“Don’t measure yourself by what you’ve accomplished, but rather by what you should have accomplished with your abilities.” – John Wooden
Saint Stephen’s Day. After a lovely lunch, I go for a long, long walk. The air is unusually mild for this time of year and it feels great to be away from a desk, away from a blinking cursor, away from the inbox, away from Twitter, out with the dog and free as a bird.I am, in my mind, fat, and the bathroom mirror reflects nothing but the truth every morning. I am an educated man and I am fat. I cannot claim to have any medical condition which has rendered me this chubby. Society didn’t distort me into this shape. Indeed, there is no thing I can cite which has rendered me in the midst of a mid-age spread before middle age has truly arrived. My protruding gut is no-one else’s doing but mine. I’m pushing 40 and I’m uncomfortable in my own skin: well, specifically, the excess of it. I’ve done this to myself. A pound shy of 17 stone (just under 108 kg), I feel every pound of it. I know this cannot go on.
And as I walk along a blissfully quiet road, a route I grew to know so well in my teenage years, running mile after mile at a time when I dreamt of wearing an Irish singlet some day, I tell myself that I can undo this. I resolve not to make a resolution but instead to renew an old habit, a pursuit which gave me some of the best days of my teenage years.
Just as I discovered the stage in my mid-teens, running came along at a time in my sporting life when soccer was pre-eminent, while Gaelic Football got the odd look-in. Nothing replicates competition. Winning is the ultimate. Doing one’s best is as good as it gets for most of us and during my track and cross-country career, I do pretty well.
I was never a natural athlete, but building mileage into the limbs and lungs provides me with a residual level of fitness that would later see me through several editions of the annual 10K road race this newspaper co-sponsored with WLR for several years. I actually won my section as a 16-year-old in that race’s predecessor, which finished on The Mall, with the prizegiving held in The Munster Bar, where one might find me a few nights this week after Waterford Musical Society’s staging of South Pacific (in the Theatre Royal until Saturday!).
I covered the 6.25 miles that autumnal Sunday in 36 minutes, 45 seconds; I reflect on that time with incredulity 24 years later. God, I really was pretty fast there for a stretch. I weighed just over 10 stone (63kg) at the time, and considering I was nine stone at the age of nine, you can see how important sport was in my conditioning.
There were a few outstanding runners in and around my age in Waterford at the time: Philip Harty over middle and long distance, Larry Morrissey at middle distance and Austin Flavin over the sprint disciplines as well as the murderous, lung emptying 800 metres.
I was never in any of these lads’ leagues, but I still reflect on pipping Austin (who now works with Teagasc) to 800-metre gold on the grass track at Saint Augustine’s College in the U-16 1995 County 800 metre Final, with great satisfaction. It was the one and only time I got the better of Austin, whose passion for Gaelic Football would later supersede his abundant track talent.
He was a great club mate, one of many I ran alongside in the colours of both Ring/Old Parish and West Waterford AC, which also included two fellow Portlaw lads, Trevor Walsh and Brian Swaby. And what times we had. The best of times. Two weeks ago, I packed my running gear before driving to Dungarvan to report on Waterford’s Munster Minor Football Championship draw with Limerick at Fraher Field. Manchester City and Tottenham might be playing out one of the great Champions League contests that same night, but once my reporting duties are dispensed with, I take a short spin to the gates of Saint Augustine’s College.I’ve not run here for over 20 years, but on that mild Wednesday night, 14 weeks into my running re-boot, the time feels like for a long overdue reunion with one of the country’s most celebrated cross-country circuits. I run just one lap in the twilight and it catalyses so many wonderful memories, of track success here during dry summers, and thriving in the cross-country treacle in both club and school colours over its fast, relatively flat route. I remember jumping into my Dad’s arms after a top 20 finish in the Munster Schools Cross Country Championship here: as one of six kids, those one-on-one moments with either parent are as precious as they are few. And how I treasure that embrace now.
I remember the adrenaline surge and near shock catalysed by winning my first County Cross County title here. I remember the handshakes, the encouragement and the joy of competition. The magic of it.
Last Saturday, I managed to run six miles in an hour flat. In the 16 weeks since I resumed running, I’ve shed 25 pounds and now weigh just over 15 stone (95kg). I might never have a medal around my neck again, but I’ve regained a love of running I thought I’d never recapture. I enthusiastically plan to kick, scream and stride as purposefully into my 40s as I can. And it feels great.