the Connemarathon half marathon. My third year running it and it was my first ever back in 2016, so its a special one.
This year i stayed with family in east Galway, near Tuam, and had a very restless night. Kept telling myself, its not the night before, its the night before the night before that matters – when it comes to sleep before a race. The day before i was very excited, hopping around and looking forward to it – maybe i overdid the anticipation!
I was up early and drove to Oughterard – nothing like a bit of habit to calm a man down. Plenty of time for tea and scrambled egg in my annual haunt – the Boat Inn. I had the bad luck to sit beside a negative talker – you know the kind – talks on and on about people and events in the media and has something negative to say about them all. I was getting depressed. I thought about moving but felt it would be too mean. Then i noticed a text message from the day before – bad news – i felt myself at the precipice and tried to talk myself back up. The negative commentary went on in my left year, even the scrambled egg was a disappointment. Then i was alone, calmed myself and tried to regain my excitement but it was well and truly dissipated.
I strolled through the sunshine to the bus. Last one on it or i could wait for the next. I got that awesome seat beside the driver where you have a perfect view in front of you – beautiful. The scenery fought my dark shadows all the way to Leenaun, the start of the Half Marathon, but there was no escaping their presence. Disembarked and strolled around the village – nothing but instant coffee on offer – some shops even putting instant coffee into percolators and then selling it. When you are in bad shape everything seeks to depress you further.
We had a marquee to wait in this year – didn’t seem too important at 10.55 but by 11.00 it was raining, real Connemara rain – what we’d call lashing. Nature was in tune with my inner self. The race didn’t start til midday but that didn’t deter the weather, it was well able to keep pouring it down for hours on end. It was warm though, and not too windy – my cheering myself up thoughts.
And i had a black plastic sack.
A great invention for protecting your core body heat while waiting around and salvaging some grains of equanimity but not so good for the environment.
And then we were off, in the rain, and my head was still chasing dark shadows. The crowds were all around me and i tried to seek positivity from their vibes but it wasn’t working.
And then my right calf muscle starting to get sore and i added worry to depression as that muscle has seized up on me a month or two ago and left me hobbling.
So i dug deep and sought a quiet inner place and counted down the miles. The rain kept falling but it was keeping me cool and i welcomed it like an extended baptism.
And the half way mark fell, and my calf muscle got no worse and my depression settled down like the weather to a gentle continuous downpour.
In times like this you need an extra challenge. Mine was, and it had been in the back of my mind for the previous few days, to run the Hell of Connaught, not to walk it, not to stop, but to keep running at whatever shuffle pace i could achieve at that stage.
The Hell of Connaught is a hill, it starts at Maam Village and lasts about three kilometers and has an elevation of about 90 metres, that’s close to 300 feet to old-timers like myself. The wind blows down the valley from the Atlantic and swirls around you and whichever way the road turns and twists the wind is in your face, asking questions of you and your determination.
The last two years i had failed to run it all, had tried and failed, failed miserably. This year was going to be different and so it proved to be. I dropped down through the gears, shuffled my way up the hill, targeted one bend of the road after another and broke through the horizon – downhill to the finish line.
My depression had not managed the test, had not escaped Hell, i’d left it somewhere hunched up on the side of the road being battered by the Atlantic Gale, my mind was clear.
I heard a voice i recognized, Tim from The Runners Support Page, a Galway runner i’d met last year at Clontarf. I hadn’t realized what a distinctive voice he had, brave man facing down the elements, encouraging us runners home. I gave him a shout and he spotted me and called back. Thin connections across a windswept road, but connections always count.
There was still some character forming miles to run but i was over the hump and now i could hear the celebrations.
The Finish Line loomed and i staggered across, medal hung around my neck, water, bananas, t-shirt and into Peacocks Hotel for hot soup and to change out of my drenched gear.
Three in a row.
Each one faster, this year two minutes were carved off last years time. I liked to think of myself painfully gaining those two minutes on the Hell.
I put on my White Plains shirt – a recent present from my American cousins – and took a selfie. I had thought of them earlier in Leenaun with just the water of the Atlantic between us.
The bus brought me back to Oughterard, a journey enlivened by a veteran of 45 marathons, a Galway man seeing where the running journey would lead him. Not back to Connemara for about three years he declared – you can get tired of doing the same marathon too often. I could only agree – who was i to argue with only two Dublin City Marathons to my hall of fame.
And the car brought me back to the bosom of my family, love, food, admiration of my medal and a degree of wonder at my foolhardiness.
I have to go back next year to run with joy and conquer that Hell again.
Stay safe my friends.