I vowed never to do that again, so what the hell am I doing?

Will the Dublin Marathon leave me a dishevelled hollow of a man or will it make me a connoisseur of Dublin culture

Daniel Stewart, former professional cyclists, is  off his wheels for the Dublin Marathon. Photograph: Lily Duffield

Daniel Stewart, former professional cyclists, is off his wheels for the Dublin Marathon. Photograph: Lily Duffield

 

Along Malaga’s everlasting coastline, rows of palm-trees watch turquoise waves brush against golden beaches, producing a Zen soundtrack for all beach-goers to nap, read and relax – an optimal place to enjoy a weekend getaway.

I’m not doing that.

I’ve chosen this weekend, like every other weekend before this marathon, to run.

Running and frying for the past 90 minutes in horrendous heat, I only glance at the waves hitting the shore to tally up whether sticking my head in the freezing salty foam will cool me down, or not. The palm trees are unwelcome, dripping sticky sap to suck my soles to the pavement as I plod along below them.

A rucksack filled with cheap orange squash around my candy-cane coloured torso, I wheeze along the coastline. It becomes apparent I am the opposite of the beach’s beauty – topless girls and macho men, chilling out, laughing and chatting. All bronzing, and bronzing further, while I increasingly chisel out a rouge farmer’s tan.

Dressed ridiculously, red-hot, but my main issue is my bowels.

Every couple of kilometres there is a toilet.

Every couple of kilometres I discover a locked toilet door.

Grabbling further down the coast, I remain persistent that one will be open. A burning lightbulb above my head sizzles, as I recall the Marina has toilets open to all, even for buffoons who decide to run at the hottest time of the day.

Trudging to the toilet entrance, I feel every bubble in my soft-soled runners. With more perspiration flowing off my body than the water from the toilet taps, I stumble into a cubicle, grateful to find it open and vacant.

Exhausted, sighing, I collapse on the toilet seat with a sweat-infused squeak, pondering,

“What the hell am I doing?”

Maybe the question should be, “Why am I not doing this more often?”

Previously a professional cyclist, I have finished off many an exercise session with a sit-down-wee. Already, I have experienced an alternative way to travel through a petrol forecourt: crawling; directly to the sweet aisle to gobble enough Haribo for sufficient vision to throw coins at the blurred figure of a bemused cashier. An ugly, exhaustive, overheating, overpowering hobby is not a special offer for a limited time only.

Daniel Stewart ahead of the pack during his cycling days
Daniel Stewart ahead of the pack during his cycling days

Pushing to exhaustion is in one’s nature.

I’ve done one marathon before, in my hometown of Belfast. Hitting it with the same enthusiasm of my school PE teacher as he coaxed me into the Ulster Cross-Country championships due to “big lungs” and nothing else, I streamed past runners to the halfway point. Cresting the ascent of the Antrim Road, 13 miles and 90 minutes of the day past, I thought I was onto a winner.

I wasn’t.

My form lay stranded at the top of that incline, as I descended closer towards Belfast Lough. Feet pounding the ground, my heart started to bombard my chest, attempting to communicate in Morse code to stop this nonsense!

Realising this was not an option; my body added lungs to the mix: 13 miles of carbon dioxide took effect, spasming to the thud of my frantic heartbeat. Miles became longer; smiles became a distant memory, as I creeped towards the finish, utterly broken. I had heard of people being in similar situations and dying from devotion to complete an event, and was worried I was going to be another statistic, prey to their own pride. Maybe I already was, and the ghost of me endeavoured to complete what my mortal form couldn’t?

Morse code messages became more frantic as I heaved along the Lagan towpath, the end close, but not close enough. Curving around the River Lagan, I could hear the finish before I saw it: a tortuous sensual onslaught.

But I did it. I was still alive, still lying on the pavement just after the finish, with my judgment still intact. And with that judgment, I vowed never ever, to do that again.

“What the hell am I doing?” I ask myself again.

In Dublin this Sunday, over 26.2 miles, I will be doing it all again.

It can’t be as bad as last time, can it?

Abundant and open, toilets will be a-plenty. I will gallop from Fitzwilliam Street to Dublin Zoo; become a running tourist around Phoenix Park, guzzle Lucozade, dine on High 5 gels; bathe in Tipperary Water while I listen to FM 104. Will the Dublin Marathon leave me a dishevelled hollow of a man, a temporary ghost? Or will it make me a connoisseur of Dublin culture, as the metropolitan route would suggest?

Once the winner has been on the podium, received his champagne, accepted his flowers and thanked the fans . . . returned to his hotel, ran the bath, stretched out his well-trained legs, hopped in the bath to relax . . . I would then be happy to crawl over the finish line.

It will be an experience, filled with noises, flavours, encouragement and achievement. I look forward to being on the start line with the winner, the fundraisers, the hard-grafters, and all the other masochists.

October 29th, 2017, will be a good day.

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