Out of the park we stream. The sky is big and blue and there are hundreds of bystanders, shouting, encouraging, bystanding. One comedian hollers "Almost there!". I assume the repetition of this hilarity will continue to amuse him for at least the next hour or so. I do not begrudge him. Everybody is doing what they have to do to get through this day.
My leg I think again. My knee, my hip. It hurts. They hurt. I realise that this repetition of my own is even less amusing than that of our witty wag. So I decided to cut it out, to give it up, to let it go. Pain is my lot now, earlier than I had hoped, but this is where I am. Run, run.
There is a climb coming.
Here. Close your eyes. Take this. You know what it is, right? Feel that gentle crinkle. No, no, don't open it yet. Bring it to your nose. Inhale. Can you smell it through the wrapper? Maybe not. But you can imagine. Nutty, creamy, sugary. Open it. Yes, go on. Expose the burnished mahogany of your dreams. See the helicopter shot from the television advert that you are composing in your mind as the camera zooms through the ridges and folds of sweet, sweet chocolate. Enough anticipation now. Take your first bite. Oh that taste. Peanuts, caramel, milk. Protein carbohydrates precious life giving fats. The effect is immediate, like a shot into the veins. And here at 1.30 in the afternoon in Sault, Provence your body believes again. You have climbed the mountain that looms to your left twice today and you must climb it one more time. Thirty seconds ago it seemed an impossible feat. But a Snickers has changed all that. You stuff the paper in you back pocket and gear down as the road begins to rise.
Six months ago I switched to a vegan diet. There will be no more Snickereses for me.
Mont Ventoux. This name means little to most. Club des Cingles. Even less to more. But these are the words by which I will measure my effort today. I have climbed Ventoux. I am an initiate of Club des Cingles. Towering like a canker sore out of the flatlands of Provence this extinct volcano rises to 1912m over 21 kilometres. If you're a professional cyclist hepped up on the goofiest of goofballs you can climb it in an hour. If you're me, it takes a little over 90 minutes. There are no downhills, no relieving switchbacks. Uphill, most often at a grade between nine and twelve percent, for an hour and a half. Before the terrible rise of Team Sky the best known British pro cyclist was a guy who was famous mostly for dying on this hill. That's amphetamines, brandy and a blatant disregard for your own well being for you. Hey, that's Mont Ventoux and that's all very well. But Club des Cingles, that's a whole other reinfused blood bag. To join you must ascend the mountain three times in a row from three different sides. The descent takes about maybe twenty minutes though Sean Kelly did it in eight. I did this. I joined the club of morons. It was a lonely, majestic and ultimately Snickers fueled pursuit. I got the fucker done. And cried like a baby on finishing the final climb. I had never been so exhausted, so physically crushed. I never thought I would be again.
Eight miles. A quick one.We breeze through a village, so many people, so much cheering. I am beginning to feel like I can stand this pain. Like I can do this.
I was back from France about two weeks when the friend of a friend, being informed that I like to cycle a bike, told me that he also rode. "There's a hill in Inchicore," he said, eyes ablaze. "It's a fucking killer. I used to have to walk up it. Now I don't even have to get out of the saddle." "Wow." I say.
My Dublin City Marathon 2013 passes under a bridge. I am maybe fifty metres further on and there is shouting behind. It's the 3'20 pace group, playing with the echo and failing to suffer. I sigh and look to this Inchicore Hill. I have never cycled up it. Let's hope I can do it without getting out of my metaphorical saddle. I shorten my stride, pick up my cadence. No heart rate change. No significant drop in pace. I have run up a lot of hills in the last four months. Not just because it's good training but because since I returned to running I have discovered that my love of climbing is not limited to the bike. So I am trained for this. I know what to do. Yes, my IT band maintains its piercing whine. But for the next 250m it can fuck right off. I am finally in my element. I pass ten, fifteen people. Largely flat the website claims. How I love this lie. I briefly fantasise that the whole course is uphill. That is a marathon I could finish, I think, ludicrously. And then the road levels out. That was it. That was my quarter kilometer of joy,
I keep running.