“This is your captain speaking,” the pilot said. Expecting bad news, we all fell silent and tense.
“Because of snow and ice on the runway, I’m afraid we’ll be parked at the gate for at least another thirty minutes.” This was during the wintry spell that hit France and Britain a few weeks ago – I was attempting to fly from Paris to Dublin late one Friday night.
Dreading the prospect of our flight being cancelled, and of having to get off the plane and traipse all the way back into Paris, I needed to stay calm and get into my Happy Place. And so I closed my eyes, curled up in my seat and imagined myself running in the Tralee International Marathon.
I should explain. Tralee, in the county of Kerry in the south-west of Ireland, is my home town. I live in Paris, and I have plenty of home thoughts from abroad. And this spring, Tralee is holding its first marathon.
The Tralee International Marathon 2013 takes place on Saturday 16 March. You’ll no doubt notice that this is the day before St Patrick’s Day, and the word ‘international’ hints at the intention to attract tourists to the town for the holiday weekend and the race. But I’m sure locals can run in it too – either in the full marathon or the half marathon course.
I won’t be taking part, though, for the same reason that I’m not running in this year’s Paris Marathon (my local race) – I need to recover after three marathons in 12 months.
However, I definitely want to run in a future edition of the Tralee Marathon. I’d get a real thrill of running a marathon in my home town, and as my family have never seen me running I’m sure they’d get a kick from it too.
So, out of the pure self-interest that characterises long-distance runners, I’m going to encourage as many people as possible to run in the Tralee International Marathon 2013 so that its dazzling success will ensure the race returns in 2014 and beyond.
If you’re taking part this year, I salute you. In return, would you like some local information on the course?
The route is scenic and slightly hilly, winding its way down country roads, past famous links golf courses, along the Atlantic coast, and in the shadow of imposing Kerry mountains. Runners head north-west out of town towards the 5-mile mark at the village of Ardfert, home of Tom O’Riordan who competed for Ireland in the 5,000 metres at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. (His son Ian is the athletics correspondent for The Irish Times.) Ardfert is also the home of Saint Brendan, the medieval navigator and patron saint of sailors and travellers, who is believed to have sailed to North America over a thousand years before Columbus.
The race then heads towards the coastal townland of Barrow, home of the celebrated Tralee golf course. Here, 10 miles into the race, you’ll be looking out at the wild Atlantic waves. The next 5 miles through the townland of Churchill are slightly hilly, before you come to the small port village of Fenit. Runners will go out along Fenit Pier to the statue of Saint Brendan, hopefully collecting his blessing for the ten miles home to the finish.
The rest of the race stays close to the coastline, through the village of Spa and the townland of The Kerries, before coming to the village of Blennerville and its celebrated windmill. During the 19th century, and especially in the Famine years, Blennerville was a port from where boats would take prospective emigrants out to waiting ships bound for North America.
Turning at Blennerville, you’re almost home. And the good news is that there’ll most likely be a sea breeze at your back to ease those last couple of miles along the picturesque canal.
Just thinking about it makes me envious of those taking part. But at least I have something special to plan for 2014, when I’ll be back in spring marathon action and my home thoughts won’t be from abroad any more.
Full details on the Tralee International Marathon are available at www.traleemarathon.com.