Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lilliput

Friday evening I got a sore throat which got worse rather quickly and by the time I went to bed I felt pretty rotten. I did not have a fever, so I decided to wait how I would feel in the morning and assess the situation, though I am perfectly aware that my mindset is "if in any doubt, go for a run". Not being able to sleep exacerbated to problem and by the time the alarm clock woke me I had gotten less than 3 hours of sleep. Not ideal. Was it a wise move to drive for 3.5 hours, run a marathon and drive back home when feeling tired already? Probably not. But my throat was fine and I went ahead anyway.

My enthusiasm for this marathon had taken a bit of a nosedive on Thursday evening when I realised how long a drive it would be; I can almost drive to Dublin in that time! The car's thermometer said 6 degrees when I left Kerry but dropped steadily until it said -1 going through Birr. The roads were still okay until about 6 miles from Lilliput when they were distinctly not fine but covered in a layer of pure ice and rather dangerous. I was very glad to get there without incident.

Lilliput centre in Jonathan Swift Park was smaller than I had expected (Lilliput being small, who would have thought) but it served perfectly well as the race HQ.

There was supposed to be an early start at 8 o'clock but they had delayed that by an hour due to the icy roads and they were still icy when the main field started at about 9:45, slightly delayed as well. The course consisted of a small 2 mile loop and then 4 larger loops of about 6 miles each. A few guys ran ahead and I settled in with Aidan, who I had run the entire Oylegate marathon with 2 weeks ago. After about a mile a group of 3 runners passed us and we more or less ended up running with them, maybe a bit faster than I had planned but at that point everyone feels good and the pace was easy enough.

As mentioned, the roads were still covered in ice and you had to be really careful. The last thing I would have wanted is to break a bone in a fall and put myself out of the championships. I definitely felt that this was not safe but I am not having a go at the organisers; every single runner could clearly see what it was like and all of them decided to go ahead anyway, entirely out of their own volition.

Photobombing and marathon running at once
There was a turnaround point on the road where everyone's honesty was being put under a test but from what I could see everyone was meticulous in going around the marker correctly without cutting the course. Then the course turned right off the road onto what they called a trail but it was really a stony jeep road. It kept going and going and going for 1.5 miles when we turned around and went all the way back to the road where we had come from, finish the loop on the road and start the next one.

On the plus side, the trail was ice free and almost certainly safer than the road section.

After about 8 miles I felt the pace was a bit hotter than was wise to do in a training run and I deliberately fell back a bit. One other runner fell back with me and we let the other 3 guys go ahead. From that point on I ran my own race at my own pace which immediately felt more comfortable. I had the occasional chat with the other lad but for the most of it we just let the miles tick by in silence.

My right hip started hurting somewhere around mile 10. This was a new one. I have had the occasional twinge in that area but nothing for a couple of years. Maybe the icy roads or the uneven surface of the trail had something to do with it but that's just a guess.

After 2 laps the ice on the road had finally melted, apart from one ice plate I unexpectedly stepped on shortly after starting the third lap.

The gap between us and the three other runners seemed to grow and shrink at times and by mile 10 we were almost right behind them again but then they pulled away again and from the halfway mark they started to disappear. It was at that point that I started feeling my sore throat again and my energy levels weren't great. Obviously, this was not great news but I kept on running at whatever pace felt suitable. I was really thirsty and kept drinking an entire water bottle every three miles, much more than I would usually drink, yet I still felt dehydrated. I also took a gel at the halfway mark and at about 20 miles though neither seemed to make any difference to my flagging energy levels.

The third lap went by still reasonably well, and maybe the bottle of half coke/half water I managed to snag at mile 17 helped a bit but I really started to feel the effort and by the time I started the final loop I really began to wish this to be over.

The small people behind me might be the Lilliputians
At that point I was hurting quite a bit, the legs, especially the hamstring were really fatigued and heavy and every step was an effort. I kept telling myself that I would not have to pass any of the landmarks again but that did not really cheer me up. I really was not looking forward to the trail section, and as soon as I hit it it was just as bad as expected. I was running in very light shoes, as I always do, and I could feel every single stone on the surface and every uneven bit, and even the soles of my feet were hurting.

I tried to keep my form intact, and in fact a fair few runners told me afterwards that I made marathon running look easy, but that wasn't what it had felt to me during the last few miles. I was looking forward to more coke at the 23 mile mark but they were out of them and I had to be content with plain old water. When I finally stepped off the trail for the last time I had about 1.5 miles left, started to smell the finish and managed to increase the pace again. At that point running was almost fun again, though that probably only was because I knew I was about to stop running. I finished in seventh position (I think) in 3:15:14, which rather surprised me as it was a bit faster than in Oylegate and I had definitely thought I was running slower.

I need to reconfigure my Ambit. This is the second marathon in a row where I had run several minutes faster than planned without even realising. On my old Garmin I used to prominently display present and average pace and used this to pace myself. While I do have the same data fields on the Ambit they are displayed much smaller and a quick glance is not enough for me to read them, especially when running without glasses, and apparently this setup doesn't work for me. I'll think about that one.

So all in all not an ideal day at the races but far from a disaster. I managed to deal with the ice, the sore throat and the ridiculously long drive and still have a perfectly reasonable marathon number 64. Incidentally, this was my last race in the M40 age group.
24 Jan
Lilliput marathon, 3:15:14, 7:26 pace, HR 156
   seventh place
25 Jan
5 mile, 43:59, 8:47 pace, HR 139

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Ramblings

There isn't much to talk about, so this will be a very short update (Ewen, stop celebrating). On Wednesday I did my first hill session of the year, but it was a rather gentle introduction. I hoped a little bit of hill springing would help to re-balance my leg muscles and help my hamstring. I have been feeling my left hamstring on and off for about 3 months now. It does not really bother me and it did not stop me from running a 10k, 2 marathons and a double marathon in that time, which covers a lot of the spectrum from pace to distance, but it nevertheless is a bit of a worry.

Early indications are that those hills did not clear up the matter, if anything I have been feeling it a bit more in the last couple of days, but it still isn't something that keeps me awake at night.

Thursday and Friday were easy 10 mile runs, for some reason a bit slower than recently. Maybe the legs were a bit tired from the hills or the previous weekend or both but I have another marathon coming up tomorrow (Saturday) and sure was not worried about running slowly.

The championships are just 11 weeks away, which all of a sudden seems just around the corner. I guess the real training is about to begin.
21 Jan
9+ miles, 1:21:21, 8:53 pace, HR 141
   strides, 2 x hill springing
22 Jan
10 miles, 1:25:48, 8:35 pace, HR 136
23 Jan
10 miles, 1:24:45, 8:29 pace, HR 136

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Member Of The Team

I had missed out on my run on Thursday due to Met Eireann's overcautious warning, which meant that I would have two days of no running in succession because Friday would be taken up by travelling. I had already started my journey on Thursday when I headed up to Dublin straight from work to nab a few hours of sleep before having to get up disgustingly early, just after 4am, in order to make my flight at 7am. I don't mind getting up early for a long run, but this was just cruel. Not a lot of people wanted to subject themselves to that, which is why the plane to Vienna was almost empty.

As soon as I had arrived at the airport I got a rental car and headed for the Alps, not to enjoy the views (though I did manage that as well) but to visit my mum, which I don't manage very often. In the evening I drove for another couple of hours to Wels, about 100 miles west of Vienna, to get a few hours of sleep after a very, very long day.

The main reason for the journey was a team meeting of the Austrian national ultrarunning team. I had never met any of the other team members and was keen to meet them and also to introduce myself to them. I did not want to turn up on the eve of the World Championship and meet a group of total strangers; it would not have felt like a team.

We spent Saturday morning doing Lactate tests on a treadmill. I got the result only a day later (I'll save you the trouble and say it myself - germanic efficiency at work) and my lactate curve is absolutely textbook style, which is a good sign but leaves little room for obvious improvements in my training (I had not expected any major revelations). The afternoon was taken up with a series of lectures (stretching, nutrition, regeneration) and of course a run with the team. I went out with the middle group and the tempo was steady but kept increasing subtly all the time until someone complained (not me!), at which point it all calmed down again. My watch said almost 10 miles when we got back, so I did a loop around the car park to get to an even number. Old habits die hard.

There were more lectures on Sunday (functional training) and another long run where I opted for the slower group (no need to show off). We met back at the HQ after 12 miles, took a group photo and headed out again, this time at rather sharper pace, though looking at the graphs now it was never particularly fast, though I did have quite a few miles in my legs by that time, which would probably explain why it felt faster than it actually was.

The meeting ended after lunch and a few words by the team manager, I drove back to Vienna to spend some time with my sister before catching my flight back home on Monday morning (this one was packed to the rafters). I did not get home until almost midnight, which made this a very long and rather tiring weekend, but I am very glad I did this. I do actually feel a member of the team now, which wasn't really the case beforehand. I am really looking forward to April now. This is promising to be quite the experience.

17 Jan
am: 5+ miles, ~42 minutes; lactate test on treadmill
pm: 10 miles, 1:16:01, 7:36 pace, HR 154
18 Jan
17.5 miles, 2:26:53, 8:23 pace, HR 136
19 Jan
8.5 miles, 1:10:44, 8:18 pace
20 Jan
8 miles, 1:07:37, 8:27 pace, HR 136

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rachel

Seriously, someone needs to have a chat with the guys and girls from Met Eireann and tell them that 2 degrees Celsius is not "bitterly cold", not by any stretch of the imagination; not even by Irish standards.

Until Wednesday morning, conditions were still fine for running; any excuses would just have been very poor indeed. Niamh doesn't particularly like it when I go running wearing my tights but at my time of day it's still dark outside and nobody can see me anyway.

Recovery from the marathon is going exceedingly well. Following my always-the-same method of recovery, I have run easy 5 milers for a few days until the legs felt okay again, and by Tuesday that was definitely the case. My HR for that day was also a lot lower than the days before, so it's not just my muscles that are recovering rather quickly. I'm not saying that I am fully recovered after only three days but I am recovered sufficiently to think about running properly again.

I do actually have one hangover from Saturday, namely my left knee. It did hurt a little bit after the marathon (actually, after driving back up to Dublin) but has been fine when running. There is, however, some discomfort after sitting in the office chair for too long at work. I can't feel anything wrong at any other time, just after getting up from a prolonged spell in a sitting position. That too goes away if I keep walking for a minute, so nothing to worry about.

Winter has been throwing a few challenges our way; temperatures the last few days have always been a few degrees above 0. There was a bit of slush on the road on Wednesday morning that used to be ice a few hours beforehand, but by the time I ran on it it was crunchy and no longer slippery, so that was still fine.

With storm Rachel approaching our shores it eventually turned into not-fine-any-more throughout Wednesday and now it sure looks like my run tomorrow will have to be cancelled. Since I am travelling on Friday, I am most likely going to miss 2 days of running in a row. Let's call it additional recovery, but I sure would prefer to add a few miles. What can you do. Running is an outdoors sport, and these things do happen.

Update: Met Eireann owe me 8 miles! The weather was fine this (Thursday) morning, I easily could have gone running. They clearly erred on the side of caution. by a significant margin, at least around here in Kerry. We had celebrations last night when the kids heard that the schools were closed, followed by bitter tears and screaming 10 seconds later when Maia realised that her ballet lesson would be cancelled as well. Sometimes you just can't win.
12 Jan
5 miles, 43:08, 8:37 pace, HR 140
13 Jan
5 miles, 41:21, 8:18 pace, HR 135
14 Jan
8 miles, 1:07:00, 8:22 pace, HR 136

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Amongst Friends

I would usually hesitate to attend a marathon so far from home but the Oylegate, Co. Wexford one, organised by the Marathon Club, appealed to me and I was looking forward to running with a few friends. I had no intentions of setting any records. Let me rephrase that: I was determined not to run fast, this was very much a training run. A time of 3:20-3:30, depending how I would feel on the day, seemed appropriate.

The entire family had gone to Dublin on Friday evening, making for a much shorter journey on Saturday morning. After a very wet and stormy night the weather had calmed considerably when I set off on Saturday morning, shortly before 7 am, but by time I had reached Bray I was driving through a very heavy thunderstorm. Uh-oh!

Luckily things brightened up considerably and it was sunny in Oylegate, though the windy conditions would add a little bit of a challenge today, no doubt about it. The course consisted of 5 loops of a little over 5 miles. The first mile of each loop would be downhill and the next 4 would be uphill, but there were no steep bits in there at all; the course wasn't going to provide any excuses, it was all rather gentle.

Right from the start I fell into step with two other runners, Liam Costello and Aidan Hogan. I have run with both before, with Liam in Dublin and Aidan in Tralee. There weren't any fast runners out today, which meant we were actually the leading group, not that a casual observer would have been able to tell as we were coasting along, full of chat.

I checked the pace on my watch a few times during the first loop and it seemed to indicate that we were on 3:20 pace, give or take a little bit, which suited me perfectly. The chatter quietened down a bit during the second loop. I got the impression that Liam was pushing the pace a little bit, though nobody had any troubles staying with the group.

I did start to feel some tightness in my hamstrings as we neared the halfway mark and the same pace required a bit more of an effort, especially on those climbs right into the headwind that showed no signs of abating, and all of a sudden the climbs did not feel quite as gentle any more. I had no problem keeping with the boys but did quietly wonder if I was going to work harder than planned and if I should drop back if things got worse.

I took a gel at the end of the third loop and seemed to fumble along a bit more than necessary, and while I was preoccupied juggling a gel packet and a water bottle all of a sudden I was several steps behind the lads. Initially I thought I'd just let them go and jog the last 10 miles on my own at a lower effort level but on the downhill mile that followed my natural pace seemed to be a bit faster than theirs and without any increase in effort I was back with them. Maybe the gel had kicked in by then or maybe they had slowed down a bit but I no longer felt the effort was higher than anticipated and for the rest of the race I would just jog along comfortably. Maybe it takes 16 miles these days for me to warm up properly.

At the start of the fifth and final round Aidan said words to the effect of "I hope none of you intends to start racing to the finish", which both Liam and me denied. Once more this suited me just fine, today was a training effort, and an ego-driven race to the finish would have been the last thing I had in mind. I have much bigger things to fry this year.

Vincent, Aidan, Liam, me
All of us had run well below racing effort and we all still felt reasonably comfortable so we just made our way around the last miles, enjoying the views and the unexpectedly nice weather for the final time. I had not once checked my watch for the pace ever since the first lap and still thought we were on 3:20 pace until Liam told us we would be there in about 3:15 - a quarter mile before the finish! In the end it was a 3:16 marathon and the three of us crossed the finish line together, even holding hands as we did so.

It sure was not the most competitive race I had ever been in but technically we were the winners. I stuck around, chatting with the other runners and enjoying the fabulous spread that had generously been provided. Irish record holder Ruthann Sheahan was there as well and she told me about her last 24-hours championship in Poland, which got me all the more excited about April; at that stage I can hardly wait, it is promising to be quite an experience.

Thanks to the members of MCI which made this a great day and a lovely race, especially to Marie Chapman and Vincent Guthrie for the flawless organisation. I had a great day and can't wait to do it again.

I did attend my niece's birthday party later that day. It was great to be able to answer the usual question of "You ran a marathon? Did you win?" with a "Yes" for a change!

8 Jan
10 miles, 1:24:17, 8:23 pace, HR 134
9 Jan
8 miles, 1:07:36, 8:26 pace, HR 136
10 Jan
26.2 miles, 3:16:47, 7:30 pace, HR 155
   MCI Oylegate marathon - three-way split for the win
11 Jan
5 miles, 43:27, 8:41 pace, HR 140
Weekly Mileage: ~81

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Evaluate Your Base

Monday morning was somewhat unreal. The Moon had just dipped below the horizon but still bathed the scene in an otherworldly grey light. As I ran along the lake I could see a cloud forming above the water, which looked even more alien, illuminated in the ambient light. When I passed a house, 2 or 3 dogs started howling; not barking, howling at the moon. With all the cliched horror film settings firmly in place it was no wonder I got completely spooked when a bright light appeared behind me, throwing all kinds of shadows right in front of me. v er fefe ghtr

Of course it turned out to be a car, snapping me back to reality pretty quickly. Still, I wonder what John Carpenter would have made out of all that. It didn't require a lot of imagination, all the basic ingredients were there.

I was still left with a little bit of a mystery, namely why the pace had been quite so slow. That one remained unsolved.

I had been planning on doing another evaluation on Wednesday, 2 weeks after the last one. However, the weather forecast spoke against that, heavy winds plays havoc with the pace and invalidates the numbers, so I moved it forward by a day to Tuesday morning.

This was only 5 days after the 10k race and I expected to see some sharpening effect (that's an unwanted effect at this stage), and I'm not sure what effect it had that the damn cat had woken me at 2 am, leaving me unable to sleep for the next 2 hours (I often tend to have trouble sleeping at or around Full Moon).

Unlike Monday, this time the Moon was still above the horizon, bringing a surprisingly bright silvery light to the proceedings. Lovely.

I sometimes have a hard time getting my HR up to the right level before the start of the evaluation, not so this time. I'm not sure if that's a bad omen or not, but the real feedback comes from the 4 miles of evaluation, of course.

The numbers in brackets are adjusted pace, 3 seconds for every beat off the 161 target.
       
        Mile 1    6:50   HR 161    (6:50)
        Mile 2    6:52   HR 160    (6:49)
        Mile 3    6:51   HR 160    (6:48)
        Mile 4    6:52   HR 161    (6:52)
        Recovery to HR 130: 39 seconds

Two things spring to mind immediately: that's about 10 seconds per mile slower than last time (it's the numbers I would expect to see without a sharpening effect). Secondly, that is by far and away the most even set of number I have ever produced.

The recovery is almost the same as last time. I sure have seen lower figures but it's in line with expectations.

Despite having done that for a few years I am not an expert, but I think these numbers indicate that my base training can come to an end.

There was one extra bit of potential trouble. My hamstring was just fine but my calves started to get very tight on the third mile. It did not influence the evaluation but the 4 miles home were rather slow and awkward. I'm pretty sure that's a sign that my lower legs haven't quite recovered from the race yet. A few more days of easy running are in store.

My left calf was still a bit tight on Wednesday morning, but much improved already and it actually loosened up after a couple of miles, so I think I'll be okay. The pace was modest but the weather was rather wild; sometimes that can get to me but some morning I just love it. Today was the latter; battling the elements was fun.

5 Jan
10 miles, 1:26:43, 8:40 pace, HR 135
6 Jan
11.8 miles, 1:29:30, 7:36 pace, HR 146
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:50, 6:52, 6:51, 6:52; 39 sec recovery
7 Jan
10 miles, 1:23:58, 8:24 pace, HR 136

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Recovery

I'm still not entirely sure about Thursday's race. I never pushed it 100% and left it at about 95% effort (I know, the 5:48 first mile does not entirely support that argument) and I'm undecided if I could not run faster or just was not prepared to push myself all out. I do know that in the long run a slightly less than full effort will be a good thing because racing during base building isn't a good idea anyway, so maybe that did play on my mind.

The last couple of days were all recovery runs from the race, of course, and I sacrificed my long run this weekend for the sake of recovery. With the HR alarm still set at the Maffetone level easy runs are assured anyway. The pace was particularly slow on Friday, which I had not even noticed, but has returned to pre-race levels by now, a tad slower than 8-minute miles. My HRM has been acting up a few times recently, so this morning I changed the battery and all seems good again (this is always the first thing to try and it works almost every time).

I could feel my hamstring again on Friday and Saturday. It did not really hurt but there was definitely some small amount of discomfort there. It has settled down again on Sunday but I know the hamstring still isn't quite at a state it ideally should be. It's good I'm an ultra runner, I guess. The slow training pace definitely protects the muscles; if I were a 5k runner and tried a few workouts I'd be in real trouble in no time at all.

So, after the excitement of the race where I ran a full 2 minutes per mile faster than in training, it's back to the fat burning drudgery of Maffetone. I know I've been moaning and bitching about that less-than-riveting form of training already, and I guess there will be more to come. I always thought of myself as a rather disciplined guy, but this is really testing my limits. I'm not sure how much longer I can bear to stick with this. I'll try and keep in mind the eventual benefits - that should help!
3 Jan
10 miles, 1:23:14, 8:19 pace, HR 138
4 Jan
12 miles, 1:38:05, 8:09 pace, HR 138
Weekly Mileage: 68+