My knee was banjaxed, so I went for a run

Opinion: Many Irish now embrace the religion of running and refuse to be moderate with it

‘It is difficult to stop running even when it is patently bad for various bits of you.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘It is difficult to stop running even when it is patently bad for various bits of you.’ Photograph: Getty Images

Fri, Jun 6, 2014, 12:01

In October 1978, an article in the current affairs magazine Magill referred to a new Irish habit: “Huge numbers of adults of all shapes and sizes are to be seen doing it in public, with no trace of embarrassment, confident they are part of one of the great mass movements of the 1970s. The phenomenon of jogging is upon us.” This was the Irish manifestation of what was happening internationally and the Dublin city marathon soon followed. I remember my own parents’ preparations for running the Dublin marathon in 1981; my father asked me to stand outside the house and hold a plastic cup of water so he could practise running by and grabbing the water to make sure he would be able to drink without stopping during the marathon.

That seemed slightly nerdy, but such feelings were far outweighed by pride after my parents’ successful marathon completions. My mother ran a second marathon a few years later and it took her a long time to forgive me, after I stood in the Phoenix Park at a difficult stage of the race and shouted to her “Ma, can you not go any faster?” It was only when I started running that I realised how cruel that question was. At that moment in the Phoenix Park, quite justifiably, my mother hated me.

Irish running in the 1980s coincided with economic recession, and a few decades later in austerity Ireland, it is more popular than ever, but many are now taking their exertion to so-called “ultra” levels. It is hardly surprising that the ultra runs – up Croagh Patrick, or around the Ring of Kerry, or in full fire fighting garb, or a marathon a day for a year– are embraced in Ireland, where there is little appetite for moderation, but what are the long-term consequences likely to be?

My eldest daughter is now the age I was when my parents were marathon runners, and though I do not do marathons, I have been running far too long on concrete, which led to her interest in a letter I was reading that had just arrived to the house, from an orthopaedic surgeon. It was full of mystifying language – “tear of the posterior horn of the medial meniscus…osteochondral lesion of the medial femoral condyle” – but I was aware it did not amount to good news. “What’s in that letter”? my daughter demanded to know. “It says my knee is banjaxed”, I responded. “Is banjaxed the same as the F word”? she further inquired. “Indeed it is” I replied. I then strapped up the knee and went for a run to deal with the stress of it all.

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