Sunday, 29 December 2013

Carb Loading Ain't What It Used To Be

With my training very much in the aerobic zone and no racing there's not much to blog about. Time has also been at a premium over the last few months so when I do have some it's better to go running than write about it. My weekly mileage had been relatively low and only picked up over the last few weeks, still very much in the aerobic zone. My focus since Connemara in August had been elsewhere and the weight had piled back on. No harm as the body needed to recover.

However all that changed a few weeks ago when I decided to embark on a two week carb depletion diet in order to kick start my fat burning metabolism ahead my Christmas Eve 48 mile looooong run. About three weeks ago, two days before pacing 3:45 in the Clon marathon, I had a bad reaction to overdosing on crusty white bread (I can be a bit of a junkie) and spent a whole day feeling like shite so the decision was relatively easy - i'd sandwich a two week depletion diet between the Club night out on 7th December and my work Christmas do on 20th December and gradually replenish the carb stores between the 20th and 23rd - a new slant on the traditional carb depletion/loading combo, although the purpose of the traditional practice is to fill the carb /glycogen stores to the brim for reuse in a race as opposed to my current philosophy of training the body to burn as much fat as possible for as long as possible.

The 3:45 pacing gig in Clon was the perfect aerobic conditioning training run as I managed to keep my heart rate on the hills just below my 138 MAF Hr. This was my 6th time running Clon this year (2nd on this "new" course) and my 6th time coming home in the same time as my Clubmate John D - we're joined at the hip when it comes to Clon. The pace was perfect for enjoying the scenery, which more than made up for the very hills that "made the scene". We had a permanent crew of between 6 and 8 runners, including Pat O'Toole, Gerry Delaney and Geraldine O'Sullivan (Bantry AC), who all ran within themselves managing to push on over the last few miles to finish a few minutes ahead of the balloons. Pat even managed to carry a backpack containing 2 full hot water bottles (5kgs worth) as part of his prep for Marathon De Sables next April - and he didn't even break into a sweat. He said he came across my Connemara race report through a link to "spring onions" - delighted to hear that my blog was reaching a wider audience - i'll have to post a few recipes.

Mile 24 - Heading for home

My 2 week carb depletion diet proved a bit monotonous and resulted in an over consumption of nuts (almonds, brazils and pecans) so much so that my initial 3kg weight loss regressed to 2kg by the time I was back on my "normal" diet - not helped by the fact that I did not run as often as I would have liked. I'll have to expand my eating options next time. But weight loss was never the name of the game - it was all about getting the fat burning engines stoked and ready for action. My running during these two weeks was typically slow and effortless. Although one or two runs were at the high end of the aerobic spectrum the resulting pace was relatively pedestrian - as if 8 minute miles had suddenly become hard work. This bothered me initially but I was more interested in knowing the cause and the only thing I could put it down to was the fact that I had set off too fast, pulling energy from my depleted carb stores and not allowing enough of a slow warmup to mobilise my fat stores sufficiently. Lesson learnt.

My Christmas Eve run started at 4 a.m. with clubmates Denis and Alan joining me at that cold and windy hour for an "easy" run before both of them headed off to work, Denis covering the first 12 mile loop from my house into Victoria Cross and Alan going for the full marathon distance (2 x 12 mile loops with 2.2 stitched on the end). What can I say? Hats off to both of them for turning up at my house at that god forsaken hour to accompany me on the start of my journey - Denis even managing to arrive 10 minutes early for the free cup of coffee. Given the forecast of heavy rain and strong winds, Alan was a bit doubtful as to whether or not I was going ahead with it, but nevertheless turned up just as I was about to head off.

My nutrition consisted of 2 x 750ml bottles of a carb drink (600 calories) and 2 x 200ml bottles of ensure meal replacement (300 calories) - less than a fifth of the calories I expected to burn - the other four fifths coming from my fuel tanks.  In reality I ended up taking about half of each and relying on my ample fat stores to make up the difference.

3:59 - Self Portrait With Denis (Loonies)

I walked the first mile, heading off ahead of Denis and Alan and commenced running when they caught up with me. The pace was a few seconds ahead of the 9 minute mile target but relatively effortless. I kept reasonably quite for the first few miles as I warmed into the run leaving Alan and Denis do most of the chatting. Heading out of town passing the Kingsley Hotel (Mile 7) I decided to hop over a low wall to relieve myself and misjudged my step and ended up flat on my face - thankfully on grass, although I did catch my shin on the top of the wall. I said I was fine and told the guys to run on and i'd catch up with them - the adrenaline masking any pain. Apart from this the first 12 mile loop passed without incident, with neighbour Ian joining us at about 5:50 a.m. for the second loop. The weather remains quite good with no rain and only a moderate wind. 
The pace for the second 12 mile loop remains under 9 minute miles, which is more challenging for Ian, whose HM PB pace is about 8:30 minute miles. The weather takes a turn for the worse just before 7 a..m (mile 19) when we are hit by a heavy downpour of hailstones and strong winds, the hailstones biting into any areas of exposed flesh - ouch!!!
With the second loop completed, I don a backpack containing my carb drink and remaining ensure, bid adieu to Ian and Alan and  set out on the 8 miles into town as far as the Lee Rowing Club on the Marina, to join the Eagle AC club run, scheduled for 9 a.m. The backpack adds a little to the effort and my heart rate climbs into the 130's as I maintain a sub 9:00 pace to ensure I arrive on time.

Mile 32 - Nice morning for a run

Unlike last year I manage to keep the pace on the club run as we head out to Blackrock and along the Mahon walkway, the expected strong winds replaced by a gentle breeze and sunshine, perfect running weather. After 6 miles of chatting we are back at the cars, where I pick up my backpack and head into town with a few others to offer support to clubmate Jo Fearon, who has just started running her 12th marathon of Christmas - 12 marathons in 12 days in support of Cork University Hospital's Neonatal Unit - and all on a treadmill. It's always comforting to know that there are others out there even more devoted to the cause of long distance running.

Mile 39 - 12th Marathon of Christmas

My legs limber up for the final leg of the journey as I leave my clubmates and head for home. Pat Twomey joins me for a few miles to the end of the Straight Road where I continue on at a 9:00 minute pace, a little surprised but happy that my legs have remained relatively fresh despite the increasing monotony of running for a long period of time.  I had planned on mixing it up a bit by introducing intermittent walking but as my legs were relatively intact I kept running. As the Garmin had acted up during the run, recording one or 2 miles faster than actual, losing the satellites for a spell and pausing accidentally I was unsure of the exact distance I had covered so I erred on the side of caution, taking the long way home and slowing down to a walk over the last mile, arriving home at 11:49, 7 hours and 49 minute after I had set out - covering 48.4 miles in 7 hours and 26 minutes.

Mile 48 - Survey the damage

Apart from the cut and bruises from my fall at  mile 7, pointed out to me when I joined the club run at Mile 32, my legs were reasonably intact and there was none of the post run aches and pains over the following days that I had after the 100 miler - it's all about the pace....and the preparation.
Wishing a belated happy and peaceful Christmas to everyone.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Dublin 2013

The annual pilgrimage to Dublin began a day early this year as I took in a bit of international rules football in with Ani, Saran, Robert (Cousin), Rob (Uncle)  Dave and Dermot on Saturday evening. I wouldn't class myself as a fan of this makey-uppy game that is a mish-mash between Australian rules and Gaelic football that is only played once a year between said nations. This year the Australians didn't appear to take the test seriously (apparently they didn't practice enough with round balls, they being used to the oblong ones) and the match was very much one sided, except when it came to the frequent bouts of fisticuffs, where they very much held their own (The first bout came before the start whistle was blown - the match was 5 minutes old before I saw where the ball was).

Sunday was a laid back day with the only activity involving a stroll in the park with the kids followed by the short trip into the marathon expo to pick up my race number and pacing gear, bumping into Thomas near the pacer stand, both of us sporting our Connemara 100 hoodies (wearing a top with the longest race distance all part of the play).

Monday morning turned out to be mild and sunny, despite the warnings of wind and rain. It was still cold waiting around at the start, where I met my fellow 3:20 pacers Fran and Dom. 

Killing time before the start

The early rise had me yawning as we waited for the gun, not very encouraging for those expecting me to pace them to the finish. We placed ourselves in the middle of the first wave ( < 3:50), starting at 9 a.m.

It was only when I went to power up my Garmin that I realised that it was the old one, that does not pickup the satellites and to compound my rising frustration at how stupid I could have been the "low battery" indicator came up on it. So much for my meticulous preparation. In searching around for solutions I noticed that Dom was wearing two watches so I explained my predicament to him, without going so far as to ask him for one of his watches. He didn't appear to take the bait or else didn't want to part with one of his watches as he replied that I'd be grand as all i'd have to do was follow him and Fran. Yeah! me and couple of hundred others. I though the purpose of having three pacers was that each could pace independently. I only had myself to blame. Luckily who should I spot but the guy who prepares for all eventualities and has got me out of more holes than I care to remember , clubmate Denis Looney. Sure enough he has two watches and does not hesitate in offering me one, showing me briefly how it works. I just hope that his lack of a spare does not hex his marathon PB attempt.

At last we are off and I begin to warmup as the pace picks up. Still it takes us a couple of miles to get on pace as it is difficult to run freely within the crowded field.

Mile 0.25 - Rounding the first bend

I find the first 3 or 4 miles to the Phoenix Park quite challenging, but gradually get into my stride. I get chatting to a few runners including two girls from Raheny Shamrocks who were both aiming for 3:20, their coach telling them to stick to the 3:20 pacers. At each mile marker we are only ever a few seconds either side of a 3:20 finish. As always the crowd support is top class and with people shouting out my name I realise that it is printed on my race number and I am not as popular as I thought I was.

Clubmate Keith flies past me shortly after the 9 mile mark, well on his way to a sub 3:10 PB finish, having started well back the field (the only way too race). He is followed a mile later by Denis Looney, also on his way to a PB finish, although I would see him later.

I can't say I was relaxed but I was reasonably comfortable. We cross the half way timing mat in Walkinstown a few seconds under 1:40 (chip time). There is always a good group around us, but at times it's difficult to differentiate between those running with us and those running around us. The sun begins to shine and it gets quite warm for a bit, glad I did not put on the compression top I was tempted to wear (but did not have), hanging around in the frigid morning air at the start line.

Over the next few miles my legs begin to tire as the lack of mileage over the preceding months begin to tell. An endurance base is only as good as the previous months training and 3 runs per 35 mile week will expose a few cracks when put to the test.

Denis comes back to me shortly after mile 18, where I inadvertently take a bottle of lucozade sport instead of water and have to chuck it away after taking a tentative sip (too sweet for me). The last hill of the day takes us past the 20 mile mark and onto Fosters Avenue. A few drop off the pace along this section. but most stick to the pace. Fran informs me that Dom has dropped out due to nausea and vomiting, so it is down to us two and with 15 seconds in the bag we commit to add a further 10 second cushion over the following miles. 

Mile 21 - Fosters Avenue "We are this much ahead"

 To be quite honest the last few miles are not fun and while I offer encouragement to those round me I just want it to be over - "Just 20 minutes of pain left, keep pushing, one foot in front of the other". Its my tiring/achy legs rather than any lack of fuel/energy (Apart from the sip of Lucozade I took on no calories) that is the week link in my chain. With all my training long runs on grass the impact of tarmac is having a toll. Miles 24/25 are particularly challenging as we are hit by a headwind and have to up the effort just to stay on pace (cushion of about 20 seconds at mile 25), not the best for those around us. At this stage those that had a bit of energy left pushed on for a 3:17/18/19 finish and a few more clung on to us for dear life, pushing hard to stay on pace and no doubt a few fell off the pace. At last we are rounding College Green and heading down Nassau Street and onto the home straight crossing the line in 3:19:4x (chip). Another pacing job complete, and although not my fastest it felt the most challenging.

It's difficult to know who or how many relied on you to pace them part or all of the way until they come up to you at the finish and thank you, which makes the whole effort all the more rewarding.

There were plenty of PBs among my Eagle clubmates (including Denis and Keith, who I met on the course and Elaine who I met at the finish line) A big well done to all.

This time last year Dublin marked my 25th Marathon, this year marked my 43rd - so between the two I ran 17 marathons/ultras, pacing 6 (and a half), setting 4 PB's (2 marathon and 2 ultra) and participating in a few unusual ones (midnight & back to backs). I don't think I will be as prolific over the next 12 months. Where to from here? I don't know yet.  I have a few thing floating around in my head but i'll have to get out on the roads more that 3 times a week if I am to stay in the game.


Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Best of Luck................ all those running the 34th Dublin City Marathon on Monday. With 34 clubmates taking to the streets there will be plenty Eagle singlets out there on the course, all gunning for that PB.
We may just escape the heaviest of the rain, which is forecast to die off just before sunrise on Monday. However there appears to be no escaping the wind, which could be up to 35 MPH from the west/southwest, which will make running out the Crumlin Road (miles 11 to 13) interesting. Bring it on!!!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

172 Miles............

............ of running in the 10 weeks since Connemara. That's 17.2 miles per week. My highest weekly mileage was 38 miles, 3 weeks ago. That, followed by two 34 mile weeks, is the core of my post recovery training programme for pacing Dublin in 9 days time. My last long run this morning was more or less a repeat of last weeks run, except for the fact that I joined the 12 mile pre-Dublin club run @ 7:30 pace, getting pulled along in a post late night of over indulgence stupor. With the group consisting of  runners in peak condition targeting anything from 2:50 to 2:57, the pace slipped down towards 7:00 at times, which went unnoticed except for your truly. Still, I managed to hang on and keep a reasonably consistent pace after they had stopped, covering 21 miles @ 7:26 pace between 2 walking warmup/cooldown miles, getting 3 hours on my feet. I only need to add another 20 minutes for my next long run in 9 days time. Looking forward to it.


Saturday, 12 October 2013


Pacing 3:20 in Dublin on 28th had me a bit concerned that I would not be sufficiently recovered to get the legs and body back into shape for the task ahead. After all 7:38 pace over 26.2 miles commands a bit of respect.................and a bit of form also as respect alone will not do much for me on the day. To keep the pressure off my Achilles I kept my runs to grass as much as possible although with only 2 short runs during the week (totalling 11.5 miles) it was all down to my long run this morning to see where I was at. With 15 miles in the bag last weekend the plan was to up it to 18/20 miles today between 2 warmup/cooldown walking miles.

As well as the increase in distance I also wanted to push the pace at little closer to "race" pace from last weeks 7:59 miles. After a 12:30 warmup mile I ended up running at a reasonably consistent pace between 7:25 and 7:45 per mile for the next 20 miles (average pace of 7:33) before warming down over a 13 minute mile, happy to have bagged a decent run, even if I was tiring towards the end, with my heart rate drifting from the mid 130's to 152 for the last 2 miles. The marathon course, other runners and the crowd support in Dublin should be more motivational that this mornings 9.5 laps of the grass track at Murphy's Farm.

I took the opportunity to trial my pacing gear, which arrived during the week - the fit was good and there were no issues - so all looking good.


Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Aftermath

Things have been very quite on the running front since Connemara. Recovery went pretty well - starting with a 3+ mile walk (of sorts) in Connemara National Park the morning after the race. My first run, 10 days after the event, was slow but reasonably trouble free.

A few months back I had signed up for one of the company relay teams in the Dublin City Triathlon on 24th August (14 days after Connemara). My job was to run the 4km final leg of the supersprint. I didn't give it much thought until a few days before the event when I was heading out on my second Connemara recovery run and decided to run a "tempo" mile to see what I would be capable of. While I didn't push myself to the limit I still gave it a good effort and finished the mile a few seconds on the wrong side of my 7 minute target - essentially knocking 50 to 60 seconds off what I would have been capable of before Connemara - no more that I expected really. Come race day however, lined up alongside Brendan in the "relay pen" with a number pinned to my chest, the competitive juices started to flow. Brendan got about a minutes head start on me and managed to add 8 seconds to his lead by the time I crossed the finish line, covering the 4 k in about 16:30, not the best recovery from a 100 miler and sure enough I felt a bit of tightness in my right calf over the last 500m.

A hilly 15+ mile long run a week later exposed the weakness in my right leg a bit further with a tightness in my Achilles developing from midway through the run - the hills will expose an weakness in your Achilles. I was reduced to limping for the rest of the day and a week off running. A 9 mile run the following weekend and another day of limping dictated that a longer period of rest was required - typically an Achilles injury takes 6 to 8 weeks to recover from as opposed to the 2 to 3 required for a muscle injury - something to do with the reduced blood flow/access to tendons to effect a repair compared to the relatively accessible capillary rich muscles.

The further layoff didn't bother me too much as I reckon I had my work done for the year and my only targets were "social" races or pacing gigs. A proper rest is probably what my body needed anyway. A few weekends on the bike an a gradual return to running culminated in a 15 mile run @ 7:59 pace on grass today (between 2 miles of walking) with no lingering issues. So hopefully I can ramp it up over the next two weeks to pace 3:20 in Dublin on October 28th - what's the opposite of taper?

Thanks for all the kind comments (on and off line) over the last two months following the death of Cliona - like my running it has been a slow recovery - funny how the body and mind sometimes synchronise.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

That's Class

I've been to Connemara 4 times in my life, all of which involved running (ultras). In fact I reckon that I have covered more miles on foot in Connemara than in a car.

The Plan
While my primary motivation was to experience the physical and mental challenge that "running" 100 miles would bring (an adventurous journey into the unknown) I had to set myself a target so as to keep focused. My A-target was Sub-18 hours as I thought it would be nice to complete the distance within the calendar day (6 a.m. to Midnight). In addition my crew had only signed up for the Saturday. Sunday was double time. Based on previous years results I though that my current form put me among those capable of coming in around 18 to 20 hours - although predicting 100 mile finishing times is a fools game. With 100 miles, predicting that you'll finish at all is even risky.
My B, C and D targets were sub-20, 24 and 30 hours respectively, with 30 hours being the cut-off time.
To break down my 18 hour plan into bite size chunks I first divided the distance in half using the "50 Mile Factor" taken from the Umstead 100 training/racing plan. The "50 Mile Factor" for Umstead is 1.30 - representing the time for the second 50 miles divided by the time for the first 50 miles for the average finisher. Allowing 30 minutes for unexpected stops (popping blisters, changing gear, relieving muscle cramps etc.) my plan consisted of 17:30 "moving time" split between 7:36 for the first 50 miles (9:08 pace) and 9:54 for the second 50 miles (11:52 pace) - overall pace of 10:30. I further split each 50 mile segment into 10 x 5 mile sections with a gradual fade in pace from start (8:42) to end (13:46). In reality the plan was, at best, a means of assessing my progress rather than dictating my pace. As it turned out the plan was not referred to during the race at all. Good to have in the back pocket though.
Setting a time goal is all well and good but as I was not going to be running all the way I needed a strategy for walking. I resisted the option of running and walking for set durations and opted for a run/walk by feel strategy based on keeping everything aerobic (below my 138 MAF heart rate), which would require walking most of the uphills (feeding time).
After water, the core component of my fuelling strategy was EFS (Electrolyte Fuel System), which I initially came across on this site and purchased from this UK distributor (not available in Ireland yet). It only arrived on the Thursday morning (less than 2 days before race start) so I had no time to check it out - serious rookie mistake, I know - the first time I drank it was 1 hour into the race. It was very palatable (I had the Lemon-Lime version) with none of that sickly sweet taste of other energy drinks/gels and the mix was such that it was easily digested and the nutrients rapidly absorbed through the lining of my gut. The rest of my fuel consisted of anything I could possibly get a hankering for -
Nuts (almonds, pecans and peanuts),
Fruit & Veg (salted potatoes, bananas & raisins),
Supplements/meal replacement (gels, ensure & electrolyte powder),
Cheap carbs (tea brack, salt crackers, Dark Chocolate (85%), bread, banana & walnut cake, raspberry and coconut cake, rice cakes, bakewell tarts, biscuits)
Other "Drinks" (Coffee, Coke, Banana Milk)
Others (Minestrone Soup, peanut butter, jam)
I did not take the foods with a strikethrough on the day - I may have left a lot of food out of the list above. Contrary to what my crew thought the smoked mackerel and spring onions were never intended for taking during the race.
My basic gear consisted of a pair of Asics Gel Tarthers (more suited to 5k and 10k races perhaps), a loose Waterford winter league running top thrown into my Waterford Marathon Pacer's goodie bag, a loose pair of shorts which formed part of the pacers kit for the Limerick Marathon, a reflective running bib with a zipped pocket to the front (handy for carrying the nuts and chocolate) and a pair of cotton socks. This is what I felt most comfortable in, but I also had a large supply of backup gear that I could change into during the race if needed.
I covered each of my toes in Elastoplast to minimise nail damage, chafing, blister formation etc. (better and cheaper than getting my toenails surgically removed). Ideally I would have bought a pair of toe socks like injinji. Two borrowed head torches and back up batteries would do for dawn/dusk/night?.
My crew consisted of clubmates John (Bike) and Denis (Mother ship). We travelled up the evening before in convoy (you'd never know when a spare car would come in handy) and almost ran out of fuel between Oughterard and Clifden (It may be useful to know that fuel is available in Recess, as the race briefing even missed it).
On reaching Clifden and with 3 minutes to go to race briefing I decided to pick up a few more last minute provisions, with Denis coming into the store and nearly pulling me from the checkout before I got to the till "we can get this stuff later" he said, "if needs be i'll come back for it" - this guy doesn't like being late, every minute counts (and this was the day before the race!) - in one action he validated his selection as commander in chief of the mission.
The race briefing was....brief. In fairness the rules, route, checkpoints, phone numbers and list of mandatory items were clearly set out in the race booklet. There were 12 starters in all, 11 men and Aoife. Looking at the two winners trophies all I could think was "Lucky Bitch" (excuse my French). I did think "Wouldn't it be great if I could bring the other one home with me" but thought that the odds of that happening were quite slim. After all quite a few of the others had form:-
  • Maciej (Magic) Sawicki, was running his 5th Connemara 100, and was aiming for sub-17 hours, having narrowly missed it last year.
  • Graeme Colhoun had come second to the legendary Mick Rice two years running and went under 16 hours in his first attempt.
  • Thomas Bubendorfer, who stormed to a 200k+ 2nd place finish at the Belfast 24 hour last year, 2nd only to John O'Regan, who represents Ireland on the international stage.

....and these were just the guys I knew about! One of the other competitors had completed Badwater and the Thames Ring 250. Badwater!!! FFS.

After loading up the car we retired to the B&B in Letterfrack for the night, dining on meat balls and spuds (Which I had prepared earlier). The "triple room" consisted of a spacious double bed and 2 bunk beds for the crew ;-)

After about 2 hours of real sleep, we were up before 5 having our first breakfast of coffee and toast, followed by our second breakfast of coffee and croissants at the Station House Hotel in Clifden before heading up through the early morning dawn to the start, posing briefly for the "press" to take a few photos.
I'm the one checking out Thomas's crossed fingers
 Without much fanfare the countdown commenced and we were off - the slowest start to any race I ever started. As my plan was to warmup by walking the first mile+, I took up the rear behind Thomas, who was trotting slowly behind the peleton.

To Checkpoint #1 (Mile 28)
The first mile was a lap of the town before heading north up the hill on the road to Letterfrack. Mile 1 in 12:08. Where the road levelled out I began to run, still keeping my heart rate pretty low, gradually building it up. Slowly I began to reel in the back of the field as my running pace was relatively fast. Still mile 2 came in at a relatively pedestrian 10:44. My pace picked up quite a bit on the downhills with Mile 3 coming in at 7:36! I wasn't too concerned as the effort/HR was easy. For the first hour I only took water on board with Denis and John spacing themselves about 100 yards apart, with one handing me the bottle and the other taking it from me. My first solid food is a Rennie at about mile 5 (heartburn after the big breakfast). When I pass Thomas he quips " I thought you wouldn't catch me until mile 60 or 70". I doubted that I would be catching anyone at Mile 60, unless they were stopped.

There is a good long downhill stretch between miles 5 and 9, which sees me pass most of the field. Passing Maciej, I ask him has he any advice, "yeah" he says "slow down". Sound advice and I certainly planned on slowing down (as per the plan), just not yet. I pass the three front runners for the first time at about Mile 7. A quick diversion into the woods for a toilet break at about Mile 8 doesn't lose me the lead. Coming into Letterfrack (Mile 9) I walk to take my drink and am passed by two guys (Graeme Colhoun and Sammy Kilpartick). I exchange places with these 2 for the next 10 miles as the route take us to Tully Cross and along the north Connemara coast to Lettergesh.

From Mile 17.5 the hills disappear for a while as we turn inland along the shores of Lough Muck and Lough Fee (spectacular tranquil scenery). While Graeme's, Sammy's and Thomas's crews pass me from time to time to set up mobile feeding stations, I do not see them. Approaching the N59 Junction, John joins me on the bike until Checkpoint 1 at Lough Inagh Lodge. We are now on the 38 mile loop that forms the April Connemara ultra course (39.3 miles), running close to one and a half times in reverse from Mile 21.5 to 71.5 (50 miles). We pass the first marathon mark in about 3:56 - just approaching 10 a.m. (I was adding 1% to the Garmin distance to allow for error).

The views through the Inagh valley are blocked by the low cloud and light rain, but this doesn't bother me as much as John, who is not pushing as hard as me and therefore is more inclined to "take in" the surroundings and feel the rain. While the first 20 miles were relatively uneventful for John and Denis, they were both having to work harder now - with John on the bike Denis had to do all the food prep, including the tea and sandwiches for their "breakfast". John was gasping for the cuppa as we approached Lough Inagh Lodge, so as they made my presence known to Angela, they retired for a bite to eat and left me go on my merry way, with the intention of catching up with me well before we hit the main Galway/Clifden road at Mile 33.

While I didn't know it at the time I was 7 minutes ahead of Sammy and Graeme at Checkpoint #1, who were a further 3 minutes ahead of Thomas.

To Checkpoint #2 (Mile 55)
I get my phone from Denis to ring Abina and assure her that I am still alive and take the opportunity to record a short video as a reminder of how I feel 30 miles in. I take a few more videos periodically throughout the day but only one more survived intact.

John and Denis join me before we turn left for Recess and Maam Cross forming a slow convoy of runner, bike and car for 9 miles along the busiest road of the day. The most comfortable place to run is along a water filled groove at the edge of the pavement - there's no avoiding the wet, but this is not an issue for me. I get my first niggle around mile 34 with a rising ache in my left hip, a weakness attributed to adaptation from my walk training. However after walking for a minute or two the ache subsides when I resume running. We eventually reach Maam Cross (Mile 42), with the monthly fair in full swing, the smell of burgers and chips filling all my senses.

Over the next mile or two, as I approach the "Hell of the West", I lose John and Denis as they stop for a breather and reload the bike into the car. As I stop and walk the last km towards the summit (it's not that bad in reverse) John and Denis catch up and I refuel. Seb and Iain (roving race official and photographer) stop in their convertible beamer for a quick chat to see how I am doing. Ok so far. I reach the top (Mile 44.5) and Denis and John drive ahead to Maam Bridge at the base of the hill, over 2 miles away.

As I run down the hill cyclists come against me, a few at first and then in larger groups - part of the 125k "Great Spin Out West" charity cycle. We exchange words of encouragement as we pass. Over the next 10 miles into Lenane I meet cyclists coming against me. The downhill running is only marginally faster and while my quads are in good condition I cannot take full advantage of the hill - Mile 46 in 8:00 is the best I can do. From Maam Bridge to Lenane (47 to 55) I begin to get a bit more irksome, but only when the crew are not around (and for that very reason). The gap between fuelling points is getting a bit long for my liking - more to do with the comfort of having the support on hand than from any lack of fuel.

I get a mug of Minestrone Soup shortly after mile 48 and it hit the spot. Denis told me afterward that it took quite a bit of preparation in setting up the "soup station" - locating a suitable uphill section, making up the soup, spotting my arrival and arranging the delivery and retrieval of the mug - all for 20 seconds of seamless fuelling on the go. Allowing for 1% error I pass halfway (Garmin mile 50.5) with 7:35 on the clock. I do a quick mental calculation using the 1.3 "50 Mile Factor" and reckon I am on target for a 16:45/16:50 finish. It turns out that the 1.3 factor would have given me a 17:27 finish - and I was full sure that my calculation was correct (the error of my ways was converting 135 minutes into 1 hour 35 minutes as opposed to 2 hours 15 minutes).

At about Mile 51 Sammy's crew (or trio of young female supporters) pass me and pull into a layby ahead. I'm certain they are just an advance party checking out how far ahead I am. But while they face towards the road they do not turn back but wait for me to pass and ask how I am doing - "not too bad" I reply "past half way and on the home stretch" , not showing any sign of weakness, in case it encourages the chasing group to close the gap.  I don't hear them pull away and wonder is it just a ploy to give me the impression that Sammy is gaining on me. Maybe it was my head going into overdrive.

The road eventually drops towards Lenane and Checkpoint #2, where I can pick up the pace a little - Mile 55 coming in 8:45 (the best I can do for a continuous downhill). Approaching Checkpoint #2 Seb and Iain pull up in their convertible and tell me that Thomas is in second place, 3 miles out, with another group not too far behind him. I can't believe that I am that far ahead. Denis has to clear a path through a crowd of tourists alighting from a bus and then dashes across the road to seek out Niall and log my arrival.

To Checkpoint #3 (Mile 67)
John joins me on the bike again and stays with me for the rest of the race. I had been looking forward to a walking break at Lenane but John "suggested" that I continue my run until I reach the hill, where Denis would be waiting with whatever food I wanted. There was a steady headwind heading west and while I was a bit annoyed that I had to go a bit further before I could walk I didn't have any physical issue with running - the saying that you "run the second 50 miles with your head" was beginning to ring through. As the road steepened slightly I began to "query" John a bit more on Denis's whereabouts - "Why didn't he stop there - it's a perfectly good place to park up and we're on a hill". As the race went on my definition of a hill was beginning to diverge from that of my crew. Fair play to John though, he listened to my complaints and ignored them if he could get away with it ;)

 I walked the last km of the hill and took on more fuel, including a salty spud. I rang Abina from Mile 58 (It was now 3 in the afternoon) to confirm I was still alive and that I would ring again in the evening. I chatted with John about my lead and the importance of proper fuelling and pacing for the rest of the race if I was to maintain it. John wasn't as enthusiastic as me, because he knew we were still a long way out and I suspected that he did not like me walking too much - thinking that I was throwing minutes away. I, on the other hand, put my relatively good form down to the fact that I had walked periodically from the very start.

Shortly after resuming running I felt a slight twinge in my left calf (as if it was about to cramp up) and stopped and walked immediately while John rang ahead to Denis for Biofreeze and salt tablets. All this talk of finishing time/position, over 40 miles out was quickly put to the back of my mind as a muscle cramp/spasm would quickly stop me in my tracks. I walked for a few minutes to where the car is parked and John quickly applies bio freeze to both calves and I take a salt tablet. I resumed running and there was no sign of any trauma in my calf.

Denis's next stop is at the "Stop and Pray" Church in the middle of nowhere - our second time passing it . Finding some time on his hands he goes in and lights 3 candles and when he come out he spots "three birds in a car" not quite the prayer he made - turns out they were Sammy's crew. 

Mile 64 - (Photo Courtesy of Iain Shaw)
I'm still in pretty good shape, although my best "running" pace is 9:30 to 10:00 miles. Having neglected to apply any vaseline or nipple plasters before the race, John has to provide them on the run as a few things are beginning to rub. I ask for another Minestrone soup and the bucket of water and sponge to be ready at Inagh Lodge when I am passing, as I feel I could do with cooling down. On arrival Denis is heading inside to announce my arrival and John hurriedly prepares the bucket and sponge, pouring some of the bottled mineral water in - does the job nicely although I have to run on without my cup of soup - i'm sure i'll get it down the road. Angela has to run out of the hotel to spot me running down the road.

To Checkpoint #4 (Mile 82)
I'm 2 miles beyond Checkpoint #3 before my crew catch up with me and I get my soup as I walk for a few minutes. After finishing the soup John hands me the recharging unit for the Garmin, which consists of a Duracell phone recharger connected to the Garmin cradle (305). In practice I was able to use the garmin strap to hold the watch and cradle combination onto my wrist and secure the charging unit and short cable on my arm using a bandana - but after nearly 70 miles of running/walking my hand eye coordination was slightly lacking. so after a few failed attempts I ran with the whole recharging assembly in my left hand for the next hour and a half. Word filters through that Thomas is still about 30 minutes behind at Checkpoint #3, but suffering, with Maciej hot on his heels. Denis reports later that he saw Thomas and that he appears to be shuffling along but is quite lucid as he recognised Denis and greeted him. This is enough to let me know that Thomas is quite strong and that the shuffle is not a sign of fatigue but his trademark ultra gait. I rang Abina at around the 70 mile mark, to check-in and she asked me was I in the lead - I just said that I'd talk to her later as it was a bit premature to say anything.

 It's not long before I am leaving the Connemara Ultra route behind me and heading west along the N59 towards the turnoff for Roundstone - 71.5 miles done. When passing this junction for the first time in the morning (with just under 5 hours on the Garmin) I had mentally added on 6 hours for the 38 mile loop, giving me an 11 hour target for this point. With the Garmin at 11:10, I wasn't too far off.

The next few miles along the main Clifden Road are a nightmare for John and Denis as traffic is quite heavy, but I feel safe in their shadow and get shouts of "bravo" from a passing Italian camper van. Eventually we are turning south on the road to Roundstone and for some reason I think we are on the home straight - nearly 74 miles done! - Just a marathon left - 5 hours ought to do it - surely I can do that. The road to Roundstone is much longer than I expect and drags on for what seems like an eternity. 12 hour in and I have about 76 miles on the clock - 4 miles ahead of the winner of the Belfast 12 hour last month, I always thought that race was not as hotly contested as the 24-hour.

John's recollection of his pre-race route drive-through on Google Street View is a bit out as he sends Denis forward to wait at a causeway about a mile ahead. Turns out that the causeway is a bridge about a mile or two miles further along - luckily Denis stops well in advance. Despite my rising irritation I manage to run most of this section.

Approaching the top of a hill and still 2.5 miles outside Roundstone, I stop for a pee at the side of the road and John tells me that a car is coming, obviously retaining more propriety that I - "I don't give a f*#k" was my quick response, as Seb and Iain pull alongside me in the now familiar convertible, with Seb commenting - "good to see that your keeping hydrated". Thankfully Iain left the camera in its case. Seb tells me that Thomas is about 3 miles back and is about to be overtaken by Maciej - where have I heard that before?

At last I am rounding a bend and can see Roundstone in the distance across the bay. I set myself the target of running until I hit the checkpoint in the centre of the village, already looking forward to my order of strong sugary coffee and tea brack, that I had placed with Denis 10 miles out. Mick Rice and Valerie Glavin (ultra running legends in their own right) appear at the side of the road cheering me on as the long and winding road eventually takes me into Roundstone. Denis had travelled ahead and informed anyone outside the pubs and cafes that would listen of who I was and what I was doing and the cheers I got as I made my way along the main street was fantastic. It might have only lasted 50 yards, but to hear total strangers calling out my name and cheering me on gave me a great lift - inspirational crewing from Denis.

The coffee and brack tasted great as I made my way up the hill to the final checkpoint, where I was joined on my walk by Mick Rice, who offered me advice on the last 15 miles into Clifden and commented on how close the race was this year with only a few mile between the top 3 or 4. This surprised me a little as usually a 3 mile lead in any race is a reasonably good indication that the win is in the bag - then again anything could happen over the closing 18 miles. As I finished my coffee Mick carried my cup back to my crew and I resumed my slow run - a true gentlemen.

Enjoying a Cuppa on the walk up towards Checkpoint #4

The Last 18 Miles
John had warned me about the hill out of Roundstone, the last real hill of the day. I thought he had mentioned that it was 1 km long so I mentally set aside 6 minutes of running to get me over it (9:40 pace - still too fast). 10 minutes later I was still climbing but I wasn't too troubled as I was in a reasonably good state, with the coffee haven given me a good boost (the first mile out of Roundstone was sub 10 minute pace). I stopped and walked when John caught up with me on the bike and the hill continued to climb up and over the headland, eventually giving way to a gradual descent.

Denis was eagerly waiting for word from Roundstone on how far behind number 2 was. John relayed a conversation he had with Mick Rice in Roundstone about how Maciej normally rallies during the closing 10 miles of the race, by loading up on red bull. This had me worried for a bit until I heard from Denis that Thomas was still in second place and 30 minutes behind with no sign of Maciej. Not that Thomas was any less of a threat. I mentally relax for a bit and took the time to ring Abina. "You're in the lead" she informed me.

I send a text to a friend who I thought was checking my progress through Abina.

"86 miles, 30 minutes clear at 82" I texted.

He responded "I know, following on Facebook. You have had 30 mins all day. Paces even enough so just keep head and you finish in front"

Christ he appeared to be more well informed of my progress than I was. I record my last video blog here before John gets a bit impatient and urges me to stop wasting time and start running again.


Those last 14 miles consisted of 11 miles to Clifden and 3 x 1 mile loops of the town. While I am tantalising close, every mile of progress feels agonisingly slow. I wait until 10 miles to go, while I am passing through Ballyconnely,  to start taking coke, my secret weapon - the intention being to alternate it with the EFS carb drink every 2 miles. In hindsight 2 mile intervals were too long and the effect of the coke wore off well before I was due to refuel. John was gently pushing me for a sub 16:30 finish and I was becoming slightly more irritable as I didn't really care about time and was just pushing for the win. My heart rate was in the 112 to 117 range and my pace pushing over 11 minute miles. I knew that I needed to keep under 11 minute miles to have any chance of getting under 16:30 (based on having to run 101 Garmin miles - allowing 1% error) and for no apparent reason (other that John's gentle nudging) I decided that a sub 16:30 was a desirable target afterall and for the next mile I made a conscious effort to up the pace as my heart rate moved into the 120's and my pace dropped into the 10:20s. In this manner I managed to bang out 3 sub 11 minute miles. I was pleasantly surprised relieved to spot a "Clifden 3km" road sign, when I had estimated that I was still 3 miles out.
There was a gentle rise on the Road into Clifden which slows me down immediately to a 12 minute mile shuffle, surprised at how quickly my energy levels dropped. I ask John how long it is to the start of my 3 lap countdown - "5 maybe 10 minutes at most" he says. The rise up to the town is very slow although I am comforted by the street lights as they herald the end of my journey - all will be over soon. Denis parks up and waits until I have done one lap of the town to check if anyone is close behind me. I pass the finishing line for the first of 4 times getting high fives and cheers for Ray, Seb and co. (my vision isn't the best) - The finishing clock is all zeros as it is not set up yet. John makes sure I follow a path around the town that doesn't put me in the path of oncoming traffic - eventually we pass Denis, who confirms that the mile behind me is all clear. I shuffle on passing the finishing line again, with 15:56 on the clock. 2 miles to go, with just under 98 miles on the Garmin (sub 16:30 assured) John mentions something about a sub 16:20, but I dismiss him, energy levels are getting very low - John directs me onto a footpath to avoid a car coming from a junction and my mind goes a bit awry as I get disoriented coming off the path again, almost stopping completely, I feel so empty - I ask John for a swig of coke as my thinking is a bit fuzzy - the sugar hit does enough to fire up the control centre and return me to some sort of lucidity, although the engine is still running on fumes. I eventually pass the finish line for the pen-ultimate time to great cheers and while I am fully motivated I can only manage a slow death march. With half a lap to go I hear car horns honking, which I assume heralds Thomas's arrival in town. At last I am shuffling up the last rise, turning the last corner and on the home straight punching the air in delight, the clock showing 16:21:59 with John urging me to make one last dash for a sub 16:22. Home at last, I can stop now - I lean on the barrier and am unsteady on my feet but feel elated. Denis and John are on hand to wrap me in a foil blanket, give me my pre-ordered protein drink and stop me from falling over as I conduct a finish line interview with a woman who purports to be from the Guardian (on-line sports blog) I initially assume the Clifden Guardian but she tells me it's the London version.
I am back at the car receiving post race TLC as Thomas passes on his last lap, looking very comfortable having taken 10 minutes out of my lead over the last 18 miles. I suspect that most of those were lost during the last 3 mile shuffle around Clifden, which took nearly 40 minutes to complete (over 13 minute miles). Perhaps if I walked more during the last 14 miles and took on a bit more fuel I may have had a better finish, but not necessarily a better overall time.

I own a huge debt of gratitude to Denis and John for looking after me so well for the entire day, putting up with my rising irritability and making sure I remained in the right place mentally. They are as much winners as I am. 
Despite my best intentions of hanging around at the finish line and perhaps enjoying a pint in the local pub while cheering on those coming in to finish my crew thought it better to return to the B&B to recover, shower and have a bite to eat, which was the best decision as I wasn't fit to do much. However as Denis and John had no problem falling asleep after a long day on the road I didn't sleep a wink as my legs began the long process of repair, with my heart pumping away to provide the necessary oxygen and remove waste products and my head spinning, reliving the day in full detail as I could now afford to pause and reflect on every twist and turn of the hundred miles I had just run, listening to the light rain fall outside the open window, knowing that there were runners still out on the wet dark roads of Connemara, their journey not yet complete - respect.
One of my reasons for signing up for Connemara was to see how far I could push myself, would I descend into a deep abyss, would it break me or would I be able to rise above it. I don't think I ever reached a stage where I touched darkness, except perhaps for my slight wobble at Mile 98, but that was relatively mild in the grand scheme of things. Physically I have been in much worse states at the end of a race - my first sub-3 hour marathon in 2011 and after a 5k race back in 2008 come to mind.
Unfortunately, I have had to face a much deeper abyss over the last week. One that will take a long time to climb out of. 5 short weeks ago I visited my younger sister Cliona in hospital a day or two after she was diagnosed with Cancer. I told her about the upcoming race in Connemara and she said how she'd love to go down as she had previously planned on spending a week or two in Letterfrack with her husband and 14 year old son, but had never got around to it. During the race my family had been following my progress on Facebook and telling Cliona how I was doing. When I had finished she was told that I had won, to which she replied "That's Class". That was one of her last lucid moments. She died 5 days later. The strength and dignity she showed over the last few weeks of her life as she organised her affairs and said goodbye to her Husband and Son will stay with me for as long as I live and no Connemara will ever come close to breaking me the way I am now broken. But I will survive and every year when Connemara 100 comes around i'll be reminded of strength and bravery in the face of adversity for more that one reason.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Connemara 100 - View from the Chuck Wagon

You know you have a good crew when they agree to write up your race report for you. I will write up my own thoughts and perspective on the Connemara 100 in due course but I thought it would be interesting to see how the race unfolded from the eyes of the "Chuck Wagon"

Written by Denis Looney

Edited by John Desmond

Based on a true story

View from the chuck wagon.

Some time ago we were discussing the Connemara 100 and I told Grellan, when he decided to do it, I’d crew for him.  So that’s how I ended up witnessing his stunning performance up close and mostly from the comfort of the support vehicle. Grellan, John Desmond  and I started to put a support plan together the previous Sunday (seriously) during a club run.  John and I left the race plan to Grellan.
On the Friday evening after the race briefing in Clifden, Grellan walked us through his energy drinks and food supplies.  True to his word Grellan had loaded up with every conceivable food that he may need/want on the day.  In fact we made 2 visits (before and after the race briefing) to the Clifden branch of an unnamed German discount supermarket to stock up on more of his possible desires.  (I’m still not sure about the mackerel fillets or spring onions but he was the boss).  Grellan had taken out most of the seats from his people carrier and all supplies were arranged in boxes/coolers/bags where we could easily get at them.  And once we got Grellan on the road, we could quickly get our secret weapon (John’s mountain bike) in and out.
At race HQ on Saturday morning I finalised realised a boyhood dream and hooked up the 2 flashing orange lights to the support vehicle.  And I kept them flashing for the next 16 hours 22 minutes and 8 seconds.  
The plan was for Grellan to walk up the steep bits and we’d supply food at that stage.  He did not plan to stop and eat and we’d supply drinks as he needed them.  We would deploy the bike when we hit the N59 (mile 20ish) through the Inagh Valley and through Maam Cross, giving John Des a break until Leenane.
The first 20 miles from Clifden through Letterfrack, and onto the N59 was pretty easy for the crew.  We’d stop every 2 miles to supply drinks and get instructions for what Grellan wanted to eat at the next walking section.  John Des had driven the course on Google street view and he also had enough Ordnance Survey maps for a military invasion of West Galway.  So we knew where to park and wait.  At this stage we didn’t need to be cycling/driving behind Grellan as the roads were quiet and the runners were close together.
Once we hit the N59 at mile 20 John cycled behind Grellan to give more visibility and I leapfrogged them every 4 miles in the support vehicle.  I’d get instructions from John/Grellan as to what to have at the next stop and hand it over at that stage.  Think of a mobile McDonalds drive thru with a far greater (and more bizarre-turkey slices Grellan??) menu.  In fairness to Grellan he thought of his crew as well.  John and I had our tea and hang sandwiches at regular intervals, plus some mini muffins from the aforementioned unnamed German discount supermarket.  There was an on course rumour at one stage that Grellans impressive pace was partly down to his concern that his crew would eat through his supplies if he didn’t get home under 17 hours.  That’s absolutely not true; we would have left the mackerel fillets, spring onions and carbonated water.  
There are 4 intermediate checkpoints on the Connemara 100, Inagh Lodge, Leenane, Inagh Lodge (again) and Roundstone.  At each one the runner has a book that he needs to have updated by Race officials with the time he/she passes that checkpoint.  At checkpoint 1 I hung around to get the gaps back to the next place runner, (there was no Eurosport cover like in the Tour de France).  From then on as the gap between Grellan and the rest of the field widened, I had to leapfrog to feed , then go back to other places as mobile coverage up there is very poor.  Later in the race we could rely on the race officials to update us by mobile.  No unfair advantage here, as those behind us would know at the checkpoint what Grellans time was and how far ahead he was.  While Grellan kept his 30 minute lead from checkpoint 2, we all knew that could evaporate quickly, even with just 10 miles to go.  Sometimes while I was packing the wagon, one of the other runners support cars would pull up behind me and I’d be nervously think Grellan was being caught.
As the only one of the 3 of us not engaging in any serious physical activity, (John you’d want to get out more on that bike) as well as head of catering and supplies, I also became chief photographer, and head of crowd control.  Especially through Leenane where the passengers of 2 full tour buses were gathered on the footpath and we had to run ahead of Grellan to clear a path.  I was in charge of weather forecasting and media relations (my mobile was on fire once we got reception) but a big thanks to Eagle AC Lady Captain Elaine Guinane for keeping FB updated and giving a central point of reference for all those interested.  Thanks also to Niall who was able to give on course updates via FB.
I also became chief spiritologist.  Coming up out of Leenane (mile 60) Grellans calves started cramping.  In a move that I believe the McLaren F1 team will seek to replicate next year, John D applied Bio freeze to Grellans legs with staggering proficiency.  It was only rivalled by the cutting and application of some nipple protecting band aids in the Inagh valley 10 miles later.   John and I were still a bit worried about our man.  So as “Stop and Pray” church was the next support point after feeding the athlete, I did just that and lit a few candles.  It seems even God was on our side and the cramps disappeared along with the mid morning mists.
John played a stormer on the bike, giving protection on the road.  As we got further into the race and the gaps between the leapfrogging got shorter.  He’d come to me as Grellan passed to order the supplies and carry them off in his rucksack so he could “stand and hand” up ahead.  He also controlled the mix of sugar and salt that Grellan was getting in order to avoid stomach problems which have hampered participants in the past.  John kept Grellans mind distracted as they chatted about the terrain, views and other non race things.  On several occasions’ I could hear Grellan or John laughing about something or other (maybe me) before I could see them around a bend on the road.
Once we got past the last check point at Roundstone (great buzz off the crowd there) Grellan had under 18 miles to go.  As we got further from the check point we were relieved that there was no call to say those behind us had gained any time.  The gap was still 30 minutes.  Then it started to get dark and the little convoy formed up.  Grellan leading the way, like Cyclops with a head torch, (thanks Viv and Colin).  John D on the bike like a Christmas tree with the red and green flashing lights and me at the back with more flashing yellow lights than the earthmovers on the South Link Road over the past year.
I didn’t tell Grellan till after the race, but I got a call from the race officials at our mile 91 to ask where we were, as they wanted to make sure the finish was set up by the time Grellan made Clifden.  All he had to do was not walk!!
We hit the town and I parked up on the first lap to see if anyone was on his tail.  By the time runner and bike had done 1 lap with 2 full laps (2 miles) to go we knew he had at least a full 1 mile lead.
I got the recovery drink, foil blanket and change of costume (first one) and went to the finish line which Grellan had to pass twice more.  His last lap of the town seemed to take an age and it did, but he finally rounded the last corner. He had done it...16:22:08, awesome.  John Des being the ever demanding taskmaster was encouraging Grellan to push and break 16:22, but I think that was just a ploy to get him over the line.
Across the line, John D holds him up, Niall O’Crualaoich checks him out medically.  We give him the recovery drink and wrap him up.  Then Grellan starts being interviewed by a lady who said she worked for the Guardian.  His answers and comments were humorous, relevant, coherent and complementary.   Not like someone who had just completed a 100 mile race, so he was in good shape.  We got him back to the wagon as we wanted him to get his legs elevated and keep him warm.  This proved highly effective as he was in great form when we got back to our lodgings for a late night feast of (you’ve guessed it) tea, hang sandwiches and the last of those mini muffins.

My thoughts
On the day
One thing that struck me in the leap frogging was the amount of distance Grellan was covering each time he passed me and I stayed in position preparing drinks/food.  Or how fast he’d be up to me when I’d drive 1 mile ahead.  He was relentless, a demanding team principal……. .  Not stopping to eat or change costume helped him maintain his lead.  The second thing was that while we knew from the race strategy that certain sections of the main roads would be busy by the time we hit them, I had no idea what time of day it actually was.  I was all focussed on my stopwatch and the car Odometer, (pre historic Garmin).  We only started thinking of the time of day as light started to fade and we had to get bike and runner lit up.
On the preparations
Bring everything you can think of and then some.  You really never know and surprisingly there’s no supermarkets or sports shops on the route.  
On the people
Know who you’re crewing for and know who’s crewing for you.  The 3 of us started Ultra running in Connemara in 2010, (Grellan is the extremist) and we know each other well.
We’ve been on a lot of running adventures and it stood to us on the day.  Grellan may edit this piece out, but when he started his (last) 3 mile loop of the town with a 1 mile lead, I was so proud of (and relieved for) him that I actually became a bit teary eyed.  Ray O’Connor (RD) said something about him being a legend, but I prefer how our fellow Eagle AC Clubmates were referring to him all day, “the Beast” because he devours any challenge you put in front of him.  If you’ve seen the picture of him passing the finishing clock with his arms outstretched, I’m the guy with the big grin on the left hand side of that photo.  Thanks for having me on board Grellan!!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

A Pain In The Ass

Having to run/walk/crawl 38 miles longer than I have ever gone before, i'm just a tad nervous about not having followed a structured 100 mile training programme or in the absence of such a thing not having followed the general training advice of those that have gone before. My longest training run has been 26.2 miles and I'm putting everything on the fact that I have run a few of them over the last few months (6 since 1st June). No back to back 4/5 hour runs that I did for the Portumna 100k in 2011, no training with my planned nutrition for the day, indeed no clear nutrition plan other than  to load up with every conceivable food that I may need/want on the day.
The only thought I have given to my race plan is the fact that i'll need to incorporate some form of walking into the day, following the general advice of "walk well before you have to". While those at the pointy end of things might get away without having to walk during a 100 miler I don't want to test whether or not I am one of those as it will prove very painful and counter productive if I find out at mile 60,70 or 80 that I am not. With this in mind I have done some walk specific training over the last month, but not nearly enough to build up the walking base that I would like. Training the body to walk efficiently at a reasonable pace is very similar to training the body to run efficiently  and just because I can run at a certain level does not mean that I can walk at the same level, the aerobic base may be there, but the muscular base is lagging slightly. Don't get me wrong, most people can walk for a very long time, but to do so at anything resembling a reasonably consistent and steady pace requires specific training. I initially introduced walking into my warmup/cooldown for a few of my runs and then did a few walk only sessions, resisting the urge to break into a trot, which doubled as "patience" training (also required for Saturday). At the back of my mind was a walking pace of 12 minute miles (5 miles per hour), which I initially struggled to achieve for 1 mile, requiring constant vigilance as my mind tended to wander.
While my walking pace improved over the month, culminating in a 10 mile walk at 11:33 pace last Saturday, it is highly unlikely that I will achieve anything near this pace during the race as the effort in terms of heart rate was similar to running at about 9:00 pace ( the whole point of walking is to give the body a bit of a rest) and most of my walking will be on the uphill sections. A 14 mile run/walk the previous weekend, included 3 x 1.85 miles, walking the uphills @ 12:30 pace and running the downhills @ 6:03 pace giving the double training benefit of uphill walking and strengthening the quads on the downhill sections (the quads appear to be the first muscle group to suffer during long ultras - all things being equal at the start). In terms of adaptation, I found that my glutes/hamstrings in particular felt achy after the walking sessions so I am hopeful that I have managed to mobilise/awaken a few additional muscle fibres that I can rely on at the weekend. After all it is likely that my musclular/skeletal system will be the weakest link in my endurance chain - it certainly was the case during the Portumna 100k 2 years ago, where after about 65k (40 miles) my natural pace slowed, matched by a similar reduction in heart rate, suggesting that it was a reduction in the number of muscle fibres that I could recruit that led to my drop in pace. Lets hope that I have mobilised/drafted more recruits into my army of muscle fibres for this weekend's battle and that my battle plan is effective and followed through. Time will tell.