Summer Plans

Every year we normally get off the Island in late June/early July and that puts a full stop to any running plans for the rest of the summer.

The combined medication of southern european sun, low priced alcohol and no access to work e-mail are enough to prevent my latent masochistic streak from forcing me into 20 mile runs when on holidays.

The problem with this summer hiatus is that I normally miss some opportunities to fill in the middle of the year blank in my running schedule. (Schedule = one or two long races and lots of random running).

So this year I’ve split up my holidays into a week moping about the house and a week in Italy in August. The moping is made up of being the designated parent for the kids, watching the Tour de France on the box, failing at DIY around the house (repairing the window mechanism on a vintage car rather than doing the garden/painting the bedrooms), dog walking and of course, running.

With no work to get in the way the main benefit to the running is that the mid-week runs can be stretched to 10 – 15 miles. Not earth shattering but enough for my frame.

The plan is to enter the Tralee 100k race in early August with the intention of enjoying the race and just getting around. This sort of low expectation is a fair reflection of how I expect my fitness to be by early August and how much I’m willing to commit to the race. The distance requires me to change my diet (swapping from carbs to fats) and dealing with a tight pelvis and sore left leg. Both of these have the ability to send me well off-course. Those variables plus a 5 week training plan which will top out with a longest run of 3.5 hours (about 23 miles) make me think that anything more ambitious is foolish.

Roll on August.

Cummerbund

As a 15 year old boy trapped in the aging body of a man that word makes me laugh.

During the past week I had my annual wandering-around-Decathlon-while-on-holidays event. As the years pass my need for pointless and cheap sports consumer goods seems to diminish (I wish I could say the same for my kids and wife) but as a creature of habit I still find myself wandering the gymkhana aisle wondering if I would look good in riding britches or whether my life would be fuller and more satisfying if I owned a sailing jacket or another bicycle light.

This time I made it out alive with only three semi-pointless purchases:

  • a hammock. Who’s life isn’t fuller for owning (another) hammock? Now to plant some trees.
  • A fold-up knapsack. Somehow this will be useful.
  • Another pair of running shorts.

The running shorts seem to have been designed with functionality in mind and not any sense of style or self respect.

The shorts were picked up in the trail running section of the shop and have some voluminous pockets for carrying food on long trail or ultra marathon races. Ask any long distance runner about kit and they will tell you that comfortable shorts with big pockets are a must.

The key difference with this pair of shorts is that rather than have long pockets that double as a testicular cancer checking devices in the traditional down the sides of the legs position they are situated in a kind of cummerbund across your mid-rift.

Fashionable they ain’t. When you pull them on you feel like you’re pulling on a pair of pregnancy pants.

But they work. You can stash a phone and a heap of food in them and everything stays put.

 

Running cummerbund

Silent Training

There’s a school of thought that says that the best training for long distance running  is the silent training you commit to.

Silent training I hear you mumble – that must be when he shuts up about how much the running means to him.

Yap, yap, yap, yap yap, door to my soul, blah, blah, blah….

Well, I wish it were so.

No, silent training is the term given to the non-running aspect of the training. The proper sleep pattern, the eating the right food, the balance between exertion and recovery.

I’ve been having loads of that recently………….which is another way of saying I’m only doing about three runs a week and doing lots of relaxing. I’m feeling fine with this as the three runs include a 16 – 20 mile run each weekend which is enough to keep my hand in the game.

As part of my relaxing regime  I went off to sleep in a tent with the family and last weekend.

Well worth it.

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Silent Training

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The vast structure of recollection

Bear with me on this one.

The biggest problem with being a grown-up is the worrying about the future. Worrying might be the wrong word; maybe planning for or looking after are better terms.

It doesn’t really matter what you call it, when you’re a grown up its always getting in the way. It gets in the way of enjoying life, of living in the moment, of fully connecting to the thing you’re supposed to be doing. It’s the worst thing about being a grown-up (apart from the going blind, the skin like old paper, the outrage at the antics of teenagers, the outrage at the ill-fitting pants of anyone under 30 – you get the idea).

But there is a solution, a cure, and, like the best of miracle cures it’s free.

It’s your involuntary memory. Your Proustian memory.

I was in Paris a few weeks ago for work and I had a morning to kill so  I did what any normal person would do and I went sight seeing. I rented a bicycle and imagined myself as a younger man and pedalled around the 3rd, 4th and 11th Arrondissements. My destination was at the top of Rue de la Roquette and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. I’d come to find the final resting place of the man behind the crystallising of the concept of involuntary memory in the 20th century.

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Marcel Proust told a story that included an anecdote about a small cake and a cup of tea. The scent and taste of the cake transports him like a time machine to his youth and he describes in vivid detail eating the selfsame cake with his  aunt. This  involuntary memory has become known as Proustian memory. The next time you smell a freshly shaved pencil and a wax crayon and your first day of school flashes before your eyes you can say “that triggered an intense proustian memory” rather than “I think I’m going mad” – it makes you seem more intelligent.

Whats all this about?

Well, the activity of running for long distances allows me to live like a child and allow  space and time to lose their connection. This allows all of the burdens of being a grown up to evaporate and I find myself mentally, if not physically, free of the burden of being a grown up.

That’s the main reason I run. The freedom of childhood. The most natural state in the world.

Of course, most of my childhood, like yours, was probably a grind of homework, school uniforms, religion and rain. The same is true of running but the overall cumulative effect of all the running is to allow space and time to drift apart and in the gap between the two you find an alternative world.

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After the trip to the graveyard I dropped into a small shop in Paris and picked up a bar of soap. Immediately I was 16, on my own in France for the first time and staring at topless women on the beach. But that’s another story.

 

2016 Vartry 50 mile race report

It’s been a few weeks since I finished the Vartry 50 mile on Easter Saturday and I’ve had plenty of time to physically recover and stir the simmering cauldron of stupid ideas inside my head that help me pick the next race.

I’ll give a straight vanilla race report here (for people who consider 50 miles of running of a Saturday morning to be just about normal) and I’ll give you my real thoughts (for those who, like me, think it’s crazy) in another post.

Race report for ultra runners:

I only entered this race about 6 days before the event – that’s plenty of time to deal with nerves and tapering and all that “prep” stuff. On the Sunday before the event I’d stretched my long runs up to 25 miles (about the limit of my boredom threshold) but more importantly, I had put in a solid few months of long runs and had adapted my diet to high fat and low carb in the month before the race. With no injury to speak of it seemed opportune to have a go at this race. I’d liked the course from the 50k last year and I thought another few laps would be a bit of a test. Also, as the course was all on roads it would be a proper test of aerobic endurance as opposed to testing my agility as a mountain goat which happens on trail ultras.

I borrowed my wife’s car (a mini-van if you’re from the land of Trump) and struck off from Cork to travel to Roundwood. Not being a fan of Facebook I didn’t realise that race HQ had been moved from the village of Roundwood to an Adventure/Assault Course outside the village. I pulled into the race HQ at around 22:45, parked up, surveyed the post-apocalyptic set-up in front of me, questioned my sanity, chatted to the race directors, said a silent prayer for the 100 mile runners out on the route for almost 5 hours already, made myself a cup of tea and climbed into my sleeping bag.

And lay there until around 02:00hrs waiting for the nervous energy and tea to work their way out of my system and eventually fall asleep. All too soon the phone alarm went off at 05:00hrs and I was up and put the kettle on for some buttered coffee. I sat in the car going over my kit and sorting out my box of tricks and trying not to dwell too long on the stupidity of my actions.

The forecast was for the sort of lazy wind and rain you get on a Wicklow hillside (lazy = would go through you rather than around you) so I had my race box filled with a spare set of gloves, hat and running top. My starting kit was a pair of Hoka Cliftons, SOLE dual layer socks, my regular shorts, a helly hansen long sleeve top, a Berghaus vapour storm jacket,  a reflective vest and the aldi gloves and hat I’ve been using for years. Most of the kit is old and run of the mill. the only two bits of kit that I’d recommend spending money on for a race like this (long and in bad weather) is a really good jacket and decent shoes. The berghaus jacket is one of the only reasonably priced gore-tex jackets that’s designed for running and it works. The Hokas allow me to run pain free. If you’re a martyr to the blisters then you’ll have your own approach to coping with them. I escape fairly lightly on this front but I always run in SOLE dual layer socks.

My food plan was a bottle of water every 10 miles with an Aldi multivitamin effervescent tablet in it and then if I felt any hunger I’d switch to snickers bars and bananas. I made it to 29 miles until I felt the need for food and then I had 2 bananas, 2 snickers and a cup of tea with a little bit of banana bread on offer at the start/finish over the next 21 miles. Apart from mile 29 I never felt any energy dip from a lack of food. One of my main reasons for making the effort to run on a fat based diet is because I want to enjoy the race. Trudging along with low energy and a stomach full of simple sugars just isn’t fun.

As we lined up at the start of the race the forecasters were spot on and the lazy wind and rain started down on us. It was the sort of character building rain you normally head out in for a long run and return with chaffed nipples and and being drenched to the bone.

Still, it was raining on all of us and the 100 mile runners were now on the go for 12 hours with no end in sight so there was nobody handing out sympathy. You generally don’t line up for these sorts of races without taking some HTFU pills.

This race is run on a 10 mile loop that is a tilted triangle with two out and backs on the triangle in order to make up the 10 miles. Later in the race the triangle is useful for visualising how you break the laps down into segments so you never get the existential “why am I doing this? – I’m going to walk” that you often get in a point-to-point ultra.

My race pacing strategy was to hold back for at least the first two laps, knuckle down and work on the third lap and see how my endurance was for laps four and five and be willing to settle for a 10 hr+ finish if it turned out I was a bit too cocksure with my ambition on a 50 mile race.

Apart from being thoroughly drenched, laps one and two went by uneventfully. Lap one was particularly pleasant and full of camaraderie as there was always someone to share the journey with. I met another blogger from Kilkenny who was out running with his friends (as you do). I found the bitter cold and driving rain made me run with the hood pulled up on my coat for most of the first 20 miles. This had the effect of allowing me to retreat into my mind and the miles rolled by without much of a strain. What the experts would call “the flow“. Lap one clicked by in 1:38 and lap two in 1:39. Both these laps had bear in the woods pit stops so the actual pace was a bit faster than the splits. This sort of pace was very manageable as my  easy 10 mile hill session training pace is about 1:27 and my Mo Farah 10 mile hill session is about 1:19.

Lap three was where the work started and more mental strength was required in order to keep the ship on course. I set out on this lap with a banana and my bottle of water and made it past the full marathon point in good shape (better shape than last year but slower). I felt my first dip in energy at mile 29 and decided that it was time to start on some food. I tried a banana and while it didn’t have much int he way of calories it was just what my empty stomach needed. Lap three arrived in 1:42. I had ditched m saturated gloves at mile 20 only to go rooting around in my gear box for anther pair as I started the fourth lap. The combination of wind, cold and rain meant my fingers were constantly numb.

Lap four was the closest I came to a low point. It was where you’re a long way from the start but the end still feels far away. The miles from 30 – 36 were the ones where I had to concentrate the most and where I found the need to compartmentalise the route into bit sized pieces most necessary. Around about mile 36 I ran for a while with the eventual second place finisher – another Cork man – Aidan  Hogan who was making 46 miles of running look very easy. This was just what I needed in terms of motivation and I realised that a bit less time in my head and more time running and I’d be grand.

Lap four clicked by in 1:45. Afterwards I was very happy with the pacing consistency of my first 40 miles but at the time I hadn’t a clue. In a race of this distance you just take what’s in front of you as opposed to race with a strategy (at least that’s how I approach the races – I’m sure the elites have an actual plan).

The last 10 miles included some of the fastest I’d run but the split was a 1:53 which was because the first two miles were very slow. I changed my top and had a cup of tea and some banana bread at the start of the first mile ( an 18 minute effort) and during the hill in the second mile I walked and made a phone call to my long suffering wife. I got the by now default response of If you think you’re getting any sympathy from me while I mind the kids and the dog you can think again buster!! I WhatsApp-ed my wider family who were decent enough to wish me well and mention that it was all a bit mad.

I worked again on the compartmentalising of the race into little bits and found I was able to keep running for all of the race with the exception of the little hills at mile 45.5 and 46.5. At this point I stopped to take a stone from my shoe and decided I could make it to the end without stopping.

As I kicked off I found the mile pace dropping closer and closer to 8:00 min/mile and I had the euphoric feeling you have from knowing that you’ve made it and can empty the tank.  I think My last mile just dipped under the 8 min mark but I haven’t down loaded the Garmin yet.

When you reach the end of a big marathon you are generally cheered on by the crowd and you have a mild sense of not being worthy of the praise. At the end of a moderately long ultra marathon there are generally a couple of exhausted marshals, a few kids who’re not old enough to tell their dad (or mum) that they would rather SnapChat their friends than stand around freezing as one of their parents slogs around the course and a few die-hard supporters. Even a clap from one of this raggedy bunch is worth more than the thousands cheering in the finishing chute of a major marathon.

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And so it was, I crossed the line in 8hrs 38 mins and 44 seconds – 9th overall. I collected my medal and finisher’s tee-shirt and chatted to one or two other runners doing different races (marathon, 50km and 100mile).

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50 miles finished – I need a haircut.

I changed my clothes and hightailed it for the drive home (around 180 miles) home  with a quick pit stop to collect a bunch of Easter eggs on the way.

The collateral damage for the race wasn’t bad with one black toenail and some sore legs for the next two days (the last three miles of “sprinting”) and the safety pins on the running shorts had rubbed two areas of my thigh raw. None of this sort of thing hurts until the next day.

The shoes were fairly banjaxed but I only replaced them this week past as the wear patterns between the shoes was starting to give me a bit of hip pain after some recent runs.

So that’s that. Thanks for reading. Now, the litmus test of any ultra marathon would  I run this race again? In short, YES.

I’ll give you more details and a longer version of the yes in another post.

 

(S)lower Pace

If you’ve stumbled on this blog in the past few weeks you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s all about the running. Like most people who have an unhealthy interest in anything that might attract the anorak brigade (stuff involving men standing around talking in hobby-shorthand about their shared passion), you will eventually realise,  if you get deep enough into the hobby, that its not about the running.

Now with that middle-distance-staring bit of philosophising out of the way I’m about to talk about nothing but running.

Around 45 miles into my Italian Adventure last year I started to realise that there was a flaw to my strategy for the race – apart form the obvious one that I shouldn’t have entered in the first place. I hadn’t practiced running really slowly. Like Eskimos and snow there are many ways to describe slow when it comes to running. The ultra marathon slow shuffle is, like Guinness, an acquired taste (i.e. shitty but you get used to it). It’s the economy of movement that is either a recipe for victory or a death march.

At mile 45 I found myself running fine (no muscle or joint pain) but having to take walking breaks every mile or so to allow my temperature to drop. This meant that I was covering the same ground as the ultra-shuffle practitioners but far less efficiently.

So, this morning I went out for a long run (25 miles) with the express intention of keeping  control on the pace and the running economy. Running economy is what the anoraks say when we mean a senior citizen jogging shuffle.

This worked a treat and combined with a night of fasting and a mug of bulletproof coffee meant I covered the 25 miles with no sugar low and a steady pace (8:44-9:00 min/mile) – all in about 3hr 41min.

Is this sensible? No, not really. But a combination of a WiFi connection, a website and a visa card yesterday mean I’ve entered a 50 mile race next weekend and this senior citizen jogging shuffle and diet of butter and coffee should make the first 30 miles a little more bearable.

My expectation is that the first 30 miles will be fine as these sort of things go and then it’ll be about how much of the eventual collapse of form, fitness and performance can be put off over the next 20 miles.

I have another busy work week coming up so I’m not sure how that will feed into the race next Saturday morning but then I think “race” is what the elites would call it. For me it’ll be a day with the other anoraks.

 

Fat Running

If all memory is essentially Proustian then the scent of coconut has moved from the memory of lazy days on the beach and exotic (i.e. beyond my reach) girls to the memory of feeling stupid, exhausted and alone in the middle of a strange country (i.e. ultra running).

So, as I popped the lid on the jar of coconut oil yesterday morning to make a cup of bulletproof coffee (butter + coconut oil + coffee – not as bad as it sounds) I was not whisked away to a land of sultry ladies but was landed in the middle of the night fighting my inner stupidity demons with 50km left to run.

Why would I want to drink this magic concoction as a replacement for a nice bowl of porridge? Read on: As something to take my mind off of my creeping sense of morality I have decided to enter an ultra marathon in 2 weeks. I’m flip-flopping between the 50km and the 50 mile. I think I’ll opt for the 50 mile  – hear me out – as it will allow me to make a mess of the last 10 miles and still be able to tell a good pub story. The 50km will require a “decent show” all day and I’m not sure I’m up for that.

In arriving at a decision like this there are two things that cause me real anxiety. The first is quite predicable: Who want’s to start running at 06:00 on Easter Saturday?! That’s just not normal. The second one is linked to the coffee: After about 30 miles of running on carbohydrates my digestive system is the first thing to hoist the white flag of surrender. I just can’t touch any food after that amount of time sucking down gels and munching jelly babies.

For the first one of these I’ll solve it by sleeping in the car at the start of the race – this will ensure that I can sleep until 05:30 before the running starts.

The second one involves the buttered coffee. I could pretend to spoof you on the science of it but I won’t. Essentially if you restart the engine with fat and not sugar in the morning you can operate all day on almost no sugar. If you are more curious just throw some of the following terms into a search engine and sit back: Ketogenisis, LCHF, Up-regulating fat metabolism, fat adapted.

Back to the training: So, having fasted for over 13 hours I struck out for a long run just before midday yesterday with a couple of cups of the buttered coffee in my stomach. The first five miles were a bit disconcerting as my stomach was wondering where the sugar had gone. But then, as your body realises that there are only two gears – slow and really slow – you settle into the running.

I made it to 22.5 miles before I got so bored I decided that that was enough. I think there were another 2 or 3 miles in there without any problem but I don’t like pushing the marathon distance in training as it leaves nothing else to aim for.

I’ll try and make an effort to eat less carbs over the next few weeks and increase the number of these fat coffee runs. That should make the 50 miles a bit more bearable. I wonder if I wore a hula-skirt would it help bring back the memory of the exotic beach holiday?