This Sunday’s Fit Magazine City Series event in the Phoenix Park in Dublin will be my first ever 10K race.
However, I’ve taken part in a 10K event before – a fundraising walk that became a run.
Let time run backwards like some cosmic VCR until we return to my schooldays. Now read on.
Some local organisation was holding a fundraising Sunday afternoon 10-kilometre walk; I can’t remember the cause. The principal of our primary school, a friendly and energetic Christian Brother who always promoted sports and outdoor pursuits, encouraged our class to join in the fundraising and walking.
Today, your social media friends post links to their dedicated page on a fundraising website. But in the pre-internet age a colleague, friend or schoolkid asked you to “buy a line” by signing your name in a sponsorship card and giving a sum of money, usually one pound.
And so for this 10K walk I got landed with a sponsorship card and the burden of having to fill it.
Grown-ups could ask their work colleagues to buy a line. But at schoolboy level you had to go from door to door like a Mormon or an encyclopedia salesman, armed with the dreaded sales pitch: “Would you like to buy a line?” I wasn’t a natural salesman – and what’s more, the last time I had rung some of those doorbells I ran away, in the young hoodlum’s game known in our town as knock and dolly.
Still, business was good. No one collared me on suspicion of a previous fleeting visit to their door. And I’m fairly sure most people I called to gave me the customary one pound for a line.
However, one neighbour only gave me sixty pence – his logic was that ten kilometres equals six miles, and so he decided to sponsor me ten pence per mile instead of ten pence per kilometre.
I was disgusted – but sixty pence was cash in the hand and another line filled, so I took it. In the end I filled around three-quarters of the card: a respectable-enough return for me to hand it in to the principal without too much awkwardness.
That Sunday afternoon a large group of adults and schoolkids set off on a leisurely walk towards a leafy hillside townland and then back in a loop. Despite the uphill first half of the route, the activity wasn’t demanding – we spent most evenings playing football or running around anyway, so we were fit and happily chatting away while we walked.
But at around halfway I hit the wall of boredom. I just wanted to get the bloody thing over with. Some of my classmates were feeling the same way and had decided to run.
So I joined in and ran the last five kilometres. (That’s three miles, if my cheapskate neighbour is reading.)
The adults weren’t happy with us running – there were a couple of tsk-tsks and careful-nows, since we were on a country road without a footpath. But I like to think those disapproving voices were just being player-haters.
The second half of the loop was mostly downhill and then flat, so it was an easy run back into town. In fact, the last couple of kilometres passed by Blennerville windmill, today a notable landmark on my favourite long-run route when I visit home. I ran by myself and followed the signs for the walk, not knowing how far I had left to go.
The finish was in front of a local hotel. But there was no finish line, finish area or even someone or something to indicate you had finished; I guess the idea was to have all participants complete the walk in one group and then gather in the hotel bar for some post-walk tea and sandwiches.
So, after finishing the 10-kilometre walk with a 5-kilometre run, I just walked home.
Hopefully my second 10K event, all these years later, will feature no walking at all. There’ll definitely be no running for charity – I run for my own enjoyment and nothing else.
But still today, anytime I need to convert between metric and imperial distances for a race or in training, that doorstep lesson comes to mind: ten kilometres equals six miles.