Saturday, 30 April 2011

In The Footsteps of Daniel O'Connell

I had the opportunity to walk some of the Kerry Way this week following the route of the "Old Road" around Drung Hill (between Glenbeigh and Caherciveen). Thomas's run along this route as part of his preparation for the Dingle ultra last year put it on my "to-do" list. Spectacular views on a beautiful sunny day. During my walk I met Gail and Tommy, keen hill walkers from Milltown, who told me some of the history of the four routes around Drung Hill connecting Caherciveen and Kilorglin, - the oldest being the upper "Monks Road", which we were on, between 1,200 and 1,300 feet above sea level,

- the lower "Old Road" - now part of the Kerry Way, along which barrister Daniel O'Connell (The Martin Luther King of Irish Catholics in the 1820's) travelled from his home in Derrynane to the various courts sessions around Munster. There is a section of this which is quite scary (for me) to walk along as the ground falls very steeply from the 8 foot wide path 700 feet to the sea below. You can see the other two routes far below - the Old Railway line/tunnels, built in the 1880's, with the last train running in 1960 and the new road hugging the coastline about 100 feet above sea level. You'd certainly want a head for heights along this section. Tommy told me of some story about the wheels of Daniel O'Connell's coach going over the edge on one occasion.

Old Coach Road around Drung Hill - Photo Courtesy of Thomas

I was back there yesterday with Ani, Saran and 2 of their friends, heading up the "Old Road" and crossing onto the "Monks Road" to complete a 4 mile loop. Once we reached the highest point we rested, with the kids taking off their shoes and socks. We all ended up walking the next mile through a mixture of upland bog, heather and rock strewn grassy slopes in our bare feet, the kids delighting in the various textures underfoot, especially the soothing waterlogged moss covered bog - ignoring the general guidance given to hill walkers to use good quality waterproof walking boots.

Elevation profile (first 0.25 miles missing)

On the running front I ended my second recovery week with a 17.2 mile long run on grass and a total of 55 miles in the bag. 15 of the grass miles were barefoot starting off with clubmate Denis, sharing 4.5 miles at an easy 8:40 pace. Once Denis left I upped the pace towards 8 minute miles with the idea of averaging that pace for the entire run. From mile 5 to 15 my pace averaged 7:27 (1:14:32) - however the 15 miles took their toll on my feet with a few blisters developing over the last mile. I put on my running shoes for the 2.2 mile warmdown, joining clubmates Anne Marie Holland and Pat Murphy, both training for sub-3 hour marathons (Cork and Vancouver respectively) & Anne Marie Healy. It wasn't until I got home that I noticed the extent of the blisters on my feet. However they have largely disappeared at this stage, which is fortuitous as I am due to pace the 3;30 group at the Limerick marathon tomorrow.

Recovery Week #2 (Run 55.3 miles, Bike 34.8 miles, Swim 3km)

April (Run 150 miles, Bike 56 miles, Swim 7.5 km)

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Baring it all

My recovery from Connemara is progressing apace with two 5 milers at lunchtime yesterday and today, with no noticeable issues, other than the 7:33 pace today felt a bit tougher than it should have (still only 135 avg HR).
I headed to UCC Farm for a second run this evening in glorious sunshine to meet up with Denis for a run around the 2.3 mile grass loop around the playing pitches, with evening league teams warming up for their matches.
Following a 2+ mile warmup before meeting Denis I ditched the shoes and went for an easy barefoot run over 7 miles, enjoying the conversation more than observing any pace.
20 minutes into our run Denis, who has an eagle eye, compared to my myopic vision, noticed a girl in a dressing gown who had come against us -
"I could be wrong" he said "but I think she has nothing on underneath the dressing gown".
I on the other hand, hadn't even seen her and so we continued on our circuit. When our route took us back around Denis noticed again
"There she is again look" He said
I couldn't see a thing as we were still 200 yards away
"Is she naked" I said as my vision slowly picked out a naked form running across a pitch.
"That's her, streaking across the pitch" he said.
As we got closer she was running back towards us and her friends at the edge of the pitch, who were in hysterics. We gave her the thumbs up as we passed - not every day you get to appreciate the beauty of the female form in a natural setting.
Who said recovery runs are boring.
On downloading my run to Sportstrack I had to add my feet to the "New Equipment Schedule".
Model: Foot
Brand: Bare
Date Purchased: 24th December 1965
Expected Life in Miles: Now that's the six million dollar question.

Sunday, 17 April 2011


I did nothing for the whole week after Connemara - I didn't even ice my calf - i'm lazy when it comes to things like that. I did give it a rub of the foam roller which helped loosen some of the knotted tender muscle fibres.
My active recovery began today with an easy paced cycle around the hilly loop to Crossbarry followed by a 2 mile run and while my calf was a bit tight it did not hurt and the distance was short.
A big congratulations to Thomas on getting his well deserved sub-3hour marathon in Vienna this morning and to Rick on his 2:49 result in London and best of luck to clubmate Colin and Jamie running Boston tomorrow.
Sunday 17th April
2.13 miles @ 7:52 pace & 135HR.
Recovery Week #1 (Run 2.1 miles, Bike 21.3 miles, Swim 1 km)

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Weakest Link

You're only as strong as your weakest link. That was the overriding lesson I took away from Connemara 2011. While my cardiovascular system worked well and was never challenged on Sunday my muscular skeletal system was not up to the task on the day - the engine was working fine but one of the motive parts was not (Didn't show up on the pre-race NCT). I remember thinking, going up the hill out of Leenane heading for mile 27, that if I could somehow run on my left leg only, which was in perfect working order I'd be in a happy place. I know........ an idiotic thought, but if there is ever a time for such thoughts it was then when some warped lateral thinking was called for after all other possibilities were exhausted.
The Beginning
The journey began in Cork on Saturday afternoon when I met up with John D and we both travelled to Galway to register and pick up Paul en-route to the Hostel in Oughterard, where Denis had booked a 5 bed room for himself (now out due to injury), myself, John, Paul and Norman, who was doing the half. On booking in to the hostel, the 3 of us headed out for a recce of the course before hitting the shops in Oughterard for supplies. Our fuelling strategies varied considerably with Paul preferring the tried and tested nutrient rich food supplement for the elderly "Ensure" which he bought over the counter in a Chemist and John opting for the other end of the food spectrum, farleys rusks preferring them to Liga which tend to stick to the top of his mouth - following extensive trials conducted over numerous weekends around the roads of Cork. Both John and Paul's other fuel choices were more in keeping with conventional wisdom - gels and high 5 carb drinks. John did have a bit of a panic in the first shop we went into when the limited baby food range contained Liga only, with not a Farleys rusk in sight. Luckily the shop down the road had a more extensive range and John returned triumphant with his box of Farleys.
We returned to the hostel, where we met up with Norman, Maura (who was running the Ultra) and Donnacha (who was running the half) and cooked up a bit pot of pasta.
To while away the time I had brought the 2011 census form with me and while strictly speaking it was to be filled out on Sunday evening I thought i'd get a head start. I had to think twice when it came to the following question on health "do you have any of the following long-lasting conditions or difficulties (c) a difficulty with basic physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs....". Well if I was filling it out on Sunday evening as directed this was a distinct possibility, but hopefully it would not be long-lasting.
Bed at 11, sharing a room with Paul, John and Norman. When we had been discussing sleeping the night before a race earlier we all concluded that it would be difficult to sleep interrupted, except for Paul who said "I have no problem with sleeping, i'll be snoring away in a few minutes" and in fairness he was true to his word - within a minute of the lights going out it came
you get the picture (if you can depict it in better words - suggestions please) .
Thankfully Paul turned over after about an hour and the room fell silent. Somehow I feel Paul will be in a single room next time out.
We rose shortly after 6 and after a feed of porridge and coffee John, Paul, Maura and I headed for the bus in Oughterard. The bus was delayed which meant that we minimised the amount of time spent milling around Peacocks Hotel with the smell of nervous tension and deep heat hanging in the air. Knowing the drill I dropped my 2 drop bags in the bins. Powdered perpeteum/endurolyte mix in the 22 mile bin (I didn't trust myself to pop the endurolyte pills late in the race) and a bottle of coke in the 29 mile bin. I mixed my first 3 hour perpeteum drink and was ready to go.
Onto the bus for the short ride to the start where all the guys and some of the gals scoured the adjacent landscape to find an appropriate place to pee. Had there been any onlookers it would have been a strange sight to behold - hoards of people alighting from busses in the middle of nowhere for a mass participation urination. I met up with Ilgaz who had travelled all the way from Istanbul to run his first ultra in Connemara and we wished each other well.
The First Half
Soon we were on the start line for the most effortless race start - no pushing and shoving here - as we eased into a comfortable stroll. With a lead pack of 5 or 6 forming at the head of a string of runners stretching out in front of us we headed down the road to the 1 mile mark at Maum Cross and the start of the 38 mile loop around the Maamturk Mountains.
"C'mon guys" shouted Seb Locteau as we passed "only one lap to go" as we turned right onto the main road to Clifden. John, Paul and I pass the 2 mile mark in 16:04, mile 3 in 24:05 and mile 4 in 32 minutes - even 8 minute miles. While my plan involved going out a bit faster (7:40 pace) I was happy to err on the slow side, plenty of time to speed up later. I still planned on getting close to 1:40 for the half and even if I didn't I could make up any deficit over the 2nd 13 miles.
As far as we could make out there were 3 women in front of us with the two leaders in Athenry AC singlets, whom I assumed to be Valerie Glavin and Ruthann Sheehan having read about their amazing achievement in the Helsinki 24-hour race - Valerie set a new Irish record of 135.34 miles.
We caught up with John Hallahan of rival Cork Club Leevale AC and chatted for a while. John and Paul both ran the Wicklow way ultra two weeks previously. John (Desmond) takes a tumble over a cats eye around mile 4 but recovers relatively intact with a grazed knee (don't know how much damage there was to the ego). A few 100 yards later he diverts into a field for a toilet break and then there were 3. When John catches up with us half a mile later he uses his new found pace to forge ahead and within a minute he is 100 yards ahead.
John and Paul resume their discussion on Wicklow as I begin to drift ahead in search of some sub-8 minute miles. But I don't get too far as we regroup and catch up with female no. 3, who is none other than mountaineer Hannah Shiels who commented to the race director on finishing the ultra last year that it was harder than climbing Mount Everest. We chat for a while until Hannah asks what pace we are doing and decides that 8 minute miles is too fast for her.
I begin to pull ahead of John and Paul again, using both sides of the road to follow the racing line. I hit the lap button on the Garmin at mile 7, which gives me 23:15 for the preceding 3 miles (7:45 average). I catch up with Ruthann Sheehan, who is now running on her own and congratulate her on her achievement in Helsinki. Turns out she is originally from West Cork not too far from where I grew up. Paul catches up with me on a steep downhill section having decided to up the pace as he was feeling very comfortable, so we both run together taking it easy on the rises and striding out on the downhills. Miles 8 and 9 come faster than expected in 7:15 and 7:00 but feel comfortable. Just after mile 10 (7:39) we take a sharp right turn off the main road heading north for Lough Inagh and the marathon start point. The road twists and turns, up an down through the barren landscape as we plough on. Miles 11 and 12 pass in 15:09 (7:35 average) and with 1:32:21 on the clock we can see the tail end of the marathon start in the distance snaking along the shores of Lough Inagh. We come up behind another ultra runner before the half marathon mark and give him the honours of crossing the line first - 1:40:57.
7:45 for mile 13 and 7:42 average for the first half marathon - right where I wanted to be and still feeling good.
The Second Half
A few 100 yards in front is Valerie Glavin, the gap remaining the same over the next few miles, which pass at a good pace - 7:26 and 7:29 for miles 14.1 & 15.1, at which point we catch up with the back of the marathon field. At every water station we share a 500ml bottle which saves energy and time (& water). The next two miles are primarily downhill and pass in 7:18 and 7:oo, maybe a bit faster than planned but still reasonably comfortable. We catch up and chat with Valerie for a few 100 yards, who tells us that she is in 2nd place, with the first Female a few minutes ahead. By now we are well into the marathon field and it feels like we are flying compared to those around us, who are on 12 or 13 minute miles. The words of encouragement from them is a great boost (The ultra runners were given "ultra runner" bibs for pinning on their backs) and partly explains the increase in pace.
Coming towards the 19.1 mile mark I feel my right calf beginning to tighten up forcing me to ease back on the pace to prevent it from cramping. Paul began to pull slowly away from me as he kept pace. I had no choice but to let him go, but what concerned me more was the hill coming up after the right turn onto the Clifden to Leenane Road. I ran on and rounded the corner at the bottom of the hill and to my surprise the expected pain of stretching out the calf when running uphill did not materialise and so I could maintain my altered pace without feeling pain. I lapped mile 20.1 in 7:03 - obviously the marker was in the wrong place which was confirmed when the next "mile" came in 8:27 (The Garmin recorded 0.9 and 1.11 for these 2 laps) - still good going (7:45 average). While the tightness in my right calf remained I could still run comfortably and gave thanks for this as I crested the hill passing the "Stop and Pray" sign outside the local Church.
I was now behind the leading Female and over the space of the next mile I gradually passed her. I stopped and walked at the 22 mile water station to pick up my dry perpeteum mix and a bottle of water, taking time to mix the water and powder thoroughly, not a bit concerned about losing time to those around me. Soon enough I was back running passing mile 22.1 in 8:27 (including walking break). I overtook all those who had passed me, including the leading Female and was feeling good. Ahead of me lay the 2 mile descent to the shores of Killary Fjord, where I expected to pick up the pace and recover some of the time lost to Paul.
It started off well with the mile to 23.1 passing in 7:29. However shortly afterwards as the slope got steeper and I began to lengthen my stride the pain came on in my calf with each footfall and I had to slow down to avoid doing damage and as my pace fell those around me began to move forward and those I had passed were now passing me. I stopped shortly after the leading Female passed me out - I was close to 9 minute pace at this stage, which was very frustrating given that I should have been breezing down the hill at 7 minute pace and heading for my 3:20 marathon split. I lapped mile 24.1 at 10:05 as I walked past the marker. Valerie Glavin came by and offered me salt for my cramps but by that stage I had already horsed down a bucket full of Endurolyte capsules, which had probably delayed the onset on cramps since the first twinge had come on at mile 19. I told her to keep going as she was only a minute behind the leader.
After walking for a while more I decided to test my calf by breaking into a slow jog for a minute at a time and while it was painful, it was bearable and sure enough one minute went to two and on to three as I managed to hang on to the back of a few marathoners. I was now on the flat 2 closing miles of the marathon and continued on with this shuffle through the 25.1 mile mark (9:09). I stopped briefly to apply Biofreeze to my calf (I had forgotten that Denis had given me 2 sachets last week) which provided some relief. The 26.1 mile marker came in 8:46 - 3:25:00 on the Garmin and within a minute I passed over the marathon timing mat (I think it was displaying 3:25:46).
The Third Half
For the second year in a row I had reached the end of the marathon in Leenaun in a knackered state, contemplating a hilly painful slow 2-hour 13.1 miles ahead against my pre-race expectation of feeling relatively intact with 3:20 behind me and a 1:55 allowance to get under 5:15 for the half. Christ I was even contemplating 1:50 and a sub 5:10 finish. Pre-race visualisations are great for motivation but my only motivation now was that, as I wasn't crippled ,I could not quit and I was still going to salvage a PB out of the day. And so I plodded onwards up the hill out of Leenaun. I could see Valerie Glavin walking up the hill in front of me with a race marshall walking beside her. As I came alongside she told me her hammys were gone (still not fully recovered from Helsinki) but she managed to resume running so we decided to pace each other in an effort to keep the momentum going for as long as we could. U2 were blasting out over an PA system near the top of the hill with guys wearing oversize heads resembling the band members strutting their stuff, which was a very welcome diversion from the pain.
Mile 27.1 came in 9:29. I was hoping the pace would go below 9 minute miles once the hill was crested. On passing the half marathon 1 mile mark (Mile 27.2) down the road I decided to start timing my miles from these markers instead as they were closer to the finish, if that makes sense (it did at the time). The road levelled out and on we plodded, with the combined responsibility of pacing each other keeping us both going. Mile 28.2 came in 9:32, still no improvement. The next mile was better at 8:33 which included me stopping to pick up my bottle of coke at the 29 mile drop table. I ran with it for a few yards so as no to lose contact with Valerie and it exploded all over the place when i opened it up - I hadn't let it go flat beforehand as the fizz doesn't bother me. After the initial shower it went down well and fuelled me over the next few miles.
Valerie must have been suffering more than me as she asked whether or not we would make in under 6 hours if we maintained the pace. I looked at my watch and saw 3:54:xx, giving us 1:35 to cover the remaining 10 miles if we wanted to get under 5:30, which gave us a 5 minute cushion if we maintained an average 9 minute mile pace (1:30 for 10 miles). My head was certainly clear, pity about my legs. On we plodded over the undulating course churning out steady if somewhat slow miles - 9:12 - 8:25 - 9:31 - 9:22 to mile 33.2. The wind had picked up a little and was driving from the side carrying with it a little light rain.

33 Miles in - at a guess (pacing an Irish record holder)
Valerie was looking for other runners to pace her, calling out as she passed a marathon guy walking
"are you alright?" ,
to which the response was
"I'm ok".
"c'mon so"
she'd say
"you can pace me".
I don't think she got any volunteers apart from a Woman who did offer her encouragement to chase down the leading lady and ran with us for a spell. Valerie was asking me whether or not I could see her ahead, but by this stage my glasses had fogged up in the rain and I had to put them in my running belt. I could see why she was on the look out for a replacement. Two ultra guys passed us along this section, looking very fresh and running at a pace that looked impossibly fast to me.
Somewhere around mile 34 Valerie began to flag. I'd look behind and she'd be within 5 or 10 yards of me. Next time I looked I could not see her - my myopic vision was no help. It was good while it lasted but all good things must come to an end.
I was now waiting for the final right hand turn that would take me to the foot of the "Hell of the West" for the final push towards home. I though it would never come. Mile 34.2 came in 8:37 and at last the village of Maum was in sight and the right turn to the 35.2 (HM mile 9) mark - 8:29.
All that was left was the long 2 mile drag up to the highest point on the course - a 350 foot climb, which on paper doesn't sound bad but after 35 miles and 4 hours and 45 minutes of running was as welcome as getting your toe nails pulled off (falling off is a different matter, which is a badge of honour among ultra runners i'm told) . I resigned myself to 20 minutes of putting the head down and slogging through the discomfort, resisting the urge to seek out the summit as it would only wreck my head - my resistance wasn't great and every so often I'd look up and curse under my breadth that the summit was getting no nearer. I was passed by another ultra runner halfway up, but I could offer no resistance.
Eventually I reached the summit and the 37.2 mile mark (9:27 and 10:01 for the previous 2 miles - not far off my 20 minute allowance) and was so fatigued that I did not take advantage of the next downhill mile to knock a few more seconds out of my PB, content to cover it in 8:52. It was only when I was well into the last mile that the fear on not making it home under 5:25 spurred me on to increase my pace. Passing mile 39.2 in 8:21 (5:23:46 on the Garmin) - pushing the last 0.1 mile down the finishing chute passing under the clock in 5:24:31, delighted to be finished and while my legs were well and truly spent the rest of me was reasonably intact.
The End
We regrouped in Peacocks Hotel, for soup and sandwiches before heading back to the hostel for a shower and the long drive back to Cork, dropping Paul back to Galway for his lift home and stopping in Charleville for the obligatory greasy burger and chips, the perfect antidote to the sugar laden diet of the previous 24 hours.
Post Race Pain
My right calf - to be expected
The big toe of my left foot, when confined by my "tight" work shoes on Monday. It was black after the race (3 out of 10 are now black) and it's 50/50 as to whether i'll lose it or not - saves on the pedicure bills.
Slight twinge in my left quad.
Other that that no issues, haven't seen a blister in 3 years.

Post Race Thoughts
1) Had my calf held up could I have run with Paul to a 5:10 finish - maybe not. I could have suffered more on the hills. Paul's motivation over the last half was that he had not realised that he had passed John (while he was on a toilet break) before the marathon mark and was chasing him down to the end. Paul did a 3:20 and John a 3:21 marathon.
2) I would have likely caught up with John and ran with him to the finish - 5:18
3) I was very confortable passing the leading Lady at mile 22 and she finished in 5:20 - so my 5:15 target was certainly achieveable.
4) How can I race long if my muscular skeletal system is not up to the task.
5) Portumna Marathon?, 50k? or 100k?
6) Pacing 3:30 in Limerick in 3 weeks, should be ok.
The results have me in 17th place out of 171 finishers, which squeezes me into the top 10%, not a bad days work.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Connemara 2011

Half - 1:41 Full - 3:25 Ultra - 5:24:XX. Cramps at mile 19. Walked at mile 24. Still a 5 minute PB. Clubmates did very well:- Paul Daly, who I ran with until mile 19, finished in 5:10, without a watch and 2 weeks after the Wicklow Way Ultra. John Desmond, who went out with his usual fast pace, finished in 5:18. Maura Regan had a fantastic run finishing in about 5:40 to finish 5th Female - that would have got her 1st or 2nd spot last year. More later. Later You can see from the HR data below where my race came apart just before mile 24, where I walked for the guts of half a mile and once I resumed my effort was less than it had been before. More Much Later

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Long and Winding Road

Less that 36 hours to go. I'm as ready as i'll ever be. I can't say i'm brimming with boundless energy following my 2 easy 5 milers on Tuesday and Thursday. The week was so busy at work that my final week of taper dovetailed nicely with my reduced spare time, although I didn't get as much sleep as i'd have liked. Still tonight is the important night for rest and with no pressing deadlines in the morning I should be well rested by the time I hit the road for Galway shortly after Midday.
I've prepared my 2 "three hour bottles" of perpeteum for reconstitution with water just before the race as it has a limited shelf life of as low as 5 hours, depending on temperature. So if it's as unseasonally warm as it was today (20 degrees C) i'll reconstitute the second bottle at the 24 mile drop zone. Apart from that drop zone I don't have any specific need to utilise the other 2 drop zones available to the ultra runners - i'll probably drop a bottle of coke somewhere and maybe an emergency perpeteum mix in case they lose the first one - I only got 2 out of 3 drop bags last year. Abina made a trip to the pet store today to pick up distinctive dog poop bags that will help me identify my drops among the sea of black and white plastic bags on the drop tables and she didn't let me down, landing home with a roll of orange and orange with black spots doggy bags.
Clubmate Denis Looney, who had to pull out due to injury, kindly let me borrow his new running belt with bottle holder, which I trialled this week and it worked like a dream. Denis is in a low place at the moment having to forgo the race after putting in the hard training, so hugs and kisses to him. It won't be the same without him.
To mitigate against cramping i'll carry endurolyte capsules in the running belt (and include 1 or 2 in the drop bags) - the recommended dose is between 1 and 3 per hour - so i'll be popping pills every other minute. I may also include some solid food in the drop bags, just in case I get a bad case of the munchies (a cereal bar or two) and i'll top off the menu with an emergency gel or two.
With the food sorted all that's left is my outfit - my orange shoes will match the doggy bags and after that it's mix and match with black and white, which compliment any outfit. Oh! and finally my pacing strategy, well I aim to go out.........................................................

Sunday, 3 April 2011

An interview with Tony Mangan

Nothing much happening as I finish off my second taper week with 42 miles in the bag so I though I'd share this interview with Tony Mangan in Brush Colorado 5 months in to his 3 year round the world jog - setting out from Dublin following the 2010 marathon and on target to return for the 2013 event. He's running a minimum average of a marathon a day for 1,000 days - makes Connemara seem like a 100m dash.
My paces this week have picked up as the volume reduces. Conscious of the fact that I need to reduce the stress on my legs I made sure and took it easy this morning - still the 120 HR gave me close to 8 minute miles - roll on Connemara.
Tue 29th Mar
Lunchtime 5.49 miles @ 7:19 pace & 131 HR,
Evening 9.76 miles @ 7:39 pace & 129 HR with 5 mile evaluation run @ 140 HR & 6:53 pace.
Thur 31st Mar 9.46 miles @ 7:27 pace & 134 HR

March (Run 380 miles, Bike NIL, Swim 1.5km)

Sat 2nd Apr 10.27 miles @ 7:12 pace & 139 HR

Sun 3rd Apr 7.8 miles @ 8:04 pace & 120 HR

Taper Week #2 (Run 42.78 miles, Bike NIL, Swim 1.5km)