Sinead Kissane: Rediscovering the pleasure of what it takes to run a marathon
For years, my dad, David, had given up on running. The last marathon he took part in was nearly a quarter of a century ago in the 1993 London Marathon when he slugged it out until the four-and-a-half-hour torture finally came to an end.
As if hitting the wall early wasn't bad enough, it struck my father how dramatically he was slowing down the older he got, compared to the three hours he ran his second marathon in, in Dublin in 1982, which was won by his former secondary school team-mate Jerry Kiernan. When I asked him this week what he remembers about that day in London, he said: "It's not what I want to remember, it's what I want to forget!" It seems the pleasure of running became lost in the pain of it all.
My father became disillusioned about athletics from the drug cheating in pro sport to seeing people with knee and hip injuries pounding the roads which did little to help their biomechanics. This growing disinterest came from a dad who had passed on his love of athletics to his three kids, who helped set up our club St Brendan's AC in Ardfert in Kerry and who coached us, and who even reached for running to try and impress my mother when he first met her in Ballybunion in the 1970s by telling her that he finished third in the county seniors 1,500m the previous weekend. My mom, who typically didn't mention that her brother Tom used to run for Ireland at that time, politely replied that his name didn't ring a bell with her.
Running has a strange boomerang effect where it eventually comes back to you. Or as dad likes to quote from the most profound philosopher of our time - Andy Dufresne in 'The Shawshank Redemption' - 'no good thing ever dies'. He thinks some forms of cynicism about sport aren't good for your well-being and recounts what the former Mayo manager James Horan said when asked about the refereeing decisions following their All-Ireland semi-final replay defeat to Kerry in 2014: "I am not looking at referees' calls because it is not good for the soul."
So, dad let go of his cynicism about running and after a 23-year hiatus decided earlier this year that he was going to run the Dublin Marathon to help raise funds for the parish magazine he's editor of in Ballydonoghue where he grew up.
They say you know someone is training for a marathon because they never stop talking about it. And then there's my dad. When he told my mom that he was going to run the Dublin marathon at the age of 63, she asked for one thing.
To some, it's inappropriate to discuss politics or religion at meal-time. My mother asked for no marathon talk. And yet, before he goes out for a run in Banna or down the road, dad would find his training gear neatly folded and freshly pressed waiting for him in the hot-press at home.
He began his training for tomorrow's Dublin Marathon on April Fool's Day and injured himself on his first three days out running. No joke. In typical dad fashion, we would get updates about his latest injuries and pains as if they weren't real until we all knew about them.
Since he retired seven years ago from his job as a teacher in Tarbert, my father has been busy. But taking up running again has brought an added structure to his days and he has reconnected more with the community in Ardfert.
Locals would see him out running and tell him how much time he's left until the big day and wish him well. He rejoined St Brendan's AC and a few weeks ago ran in the Kerry Masters Cross-Country. He was the only one in the Over-60 category so he ran with the Over-45s. Perhaps running with those younger than you also has a way of making you feel young again. Tomorrow will be my dad's eighth marathon overall but he expects it to be different from the others. In his first marathon in Dublin in 1981, he remembers hitting the wall around Clontarf and he started questioning why he was doing it. "Hitting the wall is where you lose the logic of what you're doing," he says. But a part of him is looking forward to hitting the wall tomorrow and seeing how he will react this time. He doesn't seem to fear the possibility of losing logic because he decided he's not doing the marathon for himself.
When he ran the Belfast Marathon in the early 1990s with his friend Danny Sinnott, they passed through an area with Union Jack flags. Out of the crowd of supporters on the footpath, a small local girl ran up to my dad and asked him if he wanted a few of her chips. He was feeling crap at the time so eating the chips he'd been offered wouldn't exactly make sense. But that's what he did. He came to see the generosity of that local girl as the future of the peace process and he will keep that memory with him tomorrow.
The biggest difference for my father is tomorrow will be his first time running a marathon as a granddad. When my sister told him that his grandson Rowan will be out on the course to support him, he said it did something for him that he's never felt before and he's looking forward to giving his finisher's medal to his one-and-a-half-year-old grandson. Maybe being around young people has a way of making you feel young again.
My dad plans on taking in the whole experience tomorrow which will feel even more like a sports day now that it's on a Sunday. He grew up in Ballydonoghue in north Kerry with his father telling him how Dublin was a great place on All-Ireland final day, and while my dad has worked and studied in Dublin since, he will fall back on that support tomorrow. In typical dad fashion, he says he wants to be like Jack O'Shea in the parade on All-Ireland final day and soak it all in. Maybe hitting the wall will only deter him as much as he didn't allow his age to stop him.
Whatever about the pain, dad has rediscovered the pleasure of running again.