Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Splits

There are different kind of splits that we get to look at today. First of all, my 13.1-mile splits from Connemara:

1:33:51 (16th) 1:34:43 (14th)  1:40:35 (6th)

That's quite interesting I think. Despite slowing down by well over 6 minutes my third split was way better relative to the field than the other two. Of course, 6 minutes isn't too bad considering the two major hills, that mad headwind as well as the fatigue, but an ideal run would have seen me doing a faster final third. Mind, the only runner to pass me was Thomas Klimas, who has the highly unusual distinction of having run the final third faster than the previous two. The next best runner to achieve that came 93rd!

The other splits were the mile splits from the 5k last Sunday:

5:35 5:52 6:00

That's the third time I've started a 5k with exactly the same mile split of a 5:35 split. Weird. The second mile is a bit disappointing. I think had I known that I was so close to my PB I might have been able to push a bit harder. The third was actually okay, considering that it included the hill. Mind, I did lose 3 places there, so maybe not so okay after all.

There is one other thing that seems to have split that day, namely the muscle fibres around my lumbar spine. It's actually quite ironic. My main target for Sunday's race had been not to get injured. In that I succeeded, only to do my back in when mowing the grass later that day. It wasn't one specific moment, I just noticed at some point that my back was hurting but kept on going, after all there was a lawn to be done. Big mistake as it turns out, come evening I was in absolute agony.

I have had back trouble before. It's very painful but does go away after a few days. Running doesn't have any effect on it, neither positive nor negative. Sitting down is the major problem, which isn't ideal if you have a desk job as you might imagine. Interestingly, the supposedly comfy chairs in the office's conference room are by far the worst; I had a meeting there yesterday and became more and more uncomfortable until I was squirming in agony. Cycling is poison too, due to its sitting posture. Unfortunately it's my only way of getting in and out of work, but I'm in agony after each 5 mile journey.

Running has been on the back burner, less because of the post-race recovery but more because of my back. I had initially planned on doing a mountain run on Wednesday but postponed that. Seeing as running doesn't seem to make any difference at all it's probably unnecessary caution.

It's a shame as I have the run of the house this week. I could have been running as much as I wanted without having to mind that gaggle of misbehaving children that Niamh keeps insisting are all mine. Ah well. I did go running twice a day on Tuesday and Wednesday, though. The RPE was the same but the pace for the evening runs was about half a minute per mile faster. Interesting but entirely expected, it's what happens every time (not that I do much running in the evening, owing to the aforementioned little treasures).

14 Apr
5 miles, 41:30, 8:18 pace, HR 132
15 Apr
am: 5 miles, 39:01, 7:48 pace, HR 136
pm: 5+ miles, 36:54, 7:18 pace, HR 143
16 Apr
am: 6+ miles, 47:54, 7:51 pace, HR 136
pm: 5+ miles, 37:36, 7:27 pace, HR 141

Sunday, April 13, 2014

County Kerry 5k Road Championship

"What do you think about Sunday 13th April?" "That's the worst date possible!" Sean might have been slightly taken aback by my reaction when he told me about the date for the county championship, but at that point it was already decided. I promised to turn up and might even put in an honest effort, but one week after the Connemara Ultra I would never be able to produce my best performance. In fact, my main goal for today's race was not to get injured!

Still, I could not miss it. It was held in Killorglin and my local club, Star of the Laune, acted as organisers. We are a small club but aimed to bring a decent team both for the men's as well as the women's division, though as the men were all old geezers we were squarely aiming for the masters categories.

I had to stop watching the London marathon halfway through to head off to the start. I could still clearly feel the heavy legs from Connemara, which didn't bode too well. I guess I would have to rely on Adrenaline alone to get me through this today.

I have run in these championship races before and know far away I am from the standard up front so I started well down the field, probably too far as I spent the first half mile overtaking a lot of runners. It didn't cost me any real time, though. I could see a very big pack right up front not too far away and just one or two runners between them and me, but after about a mile they started pulling away and I started to feel the effort.

The one thing that got me through is the knowledge that this would be over reasonably soon. 5ks are the complete opposite to marathons or ultras, the pain is high but the effort does not have to be sustainable for long. They go completely against my strengths but to be honest I do like the fact that they show that I am able to run well below 6-minute pace, something that's completely out of the question in training.

The first two miles were exceptionally flat but we had to pay the price in the third mile in shape of a 100 feet high hill. The gradient is about 5% on the steepest section and my only aim was to get to the top without killing myself. I didn't have much strength left, in fact I lost 2 places. Even when it flattened out it was still uphill for a while until we could finally descend back towards town. After losing 2 places on the climb I didn't exactly cover myself in glory by losing 2 further places on the way down. At least it did sting my pride and I did put the hammer down on the final 500 meters that were flat towards the finish and managed to get one place back.

I didn't press the button immediately after crossing the line, I was too busy trying to breathe, but pressed it when the watch showed 18:20, so I estimated my time must have been around 18:10, pretty much the same time I had done in the fun run a few weeks ago, but looking at the Garmin track now I can see that it drops off after 17:58, so let's say my time was pretty much 18 flat, give or take a second.

I was well pleased with my time, certainly faster than I would have thought possible only 7 days after Connemara and possibly even more pleased with my bronze medal for coming third in the M40 age group, an nice bonus. It's fairly rare to get a "real" medal, as opposed to the usual everyone-gets-a-medal, and I do treasure them all. The club had done very well with about half a dozen medals and I think both the ladies as well as the masters men finished in teh top three in the teams rankings, but they did not announce them yet.

Let's just hope it didn't set my recovery back too much.

P.S.: Congratulations to Chris Grayson for storming to his first sub-3 in London with an official time of 2:56:54. Smoked it, mate! I'm chuffed for you, I know how much you wanted it!

P.P.S. Final results have me in 21st place in 17:56. That's damn close to my PB! Now I'm wondering if I could break it ...


I knew I needed a haircut but I had no idea I needed one so desperately!
Finishing sprint
Definitely happy to get a medal!
Star of the Laune medal winners
Star of the Laune
All photos by Carol Naughton
11 Apr
5 miles, 40:14, 8:03 pace, HR 130
12 Apr
5 miles, 39:04, 7:48 pace, HR 133
13 Apr
6.5 miles, including:
   County Kerry 5k Road Championship
   ~18:00, 5:47 pace, HR 175, 3rd M40

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cloud Nine

The last few days I have looked at the results for the Connemara Ultra at least once a day to reassure myself that a) I wasn't imagining it and b) they haven't made a mistake and corrected it, taking the M40 win away from me, but so far I'm still awake and I'm still top of that list so maybe it's true after all. Wow. Well, that more than makes up for the cruel blow I received in Ballycotton. If someone had offered me either an age group win in Connemara or a Ballycotton t-shirt, of course I would have taken the win, it's not even a close decision.

Around mile 8. Daibhi is about to overtake our little group.
I'm about to remind the lads that it's ONLY 50 k to go.
Damien and Gerry are getting ready to punch me for being a smart arse.
Photo by Beata Ewa Czajka-Banatowska
I still can't quite believe it, though. This is Ireland's premier ultra and I had no right whatsoever expecting such a result. I guess all the stars aligned for that one. Much better master runners than me like Mick Rice or Shane James Whitty were or are injured (get better soon, lads!) or not in their usual shape (Vasiliy) and I managed to have just that tiny little bit more left at the end than Gerry or Alastair. Even so I was still in fourth position at the foot of the Hell with only 4 miles to go. It just happened to be that Sunday was my day.

At some point in the near-ish future it will be time to get back to Earth I suppose, but until then I'll just keep walking on clouds, thank you very much.

My recovery program since Sunday has followed my usual tried-and-trusted but scientifically unproven method of running 5 very easy miles every morning, which I swear leads to faster recovery than full rest. The legs have felt surprisingly good even on Monday, I never felt sore and even walking down the staircase in the office did not provide any noticeable discomfort, but the pace an all 4 days so far has remained significantly slower than 8-minute miles, so I'll keep that going until the pace picks up naturally. The way the HR is dropping is very encouraging and the legs are fine, but not screaming at me to go faster yet. I'd like to get back to "real" training as soon as I can, but recovery has to come first.

7 Apr
5 miles, 42:46, 8:33 pace, HR 130
8 Apr
5 miles, 41:09, 8:13 pace, HR 130
9 Apr
5 miles, 41:45, 8:20 pace, HR 128
10 Apr
5 miles, 41:28, 8:17 pace, HR 126

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Walk Straight Through Hell With A Smile

It’s funny how perception changes things. When I focus on a goal race, the days and weeks preceding it seem to be drawn into incredible lengths. It was the other way round this time. Just three weeks after the Tralee marathon I was on the bus to Connemara thinking “I can’t believe it's that time already”.

I had a minor scare the day before when I developed a splitting headache after the journey to Galway. I suspected I was dehydrated and drank lots of water which seemed to help but did not get rid of the problem entirely. I woke up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep for at least 2 hours still suffering from the same headache but finally managed to fall asleep again and when I awoke I was feeling fine.

I was rather relaxed before the start, only got nervous in the final few minutes. Mainly I was just feeling cold from the biting wind but knew I would be fine once the race got underway. It didn't really help that I knew that we would be heading right into that wind for the first 10 miles, though.

The plan was to run about 7:10 pace (on the Garmin that is, so probably more like 7:14 pace in real miles) until the marathon point in Leenane and then hang on over the last few miles. The hope and expectation was that the wind would have died down by then, which would make for rather good conditions.

I started off slightly slower, entirely be design in order not to burn unnecessary energy before I had warmed up. What did take me entirely by surprise was the amount of runners ahead of me; I counted no less than 20 of them. I had run the first mile in 7:15; anyone holding that pace until the end could reasonably expect to come in, or at least near, fifth place, so there were definitely a few very optimistic runners on the road today.

One runner who definitely knew what she was doing was Ruthann Sheahan and I was tempted to run with her when I caught up to her, but I saw another pair of runners straight ahead, and one of them was Gerry Duffy of 32-marathons and deca-ironman fame, and I decided to catch up to them instead. The only comment when I reached them was ”just the man I expected”.

The first 10 miles of an ultra are all about pacing yourself and keeping comfortable. I was a bit concerned about the headwind; we were running right at my planned pace, but since we had to fight the wind, would we have been better off a little bit slower? However, I figured that running in a group, especially against the wind, was better than running alone and well worth the risk of running a smidgen faster. Besides, I was feeling very comfortable. The only time the guys gave me a filthy look was when I joked at mile 8 that there were now only 50k left. Ah well, it’s ultra runner humour, I suppose.

“Thank f*** for that” was my only comment when we reached mile 10 and turned sharply right. All of a sudden the wind was now mainly on our backs and running felt a lot easier. The pace did increase a little bit but not too much. We could see the assembled marathon field at the start as we neared mile 13 and several hundred marathoners forming an elongated snake on the bendy road along Loch Inagh as their starting gun sounded. We reached 13.1 miles in just under 1:34, pretty much on pace, and caught up to the back-end of the marathon field in less than half a mile.

Running past the marathon field gave me a massive jolt of energy. Plenty of runners gave us a good shout as we were passing them and I fed on the positive energy that was in the air. I met and said hello to a big number of friends and all of them had nothing but encouragement for us. That lasted for about 3 or 4 miles, by which time we were catching people at a much slower rate and the previous miles started to make their presence felt in the legs. My hamstrings weren’t all that happy.

Still, it might have required a little bit more effort but I could easily remain on target and our little group stayed together. When we broke up at mile 19 it was because we all took separate amounts of times at the feed table, and from here on I was running mostly on my own.

I was ahead of the guys initially but was definitely feeling the miles and both of them caught and passed me within 2 miles. I made up one place myself when I caught Billy Holden, the first ultra runner I passed since the first couple of miles. He was paying the price for a slightly ambitious early pace but looked reasonably okay and indeed would hold it together just fine until the end. We chatted briefly and he expected me to catch a lot of the runners ahead. I wasn't quite so optimistic, I wasn't feeling too hot at the time.

Luckily that low did not last long and by the time we started the descent into Leenane I felt a lot better again already. I did think back to August when I had run that same stretch of road going the other way and feeling pretty rough with about 60 miles in the legs; it definitely was a lot more fun going downhill with "only" 22 miles covered yet.

I went through the marathon in 3:08:42 (on my own watch), about 80 seconds ahead of plan and feeling reasonably good at the time. So far it was going to plan but the defining part of the race was still ahead of me.

The climb out of Leenane isn't just the first real test, it can also be dangerous. Two years ago I definitely ran this too hard, trying to keep up with Liam and Ray and paying the price for it soon after when the legs started cramping. This time I was running on my own and setting my own pace, which was beneficial, but I think I probably did a similar pace as I was feeling strong at the time and the climb did not bother me at all. Maybe those runs on the Kerry Way up to Windy Gap are already paying dividends.

I caught the tail end of the half marathon well before I reached the summit, and I knew from here on the road would be busy all the way to the finish. I would pass about 1500 runners from Leenane to Maam's Cross, that's well over 100 per mile. It means a lot of weaving around, trying to find gaps when groups are running 5 abreast and dodging headphone wearers that are unaware of their surroundings. When I'm tired then all that can really get to me, but today I did not mind it at all, quite the opposite. Like at the marathon start, I was feeding off the energy from the field, and every shout of "Well done Ultra" gave me a little bit of extra energy. By the way, at least 90% of those encouragements came from female runners - I'm sure psychologists can have a field day with that kind of stuff, but thank you, ladies, all of you!

Unfortunately the prediction of the wind calming down turned out to be incorrect. The opposite was the case and the last 13 miles were against a swirling headwind with some gusts that felt rather severe and were accompanied by heavy rain on a few occasions. It did not help our tired legs.

An ultra is very much defined by how you work through your low points. You will go through several of them, it is just inevitable, but keep at it and eventually you will get through it. I started feeling seriously bad soon after mile 30. I was by now on my third sports drink and had taken 5 gels and my stomach was telling me that enough was enough. I forced the rest of the drink down, partially to get some energy aboard but also to lighten the weight of the bottle which seemed to weigh a ton. There was no way I was going to eat the last gel, I knew I would not be able to force that down and I eventually chucked it away unopened. I was afraid I would have to do an unplanned pitstop but luckily the stomach settled down once I stopped forcing more sugar into it.

However, the stomach troubles did transfer into the legs and my pace slowed down considerably. I still managed to pass two ultra runners in those miles, but that was entirely down to the fact that they were struggling even more than I did. Going through the half marathoner field gave me the false illusion of decent progress, but if you are passing runners doing 9:00 miles while running 8:30 miles you will of course make your way through the field but it was nowhere near target pace.

I could see the numbers on the Garmin deteriorate at an alarming rate. The average pace had been 7:08 or 7:09 in Leenane, had declined to 7:12 after the long climb and was now at 7:16 and dropping like a stone. At that rate, I would not even get close to a new PB, I was losing way too much time. I saw 7:40 for the present pace on 2 or 3 occasions, but neither swearing nor increasing the effort seemed to do the trick because before I knew it I was seeing 8:30.

Just as I was thinking that it was strange that no other ultra runner had caught me despite me slowing down so dramatically, Thomas Klimas came from behind, cheerfully shouting "caught you". He said he had seen my bright orange t-shirt from the far distance for most of the race and seemed more than happy to pull ahead. He also told me that he had been running with Magic for a long while, and when I asked if that meant that Magic was going to catch me as well soon, he certainly did not rule out the possibility. And then he was gone, pulling ahead at some amazing speed.

I was shocked. I have run with him before and we have similar abilities, and it must have flicked a switch in my head "if he can run that pace then so can I!!" It took a minute or two the rev up the legs but eventually I was doing 7:30 pace again, and it even felt sustainable, at least for a while. I had been in a funk for about 3 miles, I was now just past 33 with about 6 miles yet to come. I had lost quite some time, but if I could keep going, there was plenty of road ahead to make up for it. I knew the Hell was just 1.5 miles ahead, but that didn't worry me too much yet.

It's all in the head. Thomas catching up with me and giving me a jolt was the best thing that had happened to me all day. All of a sudden I was able to run a minute per mile faster again. Nothing physically had changed, the legs were just as fatigued as before, the blood sugar at the same level, the muscle damage done, and yet I was running properly again.

I caught another ultra runner just as we turned right the last time, crossing the bridge and heading straight for Connemara's signature piece, the Hell of the West, the feared 2-mile climb that has to be conquered before the finish. It's not that big, it's not that steep, but you are hitting it with tired legs and that's what makes it so tough.

I have had good times and bad times on that road, but today was the best of them all. It started with me passing Shane Whitty, usually a much better runner than me but obviously suffering now. Then I could see no less than 2 ultra runners amongst the field ahead, and one of them was Gerry Duffy, who I had not expected to see again. I caught the first ultra runner about half a mile into the climb "how you're holding up" "not as good as you", and Gerry just after the hairpin turn halfway up the mountain. When passing runners, always run strongly to discourage them from hanging on to you and that's exactly what I did, though it did require a supreme effort. I never looked behind me (another big no-no) and was never quite sure if I had dropped them but all I could do was to run as fast as I could, so that's exactly what I did.

I was surprised to see yet another ultra runner ahead of me when I reached the top and with even more effort I passed him on the downhill stretch. The wind was howling and made it twice as hard but as the other runners seemed to suffer a lot more than me, it seemed to be in my favour because I was feeling good and could handle it. I was still in fear that one or even all of those runners I had just passed would hang on to me and outsprint me on the line so I pushed harder and harder.

The mile to the finish seemed to drag on forever, I could see the tower in the far distance and with all that headwind it felt even further away. I could hardly believe my eyes when I spotted yet another ultra runner ahead of me! I wasn't even pleased, I was already pushing as hard as I could and I didn't want a race to the finish line. I was hurting too much for that, but the gap melted away surprisingly quickly and I gained yet another place, and my fear of yet another runner chasing me increased by another notch.

And then I could see the gantry ahead! I did not dare to slow down even by a smidgen because I did not want to lose any of those places I had so unexpectedly gained late on, but I should not have feared, I had left them all behind and crossed the line with the timer at 4:49, an absolute dream time. Race director Ray O'Connor got yet another sweaty hug from me, and confirmed that I had come in the top 10.

Before the race I had announced to anyone who wanted to hear it that I would be very happy with a new PB (4:53:33), still happy with sub-5 and ecstatic with sub-4:50, and ecstatic I was. The last 6 miles were the kind of finish a runner can usually only dream about, making my way through the field to improve my position from 15th to 9th in just a few miles. The legs never once cramped, but my stomach was in bits and I was unable to eat solids for a long time afterwards. I guess it was a good thing the race wasn't any longer, at some point the stomach troubles would have come to haunt me. I might have cut it fine, but this was a new PB by well over 4 minutes, and the next day brought an even bigger surprise when I saw in the results that I had come first man over 40! To win my age group in what is in many ways Ireland's premier ultra is an absolute dream come true, I never would have thought that even remotely possible.

It's great to be on a high.
6 Apr 2014
Connemara Ultra 2014
39.3 miles, 4:49:09, 7:19 pace, 9th place, 1st M40

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Connemara

I had a few dodgy miles between 31 and 33 but rallied to have the kind of finish runners only tend to dream about - caught no less than 5 runners on the Hell of the West to finish in the top 10 apparently. 4:49:xx is a new ultra PB by over 4 minutes, despite the savage wind over the last few miles, so I'm absolutely delighted. Great day!

Real race report in a day or two.

Update: I came 9th overall and first man over 40!!!!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Untapering

I used to very much believe in the taper before a race, and to some extend I still do. But I have come to the conclusion that there are exceptions to that rule. A taper does not guarantee a good race and you can have a very good race without being tapered. My 2:56 in Killarney after a heavy period of training last year was one such case in point, I really surprised myself that day. Since Connemara is not my goal race I decided not to disrupt my training for Belfast any more than necessary and because I've just had 2 easy weeks after Tralee I suspect I don't have a lot a fatigue in the legs left that would require tapering anyway.

Mind, I could certainly feel the two faster weekend runs in the legs on Monday and took it easy. I took it even easier on Tuesday when I ran only 8 miles instead of 10. I also seem to have recovered from that cold during those days, my chest feels perfectly clear again.

While you don't want to tire yourself out with a massive effort, four days before I race is usually a good day to perform one last decent workout. Like last week I went up into the clouds again, and with the drizzly rain you can take that literally. It was still dark when I left the house and I was unpleasantly surprised that light levels were still low when I reached the trail which required a rather cautious approach for the first couple of miles there. It was also the perfect opportunity to test the the Terraflies in tricky circumstances and was very happy to see them perform admirably, I never once slipped even on the steepest sections, be it on stone, grass or mud, neither uphill nor downhill. I did up the ante compared to last week by climbing up to Windy Gap twice but the overall effort was rather measured.

I have four days to recover from this before Connemara, which should hopefully do the trick, and even if it doesn't then I can find solace in the fact that it's not my main race. As you can tell I am going into the race with a rather relaxed mindset, which may well work in my favour, you never know. I'll find out, I guess.

31 Mar
10 miles, 1:18:06, 7:48 pace, HR 139
1 Apr
8 miles, 1:01:35, 7:41 pace, HR 137
2 Apr
12+ miles, 1:51:04, 9:04 pace, HR 141
   2 x Windy Gap

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lessons

Many years ago in 1978, Alberto Salazar suffered so badly from heat stroke after the Falmouth Road Race that he had his last rites read to him. He recovered and said afterwards that from that day on he knew exactly how hard he could push himself. I had an experience 6 years ago that was nowhere near as dramatic when I contracted pneumonia but similar to some extend as I learned when it was okay to go running and when not.

I still felt very good on Thursday morning during my run but things started going south during the day when I started feeling worse and worse. It was not just me, Lola was affected as well and Maia was feeling very rough, bad enough for Niamh to take her to the doctor on Friday. I had a sore throat, a headache and was generally feeling unwell but it did pass the neck test and I went running on Friday, though I did cut the distance down to 8. I was actually quite surprised to see the HR completely unaffected; sometimes you are fighting an infection while feeling ok and the HR can jump by 10 beats or more. At other times, like Friday, you can clearly feel some effects but the HR is at the same level you expect when perfectly healthy. I was still feeling rather rough for most of Friday but got better towards the evening and by Saturday morning was basically recovered, though I can still feel some weight on my chest when lying down, but that will go away soon.

With just one week to go to Connemara I decided to give the local duathlon a miss, though I do feel a bit guilty for not supporting a race in Killorglin. Instead I went for a 10 mile run at the planned Connemara pace of 7:10, which might be a bit optimistic but not completely unrealistic I like to think. I started easily with the first mile in 7:30, had caught up by mile 5 and then ran the rest entirely on autopilot and very relaxed. I was thrilled with the result, it felt like I could keep that pace going until forever.

I repeated the same workout on Sunday. The first mile was a bit slower in about 7:45 and it took a little bit longer to catch up and the last few miles required slightly more effort than the day before but it was still very relaxed and I certainly could have run a lot faster had I wanted to. It's hard to say if the pace is appropriate for Connemara but I think if I run like this for the first 26 miles I'll get to Leenane in good shape and can then re-assess on the long climb that follows. Despite not training specifically for Connemara I'm quite optimistic about the prospects of a new PB.
27 Mar
10 miles, 1:18:18, 7:49 pace, HR 136
28 Mar
8 miles, 1:02:12, 7:46 pace, HR 135
29 Mar
10 miles, 1:11:24, 7:08 pace, HR 145
30 Mar
10 miles, 1:11:11, 7:07 pace, HR 148