Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dublin marathon pace-runner: October 2010

On 25 October 2010, I took to the streets of Dublin as a pace-maker for the Dublin Marathon. The conditions were perfect: no wind, blue sky, and approximately 8 degrees. I was not yet recovered from Berlin Marathon, so it was too soon to race. But I had previously agreed to help out as a pacer for the Dublin marathon organiser. I had plenty of mates running, and was keen to get out on the course with them in any capacity.

My job was to set the pace for a 2 hour 59 minute marathon (6:52 minute miles, or 4:16 min/km) all the way from start to finish. The idea is that runners who are aiming to break three hours for the marathon, can use me as a pacing guide throughout the race (in the absense of a pacer, many people tend to start marathons too fast). I'm also there to encourage people along the way. I had a massive red helium balloon (over a metre in diametre) tied to my wrist, and a sign in my other hand reading 3:00.

Pacing a marathon is the best possible way to witness all of the emotional and physical highs and lows of a marathon. As a pace runner, you can be immersed in the intensity of the challenge, with all the sportsmanship and camaraderie that goes with it. But unlike the other marathon competitors, you can fully appreciate the buzz of the event without being distracted by your own pain and suffering. The most rewarding moment off all for a pacer is reaching the finish line. It is exhilarating to see first-hand the sense of euphoria and exhaustion that fellow runners experience upon nailing a marathon.

All was going to plan for me until the 8 mile mark, when my oversized red balloon was defeated by overhanging foliage in a wooded section of Phoenix Park. The ‘BOOM’ that resonated through the trees was awarded with a jovial round of applause from the three hour bunch, who were apparently still energetic at this early stage in the race. Fortunately I also had a hand-held sign that would now become our most valuable signaling prop. Unfortunately, the sign was fairly modest in proportions compared with the balloon. It dawned on me that performing my pacing duties effectively for the remaining 18 miles was going to involve elevating the sign above my head - like so:

By the half-marathon mark, both of my arms were wrecked, and I started noticing smiley kids holding bunches of small helium balloons. If only I could secure one: I could tie it to my wrist as a replacement balloon, and then turn my focus completely back to nailing the 6:52 mile splits. But I didn’t have time to stop and negotiate with a spectator for the release of a balloon, so my only option was to poach one from an unsuspecting small child. I considered this for several miles, before dismissing the idea on the basis that doing so would not being in the spirit of the event.

As the somewhat diminished three-hour pack approached the finish line at Merrion Square with 2 hours 59 minutes on the clock, it struck me as being rather ironic that my arms felt like they were about to drop off. In some ways, dead arms were a welcome distraction from the aching legs. I couldn’t help but feel a great sense of pride for the lads who had stuck with us throughout the morning, and had achieved their goals.

This was a great day out in Dublin. We proceeded to follow up the running marathon with a marathon pub crawl session around Dublin throughout the afternoon and evening.

Monday, December 13, 2010

3rd Annual Wicklow Way Santa Ultra 2010

While the good people of Dublin battled hoards of bargain hunters on Saturday morning in search of Christmas gifts, four hard core shopping procrastinators hit the snowy Wicklow Mountains for the annual Wicklow Way Christmas Ultra run. The route follows a 52km mountain trail from Glendalough (deep in the Wicklow Mountains) to Taylors Three Rock Pub at the foot of the Dublin Mountains.

Paul Mahon and Rene Borg descending along the WW with Roundwood in the background

The concept was initially thought up in 2008 when a kiwi mate and multisporter, Gavin Lloyd, and I decided that an ultra distance 'fun-run' would be a good way to engineer a suitable calorie deficit before Christmas. Now in it's 3rd year, the event has not yet failed to provide hostile and demanding wintery conditions.

This year the crew was made up of Paul Mahon, Eamonn Hodge, Richard Nunan, and myself. Eamonn and Richard were both first-time participants in the run, and were keen to prove a point after I purposefully suggested last week that Paul was the only Irishman tough enough to make the distance. We were joined for the first stage by Rene Borg and Aoife Joyce, who provided some helpful moral support upon turning around after an hour - "we'll think of ye lads when we're sitting in front of a fire in half an hour drinking hot soup"

Myself, Eamonn, Paul, Richard, and Rene: still fresh, at the foot of Scarr Mountain

Next was a road section at the foot of Scarr. We were hoping to make up some lost time after being slowed by a snowy section. But instead of hitting the usual potholed pavement, we found that the road had turned into an ice sheet! Unfortunately we hadn't thought to bring our ice skates, so we tentatively took to the ice in our running shoes and adopted an unstylish penguin waddle as we maneovered along the treacherous road.

Jase trying to stay upright on the road section above Lough Tay

Djouce mountain is tough, even in the summer. This is the highest and most exposed section on the route, at 700m above sea level. This year we reached Djouce mountain after 2.5 hours. The weather was accommodating, but the snow was deeper than previous years. On the one hand, trying to run over a mountain in knee-deep snow can be quite fun. On other other hand, it is slow going, and we had 27km still to cover before sun-down.

Paul struggling in knee deep snow on Djouce Mountain

By the time we reached Curtlestown (34km, 4 hours), we were pining for a hot meal and a pint of Guinness. Eamonn had made the mistake of mentioning Fish'n'chips hours before in a moment of weakness, and the thought had since lodged itself in my mind. The patience starts to wane after stumbling along snowy trails for hours on end. Every footstep seems to slip laterally, or backwards. So much effort required per yard gained. Normally the downhill and flat sections would be a welcome respite from the climbing. But in the snow, every gradient feels like uphill. At this stage I'm wishing that we'd just entered a 5k Santa run in Phoenix Park.

Five hours and 40km after leaving the car behind in Glendalough car park, we were descending towards Glencullen, dangerously close to Johnny Foxes (the highest pub in Ireland). We overcame temptation as we hit enjoyed a clear run on the final short road section, before attacking the final ascent up to fairy castle summit (570 metres).

Finally with 6 hours 10 minutes running time on the clock, we collapsed through the doors of Taylors Three Rock Pub in South Dublin. Although we were an hour slower than previous years, we were stoked to have overcome the deep snow and ice to finish at all! Another successful Glendalough Santa run in the bag.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Berlin marathon race report

9am Sunday 26 September 2010

Weather conditions: 10 degrees Celsius, rain

Goal time: 2:39:42 (3:47 min/km)

Here is a link to my garmin report

When the starting gun went off, 41,000 runners leapt into action on Strasse des 17 Juni in Berlin. I was glad to get started, because it was cold and raining, and also because I was keen to get a sense for what my target pace would feel like. I was in Block A starting area, which was for 2:20-2:40 runners. I was surrounded by skinny fit-looking freaks. Though somehow there were at least 500 runners in front of me at the start, many of them running slower than 2:40 pace right from the gun. I stuck to my pace for the first kilometre, weaving my way up through the slower runners until I was moving the same pace as everyone around me. This wasn’t too difficult, because the road is six lanes wide.

Garmin tells me (with the familiar ‘bleep’) that I’ve hit the 1km mark in 3:45, pretty much bang on target. It felt like I was jogging frustratingly slow – this is precisely how it SHOULD feel because your body is charged with adrenaline, and you are running at a pace that you can sustain for almost 3 hours.

As I churned out the miles, my stopwatch kept informing me that I was running just on target pace, and things felt very comfortable.

The course was flat and is known for being fast. But the rain got heavier as the race went on. Rain doesn’t bother me generally, but wet ground conditions/puddles and the extra weight of wet shoes and clothing is not helpful when you’re running for a fast time. Runners were trying to avoid deep puddles and run on higher parts of the road where there was less surface water (see photo of Kenyans battling the puddles below). For this reason, there was more lateral movement on the road than normal. Surface water means that you could feel the lack of traction under your feet, and at times you would be showered with water when the person next to you landed in a deep puddle. Overall though, the course still felt fast, and you could work away at a steady pace because it is flat.

Under strict instructions from coach, I obediently ran the first half marathon in 80:07. My heart rate was much lower at the half marathon mark than it had been in previous marathons, and I literally felt like I was out for a jog. But marathon’s are strange beasts, and it’s common knowledge that the race doesn’t start until the 30km mark. I cautiously stuck to my pace. I worked with a group of lads from Denmark and France, as well as a Scottish guy until the 30km mark. They had passed me at half way, but I went with them because they looked strong and seemed to be moving at a good pace for me.

At about the 30km mark, the group broke up and I found myself with the leading guy from Denmark (he was wearing a red Denmark singlet). At this point, I felt that these lads were starting to drop the pace, which surprised me because they had been a strong unit. So I pushed on, and started targeting runners ahead of me.

It would have been nice to run with someone else at this point, but nobody came with me and nobody whom I passed stuck on my tail. This is the downside of running a negative split – most people don’t run even or negative splits, so you’re likely to end up running on your own in the last few kilometres. The good thing is that you get a positive boost out of passing loads of people.

I felt right on top of things at 35km, but suddenly I started to feel my hamstrings tighten up, to the point where I thought they might cramp up entirely. Images of Craig Barrett entered my head – this could be a disaster! So I eased off a bit, and by 36km the tightness seemed to have eased off slightly and I decided to start pushing. When I passed the 37.2km mark (estimated based on 37km mark plus 200m), I realised that I had to run the last 5k in 18:50 to break the 2:40 goal (essentially I just had to continue at the same pace). I was exactly on target, but unless I could increase the pace it would be down to the second - that was an uncomfortable thought. So I pushed a bit harder, whilst still paranoid about the tight hamstring which had the potential to foil my race.

At the 39km mark - I was so close now that I knew I could put the hammer down safely. At this stage I had passed a couple of hundred people (estimate) since the 30km mark, and there were no longer many runners around. Those who were around, were moving quite slowly and I was pulling them back. I was now moving at close to 3:30 min/km pace. Adrenaline was pumping again as I knew how close I was. The course wound through the streets of Berlin Mitte, with large impressive buildings bordering the streets on either side.

Then the course turned onto Unter Den Linden at the 41km mark, and the Brandenburg Gate appeared 600m ahead of me. I went for it like a bull from a gate. I knew I was close to hitting target time (probably under), but I hadn’t been checking my splits, so I wasn’t sure. One thing I did know was that no ‘WALL’ could stop me now. I was still increasing the pace, and felt strong. All that mattered was getting to the finish line as quickly as I could.

I was momentarily wowed by the Brandenburg gates. It was all quite overwhelming. Then I caught a glimpse through the gates of a large elevated sign 400m beyond the gates that read ‘Ziel’ (German for ‘finish’). All of a sudden, I forgot about the impressive gates and my focus turned entirely to the finish. I didn’t even notice the gates as I went under them, because I was busy running and trying to read the clock above the Ziel sign to see how much time I had left to hit my target.

My hysterical happiness and satisfaction was manifested at the finish line in a wry smile. Nothing needed to be said (for a few moments). Months of aching legs, long painful runs, desperately chasing club mates around Bushy Park, hobbling around the office, had paid off with the ultimate dividend. Target achieved - 2:39:27.

Reid, Jason (NZL)
Platz / Overall: 142
Platz / Overall: 37 (in Altersklasse)
Nettozeit / chiptotal: 02:39:27

Bruttozeit / clocktotal: 02:39:45
Halb 1 / First half: 01:20:07
Halb 2 / Second half: 01:19:21
Zeit pro km / Time per km: 03:46
Geschwindigkeit / Speed: 15.88 km/h

5 km: 00:18:59
10 km: 00:37:44
15 km: 00:56:47
20 km: 01:15:57
25 km: 01:34:56
30 km: 01:53:57
35 km: 02:12:53
40 km: 02:31:31

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Berlin Marathon: Race Plan

The training is in the bank, and I've reached race weight. Now to run the race. Here is what I hope happens (see target times on map)

It's fairly simple, my plan is to run around this marathon course as fast as I can, hopefully in under 2h40min (3:47 min/km or 6:05 mile pace). Current personal best is 2h44min (3:53 min/km), achieved in Rotterdam in April 2010.

Based on my recent form in racing and in training, I think that this is best achieved by running the first half marathon in 80 minutes, and then trying to do the same in the second half. Most important thing is to avoid going out too fast, and running out of gas too early.

Obviously my ability to do this depends on a number of factors, such as:
  • Weather conditions: heat and wind both lead to slower marathon times
  • how I feel on the day (we all have our bad days)

  • whether I have paced it right

  • Where I have correctly estimated by physical condition (am I actually able of achieving the target time?)

  • ensuring that I hydrate properly during the race
My coach (Adam Jones at Rathfarnham W.S.A.F) pointed out that there is no point wasting energy on worrying about things that you can't control. Good point. So that means focusing on preparation, hydration, and pace.

I will do everything I can to nail the target time, but it may not happen if one or several of these factors play against me. If I'm not feeling strong, then I'll drop off the pace and try to run as best as I can - no dramas.

Here's hoping that everything comes together!:-)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Berlin Marathon Taper

The last two weeks of the marathon training program is often refered to as 'the taper'. This involves reducing, or tapering off, exercise in the days leading up to an important competition - in my case, the Berlin marathon. The taper period immediately follows a peak in intensity over the training program.

There are several factors that should be taken into account over this period:

Physical Preparation

Introduce rest days into the schedule, avoid prolongued high effort work-outs (particularly if feeling fatigued), short fast sessions on the track are good to keep you sharp (e.g. 10x400 off 60 seconds), easy jogging is good. 4k time trial (at race pace) 9 days before the race is good for testing your speed , and sharpening up - it's short enough that your body can recover quickly. In between runs, ideally you should be resting up (stationary), rather than playing golf in the rain or going hiking up Mount Brandon :-)

Weight reduction is an effective way of improving your marathon result. Each kilogram of extra weight carried around can cost up to 2 minutes on a marathon time, so it is helpful to shed any extra kilograms (not that marathon runners have much extra weight to spare). Since this weight reduction has to occur during a period of rigorous training, it needs to be executed carefully over several weeks.

It's about being healthy and choosing the right foods, rather than going hungry. For example, my approach is to cut out alcohol, fizzy drinks, processed foods that are high in fat, desserts and sweets etc in the month leading up to the marathon. I try to eat mostly unprocessed fish, chicken, a variety of fruit and vegetables, wholemeal carbs (w/m pasta, brown rice, Weetabix, brown bread). I just drink water most of the time. For snacks, stick to healthy fillers like wholegrain crispbread and fruit.
Don't get me wrong, diet restrictions are not fun, especially not sitting in a pub drinking pints of water while your mates enjoy pints of Guinness. But it seems like a waste to train so hard for months, and then to handicap yourself by carrying extra weight around on race day, when it can be shed by simply cutting out treats for a short while. Treat yourself with tasty fruit selections. Can't wait to eat a chocolate bar next week. Mmmm.


I have reduced my weight over four weeks from 67kg (normal peak training weight) to 65kg race weight. After the race my weight will naturally return to about 67/68kg as I indulge in the much anticipated post race blow-out!

As you reduce mileage during a taper (last week or two before the marathon), you will not be burning as many calories. So at this stage you should naturally reduce the size and frequency of meals as well, otherwise you're probably eating more than you need to.

Carbohydrate loading begins three days before the marathon. Choose foods for lunch and dinner that are high in carbohydrates (e.g. pasta, potatoes, rice, etc.). Don't neglect fruits, vegetables, and some protein sources though. Avoid fats.

Drink lots of water, particularly in the last few days before the race when you are trying to fully hydrate yourself (you should be already hydrated when you wake on race day). Water helps the body to absorb and retain carbs.

Stick to foods that are tried and proven.

Get lots of sleep, and lots of time off your feet, in the last week leading up to the marathon. Sleep helps your body to operate better when it is working. It also helps you to recover from the training. Most top runners sleep for 9-11 hours per day.

Rest (and nutrition for that matter) is also very important for avoiding illness such as colds and the flu, which are easy to pick up during the peak training stage, or the taper.
Mental preparation

Try to remember that the work is done now, all you have to do is show up and give it a crack. Trust in your training. If you have down the yards in training, then it'll stand to you during the race. The last 10k of the marathon is supposed to hurt, so there is no need to fear the pain. The pain is only temporary - later you'll be enjoying the pints/steins plus chocolate, pizza etc and will have forgotten about it (until you try and walk to the bathroom). While the pain drifts from memory, the sense of achievement lasts.

Here is a more comprehensive guide to tapering for marathons:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How to raise a superstar

Click Here for a link to an interesting article written by Jonah Lehrer, the author of an excellent book I've been reading called 'How we decide'. The article discusses evidence suggesting that most elite sports people in the U.S come from small towns, and investigates potential reasons behind this.

Evidence suggests that the most important skills for success – the traits that allow us to persist in the face of challenges and perform under pressure – are more likely to emerge when we pursue a variety of athletic activities at a young age. This tends to happen more in smaller communities.
We won't be good at all of these sports, but that's probably a good thing. The struggle will make us stronger

The lesson here seems to be that the reason behind someone like Tiger Woods' success as a golfer is less to do with the fact that he's been practicing his golf swing since he was 2 years old (as per the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a specific activity). It's more likely to be because he has been developing discipline and focus since he was 2 years old (he could have been doing any sport, and still turned to golf at a later age and had the same success in it).

Monday, August 30, 2010

Training for the Berlin Marathon

In 25 days I will step out onto the starting line on Unterdenlinden Strasse in the Mitte district of Berlin, amongst some of the top marathoners in the world (and 35,000 others) to confront the fearsome challenge of running 42.2km as fast as I can around the streets of Berlin. This will be my fifth marathon, having run the Rotorua Marathon (April 2006), Dublin Marathon (October 2008), New York Marathon (November 2009), Rotterdam Marathon (April 2010).

Having first joined a running club in 2009 (Rathfarnham A.C in Dublin), I am relatively new to the sport of competitive running, and I still have a lot to learn about the sport. I'm trying to pick up as much knowledge as I can by reading, asking questions of more experienced club-mates/coaches, and putting training methods into practice.

In the lead-up to Berlin marathon, I hope to offer an insight (over a short series of posts) into some of the things that I have learned so far, and write about my progress and some of my experiences in preparing to attempt a sub-2:40 marathon.

There are no short-cuts

John Walker

Picture: a historic and emotive picture of John Walker, a legendary NZ runner, claiming victory in the 1500m at the Montreal Olympic Games 1976

Running is not a glamorous game of skill and tricks, so there is limited scope for relying on ‘natural ability’ to achieve results. Running is a sport where the results almost entirely reflect how hard and smart one has trained over the weeks, months, and years leading up to the race.

Race day is the product of years of preparation. The Kenyans that you see running on television were not simply ‘born fast’. They became fast by spending their lives running, and free from many of the distractions and temptations that occupy the lives of people in developed countries. While children in the developed world are pampered and chauffeured to and from school every day, many East African children are already ‘marathoners in training’, commuting everywhere on foot. While we spent our late teens discovering partying and late night fast food jaunts, many (obviously not all) of our Kenyan or Ethiopian counterparts were resting between runs and eating nothing but basic healthy foods such as corn, ugali (a type of porridge made of maize), potatoes, and beans. Unfortunately this means that the rest of us have a lot of catching up to do!

But our upbringing is just one piece of the puzzle. Running a fast marathon requires large volumes and periods of prolonged high-quality specialised training. For example, professional marathoners (and elite middle distance runners) would typically run in excess of 200km per week for sustained periods, involving long runs, intense track work, fartleck, tempo sessions (fast paced distance runs), and hill running. It takes not only talent, but also years of discipline and consistent training before an athlete is able to reach this level of training intensity.

Competitive runners are typically highly motivated to train hard and improve, but their ability to progress towards this level of training and performance is most often constrained by his or her ability to cope with increases in mileage and intensity in training over time. The challenge for an athlete is to increase training and build strength steadily whilst avoiding set-backs such as injuries or illness. This is a difficult balance to strike, is different for every runner, and requires patience (particularly in a high impact sport like running, which puts considerable strain on the body).

Obviously my own training program is tailored for my current level of performance and ability. At this point if I were to replicate the training program of a professional runner, I would (a) lose the quality from my sessions due to fatigue and (b) most likely pick up an injury soon enough. Starting from a decent level of base fitness and strength, my marathon build-up is based around a 16 week training program. My weekly mileage started at a fairly modest 90km per week, and reaches a peak of 120km three or four weeks before race day (before winding back towards race day). Training to run a marathon in under 2:40 involves more than just going out jogging every day, it involves teaching the body to run at pace. To this end, my program is based around the following key sessions (plus recovery runs in between): long runs (up to 38km), interval sessions, tempo runs, hill runs

Long runs

The purpose of long runs is to teach the body to operate efficiently while running. Specifically, to burn a lower proportion of glycogen (stored sugar that is derived from carbohydrates) and a greater proportion of body fat when running. The effect of this is that the athletes glycogen reserves last for longer, and the athlete is able to run faster for longer (and hopefully avoid 'hitting the wall' or 'running out of glycogen' during the marathon). Long runs are typically run at slow to medium pace (because running fast burns more sugar, so running fast on these runs would defeat the purpose)

Modern day Ethiopian legends Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa running side by side

Interval training

Interval training is a type of physical exercise that involves bursts of high intensity work, alternated with periods of rest or low activity.

Distance runners often practice interval training on tracks, running hard at a certain pace for a specified distance (or, less often, time) and jogging, walking, or resting for a set distance or time before the next speed burst. Distances can also vary; from sets of 400 metre intervals right up to 2000 metre intervals. Many other types of sports people, including rugby players and sprinters, also use short intervals to build speed and strength.

The purpose of interval work-outs is to improve anaerobic performance (performance of the body in an oxygen deprived condition i.e. puffing hard, legs burning). In other words, to replicate race conditons where there are high levels of lactate in the muscles. The idea is that the body is better prepared to cope when you're breathing hard and suffering in the final stages of the marathon (and so that you have some speed in the tank to potentially out-kick opponents at the finish line). Speed training also has the effect of making marathon-pace feel more comfortable.

Tempo / Steady state runs

Uninterrupted fast-paced runs that are aimed at training the body to maintain speed over distance, by increasing the runners lactate threshold (the level of effort at which the body fatigues quickly). During tempo runs (and races), lactate and hydrogen ions - by-products of metabolism - are released into the muscles. The ions make the muscles acidic, eventually leading to fatigue. The better trained you become, the higher you push your "threshold," meaning your muscles become better at using these byproducts. The result is less-acidic muscles (that is, muscles that haven't reached their new "threshold"), so they keep on contracting, letting you run farther and faster.

Note: tempo run can be replaced with a race. I normally race about ten times during the 16 week marathon build-up.

Hill runs

During hill running sessions, the athlete is using their body weight as a resistance to push against, so the driving muscles from which their leg power is derived have to work harder.

Hill training offers the following benefits:

  • helps develop power and muscle elasticity
  • improves stride frequency and length
  • develops co-ordination, encouraging the proper use of arm action during the driving phase and feet in the support phase
  • develops control and stabilisation as well as improved speed (downhill running)
  • promotes strength endurance
  • develops maximum speed and strength (short hills)
  • improves lactate tolerance (mixed hills)

Friday, August 6, 2010

A fleeting tour of NZ

Here is a video of my 2010 NZ trip.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Climbing Carrantuohill and Mount Brandon in a blizzard

At Easter time Ali and I decided to climb Carrantuohill and Mount Brandon, in County Kerry on the West Coast of Ireland. It's fair to say that the weather didn't exactly play ball. However, that didn't stop us from trying. Here are some pictures of us battling the elements in some fierce Ireland Weather. We felt like Hillary and Tenzing when we disappeared into the clouds half way up and got hammered with snow and sleet. It was mental, and there was nothing but white in all directions. Though unlike Hillary and Tenzing's escapades, we were able to knock off these bad boys in a morning (on consecutive days), leaving us the afternoons free to sit around by a fire and eat soup!

Going up was hard enough work, but running/rolling down from the summit of Caher in the thigh deep snow was brilliant!

Jase: Let's go up there! (Carrantuohill, 1050 metres) Ali:Ok

Should have brought the crampons. 'Don't worry, it'll be sweet'.

Some long pants and hiking boots wouldn't go astray either (top of Mount Brandon at 925 metres)

Mission accomplished

Monday, August 2, 2010

Living the high-life in Northern Wales - Snowden

Mount Snowden is the highest mountain in Wales, at 1070 metres, and lies in snowdonia national park in northern wales. The area is a lush mountainous area rich in history, littered with historic stonework and buildings, castles and ruins.

Snowden mountain is part of an impressive horseshoe ridge, which encircles a lake. Every July a classic fell race is held on Snowden. The race is a 10 mile 'out and back' route from the town of Llanberis, at the foot of the mountain, to the summit and back.

Sadly i haven't had the opportunity to race Snowden yet, since one has to get in quick to get entry. However, i got my chance to run the Snowden race route on Saturday morning, en route to a wedding nearby.

The route starts in the village of Llanberis, and traverses an ascending ridge that rises to adjoin the Snowden horseshoe ridge. The trail runs alongside a railway line, upon which a small engine transports tourists backwards and forwards between Llanberis and the Snowden summit all day. The route is steep, so the train travels at approximately the same pace as I was running up the trail, though it zig zags up the mountain and ducks in and out of tunnels.

The climb was entirely runnable, though was steep and challenging in parts (especially the day after a marathon interval session!) and fairly rocky. The summit was cold and windy, so when i arrived at the summit after 57 minutes, i checked my watch and immediately began my descent.
The descent was fast and exhilarating, made even more exciting by the complication of having to weave through copious numbers of hill walkers whilst hurtling down the mountain. Great fun. Descended in 29 minutes. Total time 1:26:59. Here is the Garmin run report and map of route:

From there, I rejoined forces with Alison and her folks and retreated to Ruthin Castle (our residence for the weekend, built in the 12th century) to scrub up for the wedding. Thus experiencing the more civilised side of life in north-west Wales.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Galtymore recon mission

With Galtymore IMRA race fast approaching, Brian Furey and I thought it might be worth a day trip to check out the Galty mountains (though I'll miss the race myself). The route is just under 13km, but is extremely tough due to the near 1300 metres of vertical climbing and the boggy conditions under-foot. Save some energy for the second climb up glencoshabinnia, because it's a killer!

Garmin report:

Brian descending glencoshabinnia, galtybeg obscured by cloud.

View north from Galtymore ridge through the clouds down to lough diheen.

Brian scouting for trails heading down galtymore, with galtybeg up next on the return leg.

Location:Tipperary, Ireland

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Irish runner 5 mile race report

It was an overcast and blustery day in Phoenix Park, Dublin on Saturday for the Irish Runner 5 mile (8.1km). The race is the first in a series leading up to Dublin marathon (which takes place in October), and this year attracted a substantial crowd of 5000 participants. The course is hilly, the first mile is downhill and consequently a fast one, then the second and third mile have a couple of uphill sections, before the course flattens out in the last couple of miles. Ten weeks out from Berlin marathon, this would be a good test of speed before I begin to really step up the endurance work over the coming weeks.

The first mile was downhill with the wind at our backs. After a 1.5 miles the course turned uphill and against the wind, so I knew that it would be important to be in a group at that stage of the race. The pace was fast off the start, owing to assistance from the wind and descending route. We passed the 1 mile mark in well under 5 minutes, the guy running next to me exclaimed 'NO WAY' with a thick Cork accent, in shock when he saw the clock (apparently the marker was short) My club mates Turlough Conway and Paul McGovern pulled up beside me.

At the 1.5 mile mark I maneuvered myself into a group and managed to get boxed in as two groups merged! But that was ok, because it meant that I hardly felt the wind, and I knew I could sit it out for a mile or so and then think about moving forward in the group as we reached the half way point. The two leading ladies were in the group. I felt very comfortable at the pace we were running, and I thought that I would end up pushing ahead of this group, hopefully with my club mates. The group started to break up a bit at half way, and I went with the breakaway guys. I couldn't see Turlough around, but i knew that Paul was still beside me.

The group of 5 or 6 of us pushed on, in a rotating leader type formation. Then the course turned with 1 mile to go and the wind was no longer a factor. I didn’t look at my watch, but one of the lads called ‘21:27’. I figured then that if I ran a 5:30 mile then I would achieve my 27 minute target. I still felt comfortable, and ready to go, so I boosted off the front of the group. I started pulling back guys who had been running on their own about 50/100 metres ahead of our group throughout the race. Managing to pull back tow or three of them.

I thought I was in the clear, with just a couple of lads in view to try and pull back, but then with 600 metres to go I was passed by one of the guys whom I'd been running with earlier in the group. Didn’t see that coming. I gave him a few seconds to get ahead and think he was safe, then with 300 metres to go I put the hammer down. Important to get timing right, because if you go out too soon then you can run out of steam before the line. With 200 metres to go I went past him. He kicked as well, but I had left enough in the tank and was confident that I could hang on.

My official time was 26:45 (average pace 3:19 min/km, last kilometre in 3:08), 31st place. Winning time 23:49. On track for Berlin.

Location:Phoenix Park, Dublin

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thoughts on Croatia - the Dalmatian Coast

  • Croatia has a stunning and dramatic coastline called ‘the Dalmatian Coast’ which runs North from Dubrovnik on the Adriatic Sea. This is where the mountains plummet down to the turquoise Sea. It is quite something.

  • Dubrovnik is a charming and beautiful city, saturated with tourists. The old town is built within the well-preserved city walls, which are several hundred years old. When you walk around the old town, you can imagine at times what it might have been like for people living in the city 400 years ago.
  • This romantic reflection will last for a few seconds, before the next group of boisterous American tourists walk around the corner eating ice creams and spouting superlatives. Despite the expected crowds, I would highly recommend Dubrovnik as a place to visit, and a good spot to start a trip up the coast.

  • July and August are very hot – up to 35 degrees in the day and around the mid 20s at night. Don’t bring jeans, do bring flip-flops. Be warned - you may be hesitant to leave the confines of an air conditioned apartment during the hours of 9am and 6pm.

  • Beer is cheap in Croatia, especially outside of the trendy tourist areas. Prices as low as €1.50 for a pint if you like to drink with the locals! Nice.
  • Croatians are good at making pizza, and sandwiches. Fruit and vegetables are also tasty and cheap. Dinner options were less pleasing, since the local delicacy seems to be a dry piece of fish with soggy sliced boiled potato and some spinach (and I’m not exactly fussy).
  • The Adriatic Sea is a gorgeous colour, and is great for swimming. I stupidly forgot my swimming goggles.
  • In the absence of sand, the term ‘beach’ has a broad interpretation in Croatia. A ‘beach’ can mean anything from jagged boulders which protrude from the trees and then abruptly drop into the sea (sun bathing can be awkward), and a rocky/dirt terrain reminiscent of a construction site. In fact, to describe Croatian beaches as ‘pebble beaches’ would somewhat embellish the truth in many cases. Buy a rollout mattress, or pay a beach vendor €5 to make use of a beach chair for the day. If you can get a comfortable enough spot, and spend plenty of time in the water, then you'll get over this pretty fast.
  • Choose your Croatian holiday spot carefully, as plenty of them seem to be over-run by families (relaxing on the 'beach' while being surrounded by noisy kids can be challenging) and resorts.
  • Split is four hours north of Dubrovnik by bus along the picturesque Dalmatian Coastal Route. The bus trip is very scenic, but the lack of air conditioning and soaring temperatures may limit your enjoyment. Brac and Hvar are islands off the Coast of Split, both are popular tourist destinations. I can see why.
  • Dubrovnik and Hvar are full of glamour, wealth, beautiful people. In contrast, The island of Brac is full of resorts, families and couples. Hvar is full of super-yachts that back up onto the promenade - Here is darth vadar's one.

  • Hvar town (on the island of Hvar) is a bustling party-town with an aesthetically-pleasing and historic sea-side town centre, lined loads of great bars and cafes. Hvar is a guilty pleasure. It is the most pretentious place that I have ever been, but yet I liked it. Maybe it's because they have bars built into the rocks (the ‘beach) where you can drink cocktails and Coronas in the sun, in the company of fancy people who wear sparkly sunglasses worth €400.
  • On the islands you can hire small boats and cruise around the many islands and pull up to a ‘beach’ of your choice for a swim. You can pretend to be a captain, if you like.
  • Croatia has great mountains for running or walking up, but in the height of summer it is difficult to make good use of them because it's so hot. Croatia is also not overly suited for marathon training, in case anyone was thinking of going there with that purpose in mind. The best, and only, way to climb mountains or train is to wake up very early, and then sleep during the day.

  • Croatia is less of a back-packer destination, than it is a domain of families / the rich. But there are some backpackers there, most are Continental and Australian, most are groups of females or couples.
  • Ice cream vendors are a-plenty, and ice creams cost less than €1. The ice creams are about 1/3 of the size of a NZ ice cream in a cone, which can be perplexing, but that's ok because it gives you an excuse to have another one.
  • You can find accommodation as you go, since you will be surrounded by enthusiastic apartment owners upon arrival at each town.

It doesn't pay to be highly-skilled in Croatia

Croatia has a thriving tourist and service sector orientated economy, with the service/tertiary sector accounting for 73,6% percent of GDP. Croatia is a Mecca for tourists, with approximately 11 million visits per year (I think I saw half of them on the one mile strip of beach in Makarska). With a relatively weak currency, Croatia enjoys being within close range of many European countries with a strong economies, wealth, and a stronger currency (the euro) to spend.

According to one seemingly well educated historian and author whom I spoke to (Adriana - our landlord in Dubrovnik), highly skilled Croats are faced with a dilemma whereby they are able to command a higher wage by either (a) electing to work in the tourism sector rather than (or in addition to) utilising their skill set and qualifications or (b) pursuing their chosen professions outside of Croatia. Specifically, despite supporting her own sons in their academic endeavours (one of whom is a medicinal scientist, and the other is a industrial engineer), Adriana suggested in dismay that as long as they remain in Croatia, they would be better off forgoing their chosen professions and buying an apartment to lease in Dubrovnik, or at least let an apartment as a means of contributing to their incomes.

Low wages in the highly-skilled employment sector would presumably lead to a ‘brain drain’ from the Croatian economy, and a diversion of local resources in the economy towards the lucrative tourism sector. While this may represent an efficient outcome for the economy, the social and cultural impacts within Croatia are less clear.

Is this such a bad thing? It is normal to see specialization across geographical areas within an economy. For example, Queenstown in NZ or Killarney in Ireland are tourism hotbeds within which the majority of land, labour and capital are diverted towards the tourism sector. Most would agree that building an industrial complex or computer software manufacturer on the main street of either town would not be a good way to use the space, nor the resources. Similarly, we would not expect significant investment in leisure hotels and tourist infrastructure in Dublin’s industrial areas. We might view Queenstown or Killarney as a localised microcosm (within NZ and Ireland respectively) of what Croatia has become in the European context.

Geographic specialisation has big impacts across the globe: you only need to look at the volumes of Kiwis and Irish who grow up in a rural setting (primary sector domains) and then want to pursue professional careers, and so move to urban centres. This is why Dublin is full of country folk who weren’t interested in taking over the family farm, but instead move to Dublin, pick up a degree in IT at UCD then start new life in Dundrum commuting to Sandyford for work every day.

Maybe the social impacts of this geographic specialisation can be best measured by visiting Rody Bolands on a Saturday night and asking the folks who have made the move. Or maybe the impacts would be better measured by visiting any one of the multitudes of rural pubs across Island and speaking to the families that were left behind.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mountain run in Croatia

The first thing one notices when approaching the Dalmatian coast of Croatia by boat is the stunning mountain range that casts a backdrop for the beach-town of Makarska. One peak in particular - Sveti Jure at 1762m - towers above the rest.

I scanned the side of the looming rock faces from the boat for any sign of trails that may allow a runner access to the delirious heights of the summit. No visible scars from this angle, which I supposed meant that access would be limited to rock climbers, or from the other side. Still, i figured that It was worth investigating at the info centre anyway. Either way though, a mountain run of this proportion seemed unmanageable in the prevailing heat (32 degrees plus).

Initial investigations revealed that there was a track, which sneakily twisted and turned it's way up the mountain between rock faces and eventually connected with a road that ran to the summit from the other side of the range. The route was 24km return with over 2000 metres of vertical ascent. My only chance was to start early and beat the sun.

After seeing Alison off on her own epic adventure (a 1400m climb to a viewing point) I set off just after 5.30am in temperatures already reaching into the high twenties. The route was demanding right from the gate of our apartment, offering a daunting preview of what was to come. The first 6km of trail climbed 1430 metres from Makarska up to the Vosec viewing point. Even my rough gradient calculations had not prepared me for the actual shock of trying to ascend the trail at this ungodly hour of the morning.

Progress was slow, and on parts of the route my run was reduced to an off-balanced power walk on the unstable rocky ground (flashbacks of Carrauntoohil ascent). Nevertheless, before I knew it, the time was nearing on 7am and had reached the viewing point 1430m above our apartment. I was rewarded with brilliant views of the town and of the islands that lie off the coast (apparently on a very clear day you can see Italy!).

Perhaps more importantly, I could see the summit of Sveti Jure, which still looked disturbingly distant, considering how tired my legs were already.

If this were NZ, you would never see a road in remote and beautiful landscape like this. But unbelievably, some poor bastard had actually built a road up to the summit, and I was now running on it. This was finally something that my running coach might approve of, probably not though.

The view from the top was staggering, but as usual I didn't have time to enjoy it. I was in a race against the sun, and i was losing. No trouble though because I had a lot of descending ahead of me, so expected to make good time on the way down. This was confirmed when the ears started popping and the temperature started rising dramatically with the decreasing altitude. By the time I reached the apartment after approximately 3h10min running time, the temperature had climbed well into the 30s - siesta and beach time!


Three oat biscuits, 800ml water.

Ascent/descent: 2000 metres
Distance: 24km

Location:Biokovo mountains, Croatia