I met my next child’s godfather at a 5km race

I managed to finish my first 5km race and make a new friend

 Damian Cullen: turning up an hour early for his first 5km race didn’t affect his non-existent pre-race preparations.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Damian Cullen: turning up an hour early for his first 5km race didn’t affect his non-existent pre-race preparations. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

6.30pm: Not knowing what to expect, I arrive a full hour early for my virgin road race – a 5km event run by a small athletics club in a tiny Tipperary village.
6.32pm: I’m signed up. It’s going to be a long wait. I’ve wasted no time in broadcasting my rookie status, staring quizzically at the woman at the registration desk after she points at a box of safety pins (they are, I know now, to fix the race number to your jersey).
6.45pm: There are joggers running past my car every few minutes. I decide against a warm-up. My only nod to my upcoming endeavour is not to recline the car seat.
7.15pm: I’m on a bus to the starting line. I wonder whether anyone would notice if I didn’t get off.
7.25pm: We’re told the bus has to go back to collect one last group. The race won’t start on time. I wonder how this will affect my pre-race preparations. I console myself with the fact I didn’t do any.
7.30pm: I chat with a fellow runner. I tell him about my novice status. This is his third race. He tells me 5km is a good one to start with, because “anyone can do a 5km”. I move away. I don’t need his positivity right now.
7.39pm: A whistle is blown and people gather immediately at the start line. I remember why I’m here.
7.40pm: We’re off. I decide to start at the back of the field – an early mistake. There are several lines of walkers in front of me – shoulder-to-shoulder the width of the country road. I wonder about the politeness of an overweight beginner asking people to move out of the way. My first couple of hundred yards will be spent weaving. My training – walking down train platforms – comes to the fore.
7.45pm: My watch taunts me that I’ve been running for only five minutes. The field is well spread out already, with only an orange-shirted man jogging close by.
7.50pm: I’ve done 2km: it says so in a chalk mark on the road. This would be wonderful if the race was just 2km. I’m struggling to keep pace with Orange Shirt.
7.51pm: I drop off the shoulder of Orange Shirt. He barks at me to keep up. I decide I will complain when we finish that his first words to me were quite rude. However, I comply. I’m not sure why.
7.54pm: I’m still smarting, but as we pass along narrow country roads we see few other runners, and only the odd race steward at junctions who offer encouragement and directions.
7.55pm: We pass the 3km chalk mark. Orange Shirt tells me I’m doing great. I return the compliment and we briefly discuss the drone that’s hovering overhead: presumably taking photographs but unnerving for those who hear drones and think terrorist strikes. I decide Orange Shirt isn’t so bad after all.
7.58pm: I’m flagging badly and upset that the race organisers forgot to mark the 4km spot. I tell Orange Shirt about my exhaustion and he reminds me I’ve over half the race done and we had come so far together we can’t give up now. I decide if I have another child I’m going to ask him to be godfather.
8.01pm: We pass the 4km mark.
8.03pm: We begin to jog up a long, steep hill. I wonder how I’ve driven the road so many times and not noticed a long, steep hill before. Orange Shirt hasn’t said anything for ages. I wonder was it something I said.
8.05pm: I daydream about a drone strike putting me out of my misery.
8.06pm: We round the final bend and find the local community lining the final few hundred yards, clapping and offering encouragement. Unsure of what an appropriate response should be, I smile, acknowledge every clap – and high-five two small children. I consider holding up Orange Shirt’s hand, but I decide it’s too early in our new relationship.
8.07pm: Myself and Orange Shirt cross the line together. We shake hands and he tells me that he was struggling for long periods of the race. It occurs to me that telling him how difficult the race was every 30 seconds might not have been that helpful. Every finisher is red-faced, exhausted and, in between large gulps of water, smiling.

Every week, there are road races being held throughout this island. This fact has passed me by happily for many years.

This weekend there are manageable 5km walks/jogs/runs in places such as Ferns, Co Wexford; Maynooth, Co Kildare; Rathcormac, Co Cork (there’s mud involved); Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath; Bennekerry, Co Carlow; and Claregalway, Co Galway.

Wear an orange shirt and perhaps I’ll see you there.

Damian’s stats

Age: 39
Height: 6ft
Weight: 14st 7lb (minus 2st)
BMI: 27.8 (-2.6)
Fat: 26.5% (-3.1)

Figures in brackets indicate change since March 10th when Damian started to change his diet and exercise habits, and to write this column.

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