I snatched a piece of glory for myself on a long, slow, Sunday run by the coast. It was one of those very bright October mornings with the moon a finger-painted smudge in clear blue skies over the bobbing boats of Skerries harbour.
White sails dazzled in the clear, calm waters, as the members of Skerries Sailing Club busied themselves with their yachts.
And there were plenty of land lubbers about delighting in the crisp clear air or, like myself, taking pictures of the pretty scene…
…and silly shadow selfies…
Oh, I could feel my old enemy, Procrastination, setting in. It was time to go.
The Skerries-Balbriggan route is very popular with runners and walkers. No doubt, it’s spectacular views have a lot to do with that. And of course, hugging the sea as it does, it is entirely flat. Always a plus for a plodder like me.
The downside though is that the footpath is very narrow, and its surface is dangerously rough. Three miles in, loose gravel got the better of me. I stumble. Almost saved myself. Then, horror of horrors, slam onto the ground.
It’s the classic little-kid fall, featuring two grazed knees, two skint hands and lost pride. I hobble to a nearby gateway to assess the damage and recover my composure. And, apart from a hole in my leggings (damn, my last good pair) I am good to go.
As it turned out, this wasn’t the worst of my pathway woes…
I had to step off it several times to let pedestrians by, always, of course, with an eye out for a car careening round a bend. And, worse still, there is a patch just outside Skerries where the path runs out entirely. Possibly to encourage runners to up their tempo a tad.
It had that effect on me, anyway.
It would be really good to see this pathway widened and resurfaced. A lot of people enjoy it and, with a truckload of health problems festering in our overfed and depressed population, this investment would do the world of good for both Skerries, Balbriggan and their visitors.
But otherwise, the mild autumn temperatures and sea air made for perfect running conditions. And, even though I love to listen to talk radio during these long slow runs, I took frequent earphone breaks just to enjoy the sound of the sea and its accompanying birdlife.
Here and there I’d catch a glimpse of redshank, oystercatcher or snipe, while the gulls, announced their abundance with raucous cries.
Soon, I was heading into Balbriggan. A solitary red bricked chimney declared it’s industrial heritage. This was the ancient chimney of Smyths’ textile factory.
The town was built on tights, balbriggan being a term used to describe a fine knit textile which was once manufactured in that town and turned into hosiery and underwear.
Balbriggan hides its glories well. One of the joys of running, of course, is that it tends to sniff out these charms, and so brighten even the most tedious of trots with sparkling gems.
The harbour glistened in the morning light. After the hideous railway perimeter and ugly jumble of buildings, it seems all the more surprising. And, a little further along there is a Martello tower, yes, another one to match the ones I’d seen in Dalkey,Sandymount, Donabate, Portrane, Loughshinney and in Skerries itself.
Winding back through the town, there is the interesting court house building, and a beautiful Carnegie library opposite. But little else to delight the eye.
I was homeward bound at this point, however, looping back to Skerries and already looking forward to the return journey, trotting along between the railway line and the sea, and enjoying ever second of it.
I met more friendly runners on that route than any other I had encountered. I figured that was because they were as happy as I was, enjoying the scenery and the glorious autumn day.
Ten miles done. I barely felt them. Not, I hasten to add, because I am super fit, or even fit.
But, because some runs just are sheer joy.
Our Thursday evening run was greeted with ominous skies in Skerries. Our? Yes, Teen Girl came too. Since she’s started running with the athletic club a few months our own runs together have been a little less frequent, so I grab them any chance I get.
Of course, by some wretched synchronicity, the storm clouds assembled, just as we rocked up at Skerries harbour. Roy might tell you, it’s not training unless it’s raining, but, given the choice, I’d rather sit a good drenching out, thank you very much, and so I retreated to the comfort of my car.
But Teen Girl was having none of it.
Ever noticed how teenagers always want the opposite to whatever you want? It stems from the exact same hormone that disagrees with everything their parents say, is appalled with everything their parents wear and generally disgusted by our mere presence.
“Aw, come on. You’re the one who wanted to run”
“Okay, okay, I just didn’t want you to get wet.”
It upsets me, on occasion, to hear how easily a lie can trip off my tongue. But, as skills go, it has its uses. Just not on this particular occasion.
And so, off we set.
Skerries is the grandest spot for a run, with lots of scenic routes available. We opted for a short, fast coastal trot. It took us winding along coast and through the holiday crowds, out past the playground and on towards Loughshinny.
With the tide well in and lighter skies ahead, the three islands, Colt, Shenick and St Patrick ( gosh, that fellow got about, didn’t he?) glowed emerald green in the silvery waters. And, all about us, holiday makers made the most of the dying moments of the day.
We rambled on. They take their running seriously in Skerries. We were overtaken by quite a few earnest young men, who, if their t-shirts were anything to go by, were in serious half marathon and marathon training mode.
Meanwhile, I am aiming to speed up. I took great heart on Tuesday when my Killer Interval sessions saw the Garmin dip below 5 to show that I can possibly run one kilometer in five minutes. If I can sustain that pace, of course.
And, on Thursday night, I very nearly did. It took me 5.05 minutes to run 1 km. Oh, you may scoff, but that’s just smokin’ hot in Red Hen territory. I didn’t order this body you know, so I’m pretty chuffed if I can defy its design and get these lil`ol`legs to fire up at that speed.
Maybe a 5km park run at 26 minutes may be more than a dream after all? Not saying it’s going to happen tomorrow. I’m far too short of the goal to reach it in such a short time.
But it’s getting closer.
Conditions for that speed were very favourable. With a good tail wind and a very flat promenade, I was sailing along. Parkrun is grass and hills and mud and…
Oh, and rain. Yeah, rain helps.
As I was coming down the home strait, that ominous cloud was ready to split the goods. And that threat of rain just made me go all the faster. Never mind that I was soaked in sweat. This was going to be a downpour and I was getting to dry land/the car before it arrived.
Teen Girl was waayy behind me. (Who wants to be seen with their mad mother anyway?) and got soaked in the ensuing monsoon downpour.
Must be maddening, all the same, to have a super speedy and dry mother who keeps taking pictures of the same old scene….
Last Sunday, along the East Coast of Ireland, was Giro D’Italia Day.
Yes, that’s right, the Giro d’Italia descended upon our shores last weekend to complete Stage Three of that prestigious cycling event. And no, it’s not an annual event here in the Emerald Isle. We just got lucky this year.
Much though I love to take my bike out for a spin, I am pretty clear that this is biking of a very different sort. Beyond that, my knowledge is limited. But it didn’t stop me from getting out there to see what all the fuss was about.
The publicity machine behind the Giro have been doing their best to educate us for the past few months. Full and half page advertisements have been running in the newspapers for months and advance warnings were posted about traffic restrictions in all the towns along the route.
The Discover Ireland people produced this very attractive promotional video.
And lots of homeowners went to great trouble to decorate their homes in with Giro pink balloons, and bunting.
Some even went to the trouble of dyeing their sheep!
(Image from theirishpost.co.uk)
And, over the weekend people from all over Northern Ireland and the Republic, turned out, in their droves to cheer the riders on.
Or perhaps, like me, find out a little bit more about this cycle racing lark.
I certainly found out what it was to be part of the crowd at a bike race.
Early arrival was essential, as the Giro signs had impressed upon the locals what road would be closed and when. With extra traffic anticipated, and rolling road closures, travelling and parking would be a little more challenging
Onlookers started to arrive some two hours before the predicted race arrives at my chosen hotspot. Most were dressed in an assortment of layers as befits our recent multiseasonal weather. Pink clothing abounded too,of course, with the occasional pink umbrella and one brave soul even sporting pink hair.
There was the low hum of good-humoured conversation, punctuated by occasional laughter. Most folk were happy to wait for this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Most people. Except Jessica.
But Dad, I don’t want to sit on a stone wall for two hours!
I’m telling ya, Jessica, this is the best spot. You will see the riders coming down that hill and up that one.
Jessica if ya don’t stop that moaning, you can hit the high road now an`start walking home
Gardaí (that’s what we call our police force) manned the barricades and were having their patience tested too.
“You can’t cycle across the road son, you have to walk”
“No Ma`am we can’t open the barrier til the race passes”
“It should be here in around fifteen minutes”
Of course thirty minutes pass before the first of the headlights come into view. The crowd turns their head in expectation. And the van flashes its lights obligingly. But it’s just a merchandise van. Still, with Giro emblazoned on the side it is surely a portent of the oncoming peloton.
A Garda traffic car zooms past and eventually a team van.
Then nothing for another age. The threatening rain now falls in heavy plops and umbrellas are raised in defence.
Suddenly, a siren…
A cavalcade of Garda motorbikes spans out along the route, one driving raising his arm to the crowd who cheer enthusiastically, the others a little closer to the crowd to encourage them to keep off the road. Next the lead car and then, and then….
My camera is in movie mode and the clustered pack of cyclists has disappeared as quickly as it has appeared. It barely registers on my screen.
The lead pack have gone in a blur.
Honestly, someone should’ve told those guys to slow down a sec so we could see them properly.
But the race is not done. More cars and then, cresting the hill, a line of blue and green helmets glisten as they hove into view. Big cheers from everyone. I think I am witnessing what people in the know, and wikipedia, call a peloton. But to my uneducated eye it looks more like some gargantuan alien has landed. There isn’t a human in sight. Instead, it’s a blue and green multilegged speed machine writhing its way expertly around bends and over hill with fantastic speed and agility.
More cyclists follow. The are threaded in little groups amid the caravan of accompanying team cars. These cars must be vital team support vehicles as each one bears racks of bikes on their roofs as they follow along the route.
All too soon, another car arrives, helpfully brandishing a sign reading Race End. The crowd laughs and starts to disperse.
Of course all this clashed with my allocated Long Slow Run, as per the Hal Higdon plan. But I figured a way to fit in the Giro and keep Hal happy. I’d arrived early to bag my car parking for the Giro and then ran three miles of the LSR.
That shortened the wait and kept me happy and warm as toast while waiting for my first Giro fix.
Afterwards, I travelled some of the Giro route along the coast and ran a very pleasant five miles around Skerries.
Delightful views of course added to the meditative pace. Here too, the Giro had left its mark as it tacked along the coast and on into Dublin city centre. Skerries had thrown a festival to celebrate the Italian invasion though, true to my missed-the-best-parties form, the festivities were well over by the time I arrived.
But my solo run more than compensated, as it was more tai-chi than taxing amidst the ethereal scenery of a Skerries cool summer evening.
With the sun glowering over banks of charcoal cloud, my slow shoe shuffle came to an end. Beside my car, a piece of Giro pink balloon, lay burst and tattered in the roadside puddle, a symbol of the passing of Giro day.
The Giro D’ Italia brought a glow to the east coast and a glow to many a heart and for many a different reason.
May we live to see it again.