“Jesus Christ, he’s running in flip flops,” is something I heard over and over and over and over again yesterday. “You mad bastard,” was said to me so many times that I started to feel like an “S” should be added to the LGBT flag so as to include folks like me that like to run in sandals. Personally, I find it shocking that so many can afford to run in €300 Nikes that one chap informed me last only 200kms. If that is true then that means each mile costs €2.50 and essentially makes them over 8 times more expensive than petrol on a per mile basis. I heard the opening line so many times yesterday that I started to fancy that maybe I am, in fact, Jesus Christ.
Along the way I see a black chap with “Jesus will come again” on the back and I feel like introducing myself and informing him that I have, in fact, arrived. I open my mouth to say as much but instead find myself saying, “How are you doing?” and he responds with a simple “Hello” and we leave it at that.
I arrived in Cork the night before and had booked into an Air BnB. Rain was bucketing down and so, after having a double cheeseburger and two pints in Sober Lane, I resolved to go to bed and watch Legend (a film with Tom Hardy playing the Kray twins) in bed on my phone. I’m tempted to take a drop of the CBD oil that came in the goody bag of the race, but I am feeling somewhat dopey already and so decide not to.
In the middle of the night I wake up to go to the loo and my calves feel kinda tender and achy, which isn’t how one wants them to feel a few hours before a marathon, even if going slow, as I intend.
In the morning I head to the kitchen and exchange a bit of idle chit chat, over a bowl of muesli, with two other guys that are down for the marathon. Oddly, they both resemble cousins of mine from two opposite sides of the family, but I don’t bother saying so. Runners always ask each other “What time are you going for?” in a similar way that smokers ask each other for a light and also engage in discussions about trying to quit and how hard it is to do so, and this encounter with my two running comrades is no different, though I honestly cannot remember what time they said they are going for.
At the start line I was interviewed by some chap with a video camera and we got to talking about how I was running in sandals. I think it was me that directed the chat towards my sandals as I felt this is a conversation that needs to be had with the wider public, and that we need to break down barriers so that barefoot runners can live a happy productive life without feeling like they are oppressed by people who can afford to spend more money on shoes than others can afford to spend on petrol. I told him that running shoes are a scam. He told me that he always thought marathon runners were mad and that from talking to me he was sure of it.
I 100% understand how marathon runners seem mad to outsiders, but there is some kind of transcendental feeling to it in any case. I often imagine myself as part of a primitive herd of tribesmen hunting down dinner, or indeed part of a herd of Buffalo that is running to avoid being dinner. Either way, one has to run. And so when I run, I very much feel like a Tranny (as in a transcendental being 😀).
I’ve generally always liked blasting music in my ears when running but in the last while I’ve found myself abhorring the idea at events. It’s terribly disappointing when one says hello to somebody and they don’t respond on account of blasting Adele or the Spice Girls, or whatever, in their ears. It is as if they are disconnected from the same earthly realm, and uncontactable; they may as well be on Mars.
I check my watch for the first time around mile 10 and realise I am running at just a smidge over 8 minutes per mile, which isn’t bad at all considering I feel fresh and am not breathing heavy, nor sweating. My calves feel okay and so I up my speed, afterwards realising I hit 7:25 mile pace on my tenth mile. But then pop, a shooting pain manifests in my right calf. I slow down a bit, and chat to some lads all wearing the same T-shirts and I ask one of them the story behind them. It turns out that they are all running in memory of an uncle who, at 47, died tragically and left a wife and two children behind. I feel moved by our chat and forget about my calf being sore for what turns out to have been three miles. That is the power of meaningful conversation. It helps one transcend the monotony and even the physical pain of reality. I shall not divulge the details of our conversation as it revolved around sensitive issues, but I felt I should mention it just the same as it left a meaningful impression on me, and gave me a feeling of unity within the community of strangers that had descended on Cork city for the race. And then reality calls me back in the form of another sharp pain in my calf.
I wish the guy I had been conversing with good luck, and slow down and get yet another, more painful twang in my calf, and I realise, at mile 13, that my race is over. But I do not feel any regret about this. My only regret is that I didn’t get to finish the race and enjoy another 13 miles of meaningful conversation. But when one door closes, another one opens. And sometimes when we fall we experience human nature at its best and it revitalises us with a sense that there is some kind of spiritual power that looks after us when we need it most.
As soon as I stop, a man I do not know asks me if I’m okay and immediately offers to drive me back into town. I’m slightly taken aback by the generosity of his gesture as such is not the kind of kindness one experiences every day. At first I thought he must have been a race steward, but it turned out he was simply a spectator. I limp along beside him to his car and we chat about running and a shared sense of bewilderment about the changing world around us. We’ve never met, but instantly get along like people who have known each other for years. He drops me back to the bag drop at City Hall and I want to give him the price of a couple of pints to say thanks but he gets offended when I offer, and so I thank him and bid him farewell.
Limping now, I hobble a hundred metres to the bag drop, my calf feeling more painful now than when I was running. There would have been days where I felt distraught about DNF’ing a race, but today is not one of those days. Oddly, I feel a sense of accomplishment as I feel I have bathed in the river of human decency, which sometimes can seem elusive.
There are those who will no doubt say: “Fucking ejit, what did you expect running in sandals?“ as if nobody ever got injured or DNF’d in conventional shoes. I’m in such shoes 99% of the time for the past ten years, I wouldn’t have done a single marathon without them, and so such folks can call me whatever they want really, as I know the truth 😄.
I hobble to a café called Cafe Velo and spend five minutes confusedly scanning for an Irish breakfast and am about to call a waiting person when I realise that the full breakfast is the first item on the menu and called a Vélo Breakfast.
After breakfast, I hobble to the finish line for a look and then resolve to get the one o’clock bus back to Galway. Arriving at the bus stop, I have about 40 minutes to spare and so venture into the Shelbourne Bar Cork across the road from the bus stop and am gifted a free pint of Heineken as they are giving a free one to anyone with a finisher medal. I obviously don’t have one, but they give me a sympathy pint anyway, which is a nice sprinkle of kindness to finish out the day.
I slump into my seat on the bus home, and am feeling glad I didn’t drive as the pedals would have been difficult. Passing a petrol station, I see the price of it has gone beyond €2.10, which really is another reason I feel relieved to have taken the bus.
I reflect on my early attempts at marathons where I would show up, talk to nobody, run like it actually mattered what time I did, and simply go home exhausted. From that, I evolved into taking pictures of marathons and seeing that the people who enjoyed them the most were those that plodded along at a comfortable pace, and talked and laughed along the way. I realise that throughout the day I didn’t have a single conversation with anybody I know, and yet I had some of the most meaningful and amusing conversations I’ve had in quite some time, all with complete strangers. As it turns out, wearing sandals in a marathon is a great conversation starter.
The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round, all day long. And the Galway Cow is away back to Galway. The Galway Cow has a bad calf, the irony.