Monday, May 28, 2018

My Dalmatian Run

I have started marathons on already tired legs before - when doing back-to-back marathons, or several in a row. Saturday, as a single run on pre-fatigued, was a new one. The fact that it was going to be an off-road race added to the situation; I had no idea how the legs would react to the long, steep climbs and the uneven running surface (something I generally hate). I wasn't worried as such. More curious how this would play out.

"You might win this one". Mo's comment, flattering as it was, was definitely wide off the mark. I had no intentions of racing this one, and even if I had I very much doubt I'd have been anywhere near the top. Probably not even when I had been at my best, 4 or 5 years ago, and definitely not now. But thanks for the ego boost all the same!

I had arrived in Ballyvaughan at 8:15, which should have been plenty of time to easily get ready in time for the 9 o'clock start, but after chatting to some friends, picking up the number, chatting some more, getting ready, chatting to the president (Dave Brady, that is) and remembering very late to put a plaster on my nose and going back to the car to retrieve it, I had cut it mightily fine and arrived at the start line at 8:58. Ah well, still on time, isn't it?

I noticed the tired legs from step 1, I could not fail to do so. Somehow I still managed to start a little bit too fast, almost 7:30 pace on a slight uphill; maybe Mo's words had worked their way into my subconscious, even though I perfectly knew I wasn't going to finish near the top. However, once we hit the first trail section, after 4 initial road miles, things changed very quickly. I immediately moved backwards in the field at quite some rate, though at that point that still included the half-marathon runners. The rough surface really didn't suit me and took some time getting used to. About a mile into that section I went over my ankle, which subsequently hurt for a while, but thankfully no damage was done and it all subsided.

Before the start I'd had a quick discussion with Karina on what shoes to wear. I had brought along roads shoes as well as trail runners, so I'd be able to make a late decision. But it had been dry almost all week and I remembered back to February in Donadea when I wore trail runners and afterwards felt it had been the wrong choice, so I went with the road runners (Karina opted for trail).

That trail section lasted for another 4 miles, first a long, steep climb and then a section at the top that would have been extremely muddy had it been raining, but thankfully we had avoided that. It was also quite windy up there. I had lost maybe 10 places, including 3 to female runners - not that that particularly bothered me, but the sight of Deirdre Lynn floating past me effortlessly at some point in a race is starting to become a little bit too familiar.

Once we made it back to the road section for the downhill part things changed again. I started to charge down that hill at pace and made up a fair few places, until a couple of miles later my brain started to kick in, wondering if it really was such a great idea to hammer a downhill section so hard in the first half of a race, especially for someone whose legs weren't in great shape to start with. So I dialled it back a bit , just to err on the side of caution - and since this was first and foremost a training run it was definitely the right decision. Oh, and I did manage to look around me and soak up the scenery - wow! What a stunning setting!

As soon as the road bottomed out we went straight into the next climb, and that one was a real bitch. Very steep, very uneven, very tough. Most people I saw actually walked it, at least in parts, though I was a) too stubborn and b) slightly worried I wouldn't be able to start running again once I got into a walking rhythm, so I ran. I passed a few more runners, not that it really mattered, and got to the halfway point in surprisingly good shape and even better spirit. At some point I started to wonder how much running I had been doing this week and started adding it up. 59 miles so far this week, plus well over 16 last Sunday, plus the 26 today - wow, well over 100 miles in 7 days, and that included a 5k race at full tilt. Actually, I was mostly surprised I was still able to do the maths at that point. I sometimes have troubles counting past 2 in a race.

Then followed a very, very long gradual descend, thankfully on road, winding its way down the mountain. Once again the scenery was spectacular, with the Atlantic and Connemara further in the background and the Burren all around us. The gradual downhill gradient made the miles just fly by, which was good because now the fatigue started to add up and become a factor.

After criss-crossing the countryside for 16 miles I could not have told you if we would have to turn left or right to head back towards Ballyvaughan but thankfully the markings were absolutely immaculate with really big signs that you could not possibly miss. The Ballyvaughan Fanore Walking Club could teach quite a few running clubs how to organise a race!

On the Green Road, the most benign surface of the day, around mile 19.
Photo by Andreas Riemenschneider
The beach section was actually the only flat bit of the entire race (apart form maybe the last quarter of a mile) but it was also the roughest footing, so no chance of a breather or making up some time. Eventually we made it back to the road for a small bit and then onto the next trail section, the third and final big climb. The footing here was actually much better than on the other climbs; someone called it the Green Road, which was apt, with its rather smooth grass to run on. There were still a few rough bits but in general the only problem were the tired legs.

Somewhere close to the 20 mile point we either rounded a bend or went over some hill (I can't remember) and the view opened up. It was absolutely stunning, a truly breathtaking sight, and I'm not even referring to the fact that we were climbing yet another big hill. Wow! Just wow! Worth the entire race alone. However, I did not mingle and carried on, chasing after the guys in front.

I didn't lose any more places on that section but I lost a fair amount of distance to the guys right ahead of me, until it got to the point where I could no longer see them. Never mind, the signposting kept up its top notch standard. The footing got rather rough again, and by now I was sufficiently tired to not lift the legs properly any more, which led to a few incidents of stumbling over a stone, which could have ended ugly but thankfully I managed to avoid a face plant on each occasion.

The views remained spectacular, with the Atlantic well below us on the left and the road almost as far below. Eventually, at the 22 mile point, we turned left and reached a long, steep field where we dropped down all the way to the road. It was one of those sections where a proper hill runner can spin the legs and drop down at world-record pace without any real danger, but a road runner like myself ends up running down slowly and awkwardly and without any hope of making up some of the time lost at the climb.

However, once we reached the road I was back in my element. Actually, at first the legs needed a bit of time to remember what road running was like, and then I felt a bit weak and almost faint and took my one and only gel to avoid low blood sugar, but once that was done I had 4 miles of real fun. I finally was back in my natural habitat and made full use of it. The road gradually dropped towards Ballvaughan and anyone with a working set of quads would be able to make full use of that. To my surprise, I was one of those lucky ones. The legs seemed to have forgotten the miles and the 5k race 2 days earlier and I made up a host of places. With maybe 2 miles left to go I caught up with yet another runner who mentioned something about 3:45. I looked at at my watch, did some quick calculations, and very confidently stated "we'll make that". By now we had caught up to many of the walkers doing the half, and they never failed to encourage us, which was great to see, some real camaraderie out on the course.

Anyway, eventually we got all the way down to sea level but by now we were inside Ballyvaughan and could smell the finish. Indeed, just a couple of bends later there it was, just one more effort and it was done, in 3:42:29 on my watch and a few gifted seconds on the results.

God, I loved that race. The scenery is up there with the very best, absolutely spectacular. It wouldn't have been anywhere near the same experience on a rainy day and we got very lucky this year with the weather. The date, however, tends to coincide with Niamh's birthday, which is why I had to wait until now to finally do it. Maybe I can persuade her to celebrate it via a annual getaway in the Burren in future?

Obviously it's not a race you'll do for time. I guess the fairly brutal climbs and the rough footing adds at least 20 minutes to your time, more if you struggle on trails, a lot more if you're there to enjoy the scenery instead. But give it a go, you can thank me later.
26 May
Clare Burren Marathon Challenge 2018
3:42:21, 8:35 pace, HR 144, 16th place

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Speedy Recovery

Oh my God, has it really been basically a week? I think that's the longest break I've ever had between posts. But actually there isn't all that much to catch up.

As good as the legs felt after the Killarney marathon, the cold I acquired had a bit of an impact, even though it was rather mild. It progressed exactly as I had predicted; after it had moved into my chest I had a day or two of coughing and by Friday that stopped. However, I could still feel teh restriction in my chest. It was fine when I jogged along, so actually not that much of an issue, but racing a short race would have been impossible. That actually did cause some concerns because I had agreed to take part in a staff relay on Thursday and I wasn't sure if by then I would have recovered sufficiently for a 5k.

Photo by David Power
In the meantime I cranked up the mileage again. Sunday's long run was a modest 16.6 miles, a.k.a one loop around the lake, but then I did a double on Tuesday and another one on Thursday; the latter one was a 10+ mile run into work in the morning and then a 5k in the evening, but you have to add the cycle from work to Phoenix Park and especially the long cycle from Phoenix Park all the way to Bray with a 5k race in the legs!

The 5k went surprisingly well, even though I never went to 100% effort. I got caught in traffic at the start and then kept overtaking runners by the bucket load until 4k, when the course went on grass. You might not remember but I hate cross country running just as much as cross country running hates me. I cannot keep the pace, and a handful of runners started overtaking me back. But despite that unloved surface and a quite hilly course I finished in 19:14, basically half a minute faster than for the parkrun a few weeks ago, despite the slower course, the initial traffic, and the 10 miles already in my legs from earlier today. Very interesting!

As a team we did pretty damn well as well, 19th out of 833 teams, with an average of basically 20 minutes per runner. However, in my case there will be a big price to pay for all that: on Saturday I have an off-road marathon in the Burren, which I had wanted to do for years. On tired legs, that will be an interesting one!
19 May
11.3 miles, ~1:32:00, 8:08 pace, no HRM
20 May
16.6 miles, ~2:19:00, 8:22 pace, no HRM
21 May
am:2.67 miles, 22:41, 8:29 pace, HR 135
pm:7.47 miles, 1:01:00, 8:09 pace, HR 136
22 May
am:5 miles, 38:25, 7:40 pace, HR 139
pm:10.24 miles, 1:19:39, 7:46 pace, HR 140
23 May
10.23 miles, 1:26:17, 8:26 pace, HR 138
24 May
am:10.2 miles, 1:25:53, 8:25 pace, HR 136
pm: 5+ miles, incl 5k in 19:14, HR 164

Thursday, May 17, 2018

100 Times Recovery

Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan
I've gone through post-marathon recovery often enough by now to know what I can expect. Not that it is always the same - a goal race will take a very different toll on the body than a training run of the same distance. But I know the patterns very well.

I was really pleased by how the legs felt. They just took it as yet another training run. Even teh day after the marathon there was no soreness whatsoever, which was good as I had to return the rental car, which happened to be about 7.5 miles away from home, and running home afterwards was far more enjoyable than public transport would have been.

However, upper respiratory tract infections are very common, and once more I got hit. On Monday morning I has a slightly sore throat, which gradually developed into a very sore throat by Monday evening. On Tuesday morning the throat was fine but replaced with a splitting headache. On Wednesday morning the headache was still there, but much reduced. By Thursday it had moved into my chest, and by Saturday, give or take a day, it will be all gone. I know the pattern exceptionally well, I've gone through it so often.

Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan
My HRV readings were deep red the days immediately after the marathon but have already returned to green by now. My morning HR, on the other hand, is still elevated (around 48-50 rather than 40-42), which is rather interesting. The HR for my run was really low earlier this week, which really surprised me initially, until I realised that all my recovery runs had been on rather flat courses, as opposed to the very hilly commute I had been doing prior. I guess I'm starting to see just how much those hills are adding to the HR; maybe I haven't gone backwards in training after Rathdrum after all, the numbers just reflected the types of courses I have run on.

Due to that head cold, which was made a bit more complicated by the fact that it coincided with the first of my two annual hayfever bouts, I took to easier than usual in my post-recovery week, so no big mileage at the moment, far from it. I'm hoping to get back to that next week, and then it's getting close to taper time already. As long as the training cycle has been, now it feels too short already and I wish I could have a few more weeks. Same story as always.
13 May
7.6 miles, 1:04:58, 8:32 pace, HR 134
14 May
4+ miles, 32:51, 8:06 pace, HR 130
15 May
4.5 miles, 36:26, 8:05 pace, HR 134
16 May
4.8 miles, 37:58, 7:54 pace, HR 139
17 May
6.5+ miles, 52:31, 8:00 pace, HR 140

Monday, May 14, 2018

And ... 100!

When I checked the weekend weather forecast on Tuesday, things didn't look great. Saturday was going to be a miserable day in Kerry. I guess that's always a risk but I was dismayed nevertheless - you only get to 100 marathons once, and it looked like the beautiful sunny day in the glorious surroundings of Killarney National Park I had imagined was not going to happen.

Throughout the last few years, as my marathons started to accumulate, I had never spent much time thinking about the numbers. I was not chasing the target of running 100 marathons as such, they just kept adding up as I kept running them, the majority of them first and foremost being training runs, leading up to a longer ultra as goal race. However, once I got to about 97 or so, I started looking forward to reaching triple figures, and the last few days I was actually quite excited about the prospect.

Still, even on Friday the forecast wasn't that great; at least it wouldn't be raining at the start but then the weather system would close in. Ah well.

Imagine my surprise when I awoke on Saturday to a glorious morning with not a cloud in sight. I know the weather can change very quickly here but it really did not look like that was going to happen - it might just turn out to be that day I had imagined after all!

There was one issue: I awoke with a seriously sore right ankle. Actually it wasn't the ankle itself, it was a spot about an inch above the ankle, on the inside of the right leg. I've had similar pain before. It might not even be a running injury; I think I might have gotten it while driving from Dublin the night before. Anyway, it hurts when I run, it hurts when I walk and it equally hurts when I don't do anything, so the thing to do was to try and ignore it as much as I could.

The one thing I had asked for my 100th marathon was the bib with the number 100, and RD Alan was kind enough to provide it. It was with quite some pride that I put it on my top - you don't get to run such a round number of marathons very often. I got plenty of well wishes and congratulations (slightly premature at that stage) and just after 9 o'clock we were off. My 100th marathon had begun.

I had every intention of enjoying every single step today and watched the lead pack race ahead without any regrets - not that I would have been able to challenge them anyway. I very quickly settled into a comfortable rhythm and intended to stay there for the next few hours.

The course consists of 3 laps in the Demesne of Killarney National Park, mostly between the Castlerosse Hotel and Ross Castle. The course looks really confusing on a map but makes perfect sense in the actual surroundings. It is incredibly scenic - at least on a day like today, but from what I remember the weather seemed to cooperate most years, which is great because it's not half as enjoyable in the rain. It is also very hilly; there is a big climb shortly after passing the hotel, with some rough surface to boot, and there is a loop on Ross Island which is constantly going up and down, something I had almost forgotten but got reminded of very quickly on the first loop.

Of course we have to share the course with the other park users, which is perfectly fine as the path is generally wide enough, though there was a tricky bit in the first miles when there was a convoy of at least 5 jaunting cars, and they were a bit tricky to pass (and I declined the offer of one tourist load to join them for their ride).

The first lap passed very quickly. My ankle did hurt quite a bit for the early miles but I ignored it and eventually the endorphins kicked in and the pain went away. Apart form that little niggle I was on loop 2 almost before I knew it. When climbing the hill for the second time I remembered back to 2013 when I had a really good day and just seemed to fly up that climb totally effortlessly. Today I was a bit slower but it still felt easy enough - I wasn't running at my limit, and was able to enjoy it all the more.

The weather was still sunny, which makes such a difference. KNP is a stunning setting, though in a marathon you have to pay for that on all those hills. When the sun is shining, it's well worth it - hell, I'd pay extra just for the views. On a miserable day it would be very different but somehow it all worked out perfectly today. I was still cruising along nicely, the pace and effort remaining constant with the enjoyment level at its peak. Today really was a great day.

The biggest climb of each loop is right at its start, which is good as it meant tackling it for the last time at mile 18, when the legs were still in reasonably good working order. All throughout the day my legs had been working away perfectly happily on the flats and the downhills but with each little hill the hamstrings got a little less willing to put in the work. By the time I had reached the top of that hill, I was glad I didn't have to tackle it again.

Photo by Susanne Foley
I was a bit surprised to start hearing voices behind me. I had passed the second placed lady sometime through the second loop, so I figured this was the new second lady, and she was clearly gaining on me. For a while my competitive instincts kicked in, or maybe it was just the fragile male ego, and I put in a little more effort and kept her off. However, once we reached Ross Island for the third time the climbs started again and I could hear her getting closer. Eventually I realised that to keep holding her off I would have to go full throttle, and even then there was no guarantee that she wouldn't pass me, and I decided to enjoy the last few miles of my 100th marathon instead. Plus, my ankle was hurting again and easing off seemed to lessen the pain. Anyway, it didn't matter to me if I finished in 3:25 or 3:27 today and I consciously decided I'd rather savour the moment. I eased up, let her pass me (and her companion, who had a tough time staying with her) and continued to jog home.

Looking at the mile splits later I realised that I actually only eased up for about one mile. Once we left Ross Island and its constant climbs behind I got right back to 3:25 pace without even noticing, and I was still able to enjoy the last 3 or 4 miles. The weather was still as lovely and the scenery still as gorgeous as at the start and I drew it all in.

And then, much too soon really, I reached the finish, soaked up the applause, and just like that it was all over and I was done.

100 marathons completed (well, 65 marathons and 35 ultras).

Fastest marathon: 2:55:07
Slowest marathon: 4:36:42
Average marathon time: 3:25:02

Photo by Susanne Foley

Photo by Susanne Foley

12 May
Lakes of Killarney marathon
3:25:44, 7:51 pace, HR 146, 9th place

Thursday, May 10, 2018


In 2004, I ran the Dublin marathon. I'm not 100% why but I wanted a big challenge and I had always been fascinated by long-distance running, though until that time I never imagined being one of the runners myself. That Dublin run was supposed to be a once-off, tick one off the bucket list and move on with your life. At least that's what I kept saying, though I think deep down I knew there might well be more to come. Still, the accepted wisdom at the time was that you never run more than 2 marathons a year, so even if you had a long running career you would only get so many of them.

It wasn't for another few years that I became aware that Ray O'Connor, at the time mainly known as the RD in Connemara, was actively running as many marathons as he could, with the goal of eventually reaching 100. Wow! Then the Marathon Club of Ireland was founded, by Ray, because he (and others) felt there weren't enough marathons around (how times have changed!), and running 100 marathons became a fairly popular quest. Many ran marathons purely to add up the numbers. I can honestly say that I never did that - with one single exception, all my marathons had a purpose, either they were the goal race I had been training for or they were a training run with the specific aim of getting me fitter for a long ultra race.

That was the case for the first 98.

Number 99 was purely there to make up the numbers. The Lakes of Killarney marathon is basically my home race, the one marathon closest to Caragh Lake, where I had spent 13 happy years and where I had run 10000s of miles. It had to be the one, so I ran Rathdrum just to make the numbers add up. Incidentally, it messed up my training for the 24 hours race next month, but never mind.

Right now, as of this moment, I have run exactly 64 marathons and 35 ultras, adding up to 99. On Saturday, I'll get to 100.

Training this week was a bit of a mixed bag. The legs, especially the hamstrings, were rather tired after Saturday's parkrun, and it took a while to come round again. I also ran quite a few miles, which might not have helped with recovery but the 24 is getting very close and this is the time to boost the miles. I'm probably flirting with overtraining but so far I think I'm getting away with it. The resting HR is the lowest I've had for 10 years, though the training HR is a bit off peak. Killarney is obviously another big training run and then it's another 3 weeks of big miles before the taper.

6 May
16 miles, 2:12:36, 8:17 pace, HR 135
7 May
10.1 miles, 1:24:03, 8:19 pace, HR 134
8 May
am: 5.2 miles, 42:43, 8:12 pace, HR 135, incl. several sprints
pm: 10.25, 1:24:23, 8:13 pace, HR 135
9 May
10.25 miles, 1:26:23, 8:25 pace, HR 137
10 May
10.25 miles, 1:25:52, 8:22 pace, HR 137

Saturday, May 05, 2018


Oh my, it's the weekend already. How did that happen? And it's a bank holiday weekend, and it's nice and sunny outside!

The week has gone in a bit of a blur, there was so much to do after just moving into a new home, I hardly had a minute to sit down. My training was my commute - every day I was either running into work or back home. The route is rather hilly - there's a steep uphill on either end of it, and a couple of smaller hills in the middle as well. It's probably good training. It also messes up my HR training data - of course the figures look worse when you're running hills all the time, so I just have to ignore those numbers for a while until I can get a sense of the new baseline.

The legs have been tired on quite a few occasions; when I run home in the evening and then back to work the next morning I can always tell that the legs don't appreciate only 12 hours of recovery. Also, the mountain runs from the weekend definitely left some mark during the first half of the week. I decided to ditch any ideas of speedwork for a few days.

However, I'm not driving to Kerry this weekend (they're coming up instead), and with the morning so nice and sunny I couldn't resist visiting my nearest parkrun, which now happens to be in Shanganagh park. The preparation wasn't ideal: Cian flew in from Barcelona last night and I had to collect him, the plane was delayed and landed after 1 o'clock and by the time we were home in bed it was past 3 am. Did I tell you that I wake every morning around 5:30 am, no matter when I go to bed? Turns out that's still the case, even after going to sleep at 3, so just about 2 hours of sleep was all I got, and no chance of getting any more, believe me I tried.

Nevertheless, at the parkrun itself I managed to surprise myself by running a minute faster than during the previous attempt, though Shanganagh is as flat as it gets, in marked contrast to the crazy hills of Cabinteely. That didn't stop that 10 year old kid blasting past me halfway though the course, who finished in about 19 minutes. At the age of 10! Very impressive, and if there hadn't been an overseas visitor he would have actually won all out, ahead of every single adult (bound to happen anyway, though). Oh, and his almost-as-young sister was first female. Some impressive genes at work here.

Anyway, I was happy enough that my ageing, creaking, tired legs were still able to run a sub-20 5k without any speedwork whatsoever. My HR once more only averaged 169, though it rose steadily throughout the run and I definitely finished under the impression that I had run as hard as I could - a bit of speedwork would get the body and particularly the mind used to that pace and effort again and I am sure I would cut a significant slice of that time - but that's not going to happen any time soon, I have bigger fish to fry.
30 Apr
10.75 miles, 1:26:58, 8:05 pace, HR 141
1 May
10.2 miles, 1:26:01, 8:25 pace, HR 140
2 May
14.28 miles, 1:59:33, 8:22 pace, HR 137
3 May
10.2 miles, 1:21:04, 7:56 pace, HR 141
4 May
10.25 miles, 1:24:25, 8:14 pace, HR 141
5 May
11+ miles, incl. Shanganagh parkrun in 19:49, 6:22 pace, HR 169, 4th place