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