Sunday, September 25, 2016

Back-To-Back

I've been quite lucky this time round with races a just the right time when I needed them. Last week the coach wanted me to run 40 miles and the Glen of Aherlow ultra saved me from having to trot on my own for hours and hours on end, and this Saturday the Kerry 24 hrs Endurance run saved me from a familiar situation. In fact, I had been quite disappointed that I would not be able to take part in this race; a 24 hours race here in Kerry seemed to be too good to miss but the European Championships do beat that and 4 weeks would not nearly have been enough to recover. I am therefore very grateful for the RD, Marcus Howlett, to offer me an entry. I made sure he would not mind if I stepped off after a marathon (the last thing I would have wanted was for him to think I disrespected this race) and was nominally put into the 6-hour race.

There were many familiar faces in Tralee town park, many local runner who would otherwise never have contemplated running a 24 hrs race took the opportunity to take part - it was very much a case of build it and they'll come. It all started with very little fuss and at 12 o'clock we all set off - at a rather leisurely pace.

My plan was to test out as much as I could in realistic race conditions. Therefore I was wearing the same gear I am planning to use in Albi, I was having the same nutrition and following a nutrition plan for a 24 hrs race and I ran at the same effort level I am planning to use in Albi. Basically, I was running the first 4 hours of a 24 hours race. That is, admittedly, very much the easy part.

I set off at basically 4-hour marathon pace because that's a pace I am very comfortable with and can hold for a lot of hours (not 24 though!). I also wore a HR that settled in around the 135 mark, and after that I paid no more attention to either HR or pace and just ran by feel and tried to keep the effort as even as possible. A lap was 0.75 miles, so that makes 4 laps for 3 miles, and 35 laps for the marathon. The distance seemed to match very closely what was displayed on my GPS, so there was no need for me to keep count; just run.

I felt a bit like an impostor. I knew I was going to stroll away happily a few hours later, while the real runner would be close to having to be carried off the track. I tried to ignore that and just, well, run. I ran a few miles with Terence at the start, had a chat with Alex O'Shea (I still can't understand why he's not on the Irish team for Albi even though he has run the standard), also with Mike, David, Fozzy and a few more, and I also made sure to have a few encouraging words with anyone I passed (that didn't entirely work for 4 hours but I did give out plenty of encouragement). My hamstrings felt a bit tight after only a few miles, but coming into this race on the back of probably the toughest few days of training I have ever done that didn't come as a complete surprise and the legs settled nicely as the miles ticked by.

The nutrition plan consisted of taking something every 2 laps, either a drink (tailwind or watered down flat coke) or a small bite (potato or flap jack), which should add up to about 180 calories per hour, just about the maximum you can digest while running. To be honest, even though I have run 4 24 hours races (and a few other very long runs) I have never paid much attention to my race nutrition, always ate whatever I felt like, but that approach seemed to backfire in Belfast in June and I wanted to try and put that on more solid foundations this time with a nutrition spreadsheet and planned calories intake (which will undoubtedly go out of the window after a few hours, I know that). The nutrition bit worked very well, and I am very grateful for John, who was crewing for Aoife, to re-fill my coke bottle when it was empty. The flap jack seemed to sit heavily in my stomach, even though I only ate about  third of it, so I have to be careful with that.

This would have been ground for disqualification in Albi

Keeping track of nutrition was the one thing that kept my mind occupied, apart from that it was just running. My iPod's battery was flat when I put it on (next time maybe bother to check before the start?), but that had the advantage of having to remain a bit more social. I kept very close to 4-hours marathon pace for 18 miles before drifting into slightly faster pace for the last third. The last hour was definitely a bit faster than I would have run in a 24 hours race but I guess I wanted this to be over, especially as the weather got a bit worse with a few rain showers and dropping temperatures.

To be honest, I was a bit worried for the likes of Fozzy and Vinny, who definitely ran a good bit faster than I would have advised (in fact, I did advise them when they had asked) but eventually decided not to say anything as I did not want to put any negativity, or perceived negativity, into their minds. A positive mindset is so important in those long races, I know that better than most.

Anyway, I actually felt better towards the end than I did at the start. With just one lap to go I sped up, partially to have a bit of fun, partially to make sure I did indeed have plenty left in the tank, so I ran the last lap at sub-7 pace, which felt good after almost 4 hours of shuffling. After crossing the line I made sure they had all 35 laps in the computer and then said my good byes to all the runners on the track.

My GPS said 26.74 miles but the official distance for 35 laps is only 26.25; I have no idea where the discrepancy comes from, especially since the laps seemed to track very closely at the start. Either way, this is without a doubt the shortest ultra I'll ever run, and of course I am at the very bottom of the results list - which is fine by me, my race is still 4 weeks away.

I did pay one price for the race. Ever since Belfast, my left big toenail has been very dark and did not look good but it stayed on - last night it finally came off. There was a new one growing underneath the old one but it's still only a third of the way of being a full toe nail, so right now I have a mismatched number of toes and nails (which, incidentally, is a sign of a real runner, as I have been told numerous times).

The weekend wasn't quite over yet. For Sunday the coach had put 18 miles into the program. I did feel a bit tired after my marathon the day before and the legs grumbled a fair amount at the mere thought but I kept thinking of the warriors in Tralee town park who had kept going all through the night while I was snuck up in bed. My right knee hurt a bit but nowhere near enough to serve as an excuse to stay at home, so off I went. The first half mile sucked as badly as expected but the legs settled down surprisingly quickly and then it was just a matter of putting down the head and keep going, ticking off mile after mile until I was done. I had actually expected this run to be the worst run of the entire training cycle but despite the weary legs, that never got any worse, it passed surprisingly quickly.

The only thing that failed was my HRM; the battery had been acting up a few times already, so it did not come as a complete surprise and I already had a replacement battery - at home, so that had to wait until after my return, and I just ran by feel - slowly that is. I got home before 12 o'clock, so I even managed to catch the finish of the 24 hours run on facebook (isn't modern technology amazing!).

Congratulations to the real runners!

22 Sep
6 miles, 54:49, 9:08 pace, HR 134
   with strides
23 Sep
3 miles, 28:28, 9:09 pace, HR 130
24 Sep
26+ miles, 3:57:59, 8:53 pace, HR 146
25 Sep
18 miles, 2:50:43, 9:26 pace

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

No Rest For The Weary

This is without a shadow of a doubt the toughest period of training I have ever been subjected to. Usually I would make sure I go into an ultra, including one run for training purposes, on well rested legs and would make even more sure to take plenty of recovery days thereafter.

My coach works differently. First she made sure I was going into Aherlow on already slightly tired legs by making me do a speed workout 3 days before the race and 12 miles the day before (and indeed, when I got up on Saturday the first thing I noticed were tired legs - before I ran 40 miles!) and then she kept the pressure on. At first I did have 2 recovery days. I wasn't really planning on running on Sunday, especially with the lousy weather in the morning, but when it turned into a lovely afternoon Niamh and Maia decided to go to Rosbeigh beach and so I joined them and ran for half an hour on the sand in my bare feet.

Monday was a rare off day but the heat was back on Tuesday in the form of yet another speed workout, albeit in reduced form of 5 x 600 repeats. She did give me the option to move it if I did not feel up to it but I guess she knew I usually press on regardless. I did wonder how big the chances of acquiring an injury were, but in situations like that you either trust your coach or you don't, in which case you shouldn't have that person coaching you. Anyway, the paces were a bit more uneven compared to last week, though I ran them all by feel and the effort felt pretty much the same each time. After the fourth repeat I started to suspect that the coach was trying to kill me, and I was pretty sure that one more repeat would violate the rule of always stopping one repeat before you're completely spent but concentrating on running with good form rather than pushing hard got me through that while possibly even keeping to that rule. Which was good, because then I still had to run several miles on tired legs.

After that torture session surely I deserved a break? Nope. A very early morning with 14 miles was on the program for Wednesday, and I'm not sure if I got through it because my internal regulation system has packed up and left in a huff or because my endurance levels are indeed sufficient.

I get two easy days now before another big double header. If I get through that there will be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Oh, and even with the less than ideal timing, I did pass my exam on Monday. :)

18 Sep
3.4 miles, 30:13, 8:53 pace, HR 132
   barefoot
19 Sep
0
20 Sep
9 miles, 1:15:49, 8:25 pace, HR 147
    5 x 600 @ 6:33, 6:15, 6:16, 6:03, 6:16 pace, 70 seconds rest
21 Sep
14 miles, 1:58:00, 8:26 pace, HR 144

Sunday, September 18, 2016

It's A Long Way To Tipperary

When the coach put a 40 mile training run onto my schedule, I had nightmare visions of stumbling around the local countryside on my own for hours and hours. Thankfully, I spotted the Glen of Aherlow Ultra race on some calendar, by some miracle on the same weekend that my coach had targeted. Even the coach agreed this was perfect. The race was 39.3 miles over 3 loops, though half and full marathon races were on as well, with a later start.

However, the timing around real-life issues was less than perfect. I'm in the middle of a training course at work that I found much more mentally demanding than expected and I was drained of energy every evening, The exam is on Monday - crikey! Add to that a bout of teenage drama at home and my mind wasn't exactly in the base place.

Getting up at 4am had Niamh worried but for once I decided to follow my own ideas. The drive to Tipperary was fairly uneventful, apart from finding out that the road between Mallow and Mitchelstown was closed and required a detour but thankfully I had a few minutes spare and still arrived on time.

Apart from the long miles ahead of me, I was pretty much out of my comfort zone because this was a trail race and I am very much a road runner! However, the IMRA have a reputation for being open and friendly, though they could do with making information a bit easier to come by. I only found out on Friday night that a rain jacket is required gear no matter what the weather forecast says and in general I found it very hard to get any info about that race.

Never mind, I was there. I had less time than anticipated and jogged half of the mile from the race HQ to the actual start so as not to be late, which was the first time ever I did a warm-up before an ultra.

I was under strict instructions to take it easy, REALLY easy, on the first loop. The race starts straight away with 3 miles of steep climbing. The fast guys took 5 minutes to disappear out of view, after which my competitive instincts realised they were unwelcome today and disappeared entirely (not that I would have had a hope to compete at the front anyway). A couple of looks at the HRM told me unfailingly that I was working much harder than it felt, even when I was genuinely trying to run as slowly as I could, and eventually I joined into everyone else's spirit and walked the steeper parts, though that still had the HR at a higher level than I would have preferred,

On top of the ridge I was in a group of 4. The footing was very tricky for well over 2 miles, which is the part that bad been described as "the awkward section", and yes, it really was awkward. I was glad I was in my trail runners, I don't know if I would have made it through in slippery road runners. After a long while, when we were already wondering why we had not seen any markers for quite some time, we came out to the first aid station at the road crossing and the second part of the loop was much more runnable. I (inadvertently) dropped my companions over the next few rolling miles, passing another aid station and then dropping for a few miles over various different surfaces back towards the finish area. I ran together with Gabhain and Stephen, though the latter pulled away before we go back to the start area.

Photo by the MMRA
We all picked a different strategy for the big climb of the second loop and straight away walked most of it, though my HR was still way over 150! The sun came out and it got actually rather hot, so I was glad I now carried a bottle with me, in contrast to the first loop. I also took on a few extra calories and after a while they must have kicked in because running eventually became much easier and I definitely started to enjoy it a lot more. There was a turn-off towards the right about 4 miles in which I did not remember from the first loop, but wavered between spotting places that looked familiar and thinking that I had not been along this route before. I was pretty sure that things were different this time round when I got to a jeep road that was very runnable, because in the first loop the miles towards the first aid station had been a horrible scramble through muck. This was confirmed when I reached the aid station from the jeep road; I could see the trail where I had emerged from the first time round. I talked to the  guys manning the aid station who thought that I must have take the long way round in the first loop but looking at my GPS I didn't think so. Anyway, they told me to go on and not to worry about it.

The next few miles seemed strangely unfamiliar again, except that this time I was pretty sure I must have run along here before as the markers were so obvious. The legs felt surprisingly good but I still took it very easy, there was no point killing myself in a training run and messing up the training for the Euros. However, I was cruising along at a decent enough pace, even if the HR was still much higher than I would have thought. I eventually caught up with Stephen, a lot later than I would have expected. I told him the same story about that missed turn in the first loop, though dismissed his suggestion that keeping quiet was an option. So when we got to the start area once more, I talked to the officials there. I estimated I had cut off about half a mile, maybe a tad more, though with the awful footing on that section the time difference was probably not that great. I did offer to run an extra out-and-back bit but they eventually told me to just carry on on my third loop and not do anything about it for now, so go onto the third loop I did.

This kept playing on my mind, though I tried to put it away and just get on with the race and actually enjoy it. I'm used to pushing as hard as I can on races, even very scenic ones, which leaves very little scope to actually look around and take in the views, so this made a nice difference (however, the views were not as good as in Kerry - sorry!). The sun was still shining, which would have been an issue had I been racing as it would have provided much scope for suffering, but at my much lower effort today this was much more manageable. It also provided the benefits of somewhat drying out the mucky trail and footing actually became slightly better. The legs did feel the effort of over 30 miles on unaccustomed territory but overall I was feeling better than expected, really. I started passing a lot of runners, though I think they were all marathon runners on their second loop. At the aid station the marshall asked if I was an ultra runner (they kept notes to make sure nobody was missing), while calling the other runner "ordinary", which was a bit harsh - he was still doing a rather tough trail marathon!

I was a bit worried about my shoes - I wasn't 100% sure if they'd fall apart before the finish.

I think my shoes have had it
Catching up with and passing about a dozen runners made for a fun game for the last few miles which passed the time. I was still feeling good, though I started to stumble over rocks with increased frequency, every time just about managing to avoid a fall, close as it was a few times. When that happened after about 35 miles a spasm shot through my calves - I was heading towards cramping territory again, though I only had a few miles left, most of them downhill, so I never had to deal with actual cramps. In fact, when we left the trail for about half a mile on the road I could feel the muscles relax and managed to do some actual running at a decent clip - smelling the barn undoubtedly helped. Then I got to the end, reminded them once more about my missed turn on loop 1 but they told me to just finish and leave it at that.

I just managed to sneak under 7 hours - my slowest 39 mile race by over an hour, though with all the others having been road races that doesn't mean much. The winner, Barry Hartnett, had only taken just over 5 hours - that is just mind boggling, an absolutely outstanding performance!

Yes, I think my shoes have had it
Actually, partially to make up for the lost distance, and partially because the coach had originally written down 40 miles, I jogged the extra mile back from the race finish to the village, which means I got a cool down as well, a first for an ultra. I got a much harsher second cool down as well because the showers only had freezing cold water! They more than made up for that with the delicious post-race beef casserole (I had a second helping) followed by some cheesecake. It's a shame I had to decline the free beer as I was driving straight back home.

Obviously I would have preferred not to have taken a shortcut, accidentally as it was. I find it amazing that all 4 of us in that group missed the markers - of course it meant the first runner missed it and everyone else just followed blindly. The organiser were a lot more relaxed about it than me - I guess because I was not in the running for any prizes it did not matter all that much and I think the IMRA are a more relaxed organisation anyway. Anyway, if you fancy a few hours on lovely trails and excellent organisation, and don't mind getting dirty, this race is well worth checking out.
17 Sep
Glen of Aherlow Ultra
39.3 miles, 6:58:53, 5th place, avg HR 144

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Colour Code White

I find it hard to believe but the Euros are only 5 weeks away. That also means that right now I am in the middle of the hardest training weeks, and the schedule certainly reflects that.

Recovery from Dingle marathon went well even if the marathon itself didn't really, and I handled the back-to-back runs last weekend very well, so my basic endurance levels are very good. I had been feeling batter for the last few weeks and recently I noticed some objective numbers finally showing those signs as well. I do maintain a spreadsheet where I log pace and HR and compare that with an expected HR. There are three different colours to visualise the overall level. Ideally you want to be green when building base, white later on and red the weeks before the race. The months since Belfast have provided a consistent block of green - Tuesday's run was the first one since June in white! It certainly is a lot later than I would have expected or hoped, but at least some data points are finally catching up.

Training with the new coach was certainly very different to what I had been doing up to before. That was the intention, of course. I felt I had reached a plateau and was eager to try something new to see if my body would react to a different stimulus. There is a risk involved in that, of course, and positive effects might take longer to be achieved than one would hope for (i.e. it may well take more than one training cycle).

Things aren't just different on an overall level, there are things I would not have done on my own on a more detailed level. Left on my own, I certainly would not have put a 14 miler 4 days after a marathon. Left on my own, I also would not have run a speed workout 3 days before a tough 39 mile trail race, but that's exactly what the coach prescribed.

The speed workout itself provided a dilemma. Putting my 3:30 marathon into a calculator it gave me a 5k pace of 7-minute miles. Surely not! I decided to run the 5x1000 at 5k pace purely by feel, and that's exactly what I ended up doing. Tuning into 5k effort was tough, not having raced a 5k in quite some time. During the second repeat I thought I wasn't going to be able to finish but of course I did.

The paces for the repeats ended up being 6:09, 6:16, 6:19, 6:19, 6:17 with about 1:50 recovery, which I think is surprisingly consistent for a workout done entirely by feel, even if the first one was a bit quick (highly unusual, btw. Normally the first repeat would be the slowest).

Thursday was exceptionally easy, just three miles at recovery effort. Friday will be longer - it's basically part of  a back-to-back with the ultra on Saturday being the second part.

I expect to suffer on Saturday in Aherlow, from the distance, the unaccustomed hills, the fact that I go into it with tired legs already. I guess that's the whole idea! I won't be winning any prizes, that's for sure!
12 Sep
0
13 Sep
6 miles, 55:19, 9:13 pace, HR 129
14 Sep
9 miles, 1:14:57, 8:19 pace, HR 150
   5 x 1000 at 6:09, 6:16, 6:19, 6:19, 6:17 pace (1:50 recovery)
15 Sep
3+ miles, 29:18, 9:27 pace, HR 130

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mental

I was quite surprised to see the legs feeling pretty good on Thursday morning; I would have expected a 14 mile run just 4 days after a marathon to leave its mark but it looks like recovery is going remarkably well, even if the marathon did not.

Nevertheless, the next 2 days were easy recovery days, though as it turns out that wasn't just to get over the previous runs, they were there to get me ready for a bit more work over the weekend.

The weather forecast had been nice for Saturday, the only half-decent day of the week really, though it wasn't quite as nice as hoped early on (it did improve for the afternoon, which was good as the Flavour of Killorglin festival was on that day) but it was manageable all the same. The idea was to run 7 miles at easy pace and 6 at marathon effort. The easy miles passed quickly enough and before I knew it I had to speed up. I realised very quickly that my choice of route had not been ideal as most of the marathon effort miles were right into the headwind, not strong but definitely noticeable. What bothered me more, however, was that my left knee started hurting again at times. I had a few twinges a couple of weeks ago but they went away again, though only temporarily by the looks of it. The knee hurts when running downhill, though tensing the quads before foot strike does solve the problem - however, I do not want to alter my gait for a twinge, that only leads to secondary problems.

Anyway, with about 2 miles to go a group of cyclists went by, then another one, then another one, and I soon realised that I inadvertently had gotten into some cycling event. Not a race, thankfully, so there was no problem. However, for some reason all those cyclist passing me made me forget that I was to remain at marathon effort and those last 2 miles were definitely a bit too quick. I wondered if I would have to pay for that on Sunday.

Afterwards I wondered why I had not taken up the option of running this workout on the Kerry Way trail, when the coach had given me the option (MP pace would have been MP effort instead in that case). I still have no idea why I didn't!

I had been groaning as soon as I saw the workout for Sunday on the training spreadsheet. 18 miles, keep the HR under 136. That kind of mileage at such a slow pace was new territory for me, and I really was not looking forward to hours of slow paced shuffling. However, I did dawn on me that this time round is really my first ever "proper" ultra training cycle. Up to now I have been a marathon runner that also ran ultras. This time round I am definitely an ultra runner. It does explain why faster paced running feels so much more challenging. The hope, obviously, is that slow running will feel easier.

The knee did bother me again at times, though at the moment it is more of a nuisance rather than a real problem but obviously it's a bit of a worry that it might turn into something more serious. The run itself was much more of a mental challenge than a physical one. It was really windy, which is why I ran back-and-forwards to Ard-na-Sidhe a few times where it's a bit more sheltered, though thankfully, and unexpectedly, the rain held off until after my run, which made things a lot more comfortable. The effort felt very easy, even with my indiscretion yesterday. I started getting thirsty at mile 14 and tired at mile 16, which I attributed to low glycogen levels due to running without breakfast and no sustenance during the run either, but by then I was homeward bound anyway.

The first back-to-back weekend went well. There will be more to come.
8 Sep
6 miles, 54:39, 9:06 pace, HR 134
   with strides
9 Sep
5+ miles, 46:35, 9:13 pace, HR 132
10 Sep
13 miles, 1:44:16, 8:01 pace, HR 152
   with 6 miles @ 77:47 (HR 160)
11 Sep
18 miles, 2:49:56, 9:26 pace, HR 134

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Time To Get Serious

It sure has taken a while!

It has taken a very long time for my body to shake off the worst of the effects from Belfast, certainly a lot longer than I had hoped. I'm still not 100% recovered but I can feel a big difference, even if that is not yet reflected in the numbers displayed on the watch. However, I know my body very well and I can tell the difference.

While Dingle didn't go quite as well as hoped for, at least recovery is going very well. I did the usual short, slow recovery runs the first 2 days after the marathon but then the mileage took off. A 9 miler 3 days after a marathon was a first for me but with the HR limit at the usual low level it did not pose any problems. I had felt a tiny bit of DOMS on Monday but that was gone again on Tuesday and while the legs certainly weren't particularly sprightly, the distance did not pose any challenges.

It got even more serious on Wednesday with a whopping 14 miles on the program. I guess the coach doesn't intend to let me hang around the last few weeks before the Euros. The very first thing I noticed was how dark it was! It was still pitch black outside when I got up and not much brighter when I started down our driveway, so that felt like being plunged straight into darkest Winter. However, the next thing I could not fail but notice were the fairly high temperatures coupled with sky high humidity, which made for unexpectedly challenging conditions, even at 6 o'clock in the morning,

The plan had been to run 30-45 seconds slower than marathon pace. Even though I had just completed a marathon at 8-minute pace that had felt challenging enough over the last few miles, I was still under the impression that my actual present marathon pace was a bit faster than that, at least on a flatter course, so 8:20-8:30 was the training pace I had in mind. Obviously, that was before taking the conditions into account. Then the legs obviously tried to remind me that said marathon had only been 4 days earlier, all of which added a few extra seconds to the pace. In reality, I never once checked the pace on the watch and ran entirely by feel but I did raise an eyebrow or two when I saw the numbers afterwards. On the plus side, running for 2 hours did not feel particularly challenging, so I'll gladly take that.

There will be more to come.

5 Sep
4 miles, 38:36, 9:39 pace, HR 132
6 Sep
9 miles, 1:24:48, 9:25 pace, HR 132
7 Sep
14 miles, 2:03:26, 8:49 pace, HR 140

Sunday, September 04, 2016

A Strange One

I had plenty of time to think about running while driving to Dingle in the Saturday early morning rain. I did rue the fact that yesterday had been such a nice day and marathon day was going to be miserable but that was not my main concern. I knew that with all the changes in my training this was uncharted territory. I had not run a long run at any sort of pace and really did not know what to expect. Then again, the task of sticking with the 3:30 pacers didn't exactly sound overwhelming.

I met Donna before the start, having to apologise for not managing to get to Achill Island the previous weekend, and Aidan, who complained about not featuring prominently enough in the Belfast race report (for the record, he was a super star).

Shiny Happy People at mile 2 - photo by Chris Grayson
We got thoroughly soaked before the start but soon after setting off the rain actually eased and then stopped completely, and eventually even the sun came out. That was an unexpected turn of events, the weather forecast had been miserable, but a welcome one. The scenery in Dingle is absolutely spectacular and it would have been a shame had it remained hidden behind the clouds.

The first few miles just flew by. Chris and Fozzy were the pacers and we chatted pretty much relentlessly, and Chris even had enough spare time to take a few photos along the way. The effort felt ridiculously easy. I know the course very well by now but it made a nice change to be able to enjoy the scenery while jogging along at such a leisurely pace and being able to take it all in. Having run the now sadly defunct ultra 3 times I still associate the road from Dingle with being knackered after running 30 miles including a major mountain pass, and today this was much more enjoyable.

Easy at mile 8 - photo by Chris Grayson
Before I even knew it we were at the halfway point. Invariably, it got a lot more lonely from here on as the majority of runners are finishing here by turning left at Dunquin for the half, and only maybe 1 in 10 keep going straight and up the first proper climb of the day (the preceding ones all being classified as drags - that's my opinion and I stick to it). I had gotten a bit ahead of the pacers here but took it very easy on the uphill until they caught up with me again.

We did notice the wind on the second half. Usually the wind comes from the west and you feel it during the first half but today was one of those rare days when it came from the east, though it was no more than a bit of a breeze. We also kept catching runners that started to feel the miles, as it's bound to happen. I still felt exceptionally comfortable and had to reign myself in on several occasion, often drifting ahead of the pacers without even noticing it.

This got us as all the way to about 19 miles when I was a few seconds ahead of them again, and with the coach having given permission to push on from mile 20 I just kept going, though still not exactly pushing very hard. I did pass a lot of runners on that stretch though, but that was mainly down to them slowing down rather than me speeding up.

Some scenery at mile 14 - photo by Chris Grayson
I still felt comfortable at mile 21 when we turned from the out-and-back section onto the mountain but as soon as I hit the steep climb my calves all of a sudden, and to my utter dismay, started cramping in unison. That's an old problem of mine and I have a lot of practise dealing with it but I had not expected having to deal with it today when the effort and pace had clearly been well below race effort.

I just about managed to nurse the legs along while keeping running uphill and I still passed a few runners here. Only 2 runners passed me - unfortunately those 2 were the 3:30 pacers, the feckers. With the calves setting a clear limit to how fast I was able to go they kept pulling away from me and by the time I finally made it to the top at mile 23 they were far further ahead than I would have liked.

I had hoped that the calves would start playing ball again once I hit the downhill section but unfortunately that did not turn out to be the case. I still had to keep a lid on things and every time I tried pushing just a tiny bit harder a painful spasm told me that I was playing a dangerous game. At least the pacers stopped pulling further ahead but I barely seemed to manage to put a dent into my deficit. Coming down that last pass we have to run down a dead straight road for about 2 miles which can be utterly soul destroying because the end just does not seem to come closer. I checked my watch against the mile markers and tried to work out if I would still make it under 3:30 but started to doubt it, the calves still playing wrecking ball in a synchronised performance.

Thankfully they eventually seemed to be getting the message that I was about to finish and released the clamps, so I even managed to duke it out with another runner for the last quarter mile (I lost - I was never good at sprinting) but was mightily relieved to see the clock still at 3:29 and just a few seconds behind the pacers, who had done a sterling job on a very awkward to pace race course.

Still, having to strain to stay under 3:30 had definitely not been on my script for the day and I wasn't happy. I did not even bother to hang around but went straight for the car and drove home.

I had plenty of time to think about running while driving from Dingle in the Saturday early afternoon rain. I had serious concerns about my level of fitness and what that would mean for the European championships, now only 7 (!!!) weeks away. I did fire off a slightly panicked email to the coach, though she did her best to reassure me, pointing out that neither running at 8-minute miles nor hill work had been on the training program and I would be fine for Albi.

I can only trust her and hope that she's right!
3 Sep
Dingle Marathon
   3:29:46, 8:00 pace, HR 160
4 Sep
4 miles, 38:57, 9:44 pace, HR 133