Three Choirs and No Man

Balance - Who Needs It?

The theme for the weekend was balance – how to define it, and how to achieve it.

I traveled south with an old friend to the Clonakilty Marathon last weekend. The conversation ranged far and wide. Music, religion, the X-Factor and acceptable dating etiquette for old fogies all came in for close scrutiny. We both agreed that, in all of these things, balance was the key to success. In the case of the X-Factor however ‘balance’ must consist of not watching it at all, under even the most trying of circumstances.

In all other conversational realms, our shared difficulty lay in defining exactly where the correct balance lay. I was momentarily tempted to make some sort of a veiled allusion to ‘the middle way’ but decided against it purely on the basis that I probably seemed weird enough as it was. It simply doesn’t do to out-weird your friends before you even get to the race. My companion, for her part, argued that it was perfectly reasonable to work hard from 9-to-5 and then to sing with three different choirs in the evenings. She recognized that this meant she had precious little time left to run, let alone to find the man of her dreams. As one who was about to run his twelfth marathon of the year, I couldn’t really claim to have the whole balance thing pinned down either, and so I kept my advice general.

We stayed overnight in the village of Leap with friends who provided great company and a warm bed. What more could you average marathon junkie and choir-slut ask for? I absolutely have to point out here that it was the choir-slut herself who coined that term. Anyway, we arrived bright and early at race registration. Having scored a couple of very late entries, we relaxed a little and made our last-minute preparations. The queues for the toilets were a tad unrealistic and so I combined a gentle pre-race warm-up with a visit to a field about half a mile down the road for the obligatory pre-race poo.

When I returned to the start-finish area, I could hear distant announcements about the race start being delayed. The mistake I made at this point was not paying much closer attention to what was actually being announced. There were three races which would start almost simultaneously, a mini-marathon, a half-marathon and of-course the marathon. I believed that both of the shorter races would start in advance of the marathon. I was wrong.

Roughly two minutes after the marathon had begun I was still at blissfully unaware of that fact, as I continued to chat with friends near the start. At some point I wondered aloud when the marathon might start only to be informed by a steward that I was a little behind the times in that regard. I’d love to say I reacted with Zen-like calm to this bombshell, but that was, unfortunately, not the case. I cursed like a particularly pissed-off sailor and cast generally negative aspersions on the organization of the race. In reality, I had nobody to blame but myself. I had many friends and acquaintances at the race and I was the only one who missed the start and that just about sums it all up. I wasn’t paying enough attention and I got punished for that fact.

After all that excitement, the race itself was reasonably uneventful. Of course, I ran into a wall of runners who were taking part the mini-marathon and the half-marathon and it took a long time to weave my way through them all. I must have looked like an absolute lunatic. Of course, I ran much too hard in the early miles in a futile bid to make up time that was already lost – a rookie mistake. Of course, I had no right to be as cheesed-off as I was – but I was – another rookie mistake. The marathon course was spectacularly beautiful, but very, very tough. The downhill sections were an absolute bastard. Clonakilty was my 49th marathon race and perhaps the toughest course I’ve run to date. The race stewards were unfailingly polite and supportive, even on the remotest parts of the course where they would obviously have to spend long cold hours encouraging grumpy runners along. I know now that I owe an apology to the poor steward who bore the brunt of my dissatisfaction at the starting line. We live and learn.

I eventually made it back to Clonakilty, having, I suspect, run up and down the majority of the hills in West Cork and crossed the line with 2:53 on my watch but with 2:55 on the clock. I was happy with the time given the slightly unusual circumstances under which it had been run.

We rounded off the day with spicy wedges and veggie soup from the local Super Value and a debate about what we were meant to use the nappy cream in the goodie bag for.

All in all your standard marathon I suppose.


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