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

Speed Wobble

Before we start this post – a bit about the title.

A speed wobble  – also called a tank slapper – is a motorcycle racing term that refers to the a sudden loss of control where the front end (the handle bars and front wheel) decides to snake and squirm. It often occurs when you hit a bump in the road. It’s called  a tank slapper because the ends of the handlebars slap off the tank in a fairly violently.

There are two outcomes from a fast speed wobble – instantaneous death or straight back into the race. All you can do is hang on.

My trip to Italy starts today with a Ryanair bird of freedom to one of the Milans (there are at least three Milans when you think about airports) and then  200 miles tonight in a Fiat Panda.

How will the race go?

Well, let me recap my two weeks of taper and you can decide.

About 10 days ago I started by tapering the mid-week runs to 7-8 miles by cutting back  a mile of hills. I did the last long run – 20 miles – last Saturday in full race gear and race fuel.

Over the weekend I put in two decent dog walks of about 4-6 miles each and did my coaching bit for the local Soccer club on Sunday. I think I did the garden as well (as an excuse to not clean the house). None of this was in any way unusual from anything I’ve done since January.

On Monday I went out for another 7 mile run to keep the aerobic fitness ticking over and to keep the nerves at bay.

After a mile and a half I stopped and walked home.

My right ankle, and in particular the outside of the calf, had a tightness in it that was not responding to my usual “t’is grand, keep going” approach to soreness. In other words – this one didn’t feel good.

Since then I’ve stayed away from running and have felt the pains of a man on the cross in both feet and legs. I’m around long enough to know that most of these are just taper pains and they’ll go once the endorphins kick in. The pain in the calf was one that felt like something baaaad was about to happen. A tightness before a SNAP!

On Monday evening I’d have put my chances of getting to 10km into the race at about 40%. Today I’d put that at 80% but will I finish? How will this speed wobble go?

I’m trying my best (and failing) to be sanguine about it. The timing of it is the main issue; I haven’t over trained and have stayed within my limits at all times. If it happened a month ago or even two weeks ago I’d have put it down to over training or wearing shoes past their sell by date but this was a situation where the shoes had been replaced on time, the body was listened to and the engine was never allowed to overheat.

And therein is the problem: everything has gone well. If the race on Saturday was a disaster I could at least walk away from it knowing that I had given it my best and it was just beyond me. As it stands now it looks like I will (at best) be in for a long day of hobbling.

All I can do is hang on and hope that this speed wobble ends well and it’s not the ending from the Sliver Dream Racer.



This will probably be my penultimate post before my race on the 30th May in Italy (race is an ultra running term for a long picnic).

Since I had my special moment with the bats (check out the last post) I’ve had a reasonably decent run of things on the training front. I did go through a bit of a crisis that I’d peaked too early with my races in early April but as an american would say I got my shit together and got with the programme.

I’ve had a fat adapted long run every week in every type of weather possible from mickey shrinking freezing horizontal rain to sweaty arse crack summer weather which if it does nothing else it builds mental strength. For someone like me with varying levels of commitment to my cobbled together training plans the ability to haul my ass out of bed on the weekend and to head out the door for 20+ miles is an achievement in itself.

I’ve been able to knock out 7 – 15 mile runs with hills in between my LSRs  so my aerobic fittness is in decent shape as well.

If I think back to my post at the start of the training cycle about trying to develop areas of training that are not just running I think things have gone as well as I could have expected.

The whole idea of the training is to make sure that you can make it to the 60% stage of the race without feeling like a dog’s dinner (a dog’s dinner is where you have a full, sloshy stomach, no appetite, no energy, no sense of humour and heavy legs). If you can do this then you will do yourself justice and if not enjoy the experience then at least have good memories of it.

Barring some catastrophe in the next 9 days I should make it to the starting line without any injury – that’s more than I can say for last year. I’ve learned to run in the heat which, while it will make little or no difference in the early Tuscan summer, will at least stop me panicking over the first 40km of the race. I’ve lost a bit of weight – about 3kg – it’s not much but I lost it by reducing my carb intake and dropping the booze which have benefits of their own (don’t get too worried – I’ll be back on both of them about 10 minutes after the race is over).

This next bit is pure ultra running wankology:

I’ve up-regulated my fat metabolising mechanisms so that I’m able to go long on empty. Wanky, isn’t it?

Basically it means that I can run for a long distance without needing much food and the food I do need is mainly fatty and not carby – less gels and more fat. The best thing about this is that it gives a much more even energy release and there is less gastric anxiety. My plan is to keep to this ketogenic fuel source for as long as I can and to introduce carbs as I need them with some other energy from fats as well (as the old saying goes – men plan and God laughs).

The new shoes have also paid dividends and apart from their worrying lack of durability – worrying for my wallet – that they show they have done their job.

I was able to sneak in another marathon on the 9th of May. It was just down the road and at only €20 to enter it fitted the bill for a decent long run. There were only 32 runners lining up for it but we had a great send off from the World 50k walking champion (Rob Heffernan) who sent us on our way.

The run was fine – completely on empty with about 750ml of water over the full distance. I crossed the line in 3:50hrs and some seconds and collected a medal which my kids were delighted with.

What made the run really enjoyable was not having to run it on my own  – after the first two miles of resigning myself to living inside my own head for the best part of 4 hours the woman running in front of me stopped and shouted back at me: Are you going to hang back there or catch up?

I duly caught up and It took me a mile or so to work out who she was – if you click back to this post you’ll realise that she wasn’t new to the whole running scene.

I had one of the best runs of my life – sharing stories about running and life.  Think about two drunks wasting an afternoon in a pub solving the problems of the world – some wisdom but mainly bullshit. She was training for a 72 hour adventure race and if it wasn’t for the need to get back to my family after the run I’d have kept running for another few hours.

When I got home from the marathon my wife and kids gave me the look that said I was starting too many sentences with the words “Col said………”


I was out for a twilight 10 miler last week – one of those midweek runs that starts fine, gets bad and then finishes well (mainly because of food/tiredness issues).

This is my usual run where you start in suburbia, run out into the countryside to catch a few hills and then turn around and head home. The good/bad/amazing phases of these runs follow a predicable pattern; a mile of feeling like the six-million dollar man, 2 miles of feeling like you’ve put diesel in a petrol car, a full stop for a tactical wee and a breather (as I swap out the batteries) then 2 or 3 miles of a slow recovery and then feeling like the six-billion dollar man as I bounce home on my forefeet and (in my head) shaved hours off my ultra marathon PB.

I just made it back to pavements and street lights as it got dark enough for a motorist to get acquitted for dangerous driving having killed me.

The last few miles are along the old railway line in Blackrock. It’s where all the best athletes do their training (Rob Heffernan, Lizzie Lee, Jan Uzik, Me………..) and where most of the dogs do their shitting.

The railway line is unlit and it was empty and just dark enough for the dog walkers to be at home and the doggers not having made it out yet. I had the place to myself.

Everything was perfect. The air was cool, my systems were all working in harmony (probably looked like a new born giraffe to a passer-by) and all I could see in the twilight were the pipistrelle bats swooping and looping around my head.

I closed my eyes and thought – if this is as good as it gets then this training cycle has been a good one.

The next run was a 20 miler in the pouring rain on Saturday morning. I was alone for that run as well but that was more because most people (and bats) were smart enough to realise that a long run in the heavy rain is only for the stupid.