My friend in Loughrea wasn’t happy. Something was pissing him off and it looked like I was about to be ‘confided in’.
“The little fecker”, he said, spitting the last word out like he really meant it.
I kept my head down and waited for the full story to emerge. I guessed – correctly as it turned out – that my role in this conversation would be to shut-the-fuck-up and pay attention. We all need someone to listen to our grievances on occasion. This guy has been around the running block more often than most and, in fairness to him, only suffers fools occasionally. I certainly wouldn’t describe this man as a fully-fledged drama-queen, but he does sometimes enjoy a really good moan. Don’t we all?
The source of his frustration on this occasion was the close attention he was getting from a much younger local runner. This new-kid-on-the-block – was full of that unbounded, almost child-like enthusiasm for racing that we all enjoy in the early years. He absolutely couldn’t get enough. More specifically he couldn’t get enough of chasing my pal’s skinny arse around every road race in Galway. In the eyes on this newbie, anyone running ahead of him was a ‘legitimate target’. He was an equal opportunities zealot, making no distinction on the basis of age, gender or affiliation. That said, he seemed especially intent on getting past my friend from Loughrea.
As the difference between their race times shrank, his confidence grew. ‘Victory’ would soon be his.
Of course, what the whippersnapper was failing to take into account was the almost thirty-year age gap in his favour. If not a case of, ‘would you not pick on someone your own size’, it felt to my friend that this interloper should ‘pick on someone his own age’. As the pair walked away from the finish line of one local road race or another, the youngster and oldster exchanged polite acknowledgement of the closing gap: the youngster seemingly oblivious that he was barking up an inappropriate tree.
“Why wouldn’t he just feck off and annoy someone else for a change”, the man from Loughrea wondered.
I think I was expected to nod sympathetically and then agree that youngsters were indeed a pain in the arse. Instead, of course, I chuckled quietly – an admittedly risky option. I know this man a long time and was reasonably confident he’d give me a pass, but I wasn’t absolutely sure. In fairness to him, the fact that he was still finishing, even marginally, ahead of a runner half of his age, spoke volumes in itself.
It has to be said, he was going well for an auld fella.
From what I can work out, there are just two options here for us crumbly runners. We can either settle into a comfort zone of competing against our peers and abandoning all hope of embarrassing the youngsters, or, we can fight like a bastard to make their life difficult. For the moment, I’m going with the second option. I know in my heart that I can’t run the times I used to and that the trend is only heading in one direction, but I genuinely relish the moments when I find myself duking it out with someone half my age towards the end of a race.
If I can occasionally come home ahead of some 19 year-old in a football jersey, wearing obscenely expensive shoes and a watch that could boil an egg, so much the better.