Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Lonely Pacer

... and after the marathon you go to Tralee and pick up the kids from their music lessons. Give them a treat and get Cian to the barber. Go shopping and pick up some weed killer as well. At home, cut the grass, cut down that tree and spray the path. Look after them, cook dinner, make sure they have their showers .."

Niamh is clearly a fan of active recovery after a marathon. There was to be no lying down, no matter how tired I would feel. For the record, the tree still stands and the hair didn't get cut either but I got the rest done. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Getting ready. Photo by Mary Mockett
This was planned as the third marathon in as many weekends, though I didn't quite make it to the marathon mark last week in the Wings for Life run. However, I've run fairly hard the last 2 weekends and despite recovery going very well I knew there was a limit to what I could subject the legs to, so I agreed to pace 3:15 for the Lakes of Killarney marathon to remove any temptation to go out with Fozzy and co and fight for a podium position at 3-hour pace.

It's a reasonably small race but definitely deserves more recognition. The course consists of 3 laps in the Demesne of the National Park and the scenery is just to die for, at least on a sunny day, though they have always been lucky with the weather so far. With a rather bumpy profile it's not a course where you'd go looking for a PB, but that wasn't my aim anyway.

Right from the start Alex O'Shea was storming off for an undisputed win, followed by 5 chaps who would contest the podium places. The 3:30 group was behind us and all that was left between those groups were us 2 pacers and one single pacee for 3:15. I have paced races where I came home without a pace group but that's a first for the pacers outnumbering the pacees even at the start!

Brendan and his 2 personal pacers. Photo by Valerie O'Sullivan
My fellow pacer, Dermot Kearns, had paced 3 hours in Limerick a fortnight ago (I had seen his group for the first 5 miles or so). There was literally not one single runner between us and the 3:30 group, so Brendan really was our only client today. Therefore we didn't have to stick religiously to 3:15 pace and I asked Brendan a couple of times if he wanted to speed up or slow down but he was happy with the pace we set (most of the credit goes to Dermot), a little bit faster than 3:15 pace.

As we clicked off mile after mile, time passed very quickly. This was a rather relaxed pacing gig and there was no pressure. As the first of 3 laps had passed I noticed the legs starting to get a bit heavy, the combination of Limerick and Wings for Life making its presence felt, but I had no trouble keeping going. There is one fairly big climb shortly after the start of each lap, which had me breathing a bit heavier than I would have liked on lap 2 but otherwise it was still a reasonably relaxed effort, the rolling hills of the rest of the course not providing any problems,

With the course featuring a section where you meet runners coming the other way, we had the chance to wave to a lot of runners, both the fast guys at the front as well as the other end of the field. Alex was way ahead in front and looking like he was out for a morning jog, Fozzy in second place and the chasers not too far behind.

At 14 miles I spotted John Foley ahead, and I could see that we was in trouble, having been dropped by the rest of the fast group. We caught up with him at mile 15 and I let Dermot and Brendan go ahead on their own and provided John some company, though I warned him that I would have to push ahead once we dropped behind 3:15 pace (we were about 2 minutes ahead at that point). For the next mile it was clear that he really was in trouble, breathing very hard even when we relaxed to pace to no faster than 7:45, and just a mile later he had enough of my presence and sent me ahead. The heat and humidity clearly had gotten to him and I had slight doubts if he would even bother to start the third loop (I was wrong, he did finish).

 a lonely pacer at mile 17. Photo by Artur Nowak
I was on my own all of a sudden, with Dermot and Brendan a good bit ahead, though I kept seeing them, I was still ahead of time and decided to keep at 3:15 pace, and if someone else from the faster runners would drop back I could try and coax him along. Until then I would just keep going, albeit on my own.

I took it fairly easy as I took on the big climb for a third time, which helped preserve energy for the rest of the loop. The good thing about having heavy legs from mile 8 onwards was that the heavy legs at mile 20 didn't feel any worse and I had gotten used to it.

Pacing was a bit tricky because the GPS signal and the mile markers didn't particularly agree. The RD swears that he measured the course more than once and that it is correct, and I know from racing a lot of 5ks in the National Park that the signal can indeed be unreliable beneath the forest cover. The only thing to do really is to rely on the mile markers and pace yourself off them. I still had over a minute in hand when I unexpectedly drew level with Dermot again at mile 24. He's a quality runner but the conditions had gotten to him as well, in addition to that sub-3 in Limerick, but we were still comfortably within 3:15 pace and made our way towards the finish as a re-united pace team. Brandon had pushed ahead (he finished in 3:12) and there wasn't much else for us to do, except finish the job.

We got there in 3:14:11, which I like to think was reasonably close to the target. In all fairness, there was no real need for 3:15 pacers today due to the lack of runners at that level, and Brandon would have gotten on just fine without us, albeit without the pleasure of my company. However, I very much enjoyed the race and can recommend it it to anyone looking for a scenic and well organised small marathon.

A few runners had suffered from the heat and the humidity, which always makes for tough conditions, even if the weather made the National Park shine even more gloriously than usual. I was glad I had been pacing this rather than racing; with the effort below race pace I found this much easier to handle.

I couldn't hang around for long because of Niamh's long todo list (and I had to collect the kids in time), so I made my way back towards the car park even before the 3:30 group had arrived. One of their pacers, Grellan, was in even more hurry than me; he can't have waited around for long and jogged past me on his way back to the car, a 3:30 marathon obviously not enough to tire him out (note to self, look out for him in Belfast).

All in all a very good day - but damn, I still have to cut down that tree!
14 May
Lakes of Killarney Marathon
3:14:11, 7:27 pace, HR 158, ran as 3:15 pacer
15 May
5 miles, 41:38, 8:18 pace, HR 136


  1. Gorgeous photos with all those green trees! We still mostly have twigs around here. On the bright side, our present weather is better for running. No one suffers from the heat yet, so your pacees would have had a better chance here! Wow, Niamh is hardcore, I need to adopt her style, for after gigs in our case:)

  2. I think your wife needs to run a marathon.
    Good if quiet job on the pacing font. Looks a beautiful course.