The image the organisers of the Brandon Bay Half Marathon use to promote the event depicts a sparkling expanse of blue sea and sky glimpsed from between swaying fronds of marram grass on golden dunes. It didn’t look like that last Saturday. Or maybe it did, only it’s hard to tell when your eyes are squeezed shut against an onslaught of wind, rain and sand.
About 90 of us lined up for the half marathon, although when I say lined up, I mean huddled against the whipping wind waiting for the race to start so we could get some blood flowing and stave off hypothermia. The route is loosely aligned with a series of little red plastic flags dotted 10.5 km along the beach, but everyone has their own personal version of the event, given that you have to negotiate sand that ranges in firmness from pillow-soft to bone-jarring hard, dotted with pebbles and shells in some parts and disappearing under waves and streams in others.
By the time I reached the 3km mark it all seemed very silly. The prospect of scurrying back to the start and wrapping up in warm dry clothes seemed the only sensible option, particularly as the gathering pools of water in my ears had started channeling the wind to create a weird whistling soundtrack to my trudging. The one thing that spurred me on was the thought of the half-way point. I knew from last year that once I reached that magical spot in the sand, I could turn my back on the wind and allow it to carry me like a strapping gazelle back to the finish line. So I bore with the flying snot, the anchor of my sodden shirt, and even the smiling faces of the leaders passing me as I reached the 9km mark, and, sure enough, everything changed on the return leg.
I actually found myself overtaking people and finished just a minute behind the third woman home. Momentarily elated, I downed a cup of soup (soup in July!) and was soon frozen again, my Bart Simpson fingers dead to all feeling. There was little time for the usual post-race chat with fellow sufferers, as we were all in a rush back to the warmth of our cars, and, anyway, chattering teeth and howling wind make it difficult to understand what people are saying.
Will I do it next year? I can’t wait! I think I’ll bring a hat, though…
Last week marked outing #5 in our summer of hikes, one guilty mother’s attempt to extend her teenage son’s exercise routine beyond screen-based thumb workouts. Outing #5 started in Cronins’ Yard the preferred starting point for climbing Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain. I was setting our sights a little lower, however: The Cronins’ Yard loop walk around Hags’ Glen was our objective. It is an 8km hike described as being of “moderate” difficulty suiting all levels of fitness, and, given that our walking party has swelled to three with the start of primary school holidays, I figured that my 11-year-old daughter would bound along it with the agility of one of the mountain goats that teeter around the edge of it.
Even at the age of 43, it seems that I have not lost my capacity for misguided youthful optimism: Said daughter’s initial delight at the waving flaglets of bog cotton and the capricious wind that turned her open hoodie into a sail quickly turned to frustration at the soggy uphill sections and the seemingly endless distances between way markers. So much so, that she decided to cut across the loop and take a short cut via a rocky riverbed. Having exhausted my meagre stores of patience and encouragement, I had gone ahead and was pounding out my annoyance on the spongy tracts of sodden moss when my son appeared at my elbow, announcing that his sister had fallen on the stones.
Now, such a declaration would send most mothers skimming across the mountain on wings of dread and fear, but I merely harumphed (I have always wanted to use that word!) and trudged back to the scene of the fall. Why my alarming lack of panic? Because, in our house, my daughter is known as the DQ, which stands for Drama Queen. And she certainly revelled in the role of wounded heroine. From where I stood at the edge of the river bank, she lay on the ground like the chalk outline in a police procedural, wailing in unison with the mountain sheep.
I did my best disapproving, folded-arm matriarch and yelled at her to get up, and, after a few more bleats, she did, scrambling up the riverbank and flinging herself into my arms in a flurry of wounded indignation. After that, it was a pleasure to trundle back to the car, the wind at our backs, the massive cloud shadows flying above us, and the teenager’s lessons soothing my ears. Among the things I learned:
- Tyrannosaurus rex’s little arms were actually powerful enough to rip its prey apart.
- Crocodiles and lobsters keep growing until they die
- If you are confronted by a hungry crocodile (is there another kind?), wrap your arms around its jaws to keep them shut because, although its closing grip is virtually invincible, its opening reflex is quite pathetic.
I also learned that 11-year-old girls are slow to forget.
I’m in one of those “meh” stages of training, when heading out for a run seems about as useful and appealing as ironing bedsheets. Fitted ones.
I was probably a bit too eager announcing I would run the Dingle Marathon as soon as I had sweated over the finish line of the Lakes of Killarney Marathon, so now I’m starting to look for a way out whenever it is mentioned. I’m starting to hear excuses like “€70 is a lot for a run around Slea Head…/I wonder is running a marathon on the road seven weeks before the Mourne Mountain run a good idea…/It could be very warm…/I think I’m due a hair appointment that weekend..” spoken in a voice that appears to be mine. The result is that that, even though I have two perfectly serviceable legs and I am surrounded by scenery like this,
I just can’t get enthused about running these days.
But I have a plan to get me fired up about running again. I’m going to run a half marathon on a beach next week. I don’t mean on a road next to a beach or in a park overlooking the sea. I mean 13.1 miles on sand. I did the inaugural Brandon Bay half marathon in Castlegregory last year. It felt much longer. The sky was rolling with black surly clouds that occasionally slapped us with needles of rain, just in case the unrelenting gusts of gritty wind were not mean enough. The course is obviously completely flat, which has its advantages, but it also means that you can see just how far you have to slog until you get to the tiny little dot that is the half-way flag. Then there’s the sand. You find what you think is the Goldilocks medium between not-too-hard and not-too-soft, but then it vanishes into a mass of puddles, so you add miles to your route veering between surf and dunes trying to get the balance right again. It’s all very challenging, but in the spirit of all the best epic fantasies, there is turning point, a stage where you leave the dark shadows behind you and enter the sparkly place.
As soon as you round the flag, the wind is at your back, the sun comes out, and angels sing. Well, maybe not the last two, but things definitely take a turn for the much, much better.
And that’s what I’m hoping for next Saturday.