What with trying to cram as many miles as possible in before Prague everything has been very slow of late. Lots of long, slow, low intensity runs which truth be told isn’t that much of a change for me. The only time I ever really run 5k/5 mile/10k pace is if I’m running a 5k/5 mile 10k which obviously isn’t a very well rounded approach to training or running, and is something I know needs to be amended. With that in mind, and the fact that I could really do with going out and just running hard, I signed up last week to do the Terenure 5 mile.

Both the 5 mile races I’ve run in the past have been quite frustrating affairs. Last year I ran Emo on Good Friday, expecting to go well considering I was in (for me at least) really good shape just coming up to Hamburg marathon. On a scorching hot day I went off way too quick and from 5k onwards it was just horrendous, leading to a very limp finish and me being really unhappy with it (not taking into account I was in the middle of a very big training week, had ran a 10k PB in the K-Club on the preceding Saturday and followed that up with a 20 mile long run on Sunday). I ran Raheny 5 in January of this year, wasn’t in great shape, hadn’t great prep, managed to shave nine seconds off my Emo time but really wasn’t happy with it because a late pitstop/emergency wee/break because it was getting too hard saw me miss out on sub 35 by 24 seconds.

Terenure I thought should be an ideal place to finally crack the elusive 35 minute mark but also just a chance to run hard, maybe blow off some cobwebs after Prague as despite that being a ‘training run’ my legs have felt just a little bit feeble since then. So with that I was up nice and early on Saturday morning, official photographer back on board after she missed Prague for ‘personal reasons’, and heading for Terenure with enough time to drop my car at my brother’s, stroll down to Terenure College for number pick up and get a nice long warm up in. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone out for a run and only felt good once I’m 5/6k into it, yet despite that I still generally don’t warm up near enough for races, so today I was actually going to do it properly for once.

Warm Up

Pre-race stretch

Which I did. 4k nice and easy around Bushy Park, some strides, stretches, I was finally feeling awake and my legs felt ok so it was time to head down towards the start line. Unusually for such a short race there are pacers so I positioned myself with the 35 minute pacers in sight with the idea of using them as a rough guide but running my own pace. I really didn’t want to make the mistake of going off too hard and then be blowing out of my bottom after a couple of miles. Considering the numbers in the race (just under 1200) the start was actually reasonably civilised. Raheny I know has more runners, and also has the added difficulty of starting in a very residential area, but the start of that race felt like chaos with people coming from all angles, up and down off footpaths, dodging parked cars. Here it was just a siren sounding and then off we went, down a nice straight road for a few hundred metres before hanging a left on to Templeogue Road, which felt at least like it was ever so slightly downhill, not to mention perfectly smooth so I decided I’d up the pace a little bit and sit in behind the 35 minute pacers.

Start

We turned left then at Rathdown Motors, the road returning to normal Irish conditions underfoot, wind in our faces and all of a sudden it didn’t feel quite so easy. Not long after that it was another left turn, on to Fortfield Road, and I remember thinking “not sure how much longer I can hang on at this pace, really starting to feel it in the legs now” so I looked at my watch and saw a distance covered of 2.64km. A third of the race! That’s all I’d done and already I was thinking about just hanging on. Balls. My head dropped a bit at that moment and I had a look around to see if there was anyone right behind me as I thought for a second about stepping off the course, then about slowing down. I didn’t think I’d be able to maintain my pace at all and started cursing myself “well of course you can’t run at this pace, you never train at this pace, what did you expect, this is stupid, I bloody hate this etc etc etc”.

Despite my little whinge session and a slight slowing the 35 minute pacers were still just in front of me, my legs hadn’t fallen off and I was still alive so I tried to close the distance to them without using too much of what little energy I had. I edged gradually closer and before I knew it we were back on Templeogue Road and starting the second lap. My 5k split popped up on my watch shortly after showing 21:20, which would actually have been a 5k PB for me if it had been a standalone race. I was momentarily buoyed by this before the worry re-emerged “If you’re going at 5k PB pace then you’re going too fast for a 5 mile. You’ve made a balls of this. You’re going to completely blow up in the last 3k. No way you’ll sustain that”. Thankfully we were on the quickest section of the course, the running was a little bit easier and I could trick myself into thinking I still had plenty in the bank, especially as I had caught right up to the 35 minute pacers just as we came up to Rathdown Motors again. Convincing yourself that you can carry on hurting for another fifteen minutes is a lot easier when the hurt has dissipated due to ideal conditions.

Turning that hard left corner really stalled what momentum I had though, which in turn massively dented my confidence. Its true that its easier to run quicker when you have a target just ahead to aim at, but it’s also somewhat of a soul destroying experience when that target just keeps inching further and further away. By this stage I was having the full on little devil on one shoulder saying “let them go, just ease off, slow down, do it some other day” and the little angel on the other shoulder saying “come on, keep it going, it’s less than ten minutes to go, bit of pain for eight minutes, you can do that, you’ll be sickened if you don’t break 35”. Shortly after that I looked at my watch again to see 6.6km gone, really hoping to see a bigger number than that, which caused another momentary down turn. I honestly felt like stopping at that point, really just wanted it all to be over, but made a little deal with myself to forget about the watch, fix my eyes on the heels of the 35 minute pacers just up the road and try to keep them in sight. If I did that then there was a good chance I could just about squeak under.

I felt like I was slowing down horrendously at this point. My legs were leaden, my stride felt really short but not particularly quick, the only saving grace was that I seemed to be going quicker than most of the people around me at that point. I was hoping and praying for it to end as soon as possible, kept thinking I must be almost there, I could hear the PA so must be almost home, and then I saw a sign saying 400m to go. 400m! 400 bloody metres. For God’s sake, who keeps dragging this thing out? Surely it should be over now? Oh for feck’s sake. It seemed like an awful long way to go but at least it meant that the end was nigh so I girded my loins, contorted my already twisted features even more and poured out everything I had left.

Finishing straight, with my own phalanx of female bodyguards

I’d heard the PA say a while back 34 minutes on the clock but I knew I had a little in the bank as I was quite a few seconds after the gun crossing the line but now she was saying 35 minutes. At last I could see the finish line so one last staggering surge and I was there, coughing, spluttering but across the line, the contents of my stomach just about staying where they were but more importantly a time on my watch that started with 34!

A couple of seconds later when I could actually focus and see it said 34:50 I was absolutely overjoyed. The pain and misery of the last few minutes instantly melted away and was instantly replaced by relief and satisfaction. So this is how you’re meant to do it, this is how it feels to be rewarded for your efforts. Prague was an enjoyable experience, and was satisfactory in that I achieved what I set out to, and it was important for me to go out with a plan in mind and stick to it, but there was always the whole ‘just a training run’ thing at the back of my mind. Today was different in that I was actually going out to test myself, and it’s a pretty nice feeling coming out the other side knowing you’ve passed.

Aftermath

 

While I’m here, I have to say a few words about the race organisation. That was probably the most well run and efficient race I’ve taken part in. Number and t-shirt collection took literally a minute, no faffing round at the start line waiting for people, nobody going off course, straight through at the end for post race refreshments (including really tasty coconut water), all centred around the beautiful grounds of Terenure College and all for just €20. That’s why I love races organised by running clubs. No nonsense goody bags or unnecessary expense. Really great work by Sportsworld Running Club (and they had the cones in, banners and barricades and all the roads back to normal by the time I was walking back to my brother’s).

 

I could start this by saying that Prague Marathon came along at a somewhat awkward time, what with me only finally, belatedly back in training after many, many weeks off after Donadea but the fact of the matter is that the Prague Marathon has had its slot on the calendar booked for a long time now. In fact I’ve been registered for Prague for a long time now, knew it was coming, had flights booked but just kind of chose to ignore it. My fellow Prague entrant Skippy had done similarily, the two of us choosing to ignore the elephant in the room and skirting around the topic for months. Eventually, a few weeks ago we could ignore it no longer so I booked some accommodation, looked at the calendar and tried to formulate some sort of plan.

I’d been averaging about 30-40k a week from the middle of March having only run a couple of times between Donadea in the middle of February and then. I wasn’t going to get in any kind of marathon shape in four weeks but there was a chance I could get a reasonable base under my belt before Portumna 50k on the 13th of June if I get my finger out and had that as a target. Prague right in the middle of that block would be a bit of an inconvenience if I tried to ‘race’ it but if I just used it as a long training run, at my target 50k pace, trained up to it and got right back into it afterwards, then maybe it could actually work out well for me. So I drastically upped my mileage for a couple of weeks, jumping up to 82 and then 95km, with each week having a medium long run as well as a long run of over 30k, before doing a mini taper back down just before Prague. Now obviously no marathon plan or coaching manual would advise jumping from 35 to 80 km in a week but (a) I kept the intensity very low and made sure I recovered well to try to mitigate against injury and (b) I felt I needed the big weeks, and particularly the long runs, to psychologically get me ready for Prague. The 35k run on the Saturday of the 95k week in particular was a huge confidence boost.

Of course, despite my protestations to the contrary, I still clocked in an abysmal taper, eg do almost nothing, which is a part of the whole marathon thing I’ve still to get right after quite a few attempts.

I arrived in Prague then with something of a base, a couple of really good weeks under my belt and a definite plan in mind – 42.2km @ 5:50/km with nice, even pacing, even 5k splits throughout and no blowing up. I’ve had similar plans in mind before (Clonakilty 2012, Killarney 2014, Dublin 2014) but always made a balls of them, generally by going off too fast in the early part of the race and/or in the few days leading up to the race suddenly getting a dose of misplaced confidence and deciding to drastically upgrade my goals. This time it was all about sticking to a realistic plan.

I managed to make it through Friday night with nothing more unhealthy than a couple of bottle of beer and some crisps imbibed, which was a small victory in itself when there were suggestions from some quarters that a couple of not entirely focussed lads, on their own in Prague, might think better of slogging round the city and just go and sample the sights instead. Saturday saw us strolling round the city, popping out to the expo to get our numbers, briefly appear on tv and then eat a pile of pig and potato in preparation for Sunday.

Expo

Expo

We're famous!

We’re famous!

A couple of things that worried me while strolling around on Saturday were the fact that there didn’t seem to be much in the way of flat roads or streets in Prague, and also that the temperature seemed to be steadily rising. When I arrived on Friday there were grey skies and non-stop drizzle, perfect for us Irishers and also for marathon running. This blue sky and sunshine craic, not so much. Stepping out of our flat at 8am on Sunday morning there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was already warm enough that back home tops would be off, barbecues would be getting fired up and sales of Bulmers would be sky rocketing. I’d worn an old t-shirt down to the start line over my running one but already discarded that a few minutes prior to the off. Remembering how I, and most other people struggled at Dublin marathon in October when the temperature was a few degrees warmer than normal, though still grey and overcast, made me even more determined to stick to my planned pace, as well as making more of an effort than normal to drink at the water stations.

I think this is one of those selfie things. Unfortunately my photographer had stayed behind in Ireland and we were forced to take our own pictures.

I think this is one of those selfie things. Unfortunately my photographer had stayed behind in Ireland and we were forced to take our own pictures.

At 9am, the music blaring over the PA switched from terrible Europop and dodgy rock to the more sedate sounds of Dvořák, ballons were released and off we went. Immediately hundreds of runners went streaming past me, even more than usual, and I remembered that when I applied initially for Prague marathon I was hoping to knock a bit more off last year’s PB of 3:41 set in Hamburg and get a bit closer to 3:30. That might have to wait for a little while yet, for now it was it was all about slow, steady and consistent.

The first 5k was pretty crowded, as to be expected from any city marathon but especially one starting in the narrow streets of Prague’s Old Town, and you had to be mindful of the changing terrain underfoot – smooth tarmac, cobbles, cris-crossing tram tracks, the odd step or lump of wood masquerading as a ramp. It was all fine for me as I was just trundling around but I wouldn’t really fancy it if I was pelting around, looking for a PB, maybe running in a big group. As it was I was just glad that the drizzle that soaked the streets on Friday evening, causing me to slip in my spanky new Nike AF1 Duck Boots, had disappeared and everywhere was dry as a bone.

The second 5k was a little less congested than the first so marginally quicker, but I was still making a concerted effort to keep it very slow and steady (29:02 for the first 5, 29:29 for the second) especially as the temperature was still rising. I’d made the decision to wear earphones for Prague, in part just to reinforce the idea that it was only a training run. I haven’t worn them since my third marathon, and never wear them when I’m ‘racing’, but if I’m going for a long run by myself I’ll often listen to a podcast for the first half of it before then switching to some music. I’d put a ton of music onto my MP3 player the night before leaving for Prague, but forgot entirely that I’d been having issues with the earbud/foam tip falling out, which of course happened again less than 10k into the race. I faffed around with it for a couple of kilometres but it was far more hassle than it was worth so I just took them out and stuck them in my pocket. They really weren’t needed anyway as a nice feature of the Prague marathon was a DJ or live music every two kilometres, and with this being eastern Europe in a lot of cases ‘live music’ means dodgy rock bands, which was absolutely brilliant. I grew up on dodgy rock bands – AC/DC to Guns’n’Roses, on to Metallica and then death metal – and still have a real soft spot for it so it was great to see so many exponents of tight jeaned, questionably coiffured, fist in the air, irony and pretence free hard rock/heavy metal around the course.

One person who certainly shared my view on it was the incredibly enthusiastic, overly excitable middle aged Italian marathon runner who was stopping at each little stand to exhort, exalt, or eventually just join in with the bands, before jumping back on to the course and tearing off after his friends. I have no idea if he managed to keep it for the entire race, whether he dropped dead of a heart attack or whether he was dragged away by security after some overzealous gyrating with some of the female singers on course. Any of these explanations are as likely as the rest.

10-15k was another consistent split, 29:14, just keeping everything steady, taking water on board (far more than normal) and also grabbing a sponge at the water stations and sopping my quads and hamstrings, hopefully pre-empting any late race niggles. There was quite a few out and back sections where runners were passing each other, 3:30 – 3:45 people going one way while I was going the other, then I was on that side looking back at the 4:00 – 4:30 people. At that point I was keeping a look out for Skippy, wondering how he was coping. He’d had a similarly poor prep for Prague, and to top things off not long beforehand and was struck down with The Black Lung, so his aim was to do a Mo Farrah and just run the half, despite the fact there was no official half marathon on the day. I passed him on one of the out and back sections, I was at about 23km, him at about 19km, and he was looking great, fresh and full of the joys of life. A quick detour for a fistbump and some words of encouragement and then back into our respective runs.

20-25k was my fastest split so far, 28:07, the sun was shining I’d just taken my second gel, I was feeling fantastic and running felt so, so easy at that point (it would be nice to get that feeling at this point in a marathon I’m ‘racing’ but I’ll definitely take this for now). It wasn’t like this for all though. I spotted an Irish guy wh’d been in the same starting pen as me, wearing a Bohermeen half marathon t-shirt, walking at about the 26k mark, so veered over to him to give him a pat on the back and offer some words of encouragement. When he turned to look at me I recognised that expression instantly, the ‘please fuck off and leave me alone’ with the misery just dripping off him. I’ve been there myself on many an occasion so just left him to it. There was a long way to yet and a little early to be feeling that way so I didn’t envy him the rest of his run.

From 25-30k (28:21) we had the pleasure of both the best band on the route (A.N. Other rock band but with an absolute legend of a lead guitarist) and the worst ( some prematurely middle aged miserabilist with an acoustic guitar and phonetically written English lyrics on an A4 sheet). The best thing was it was another out and back stretch so I got to hear both of them twice, the highlight definitely being the most depressed version of Bad Moon Rising I’ve ever heard.

I had a slight issue at 30k when I reached for my third gel only to find nothing there. Not a disaster or anything as I still had one left so just adjusted my strategy, going for gels then at 17, 25, 33 with top ups of the energy drinks on course rather than my initial plan of just gels at 18, 24, 30 and 36. I slowed down a bit from 30-35k, in part due to spending a bit more time going through the water stations, making sure I really sponged down my legs as I was starting to feel it a bit in my hamstrings, and in part just because I was slowing down. 35-40k was slightly slower again, 30:48.

Even though I’d slowed down quite a bit now I was still going faster than others around me for the most part. All around me people were slowing considerably, stopping to walk or just stopping altogether. It was a nice change to not be one of those people, not to be in pain, questioning who you are and why you’re doing this, instead just enduring a dull ache and some mild discomfort but salved by the satisfaction of a job (almost) well done. I was a bit miffed that for the first time my average pace had dropped to 5:50/km, having been at 5:48/km for the bulk of the run. Just going past the 40k mark it actually clicked over to 5:51, so I was outside my target pace for the first time today. For two kilometres then it was the struggle of effort and pain vs motivation and desire. I wanted to finish with an average of 5:50/km but how much did I want it? Especially now I was feeling a sharp twinging in my right hamstring. Very easy to ease up now, and I was doing a good job of talking myself into it. No point rushing things now, what difference does it make if I finish 5:50 or 5:51, these are just arbitrary numbers, what does it actually mean in terms of what I’ve done, in terms of effort or exertion or recovery or anything. Just trundle along to the finish, definitely no sprint finish, don’t want to pull a hammy!

And I didn’t. Pull a hammy that is. Or pull out a sprint finish. I did however manage to increase my shuffle rate just enough so that as I crossed the line my average pace for the day clicked back down to 5:50/km, and (somewhat) arbitrary number or night I was absolutely bloody delighted. I’d gone into a marathon with a definite plan – steady, consistent splits, no blow ups, no hissy fits, no injuries – and I’d done it. Training run or not this was by far the best executed marathon I’d run, the first time in numerous attempts I’d done what I’d set out to do. Obviously it’ll be another thing to execute to the same sort of level when trying to run a PB but this was easily the happiest I’ve ever been finishing a marathon, even more so than Hamburg last year which I ran 26 minutes quicker. Such a big part of running a race, or I suppose any endeavour is managing expectations, obviously your own in particular. If you go into a marathon in four hour shape, expecting to run 3:30 because that’s what you did a year ago, well you’re on a hiding to nothing. You could run 3:45 but be absolutely disgusted with yourself and spend a good two hours of your time out on the road berating yourself and running round in misery. Run 3:50 on the same day when you’re going in expecting, and planning for 4:00 and your experience is going to be the polar opposite.

Maybe this is one of those lessons learned things?

The setting.

The setting.

It wasn’t until today (Tuesday) when I was looking at my Garmin records for the last few months that I realised just how rubbish my running has been since Christmas (and before Christmas I had eased off a bit and was planning on a mini running camp to get my push for Donadea back on track). I was honestly under the impression that I was running at least semi regularly but I was all over the shop – a long one here, a couple of short ones there, two days in a row one week, nothing the next week then a 36km run on the Saturday and 16km on the Sunday. So much for consistency eh? It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t fully grasp the bleakness of my fitness situation before I started on Saturday which brings me back, in a roundabout way, to the start line of the Donadea 50k. My usual running buddy Mark and myself lined up along with roughly two hundred others (our other Friday morning companion Paul  couldn’t make it, bloody real life getting in the way of running) for what is definitely Ireland’s, if not Europe’s most popular 50k. Ten laps of just under 5k around Donadea Forest, and a little run up to the start line to make up the distance, lay ahead of us but I’ve never known a start line that had such a relaxed and friendly air. Very little apprehension, a slight smattering of nerves  but friendly chat seemed to be the order of the day, at least back where we were anyway. Even the start was a very causal affair – people started running but no one seemed to know whether this was the actual start or whether we should start our watches. A minute or two later we were all streaming across the timing mats anyway so the race had definitely started now.

 

Who wouldn't love running round here?

Who wouldn’t love running round here?

 

The first lap was really nice and easy. I planned on doing 28 minute laps, which would bring me in at 4’40”, but I’m not sure why I picked that time. It’s not like I was basing it off extensive preparation or dry runs, I think it was just because 4’40” sounded like a respectable enough time under the five hour cut-off and 28 minute laps made it easy to count them up. Regardless, with only a quick look at my watch at one stage of the lap to check my pace I clocked my first 5k in 28:00, absolutely perfect pacing, bang on schedule. Surely a good omen for the rest of the race.

 

Somewhere around the start of lap 2 I heard a shout from behind of “on your left” and shortly after that Gary O’Hanlon, the eventual winner and a young red haired guy (who I found out was pacing him) came flying by at a rate of knots. I didn’t even really think about the fact that I was getting lapped so early, I was just blown away by the speed they went past us at. It was some time before the guys in second, third, fourth place and so on came past and despite all of them being fantastic runners in their own right, and light years ahead of the likes of me, the difference between Gary O’Hanlon and them was marked. Just after they went past I got chatting to another runner, a guy called Jarlath who apparently was (a) local and (b) quite well known as we couldn’t run past a spectator without them giving him huge cheers, or the more usual Irish alternative of mild abuse. I ran with Jarlath and another couple of guys for most of laps 2, 3 and 4 and although I had an inkling the pace was a tiny bit too fast I was enjoying the company and rather than slogging round on my own, which I’d surely have enough of at later stages of the race.

 

Feeling good at this stage, local man Jarlath leading the way.

Feeling good at this stage, local man Jarlath leading the way.

Midway through lap 5 I can distinctly remember starting to feel a little tired, looking at my Garmin and seeing 22.49km on the clock and thinking “balls”. Almost all my confidence heading into this race was based on that one 36km training run I did where I felt great throughout. Now I wasn’t even at the halfway mark and I was beginning to feel more tired than I had at any stage on that run and I started to worry. This is what happens when your confidence is built on shoddy foundations, the slightest bump in the road and it all begins to crumble.  Instantly my mindset changed from one of cheery blind optimism, just enjoying the day, enjoying the running to one of obstacles, endurance, distances and times. So much longer to go and I’m slowing down, tiring, I’m on my own now, where is everyone else? Am I miles behind everyone?

 

Please say it's in here.

Please say it’s in here.

I had it in my head for some reason that lap 8, 35-40, was going to be the toughest, and looking back I think I made that a self fulfilling prophecy. Lap 6 I did in 30:17, so I was obviously still going OK, but the thoughts going through my mind at that point weren’t great. This is getting really tough, I’m slowing down so much, my legs feel so tired, I should really walk this bit. I was on my own and living in my head at that point, dragging myself down and giving in to every little moan. I dropped from a 30 minute lap to a 37:30 lap, in large part due to my mindset. You can’t physically deteriorate that much over five or so kilometres, as someone in a 100 Marathons Club vest had said to me about half an hour earlier “it’s all in the head at this stage”, and he was 100% correct. Unfortunately my head was not a great place to be at that point.

 

Grinding

Grinding

Lap 8 actually turned out to be a little bit better, but only because Don Hannon, the sweeper for the race suddenly appeared beside me in all his beardy, smiley glory. Now I was worried. I really wasn’t expecting to see the sweeper, the guy who was supposed to be enforcing the 40k/4 hour cut-off pop up alongside me so early. That meant though I had no option but to run, or at least shuffle. No more walk breaks or it would be no finish for me. Actually, how bad would that be? I could just drop back, slow down, get cut off, pulled from the race, then I wouldn’t have to carry on. “Sorry, it’s beyond my control, just didn’t make it you know”. Except I really didn’t fancy going home and saying to my sons I didn’t finish, that I just let it go because it got a bit hard. Family, friends, work colleagues, everyone knew I was doing this and I really didn’t want to have to repeat, over and over, “nope, didn’t do it, didn’t finish” and be reminded over and over again that yet again I hadn’t finished something I’d started. So I gritted my teeth, I pulled all sorts of faces, all the time whinging internally and feeling sorry for myself but held on to Don’s coat tails (figuratively speaking) until we at least made it to the finishing straight for that lap.

 

I trudged through the feed area to start lap nine, shoving whatever I could into my face, trying once again to substitute calories for miles in training and only succeeding in giving me stomach cramps and GI distress. Lap 9 was an absolute horror show. The pressure of making it through the 40k/4 hour cut-off was off now so I completely slacked off. Feeling thoroughly down and sorry for myself, I trudged around, walking as much if not more than running. I was lonely, tired, cold, sore and wondering once again why I was even doing this. I love running, it’s honestly changed my life for the better since I took it up a few years ago and I’ve had some of the most enjoyable times of those years out running, but here, now, on my own slogging along this cinder path I was wondering what the point of it all was.

 

Look at the concern on his little face.

Look at the concern on his little face.

This is like one of those optical illusion things.

This is like one of those optical illusion things.

At the start of the last lap nothing much had changed. My stomach still felt like crap, my legs felt like lead and my head was a hundred times worse than both of them combined. Benny (and Mags and Buzz) had come along to offer support and Benny started the last lap with me, asking me what I wanted from my feed bag. I really wasn’t in the mood for anything, and I definitely wasn’t in the mood to chat, but Benny walked alongside me, just yammering away, not looking for any response from me, just talking shite to keep my mind off things. He came with me for the first couple of kilometres, which was by far the hardest part of the lap, before turning off to head back to the finish line. At that point even I had had enough of my whinging and moaning and gave myself a bit of a talking to. Three kilometres to go, forty seven done, all I had to do was shuffle forwards, the quicker I got to the end the quicker this would be over with. Could I do three kilometres? Of course I bloody could. So that’s what I did for three kilometres, asked myself “Can I do this?” and answered “Yes I can”. Over, and over, and over again, like a mantra, for three kilometres. And you know what? It worked. Just the simple process of filling my head with these simple words allowed no space for the nagging negativity and with that everything seemed so much easier. Don’t get me wrong, I was still really tired, my legs ached and my feet were really sore, but I was moving, jogging if not running and constantly moving towards the finish line.

 

Finally...........

Finally………..

When I did cross the line, five hours, seventeen minutes and thirty four seconds after starting I was in an infinitely better place than I had been for most of the three hours or so before that. I’d forgotten about times, I’d forgotten about finishing positions, I’d forgotten about what I should have done and instead just thought about where I was at that point in time. I’d been down in the dumps and dragged myself back out of it. Through a combination of misplaced optimism and unfounded confidence I’d got myself in way over my head but finally, belatedly managed to find enough stubbornness and will to get me through it. I’d really, really like to think that this will be one of those learning experiences that people talk about, but I’m pretty certain I’ve written before about ‘learning lessons’ and so far the evidence would indicate that’s not the case. However, this is the first time in a while I’ve got myself into a situation like this and managed to finish strongly, come out the other side and sit there humbled but very, very happy with how things worked out in the end, so maybe I have learned something after all.

Happy, proud and relieved.

Happy, proud and relieved.

 

A few quick notes:

Huge thanks to Anto Lee the organiser and everyone else involved with putting on a fantastic race. Obvious to see for anyone who was there that day why it’s such a popular race.

Absolutely phenomenal running from Mark who not only finished in a time of 4:17 but set a marathon distance PB of 3:27 along the way. That’s ridiculously good going.

Storming finish

Storming finish

An amazing performance from Gary O’Hanlon who set an Irish 50k record in winning in 2:57:06

Sinead Kane who became, as far as I know, the first visually impaired person to complete an Ultra distance race in Ireland, and her guide John O’Regan were truly inspirational (literally as I piggybacked behind them for a while and was following John’s advice to Sinead myself).

Peter Mooney, who finished in third place, ran the whole thing with a smile on his face, encouraging everyone and thanking all the stewards and supporters on his last lap.

Peter Mooney

Peter Mooney

Mark Doyle who finished in fifth place had everyone, without fail, commenting on how easy he was making it look as he went past.

Speaking of the stewards and supporters, phenomenal. The previous two ladies winners cheering like lunatics, the two ladies just before the monument at the first bend, the lady and gent out in the woods at around the 2k mark, the ladies with the selection of home made signs, all made a huge difference.

This lady, who for the last three laps, while I was running/walking/stopping/starting/whinging/moaning, just kept on grinding it out, keeping the same pace going all day long. Amazing consistency and resilience.

Consistency

Consistency

I could mention just about everyone here but I suppose I should also give a special mention to  my good wife Brid, who (eventually) got out of bed to come over and take a few pictures towards the end. What better way to spend a Saturday in mid-February?

 

I was almost going to start off by talking about training for Raheny, but I haven’t been training for Raheny (5 mile) I’ve been training for Donadea 50k in February. The point of doing Raheny was just to get an early race in, get a race mindset and preparation in, get used to a race environment and get a bit of hurt in. You could probably call Raheny quite successful then, as I got four of the five done with, funnily enough, only the preparation not being great. A combination of work, home life and laziness meant I hadn’t been out running all week (though I had done over 50k the previous weekend) but I did plan on going out for a very easy ten miles or so on Saturday afternoon. A plan which disappeared out the window when Benny, my friend and neighbour, appeared like a grubby apparition brandishing his last remaining bottle of duty free Jameson Signature Reserve just before Leinster kicked off away to Sale. The afternoon was then spent sipping whiskey, talking nonsense, watching sport and latterly eating Chinese (only boiled rice with my curry though rather than fried, I was racing the next day after all). At least though I went to bed early rather than staying up to watch the UFC.

 

Apart from when I then got up at midnight and watched the rest of the card.

 

The race itself is an unusual one to prepare for though. A 3pm start meant my usual routine of wake, multiple coffees, race, wouldn’t do, some food would have to be had, but more time was spent shaving heads (mine and the abomination that was Fionn’s after a foolhardy wager on Thursday) and looking for gear than cooking or eating. Naturally despite the late race start we were even later leaving the house and rushing to get there, running through Raheny, desperately trying to find the race number pick up before the supposed cut-off at 2pm. I think I’m the only one who pays any sort of heed to those times though as there were hordes of people still casually strolling in after me to pick up their numbers. Between that running around though, and the planned running shortly after that, I did get a good warm up. I also had a bottle of my home made SSSD (Super Special Sports Drink) which I glugged after the warm up so I was good to go.

 

Bodies everywhere

Bodies everywhere

I strolled to the starting area with my boys then (my sons, Oran and Fionn rather than some Tim Westwood style posse) and was slightly taken aback by just how many people were there. Apparently there were almost three thousand people taking part, so add friends, family, supports etc. and the area was thronged with bodies. Speaking of bodies, probably the highlight of my pre-race was the barely disguised look of shame on Oran’s face as I exposed mine to the masses when I took off the t-shirt I’d been wearing for my warm up to replace it with my vest. A little further embarrassment by dragging each of them into pictures with me and then it was time to start making my way towards the start line.

 

Slightly embarrassed son no. 1

Slightly embarrassed son no. 1

Somewhat sullen son no. 2

Somewhat sullen son no. 2

The first kilometre was possibly the most crowded segment of a race I’ve ever run. There must have been seven or eight hundred people ahead of me, all attempting to run through a not particularly wide road in a housing estate, with cars parked either side. It was impossible to get into any sort of rhythm as we turned this way and that, people were going up onto footpaths, jumping back in, cutting corners and yet when I looked at my watch I was running at about 4:00/km, which is very quick for me. I’d planned on doing the first couple of kilometres at about 4:30/km and then picking up the pace a bit but this felt incredibly comfortable, even without really having gotten into my stride yet. Turning another corner I spotted one of my old, old, old friends Pony standing at the side of the road so gave him a shout and a wave before trundling on.

 

Finally out onto the open road I tried to moderate my pace, trying to run by feel rather than looking at my watch, semi-comfortable but quick was what I was looking for. Pretty soon I could see the three mile marker hove into view, which was a relief for a couple of reasons – first was that semi-comfortable was quite quickly turning into more than a little uncomfortable and second was that I could really, really do with a toilet break. Normally I try to stop drinking an hour before the race to try to negate that but this morning I was drinking water in the car on the way up, and more significantly had about 400ml of my SSSD not long before I started. Unfortunately I was running through a pretty heavily populated area, not overly blessed with secluded spots where I could stop off, and on top of that there were spectators everywhere. Naturally all I could think of then was somewhere to stop and tinkle, and the more I thought of it the more it became a pressing concern. Shortly after we turned on to the coast road, where I actually thought about jumping over the sea wall for a second, but thought that was maybe a little drastic, so when we then ran alongside a park with some trees and bushes I didn’t even think about it. In a flash I was over the low wall, behind a bush and about twenty seconds later back out on the road frantically trying to make up time.

 

I remembered quite quickly then that there was apparently a bit of a hill approaching the last mile or so and tried to ease off a little bit but almost immediately I was around the corner and facing up it. Everything after that was a real struggle, but then you should be going as hard as you can anyway. Going up that hill though my legs felt like lead, I felt heavy, slow and like I was really struggling to make progress. After cresting the hill I was praying to see the finish line but all I could see was houses, cars, people running this way and that. People were shouting “it’s just round the corner” but that was just the Raheny 5 equivalent of the usual “downhill all the way to the finish now” or “that’s it, last bit now” that you always get. It felt like I was running through some interminable concrete maze until finally, with legs and lungs burning, I could finally see the finish line and mustered one last effort down the straight.

 

Trundling towards the line

Trundling towards the line

After a few minutes of retching and dry heaving as we were ushered around yet another bloody corner and down a lane-way between houses to collect the quite frankly fantastic goodie bag I looked at my watch to see a finishing time of 35:25. I’d actually been really happy with my effort, was satisfied that I’d nothing left in the bank crossing the line but now was a little miffed. My one and only previous five mile time was 35:40, so this was a PB, but I’d have really liked to crack 35 minutes. Had my unplanned toilet stop cost me 26 seconds? If it had I was going to be really annoyed with my weak bladder and lack of willpower. As it turned out when I checked my Garmin afterwards it had actually cost me 25 seconds, my ‘moving time’ on my Garmin was 35:00. Maybe I would have dipped under 35:00 if I’d stayed running, maybe not, who knows as I didn’t and my time was my time. I suppose I’ll just have to do another five mile as soon as I can, and this time maybe skip the pre-race SSSD.

 

A plaque! Reallly nice change from the usual medal

A plaque! Really nice change from the usual medal

 

PS – big congratulations to my wonderful friends and colleagues Marion Sahani and Claire Lee for their races. Marion managed to make it the whole fifteen metres from her house to the start line to run a great time of 46:22 and Claire managed to make it off the couch for the first time since Killarney in October to run it in 52 minutes, though it would have been much, much quicker if she hadn’t waited to run the final stretch with her offspring.

Chastened, humbled, drained, even emasculated. All words that could be used to describe my emotional state at the end of the Dublin Marathon. Not exhilarated or elated or exalted, empty at absolute best. I’d just finished another marathon, finishing in a respectable time of 4:14:09, off only five weeks of concerted training, and after all it was only meant to be a training run. In the weeks running up to the marathon I’d said over and over when people asked me what time I was planning on doing Dublin “it’s only a training run, I’m just looking to get round”, but then I’d add “once I get in under four hours I’ll be happy”. As the marathon approached though I was putting in some good training runs (ignoring the fact that they were primarily around 10k with only a couple of 20k plus runs), I was lighter than I’ve been at any stage since first year in secondary school and I was getting confident.

In the run up to the marathon I was gorging on books on running, trying to fill my mind with tales of excellence, absorb by proxy all the knowledge of all these running greats – Dick Beardsley, Alberto Salazar, Alan Webb, Seb Coe, Steve Ovett. It’s something I always do when I’m into something – read absolutely everything I can on the subject – but with the marathon approaching I put myself on an accelerated learning program to see if all this knowledge could be translated into even a tiny bit of power. One thing that seemed to link most of the heroic feats and performances that all these guys accomplished was an ability to push beyond normal physical boundaries when it really mattered, ignoring the body and succeeding through sheer willpower. They’d all managed to overcome what Tim Noakes called the Central Governor, the part of your brain that tells you to slow down so as to protect your body from damage. Noakes found that one of the things that separated elite athletes from your ordinary Joe Soaps isn’t necessarily their physical gifts – their fast/slow twitch muscle fibres, their VO2 Max, their narrow ankles – but their ability to suffer. If you have two athletes with similar physical capabilities then the one with the greater ability to suffer, to deal with pain and anguish when they’re competing will win.

Going even deeper I found a book called Run – The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel by Matt Fitzgerald. Now I know that sounds a little bit new age and Tony Robbinsy, but Fitzgerald is a long established and respected coach, nutritionist and author of many coaching books as well as the training plans offered through the Training Peaks website. In short he knows his shit. The premise of this particular book is that the principal focus of training efforts should be to train the mind, that a confident, relaxed, comfortable athlete, but also one that has been trained to endure suffering, is one that’s going to maximise their abilities. This sounded fantastic. OK, so I’m only at the start of my training cycle, but I’m not short of confidence at the moment, I can get relaxed and comfortable, and the enduring suffering bit, well I’ll deal with that on the day, won’t I? That’s what these guys did. The hurt came on and they just dealt with it. Between that and going at a nice steady pace then surely I could get round  these 26.2 miles, and why not, if everything went well maybe push on for 3:49. Who knows? Maybe I could have one of those miracle days and even get low 3:40s?

Well I’m sorry, but in my experience the marathon doesn’t do miracles. It tramples all over your dreams and crushes your lofty aspirations. If that’s all you have in the bank that is. No amount of positive thinking will get you round 26.2 miles in an aggressively targeted time unless you’ve the miles logged, the hours and hours on the road, especially in your long runs. Any sane, objective person will tell you that. Unfortunately though, despite wittering on incessantly about the use of logic and rationale, when it suits me I throw all that out the window and can jump head-first into a purely emotional choice. I have an infamous spreadsheet which I use to calculate the actual real cost per year and per month of various prospective car choices, which I then totally disregard as soon as I see anything black with M or XR emblazoned on it. I did exactly the same in the run up to the marathon, disregard facts and logic and go all in on a brand new approach. This was running, but with a cerebral edge to it, and dear God but didn’t that appeal to the (ever so slightly) pretentious side of me. It meant, to my now twisted mind, that I could take a horrifically blase approach to the marathon and everything would be alright as long as I thought it would be. I was travelling up to Dublin in the morning with Mark and Paul, leaving shortly after six, yet it was approaching midnight and I was just sitting down to watch tonight’s Love/Hate (I couldn’t see it earlier as I’d been in Dublin sitting in the IFI for the day watching horror films).

Myself, Mark and Paul

Myself, Mark and Paul

My first inkling that my approach might have some flaws in it was standing around waiting for the off when the national anthem was played. I was meant to be enjoying this, I was going to skate around on a wave of enjoyment and positivity but I was finding the whole thing a bit anticlimactic. Two years ago the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck as they played Amhrán na bhFiann and I was grinning from ear to ear. Today – nothing. The thought occurred to me then that maybe it felt anticlimactic because a climax requires a build up? OK, not a great start to the whole ‘enjoying the marathon’ thing, but once I get going I’ll be fine. I always love the first 10k of a marathon, there’s so much enthusiasm and positivity, so much energy that people are struggling to contain. Today though I felt nothing. I kept on telling myself to enjoy it, and in fairness I wasn’t moping around, I was running at a very controlled pace, conditions were decent, overcast, not too cold but a bit windy, especially going through the Phoenix Park.

Trying to run smart I kept running abreast of groups through the park, trying to avoid copping the brunt of the wind. One person I spotted who was definitely running his own race at that time was a guy who looked like he’d run straight off Venice Beach, resplendent in pastel vest, shorty short short, mullet and headband. Keeping the dream alive! Just after that I spotted Joseph Clifford of “He Ain’t Heavy” who was pushing his brother Ciaran around the 26.2 mile course in a specially designed  but huge wheelchair, an enormous and incredible undertaking. These two very different ends of the spectrum of marathon participants really lifted my mood, and from 10 – 15k I started to push on a bit. I still wasn’t feeling anywhere near as good as I had on my training runs of late, just a bit flat and heavy legged as opposed to feeling really fresh, light and full of energy. Maybe I would have been better served by getting more sleep each night rather than reading for an extra hour after I went to bed in the preceding week, regardless of how late I went to bed. And maybe I should have been in bed at nine the night before, with a good dinner inside me,  when I knew I had to be up at half five the following morning. I was sure I learned a lesson before about getting a good dinner and good night’s sleep the night before a big race. I’m almost certain in fact that I’ve learned it (or you know, written it) at least half a dozen times.

Regardless of the need for sleep and general conditioning in the lead up to a race I was still somewhat confident at this point. I had a cunning back up plan, which involved 40 grams of maltodextrin, 5 grams of BCAAs, 4 grams of beta alanine, 500ml of water and 200ml of apple juice. When combined together you’ve got essentially homemade Powerade or Lucozade Sport, but with no nasty sugary additions or nefarious corporate sponsoring. As part of my experiment I was also running on no breakfast, just a large coffee with a spoonful each of butter and coconut oil (a homemade Bulletproof coffee). The plan was gel at 13 miles, then pick up the bottle off my brother Gugs at 18 miles, then maybe just one more gel at 23 miles or so and I’d be done. Natural fuelling as much as possible, minimise GI stress (gastro intestinal stress, basically when your stomach starts to churn because you’re throwing a load of stuff at it to process, exacerbated by running), get most of my carbs in as a liquid. I’d left the bottle in Gugs’ the night before sending him a message to let him know where it was. This I had to do as he was out at the Samhain festival for the night (you can see where this is going, can’t you?). I have to point out here that I was at pains to say to Gugs all week that I wasn’t relying on him to be there, that if he was there great, if not, no bother, my marathon was definitively NOT hinging on me getting this bottle off him.

I probably should have had a more concrete plan in place for if he wasn’t there, and I definitely shouldn’t have been spending the five miles all the way up to the KCR (where I was due to meet him), imagining how great things were going to be when I got the bottle off him, and how my marathon was really going to start there, and how this was going to be some sort of magic elixir that was going to replace my legs with those of someone who had 18 weeks of training in them. Coming up to the KCR I kept one of the small water bottles that I had just finished, then got another one and emptied that. Two 375ml bottles would be so much easier to carry than one big bulky 750ml bottle. That had been my only concern with the bottle, it’s size, but now the perfect solution had been presented, this was how it was meant to be. Definitely a good ome……….

Nope. Not there. Oh balls. Maybe when I reappraised the importance of the bottle and raised it’s importance from ‘negligible’ to ‘actually quite crucial’ I should have informed Gugs. Or given it to someone else. Or given someone else a backup bottle. I wasn’t thinking that as I ran through the KCR scanning the crowd of faces on either side of the road. I was thinking of a load of expletives that I’m not going to detail here just in case my mother has made it this far. Suffice to say that my, already neutral at best, mood worsened considerably after that and just two miles later, at mile 18, I adopted a run walk strategy. Walk 100m, run 900m. As soon as I broke the seal on it the walking genie was out and so now as soon as my legs started to hurt, well it was a run-walk strategy wasn’t it? Stomach started to churn, first hint of nausea, walk. Strategy. What happened to enduring suffering? Gutting it out? Well I found out, somewhere on the side of the duel carriageway headed for Donnybrook, that the question you ask yourself again and again when the suffering starts is “why?” Why should I do this? Why should I endure this? What’s the motivation? Well if you’ve spent the last six weeks telling yourself and everyone who asks that this is just an inconsequential training run (albeit one you’ve assigned a fanciful target to) well then the motivation is a little bit lacking. This wasn’t a target race, this wasn’t anything I’d been building towards, I’d treated it as just ‘a run’ of 26.2 miles and I was getting out exactly what I’d put in.

Very shortly after that I saw up close and personal what it actually meant to endure some suffering, what having real motivation meant. Just after the 24 mile marker I was shuffling along when I saw someone out of the corner of my eye take a stutter step. I turned to look and saw a woman to my left stagger and almost fall as she tried to take another step forward and I put out my hand to steady her. As I looked at her I could see she was completely disorientated and out of it and as I took both her arms she just collapsed backwards. Myself and couple of spectators helped her sit down at the side of the road, but despite being unable to stand she tried to claw herself to her fight saying “I have to finish”. We got her some water and some jellies and tried to get her some help, but again she was adamant that she had to finish. She could barely tell us her name, she couldn’t  focus on us, she certainly couldn’t stand up let alone run, but she was asking how far to mile 25, saying she had to finish, pointing to her t-shirt, saying she was running for Barretstown, a charity founded by the actor Paul Newman that provides therapeutic recreation programmes for seriously ill kids and their families. It was quite a humbling moment, the amount of bitching and moaning and walking I’d been doing, wussing out at the first real test when this woman was an example of exactly what I’d been reading about. She’d pushed beyond what her body was capable of, ignoring the exhortations of her brain to slow down or stop to the point where her brain had to shut her body down. I’m not saying that this is what you have to do for a race to be worthwhile, or that this is how far people should go, but it was a real lesson in how far people could go, and if I got nothing else out of this marathon at least I’d remember her and how far she was willing to go.

After a few minutes with her some more help was on the way and I left her with the ladies who had been with me looking after her. I made one last deal with myself at this point, the only one I didn’t actually break – no more walking. There was only 3k to go, nothing in the greater scheme of things, just keep shuffling for three more kilometres. Catch that person in front, then the next one, then the next one, all the way to the end. I wasn’t suddenly filled with a bolt of energy from the heavens, or anywhere else for that measure, and I couldn’t even muster the energy for any sort of a ‘sprint’ finish. Instead I dragged myself across the line in 4:14:09, before slumping across the nearest barrier and leaving myself hanging there for quite a while. I just felt utterly spent and empty, which at least from a physical standpoint is a good indicator that I used up whatever stores of energy and fitness I may have had. I wasn’t really ready for rationalisation yet, I just trudged along to get my goodie bag and t-shirt before going to meet Paul and Mark again.

I put a bit of a front on when I met the lads but all I could think about was how wrong things had gone, how I’d failed to do the number one thing I’d set out to do (enjoy it!), how I’d prepared so badly and why the hell I do this to myself. I realised today that despite ostensibly making a pig’s mickey of the whole thing, I’d actually learnt a whole lot from the exercise. Sure I didn’t run a ‘good’ race, I’d been wildly optimistic with my targets and pacing, casual in the extreme with my approach and the whole thing smacked of hubris, with a whiff of arrogance, but at least now I know a whole lot more of what not to do when attempting to run a marathon. I suppose it’s one of the reasons why so many people are drawn to running in general, and marathons in particular. I learned a whole lot more about myself in that four hours yesterday than in the forty hours I’d spent reading in the weeks beforehand. I might not have liked a lot of the stuff I was learning at the time but it’s what’s going to stick with me.

 

 

Hopefully.

Me, Mark Clifford and Paul Molloy

Me, Mark Clifford and Paul Molloy after the race.

Brilliant running from both the lads as usual, 3:38 for Mark and 3:19 for Paul, off it must be said not ideal preparation for the lads either. The just don’t moan about it as much as me.

 

Link  —  Posted: October 28, 2014 in 2014, October, Races 2014
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Coming as it did, slap bang in the middle of my soon to be patented, hopefully never to be repeated, seven week training plan for Dublin Marathon, Killarney Adventure Race was a race I was both looking forward to and also trying to ignore. I really only wanted to run a few marathons this year but I can be a bit of an idiot at times, a prime example of which is responding to the post-race mocking I received from my old Waterford work colleague and friend Ben while in the pub last year by swearing I was going to do the 70k race this year. You see, Ben, and his considerably quicker and fitter wife Michelle, had completed the 60k version of the race, while I had stropped and staggered around the 27k, cursing both the rolling hills of Killarney and the rolls of flab underneath my jersey I had let creep back in. I really didn’t enjoy the race last year, annoyed at how unfit I had let myself get again, so my pledge to do the 70k this year was both a foolhardy retort to Ben’s crude barbs and also the kick in the arse I needed to get training again.

Which I had done. Up until Killarney Marathon in May of this year. Since then it’s been sporadic at best., non-existent at worst. Still, I was down here now, with at least some level of fitness, hoping that the fact that I was at least a few kilos lighter than last year would help me round the extra forty kilometres or so.

Another advantage I had this year was a slightly more performance focused pre-race preparation. Last year there was a whole bunch of us down here, and there was a bit more of a party atmosphere in our campervan. This year there was just myself and Benny, and his race face was well and truly on.

I should probably make clear at this point Ben is the older, swarthy, slightly husky gentleman on the right of this photo, my old running buddy from Bausch & Lomb, Benny is the wiry, mop-topped lunatic in the middle I’ve known since he was an even more mop-topped, even more lunatic teen.

See Benn, I didn't say anything about your chins

See Ben, I didn’t say anything about your chins

Benny and I had made it down to Killarney in plenty of time, registered, and dropped our bikes out to Kate Kearney’s Cottage. By the time we made it back into the car park of The Brehon hotel though, our guerilla camp site for the weekend, there was nowhere really open to get any food so we went with the nightcap in the hotel bar option instead.

The morning of the race was an absolute masterclass in ‘just in time’ scheduling. Despite being camped up for the night approximately two minutes walk from the departure point for the race, Benny and I were the last two people on the last bus for the last wave heading to the race start out at Kate’s Cottage, and at that Benny only made it as I was getting the bus to hold on. This was going to be a decent test to see how well my fat adaptation and training on empty regime was going as well, as due to the faffing around last night and this morning I was heading off to start the race with only a very large espresso in me.

I hadn’t managed to meet Ben and Michelle the night before the race as, like most right minded people, they were in bed by the time Benny and I arrived in to The Brehon bar. I was keeping an eye out for them when I got out to the cottage but Ben spotted me first, unable to even say hello as I was squeezing a large sachet of nut butter down my gullet. We barely had time for hellos and a quick picture before it was go time, and there was Benny disappearing off into the distance. We had discussed strategy, what to do at the kayak and so on but really I was just smiling and nodding along because I knew as soon as the whistle went he would be long, long gone and it would be the finish line before we’d properly see each other again.

Michelle also scampered off up the road, the first stage being a 7k run up and down Strickeen. I really wanted to go after her but I’d learned my lesson about going off to quick after the first stage of Gaelforce West a couple of years ago so just went at a nice steady pace uphill. It was almost impossible to go too much quicker with the path little more than single file, but seeing as we were the last wave to go off when we turned around at the top the path down was mostly clear. Normally I’m a terrible descender but the bit of practice I’d had on Croagh Patrick and Ticknock, plus the fact that it wasn’t an overly technical descent meant I was actually making good time. For once I wasn’t hesitant and nervous, I just relaxed and actually really enjoyed it, overtaking some people on the way down, including Michelle. I think I relaxed a bit too much though because just as I was leaving transition with my bike Ben and Michelle were coming in and grabbing theirs.

While Benny had been a bit apprehensive about the first part of the cycle leg, from Kate’s Cottage over the Gap of Dunloe, I had paid it little heed. I’d run up and down over it twice a couple of years ago as part of The Gauntlet half marathon so felt I had little to worry about. I was a little surprised then to find myself only a few minutes later off the bike and pushing it uphill. The race organisers definitely knew what they were doing making us cycle uphill straight off our short mountain run, my legs, and the legs of just about everyone around me judging by how many people were in a similar situation, were completely dead and so when I saw three or four people around me hopping off their bikes and pushing I didn’t hesitate in following suit. Of course as soon as I did I berated myself and felt somewhat emasculated, which was made a hundred times worse immediately after by the motorbike and cameraman for the race passing me and capturing my moment of weakness on film.

What followed then was almost an hour of humbling and near humiliation. In my mind at least. I managed to grind my way to the top of The Gap of Dunloe at least, but as I got there it started to lash rain. That combined with the glassy smooth, newly laid tarmac which the race director had warned us about had me extremely hesitant as I started the descent. My already fragile confidence took another kicking as first Michelle and then Ben sailed past, all the while I was squeezing both brakes like a terrified kitten clinging on to it’s mother. As the rain came down harder and harder, and the road got narrower, steeper and bumpier I got worse and worse until I practically ground to a halt. By the time the road levelled out I was completely on my own, miles behind anyone with only wounded, chastened pride for company.

It was far, far too early in the day to crumble completely though and with what looked to be reasonably flat road ahead of me I was determined to catch up to Michelle. I reckoned that despite her fitness that on a flat road I should be able to put down a bit more power and claw some time back. I put my head down and started to work and eventually caught a glimpse of what I thought, or hoped, was her in the distance. Fifteen minutes or so later I had just about caught up but was bloody exhausted with my efforts, and it took another five minutes or so to close the final few yards. Michelle had been going back and forth with a small group of riders for some time, pulling ahead on the climbs, being dragged back on the flats, and I managed to latch on to them just as we hit (what Michelle told me was) the last climb. I had my cycling legs back by this stage and was determined to at least get up this incline on my bike, rather than pushing it, so I adopted a Chris Froome-esque approach, looking only at my stem and the yard of tarmac in front of me rather than all the way up the road.

This worked brilliantly and before I knew it I was at the top, flush with exhilaration, and delighted I could see beautiful, wide sweeping roads ahead of me rather than nadgery, gnarly country lanes. I passed Michelle just as we crested the top of the climb and decided it was about time to put the hammer down. Being able to see all the road in front of me meant I was much more confident, and after a couple of really fast sweeping bends I started to really get into it. The road tightened up a bit but I talked myself through the first couple of tighter bends “ok, it’s the same as on a motorbike, easy on the brakes, don’t grab. nice and smooth, look around the bend to where you want to go, you can see the exit, go, go, go, full gas” and before I knew it I was flying downhill, and despite the return absolutely loving it. I was kind of glad to be alone on the road now because between the talking to myself, smiling like a loon and laughing at how much fun I was having I might have seemed a little unhinged to anyone else.

Considering I’d been cursing it at the start I was really disappointed that the bike leg was finishing so soon, but at least I was getting off the bike in a great mood. I jogged down towards the lake for the kayak leg and had one of my bread rolls with Philadelphia and jam (no bloody brioche rolls to be found anywhere in Super Valu, that’ll teach me to leave my shopping until the last minute) before teaming up with a girl from Abbeyfeale who’s name I forgot to get. We had a very, very relaxed kayak, taking the scenic route around the lake but I knew Mangerton, the real meat of the race, was still ahead so I didn’t really mind an extended breather at this point. Soon enough though it was off the water and heading back up the road to the bottom of the mountain where the sensible people doing the short race would go one way, and all the masochists doing the long ones would go the other.

Almost right from the start of the run section my legs felt heavy and tired. I assumed they would come back to me at some stage but after 5k or so of relatively flat running through the forest, just before I got to the bottom of Mangerton where the real hurt would start, I felt the same pain and looseness around my right knee that I did towards the end of the Killarney marathon. Now I started to get a little worried as the last time I felt this I was out of action for three weeks, and with Dublin Marathon only three weeks away that wasn’t really an option. A few minutes later I got horrendous cramps at the bottom of my right hamstring, right at the back of my knee so I decided there and then my plan was just to get round. I wasn’t exactly racing anyway at this point but if I needed to walk all the rest of the way to get round without any further injury that’s what I was going to do.

I started the long, slow trudge up Mangerton, the whole time keeping an eye out for Michelle, presuming she’d be coming past me soon enough. After what seemed like an age I saw Benny coming hurtling down the mountain, still absolutely flying. He shouted that it was 54.8km at the turnaround point, so just about 3km for me to get there. It seemed to be taking forever to get up this bloody lump of earth, 100m was hard fought never mind 3000m but I just kept repeating to myself “one little step after another, one little step after another” like a mantra, ocassionally stopping briefly to pause for breath and admire the beauty all around us. I’d made the mistake in previous races of just getting engulfed in drudgery and not taking the time to appreciate where we were, but not this time. It might have hurt to get there but how many other people on that day were where myself and a few hundred other hardy souls were, standing atop a mountain in one of the wildest and most beautiful parts of the entire country. It was a privilege to be up there, not some sort of penance, and I just had to remember that now and again.

My reverie was shattered very soon after by the sight of a tiny figure in green t-shirt and red bandana flying down towards me. I was sure Michelle was still behind me but apparently, and quite obviously I was mistaken. I asked her how and where she’d overtaken me but Michelle wasn’t hanging around for a chat. A wave of fear and dread crept over me now. If Michelle was ahead of me maybe Ben was too. Benny was always going to finish miles ahead of me, and Michelle most likely too, but Ben? Dear God no. If I did anything today it was at least catch him. Sure enough a few minutes later I spotted him lumbering down the mountain towards me, his gait looking as strained and laboured as mine. We stopped and chatted briefly – his dodgy knees were killing him, someone was stabbing me in my hamstrings – before we both carried on. I still had 2km to go to the turnaround point, but I also had 9km then of downhill to catch Ben and I was certain I could do it.

I won’t say I had a spring in my step then, but I definitely had a bit more zeal about me. I got up to the turnaround point, as happy to see the marshall with the checkpoint as happy as I’d ever been to see a complete stranger. Then it was time to get my arse in gear and begin my descent. I knew there was a quicker, if considerably riskier, path down the right hand side that Benny and all the quick guys had been taking. Despite my lack of descending skill I was encouraged by my run down Strickeen earlier and I knew it was the best chance I had of catching Ben, so I set off down the spongy, soggy trail, making really good time and just about staying upright. In a matter of minutes I spotted Ben’s unmistakable lumpen form, and very shortly after I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I caught right up to him. He was really struggling with his knees, me with my muscular woes so I suggested bringing it home together.

I’m delighted that he agreed to do it, because his company was a godsend. I felt so empty and drained coming off the mountain, that the last few kilometres of forest trail felt like a marathon. It was great to be able to relax, chat, have a laugh and drag each other along when needed. Both of us were suffering so we just walked the uphills, jogged or shuffled best we could the downhills, and then staggered down the Torc steps like a less athletic Statler and Waldorf, oohing, aahing, mewling and yelping, attracting the pity of children and pensioners alike, all of whom were moving more quickly and easily than we were.

The relief at approaching the bikes once more, and the knowledge that we could get off our feet again, was one of the most fantastic feelings I’ve ever experienced. We were practically giddy with excitement getting on to our bikes, so giddy in fact that we couldn’t tell left from right and could barely get out of the way of the other competitors crawling past us. Once we were out on the road for the last little spin into town though we felt great, finally able to laugh at the misery we’d put behind us and even discussed crossing the line hand in hand. We’d long gave up hope of getting across the line in under six hours, but seeing as we were entering the final bike drop at 6:05 there was a chance we could crack 6:10. 6:09 reads and sounds way better than 6:10, so we gathered ourselves for one final push to the line. We (almost) ran the few hundred metres to the finish, with only the bastard bridge to cross. I hit the bottom steps at a canter, but could hear Ben whimpering behind me. Benny and Michelle were on the other side, cheering us on and for a change it was now me exhorting Ben to come on. We crossed the bridge together, setting foot on to the red carpet side by side for the last fifty metres to the line.

At which point I sprinted for the line as hard as I could, laughing my arse off as I could hear gasps of “what a prick” from the crowd, laughter, cheers and and all sorts of swearing from Ben wheezing behind me. I was laughing so much I could barely dib in but just about managed to, an entire, and massively important, second in front of Ben. 6:09:52 for me, 6:09:53 for Ben.

Benny had finished in a spectacular 4:50:26 for 63rd place overall, and first of our little quartet. Michelle had finished in an equally impressive 5:38:32 to be the 14th woman home. I honestly think though that I was happier than either of them to finish with the final podium spot for our group, relegating poor old Ben to the first loser position.

 

 

(Dickishness aside for a second I was hugely impressed by Ben’s efforts. Due to various ailments, aches and injuries he’s barely got to put any decent training in but through sheer toughness and bloody mindedness he dragged himself, and me, round the toughest race I’ve done to date. I said as much to Benny afterwards, though I couldn’t possibly have admitted it to Ben. Huge, huge congratulations to Benny and Michelle on their efforts too, phenomenal showings.

I think too that huge credit must go to anyone that got round that course. I have as much respect for the people who did it in eight and a half hours as I do for the absolute animals who cracked it in under four).

 

 

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.