Saturday, December 31, 2016

All That's Left

This is the time when people usually look back at the year that was. As much as I'm usually  a non-conformist, this time round my view seems to be in tune with the general vibe - 2016 was one shite year!

That's certainly true as far as running is concerned; I had 3 targets for the year and missed them all. The one I got closest to was the sub-3 marathon in Manchester but I missed that by a minute. I'm pretty sure I would have gotten it had I not run the Tralee marathon a month before, but then again that would have meant not getting an age group win in my local marathon, which almost made up for it.

My main target was the 24 hours, however, and my 2 races were disappointing (Belfast) and abysmal (Albi). There's just no other way of looking at it. Right now that has me at 186th in the world rankings (with possibly one or two more results to be added, so that could drop further), which is my lowest ranking in a while.

The third goal was the Spartathlon, which I ended up not even doing because of Albi,

Good riddance, 2016. Seriously,

I'd love to say good riddance to that cold I've been nursing as well, though that might take a bit longer. I've reached the state where I don't feel it at all any more in normal circumstances but it's still noticeable when I'm running, mostly because it's causing my HR to go sky high. I started to ignore the HRM completely - it shows in the data! But my legs are perfectly fine and I have no issues recovering from those runs. I do wish I could go out and start proper training but right now I'm grateful I'm able to run at all - the rest will follow, eventually.

29 Dec
4 miles, 33:29, 8:22 pace, HR 158
30 Dec
5+ miles, 41:38, 8:14 pace, HR 155
31 Dec
5+ miles, 41:21, 8:11 pace, HR 156

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

In Sickness And In Health

So, I took 5 days off entirely. The only time I felt rotten was Monday evening, and that was most likely because I was exhausted from the long journey back to Kerry. Following that I felt better with each day but I had a pretty bad cough and there was some pressure in the middle of my chest, so that violated the "neck rule" and I did not run.

I was back on the road on the 24th, but that was just a 2 mile test run to see how that would go. The answer was that the legs and lungs felt perfectly fine but the HR was very high, though then again that would always be high after 5 days of no running. I didn't run on Christmas Day because it was Christmas Day and because the weather was lousy and because you don't have to force yourself outside when the weather is lousy and you are still nursing a cold and you would rather spend some time with your wife and kids.

Thankfully the weather had improved significantly by St. Stephen's Day, though obviously I skipped the race in Farranfore as well as the Goal Mile. Instead I jogged for 4 miles; the legs felt good once more but the HR was alarmingly high, though that was in no way a reflection of the easy effort. I tried the same again on Tuesday, giving myself the option of 5 miles but with the HR again so high I kept it at 4 miles.

It was groundhog day on Wednesday because, you guessed it, the effort was easy but the HR was really high. I decided to completely ignore the HR and just run at whatever effort seemed right and natural.

I have been told by someone who knows this a lot better then than I do that the way you recover from a workout tells you a lot more about your fitness than the workout itself. That's how I look at the last few runs, I have no problems recovering. I don't feel tired at all and the legs don't even notice that I have just been out for a run, and if I had to do the same run again straight away I wouldn't even bat an eyelid at the thought.

The cold is still with me, still getting better a bit every day but still with a cough and with some restriction in my chest, though that isn't really noticeable any more during the day, By this stage is merely an annoyance than a hindrance. Then again, who knows - the fact that it kept me off my feet a bit longer might be a benefit regarding my overtraining.

24 Dec
2 miles, 17:28. 8:39 pace, HR 147
26 Dec
4 miles, 34:50. 8:42 pace, HR 153
27 Dec
4 miles, 34:14. 8:33 pace, HR 156
28 Dec
4 miles, 33:39. 8:22 pace, HR 157

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Vienna Calling

 As you might know, I'm running international championships for Austria, the reason being that they're the ones who issued my passport. However, I've been living in Ireland for longer than I can remember and the other thing you might know is that Ireland is quite a way away from Austria. The long distance between myself and the rest of the team isn't exactly ideal. Outside of races I have very little contact with the other runners or the team manager, so I do try to make it to the occasional team meeting. One such meeting was on this weekend, and consequently I made my way across the continent (getting dead cheap flight tickets helped).

I arrived there on Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning made my way across town to the meeting. The first item on the agenda was a lactate test. I wasn't sure if there was much point in doing one, seeing as I was still in my regeneration phase rather than in training, but the team physio disagreed. The next worry was that running faster than 8-minute miles would be challenging. I would then have to speed up even more for the last lap, but that fear proved to be groundless. The test had us run 2 laps around the park for just over one mile, then have our ears pricked, and then run again but faster, for a total of 5 goes. The last mile was at sub-7 pace, which I thought would be really hard but in actual fact felt really good - I was tempted to add a sixth lap just for the hell of it but thought the better of it, and the physio agreed.

After lunch we sat down for a talk about training for the world championships in Belfast, which I partook in a slightly detached mode as I really don't think I'll be able to start "proper" training in a week. We never really talked about the disappointing performance in Albi, where only one of us had a decent race; I guess we all knew it wasn't good enough.

Then we headed out for an evening run, When the question came up if we should go for a 10 or 12k loop I immediately went for 10 because of coach's orders, though since this was the second run of the day I knew I was taking liberties as it was. Ah well. At least I felt really good during the run.

Sunday was another team run, and while everyone joined up for a 2-2,5 hours jog I announced that I was going to turn around after 5k because my coach had forbidden me from running more than 10. I deflected the question why I was so worried to defy an absent coach with the observation that there are 2 people in my life I have learned never to contradict, and MC was the other one. Simple fact is, every time I thought I knew better I learned sooner or later that I don't, and overstepping the mark 2 days in a row was unlikely to be a good idea.

I was actually surprised by how easy that rather talented group of runners took it during those runs. I have run with some of them before, and on that occasion supposed 8:30 pace had quickly turned into 7:30, but not so this time.

However, despite the (relative) restraint I awoke in the middle of the following night with a splitting headache, a sore throat and a stuffed nose, and sleep for the rest of the night was fitful. I felt a little better the next morning, which was good because I had the long journey back home on the program. I managed that reasonably well but once I was home I had spent all my energy and more or less collapsed on the bed, feeling absolutely rotten.

Maybe it was indeed the extra run, maybe it was the fact that I could not get changed after Sunday's run for half an hour in the freezing cold, maybe I had already brought a cold with me, maybe it was the shock of significantly lower temperatures in Vienna, or maybe it was a combination of all that. Anyway, I'm actually better already, just one day later, so this is going to pass quickly. I'll start running again whenever it feels right. Not tomorrow, though.
14 Dec
6 miles, 53:38, 8:54 pace, HR 140
15 Dec
5 miles, 40:03, 8:01 pace, HR 153
17 Dec
am: 5+ miles, 43:59, 8:07 pace, HR 150, lactate test
pm: 6+ miles, 57:32, 8:35 pace, HR 145
18 Dec
6+ miles, 56:28, 9:10 pace, HR 148

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Up And Down

Our Labrador, Millie, wants to be learn all about the others pets in the house
Well, I guess some things are never going to progress in a perfectly smooth line, and training is one of them. The last few days are completely my own fault. Up to last weekend I had been very disciplined about turning off the screens at 10 o'clock and going to bed not much later. Recently I've let things slide and now I'm feeling a bit tired and a lot less recovered all of a sudden. Sleep is so important for an athlete, and while I might have gotten away with things when I was younger that's clearly no longer the case. It does show in the numbers.

On Saturday morning my HRM stopped working after a mile, which is a bit of a shame because I'm pretty sure I would have posted my best numbers since my comeback - not that it matters, the training effect is the only thing that matters, but I'm a numbers geek and a nice figure in my spreadsheets would have been nice.

I felt a bit tired on Sunday (see first paragraph) and made sure to take it very easy, and I kept it to 4 miles. I felt a lot better on Monday morning. In fact, I was marvelling how well and effortlessly I was moving all of a sudden and how well that recovery program is kicking in. I was in high spirits, until I reached the 3 mile mark and turned around and realised that the return journey would be against the wind. Damn! I felt a lot slower on the way home.

Tuesday morning I was tired, again (see first paragraph, again) and once more kept it short and easy. This time I also resolved to get bedtime under control again. I'll need someone to send me to bed, I think. Jesus, I've mentally regressed back to childhood already (that said, Niamh insists I never left that stage in the first place).

10 Dec
6 miles, 50:12, 8:22 pace
11 Dec
4+ miles, 35:18, 8:43 pace, HR 141
12 Dec
6 miles, 50:43, 8:27 pace, HR 150
13 Dec
4 miles, 35:20, 8:50 pace, HR 143

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Runners' OCD

I've always been an OCD kind of person, always following certains pattern and always a bit slow to adapt to changed surroundings. That has advantages and disadvantages; if you needed a creative person on your team I was unlikely to fill that role but if you needed someone who just got on with things I was bound to shine.

Running suited me down to the ground as a sport. I might not have the fast twitch fibres to make it as a sprinter, or even to be able to outsprint a rival on the line, but the training day in day out just came to me naturally. Get up in the morning, every morning, no matter the weather, no problem. Come up with a plan on how to handle distance running and still be able to get to work every time, no problem.

Stick to it - absolutely no problem. I've read, several times, that the average person can hold their interest in a particular subject for 6 months. That's fine if you want to tick running a marathon off your bucket list but if you want to get good at running, really good, you better be prepared to spend the next 10 years of your life making this a priority.

I was made for that kind of stuff.

In the same vein as I have followed my path to international standard I am now following the same pattern when recovering from overtraining, Run 3/4/5 miles or 35/45 minutes a day, okay, no problem. I just get on with it.

From today on I can push it a bit further, to 6 miles. I immediately got a bit carried away and ran a bit too fast, but as long as I can recover from day to day I'm good. Since I'm feeling pretty good these days I think I got away with it. If I'm a good boy, Santa will bring me an extra mile for Christmas. Woohoo!
6 Dec
4 miles, 34:44, 8:39 pace, HR 149
7 Dec
4.1 miles, 35:50, 8:43 pace, HR 146
8 Dec
6.1 miles, 50:00, 8:15 pace, HR 150

Monday, December 05, 2016

Peanut Bliss Balls

100g flaked almonds
50g Brazil nuts
50g cashew nuts
3 tbsp pumpkin seeds
50g dried berries
4 tbsp coconut oil
4 tbsp honey
4 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1. Blend all dry ingredients in a food processor
2. Melt coconut oil, honey, peanut butter and vanilla and mix in the dry ingredients
3. Put in fridge for 1-2 hours
4. roll into shape, about a dozen balls
5. back in fridge for 1 hour

They're dead easy to make and only require a couple of minutes' work. I have used those as nutrition in Belfast and Albi, and will most likely use them again. They taste very nice and go down well even late in a race. Since there are no perishable ingredients they can be kept outside the fridge for the duration of even a very long race, though they soften when not cooled. Recipe by Aoife Tanner via Cian Bubendorfer.

"Training" is going reasonably well. Running 4 or 5 miles is short enough for my still compromised system to handle and I am finishing each and every run in the knowledge that I could turn around and do the same run again immediately if someone told me to. And I'm prepared to be patient.

3 Dec
4 miles, 33:25, 8:20 pace, HR 149
4 Dec
4 miles, 34:48, 8:39 pace, HR 145
5 Dec
5+ miles, 43:47, 8:39 pace, HR 147

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Level Up

I started creating a post about how I had gotten myself into an overtrained state but now I'm not sure if I even want to finish writing it; I'd much rather concentrate on the present rather than dwell too much in the past. I pretty much know where I have gone wrong (hint: it wasn't just one thing in isolation, it was a range of factors working together and an inadequate response from my side), I think I have an idea on how to correct it and I'll keep monitoring the situation, this time with a much more fine-tuned sensor on stress and recovery.

I've now been back running for two weeks. Very limited running that is, my weekly total was just 23 miles in the first 7 days (including one off day), so I do hope that this is easy enough not to overwork my compromised system.

Honestly, I think the signs are good. The numbers are going up, and on Wednesday they jumped up an entire level. They're still worlds below what I like to think of as "normal" but nevertheless that's definite progress. More importantly, I do enjoy every single step. That's definitely a plus. However, there is also a potential problem: I've always been told that not wanting to train would be big red flag with regards to overtraining and since that flag never showed up I ended up underestimating how serious this problem had become.


Anyway, I'm running with a bit more effort the last couple of days, upgrading from "recovery" to "easy" runs, which really is my natural state - this is the effort I would be running almost every day if I didn't follow a training program and would just do whatever I felt like. I like that effort level - not so slow as to get frustrating and not so fast as to get exhausting.

This is the first month in the entire year that my VDOT graph is clearly pointing upwards (May had been okay as well, all other months are either jumping up and down or just gradually sliding down). Admittedly, I was coming from such a low starting point after my break that up was the only real way to go.

Still, so far so good.

28 Nov
3.8 miles, 35:05, 9:13 pace, HR 143
29 Nov
4.5+ miles, 40:00, 8:48 pace, HR 148
30 Nov
4.1 miles, 35:01, 8:32 pace, HR 145
1 Dec
5.2 miles, 45:11, 8:41 pace, HR 147

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Limited Progress Is Still Progress

Well, he said it would take about 10 days to see some progress but maybe I'm still a fast responder because it didn't take quite as long. Good thing too, because I might have started panicking after a week otherwise. There is clearly still a long way to go, and in fact my numbers are still pretty awful, just not as awful as a week ago.

The last couple of runs have been a fair bit faster than last week, though partially at the expense of a higher HR. This isn't particularly alarming. I looked back in my training logs at what I did after my comeback from pneumonia and was really surprised how high the HR was for each run - all at least in the 150s, some even in the 160s. There is no way a coach would let me do this now, so at least I know that I am somewhat restrained.

The HR has crept higher the last few days, though not really deliberately. I did become aware a couple of times this morning that I was putting more effort in and pulled the brakes but the legs seemed intent to start turning quicker again as soon as my concentration waned.

I only did 23 miles last week, in 6 runs. I can crank that a little bit higher now, but not much. Blimey, I don't know how often I ran further than that in one day in training alone, never mind races, but it does show how badly I managed to dig myself into a hole.

24 Nov
4.9 miles, 44:51, 9:09 pace, HR 145
26 Nov
4.46 miles, 40:00, 8:58 pace, HR 145
27 Nov
4.59 miles, 40:01, 8:43 pace, HR 148

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Near Future

I didn’t come up with that plan myself, so I’m neither taking credit nor blame. But a plan was clearly needed after it had become perfectly clear that somehow I had managed to get myself into an overtrained state.

I had gotten plenty of advise after the abject race that had been Albi, ranging from "run Dublin, you'll be fine" to "take 3 months completely off", and, as much as it pained me, it was pretty clear that the latter advise was a lot more advisable than the former.

MC did chime in, and that helped a lot. In the end I ended taking 4 weeks off completely, which was painful, and now I'm at least back running. However, I am limited to 2-5 miles max for the rest of the year at least. The idea is to work on the lower set of muscle fibres and get them conditioned. What MC didn't say but merely implied was that this means the higher set of muscle fibres are still being unused (because the runs are so short that they never get used), meaning they get at least 10 weeks of rest, which comes pretty close to that most conservative advice mentioned earlier.

Just to point out how much of a painful adaptation this is, 4 weeks off is the longest break I've ever had since I started running. Even when I had pneumonia in 2008 I was only off for 3 weeks! And then I did not have to be so restrained for weeks and months either. The way I see it, this is the universe's punishment for being an idiot.

I've now done 5 runs, all about 35 minutes in length. I just run one way and when 17-18 minutes are up I turn around and run back. The effort is very easy. The HR is higher than I'd like but I have been told to expect changes after about 10 days.

21 Nov
3.7 miles, 35:01, 9:23 pace, HR 144
22 Nov
3.8 miles, 36:00, 9:26 pace, HR 147
23 Nov
3.75 miles, 35:25, 9:26 pace, HR 142

Sunday, November 20, 2016

I'm Back!

I'm Back Baby!

I'm slow as hell and until a few months ago I would not even have considered going for such a short run but it sure beats sitting at home looking wistfully out of the window. Niamh is also pleased that I'm out running, it saves her the job of kicking me out when I'm unbearable.

Saturday morning was the big day, 4 weeks after Albi. Since back then I still had been running on Sunday it was a day early, really, but a nice dry crisp weekend morning was too good to waste. The one thing I had done over my long break was to turn off the HR alarm on my watch, and, to nobody's surprise, my HR was way high. I'm not at all concerned, I have been there often enough by now. When I start running after a break the HR is always sky high but it comes down quickly enough. When I finally approach something resembling fitness it actually comes down into MAF territory, though I am approaching that from the upper side, so I'm definitely not claiming I'm doing MAF training (which I've tried twice, both to unsatisfactory outcomes).

Anyway, the first thing I noticed on Saturday was that it was freezing cold, which was fine, and the second thing was that my knee still felt funny, which was not. However, five minutes into my run neither was noticeable, so the rest of the run I just trotted along. The legs weren't used to that kind of exercise any longer and I felt uncoordinated and awkward but truth to be told it was better than expected.

I ran for close to 18 minutes into one direction and then turned around, for a total of 35 minutes, which turned out to be 3.65 miles, only just faster than 10-minute pace. That's the way it is right now.

Sunday was very similar, except that there was not even a beep from the knee. Instead the hamstrings in their entirety felt tired, obviously feeling the strain from yesterday. That, too, went away after a couple of minutes and the rest was more or less the same as yesterday, a tad faster but also with a higher HR. I'm not aiming at any kind of pace, just run whatever feels easy and natural, and I know this will come down significantly over the next few weeks.

Baby, I'm Back!

19 Nov
3.65 miles, 35:32, 9:43 pace, HR 142
20 Nov
3.7 miles, 34:57, 9:26 pace, HR 146

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Knee

I never told you the full story about my knee!

As you might know, if you read this blog regularly that is, my right knee felt very stiff and rather uncomfortable after the run in Tralee, 4 weeks before Albi. I didn't really hurt but knee issues are not to be ignored and it never got 100% better.

The day before the race in Albi I asked our team physio for help. She very quickly diagnosed it as a muscle problem, not an actual knee problem (much to my relief) (proving my yoga teacher right - how could I ever have doubted her!) and then proceeded to torture me mercilessly for the next half hour, somehow tearing apart whatever was wrong.

Once she stopped torturing me (f*ck, that REALLY hurt!) the knee felt like new again! While I was still a little bit worried, it was not a factor at all in Albi and I got through 117 miles seemingly unscathed. However, the next day it felt stiff again, probably after sitting for so long in cramped conditions on the journey back, and of course by then I no longer had access to my own dedicated physio. However, it did improve gradually over the next couple of weeks. If the full rest was beneficial or not or if it made any difference at all, I cannot tell. I did work on it a bit, some light yoga stuff, and if I work myself into position slowly enough I can get it to do whatever is required. By now it's 98% clear. I can bend it fully again, though at full flex it still feels a tiny bit stiff. Sometimes I make a clumsy move and a bit of pain shoots through my knee, so I still need to be careful, but in the grand scheme of things it is a minor issue now.

You know what's really weird about not running for 4 weeks? At times my legs hurt just as they do after a long run. I'm not sure how that works. Actually, scrap that, I have no idea what's going on here. I'm sure MC or anyone else with sufficient knowledge and experience can explain that but to me that's just baffling.

Since it's not been 4 weeks yet I still have not done any running, but I started doing half an hour of cycling (indoors, on the trainer). Me being me, I'm doing it every single morning. I make sure to keep the effort very easy but I am pleased nonetheless that there is no negative reaction at all.

I have been sleeping very well since I started going to bed much earlier, with the exception of last night. I have this weird thing that almost every Full Moon I have one night where I simply cannot fall asleep. It's ALWAYS within a day or two either side of a Full Moon. It has nothing to do with the bedroom being too bright because we have perfectly well working curtains and the room is completely dark, yet somehow I just lie there and sleep won't come. It happens so often I am used to it, and since it's only once a month it doesn't have any lasting effects, but it's still annoying as hell every time it happens. Maybe my great-grandmother was a werewolf or something.

I can't wait until the weekend. Then I'll be a runner again. The fact that I am so looking forward to it is definitely a good sign, but the real test is yet to come of course.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Tentative

Well, after 3 weeks of total rest when I did not even dare to do a cycle or strength training because I could sense how deep the fatigue had gone, I have taken the first step and started back on my journey towards fitness. On Saturday morning I went up into the attic and dug out my little old cycle trainer that had been gathering dust for the last 5 years and gave it an unexpected comeback.

I started out easy, just 20 minutes on the bike, and easy ones at that. There was no reaction and I upped it to 30 minutes on Sunday, Listening to podcasts is very handy at those times, it makes time pass pretty quickly. I vaguely remember that 30 minutes on the trainer were related to Chinese water torture and of course the same applies to the treadmill, but if you can get your mind off things by listening to something reasonably intelligent and interesting that makes a real difference,

I also decided to finally clean up my act. The tablet/phone/computer screens go off at 10 o'clock the very latest and I'm in bed not much later, That's something I have known for ages but - like most of you - never bothered to actually put int practise. It's amazing how well I have been sleeping the last few nights, despite the best effort of out damn nocturnal cats, and wouldn't you believe it, if you sleep better it makes you feel better,

You can get away with lots of things when you're 20 but when you're closer to 50 than 40 you need to pay more attention to those kind of things, no matter how much you keep telling yourself that you're nowhere near old just yet.

I'm still not running but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and at least I get the feeling that I'm finally doing "something". I try not to make too many plans as I'm not sure if I can get back to where I have been, but the World Championship in Belfast is my definite target.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Non-Runner's Update

It was the news that nobody had expected. Niamh took it okay but the kids were absolutely devastated when they found out: yes, the teachers’ strike is finished and they had to go back to school. Oh the poor things.

Me, I’m presently dealing with a stupid head cold. Not anywhere near severe enough to justify taking time off work but enough to give me a headache and generally make me feel a bit unwell. If that had happened a week earlier I would have attributed it to the race but it’s more likely a bug I picked up from Niamh and/or Maia because they had been slightly unwell last week. It should be ok in a couple of days.

Since I am still off running for once I won’t have to justify to either myself or Niamh why I’m still running when I’m not well.

I missed out on some lovely weather recently, which is a shame. Dry cold crispy mornings are my favourite conditions for a run and we had plenty of that in the last couple of weeks. Now the rainy season has returned but at least it makes not going out for a run slightly more bearable.

I’m still grounded for at least another 10 days. Then it will be 4 weeks since Albi. I have received plenty of opinions for how long I should be resting, even for up to 3 months of total rest. The one advice I’m trusting most of all is that it may well take 7 – 12 weeks until I am recovered from my overtraining but that does not necessarily require full rest for the entire period. I can try a test run after 3 weeks, and then judge from the reaction if I can proceed or not. I decided to err on the side of caution for once (very uncharacteristically, I know - I must be getting old) and added at least one extra week of full rest before I venture out again.

That is, if Niamh can bear it for 10 more days. I have noticed myself that my mood swings are getting worse. I’m surprised that I still haven’t been banned to the shed yet.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Half Time

Two weeks ago I ran a disastrous race and finally admitted to myself that I was badly overtrained and needed some rest.

One week ago I still could not even contemplate going for a run. As in ever.

Now ... I'm definitely starting to get antsy. This is the longest break I've had from running without Niamh kicking me out of the house (and threatening to do so for good) but I'm not entirely sure that this will last for another two weeks. Endorphin withdrawal? It's not pretty,

That's what you do on your ninth birthday -
play the Ukulele, wrapped in a mermaid blanket
Having said that, things are definitely on the up. I'm starting to think about races next year, though at the same time still wondering if I'll be able to do them - and, of course, if they are even a good idea. That's something that will become clearer in the months to come. But the mere fact that I am thinking forward again instead of just licking my wounds is definitely a good thing.

I'm sure there is a noticeable difference in my "real" life as well. I remember sitting at my work computer, reading a document, and realising after 5 minutes that I had not taken in a single word. That cloud has lifted. And I'm sleeping better. Sleep had never been particularly bad but it's been better recently nevertheless.

A week ago I went for a very short cycle, maybe 1.5 miles. It was just to get out of the house into the sunshine for a few minutes. But the next day my quads were hurting, a stinging, almost burning sensation. I struggle to think how 5-10 minutes of cycling could have had such an effect but I definitely wasn't imagining the discomfort. I tried again yesterday, daring to do all of 2 miles. This time there was no negative reaction at all, so whatever was going on last week has definitely improved. I might start cycling into work but cycling back in the dark might not be such a great idea. I know I used to do it for 5 years but it never felt entirely safe. I'll think about it a bit more.

In order to give a little bit back to the running community, I volunteered at the Killarney parkrun yesterday morning. Well, at least my intentions were noble. What I did in reality was to spill the finisher tokens all over the floor as the runners were coming in, causing a mad scramble to restore some sort of order. Thanks to my fellow and infinitely more useful volunteers we managed to sort it out. Ah well. I guess I'm better at the running thing than standing on the other side of the fence. I might try again if they'll have me back

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Crash Investigation

In the last week I have been receiving a ton of messages, ranging from "are you running the Dublin marathon" to "take at least 3 months off". My facebook page getting saturated by Dublin marathon posts last weekend wasn't a happy occasion for once, but what can you do.

I am really tired! I could not even watch a football game on Sunday without constantly falling asleep, and that is not a statement on the quality of the game. I find myself sitting in a kind of haze at times, and I'm sure my productivity in the office at the moment is not at its best. Running really isn't on at the moment, apart from not having any inclination anyway. When I can be bothered I do walk the dog, much to her delight, but that's as active as it gets at the moment.

Keep in mind that the following was written with the benefit of hindsight. It sounds obvious enough now but it wasn't so clear at the time.

Looking back, with a little bit of help, I can see that the problem started as early as March. The Tralee marathon was supposed to be a training run but I definitely ran it too hard. In some ways that is understandable, I unexpectedly found myself running in third place with a podium finish a real possibility, so there's not much regret about that one. The problem is, I never manged to get back into a fully recovered state. I'm pretty sure this cost me a sub-3 in Manchester, and then I really started piling it on - Limerick, Wings for Life and Lakes of Killarney on consecutive weekends, with the Wings for Life run particularly tough on a very hilly course on one of the hottest days of the year.

Maybe 2 years ago I would have gotten away with that. But this time also coincided with some hugely stressful times in my family and it all proved too much. I never fully appreciated how much stress from other areas of life can impact on your running performance, until now.

By then I had become somewhat aware of my lack of recovery (Killarney had felt quite tough for a 3:15) but instead of resting I added an even bigger ton of fatigue on top of it all by running the 100k in Donadea. It's easy to say so afterwards but it's no wonder Belfast did not go to plan.

Obviously, Belfast was the biggest fatigue factor of them all but instead of finally seeing sense and rest I actually had my shortest recovery after a 24 hours race ever, and I guess from here on the race in Albi was already as good as doomed. My coach never fully understood my need for recovery and the odd easy week or two she prescribed was never enough to dig myself out of that hole. Even though I knew that the last few miles in Dingle had felt much tougher than they should have, I never realised the full scale of the problem. Those tough back-to-back weekends just added another layer of fatigue and things got progressively worse. Running 4 hours in Tralee 4 weeks before Albi felt easy enough but I don't think I would have been able to run a 3:30 marathon that day, things had become so bad.

By the time I started the taper my system was so compromised that even 4 weeks of low easy mileage did nothing to improve my fitness because my recuperation ability was so out of wack by then.

As stupid as all those mistakes are, it is a really common pattern. A runner gets tired, the performances drop and instead of resting and recovering he/she starts training ever harder to make up for it, digging the hole ever deeper. Let this be a warning to you. I never had any of the typical overtraining symptoms but I could tell that something wasn't right.

With all that, where does that leave me now? On the sofa, basically, and probably asleep. I'll see when I start to feel like running again, which right now is absolutely not the case. After a few weeks I might hopefully feel like an easy jog is appropriate, and how my system reacts to that will tell me a lot, though the expectation is still that I will have at least 4 weeks of full rest. Eventually I might be able to do some sort of evaluation, but that's still a bit too far ahead right now.

I do hope that I will be able to come back from this and that I have learned that lesson.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Fail Better

American runner Zach Miller just wrote a blog post about the Art of Failing that is incredibly valid to me after that race in Albi.

"To put it bluntly, there’s nothing left to fight for. Okay, maybe there is something, like a finish, but in the moment of battle such victories can pale in comparison to the grandiose things we dreamed of. And yet we refuse to give up. We press on."


There were other runners in Albi, including some of much higher calibre than me, who did not have their day either and who simply stepped off the track, saving themselves for another day. I just don't do that. I've never DNFed in a race, even when it may well have been a good idea. It's somewhere between determination, stubbornness and stupidity. Under the right circumstances that can be a good thing - I would never have reached international level otherwise - but at other times it can be a sub-optimal mind set.

On Sunday evening I had a chat with one of my team mates. She had been looking very good for about 15 hours but eventually faltered. She had a rest in the tent and then point blankly refused to go back out. "I did not see the point in walking for 6 hours!" I wasn't sure what to say - "that's exactly what I ended up doing" just didn't seem right.

It is easier in a race to a distance. Walk to the finish. You have an end point, a goal waiting for you. In a timed event, this is much tougher to do, mentally. You just keep walking the same loop over and over again, never getting anywhere. I can see why you wouldn't see the point in that.

I'm definitely having the post-race blues this time round, something I never got before. This really hit me deep.

Niamh contemplating the idea of having me round for 4 weeks
Niamh at first started laughing when she heard about my plan to take at least one month off. After a few days she seemed to catch on that I was serious. She's not happy. Last time she threw me out of the house after less than a fortnight, telling me to not even think of getting back unless I had run for at least half an hour. This could be a problem.

It's been a week since. I have had plenty of time to think it over. After feeling sorry for myself for a few days I started to analyse things, with a little bit of help. I know where I made the mistakes, and it goes back right to the start of the year. In retrospect it all looks so easy.

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

Oh, and all the best to anyone running in Dublin tomorrow. If you get tired at mile 20 just think of me and the fact that I still had to do 100 miles at that point last week.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Unforgettable Albi

Some races I am immediately enthusiastic about. For some reason, the European Championships in Albi were not on that list. My initial reaction had been to say no when the team manager asked me to participate but after a bit of soul searching (and asking friends who voted 16:2) I decided, with a heavy heart, to forgo the Spartathlon this year and do the Euros after all. You don't get the chance to represent your country very often so I guess that made sense.

That doesn't mean I wasn't looking forward to it. Quite the opposite, as race day approached I was getting more and more excited. I also realised that skipping Sparta had been a good move in any case as it was scheduled only 3 months after the Belfast 24 hrs race and I would have had a very hard time. The extra month of recovery/training was going to be very beneficial, there was never any doubt about it.

When I got there I felt a bit intimidated by the sheer number of top runners around the place, with the inevitable feeling of "What the hell am I doing amongst those" but it wasn't as bad as before Turin; I guess I was a little bit more used to it and besides, I had proven in Turin that I can hold my own in that crowd.

An unforgettable number
The race numbers were being allocated on an alphabetical basis and due to Austria being the first team (Albania not sending anyone) and Bubendorfer being the first name in the team I was allocated start number 1!  Now that was super cool but it did provide a bit of extra pressure; with such a noticeable race number I would want to have a good race.

Anyway, at 10 o'clock on Saturday morning the gun went off and 97 men and 77 women started off on what would be a long journey. I fell into a very comfortable pace straight away, slower than most but that's okay. I did expect to work my way through the field in the long hours ahead.

I was wearing two watches. The reason was that I wanted to have a reading of my HR for the first few hours but my Suunto Ambit wouldn't last for 24 hours if it had to listen to the HRM as well so I set the Suunto into non-HRM mode and wore my ancient Garmin for the HR. Within minutes I was glad I was wearing the Garmin but for a completely unexpected reason: the Suunto's GPS signal had gone completely bonkers! I have used that watch for 2 years and never had any GPS problems before but it was displaying 6:xx-minute pace at times and I was pretty damn sure I wasn't on sub-3 marathon pace. The Garmin said 9:20-ish, which was definitely a lot more accurate. While I do pace myself on feel, not the watch, it is good to have some objective feedback from time to time and I was glad that my museum piece was here to pick up the pieces.

The first 3 hours passed quickly and without issues. I chatted a bit with some of the other contestants, especially the Irish ones, but for most of it I just jogged on my own. I checked the HR a couple of times and it was always between 135 and 140, perfect. The pace picked up a tiny amount and I had averaged 9:14 pace, which was very much within the pre-planned parameters. Everything seemed to be going to plan for the first 18 or 20 miles. Every lap, a bit more than 1 km, was passing quickly.

The first 20 miles in a 24 hours race are just the start of course. You can't win the race in that time but you can certainly lose it. As far as I can tell I had done everything right so far. Unfortunately, in an ultra things sometimes go wrong without an obvious mistake.

I felt far too tired! This was ridiculous. I run that far almost every week at a faster pace and before breakfast, so this should have felt like a walk in the park. Instead I felt like I was being put through the wringer already. As I have often stated, a long ultra is defined by how well you can manage your inevitable lows, so managing my first inevitable low, even if it was so much sooner than expected, is what I did, in the same way I always do: I put my head down and kept going. I made sure to drink enough and as far as I can tell my crew followed my pre-race nutrition plan very closely. The one thing that disagreed with me was a small piece of flapjack, so I told them not to give me any more of those, but that was the only deviation. I also helped myself to a couple of drinks from the organisers' table whenever I felt thirsty, and also to get a bit of variety.

With Aidan Hogan before the start
Usually (as in, always until now) this first low will last an hour or two and then I'll feel better again. That's what I expected to happen. Instead I was just sinking deeper and deeper into the mire and every time I thought I had reached an absolute low I inevitably started the descend into yet another circle of hell. At some point the Austrian team manager told me to slow down as it was very hot. I wasn't going very fast at that point and I don't think it was particularly hot but I was in no position to argue and slowed down, complying with his request. My guess is that he saw what I was going through and knew I had to ease up, distance goals be damned. Anyway, running slower did feel easier, no doubt about it, but my energy levels still refused to play ball and eventually I started to descend into the next level of hell once more. Dante Alighieri had his way with me today.

I ran a few laps with Brian Ankers, who unexpectedly had joined the open race. As much as he denies it, he still dreams of the day when he finally beats me in a 24 hours race (having ticked the marathon and 50k off that particular list already). I told him today was his big chance. Unfortunately he eventually decided he didn't want to beat me after all and stepped off the track. He still hung around for hours and gave us plenty of encouragement. Thanks mate!

I had gone through the marathon in about 4:05, which was perfectly fine. By the time I had forced myself towards the 50 mile mark I was at 8:36, which still isn't a complete disaster but it took me about 11:20 to get to 100k because by that time my energy levels were no longer my biggest problem. Nope, something else had gone wrong at an epic scale.

Basically, you can only go as fast as the weakest link allows. In long ultras, that is often the mind but that doesn't seem to be the case for me. No, my limitations were definitely physical.

I have suffered from cramps in quite a few races, and this year was pretty bad in that regards, especially in Manchester when cramping calves put paid to any chances of a sub-3 marathon or Tralee where that may have cost me a podium place. But I have never had a cramp in a long ultra. I supposed that the slow pace was preventing me from cramping. Maybe it did. Until now.

I could feel the first spasms going through my right calf muscle and it got worse very, very quickly. Within a lap I was very close to going into full cramping mode when I passed our tent and mentioned it to our physio. She immediately told me to come in and sit down. She tried to apply some cream but the second she touched my leg I immediately went into full cramping mode, very sudden and excruciatingly painful. I don't know how we eventually got this under control but she knew what she was doing and eventually she gave me a full massage and mentioned how the muscle was softening considerably. Of course all this took time, which must have cost me close to a lap. Therefore, when she told me to come back after 4 laps, I ignored her because I just could not get my head around losing so much time sitting down and decided to keep going instead.

You can guess how well this ended. 6 laps later the spasms were back and I sheepishly arrived for my delayed re-appointment with the physio. This time she did not even get to touch my leg. As soon as I sat down in the chair the tent was filled with some high-pitched alien noise that turned out to be me screaming while my calf was caught in the most brutal grip imaginable of some invisible vice. Again, I have no idea how we eventually got this under control, I vaguely remember having to lean against our team manager at some funny angle so that the physio could access my calf muscle at the required angle. It was, however, as sweet a moment as can be when the pain eventually subsided. After an absolute age I was released, once again under strict instructions to return every 4 laps for another massage. This time I had learned my lesson (it would have been hard not to). I was back in that chair 4 laps later. And again. And again. And again. And ...

It's hard to say for sure how often I visited that tent. When I was moving, I was actually moving rather well. I overtook plenty of runners when let loose but of course they would more than make up for that when I was back in the tent. I definitely had more than a dozen appointments, and they usually lasted about 5 minutes, sometimes less, sometimes more, sometimes a lot more. My best guess is that I spent close to 2 hours sitting down there while the physio kept working on me (she certainly went through her own version of an ultra!). However, it would not be right for me to claim that I lost 2 hours. The fact that I was able to rest every 4 laps, sometimes 5 when there was a queue in the tent (I wasn't the only runner in our team to have problems), enabled me to run surprisingly well for those 4 laps at a time, and even when I was getting very tired I knew I only had to push myself for so long until the next rest. Usually when I get too tired I switch into a run/walk mode. This time is was a run/stop mode, which obviously was slower overall but it just could not be helped.

At some stage I must have decided to make light of the situation and started to joke about it. When I overtook a team mate who previously had been running very well I loudly announced to the tent that I had just lapped Andy for the first time, which had been so much fun - admittedly, maybe less so for him. When I made a face after the physio had once again found a sore spot she pointed out that the birth of my 4 children must have been a lot more painful. My response? "That's true, that was really painful because my wife kept squeezing my hand so tightly". I'm surprised she didn't deliberately squeeze my calf after that. Come to think of it, maybe she did.

I'm clearly not about to start a career as a stand-up comedian but the fact that I was still making jokes, no matter how bad, was a sign that at least my mind was still in a somewhat positive frame of mind, despite what I had been through that night and what was undoubtedly still ahead of me.

When I started to suffer after only 3 hours I knew perfectly well that this was going to be a very long, very tough, very painful day and that the end result was going to be distinctly underwhelming. But the idea of stepping off the track never even crossed my mind. I knew I was going to keep moving for as long as I could, even when it was at a snail's pace. Stupid? Maybe. Probably! But that's the way I'm wired.

I had spent about 8 hours during the first half descending deeper and deeper into the mire when my energy levels kept plummeting. At times I thought I must have been more exhausted than ever before but then I remembered that I was still able to run, which had not been the case in the late stages of last year's Spartathlon, so that must have been worse and I merely had forgotten how bad it had been. Then I had 6 or 7 hours of doing reasonably paced laps, 4 at a time, interspersed by those physio appointment. It was during that time that I made some modest progress through the field, moving from 80th to 60th position. However, after 18 or 19 hours, that came to an end as well.

Every single time when getting off that chair I felt very stiff. It took a while to get going again. I always had to walk for a minute or two, until my legs were able to turn properly again and I started jogging. But then, with a few hours still to go, there came the point when the legs simply no longer complied and that was that. From that point on all I could do was walk.

Of course I tried to force the issue a few times. I made myself run but all I achieved was to almost make me fall over as the legs put in some uncoordinated steps, wobbling all over the place and not getting me anywhere, so eventually I accepted my fate and resolved to walk. That wasn't without challenges either, due to sheer exhaustion I felt like collapsing on more than one occasions. I had trouble focusing, my vision got blurry at times and even the slightest uneven feature in the road had me stumbling at times, though thankfully the course was in very good condition overall, very flat and mostly smooth. Somehow I manged to stay on my feet without a single face plant, though it was close on a few occasions.

The Irish runners all seemed to be moving well, which was good to see, but Amy Masner was moving particularly well. She is amazing. She is able to keep her pace going for just about forever and even when she clearly started to suffer she still put in a major shift. She would end up inside the top-20, a great championship debut and I'm sure there is more to come. Well done! She put the rest of us to shame!

I also had some nice chats with the British contingent, Debbie and Marco but even Dan Lawson gave me the occasional shout while steaming his way to a European championship (!!!). The funniest exchanges, however, happened with Robbie Britton who unfailingly kept calling me "Thomas, Number One". Initially I wondered if he was simply taking the piss but quickly decided to take it as a fun game and encouragement. I was sorry to see his race curtailed, the heavily bandaged knee giving a hint to his problem. By the way, my own knee, which had been a source of worry beforehand, never bothered me in the slightest today. Shame about the rest of that leg!

Obviously I also had a few chats with my Austrian team mates, though they all went through their own issues. Before the race we all had been optimistic and looking forward to the race but somehow we collectively seemed to be hit by a series of individual disasters. Only one of us got close to his PB, another one had a still somewhat reasonable race and the entire rest of the team basically had a disaster. Not a good day for us.

Anyway, I kept ticking along, trying not to fall over and willing the time to pass. It was still pitch dark at 7 o'clock and only with about 2 hours to go did it get bright, which did help because I seemed to wobble less from then on.

Actually, the last couple of hours seemed to pass quickly. I was surprised when I looked up at the clock and realised that we only had half an hour to go.

European Champion and new European record
holder Maria Jansson. She was just magnificent!
Last year in Turin I had ended up 3 meters behind one runner from Japan and 10 meters behind one from the Czech Republic. Just that tiny amount of extra distance would have seen me finish two places higher in the World Championship. Granted, coming 58th or 60th does not make a difference to anyone but me personally, but I resolved that this would never happen again and I would spend the last half hour squeezing the very last ounce of energy out of myself. If anyone happened to finish a single step ahead of me at least I wanted to know that I had tried my hardest to make up that step. With that in mind, I made myself run again. The brain had obviously gotten the message that we were reasonably close to the finish and actually allowed me to run, which was a nice change to all the failed attempts earlier. All of a sudden I was moving well again, though it sure hurt like hell. The first 10 minutes or so passed quickly but then I was back at the very bottom of the pain cave once more and every step was a challenge. The minutes seemed to pass increasing slowly and with about 5 minutes left I wondered if I had misjudged this once more, but thankfully I somehow made it to the end, the final signal coming as a big relief.

The elation of finally being able to stop moving was overshadowed by a deep disappointment, I cannot deny that. Of all the races I had done, the one where I wore such a highly noticeable bib number had to be the one where I performed at my worst! At the end I had accumulated 189.045 km, a personal worst by almost 14 km, and the first time I had failed to break 200k, and by quite some margin. On the plus side I have the knowledge that I never gave up even when I knew that this was going to be a very long day with very little reward at the end, so at least mentally I performed well.

I will take my time to make any decision on what to do next. I will let myself rest for longer than ever before and try to recover physically and mentally, and eventually I'll come up with a plan. But right now I'm not a sportsman, so excuse me, there's a can of beer or two waiting for me.

22 and 23 Oct
2016 European Championships in Albi, France
189.045 km, 12:16 pace
63rd place

Sunday, October 23, 2016

They Can't All Go To Plan

My final result was 189 km. I felt absolutely exhausted after 3 hours and knew then it was going to be a brutal fight all the way to the end. Then I got hit by cramps and the only way to treat them was to have a massage every 4 laps. I must have spent about 2 hours with the physio, in which case 189 k was the absolute max.

I need to do some soul searching now. I think I need a complete rest from running for a while.

189.045k / 63rd place

Friday, October 21, 2016

In Albi

One day I will tell my grandchildren that I was the number one runner in a European Championship!

Live Updates from 21st IAU 24 Hour European Championships

There will be live updates from the 21st IAU 24 Hour European Championships.  

There will be Live timing on: www.breizhchrono.com (and click on Live)

We will carry Live Updates on our website (www.iau-ultramarathon.org)

Also on Twitter (@iaunews). 


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Off I Go

For anyone looking to follow the race online, this page looks like it will contain the results. I have no idea if there will be a live tracker, though:

http://www.albi24h.fr/resultats-final-championnat-de-france-et-course-open/

There might be something on the IAU website, as there had been in Turin. There is a preview of the race up there already, where one of my Austrian teammates as well as two Irish runners are getting a name check.

As for what was left of training, I rested on Monday, ran 7 easy miles on Tuesday at initial 24-hours race effort, and another 7 on Wednesday, this time with 2 miles at marathon effort, with the same usual caveat that I have no idea what my present marathon time would be, so as always I ended up running entirely by feel. That's is a bit tricky for marathon pace because 2 miles at marathon pace are just going to feel rather easy, so in the end I ran too easy because even at the most pessimistic outlook my marathon pace had not deteriorated to 7:57 pace!

I found Robert's comment on my last post rather enlightening. I had stated that I felt undertrained and he reminded me of the brutal back-to-back runs my coach had made me do. To be honest, I had kind of forgotten about those already. I had looked at the weekly mileages and was struck by how low they had been compared to what I would usually have done. I guess that's something to cling to - I don't like that terminology but this time there was an element of quality over quantity that was new to my training.

And that's that. I'll drive to Dublin tonight, catch an early flight on Thursday morning and will be in Albi shortly after lunchtime.

The race will start on Saturday 10 am local time, which is 9 am here in Ireland. I'm officially a nervous wreck already.

P.S. Apparently my race number will be 1!
18 Oct
7 miles, 1:06:12, 9:27 pace, HR 131
19 Oct
7 miles, 1:01:08, 8:43 pace, HR 139
   with 2 miles @ 7:57 (HR 149)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

T Minus 6

And so we go into the last week before the Euros. To be honest, I think this training cycle has been a little bit too short for me. It took me a long time to shake off the worsts effect of Belfast. I suspect the concrete surface there has done a number on my leg muscles. The subsequent training was interrupted by a succession of little niggles, never anything serious but it all added up to the fact that I now feel undertrained.

I guess I'll put the theory to the test that you don't need much base training once you have accumulated a certain number of miles and years. It's very hard to predict what I'm capable of in Albi because the training has been so different to anything I've done before. When I look at my pace / heart rate numbers I get nervous because those numbers do look awful. On the other hand, running at 24 hour race pace feels very natural to me now, which has to count on something. With some input from the coach regarding pacing strategy and nutrition I might be able to squeeze some extra improvements out of me, so let's see.

I'm definitely looking forward to putting on the white top with red stripes again. It is an incredible honour to be picked to represent your country at international championships; this will never get old.

Obviously training is only ticking over now. Friday was remarkable inasmuch as it was the first run where I did not feel my knee at all. Unfortunately on Saturday morning I bent down to pet our dog and must have done the same thing to it once more because I've felt it again ever since, though at a much lesser degree. It does support my theory that I hurt it originally by bending down repeatedly in Tralee, but it also means that it is slow to heal and won't be 100% by Saturday. It is what it is; since running doesn't seem to aggravate it I just have to hope that the same will still hold when running for well over 100 miles.

Anyway, the knee held up just fine on Saturday, including when I did some strides, and it did not stop me from feeling really good on Sunday's 13 mile run. This was the first run in the entire training cycle where I felt like effortlessly floating along. A bit late it may be but that's not a bad state to get into one week before race day.
14 Oct
5+ miles, 47:35, 9:25 pace, HR 131
15 Oct
6 miles, 54:22, 9:03 pace, HR 136
   with strides
16 Oct
13 miles, 1:50:01, 8:27 pace, HR 143

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Golden Oldies

First of all, massive congratulations to my mate Svein Tuft on yet another world championship medal, proving once more that age is just a number, not a limiter - something I am very keen to remind myself of from time to time.

Equally big congratulations go to Dave Brady on completing his 600th marathon. If you have run a handful of marathons in Ireland it is absolutely inevitable that you have run into Dave, who also happens to be an even better gentleman than runner.

Back on my home patch, training is tapering obviously. The knee has settled down well enough. It's gotten to the stage where I generally don't feel it any more but on a couple of occasions when running I can just about get the slightest hint of an issue and during my yoga class on Monday I found it impossible to sit on my knees (so I didn't). My yoga teacher thinks it could actually be the hamstrings rather than the knee itself, though I have no way to be certain. Anyway, I'm increasingly optimistic that it won't be an issue in Albi - apart from the interruption to my training.

The coach wants me to rest on Monday but since I hadn't done any training that would require resting from I decided to head out anyway. I took our new dog, a beautiful and very well behaved Labrador, out for a run but it turns out her stamina needs work - she got tired very quickly (and I was running exceptionally slowly even by my recent standards!) and was knackered when I brought her back home after just a mile.

Tuesday and Wednesday were very easy, and Thursday I did one last speed workout, 9 days from Albi, which is pretty standard stuff. The plan said 3 times 5 minutes at 10k effort, which is a mellow enough workout, the biggest problem being not having a clue what my 10k pace is at the moment. I settled at 6:30-6:40 pace, but then again I ran the workout entirely on feel rather than looking at the watch, so I'm not sure why I even bothered to think about the pace beforehand.

The most important thing is, the knee behaved fine throughout. I very slightly felt it on two occasions but that's it, and I'm happy about that. The other details are that I ran 6:53 / 6:34 / 6:42 pace respectively. That's rather uneven pacing but my reasoning is that the first one is almost always slow as I'm still warming up (despite running over 3 miles of actual warm-up in this case) and the third one contained a 180-degree turn, which inevitably slowed me down. Or maybe that's just an excuse. It doesn't matter, training is done now and all that's left is wait until race day arrives (well, that and preparing mentally and finalising the race plan and actually getting myself to France ...)

10 Oct
3+ miles, 31:54, 9:58 pace, HR 127
11 Oct
7 miles, 1:06:30, 9:30 pace, HR 137
   with strides
12 Oct
4 miles, 38:28, 9:30 pace, HR 132
13 Oct
8 miles, 1:04:08, 8:01 pace, HR 151
   3 x 5 min @ 6:52, 6:34, 6:42

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Long Weekend

In normal times, a long weekend for me would signify a long run. Not now. This is taper time and like virtually every runner I hate taper time. The long weekend means waiting for the hours to pass, not really knowing what to do with myself. The options are limited as I'm supposed to get as much rest and recovery as possible. With my dodgy knee enforcing an extra long taper this is even worse than usual; I feel tapered already but I've still go another two weeks of this ahead of me.

I also hate the break in the Premier League schedule. This might be really weird for someone presently preparing for an international competition to say but I hate international football, with all the ugly nationalism that it can produce; I have seen some pretty ugly scenes in my time in England and heard otherwise rational and perfectly balanced people making some hair raising statements; going to a club match I never saw any of that nonsense, one visit to Millwall being the notable exception.

Anyway, while I'm whiling away the time I take a look at my schedule and scratching my head why the coach put on a rest day for tomorrow. I haven't done anything recently that would require a rest day! I can't even ask her because she herself is off-grid on a running camp!

I'm really watching my food intake now; I have completely gone off processed sugar once more, which is a highly effective way to shed some pounds without impacting on training and I'm down about 3 pounds already. Another 2 or 3 before Albi would be good, that would put me down to what I regard as my ideal racing weight, below 145 pounds / 65.5 kg / 10st5.

On the short occasions when I'm out running I marvel how natural 9:30 pace has started to feel. I can't even tell if that's a good thing or not. Should I be happy that I am used to running at the pace I will try and hold for many, many hours in Albi, or should I be worried that my natural pace has deteriorated by 2 minutes? I guess I'll find out in France. In the meantime I keep shuffling along, maybe squeeze in one more workout, and mentally steel myself for running in circle for a whole day and night in the company of Europe's best ultra runners.

The knee, you ask? That's 98% fine. I can feel it on the downhills but that's it.

7 Oct
6 miles, 56:25, 9:24 pace, HR 129
8 Oct
5+ miles, 47:25, 9:23 pace, HR 131
9 Oct
10 miles, 1:33:12, 9:19 pace, HR 133

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Getting Over It

Whatever I did to my knee, by last Friday it was already a lot better. To be honest, left to my own devices I would have tried running through it but the coach wasn't having any of that and cut the training right back, which, to be honest, makes a lot more sense so close to the Euros.

Running does not seem to aggravate the knee. However, as it turns out, sitting in a car for 4 hours, driving to Dublin, did. I was feeling rather stiff again on Saturday, and the journey home on Sunday evening wasn't exactly great for it either, so by Monday morning I felt almost back to zero. However, it wasn't quite as bad and it improved markedly day by day. On Wednesday I felt courageous enough to do some strides, more to test the knee than anything else. The stiffness was clearly noticeable when running fast and even more pronounced when decelerating after the strides. But I did not feel any repercussions afterwards and by Thursday morning the only time I felt something slightly off was when running downhill.

I know of course that the issue was caused by running but strangely enough, running then did not seem to aggravate it, Sitting did, in the office chair and even more so in the car. What helped was compression and icing, which I probably should have started earlier rather than waiting for a week. By now this has 98% cleared up and I'd love the coach to put on some miles again in the training plan, though she has given me a bit of leeway anyway.

With the Euros in 2 weeks there isn't much training I can do at this stage, I know that. I am looking at it as a rather long taper and you never know, that might be a good thing anyway.

3 Oct
0
4 Oct
5+ miles, 49:24, 9:46 pace, HR 131
5 Oct
5+ miles, 48:48, 9:39 pace, HR 134
   with strides
6 Oct
4 miles, 38:35, 9:38 pace, HR 131

Monday, October 03, 2016

The Knee

When I first realised that this knee issue wasn't just going away overnight, I almost had a meltdown. I like to think of myself as a rather grounded and rational person but the thought of an injury 4 weeks before the Euros was a bit too much to bear. Even in the best case scenario I would be missing a good chunk of training and the last thing I wanted was to start yet another ultra in sub-optimal shape.

Anyway, by Thursday morning I knew this was already getting better and the coach told me to keep running, albeit at a much lower mileage than originally planned. The workouts last week were all scrapped and replaced with a few miles of easy running. I looked at the bright side and reckoned it was a good way to dial into 24 hrs pace.

As far as I can tell, running does not aggravate the injury, at least not running at low intensity for an hour or less. The knee feels a bit stiff at the start but settles after a while and there is no additional stiffness afterwards. However, as it turns out, there is one thing that does aggravate the stiffness, and that is sitting in a car for 4 hours when driving to Dublin. That's what I had to do on Saturday morning and when I got to Dublin it felt quite bad again, I did a run to shake out the legs and bought another knee strap in Dublin, and the next day it was fine again. I made sure to wear my knee strap on the drive back home on Sunday evening and that went much better,

The big news is that I think I know what caused the problem in the first place! When I ran the marathon in Tralee last Saturday, I did not have a table for my nutrition so I simply placed it all on the ground, That meant that I had to bend over to the ground almost every 2 laps, about 15 times in all, while running a marathon. My best guess is that this put a bit too much pressure on the knees. I almost got away with it but running for 3 hours on Sunday obviously proved to be too much.

There's nothing I can do to change it but it's a case of lesson learned. Obviously there is no way to be 100% sure that my theory is correct but I'm reasonably certain. It would mean there is no big underlying problem like weak hamstrings or a wrong gait, which comes as a relief. With the knee improving steadily left on my own devices I would ramp up the mileage a lot more but the coach is much more cautious. It basically means I'm on a 4 week taper, which is unlikely to be a big problem. The Euros are most definitely still on!

30 Sep
4 miles, 39:23, 9:50 pace, HR 131
31 Sep
3+ miles, 28:56, 9:18 pace, HR 131
1 Oct
6 miles, 54:29, 9:03 pace, HR 135
2 Oct
8 miles, 1:11:58, 8:58 pace, HR 133

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Setback

Photo by Peter Murphy
When I finished Sunday's long run I thought I had gotten through the most brutal set of training I had ever done completely unscathed. I knew there were still a few tough workouts left but I felt the back of it was broken and the taper was getting close.

Just then, during Sunday evening, my right knee started to stiffen up. It did not hurt, and since Monday was a rest day I just hoped that things would clear up over the next 36 hours. Well, unfortunately they did not. If anything, the knee got worse during Monday. I think sitting in the office chair did not do it any favours (I sure have experienced that before). Any time I got up from my chair my knee felt very stiff, but it did loosen up somewhat after a minute of walking around.

It did not hurt as such. It just felt very stiff. But I find any issues related to the knee scary, so I was freaked out about it. I have certainly run through much worse pain and gotten away with it (expect for the one time when I did not get away with it), but with 4 weeks to go until the Euros I certainly wanted to err on the side of caution.

Probably my favourite photo from Tralee
Photo by Peter Murphy
When I got home I put on a knee strap. It immediately felt better, which made me question how much of it was psychological. I had a Yoga class that evening, and after consulting with my Yoga teacher I went ahead and got through it just fine.

I could not tell if it was any better on Tuesday morning but I binned the run. I did my usual dynamic stretching exercises (usual since I got the coach that is) and when doing lunges there was a tiny bit of discomfort when the right leg was bent, maybe 1 or 2 out of 10. Single leg squats on the right leg hurt more (3 or 4 out of 10) so I stopped immediately, not because the pain was bad but because I did not want to take any risks.

Googling symptoms can be a bad idea but it seems to match patellofemoral pain syndrome, though that is a bit of an umbrella term for various knee issues and not overly helpful (apart from the advice to rest or at least cut back, which is pretty much universal).

The coach advised me to go for a test run on Wednesday morning because full rest can often be counterproductive to healing (something I have found to be true on many occasions, even if it is counter-intuitive). As soon as I woke on Wednesday morning I noticed that the knee felt better, which pretty much made my day already. I did the same dynamic stretching exercises again and this time got through the entire set without discomfort.

Photo by Peter Murphy
However, running wasn't quite so straightforward. While the knee did not hurt as such, it was definitely not quite right. But things did get better as the run went on and there was no discomfort afterwards, which I take as a very positive result - I sure would gladly have accepted such an outcome before the run. In general I felt really stiff, awkward and unfit in this run, which is a bit weird after only 2 days of no running.

It looks like I'm in for an extended taper after all. The last few hard-ish workouts that had been planned for this week are off the table and there won't be time to do them, which basically means that the hard training is over and done with. Now it is a question of getting to the start line uninjured but after today I am feeling rather optimistic about that - a lot more so that I would have been yesterday.

Apart from that, I want to wish all the best to Anto, Rolando, Billy, Keith, Vilnis, Eoin, Bob, Pam, Harald, Andreas, Sung and every other runner in this year's Spartathlon. I really wish I would be there with you, guys!
26 Sep
0 (planned rest day)
27 Sep
0 (knee issues)
28 Sep
3+ miles, 30:23, 9:46 pace, HR 131

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Back-To-Back

I've been quite lucky this time round with races a just the right time when I needed them. Last week the coach wanted me to run 40 miles and the Glen of Aherlow ultra saved me from having to trot on my own for hours and hours on end, and this Saturday the Kerry 24 hrs Endurance run saved me from a familiar situation. In fact, I had been quite disappointed that I would not be able to take part in this race; a 24 hours race here in Kerry seemed to be too good to miss but the European Championships do beat that and 4 weeks would not nearly have been enough to recover. I am therefore very grateful for the RD, Marcus Howlett, to offer me an entry. I made sure he would not mind if I stepped off after a marathon (the last thing I would have wanted was for him to think I disrespected this race) and was nominally put into the 6-hour race.

There were many familiar faces in Tralee town park, many local runner who would otherwise never have contemplated running a 24 hrs race took the opportunity to take part - it was very much a case of build it and they'll come. It all started with very little fuss and at 12 o'clock we all set off - at a rather leisurely pace.

My plan was to test out as much as I could in realistic race conditions. Therefore I was wearing the same gear I am planning to use in Albi, I was having the same nutrition and following a nutrition plan for a 24 hrs race and I ran at the same effort level I am planning to use in Albi. Basically, I was running the first 4 hours of a 24 hours race. That is, admittedly, very much the easy part.

I set off at basically 4-hour marathon pace because that's a pace I am very comfortable with and can hold for a lot of hours (not 24 though!). I also wore a HR that settled in around the 135 mark, and after that I paid no more attention to either HR or pace and just ran by feel and tried to keep the effort as even as possible. A lap was 0.75 miles, so that makes 4 laps for 3 miles, and 35 laps for the marathon. The distance seemed to match very closely what was displayed on my GPS, so there was no need for me to keep count; just run.

I felt a bit like an impostor. I knew I was going to stroll away happily a few hours later, while the real runner would be close to having to be carried off the track. I tried to ignore that and just, well, run. I ran a few miles with Terence at the start, had a chat with Alex O'Shea (I still can't understand why he's not on the Irish team for Albi even though he has run the standard), also with Mike, David, Fozzy and a few more, and I also made sure to have a few encouraging words with anyone I passed (that didn't entirely work for 4 hours but I did give out plenty of encouragement). My hamstrings felt a bit tight after only a few miles, but coming into this race on the back of probably the toughest few days of training I have ever done that didn't come as a complete surprise and the legs settled nicely as the miles ticked by.

The nutrition plan consisted of taking something every 2 laps, either a drink (tailwind or watered down flat coke) or a small bite (potato or flap jack), which should add up to about 180 calories per hour, just about the maximum you can digest while running. To be honest, even though I have run 4 24 hours races (and a few other very long runs) I have never paid much attention to my race nutrition, always ate whatever I felt like, but that approach seemed to backfire in Belfast in June and I wanted to try and put that on more solid foundations this time with a nutrition spreadsheet and planned calories intake (which will undoubtedly go out of the window after a few hours, I know that). The nutrition bit worked very well, and I am very grateful for John, who was crewing for Aoife, to re-fill my coke bottle when it was empty. The flap jack seemed to sit heavily in my stomach, even though I only ate about  third of it, so I have to be careful with that.

This would have been ground for disqualification in Albi

Keeping track of nutrition was the one thing that kept my mind occupied, apart from that it was just running. My iPod's battery was flat when I put it on (next time maybe bother to check before the start?), but that had the advantage of having to remain a bit more social. I kept very close to 4-hours marathon pace for 18 miles before drifting into slightly faster pace for the last third. The last hour was definitely a bit faster than I would have run in a 24 hours race but I guess I wanted this to be over, especially as the weather got a bit worse with a few rain showers and dropping temperatures.

To be honest, I was a bit worried for the likes of Fozzy and Vinny, who definitely ran a good bit faster than I would have advised (in fact, I did advise them when they had asked) but eventually decided not to say anything as I did not want to put any negativity, or perceived negativity, into their minds. A positive mindset is so important in those long races, I know that better than most.

Anyway, I actually felt better towards the end than I did at the start. With just one lap to go I sped up, partially to have a bit of fun, partially to make sure I did indeed have plenty left in the tank, so I ran the last lap at sub-7 pace, which felt good after almost 4 hours of shuffling. After crossing the line I made sure they had all 35 laps in the computer and then said my good byes to all the runners on the track.

My GPS said 26.74 miles but the official distance for 35 laps is only 26.25; I have no idea where the discrepancy comes from, especially since the laps seemed to track very closely at the start. Either way, this is without a doubt the shortest ultra I'll ever run, and of course I am at the very bottom of the results list - which is fine by me, my race is still 4 weeks away.

I did pay one price for the race. Ever since Belfast, my left big toenail has been very dark and did not look good but it stayed on - last night it finally came off. There was a new one growing underneath the old one but it's still only a third of the way of being a full toe nail, so right now I have a mismatched number of toes and nails (which, incidentally, is a sign of a real runner, as I have been told numerous times).

The weekend wasn't quite over yet. For Sunday the coach had put 18 miles into the program. I did feel a bit tired after my marathon the day before and the legs grumbled a fair amount at the mere thought but I kept thinking of the warriors in Tralee town park who had kept going all through the night while I was snuck up in bed. My right knee hurt a bit but nowhere near enough to serve as an excuse to stay at home, so off I went. The first half mile sucked as badly as expected but the legs settled down surprisingly quickly and then it was just a matter of putting down the head and keep going, ticking off mile after mile until I was done. I had actually expected this run to be the worst run of the entire training cycle but despite the weary legs, that never got any worse, it passed surprisingly quickly.

The only thing that failed was my HRM; the battery had been acting up a few times already, so it did not come as a complete surprise and I already had a replacement battery - at home, so that had to wait until after my return, and I just ran by feel - slowly that is. I got home before 12 o'clock, so I even managed to catch the finish of the 24 hours run on facebook (isn't modern technology amazing!).

Congratulations to the real runners!

22 Sep
6 miles, 54:49, 9:08 pace, HR 134
   with strides
23 Sep
3 miles, 28:28, 9:09 pace, HR 130
24 Sep
26+ miles, 3:57:59, 8:53 pace, HR 146
25 Sep
18 miles, 2:50:43, 9:26 pace

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

No Rest For The Weary

This is without a shadow of a doubt the toughest period of training I have ever been subjected to. Usually I would make sure I go into an ultra, including one run for training purposes, on well rested legs and would make even more sure to take plenty of recovery days thereafter.

My coach works differently. First she made sure I was going into Aherlow on already slightly tired legs by making me do a speed workout 3 days before the race and 12 miles the day before (and indeed, when I got up on Saturday the first thing I noticed were tired legs - before I ran 40 miles!) and then she kept the pressure on. At first I did have 2 recovery days. I wasn't really planning on running on Sunday, especially with the lousy weather in the morning, but when it turned into a lovely afternoon Niamh and Maia decided to go to Rosbeigh beach and so I joined them and ran for half an hour on the sand in my bare feet.

Monday was a rare off day but the heat was back on Tuesday in the form of yet another speed workout, albeit in reduced form of 5 x 600 repeats. She did give me the option to move it if I did not feel up to it but I guess she knew I usually press on regardless. I did wonder how big the chances of acquiring an injury were, but in situations like that you either trust your coach or you don't, in which case you shouldn't have that person coaching you. Anyway, the paces were a bit more uneven compared to last week, though I ran them all by feel and the effort felt pretty much the same each time. After the fourth repeat I started to suspect that the coach was trying to kill me, and I was pretty sure that one more repeat would violate the rule of always stopping one repeat before you're completely spent but concentrating on running with good form rather than pushing hard got me through that while possibly even keeping to that rule. Which was good, because then I still had to run several miles on tired legs.

After that torture session surely I deserved a break? Nope. A very early morning with 14 miles was on the program for Wednesday, and I'm not sure if I got through it because my internal regulation system has packed up and left in a huff or because my endurance levels are indeed sufficient.

I get two easy days now before another big double header. If I get through that there will be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Oh, and even with the less than ideal timing, I did pass my exam on Monday. :)

18 Sep
3.4 miles, 30:13, 8:53 pace, HR 132
   barefoot
19 Sep
0
20 Sep
9 miles, 1:15:49, 8:25 pace, HR 147
    5 x 600 @ 6:33, 6:15, 6:16, 6:03, 6:16 pace, 70 seconds rest
21 Sep
14 miles, 1:58:00, 8:26 pace, HR 144