Thursday, February 26, 2015

I'm Back

"You're not giving up sugar for lent this year". It almost sounded like an accusation. Niamh has gotten used to my yearly sugar cleanse and had obviously noticed that I had not spoken the words "I won't be having any desserts for a few weeks" yet. Truth is, I basically forgot; the start of lent more or less passed me by. I'm not religious, so that can happen, I suppose. I dropped a few pounds during my last sickness, so there is not much reason to try and lose some more weight at this stage. Also, I have been sick far too often and right now, for the first time in months, I am feeling really good and I am loath to change anything.

After feeling absolutely brutal on Sunday's mountain run I expected to be tired and sore for a while. The complete opposite happened, the legs haven't felt so good in ages. That's actually not a new phenomenon, I have noticed a few times in the past that a mountain run can have me dog tired for the rest of the day at times but it does not seem to have any effect on subsequent days.

I took it very easy on Monday with only 5 miles but ran a bit longer the following days, feeling good with basically every step, despite the weather not being particularly helpful with gale force winds blowing every morning. Luckily I missed most of the storm at the start of the week, running on Monday morning before the worst was yet to come and Tuesday morning after it had mostly blown itself out.

I did toy with the idea of another evaluation but with those high winds that was never going to happen - I have seen what wind does to the numbers during an evaluation, they are basically worthless and I can't read anything from them. So I just ran 12 miles on Wednesday at a fairly easy effort, though I have finally turned off the Maffetone HR alarm on my watch and am running a bit faster as a result, though the effort is still rather easy. After my experiences over the last 2 months I am actually in two minds about the MAF training. It did not feel like I was progressing at the time, though I do still think that it may have created a very sound foundation for any subsequent improvements. However, with Turin only 6 weeks away there is not much time left to realise those potential improvements.

One bit of improvement will hopefully come following this weekend, with back-to-back marathons. I am rather relaxed about the whole thing. For someone who has done a 10in10, back-to-back marathons don't feel like a big deal. I am determined, however, to force myself to run slowly, especially on day one. I know I have been guilty of running training races at too high an intensity on quite a few occasions. I find it very hard to keep myself in check if there is a number pinned to my chest. This time, however, it will be different. Don't ask me how.

23 Feb
5 miles, 41:13, 8:14 pace, HR 141
24 Feb
8 miles, 1:04:13, 8:01 pace, HR 144
25 Feb
12 miles, 1:33:08, 7:45 pace, HR 145
26 Feb
8 miles, 1:02:49, 7:51 pace, HR 144

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rough

I'm starting to get neurotic about my training. I'm flip flopping between thinking that I need to do more as Turin is approaching rather rapidly and panicking about not getting enough recovery. To be honest, I'm not in a happy place right now.

It's not all bad. My cold is gone and nobody else in the family is sick, so for the time being I can look forward to a spell of being healthy. The legs, on the other hand, could be better. A lot better in fact. I tried to get them moving a bit over the weekend but had to conclude that the 50k from Donadea is still in there.

Niamh whisked me away from home for a day during the week, which was a lovely break. I almost left my running gear at home and only decided at the last moment to bring it after all. I did a few slow miles in Fota; the trails there were lovely at first except that I kept feeling the stones through my soles and eventually moved onto tarmaced roads, which felt more comfortable straight away. I guess I really am a road runner.

I took it easy again on Friday but on Saturday I had to bring Cian to Tralee and used the opportunity to run there that morning, which had the advantage of not having to get up quite so early. However, I clearly got ahead of myself on that run when trying to run 2x1 miles at a faster pace, about 6:30-ish. The main problem was that the first mile was right into a very strong headwind and by the end of it I was cooked. I did manage a decent enough time on the return leg without killing myself but that was because I now had a strong tailwind blowing me along. My original plan had been to tag another couple of miles to the end of that run, but the legs had turned to concrete and I left it at that.

I still had that run in there on Sunday of course, in addition to the 50k still making itself at home. The gale force wind and heavy rain didn't exactly spell encouragement but out I went, heading for Windy Gap because I concluded that I can only run there in daytime, which at this time of year means during the weekend. Even the first step was a struggle which only got worse when I reached the hills. Thankfully the rain subsided for a while, otherwise the wind would have blown it straight into my face and I was already struggling badly as it was. It might have been windy at home but further up there it was a lot worse and Windy Gap clearly lived up to its name. With the conditions and the already tired legs this quickly turned into one of the toughest run I've ever done. I wasn't sure if I would make it all the way to the top right until I actually got there, and when I finally made it I had to sit down on the nearest stone just to catch my breath and stop myself from collapsing, despite knowing that I could not stay there for long or I would start getting hypothermic very quickly.

I was not looking forward to the return journey, but that was actually very easy, with the wind blowing me home almost without effort. I really had to mind my footing though, it was rather treacherous, so much so that I kept slipping even in trail running shoes. I got home in one piece, thank goodness for that.

Ok, some more recovery is in store next week, I suppose.

19 Feb
6 miles, 52:59, 8:49 pace, HR 140
20 Feb
5 miles, 40:29, 8:05 pace, HR 141
21 Feb
8.25 miles, 1:03:29, 7:40 pace
22 Feb
10.7 miles, 1:42:40, 9:35 pace, HR 150
   Windy Gap
Weekly Mileage: 35 (!!!)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Badly Needed Recovery

The legs really did not feel like running on Sunday morning. That was no great surprise, the day after a tough 50k was always going to a bit of a struggle. I am used to this, but I know my usual recovery strategy works exceedingly well and I went out for a slow 5-mile run despite really not looking forward to it.

The legs were just as stiff and heavy as expected, but when the HR alarm started beeping at me despite crawling at snail's pace I thought that thing had to be kidding me. I eventually decided to cut the run short and was home after only 5k, which was almost certainly a good idea. I was so tired that I went straight back to bed and slept for most of the day. I also had no appetite at all, despite skipping/sleeping through lunch and declining ice cream later on I barely ate one portion at dinner. I was worried about not being able to sleep at night after spending almost the entire day in bed, but there was no need to. I slept like a log. I must have spent close to 20 hours asleep or at least dozing that day!

Physical recovery from the 50k was one factor but the cold clearly had a greater effect on me than I would have thought and I needed to get healthy first before I could even think of training again. I skipped running on Monday and Tuesday (Niamh did not even notice!). I felt a bit better on Monday, a fair bit better on Tuesday and almost recovered on Wednesday so I did head out that morning for a little 5 mile run, which went a lot better and I am definitely on the up again.

Every night I slept a lot more than usual, which undoubtedly helped. I knew I was in dire need of recovery - I said as much on Sunday - and I feel an awful lot better now. I sincerely hope I can put that all behind me now, I really need to get some training done or I will not be able to do myself justice in Turin.

I cannot help but notice that in previous years I have always had a great immune system. I have 4 children who constantly bring home all kinds of infections from school. It never used to affect me. I may have gotten slightly sick about once per winter, but that was it. This year was very different, I picked up every bug that got into the house and spent far too much time feeling sick and tired.

Maybe it's all very simple; I stopped taking Vitamin C supplements this year, partially because of all those articles saying that there is no scientific reasoning behind this but mainly because the IAAF state that athletes should not take any supplements because contamination with banned substances cannot be guaranteed. I do not expect to be tested in Turin, but I do not want to take any risks. Besides, even if I do not get tested, I still want to be a clean athlete, for long term health reasons as much as ethical ones.

However, I suspect there is more to it. Maybe it is related to me being older. I am 45 now, not exactly what people would call the prime of an athlete's years, and may well becoming more susceptible to things.

I don't think my immune system is affected by overtraining as such. My training is not that intense and I do not suffer from stress. In fact, my training this winter has probably been less stressful than in most other years because I did step back in December and did a lot of MAF running. There is, however, the possibility that my training and racing last summer brought on some longer lasting issues. I know I pushed myself to my absolute limits in Belfast and the training beforehand had been rather hard core, so who knows.

I know that right now I am feeling a lot better, though still not 100% recovered from the cold and the legs will need some tlc to bring them back. If I could avoid getting sick before Turin, that would undoubtedly help. There are still a few weeks left where I could get some good training done.
16 Feb
0
17 Feb
0
18 Feb
5 miles, 41:53, 8:22 pace, HR 142

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The One That (Probably) Should Not have Been

I awoke on Friday morning at around 3:30 and immediately regretted it. My head hurt, my heart was racing, I was sweating bucket loads and I just generally felt awful. For the fourth or maybe fifth time this winter I obviously had picked up some bug that the kids had brought home; Cian and Lola had already had it and now it was my turn.

I almost panicked. The Donadea 50k on Saturday was one of the key workouts in my training and I would not be able to make it up. This was having a really serious impact on my preparations for Turin. In addition to that, I had promised Tom Enright a lift to the race. How was he going to get an alternative in 24 hours?

Eventually I managed to fall back asleep and when I woke a few hours later I felt so much better I could hardly believe it. I did not go running that morning (yes, that's how awful I had felt!) and the thundery rain did nothing to persuade me otherwise.

I felt okay throughout the day and, with a fair amount of doubt in my head, I decided to risk it and go ahead. I got up Saturday morning at 5 o'clock, got ready and pointed the car northeastwards. It was the same scenario as last week ("let's try this again"), and this time I made it past the 2-mile mark without a crash. I picked up Tom in Limerick and we got to Donadea pretty much at 9 o'clock, perfect.

Billy and me, still smiling before the start.
Photo by James Shelley
It took a while to pick up my number because I kept bumping into so many friendly face, all of whom enquired about my car and my own well being. Seems like word had spread rather quickly.

The race started pretty much on time and from the word go I felt very good. I tried to keep the pace at about 7:30 but the guys running right in front of me kept telling me to go ahead ("if I'm ahead of you I know I'm doing this wrong"), so eventually I gave into their wishes and pulled ahead. I should have left it at that but I kept going at a faster pace, at first without even realising. I did pull myself back when I saw 6:45 pace on the watch but 7:10 pace felt utterly comfortable. This immediately should have set off some internal alarm bells but I have run 50ks at that pace (and faster) in the past and my alarm settings were a bit off.

Feeling good early on. This would not last.
Photo by James Shelley
The course consists of 10 laps of almost 5k with a bit of extra at the beginning. For the first 2 laps I felt the most comfortable I had felt in a long time. The road surface had been redone since last year and we were running much of it on crushed gravel, which felt nice and soft and just perfect, much better than last year's mudbath. However, predictably, this did not last. As early as the third lap I noticed my energy levels dropping, and rapidly at that. Barely 7 miles into a 50k is a bit early to get into trouble! I reduced the pace to about 7:30, which lead to a few runners going past me over the next few miles, including the eventual ladies' winner. Past champions Orna and Olwyn were marshalling at one junction and cheering on the runners, and when they enquired about my pace I told them 7:25 - that was my present pace, the average at that point was still 7:10.

Lap 4 and I was starting to have serious doubts if I would finish the race. In fact, finishing the race may well have been a bad idea, it's just not a good idea to push your body to its limits when you are already sick; that kind of nonsense can have serious repercussions. On the other hand, a bit of suffering is not a bad thing to experience in training when you are preparing for a 24 hours race - no matter how badly today would hurt, it would still be nothing compared to what's in store in 8 weeks' time. I kept going. Vasilij and Vilnis overtook me at one point and I wasn't sure if they were overtaking or lapping me. In turn, we all caught up to Billy, who once again had started a bit too fast and was paying the price as well.

We let the boys go and Billy and me spent about a lap running together. It felt so much easier to run in company and I did seem to recover a fair bit. However, looking at the results now I can see that the times were still going the wrong way, each lap was slightly slower than the previous one, even if I felt a bit more comfortable. Brian Ankers went past us, looking exceptionally comfortable and very, very happy. He was realising one of his stated dream goals, namely beating me in a race!

Billy dropped back at the start of the next lap and I pushed on alone. Ideally you should still be feeling comfortable at halfway but today was definitely not an ideal day. I did wonder once more how far I should be running and if pushing on was a good idea, but for the time being things did not look too badly and I kept going.

Vasilij and Vilnis caught up once more "where the f*ck are you coming from!?!" They could not possibly have lapped me so quickly (even Gary O'Hanlon took three laps for that), turns out they had a bit of a toilet break. I hung on to their coat tails for a while and the pace felt a lot quicker straight away though with company it felt manageable. We talked about the good old times and the lap passed quickly; despite feeling a lot faster it was only 3 seconds faster than my previous one, and still the second slowest so far. I lost a few seconds picking up a drink bottle and immediately the boys were gone. For about a mile I tried to catch up with them but the legs were not cooperating any more, the best I could do was to keep the distance roughly the same, and eventually I gave up and fell back into my own pace again, resigned to be seeing out the rest of the race on my own.

The drop in pace at that point was dramatic. Lap 8 was more than 90 seconds slower than even the slowest of all the previous laps, and that over a mere 5k loop! I was suffering quite badly at that point and was counting down every single kilometre, going from marker to marker. At least I could sense the finish line by now, the majority of the running was already done and the outstanding number of miles was down to single figures. To make matters worse the legs started to experience spasms and I was worried about getting a cramp. Usually I would take an electrolyte tablet at that point which generally seems to help but I was entirely out of them and had not ordered any new ones yet.

I took some caffeine after lap 8 and within a couple of minutes started feeling a lot better. It made a big difference to my mood, even if the pace did not really change. I guess I should have taken it a bit earlier, but what can you do. From here on things were not looking anywhere near as bleak any more, the worst of the suffering was behind me and even though I was very much looking forward to finishing I knew this would be over in a reasonable amount of time.

I had crossed halfway in 1:55:3x, so a sub-4 finish seemed safe with such a safety margin. However, a look at the watch eventually told me how much the pace had dropped and all of a sudden I wasn't so sure any more. I definitely was not racing this because it was a training run for Turin and nothing more but I still had some pride left and an above 4 hours finishing time would have stung. As I got to the end of lap 9 I tried to read the time on the clock but that little kid was standing right in front of the timer and I could not make it out until I was right beside it (for some reason it did not come to me to check my own watch!). Anyway, I had 25 minutes and 8 seconds left - pretty much 8-minute miles, and to my horror I realised that the last few laps had been slower than that so I better get going!


Photo by Paul Daly
Into the pain cave once more. I knew I could deal with the discomfort but the legs were experiencing spasms at a much-too-frequent rate and I was very close to cramping on several occasions, and I knew that if a cramp took hold properly any ideas of time went right out of the window. Right at the halfway mark, almost at the top of the "hill", the right hamstring did indeed start cramping but walking half a dozen steps brought immediate relief and then I was over the top of the hill and running downhill felt easier straight away and the pace dropped to about 7-minute miles, for the first time in hours!

Looking at the results now I can see that I overtook 3 runners on the last lap and I ran this 2 minutes faster than the previous ones, so obviously I did have more left in me than I was prepared to give on the day. The last stretch before the finish is uphill and I knew a sub-4 finish was in the bag. The legs threatened to cramp again, no matter how much I promised them that the finish was imminent. I unwisely decided to finish with a Dargan jump, which was pathetic as I barely was able to clear the ground and I paid for it straight away with a rather painful cramp. Ah well.
If you try and finish in style ...
(Photo by Jumping The Gun)
I finished in 3:58:27, 29th overall and 3rd M45, but most of all I was happy to be finished at all. It doesn't take a genius to work out that I am in dire need of recovery, from the cold as much (or more) as from the 50k so that's what's in store now.

... don't ruin it all by starting to cramp!
You might end up looking like a right muppet.
(Photo by Jumping The Gun)

P.S. Congratulations to Gary O'Hanlon for not only defending his title as national champion but also breaking the Irish record while doing so! Unreal performance!
13 Feb
0
14 Feb
Donadea 50k, Irish National 50k champs
3:58:27, 7:41 pace, HR 155
   29th place, 3rd M45
15 Feb
3.1 miles, 29:59, 9:36 pace, HR 135

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Post Trauma

Saturday night was not a good one. I might have thought I was dealing with the car crash reasonably well but once I wanted to go to sleep, sleep was not forthcoming, despite being absolutely knackered and barely being able to keep my eyes open when watching telly. Things were different in bed, I was just unable to fall asleep for hours, and once I finally managed to do that I kept waking every couple of minutes. My top was absolutely drenched in sweat in the morning, I could have wrung it out. Dawn came as a relief and as soon as it seemed bright enough to justify going for a run I was up and ready to go.

There must have been an incy bit of reluctance to go out because I started to read my email instead and there was a message from MC telling me to take it very easy this week, pretending I had run the marathon and doing my usual recovery routine.

That immediately did change things for that day of course, instead of heading out for a loop around the lake with the option of adding a few miles to make it 20 miles I was left with a short recovery run that would be over in less than an hour. I did defy him slightly by running 10k instead of 5 miles and 8 miles the next day because the legs felt good and had nothing to recover from. He did clear things up subsequently by pointing out that the legs are not the only thing to consider and my stress levels must have been sky high after the crash and dealing with its aftermath.

Apart from that one night I think my stress levels weren't too bad, I slept soundly again on Sunday night and every night thereafter and honestly think that I'm over it.

I did 8 more recovery miles on Tuesday but I did notice that the pace had been a bit faster despite the HR still being well within the Maffetone zone. I guess there is some sharpening effect coming through; the 10 fast miles on Sunday might explain that as I always tend to sharpen very, very quickly.

I got up early again on Wednesday and headed for the mountain for the first time in months. I think the frequent mountain runs I did all summer were a huge contributor to my successful run in Belfast, but I stopped them when my hamstring started hurting last October and then it had been too dark and icy recently to even think about the mountains.

The ice had disappeared and I brought a headlamp to deal with the darkness, so you might have thought I was covered. Unfortunately it turns out that turning on your headlamp for a few seconds to see if it's still working isn't fool proof; after a minute or so it basically stopped and eventually I twigged that no amount of fiddling was going to solve the problem of empty batteries.

The bright thing would have been to turn around and leave it for another day but I'm an idiot and a stubborn one at that so I kept stumbling up the stony, uneven mountain path more by feel than sight. I stumbled on several occasions and did fall twice, though no harm seemed to have been done. It was the slowest time I had ever set on that path but the legs felt surprisingly good and coped with the steep climb without even complaining, so my leg strength must be better than expected, despite the long hiatus since the last mountain run.

Thankfully the light was better by the time I headed for home, because running down these trails in darkness would definitely not have been a good idea.

I felt pretty good after the run but my right ankle really started hurting several hours later, so there was a price to pay. Thankfully it had cleared up again by the evening; probably just a stretched ligament from one of my stumbles and it looks like I have gotten away with it.

The legs were a bit tired on Thursday morning, so I had indeed done some work on that mountain For some reason I had forgotten to press the "start" button on my watch when I set off and only did so half a mile later (my subconscious must have twigged something was wrong., Usually I never even glance at the watch). Yet another sign of old age and oncoming senility?

8 Feb
6.2 miles, 49:47, 8:02 pace, HR 137
9 Feb
8 miles, 1:07:18, 8:25 pace, HR 132
10 Feb
8 miles, 1:04:19, 8:02 pace, HR 135
11 Feb
10+ miles, 1:42:28, 9:37 pace, HR 142
   Windy Gap
12 Feb
8 miles, 1:06:16, 8:17 pace, HR 135

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The One That Did Not Happen

This was supposed to be almost a carbon copy of the day two weeks ago. I got up early morning, got ready, got into the car still before 6 o'clock and pointed it towards Killeigh, Co. Offaly, not far away from my previous marathon in Lilliput.

That's where the similarities ended. I only got about 2 miles down the road when I got distracted by the electric window beside me acting up and all of a sudden that tree was right in my windscreen and a split second later I was beside the road in a ditch. All that happened on a perfectly straight piece of road that I had driven down hundreds of times before, it was not icy and there was nobody else around. I'm still at a loss to explain how it had happened, from looking at the marks on the ground later that day I think that the car must have turned abruptly, almost flipped, as soon as the left hand wheel had lost contact with the tarmac. It was over so quickly that by the time I realised something had happened it was already over. Thankfully I had not gone very fast, there was no real impact and the airbag had not deployed. I walked away from it completely unharmed, just a bit shaken. The marathon was not going to happen, that much was clear right away.

The advantage of crashing 2 miles from home was that I could ring Niamh and she was there 5 minutes later to pick me up. It took a while to organise someone to pull the car out of the ditch, which itself took half an hour and did a lot more damage to the car than the actual accident itself. I will get confirmation on Monday but I will be absolutely amazed if it's anything but a complete write-off. The advantage of driving an ancient car is that the financial loss isn't too bad but I need a new car pretty damn straight away, which is a hassle I could do without, really. And it had passed its NCT not even 3 weeks ago with flying colours!

I did eventually get to run at half past two in the afternoon and hammered 10 miles, far too fast for the legs at my present stage of fitness (almost 30 seconds per mile faster than last week) but this one was to clear the head rather than for the legs.

Shit happens. Nobody got hurt and I had narrowly avoided being another mark in the roads safety statistics, so in the great scheme of things this ended up okay.

5 Feb
10 miles, 1:23:24, 8:20 pace, HR 137
6 Feb
8 miles, 1:07:57, 8:30 pace, HR 133
7 Feb
10 miles, 1:10:19, 7:02 pace, HR 157
   incl. 8 miles @ 6:49 pace, HR 161

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Identify, Determine, Evaluate, Act, and Learn

Following a rather heavy weekend load, Monday and Tuesday were always going to be easy runs, though I did raise an eyebrow after each run when I saw just how slow they had been. The HR on Monday was particularly low, I think I can already see the effects of the step up in training. From that point of view Tuesday was a step backwards as the legs had felt very heavy indeed and the HR was back at its previous level. I think it took those two days to get the weekend out of the system and on Wednesday morning I was ready to do another evaluation.

I sometimes have a hard time getting my HR up to the right level before the start of the evaluation but this morning I had a hard time nailing the correct HR during the evaluation itself. I was running just a tad too slow, not enough to have my HR alarm chime up all the time but enough to show a difference in the numbers. MC's formula for correcting HR deviations is 7 seconds for 2 beats (3 seconds for 1), and the adjusted figures are in the bracket.
       
        Mile 1    6:45   HR 159    (6:38)
        Mile 2    6:44   HR 160    (6:41)
        Mile 3    6:39   HR 161    (6:39)
        Mile 4    6:38   HR 161    (6:38)
        Recovery to HR 130: ~40 seconds

I have never had an evaluation where I had gotten FASTER with each mile. Maybe the cold temperatures had something to do with it as it was about -2C/28F and I needed to warm up to hit the right pace, but I had already done almost 4 miles of warm up before the start of the evaluation, which seems almost excessive as it is. The recovery time is more an educated guess because I got confused by all those shiny numbers on the Garmin while standing at the side of the road. Must be old age. Oh, and I did notice that the Suunto Ambit recorded the same miles as about 5 seconds slower each (or, more accurately, did record less than a mile per repeat), though I keep using the Garmin's numbers for the evaluations to make comparisons with previous efforts easier.

Anyway, the figures are pretty damn good, if I don't slow down during an evaluation that's an excellent sign and in fact I had gotten progressively quicker, though the adjusted numbers are more even. The heavy legs from Tuesday were quickly forgotten as one of those days. I am in good shape already and ready to push on.
2 Feb
10 miles, 1:24:31, 8:27 pace, HR 132
3 Feb
10 miles, 1:26:37, 8:40 pace, HR 139
4 Feb
11.8 miles, 1:29:09, 7:33 pace, HR 148
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:45, 6:44, 6:39, 6:38; 40 sec recovery