Archive for May, 2015

Two weeks after the Terenure 5 Mile, and as I found out to my horror only three weeks from Portumna 50k, I decided at short notice to do another five mile race. I’ve been struggling a bit to get out for consistent miles so thought I may as well sign up for a race after work, and at least that way I’d get a decent run in. And considerably harder than I’d be likely to run by myself. With that I signed up for the BHAA Government Services 5 Mile in Dunboyne, my first BHAA race of the year despite swearing after the K-Club 10k last year that I’d be back as soon as possible.

I was a little surprised driving up there when I started seeing handmade signs for race registration when I was just going past Blanchardstown. Irish geography, in fact geography of any kind, is really not my forte but I thought Dunboyne was in Meath, which was surely a little further up the road. I realised then it was more to do with the fact the urban sprawl of Blanchardstown has leaked practically right to the border than any ignorance on my part (well, maybe a little from column A, a little from column B). It turns out that Dunboyne is only a couple of minutes drive past Clonee where my good friend Pony (and his far better half Claire) live, something I knew despite my geographical ignorance and utter absence of sense of direction from driving Pony back out there on many, many occasions. Despite his proximity to the race, and my repeated attempts to contact him I couldn’t get in touch, which unfortunately means no pictures for this particular race report (nope, not taking any pictures of myself).

The advantage of the race’s proximity to my workplace meant that even with rubbish evening M50 traffic I was there well in advance of the start time so collected my number, went for a nice long warm up where I tried to replicate what I had done before Terenure, and then just waited for the off. It was a beautiful evening, very sunny and quite warm, and even though it was a little windy running down narrow country lanes we would end up being quite sheltered. The start line was on a road outside a housing estate where, as is the Irish way, everyone had been milling around, waiting until the last minute and then just jumping in rather than going to the back. Where I had thought I had a reasonable starting position – sufficiently back from the front that I wouldn’t impede any slower runners, not that far back that I spent the first portion of the race running through traffic – now I was suddenly surrounded by capri pants and iPhones in arm wallets. Sure enough when the signal was given to start there was a very slow, congested shuffle to the line and I spent the bulk of the first kilometre trying to run around people, which was a bit tricky considering how narrow the road was and the amount of people on it.

Once I finally did get moving properly I tried to settle into a rhythm. In Terenure I’d run a time of 34:50, which worked out at an average of 4:19/km, so my plan here was a first kilometre of 4:30/km just to ease into it, then try to get my average pace down to around 4:19/km and keep it there. Which I did, for about four kilometres. Everything was going great, beautiful conditions, nice flat country roads, feeling good, slowly but consistently moving up through the pack. I’d passed a lady who I heard say she was running at 7mins/mile or a little quicker so I just moved ahead of her and kept at that pace, knowing I didn’t need to go any quicker. Another lady I’d passed obviously didn’t like being passed so pushed back in front of me, and then stayed there, just in front of me for the duration.

At the three mile mark I was starting to struggle. Breathing was getting heavier, legs were feeling leaden, arms and torso were tightening up so the conversations started – slow down, pack it in, ease off, come on now, you know you can do this, you did this two weeks ago, yeah but you really wanted to crack 35 minutes then, you’ve done that, whats a few seconds here and there, etc etc. Its funny, you know you just did this, literally two weeks ago, yet there’s a part of you saying “nope, no chance, you’re not able for it”. You want to look at your watch, you want to see that its nearly over but you don’t want the crushing disappointment of seeing you’ve only covered 200m since the last time you looked at your watch, so I just kept focussing on the heels of the lady who’d passed me. She’d been very strong and consistent up until this point so I assumed she was going to keep the pace up all the way until the end. No more looking at my watch, just keep her heels the same distance ahead.

There were a few people now, all running around the same pace, all struggling a little bit, all fluctuating back and forth in position. At the four mile mark I was dropping back a bit, but then all of a sudden I could hear the finish line PA in the distance and my pace picked up a bit. I saw the half mile to go mark and was now moving a little better, gaining on those just in front of me. With the entrance to the club house visible just up ahead I resolved to make a final push, catching and then moving ahead of the small group just before we entered the Dunboyne AC gates. One last effort through the car park, almost there, thank God this was just about over when I saw a couple of stewards at the top of the car park where we entered on to the running track directing runners away from the finish line. What the hell? What’s going on? The realisation that we had to do 3/4s of a lap of the track hit me then and I just crumbled. The impending relief I’d been feeling at being almost finished, the knowledge that it was just about over and in a matter of seconds I’d be laid out on the grass with a feeling of satisfaction washing over me just evaporated instantly and instead I was left trudging miserably, shuffling disconsolately round the track while those people I’d worked so hard to pass not five hundred metres back just streamed past me, well into their finishing flurries.

Only when I got to almost the very end of the lap where I saw the clock and saw that I could still nip in under thirty five minutes did my spirits raise at all. In the end I managed it in 34:57 (gun time, it was 34:48 on my Garmin but it obviously took those few seconds to shuffle to the line from where I was) so almost identical to my Terenure time but  due to how I cocked up the end nowhere near as satisfying. Still, my original plan was to go out for roughly 12k, with 8 of those at pace, and have a few little triangle sandwiches and maybe some cake afterwards, and I managed to do all of those things so I suppose its mission accomplished.

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?