Hills - at least five - and the Sound of Music

An Irishman’s Diary about the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon


“Did that feckin’ band wake you up this morning?” a neighbour asked me on Monday afternoon. She was talking about the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, which had not only visited our Dublin neighbourhood earlier in the day, but set up one of its music stages at the spot. A little sheepishly, I had to admit that, no, the band didn’t wake me up, because I was running past it at the time.

That made me a collaborator in the noise pollution, but I couldn’t feel too guilty. From where I heard it, if anything, the music was a bit quiet for the motivational purposes it was supposed to serve. We were nearly four miles gone by then, and it still wasn’t 9am on an August bank holiday Monday. Sleep-deprived and undertrained, I needed all the encouragement I could get.

One of the difficulties with sleeping in July and August, I find, is that my children and I spend this part of year in different time zones. Theirs is KST – Kids’ Summer Time – which is about three hours behind Greenwich.

So they stay up late, noisily, and sleep until noon. And they find it difficult enough to grasp the concept that, despite the school holidays, Daddy still has to work, without trying to persuade them that, just because he feels the compulsion to get up at dawn occasionally and run 13 miles, they should go to bed early too.

The best I can hope is that they’ll keep the noise down, but even that can be a mixed blessing. The muted rustles from downstairs just sound like mice under the floorboards. If I somehow sleep through that, there’s still the compulsory 3am wake-up to turn off lights and check that they haven’t started any fires.

In an attempt to deploy guilt the night before Monday’s race, I had suggested they might like to get up in the morning and cheer me on, since this wouldn’t involve much effort on their parts.

But in the event, the band wasn’t loud enough to wake them in time. So I had to make do with musical encouragement, subdued as it was. And in general, music or no music, I was struck by how quiet Dublin is on an August bank holiday morning. Even the few spectators who did turn out along the route behaved like they were the subject of noise restriction orders.

I happened to be running for a while alongside a man with a very extrovert personality. He kept up a nonstop patter with his fellow participants: part humorous, part motivational. And he was also on a mission to work up some atmosphere among the bystanders.

He had a different joke for every silent, unapplauding onlooker. But in return for this vast expenditure of energy, which must have added 10 minutes to his finish time, the most enthusiastic reaction he inspired was from a group of terriers in Ballyfermot. Oh well, it was 9am on a bank holiday Monday. I suppose we were lucky people didn’t throw stuff at us.

Long silences apart, the other striking thing about the race was the number of hills. It was as if the organisers had gone out of their way to find them. In fact, that’s just what they did, sometimes.

We were running down the quays at one point, for example, and off to our left was Winetavern Street: climbing picturesquely towards Christchurch, but otherwise minding its own business. We could have passed it with a glance.

Instead we found ourselves obliged to turn into it, for a loop of the city’s old Viking quarter, whose altitude was a good idea for Vikings, but not for runners. The detour lent new meaning to the concept of “hitting the wall”. In this case it was the old city wall, and we were hitting it only in the tourist sense, but it was no less energy-sapping.

The Christchurch hill was at least photo-optically necessary: as we found out afterwards, it was the central feature of the race medal. All the other deviations from sea-level must have been just for added scenery. If the organisers could have got 7,000 runners over it safely, we’d probably have had to cross the Halpenny Bridge too.

Anyway, tough as the race was, I was glad to have done it. The good thing about the 8.30am start, as a fellow finisher remarked during the walk back from the Phoenix Park, was that we had it out of the way now and it was still morning. I agreed with him that it was great to have “the whole day ahead of us yet”. Then I went back to bed.



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