Here I am on a line again. It feels different. Maybe I'm misremembering all the other times. It's been a while. But I don't think so. I can clearly recollect the pounding heart of that 5k in the park.. The giddy anticipation of the Penticton half. The beautiful calm focus of a Dublin Bus Ten. But even with that calm, the fear. Always the fear. On every line. The fear. The dread. The knowledge of the pain to come. The wondering why the fuck before it even begins. Not this time. I just want it to start, so that I know when it will stop.
I'm injured. I got hit by a taxi eight weeks ago. Cracked a pair of ribs. Couldn't train for two weeks. Came back too soon, too hard. Inevitably. Properly, almost. What else is a runner to do? I had laid the money down, I was going to this line. So I came back and did fourteen with still a stab in each breath. Those ribs, they jabbed, but I could cope. But that little lean away from them or the too hardness or maybe the too soonness, one of those or all of those, kicked me right the iliotibial band. The ole it band. It's not a muscle, you know. It's connective tissue. It runs from the knee to the hip. And the taxi driver and me, we fucked it all up. Three weeks out I do 22. I live. I finish pretty strong. The next week calls for fourteen. I stop after twelve. I cannot run another step. The pain is too much. So I do bits and pieces. I get massages. I foam roll the fucker to death. I pointlessly stretch. It's not muscle, it's connective tissue. So it's not stretching, it's mobilising. I pointlessly mobilise. I can feel it on the stairs. On the bike. I do no exercise for three days. Still feel it on the stairs. On the bank holiday morning, the morning of this line, I feel it on the stairs.
And now I'm on the line. No fear. A terrifying lack of fear. A vague curiosity. Because I almost forget what is to run. I certainly forget what it is to race. I have no goal pace. I intend going out with the 3'20 pacers, then kicking it up if I can. When will the pain start? When will I have to drop? These are the questions that disinterestedly interest me. It was supposed to rain, I think. It might yet, I suppose. As the five minutes to go mark approaches a rainbow of warm up clothes appears in the cold bright air. I cycle down this road nearly every day of my life. I have never seen it before. I tie my laces one more time, too close to the gun, because that is a thing that I do. I stand. And there is the gun. I hit start. I hit play. "Pistol shots ring out..' rings out in my ears.
I expected this opening shuffle would last forever, what with a crowd of fourteen thousand, but the road is wide and I'm close enough to the front, so quickly it becomes a jog, and then a run. There is slowing as we round the corner onto Leeson Street. But it's brief. The early morning sun blazes. My grandfather walked me down this road every school morning for a year. As we walked he told me Macbeth, Hamlet, Silas Marner. Leeson Street flashes by and we're on the Green. My teenager daughter and her friends call it "Green" forsaking the definitive article like they're in some kind of shitty American sitcom. My grandfather my daughter. I position myself on the shoulder of one of the pacers. He glances at me. The glance tells me my music, still a hurricane, the hurricane, Hurricane, is too loud. I don't give a fuck. I am not here for the chats. I am wearing shades, a hat, gloves. I like to think I look serious, resolved. But I feel neither. I still feel a dominant nothing.
I blink and it's a mile. A glance at my borrowed watch tells me the pacing is too fast. It feels that way too. I am rusty. Two weeks of no real training. "All the work is done," the websites tell me, the trainers tell me, I tell myself. But it's bullshit. I've lost my sharpness. 7'30 should feel like floating. It does not. As yet nothing hurts but there is a sense of labour that should not be present after a mile. I'm just not warm, I tell myself.
I don't remember how we get from Dawson Street (Dawson says Riker in my mind) to Westmoreland Street (Westmoreland) but suddenly we're there and the road is very wide again and it's another one I've walked all my life. I have never understood place, love of a home town, a home country. It's just where I am, where I've been. I try again now, make a conscious effort to savour the weirdness, the some kind of wonderfulness, of running up these roads. I feel something for the first time. But it's not the love of place. My confusion over patriotism remains. What I feel is that maybe I don't want to drop. My detachment is dripping into the gutters of O'Connell Bridge. I would kind of like it back.
O'Connell Street flashes by. My race hits Parnell Square. A little hill. A tiny taste of incline. I love to climb. I didn't used to. But then I became a rider and I brought my riding to my running. I gear down. My stride shortens, my cadence quickens and in my mind I drop them all. My heart rate doesn't change. The road levels out as the second mile marker appears. I wish it was all uphill. Largely flat the website claims. So I settle back down. Gear back up. I note that with that rise the fear has risen too and with it a flicker of hope. Maybe like the rain, the injury will stay away. I do not allow this thought last. I know I'm going to drop. Of course I'm going to drop. But not yet. Not just yet.