Tuesday, October 28, 2014

It's A Tough Job

... but someone's gotta do it.

Pacing the Dublin marathon has quickly become an annual tradition, this was the fifth year in a row I have worn the pacing gear and tried to bring a group of runner home in time.

The 2014 DCM pacers
3:10 is a reasonably tough assignment, my PB is borderline acceptable, but obviously that's for the pacing coordinator to judge. I was always confident I would be well able to do the job, otherwise I would not have volunteered for it, but that's a fast enough time and I had to be in decent shape; there wasn't much chance of a relaxing jog through the capital.

There were 36 pacers at DCM today. About 34 of them native English speakers. Guess who got "volunteered" into doing the interview

The weather forecast had gotten progressively worse throughout the week, though it depended on which web site you believed - not that it made any difference on the day. Marathon day itself turned out to be unseasonably warm but the biggest issue was the blustery wind that got very strong at times.

My fellow pacers were John and Trevor, both of them very experienced runners (and a multiple national champion in John's case) and there was never a question about the quality of the pacing group.

A 3:10 marathon means 7:15 pace, but on the Garmin that has to be 7:10. We were also supposed to come home up to half a minute early, so that's 7:09 on the Garmin, with no more than a second to play with. As it always happens, the congestion at the start and the early miles means that it is basically impossible to run at the correct pace at first. I missed the first mile marker but our pace must have been closer to 7:45. Since we don't want to burn out our pacees with a 6:45 mile it means we were gradually playing catch-up right from the start.

The course has changed a bit since last year due to Luas works and there has been a fair amount of discussion if the new course is tougher than the previous one. To be honest, I don't think it makes much of a difference - 90% is still the same and there are no major hills on the new sections, so the overall level of difficulty is pretty much the same in my view.

It meant, however, a very long straight run through all of Phoenix Park and beyond, which was quite the uphill drag from about mile 3 through to 7. The wind at that section was very strong,and it came in sideways. However, I found that crosswind was causing me more problems today than headwind because of the big fairy wing I was carrying around which caught the wind full on and kept dragging me sideways. I had a quick chat with one of my fellow pacers, Trevor, and we agreed to run about 10 seconds per mile slower through that section, trying to avoid burning out our runners, and make up the difference again on the downhill section that was to follow. It meant we were about half a minute behind schedule at mile 7 but our prediction came through and we made it all up over the next 2 miles without any increase in effort.

By now it had become clear to me that this was going to be a fairly tough day. The pace felt challenging enough. I was still reasonably confident I was going to make it all the way through but I had to work harder than I would have liked.

At least we were back on pace, which had me relax a little bit mentally. We kept going and the next few miles clicked by reasonably quickly. I knew this was a good time to enjoy a few miles because the next section was going to be tough.

Crumlin Road is well known amongst Dublin marathon runners as a really tough stretch. It is a long uphill drag and it is always into a headwind. Today was worse than usual, the wind felt really strong. On the way up to the halfway mark (which was much earlier than usual due to the changes in the course) I started to feel rather rough and for the first time today I was starting having my doubts if I was really going to remain on pace. This was really not an appealing thought at all. I was doing my 12th marathon as a pacer and I would have hated letting anyone down. But for the time being I was still able to keep going and I was going to hang on for as long as I could, but for a mile or two I was more hanging on than being a pacer, to be honest.

The road was very narrow at times and you had to mind your step all the way while at the same time hoping that nobody was going to trip you from behind. Pacing groups are always crowded and it was not entirely safe. Indeed, one lady, just 2 or 3 runners ahead of me, got tripped up and she ended up flat on the pavement. She was okay and able to rejoin our group, but I do think that the organisers have to rethink the course, or at least the amount of road they give to the runner, because with the growing numbers every year this problem is only going to get worse and the runners' safety is already being compromised.

A bottle of sports drink went a long way to pulling me out of my difficulties and by mile 14 I was feeling okay again. However, I noticed that we were a few seconds behind pace again and signalled it to Trevor, who agreed and we upped the pace by a little bit; not much, just a few seconds per mile, but even so it was probably enough to lose a few of our runners already. However, what can you do, we had to remain on pace.

Usually a pacing group remains fairly constant until about mile 17 or so and then you start losing runners that have been with you from the start but you also pick up runners that had been ahead and have slowed down. This happens every time, it is more or less inevitable.

Cork blogger Kealan O'Connor suddenly was right beside me and introduced himself. I thought he was looking good and comfortable at the time but looking at the results I can see that he had a rather tough few miles towards the end - still on a learning curve, I guess.

At mile 17, with Kealan. Photo by Dave Bradshaw.

So, as we made our way through Milltown and Clonskeagh and headed for the last hill (recently dubbed Heartbreak Hill, though it's not much of a hill compared to the one in Boston), the composition of our group changed. We picked up about 2 or 3 seconds per mile, which really is not much but it still was too much for some. We got to Fosters Avenue at about mile 22 and then it was all downhill to the finish. I passed a friend of mine, Andrew, just as we got onto the Stillorgan Road. He had been one of the few runners to stay with the 3:10 group from start to finish last year and had hoped to run sub-3 today, but the dream had obviously fallen apart. I tried to coax him to hang on to us but he was too far gone already.

Photo by Dave Bradshaw

You always see plenty of runners struggling in the last few miles of a marathon but I'm sure the carnage was worse than usual this year, The unseasonably warm temperatures had definitely something to do with it. Maybe the new course had been a bit harder but the main factor had to be the strong, blustery wind which makes you use up more energy, energy that is then missing at the end.

I kept checking the watch and my pace band against the mile markers and we were about half a minute ahead of pace. The Garmin displayed an average pace of 7:09, just as last year. We kept passing a few more runners and I tried to encourage anyone who was still moving reasonably well - some responded, some did not.

The three pacers had always run within a few seconds of each other and we crossed the line in quick succession. My official (chip) time was 3:09:27. The goal was to run with half a minute of your pace time, so for a perfect pacing score we should have run a few seconds slower but on the whole I think we did a pretty good job on a rather tough day.

When pacing a marathon you are supposed to feel quite comfortable with the pace and have plenty in reserve. This wasn't really the case today, to be honest. While I was never in any danger of falling behind (one or two rough miles at the halfway mark being the worst part), I was closer to my limits than I would have liked. The wind affected me the same as anyone else, of course, which did not help.

Plenty of runners had inquired about my hamstring, both before the race as well as during it. Either they are all a very caring bunch or they were wondering if their pacer was going to be up to scratch. Well, I could feel the hamstring during the first few miles but after we had gone through Phoenix Park there was no more beep from it all the way through the end, which was as good a scenario as I could have hoped for.

So, all in all I was happy with my pacing performance and happy to have yet another marathon under my belt. After a shower I went back out to offer a bit of support to the runners still on the course. I saw the 5 hour pacers at the end and was lucky enough to witness Colette O'Hagan finish her 300th marathon!

I also met up with Tony Mangan as he finished his 50000 km trip around the world, though that is Tony's story to tell, not mine.

Right after the marathon I did wonder if signing up for the double in Sixmilebride in three weeks' time was really such a great idea, but after a good night's sleep I am already feeling much fresher, the legs are feeling fine (stiff, but no pain or soreness) and things will go ahead as planned - as always.

27 Oct
Dublin City Marathon, 3:09:27, 7:14 pace, HR 160
28 Oct
5 miles, 41:55, 8:22 pace, HR 139

Sunday, October 26, 2014

This Really Is Happening

I got some exciting news today. When I opened my email this morning there was an application form for the World/European championship in my inbox. It really looks like this is indeed going to happen!

The last few days were all easy, obviously with tomorrow's DCM in mind. I took it especially easy on Friday because of the faster miles during the evaluation on Thursday, even though the evaluation is not a taxing workout by any stretch. I tried to take it just as easy on Saturday but that didn't entirely work out like that. I was really surprised to see the pace in the 7:30s. Well, if 7:38 feels that easy I guess I can't complain.

The weeks and days before a goal race are always passing excruciatingly slowly. Training races, like tomorrow's marathon on the other hand, always seem to creep up on me almost unnoticed. I almost feel like I almost forgot to hop into the car yesterday and come up to Dublin. And the race is on tomorrow - blimey, that was quick!

I did only 5 miles this morning, which is my one sacrifice for the marathon. I am training through it, but just to be absolutely sure the legs won't be too tired I always take it very easy the day before. Well, 4 of the miles were very easy. I tried to run 1 mile at tomorrow's pace (3:10 marathon - 7:15 pace - 7:10 on the Garmin) but once more was running too fast - whoops. The other two guys will have to keep me on a leash for the first few miles. Once I'm tuned into the pace, I'll be alright.

Good luck everyone who is running it! Come up and say hello if you see me, either in the Expo today or the marathon tomorrow.

24 Oct
10 miles, 1:20:22, 8:02 pace, HR 138
25 Oct
10 miles, 1:16:23, 7:38 pace, HR 145
26 Oct
5 miles, 38:45, 7:45 pace
Weekly Mileage: 66.75 (no long run, of course)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Late Evaluation

I was a bit worried about the conditions on Tuesday morning when the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo were paying us a visit after crossing the Atlantic. The wind did wake me up a few times during the night, though it never sounded too alarming, I have certainly seen worse. By the morning even those winds had mostly died down and conditions were pretty good actually, and apart from a few broken branches there was no sign of any nightly incidents. 10 miles near Ard-na-Sidhe it was.

I had been planning on doing an evaluation for a while yet. First I pulled my hamstring, which luckily did not put me out of action entirely but a couple of weeks of very easy running seemed the prudent thing to do. Then there was the raised HR when I was seemingly fighting off some bug, and then there were a couple of days of high winds. The evaluation works by running at a set HR (161 in my case), so a raised base HR would falsify the data and make comparisons with other evaluation impossible. Same goes for high winds, and I have learned that there is not much point in doing an evaluation under either circumstances, even less so when both factors apply.

However, by Wednesday morning all had settled down again and I was ready to go when the damn Garmin beeped sadly at me with a low battery warning (it must have turned itself on after charging - this has happened several times before, sometimes I notice it, sometimes I don't). For a normal run I might consider going without watch (ok, I did that about once in the last five years) but for an evaluation that's not an option, so I charged it for about 10 or 15 minutes before finally heading out.

Initially I was still going to go ahead as planned but after a couple of miles, and already warmed up and raring to go, I decided that there was not enough time because Niamh has to leave early on Wednesdays and I have to be back in time, so I switched plans mid-run and just did 10 easy miles. In some ways it was a waste of a good run because I felt absolutely awesome and had that effortlessly-floating-over-the-tarmac feeling and was tempted to knock out a few 6-6:30 miles but managed to control myself, mostly because the Dublin marathon awaits on Monday.

So, eventually, on Thursday I finally managed to run another evaluation, a whopping 54 days since the last one. Generally I want to run one every fortnight, so basically  I missed no less than 3 evaluations in a row due to various reasons, though in fact I do have an excuse for all of them - Dingle, hamstring and virus.

It was still a bit windy on Thursday morning, definitely a little bit more than I would have preferred but what can you do. I followed the exact same routine as usual, about 4 miles of warm up where I do pick up the pace a few times to gradually bring the HR up. The last quarter mile before I start the evaluation is slightly uphill, which helps to establish the HR at the right level.
      
        Mile 1    6:33   HR 161
        Mile 2    6:46   HR 161
        Mile 3    6:39   HR 161
        Mile 4    6:46   HR 161
        Recovery to HR 130: 36 seconds


Looking at the figures now, they do paint a pretty nice picture. The overall pace isn't as important as you might think, though of course a fast evaluation is always nice to have. The slowdown between miles 1 and 4 is more important and is in fact a tad higher than I would have liked (it was only 10 seconds last time). The recovery afterwards is again a bit higher than last time, though 36 seconds is still a decent figure, better than average.

Overall I'd say I'm coming along nicely but with definite room for improvement. I guess room for improvement is a good thing at that stage of training. Considering I am nowhere near peak shape, these are highly encouraging numbers.

Despite just saying that the overall pace isn't that important I have found that my marathon race pace tends to be within 10 seconds of the evaluation pace, so I guess I am probably in shape for a sub-3 marathon, there or thereabouts. Mind, since I haven't done any running at that pace that statement might not necessarily hold true due to lack of specific marathon fitness, but I expect to find pacing 3:10 on Monday perfectly doable.

20 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:53, 7:47 pace, HR 139
21 Oct
10 miles, 1:16:30, 7:39 pace, HR 140
22 Oct
10 miles, 1:15:57, 7:36 pace, HR 141
23 Oct
11.75 miles, 1:25:41, 7:17 pace, HR 148
   incl. 4 mile eval: 6:33, 6:46, 6:39, 6:46, 36 sec recovery

Sunday, October 19, 2014

High Readings

As you probably know, I always run with a GPS and a HRM. I do not use them to dictate my pace (apart from some special workouts like the evaluation) but I do use them to record some data that I can subsequently analyse. The last few days did not require much analysis, my HR was elevated by a significant amount. I ran at the usual "natural" effort, just whatever pace felt easy, and the recorded HR did in no way reflect the effort I put in.

Straight away I can come up with 3 possible explanations (there are more, of course):
  1. I am overtrained
  2. The HRM is malfunctioning
  3. I am fighting off some (mild) infection
I am pretty sure the first does not apply; I am feeling good, have no other symptoms and have just had a couple of very easy weeks nursing my hamstring. The second explanation is a bit more likely but I still don't think that's the case, the Polar HR has an excellent track history. However, if the number remain elevated I'll eventually change the battery and see if that makes a difference.

However, I think number 3 is the most likely explanation. Both Shea and Maia have some slight colds, most likely acquired in school, and I may be fighting off whatever is affecting them. I don't have any other symptoms, no sore throat, no headache, no runny nose, nothing, and if I weren't running with a HRM I would not have noticed anything at all.

The answer is to ignore that for a few more days, chances are everything will be back to normal by then, as has happened before and will happen again. I keep running by feel and ignore if the HRM goes high again, at least for a few more days. Getting sick now wouldn't be good with Dublin just a week away, but chances are I won't.

I have been feeling pretty good the last few days and the pace of my runs has continued to go down. I did 12 miles on Thursday morning that went really well, certainly over the first half. I was working a bit harder on the way home as I was now running straight into a blustery headwind, and that's when I first noticed that the HR was higher than it should have been, but as I said the effort felt easy enough.
Due to those high readings I took it especially easy on Friday, but when the HR still came out as rather high I knew for sure that something was keeping it elevated, it wasn't that I was running too fast. Since I have plenty of experience with that kind of thing (4 young kids do bring home plenty of bugs) I just keep carrying on as usual.

Saturday was a very windy day, though I was lucky enough to be running in the morning, right between two fairly nasty storm fronts. I still got wet a few times and I ran out-and-back on the Ard-na-Sidhe and Coomnafanida roads where there is a bit of shelter from the wind, which made the conditions perfectly acceptable.

The weather had not improved by Sunday and I was back on the same roads once more. Running the same stretch of road three times in each direction does not make for the most inspiring of runs (and I do wonder at times what the locals think, not that I particularly care), but it was just a case of getting the miles. I ran the first 14 miles at ease pace, which turned out to be pretty much exactly 7:30, though I did start feeling a bit tired after mile 11 or so. By mile 14 I increased the effort to get some more running at 3:10 pace for Dublin, especially on tired legs. The pacing was a bit uneven, I inadvertently started out at 6:55 pace for the first half mile before becoming aware, so there is definitely room for improvement, I do not want to burn out my pacees next week, but that's exactly why there will be 3 of us.

The weather is not looking great for the next few days, tomorrow is supposed to be the same again before we start dealing with the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo, but the great news is that the forecast for Dublin is good (mind, things can and do change in 8 days).

There has not been a beep from my hamstring this week.
16 Oct
12 miles, 1:27:54, 7:19 pace, HR 148
17 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:14, 7:43 pace, HR 145
18 Oct
10+ miles, 1:16:26, 7:23 pace, HR 150
19 Oct
18.6 miles, 2:18:11, 7:25 pace, HR 148
   last 4.6 miles @ 7:07 pace
Weekly Mileage: 83

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tempting Fate

Well, the last time I said I was feeling great my hamstring popped, so let's see where the Gods are at it today.

I'm feeling great again!

There are no more niggles from my hamstring. I did ice it quite a few times over the last few days, despite initially saying how sceptical I am of that firm of treatment, but it seems to have had an effect, alright.

It really is dark now in the mornings, which has one side effect: I cannot read the numbers on the Garmin, unless I press a button to turn on the light. Since I don't do that unless there is a compelling reason for needing to read the numbers, it means I am absolutely guaranteed to be running by feel.

Monday was easy. Genuinely easy, and the HR was rather low.

On Tuesday I ran at the same objective effort level. It wasn't until I had finished my run that I took my first glance at the watch, and wouldn't you believe it, I had inadvertently run almost at marathon pace for Dublin. I had been too nervous about my hamstring to do such a session, even though I knew it would be a really good idea before Dublin. If you're going to run 26 miles at a certain pace it helps to get some practise at that pace. Well, I guess I won't have to worry about that any more. If I can run that pace on a very relaxed training run I'll be able to pull it off again in Dublin.

Wednesday was slower again, though once more at the same easy effort, running just whatever pace felt natural. In the last couple of weeks, that "natural" pace has come down from 8-minute to 7:30 pace, which is great.

Looking back through my logs I ran similar paces back in February. It really looks like I have gotten over Belfast (and Dingle, I suppose) and the legs have recovered, about a month sooner than expected.

I expect recovery from Dublin won't be much of an issue. The plan is to run the double in Sixmilebridge three weeks later, and once I feel recovered from that I'll add some speed training.

As long as the Gods are willing, of course.

13 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:37, 7:45 pace, HR 138
14 Oct
12 miles, 1:27:01, 7:15 pace, HR 146
15 Oct
10 miles, 1:15:09, 7:31 pace, HR 142

Sunday, October 12, 2014

On The Razor's Edge

My calves, which had already been sore on Wednesday, were even more so on Thursday. Classic DOMS, of course. I did not really have an influence on my run, which went just fine. As long as the pace is so relaxed, I never expect any difficulties.


I had been wondering why my HR had been fairly high for such a low pace on a couple of days. When I got some headache one evening I figured I was fighting off some bug that has been going round, both Maia and Cian had been sick for a day each. My immune system tends to do a rather good job and apart from that one evening I was fine but it would certainly explain a raised HR for a few days, and the numbers have since returned to a lower level.

I had a rather unusual encounter on Thursday when about 10 cows were standing on the side of the road and because it was still dark I only saw them when I was right beside them. I very slowly inched my way past in order not to startle them. However, since I was doing an out-and-back run I encountered them again on the way home, though they had drifted a quarter mile down the road and were now blocking the entire road. I had to very slowly walk past them, feeling rather apprehensive. Getting so close to cows is not without dangers and I was rather relieved to get by without any of them reacting.

There were actually still some of them out there the next morning, a mile away from that point, but this time there were 2 guys with them, obviously trying to gather them together. I hope that's the last of those close encounters, I'd rather do without bovine company on the road.

The Dublin marathon is getting rather close, and because of my dodgy hamstring I had not dared to run anything even approaching 3:10 pace over the last couple of weeks. But I do think I need to get some practise for that effort level, which is why I increased the pace after 6 miles on Saturday's run. The pace for a 3:10 marathon is 7:14 but GPS always measures a course slightly long and we really need to run 7:10 on the Garmin, so that was the target pace for those miles. I was pleasantly surprised how relaxed that pace felt, though I do need to work on my concentration as I have a tendency to drift gradually slower if I don't pay attention. However, at one point I felt a little ping from my hamstring, which was rather worrying, but I got home without any further incident.

However, I clearly need to be careful, so I binned the idea of some more marathon paced miles on Sunday and just ran at the pace that felt natural. I also eschewed the very hilly loop around the lake and ran a couple of loops through Killorglin instead, a much flatter road. I was a bit nervous how my hamstring would hold up as I could feel it all day yesterday, but it was perfectly fine. I get the impression that running at my normal pace is fine, but putting additional pressure on the hamstring by running faster or downhill causes problems. It really is a very fine balance. Anyway, the run went very well and the flatter route made a big difference to the pace, it was at least 20 seconds per mile faster than a loop around the lake at the same effort would have been.
9 Oct
8 miles, 1:04:44, 8:05 pace, HR 141
10 Oct
8 miles, 1:02:13, 7:46 pace, HR 139
11 Oct
10 miles, 1:14:12, 7:25 pace, HR 144
12 Oct
15.7 miles, 1:58:39, 7:33 pace, HR 144
Weekly Mileage: 71+

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Running With The Legend

I have been following Tony Mangan's blog pretty much from the start of his run 4 years ago. Since then he has almost covered 50000 km on foot, which adds up to a pretty impressive daily mileage. Because one loop around the world is not enough he is now adding a victory lap around Ireland, which is why I got the opportunity to run from Tralee to Killarney with him and Fozzy Forristal yesterday (Tuesday).

I joined them a few miles outside Tralee because I still had to drop off the kids to school, real life doesn't just go way of course. It was a beautiful day, Kerry showed itself from its best side. The pace was slow enough not to have to worry about my hamstring; in fact I think this may have been excellent therapy, getting the blood flowing through the muscle without it being strained. Tony has a lot of stories to tell from his travels, as I'm sure you can imagine.

The pace was slow, maybe about 14 minute miles. In fact, it was so slow that I tended to drift ahead of the guys again and again without noticing; I eventually tried to remedy this by running behind them instead.

With a few breaks along the way it took us about 4 hours to reach Killarney. Tony's crew wanted him to continue onwards because it was a rather easy day but Tony was delighted to have a shorter day for a change and was having none of it.

It was the longest run on my dodgy hamstring, but due to the slow pace it was not unduly taxed. Slightly emboldened by the recovery processes I ventured out for a bit longer on Wednesday morning, doing 8 miles. My calves were surprisingly sore, much more so than after a marathon. I guess I'm not used to Tony's pace. The rest felt fine though, including the hamstring, which was still a bit tight but not painful. It was a cold day and I wore tights in an attempt to keep the muscles warm. I don't know if it does make a difference, but apart from spoiling my good looks it doesn't do any harm.

I was just thinking that every time I head into a pacing gig in Dublin I always seem to have some body part to worry about, be it the Achilles, the hip or, this time, the hamstring. And yet I never had to pull out completely or even just drop down to a slower pace slot. Obviously I'm hoping history will repeat itself. I really should get some marathon pace miles under my belt before the big day but right now that would be too risky. Ah well. I still have 19 days.

6 Oct
5 miles, 41:01, 8:12 pace, HR 134
7 Oct
14.6 miles with Tony
8 Oct
8 miles, 1:04:44, 8:05 pace, HR 141