20 steady

I have a draft post in the back room of this blog about the pros and cons of travelling first class when inter-railing with kids (mainly cons) but I thought I’d break the monotony of the hobo holiday snaps with a quick running update.

After my 100km sweating in the sun adventure in Italy I went through my usual lull of falling in love with red wine and out of love with running long distances. Eventually this lull comes to an end and I decided that in the absence of any races to enter I’d better do something about the running. So I decided to see if I could get to a point where a 20 mile run once a week was as straightforward as walking the dog. It’s important to note that straightforward isn’t about speed but more about it being “just a thing” or “not a big thing”.

After hovering in the high teens for a few weeks on my long runs I’ve just completed 3 weeks of easy 20 milers at the weekends. I think a few more weeks of this and I’ll enter a few local low key marathons just to stretch my legs and make the effort worthwhile. If I had something resembling a plan I’d use these marathons as a springboard to something longer but I’m not great on planning when it comes to running.


Berlin: Cognitive Dissonance

Back to my summer of running and holiday snaps.

I’m trying to use a fancy title to this post to dress up some mundane stories about holidays/running.

Just so you can stop reading now and still learn something Cognitive Dissonance is the mental state of believing one thing and experiencing another. For example, if you were a child of the Cold War you would believe that all eastern European women were meaty shot-putters with a sideline in facial hair, pickled vegetables and crushing you to death with their tree-trunk like legs. The expansion of the European Union and the free movement of goods and services in the last 15 years has made me realise that I might have been a victim of propaganda as I now experience cognitive dissonance.

They knew the Cronins were coming

They knew the Cronins were coming

Now, if you’re Irish and you think of Germany and in particular Berlin you might create a list of things you’d associate with it: A stern love for austerity, cripplingly bad fashion choices (salmon coloured anything only works on fish – not on shirts, jackets or blouses), clean and efficient infrastructure and  public services, horrendous brutalist architecture courtesy of Bomber Harris and Soviet architects and a Borg-like acceptance of the utterances of the Queen of Europe. The reality is completely different – you are confronted with cognitive dissonance.

The real Berlin is an Irishman’s dream – cheap beer, pretty women and a subversive air of defiance to authority. The sort of subversion that makes governing part of Irish society an job you wouldn’t give to Sisyphus.



It’s a collection of individual villages that have their own unique character like parts of San Francisco but with the benefit of not sitting on a bunch of hills on a tectonic plate fault line. The bombs missed most of the city and they seem to have had the sense to not rebuild it in the style of the Gorbals in Glasgow so everything is nice and human scaled with trees, cycle lanes and pocket parks everywhere (by everywhere I mean everywhere we’d slap a shop, an extra house or a few extra car parking spaces). If I was to borrow some words from my day job (I do have one, I swear) I’d say they have the ecosystem perfected.

Blowing bubbles in your underpants

Blowing bubbles in your underpants

We were in Berlin on our grand tour and to meet family. That basically involved 4 adults sipping a bit too much alcohol while assuming that one of the other adults was minding your (and their) children. Modern parenting.

Bubblegum wall

Bubblegum wall


I managed to slot a run in that took me 10 miles out and about into the Grunewald (the woods). This place has been here for a long time and despite it being in the city it seems so calm and peaceful. Apart from dodging dog shit the running was uneventful if sweaty.

As you might expect there are several layers to Berlin below the one you can see in front of you. You can chose to ignore these layers (as my kids did) or study them and view the city as a living record of the history of the 20th century.

Stumble stones tell a story of their own

Stumble stones tell a story of their own

It’s the sort of place you could visit over and over again and experience cognitive dissonance again and again.

In the end we had to pack up and head out on the longest leg of our journey – 24 hours and 5 trains to reach Brisighella. This would include our over night sleeper through the Brenner Pass – something I would recommend to anyone who has even the tiniest shred or either romance or adventure in their bones –

Even the brutalism has a beauty

Even the brutalism has a beauty

That’s the next instalment of Richard trying to keep this as a running blog.

Refugee: Home

An unusually serious blog post (by my standards):

As I try and stitch as many of my holiday snaps as I can into my threadbare running stories the overriding feeling I have of our adventure riding the rails was that the freedom and joy we felt was in stark contrast to the unfolding refugee crisis in Europe over the summer.

A bit on crisis:

There are many faults in our society; assuming that men prefer work to spending time with their kids, not inventing a toilet with a self-lifting seat, being dazzled by trinkets and gee-gaws like a child at a carnival (I’m looking at you smartphone manufacturers!) and making people feel morally weak for drinking wine on days of the week that begin with the letter M – but I digress…. Possibly the biggest fault we have is our collective incapacity to avoid a crisis. It seems that an  adolescence of finishing our homework late on a Sunday night has taught us nothing about the benefits of avoiding a crisis.

We seem to have acquired our governance skills from Nero. We have a refugee crisis at the moment which is following hot on the heels of the economic crisis of the early summer and there will, no doubt, be some other crisis after that. Remember the Ebola crisis anyone?

The refugee crisis has people who, for the most part, are in such a dire situation that the risks of the unknown in the flight to Europe are a better bet than their home situation. – As my mother would say – they didn’t come down in the last shower of rain you know!

And the risks they take are high – I saw a Channel 4 documentary the other night about someone who had travelled across Europe, jumped a lorry to the UK in Calais and was granted 5 years asylum in……………Glasgow! There he was, the poor soul, drinking a can of Tennents, Scotland’s favourite pint, trying to fit in.


Tourists not refugees

As I watched the refugees in the very same railway stations across Europe that we had used to complete our adventure I was set to wonder on what made us tourists and them refugees? I’m generally broke so it wasn’t money.

In the end I decided that at the heart of our summer of fun and freedom was our home. Not the house in Cork, no, the abstract concept of home. A place in space and time where you can fart and blame the dog, A place where you can drink red wine on  week nights beginning with the letter M whilst watching Hitler’s Henchmen on channels that advertise internet poker and chat lines in the ad breaks. On our trip across Europe we found our home in the houses of our friends and family, in the centre of Berlin and in the mountains of Italy. We found it in the apartments on AirBnB, in the smile of the train ticket inspector, everywhere we went, truth be told.

We thought nothing of loading our family onto a train for a 12 hour journey into the unknown because right at the back of it, buried in our minds was the fact that our kids would sleep in a safe bed at the end of the journey.

Munich train

I suppose that’s what made us tourists and not refugees. We had a home.

Happy travellers

Happy travellers

Hobo life – runs 1 and 2

Part of the pleasure of running (as opposed to jogging) as a hobby is that you can indulge your addiction without much need for paraphernalia. Other addictions (intravenous drug use, drinking, dungeons and dragons) require a less socially acceptable equipment list.

Our summer of riding the iron horse across the old countries of Europe involved stops in Cologne/Sauerland, Berlin, Brisighella, Antibes and Carcassonne. Each one came with a warm welcome from friends, family and strangers who displayed equal measures of curiosity and charity at out definition of a “summer holiday”.

Hiking for 500m.

Across the Rhine, hiking for 500m. not happy

I got an easy run of about 6 or 7 miles in in Cologne and shared some of this with my 9 year old daughter (who thinks running is “cool”). That was a run about the process and not the product (i.e. very slow but very memorable).

In our day between Cologne and the Sauerland (the West Cork of North Rhine-Westphalia) we dropped into the Red Dot Design Museum in Essen. If you have any aesthetic IQ you’ll love the place. It’s chocked full of things that have been well designed and work well (the right balance of form and function). There were cars, lights, chairs, tools, clothes, kitchen appliances, the lot.

This, people, is the future of lighting, apparently......

This, people, is the future of lighting, apparently……

There were one or  two areas that lost me though: the vibrators seemed to look more like kitchen utensils. I took this as another sign post on my journey to middle age. Soon I’ll be telling nobody in particular that girls in short skirts will “catch their death of cold”.

Towards the end of the museum there was one section for random stuff they couldn’t classify but for the life of me I was struggling to understand how these things ended up here.

A gas mask, a bra and a wheelchair......anyone? anyone?

A gas mask, a bra and a wheelchair……anyone? anyone?

After our tour of the world of good design we made our way to Niedersfeld to stay with our friends. Niedersfeld is in the Sauerland, a hilly rural area that seems to be a bit of a secret the Germans don’t want to tell the rest of us about.

I tried my hand at water skiing. It’s one of those sports where if you pull it off successfully you look lithe and graceful, almost balletic. If you don’t pull it off successfully you tend to look like someone crouching in the “bear shitting in the woods” position being dragged across a lake. I was in the latter camp (from the photos) but I thought I was in the former.

While I could take the crouching bear humiliation on the chin, I was having a bit of trouble with the crashing. I managed to break my ribs in spectacular fashion by wiping out several times. As I hit the water for the last time and my ability to breath was sucked from my chest I wondered what the German for “Emergency Room” was. As I swam sloooowly to the edge of the lake I was also glad I had nothing challenging in front of me like lugging a 25kg pack around for the next 2 weeks….hmmmmm.


Very soon I would be banjaxed

Very soon I would be banjaxed

To be fair, there were differing schools of thought on the “breakiness” of my ribs. Other adjectives deployed but the cynics to describe the ribs were “cracked” and “bruised” but these people (my wife and kids) playing loose and fast with my health just didn’t understand my stoic nature and amazing capacity to endure pain. The 400mg of Neurofen required to sleep was enough for me to believe  they were broken.

Now, what do you do with freshly broken ribs? “Take it easy” seems to be the stock prescription in the ladybird book of medicine (as “shoot” is in the corresponding book of equine medicine) but I hadn’t found out what the German for “Emergency Room” was so I went running.

The first 500m of my run were so painful as to be almost debilitating, The inability to breath, not being able to hold my core upright, my left arm not swinging properly, every footstep sending a jolt of pain through my body. So I stopped, right?

Wrong – I got lost in the mountains for 10 miles. So lost I started wondering what the German for “Helicopter Rescue” was. Still, as I made my way back to civilisation on a narrow downhill mountain bike single track I realised that my ribs were not hurting as much any more. Sure, for the next 7 days I’d be crippled, but at that moment I was happy. The pointless run is a rare thing. Normally the distance, the purpose, the speed are all pre-arranged within some sort of wider scheme, some sort of larger “must get things done” framework. It’s rare to head off on a random run.

Summertime in the Sauerland

Summertime in the Sauerland

The Sauerland was a revelation; understated, easy going, a bit of a Mecca for off-road pursuits like mountain biking, winter sports, running and walking. A great place to decompress from life.

As we headed off with my busted ribs to our next destination we were sorry to leave it go although the idea of running around Berlin was something I was looking forward to.


The Hobo life

This blog is supposed to be about running so I normally try and intertwine the more interesting aspects of life (i.e. everything but running) in and around this subject.

If you’ve read other posts on here you’ll soon realise that the link between the “I put on my running shoes and ran 10 miles” and the real content can be fairly tenuous.

that said, possibly the only thing worse than reading about sore nipples and chaffed thighs (from running, obvs) is reading about someone’s holidays.

If I can pull this off the next few posts are going to have you thinking:

  • Gosh, Richard’s running and holiday stories are Pulitzer Prize material (I can always dream)
  • Gosh, I think I’ll take a train around Europe with my small kids and long suffering wife!
Hope for Hobos

Hope for Hobos

As you can surmise the holiday wasn’t a caravan in south west France or a fortnight on the Costas. No, It was the hobo dream of riding the rails with your hobo buddies, living on your wits, sleeping off the  two buck chuck as the trains carried you across the continent. – Interrailing is the PR name for it!


The Brenner Pass at Midnight (a plausible title for a novel?)

This was a great holiday, and while not exactly restful, it was certainly full of adventure and excitement (i.e. sailing into the headwinds of disaster with gay abandon). I can’t attest to your family dynamics but I can tell you that we’re just your common or garden dysfunctional group of people thrown together by biology, lust, dog ownership and the alignment of the stars (i.e. we’re a family and no one else will have us) and this sort of holiday was less of the day-in day-out routine of mum+dad versus the terrible trio and much more of the famous five go hobo-ing.

The holiday was a clockwise C from Amsterdam across Germany, over the Alps to Italy and back across the Cote D’Azure to Carcassonne (it seemed pretty easy on a map………….)

Brutal beauty

Brutal beauty

I’ll stitch the running into the next few blog posts so you can justifiably say that you waste half your time at your desk reading running blogs and not wondering what sort of idiot thinks railway station tramps are role models.




100km Del Passatore – what went right and what went wrong?

It’s been just over 2 months since I (to use an Americanism) “crushed” my PB time in the 100km del Passatore in Italy by a whopping 47 minutes but I have remained silent  – which for me is some achievement.

I have started more than once to catalogue the race in a report that would do my middle aged male endeavour some justice but the tone was never right. I was either too flippant or too serious and neither was right for how I felt about the race.

As my running and wine consumption have picked up again after the usual lull that follows a big event I’ve tried to get my head around the race and what went right and what went wrong. I’ve tried to create some sort of frame of reference based on my previous experiences and they have never felt quite right. Some of my more light hearted attempts at a report have been called “keep out of direct sunlight” or “the reverse ultra marathon”.

In essence the race went well despite the first 45km being a complete disaster. By complete disaster I mean I was walking the downhill sections after 11 miles (17km). I wasn’t walking by choice, I was walking because my legs felt like your legs feel at mile 25 of a regular marathon – like lumps of lead. In contrast the final 50km were almost all run (with walking breaks to manage over heating and to take on food but not for lack of energy)

How I could go from zero to hero and beat my PB is as much a mystery to me as it is to anyone else. I went from having a stream of people passing me by until the ascent became almost vertical and from there I continued to pass almost everyone else.

My splits up until the half way point were within 10 mins of my splits last year but this didn’t account for my much higher levels of fitness and adaptation to the task.

During my recent summer holidays (where I ended up running with both cracked ribs and a damaged toe – another story!) I finally settled on a way of describing why my first half effort was so poor and why I ended up with a pretty decent PB.

this next bit is for runners so if you’re going to get lost just click here.

I think I suffered a pretty massive failure of my central governor. Or maybe, depending on whether you think running very long distances in the heat is a good idea or not, a resounding success of my central governor. In essence the perceived effort in the heat slowed me down so I didn’t scramble my circuits.

The only physical difference between km 17 and km 45 of the race was the change in air temperature. At 16km you crest the first peak of the race at 518m at around 16:30hrs and the race organisers are hosing everyone down and there are ambulances at 25km to catch victims of heat stroke. As the second peak approaches  at 913m the clock is ticking towards 21:00hrs and the moon is on the rise.

As the race progressed and the (relatively) cooler temperatures of 16 – 18C became the norm I found progress to become easier – i.e. the effort to cover the distance seemed to reduce. I still had to take walking breaks to stop myself from overheating but if you’re going to train in 0-12C temperatures anything in Italy in May will seem like too hot.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a fade in performance over distances of 60km (35 – 45miles) but the rate of fade is what determines your finishing position in the race. I found that while it might take 10km to move beyond someone you were sharing the road with at 50-60km this distance was reduced to a few hundred metres in the 90-100km stage of the race (as they faded completely to being stationary or walking  and you kept running).

So, the warm weather for the first 50km reduced my performance so that I didn’t end up in the meat wagon. There is no doubt that a lot of this reduction in performance was down to how much I was willing to suffer and what was at stake here. I am realistic enough to know that I am a top 25% runner and, as I’ve said before, not a top 24% runner so my goals are always grounded in what target I set myself.

Some of the aid stations did look like war zone triage centres. During the hot weather phase of the race (or, for that matter, the latter exhaustion stages of the race) I would cruise into the aid station feeling a bit sorry for myself, having been surrounded by cheerful Italians all shouting encouragement at each other only to be assaulted by scenes of human suffering that Hieronymus Bosch  would have been proud of. If people weren’t projectile vomiting they were sitting wrapped in blankets. If they weren’t wrapped in blankets they were lying on stretchers. Suddenly my persecution complex was put into perspective and I made my way out the other side of the aid station if not in better spirits then certainly chastened.

So, would I run this race again. On the surface of it no I wouldn’t but only because you can’t adapt to the heat of Italy if you train over the winter in Ireland (believe me – I tried) and running 100km in a foreign country unsupported takes a bit out of you as well. Should others run it? As an experience I think it should be a must do bucket list for anyone interested in ultra running. The start of the race has 2,500 runners crammed into the centre of Florence with an atmosphere like a charity 5k or something like the Ballycotton “10”. The race is insanely well supported  by the villages along the route (you could realistically run it with no food/water as there is an aid stop every 5km).

Now, all that said, I came home in 12:06 so I know I have some unfinished business to roll the clock back to 11:xx but I think I’d need someone supporting me (almost everyone has a bicycle buddy or the long suffering spouse in a car crewing for them).

Before I try again I want to rack up some races where I’m not sweating like a nun in a field of cucumbers from the starting gun so maybe some winter ultras or a nice small marathon or two…….famous last words.

Short Update

The hiatus here hasn’t been for any catastrophic running or life changing reason (like dropping dead during an ultra marathon) but only because the number of plates I’ve had to spin in the last month makes me fit to qualify as a circus performer. (I’d like to think ringmaster but I suspect clown is what you’re thinking).

I have a half formed race report in the drafts folder of this blog that I am working on getting finished but if you can’t wait for that the race goes like this:

Running 100km fat adapted is possible and the final 50km are very comfortable with no muscular fatigue or gastric distress (i.e. I felt good for the last 50km). That said, an ultra-marathon in the Italian heat and the festive atmosphere of 2,500 fools that speak no English can make the first 50km quite stressful (i.e. I didn’t feel good for the first 50km)

I finished about 47 mins faster than last year so that was a “job done” but the stress of the first 50km meant that I didn’t have the euphoria that normally comes with completion.

The fitness paid off with the improved time meaning that I achieved a top 20% finish (still in the 400-500th placed)

Recovery was rapid with a few days of DOMS (sore legs) and then I was fine. I still have plenty of the fitness left over from the training cycle but as my holidays are looming I don’t know what to do with it.

If I could wrangle a mid-distance ultra in September from my wife I could close the year happy but that involves a commitment to a short training cycle which means avoiding booze and swapping food for magic coffee over the summer – neither normal nor social.

More later