Friday, August 19, 2022

Still Going

Deep down I actually pretty much knew it already when I wrote my last post, even if I had not quite accepted it yet. As soon as I said it out loud, the injury got worse all of a sudden. Until then, the heel had tended to be sore for some early parts of the run but the discomfort always went away. Then I did a short, easy 5 mile run and for some reason that particular run really seemed to aggravate it. I was hobbling around all Saturday, and even I recognised that the planned 17 miler the following day would be a very, very bad idea, so I binned it and the next few days as well.

Then we jetted off to Crete for our first family holiday in 3 years, the same place Niamh and me had been to for our first anniversary, many, many years ago. Of course it was way too hot in Crete to do some proper running and I was still nursing my heel (which I suspect might have been early stages of PF, but who knows for sure!), so all I did were a few short runs in the morning when it wasn't quite as hot yet, and always with a rest day in-between. The villa we stayed in was on top of a monster of a hill, not that high but brutally steep, so I definitely had some interesting times on the way home. 

By the time we flew back home my heel seemed to have healed completely but unfortunately I had also acquired an ear infection, almost certainly from dipping into the pool all the time (you would have too at those temperatures!). The flight home was distinctly painful, and I like to think I have a pretty high pain threshold. My son had an ear infection as well but his went away after three days while mine got worse and worse until I finally gave in to Niamh and went to the doctor for some ear drops and antibiotics. They have not kicked in yet, but fingers crossed.

Back on home soil I re-started my marathon training but on a slightly reduced mileage. The 18 mile long run last week was only 15, the midweek runs of 12 and 11 miles were cut down to 10 and 9+, and they definitely all felt long enough, alright.

So I will keep an eye on things. The schedule would have me do 20 miles this Sunday but that's definitely not going to happen. I hope my endurance will eventually catch up because I do need a few long runs before race day, but so far I'll try and err on the side of caution for once.

Still going. Slowly. Ah well.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

It's The Bite

I'm five weeks into marathon training and it definitely has started to bite. I had a few runs that were pretty damn hard work, and not because of any pace targets, it just was hard work to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I can definitely see some results already. For a start, there are a couple of pairs of Jeans in my wardrobe that a few months ago were completely out of the question, and when I needed a pair the other day, wouldn't you know it, they fit perfectly and were actually comfortable. So I know that I have lost some weight, even without weighing myself.

My resting heart rate has dropped quite a bit already as well and is back down into the 40s, which is about 10 down from a few months ago (and 20 from just after Covid). 

On the other hand I have definitely felt very tired at times, not just when I'm running but during the day as well. 

And a couple of weeks ago my left heel started to hurt at the start of each run. I'd set off feeling ok, then after a minute or two my heel started hurting and for about 5 minutes it was rather uncomfortable until it settled again.

True to my usual MOD I did what I always do with those kind of issues: I ignore them. Scoff as much as you like, it worked in the vast majority of cases. problem is, the 3 or 4 times when it did not work it  ended up requiring a break of a several weeks, which would be a massive setback for Dublin. So let's wait and see. Admittedly, it has been getting worse recently - but we're off on our holidays in a few days and I'm not sure if the weather in Crete will be conductive to running anyway, so maybe I'm in for a bit of a break anyway, and let's hope my heel will have settled down by the time I get back home.

Monday, July 11, 2022

More Chocolate

Sunday definitely was a hot day, and I was starting to design Paul's voodoo doll in my head halfway up Vico Road for his insistence on doing the Killiney loop again. Ah well - we all survived, and in fact we were going a good bit faster than the week before, though that was mainly down to Antonia having joined the boys' group and definitely pushing the pace a bit more then I would have done on my own. But in the end I was surprised by how decent I was still feeling. It might only have been 13 miles but that's still my longest run in months and I would have been able to go a good bit longer.

So far, so good.

I'm not sure how I will cope for the first 2 weeks in August when we are meant to go on holidays and running in the Mediterranean heat might be a problem - as well as my usual problem of "Honey, I've packed my suitcase but I have no room for normal clothes after all my running stuff". 

The P&D plan does have a medium-long run in midweek, which is definitely the biggest change compared to my pre-training running. It means having to get up a bit early, but one of the distinct advantages of working from home means I can get home much later than pre-Covid and still be at work in time. And I can really tell the difference this extra day of decent mileage makes.

One thing I already noticed, after less than 2 weeks of marathon training, is that the pair of Jeans that was feeling a bit tight is now feeling a bit loose, so even without stepping on the weighing scales I know the weight is coming down. That was something I always noticed - my weight would always track my weekly mileage inversely. There was never much point in weighing myself - I could always tell straight away. And being able to eat as much chocolate as I want was always one of the big bonuses of running for me. Not everything happens for health reasons, you know.

I hope everyone else's running is going reasonably well, especially the ones training for Dublin as well.

Monday, July 04, 2022

Back To My Roots

If someone is still reading this, congratulations on your patience. If not, well then this blog is back to what I intended it to be when it all started back in 2005 - my own little running diary, to enable me to look back at my marathon training and see what it was like, what went well, what did not.

Also, after years of being told that the title of my blog is just wrong, it got back to being pretty accurate, depending on where you draw the levels, of course. I'm reasonably sure I will never run under 3:30 again, and as long as I stay under 4 hours for my next marathon, I'll be happy, which is, again, a return to where I was when I started out.

One more return to where I started: the next marathon will be Dublin, which of course was also the scene of my first ever marathon.

One more return: I dug out my ancient copy of the P&D Advanced Marathoning book and decided to follow the training plan, the same plan that got me my first sub-4 marathon so many years ago. Let's hope it will deliver again.

I had signed up for Dublin back in 2020, but we all know what happened then. My running performance has taken a massive dive since then, for various reasons: age has not been kind to me, well, after all I'm well over 50 now. However, I think the major issue was that I finally started to pay the price for years of slight overtraining and never truly recovering. I got away with it for a long, long time, and I'm not complaining because it got me to levels that I would not even have dared to dream about, but at some point the body decided it had enough and that was that.

Subsequently my motivation took a nose dive a well, the idea of training my arse off just to be running 2 minutes a mile slower than I used to just wasn't all that appealing.

So, why am I back? Well, I'm still running about 6 times a week, though mostly for health reasons, and to allow me to keep my weight down while being able to eat whatever I like, and while I'm much slower than I used to be, I'm still beating anyone on the couch, so why not. That marathon entry might just be the ticket to entice me to keep running, so that's what I 'll do. 

Oh yeah, and this entry is actually a little bit late already - I've finished week one already, so that's only  17 weeks left. I haven't stuck to the plan religiously, I swapped a rest day for a slow 5k jog, and the recovery run for Saturday was spent pacing 26 minutes at Shanganagh parkrun, though that turned out to be recovery effort anyway.

So far, so good.

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


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.