I have faded away from the pacer as the road does a little twist and turn. It's okay. It's no biggie. Who will give a fuck how fast I was going when I drop? Me. I will give a fuck. I slowly ease my way back. Another little rise facilitates this process. Largely flat they said. And suddenly there it is. The cool breath of the ghost of a niggle at the top of my left shin. Paranoia. Hyper-sensitivity. Keep running.
North Circular Road. I have run this. And biked and bussed it. But never walked. Who walks this road? No one with smarts. Once I ran it regularly, working for a time within the walls of St Brendan's Hospital. It had almost stopped being whatever kind of hospital it once was and it smelled of rot and mental health and cat piss, the latter undoubtedly due to the litter of feral kittens that appeared halfway through our month long stay. Oh but they were cute. Teeny tiny with outsized paws all black and white and soon to doubtless die. I think someone called the DSPCA, someone else fed them sandwich ham. I played with them, my headphones as a toy. Then I'd do some shit of which I will not speak before running home, relieved to be away from the crazy and the cats. I had not been running long back then and every step was still a joy. But now, now we pass the three mile marker as the first water station looms. I am glad to be beyond Brendan's and happy to find myself well positioned to snatch a child sized bottle for each hand. The field remains ridiculously crowded but I am lucky, I do not have to break my stride. I breathe a "Thanks". I'm sure they do not hear me. Rightly so, these faceless workers retain the dignity of the thankless job. I drink a little, then a lot, legs not slowing, then hold a bottle in the air, as if toasting extravagantly, to indicate I've done well at this station of this cross and am more than happy to share. A guy takes me up and I exchange my only pleasantries of the race so far. I do not find them pleasant. He's out of breath and red faced, this guy. Maybe he surged to catch me even at what feels like my increasingly turgid pace. I worry for him. I worry for me. I drop him. Separately we trample on towards the park.
Less subtle now this hint of pain. It contains the promise of a throb.
We're still running the North Circular. It's a long fucking road and not circular at all. I came this way most recently on a Sunday morning training run. The plan was to meet an athlete friend and have her take me on a tour of the park. It was a beautiful day and a glorious run finishing with an unplanned diversion down the majesty of Griffith Avenue. Many miles that morning among the many other miles I have run in preparation for this day. The longest ones have always been in the company of this friend. She rides her bike beside me, hands me water and gels. She talks incessantly of this and that, about you and me and her. She's the podcast to which you can talk back. Runners are selfish creatures, and I fail to question what she gains from this arrangement. Other runners observe us from a distance and as they approach their terrible jealousy becomes apparent. How dare I. How dare we. This must be cheating surely. And maybe it is. Older dog walking women, by contrast, think we're very, very cute. As each Sunday reaches its conclusion and up the pace begins to ramp, my training partner proffers the odd word of encouragement. She has gotten better at this proffering as the weeks have waned or I have gotten better at the receiving. I mostly believe her now when she tells me I'm strong. I mostly believe her when she says we're almost there, even when I am aware of both the route and the lie. I mostly believe I would not be on this road today if it had not been for her. And so she tops the list of the people who I am about to disappoint. I see her husband up ahead, easy by the side of the road though already looking slightly bored of all this clapping, all this watching. I shout his name. He does not hear or see me. I take off my hat, a big moment in its revelation of my race haircut, and throw it at him. He catches it with his face. As the hat drops to the ground he appears happily confused. Me and my mohawk, we fly on.
The mile four marker passes. I'm in the Phoenix Park.