Tuesday, December 27, 2016

If you’re still going, well done.

So, after “Christmas Party Season” we had some “Winter Weather Proper Season”. For the last several weeks and months the weather has been great. Of course, if you were visiting from somewhere Mediterranean it might not fall into your meteorological definition of great, but for us Irish it has been a lovely winter. Very little severe frost, an absence of poorly named Atlantic Storms and little in the way of sustained stretches of rainfall. As a runner, it’s been excellent. That was until last week when the weather closed in and it finally felt like winter. Cold, damp, rain, wind and Storm Barbara. In this type of weather, it is oh so easy to swap the Brooks for a Bake-Off, their Asics for an Attenborough, the Garmin for a Gogglebox as you close the curtains, turn the heat up and break out that box of Seasons Greetings.

It was those Season’s Greetings that I was thinking of as I wrapped up and took off along the side-streets and foot-paths of town on Tuesday night for a short run. Thankfully I had my brother home from Oz for company, which just about got me through. Despite the fact, he had only just left 30+ Celsius summer sunshine Down Under, in his veins still runs Irish blood so he didn’t mind (much) the bitter wind, the icy chill and the flicks of rain.

He proved good company again on Friday when we got out for what was only my second an only other run of the week. It was a fast session with 3 minutes on and one minute recovery repeated four times. On the way, out Storm Barbara’s tail-wind saw me fly along at about 3 and a half minutes a kilometre pace while on my way back getting below 4 minutes a kilometre seemed a terror. Winter weather I tell you!

Thankfully the weather is due to change a little once we get pass Christmas weekend so if you can get past Saturday and Sunday and into “More Turkey, Ham & Stuffing Season” then you’ve done well and are almost half way through.

Slow run: 40 minutes.
Tough run: 10 min warm up – 4 x 6 mins intervals with 2 mins recovery - 10 mins warm down.
Long run: 60 minutes slow.

Finally one last idea. There are plenty of Christmas 5 and 10 k events that you can use for your tough run and to burn off that Christmas turkey and ham.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

That was tough

So training was tough last week. Part of this was because we’ve entered the staff night and ‘Christmas Season’ season! A place where intervals and long runs do battle with office parties and burgeoning lunches. It will be hard for everyone, but persevere!

For me the training week ultimately proved rewarding. That’s the thing about tough weeks; the tougher they are the more rewarding they prove. The more you give, the more you get back.

Tuesday I did my hardt session but my lateness (a characteristic that seems to define me these days) meant that by the time I arrived down, the lads had already completed 9 of their 10 reps. As a result having met them on my third run I only got to do one more in their company before I was on my own. Doing intervals on your own isn’t fun. It’s far from fun. It’s damn hard so it is. It’s the type of training that’ll put hairs on your chest my father would probably tell you. While I can neither confirm nor refute this, I certainly would say that it does make you stronger, physically and mentally.

Physically there is nothing better than intervals to push the ceiling upwards. In effect this training will allow you to run faster for longer. Mentally, running intervals on your own will harden you up, as long as you can complete the set. At number 6 (of 10) I was getting tired and cursed my lateness. At 7, I kind of thought that 8 would be plenty. At 8 though I thought I’d do this and then decide. At 9 I told myself that this would be the hardest one to sustain if I did it. And then at 10 I smiled, gritted my teeth and was thankful that was now the last.

Thursday was a light session of no more than 30 minutes, up and back from my parent’s place while they took on child-minding duties.

And then Saturday was my long(ish) one. However it was also the Meath Cross Country Championship Day so my long(ish) one was also going to be another tough one with a good dose of hills. 5 miles – 8 km – even if my watch read a little more on finishing. And all of it a hard slog up hills, down hills, along riverbanks, around steeples, through gates and beside ditches. The weather was beautiful, the scenery stunning, the going soft and the running hard. You don’t get many better courses. Although I must add, being my first cross-country race since I was probably 15 means I am not the best judge.

Usually at the end of races you don’t want to leave anything on the course. Saturday though I made an exception, I did leave something on the course (or at least just a little bit off it). Thankfully the early week rain should have washed it away by now! As for the time, I was delighted to come in feeling strong, though fecked in a time of 31 mins 29 seconds.

Not only was it a good boost to see I hadn’t lost much since October’s marathon it also meant that when I re-entered Christmas party season later that evening I did so guilt-free.

So this week’s training, and apologies if you have already kicked off is:

Slow run: 40 minutes.
Tough run: 10 minutes warm up – 15 minute tempo* run – 10m minutes warm down.
Long run: 50 minutes slow.

Thanks Ciaran for the photo.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Intervals & Tempo

While short runs and long runs are pretty self-explanatory tough runs might need a little bit more in the way of illuminating.

Yes, you usually feel and look like crap doing them, but they are really important in helping you raise your race pace. As a result, they are particularly important for those chasing a time.

The first type of tough run you might be experiencing or want to include into your schedule if you have yet to do so is interval training.

Intervals are effectively where you run much faster than you would expect to run a marathon over a much shorter distance. You can run to the clock or to a specific short distance, though you usually combine both.

For example, you might run hard for 2 minutes at the same speed you might run for a 5 k race and then do a slow recovery run for the next minute before repeating this four times.

Or you could do 800 metres around a track in 3 mins 10-15 seconds taking a 90 second stationary recovery before repeating six times.

Or you could do 6 x 2 k at half marathon pace with 2 minute recoveries.

Or you could just not bother thinking about the mathemathics of it all, join up with your athletic club and run the bollix off yourself as you tag along with a group, grit your teeth and try not to drop out the back.

While intervals are tough, they are really worthwhile pushing the ceiling up on your regular running speed and once you get your breath back, the heartbeat drops and you stop sweating, they do make you feel like good when you’re finished.


Tempo – no, not the small village in east Fermanagh (pictured:) at the foot of Brougher Mountain – perhaps ‘easiest’ type of tough run commonly undertaken during marathon training.

Put simply tempo running is where you run a short to moderate distance for a sustained period of time at a faster pace than you might do your long slow runs at but usually just a little slower than your 10-mile race pace.

I like tempo runs for those sessions where you are out on your own and you want to do a tougher run but don’t have the absolute motivation to push yourself to the limits.

An improvement.

First up, I made the three times out this week. It wasn’t perfect but it was an improvement and that’s something to keep in mind over the next month and a bit. If you can improve week on week you will be doing exceptionally well. It’s winter. It’s coming into Christmas. It’s not always easy. So take every positive as a success.

Monday was my first day out for a short run. And boy was it short! Running to and from my house I was under the clock as the winter light faded dramatically. Wearing the illuminous Trim Braveheart 5k orange tech t-shirt from last summer with a running vizzy vest layered over it, I couldn’t be any more visible on the road. However, on a winter’s dusky evening I wasn’t going to take any chances and as soon as I hit 2.5 k I turned for home and into the final retreating breaths of light. It wasn’t perfect but at least I made it out.

Next up was Wednesday when I got out for a short tempo* session. On my own, with not a lot of time nor a lot of extra energy I decided the tempo run was the right amount of tough for me this week.

And then finally on Sunday I capped the week with first another 5 k long run, which I did in the wonderful company of my wife at a pace where we could take in the rusty beech hedges, the fleeting appearances of robins and those new white squidgy buds that now populate the recently groomed hedgerows. When done I hit the nearby hill for three steep speedy ascents to push myself that little bit more. While it may not have been the longest I’d completed since the marathon it was definitely several feet in the right direction. Well done to you all for a second week completed. Roll on week 3.

This week’s training schedule:

Slow run: 30 minutes.
Tough run: 10 min warm up - 4*4 mins intervals* with 2 mins recovery - 10 mins warm down.
Long run: 70 minutes slow.

* Definitely will have more on tempo and interval training sessions this week.

Monday, December 5, 2016

So how did that go?

So, the first week of training. Did it all go to plan? Did you manage to make it out all three days as planned? Did you make use of the cold but dry weather to take to the paths and the trails, to blow out the cobwebs and get back up and running? If you did, well done, you’re flying. If you didn’t then don’t worry, join the club!

I started on Tuesday all bright and ambitious. I hadn’t really run since I finished the marathon last month. Part resting on my laurels due to it being the only marathon I’ve ever finished well and part due to a dose I picked up with half the rest of the country I had really taken things easy. But now I was ready.

So I took to the paths on Tuesday night and started my training with the interval session that was the tough Thursday session similar to that suggested last weekend. However instead of doing 4 minute intervals I did 3 minute intervals with a minute jogging recovery and did seven and a half of these because I was a little late. Despite the lay-off the legs held up and in the company of the friends from the club we paced up and down the outlying roads around Trim. It was a good start. And then I hit a speed-bump.

Thursday was the next day I was due out but I remembered I had arranged to go out for dinner and a film with my wonderful wife, and considering I had spent the best part of 4 months on every sort of run leading up to the marathon I was not going to call time on this. Then Friday was a retirement of an old friend. Saturday we had a family day out down in Wicklow and Sunday I spent laying paving slabs. Now, while I might say climbing the Sugar Loaf was a long run of sorts except a lot slower and lifting paving slabs was core work, one thing is for sure, it wasn’t real running.

There are weeks like this when it just doesn’t happen for you. You don’t get out due to illness, due to tiredness, due to weather, due to family commitments, due to paving slabs! But whatever the setback don’t mind it. It is a speed-bump along a season and a distant memory come race-day. It’s like what they say about pain, it is in the past. Move on and good luck with this week.

This week’s training schedule:

Slow run: 30 minutes.
Tough run: 10 minutes warm up – 15 minute tempo* run – 10m minutes warm down.
Long run: 60 minutes slow.

* A tempo run is where you run at a strong pace usually similar to what you might expect to run in a race. More on tempo mid-week.