Have you been for a run lately? If not, I'm sure someone's told you all about how wonderful a passtime it is. That or you've been kept updated via Facebook of some runner's latest performance. They usually read something like this:
“47.38! Delighted!!! Well done to everyone involved!! Now for that long awaited pint and crisps! :)”
As easy a target as such statements are, I'm going to refrain from poking fun at them. This is because I too like to run. And I understand someone wanting to share their satisfaction at meeting or beating a self-set goal. Even if broadcasting their achievement defies the inherently internal reasons for running in the first place.
For the record, my running career started in 2008 with some light jogging around a nearby green. In the intervening years, I have built up my distance to about 10km. Nothing special.
But I don't run as much as I used to. As with most exercise regimes, the deficit between effort and reward soon becomes a grievance. The problem is either running too hard or not hard enough. Too often, I find myself regretting not giving that little bit more or that little bit less, depending on whether or not I still feel a little restless, or so battered that any other activity is relegated from my day.
Low-frequency running has actually worked out well. The tedium of daily excursions has been replaced by a genuine anticipation of getting out in the elements. By strange coincidence, my runs have become a lot more eventful.
Earlier this year, I was running in Castlecomer Discovery Park when a representative of the local wildlife (a very large duck) expressed disapproval at my choice of route. It was only after he spread his wings to a four-foot diameter and started to charge at me aggressively that I realised something was wrong. Nearby fishermen had a great time laughing at the sight of a grown man being chased from his preferred route by a duck, who's proud quack I took as some kind of jibe.
More recently, I put my running to use in the mould of a concerned citizen. I was watching TV at home when, through the corner of my eye, I noticed a hooded figure dart across my front lawn. This was followed by what sounded like the attempted opening of my locked front door. The figure's quick reversal in direction convinced me that he was up to no good. Knowing that going upstairs to get the key would waste valuable seconds, I exited through the back door and ran around my house to give chase. By the time I was out on the road, he had been picked up by a red van. Still running, I gave the van's occupants an ironic wave, as if to warn them off trying anything like that again. But on my way back inside to contact local authorities, I noticed the latest issue of the Golden Pages by my front doorstep. Only then did I realise that the sound of the "burglar" trying to open my door was actually that of the Golden Pages hitting the ground. And that this wasn't a break in; it was a phone book delivery.
Another peculiarity happened just the other day. I was navigating the lanes surrounding St Canice's Cathedral when a dull sound of screaming caused me to stop. After ensuring that it wasn't another dose of acute paranoia, I ran onto Church grounds to investigate. Approaching the entrance, I deduced that the voices were those of young Americans. One male. One female.
"CAN ANYBODY HEAR ME?!"
The intermittent thudding on a small door signalled that the helpless cries were coming from inside the 9th century round-tower. I ran over to the bottom of the step ladder and announced my arrival.
Their response was instant.
"Oh THANK GOD!! HELP US!! WE'RE TRAPPED INSIDE THE TOWER!!"
There was a moment of silence as I digested the news. The parallels with a Hollywood horror were glaring.
This Christmas...Get ready...For The Dream Holiday...That Became...Their Worst Nightmare...In Ireland's Most Haunted Tower!
Eventually, I told them to "hold tight" while I went looking for help.
I ran around the grounds a few times before coming across a teenage boy. He looked about sixteen. Disinterested. In everything.
"Do you work here?" I asked.
"Wha.." he muttered.
"There's some people trapped in the tower!"
"Yeah?" he replied, in what sounded like indifference, but was probably just not up to the drama that my earlier exchanges with the Americans demanded.
"I'm going to call into the vicar's house" I told him, already breaking into another run. "If you see anyone, let them know!"
My call to the attached house was fruitless. Much to my disappointment. I was kind of hoping for some sort of Dickensian exchange of information, in which I would bestow the news on the Vicar in a cockney accent, before being rewarded with a hot meal later that evening.
When I ran back to the Cathedral, there was a gardener finishing up some raking. Somehow, he had missed my previous encirclements. He reacted with considerable calm and went to fetch the key. In the meantime, I went to let my American friends know that everything was going to be ok; that they were going to make it home for Christmas after all..
"THANK YOU! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!" they rejoiced.
Before long, a woman from inside the Cathedral arrived with the key in hand. The beleaguered visitors exited the tower emitting a cacophony of sighs and exclamations of relief. They looked exactly how they sounded. Early twenties, college kids.
Brushing off the woman's apologies, they were bereft of any complaints or indignation. Upon further questioning, they told us their plight had lasted half an hour. They were a lot quieter now, for obvious reasons. It started getting awkward. What more was there to say? Or do? I bade them farewell and ran away home.