Let me start by saying that I used to hate distance running. In my school days, rugby was my sport and I would resent having to run more than a pitch-length at any given time. I mean if I wasn’t going to do it in a match, what was the point! Good for building up fitness and endurance they said, more like good for building boredom and fatigue! But then as I got a bit older and my time playing team sports came to an end (and no, I don’t count my brief run out for the Bank of Ireland Corporate tag rugby team), I needed something to keep the pounds off the midrift or at least slow the inevitable onset of middle age spread, so I became a jogger, in the words of Blur, somebody who goes round and round and round.
I must confess that this turn to jogging also coincided with meeting my beloved as it turned out that she was an avid jogger (although I think in her case a runner is more appropriate). Oh you’re training for a 10 mile run in Ballycotton and if I do it too, I’ll get to hang out with you for numerous evenings and have a scenic trip to Cork together to look forward to at the end of it, winner! Although I don’t think I took my training as seriously as Niki and may have been a bit undercooked when it came to the 10 mile event itself (having only run max 5 miles prior to the actual race). The weather on the day itself was ideal and while the sun may not have been splitting the stones (this was Ireland after all), it was definitely better than I had expected for March. After an initial mile where Niki dutifully ran beside me, she took off at her normal pace and left me to suffer for the remaining hour and a half! Strangely enough I actually got a second wind after 6 miles and caught sight of Niki up ahead as we began the final mile. Thoughts of a glorious victory filled my head as I envisioned myself punching the air in delight a la Eamonn Coughlan (see Helsinki 1983) as we crossed the line. Unfortunately I hadn’t factored the big hill at the start of mile 10 into the equation, all visions of victory disappeared to be replaced by pain, burning lungs, burning quads and a burning heart. The best I can say about that final mile is that I completed it and came away with the knowledge that I had reached my absolute limit in race length (no marathons, or half marathons for that matter, for me ever).
Since then I have realised that 5km is my perfect distance. Long enough to burn up a good chunk of calories but short enough that it can be done in half an hour so doesn’t overly impinge on time with the kids, wife, friends, life in general. Besides, whenever I try to increase my runs beyond the 5km limit I end up getting injured, and why does this always happen at the farthest point from help i.e. 4km into an 8km run up and down Griffith Avenue (the longest tree lined residential road in the northern hemisphere). Luckily I had my mobile phone with me that time but I wasn’t so lucky when 5km into a 10km charity run my right calf gave out and I was forced to limp the remaining 5km back to my car at the finish line as the whole field streamed past me.
Fortunately 5km is also the distance of the excellently organised parkrun events. For those of you not aware what a parkrun is, it is a series of timed 5km runs which take place every Saturday morning at 9.30am around the UK and Ireland. Results are provided online and it is a great way to keep track of your progress or lack thereof. For me it is the mere fact that you are running with a bunch of people of varying abilities and ages all trying to some extent to finish in the quickest time possible that gives me the incentive to push myself a little bit harder and makes it more enjoyable. Many a great battle I have had (at least in my own mind) with the 50 year old woman (ages are shown on the results page and can be quite surprising) where I am picturing Coe and Ovett (see middle distance running in the early 80s) going toe to toe, whereas in reality she is getting fed up with me hanging on her shoulder until the last bend so that I can kick hard in the home straight! That’s what’s great about growing up with a love of athletics on TV as every week becomes a different scenario from the screens of my youth. When you have 23-27 minutes of running ahead of you, it is these thoughts going through your mind that sustain you.
There are 75 parkruns in Ireland and I had my first opportunity to become a parkrun tourist last week while I was in Killarney. Now I didn’t wear my Dublin jersey for the event (as one brave man did) but I did enjoy the added competitive edge of being on foreign soil, so to speak. Also I was running with Niki, in the picturesque surroundings of Killarney House, so there was a chance for revenge, a decade and 4 children later. This time I did manage to reel her in during the last km and when it came to a kick for home I channeled Steve Cram, Said Aouita, El Guerrouj et al to win the day (or finish 50th out of 200 if you want to look at the actual result). The next installment will probably take place in another decade or so, hopefully my knees won’t have given out by then!