I’ve always loved running. I love looking down and seeing my feet have a race with each other to see which gets somewhere before the other. I love the swishness of being able to balance on two legs and move fast and not fall over. The best part of being a kid is that you can run anywhere, up town, down the street, to the shop. When I was a Mass server, I used to run the mile to the church and run back. I always ran to school. And ran faster coming home. Much faster. I love to run because basically walking never gets me where I want to go fast enough. And if you walk too fast, it’s a look that's just a little too John Inman… And when you get older and enter adulthood, running in the streets is not so cool. Because we become so conscious of what we are doing and what people might think, as if running is an immature thing to do. If a guy is seen running now in town, it’s because there’s more likely a shop security guard running 50 yards behind him. Or a pickpocket 50 yards ahead. At least that’s my experience, your honour.
We’ve relegated the joy of simply running to times when we’re kitted out for it in skinhugging lycra that says plainly “This Man Is Running. It’s Ok. He’s Not Mad. Really. Ok Just a Bit Then.” We squeeze into running gear with luminous stripes and colourful runners to clearly signify that we are running because we want to. That we are conforming. That I am running because this is running gear. For running in. OK?
I now run about 25k a week. Not because I maintain hopes of Rio but for the tremendous thinking space that you get when you are propelling your body forwards along a country road. When you shake the bejaysus out of life’s worries on a run, by the time you get home, they are milled and easily consumed and solved. There is a lifetime of music and podcasts to be listened to, if the screenplay is my mind isn't fulfilling enough for my brain. And then there is the tremendous rush that a lashing rain on the face or a strong breeze gives you. A sort of reminder from nature that says “yes man, while you were in the gym rowing a pretend boat, I, the wind, was out here blowing but you were nowhere to be found.” Nature exists so that we can coexist with it. And when you’re running, that coexistence is sheer bliss.
So why am I suddenly talking about running?
This Saturday more than 3,000 people will run through the city of Galway for the annual Streets of Galway 8k (five miles in old money ). What makes this one special is that this is the 30th year that the event has been held, three decades of getting people off their couches and on to the streets, Three decades of proving to people that they can run, and that it doesnt matter whether you wobble or whether your arse is the size of Ballymacward. It doesn’t matter that you don’t win. Or should I say that you don’t cross the line first, because by getting up and doing the run, you are winning. The wonderful Galway 5k series held every May and June has as its motto that you are only ever running against yourself. And that is so true. And that is why I’m running in this Saturday night's Streets.
The 30th Streets of Galway also comes at a time when more people than ever are running. With gym memberships falling due to the recession and with people eager to replace expensive pursuits in their lives with affordable accessible ones, the lust for road running has become insatiable. While Pat Shortt may have lampooned powerwalkers in Kilnaskully, five years on, it seems the whole country is roadrunning.
This Saturday night when the route swings past the hospital (if I make it that far ), I’ll think back a year to the time when I spent a month there and I’ll devote whatever little energy I’ve left to the staff in HDU who ensured I was able to run this year, at a time when I wondered if I’d ever walk again. I will also especially think of all those people in there who would love to be able to run the Streets. And send them the energy to believe that they can and that they will.
Well done to all the organisers of the Streets. What you have done is marvellous. You have given Galway a legacy of running to be proud of. You have also given a basis of fundraising to many charities which will benefit from runners in Saturday's run. I'm running for MADRA, but every charity is represented among the participants.
Come out and support the runners this year and imagine yourself as a participant next year, if not in this run but in any of the organised runs in your area. Start off with one step, walking, then grow it bit by bit. And before you know it, we'll be running side by side, comparing Lycra and asking each other "does my bum look big in this?"