Oh, yes, they call him the Streak
Fastest thing on two feet
Actually, no. Nobody calls me The Streak. I admit these are strange times, and if you hear a runner has been arrested in Ireland for nude jogging, it would be worth a few quid to bet that it was indeed me. But for now: no.
Please remain seated while the vehicle is in motion.
The Streak in this case is the culmination of a two week running streak as part of a virtual run challenge. Our local GAA club is suffering like many voluntary organisations, and this was a little fillip for the soul. And soles. Woohoo. We’re on a roll here! (Who writes this stuff? Ed.) (We do: unironedman).
The challenge started on Valentine’s Day and you just had to clock up as many (or as few) miles as you fancied. You were only paying 20 quid, and out of that you got a nice T shirt (which I am wearing as I type), but I gather it has been a good success.
I opened my account with a reasonable deposit of 23k on the first day of asking. During the week, I added 12.5k, 10k, 11k, 10.5k, 11k, and then on the Saturday, a squelchy 22k along the canal. This you know from the last post (and chorus) but who doesn’t love a recap? The gloriously auspicious total for week one was 100k, give or take a few steps.
Then into the second week, I added 13k, 10k, 10k, 11k, 10.6k and then 10.8k, which was my penultimate run. The snag I had already uncovered at that stage, after a quick tot on Thursday, was that I was going to fall short of the 200k total. Not that I had a total in mind when I set out. Indeed, had I thought about it all, I would have hoped for around 150k. But as I have said before, I was dropped on my head as a child, and clearly from a height.
With one run left to do, I was over 33k short.
And so, there was only one thing for it. Arise early on the last day, make the most of the wonderful weather we are having right now, and set out to run at least 34k. The plan was fiendishly cunning: run along the towpath (which would be reasonable enough underfoot with the fine weather) until the watch hit 17k, turn around and come home. The out-and-back is the only way to force you to do the distance. In the park, there are far too many points where an ailing runner can bale out. (If you are not happy with the ‘bale’ version, you can read this).
I was up about 6.30am and got on the road nice and early. The first sight as I stepped out of the door was the full moon setting in the west, over the Main Street. I did take a picture, just for posterity, but it was pretty crap as pictures goes. As I climbed slowly out of the village, the sun began to take over duties as the primary celestial body in the sky. It was quite the treat and well worth getting out of bed for.
The journey outbound was punctuated with numerous stops to marvel at this flaming ball of gas that flooded everything it touched with gold. The original Midas Touch. The photos don’t do it justice. I passed Maynooth Harbour, and marvelled at the fact that the last time I ran past here with Gary and Mark, the canal was frozen over. Only two months ago.
By the time I had reached Kilcock (about 8 miles away), the sun was well up, and I had the head down and was concentrating on my stride. My little pocket radio had died, so I was back to enjoying the ambient sounds of the towpath. In general, I prefer to run without any sort of distractions such as music, but when on a long run in the mornings, it can take your mind of things when the going gets a little tough.
I knew the 17k mark would get me past Kilcock, but as I glanced at the watch every few minutes, I was moving ever further from the town, deeper into the west. I don’t know why, but I assumed I would reach some notable point at which to turn, like a bridge or a lock. It was just yet more towpath in the wide expanse of north Kildare. But as I made to turn for home, I realised Ferran’s Lock was up ahead, so I added a little more to the journey. 17.75k on the nose. Assuming I made it home, 33k was in the bag. With change. To coin a phrase… (that’s enough! Ed.)
The journey home on an out-and-back has its merits. I generally prefer looped runs, especially when I am doing reasonable distance. It is just preferable, to me, to explore new territories with each step. Not that I haven’t run probably every track within running distance of my home at this stage… But when you are just ‘taking care of business’, sometimes there is a comfort in retracing one’s steps. Known landmarks are ticked off your mental list. Calculable distances pose few problems for the tired mind. You know every step is taking you closer to home.
The interesting thing about the run to Ferran’s Lock is that it is mostly uphill. There is about 40 metres of climbing. Over a distance of nearly 18k, perhaps climbing is an exaggeration. But a climb it is nonetheless. Canals, as you know, follow the topography of the land. They skirt contours where possible (there is a lovely example of this on the very same Royal Canal near Longford), but at times, they must rise and fall with the land, and for this, there are locks. From the Shannon basin, the canal rises gently into the midlands of Ireland, where it gets its feedwaters, and then drops back into the capital.
And there is a little bonus gradient in your favour as you leave the canal behind at Louisa Bridge in Leixlip and descend back into the bosom of your home town. Which is a blessing when you have over 30k on the clock. Despite the flagging legs, we did a negative split. Not by much, but I recall looking at the stats and noting that I was about 2 to 3 minutes faster coming home. God bless that gradient!
Home, then, in 35.5k. And steeped in a hot bath for my troubles.
As of today, I have no idea how everyone else got on with the challenge. Each participant was encouraged to upload their own times to the Pop-Up Races website, but there was no running total (yes, sorry!) so nobody would have known where they stood in the rankings. I’m sure they will do the totals soon enough. But we have our T shirts, and the warm glow of a job well done, and a good cause helped out. And those are the best rewards of all.
In other news, I decided it was about time to strip my Orbea frame. I would never have chosen white as a colour, but it was literally the last one in the shop. The Bike-to-Work Scheme has been a great success here, but it does tend to cause a run on bikes at a given time of year. I suspect the last year has been next-to-impossible to sort out bikes for folks, given the shortage imposed by the pandemic.
Anyway, I have a plan for the colour scheme but I am going to keep it secret (largely as I reserve the right to change my mind!). Watch this space.