Sunday, February 25, 2018

Where The Magic Is

I had actually been planning on cranking up the mileage again this week but Real World stuff is still happening and it was definitely better to play it safe and hold back a little bit. I'm in the first week of a new job with some intensive learning taking me totally out of my comfort zone (make no mistake, I like it that way), which leaves only so much room for running and other things.

I haven't got a locker yet and that will take another week to sort out, so running to work is out of the question at the moment but I'll probably start cycling there next week. A few of my equally new colleagues do, though most of them got issued with  considerably lighter laptops, which sure makes a difference. Still, let's give it a go.

I didn't quite do the miles but I figured I should do something about those slow legs of mine. My heart rate figures are excellent, aerobically I'm close to the best I've ever been. But as soon as I try to run a bit faster things start falling apart quickly. Maybe it's a sign of getting older; maybe my legs have gotten used to the slow pace; maybe it's even a good thing for an ultra runner. I've never been in such a situation before but I do think a bit more pep in the legs might be beneficial.

I did an evaluation on Thursday, which confirmed the above. The pace was a little bit slower but the consistency over 4 miles was probably better than ever before. Evaluation workouts measure a few things; actual pace was actually the one variable MC was showing the least interest in, consistent pace across the workout was far more important. A short recovery afterwards would have been good as well, though I think that's the 50k still in there - not a big surprise, only about 10 days later. I'll do another evaluation in a fortnight and see if that variable is improving. If not, I might have to take a step back.

I was back in Kerry for the weekend, this time thankfully without a 4.5 hours delay on the train. On Saturday I added a couple of 2-mile pickups, mostly to test how that would go. The first one was too fast. The average HR wasn't that high but in reality it was steadily climbing, from the high 140s at the beginning to the high 160s at the end (not helped by an uphill finish) and me gasping for breath (my asthma was acting up once more). I held back a bit for the second one and that was much more sustainable, and I could have held that for longer. Interestingly, it turned out to be 6:52 pace; I guess I'm actually not that far off sub-3 marathon shape, though I'd definitely need to get the legs used to that pace first.

We got away from the kids for a night in the swanky Europe hotel, which was very nice, which made the choice for Sunday's run an easy one. I headed up the Gap of Dunloe. It's an absolutely magic place, populated by Leprechauns and the views there are the best in the world. I don't know why it's not world-famous but it's definitely better that way, mass tourism wouldn't do it any good. The wind was rather brutal, especially since the valley itself forms a funnel, and it made for a challenging few miles but it was worth every step. I ran a little bit further, down into Black Valley, once I reached the top, mostly to enjoy the view, but had to turn around soon enough. Never leave the lady waiting for too long.

Back to the grind now. That's where the real magic is happening, day after day after day.
21 Feb
10 miles, 1:20:35, 8:03 pace, HR 136
22 Feb
9.5 miles, 1:14:46, 7:52 pace, HR 141
   4 mile eval in 6:44, 6:44, 6:47, 6:43, 41 sec recovery
23 Feb
10.25 miles, 1:20:51, 7:53 pace, HR 138
24 Feb
12.65 miles, 1:34:08, 7:26 pace, HR 143
   incl 2 x 2 miles @ 6:25, 6:52
25 Feb
17 miles, 2:17:19, 8:04 pace, HR 142

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Outside Influences

The last few days have been very hectic and a bit stressful, nothing due to running and all due to real life intruding once again. Ah yes, the joys of being an amateur runner.

We took the same train we usually take on Friday evening, trying to make it to Kerry as always. I cut it a bit fine, saying good bye to my colleagues because I was finishing a short-term contract, being a bit sad to leave as everyone had been really nice. I made the Kerry train by 2 minutes after the Luas had been halted by an Ambulance blocking the line. Obviously you cannot criticise the ambulance crew for that during an emergency call out but boy, did they time it badly for me. I ended up running to Heuston with a heavy backpack and only just made it.

That should have been the end of the drama, but it was only just the beginning. 10 k outside Charleville our train stopped. And waited. And waited. And nothing. Eventually we managed to get from Irish Rail's twitter feed that the train in front of us had broken down. It took them 2 hours to get a replacement engine up from Cork, another 2 hours to attach it to the train (!) and after a delay of more than 4.5 hours we were finally moving again, having long run out of food and water, arriving in Killarney close to 1 am and getting to bed closer to 2.

I felt jet lagged for the entire weekend after that ordeal, and it took another couple of days to feel fully recovered again. It didn't help that I had caught some upper respiratory tract infection after Donadea, very common after a race, probably related to the fact that it had taken close to 2 hours in the freezing cold after that race before we headed for home. Then again, as far as infections go that one was an exceptionally mild one. I had a sore throat on Wednesday, didn't feel great with a head cold on Thursday but 90% recovered already by Friday, though the last 10% took a bit longer to shift.

And then, on Monday morning, I started my new job. Exciting times indeed. I think I'm doing this job switching thingy wrong as I tend to stop one job and immediately start the new one instead of taking a week or two of extra holidays, but I'd rather get paid and anyway, I hate sitting around idly. Sadly it will apparently take 2 weeks before I get my own locker, so running to work is out of the question at the moment; the joys of being a corporate drone in a huge multi-national organisation. It means an early wake-up call for some miles before starting the commute. No big deal, I tend to wake up early anyway.

By Saturday I could no longer feel the effects of the 50k in the legs, so it looks like recovery has been going rather nicely. The added stress over the weekend meant I still had to take it a bit easy and I skipped my long run but I think I'm ready to get going again now.
16 Feb
10.3 miles, 1:21:37, 7:55 pace, HR 133
17 Feb
10 miles, 1:16:12, 7:37 pace, HR 138
18 Feb
12 miles, 1:34:25, 7:52 pace, HR 136
19 Feb
9 miles, 1:13:06, 8:06 pace, HR 132
20 Feb
10.25 miles, 1:20:09, 7:49 pace, HR 136

Thursday, February 15, 2018

After The Races

Donadea was marathon/ultra number 96, so you could say I’ve been there before. My recovery protocol is pretty much the same every time, it has been thoroughly tried and tested, works very well and gets me back into shape in good time.

I don’t know when I first noticed that a few miles of very easy running leads to a faster recovery than full rest. It might be counter-intuitive and most running publications would have you believe differently but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that my method works better. I do at least 3 days of 5 miles each morning, very very easy. The day immediately after the race it is always a struggle to get yourself out of the door and there is always that little devil on your shoulder that will whisper into your ear to go home, you deserve a rest, but just ignore it. After a mile or two you will feel so much better and each subsequent step will show further improvement. The following days will feel easier already and will most likely be a little bit faster, though you should pay no attention to pace whatsoever, just jog at whatever effort feels really comfortable.

After 3 days you assess; if the legs are still tired you keep doing 5 mile runs, otherwise you can increase the mileage. I find that usually I can crank up the mileage without much issue, but keep the effort easy at all times. There should be no workouts in the week after the race and no races / hard workouts for at least another week. That’s it. You will soon feel recovered, and most likely in better shape than before the race.

On a side note, assuming the HRM was working correctly my HR for Monday was my lowest ever on record at 121. I know the pace was very easy, but still. However, I have noticed that a low HR / high VDOT not necessarily translates into being in race shape. My cardio-vascular system is in damn good conditions but my legs aren’t quite playing ball.

My weight also follows a set pattern. Again it might be counter-intuitive but I always put on about 3 pounds when I run a marathon or ultra. I’m think it’s fluid that was leaking from damaged muscle fibres and ends up pooling in your leg muscles, though I am no expert in physiology. That additional weight stays with me for a few days and then goes away just like that. I have just seen the exact same  pattern once more, my weight went up from 143lbs/65kg before Donadea to about 146lbs/66+kg, and on Wednesday it suddenly was back to just over 143.

I tend to eat healthily most of the time but have an undeniable sweet tooth. I guess clean eating would improve recovery but there comes the point where self-denial reaches its limits. I still eat healthily with plenty of fruits and vegetables; salads for lunch work very well in that regard. But I certainly don’t deny myself a bit of chocolate or sweet, especially since this week coincided with pancake Tuesday (always a big thing in our house) and Valentine’s Day.

Anyway, it’s now been 5 days since Donadea. I can definitely still feel the race in my legs but overall I’m happy with how recovery is going. I’ll still take it easy for a few more days and see how it goes.

Btw, it was snowing this morning during my run as well as during the cycle commute. Winter is definitely holding on for longer than usual this year.
12 Feb
5 miles, 44:32; 8:54 pace, HR 121
13 Feb
5 miles, 42:47; 8:33 pace, HR 127
14 Feb
6.3 miles, 53:01; 8:24 pace, HR 134
15 Feb
10.3 miles, 1:23:03; 8:03 pace, HR 137

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Irish National 50k Championships, Donadea

Race instruction, summed up
The annual 50k in Donadea has firmly established itself as one of the fixtures in the Irish running calendar. It offers a great opportunity for marathon runners to tip their toes into the ultra world and it works as a great training run for the ones with an eye on longer goal races. More than anything though, it's a brilliantly organised event and great fun, with RD Anto managing the fine balance of combining a well organised event with taking things not too seriously (the PC brigade might want to give this one a miss).

Anyway, as always I arrived at the event not exactly in peak shape. It was a the end of yet another reasonably high mileage week and I had even skipped the usual 1-3 days mini-taper, still doing about 10 miles even on Friday, and quite possibly overcooking myself on Thursday.

Anyway, I was looking forward to it nevertheless. I had packed both road and trail runners and a quick chat with Gary Reinhardt shortly before the start convinced me to go for the trail shoes, which should help with the muddy conditions.

We set off pretty much on time, after receiving some some brief, light-hearted final instructions. It's a 5k loop, run 10 times, with all junctions signposted and marshalled. Don't litter. What else needs to be said?

Start, photo by Teresa Bradley Taaffe
I lined up well back from the start, which ensured I would not be sucked into some stupid fast early pace. Instead I eased into the effort and ran the first mile in about 8 minutes, before getting some clear road ahead and adding a tiny bit more effort. The first lap just flew by and felt oh so easy. When I saw 7:10 and 7:05 pace on the watch I initially assumed a wonky GPS signal because surely such an easy effort would yield a slower pace but eventually realised that the watch was most likely correct and dialled it back a bit. Still, one single 7:13 mile on a slight net downhill isn't too disastrous pacing.

After that I very quickly found a very comfortable rhythm just a tad faster than 7:40 pace. The field had thinned out and settled quickly and I was running on my own for a while before Tim Brownlie caught up and we chatted for a mile or two before he headed off at his own training pace, his aimed-for 100k race pace being faster than my comfortable 50k training-run pace.

Lap 4 or 5, with Brian. Photo by Des Walsh
At lap 4 another runner appeared on my shoulder, Brian Scanlan, and we chatted for the next 2 laps, which made them fly by in no time at all and before we knew it we had reached the halfway point. Brian took this as the signal to head off and went ahead, though he always remained within view. I took my time taking some caffeine and a salt tablet, and a gel to wash them down. I was still moving well at that point but was starting to feel the effort but managed to remain on pace even without putting too much into it.

Before the race I had set the target/expectation of finishing somewhere between 3:50 and 4 hours, without killing myself and without having to dig too deep. It seemed perfectly doable. Up to now I was running comfortably at a projected 3:58 time, give or take a little. I managed two more laps at that effort but as I got closer to the marathon point I was definitely starting to feel the effort and once things started to go downhill they went downhill rather quickly.

I guess the miles caught up with me. Not today's miles, the ones I had run during this and previous weeks. I was still capable of doing basic maths. For 4 hours every lap should take 24 minutes, so that's 2:48 after 7 laps, 3:12 after 8 and 3:36 after 9. Easy enough. I was about 90 seconds ahead of that after 7 laps / 35k but at that point things started to fall apart. I clearly wasn't the only one starting to feel the effort as I caught up to Brian rather quickly and a few of the other runners I passed must have been on the same lap as me (though it can be tricky to determine if you overtake or lap a runner at that point).

Having said that, others very clearly managed to make the best of the conditions. Serial 50k winner as well as reigning Irish marathon champion Gary O'Hanlon put on a great display. He had lapped me for the first time well before I had even finished my 3rd lap and a second time before lap 6 had finished. In fact, by the time he had finished he had lapped the entire field (!!!) before setting yet another new Irish record in 2:54:39. Mind-boggling! Also, Irish Olympian Caitriona Jennings lapped me at some point on the way to her own win, making it look very easy indeed. Very impressive to watch, and a definite advantage of a looped course.

Me, though, I was now in trouble. The 8th lap was definitely a hard one, and everyone in my vicinity could hear my ragged breathing. How much that was due to my exercised-induced asthma or me just having to crank up the effort to such an extend I'm not entirely sure. I also started to slow down, despite my best efforts. Going through the start/finish area I managed to snag a bottle of Lucozade ("you're a life saver!"), though it took me the entire lap to drink it in small sips. Lap 9 was slower again, tougher again, and I didn't even waste the energy to check my time at the marathon point, though it must have been around 3:21. Plenty of effort for a 3:21 - a few months ago 3:10 in Dublin had felt a lot easier. Anyway, the marathon time is utterly meaningless in a 50k and I still had 5 miles left, and that was the only thing I was focusing on.

Going through the finish once more Anto gave me a high 5 for the last lap, but I realised I had bled a lot of time and started to doubt if I would make it under 4, especially with the legs starting to cramp on the uphills, and the pace slowing as a direct consequence. Strictly speaking I should have eased off at that point and remembered that this was first and foremost a training run but that had gone completely out of my mind and all I could think of was trying to get under 4; easing up would have felt like giving up without a fight.

The last 2.5 laps I had pushed ever harder, now I started to concentrate on trying to relax instead, which seemed to work, and the effort seemed to ease without affecting the pace, and the legs stopped going into spasm. I should have tried that approach a lot earlier, I suppose. To be honest, I was pretty sure I had missed sub-4, and when John Griffin blew past me like I was standing still I guessed I must be moving a lot slower than it felt like. But I kept going, pushed up the last hill, turned the final corner and for some reason, despite being really short-sighted and not wearing my glasses, managed to read the race clock very clearly in the distance, showing 3:59:40. I better give it some wellie, I thought, and went into a sprint finish, blowing past a couple of runners, and made it by 3 seconds, which had me crossing the line laughing out loud at the exquisite timing, though the guy right behind me cut it even finer, by a mere 0.4 seconds (as long as they don't round it up, that is).

So, strictly speaking it was mission accomplished and I was happy enough. It was definitely a lot harder than I had it expected it to be, but that may be down to me not remembering the previous attempts properly (come to think of it, the last few laps were always tough). In retrospect I think wearing the heavier trail shoes was a mistake. While they provided great grip through even the muddiest parts I never saw anyone slip and I'm pretty sure I would have been a little bit faster in my lighter road shoes, maybe even comfier. The muscles felt fine, no soreness at all, just general weariness for the rest of the day as well as for my customary 5-mile recovery run the following morning (for which I had a little devil sitting on my shoulder incessantly whispering into my ear to go home instead).

I have run the Donadea 50k 4 times now, each time getting a little bit slower (older?) but still always finishing under 4 hours. One of those sequences is bound to break next time. Anyway, I can't wait for the next installment.

Special thanks must go to Don for the lift from and to Dublin and Karina for keeping us company, Olwyn, thanks for the cakes even though I wasn't a volunteer. And of course to Anto and his crew of helpers, we wouldn't have run a single step without you guys!
8 Feb
9.75 miles, 1:11:33, 7:20 pace, HR 147
9 Feb
9.65 miles, 1:17:37, 8:02 pace, HR 134
10 Feb
Donadea 50k, 3:59:57, 7:43 pace, HR 149
   Irish 50k champs, 29th place overall, 12th M40
11 Feb
5 miles, 45:42, 9:08 pace, HR 128

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Kerry At Its Best

I almost always run on my own. It’s not necessarily due to me being anti-social but more due to me running at funny times. Nevertheless, I do enjoy running with company, and on the weekend I had plenty.

Julio is a friend from Paraguay via Canada and has spent a few weeks in Ireland already for work purposes. He always wanted to see Kerry and finally the weather forecast made last weekend a promising one, all previous ones had been washouts. And boy, did the weather deliver.

I took him out on my usual Caragh Lake route on Saturday and he marvelled at the scenery, enough to insist we run there again, and next time with camera. I didn’t tell him that at the time but the really good stuff was yet to come. So, on Sunday we ran a loop around the lake. It meant he had to divert from his training schedule because there was no way he would be able to run marathon or half-marathon pace on those hills but it was well worth the potential wrath of his coach. The weather was nothing short of spectacular and the views suitably impressive. He even went back that afternoon by car to take some additional pictures.

For me it meant a few hours of running a good bit slower than usual, which for an ultrarunner can’t be that bad a thing. I do often wonder what the most appropriate pace for my training runs would be; after all, 24 hours race pace is significantly slower than even an exceptionally easy training run. I have tried running lots of miles at slow pace, twice, and both times it merely resulted in me not gaining proper fitness. So I need to run faster, and I only slow down right at the end of training to get used to the slower pace, once the fitness has been built up already. However, the occasional slow long run may well be beneficial. It sure made for an easy recovery – I have never felt as fresh after well over 2 hours of running as I did on Sunday.

On Monday, now back in Dublin, we got hit by yet another cold snap. I’m sure it didn’t impress our Canadian visitors but for the residents here it was the coldest we’ve felt in a while. Again, that’s fine, I can handle it and in fact I like the cold as long as it's dry. It's freezing cold rain and wind that I hate. The slippery footpaths can be an issue but so far I have gotten away with it.

The numbers have jumped up again to a new level. I am getting into territory that I haven’t seen in years, with the VDOT above 60 at times and I think there is still room for further improvement. I’m about to start racing again, not 5ks but long races like marathons or shorter ultras, and I’ll monitor how my legs will handle the load. I think they will do very well but let’s keep an eye on it.

All photos courtesy of Julio Castillo
3 Feb
9.45 miles, 1:22:18, 8:42 pace, HR 125
4 Feb
15 miles, 2:16:44, 9:06 pace, HR 126
5 Feb
10.6 miles, 1:25:23, 8:03 pace, HR 130
6 Feb
9.65 miles, 1:17:13, 8:00 pace, HR 139
7 Feb
9.7 miles, 1:14:26, 7:40 pace, HR 137

Friday, February 02, 2018

Evaluation Time

It’s Friday yet again. Usually people are desperately looking forward to that day, and under normal circumstances I’m no exception to that. But it also means I have only two weeks left at my present job and I haven’t been here long enough to be looking forward to ending it all, it never had the chance to reach the point where I’m desperate to be getting out of here. As much as I am excited about my soon-to-be new job, I am really sorry to be leaving this one behind. I would have liked to remain a bit longer but the other opportunity was just way too good to be missed, some sort of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Anyway, you didn’t come here to read my life story, at least not the side away from running (and if you did you will be leaving disappointed). For the most part I took it easy enough this week. I was a bit tired on Monday, partially because of Sunday’s long run but mostly because I had gotten to Dublin late on Sunday evening and simply didn’t get enough sleep, especially after that long journey. I do wonder if I would have been better off staying in bed and getting some more sleep but that’s just not the way I roll. If in doubt I always go for a run.

Having said that, I recovered soon enough. On Wednesday I did another double to and from work, which adds up to almost 20 miles for the day. I can tell that my legs are getting much stronger, those 2 runs seemed to take very little out of me when a few weeks ago the home run was always a bit of a struggle. Also, it was the last day of one of my colleagues, so they had 3 boxes of donuts for celebrations. Why is that relevant?

I am very disciplined in almost any part of life but my sweet tooth is a definite weakness that I can’t seem to shift. Leave me in a room with a box full of donuts and only one of us will emerge intact. The subsequent sugar rush fuelled my run home. Maybe that’s why I was a good bit faster than my usual pace which is when I’m running more or less on empty, though I’m sure the swirling wind was mostly on my back and helped as well.

The legs were okay the next morning but I still opted for a very, very, very easy pace, which must have helped because for Friday’s evaluation I was back in fighting form. My biggest issue was getting the HR up to 160, which was really hard work. However, once it got there it remained remarkably constant and I basically didn’t need the watch’s alarm at all. The figures came out as:

   6:37, 6:35, 6:45, 6:42 / 42 sec recovery to HR 130

which are very solid numbers and slightly better than last month. The recovery is a bit longer but it may be down entirely to a more precise measurement – I’m finally starting to get the hang of the watch again and all its buttons, even when out of breath after a sustained effort and the accompanying brain fog.

On the way home I went via the parcel motel and picked up 2 parcels and carried them home. One was much heavier than anticipated. Not sure how much that impacted on the HR or the pace but it was bound to have an effect – I sure was glad to be home from that particular run.

It’s gotten really cold again with temperatures very close to freezing point but a biting cold wind that makes it feel much colder. I don’t mind the cold at all – compared to where I grew up this doesn’t even qualify as winter but getting older sucks and my skin isn’t able to cope properly. It gets very dry and then develops little cuts, a few mm long, bleeding at times, which can be rather uncomfortable. My feet are particularly affected, they look like I had been walking on glass, barefoot. Yes, cream helps. No, as a bloke I keep forgetting to put it on.
29 Jan
10.25 miles, 1:24:27, 8:14 pace, HR 130
30 Jan
9.7 miles, 1:16:03, 7:50 pace, HR 137
31 Jan
am: 9.7 miles, 1:17:23, 7:58 pace, HR 139
pm: 9.67 miles, 1:13:15, 7:34 pace, HR 142
1 Feb
10.55 miles, 1:28:48, 8:25 pace, HR 131
2 Feb
9.75 miles, 1:16:11, 7:48 pace, HR 142
   incl. 4 miles eval @ HR 160 in 6:37, 6:35, 6:45, 6:42; 42 sec recovery to HR 130