2011 Athletic Review

Colombian Training

2011 started from Colombia, frequently training and living at altitudes over 2,000m. Training was consistent and looking back was very high-quality.  In my 6 training weeks in Colombia I averaged 100 miles per week of endurance work – key weekly sessions typically being a 6 x 2km interval session and a long run with the last 10-14km at tempo pace.  Speed in sessions wasn’t near where I would expect and so at the time there was caution with regard to the quality of training, but looking back it was building a fairly serious training base.  On a test session day on a track in Medellín I average very close to 3 minutes per km for a 10 x 1km session off 200m jog recovery.  Back in Ireland this would be a typical session, but given I was running at over 1,500m altitude the signs were promising.  My first, and unfortunately what turned out to be my last, race off this training was in New York on route home – the central park Gridiron 4 mile classic on super bowl Sunday. I placed 2nd in an average time of 19:44, but it was a credible performance given my list of excuses J  I was sick in the couple of days before the race, flew in the night before, and the road surface was icy.

The Colombian training experience was designed as a major step towards a sub-2:20 spring marathon – Paris or Rotterdam the potential destinations.  Unfortunately it all went pear shaped on returning to Dublin.  On my second home-soil session my back went into severe spasm.  The spasms were likely due to slipping on the wet road in the latter stages of an 8 mile tempo session – I finished the run, but boy did it kick on afterwards.   It was 4 weeks before I could walk without a limp again and 6 training weeks missed, despite going to quality injury specialists.  Essentially it quashed any aspiration of a serious time in a spring marathon.  An injury is always hard to take, but when you’re after investing significant time, energy and money into trying to live the life of a professional athlete for a very short period it is extremely frustrating when there is no end result. Yes, I did have a wee break from normal working life and enjoyed several novel experiences, but my primary rationale to achieve a significant marathon personal best proved fruitless. I didn’t even get one solid race out of the effort – sport can be cruel at times …


I’m not the best at keeping in shape while injured or indeed on a break – typically an all or nothing runner.  I’ve ideas of cross-training, with several lonely bikes waiting for outings, but typically the time out is used to focus on other aspects of life.  As a result getting back into running in April was like starting from scratch.  For a start I’d managed to put on 6kg – 1kg per week – if only if was as easy to go the other way!  My mom prefers my healthier fuller look, but for most endurance athletes the gaunt look is in vogue – suggestions of looking ill are a complement J  It’s quite amazing how quickly I can build my unfitness levels – for every week out it seems to take me two to regain my previous physical status. By mid-May I had the ability to train, but racing was another matter – 3 poor races in as many weeks suggested that I shouldn’t be even trying.  That’s when I went to Rene Borg looking for advice on developing a training programme based on the Lydiard training foundation.

After a couple of meetings with Rene he had developed a tailored training plan focusing on two target races – the national 10km on the track and the Dublin marathon.  Two 12-week training cycles.  I’ve had similar plans it the past, but the big differences were target training pace for all runs and some new varied session types.  Initially it was a struggle to hit the desired pace targets, but within three weeks I was comfortable and feeling positive in the knowledge that every run had a clear purpose.  Within 4 weeks I felt fully back to myself and started racing again.  My initial test of Carrauntoohil was a little disappointing – first to the top, but I seem to have lost my will to succeed on the hills with an indifferent decent.  It was a day for those willing to commit to the technical descent and Jason Keoghue proved this by winning even after a pretty serious fall.  The Wicklow Way Relay was a significant improvement on terrain tailored for my abilities.  It was a huge record breaking team success for Rathfarnham and one that I’ll certainly always remember.

Back on the Track

It was now time to dip back into the more competitive road and track race environment.  First up was the Docklands 8k with a credible 2nd place sub-25 finish, losing the duel with the recently rehabilitated Vinny Mulvey.  Next up was possibly my performance of the year – winning the Strawberry half marathon against the mighty Sergiu Ciobanu.  The time wasn’t fantastic at 68:04, but it’s a tough course and showed that I was certainly going in the right direction.  Looking back, I was probably a little overly buoyed by the result as immediately started cranking interval sessions instead of giving the body an adequate recovery period. It was working as within another 3 weeks I had set personal best times over 3km and 5km.  All was looking extremely positive for the national track 10km.  My test 10km race was at Park West – running within myself to win in 31 minutes.  The national champs itself was bitter-sweet.  Bitter in that I didn’t succeed in either of my targets of a sub-30 time or top-3 finish, particularly disappointing as I just felt flat on the day – no bounce. The sweet side was that our Rathfarnham team took team gold and my club and flat mate Seán Hehir took individual bronze.

Surrendering to Temptation

I started my running career in the mountains and it maintains a habit of frequently luring me back.  Running in the hills is fun and always a fun unique experience.  If I was to strictly follow my Lydiard plan I was due to get quickly back into tough endurance training.  Instead I found myself tempted to run the Irish trial to quality for the World Mountain Running Championships in Albania.  The Albania route was rumoured to be relatively flat and so potentially suited my strengths.  I tried the pre-selection route with Gerry Brady, but with Brian McMahon and Stephen Scullion already selected it was looking unlikely.

The trial was only a week after the national track 10km.  I was out with a bad cold in the 2 days before the race, so running was particularly unwise.  I can see this clearly now, so why the stupidity back then?  I couldn’t resist the challenge.  The race itself went well, with a nice victory, but what followed was the end of any marathon aspirations.  I was trying to do everything – the jack of all will never be a master.  I followed up the trial race with a 20 mile endurance run at 3:50/km pace with the marathon mission crew.  The cold combined with the 2 difficult back-to-back days resulted in adding a chest infection to my man flu.

By now self-destruct mode was kicking in.  I followed the madness with running the Frank Duffy 10 miles despite being hardly able to get out of bed that morning.  I was entered as part of a team challenge and had made a commitment to Jim Aughney and so felt compelled to run.  My plan of running the 10 mile at tempo pace went out the window shortly after the gun went – the first 5 miles were an excellent 24:50, but collapsed over next 5 to a 51:40 overall.  There was consolation in winning the Dublin championships, but it left me extremely week.  The Sligo Warriors race was due to be next up, but recovering was not a priority given that the national half marathon was only 2 weeks away.  Amazingly I recovered to run a personal best time in the half – 4th home in 67:20.  How, I am not sure ...  It was a great day for the club with Seán Hehir taking individual gold and team Rathfarnham taking another gold.  I was happy with performance in the circumstances, but reality is it was a huge missed opportunity given my condition only four weeks previously.  When will I learn?

World Mountain Running Championships

Albania is not a country you frequently hear mentioned.  The Lonely Planet travel guide has it as one of the top-10 countries to visit in 2011.  I certainly wouldn’t put it in that category, but it is a cheap and sometimes cheerful location.  It’s got the sunshine, beaches, and occasionally good countryside, but little else on first impressions.  It’s certainly an unusual place for a World Mountain Running Championships.  This lured me in – always seeking new experiences.  My preparations in the lead up to the championships weren’t ideal, but still was positive going in after the solid national half marathon performance.

The race itself wasn’t at all what I was expecting – my expectation was a manicured fast/easy course in temperate conditions.  Obviously my research was really poor as in reality it was a slow, difficult, technical & treacherous three lap course in blisteringly hot conditions.  It was madness – I’m disappointed with the WMRA organisation for not considering athlete safety for a world champion event.  Hopefully their standards will improve – the facilities were excellent, but the course wasn’t worthy of a world championship.  WMRA should review route well in advance and last minute route changes (up to the day before the race in Albanian’s case) are not acceptable.

It was a day where being prepared and up for the battle counted – failure for me on both counts.  I just wasn’t up for the fight – can’t explain it.  The Irish vest normally is all the motivation one needs to perform.  Perhaps it was the 4 gruelling lead-up weeks, trying to do too much while sick.  Was it my body or mind?  I still don’t know.  I started very conservatively as I knew the heat was going to be a huge factor.  Bottlenecks were a factor with this tactic due to a large amount of single-track, but mainly it was a case of starting slow and failing to pick it up until it was too late.  The heat made it extremely difficult to pick up the pace.  There was water on the course, but stupidly I only started pouring water over my head in the later stages of the second lap.  After throwing a full bottle of water over my head I felt renewed to pick up the pace on the last lap.

I finished 3rd Irish home in 53rd overall – a disappointing result given my form in 2011.  The team result was an excellent 9th, with Mark Ryan having a particularly savage 26th place finish.  The juniors and women also performed well – the Irish thrive on adversity.  The fair skinned Irish had no real business competing well in such extreme heat and dusty conditions. It seemed set-up for the countries closer to the equator.  But every Irish athlete finished on a course strewn with dropouts, despite several injuries and even hospitalisation.  It’s a serious situation when you see Ugandans faltering with heat exhaustion.  The well prepared, including winner Max King, doused with ice packs before and during the race.  Max went to the extent of having ice under arm warmers – an ingenious idea.  It was an experience and certainly I think the whole team will be better prepared with similar conditions in the future.

There was a great night of celebration after the race.  Food and drinks were flowing at an impressive banquet and afterwards it was off to the beach for continued partying by the shore.  Unfortunately the hangover hit hard – this was no ordinary handover.  Initial casualties suggested it was purely down to alcohol consumption.  Every hour there seemed to be a new victim.  I don’t frequently suffer from hangovers and felt well enough to run on Monday morning.  However, by 4pm I was severely sick – apologies if you’re eating, but it was particularly violent and afterwards I was unbelievably weak. I’m not sure how I mustered enough energy to board flight or indeed how I was allowed.  Obviously we had all picked up a bug, possibly from the buffet the night previously.  All I can say is it was a particularly savage one and took about a month to fully leave my system.

One Last Fix

Running the Phoenix Park half marathon was another classic case of self-destruct.  I knew with the most recent illness that any hopes of achieving a good Dublin marathon had vanished, so the Phoenix Park half was a shot to nothing.  Besides it’s on my doorstop and I can’t resist temptation.  The first 5 miles went extremely well – I felt particularly easy running with Mark Hoey, the eventual victor.  Seamus Power went off like a rocket – he was probably 30 seconds clear after only 2 miles.  I remember saying to Mark to be patient and so it came to pass, with Seamus grinding to a halt on 7 miles with a stitch. Mark & I hit the front, but at about 8 miles I collapsed – essentially just ran out of juice – the illness eventually taking its toll.  It was left to Mark to finish the job, which he did with relative ease.  Seamus threatened to get back into the race, passing me on several occasions over the last 5 miles.  Eventually his collapse was even more catastrophic than mine.  Martin Conroy & Paddy Cassidy passed in the closing stages to take 2nd and 3rd respectively.  Personally it was a bad day at the office, but no harm done – time to rest and recover properly for next training & racing cycle.

Lessons from 2011

2011 was a year of learning.  Despite some personal bests it was a largely disappointing year in relation to results.  I’ve set myself objectives at the start of each year since becoming a little more than recreational runner and 2011 is the first in which absolutely none were achieved.  Admittedly the targets are becoming particularly aggressive, but I still see all as achievable.  And so I’ll be going into 2012 with exactly the same goals as 2011, but hopefully with more knowledge, more determination, and a little more luck.

Training with Rene Borg was a valuable learning experience, trying several new training techniques.  In particular I’ve new knowledge, appreciation, and confidence in how to approach endurance training.  I also have a strong belief in the focused hill bounding and striding intervals.  Where I think the Lydiard method let me down is in the anaerobic to taper phase.  As Rene explained to me, there will always be tailoring of the system required based on trial and error.

Most of my setbacks in 2011 were self-inflicted.  Over-racing the key issue, but particularly stupid when simultaneously ill – it’s an addiction J  Hopefully 2012 will bring maturity to match my age …

Looking forward to 2012

The latter stage of 2011 was a period of rest.  It was a particularly busy period for me, so sport took a back seat.  I’m getting back into routine training now, but it will take time.  You’re unlikely to see my toe on the line anytime soon.  Motivation levels are back and it’s just a case of putting in the work to get back in the game.  It is proving to be more difficult that previous come-backs with some niggling issues, but primarily it’s a case of getting the body used to pain again J  

2012 will be a very exciting year for athletics, with Fionnuala Britton leading the charge at the moment.  It’s great to see the Marathon Mission getting some results – Mark Kennelly & Linda Byrne both with fantastic Olympic qualifying runs.  There are several others in the frame from the squad – unfortunately Dublin marathon wasn’t kind to most of the squad in 2011, but there will be lots of follow-up racing this spring.  It will be particularly exciting to see Seán Hehir debut in the marathon – his training and racing consistency under the tutelage of Dick Hooper suggests something special is possible …


Forever Fourth

Just back from the Athletics Ireland National Half Marathon down in Waterford and what a day it was for Rathfarnham WSAF AC. National senior men champion in Seán Hehir and national senior team gold. This was a target race for Rathfarnham and it showed. Our lime green colours were widely on display and there were some impressive performances all round in the men/women & senior/master categories.

From a personal perspective the national half marathon was bitter sweet. My target before the national half marathon was a sub-67 time and individual medal. The bitter side was that I missed out on both targets, but there is so much to be positive about. I ran a strong personal best time. I don’t have any regrets about race tactics or final preparations – simple case of been beaten by three better athletes on the day. If I ran that time in the last 5 national half marathons it would be 3 gold and 2 bronze medals. The other major positive is that I’ve been feeling particularly tired and often sick over the last three weeks, missing several days training. So to recover from that and perform is a huge relief. Amazingly I feel better physically after race and I did beforehand – it’s as if the race reawakened my muscle fibres. From a team perspective we have taken our first national gold and it qualifies Rathfarnham WSAF AC for the 2012 European Club Half Marathon Championships. Finally, individual gold went to my club & flat mate Seán Hehir. This championship meant everything to him and it showed. Delighted for him – I am fully aware of his dedication and desire – well deserved victory – should mean a happy household for a while J

In sync with Seán Hehir, our national champ

Going to take you back to my last posting now and with hindsight I was at a fitness peak around the Kinnegad 5km in mid-July. The Lydiard endurance training really worked for me – always felt good and running sub 6:30 miles in training was easy. I hit a major peak after 6 weeks pure endurance, 2 weeks hill interval work and 2 weeks of interval & race prep. It was a fantastic learning experience and has prepared me to push on and properly plan for next big targets. Unfortunately, the form went a little wayward leading up to the national track championships. Essentially the Lydiard taper period was too long for me and I could feel the pace disappearing from my legs. I held form relatively well; with a 31min win in the Park West 10km, an 8:34 3k, and finally a 30:35 in the national track 10km, but it was yet another 4th and well off my sub-30 target time.

Since the national 10km my training has gone downhill and well off plan. Planning isn’t possible when you’re forced to train on the basis of how you feel. I’ve only myself to blame – I pushed the body too far and it broke. On the weekend after the national track championships I ran the IMRA World Mountain Championships trial on the Saturday and a 21-mile 6min mile run on the Sunday with the marathon mission squad. Either would have been fine, but both back-to-back was stupid even by my standards. It was nice to win the trial, but it’s a race I could have done without. I ended up getting sick and missing a couple of days training afterwards. Then I compounded my stupidly by running the Frank Duffy 10 mile race. I felt compelled to run, having said to Jim Aughney that I would join the marathon mission team. Knowing I was ill going into the race I decided to run it as a ‘tempo’ pace run. Unfortunately that didn’t work out – I started out at my own pace, but after a half mile someone shouted at me not to run the race on my own and it triggered something in my brain to catch the lead group. Before I knew it I was running 4:55min miles with the leaders. I lasted about 4-5 miles and then it was a lonely run home. I lost interest and slowed substantially for 2nd 5 miles (24:50 vs. 26:50). I followed the 10mile Saturday race with another long run, but at an easy pace. Unfortunately I got sick again after a dental anaesthetic for filling replacement and missed another 2 days of training. Showed up one day for a session with Mark Ryan & Eoin Flynn, but lasted only 500m and walked home. The wheels were falling off and psychologically I was damaged goods. Doubts about all races entered my head. Amazingly this was only 2 weeks ago. I thankfully skipped the classic Warriors race last weekend and managed a solid week of training in the lead up to the national half. All considered I have to be absolutely delighted with the end result.

National track 10k & half marathon champions

And so I’ve added to my list of near podium national championship finishes. Five 4th place finishes (marathon 2010, half marathon 2011, track 10km 2009&2011, road 10km 2009) and two 5ths (half marathon 2009, track 10km 2010). All I can do is keep plugging away and I’m sure my day in the sun will surface. I know there is more left in this aging tank J Next up is the World Mountain Running Championships. Initial indications on recovery from the national half are positive, so as long as I stay sensible this week I should be well placed to perform. There are niggling doubts about the Dublin marathon, but that decision can wait until I return from Albania.


What a difference two months makes ...

Pushing Kinnegad 5k finish

Two months ago my athletics career looked to be on a bit of a downward spiral.  I was struggling to get back from injury and psychologically starting to feel my age.  Three races that I would have expected to win and three defeats – Bray, Prince Willies & Tullamore 4 mile – finishing the latter race in a relatively slow 21 minutes.  Now, two months later my athletics career is renewed and I’m running personal bests almost every time I put my toe on the line – PB & 1st in Strawberry Half, 8:28 3k PB on 2011 track opener, 1st & road 5km PB in Kinnegad, 2:00.4 800m blowout, and last week a 31 dead 10k to win Park West 10k without having to go to the well.  Why?  Well there are probably 4 good reasons – training, diet, maintenance & altitude.

Improvements over last 2 months +  target

Before discussing the reasons, let’s first look at the scientific evidence.  As part of the Marathon Mission programme I went for lactate and VO2 Max tests two months ago and again last weekend.  The differences are stark.  For me the most notable and catalyst for several adaptations is my weight, going from 71kgs to 68kgs, with at least 2kg less fat.  69kgs has been my typical racing weight over the last few years & relatively it’s still heavy. Most professional distance athletes with my height would be below in the region of 62kgs, with Africans my height below 60kgs.  Am I just a fat western plodder?  The bulk from my GAA days is hard to shift and perhaps my vain side doesn’t want it to J  Still, I’ve got to 66kgs before for target races and it is a sustainable level for me to target.  I was over 70kgs at Dublin Marathon last year – 4kgs is a lot to extra carry around for 26 miles.  Several athletes get abuse for being obsessed about weight – rightly so, but there’s a reason – if you can stay healthy, the lighter you are the faster you go ...

Absolute VO2Max is the maximum amount of oxygen one can use in one minute.  For me, this seems to be 5.4 litres of oxygen per minute.  It’s a relatively static number and difficult to change.  Studies suggest that marginal improvements can be achieved with high-intensity training.  Way back in 2006 I went for VO2Max test, scoring an absolute VO2Max of 5.3 – I’ve increased it by 0.1 with 6 years of training – yippee! J  Relative VO2Max is a more widely used number and a statistic often bandied about by athletes – the relative part being weight.  Stands to reason that if the absolute part is static then the area to target change is the relative part – back to my previous paragraph and the important of weight.  Over my two month test period my relative VO2Max increased from 75.7 to 79.1 ml/kg/min.  A nice improvement and close to the magical 80 number.  With a weight below 67kgs I’d be above 80 and that’s a very realistic target.

Lactate threshold is really the key measurement for the distance athlete.  VO2Max is a measure of potential.  There is no hiding behind lactate as it measures actual ability to sustain a particular running pace.  Once lactate goes over 4mmols it becomes impossible for an athlete to sustain that pace for a prolonged period like the marathon.  My lactate levels improved substantially over the last two months and this is primarily down to training.  My results basically show that I can run in the order of 1kmph faster now than two months ago.  Doesn’t seem like much, but 1kmph equates to a substantial 5% improvement.  The figures show that over 18kmph is a sustainable level for me at the moment, which equates to sub 2:20 marathon. My VO2Max suggests a 2:15 marathon is realistic – science is great J  Time to put theory into practice.

Back to the four reasons behind my improvements – training, diet, maintenance & altitude.  Training has been consistent. Nothing dramatic, but I followed the Lydiard plan with good discipline – 5 weeks endurance work at approx. 90 miles per week.  The last 4 weeks were speed focused, reducing to 75miles per week.  My diet has improved, but consistency remains elusive.  Mileage is the primary reason behind reduced body fat.  I can reasonably get to just below 68kgs for the track championships but anything more dramatic and I would probably either get sick or lose valuable muscle mass.  I’ve put substantial effort into making sure I remain injury free, with routine massages and more core workouts.  I’m a bit of a slut when it comes to massages – the latest massages with an internationally renowned expert Hagen Stroh of Myoreflex – highly recommended - more on this later.  The final reason is altitude.  I’ve been lucky enough to be able to try out an altitude tent for free for the last 2 months as part of the Marathon Mission squad.  Hemoglobin (14.6 to 16.2) and hematocrit (44.5% to 48.8%) have both improved by the order of 10%.  An improvement, but if I’m honest I was expecting a more dramatic shift. Still, every second counts.  I have to give the tent back now - hopefully blood volumes remain high indefinitely. I’ll put up specific review on the altitude tent for anyone considering this as an option.

Dublin graded 3km this evening as final blow-out and then it is taper time for the national track 10km.  Expect Rathfarnham out in force – can’t wait J


Strength & Strawberries

It’s been a great week – 2 races, 2 PBs, 1 victory, 1 course record & some pocket money.  I’m only 6 weeks into my Lydiard training programme from Rene Borg and it’s already starting to pay dividends.  Most athletes know about Lydiard’s principles, but what Rene has done for me via Lydiard Foundation is to design a programme to exactly meet my needs, peaking for 2 key races in 2011 – National 10k on the track on 6th Aug and Dublin marathon. The most valuable item on the plan is the pace range for runs. I was the type to just run by feel, which typically meant this lazy git was running too slow. Now, running 4 min kms is commonplace in training and it’s beginning to feel comfortable.  Rene's Lydiard plans also have a priority and purpose to all runs, so no more junk miles J

The Lydiard system goes through different phases – Aerobic, Hills, Anaerobic, Coordination, Taper, Race.  I knew all this before & probably could have designed a similar plan, but now I know there is value in a listening to advice from another. I’ve been self-coached for a while now and occasionally have the required discipline, but it’s good to have someone properly watching over what you’re doing.  Rene is not your typical coach – he’s not there for sessions, nor does he need to be – I’m a big boy J  He’s a scientist/mathematician – I give him dates & numbers (e.g. PBs, VO2 Max, Lactate) and he churns it up with the help of the Lydiard Foundation system to give me a plan.  I occasionally send him back plan vs actual data and he provides feedback.  That’s all I want.  I still rely on experienced athletes/coaches like Adam Jones, Dick Hooper & Eamonn Tierney for advice and general direction, but Rene has added an extra dimension to my training.

So far I’ve had 4 weeks of Aerobic work and 2 weeks of hill sessions. The first few weeks were tough as I started from a relatively poor base after injury and I definitely struggled with the pace for a while. It was just about manageable as recovery was possible with no typical ‘interval’ sessions.  The hill weeks move into session territory, but not typical sessions – bounding uphill reps, fast descents & strides – not what I’m used to, but it has helped me get back in the game.  With my Wicklow Way Relay run I knew I was making progress, but couldn’t wait to test my new legs against true road benchmarks.

My two races this week were not on my original plan, but I was getting itchy & Rene conceded by tweaking my schedule to fit the races in as ‘sessions’.  Perhaps this was indiscipline on my part, but all work and no play makes Barry a frustrated boy.  First up was the Docklands 8km.  Typically this is a relatively weak field and I saw it was an ideal way to break myself gently back into the road scene.  Alas, with Vinny Mulvey, Alan McCormack & Gary O’Hanlon on the start line it was more a baptism of fire.  The race itself started with Vinny in control about 50m clear after only 400m. I knew I'd be doing well to stick with Gary & Alan given my fitness level, but still it didn’t feel right to let Vinny away so easily.  I put in a huge push to catch & it paid off – I was in complete oxygen debt on catching Vinny, but eventually regained composure.  Through km 4 & 5 I possibly had Vinny on the ropes, but he demonstrated his pedigree by putting in a surge on the 6th which I couldn’t handle.  I finished strongly with a 3min last km, but it wasn’t enough to challenge.  The course was a little long, so I’m taking it as a 5 miles PB J It’s my first 8km, so PB either way.  Two good scalps for me in Alan & Gary, but something tells me they were off form.  Either way, given that I haven’t run faster than 3:30/km in training recently I was delighted with the performance.

Next up was the Strawberry half marathon.  A completely different proposition, but one I felt more prepared for given my strength training.  I knew there was going to be serious opposition in reigning champion Sergiu Ciobanu, but this was a training ‘progress calibration’ run & so I there was nothing to fear. I had the pre-prepared excuse of a hard hill session on Friday to blame if it didn’t go to plan.  My performance on the day even surprised myself!  This is not an easy course, so to run a PB & course record (68:04) and get victory was beyond my expectations. I had offered pace sharing with Sergiu during race warm-up, but he seemed a little hesitant. We did share the pacing for the first 8km, but I felt particularly strong on the hills and edged out a gap by the 10th km. Once I had the lead I never looked back, pushing as best I could all the way to the finish.  A lesser man than Sergiu would have strolled home, but he kept up the pressure and was ready to pounce on any weakness.  Thankfully, I was able to maintain pace finishing with a 3:03 last km. A great day and one of my best performances to date. Beating the legend Sergiu is a nice scalp, but it is only 3 weeks since he won the Cork marathon so no way he was in top form. Time to build on this experience to challenge for the bigger prizes. Congrats to Jane & Graham Porter for hosting this fantastic race experience – highly recommended – not fast, but you never know when a PB is on the cards ...

Fab weekend also for my current housemate Sean Hehir, who ran 29:43 to win the Clare 10k in a record time. Savage result! Roll on team Rathfarnham WSAF AC in the track 10k ...


Wicklow Way Relay 2011

Athletics is primarily an individual sport. It’s up to the individual to put in the work and deliver on the day.  There is a ‘team’ element to most races, but often it’s a coincidental group of club mates running the same race rather than specifically by design.  The Wicklow Way Relay is an exception.  It’s truly a team event and perhaps that’s why it has grabbed the attention of so many.  The event started as a once-off fund raiser for international competitions – 10 years later and it has arguably become IMRA’s most popular race.

This year the event sold out quicker than a U2 gig. Rathfarnham were lucky to get possibly the last of the 30 golden tickets. Peter O’Farrell took over the captaincy from John Farrelly and quickly started to assemble a formidable team.  Rathfarnham actually wanted to enter two teams, but it just wasn’t possible due to event demand.  8 coveted spots for a club with a huge hill running population.  I didn’t envy Peter’s role as several were going to be disappointed. Criteria for selection was simple – reccy of an appropriate leg and recent race performances.   The rules stipulate two women and two vets for an 8 person team – these spots were filled relatively quickly. In Donna Mahon and Eilis Connery we had two ladies with greater leg speed than 90% of the male club running population. John Brennan was also an easy choice, building on last year’s super marathon run with several excellent recent hill running performances. John was so eager he ran leg 4 enough times in training to do it blindfolded. Padraig MacCroistal was given the last masters spot.  Pressure was really on Padraig to deliver after costing Rathfarnham the title in 2010 with a completely unnecessary 40 minute detour J

The four senior male spots were particularly difficult for Peter to fill. Contenders included myself, Peter, Jason Reid, Kevin Keane, Kevin Bolger, Niall Sommers, Mark Ryan, and Brian Furey. 8 into 4 just doesn’t go. There were several twists and turns on route to confirming the final line up – including some last minute transfer activity.  Kevin Keane was unlucky with a recent bike crash ruling him out – amazingly he still managed to put in a solid run for the Boards AC team.  Jason was also unfortunate with a recent illness setting him back. Mark had to pull out with a last minute hamstring injury. Thankfully, Rathfarnham has strength and depth in the hills these days ...

The weeks of planning and reconnaissance trips to Wicklow paid off with a flawless performance by team Rathfarnham.  No other race has logistics like it – it’s so easy get lost on route to your leg, let along during your leg – so preparation and planning a necessity. Brian Furey had us 2 minutes up after leg one. Kevin Bolger dedication to the team paid off with an excellent sub-70 run on challenging leg 2. We slipped into 2nd place after this leg due to the Motley Cru using their trump card in Ian Conroy, but it was still very early in the race. We regained the lead after an excellent performance from Eilis and were out of sight after John Brennan’s demolition job on leg 4. Now it was a matter of minimising mistakes to stay on course for a record setting team run. Captain Fantastic, Peter, led by example on leg 5 and handed over to Padraig who found redemption at Iron Bridge. I had the hilly half marathon leg 7.  Felt very bouncy and surprisingly fresh, passing the old course finish 72:40 and onto the new finish in 77:54. Donna Mahon had the glory leg and she finished in style with a overall new WWR record of 7:03:13 – not bad J

Team Rathfarnham: Top Row - Peter, Brian, Eilis, Kevin. Bottom Row - Padraig, Barry, Donna, John

There was a real buzz after the race – we were all visibly high and relieved. There is so much pressure to deliver in a race like this – there is a team depending on you and I think it brings the best out in people from both a performance and exhilaration perspective.  The race always has some drama – amazingly the fight for second came to within 10 seconds, with Crusaders hanging on from Boards!   The Nifty Fifties were particularly unluckily, missing out on a potential podium finish with Martin MacDonald unfortunately going wrong.  The President’s Men were pessimistic in their planning, with some runners not arriving in time to receive the invisible baton. This is all part of parcel of an excellent event.  Amazingly all 30 teams finished.

For team Rathfarnham it was redemption after three years of hurt.  The endorphin buzz continued well into the evening, with a fab night on the tiles.  Perhaps a little too much alcohol consumed, but these events have to be celebrated. My long run was painful this morning, but still managed a solid 28km. From a personal perspective yesterday was the first time since January that I felt I was actually running.  Training is going well recently, but with no sessions at the moment it is difficult to gauge form.  Confidence is increasing and hopefully I can still put in a good summer.  Today I’m finished my aerobic base phase for the national 10km track championships - volume to give way for speed. Looking forward to some interval training – bring it on ...


Running Tunes

The Audio Fuel post got some good feedback, so I'm going to post 20 of my favourite running tunes at the moment (no particular order). There are definitely some guilty pleasures in here :) Music style is varied, but they all have a good beat to run along to. Let me know if you've any good music suggestions for me to download ...

  • Beautiful People - Chris Brown
  • Hello - Martin Solveig
  • Memories - David Guetta
  • Club Certified - Kylian Mash
  • World, Hold On - Bob Sinclar
  • Get Shaky - The Ian Carey Project
  • Greece 2000 - Three Drivers
  • Papillon - Editors
  • Talons - Bloc Party
  • Hard to Explain - The Strokes
  • Velvet Snow - Kings of Leon
  • Where Did All The Love Go? - Kasabian
  • Apply Some Pressure - Maximo Park
  • Plug In Baby - Muse
  • The Bitter End - Placebo (top pace)
  • Leave It Alone - Operator Please (super stuff - download this ...)
  • 1901 - Phoenix
  • I Can Talk - Two Door Cinema Club
  • A-Punk - Vampire Weekend
  • Medicine Ball - Eminem (could actually listen to MM, Dre, 50 & co for hours when running)


Audio Fuel

AudioFuel Running Music

The idea of running to music is nothing new.  Every second person you meet running is wearing headphones.  What if there was a real purpose to the music?  What if the music you were listening to exactly matched your planned running session? Well a company have started doing exactly this – Audio Fuel.

Firstly, the name is great – Audio Fuel – it’s energetic and does exactly what is says on the tin.  I was like a kid in a sweet shop when I first went in to download the music. I was particularly lethargic that evening – looking for an excuse to avoid getting out. Was I procrastinating by downloading music when I should be running?  Perhaps, but the end in this case was worth the means.

I started off with the ‘3 Step Intervals’ session with voice coaching by Martin Yelling (Liz’s husband). After a brief introduction it was into a 155 beats per minute (bpm) track with voiceover ‘Feet to the Audio Fuel beat 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4‘.  The warm-up track translated into about 4:20/km pace for me. Unfortunately the warm-up was only 5 minutes, but I went with it as the session was a gradual build-up in intensity. The session was essentially 3 cycles of 3 x 3 minutes off 3 minutes (i.e. 9 x 3min) with increasing intensity with each rep.  The three intensity step increases were 160 bpm (approx 4:10/km), 170 bpm (approx 3:55/km), and 180 bpm (approx 3:40/km).  Pretty tame session – more akin to fartlek running than a session, but it was enjoyable and I returned home feeling positive.  I particularly liked the voice over coaching – similar to what you’d expect in an aerobics class, so particularly good for those starting out or making the transition from the gym to the great outdoors. Typical coaching voiceovers were:

‘Pick up your pace; find the run rhythm 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4
‘Look forward; keep your head up and your shoulders relaxed’
‘Control your breathing, strong legs, strong heart, strong mind’
‘Run tall, run strong, run free, run fast’
‘Hold your form, hold the pace, stay in control’

My first dabble with Audio Fuel was enough to grab my attention.  The ‘3 Step Interval’ workout didn’t feel like a session, but perhaps that’s the beauty of this music.  Some researchers suggest that music can help athletes increase endurance by 15%, but don’t believe that hype. It’s simply a way of making running on your own easier.  My main criticisms of the ‘3 Step Interval’ session is that intervals are too tame and the recovery times are too long.  But it’s ideal for someone starting out or for the seasoned athlete on a relatively easy day.

Next up was the long run sessions – ‘Run Free’ and ‘Run Wild’.  Now these are really designed for the marathon runner. Each are 2 hours long, with ‘Run Free’ averaging 160-165 bpm (about 4:10/km for me) and ‘Run Wild’ averaging 165-170 bpm (about 3:55/km).  Again these are available with coaching voiceover, which personally I like.  Getting feedback on run form and progress within session is useful.

There are several other Audio Fuel workouts.  I’ve also tried ‘Adrenaline Junkie’ (with voiceover coaching) and ‘Full Tilt’ (without voiceover coaching) and they are both useful for tempo sessions or high-intensity mid-week runs.  I’ve also tried the ‘Sennheiser - Thru The Gears’ – it starts out at walking pace, so designed for the complete novice – a waste of time to anyone comfortable with running 5km or more.

In essence, I’d recommend Audio Fuel to anyone into both running and music. There are some negatives (a) the music is good, but the trance style may not to everyone’s taste; (b) the interval and tempo sessions are on the novice side – both in terms of intensity and recovery times, and (c) there currently aren’t enough session options.  Where Audio Fuel need to get to either have a long list of session options or even better to give athletes the ability to dynamically build and customise music sessions. Can you imagine if they could utilise popular tracks in doing so?  Software based mixing is possible (e.g. MixMesiter DJ software), so it’s only a matter of time before this is achieved.  In the meantime, Audio Fuel is something I’ll use on a weekly basis on solo runs.  It’s certainly a useful running tool.  Thumbs up!