The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This has given rise to a Chris Rea number. Quite a good one, actually, now that I think about it, and certainly with a lot more ‘oomph’ than Driving Home for Christmas; listening to that all the way through is like scoffing half a dozen mince pies in one go. It’s doable, but by heck, you’ll feel a bit queasy.
But Christmas memories are fading as fast as the chances of booking a PCR test. Last Wednesday, I was out on the bike, and a saw a strange object in the gutter. I thought at first it was some poor dead animal – another victim of the busy roads – but when I passed it, I realised it was one of those fake felt antlers folks like to buy in pairs that you stick out of your side windows. Together with a red nose for the bumper, you can cunningly disguise your car as a reindeer. This one had given up the ghost, and like a fallen comrade, had become yet another unnamed victim of the festive season of rampant commercialism (What? You been reading Das Kapital again? ed.).
As I whizzed past, I thought to myself ‘Christmas is most definitely over…’
I was out on my bike to suss out the course for this year’s Lock up the Year runs. LUTY takes place on the towpath of the Royal Canal, and is the brainchild of Brendan Murphy, himself an excellent athlete who has a fondness for the mountains and trails. He is also a member of Le Chéile Athletics Club here in Leixlip, and the idea behind the run is to get together with friends and colleagues who share a love for running, and get out and shake off the Christmas blues which have generally set in by the 31st. So we lock up the year in the metaphorical sense, and also pass a number of canal locks on our journey. See how that works? Clever, huh!
As Brendan was away this year, I found myself volunteered (press-ganged might be a better description) into looking after the details. Not a bother really, because with Covid still hanging over us all, the only option was to eschew the traditional coach trips and generous indoor hospitality. It was going to be a bare basics event.
There are typically three distances: 10k, a half-marathon, and a full marathon. Prior to the completion of the new greenway and its new flat path (which is ideal for running, even if the traditional grassy towpath is lovely), the full would traditionally start out at a pub called Fureys, head west for a short stretch, then turn around and head back to Leixlip. The half would start at Cloncurry Bridge, and the 10k near the North Kildare Rugby Club. I appreciate if you are not familiar with these landmarks, then it won’t make much sense: all you need to know is that the runs generally started out on the canal somewhere at an obvious access point and headed back to Leixlip. A point-to-point, as such. My memory is of a rickety old bus getting us out to the start points, but I’m sure they weren’t all like that. All runs would finish at the Le Chéile clubhouse which at the time was a rather run-down shack, to be honest. The floor was spongy in places, so it was wise to tread carefully. But there was always a mountain of sandwiches and a tureen of hot soup and any amount of crisps and buns to scoff after your run. The craic was mighty, and the buzz was worth all the effort.
I was in awe of anyone who did the full marathon. I usually plumped for the half. By the time the end of the year rolled around, even if you had been training for Dublin Marathon at the end of October, fitness seemed to leach out of your body. Running schedules were now complete, targets had been reached (hopefully), and there was no more tyranny of ‘the programme’ hanging on the wall.
Add the festive cheer (and beer, and food, and more food) and, well, a half-marathon looked like a reasonable challenge. I did the full one year, after a reasonably good season, and it was tough as balls.
(Incidentally, here is a perfect time for a Betty White classic: “Why do people say “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”
— From her book, If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t).
Well, just to prove once again that dropping oneself on one’s head as a child (I can’t blame my parents for that one; I fell of a high stone wall and landed on my head all on my own!) can lead to potentially poor decision-making in later life, I decided to do the full marathon again this year, at the last minute. It was a rash decision, not least as two days previously, I had cycled the full course and more, and fallen off my bike to boot. The greenway I mentioned above has transformed the canal towpath from Maynooth to Cloondara (about 130 of the 146km total) into a very passable cycle track. Personally, it has detracted from the natural design of the canal, and has ruined an ecological and heritage facet of the waterway. But it has clearly added to the canal as an amenity for many people, so my gripes are my own, and carry little weight. Which, come to think of it, applies to ALL my gripes 😉
So what this means for Leixlip folk is that after 130km of nicely-finished track, it all ends about 8k away in Maynooth town, and our towpath is more or less the original. And there are a few sections between the two towns that are quite tricky. Throw in a few days of heavy rain, and ‘tricky’ becomes ‘dangerous’ quite quickly. Deep ruts between thick grass, puddles, stones, uneven ground; it’s enough to make you wish for a decent cycle path!
Anyway, in the heel of the reel, on the way back from measuring all the halfway turn points for the three distances, I came off the bike with about ten yards to go before decent ground. It all happened rather quickly, though I had been given plenty of warning both out and back that this was fairly treacherous going. (See also: dropped on head as child). Arse over tit is the technical description. The left knee took the full brunt, and some part of the bike dug into the top of my right leg in two places, and another stuck into the left calf. A moment’s pause on the ground while I waited for any additional pain to kick in… no? Good. Then the customary look around to see if anyone had witnessed my fall from grace. Two out of two: not a soul in sight. Looks like I may have escaped the worst. The handlebars will need a little straightening, and the hoods were both skewed, but they knocked back into place, and the gears and brakes are all functioning, so hopefully no lasting damage their either.
Home then, and finish off the turn point signs which I put in place the following evening, in the pissings of rain, for the runs the next morning. Why not do both things together, I hear you ask? Well, I didn’t want to have that cycle journey in my legs the evening before a marathon, and there is always the chance that some enterprising young fellow will see your sign along the towpath and wonder if it can float. And the clincher was that with time off from the station at a premium over the Christmas period, I didn’t have the time to measure the day before either…
So Friday morning at half-eight found me in the car park of the local GAA club with about a dozen other hardy souls, as we warmed up for the first run. Without too much fuss, we all set off. I ended up chatting to a fellow runner I hadn’t met before, and we stayed together for about 15k. Once I took a quick wee break in the bushes, I lost contact with him, and ended up finishing the run on my own. There were runners up ahead, but my rather frisky and optimistic pace of around 5:35 was dropping back a little by the time I turned for home, and things took a gloomy turn at the 32k mark when, on top of the usual fatigue and concerns for overly-tensioned hamstrings, the left knee suddenly threw up a red flag and I pulled over after a short distance and rubbed it furiously. Which is the equivalent of a wet sponge in football. Next to useless, but I got home anyway.
My thoughts, at the halfway stage, of getting in under the four hour mark slowly slipped away and I finished with 4:10 or thereabouts. Not a disaster by any means, but it has given me serious pause for thought as regards Donadea 50k in February. I mean, look; I’m too stupid to pull out now, of course, but if Friday’s experience is anything to go by (and it is), then the 50k run is going to be rather unpleasant. I simply don’t have enough time to get the training in to make it work, but I will have to chalk it up to experience. And also ‘write it off’ as a training run for the ultra later in Summer. (say, tell us about falling on your head as a child. ed.)
My mate Mark (who had more sense) had opted for the 10k so was at the finish line waiting for me. As recompense, I broke out the Thermos and we had a gallon each of Mexican-style hot chocolate. Just the ticket. I stayed around a bit, chatting to a group of runners who had sensibly brought along picnic chairs and blankets and any amount of coffee and buns as there were no indoor facilities available due to Covid. It wasn’t quite the days of old in the clubhouse but it was a damn good second, and a lovely way to finish up the year and the running season.
So that’s enough about me… how about you? How was your year? How has the global pandemic treated you? Or are we thoroughly sick of talking about it at this stage? Probably. As we speak, my son has tested positive twice on antigen tests and we await the PCR confirmation. As a member of the household, it means we are all deemed close contacts, so I am, sadly, off the run as regards the fire service. Feel fine, and have tested negative on the antigen.
Stay safe out there. And I hope the new year brings some positive changes for you all. This old dog still refuses to learn new tricks, but I can make one suggestion. If you are thinking of joining a gym, take the cash out of your account and place it in the grate of your fireplace and set fire to it. At least that way, you will get some warmth from its meagre glow, and you can also be assured as to exactly where your hard-earned is going. Mostly up in smoke, up the chimney, but like I say, at least you know 😉