Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Deja Vu

With less than 3 weeks to go before the Dingle marathon, my schedule has been thrown into confusion. I had not planned on a 4 weeks taper, but my vastly extended recovery time from the mountain race meant last week’s mileage fell off a cliff, there was not one serious workout, and as a result I guess I was tapering without even knowing.

Saturday’s race had left my legs in a rather tired state. On Sunday morning, as I got ready to go out, Niamh asked me how long I would be running for and I replied “8 or 10 miles”. In 95% of all cases this would mean 10 miles, but the legs felt so heavy after only 3 miles that I only did 8; the fact that I was running in the mother of all summer downpours helped with that decision as well. The roads couldn’t take all that water and I was running through ankle-deep rivers crossing the road on several occasions. Still, as Mangerton has taught me, road surfaces make for easy running compared to what you’re getting away from them.

In an effort to recover from the race I ran just as little on Monday. The legs had felt stiff on Sunday evening and I was very pleasantly surprised by how springy they felt the following morning. I probably should have taken it easier on what was supposed to be a recovery run, but that’s always easy to say afterwards. During my time on the roads I was just happy to run along at a decent pace, feeling very good.

I’m sure you remember the anguish after the 20-mile workout two weeks ago. I was less than pleased with my performance that day, and resolved to try again. I wondered if I should take one additional recovery day after the race, but Dingle is only 18 days away and I figured there was more risk in delaying the workout. As a result, my alarm went off very early this morning and I stepped into a very dark scene when I left the house. It looked to become a very nice day though, the stars were out and I was heading in the general direction of Orion as I set off.

The idea was to run 10 miles at 90% marathon pace and 10 miles at marathon pace. As Michael commented last time round, this is a freaking hard workout, which is why I’d like to do it well because it has served as a tremendous confidence booster in the past.

Initially I thought I was going to breeze through it. I had to slow down considerably during the first few miles to get to about 7:20 pace, and I was cruising along with the heart rate in the low 140s, feeling very good, effortlessly eating up the miles. The first signs that things weren’t all going my way appeared on the return leg of the first loop, when I realised that the easy pace had been caused by the wind pushing me along, and the second half of the loop would be payback time. From mile 7 on the legs started fatiguing at an alarming rate, which really caught me by surprise. Sure, because of the long recovery I had not run more than 10 miles for an entire fortnight, but you don’t lose endurance that quickly. Or do you? By the time I reached our driveway I was in no doubt that the second part would be much harder then it had felt like an hour ago.

What followed was a carbon copy of last time. Initially I got reasonably close to goal pace, but that was again with wind-assistance. By the time I passed through Killorglin again I knew I would not be averaging 6:50, but still hoped to run under 7:00 pace for the second loop. It was then that my legs betrayed me. I felt like I had a brick attached to each leg, a feeling that brought me back all the way to Boston, and one that I had not hoped to be going through again. For a while I managed to dig deep, increase the effort despite the growing discomfort and hang on by sheer willpower. Alas, this is never a long-term solution, and I think my muscle fibres were simply too exhausted to sustain the effort. This was reflected in the heart rate, which was consistently in the high 160s; it definitely felt tougher than marathon effort, and yet I struggled to even maintain 7:20 pace. Eventually I ended up with almost the same numbers as last time, though back then I had felt like I could have run for longer, albeit not at target pace. Today I was utterly exhausted and could not contemplate running another step. When Niamh asked how my run had gone I responded that someone should have knocked me out with a baseball bat at the start; it would have been less painful and over much sooner.

But, unlike a fortnight ago, I didn’t wallow in self-pity, instead I just gave a resigned shrug of the shoulders. You can’t force yourself into form. I won't try and guess what time I might do in Dingle based on this run; probably not what I'd want to, but not a disaster either.

In the office, my right hamstring cramped while sitting in my chair not once but twice. A colleague suggested taking salt onboard, so I went to the shop next door and bought the bag of crisps with the highest sodium content, not exactly my normal approach. However, it seemed to work, at least the cramping stopped.

With only 18 days to go, I’m now definitely in tapering mode, though in reality I have been so for the last 9 days, I just had not realised it. There will still be a couple of workouts, but with plenty of recovery in-between, and much reduced mileage. I hope the taper-induced madness won’t be too bad.
23 Aug
8 miles, 1:03:08, 7:53 pace, HR 144
24 Aug
8 miles, 1:01:23, 7:40 pace, HR 148
25 Aug
20 miles, 2:23:35, 7:11 pace, HR 155
incl. 10 miles @ 7:20, 10 miles @ 7:04


  1. Ouch, I feel for you, still, hang in there.

    You know what to do now. Rest and recover. If in doubt over the next 18 days, do less, not more. Take care of those legs, you're going to be asking a lot from them in a few short weeks.

    P.s. programs on the way...

  2. That wasn't too bad. I mean, you basically had a compromised recovery from the mountain race, then a near PB for 5k followed by two not dead-easy days.

    Good luck over the next 18 days.

    Re the cramping, it's worthwhile carrying a salt tablet or two in a small plastic bag during the marathon just in case. It's an instant cure for cramps.

  3. There is always the urge for a confidence boosting training run before the big day, all this run really shows is your still tired from your last 2 races! Best to put it to the back of your mind and concentrate on the positive, first you already have the miles in the bank and second the 5 k shows you have improved speed to go with your endurance,.
    As you have said sub 3 may not be possible because of the hilly nature of the course, Any hills in the latter stages of the race could really hurt the average pace, but you should be on for a good overall position and next year with a better structured training plan sub 3 is looking more possible

  4. 'BUT'then again, the impossible is possible'sub 3 is just a number not a barrier!

  5. Challenging yourself on these difficult marathons is great, but a tough way to break 3 hours.

    You need to find a nice flat marathon course and then set up a plan to peak for that race.

    Good luck on Dingle! That looks to me like a great marathon to run, just not to go for a PR on.

  6. That 20 miler is one tough workout The overall 7:11 pace is fast for an early morning training run with 2 tough races in the preceeding 2 weeks.

  7. I wonder if you did the workout in the evening would it feel better. Then again the marathon will take place in the morning; although not as early as your training runs!