in fact I barely noticed that I had a marathon in those legs. Sunday was still a bit stiff, alright, but by Tuesday I could no longer feel any trace of that race.

Two weeks from now I will be in sunny Greece. Usually I would state at this point that the training is done and the hay in the barn but with all the time I missed during the summer it really does not feel that way. I sure don't feel I particularly need a taper because I have not done any training that would require me to rest from. Obviously, cramming in long miles and tough workouts at this point is not an option either. Instead, I'm trying to get some last minute adaptations going that will hopefully assist me in my Spartan quest.

Heat adaptation is often neglected but will certainly be a requirement for someone used to training in about 10 degrees in Ireland when preparing for a race in Greece where the temperatures are presently at 31C/88F! On Tuesday I wrapped myself in 3 layers (long sleeved shirt, fleece jacket and running jacket) and a hat (lesson learned from the previous run!) and set off. I actually felt ok, was a little but warm but not exactly hot and the HR wasn't particularly high either: from the number alone (138) I would not have been able to tell if the very slightly elevated figure was caused by the marathon or the extra layers. It was only in the last mile when I increased the effort a little bit that I actually started to feel warmer than usual.

I wondered if that run had actually brought on any adaptations so I set the bar higher for Wednesday. I wore 4 layers (long sleeved shirt, cotton t-shirt, fleece jacket and running jacket), added gloves, ran for longer and at a higher intensity. Truth to be told, I might have overdone it a bit (now where have I said that before!). I was getting hot and steamy straight away, started to feel the effort by half way and was actually having to work damn hard just to get home. That's when I realised that I had been pushing my luck: I got light headed when I bent down to take off my shoes, I started feeling cold even when still wrapped in 4 layers and I generally got a bit confused (forgot to take off the HRM chest strap, mislaid the watch, put the shower on cold). I also kept sweating buckets for half an hour after finishing the run; my core temperature must have been seriously high. I guess I got away with it and afterwards figured as far as heat adaptation was concerned it was probably a very successful workout but this could be dangerous and a bit more caution would definitely be a good idea.

The legs had not been taxed by that run but I sure had put my body under a certain amount of stress so I wondered if it was a good idea to do a workout the next day. Then again, if in doubt I tend to go ahead and run, and that's what I ended up doing once more. I ran a set of half mile repeats, something that worked very well a few weeks ago and really seemed to bring me on, so I was keen to keep them going, despite my recent ultra/marathon combo. I reckoned I could always run a bit slower, maybe 7-minute pace, but started running the first repeat entirely by feel and only checked the pace halfway through: 6:19! Ok, relax a bit for the second half. The next one went similarly: I would start by feel, eventually checked the watch to find I was running a bit fast and then relaxed and concentrated on form and breathing for the reminder. The last 2 were at a slightly higher effort but still very much in control. I also cut down the rest interval to about 0.2 miles, about half of what I had given myself last time, but that did not seem to make any difference, I felt well recovered at the start of each faster segment. As ever, strava and movescount are reporting markedly different paces for the same workout; at least one of them is doing an appalling job! This time, however, the numbers I remember from the watch during the workout are closer to the movescount rather than the strava ones. I have no idea what pace I actually ran, only that it felt just right!

Wowzers, that went well! One lesson from Mystery Coach had been that when you get into form "the mind is winding up to ignore fatigue", which is great for racing but not so great for training as it can easily lead to burnout and overtraining if you're not careful. With 2 weeks to go, however, that's a great state to get into! I might be getting into shape just in time, lost summer or not.
7 Sep
5 miles, 43:58, 8:48 pace, HR 134
8 Sep
5 miles, 42:50, 8:34 pace, HR 138
   heat adaptation
9 Sep
8 miles, 1:07:13, 8:24 pace, HR 153
   heat adaptation
10 Sep
7.5 miles, 59:13, 7:54 pace, HR 151
   incl 6 x 800 @ 6:27, 6:18, 6:14, 6:20, 6:03, 6:07 pace

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Good News From Dingle [(c) Mo Olwill]

At least I wasn't the only one racing when feeling a bit under the weather:
“I had flu after the semi-finals,” said Kiprop, coughing intermittently, shortly after taking gold in the men’s 1500m final on Sunday evening. “Before the race I told the Kenyans to work extra hard because I was not reliable.” (from here)

And I was not even going to race, just jog along for a training run. On the other hand, mine was a marathon and a tough one at that. A friend of mine advised me to skip it but told me afterwards that at the same time he made a bet with himself that I would run nevertheless. He won that bet.

I had felt pretty crappy on Friday morning and cut my run short. I could clearly see the effects on the HRM and the marathon was definitely thrown into question. However, I felt better the longer the day went on and decided to get up on Saturday and assess how I felt. Turns out I felt just fine. Off to Dingle I went.

Obviously this was not a goal race. I had missed most of the summer due to injury, had run a 39 mile race a week earlier and then gotten a cold during the week, nothing of which promised a decent race. Since there was a half marathon on at the same time there was always the option of pulling out at halfway, but to be honest I never even contemplated that possibility.

The weather was pretty much ideal and the stunning scenery of the Dingle peninsula can do wonders to take your mind off the pain. I started far back in the field, much further back than I can remember in recent years, a bit behind the 3:45 pace balloons. It took a while to cross the start line and I took it really easy over the first couple of miles, even by training-run standards. I slowly caught up with Fozzy, the 3:45 pacer, and had a bit of a chat with him before pulling slightly ahead. When asked what I had planned for today I had always vaguely answered with "something between 3:30 and 3:45", but I was just going to run this entirely by feel and adapt accordingly with no consideration for the final time.

There was no 3:30 marathon pacer but my friend and near-neighbour Chris Grayson was employed as 1:45 half pacer, which was of course the same pace. After 3 or so miles I noticed that I was gradually getting closer to his balloon and eventually caught up. We had a little chat as well and he introduced the runner beside him as Mike, "a Man United supporter", so we obviously had a few digs at each other while running along the road. Eventually my legs felt better than 3:30 pace and I pulled away again. Mike caught up again after a bit, we had a few more (friendly) words and then he tore off towards the finish - he was only doing the half (typical U****d, can't last the distance).

There is a long drag up to mile 8 and while I felt pretty good on the upwards gradient itself, the effort seemed to start to get to me once on top and for the next few miles I actually wondered if I had just stupidly overcooked myself. Nevertheless I caught up to Tony, who was running his 7th Dingle marathon today, never having missed a single one (I was only on my sixth, having taken a break in 2013 after the Connamara 100 miler). Once more we chatted as we cruised along the road but on one of the many little climbs towards Dunquin he fell behind.

I had overtaken a lot of runners from mile 3 to 8 but noticed that by now there were a few runners passing me again. I wondered if I had slowed down or if most of them were half marathon runners who started to to smell the finish and gave it a final push. I did recognise a German marathon runner, however, who I had overtaken a mile or two earlier and figured that at least some of them were doing the full distance. I didn't feel particularly bad but I did wonder if that was a sign that I was about to hit the wall.

In previous years it had always gotten very lonely immediately after the half marathon finish in Dunquin so I was surprised to see at least a dozen marathon runners ahead of me heading up the long climb out of the village. Then I realised that I had been going through Dunquin more than an hour earlier than usual because this year I was running the marathon, not the (sadly now discontinued) ultra. For some reason, once I started the climb I immediately started to feel better and stronger and started to make my way through the field once more. The climb is misleadingly long, it does flatten out a bit once out of Dunquin but it keeps going uphill for close to 2 miles. To make it tougher than usual, the wind was blowing right into our faces - quite a difference to the normal wind direction that would have given us a helping hand on the way home (after battling it for the first 10 miles, obviously). However, I seemed to get loads of energy out of nowhere and felt better and better. I did wonder how long that would last but since every step got me closer to the finish I reckoned even if I blew up at some point it would be close enough to the end to be able to cope.

The legs never felt particularly fresh, I could clearly feel last week's effort in Achill in the hamstrings but apart from that base fatigue, that I could easily handle, I felt surprisingly good. For the next few miles I kept passing runner after runner. Every time I went past one there was another target not too far ahead. I must have passed at least 2 dozen runners over the next few miles and I was still gaining on those ahead. Going through Ballyferriter I remembered last year when I had caught up to James Whitty in the ultra here but then he started pulling away again when he could hear my steps. This year I felt a lot fresher with the benefit of 25 fewer miles in the legs at that point. A mile later I passed Alan Gorksi who was having a much tougher time today but of course he made it to the finish as well.

By then we could see the big final hill looming ahead of us, the one that Dingle is (in)famous for. Before that we had to go on an out-and-back section where you get a good look at runners ahead and behind you. The out section was once more straight into the wind but obviously we got the benefits on the way back. I also saw the leading lady on that section who wasn't too far ahead of me (I didn't know at the time she was the leading lady, of course).

After about 21.5 miles we hit the hill, and steep it was. I have exceptionally good memories of that section, however, because that's where I caught James last year to secure a podium finish. Maybe that's why I quipped to a runner "this is the fun bit" as I passed him, but I think he saw the humour in it. I even repeated that line when Ken, the RD, passed me in his car and had a couple of words. By now I knew I wasn't going to blow up, it was too close to the finish. After a mile or so the hill was bit less fun than it had been but it was just a matter of taking just one more step, and one more step, and one more step, until we were at the top. Once there, I gradually let the legs spin on the downhill section. Usually I'm too tired at this point and the quads too ripped to shreds to get much joy out of that downhill but today was a good day and I just went with the flow. It doesn't take much effort to run down that hill if you're still able to take the pounding and once more I blew past runner after runner, which this time also included the leading lady. Then you go round a bend and stare at over 2 miles of completely straight road, which can be rather soul-destroying as the end never seems to get any closer.

Rather than looking at that far-away target I just looked at the runner ahead of me as I gradually caught up and then repeated the process with the next one. I must have caught another half dozen runners on those last 3 miles until I passed the 25 mile marker and the next runner seemed about a quarter mile ahead of me, probably too far ahead and I guessed I had reached my finishing position.

Despite passing all those runner, I still was not running at full race effort. I was just having fun, and with the legs feeling as good as they did I figured I might as well make some use of it. It's not that often that you run a marathon where you feel better with each mile, even at mile 25! I got into Dingle and sped down the road, almost saddened that the fun was about to end but very happy with how the race had gone. I finished in 3:24, having run the second half a bit faster than the first one (7:52 pace vs 7:46 on strava) and almost feeling like I could go round again (then again, the left calf had started to spasm a couple of times, so maybe not).

I used to think of Dingle as the toughest road marathon in Ireland but after running Achill last week I'd say that mantle has been passed on (and I've heard reports of  the quadrathon in Donegal). The question which is the most scenic, on the other hand, is not so easy to settle. Both areas are stunningly scenic and both are well worth a visit - do yourself a favour and see them for yourself.

As for myself, I am really glad I ran this. Whatever physiological gains I might have gained from that run, it's the psychological boost I take from here. To be able to run 26 miles so easily a week after the Achill Ultra tells me that the legs are definitely coming round and Sparta seems a lot more doable all of a sudden.

3 Sep
5 miles, 42:27, 8:29 pace, HR 37
4 Sep
4 miles, 43:32, 8:37 pace, HR 140
5 Sep
Dingle marathon, 26th place
3:24:25, 7:48 pace, HR 153
6 Sep
5 miles, 43:44, 8:44 pace, HR 136

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Quick Recovery

The good news is that the legs are feeling unexpectedly good. Originally I was planning on doing a cycle on Sunday rather than a recovery run but because I felt much better than expected I changed my mind and ran. The first half mile was rather stiff and awkward (as Alison, who happened to pass by, can testify) but once I loosened up I felt perfectly comfortable. DOMS can take 2 days to appear, so I wasn't celebrating just yet but there was no need to worry, I felt even better on Monday. Later that day I deliberately walked down a staircase in the office instead of taking the lift purely to test my legs, and wouldn't you believe it, there was no soreness. How I could run an ultra on untrained legs and come away almost unscathed I'm not quite sure but obviously 11 years of training don't just disappear in 2 months. My lack of fitness might have cost me an hour in the race but that very same slow pace now seems to pay back in the form of an astoundingly quick recovery. The HR is rebounding as well - the numbers this week are better than the number I had the week after pacing the Cork marathon in June! This is almost miraculous!

It's not all roses, however, because I still have to pay a price for Achill in the form of a sore throat. Upper respiratory tract infections are fairly common after a long race and I've had a fair amount of them; usually they disappear very quickly. I don't have a temperature, just a sore throat and a mile headache and as long as it doesn't get any worse I won't be too worried.

I am signed up for the Dingle marathon on Saturday. I got a free entry after finishing third in last year's ultra, so I wasn't going to miss one of my favourite races if I could help it. Obviously I had wondered what shape I would be in after Achill but that seems to be no problem. The infection could still prevent me from taking part if it gets worse but chances are I will indeed run that marathon (sadly, the Dingle ultra is no more, though that's almost certainly a good thing this year with the Spartathlon just 3 weeks later).

I got through Achill much better than expected. The cramps are a bit of a worry - if I start cramping in Greece after 30 miles it's game over. However, I have never cramped in any of my 24 hour races (or 100 miler), no matter how exhausted I was; the slower pace certainly makes a difference.

Of course there was a certain lack of fitness that was clearly on show in Achill. That very same race, however, will hopefully have done a good job in rebuilding that fitness again and with another marathon in the legs on Saturday at least I will have gotten some long runs done, against all odds.

Anyway, I've run 5 miles each morning since Achill. The legs felt good enough on Tuesday to plan an 8 mile run on Wednesday but then the sore throat got so bad on Tuesday evening (I eventually had to take a paracetamol just to let me sleep) that I changed my mind and re-set the alarm. However, I felt much better in the morning and decided to sneak in a little workout, just to get the legs turn over properly for once without taxing them too much, so I did a 60 seconds on / 60 seconds off fartlek, while varying the intensity of the "on" parts. I could feel the right calf muscle again during that run, the one that had misbehaved so badly in Achill, so something still isn't 100% right.

One more thing: after the race on Saturday, Donna generously decided that I should receive a special prize for coming first Irishman in the World championships in April (my performance in Achill sure did not warrant a prize!). She is an artist and gave away some props that had been used during a performance art session a couple of years ago, so now I have a real piece of modern art in our driveway.

 I think that's really cool. Niamh and the kids are a bit confused.

31 Aug
5 miles, 44:23, 8:53 pace, HR 135
1 Sep
5 miles, 43:37, 8:43 pace, HR 135
2 Sep
5 miles, 39:56, 7:59 pace, HR 150
   60/60 fartlek