Archive for the ‘Races 2014’ Category

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.




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.



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.




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.




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

Paleo Pancakes

Paleo Pancakes


Almost ready to go

Almost ready to go

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


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


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


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


Only smug on the outside

Only smug on the outside


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


Tired oder happy

Tired oder happy

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

Shocking cold out, isn't it?

Shocking cold out, isn’t it?

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

Yeah, it was worth it.

Yeah, it was worth it.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

8k in 35:32


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

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

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

Still wondering if I'd chosen the right attire

Still wondering if I’d chosen the right attire

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

Ready, Steady...

Ready, Steady…


.... Go

…. Go

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

A study in serenity (trying to ignore the pain)

A study in serenity (trying to ignore the pain)

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

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

I’d followed up my week of no training with two good weeks of training, so naturally had to cock up my preparation a bit on Saturday. Rather than going to bed early and reading excerpts from Running With the Buffaloes or The Chimp Paradox, or even staying up and watching montages from various Rocky films, both methods which have worked well for me in the past, I stayed up until well after midnight drinking wine and watching highlights of Liverpool against Southampton. For the third time. Personally I blame Brendan Rodgers for constructing such a damn sexy team.

Because of that I woke up a little bleary eyed and a little disorganised on Sunday morning, and made a last minute decision to go short sleeved top rather than long sleeved base layer. After all, the forecast did say dry and cold with even a bit of sunshine.

View from the car

Ah well, it was just a bit of rain and I had predicated my decision to go short sleeved on the fact that I’d also be wearing gloves.

Which obviously I’d forgotten.

One of those “stop being a little bitch and just HTFU” type scenarios then.

As always, it wasn’t even that bad once you got going. For me at least. The 10k runners, which included my good wife, got absolutely saturated in a massive downpour. By the time the half marathon runners were ready to go it was just cold, windy and very, very damp.

My plan for this race had been up and down with my confidence for the last two weeks. The week before last, first week back after sickness I was wondering how I was ever going to get round a half marathon at anything approaching target marathon pace (4:58/km). Every run was slow and laborious. Last week then was much better, Tuesday night’s run especially felt good, but that was still only 13k @ 5:13/km so I still had my doubts about doing 21.1k @ 5:00/km. My plan then was to do 2k @ 5:30, 2k @ 5:20, 1k @ 5:10 and then run as much of the remainder as I could at 5:00 or as close to it as possible which, if I managed it, would bring me in at about 1:46 or so, which was still almost five minutes quicker than my previous half marathon PB of 1:50:24

Just after setting off I was very conscious of pacing and determined not to go off to quick, but looking at my (lovely new) Garmin I was running at 5:00 mins/km, which didn’t seem right as it felt like I was barely moving, and my heart rate was only in the low 140’s, which would normally have my pace even less than 6:00 mins/km. I wasn’t really worried about my pace being a bit quick though when my HR was so low, so I just kept trotting along, keeping an eye on both. After three or four kilometres of actively trying to slow myself down I just thought “feck it” and decided to run on feel for a while. Everything felt good, my legs felt really fresh, my breathing was easy and steady and I couldn’t even feel the couple of niggles I’d had with my feet in the run up to the race. Whenever I stole a glance at my Garmin the pace was reading in around 4:40 and my HR was reading mid-150’s.

Somewhere between ten and twelve kilometres another runner and I passed each other back and forth a couple of times before settling in to a rhythm running alongside each other, where we stayed up until the ten mile marker when I stopped at the water station to get a drink and have a gel. Normally I wouldn’t stop at a water station unless I was really hurting, but reading an article from Pete Pfitzinger (renowned marathon coach and author) he reckoned that unless you’re an elite runner, and I’m pretty certain I’m not, you should walk through water stations, get your water and any fuel into you properly, and then start running again. The rationale being that the ten to twenty seconds you lose is more than made up for by actually getting your gel/water into you, rather than all over your face or down your front, plus it makes it a little easier on your stomach and GI tract. I know my sample size isn’t exactly huge, ie one race, but it seemed to work for me.

It took me a couple of minutes to catch back up with Michael, the guy I’d been running with, and I definitely felt the increase in pace. My legs were starting to tighten up a little bit, but I still felt far, far better than during any half marathon in the past. With about 2k to go I started to feel guilty about feeling quite so fresh, so decided to up the pace a bit. I’m never quite sure what the etiquette is in that situation. Do you say to the person you’re running with that you’re going to up the pace? What do you do if you can’t hold on to it then? At that point it’s getting a bit hard to talk so I just decided to go for it.

With a kilometre to go I was on my own now but put a target on a guy fifty or sixty metres in front of me. I’d seen him dropping a gel wrapper on the road (one of those huge Hi-5 ones) but in standard Irish fashion didn’t say anything at the time, preferring to grumble and bitch about it later. Anyway, I’d decided I had to beat this gentleman so pushed harder to catch him, which caused him to respond, I pushed again, and he responded again. However I had an inkling that with still a few hundred metres to go if I pushed again he wouldn’t be able to respond, so I did, and he didn’t. Rounding the corner onto the finishing straight I finally caught sight of the timer and realised with a sprint I could make it under 1:42, so turned on the *ahem* afterburners and managed to make it across the line in 1:41:41

To say I was delighted with the result would be an understatement akin to saying the field the cars were parked in was a bit muddy. I was absolutely elated. This was probably the best race result I’ve ever had, one of the few times where I’ve put in a decent block of training and really reaped the rewards. Who knew that regular, consistent, progressive training would lead to such fantastic results?

Something that really shouldn’t pass without mention is the hospitality and organisation of Bohermeen A.C. After the race the sports hall was absolutely hopping with people, but there was enough tea, coffee, soup, sandwiches, buns and cakes to feed an army. Exactly what was needed for hordes of tired, wet, hungry runners. It was much the same as the spread put on by Donadea A.C. but for a much bigger number. It seems to be the case, in my experience anyway, that the smaller, club run races, in the country, really are the ones to do. The atmosphere is great, everyone’s friendly and supportive and the money that’s made goes back to a local club, rather than some company that’s just in it for the profit. With the plethora of races available to do every weekend, I think  I can see myself sticking to this type of race for the forseeable future, and not the €50+ half marathons with the ‘technical’ t-shirt and the single bottle of water at the finish. I’ll definitely be back to Bohermeen next year anyway.

What happens when you don't take car of toe niggles prior to running 21.1km

What happens when you don’t take car of toe niggles prior to running 21.1km