Thursday, March 31, 2016

Another Last Workout

Calling Monday's run the last workout was a bit premature, I suppose. A lot of marathon plans have a workout 10 days before race days, and a lot of them seem to feature mile repeats on that day. Mine was no exception.

It said 5-6 mile repeats, no faster than 10-mile race pace. I happen to have run a 10-mile race not so long ago but truth to be told my legs are still not feeling all that great, not since Tralee, and I could still feel Monday's run, so I toned it down by 10 seconds per mile: the first one at 6:30, the rest at 6:20, and, as always, finish when you think you have one more repeat in you.

Conditions were nigh on perfect, if a little bit cold, though a 2-mile warm up followed by a few strides took care of that. The first repeat was more to get into it, though it was a tad slower than planned. No matter. The other ones were all around 6:20 pace; I had the effort tuned in pretty well and managed it even without checking the watch. After the fourth one I reckoned I had energy for 2 more and therefore decided that this would be the last one, though a quarter mile into it I came to the gradual realisation that I barely had that one in me, so I probably should have left it after four.

If you've ever done mile repeats you know that one mile can feel pretty damn long, even if you don't run them all-out.

It took a while to catch my breath again after that, wondering how I had managed 10 6:11 miles in a row last month, though for some reason Ballycotton always makes me run faster that what I would think possible.

This really was the last workout. The rest is just ticking over, with the odd mile at marathon pace, and if the weather cooperates I'll run on the Kerry Way over the weekend to get a little bit of much-needed strength into those calf muscles, though none of that will be even close to exhausting.

I'm still not sure what to expect in Manchester. Just let the legs recover a bit and I might feel a bit more optimistic. After all that's what the taper is supposed to be for!

29 Mar
5 miles, 41:54, 8:22 pace, HR 136
30 Mar
8 miles, 1:04:02, 8:00 pace, HR 140
31 Mar
9.5 miles, 1:11:41, 7:33 pace, HR 152
   incl. 5x1 miles @ 6:35, 6:21, 6:18, 6:17, 6:20

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Last Workout

So, the good news is that on Saturday and Sunday I started feeling good again. Really good, just like when I'm about to get into really good shape. That's despite the weather which was rather foul but the gale force winds I had to fight had no reply to the good vibes coming from my legs.

The bad news is that I almost certainly got a bit overexcited and ran a bit too hard on what should have been easy days, and of course running into very strong headwinds isn't entirely compatible with easy effort anyway. So, as I kept my easy days not quite easy enough, my supposed hard day wasn't quite as hard in return.

The hard day did cause me a few headaches before it even started. The training plan had this pencilled in for last Thursday but I really did not feel up to it, still feeling the combined effects of Ballycotton, Tralee and that 5k, so I pushed it out to Sunday. The weather was going to be foul again on Sunday and there is just no point trying to run marathon pace into a strong headwind, it's just not working and I can never find the proper effort level. Luckily this was the Easter weekend, so I just postponed it by a day as Monday was a bank holiday and I wouldn't have to worry about having to get up at 5 am to have time for 18 miles.

However, the plan said 5-4-3-2-1 miles at marathon pace with short recoveries. That's 15 miles at marathon pace. I'm pretty sure I've never run 15 miles at marathon pace outside an actual marathon; you need to be in very good shape to recover from a workout like that and there is a pretty good chance it could mess up your goal race. It's risky enough with 17 days until the goal race but since I had postponed it twice already I only had 13 days left, so I decided to tone it down: 10 miles at marathon pace, no more (and even there I'm taking quite a risk of not being able to fully recover).

It was a beautiful sunny cool morning with hardly any wind, pretty much ideal conditions. I did 7 miles at a reasonably easy effort, still feeling as good at 7:30-ish pace as I had done the previous 2 days, and then accelerated a bit. Unfortunately the watch didn't display average lap-pace, which is what I would have used to pace me (my fault entirely of course), so I was left to gauge the effort more or less by myself. I didn't get it quite right and was more at 7-mile pace than 6:50 but as the legs got more and more tired I think any faster wouldn't have been sustainable anyway and it may have been a tad faster than true marathon effort as it was. I got through it but if I can do the same again for the full 26 miles is a bit doubtful right now. Then again, I'll have 2 additional weeks of recovery, lighter shoes and race day adrenaline to get me through, and I won't be running on empty in Manchester either, so that all may help.

Obviously I'd have preferred the last real workout before Manchester to go more to plan. Runners are a fickle lot with too much self-doubt.
25 Mar
9 miles, 39:19, 7:51 pace, HR 139
26 Mar
8 miles, 1:00:41, 7:35 pace, HR 146
27 Mar
8 miles, 1:01:11, 7:38 pace, HR 146
28 Mar
18 miles, 2:11:34, 7:18 pace, HR 149
   incl 10 miles at 7:01 pace

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thoughts On Recovery

I'm not entirely sure how I got bounced into this but I ended up racing on three consecutive weekends, Ballycotton, Tralee and the county championships. That would be okay if we were talking about 5k or 10ks but Tralee was a full marathon and that changes things. The usual rule of thumb is to take it easy for a day for each mile raced, so to run a 5k only one week after Tralee was never in the recommendations. On the plus side, after 75 marathons you do tend to recover quicker because you are so used to it, and none of the 3 races had been 100% all-out efforts (though a 62 minute 10 miler and a 3:05 marathon do come fairly close).

The physiological response after a marathon always tends to follow a certain pattern, albeit with variations. I always put on a few pounds in the week after a marathon and it's not because I tend to eat anything in sight (ok, I did a few hours after the marathon but not since). I think it has something to do with fluid retention, though I have no way to confirm that. Only in the recent 2 days has my weight started coming down again, so it did last 10 days this time.

The immediate muscle ache tends to go away after 2 or 3 days but the legs tend to feel a bit sluggish for a lot longer. Often it's the quads that are suffering, especially after a hilly race, but this time it's definitely the hamstring/glutes. Interestingly, the calves always felt fine, even the day after the race, even though that was the most problematic area during the race itself with all the cramping issues.

One thing I know for sure is that easy running every day leads to faster recovery than full rest. I used to think I'm the only one doing that but have since come to realise that this is a reasonably common recovery strategy. I even came across a scientific study recently that came to the same conclusion, though I have no idea now where to find it and can't therefore provide a link.

With Manchester just two weeks from next Sunday, there isn't much time to play around. Recovery from my recent races leads straight into the taper, so there isn't much serious training going on. There were really only 2 workouts left, and I actually swapped them around because I did not feel up to 18 miles this morning and preferred an extra half hour of sleep, so I did the 15 miles that were originally pencilled in for Sunday this morning and will do 18 on Sunday, IF and only if I feel up to it. 2 weeks before Manchester isn't the time to run myself into the ground again.

I can feel some life creeping back into the legs and the last couple of days were a tad faster than expected, though right now the numbers don't look great - well, Tralee wasn't that long ago, I'm aware of that. Right now I'm not overly optimistic about Manchester to be honest, but maybe the next 17 days will provide an upswing. Ah well. Fact of the matter is that it's a goal race, yes, but only a B one.

21 Mar
5 miles, 41:18, 8:15 pace, HR 139
22 Mar
am: 4 miles,33:03, 8:15 pace, HR 137
pm: 4 miles,33:34, 8:23 pace, HR 133
23 Mar
10 miles, 1:17:03, 7:42 pace, HR 146
24 Mar
15 miles, 1:57:11, 7:48 pace, HR 143

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Kerry 5k Road Championships

I only heard about the Kerry 5k road championships being on this weekend last Friday, and my first reaction was to groan. Actually, that was my second and third reaction as well - I knew straight away I wouldn't be in any real shape for a 5k just one week after the Tralee marathon.

Things like that have a tendency to become self-fulfilling prophecies of course; if you expect to run badly you are virtually guaranteed to do so. Maybe I should have gone to a sports psychologist rather than training this week.

My legs kept feeling better each day this week but as soon as I tried to run a few strides on Saturday I could immediately feel that the hamstrings were not going to cooperate. Jogging at 8-minute pace was fine but as soon as I tried to spin the legs things felt off.

Nevertheless I decided to go ahead; I guess I felt obliged to represent the club. I sacrificed my planned long run today, but did 5 miles in the morning to give me a few extra miles and I also tried to test the legs again with 2 or 3 strides, but once more I found the hamstrings less than cooperative.

After a cloudy start it turned into a lovely day, so at least the weather was cooperating. I lined up at the start, had just about time to set up the watch before we set off and then at first just tried to hang on to the back of Declan. He had beaten me at a race recently but I got my own back in the next one and I figured if I managed to stay close to him I was doing alright. Unfortunately it soon became clear that I did not manage to stay close to him, so at least I tried to keep him within a reasonable distance. I always felt slow but in fact the first mile was pretty fast in 5:43 but things fell apart during the second mile when it got a bit hillier and I was sure we travelled into a headwind, even if that must have been exceedingly light. During the third mile I kept swapping places repeatedly with another runner, me being stronger on the uphills but unable to spin the legs properly on the downhills so we kept leapfrogging each other in quick succession on the undulating road. That should have boded well for me at the finish when we had to climb up towards the village again before a flat last quarter mile but somehow he managed to find another gear and I did not and I ended up a second or two behind him. One look at the watch confirmed that I had indeed run as badly as expected, 18:40 being the slowest 5k in quite some time (actually, since last year's championship).

Ah well. I still got two medals, one for third M45 and another one for the team coming third, so it wasn't a complete wash-out, and even with a PB I still would have ended up in the same age group position, so from that point of view I hadn't lost anything.

Later on that day I added on another 5 miles on the treadmill while watching the Manchester derby, trying to make up somewhat for the missed long run (or maybe I was just trying to make up for Yaya's lack of effort). The legs felt rather unwilling at first but after 3 miles or so were actually feeling much better, though I kept the pace and effort very easy and stopped after 5 miles. I guess it was the first recovery run after yet another race, with more to come of course.

18 Mar
8 miles, 1:03:06, 7:53 pace, HR 139
19 Mar
10 miles, 1:21:23, 8:08 pace, HR 138
20 Mar
am: 5 miles, 39:31, 7:54 pace, HR 142
noon: 7 miles, incl. 5k Kerry road champs in 18:40; 6:01 pace, HR 173; 3rd M45
pm: 5 miles, 44:26, 8:54 pace, HR 147; treadmill

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Comfortably keeping alive my streak of looking awful in every single running photo ...

Last week someone mentioned to me that my training week sure looks like a taper, which I initially denied because I wasn't tapering for a training run, even one of marathon distance. However, looking back right now it sure does look like a real taper - with the obvious exception that I would not have raced a 10 miler 6 days before a target marathon.

This week is remarkably similar to last week, and for the same, obvious, reason, namely that I am recovering from a race. My recovery protocol has been tried and tested dozens of times and it works exceptionally well, at least for me: a 5 mile run every morning until I feel better, than an increase to 8 miles and once that feels as easy I get back to normal training. The worst run is inevitable the first one, which this time round was an uncomfortable slog at 9-minute pace on Sunday, but even then I could clearly notice how I felt better with each passing mile. Since then it's been a little bit up and down, I felt okay on Monday, a bit worse on Tuesday (though the numbers looked a lot better) and gradually better again so I increased the distance to 8 this morning. The legs felt a little bit heavy early on but that settled soon enough.

The numbers have improved with every single day, which confirms that the recovery is working very well. Today's 8 miler was a little bit quicker than planned but I take it as a sign that life is coming back into those ageing legs.

The weather helps, it is clear but crispy cold each morning, and after a rather horrendous winter that makes for a nice change. Thankfully it is supposed to last for several more days, well into next week. We'll see of course - not that we can do anything about it anyway.

I wasn't planning on racing again until Manchester but a couple of days ago heard that the 5k county championships are on again this Sunday. Somehow they always seem to be on either the week after Tralee or Connemara, I cannot remember how long ago it was that I last raced them with fresh legs. It's far from ideal, the plan for next Sunday was 22 miles but only if the legs feel up to it (doubtful), so I'm still undecided. It's not entirely clear if I can make it at all because Niamh might have to go back to Dublin, in which case I'd be on parenting duty instead (which isn't any easier!).

Either way, once that weekend is over, the last phase for Manchester will begin. There isn't much training left as the taper will start soon, and this is the one marathon I'll do a proper taper for.

14 Mar
5 miles, 41:56, 8:23 pace, HR 134
15 Mar
5 miles, 41:08, 8:13 pace, HR 136
16 Mar
5 miles, 40:47, 8:09 pace, HR 136
17 Mar
8 miles, 1:02:40, 7:49 pace, HR 142

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Honours In Tralee

Today was my 75th marathon.
A few months back, when I first drew up my racing schedule for 2016, I pencilled in Tralee as my goal marathon. When I saw the proposed route I quickly changed my mind because it clearly was not conductive to a fast time. Typically, that route was changed completely with about 3 weeks to go and we were back on the initial route that had been used in 2013. I have a love/hate relationship with that one: I love the fact that I set my marathon PB on it but I hate the fact that it's actually not very fast and the same effort on a flat route would have given me faster PB; I especially dislike the ridiculously steep climb at Barrow, only to turn round again and run the same hill down. It feels like an artificial attempt to make this into a particularly tough marathon.

Anyway, I haven't missed any on the Tralee marathons yet and I'm not planning on missing out in future years either, so once more I was at the start line as the start gun went off. The weather forecast had been very good, so for the first time this year I was actually wearing a singlet. I'm not sure why, but very late last night I had made the decision to wear my Austrian singlet, I guess I was trying to draw inspiration from it. Apparently Irish national runners are told not to wear their top in any competition outside a championship but nobody ever said anything like that to me, so I wore it, for the first time ever in fact apart from one short test run.

Anyway, I figured I was roughly in 3-hour marathon shape but since it was only 6 days since Ballycotton, which is too short for a full recovery, that might not be entirely true that day. Worse, I had been dealing with a cold all week and while I had felt better with every single day, this very morning had been the first one when I woke up without feeling my chest being restricted. So, I was fine when idle; how my body would cope with the stress of a marathon at close to race pace was another matter. One way or another, I was going to find out.

I was in about 10th place after half a mile but a few runners had clearly gotten well ahead of themselves at the start and within a mile there was a group of 3 of us in 5th-7th place, myself, John and Denis, running pretty much 3-hour pace. Before mile 4 we caught another runner, who was looking suspiciously young and was breathing heavily, which made me feel a bit worried for him, but he kept going, albeit at a slower pace. The first 6 miles into Ardfert just flew by and felt almost effortlessly, but there we turned a sharp left corner and were faced with an unexpectedly strong headwind. I quickly decided that it didn't make sense for all of us to fight the breeze directly and suggested taking turns, which worked very well, all three of us taking their turn up front for 0.2 miles each for the next 2 miles when a right turn took us out of the wind again. By this time we had caught up to yet another runner, who hung with us for a bit before falling back, so we, very much to everyone's surprise, found ourselves in 3rd-5th position. The top two runners, Gary O'Hanlon and Alex O'Shea, were very much out of our league but to be right behind them, at least position-wise, was mind boggling. John and myself had the additional advantage of running in an age group (different ones, so we didn't even have to fight each other), so it already looked rather likely that we would go home with a trophy tonight, a very nice position to be in for sure. We saw the two top guys at the out-and back in Barrow, cruising along comfortably and with a big gap already in place. Barrow hill was as brutal as expected, we just tried to get up and down without completely frying our legs with 16 miles still to go, and must have taken it just a tad easier over the next couple of miles for recovery.

"It's only 15 miles to the finish!"
"You're full of fun today, Thomas"

Our pace had dropped a little bit and we reach halfway in just over 91 minutes, so a sub-3 marathon was definitely not going to happen today but I had stopped caring about my time today when it was becoming clear that I had a chance of either a podium place or an age group award. We faced a couple of very tough miles into the wind and with some tough climbs into Fenit but I was still feeling surprisingly comfortable. At one point we took turns leading into the wind again.

"John, you should put on some weight, you're not making much of a difference"
"Well, you weren't much help either".

"Denis, you have forfeited your turn", when we turned into Fenit just after Denis had taken the lead, though I thought he might still get a chance to make amends later on.

Fenit was another out-and-back section that enabled us to check out the opposition. One runner in black was fairly close behind us, certainly no further than he had been in Barrow, nobody else was particularly close. The pier was quite wind-swept but once we got off it we would have the wind at our back for about 6 miles, what a luxury! As we tackled the climb away from the pier John told me to make a move, just like I had done 2 years ago. Truth to be told, I did not intentionally make a move, neither today nor 2 years ago, but I was feeling good and kept the effort going while, I think, my 2 companions started to feel the strain and slowed down, which made it look like I was dropping them. Either way (and even if I had been dropping them intentionally, this was a race after all!), I was soon on my own with the footsteps behind me gradually fading away, albeit slowly.

For now I could dream of finishing in a podium position, which would have seemed utterly ridiculous at the start. A few minutes later I thought I heard something behind me and caught a glimpse of a black t-shirt out of the corner of my eye. Was it possible that the runner in black had overtaken my two erstwhile companions already? Never mind, I just ran my own race, still feeling quite comfortable, with energy levels surprisingly high. Team Austria might actually pull one off today!

I got to about mile 17 when the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps became impossible to miss. A runner was closing in, and at quite some pace. He caught up very quickly, by my estimation he must have made up 30 seconds in considerably less than 2 miles, but once he was right behind me that's where he stayed and didn't try to pass. The sun came out at that point, feeling nice and warm (and making me glad I was wearing a singlet) and I could see a shadow right behind my own, not that I needed additional confirmation. I was kind of looking forward to battling it out for a podium place, even if the speed of his catching up wasn't a great sign for me, when things went pear-shaped pretty much without warning.

Cramping has been a long-standing problem for me. In at least half of my marathons at race pace I have suffered from calf cramps, sometimes more, sometimes less, and at about mile 18 I got some rather painful spasm in my left calf, and I knew from experience that things would only get worse from here on. I tried to run as relaxed as possible, which may have helped a little bit. I tried to heel-strike because in theory that should put less strain on the calf muscle, but if anything that made it worse. Mostly I could just about deal with it, but on two occasions close to the 19 mile point I got a really strong and painful shock and when it happened the second time I shouted out in pain and had to slow right down for a few steps to get things back under control. The other runner asked what was wrong, very sportingly offered me some of his drink, but eventually and inevitably he went past and gradually started disappearing in front.

At that point we also merged with the half marathon course and one of them passed me straight away. I kept thinking that now I would not know if anyone passing me would be a half or full marathon runner but for the time being I was on my own. The left calf kept being very painful, which was a shame because everything else was feeling great, I wasn't particularly fatigued and I sure could have run faster. It did help to be an experienced runner at this point; I had been there before and more or less knew how to nurse the calf along without going into complete cramping which would have been a disaster, but it sure shows how the whole is only as strong as the weakest link.

The climb up the Kerries wouldn't be that bad usually but with over 20 miles in the legs it feels tough and with cramping legs it feels even tougher so I was mightily relieved to eventually come out on top, surprised that nobody had caught me in the meantime, not even another half marathon runner. The run down towards Tralee seemed a little bit easier on the calf but I still had to be very careful not to strain it past breaking point, and of course I still was in agony.

The half marathon runners were almost finished when we reached Strand Road but the full marathon takes another sharp right turn and we headed towards Blennerville, the windmill soon visible in the distance, and unfortunately right into the headwind again, something I could have done without at that point. I consoled myself that I had managed to nurse the calf along for 5 miles already and there were only 3 left, albeit rather painful ones. We actually didn't go towards the windmill but kept it well to our left and past it before reaching the last water stop at mile 24 where two 90 degree turns in quick succession give you another good view of the runners behind you.

I did not even want to look. I was convinced that there was at least one runner bearing down on me and with my cramping calf I would not be able to hold them off, and my only hope was that they would not be in my age group, but to my surprise there was absolutely nobody in sight, not for at least a couple of minutes. I wasn't wearing my glasses and, short-sighted as I am, wasn't sure if I could entirely trust what I saw (or didn't see), but it seemed reasonably clear that I wasn't going to be passed again. I guess I must have taken it a smidgen easier from that point on because my pace dropped by another 10 seconds per mile, though that had the beneficial effect of putting less pressure on my calf and the cramping seemed to lessen a little bit. Mind, at that point the fatigue had well and truly caught up with me and I was knackered; I guess having to deal with that cramping calf had sucked my energy levels dry. I also took a strong dislike to the gravel path we were on, it really hurt my feet. But I kept going, at about 7:20 pace a good bit slower than previously but still holding things together reasonably well considering and gradually Tralee came closer again. Then we merged back to the half-marathon route, took three corners and finally the finish line was ahead of us and I finished in 3:05:05, in fourth place, just missing out on a podium place but having secured my age group, which I would have taken gladly before the race and I was more than pleased with that outcome.

Niamh and kids soon came over and were there at the ceremony, which was nice. Niamh then had to leave for Dublin and I was on family duty for the rest of the weekend - real life never stops!

I'm more than happy with my race, it definitely was one of my better days. It was my fastest marathon in almost 3 years and 4th place is so much better than what I could have expected. I'm perfectly aware that the standard wasn't the same as in previous years but that's not my fault, if the faster runners didn't run today that's up to them.

Unfortunately right now the published results are not correct, there are three runners listed ahead of me that did not finish the marathon in the published times (even in the haze of marathon running I can correctly count to 3 as in the number of runners who were ahead of me) and at least one other runner has an incorrect time to his name. I hope they'll manage to sort that out.

11 Mar
4 miles, 32:31, 8:07 pace, HR 138
12 Mar
2016 Tralee marathon
   3:05:05, 7:03 pace, HR 158
   4th place, 1st M45
13 Mar
5 miles, 55:46, 8:59 pace, HR 134

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Two More Things About Ballycotton

... and then I move on:

1) someone asked how my HR compares with previous races there. I averaged 171 last week compared to 172 in 2014. Previous races had been higher, 177, 176 and 175 in teh 3 years preceding that. If your max HR falls by about 1 per year then this would be reasonably stable, though in my experience it declines less than that, at least in me. I could come to the conclusion that I did not push myself to the total limit, which is entirely possible.

2) my age-rated performance has actually improved compared to my previous race there. 61:52 as a 46-year old is 78.84%, while 61:31 as a 44 year old was only 78.02%. Maybe I am ageing very well. But before anyone makes an unnecessary comment, races are run on the road and not in calculators, I know that perfectly well.

The legs had been a little bit heavy on Monday and the quads were rather sore on Tuesday, which is classic DOMS of course, but all felt fine again on Wednesday.

The one thing I mostly took away from Ballycotton, however, was a head cold. I felt cold during the walk back to the car, despite putting on a thick warm hoodie, and I cut my cool-down short a bit because I was feeling a bit cold during that as well, but it might have been too late. I felt absolutely rotten on Monday night with a bad headache and didn't sleep very well but was feeling much better already by Wednesday.

The HR was very slightly elevated initially but I would expect that during race recovery anyway, so the cold didn't have much of an impact there. On Thursday morning I extended the morning run to 8 miles and after about 5 miles did one single mile at 6:50-ish pace to test out what that would feel like, especially with Saturday's marathon in mind. Well, one mile isn't particularly long and it felt ok, and the HR at 161 was very much in the green zone, but the problem was that it then did not come down for the 2 easy miles after the fast one and remained at 157 despite the much easier pace.

I might make a very late decision on what pace I'll run in Tralee. My friend Chris Grayson keeps badgering me to run as one of the 3:15 pacers with him but I keep resisting. Tralee is my home marathon and I'd prefer to run a decent time, even if it's not the wisest decision with Manchester 5 weeks away. I won't race it all-out but I might wait as late as mile 1 into Tralee to make that decision. If things don't feel right I can still fall back and join Chris as an un-official pacer for company.

Tralee will be my 75th marathon (or, to be precise, my 50th marathon plus 25 ultras). While not exactly a round number it's a significant one anyway. The MCI certainly thinks so - I'm due yet another special award :)
7 Mar
5 miles, 41:06, 8:13 pace, HR 138
8 Mar
5 miles, 41:57, 8:23 pace, HR 137
9 Mar
5 miles, 39:51, 7:58 pace, HR 138
10 Mar
8 miles, 1:01:18, 7:40 pace, HR 148

Monday, March 07, 2016

Ballycotton Return

Obviously, Thursday's workout was followed by 2 easy days,. That would have been the case in any situation but with Sunday's race in Ballycotton on the horizon, it was an absolute no-brainer.

I had a bit of a diversion on Saturday with the Kerry Athletics awards night. My club, Star of the Laune, had been kind enough to nominate me for an award and, lo and behold, I was picked for a special merits award. In fact, they gave me just about the biggest pot they had on that table. It was a very nice evening, and who would not be honoured to receive an award like that - the only downside being that we had to leg it once the entertainment started in earnest as the next day's drive would be long and the race would be hard.

I've done some local races but nothing what I would call serious in the last few months, and Ballycotton felt like a step up again towards "real" racing. The standard there would be frightfully high and I was nowhere near top shape, so expectations were muted all along. Considering my very modest 39:10 in a 10k on New Year's Day, 63 minutes seemed the best outcome possible, and that felt optimistic. However, there is something about Ballycotton that always makes me race faster than I think possible and so it proved once more.

I woke on Sunday morning with a sore throat and a sore left hamstring, neither of which filled me with confidence that this would be a particularly good day. However, I would neither of which put m off my race.

2 miles. Photo by Graham Nudds
I have run this race on many occasions and this year was the first time I encountered a serious organisational glitch in the massive queue for the drop-bags. Every single runner in that queue had to share a small part of the responsibility for turning up later than advised but it was moving ridiculously slowly and that needs to be sorted out for next year.

Because of that, my own warm-up was very short, no more than 5 minutes, and then I really had to make it into the start area. In the past I have gotten stuck there with 20 minutes to go, so I was actually pleasantly surprised that I managed to squeeze all the way to the "under 58 minutes" sign. Obviously I was not going to run under 58 minutes but I have learned from bitter experience that lining up according to that sign would have been a bad mistake - as it happens, I still started too far in the back, as I do every year, and spent much of the first mile weaving around slower runners ahead of me on a very narrow road. Business as usual, really.

Photo by Alan Bannon
With a recent 10k pace of 6:19 a similar pace for a 10 mile race seems suicidal but I felt I dialled into the effort very well, hard but comfortable. For pretty much all of the race I kept gaining on groups ahead of me, would then sit in the back for a minute or two to catch my breath before pushing ahead again to repeat the same process with the next group. For the first 2 miles I shared that tactic with a runner dressed in black, before I managed to get a look at him; hang on, I know that guy, that's John. He pulled away from me after 2 or 3 miles but I caught him again between 5 and 6, gave him a pat on the back with some encouraging words but he didn't really take the hint and didn't try to hang on as I chased yet another group.

Photo by Joe Murphy
The last 1.5 miles were as tough as ever with a bit of climbing to do on very tired legs but I surprised myself by being able to hang on to people I had a minute ago thought of being too fast and I even managed to pass and basically out-sprint an entire group of 5 or 6 runners right at the end, which is basically unheard of for me.

The official (chip) time was 1:01:52, which was over a minute faster than my supposed best-case outcome, so I was very pleased with that. My sequence of finishing further ahead in the field with each subsequent race has come to its inevitable end, though. In fact, 145th is a fairly modest placing for someone who has finished 101st and 103rd 2 and 3 years ago. Still, it was 9th in my age group, which isn't all that bad even for a senior citizen. I did meet a proper fast old man during the walk back to the car when interrupting Gary Condon's cool-down for a minute to have a brief chat.

I never even noticed the sore throat in Ballycotton and the hamstring did not bother me once I was a minute into my warm-up.

I was more than happy with my time as well as my own running, feeling I had paced myself very well and pretty much squeezed the optimum outcome out of myself today. This week's mileage is lower due to the lack of a long run, and next week will be low again as a week of recovery is in store with the Tralee marathon this Saturday, even if that is primarily yet another training run.
4 Mar
5 miles, 41:23, 8:17 pace, HR 136
5 Mar
6 miles, 46:23, 7:44 pace, HR 144
6 Mar
13+ miles, including:
   Ballycotton 10, 1:01:52, 6:11 pace, HR 171
   145th place, 9th M45
7 Mar
5 miles, 41:06, 8:13 pace, HR 138
Weekly Mileage: 59+

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Chasing Away The Demons

I probably should give some kind of explanation for my last post. It's a long story and there is much more to it than I would ever divulge publicly but basically a family member is in hospital with a serious condition. When it first happened we felt helpless and alone but since then we've had offers to help from so many people and so much support that it all becomes a lot easier to bear. Thank you to everyone who has sent us some form encouragement, you have no idea how much this helped!

I am actually amazed that my training didn't break down completely with all the stress and sleepless nights but somehow I always kept feeling very good physically. Despite all those extra factors I can suddenly feel my training coming along, after weeks of stagnation of even seemingly going backwards. Running in the last week or two wasn't really focused on training as such but more on getting the head sorted and enjoy some hours of freedom but the training effects accumulated nevertheless.

I felt pretty good after Sunday's run but still kept Monday to a very easy 5-mile run. I did up teh distance a little bit on Tuesday but kept the effort at the same easy level.

Because I felt surprisingly good and also because of Sunday's 10-mile race in Ballycotton I toyed with the idea of doing this week's midweek workout on Wednesday rather than the usual Thursday but the weather solved that problem for me with storm Jake striking on Wednesday. While it is possible to run in orange weather warnings it is probably not really advisable as there is a certain amount of risk involved, even if it's a small one. But it's definitely not possible to do a proper workout in a mini-hurricane; believe me, I've tried.

So it was an easy hour on the treadmill watching a recording on the telly to pass the boredom while teh storm was raging outside. It was actually by far my best treadmill run yet, maybe I'm getting used to it or maybe the wind blowing through the slightly opened window ensured I did not get as overheated as usual.

The real workout followed as scheduled on Thursday, a very calm if surprisingly dark morning. The workout was 15 or 16 miles with 4x1 mile repeats at 10k pace bang in the middle. Seeing as my last attempt at a long run with a fast middle section had almost killed me I was a bit nervous but once I got going it went much better than expected. I ran 39:10 in a 10k last month, and even though I was definitely disappointed with that time it pointed to a present 10k-pace of about 6:20, maybe a couple of seconds faster and that was the target.

I ended up with 6:20, 6:13, 6:21 and 6:13. There was very little wind and the road was reasonably flat in either direction so I can't really tell why one direction was faster than the other one but with such a small sample size it may well be just coincidence, or just plain old bad pacing. However, I felt pretty good and definitely had at least one more repeat in me, which is how you want to feel at the end of a speed workout, especially so if the plan calls for an extra 5 or 6 miles! Those miles went pretty well as well, very much in contrast to the horror show back in February and I figured that had been my best workout in that training cycle yet. While I would gladly swap every single ounce of fitness for a healthy family, I'll have to be content with what I have at the moment. Having a race to look forward to helps with dealing with all the other stuff, though.
29 Feb
5 miles, 41:22, 8:16 pace, HR 138
1 Mar
8 miles, 1:03:16, 7:55 pace, HR 144
2 Mar
8 miles, 1:03:16, 7:55 pace, HR 138, treadmill
3 Mar
15 miles, 1:53:52, 7:35 pace, HR 145
   4 x 1 mile @ 6:20, 6:13, 6:21, 6:13