Friday, November 29, 2013

Mile Fourteen

Friday, November 29, 2013 0
Another gel pick up will come somewhere in the next two miles. I remain in unfamiliar territory but I have watched the course video two hundred thousand times so I have no doubt that all will be fine. To my left and for the longest time, I see a man who has dropped.  He stands tall and slim by the side of the road, his face in his hands. He is shaking. Sobbing or shivering. Both. No one comforts him. He has made it past half way, like me, and then he has had to stop. I know that if it had been possible he would have continued.  I know it. I want to tell him that I know it. But I don't want to tell him it's okay. It's not okay. He has failed. He has earned his failure. I might still earn mine. His stance does not alter as I pass.  I drift. 

I'm nearly eight when I learn to ride. I got a Chipper for Christmas but I don't know how to ride it so Darren's daddy teaches me. Darren lives across the road. Darren has a Chopper which is better than a Chipper and Darren's Chopper is red and my Chipper is yellow. Darren's daddy teaches Darren and then later he teaches me because I want to learn too. I wobble up and down Maryfield Close and I fall over against this car that is parked with a man in it. My shoulder hurts a bit, but I'm okay. I've left a little mark on the car. The man gets out of the car and he's angry and Darren's daddy says he's only just learned but the man is still angry. The man says you should be keeping him away from facking cars then.  Darren's daddy says he's not my kid, is he, he's the mick from over the road. The man said look at my facking car. Darren's daddy says it was an accident. I run home because I'm scared of the angry man and Darren shouts you forgot your bike but I keep running because I'm scared. Mum is at work but Fiona is there and she says where's your bike, you didn't put it down the side. I say I forgot it. She says then go and get it. But I'm scared so I just stand there and wait. And she says I told you to go and get your bike and she looks like she looks when she's going to smack me so I run outside and stand on the kerb. I don't know what to do. I'm scared of the angry man and I'm scared of Fiona, so I stand on the kerb and wait. I can see Darren's daddy talking to the man. They look more friendly now, but I'm still scared so I stand and wait. After a long time the man gets in his car and drives away. I go and get my bike. Darren calls me a scaredy cat. I get on my Chipper and wobble home. I put it down the side and go inside. Fiona gives me a biscuit. Tomorrow I think I'll run away.

I see the pink jacket up ahead.

I get up early. I always get up early on the holidays and Fiona says she always has to wake me up when there's school but I'm not allowed to watch television on school days so why would I get up? But today I don't watch television. I want to ride on my bike again. I liked riding on it yesterday and I want to do it again. And also I can run away. I can run away but on my bike. So I put on my clothes. My sister is still asleep. Fiona is still asleep. My mum is still asleep. I go out the side door. I am very quiet. It's cold outside, and still a little bit dark.I push my bike out to the front and get on it. I remember what to do. I'm wobbly for a bit but then I'm okay. I get to the bottom of our road and I stop. This is the big road. Joyden's Wood Road. I'm not supposed to go on it on my own, but that's when I'm walking. Probably it's different on my bike. Big kids go on this road by themselves. And I can ride a bike now so I must be a big kid too. So I go round the corner and down the hill. Joyden's Wood Road is a hill. The library is at the bottom. I think I'll go to the library and then go to Joyden's Wood and live there. I haven't really pedaled much but I'm going fast. Fast like Jason in Battle of the Planets. I make the noise that the Galacti-cycle makes. Jason doesn't drive the Galacti-cycle, he drives the race car. Princess drives the Galacti-cycle. Once I pretended to be Princess when me and Darren were playing Battle of the Planets he said that I couldn't be Princess because she's a girl and I said why not, you're being Barry Sheen and he isn't even in Battle of the Planets and he sang David is a girl David is a girl so I broke his Action Man toy and he stopped. Darren's mum shouted at me a lot and I had to go home. The next time we played Battle of the Planets I was Jason instead. And now I'm Jason again and I've borrowed the Galacti-cycle from Princess. I'm going very fast. I remember Darren's daddy saying pull the brakes if you want to slow down. I think I want to slow down. I try to pull the brakes. I can't reach the brakes. I'm going very, very fast. I'm not Jason anymore. I'm not even Princess. I'm scared. I'm going too very fast. I think maybe I should put my feet on the ground because that will help me stop but maybe I'm going too fast and I'll hurt my feet. I think I saw The Six Million Dollar Man do that in a car once because the brakes weren't working, but I'm not made of six million dollars, I'm made of kid. I put my feet on the ground anyway.

I take the gels smoothly. "I'm okay!" I say, I shout. "It hurts, but I'm okay! I think I can do it!" I so rarely speak with  exclamation marks.

My Chipper goes upside down very fast and I go upside down very fast and then I go onto the ground very fast and I think my Chipper goes onto the ground but I can't see because my face is on the ground. I shouldn't have run away.    

I think I can do it. Saying it out loud, to that friendly, smiling face makes me believe.  For the first time, I believe that I can. I can finish this. With the rush of elation that this belief produces comes the realisation that for the duration of this mile that I have spent in Bexley, Kent, I completely failed to notice the pain in my knee. I notice the fuck out of it now, but then I also notice those wrists again and my other knee and my arms and my calves. Things are balancing up, evening out. All over, non-specific agony is my bag. I'll absorb that shit all day long.   Here comes another rush. In this moment I can run forever. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Miles Twelve and Thirteen

Thursday, November 28, 2013 0
Where is this? What are these roads? Suddenly the course is split for traffic. The small bunch just ahead of me, which includes Lurchy Pinkface, continue on the left hand side of the road while myself and all those behind me are siphoned off to the right. The road is wide. The cars drive between us. I can see that the next turn is to the left. Our route will be longer. I am genuinely enraged. What the fuck is this shit I mutter. Closed roads my fucking arse. I cannot remember being this angry. I recognise that it may be time to eat a gel. I eat a gel. Mile marker. Twelve down. 

You never feel more privileged than on a Wednesday morning. You're up at six thirty making coffee, eating porridge and getting the day going for the house. By 8.45 you have completed your tasks for the morning. Children are at school with some class of lunch upon their person. Spin classes have been constructed. Dishwashers emptied, clothes laundered. You no longer instruct on a Wednesday morning. You are privileged to have this time to yourself. So you get in your car. Privileged to own a car. You drive to Howth. Privileged to live so close to such a place. You park right at the end, up by the public toilets. You have been sipping water all the way out. You need, as usual, to pee. So you pee, then jog slowly back to where the village starts. 

This is the beginning of The Bog of Frogs. On its website this trail is advertised as ten kilometres. More damnable internet lies. It is in fact just shy of eight miles. You will not find a better run in the county. 

You've had your warm up jog now. It's time to get going. Do a little lean in, like you're on a start line, wait for the Runkeeper to count down from ten. And you're off. If you're lucky, and you're always lucky, the wind, and it's always windy, begins at your back. So you burst from your imaginary blocks and shoot down the promenade, flying past the slouchers you shuffled passed moments before. Make up your mind moron, you hear them mentally cry. East or west? Fast or slow? Make your choice. Stick with it. East it is, for now. East and fast. Why not fast? It's as easy as slow. 

Go right at the pier. Bang. You're climbing. It's sharp, it's steep, it's probably about 200m long. You need to stay out of the red. It's too early for the red. But there is little option. Red is the colour. Left now and the slope drops to almost nothing. Recover. Breathe. You like this section, a quiet road of gentle incline that leads to the real beginning. Take it easy tap it out. Fun times await. Runkeeper chirps a mile and you're almost there. You smile. Here it comes.

For the next five miles you run the cliff path, constantly up or down, though more often up, hopping over rocks, charging up steps, barreling down descents, squeezing through narrow thorn corridors, briefly dropping all the way down to the beach before it's up up up again. Sometimes you meet a hiker, or a dog walker. All are lovely and stand aside to let you pass. You always shout thank you. You beam. They beam. How can you not beam? Look at the view. Feel the wind on your face in your lungs. The sun or the misty rain. Quick short steps, long galloping strides, everything happens in these five miles. One time you run this with "Songs in The Key of Life" in your ears and everything makes sense. And then you go right.

Up. For a mile. No relief. Some of it outrageously steep. It is the most you will hurt in your marathon training. Your legs and lungs will scream like they will not scream even in 400m repeats. Stop. Please stop. Please. Or walk. Please walk. Please. Just a few steps. Please let it stop hurting. But you have come from cliff joy and you know that a mile of descent awaits. So you do not stop. Shut up legs. Fuck you lungs. We're doing this. We're getting it done. You run through a golf course just before the last brutal incline. And even your scorn for this alleged pastime is softened by the effort and the joy. And then it tops out and brother do you fly. If it's a good day and you came to this run rested and you ran the climb smart, you may now effortlessly hit a 6'30 mile. Nobody, you feel, has ever moved this fast. Down through an estate, dropping dropping and then it's Howth again and a sharp u-turn and a final surge to the pier. You keep running until the phone calls eight and then you stop. You are exhausted and you are grateful. Grateful to have had the time, the health, the inclination to spend this hour in this way. You love to run. How you love to run.

I fucking hate running. My fucking leg. Jesus. My wrists hurt. Fuck. Why do my wrists hurt? The road comes back together and I find that I have lost my lurcher. Have I slowed? Quickened? I don't know. I don't much care. I hear music from afar drowning out my own tunes. I'm the cat with the base and drums going round like bom bom bom. Halfway approaches. The music is so very loud. I know this song. Sixteen pints of rum. I started using it in pump last week, It is a stupid song. I like it a lot. I allow myself a smile. I'm so cool and I'm so groovy. I'm also half way. Half way through a marathon, this marathon I said that I would run before I got too old. My leg. My wrists. Halfway. Bom bom bom

Friday, November 8, 2013

Miles Ten and Eleven

Friday, November 8, 2013 0
There's a small boy on the right hand side of the road. He is holding out his hand for the high fives. High fives for him, low fives for us. He can't be more than six. The woman in front of me veers to contribute. I veer with her.  She wears a black baseball hat, black shorts and a bright pink singlet. She runs easily and with purpose. I would wager my last gel on her being American. But then we're all American now, with our can do attitudes and our marathon running and our high fiving. As her outstretched hand impacts the kid's his face lights up like a stricken tower. I get a similar reaction. I feel like Stewart Lee must have felt when I bought a book I already owned so that he could sign it. I hope this child stays here all day. The American lady powers on and I let her go. We will meet again, I feel. 

Other less youthful spectators offer food. Jelly Babies mostly. I can't, don't, won't eat Jelly Babies. I have my reasons. They are twofold. The first reason makes a modicum of sense. Don't do anything you haven't practiced in training. No new shoes, no new clothes, no new sweets from random strangers. I have not practiced with Jelly Babies, so no Jelly Babies. The second reason is not so sensical. Jelly Babies contain gelatin. I do not eat gelatin because I am a vegan. I am vegan? I do not know. It does not matter. I am a vegan vegan. Gelatin is made from hooves. Animal hooves. I do not eat animal products. I don't really know why. This is not true. I don't eat animals products because I read about an ultra runner who was vegan so I decided I'd do that. I'm always doing shit like that. I am extremely suggestible. I ran barefoot for months after I read "Born to Run".  But while barefoot running was nice, it was also deeply impractical and not entirely safe. So I stopped doing that. But this vegan gig, it makes me feel good. I have more energy, less guilt. I can eat mountains and mountains of food without putting on weight. If I'm honest, this is the main, if not quite only, reason. Because I am both greedy and narcissistic. Real vegans, if they could see my heart, would despise me. But then real vegans are mostly militant nut jobs who believe that children who like a hot dog and a milkshake in Eddie Rocket's after a second rate animation in Cineworld are filthy murderers brainwashed by the system into a terrible unthinking life of slave mastery and butchery. They're right too, but I like to focus on my low body fat percentage. It's less stressful.

Ten miles. I do not know this part of town. I am in that place where I am just running. It is a good place. It cannot last. 

An Irish woman passes me. I know she is Irish because though she does not wear the colour, she is pink. And ginger. But so very pink. And she's moving. Effortfully. I guess my pace at about 7'25, hers is somewhat quicker. But she does not run. She lurches. She is lurching along at a pace that I am not sure I can hold. Her form reminds me of a conversation I had with Tommy seven days ago. Tommy works where I work and can give a mean deep tissue. Very, very mean. When he had finished fucking me up, Tommy spoke of an old man who had overtaken him in the final miles of his first marathon. There on the gym floor, he demonstrated the veteran's gait, a Quasimodo like hop. People stared. I laughed. Mile eleven and it's happening to me. Everything in this race is happening too early. I slowly accelerate to match this woman's pace. For the next mile I will be try to live within her beautifully pink, loping lurch. 

Mile eleven marker. I am bored, I realise. Non-runners always say that, don't they? "I could never run! I don't know how you do it! It's so boring!" I am never bored when I am running. But I am bored now. Bored of the pain in my left leg, bored of concentrating on not letting it slow me down, bored of wondering if I'm going to make it.  Not far to half way. That'll be something. Probably a thing with running and no Jelly Babies. But something. 

On we lurch. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Miles Eight and Nine

Thursday, November 7, 2013 0
Out of the park we stream. The sky is big and blue and there are hundreds of bystanders, shouting, encouraging, bystanding. One comedian hollers "Almost there!". I assume the repetition of this hilarity will continue to amuse him for at least the next hour or so. I do not begrudge him. Everybody is doing what they have to do to get through this day.

My leg I think again. My knee, my hip. It hurts. They hurt. I realise that this repetition of my own is even less amusing than that of our witty wag. So I decided to cut it out, to give it up, to let it go. Pain is my lot now, earlier than I had hoped, but this is where I am. Run, run.

There is a climb coming.

Here. Close your eyes. Take this. You know what it is, right? Feel that gentle crinkle. No, no, don't open it yet. Bring it to your nose. Inhale. Can you smell it through the wrapper? Maybe not. But you can imagine. Nutty, creamy, sugary. Open it. Yes, go on. Expose the burnished mahogany of your dreams. See the helicopter shot from the television advert that you are composing in your mind as the camera zooms through the ridges and folds of sweet, sweet chocolate. Enough anticipation now. Take your first bite. Oh that taste. Peanuts, caramel, milk. Protein carbohydrates precious life giving fats. The effect is immediate, like a shot into the veins. And here at 1.30 in the afternoon in Sault, Provence your body believes again. You have climbed the mountain that looms to your left twice today and you must climb it one more time. Thirty seconds ago it seemed an impossible feat. But a Snickers has changed all that. You stuff the paper in you back pocket and gear down as the road begins to rise.

Six months ago I switched to a vegan diet. There will be no more Snickereses for me.

Mont Ventoux. This name means little to most. Club des Cingles. Even less to more. But these are the words by which I will measure my effort today. I have climbed Ventoux. I am an initiate of Club des Cingles. Towering like a canker sore out of the flatlands of Provence this extinct volcano rises to 1912m over 21 kilometres. If you're a professional cyclist hepped up on the goofiest of goofballs you can climb it in an hour.  If you're me, it takes a little over 90 minutes. There are no downhills, no relieving switchbacks. Uphill, most often at a grade between nine and twelve percent, for an hour and a half. Before the terrible rise of Team Sky the best known British pro cyclist was a guy who was famous mostly for dying on this hill. That's amphetamines, brandy and a blatant disregard for your own well being for you. Hey, that's Mont Ventoux and that's all very well. But Club des Cingles, that's a whole other reinfused blood bag. To join you must ascend the mountain three times in a row from three different sides. The descent takes about maybe twenty minutes though Sean Kelly did it in eight. I did this. I joined the club of morons. It was a lonely, majestic and ultimately Snickers fueled pursuit. I got the fucker done. And cried like a baby on finishing the final climb. I had never been so exhausted, so physically crushed. I never thought I would be again. 

Eight miles. A quick one.We breeze through a village, so many people, so much cheering. I am beginning to feel like I can stand this pain. Like I can do this.

I was back from France about two weeks when the friend of a friend, being informed that I like to cycle a bike, told me that he also rode. "There's a hill in Inchicore," he said, eyes ablaze. "It's a fucking killer. I used to have to walk up it. Now I don't even have to get out of the saddle." "Wow." I say. 

My Dublin City Marathon 2013 passes under a bridge. I am maybe fifty metres further on and there is shouting behind. It's the 3'20 pace group, playing with the echo and failing to suffer. I sigh and look to this Inchicore Hill. I have never cycled up it. Let's hope I can do it without getting out of my metaphorical saddle. I shorten my stride, pick up my cadence. No heart rate change. No significant drop in pace. I have run up a lot of hills in the last four months. Not just because it's good training but because since I returned to running I have discovered that my love of climbing is not limited to the bike. So I am trained for this. I know what to do. Yes, my IT band maintains its piercing whine. But for the next 250m it can fuck right off. I am finally in my element. I pass ten, fifteen people. Largely flat the website claims. How I love this lie. I briefly fantasise that the whole course is uphill. That is a marathon I could finish, I think, ludicrously. And then the road levels out. That was it. That was my quarter kilometer of joy, 

I keep running.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mile Seven

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 1
This water station is a nightmare. They are not ready. I am not ready. I have to stop, rip apart some plastic sheeting. I lose seconds.  I have no seconds to lose. The stopping means I start again and when I start again it's there. Full on. All out. Stabbing. I stopped two weeks ago with this pain. And so I will stop now. But I do not stop now. Not yet. My training partner is just around the corner, waiting with gels. That's the time to stop. I speed up a little. The sooner I get there, the sooner I drop. The corner comes quick. I see her before she sees me. dressed as she is in luminous pink. She's on the phone. She's talking about me, I guess. though my ears have failed to burn. She looks worried. I am very late. Probably he's dropped already, she's thinking, maybe saying. Should she start to walk back? I raise my hand. She spots me.  But instead of instantly identifying my terrible need to make it stop, she whips the gels from her pocket and holds them in my path. What can I do? We practiced this on the coast road that Sunday morning that I pulled up short. I wore my serious face as she passed the squishy batons. "I hope I get a smile on the day!" she said after she caught me back up. I made no promises. And she gets no smile.  But I take the fucking gels and keep running. Because practice. 

I am still running. I don't know why. I should have stopped. I really should have stopped. I could still stop. Quick, now, stop before she leaves. She'll take off her luminous pink coat and cover me up. The pink will hide my tears and my shame from the passing thousands who could not give a fuck and from the gawking spectators who might well be glad to gaze upon a spectacle besides those passings thousands. They will bestow on me their terrible, terrible pity. But I won't see, hiding underneath the pink coat. We will walk slowly back through the park. I will exaggerate my limp. I will ask her to mention to passers by that my ribs are broken even though they no longer are. We will phone Common Law who will be expecting this call. Hopefully the family will not have left for town. It will be hard to get home. I may have to borrow a bike. But I will get home. And I will crawl into bed. It will be warm and my knee will not hurt. I will cry some more, though mostly with relief. It will be over. I am only here to find out where it ends, and it may as well end now. Common Law will give me comfort. The children will tiptoe around me. My younger daughter will not understand. I banish this thought. I will go to work tomorrow and say over and over and over again "Not great, I had to drop out. There's always next year!" 

There's always next year. 

My younger daughter will not understand.

The pain is very bad. It runs the length of my upper leg and nods a hello to my lower back. It has settled somewhat from a stab to a sear. But sear it does. Still I am not quite limping. I continue to run. Slowing has not helped. I spot the 3'20 pacing flag maybe 200m ahead. So I pick it the fuck up. Why not? This neither magically dissipates the pain nor makes it noticeably worse. I begin to pass people. I follow a fellow surger onto the far right hand side of the road. The camber! I have been on the left all the way through the race! Maybe this change will magically heal me!  It does not. Me and this guy, we go up on the grass to enable further passing. The softer surface will soothe me! It does not. We come level with the pacers on a slight downhill. My friend eases off, happy to have made the catch. I press on. The descent will ease my pain! The descent does not.

It hurts. It really, really hurts. But it has not worsened over the last half mile. I know that I cannot stand this for another nineteen miles. This is a given. It seems really unlikely that I can make it to my next training partner meeting place at fourteen miles.  I'm not sure that I can even make it out of the park. So I summon the spirit of Gordy Ainsleigh. inventor of modern ultra running, who famously asked, as he threw up, pissed blood and hallucinated his away around a 100 mile mountain course, "What can I do?" And his answer: "I can take another step."

I take another step.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Miles Five and Six

Monday, November 4, 2013 0
Yeah, yeah. Park schmark. We run down the side of the zoo and there's a sudden steady stream of male runners sprinting off course to release their sudden steady streams. They've been on the edge of wetting themselves since before the gun and our society's outrageous emphasis on hydration is to blame. Worse by far than poverty, racism and our consistent failure to revolt, this cry of "Drink plenty of water!" permeates our lives as a panacea to all ills. Hungover? Drink plenty of water! The common cold? Drink plenty of fluids! By which I mean water! Cancer? Make sure you hydrate well between your chemo heaves! 

I do not need to piss. This is a rare and happy state. I may need to stop running, right here and now but I do not need to piss. I can no longer call this discomfort discomfort, and I can no longer locate it my upper shin. I am four and a half miles in and I have pain. Pain in my knee. Knee pain. It is still ignorable. So I ignore the fuck out of it. 

Eight weeks and five days ago. Had it all been going so well?  Dunno.  I guess. No niggles. I was not collapsing under the load of the training, Though slightly fearful of a scheduled six mile tempo run on Friday morning I still agreed to cover a couple of extra spin classes that Thursday night. Maybe traffic is always that heavy on Merrion Square come late night shopping day. There is nowhere safe to go ride in this scenario, unless it's on a horse. And even then. Go on the inside and you might as well wear a t-shirt saying "Door me, please. Door me all to hell." Between the lanes is slow and messy and similarly doorish. The outside seems the best bet. Here I come. Here it comes. A van blocks the view of a yellow box whose I existence I have forgotten and I'm going fast because I'm always going fast and Emmanuel pulls out fast because he's probably always going fast too. I don't know where I connect but it's a big fucking crunch and I have not hit the ground before I'm wondering can I run. And then I do hit the ground and it all goes quiet and I lie there for a bit as the crowd crowds around. And then I'm up. Legs okay. I'm looking for the bike which is a long, long way away. Ache in my side. Adrenaline flood. I'm okay, I'm okay. I take a load of photos, get the numbers, get the name. Emmanuel it is but not the good kind. If this guy is doing soft focused soft porn it's for a niche market that I have yet to stumble across.  The bike, by contrast, is hard focus fucked. I decide I need to go to work. So I put the bike on my shoulder and walk to the Concert Hall where I find a cab that'll take a broken bike and a now slightly limping me. I teach my spin classes. My side begins to move beyond an ache. This progression continues over the coming hours. It takes about a week to get bad enough for me to seek medical attention beyond a phone call to my father. But it's okay, because I stay fully hydrated throughout this crucial time.

Onto Chesterfield Avenue. I've dropped off again. I can still see the pacer's flag but in the distance now. How can I be running this slowly? I don't feel tired. The knee has yet to alter my form. Slowing certainly doesn't seem to reduce the pain. I decided to eat a gel. It's early, yes, but that was the plan. I stick to the plan. Then fumbling to open the gel with gloves, something which due to climate change I have failed to practice, I squirt most of it down my front. The plan sticks to me.

Half a gel makes me go no faster. It's the gloves, I think. My hands are warm. So I throw them to the verge, the last of the ballast cast off. Early again. Everything is happening too soon and too slowly. We pass five miles and my pace is a joke. My knee hurts. Emmanuel paid for the bike. He unknowingly paid for the classes I ultimately missed. He did not pay for this despair that is now beginning to slowly envelop me. But hey, he wasn't to know. 

Up Chesterfield Avenue I trot, the 3'20 flag still in the distance but not getting any further away. Just before six miles there is a water station. Then a turn and a pre-arranged gel pick up point.The knee is bad now and has been joined by the hip. Probably time to drop, I think. Best get to the water station first though. because, you know, hydration.

Here it comes.  Here I come.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Miles Three and Four

Saturday, November 2, 2013 0
I have faded away from the pacer as the road does a little twist and turn. It's okay. It's no biggie. Who will give a fuck how fast I was going when I drop? Me. I will give a fuck. I slowly ease my way back. Another little rise facilitates this process. Largely flat they said. And suddenly there it is. The cool breath of the ghost of a niggle at the top of my left shin. Paranoia. Hyper-sensitivity. Keep running.

North Circular Road. I have run this. And biked and bussed it. But never walked. Who walks this road? No one with smarts. Once I ran it regularly, working for a time within the walls of St Brendan's Hospital. It had almost stopped being whatever kind of hospital it once was and it smelled of rot and mental health and cat piss, the latter undoubtedly due to the litter of feral kittens that appeared halfway through our month long stay. Oh but they were cute. Teeny tiny with outsized paws all black and white and soon to doubtless die. I think someone called the DSPCA, someone else fed them sandwich ham. I played with them, my headphones as a toy. Then I'd do some shit of which I will not speak before running home, relieved to be away from the crazy and the cats. I had not been running long back then and every step was still a joy. But now, now we pass the three mile marker as the first water station looms. I am glad to be beyond Brendan's and happy to find myself well positioned to snatch a child sized bottle for each hand. The field remains ridiculously crowded but I am lucky, I do not have to break my stride. I breathe a "Thanks". I'm sure they do not hear me. Rightly so, these faceless workers retain the dignity of the thankless job. I drink a little, then a lot, legs not slowing, then hold a bottle in the air, as if toasting extravagantly, to indicate I've done well at this station of this cross and am more than happy to share. A guy takes me up and I exchange my only pleasantries of the race so far. I do not find them pleasant. He's out of breath and red faced, this guy. Maybe he surged to catch me even at what feels like my increasingly turgid pace. I worry for him. I worry for me. I drop him. Separately we trample on towards the park.   

Less subtle now this hint of pain. It contains the promise of a throb.

We're still running the North Circular. It's a long fucking road and not circular at all. I came this way most recently on a Sunday morning training run. The plan was to meet an athlete friend and have her take me on a tour of the park. It was a beautiful day and a glorious run finishing with an unplanned diversion down the majesty of Griffith Avenue. Many miles that morning among the many other miles I have run in preparation for this day. The longest ones have always been in the company of this friend. She rides her bike beside me, hands me water and gels. She talks incessantly of this and that, about you and me and her. She's the podcast to which you can talk back. Runners are selfish creatures, and I fail to question what she gains from this arrangement. Other runners observe us from a distance and as they approach their terrible jealousy becomes apparent. How dare I. How dare we. This must be cheating surely. And maybe it is. Older dog walking women, by contrast, think we're very, very cute. As each Sunday reaches its conclusion and up the pace begins to ramp,  my training partner proffers the odd word of encouragement. She has gotten better at this proffering as the weeks have waned or I have gotten better at the receiving. I mostly believe her now when she tells me I'm strong. I mostly believe her when she says we're almost there, even when I am aware of both the route and the lie. I mostly believe I would not be on this road today if it had not been for her. And so she tops the list of the people who I am about to disappoint. I see her husband up ahead, easy by the side of the road though already looking slightly bored of all this clapping, all this watching. I shout his name. He does not hear or see me. I take off my hat, a big moment in its revelation of my race haircut, and throw it at him. He catches it with his face. As the hat drops to the ground he appears happily confused. Me and my mohawk, we fly on. 

The mile four marker passes. I'm in the Phoenix Park. 
 
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