When I was young, the two darkest days of the year were the return to school and the beginning of Lent. (My previous post recalled Sunday mornings before going to Mass, so I risk this blog becoming ‘Scenes from an Irish Catholic Childhood’.)
The first day back to school was when all fun ended; the first day of Lent was when one specific but important piece of fun ended – you were expected to give up sweets for the 40 days until Easter.
Any Irish readers here will remember that you were allowed to break your fast on St Patrick’s Day, which usually falls during Lent. The reason for this is that on the Irish national holiday Jesus took a break from his 40 days of penance in the desert to have a Mars bar and a can of Lilt. (Look it up in the Bible.)
This Wednesday is the first day of Lent – and it’s also just over 40 days to the Paris Marathon. Now, I won’t be giving up the rare bit of chocolate I eat, and I already drink very little. (Do we hardcore runners live in perpetual penance, a neverending Lent? Shudder.) But I remember that the 2007 Paris Marathon fell around the same time – and that year I did give up something for Lent:
I gave up bread.
I’m not sure why I stopped eating bread in the build-up to that marathon. For one thing, I love bread. Also, runners need carbohydrate foods like bread. But I was already eating pasta for lunch and dinner, so perhaps I was all carbed up. Or was it to lose weight?
I don’t recommend you give up bread. I’ve no idea of the effect. But all I’m saying is that I ran the 2007 Paris Marathon in 3 hours 27 minutes 58 seconds – a new personal best. Was that because of my diet? Or even some divine reward for my Lenten fast? (‘Fast’ – see? Maybe the answer’s in the question.) Anything just to shave a few minutes off my marathon time…
But then, last Sunday morning on my street I saw a runner with a baguette in one hand and a bag of croissants in the other. Ireland of the 1980s feels a long way from France today.