“As we climbed the hill close to Foster Avenue, I came close to a complete stop. I was in agony. Tears of pain ran down my cheeks. I felt like an idiot. I stood at the side, just inches from the encouraging spectators. I was in no mood though to embrace their encouragement. In fact, it irritated me. I felt like giving up, but I knew I wouldn’t, I would reach Merrion Square and that finish line, even if I had to crawl.
As I stood immersed in self-pity, I felt an arm come around my shoulder. By now a steady trickle of tears was making its way down my cheeks. I felt embarrassed and had my head bent over, shielding this visual sign of my condition. I needed to know however who my guardian was, so I raised my head feeling its weight like never before. I was met by the sight of an elderly man perhaps in his late seventies. A man whose face offered sympathy, empathy and encouragement all together.
“Dont worry. They’re all feeling it,” he offered. I had neither the energy nor the will to respond verbally. Even if I had I could scarcely have mouthed a response as I had nothing left in the tank. “Just put one foot in front of the other,” he continued “and I promise you that you will reach the finish.”
I remember one morning in July 2010, having dropped the kids to crèche, I was sitting in traffic listening to Clare Byrne (no relation) on the radio station, Newstalk 106. She started interviewing to men, Gerry Duffy & Ken Whitelaw who were just about to embark on a fundraising event for Irish Autism Action. They would run 32 marathons in 32 Counties in 32 days. Listening to the questions you could really sense the admiration she had for these gentlemen. Her fellow presenter, Ivan Yeats, thought they were mad but I could feel myself siding with Clare. They might be a bit nuts, but wow, what an achievement, that is serious effort and like a lot people, I always wanted to run a marathon, but 32 of them in 32 days was just incredible. Little would I know how Gerry would play a significant part in my life a couple of years later.
I ran the Dublin City Marathon in 2012 and finished in 4hrs 30mins and 32sec. Starting out with the 4.15 pacers, I began to feel the pace getting too much for me somewhere around Terenure. My legs tired considerably, I let the group I was running with go ahead and I began to walk. This was somewhere around the 16 mile mark, there was still more than 10 miles to go to Merrion Square and the finishers medal I had craved so much for years.
I knew my family & some friends were waiting at the Dropping Well, just a few miles further down the road to cheer me on, after that I suspected I would see people I knew every couple of miles, Eoin in Milltown, Gloria, Wayne & Graham in Clonskeagh & my mother & Sister who had flown in from the UK at the bottom of Fosters Ave. All these people (and many more!) had lived my marathon dream for the year & I never more aware than at that specific time of what their support meant. They may have had doubts amongst themselves at my ability, but to me, there was never any doubt that they thought I would finish, their support was never in question. My issues weren’t lack of fitness, dedication or effort, as I slowed my run to a jog which then turned into a walk, I just didn’t physically have enough training miles in my legs; the experts recommend that you do a marathon if you have been running for 18months, I was barely at it for half that; What was just as difficult was that I knew I was standing on the edge of a decision that would define my year, very publicly. Stop and fall back on the “sure you’ve done really well this year” comments or keep going and finish what I started with such high hopes. I made the decision to keep going and right then, just at that specific moment as I got to the top of Roebuck road and turned down Fosters Avenue, was when I understood what I had achieved in 2012.
The opening quote above comes from a book called “Who Dares, Runs” by Gerry Duffy, it relates to his experience of Roebuck road during his first assault on the Dublin City Marathon. This is the same man who ran 32 marathons in 32 days. As well as that remarkable achievement, Gerry has run a number of triathlons, a couple of Ironman triathlons and a double Ironman triathlon. This lad is serious about his fitness, really serious. As I ran up the same road, dubbed ‘Heartbreak Hill’ by runners, I was going through exactly what Gerry described, the pain, the tears, the whirlwind of doubt in your mind pushing you to just step to the side, let others past and give up. I started this blog with that specific quote because it really makes my point better than I ever could. Gerry & I, different people, different years, different experiences, but really we were the same, the same feelings, the same emotions, the same decisions to make. I really hope he doesn’t take offence at my comparison.
I picked up ‘Who Dares, Runs’ just 3 days ago and practically read it non stop, it is an inspiring read and I would wholeheartedly recommend it for everyone, not just athletes. What I understood from it though was that no matter who we are, we all have it within ourselves to make good our dreams and beliefs, you just need to step outside the comfort zone we wrap around ourselves and take the first step.
Many people mentioned that during ‘Operation Transformation’ I was an inspiration, I never saw it that way. In fact, I always felt that my success came from my selfishness and dedication to better myself and ultimately to make sure my children have a father who made the effort to be around and see them grow up. I understood that as a Leader on the programme, thousands of people took me into their living rooms, ate what I ate, exercised when I did and hopefully saw some success from it. Any more than that and I began to feel a little uncomfortable as to their interest in what I did; but you put yourself into a reality TV show, that’s to be expected!
Having read ‘Who Dares, Runs’, I have a much better understanding of what they meant, if I had a hand in helping anyone reach a target or goal I’m delighted but I still feel that everyone has it within themselves to make a change in their lives, no matter what that change is. Sometimes we become to comfortable and start each day not expecting to make any difference, but tomorrow is not only a new day, but a new year; the 1st january is the right time for anybody to step outside their comfort zone.
I’m writing this blog primarily for myself. It will motivate me and help me focus on my goals. I think that blogs are actually a little indulgent on the authors part, sure if someone wanted to listen to me they have more than enough opportunity to do it elsewhere! But if you fancy coming on this ride with me and we can help each other along then thanks, I appreciate it. Please feel free to leave a comment, be it a good one or perhaps not so good. I can only learn from my mistakes and everyone needs that seventy year old man standing there, ready to lift them up when they fall.
*NOTE – ‘Who Dares, Runs” by Gerry Duffy is published by Ballpoint Press. I picked it up in Easons and I’m sure it is in a bookshop near you. I would really recommend it.