Monday, August 19, 2019

Discrimination

Just imagine. Just imagine you have trained for years, paid the price in blood, sweat and tears. You get better and better because you keep pushing yourself past your limits again and again and eventually, after years of hard work that most people cannot even imagine, you reach the required standard for selection into your country's team for the World Championships.

No, don't fear, I'm not talking about myself.

To make things even more difficult, as if trying to achieve international standard by itself wouldn't be difficult enough, just imagine you are legally blind and cannot train like you or me can, as described vividly in this post. And despite those obvious disadvantages you manage to overcome all obstacles and manage to qualify.

And the you don't get selected, for no other reason that you are blind:

I'm outraged! That is just so fucking unfair, I cannot even put it into words. Plus, I was under the impression that there are laws against discrimination?

Compared to that, my own little training adventures pale into insignificance.

I felt better than last week, despite doing the exact same cycle route again on Tuesday. Maybe my legs are more getting used to it, who knows. I still felt tired on Thursday but much better on all the other days, and the odd tired day is allowed after all.

On Sunday I was feeling adventurous enough to head out into the Wilderness. I tried to get a feel for the land for that ultra in September, and while I still don't know the actual route I stitched together a route using an app call Komoot, which helped to plan things in advance and also was an invaluable navigation tool during the run itself. The software itself is excellent, absolute top marks, and if you are looking for a tool for planning your cycling, running or hiking routes, this is the only one you need to look at. Trust me. What wasn't quite so good was the quality of the map, and I learned reasonably quickly that just because there is a trail marked on a map that does not mean there is an actual trail on the mountain. After twice getting stuck in a jungle of fern, brambles and gorse I had learned my lesson and started to stick to visible paths instead of blindly following a voice from the mobile. I'm not blaming Kamoot for the lousy map data, btw., the same non-existing trails are in the Strava maps as well.

Anyway, I tagged off Great Sugarloaf (which I had been planning on doing for over a year anyway) and Little Sugarloaf as well on the way back home, though it was mainly hiking and precious little running (as well as scrambling on all fours on some worryingly steep bits), and moving up a steep loose scree slope is bloody hard work, so it definitely was a damn good workout despite the lack of running, and I was out for well over 3 hours - and absolutely knackered afterwards! But it was the good kind of knackered, or "pleasantly tired" as Lydiard would have called it, and I have a good set of memories. I'll head into the mountains again in the following weeks. I clearly need the training!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

There's Always Hope

I think the less I train the less I am motivated to update the blog, or maybe those things just happen to coincide. I'm not sure.

Last week was another one with low mileage, at least by my own standards, about 45 miles. I had felt totally dead on my feet on Wednesday and Thursday, so I decided to basically bin the long run on Sunday. I still went out, mostly to test out all my shiny new gear I got for next month's ultra (i.e. a rain jacket and a race vest) but it was for not even 10 miles. I also switched into ultra effort, walking all, well, most of the uphills and taking it easy on the rest as well. I even stopped a couple of times and took a few photos, mostly to switch my brain into non-competitive mode.

My long day is actually Tuesday, and the reason for that is that this is the day where we do a long cycle after work. We'll be doing a 3 day charity ride for Laura Lynn at the beginning of September, in Kerry, and I just could not say no to it. I am finding the cycling surprisingly easy and also surprisingly enjoyable, though maybe it helps that the pace is always rather gentle and not exactly strenuous - my average HR for those rides is barely above 100. However, 3 hours in the saddle after work, added to cycling into work in the morning and doing a 5-mile lunchtime run, adds up to more than 4 hours of exercise in a single day and I sure could feel it into the legs for the next 2 days, hence the easing off.

How much that cycling is helping my fitness towards the ultra I have no idea. I do get the long bouts of exercise but they say it's about "time on feet", and obviously when cycling I'm sitting down, so not exactly on my feet. Then again, Eoin Keith used to do a ton of cycling for his training and he wasn't exactly a bad ultra runner at the time, so it definitely does help (admittedly, he got even better when he started doing more running instead).

The plan for the next few weeks is to do a few long runs on the race route, combining training with a recce, though that is made a bit more complicated by the fact that they still have not confirmed the race route, though I have a reasonably good idea (Bray Head, Little Sugarloaf, Great Sugarloaf, Djouce, and then do it all again on the way back).

On Monday I went out at lunchtime with a work colleague who is training for a sub-3 in Dublin. He did an easy run, which for me was steady pace. I was really surprised afterwards to see that I had done basically the fastest run in this training cycle. I obviously knew I was running faster than normal but we were chatting away the whole time and it didn't feel fast. Funny how that works. Also, I had actually been planning to slow down in my training as the ultra approaches, so if that was a good thing or not is an open question. Mind, 5 miles when you're still managing to chat all the way through doesn't sound like I was overworking myself.

It started raining this week. Maybe that's a good thing. It was really humid all summer, I was always soaked right through after a couple miles of running, which may well have been a major contributing factor to me feeling tired so quickly. I'll see, maybe things will improve. Let's hope so.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Overtraining Syndrome - OTS

I came across this article about overtraining syndrome the other day. While it's not exactly the first time I've been reading about it, it did get me thinking, not least because I have been hearing about it for several years and yet there still seems to be a complete lack of understanding about it, and the less said about the competency of the general medical profession regarding this subject the better.

I know I had been overtraining badly in 2016, but quite possibly also before and since. The "problem" has been that I did not have most of the symptoms described, apart from that significant drop in performance (in 2016 I had the constant fatigue, alright), which ended up with me being in denial for far too long.

My problem was that I lacked the physical performance attributes of most of my peers at the international level but made up much of it in psychological terms, being able to push myself harder than most (not the absolute top guys, obviously). That worked for a couple of years but eventually caught up with me, especially as I kept turning the dial further and further until I reached the point where I was at 11 out of 10 and there was nothing else to give.

Ever since then there has been a decline, steady at first and precipitously the last 2 years or so, and I seem to have reached the point where I can't even run half as much as I used to. I also do wonder if I'm about to fall out of love with running. There are days when I do wonder why I still bother lacing up the shoes. I can't help comparing myself to my only slightly younger self, and we're talking completely different levels of performance here. I actually used to look forward to the time when I would have been retired from competitive running and just go out running for pure joy - unfortunately it doesn't seem to work like that for me. It doesn't help that my legs seem to be completely toast after 90 minutes, no matter what, even if I take it easy the day before, even if I take it easy from the start.

I didn't mean to be whining all throughout the blog post, sorry about that. A part of me keeps thinking that half a year away from running might do me some good, the rest of me keeps shuddering in horror at the mere thought of it.

Cycling seems to be going ok, at least I'm able to keep that up for a few hours without the legs turning into jelly and the energy levels plummeting towards zero. On the other hand I have no real desire ever to enter a cycling race, it just doesn't appeal to me, and to keep cycling on my own for 4, 5, 6 or even more hours on a long ride doesn't sound all that appealing either.

Oh I don't know, I'll figure something out. I  have a race entry for that 50 mile ultra in September, which sounds more and more like a really bad idea but I will be doing it anyway because I'm an idiot, and being an idiot has worked surprisingly well, in general. I will test the theory that running an ultra just for fun is easier than racing a marathon, which never managed to convince me to be honest, but I guess I'll find out.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Twenty Two Years!

Can you imagine being shackled to a complete idiot for 22 years, having to endure all his stupid ideas ("I'm going to run in circles for 24 hours!" "I'm going to run for 153 miles in the heat in Greece!" "I'm going to run in circles for 24 hours again because it didn't hurt THAT much last time"), sometimes even being roped into his games and forced to help out and watch him suffer, and yet somehow still being able to smile? I can't, and yet that's exactly what Niamh had to endure for the last few decades, and for some reason she's still here (she's seriously trying to put an end to that 24 hours running, though). Happy Anniversary!

The blog has taken a little break, mostly because my running has taken a little break as well. I didn't exactly feel super fresh in Vienna, and I didn't exactly feel super fresh on my return. I actually tried to shift training into a new phase, doing hill workouts, a little bit in the old school Lydiard way with bounding up a very steep road and coming down on a more gentle gradient, not least because I realised that I have exactly that setup not even a mile from my front door. I seemed to remember that hill workouts usually brought me along, really strengthening my legs without taking too much out of me, but it turns out I must either have misremembered it all or I've gotten old and things have changed. By last Sunday I was totally knackered after not even 10 miles of hilly running at an easy effort, so I pulled the emergency break and didn't run at all for 3 days. Gasp!

Well, actually it kind of happened because work was so full on that I would have found it hard to find some extra time for a run. Having said that, I know full and perfectly well that if I really want to go for a run I always find a way. But the timing for a break suited me well. Having said all that, I took some time off running but I was still cycling into work each day (which adds up to almost 100 miles a week), I did the training spin with the group from work on Tuesday and I did a charity thing on Saturday in Stillorgan which added up to almost 3 hours on a bike, including cycling to and from Stillorgan, so that must have been about 160 miles of cycling, so it wasn't all that easy a week, really.

Nevertheless, I was working off the theory that cycling uses different muscles and therefore my running muscles should still be fresh. Let's just say, results haven't been exactly in favour of that theory, and my easy long-ish run today on the Cliff Walk via Greystones ended in a bit of misery, though the heat and the fact that I was absolutely parched and had lost about 4 pounds despite drinking a lot before setting off had something to do with it as well.

I tend to feel really thirsty for hours after these runs, even though I'm drinking by the bucket, mostly tea as that is far more appealing than water. A cold beer sounds like absolute heaven right now but unfortunately I am the designated driver to collect wife and children from the Bray Air show, so that is out at the moment.

With all that cycling I am doing in addition to my running I can't help wondering if I should add some swimming as well and have a look at the appeal of the Dark Side again. After all, that big M with a dot on top is still on my bucket list, and I have been putting it off for about 10 years now.

Or is that the idiot in me talking again?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Rotlichtläufer

There's a quirk in the German language that allows you to create new composite words out of existing ones. That's why there exist words like Schadenfreude. It also means you occasionally come across a new word that you haven't heard before even if it's your native tongue, so when Martin asked me if I was a "Rotlichtläufer" ("red light runner") it took me a bit to process that. Not only was the word new, after 16 years in Ireland the entire concept was alien - are you the kind of runner that crosses a road despite the traffic light being red? Well, duh, obviously. Everyone in Ireland is!

I've obviously been away for long enough to lose the Austrian rigidity when it comes to committing minor offences.

Anyway, there are a few things in Austria that are different to Ireland.

Summer is a lot warmer. We actually missed the brutal heatwave and even had a couple of days of intermittent rain but it still got to 28 degrees.

There are quite a few public water spots, though they can be hidden away, a few meters off the road, and if you don't know them you don't see them. When the temperatures are getting close to 30 degrees, you do need them! I got to use one during my long-ish run on Sunday but I still suffered by the end.

The infrastructure is just so much better than in Dublin, from public transport to cycle paths to running paths, to higher quality housing (at a much more affordable price too), to better roads, even significantly better restaurants and I could go on. I can't actually explain why that is, the local politicians are just as inept, corrupt and self-serving as they are here, so I have no idea why the whole government stuff just works better. Oh, the train ticket from the airport to the city centre cost 11 Euro. For the 6 of us! And almost all the museums were free for the kids, up to the age of 18.

There are a lot more cyclists, and since the cycle paths I saw were actually separated from the road, as opposed to someone painting a white line and calling it a cycle path, there is much less animosity between drivers and cyclists. Which is the way it should be, obviously.

There are also a lot more runners. The Prater especially was full of them.

Shop assistants are just as unfriendly ad they used to be. Which is just baffling, even more so now that I work in sales myself, and I do wonder how on Earth they get away with their behavior.

Viennese drivers are dicks. Probably even more so than Dublin ones.

People complain like mad about anything and everything. Wait! That's the same here!

I got to run about 70 miles, same as I would have done in Ireland, though on nicer paths but in sweltering conditions at times. I was completely exhausted after a couple of runs but I attribute that more to the condition there, plus me being on my feet much more during the day, than to a problem with my running. I guess I'll quickly see how thing go now that I'm back home.

Thanks to Martin for showing me some of South-Eastern Vienna on Monday, the one part I am much less familiar with than the rest. I was tempted to explore a bit more on Tuesday on my own but did not want to get hopelessly lost on my last day.

The general agreement was that it was one of our best family holidays ever. The fact that it was only for one week may have helped!
Hofburg

Stefansdom

The Halo Third Man Riesenrad

The road to infinity. Especially at mile 20 in the marathon!

Schönbrunn

Gloriette

Belvedere

Hundertwasserhaus

Belvedere Gardens

Neufelder See

Karlskirche
The kept the gay traffic lights that were installed as a show of tolerance! Too bad the conservatives are blocking any law reforms that would actually put that into reality. Utterly disgraceful!


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).