As soon as i got home from beautiful Budapest, i logged on and checked Saturday’s weather forecast for Bray, County Wicklow. Not good, not good at all, wet, cold and windy, it will feel like 2 degrees Celsius – the contrast with the warm, albeit unseasonal, 22 degrees earlier that day in Budapest made me shiver and i struggled to come to terms with the thoughts of another winter run, even if it was April 02. I had packed away my cold weather running gear but it seemed i would have to use it one more time. We had a good week in Hungary’s capital on the magical Danube, my first time visiting it, no training but a lot of walking, plenty of sleep and a few hours in one of their famous thermal baths. Ideal preparation really for almost anything except a wintery 10k on the east coast of Ireland.
Beautiful Budapest and the River Danube
Still the Bray 10k, organised by Gaelforce Events in Connemara, followed a route from Greystones north along the coast trail. It sounded like a gem of a run and a chance for me to notch up another 10k. Regulars with me on this way we’re travelling will know that when i started running four years ago, my aim was to be able to run a 5k ‘anytime, anyplace, under any conditions’. This year i have upped my ambitions and want to make that a 10k anytime, anywhere. The Bray 10k sounded like a good test of this ambition. Like all good runs it was associated with a good cause, Amnesty International Ireland, so relevant at the moment with all the refugees trying to escape war zones and find peace and a new life in Europe. As ever, protecting the vulnerable of our planet cannot be entrusted to our politicians alone – too often they avoid the difficult decisions. Political platitudes and procrastination almost always exceed political efforts and action. I was very impressed to see that Colm O’Gorman, Amnesty’s Executive Director, had signed up for the run himself – signed up for the 10k not just for a photoshoot.
Saturday was a miserable day, grey and bleak with regular rain showers. Still i mentally girded my loins and set out for Bray. Getting to the start of the race was a little complicated, even without all the traffic backed up trying to get into the Dundrum Shopping Centre, but i eventually parked up in Bray, collected my race number and Dart – the Dublin light rail system – ticket and boarded the train. It must have been put on specially as it was full of runners, several carriages brim full of brightly coloured excited adults – just how much fun can running be?
Greystones Dart Station
The only good news about the weather was that the wind was from the south so that it was on our backs and the rain restricted itself to a fairly heavy mist with occasional interludes.
Not a bad Irish evening for a run in fact!
About 1,400 runners were due to test themselves and so the start times were staggered. I joined my wave, destined to start at 17.23; more like a ripple than a wave it must be said as the first 0.5km or so was along the very soft sand of Greystones beach. ‘Slow runners stay on the left, pass out on the right’, were the instructions as we set off and so i kept about as far left as i could, while still staying on the beach.
Energy sapping sand,
one and all.
We made it to the end of the beach.
And up onto the coastal trail – lovely seaviews promised for a sunny day – but impressive even through the low cloud.
I ran slowly, conserving my energy, determined to enjoy the race plus i wasn’t sure how much climbing was involved so better slow than worry.
My one ambition to run the entire distance – no walking allowed.
The rise was gentle, barely discernible most of the time, i settled down to enjoy the run, the fresh air and the movement of my body. Confidence comes slowly to me – i still struggle to trust my body – too many years when it just wasn’t able to carry out my wishes, when exertion today meant bedridden tomorrow, when fitness couldn’t be gained. Training was like trying to draw money from an empty bank account – every bounced cheque to be paid for in duplicate, or more.
But today was good. I started to think about the book i am currently reading, ‘Running with the Mind of Meditation’, by Sakyong Mipham – the leader of Shambhala buddhism and a keen and experienced runner.
My first impression of the book wasn’t promising when Sakyong stated that he had been asked to write a book about running and meditation – ‘Uh, uh,’ i thought this is going to be a book where meaningless references to running are squeezed in at intervals to justify the title and the expected market. I couldn’t have been more wrong and was, in fact, immediately set right when Sakyong announced that at first he declined as he did not think he was an experienced enough runner. So what did he do? He went out and ran several marathons to gain the necessary experience. Now that is a guy i like – so i read on.
It is a book filled with wisdom, on both meditation and running and i will discuss it in more detail in a later blog. But let me give you a little taster as we gently jog our way along the coast trail,heading north to the seaside town of Bray, the very town, the very beach where i got engaged many years ago.
“Meditate with delight and run with joy. See you on the cushion or on the trails”, Sakyong announces and it is good advice, advice which i take to heart on what is becoming a very joyful run. Sakyong acknowledges that for some people running is a form of meditation but he distinguishes between running and meditation in a few wise and simple sentences. In Tibet, the mind is compared to a horse, a wild horse which requires taming, gentle taming. Meditation is the way to tame the horse, Sakyong tells us. Running cannot do this. The mental benefits of running come from exhausting the horse – what a wonderful image. But of course it is temporary until the horse recovers from the exertions. Sakyong says, “So the clarity and peace of mind we feel after running is mostly because the wild horse is tired, not necessarily because it has been tamed. The mental clarity brought about by physical exercise is temporary”, and, “Using running as a way to train the mind is incidental, whereas the peace and clarity that come from meditation are cumulative”.
Sakyong advises us to pay attention to our bodies while we run and i take his advice and check my moving parts and all seems good. We have passed the water station so i reckon we must be halfway at least and the gradient has turned and we are running downhill. Now, on an unknown route, this must be treated with caution as the next corner could reveal another steep ascent. Still, i felt well and upped my pace a bit, even starting to pass out a few other runners.
And then i topped another rise and spread out in front of me, waiting for me with a curve of the beach like outstretched arms was the town of Bray.
The plot had room for one more twist – we had to run the length of the beach, which, as the tide was in, consisted of black slippery stones, and then back along the promenade into the face of that wind which had been at our back all the way. I swear i heard the wind laughing as i turned into it. One of the toughest parts of any race is where the route doubles back and you meet all these people who are ahead of you – it’s even tougher when you are running on slippery stones and they are cruising on a flat, medicinal almost, promenade.
One hour, five minutes and twelve seconds – a great time for me and a great time was had by all.
Definitely qualifies as one of my favourite races – hopefully i will be able to do it again.
Then it was into the tent to grab a banana – there must be plantations somewhere dedicated to producing recovery fruits for runners worldwide – a bottle of water – a gorgeous yellow technical tee and off to the Martello Hotel for a free drink and, if you had the energy, the after party.
i’ll leave you with some more advice from Sakyong – “The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness”.
A simple guide to health and happiness.
Stay well my friends