As a child of the 1970s and '80s in the west of Ireland there was little by way of television to keep me entertained and nothing by way of computer games save for a pretty mindless black and white game of Pong that I was given for my 10th birthday – aside from Subbuteo it was the best present I ever got.
Instead of indoor pursuits we had hideously dangerous building sites to climb all over – health and safety rules did not apply to children of the ’70s and ’80s and parents were far too busy chain smoking and having coffee mornings and watching royal weddings to bother all that much with what we were up to.
The other thing we had was sport.
I was into every single sport I could find. I played hurling – very badly – and was only marginally better at football. I fancied myself as a soccer player but no one else did and I rarely made it on to school teams and when I did I only ever made the grade as an unpicked substitute.
I tried handball (hands too soft) and basketball (way too short) and even had a go at the shot putt. I got the sense it wasn’t for me when I managed to drop the stupidly heavy metal ball on my foot as I limbered up for my first - and only - competition.
Then, in my mid-teens my PE class was unexpectedly given over to a cross country championship trial. I was - and I don’t mean to brag here - only amazing. I finished second out of a class of 30 and was immediately picked to represent my school in a provincial championship.
The day of the race came and in preparation I ate my body weight in bananas and drank buckets of water. It was a 5km race across a muddy field and after a couple of laps I was well placed in the middle of the pack.
That moment was, sadly, to represent the peak of my running achievements.
Whether it was the over consumption of bananas or the desperate desire to pee almost as soon as the starting pistol went, I started to fall behind. I finished not quite last, but certainly much closer to last than first.
Despite my devastation I still fancied myself as a runner.
Despite the passage of time I still kind of do.
Every now and then over the last 20 years the mood takes me and I "go for a run". I make a real song and dance over the getting ready and the setting off. And then I run around the Phoenix Park for three or four kilometers before collapsing in a heap at home, delighted and telling myself that the only reason I stopped was boredom and I could easily have kept going.
Sometimes I do keep going and there have been occasions when I have covered 7km – or so my smarter-than-me watch tells me.
To be more precise, 7.4km is my record which is far but not really that far. Despite the realities of the situation I still imagine I would be really good at a 10km run. Sometimes my imagination runs quite a distance and when I hear people talking about their times in such events I nod supportively while telling myself quietly that I could probably do a lot better than that.
So when the Health & Family Editor loomed large over my desk in the run up to Christmas and demanded that I run through the dead of winter and then write about it, I put down the mince pie doughnut and said yes without giving it any thought.
As he brushed the shower of sweet pastry off his face, he outlined some options, the hardest of which was to see me take on a 10km run.
“Sure that will be no bother to me,” I thought to myself.
A day later I went for a run in the park. I limped home after less than three kilometers, my knees burning in protest.
I fear I have a long way to go.
Conor Pope's 10km challenge
Part 1: That'll be no bother to me
Part 2: I'm hobbling like an auld fella
Part 3: Better off going to the pub
Part 4: My fitness app sounds disappointed
Part 5: My first parkrun was mortifying
Part 6: Running is boring
Part 7: Tell me why... I don't like rundays
Part 8: You run like a rhino
Part 9: I've never felt less like an athlete
Part 10: I was wrong to think running was easy
Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!).
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!