In May of this year I was at the height of my training for my 100k race. I was on the tightrope walk between fitness and injury and the subsequent account of the race shows you how much you can do with a strong mind and a damaged body. Strong is a word that can be swapped for stupid in the thesaurus of running terms.
During a flight back from Brussels this week I was brought back to a brief moment in time during May 2014 that meant nothing to me at the time but bobbed back up to the surface like a diving cormorant last night.
I was queuing to board the ‘plane and was coasting on two cylinders. I’ve discovered that travel is much more pleasurable when you stop caring. I’ve learnt to adopt the demeanour of an elderly fat Labrador. This is helped by being in a constant state of exhaustion from late nights, early starts and long days (and 9% Belgian beer). As I shuffled to the boarding card and passport open on the photograph page checkpoint I noticed a woman about my own age – give or take a few years who had to walk with the aid of a stick (I’d noticed her on the flight out the previous evening as well in case you think I’m some sort of MILF stalker.) She was sitting patiently next to one of those dignity destroying airport wheelchairs and was typing away on her iPad. I don’t know the acronym for what ailed her but it looked like one of those reverse-lottery ones that strikes you down in without warning and you don’t get better from. One of the illnesses that proves that if there is an interventionist God he doesn’t sweat the small stuff.
What struck me about her was the contemplation of her movements; she really thought about how she got around. For any runners out there it was the sort of way you might meditate on the pain of climbing a stairs two days after a marathon. You’ve never felt so alive because it all seems so painful.
Anyway, centered Buddhist I am not so I got on with my scramble to my seat and settled into worrying about whether I was going to catch Ebola from the drunk, sweating man singing African folk songs who was coughing behind me.
As I drove home after the flight on the empty motorway between Dublin and Cork I was brought back to last May. Brought back in such detail as to wonder if time travel was really possible.
In the weeks leading up to my ultra marathon in May I had had some hectic weeks of work where I was like an uglier version of George Clooney in Up in the Air and was spending most of my time either dozing or trying to doze in various departure lounges in European airports.
At the end of one of those weeks I was in Düsseldorf Airport trying to make it home for a normal Friday night of shouting at the TV and drinking too much red wine.
I arrived at my gate smelling of whatever gigolo’s scent was on promotion at the duty free and threw myself down with the care a hungry teenager shows for a gear bag. I had had a week of being constructively engaged – where you tilt your head at an angle when someone is making a trivial point so it looks like you give a fiddlers but you’re really gazing over their shoulder at the guy with the hedge trimmer outside the window of your meeting and wondering why you’d chosen international policy making as a career.
As I sat there, and this is what came back to me last night, I watched the various comings and goings of the passengers for my flight and the other flights. It’s a nice game that passes the time and as the flights to Ireland and the UK are corralled with the non-EU countries (we’re not part of the Schengen area as our jingoistic neighbours have a problem with it) so you get to sit and watch the middle eastern guy with the 12 wives and 12 mother-in-laws wander past like a troubled shepherd and the North American with his sweatshirt tucked into his chinos. My game involves constructing their back stories so that I can see whether I’m right or not once the open their mouths. If you’ve any imagination it’s a great place to find characters for a novel.
So, there I was, playing my game and a guy in his late 20’s/early 30’s settles down just opposite me. Nothing special about him, no birth defects or comedy body shape. I have him pegged as american as his taste in clothes is slightly more GAP than H&M. His backpack choice is Jack Wolfskin which makes me change my mind immediately and re-cast him as some sort of romantic German with a taste for the Guinness and the Craic. I don’t give him too much more thought until his girlfriend comes to sit next to him.
She moves with a deliberate purpose. The connoisseur of a fine wine as opposed to my larger lout. She settles herself gently onto the seat next to him like a space craft touching down on a foreign planet testing the firmness of the seat with an ever slowing movement. once seated she places her hands on her lap with the delicacy that a cat might tuck its front paws under itself. Her elegance and awareness of movement was what struck me at the time. Almost like the slow motion sequences in the Six Million Dollar Man. Dyspraxic she is not.
The only sign that something is wrong is her thinness doesn’t appear to be from running (not that that is wrong in itself) and the headscarf covering her hair loss from chemotherapy. In your late 20’s this seems like a shitty hand of cards.
I have no idea why I have remembered this now.
If I had to link it to running (to ensure that this remains a “running blog”) I would hazard a guess that it was because my current sore shoulder looks like it might need some months to get better or the intervention of a wet carpenter (an orthopaedic surgeon).
This has forced me to think quite a lot about how I lift and carry things, open doors, hug the kids and get on with things in general.