I haven’t done one of these in a long time, primarily because I’ve barely been doing any running. I picked up an injury in Killarney which put me out of action for three weeks, then just as I was easing my way back into things the World Cup came along. I know that needn’t necessarily have been detrimental to my training but I have a neighbour who (a) was on an extended work break for the duration of the World Cup, and so was watching every match and (b) who is firmly of the opinion that you have to drink when you’re watching football. When you add that to my love of themed nights, eg home made tapas and loads of rioja for Spain matches, hot dogs, burgers and loads of Pabst Blue Ribbon for USA matches etc, and then throw in the number of late kick-offs and extra time/penalty shoot-outs it means that my ‘training’ has been shambolic for the last four weeks.

I was originally intending to do the Marathon des Escargot in Portarlington this weekend, but once I picked up my injury in Killarney I thought better of it. I really didn’t fancy going into a marathon half cocked, and potentially pick up another injury which might put me out for another block of time. My Hamburg partner had somehow managed to wangle a bit of free time from his job so was making a flying visit home this weekend, and he’d mentioned doing a duathlon or something short while he was here. It so happened that Donadea duathlon was on, is quite close to us and is a race I’ve done a couple of times before and really enjoyed. A few more said they’d do it – my good wife Brid, World Cup aficionado Benny, fellow Killarney competitor (and colleague) Claire and her husband and friend of ours of many, many years, Old Man Pony.

I had no real target for Donadea, other than fitting into my tri-shorts and top without looking like an overstuffed sausage. As I said, I’ve barely been training of late, but at least no matter how painful it might be it’s only a short race – 3km run, 21km cycle, 2.75km run. I had been hoping to beat last year’s time but when the official at the start made an announcement to say that, contrary to the race briefing two minutes earlier, drafting would not be allowed in this race I didn’t think there’d be much chance of that. I was part of a chain gang last year for almost the entire bike leg, everyone (bar one freeloader) putting in a really good shift and we did a cracking time. Taking turns like that, and drafting, also meant that you were able to get some respite and able to go into the last run leg with slightly fresher legs. It didn’t really make a difference to me either way though, if you could draft, great, if not that was fine too. I just hoped that whatever the rules were that they’d be applied fairly and equally.

Benny of course lined up right at the front with all the really quick folks (which in fairness he is too), I was a little more circumspect and realistic and lined up a little further back. It didn’t stop a huge wave of people all coming storming past me right from the off, and I was already going far quicker than I wanted to be. Still, I’ve done enough of these now to know that that’s always the case, so I just ignored everyone else and ran my own race, which at this point just consisted of me getting my breathing and heart rate under control. Having not ran anything like this fast in a long time it definitely hurt but I as I said, it’s a nice short run leg so I knew I’d be out on the bike soon enough.

Out on to the bike then and I was able to make up quite a few places very quickly. I’m not a particularly strong cyclist, but I do have a pretty cool bike, which definitely makes a difference. The very pro looking black bar tape I got on it at the last service is good for at least a couple of km/h too. That didn’t stop a couple of people from coming past me though, a girl on a Specialised with some very nice wheels and a gentleman who was right on her tail, passing her I presumed as we were clearly told no drafting before the race started. I then presumed he mustn’t have heard that particular part of the briefing as he sat on her tail, right in her slipstream for some time. Either that or he was just shamelessly cheating. This annoyed me a bit so I upped the pace sufficiently to catch, and then pass them, only to see them, in tandem, coming back past me.  So I passed them again only to have them come past me again, but now there were three in their little group. Until we passed another group and another couple of people latched on to their little train.

I pulled wide or in to the side when they passed me so as not to be drafting off them, but it was bloody tiring up there on the moral high ground so I ended up falling back a bit, consoling myself that at least I was racing under my own steam and abiding by the rules. I was just wondering where the bike marshals were at that point when one went passed me and caught the little breakaway group up the road. He pulled right alongside them for a minute, I thought to admonish or warn someone, but he must have missed that part of the briefing as well and as soon as they were round the bend they’d been approaching he cleared off into the distance. The rest of the bike leg turned out to be quite a lonely affair, I felt like a sprinter who’d been spat out the back of the peloton after the first day of the Giro in the Pyrenees. I was caught by another group just before the end of the bike leg and felt like I must have been the only eejit who wasn’t drafting. It’s something that bugs me in any race that has a bike element to it, and I know it’s becoming more and more of a problem in triathlon, but at least my time was my time and entirely down to me.

I was a little bit disheartened starting the second run leg. My legs were that horrible combination of numb and on fire that you only get trying to run off the bike, and all I kept think was that I’d had to use loads more energy on the bike than the last time I did this race. I’d been hoping to beat last year’s time of 1:11:08 but couldn’t see that happening now. My first run leg this time was 13 minutes something, considerably better than my previous time of 15:27, helped no doubt by being there on time and actually being able to start with everyone else and not a minute after they’d all gone. With the cycle though I was sure I was probably slower than last time out and for the last run leg it felt like I was kind of plodding. Every time I looked at my Garmin too it was saying 4:40/km or slower, which was way slower than I needed to be if I wanted to get near last year’s time. With a few hundred metres to go though the course opens up, comes out from under all the trees and all of a sudden my Garmin was reading 4:00/km. I remembered then how tree coverage can play havoc with GPS, and how my readings in Killarney were all over the place because of it. I got a bit of a wiggle on then, the finish line was just round the corner and as it came into view I saw the clock tick over to 1:09, which came as a huge surprise. I legged it to the finish then managing to get over the line in 1:09:18, a time I was absolutely delighted with. After staggering around for a bit and gathering my breath I saw Benny who’d turned in a fantastic time of 1:05:14 for 37th place.

We headed over the bike rack area to cheer on the rest of our crew, the first of whom through there was Brid who was after putting in a great shift on the bike and leaving the others trailing in her wake. A couple of minutes later I saw Pony mooching around the bikes, but not the other two. Apparently Claire ‘Notions’ Lee and Skippy were engrossed in a conversation about cheese so Pony had left them to it. The three of them set out on the last leg of their ambling tour of north Kildare while I accompanied Benny back over to his favourite place, the post race refreshments stall. Brid was the next one of our group across the line in 1:36:41, while a few minutes later it looked like the other three were going to cross the line in unison until Claire snaked ahead in the last five yards to finish in 1:39:03, Pony and Skippy coming in one and two seconds later respectively.

Grumbling about drafting aside it was a really good race. I always like doing Donadea, it’s a good course, not too far from home, great refreshments afterwards and a good way to shock the body back into action after a period of inactivity.

Donadea Duathlon July 2014

Donadea Duathlon July 2014

 

I’ve always been an avid reader and consumer of  any and all information relating to whatever my current interest is. Around my house you’ll find huge stacks of books and magazines on cars, motorbikes, triathlons and running which can be used to date these interests in the same way you can tell the age of a tree by counting the number of rings through it’s middle after it’s been felled. Despite spending an inordinate amount of time reading up on the subject though the absolute best way of learning about something is still through experience, the old fashioned but still scientific process of trial and error, and I am definitely learning every time I do another marathon.

One of the main things I learned this time around was not to have dinner so late the night before the race. Obviously I knew it wasn’t ideal to be sitting down to dinner at 22:00 the night before the race but the logistics involved in three working adults, two truculent teens and a journey of 240km meant that was indeed the case. I rationalised it at the time by saying at least I was fully stocking my glycogen stores less than twelve hours before the race start, so that should aid my fuelling for the race. It meant when I woke the next morning at 06:30 though there was no way I could face a big plate of paleo pancakes and berries so I just had some scrambled eggs and toast.

Brid and I drove into Killarney for registration at St. Brendan’s College, one of the benefits of doing such a small race being that I could pick up my number on the morning of the race, and there wouldn’t be much faffing around, queueing or rushing to get to the start line. Or there wouldn’t have been if anyone actually knew where the start line was. The race website just said the start was “Port road, about 150 metres from St. Brendan’s College” so we walked up the road, then down it, up the path in the park that ran parallel to the road, then back down it, picking up a few more confused looking runners along the way (as well as one slightly angry one). Once we saw the pacers coming down the path towards us I was certain we were in the right area but it turns out they had just as little idea as we did. Still, they could hardly start the race without the pacers so we all just congregated in the same area and waited for a start line to materialise, which it eventually did.

2014-05-17 10.57.25

Directions to the start line, spotted much, much later, nowhere near the start line




2014-05-17 09.02.08

 

Blue/Green Steel

Blue/Green Steel

And we're off

And we’re off

I had a loose plan of sorts, that I’d stay with the 3:45 pacers for as long as I could and see where that took me. There was about five of us in that little group and the pace, at that point anyway, was very easy. The first couple of miles seemed to take forever, a bit of a change from a big city marathon where the first 10k is always so hectic, trying to move around the big crowds before people settle into their rhythm. After that though we got into the guts of the National Park and it was there that we were practically assaulted by it’s beauty. I’m as critical as anyone of Kerry people, their infatuation with their homeland, their ceaseless self-promotion, their unerring ability to link anyone and anything of any merit back to their place of birth and their primary topic of conversation being Kerry, Kerry, Kerry, Kerry but a few hours of running round somewhere like the National Park in Killarney and you could see why. It’s spectacular. Jaw droppingly gorgeous in places. The trees in front of us opened up to reveal a staggering vista of sparkling black blue water, tree covered rocks or mini islands dotted around the lake and a horizon populated by a never ending array of lush green mountains. For someone from somewhere as flat and, well, boggy, as Kildare it’s a bit of a novelty.

The majority of the first lap was spent pointing and exclaiming with a huge grin on my face and I wasn’t alone in it. Obviously it helped that we had a beautiful sunny day with not a cloud in the sky, but looking around everyone in the group was feeling and reacting the same. People were stopping, running ahead or dropping back to take pictures, all of them with expressions like kids on Christmas morning. It really doesn’t get any better than running in that kind of location in those kind of conditions.

I spent a good portion of the first lap running with a chap called Ger from Mallow AC wo’s been running a marathon a month since October, including Clonakilty back to back in February, and all coming in around the 3:45 – 3:50mark too. Great, consistent running and a thoroughly nice chap too. The majority of the time we were chatting we were ahead of the 3:45 pacer, the fantastically consistent Dipak, who we found out is coming up on his 200thmarathon! We had a chat to him about the respective merits and difficulties of Connemara and Clonakilty andI was very glad to hear not only him and Ger say it, considering my travails there, but the general consensus of most who had done it that Clonakilty is as just about as hard as they come. I was enjoying the running and chatting so much at this stage that I wasn’t particularly minding the pace, or concerned when I noticed that it was regularly under 5:00 mins/km, which translates to about a 3:30 marathon. Well, well ahead of where I was planning on finishing but sometimes it’s nice to forget about the Garmin and just run.

Coming up to the end of the first lap I was feeling fantastic, and even better when I saw a full support crew for me there. Brid almost always comes to my races, but this time round I had the distinct novelty of my two sons there too, as well our friend, neighbour and ocassional running partner Benny. It was great to see the boys there, and they even managed to ditch the teenage cynicism/boredom for a minute to cheer me through.

Boredom had set in again

Boredom had set in again

The second lap was a struggle right from the off. I slowed to get some water from the station at the start of the lap and Benny ran with me then for a bit, but by this stage the few people I’d been running with and the 3:45 pacer had pushed on. I spent the first half of the lap struggling to catch up with the pacer, then dropping back when I’d slow for some water or a gel, then have to start all over again. Speaking of gels, I had intended on using four, the same amount as I’d used in Hamburg, but today I was starving. The lack of paleo pancakes this morning was coming back to haunt me now and getting some food into me was fast becoming my primary concern. The lack of a proper breakfast and the fact my heart rate was running about ten beats per minute faster than at the same point in Hamburg meant my in race energy requirements were going to be a bit higher.

My secondary concern was the heat or rather the fact that despite the heat I actually felt a little bit cool and the hairs on the backs of my arms were standing up. I wasn’t entirely sure but I thought I remembered reading something about that being an indicatory or symptom of dehydration, which coupled with the heat and the fact I usually don’t take on that much water during a race meant it was probably something I should be aware of. I stopped for an experimental pee and sure enough what came out was a far darker colour than I was wanting to see so I made a conscious decision to get at least some water into me at every station from there on in.

At this point I’d given up all hope of catching the 3:45 guys, so the rest of a lap became a real struggle mentally. Nothing really to aim for, no real reason to push too hard, hungry, hot and tired, I was up and down emotionally and mentally for the rest of the lap. Towards the end though I shuffled past a lady pushing a buggy who asked me if I wanted a drink, and I must have looked slightly troubled as she immediately said “here take the bottle” and then gave me a banana as well. Oh the joy in getting to put some food down my neck! I was really desperate for some food or energy of some sorts so despite the fact I had no water I was sipping at a gel but dear God it was hard to get down without any water. I scoffed half the banana but held off on the second half as I was coming to the end of the lap and I was due to collect my last gel from Brid there. That would leave me two gels to do the last eight miles.

Coming round the end of the lap though and there was no one there. I was 100% sure Brid and the boys would be there but there was no sign of them and I was fuming. I cursed them, everyone else I could think of and everyone in the immediate vicinity before forcing myself to calm down. I had half a banana and one gel left, at the pace I was going now that was enough to see me through. Just jeep things nice and steady and I’d be grand. I finished the banana, slugged a load of water and carried on, only sulking a bit now rather than stropping completely.

Less than half a kilometre later I saw Benny’s mop on the horizon, and then the others lounging on the grass. And they did have my gel with them, which I grabbed, slurped down, and then almost immediately regretted as soon as I started running again. Water, banana and gel all sloshed and churned around so it was shuffling time for a bit.

Gel guzzling

Gel guzzling

Looking up the road it was almost funny to see the rate of attrition ahead of me. Bodies walking, shuffling and the odd one running. Everyone around me was struggling. One guy in particular was really struggling, almost staggering up to a crossroads and really having to stop and think about which way to go despite the large red arrow in front of him. I stopped to ask him whether he was alright and whether he had taken the gel that Benny offered him a mile or two back. He responded that he didn’t, as he didn’t like gels and they should have had something other than just water on the course. At that my sympathy for his plight was reduced significantly as (a) it’s your own responsibility to prepare and look after yourself, the website had stated clearly that there would only be water at the stations around the course and (b) needs must – if you have no energy and are really struggling just take a bloody gel. It’s like a fussy child, stop pandering to them, they’ll eat if they’re hungry enough. I left him to it then but did stop to tell the St. John’s Ambulance crew up ahead to keep an eye out for him.

When I started running after my brief mercy stop I felt something very strange happen to my knee. It felt like my kneecap was loose and moving around, which I have to say was a little disconcerting. I hobbled up the road for a bit before it settled down again and I was able to resume my meandering around the course. I was confident that even at that pace I’d get around in under four hours so I made a conscious effort to have a look around, enjoy the run, the scenery and the day in general. I was in a bit of pain now with my knee but as long as I kept my stride short and clipped I was able to keep moving.

At mile 23 I had a slight concern that I was slowing down too much so picked up the pace as much as I could, then slowed right down again when I thought I was definitely inside the four hour mark. Miles 23 – 26 were the only dull parts of the lap but now it was just a matter of keeping my head down and moving, ticking off the last couple of miles. Just past the 25 mile marker I met Benny again, who gave me the biggest fright of the day when he said it was about 2.5 kilometres to the finish. I knew it wasn’t that far but it was still enough to get me shifting again. By this stage though my knee was really hurting, my hamstring was tightening up and I was bloody sick of being out in the sun, so I was incredibly relieved to hear the strains of awful music crackling out from the PA at the finish which meant I was just about done. I couldn’t even muster a semblance of a sprint finish, instead barely walking over the line in 3:58:31 before flopping face down on the nearest soft surface I could find.

Finishing

Finishing

 

Immediately after finishing

Immediately after finishing

 

 

Tomorrow morning will bring my second marathon of the year, Killarney Marathon of the Lakes, a full thirteen days after Hamburg. To be honest I haven’t really thought about it too much, my focus was so much on Hamburg that I never really thought about Killarney, so last week I was in relax mode until Thursday or so when I thought I really should do some running. I went out on Friday morning with Paul and Mark for our regular two hour jaunt, and everything was actually going fine until about 15km when the wheels just fell off altogether – stomach, legs, feet everything felt like crap. At that point I had to let the lads go on without me and I shuffled the 8km home.

 

This week I’ve been really busy and had a whole pile of crap land on my lap in work, but I did make it out for an easy run Monday and Thursday night, and then today at lunchtime there was a charity 4k run that I ran to and back from to make it 8k. The only thing that’s slightly concerning me is the fact that my right calf has been tight all week. My left calf was the one that played up just before Hamburg, so presumably my right felt a little left out and has been niggling at me all week. Thankfully it doesn’t feel too bad when I’m running, but the rest of the time… not so much.

 

Hopefully I’ll feel a bit fresher doing Killarney than I did Hamburg. I’ve slept well this week, haven’t been boozing, I’ve put on no weight since Hamburg so as long as my calf doesn’t play up too much, and this sudden escalation in temperature doesn’t affect me too much, it should be all good.

 

 

Tomorrow morning will bring my second marathon of the year, Killarney Marathon of the Lakes, a full thirteen days after Hamburg. To be honest I haven’t really thought about it too much, my focus was so much on Hamburg that I never really thought about Killarney, so last week I was in relax mode until Thursday or so when I thought I really should do some running. I went out on Friday morning with Paul and Mark for our regular two hour jaunt, and everything was actually going fine until about 15km when the wheels just fell off altogether – stomach, legs, feet everything felt like crap. At that point I had to let the lads go on without me and I shuffled the 8km home.

 

This week I’ve been really busy and had a whole pile of crap land on my lap in work, but I did make it out for an easy run Monday and Thursday night, and then today at lunchtime there was a charity 4k run that I ran to and back from to make it 8k. The only thing that’s slightly concerning me is the fact that my right calf has been tight all week. My left calf was the one that played up just before Hamburg, so presumably my right felt a little left out and has been niggling at me all week. Thankfully it doesn’t feel too bad when I’m running, but the rest of the time… not so much.

 

Hopefully I’ll feel a bit fresher doing Killarney than I did Hamburg. I’ve slept well this week, haven’t been boozing, I’ve put on no weight since Hamburg so as long as my calf doesn’t play up too much, and this sudden escalation in temperature doesn’t affect me too much, it should be all good.

 

Hopefully.

 

With Hamburg out of the way now, and my next marathon fast approaching (Killarney this Saturday 17th of May) it’s time to have a look at what I could do better. Just before Hamburg I listed the five things I’d done well in preparation for it, so now here’s the five things I did not so well:

 

  1. The taper – I was running really well in training, responding well to the extra stresses and mileage (I ran my best 20 miler the day after running a 10k PB) but the cut back in mileage seemed to dull me rather than freshen me up. I think I cut back too quickly – 75km to 37 to 28.5 – and apart from the Emo 8k and Naas Parkrun went way too easy.
  2. Marathon week – not enough sleep, not eating clean enough, still having a drink here and there. I should have lived like a sleep loving monk that week but didn’t, maybe because with the drastic cut in running I just wasn’t feeling like ‘an athlete’.
  3.  The night before the night before – I know that this is the night when you should really be getting your sleep in, but one of the considerations of combining a marathon with a weekend away, especially when you’re visiting or staying with friends, is the social aspect. Which in this case meant an absolutely fantastic*, though very healthy dinner, followed by numerous bottles of wine and a bed time in the region of 3am.
  4. One pace to rule them all – as I found to my detriment in a couple of my tune up races, I have no gears, no other pace and I wasn’t really used to hurting (in a short/sharp fashion anyway). Almost all of my running was at either ‘easy’ or ‘steady’ pace, no intervals, no reps, no threshold stuff, nothing. This is something I intend to rectify with at least one quality session per week on top of my long run, and over the summer race at least once every two weeks.
  5. Sleep in general – I’ve spent so much of my adult life as a night owl that going to bed early still feels unnatural, I feel like I’m missing out somehow. However, if I don’t get to bed by 22:00 then I don’t get up before 07:00 then I don’t run in the morning, and sometimes my schedule means I definitely need to run in the morning. Also if you don’t sleep enough you don’t recover enough. Both of those things combined mean that if I’m going to up my mileage more, and add more quality sessions, then I absolutely, positively have to get sufficient sleep.

 

*If you’re ever in Hamburg do check out Il Buco. Incredible restaurant, responsible for at least two of my top five ever meals.

Marathon morning rolled round and for once I didn’t have to be up at stupid o’clock. Skippy and Nina’s place was quite close by, and what with the German public transport (which I hear is quite efficient), it meant that we could leave it until quite close to start time before heading over there. Although maybe we overdid it a bit. We got up, got dressed, I made lovely paleo pancakes for breakfast, our respective wives took a lot of photos and Skippy said goodbye about eight times.

Paleo Pancakes

Paleo Pancakes

 

Almost ready to go

Almost ready to go

We got over to the Hamburg Messe where we were due to start and I was a little shocked by the size of the crowd there. I’m not sure why as 20,000 people were due to run the marathon but I’d been so caught up in our own little world I didn’t really think about what a crowd that size would mean. What it meant was very slow and difficult to move around, queues everywhere and not a bit of space anywhere. I left Skippy queuing for his seventh toilet trip of the day and headed for my starting area with less than ten minutes to go until the race was due to start. I made my way into G-Block, standing right at the front of our group, and instantly noticed a difference between Hamburg and Dublin (or Irish races in general). The pre-race music of choice was horrible Euro pop/techno, not a bit of Rocky soundtrack, The Final Countdown or Born to Run anywhere in sight. The Lidl version Swedish House Mafia seemed to be going down well with the crowd though, particularly the small bespectacled gent in front of me who was fist pumping with gusto.

 

Shortly after that it was “Funf, vier, drei, zwei, eins, GEHEN!!!” and we were off. I’d been slightly regretting my choice of vest and short shorts as it was bloody freezing but as soon as I was moving I was grand. Unlike my Garmin, which I noticed wasn’t giving me any reading for pace. Not to worry though, no panic, I had overall time displayed and a wristband with the 5k splits printed on it for the (optimistic) finishing time of 3:29:59, so with the markers every kilometre along the way I was able to calculate and track my pace.

 

The first five kilometres were extremely crowded, so I wasn’t overly worried about being fifteen seconds behind schedule at that point. I was conscious of not trying to speed up too much and any time I put a bit of a spurt on to pass a few people I kept repeating the mantra “don’t burn matches”. That said I went through 10k in 49:10, which put me 36 seconds ahead of schedule. The other thing occupying my mind during this time was my bloody gels. I’d brought four with me and had remembered to bring a race belt with me to put them in, only problem being they kept sliding out of the belt. After fluting around with that for a while I just pulled them out of the belt and carried them in my hand, which meant some lucky kid standing at the side of the road looking for a high five got a particularly sweaty one as a surprise (after that I always wiped my hand before making contact).

 

So 10k in I was feeling reasonably good, ahead of schedule now, my heart rate was right around where I wanted it to be or even a bit lower, but I didn’t feel I was running particularly freely. My pace was fine, effort level was fine but I just didn’t have that feeling of ease that you can get when everything is going really well, like I had on my last 20 miler before the marathon. Brid and Nina had said they’d be along the route to see me just after a tunnel somewhere around the 15k mark, and sure enough there was a tunnel ahead of me just after that. I came through the tunnel and almost immediately spotted the two ladies, despite them being the two smallest spectators out on course.They managed to get a photo where I thought at the time I was exuding comfort and calm, but it turns out that in fact I just looked very smug.

 

Only smug on the outside

Only smug on the outside

 

That expression on my face was soon to change though when I had my first gel at 17.5km. Not only had carrying the gels in my hands given my very sweaty palms, but it had also heated the gels to such an extent that my first taste of my Torq Apple Crumble was akin to a McDonalds Hot Apple Pie straight from the industrial microwave. A jet of scaldy, molten goop shot down my throat and I was extremely happy that I had slowed to walk through the aid station and get my water and gel into me before I started running again.

 

From there up to the 25km mark was probably my best stretch of the marathon pace-wise, but again I never felt hugely comfortable. I realise that running a marathon, especially at pace, doesn’t always feel comfortable or easy, but my legs just felt heavy and unusually, my quads felt particularly stiff and leaden. I’ve had calf niggles, tight hamstrings, sore feet and all sorts while on training runs but this was the first time I’d felt my quads like this. Still, I was through the halfway point in 1:43:58, which was still a minute ahead of schedule.

 

I knew from halfway to 25k though that I was slowing. My margin over my target pace was coming down all the time, and at 25k I was now only 24 seconds ahead. I had another gel at 25k, sponged down my quads and hamstrings and managed to pick up the pace again for a while but by 30k I was 20 seconds down. This was where the real fun was going to start. I was now running from station to station, each of which were 2.5km apart. It’s an ‘easy’ way of running the latter parts of any race, you don’t think about running the 10, 15, 20km left, or the 42km total, you just run to the next station. Break it down, bit by bit. At 30k I had my 3rd gel, then it was just about getting to the aid station at 32.5km. When I got there I got some more water on board, sponged down my quads and hamstrings and looked for the 33km marker, then 34 and only then I thought about getting to 35km, where I’d be having my last gel.

 

Since I passed the 32km marker I’d been counting down, rather than up, ie only 10 to go, only 9 to go etc. Which made things a lot more manageable in my head. Previously in marathons I’d struggled a lot from 20 miles onwards, but here I found it a lot easier mentally to break down like this. That’s not to say I didn’t have any wobbles, and I didn’t just want the whole thing to be over, but I never plumbed the depths of despair like I did in Belfast, or just resigned myself to the misery like in Clonakilty. At 35km I had my last gel and despite the fact that my legs were scarcely cooperating at this stage the kilometres just kept ticking away – less than five miles to go, seven km to go, less than six to go – and before I knew it I was at the 40km mark.

 

Between 30km and 40km I had slipped from two minutes behind schedule to ten minutes behind, which put a real dampener on things for a while. I’d had a number of different goals for the marathon and I was in danger of missing out on all of them. They were:

1 – sub 3:30. This was the very optimistic, everything goes incredibly well and I have ‘one of those days’ goal.

2 – Sub 3:35:15. This would mean I’d beat my previous PB (Dublin 2012) by 26 minutes, ie a minute a mile. I was pretty confident I could hit this if everything went well.

3 – 3:3X:XX Surely I could run a 3:3something. All my training and racing was indicating I could and now even that was looking unlikely.

 

I was quite down about this at this stage, and my marathon in real danger of just fizzling out. I’ve struggled with this loads in the past, things not going according to plan, getting down about it and losing my way a bit. One of the things I remembered though from Steve Peters’ book The Chimp Paradox was about goal setting, being realistic, flexible and happy with our effort. I was happy enough with the effort I was putting in, or rather was when I snapped out of my little funk, so did a few little calculations. If I got my arse in gear and got my legs moving again there was a chance I’d come in under 3:41:15, which would mean more than twenty minutes better than my previous PB, and a twenty minute PB is good going in anyone’s book. That was exactly what I needed to stage a little bit of a fightback, so I upped my pace from death march to constipated shuffle, started gurning for all I was worth and clawed my way towards the red carpet finish.

 

The 95 metres from the 42km marker to the start of the red carpet seemed to go on forever, but that last 100m was fantastic. There were cheerleaders, grandstands, big crowds, all of which I only have a hazy recollection of as I managed to make it across the line in 3:41:05, thankfully hitting my new revised goal, before staggering and shuffling Romero zombie style to collect my medal and belongings.

 

Tired oder happy

Tired oder happy

It was the best part of an hour before I felt any way human again, but by that point I’d met the ladies and we went to get a spot close to the finish so we could not only cheer Skippy over the line, but hand him his Irish flag to drape across his shoulders. Sure enough, bang on schedule and looking remarkably fresh for a guy just completing his first marathon, along he came, popping over to us to have a bit of a chat.

Shocking cold out, isn't it?

Shocking cold out, isn’t it?

We shoved the flag into his hands and screamed at him to get moving, cognisant of the fact that he was cutting it pretty fine if he wanted to join the UFC (Under Five Club). We could see the finish line from there but did hear the commentator mention something about under five hours, Irish guy, Guinness and whiskey, so were pretty certain he’d made it. Which he had of course. 4:59:03 and managed to set a new World Record for number of piss stops in the course of a marathon with a whopping fourteen. What a man.

Yeah, it was worth it.

Yeah, it was worth it.

 

I know, I know but they didn’t play it at all so someone has to.

After a decent block of injury free training, and a very good eight weeks where I PB’d at half marathon, 10k and 5k, I woke up on Tuesday, five days before my goal marathon, with a familiar and worrying tightness in my calf. Three years ago when I started running first I tore my left calf and I was out for six weeks. A year later I pulled it in the exact same spot, came back too quickly and was out of action for eight weeks in total. Now here I was after the best and most consistent period I’ve running I’ve had and out of the blue, without any warning whatsoever, this same niggle appearing.

I skipped pilates that evening in favour of some stretching and foam rolling in the hope that might do the trick, and then got up early Wednesday morning to go for a little cycle to warm the muscles before another bout of foam rolling. When a couple of hours later I got up from my desk and my calf just balled up completely I was straight on the phone to Reiltin Treacy in Newbridge (K Physio)arrange an emergency physio session. So it was that I found myself face down on a physio’s couch a few hours later with a bunch of needles being introduced to my left calf muscle. I’d had dry needling once before, on my hamstring, but it was still a very interesting experience getting those needles right down into my now very sore and sensitive calf. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t worried when five minutes after getting off the couch I was struggling to shuffle down the street, or when it took minutes to descend the stairs on returning home, but Reiltin had warned me that it would get worse before it got better.

I felt considerably better on Thursday but didn’t risk a run, and Friday was spent travelling, settling in and catching up with our wonderful, gracious hosts in Hamburg, Skippy and Nina. It was Saturday before I got to try out the leg and thankfully when I did there was absolutely no ill effects. I didn’t even feel a hint of tightness. I only did 4k with four sets of strides but everything felt great.

Well except for my Garmin which stopped recording for some reason at 1.56km.

Going into Hamburg one thing I asked Skippy to do as part of his preparation was to think of five things he had done well in training. The five things that could have been done better can wait until after the marathon, for now here’s the five I thought of while trying to get to sleep the night before:

 

  1. Consistent, progressive training – semi-regular training from Christmas on gave way to consistent, regular training of four or five times a week with a long run, and often a medium-long midweek run from the middle of February onwards. From around that time my pace also went from 5:20/km being a ‘steady’ run to an ‘easy’ run. Plenty of early morning runs and in particular Friday mornings with Paul and Mark which were generally 20k @ 5:00/km. Tough but hugely beneficial.
  2. More long runs – for previous marathon attempts I may have done an 18 miler or two, maybe a disastrous 20 miler but this time round I had multiple runs in the 14-16 mile region, an 18, two 20’s and a 21 mile.
  3. My last long run – 20 miles @ just over target marathon pace (5:05/km) the day after setting my 10k PB and it felt easy. This was a huge, huge confidence booster.
  4. PB’s all round – in the run up to Hamburg I improved my 5k time by a minute and a half, my 10k by over two and a half and my half marathon time by nine minutes, so I obviously did something right.
  5. General conditioning – apart from the calf strain I had an injury free training block, thanks in no small part to my weekly pilates session I definitely feel stronger throughout and my weight is pretty good – 79kg, so 8kg down from Christmas and no extra weight added during my taper. I could definitely do with dropping some more but I’m right around where I wanted to be for Hamburg.

 

 

For anyone wondering how to get to Naas Parkrun, at Naas Racecourse, do not do the ‘logical’ thing and head to the entrance of the racecourse. There you will just find a locked gate and an air of confusion settling upon you. You may be able to see some neon and lycra clad people milling around in the distance but you won’t have any clue as to how to join them. Unless of course you check the Naas Parkrun website before you set off, in which case you’ll find directions as to how to get there via the Tipper Road entrance.

We had spent a good twenty minutes milling around with no clue as to how to get to the start before eventually checking the website which finally saw us pull up and park at about 09:29, giving us plenty of time to prepare for a 09:30 start time. Things got worse when one of the very nice stewards told us it was about a ten minute walk to the start line, but she kindly rang the start line steward and asked them to wait for us (see I told you she was very nice). At least the distance to the start line gave us a bit of a chance to warm up before attempting to run my first 5k in approximately two years.

We got to the start line and offered a quick apology to the poor punctual souls who were gathered huddled together on a very windy, drizzly grey morning, among them my old Wyeth chum “Inappropriate” Gavin Scott and his longtime ladyfriend/relatively new wife Sue, who were also popping their Parkrun cherry. No sooner had we turned around and we were off. I’d had no time really to strategise or think about the run, instead I just went tearing off at a pace befitting the only guy there wearing a singlet and short shorts. The guys who eventually finished one and two disappeared off into the distance immediately, another small group of seven or eight were behind that and then there was me at the head of another group, drunk on the feeling of being so close to the front of a race and ignoring the nagging suspicion that yet again I’d set off a bit too quickly.

The course in Naas is two and a half laps of a smooth ribbon of nearly flat tarmac, the only obstacle to take into consideration on Saturday at least was the wind. The first kilometre was into the wind but the retarding nature of it was negated by the start line excitement. The second kilometre was fantastic, wind at my back, running effortlessly and any time I felt the breath of my fellow runner who was just behind me encroaching I just upped the pace ever so slightly to put a little bit more of a gap between us. At three kilometres though he was still right on me, and surging ahead wasn’t so much of an option now into the wind and my legs starting to question what the hell they were doing turning over at this pace. The fourth kilometre was the wind assisted one again but unfortunately it didn’t feel quite so effortless this time and I started to get the nagging voices that affect me far more in short races than they ever do in a marathon.

The fifth and final kilometre was once more into the wind, and the rain which had picked up, and as the breathing behind me got ever closer, then right alongside me, I just didn’t have the will to respond. With about five hundred metres to go he passed me, a hundred later the first lady finisher passed me and I just stayed trudging at the same pace to the end. I’m a bit annoyed again by my lackadaisical finishing. The lack of speed or any sort of different gear to kick into I’m not so bothered by – I’ve done the vast majority of my training at marathon/easy pace – but the desire to finish hard and willingness to hurt bothers me a bit. Maybe it’s something that’ll come with more hard training sessions – tempo runs, intervals and reps. Maybe it’s something I just need to work on in my own head. I’ve done it relatively recently, at the Donadea 10k I definitely ran faster than schedule and was in a world of hurt for the last two kilometres of that so maybe I just need to repeat the mental preparation I did for that.

Or maybe it’s just a 5k (semi) fun run a week before my first marathon of the year and I’m overthinking it way too much.

 

5k in 21:27 (PB) and I finished 12th! 12th! I know it’s not the Olympics or anything but I’ve never finished a race of any sort with that few people in front of me so yeah, 12th!

PS – my Parkrun time said 21:37 but there was definitely a delay crossing the line, handing over my barcode, getting a different barcode and getting it scanned so for once I’m going with my Garmin time.

Brid ran 32:43, a full two minutes ahead of her 5k time she’d set just a couple of days beforehand. Gavin ran alongside her for a bit before snaking ahead in the last two hundred metres to finish in 32:33 and Sue ran an excellent 25:25 (before having to wait around in the wind and rain for her husband to finish).

 

I’d like to start by firstly blaming my wife. Brid went to the pub last night with a couple of cronies and as old age and motherhood has negated what little ability they used to have to drink she had to pick up the slack. As such that meant she was a little later home from the pub than I expected, which in turn meant I drank more of the wine I had opened than originally planned. This of course blunted my performance somewhat.

Secondly I’d like to blame the weather. Bank holidays in Ireland are meant to be miserable affairs, raincoat clad children grumbling at their parents for being forced to endure local festivities or parades, or more commonplace nowadays being forced to stand at the side of roads and cheer on their mother and/or father in some semi-athletic pursuit. This weekend we got blue skies, glorious sunshine and some actual warm weather. Obviously us Irish aren’t meant for running in this heat, though it did give me the chance to try out my (almost) string vest and split-shorts combo ahead of Hamburg. Alas, as I was alone I had no photographers on hand to capture this stunning ensemble but just think mid-eighties Jerry Kiernan, minus the glorious mullet unfortunately.

Thirdly I’d like to blame the conditions underfoot. The majority of the course was covered in a layer of surprisingly spongy gravel which seemed to sap the energy and what little speed I may have.

These were the excuses I was coming up with as I ran the Good Friday Emo 8k, excuses I was cycling through from about the 1 mile mark onwards. Whatever the reasons I just didn’t have the desire in me to push hard and after a decent first mile, which may have been a bit too quick, I got slightly but progressively slower as the race progressed. It was only with about a kilometre to go when one of the marshals Wes Reilly, who to be fair to him knows a thing or two about putting himself through some hurt, shouted at me to pick it up that I started really moving again. With a couple of hundred metres to go I could hear, and almost feel, the breath of someone trying to catch me from behind which kept me moving. Shortly after that I heard the voice of one Bill Devereux, St. Michael’s AC underage coach, Veteran sprinter and father of my Hamburg Marathon brother in arms, shouting encouragement and as if from nowhere I turned it on and sprinted the hundred and fifty or so metres to the line.

I was really disappointed with my run, disgusted almost when Bill came over to talk to me. I mentioned my race at the K-Club the previous Saturday and he pointed out I was probably expecting a bit too much just six days removed from that. When I added that I’d done a twenty miler then on Sunday he just laughed and I realised I was maybe being a bit harsh on myself. I am disappointed that I didn’t push myself harder but apart from that I suppose I should be happy enough with the run. It’s about managing expectations really, getting your head right before you race and not being unrealistic. Plus it’s the first time I’ve ever ran a  five mile race (8k) so if nothing else it’s a PB.

8k in 35:32

 

Quick edit just to say (whinging aside) it was a cracking race put on by St. Michael’s AC,  and a great turnout.

Today was one of those days when everything just felt easy. Suspiciously easy almost. 20 miles clocked and it just felt fantastic. I probably went a bit too quick for a LSR (long slow run) but I just felt great. I was expecting to feel a bit tired after the K-Club 10k yesterday but I felt positively sprightly, right from the off.

Normally if I’m going for the long run by myself I’ll listen to a Joe Rogan podcast as it’s really the only chance I get to listen to a three hour podcast nowadays but an hour in and there wasn’t much more I could take about shamanic journeys, ayahuasca or forty year old man-childs so I went for some music instead. I stopped listening to music while running as I found it dictated mood or pace a little too much but after today I think I may reintroduce it on occasion. I stuck on Television – Marquee Moon (the album) as I was cutting across to Killenard  and as luck would have it Marquee Moon (the song) started just as I was starting up the hill on the way into Killenard, bringing memories of that hill and subsequent view in Clonakilty rushing back. The memories that came back weren’t just mental, everything that I was feeling in Clonakilty as I crested that hill came rushing back through me and I felt the most glorious mix of energy, elation, satisfaction, optimism and just general well being as I just flew up the hill.

I’ve ran this route loads of late with Paul and Mark and going up this hill I’m at best managing it, at worst dragging arse but today I’m laughing and skipping up it, having to tell myself to calm down and take it easy, there’s still another 20k to go. I really tried to keep the pace controlled and sedate but after a while I just thought “what the hell?” and ran as I felt. Running is meant to be fun, it’s meant to be enjoyable and not always about pace or time or mileage. This kind of day, where everything feels effortless, doesn’t come around too often so why not just enjoy it while I can?

I passed the point where two weeks ago I had to tell the lads to carry on without me while I shuffled along, today I was flying along, a minute a kilometre quicker and sprinting up hills just because I was feeling great (also because I was listening to Mastodon at this point).

At the 24k mark I called in home for some water and a gel (up to this point my only ‘fuel’ was a buttered coffee) and went back out for another 8k, expecting to slow down considerably. Except I didn’t. The pace remained the same, I kept feeling good and I could have, and would have liked to, kept going but sensible head time. I’m three weeks out from Hamburg marathon, I do not need to leave my race out here on the roads three weeks out, then spend the time I should be tapering just recovering. Nope, training is done now, the miles are clocked and what’s done is done. I was planning on doing the Sliabh Bloom half marathon on Easter Sunday but there’s no need now. I’m as ready as I’m going to be. Taper, rest, sleep, eat properly, hydrate.

 

Oh and obviously figure out what exactly I’m going to wear for the marathon.

It’s almost time to taper for Hamburg, but I wanted to get in a couple of races before I started doing so for numerous reasons – to sharpen up, to inject a bit of pace, to push myself but most of all, when I was targeting these races anyway, was to try to race myself into shape. After missing a week of training a few weeks ago I still harboured some reservations, and fears, that I’m not there in my marathon preparation. I think everyone probably feels that way, even if they’ve been doing 100 mile weeks and knocking out PB’s left and right. I’d picked the BHAA K-Club 10k to do as by all accounts it was very flat, fast, local, but most of all apparently featured the best post race spread to be found anywhere on our fair isle.

Based on the lovely, intermittently sunny week we’d been having, I decided this was the time to crack out the vest and short shorts for a race, so naturally when we got over to Straffan it was dull, grey, windy and a bit chilly. After a decent warm up though I was good to go, and lined up against easily the skinniest, most serious looking field I’d ever been a part of.

Still wondering if I'd chosen the right attire

Still wondering if I’d chosen the right attire

At the start I probably went off a little too quick, first km was about 4:15 – 4:20/km pace, but even at that everyone went flooding past me. I kept thinking “run your own race, run our own race” but I did get swept along a bit. I settled down then to run 4:20 – 4:25 for the first few kilometres with occasional quicker surges. After about 2km I was at the front of a group but made the effort to get across to the next group and sit on their back as it was quite windy and I didn’t want to be at the front, copping all the wind by myself.

Ready, Steady...

Ready, Steady…

 

.... Go

…. Go

The course consisted of 1km out of the K-Club, two loops of 4km and then 1km back in. The first loop was fine, going substantially quicker than I do on any training run, but it felt controlled. On the second lap I was expecting people to drop back a bit and for me to catch more people, but it was a very strong field, and most people seemed to have paced it well. I pushed on anyway from 5-7k, managing to pass a few and felt strong. From 7-8k then it just felt really hard – stomach churning, lungs burning a bit, legs getting heavy, oh I need a piss, I’d really like this to be over etc. I saw a gate then and made a split second decision to stop for that piss (and welcome break) which was a bit stupid as (a) I don’t think I really, really needed one and (b) now I had to run even harder to re-pass a bunch of people. 8-9km was spent re-passing those people and I felt great. I knew as soon as we entered the K-club there was a nice little downhill, but even on that my legs didn’t seem to be turning over any faster. I’d passed a guy on the downhill that I’d traded places with a couple of times over the last 3km, but now on the short uphill he came past me again. The finish was a horrible up, round the corner, round the corner again type jobbie and it nearly did for me. If it had been a straight line I would have been fine but even just the extra effort of turning two corners had me almost coughing/puking all over the place a stride or two before the line.

A study in serenity (trying to ignore the pain)

A study in serenity (trying to ignore the pain)

I was happy to see 44:03 on my watch when I finished, a PB of over 2:40, but then I was a little miffed that I didn’t sneak in under 44. 43:xx would have been amazing, far beyond my expectations even though it’s only a few seconds quicker than what I did. My chip time ended up being 44:07, but despite it being four seconds slower I wasn’t axtually as frustrated about not breaking 44 minutes. Until I remembered the not absolutely necessary pit stop! Balls. At least I know that there’s probably a 43:xx there, especially considering this was towards the end of my biggest training week to date, so definitely not done on fresh legs. Overall I’m delighted with it. Training is going well, I’m posting substantial PB’s and that’s just off marathon training, and not anything specific so I really couldn’t be happier with how everything is going.

Oh and everything I was told about the (relative) opulence of the spread laid on in the K-Club is true, it was ridiculous. So ridiculous in fact that I had to leave there after half an hour for fear of returning home from a race substantially heavier than when I was going there.