It’s something you might hear a lot in this house. Indeed, I probably said it this afternoon at some point to Saoirse before I headed out for an 18k ‘circumnavigation’ of the town, taking in Castletown Demesne and the Royal Canal, and finishing up through St. Catherine’s Park. I’m just going for a run. Okay, hun, seeya later. Okay, bye…
It’s the humdrum stuff of life. It is, indeed, as I have pointed a few times on this blog, quite the luxury to be able to head out for a run. And it doesn’t cost me a thought either to throw on the gear and the shoes and tip off out up the park in the Winter and plod through the woodland paths in the dark with only a solitary badger for company.
I have this luxury because I am a man.
And on Tuesday next week, the busy county town of Offaly, Tullamore, will come to a standstill when they lay one of their own to rest. Ashling Murphy was brutally murdered at 4pm last Wednesday along the banks of the Grand Canal. Ashling was a primary school teacher, an accomplished traditional Irish musician, and a talented camogie player. She was 23, the same age as my daughter, and she had just taken up running as a New Year hobby. The place of her horrific death is only yards from the town centre. It is not your archetypal ‘dark alleyway’. And as we attended a candle-lit vigil on Friday evening in our own town of Leixlip, Saoirse turned to me and remarked ‘this is how bright it was at 4pm.’
Within hours, the story was across the country. And trending was a simple graphic that said ‘she was just going for a run’. It spread across social media networks and quickly became the profile image of choice, not least for those in the running community. Our close-knit community felt it keenly. Not least those women who do choose to run on their own. There were, of course, plenty of defiant statements from many of these runners. They would keep on running, they exclaimed. They would not let fear win. And on the flip-side of this positivity, we had a few stupid statements from some politicians, but perhaps the less said about that the better.
It has consumed the country. Ashling seemed to epitomise everything good about us; talented, sporting, musical, generous, gifted. And she was a beautiful young woman. You can take my word for that, as I don’t feel it is in my gift to post her image here. I don’t have the right, though without doubt, her face is everywhere this week. And the images we have seen of her were of course taken in happier times; who would ever suspect when debs or graduation photographs are taken that one day they will become a visual recurring nightmare for the parents, siblings and wider family and friends. But such is the way.
It’s a desperately sad time. We watched the news reports from around the country as every town and village had its own vigil. I had already read through some of the posts from my extended network of runners. There was, understandably, huge sadness. There was also, rightfully, burning anger. There was defiance. Frustration. Anguish. Across the media, we have heard about this being a ‘watershed’ moment. But how do you harness all this furious emotion and do something to stop this sort of horror?
I began to respond to one such post. I started typing out my scattered thoughts. I had nothing to add to the grief, I said. I was just as horrified. I could see no easy solution. I offered my best wishes and my fervent hope that you would all keep running, despite all the shit you have to put up with on a daily basis from complete fucking asshole men when you’re out minding your own business. I tried to suggest that if it might be the difference between running and not running, then I would offer my services as a chaperone. I read through the message several times. I tweaked it. I altered it. I rang a good mate of mine who runs a lot (and has been doing a free communal run group for years around the town), and then I sat back in front of my computer and deleted the clumsy message.
There is a lot you can say about social media. Indeed, I often like to refer to it as ‘antisocial media’ for obvious reasons. But out there were some very good posts from very articulate people who were able to find the words where I could not. One lady, for example, pointed out their daughter’s girls-only school had held a vigil, but her son’s boys-only school had not even mentioned it.
Another very articulate post described the problem with saying she was ‘just going for run’. Here, she was saying, is a well-intentioned simple little graphic that hides a deeper possibility: is going for a run along your local canal bank near your town in the afternoon supposed to be safe? Why yes, yes it is.
But what about in the evening? Or at night? Or what about walking home alone from the pub. I am doing her words a disservice, but the message was clear: it shouldn’t matter a damn where you are or what the circumstances are. You should be able to do as you please, unmolested. Nobody has the right to whistle at you, or make stupid remarks from across the street. Or ask you to ‘smile, darling!’
If this is all news to you, as a man, I suggest you chat to your wives and daughters and female colleagues, if they are comfortable having that conversation. You might learn some home truths. You might discover that your very presence somewhere might be a cause for alarm for a woman.
My colleague – the one who gave me some solid and sage advice on the phone during the week – mentioned this runner and the article he wrote. So here is the link to the article. It is about not looking back. Not in the metaphorical sense, but the actual sense. Read the piece. It’s great advice. And it’s almost a guarantee if you are a bloke, you will think to yourself ‘wow, that never occurred to me…’
Which is exactly the point.
The funny thing about privilege is that you are rarely aware that you possess it. For men, that means the luxury of being outside somewhere and not worrying about having to clutch your car keys between your fingers to make a passable weapon. Or ringing your best friend as soon as you get into a taxi. Or simply texting your friends to let them know you got home safely.
Ashling Murphy went for a run last week, and she never came home. This will not be the last time this horrific shit happens to someone. Indeed, it is happening somewhere in the world right now. We all have to do better.
There is other news. It seems trite to even put it into words. But life trundles on. Last week, one of our greyhounds attacked our daughter’s cat. To be honest, having witnessed and broken up the savagery, I am amazed the little thing survived. But survive she did, after an overnight stay at the emergency vets followed by another day of observations and meds at her own vet here in Leixlip. Tough girl. Bonnie then took ill the following day, most likely from the cuts she received for her troubles, so she was quickly out of the bad books and back in favour again. In fairness, that is her nature, so we can’t be surprised.
I have been getting out running more of late, as I build up (albeit slowly) to the Donadea 50k run. So far this month, I have managed over 82k. Not impressive by any standards, though I suppose you can factor in the post-Christmas, post-Lock up the Year marathon slump when I took a week off to recover. There are four weeks to go, so there’s no point flogging this particular horse; I just need to get about three solid weeks of training in, and then relax for about a week beforehand, and then get myself to Donadea in one piece and hope it all stays together for as long as possible.
I have also been gathering together some of the pieces for Declan’s Way in the Summer. I will aim for June sometime, to maximise the daylight. I have picked up a larger hydration backpack which has more pockets and space for ‘stuff’, and I have started doing some recording out running on the GoPro. I plan to make another short film about the experience, and if the last attempt taught me anything, it’s that you cannot have too much footage. So these cold Winter months, as they give way to Spring, and finally Summer, will hopefully see me plot out not just the course for the day and how I hope to approach it from a running perspective, but will also allow me to plan and storyboard the adventure for film.
Fail to prepare; prepare to fail. That sort of thing.
I have also finally got the office into a layout that suits home recording, so along with pulling the threads together for the ultra-run this year, I will get some of my songs recorded. Some music will be required for the film anyway, so I can root around in my extensive back catalogue and see if anything fits the bill. The last music I wrote for the Right Royal Triathlon was all instrumental, but it does seem a shame to deprive my burgeoning audience of my dulcet tones. You have been warned.
If you are of a mind, you might think of Ashling next Tuesday morning, and perhaps say a few quiet words.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.