Killer Park Run

Yes indeed, the photos here tell of a place of great beauty. There are delights at every turn. But Ardgillen Park, Skerries has its shadow side.

And that shadow side comes in the form of a killer park run.

Yes, I trooped up there today, all thrilled with myself. I had a game plan, see. I would start off fast, then put the brakes on and keep a steady pace before letting all hell break loose for a killer finish.

But something wasn’t right from the very beginning. Everyone looked alarmingly young, lean limbed and athletic.

And then there was me.

And as we set off on the course it soon became clear why youth and limbs and athleticism were essential for this course. Hills. Lots of. Doing their undulating thing all over the place. The kind of hills that were vicious to ascend but barely registered on the descent.

Not for the first time I realised what goes up must come down is just a vicious lie. What goes up, goes up forever and may only go down ever so gently.

By the second kilometre I was in trouble. All about me the young things were loping past. Some even had enough wind for light-hearted conversation with each other.

Meanwhile, I was in deep conversation with myself.

Get Real Me wanted to quit but Aspiring Runner Me wasn’t so sure.

Get Real Me: C`mon. Pull out before the end. Then you won’t actually register with a lousy time.

Runner Me: Well, maybe I won’t get a lousy time. And, anyway, since this is my first run here, it will at least be a PB.

Get Real Me: There’s another runner flying past. C’mon, quit while you’re not ahead.

Runner Me: If I quit I’m going to feel an awful lot worse for an awful lot longer than what I am feeling now.

In the end up, it was exactly that thought that kept me going. Somehow, I had to get through this and, if it was pushing me out of my comfort zone-and it most certainly was-that would be a good long term investment.

I thought I knew Ardgillen pretty well, but the route took me to places I hadn’t been before. And not just in my head. So I had no sense of where the end was as I shuffled along at the end of the string of runners.

At one point I was beginning to feel a little hopeful. Suddenly, I could see the finish line and I realised I was only a little behind some of the faster runners. But then a steward rerouted me to Lap Two. And while the young ones were racing towards their sub 24 minute finish times, I had to do another loop-one the faster runners had already done- with the few stragglers that were left. It was a sickening moment.

But, eventually, I got to the end. Didn’t even bother with the sprint finish. I was just glad to be done with those hills.

Time? Don’t even ask.

But I did score a PB for this particular Parkrun.

Will I be back? Oh, I have to bite this bullet again. But it won’t be next week and, while I can’t reverse the clock and get my young legs back, it will be a grand challenge just to do better next time.

Compensation? I rediscovered the wonders of the park afterwards, with a most enjoyable photowalk through all of its beautiful gardens.

Almost beautiful enough to forgive it for its killer park run.

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Obstacle Course

You know the book “We`re Going on a Bear Hunt”? The one where the characters “Can`t go over it, can`t go under it, must go through it”. Yes, that one. Well, that was what yesterday`s run was all about.

And it was daylight! Yay! With a couple of days off work I am relishing the change. Birdsong, endless sweeping vistas and who knows, maybe other signs of Spring lay in store for me?

A mile down the road and I meet my first obstacle. Roadworks. The road was closed off and as there were all kinds of yellow machinery, smoke and tar about the place, I figured they mightn`t appreciate my presence so I headed for the fields.

Springfield

It turned out to be a good choice. Lots of birdsong, green shoots, and well, I wasn`t really sure what to call that florid looking fungus poking out from the branch…

Fungus

But that`s what being outdoors means:lots of surprises.

After recent storms there was plenty of muck, water and fallen trees about the place.

So, just like the bearhunt book, I ended up doing a lot of climbing over, or around or through things.
Branch Down

Floodwaters

Muck

That meant a lot of stopping, some slithering and lots of backtracking. But it was all good fun.

4.58 miles of good fun actually. Yep, Garmin is in working order again. And hey, I might even have found my mojo too!

Happy Solstice!

Newgrange Tomb, burial place of our Neolithic ancestors, has been a place of pilgrimage for thousands of years. It is especially favoured at this time of the year, the darkest time of the year, as the tomb was designed to embrace the first rays of solstice sunlight as they reach over the Boyne Valley.

I trooped up there today with other pilgrims,to witness this ancient rite. Newgrange tomb, though vast on the outside, holds a narrow passage tomb. It was in this tomb that the ancients placed the cremated remains of their dead, some five thousand years ago. The entrance was built to align with the sun at the time of solstice, the ancients having calculated that the rays would reach through the roofbox above the tomb entrance, and illuminate the inner chamber.

Perhaps they believed the sun imparted a certain magic as it progressed around the inner chamber. And, indeed, perhaps it did. The real magic for me, however, lies in the engineering skills and craftsmanship of our ancestors. And also on how heavily invested they were in a spiritual aspect to life. It is reckoned, after all that it took three generations to construct the tomb – a major investment for a subsistence economy.

Around three hundred people gathered together to bear witness to the rising sun at Newgrange today. Also known as Brú na Boinne, the Palace of the Boyne, it`s façade is sheeted in white quartz stone and so is visible for miles around. It was here the crowd assembled in the sodden gloom of a wet winter`s morning and in the hope clearer skies.

There is always a lightness about the Newgrange assembly. Laughter, and chat abounds as tourists pose for photographs in front of the entrance, and regular visitors hug each other warmly to cries of “Happy Solstice”.

A lone runner laps the mound several times in some personal ritual, while a trio of young people face east and close their eyes in solemn meditation.

Soon, merry troupes of travellers are decanted from buses, bearing bodhráns, an animal horn and flags. The buttery smear in the horizon has pushed its way upward now, as clouds transmute from warm cream to lighter pinks and purply blues. Arms reach out to form two circles and, as the bodhráns sound out, the circle grows.

Then, all eyes scan the horizon and wait for the first glimpse of the rising sun.

Our ancient ancestors farmed the rich land of the Boyne. They also hunted among its forests and fields and fished its streams and rivers. They knew all of this wealth depended on the sun. As the earth moves further from the sun, it appeared to them that the sun itself might disappear altogether over the horizon, taking with it, its gifts of heat and light.

The crowd is silent as we wait. Clouds drift over a waning moon, as the skies brighten. Then, suddenly, the first rays pierce the horizon. The frantic beating of bodhráns and the eerie sound of a horn welcome the bright light. Many embrace, others applaud, and a sense of delight and relief filters through the crowd.

This is the season of endings and beginings, of hope and renewal, of the triumph of light over darkness. Today, in Newgrange,we witnessed the end of darker days,the start of a new year, and moving forward with optimism, hope and joy.

And that`s enough magic for me.

Happy Solstice everyone!

In Search of Colour

November has been terribly kind to us this year in Ireland. It has, for the most part, been dry and bright, with just enough snap in the air to make it pleasantly invigorating. Perfect, then, for a weekend foray to the National Botanical Gardens, Dublin in search of colour.