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After the Crash: Back to Basics

Doing stupid things seems to be one of my more frequent habits. I’ve already written about how I ran the Connemara 100 with totally inadequate preparation. Everything’s relative of course but even while running with the good people of the 100 Club, who run almost weekly marathons, I can somehow find a way to take things over the top.

To give some background, Pat O’Keefe (who I think has run 82 marathons) told me that when he did the Connemara 100-miler a few years, he waited six weeks until his next marathon and he still didn’t think his body felt right. In the four weeks since I finished it, I squeezed in two other sub 4.30 marathons in Longford and Dingle. Alright, so they were both slower than I’d like but 4:22 and 4:29 aren’t exactly the worst times in the world either.  Then last week, the walls finally came tumbling down.

“The walls” being a metaphor for my legs

It all started so well. My mate Frank McDermott was pacing 4.30 at the inaugural Sligo marathon and had gotten me a free entry. Sure, it was a long drive and an early-morning start but if you’ve been a regular reader, you’ll know that’s nothing unusual! We’d left at a nice handy pace (about 10.15 minutes a mile) and it looked like I was in for a relative doddle of a race. With Frank practically acting as my personal pacer, 4.30 hours would be a lot easier than it had been in Dingle, or so I hoped.

The previous week, I’d had a long and interesting conversation with Shane James Whitty about how my marathon times had recently been collapsing somewhat. He suggested focusing on my heart-rate (which I never normally do), training at 125bpm for recovery runs and doing 3-mile tempo runs at 145/150/155 bpm. For the events, he had suggested sticking to 8.30 minutes a mile for the first 15/16 miles. Above all else he had said not to let my heart-rate slip above 150bpm for the first 18 miles. This would leave something in the tank for the last 8.2 miles. The trick was to keep at a pace where you could keep running; whatever time would be lost from the beginning would be regained by avoiding a collapse in the latter stages. I wouldn’t be running at 8.30 minutes a mile, but my plan was to take the rest of this strategy for a test-run in Sligo.

The plan was going swimmingly until I had to pull a Paul Radcliffe (runner’s slang for a bathroom break) and Frank went on ahead. Continuing on, I picked up the pace, figuring I could catch Frank after maybe five miles. But despite busting myself trying to catch up with him, tearing down hills and going sub 10-minutes/mile on the level, he was nowhere to be seen. Then I fell.

Sort of like this. But even less graceful and on a road, without the helmet.

I was tearing down a hill about 16 miles in, and slipped on a loose stone on the road, coming down hard on my knees and elbows. I was up again almost straightaway but after a few steps it was pretty clear that I couldn’t continue to run. Pat O’Keefe caught up with me after a while and walked the rest of the way with me; he’d hurt his ankle further back. Then after two miles of this, Frank caught up with us! Turns out that he’d taken a wrong turn back at a village crossroads further back and wandered five miles off the course! So the whole race to catch up had been a fool’s errand from the beginning. But by that stage, the damage was done. I never saw my official time but I have it at 5:53:23

No lasting damage was done to my knees but both hamstrings were pulled and my body wasn’t recovering like it normally does; for a few days afterwards, I was having difficulty just shuffling across the street. So it was with a heavy heart that I decided not to run in the Mooathon or the October ‘West of Ireland’ series run, both of which I was really looking forward to.

I may have been looking forward to the Mooathon just a tad more though…

I can find other marathons to make up the promise of 20 in 2012 but nevertheless, I’ve had to re-evaluate my plans coming up to the Dublin marathon. The first part of the new plan is to go back to yoga tomorrow.  Secondly, I’ll be slotting in with the marathon training group at my home club in Louth and train for a ‘personal best’ in Dublin (October 29th). For me, that would mean beating the 3:56:58 I ran in Kildare last May. It’s a big ask, but I’m hoping that with the right combination of nutrition, proper training and a six-week break from eventing, I might even hit 3:45 or 3:50. It’s been such a long, tough year and it would be really sweet to pull that off in the city that has become my second home over the last few years. That’s the dream anyway.

With Brian “Forrest Gump” Ankers, 4-hour pacer at the Sligo Marathon

Being Young and Irish

Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of helping out at the first in a series of ‘Being Young and Irish’ workshops. The workshops, initiated by President Michael D. Higgins, are aimed at getting young people (aged 17-26) to submit ideas on “taking charge of change” and articulating their vision of Ireland’s future. As the volunteers, we had the easy job; nearly 100 participants (the guys in the spiffy blue t-shirts) worked throughout the day to generate ideas for a charter which will be presented to senior members of government later on this year. Given my involvement with ReachOut Ireland, I was particularly pleased to see mental health consistently high on the agenda throughout the day. For more information, check out these links in The Sociable, Irish Times, The Irish Examiner as well as the Film, Fashion and Pop Culture blog. All in all, an excellent way to spend my break weekend! Next marathon is on Saturday (September 15th) in Sligo.

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Running in the Kingdom

This is the 32nd post I’ve uploaded since I started this blog. Over the last few months, some of the posts have been really difficult to write. When the other guys are chugging the post-marathon Gatorades and relaxing in their ice-baths, you’ll find me frantically trying to throw together a race-report and maybe even organise a fundraising event in time for the next race.  In spite of a ton of work, I’m pretty sure I didn’t properly convey the experience of running the 100-miler in Connemara or even the Madventure or the 3-in-3, but today … no sweat! This week, the pictures are going to do the talking, and I’m just going to kick back, and maybe pop my head up from time to time to throw in a few half-assed observations and some lame picture-based humour. This week’s post is quite literally a walk in the park. It’s all about a race in the one of the most spectacular corners of  the country, a place called Dingle in Co. Kerry, and if this doesn’t make you want to run a marathon in Ireland, nothing will.

It seems that whenever I go to Kerry, it’s exclusively for crazy purposes. For me, getting there requires a five-hour drive and my last visit was nearly a year ago, to climb Carauntoohill (Ireland’s tallest mountain).  Co-incidentally, this was on the same weekend as the Dingle Food & Wine Festival. Having lost my wallet on the way down the mountain, I spent most of the festival wandering around Dingle while guzzling nutella straight from the jar with a spoon.

Cos I’m classy!

Fast-forward to this year and despite the travel requirements, a huge international crowd descended on Dingle for last Saturday’s marathon. Although I haven’t been able to find official reports, I’ve been told that somewhere around 2,300 people lined out for the half, full and ultra-marathon events (The 50-mile ultra alone attracted 60 hardy competitors)  All of which made for a festive atmosphere at the start-line.

Dingle is what my Drogheda club-mate Gerard Fay calls a “real” marathon – lots of elevation (gaining roughly 1500 feet), unbelievable scenery and a great atmosphere. It takes place right at the edge of the peninsula, and the course passes bays, historic sites, famine cottages and goes up plenty of hills!

I had to run backways up a hill to get this shot … but totally worth it.

I do have one good story though; about 15 miles into the race, I met up with a runner from Cork named Barry who was running his first marathon. (Doesn’t anybody just do a nice easy course for their first marathon anymore?!) Barry was running in aid of a cancer charity and had set a goal for himself of finishing in under 4hrs30min while his friend had set a goal of 5 hours. As I hadn’t any particular plan in mind other than finishing, I decided to try and pace them. By Mile 20, it was just myself and Barry, at which point the course took a rather arbitrary turn, requiring runners to hang a left down the Emlagh East Road towards Gallarus, before reaching a traffic cone, turning around and coming back up the way we came, and continuing on. This little head-trip is immediately followed by the monster hill that everyone was telling each other about before the race (about 320 feet of a climb), followed in turn by a mile-long straight section that appears to stretch out forever, on the way back into Dingle. Barry was in a great deal of pain with cramping but managed to put in a massive effort. By the end, he was moving really well and we both ended up sprinting into Dingle, crossing the line at the same time and beating his target by about a minute. His friend crossed the line shortly afterwards, beating his own target by about twenty minutes. It was a really extraordinary display of willpower on Barry’s part and a fantastic result, especially considering it was his first marathon. For my own part, I’ve rarely gotten as much as satisfaction from a race, and was very happy to help out. Roll on Sligo!

FINAL TIME: 4:29:26

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