IN WHICH WE CELEBRATE AN ANNIVERSARY, CONTEMPLATE THE ‘HOLY TRINITY’ OF MARATHON RUNNING, BID A SLOW AND FOND FAREWELL TO THIS YEAR’S BOTANICAL BOUNTY, SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT GEL, AND REMIND ONESELF THAT THERE ARE OTHER SPORTS IN THE WORLD TOO…
Well let’s get the training week out of the way first.
Monday: the standard recovery run of 10k, with Mark. Nice pace.
Tuesday: and a busy day work-wise meant a late start for the speed work. So late, in fact, that when I headed out to my usual haunt (the pitches with the 1 kilometre boundary), it was already getting dark. As I finished my first fast loop, I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to do the traditional 1k fast, 1k moderate pace, so instead halved the slower sections. Still, it was dark by the time I finished, with only some nearby path lighting to help. All told, over 12k done, with some decent pace. Though questionable sanity as regards running into the gloom with potential divots to trap the unwary and foolish runner. Not least, the one has left his head torch at home…
Wednesday: and I had taken the morning off to celebrate (a day early) our 21st wedding anniversary. The weather wasn’t the best, but we headed up to the Hill of Tara anyway, and after a quick visit to the top, retired to the coffee shop for some brunch and a hot chocolate.
Near the main mounds, on the outer boundary, there are several trees. This hawthorn stands on its own, quite near the Rath of the Kings, and has become a modern-day fairy tree. The votive offerings vary from the sentimental to the fairly bizarre, with everything in-between.
The Garmin site does not record a run for this day, as the weather was so bad later that evening that I retired to the gym and the infamous treadmill where I knocked out about 4 miles. A couple shy of the target, but hell, it’s our day off!
Thursday: the pace run was done with Mark, and we knocked out 15k in 1:23 for a decent pace of 5:33 min/km, which is slightly under the desired 5:35. I was feeling fairly tired when we set off, so I was glad I was able to pick up the pace and keep it there.
Friday: a recovery run of 10k, and for some unknown reason, the pace seemed to get up and stay up. 5:36 isn’t fast by any stretch, but typically Friday would be a run I have found to be tough in the past, as it comes on the back of four consecutive days training, and the day after the longish pace run. And you know you have the long run the next morning, so I have no idea why I did it at that pace. But there ya go!
Saturday, and an early start. S was away to work, so I got all the gear together with an assortment of gels and energy bloks, along with two 280ml bottles that sit in a belt, full of electrolyte mix. As I was off call, I had the luxury of ditching the alerter and going further afield. Of course, one can’t completely break with tradition, so I headed up the Black Avenue as per normal, and out through the park and onto the Clonee Road before turning left onto the Royal Canal towpath. If you wished, this path would take you all the way to the Shannon. Perhaps one day…
The weather was fine for running. Grey and overcast, with some breeze, but no rain, and not too cool. The summer flowers have mostly passed: the only real splashes of colour left for the enthusiastic amateur botanist are the rich blue-violet of Devil’s-bit Scabious, and later on, a veritable feast of pretty white Eyebright. Everywhere, the Hemp Agrimony had lost its pink lustre and was a mass of fluffy seeds. No doubt there were more riches for the patient observer, but I had business to attend to.
On out past Louisa Bridge and on towards Intel and Pike’s Bridge where I crossed the road and left the canal behind, and took in a loop of Carton House. We are blessed really, with the various opportunities to run around Leixlip. We have three really fine public parks on our doorstep and I was going to visit all three on my travels.
As I headed on out of Carton and down the path towards Maynooth, I got to thinking about these three amenities, and I think my brain wandered off into tangential musings on the various disciplines of long-distance running. With ‘three’ at the centre of it.
Parking the ‘whys’ for now (for that is another long story for another day – why do we run – and each have their own take on it), the thought came to mind how the marathon breaks down. The first physical question is where are you? I mean, physically, where are you running? The course will dictate a lot. If it’s hilly, that will change how you run. Most marathons start and finish at the same spot, so there is no overall elevation gain or loss. But in-between, there could be a lot of pain. Dublin has pain. It’s elevation map does not cheer one up!
The next ‘where’ is where are your legs at? As in, how much training have you done? If you are a regular devotee to the art of long distance running then it’s fairly safe to assume your cardio fitness is not an issue. But have you got the miles in the legs? Good miles, too. Not just loads of miles at the same pace, all the time. I have made this mistake in the past. The easiest way to do this is to cadge a freebie programme online that tells you to run for 20 minutes. Then run for 30 minutes. Then… well, you know the rest. It’s a time-based programme. A similar trap awaits those who buy into the distance programmes. The key is always pace, and variations thereof, as this is the only way to get the body used to what you are going to put it through, not least in terms of lactate thresh-hold and being economical with the glycogen. Luckily, I am following such a programme this time around.
The last ‘where’ is where’s your head at? Once you have it in the legs, you need to get it into your head. Assuming you have a target for your chosen race (in this case, a marathon), then you need to be able to convince the noggin that it’s all doable. And it is, assuming you have done the training and set a realistic target. There are going to be times in the race where you will question the whole idea. The battle here may start in the legs, but it ends in the head. It’s vital that your head is ready for this question. Coz’ it’s in the post.
Well, on I trudged, keeping an eye on the watch and the pace, and taking a gel every half an hour and a mouthful of drink to wash it down. Having faffed about during the week regarding gels, I did what any sensible runner would do, having spent an age online looking at all the brands… I went out and bought lots of new ones to try out…
I think overall, I quite liked the PowerGel. I also tried a Born, and the usual one, which is the High5 Energy Gel. I also find the Clif Power Shot Bloks go down easy, so if you find a traditional gel doesn’t sit well, try those out. You will need to take more, as each ‘blok’ will not give you the same carb bang, but as with all these things, you are taking sugar (in the form of glucose, fructose or maltodextrin), so you will need to mask that sweetness somewhere, otherwise you will get queasy. The range of flavours now is quite good, but you do need to try them all out, on a run, to see how you react.
I made my way to Castletown, the last of the three parks, and kept the watch ticking over. I figured I might run out of road if I headed home, but even with a detour, by the time I hit my home road with the house in sight, I was shy by a kilometre and a half. So nothing for it but to tip around the houses until the magic 35k buzzed on screen, and I could stop running. I was surprised to find that I hadn’t even finished one of the small bottles of drink. I find I don’t need to drink much on a run; I just make sure I am well-hydrated all the time, and this seems to do the trick. But I did think I would drink more than that… still, what goes in must come out, and if you are not sweating it out, you will need to pee it out, and that, on a marathon, means stopping. Not ideal if you are planning on following the pace runners, as I am going to do.
Once back at base, I ditched all the running paraphernalia. As my mate and his son were taking part in the Liffey Descent Canoe Race that day, I didn’t bother to change. I just grabbed my mountain bike from the shed, threw a banana and a few bars into a small rucksack and peddled off to the river to watch the boats come through. The Sluice at Lucan is a great spot, as many try their hand here rather than shooting the weir. Seconds can be gained for the pros, but the downside is a possible capsize which can lose you minutes.
The race is well-known. It is 28.2 kilometres long with 10 weirs and one portage. It starts in the village of Straffan and ends at Islandbridge in Dublin. The Sluice is one of the spots where you are always guaranteed some action. There are plenty of safety personnel around, so no-one will come to any harm, but there will always be a few spectacular tips, and this year was no exception. I didn’t spot my mate’s son, though he got a bronze, so that is a fantastic result. My mate couldn’t race in the end, due to an injury.
I enjoyed a long soak in the bath once I got home. It was, I feel, well-earned!