Sunday, March 18, 2018

Gone With The Wind

Ah yes, the best laid plans. I had it all worked out, got a rental car Friday after work, carefully prepared all the stuff that was needed, and on Saturday very early in the morning headed up north for my first race in the East Antrim Marathon Series, something I had been looking forward to for a very long time. The race was the Paddy's Day 6-hours challenge and was going to be one of the key workouts for my goal race in June. Ah yes, the best laid plans.

I had not slept well, something that happens quite a lot before a race, but that didn't overly bother me, I'm well used to that. The weather forecast wasn't great, with temperatures plummeting back to about 0, but I can cope with that as well. One look at the wind forecast had me going "oh shi*t", but I still expected to manage. This is Ireland, I have been running in high winds on plenty of occasions.

Lap 1
As soon as I got close to Newtownabbey I did not like the look of the waves on Belfast Lough, they looked rather rough. And as soon as I got out of the car I almost got blown over. This was going to be interesting. I had to re-park my car after getting my number because apparently it would be too busy down here, which meant I barely had enough time to get ready but I made it just in time.

The course was from Loughshore Park towards Gideon's Green a tad over 2 miles further south, all along the sea front, and back again. A bit over 6 laps would be a marathon (there was a sign where you had to turn around on lap 7 for a full marathon) and my plan was for about 10 laps, making 42 miles, but to take it as it goes, this was a training run after all.

The first 2 miles were easy with the wind at our back. The next 2 were considerably more challenging, especially the last half mile back towards Loughshore Park where the wind was so strong that you kept running at big effort but barely kept moving forward. What worried me the most was the fact that the forecast had predicted steadily increasing winds. This seemed hardly possible at the time, but as it turned out, it was correct.

Lap 2 with Dino
I spent most of lap 2 chatting to Dino, which was nice, but the wind was so strong that you basically had to shout really loudly to get heard and after a while that simply was too much effort while running at the same time. I picked up a drink after lap 2 and kept going.

Lap 3. It still got worse after that
By now the wind had increased to such an extend that it kept pushing big waves right over the path. That proved to be a problem. A big one. Running on wet paths was not the problem. Getting soaked from wave after wave after wave, with the icy cold wind blowing a full tilt, was. Getting sufficient electrolytes was not an issue today. Every few minutes you were guaranteed to get a wave right in your face, with a mouthful of salt water. For once I didn't even think of taking a salt tablet today.

From as soon as lap 3 I started the internal dialog for how long I was going to endure this. I did not want to pull out lightly. I had spent plenty of money to get here in the first place, and I did not want to miss out on one of my key workouts, so I postponed the decision for a while. I kept flip-flopping on the issue. Once, just as I had decided to quit soon, the sun came out and it became significantly more tolerable, but that didn't last (though it did come out again later).

One area of the course was so exposed to the waves that everyone started running up on the grassy slope of a hill instead, which was hard going as well as slippery, with me taking one full plunge in the mud, but still better than the flooded path. Another section was re-routed through the car park. Nothing could protect us from the wind, though, and one section close to Gideons Green was still pretty bad with big waves coming over the wall all the time.

I had long started to question how save this was. After lap 4 I picked up another drink and for the first few minutes simply could not drink it, my face and lips had become totally numb and I could not sip from the spout until I had warmed up a bit once I had the wind on my back. Also, the field had thinned out considerably already, I guessed that at least half of the runners had already called it a day.

I still hadn't decided either way but resolved to make it to the marathon. Up to then I had paid no attention to the turn-around sign, having planned on keeping doing full laps until the end, but now I did start to notice it. I wasn't even tired. In fact, I was really pleased with how well the legs responded to running for several hours, even with the big effort required every lap when we had to fight the monster headwind. There was no sign of cramp either (maybe due to the constant load of unexpected electrolytes, hehe), and from that point of view it was going really well. However, when the sun disappeared again I eventually decided to end it with the full marathon. Finn seemed to sense something and told me it was warming up, but at that point my mind was finally made up and I told her I'd call it a day.

After completing 6 full loops I headed back out to the full marathon turn and back towards the finish. My watch said 26.38 miles and 3:46:50. The mileage wasn't what I had wanted but that was that. Due to this being a timed race you had an official finish after even one single lap, so this still counts as a result, not a DNF. Would I have continued if I required the full 6 hours for an official finish? I don't think so, but you never know for sure.

As soon as I stopped I actually started to feel worse, physically. I took a can of coke and could not open it, my fingers being too numb. Once a helpful angel (those organisers and marshalls REALLY deserve a medal!) had come to my help, I could barely drink it because my hand was starting to shake badly. I left very quickly, I really had to make it to my car straight away (thanks for the lift!). Once in there I was unable to get changed at first, shaking uncontrollably, and had to just sit there for several minutes with the heating on full blast before I could finally take off my wet gear.

As a race, this was a brilliant community effort with everyone being really supportive towards each other and all enduring the pain as a group. It was also the worst conditions I had ever run in. I have run marathons in over 30 degrees and I have run in rain with the wind blowing it sideways but today the combination of stormy wind and the icy cold sea water washing over us non-stop was utterly brutal. A handful of runners went on past the marathon, boys and girls you have my full respect! And congratulations to Finn for winning!

The one photo that gives you a sense of the wind
Me, I am definitely ok with my decision to pull out when I did. Even a day after finishing a large area of skin of my lower right arm feels somewhat numb and uncomfortably tingly, a bit like pins and needles, when I touch it. Slight nerve damage? I'm not sure. It felt better after a good night's sleep, so I'm sure it's only temporary but it definitely makes me glad I decided to call it a day when I did.

I'm sure I'll be back for more EAMS love sooner rather than later. I won't be expecting sunshine all day, but I sure hope the weather will be a bit more accommodating in future.

I saw on one website that the wind speed had been up to 32 knots (60+ kph). To be honest, I think it may well have been even more.

Also, there were plenty of friends at the race but I barely, or even not at all, recognised half of them because most runners were completely wrapped up, even with bandanas covering their faces. I put up a lot of photos because they are describing the conditions much better than any words could. Keep in mind that this wasn't even the worst section! Credit for all photos goes to Elma McAvoy.

15 Mar
am: 5.5 miles, 43:48, 7:57 pace, HR 139
pm: 6 miles, 45:28, 7:34 pace, HR 137
16 Mar
5 miles, 42:23, 8:28 pace, HR 128
17 Mar
EAMS 6-hrs challenge, marathon in 3:46:50, 8:37 pace, HR 134
18 Mar
am: 6.3 miles, 52:31, 8:19 pace, HR 129

Saturday, March 17, 2018

As Close To A DNF As You Can Get

I went up North for the EAMS 6-hour race but felt it was no longer safe to continue and decided to call it a day when I reached the marathon mark, in about 3:47. Due to the nature of timed races, however, this still gave me an official finish, so no DNF.

Many thanks to my fellow runners and especially the organisers for coping in utterly brutal conditions, extremely strong wind and waves keeping on washing over the running paths.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Look Up At The Stars

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.
It matters that you don't just give up.”
RIP Stephen Hawking. 


It's going really well. It just struck me the other day how I differ from most people. I started training for my race last July, almost an entire year out. Most would have dropped out at some stage, bored to death by the repetitive nature of training with the goal being so far away. I, on the other had, am really enjoying this. I am slowly getting better, first getting over the remnants of overtraining and then still keeping improving. My VDOT values have returned into the 60s, and while they are still not where they used to be 4, 5 years ago, I had been convinced I'd never see those figures again.

Sunday's 20 miler went really well. I got over those big climbs in the first 6 miles really well, my legs are definitely getting stronger even if I'm still not running as many hills as I'd like. Then I just kept going and the miles ticked by with surprising ease. I did eventually start to notice the effort around mile 16, until then I was floating along effortlessly. By then I was close enough to the finish to know I'd still be in good shape at the end.

Tuesday was a new one. There is a running group at the office and they do Tuesday lunch runs, so I joined them. We jogged to Clonmore Park, which is right where I used to live for 3 months almost a year ago, and I wondered if I'd run into my in-laws. The workout was 300 m easy / 300 m hard / 100 m walking, and we did 5 laps of that. To be honest, I'm not sure it's the best workout there is, the intervals are too short (and the recoveries too long) for a VO2max workout but too long for a neuromuscular workout, but it's a group activity and it's nice to be social for a change. Also, I was always the second guy in the intervals and it's so much easier to push yourself in an interval when you've got someone to chase / set the pace.

On Wednesday I finally started running into work, after close to 4 weeks there. It took that long for me to acquire a locker (and I still need another one downstairs at the changing facilities) and I had managed to check out the changing and shower rooms, so off I went. It was an interesting day to start running into work with heavy rain in the morning and fairly brutal conditions in the evening, but I've run in worse.  The route I took is a bit over 5 miles each way, not the most direct route but mostly away from traffic, still going through the same parks as usual. I'll see how that goes. Running 5 miles at a time is not a lot, but doing it twice a day adds up, and there are plenty of options to add a few more miles, should I feel the need.
10 Mar
10 miles, 1:16:12, 7:37 pace, HR 144
11 Mar
20 miles, 2:35:49, 7:47 pace, HR 142
12 Mar
9.2 miles, 1:14:16, 8:04 pace, HR 132
13 Mar
am: 10.25 miles, 1:20:59, 7:54 pace, HR 133
pm: 5 miles, 41:02, 8:12 pace, HR 142
   300 / 300 / 100
14 Mar
am: 5.4 miles, 44:01, 8:09 pace, HR 135
pm: 5.38 miles, 42:58, 7:59 pace, HR 135

Friday, March 09, 2018

Time Travel

I know the blog updates are starting to slip. It used to be about every 3 days, then 4, then 5, and now 6. It’s a reflection of how busy I have been the last couple of weeks. My new job is still very new and there is still a ton of stuff to learn. I’m not stressed – you don’t feel stressed if you love what you’re doing - and I’m not working crazy hours but it all just adds up. Frequent blog updates are not the highest priority right now.

Things should calm down soon enough. I managed to figure out where to park the bike and where the showers are, and I might soon have a locker for my stuff as well, so things are clicking into place. At the moment I’m running very early in the morning, before heading into work, which works reasonably well as long as I keep going to bed early enough, which I’m getting better at. I’ll start running into work soon, which would mean 90 minutes longer in bed – that’s a massive difference.

The mileage has been slightly lower ever since Donadea. I haven’t hit 80 mpw yet. That’s fine of course, with all the stuff going on I wouldn’t want to overdo things. The most important thing is that I’m feeling good and the numbers are improving, so I’m definitely doing something right.

I had arranged to meet up with Julio on Sunday to go for a run, but since he intended to run 26k I did an early 5 miles jog, both to boost my mileage for my long run (albeit split in 2) and to check out what the conditions were like. The latter was definitely a good move as the park turned out to be unusable but I managed to find some ice-free and reasonably quiet roads, so once Julio arrived we headed via Cabinteely towards Leopoardstown, with a little bit of back and forward to get some extra distance. We were still 2k short when we got back home but Julio declined the suggestion of an extra loop, which was fine by me as the legs were definitely starting to feel tired after almost 20 miles for the day and plenty of hills, with a few snow-filled bits to boot.

I then took it very easy on Monday and still pretty easy on Tuesday, by which time the park finally started to become mostly clear of snow. I expected Wednesday to suck big time with a hangover but miraculously I didn’t suffer from any headache – quite the opposite, I felt really good and the miles just flew by totally effortlessly. I love it when that happens – I’m sure it used to happen a lot more frequently (the effortless run I mean, not the potential hangover).

I followed that up with another evaluation on Thursday. The park paths were almost entirely clear by now and there was very little wind, good conditions. The thing is, the evaluation always used to be a very moderate workout, not very hard and over quite quickly. That was then. These days it sure feels like a proper workout. After one mile I considered dropping out but couldn’t come up with any valid excuses so I soldiered on. Actually, it became easier once I finally managed to tune into the effort, though I was still glad to be done once it was over. Once I saw the numbers, however, I was pretty happy:

6:29, 6:40, 6:38, 6:36; 40 seconds recovery to HR 130

Improving numbers are always a good thing! Plus, they come from my Suunto watch. I used to wear both the Garmin and the Suunto on those workouts and noticed that the Garmin always was about 5 seconds per mile faster than the Suunto. I have no way of telling which one is more accurate, but that’s not my point. The thing is, had I worn the Garmin on Thursday it would most likely have shown a faster pace once again, in which case the numbers would be right up there with the best numbers I have ever produced – I’m several years older now so I take huge encouragement from that. I might just be able to catch up with my younger self again!
4 Mar
am: 5 miles, 43:00, 8:35 pace, HR 136
pm: 14.84 miles, 2:11:19, 8:50 pace, HR 129, with Julio
5 Mar
9.2 miles, 1:15:50, 8:14 pace, HR 132
6 Mar
10.25 miles, 1:21:16, 7:55 pace, HR 133
7 Mar
10.3 miles, 1:19:50, 7:45 pace, HR 137
8 Mar
10.15 miles, 1:16:13, 7:30 pace, HR 142
   eval in 6:29, 6:40, 6:38, 6:36; 40 seconds recovery
9 Mar
8 miles, 1:04:56, 8:07 pace, HR 135
   carrying a big parcel the last 2.5 miles

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Tough Week

Well, it didn't start out all that tough, after a night in a 5-star hotel, though actually there were some repercussions from that as well. You see, we had dinner in their fancy restaurant. My starter was a pannacotta for a whopping 11 Euro, which in reality consisted of 2 tiny blobs the size of a finger nail. The main course was equally microscopically portioned, though they seemed to think it's ok to compensate for the minuscule portion with a gargantuan price by charging over 30 Euro - thankfully our meal was included in the package, but at that point I was distinctly unimpressed. However, that's where they made up for it. Desert was a desert buffet, and bloody gorgeous it was too. So I had some of this and this and this and this and of course a spoonful of that as well, and when I had eaten all that (remember, I was still starving after dinner) I went back and had a portion of those as well.

New neighbours
The next day I had gained 3 pounds. And they took about 5 days to come off again. I know a little bit of physiology and I understand that sugars (ok, glycogen) are stored with three times the water in the body, so I hadn't pigged out on 3 pounds of sweets, but it was still a whopper of a weight gain for one single binge.

Anyway, to the rest of the week. I'm in the second week in my new job and it was a really intensive training week. I was utterly drained every evening. And of course everyone knew about the weather system closing in from the East. Monday was fine, weather-wise, though my legs were suffering from DOMS after the steep road at the Gap of Dunloe, so I took it very, very easy. By Tuesday I was starting to wonder if the weather reports were just kidding but by Wednesday it had hit us, and the reports sure were not exaggerated. The paths were covered in 2 inches of snow, which was perfectly fine to run on and easily provided sufficient grip. It actually was great fun.

Caragh Lake
My approach in those situations is to head out for my run as usual but see what the conditions are like and make a judgement call. Be prepared to go home if it is dangerous but don't stay at home just because someone else says so - especially as here in Ireland some can get downright hysterical from even a dusting of snow at times.

The fun factor had decreased by Thursday because the snow from earlier had frozen and now the path really was treacherous. I managed to find one spot that was still somewhat runnable, though - the dirt track in Kilbogget Park, so I ploughed my way through a number of laps, until the wind started to pick up, I got cold and since I had already started to get bored with doing lap after lap I went home early.

Friday morning was in the middle of a red alert but I made the same assessment and judgement call again. With the snow about ankle deep on average, driving would have been lethal, so from that point of view the red alert was perfectly justified. However, it was perfectly fine for running. It wasn't slippery at all, and even if it had been you would have landed on a soft bed of snow. What you had to forget about was pace - running in snow basically adds a resistance element to your run, which quickly makes it feel like a proper workout even at snails pace. I ploughed my way through a few miles, having the entire Kilbogget Park to myself and tons of fun - I really enjoyed it, at least for the first half. After that the wind picked up, so much that my deep footprints got all wiped out within one single lap, but I got home just fine.

Millie's first ever proper snow
It was different again on Saturday - still plenty of snow, but even though the wind made it feel freezing cold it was clearly warming up as the snow started to turn into slush. After helping a neighbour push his car over a couple of snow drifts on the road I was on my way. The footing was fine, there was no ice, though I did have a few unsteady steps at times. The going was still slow but not quite as slow as the day before, with parts of the path being almost clear and others still halfway up the shin in snow. By the end of the run my legs were really tired, the added resistance clearly taking its toll, but happy to have gotten out all the same.

Stay at home if you think it's not safe, go running if you honestly deem it to be ok and be prepared to cut it short if it's not. Proper equipment can make all the difference, if you have things like yaktrax you can run on icy roads as if nothing had happened (unfortunately mine are in Kerry - doh! - but it turned out to be fine).
26 Feb
10.3 miles, 1:26:17, 8:23 pace, HR 133
27 Feb
10 miles, 1:19:08, 7:55 pace, HR 135
28 Feb
10.5 miles, 1:28:01, 8:23 pace, HR 137
   2 inches of snow
1 Mar
6.6 miles, 58:57, 8:56 pace, HR 134
   snow and ice
2 Mar
10.1 miles, 1:39:29, 9:51 pace, HR 135
   ankle-deep snow
3 Mar
10.75 miles, 1:43:35, 9:38 pace, HR 139
   snow and slush

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Where The Magic Is

I had actually been planning on cranking up the mileage again this week but Real World stuff is still happening and it was definitely better to play it safe and hold back a little bit. I'm in the first week of a new job with some intensive learning taking me totally out of my comfort zone (make no mistake, I like it that way), which leaves only so much room for running and other things.

I haven't got a locker yet and that will take another week to sort out, so running to work is out of the question at the moment but I'll probably start cycling there next week. A few of my equally new colleagues do, though most of them got issued with  considerably lighter laptops, which sure makes a difference. Still, let's give it a go.

I didn't quite do the miles but I figured I should do something about those slow legs of mine. My heart rate figures are excellent, aerobically I'm close to the best I've ever been. But as soon as I try to run a bit faster things start falling apart quickly. Maybe it's a sign of getting older; maybe my legs have gotten used to the slow pace; maybe it's even a good thing for an ultra runner. I've never been in such a situation before but I do think a bit more pep in the legs might be beneficial.

I did an evaluation on Thursday, which confirmed the above. The pace was a little bit slower but the consistency over 4 miles was probably better than ever before. Evaluation workouts measure a few things; actual pace was actually the one variable MC was showing the least interest in, consistent pace across the workout was far more important. A short recovery afterwards would have been good as well, though I think that's the 50k still in there - not a big surprise, only about 10 days later. I'll do another evaluation in a fortnight and see if that variable is improving. If not, I might have to take a step back.

I was back in Kerry for the weekend, this time thankfully without a 4.5 hours delay on the train. On Saturday I added a couple of 2-mile pickups, mostly to test how that would go. The first one was too fast. The average HR wasn't that high but in reality it was steadily climbing, from the high 140s at the beginning to the high 160s at the end (not helped by an uphill finish) and me gasping for breath (my asthma was acting up once more). I held back a bit for the second one and that was much more sustainable, and I could have held that for longer. Interestingly, it turned out to be 6:52 pace; I guess I'm actually not that far off sub-3 marathon shape, though I'd definitely need to get the legs used to that pace first.

We got away from the kids for a night in the swanky Europe hotel, which was very nice, which made the choice for Sunday's run an easy one. I headed up the Gap of Dunloe. It's an absolutely magic place, populated by Leprechauns and the views there are the best in the world. I don't know why it's not world-famous but it's definitely better that way, mass tourism wouldn't do it any good. The wind was rather brutal, especially since the valley itself forms a funnel, and it made for a challenging few miles but it was worth every step. I ran a little bit further, down into Black Valley, once I reached the top, mostly to enjoy the view, but had to turn around soon enough. Never leave the lady waiting for too long.

Back to the grind now. That's where the real magic is happening, day after day after day.
21 Feb
10 miles, 1:20:35, 8:03 pace, HR 136
22 Feb
9.5 miles, 1:14:46, 7:52 pace, HR 141
   4 mile eval in 6:44, 6:44, 6:47, 6:43, 41 sec recovery
23 Feb
10.25 miles, 1:20:51, 7:53 pace, HR 138
24 Feb
12.65 miles, 1:34:08, 7:26 pace, HR 143
   incl 2 x 2 miles @ 6:25, 6:52
25 Feb
17 miles, 2:17:19, 8:04 pace, HR 142

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Outside Influences

The last few days have been very hectic and a bit stressful, nothing due to running and all due to real life intruding once again. Ah yes, the joys of being an amateur runner.

We took the same train we usually take on Friday evening, trying to make it to Kerry as always. I cut it a bit fine, saying good bye to my colleagues because I was finishing a short-term contract, being a bit sad to leave as everyone had been really nice. I made the Kerry train by 2 minutes after the Luas had been halted by an Ambulance blocking the line. Obviously you cannot criticise the ambulance crew for that during an emergency call out but boy, did they time it badly for me. I ended up running to Heuston with a heavy backpack and only just made it.

That should have been the end of the drama, but it was only just the beginning. 10 k outside Charleville our train stopped. And waited. And waited. And nothing. Eventually we managed to get from Irish Rail's twitter feed that the train in front of us had broken down. It took them 2 hours to get a replacement engine up from Cork, another 2 hours to attach it to the train (!) and after a delay of more than 4.5 hours we were finally moving again, having long run out of food and water, arriving in Killarney close to 1 am and getting to bed closer to 2.

I felt jet lagged for the entire weekend after that ordeal, and it took another couple of days to feel fully recovered again. It didn't help that I had caught some upper respiratory tract infection after Donadea, very common after a race, probably related to the fact that it had taken close to 2 hours in the freezing cold after that race before we headed for home. Then again, as far as infections go that one was an exceptionally mild one. I had a sore throat on Wednesday, didn't feel great with a head cold on Thursday but 90% recovered already by Friday, though the last 10% took a bit longer to shift.

And then, on Monday morning, I started my new job. Exciting times indeed. I think I'm doing this job switching thingy wrong as I tend to stop one job and immediately start the new one instead of taking a week or two of extra holidays, but I'd rather get paid and anyway, I hate sitting around idly. Sadly it will apparently take 2 weeks before I get my own locker, so running to work is out of the question at the moment; the joys of being a corporate drone in a huge multi-national organisation. It means an early wake-up call for some miles before starting the commute. No big deal, I tend to wake up early anyway.

By Saturday I could no longer feel the effects of the 50k in the legs, so it looks like recovery has been going rather nicely. The added stress over the weekend meant I still had to take it a bit easy and I skipped my long run but I think I'm ready to get going again now.
16 Feb
10.3 miles, 1:21:37, 7:55 pace, HR 133
17 Feb
10 miles, 1:16:12, 7:37 pace, HR 138
18 Feb
12 miles, 1:34:25, 7:52 pace, HR 136
19 Feb
9 miles, 1:13:06, 8:06 pace, HR 132
20 Feb
10.25 miles, 1:20:09, 7:49 pace, HR 136