Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Back In The Saddle

While i'm certain my body is still recovering from Connemara, i'm more or less back to where I was before the race. My resting HR a week after the event was 36, up 2 BPM from the lowest recorded before the race - I actually fell back to sleep while recording it and 36 BPM was the average over 75 minutes, so it should be a fairly accurate reflection of the lowest my HR goes during the night. My legs felt a bit dead and heavy at times as the muscles completed the process of repair and rejuvenation but that is more or less over.

I returned to my longs runs straight away using a reverse taper regime, going from 15 miles a week after the race to 20 milers over the last two weekends. My return to speedwork has been more cautionary with my track session last week consisting of 5 x 1 mile repeats at 6:46 pace (7:00 in lane 3), which was enough to challenge my system without courting injury. My plan this week was to step up to the next pace group doing 6:17 target pace (6:30 in lane 3) and see how I got on. While I was a bit aprehensive before the session - always the case before track intervals - I completed 5 repeats without too much difficulty and was even presuaded by Pat to throw in another one - no bother. Although I had no time left for my usual warmdown. An encouraging session and a clear indication that my speed is never too far away.

To complete the core week of 2 speed session and 1 long run (the rest is only filler, depending on where you're heading - more for a marathon/ultra and less for 5k/10k) I returned to running steady/tempo runs in the Vibrams last Thursday covering just under 9 miles at 6:46 pace - for some reasons the Vibrams make me want to run faster. This regime should keep me ticking over until I decide what's my next target with pacing in Limerick and Cork to keep me occupied in the interim.

I also returned to the bike after an absence of 2 months getting 35 miles in @ 17.6 MPH on Sunday of last week, just about managing to keep the saddle sores at bay - a lot needed to reawaken my bike legs. 

Thur 12th April - 5.28 miles in 40:30 (7:40 pace - Easy run)

Sat 14th April - 20.75 miles in 2:44:03 (7:54 pace @ 126 HR - Long run)

 Mon 16th April - 8.07 miles in 58:24 (7:14 pace @ 135 HR - Easyish run)

Tue 17th April - 7.14 miles in 1:00:37 (8:29 pace - with 5 x 1 mile @ 6:46 pace - Interval)

Thur 19th April - 8.78 miles in 59:30 (6:46 pace @ 143 HR - Steady run)

Sat 21st April - 20 miles in 2:23:07 (7:09 pace @ 145 HR - Long run)

Mon 23rd April - 10.78 miles in 1:19:15 (7:29 pace @ 127 HR - Easy run)

Tue 24th April - 8.1 miles in 1:05:00 (8:01 pace - with 6 x 1 mile @ 6:17 pace - Interval)

Monday, 16 April 2012

Hells Bells

This was playing on the iPod today during my lunchtime run, released in 1980 to commemorate the death of Bon Scott, (former) lead singer with AC/DC. It reflected my mood on hearing this morning of the tragic death of former colleague, Elmer Morrissey, one of 4 missing, presumed drowned in a sailing tragedy 27km west of San Francisco, where he had been living and working for the past year. Elmer was also a runner, which some of you knew through his blog - his writing always brought a smile to my face and I was sorry to see him leave when he did as he had an infectious enthusiasm for running, which I'm sure he had for all thing he put his mind to.  Glad to have known him for the brief time that I did. May he rest in peace. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

No Running or Jogging Allowed

My recovery from Connemara has gone pretty well. To be quite honest it is one of the best recoveries I have had after a marathon/ultra, with the sore quads walking downstairs lasting less than 24 hours - maybe the Guinness after the race helped loosen things out.

My first run was on Tuesday, where I joined the Clubs 4 x 1 mile track session - jumping into the slowest pace on offer at about 7:44 miles and while my legs felt a bit tired and achy there were no noticeable niggles. Since then I have run every second day, getting in a reasonably long hilly run with the club on Saturday morning (14.8 miles) with no issues. Today I went out for a impromptu progression run at lunchtime with Brendan (all my runs with Brendan appear to be progression runs) getting down to 6:27 pace for mile 5 before I eased back slightly as I could feel a pain in my right adductor (groin) so i'll keep away from the speedwork or anything below 7 minute pace for a while, no rush.

Given my endurance base I thought i'd look for another ultra to run in the next month or 2 and set my sights on the JFK 50 Mile Challenge in Sneem on 26th May. The only problem is that it is advertised as a walk ,which participants have to complete within 20 hours . No problem there I thought. However I sent an e-mail to the organisers asking was it open to runners and got 2 separate courteous replies saying that running or jogging is not allowed but they'd love to have me walk it. Maybe I could do a Rob Heffernan on it  or it would come in handy as training for one of those 24 hour races that require a bit of walking ;-)

Tue 3rd Apr - 6.70 miles in 1:02:30 (9:20 pace - with 4 x 1 mile @ 7:44 pace and loads of standing around)

Thu 5th Apr - 5.64 miles in 42:33 (7:33 pace - Easy run)

Sat 7th Apr - 14.80 miles in 1:59:12 (8:03 pace @ 135 HR - Long run)

Mon 9th Apr - 9.58 miles in 1:11:11 (7:25 pace @ 133 HR - Easyish run)

Tue 10th Apr - 5.64 miles in 39:36 (7:01 pace @ 136 HR - Progression run)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Connemara 2012 - Running with the Irish Kenyans

Sunday was my third time running the Connemara Ultra but the first time I raced it without being forced to walk - although i'm certain there were times during my slog up the  2 mile "Hell of the West" that my running was at walking speed.

The Start
The day was warmer than expected. While it was cool in the shade of the buses that dropped us up to the start line from Maam Cross it was pleasantly warm standing around under a clear sky in the early morning sunshine chatting to Liam and Thomas. It was certainly going to be a warm day. Thomas travelled up to Galway with me the day before and we both stayed the night with Liam in his patents apartment in Salthill. To add a bit of excitement to the Ultra the current 100k world champion, Giorgio Calcaterra, was specially flown in from Italy to see if the magical four hour barrier could be broken on the course. Unfortunately the course record holder, David Kirkland (4:03:29), who was scheduled to run was out due to injury so it would be a one horse race at the front. Where else though, would you get the opportunity to not only meet but to compete against (ok - run the same road as) a world champion, even if he was only using it as a training run for the upcoming 100k world championships in three weeks time. The Italian interest didn't stop there though - The Italian TV channel Rete4 was covering the Connemarathon for their program "Correndo per il monad" which translated in English is "World Running" The broadcast was following the presenter, Roberto Giordano, as he competed in the ultra - more about him later.
My plan was to go out at about 7:30 pace and run by feel, which suited my lack of a GPS enabled watch. Thomas was planning 7:15 pace with a few other guys and Liam was heading out at about 8:30 pace. I was happy to run on my own as I could concentrate on my race. This was my first marathon/ultra in which I had swapped my usual carb loaded breakfast for a cup of coffee.

The First Half
It took a few seconds for me to cross the starting mat and in no time the world champion was out in front disappearing off into the distance, with Mick Rice and a few more of those capable of 4:30 and under following in his wake. I settled into a comfortable pace, ignoring the 168 heart rate reading on the Garmin. The first few miles were pretty uneventful. Thomas was in a group of 4 or 5 about fifty yards ahead, including last years female winner, Carol Morgan, which told me that I was more on less on my target pace. I missed the first mile marker but mile 2 came in 14:59 - bang on 7:30 pace. Mile 3 in 7:32 and 4 in 7:28 give me 29:59 for the first 4 miles.

I came on the shoulder of Gerry Duffy (of 32 marathons in 32 days fame and winner of the 2011 UK Decca Ironman - 10 in 10 days) who tells me he went out a little fast as his plan was to start at 7:40 pace and pick up the pace gradually with the aim of coming in under 5 hours (7:37 pace average). I kept to my pace and gradually pull away assuring him that he would probably see me again before the day was out - "hopefully at the finish line" he said. I had my doubts as I was sure Gerry was a better practitioner of endurance event pacing than I was. If I was to have any chance of getting under 5 hours I would have to bank some time for the last hilly HM. In anticipation of everything falling into place on the day I had two sub-5 hour pace bands with me. The first was a very ambitious plan to cover the marathon in just under 3:10 (1:33/1:37) so that I would "only need" 8:25 pace average for the last HM (1:50), which is what I though I would need, minimum. The second, which was more achievable for the first 26.2, was a 3:14 marathon (1:38/1:36) requiring 8:04 pace average for the last 13.1(1:46), which I knew would be very challenging. The choice was to either go out fast in the hope that I wouldn't blow up or go out more steady and hope that I would have enough left in the legs to power through the hills of the last half. Either way there was no easy route to a sub-5 hour finish and the clear skies and rising temperatures were only going to make it tougher. As it turned out the path I followed was somewhere in the middle - well, until about mile 35.

Over the next few miles my natural pace quickens and the gap to the group that Thomas is in gradually reduces. Miles 5 to 10 in 7:25 - 7:21 - 7:21 - 7:11 - 6:49 - 6:59 (10 miles in 1:13:05 - 7:18 pace). The sub- 7 minute miles surprised me but I wasn't too concerned as I was running comfortably and there had been a few downhills. This section of the course, on the main Galway/Clifden Road, was  littered with short sections of roadworks with traffic lights, which had us dodging in and out between queued traffic and at times running up on the grass bank to get by buses, as the road wasn't wide enough for the both of us. I eventually joined the back of Thomas's group as he stopped for his drop bag at the 10 mile water station. The leading lady was a few yards ahead. Shortly after we turn right heading for Lough Inagh and the marathon start.

We pass the leading lady before mile 11, with a group of 6 or 7 forming that would run together for the next 6 or 7 miles, the first time in a ultra that I ever ran in a group. Miles 11 and 12 come in 6:54 and 7:35 (could the mile markers have been a bit out?). We can see the marathon start off in the distance as the line of runners snake around the shores of Lough Inagh.

We are joined by the Italian filming crew following the exploits of Roberto Giordano, who happens to be in our group. The whole thing feels a bit surreal with this cameraman sitting on the floor of a minivan with the back door open and camera pointed towards us - The Irish Kenyans! - it certainly felt like we were Roberto's pacing group. At one stage Thomas got between the cameraman and Roberto, who was shorter than him, and we had a joke that we'd all be on youtube that evening - funnily enough a short clip appeared on the Irish National News that evening, showing that exact moment - the link is here (about 20:42 minutes in - RTE must have picked it up off the cutting room floor - Thanks to Denis Looney for the link as well as the loan of his running belt). A while later Roberto is interviewed from the side window of the van as we all run in the background. Over the next few miles he surges back and forth - probably to get a good shot of him passing us. I didn't see much of him after mile 15 or 16 (turns out he finished just under 5:30) We crossed the first HM timing mat just under 6 minutes after the marathon start - 1:35:54 on the Garmin. 

The Second Half
It didn't take us long to catch the back of the marathon field - shortly after the 14.1 mile mark, which came in 7:10. The encouragement we got as we passed down the left hand side of the road passing the continuous stream of marathon runners felt great and partially explained why the pace remained steady. We gradually reeled in another 2 ultra runners and the group was eight for a few miles. We didn't know how many were ahead of us as there were no other ultra runners on the horizon (As it turned out we were the pack chasing down the top 5 runners and we all ultimately came in between 5th and 18th place). Miles 15.1 to 19.1 in 7:04 - 7:04 - 6:54 - 7:34 - 7:07. I managed to pick up my first drop bag from the 16.1 mile water station without breaking stride as it was easy to spot my orange with black polka-dot bag among the more blander colours - quickly replacing my empty bottle with a fresh bottle of perpeteum, which would last me the rest of the race.

I knew the pace was a little too fast for me, but I decided to ride the train for as long as it would last, or as long as my legs would allow. Approaching mile 19.1 the group began to split up with three guys moving ahead of me and the remainder dropping back a little. I just kept the same effort going, not consciously increasing the pace to keep in contact with the lead group or dropping back to run with those behind me. I knew I would see them again soon enough.

We turn right onto the Clifden to Lenaun Road and the first real hill of the day. It doesn't feel too bad but I can feel my pace drop as my stride shortens and for the first time in the race I can feel myself pushing slightly against the boundary of my ability - the time in a race when the real work commences. Two Ultras pass me going up the hill. Mile 20.1 comes in 6:58, which I knew from last year is a short mile. Sure enough the next two mile split comes in 15:38 (I missed the 21.1 mile split)  giving 7:32 average for the 3 miles - the first sign that the days of the sub 7:30 miles were fading. I picked up my second drop bag (a few gels and a tube of bio-freeze - calf cramp insurance) at the 22.1 mile water station. Over the next few miles the road is undulating and I notice that I slow considerably on the uphill sections regaining my speed on the downhill and flat sections. One of the chasing ultras (Max from the UK) passes me here and quickly moves ahead. I salute a couple of marathon runners from Clonakilty Roadrunners - delighted to see a club from my hometown getting off the ground. Finally I am on the descent to Killary Fjord and I can pick up the pace a little, although the warm headwind adds to the discomfort of the rising fatigue. By now I feel that a speed (effort) limiter has been activated somewhere in my subconscious and while I am still relatively comfortable I do not have the energy/inclination/active muscle fibres to go faster. Miles 23.1 to 25.1 come in 7:32 - 7:04 (downhill) - 7:38.

With half a mile to go to the 26.2 mile mark Thomas and 2 other Ultras (Liam & Ray) come on my shoulder and pass me by. Thomas was sure that I would latch onto them but, while I was reasonably comfortable I had only one gear and with the hills to come I wasn't going to risk everything just to keep pace - it was a matter of conserving as much as possible to ensure I got to the end at the fastest average pace/effort I could maintain for the remaining 13.1 miles. There's no point in being a hero for 3 miles and walking 10. I forgot to take the split crossing the marathon mark but was a few seconds behind Thomas, who recorded 3:12:20 for the full - I give myself 3:12:30 (1:36:30 for the second HM). The best was yet to come.

The Third Half  (what an oxymoron)
The Connemara Ultra/Marathon/HM really begins in Lenaun - the rest is just a race to get to the start line the quickest. So here I am on the start line with a group of three who arrived just before me, with a mile and a half of a hill facing us. Unfortunately I have arrived in the poorest shape, which was quickly evident as the three in front quickly pull away. My performance going up hill is fairly pathetic today for some reason. The mile to 27.2  comes in about 8:35. Somehow I managed the mental arithmetic to determine that I need an average pace of 8:12 over the last HM to get under 5 hours. I can't remember how I calculated it but it was bang on for the 1:47:30 HM required. I decided to hold off on assessing whether a sub-5 was possible until I got to the top of the hill.

As the road levels out Mile 28.2 come in 8:16 - "This is not going too well". I plough on as the road in front of me gets busier as I hit the back of the half marathon field. Mile 29.2 passes in 7:45 - "That's an average of 8:00 for the last 2 miles, the dream is still alive". I pick up my last drop bag at the 29.2 mile water station - a bottle of coke and some jelly babies. The jelly babies are hard to take but the coke never fails to let me down and I hang onto it for the next 3 miles until it is drained completely.

While I take water at every station, all bar a mouthful is poured over my head, neck and shoulders to keep me cool so that less energy has to be diverted from the few remaining working muscles in my legs to run the air conditioning system. While I did not feel thirsty I suspected after the race that I was well dehydrated, which was evident by the fact that I took on plenty of fluids after the race but did not pass any until about 6 that evening. The next few miles are undulating and while I suffer on the ups I run reasonably well on the flat and downhills, noticeable by the increase in the number of runners I pass. Miles 30.2 & 31.2 pass in 8:15 and 7:45, yo-yoing around an average 8:00 pace.

I get chatting to a couple of marathon runners who quiz me on my training. Given our pace and the time on the clock I ask them are they aiming for a 3:30 finish (5:00 ultra finish) to which they respond "at the moment" - my sentiment exactly. They pull ahead on the ups but come back to me on the downs and flats. The next 2 miles pass in 8:28 and 8:30 and my 5:00 finish begins to enter the realms of fantasy. While my legs are turning over pretty well, maintaining a respectable pace despite the rising fatigue I know what lies ahead. The next 2 miles to the 35.2 mile water station pass in 7:48 and 7:59 but the toughest challenge of the day lies straight ahead, the 2 mile steady climb up through the saddle in the hills before the drop to Peacocks Hotel and the finish line. This is where I have to put the head down and concentrate on my own pain, ignoring everything going on around me.

Shortly afterwards, out of the blue I get an overwhelming urge to stop and walk "just for a minute" and I haven't even reached the real hilly section yet. It takes all my mental strength to resist, promising myself that I can walk in 2 minutes time - just hang on for another 2 minutes and sure enough the urge subsides, temporarily postponed - i'm a sucker for delayed gratification. Thankfully the mental trick works and the urge does not return with the same potency and my body is allowed to drag it's sorry ass up the hell of the west technically running, but going no faster that Michael Jackson's moonwalk. I get passed by another Ultra runner but can offer no resistance except to wish him well as even in my fatigued induced state I know he is pushing for the 5 hour target. My mile splits are shockingly slow at 9:33 and 10:09 (no improvement on last year there). There's certainly something wrong with my uphill running today.

I can't remember what exact time was on the Garmin when I crested the hill and the tower of Peacocks Hotel came into view off in the distance. But I calculated that I needed to run 6:50 pace or less to get there. I decided to push the next mile and see what split I got knowing full well that it was a fruitless exercise - but my ego needed feeding. So I push at what I think is a hard pace knowing that it is probably well short of the mark and as I pass the 38.2 mile mark after 7:55  I ease back a little - the sub-5 battle long lost on the Hell of the West. The first muscle spasms of the day hit my calves over the last mile so I ease back and dance around the road shifting my weight distribution to avoid the onset of full cramps. Mile 39.2 comes in 8:17 and I coast into the finish as the clock shows 5:02:32 (5:02:28 chip time). Delighted to be finished and a full 22 minutes inside last years PB.

The Aftermath.
 It didn't take long for my legs to seize up and the cramping to begin as I sat chatting to Thomas at the finish line. I met up with the guy who passed me going up the hell of the west (Aaron) to see if he got his sub-5 but unfortunately he was 53 seconds on the wrong side of it - still a great result. I got up and walked around to keep the blood flowing to/from the legs but immediately began to feel nauseous. I remembered then to lie on my back and raise my legs up against a railing for 10 minutes so as to allow the blood flow more easily from my legs (i.e. let gravity do the work instead of relying on my heart) and after that my legs were relatively ok and my appetite returned. Thanks to Jo and Niall for providing every assistance at the finish line - excellent care and attention - Niall even providing a quasi pillow while I lay on my back. Liam came in shortly afterwards in 5:44 or thereabouts and went through more or less the same routine, although his cramping appeared to have been more severe, judging by the profanities he uttered. After a soup and sandwiches and copious amounts of water we hopped on one of the buses and returned to Galway for the night and the start of the carb reloading. Liam and I made it into the post race party/gig in the Quays for a few pints of the black stuff, with Liam regaling a captive audience of half marathon ladies about his life as an ultra runner - you could see the look of awe and admiration on their faces. After our second endurance event of the day we crawled into bed shortly before 2 a.m. with my head competing with my legs for No. 1 on the recovery stakes the following morning.

I don't know if I could have raced Connemara any better. Going out a bit faster didn't cost me too much. It's hard to say whether or not I could have run the last HM say 8 minutes quicker had I ran the first 26.2 5 minutes slower, who knows. Maybe if the day was cooler, if I ate a decent breakfast, if I hydrated more, if I ran higher mileage in training, if I wore a lucky charm ...if...if...if.  All I know is that I did the distance justice this year as my legs (calves) were the limiting factor in previous years - I think the increased running in the vibrams helped to strengthen my calves over the last year.

Funnily enough I feel that it is my ability to recover has improved noticeably over the last year with no significant aches and pains or DOMs after Sunday - early days yet perhaps. However I joined the club track session this evening for 4 x 1 mile @ 7:44 pace and the most discomfort came from indigestion following the continuous binge eating since Sunday.

I don't know what it is about Connemara but since I first ran it I keep coming back every year just to get my ass kicked, pushing the limits of what I can endure and promising never to return - only to fall in love with it all over again once the pain subsides. Reminds me of a successful marriage.

p.s. During my lunchtime run with Brendan on Thursday he suggested that the Connemara Ultra was more like giving birth but since neither of us had experienced it we settled on a "typical marriage".

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Another Farmers Tan

The imprint on my singlet is clearly etched onto my torso as I type and will be for the next month or so - except that the Eagle black on my white form has changed to white on a red. It looks like it will be the most enduring reminder of my third 39.3 miler in Connemara. I had learnt from my previous runs to save something for the third half  and true to form today I more or less ignored the lesson as somewhere in my deep subconscious I feel that if I have run two halves I must be done - and generally I am. Still I had a very good day and did not suffer too much from my foolhardiness.

My initial plan to go out at 7:30 pace worked well for a few miles but my run by feel strategy had me running a bit faster after warming up - getting me through the first half in 1:36, the second half in a similar time - I think I crossed the marathon line in 3:12:30 and paid the price over the Hilly third half,  but at least I did not have to walk (although at times I could have been passed by a few walkers) I crossed under the finish line in about 5:02:33 - a 22 minute PB - so I am delighted and while I was tantalising close to a sub-5 hour - running 2 miles up hill from mile 35 to 37 took away any cushion that I had (which was about zero).

I must go out for a few beers now with Liam (My Cousin, who ran his second ultra today in a very respectable 5:44 - especially considering his first ultra was last weekend along 51k of the mountainous Wicklow Way) and Thomas (who had an even better day than I - but you'll have to wait for that story).