Well, that’s been one strange week. It started at the end, so to speak, with the last day of 2017. We had planned to have some friends over for the night’s festivities, and watch Jools Holland’s Hootenanny. By the time I had crawled home from the morning exertions along the canal bank, it was clear Saoirse was succumbing to the ‘flu, and that the annual celebrations would have to be cancelled.
Of course, there were ample clues from own body that things were not quite right, but they were hidden beneath the normal smorgasbord of aches and pains from the Lock Up The Year Marathon. A strange back ache that day developed into a fever the next; shivers, sweating, headache… suddenly I had the ‘flu as well. So much for the ‘flu jab at work. Mind you, as any medical person will tell you, the jab won’t stop you getting the ‘flu necessarily but it should certainly ease the symptoms. And in any case, there are so many strains of the viral infection, you can’t avoid them, nor can you vaccinate against them all either.
So today is the first day I feel slightly human again. The week has drifted by in a fogbound sea of Lemsips. The nights are trickier to navigate; admittedly not quite plagues of biblical proportions, but each attempt at sleep was thwarted by, in no particular order, a headache, a fever, a back pain, a cough, a rattly wheeze… S was on the mend until she sneezed in the bathroom and put her back out. Yes, it was tragi-comic. Our daughter is still bed-bound, but in fairness to Dallan, he is gamely soldiering on.
So I suppose I should recap on the last decent run of last year. The Lock Up The Year runs are something of a local legend. Run literally on a shoestring, the idea is to get out over the festive season and pick a run of your choice: 5 or 10k, half or full marathon. The shorter runs typically would start outside the Le Chéile AC clubhouse, whilst the two longer runs would normally see the runners dropped off by coach. All runs use the Royal Canal towpath. Due to some remedial work on the towpaths this year, all races started and finished at the clubhouse. No doubt this made for a busy towpath for the shorter distances; not such a big problem for the full marathon, which set off at 9am, two hours before the half.
I had always opted for the half in the past. The full marathon just seemed a little daunting at that time of year, and never seemed to fall in a good place as regards training. Having managed a decent 1.40 in the Waterford Half on 2nd December, I was curious to see how much of the Dublin Marathon training would stay in the legs. It’s not as if I stopped running entirely, but there was a definite dip. Which was inevitable really. Pre-Dublin training was six days a week. In December, it was more like three. And apart from one 13k, the bulk of those December runs were 10ks. So fitness-wise, I was probably not treading water but rather slipping under…
Anyway, that’s not really the point of Lock Up The Year. The point is to get out and do it. There are no medals, no T-shirts, no chip-times. There aren’t any water stops either, so you are totally self-sufficient. A jolly crew of about 40 runners gathered at the bus stop just before 9am on the last day of 2017, and with no fanfare, we were sent on our way. A small knot of dedicated marathoners took off and soon vanished up ahead. I settled into a reasonable rhythm which, in hindsight, was perhaps a little ambitious. Kilometres were averaging out around 5.30, or a good 10+seconds faster than I would have been running Dublin.
The run was familiar territory. We were doing an out-and-back, so essentially it was the standard half-marathon from near Cloncurry Bridge outside Enfield that I would have done in the past, only this year, we weren’t getting the luxury of a coach out to the drop-off point with all the associated bonhomie. Nope. We would have to Shank’s Mare it out there ourselves. And the turnaround point would be marked with as much fanfare as the start of the race; in other words, none. Just a cone with a sign on top, telling you to turn around.
And it was a run of two halves. Well, I suppose to be pedantic, a run of three-quarters, and one quarter. But boy did that one quarter make up for it… The work along the towpath is not what you might call sensitive or aesthetically pleasing. It has turned pleasant grassy pathways into gravel lunar landscapes. This act of desecration is sanctioned by Waterways Ireland, and is supposed to create ‘Greenways’, or in the case of canals and rivers, ‘Blueways’. The idea is to ‘open up’ these routes to a wider audience, and so the once-grassy towpaths that were designed and built by hand for horses must be ripped up and widened, filled with a form of hardcore and blinded with fine gravel. And it seems it’s not enough to destroy the towpath, but they have strip-mined every blade of vegetation too, including small trees and shrubs. The finished effect is a grim lunar landscape. And what once made the canal a fascinating place to visit seems to have been lost. Make some sense of that if you will. Personally, they could have made some small alterations and kept the overall atmosphere of the place intact. But this is what happens when you let gobshites and mandarins make decisions…
The worst of this lunar landscape was between Kilcock and Ferrans Lock. What was once a pretty stretch is now rather soulless. Having said all that (warning: hypocrisy ahead…), you may criticise the surface and slash-and-burn finish of the Waterways crowd (and I do), but one thing you can’t disagree with is that freshly-laid, blinded gravel is quite a pleasant surface on which to run. Even if the scenery had taken a hammering. Once out past Ferrans Lock, it was no-man’s land. The canal towpath is feral. And in mid-Winter, it is no place for dainty running shoes. The thin sliver of mud is too slippy to run on; the thick, knotty grass likewise. But there was nothing for it but to try and pick a line, shorten your stride a bit, and avoid going for one of those much-feared, groin-wrenching slides that could spell the end of your run in a place where the main mode of transport is either a barge or a donkey. Neither of which I saw…
I kept my head down and an eye on the watch. The pace was dropping a little but that was to be expected. As I hit the turn point, I had my third and final wee in the bushes. There seems to be something about me, my bladder and having three wees during a marathon. Not sure what that’s about. But I can say with certainty that Mo Farah doesn’t stop for a wee during a marathon, or Paula Radcliffe. Well, Paula has on occasion stopped briefly during a marathon but that’s common enough news now, and I’m not worthy to lace her running shoes.
The turn for home was welcome, but it did signal the start of the real race; the race to get back and not fall apart. I was digging in now, and counting on a little support from the half-marathon crew. The were heading off at 11am, so if we were doing roughly the same pace, we would meet at roughly their turn point. And as if by magic, outside Kilcock near the North Kildare Rugby Club, there was a hive of activity as runners came and turned for home. And there, on cue, were Ciaran and Des. They were a much-needed sight for sore eyes (and legs). Even though we were on the home stretch, there was still a good bit to go, and the pace from about 35k on was slowly dropping from the 5.30s into the 40s and then 50s. The watch records that that the last three kilometres were a quite tortuous 6.28, 6.28 and 6.18.
As we left the safety of the towpath at Louisa Bridge and the last scurry down the main road towards the clubhouse, I knew I had missed the four hour mark. 4.01:00, according to the watch. Though of course, it mocked me a little by pointing out the average pace of 5:41, which would would put you under the four hour mark for the correct marathon distance. But mustn’t grumble. Given the drop off in training, it was a good result. And to be only four minutes off Dublin… well, bitter-sweet, I suppose.
I was fairly beat, I have to admit. The short stagger back to the clubhouse seemed cruelly long. Though the soup and sandwiches soon did their magic. Kudos, while I’m here, to Brendan Murphy and his cohorts for putting it all together.
Once home, S had a great idea, and sent me back up to Carton for the best shower of my life followed by a dip in the pool, some steam and a jacuzzi. Then it was the slow unwind of both body and new year’s celebrations. I ended up on my own when the clocks hit twelve. Poor S was panned out in bed. We’ll have to try and rearrange a get-together with the crew who should have been over. Just have to wait for the ‘flu to run its course.
Next up is the Donadea half marathon next week. I hope I’m up for it. Today is the first day I have actually felt like a human being for a while, but no doubt it will have taken something out of me.
We’re back in Carton for the pool and leisure facilities. It was our joint-Christmas present. It is something of a luxury but then, we really don’t spend much on other stuff, and unlike the usual entertainment of nights’ out dining, drinking and smoking, there are some tangible benefits to joining a gym. And we are good at using it too.
The other joint Christmas present was some merch‘. I think it was during a skim through the Waterford results that I noticed how many runners where in clubs. I haven’t been in an athletics club since I was a nipper (with the legendary Matt Cunningham Snr.). Well, I decided there and then to form one of the world’s smallest running clubs. I designed the Mill Lane Runners logo, got in touch with a local embroidery business and arranged to get one beanie, one jacket and one running top each to get us on the road.
It really is just a bit of fun. There isn’t a club per se, and there certainly isn’t a clubhouse or track. Or a committee. Or rules. If I had to quickly tick a few of those boxes now, I’d say the clubhouse is more or less under the bed in plastic boxes, or in the back end of my office. The track is the local park where we do most of our running. The committee is myself and S though neither has been appointed any specific roles. There are similarly no rules, other than you should try and run now and again, and you should definitely enjoy it. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Applications to join should be handwritten on parchment using ink made from the galls of a hundred Kildare oaks, sent by owl, and be accompanied with a donation to a charity of your choice. We may arbitrarily refuse (or lose) your application and the money is non-refundable 😉
And so, that’s where we are for now. Still under the weather, but with a glimpse of the horizon for the first time in a week.