Sunday, 12 December 2010

Ultra Training

Yesterday I completed my fourth sub 3:30 marathon of the year, which marked the start of my training for the Connemara Ultra in April. The first, in Barcelona in March was my fastest @ 3:10:28, coming within a minute and a half of my PB, despite becoming a cropper at mile 9. The second in April was my slowest at 3:29:42, although I did run a further 13.1 miles after I crossed the 26.2 mile timing mat. The third @ 3:28:51 was my first outing as a pacer in Cork in June. Today I managed to struggle home in the Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon in 3:26:57 in the hilliest marathon i've run to-date. Not bad considering my total mileage over the previous 5 weeks was about 100 miles.
I only signed up for the race on Wednesday - in fact I swapped with Gavin from work who as unable to run due to an injury - hence his name in the results. My preparation consisted of:-
  • 2 long runs - the first 2 weeks ago was 16.75 miles and the second, last week was a 22.4 miler in the park in which I bonked during the last mile and a half.

  • A training diet over the last month restricted to processed fast food in quantities normally reserved for Christmas celebrations. I remember returning from my first long run two weeks ago and not having the normal hunger pangs associated with being out on the road for 2+ hours, which I put down to having built up sufficient fat reserves over the preceding month to last through the winter.

  • My pre-race preparation consisted of attending the work Christmas dinner the night before - indulging in steak and sticky toffee pavlova, a single glass of red wine and coffee. To my credit I drank copious amounts of water as my colleagues depleted the wine reserve. I got to bed just after midnight with my stomach feeling like a lead baloon.

An early rise just before 6 and I was on the road before 7 for the 40 minute drive to Clonaklity. Registration was painless, except for the fact that the transfer of the number from Gavin to me was not on the system.

Part of the attraction of this race is that it is in my home town and the route passes within 50 yards of my childhood home in Inchydoney ( 5 mile mark), where I spent the hour before the race making last minute preparations. I drove into town and parked about 100 yards from the race start before making my way to the start line with 10 minutes to go. I met up with club mates Denis, John, Robert and Caitriona who were all running the marathon. A few more were running the half. The plan was to head out at 8 minute mile pace and see how it went. Robert was planning on something a bit faster, which was evident during the first mile, when he disappeared through the throng (the marathon start also coincided with a 6 mile race, with the half marathon starting 5 minutes earlier at a different location). Denis, who was aiming for sub 3:45, decided to head out with us at the opening 8 minute mile pace. While I was hoping for a 3:30 finish I was expecting my pace to drop off during the second hillier half of the course.

The first few miles were fairly uneventful with 2 miles around the town and a further 3 flat miles along the coast road to Inchydoney where we met the half marathon runners and the marathon leaders coming against us. Our opening mile of 8:45 was the slowest, but we had most of the deficit pulled back by the time we hit the 5 mile mark, which we passed in about 40:15. The loop around Inchydoney consisted of a few short sharp hills, but being familiar territory I knew what was coming. There was a timing mat at about 5.5 miles which we crossed in 44:52 (Clock time). Out of Inchydoney and back on flat roads heading for Rathbarry. The road began to rise again as we passed through the field of slower half-marathon runners until the routes diverged at about the 8.5 mile mark. As I was a few yards ahead I stopped and walked to take a gel at the crest of a hill after the nine mile mark, which I passed in about 1:11:45 (15 seconds under 3:30 pace). I resumed running when Catriona and John caught up (Denis had eased off the pace and was about 50 yards behind). At this stage Caitriona had just passed the 6th female and so our race took on an additional focus - could Catriona make the top 3. He PB was 3:22 in Dublin last year, so continuing on at 3:30 pace was the best plan of action, particularly as the hilliest part of the course was yet to come. John was issuing instructions on following the racing line so that we wouldn't have to run any longer than we had to. "You can be certain John Quigley was in the ditch (hugging the ditch perhaps) when he was measuring the course" he said, in deference to the official course measurer. As the road was full of twists and turns taking the racing line certainly cut yards off as we gradually reeled in the guy in front of us, who was running in the centre of the road.

The downhill miles into Rathbarry were in the 7:30's increasing our margin on the 3:30 finish to about 2 minutes, passing the 11 mile mark in about 1:26. At this stage in the race I should have felt more comfortable than I did, with over 15 miles left to run. In places there was some slush/ice on the road but it was not a real issue and could easily be avoided. Right turn at Rahtbarry towards Castlefreake and Owneahincha beach. We could see a group of runners a few 100 yards ahead and hypothesised on the likelihood of it containing one or two women for Caitriona to exchange places with.

Left at Owenachincha and a sharp climb over the hill separating it from the Long Strand. We pulled in one or two on the climb and pass the 13 mile mark in 1:42:50 (clock time). Down hill past the long strand and the 14 mile mark. John falls behind for a bit as we climb up from the Long Strand and pass the 4th female. Past the 15 mile mark in just under 1:58. We had lost none of our 2 minute cushion on the 3:30 finish but the long climb from mile 18 to 20 is still in front of us. Downhill towards the Red Strand and we hear the sound of someone approaching fast from behind - John was back with us. It had taken a while for the gel he took at mile 14 to kick in.

Past the spectacular setting of the Red Strand and the long drag from sea level to the highest point on the course at about 110m began. To be quite honest, it wasn't all that bad as the grade was so gradual and levelled out in places. Much of this section was along a muddy boreen no wider than a car. Fatigue was beginning to set in but the pace did not drop much. Eventually the road began to level out as we turned onto the main road. A few hundred yards later we turned right and into another climb, but thankfully it did not last too long and we began to descend just before the 20 mile mark, which we passed in about 2:38:15 - we still had a 1:45 cushion on the 3:30 finish, which wasn't bad considering the elevation gain. Caitriona even found time for a pit stop while John and I slowed down. She was soon back on our shoulders as the gradual descent to Duneen beach gave way to the steepest (downhill) section of the course, which was hard on the knees and difficult to get any speed on. A gradual descent would have been so much better.

Once at sea level the road rose almost immediately for a short climb along the coast towards the Dunmore Hotel and I found myself falling behind the other 2. I thought the final 5 miles would be on my own but they came back to me as the road dropped towards the 22 mile mark. I had stashed a bottle of coke at the entrance to the hotel earlier in the morning, which I now retrieved. This cost me a few seconds and again I found myself about 10 yards behind. As John wanted some coke I thought he would slow down to let me catch him, but instead I found myself increasing the effort to catch up, which cost me as I began to fall off the pace again. less than 4 miles to go - keep it together. A guy in an orange top, whom we had passed earlier, was now on my shoulder with Caitriona and John 10 yards ahead. He eventually pulled ahead and joined the other 2.

Past the 23 miles mark and a right turn along the first of three causeways that would take us past Inchydoney and into Clon for the finish. Gavin, who had given me his number and was supporting his brother, gave a loud cheer as we passed. I fully expected to drop further behind the group in front but the gap stayed the same and by the time we hit the 24 mile mark we were all together again, with the bones of a 3 minute cushion on the 3:30 finish.

Grinding out the last few miles at the same 8 minute pace was all about ignoring the desire to stop and pushing on, counting down the remaining minutes. We stayed together in a group until the last 400m as the call of the finish line beckoned and John pushed out ahead, followed by the guy in the orange top and Caitriona, with me taking up the rear. Down the finishing chute and the right turn to the finish line where we were immediately greeted with a medal and a heat blanket. Glad to be finished and under my 3:30 target.

Caitriona never made her podium finish, but what a race she had, fantastic result, coming within 5 minutes of her PB on such a hilly course and even splits all the way. Well done Caitriona. Denis also finished a few minutes under his 3:45 target @ 3:43 while Robert had a great day coming home in 3:19 - he was right to head out at his own pace.

John and I headed straight for the physio area after the race to get a rub down, although my legs felt reasonably good with no specific issues. A day later, while my legs are stiff I do not have the usual post marathon issues associated with walking downstairs - a good omen for the ultra training that is before me.

Well done to the organisers for putting on a great event which was well marshaled and had more water stations than I've seen at other marathons. Luckily the weather was quite good with temperatures at 5C and a light breeze. It might have been less "fun" in freezing rain.


  1. Good stuff Grellan that was a tough course great way to start the Ultra training.We were spoilt with the views,your lucky I didnt come across that bottle of coke..

  2. nice one. 100 miles in 4 weeks that sounds like my kind of marathon training!! :)

  3. Yes, a very good performance on low mileage and high fat intake. Will be interested to follow your training as you start ramping up miles for the ultra.

  4. Another solid Marathon Performance Grellan, and you were probably fresh ss a daisy the next day!
    Well done ..I saw you pass on the climb into Inchydoney.
    I think you had the full suit on ?
    was it not a bit warm for the day?

  5. I kicked off my training for Dingle earlier this year with a marathon, so you're on trodden path here.

    Sounds like you had some fun out there. Any other year I would have joined you, but now with a coach I'm apparently supposed to train sensibly.

    With some decent preparation you should pulverize your Connemara time from last year. You can take my 5:15 as a target to beat.

  6. I didn't expect that and your poor old body must be a little dirty on you for making it do that hilly marathon on low mileage.

    Still you've got to show it who's boss from time to time ;)

    Well done Grellan

  7. What a very solid 12 months, looking forward to a yearly recap at some point.

  8. great stuff grellan. this bodes well for 2011 and your ultra race. all the very best

  9. You make it sound so easy. It was a very hard course Grellan. Are you going to publish your training plan for the ultra ? I'd be interested in seeing it as I'm signed up for the 39.3 also but haven't a training plan yet. Well done again. Ger

  10. Great report and race Grellan. Your base miles from earlier in the year must have kicked in to give you the strength. Recover now will ya?

  11. I aspire to run ultras in the future, however currently I am training to just be able to run a marathon! Reading through your blog has been a great help!