Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Ray D'Arcy's LauraLynn Half Marathon

Ray D'Arcy had started a challenge at the start of the year, to run a marathon every week for the entire year, and of course to collect money for the LauraLynn children's charity while doing so. Since I cannot think of a more deserving charity in Ireland, I signed up for it.
 
Deer in Phoenix Park
Spotted on the way to the start
Covering a distance of 26 miles in a week isn't exactly a major challenge, so for most of the year I was just ticking along. I did a few more challenges alongside that one, most notably the East Of Ireland last person standing one, twice, which always went on for weeks and, as per usual, I was too stubborn to pull out when I should have and went on and on and on. In fact, during the final week of the second challenge I ran over 120 miles - and I did not even realise it until a few weeks afterwards when I accidentally checked my logs on Strava!


Anyway, I had long covered the entire 52 marathons and at the start of December Ray organised a half marathon in Phoenix Park for everyone to take part, rather than just long lonely mile after lonely mile. Bizarrely enough, I had not run a half marathon for over 10 years, while running dozens of races both longer and shorter.

Of course I had not trained for that. I had taken it rather easy after the Eco Trail, reconning that my body was better off with some rest rather than jumping back into training. I had barely gone over 10 miles on the weekends, so this was actually my longest run in a while, not that I was worried about the distance - I sure was not in there for a decent time, though. As a direct result of my lack of preparation I did not even try to go for a time, just jog the thing, collect the medal and t-shirt, an go home. And that's pretty much what I did.

Covid restrictions had lifted for December to allow the run to go ahead (and I am not aware of anyone getting infected there, not that I have much insight), which must have been the greatest question mark, and at 9 o'clock we assembled at the start line. I was very much towards the end of the field, not just because I had no ambitions regarding time but also to avoid the crowded masses further ahead. Once we go going it inevitably meant weaving around God knows how many other runners for the first mile and eventually we settled in position and just go on with the rest of the race.

Phoenix Park is quite hilly and it definitely was not a flat course, not that it compared to my previous one on Valentia Island in Kerry. I just took it even easier on the uphills, and made up for some of it on the downhills. The course design was a bit strange, basically 4 loops, getting ever smaller. The first loop brought us all the way to the other end of the Park, the second one cut back at halfway and the last 2 ones were smaller ones of the Tom Brennan New Year's Day 5k, albeit going the other way. It meant you actually passed through the finish after loop 3 with almost 2 miles yet to go, and I'm sure there were some that "forgot" to do the final loop. I had definitely erred on the slow side of pacing myself and with one mile to go I had still plenty in the legs and went a bit faster for the last one, not that a 7:30 mile was in any way impressive (I used to comfortably run a minute per mile faster for the entire distance, not just the finish stretch). Ah well. Getting old sucks. I think I may have mentioned that already. My time was just over 1:50 - almost half an hour slower than 10 years ago. Yeah, getting old definitely sucks!
  
The End

After crossing the line I collected my medal and there was nobody there to chat to, really, so I just went home. A bit of an anti-climatic finish, which goes with a bit of an anti-climatic race, I guess. Still happy to have done it. Thanks to Ray D'Arcy for organising it, and of course, most importantly, for collecting a seven-figure sum (!!) for an outstanding charity.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

There Must Be An Easier Way to Get A Mug

In case you were wondering, that was at the start
I had started to doubt if I would get to race again in 2021, my last race having been the Donadea 50k all the way back in February 2020, just as the world was on the brink of sliding into the pandemic. But here I was, on the start line, a mere 19 months later.

Well, actually it's all relative. I wasn't standing on the start line, rather we gathered loosely in the general vicinity of the start area, and as the countdown reached 10 seconds or so we casually started to make our way towards the start, owing to the fact that the virus hasn't gone away and we're still socially distancing.

Also, I wasn't really racing. I was in no shape to do so. In fact, a few weeks before the race I had contacted the race organisers to put me from the 80k down to the 45k, because training had been nothing but a loose collection of usually not very long runs, and every time I tried to go long I endend up with tired, sore legs that demanded a long recovery period. I wasn't confident I would be able to finish the 80 but I always knew that I would be stubborn enough to drag myself around the 45k course, even after they added an extra km close to the start date.

The course is absolutely stunning, and if you find yourself within the general vicinity of North Wicklow with a pair of trail shoes and a few hours to spare I strongly recommend you do yourself a favour and have a look yourself. The very best views are reserved for the 80 and 45 k distances, but even the smaller races are spectacular.

The other thing that's spectacular is the sheer amount of climbing you do, certainly for someone much more used to road running. Even the 45k has over a mile of elevation gain over the whole course, and some of the trails are quite rough, so forget about time and enjoy.

Forgetting about time and enjoy was exactly what I was planning to do. On my last outing on that very course, 2 years ago, I had started to cramp badly even before to 40k mark, and that was when I had been in better shape than today, so any attempt at heroics would be punished severely, and I thought the better of it. Just take it all in at a leisurely pace and enjoy the views. And I brought some walking poles with me in an attempt to take some weight of my legs, maybe it would make a difference, though I had not spent an awful amount of time practicing with them (then again, growing up in a skiing country meant using poles was rather natural to me, even after a long break, and I got the hang of them straight away).

Kilruddery House
The first climb up to Bray Head is already spectacularly steep, and I seemed to be the first participant to start walking while much of the field was streaming past. Fine by me. There was even a traffic jam further on as we filtered into the narrow trail, we must have stood or moved very slowly for well over a minute. Eventually we came out top at the cross and headed along the ridge and back down the other side towards Little Sugarloaf, heading through the swanky Kilruddery estate.

The climb up Little Sugarloaf was through the woods, very nice, and then we headed across the M11 towards the Great Sugarloaf trail, my favourite trail in the whole area. At that point we were well into it, and it was actually quite hot. I sure was sweating buckets and my water supply only just about lasted to the Great Sugarloaf aid station, maybe about 15k in.

Some View!

That was followed by a big loop through Powerscourt, past the waterfall and eventually to a viewing point, looking at the waterfall high from above, an absolutely breathtaking view. The view of Lough Tay from the flanks of Djouce might be the only one to rival that one, but that was reserved for the 80k runners today.

Straight down, followed by straight up

A lot of rough trail going up and down followed. As I later explained to an American visitor, they don't believe in switchbacks in Ireland for their trails, they just have them go up and down in a straight line. Also, as a road runner at heart I was definitely struggling with the stony trails, some of them really rough, and the slowest parts of the course may well have been some of the downhills where I gingerly picked my way through the boulders.

I was also rationing my water because I knew it had to last all the way back to Great Sugarloaf, and I was getting rather thirsty. One highlight was when I saw Mick Hanney at the junction of Djouce - the last time I had seen him had been exactly two years ago at the exact same place, only this time I was heading straight rather than right up the mountain, having chickened out of the long one.

But I sure was in much better shape than the last time I had run those trails, because two years ago I was really suffering with brutal cramps and this time I was still moving well enough, though, as I said, at a leisurely enough effort. It made for a much more enjoyable time, no doubt about it.

Great Sugarloaf
Eventually we made it back to Great Sugarloaf, and with that I was basically back on home territory, having become rather familiar with the rest of the course over the last couple of years. The descending trail off great Sugarloaf used to be a really rough trail, full of stones, and overgrown so that you could not even see half of the stones, and earlier this year they had replaced that with a very smooth gravel trail, much much faster no doubt, certainly safer as well, but it was still f*cking steep and I was worried about busting my quads on that fairly brutal descend. And indeed, one runner who had flown by me exactly there was passed again 5 minutes later almost doubled up with cramps. Sorry mate, happens to the best of us. As much as I thought I had disliked the old, rough trail, I'm not sure if I like the smooth new one better.

Bray and Great Sugarloaf
There were a few changes to the course as well, we actually went on a trail towards Little Sugarloaf this time rather than use the Quill Road, another trail that had been in bad condition until earlier this year until they obviously did some work on it - this one definitely meets my approval. By now I could feel my own calves starting to twitch every now and again, though I was reasonably hopeful I'd be able to nurse them along to the finish as long as I didn't do anything stupid. Besides, after bumbling along for 5 hours this was not the time to start racing anyway.

By the time we got back towards the climb up Little Sugarloaf I was definitely rather tired and would not have minded finishing soon, but this was now definitely home territory and I could start to sense the finish, though there were still two mountains left. I really must have been tired because on several occasions I basically tripped over my own poles, though I somehow managed to avoid a face plant, which would not have been pretty amongst all the stones around here. 

Almost done
I filled up my water bottles one last time at Belmont and then tackled Bray Head, though usually I don't take the scenic route through Kilruddery to get there. One more climb and the cross came into view again. By now I had caught up with the tail end of the 29k field, which at least gave me a runner to catch every now and then - even if you're not in a competitive mood, that still helps.

The insanely steep climb down from Bray Head was as challenging as expected, though the poles definitely made that one easier. I did have one "race" at the end as I caught one runner at the prom and left him in the dust while belting along at speed - which turned out to be 12-minutes miles, interesting. 

And then I was done. I got my t-shirt, my finisher mug, and a can of the local brew, Wicklow Wolf, alcohol free. I know, alcohol free beer isn't exactly everyone's favourite but after 6 hours running in the heat, boy does it go down well! I even managed to blag myself a second can which went down equally well.

I bumped into Finbarr, Norbert and Andrew, who had all finished shortly ahead of me (so I was making up the tail end of the crew, ah well) but didn't hang around too much as I was eager to get horizontal at home.

Not exactly my most glorious performance ever, but it felt great to be racing again! Maybe I'll get used to it again, one day. Still, it was a bloody long way to go for a mug. There MUST be an easier way.


Sunday, May 02, 2021

Parklife

We moved house about six weeks ago. Not very far, just from one end of Bray to the other, so not a big deal. However, what that did for me was to put Shanganagh Park within easy reach. Initially I thought that was great, having a nice, big park available for a few easy laps any time, but as it turns out it doesn't actually quite work that way.

There are printed signs on the tarmac saying "Keep Left", and there are arrows all along the loop to reinforce that message. It's a actually quite a simple concept really, you'd think people would get the hang of it quickly enough. 

I had seen the exact same thing on the prom in Bray, last year when the pandemic started. It took a couple of month until everyone managed to get it, but from then on it was plain sailing (I usually run along Strand Road, though. The prom can be crowded). However, 14 months clearly weren't enough to get the same through to the population of South Dublin. Groups of up to 10 spread out across the road? Check! People walking on the right, making no effort whatsoever to move aside for the 75% of people who do actually move on the left? Check! Dog walkers with extensible leads spread across the entire path? Check! 

South Dublin really is full of fucking wankers. Irish people from anywhere else were right all along.

Enough about other folks' shortcomings, I've a few myself. Running-wise, the most glaring one is that I seem unable to slow down properly. My usual training runs tend to be around 8 minute pace. That's similar enough to the pace I used to do for years and years. Problem is, I'm far from the runner I used to be all those years ago. You're supposed to do your easy runs (as in at least 80% of your runs) at least 1 minute slower than your marathon pace. As I'm fairly sure I would not be able to run anywhere near a 3:30 marathon these days, that means I'm actually running faster than my marathon pace. That's a very common mistake runners make, almost certainly the most common one. Thing is, I really should know better but somehow I can't seem to slow down. I start out nice and easy but as soon as my conscious self switches off, my pace falls into the 8 minute trot that I have done for thousands of miles. It seems to be hard-wired into my brain. 

Also, I tend to zone out very quickly. Five minutes into any run and I'm spaced out. That should be a great thing, though with that disconnect between what my brain thinks I can do and what my legs can actually do, there's an issue.

I can see that it's not really working. I did a 5k time trial last week and had to suffer for 21:24, which is just shockingly slow. And I can barely run 13 miles without feeling wiped out afterwards. I tried to go for a flatter rout this morning, avoiding steep hills like Quarry Road, but turns out that's not the solution either.

Ah well. I'm still on track for Ray's marathon challenge, running at least a marathon a week, though I got rather lazy and on some weeks I barely ran more than that rather modest target. To give myself a kick up the backside I just signed up for another virtual Last Man Standing, in the hope of giving me an incentive to move a bit more. There is no hope whatsoever of making it to the end of that but if it gives me a reason to get moving it will have served its purpose.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Hiatus

Ok, this time I really left is too late with the update. I actually had things to say - what was lacking was the motivation. I guess the lockdown is starting to get to me. I'm sure it the same for most of you out there.

Early February was the anniversary of my last real race, the famous Donadea 50k. I might have had a shocking run but it was my only race last year, so something of a highlight, if rather unexpected.

We did a virtual 50k. It would not be Anto if there were no event. On the day of the race itself I woke up to a surprise scene, there was snow outside and the roads were icy, so I went on the treadmill instead. Obviously the plan was to run 50k but after about 15k my left Achilles started to hurt and by halfway it was bad enough for me to call it a day and step off. If it had been a real race I undoubtedly would have soldiered on but for a virtual event I really could not build up the enthusiasm to run through the pain. I gave it some rest for the rest of the day and went on again the next day to finish it off. Surprisingly I felt much better on Sunday, though it was still on the treadmill because the weather was still rather uninviting. I finished off the second half of the race and was actually tempted to do the whole thing but it was also Valentines Day and my date was waiting for me, and sacrificing my marriage for a virtual race was definitely not on.

Funnily enough, that Saturday was the last time my left Achilles bothered me, it's been fine since that 25/25 double. Mind, I also changed the shoes I use for the treadmill, which may or may not have something to do with it as well.

Ever since then I have definitely lacked some motivation. I started going up the local mountains again, now that the snow has melted. Since then I've been up Bray Head twice and Great Sugarloaf once. I'm lucky enough to have these within my 5k radius, which I definitely appreciate. Lockdown would be a lot worse otherwise.

I did have one attempt at a speedy workout, mostly because my local running club has a league going, a virtual one obviously, and this month it was a 10k. I didn't race it but went at it at tempo effort but was still a bit shocked to clock up a whopping 46 minutes. Sure, I had done next to no speedwork and I'm yet another year older but that's just ridiculous. 

I eventually decided that there is a chance that doing speedwork in Peoples Park isn't a real reflection of my pace. I had done a mile TT there around Christmas and that had been equally shocking, and a bit out of kilter with other runs. It might have something to do with the fact that half of the lap consists of a dirt/gravel path which may, just may be a slow surface. I guess I'll pick somewhere else for my next time trial and see how that compares.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

My Achilles Heel

In my prime I went for years without injury, quite unusual for a runner, but my Achilles heel has always been my, er, Achilles. It started again a couple of months ago when my right Achilles tendon started to feel a bit stiff, especially in the mornings but I could definitely feel it throughout the day.

This eventually just about settled down when all of a sudden my left Achilles decided to step into the action as well, which is a bit unusual because almost all of my niggled and injuries (and cramps!) happen on my right leg. In fact it stepped into the action with a vengeance because it was worse than the other leg had been.

The first time I had this, many years ago, I was quite worried about it, enough to have it seen to in fact, but by now I have experienced it often enough to have a reasonably chill outlook. The tendon doesn't just snap and it does get better eventually. Still, I am over 50 now and healing is slower, so I spent 1 or 2 days a week cycling instead of running. Strangely enough running on the treadmill seems to worsen it because in general I can feel it when running a hill and level ground should be fine; maybe there's something about the way the treadmill is a bit bouncy that disagrees with me.

It was almost back to normal until last Sunday, when it flared up again in the middle of a long run, painful enough for me to cut it short and hobble off the treadmill. Thankfully it seems to have settled again but I can definitely still feel that something is a bit off, so a few days on the bike will remain to be part of my training for the next couple of weeks at least.

Obviously, with us all in lockdown and no races on the horizon, it doesn't really matter. Just keep ticking over, enjoy it and stay healthy.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Slow Start

Well, some things are hard to explain.

After running a lot of easy miles I decided to stretch my legs a bit again and anyway, I had to catch up on some of those virtual events I had signed up some time around Christmas but was too lazy to actually do. The one on my mind was the virtual Beaufort 10k, because that's the annual race organised by my old club in Kerry.

In order to get some zip into the old legs I did a fast mile on Friday morning in Bray's Peoples Park. I certainly didn't do an all-out mile time trial but I thought I did put some decent effort into it, so I was a bit shocked to see a time of 6:45 for that mile. Now, I know I have slowed down a fair amount the last few years but it doesn't seem THAT long ago that I ran a couple of marathons faster than that, so that's quite a shocking performance. The fact that it was on a slightly snowy surface didn't serve as an excuse. While I did slow down a tad at the corners in order not to lose my grip that should not have cost much, and nowhere near enough to explain such a slow time.

I awoke suitably chastised the next morning to be greeted by a blanket of snow covering our garden as well as the roads, with a layer of ice underneath, so there was no way I would be able to run a time trial on that and back onto the treadmill it was.

I'm not sure how much effect the treadmill has on speed/effort. I know I get really hot, so longer efforts add some extra effort but shorter runs may well be easier on the treadmill. I guess that would explain why I managed to run 10k at virtually the same pace as that mile the day before and again, it wasn't an all-out effort. Still, that's quite startling. But at least it does indicate that a 6:45 mile time doesn't fully reflect my actual present state of fitness. I'd be worried if it did.

The other thing to mention is that Ray's Marathon Challenge hast started. As a reminder, the aim is to run at least one marathon every week, not all in one go, and so far so good. I'm halfway through my fund raising target already, so that's good and I should definitely get there by the end of the year. But if you could click on the link and donate a few quid, that would be great. It is for Laura Lynn, and they are desperate for your support. Thank you!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Happy Solstice

And so, finally, 2020 draws to an end. One thing we can all agree on, it was a truly shitty year, so good fucking riddance.

There might have been a few positives. No Christmas office party, for example, which is one major plus in my book. And the fact how I finally realised that working from home has plenty of plus points. But all in all it's good to leave this year behind us, write it off as a massive clusterfuck and move on to better things.

Mileage-wise it was another low for me, but I have the funny feeling that's just one more step on that particularly slope. By the time we hit New Year I'll be very close to 2300 running miles, and I'm not counting the cycling ones. I've gotten slower again, though I did manage a few plus points like a 5:54 mile, which was faster than any mile I've run for several years, and that 19:13 5k on the treadmill was better than I expected as well. As for races, I didn't realise how lucky I was to have signed up for Donadea in February, so at least I got one proper race under the belt before it all came crashing down.

For next year I'd love to catch up on all the races I missed out on this year but that would almost certainly a really bad idea. I no longer have the ability to do a marathon and recover quickly, so I will have to limit my races. So I guess that Ironman that was supposed to be this June but has been postponed to next August will be my focus for 2021; unfortunately I have no idea how I'll get the swim training done because I am not at all comfortable with going to a swimming pool for the time being, and swimming in the sea on a regular basis isn't all that high on my wish list either, to be honest. Make no mistake, I badly need to learn to swim properly before August and this will take some time, so that's something I need to figure out sooner rather than later.

I've been ticking over the last few weeks with most runs a 12 k loop around Bray, a shorter run when my legs felt particularly heavy and one longer run on Sunday, though nothing that I could call a long run in good conscience. The pace was generally somewhere between 8 and 8:30 minute miles, and a couple of attempts at a workout showed that I have serious issues when it comes to running faster.

For next year I do have one goal. I signed up for Ray's Marathon Challenge, a charity event with Ray D'Arcy as the figure head, but more importantly in support of LauraLynn, which to me is the single most deserving cause in Ireland, and one I really want to support. It means running at least 26.2 miles each and every week in 2021 (not in one go - that would kill me). I would really appreciate it if you could help out and donate, even if it's just a little bit. They have been really taking a hit with donations in 2020 and anything you can do to help will be highly appreciated.

Please follow the link to my donation page . Thank you!