Runners and Injuries: Not Letting Panic Triumph Over Hope

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This is a subject extremely close to my heart. In fact, it’s so close to the surface that I’d swear if you stood close enough to me, you might just be able to hear my heart beating out “Help me, I’m a runner”…

I’m going through this right now. I may not be an elite athlete, but I am 100% a runner at heart. It’s what makes me smile, lifts me up, allows me to escape everything for a few hours everyday and honestly makes me feel like some kind of superhero. On the outside, I might look like a hot, sweaty, flailing mess… but on the inside I feel like Mo Farah. I feel like me.

One missed session in my weekly training plan makes me uncomfortable and I’m very bad at just “letting it go” but sometimes weather or unforeseen events just happen and you have to suck it up.

One week without running – usually only happens when I’ve just ran a big race like a marathon or half-ironman – I struggle with not being able to get out for a run for this long because regardless of how physically tired my body might be, I miss the fresh air and time outside, the peace and quiet. But I persevere for the sake of rest and meaningful recovery.

Suck it up.

More than one week… Huh???!! It has been years since I’ve gone more than 10-14 days with no running. Sometimes you do need a good rest as a runner and head-wrecking and all as it may be, you tolerate it because you KNOW that in a few weeks time, you’ll be back out there slowly building yourself back up again.

You KNOW. So… suck it up.

Now, try telling a runner that they can’t run today, or tomorrow or even this week. In fact, it could be as long as a year… Actually, I can’t tell you when you’ll next be able to go for a run or even if you’ll ever be able to run again.

To a runner, this is devastating news. For me, I just couldn’t accept it right away – it was too much to deal with all at once and it took months for me to even come around to the idea and I still haven’t fully accepted it. When you’re used to being able to lace up and get out in the fresh air – just you and your radio – and plod along to your own rhythm, it becomes a massive part of who you are and when it suddenly gets ripped away, you feel lost – like a big part of you has suddenly been whipped away and crazy as it sounds – it takes a while for you to come around to this new version of yourself that doesn’t run every day.

You suddenly feel  – as if you’re not you anymore.

Trauma. Grief. Loss.

Heartbreak.

I don’t say these things to be flippant. I have massively missed running and the goodness it brings to my life. Life without running has left a great hole that I simply cannot fill with cycling or swimming. I have been cranky, intolerant, impatient, angry, sad, an utter basket-case at times (on multiple occasions) and I’ve cried big fat tears of frustration and loss for my life as a runner on several occasions. I’m pretty sure my Dad (poor man has witnesses a number of my ridiculous meltdowns) thinks I’m a complete nut-job but then of course that’s how it must appear to sane people on the outside.

The Phases of Running Grief – not kidding, there are actual phases …

1. Blanket denial – the physio doesn’t know what she’s talking about… she’s talking out her arse – sure I know more about running than she does and I definitely know my own body better than anyone else. I’ll be grand in a few weeks. Your biggest worry at this stage is loss of fitness – worrying about losing the good place you’re at that you’ve worked so hard to get to. Your nervous that your sub 3.45 marathon goal may have to wait till next season.

2. Bargaining – Loss of control and helplessness make the control freak runner in you start to try and rationalise it all in a vain attempt to regain some control – what if I do this next time? What if I did that better?

3. Anger – After a few weeks, nothing is better, the injury is still there and you start to panic when the realisation that it might be quite a while before you’re able to run again starts to feel real.

I followed my plan… why am I injured and X, Y and Z are not? It’s not fair… I did everything I was supposed to do? Why is it different to any other training cycle? I should have taken a longer rest after the last marathon… I should have done more strength work…  I should have eaten better… I should have said 3 hail mary’s before every run… I’m so stupid, stupid, stupid……….and why does nobody understand me?! Get away from me…. No, I don’t want chicken soup to make me feel better!!! Aagggghhhhhhh…

4. The Sad Bit – crying in a pathetic curled ball on the floor as your running gear starts to gather dust, as the races you signed up to months ago all come and go.

Mourning the loss of running as a friend and of that huge part of you that is tied up in running. It’s not just a hobby- it’s who you are first thing in the morning, the feeling you carry with you all day having completed a great run that morning, Parkrun with you friends on a Saturday morning and coffee afterwards, the long run on a Sunday morning listening to the Marian Finuacan radio show and the heavenly after-feeling of that effort as you chill on the sofa drinking coffee, watching Downton Abbey.

Acceptance? Nah. See number 1. I’m an optimist and I love running far too much to ever give up on the idea that I could be out there running some day soon.

I choose hope, rehabilitation and optimism. So maybe I’ll have to keep spinning the wheels of this cycle for a little while longer- going through the phases of denial, anger, sadness – but I won’t stop hoping and I won’t give up.

I saw a new physiotherapist this week and for the first time since I got injured I heard the words “I see no reason why you shouldn’t recover and get back to running”. Like the saddo I am, I nearly cried when she said this. It’s the first positive thing I’ve heard from the rounds of Doctors, physios, orthopaedic surgeons and other specialists in a year. She gave me hope – she didn’t promise anything and she did stress that the first goal would be to get back to a place where I have no pain in my feet just as is. Then, we can look to bringing walking back. Only after that can we even consider bringing running back in.

This could take quite a while to get to that stage but right now, I feel hope – I can see a finish line. Not sure of the distance yet but I can see one drifting about in the wind somewhere out there – I just have to be patient, follow the right path and not be stupid.

Then maybe, just maybe… I’ll be a runner again.

Good Pains in Strange Places

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I’ve started going to the gym and for the first time in a long time, I’m bringing back strength and conditioning sessions in a big way. But boy, it does hurt so good.

Strength and conditioning is an area I confess to having neglected in all my years running. Lifting dumbbells, doing squats and squeezing out a few press-ups are all the types of exercise I would typically hate. I always felt they were boring exercises- like sport without any of the joy. Coming up to marathon training time, I’d resolve to make sure I did at least one proper session per week and then also including a few exercises in my everyday post-run routine, such as heel lifts, wall-sits and planks.

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But in all honesty, I probably have not been doing as much as I should have been doing and now that I’m out of (temporarily!) the running game and sitting on the sidelines, injured for the foreseeable, I can’t help but wonder if I had been more diligent about my strength and conditioning training, I might not be injured right now. I might still be running about blissfully ignorant and injury-free.

I’m not a shoulda, coulda, woulda person though, so I bring this up as topic not to dwell on the past but to learn, plan and build for the future. I want to be stronger, I want to be faster and I always want to be better. (I don’t need to be higher 😉 )

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…and I always want to eat scones.

What’s the Plan?

Joined a gym, had a personal consultation and have a training plan. 2-3 days a week, I’ll be doing an hour of strength work, mixed with a short interval of cardio. In addition to that, I’ll be out on the bike at weekends and as the days start to get longer, I hope to get out a few mornings or evenings before or after work. I hope to get in one or two swims during the week too.

My program consists of:

  • Chest presses
  • Leg presses
  • Step-ups
  • Planks
  • Russian Twists
  • Face Pulls
  • Bicep curls
  • Tricep Dips
  • 15-20 minutes cardio (I’m having a go at rowing to try something different…)

Nothing revolutionary here – and if you’re a runner, you’ll probably be very familiar with most of these exercises. What I like particularly about this program is that it aims to build a basic level of strength and it also incorporate specific exercises that will be good for running, when I start back.

Leg presses will help develop the quad muscles as well as the glutes – also excellent for cycling (and my butt!)

Step-ups are a simple but excellent strengthening exercise that every runner should be including in their daily routine –  as well as the exercise helping to work the glutes, quads and your core, this move also helps to develop good balance and running form. I quite like doing these too.

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Planks and Russian Twists – work your core/ abs mostly but planks are an overall excellent strength exercise.

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I did the full program for the first time during the week and while I enjoyed doing that night… oh my sweet Lord, did it hurt the next day. I know since not being able to run for 10 months, my arms, abs (and general upper body) have just gone to flop. You just don’t use your arms that much on the bike and your entire upper body is more or less stationary for the entire ride – you don’t use it at all the way you do when running. So right now, I have NO upper body strength. It’s pathetic.

I could not lift my arms above waist height on Thursday after my weights session on Wednesday night. And there were aches and tendernesses in back muscles and shoulder places I have never felt before. Have you ever seen a person trying to massage their own back muscles? Not an attractive look. I cared not!

So onward and strong-ward! If you are also someone who has been avoiding strength work because you too find it boring and tedious, please PLEASE heed my advice and just do it anyway. Find a way to get it into your week – if you’re not someone who enjoys lifting dumbbells or churning out squats, then go to a class like bodypump or bootcamp. Ignore this element of your training and it could end up costing you dearly – both literally or figuratively.

Let me put to you this way – would you rather spend your hard earned wages on physiotherapy, MRI scans, doctor’s appointments, blood tests and consultant visits (still with no diagnosis or end in sight…) OR on the entry fee to the Boston Marathon?

Easy, right?

 

Running Advent Calendar: Gifts for Runners

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Happy 6th December and hope you’re all enjoying the early days of Advent and jolly run-up to Christmas. For all you runners out there or for those cursed lucky enough to have a runner in your life, there is always a long list of coveted running items and accessories that we long for and which, you’ll be delighted to know, make the perfect Christmas gifts.

If you weren’t running-minded, you’d be forgiven for thinking that once a person had acquired all the essential running gear – running shoes, shorts, t-shirts, jacket, socks, gloves, leggings, hats, etc. – there would simply be nothing else left to buy.

You would be wrong.

There is always something new or better out there in the shops that catches your eye and sticks in your mind until that glorious day when you actually get to bring it home with you…and add it to the ever-mounting, massive and obscene amount of running gear in your wardrobe 🙂

I use wiggle.com a lot for buying running gear as they have great gear for running, cycling, swimming and triathlon and they offer great discounts. Also incredibly good service, very reliable and fast delivery. My “wishlist” on wiggle is a permanent fixture and since getting into cycling, my wishlist has at least doubled in size! Most of the items are ones which I will probably never actually buy but a girl is allowed to dream sometimes 😉

But presents for runners (or cyclists!) don’t have to be big or expensive. Great presents are often very inexpensive but choosing the rights ones can make a truly brilliant present for a runner and as they’ll likely be using it everyday, your gift is sure to leave a lasting impression. Last year, my aunt got me some running socks – now every time I put them on, I remember where I got them and it makes me smile. So small, but so thoughtful.

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Enough jabber, now for the ideas!

1. Running Gloves – You can pick up a pair of these in Elvery’s, Lifestyle and most other sports clothes shops, as well, of course, as online like such sites as wiggle.com. They come in a variety of types, from the lighter pairs to the fluffier winter mitten styles. Depending on how cold it gets where you live, the lighter or warmer ones might be best.

For a light pair, I would go for Ronhill Lite Gloves – Retailing between 10-20 euro, these are a comfortable light pair for winter day when you feel like you need something for your hands but nothing too warm. You can often buy them as a set complete with a beanie also.

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For a very good, properly warm pair on those really cold days, I would highly recommend the Saucony Ulti-mitts.

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Saucony Ulti-mitts. Little light on them to keep you lit.

You can fold the flap over the fingers on these for a mitten effect and it honestly does make such a difference in terms of keeping out the cold that much better. As well as providing an extra layer of material on top of your fingers, it creates a barrier to keep air from passing in between the fingers and thereby keeps the temperature up.

I love them. Solid 5/5 from me.

2. Running Socks – YOU CANNOT BUY A RUNNER ENOUGH SOCKS, EVER. I’d like to be able to say you can’t go wrong with buying someone running socks, but you can. Good intentions are lovely and all but if you get someone a poor pair of running socks, they simply won’t use them or they will…and then end up silently cursing you forever. Do it right however, and they will love you forever more 😉

1000 Mile socks are my personal favourite. I never blister, they are supremely cushy and comfortable and… very importantly, they don’t slip down. They retail around 11 euro and you can buy them in Elvery’s or online here.

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As a general rule, I’d stay away from thick “sweat socks” or socks that have poor elastic around the neck. Personally, I’ve found that Nike socks tend to fall down (pun intended) in this department.

3. Running Hat – Another cheap, yet great piece of gear. I have a mixture of light hats and warmer ones, picking whichever one is more suited to my mood and the weather. For the very cold days, I’d recommend the Saucony Drylette beanie. Looks great and very comfortable fit – snug but not too tight or too warm.

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Beanie baby.

On a less posh note, I also frequently wear a fleece hat that sits a lot more loosely on my head and which I find very comfortable. It doesn’t have to be expensive at all and if it has a bit of colour or a fun design to it, then all the better

4. Food – Running gels, energy bars, electrolyte tablets, energy chews… we love all this stuff. You wanna see the look of sheer delight when you give a runner a box of these goodies – it’s like the adult version of the Santa effect. Pure joy. Go mad.

High5 Zero Electrolyte Drink (20 Tabs) 

Some of my own favourites are High 5 Zero Electrolyte Tabs, Clif Shots, SIS energy gels…

GU Energy Gels With Caffeine - (24 x 32g)

Gu energy gels, Clif bars… the list is endless. A particularly good present idea is to pop along to a sports shop and pick up a random selection of these kind of things and parcel them in a nice gift-wrapped box. Kinda like a runner’s selection box.

5. A Decent Foam Roller. An essential piece of kit in any runner’s armoury, a foam roller can wear out when used a lot so the gift of a new one can be a most welcome present to a runner. A good one will make for a brilliant and very useful gift.

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Trigger Point foam rollers are the business when it comes to foam rollers and can be got for good discounts if you shop around online.

6. Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is not your typical running book. Neither a biography nor not a lesson in how to run, this is a completely different, if enjoyable read for people with a love of running.

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7. T-shirts and Hoodies with Cute Running Jargon… My favourite t-shirt is one that I picked up for 10 euro at a running expo that has the Irish shamrock emblem on the back with Saucony’s running phrase “Find Your Strong” alongside Dublin. I’ve worn it to death but I love it to bits because it makes me feel a tiny bit strong 😉

Websites like goneforarun.com do a range of tees and hoodies with snappy slogans that will make the runner in your life feel pretty darn badass. Bits and bobs like these:

Women's Everyday Runners Tee I Run To Burn Off The Crazy

Women's Everyday Runners Tee Run Strong

8. An I.D Band – I have to confess I still haven’t got one of these yet. A really simple ID band just in case… find one here.

9. A Running Journal is a lovely present. Useful, as well as being just a nice thing to have.

10. Born To Run by Christopher McDougall  – like with Murakami, this is unlike anything else you’ve ever read and one that will shape you, change the way you think and stay with you forever. If you haven’t read it, read it before you gift wrap it and pass it on 😉 !

Instead of Running Dublin Marathon 2016

I did not run today’s Dublin Marathon this year for the first time in 6 years. It’s been emotional folks, I’m not gonna lie.

Driving home from the city on Friday night, I passed through part of the route, spying posters and traffic diversion signs warning of the impending traffic disruptions, metal barriers stacked nearly on pavements patiently waiting to line the streets before sunrise on race day.

I actually cried.

Laughing at myself – while crying – but crying all the same.

I love the Dublin Marathon more than any other race I’ve ever done but unfortunately due to ongoing stress fracture injuries in my feet, I had to give it a miss this year. Today was the big day, with over 19,000 runners due to take part, making it the biggest Dublin Marathon yet. This year marked the first time the race has been run on the Sunday of the Bank holiday October weekend, having been moved from its usual spot on the Monday, and the result is that numbers increased by approximately 6,000 participants. Huge.

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St Stephen’s Green was picture perfect autumn yesterday as I strolled through it on my way to do some light serious shopping.

And what a day it turned out to be. THE most perfect autumn day – bright, blue skies, cool but not too cold, hardly any wind and beautiful autumn sunshine. Excellent running conditions and I could just imagine crossing that finish line, meeting up with family and hanging out in town afterwards with Dublin its very finest. Alas, at least 19,000 other people would get to this today. All that happiness and achievement makes me very happy indeed!

I considered going in to cheer on the courageous marathoners but in the end I decided against it, as I’d likely just end up crying on the sidelines and feeling bad about my stupid, seemingly endless injuries. I’ll happy to cheer at other races, but this one is the one closest to my dumb sentimental heart.

Instead, I decided a more positive approach would be to do something at the same time as the marathon in some kind of sympathetic companionship with the marathoners. So, I got up early and headed off on a long cycle into the countryside, beginning at the same time that I would’ve been starting the marathon!

It’s a little sad, I’ll admit, but you know what? Who cares?!

From Naas, I cycled to Sallins, Clane and straight on to the Baltracey crossroads, where I turned left for Timahoe. I swung a right turn in Timahoe and headed out across the bog road for Clougharinka, which turned out to be gorgeous. Honestly, I just noticed Cloughrinka on a map one day and liked the sound of the name, so I fancied cycling there to have a look at the place. It’s a teeny village but the area around it is all trees, ruins and bursting with colour at the moment.

From Cloughrinka, I turned toward Edenderry (another place I’d never been to in Ireland!) and from there, I turned right in the town across the bog road toward Rathangan. The first bog road was fine but this one… aye, it was never-ending! I could see from the map that it was just this long straight road but I didn’t think it would actually feel that long… but unfortunately the road surface was fairly poor and made for heavy cycling. Boy was I glad to get to Rathangan! Having cycled through Rathangan many times before, I knew it would be a speedy route home and I was able to re-focus and just pedal for home.

100 km round trip – making this the first time I’ve ever ridden 100 km! I know that’s not much to some people, but it’s a big milestone for me and it really makes me appreciates how the professionals will ride between 200-300km a day in the Tour de France AND with insane mountain climbs AND cycling at twice the speed that I would. Not to mention day after day after day.

Gladiators of men, if you ask me.

After my cycle, I had a long hot bath (complete with coffee and chocolate, if you’re curious 😉 ) just as I would have done if I had done the marathon today, followed by something to eat and a good movie while elevating my tired legs.

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I also dropped into M&S to get a bread roll. Where’d all that other stuff come from??? #TheM&Seffect

Today was not the day I would have liked it to be back in January, when I first signed up for the Dublin marathon but with a little bit of effort and enthusiasm, I turned what could otherwise have been a very sad day, into something very positive.

Injuries happen. Life happens. Things crop up that get in the way of good plans and the path we’ve laid out for ourselves. It’s okay to get upset, it’s okay to get angry and it is okay to cry. But get back up, shake yourself off and always have another run at it. Just never give up and never give in, because it’s a beautiful day out there and you are NOT going to want to miss it.

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Accidentally stumbling across this in M&S is also partly responsible for the joy I’m feeling right now. Never seen before in Ireland!!

Well done to everyone who braved the Dublin Marathon today, you incredible people you. Huge congratulations and enjoy your well-earned time off and celebrations. What an achievement, be proud!

Dublin Marathon 2016

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Are you running the 2016 Dublin Marathon? If so, you are a lucky, lucky person in for a beautiful day of running. A great day to be alive! For those who are not, due to injury or otherwise, I commiserate entirely with you, being benched myself this year for the first time in 5 years.

The Dublin Marathon is without doubt, my favourite day of the year – trumping Christmas and my birthday, just to be clear. From the terrific route, unreal atmosphere and the best magnetic crowd support, this road race is, in my opinion, unrivalled on the Irish running scene.

What Do You Need to Know?

With just 7 days left until race day, the countdown to the start of the Dublin marathon 2016 has well and truly begun. Runners will be crossing off the days on their calendar as they pace themselves through the final days of their taper and preparing mentally as well as practically.

To help you out here’s a few things to keep in mind from now until Sunday:

Tapering – It looks easy on the running schedule when you see it written down and compare it to all of the other weeks of training you’ve done, but in it’s own peculiar way, it is one of the hardest weeks of training you’ll do. Personally, it wrecks my head…but I know it works and is worth the mental turmoil so just try to relax, take lots of deep breaths and trust your training plan.

You will all have your own versions of a taper plan but general rules of thumb are to incrementally reduce your overall weekly mileage 2-3 weeks before race day, maintaining the number of days you run and the usual level of effort involved in each session – but reducing the number of miles you would normally run in each session. You’re aiming to rest your legs and allow for increased repair and recovery by doing less miles, but you simultaneously want to keep your legs sharp and maintain pace memory.

Don’t freak out. Don’t be cranky. And try not to lose it. Every year, I do this – unusually high levels of energy due to less running coupled with pre-marathon jitters is a recipe for a jumpy runner! You have been warned.

Toast Honey

Food – By now you’ve practised with different food (and drinks) before, during and after training and hopefully too with races. The week before race week is NOT the time to start experimenting with new things. It’s coming to the end of a marathon training cycle and it may well be the case that you’re getting bored of your banana on toast or bagel with honey…My advice?

Suck it up.

You can eat something different next week – when you’re not about to run 26.2 miles and subject your body to massive physical demands which significantly hinges on the digestive system and your body’s ability to produce energy.

Don’t make it harder for yourself. Trust me when I say eat the foods that you know work and leave experimenting to the next cycle of training.

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Tried and tested.

Carbo-Loading – On a similar note, there is a lot of advice bouncing around about “carbo-loading” before a marathon. 2 things:

  1. White – In the days before a marathon, it can be good to reduce the amount of fibre you normally take in as this will make it easier on your digestive system on race day. For this week, it’s okay to switch from wholegrain everything to white everything.
  1. Don’t Stuff Your Face – Carbo-loading does not mean simply add extra high carb foods to your daily intake. Aim to increase the percentage of carbs in your normal daily intake of food, rather than just adding it on as an “as well as”. Eating excessive amounts of carbs, particularly on a week when you’re running less, could leave you feeling bloated, heavy and might affect your weight- the last thing you want after all your hard work is to end up feeling like crap on race day.

Gear

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Get EVERYTHING ready well ahead of time. No need for stress.

Make a list of everything you plan to be wearing on race day, as well as anything you need before and after the race. A throwaway top for waiting around before the race, a black plastic bag in case it’s raining (and a cap), food and drinks for immediately after the race, dry clothes… Try to think of everything now and get it all ready a few days before the race. This always helps to calm me and it gives me plenty of time to think of anything I might have forgotten. Leaving this to the last minute the day before a race can make you frazzled. Again, unnecessary hassle and wasted energy.

The Expo – The expo in the RDS is always great and I love chatting to visiting stalls about foreign marathons, like in Scotland or France and browsing through all of the running bling. But be selective – don’t be tempted to spend too long on your feet. More wasted energy and glycogen seeping away!

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Abandon all hope ye who enter here…

Route

This year will see the route remain the same as last year, having incorporated a few changes in last year’s edition to accommodate ongoing Luas works. A few tips:

  • 2 Mile – Watch your pace after you pass the 2 mile mark. You’ll come along the quays of the Liffey, cross over and head uphill on Blackhall Place. It’s early and you’ll be a combination of nerves and wanting to set a good pace BUT Blackhall Place up into Stoneybatter is all uphill so don’t push too hard. Be patient here.
  • 3  – 7 Mile – Mind the Incline (again) This is a more subtle gradient than Blackhall Place and because it’s early on too, you might not pay as much attention to this as you should. Listen to me when I say this – IT IS ALL INCLINE THROUGH THE PHOENIX PARK as you make your way along Chesterfield Avenue. DO NOT worry about your pace and DO NOT push too hard here. I did that a few years ago, being anxious about not getting too far behind my goal pace in the early miles and the result was my quads blew up after 16 miles. Once you’ve left the park and passed through the great crowds in Castleknock, there’ll be a sharp left turn and a nice downhill. Just be patient for it.
  • 21/ 22 Mile – Clonskeagh and Roebuck Hills – Heartbreak Hill. Beware Be aware that there is a climb awaiting you as you turn onto Clonskeagh Road and make your way up Dublin’s version of Heartbreak Hill around the back of UCD. There’s a Lucozade station to look forward to here so focus on that, just keep tapping forward and keep in mind – once you get over this hill, you’re downhill onto the Stillorgan road and on the home straight. This is always a favourite point in the race for me – it’s at this point I know roughly what time I’m going to finish in and more importantly, I KNOW I’m going to finish the race and I can really start to suck up the atmosphere and just enjoy every last minute of it.

Relax. Marathon day is reward day. You’ve done the hard part – the weeks and weeks of early mornings, late evenings, speed sessions, long runs, disciplined diet and social life. Now is your time. Now is when you get to do what you love most – lace up your runners and run one of the best marathons there is (if you ask me!). If your nervous, that’s ok – it would be frankly quite inhuman if your body was not nervous about what you were about to physically subject it to. Nerves are natural. Nerves are good. But control them and don’t let them take control.

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Chill time people, don’t fight it.

Rest. As much as you can this week, don’t walk if you can drive and don’t stand when you can sit. Sleep properly and early. And do not fill your extra time with spinning classes, housework or clearing out your storeroom. Your goal this week: avoid spending any energy you don’t need to. Energy conservation is your mission should you choose to accept it. Regular stretching and foam-rolling are also good to keep your muscles from getting too tight.

Enjoy This Time. You’ve spent ages getting to this point and often we blitz through the run-up to a marathon fretting about getting organised. It doesn’t need to be that way. Sit back, soak up the excitement and look forward to Sunday.

Because it is going to be truly great and you are not going to want to miss it 😉

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Fitzwilliam Place, starting line. Best place to be this Sunday at 9am

Are you one of the lucky ones taking part in the Dublin Marathon this year? Best of luck to you and would love to hear from you if you are! Go n-eiri an bothar leat!

Dublin Ironman 70.3: Race Report

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There is something in life that human beings crave above all else. Emotion, elation, ecstasy – teetering on the brink of an out-of-body experience that allows us mere mortals a momentarily glimpse of what heaven must be like. For some people, that’s sex. For others it’s heroin, cocaine, MDMA or other chemical formation that sets the senses alight. And for those who enjoy a bit of suffering and endurance as foreplay, that’s a marathon.

I can still remember that wave of ecstasy and joy as I ran the final mile of my first marathon in 2008 and the overwhelming bombardment of emotions as I crossed the finish line. Delighted to have completed the distance, utterly exhausted, aching all over, while bursting with pride and joy, and all I felt like doing was crying. Completely ridiculous, but there it was.

Ever since then, I’ve been chasing that same rush – that level of emotion, ecstasy and sheer satisfaction of achievement. Much like any addict, I’ve experienced similar highs since that first one, completing other marathons and triathlons of various distances, but never to the same extent. In fact, my times have come down quite a bit and I’m a much more accomplished runner/swimmer/cyclist now, but not since that first marathon have I ever experienced that same level of utter overwhelming emotion and satisfaction at the end of a race where you’ve had to dig down deep into your soul to get to that finish line.

Until yesterday.

I did it. I did IT. I DID it.

I did an Ironman 70.3 yesterday.

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Got my tats.

It might not have been pretty, it might not have been a winning time and God knows, I will NOT be buying those race photos, but I did cross the finish line, I did get a medal and yes, I now have the t-shirt.

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The race could not have had a better day. The morning started off dry and warm as the 2000 odd (in more ways than one…) triathletes assembled at the Forty Foot in Sandycove for the first leg of the race, a 1.9 km swim out into Scotsman’s Bay. The course was lined with yellow buoys, most helpful as compared with most triathlon swim courses which often only have a single buoy at each turning point. The extra buoys allowed you to keep on course more easily and thereby give more energy to the actual swim as well as avoiding being kicked or punched in the head. I actually did get quite a bash to the head at one stage but having remained conscious, I considered that a victory 😉

The conditions in the water were good, not too choppy or windy and I didn’t notice much of a current. From about 1.4 km onward (ish) I did start to tire a bit and was glad when the course turned back into the bay. On towards the giant yellow Ironman banner and we were soon out of the water and onto the bikes, after a quick dash and grab through the blue bag transition area.

I loved the bike leg. The cycle used to be the worst part of a triathlon for me. I was crap at it and it’s always the longest part, so not a winning combination. But since my foot injury and not being able to run, I’ve been cycling a lot more and as regular readers might tell you, have become a little obsessed with it. So when it came to the bike leg yesterday, I was game ball.

The roads were all closed for the race which allowed competitors a rare experience of racing through Dublin city centre in the middle of the road. It was such a treat. From Dun Laoighre, the cycle route ran straight along the Coast into Ringsend past early morning walkers and supporters (and people merrily making their way home after a night on the town…!) Across the Liffey, we then powered along the quays, securely held by watchful Gardai and more late night stragglers 😀 The course then passed along the outskirts of the Phoenix Park, up Chapelizod hill and out towards Lucan, Maynooth and Dunboyne, taking in 3 counties, before looping back to the Phoenix Park.

I felt good on the bike and despite some rain for much of the second leg, I really enjoyed it. Marking the longest distance I’ve ever cycled before, I expected to feel tired by 70/80 km but the reverse turned out to be true. After 50km I began to feel strong. My legs felt good and despite some lower back pain, I was able to push on and found myself flying the last 30km, sailing past strong, toned, young men on fancy dancy carbon bikes. Me and my entry level alloy certainly had fun in this race 😉

A final spin around the Phoenix Park and the bikes were docked and swapped for running shoes.That was where the pain began. I did not intend to do the run at all. I’ve been injured and have not ran for 4 months, apart from one moment of madness. I had decided I was going to “play it by ear” –  a phrase I’ve never really understood but you know where I’m going with it. Popped on the shoes and tottled out onto the run course, where I swiftly realised my legs were borderline useless and making it to 1km was going to be hard.

I shuffled at a rate of next-to-useless. It was not a good run and it was certainly not my strongest moment. I took it 1km at a time and decided I’d just finish the first lap and then stop. I walked a couple of times and I stopped at every feed station. But as I approached the finish area, I found myself deciding that maybe I might just do the 2nd lap and then I could stop. I still hadn’t spotted my Dad at that stage so also thought it might be no harm to go around again in case he was standing somewhere else along the course and I didn’t want to miss (or lose!) him.

On the 2nd lap I knew this was definitely DEFINITELY the last lap, legs were not working and my energy levels were zip. More water stations, stopped a couple more times to walk for a second. But as I was shuffling along, I was looking at everyone else around me, also suffering, also grimacing but nobody giving up. Then I started to ask myself – do I think I should stop because of my foot injury or do I just want to stop because this is really f-ing hard? My foot actually wasn’t hurting (very oddly) so I quickly came to the conclusion that if I did quit the race early, it would not have been justified and I’d likely go home that evening feeling guilty, that I’d wossed out and quit. And above all, I did not want that on my conscience.

Bobbing along up to the end of the 2nd lap, I’d already decided I was going to do the last lap, whether it meant walking, shuffling or crawling. I spotted my Dad, gave him a high five and told him “1 more lap!” More water stations, more walking and more shuffling. The only plus side was that every time I passed something now, I was reminded that this is my last lap and I will never be seeing that tree, person, water station, etc again and let me tell ya – for the suffering runner, that gives you an almighty boost! By the last 2 miles, everything was hurting and my legs were simply hanging.

Chesterfield Avenue, final kilometre – I found my legs. Started passing people for the first time in the entire 13 mile leg, and as the Ironman finishing gate came into view, I could feel a final sprint coming on. I rounded the corner, high-fived the race commentator and bounded toward the line with the stupidest grin on my face you could imagine. Crossing that line, I felt every bit of emotion, ecstasy and elation I felt in my very first marathon and more.

Relief, achievement, pride, joy, excitement, disbelief and absolute sheer physical exhaustion and satisfaction. An overwhelming wave of emotions washed over me and there it was- bursting to cry. It only took 6 hours 28 minutes of swimming, cycling and running, physically pouring out every drop of energy in my body into the earth, sea and air around me.

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Got the bling bling

This was an exceptionally well-organised event and fair play to Ironman who obviously know how to run a good race. The swim, the bike and the run legs were well marked and marshalled. Not all good however and I do have a few complaints, as others did too and for future events I think it’s good to bring up:

1. Finishing Area – Athletes Only. After collecting medals and white after-race bags, finishers had to cross a path and walk a short distance to a tent for t-shirt collection and food. Not a problem. The problem is that the walk across and indeed the actual tents, were open to the public too which meant a battle to physically find and get into the tent and then squeeze past people to get into the queue for food. When I arrived, there were kids all over the tent eating food that was meant for the racers. That’s not really on, to be fair.

Better thing to do – organise it like you would the end of a marathon, a long finishing chute where you have bag collection, medals, t-shirts, water and food, all in a line and closed off completely to the public. Quick, efficient and so much less hectic and messy. I was too exhausted to keep battling in the tent and fight my way over for food and ended up just leaving it. And I really wanted cake 😦 That’s a big thumbs down lads.

2. Bike and Bag Collection

Poor, poor, poor. This was shockingly bad. The bike racks were to be open from 2.30pm for athletes to come and collect their gear. When I got there just after 2.30pm, I found that the truck containing all the blue bags from the swim transition was only just arriving in the park…. a generous 6.5 hours after the last swimmer would have docked their blue bag in transition. So why did it take 6.5 hours to make a 30 minute trip (being generous here) ?

By 3pm, I was standing in the middle of an ever-growing throng of tired athletes who wanted to just get their gear and go home but now all of sudden found themselves virtually caged into a tight space waiting for the gates to open. It was like another leg of the race. Knackered, low patience, growing faint at all this body heat around me and having not had food due to tent debacle… this was a nightmare.

I made it through in one of the first waves of people they let in to collect their blue bag and bike but many after me were still not being allowed in and I can only imagine might have waited for another hour or so.

THIS WAS VERY VERY POOR ORGANISATION. I’m loathed to let something like that ruin a good race and day out but this should not have happened and really should not have been an issue for people to have to deal with at the end of a half-ironman race. It would be great if they could sort this out for next year.

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Smiling all the way home, despite the kerfuffle!

Overall, I loved it and am so glad I did it. My legs are in bits today, I can’t do stairs yet but I am smiling all the way. Now, all that’s left for me to do is decide firstly, where I’m going for a massage and more importantly … what next?

Terminal???? Probably.

My First 70.3: Dublin Ironman

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Your mission, should you choose to accept it.

 

That moment, that day, that ultimate mother of all events has finally arrived. Am I ready? No – in fairness, I may never be ready to take on a 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and half-marathon all in one swift block, but if it weren’t for my current and ongoing foot injury dilemma, I’d be a lot more prepared than I happen to be right now.

I will swim. I will cycle. I will not/definitely not/ probably not/ really should not might do part of the run. I haven’t been able to train properly at all since April on the running front, so I’m a million miles (or at least a few hundred…) from where I would want to be to run a good half-marathon. Finishing a 70.3 on a good day, when I’ve been able to train and put in some proper running training in the months leading up to the race, would be a stretch for me. For me, this is the next big leap forward. The next big challenge where a good old fashioned, honest-to-God, reaching-into-your-guts, all out effort would be needed – just to finish.

All those snazzy bikes. I do love a bit of bike bling 😀

Tomorrow, I will be going at it with virtually no running training and while it makes me a little sad that this is the situation I find myself in, having been looking forward to taking part in this event since last summer, it is a reality I have had no control over. Injury is a bitch like that. Sometimes all you can do is wait (and not go insane…!) I am grateful that apart from my feet, my other bits and bobs are still working reasonably well, which means that I can still do the swim and cycle. Ironman have also conveniently arranged for the run segment to be a 3 lap course of approximately 7km each, which means that if I feel like it tomorrow, I can try out a lap of running, see how I feel and then either stop or go again.

The forty foot, calmly awaiting the assault of 2000 triathletes.

Dublin 70.3 is going to be a great event and I’m stoked about being able to take part. The race kicks off in Scotsman’s Bay in Dun Laoighre, from where athletes will complete a single lap 1.9km swim. Then on to the bikes and into the city on EXTREMELY rarely seen closed streets. This I am going to love. Never are the streets of the city closed and never are cyclists given free reign like this over the much fought over tarmac that pave the way from the leafy south-side suburbs down to the city quays, heading out towards Lucan, Kildare and Meath. After the 9okm cycle, the run consists of 3 laps of a largely flat course in the Phoenix Park.

All racked and ready for action.

Pops has informed me he’s coming with me (on instruction from the mother) This is most kind of him, given the long periods of waiting around involved in an event this long and it’s always nice to know there’s someone there cheering you on in a tough race. Not sure he knows just how early the race starts however… that might be a kicker 😉 !

It’s also my birthday this weekend. Call me crazy but this is what I chose to do as my birthday treat. Does that make me iron?

#pre-iron

Is anybody else taking part in Dublin Ironman tomorrow? If so, I’d love to hear from you and best of luck tomorrow if you are!!

 

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