Monday, October 29, 2018

The Road To Redemption

I went into Dublin knowing full well that I was still far off peak shape. In fact, it had been only in the last few weeks that I finally started to feel better again; that 24 hours race in June had taken a lot out of me, much more so than any previous long ultra, and it took me a long time to finally notice an upturn. However, when it came I sure did notice it, and with that I knew that the worst was behind me.

The Berlin marathon six weeks earlier had been a less than pleasurable experience but I knew I was feeling better now and I was confident a repeat of that horror show was not on the cards.

I had tested running 8-minute miles, basically 3:30 marathon pace, on a couple of occasions and each time it had felt a bit too hard, so I expected a finishing time of about 3:40 instead, still one of my slower marathons but what can you do.

Public transport in Ireland is still a shite as ever, they really did shut down the Dart train service on marathon day for engineering works; that kind of idiocy would be staggering were we not so used to it, and with the total lack of accountability it will not change any time soon. The first bus out of Bray left at 7:30 and got into town an hour later, which was touch-and-go for getting there in time for the start of wave 1 at 9 o'clock, though I was reasonably relaxed about it. If I missed it I would start with a later wave instead. As it happened I got into town, deposited my bag, joined to queue for the toilets and emerged ready to go with 4 minutes to spare. Great timing - it meant I didn't have to wait in the freezing cold any longer than strictly necessary.

I started towards the back of wave 1, so as not to be in anyone's way. As a result, the first mile was a bit slow due to all the congestion but that was fine. I wasn't there to break any records today and a slower first mile in the marathon usually means a few faster miles at the end. I gradually started to pick up the pace as spaces started to open up and eventually settled into a cruising pace that felt comfortable enough. I took it noticeably easy on any uphills but always seemed to make up ground on the downhills, though the first 7 miles are net uphill. In fact, that's the highest point of the course already, not that you feel it in the legs at that early stage. The 2 downhill miles back the other side of Phoenix Park passed by very quickly, and when we crossed the Liffey again I was actually bang on time for 3:30, which I had not expected.

I did worry a little bit because that pace had felt definitely faster than marathon effort beforehand, and I sure didn't want to blow up. However, I have plenty of marathons in my legs already to know what a marathon effort feels like, and today felt perfectly adequate, so I kept going. Oh, and I was actually wearing proof of my marathon history today, sort of, having finally picked up my "100" singlet from the Marathon Club Ireland stand at the Expo the day before and I gave it an outing today, finally having gone full Irish native.

Funnily enough I actually started to feel better as the miles ticked by, not getting tired at all. The course drags on a bit at that stretch, especially up Crumlin Road, for many runners the worst part of the course with its gradual uphill, sparsity of support and almost always a bad headwind in your face. Having said that, this year seemed to be the first time I remember not running into a headwind at that stage. I was still glad to leave it behind me, there is only so much of an uphill drag I can take.

From time to time I ran into some friends, usually the ones with a recent injury history, otherwise they would have been a bit further forward in the field, but it was nice to have the odd chat along the way, and I did get a fair few shouts from the sidelines, at least every couple of miles.

By now we were on the second half of the course and I was still feeling surprisingly good, very much in contrast to Berlin where I had felt thoroughly cooked already at that point. I was gradually making my way through the field, again very much in contrast to Berlin where the masses had kept passing me almost the entire way. According to the watch I was actually running faster here than for the first few miles and I was gradually picking up a tiny bit of time, but most importantly the miles kept ticking by with surprising ease.

This being a marathon, and me still being a long way off my usual shape, this was never going to last forever, but it sure lasted for a lot longer than I had expected before the start. I was well past the 20 mile mark when the legs finally grew weary, and then I started to get the odd spasm shooting through my calves, which I really could have done without. I have a long history of cramping in marathons and I have learned fairly well how to deal with it and how to nurse the legs along. The key really is to run as relaxed as possible. You have to slow down a little bit because you cannot relax if you're right at your limit, but if you do it right you can still make decent progress. I still got the occasional spasm shooting through my calf muscles like they had been electrocuted but I never went into a full cramp.

I eased myself up the wrongly named (because we're not in Boston, that's why) heartbreak hill and then enjoyed the downhill stretches, at least the stretches where my calves didn't threaten to quit on me. I couldn't quite match last year's great finish because my legs wouldn't allow it, even if the energy levels were still intact. However, just like last year I passed Mike from Listowel with a couple of miles to spare (though I think he paced a friend today rather than race it) as I made my way towards the finish.

Because of the cramping issues I had lost a bit of time and was slipping behind 3:30 pace, but what can you do. It would have been a tight finish otherwise but as it was I came home about 2 minutes late, though still a lot sooner than I had predicted or expected, and I was happy enough.

The finish layout required a fairly long walk past the bag drops and towards the exit, but actually that's a good thing as a relaxing walk is good for your legs after a marathon, not that a lot of runners would agree at the time. I kept on walking, and just as I got to Leeson Street Lower saw a 145 go past, and I actually managed a sprint to the next bus stop to catch it - I never had to sprint straight after a marathon before, and I never thought I'd be able to, until the day when I didn't want to wait 30 minutes for the next bus - or maybe I just didn't run the marathon hard enough.

2018 Dublin Marathon - 3:31:57
22 Oct
5+ miles, 46:20, 8:58 pace, HR 134
23 Oct
5+ miles, 43:11, 8:25 pace, HR 143
24 Oct
5+ miles, 45:26, 8:48 pace, HR 138
25 Oct
4+ miles, 36:04, 8:53 pace, HR 134
27 Oct
3 miles, 26:24, 8:47 pace, HR 139
28 Oct
DCM 2018, 3:31:57, 8:05 pace, HR 154
29 Oct
4+ miles, 37:10, 9:09 pace, HR 134

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Test

It's one week to the Dublin marathon, and I have a very similar problem like I had 6 weeks ago before Berlin, namely that I have no idea what pace I can hold over a marathon distance.

In Berlin I was a bit overoptimistic, as I had suspected even beforehand, to be honest, and I got slower with almost each mile and the second half wasn't the greatest fun I've ever had. 6 weeks later I know my legs are starting to improve again but make no mistake, they are a long way away from being in proper marathon shape. I'm pretty sure the last few miles are going to suck once more, and this time I have the added problem of a hillier route. My legs are starting to falter every time the road is pointing upwards, so that's probably not ideal. I can work around the worst of it by taking it easy on the climbs, ignoring the scores of runners going past me and just slowly making my way to the top, but it's not going to be pretty in the second half.

I did a test run this morning (Sunday) to see how 8-minute pace feels like, and the answer was quite obvious, namely much too fast. I managed to hold it for the planned 7 miles (actually there was a slower mile in there which I had completely missed and only noticed afterwards when I looked at it on Strava) but there was no way I would have been able to hold it for almost 20 more miles, so a 3:30 marathon is out of the question.

Admittedly, I did a couple of intervals on Saturday on the promenade, which obviously had an effect on the legs today but still - I might try and stay somewhere close to 3:40 pace and see how I get on. Despite the hillier nature of the course it should be a bit faster than Berlin, thanks to slightly better legs, but it's almost certainly going to be my second slowest Dublin marathon, only propped up my my very first marathon here, all of 14 years ago.

Oh, and yesterday's intervals were actually quite interesting. I did not time them and I did not pace myself off the watch; in fact, I didn't even know how long they were, just one length of the Bray promenade, which turned out to be just over one k, and there happened to be a Strava segment, which is how I got my numbers afterwards. All I did was run fast but fully controlled, twice, with a slow jog back as recovery. I was actually surprised by the numbers, I expected them to be a lot slower, and I was even more surprised that the second one had been faster than the first one. Shows how wrong perception can be! With the marathon next week I left it at only 2 repeats, but I think I might use that stretch in future as my workout stage. It's obviously completely flat, there are not a lot of people there during teh times when I do my runs, and it's only the wind that can be a factor on some days, though yesterday's it was almost completely still.

But let's get that marathon out of the way first, plus the recovery period that will follow it.
17 Oct
10.2 miles, 1:32:58, 9:06 pace, HR 139
18 Oct
6.72 miles, 1:01:12, 9:06 pace, HR 135
19 Oct
10.2 miles, 1:28:40, 8:41 pace, HR 145
20 Oct
7.8 miles, 1:06:04, 8:28 pace, HR 144
   2 x 1k @ 6:26, 6:16 pace
21 Oct
10 miles, 1:24:26, 8:26 pace, HR 148

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Thank You!

Thanks for the comments to the last post, I was genuinely delighted to see that there is still value in this blog and that there are still runners who enjoy reading it. Thank you! However, Roisin was absolutely correct in pointing out that I've been overplaying the ago card recently. I am actually very much aware of this, but the thing is, I do wonder how much of a factor age is playing into all of the recent issues I've had, especially with the slow recovery.

On the other hand, I could very much feel a distinct improvement in the last week, which I attribute to finally getting over the 24 hours race in June. In the past it has often taken me about a day per mile raced to feel fully recovered from a very long ultra, and funnily enough we're just about there once more. This time I was feeling the effects a lot more than usual but I can definitely feel the difference, just in the last few days. I've got a spring back in my stride and the legs no longer feel stiff, heavy and tired with each step, which is just great and I'm enjoying the fact that running is just fun once more, and I no longer have to struggle from step to step.

Now there's the small matter of the Dublin marathon looming rather large in the not very far distance. I'm sure the smart thing to do would be to cancel it because I know it's going to be one of my slowest ones, it's going to hurt in the last few miles and I'll have to spend weeks in recovery yet again, but doing the smart thing was never my thing, so I've decided to run it - as I knew all along I would, really.

Sunday's long run was very hilly and the first half went very well but the second half gradually turned into a bit of a struggle and the last few miles, especially the final two, uphill ones towards our house weren't all that much fun, but I got it done all the same. It went better than a similar, if slightly shorter run, that I had done before Berlin, so I guess I should be doing a bit better than in Berlin. We shall see!

It's gotten rather cold recently, which most people might be moaning about but personally I love it. I can cycle into or out of work without arriving soaked in sweat (don't worry, there are showers at both ends of the journey) and while I miss running through the crisp, dark morning along Caragh Lake, the Bray Promenade isn't a bad replacement.
12 Oct
10.2 miles, 1:29:29, 8:46 pace, HR 144
13 Oct
6.85 miles, 59:01, 8:36 pace, HR 142
14 Oct
19 miles, 2:53:53, 9:09 pace, HR 142
15 Oct
6.33 miles, 59:30, 9:23 pace, HR 130
16 Oct
4.5 miles, 36:39, 8:10 pace, HR 147

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Ye Olde Legs

I'm not sure how many people still read this, though I know a few of you still do. The blog format seems a bit outdated these days, though I still prefer it to video logging (yuck), and things like Instagram are just not suited to the type of content I want to post. Believe me, you don't want to see photos of me post-run!

Anyway, I will keep this going, and if the last person will have lost interest it will be my private training diary again, just like it was when it all started over 13 years ago. And with me getting older and slower, I might even get stopped being accused of violating the trade act due to falsely naming this blog. But, you know, it's all relative, and there were are also some lovely guys along the way who let me know that the name is perfectly apt.

Anyway, I keep on running, very slowly most days. It's a bit disconcerting that until a few months ago my natural pace was around 8-minute miles and now it suddenly changed to 9-minute miles, and I could swear they feel more or less the same. I know I keep getting older, but surely I didn't age so much within 3 or 4 months.

However, just this morning I thought there were glimpses of the old legs starting to re-appear, when running felt more effortless, and the stiffness and aches disappeared for a while. Now, I know the mile along the promenade was misleading as I had a strong tailwind pushing me along, but it wasn't just on that stretch that I felt good, so maybe something is indeed finally starting to work.

I am doing mostly very slow, easy miles but I'm also mixing in a few faster strides, like on Tuesday with some work colleagues, not really speedwork as such but just some things to rev up the system. I did a 1-minute-on/1-minute-off run last Saturday (Kenyan Fartlek, in structure that is, not in pace), which felt ok for a while and when it no longer felt ok I stopped, so it's all relatively gentle and measured. The last thing I want is to feel overtrained again, been there, done that, no desire to do it again.
5 Oct
6.19 miles, 55:44, 9:00 pace, HR 140
6 Oct
6.58 miles, 57:48, 8:47 pace, HR 146
   Kenyan Fartlek
7 Oct
15 miles, 2:19:23, 9:16 pace, HR 144
8 Oct
6.71 miles, 1:01:37, 9:10 pace, HR 142
9 Oct
4.95 miles, 43:05, 8:42 pace, HR 147
10 Oct
10.21 miles, 1:32:14, 9:02 pace, HR 145
11 Oct
6.67 miles, 58:53, 8:49 pace, HR 144

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Slowly Does It

So on Thursday I hurt my Achilles on the last meters before the finish line of a 5K, leaving me rather worried. On Friday it was so stiff on both legs that running was completely out of the question and left me hobbling round the office like an old man (no smart comments, please). However, the fact that it wasn't actually hurting was a very good sign.

On Saturday morning I first ran down to the shop to pick up some milk as well as to test out the Achilles, and the news was good.While it was sill a bit stiff it definitely felt ready to run again, so I did.

I changed my approach. I looked at the time I ran in the 5K, and while it was almost 3 minutes slower than my PB it was still aged-graded over 70% and the equivalent of an 18:18 of a younger man. While not exactly winning any major championships, or even a minor one, it's actually not that bad, especially when compared to my marathon time in Berlin. So I figured I still have a bit of pace left, relatively speaking, but my endurance has gone to bits.

How do you build up endurance?

By running more miles.

How do you manage to run more miles when they keep leaving you exhausted?

By running them slower!

So that's what I did. I didn't follow the advice of leaving the watch at home entirely because I'm too much of a numbers geek and would just fret over what the numbers would have been had I recorded them, but I'm good at ignoring the watch completely when I'm out running.

Tuesday's run into work was a bit of a struggle, not helped by a headwind for 10 miles, but Thursday was already a lot better, even if it was equally as slow. I think this is already working, though it's a bit early to tell.

29 Sep
1.16 miles, 11:01, 9:29 pace, HR 134
4+ miles, 35:38, 8:45 pace, HR 148
30 Sep
8.5 miles, 1:19:33, 9:21 pace, HR 146
   very hilly
1 Oct
6.32 miles, 56:38, 8:57 pace, HR 144
2 Oct
10.25 miles, 1:31:22, 8:54 pace, HR 149
3 Oct
5.55 miles, 52:35, 9:28 pace, HR 138
4 Oct
10.22 miles, 1:30:38, 8:52 pace, HR 148