Sunday, 9 December 2012

Coming Home

Standing on the start line of the Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon during the minutes silence for lost loved ones, within sight of the home where I grew up seemed like a fitting place to be yesterday morning. Any worries I had about completing the 26.2 mile hilly course in under 3:30 seemed to fade away standing there under a clear blue sky on a cold December morning. The start had been delayed by half an hour as the logistics of (and facilities for) dealing with over two thousand runners, their supporters and baggage at the less accessible Inchydoney beach location had not been fully appreciated by the organisers. A few of us had stayed in Inchydoney the night before so we were not caught up in the delays in getting to the start. My cousin Liam had travelled from Dublin to run the full, Clubmates John and Dennis were pacing 3:45/4:00 and Pat was racing the half.
With three races on offer (10k, half and full marathon), it was not clear until a few minutes before the start that the marathon would start first followed by the half and 10k, about 5 minutes later, which would prove to be another blip in the organisation, as the fast half marathon and 10k runners had to weave their through the back of the marathon field along narrow country lanes, with particular difficulty in passing the pacing groups.
Clubmate Paul Daly was pacing 3:30 with me so I knew I was in good company - steady as a rock.  I had fashioned a "Clonakilty marathon pace band" to allow for the hills, particularly over the second half of the course, essentially banking up to 2 minutes, that would rise and fall with the course elevation. I met up with fellow Inchydoney man Tom Neville before the start, who was aiming to run with me for a 3:30 finish.

Gerry Forde, the sole wheelchair entry, started a few minutes before the main field as the MC commented that he would need assistance getting up the first (short but steep) hill a quarter of a mile in with the aid of a  bikini clad assistant. Initially I thought it was a joke but sure enough as we passed him on the hill a few minutes later I had to do a double take as bikinis at the beach in winter are rare.  (I heard later that this is the only uphill on a road race that his wheelchair cannot cope with).

The first few miles along the shoreline were flat and it was relatively easy to build up a cushion of 10 to 15 seconds per mile. 3 miles in, the lead half marathon runners went past before we turned right for the gradual rise up to the crest of a hill before dropping down to the village of Rathbarry and the 6 mile mark, where we split from the half marathon field. I got chatting to Tom Neville about times past and how our respective families were doing. "I heard you got engaged" he said after a while. "Yeah", I replied "about 25 years ago"........."we really got to catch up more often". Tom had run the inaugural 2010 Clon marathon in 3:30, so he was in familiar territory and looked very comfortable throughout.

We hit the coast again at the 8 mile mark turning east up a short steep hill and down to the Long Strand, the sun reflecting off on a calm sea with Galley Head off in the distance. We couldn't have picked a better day. We had a good crew of 15 to 20 runners with us, which was very encouraging.

Mile 10 saw us rise again as we left the coast for a mile, passing O'Donovans Pub at Fishers Cross before dropping again to the Red Strand (Mile 11.5). We turn inland along a country lane towards the halfway mark, with about 2 minutes in the bag. Shortly afterwards we join the half marathon field for the mile climb up to the Ardfield Road (Mile 14.2, HM mile 9.5) before the fields split again as we turn left, through Ardfield and the rise to the highest point on the course (Mile 16.2). There is still a good group of runners with us, working well together to get through everything the course throws at us. The elevation gain is lost over the next mile and a half as we drop to the beach at Duneen and take a sharp left along the undulating coast road to Dunmore, catching sight of the finish line at Inchydoney across the bay, still 8 miles away.

The hill we have all been waiting for is upon us just after the 19 mile mark. This is the last big challenge. Get to the top in one piece and the rest is downhill and flat (with the exception of the short climb over the last mile). We have a 90 second cushion and will need at least 60 of these over the next mile as the road rises 250 feet. The task is made that bit more difficult by the gravel surface. This is where the field begins to spread out as a few of the stronger runners, including Tom, move out in front. Everyone turns inwardly to find the mental strength to keep going as the road steepens. We eventually reach the top and turn right, again joining the half marathon field for the 1 mile drop back to sea level (Mile 21). There is still a group of 5 or 6, including clubmate Anne Cashman, who had decided after Mile 1 to leave the relative safety of the 3:45 pacing group, to chase the 3:30 finish she narrowly missed last year.

We pick up the pace on the downhill to bank a few seconds cushion so that the last 5 flat miles can be run at a steady 8 minute pace, leaving something in the bag for the short climb half a mile from the finish. It is over these last few miles that we lose most of the group, including Anne, with 2 remaining with us by the time we hit Mile 23. The next few miles are all about keeping a steady pace as the warmth from the sun adds to the effort. It is at this stage that I have to dig a little deeper to keep an even pace, which doesn't worry me too much, so close to the finish. I felt worse over the closing stages of pacing 3:45 in Dublin six weeks ago, so things are improving.

One mile to go and I see Liam 100 yards in front - he had intended to run with me but headed out at a more ambitious pace. We have picked up another  two runners at this stage as we ease back the pace over the last climb of the day before dropping down towards the beach and the finish line, with Liam managing to keep ahead of the posse. I cross the line with 3:29:46 on the Garmin, only to realise that the real finish is 10 yards ahead - hence my official chip time of 3:29:53 - 7 seconds under, my tightest margin to-date.

A quick dip in the sea afterwards helps rejuvenate the legs for the evening ahead. Liam asked me this morning how my legs were and would I able to run the course again, in anticipation of running the back to back next February. "Well I certainly won't be prepare by spending the night before in the Pub, pleasant and all as it was".


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Sixmilebridge - "Welcome to hell"

I went to Sixmilebridge (County Clare) with John today to run a marathon around the town along a 1 mile loop. Our race was one of the short ones on offer with a 52.44 mile double marathon starting at 7, a 30 miler at 10, the marathon at 11 and a half marathon at 12. Overall there were about 100 entries, which is just about enough to ensure there was no congestion around the 1 mile urban course, which remained open to traffic, although the course was coned off.
The marathon started close to the high point of the 1 mile loop with a 0.22 mile net drop to the start/finish area, another 0.44 mile net drop down to the center of the village before a 0.33 rise back to the highpoint. So no big hills but the 26 small ones proved enough of a challenge. 
I decided to start relatively conservatively at about 8:30 pace and gradually increase the pace over the opening 6 miles to below 8 minute miles with the aim of getting under 3:30. John's plan was slighthly different - 8 minute miles for a sub 3:30 (No 6 mile cut-in). Hopefully I would bump into him in the second half. The temperature was a few degrees above freezing which called for my club singlet over a long sleeved top and gloves. I wore compression socks for my recently recovered calves and a relatively new pair of Asics Gel Hyperspeeds. The first drops of rain began to fall as the countdown began - the start of a progressively wet and windy day.
My opening half mile was at 8 minute pace, but the rise at the back of the course knocked that back to 8:21 for the opening mile. Mile 2 passed in 8:15. Coming into the 2.2 mile start/finish the front runner passed me - bloody fast 3.2 miles (5.18 km) in under 19 minutes. My pace gradually reduced to below 8 minute miles by mile 5 (7:57) 40:50 overall - only 50 seconds behind 3:30 pace. Coming into the end of lap 7 one of my laces became undone and after crossing the timing mat to begin lap 8 I stopped to tie it. On resuming running I noticed the Garmin display "auto-resume" -  "Shit" the timer was paused while I was stopped. I had not tied the lace properly and had to stop again before the end of the lap to tie it again. I reckoned I had lost about 40 seconds, when checking my time against Ken Begg's Garmin a few laps later.
 I was on 3:30 pace by mile 10 (1:19:12 on the Garmin - close to 1:20 real-time). No sign of John ahead though. In fact I did not catch him until coming in to complete lap 15. He reckoned we were 1:50 below 3:30 pace. Miles 10 to 15 had typically been at 7:40 pace (7:20 on the downhill, rising to 7:40 by the time I crested the high point). I had to tie my bloody shoe lace again - nearly cutting off circulation on the top of my foot to make sure it would not unravel again. I went ahead of John before the end of lap 16 - 10 miles to go. The laps to mile 21 were at a steady pace just under 7:40 miles. With 5 miles to go John was back on my shoulder and pulling away from me (a few bars of chocolate had given him renewed energy - I had taken a gel at mile 13 and was saving my second one for mile 22). I could not respond and preferred to stick to my relatively consistent pace, which would get me to the finish line in the most efficient way I knew - and who knows he may slow before the finish - although the way he was moving I doubted it. I was just glad that I was reasonably comfortable and not slowing down (a good sign for pacing Clon in 3 weeks time) Niall, who was stewarding close to the start/finish, was encouraging both of us to race as we passed. 
Coming in to complete laps 23 and 24 I was about 30 seconds behind John and figured I would finish up to a minute behind him. Coming up the rise towards the 25 mile mark, however, I noticed I was gaining on him, which encouraged me to keep a steady effort as I gradually eroded the gap between us - crossing the start/finish mat at mile 25.22 a few yards behind him - one lap to go. We ran down to the village center side by side. Knowing that John has a much faster finishing kick than me I knew that the only chance I had was to kick from the bottom of the rise (about mile 25.6) as I appeared to be stronger on the uphills over the last few laps, with John pulling away on the downhills. If I could put enough of a gap between us by the top of the rise I might just be able to hold on over the last 0.3 miles to the finish.
Off I went - pushing harder than I had over the last 25 laps - knowing  hoping that the effort I was enduring was harder for John. I didn't look back but was certain he was right behind me - very difficult to tell where he was, as we passed quite a few runners and every footfall I heard behind me was John's. Finally I crested the high point and opened up the throttle as hard as I could - running scared - this wouldn't be the first time that John would blaze past me over the closing few 100m of a race. I hoped I had done enough on the hill. I kept hearing footsteps behind me - almost stumbling on the last bend in my eagerness not to lose speed, 50m from the finish - pushing for the line crossing just a few seconds over 3:23 on the Garmin - so about 3:24:xx counting the stops to tie my shoelace. John came in a few seconds later - claiming that I had done enough on the hill to keep ahead. My last 0.22 miles was at 6:36 pace - good to know that I had something left in the tank. Today was never about puhing my limits but more about getting some confidence that I am fully recovered and have a reasonable chance of pacing a hilly 3:30 finish in Clon on December 8th.
Well done to Tom Enright and all the stewards today - great organisation, support and encouragement and a tough job to be standing out there in the rain all day. "Welcome to hell" Tom said to me when I passed him somewhere around mile 23, splashing through the rivers flowing down the road - but to be quite honest it was nowhere near hell. I only noticed how wet it was after I finished.

PS: The results give me a 3:24:02 finish in 5th place (out of 34). 1st was nearly half an hour ahead in 2:55:40 - although he slowed significantly in the 2nd half (1:18:40 to mile 13.2 and 1:37:00 for the last 13 miles to my 1:44:13 & 1:39:49).
 Somewhere Out There

Wednesday, 31 October 2012


On Monday I ran my 25th marathon in Dublin, pacing the 3:45 finishers with John, Niall and Orna, managing to cross the finish line 3 hours 44 minutes and 48 seconds after I crossed the start line (3:44:50 clock time - wave 2 start) - maintaining a perfect record  for the 9 marathons I have paced todate, despite the distinct lack of preparation and form coming into the event. Of all my pacing gigs this was the one I was most worried about, giving myself a 50/50 chance of finishing. A  calf injury 4 weeks out meant no running for 2 weeks and only 5 slow runs in the two week lead up, all of which brought discomfort to my calf. I'm paying the price now for my lack of preparation - while my calf never felt better my quads are killing me, bringing the traditional pain when walking downstairs.
Once I knew my calf was going to hold out I enjoyed the experience with fantastic crowd support right throughout the course and particularly over the last few miles. It got a bit congested at times with one or two runners feeling they had to be physically touching me to get carried along and if I slowed down or speeded up to get some room they tagged right along. The balloons of last year were exchanged for backpack with wings which, after adjusting the straps, felt quite comfortable. We looked like running faries. Clubmates Joy and Lisa tagged along for most of the race coming in shortly behind in 3:47/3:48, which was a 10 minute PB for Joy in her second marathon and a debut Pb for Lisa - well done girls, fantastic running. Clubmates Colin (2:55) and Vivian (2:59) broke 3 hours for the first time as did Triathlon buddy Martin (2:58) - well done lads. A great day out in Dublin. I met a few interesting characters out there, including Phyllis Browne who was aiming for a podium finish in the F60 category and sure enough she finished second in 3:49 just 6 minutes behind the winner. To put her achievement in context i'd have had to have run 2:33 to get second M45.
Abina came up for the weekend, getting full exposure to the running obsession at a meal full of pacers the night before (I almost appear normal in her eyes again - not a bad evening's work). She was exposed to the lighter side of the obsession with my Cousin Liam, his Portuguese brother in law Miguel, his 77 year old college lecturer buddy Frank and Miguel's friend Martin in the Lincoln Inn after the race - just 200 yards from the finish line. The conversation and Guinness flowed freely that by the time we emerged it was dark and the finish line gantry and barriers were gone.
Hopefully my running mojo will return after a few months of intermittent injury and (running) apathy. I'll have to step up my training for my next pacing gig in Clonakilty on 8th December. Liam is coming down to eclipse his 3:18 Dublin PB and experience the hospitality of West Cork.
The 3:45 Faries out on the Course.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

To Hell and Back

100km into yesterday's Rebel Tour on one of the steep ascents between Ahillies and Eyeries at the back end of the Beara Peninsula I was in a bad place. The last 10km had been tough, very tough. My legs weren't working the way I expected them to - no power, lactic acid everywhere and muscles that never troubled me before were on the brink of spasming. Ian (my travelling partner for the day), who I had left the food station back in Adrigole with, was gone ahead. Only for my quick stop in Ahillies to fill my water bottle and take my emergency gel, I wouldn't have made it this far. I was contemplating a very slow and tough 60km back to Glengarriff - how was I going to get up and over the Healy Pass? for the second time. If my legs were bad now what were they going to be like then.

The first 62km (39 miles) to the Adrigole food stop had went well - leaving Glengarriff at 9:30 with Ian and about 400 others and heading up to the tunnels of the Caha Pass, the steep descent towards Kenmare, drafting behind the Dungarvan cycling crew before the second climb of the day - pushing hard, chasing Bandon Cycling Club up the hill and down to the foot of the climb up to the Healy Pass. Grinding my way up to the top at a steady pace, getting out of the saddle for the steepest section over the last 300m - over the top and the technical winding descent down into Adrigole. I had lost Ian on the first climb but he wasn't far behind me.

After stocking up on tea, sandwiches and cake we headed off for the second leg around the end of the Peninsula, this time without the benefit of a group. We took it in turns at the front, although Ian was there more often than I as I had overdone the food intake at Adrigole. We made good progress along the undulating road to Castletownbere and heading out the winding road to Ahillies. After a while a group of 4 passed us and I suggested to Ian that we tag onto the back of them. This went reasonably well for about a mile but I was under pressure to keep up. As soon as the first challenging hill came I was out the back before I knew it and didn't have the legs to get back on, as I saw Ian chase the group up and over the hill. The next 5 miles was a steady decline as the undulating road zapped whatever energy I had. By the time I came into Ahillies I was at my lowest, but the worst was yet to come.

The water stop and emergency gel in Ahillies was enough to get me back in the saddle for the 10 miles of road to Eyeries. I heard one of the volunteers mention that the next hill was very steep so I braced myself mentally for the challenge. Having never travelled this road I did not know what was in store. I did know, from reviewing the contour map beforehand that there weren't any long hills so it should be relatively straightforward, right?. The problem was that I wasn't at my best, the hills were short but steep and I didn't know how many of them there were. The only consolation was that others were suffering around me and one or two were walking up the inclines. But others seemed to breeze past me as fresh as daises. Eventually the last hill was behind me and a series of sharp descents with 90 degree blind bends began. One guy in front of me overcooked a bend and ended up in the ditch across the road - still on his bike though so no harm done. To the credit of the organisers every sharp decent was manned by a marshall with a red flag and whistle and some of the worst even had flashing mobile traffic lights - superbly organised. The descents gave way to a few miles of level road where I made reasonably good progress into Eyeries for the second food stop. Never was I so glad to get off the bike. Getting back on could be a problem.

I didn't eat much at the food stop but did take on a big cup of warm sugary coffee. As I hadn't had a cup of coffee all week the hit was all the more powerful. I sat a while chatting to Ian and a few of the motorcycle support crew and began to feel a bit more human. It wasn't long before we were back on our bikes for the final leg back to Lauragh up over the Healy Pass for the second time and left along the coast road back into Glengarriff and the finish. We agreed to take it easy for a while to see how our aching legs reacted. There was a group of 20 cyclists in front and I suggested to Ian for the second time that perhaps we should tag onto them and get an easy ride for a while (you'd think i'd have learned my lesson). This time we managed to stay on and were soon motoring along with a crew primarily from Waterford City. We were passed by another crew but after a mile or two both came together to form a sizable group. The effort was reasonably comfortable, my legs complying for once and the fatigue from the previous stage forgotten for the moment. A guy beside me said that we were clocking 36kph (22.3 mph).

I did notice that we were unintentionally working our way forward as those setting the pace on the front were being recycled towards the back and before i knew it I was on the front setting the pace, working twice as hard just to keep up with the guy beside me. When I had had enough I recycled myself backwards and it was Ian's turn. Fortunately the end of the train ride wasn't too far away as we turned left for the climb up the Healy Pass and the group began to break up. Ian's stint at the front had been longer than anticipated -"No one took over from me" he said afterwards - although i'm sure if he had eased up like I had done he would have been relieved of his duties - but that is not the Army Navy way.

We kept a steady pace on the gradual 5km climb, although it was slower that our first attempt 3 hours earlier. The only worry was the final 300m to the summit and it was tough as I didn't have the same power in my legs the second time round, just managing to claw my way up at a pace that just had enough forward momentum  to keep me from toppling over sideways. I stopped at the top briefly as Ian came past and headed down to Adrigole in front of me. I kept the descent easy as two guys went past me just before Adrigole and the turn left for Glengarriff. The two guys hooked up so I jumped onto their back wheel and got pulled along. Ian joined us as we passed him with the 2 guys in front doing the work. Before long we were on the last pull of the day, a 5km gradual incline that required a comfortably hard pace to  keep with the guys in front. One of the guys pulled away from me but the rest of us kept together....for a while. As I neared the top I looked back and I could not see Ian or the other guy. The remainder of the road was a short steep decent followed by a short rise and the 1.5 mile long fast decent and 2 flat miles into Glengarriff and the finish, passing a few of those that were completing the 85km loop. Ian was about 5 seconds behind me at the finish having clocked his fastest mile 98 at 31.6 mph to chase me down on the Road into Glengarriff. Home at last, in a few minutes under 6 hours (saddle time).

Another feed of tea, coffee, sandwiches and cakes before we headed for the local GAA club for a cold shower - after all the hardship of the day you'd think a cold shower would be a doddle but there were more screams heard coming from that small clubhouse that anywhere out on the course.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

A True Professional

"Tom thank you. True professionals. Fantastic service, sound lads. Hope ye enjoyed it"

Text message from Ken (Dingle Marathon Race Director) to Tom (Lead singer with Tommy and the Pacemakers - big up around Sixmilebridge).

It's been a while since I last posted. I've had a proper blogging holiday. I haven't had much to say really as all was quite on the running front, with the Dingle marathon being my first event since pacing Waterford at the end of June. My calf injury following Waterford, while not very serious, kept me from doing any proper training, with a total of 160 miles under my belt for the months of July and August. Half of those miles were in the two weeks leading up to Dingle to ensure I would have the endurance needed - my longest run of 19 miles the week before did not instill confidence. I had anticipated getting in some decent speedwork following Waterford and trying my luck with the shorter races over the summer, but that was not to be.

I made up for the lack of running by switching to the bike, covering 1,120 miles in July and August - more than for the previous 12 months. The lure of the bike took over for a while and my lack of running didn't bother me too much. I hope to put my bike legs to good use in the upcoming Rebel Tour in two weeks. The receding daylight and my recovering running legs are likely to reverse this trend as we head into autumn.

I headed down to Dingle with Ian (racing the half) and John (pacing the full) stopping off in Anascaul on the way for a "Pacers Meal". We were originally booked into a holiday home in Anascaul which was later changed to Dingle (within walking distance from the start/finish). Tom had already booked the meal in Anascaul and was reluctant to cancel. The Anchor Inn in Anascaul is unique to say the least - there were 3 dishes on the menu, no desserts or tea/coffee and we were told there was no toilet for customers (although I managed to find one). Another guy went in search of a toilet and ended up in someones front room. Tom never did tell us how he found the place - maybe it was the only place in town that heard of served pasta.

As for the marathon itself, I found it failry tough at times as my legs had just about enough endurance training to get me around the course in the time required. I wore lightweight racers which put more pressure on my calves. My main concern was that my calves would tighten up, cramp and force me to slow down. At times I felt that I was no different than those around me - who is pacing who? - a fine line.

I ran the first half with Shane, the 1:45 HM pacer. There was a 1:30 pacer, but there was no sign of him in front of us as we started. He went flying past us about a mile in, with 2 runners just about hanging onto his coattails (He had started well back the field - a rookie mistake ;-).
I had a group of about 7 or 8 runners at the halfway stage. We had a cushion of about 40 seconds which I said I would get up to 1:40 to 2:00 over the downhill sections before mile 21 so that we could drop the pace by  about a minute a mile to get up the worst hill on the course, extending for about 1.5 miles. We needed every second of it as the 1:50 cushion I had at the bottom of the hill was whittled down to 5 seconds by the time we passed the 23 mile mark (Dropping the pace to over 9 minute miles did not make the effort any easier). I had to concentrate the effort over the closing miles to pull back a few seconds per mile to have a 30 second cushion at the end. One guy, John O'Leary, forged ahead from the top of the hill coming home in a PB time of 3:27 (He was delighted when I spoke to him after the race). I ran with 2 guys over the closing miles, counting down the remaining minutes, with all three of us crossing the line together - Clock 3:29:47 (Chip 3:29:33) Glad to be finished, my latent fitness just about getting me around the course in the alotted time. I was even hobbling around for a while afterwards as if I had run a marathon.

Handshakes Allround

John O'Leary Celebrating his 3:27 PB

Friday, 6 July 2012

No. 23 - The Viking Marathon

The inaugural Viking Marathon in Waterford on Saturday was my 23rd Marathon (including 5 ultras) and my 7th as a pacer. With 5 marathons under my belt this year alone and the possibility of 3 more pacing gigs, I appear to be slipping into the abyss that is occupied by those who think nothing of running two marathons in one day (and no I'm not referring to a 52 mile ultra) and have to organise their own marathons to feed their addiction. Sure enough the usual suspects were on the start line at the Mall on Saturday morning, with some sharing the early miles with me, slagging each other off and having a bit of craic before falling off the pace as the memory of their most recent ultra or marathon hits their legs - all well capable of running sub 3:30, if only they allowed themselves to recover, their legs in a perpetual state of stress/recovery.

Pat Purcell of Kilkenny City Harriers was my pacing buddy for the day and for his first pacing gig he took to it like a duck to water and appeared to thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Hi-Ho Hi-Ho It's off to work we go

We got singlets with the word "Pacer" emblazoned across the front and back, which certainly helped us to stick out from the crowd. The day threatened rain and sunshine in equal measure, typically Irish weather, the light rain before the start washing off the sun screen that some of the the runners had applied liberally in the warm sunshine less that an hour before.

Enjoying the First Mile

The course was a mixture of urban and rural roads around the south side of the City before heading out the Cork Road at Mile 9 and south to Tramore at mile 10.5. Unusually for a marathon the mile markers were "miles remaining" as opposed to "miles completed" so anyone with a standard pace band was fucked left slightly confused as "16 miles remaining" meant you were 10.22 miles into the race for which you had no split time on your pace band. Pacing 3:30 at 8 minute miles wasn't too bad as 16 miles reamining meant 2:08 time remaining, indicating that I should have 1:22  or slightly less on my Garmin . 

There were a few drags, particularly the mile or 2 before halfway, where we got a good cheer from the half marathon runners lining up to start just over 15 minutes after we passed through. We slowed the pace going up the drags to even out the effort a little and picked it up slightly on the downhills.

Miles 16 to 19 consisted of a loop around Tramore where the support again was  very good. Through the last relay changeover point at the end of the Promenade and heading for home. A few runners began to drop off the pace here but we still had a good core group of about 10 to 15. Miles 19 to 23 were back in towards the City along the main road and it was a question of keeping the head down and not letting the fatigue take over. The course took an out and back diversion along the ring road at mile 23 - just to mess with your head a little. I could see Chris O'Connell about 50 yards ahead - the last time I saw Chris was just after he crossed the finish line in Limerick last year in 3:30:05 and this was his first marathon since. I shouted out "Don't let me catch you Chris" and he gave a wave of acknowledgement. The out and back section finished just after Mile 24 - two straight miles to the finish - time to keep the head down and ignore the pain - well that's what Pat was telling anyone who would listen. Chris was still ahead and if anything had increased the gap between us. With a mile to go we had about 50 seconds of a cushion and so we eased up slightly to encouage a few stragglers, with the core group of about 8 going ahead to finish comfortably under 3:30. We managed to get 1 or 2 more over the line with a few seconds to spare, with 1 guy cramping badly about 400m from the finish and hobbling over the line just in front of us (he was actually behind us in the shot below) - Clock 23:29:57 (3:29:45 Chip). Chris came in comortably in 3:28:something - Well done on your first sub-3:30 Chris.

What time is it? I can't wait around much longer.

I did my usual post marathon/ultra recovery routine of lying down for 10 minutes and keeping my legs elevated when this guy passing said "There's a man who knows what he's doing" and I look up to be greeted by none other than John Tracy, the silver medalist in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Marathon (behind Carlos Lopez). If only he could say that about my training ;-)

While my legs recovered pretty well after the marathon an easy run in the vibrams on Monday revealed a tight right calf, which got progressively more tender as the run went on. A similar easy run on Wednesday morning (this time in more conventional running shoes) was no better and while the first mile felt good an ache developed in the calf, which got progressively worse as the run went on, forcing me to slow down - the last mile was over 9 minute pace!!!

I think I have a mild strain/tear so it's no running for a week or two. I had been thinking of running a long ultra in August but couldn't make up my mind - at least now it 's made up for me as i'd have had to ramp up my mileage over the next 3 weeks to get some ultra specific training in my legs. So i've switched to the bike, which is less stressful on the legs and will keep me somewhat motivated, particularly as I have agreed to cycle the Ring Of Kerry with a neighbour over the summer (not the organised one this weekend with 6,000 or 7,000 expected to take part).

Finally all the best to Thomas who is heading into unknown territory when he completes competes in the oddessey that is known as the Belfast Bangor 24-hour track race. An exciting time for him. I wish I was there. If you wish to offer support please text words of encouragement via. his support crew @ 00353 (0)86 3840587. All the best Thonms!!!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Portumna Stats & Snaps

The results of the Portumna 50k give me an official 50k PB of 3:46:09 coming in 5th place, 13:45 behind 4th place and 13:47 ahead of 6th place - so well secured in that position over the final stages of the race. I certainly was in a no mans land as all those behind me were lapped by all those in front of me and I managed to avoid getting lapped at all. In fact the front runner, Mike Cunningham, was 5:54 behind me after I went through the 25k point (Lap 5) yet when he came in to finish his final lap I had gone through the start/finish for the penultimate time 4:53 before him - so he only gained a minute on me over 20k. 

My 25k (15.53 mile) splits were 1:52:17 and 1:53:52 giving  positive split of 1:35. so my fade over the closing stages was not too telling. My splits compared to the leading 4 are shown on the graph below. I was reasonably well able to hold my own (relatively speaking)

The splits of those behind me show similar fades over the closing stages with the exception of Nigel Campbell, who came in 11th position with a whopping 8:12 negative split climbing 10 places in the second half of the race - still not enough to trouble me though ;-) - although his last 5k split was 23 seconds faster than mine. You'd have to wonder would he have got a better overall time if he had headed out a bit more agressively and achieved more even splits - the eternal debate as to what is the best pacing strategy for a race.

Peter Mooney, who's has a fine collection of photographs of the race on Flickr kindly e-mailed me the photos below. The full collection of photographs can be viewed HERE. Peter and his brother Rory dominated last years Marathon taking first and second spots in 2:50 and 3:03. This year, fresh from a 2:41 and 2:57 marathon in Cork they only managed first and fourth spot in 2:48 and 2:56 respectively.  At the end of next week they are both headed to Waterford for another pair of sub 3 hour marathons no doubt. There must be something in the Mooney genes. See you on the start line.

Completing Lap 3 (15k) with Seamus

Heading Towards Lap 4 Completion (19.5k)

Another Lap Down

My recovery has gone quite well, with an easy 5 miler at 7:29 pace last night showing up no residual aches and pains. There were some mild aches in the quads when walking downstairs on Sunday and Monday but nothing as severe as those typically associated post marathon DOMs. A repeat of last weeks short fast VO2Max intervals at the Track this evening were completed at a slower pace, reflecting reduced energy as much as anything else.

Sat 16th June 31.07 miles in 3:46:09 (7:17 pace - Portumna 50k)

Mon 18th June 5.25 miles in 39:19 (7:29 pace @ 126HR? - Easy run)

Tue 19th June 3 miles with 1/2/3/2/1 mins fast with = recoveries (5:20 to 6:30 pace)

Saturday, 16 June 2012

It'll Be Over Before You Know It

These were the words of advice from Denis Looney at the track last Tuesday for the Portumna 50k this morning - and he was spot on. There's something about running 10 x 5k loops in a forest park that takes the marathon+ feel from the race. Was it the loops, the lack of mile markers (there were km ones alright) or the fact that my Garmin died after 7k. There were none of the Marathon mind games that you usually encounter when racing 26.2 - "13.1 - only half way there" - "16 miles, 10 to go" - "Mile 20 - the real halfway" - "Mile 24 - will this ever f#c*ing end". Maybe there's something about counting down 10 laps that tricks the mind into believing that things won't be that bad and "it'll be all over before you know it". It might be a bit different if you're counting down 400 laps of the tartan track in Bangor next month to get your head around 100 miles (actually 402.3 laps in lane 1).

Four of us travelled up to Portumna last night with Myself and John having travelled the road last year and Neil (who kindly provided the transport) and Charlie being the ultra virgins. Although Charlie had covered ultra distances in training. He's that type of guy - HARD. We met up with clubmate Jo Fearon who was covering the 100k. Jo had a Texan in tow, Gabby, who was in Cork for 2 weeks teaching "cheerleading" - I kid you not. Fierce popular apparently "Go Rebels Go". She was running her first marathon, with her longest run to-date being 25k - ouch!

We all dined at a local hostelry before retiring to the B&B for the night - but not before we got the low down from Gabby on life in Texas - guns, coons (as in racoons), snakes (As well as rattlers they have a non-poisonous "Chicken Snake" - and we worry about foxes), fire ants, guns, scopions, deer hunting, guns, running in the heat, cheerleading moms, guns - did I mention guns - apparently you can have a kiddies birthday party at a shooting range - and we worry about sending our kids to Monkey Maze!

John, Charlie and I shared a room and slept reasonably well before the alarm went at 6. We rose quietly, dined on ambrosia cream rice and coffee. Charlie had instant porridge (for the first and last time). Turns out the carb content of the cream rice was quite low as, surprisingly, the rice content was listed as 9%. The rest was milk and gunk. Still it went down well, unlike the higher carb porridge.

We got to the start line over half and hour before the start, scheduled for 8 a.m., two hours after the 100k start. The usual suspects were there. Barbie Frankie and Ken were down from Dublin ( The urban version of Podge and Rodge), Tom and the Sixmilebridge brigade (fresh from his "never again" Cork marathon), Pat O'Keeffe on marathon No. 72, Paul back for another 100k, Eamon Dargan camping out for the short race ;-). I met up with Ray Lanigan before the start, a solid 4:50 in the the Connemara 39.3 mile ultra and a 47 mile 6-hour race in the UK had him in very good shape, targeting sub-3 hour marathon pace for the full 31 miles - close enough to 3:30. Also lining out was last years winner, Mike "Curley" Cunningham (3:44) and Course Record Holder Mick Rice (3:24:40). There are about 71 running the 50k, 86 in the marathon and about 27 already out on the course nearly 2 hours into the 100k.

About 10 minutes before the start I turned on my Garmin and the battery low symbol came on (Very sloppy preparation). I managed to use Ken's in-car charger to get 5 minutes charge into it and with 2 hours on the 100k clock we started on the first of our 5k loops. John, with a sub-4 hour target ran alongside me covering the first km in about 4:47 (My plan was to start around 4:50 and ease up towards 4:30 over the first few miles. There are about 6 in front of us, including the leading lady and last years winner, Deirdre Finn (3:58).

With water stations at the Start/finish area and at the 2.5km turnaround there is no problem with hydration. My nutrition strategy is fairly simple - a pocketful of gels (5 in all). We cover the first 5k lap in a few seconds over 23 minutes (3:50 pace) - just where I want to be. My aim was to cut down to 22:30 laps (4:30/km or 7:15/mile) and hang onto to them for as long as possible and if I feel good after 25km, push the pace towards 22:00 (4:24/km or 7:05/mile) - unlikely perhaps, but you'd never know. The out and back section to the 2.5km mark is perfect for seeing how far in front/behind other runners are.

We are joined by Seamus at the start of the 2nd lap, 2 weeks after his 3:05 in the Cork Marathon. His target @ sub 4-hours is similar to Johns. Deirdre Finn and another runner are running side by side about 200 yards ahead with the 4 front runners out of sight - Ray chasing down the lead trio of Shane Whitty, Mick Rice and Mike Cunningham. My Garmin dies completely at the 7 km mark. I'm not too bothered. In fact I feel free of the constraint of clock watching and happy to be paced by Seamus, for the moment, and to check my 5km splits at the start/finish clock. John drops back a little during the second lap which comes in about 22:30 - on target.

Early in the third lap we are joined by a guy from Lithuania introducing himself as "Amber" and complaining about a week spent drinking and working 12 hour shifts. All three of us pass Deirdre's running companion, who has fallen off the pace, before "Amber" moves ahead, mistaking the 11km mark for 11 miles. Seamus and I remain in joint 7th and 8th spot. At the 12.5km turnaround I take my first bottle of water. Seamus keeps a steady 7:20 mile pace, which I am happy to stick with. Before the end of the third lap we both catch Deirdre and I take my first gel. Lap 3 comes in another 22:30 (approx - I'll have to check the results when they come out.)

During lap 4 I gradually pull ahead of Deirdre and Seamus, maintaining what I feel is a steady comfortable pace - everything feeling fine with no niggles. The varying surfaces of paved road, gravel path and woodland walk offer respite from the normal monotony of a single running surface. 6th place, with no sign of Amber, But I feel he is running a little too fast and will come back to me before the race is over. I finish lap 4 in about 1:30:3x, a minute and a half up on 3:50. If I could bring that cushion to 5 minutes a 3:45 result may be possible. At this stage I am lapping the back of the 50K field and obviously passing the 100k runners. Jo, who is using the 100k as an entry into the Western States 100, was looking good, with over 3 hours on her legs.

I maintain a constant pace and feel reasonably strong with Lap 5 (the half-way point) coming in 1:52:xx - doubling to 3:44:xx "Could a sub 3:45 be possible". The gap back to Deirdre and Seamus has grown to over a minute and John, who complained of a tightening hamstring in lap 3, is still maintaining a steady pace behind them. I take my second gel halfway through lap 6. Coming in to complete the lap (30k in 2:14:xx) I hit the back of the marathon field, which started 2 hours into the 50k (4 hours into the 100k). The course becomes a bit more congested but still passable but it is now more difficult to spot other 50k runners on the out and back section, having to look at the numbers more closely to identify them (Blue strip for 50k, Yellow for the mara and green for the 100k) and when I spot someone with a blue strip a few 100 yards behind me I don't know whether they are gaining on me or whether I've just lapped them, (people look different from behind) relying on relative pace to make a educated guess - still enough to instill a little panic once  a while.

Somewhere during lap 6 or 7 I pass "Amber" and move into 5th place. The front runners are well ahead and I know this is the best I can do, but obviously not the worst. My pace remains close to 22:30 per 5km for laps 7 and 8, although the effort is getting noticeably harder Lap 8 (40km) comes in 2:59:16, allowing 2 x 22:50 minute 5ks to get under 3:45. A tough ask as my legs are feeling heavy and fatigue is rapidly setting in. During the first km of lap 9 I feel relatively strong but the feeling doesn't last too long. Still I push on and take my 3rd and last gel at the turnaround (Marathon in approx 3:09:xx). My running now feels heavy and dead  and the slightest incline and headwind tend to push negative thoughts into my head. I had been worried about being lapped by the front runners but was sufficiently ahead of Curley to ensure that was not going to happen (Mick Rice was about 75 seconds behind with about 3k to go). In the absence of a watch I feel my pace has slackened  and need to dig deep to keep my leg turnover.

Lap 9 (45km) comes in about 3:22:30 still on a reasonable pace and while I am encouraged by the fact that I am on the last 5k it's much more difficult to keep my mind on the pace. I pass one or two marathon runners, trying to ignore the mind games that come with comparing my pace to those around me. The last lap is all about keeping the forward momentum and not losing too much time. I know my pace has dropped but I try to ignore the pain and the urge to ease up. I can rest once I cross the finish line. The last 2 km is all about counting down the time using my cadence as a counter (90 steps per minute). This helps to distract me from the discomfort and eventually I can see the finish through the trees and while I can hear footsteps behind me coming into the finish I know it is a marathon runner and let him pass. The clock is in sight just after turning to 5:46 (3:46 for the 50k) and 10 second later I am finished and shaking hands with Race Director Seb Locteau. Another marathon runner coming through behind me complains that it's not fair, presumably because he has a few more laps to endure, being only 1:46 into his race.

A lie down with my legs elevated for 10 minutes to gravity assist the repair process followed by some gentle physio gets my legs back to reasonable shape. John comes in a few seconds under his 4 hour target, having exchanged places with Deirdre Finn over the last lap, with Seamus not far behind. I think there may have been another guy under 4 hours, but I'm not sure.

Mike Cunningham managed to hold off Mick Rice to take first spot in 3:27:xx with Shane Whitty 3rd (I think they are all M45 Runners) and Ray Lanigan not far behind him in 3:34 (Correction 3:32). To come in 5th behind these guys (both Mike and Mick have 2:46/45 marathon PB's, Rays PB of 2:57 is soft) is not a bad result.

Both Neil and Charlie, were very happy with their first ultra outing, promising on the return journey, to return next year. The best tribute anyone could make to the unique event that is the Portumna Marathon, 50k and 100k - relatively small friendly crowd, excellent support and great setting. Hats off to Seb Locteau and his team. Unfortunately Jo had to pull out of the 100k after 11 laps (55k) as her legs were giving her trouble and she did not want to risk a 2 to 3 month layoff by pushing on. Plenty of time to qualify for WS100.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Plodding Along

Since Connemara my running has been totally unfocussed and here I am 36 hours before my next "race", the Portumna 50k, without any specific training done. I only signed up this morning but the pressure was on as JD had booked the B&B. I would have signed up for the 100k except that I am pacing 3:30 in Waterford in two weeks time and I would not be recovered enough - judging from last years recovery. In addition I don't have the enough endurance runs to have a serious go at my 100k PB. Although I have done no specific training for the 50k either. In particular I have no race specific runs under my belt - unless my target is 8 minute pace (4:08:33). I would be very dissappointed if I did not get under 4 hours and if I was in good 50k shape i'd be targeting 3:40 (7:05 pace or 4:24/km), but since i'm not I though I'd have a go at 3:50 (7:24 pace or 4:36/km). I'd really want to set a target race and devise a training plan around that and quit fooling around with all these pacing gigs.

There are 5 Eagles heading up with the 4 men running the 50k and Jo going for the 100k. Should be fun.

Thu 31st May - 5.25 miles in 36:51 (7:02 pace @ 144 HR - Steady run) May - 225 miles

Fri 1st June - 5.25 miles in 41:35 (7:55 pace @ 127 HR - Easy run)

Sun 3rd June -  7.77 miles in 59:14 (7:37 pace @ 130 HR - Easy run)

Mon 4th June - 26.22 miles in 3:29:29 (7:59 pace @ 144 HR - Pacing Cork City Marathon)

Tue 5th June - 4.2 miles with 4 x 50m sprints @ 1/2/3/2/1 mins fast with equal recoveries - VO2Max

Fri 8th June - 5.25 miles in 39:05 (7:27 pace @ 129 HR - Easy run in Vibrams)

Sat 9th June - 8.78 miles in 1:03:26 (7:13 pace @ 139 HR - Easy/Steady run)

Sun 10th June - 16.84 miles in 2:19:54 (8:18 pace @ No HRM - Long run)

Tue 12th June - 4 miles with 6 x 50m sprints @ 1/2/3/2/1 mins fast with equal recoveries - VO2Max

Wed 13th June - 7.77 miles in 58:57 (7:35 pace @ 133 HR - Easy run)

Thursday, 7 June 2012

3:30 in pictures

It been a busy week so my belated story of pacing 3:30 in Cork will be largely pictorial. Suffice to say another great day out - the buzz, crowd support, volunteers, camaradie and the satisfaction of getting a few appreciative souls across the finish line on time - well worth a 26.2 mile investment.

PhotoCall with Seamus Cahill 
I Don't know why he posed with Paul and I as he came home just ahead of the 3:15 Baloons.

South Mall, Mile 0.5.
Building up a following.

Camden Quay - Mile 3
Donal O'Sullivan (No. 1532) Stayed with us for the full 26.2. Or should I say we stayed with him.

Silversprings - Mile 5

South Link - Mile 17
A sizeable crew, any pacer would be proud of.
Paul lost his baloon at mile 15.

Patrick Street - Mile 26.15
Looking for Stragglers (Can't even find myself)

Last Few Yards - 3:29:40
Hugh McNulty (No. 1515) Was with us all the way.

3:29:50 - Anyone Else?
Most of our successful Pacees moved ahead to finish in 3:28:xx - Honest.

Chip - 3:29:29
Clock - 3:29:59

Photos Courtesy of Doug Minihane, GearĂ³id Laoi, Peter Mooney, Joe Murphy, Martin Cunningham & Noel Kelleher.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Cream Crackered

The biggest legacy from last weekends 50 mile walk is a tired old body. My legs recovered pretty quickly with no real impact on my running muscles. However I could have slept for Ireland. My energy during the week was way down on normal. Running, while fine on the bio mechanical front, was a chore for my cardiovascular system. Easy runs felt less "easy" and a steady effort at 7 minute pace on Thursday felt like a Tempo run over the last few miles. So while my legs got away pretty much unscathed the rest of me was hit by a steam train with the traditional drop in normal running paces one would feel after an ultra. I just hope the effect is short lived and the 8:00 pace for tomorrow's marathon will not feel like 7:15 pace. 

On Friday I took delivery of a pair of the latest Vibrams to hit the market - the "Seeya". I received them from and am trialing them over the next few months for review on the Cork Running Blog. They're billed as the most minimal of minimalist running shoes, "designed to bring you closer to the barefoot sensation". It is not my intention to enter the cushioned/minimalist shoe debate. There's enough of than going on. I will simply offer my opinion, as someone who already likes and uses minimalist shoes, as to  how they feel to run in under various training/racing scenarios and perhaps compare them to the pair of Sprints I bought in back in 2007 - shown below for comparison purposes.

Finally, the best of luck to all those running in the Cork marathon, half marathon and marathon relay tomorrow. Enjoy! In particular good luck to clubmates Pat, Annemarie and Denis heading for the holy grail that is a sub 3hour marathon, Maura heading for a sub 3:15 (no bother to you Maura), Brendan, in his first marathon, with a target anywhere between 2:50 and 3:20 ;-) and Angela looking to get under 4 hours and qualify for Boston (Denis the menace Pacer is waiting for you at the start line). If you're target is anywhere near the 3:30 mark give me a shout in the morning - i'll be the one with the green t-shirt and the balloon. BRING IT ON!!!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Runners Ego

If you can run you can walk, right? That was my attitude starting out on Saturday's Sneem JFK 50 Mile Challenge. While I had little walking done in preparation for the event I had completed 33 miles of running and walking last Sunday and, while the running became a challenge the walking went like a dream. In hindsight that's because I had really only walked 7 miles and those miles were split into 5 x 1.4 miles approx and while some of the walking may have been on tired legs they were tired "running legs" which, I found out yesterday, is totally different than tired "walking legs".

I was confident that I would be able to complete the challenge without too much difficulty, after all I had run 62 miles before. But it's not really about the distance but more the time spent on your feet and the fact that my walking gait is different from my running gait, which my body is well conditioned to.

I stayed the night before in Sneem in my neighbour Ian's house. Ian would be driving down in the morning and joining me in the morning at Moll's Gap (about Mile 18) as he had injured himself in training and felt that 32 miles would be more manageable. I got to bed about midnight with the alarm set for 4. I found it difficult to sleep due to the heat and when I opened the window the midges came in and ate me alive. I eventually nodded off at 2 and was up again 2 hours later. A quick bowl of porridge, load the backpack with provisions and on with the gear - long sleeve compression top (packed a short sleeved top for when the day got hotter), shorts over compression shorts, Asics Gel Hyperspeeds (would the lack of cushion come back to haunt me?) and I was ready to go.

It was a short stroll to the start line where I waited around with about 160 others for the walk to get underway at 5a.m.  I was glad to get moving as the midges were out again in the cool air of the early dawn. We were led out of town on the main Kenmare Road with a lead car wafting music from speakers on the roof. Within the first mile we had settled into our comfortable walking paces. Two guys had gone well out in front following the music, followed by two of the 20 strong army contingent that showed up at the start line. I was about 10 back following in the wake of three local guys, who appeared well used to walking the roads of Kerry.

The first 5 miles passed in about 1:10 (14 minute miles), ahead of my 1:15 target, and on course for a 12 hour finish - but early days yet and what about stopping for a break? and Ian's pace, when I hooked up with him at mile 18 - after all the main purpose was to complete the challenge and not aim for a specific time. We had been off the main road from about mile 2.5 and were now heading uphill onto the road to Molls Gap, passing the 10 mile mark in about 2:15 (I don't know how accurate each 5 mile mile marker was). A couple passed me at this point, walking at a much faster pace than I, my runners ego bruised (I heard later that they were a husband and wife who came home first last year). At around mile 12 I got a text from Ian saying that his daughter was ill and he would be unable to make it down. I rang him and he sounded very disappointed, but family naturally comes first. I briefly thought about my decision not to bring a iPod and how would I pass the next 9 or 10 hours of solitary confinement on the road.

Mile 13 - In the wake of the three Amigos

The sun was well up at this stage but it was not too warm yet. A short while later I was slightly alarmed to notice that my hands were so swollen that I was unable to clench my fists fully (a bit of green paint and they could have doubled as Shreck's hands). Half an mile up the road I consulted an event ambulance crew who suggested that I might be dehydrated, but I knew that I wasn't. The only other advice I was offered was to elevate my hands periodically to allow the fluid to drain from them and as I wasn't experiencing any discomfort I continued on my way with the crew promising to check in on me later. The three guys in front had increased the gap from about 1:30 to three minutes as we made our way up to Molls Gap - along the first mile and a half of the Killarney Maxi Marathon route (run in July).
Mile 18 - Approaching Molls Gap

At Molls gap I refilled my water bottle, passing the two army guys who had stopped for a break and headed down the Road towards Kenmare, with the three guys in front whittled down to two (1 guy must have stopped for a break). I was still feeling good at this stage, passing the 20 mile mark at about 9:45 a.m. (about 4:37 in) with the two army guys following me down the hill slowly gaining on me with the other guy who had stopped at Molls gap gaining on all of us.

All three pass me as we turn right before Kenmare with the army guys asking me was I alright. It only dawned on me after they passed that they probably had seen me linking my hands over my head to reduce the swelling and giving the impression that I was suffering.

Heading for Mile 25 - Chasing the Army Guys

Fatigue and muscle discomfort were setting in as I approached the 25 mile mark with 5:47 on the clock and the hottest part of the day yet to come. The second half was certainly going to be as much a mental battle as a physical one. The only motivation I had was the challenge of finishing - I wasn't chasing a PB, it didn't feel like a race as I was not running and my walking was obviously not as economical as those with more specific walking training. I did break into a gentle trot once in a while as I accidentally discovered when crossing the road quickly to get out of the way of a car that the discomfort in my legs completely disappeared - I couldn't believe it. It felt very similar to the relief you instantly feel when you raise your ass from the saddle of a bike after a few hours of cycling - Heaven!

The support was excellent - the water/aid stations were primarily mobile with volunteers driving back and forth through the well strung out field (I could see no one behind me for at least half a mile) asking were we alright and what we needed and while their provisions were limited to water (essential), lucozade, fruit (bananas and oranges) and glucose (chocolate and hard boiled sweets) I didn't need or want anything else.

Shortly after mile 26 we turn right onto the main Kenmare to Sneem Road for about 2 miles of straight level walking where I can see about 5 walkers strung out in front of me. Through Templenoe and past the Ring of Kerry Golf Club and we eventually turn right onto a quieter road for more or less 3 miles of climbing. Shortly before mile 30 I pass the two army guys who have taken a break on a grass bank in the shade of a tree - very tempting. 
Mile 29 - Heading uphill again with Kenmare Bay behind me.

Onwards and upwards and eventually the road begins to descend again. I stop for a small break to take in some food, rest the legs and apply Vaseline to a couple of strategic spots - the weather is so warm the Vaseline has liquefied - lovely! The two army guys pass by and bid me good day. I'm back on my feet after a few minutes and continue downhill. The going begins to feel a bit easier after a while as if my Central Governor has reset the current pain level to zero - all part of the adaptation process. Mile 35 comes as we turn right at Blackwater tavern with about 8:20 on the clock - only 15 miles to go, although when I convert it to 3:40 to 4 hours it doesn't sound so good. We're now heading north and turn left onto the Road from Molls Gap to Sneem (Mile 12 and Mile 36).

I pass a guy who was complaining of stomach cramps as we head down the road and take another left turn heading south again along a quite narrow road alongside the Blackwater River. The two army guys are about 2 minutes ahead. The guy (Oliver) catches back up with me having taken an orange which appears to have alleviated his cramps and he is back on form and we walk together at his slightly faster pace - pleasantly surprised that I can maintain the increased pace without too much difficulty. We arrive at mile 40 hot on the heels of the army guys as we turn right onto the Kenmare to Sneem Road with about 9:31 on the clock. At our renewed pace we should be able to make it home in under 12 hours (1:14 for each of the two 5 mile segments).

We make good progress along the main road passing the army guys who have taken another rest stop to change their socks - we both conclude that it would be counter productive to look under our socks. Oliver said that runners generally found long walking events stressful on the feet as the gait is different - he took his running buddy on some of his 25 mile training walks and his hands used to swell up like mine and he would sometimes have to jog just to keep up. My main discomfort apart from the fatigue was pinching at my heels - probably due to the fact that walking is more of a heel striking activity.

Mile 44 - Sychronised Walking
After a while Oliver's stomach begins to cramp up again and I give him an orange from my backpack which gives him some relief. We walk on and are pleasantly surprised when one of the support cars pulls alongside us and hands us ice-creams through the window - manna from heaven. Eventually we reach the turnoff for Tahilla National School at about mile 44. We refill our water bottles and stop for a quick coffee at the School. I am a little conscious of time as we resume walking and push ahead, chasing down the 45 mile marker, the last 5 miles and my sub-12 hour time. Oliver falls behind as his stomach cramps return. We're now on a steady uphill section (repeat of miles 6 and 7) and i'm certain the 45 mile marker has blown over as I should have reached it at this stage. However it comes into view with  about 10:49 on the clock - I have about 1:10 to get under 12 hours 14 minute miles - tight but possible.

I push on up the hill with each of the last 5 miles marked - mile 46 comes in 15:20 - this is impossible, i'm pushing as hard as I can - maybe when I turn right onto the Molls Gap to Sneem Road for the descent into Sneem I can make up some time. However the road continues to rise after the left turn with mile 47 coming in about 15:40 and any notion of a sub-12 is gone. By the time I reach the top of the descent into Sneem the effort of the previous miles appears to have taken it toll and I just have enough energy to keep moving forward at the same pace. My mouth is dry, indicating dehydration, but I have taken on about 500ml since leaving Tahilla NS. Maybe the heat is finally taking its toll. The last two miles are tough going - Mile 49 with 11:51 on the clock. I pass a steward who says I have about a km to go and I am led into town by a support vehicle with the horn blowing and the American and Irish flags waving at the finish line - 12:08. Finished at last.

I lay on the grass in the shade of a tree keeping my legs elevated to get the blood flowing from the legs for about 10 minutes. I removed my shoes and socks to survey the damage - not too bad, a blister behind each heel, consistent with plenty of heel striking, the one on the right the size of half a golf ball - at least it was not on the sole of my foot. Oliver came in shortly afterwards, blaming the stomach cramps for his slowdown over the last five miles. "Maybe if we had met earlier we could have got under 12 hours" he said - Maybe next year eh!

After getting a leg massage I headed back to the house for a shower, having to lie down for half an hour to recharge my batteries. I returned back to the finish line with a dinner of burger and chips in hand, to cheer on a few more finishers before heading for home. There were still walkers out on the route between the 40 and 44 mile marks as I drove by. With 15 hours already on the clock, these walkers had up to another 4 hours to go before they could stop and rest. Going at a slower pace does not necessarily mean an easier time - certainly not over long distances.

While my legs were stiff and achy for a few days my first run this evening went very well with no aches or pains at all, consistent with the fact that the muscles recruited for running were not seriously stressed on Saturday. I did notice however the todays easy run felt tougher than normal indicating that my aerobic system was stressed and is still recovering.

Wed 22nd May - 7.5 miles in 56:26 (7:31pace @ 130HR - with 5 x 1 mile @ 7:00 pace - Interval run)

Thur 24th May - 5.25 miles in 40:03 (7:38 pace @ No HRM - Easy run)

Sat 26th May - 50 miles in 12:08 (14:33 pace - Sneem JFK 50 - Long walk)

Tue 29th May - 5.25 miles in 39:50 (7:35 pace @ No HRM)

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Another Experiment

The next event I have signed up for is the JFK 50 Mile Challenge in Sneem next Saturday. The challenge for me will be to refrain from running as it is a "walking only" event on roads between Sneem and Molls Gap - so a bit of up and down ( and great scenery) to break the monotony. Why did I sign up for it you might ask. I dunno really - maybe the word "Challenge" intrigued me. How difficult can it be to walk 50 miles. The challenge is to complete it within a 20-hour cutoff time - that's a long time to be on your feet. Although I have 12 hours at the back of my mind. 15 minute miles or 4 miles per hour would get me to mile 48 in 12 hours - maybe 13 then, allowing for a few short breaks at the 4 water/aid stations). The JFK connection stems from the walking craze generated in the US in 1963 when John F Kennedy challenged the nation to march 50 miles in a day. If I wanted to run a JFK 50 miler I'd have to go stateside.

As I have no walking under my training belt I was a little concerned that my running ability might not be enough to get me through the challenge. Surely there is a difference between the physiological requirements for endurance walking and endurance running. Although I won't be taking the challenge that seriously and race-walking like Rob Heffernan I would like to give a good account of myself and use it to improve my endurance base. I was not prepared to deviate too much from my running schedule (what schedule?) so I decided to introduce some walking into an extra long run today and get some experience of walking on tired legs. My plan was to head out for 5 hours, starting each hour with a 5 mile run and walking for the rest of the hour before repeating it all over again. At the back of my mind was 40 minutes running (8 minute pace) and sub-15 minute pace for the walking section - which should get me over 10k for each hour (6.22 miles) or 50k over 5 hours. I was interested to see how the walking breaks would affect my running - would I be able to run more comfortably for longer? Would I find it difficult to run after walking?

As I will be taking a backpack with me next weekend I took one today, using it to carry water (750ml), a spare top, shorts and a pair of shoes, fuel (a few gels, an apple and a small bag of almonds and raisins), a laminated map of the rural by-roads to the west of the City (new route) and an emergency €10. Another challenge - I'm not used to running with a back pack and it's not a running specific one either.

I headed out shortly after 6 into the morning haze. The first 5 miles up over the hill at Currabeg was uneventful.
Mile 4 - Morning Mist

The walking break went well, managing to keep the average pace under 15:00, despite a steep uphill section.

Mile 6 -Uphill Walk

The second 5 miles went relatively fast as they were over a net downhill past Farran Church and across the Bride Valley to Aherla, before the next walking break, again primarily uphill. I noticed that my walking speed didn't vary too much unless the grade was very steep. The third 5 miles took me south following a downhill route for about 2.5 miles along a small river valley before my course veered East at a crossroads and took me uphill to Knocknavilla. The climb of 100m over 1 km was one of the toughest i've ever run. As it steepened towards the top it was very difficult to resist the urge to stop. Perhaps that is why one of the largest ring forts in the Country was built on top of the hill over 3,000 years ago, with commanding views of the surrounding countryside.

Mile 15 - Which Way?

I recovered on the downhill before starting my third walking section. With 18.8 miles on the Garmin, I lost the satellite connection and had to resort to running/walking by time. 

Mile 17.5 Crosspound Pub - It's seen better days

Mile 20 - Dual Carriageway

I started the fourth 5 mile run, continuing east over undulating terrain as far as Ballynora. At this stage my legs were beginning to feel heavy and the early signs of a bonk were evident. I was glad when the 40 minutes were up and I could take on some fuel. The morning was warm and I had all but depleted my water heading into the last hour.

Mile 25 - Heading into my last 5 mile run
My last 5 mile run took me into Bishopstown and out the Model Farm Road. My legs were feeling very heavy and fatigue had well and truly set in. Motivation was low and I was counting down the time to when I could stop and walk. Surprisingly when the 5 miles were up I was able to maintain a reasonable walking pace, despite the fatigue. I covered 32 miles (51.5k) in the 5 hours. I was still over a mile from home though, but had no inclination to run it and continued my walk covering 33.1 miles in 5:16.