Monthly Archives: August 2013

How it took me 93 days to run 10k

Back on track.

Back on track.

THE REALISATION came 40 minutes in, just after the service station and before the yelping terrier.

After 93 days of pain, rest, stretching, rolling, cursing and – slowly, slowly – running again it struck me: I was going to complete the 10k.

Thirteen weeks after I limped into my physiotherapist’s clinic I was finally back to my regular running distance.

I’ve written before on how I was injured. A sprained toe broke the camel’s back of my bad habit of not stretching, which kicked off plantar fasciitis (PT) in both feet.

I was ordered off running and onto foam rolling, with a shot of dry needling thrown in for a bit of variety.

In the weeks after I moved from walks to 5k jogs to 7.5k runs. I even hiked Lugnaquilla on a 13k loop.

But, until last Saturday I hadn’t attempted my usual distance in a run.

The final couple of kilometres weren’t easy, and running half the route on concrete was foolhardy, but I made it over the line.

Initially I felt good. Twenty-fours hours later darts of pain through my soles warned me not to overdo it.

That’s the odd thing about this habit. I spent the summer recovering and re-training to reach a position where I could easily injure myself again.

The plantar fascia, on the sole of the foot. Pic: Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body

The plantar fascia, on the sole of the foot. PT causes it to swell.
Pic: Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body

Strangely, the risk of another serious injury doesn’t bother me like I thought it would. Perhaps the hours of stretching, glute lifts and other tedious exercises have finally taught me patience.

But there’s something else.

As I’ve gotten older the spectre of pain has loomed larger in physical exercise, be it running or hiking.

If it’s not to the fore it’s always out there somewhere, 10 or 50 or 100k down the road, at the bottom of the next hill.

When I first blogged on my injury back in May my friend C wrote to me, observing that many runners, as they age, appear to be hooked on battling pain.

This is somewhat true, I think. My youthful 20s are a distant memory and I’ve now factored discomfort into my running routine; it’s another element, like weather or time of day.

Writer Haruki Murakami, in his running memoir, recounts advice he once came across in an interview with a successful marathon competitor. “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional…The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself”.*

Good advice, but still I didn’t repeat last weekend’s 10k the following day. Not wanting to take a chance with pain, or suffering, I jogged out a cautious 7.5k.

I’m still not fully recovered. But I have that fresh 10k in my back pocket.

That’ll do – for now.


*Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Vintage, 2009), p vii

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We tipped our hats to Mr Chevron

Phil Chevron

Phil Chevron, New York, 2011.
Pic: Marnie Joyce

In Manhattan’s desert twilight, in the death of afternoon,
We stepped hand-in-hand on Broadway,
Like the first men on the moon…

Then we said goodnight to Broadway, giving it our best regards,
Tipped our hats to Mr Cohen,
Dear old Time Square’s favourite bard.

Then we raised a glass to JFK, and a dozen more besides…

Fifteen years later I can’t remember if that was me or the emigrant in Thousands Are Sailing, Phil Chevron’s song about the 1980s’ Irish-American diaspora.

For a brief time in the sticky, smoky, all-night summer of 1998, we seemed interchangeable.

My stay in Manhattan in September of that year was a brief one; Chevon’s song was populated by those who went and remained and perhaps never returned.

I stumbled up Broadway to a pal’s apartment; his characters rode the 7 train home to a room in Woodside, tools under the bed, next to their suitcase.

Such was the ’80s immigrant experience Chevron drew from. But his thousands numbered others: those who left the hillsides of Galway and Mayo in the 1840s on coffin ships to work the railroads to California, police the Five Points on the Lower East Side, staff the five and dimes in Southie.

“Did the old songs taunt or cheer you? Or did they still make you cry?” Chevron’s immigrant asks these earlier generations.

Astor Place, NYC, 2000. Pic: Yinka Oyesiku

‘In Brendan Behan’s footsteps…’
Astor Place, NYC, 2000.
Pic: Yinka Oyesiku

By the time I reached New York such questions were, for many Irish immigrants, historical. The friend I was staying with left Ireland to work for a technology company in lower Manhattan, connected with the multinational flow of the city and never looked back.

‘Irish-America’ still existed – Clinton’s involvement in the nascent Peace Process of that year attested to its strength – but it was long removed from the Sweepstakes or the Clancy Brothers on Ed Sullivan.

Thousands Are Sailing, though released a decade earlier, captured much of this. The song chronicled an immigration born of opportunity, not solely desperation – though the two surely became mixed at times, during the dark hours in the “rooms that daylight never sees”.

It’s possibly the Pogues’ greatest song, no small boast given that this was a band that produced the most famous take on late-20th century Irish-America.

It’s certainly Phil Chevron’s.

This Saturday night in Dublin there’s a celebration of his work at the Olympia Theatre. Thousands Are Sailing is sure to be sung. The night’s a testimonial show because Phil Chevron has, in his own words, “lethal” cancer.

I won’t be there to see and hear it.

But I’ll tip my hat to Mr Chevron, and his finest song, the next time I find myself in the desert twilight of Times Square.

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Want advice? Better get it in your soul

Charles Mingus, Manhattan, 1976 Pic: Tom Marcello

Charles Mingus, Manhattan, 1976
Pic: Tom Marcello

WANT TO be the best?

Yeah you do. And where do you go for advice? Your family, your best friend, Malcolm Gladwell, Simon Cowell, Twitter, a mirror?

How about taking tips from a notoriously temperamental, argumentative, sometimes clinically depressed, now deceased jazz musician?

Interested? Read on.


For much of my life I’ve believed (part of me still does) that outright competition with others, be they people, circumstances, history, expectations, is the only way to achieve success.

Over time it occurred to me that there might be another route. Instead of contesting with outside factors why didn’t I start competing with myself?

Now this could be a lengthy post on self-awareness, struggle, triumph and failure, the middle ground between the two, the endless search for contentment while always competing.

But you’re in luck – it’s more of a rimshot than a symphony.


schmichCharles Mingus came of musical age in the 1940s, a golden era of jazz when reputations were carved out and up at cutting contests in the clubs of New York’s 52nd Street.

Faster, better, sharper, more – this was speeding, breathless music for a racing, atomic era.

Later in life Mingus described those early years. “For a while I concentrated on speed and techniques almost as ends in themselves. I aimed at scaring all the other bass players,” he told an interviewer.

Until, out of the blue one evening, the bassist had an epiphany. “One night, when I was 18 or 19, all this changed. I began playing and didn’t stop for a long time. It was suddenly me, I wasn’t the bass anymore.

He went on: “I don’t dig any longer thinking in terms of whether one man is a ‘better’ bassist than another. Actually you’re up there – everyone is – trying to express yourself.”

Mingus took his battle inwards, competing with and against himself. This led to some of the finest music of the century.

I’m not Mingus. Neither are you. But maybe it’s time to ignore the external, get up there and express yourself.

Self improvement? Better get it in your soul.


All quotes are from an interview with Nat Hentoff, published in the liner notes to Charlie Mingus, Blues and Roots (Atlantic, 2002).

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Have you ever heard the rain?

Rain falling in Alsaace, France. Pic: Axel Rouvin

Rain falling in Alsace, France.
Pic: Axel Rouvin

IS THERE a more relaxing sound that rain falling on trees?

This dripping soundtrack was the silver lining to the cloud which encroached on Wexford overnight last Saturday, signalling an end to July’s heatwave.

Lying and listening, awake in the darkness, it occurred to me how rarely I actually hear rain (though I feel it plenty).

I doubt I’m the only one.

Precipitation is a source of constant complaint in Ireland. That’s not surprising, given that parts of the country experience an average of 225 wet days a year.

But focusing on the sight and the feel of rain – neither of which is usually very pleasant – usually means that I miss the sound, the consistent, light drum of falling drops on leaves.

The calming effect of this may be simply an aural impact, the drops creating a sound which slips into sync with my brainwaves.

It could also have a much deeper psychological resonance, a link to a primitive human past where rainfall meant renewal of life, or growth, or a ‘oneness’ with the environment and seasons.

Or maybe it’s just soothing because I’m lying indoors in a dry bed.

That said the sound struck me again as I walked home from work late the following evening.

Moving along the tree-lined road leading to our apartment drops began to fall on the car- and wind-less street.

Removing my headphones I stood and listen to the symphony, moving and changing as drops fell on higher leaves, or lower ones, or the pavement.

Brian Eno, 1974.

Brian Eno, 1974.

The effect was almost musical.

The two incidents put me in mind of an observation made by composer Brian Eno.

In 1975, recovering in hospital following a car accident, the musician observed how the sound of rain contributed to the ambience of an environment like certain light or music did.

In Eno’s case he observed the effect the falling rain had when it was mingled with the low-volume record of harp music he was playing in the room.

This conclusion subsequently led him to create a number of groundbreaking ‘ambient’ records – containing music which comes very close to replicating the calming effect of rainsounds.

Strangely enough Eno didn’t use rain samples on these recordings – or none I can can hear at least.* (Other artists have incorporated the sound; most famously, perhaps, The Doors).

And I’ve yet to hear a musical simulacrum which has the same effect as the real thing.

Until I do I’ll just keep opening a window.

Morning on the Seine in the Rain Claude Monet (1898)

‘Morning on the Seine in the Rain’
Claude Monet (1898)


*Unlike some other natural sounds. Two of my favourite recordings feature wind and fire – the wind on this Geir Jenssen Cho Oyo field recording and the fire crackling behind this Neil Young acoustic track.

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Croagh Patrick: On a wind, not a prayer

Croagh Patrick. Crisp and clear - until you climb it.Croagh Patrick. Crisp and clear - until you climb it.

Croagh Patrick. Crisp and clear – until you climb it.

SOME of the 20,000 people who attempted Croagh Patrick last Sunday probably think – understandably – that hiking is a mob pursuit one step removed from the January sales or All-Ireland final day.

A few may return and try the pilgrim’s path up The Reek over the winter months. If they do they’ll discover a very different mountain than that which they encountered on last Sunday.

For one of Ireland’s best known peaks, and certainly its most popular mountain walk, Croagh Patrick can be a lonely place for much of the year.

I’ve climbed it four or five times, mostly along the battered pilgrimage route from Murrisk, to the col and then on up to the summit itself.

The whims of Atlantic weather systems have ensured that I’ve never had a clear day on the summit and my memories of the upper reaches of St Patrick’s Stack (to give it its anglicised name) are rain-drenched, foggy and scoured by a searing Atlantic breeze.

Perhaps the conditions accounted for the fact that, every time I have climbed it, I have rarely encountered more than a couple of dozen people on the mountain – and even fewer when I took the lesser-traveled route from Lecanvey.

Misty mountain drop. The final path to the summit, 2008.

Misty mountain drop. The final path to the summit, October 2008.

As such I can’t imagine what the scree-choked final stretch, scene of multiple slips, sprains and concussions each year, is like when the pilgrim hordes descend.

Less John Bunyan and more Pieter Bruegel, I imagine.

I’ll take my chances with an ice-cream in the car-park below then.


When St Patrick first climbed Cruachan Aigle (the ‘eagle’s stack’, as the pagans dubbed it) in the fifth century he did so, presumably, to remove himself from people and find a place of prayer closer to God.

Standing alone on the summit, particularly in the snow or freezing westerly winds of winter, you can understand why he chose the peak – isolation is one of strongest feelings you’ll encounter.

(That is, unless you turn around and bump in the big white church, incongruously erected on the peak 100 years ago, and a subject for another post.)

You may also feel a closeness to your deity.

But you’ll certainly feel an increased proximity to nature, a comrade to the west wind’s “wanderings over heaven”.

Sheltering at structure close to summit, October 2008.

Sheltering at structure close to summit, October 2008.

It’s also unlikely you’ll want to hang around too long.

Few have the staying power of St Patrick, who was so enamoured of the summit that he reputedly made camp for 40 days and nights there.

Nonetheless the climb (740-odd meters of ascent on the pilgrims’ path), the exposure to the elements, and the astounding views of the glacier-carved Clew Bay below, make for a mind-cleansing solo experience.


Solitude and wilderness marked most of my climbs on Croagh Patrick. Except the last one.

That occurred in November 2010, the first weekend of a stretch of winter weather which yielded the notorious ‘Big Freeze’ of that year.

On this occasion I hiked the pilgrim’s path with my future wife to be.

We had driven over the snow-capped mountains from Connemara the previous day, past freezing lakes and spent the night in a local hotel.

Setting out early the next morning we encountered few people on the mountain, but much snow and ice, along with a freezing wind by the time we’d reached the col where the path turns to the cloud-covered summit.

At this point the weather was turning, the gale was gathering pace and a brief thought of Mallory and Irvine in the mist crossed my mind.

We turned back from our summit quest, snapping a picture as we did so.

It’s one of my favourite mountain shots and it shows that a spiritual pilgrimage doesn’t need 20,000 people – just two will do.

Team of two, Croagh Patrick, November 2011. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

Team of two, Croagh Patrick, November 2010.
Pic: Clare Kleinedler

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