Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The First Step of a Long Journey

I must be getting old because time is flying and I can hardly keep up with the pace. Official confirmation of my geezer status is less than 2 months away; it is coming soon, that’s for sure.

On Saturday evening I was suddenly struck by a very annoying cough that lasted for about half an hour. Niamh was all too familiar with it; she had been affected on and off for weeks, Maia started the same a couple of weeks ago and now it was my turn, apparently. Niamh predicted I would get another cough attack on Tuesday and further one on Thursday, and so far she has been right – no new ones so far.

Unbelievably, I slept for almost 10 hours on Sunday. That must be a new record, and the blinds that we installed in the kids’ bedrooms might have crippled me financially but they seem to be paying off. The first one of our offspring did not appear in out bed until about 8:40, but by 8:45 the entire family was gathered, and not much later I was dumped unceremoniously to make more room for the rest. Such is a dad’s fate.

I took the opportunity to go out for 5 miles, which were spiced up by a set of 5 hill sprints. I restricted them to very short dashes at a time, about 25 seconds each, but I did notice that my HR shot up all the way to 177 from the second one onwards. I have never managed to get the HR as high on longer hill sprints, which got me thinking. The efforts today were much closer to a true maximum effort than longer ones, and for pure power development it might be better to keep them at this short, almost a-lactic duration. Longer efforts lead to lactic acid build-up and are more a VO2max workout. It depends what you’re looking for, but for the sake of muscle strengthening I think I’ll try and give the shorter efforts a go.

The following night I clearly paid for the long sleep by hardly being able to sleep at all. I had set the alarm for 5:25 and intended to run 15 miles around Caragh Lake, but I was too exhausted to heave myself out of bed. I continuously drifted in and out of dreams and found it really confusing. At one stage I thought I had tried to reset my alarm clock and broken it in the process; then I thought I had turned it off; then I just set it an hour later. At the time I could not tell which of these had actually happened, but when I checked the alarm clock later that day it was still working but set to a different time altogether.

Whatever the case, an hour later than planned I did manage to get up, decided I had enough time for 8 miles and, just for fun, turned that into a progression run with each mile faster than the previous one. I set the Garmin on auto alert and off I went. The first mile was a bit fast for this kind of run at 8:00 exactly, and I knew I was making life difficult for myself. Never mind, I gave it a good try.

And this is where my stupidity comes in, or maybe I can use the lack of sleep as an excuse. Since the Garmin was on auto alert but not on auto lap, I got a beep every mile, but the lap-pace I was looking at was the cumulative average pace of the entire run, not the average pace of the present mile like I thought. I did not cop on to that at all until I uploaded the data into the computer in the evening and got totally confused about the completely new set of numbers for the mile splits than what had been displayed to me in the morning. This did explain why I was able to keep the average pace pretty fast even at the start of uphill miles. On the other hand, I could tell that I was getting into anaerobic territory by the 6th mile when I thought the pace was only about 7:25 and was shocked by the amount of fitness I had lost apparently. At the last mile I averaged a heart rate of 179. I’m pretty sure that’s the highest HR I have ever managed to achieve over an entire mile in a training run.

As I said, things cleared up all eventually in the evening, and I was relieved to see that my pace over the last few miles had been 30 seconds per mile faster than I had thought. I probably should have relied more on the feeling in my legs than a set of numbers on the screen, but after that sleepless night my brain was obviously not with me. Putting all those technical details aside, I felt this was a very good way to do a tempo run. I have never been able to tell with such certainty when I was crossing into anaerobic territory before, and I think this workout can serve as an excellent fitness gauge.

Monday morning had been crispy cold but reasonably calm and would have been a good day for the originally scheduled longer run. I made up for the lost miles on Tuesday, but the weather was just about to turn and conditions had deteriorated overnight. Hearing the wind howling outside I chickened out of the Caragh Lake loop and decided to do two loops of the Devil’s Elbow hill instead, which is slightly shorter overall but sports a nasty climb of about 500 feet elevation gain on each loop. It would give me the option of bailing out halfway through if I was too tired or if the conditions became too bad. As it turned out, time was just about on my side. It was extremely windy at the very top of that climb and I had to lean into the wind in order not to get blown off the road, but the rain didn’t start until later. I felt surprisingly good, much better than anticipated. The climb on the second loop was hard work, but the rest of it was fine and I got home still feeling ok. I could have run for longer, and I never even contemplated taking the gel I had tucked into my pocket in case of emergency. The fact that I kept the pace at a rather sedate level at all times was definitely a factor.

It did cross my mind that 14 very hilly miles are quite a run for someone who claims not to be training yet. Maybe I’ve started a week early after all. Considering that Connemara is less than 20 weeks away, it’s probably time to get serious anyway.
29 Nov
5 miles, 40:46, 8:09 pace, HR 154
incl. 5x25 seconds all-out hill sprints
30 Nov
8 miles , 58:04, 7:15 pace, HR 162
mile splits and HR: 8:00 (141), 7:45 (151), 7:29 (155), 7:09 (161), 7:09 (167), 6:55 (172), 6:48 (177), 6:47 (179)
1 Dec
14.1 miles, 1:56:47, 8:17 pace, HR 154, very hilly


  1. Geezer! Good to see your mileage is creeping up and you are taking on some difficult routes as well. Interesting to read about your anaerobic running on shorter, steeper inclines. I am working on a similar strategy presently (shorter, steeper repeats to build leg strength rather than hitting the gym.

  2. Sounds like you have recovered well from your marathons, here is a good link to hill training

  3. Hey Thomas! You've got another 10 years before geezer status. Outright PBs can be run until, oh, you're as least as old as Rick.

    Glad the blinds are working. 10 hours sleep is what the elite runners are getting ;)