Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Why do I have that twinge in the Achilles? Is that my knee starting to hurt again? Why are the legs so heavy? Why are the shoulders so tense?

Because I'm in the middle of taper madness, that's why. Phantom pains all over the place.

And I do miss coffee. There's a little devil on my shoulder telling me that going off caffeine the week before a race doesn't make any difference whatsoever. And you know what? She may well be right. But it's become part of my race preparation these days and a lot of these things are more for the head than the body - which becomes all the more important the longer the race, and a 24 hours race is a damn long one.

Back in November, when I took my loudly complaining body back out onto the roads again, after taking a month off following a disastrous performance at the European champs in Albi, I was wondering if there was any point in trying to get back to international standard. I had been badly overtrained and I would be 47 years old by the time the next championships would come around, and I had serious doubts if I would be able to get back into that sort of shape.

Thanks to MC and his invaluable help, things progressed much better than I could have hoped for. I was still in fairly awful shape around Christmas but then things really took off and my form numbers just shot up like a rocket for several months. It was the biggest improvement in form I had ever seen, and it lasted until late April.

Then I ran the Longford Canal ultra, which went very well, and - unwisely - did a workout 6 days later. The workout itself seemed to go exceptionally well; it was the first time ever I had managed to surprise the coach with my numbers. But the next day my knee was hurting and things went downhill after that. Within a short while my Achilles gave me troubles as well, and we diagnosed it as one of those things that require gentle movement rather than full rest to heal. The Achilles, like all tendons, heals slowly and it took close to 5 weeks to feel mostly back to normal, by which time my numbers had regressed significantly.

It's not all doom and gloom. Eventually they picked up rapidly again and right now I'm pretty happy with my form. It's not what it would have been without that injury, but injuries are part and parcel of running and I have been very lucky over the years to be able to train as consistently as I have.

This will definitely be the ultra race I go into the most rested, no big 100k efforts a few weeks out and no 3:05 marathons (or faster) in the buildup, and chances are my legs will thank me for it, but all will be revealed on Saturday (and Sunday!).

Now it's time to put up the legs, trying not to stress out about the fact that I can't find any of my number belts or that the new shoes that I had ordered 8 weeks ago and intended to wear for the race never arrived. These things will fade into nothing once the race starts, so just relax.

The last few days I just ran a few miles, trying to relax as much as possible and tune into ultra mode. By the looks of it I'm getting better at the shuffle rather quickly.

Bring it on!
26 Jun
5.4 miles, 46:56, 8:41 pace, HR 130
27 Jun
5 miles, 43:09, 8:37 pace, HR 132
28 Jun
4 miles, 35:31, 8:53 pace, HR 125

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Frog In Boiling Water

When your weekend long run consists of 7 miles you know it's taper time!

When the coach told me last week to bin all workouts and keep the length of all runs to 7 miles I suspected that he merely took the lowest possible mileage he thought I would accept without revolting rather than base it on any physiological data. Anyway, I stuck to that.

7 easy miles on Monday home from work.

7 easy miles on Tuesday into work.

7 easy miles on Wednesday home from work.

7 easy miles on Thursday into work.

7 easy miles on Friday around some swanky parts of South Dublin.

On Saturday I was back home in Kerry. I was looking forward to running along the lake again but changed that and did one more heat adaptation run. Technically it was my only heat adaptation run this time round but with the high temperatures for the week before I think I must have gotten some adaptation from that as well. Anyway, after checking my own blog on how to do it I wrapped myself in 4 layers (long-sleeved shirt, cotton t-shirt, fleece jacket, running jacket), donned hat and gloves, and put myself onto the treadmill with the window closed and a podcast in my ear. I chose the treadmill as it's safer than the road when you're wrapped up like that and since I easily tend to overheat on the treadmill anyway it makes it practical for such a workout. I started out very easy and set the pace to 6 mph - 10 minute miles. That was as slow as I could go while still feeling comfortable, though I am aware that it's still faster than what I will be doing in Belfast next week. I soon got hot and I did 50 minutes of that, slowly steaming myself. The heat inside my layers rose steadily but almost imperceptibly. I found the HR graph afterward very interesting, rising almost linearly from below 100 at the start to 150 at the end, apart from one, er, technical glitch a few minutes in. I ran as easily as possible, the treadmill made sure the pace was completely constant, and I was never aware that the HR was rising at all.

I stepped off after 50 minutes, trying not to stress myself too much with a week to go to race day. The leg muscles probably didn't even know this had been a run at all.

Sunday was more conventional, 7 miles along the lake. Actually I had planned to run only 6 but sailed past the 3-mile point, my mind too far tuned out to realise, so I ended up with 7 out of pure habit. Again, I ran as easily as I could without feeling uncomfortable. It was a tad faster than on the treadmill but still slow enough to fall into some sort of shuffling style. I'll be doing a lot of that next week!

I'm not 100% sure what kind of shape I'm in when it comes to running for 24 hours, but the numbers sure look a lot better than before Albi. Back then the last run had been 10 beats higher for a similar pace as today, and the one before that had been 45 seconds per mile slower for a higher HR - I guess I'll gladly take today's numbers.

22 Jun
7 miles, 55:57, 8:00 pace, HR 141
23 Jun
7 miles, 55:06, 7:52 pace, HR 143
24 Jun
5 miles, 50:00, 10:00 pace, HR 126
   heat adaptation run
25 Jun
7 miles, 1:01:34, 8:47 pace, HR 129

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Happy Solstice

For once, solstice actually seems to coincide with some proper summer weather here in Ireland, if you ignore the rain this morning, that is. We're getting some actual heat training done here, with the temperatures predicted to hit 28 degrees in Dublin today (20 in Kerry - ah well, I've left that behind), though when I was running home from work at 6 pm it definitely wasn't quite as got as that. The humidity made up for any shortfall, though. However, that's apparently the last of it, from tomorrow it's back to the usual grey skies. Sneaking a quick preview at the forecast for race day, in full knowledge that they haven't got a clue what the weather really will be like in 10 days' time, it will still be back to normal, clouds with the occasional rain shower. Actually, that would do me just fine.

Following last week's late hard push, this week is all about recovery, and a full one at that. The coach took one look at my recovery and cancelled any further workouts, including the taper workout for next week. I think that suits me fine because I messed up that very workout when I did it as a test before Cork, and I'd rather not go into Belfast with already fatigued legs. Since Albi I know what's it like to start a 24 hours run on already tired legs and I'd rather not repeat that experience.

So, it's all short and it's all easy running, a fairly radical taper. I haven't gone completely mad yet due to lack of exercise and endorphin withdrawal; at least I haven't noticed it yet.
19 Jun
7 miles, 56:26, 8:03 pace, HR 139
20 Jun
7 miles, 57:14, 8:10 pace, HR 135
21 Jun
7 miles, 56:56, 8:06 pace, HR 144

Sunday, June 18, 2017

One Last Big Effort

Usually I would have started to take it easy by now. While I never quite managed to figure out the ideal length of a taper, a 24 hours race seems to call for a longer taper, but maybe it just doesn't quite work like that. The coach definitely had other ideas - I've had quite some week,

Having gotten through Wednesday's alternating loops in very good shape I took it very easy for the next 2 days. In the olden days I used to push the pace a little bit even on my easy days, basically always trying to run under 8-minute miles, but at some stage I must have grown up a bit and now I no longer care. Easy days are just that, very easy running without ever looking at the watch.

I still wasn't quite sure if I was ready for another workout on Saturday morning but decided to give it a good go. The schedule asked for the second pickups workout. The previous one, 3 weeks ago, had gone very well but now the coach turned the screw further and this was going to be tougher: half miles at fast pace interspersed with miles at 7:20 pace.

Right from the start, 7:20 pace felt aggressive, and of course it didn't help that I had run the first half mile faster than I should have. I did wonder straight away how long I was going to last. It also didn't help that it was already quite warm - it's over 20 degrees right now even in Kerry, which counts as a heat wave by local standards, Not that I'm complaining - but it didn't make that workout any easier.

Anyway, running this in Kerry meant I didn't have the very convenient half mile loop in the park at my disposal, which meant I was looking at the watch a lot more often, which subsequently meant I wasn't pacing myself off effort as much as I would have liked. But even in cooler temperatures and in the park, 7:20 would still have been an aggressive "recovery" pace and it would always have been a challenging workout.

6:27 / 7:21 / 6:36 / 7:23 / 6:49 / 7:19 / 6:44 / 7:22 / 6:28 / 7:17 / 6:36 / 7:27 and bailed after 0.2

I lasted for 6 segments. The sixth was already a bit compromised as I tried for another 6:30 but that was just that little bit too hard. After that, I tried to get back to 7:20 for recovery but realised very soon that I was cooked and pulled the plug. I could have pushed on further with some big effort but 2 weeks from the race that would have been counter-productive; if anything I should have bailed 1 repeat earlier because you should always end a workout with 1 still left in the tank.

Afterwards (and only afterwards) the coach told me that this had been a real redline workout, as hard as any he would ever give me.

And with that, I am definitely in my taper. The madness is about to start.
15 Jun
6.2 miles, 50:01, 8:04 pace, HR 139
16 Jun
8 miles, 1:06:38, 8:19 pace, HR 136
17 Jun
12 miles, 1:29:38, 7:28 pace, HR 156
   6:27 / 7:21 / 6:36 / 7:23 / 6:49 / 7:19 / 6:44 / 7:22 / 6:28 / 7:17 / 6:36 / 7:27 and bailed after 0.2
18 Jun
7 miles, 58:30, 8:20 pace, HR 134

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Working Through Recovery

My honest opinion is you are digging that hole again Thomas, why the hell you did that hill workout and what i consider a heavy week post a full hard marathon i do not know
Thanks for your comment, Keith.

The reason I ran up a hill on Saturday is that I always felt I recover very quickly from those kind of runs, much faster than from a road workout, which is exactly what I wanted. As for digging myself into a hole, I sure have previous on that so I definitely won't dismiss it. But right now I'm trusting my coach not to let that happen. One thing that speaks against the hole theory is that my numbers are improving rapidly again, getting close to the best numbers I have posted in this training cycle. In contrast, last autumn they were consistently dire.

I did a couple of easy runs at the start of the week, in fact we added one extra easy day compared to the original schedule. They both went well and the numbers looked pretty damn good, though I can still feel some tightness in my glutes, which I think is still a residue of the marathon (hills I would expect to affect mostly the calves (uphill) or quads (downhill)).

On Wednesday morning I had the next workout on the program. I ran this in the park close to home, not during a commute. On the plan was laps in the park, fast laps alternating with jogging laps.

I did 1 mile of warm up and needed the first 2 fast laps to feel fully warmed up. I kept feeling a bit slow all the while but tried to concentrate on turning over the legs quickly rather than work myself into the ground. My glutes still felt tight but didn’t get any worse as the miles kept ticking by very quickly.

6:48, 6:46, 6:35, 6:33, 6:40, 6:40, 6:37 - 6:40, 6:42, 6:42 - 6:33, 6:20, 6:23 (6:37 avg)

I tried to increase the pace after 7 but it doesn’t show up in the numbers. I upped the effort once more after 10, which DID show some improvements. Throughout the workout I felt I just could not go any faster but I always felt that I could run plenty more of those laps, so I added a 13th one at the end (the plan had been 12), partially to make up for what I perceived as slow pace, partially because I had plenty left in the tank (indeed, I still could have gone on for at least one more).

Normally I would have balked at the idea of 31 laps in the local park, but alternating fast and slow laps made this surprisingly easy to bear.  Looking at my race history you might think that running little loops for hours would be something I like doing but in fact I usually hate it in a training run. It is entirely different in a race setting, though.

The cool down lasted until I had done 15 miles. Right at the end I finally started to feel tired, which may have been more in the head than the legs. Oh, and somehow I had managed to misplace my HRM chest strap since yesterday and haven't got any HR data for that workout. Ah well.
12 Jun
5.5 miles, 45:35, 8:17 pace, HR 137
13 Jun
5.5 miles, 43:29, 7:54 pace, HR 137
14 Jun
15 miles, 1:57:26, 7:49 pace
   13 half miles @ 6:37 pace avg.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Recovery Shortfall

I used to have recovery from those training marathons dialled in to a T. Five miles a day to start with, listening to the body, then increase the mileage to 8 when it feels right and after a week or so I'd be fresh as rain again.

Whatever happened in the meantime, something has gotten out of whack. The move to Dublin has thrown a few challenges my way and I just don't have the 5 mile route through the woods to Ard-na-Sidhe any more, though I don't think that's the main issue. I suspect I'm still feeling the after-effects of my overtraining from last year, and the one thing that seems to be affected more than anything else is recovery.

It may be age catching up with me as well of course, I'm not far off 50, which doesn't help. But somehow I seem to have lost that fine tuned sense of what I can do after a marathon and still recover.

Initially, recovery started out pretty well.Until Wednesday I was very pleased with how things went. Thursday morning was the first wobble but all was good again in the evening. By Friday, however, the legs seem to have suffered a bad setback. Maybe they didn't like the fact that I ran twice on Thursday. Driving back home to Kerry that evening was rather uncomfortable once more (not as bad as last week, though).

In Cork I had felt the need to strengthen the legs, and the way to do that is to run up long steep hills. I do have some hills in Dublin, the mountains aren't that far off Stillorgan, but as I was in Kerry anyway I headed up on the far more familiar route to Windy Gap. It was a rather stormy day and the legs weren't in best shape, so I took it very, very easy. Of course, taking it easy is a relative term when you're running up a 20% slope on a stony track. The original idea was to drop down to Glenbeigh and tackle the Gap a second time but with my compromised legs I figured I had pushed my luck more than was advisable as it was and headed back home after just one climb.

Why did I run up a mountain when the legs wee already tired? I have found in the past that while hill running feels very tough when you're doing it, it seems to take much less out of the legs than a comparable effort on a road run; recovery has always been very swift, so I figured I could risk it. In fact, I was toying with the idea of heading up for a second time on Sunday morning but then the legs didn't feel quite right and I settled for a very easy jog along the lake instead.

The legs aren't feeling particularly great but the numbers since Cork are actually encouraging. The HR has seen a remarkable drop for any given effort, finally picking up again after sliding backwards since the end of April. Unfortunately, Belfast is only 3 weeks away, which will be too soon for me, but it is what it is.

9 Jun
8 miles, 1:07:40, 8:26 pace, HR 139
10 Jun
10.7 miles, 1:41:43, 9:30 pace, HR 143
   Windy Gap
11 Jun
8 miles, 1:07:56, 8:28 pace, HR 133

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Marathon Recovery

After having a few days to think about it I have concluded that I had messed up last week. I did a taper workout 4 days before the marathon, which included 3 half mile repeats. I ran them too hard, at least the final 2. I was pretty much wiped out afterwards, much in contrast to the pickup workout the previous weekend when I easily could have done more. The legs felt pretty bad the next few days, not when running but when sitting! It made the drive to Kerry on Friday evening seriously uncomfortable. I'm absolutely sure those hills in Cork would have been much less of an issue had I run those repeats just 5 or 10 seconds slower.

Obviously, I have been taking it easy the last few days since the marathon, running-wise that is (work-wise is very very busy, but I love it).

The day after the marathon I was in Castlecove, surrounded by a lot of very hungover friends and family, the look of whom made me glad that I don't drink any more. However, I had one problem: there were no obvious running routes, at least not for road running. The options were 1) the main Ring of Kerry road, 2) some minor local cul-de-sacs, most of them short and all of them very hilly. I really did not fancy the main road and anyway, it wasn't exactly flat either, so a minor local road it would be. One of them happened to go to Staigue Fort, an ancient ring fort, so I decided to combine running and sight seeing. The fort is high up the hills, so it wasn't the most obvious choice for a recovery run the day after a marathon but the location is truly spectacular. I didn't hang around for too long, however, as it started to rain and I was getting cold quickly.

I was pleased how well the legs felt. They were a little bit stiff but the marathon did not seem to have left much of an impression. However, I still made sure to take it exceptionally easy every time I ran.

Funnily enough, the legs felt reasonably ok on the drive to Dublin on Monday evening. That means I had fresher legs the day after a marathon than before - now that's a first!

The running on the following days was just commuting, first alternating running and cycling and then just running on Thursday. The legs felt close to recovered on Wednesday but to my dismay were worse again on Thursday morning (no idea why!). Then again, all it took was 10 hours in the office and they were much better on the evening run back home

All in all I seem to have recovered very, very well. Since the coach states that the way you recover from a workout says more about your conditioning than how the workout itself went, I take this as a very good sign.
5 Jun
5.8 miles, 55:29, 9:33 pace, HR 132
6 Jun
5.35 miles, 44:58, 8:24 pace, HR 135
7 Jun
5.5 miles, 46:00, 8:21 pace, HR 136
8 Jun
am: 5.5 miles, 45:51, 8:20 pace, HR 134
pm: 5.5 miles, 45:13, 8:13 pace, HR 137

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Yes I DO

Running the Cork marathon this year required a bit more logistics than usual. It used to be one of the more local marathons for me but that's no longer the case. It required a long drive from Dublin home to Kerry on Friday evening, another drive to Castlecove on Saturday and a very early start on Sunday to get to Cork in time. I spent a ridiculous amount of hours in the car just to get there!

I had put my name down as one of the pacers, volunteering for any spot from 3:15 upwards, but somehow thing got messed up along the way and five days before the race I had resigned myself to not running it this year. I'm very grateful to Gina form the organising team to come up with a late number for me.

When I had finally made it to the start line, against all odds it felt, I wasn't 100% sure how this would go, with a few issues from the last couple of months clearly having an impact on training and subsequent form. I was actually slightly relieved not to carry a 3:15 pacer balloon because I wasn't 100% confident I would be able to run 3:15 - on the other hand, I have never taken that balloon with 100% confidence in the past either and I've always managed to come through. However, I lined up several lines behind the 3:15 pacers on purpose, to not to block anyone trying to run with that group in case I wasn't able to get up to speed myself.

Very fresh at mile 3. Photo by John Desmond
At least that proved to be unfounded, as soon as we started running I was off at just that pace and I settled within. I had tried to run with a pace group once before, the 3-hour group in Manchester last year, and found it much too crowded, so it was a relief to find a lot more space around me here in Cork. The first few miles felt easy enough, though I was surprised to see an average pace of as fast as 7:15 on the clock - pacer Chris's Garmin was at 7:22 at the time. It goes to show how inaccurate GPS watches can be.

Against the forecast it was a warm, sunny morning, with the temperature much higher than anticipated. In addition to that, it was quite windy - and we had the wind at our back in the early miles. It did mean that those miles felt surprisingly easy but it also meant I could not get any convective cooling and I felt quite hot at times  - so hot that I eventually took off my top for a bit to cool down, though as soon as I did that a cloud appeared - how typical is that - and the shirt went back on soon enough.

Over the years of running the Cork marathon I have always felt the climb out of the tunnel was the hardest climb of the day but with only 8 miles on the legs it always feels perfectly doable. It was when we got out of there that we felt the headwind for the first time and I knew this would become a problem sooner or later - there were an awful lot of miles against that headwind in front of us.

Mile 7, still easy. Photo by Chris Grayson.
My effort levels seemed to oscillate a lot. At times the pace felt so pretty damn hard that I wondered if I was about to drop off the group and 2 minute later I seemed to be jogging along at a sedate pace. Around the 10 or 11 mile mark I think I gradually drifted ahead of the pacers, not on purpose. A look at my watch showed that I was still doing the same pace but somehow there were three of us (Hi Kevin! Hi Stephen!) with a bit of a gap ahead of the rest of the pace group. I decided to just keep going at the same effort level, which really was the same pace as the 3:15 group and we can never have been more than a few seconds ahead of those balloons. We reached the halfway mark in 1:37, which is exactly when I would have wanted to get there for a 3:15 marathon - so far so good. There were about 2 more nice and slightly sheltered miles left on the old railway line, until we got back into town where the real work was about to start.

Once you pass the noise and excitement of the third relay station and the gathered crowds behind, the hilly section starts. With the move to Sunday, they had to make a few changes to that section of the course. There had been some talk of this making the marathon harder, which I had dismissed to be honest; I did not expect it to make any real difference. Be it that my legs were not in the same shape as usual or that the additional dips and drags really made a difference but after a few miles of constant ups and downs I started to falter a bit. The hills were just never ending, and each one started to feel steeper than the previous one. I think the real problem was the relentless headwind, with the section from 11 to 22 miles heading steadily westwards and each step into that direction just took that extra bit of energy to fight the wind.

I kept going, and somehow I was still ahead of the pacers, though my 2 running buddies had gotten separated at some point. Things came finally crashing down around mile 21 when my legs just wouldn't get me up another one of those blasted hill, and, more worryingly, I could sense the early signs of a cramp building up. "Come on Thomas", one of the pacers shouted. (expletive deleted) came the answer. "Come on Thomas", the other pacer shouted.  (expletive deleted) came the answer.  "Come on Thomas", someone shouted. (expletive deleted) came the answer once more, and then they were gone, over the hills and far away. Not good.

At first I completely lost heart and felt like jogging it in easily until the end but once I had finally gotten over that hill I recovered once more and cranked up the pace a bit. By that point there was only one more climb left, which was another struggle, but then we finally turned right and right again and from then on it felt remarkably and substantially easier again. I passed Richie from BMOH, ran with him and his club mate (one of my earlier companions) for a bit but eventually took off again, feeling sufficiently recovered to get back on pace and try to salvage a little bit over the last 4 miles.

Mile 24. Recovered from the worst.
Photo by Joe Murphy
I didn't feel any tailwind but there is no doubt it was there and there is no doubt that it helped. Looking at the mile splits now, only miles 21 and 22 stand out as 7:50 miles, after that I got right back on 7:20 pace. Going faster wasn't really an option, there was a limit to what I dared to do, so the balloons never came any closer but at least they stopped moving away. I passed quite a few runners along that stretch, looking at the results now I moved from 146th at the halfway point to 106th, which seems extraordinary seeing as I didn't exactly have a stellar second half myself. Looking back now the last few miles seemed to pass reasonably quickly though I sure would have denied that notion at the time. A few new extra turns left me a bit disoriented at the end and I wasn't sure how far away I was from the finish until I finally spotted it.

I passed the line in 3:15:14 on my own watch, 3:15:07 official time, so not a total disaster. I wonder what would have happened if I had carried a 3:15 pacer balloon today; I do suspect that it would have given me enough incentive to push just that tiny little bit harder to make sure I was home in time, though we will never know for sure. As for how I felt over the last few miles, I think I could have gone a good bit further, but not faster. This was a training run but it sure felt tougher than that from miles 18 to 22, though the effort got back to more appropriate levels on the home stretch (yes, I know about the wind direction). There are positive signs as well: the HR was surprisingly low at 154, which compares exceptionally well to 157 for a 3:26 marathon in Killarney 3 weeks earlier, so at least my cardiovascular system is in very good shape. My leg muscles on the other hand could do with some improvement, they are definitely still feeling the aftermath of my 2016 misfortunes.

I could not hang around at all afterwards and had to get away straight away - I had to get back to Castlecove where I had a wedding to attend. No, not mine.

1 Jun
6.2 miles, 49:21, 8:01 pace, HR 144
2 Jun
7 miles, 58:58, 8:25 pace, HR 135
3 Jun
4 miles, 33:28, 8:22 pace, HR 137
4 Jun
Cork City marathon
   3:15:14, 7:27 pace, HR 154
5 Jun
5.8 miles, 55:29, 9:34 pace, HR 132
   Staigue Fort, very hilly for a recovery run