My training has reached a stage where the long runs are as much a test of my boredom threshold as they are of endurance. There are only so many ways to run 22 miles.
To counteract the boredom I’ve embarked on a few races recently to make the running more interesting. This is one of two reports in quick succession to fill you in on these less boring long runs.
Performance in these races wasn’t so much about pace but more about seeing where we are on a whole load of other things. Has the dog walking done any good? Am I fat adapted? Do press-ups make any difference?
I picked the Slivenamuck marathon on the basis that it cost €10.00 to enter and was a “turn up, pay your money and run” sort of event that attracted about 50% runners and 50% walkers.
The only negatives to the race were that it was held on Palm Sunday (the clocks were adjusted meaning that I had one less hour in the scratcher) and that it was a trail marathon. Still, at €10 and only an hour from my front door I couldn’t pass it up.
The course is a figure of eight that starts and finishes in the middle of the 8 and runs across the slievenamuck mountain ridge and offers great views of the Glen of Aherlow and the Galtees. The race is organised by the Galtee walking club and in a score out of 10 for course marking these guys would get an 11. They get 100 two gallon bucket lids and mark them with big black arrows and put them out all over the course. Idiot proof and reliable – just what I needed.
The main aim of this run was to see how my bulletproof coffee/fat adapted approach to long runs was going and to see how long I could go before I thought I might need some additional fuel.
The race kicked off at 09:00-ish and was one of those “have fun and don’t forget your common sense” race briefings and off we went.
The route (on the map) was one where it looked pretty flat – once you’re on the ridge it seemed to just follow the contours. As I plunged down a steep hill in the first mile I realised that I may have misjudged the elevation gain/loss of this race. A review of the Garmin at the end showed about 1,100m of climb/drop over the whole marathon distance.The start, approximate half way and finish were all at the same point so there was no overall gain but the pain in my upper quads at the end of the race attested to the climbing.
In my head I broke the race down into two parts – the first 20 miles and then on to the finish. This was mainly based on my running on fat approach and I felt confident that I could make 20 miles on the magic coffee and after than it would be a case of sucking and seeing.
The first 13 mile loop was one where I couldn’t really find my stride. I found myself racing against some of the half-marathoners and my complete lack of trail running in nearly 18 months was becoming very apparent as I struggled with the terrain.
As the half way point came around and some of the full marathoners stopped at their cars to refuel or change gear and the half marathoners high fived each other I found myself alone and happy at last to find my own pace. I did reflect that I seemed to have turned into one of those linear functioning aspergery types who can’t make small talk during a race but on reflection I think this was more because I didn’t consider it to be a race and so was quite happy to slip back into my own world.
My pace was checked by the strong westerly wind, the climbing and the slippery conditions (street shoes) so even though I was on my own it was more because of the uninterrupted plodding rather than speed of any sort.
Miles 13 to 18 went by with no surprises and I found myself on my own for all of it. There was a period of a few minutes where I was in visual contact with one or two others but, as I found out at the end, they faded back due to a fall (leading woman) and cramp.
Miles 18 – 22 took the race off the hills, down through a farm and down towards the Aherlow river and past Moore Abbey near Galbally. I had been grabbing water as I went until this point and as the riverside section of the race ended and an almost vertical climb back up the hill commenced I had a spectacularly slow 17:30 mile. I used this hill slog to munch down some jelly beans. This was more as an insurance against a potential bonk over the last few miles than any great need for them.
At the end of the vertical climb I bumped into a half marathoner who looked lost and gave me a confusing story about running past the halfway point and not stopping. I set him on his way and followed along behind him.
Around mile 24 the relentless climbing was forcing me to walk the up hills but by this stage I felt I had achieved what I’d set out to do (push the training on over 22 miles and see how it felt on the magic coffee) so I wasn’t too worried.
From the shoe marks in front of me I had guessed that I was in 4th or 5th place in the race at this stage and hadn’t passed anyone since the half way stage (nor had I been passed) and I was happy with this sort of result.
As I power walked up past the Glen of Aherlow Lodge I saw one arrow pointing down a small lane way and was tempted to take it as the directions had been 100% correct up to this point. As I considered this arrow I realised that it was the 1 mile marker from the start of the marathon so I decided to skip it and push on up the hill towards the finish.
The last mile was uneventful except for some sudden breaks into power walking based on being mentally finished with the race rather than exhaustion and I crossed the line in 4hrs 19 mins.
Then came the biggest surprise of my running career to date: I called into the tent to collect my completion cert and the nice lady from the Galtee Hill Walkers looked up at me and smiled and said – you came second.
I was quite chuffed with this but was a bit puzzled about this because I had guessed that there were 4 or 5 in front of me. As I ate my slice of finishers cake it all became clear. My podium finish was less due to being the second fastest person over the course but rather by being able to stick to the course. About 2 or 3 of the people in front of me had taken the wrong turn at mile 25 and came in with an extra mile or two under their belts.
All in all it was a good day out. The race had helped me notch the long run up as far as the marathonand over 4 hours and it tested the magic coffee over the distance – it performed well even if I did fall back on some jelly beans out of fear of a bonk.
I made it back home, got a bit of a shrug from my wife, got the puzzled look from my kids as I didn’t have a silver medal (my prize was a copy of the route map) and was back on dad duty in no time.
There was no real recovery to talk of – I up for work at 04:30 the next day and was back running on the following Tuesday – a 1 day break.
I was happy with this resilience and took it as a positive sign.
I have two main anxieties now before my late May appointment with the mountains of Tuscany: How do I stay fat adapted for a race that starts at 15:00hrs in the afternoon and have I peaked too early with my training? Two months is a long time to keep the mind and body focused on a race that further expansion of training will only produce marginal improvements and might bring the reality of injury into focus.
Still, to bastardise L.P. Harley,the future is a foreign country, they do things differently there.