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.


Berlin: Cognitive Dissonance

Back to my summer of running and holiday snaps.

I’m trying to use a fancy title to this post to dress up some mundane stories about holidays/running.

Just so you can stop reading now and still learn something Cognitive Dissonance is the mental state of believing one thing and experiencing another. For example, if you were a child of the Cold War you would believe that all eastern European women were meaty shot-putters with a sideline in facial hair, pickled vegetables and crushing you to death with their tree-trunk like legs. The expansion of the European Union and the free movement of goods and services in the last 15 years has made me realise that I might have been a victim of propaganda as I now experience cognitive dissonance.

They knew the Cronins were coming

They knew the Cronins were coming

Now, if you’re Irish and you think of Germany and in particular Berlin you might create a list of things you’d associate with it: A stern love for austerity, cripplingly bad fashion choices (salmon coloured anything only works on fish – not on shirts, jackets or blouses), clean and efficient infrastructure and  public services, horrendous brutalist architecture courtesy of Bomber Harris and Soviet architects and a Borg-like acceptance of the utterances of the Queen of Europe. The reality is completely different – you are confronted with cognitive dissonance.

The real Berlin is an Irishman’s dream – cheap beer, pretty women and a subversive air of defiance to authority. The sort of subversion that makes governing part of Irish society an job you wouldn’t give to Sisyphus.



It’s a collection of individual villages that have their own unique character like parts of San Francisco but with the benefit of not sitting on a bunch of hills on a tectonic plate fault line. The bombs missed most of the city and they seem to have had the sense to not rebuild it in the style of the Gorbals in Glasgow so everything is nice and human scaled with trees, cycle lanes and pocket parks everywhere (by everywhere I mean everywhere we’d slap a shop, an extra house or a few extra car parking spaces). If I was to borrow some words from my day job (I do have one, I swear) I’d say they have the ecosystem perfected.

Blowing bubbles in your underpants

Blowing bubbles in your underpants

We were in Berlin on our grand tour and to meet family. That basically involved 4 adults sipping a bit too much alcohol while assuming that one of the other adults was minding your (and their) children. Modern parenting.

Bubblegum wall

Bubblegum wall


I managed to slot a run in that took me 10 miles out and about into the Grunewald (the woods). This place has been here for a long time and despite it being in the city it seems so calm and peaceful. Apart from dodging dog shit the running was uneventful if sweaty.

As you might expect there are several layers to Berlin below the one you can see in front of you. You can chose to ignore these layers (as my kids did) or study them and view the city as a living record of the history of the 20th century.

Stumble stones tell a story of their own

Stumble stones tell a story of their own

It’s the sort of place you could visit over and over again and experience cognitive dissonance again and again.

In the end we had to pack up and head out on the longest leg of our journey – 24 hours and 5 trains to reach Brisighella. This would include our over night sleeper through the Brenner Pass – something I would recommend to anyone who has even the tiniest shred or either romance or adventure in their bones –

Even the brutalism has a beauty

Even the brutalism has a beauty

That’s the next instalment of Richard trying to keep this as a running blog.

Refugee: Home

An unusually serious blog post (by my standards):

As I try and stitch as many of my holiday snaps as I can into my threadbare running stories the overriding feeling I have of our adventure riding the rails was that the freedom and joy we felt was in stark contrast to the unfolding refugee crisis in Europe over the summer.

A bit on crisis:

There are many faults in our society; assuming that men prefer work to spending time with their kids, not inventing a toilet with a self-lifting seat, being dazzled by trinkets and gee-gaws like a child at a carnival (I’m looking at you smartphone manufacturers!) and making people feel morally weak for drinking wine on days of the week that begin with the letter M – but I digress…. Possibly the biggest fault we have is our collective incapacity to avoid a crisis. It seems that an  adolescence of finishing our homework late on a Sunday night has taught us nothing about the benefits of avoiding a crisis.

We seem to have acquired our governance skills from Nero. We have a refugee crisis at the moment which is following hot on the heels of the economic crisis of the early summer and there will, no doubt, be some other crisis after that. Remember the Ebola crisis anyone?

The refugee crisis has people who, for the most part, are in such a dire situation that the risks of the unknown in the flight to Europe are a better bet than their home situation. – As my mother would say – they didn’t come down in the last shower of rain you know!

And the risks they take are high – I saw a Channel 4 documentary the other night about someone who had travelled across Europe, jumped a lorry to the UK in Calais and was granted 5 years asylum in……………Glasgow! There he was, the poor soul, drinking a can of Tennents, Scotland’s favourite pint, trying to fit in.


Tourists not refugees

As I watched the refugees in the very same railway stations across Europe that we had used to complete our adventure I was set to wonder on what made us tourists and them refugees? I’m generally broke so it wasn’t money.

In the end I decided that at the heart of our summer of fun and freedom was our home. Not the house in Cork, no, the abstract concept of home. A place in space and time where you can fart and blame the dog, A place where you can drink red wine on  week nights beginning with the letter M whilst watching Hitler’s Henchmen on channels that advertise internet poker and chat lines in the ad breaks. On our trip across Europe we found our home in the houses of our friends and family, in the centre of Berlin and in the mountains of Italy. We found it in the apartments on AirBnB, in the smile of the train ticket inspector, everywhere we went, truth be told.

We thought nothing of loading our family onto a train for a 12 hour journey into the unknown because right at the back of it, buried in our minds was the fact that our kids would sleep in a safe bed at the end of the journey.

Munich train

I suppose that’s what made us tourists and not refugees. We had a home.

Happy travellers

Happy travellers

Hobo life – runs 1 and 2

Part of the pleasure of running (as opposed to jogging) as a hobby is that you can indulge your addiction without much need for paraphernalia. Other addictions (intravenous drug use, drinking, dungeons and dragons) require a less socially acceptable equipment list.

Our summer of riding the iron horse across the old countries of Europe involved stops in Cologne/Sauerland, Berlin, Brisighella, Antibes and Carcassonne. Each one came with a warm welcome from friends, family and strangers who displayed equal measures of curiosity and charity at out definition of a “summer holiday”.

Hiking for 500m.

Across the Rhine, hiking for 500m. not happy

I got an easy run of about 6 or 7 miles in in Cologne and shared some of this with my 9 year old daughter (who thinks running is “cool”). That was a run about the process and not the product (i.e. very slow but very memorable).

In our day between Cologne and the Sauerland (the West Cork of North Rhine-Westphalia) we dropped into the Red Dot Design Museum in Essen. If you have any aesthetic IQ you’ll love the place. It’s chocked full of things that have been well designed and work well (the right balance of form and function). There were cars, lights, chairs, tools, clothes, kitchen appliances, the lot.

This, people, is the future of lighting, apparently......

This, people, is the future of lighting, apparently……

There were one or  two areas that lost me though: the vibrators seemed to look more like kitchen utensils. I took this as another sign post on my journey to middle age. Soon I’ll be telling nobody in particular that girls in short skirts will “catch their death of cold”.

Towards the end of the museum there was one section for random stuff they couldn’t classify but for the life of me I was struggling to understand how these things ended up here.

A gas mask, a bra and a wheelchair......anyone? anyone?

A gas mask, a bra and a wheelchair……anyone? anyone?

After our tour of the world of good design we made our way to Niedersfeld to stay with our friends. Niedersfeld is in the Sauerland, a hilly rural area that seems to be a bit of a secret the Germans don’t want to tell the rest of us about.

I tried my hand at water skiing. It’s one of those sports where if you pull it off successfully you look lithe and graceful, almost balletic. If you don’t pull it off successfully you tend to look like someone crouching in the “bear shitting in the woods” position being dragged across a lake. I was in the latter camp (from the photos) but I thought I was in the former.

While I could take the crouching bear humiliation on the chin, I was having a bit of trouble with the crashing. I managed to break my ribs in spectacular fashion by wiping out several times. As I hit the water for the last time and my ability to breath was sucked from my chest I wondered what the German for “Emergency Room” was. As I swam sloooowly to the edge of the lake I was also glad I had nothing challenging in front of me like lugging a 25kg pack around for the next 2 weeks….hmmmmm.


Very soon I would be banjaxed

Very soon I would be banjaxed

To be fair, there were differing schools of thought on the “breakiness” of my ribs. Other adjectives deployed but the cynics to describe the ribs were “cracked” and “bruised” but these people (my wife and kids) playing loose and fast with my health just didn’t understand my stoic nature and amazing capacity to endure pain. The 400mg of Neurofen required to sleep was enough for me to believe  they were broken.

Now, what do you do with freshly broken ribs? “Take it easy” seems to be the stock prescription in the ladybird book of medicine (as “shoot” is in the corresponding book of equine medicine) but I hadn’t found out what the German for “Emergency Room” was so I went running.

The first 500m of my run were so painful as to be almost debilitating, The inability to breath, not being able to hold my core upright, my left arm not swinging properly, every footstep sending a jolt of pain through my body. So I stopped, right?

Wrong – I got lost in the mountains for 10 miles. So lost I started wondering what the German for “Helicopter Rescue” was. Still, as I made my way back to civilisation on a narrow downhill mountain bike single track I realised that my ribs were not hurting as much any more. Sure, for the next 7 days I’d be crippled, but at that moment I was happy. The pointless run is a rare thing. Normally the distance, the purpose, the speed are all pre-arranged within some sort of wider scheme, some sort of larger “must get things done” framework. It’s rare to head off on a random run.

Summertime in the Sauerland

Summertime in the Sauerland

The Sauerland was a revelation; understated, easy going, a bit of a Mecca for off-road pursuits like mountain biking, winter sports, running and walking. A great place to decompress from life.

As we headed off with my busted ribs to our next destination we were sorry to leave it go although the idea of running around Berlin was something I was looking forward to.