Sunday, 22 March 2015

Carlsberg Don't Do Marathons.............

.........................and they probably never will.
After running my first marathon in Dublin in 2006 I came to Barcelona in the spring of 2007 to prove that I could do better, but more importantly to run a marathon that would not cause me so much pain and suffering (The last 4 miles in Dublin were as bad as it gets) - in search of that finish line high that most first time marathoners talked about.  That spring marathon in 2007 proved to be one of the most enjoyable marathons I ever ran, crossing the line I almost broke into tears I was so happy - the last 2 miles were the only painful ones and only moderately so compared to Dublin. I could have broken 3:30 on that occasion if it had been my priority but I was over the moon with my 3:33:49 PB.
In 2010 I returned to Barcelona to have a crack off my first serious sub-3 hour attempt, but an injury leading up to the race, which reared it's ugly head about 9 miles in, put paid to that. My partner in crime on both those occasions was my friend Adrian and who better to partner up for the hat-trick return than him, although he'd be running his first marathon (or indeed any race) in 5 years. This year we were joined by Liam aka "Puds", who is more familiar with a bike than a pair of runners, having last togged out for a marathon (his second in all) way back in Dublin 2006 where he ran a very respectable 2:57 and was in the car on the way home by the time I crossed the line 50 minutes later. To top it off seven of my Eagle AC club-mates would be running the marathon - Tim and Sandra heading for sub 3:30 & 3:20 respectively -Kevin, with a first time marathon PB of 2:59, not giving much away in terms of a target - Finbarr aiming for sub 4 hours, Damien running his first marathon and Nora and Edwina (recovering from an injury). 
We overnighted at my brother in law's in Dublin on Friday night, rising before 5 on Saturday morning to catch the 0640 flight to Barcelona - and they say that the most important nights sleep ahead of a marathon is two nights before! Landing at 1010 hrs local time we got a taxi to the Expo and very quickly picked up our race numbers. While I had packed a soft shell flask in which to carry a homemade gel I was not sure that I would be able to get the black strap molasses for my receipe and decided to pick up some GU Gels at the expo for insurance - 3 ought to do it. We had booked an apartment about half a mile from the start/finish and were lucky enough to sign in early and get a few hours of R&R before heading into town to meet up with the Eagle gang to watch Ireland's narrow defeat to Wales in the Six Nations Championship. Then it was back out to base for more carb loading and a quite if not early night, watching the skiing world cup and the Tirreno-Adriatico on German Eurosport!
Adrian was up first at 6:30 for his porridge as he needed to eat early in order to avoid gastro-intestinal issues during the race. I rose at seven as I was only planning on taking on some coffee to get the bowels moving, but had to add a few carbs to help them on their way. The sky was clear and the sun shining, with the temperature cool - it was going to be a perfect day for running. I left first for the 0800hrs scheduled Eagle AC photo-shoot outside the bag drop area - although when I arrived there were (understandably) about 10,000 others at the rendevouz point also so needless to say the photo-shoot wasn't an entire success - although 4 of the eight managed to meet. I met up briefly with Nora and Edwina and wished them well before heading to the sub-3hour section where most of the runners were running around in a tight circle - not unlike the horse enclosure before a race meet. I joined them for a few "laps" but quickly cottoned on to the futility of jogging around at 11 minute pace with people cutting in front of you every few strides.  My heart rate was in the 90's standing still and shot into the 120's when breaking into an easy jog - I hadn't known that I was that psyched!!!
Shortly before the gun I met up with Kevin, whom I hadn't known had entered as a sub-3 hour runner - dark horse Kevin. We decided to hang at the back of the corral and let the front of the sub-3:15 group stream past us as the barriers between the corrals were lifted with a few minutes to go. The 2:45 and 3:00 pacers were well up in front. I kept an eye out for Puds (who had signed on as a sub 3:15 runner) but could not spot him.
As I had no pace band and my only real goal was a sub 3 hour finish I had targeted 21 minutes for every 5 km (coincided with the timing mats), which would take me to 2:48 for 40 Km, leaving me a good cushion to get under 3 hours - in fact 21 minute 5ks would get me home in 2:57:12 which was roughly in the territory where I thought my body was capable of delivering me to. Only time would tell.

I shook hands with Kevin and as the gun went off we shuffled down the Avenue Reina Marie Cristina, taking nearly a minute to cross the timing mats. We ran between the brick towers that frame the start/finish area, which we would not see again for another 42 Km. Crossing the Placa d'Espana, I turn to say something to Kevin and he is nowhere to be seen - I look in front - no, he's not gone ahead - it's a bit early to be dropping off the pace particularly as it is still only building up - strange! nothing I can do but run on alone.
Placa d'Espana - Les Corts (0 - 5 Km)
The first 5 km towards Camp Nou is a net uphill. That, coupled with the congestion over the first few kms and my desire to ease into the race makes for a relatively slow start, with the Garmin showing a 7:04 opening mile along the 2+km straight section of Carrer de Sants. There are quite a few long straights like this in the marathon, which can be quite impressive, seeing the field of runners spread out in front of you - unless you are the leader of course. The average pace on the Garmin comes down to 7:00 with a 6:56 second mile. I'm finding the going a bit tough during these opening miles, more so because I am off my target pace than anything else. I'm not too concerned as it always seems to take me 3 or 4 miles before the engines are fully warmed up. My heart rate has climbed into the high 150's, which is a bit alarming as I only saw these figures in training when I was pushing hard during speedwork sessions. I ignore the data as I am running at a relatively comfortable pace that I feel I can maintain. I cross the 5 km timing mat in 21:33, over half a minute down on target. The 3 hour pacers are well out in front, but at least I can see them - time to reel them in.
5k Time - 21:33 (Projected finish - 3:01:52) 
Position 1,317.
Les Corts - Enteca ( 5 - 10 Km)
After rounding Camp Nou (7 Km) we pass the highest point on the course and turn right onto the Avenue Diagonal for 2 Km, which is the start of a long gradual descent, where my pace picks up and I gradually reel in the 3 hour pace group as my mile splits reduce to sub 6:30, without any additional effort. I am generally ignoring pace and running by "comfortably hard" effort.
The water stations, spaced about every 2.5 Km, are excellent - advertised 100m in advance, with  bottled water on both sides of the road handed out over a section at least 100m long with 20 to 30 volunteers on either side - so there is plenty of time to move into the side to collect a bottle, which is no harm given the volume of runners. Likewise the support is fantastic ,with crowds of supporters lined out along the route, concentrated at intersections and live music every few Kms - the drumming groups are the best as there is something very primitive about the rhythm that keeps the adrenaline flowing. I am at the back of the 3 hour pacing group approaching the 10km mark and wonder how I am going to get through, with 4 pacers spread out across the road there is no easy route - however as we approach a water station the crowd parts in the middle and I manage to slip through the most congested section, crossing the 10 km timing mat in 42:02 - more or less back on track, covering the second 5 k in 20:29.
10k Time - 42:02 (Projected finish - 2:57:22)
Position 1,104 (213 places gained)

Enteca - Diagonal (10 - 15 Km)
After the 10k mark we turn left heading back towards the Placa d'Espana continuing on a very gentle descent with my "Garmin" pace continuing to be below 6:30. There's still a steady stream of runners in front of me as we turn left again along the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, where our apartment is located - another 2 km long straight. With the even grade it is quite easy to maintain a steady pace/effort with my heart rate between 157 and 160. I continue to slowly move through the field in front of me, hardly noticeable except for the fact that I do not form associations with any of the runners around me the way I would in other races with those running the same pace as me.  Just before Km 14 we turn left along Passeig de Gracia for 1 Km with is the start of a gentle rise for the next 2 Km - the free ride is over. This is where I became a cropper back in 2010. No such problem today. I maintain a reasonable pace in the 6:40's and cross the 15 km timing mat in 1:02:44 - 16 seconds ahead of target and 20:42 for the previous 5k.
15k Time - 1:02:44 (Projected finish - 2:56:28)
Position 786 (318 places gained - including passing the 3 hour pace group)
Diagonal - Fabra i Puig (15 - 20 Km)
After the 16 km mark we pass one of Barcelona's most famous landmarks, the incomplete Sagrada Familia, spectacular no matter how many time you see it, although I have no time to take in its splendour and it is soon behind me as we head for a 4 km long out and back section along the wide Avenue Meridana taking us to the turnaround at Km 20. Here we get a clear view of the front runners coming against us on the opposite side of the road. I spot the leading female, cocooned within a group of male runners, after passing through the half way point with the time coming up to 1:15. Further back are the 2:45 pacers with a group of 30 to 40 in their wake - the Spanish take their running seriously. The website advertises pacers from 2:45 up to 4:00 only, despite the fact that over one third of the field finish in over 4 hours.

Eventually I reach the turnaround and cross the 20km timing mat in 1:23:30, increasing the margin on my target to 30 seconds.

20k Time - 1:23:30 (Projected finish - 2:56:14)
Position 709 (77 places gained)

Fabra I Puig - Besos (20 - 25 Km)
I get a great buzz from running close to the steady stream of runners coming against me over the next 2 Km. Puds gives me a shout out - I reckon he is about half a mile behind and not far off the 3 hour pace group - biding his time until the halfway mark I guess.  I cross the halfway timing mat as the clock approaches 1:29, with the Garmin bang on 1:28:00.
Halfway Time 1:28:00 (Projected finish 2:56:00
Position 697 (12 places gained)
Next to come past is clubmate Kevin a few minutes behind Puds, followed by Sandra, who is looking very comfortable. and gives me a big shout out. I had planned to take my first gel after the halfway point but decide to defer it until Km 25 (15.5 miles), with the second scheduled for 32Km and the final one for the last 5 km or so. As a mid-foot striker who skimps on cushioned soles I tend to be quite noisy, with the effect that I turned quite a few heads as I approached runners from behind, disturbing the relative peace and get them wondering when I am going to pull off the course with an injury as surely all that slapping can't be good for me.

With the out and back section behind us we head east. The Garmin shows 15 miles completed in 1:39:xx but it is over 1:40 before I pass the 15 mile sign (in addition to the km marks, every 5 miles was also marked). We turn south-east heading for the coast and cross the 25 Km timing mat in 1:44:00 - 1 minute ahead of target and another 5k in 20:30. I take my first gel here as I can feel my pace slowing relative to a few runners around me.

25k Time - 1:44:00 (Projected finish - 2:55:32)

Position 659 (50 places gained, 38 since halfway,

Besos - Selva de Mar (25 - 30 Km)
At 26 km we turn right along the Avenue Diagonal for a 2.5 Km out and back section towards the Torres Agbar. I manage to maintain a reasonably consistent pace with those around me. I see the 2:45 pacers coming against me on the opposite side of the road - still with a considerable group of runners with them. There is always a steady stream of runners in front of me, so I am never alone, unlike some of my previous sub 3hour marathons. Eventually we reach the turnaround and head back east along the Avenue Diagonal towards the coast. Approaching the 30km timing mat my lower intestine begins to show some activity, probably due to the gel I consumed at Km 25. Thankfully it is only gas and I am able to run on without having to seek out a portaloo. However I decide it is best to avoid taking any more gels in case it promotes further unwanted activity. I cross the 30km timing mat in 2:04:33, now nearly 90 seconds up on my 2:06:00 target ( i.e. 6 x 21:00).

30k Time - 2:04:33 (Projected finish - 2:55:11)
Position 609 (50 places gained)

Selva de Mar - Marina (30 - 35 Km)
At 31 Km we reach the end of the Avenue Diagonal and take a sharp right heading for the coast. The next 5 kms prove more challenging as there are a few drags and there is no shade from the sun, although it is not hot. Perhaps I am beginning to feel the effects of the effort. Still I maintain my forward momentum through the field in front of me, so at least I am running at least as well as those around me. My heart rate is consistently in the 159 to 162 range so, although it is relatively high, at least I am running at an effort that I can maintain over a relatively long period.

At 34.5 Km we turn right heading inland and back towards the City Centre. The volunteers dispensing vaseline from outstreatched hands in blue surgical gloves prove invaluable as I notice a bit of chafing under my arms from the club singlet, putting up with the mild inconvenience of having greasy fingers. 

I cross the 35km timing mat in 2:25:51 - now 69 seconds up on my target, having lost a few seconds over the last 5 Km (21:18). 7 Km to go and the wheels are beginning to wobble slightly. This is where the mental demons start to kick in

"Sure you're well on for the sub-3 hour and you have a good cushion. So what if you lose a minute or two. It's not like you're aiming for a PB or anything".

Still I push on as, apart from stopping and walking, which never entered the head, there is only one effort that I can churn out and whatever pace that gives will have to do.


35k Time - 2:25:51 (Projected finish - 2:55:50)

Position 533 (76 places gained - despite the slower split my overtaking rate increased)

Marina - Paral-Lei (35 - 40 Km)
7 Km from the finish line is still a long way out and I now have to concentrate a bit more on the leg turnover to stay on pace. I reckon that the longer I can push the pace/effort the closer i'll get to the finish line without conceding valuable seconds. We are now running towards the City Centre, through the Parc de la Ciutadella under the Arc De Triomf and left along Ronda de Sant Pere. The crowds are bigger now and the cheering more intense, which helps getting the adrenaline going. I am counting down the Kms left - passing 37 Km - only 5.195  to go - 21/22 minute of effort remaining. While I reckon I am close to 2:55 for 42 Km I know that the PB (sub 2:54:35) is beyond reach, particularly as I don't have the energy that I though I might have for a final kick over the closing 5 km. It's a long way out to risk everything on a final throw of the dice. Maintaining a consistent steady pace is the best strategy and it placates the mental demons.

We turn left down the side of Placa de Catalunya and into the old city along paved pedestrian streets that feel hard on the legs. I feel my pace is slowing as the effort is beginning to show. We turn right at the bottom of the town and along the waterfront heading for the Mirador de Colom, statue of Christopher Colombus, that signals that the end is not too far away. My flagging energy prompts me to dig into my pocket for one of my GU gels and down half of it, safe in the knowledge that I will be well across the finish line before it hits the far end of my digestive system.

At last we are on the Avenue de Paral-Lei the final straight before the finish. However at over 2 Km long and at a slight incline it is not an easy run in. The fact that you can see the red brick of the twin towers that frame the Placa d'Espana helps in the sense that the finish is in sight but does wreck the head a little as it never appears to get any closer.

We cross the penultimate timing mat at 40 Km, with 2:46:23 on the watch, back to over 90 seconds cushion on my 2:48:00 40 km target, which suggests a sub 2:56 finish if I can keep it going for the last 2 km.   
40k Time - 2:46:23 (Projected finish - 2:55:31)
Position 477 (56 places gained)

Paral-Lei - Placa d'Espana (40 - 42.2 Km)
The last 2 km is all about pushing to keep the pace going. The cheering crowds keep me motivated and the fact that I just have to keep pace with those around me and forget about how much closer those brick towers appear to be getting. The effort remains reasonably comfortable in as much as the end of a marathon can be, no finishing kick here (a testament to a lack of real speedwork in my training - probably not too significant in the grand scheme of endurance racing). Finally the brick towers are looming over me as I turn left along the  Avenue Reina Marie Cristina and the finish line is in sight, not as close as I expected (would have liked) and with the clock turning to 2:56:00 (2:55:xx on the garmin) I had no incentive to take the effort into the anaerobic zone just to eek out a few more seconds, satisfied to cross the line in 2:55:37, in what was, in the grand scheme of things one of the best marathons I have ever run.

Finish 2:55:37
Position 451 (26 places gained)

Within a minute of finishing Puds came across the line for a 2:56:xx PB finish, which included a 7:58 toilet break mile 10. So we may well have crossed the line together if he had avoided that pit stop. A few minutes lying down with the legs raised against a barrier and we were good enough to hobble the half mile back to the apartment, having to negotiate our way across the river of runners coming in towards the finish line, including cheering clubmate Tim on his way to his sub-3:30 PB. Well done Tim.

After a quick shower and a bite to eat at the apartment Puds and I headed to one of the outdoor cafes for a celebratory beer in the warm sunshine where we were joined by Adrian on his return from the finish line. Adrian had a tougher time out there, going through the half in 2:00 and finishing in 4:30, having done the minimum of training, and effectively using Barcelona as the kick off to his training for Ironman Wales in September. Still he joked that Pud's toilet break mile was a full minute faster than his fastest mile.

The beers were followed by a few more beers in town (although I had to ease back on the pace and reverted to coffee - I just hadn't the training put in). We rounded off the evening by joining my Eagle clubmates for dinner and a few more beers, where we all recounted our days struggle. In addition to Tim's PB there were some great results out there with Sandra running to a 3:18 PB (22nd Woman and first Irish Woman), Damien running his first marathon in 3:43 and Finbarr running his first sub-4 hour in an impressive 3:48. Kevin, my running partner for the first 100 yards, decided to do a bit of sightseeing and eased back to a relatively comfortable 3:14 finish. Nora and Edwina topped their day off with 3:57 and 4:00 finishes. We all agreed that it was a fantastic event, superbly organised and one of the best marathons we have run - well worth the trip.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Marathon Training Week 8 of 9

With the long runs and long marathon pace speedwork sessions in the bag the key workout of the penultimate week, 11 days out from Barcelona, involved 5/6 miles at LT Pace (10 Mile) between a mile of warm-up and cool-down. I assume the idea is to reduce volume and increase speed in order to get a bit of last minute pep into the legs. As I had missed the fastest sessions of my training programme in Week 5 (5 x 1 mile @ 10k pace followed by a HM race) I know I am behind the curve as far as speed-work is concerned. With this in mind I was a bit concerned that I would not hit the target pace, but I was there or thereabouts, perhaps overcooking it on the earlier reps, leaving me a bit wanting towards the end. I kept to 5 fast miles as I knew that 6 would be pushing the boundary too much. Not much to do now except to count down the days.

March 2015  - Week 8 of 9
June 2013  - Week 9 of 10
Session # 1 – 5/6 x 1 Mile @ LT (10 Mile) Pace
The last hard session of the training programme and where else could I go but the straight road where I have experienced most of the pain in the build up for Barcelona. My 10 mile PB pace is 6:14 but i'd be happy with anything in the 6:20 range (close enough to my HM paced runs a few week back).
The first three fast miles were heading east with a slight tailwind (I think) and went well in 6:11/07/18 and the last two heading home were in 6:14/20. I had decided that 5 repeats were enough and the slowing pace for the last rep (I had to push the last 1/4 mile to get the pace from 6:23 to 6:20 avg) was enough to confirm that. Done and dusted. No HRM.
10.02 miles in 1:13:54 (7:22 pace, No HRM) with 5 x 1 Mile in 6:11/07/18/14/20.
With a 2:56:01 Marathon at the start of Week 9 needless to say the planned speed session was canned.
Recovery from last Monday's marathon paced "training run" went quite well with a slow recovery 6 mile run on grass on Tuesday. In fact most of my running this week has been on grass with heavy legs for a few days but no niggles or DOMs.
Session # 2 – 10 to 12 Miles Slow with 6 x 100m @ 5k Pace.
I took it slow this time out – no issues.
11.4 Miles in 1:36:21 (8:28 pace @ Avg 117 Hr (616 Hb/Km)
I deferred Friday's "long run" until Saturday morning so that I could join the 7:30 pace Club run, only to show up half an hour late. I ran the route in reverse so as to meet up with the group and return with them. The pace was a little faster than planned, hitting 7:13 average over 12.28 miles on a beautiful sunny morning.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Marathon Training Week 7 of 9

With the peak training session out of the way the last three weeks before Barcelona should be getting relatively easier. However there were a few quality sessions remaining:-

18 Days out - 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 mile @ MP with 2 minutes rest (That's 15 miles @ MP, up from the 12 I did last weekend. This went reasonably well but wasn't without a struggle towards the end.

11Days out - 5/6 miles @ LT (10 mile pace) with 2 minute jog recoveries. The last key session to get a bit of speed in the legs before the main event. With me struggling at the HM paces earlier in the programme this is likely to be a tough session.

6 Days out - 2 miles @ 10k Pace. A final sharpening session. While it shouldn't prove too challenging I doubt that i'll be able to achieve 10k PB pace.

On Tuesday I completed a MAF Evaluation run at the track and the result shows that my aerobic efficiency is not as good as it was in early December (in the middle of my high mileage aerobic base-building period) and while this can be explained by the fact that I am in the middle of my peak training weeks for Barcelona, with a continual cycle of stress and recovery, a similar MAF evaluation at the same point in my training programme  in 2013 yielded a better result. Not much in it perhaps, particularly if it is weight adjusted. Time to lose a few pounds - I am in day 4 of a 14 day carb depletion diet (Ref: Phil Maffetone's "Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing"), which should help - although my speed sessions on days 11 and 6 may suffer. Looking forward already to the 3 days of carb loading.
Swim - 2 km
Bike - 36 Miles
Run - 63 Miles

February 2015  - Week 7 of 9
May/June 2013  - Week 8 of 10
Session # 1 – 5, 4, 3, 2 & 1 miles @ MP
The last 22 days of my marathon training programme are quite prescriptive and "Day 18" called for 5+4+3+2+1 mile at marathon pace with 2 minute rest in between with 1 mile warm up and cool down. To be honest I had thought of deferring this session until the weekend as it was only four days since my last hard session (3 x 4 miles @ MP), which I had swapped with my "Day 22" long run last weekend. Still, better to get it done and over with, assuming I could. I'd be satisfied with a marathon pace in the 6:40s, given that I was less than rested.
The first five mile segment went well @ 6:37 pace average, but I hadn't realised that I had the wind at my back - not very strong but enough to slow me down during the remaining sections - 4 miles @ 6:40 pace, 3 miles @ 6:41 pace, 2 miles @ 6:52 pace (net uphill & against the wind) and 1 mile @ 6:41 pace. The last 2 and 1 mile sections were more uncomfortable as my body began to tire and my heart rate rose well above my lactate threshold. This could well be due to glycogen depletion as I took no fuel on board and hadn't eaten all day. With an average 6:41 pace for the 15 MP miles I am quite happy with the session. Avg Hr 148 (659 Hb/Km)
Most of the work is done. The two most challenging session of the final 3 weeks are
•18 Days out - 17 mile run with 15 @ MP (5, 4, 3, 2 & 1 mile with 2 minute rests)
•11 days out - 5/6 x 1 mile @ 10M Pace (LT pace and no faster)
As I traditionally pace the Cork City Marathon on the June weekend (12 days out) I opted to pace the first half of the 3 hour marathon instead as part of my scheduled 15 miles @ MP - close enough and certainly more training benefit than pacing the full distance at a slower pace.
This meant that I would have to run the 5/6 x 1 mile @ 10M pace as part of my scheduled track session on Tuesday. However as most of the club would be running the John Buckley 5k at the Marina I decided last minute to give that a go instead - ok the pace would be faster and the distance shorter, but it sounded far more attractive than running laps of the track to a specific time
This is where I deviated from the plan in 2013 and got the first of 2 PB’s in the space of a week – 17:57 in the John Buckley 5k (down from 18:39) on Tuesday.
Session # 2 – 15 Mile Long Run with 6 x 100m @ 5k Pace.
My legs and body were still feeling the effects of the last week. I struggled to keep under 7:30 pace. Plenty of rest and recovery over the next 2 weeks. Avg Hr 131 (611 Hb/Km)
15 Miles in 1:52:34 (7:30 pace @ Avg 131 Hr (611 Hb/Km).
I paced the first half of the Cork City Marathon in 1:29:43 and decided to race the second half in 1:26:18 and managed to pull off a PB by over 3 minutes.
26.22 Miles in 2:56:01 (6:42 pace @ Avg 149 Hr (566 Hb/Km).