Sunday, December 17, 2017

EOI B2B marathons in Howth

The back-to-back marathons I ran 2 months ago in Monaghan had gone so well that when I saw that the EOI crowd was putting on a similar event in Howth in the middle of December I decided to do that as well.

I had never run any of the EOI marathons before, even though I'm good friends with all of the organisers. As long as I was living in Kerry it was always a bit too far away and once I had moved to Dublin I still spent most weekends in Kerry, so I had to wait until now. A bit surprisingly, the back-to-back marathons were scheduled for Friday and Saturday rather than over the weekend, but since I happened to be made redundant from work on Wednesday the schedule actually suited me very well.

It sure was a low-key event on Friday, just turn up shortly before nine am and then off we run. You'll be pointed into the right direction on a rather idiot-proof loop, just follow the main road until you're back in Howth. No road closures, so stay on the footpath, and certainly no chip timing or pacing teams, but a table at the end of each loop with drinks and encouragement.

We started pretty much on time. Howth itself was very quiet and there was very little traffic on the road. It was freezing cold, especially thanks to a biting wind, so I wore long sleeves as well as running tights, though at least half of the lads were clad in shorts nevertheless. The loop was to be run in reverse to the standard EOI Howth loop, which meant an insanely steep climb right from the off, about 1.2 miles and almost 400 feet / 115 meters of elevation gain, though those numbers don't give justice to the much steeper first half of that climb. Not only was that the start to a marathon, I would also have to keep my legs fresh for tomorrow, so I tried to take it easy but it's hard to take it easy on a hill like that and after the very first mile I was already knackered! There was some respite on the other side of the hill in form of a much more gradual downhill segment for close to three miles, where once again I tried to take it easy, though with the fastest mile coming through at about 7 minutes I'm not sure I was entirely successful in that. Once we got to the bottom we had about 2.5 miles of flat roads to get us back to Howth, only to do it all over again. The second loop was already more challenging but I held it together alright. It was during the third loop that the suffering started, and once you start feeling the pain on that climb you're unlikely to recover much. At least I had plenty of targets to catch on that third loop because that's where I gradually reeled in the early starters who'd set off an hour ahead of us, and every time I passed one of them and exchanged a few friendly words, the next one was usually in sight already. However, by the time I got back to Howth for the third time I was pretty much cooked and not looking forward to a fourth loop.

Totally wasted after day 1
This time that hill REALLY hurt, and the only reason I managed to survive was because I kept telling myself that this was the very last time I would ever have to put myself through that particular torture because tomorrow's loop would be run in reverse, though I wasn't particularly looking forward to bombing down that steep decline on tired legs either. After what felt like far too many minutes in hell and agony I got to the top, not that the downhill segment felt any easier. I just about held myself together and my pace had declined sufficiently to barely make 8-minute miles on the downhill. Once I was back on the flat bit I gradually managed to get into my head that I was almost done and eventually picked up the pace a little bit again for a reasonable finish. All the while I had not checked my pace even once, just used the watch from time to time to reassure myself of the distance covered but had literally no clue as to what time I was doing, until the moment I pressed the stop button at 3:38:54. I more or less collapsed on the bench, feeling wiped out and totally exhausted. I left soon after because I was getting cold very quickly and drove home, which was one of the most uncomfortable drives ever as my left leg, which had been fine while running, kept cramping every time I had to use the clutch, which was not great timing driving through a very busy Dublin. The cramps kept on coming all afternoon back home, until they finally subsided in the evening. In addition I tortured myself a bit more in form of an ice bath, which was probably the most torturous part of the day, despite everything else.

And as for never having to climb that hill again? As soon as I had finished Gary explained that they would have to change tomorrow's route due to a Christmas market in Howth, and instead of doing 4 loops we would instead run over the mountain and back again three times each, basically leaving out the flat bit and just keeping the hills in it. I looked at him wide-eyed, waiting for the punchline that never came. He was being serious!

My left calf still hurt from all the previous day's cramping when I got up on Saturday morning. It's fair to say I was not looking forward to it. I was nervous about my legs cramping, about running out of energy on the hills, about the pain that was in store.

(most of) the runners for day 2
There were a few more runners in it on Saturday compared to Friday but the vibe was still as friendly and the race was still low-key, with a minimum of fuss, absolutely perfect for a training run with friends. It was even colder than the day before but once we were off that immediately became much less of an issue than having to climb that hill yet again. I started at a measured effort with half the field streaming past me initially, though that included the half-marathon runners and of course plenty of runners who hadn't put themselves through the wringer the day before. Despite my fears, the legs actually felt pretty good without any muscle pain, and the longer the hill dragged on the more I grew in confidence and I started moving up through the field again, without apparently having to increase the effort. Due to the lower temperatures the footpaths were still partially covered by a slippery layer of frost and you had to be a bit careful, on the first loop at least, though thankfully there were no accidents as far as I can tell. I still felt surprisingly good on the first downhill, even going a bit faster than yesterday with a 6:50 mile, not that I was aware of it at the time. I just tried to keep everything under control. We got to the turn-around point after about 4.4 miles and now I would get to experience the hill in reverse for the first time. The one thing I noticed straight away was that it felt a lot steeper than the gradual gradient when running downhill, and this time we had close to 3 miles of climbing to do before we would get to the top (with a dip in the middle). The one bit I was dreading the most was actually the steep downhill into Howth on the other side, I didn't know what that would do to my quads. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how well that went. The footpath was very uneven and the road too busy to be running on it so you couldn't just release the breaks and go hell for leather, but a more measured descend worked very well. Ger asked how I was doing, I responded with "better than expected" to which he encouragingly responded "just wait for loops 2 and 3, then". Thanks, mate! I wasted some time here by drinking my bottle at the table instead of bringing it with me (because it was my son's bottle, not a throw-away, and I didn't want to carry it with me for the next 8.8 miles), but soon enough I was back on the road, climbing that hill yet again, and feeling better than expected yet again.

about to waste a lot of time!
Nevertheless this was starting to become challenging again and my breathing was a bit ragged, but as always I sounded worse than I felt. I still managed to keep going at a decent enough rate. On that loop I once again started to catch most of the early starters, and as always we exchanged a few friendly words along the way, with "looking good" almost always being an outright lie but nobody ever minds. I wasted even more time at the turnaround point when due to fatigue and clammy fingers in the cold I struggled to extract my little ziplock bag with caffeine pills and salt tablets from my pocket, promptly spilling the entire content on the road and picking it up again (not giving a damn about road dirt), which may have cost me as much as a minute. Ah well. I wasn't going for a time today anyway. The hill on the return leg was still steeper than it had been on the downward stretch but I got over it and the steep downhill on the other side was once again better than expected.

There was even more time wasted at the aid station when Ger offered me a Coke and I sure wasn't going to say no but had to walk a bit to drink it without spilling it all over me. I guess I really wasn't in race mode today, which is not a bad thing when you're doing a training run, of course. The hill definitely was a challenge now, alright, but I actually felt a lot better than yesterday. I got over it, again. I caught a runner on the downhill who then seemed to just disappear, not sure what exactly happened but I didn't see him on the return leg. For once I got through an aid station without wasting time and did the glory stretch all the way home.

Much better after day 2
I finished in 3:41:08, just 2 minutes slower than yesterday, which is probably the time I needlessly wasted at various aid stations, on an even tougher course and on pre-fatigued legs, so overall actually a much better run than the one on Friday. I might have exaggerated a little bit when I said I was feeling fresh as a daisy but the contrast to the day before was truly remarkable. Once again I could not hang around for too long because I was getting cold and made my way home, which also went a lot better than yesterday.

I was flabbergasted when I saw I had averaged 138 on the HR on Saturday. Even considering that I had taken it easy, that's an incredibly low reading for a marathon, hilly or not.

All in all it had been a very good set of races, thanks to Gary, Frank and Ger from the EOI crowd, all their helpers,  and all the runners who shared the road with me on those 2 days. I expect I'll be back for more soon enough, though maybe not in Howth.
13 Dec
7.6 miles, 1:00:55, 8:00 pace, HR 141
14 Dec
6.3 miles, 51:56, 8:14 pace, HR 136
15 Dec
EOI B2B marathon p1, Howth, 3:38:54, 8:20 pace, HR 144
16 Dec
EOI B2B marathon p2, Howth, 3:41:08, 8:26 pace, HR 138
17 Dec
5+ miles, 45:11, 8:56 pace, HR 125
All photos from the EOI FB page. Thanks, guys!

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