Hello! Ahem,[ clears throat after a long silence].

How I have managed to miss three weeks of blogging is a mystery to me … although it’s not really. I did not have ready access to wifi for awhile, then some extra work was thrown at me and, now, we are in the final weeks of term when everyone seems to go frantic! All one can do is hang on for dear life with by the finger nails and hope that one doesn’t make too many mistakes or get too impatient with that First Year asking the question you have already answered in ten emails.

But, hey, this is about running and marathon training which is now about tapering. Yes, I’m on the ‘taper’ which means it’s time to ease off the miles, freshen up the legs, get some good food and some good sleep so that I’m bouncing fit for the marathon on Saturday week (10 days times).

There have been long weekend runs of 17 and 20miles; middle of the week runs of 10 and 11 miles. There have been practice sessions at marathon pace, intervals done at 5km pace, easy runs, stop-start runs, a bit of swimming and ongoing strength and training. It has been … ok. I did find myself very tired at one point and had a real struggle to get in the last 20miles. Preparing for a marathon this late in the Autumn/Winter is tough, but then I’ve been lucky too. The weather has been fab – mild (with the exception of one week), dry and bright. The trees have been gorgeous. One avenue that I use regularly has facing rows of Elm which, in their Autumn best, looked like ladies all dressed up in full skirts. Those ladies are now revealing gnarled limbs, giving me a certain pang as I watch their finery fall in tatters at their ‘feet’.  This morning was the first morning that I had sense of running through dried, crisp Autumn leaves.

I have settled on the outfit for the day – very important factor. I will wear the new compression socks I bought with capri length tights and my red club tshirt.  I have tested the outfit on my last long run, during which I also tested gels. I have been using jelly babies  for ongoing fuel this year,  just because I never got as far as buying the gels. The gels are better. I empty them into a bottle rather than littering the place with the pouches and because it’s less sticky.

I have yet to mentally prepare. Once Friday is over, I will have greater headspace for that, I hope. That’s when I begin to imagine the route, imagine myself successfully and steadily pacing through to a sub 4hour finish.

Oh dear …. I just got a nervous colly wobble of the tummy (otherwise known as butterflies)! It is getting close.


Confession of a Marathon trainee


Forgive me, readers, I have been a bit of a wimpy marathon trainee. It is nearly two weeks since my last post.

Over the last two weeks, I did not always go out to run with a willing heart. I missed a short run the week before last. I committed a mortal sin when I missed my long run last week because I was torn between an immense desire to scrub the Kerry house from top to bottom and my long run in the rain and wind. I do not always like running in the wind and rain. Sometimes, I do, but it makes me a bit more tired because of the cold that sits in my clothes. I drank a little more wine and ate a little bit more stodgy food than I should have, last week, while out of my usual routine. I have become distracted from my running goal because I have been asked to take on an extra role at work, which is bigger and busier than I understood.

For my penance (and to help improve my speed on hills), I have given up chocolate for the next 5 weeks and I promise to complete all of my remaining runs.

By the power of all marathon runners everywhere, may I  know pardon, courage and growing strength as I charge into the remaining 5 weeks.

On a more joyful and (for me) inspiring note, we crossed the target line in our fundraising last evening. It is fitting, I think, that this happened in Mairéad’s birthday week. Thank you all. As you can see above, I am struggling a small bit to keep up the training – Winter-work- tiredness are all catching up – but your donations do inspire me to be faithful to the cause. I am humbled by people’s generosity. Thank you again!

If anyone else would like to donate, this is the link: http://www.mycharity.ie/event/niamh_pattwells_goingforthree/


Humpty Dumpty

Niamh the runner was giving it all,

Niamh the runner had a great fall,

No sign of king’s horses, no sign of king’s men

So she picked herself up to run on again.


Yes, I’m afraid I took a tumble at 3.5 miles today (a similar spot to where I fell about two years ago), thanks to uneven paving. I have bloodied my right hand and both knees and have a lovely bruised swollen area just on the outside of my right knee,  where it bends. There is no serious damage, just a bit ‘ouchy’ when I go to move. 

What can you do? I picked myself up and did six more miles. I was going to be sore anyway, might as well complete the run before stiffness sets in.

A wee bit busy

I am still here! Hello! 

It is a bit of an effort this week to find time to run, much less to write so let’s just deal in simple facts here this evening.

Last week, I did the most running ever in one week as follows:

Monday, 5 miles in the gym (also strength and conditioning).

Tuesday 10.3 miles doing LT runs.

Wednesday no running. strength and conditioning and a 500m swim after.

Thursday 10 (nearly 11) miles at a slow even pace.

Friday nearly 3 miles really slow.

Sunday 20 miles at a slow steady pace with the final 3 miles in Marathon Pace Effort.

That is the proud sum of 49miles or 79kilometres. Yes, I was aiming for 50miles/80kms but … what can you do?

Catch you soon.

Get thee behind me!

My legs hurt! Getting up from a chair hurts. Climbing the stairs is hard work.

I’m tempted to leave my post there, but that might frighten you all.

So by way of reassuring you, let me continue. My upper legs are very stiff from the new strength and conditioning exercises at the gym and from the Lactate Threshold run (of sorts) that I did on Tuesday, which was only yesterday but seems like ages ago. A Lactate Threshold  run is where you sustain speed (not quite as fast as last Tuesday’s Vo2 max) over 20 minutes or more. The book (P&D) prescribes 7 miles of such running. Forget it! I have it on good authority that that is too much for most ordinary mortals trying to do 40 to 50 miles of running in one week while trying to keep down a job etc. They’re right. I’m sore from just 2 sets of 2.5miles at LT pace with 2 miles warm up, 2 miles between the LT runs and 2.3miles cool down. To put it more succinctly, that’s two sets of 2.5 miles of LT running in a run of 10.3 miles.

Tomorrow, I’m supposed to do 12 more … but I don’t think so. 10 will suffice; in fact, 10 is better for me. On Friday, I’m supposed to do 5 and that will be manageable, but I might just do 3, if my legs are still tired. Saturday is different. There is no skipping the long run (although I suppose you could skip it, but it is better to run it!?!) The weekly Long Run is the Sacred Cow of marathon training. I’m supposed to do 20 miles, which I hope to do over a section of the Marathon Route in  West Cork. I’m keen to do the 20 miles this time round. The longest single run I have done in this round of training is 19. I don’t think a mile makes a lot of difference in real terms, only in one’s head … but it’s in one’s head that the marathon battle is lost or won.

Take yesterday, for example. I knew the LT run would be difficult and as I was thundering through at 7mins48secs per mile, I found myself asking: “Why? Why are you doing this to yourself? Can’t you do a nice steady pace, get through, who cares about your time, 4 hours or 3 hours 59 minutes 59 seconds, it doesn’t make a lot of difference to most people in your life?” A long time ago, when we still spoke of holy matters, a nun told me that “Discouragement is the voice of the Devil”. Even if I no longer subscribe to such language – devils and the likes – the import of the sentence left an impression.  Discouragement, whether in the form of doubt, apathy or being put down by others, destroys dreams. So, yesterday, in full flight and despite a pounding heart and rasping breath,  I did the stern talk with self: “Do you want to do a sub 4 marathon? Yes. Do you want to honour Mairéad with the sub 4 marathon? Yes. Well then, you know what you have to do. Settle into it. Trust the process.” With this simple dialogue, I relaxed into the peace that comes from full absorption in the task on hand and I outran the devil.

Pause to remember

ImageThis morning, another family has lost their mother, a husband has lost his wife; my friend has lost her friend. This morning, I know that another woman, still in her forties, has died from breast cancer.

Earlier this week, I learned that my sister-in-law and brother attended the funeral of another woman, also in her forties, also a mother and a wife, also dead from breast cancer.

In September, P attended the funeral of his cousin’s wife. She too died from cancer. She too left behind children. She was also in her forties.

In August, I hear that a school friend, one who used to attend my birthday parties, died from cancer. She is the second ‘girl’ from my primary school class (I am in my mid-forties) to have died from cancer. Both leave behind children, spouse, siblings and, in one case, a parent.

In August, another friend lost a friend to cancer. She too was a mother and a wife.

Like many of you, I have stood at a graveside while a close friend buried his mother. She too died from cancer. I know there are times he still misses her.

I could go on …

I think of Mairéad practically every day. I know that I don’t miss her like my Dad does, like her Mam does, like her sisters do, probably not even like her friends do. But I feel sad and I have a sense of loss or absence that can be so keen at times, it surprises me.

When I think of Mairéad, my school friends, and now my friend’s friend I feel sad, but not just because of the people they left behind. You all know the conversations around these events; people often talk about the children or husband and how tragic it is for them. Mairéad herself used to say that in those last ten days: “I’ll be fine. I’ll just slip away. It’s your Dad, my family, my friends who will be lonely.” I feel sad because she didn’t get to stay on a bit longer. I feel sad because I really do think that 40 going on 50 is too young to die. Surely, there is so much more to come. I’ve tried to describe this to P. I think of it a bit like being asked to leave the party early. Have you ever been in the midst of a good evening, good music, good dancing, good company and then, for whatever reason, you have to go home a bit earlier than everyone else? It’s hard not to feel a tiny bit cheated.

That’s what I think about when I think of Mairéad and all these other friends, mothers, wives. They should have been allowed to stay at the party longer.

Forget about the running this evening. (It’s done. I did 32 miles or 50km this week.) This evening, let us pause, light a candle, play some soft music or their favourite song, and remember the women who have left the party early, whether through cancer or some other disease or accident. Let us give thanks for the joy and friendship, the particularity of their lives, brief though they were. Let’s not try to fix or do something. Let’s just be quiet for a moment and honour their one-time presence in our midst.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh siad go léir.

Interval Training

I’m taking a day off from running today. It’s a lower mileage week in preparation for the onslaught of the next 5 weeks, which are pretty heavy. In addition, I’ve been busy at work. I had a visiting professor from Oxford on Wednesday last to give a paper (’twas wonderful), but it required a little bit of extra time and effort on my part, by the time he was watered, fed, introduced to colleagues and grad students. I will also be late this evening. I’m going to see Camille O’Sullivan perform the Rape of Lucretia. I’m looking forward to that, but it makes for a longer day.

My legs are not that tired; I think that I could run and enjoy it, if I wanted. It’s more a mental thing, some resistance to the constancy, to always ‘being on’. I also need the time to attend to simple matters in other areas of life.

I am, of course, at the midpoint, 8 weeks done and 8 weeks to go. The next 4 to 5 weeks will be the section that requires the most hard work, and is also the most important. If I come through these 4 or 5 weeks, it should be ok for the marathon. (Superstitious me is wondering should I delete that sentence?!) By this point, the commitment has been made and everyday life tweaked so that there is a very consistent pattern to my exercise now – 4 to 5 days a week; two sets of strength and conditioning a week; at least one post-run session of swimming (500m only); I am going to bed reasonably early on a regular basis. The change over the next 4 weeks involves throwing in some speed work (please bear in mind at all times that the word ‘speed’ n the context of my running is relative) as well as long runs of 17miles or more every Saturday. Ouch! 

Speaking of speed work, I did my first VO2 Max workout on Tuesday last. What’s that, you say? It’s a set of intervals. Again, I hear, what’s that? It looks like this: a warm up, then alternating running fast and slow over set distance or time before doing a cool down. So Tuesday:

Step 1: I ran an easy pace (HR 130s; Pace 9.15min per mile) for 2 miles to a point where I could easily do 800m intervals. Nothing much to report here. Just plod along to Clongowes where I can run on their long drive, away from traffic and crossroads.

Step 2: Using the straight drive of Clongowes College I ran like a bat out of hell for 800m (HR 160/ Pace 4.24min per mile). The first half of this is wonderful, I really did feel like a Sonya or Paula or Deana and I automatically pull myself up tall and concentrate fiercely. Meanwhile, I’m thinking: “Stop smiling at me. I am not saying hello to you ,casual strollers. Nope, not catching your eye for a smile! I’m all biz here! Woman charging through. Keep that toddler out of my way!” 

Step 3: Slow down. Run easy for almost the same time it took me to complete the 800m. That meant that I ran easy, sometimes walking a bit, for 3minutes. Time to return the gracious smile, nod of the head, a little bit of courtesy to the casual strollers. 

Step 4: Repeat steps 2 and 3 x 4 times so that you have an interval set of 800m x5.

Step 5: Return home over 2 miles nice and easy (HR 145/ Pace about the same as going out, if not a teeny bit faster). Again, not much to report.

How it feels? At the pause of the first two or three fast sections, the blood is flowing through my legs, especially upper legs, so that they feel really energised and light and I wish I could run like this all the time, it feels so good. By the 4th and 5th set, the legs (especially upper legs) are beginning to feel tired on the lift, slight touch of discomfort, my stomach is rebelling with a touch of the heave-hos and I am counting my way to the next tree/mark on the road/person out walking and, with relief, I stop … puffing and panting. Uh, form is gone too. Head and torso are wobbling a bit in an effort to keep up the pace. Not pretty!

Later that day, I felt extremely tired at my desk, more tired than I would normally feel on a running day and was dying, just dying for a nap. I resisted, but did crawl under the duvet by 9ish and was asleep soon after. I had a great sleep!

Intervals are actually good fun. There are all kinds of combinations suggested depending on one’s goal. Longer, but slightly lower intensity are suggested for marathon. Intervals bring some variety and for awhile, a tiny 800m while, you can feel like an athlete, not a plodder. 

Democracy and Donkeys

On Friday last, I and my fellow country men and women were called upon to vote on two proposed amendments to our Constitution.

ImageWith a busy day ahead, I had the bright idea to combine my trip to the polling booths with my run; this way, both activities would be dealt with promptly, before the day took off. And so I donned my lycra shorts, tshirt, the Black Beauties (see photo), Garmin, and  road ID bracelet. It was a bit misty so I threw on my light rain jacket for good measure. Being the experienced outdoor girl that I am, I popped my driving licence and voting card into a small freezer bag to keep them all snug and dry and headed out. Perfect. It gave me a round trip of 3.5miles, nice and easy. The girls primary school was being used as the polling station. This caused some upset among the boys as I heard one little fella remark to another on the unfairness of it all. I could only concur (though silently); in my home town, it was the boys’ school was used as a polling station and the girls had to go to school. The run was a little scary in parts. Matters of national importance were nearly minus my contribution when one little six-year old wobbled uncertainly in front of me as he struggled to control his bike. I dodged sideways, battled through the clutches of older teens absorbed in chat and moms with prams, and arrived in safety to cast my vote on both amendments. I returned home satisfied that I had done my bit for my country!

The next morning, I could hardly drag myself out the door. This had nothing to do with my physical condition, but was indicative of my interest in listening to the radio as results of the count unfolded. For the first time ever, I was also following what I could find on Twitter. It was going to be a close outcome, nothing more than a percentage point or two. Initial results seemed to suggest a ‘yes’ vote on the question of abolition of the Seanad (our second house of parliament). The ‘yes’ vote was in keeping with the trend of the opinion polls of the previous week, though not with the figures which had predicted a larger margin in favour of the amendment.  About quarter to eleven, I managed to drag myself away, but with earphones firmly in place and iphone switched to RTE player. I was most impressed at the steady streaming despite the fact that I was running up and down mountains in Co. Kerry where I find the 3G connection hopeless. It was a beautiful, really really sunny morning but I was somewhat oblivious, caught up as I was in the drama unfolding around the country. I might have been plodding steadily uphill from Kenmare, but my mind was flitting from Dublin East to Cork South Central, from Galway East to Donegal North and back again to Carlow/Kilkenny. The excitement was immense. Somewhere around midday, it seemed as if there was a cautious swing to a ‘No’ vote. It was fascinating to hear either side respond, acknowledge, back off, lay blame or claim … I did enjoy the banter.  

In the final mile of my upward climb (between mile 9 and 10), I came across these beauties:




Donkeys! And I was finally distracted from matters of national importance. I had to pause in my run to take a photo, particularly of the piebald donkey … that’s if he is a donkey? I’m not convinced. I have never before seen a piebald donkey. I wonder, in fact, if he is a jennet. I have shown a picture of him to my Dad who agrees it might be a jennet. The head is very horse-like. Anyway, they were a delight to view, very friendly, approaching the fence for a ‘pat’. With a smile, I plodded upwards and at mile 10 turned to sail back down the hill, through the town and home where I took up residence on the couch to watch democracy assert itself.

End result of vote on Seanad: 51.8% against its abolition, 48.2% for its abolition.

Even more exciting: my total mileage for last week was 40miles or 64.6kilometres. 

Crooked Lady

Three runs since I wrote last. On Saturday, I managed 19miles @ 6.04mins per km pace and average HR of 141 which wasn’t bad.  My total for last week was 66.9km.

Monday, I did a recovery run of 4 miles in the gym, sandwiched between Strength and Conditioning exercises, @ 6.13minutes per km. It was supposed to be all low effort, but I did sneak in a mile of hill intervals.

Today, I did my longest mid-week run ever (I think) of 11 miles. This worked out well (except for GI distress). I broke it into 3 blocks as follows: 4 miles keeping HR in the 130s (low aerobic effort); 3 miles allowing HR to climb to the 140s (but not higher than 148 which is upper aerobic effort)) and then focusing on race pace for the last 4, not caring about HR. And it all came to a total of average HR of 145 and a pace of 5.45mins per km. This was most satisfactory.

Note, I am skipping over the GI distress! Trust me, you do not want me to write about that!!!

The last few long runs, I find myself thinking about form. I practice keeping my back straight or my arms at 90degree angles until I get to a certain point in the road. This was prompted by the appearance of a picture of me in the Portmarnock 10km. In my head, I imagine myself looking long, straight, leaning forward like an arrow. A bit like this:


I’m afraid, the reality is somewhat different. Sadly, through genetic design and years of working at desk and computer, my head leans forward and my shoulders are rounded. When running, I bend forward at the waist so that my ass sticks out a bit behind; my knees to ankles probably hit the ground several inches further in front of my body than is advisable. To add insult to injury (and injury is likely), I have my own unique signature – an extra kick in my right leg which is visible from behind. I have that ‘screw kick’ when I swim too. Once, a friend(???) wondered how I could move so fast I have such bad form … Even the physiotherapist has shaken his head as I pranced up and down his rooms under his assessing gaze. The ‘knocked kneed’ nature of my gait seemed to belie my finishing times.  (I need to stress that I am not fast, but here we are speaking relatively). He sent me to the orthotics guy who made a lot more noise about this extra movement of limbs. Discouragement hit me for awhile, not helped by nursing a dose of pes anserine bursitis (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00335). But … never one to give up, I thought there must be away around this bad form and likelihood of injury. Hence, I decided to mix it up and started into triathlon.Why make life easier, when you can make it harder????

But, poor form aside, I do love running. There is something simple and free about it. It puts me in contact with ‘self’, the core, the guts (oops, back to GI issues again) of myself. So, I may not be Sonya O’Sullivan or Paula Radcliffe, I may run with limbs not quite aligned, back not quite straight, but … I do run and, for the most part, run with the joy of a child at play!  




Steady as she goes

A quick glance over the week thus far:

Monday, I did slowish hill intervals over 4miles on the Treadmill and 1 mile warm up with Strength and Conditioning exercises as before. This left me with sore and tired limbs afterwards, but hills are an essential part of my training if I am to keep up any pace at all in the Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon. Average HR unknown. Pace:5.48perkm.

Tuesday, I hopped from behind my desk at mid-morning to complete an easy 10miler. I kept it low (Heart rate) and slow (pace) about 144HR average and 5:44mins perkm pace.

Wednesday, I did not run. Well, not exactly, I did a mile warm up in the gym before tucking into my strength and conditioning exercises. The girlie push ups continue; the tricep dips have become easier.

Yesterday’s (Thursday) run was an easy start, including slow climbs as I looped around the Southern suburbs of Dublin city. At about the 5th mile, a sudden gust of wind set the leaves scurrying towards me and, for a brief moment, I felt as if I were moving against a crowd. That gust also brought the rain, but it was lovely, soft Irish rain, the kind that is a real pleasure to run in; it bathes and soothes rather than drowns and freezes. I know I had a smile on my face as I sailed down the last three miles at Tempo pace (downhill too!). This was easily the best run of the week, where there were 3 miles or more when I was ‘in the zone’. Lovely gorgeous! Average HR:159. Average Pace:5:33mins per km.

Friday: I took a break from running this morning and went for a swim. Cross-training is a good idea, particularly if feeling the strain a little and I love swimming. I thought that I was good at it until I started doing Triathlons and realised just how slow I really am. But still, I love being in the water. I did a short 800m, alternating 50m lengths of breast stroke and freestyle. I could have done more, but the aim was recovery – a little aerobic work out, but without the stress on muscles and joints. The jacuzzi afterwards was lovely too, so mellowing, though maybe not ideal for starting a day’s work. 

One other observation this week – sleep has become part of the training. All of a sudden, without a conscious decision or making a resolution, I am scuttling to bed by by 9pm. I do read, watch netflix, but on at least two nights have been asleep by 9.30. The body knows best, in order to train I’ve got to rest. And don’t you know it, I’m a poet.

Tomorrow, think of me. I will be out there doing 20miles. Send some positive vibes my way, please!