Archive for the ‘May’ Category

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).

 

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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?

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

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

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

2014-05-17 10.57.25

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




2014-05-17 09.02.08

 

Blue/Green Steel

Blue/Green Steel

And we're off

And we’re off

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

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

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

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

Boredom had set in again

Boredom had set in again

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

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

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

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

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

Gel guzzling

Gel guzzling

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

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

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

Finishing

Finishing

 

Immediately after finishing

Immediately after finishing

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hopefully.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

I might have hoped that my knee affliction was something that a couple of hours of physio and some rest would cure, but my hopes were dashed somewhat when the physio told me I actually had a hamstring strain, which was also affecting my popliteal tendon and my calf. Thinking back I can actually remember the moment the injury occurred, at about mile 25 of the Belfast Marathon, whewnI got some intensive massage, heat treatment and was told to take a complete break from training for 7 – 10 days, which would bring me up to the Monday after TriAthy (my race was on Saturday).

I wasn’t surprised by the diagnosis, nor was I distraught at beaing told to take a break like that. I’ve loved training every day, feeling and living like an athlete, but I’ve grown to hate being injured. I came into this year with the intention of training or racing every day, partially as a challenge to myself, to get stronger, fitter, increase my mental fortitude, but also so I could train and race as much as I could. Now I was just spending so much time injured, not training properly, missing races, but why, and for what. There are definitely a number of physical reasons why I keep getting injured, particularly on my left leg, related to a lack of suppleness, flexibility and general mobility in my leg and lower back muscles. There’s also a lack of long term, inherent muscular endurance, which I suppose is to be expected. I only started running less than a year and a half ago, after fifteen years or so of being a lazy git. Combine these with the fact that I haven’t been giving my body a break, and that whenever I resume full training I’m desperately trying to make up for lost time due to a stupidly cramped schedule, and you’re asking for trouble.

On the walk back to my car from the physio I came to accept the fact that I just can’t train every day. Not at this stage at least. In a futile attempt to keep it up I’ve been causing myself to miss out on so much of why it is that I started doing this in the first place, and that’s really a bit stupid. While in the past what I would have done at this point is just give up on everything altogether, say what’s the point in starting from scratch, what I’m going to do instead is reassess what I’ve been doing and what it is that I want to do. I’ve learnt a lot from the first six months of this year, about my training and about myself, but it’s time to take a slightly smarter approach to the next six months. There’s an awful lot that I want to do in these next six months, and I want to do it as best I can, not just stumbling along from one day to the next.

Luckily for me before I went and did something stupid like give up I talked to my wife about everything. She reminded me how far I’d come, how much work I’d put in, how much I’d regret it if I didn’t at least try and just basically said I could do it. Or at least that if I didn’t do the Sprint that I could definitely do the Try. The TryAthy was a triathlon designed for people doing their first ever triathlon, which in fairness is what I am. It consists of a 400m swim, a 14km bike and 4km run. Most importantly though the 400m swim is all downstream. Which meant that, with a (hopefully) very buoyant wetsuit, that I could almost float the distance. Anyway, the Barrow is only 5 feet deep in some spots so I could probably stand up in it and (hopefully) wouldn’t drown.

With fresh resolve I rang Mark to arrange a session and then rang the physio to book an appointment for the following evening to try and figure out what the pain was at the back of my left knee that had been preventing me running more than twice since the Kildare Half Marathon. With only nine days to go to TriAthy I was just hoping it wouldn’t be something that a couple of hours of intensive massage and rest wouldn’t heal.

To finish the day I went to the pool to put in some time there. It wasn’t pretty, and I was still stopping far, far too often, but eventually I got 400m done.

I’ve really, really struggled of late. There is just nothing happening for me in the swimming department. I know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results but in most physical endeavours if you keep doing things, ie practising, you eventually get better at them. For the past couple of weeks I’ve ben going to the pool five times a week and been making absolutely no improvement. I know I should have just called Mark (my swim coach) and arranged a session, but my stupid pride didn’t want me to go see him after six weeks since the last session and not be one bit better. So I kept on putting it off and putting it off and just having worse and worse sessions in the pool which was eroding what little confidence I did have.

I know that swimming is a primarily physical endeavour but I know some of my problems are mental rather than physical. I get halfway through a length at the pool and some switch just flicks and I stop – my stroke wasn’t right, my breathing wasn’t right, my noseclip was falling off, there was water in my goggles, there was an ‘R’ in the month. For whatever reason, every single time, I would stop at the halfway point. Trying to figure out what was going wrong, focussing on what was going wrong, paralysis by analysis, increasing frustration, I’m getting nowhere with this, I’m going home.

Day after day after day.

Every day then I’d look at the logistics for TriAthy and just grow more and more disconsolate. I’d long ago given up hope of doing the Double Olympic or Olymic but six weeks ago had decided on trying to get myself ready to do the sprint – 750m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run. 750m swim, that’s 30 lengths of a pool and I could (just about) do 50m, and then need five minutes to recover. There’s realistically no way that I could go from 50m to 750m in two weeks considering my rate of improvement is about 5m a month. I had pretty much given up hope of doing anything and mailed my wife to say so. The only thing stopping me pulling out altogether was letting down all the people who’d helped and supported me:

– my wife and two boys* who’ve come to races to support me, never complain about the time I spend training, the multiple bikes in the house, the fussy diet and eating.

– McLoughlins Cycles who agreed to sponsor me this year, making an exception for a (real) amateur such as myself, based on a number of things I said I was going to do, one of those being TriAthy.

– Mark (swim coach). As well as the numerous group sessions, I’ve met with Mark for quite a few individual sessions, during which I’ve always come away noticably better than I was at the start of the session. The problem has always been I then go away to swim by myself, undoing all the good work that gets done in these sessions, and don’t go back to him until things get desperate.

– everyone who reads, or has read this blog. I’m not sure anyone wants to read about a prospective triathlete who doesn’t quite manage to ever do a triathlon, regardless of how fantastic his music selections are, or how interesting (or not) they find the ocassional glimpses into his neurotic psyche.

At this point in time it feels like I’m failing, and about to do it quite publicly.

 

 

* Just to clarify, my boys complain like hell about our new, ‘healthy’ diet, always maintain that they preferred me when I was fat and Son no. 1 will get out of going to any race he possibly can.

Six days removed from Belfast Marathon, and one day from the Darkness Into Light 5k, I lined up this morning to do the Kildare Half Marathon. I probably wouldn’t have done them all in such quick succession but I’d deferred the Half from last year when I was injured. Next year if I’m looking for an early season marathon I’ll definitely do Kildare seeing as it’s (a) right on my doorstep and (b) really well organised, especially in relation to Belfast. Also doing the Half today was my wife Brid, who was attempting the distance for the first time. She’s been consistent in her training though, gradually building her long run up to a longest of 18km, so I know she’ll get round fine. She had however rejected my offer of pacing her round, which I think she may have gathered to be at least half a ruse on my part to get round at a more relaxed pace. She also, for some reason, doesn’t like me shouting (encouragement) at her when we run, which may also have played into the decision.

The weather this morning was thankfully a lot more pleasant than in Belfast last weekend – sunny, clear skies overhead and temperatures just about reaching ‘warm’. It didn’t really feel like that when we got out of the car on the Curragh though as there was a really strong breeze blowing. Actually, I think breeze may be doing it a disservice as when we opened the car door it was nearly pulled off by the wind. We had very little time to think about it, or indeed anything else, as due to the proximity of the race to home I had naturally left it to the last minute to leave. In fact we had so little time my poor wife, who had been so conscientous in her hydration, was now at bursting point, and faced with massive queues, approximately five minutes before race start. I on the other hand, being a man, can piss just about anywhere, and after a short trot over to a fence on the way to the start line, and was then good to go.

Just before we started I spotted a couple of lads from town I knew (Paddy Hyland and Johnny Dunphy), so stopped for a chat. Paddy was running his first half, and was hoping to get round in under two hours. Although I didn’t have a particular target in mind, especially off the back of the marathon, I was hoping to get round in about 1:50. As the race started I suddenly decided to push that and try for 1:45, so set off at around 5 mins/km. The first couple of kilometres were across the Curragh, and though it was still really windy being in such a large group meant it rarely bothered me too much. Well, that and some crafty drafting.

The Curragh, and Kildare in general, is well known for being flat, and the only slight hill on the course was dispensed with at around the six kilometre mark. By that stage the wind had really dropped and we got to feel the full effects of the mid-day sun. I grabbed a bottle at the first water station which was at the top of the hill and held on to that bottle of cold, wet goodness for as long as it lasted. I had been quite relaxed about my buildup to the half, and probably could have done without the couple of beers the night before, and could possibly have gone to bed earlier. I knew that the water and feed stations on the course were frequent and really well stocked though, and would help ease my passage around.

I was really enjoying the run, and the conditions, still maintaining my pace without too much hassle, when at about the ten kilometre mark Paddy and Johnny came flying past me. I checked my Garmin to make sure I wasn’t crawling, did some quick calculations in my head and confirmed I was on about 1:45 pace. The lads were just way, way ahead of theirs. I said nothing and just let them past though as I had my music on, was doing my own pace and didn’t want to be dragged along doing anybody elses race.

I slowed for a second at the water station at 15km to grab a bottle and like someone had flicked a switch, everything after that just became a struggle. My pace dropped to about 5:20/km, which wasn’t a huge difference, but it was so much more of a struggle to maintain. We were just coming into Kildare town then and the lovely, flat, green countryside running switched to slightly up and down and around and crossing the road nadgery horrible running. The wonderful music that I’d so carefully selected this morning became loud and harsh and grating and I just stopped enjoying everything. It felt at the time like I was barely crawling along, but looking back at the data from my Garmin my pace really didn’t drop that much.

It wobbled a bit for a couple of kilometres as I had the usual little squabbles with myself, and my heavy, dead, aching legs, but I forgot about my own woes as I noticed someone on the road ahead really struggling. There was a guy ahead who was really wobbling and wavering from side to side, despite being supported by another couple of guys, one on each arm. He was trying to drink some water at the same time, but started to stagger, and then was helped onto the ground at the ide of the road by the two runners with him. A couple of spectators who were there ran to offer their help, and as I came alongside there was already five or six people there, calling for help and trying to look after him. He looked to be suffering in the heat, burning up and really dehydrated. I didn’t stop as there was already enough people there offering help, and realistically what could I have done only stand there getting in the way, so I kept going. Momentarily.

For whatever reason, seeing him like that, coupled with the struggling in my head and my legs over the last couple of kilometres, caused me to grind to a halt. I just stopped running and walked for ten or fifteen metres. Thankfully I saw sense almost as soon as I started walking and shook off whatever self pitying malaise had crept over me. I started to run again, then tried to run faster, and then a little bit faster again. There was less than two kilometres to go, I could even see the finish, so the sooner I got this out of the way the sooner I could relax. A few minutes, and quite a few grimaces, later, it was done and dusted and my third race of the week was out of the way and my third PB posted. The finish time of 1:50:28 was a little bit slower than I’d have liked but it was as much as I could do under the circumstances.

After the race I bumped into a ton of people that I hadn’t seen in ages, which meant a load of time spent standing round chatting, which then meant my planned stroll to my car to get Brid’s gear turned into a run that was probably as quick as parts of the race. I managed to make it back in time to see her finish in a very respectable 2:29, and then, as if the day couldn’t get any better, we got goodie bags from the race’s main sponsor, Woodies, which included paint brushes, gardening gloves, and the piece de resistance, duct tape.

What a day!