Monday, July 08, 2019

Imagine

Just Imagine. You're running up that random road at a random time in Birmingham, actually heading in the wrong direction but you don't know that yet, when that woman comes running the other way and you are thinking "that's funny, she has the exact same running style as Olwyn", when she shouts out "Thomas!!!" - IT IS OLWYN!!!! What are the chances! Olwyn quipped we should have bought a lottery ticket instead of going for run.

The reason I was in Birmingham in the first place was a work trip. Just last week I'd told my new manager if I ever needed to go visit a customer in Barcelona or Paris I'm all for it. The message must have gotten garbled somewhere because last Thursday I found myself in an industrial estate in the outskirts of Burton-upon-Trent, which just doesn't have quite the same glamour. And flying into the UK early in the morning and back again in the evening is stressful enough on its own, never mind presenting to a group of C-level execs while there, and I was glad I was able to squeeze in a few miles, as a pure stress reliever more than anything else.

In general, though, it was another easy week. After that 20 miler had me knocked out 2 weeks ago I decided to dial it back a bit. I have a history of overtraining and would rather avoid another one of those episodes. One easy week later I was still not feeling new so I added a second easy week. That said, easy is a relative term. I'm still doing about 70 miles per week but without workouts and without a long run. If the lack of long runs will come back to bite me I shall see, though they always say it's better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained and I'd prefer to see that scenario from the other side for once.

Tuesday was again the biggest day of the week, with the run into work followed by a group jog at lunchtime (very, very easy) and then a cycle in the evening. I generally do enjoy the cycling, though I very much prefer the actual cycling to the standing around that seems to be an inevitable part of those group rides. We had three stops and one of them was for over 16 minutes, after which I was actually frozen stiff and very uncomfortable, so when we reached Enniskerry I actually peeled off the group and went home instead of completing the loop because I was really uncomfortable, and not because of the miles or the pace, those were easily manageable. Maybe I should dress with the standing around in mind rather than the cycling.

As for the running, I couldn't tell if I went by feel alone but the watch and the HR are telling me that I'm getting into better and better shape. The pace on my easy runs is still nothing to write home about, about 8:20-8:40 seems to be where I always end up on my easy days, but even on hilly runs I average a HR in the low 130s, which I only ever get to when I'm in really good condition. You might argue that of course that the HR is low when I'm running so slowly, but also take into account the very high humidity (I'm invariably soaked through after a couple of miles). Also, on tough, steep climbs like the Quarry Road or Bray Head I'm running 20, 30 seconds per mile faster than a month or two ago, even though this is at an easy effort, at least as easy as such a steep hill allows.

Things are definitely heading into the right direction. Now if I could make use of that instead of messing it up, as as my wont, that would actually be great for a change.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Easy Goes

Because last week's long run had me on my knees I decided to take it a bit easier this week. No doubles, no workouts, no long runs. Since I am getting most of my miles by running in or out of work these days I'd still get a decent amount of miles but the hope was that I'd feel better again at the end.

I thin it didn't really work. I never felt as exhausted as last Sunday but I still don't exactly feel like flying, so I'll take another easy-ish week. Things are getting a bit tricky because I have to fly into the UK for work on Thursday and I may or may not be able to run, and then we're off on our holidays soon after, which is great, don't get me wrong, but with the temperatures high enough to fry an egg without a stove in Europe at the moment that might make running a bit tricky there. I'll see.

Most of the week I ran a slightly shorter route into work, 9 miles instead of 10, and it cuts right through Cabinteely Park, which may well be one of the best parks in Dublin (well, if you like steep hills, that is) but it also contains a section right along the N11 dual carriage way, and to make it worse there are building works there as well at the moment, so you take the good with the bad.

Also, Tuesday wasn't really the kind of day that would sit easily inside an easy week, with a run to work in the morning, a group run at lunchtime and a 35-ish miles cycle in the evening, again with the group from work. Maybe I shouldn't have but I really enjoy training with a group after years of almost all solo efforts, and running into work just fits easily into the rest of the weekly schedule, with having to organise the bike and the work clothes all in advance.

After last week's run to Dun Laoghaire Norbert suggested running along the coast rather than a few streets further inland, so on Saturday I headed into Shankill to figure out where that route would go. The resulting run on Strava is almost comical, with me running into just about every single dead end possible but missing one little lane, which of course was the one that I was actually looking for. Ah well, that's exactly why I scouted out the area in advance after all.

And since I didn't have a long run for Sunday I did the Seahorse run via the Cliff Walk again, the smaller version that is just 12 miles. During the first mile I was dismayed because the hamstrings/glutes really did not feel good at all but they did loosen up to some extend after a while and then I actually felt pretty light on my feet. The pace still wasn't much to write home about but on such a hilly run it's hard to compare, especially since the Cliff Walk itself is a bit tricky at times with the stony surface and the occasional mud hole, and the occasional walker who seems to think they need to block the entire path (the vast majority are perfectly nice, friendly and accommodating, though).

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Fallen Warrior

A few years ago someone posted a question on a popular Irish discussion forum about falling over while running. I remember thinking there must be something wrong with that guy if he keeps falling over while running on roads. Oh my, how I have changed my mind! The difference is all about running on roads in Kerry, where you actually do run on roads, and in the greater Dublin area, where you mostly run on sidewalks. And since for some daft reason they a) construct sidewalks out of concrete blocks that often don't fit together particularly well b) think that they don't have to maintain them, they become a serious trip hazard. Since moving here I must have stumbled over some minuscule but virtually invisible step about once a week, and on a handful of occasions I have taken a full spill, including once that sidelined me for 6 weeks with injury earlier this year.

I had yet another one on Monday and my right knee looked rather gruesome, together with some serious lacerations on both hands. There will always be a part of me left behind in Shankill, though Niamh was more worried that some part of Shankill will now forever be left inside of me because the wounds looked so dark and dirty. A week on I guess the risk of infection might have subsided, though I'll bear the scars for a while longer, but at least this time I didn't get injured, which is definitely good news.

Apart from that little drama it was a week similar to the last few. I did manage to run a bit over 80 miles and I did a long cycle with the group from work on Tuesday as well. Most of the week I did feel pretty well, though the legs were a bit tired on Wednesday after that long cycle. However, I did get it wrong over the weekend.

I did another workout on Saturday in Bray's People's Park, this time doing half laps fast(-ish) with the second half of each lap as recovery. The idea was to work a bit on my leg turnover and half laps should do that better than full laps. As always I left after feeling that I had one more lap in me, but actually I thought I had done six when looking at the data afterwards revealed I had done only five! Apart from that I was pleased with the workout, going at pretty much the same pace with each repeat and the effort felt right, even though the HR never rose above 164, which I cannot quite explain - I seem to have lost the ability to raise my HR over the last year!

The drawback of that was that I started Sunday's long run on already tired legs, and I chose to run to Dun Laoghaire and turn around after 10 miles. This can work both ways - when you're tired you might curse yourself for being still so far away from home on dead legs, but it can work in your favour by not giving you the option of cutting a run short unnecessarily. On the way out I did question if that really was such a good idea, and on the way back home I gradually came to the realisation that this had indeed been a bad idea and the last few miles were a struggle and not pretty. I also passed Norbert out on his own run in the area, though thankfully I was on a downhill stretch at the time and could fake to be moving reasonably well. About a mile from home I had yet another fall, re-opening a few barely healed wounds in my hands but no real damage done. This one was almost certainly due to me being too tired to lift the legs properly any more, but I did curse and "not again" at the time.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Quarry Road

At the tail end of last year I did one run with Gary when he slowed down to my snail's pace and I sped up close to breaking point, which ended up as almost the same pace. Towards the end we ran past yet another innocuous side road when he told me about Quarry Road, and how tough the hill repeats on it were. I was too tired already by that point to take much notice, desperately trying not to collapse while he jogged on as slowly as he could.

When I saw Norbert on strava running that very road the other day I remembered it again, and decided to give it a go. In fact, it seemed such a good idea that I decided to do it three times, following my usual rule that anything worth doing is worth doing to excess (which is what ultra running is all about, after all).

One thing you can be sure is that if Gary says a road is tough then it really it is tough! The climb itself is just under a mile long but the sting towards the end when it turns from really steep into really fucking stupid steep is particularly stingy. At least the trail for the downhill is nice, though Norbert since told me the alternative route is much nicer. Next time. Wait, what bloody next time?

Before that it was yet another week of quite high mileage but it feels totally doable. Tuesday was a big day with a run into work, a short-ish run at lunchtime with the group from work (which was very small, but still) and then a bike ride in the evening with yet another group (this one a big one), which all added up to well over 4 hours of exercise, which did indeed leave me a bit tired on Wednesday. At least the calves were because they kept feeling a bit tender for the rest of the week, not that it had any real impact on my running. In fact, on Thursday I felt good enough to run a bit faster on my commute home, something I had vague ideas of doing for a while but up to now never felt up to it. But now I can finally feel my fitness levels really picking up.

Maybe I should say my fitness levels are finally returning. The disastrous race in Irding was almost a year ago and I have been feeling it ever since. I finally seem to have started getting over it, a full year later. I don't know why it was quite so bad - a month before that race I had felt really good and then it all came just crashing down, and the effects lasted for a year. However, my fears that I was done for good seem to have been unfounded - I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Just Like Heaven

I can't remember if it was for Christmas or my birthday but Niamh gave me 2 tickets for The Cure in Malahide in June, which also solved the dilemma if I should go to see The Cure or Metallica, which for some inexplicable reason were on at the exact same time. While Metallica would have been my natural choice, Slane is such a nightmare to come home from afterwards, and The Cure happen to be just about the only band both Niamh and me like (we tried to think of another one and couldn't come up with any!), so off the Malahide it was. The concert was great, and while I was struck by the fact that virtually the entire crowd was about my age (including the guys on stage, of course) I appreciated the fact that afterwards we just walked to the Dart station and straight away got on a train that brought us all the way to Bray. Metallica would have seen me back home by 3 o'clock in the morning at best.

Anyway, this was a pretty good week. I did a modest workout on Tuesday, something I have tried and failed to do on several occasions because I found it hard to believe just how modest a modest workout would be, but I finally found a sustainable pace. maybe a tad too sustainable, but it left me free to run a few extra miles on Wednesday by running both into work as well as back, which went much better than expected.

Two more commutes on Thursday and Friday were starting to feel rather heavy on the legs, especially on Friday because a run in the morning after an evening run the day before always feel tough, but I was amazed by the difference another day made - a mere 24 hours later on Saturday morning the legs felt fantastic!

For that I headed for the hills again, well, just the one hill in form of Bray Head, but to make up for that I ran it 5 times. At the start I actually had to reign myself in, I felt so good that the legs were just itching to take off. Just as I was thinking of doing 6 repeats this morning, I started to stumble a few times during the fifth ascend, so I reasoned that I was getting tired after all and binned the sixth repeat, mostly because I didn't want to trip and smash my face in. Running on stony trails is tricky enough for me, short-sighted as I am, and fatigued legs with compromised perception is asking for trouble.

As mentioned that was followed by The Cure concert, and great as that was it meant several extra hours on my feet and by Sunday I did notice that, alright. So I decided against a run to Dun Laoghaire because I didn't want to find myself dead on my feet 10 hilly miles away from home and headed for Shanganah Park instead, doing a few laps until I would start to feel tired. That was definitely a good move and after 10 miles I could definitely feel the form starting to deteriorate and the breathing to become more laboured, and I was home after just under 2 hours. I really don't think any longer would have been a good idea.

It still added up to over 80 miles for the week, which is just about the mileage I was always able to maintain comfortably, so I will see if that's still the case in the next few weeks.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Clinging On

I've heard it a lot. To become a better runner you must run with someone faster than you. In Kerry I never had that luxury - while there clearly were plenty of runners faster than me, they weren't around at 6 o'clock in the morning in Caragh Lake, and I did the vast majority of my miles on my own. Maybe that's why I always preferred the longer distances - long miles are easier done on your own than speed workouts. However, I got a bit of a taste of that medicine on Tuesday when running with the group from work.

Usually we just do a few miles but occasionally someone does a workout, and this week I decided to do a "Kenyan fartlek", one minute on, one minute off. And I didn't have to do it on my own, and the other guy was definitely faster than me, and so, just by trying to keep up, it became a much harder workout than it would have been otherwise.

If that's a good thing or not, actually, isn't quite so obvious. I don't want to work myself into the ground again and I have learned that running tough workouts in base training is doing exactly that to me, so I better don't do that too often.

Because I got a taste of speed workout on Tuesday I chose to do some hill repeats again on my "other" workout day, Saturday. Bray Head has become my venue of choice for that. I'd prefer a longer climb, like the Windy Gap in Caragh lake, but I haven't found a runnable one close enough to home, so Bray Head it is for the time being, and I tend to do several repeats. Actually, because I was caught for time I only did 4 repeats this week, one less than last week. However, despite definitely trying not to go too hard I am getting faster at these, so something is definitely working. Also, despite feeling a bit worn out at the start I somehow felt much better as the workout went on, until I felt really good at the fourth one, enough to wish I'd have time for more.

Then again, limiting that to 4 repeats was most likely a good thing because the next day I crashed and burned on my long run. It was a warm and humid day and leaving it to 9 o'clock before heading out was not a good idea, and after 12 or so miles I was burning up in the heat, relative as it may have been. I had planned 18 miles but cut it short and was home just after 17, totally done - 12 would have done me that day, thank you very much, and the last 5 were definitely a struggle.

It all added up to about 66 miles this week, a bit less than last week but still in the same ballpark, plus a fair amount of cycling,.

Oh, and I'm actually signed up for another race, though I don't have to worry about it for a while yet. The Donadea 50k in February was close to being full up already, so I signed up before it was too late. And I never expected to get an elite entry into a race ever again, so that was an ego-boost that I didn't say no to - just try and not be the slowest "elite" on the day.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Finding A New Routine

I actually thought I was doing an easy week. It sure started very easy with 5 and 4.5 miles on Monday/Tuesday. After that it got a bit more complicated because with work being very busy the easiest option by far was to run either in or out of work, and that's exactly what I did, which means about 10 miles a day. However, I felt pretty good, so I think my body is finally able to handle that kind of mileage again, building itself up while doing it rather than breaking down.

Saturday has become the day of a (modest) workout, and I have been alternating hills and faster stuff recently and saw no real reason to change things. Back to hill running it was, in my case a few repeats up and down Bray Head. It has become my "Windy Gap" replacement after my move from Kerry. It's not quite the same but not a bad option.

Last time round I was pretty shattered after 4 repeats and the quads were sore for at least 2 days, so I was rather pleased to be able to do 5 and go home with at least one more in me if I had to, and the quads were perfectly fine the next day. The one thing I remember most, however, was another hill runner doing almost the same route on one of my repeats. On the uphill we were doing a very similar pace but boy things changed on the downhill! He went down the hill so fast, and on the steep, stony part he just seemed to float over the trail while I awkwardly picked my steps. Great technique, awesome to watch!

Anyway, the fact that my quads were fine on Sunday meant this time I didn't have to bin the long run and I went along the coast to Dun Laoghaire. The 10 mile point was about a quarter along the pier, and there I turned around and ran the same way back home. I swear the damn wind must have turned right at the same time because I seemed to run into a headwind in both directions! The outward leg had passed so quickly I could barely believe I was already in Dun Laoghaire but the return journey was a bit more challenging. However I was still in reasonable shape when I got home, so all good.

I'm keeping a reasonably close eyes on my numbers and they have been steadily going upwards, which is great to see. Let's hope it will continue, and if it doesn't I will rethink my approach.

I did one other thing this week, namely a group ride with another dozen cyclists from work on Tuesday evening. We will be doing a charity ride in September, in Kerry, which I am really looking forward to, but I need a few hours in the saddle to get used to being on the bike for a few hours at a time. I won't have any issues with fitness - during the ride my average HR was 98, which is barely higher than most people have from standing still. I don't think I will get much training benefit from it, but it's definitely a good bit of fun.

Total mileage this week was just under 70 miles, which I expect will be fairly typical for the next few weeks.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Running Camp

I was basically forced to take a week's holiday. Well, not exactly forced as such, but still having some leftover days from last year's allocation it was either take them now or lose them entirely, and as much as I like my job I don't think my present employer is in much need of unnecessary gifts, so home I stayed for a week.

Not someone to sit around on the couch all day (and daytime television is a particularly savage version of hell) I did a bit of running while I had the time. Ok, so I did plenty of running. I was basically an attempt to overreach for a bit and then pull back and let the gains sink in. The overreaching bit definitely worked, I was knackered around Wednesday, let's see if the taking it easy bit works - never a strength of mine.

The weather was really nice for the first few days. Well, at least the sun was shining, though it was accompanied by a surprisingly cold wind but it was enough for me to get a bit of a tan, which is obviously what's supposed to happen in your holidays, though it generally doesn't happen when you spend your entire time in Bray.

I did 82 miles this week, with a couple of long-ish runs (not quite 17 on Wednesday, 18 on Sunday), and felt like hell on Wednesday but surprisingly good on Sunday. The fact that I was down to 140.6 pounds after Wednesday's run gives you a clue why I suffered - it was over 5 pounds less than on the day before and afterwards. Running for over 2 hours in the sun can severely dehydrate you, by the looks of it. I know, what amazing wisdom!

I did attempt some sort of workout on Friday. Since a HR of 160 turned out to be too much last time I tried, I went to 150-155, while doing repeats in Bray's Peoples Park, alternating one loop (pretty much 1k) at pace and half a loop for recovery. I had modest expectations but it was even worse than I imagined - on the plus side this time I didn't fell like keeling over, but I was toast after 3 repeats, and the pace was barely faster than 7-minute miles. Jesus Christ, only a few years ago I ran entire marathons half a minute per mile faster than that! Admittedly it was after a fairly tough week, but still.

So basically my endurance as such seems to be coming back nicely but as soon as the legs are turning over a bit faster I start to fall apart very quickly. The one thing I don't want to do now is force the issue and whip myself into shape with a set of brutal workouts - that doesn't work, I've learned as much. I need to try and nudge myself along gently - like I said already, never exactly a strength of mine.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Upwards and Onwards

The past week was the one where I finally felt some real progress had been made. The legs might not have felt perfect but all of a sudden my pace is dropping, the HR is somewhat stable (not entirely) and I'm starting to wonder if there might actually be some life left in the old dog.

I did a couple of runs that felt as easy as the other ones but the pace was below 8-minute miles, and it's been quite some time that I have been able to write such a sentence. While an 8-minute mile is just as arbitrary as any other pace it feels like a bit of a threshold and it happened to be my easy run pace for many years. I do want to point out, though, that I never paced myself deliberately to run a certain pace - on my easy runs I just run the pace that comes naturally and an 8-minute mile was generally the outcome.

I'm sure the recent improvement in form is related to a bit of faster running I did recently, and it's quite amazing just how much effect just a little workout can have in that regard and how quickly it starts to work. All the same, I have to be careful - my history of overtraining is directly related to running too many fast miles, and they don't even have to be particularly fast. Just a bit too fast and things can crumble.

My one workout this week was a little bit different. Instead of running intervals or a tempo run I headed to Bray Head and ran up that little mountain. The original plan had been to go up and down two or three times but the lower third of that climb, the one inside the wood, was very muddy and I was slipping all over the place so on subsequent attempts I ran back down only to that point where the mud started before turning around, and I did that smaller section three times in addition to the full climb at the beginning. All in all it added up to a bit over 9 miles of running and 1650 feet / 500 meters of elevation change, and I got home feeling I had done just the right amount of work.

Well, looks like my quads disagreed and on Sunday morning they were distinctly sore. I had forgotten how tough a few steep downhill miles are on unaccustomed legs. As a result I postponed the long run I had planned for that day and just did a bog-standard 10 miler instead, which went surprisingly well, even on less than perfect legs.

I'm up to about 60 miles a week, give or take a little, which is a lot less than I used to do but my legs seem to be okay with that kind of mileage at the moment. I'm actually off work this week, staying at home, and the weather is gorgeous, so I guess I'll take advantage of that fact and do a bit more. I'll keep an eye on the recovery - or at least I'll try to, restraint has not exactly been my strong point in the past.


Monday, May 06, 2019

We Need To Talk About Kevin

A few days ago I realised that I was not signed up for any race at the moment. I don't know the last time that was the case, it might have been about 10 years ago! That doesn't stop me from running, of course, but it means I am not focused on anything right now. In all honesty, I think that's a good thing right now. Too often I have focused too much on the next event and over-exerted myself in training, and not only did it come back to bight me a few times, eventually it all proved too much and my body stopped cooperating properly, overtrained.

While the time off earlier this year was very frustrating, I can sense that it actually did me some good and allowed some things that were out of whack to get back into balance. The challenge is now to keep it that way, something I am not particularly good at but the lack of focus might help in that matter.

I ran a few more miles than the previous week, and the mileage got to about 100k, give or take a bit. That might sound an awful lot to the average runner but it just kinda crept up on me, without trying to hit a certain mileage. The legs are definitely starting to feel much better again, after Connemara, and things are definitely improving.

My easy pace is somewhere around 8:30 these days, which isn't fast by any means. I used to run a minute faster on my easy days. But that's fine. If the pace comes down with training then that's great, and if it doesn't then I will just keep running in my post-competitive stage.

At some point I will need to decide what I'm going to do next. I can definitely rule out a long ultra this year, I have already decided that. I guess I will run a race in the autumn, but which one remains to be seen. If they re-open entries for Dublin then I might try and sign up, otherwise I might look at one of the hillier options around here - there's plenty of those around.

And for next year? Who knows! Niamh keeps telling me at every possible opportunity that 24-hour races are off the agenda, but that may or may not be the case. As for my cheeky suggestion of a 48 hour race instead - I can't tell you her response, this is a family-friendly blog (well, sometimes). Maybe focusing on some shorter distances might have some merit, I know at least a couple of guys roughly my age who did very well in that, but shorter distances were never really my thing and I don't think I'll get the taste for it now.

Anyway, I did an attempt at a workout on Saturday but got the effort wrong, too high. I thought aiming for a HR of 160 was reasonable enough, after all that used to be my evaluation effort, but it was too hard and after 1.5 miles I had to pull the plugged, totally cooked already. The strong wind at Bray promenade sure didn't help but I guess I'll have to dial it down a bit. On the plus side I did a loop around Peoples Park in Bray, along the Dargle river, and liked what I saw. I don't know why it took me over a year to check it out but it might be a really good venue for those kind of workouts in future.

I also did the Cliff Walk (well, Run) again, and wouldn't you know it, taking it easy on the way to Greystones means the return leg will feel much more doable! Who'd have thunk it! I also broke a long standing habit of mine and actually has some bites to eat before heading out for my long run instead of running it in a fasted state. I wanted the final 2 miles, uphill, to be less of a suffer fest and lo and behold, it worked. Eating breakfast and waiting for close to two hours before running isn't practicable on most  days, and running in a fasted state does bring its own benefits, but in that case it was definitely the right choice.

Oh, and Niamh got to talk to her uncle Kevin on Saturday. He is in his eighties now but he still walks for half an hour every day, and does up to 25 km on the weekends. (!!!!) He looks at least 20 years younger. When I grow up, I want to be Uncle Kevin!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Happy Birthday

Ok so, now where were we? Ah yes, bent over the railing of the Connemara finish, trying to keep upright, not entirely successfully.

I actually met a work colleague who had come to the finish specifically to meet me, she was a bit worried about me but I knew I would be fine once I could sit down and get a few calories into me, which is exactly what happened. The journey home, involving 3 different buses, wasn't the most comfortable journey ever but lying in the softest bed there is wouldn't have felt comfortable either, so there.

I was reasonably ok the next day and even managed to cycle to and from work without issues. The legs remained a bit sore for about 3-4 days, a bit longer than usual but that's a reflection of the sub-optimal training beforehand and entirely to be expected.

The week after the race I ran a few slow, easy miles every second day. In fact, it was so slow that I ended up running on my own for the lunchtime group run from work because nobody else wanted to share my snails pace effort, so I watched then inching away from me instead, not that I was even remotely tempted to speed up.

Things got better after a while and the second week I was back running every day, and feeling ok with it. I got to 10 miles this morning, and while the legs were feeling distinctively flat, the distance didn't bother them at all.

Then
Now


However, another and much more important feat of endurance was the twins' 18th birthday. There were times when I wondered if we would ever make it this far, but somehow we managed it.

They're still screaming as much as in the first photo, just the dramas are slightly different ones.

Friday, April 19, 2019

A Picture Paints A Thousand Words

Finished, in every sense of the word!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

I Used To Be Good At This, You Know

The Connemara Ultra is an iconic race in Ireland, and it used to be an absolute highlight of my running year, at least during the earlier stages of my running life. Things changed a bit 5 years ago, when Ray stopped being the race director it lost some of its shine and I had not been back since. Having said that, the reviews were still as good as ever, so when a few months ago a colleague at work asked me if I were interested in running it as part of a group that remembers Simone Grassi, a two-times winner of the marathon, I agreed to do it and so I was back at the start line after a 5 year absence.

Things had not changed much at all. In fact, the only two things I noticed differently were the fact that we were asked to run on the left side of the road rather than the right side, and the fact that Ray was not there. Apart from that the new organisers wisely left all the good bits in it, and it's still as brilliant a race as ever.

What's changed a bit is myself, and try as you might I knew I was in for my slowest time ever, barring a miracle. Losing 6 weeks in training at a crucial time is not something you can make up for, I really only got 2 decent weeks of training, and those were damn close to the race date at a time when I would usually have been looking at tapering, so I was under no illusions. I expected a very tough time ahead, even more so after cramping on my only 20 mile day, less than 2 weeks ago.

Never mind, we were actually pleasantly surprised by the fact that the torrential rain had stopped just in time as we gathered at the start line, it would have been an utterly miserable 20 minutes wait otherwise. I was particularly glad, standing there in my shorts and t-shirt when almost everyone else was wearing a jacket, and most of them with a backpack as well. However, I make those choices out of experience as well as personal preferences; on a cold day you're overdressed if you're not cold at the start, and I definitely don't see the point of carrying my own water around when there are aid stations every 3 miles.

Anyway, I started a good bit further back than usual and then drifted a few places further back with a slow first mile. All good. I got a couple of comments of "what are you doing back here" and "someone took your place up front" and responded that he must be 10 years younger. Then Barry pulled alongside and we fell into step, chatting relentlessly along the way, and the scene for the first few hours was set. We are both very experienced ultra runners and knew what we were doing. After a few miles a few guys went past, one of them commenting that they were probably doing something wrong passing us out, which reminded me of thinking exactly the same 5 years ago when I went past Eoin Keith early in a race. Ah yes, the good old times. Barry and myself talked a lot about them, and eventually Paul started running alongside us and got to hear a few good stories along the way.

The wind had been almost non-existent at the start but picked up considerably a few miles in, and at that point it was pushing us along, making things very easy. Obviously we knew there would be a price to pay, but so far so good. The first miles just flew by, and we were at the marathon start before we knew it.

In past years I would have caught up with the marathon field in next to no time but today they had been long gone when we got there in 1:53-ish. I picked up a nice bottle of sports drink, which hit the spot and was probably a factor in how easy the next few miles felt, though the fact that we had a rather strong wind pushing us along was a bigger one. At mile 17 or 18 Paul marvelled how easy it all felt, how he had never gotten so far feeling so fresh. The one downer was at the mile 19 checkpoint, where my prepared drinks bottle had gone missing from the ultra table. I had known perfectly well that this had always been a realistic possibility but I still wished the arsehole who had stolen someone else's bottle off the aid station table some violent diarrhea and a miserable race.

Anyway, the sharp turn towards the first proper climb of the day wasn't far off by now, and I pointed out to the lads that I hoped they were ready for 20 miles of headwind!

It wasn't a hard prediction to make.

As soon as we took that corner the wind was in our faces and we had plenty of time to get used to it. At first it was still all good, we all had gotten to that point in pretty decent shape, and by now we had finally caught up with the tail end of the marathon and gradually started reeling in a few of the stragglers. That first climb isn't all that long (I call it the "half a hill") and the "Stop and Pray"church wasn't as inviting yet as I thought it would be.

But there was no doubt that the real work of the day had started, and Barry was the first to feel the effects of a cramp, which was damn early in the race and with a lot of miles yet to go. He was actually moving pretty well when he could, but every now and then had to pull up and deal with cramp. Not good. We got to the downhill part into Leenane, found that running right behind an ambulance still did not provide any wind cover but a lot of Diesel fumes. The road into Leenane is always a bit longer than you think,and by the time I got there I was somehow running on my own again. The 13.1 miles since Louch Inagh had taken me almost 2 hours and I passed the marathon point in about 3:53. From the way the miles had felt I would have thought I would get there a bit quicker, but obviously the clock doesn't lie. However, I was still in reasonably good shape, which was good because the last half marathon would be significantly more challenging.

I might have felt okay but that feeling evaporated in no time whatsoever as soon as I started on the steep climb out of Leenane. Its the other hill of the course, the Hell of the West, that gets all the headlines but personally I think this one, the Devil's Mother, is worse (and the names here are somewhat telling). The wind was brutal, right into my face and I'm sure the valley ahead of us created a kind of funneling effect and doubled the wind speed. It was also much steeper than I could remember. In years gone past I had known that race so well I thought you could drop me off anywhere on the course and I would immediately know exactly where I was but the intervening years have obviously had an effect, though as I went along all the memories of yesteryear kept coming back again.

Anyway, I kept battling up the climb and I kept running because I knew that once I started walking everything would still hurt just as much but progress would be much slower and it would be a struggle to start running again. So I kept running, albeit slowly. Until the moment when I didn't, somehow. Not sure how that happened but it just seemed to take too much energy to run yet another step that barely brought me further up the hill and all of a sudden I found myself walking, thoroughly pissed off with myself for being so soft but at the same time utterly incapable of running again.

I kept on walking for most of the second half of the climb, not quite a mile, and three times unsuccessfully tried to start running again, unable to do so and having serious doubts about the miles again. Once I reached the top I eventually managed to get into a shuffle again, a rather pathetic one that was barely faster than walking but eventually the legs started loosening up to some extend and at least you could call it a run again.

From there on I was making a noise with each breath, and if you hear tales from the tail end of the marathon field about an ultra runner who was moaning with each step, yup, that was me. But I was making progress again, gradually making my way through the field, mostly the marathon field but I also started to reel in quite a few ultra runners as well as the miles passed by, always with some mutual words of encouragement. We were all in this together.

This was tough, definitely, but in all honesty it was going better than expected. I definitely had thought I would be battling tooth and nail with my cramping calves by now, but they behaved pretty well. I did notice one stark contrast to years gone by, however. I am used to weaving my way through the massed ranks of the half marathon on this stretch, and today there was just a sparse sprinkling of marathon runners left, which made for a very different experience. The running itself, however, felt just as tough, despite the slower pace.

Having said that, progress was much better than I could have hoped for. I had found the level of discomfort I was able to tolerate and got into a groove, steadily making my way towards the finish. The mile signs kept appearing reasonably quickly and with each sign I knew I was getting a good bit closer to the end. It was just a matter of keeping going, never mind that moaning noise I kept producing with each breath.

Knowing the area pretty well I kept seeing glimpses of the Hell from way back, and before I really knew it I was already at the bridge in Maam, and shortly after that the climb started. One thing to add, by the time I got there they had already run out of sports drink both in Leenane as well as in Maam, which wasn't great. Basically, it means that the one group of runners who might need some sustenance the most, the ultra runners, aren't getting any. Yeah, not great. Thankfully I had some carbs in my own pockets (some chews, from some goody bag from a race gone past that I happened to find in the cupboard when packing my bag the day before, and I never bothered to check the expiry date) and they made a massive difference. Every time I got some sugar I got a little boost that kept me going for another couple of miles, and by the time I was running out of them I was close enough to finish to keep running on fumes alone.

The Hell of the West was definitely the one place where I had been absolutely convinced my calves would be in full cramping mode, but somehow they were still working away perfectly fine, despite the 35 miles I had already covered by now. I cannot explain why that was the case. I had been so convinced that I would be cramping today that I had started to wonder if that negative attitude would actually bring on a cramp (the head works funnily in running, especially in ultra running), but that was obviously not the case. And unlike the earlier hill I had a handle on this one, I kept running and passing a lot of runners (including the back end of the half marathon by now). Having said that, the climb seemed to go on forever, there was always another turn when you thought you were on the last one, and another steep bit when you thought it was flattening out, but after an age of sisyphean effort we actually made it to the top, well past the 37 mile marker, which I had mistakenly expected to mark the top.

In theory you can see the finish from the top, but not if you're as short-sighted as me and not wearing glasses because you expected it to rain for the full 6 hours. Never mind, I knew where it was and I still knew the road towards the finish pretty damn well - a mile of downhill that feels pretty quick and a flat mile to the finish that keeps going on forever. I was still in reasonable shape, passed a few more runners and actually posted one of my faster miles today, and then, a very long time after starting, crossed the finish line in 6:06.

The time was pretty much what I had expected, though for much of the race the effort I had put in had felt faster than the pace I was actually able to churn out. The last 13 miles had taken me 2:13, contrast that to the 1:41 the same stretch had taken me 5 years earlier, though I can say with all honesty that today's effort had been at least at the same level, it's just the result that was different.

However, I was actually pretty happy about the race. I am still amazed about the fact that I had no problem with cramps today, and I really cannot explain why not, I wish I could. I am just as happy about the effort I put in, it was an equally honest effort as I used to produce in my competitive days and I could not have asked for any more. That mile coming out of Leenane had cost me a potential sub-6 finish but I just had not been able to run that hill, and scraping home under 6 hours would still have been my slowest Connemara time ever, so not really much of a difference.

I missed being greeted by Ray at the finish line, that's something that won't happen again, which is a shame, though I cannot fault the present organisers for any of their efforts, it is still a first rate race and one of the best in the country. I have the sneaking suspicion that I might be back for more.
14 Apr
Connemara Ultra
39.3 miles, 6:06:41, 9:19 pace, HR 142

Sunday, April 07, 2019

At Last - An Actual Training Week

Well, looks like this was the week when I actually started to feel good again, did some faster running without even noticing, and the miles added up a bit more than recently as well. In fact, I think if I had a bit more time I'd actually be able to whack myself into pretty decent shape. Shame I'm running out of time. In fact, this week may well have been a bit much with Connemara only a week away but I needed that kind of week, for the head more so than the legs. They say you need to trust the training when you start the taper, and I definitely had no reason to put any trust in my preparation until a few weeks ago, out as I was with injury.

I actually expected to feel tired at the start of the week after that hilly run on Sunday, but a slow easy run on Monday seems to have been all I needed. On Tuesday I headed out with some work colleagues at lunchtime, as we usually do when we manage to snag some time away from the desk, and I kept chatting to Norbert all the way - and for some reason we got a little bit faster with each lap. I swear I didn't push the pace, so does he, but somehow we just kept turning the screw, unnoticeable if it hadn't been for the watch, and that thing doesn't lie. However, I take the fact that I could run a couple of sub-8 minute miles without noticing as a very good sign.

Wednesday's run commute into the office was almost routine but it was Thursday that really surprised me. I had actually planned to run to and from work that day but my schedule just did not allow that and I only had a very limited window at lunchtime, which had me running a little bit faster than I would have otherwise, but I sure did not expect to average 7:38 pace. That's close to the pace I used to run on my easy days in my better years, and I didn't expect to see that figure ever again on a non-workout day. So I was happy anyway.

I did the to-and-from work thingy on Friday. It's getting a bit close to Connemara for that kind of thing, so I made doubly sure to take it easy. The legs actually felt pretty good, even in the evening - at least once the first mile or two was behind me. I thought the evening run was a good bit slower because I really took it exceptionally easy, but that turned out to be wrong. Funny how perception can be so off at times. However, the right calf muscle started to cramp up towards the end, which was a very unwelcome surprise. I had almost forgotten about my cramping issues. It doesn't bode well for Connemara, and the Hell of the West may be even more hellish than usual.

After an easy Saturday I did the Seahorse run to Greystones and back via the Cliff Walk, though it was a shorter version than last week because I left out the loop through Greystones. I started out feeling really good but my energy ran out halfway through and the run back home was a bit of a struggle, depleted and dehydrated - running without breakfast can have that effect at times.

And so I am just one week away from Connemara. It will probably my longest race for the year since I decided to give my body a bit of a break (a relative break, that is), and, as mentioned, I'd have loved to have some more time but I can't turn back time, and so I just have to suck it up. It's actually not the first time that I'm tackling a 39 mile ultra with way too little training after injury, I did the same in Achill 2015 and I survived that one as well, though the last loop was definitely a struggle. Ah well. It's not meant to be easy!

1 Apr
4.97 miles, 42:29, 8:33 pace, HR 135
2 Apr
4.93 miles, 39:48, 8:04 pace, HR 148
3 Apr
10.23 miles, 1:31:49, 8:59 pace, HR 140
4 Apr
4.55 miles, 34:46, 7:38 pace, HR 150
5 Apr
am: 10.22 miles, 1:27:25, 8:33 pace, HR 142
pm: 10.24 miles, 1:25:32, 8:21 pace, HR 143
6 Apr
6.31 miles, 56:12, 8:54 pace, HR 139
7 Apr
12.03 miles, 1:45:51, 8:48 pace, HR 150

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Happy Mothers Day!

Every weekend seems to be some special date at the moment, this time we were combining Mothers Day and clocks-going-forward day, which definitely had the potential of messing things up, though with the advent of mobile phones who automatically adjust their clocks it's much less of an issue than it used to be. Showing my age here, I know.

The other thing that shows up my years is the slow pace I'm plodding at most of the times, but I've done more than enough moaning about that particular subject already, so I'll spare you this time. I actually managed a run under 8-minute pace this week, though it mostly just triggered a raised eyebrow or two when I looked at the watch afterwards and noticed it.

With my weeks being really busy at work (if I'm not actively working on customer-related things I'm always studying for yet anther exam), and me being increasingly reluctant to get up before 6 o'clock to run before work, I have two choices for a run during the week: either to/from work, or run at lunchtime. The run-to-work things works very well but it's over 10 miles and with me still coming back from a fairly long lay-off, I can't do that too often yet. And lunchtime runs are always somewhat hurried affairs, with no more than 40 minutes running time, and even that is pushing things. Last week I checked the watch after coming out of the shower and it was 12:57 - and I had a customer call at 13:00! That explains the faster pace and the elevated HR on some days.

The one time I changed things this week was Thursday when I knew in advance that I would not have time for a run, so I indeed got my body out of bed at early o'clock and plodded a few miles. It wasn't a great experience, to be honest - it just felt too early and all I could do was plod along at snails pace, though at least it was good to see the HR in the 130s again.

I know I could run in the evenings, which is what most people seem to do, but it just doesn't suit. I'm home from work late enough as it is, and I'm not particularly inclined to run for an hour or so when I'm starving for dinner already.

Connemara is just 2 weeks away, and normally I would be tapering now, but I haven't done any training that would require tapering from, so I'll just keep going for another week and take it easier next week, that's all. The "race" itself will be interesting. I think I'll be able to get to 20 miles still in one piece, but the second half will be interesting. By the time I reach the "Stop and Pray" church, stopping and praying might seem like as good an idea as any other.
25 Mar
4.8 miles, 40:06, 8:20 pace, HR 147
26 Mar
4.96 miles, 40:06, 8:03 pace, HR 152
27 Mar
10.2 miles, 1:31:46, 8:58 pace, HR 143
28 Mar
6.3 miles, 56:30, 8:57 pace, HR 137
29 Mar
4.84 miles, 38:14, 7:54 pace, HR 151
30 Mar
10 miles, 1:25:36, 8:34 pace, HR 145
31 Mar
14.5 miles, 2:06:26, 8:43 pace, HR 147

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Fingers Crossed

The last few months have been very frustrating, running wise. After that silly accident in January I sure did not expect to be sidelined for so long (in fact, at first I didn't expect to be sidelined at all!), and it has been a very slow process.

However, finally it seems to be behind me. Last week I was still not quite right as I noticed after having a reaction to running the 10 miles to work but I repeated the same workout this week and suffered no further setbacks.

I ran 6 days this week, and the one break came on Friday, not because I felt I needed a break but because I just could not manage to get away at work, and then decided to take that as a hint and didn't try to squeeze in an evening run either.

I actually had another fall, after encountering one particularly stupid dog in the park. As we approached each other I veered towards my left, he veered towards my right, so all seemed fine, only for that damn mut to suddenly take a turn right into me and he got to my leg just at the split second of toe-off and I took yet another tumble. The lady was very apologetic, not that I could really blame her, apart from the fact that she had picked a particularly stupid dog for pet, but thankfully no damage was done.

Anyway, I turned the screw another notch on the weekend, first with an 8+ miles run on Saturday which went really well and I finished with plenty left in the tank, and had me wondering if all the cycling I had done over the last few months had kept my fitness at a surprisingly good level. However, the legs were definitely not sprightly on Sunday, so some damaged was done after all. I did a "long" run on Sunday, doing laps in Shanganagh Park so I would be able to gauge every 2k how I was feeling, giving me the chance to bail out early at regular intervals. I just ran slowly, at a very easy effort, and the legs seemed to be able to handle it. After about 5 laps I figured that another lap plus the run back home would take me right to the 2-hour mark, so that was that. I was reasonably tired afterwards, so how the hell I am going to fare in Connemara I don't even want to think about.

Oh, and I decided not to run a long ultra this year, for the first time since 2011. I hope my body will thank me for it by not falling apart any further. I had my eyes on the Donadea running festival in June, but eventually decided to skip it and just do ... actually, I don't know yet what I'll do instead. I'll play it by ear.
18 Mar
7.26 miles, 1:01:03, 8:24 pace, HR 153
19 Mar
4.39 miles, 36:32, 8:19 pace, HR 158
20 Mar
10.2 miles, 1:28:50, 8:42 pace, HR 148
21 Mar
4.5 miles, 36:43, 8:09 pace, HR 151
23 Mar
8.35 miles, 1:10:17, 8:25 pace, HR 139
24 Mar
13.73 miles, 2:03:43, 9:00 pace, HR 143

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh

Much of what I do in life, whether running or otherwise, is based on trial and error and some things just don't change. The hip had been feeling pretty good for at least a week, so when I felt it was time to try running the 10 miles to work again last Wednesday, it seemed a perfectly reasonable idea.

It fit well within my real-life schedule as I had to take public transport home that evening anyway, and running to work meant I didn't have to leave the bike in overnight. To be honest, I was far more apprehensive about how the legs would cope than the hip. The fact that it was a very windy day and I had to battle a fairly brutal headwind for the entire stretch - at times I wondered if I would ever get there - made it only tougher, so I was actually pleasantly surprised by the fact that I still had plenty of energy left when I got there. Alas, the hip didn't like it at all. In fact, I had felt it even before the run but wondered if that was purely psychological, caused by being a bit anxious about the run. But no, for the rest of the day, actually the rest of the week, I felt it again, and that was a real setback.

It's difficult to describe what it actually feels like. It doesn't hurt as such. It's not even a real discomfort. It just feels - weird. A very dull ache, not really how I would expect an injury to feel like. When I start running my hip feels a bit stiff, though not exactly what actual stiffness feels like ... I told you it's hard to describe.

So I had to take a step back again. I didn't run on Thursday, and only for a few miles on Friday. On Saturday morning I had to head down towards town where Niamh had left the car on her night out, and retrieve it before she got a parking ticket. I took the scenic route for about 4.5 miles, and by some miracle when I was done the hip suddenly felt perfectly fine again. Something very similar had happened a week or two earlier, I'm not sure what exactly is going on, but as far as I can tell a short run is better than complete rest, and a longer run is bad. I just have to figure out where the limit between the short and the long run lies - and of course that is a moving target.

Apart from all that, my hip wasn't actually the worst thing happening to my body this week. I don't know what caused it but I had a pretty bad allergic reaction to something. I had reactions all over my skin, including some brutal looking bright red stripes on my stomach, and my entire body was incredibly itchy, it was really rough for a couple of days. An antihistamine tablet eventually got me over the worst and eventually the big angry stripes started to fade - though I can still see them. It might have been the washing powder (for some inexplicable reason Niamh bought a different one to the usual one) but that's just a guess. I had a very similar episode a few years ago when staying on Valentia Island, and I don't know what the cause was back then either.

But hey, let's move on. Slowly, as is my wont these days.
12 Mar
4.5 miles, 38:34, 8:33 pace, HR 150
13 Mar
10.2 miles, 1:33:53, 9:12 pace, HR 149
15 Mar
4+ miles, 36:14, 8:54 pace, HR 147
16 Mar
4.45 miles, 39:20, 8:50 pace, HR 142
17 Mar
6.3 miles, 54:55, 8:43 pace, HR 146

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Three Stages Of A Runner

You start out as a newbie, eager to learn and looking admiringly and completely in awe at those incredible feats of human endurance that some of the other runners can do. Sub-3 marathon runners are demi-Gods, to be admired from afar but their running is so far removed from what you can do, it's barely the same sport.

Eventually you learn a few things, usually from your own mistakes but if you're lucky from others' as well, and if you keep training consistently for a few years you move into the competitive stage. This is a great place where you are running better than you ever dared to dream. You might run a sub-3 marathon, and some lucky gits run even faster, and you might bring home a few prizes, and if you're old enough then the age group trophies will start to stack up. This is all great, but at the same time you always feel some pressure whenever you're running a race, always need to push on, and the nature of running means that from time to time you will fail. Initially you're almost guaranteed a PB whenever you pin a number onto your chest, but eventual you will have to start working really hard for the occasional good race.

And then, finally, you move into the third phase. Your body isn't capable of producing new PBs any more, you have to strain to stay within a minute per mile slower than you used to run on your easy days and the prizes are being taken home by new faces, often runners you saw starting out years ago, when they couldn't even dare to keep up with you and thought of yourself as one of those demi-Gods mentioned earlier. Now it's time to forget about time, just enjoy the running and keep going.

Not everyone goes through all stages. Some aren't interested in training hard enough to start competing for prizes. And that's fine. Others stop running when they're no longer competitive, which is their own choice but one I hate to see, to be honest.

As I'm moving into phase three myself I can see that my body moved here a couple of years before my spirit. It's not an easy transition. I can't help but compare my times with the ones I used to produce, and the fact that my races are now slower than my training runs used to be is a bit hard to take at times. I still have a notion of having to achieve a certain time, and when I think of the Connemara Ultra and can't see myself running under 6 hours when I once ran 4:49, that can be a bitter pill to swallow at time.

It's hard to let go!

Why do I keep going? Because I love running just as much as I used to! I was never motivated by the idea of winning prizes or the occasional race, though those were very nice bonuses. But it's not what I craved. Just give me a pair of shoes and a road, and I'm happy out.

With that in mind it's a very good thing that the hip is definitely starting to cooperate. I ran every second day this week and both days of the weekend. I can still feel the hip but it's no longer bothering me. I did 2 runs on my treadmill and I can see from my reflection that I'm moving just fine, not lopsided, and I'm no longer subconsciously trying to protect my hip. The main problem now is no longer the injury but the loss of fitness over the last 8-or-so weeks. That will take a while.

5 Mar
4.02 miles, 36:08, 8:59 pace, HR 145
7 Mar
3(-ish) miles, 30:19, 10:09 pace, HR 135, treadmill
9 Mar
4.04 miles, 35:14, 8:43 pace, HR 149
10 Mar
6.33 miles, 1:00:00, 9:28 pace, treadmill

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Baby Steps

After tentatively putting my toe back into the water, figuratively speaking, this week has been all about finding my feet again, trying to get into something of a working rhythm.

Damage done to the right side of the soles when
I was hobbling along at the start of the injury. I had to chuck them out.
It started very gently with a couple of very short runs over the weekend, the shortest block in the neighbourhood, not even 2 miles. I most likely would have kept that going but on Tuesday I went for a lunchtime run with some work colleagues and I knew it would be a bit longer. It started out very slowly, which suited me perfectly fine, but somehow the pace kept decreasing and before I knew it we ran the last bit at sub-8 pace, which I didn't think I'd be able to do. However, what really pleased me was the fact that there was no reaction from the hip, so all was good.

Since then I have been slightly increasing the mileage, but with a couple of off days, usually when it would have been awkward to fit in a run into a very busy work schedule, bit a good thing anyway in my present state.

The biggest limiting factor right now is actually not the hip but the loss of fitness over the last few weeks. I did a fair amount of cycling (the commute adds up to almost 100 miles a week if I cycle every day) but that's simply not the same and I require some much more specific training to keep the legs going.

Of course it all was dead slow at the start, barely faster than 10-minute miles, but that has improved considerably already. Saturday was the run where I really noticed the difference. Up to then I had felt awkward and somewhat uncoordinated but the the muscle memory seems to have kicked in again and it felt much more natural.

I still need to be careful, I can feel the hip again now (Sunday). It doesn't hurt, and it's quite different to how it felt a few weeks ago, but it's a warning sign nevertheless.

When I go injured initially, I could not really stand on my right leg, I was completely unstable. I did notice that when trying to put on my socks and trousers while standing up. After a while things improved a bit and I managed as long as I had something to lean against in case of emergency. A few weeks later still I was fine balancing, as long as I managed to steady myself just before shifting the weight onto my right leg. By now that has cleared up, my balance is back to normal and my right leg can take the weight and be completely stable, no m
atter what. That's how I can tell that the injury is just about to clear up.

The last time I had a very similar injury, in 2015, it followed a very similar pattern. And weirdly enough, my first "race" back was a 39 mile ultra, which wasn't the most fun I've ever had in a race, especially over the last third, but I got it done and then I knew I would be fine. This time, my first scheduled race is again a 39 mile ultra, and while I'm a bit apprehensive about it, and I know full well that it's going to be hard work and not all fun and games, I'm nevertheless looking forward to it.
24 Feb
1.75 miles, 16:18, 9:18 pace, HR 140
26 Feb
3.95 miles, 34:53, 8:49 pace, HR 153
28 Feb
4.07 miles, 38:26, 9:26 pace, HR 144
1 Mar
4.05 miles, 37:15, 9:11 pace, HR 143
2 Mar
5.16 miles, 43:41, 8:27 pace, HR 148
3 Mar
3.6 miles, 31:06, 8:36 pace, HR 146
   treadmill

Saturday, February 23, 2019

We Must First Learn To Crawl

This has been the longest gap in this blog since its inception, by quite some margin. If you're still here to read this, congratulations!

The reason why I didn't post anything is the fact that this is a running blog and I had not been running. I did not want to post a constant stream of updates in the shape of:

"Not running"

"Still not running"

"No running yet"

"No running still"

And son on. Now, finally, I do have a bit of a better update:

"Running a tiny little bit!"

Admittedly, it's not the most amazing of news, but after more than 3 weeks of no running it was never going to anything but a small amount of miles, very slowly, and not feeling particularly great.

My hip started to feel much better about a week ago and I was just about to hit the road for a first test run last Saturday when I caught some virus that had me confined to bed for the weekend, aching all over the body and feeling very sorry for myself. I was mostly recovered by Monday (great! no need to miss work!) but still not back to my most energetic self, so I waited until Thursday before finally heading out, coinciding with a short break at some swanky hotel.

I ran for about 3 miles, a bit longer than planned but I got lost on the way home and had to find my way around the twisty little passages, all alike. The biggest disappointment was not the slow pace but the fact that as soon as I took my first running step I immediately felt my hip again, which had been completely fine for the last 10-ish days. Still, it was a lot better than before my break, I was not hobbling, and after a mile or 2 I was ok, though somehow every step felt awkward and uncoordinated, due to the long break.

I was fine for the rest of the day but to my great dismay I felt the hip again on Friday morning, so I took yet another off day, and ran again on Saturday, but only for about half the distance (it was enough to have me knackered nevertheless).

This is undoubtedly going to be a slow process, but I have no race goals whatsoever, and I'll take it just as it comes.

The next update won't be so long in coming, promise!
21 Feb
3.2 miles, 30:18, 9:29 pace, HR 141
23 Feb
1.73 miles, 17:13, 9:57 pace, Hr 140

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Out Of Commission

I was running back home from work on Monday evening, just like I do basically every Monday evening, and just as I passed Shanganagh Park my left foot got caught in some uneven pavement and I very nearly went flying again, at EXACTLY the same spot where I had fallen exactly two weeks earlier, and probably tripped up by the same thing again, whatever it was.

It was at that point that I realised that I had my fall on Monday and the hip had started hurting on Wednesday, 2 (well, 1.5) days later. Coincidence? Possibly, but very unlikely. When I had that fall I thought all it cost me was a fair amount of skin on my knees (which is still missing) but I guess there was some more serious reaction further up the kinetic chain.

Anyway, I made my way back home and went on with the rest of the evening. In fact, my hip had felt much better that day, so much so that I thought I had left most of that episode behind me.

Alas, when I woke up on Tuesday morning I knew immediately that something was off, but stubborn as I am still went ahead with getting ready to run into work. But when I started "running" it became clear very quickly that it was a non-starter. I got as far as the end of the driveway before conceding defeat, walking back home, and accepting that I had to stop running until this was genuinely better.

And with that, I'm officially on the injured list.

Not running didn't provide any immediate improvement, that is for sure. In fact, Thursday was the first day since the whole thing started that I actually felt in pain, up to then it was merely stiff and maybe a bit uncomfortable when I made the wrong movement. Friday was much better again, so much so that I thought maybe I'll be able to start running again soon, but I definitely felt awkward again on Saturday, so that's a no.

How long this will take isn't quite clear. I am away most of next week for work, and if I'm still laid low by then I'll go and see a physio. Doneadea is less than a week from now, and it's not going to happen for me, which is a real shame, it's one of the very best races in Ireland and I hate to miss it.

28 Jan
10.25 miles, 1:30:06, 8:47 pace, HR 138

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Seven Squared

Not a great week, running-wise, I'm afraid. Whatever the problem was I had with my adductor, apparently, moved around slightly and now shows up as a very stiff hip on the right side. It's not hurting, not at all, but I can't stride out properly and whatever it is, it doesn't seem to be in a hurry to go away.

Every run starts with me hobbling one-sided down the road, which I'm sure isn't a great sight. It takes absolutely ages for the hip to loosen up, 5 miles usually, and then I can finally run properly. Like I said, there is no pain, but something is clearly not right. The biggest worry from my point of view is that it doesn't seem to be getting better - it feels exactly the same as it did at the beginning of the week.

So, true to my usual MO, I did my best to ignore the damn hip and kept on running. Since almost all of my running these days is either running from or to work, it doesn't leave much option as far as distance or route choice is concerned. They are all a bit hilly, and they are all 10 miles long. Maybe a short run would be better but then I'd have to get up almost an hour earlier to run before my commute, and that really doesn't appeal to me, so for the time being I'll hobble along, hoping for the thing to work itself out eventually.

Also, because I can't seem to generate a lot of power with my jammy hip I've slowed right down again. This, looked at in isolation, is not a bad thing, actually. I do have a tendency of running my easy runs just a tad faster than I probably should, so an enforced slowdown might actually be good for me.

Oh, and I'm yet another year older. Still not enough for a new age group, though.

21 Jan
10.25 miles, 1:24:38, 8:15 pace, HR 138
22 Jan
10.2 miles, 1:30:56, 8:54 pace, HR 139
2.12 miles, 17:37, 8:18 pace, HR 128
23 Jan
10.2 miles, 1:29:16, 8:45 pace, HR 139
24 Jan
10.25 miles, 1:26:56, 8:28 pace, HR 138
25 Jan
10.25 miles, 1:33:47, 9:08 pace, HR 138
26 Jan
7.22 miles, 59:34, 8:14 pace, HR 141
27 Jan
11 miles, 1:37:00, 8:49 pace, HR 137

Sunday, January 20, 2019

It's Hip To Be Square

The week started off pretty well. The tired legs from Sunday seemed to have completely recovered overnight and I felt really good on Monday - though the extra long rest may have had something to do with it as I only ran in the evening, home from work. That left me with the usual dead legs on Tuesday morning, because a morning run straight after an evening run the day before is always tough.

However, worse was to come. On Wednesday I felt a pain in my left side. I wasn't quite sure where exactly it came from, somewhere around the groin area. It left me hobbling a bit first thing in the morning and also for the first mile or two into my run, though once I was warmed up and the muscles had loosened up I felt a lot better and continued my commute run into work (the only other option, namely taking the bus for the rest of the journey into work in my sweaty workout gear really did not appeal, and the other bus passengers would have liked it even less, I'm sure).

That issue pretty much defined the rest of the week. I know the general wisdom is to take a rest when you've got a pain but after almost 15 years of experience I very firmly believe that general wisdom is wrong and you're actually better off to keep running, as long as the pain doesn't get any worse, obviously. That worked for all my niggles over the years, with one exception in 2015 when I eventually required rest and a physio.

For the rest of the week all my runs followed the same pattern, a very slow first mile or two and then a "normal" run for the rest of it. Having said that, apart from the pain in my hip I am actually feeling good, as silly as that may sound. It even got so far that on Friday morning the legs felt perfectly fine, even though I had run the night before, which is pretty much a first. having said that, the HR/pace numbers don't entirely support that subjective feeling, the HR was rather high for such a slow run.

I tried to find less-hilly-than-usual routes over the weekend in an attempt to protect my problem area (which I know think is the adductor muscle), which in the end meant running a few loops, never my favourite kind of run. I don't mind loops at all during a race because then I have enough other things on my mind, but in training I find it absolutely mind-numbing).

Since I didn't want to overdo it, hobbling as I was, I decided to keep Sunday's long run reasonably short and first headed towards the promenade for a few flat miles and then towards Shanganagh Park for a few more. After 10-or-so miles I had a little dip in my energy levels but then I suddenly started to feel really good, a kind of runners' high that I don't usually get, and did an extra loop when originally I was supposed to head for home, and then another one, and then a third one, before reluctantly deciding that I had probably chanced my luck enough already and headed for home. It still wasn't a particularly long run, mind, just longer than I had anticipated.

The niggle is definitely getting better, even if I can't really tell the difference when running. How I know? Well, usually when I get dressed I balance on one leg to put on my socks, and on and Thursday and Friday I instinctively felt too unstable to even try that and had to sit down. By Saturday I could do that again without an issue, that's how I know. By the way, if you have to sit down to get dressed you might want to work on your balance and/or core strength (take that as a free bonus tip from me).
14 Jan
10.26 miles, 1:22:25, 8:01 pace, HR 142
15 Jan
10.2 miles, 1:28:00, 8:37 pace, HR 142
16 Jan
10.21 miles, 1:25:14, 8:20 pace, HR 144
17 Jan
10.26 miles, 1:21:57, 7:59 pace, HR 142
18 Jan
10.21 miles, 1:28:24, 8:39 pace, HR 142
19 Jan
10.4 miles, 1:25:34, 8:13 pace, HR 139
20 Jan
17.36 miles, 2:22:45, 8:13 pace, HR 142

Monday, January 14, 2019

Mixed Signals

The training has been ramping up recently and I’m seeing finally seeing some results, though it’s not all rosy skies.

It’s not that I had been too lazy to train properly in recent months, it was always a question of my recovery abilities being significantly compromised ever since the 24 hours race in June, and it basically took half a year to get over most of that hump.

So, the training had been fairly low-key, at least by my usual standards, and as a result the numbers I kept churning out were rather unimpressive and I wasn’t very happy about it.

In retrospect it’s fairly clear that I didn’t help myself by agreeing to run a number of 5k races with work colleagues when running at race effort was the last thing I should have done, and it definitely had a bad impact on me. I THINK that I’ve learned that lesson but that doesn’t mean I’m over doing stupid things – more of that later.

Anyway, last week I finally saw some numbers that looked much better and it looks like I’m finally making the kind of progress I have been waiting for for months. The heart rate is lower for the same effort. The pace is faster for the same effort. In fact, I finally posted an easy run at sub-8 minutes pace, which was kind of a watershed moment because that hasn’t happened for a very long time.

However, not everything is great. I started an evaluation workout on Friday, at lunchtime. I didn’t have much time so warm up was only just over a mile, and then I got into the effort. The evaluation has always been a rather moderate workout; you certainly feel the effort but it’s never too hard and I never had any problems finishing it. This time, however, after 2.5 miles, I pulled the plug. I felt like toast and running further would have meant my form was completely falling apart and the pace/effort ratio was tanking, so pulling the plug was definitely the right call.

That’s a bit worrying, because I really should not have a problem finishing an evaluation. It clearly shows that my recovery is still not back to normal and I have to be really, really careful. That lesson was reinforced on Sunday. I really thought I was being sensible and cut the long run back from last week’s 20 miles to maybe 16 or 18, but it was over a hilly section over to Greystones and back via the Cliff Walk trail, but by the time I started on the Cliff Walk I was already pretty much toast and just tried to survive the homewards journey. I opted for the short way home but the last few miles particularly were really tough, uphill and against a fairly strong headwind and I was struggling to keep going.

I was utterly baffled when I uploaded said run into Strava and saw an entire string of new segment PRs. I’ve only run that course about 4 or 5 times, and never when even remotely on form, so my segment times are very soft but still, I was really tired and trying to take it easy and just survive, so apart from Strava messing up the data I’m not sure how to explain that.

As for the stupid stuff mentioned earlier? Months ago I signed up for the annual pilgrimage to Donadea for the 50k in February . I'm still planning to run that, though I have promised myself to take it really easy, and run at least 20 15 minutes slower than my previous slowest time, in order to keep the recovery requirements to a minimum. It will require a serious amount of willpower to keep the ego in check and I have a tendency of losing it whenever I pin a number onto my chest, but for once I really need to be sensible (as sensible as you can be while running a 50k, that is).
7 Jan
10.25 miles, 1:22:37, 8:03 pace, HR 139
8 Jan
10.18 miles, 1:27:25, 8:35 pace, HR 139
9 Jan
10.26 miles, 1:25:50, 8:21 pace, HR 139
10 Jan
10.26 miles, 1:25:14, 8:18 pace, HR 141
11 Jan
4.96 miles, 36:53, 7:26 pace, HR 151
   2.5 miles @ 6:49, HR 161
12 Jan
7.24 miles, 57:43, 7:58 pace, HR 143
13 Jan
14.54 miles, 2:03:26, 8:29 pace, HR 148

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Happy New Year

Can you believe it, the first week of 2019 is already behind us. At that  rate it will be 2020 if you blink - then again, that's probably more a reflection of my own increasingly advanced age, time didn't pass as quickly when I was younger.

Anyway, I had a decent enough week. Tuesday was the first day for many months when the pace was close to 8-minute miles on an easy run, which was nice to see, even if it still wasn't quite there yet - it probably would have been on a flatter course.

Then the watch crapped out on me on Wednesday when it refused to turn the GPS on, claiming "only" 23% of battery power, which would easily have been enough for the run, but it just would not cooperate. Maybe it's time for a new one - the charging cable is rather worn by now, after over 4 years of constant use, and I'd definitely prefer one that connects wirelessly. I'll think about it some more, unless I see a really good deal in the sales. One of my show-stopper requirements is a battery time of close to 24 hours, which immediately rules out the vast majority of watches, though.

Anyway, I also had one bad run, which wasn't a complete surprise as I tend to feel tired if I run in the morning following an evening run. 12 hours is just not enough for the legs to recover fully at the present rate, and that's what happens when I run home from work one evening and back into work the next morning.

My long run on Sunday went pretty well for most of it, until the long final climb home started, which is the last 2 miles. Until then the legs had worked very well over the hilly course via Kilternan, but then I seemed to hit a limit and the last 2 miles were a bit of a slog. Never mind, all in all still a very good week, and I can finally see some progress being made.
31 Dec
6.72 miles, 56:12, 8:21 pace, HR 143
1 Jan
10 miles, 1:20:59, 8:04 pace, HR 145
2 Jan
10.2 miles, 1:24:00, 8:14 pace, no watch
3 Jan
10.25 miles, 1:24:33, 8:14 pace, HR 141
4 Jan
10.25 miles, 1:29:54, 8:46 pace, HR 143
5 Jan
6.72 miles, 55:22, 8:14 pace, HR 142
6 Jan
20 miles, 2:47:59, 8:23 pace, HR 141