Evenly dividable by five

My lack of posting here is due to the fact that my work commitments have seen me question whether I have been mistaken for a junior doctor. I spent three days at my desk during January and spent most of my time in a state of perpetual exhaustion and wondering how long the news loop is on the hotel BBC News 24 channel.

I am back at my desk for a few days now and I can flitter away my lunch breaks with blog updates.

Before I get to the meat and two veg of this post a word on blogs:

We have had a new organisational website launched upon us that is supposed to make us better team players. I’m not sure how it’s going- a colleague has a profile picture of himself looking like an extra from “Anchorman”.  The new website has a section for each of us to start a blog so others can see how useful our work is……………….. its still empty. I was going to put in a blog entry last week and then I thought about this blog. I don’t want them realising that they’ve promoted the wrong guy!

Last week I had a significant birthday (evenly dividable by the number five) and the first month of the year ended with no races on the horizon and a bit of a slip in my running commitment. I redoubled my efforts on my birthday by lashing out a 20 miler and deciding that I’d better do something with the first half of the year. This resolve coincided with an email for a race I entered last year -the Roundwood 50km. It’s held at the end of March and there’s the option to upgrade to the 50 mile  (or 100 mile) race as well. The race is held on a 10 mile loop so the loop is long enough to feel a sense of accomplishment without feeling daunting.  I’ve found that some of the training marathons can be run with a bit too much commitment (i.e. too fast) and this can lead to some niggling injuries. 50k seems to be a distance that can put some manners on your pacing.

Apart from that I think I’ll focus my efforts at home this year. I do a lot of overseas travel for work and more of it for running doesn’t really appeal to me.

There are some other races that I’d like to enter (the Tralee 100k looks good) but I also enjoy my holidays so I will only enter what fits into my life. My main plan is to enter a few long races, enjoy them, stay fit and injury free. That sounds like a simple plan but I have a tendency to over commit on occasion.




Poetry in a puddle

Even by Irish standards we’ve had a fair dose of rain recently. I’ve been happy to run through it at every opportunity as it beat the hell out of complaining about it.

Like most winter running there is a period at the start of every run (you’re about to step out of the house) when your toes are dry, your clothes are clean and the fire is warm. This winter I’ve found this feeling giving way to the spaniel-on-a-beach feeling of rejoicing in the mud and rain almost imminently. Like a child let off the leash I’ve been running into the puddles as opposed to my  normal Baryshnikov routine of pirouetting over them. As the roads and paths have dried up I’ve felt like the runs just aren’t what they could be. I miss the muddy solitude of the storms and flooding on my runs.

This unusual enthusiasm for mud, misery and mischief has set me thinking about where I am in life (a child’s mind in an ageing body) and this has got me thinking about how the significance of simple things changes as you grow (up).

There is an age in a man’s life, sometime between the start of the end of being young and the end of the start of being a parent, when he becomes overwhelmed by poetry.

Not the penitent school poetry of your teenage years and not even words on a page poetry.

No, it’s a wider concept, more about how the aesthetic quality of an experience can overwhelm you. If you look around you right now you’ll notice that most men over a certain age are not crying in public as they contemplate the innocence of a new born. This, if nothing else, will tell you that we can survive on the surface and don’t have to expose our emotions at every twist and turn (stiff upper lip, etc). But, if you dig a bit you’ll find all men over a certain age and IQ will often become overwhelmed by the ordinary.

When myself and my brother were but garsúns we found ourselves one summer travelling around west Clare with our late father.  There was no such thing as a straight line between A and B with our dad so we ended up on a tangential errand of stopping in on some random man. This random man and the purpose of the stop off were not important to us at the time. The only thing either of us can remember was the two adults talking about the constant rain of that summer and that is was always pishing down out of the heavens. They stood and surveyed the Atlantic and cursed and chatted and we, me and my brother, stared at each other agog at this outburst from our father, a man  from a generation of professional men not given to public displays of cursing.

And what is the link between that little anecdote and my running through mud and my predisposition for finding poetry in a puddle?

All those years ago, when my father’s stopped off with the cursing man he was close to my age now. He was calling to the stranger to have him sign a book of the stranger’s poetry. The joy of a view, the fall of rain, the pleasure of forked soil. It’s starting to make more sense now.



Lazy Lump

I have become so laid back in my approach to marathons I’ve forgotten to run any.

I have managed to miss the entry for every “easy jog” marathon I had planned to enter since September. The entry date, actual date and finally the events themselves have whistled past me. The last one I could have entered will be taking place tomorrow morning (Clonakilty).

Am I worried? No, not really. I’m a bit annoyed as it always feels good to cross a finishing line towards the end of the year. It tends to draw a line under your efforts and sets you up for next year.

Despite this laziness I have managed to keep to my 18-20 mile long run every weekend and give or take one or two hiccups (a chest infection, a few heavy nights of liquid carbo loading) it hasn’t taken that much out of me.

A rule of thumb that your training is going well (mine isn’t but nonetheless) is that you look forward to the weekend long run. The chance to “just run” without having to worry about pace means that your system is coping with the load – mentally as well as physically.

I am still in the phase of looking forward to my long runs so at least my goldfish sized attention span or inability to stay injury free haven’t shanghai-ed  me.

I was in Luxembourg recently (hills and money) and came across a few nice old cars while out for a chilly morning run. Luxembourg is the sort of place where the car dealership next to the VW dealership is the Bentley one as opposed to Skoda one. These cars were a relief.

A Renault 30, a supermirafiori and a Volvo 164

A Renault 30, a Supermirafiori and a Volvo 164. And a van

Euro versions of the two door whore

Euro versions of the two door whore

10 years

It was 10 years ago that a younger (and saner) version of me decided that swimming up and down a pool wasn’t the only way to keep fit. The worrying pace a which the chlorinated pool water was wearing out my budgie smugglers made me think that there must be a healthier way of keeping fit.

And so, around this time 10 years ago, on a Friday afternoon in November I slipped on a pair of “trainers” and decided to go for what I though would be a long run (2.5 miles).

After about a half mile I was sweating like a glass blower’s arse and doing that “holding up the wall” stretching that novice runners do as an excuse to take a break. Still, with only two more “quick, quick the wall is falling down!” stretching breaks I made it home.

And that was that.

Hooked. A runner.

Through numerous injuries, stupidities, adventures, dark nights of the soul, life defining moments, body destroying races, triumphs, revelations, obfuscations, scares and above all tonnes of fun I am a runner.

The 2.5 miles has turned into 62.5 miles and the urge to shine a light into the furthest corners of my psyche remains undiminished. It’s not about being fit, it’s about being alive.

I was out recently at a major family event (happy birthday mum) when my brother-in-law remarked: The way you commit to things – that’s not normal.
I started my usual defence but I let it peter out. I though to myself: That’s fine, who wants to be normal?

Through the mountains

I wrote this over a month ago but between the jigs and the reels I’m only posting it now. The running is still going well although I think a magic coffee is required for running over 20 miles un-fuelled (I had a 22 miler a few Sundays ago with a fairly dodgy last mile):

With a title like the one for this blog post you’d almost expect it to be about (as our colonial ultra-running cousins would say) hitting the trails. I wish it were so, I wish it were.

No, this is another post about me prolonging the memory of my summer of hobo-ing around  Europe with my financial commitments (i.e. family).

In the arbitrage that preceded the decision to go inter railing I conceded the option of travelling first class. I’m not sure what the logic behind this was, I think it was something to do with the fear (not mine) of having to share a seat with a chicken in a cage.

In hindsight I should have put a bit more thought into first class option. Trying to keep three restless children reserved and calm amongst the wealthy pensioners and businessmen of Europe proved to be a task beyond my (as the post-pubescent youths who pass as recruitment consultants would say) core set of competencies.

If you live in Ireland the longest train journey you’re likely to take will be about 3 hours. This will take you from one sprawling metropolis (small city) to another (Dublin) and will have you endure the tailings of society who for one reason or another are on the train. The core train travellers in Ireland are students, pensioners with free travel, criminals, mint sucking nuns, people coping with more than one version of reality and public servants.  Sometimes most of these can be concentrated in just one individual – an elderly nun who runs a school.

Our trip from Berlin to Brisighella would involve 24 hours on 5 trains. To say we were ill prepared is an understatement. Still, in for a penny, in for a pound. A simile you might understand (if you have a crippling need to read about running) is that we had only ever experienced a 5k race and we had just entered the Spartahlon.

So, after a load of hugs and a big goodbye we slumped into our first class ICE seats to Munich. The stilted air of sobriety didn’t sit well with our now near feral kids so we spent whatever spare change we had buying cake and hot chocolate from the buffet car. We could’ve exploited the waiter service but then our kids would have been both restless and hepped up on sugar.


We pulled into Munich around tea time, ditched our bags and caught a U-bhan to Marienplatz (a very catholic bunch in Bavaria). Looked around, mooched back to the train station, grabbed some pizza and climbed aboard the best train of the trip – a couchette through the alps.



Now, if you’re my 7 year old son then the Italian red arrow that zips along at 320kph with electric leather seats and free sweets is probably a better train than an old couchette that stops and starts and changes carriages and engines and betrays the integrationalist aspirations of the European Union. But if you’re his dad then the couchette train is to the superfast bullet train what 35mm celluloid is to digital cinema; what vinyl is to MP3s –  technically worse but infinity better.

All aboard!

All aboard!

There is something indescribably satisfying being drawn through the mountains, watching the locos change over at midnight at the Brenner Pass and then waking up in Verona to the blazing dawn of another hot Mediterranean day. In our vicarious world of google maps and real time postcards via WhatsApp there is a simple pleasure in falling back into the old way of doing things……being rocked to sleep by the train, the cool alpine air, being woken up by a throbbing hangover, having a Japanese tourist burst in on you having whilst having a leak and having three cranky kids and their cranky mother. And still 3 more trains to go.

The Brenner Pass

The Brenner Pass




Nearly there



As we rolled into Milan the euphoria of the mid-section of our journey was wearing off us. It was like cresting the 60% stage of an ultra marathon. The runner’s high was wearing away and it was now a case of hanging on until we crossed the line. In our case Milan train station involved eating biscuits for breakfast and “minding the bags”.

No more sleepers

No more sleepers

Minding the bags is the part of inter railing nobody tells you about.

Milan to Bologna was via the first class compartment of the red arrow (a 360kph Frecciarossa)- I missed most of that journey as the pig skin seats and perfect air conditioning were enough to send me to sleep.

As our journey moved into the slow death march phase we pulled into Bologna station;  a pan handler’s dream. It’s  crowded , full of narrow sub-platform corridors and stiflingly hot. Still, it would not defeat us! With lots of holding hands and avoiding eye contact we made it to our penultimate train to Faenza.


Faenza – how many more trains?!!

We hopped onto ever smaller trains until we made it to Brisighella – at 38C the initial euphoria was long gone and we were glad to have made it alive and still talking to each other!





Now, if that doesn’t  make you want to go inter railing nothing will.

After an afternoon and evening of good wine and good food (in that order) and a great night’s sleep we were fully refreshed. I went for another run with my daughter and while the distance and pace were not up to much the joy of the running under Italian sun with the song of the cicadas ringing in our ears was a lifelong memory.

Then the pool!



Busy life but running well

I have a full colour blog post in development about the pros and cons of romanticism as mediated through the lens of family holidays (i.e. the next instalment of our rail travels) but it’s taking me a long tome to finish it off.

This is down to the fact that I’m trying to write the post during my lunch breaks and the broadband to my office is about as broad as a country boreen so the technicolour element of the posts is progressing slowly.

I’m writing the blog post in my lunch break because I’m busy busting the lazy tabloid stereotype of languorous public sector employees by working all the hours God gives including evenings and weekends. My spare time is then given over to either running, walking the dog or generally wondering why wives “suggest” domestic tasks for husbands as oppose to “telling” them to do something. I mean which works for you: I think the grass is very long…..(long pause) or the grass needs a cut…….(long pause) or (the best for me) cut the grass!

So, that’s the busy life bit.

The running has been trimmed back to 36-40 miles per week and I think I’m better for it. I don’t have a long ultra in me at the moment but a 30 miler or a marathon are completely within reach. My 10k runs are coming out at about 7:15 – 7:20min/mile which, for someone with no club structure to focus on tempo runs, a tendency to being a bit lazy (i.e. 20 slow miles are better than 10 fast ones) and no target race, is pretty satisfying.

So, next post will either be another excuse or a chirpy blog about trains with lots of photographs of cranky kids giving you a creeping feeling of cognitive dissonance.

20 steady

I have a draft post in the back room of this blog about the pros and cons of travelling first class when inter-railing with kids (mainly cons) but I thought I’d break the monotony of the hobo holiday snaps with a quick running update.

After my 100km sweating in the sun adventure in Italy I went through my usual lull of falling in love with red wine and out of love with running long distances. Eventually this lull comes to an end and I decided that in the absence of any races to enter I’d better do something about the running. So I decided to see if I could get to a point where a 20 mile run once a week was as straightforward as walking the dog. It’s important to note that straightforward isn’t about speed but more about it being “just a thing” or “not a big thing”.

After hovering in the high teens for a few weeks on my long runs I’ve just completed 3 weeks of easy 20 milers at the weekends. I think a few more weeks of this and I’ll enter a few local low key marathons just to stretch my legs and make the effort worthwhile. If I had something resembling a plan I’d use these marathons as a springboard to something longer but I’m not great on planning when it comes to running.