Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When The Force Wasn't With Me

Without a shadow of a doubt, the Energia 24 hrs race in Belfast in 2014 had been my greatest race ever. Ever since then I have been itching for a return; I missed it last year with a heavy heart because with the world championship in Turin (where I only ran because of that Belfast result) and then the Spartathlon I was already pushing my luck as it was. When I heard that the 2016 race had been moved from the Mary Peters track into Victoria Park, my first reaction was not to run it at all because I really favour a track setting for that kind of a race. It took a few months to come round, and eventually I signed up after all.

Going into the race I knew perfectly well that I was not in the same shape I had been back in 2014. I do measure feedback in my training and the cold hard numbers made it quite clear. However, I figured I was in similar shape to last year's race in Turin, and with a better race, especially in the later hours, I might be able to hit 220k, though I always knew it was an ambitious target. 216k, to get a guaranteed Spartathlon qualifier, was the fallback goal. 200k would be the minimum goal, but only because it happens to be a round number.

I'm not sure how, but I do have a habit of snapping up top class crews for that kind of race, sometimes at a very late notice. My support this year was particularly impressive in the form of Valerie Glavin, no less than the the Irish National record holder for 24 hrs indoors, and Ger Donohue, fresh off the podium in Portumna 2 weeks ago. Valerie was working Saturday and would arrive late but Ger would undoubtedly be able to handle the first few hours on his own.

The start- photo by Mike Flanagan
The date of the race had moved as well, 3 weeks earlier than anticipated, which screwed my training plan and for which I never properly adjusted (my own fault, of course), though with the European Championships in France (the running, not the footy!) in October, that was actually a good move. Or it would have been, had I adjusted my training properly. More on that later.

Even the start time had moved - from an evening to a noon start, though that didn't make much difference to me to be honest. I got there with a few hours spare, though with all the hellos to dozens of other ultra runners and their crews they flew by so fast that in the end I barely had time to get ready in time.

I started at a very measured effort, as befits a race of such monumental effort. Within a lap or 2 I found myself right beside Thomas Klimas and we just happened to run the same pace, so we spent the next couple of hours running together, which brought a fair few remarks that we were re-running the Spartathlon, including from ourselves. At one point the two of us were running with Don and Brian, which almost made this a Spartathlon reunion (we did miss Anto!). However, I found it really hard to find a comfortable rhythm. After about 45 minutes Thomas remarked how he loved this phase of the race when everything feels so easy and you think you can keep this going forever. I, on the other hand, just never felt comfortable and was definitely wondering where this would go, but for the time being there wasn't much to do but keep going and try to eventually find a decent rhythm. After a couple of hours Thomas had a break at his crewing table and we went our separate ways.

I thought I sped up a bit after that, but a look at the mile splits doesn't really confirm that. However, I did soon get into the flow and was finally feeling much more comfortable and optimistic about how the race would go.

You cannot win a 24 hours race in the first few hours but you can certainly lose it, so I was definitely surprised to see Eddie Gallen start out at what must have been at least 260k pace. Eddie was running his 33rd 24 hours race (I don't know if anyone has run more) and I certainly wasn't going to question his approach. Alex O'Shea was starting rather fast, which definitely had me worried for him. Keith Whyte, the Irish 100k record holder, on the other hand, seemed to start at a much more measured effort, and I was really looking forward to witnessing what he would do today. So far I could only admire his incredibly smooth running style.

I did run into a potentially serious problem early on. My right thigh was getting quite painful and lifting the leg became a bit of an effort with each step. I think it was the pectineus muscle, though I'm not an expert in that field. It was far too early to have muscle problems, really, but that's what I was faced with.

The first marathon in such a race is basically the warm up. I finished it a few minutes after 4 hours, pretty much where I planned and expected to be. I know I can't keep that pace for 24 hours but a slowdown is always part of the calculation. I was feeling very comfortable at that time and looking forward to the next few hours. It became increasingly obvious, however, that the weather forecast had not been correct; instead of the clouds and maybe even the odd light shower it was really warm and sunny, very much to everyone's surprise. Quite a few runners started moaning about the heat - I didn't feel too bad, maybe my heat adaptation was unexpectedly paying off after all.

About 45 miles into the race I passed the start area just as one of the 100k runners, Natalie Bowbanks, was having a bit of a mental low. We ended up running a few laps together. Physically she was fine (for someone past the 40 mile mark that is) but she was struggling a bit mentally. However, she did recover and I was delighted to see her finish a few hours later.

Dealing with a low - photo by Ed Mc Groarty
I still felt good for a few more hours but it was never going to last - ultra races are usually defined by how the runner handles the inevitable lows. I often have a dip at 30 miles but got through that just fine. It hit me all the harder at 50 miles, though. I got there in almost exactly 8 hours, still very much on schedule, but the next 4 or 5 miles were by far the most difficult so far. I was totally devoid of energy and found it very hard to keep running. I tried to eat but must have overdone it because my stomach started to feel too full - then I stopped eating but within 2 or 3 laps I staggered up to our table, barely able to hold myself up, feeling dizzy and all I could do was stammer "I need sugar or I'm going to faint". A few jelly babies later I was feeling better and eventually started to run better again. That also more or less coincided with Valerie turning up, and she immediately took control - neither Ger nor myself are experts on nutrition during ultras (I just never had any real trouble, so never had to learn my lessons), and she really was a godsend. She declared I had eaten too much and put me on the Coke diet - a few sips of coke per lap, nothing else for a while. It worked. I quickly felt better again.

However, once more it wasn't going to last long. I had barely been able to enjoy a brighter spell when it all went downhill again. Crossing the 100k mark was no cause for celebrations - I was almost crawling at the time. I was also getting whiny and started moaning to my crew - I hate it when I do that, it's just pathetic. I apologised to Valerie for wasting her time with my poor performance, and I can't even remember what I said to Ger but I made him promise afterwards not to tell anyone.

I passed Darren Sheridan, the winner of the Donadea 100k three weeks ago, and mentioned how back then I had covered 100k in an hour less and had felt a lot less exhausted, to which he replied he was in the exact same position. This low was a lot worse than the one at 50 miles, and it took until I had crawled to mile 70 that I finally managed to get to grips with things again. Unfortunately, the last 10 miles had taken me 2 hours, and my goal was starting to slip out of my grasp.

I wasn't the only one struggling. Runners of such high calibre as Ger Copeland and Thomas Klimas had had to pull out completely and even Keith Whyte was clearly suffering and struggling (he had stomach issues from what I gathered). Eventually, after 12 hours I seemed to get second (third? fourth?) wind and for the next 2 or 3 hours I finally started to feel like an international runner again. My pace increased and I started to pass people that up to now seemed to have been running rings around me. Most importantly, though, was the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed this stretch. I was back in the flow and things just clicked for a while. I was never really aware what distance target was still realistic but at least I wasn't slipping even further behind.

Almost halfway - photo by Valerie Glavin
Alas, it wasn't going to last. At 90 miles I felt reasonably good. At 92 miles I was in the depths of hell. I hadn't hit the wall - I had fallen into a bottomless pit. It was a very different low to the previous 2; my energy levels were actually fine but my legs were completely killing me. My right pectineus (presumably) was hurting badly and I was barely able to lift the feet off the ground. Running was basically impossible and even walking was slow. Mile 92, 93 and 94 were the 3 slowest miles of the entire race. Having the 100 mile mark reasonably close helped mentally but it was a brutal grind and very hard work. It took me 90 minutes to cover 6 miles - walking pace, basically. I tried a few things, like a toilet stop, not because I needed one, just to give the leg muscles a minute of rest. I did the Morton stretch, to no avail (it was hard work to get back up). Grellan tried to get me going but at that point there was nothing left. Eventually, after an eternity, my legs very slowly started to come round again. Valerie just came back from a break when I told her that the last 6 miles had been pure agony. "But you still did 6 miles" was her short response, and that was that. Somehow I managed to start running again, but at that point I very much doubted I'd reach 200k.

I'm not sure what position I was in at that point in the field. Someone told me afterwards that I had been 13th at some point, which sounds plausible. I never particularly care about my finishing position, that is always secondary to trying to maximise my mileage, but of course I still want to finish as far ahead as I can. I clearly wasn't in the running for the medals today. I could see Eddie Gallen and Eoin Keith running very well and Alex O'Shea and Tim Brownlie in contention as well - but the real surprise was Aidan Hogan. I've known him for a couple of years and was perfectly aware that he was a very good runner (2 sub-3 marathons within one week!) but I could not have predicted such an extraordinary performance. When they talk about someone running like a machine they must have a picture of Aidan in mind!

100 miles complete - photo by Valerie Glavin
Anyway, when I finally got going again I actually started to move reasonably well, though the damage was already done. I reached 100 miles in 18:18, about 2 hours slower than 2 years ago and at least 90 minutes later than anticipated (not that I had a fixed schedule in mind). Seeing how the last few hours of a 24 hours race have always been a bit of a death march for me, I wasn't sure how far I'd go and 200k still seemed optimistic, especially after the last couple of hours. But in actual fact I started to feel better again. I was still on Valerie's Coke diet, with the occasional piece of melon but not much else thrown in. I did have some porridge when it was served by the organisers, which took about 30 seconds to wolf down, but apart form that it was the black liquid. I must have drunk enough coke to give myself diabetes had I not burned it off straight away.

Gary Reinhardt kept passing me like I was standing still. I've know him for a long time and I've never seen him run as well as that. At one point he was just a lap behind me and the way he was moving had me seriously worried he was going to finish ahead of me. He has improved immensely as a runner over the last few years and was one of the surprise packages of the day.

A late push - photo by Ed Mc Groarty
Maybe it was the fact that it was getting bright again but somehow I found an extra gear when I thought I had already spent everything I had. Ger and Valerie had settled into a Good Cop/Bad Cop routine and every time she told me to run, I ran.

I sidled up to John O'Regan, who wasn't having his best day either. "John, how come we always forget how much this hurts, every single time?" "I have no idea!"

At about 8:30am it started raining, but only lightly. I put on my rain jacket and kept going.

Victoria Park is right beside the airport, which simultaneously provides the stunningly different sensations of running beside a peaceful water feature and having a commercial airliner pass over your head so close that you can almost touch it. The park itself is lovely enough, the loop just over a mile long, very flat and perfectly suited to a parkrun. I'm not entirely convinced about its suitability for a 24 hours race though, in all honesty. The surface is basically concrete with rolled-in gravel. It is a totally unforgiving surface and after several hours your legs are going to notice. I had opted to wear Hokas for the first time in a 24 hours race, the total opposite to the lightweight trainers I usually prefer, and I wasn't the only one. I never ever expected to see Eoin Keith in Hokas, but here he was, as was John O'Regan, and quite a few others. On that brutal surface, however, I do think that heavily cushioned shoes are indeed the right choice.

I wasn't sure what to expect over the last 4 hours. I was dreading yet another crushing low. What I did
Pushing through the pain barrier on the final lap
Photo by Mark Ramsey
not expect, especially after the tough hours I had just been through, was that I would start feeling stronger and stronger as the race went into its final stretch. The only runner who was still moving decidedly better than me was Eoin Keith, and he was untouchable. Eddie Gallen was having a strong finish as well. Others were moving about as well as me, like Don Hannon, Jamie Killeen or Aidan (apologies to any other strong finishers - this is not a definite list!), but most runners still out there were in death march mode. I was still in 11th place with a bit over an hour to go but was clearly making my way through the field. Grellan had been 3-5 laps ahead of me for hours but was having a rough time towards the end, and even started to develop a slight lean, though he never stopped moving. I wasn't actually aware when I was passing people if I was overtaking them or moving up a lap, but according to the final results I did move up into 7th place. The watch actually stopped working with 10 minutes to go, which was a minor irritant. It had been about 1.5 or 2 miles ahead of my official distance at that point. It would have gotten well over 130 miles had it lasted for 24 hours but the official result has me at 128.4 miles / 207 k, which sounds about right.

It was definitely less than I had expected. I knew 220k was always going to be a stretch but 216k, and with that a guaranteed Spartathlon entry, did feel achievable before the start. In the end I had to be happy to avoid a personal worst, though I have now managed over 200k in every single one of my four 24-hour races, which is pretty good as far as consistency is concerned. I clearly did not have a very good day but I like to think I was very good in squeezing out the best possible performance that my misfiring body was capable of that day,

Ed, myself and Jamie - all happy to be done. Photo by Ed Mc Groarty
So what went wrong? Amongst the things that went through my head during the dark spells in the middle of the night were that I'm too old, that my 2014 performance was a fluke and that I should retire from competitive racing right now, but thankfully the drama queen went away eventually.

I did get my training wrong. Following the outline set in 2014 I was planning on 2 long training runs, a 100k 6 weeks out and a 40 miler 3 weeks out. I cannot imagine running so far on my own, so these were official races but regarded as training runs, as I've done multiple times before. When the date for the Energia race was announced, it was 3 weeks earlier than anticipated, but for some reason I never changed my training. It ended in me running too little and too much - too little in the months before June and too much in June itself, and I never got to do that second long run.

I don't want to end this race report on a down note. There are plenty of positives to take away. I can run 200k even on an off day. I have learned a lot, about training as well as nutrition, and neither lesson would have been half as effective had I had a great race. I now know that I can still run strongly after 20 hours, something that is very new to me, If I can combine a better preparation and nutrition and mix it with the fortitude I've shown today, I still have at least one spectacular performance in me.

Also, congratulations to some great performances. Eoin was incredible but my "merit of the day" award goes to Aidan, who ran the best Irish 24 hours debut in history. Ed Mc Groarty improved massively on an already high standard, and Aoife Lyons should be very proud for covering 100 miles as still a rather inexperienced runner. Don Hannon ran a great race (I think it was a PB), and Eddie ran a PB in his 33rd 24 (the mind boggles)! Gary Reinhardt had an outstanding race, as did Jamie Killeen and Alex O'Shea. Lets's not forget Catherine Guthrie and Finn O'Mara who lightened up the day with more very strong performances.

I guess I should not have started naming names as it's impossible to name them all - no less than 12 runners ran 200k or more, which is almost unheard of outside an international championship. The standard has increased by a frightening amount and I am proud to be part of that group.

As some other guy with a similar accent once said, I'll be back.
25th/26th June
Energia 24 hours race in Belfast - Irish championships
128.4 miles / 207.204k, 7th place

Monday, June 27, 2016

One-line Blog Post

I could not remember ever feeling so exhausted, even though I knew I had been there before; I just had forgotten how much it hurt.

The provisional results have me at 207k/128 miles, I honestly can't remember if that's correct or not (for some reason I had 208k in my memory, not that it really matters).

That's less than I had hoped for; I went through some very rough patches at 50, 60 and 90 miles. On the plus side, I had by far the strongest final 4 hours I've ever had in a 24 hours race, which helped to give the result some respectability as well as hope for one really good race yet to come.

I'm in Dublin now and will get home tomorrow, Tuesday. I'll write a race report then, but it might take a while ;)

(OK, that was more than one line)

Thursday, June 23, 2016


As any runner knows, phantom pains are part of the tapering process. It just happens every time. A few weeks ago I did have some real discomforts, first from my left knee and then from my lower back but both have gone away (actually, the back is only 95% better) but this week I have felt some twinges in my right hip and my right shin and probably in some other bits as well - but I'm sure those are phantom pains without any real physical background.

I need to get my head sorted out. I have to ignore that some trained more than me and that I always could have done more. I have to focus on my strengths. The most important body part in a 24 hours race is not your legs, or heart or lungs, it's your brain, and mine seems to work well for that particular task.

I have generally been pretty calm with regards to this race; it has come round so quickly I barely noticed it was getting so close. I had Donadea and then the relay to worry about earlier this month, which didn't leave much time to worry about Belfast. But here we are, 2 sleeps to go. I had trouble falling asleep last night as thoughts of the race were doing their early rounds in my head but I did get an almost full allocation of sleep eventually, helped by the fact that I didn't have to get up until almost 7 o'clock - a veritable lie-in!

I've started gathering all the stuff I need to bring, mostly nutrition so far; proper packing will happen tonight and this really is about to get real!

Training this week was obviously just a case of ticking over. 4 miles on Monday, an hour on the treadmill wrapped in 4 layers on Tuesday for a last heat adaptation top-up, 5 on Wednesday and 3 on Thursday. Tomorrow I'll run another couple of miles if I wake up in time, none otherwise. I'll do half a day at work and then drive up North.

All running this week was really slow, practicing the ultra shuffle. It did take some getting used to, alright.

The weather forecast is cloudy with the odd light shower and little wind, which sounds pretty good. I don't think I'll need the heat adaptation. There won't be a repeat of the Bangor hurricane (mind, I handled that better than most so maybe I should have hoped for that) and no excuses.

And on Saturday we run.,-VICTORIA-PARK,-BELFAST,-JUNE-2526.

20 Jun
4 miles, 37:17, 9:19 pace, HR 129
21 Jun
6.25 miles, 1:00:00, 9:35 pace, HR 133, heat adaptation, treadmill
22 Jun
5 miles, 42:46, 8:33 pace, HR 132
23 Jun
3 miles, 27:02, 9:01 pace, HR 131

Sunday, June 19, 2016

One For The Team

Running is mainly a solitary sport but from time to time we do get the chance to take part in a team event, be it a team scoring event like the cross country (or a 24 hours world championship) or a relay. It was one such rare occasion that made me team up with 9 other members of our local Star of the Laune running club, even though I would not normally consider running a race so close to a 24 hours event.

Running the Ring of Kerry was a special draw as well, no doubt about it. It's a spectacular drive but I wouldn't usually consider running on it due to the traffic, so you take your opportunities when they come. I volunteered for 2 hilly stages; initially Moll's Gap and Glenbeigh, but they changed the course 2 or 3 weeks ago and added an extra loop via Portmagee and Ballinskelligs. I knew that the mountain after Portmagee would be by far the toughest climb of the day so I took on that one. It had the pleasant side effect that my first leg would not start until after lunch time, enabling a long lie-in. Or at least it would have had I not woken at 5:30 and then been unable to get back to sleep because I kept thinking of my team mates already out on the road.

Unfortunately the tracker wasn't working very well so we had to be careful to be at the changeover stops in good time, especially as the team had done exceptionally well and we were half an hour ahead of schedule already by the time Anna handed over to me in Glenbeigh.

I must have been overexcited because I took off like a bat out of hell before realising that I had a lot of running ahead of me, and also had to stop to fix up my number, but by the time I hit the hill out of Glenbeigh towards Mountain Stage I was motoring ahead at a good effort.

It didn't really feel like a race at all. The first placed team was 20 minutes ahead of us and the third team was 20 minutes behind us, so we all would be running entirely on our own with no real prospect of either catching up or being caught and it was more of a solo tempo effort. However, running up a hill at speed is a tough consignment any time and my HR was well over 170 when I caught a glimpse of my watch. I avoided looking at it for the rest of the run. After the initial hill the road dropped down a bit and the headwind became the major enemy. There was surprisingly little motor traffic but there were a lot of cyclists in big groups and we all had to watch out.

The miles passed by very quickly and after 55 minutes I passed the baton on to Vivian and jumped into the support car, helping the next runners on their legs and eventually getting ready for my second stint.

To be honest, I still don't quite get it why we did not run from Caherciveen straight to Waterville but took a 17 mile detour via Portmagee and Ballinskelligs. That's not the Ring of Kerry and while the scenery is absolutely spectacular I wasn't really getting much joy out of it, partially because of the running effort and partially because the weather had gradually turned sour with low clouds and steadily increasing wind and rain.

I knew the mountain out of Portmagee would be tough. That's why I had volunteered for that stretch. I had run it once but I had obviously forgotten just how tough it actually was. The first mile saw about 150 feet elevation gain but the second had over 550! Anna thought I was having an asthma attack but it was just a moan I do with every breath, like I always do when the effort level goes above a certain threshold; I was fine, even if I didn't sound like it. Closer to the top we got right into the clouds with very low visibility, which had me worried about a cyclist coming out of nowhere but thankfully I got up without incident. The downhill side was even steeper with over 600 feet lost in a single mile but that was the section that had worried me the most as I did not want to destroy my legs a week before Belfast, so I just tried to spin the legs as fast as I could while trying to reduce the impact forces.

Down in Finian's Bay I passed the Chocolate Factory, though unfortunately is was already closed, which put paid to my secret plan of a sly stop for hoarding up on truffles, fudge and dark sea salt chocolate (seriously, it's divine!), so I just motored on instead. As I looked around I had the sea to my right and the mountains in every other direction, so it didn't come as much of a surprise when the road rose up another mountain, thankfully not as high and not as steep. At some point Anna asked where in Ballinskelligs we should do the changeover but I don't know the place at all and just said "three more miles", which I felt I could still do at a good effort without destroying myself.

Those miles passed reasonably quickly and that's where I handed over to Damian for the glory leg into the finish. We finished second team but first mixed team.

I very much enjoyed the run, both the team aspect as well as the the pure running part, and would not hesitate doing something like that again. The evening ended on a bit of a low point when they had the trophy presentation earlier than announced and we missed it because we were still finishing dinner! The top team weren't overly impressed that the big trophy went to the first mixed team (us!!) and there was some grumbling that there were no cash prizes for the winners - to be perfectly honest I was bemused by that as no cash prizes had been advertised and I for one never expected any. From the organisational point of view I was happy enough with the event; the signposting was a bit sparse, which was fine for us locals but others did struggle (apparently the signs kept disappearing or were vandalised) and I wouldn't have included the Portmagee/Ballinskelligs detour (unless he deliberately wanted to send everyone over the steepest mountain road he could find [might be onto something here]) but I'd definitely sign up again.

The Star of the Laune team

On Sunday there was the Glounaguillagh fun run that had been postponed at Easter. I was definitely tempted to race that as well, especially since it had been the venue of a rare victory of mine a few years ago, though it would almost certainly have been a bad idea with Belfast so close. In the end I didn't have a choice anyway. Maia wanted to do the kids fun run and since Niamh was busy I had to mind her and obviously would not have been able to leave her alone while racing, so I just jogged the 1k kids course with her (which, btw, was long according to my GPS! :) ). It was definitely for the best, I just did 3 very very easy miles on the treadmill in the afternoon for some active recovery (which, as you probably know, I am a great believer in).
16 June
0 miles, but Yoga on Rossbeigh beach instead!
17 June
8 miles, 1:04:48, 8:06 pace, HR 151, heat adaptation
18 June
leg1: 7.83 miles, 55:35, 7:05 pace, HR 162
leg2: 8.34 miles, 1:03:19, 7:35 pace, HR 163, very hilly
19 June
3 miles, 28:29, 9;29 pace, HR 126, treadmill

Friday, June 17, 2016

Today In Killorglin

Thank you to my employers in Fexco for allowing this to go ahead during work hours and to all my colleagues for donating very generously. You can still donate at Thank you!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


I've felt a bit tired the last couple of days, which is not what I hoped I would be feeling like to be perfectly honest. Since I have moved firmly into the tapering I haven't done any real workouts recently and I can only guess that the tiredness is a hangover from Donadea. Let's hope it will be gone a week from now.

In took it easy on Monday but the legs didn't really feel like running anyway. Taking it easy was always on the plan and I sure wasn't going to go against that.

On Tuesday I did something rather different. I'm not expecting a heat wave in Belfast but it's always better to be prepared (and I've just read an article that said that being heat adapted has advantages even in cooler temperatures), so I wrapped myself in 4 layers, put on a hat and stepped on the treadmill, making sure that the room's windows were all closed. 5 miles later I was steamed well through and called it a day. I'll do another of those adaptation runs this week, for an hour hopefully, but probably on the road because an hour on the treadmill is more than I care to take. One or maybe two more next week should see me well adapted. It may or may not make a difference but, like I said, it's always better to be prepared.

Today, Wednesday, I actually felt better again and the pace/HR confirmed that, though the legs are still not entirely happy.

My lower back is feeling a lot better, there is hardly any discomfort left. That's the most positive development of the last few days,

I'm not quite suffering from taper madness yet. Somehow it hasn't sunk in yet how close race day is already.
13 Jun
8 miles, 1:04:21, 8:03 pace, HR 137
14 Jun
5 miles, 45:44, 9:09 pace, HR 132, treadmill, heat adaptation
15 Jun
10 miles, 1:18:48, 7:52 pace, HR 139

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Running Updates

First of all, thank you very much to everyone who has donated money to my charity fundraiser so far. We have collected more than €500 already but that's still well short of my goal, and of course the more the better. There is still time to donate, the link is I cannot overstate how you all are helping. Sara's partner Brian called us the other day to tell us how much of a boost this has given to her and her condition had visibly improved.

I haven't posted any running-related updates since Donadea. There isn't an awful lot to report, really, Obviously I've been trying to recover as much as possible the last few days. Since I am a strong believer in active recovery I didn't sit around idly waiting for things to happen by themselves. Instead I dragged myself out onto to road on Sunday for 3 miles, which weren't the most fun 3 miles I've ever had. It took about 2 miles for the legs to loosen up a bit but by the time I had done 3 miles I really felt like I'd done more than enough.

The next few days were better and I did 5 miles, each day feeling better than the day before. There was never any acute soreness in the legs, which surprised me. I was even able to walk down staircases without any discomfort. Apart form going into the run very fit already, I think that could have something to do with me wearing the Hokas in Donadea. I think that they make me run a little bit slower because the cushioning might take away some efficiency but the muscles feel a lot better afterwards. It does leave me in a bit of a conundrum for Belfast; if I wear the Hokas I might require more energy but might be able to run better late in the race because the muscles aren't as damaged. There are a lot of "mights" in that sentence, I know. I will have to make a decision at some point but it's very much guesswork.

By Friday the legs felt well enough to increase the distance to 8 miles and I picked up the effort a few times on Saturday to get them spinning a bit faster than the usual recovery run shuffle. I went up to the Windy Gap on Sunday, though that didn't feel particularly great, so I turned around at the top rather than run towards Glenbeigh for a second climb as had been the original intend.

A few weeks ago I hurt my knee from doing the S&C training a bit too enthusiastically. That has gone away since, the knee is perfectly fine again. Unfortunately now it's my lower back that's giving out, and once more I'm pretty sure it's the kettlebells. That's the problem when you're new to something and don't entirely know the ins and outs. My lower back has always been a bit of a weak area and has been hurting several times in the past. I was really uncomfortable on Wednesday but it has thankfully improved since then, though it's still there. I will have to re-think my strength workouts.

6 Jun
5 miles, 43:15, 8:39, HR 130
7 Jun
5 miles, 43:35, 8:43, HR 130
8 Jun
5 miles, 41:41, 8:20, HR 130
9 Jun
5 miles, 41:07, 8:13, HR 135
10 Jun
8 miles, 1:05:33, 8:11, HR 136
11 Jun
8 miles, 1:01:32, 7:41, HR 146
12 Jun
10.7 miles, 1:35:03, 8:52, HR 142, Windy Gap

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

For Sara

A couple of months ago my sister-in-law Sara was diagnosed with a grade 2 brain tumour in her frontal lobe. She underwent several hours of surgery that went well and where the doctors managed to remove 97% of the tumour. She will be undergoing radiotherapy shortly and may have to go onto chemotherapy as well later on. She is still in hospital and will have to remain there for a while longer. She has two young daughters, aged 7 and 1, and as you can imagine it is very hard on the little girls as well as her partner, Brian.

Sara is recovering remarkably well after her recent craniotomy, combined with radiotherapy, and her surgeon's prognosis is really good.

I have therefore decided to raise funds for the Irish Cancer Society. I am planning on doing 2 things:

  1. I will be running the 24 hours race in Belfast on 25th/26th of June. I was going to run this race anyway as an athletic challenge but Sara’s illness has given me an added incentive to run and do some good for others at the same time
  2. I will be shaving my head, in solidarity with Sara and all cancer patients that have to undergo chemotherapy. This will be done at my workplace on 17th  June and give all my colleagues there the opportunity to donate some money for my fund raising efforts.

I have created a website for donations. The URL is Please consider a donation!

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Always One More Lap

It was a long drive from Kerry to Donadea. Even on the motorway it took me a long time to cover 100km, and when it struck me that I was about to run that distance I started getting nervous. I had been a bit apprehensive about the race for a couple of days (basically since I realised that it was just about to happen) but it was when I drove that far that I realised just how much running I had ahead of me.

Setting up. Photo by Don Hannon
At least I got there without incident and (for once) with plenty of time to spare and no need to stress. I set up my provisions on one of the 3 identical tables when being told off that this was the DBRC table. I moved them, only to gather that the other one was the DBRC table as well. I left them there. Thankfully Ger is a great guy!

The pre-race talk consisted of 1 sentence really, "anyone who takes a wrong turn is an idiot". To be fair, the course was pretty much idiot proof. No timing chips, medals or t-shirt (unless you paid extra for one) and no fuss, requiring us to be (mostly) self sufficient and just a great setting in a stunning forest park with a few enthusiastic and tireless volunteers. Perfect!

Ger wasn't impressed when I told him I was aiming for a 9-hour finish, 8:40 pace. He wanted someone to run with but I was never going to run 6:xx pace in a 100k, neither was anyone else, and I guess he didn't like running on his own for so long.

The start. Photo by Teresa Bradley Taaffe
Neither did I, really, so I let the 5 fast guys set off at the front and jogged alongside Anto, who doubled as RD as well as participant in that race. Within 2 minutes he decided that my 8:40 pace was too hot and all of a sudden I found myself on my own, barely even started. How did I manage to do that yet again?

Initially I thought I'd catch up with the guys up front but after a mile decided that they were running faster than I was prepared to go and just fell into a pace that felt perfectly natural and comfortable, which turned out to be 8-minute pace. In my only other 100k I had run that pace for 70k before slowing down towards the end, so I didn't think it would be suicidal pace and just kept it going,

The course consisted of the standard 5k Donadea loop that makes up the famous 50k in February, plus an out-and-back section that increased the distance to about 7.2k, which meant 14 laps for a 100k. The out-and-back section was a bit stony and included the longest climb of the day, and I correctly guessed that I would soon be learning to hate it.

After a couple of laps I caught up to Brian but he told me he'd already done 2 laps as part of an early start (I had no idea that option was available) and was going to stop after 7 laps, 50k. So much for company! He already started feeling the effort and we parted ways at the end of the lap, where the aid station was set up.

The early laps passed by very quickly. Before I even knew it I had covered 4 loops and more than a quarter of the race. It didn't take long, however, before I started to realise that the conditions today weren't entirely perfect. 25 degrees in Ireland are a significant heatwave, and while it was definitely cooler inside the forest it was still pretty warm. What was worse was the sky-high humidity, which just sapped your energy. On the plus side, the entire course was in the shade and we never had to deal with direct sunlight, which would have absolutely roasted us.

The pace suffered a bit but I was okay with that and just tried to keep the effort at the same constant, easy level. I soon passed the marathon mark in about 3:35 but that's where I did start to get tired. It was lucky that I caught up with a big group of runners at the next lap. I slowed down a bit to their pace and and spent some time chatting to Anto, Gary and the others. After a few miles of this the legs demanded a bit more effort and I gradually pulled away again. I went though 50k in 4:12, which was definitely a reasonable time, though by now I was definitely tired and knew that the second half wouldn't be all fun and games,

One (still rare at that time) look at the watch told me that I was doing 8:50 miles, which was already slower than 9-hour pace, and definitely not a good sign. I was now early afternoon and we started to get into the hottest part of the day. It showed! I wasn't the only one to suffer, Ger and Darren ahead of me started to move less comfortable as well and I actually got closer to them, as I could see on the out-and-back section. Ger slowing down is usually not on the script - I was therefore not too surprised to see him standing at the start/finish after one of my next loops, having pulled out. He told me his hamstring had gone and hoped it would heal within the next 3 weeks - he is aiming for Belfast as well.

What DID surprise me was seeing him pass me again a few miles later, having obviously decided that the hamstring was much better already (30 minutes recovery instead of 3 weeks?), though unfortunately the Lazarus effect did not last and a couple of laps later he pulled out for good. I hope for a speedy recovery - I'd love to see what he can do over 24 hours when fully fit.

With that I unexpectedly found myself in second place and I was actually inching closer to Darren, though he was always at least 5 minutes ahead of me, I passed the Connemara mark (39.3 miles) in about 5:35, which still wasn't too bad, and a lot faster than I had covered that same distance in Achill island back in August). The legs started to spasm but thankfully it never developed into full cramp. The idea of over 20 mile more didn't particularly appeal at the time, but what can you do. So I just put my head down and kept putting one foot ahead of the other, relentlessly forward motion. The pace was starting to dip into embarrassingly slow territory but as long as I kept moving forward I was going to get there eventually.

After 10 laps I felt like collapsing with fatigue but soon after I crossed the 75k mark, and the fact that only a quarter of the race was left ahead of me did cheer me up, for a while at least. My stomach started acting up, my protein drink seemed a bit "foamy" and eventually my stomach decided no more. I actually ended up pouring more than half of the content of the last bottle away, unable to stomach even one more drop, even though I was really thirsty. Rolando kept moving closer and closer and for a while I worried he was going to catch me, but in reality he was a lap behind me and while he managed to unlap himself there was no realistic possibility of him making up an entire lap in what was left of the race, He did move rather well though, and certainly finished looking a lot better than me.

I started spending more and more time at the aid station, and I definitely left a big chunk of time there, needlessly really. I could have done with someone kicking me out back onto the course, which was getting harder and harder to do on my own. I always spent the rest of the loop running, but stopping at the aid station and then walking for a bit before I could face running again did cost a fair amount of time as it all keeps adding up.

If you ever do a race like that and feel like you're unable to make it to the finish, just go out for one more lap. That's all you need to do. Sure you always have the energy for just one more lap. And then you just do it again!

Still, I went through 50 miles in about 7 hours, which is still an okay time. I was dead on my feet, though.

2 laps to go. I used to dream of the moment when I only had 2 laps to go! Now that I got there it wasn't a reason to celebrate, just another big chunk of time lost until I found the courage to head out again. There were still almost 10 miles left, which felt like an awful long way at the time,

One lap top go, this time for real. I had run out of provisions, or at least out of provisions I would be able to stomach. All foody item had been left untouched all along and I had gone through more bottles than I would have thought possible. "Does anyone have some coke?" Fat adaptation be damned, I needed some sugar, and fast. Some generous soul handed me a can of coke, thank you so much, I was too knackered at the time to take in who it had been. I spent almost 3 minutes there before I managed to drag myself out onto the course for one last lap. However, within a couple of minutes the coke hit me, and what a difference it made! All of a sudden I could actually run again, the pain had lessened considerably and I felt better than I had for several hours. The last couple of miles passed in under 10 minutes, unlike the 8 preceding them. I probably should have given myself a sugar dose earlier, it would have helped. I wondered when the effects of the coke would wear off but I was still buzzing when I climbed that last hill towards the finish; undoubtedly, sensing the end helped as well.

I finally crossed the finish line for the last time in 9:13:40 (my own watch), most of all relieved that I could stop running and would not have to head out for yet another loop. Since I had such a long drive home ahead of me I spent less time than I would have liked hanging around and got to my car,

Brilliant winners' trophies. Photo by Don Hannon
There I promptly managed to lock my car keys into my boot, thankfully after having retrieved my mobile. After I managed to stop swearing, but not to break into my car without damaging it, I called the AA and had to wait for an hour until the man showed up, though it was amazing to see him unlock my car in less than a minute (so much for security). After that I finally manage to turn for home, having had my fill of adventures for the day.

Thanks to Anto for a great race in a great location, and all his helpers who were just brilliant. Congratulations to Darren for a well-deserved win, I definitely did not have it in me today. Well done to all the other runners who kept going in really tough conditions, and thank you to every visitor in Donadea today who all managed to share the path with a bunch of lunatics while being patient and courteous at all times.
3 Jun
5 miles, 39:48, 7:58 pace, HR 149
4 Jun
Donadea 100k
9:13:40, 8:54 pace. HR 145
2nd place
5 Jun
3 miles, 27:14, 9:04 pace, HR 126

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Recovery At Last

I know I have been whining a lot last week how tired I was all the time. Well, the good news is that I'm feeling a lot better this week and it doesn't take a genius to work out that it's down to reduced mileage, helping me recover from all the previous running.

Of course I still have one massive run ahead of me on the weekend in Donadea, which I am a bit nervous about. 100k is a bloody long way to run, no matter how you look at it, though the one bit that worries me most is that I'm not 100% sure I will be recovered fully in 3 weeks when Belfast comes round, much sooner this year than anticipated at the start of the year. However, I have studied the training plans of many old-school ultra runners and compared to some, what I am doing is barely a scratch. I do feel I need at least one very long run to prepare the body - 2 might have been even better, as that was proven to work 2 years ago, but 1 is all I have managed to schedule this year.

Anyway, recovery seems to be working great this week, after a rather tired Monday I started feeling better each day and by now running is definitely fun again. I ran just once per day and did my only workout on Wednesday, hill sprints once more, though on a different hill a quarter mile down the road from the usual one because it is a bit steeper which I thought would be better. At the very least I'm better at doing hill sprint now than I was 6 weeks ago, though if what I've read in books is correct then it should translate into better running as well.

Let's see how Saturday goes. Right now I find it hard to look beyond that!

30 May
8 miles, 1:06:22, 8:17 pace, HR 134
31 May
10 miles, 1:17:58, 7:48 pace, HR 139
1 Jun
7.5 miles, 1:07:05, 8:56 pace, HR 135, 13 hill sprints
2 Jun
8 miles, 1:02:21, 7:48 pace, HR 139