Saturday, May 30, 2009

Racing Goals

I am off to run the Burnsville Half Marathon. If you happen to be there keep your distance at the finish line. I have only one goal. To throw up at the end.

11AM Update

Well, I didn't quite achieve the puke goal but I did run a nice race to finish in 1:31:56. Thrilled with that! Ran most of it with a girl from Burnsville - it was nice to have company and she definitely kept me on good pace. Couldn't keep with her in the last 2 miles but was able to maintain sub-7:00's for the last 3 miles. Garmin read a bit longer to give me an avg pace of 6:57 but if the course is correct it was 7:01 pace. I'll take that! Great conditions - a little windy on the way out but we had that at our backs on the return. Almost completely flat course. I ran in my brand new extremely lightweight Saucony Fastwitch 3 (2009 lighter version of what I wore last weekend - which I'd also wore for Grandma's in 2007). Top of left foot is a little sore but nothing else. No problems with the knees. Not sure if I'll wear them for Grandma's.

Walked a mile or more at the finish and stretched a little though will do more later. First the ice bath... stopped on the way home for a 20lb bag of ice and then another stop for a large hot americano. Good combination.

8PM Update

I think my stomach is getting me back for even mentioning throwing up - instead of feeling queasy I am absolutely famished all day - a huge avocado/salad wrap for lunch, followed by chicken curry for late lunch, a week's worth of fruit servings throughout the day... and dinner is in the works now. And desert. Figure I deserve it today. Probably didn't yesterday. Or the day before. And a very large glass of wine. To make up for the traditional ice bath earlier Nic!

Swam this evening with Tanya - felt great. Had not been in the pool for a month but with company it went by quick. Heading to Afton in the morning for some easy trail running. Will probably be my last long run before Grandma's. Hopefully the weather stays good through the morning.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Burren Marathon

It's been a shit week. And I really wanted to rant quite a lot tonight. But then I read THIS interview with Cynthia Brochman and thought WTF do I have to complain about? Amazing, amazing lady.

Before the week started to go downhill I had intended to post about last weekend's race. So now that I am over my feeling sorry for myself spell (at least temporarily) I'll give the download...

I was excited to be running a marathon in Ireland again. Especially this one with approx. half of it off-road. The Burren area is a huge (300 sq km - huge by Irish standards) area of wilderness. It is a karst limestone region in the north west corner of Co Clare, in Ireland and made this pretty neat list of unique destinations.

But perhaps the best way to describe it is to borrow a well worn unattributed quote...

"The Burren. Where there are no trees to hang a man. Where there is not enough water to drown him. And if you finally succeeded in killing him, it's too rocky to bury him."

Unfortunately, there was plenty of water to drown a few runners last Saturday. Or at least enough to ensure we all looked like drowned rats within a few miles. And when the drizzle did finally stop, there was more than enough on the ground to keep us nice and soggy. The again it's the West of Ireland in May. Summer - maybe a week in July or August - or more likely September when the kids are back in school - is still a long way off.

We started out from the pier in the small picturesque town of Ballyvaughan. Mum and I had travelled down the night before as it's about a 2.5hr drive from home. We met Dee about 15 mins before the start and headed over to join the crowd. Brendan Gleeson, the award winning actor, said a few rousing words to send us on our way. Apparently he'd been on hand for course set-up also...

All 3 races, the 10K, half marathon, and full marathon, started off together - on the main road out of town for about 3 miles and then turned off onto a small country road. Soon after the 10K walkers and runners - approx 500 of them - peeled off to the right as the rest of us continued. Dee and I ran together keeping a 7:40ish pace those first few miles then slowing down a bit as we found ourselves on the first of several "green roads"... where there was a lot more brown mud that green grass! There were about 700 in the half and maybe half that in the full. In only the second year running the field has doubled. Many walkers participate in all three distances as the race is organized by the local walking club and the Burren Way, which we followed for much of the race, is a very popular walking trail.

Along here Dee got chatting to Johnny Donnelly of The Sawdoctors fame but more importantly an avid marathon runner raising money for a great cause. Check out his website. Dee signed up with him to run the Dublin Marathon this October so it was cool that she got to meet him in person. Soon after the half marathoners continued along the front ridge while we headed left and up across more dirt trails and bog roads. I was running with a bunch of lads, a few others not too far ahead, assuming there were plenty more ahead out of sight. Before long the few in front of us came to a stop at a cross-roads in the middle of the bog. Hmm... after a few moments deliberation we took a left and were relieved to see the mile 7 marker soon after. Phew. I had heard quite a few got lost the year before.

The next section was really muddy so I was completely destroyed by the time we reached the paved road and the next water stop. I had to laugh - the next several water stops were basically an ould fella sitting on the boot of his car with a few large bottles of water, a stack of cups, and a box of fruit and chocolate. Great supplies to be fair but it would have been nice if the water bottles were open and maybe even a few cups filled. But we helped ourselves anyway and off we went - after being told we were the leaders! Funny... myself and Mike from Co. Mayo led off from here - we ran together for the next 10 miles - good company. Though after he told me about his recent 3:04 at Belfast I was a bit worried that I should find myself running his pace. But he'd run this last year in around 3:30 so I figured I was safe enough as that seemed to be a reasonable target when I'd signed up a few days earlier. Mind you, that was before I realized how difficult parts of the terrain might be. Not along here though - a few miles of mostly downhill on nice quiet country roads... and the rain had stopped!

At around mile 11 we turned off-road and started the longest climb of the race - about half of it runnable but not really worth pushing it so my pace for the mile was over 11 minutes. Two of the other guys decided to run it so they passed us along here - a Kiwi and a Scot. Quite the international event! Upon reaching the top we were rewarded with a nice flat mile of relatively dry green road along with amazing views out over Galway Bay all the way to the Aran Islands. More than made up for the chilly, rainy start. Before long we found ourselves back on paved road and winding our way down towards the seaside town of Fanore - a really beautiful spot. Popular with surfers. After a quick refueling - filling our own water again while the volunteers told us we were going too fast and really should take it easy :) - we had another mile on the road heading north towards Black Head with the Burren up to our right - along here we passed the Scot while the Kiwi had taken off well ahead of us. Then a detour down towards the beach for a mile - thankfully we weren't actually running on the sand!

Back on the road at mile 18 and soon after we took a right hand turn, quick break at the AS for water and a mini-chocolate bar, and back on trail just before the mile 19 mark. I was a little ways ahead of Mike at this stage and continued to run at a decent pace. The mile markers appeared to be a little closer than what my garmin was telling me but I wasn't complaining! The trail continued to climb so that soon we were a few hundred feet above the road that ran close to the coast around Black Head and then all the way back to town. This was the muddiest section of trail resulting in me losing my shoe at one stage. A deliberate soak in the next clean water puddle was actually quite refreshing. I was wearing pretty lightweight Saucony Fastwitch road shoes so they shook off the excess water easily enough. Met a few sheep along here also and saw a few cows up ahead in the distance - luckily they had made their way off the trail by the time I got there - turns out they had held up the guy in front of me as he tried to pass them several times along the narrow ridge!

I was really having fun for these few miles. On a somewhat technical trail, enjoying the beautiful views and nearing the finish... can't beat that! Then it was a steep downhill across a meadow to the road, an AS at the gate, and mile 23 marker just up ahead. Sweet!! The last few miles on the road were a blast. I mean, I felt like I was going to have a heart attack any moment and my legs were scearming at me - but apart from that it was a great feeling. The half marathon course joined back up with us along here so I was getting lots of encouragement from the walkers which was awesome. Another one or two water stops along here and before I knew it we were at the edge of town. My Mum had walked out along the pier so it was cool to see her about 500 yards before the finish. Tried to sprint the last bit but I'm not sure you'd call it that. Felt good to be done! 3:24 which given the garmin I'd say was more like a 3:27. Several of the middle miles at just over 7:00 min pace and the last few a bit under so I was happy enough with that. I have no idea what it means for Grandma's but I think at this stage there is no point worrying about it!

Thanks a million to the race organizers (photo with the RD Gerry Reidy below) and to all the volunteers, and especially to Mary for letting me enter the race late and then for sending me the pics!!

Dee was at the finish having won for the ladies in the half - nice one! I chatted to the Kiwi and a few of the other lads that came in a few minutes after me before heading down to the water with Mum and Dee. It felt so nice to stand in the cool seawater. Not quite ice-bath temperatures but I'm sure the sea minerals do some good...

It was shaping up to be a beautiful afternoon but we wanted to get on the road for home so after a quick look (and purchase of delicious cheese) at the Farmer's market, I got cleaned up and we headed off.
I took the picture below a few miles north looking back across the bay. The final section of the race followed a ridge about halfway up from around Black Head on the right - towards the town of Ballyvaughan on the left.

We stopped off for a late lunch at Linnane's on the pier in New Quay. After a yummy open crab sandwich and two large coffees Mum took a picture of the winning ladies -

As crazy a week as it was over there with work spilling into the wee hours every night, it was so much fun to run this race in such a beautiful location.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Best Laid Plans...

4 weeks to Grandma's Marathon. Probably my favourite road marathon. Dublin, being my first one, will always be memorable, but the whole Grandma's experience is hard to beat. 2005 was my first US marathon and my first BQ. 2006 was a blast running with Jodee - well, the fun started once we decided her BQ was not going to happen and we'd just take it easy and enjoy it (she has qualifed for Boston pretty much every marathon since!). 2007 was my PR when I had as much fun running as I've ever had. Susan joining me for a sprint at mile 23 really spurred me on for the final few miles. I decided to skip it in 2008 given my focus on trail races. Though I actually ended up in Ireland doing a triathlon that weekend!

I decided in January that I wanted to try for a marathon PR this year and Grandma's seemed as good a chance as any. So I signed up and tried to plan my training around the race for the first 6 months of the year and then focus on trail ultras for the remainder. No triathlons at all on the calendar this year. But there was a trip to Argentina, the opportunity to run a new 50K in Virginia that I couldn't resist having loved every minute of the races I'd done there in '07/'08, and of course Chippewa take 2. So, not quite ideal preparation. Still, my grand finale of training was planned 4 weeks out - i.e. this weekend - the inaugural Stillwater Marathon includes a 20M race which seemed like an ideal test. I wasn't quite sure about splashing out $60 (or more? I don't even want to know...) but figured the pre-race 'race' experience would be good.

The past few weeks my running has been up and down. Despite a great result at Chippewa I wasn't particularly happy with my run. I say that with a fair amount of hesitation knowing that I'd personally like to strangle a race winner if I heard them say that. But I just didn't expect a 4:40 to feel as hard as it did. I had not really predicted the toll constantly rolling hills would take. Still, I recovered well and have gotten in some decent tempo runs since. A ridiculous work schedule and two trips to Ireland, where I am this week, hasn't helped but after finishing up an 8M run Tuesday night in Galway and seeing my average pace at 7:21 I decided it was a good omen for Stillwater since that was my goal pace... the extra 12 miles would just come together, right?

Somehow, it took all of 10 minutes for that plan to fall to pieces. My friend Deirdre was telling me a few weeks ago about the Burren Marathon - in a beautiful setting in Co. Clare - so I had checked it out at the time knowing that I'd likely be back over here this week - and was sort of relieved to see registration was already closed. It came up in conversation again on Tuesday as one of the guys I'm working with here is running the 10K (Dee is running the half). So I guess it was on my mind when I got back to the hotel after my run... I checked the website again and for whatever reason decided to email the RD about a late entry... sure enough I got an email back at midnight saying to call the next day "to sort it out". OK then, I guess I am running a marathon this weekend rather than a 20 miler - and not just any marathon, this one has a few nice hills and a bit of off-road action...

It ended up being a good thing since the next day work issues determined that I needed to be here through the weekend rather than travelling back so I'd end up missing Stillwater anyway. See, it's possible to make any idea sound like a good one if you try hard enough :)

There is even a "Risk Assessment" attached to the event plan on the website with the following Associated Hazards:

1. Slippery grassy route
2. Cliff ledges
3. Rocky shoreline
4. Traffic on public road

Definitely a good idea. Except for number 4 - close the roads please!

In case you're not convinced check out the views I'll get to enjoy along the way (note - in order to attempt to become a runner in Ireland one always has to assume blue skies)...

Where are the roads?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Not so fast...

That's both an appeal to time and a reflection on my current running form! Where has the first half of May gone? I couldn't wait for long evenings and 60F+ weather to arrive but I don't seem to be able to enjoy much of it. Work is completely mental. I suppose I can't complain given the state of things. But I will anyway. Not that I am one for much balance in my life but an hour here or there to just chill out would be nice. Or really to just catch up on sleep. Less than 5hrs a night is only good for 2-3 nights. Not 2 weeks. Going on three. Had to take today off to just spend some time in my house - and to pack my bag for a weekend in New York - fun, followed by a week in Ireland (again) - work. I think it is is the first time ever I have complained about going back home. Two weeks in a month is just a little much.

Anyway, running and all that... after a dismal week last week I had a decent 16 mile run in the local park near my Mum's house on Saturday evening. This is where I did a lot of my training for my first marathon so it always feels good to run there.

Got back from Ireland Sunday and ran a few easy miles to shake off the jetlag. Then on Tuesday I finally made it to the track - a reminder that I need to do this more often! We were doing 400's so I did 8 with a 200 recovery between each one. Nothing the past 2 days. Well, except 16hr work days. And then this morning got out for a long run... was aiming for 20 at 7:45 pace... was going okay until about mile 14. Got a few stomach cramps and was just feeling tired so I eased up for a few miles and decided 18 would do so I managed the last two a bit faster. Averaged 7:42. Felt way harder than it should have. It will be interesting to see how the Stillwater 20M race goes next weekend. I suspect my goal of 7:21 pace may be a stretch...

Good luck to all heading up north this weekend for the Superior Spring races!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pilgrimage or Purgatory?

I should start with an open apology to St. Patrick. I took his name in vain more than once on today's run / scramble / crawl / suicide attempt.

Croagh Patrick is renowned as a site of pilgrimage in honour of Saint Patrick, Ireland's patron saint. It was on the summit of the mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD and the custom has been faithfully handed down from generation to generation.

Instead of 40 days at the summit I spent the 40 seconds it took to circle the little stone church and made my way back down... 100% kamikaze style trail running all the way to the base. At one point I hit my left foot off my right calf, veered off to the right and caught myself just in the nick of time. I don't want to think what state I'd be in if I went down.

It was cruel. But, oh so much fun!!!

There were about 35 runners, maybe 8 or 9 of them women. Finished in around 1:10. First female was just under the hour, missing the course record by seconds, and then another girl between us. Not sure what the first guy finished in but he was way ahead of the pack when I met him. The best part of the day - getting passed by a 12 year old kid. He was unreal - his Dad was running it also. I ran with him for a few minutes (before he sped off up the steepest part) and we had a quick chat...

So, have you done this before?

Oh aye, a few times.

Good on you.

Aye, I run a lot of the races up around home, in the Mourne Mountains. [Co. Down in Northern Ireland]

Nice one.

Oh aye, it's not for the craic I'm down here.

Oh. Right. [I'll shut up now]

In fairness, the young lad is probably sick of people patronizing him when he's taking this mountain running business seriously.

And it is serious business. From January to October the IMRA calendar is stacked with races of all distances - from the 2.5K run up Killiney Hill to the 120K Wicklow Way relay - and many of them over rough terrain. This weekend is the Connaught Championships so many of today's runners will be taking part in the Ben Gorm race tomorrow. At one point on the ascent, while traveling at around 2 miles an hour, I swore there was no chance of me doing it. Of course, no more than 30 seconds after finishing I was chatting to some of the other runners about it and was telling them I'd see them there!!

Headed down to the sea after the finish for a dip to cool the calves and quads. Felt great. Legs are tired but no aches or pains. Not sure how they'll be in the morning. Tomorrow's race is a midday start, about a 2 hour drive from home, so I guess I'll just see how I feel in the morning. And more importantly how the weather is. It was an absolutely beautiful day today - unfortunately I couldn't exactly enjoy the views out over Clew Bay from the summit - a quick 2 second glance around and that was it. My eyes were fixed firmly on the ground at all other times.