Sunday, April 29, 2018

Mountains, Moving and Teenage Birthday Twins

So there was something funny happening with my HR during the recovery period after Rathdrum. Initially my HR was elevated, as would be expected straight after a marathon, especially a hilly one like that. Then I started to notice something curious: my resting HR, read straight after getting up first thing in the morning, had returned to its normal levels (about 42, give or take a beat or 2) but my running HR remained elevated. It did improve a bit, but at a much slower rate. I can't remember this happening before. I'm not worried, just curious. It is improving and will eventually return to its pre-race level.

VDOT chart fro April
Also, as can be seen in the VDOT chart, I did recovery very quickly from the Spartan Way 100k at the start of April but it took (takes) significantly longer to recover from the Rathdrum marathon, despite that being lass then half the distance, and despite the initial dip in numbers having been MUCH greater after the 100k (the pre-100k race levels had been about60). I guess that happens when you run a race before being recovered from the previous one, the recovery needs suddenly shoot up exponentially. There's a very important lesson here, one that I learned the hard way 2 years ago. At least I hope I've learned it - that graph clearly shows that I'm still vulnerable to the same thing happening again.

I took it rather easy at the start of the week but have started cranking up the mileage a little bit the last few days. I'm going to introduce a bit of faster running as well again but will monitor the numbers closely. I know from past experience that I can handle high mileage without problems but speedwork is much harder to handle and I need to be extra careful, which is why I always stop it for a few weeks after a race (which also means I don't do much of it).

The weekend was particularly stressful with us moving again, first taking our stuff from Cherrywood and moving it to our new house in Bray, and then driving to Kerry and taking more stuff from there, though the other family members will still be here for another couple of months. Oh, and the twins had their 17th birthday.

Not quite as cute as they used to be 17 years ago, though the cat makes up for that

Just how old does that make me feel?

Anyway, I made best use of the Kerry mountains nearby by running across the Windy Gap not just once but twice, on both days. I did take it easy - but that's a rather relative thing when running up a mountain.

I have always found that mountain running doesn't require much subsequent recovery, assuming you're fit enough to start with so that the downhills don't trash your quads. That makes it well suited for runs when you're still recovering from a previous run but still want to do some work on the legs. Oh, and I do love the mere fact that I am able to run up a mountain. I kinda sounds cool.
24 Apr
9.55 miles, 1:16:18, 7:59 pace, HR 140
25 Apr
am: 6.82 miles, 55:02, 8:04 pace, HR 144, very hilly
pm: 7.1 miles, 54:20, 7:39 pace, HR 140
26 Apr
10.5 miles, 1:19:47, 7:35 pace, HR 142
27 Apr
10.15 miles, 1:23:24, 8:13 pace, HR 144, with a few faster miles in the middle
28 Apr
12.15 miles, 1:57:54, 9:42 pace, HR 136, Windy Gap x 2
29 Apr
12.15 miles, 1:58:54, 9:47 pace, HR 138, Windy Gap x 2

Monday, April 23, 2018

Still Recovery

All week most of my body has felt really good and raring to go but the hamstrings were having none of it. The difference between that one muscle group and the rest really surprised me. On the other hand, the calves were perfectly fine despite them being the one part that was cramping during the marathon.

A recent observation I have made during the recovery period is that recovery seems to plateau after a while if I keep the mileage low; once I decide to risk it and crank it up to 7-8 miles a day, things start to improve again.

I know this is only observational data and all made on a sample size of 1, and therefore far from a scientific study, but it looks like total rest is actually a bad recovery option, and doing a little bit of exercise isn't optimal either. There is a certain amount of volume that works better - however, I am in no doubt that doing a little bit less than optimal is a lot better than doing too much, so caution is definitely still on the cards.

The HR data during that week was interesting as well. My resting HR had returned to normal values (low 40s in my case) within a few days but the HR during my runs was still elevated and is only just now starting to come back to pre-marathon levels. However, about 10 days after the marathon things are just about returning to normal. They're not quite there yet, but getting close.

The weekend was full on once more, with yet another trip to Kerry, and this time in a big van, returning laden with furniture for our new house. However, me and offspring #1 will be doing the move in stages and won't be moving in for another week - and the rest of the family will only follow at the end of June. Despite the heavy lifting, literally for once, I still managed to get my weekend runs done. Saturday was a glorious day and I could not help but be inspired by the Caragh Lake scenery - I will really miss this! On Sunday I headed up to Windy Gap, though the hamstrings were less than thrilled by the workload and I ended up running less than originally planned. However, that run seems to have persuaded them to start working again, because all of a sudden they feel a lot better.
19 Apr
am: 5.5 miles, 45:31, 8:16 pace, HR 140
pm: 5.5 miles, 43:56, 7:56 pace, HR 139
20 Apr
8.6 miles, 1:11:28, 8:18 pace, HR 133
21 Apr
10 miles, 1:18:06, 7:48 pace, HR 141
22 Apr
am: 10.7 miles, 1:36:24, 9:00 pace, HR 142, Windy Gap
pm: 3.1 miles, 24:00, 7:44 pace, HR 137
23 Apr
8.55 miles, 1:11:03, 8:18 pace, HR 132

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Celebrating Victory

Two things happened the last few days that cheered me up no end.

I have been a City fan ever since watching my first football game in England, all the way back in 1987, and it just happened to be at Maine Road where the boys in blue emerged victoriously against the might of Plymouth Argyle, coming back from behind in the last 10 minutes and Imre Varadi scoring the winner with the last kick of the game. I can still remember it like yesterday. I still can't believe that I used to watch them play the likes of Gillingham, Colchester and Oxford and now they are one of the best team in Europe (funny what a billion quid can do). Of course, winning the Premier League didn't come as much of a surprise, it has basically been on the cards since November.

I have been a fan of Yuki Kawauchi ever since his incredibly gutsy performance in the 2011 Tokyo marathon, where he had come third after an amazing finish,where he really had left it all behind in the last 10k. He has been a regular feature in running circles ever since, partly because of his highly unusual setup as an elite runner with a full-time desk job, and partly because of his incredible racing schedule. However, never in my life would I have expected him to actually win a major marathon but of course that is exactly what happened on Monday, and again it was an incredibly gutsy performance, first by keeping the pace high in the early miles and then by coming from behind once more to completely smash it. How could you possibly not be a massive fan?

As for myself, I started the same recovery protocol as ever, running 30-40 minutes at a very easy effort for a few days and then gradually increasing the mileage after a few days when I feel ready. The day immediately after the marathon pretty much sucked, as it always does, but the next day was already a lot better. There seems to be a pattern evolving in that I gradually improve but day 4 or 5 after the race is often another tough one, but once I push through that things start to improve rapidly.

I ran home from work on Tuesday evening, and the legs really didn't like it. The fierce headwind didn't help and indeed may have been somewhat responsible for that, but even as I started out I knew this wasn't going to be all fun and games. However, after a few miles the legs suddenly started to loosen up completely, so much so that I did an extra celebratory loop around Kilbogget Park.

My time in Cherrywood is quickly coming to an end. Shea's leaving cert exams are already starting, and once that is done they will finally move up here. Since our two bedroom apartment won't hold them all, we are on the move again, a bit further out once more because until I win the lottery I can't afford a house around here. I won't miss the long journey to and from Kerry almost every weekend, I can assure you. I will, however, miss running along Caragh Lake. It is a stunningly beautiful area and every single step I could take there was a privilege. However, circumstance dictate to move on, and so I did.
16 Apr
4.6 miles, 37:08, 8:04 pace, HR 135
17 Apr
4.5 miles, 38:06, 8:24 pace, HR 138
18 Apr
7.75 miles, 1:01:04, 7:57 pace, HR 143

Sunday, April 15, 2018


I always knew I was cutting it a bit fine with a marathon only 13 days after a 100k but I really wanted to squeeze in 1 more marathon before the Lakes of Killarney marathon in May and all the other weekends just did not suit. I was lucky enough to actually have a fairly local option this weekend so off to Rathdrum I went, tired legs or not.

Recovery from the 100k had gone pretty well, considering it had been a 100k, though of course not as well as I'd have liked but that's just me being greedy. The hamstrings were still very much feeling the effort at the start of the week but then things improved rapidly and on Saturday morning I felt reasonably good. I resolved to just get on with things as always, and with this loop course straying never more than a mile from the start I had the option of pulling out at any time.

It was a run in aid of Temple Street Children's Hospital and with their 5-mile lap course they offered all the options from 5 miles upwards, with the full marathon completing a short 1.2 mile loop before doing the standard loops. They also offered the option for an early marathon start. Usually that's meant primarily for the slower runners but the email from the organisers contained the line "Ideally it would be great if all marathoners started at 8.00 a.m.", so I showed up early. It suited me just fine; it was only a 45 minute drive from Cherrywood and I still didn't have to get up particularly early.

The weather forecast for Saturday had been pretty dire all week but just as race day approached they changed their minds and the rain would arrive later. Great! This would have been an interesting mud bath otherwise. The loop consisted of 3 separate mini-loops, one upper loop with a road section, a smaller middle loop past the car park and a lower loop through the forest.

(you can skip the next paragraph if you want, but I want to explain the setup):
I had run here before, 3 years ago, and found 2 serious issues with that setup: 1) the loop was short according to my GPS; they claimed the GPS didn't work properly in the forest (ok, I know that this is possible) and 2) the layout of the loop was so confusing that almost everyone took at least one wrong turn at some point, myself included. The main problem was one junction that you approached 3 times per loop (let's call it the 3-junction), the first time you have to go left, the second time, coming the other way, you go straight, and the third time, coming from the same direction as on your first pass, you have to go straight. Yes, let me point that out again: you approach the same junction from the same direction, but depending on where you are in the loop you have to go either left or straight. It meant the marshals can't just point you in the right direction, they had to either remember when they last saw you or watch out and see if you had approached the previous junction from uphill or downhill and direct you accordingly. Last time they didn't even describe the loop; this year they did, but it's so complex that it's virtually impossible to remember it all, though I appreciate the effort. Anyway, this year they tried to solve that problem by placing a line of cones along the path to create 2 separate lanes, which was an ingenious solution, even though it made for a very narrow path on a stretch where runners approach from both directions. However, it made that particular junction so much easier to navigate, they clearly had put some thought into it and come up with a great idea. It didn't solve the problem for good but it sure made it a lot easier to handle. To be honest, I had hoped that they would have designed an entirely new course since my last visit but those hopes had been dashed.

(ok, read on from here. I'll finally get to the actual race)
It wasn't the most competitive field ever assembled, and I found myself near the front right from the start. I took it relatively easy, for two reasons: one, I hadn't forgotten that I had a 100k in the legs and two, I preferred to follow the runner in front through that maze-like course layout rather than lead it myself. In fact, when I did go out in front by a step or two I promptly took a wrong turn coming out of the park gates but was thankfully immediately called back by the runner behind me and no harm was done. I also took it very easy on the first few climbs, allowing myself to fall back a few steps, to make sure I wouldn't wear myself out too early. Eventually I started to remember the course from last time and the legs loosened up and gained pace without me noticing and I found myself out in front, gradually pulling away.

The setting is absolutely stunning with a gorgeous forest park, though you do pay the price for that in form of some serious amount of elevation change on each loop. And it is steeped in Irish history, with us running past Avondale house twice per loop, and some monuments dotted around. Just wow!

Anyway, I wasn't in race mode and just ticking along but at the out-and-back road section I could see that I was steadily increasing my lead. I guess that meant that I was kind of winning the race, though I had seen Barry and Liam getting ready for the 9 o'clock start and I was pretty sure that at least one of them would be setting a faster time than me today. However, if I just looked at the 8 o'clock start as a separate race, I was now the race leader. And don't get me wrong. I wasn't racing this, it was very much a training run, but leading a race is always a nice feeling. It doesn't happen very often and my attitude was that I may as well enjoy it and not care about little details such as not actually winning when taking the 2 starts into account, or the fact that none of the proper fast guys had showed up.

Anyway, the first lap passed by so quickly I could have blinked and missed it. Before I knew it I was already on lap 2. Lap 2 wasn't much different, except that the 9 o'clock starters had joined the fun and now you were constantly passing people coming from all kinds of directions. The legs still felt very fresh, which was good, and once again the miles just flew by almost unnoticed and before I knew it I was on lap 3.

Happy Out. Photo by Vincent Guthrie
By now I could see that there was a discrepancy between the mile signs and what the watch said. Remembering the last time here I wasn't surprised by that fact, though I was surprised by just how much difference there was. But I didn't spend any time worrying about that and just got on with it. As I came back from the middle part of the loop Barry came barrelling down the other way, and as we got close he asked if he was going the right way, which was tricky to answer because it totally depended on what part of the loop he was on. He thought he had been misdirected at the 3-junction, which must have been enough to put doubt/confusion into my mind because I started to think that may indeed have been the case, though he went running down the same direction in the end. However, because of that confusion now in my mind, I did something a few minutes later that kept hounding me for the entire rest of the race: when I saw Liam approaching I told him to turn left at the 3-junction. It was only then that my brain slowly started to switch on again and I eventually realised that I had just sent him the wrong way! I shouted back to run straight instead but I think he didn't hear me and I also think he indeed took a wrong turn there. And it was my fault entirely! (update: Liam later told me he didn't take a wrong turn)

Back at my own race, the hamstrings eventually let me know that they just remembered the 100k from less than 2 weeks ago (I might have mentioned that already) and asked me to please take it easy, so I eased off the effort on the climbs, and there were many of those, but was still able to go at a good clip on then even or downhill stretches. That got me through lap 3 still in good shape, helped by my one bottle of sports drink that I had prepared beforehand. That was my only caloric intake today, the rest was just water handed out by Vincent. I had a gel in my pocket but I ended up bringing that back home.

At some stage my glasses started to dig into the skin of my nose and it started to bleed quite a bit. I had meant to put a tape on the spot but completely forgot. It didn't hurt but made for a few funny looks, as much as I tried to rub off all the blood running down my face.

Still happy, late in the game. Photo by Vincent Guthrie
Halfway though lap 4 the calves started to act up, and once they did the situation deteriorated rapidly. I have suffered from calf cramps on many marathons, ruining far too many otherwise good races along the way, but lately they had behaved themselves. But today they too remembered the 100k, which gives you an insight into what causes cramping, at least in my case, and it has nothing to do with dehydration or magnesium. The plus side of battling that problem for many years is that I have tons of experience in handling it and got quite good at nursing the legs along with just the odd spasm but avoiding a full-on iron clasp. One thing is to take a salt tablet, which may or may not help, depending on who you ask, but it definitely doesn't do any harm. I also had some concoction called HotShot, which is a very spicy drink working on a neuro-muscular basis and surprisingly effective. However, the single most important way of managing cramping calves is 1) to run as relaxed as possible and 2) to slow down. That's not something I particularly wanted to do, especially since my energy levels were still full on and could have sustained a much faster effort, but I definitely wanted to avoid a cramp and for the next 5 miles I was crawling up all inclines at a snail's pace. However, on the out-and-back section early on lap 5, with less than 4 miles left in the race, I could see that despite my issues I had once again increased my lead and as long as I kept running until the end I was going to finish first, and yes, that was still ignoring Barry and at least one other quick runner from the later start.

That went on for a while and I just about managed to keep going. Then, with maybe 2 miles left, all of a sudden I realised that my calves felt perfectly fine again. That was remarkable! I suspect that it was the HotShot finally kicking in, or it may have been the purely psychological effect of knowing that the end was near, but the legs were rock solid once again, just like that. I didn't trust the situation entirely and didn't quite get back to previous effort levels but appreciated the fact that I could run that last mile of climbing without painful spasms shooting through my lower legs. And so I finished feeling pretty happy, with a time of 3:13:53 on the clock, and (silently) celebrated victory. However, I could not ignore the fact that the watch displayed a mere 24.9 miles.

Anyway, the first call was the little kitchen and one cup of tea and several pieces of cake later I felt perfectly human again. There were a few ladies in there who I had seen numerous times out on the course, and they gave me some really nice compliments. I'm not sure I buy the fact that I'm a very elegant runner but the compliment was very much appreciated anyway, so thank you. And then a few more runners finished the marathon as well and we chatted along for a while, until I eventually decided to call it a day and head back home.

As a day of running I had a lot of fun, not because I had (kind of) come first but because it is such a stunning setting, you can't help but love it. The volunteers were brilliant and their help much appreciated, we wouldn't get to run without them. The weather mostly held up as well, and as a fun day out it gets a total 10/10.

However, and I guess they won't appreciate me saying so but I'll say it anyway. The course is short. I accept the fact that I can't prove it. GPS signals are not accurate enough for a proper measurement and the signal can indeed get thrown off by tree coverage. But I have never seen such a difference between the GPS and the markers, not even close, which is not a good sign. But if that were the only indicator I would accept that the course may still be correctly measured. However, and that's a much better indicator, I know the effort level required to run a 3:13 marathon, and on such a brutally hilly course with almost 2000 feet of combined climbing it would probably be closer to a sub-3:10 road marathon effort. And I did not put in that kind of effort. It was maybe a 3:20 effort, and I don't think I have suddenly become so fit that my internal gauge would be off by so much. My opinion is that the course is over a mile short, and you can probably add about 10 minutes to my time to get a better reflection of what my actual marathon time would have been like. Like I said, I can't prove that, but that's what I firmly believe.

I did get a few more miles in later that day, after dropping off my rental car and running home. So at least I made up the missing distance, somewhat.
13 Apr
5.55 miles, 44:45, 8:03 pace, HR 139
14 Apr
am: Rathdrum marathon, 3:13:53, HR 152
pm: 3 miles, 25:04, 8:21 pace, HR 139
15 Apr
4.4 miles, 39:27, 8:57 pace, HR 132

Thursday, April 12, 2018

RISC And Recovery

Let's talk recovery first. After all, after running a 100k, it's rather important.

Despite me and my legs feeling surprisingly good after the 100k, recovery wasn't entirely straightforward. Or maybe I was setting unreasonable expectations; after all, that was a race longer than the distance most people will ever run, and it's expected to take its toll. Running short, slow recover runs, as per my usual recovery protocol, initially showed some great progress; after 3 days I was able to run properly again. However, after that is seemed to stall somewhat. I kept the daily 4-5 miles going for the rest of the week, and on the weekend finally increased it again, despite the hamstrings still complaining at every run, certainly for the first few miles.

However, and counter-intuitively, running longer seemed to do the trick and within 2 days I felt almost back to normal. The hamstrings are certainly much happier now and my pace has more or less come back to the point where 8-minute miles feel easy and comfortable. That's good, because the next marathon is just around the corner. Obviously it's going to be another training run and I have every intention of taking it easy, but it's still good to go into it without feeling destroyed even before the start.

And that brings me to the RISC part. I agreed to take part into a study at DCU, looking into running injuries. Thursday morning was my appointment. They took A LOT of measurements, from the length of my legs and movement angles of my knees to jump strength, box jump measurements and others, and then it was on the treadmill for 20 minutes, very easy at first but eventually cranking it up all the way to 16 kph (6-minute miles), which maxed out the treadmill. Actually, that felt easier than expected, I'm pretty sure I would have had a much harder time on a road or track at that pace, though it sure started to feel rather hard after a few minutes. However, it was over before it got too hard.

that's what it looked like, though that's not actually me
They had attached plenty of sensors to me, which enabled them to track my movement patterns for further analysis. Looking at it afterwards I could see that my left leg seems to be almost straight when landing while the right legs looks better. However, I tend to get niggles in the right leg, which is a bit surprising, judging by what I saw on the screen. Anyway, let's hope I won't need to follow up with them in the next 12 months; if I do it means I got injured again and they need to assess it.

Oh, and my Suunto watch all of a sudden from today on seems to refuse to connect to my computer. It still charges and I can still get the numbers off the watch but right now I can't upload the GPS data into the likes of strava, which is more than a bit annoying. I have no idea if it's the watch, the cable or the computer that decided to throw a wobbly, and it's hard to trouble-shoot if there is no feedback whatsoever. If anyone has an idea what's going on, I'd appreciate your input. (update: it seems to be my laptop's USB port, and I managed to connect the watch on Friday morning)
8 Apr
8.4 miles, 1:06:04, 7:51 pace, HR 145
9 Apr
8.4 miles, 1:10:48, 8:25 pace, HR 131
10 Apr
8.8 miles, 1:14:21, 8:26 pace, HR 129
11 Apr
9.55 miles, 1:16:39, 8:01 pace, HR 139
12 Apr
am: 2.5 miles, 20:00, treadmill at DCU RISC study
pm: 5.55 miles, 41:20, 7:26 pace, HR 140

Saturday, April 07, 2018


Well, no shit Sherlock, after a big race comes a big recovery. If you have been reading this blog before you know my standard recovery protocol by now. It works very well, so why change it. It's based on the theory that active recovery is better than full rest. Actually, it's not really based on any theory, I just stumbled my way through trial and error a few years ago as I experimented a bit and this particular practise emerged as a clear winner. It wasn't until later that I found out about coaches or scientists who talked about active recovery and it perfectly matched what I was doing already.

Anyway, it means no matter how tired and achy your legs are the day after a race, you go out and run, at a very very easy effort for 30, 40, maybe 45 minutes. The day after a long race this is well and truly going to suck, certainly at the beginning, but after 2, 3, maybe 4 miles you can feel your legs loosening up and getting better. The next day will suck a bit less and after a while you start to to feel reasonably good again and can pick up training once more.

"What are you going to do on Monday?" asked Niamh before the 100k. "Probably lie on the bed and feel sorry for myself". Actually, it turned out I felt reasonably good. The run that morning sucked but afterwards I was fine, able to do a big weekly shop and do the dishes and wash some clothes and go out for a walk and a few other things that I expected I'd forgo for a day of pain and misery. I didn't even realise it at first but I habitually walked down the 3 flights of stairs from the apartment instead of taking the lift and my quads didn't even hurt a bit - that came as a major surprise, once I realised what I was doing.

I might have gotten slower with old age but it looks like I have become more resilient in the process. That's not a bad thing.

Having said that, while the legs were not as damaged as expected, recovery was still slow. Every day was a little bit better than the one before but all week the hamstrings kept feeling heavy and stiff, so I kept my little recovery runs going for longer than usual. It's only now, a week later, that I'm finally starting to feel like a runner again and ready to do a bit more.

3 Apr
4.15 miles, 42:46, 10:18 pace, HR 117 (!!)
4 Apr
4.5 miles, 39:37, 8:48 pace, HR 123
5 Apr
am: 4.6 miles, 37:58, 8:15 pace, HR 135
pm: 2.15 miles, 16:24, 7:37 pace, HR 128 (downhill)
6 Apr
4.5 miles, 38:05, 8:27 pace, HR 127
7 Apr
4.5 miles, 36:22, 8:04 pace, HR 131

Monday, April 02, 2018

April Fools

"Are you here for the sword?"

Paddy's question referenced the winner's prize today, a beautiful full-sized hand-crafted sword made by Cyril. "Alex O'Shea is here. The rest of us don't have to worry about the sword". That summed up the situation. I was here to do a training run. A very long training run, the longest of my build-up, but a training run nevertheless. Alex's presence meant I would not have to stress about potentially trying to win and could just pace myself sensibly instead. At least that's the theory, it doesn't always work out like that.

Anyway, the most stressful part of the day was already behind me, namely finding the start somewhere in the back end of Kildare in complete darkness, but I had managed that in good time. Then we all got ready, had Anto deliver his race directions, including "there's a sign at mile 8 saying towpath closed. Ignore that.", mixed with his usual mixture of jokes and abuse.

And at 7am, just as it started getting bright, we were off. Alex stormed away right from the start to disappear behind the horizon in next to no time. 2 lads went past me at a fairly ambitious pace and then it was me. For the next 2, 3, maybe 4 miles I kept hearing voices chatting behind me but they eventually faded away. By that time Alex was a barely noticeable orange dot at the horizon and the other 2 lads were quite a distance ahead of me. At some point, when going through a turnstile, I caught a glimpse of the road behind me for what looked like a mile and there was nobody to be seen. I guess I didn't have to worry too much about being chased.

Directions were simple enough. Follow the Grand Canal from Ollie's and Charlotte's Spartan Way house for about 30 miles until you hit the turnaround point, keeping the canal 2 feet to your left. Then run back, keeping it 2 feet to your right. It really was as idiot-proof as that; it even saved Anto from having to signpost the course. However, I did disagree with his assessment that the surface was "85% road, 10% grass, 5% shit", and more like "50% road, 40% grass and 10% muck". Especially for the first 15 miles I remember preciously few parts of proper road and kept slipping on the wet grass and stumbling on the stones. In fact, the 2 or 3 miles of "shit" weren't really any worse than much of what we had already covered.

The checkpoints were 10 miles apart, which made me think about the best strategy. Most runners had their backpacks with them, and for a while I did consider that as well. However, water is heavy and carrying heavy load slows you down and makes you tired. Besides, I hate carrying stuff, so I just put my phone (the only compulsory item) into a little fanny pack together with a couple of gels and some caffeine/salt/paracetamol tablets (the last ones with the intention of not taking them, though I didn't see that through in the end), with a small muesli bar as a late addition, and resolved to drink at each aid station, and if I really was too thirsty I'd start carrying a water bottle from one of the aid stations.

Coming into CP1
I caught up with the 2 lads at the first aid station, and since I spent a lot less time in there than they did I was right on their heels as we left, though I wasted that time again to reply to some "Happy Easter" messages to the family back home in Austria when the phone started buzzing. I usually hate people posting selfies on FB during a race (it's race, FFS), but in this situation I deliberately tried to remind myself to treat this as a training run and not a race. That initially restored the gap to the lads again but once we hit proper road surface as we got close to Daingean (what? A Dingle in Offaly?) either I inadvertently sped up or they slowed down because by mile 17 I passed them and from then on was in second place.

There were about 12 miles of almost uninterrupted road surface, which initially felt hard on the legs after all the soft grass, but I quickly got used to it and relished the feeling of being able to stride out properly. Yes, I am very much a road runner. I got to CP2 and had a sports drink as well as a chocolate bar, before heading off towards Tullamore, where we passed the marathon distance. I was really pleased with how great the legs felt at that time, until I realised that taking on the carbs from the sports drink and the chocolate was probably responsible for that. There were 2 road crossing in Tullamore but I got through them without having to stop.

I got to some rougher surface again and at about 28 miles saw an orange top approaching rapidly, which was of course Alex on the return journey. This would have been my one chance of taking race victory by attacking him unawares, but instead we gave each other a high five and went our respective ways again. The turnaround point arrived sooner than expected with "only" 30 miles on the watch. A quick drink, some banter with Anto, another selfie, and off I was.

At that point I remembered the weather forecast. It had been cold but completely wind still at the start. However, the remnants of the "Beast from the East" were predicted to visit us once again, which meant an increasingly strong wind coming from the East - oh shit! Basically, no or next to no tailwind on the way out and more and more headwind on the way back. Lovely. There was also some forecast of rain in the afternoon. I really hoped to get through the mucky bit 8-11 miles from the finish before that would arrive.

Anyway, I straight away noticed the breeze blowing right into my face though it wasn't too bad just yet. I kept going for maybe 10 minutes before encountering the first runner heading out towards CP3 and for the next few miles it was a steady stream of friendly faces with a common purpose, plenty of hellos, high fives and best wishes, which made the miles fly by and the wind not particularly noticeable. Shortly after Tullamore, just as it got quiet again, another, unexpected friendly face appeared in the form of Jack Healy, who helped out with an extra support stop and encouraging words. Thanks mate!

Off I went again, and eventually I started to notice the wind properly.

I don't usually run with music. Never in training. I prefer to listen to my body and go through the signal it sends. Music just distracts from that. However, once you run for long enough there comes the point where I prefer not to listen to those signals any more because they're starting to tell me things I'd prefer not to notice, and as I got close to the 40 mile mark I reached that point and I took out my tiny, old, very rarely used mp3 player and tried to drown out the signs of ever increasing fatigue with some good old-fashioned hard rock.

I was still in reasonable shape when I reached CP4 (same as CP2, of course) and didn't spend much time there, just another drink, and put a chocolate bar into my bag as an emergency supply for later. They had some pot noodles there but my stomach revolted at the mere thought of it and anyway, I don't think they would have contained a lot of calories. Some savoury food would have been good; maybe I should suggest to Anto to offer some boiled potatoes there next time, my own special secret for ultra running.

Soon after leaving CP4 I really started to notice the headwind and the miles on the watch ticked by at an every decreasing rate. I still held it together somewhat until I got to Daingean again but once I hit the grass again the wheels really started to come off and I stumbled from step to step again rather than run.

Actually, in some ways I was very pleased with how the legs managed to cope. There was not one muscle that was particularly sore, nothing where I could have pointed to and said "this hurts", and there was no sign of cramping. However, I was undeniably absolutely knackered.

Obviously, this didn't come as a complete surprise. I know I was treating this as a training run but once you hit a certain distance you reach the point where just moving forward required 100% effort, and the idea of taking it easy because it's not a goal race becomes meaningless.

In an ultra you will always have some ups and downs. Sometimes they last, sometimes they come and go quickly. It's how you deal with the inevitable lows that defines your race. As always, I dealt with it the only way I know: I put my head down and kept going. Left foot, right foot, repeat.

The landscape did not help. It's completely flat along the canal (well, duh!) and rarely are there any landmarks you can look forward to. Instead you tend to be able to look ahead for miles and see nothing but a pretty much featureless strip of water and a path either side of it. There will be a bend in the canal at some point and so you run for ages to reach it, only to be greeted by the next stretch of nothingness. And if you let the negativity get to you, you're in trouble.

Approaching CP5
Eventually I got to mile 50 and the final CP. "I need a chair and a coke", and both very provided immediately. I also took a paracetamol here, all good intentions not to take them having long evaporated. They also gave me a fruit bar, which I wasn't sure if my stomach could handle it, but it seemed rude to say no and my stomach did manage. I didn't stay long and left as quickly as I could. I wanted to get this over and done with.

As exhausted as I was, I was thankful to hit the mucky bit before the rain had set in, which was a definite plus. In fact, both the mucky miles as well as the many mile of grass seemed to provide much better grip now than they had on the way out. Unlike on the outward journey I didn't constantly feel like I was slipping all the time and seemed to find good traction all the way. I think the course had dried out a bit in the intervening hours. However, the headwind was now reaching the point where it could be described as "brutal". For a few more miles I was still running every step because walking would have been just as painful but somewhere around mile 55 I did have a few walk breaks, which I think was merely psychological because physically I was actually still feeling surprisingly good with the muscles all in good shape. Just exhausted, that's all.

I did curse Anto's name a couple of times, not sure if loudly or quietly. But mostly I did curse the wind. At some point, when I saw the gorse beside me swaying wildly, which really drove home the fact just how windy it was at the time, I started to scream out loudly in frustration at having to keep running right into the gale, but the wind was entirely unimpressed. I was tempted to just lie down in the grass but that would still have hurt just as much and would have had the distinctive disadvantage of not getting any closer to the finish.

Eventually I remembered that chocolate bar I had taken at CP4 and ate it. My stomach was less than thrilled at the idea of even more sugar and I think any more and it would have all come up again but as it turned out it was the exact right thing to do at the time. Within 2 minutes I was running again and within half a mile I was running faster than at any point in the last 15 miles, headwind be damned (which, admittedly, still wasn't very fast in objective terms). After almost 5 miles of nothing but empty landscape ever since passing Edenderry I finally saw some buildings again, and when I got closer there was a welcoming committee, which was fantastic to see and gave me a big lift. Thank you! There was only maybe half a mile to go, which flew by quickly, and then I was done.

Finally done!

The time was a rather modest 9:34:04, exactly an hour slower than my PB. How much of that is due to the dodgy surface, the wind and a lack of fitness is a question I'm not entirely sure about; however, the main purpose of that run was to build exactly that kind of endurance.

There was a BBQ going on, provided by our fantastic hosts Ollie and Charlotte, and the burger I ate right after finishing was probably the best thing I've ever tasted. Alex was of course long finished, recovered and happy out, and for the next couple of hours gradually more and more runners joined us as they finished. I stayed until about 7 o'clock, happy to have done the race but equally happy to be finished.

Thanks to Anto for putting on yet another great race, to Cyril for crafting a fantastic, unique trophy, and of course all the volunteers who spent all of Easter Sunday looking after a bunch of April Fools.

I never ate my muesli bar.

Courtesy of Sean Cassin

28 Mar
4.1 miles, 35:58, 8:46 pace, HR 121
29 Mar
4.1 miles, 31:11, 8:05 pace, HR 131
30 Mar
4.15 miles, 34:17, 8:15 pace, HR 128
31 Mar
4.25 miles, 36:03, 8:28 pace, HR 130
1 Apr
Spartan's Way 100k, 60+ miles, 9:34:04, 9:33 pace, HR 135
   2nd place
2 Apr
4.15 miles, 43:48, 10:31 pace, HR 121