Not a pretty picture as Vinny hits the wall on the southside
What seemed like a good idea now felt like a marathon mistake
Vinny Fitzpatrick knew he was in deep trouble when the lady on crutches pulled away from him on Nutley Lane.
He had stuck to her pins grimly, tapping into the monotonous clicking of her props on the tarmac, and using them as a spur to keep his flabby legs moving onwards.
But his energy levels had long since dipped into the red zone and he was forced to pause at the gates to St Vincent’s Hospital for his umpteenth breather of the day.
Not the worst place to keel over, he thought to himself with gallows humour. Looking around, he considered his plight. “Three more bloody miles. Is there no end to this misery?” he gasped.
Hardly anyone heard him, for darkness was falling in the capital, and the novelty of the day had worn off the locals, who had better things to do on a Bank Holiday evening than cheer on bedraggled stragglers clogging up the city arteries.
By now, almost all the 14,000 runners in the Dublin City Marathon had clocked in at the finish and were resting their weary bones, cup of char to hand, or something stronger. A few laggards were still scattered in the suburbs, among them the 55-year-old overweight bus driver.
Vinny knew he was in a bad place, which had nothing to do with being marooned in a part of the city he tried to avoid, save for a trip to Leopardstown for the races.
He was panting hard and throbbing painfully in a most a peculiar place – his nipples, which were chafing with every rub of the over-sized luminous pink singlet that dangled over his capacious stomach.
He could, had he chosen, removed his top but that was never going to happen, not on this day of days, not when the words “Doing It For Angie” were stencilled on, front and back.
He thought back to the start in Fitzwilliam Square, a lifetime ago. As he had waited in wave three among the slow coaches, all full of cheery bonhomie, he had been offered a mini-jar of Vaseline from one of the race helpers.
“Not for me, I’m fine. Already liberally applied,” he joked tapping his fleshy nose with a one of those need to know nods.
If the smears of Vaseline had done their trick on his bushy brows, heels and the delicate nether regions where the sun didn’t shine, he’d crucially overlooked his nipples, which were now as rough and red as a badger’s backside.
Stumbling on in Dublin 4, he turned left on to Merrion Road and began the final leg of the nightmare.
What had he been thinking? How had he allowed the lads persuaded him that taking part in the marathon – there was no need to say running, for that was inappropriate – might rescue his marriage?
“When Angie sees how far you are prepared to go to show your undying love for her – all 26 miles and a bit – sure she’ll have you back in the morning,” urged Fran.
“We’ll take photos of you before the race, during and after, and we’ll pop them in to the letter box first thing the next morning. The pictures will tell the story of a thousand words. Trust me.”
Fran’s argument seemed sound after a gallon of porter; not so now. Not when Vinny was on his the last of his stumpy trotters, dizzy and increasingly disoriented.
By his reckoning, he was the most ill-prepared competitor in the entire field as his training had consisted of 18 holes of golf in Carrickbrack the previous Saturday.
Everyone else had put in the hard miles, the dawn patrols, the evening runs; he had blithely sauntered after a scratched Top Flite on Howth Head, expecting to morph into next Abebe Bikele. It was a joke, only he wasn’t laughing.
At his shoulder
He wondered where the lads had got to, and why they weren’t at his shoulder, providing encouragement and refreshment – he was hungry and quite parched.
A tiny part of him was secretly glad his corner-men weren’t by his shoulder because he knew he would beg them to end the punishment, to stop this madness now .
Vinny heard the toot of a horn behind him and half turned, slightly dazzled by its lights. It was a wagon of some sort which crept up behind him, and revved its engine gently.
It was, Vinny convinced himself, the Broom Wagon, like the one which trailed the cyclists in the Tour de France and swept up those who couldn’t hack it any more. Many riders had been caged in the ‘Voiture Balai’, shamed and sorry.
‘Get off the bloody road, ye lard arse,’ roared the driver as he pulled out and gunned past.
As Vinny shuffled along, he stared to hallucinate. He imagined he had company, an old friend, J Alfred Prufrock who joined Vinny on “the half-deserted streets, the muttering retreats” as they shuffled over Ball’s Bridge, “not Ballsbridge, never Ballsbridge” tut-tutted Vinny aloud.
At Shelbourne Road, J Alfred ghosted from his side with a warning about descending the stair with the bald spot in the middle of the hair. “It’s too late for that Alfred, too late,” giggled Vinny inanely as he patted the few strands of hair left on his knobbly head.
Without J Alfred, Vinny was suddenly alone, all alone.
Tottering from side to side as he breasted the Grand Canal, Vinny thought of little Dorando Pietri, stumbling and staggering as Olympic glory beckoned in London. “Dorando, you were done like a kipper,” he said to himself.
Briefly, the cobwebs cleared and clarity returned to Vinny’s befuddled brain.
“Good Jesus, don’t dare die on the southside,” he muttered to himself. “Croker, Dalyer, even St Anne’s, but not here in this forsaken place.”
And then, he felt them, strong arms by his side, hauling him upright, and voices he recognised, Fran and Macker.
“About bleedin time the Cavalry arrived,” wheezed Vinny.
It took ten minutes or so before Vinny was sufficiently recharged with a cup of milky sugary tea, a banana, bar of Twix and two comforting blobs of Vaseline.
The short, sharp, shock, left him energised, and lucid enough, to walk the final mile.
At Merrion Square, where they were taking down barriers and packing up for the night, Vinny crossed the line, knelt down on one knee and blessed himself.
With that, Vinny toppled over, and lay heaving on the tarmac, like a beached Leviathan of the deep.
It was the Kodak moment the lads were waiting for.