Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'm not a celebrity.... but I'll stay

Another Christmas day of binging has come and gone. I think the vast amounts of turkey, chocolates and alcohol are going to be in my system for months to come. A gentle jog may be in order I think.

As I mentioned in the last post Father Running Private brought the family on a sun trip for a christmas holiday. Well, it turns out that somehow he wangled us onto an exclusive resort. I'm not sure how, and I'm asking no questions... A few days back I went out for a light 8 miler around the resort and noted that the workers and security all seemed to be staring at me as I passed them. The longer I went on they began smiling, nodding and waving at me. Generally they wouldn't look at you as you walk by them, they'd just continue whatever they're doing. That's when I realised it... they think I'm a somebody. Unfortunately no, no I'm not, I'm just an I.T. lad from Ireland with an unhealthy passion for running.

Since I've been here I've only run the couple of times. The Sunday long run proved fairly difficult as it was the first run over here and I was going from running in 4 degrees to 28 degrees celcius in less than a few days. At the start I didn't think I had it in me to finish it but one thing that has definately come about in the past year is that I'm now a much stronger runner and training sessions that I would have dropped out of a year ago seem to be a thing of the past.

With that I'm off to catch the last of the day time sun and get my jog on before getting back to some Stephen's day football on TV. This really is living.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Goodbye Cold!

Wahey! Today is finally here. The last day I have to run in the cold, winter climate of England for 2 weeks. This time of year I generally end up back in Ireland so the weather change wouldn't be really noticeable, but not this year. This year Father running private is "dragging" the family on a sun holiday.

Instead of layers on top and running tights it's back to small vests and short shorts. Trying to stay warm and avoiding ice on the road is to be replaced by staying to stay hydrated. Maybe finally this cold and snottiness I've been putting up with for the past month will finally disappear... I can't wait, roll on the first run in the sun.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Races of the year

2007 proved to be a good year for me and races. I did more than any year to date and as always some went well, some went... uhm... not so well and others went better than planned. Then there were the races that I actually enjoyed for more than just my performance, but the atmosphere of the crowds, location, the course itself and conditions.

In all I competed in 13 races in four different countries. The majority took place in France, with one in the Netherlands, then a few in Ireland before the marathon and finally my last race of 2007 which took place in England. Picking out the favourites is going to be difficult as obviously I'm inclined to go for the ones I performed better in even if there was no atmosphere at all to the race. There should be more races taking place in 2008 than 2007 so this list could be a bit more difficult next year.

Anyway here goes, in no particular order, other than by date...

1. Half Marathon -Les Pyramides - La Grande Motte (France)
Pluses:
a) The course is extremely flat
b) The route goes along the beach on its way out
c) Then runs along a river on the way back
d) I got my half marathon PB and finally realised that I could sustain a decent pace in a race
Minuses:
a) Along the river bed was gravel so it slowed you down a bit and also felt really weird when you came back onto the road

2. 15miles Mendes/ Marvejols (France)
This race I went to just to take part rather than to race and I had great fun doing it. Its a point to point race between the towns of Marvejols and Mendes in the Lozere. The elevation is a big f**k off climb up a mountain, than back down it, before heading up again and coming down into Mendes. Great fun altogether! At the bottom of the first climb some kind soul had painted "Bienvenue á l'enfer" (Welcome to hell) on the road!

The crowds for this race were out in force and were absolutely brilliant. At the top of hills were bands playing all sorts of weird traditional French music and both sides of the road were filled with people for the final mile into Mendes.

3. 6.6k - La ronde nuit - La Grande Motte (France)
Positives:
- Evening race at the end of the summer so the weather was absolutely ideal for racing
- First race I took place in in the dark
- Totally flat, great road, really fast.
- I finished one second behind a lad who beat me in the same distance by over 2 minutes in the first race of the year.
- Oh, and it was free... nice...
Negatives:
- None really

4. 10miles Rathcoole (Dublin, Ireland)
Not the greatest race in the world but I managed to run really well considering that a bouncer gave me a dead leg the week before. I've done this race a few times, its a tough enough course but one that you feel great after completing. It's a shame as the race isn't going to take place in 2008. Hopefully it'll be back again soon.

5. Dublin Marathon (Ireland)
Uhm... I took 19 minutes off my 2006 effort... enough said!

Race Report #0: Cross Country Debut

Well, just like that my cross country cherry has been popped. I'm fairly pleased with how it all went - more so now that I've seen the results than when I actually finished.

The course itself was described as relatively easy compared to other cross country courses. This has now put the fear of God into me about the courses in the new year! It comprised of 3 laps around a park and woodland, with the first lap a large lap that differed from the last two. All in all it was around the 5 mile mark. Weather wise, we were blessed with a crisp winter morning. No wind or rain so I was happy enough with that. I chose to wear my under armour cold top under my club singlet and didn't feel too warm or cold at any stage so I reckon I'll go with that again in the next few races.

I arrived at the race point earlier than I needed so I had to walk around a bit to keep myself warm. I got some good stretches in and a decent warm up which comprised of a light jog and a few 50 metre sprints at the end. I then gave myself ten minutes or so of doing nothing before sauntering over to the starting point.

From the off I stayed a few metres of the pace of the lead group of ten. As I'm not really used to this terrain the slight hills we had to deal with caused me a bit of discomfort but overall I'm very happy with the workout it gave me. For the last two miles I could feel myself struggling a bit but dug in as much as I possibly could. I think its the first race I've done that I've been fighting the pain from the start until the finish and even at one stage as I tried (unsuccessfully) to pass someone on one of the hills thought I was going to throw up. Thankfully that uphill ended and I got to coast down the downhill, recomposing myself to try the overtake again.

As I said, I saw the results and times yesterday so found out that I finished less than 2 minutes off the race winner and one of the first from my club home. Now I just have to work on the fitness and some hard training will hopefully start early in the new year. Roll on the next race...

Monday, December 17, 2007

New Shoes Please

With the cross country race coming up I decided I needed a pair of spikes for it. As I've never raced XC before I've never owned spikes before so an exciting shoe shop was in order. As I was heading out I decided to do a mileage count on my old marathon shoes - 553 miles and 26.2 at marathon pace - so a new training shoe was needed as well. Dammit. Not quite the expense I needed coming into Christmas but what you gonna do.

I got myself the trusted pair of Asics Kayano and a pair of New Balance spikes. All I can say is that London ain't cheap! The Kayano were retailing at £115 and I took the cheapest pair of spikes they had as I'll probably only do five or six cross country races this year. To put that into perspective, I've been buying the Kayano at home for €115 (£81). Thankfully the dude gave me a discount as I was a member of one of the clubs in London but I reckon in 3 months time when new shoes are required again the purchase won't be made in London.

I'm bringing XC back

Something I’ve managed to avoid, not purposely, in my years of running is cross country. I’ve always been a road boy, but this weekend this is about to change as I take part in my first cross country race.

As sports were never a big thing in our school when I was younger, the winter mornings of running cross country while the P.E. teacher had a mug of hot coffee to keep themselves warm never happened in my part of the world. We did get a half day every Wednesday under the pretence that it was for sports but this never really happened. I think I played a bit of table tennis for a year or so on the Wednesday afternoons until I decided it more fun to take the half day.

That means in the 2 years I’ve been competitively and the 3 years of jogging before that I never once got to run around in the mud. I don’t really know what I’m letting myself into either. I have images of losing shoes in mud, trying to climb hills but sliding back down and just slipping in the home straight. It is not just my first cross country race, but my first race in London, my first for the new club so I want to make a decent impression and that impression be for the right reason.

This is also the first race back post marathon. I’ve only just started speed work this week so I’m not expecting too much from the race. If anything I should finish strong rather than fast. There’s absolutely nothing to lose in a race like this so I think I’ll take a few chances, such as start with the front runners and stay up front for as long as possible. If I feel good after a mile or so has passed (the course should be around 5 miles) I’ll up the tempo again. I’m pretty much going to go with what my legs feel like – no watch, no aims, no pressure, just run.

Wish me luck…

Update Frenzy

Well my internet connection decided to disappear on Wednesday evening so I've been very low key of late. This wouldn't be a huge problem if I wasn't an website developer free lancer!

Anyway I'm back now and chuffed to realise that I have over 200 mails telling me about new wonder drugs that can increase my length in 2008....

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What I Miss About France

The glaringly obvious answer from someone who has gone from living in the South of France to London has to be the weather. But that's not exactly what I have an issue with, well it kind of is. Winter is winter no matter what, it's cold and wet. I've never lived in a climate that guarantees snow which used to annoy me no end as a child when you'd get one day of snow every other year, but as an adult I'm all about having no snow. What France had was that cold, crisp winter. You know the ones that have the blue sky, very sunny, yet baltic outside. Here in London we don't quite have that, we have wind, a wind that manages to blow in your face no matter what direction you run, a wind that leaves your fingers red raw by the time you get back to your house. For the past few weeks it's been driving me crazy when I saunter out for a bit of a jog.

The lack of wind in France is something that I'd forgotten about until today. Today when I went out, shockingly, there was no wind. The sky was cloudless and bright blue with the sun shining and I was ever so happy trotting along without that evil wind annoying me at every turn. Granted it was freezing but as I said above, winter is winter and I can deal with the fact that its cold everywhere. That's when I remembered that these were the conditions I'd been training in for the past few winters in France and simply took them for granted. How naive of me to do so. I tip my gloves to you météo of France!

Maybe that's why todays training session went so well. The lack of wind gave me the extra spring in my step, or maybe the bucket of rice I ate last night played its part, anyway the session was a top session. A bit of speed work was getting injected into my training for the first time since the marathon. I wasn't looking forward to it to be honest, but I have to say I'm well happy with how it all went. A few miles around the local park with some fartleks thrown in. As it was the first time back doing them I gave myself ample recovery time and didn't do too many, but hey it's a start.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Expenive, London? No Chance

I'd like to say that I behaved myself completely on the drink front but that's not the case - however I did stay clear of it on the Saturday night, so my night out in London came to a grand total of £2.90! Who said moving to London was going to be expensive?! Then last night I got to my first gig over here and I have to say I was well impressed. I wasn't expecting too much from it but was plesantly surprised by the reworking of a few of his tracks.

Training wise, Week one of the winding back up has been completed and I'm feeling fairly fresh today. I didn't do anything too hectic last week - just a few jogs and a slight long run yesterday. I tried out a new route for the long run - along the canal which is just a stones throw from the house. It's definately a route for some ten milers during the spring months but with the drizzle and wind yesterday it was fairly miserable. For the last few miles I was dying to get home as I had the wind nicely blowing straight at me and the faintest of drizzle in my face. I think I end up running faster in the winter months than the summer as all I want to do is get back to a shower.

This week's mission: Find people to train with!

Friday, December 7, 2007

To drink or not?

Since finishing the last marathon, just over 5 weeks ago now, I've been allowing myself to catch up on all them units of alcohol I'd missed outs in the months prior. In them 5 weeks I've also packed my bags and decided to try out a new country which has added to the socialising (not a bad thing), but has added to the drinking (bad thing). The past 2 weekends now I've said that I wouldn't drink and well, bluntly, I did.

Now as another weekend approaches I'm about to make the same promise again. Although I'm well sure I'll fall short as the majority of my weekend involves me and a pub. First off is tonight. Leinster v Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup which is only on Sky Sports so I have to venture to the pub to see it. Tomorrow night is just a Saturday night out with a crowd but I'm confident enough to say there'll be no drinking at this. Then finally there's Sunday and we're off to see Malcolm Middleton in concert. Hopefully I can play the "it's a school night" card to get away from the bar here. It's going to be tough but sooner or later I have to cut back on the drink.

For the last marathon I was the Perrier King. I had no bother being in a pub and ordering a water but that's changed since I've left the French lifestyle, where there were plenty of non drinkers, to return to Ireland, where a bar tender took great joy in prolonging my order for a water, and then on to England where I swear a barman looked at me as if it was the first time he'd ever heard anyone order a soft drink on Wednesday!

In the world of training though I'm fairly happy with how this week has gone thus far; I'm getting back into some form of routine and today I got to do some speed work for the first time in an age. Wahey! It was only a few 1 minute intervals but I got to start back somewhere.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Lost in London

I'm in a bit of a grumpy mood after today's run. 2 reasons:
  • I think it turned my head cold into a full blown cold (I don't believe in the flu - its just a cold)
  • the group of lads I was out with went a tad faster than planned

I'm relatively new at the club and London for that matter so I don't really know where I am when on the club runs. Actually, it was my first time doing today's route so I hadn't a clue where the hell I was - just following from the back.

Anywho... before we set off I was saying to myself that I hadn't been feeling well and didn't know the route so the best bet would be a 7m 30s tempo. I don't really know what time I run when I'm out by myself for a jog but I'd have a guess at close to 7 minutes a mile. The route we were going to run was roughly 7 miles. So 7m 30s it was to be, maybe 7m 15s. What do I do when they're splitting us into groups? Jump in with the first group of 7 minutes. Not the smartest with how I was feeling but none the less on we went.

Early on one or two of the eight in the group dropped back out of the group and I decided that 7 minutes is probably a fair bit faster than I generally train. We continued on into all areas that I didn't recognise and it being pitch black didn't help much either. The group further dwindled down and all of a sudden I realised there was just three of us remaining in the group and the other two had picked up the pace even more. At this stage there must have been just over a mile until we finished but this didn't matter to me as I had no idea where I was and didn't want to have to race in training to stay up with the two prats. I let them on a head but kept them in sight in the distance but every now and again when they turned a corner I had to sprint to that corner so I wouldn't lose them completely. An impromptu fartlek session if you will.

When we finally finished I was a bit pissed off at the two lads up front for just belting off and leaving this guy on his first time out lagging behind. One of them smugly said it was a constant pace throughout and might have been faster than the others expected - constant my ass! Turns out the 7 minute pace that I thought was too fast for an easy jog was in fact 6m 30s at times, so much closer to race pace than an easy pace. One of the other lads who dropped back at 5 miles said afterwards that when a group of guys train together the testosterone kicks in and they love seeing people drop off the back. That's called a race lads!! Training should be just that - the last thing I want is to leave my hard work at training instead of at races. The lesson has been learnt in any case. Until I need to do a tempo run I'll stick with the 7m 15s crowd... at least if they go too fast they'll probably come in at 7 minutes a mile which would be smashing! Rant Over!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Solitary Confinement

I remember reading before that a lot of elite athletes tend not to mingle with people in or around competitions as they're scared of getting sick. In France, where I lived by myself for 3 years, I can barely recall being sick once. Two months in Dublin, starting in September, and I was sick within two weeks and now, after my recent move to London I'm under the weather again. This time I blame my new flatmate who was home from work sick two days last week. Thankfully its just a head cold but the idea of becoming a recluse is getting more and more appealing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Last time out

"Think of it as any other race, just turn up and run. If it doesn't happen, don't worry about, go home get a bag of chips and forget about it" were the words from my coach. In truth, I tried my best to think of the race as any other but it's easier said than done; months of training had been put in, so many sacrifices had been made (abstaining from drink being the main one!) and now everything I had put in was going to be judged in hopefully less than 3 hours of my life.

I didn't talk race times with anyone this time round. In my head I knew in or around what I wanted but I felt safer keeping this to myself. No plastering my wall with projected times, no telling whoever'd listen what I thought I'd do, basically I had an idea in my head what I wanted but no one was going to be told. A projected time was going to be hard in any case as for I start I don't train with a watch - "Running is just one leg in front of the other" - so I never know how long I've been out, what pace I do are any of that lark. I had decided that I'd use the half marathon a few weeks before the marathon as a gauge to what sort of time I could maybe pull off this time round... but no, the gods had other ideas. For the first time in God knows how long the week of the half marathon I was stricken down with a cold which caused me to miss a few days training during the week and I certainly wasn't 100% on race day. In the end I huffed and puffed around the course finishing in what was actually a PB* of 81 minutes.

Preparation for the marathon went fairly well by all accounts looking back at it. There weren't too many long runs in the 3 months up to it. Injuries, I stayed fairly clear of them, although I always tended to have some niggle but then again you always will when you push your body that far. Besides having the cold before the half marathon my health was top notch and I couldn't have a complaint about any of the races leading up to the marathon. Over the summer I jumped in on races whenever I could - from 6km to 12km - and then in the final 2 months leading up to the marathon I think I had a 10 miler, the half and then a 5 miler with 3 weeks to go.

I've often wondered what it is that does be going through say a rugby players mind pre-match when the anthems are playing and tears are rolling down their face. Well, marathon morning I found my own reason for it. What a morning, everything just seemed to be right. There was a clear sky but you could tell there was going to be a breeze around the course. As I listened to the Arcade Fire blare through my headphones while I strolled around Merrion square to the baggage area I felt 100%, I knew this race was going to be MY race, I knew all the work I'd put in was all about to come good, nothing was going to go wrong. All the work I'd done, the months of sprinting on tracks, running in the sweltering heat, the rain, fartlek sessions, long lonely Sunday morning runs, slow runs, tempo runs, it's all for this, and now, now I was here and and I welled up. All I could do was smile at this and continue strolling, looking at the crowds and realising there was nowhere else I'd rather be. I flicked the mp3 player to Los Campesinos and listened to a few of their tracks while stripping off, Vaselining up and stretching before handing everything over to the baggage people and making my way to the starting line.

The start of the marathon was probably the smoothest of any I've taken part in. No tripping, shoving, weaving, and slightly downhill with the breeze to our backs, the ideal start. I got straight into my rhythm from the off. I spied a few lads that I'd noticed from the local club a bit a head of me as the race started so I jogged over to them, said hello and checked what their aims were. Their time was ideal for me but I noticed immediately that they were checking the watch way to frequently for the first 2 minutes of a race, so on I jogged on my todd. The idea of this race was to go with how I felt, no aim meant no watch, so I certainly didn't want to be running with a group that were going with what a watch said rather than what their legs said.

The first half of the race went smooth enough, I paired up with some other runners who were doing the same pace as me and came through the half way mark at just over 1h 23 mins. One of the group I was running with started to pull away from us at around Terenuer college, 15 miles, and I let him be but kept a firm eye on him as I knew I wanted to catch him again. Looking back on the race now I reckon that I stayed at the same pace up until 17 miles or so and then dug in. I don't know if by digging in I actually increased my pace, all I know is that I was really working for them last 9 or so miles.

At this stage I have way too many blanks in my memory, was the experience that bad over these miles that my brain has chosen to shelter me from it?!? I do know that running with a group was no longer possible. I left the English lad I'd been running with from about half way through the Phoenix park - as an aside he tripped at the start and cut his knees and elbows pretty badly so fair f**ks to him for the time he finished in - and was completely focused on catching the wee lad who got away at Terenure. Up ahead was just a line of runners, each must have been seperated by a few metres. As my coach said its just like a line, you just pick one reel him in and then pick another. But it seemed for every person I passed the wee lad passed one too, no matter how fast I moved, he moved that fast too, albeit about 200metres a head of me. Passing two people out on the climb up to Foster's Avenue at 21miles let me know that there was plenty of strength in the legs to get me through the final 5 miles.

As the race came into its final stages I recall one person passing me, I'm not too bitter about that! But my goal of catching the guy who had been my main focus for the past 10 miles came about as we headed for the final lap of Trinity College in the 26th mile. Although what seemed like all of 10 metres later I felt myself fading and had to dig deep for what was just the last few minutes. The wind had been strong through out the course. For the start we were sheltered, but had some strong winds up until half way, before turning at the Walkinstown roundabout so that the wind was at our backs. That lasted a nice 3 or so miles. The last 5 however had been all straight into a blustery wind which wasn't appreciated in the slightest. Every other runner out there had to deal with this wind so I can't really use it as an excuse for fading. I think I'll blame the preceding 25 miles...

At this stage I hadn't seen a clock since the half way point at this race so when a clock was to come into view what it said could have been anything - and with how I felt during the race I wouldn't be disappointed with anything that came up on that clock. As I turned the final corner on Nassau Street to get onto the home straight with 300m to go I got a view of that clock and it gave me a sudden burst of energy like never before. I couldn't tell you who was on that home straight, if I passed anyone, if anyone passed me (they didn't!). 2hrs 46 minutes is what that clock said, TWO HOURS AND FORTY SIX MINUTES!

At the start of this season that time was the ultimate time I was reaching for, the time I never thought I'd actually get. The realistic goal was around 2h50, so to beat that by four minutes was so much better than I could have hoped for. Now, what did I learn from that race? Well, I'm never wearing a watch again when I race that's for sure. Oh and I picked up a bag a chips and a battered sausage on the way home all the same...

*I don't really do many half marathons, in 2007 I did 2 and both were 81 minutes and in years previous I think I've only done 2.