Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Man In Tights

Winter is here. We even have the fields covered in white, though in Dublin at least that's frost at the moment, not snow. We did have snow as well but it didn't stick. Now we just have the freezing cold temperatures and the icy road conditions (I like the former, not the latter). Nevertheless I get amused by Met Eireann's description of the present conditions as "bitterly cold". Not where I come from, guys. Bitterly cold to me is -20 degrees (ok, -15 qualifies as well) and temperatures around the freezing point are just  - Winter. Suck it up.

Anyway, after taking a good look at my numbers and my training in the past few months I have come to the conclusion that while the base training is getting me into pretty good shape (as witnessed by running a surprisingly easy 3:10 Dublin marathon) this is just about as good as it gets and for further improvement I have to introduce a new stimulus. None of that comes as a surprise, I had been waiting for that point ever since I started training. If anything, I am surprised base training got me as far as that. Also, I didn't want to do any faster running until I was completely sure I had recovered from Dublin/Sixmilebridge, which seems to be the case now. My numbers are good. My resting HR has dropped as low as 36, which equals the lowest number I have ever seen, and that was while taking recordings in a seated position, not lying down. A low HR doesn't automatically translate into being in good shape and well rested but the other numbers, and most importantly the way I feel, supports the same conclusion.

As an introduction into faster stuff I did a set of hill sprints last Saturday, back home in Kerry, which enabled me to do them on the same hill I used to do them on in previous years. Then again, in my memory it had been much steeper and I was surprised how "easy" it felt. I still had the familiar tightness in my chest 20-30 seconds after each sprint, which I now attribute to my exercise-induced asthma, plus a wave of nausea, but I'm used to that by now. What wasn't quite so great was that my right calf started to feel tight; maybe I should have called it a day after 6 repeats rather than 8. The tightness stayed with me over the next few days when running (not noticeable at all otherwise) but it has gotten better. By Tuesday morning I could just about feel it during the first mile but after that it was gone.

The "long" run on Sunday was made interesting by some rather inclement weather, which prevented me from following my initial plan of running around the lake. I didn't want to be caught out on high grounds in a storm, so I remained reasonably close to home but still got one big hill in. I had to be home in time for Cian's birthday party and cut it short at mile 15, though in marked contrast to last week I was still moving well at that time.

Back in Dublin I did one more workout on Tuesday morning. I resurrected the Evaluation workout, which consist of running 4 miles at HR 160 (used to be 161 but I made a small concession to old age) while taking splits at each mile and basically measuring how much you slow down well you can hold the pace while running at the same HR. In this case I was less interested in the actual numbers but more interested in the fitness gains from a moderate workout. Actually, when I say moderate, it didn't exactly feel particularly moderate at the time. I paid the price for not having run at that effort level for many, many months and was breathing rather hard, and my asthma was noticeable as well but all was fine in the end. Then again, once I had finished the workout I very quickly felt fully recovered and rather good, so it can't have been that hard. Oh and the numbers - well, I'm having troubles getting them off my damn watch and Suunto's movescount website insists on rounding them to the nearest 5, so all I can say it was about 6:30, 6:30, 6:40, 6:40, with 40-45 seconds of full recovery for the HR to come down to 130. I need to bring my old Garmin 310 to Dublin with me, it works better for such a workout (the evaluation workout is the one reason why I kept it after replacing it 3 years ago with my Suunto, which is a better watch in all other aspects). Anyway, while I don't have the exact numbers that will do as a baseline. In fact, that's a pretty good baseline, I had not expected to be under 7-minute miles, certainly not for the 3rd and 4th miles.
7 Dec
9.35 miles, 1:13:26, 7:51 pace, HR 139
8 Dec
8.35 miles, 1:06:22, 7:56 pace, HR 141
9 Dec
8.75 miles, 1:17:08, 8:48 pace, HR 131
   incl. 8 x 8-10 sec hill sprints, 2 minutes recovery
10 Dec
15+ miles, 2:01:39, 8:04 pace, HR 138
11 Dec
8.35 miles, 1:06:18, 7:56 pace, HR 139
12 Dec
9.2 miles, 1:07:27, 7:19 pace, HR 145
   incl. 4 miles @ 6:36, HR 160, 40-45 sec recovery to HR 130

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Missing Ingredient

One thing that has been slightly bugging me since moving here to Dublin is a distinct lack of hills on my running routes. Obviously I can see the mountains right behind my home but the problem is that most of my running here is my commute from and to work and there is no realistic way to incorporate those mountains into that.

However, last weekend was one of the rare ones where I stayed in Dublin, so I was keen to see some new places. Strava is great in that way, I just had a quick peek where others (Gary, Mick, Dom, ...) are running when in the vicinity and quickly came up with a a couple of viable options that would see plenty of verticals.

the scratches to prove it
On Saturday I headed towards King Puck's Castle, which had been taunting me for months because I can actually see it right from my window. Also, coming from Killorglin I just had to head up to a place named like that. Obviously. I got my route slightly wrong, however. First I followed the road until it turned into a dirt road and then I took the trail that seemed to head towards the top, only for it to end right in the middle of nowhere. I decided against turning round so I bushwhacked my way to the top through some gorse, which really was not my favourite part of the run. And, of course, just before I reached the top I came across the trail that I should have taken all along, which would have saved me from bushwhacking and the bleeding scratches that came with it. I'll know better next time.

I went for a longer loop on Sunday, but this time exclusively on the road. The plan was to be out for 15-18 miles, depending on how I felt. I did wonder if it was a good idea to head for the hills twice in a row when I had been confined mostly to relatively flat routes for the last few months, but weekends are two consecutive days after all, that's how it works. I made the mistake of running way too hard at the start when climbing the long winding road towards Kielternan, but didn't quite realise it at the time. The view from the Scalp Road was absolutely stunning, it's amazing to have such a place so close to Dublin. However, after crossing the Wicklow border and going through Enniskerry it gradually dawned on me that I had overcooked myself and I was starting to run on fumes. By the time I went through Bray, about 12 miles in, I'd had more than enough and would have loved to be done but I was still 3 miles from home. I dragged my sorry backside home at increasingly pedestrian pace which made this a 15 mile run, and absolutely no intentions of adding any more.

As nice as the view was, Gary warned me afterwards about running on the Scalp Road, where there is at least one mile without sidewalk and where you might encounter some less than accommodating drivers, so I might have to reconsider future options.

After exhausting myself like that over the weekend I very much expected Monday to be a tough run and wasn't particularly looking forward to it, only to be very pleasantly surprised to have a lovely set of seemingly fresh legs available to me. I took it easy and could have sworn I was running not a second faster per mile than 8-minute pace, but would have been wrong. The same happened again on Tuesday, I could have sworn I was going very slowly, only to be a good bit faster than 8-minute pace. My internal gauge seems to have gotten misaligned. The HR is actually in line with a slightly faster pace but the subjective RPE is a bit off and every step feels easier than I would expect it to.

Not that I'm complaining. I'm starting to experience that flow again when everything just feels effortless and easy. Running through Dublin isn't ideal for that sort of state, every traffic light or road crossing can get me out of The Zone, but I usually manage to get back into it straight away. Nice.
2 Dec
9+ miles, 1:21:29, 8:51 pace, HR 140
   partially off road
3 Dec
15+ miles, 2:01:57, 8:06 pace, HR 141
   rather hilly
4 Dec
9.3 miles, 1:12:33, 7:48 pace, HR 140
5 Dec
9.25 miles, 1:12:10, 7:48 pace, HR 141
6 Dec
am: 9.2 miles, 1:11:39, 7:47 pace, HR 141
pm: 9.3 miles, 1:15:30, 8:07 pace, HR 140

Friday, December 01, 2017

Parasympathetic


Thursday
As mentioned last week, I have a new toy. Accidentally, really. All I was looking for was a replacement for the HRM I somehow managed to lose, but once I had the new one in my hands it dawned on me that it supports HRV measurements and I started using that a few days ago. The early readings were encouraging and improving, until yesterday morning when it suddenly sounded a warning that my Parasympathetic Nervous System was overactive and I was in danger of overtraining.

Friday
That's a new one. I don't know very much about HRV readings and I certainly don't know all that much about the Central Nervous System but my understanding was that overtraining would be related to an overactive Sympathetic Nervous System, not the Parasympathetic one. And I'm pretty sure I didn't move into an overtrained state overnight on Wednesday, when the previous days' readings had been very good. There is still a learning curve here, either by me or the HRV app.

The legs are starting to feel better again but the Dublin/Sixmilebridge load is still there. I am consciously running easier now than I did after Dublin and I can tell an improvement in my recovery rate by RPE, though it's not really reflected in the numbers, which are quiet similar to the post-Dublin ones. I'll see. I tend to feel good if there are 1.5 days between running but a lot less good if the rest is only half a day, which isn't too surprising, obviously. Next week will tell me more
because the third week after DCM was when I started to feel significantly better again; let's hope for a repeat.

On the plus side, while the company I am presently working for is sadly closing down I already have a job offer from another place, before I even finished working here. That's great, I won't be starving after all. I was actually looking forward to having some time dedicated to running and training full time but it looks like that's not going to happen.

Onwards and Upwards.
26 Nov
10 miles, 1:20:01, 8:00 pace, HR 139
27 Nov
8.4 miles, 1:06:25, 7:54 pace, HR 140
28 Nov
9.25 miles, 1:13:18, 7:55 pace, HR 138
29 Nov
9.5 miles, 1:16:48, 8:05 pace, HR 139
30 Nov
9.3 miles, 1:13:40, 7:55 pace, HR 142
1 Dec
9.25 miles, 1:15:22, 8:08 pace, HR 139

Saturday, November 25, 2017

... And Back To Recovery

The main training strategy for this cycle so far has been to run one big, long training session per month, which means either a marathon, a short ultra or back-to-back marathons. I have seen a spectacular improvement, especially after the back-back, but it absolutely requires to recover from that big session, otherwise I will dig myself into that big hole again.

You learn from your mistakes. Dublin was a bit too fast, and the subsequent recovery just a bit too fast as well. There are fine margins. I ran Dublin at below-than-race effort, just not below enough. And the recovery runs were all at a genuinely easy effort, just not easy enough. Had I run Dublin a bit slower, say in 3:20, I think the effort level of the recovery runs would have been just fine but as it was I was always just over that line that I shouldn't have crossed.

Anyway, things aren't too bad, at least not yet, and can be rectified. It doesn't help that I lost my HRM (my guess is that it fell out of my bag in the train or train station) but I have finally received my replacement. I initially toyed with the idea of an optical HRM but the higher price paired with the lower accuracy drove me back to a chest strap, even though I have regular chafing issues with that.

This morning I remembered that several months ago I started looking into HRV (heart rate variability) measurement but didn't have the right equipment at the time and, being a cheap skate, decided against the purchase of yet another toy. However, my new HRM pod just happens to be one of the devices that supports those measurements, so from now on I will start using that. The idea is to measure my HRV values every morning and over time this should provide a good feedback with regards to recovery and overtraining status. We shall see.

Training has been low key this week, obviously. I followed the same recovery plan as always, a set of  daily 5 mile runs until the legs felt better and 8 miles a day thereafter, with a gentle increase to follow. Going forward, in an attempt to learn from my mistakes I will refrain from any future 3:10 training marathons (3:15 is fine if I am in good shape, as I know from experience), which should hopefully avoid mistakes like the one last month as I am trying to regain the kind of form that got me into the National team setup and into European and World championships.

The goal is setting a big number in a 24 hours race next summer. I haven't decided which race I am going to target but just yesterday I saw the announcement that the Irish championships will be held in Victoria Park again. Despite the fact that I usually break those kind of promises to myself, for once I intent to keep the promise never to run in Victoria Park again, the memories from that place are just too painful. That means I have to look for alternatives abroad. The Austrian championships are the most obvious target race; not only would a good performance in front of the the team management do my chances of selection no harm, it is also the venue of the 2019 World championships and being familiar with the place in advance would definitely be a bonus. Having said that, I haven't decided yet and would consider any alternatives.
20 Nov
4 miles, 35:18, 8:49 pace
21 Nov
5 miles, 44:19, 8:51 pace
22 Nov
5 miles, 42:44, 8:32 pace
23 Nov
5 miles, 41:20, 8:16 pace
24 Nov
8+ miles, 1:08:59, 8:15 pace, HR 138
25 Nov
8 miles, 1:04:05, 8:01 pace, HR 138

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Win Of Sorts

The timing was not ideal. Recovery from the Dublin marathon had taken a lot longer than I would have hoped and even though there had been some significant improvement in the last week I would have preferred one additional easy week before my next race. Therefore, when  going into this year's Sixmilebridge race my hope was that someone would run away at the start and the rest of us would not have to worry about victory and could just run at some easy effort that would get us through in one piece. When I saw John at the start I thought that runner might be him, but apparently he had other plans.

There is always someone at such a race that storms off at sub-7 pace. I fully expected that. What I did not expect was for that runner to be me!

Having fun early on
In my defence, it felt easy. I was surprised to be in the lead. But then I looked at my watch and saw 6:40 pace. Oops. Ok, it was downhill but still. I slowed down a good bit but I was still ahead of everyone else. I could hear footsteps behind me but nobody went by. I took it easy on the uphill but was still in the lead. I finished the first of the 30 one-mile-loops in the lead, unexpectedly. At the out-and-back section I could see one runner close behind, John a little bit further back, and Denis as well, though I knew Denis was in the 52-mile race, so not really a factor here.

The pace felt very comfortable, so I just kept it going. It was a touch slower that Dublin had been, which seemed to make sense. I kept hearing those steps right behind me, but the other runner did not attempt to pass. I wasn't going to get sucked into a stupid race at the start of an ultra so just kept going at my own pace, which just happened to keep me at the front of the field, without particularly trying to win the race.

After about 5 laps the other runner eventually appeared at my shoulder and introduced himself as Ted, apologised for chasing me but said that my pace just happened to be his comfortable pace as well. We chatted a bit for a couple of miles, during which the pace slowed a little bit, not that I noticed at the time. He got a couple of steps ahead of me when I picked up a drink and led for 2 laps before I went past again, still doing roughly 7:20 pace, maybe a little bit slower.

The (in)famous 1-mile loop in Sixmilebridge has only 1 hill. That hill is the entire course though. You run up one side and come down another, and the start-finish area has a little out-and-back section to make it exactly 1 mile, which is the only flat section. The hill has the nasty habit of getting a little bit steeper with each lap, as is pretty much customary on such a course.

Add caption
An hour after our start, about 8 miles into my race, the full marathon started and from now on it was significantly busier. They started just ahead of me, so my first real task was to make my way past most of the marathon field on that narrow path without incident, which worked well. Eventually I ended up right behind one marathon runner that pretty much went the same pace as I felt comfortable with at that point, so I followed him for 2 or 3 laps, eventually apologising for shadowing him, just as Ted had done to me earlier.

Right around that time it started to dawn on me that the early pace had been a little bit too fast and no longer felt comfortable. In fact, I did not like the way my quads felt during the steeper part of the downhill at all, I was afraid they were going to cramp eventually. I have misjudged the pace in Sixmilebridge on at least one occasion before; I guess I hadn't quite learned the lesson. Halfway came in 1:50, which would have sounded perfectly reasonable before the race but by now I knew I wasn't going to hold that pace for the second half and went into damage-control mode.

I did manage to keep going at a reasonable pace for a while longer but had a bit of a dip around the 20 mile mark, which is exactly what had happened in Dublin 3 weeks ago, though this time I was still a bit further away from the finish. I took in some extra fuel and mostly just put my head down and tried to keep the show on the road. A few marathon runners lapped me around that time, including one lady who was obviously winning. I didn't take too much notice and just kept going.

With Denis, winner of the 52 miler
As I went through the start/finish area at 23 miles, Richie asked me how many miles I had done and if I was in the lead, which was a slightly strange question to ask for an RD, and alarm bells went off in my head if the timing system had failed. It distracted me sufficiently to stumble over the timing mat and take a full nosedive, which caused a few scrapes on my hands as well as my legs, though I didn't even notice the latter until after the race. My right calf started cramping but was fine once I got up again and re-started running. Richie apologised, not that he had done anything wrong - I should have lifted my feet!

It was definitely a lot harder now. My breathing got ragged, especially on the uphill, but that is fairly normal for me and probably sounded worse that it was. I definitely was nowhere near race mode and expected to be caught any moment now for quite some time. It wasn't until I happened to lap John around the 25 mile mark, very much to my surprise, that I started to believe that I might win this thing after all. Not that it made much difference - I still had to cover the last few laps all the same.

I must have gone through the marathon in about 3:20 but was only doing about 8-minute miles at the time. I could have gone a bit faster but did not feel inclined to do so, and I was a bit worried about cramping, probably more than I should have been. After 28 mile I just about had enough and the last 2 laps were a bit of a sufferfest, though by then I could smell the finish and got through it.

Happy - mostly to be done!
They pretty much missed me coming in and only realised I was a finisher when I stopped, which is easy to do on a loop course, of course. I had a bit of a Gary O'Hanlon moment in that I crossed the line thinking I had won the race only to be told that I had come second. Remember the lady from mile 20? Turns out she wasn't the winner of the marathon but the 30 miler instead, and we had a female overall winner. I was still first male, which meant I had won my category, albeit in my slowest ever time in Sixmilebridge, and admittedly not against the most competitive field ever, and whoever was here was still hampered from the Dublin marathon 3 weeks earlier (as was I, of course).

So, big congratulations to Deirdre, well done. I probably wouldn't have been able to keep up even had I realised that she was in the ultra. I definitely misjudged the early pace (again!). I ran the first half in 1:50 and the second in 2:00, which is not a catastrophic slowdown but it's not particularly great either. It actually sounds worse if I say I was 40 seconds per mile slower in the second half.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed my run in Sixmilebridge, as well as the very unexpected (category) win and will definitely be back. However, now I seriously need to recover or I 'll end up back where I was 2 years ago and I definitely do not want to go there.

 All photos by Jane Doyle Fitzpatrick. Thank you!



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sixmilebridge 30 miler - ultra short version

Came home first male but was beaten by the better woman into second overall. Started at an effort that felt very comfortable but turned out to be too fast. Ah well. Full report to follow, eventually.
19 Nov
30 miles, 3:50:01, 7:40 pace

Saturday, November 18, 2017

My Achy Breaky Heart

Bump, pause, double bump. Bump, pause, double bump. Bump, pause, double bump. That's what my heart beat felt like pretty much all week. Not when I was running - I can't really tell what it was like when I was running, but at rest. It was a bit disconcerting but I've had similar episodes several times before so I didn't panic and just got on with life. I don't think it has anything to do with overtraining because previous episodes have happened at stages when I definitely was not overtrained but in reality I have no idea what the cause of all that is. Googling the issue was strangely reassuring and anyway, I've seen a cardiologist only 2 months ago.

All this happened just the one week in 10 years when I am without my HRM, which is of course absolutely typical. I do have a little gadget that clips onto my finger and is really handy for measuring morning HR but completely unsuited to running. By Thursday, after a few days of clearly noticeable irregular heart beat, I thought it was resolved as I could not really feel it any more but said little gadget still showed an oscillating heart rate going between 45 and 50 at strangely regular intervals.

All the while I kept running, easily and with a reduced mileage. The legs are definitely feeling much better, I'd say they are finally over Dublin. I could feel my asthma but at such a slow pace it's just not a limiting factor, just a little bit uncomfortable.

Now it's Saturday evening and as far as I can tell the episode is behind me. I was unsure if I should skip Sixmilebridge this Sunday but this is a true soul race of mine and organised by some very good friends who I really want to see again, so I'll give it a go. It's probably one of those daft decisions that makes MC shake his head sadly and full of resignation, but I'll go anyway.
16 Nov
7.6 miles, 1:03:56, 8:24 pace
17 Nov
7.5 miles, 1:00:07, 8:01 pace
18 Nov
5 miles, 40:25, 8:05 pace