Saturday, 2 January 2016

Moving Along - A New Year

It's certainly been a while. It's not that I have stopped running, which is the main thing, it's just.....................that I've stopped writing about it. After that I can't really explain why except perhaps due to a lack of motivation, which increased with time. I didn't have much to write about and I haven't had any results that I have been happy with. My only two results since my last post was a DNF at the Belfast 24-hour (coming off the track with over 6:30 left on the clock is technically a DNF) and a relatively disappointing 13hrs and 30 seconds at IM Wales. But more on them later.

Truth be told the few times I tried to put pen to paper I lost the will to live after a few minutes. In fact I started two "draft" posts but never managed to finish them.

The first was about my experiment with a Ketogenic (very low carb) diet in April/May, which lasted 5 or 6 weeks ( I even got a Ketone blood test kit):-

 Ketogensis - I'll Try Anything Once
Because my next 3 events will last anywhere from 12 to 24 hours I have increasingly changed my focus towards where I get my energy from and how to optimise it. As I am primarily endurance focussed I am reasonably good at optimising my carbohydrate stores by burning a higher proportion of fat for a given effort and generally manage to avoid the "bonk", which is traditionally associated with exhausting the 2,000 calories of glucose (glycogen) we can store in our body at any one time. Any more carb ingestion above this level and the liver converts the sugar to fat (glycolysis) adding to our already plentiful stores - 20,000 calories in the leanest of athletes. That's the equivalent of 20 miles of carbohydrate energy compared to over 200 miles of fat energy. You can therefore see why I'd be interested in tapping as much of my reserves of fat as possible.

One way to do this is to deplete my stores of glucose so that my body has no alternative but to use fat for energy. I had done this for two weeks stints in the past followed by a few days of carb loading when preparing for big endurance events. This is what got me through the Barcelona Marathon in March. However I have become increasingly interested in permanently switching over to fat as my main fuel source as it not only has energy benefits but there is an increasing body of evidence that suggests that it also has health benefits.

I may well return to this experiment in 2016 as I would be interested to see the long term effects. I know from experience that it takes me two or three weeks to adjust to the diet, during which my energy levels drop and my running pace suffers. The biggest difficulty I have coming off the diet is my addiction to carbs, especially sugars, appears greater than when I ate a "balanced diet" - I can never get enough. Well sugar is the most addictive drug on the planet after all.

My second unfinished post was just after the Belfast 24-hour in July:-

"Everyone Has A Plan.............

..................until they get punched in the face" (Mike Tyson).

John O'Callaghan, a club-mate of mine, quoted this to me while out on a  club run a week before Belfast, which just about sums up my experience a week later.

My only plan for Belfast was to cover a minimum of 220km (The International B Qualification Standard). To give myself a bit of a cushion I set out a plan for 230km and to cut a long story short I expended too much energy in adhering to the plan over the first 4 to 6 hours that it fecked up the rest of my race - I was actually in first place for a spell around 12 hours in (always a dangerous place to be halfway through a 24hr race), but I knew at that stage that I was in trouble. The trouble arrived 14 hour in when my legs all but ceased up and running became slow and painful. I knew then that my target was gone so, rather than crawling off the track, I decided to go for the 100 mile mark and at least earn the 24hr/100 mile running jacket. I spend most of the next 3+ hours walking around the track until I had 100 miles in the bag @ 17:22, after which I called it a day, crawled into my tent and slept for 2 blissful hours. I reckoned it was pointless eeking out a few more miles and prolonging my recovery, which would only negatively impact on my training for IM Wales, 8 weeks later. Truth be told I was not in shape to run the distance I wanted to. My problem was a lack of focus as I was also in the middle of training for an IM and had completed a half IM two weeks beforehand. Hugh thanks to clubmate John D for supporting me in Belfast.

Ironman Wales

I recovered reasonably well from Belfast and got stuck into IM training, managing to get my first of 3 century rides in 2 weeks later. My longest training session came the following week with 6 hours on the bike (104.4 miles) followed by 70 minutes of running (8.9 miles) - I had set out from home a 6 in the morning and was not finished until after 1.

My motivation waned over the last few weeks of training as Adrian, my training partner, had an accident on the bike and was out of action for a few months and would miss the IM. My 5:07 result in Tri Athlone suggested a sub 11 hour result on a similar flat-ish course. As the Wales bike and run courses were far from flat I revised my target to sub 12 hours, with a possibility of hitting 11:30, broken down as 1:10 for the swim, 6:30 for the bike, 3:30 for the run and 20 minutes for transitions.

To cut a long story short I finished well outside my target in 13 hours and 30 seconds split as follows:-

Swim - 1:18 - The sea was fairly rough but I thoroughly enjoyed it - while I had plenty of endurance I
had no speed. The run from the beach to transition was over 1 km.

Bike - 7:16 - It was all going reasonably well (considering the hills) until I punctured 60 miles in. The next 25 miles were a struggle as I was unable to get the desired tyre pressure in the replacement tube with the hand pump. I stopped at an aid station and managed to borrow a track pump but noticed a bulge in the tyre after it was fully inflated, necessitating a full tyre replacement. I struggled over the last few hilly miles and even walked the steepest hill (@16%). Having said that the support and atmosphere all along the route was fantastic. I reckon I lost about 20 minutes in downtime between replacing the tube and tyre - so I was still well short of my bike split target.

Run - 4:08 - Four loops consisting essentially of 3+ miles of gradual uphill out of town and 3+ miles back. At the end of the first loop my energy was depleted and I had to stop for a breather at an aid station, while I took a gel. As my time goals, for what they were, had gone and for self preservation purposes I decided to take it easy and walk the remaining up hills, chatting to other competitors and soaking up the atmosphere. The highlight came at mile 22, when I passed ex Welsh Rugby International Richard Webster, who was "running" with crutches.

All in all IM Wales was a fantastic experience. While I had the endurance to cover the distance I had not followed a programme or put in any specific tempo/interval training in any discipline. Sure how could I when I also had a few ultras on the calendar. I reckon I was coming down off a training peak by the time the IM came around. I could blame the mechanical issues on the bike, but I should not have felt as fatigued coming of the bike as I did.

Post IM Wales

The only thing that kept me anyway motivated after IM Wales was the fact that I had put my name down to Pace 3:30 in Dublin at the end of October. Even at that I stepped down to 3:40 pacing, as I didn't feel in great shape going into the event. Still a great gig to pace.

November and December was all about re-building the endurance base. My weekly mileage, which had varied from 13 to 39 between IM Wales and DCM, was ramped up to over 70 miles  ( average of 76 miles over the last 9 weeks). What kept me motivated was the  challenge of running my age on Christmas Eve and at 50 I though it would be a nice round number to bow out of this self imposed task as, in the long run, my ability to complete the ever increasing distance would not be compatible with my ever increasing age    - i'll probably limit it to a marathon this year. 

So what to target for 2016? Revisit Belfast 24-hour (now in late June over a 1.7 km looped course)? Complete an M50  Sub-3 hour Marathon (certainly on my bucket list)? Target an M50 Club Team Medal at the National Marathon Championships in October (DCM)? The club would probably have to hold Marathon Trials as we already had a M50 Team Gold in 2015 (A fantastic club achievement - Well done to Frank, Ronan and Martin)

The rough plan forming is:-

  • A late Spring Marathon (Mid-April) - Barcelona, in mid-March, was a bit early for my liking last year - I need longer to wean myself on to speed work after Christmas.

  • Belfast 24-hour in late June. Is 2 months long enough to transition from a Marathon to a 24-hour. I transitioned pretty well from my Marathon PB in Mid-June 2013 to the Connemara 100 in Mid-August.
  • Dublin City Marathon (End of October) for the National Marathon Championships. Is 4 months (18 weeks) enough to recover from a 24-hour and train for a marathon? (9 week recovery/build and 9 week specific).

Meanwhile I have committed to a few events over the next month, the first being the Dungarvan 10 miler, at the end of January for which I will not be prepared. The general target will be sub-70 minutes as part of a longer endurance/speed run. The following weekend I am down to run the Clonakilty Marathon, postponed from 5th December. The plan between now and then is a gradual transition to speed work so that I am in shape to commence a specific marathon programme, should I chose to do so. All I do know is that I will need a target to keep me motivated.

Happy New Year to all. (ps. apologies for the formatting, or lack thereof. It's been a while.)


  1. i have looking forward to that post for a long long time. i think you had a very good year but being the competitive guy you are you always have high standards. Great set of goals for next year.

  2. Good to hear from you Grellan. I wondered about the IM -- huge congrats on finishing. I think it's one of those events where finish time doesn't matter, so huge is the physical task.
    Interesting to read about your experiments with the keto diet. I'm in the process of going totally the other way myself - high carb vegan (not there yet), after coming across the 'forks over knives' website. Also after reading about successful plant eating athletes like Scott Jurek and Rich Roll. Anyway, I'll let you know how it goes. So far, so good.