Great run, and the support was pretty good too

An Irishman’s Diary: Limerick proves a lady for 10,000 race participants

‘The Great Limerick Run is formed by several tributaries that start separately and follow different courses before converging into a single torrent of humanity.’ Photograph: Kieran Clancy

‘The Great Limerick Run is formed by several tributaries that start separately and follow different courses before converging into a single torrent of humanity.’ Photograph: Kieran Clancy

Wed, May 8, 2013, 06:00

As befits an event centred on the mouth of the Shannon, the Great Limerick Run is formed by several tributaries that start separately and follow different courses before converging into a single torrent of humanity.

First there’s the relatively slow-moving but majestic marathon; then the stately half marathon; and finally there’s the six-mile race, a short vigorous affair noted for its dangerous eddies and cross-currents, especially in the early stages.

Even allowing that the starts are staggered, it should make for problems when the races converge. Yet somehow it doesn’t. True, there was a bit of minor flooding around Henry Street on Sunday, where the start of the six-miler hit the back markers of the longer events and briefly overwhelmed the drainage.

But no doubt helped by the experience of having a big river running through it for centuries, the city centre coped well. Like the Shannon itself, usually, the combined run passed without incident.

The coincidence of the different races did make for some interesting moments, however. Early in the six-mile, for example, already labouring a little and rehearsing my excuses, I passed a man who was running on one leg and crutches.

Given the circumstances, he was fairly hurtling along. And I found myself simultaneously startled and lost in admiration. “Jesus – Fair play!” I exclaimed, applauding as I went.

Then a few paces on, there was another man doing the same thing, only slightly faster. So I clapped him as well, astonishment growing. I learned afterwards they were members of rival teams of amputees, running the full marathon in six-mile relays, without prosthetics, to make a point about disability.

And it probably wasn’t the point they had in mind. But I made a mental note then and there never again to exaggerate about a pain-barrier-defying sports star – even Brian O’Driscoll – “playing on one leg”. In the meantime, shamed by the heroics of the lads on crutches, I shelved all my excuses.

It was in any case hard not be lifted by the atmosphere. For me, this reached one of several high points near Thomond Park, where there happened to be a water station. In the races I’m used to, water comes in plastic cups, and no amount of experience teaches how to drink out of those things while running.

If you’re lucky, you ingest some of the contents nasally, like an elephant. Most of it goes down your T-shirt. This is not conducive to feeling like an athlete.

In Limerick, by contrast, it was all plastic bottles – 40,000 of them, apparently – with drinking nozzles pre-extended. Safely hydrated, you could then drop the bottle, or save the organisers work afterwards and throw it in one of the recycling bins.

I was on the wrong side of the road for the bins. But inspired by the crowd, and the famous rugby pitch, and a momentary delusion of athleticism, I went for a fancy, one-handed off-load. It was embarrassing, therefore, when the bottle sailed about three feet over the bin and hit the wall behind. It’s hard to have soft hands under pressure.

Limerick seems to have an intense relationship with water, generally. As if the Shannon and 40,000 bottles weren’t enough, one or two residents along the route also deployed hoses to spray runners down. I ran under one myself, just because it was there and it seemed like bad manners to avoid it. But I did wonder if it was strictly necessary.

The air temperature was about 13 degrees: just above average for May. I doubt if the Moroccan winner of the six-miler needing hosing. Then again, it probably wasn’t for him or me. As we know from Frank McCourt, it rains a lot around the Shannon estuary, normally. On a relatively dry weekend like the one just past, perhaps locals need to be kept externally hydrated at all times, like beached dolphins.

Anyway, it was all part of the city’s enthusiasm for the event, which was highly infectious. In fact, cheered on by some very vocal female volunteers near the end of the race, I was reminded of one of things that in recent years has helped turn me into a born-again runner.

Like many middle-aged men, I find increasingly that road races like this are the only circumstances now wherein women you’ve never met before will happily urge you to go “all the way”. And I don’t know why, but the women of Limerick seem particularly good at it. Against which, as we’ve already noted, they do also keep cold-water hoses handy, just in case.

fmcnally@irishtimes.com