Friday, 9 December 2011

Not rockin' my world

Regular readers of this blog will possibly know I am not keen on the 'Rock n' Roll' marathon concept. Disclaimer: I have never run one and so cannot comment authoritatively; their their prices mean I will never have the opportunity. However, I had always thought they were well organised events for what they were; well the Las Vegas marathon last week was a disaster of epic proportions: CEO and his wife win their age division group with implausible times; mass food poisoning; incorrect medals and people passing out from overcrowding. A news report outlines some of the problems and the Facebook page is alive with recriminations.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Max HR and 2400 test

As Hadd training involves training by HR a max HR test is required before commencing training in earnest. A Hadd HR test involves a fifteen minute warm up, an 800 metre all out effort followed by a two minute rest and a 400 metre all out effort. This test gave me a max HR of 189. Interestingly this is four bpm than the last max HR effort that I did in September.
One of the benefits of Hadd training is the objective biofeedback it provides on each run that over time, I hope, will evidence a trend of increasing pace for the same effort. To help monitor and evaluate progress Hadd prescribes what he calls 2400 assessments every six weeks, with the first at the beginning of training. A 2400 test involves running five intervals of 2400 metres with ninety seconds of complete rest between each interval. Each interval, involves running at a steady HR, increasing by increments of ten bpm. The last and fastest interval should not exceed your potential martathon HR by five bpm; Hadd defines max marathon HR potential as max HR minus 15-20 bpm. It is also crucial that you conduct every 2400 test in similar conditions to prevent prejudicing or doubting the result of successive tests.
On 1 December I completed my first 2400 test and the results were as follows.

1.49m - 13:37(9:08/m) - 134bpm avge
1.49m - 12:39(8:29/m) - 144bpm avge
1.49m - 11:19(7:35/m) - 156bpm avge
1.49m - 10:23(6:58/m) - 165bpm avge
1.49m - 9:28(6:21/m) - 172bpm avge

The point of reference for these tests is the miles per minute pace rather than the time it takes to complete each interval. Hopefully, every six weeks your pace for each 2400 interval should increase for the same HR. The in pace between each interval are 39, 54, 37, and 36, respectively. Interestingly the gap between the second and third interval is significantly wider than the others; consulting with a number of Hadd acolytes this is quite common and indicates that the runner is indeed inefficient at this aerobic effort and should benefit from Hadd training. If the training is effective the gaps between the second and third interval in particular and all to a lesser degree should narrow and of course the pace should increase for the same HR effort. I suppose I'll find out in six weeks.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Hadd training

This year has proven a tough one, redundancy and apparent long-term unemployment, (unless I accept the increasing plethora of money laundering middleman offers I receive from the longer I remain out of work), forced emigration, and two poor marathons. Whatever about everything else I have a definitive plan for getting my running career back on track in 2012. Some years ago a coach began offering advice on He was very conscious of his privacy and did not want those with whom he shared his ideas to have the ability to individually identify him and let that prejudice their attitude to either him or his training approach - sensible man. This coach referred to himself as John Hadd. Hadd's approach is similar to that of Arthur Lydiard; lots of slow aerobic base building miles. His basic argument is that unless you have developed an excellent aerobic base you will compromise your ability to run at a progressively faster pace that does not cross your lactate threshold; eventually if you continue to ignore the aerobic base and train faster than your aerobic base allows for adaptation to appropriately occur you will experience burn out and an increasing dissonance between your shorter race times and your longer race times. To explain his ideas Hadd used the example of 'Joe', a talented athlete who had not runs for years but who wanted to get back into shape and run a personal best for the marathon. Hadd extols the virtues of slow running to allow the development of Mitochondria in the cells that convert glucose to energy. This aerobic capacity building allows you to run faster at all efforts, even where you might never or rarely run at those efforts. The analogy he uses to explain this approach is that of a toothpaste tube; to get all the paste you need to fully and progressively squeeze upwards. If you squeeze only near the top of the tube you will initially get some paste but the remainder will remain in the tube, no matter how hard you squeeze near the tube's top. Consequently in Hadd training there is little or no running of intervals, tempo runs or even marathon paced running. It's not quite as simple as that but generally a Hadd schedule looks something like this: run everyday for at least an hour, where recovery runs do not exceed 75% of max heart rate; two quality workouts each week, preferably on Tuesday and Friday, building up to ten miles at 80% max heart rate; and a long run on Sunday of between two and three hours at recovery pace. As your aerobic base develops you should slowly see your speed increase for all efforts. With time and when you are comfortable doing ten miles at 80% MHR without any cardiac drift or slowing, you can slowly edge the effort for these runs up towards 90% of MHR, which he reasons is the absolute max of HR that an exceptionally well trained runner could run a marathon. The discussion of this training approach in great detail is archived on the Let's run website. A summary of the web forum is also available. This is a summary of the online thread and so is not the best written piece, being somewhat disjointed and repetitive but is well worth the effort. Hadd's untimely death in September revealed his true identity as John Walsh, a Briton based in Malta and founder of the Malta marathon. He insisted on his anonymity and only those who he worked with as coach, gratis, knew his identity, and as a condition of his coaching services they never revealed knowledge of his true identity until after his death. Appropriately his none de plume of Hadd is Maltese for anonymous. Looking at photographs of him it is hard to imagine that the man who looked like the embodiment of Scottish martial prowess and someone whose image you could imagine on a Victorian recruitment poster for a Scottish or Irish regiment could die so suddenly of a heart condition. I am hoping I might do his legacy some homage by making a success of my running in 2012; success in other areas would be nice too, but alas Mr Hadd cannot help me with that.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Harrisburg marathon review

A quick race review of Harrisburg. The race itself was excellent and has enormous PB potential. The volunteers were the best I have encountered anywhere, such that depending on plans for 2012 I would seriously consider volunteering at this race if I am not racing it myself. The course is relatively scenic, especially along the river's edge and the two portions on trail were a welcome change from hard surfaces, but with plenty of traction. The event being less than 1,000 marathon runners is logistically uncomplicated - comparatively, and I love being able to show up twenty minutes before a race to pick up a race number and walk the 200 metres to the start without any fuss or shoving or general air of panic that envelops many race starts. The number pick up is in a heated pavilion adjacent the start and allows you to stay warm minutes before the start. Free coffee was also available for runners and only 25 cents for others. 
The post race bounty is phenomenal; fruit, yogurt, bagels, coffee, and other foodstuffs; only Cologne has come close to this. The medal and tech t-shirt this year were an improvement on what I had seen on the web in previous years and I have already worn the shirt on a slightly chilly day when doing a max HR test this morning. All the above for $60 is excellent value, especially so when you look at the $95 that some half-marathons in Maryland think they can charge. Being unemployed I simply cannot afford that and even were I in employment it would take something really special to get me to shell out that kind of coin, and by special I don't mean the gimmicks that come with 'Rock n' Roll' events; thank goodness for races like Harrisburg. I hope to race this again and significantly improve on my time and do the race and course justice this time.

Harrisburg Marathon 2011

Me about to cross the bridge across the Susquehanna river and towards the finish line.

Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania; it is also one of the largest cities to file for bankruptcy, which it did recently, even making pages of The Economist in a commentary about city finance and the polarisation of US politics. My wife is from the small town of Mechanicsburg which is a few miles west of Harrisburg and so this race was a good way of combining a trip to her parents with a marathon and is only a ninety minute drive from Baltimore. The race has also received consistently excellent reviews from Since adopting a HR approach to my training and using Pfitzinger and Douglas's HR bands, rather than target paces, my training paces have slowed and I had felt better than I have in a while. I felt I had made good progress. A few weeks before the race I did seventeen miles with the final ten miles at 87% MHR; these miles averaged 06:42, this was considerably better than a similar effort a few weeks before that came out at closer to 07:00 min/mile and for an additional percentage point in effort. I had my doubts that I had the aerobic base to maintain 86/87% MHR for 26.2 but resolved to go out at sub three hour pace see how it felt. The race began at 0830hrs and conditions were perfect and I quickly settled into 06:4x pace. However, by mile eight I knew it was not going to be able to maintain the pace and decided that I would forget about sub three, which I always knew was going to be a big ask and backed off to 07:05 pace for the next few miles. During mile ten I had to duck into a port-a-loo and do both a number one and two; this is something I have never needed to do in a race but I did initially feel better for it. By halfway I was not feeling good and the slower pace that was initially comfortable was now increasingly uncomfortable. As we passed the halfway point we ascended up a short sharp climb and I slowed further. My pace was now in the 07:20s and my legs were turning to concrete. This was frustrating as while I thought a sub three pace might be tough to hold I did not think it was suicidal either and I had sensibly backed off after eight miles. By mile seventeen, as we entered the Harrisburg Area Communinity College campus, many runners were passing me. There was a turnaround at this point and the final nine miles would be a double back on much of the first half of the course and many of the runners passing against me, at least half a mile ahead, were previously in the same group that I ran with in the first eight miles; this was not a confidence booster. By now I was doing the maths to calculate at what pace I would need to avoid a personal worst and would have taken 03:15 without any hesitation. The final six miles were something of a death march and runners were going by me in groups of two or three now. By mile twenty-two I resigned myself to a personal worst. My pace was now north of nine minute milling. At mile twenty-five I was about to walk when I heard the shouts of encouragement from my wife, mother-in-law, and friend visiting from Ireland; this prevented me from walking. I tried to increase the pace but any injection of pace never lasted more than a fifth of a mile. I reached the finish mile in 03:23:22; a bit if a disaster. However, I refuse to be too discouraged and have decided upon a reasonable and informed, I hope, plan to rectify my very poor 2011 racing year. Discussion of that will follow in another post shortly.

Harrisburg marathon 2011 by westley1977 at Garmin Connect - Details

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Odyssey: Ragnar Pennsylvania

Shortly after moving here my wife's cousin's husband invited me to participate in a 202 mile relay. The Ragnar relay involves twelve runners, six each in two vans running 202 miles from Lancaster PA to Jim Thorpe PA over thirty-six legs. The relay begins in the city of Lancaster and through the city of Reading, Amish country and a number of small towns. The six runners in each van run consecutively and hand over to the other van, and so each van leapfrogs the other until the thirty-six legs are complete. As the event's website pits it, 'run, drive, sleep?, repeat!'
The race began at 0630 in the dark and cold of Lancaster's Stauffer park. During the second leg we saw the bizarre sight of an Amish woman of at least seventy years talking and running alongside a Ragnar competitor! As 'runner three' in van one my first leg of 8.2 miles began in bright sunshine. I decided to run at sub three hour marathon pace and see how it felt. The first six miles were rolling hills heading east through the town of Strasburg along route 741. The weather was perfect - cool and bright. The first six miles fluctuated between 06:40 And 06:51; a heart rate in the 170s was definitely not ideal for so called marathon pace; it felt more like something between marathon and half-marathon pace. The last two miles were significantly uphill and my heart rate increased into the mid 170s and the pace declined. The average mile splits were 07:02 for 8.24 miles.
When we completed our initial six legs we handed over to the other van and had a number of hours to pass at a high school. Here we had lunch and relaxed for a while in the bright sunshine. My next run, leg fifteen, was through the city of Reading during rush hour, which is the poorest city in the United States; running through this town I could definitely believe it; it reminded me a little of Sheffield where I used to live, except only worse. This leg was 4.5 miles and I ran through some 'interesting' parts of town. It being after 1730hrs the race organisers required that I wear a high viz jacket and head lamp even though it was still quite bright; this did nothing to prevent curious glances and stares from the locals. The legs through Reading were quite confusing and some orienteering skills were definitely advantageous; my teammate Frank D, who completed the leg before me got lost and he and two other runners spent quite an amount of time before they found me at the checkpoint.

Me, ready for the off in America's poorest city.

The first two miles through downtown were tough, the paving here was worse than it is in Baltimore and it felt more like running on a single track trail than through a city centre. The final two miles were up Hill road; never was a road more aptly named! This was two miles of steep hills and my HR went above 90% MHR to maintain close to ten minute milling pace! I saw very few runners on this leg. I did see one ahead of me during the final mile but I could not close him down enough to pass him and I was just glad to hand over to Rick for a further 1.8 miles of climb to the top of the mountain. At the next checkpoint, to cheer Rick in and prepare Linda P to assume running duties from him, is where I first thought of Homer's Odyssey and Odysseus' journey to Ithaca and all the characters he encountered; here Frank D and I encountered an odd character sitting on a walll - half stoner/hippie, half hipster. It transpired he was drafted in at the last moment by a friend involved with the race organisation to manage the checkpoint. He did not have much of an idea of what to do so Frank and I accepted his request for help and gave our advice on how to manage things. He then told us his life story and how his friend knew which pub to find him in earlier that day because since his fiancé left him he's either in the pub getting smashed or in his tattoo parlor, whereupon he proceeded to showcase and explain his fiancé inspired tattoos! Thankfully we got called away to get back in the van so we could provide support for Linda P on her leg!

Soon we were at exchange twenty-four where we could sleep and await the arrival the other van who were running legs nineteen to twenty-four. The sleeping quarters was a school's basketball hall. Not much sleep was had, especially with the bright lights in the hall and the guy snoring who sounded like he was cutting logs with a chainsaw! At one point there must have been well over 150 lying on the floor in sleeping bags.

I am under the bag on the right with the yellow high viz jacket over my head to try and block out the light.

My final leg took place at a little before three in the morning. It began in a small town of McKeansburg. This was a nice little town and the local church was out in force with coffee, cakes and other food they were selling for the church's benefit. Best of all they had a large roaring fire. It was here that Odysseus encountered the last of his monsters blocking the path to Ithaca; a female member of the church struck up conversation with me and expressed with a sharp intake of breath her shock and surprise when she heard Ragnar would run night-time legs through her county; why I hear you gasp - well apparently Schuylkill County has the highest level of DUI in the nation! This is just what you want to hear when you are scheduled to run 3.7 miles in the dark! The final run was the best. I knocked out a hard effort and completed it with average mile splits of 06:28. This felt like 10k pace; last year this was a little slower then half-marathon pace! I did see a surprising number of drivers on this rural but thankfully wide road and none were swerving. For almost all of this I was completely on my own with only the stars above and off to my left the sound of the odd twig breaking; presumably a deer wandering about. Following me was Rick and then a couple of gutsy runs from Linda P, John P and Derrick, who was especially was feeling the affect of his excellent second leg performance.

Campfire where scary stories of DUI drivers were told!

When we completed our final set of runs we proceeded to the finish line and rested for a few hours before welcoming home the remainder of our team in the other van. We all crossed the finish line together in beautiful Autumn sunshine.
In short, a unique and fun experience that really just embraces the joy of running with other people in nice places; for most it is entirely about that rather than times or overt competition. I would certainly relish the honour of running with my eleven other teammates again and our two van drivers, the two Jeffs, who arguably had the harder job of driving, navigating, coaching, cajoling and coralling twelve runners over two days and 202 miles.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

HR max test and fresh perspectives

Of late I thought my training might benefit from the incorporation of heart rate training. I hope that brining this into my training will help me train at the correct intensity and complementarily develop both my aerobic and anaerobic systems. So first things first, I would need to determine my maximum heart rate. There are numerous ways of doing this, some involving scientists and a treadmill. I went for one I found on the Marius Bakken website. My HR max 'target' was 190. Following a fifteen minute warm up I embarked on the first of five one minute intervals. Every minute for the next three minutes I aimed to increase my HR by ten bpm, reaching 180 at the end of the fourth minute. It was getting really tough now. The final minute is an all out effort to get the HR as high as you can. I maxed at 185. This seemed a bit low, considering that last year I saw 190 at the end of 5k; so, I went out in the afternoon and did the 'Hadd' HR test. This involves a good warm up, followed by 800m all out, a two minute recovery and 400m all out. This elicited a max HR of 183. I am unsure how advisable it is to two HR max tests in a day and whether it affects the results of any subsequent effort. One thing is certain- I do not fancy doing one again any time soon. Running until you think you will black out is not pleasant. So, 185 it is. I subsequently read that as your aerobic fitness improves it is more difficult to reach your true max HR and that if your fitness declines you will reach a higher HR quicker, and of course be moving at a significantly slower pace. The first real workout with this approach rook place last Thursday, a twelve mile run, with seven at tempo effort. The average pace for these miles was 06:43 and average HR of 163 or 88% max HR. I was happy enough with this pace considering the >90% humidity and 24C/74F temperatures. Interestingly, before the summer I would have considered 163bpm as only slightly greater effort than marathon pace - if even. However, these tempo miles definitely felt like half Marathon pace. I am a little hopeful that if the environmental conditions were better my splits could be twenty to twenty-five seconds faster. If this is correct, a big if, then it suggests that either I was overtraining in the past, or I am in significantly better shape than I was before the summer. If it's incorrect, then I am in poor shape. In short, I have no idea what kind if shape I am in, but the point of the move to HR training is to receive more objective feedback on my training and prevent either under or overtraining. If nothing else it will bring fresh perspectives to training.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The clock is ticking

Weekend commitments led me to switch my Sunday long run to Saturday, a fifteen miler. Normally I would begin a run like this at projected marathon pace plus 20 per cent and do the latter half at marathon pace plus 10 per cent. Today, I decided the good temperatures would be opportune to do an evaluation run to see what kind of shape I am in. The plan was, six miles easy, five miles at marathon pace plus 20 per cent, and the final four at marathon pace. The first five miles were north of 08:35 with a HR in the early to mid 130s, the next five miles averaged just south of eight minute milling with a HR in the early 140s - all good.
The final four miles at marathon pace began well; the first mile averaged 159 with a 06:36 split - little fast but it felt good. The second mile elapsed in 06:45, but it felt tougher than I would have liked with a 164 HR. Third mile in 06:47 and average HR of 166- not good, this almost felt like tempo effort. Final mile of 06:45 and HR of 159. Had I not been stuck waiting for a pedestrian light the HR would have been higher.
My legs have felt a bit heavy and tired since Wednesday, as a consequence of the first interval session of the training cycle, tearing up a floor on Thursday with a crowbar, and a not insignificant workout on Friday. However, I think I am clutching at straws to account for how tough this was; perhaps the five weeks of training between now and taper will pull things out of the fire? The clock is ticking...

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The deluge

Flooding close to downtown Harrisburg, September 2011

Well, things appear to come in threes here; first an earthquake, then a hurricane and finally...I hope finally, flood. it rained heavily much of last week and this. I got drenched on about five occasions during my run on Tuesday. The following day followed this up when the race director of the half marathon I was scheduled to race on Sunday, sent an email announcing that flooding in Harrisburg meant the race would be postponed until October. As luck would have it I cannot participate as the new date coincides with a relay race I am participating in. It now looks like I will be unable to do any races in advance of my marathon. This is the result of half marathons being either too far way, sold out, or ridiculously expensive; many appear to think $85-$95 is a reasonable entry fee! That's worthy of a post in itself!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Redemption - of a kind

After the disaster of a tempo session two weeks ago I was not looking forward to today's session of eleven miles with seven at tempo pace. Consequently, I found my self procrastinating in getting out the door. In the intervening two weeks I had conducted some online research on the effects of heat and humidity on pace. I found nothing definitive but one site I found somewhat useful was Jeff Galloway's. He provided the following useful guide to how heat might slow a runner's performance.

Adjusting pace for heat: estimated temperature at finish - slower than goal pace - 8 min mile becomes:
55-60 degrees - 1% - 8:05
60-65 degrees - 3% - 8:15
65-70 degrees - 5% - 8:25
70-75 degrees - 7% - 8:35
75-80 degrees - 12% - 8:58
80-85 degrees - 20% - 9:35
Above 85 degrees - Forget it... run for fun
* Note: This chart is based upon Galloway's own experience in the heat and talking to other runners. It has no scientific verification.

Consequently I was quite happy with my tempo mile splits of 7:02, 7:03, 6:48, 6:49, 6:49, 6:58, in 75F/24C. The real test of my level of performance will be the upcoming Harrisburg half marathon. This is assuming of course that conditions are favourable.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Tempo fail

Of late the temperatures and humidity had declined a little and I was looking forward to knocking out a nice tempo session at close to true tempo pace. Tempo sessions are always really tough and I am always a little apprehensive about them, especially so for this session as I considered it a good fitness barometer
I set off and the first two miles were the warm up. I entered the first tempo mile of five tempo miles not feeling the best. In short, this session was a fail. The respective splits were 06:58, 06:59, 07:16, 06:54 and 07:38. I bailed about two thirds through the last mile. I felt pretty bad throughout. There was no life in the legs and my heart rate rarely exceeded 164, which I consider marathon effort, never mind tempo. However, the splits were twenty to forty seconds slower than marathon pace.
Very ticked off. What I concluded from this debacle is that trying to reach tempo pace at even the comparatively lower temperatures of 70F/21 is a no go. Furthermore, I am now almost certain I have what Jeff Galloway describes as sustained heat fatigue, the consequence of going too fast in high heat and humidity. I had been taking forty-five to sixty seconds off my mile split times but will now increase this to ninety to 120 seconds. Hopefully this will have me feeling better in a week or so, and who knows, maybe I'll be able to train in reasonable temperatures and without the need for gills!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Death march

My mishap on Thursday prompted me to switch two of my runs. I did my five mile recovery run, originally scheduled for Saturday, on Friday and on Saturday I did a twelve mile run, originally scheduled on Friday. With an eighteen miler with ten at projected marathon pace scheduled for Sunday I had decided to take the twelve miler on Saturday a little easier than scheduled. However, conditions were good on Saturday. Courtesy of heavy thunderstorms the temperatures came down to the low twenties celcius and I knocked out twelve miles in average mile splits of 07:43 with an average heart rate of 146. I feared I might suffer the consequences of this on Sunday but decided it was worth exploiting what were easily the best conditions of the summer. The run statistics also reflected the conditions and was the best set of numbers I have had all summer.
On Sunday, normal meteorological service was resumed and when I left for my run it was approaching 30C/90F, with high humidity. To keep HR for the first eight miles below 140 I was running mile splits greater than 09:10. On Saturday a HR of about 140 was spitting out splits just south of 08:00. Mercifully it cooled a little as I approached the marathon paced section of the run and I had decided that I would not let the HR go to far above 160 for this section and ideally keep it just below 160. This worked okay for the first two or three miles and I felt comfortable enough and confident I could do ten at that effort level. However four miles in and the legs began feeling very heavy, a combination of Saturday's effort and the heat and humidity was underming my performance.. I had at this point taken two GUs and at least a litre of electrolyte drink. During miles five and six of the projected marathon effort my legs felt increasingly like they were running through mud. About a quarter mile into the seventh mile I relented and decided I would do the final 3.7x miles at recovery pace and I took my third GU to help me on my way. Rather like the projected marathon pace miles this also did not go according to plan. I struggled to maintain eleven minute mile pace and was feeling pretty crappy. I managed to trudge through the last few miles and completed the eighteen miles in an average mile split of 09:02, making Sunday the slowest long run ever! Roll on September!

Friday, 12 August 2011


Inevitable...that's the first word that went through my mind as the right side of my torso and right palm hit the ground...hard. The pavements here in Baltimore are not especially well maintained and the first week here I must have almost fallen at least a few times a day. My running form was such that I was actually less likely to trip when running. I still have had a few close calls though, especially on Key Highway.
I picked myself up fairly quickly and carried on with some pain but manageable. It was obviously the adrenaline. When I got home the pain manifested itself very forthrightly! Above is a picture of the clean up operation.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Last weekend my wife and I went camping with her parents in Pennsylvania near the town of Bedford between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Perusal of google maps revealed a state park a few miles from the camp site that looked like a good place for an eighteen mile run on Sunday morning. One thing you learn very quickly about the landscape of central PA is the rolling hills. My run was no different and the first few miles certainly did nothing to disavow that. However, one hill...ahem...mountain was especially cruel. This particular sadist went by the name of Tull's hill.
A couple of miles later and I entered the park to my left. The park is about fifteen miles east of the Flight 93 crash site on 11 September 2001. The morning started cloudy and reasonably cool, about 70F/21C, but both the temperatures and humidity were rising. Following a diversion on a trail that took me back out near the park entrance, via a steep hill that almost forced me to walk, I returned to the park road and followed this largely downhill to the centre of the park and crossed the bridge that traversed lake Shawnee. By now I had ran 10.66 miles and decided I and better turn back or I would be doing considerably more than eighteen miles. I had consumed two GU energy gels at the five and ten mile points and felt pretty fresh. Doubling back proved pretty uneventful and I felt fresh enough to eschew taking my third GU.
The hills did take their toll on the pace and I increased the effort a little on the hills but did not see the point in thrashing myself on an increasingly hot and humid day; likewise I did not attempt to claw back the time on the downslope, deciding it would be better to save the quads for some squats or a tempo session. I covered 18.25 miles in 02:42:13, or 08:53 pace.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Kojo Nnamdi and barefoot running

I was in the car yesterday returning from DC, where my wife had a job interview and we turned on the radio to listen to NPR. We are big fans of NPR! Anyway, the Kojo Nnamdi show was on and he had an interesting segment on barefoot running. His interviewees included Chris MacDougall, author of Born to Run. You can listen by clicking on the Kojo Namdi show link. The best tip I took from it was to imagine you are running on the spot. It is a good way to practice running in a barefoot manner and land on your mid to forefoot. The best quote came at the end, I think from MacDougall, 'the goal is not to run barefoot, the goal is to run efficiently and injury free and running barefoot is one of the best ways to achieve that.' Some have a certain fetishistic attitude to running barefoot, which I believe might have something to do with i's fashionability rather than its utility. Another good point from one of the other interviewees was that if someone approached him for advice on running barefoot who was already an efficient and injury free runner he would question why they wanted to run barefoot. In other words, barefoot is a means to and end, not an end in itself. However, the feeling of running barefoot on occasion does feel good!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Phew! Glad that's done.

The heat and humidity continue unabated. However, I continue to log the miles and I have not had to bail on a run. Last week's schedule included a tempo session of nine miles with four at tempo pace. There is much debate on what tempo/lactate threshold pace is; for me it is whatever you consider half-marathon effort.
I got out the door reasonably early at a little after 7am to beat the worst of the conditions. The first two miles went okay and my first tempo effort mile elapsed in 06:44, mile two was a surprisingly fast 06:29. Now things got interesting. To prevent me from chasing numbers, that would be completely unattainable in the conditions I adopted the strategy of ignoring the Garmin until I heard the lap beep and run by feel.. This worked well and I felt 'comfortably uncomfortable' after the first two miles. The third mile was brutal and I began to feel awful pretty quickly and was glad to hear the lap beep go at 06:34. Mile four did not get much better and I was mighty pleased when the lap beep sounded and I managed a split of 06:57.
The average heart rate for the tempo section was 171. This is not especially high and I would consider it only marginally high if you wanted to sustain the effort for 13.1. How rotten I felt really emphasised how high humidity undermines the body's ability to dissipate heat through the evaporation of sweat. Before completing the cool down miles I had to sit down on a piece of decorative marble outside an office building and watch as a pool of sweat formed at my feet. Once I felt less nauseous I zipped up the man suit and did the cool down miles. Needless to say I am looking forward to September and I trawl Groupon daily for discounted temporary gym membership so I can bask in the glow of an air conditioned atmosphere. I never thought I would ever desire running on a treadmill!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Racing plans

My last race was the Sportsworld five mile classic. There's been a few races here that look good but most were in the first two weeks of moving here and I had rather more pressing things on my mind like, finding a job and unpacking boxes. And spending as little money as possible. Since then I have had time to reflect on what races I might compete in for the remainder of 2011. A marathon is the highest priority and I would like to secure a PB. Thereafter anything else is to help realise the marathon goal.
To date I have decided the target Martathon will be the Harrisburg Marathon on 13 November. This is a relatively small race with less than 1,000 participants in 2010. It has received favourable reviews on and it is quite cheap at $55. Compare that to the Baltimore running festival expecting $85 for the half marathon! It is also a very fast course and appears almost completely flat. The Harrisburg half marathon takes place on 11 September and would be a good opportunity to gauge both my fitness and the course. At the moment I have no other plans to run other races but would like to do so. Unfortunately, prohibitive race fees, like that for Baltimore prevent that. It also seems many races are charity organised with high fees to cover both race race organisation and raise funds, which is fair enough, but I have serious reservations about their ability or willingness to cater for the serious runner, especially the unemployed serious runner. The local running club scene and accompanying races appears quite weak but I continue to explore; I suppose it is one of the exciting things about living in a new place.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Druid Hill Park

The second Week of my Pfitzinger and Douglas up to seventy miles per week schedule went pretty well. However, Sunday morning's sixteen mile run with eight at projected marathon pace was changed to a long slow run. The build up to all this was a series of general runs at marathon pace plus 15 to 25 per cent and two short recovery runs.
I decided as Sunday's would be a long slow run in high temperatures I better introduce a new route. This would take me via the historic Mount Vernon district and into Druid Hill Park. The first two miles from Patterson Park to the inner harbour are primarily downhill, then the next two and a half miles though Mount Vernon are uphill to the park entrance. The hills do not end there. The park perimeter is entirely hills with very little flat sections; you are either going down or up steep hills. A benefit of the section of the park is the thick tree cover, especially on the west and north perimeter, very welcome when temperatures are over 90F/32C.

I had hoped to supply my own pictures of the run; however, losing the camera cable of my very old digital camera in the move, and continued unemployment preventing me buying a new camera means the two snaps below of Mount Vernon and Druid Hill Park, come respectively, courtesy of and wikipedia. The street in the centre of the first picture is North Eutaw steet runnng north to the Druid Hill Park entrance. It's a very nice street and reminds you of the European influence on America's older cities.

Mount Vernon

Druid Hill Park

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Trigger Point Grid Foam Roller

Moving continents and associated moving costs focusses the mind on what you really need and what can/should be thrown in the bin. Well, that's what happened to my foam roller. As it happens a foam roller is a crucial piece of my running kit and keeps me on the road. Foam rollers are cylinders or half cylinders of hard foam, over which you roll your muscles, allowing you to stretch muscles, stimulate Myofascial tissue release and encourage blood supply to the affected areas. I find this treatment especially effective at treating Iliotibial Band Syndrome and warding off the general effects of Delayed Onset of Muscular Soreness. As a bonus, any of the exercises you do using a foam roller are quite effective core exercises. A wide range of instructional videos are found on Youtube.

The roller I threw out was more than a year old and was not made of high density EVA and so was no longer providing the benefits once had.
Consequently I was five weeks without a foam roller and my running form was beginning to disintegrate. Additionally, my muscles were increasingly tightening and aches and pains were becoming more apparent. A few weeks ago I was standing in a queue for a considerable time and my quads had become so tight that bending at the knee to walk was a struggle for the first few steps.
Hence, the search for a new foam roller began. I settled on the Trigger Point Grid Foam Roller.

This roller differs from most other rollers in a number of respects.
1. It is hollow, which makes it good for travel, allowing you to fill the hollow tube with clothes.
2. The tube is made of high density plastic, rendering it much more durable.
3. As can be seen from the photo above the rubber surface covering the plastic tube has varying degrees of density to mimic a massage from fingertips, palms, and thumbs. The marketing guff refers to this as 'distrodensity'.

I consider this primarily marketing guff. However, the durability of this foam roller is very appealing and it has worked just as well as my previous roller.
One point of note however, it its relative shortness at 13 inches. If you're new to foam rolling you might find coordinating your body with the roller such that you don't fall off it is a little challenging at first but is something you should adapt to with time. Overall, I would give this a five star rating and while ten to fifteen dollars more expensive than other it will last much longer.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Pros and cons of running with Uncle Sam

Since I have moved to the United States in search of work I have reflected on a few occasions on the pros and cons of running in my new hometown of Baltimore Maryland.


1. New town and potential routes to explore brining a much needed rejuvenation of motivation.
2. Lack of dogshit; yes, that's right, people here actually clean up after their animals and bring plastic bags with them to collect their beloved pet's deposits. Ireland and particularly Dubliners could learn from this!
3. Responsible dog owners. Dog owners here actually walk their dogs on a leash and will actually restrain the dog when it gets in your way or attempts to savage you! This was illustrated twice in the four weeks I have been here when a dog did indeed attempt to savage me! Meanwhile in Ireland dogs would roam free and the owner would barely acknowledge the consequences of not restraining their pet while it attempted to take a chunk from your calf!
4. Polite pedestrians. On many occasions in Dublin I would literally have to barge and push my way through pedestrians on footpaths who fail to acknowledge that maybe waking three or four abreast on a footpath and refusing to share the footpath is a little rude. Here however, they will momentarily slow down and step aside allowing you to pass, apologising for being in the way at all and let you pass.
5. Cyclists with brains. Rather like pedestrians, cyclists will observe the fundamentals of civilised behaviour and yield to pedestrians if they are on the footpath. Meanwhile in Dublin I at least once a week forced a cyclist off their bike on a footpath because I refused to tolerate their ignorance, eliciting more than a few verbal exchanges where I would tiresomely explain the etymological origin of FOOTpath and the differences between it and a cycle lane.
6. Drivers. Drivers here are certainly no angels and they seem especially fond of multi-tasking while they drive; their favourite extra-curricular activities while driving appear to be speaking on their phones and/or eating. However, I would say on the whole they are better than Dublin drivers; albeit not an especially challenging accomplishment. This however, is tempered by the knowledge that Maryland drivers were recently ranked amongst the worst drivers in the US.
7. Efficient washing machines. I am not expert on washing machines but they are far more economical here. To wash an entire load of stinky running gear I place the load in the washing machine for a ten minute cycle in cold/lukewarm water and hey presto it's done!

1. There is nothing even remotely approaching the Phoenix Park here in Baltimore. I was always conscious I was spoilt living within a mile of a park of the quality of Phoenix park and moving here has only confirmed that.
2. Baltimore is quite famous for its murder rate and crime, most famously depicted by The Wire and Homicide: life on the street. This became obvious to me when on one of my first runs I got a little lost at the end of the run and while I was only about a quarter of a mile from home was in a scene straight from The Wire! In short, there is little room for error when running in Baltimore and one wrong turn can take you somewhere a very white Irishman should never find himself; especially wearing clothes that make him look as intimidating as Napoleon Dynaminte!
3. The heat and humidity! Yesterday the temperature sensor topped at 104F/40C! What is even worse is the humidity and dewpoint. I now know more about the effects on humidity and dewpoint on running than I ever cared to know! The saturation of the air with moisture inhibiting sweat's ability to evaporate and maintain the body's temperature. This morning, even getting out before 7am, the four miles at half-marathon effort came out a little slower than marathon pace on the other side of the Atlantic.

On the whole I am enjoying running here and looking forward to getting back into full marathon training, which began with today's nine miles with four at half-marathon effort. I would have had some photos of the new hood to go with this post but I have not yet found my digital camera USB cord to transfer photos to the computer-one of the joys of moving, losing things in the packing/unpacking!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Saucony Kinvara review

When I moved to the Nike Lunaglide from the Asics 2100 series I did so to experience running in a lighter shoe that provides only enough support that you require. I really like Nike Lunaglides and would say that most of the marketing guff is actually largely accurate.
However, for at least six months now I have been considering moving to a much more minimalist approach and I have read quite alot about minimalist and barefoot running. My own conclusion is that you should move to as minimal an approach as is sensible for your own biomechanics and running goals, which can be anything from very supportive footwear to none at all. I considered Newtons, Vibram five fingers, Inov-8 and other shoes. Since this spring there has been a considerable expansion in the plethora of minimalist shoes, and based on reading others' reviews I went with Saucony's offering - the Kinvara.
The Kinvara's at 7.7ozs are very light. The heel to toe drop, the primary indicator of a shoe's minimalist profile, is four millimetres; this compares to a more conventional twelve to fifteen millimetres in most shoes.

The Kinvara, while being relatively minimalist, does retain generous cushioning. This provides those who wish to undertake a moderate move to minimalist running with reassurance and also provides you with the confidence that long runs are possible, even up to marathon distance. This is something I have not tested completely yet as I am still in post marathon reduced training, but I have done up to sixteen miles in them with no trouble.
The upper is very light and comfortable and is a light soft fabric mesh covered with a very thin plastic like covering.

I have read some reviews' concerns about the durability of the upper, but approaching 200 miles my uppers remain completely intact and I am hoping they remain that way for at least another 300 miles.

One area where the Kinvara does let you down a little is the undersole. While the centre of the forefoot and the heel are well protected, in an effort to make the shoe as light as possible the sole is only covered in parts by hard plastic and the remainder is not very durable exposed eva foam. This can caused premature wear, especially on the outside of each mid and forefoot section where most mid to forefoot runners' feet will initially land. You will however note in the picture one or two puncture wounds and a small pebbled lodged in the undersole.

The Kinvara is an excellent lightweight shoe that can both be a racing shoe and general trainer for many runners. However, a word of caution, for those not accustomed to forefoot running it is wise to transition slowly into the shoe and it is likely they will initially suffer some sore calf muscles until they adapt.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Sportsworld Five Mile Classic

My first race ever was the five mile race that constitutes part of the Adidas Race Series that annually build up to the Dublin Marathon; this was back in July 2007 and was the only five miles race I have done. Consequently, my five mile 'PB' was a tad soft and Sportsworld's Five Mile Classic in Terenure was a good opportunity to change this.
As it took place on Sunday at 10am I decided it was easier to run the 4.5 miles to the start as a warm up than to negotiate Dublin's Byzantine transport 'system'. I got to the start line with a little over five minutes to spare and we were off exactly at 10am. The course was a double loop of quiet roads of Terenure and begins with a gentle downhill gradient allowing a fairly comfortable 06:03 opening mile split. By now I was passing a considerable number of people who had set off too fast.
The second mile ended with the first climb up the loop's hill, which was a gentle enough but was into a very stiff headwind and resulted in a 06:10 split. The majority of the third mile took us to the top of the incline and ended on the flat stretch at the start, which combined with the stiff headwind slowed me to a 06:21 split; encouragingly I continued passing people. The fourth mile largely covered the same route as the first mile with a corresponding split of 06:03 and feeling strong. The fifth mile would be largely uphill against that stiff breeze and I began to suffer! Here I encountered a runner closing on me in a blue singlet and on about a dozen occasions he attempted to overtake me and I responded in kind; this continued for at least two thirds of a mile and we both passed about six others but the breeze's strength increased and eventually I buckled and he was gone, as were a number of those we has passed in the preceding half mile. Mercifully the end was in sight and the last mile split of 06:31 but a HR approaching 180 illustrated the difficulty of that last mile.
I crossed the line in 31:19, good enough for sixtieth place in a high quality field. Not what I had hoped for but with the windy conditions and considering I completed a marathon less than two weeks previously I could not be entirely disappointed.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The hills of Antrim - Belfast marathon 2011

Somewhere near the end, evidenced by the single gel, empty bottle and general countenance of someone who's had a rough day!

The location of our hotel was ideal in relation to the marathon start on Donegall place outside the city hall. Following a five minute walk I was at the start line and near the front. Following a brief chat with a fellow Fetchie; see for more on that, we were off on time.
My strategy was to go out at 06:40 mile split pace, and following completion of the hills just after halfway, to increase the pace and aim for sub 02:55 if I was still feeling strong.

The first six miles were largely according to plan with splits of 06:41, 06:38, 06:46, 06:40, 06:41, 06:43. We had headed east away from the city and then turned west back into the city past the airport and moved west away from the city centre whereupon the hills began. Miles seven, eight and nine elapsed in 06:41, 0649 and 06:45. By now we had passed the infamous Shankill and Falls road areas of west Belfast. The hills were also tougher than I had anticipated; none were especially steep but were relentless and did have the occasional steeper section.

Miles ten, eleven and twelve passed in 06:58, 06:42 and 06:59. I was now longing for the end of the hills and was struggling to make pace a little without the heart rate going into the 170s. Going up the Antrim road with Cavehill off to our left I could smell the end of the hills. Here I encountered what I do so often on my training runs; an idiotic cyclist. He was acting as support for a runner but he was not exactly the most deft of individuals when it came to handing materials to the runner and broke and swerved all over the place. He did this trick just as a runner tried to go past him, causing the runner to take evasive action and pull up, which halfway into a marathon is not ideal!

For another quarter mile I stayed behind him but slowly closed and had seen him get in people's way during this time. I resolved that I would not deal with this nonsense and so as I closed to within a couple of yards let out a bellow of 'get off the f*cking course!!' as loud as my lungs would allow. This had the desired effect as he radically veered off to the right. A mile later and we had passed the halfway mark in 01:29:10; not great but the hills ended in another mile.
As we turned right shortly after fourteen miles we had come to the top of the hills, seven miles of them! Here you saw how high we were when you looked east out across the entire city with Belfast lough to the left and Stangford lough and the Irish sea easily within view a little to my right.

Here you begin a steep descent, giving away all the elevation gain of the previous seven miles in less than two miles. At the bottom of I was not feeling at all confident about staying on sub three pace and my legs felt like they did at the beginning of the Newton hills in Boston last year. Accordingly the mile split went north, miles eighteen, nineteen and twenty in 07:03, 07:17, 07:22 respectively. Now I was done! We were now off to the left of the M2 motorway and then moved onto a rather nice cycle pathway but the wind was an additional obstacle now. By now I had slowed significantly towards eight minute miles. However, my heart, lungs and head felt good and the HR dropped into the 150s. Additionally, I was now talking away to other runners, including some who I had briefly chatted to earlier in the race. Talking is not something I can normally do at this stage in a marathon!

In the final three miles the legs continued to tighten and the pace slowed. Mile twenty-five involved a brief left hand turn into Ormeau park, where the race would ultimately end, then back onto Ormeau road, which was a hill I was not expecting. Finally the last mile down Ravenhill road took us back into the northside of Ormeau park and through the finishing suit in 03:11:06.

I was not exactly happy with this time to say the least but I was sanguine about the whole thing, knowing that I can and will do better. However, I knew exactly why I was not prepared in this race and will need to do consistent core and strengthening work to improve my running economy and enhance my endurance. To use a motoring analogy, I have a powerful engine but one of a 4X4 and not a Toyota Prius, and the chassis of a Cold War Lada.

Some brief comments on the race generally; it was very well organised, especially considering it had 16,000 relay participants. This was handled by primarily having the relay runners go off to the right down a changover chute thereby avoiding congestion with the marathon runners and it was also a nice way to include crowd support along the way. The medal was quite a nice one.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Ante Belfast

Off to Belfast tomorrow morning. First stop will be to the city hall to collect the race number and check out the expo. I still have not settled on a definite race plan. Originally I had harboured thoughts of going for sub 02:55 but I think that I am just not quite at that level yet. Consequently, my current thinking is to aim for 06:40 splits to mile fourteen, which will take me to the end of a long gentle gradient from mile seven. Thereafter I will let the next two miles, which give away all the elevation gain in less than two miles, speed up to the low 06:30s and then assess how I feel about pushing on in the final ten miles and whether sub 02:55 is possible.
In short, if I go sub 02:55 I expect to run a healthy positive split; if not, I hope to run an even paced race and come away with a PB at worst. Some might consider this overly cautious but the marathon does not reward zealotry very often and you cannot compensate for an unrealistically ambitious race plan by going out and running another marathon in two weeks.

Training summary: In the fourteen weeks before my three week taper I averaged fifty-six mile weeks. Every week had a marathon paced run, beginning with runs of ten miles with six at projected marathon pace and peaking at fourteen mile runs with ten at marathon pace. The first seven weeks also had interval sessions of 5x1k at 10k to 5k pace and tempo runs of 2x3 miles at half marathon pace with a two mile warm up and cool down and one mile recovery between sets. The remainder of the week was a long slow run and three recover runs and one day of complete rest.

The weather for Monday looks pretty good so far, the blemish on this outlook being a stiff easterly breeze of 13-16 mph. Thankfully the majority of the course is a north-south loop and the longest we will be consistently travelling east is the first three to four miles, so I am hopeful the wind will not adversely affect strategy or pace.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The taper

I have never had a very clear approach to tapering and generally reduce my mileage significantly in each of the three taper weeks on an ad hoc basis. The first taper week still registered fifty miles and I retained both tempo and marathon paced run.

12 April: nine miles with 2x2 at tempo pace of 06:12 minute/miles. Average HR for the tempo miles was 162.

15 April: ten miles with six at PMP with average mile splits of 06:31 with an average HR of 162.

The second week reduced to thirty miles and by the end of this week I felt significantly more energised. Notwithstanding the reduced mileage I aimed to maintain a similar proportion of intensity and quality sessions to that of a full week. Consequently, the following sessions took place

19 April: seven miles with three tempo miles at an average pace of 06:25 and average HR of 166.

21 April: Nine miles with five MP (marathon pace) miles at 06:41 and average HR of 161.

This was the last significant marathon paced session of this training cycle and I decided it would be good to reduce the pace a little to see what it felt like and I was a little disappointed; perhaps it was the early morning nature of the run or 'taper madness' but it felt a little more uncomfortable than I would have liked; maybe this was my 'crap' taper run. I don't have an answer for this, I think it is primarily a psychological thing, but almost everyone has a bad taper run, where they doubt their own training and ability to run race pace for 26.2. It is at this point that I am hoping the experience of running six previous marathons and experiencing similar doubts will allow me to largely dismiss them.

In other news the fastest run marathon ever took place in Boston, but does not qualify as a world record!

Watch more video of 2011 Boston Marathon on

Monday, 11 April 2011

Approach to taper

Training of late has been very consistent and regular, such that I think for further adaptations to occur I would need to alter the workouts. However, it's now taper time, so that can wait for the next training cycle!

29 March : Ten miles with six at tempo pace. Tempo paced mile average splits of 06:21 with an average HR of 166.

1 April: Windy today! Thirteen miles with ten at projected marathon pace (PMP); PMP average mile splits of 06:46 with an average PMP miles HR of 164. A bit high - worked a little too hard against the wind.

5 April: Eleven miles with six at tempo pace. Average tempo pace mile split of 06:12 and average HR of 166.

8 April: Fourteen miles with ten at PMP. Average PMP mile splits of 06:35 and an average HR of 162. Quite a stiff breeze when moving east.

This week the taper begins, and not a day too soon; I am beginning to feel tired at the beginning of runs, nevermind at the end and think it's definitely time that the affect of recent weeks' training are fully absorbed, which I hope is what the taper will achieve.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Brief update

A quick update on training progress as measured by the key quality sessions.

Thursday 17 March: Thirteen miles with nine marathon paced miles at an average mile split of 06:35 and average heart rate of 162bpm for the marathon paced miles.

Friday 25 March: Thirteeen and a half miles with ten marathon paced miles with average splits of 06:34 and an average HR of 162bpm for those miles.

Travel for work to Cyprus this week required me to can the scheduled tempo Tuesday run. However, a nice seven miles along Cyprus's southern Mediterranean coast in the sunshine was a nice alternative!

In other news, I eventually bit the bullet and registered for the Belfast marathon.

This morning's eighteen mile long slow run, incorporating a number of miles along the Royal Canal way was a nice change from the usual route. However, the local savages' impression that setting a cat on fire and leaving the poor creature's petrol stenched remains on the canal side is an appropriate Saturday night activity took a little from the experience; something that living in D7, D15 renders an unsurprising occurrence.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Tempo sessions commence

Last week brought the first of the Tuesday morning tempo runs. The Hanson schedule places the speedwork intervals in the initial weeks of the training plan. I am unsure of the approach's rationale as most plans place the speedwork in the latter half of a plan.
This workout consisted of two a mile warm up, three miles at tempo pace, one mile warm up, followed by another three miles at tempo pace and a two mile cool down. My aim was to achieve an average heart rate greater than 165 for the tempo portions. I ran the six miles at an average heart rate of 166 producing average mile splits of 06:15.
This pace would have its price. I delayed my marathon paced session until Friday and it was a tough session. I ran twelve miles with nine at marathon pace, producing an average marathon mile pace of 06:39 and average heart rate of 164. I felt tired during this run and the perceived effort was higher than recent weeks. I am assuming this is to be expected, especially considering I am now at the training cycle peak. All things considered I remain happy with my training and hope things continue and I can avoid injury.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Marathon paced runs and heart rate

The key training runs in the last three weeks have been the marathon paced session on Thursdays. These are the primary benchmark I use and the data emerging is encouraging.

17 February: 11.75 miles, with eight marathon pace miles averaging 06:40 and an average HR (heart rate) of 163 for the PMP (projected marathon pace)miles.

24 February: 11.8 miles, with eight marathon pace miles averaging 06:37 and an average HR of 161 for the PMP miles.

Friday 4 March, 12.56 miles, with nine marathon pace miles averaging 06:36 and an average HR (heart rate)of 162 for the PMP miles.

The plan for the next two weeks is to build the marathon pace runs to include ten miles at PMP, switch the Tuesday sessions from internal to tempo pace and complete a twenty mile long slow run in each of the next two weekends.

In each of these PMP sessions I effectively train by heart rate and anticipate that the average HR I can sustain for 26.2 is between 163 and 166. This is evidenced by my last three marathons, each of which recorded an average HR of 166. The HR is the objective feedback I now monitor in these sessions and which dictate the pace. I also ensure that any recovery runs' average HR does not exceed 140 and aim for closer to 130.
I also feel this approach can identify overtraining or sickness if you are recording slower times for an equal or higher HR than recent workout suggest should be the case. This method should* prevent any silly notions entering a runner's mind about pushing when it would be counterproductive.

* This is subject to the runner not allowing their constant need for self-validation from undermining their objectives - aka self-sabotage'.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Cupid's 10k-ish dash 13 February 2011

The week commencing 6 February ended with a 10k road race, which I thought would be a good test of fitness. I did this race back in 2009 and was the first time I broke forty minutes for 10km.
I got to the start line area and began to fear for the competency of the race organisation when they told me they had ran out of timing chips. This immediately made me wonder if they had ordered a finite number of chips and when they 'sold out' decided, 'hey let's take people's money regardless of our ability to deliver the service sold, it's no big deal, "sure it's grand"'; that time honoured Irish phrase oftentimes deployed to trivialise and dismiss legitimate concerns. Furthermore distributing the goody bags at the start/registration made me wonder where they thought people were to store these during the race, which ended one mile away from the start line. Consequently, I decided that was a problem I did not need to handle and decided to forego the good bag, which in the main are simply receptacles for advertising.
Surprisingly the race began on time. However, there was no timing mat at the start, so even those with chips were only ever going to get a gun time rather than a nett time. Quite why they bothered with chips at all was now something of a mystery.
Anyway, I should provide some commentary on running and end the rant.
This year we started with a bit of a drag up Acres road and left onto Chesterfield road. I quickly settled into twelfth place, well off the back of the lead back of about eight. Before the second mile elapsed I moved up to tenth place. However, I think I simply gave the two I passed a bit of a 'gee' up as they slowed for me to pass them and they soon passed me again. I completed the first three miles in 06:16, 06:17 and 06:16 respectively; 'there will be no PB today!'
By now I was in thirteenth place again, and as things transpired it would be where I would finish, largely running on my own with a couple of runners 100 yards behind me and the two I earlier interchanged places with about 200 yards ahead.
From here on the course became especially tough, running up and down hills, but the worst was yet to come; the long hard slog up the Kyber pass. This was very tough and you ran up this hill for two-thirds of a mile before doubling back to the finish. This approach made for interesting 'logistics' when larger numbers were coming up and down the hill simultaneously; this combined with the necessity to weave in and out between pedestrians with baby buggies and dogs (some on leashes, some not) made the finishing stretch more like part obstacle course, part game of 'British bulldog'! I was not sure who I was more frustrated with; people's obvious lack of courtesy and respect for the fact that a sporting event was taking place, or the organisers' completely insouciant attitude to it all.
On reaching the finish line I immediately knew, without ever looking at a GPS, that the course was short by at least 100-200 metres when I saw that I came within three seconds of a PB at 38:45. I finished the second three of six mile in 06:19, 06:26 and 06:31. The short nature of the course provided a re-adjusted time of 39:15. Considering the course's difficulty I was reasonably happy with my performance, however, the same could not be said for the organisers'. All in all, a good excuse for a tough workout but I'll not be back.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Week six: complacency and the basics

Not a great week this week - week commencing 6 February. The Tuesday interval session was very hard work and I did not hit what I consider 10k pace-06:05-06:10 min/mile pace. I put this down to a 'bad day the office' - they happen. I was confident the rest day on Wednesday would see me right for the marathon pace session on Thursday morning. I was wrong.
Thursday morning arrived and the high heart rate, into the 150s, on the warm up was the first bad sign. The first marathon pace mile elapsed in 06:55 with a HR of 163 and felt higher; ideally for this pace I would expect the HR not to exceed about 155. I struggled through the next two miles at less than marathon pace in the high 06:50s with an elevating HR. I decided I 'cannot do this for another four to five miles' and cut the run short and hauled my chastened ass home.
On reflection I concluded that the likely cause of my poor workouts was complacency in my approach to hydration. So, the next day I went out, as so many runners do after a confidence knocking workout, irrationally chasing self-validation. However, having properly hydrated with a 'High 5' electrolyte mix before setting off I felt alot better. I completed seven miles with four at marathon pace. This produced average mile splits in the mid 06:30s and an average HR of 161. Crisis of confidence averted but a salutatory lesson in not being complacent about the basics!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Fifth week of Hanson

Fifty-five miles the week beginning 31 January with a nice consistency on previous weeks' efforts. Tuesday's intervals session produced five 1000m repeats at between 06:03 and 06:12 min/mile pace. If can maintain this sort of pace for a full 10k it will produce a new person best.
The wind significantly affected Thursday's marathon pace session. It was blowing a gale but I managed average mile splits of 06:53 and working in accordance with heart rate worked well.
All this training should have a focus but my situation makes it difficult to commit to any particular event. Recently, however, I took a peek at the Belfast marathon site and was attracted to both the comparatively cheap price and the ability to register quite late. I had also considered the inaugural Kildare marathon but despite its proximity to where I live it would actually be significantly cheaper to travel to Belfast. Additionally, Belfast is a well established race and is apparently well organised. So, I still have not registered for a spring marathon but if I do any Belfast will likely be it.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Fourth week of Hanson

Fifty-six miles this week, so building up slowly and nicely. Nothing especially different to report. The 1000m repeat/intervals were a little slower this week, but that's probably a good thing and probably more accurately reflect my 10k pace. The Thursday projected marathon pace run went exceptionally well; eleven miles with eight at marathon pace. The marathon pace miles averaged 06:37 minute/mile and an average heart rate of 163 - these are especially heartening and encouraging statistics. The remainder of the week included a recovery run on Friday, eight miles pretty easy on Friday and fourteen miles on Sunday morning.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Third week of Hanson

Up to fifty-four miles this week, which is not exactly enormous but does leave me nice and fresh and I feel I recover well from any quality sessions. Two quality sessions again this week beginning with the 5X1000m at 10K pace. For the first time ever I completed each of these intervals in under 06:00min/mi pace. What was especially pleasing about this was that I felt I could have pushed out another couple at the same pace.
Thursday's marathon paced run miles within eleven miles were 6:42, 6:45, 6:30, 6:39, 6:42, 6:37, 6:34; these were nice statistics but running at 06:30 rather than the previous week's run in the evening was definitely tougher, especially the first two miles and the average HR was consistently north of 162, still sustainable but not as good as the previous week's 159.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Second week of Hanson

This week was the second week of the Hanson training schedule and included fifty-two miles. The marathon paced run on Thursday had seven miles scheduled at projected marathon pace and I bookended them with two miles warm up and two miles warm downs. This workout went really well and I dipped down into the 06:30s for what felt like a marathon paced run. That the average heart rate for these seven miles was 159 supported this. This weekly run will be the primary indicator of progress or otherwise and this week was the first time I have even run 06:3X mile splits and feel I was running at marathon pace.
The 1,000 metre intervals on the Tuesday were tough but I did manage to maintain 10K or faster pace for each of them and the heart rate never exceeded a 166 average for each of these, indicating that perhaps I could have pushed a little harder. All in all a good start to the new training cycle. The lunaglides are due to pass 600 miles early next week and perhaps I need to replace them. They continue to feel responsive but the not insignificant DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscular Soreness) I experienced on Friday, especially in the adductors, indicate that they might be okay for slower runs but not for quality sessions.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

2010 review and look forward to 2011

The year just elapsed was a good one. I achieved my primary goal of a sub three hour marathon, although it looked touch and go for a while, especially after the tough day at the Cologne marathon. Also satisfying was the knowledge that I could complete two relatively fast marathons within five weeks of one another. However, the Cologne experience was humbling and made clear that I do not perform in any degree of heat, even as comparatively low as 21-23 degrees Celsius/72-76 degrees Fahrenheit.
The year also saw personal bests at all other distances raced. After breaking three hours at Dublin the other highlight of the year was running the Boston marathon. The whole experience was excellent and I would like the opportunity to do Boston again. It is not only a great race in itself but the course difficulty and the history make it extra special. However the debacle surrounding this year's entry might make this a challenge in itself beyond achieving the necessary qualifying time.
This year I used the Pfitzinger and Douglas up to seventy miles per week schedule for Boston, which I can certainly recommend. However, I found that the dearth of marathon paced miles and the emphasis on very short intervals to be something of a shortcoming. For Cologne/Dublin I effectively made my schedule up as I went along but significantly increased the number of marathon paced runs and lengthened speed intervals to at least 1000m repeats at 10K pace rather than the 3k-5k pace I was hitherto doing. I also ensured that every week contained a long slow run/long marathon paced run and a tempo/interval session, with the odd midweek progressive run up to sixteen miles in duration. Shorter recovery runs buttressed these quality sessions.
So for 2011 the primary goals are to better my marathon time and complete an ultra-marathon. However, my uncertain employment prospects and exact residency make it hard to commit to either, certainly in the first half of 2011. Consequently, my two goals might well have to wait until the second half of 2011. In the meantime I will need to hunt down some local shorter races; wherever local will be.