Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Off I Go

For anyone looking to follow the race online, this page looks like it will contain the results. I have no idea if there will be a live tracker, though:

There might be something on the IAU website, as there had been in Turin. There is a preview of the race up there already, where one of my Austrian teammates as well as two Irish runners are getting a name check.

As for what was left of training, I rested on Monday, ran 7 easy miles on Tuesday at initial 24-hours race effort, and another 7 on Wednesday, this time with 2 miles at marathon effort, with the same usual caveat that I have no idea what my present marathon time would be, so as always I ended up running entirely by feel. That's is a bit tricky for marathon pace because 2 miles at marathon pace are just going to feel rather easy, so in the end I ran too easy because even at the most pessimistic outlook my marathon pace had not deteriorated to 7:57 pace!

I found Robert's comment on my last post rather enlightening. I had stated that I felt undertrained and he reminded me of the brutal back-to-back runs my coach had made me do. To be honest, I had kind of forgotten about those already. I had looked at the weekly mileages and was struck by how low they had been compared to what I would usually have done. I guess that's something to cling to - I don't like that terminology but this time there was an element of quality over quantity that was new to my training.

And that's that. I'll drive to Dublin tonight, catch an early flight on Thursday morning and will be in Albi shortly after lunchtime.

The race will start on Saturday 10 am local time, which is 9 am here in Ireland. I'm officially a nervous wreck already.

P.S. Apparently my race number will be 1!
18 Oct
7 miles, 1:06:12, 9:27 pace, HR 131
19 Oct
7 miles, 1:01:08, 8:43 pace, HR 139
   with 2 miles @ 7:57 (HR 149)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

T Minus 6

And so we go into the last week before the Euros. To be honest, I think this training cycle has been a little bit too short for me. It took me a long time to shake off the worsts effect of Belfast. I suspect the concrete surface there has done a number on my leg muscles. The subsequent training was interrupted by a succession of little niggles, never anything serious but it all added up to the fact that I now feel undertrained.

I guess I'll put the theory to the test that you don't need much base training once you have accumulated a certain number of miles and years. It's very hard to predict what I'm capable of in Albi because the training has been so different to anything I've done before. When I look at my pace / heart rate numbers I get nervous because those numbers do look awful. On the other hand, running at 24 hour race pace feels very natural to me now, which has to count on something. With some input from the coach regarding pacing strategy and nutrition I might be able to squeeze some extra improvements out of me, so let's see.

I'm definitely looking forward to putting on the white top with red stripes again. It is an incredible honour to be picked to represent your country at international championships; this will never get old.

Obviously training is only ticking over now. Friday was remarkable inasmuch as it was the first run where I did not feel my knee at all. Unfortunately on Saturday morning I bent down to pet our dog and must have done the same thing to it once more because I've felt it again ever since, though at a much lesser degree. It does support my theory that I hurt it originally by bending down repeatedly in Tralee, but it also means that it is slow to heal and won't be 100% by Saturday. It is what it is; since running doesn't seem to aggravate it I just have to hope that the same will still hold when running for well over 100 miles.

Anyway, the knee held up just fine on Saturday, including when I did some strides, and it did not stop me from feeling really good on Sunday's 13 mile run. This was the first run in the entire training cycle where I felt like effortlessly floating along. A bit late it may be but that's not a bad state to get into one week before race day.
14 Oct
5+ miles, 47:35, 9:25 pace, HR 131
15 Oct
6 miles, 54:22, 9:03 pace, HR 136
   with strides
16 Oct
13 miles, 1:50:01, 8:27 pace, HR 143

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Golden Oldies

First of all, massive congratulations to my mate Svein Tuft on yet another world championship medal, proving once more that age is just a number, not a limiter - something I am very keen to remind myself of from time to time.

Equally big congratulations go to Dave Brady on completing his 600th marathon. If you have run a handful of marathons in Ireland it is absolutely inevitable that you have run into Dave, who also happens to be an even better gentleman than runner.

Back on my home patch, training is tapering obviously. The knee has settled down well enough. It's gotten to the stage where I generally don't feel it any more but on a couple of occasions when running I can just about get the slightest hint of an issue and during my yoga class on Monday I found it impossible to sit on my knees (so I didn't). My yoga teacher thinks it could actually be the hamstrings rather than the knee itself, though I have no way to be certain. Anyway, I'm increasingly optimistic that it won't be an issue in Albi - apart from the interruption to my training.

The coach wants me to rest on Monday but since I hadn't done any training that would require resting from I decided to head out anyway. I took our new dog, a beautiful and very well behaved Labrador, out for a run but it turns out her stamina needs work - she got tired very quickly (and I was running exceptionally slowly even by my recent standards!) and was knackered when I brought her back home after just a mile.

Tuesday and Wednesday were very easy, and Thursday I did one last speed workout, 9 days from Albi, which is pretty standard stuff. The plan said 3 times 5 minutes at 10k effort, which is a mellow enough workout, the biggest problem being not having a clue what my 10k pace is at the moment. I settled at 6:30-6:40 pace, but then again I ran the workout entirely on feel rather than looking at the watch, so I'm not sure why I even bothered to think about the pace beforehand.

The most important thing is, the knee behaved fine throughout. I very slightly felt it on two occasions but that's it, and I'm happy about that. The other details are that I ran 6:53 / 6:34 / 6:42 pace respectively. That's rather uneven pacing but my reasoning is that the first one is almost always slow as I'm still warming up (despite running over 3 miles of actual warm-up in this case) and the third one contained a 180-degree turn, which inevitably slowed me down. Or maybe that's just an excuse. It doesn't matter, training is done now and all that's left is wait until race day arrives (well, that and preparing mentally and finalising the race plan and actually getting myself to France ...)

10 Oct
3+ miles, 31:54, 9:58 pace, HR 127
11 Oct
7 miles, 1:06:30, 9:30 pace, HR 137
   with strides
12 Oct
4 miles, 38:28, 9:30 pace, HR 132
13 Oct
8 miles, 1:04:08, 8:01 pace, HR 151
   3 x 5 min @ 6:52, 6:34, 6:42

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Long Weekend

In normal times, a long weekend for me would signify a long run. Not now. This is taper time and like virtually every runner I hate taper time. The long weekend means waiting for the hours to pass, not really knowing what to do with myself. The options are limited as I'm supposed to get as much rest and recovery as possible. With my dodgy knee enforcing an extra long taper this is even worse than usual; I feel tapered already but I've still go another two weeks of this ahead of me.

I also hate the break in the Premier League schedule. This might be really weird for someone presently preparing for an international competition to say but I hate international football, with all the ugly nationalism that it can produce; I have seen some pretty ugly scenes in my time in England and heard otherwise rational and perfectly balanced people making some hair raising statements; going to a club match I never saw any of that nonsense, one visit to Millwall being the notable exception.

Anyway, while I'm whiling away the time I take a look at my schedule and scratching my head why the coach put on a rest day for tomorrow. I haven't done anything recently that would require a rest day! I can't even ask her because she herself is off-grid on a running camp!

I'm really watching my food intake now; I have completely gone off processed sugar once more, which is a highly effective way to shed some pounds without impacting on training and I'm down about 3 pounds already. Another 2 or 3 before Albi would be good, that would put me down to what I regard as my ideal racing weight, below 145 pounds / 65.5 kg / 10st5.

On the short occasions when I'm out running I marvel how natural 9:30 pace has started to feel. I can't even tell if that's a good thing or not. Should I be happy that I am used to running at the pace I will try and hold for many, many hours in Albi, or should I be worried that my natural pace has deteriorated by 2 minutes? I guess I'll find out in France. In the meantime I keep shuffling along, maybe squeeze in one more workout, and mentally steel myself for running in circle for a whole day and night in the company of Europe's best ultra runners.

The knee, you ask? That's 98% fine. I can feel it on the downhills but that's it.

7 Oct
6 miles, 56:25, 9:24 pace, HR 129
8 Oct
5+ miles, 47:25, 9:23 pace, HR 131
9 Oct
10 miles, 1:33:12, 9:19 pace, HR 133

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Getting Over It

Whatever I did to my knee, by last Friday it was already a lot better. To be honest, left to my own devices I would have tried running through it but the coach wasn't having any of that and cut the training right back, which, to be honest, makes a lot more sense so close to the Euros.

Running does not seem to aggravate the knee. However, as it turns out, sitting in a car for 4 hours, driving to Dublin, did. I was feeling rather stiff again on Saturday, and the journey home on Sunday evening wasn't exactly great for it either, so by Monday morning I felt almost back to zero. However, it wasn't quite as bad and it improved markedly day by day. On Wednesday I felt courageous enough to do some strides, more to test the knee than anything else. The stiffness was clearly noticeable when running fast and even more pronounced when decelerating after the strides. But I did not feel any repercussions afterwards and by Thursday morning the only time I felt something slightly off was when running downhill.

I know of course that the issue was caused by running but strangely enough, running then did not seem to aggravate it, Sitting did, in the office chair and even more so in the car. What helped was compression and icing, which I probably should have started earlier rather than waiting for a week. By now this has 98% cleared up and I'd love the coach to put on some miles again in the training plan, though she has given me a bit of leeway anyway.

With the Euros in 2 weeks there isn't much training I can do at this stage, I know that. I am looking at it as a rather long taper and you never know, that might be a good thing anyway.

3 Oct
4 Oct
5+ miles, 49:24, 9:46 pace, HR 131
5 Oct
5+ miles, 48:48, 9:39 pace, HR 134
   with strides
6 Oct
4 miles, 38:35, 9:38 pace, HR 131

Monday, October 03, 2016

The Knee

When I first realised that this knee issue wasn't just going away overnight, I almost had a meltdown. I like to think of myself as a rather grounded and rational person but the thought of an injury 4 weeks before the Euros was a bit too much to bear. Even in the best case scenario I would be missing a good chunk of training and the last thing I wanted was to start yet another ultra in sub-optimal shape.

Anyway, by Thursday morning I knew this was already getting better and the coach told me to keep running, albeit at a much lower mileage than originally planned. The workouts last week were all scrapped and replaced with a few miles of easy running. I looked at the bright side and reckoned it was a good way to dial into 24 hrs pace.

As far as I can tell, running does not aggravate the injury, at least not running at low intensity for an hour or less. The knee feels a bit stiff at the start but settles after a while and there is no additional stiffness afterwards. However, as it turns out, there is one thing that does aggravate the stiffness, and that is sitting in a car for 4 hours when driving to Dublin. That's what I had to do on Saturday morning and when I got to Dublin it felt quite bad again, I did a run to shake out the legs and bought another knee strap in Dublin, and the next day it was fine again. I made sure to wear my knee strap on the drive back home on Sunday evening and that went much better,

The big news is that I think I know what caused the problem in the first place! When I ran the marathon in Tralee last Saturday, I did not have a table for my nutrition so I simply placed it all on the ground, That meant that I had to bend over to the ground almost every 2 laps, about 15 times in all, while running a marathon. My best guess is that this put a bit too much pressure on the knees. I almost got away with it but running for 3 hours on Sunday obviously proved to be too much.

There's nothing I can do to change it but it's a case of lesson learned. Obviously there is no way to be 100% sure that my theory is correct but I'm reasonably certain. It would mean there is no big underlying problem like weak hamstrings or a wrong gait, which comes as a relief. With the knee improving steadily left on my own devices I would ramp up the mileage a lot more but the coach is much more cautious. It basically means I'm on a 4 week taper, which is unlikely to be a big problem. The Euros are most definitely still on!

30 Sep
4 miles, 39:23, 9:50 pace, HR 131
31 Sep
3+ miles, 28:56, 9:18 pace, HR 131
1 Oct
6 miles, 54:29, 9:03 pace, HR 135
2 Oct
8 miles, 1:11:58, 8:58 pace, HR 133

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Photo by Peter Murphy
When I finished Sunday's long run I thought I had gotten through the most brutal set of training I had ever done completely unscathed. I knew there were still a few tough workouts left but I felt the back of it was broken and the taper was getting close.

Just then, during Sunday evening, my right knee started to stiffen up. It did not hurt, and since Monday was a rest day I just hoped that things would clear up over the next 36 hours. Well, unfortunately they did not. If anything, the knee got worse during Monday. I think sitting in the office chair did not do it any favours (I sure have experienced that before). Any time I got up from my chair my knee felt very stiff, but it did loosen up somewhat after a minute of walking around.

It did not hurt as such. It just felt very stiff. But I find any issues related to the knee scary, so I was freaked out about it. I have certainly run through much worse pain and gotten away with it (expect for the one time when I did not get away with it), but with 4 weeks to go until the Euros I certainly wanted to err on the side of caution.

Probably my favourite photo from Tralee
Photo by Peter Murphy
When I got home I put on a knee strap. It immediately felt better, which made me question how much of it was psychological. I had a Yoga class that evening, and after consulting with my Yoga teacher I went ahead and got through it just fine.

I could not tell if it was any better on Tuesday morning but I binned the run. I did my usual dynamic stretching exercises (usual since I got the coach that is) and when doing lunges there was a tiny bit of discomfort when the right leg was bent, maybe 1 or 2 out of 10. Single leg squats on the right leg hurt more (3 or 4 out of 10) so I stopped immediately, not because the pain was bad but because I did not want to take any risks.

Googling symptoms can be a bad idea but it seems to match patellofemoral pain syndrome, though that is a bit of an umbrella term for various knee issues and not overly helpful (apart from the advice to rest or at least cut back, which is pretty much universal).

The coach advised me to go for a test run on Wednesday morning because full rest can often be counterproductive to healing (something I have found to be true on many occasions, even if it is counter-intuitive). As soon as I woke on Wednesday morning I noticed that the knee felt better, which pretty much made my day already. I did the same dynamic stretching exercises again and this time got through the entire set without discomfort.

Photo by Peter Murphy
However, running wasn't quite so straightforward. While the knee did not hurt as such, it was definitely not quite right. But things did get better as the run went on and there was no discomfort afterwards, which I take as a very positive result - I sure would gladly have accepted such an outcome before the run. In general I felt really stiff, awkward and unfit in this run, which is a bit weird after only 2 days of no running.

It looks like I'm in for an extended taper after all. The last few hard-ish workouts that had been planned for this week are off the table and there won't be time to do them, which basically means that the hard training is over and done with. Now it is a question of getting to the start line uninjured but after today I am feeling rather optimistic about that - a lot more so that I would have been yesterday.

Apart from that, I want to wish all the best to Anto, Rolando, Billy, Keith, Vilnis, Eoin, Bob, Pam, Harald, Andreas, Sung and every other runner in this year's Spartathlon. I really wish I would be there with you, guys!
26 Sep
0 (planned rest day)
27 Sep
0 (knee issues)
28 Sep
3+ miles, 30:23, 9:46 pace, HR 131