Borris Viaduct

Borris Viaduct
Borris ViaDuct

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Port Tunnel Run & a New Definition of Pain

There was something pretty ominous about this event. It was a 10km run through the Port Tunnel and back - I had signed up for it in the post race buzz after Skerries thinking I had plenty of time to get my distance up for it, but between recovering from Skerries and doing Athlone, recovering from that and doing the Duathlon, I had only really done 1 or 2 training runs. And the distance wasn't really increasing on those runs!! Furthermore, signs were not promising about getting a relay team for the Spike Island Triathlon later on in the month, so this was possibly going to be a trial of an Olympic Distance triathlon run leg! And, if there were not enough spanners in the works already, I also was going to be on holidays in Spain with my family for the 2 weeks directly before the event (I was going to be back on the Friday before the run on Sunday). I know right? Life was tough...

While I was in Spain, I tried my best to keep up my training, getting out early morning for some kind of run twice each week. My cousin Billy, who was still mulling over whether he was going to do the run leg of the Spike Island triathlon, was on the holiday with me and so joined me on these runs too. I found it quite hard to build up distance within the area I was familiar with (having given myself the limitation that I didn't really want to be running laps) - the max I could get up to was about 7km, and that was running up and down all the beach promenade available to me! I figured it was probably enough, as it was in much hotter conditions and included a 2km uphill run to get back to the apartment. (On a side note, it was pretty nice to know I had a swimming pool to jump into at the end of these runs - made me try that bit harder on the final hill!)

On top of this I did a stairs workout 2-3 times each week. The apartment complex was quite empty, so I had 5 storeys of relatively unused stairs to play with. My work out was something like this
  • Go Up Steps Normally, walk back down,
  • Go up steps two at time, walk back down.
  • Run Up Steps as quickly as possible hitting every step on way, walk back down.
  • Go up step two at a time as wide a stride as possible (i.e. right leg to far right of the step, then left leg to far left of the step) walk back down
  • No rest, as many circuits as possible in 20minutes.
If Billy joined in, one of us would do body weight exercises like press-ups, squats etc, at the bottom while the other went up and down and we would alternate. This was a pretty good workout for leg conditioning (again, nice to have the pool afterwards), and honestly if I had a decent flight of stairs to work with at home, I'd probably have continued this routine back in Ireland!

Another thing I did was 'run' around the perimeter of the kidney shaped pool against the resistance of the pool for about 20-30 minutes. This was actually quite relaxing, and you would build up a considerable current swirling around the pool (I only did this when I knew I had the pool to myself). To finish I would turn around and do 5 laps against the current I had created (the current would be so strong at this stage, that you would be 'running' on the spot for the 1st minute or so!).

I'm not really sure what these other little workouts were actually doing for my ability to run a 10k, but I figured it was damage limitation. Writing this down, it seems like I did a lot, but it was at most an hour on any given day, and the rest of the time was spent lazing around, drinking or eating!

When I came back, I felt decent enough for the run. I was simply confident that I would run it and finish it and didn't give myself too much of a goal to beat, figuring I'd be happy to come in in under an hour (secretly hoping that I would make it under 50 minutes).

On the morning of the run, my brother Andrew and I cycled in, locking our bikes at Heuston Station and getting the Luas to the O2, where the run would be starting. Again, it was another step down in number of disciplines from the Duathlon, it was refreshing the little amount of gear I had to bring - just my runners and me! There was an option to go in fancy dress (with prizes on offer for best costume) - if Billy had been along we would have most definitely gone as '60s Batman & Robin, costume's we'd made for a party the year before. Thank god we didn't - I don't think I saw anyone there in fancy dress!

One thing about this event was there was so many people, well over a thousand! We dropped our bags in the baggage drop and met one of Andrew's friends, Colin. He had an incredibly low race number (as in number 8, as opposed to our numbers well in the hundreds) - which meant he had predicted not only a pretty fast time for himself, but a pretty fast time for anyone!

We gathered into our waves in areas marked by balloons, like nervous cattle, and were given a dynamic stretching warm-up by some jumped up fitness instructor dancing on a platform atop some scaffolding. Fair enough! It was strange that I wasn't nervous at all - I don't know if that was a good thing or not - I guess I didn't put myself under any pressure as I knew this wasn't really a race I had trained for , so I thought I would enjoy myself.

We were gradually released in our waves across the start line, the crowd stretching out as soon as people heard the bleep of their timing chips being read. It was quite a novelty running on this empty 4 lanes of road as it came up to the toll bridge. I made a joke about not having enough change. Oh how we laughed! 

I decided pretty quickly before we entered the tunnel that I was not going run at my brother's pace - he was probably running the more sensible pace, but I kind of wanted to go for it and see how it worked out. So I darted off and locked onto someone of a similar pace ahead as we descended into the tunnel.

As the road descended and flattened out, you could see a long stretch of tunnel ahead, full of hundreds of running heads bobbing along - it was a dramatic sight! I don't know if it was spontaneous, or if the guys at the front or encouraged to do it after a certain point, but after about 30 seconds an enormous bloodcurdling yell came down the tunnel. This accumulated and got louder and louder as it got closer and as everyone joined in. It was spine tingling & reminded me of seeing that movie Cloverfield in cinema - a total assault on the senses - that was worth the entry fee alone!

My pacing was going well, I thought. I did what I had done in the run leg of my previous triathlons and duathlon, and followed individuals' pacing ahead of me until I felt comfortable to pass them and follow someone else.

5 minutes later, I did not feel so well.

I had deteriorated incredibly quickly. My legs felt heavy, my throat dry, my lungs inefficient. Guys I had been pacing off starting to slowly pull away. What was happening? I wasn't sure if it was my lack of preparation, or if it was the atmosphere down there. The recycled air of the tunnel was very close and very humid, and I didn't seem to be getting much benefit from it. I was starting to feel quite sluggish now, and seriously considered walking. There will be a drink-station halfway, I reminded myself, and persisted. I had no sense of time passing and no sense of progress in the repetitive surroundings of the tunnel. It seemed to be taking an age just to get to the other end, the half way point. I tried again to find the pace of other people around me but I really struggled. Eventually I could see hints of natural light reflecting down the walls. Even still it did seem to take a long time before I rounded the long bend to see the opening of the tunnel ahead of me.

The fresh air was amazing! I couldn't get over the contrast from the air in the tunnel. It was so cool too - I hadn't realised how much I had been overheating and sweating in there. I grabbed a bottle from one of the drink stations and took a massive gulp as I rounded the corner to go back in. It was glorious - it's amazing how good the basics are when your body really needs them. Wisely I quickly grabbed another bottle before heading  back in.

Right, now let's just do that again.

I felt better now that I had had some water, and just psychologically better knowing I had more water when I needed it. Carrying a water bottle in each hand while running was creating a bit of tension in the shoulders but was otherwise  I was in good spirits and was starting to find my rhythm again. I think there was a slight downhill for a good length of it, which helped. There was no bins so I ditched the bottles on the road, as everyone else was doing - this at times was a bit of a hazard and you really had to watch where you ran - there was so many bottles in some sections!

I started to take note of some of the people passing me. Some runners were really going by quite effortlessly (read: it look like they were putting in significantly less effort than me), with very different and sometimes quite bizarre running styles. I really started questioning how efficient my running style actually was. There were two guys ahead running and chatting and I managed with keep pace with them for a while.

After about half way through the return journey, I started to struggle again. This time is wasn't the heat or the environment, but I started to get a lot of little niggles. My quads started to burn a bit, my hamstrings got a bit tighter, as did my shins. These were all little niggles I could deal with for the rest of the race, but then my right knee really started seizing up. It became quite a struggle to lift that leg at all, and my stride transformed into a very one sided limp. I felt like I was systematically falling apart! As I started to struggle with my body, I started to struggle with the environment again, and all of a sudden it felt like I was getting nowhere & the two guys ahead of me effortlessly pulled away. Luckily, it seemed that the end of the tunnel arrived sooner than it had before and I knew I was near the end. It is definitely melodramatic to say it, but it was like some kind of divine light to me - I was in bits!!

There was a bit of a mini climb out of the tunnel but I got through it. Again the fresh air was amazing. Even better still, there was a bit of refreshing drizzle - glorious! There was still about 200m to the finish line, but I didn't care about that anymore - the outside air was so refreshing I just ignored the pain and fatigue and almost bounded across the line (that said, I would imagine it looked rather different to the casual observer). I waited at the finish line for my brother, who finished about 5 minutes behind me. He had a slower run, but I reckon in hindsight that his was paced a lot better, and he had much less of a rollercoaster experience than I did!

In the end we both achieved our goal of doing it under an hour - I did in 53:40 and Andrew in 57:53. I don't know how I felt about it. I suppose it was my 1st time, so any time was good, but I secretly hoped I would break the 50 minutes, particularly with the effort level I put in. Running technique was definitely on the agenda for next year! Andrew's friend Colin did it in an astonishing time of 39:33, actually coming 31st overall out of 1684 competitors. Also as another bit of perspective, a man named Garret Doherty broke a Guinness World record by running the tunnel backwards in 42:57!

We made use of the free refreshment stands on the way back (as well as an open fire hydrant courtesy of the local brigade, which was awesomely refreshing), but I was most interested to find out that there was free sports massages available for competitors back at the O2. That would be a nice way to relax after the race, I thought...


The first couple of minutes were fine as my muscles were gently loosened up, but it wasn't long before I was experiencing a level of pain I didn't previously know existed! He had found quite a few 'knots' in my calf muscles, which he was trying to release by torturing me as much as he could. I thought mentioning the pain would make him ease up, but that just seemed to encourage him. Worse still he was getting quite excited about a 'mother of a knot' in my right calf, and when the other sports therapist had finished with his patient he joined in! It was pure torture.

I found out through talking to them (it was the only thing to distract from the pain) that 'knots' were basically isolated areas in the muscles fibres that stay locked in a contracted state, causing niggles and tightness in other muscles, which in turn can lead to injuries and other problems. The best way to release them is to press on these areas of sensitivity (also known as trigger points), to a point where you're feeling about 8 out of 10 on the pain scale. This pain basically sends a signal to the brain to release the knot and restore your muscles to a healthier state. * Please note: this is me paraphrasing in a way that I made sense of it to myself, so please don't take this as expert advise!

Having never had a sports massage before, and having thrown myself into a lot of training in the previous year I had obviously accumulated a lot of knots.... which was unfortunate. The sports therapist said I would feel bruised for a day or two, but after that I would feel like I had new legs. This seemed like a pretty useful treatment & definitely highlighted to me the importance of taking care of myself, and I took his card for future reference.

It had been pretty painful day and I still had to cycle back to Lucan. A lot of things to think about. But there was still one race looming on the horizon... Very soon I would have to consider the Escape from Spike Island!