Solo Run

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Ride Like The Wind................

...It is the night, my body's weak
I'm on the run, no time for sleep
I've got to ride, ride like the wind
To be free again
And I've got such a long way to go
(Such a long way to go)
To make it to the border of Mexico
So I'll ride like the wind
Ride like the wind

- Christopher Cross
It is Sunday evening and i'm transferring music to an MP3 player the kids got me for Fathers Day (they must have read my mind) and this song struck a chord with the way i'll be feeling when I turn on the music to get me through next Saturday night.

My schedule marathon at the end of April never materialized because two week into my nine week training programme I developed a minor injury in my left hammy 7 miles in to a weekend long run on 27th February. This was enough to consign me to a week off and a further two weeks of relatively easy running. This meant that if I pushed out the target marathon to early May, say Limerick for example, I would eat too much into my recovery and subsequent training for the Belfast 24 hour. I was happy enough with this change in focus as the April marathon was ever only going to be a C race - part of the build up for Belfast.
I managed to return to the weekend long runs relatively quickly but kept away form any speedwork. I knew I was fully recovered when I joined club mates Neil and Charlie for the 31 mile Wicklow Way Ultra on 26th March, which I finished in a reasonably good time of 5:18:30, 20 minutes down on my 10th place finish of two years ago. I was happy with this result given my temporary layoff and the fact that the focus was more on training than racing. The Wicklow Way was the first of 12 marathon+ distance runs I will have run as part of my build up for Belfast, the last being the 3:30 pacing gig for the Cork City Marathon on 6th June.
The core of my Belfast training revolved around weekend back to back runs on a Friday evening/Saturday morning, starting with 2.5 hours for each run and ending with 4 hour back to backs on 22nd/23rd April (covering 57.3 miles over the 8 hours) - still 9 weeks out from Belfast. The weekend long runs for the final 8 weeks consisted of:-
  • 30th April/1st May - 36 mile Ballyhoura mountain ultra in 6:36 /Pacing 1:50 for Limerick HM.

  • 7th/8th May - Morning back to backs of 6 & 3 hours (64 miles in 9 hours) - not quite the same stress as evening/morning back to backs but work/life got in the way.

  • 14th May - Pacing 3:30 in the Kilarney Lakes marathon (30 miles total - no BTB as tired)

  • 20th/21st May - evening/morning BTBs of 2.5 and 4 hours (49.7 miles in 6.5 hours)

  • 28th/29th May - Morning BTBs of 3:45 - (57 miles in 7.5 hours)- I also threw in a mid-week 5:30 run on the Kerry Way covering 26.9 hilly miles.

  • 4th & 6th June - 2 x Marathons in 3:30 (52 miles in 7 hours) - Pacing 3:30 in Cork on 6th.

  • 11th June - 3 hour hilly run (22.9 miles) - considered extending to marathon distance but had enough after 3 hours.

  • 18th June - 11.6 mile club run - well into taper mode.

I always feel I could have done more - I had originally intended to extend the evening/morning back to back to 6 hours a piece - but on balance I think i'm as prepared as i'll ever be and certainly feel more prepared than I was last year when I was relying too much on my Ironman bike training. Over the 12 weeks from the Wicklow Way Ultra to the start of the 2 week taper I averaged 86 miles/week (1,032 miles) - I also threw in about 57 miles of walking for good measure. I probably would have benefitted from participating in longer duration races (12 hours +) during the build-up (The 81 mile Wicklow Way, 2 weeks out was too close for comfort) but there's noting I can do about that now. The work is done and there are so many unknowns in a 24 hour race that predictions are foolhardy - all I know for sure is that I am looking forward to the challenge....................

Sunday, 21 February 2016


The last few months, since early November, have all been about rebuilding the base by means of high volume aerobic running leading to a 50 mile effort on Christmas Eve and including a marathon distance run  for the first six weekends of the new year, culminating in a 3:13:49 9th place finish in the Clonakilty Marathon on 6th February - my first M50 win and M50 marathon PB.

The focus for the next 9 or 10 weeks is to see if I can improve on that M50 marathon PB by targeting a lifetime marathon PB (sub 2:54:35) - a tough ask perhaps, but certainly worth giving a shot - nothing ventured etc. ..... already looking forward to the pain......still etched in my memory from last year's training programme. I haven't selected a target race as the date is flexible, ideally mid to late April, which means that the start of my training programme is a bit fluid - i.e. I can have a practice week or two.

Week 1 ( x 2)

Session 1 - 3 x 2 miles @ HM Pace

The fist quality session is 8 miles warm-up followed by 3 x 2 miles @ HM pace and 2 miles cool-down. My previous sub-3 hour training plans had a 6:20 (or less!) target pace. Last week I did my practice session, which involved a much shorter warm-up and 3 x 2 miles @ 6:18/23/28 pace. This week, after the 8 miles warm-up, I had a more disappointing session with the first 2 miles slower than last weeks slowest and the pace falling apart (relatively speaking) thereafter. My paces were 6:32,36/43. The strong wind down the back straight certainly had an impact and did noting to help my confidence. The fade in pace from first to last is a little worrying as I should have buckets of endurance. Ordinarily I would probably have thrown in the towel after the second 2 miles but I reckoned that it is better to continue and complete the session at the same relative effort to get the full training benefit.

Session 2 - 18 Miles with the last two at M Pace

My plan for this weekend long run was to keep a steady pace for the first 16 miles (I had 7:30 miles in my head) with the MP miles at 6:40 or less. Both last week and this week the opening 7:30 pace did not materialise getting to 7:38 & 7:43 pace on each occasion. The marathon pace miles were on target although, as usual so early in the programme, the effort felt more like a tempo session. The paces for each run were 6:37/38 last weekend and 6:40/31 yesterday (both miles with the wind at my back and the 2nd mile a net downhill - there was no way I was going to run hard into that headwind)

So a less than inspiring start to the programme - I may just repeat Week 1 for a third time. It all depends on where my head/body is after 3 x 2 miles @ HM pace on Tuesday and my inclination/ability to tag on another 2 miles at the same pace/effort, which is the "Week 2" Session.

Friday, 8 January 2016

From humble beginnings............

It is 10 years to the day since I first put on a pair of runners and stepped outside my front door to run the 2 mile loop around the block as my first training session for Dublin City Marathon 2006, having committed to running the once in a lifetime event with Adrian over the Christmas holidays. The first 200 yards felt effortless as we glided along. Half a mile in we could feel the fatigue setting in and our early brisk pace had slowed to a jog. By the time we had completed a mile we were struggling and wishing for the finish. 1.5 miles in Adrian stopped and walked but I struggled on until the 2 miles were complete. Two day later we completed the same loop with much less stress, at 2 minutes per mile slower - my first lesson in pacing, although I didn't know it at the time.

Since then I have covered about 22,500 miles on foot and learned a few lessons about myself along the way..............and had some fun!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Moving Along - A New Year

It's certainly been a while. It's not that I have stopped running, which is the main thing, it's just.....................that I've stopped writing about it. After that I can't really explain why except perhaps due to a lack of motivation, which increased with time. I didn't have much to write about and I haven't had any results that I have been happy with. My only two results since my last post was a DNF at the Belfast 24-hour (coming off the track with over 6:30 left on the clock is technically a DNF) and a relatively disappointing 13hrs and 30 seconds at IM Wales. But more on them later.

Truth be told the few times I tried to put pen to paper I lost the will to live after a few minutes. In fact I started two "draft" posts but never managed to finish them.

The first was about my experiment with a Ketogenic (very low carb) diet in April/May, which lasted 5 or 6 weeks ( I even got a Ketone blood test kit):-

 Ketogensis - I'll Try Anything Once
Because my next 3 events will last anywhere from 12 to 24 hours I have increasingly changed my focus towards where I get my energy from and how to optimise it. As I am primarily endurance focussed I am reasonably good at optimising my carbohydrate stores by burning a higher proportion of fat for a given effort and generally manage to avoid the "bonk", which is traditionally associated with exhausting the 2,000 calories of glucose (glycogen) we can store in our body at any one time. Any more carb ingestion above this level and the liver converts the sugar to fat (glycolysis) adding to our already plentiful stores - 20,000 calories in the leanest of athletes. That's the equivalent of 20 miles of carbohydrate energy compared to over 200 miles of fat energy. You can therefore see why I'd be interested in tapping as much of my reserves of fat as possible.

One way to do this is to deplete my stores of glucose so that my body has no alternative but to use fat for energy. I had done this for two weeks stints in the past followed by a few days of carb loading when preparing for big endurance events. This is what got me through the Barcelona Marathon in March. However I have become increasingly interested in permanently switching over to fat as my main fuel source as it not only has energy benefits but there is an increasing body of evidence that suggests that it also has health benefits.

I may well return to this experiment in 2016 as I would be interested to see the long term effects. I know from experience that it takes me two or three weeks to adjust to the diet, during which my energy levels drop and my running pace suffers. The biggest difficulty I have coming off the diet is my addiction to carbs, especially sugars, appears greater than when I ate a "balanced diet" - I can never get enough. Well sugar is the most addictive drug on the planet after all.

My second unfinished post was just after the Belfast 24-hour in July:-

"Everyone Has A Plan.............

..................until they get punched in the face" (Mike Tyson).

John O'Callaghan, a club-mate of mine, quoted this to me while out on a  club run a week before Belfast, which just about sums up my experience a week later.

My only plan for Belfast was to cover a minimum of 220km (The International B Qualification Standard). To give myself a bit of a cushion I set out a plan for 230km and to cut a long story short I expended too much energy in adhering to the plan over the first 4 to 6 hours that it fecked up the rest of my race - I was actually in first place for a spell around 12 hours in (always a dangerous place to be halfway through a 24hr race), but I knew at that stage that I was in trouble. The trouble arrived 14 hour in when my legs all but ceased up and running became slow and painful. I knew then that my target was gone so, rather than crawling off the track, I decided to go for the 100 mile mark and at least earn the 24hr/100 mile running jacket. I spend most of the next 3+ hours walking around the track until I had 100 miles in the bag @ 17:22, after which I called it a day, crawled into my tent and slept for 2 blissful hours. I reckoned it was pointless eeking out a few more miles and prolonging my recovery, which would only negatively impact on my training for IM Wales, 8 weeks later. Truth be told I was not in shape to run the distance I wanted to. My problem was a lack of focus as I was also in the middle of training for an IM and had completed a half IM two weeks beforehand. Hugh thanks to clubmate John D for supporting me in Belfast.

Ironman Wales

I recovered reasonably well from Belfast and got stuck into IM training, managing to get my first of 3 century rides in 2 weeks later. My longest training session came the following week with 6 hours on the bike (104.4 miles) followed by 70 minutes of running (8.9 miles) - I had set out from home a 6 in the morning and was not finished until after 1.

My motivation waned over the last few weeks of training as Adrian, my training partner, had an accident on the bike and was out of action for a few months and would miss the IM. My 5:07 result in Tri Athlone suggested a sub 11 hour result on a similar flat-ish course. As the Wales bike and run courses were far from flat I revised my target to sub 12 hours, with a possibility of hitting 11:30, broken down as 1:10 for the swim, 6:30 for the bike, 3:30 for the run and 20 minutes for transitions.

To cut a long story short I finished well outside my target in 13 hours and 30 seconds split as follows:-

Swim - 1:18 - The sea was fairly rough but I thoroughly enjoyed it - while I had plenty of endurance I
had no speed. The run from the beach to transition was over 1 km.

Bike - 7:16 - It was all going reasonably well (considering the hills) until I punctured 60 miles in. The next 25 miles were a struggle as I was unable to get the desired tyre pressure in the replacement tube with the hand pump. I stopped at an aid station and managed to borrow a track pump but noticed a bulge in the tyre after it was fully inflated, necessitating a full tyre replacement. I struggled over the last few hilly miles and even walked the steepest hill (@16%). Having said that the support and atmosphere all along the route was fantastic. I reckon I lost about 20 minutes in downtime between replacing the tube and tyre - so I was still well short of my bike split target.

Run - 4:08 - Four loops consisting essentially of 3+ miles of gradual uphill out of town and 3+ miles back. At the end of the first loop my energy was depleted and I had to stop for a breather at an aid station, while I took a gel. As my time goals, for what they were, had gone and for self preservation purposes I decided to take it easy and walk the remaining up hills, chatting to other competitors and soaking up the atmosphere. The highlight came at mile 22, when I passed ex Welsh Rugby International Richard Webster, who was "running" with crutches.

All in all IM Wales was a fantastic experience. While I had the endurance to cover the distance I had not followed a programme or put in any specific tempo/interval training in any discipline. Sure how could I when I also had a few ultras on the calendar. I reckon I was coming down off a training peak by the time the IM came around. I could blame the mechanical issues on the bike, but I should not have felt as fatigued coming of the bike as I did.

Post IM Wales

The only thing that kept me anyway motivated after IM Wales was the fact that I had put my name down to Pace 3:30 in Dublin at the end of October. Even at that I stepped down to 3:40 pacing, as I didn't feel in great shape going into the event. Still a great gig to pace.

November and December was all about re-building the endurance base. My weekly mileage, which had varied from 13 to 39 between IM Wales and DCM, was ramped up to over 70 miles  ( average of 76 miles over the last 9 weeks). What kept me motivated was the  challenge of running my age on Christmas Eve and at 50 I though it would be a nice round number to bow out of this self imposed task as, in the long run, my ability to complete the ever increasing distance would not be compatible with my ever increasing age    - i'll probably limit it to a marathon this year. 

So what to target for 2016? Revisit Belfast 24-hour (now in late June over a 1.7 km looped course)? Complete an M50  Sub-3 hour Marathon (certainly on my bucket list)? Target an M50 Club Team Medal at the National Marathon Championships in October (DCM)? The club would probably have to hold Marathon Trials as we already had a M50 Team Gold in 2015 (A fantastic club achievement - Well done to Frank, Ronan and Martin)

The rough plan forming is:-

  • A late Spring Marathon (Mid-April) - Barcelona, in mid-March, was a bit early for my liking last year - I need longer to wean myself on to speed work after Christmas.

  • Belfast 24-hour in late June. Is 2 months long enough to transition from a Marathon to a 24-hour. I transitioned pretty well from my Marathon PB in Mid-June 2013 to the Connemara 100 in Mid-August.
  • Dublin City Marathon (End of October) for the National Marathon Championships. Is 4 months (18 weeks) enough to recover from a 24-hour and train for a marathon? (9 week recovery/build and 9 week specific).

Meanwhile I have committed to a few events over the next month, the first being the Dungarvan 10 miler, at the end of January for which I will not be prepared. The general target will be sub-70 minutes as part of a longer endurance/speed run. The following weekend I am down to run the Clonakilty Marathon, postponed from 5th December. The plan between now and then is a gradual transition to speed work so that I am in shape to commence a specific marathon programme, should I chose to do so. All I do know is that I will need a target to keep me motivated.

Happy New Year to all. (ps. apologies for the formatting, or lack thereof. It's been a while.)

Sunday, 12 July 2015


It says something when the shortest of the three events I have signed up for this season is likely to be Ironman Wales in September. Of the other two the Belfast 24-hour is the longest. However when it comes to the toughest I'm hoping certain that none will compare to the Wicklow Way Solo - 81 miles of up and down with a total elevation gain in excess of 13,000 feet - although in fairness the last 5km are flat, which allows for a speedy run-in to the finish - assuming you haven't thrashed your legs in the preceding 125 km (126 this year as Coillte added an extra km to detour around tree felling).

It's difficult to know which of the three is my "Target A race" but I know for sure that it wasn't the WW, which I was targeting as the most suitable key "training run" for Belfast. It was either that or the Portumna 100k and as WW takes close to twice as long as Portumna to complete, equivalent to 100 miles+ on the flat and with all those "strength training" hills it should be the best preparation there is for Belfast - assuming I recover sufficiently in the five weeks between the events. With Ironman Wales 8 weeks after Belfast I may be cutting it a bit tight if I am to run a decent marathon leg so by default Belfast must be my "A Target", followed by Wales. Then again if I was taking Belfast seriously perhaps I shouldn't have entered Tri Athlone last weekend. As it was "only" half the distance of an Ironman I thought I'd sail through it. I must have overcooked (or under ate) it on the bike, as the run was a bit of a slogfest - slowing from 7:20 pace for the first mile or two to an average of 7:48 by the time I crossed the line in 5:07:09 (113th place & 8th in Age Group - only realised it was the National Championships after I entered - the guy who came 2nd also came 2nd in IM Wales last year, where he described the course as "brutal")

Anyhow back to the WW. As this was my second outing at this event it is the only one of the three that I could say I knew what lay ahead of me - but then again I have a very short memory, particularly when it comes to pain and suffering - I suppose it is a good thing that I only retain the positive memories.

Meticulous preparation as usual meant that I left home at 7:15 for the two and a half hour drive to Cellbridge to pick up my cousin Liam, whose wife would be picking us up in Clonegal the following evening. A couple of last minute preparations and we hit the road for Marley Park  shortly before 11, only to double back to collect Liam's drop bags, left in the hallway. We still got there in plenty of time to register, complete kit check (we had to carry far more this year) and distribute our drop bags. We both noticed that there weren't many of last years participants milling around the start area. Had we both forgotten how tought this race is - then again the evening was warm and dry compared to last years biblical floods. So at least the weather was on our side.

Marley Park - Crone Wood (Cut-Off 3  hours)
We all started off together running through Marley Park and on up the hill to Kilmashogue. I got a shout out from Karina, who said it was my 100 mile Connemara run that inspired her to take it on last year. Good to meet you Karina. Within the hour I had tripped on the rocky trail across Tribadden and gave myself a bloody knee. It wasn't like I was running fast. In fact I had been passed by 3 or 4 runners, including the leading lady, as I am very poor on technical trails - must be some sort of Dys.,???..xia. Once on the open road to Glencullen, I wipe the blood from my leg and make steady progress towards Prince William's Seat, where I catch back up to a group of 6 spread out in front of me. I lose them again on the technical descent to Curtlestown Wood but catch up with the leading lady, Linda O'Connor from Kerry along the route around Knockree, where we chat for a while, before I lose her again on the descent towards the Glencree River.

The night is mild and relatively warm, perfect T-Shirt weather. With 2:27 on the watch I make my way into Crone Wood CP and as I have no drop bag to collect I carry on, once I have "checked in", passing Linda in the process.

Crone Wood - Glendalough (Cut-off 8 hours)
The run up through Crone Wood past Powerscourt Waterfall (unseen in the darkness) is pretty uneventful. Down to the Dargle River crossing and the long drag up around the shoulder of Djouce, where I am overtaken by two guys chatting away to themselves as if they were on a Sunday stroll. Once I am up on the boardwalk heading towards White Hill I have the worst of the technical running behind me and most of the dark hours behind me. Making my way down towards the Sally Gap Road I look back and see a string of lights stretched out behind me in the distance coming down off Djouce - enchanting. As the light improves I switch off my headtorch as I head towards Oldbridge, passing one of the guys who had passed me on Djouce - looks like he was fading - not a good sign so early in the race. I hit Glendalough shortly before 6 (31 miles done, only 50 to go).

Glendalough - Ironbridge (Cut-off 12 hours)
I collect my drop bag (Banana Milk and a few homemade almond/date/coconut/chocolate energy balls) and am soon heading up towards Poulanass Waterfall and the long climb up to Mullacor, maintaining a consistent jog all the way to the top, along the boardwalk and down the fire roads to Glenmalure and the halfway mark, with 7:45 on the watch. I was looking forward to the impromptu stop for bacon and coffee at the entrance to woods that is the start of the long climb up towards Drongoff Gap. However  Jeff and Robbie are not here this year, but I do get a few salty crisps and a strong cup of black coffee from Aisling, who is crewing for her brother, Padraig. I take a small break sitting in the middle of a stream to remove the muscle pain and cool my legs - very refreshing. This works quite well so I repeat the process whenever I get the opportunity. I pass a group of early morning hikers on the slog up to Dromgoff Gap, eventually reaching the top and on to the next climb up Carrickashane, crossing the boardwalk where I became a cropper last year. I stop briefly at one of those open log cabins to cool my legs with water from the water butt before running on down the fire road to the Ironbridge CP with the time approaching 9:25. I take a relatively long stop here (4 or 5 minutes) taking one of the BBQ sausages Robbie is cooking on a stove and sitting down in the river for a minute or two to enjoy it. Coming out of the river I notice a young guy who had just arrived - I hadn't seen him coming as when I had looked back from the top of Carrickashane I had not seen anyone behind me.

Ironbridge - Dying Cow (Cut-off 16:30 hours)

I leave Ironbridge with a sense of purpose, as now I have a position to defend, although deep down I know I am only racing against myself as it would be foolish to run at anyone else's pace with so many miles left to run. Still I manage to keep a steady jog up and over the hill beyond Ballyteige Bridge but am eventually overtaken on the long road to Moyne, as I take a call from Abina, telling her that I should be finished at 4 - still a long way off though. The day has heated up nicely with sun shining brightly. I resume jogging and overtake my new friend (the only other participant I have seen since 4 a.m.) as he stops at his crew's car for some R&R.

A few miles down the road at the beginning of the next off-road section I sit in the middle of a stream to "treat" my legs before beginning the long climb up Garryvoe Hill and on to Mangans Wood, where I am overtaken by my new friend after exchanging a few pleasantries. This time he is gone out of sight after a mile or two, his pace being much faster than mine. Down onto the Tinahealy Road I meet a few guys togging out to run back the way to support Paul Daly, taking the opportunity to fill my water bottles. I make reasonably steady progress along Muskeagh Boreen and down on to the road section leading to Dying Cow, entering the checkpoint just before one in the afternoon. Torben Dahl, who ran some of the road with me from here this time last year, is manning the checkpoint and soon has me sorted with my drop bag. I mentally note that it is about 1 hour to Raheenakit and a further 2 hours to Clonegal and the finish line and with the time at 12:55 I am still just about on target for a four o'clock finish. Time to get going.

Dying Cow - Raheenakit (Cut-off 18:00 hours)

While Torben said it was about 15km to Raheenakit, I think and hope it is closer, if I am to get there in a hour. Last year I walked a lot from this point and I "lost" a lot of time. I'd have to concentrate on maintaining a reasonable pace if I am to hit the finish by 4. After walking the initial steep climb I resume running along the road to Kilquiggan Cross, stopping briefly to take a chocolate bar and some very refreshing cool water over the head from a couple supporting the race from their front gate - unbelievable!!! especially considering that the gap between runners. I hit Raheenakit in the hour and stock up on fuel for the last push home.

Raheenakit - Clonegal (Cut-off 21:00 hours)
There is a slight kick in the teeth leaving Raheenakit, as the WW is temporarily detoured around an area of tree-felling, adding about 1 km to the course. The detour is along a quite pleasant woodland trail, that appears to be reserved for horse riding, judging by the footprints left on the ground. Soon I am back on the all too familiar punishing stony fire roads and have all but given up hope of getting to Clonegal by 4. I keep the pace steady and with an estimated total distance of 81 miles I reckon I will be close. Just one last climb up through the last section of forest on Urelands Hill, managing to quieten the mental demons, which are urging me to stop and walk, as my target is futile and what would a few more minutes matter. I am out of the forest and passing the "Clonegal 5km" sign, with about 26 minutes to go - i'd need 8 minute miles to get me there (5 minute kms). The first 2 km are along a gradual downhill - passing the "Clonegal 3km" sign with 17 minutes to go. I reckon I have slowed to 6 minute kms and am unable to up the pace, predicting i'll be a minute over my target. The Garmin beeps for mile 81 with 15:58 on the clock, still some way to go. The "Welcome to Clonegal" come into view and my journey is nearly over - the Garmin turns over 16 hours and the finish line is in sight- turning the last corner and stopping at the WW Board in 16:00:58 (16:01:30 Official Time) for a 7th place finish. I had thought I was 8th, so someone must have dropped out - or so I though until the guy who had passed me 35 km back came in to touch the board half an hour later. It turns out he needed a rest at Dying Cow and I hadn't noticed when I passed through.

What's Next

With the WW done and dusted and the race report finally complete I can now turn my head towards the nemesis that is the Belfast 24 hour. It feels like it has crept up on me as I am only beginning to realise that I have not done near enough race specific runs. Apart from the WW, I have only run two longish runs in the last two month, pacing the Cork and Waterford marathons - surely a 24 hour race commands a bit more respect than that. My philosophy has been that the time on the bike training for the IM will stand to me next Friday/Saturday. With an average monthly mileage of  420 over the last 3 months compared to a running average of 166 miles lets hope it's true. I'm also hoping that the few residual niggles from the WW and recent training will fade over the next few days of relative rest and relaxation. I feel like I am winging it a bit and could be in for a rude awakening on Friday/Saturday.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Marató Barcelona

With yours truly @ 5:19 - 5:24 (the end of the out and back section @ Km 22). Thanks to Clubmate Tim for the link. One of my shorter posts.

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.