Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Darkness Falls

Who turned off the lights? Tuesday morning I ran through Clonkeen Park and was tempted to stop for a photo because it looked so pretty with the morning mist at sunrise. Two days later, at the same time, the entire place was still pitch black. I'm pretty sure the heavy cloud cover had a lot to do with that change but still! Obviously, that same cloud cover turned into heavy rain later on, not that a few rain drops particularly bothered me. I've spent more than enough of time in Kerry to get used to that.

As for my body, it seems to thrive on the higher mileage. I hit 80+ miles last week and the legs seem to respond. The "heavy legs" days seem to became rare and the "feeling good" days are taking over. It's not all perfect, though, it never is. I can feel the asthma during the early miles on at least half of my runs. The good news is that I always get enough oxygen for 8-minute miles, and the pressure in my chest seems to lift after a while. Most of my runs follow the same pattern, a very slow starting mile, gradually picking it up and getting towards some decent pace near the end. I got down to about 7-minute pace the other day feeling perfectly comfortable, the same pace I struggled to keep for that ominous parkrun a few weeks ago, and this time I didn't feel the need for an ambulance

Still, a few years ago my marathon pace was still over 20 seconds per mile faster than that, and I'm a long away away from that - not that I'm training for a fast marathon, but I sure liked being in that kind of shape.

I'm particularly happy how the legs responded to running twice on Thursday. I was a bit worried they'd be heavy for a while but that was not the case. Following that, Sunday's long run itself wasn't particularly great but didn't seem to tax me at all - Monday was the best day in weeks!

I'm definitively getting some consistency back into my training. I think that had been lacking for a while. Maybe that's the missing ingredient.

Anyway, I have a very heavy load ahead of me on the weekend. When living in Kerry I would never have considered a marathon in Monaghan, it's an insanely long drive. Now that I'm based in Dublin, the entire island seems to have shrunk into acceptable range and I'm looking forward to adding another county to my marathon list. Plus, they have a food festival on at the same weekend - perfect! That's the recovery sorted already.
22 Sep
9.25 miles, 1:14:55, 8:05 pace, HR 142
23 Sep
9.25 miles, 1:14:37, 8:03 pace, HR 147
24 Sep
18.5 miles, 2:33:55, 8:19 pace, HR 141
25 Sep
9.1 miles, 1:12:38, 7:58 pace, HR 139
26 Sep
9.2 miles, 1:14:07, 8:03 pace, HR 144
27 Sep
9.2 miles, 1:12:53, 7:55 pace, HR 144

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Run Commute

Its early morning, just after 6 o'clock. I open the blinds and it's still dark outside - summer is definitely over. No matter. I have been awake for 90 minutes already and by now staring at the ceiling has lost its attraction.

I don't eat before running so it doesn't take me long to get ready - with 15 minutes I'm out of the house. There's a lady walking her dog, otherwise the apartment blocks are completely quiet.

And yet, as soon as I get to the road it's already very busy, there is a never-ending stream of cars. What a contrast to Caragh Lake where I would encounter a car every 3 miles on average at this time of the morning. Aren't the Irish all supposed to be night owls?

I get away from the roads again as I turn into Kilbogget park, which is very quiet again, apart from the odd dog walker. That park leads straight to another one, Clonkeen Park, both of them long thin green ribbons tucked away from the road, though you can hear the noise from the N11 loud and clearly. Deansgange awaits about 5k into my run, and the next few miles are along another road, not too busy but still. Today I get lucky with the green lights, I don't have to stop. At Blackrock, now halfway through my commute, I turn off the road again, past the DART station and into Blackrock Park. By now it's reasonably bright, though the sun remains hidden behind the clouds. At Booterstown I have another few miles beside the road, now very busy, and if I'm unlucky then I have to wait several minutes at the Merrion Gates level crossing. Why they have to close the barriers several minutes before the train passes is a bit of a mystery to me, it causes massive tailbacks for the commuters and only encourages dangerous behavior by trying to cross until the very last second before the gates close - drivers and cyclists being guilty at the same rate!

Anyway, today the gates are already closed as I get near them but I only have to wait a minute. I do wonder if such an enforced break has any impact on training effect - I've heard conflicting stories, not that I can do anything about it.

Once the gates finally open I'm soon on the Sandymount promenade, probably my favourite section of the run. The Poolbeg peninsula keeps coming closer and closer and I do encounter the odd runner. A lady gives me a sideways glance as we pass each other, in contrast to the usual stare-straight-ahead" method favoured by most Dublin runners.

I run through Sean Moore park where yesterday another runner started chatting to me - that's a first in the 5 months I've been running in Dublin, and a nice change to the usual urban anonymity and isolation. Today there is no repeat, I run through the park unnoticed, and the next one, Ringsend park, as well. I get to the office well before 8 o'clock, enough time for a shower and breakfast before most of my colleagues arrive. Today I'll be running twice, run-commuting in both directions. It's the first double day of this training cycle but hopefully the first of many. I'm nowhere near as fit as I'd like to be but I have many months and many miles to get ready.
18 Sep
9 miles, 1:14:17, 8:15 pace, HR 140
19 Sep
9.25 miles, 1:12:09, 7:48 pace, HR 150
20 Sep
10 miles, 1:22:49, 8:16 pace, HR 148
21 Sep
am: 9.25 miles, 1:15:28, 8:09 pace, HR 144
pm: 9.2 miles, 1:13:13, 7:57 pace, HR 144

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Maybe it's something to do with Kerry. As soon as I got home my throat was feeling sore again. I have no idea why. This time it wasn't the long drive because we took the train instead, which, according to Niamh, is much more relaxing. To be honest, I'm not convinced. We arrived no earlier than last week and I don't find sitting in a train any more relaxing than driving - it does have the advantage that I can read a book but to be honest that was mostly to alleviate the boredom. And when I think of the train tickets prices in Ireland my blood pressure just rises, which isn't particularly relaxing either,

Anyway, that's the way my life is these days, weeks in Dublin and weekends in Kerry, and while I do enjoy both it's the travelling between the two that I haven't cracked yet.

On Thursday I decided to do a bit of a workout again, a fairly moderate one. I did a few hill sprints, this time in Kilbogget park rather than closer to home, which gave me a slightly longer hill to play with. The problem is that I get that pressure in my chest a few seconds after each repeat. I had the same happening last year but this year the thing seems to have grown into full-blown exercise-induced asthma, which makes me question if those hill repeats are a good idea. I love the effect they have on my legs but if I can't breathe properly for 2 days afterwards then that's obviously not ideal.

This has been going on for a while now, so I think I'll start talking to a doctor about it. One problem is of course that I have to be careful about taking banned substances, and inhalers do have a reputation for being abused by athletes that are not actually asthmatic. It needs some careful consideration - my health comes first but under no circumstances do I want to break any doping rules.

Anyway, I was back home in Kerry on Saturday and did that 10 mile Caragh Lake run that I must have done a thousand times by now. My breathing was definitely constricted, which did not feel particularly nice, but I was still able to sustain 8-minute pace without getting out of breath.

On Sunday I ran around the lake, for the first time in a rather long time. It was freezing cold at the beginning and it didn't help that my gloves were in Dublin but thankfully it started to warm up just as I left the house. The long, long climbs showed up a significant lack of leg strength and I suffered a bit through the miles, the legs only just managing to keep running and the lungs only just managing to provide sufficient oxygen - not a great run by any means but I got it done and there will be better ones in store. I need to run more hills, though.

And massive congratulations to Star of the Laune club mate Fiachra Clifford who scored 2 goals in today's minor final at Croke Park. I know football is his major love but if that doesn't work out he will always have another sport t fall back on - he's also quite some runner!
15 Sep
10 miles, 1:22:48, 8:16 pace, HR 143
   incl 5 hill sprints and a few laps around Kilbogget dirt track
16 Sep
10 miles, 1:19:56, 8:00 pace, HR 145
17 Sep
16.6 miles, 2:16:13, 8:12 pace, HR 145

Friday, September 15, 2017


I spent the weekend in Kerry, as I do most weekends. Of course I want to spend time with my family. However, there is a drawback, apart from the head-wrecking long drive.

Schools have started again, and with that goes the fact that the kids are picking up viruses and bringing them home. They were all a bit under the weather and by the time I got back to Dublin I started feeling it as well. I had a sore throat on Monday morning and a splitting headache a few hours later. I slept really badly on Tuesday but made up for it on Wednesday (I can't remember when I last slept for 8 hours solid).

The next fee days all followed a similar pattern. I felt perfectly okay first thing in the morning, developed a splitting headache a few hours later, felt completely devoid of energy and ready to drop after lunch only to gradually recover and start feeling fine again by 4 or 5 o'clock. That describes Monday to Wednesday, but today, Thursday, I seem to be pretty much over it, in contrast to the kids back in Kerry who are still suffering from it.

All the while I kept passing the neck test, i.e. no symptoms below the neck, so I kept on running every day. That was a mixed bag; the legs felt really tired on Monday, most likely from the increased weekend mileage rather than the virus, so I kept it really slow and easy. They felt miraculously recovered by Tuesday, despite the lack of sleep preceding that run.

Wednesday's run was very tough initially. I felt a triple whammy of the cold, the asthma and what I thought was low blood sugar, and really suffered through the first few miles. I would have cut the run short except that it was my commute back home and I had no real alternative than to keep going. Then, 4 miles into a real sufferfest, a miracle happened and I transformed Lazarus-like into a proper runner. In fact, I felt really good, so good that I added a victory lap at home to make it a 10 mile run. And I could hardly believe the watch when I saw that I had averaged faster than 8-minute miles - after the first few miles I thought I'd be lucky to break 9!

For some reason my HRM seems to have gone on strike after 4 miles on Wednesday as well as Thursday. On both occasions it started out perfectly fine only to start measuring a heart rate of over 180 from halfway on. I know perfectly well that it was still in the 140s on both occasions. I took the HR from the first half to make an educated guess of the final value. Not a biggy - but a bit annoying for a numbers geek like me all the same.
11 Sep
8 miles, 1:08:08, 8:31 pace, HR 143
   feeling the cold
12 Sep
8.15 miles, 1:03:43, 7:49 pace, HR 147
   not feeling the cold
13 Sep
10 miles, 1:19:04, 7:54 pace, HR 145
   feeling the cold until half way
14 Sep
10 miles, 1:21:44, 8:10 pace, HR 141

Sunday, September 10, 2017

No Hurricane In Ireland

It must be old age, but time really is flying. It's already mid-September. Where did the year go? What did I miss? And how come my youngest son, the little baby that was born only just yesterday or a few days before that, is suddenly talking in such a deep voice?

Though I can tell you one moment when time is not flying - when you're stuck near bloody Naas, trying to get home on Friday evening. Once schools re-started, traffic in and around Dublin went from bad to atrocious. I really don't know how people who experience that every day cope. It drove me bananas after just 3 days. This Friday it took me almost 3 hours from Ringsend via Dundrum (that didn't help, obviously) to the junction past Naas. On an open road I'd be in Kerry already by that time!

Anyway, I made it home. Before that I managed to resurrect my run commute after taking it easy for a few days following the marathon, which went well.

Saturday morning the legs must have cherished the oh so familiar Caragh lake road, they just took off. Time seemed to fly - before I knew it I was 5 miles away from home and turned around, and then I must have blinked because all of a sudden I was almost back home again.

Inevitably, Sunday was payback time. The chest felt constricted again, though that didn't impact on my run, but the tired legs did. It didn't help that it was windy and at times raining heavily, but I kept thinking of some friends in Florida, and in comparison to what they are going through right now our own little weather system doesn't even register. Anyway, the last five miles really dragged on, especially as they were against the wind, but by mentally cutting the route into small chunks I managed to make the rest of the run easier to cope with.

Oh and a colleague of mine is doing Ironman Wales right now, I bet he could do without the wind (he's a third into the bike as I'm writing this). Good man, Neil!
7 Sep
9.15 miles, 1:14:04, 7:59 pace, HR 145
8 Sep
8 miles, 1:04:29, 8:03 pace, HR 143
9 Sep
10 miles, 1:19:06, 7:54 pace, HR 148
10 Sep
15 miles, 2:00:27, 8:02 pace, HR 146

Wednesday, September 06, 2017


I haven't got all that much to say right now, except that recovery from Dingle is going really well, much better than anticipated.

How you recover from a workout tells you more about your conditioning than how the workout itself went, and as pleased as I was with the run in Dingle, this is even better news.

I was a bit sore on Sunday, no surprise here. I did the usual 5-mile recovery run to Ar-na-Sidhe, which is what I always do after a marathon. On Monday I was back in Dublin and since traffic has gotten exponentially worse since schools started again I swapped my routine of running at home and then driving to work around by first driving to work and then run a few miles near my work place. Thankfully they have showers at work! Even so, the commute took me twice as long as it should have, even at 7 o'clock in the morning.

There are actually plenty of running options in and around Ringsend; I chose to run towards Poolbeg, turning round after 2.5 miles. I did more of the same on Tuesday, except that I left home 15 minutes earlier, which took 10 minutes off the commute, which I used to run towards Poolbeg again but this time all the way out to the lighthouse. It was actually further than I thought it would be (that sea wall really is long!) and I ended up with 8 miles on the day. By now the legs felt much better, there was just a trace of soreness left in the right quads, and that was barely noticeable. Still, just to be sure I'm not overdoing it I stepped back to 5 miles on Wednesday morning, this time heading up the Dodder towards Herbert Park.

By now the legs feel fully recovered and the HR this morning was significantly better, the best numbers in this cycle so far, which was really good to see.

I'll re-start my running commute tomorrow morning. That will be a relieve. I hate being stuck in traffic!

Oh, and Dingle Marathon have replaced their Facebook cover photo with the one of the 3:30 group I used in my race report. Very nice!
4 Sep
5 miles, 41:39, 8:20 pace, HR 142
5 Sep
8.15 miles, 1:07:21, 8:16 pace, HR 143
6 Sep
5.5 miles, 44:09, 8:02 pace, HR 141

Sunday, September 03, 2017

The Wet Wild Atlantic Way

And so, exactly one week after being transported in an ambulance to A&E with chest pains, I found myself on the start line of the Dingle marathon. As daft as that may sound, this was my first ever race for which I had been specifically cleared to run by a cardiologist, so I wasn't worried about dropping dead. What I DID worry about was the fact that I had not run more than 10 miles in one go for over 2 months; I expected some serious amount of suffering to come my way, especially with that big hill at mile 22.

I got to the start with less than 15 minute to spare - I wish they had told us about the roadworks on the Dingle road beforehand. And my night before the race had been rather restless, as always before a big race. But when I got to the start I met Stephen and Tony and Seamus and a few more, and somehow it felt like I had never been away.

Photo by Chris Grayson
Just like last year I joined in with the 3:30 pace group of Chris and Fozzy, and just like last year it felt ridiculously easy for the first half. In fact, several times I found myself drifting slowly ahead of the pack until I realised I was well ahead of them and took it easy for a minute or 2 until they had caught up again. It was a rather conservative way to run a marathon but with my lack of specific endurance fitness I preferred it that way.

When I had checked the weather forecast on Wednesday it promised a dry and overcast day, perfect for running. Alas, by Friday they had changed their mind and from 10 o'clock on we would be running in wind and rain, with plenty of both in store. Of course it was the latter forecast that proved to be correct and from about 6 miles on we had a full-on experience of the Wild Atlantic Way.

It was a shame as the absolutely stunning scenery is the major draw of this race. Of all the races I have done, this one and Achill Island are outstanding even amongst tough competition in the scenery stakes, but today we didn't get to see all of it. Slea Head and the Blaskets were as stunning as ever and the Seven Sisters still looked good in the mist but the Skelligs and much else was kept hidden.

Anyway, as the road dropped down into Dunquin for the finish of the half marathon I once again found myself a bit ahead of the pace group and decided that I had played it safe for long enough and just kept going. It was only marginally faster than 3:30 pace, so the risk I ran by running a few seconds faster per mile was rather negligible. Another runner seemed to latch on to me and I kept hearing his footsteps for miles and miles after that - not that I minded, I have done the same plenty of times. Together we gradually roped in a couple of runners ahead of us at the rate of about 1 per mile, but the effort still felt surprisingly easy. Even with all the hills and the blustery wind I found myself feeling surprisingly fresh even after the 15 mile mark, something I had not expected.

Photo by Chris Grayson
The wind threw in a few extra challenges. It was strong enough at times to feel like it was going to blow me off my feet and constantly changing direction. We would have it right in our faces at times, almost bringing us to a standstill, only to blow us forward again just a minute later. At least we did not have a straight headwind for over 10 miles, something I had worried about earlier on.

Alas, it was not going to last forever. As we got into Ballyferriter at mile 18 it felt like someone had tied a piece of string around my windpipe and pulled it tighter and tighter. I still managed to get just enough breath to keep going at roughly the same effort level but any faster and I would be unable to get enough oxygen into the system. With 8 miles still to go that wasn't ideal but I was still running and just tried to keep things under control.

Eventually that runner behind my back drew level and it turned out to be John. "I had no idea it was you following me" - "sorry, without my glasses I don't recognise anyone 2 feet away" (a problem I'm familiar with) and we chatted a bit while running together for the next 3 miles, which helped pass the time and took my mind off the breathing issues. Eventually he pulled away from me and since that big hill was just about to start I knew I would not be able to keep up with him anyway.

The next miles were definitely a struggle. The legs, while clearly tired, were still in reasonable shape but my lungs were not and all I could do was suck in air as through a straw and jog up the hill at a very slow pace. I could hear the 3:30 group catching up very quickly and I must have sounded pretty bad because Chris and Fozzy both inquired in a rather more worried tone than usual if I was okay.

I knew I would be okay as soon as I got to the top of that hill but it's a bloody big hill and I lost a fair amount of time. I doubted Chris' appraisal of the situation that I would catch up with them again - last year they had caught me exactly here as well and I never managed to close that gap again, though back then the problem had been cramps rather than asthma, which is rather different. By the way, I had no issue with cramps today, probably because of the easy effort for so many miles.

Anyway, I eventually made it up to the top of that hill, close to the 23 mile mark. I had 3.5 miles left at that point and once the road stopped climbing I quickly got my breath back and started to spin the legs a bit. I was pleased to see them respond enthusiastically, my quads were in very good condition and relished the downhill. I threw in a 7-minute mile, which carried me past the 3:30 boys again and I sailed past a few other runners as well, feeling good.

One more twist in the tail of the Dingle marathon route is that the road at that point is completely straight for over 2 miles and just seems to go on forever. At first you have the benefit of the downhill gradient going for you but then that flattens out and you still have a long way to go, and this time we really were heading right into a relentless headwind, with tired legs and tired minds. I can only suggest not to look ahead as the end never seems to come any closer but just look at the road right in front of your feet and just take it one step at a time, and eventually, after an age, you get to Milltown and then finally the t-junction at the end.

After 3 strong miles I did struggle again over the last half mile, my breathing becoming increasingly more erratic but it sounded worse than it was and I knew this would be over soon enough. Still, I don't remember the road towards the Marina ever taking quite so long, it sure had expanded since last time. But of course eventually that was behind me as well and I crossed the finish line in 3:28:31 on my watch, certainly better than I had expected and the legs still in surprisingly good shape.

I had taken a very conservative pacing approach to this race and I'm sure I could have run a few minutes faster but this was a training run, very early in the program, and I'd much rather err on the side of caution. The breathing was a problem over the last few miles but I hope this will eventually sort itself out. The legs were in much better shape than I could have hoped for, and that's what I'm mostly focusing on.
2 Sep
Dingle marathon
3:28:31, 7:57 pace, HR 153
3 Sep
5 miles, 45:19, 9:03 pace, HR 137