Ghost-busting in Longford

Mick, Valerie and Aidan - Longford Warriors
Mick, Valerie and Aidan – Longford Warriors

Redemption in Longford

Longford Marathon 2015 – Race Report

On the way to this race, a pal asked me what time I thought I’d run. I said that, all going well, with a fair wind (or none) and a pinch of good luck, the best I could hope for was around 2:52 – but that over 3:00 was entirely possible.

In short, I really hadn’t a freaking clue.

In light of how things worked out on the day, I won’t really complain.

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Return to Longford

longford_pic_cropped
Finishing the inaugural Longford Marathon in 2002

Thirteen years ago I had the pleasure of lining up for the first ever Longford Marathon and tomorrow I’m hoping to repeat the process.

Since 2002 I’ve grown tremendously fond of this race. This is an event organised with the interests of the participants foremost in mind. It’s not a fund-raiser, a private-profit-maker or a tourism gimmick; it’s a marathon race. From the outset, the Longford organisers have had a single straightforward objective, that being, to put on the best race possible. Of course, no race is perfect and there have doubtless been some mistakes over the years but it’s always been clear that the Longford race organisers will go to great lengths to cater for the athletes who show up year after year.

Keeping a race like this going year after year is of course no small achievement in itself. There was even a time when the race came under direct threat from some less well-motivated individuals. Through it all they kept their heads, even when some of our athletic leaders who should have known better were losing theirs. For this achievement alone they deserve great credit.

The sport of road racing has changed so much in the intervening years that it’s difficult to imagine how exciting it was back in 2002 to have a new marathon on the calendar.  Marathon races were rare and exotic animals at that stage and many marathon runners had to travel abroad if they wanted to to race regularly.

The Longford marathon organisers blazed a trail that others were soon to follow. Nowadays it seems that almost every medium-sized town in the country hosts a marathon annually. In breaking up the Dublin/Belfast marathon monopoly that had been in place up to that point, Longford did all Irish marathon runners a great service – and continues to do so – setting organisational standards that other races often fail to match.

In terms of my own targets for tomorrow, I’m hoping for a decent run. It’d be nice to get around the course a little faster than I did in 2002 (3:10) and even nicer to better my 2:57 from Portumna in June.

I’m hoping to run by feel rather than by the the watch. I’ll set out at what feels right and see how long my luck holds.

Just standing at the start line will feel good, fourteen years on, and many miles, later.

Wish me luck!

 

Physician, Heal Thyself!

 

Basically Run....!
Basically Run….!

 

As runners, we are handed a wonderful opportunity each and every day; the chance to put into practice in our training what we have learned through our own experience.

It is often a fiendishly difficult opportunity to grasp.

The majority of runners whom I have known train compulsively. This is to say that they often run when they’d much rather not. When they cannot train – because of injury or for some other plainly legitimate reason – they experience guilt. On other occasions, they’ll head out the door late in the evening and into pouring rain just because they need a few more miles to hit a weekly target.

None of this behavior is – on the face of it at least – rational. Actions like these are why non-runners fail to understand the runner’s world-view. Simply put, non-runners, not being caught up in the often destructive compulsive mind-set, cannot see the logic behind these apparently irrational activities. Runners, of course, can.

Although many such habits are obviously counter-productive, it could be argued that a sense of compulsion is almost a prerequisite for competitive success. How else are you going to convince yourself that running twenty miles through wind and rain on your own is a good idea? Dreams of future success, the logic of deferred gratification and other mental tricks will work to some extent, but it seems that a formless, doom-ridden, guilt-laden compulsion works best for those that want to go deep.

So, what has all this got to do with anything?

In working my way back from a long-term injury, it occurs to me that I have the chance to abandon some of my more destructive compulsions – to start afresh in some ways, if not others.Experience tells me that compulsion is a double-edged sword. Perhaps I can improve my experience of running by ditching some of the patently self-defeating behaviors which I’ve exhibited in the past.

For example, I know from my own experience that I need not train every day in order to improve my fitness. I know that I need not train when sore and tired from either racing or training. I know that I should sometimes be more focused in terms of what training sessions I do, rather than just going along with the general flow because it’s easier. I know that good sleep is great training. I know that eating well will support me in training well. I know that success is not guaranteed and that I have only limited influence over the outcomes of my training. I know that everything is temporary. I know that none of this stuff really matters.

If I can keep this knowledge with me as I run this year, I may enjoy myself a little.

Be Here Now

Gather Them While You Can...
Gather Them While You Can…

 

Those three little words – ‘In the moment’. For a long time I’ve aspired to running and living in the present tense. I have wanted to be aware of my time and place, as much and as often as possible. As Ram Dass famously put it, I wanted to ‘Be Here Now’.

Unfortunately, in most day-to-day settings, I have found it almost impossible to realise those aspirations with any degree of reliability.  Thankfully, I keep trying.

When I have been successful, I’ve found that I can add a layer of richness and appreciation to ordinary moments that escape me at all other times. When I run and notice each breath; when I hear each footfall and notice the detail of the world around me; the experience is intense and vibrant.

For a runner, achieving any kind of concentration or focus on being present seems to become even more difficult when faced with injury. We generally attempt to plot a path away from this momentary interruption to ‘normal’ and back to where we feel we ought to be – which is not here, injured.

In the process we enter runner zombie-mode. We become consumed with the process of recovery and forget to run and live. On even the most crappy, injury-ridden, backwards-stepping day, there are rosebuds to be gathered.

We just need to pause and listen to our breath.

Dreams of the Pre-Dawn

Connemara Marathon

 

For some weeks now I’ve been dreaming running dreams. In quiet moments – sometimes when I run – I dissolve into memories of the pre-dawn drive to the start of the Connemara Ultramarathon. Van Morrison sings, ‘Keep it Simple’ from the CD player and the darkness fades to grey and then to silver

Effortlessly, I feel myself driving, slowly, noiselessly towards the start of that special race. I sink into this comfortable place in my memory and I don’t ever want to leave. For much of this year, dreams like these had remained off-limits. My mind was filled with regret and, ever aware of the potential for destructive melancholy, I stayed away. Perhaps it’s an indulgence that I cannot afford even now as I begin to recover some fitness, but I thrill inwardly, selfishly, hopefully and perhaps vainly that the dream might be made real again.

The darkness retreats behind the mountains and the lakes. The curtain rises and a sense of gentle anticipation fills me as the car ghosts its way towards Maam Cross. I approach Race HQ and the dream begins to fade. The huge room is filled with human potential, anxious conversations, whispered encouragement, knowing glances and mutual courage. The games are about to begin. This is the best time.

I want to be there again next year. I want the dream to stay with me – not to fade, not yet – to be made real once more. My heart aches for the quiet swish of untired legs as they steadily cover Connemara Miles, for the sense of recognition and the unchanging hillsides.

I know in my heart that long after I’ve run my race, these hills will remain, but I still allow myself to dream dreams of Connemara in the pre-dawn.

Fingers of Steel

Fingers of Steel - My physio's got 'em
Fingers of Steel – My physio’s got ’em

With any long-term injury, making progress towards recovery is always a minefield of self-doubt and false dawns. For me, it hasn’t so much been a question of trying to work out what’s going on with the injury, but rather a blind thoughtless policy to plough on regardless until I manage to catch a break somewhere along the line. A good friend asked me recently how long I’d ‘keep at it’, before I resigned myself to the fact that I was completely knackered and gave up. I surprised myself with the strength of my reaction to his question. I replied I’d never give up, but in all honesty, day-to-day, it doesn’t always feel like that.

Having said all of that, I do think that I’m actually making a little progress. I’m having deep friction massage on my pubic symphsis and right adductor where it attaches to the pubic bone. Having gone through all the other options, this is where the basic problem seems to be. The fact that there appears to be quite a build up of scar tissue around the area gives the theory even more credence. Suffice to say, it’s a deeply unpleasant process. You have to grit your teeth and have faith that it’ll pay off in the long-term. After the first session, I felt like I’d been attacked with a lump hammer. The plan is to allow the pain subside a little and then do it over again, and again, and again….

On the up side, I’ve even been out for a few gentle miles to test the waters without major repercussions. It’s true that such progress as there has been, has been stupefyingly slow. I jog at 10 or 11 minute miles and, because I’ve put on a few pounds, I feel like an uncoordinated blimp. I can recognise the my perceptions and actuality are probably very far apart, but that’s the way it feels.

Onwards through the, (slightly pudgy but increasingly optimistic), fog…

I Used to be Bulletproof

Portumna 50km 2012 – Copyright Ian Shaw

There was a time, not too long past, when I felt bulletproof. When I trained, I saw fitness as a big bucket into which I could throw as much pain as I liked and that I would grow stronger with each passing race. When I raced, although I didn’t often figure at the very front of affairs, I could predict with confidence how I would perform. I rarely failed to race up to expectations and sometimes I surpassed them. My ‘off’ days were when I came up marginally short of expectations.

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Magic Sevens

In terms of running, seven has always been a significant number for me.

Running a mile in seven minutes or less has always been an indication of quality for me – an important marker.  Although I’m certainly less of a ‘numbers freak’ than I used to be, I still log each run by distance and pace. This means that, even when I run by feel alone, which is a lot of the time, I will eventually find out what pace I’ve been doing. This happens when the big spreadsheet eventually gets updated with the raw figures. I don’t let the numbers worry me but they do act as a guide. An easy training run might be well above the seven-minute standard, but a hard run should really be below.  When I’m trying to come back from injury, it’s always hard to hit the desired numbers. “You can’t keep it in the bank”, I remind myself. “You have to earn it over again, every time.”

When I tried to refocus on training around Christmas time I wasn’t expecting miracles, but I certainly had forgotten how tired, grumpy and sore a sudden increase in ‘focus’ can make you feel. It’s happened to me many times before, but apparently I had chosen to forget, that sometimes, better training makes me slower for a while. If you’re training four times a week and have plenty of time to recover you can be fresh on every run. When you’re training eight or nine times a week, it’s sometimes hard to get your arse out the door never mind spring down the road like a coked-up bunny.

Eventually, either being grumpy, tired or sore becomes normal, or those conditions start to fade. At that point I’ve reached stasis, a point of equilibrium, a point at which the training is knocking me back at the same rate at which I’m able to recover. All I need to do then is to stay with the plan and wait for the magic sevens. They arrived last Tuesday.

I went out for a quiet recovery run, having given it a bit of a lash the previous day. I ran easilly and purely by feel. Whenever it seemed like hard work, I consciously backed off. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed the run from start to finish. I stayed in the moment all the way and tried to drink in the all the green and the quietness and the sensation of movement.

I went home and, as a matter of routine, plugged in the numbers. I knew the distance and the magic of Excel did the rest.

Milage 8.3. Average pace = 6:53.

A threshhold had been crossed and magic sevens were here.

Long may it last.

Skillful Means

Dalai Lama

As runners I think we’re generally less prone to giving away our peace of mind than many other people. When we have something that worries or upsets us we always have the option of hitting the road for some instant therapy. Over all the years that I’ve been lacing them up,  I don’t think I’ve ever felt more stressed after a run than before. Although going for a run doesn’t make my problems disappear, it seems to make them more manageable. It seems almost impossible to stay angry with someone when you arrive home exhausted after ten hard miles. Perhaps we don’t develop compassion for the people with whom we might have clashed, but at least we may shed some of our anger. In Buddhist terms, I think what we’re looking at here is a damn fine example of ‘skillful means’.

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Old Dog Old Tricks

Old Dog! Hard Road, New Tricks or Both?

Ten years ago I ran two marathons on consecutive weekends. I wasn’t sure what would happen to me at the time. Would a leg fall off? Would I grind to a shuddering halt half way ‘round the second marathon? Was it even possible to do this? I wasn’t really sure. At that time I didn’t realise how good these races would prove themselves to be over the following decade. In both cases it was the inaugural running of the event and so there was an extra edge of excitement and freshness about them. Those two races were, of course, the Connemara Marathon and the Longford Marathon and in the intervening years both events have proven themselves to be amongst the very best that Irish road racing can offer. It was a great learning experience for me to run two long races so close together. Principally, I learnt that many things are possible in running that might appear impossible at first sight. Armed with blind confidence I’ve gone on to do many more stupid things since that time.

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