I guess I’m just going to have to start believing in myself. Today I ran for 8 kilometres.
My running buddy and the person who decided I enter the 8K race – let’s call him Hosni – texted me a few times today to let me know how long eight kilometres actually are: it’s the distance from Trinity College to Dun Laoghaire, or for Corkonians, it’s the distance from Mayfield to the airport, or for Galwegians, it’s the distance from the city centre to the Aran Islands. And that’s what I did today.
I was very nervous all day. The race wasn’t till 7:45 pm, so I had plenty of time for stressing available to me. The race was marketed as a “Fun Run”. But for me, it was a “Deadly Serious And Very Challenging Run”. There’s a reason I don’t work in marketing.
When we were all lined up, ready to go, my heart was pounding out of my chest. I was hoping for some kind of electrical fault that would stop the race happening. But the race started. As we set off, one of my college friends, let’s call her Nasturtium, was there to wave me off with her husband – they’d already picked out the spot where they were going to cheer me over the finishing line. This was real.
We set off, Hosni at my side. Now, Hosni is a good runner. He’s finished a marathon. I don’t think he knew just how hard running still is for me. I think he was expecting that we’d chat as we ran and that we’d get around the course in 45 minutes or so.
He was wrong. In spite of my training, I still find running very, very difficult.
We’d been running for two or three minutes when we’d fallen, more or less, to the back of the pack. I was panting audibly and my face had gone bright red before we passed the 1 km marker. It was around this time that Hosni asked if I’d like to walk for a while. I think I really shocked him with my panting and grunting and with just how slow my running was.
I wasn’t surprised. I know my pace. I do a kilometre in about 9 mins 40 secs. And I pant when I run.
Hosni tried to chat and make jokes. I didn’t respond. I was focused on running. I can’t talk and run.
But I did feel sorry for Hosni. He was trying to run alongside me, but it was clear he couldn’t run as slowly as me. His legs just wouldn’t do it. He walked a bit and he did a hoppity jog that obviously wasn’t very comfortable for him at all. But fair play to him. In spite of my silence, in spite of my grunts and pants, in spite of my slow running, he stayed by my side for the whole race.
At the three kilometre mark, there was a water station. The local Ringsend children ran to us with plastic cups of water. I didn’t take one. I couldn’t drink water and run. Hosni tried to give me a cup, and I barked at him, “I can’t. I’m running.” I don’t think I’ve used the tone of voice I used on him ever before, but the thought of any action (even if it was just taking a cup of water) besides running was unthinkable to me.
I have no doubt I’m an unattractive runner. I guess I probably waddle, and as has been established, I don’t run quickly. One of the small children in Ringsend, he was probably around seven or eight, looked me in the eyes while I ran and said, “You aren’t able to run, Mister.”
I know he’s only small, but fuck him, I can run.
By the time we got to the halfway point, I’d been running for over 40 minutes. We had fallen right to the back. The walkers had all overtaken us – even one disabled walker. But I kept running.
I remember when I tried walking the marathon two years ago. I remember how much I hated when everyone passed me out. How much I hated myself.
This time was different. I had my head down, and I ran and I ran and I ran and I ran.
It didn’t occur to me to stop running. It didn’t occur to me to walk for a while. It didn’t occur to me lie down on the ground and cry.
I ran. Slowly. But I ran. I don’t know if I can find the words to describe what that meant to me. I really am building a Brand New Connor. I’m the boy who couldn’t keep up on Nature Walks in primary school when I was 10 years old. I’m the boy who they gave up trying to teach swimming to. I’m the boy who used to hide when I heard a football smack against concrete. And somehow, that boy has become a man who can run for eight kilometres, even when he’s spent an hour panting, even when every single other person has overtaken him. It was hard and I did it and I still don’t really believe it.
We had to guess how far we’d gone after the fourth kilometre, as they’d taken down the signs that marked the distance. At about 5 km, we began to see runners who had completed the run on their way home.
At 6 km, another one of my college friends, let’s call her Larkspur, leapt out of the trees and cheered me on with a cheer that must have been heard across Dublin.
She then rushed across a bridge that cut across our path and was ready to cheer when we passed her again ten minutes later.
The last half-kilometre was awful. My chest and back had tightened. I could feel the blisters on my feet. My thighs ached. There were approximately two litres of sweat in my right contact lens, stinging like bejayzus. My ankles were complaining. And still I ran. I had been getting encouragement from passersby all through the race, but the number of cheers and whoops and encouragement I got from total strangers (many of them competitors on their way home from the race, looking unsweaty and relaxed) in that last half-kilometre was amazing.
We rounded the corner, and crossed the finish line.
Nasturtium was there with her husband. She was waving a sign in the air. Larkspur had cycled round to be there too. I was too overwhelmed to make much sense. Unsurprisingly, I started to cry.
Apparently, the race organisers had started dismantling the finishing line a little before we got there, and Nasturtium had stopped them. For me.
So I could have my moment.
And it was an amazing moment. I finished. I succeeded. I’m going to have to tear up the operating manual. It would appear Connor is actually a success.