Let me tell you a story.
In January of this year I decided I’d try to become a runner. Again. If any of you caught my piece in the Irish Daily Mail’s Saturday mag a couple of months ago, you’ll know that I have for years had a love-hate relationship with running, with the emphasis firmly on hate. I’ve tried to love it – OK, not very enthusiastically, but every so often I have attempted to reach that stage where it becomes less of a pain and more of a pleasure. I’ve imagined looking forward to a run rather than dreading it – I’d really, really love to reach that stage – but so far I haven’t managed it. Instead, I have to force myself out each time I run, and I end every session, however long or short, feeling and looking like someone on the verge of cardiac arrest. I probably just never stick with it long enough to start reaping the rewards – and still, every few months or so, I’ll find myself pulling the running shoes out of hibernation and deciding to give it one more try. And so it was that in January I signed up to run a half-marathon in May. To be precise, I signed up to do this one, scheduled for May 4:
It wouldn’t be the first half-marathon I’d run. Back in the nineties, while I was working in a London ad agency, I took part in one which was run over half the distance, with everyone going twice around the course, and I swear some runners passed me on their second round while I was still on the first. I’m fairly sure I was among the last ten to finish, if not the actual last one, but I did it. Lord knows how I stuck with the training – I have no memory of it now. Unfortunately, that was then, and this is 2014, and I am on the wrong side of my 50th birthday, and folks, I just didn’t get there this time. My training was slapdash and sporadic, and by the middle of April I realised that I was nowhere near as trained as I would need to be to complete even the 10k race that was also part of the Great Limerick Run, so I admitted defeat and lapsed back into walking.
And then I heard about this.
Did you notice the ‘walk/run’ part? That’s the bit that caught my eye. Here was something I could do, something I knew I could manage. I’d walk the 5k, and I’d be up there with the first finishers. Thank God my family hasn’t been touched by suicide – but I know in these times of challenge we’re in the minority, so I signed up in solidarity with those many, many heartbroken souls whose loved ones had seen no other way out of their darkness, and I signed up in gratitude that I wasn’t among them. On Friday night I set my alarm for 3.40am. When it went off I hauled myself out of bed, got dressed and set off, yawning, to walk the ten minutes from my house to Limerick’s Thomond Park. You wouldn’t believe the crowds of yellow t-shirted people I met along the way. All human life was there, from babies to oldies to everything in between. There were even a few dogs in yellow t-shirts. We approached the gates of Thomond Park and inched our way through, and as we did, one of the volunteer marshalls said: “runners to the left, walkers to the right’ – and do you know, there were a few seconds where I hesitated. It was only 5k; even in my untrained state, I’d surely manage it.
And then I turned right. Maybe next year.
If suicide has touched your life, you have my deep and heartfelt sympathy.
(Oh, and the walk? It was chilly and a bit damp, and very very moving. And I was among the early finishers.)