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

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