Drenched in Irishness, in local culture, in beautiful scenery and international companionship and drenched, of course, by the rain. I was in Dingle for the half-marathon, part of my accelerated pathway to marathon fitness in two months and, hopefully, a less painful, much faster Dublin City Marathon this year.
Recovering well from the Frank Duffy 10 Mile on the previous Saturday, I waited til Tuesday to commit to Dingle. I’d signed up for the full marathon last January – full of the optimism of a New Year – but the organisers said there was no problem with me running the half, although it was too late to switch my bib. I had booked four nights in a hostel in the town at the same time that i’d booked the marathon so there were no issues with accommodation.
Thursday afternoon i headed south-west out of Dublin, an epic five and a half hour drive ahead of me, fortunately i didn’t realise it would take that long. Once i saw the Kerry mountains on the horizon i relaxed and started to think about the race. Free parking everywhere in Dingle, except, in an Irish touch, in the carparks and where there are double yellow lines of course. I left my car on Main Street and headed off on foot to find my hostel, the Grapevine Hostel, which turned out to be just around the corner.
I didn’t realise what a treat was in store for me – an experience more like spending the weekend with family and friends than bunking down in a hostel. What is the magic ingredient that some hostels have? – a combination, i think, of staff, live in helps as they treat it like home, and, if you are lucky enough to encounter them, repeat visitors. Of course the fact that there are repeat visitors and they are friendly interesting people tells its own story about a hostel. Chilled people, young and old, sitting around drinking tea and trading stories – multi-cultural, well-travelled; the only constraint on us Irish was to speak slowly.
Friday was one of those days in Ireland so sunny, beautiful and hot with only an occasional white fluffy cloud in the sky that everyone is convinced that it will never rain again, ever.
I spent the day strolling around Dingle, resting, loosening up, window-shopping, present-buying, sea-listening, tourist-gaping and bulking up on carbs for the long haul on the following day. Started the morning with a delicious omelette in the nearby Wren’s Nest restaurant. Visited the local weekly farmers market and sampled the delicious juicy burgers – all before lunch.
Friday evening, the hostel saw the separate arrival of two seasoned marathon runners, one from Cork City and one from west Limerick, with accents designed by God to test the understanding of our overseas visitors. English as it is spoken in the rich cultural tones of Ireland. These lads could tell some stories and if they could run as well as they could talk then we were in the company of champions – sub 4 hour marathons for both of them. Running stories to fill your head and whet your appetite; then suddenly they were gone, a few pre-run pints part of the ritual and the hostel settled down a little again.
Early risers all of us, some marathon runners need to eat two breakfasts to have the confidence of sufficient fuel, our Limerick friend announced himself satisfied with two slices of toast and a cup of tea – fuel enough for the day combined with the liberal, external, application of Deep Heat.
Leaving the hostel was like diving into a river of runners, all heading downstream to the Harbour where the Start Line awaited us and there it was again – the Buzz.
Photo by Dingle Marathon
Bags dropped, lined up and we were off – no hanging about, storm clouds were gathering. We were not going to get home dry but at least we got started before the rain. I made it to mile 5 before the rain let loose its reminder that it will always rain again in Ireland. Still we were nicely warmed up and moving along at a steady pace of about 6.30 minutes/km. No world beater but the pace i would like to be able maintain if i ever jog across America. Trying to finish fast, or obtain a PB was for another day when i have a bit more mileage under my belt.
Passing a house on the outskirts of Dingle, i had spotted an old friend whom i hadn’t seen in almost thirty years – a wave, even a very friendly wave, could not straddle those intervening years so i kept my hand down and determined to visit the next day. I concentrated on the hill, or rather i concentrated on ignoring the hill as i knew there were many more of them ahead of me. And so it was, hills gave way to hills separated only, it seemed by minor hollows like a game of tease where the pain far outweighs the pleasure.
All the while to our left, visible amongst the sheets of rain, was the Atlantic Ocean and the dark shapes of the Blasket Islands – our route was part of the aptly named Wild Atlantic Way.
Kruger’s Pub was our destination, the Finish Line for the Half Marathon – I crossed the line jubilant to have finished but aware that the colour of my bib proclaimed to all that i was an intended Full Marathoner – someone who had failed to live up to their intentions. Should anyone wish for a sharp lesson in humility or if you feel that your ego needs reining in slightly, then forget self-help books, forego self-improvement classes and instead sign up for a Full Marathon and finish with the Halfs. Of course, everything is temporary, even ego deflation, and i felt the reassuring surge of inflationary stimuli when an Italian runner asked me my age and congratulated me profusely on my age-defying achievement.
Ego apart, we were all united in our physical state, wet, wet beyond wet, wet beyond imagining ever been dry again, wet that we felt at one with the wild Atlantic, saturated we queued in the rain for a bus back to Dingle, cheering on the still-finishing runners and those so hardy souls who passed us by, intent on completing the full marathon.
Photo by Dingle Marathon
Our bus arrived, crammed into it many of the so-brave, bedraggled volunteers who had truly gone beyond the call of duty this day – providing us with water, oranges, cheers and music – from what stores did they obtain such quantities of bravery and cheerfulness that they had so much to share with us. Now, seated and out of the rain, we could admire our medals and consume the content of our goody bags.
Dingle, hostel, hot shower, i focused on the important things, venturing out again, half-human to jump-start a fellow runner who car lights had drained her battery over-night, as lights tend to do if left to their own devices. Could i design a jump-starter for depleted marathoners i wondered. Twenty minutes half blocking the street, twenty cars edging around us, not a beep nor a flash nor any indication of anger at being held up – what magic is this that the Dingle atmosphere spreads amongst us. A Gardai car parked a little behind us, to protect us from accidents in the poor visibility of the continuing efforts of the western Atlantic to empty itself over the partying town. Jump-start completed, i exchanged a thumbs-up with the Gardai and went in search of a large cup of tea to complete the re-humanizing process.
Tea and food, food and sleep, i missed out on the late night partying – and the gallon or so consumed by my veteran friends celebrating another marathon successfully completed, another challenge conquered. Indeed two hearty fries had also been consumed before i met with them again the following mid-morning – the Full Irish indeed.
I drove to Inch, enjoying the resurgent sunshine and the sound of the sea, less wild now having sown such a frenzy on marathon day. Then to Annascaul, a mini-pilgrimage to the birth-place of a true Irish hero – Tom Crean.
Then a slow-drive along the route of the half-marathon – all the more to impress myself with and further re-inflate my still slightly suffering ego. I closed the day and my trip to Dingle with the closure of a thirty year gap in a friendship. My old friend and her husband, also a friend from the past, were still there on a long weekend from London where they live and work. They looked so well, as if they had stepped unchanged out of my memory, talking about retiring but still looking as fresh as the students i remembered. A son of theirs very friendly with a good friend of my sons and the wheels close and the connections spread and embrace us and often, unless we make an effort, their beauty is unseen by us. He had run this year’s half marathon, she had ran many before, we undertook to stay in touch and to run next year’s half together – life permitting – in a virtuoso celebration of a thirty year old friendship.
“Old men tend to stick to their houses, content with the view from the kitchen window, they shrink their universe“, words from a young adventure, staying overnight in the hostel, describing his father and friends. I missed the opportunity to ask him what age his father was but, of course, it is not the measurement of the years which counts but our attitude to life.
Stay free my friends.