Sunday, February 28, 2010

Notes On A Long Run

  • While causing no harm this time out it may hurt eventually if you continue to jump in front of cars...
  • On the topic of paying attention to surroundings - watch where you're feet are landing so that you don't go over on an ankle with over 99% of a run done.
  • If you're not wearing dark shorts don't put your sweaty hat down the front of them - it leaves a fierce suspicious stain...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Race Report #38 - And then there was one

Another Sunday, another field in some random county in Ireland to run around, thanks to the bizarre racing calendar that is the Irish one. Each year there are four different National Cross Country titles up for grabs, in four different locations, in four different months. This year they've been in Kilbeggan (Westmeath), Coleraine (Derry), Boyle (Roscommon) and in two weeks time the final one is in Dublin. At the end of it all I'll have taken part in three of them. And people wonder why the participation levels are so low in all these National races. They can't seriously expect everyone to travel to all these races every year?!

I'll save my moaning about the race calendar for another day, even though I do love a good moan. Yesterday's 10km (*cough* 7.5km *cough*) took place in the aforementioned Roscommon. I have some West of Ireland prejudices about the weather and was convinced it was going to be wet and cold. The fact that the course was in the middle of a forest, beside Lough Key, didn't help to play down these fears. Throw in the fact that there were going to be three adult races us and countless kids races (I'm convinced they only hire these kids for the day to dig up the course) on before us and I was, without doubt, prepared for the worst course imaginable.

When we got there (no rain or snow in sight) and found out that there was going to be 7 laps of the course (1 small and 6 long) I decided to do away with the lap of the course to see what it was like. Sure wouldn't I find that out easy enough on one of the numerous? I found my way to the local establishment that served coffee and chilled there until around 50 minutes before my race was due to begin. Then it was the usual pre-race routine - Attach number to singlet (Some wise guy decided to put me on the county team - no pressure there then!), jog around the forest trails, come back to bag, spikes/shorts/singlet on, few strides, line up, race.

I can't say the start of my race was as nonchalant as last week's. With so many people bustling about the place its hard to just sit in and relax into the race - some people are going too slow, some are zipping by and weaving in and out. I went for the weaving technique myself, keeping my eyes on people ahead that I knew I should be up around. One lap in and I started to move - six times up and down the hill to go. Too my relief/surprise there were only two areas that were churned up and they weren't getting that much worse with hundreds of people trampling all over them. The laps were going by so quickly that it's hard to differentiate one from the other. They all followed the same theme really. Pass people on the hill going up, run down fast and try not to fall with gangly legs going everywhere, try catch people on the next straight, round the bend, through the mud, avoid people losing shoes, feel knackered, another straight to work on, more mud, Up the hill...

With four laps to go I remember feeling absolutely knackered and thought that I was going to have to sit in and just get around the remaining 6km. I decided to concentrate on my stride for a bit and gradually I caught up with those in front. Once I moved past them, the tiredness left and I was motoring again. The fact that one of that group had finished ahead of me a few races back probably spurred me on more and I tackled the hill again.

The problem with moving through the field is that you never know how many people actually stay with you. Coming down the hill for the last time I was saying to myself that there was only 600m to go, to just stay with it. Slowing down at all now could easily cost 5 places. As we went around the bend and through the mud for the last time one guy went by me to my left. There were now three a few metres ahead. As the line came into view someone went flying by my right hand side.
This could cost me a county medal. Here we go again... another poxy sprint finish.
Coming out of the mud the last time someone on the sidelines calling out positions had said I was in 33rd. That fast lad zipping by pushed me into 34th. Nothing to do but grit teeth and run to the line. 31st. No idea if it was enough for a county medal because I have no clue who was on the county team. Without seeing the county team I'd imagine I was the 8th/9th/10th from my county home which wouldn't have been enough to score.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Race Report #37 - Like Buses

"Coming through with two laps to go is number 123, Private*, leading the Liffey Valley charge"
Too right I am. Grrrrr.... CHARGE!!!

After the two ladies in the local shop gave me a free coffee an hour before the race I knew that today was going to be my day. On the warm-up however, I felt flat and a simple jog around seemed to be taking more out of me than it should. I only threw in 2 stride outs before making my way to the line because there was just no spark at all there. With only three minutes until the start I decided to just get to the line and settle down rather than forcing out any more strides.

The route for the race was 1 small lap and 5 large ones, approximately 10km. The ground under foot was perfect and in the end I don't think there was a bit of mud anywhere on me. You'd nearly have been able to race in flats. There was one short, sharp, steep hill at the end of every large lap that was going to be testing, but other than that it was totally flat. My race plan was to take it handy for the first small lap, with a goal to come away with 3 good laps at the end. That's exactly how the race started out - the pace at the front didn't go off particularly fast so I was able to sit in the middle of the pack and still be only a few seconds off the lead group. Not that what was going on up front was ever going to concern me.

One small lap done and I was in 17th place. I noticed someone right in front of me start to up the pace and decided that he must have had the same plan as me, so I decided there and then to stick with him. On the first large lap I stayed right on his tail and covered every move he made, every person he went by, I went by. Down at the lower level of the course he made a move to go by someone I knew had easily beaten me by over a minute in every cross country race this year. I decided to back myself in this situation and went with him. Then we took on the hill in for the first time. It took a lot out of me and I felt drained about 200m after the hill. I tried to work off the guy right ahead but he started to edge clear and eventually he paired up with another guy and they got well clear of me.

Feck it. I've forced it to early. Now I'm in limbo with 4 laps to go and I'll be going backwards in no time.

The only thing for it was to regain composure on the flat. I got my breath back and started to work again. I could feel a gap opening up from me to the person behind me but I was way out of touch with the next guy ahead. After a while I spotted the two in front had caught another runner and spit him out the back - there was now someone for me to aim for. With three laps to go I'd caught him and edged past. For the next lap I could hear him at my heals the whole way around. I don't know if there's a worse feeling than passing someone only to have the re-pass you again within minutes. That fear was enough to force me to put in a bit of a spurt to get somewhat clear of him. With two laps to go there was about 20 metres to my next target.

Two laps - it has to be no more than 3,000m, 10 minutes running. Dig in and run

It took me the full lap to make up them 20 metres. About 200m into the last lap I pushed to go by him. The fact that I knew the guy and had never been in such close proximity to him in a race meant there was no way he'd go without a fight. I was right. About 1 minute later he burst past me on the lower flat. My initial reaction was that with him being a better racer than me that there was no way now I could get back past him. In the run up to our last jaunt up the hill there was only a couple of metres between us. "Every place" was getting screamed at both of us. As we turned into the finishing straight I burst past with this new kick I've been discovering in recent races. I wasn't to know that he didn't go with it and I just kept sprinting to the line, with no one around me, where I promptly lay flat on back, absolutely shattered.

I've no idea how accurate the measurement of the course was. The race was meant to be 10km, it sure as hell felt like 10km. More than likely it was slightly short but I'm still smiling at the end time - 33m 26s. That and the fact that the team picked up a bronze medal, my first medal to date.

*Obviously the announcer did not call me Private!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Big Six

When I set my plans for this spring I picked one race that I wanted to work towards. I wanted a race that would fall two or three weeks after the last cross country race of the season and a race that was either 10km or 10 miles. Both of these are distances where I'd like to think that coming off the back of a rake of cross country races I'd do some damage to my current best times. As luck would have it the National Senior Cross Country falls on the date that would usually be occupied by the Ballycotton 10 mile race. That meant that the Ballycotton 10 had to be shifted to two weeks later - the perfect date for this guy.

Now here we stand a little less than six weeks to the race and what a hectic six weeks I have in store. Only two of the Sundays between now and B-day are race free. Three cross country races fill up the other Sundays, with the first a 10km this coming Sunday. I'll have the spikes out again the following week for another 10km slog. Finally, 2 weeks later I'll have my longest ever cross country race to date, a 12km race in the Phoenix Park. A lot of time is going to be spent recovering from each race, while trying to prepare for the next. All the real hard work has already been done. My recent mileage doesn't compare to anything I've ever done before - including the build up to the last marathon. From here on in it is really just going to be a case of ticking along and not killing myself by doing speedwork sessions on knackered legs. Counting races, long runs and speedwork sessions there's probably less than 10 tough workouts that I'll put myself through between now and toeing the line in Ballycotton.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Big Cave In

"Could I get some lambs liver please? Enough for one person."
Two or three slices then.
"Uhm I suppose so"
Sure you're a big fella. I'll give you four
"ehhhh. Thanks? So what's the best way to cook this then so that it doesn't taste like liver?"
You don't like liver? Liver's lovely.
"I haven't eaten it since I was a child and I don't think it'll be much better now than I remember."
Just dip it in flour. Stick it on the pan and cook it one minute each side.

Jaysus. One minute. It's bad enough that I'm going to eat liver, but now it turns out that I have to eat the damn thing raw...

One bite was all it took for the childhood memories to flood back. A chunk of baby courgette was used a chaser. This was a tad different to how 10 year old Private used to deal with the weekly liver dinner. Every inch of every piece of liver used to be smothered with tomato ketchup before it entered my mouth. Then every piece was followed up with a few mouthfuls of whatever else was on my plate until the taste of liver had subsided. Then it was back to the liver for another bite. Repeat until liver gone. This was the tactic I went for yesterday. Although, much like when I was a child, the rest of the dinner was finished while still a big chunk of liver remained. As a child there'd be four of sitting at the table, each staring at one lump of liver, refusing to eat it, and not being let leave the table until it was all finished. What felt like hours would pass, tears would eventually arrive and promises of deserts when it was all gone were made. No desert could make eating the rest of the liver worthwhile. Yesterday as I stared down at the last remaining slice of liver on my plate I felt myself starting to well up. Then suddenly I remembered that I had bought the liver, I had cooked the liver, and that I was sitting at my table in my apartment. With that I picked up the remaining liver and threw it in the bin....

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A line has to be drawn somewhere

... while we're on it, you should be eating liver as well.
I'm not too sure about that.... I eat red meat a few times a week
Liver. Once a week
To be honest I wouldn't have a clue what to do with it.
Is there a butchers near you?
Close enough.
Well, you go to the butchers and ask him for three strips of liver.
It'll cost you 80 cents.
You take it home.
You wash it.
You stick it under the grill and cook one side.
Flip it over and cook the other side.
Stick it on a plate and eat the fucking thing.

No, no, no and no

Monday, February 1, 2010

Race Report #36 - Road Glorious Road

If a better day exists for racing then I've sure as hell never seen it in Ireland. Wind was minimal, temperatures were above 'cold' and there was a blue sky with an honest to God sun up there. A perfect day and I felt in great nick walking around. No excuses (although I had some lined up just in case!). As CR said "Just get out there and run".

Having not raced a 5 Mile race in just shy of 2 years I had no recent times to try beat. A goal of 27 minutes was in my head but there was no pressure on this. I was going to run, trust in the training, and trust in the miles and the mud I'd put in over the last few weeks. I've never trained as hard as the past month, never felt as fit or as strong, so there was no way in my mind that this wouldn't work out. The plan was quite simple - ease into the race. Go off easy for the first 600m or so and then start to work. By Mile 1 be racing. A simple plan that couldn't be messed up...

Singlet on. Short shorts on. Racing flats on. Strides done. Heart beating. Nerves non-existent. Bring it.

The first minute or two went as I'd wanted them to. Bit by bit I started to progress through the field trying to find the group that was going to drag me to a fast time. Even going "slow" over the first half of the first mile it still worked out being the fastest mile of the lot. I latched onto a group that seemed to be moving and we passed through the first mile mark with some shouting "five eighteen, nineteen, five twenty". Bang on 26.40 pace - probably a bit faster than I could achieve but nothing that was going to cause me to change the way I was running. You can't get shock results if you're holding back from achieving something that'll shock you.

The second mile involved some more weaving and group changing as I continued my march forward. This mile went on... and on... and on. So much so that I'd convinced myself that I hadn't seen the marker. Maybe as it was the only mile that we had what little breeze there was in our faces it made it feel that bit longer. Again there was someone shouting splits. No idea what they were but I recall realising that I was out of the 26.40 pace. Probably onto a more realistic 27 minute pace. At this stage I was involved in a group that I knew contained at least three, including myself.

For the next while we each injected some pace into proceedings but no one was getting dropped. For the first time in an age I felt like I was involved in a race. Each move being made by one of us was covered by the other two. No one was giving an inch. The next group ahead seemed out of reach so I just focused on what I was doing in my own little race. As we ran along the coast the pace seemed ridiculously fast - the kind of pace I'd run a 1 minute interval in, not the kind of pace I'd run 27 minutes in back to back. My legs were getting heavy but my breathing and control was good. On countless occasions on this stretch I thought I was gone but still I was managing to keep up with two lads. I knew that the turn off the coast road went up a small hill. My turn to make a move. Surge up the hill and see if they'd go with me. Mile 4 done. The time called out meant I'd have to run around a 5:10 to last mile to get 27 minutes. Not going to happen. Just concentrate on the tussle at hand now.

The last mile of this race is horrible for someone who has never done it before. The course seems to do a full square around the finish, so while you can't see it, you can hear the loud speakers for a few minutes. It's a horrible feeling when you keep turning corners, hoping to see a finish line, instead being greeted by another corner a few hundred metres ahead. With no idea how long was left I just had to go by feeling. As we turned the corner at the top of the last hill it turned out that my move at the foot of the hill was pointless as the two guys went by me. At this stage I was giving it my best to just hang in as best I could. Then, I don't know how, with about 600m to go I went to the front of the two guys and started to put my foot down. Soon someone shouted that there was 400m to go and really started to push it. This was getting fairly uncomfortable but I knew there was only just over a minute to go so I could handle it. I knew the two guys were close because someone at the side was encouraging one of them on. With the last corner turned and the finish line in sight I sprinted like I didn't know I could. Such a sprint that I narrowed the gap on the nearest guy ahead of us to 2 seconds!

I crossed the line with a finishing time of 27.25 but more importantly with the sense that I had raced, that I been involved in a battle that I came close to quitting but overcame, and that I was finally moving again.