Since my late 20s I have always done some sort of exercise, mostly in the gym but on and off I have tried to run outside. I say tried because I found running even for a few minutes outside really hard. Unlike many I like the treadmill in that I find it meditative. Outside there are too many distractions. Eventually though I broke through this barrier a few years ago and began to love running.
When I say love I don’t mean its easy. I am not a natural-born runner, I always feel like I am carrying too much weight, I am too earthbound. I get injuries all the time-achilles tendinitis, IT band syndrome, plantar fascitis, shin splints, tight hamstrings, torn ligaments, right bum bunchiness(my own speciality)and keep having, like Inigo, to go back to the beginning. But I do keep going back because of the effect on my mood, which is stronger than with any other exercise, has me hooked.
The next logical step was to race. My friend Laura inspired me to enter the Rough Diamond 39km Adventure Race in Connemara in 2011. It was mostly cycling but there was a 5km run in the middle. I finished in good time despite badly tearing the ligaments in my ankle at the very start.
Over time I realised that running is an arena where I can meet myself and all my issues face to face and see what I am made it of. It is the place I can overcome my short comings, push myself to succeed and forgive myself when I fail.
This January I signed up for a Half Marathon but I knew I had to get a couple of races in before that so I booked into the Celtic Link 10km in Duncannon which was on last Sunday, February 24th. I chose Wexford to avoid any more run-ins with Competitive Friend, she of the Baldy Man disaster.
Last week I started to feel my energy levels drop and of course started coming down with a cold on the Friday. I couldn’t skip the race however as I normally work weekends I could not afford to take another weekend off.
On the Sunday I woke with my throat swollen shut and feeling generally seedy. I did all the right things though. I had hydrated and loaded up with carbs in the previous days. I did some gentle yoga on the Saturday and flushed a lot of Vitamin C through my system not to mention Nurofen and Lemsip.
I decided to drive through New Ross rather than take the Passage East car ferry because, like my parsimonious uncle in Onassis, The Old Man and the Sea and Me, at €8, I find it too expensive. Before I got to Duncannon I had to stop for a pee. This I did in a lay-by. In the process I caught my long-suffering right bum on a bramble bringing to mind that hopefully apophrycal tale of the woman who snagged her herniated womb on a briar…but that’s another story.
As I hopped into the car I was already imagining the bramble had been covered in cow poo and that I would come down with tetanus and die horribly in the middle of the race, suppurating from all orifices. How embarrassing! Luckily in my box of medicines, food, scarves, hats, first aid kits, tools and various other possibly useful paraphenalia I had some tea tree oil which I managed to smear on my buttock while careening through twisted country roads towards Arthurstown. (If anyone thinks me irresponsible, this action only served to make me drive like a Wexford person and they have survived alright.)
I got to St. James GAA center with plenty of time to spare for freaking out. I get very stressed before a race. I picked up my goody bag(free T-Shirt, key ring, water, choclate, pen, reflective jacket) and went back to the car and got changed and sat and panicked.
Though I had brought loads of gear with me I decided to just wear a fleecy cap, a scarf along with a vest and loose top and tights. In my zippy pocket I carried my phone, a tissue and the car key. Normally I don’t need water for this length of run but as it was a race and my throat was sore I thought I might but I decided to bank on water stops along the way and luckily I was right.
Soon it was time. At the start they were playing Michael Jackson songs to get us all going and then they changed to Chariots of Fire which made me giggle.
So it began. Most people were OK but at the start there are always some people pushing and shoving to get ahead. One woman shoved ahead and then walked getting in everyones way. I tried to keep out of the way and maintain my own pace, again sort of what I do in life. I let people pass.
Bizarrely, because it had been been numbingly cold and overcast, the biggest problem proved to be the heat because the sun had come out. I cursed myself for bringing my whole wardrobe except my white baseball cap, a gift from my friend Marina. Still, I kept my fleece hat on until the 5km mark.
It was a lovely run through lovely countryside and though I only exchanged a brief word with one or two the runners seemed like a nice crowd and there were people along the way with water and encouragement.
My cold wasn’t too much of a problem until I tried to swallow which I couldn’t so I just didn’t swallow much. I did not really struggle until we got back around to Duncannon and the hills. I had tried to save myself but I didn’t have much to start with and so I ended up walking twice for a minute or two, something I hate doing but sometimes, like in life, it is necessary to slow down.
Towards the end there was a girl who looked a lot like my friend Laura and we passed and repassed eachother. I thought I had her at the end but she passed me at the last minute but I didn’t mind because it was like Laura was there. Afterwards I pleased to see that she was a lot younger than me.
I got no second wind except when I was 50 yds from the finish and I saw the clock at 59 minutes and something. I am not very fast especially not for my leg length and originally I had wanted to do it in under an hour, a modest enough target, and had been secretly hoping for 55 minutes but because of my cold I had let go of that target and just aimed to finish but I found a little juice left in my legs and to my happiness I got in in 59:34.
In the past I have usually gotten emotional but this time I didn’t, I was too shagged. I headed straight to the changing room to get into a fleece and as soon as I got there I began sobbing uncontrollably, but in the nicest way. I don’t do a lot in life I am pleased with, I am often hard on myself and so when I run, when I get there, when I do it, it is so good I just get overwhelmed. I didn’t allow it to continue too long though and I headed out to the marquee.
In the marquee some harried but friendly ladies were serving up tea(strong tea!). There were sandwiches and home made cakes everywhere. It was quite wonderful. The marquee was sponsored by the Centra in Ramsgrange(Celtic Link Ferries were the main sponsors) and had the marvellous feel of an old fashioned village fete, not a shop-made cake or sandwich in sight.
Isn’t there something wonderful about homemade cakes at a public event like this?You cannot help but think of the person who made them, of what they were thinking as they worked. Sure maybe they got paid but still it is something that I very much appreciated and though I was a little way from home I didn’t feel like it.
I wandered around for a while and exchanged a few words. To add to the village fair feel a lost child was on display momentarily by the stage accompanied by the anomaly of a handsome Garda(think John in CHiPS only nicer)but the child didn’t seem lost and his mother was jovially heckled for getting caught in conversation as she ran to him laughing.
Eventually it was time to go. I decided to go back by the ferry and damn the expense and I arrived just before it set sail. The whole ferry journey takes about 5 minutes so I stayed in the car. My counsellor who was also on board bravely came over to exchange a few words and luckily the journey was too short for me to start picking his poor brains.
All in all I would have to say though my cold kiboshed some of my expectations it was my nicest race so far and I more than proud to have a bramble-branded bottom to remember it by.