Like a Romantic poet in an opium den, I put my hand to the brow and sigh. I grow weary of amassing post-race finishers’ medals and running tops. They lie about my feet like petals fallen from a dying rose, and serve nothing.
So that’s why, from now on, after each race I shall insist on receiving as my reward a luminous wristband.
I’ve started my collection with two that I received from tonight’s Run in the Dark in Dublin – one is a hi-viz affair with, at the touch of a button, flashing red lights, while the other is a wraparound glow-stick job.
As befits an innovative event that forgoes mere medals and t-shirts, these glow-in-the-dark accessories redefine post-race merchandise: functional (they light your way on evening runs), fashionable (all the cool kids now laugh at loom-band bracelets and wear these instead) and visible from space.
Also at tonight’s event, I picked up a new 10K personal best time. By my steam-powered 1980s digital watch I made it exactly 42 minutes. When the chip time is confirmed I hope to have snuck in under 42 minutes; after all, I dipped on the line.
(UPDATE: My official time has indeed been confirmed from 42:00 down to 41:59, which is clearly a whole minute faster. Kids, make sure you always dip on the line.)
Run in the Dark was held in locations across Ireland, Britain and the rest of the world, and if you took part somewhere I hope you enjoyed it. I hear that the route in Belfast was fairly tough – two laps of the hilly roads around Stormont.
By contrast, the Dublin course for the 5K and 10K was pancake flat: an out-and-back loop from the Custom House along both quays. The five-k folk cut across the East Link Bridge after Ringsend, while us tenners then took in a lap of Ringsend Park before reaching the bridge.
I shouldn’t be going on too much about PBs – though I shall – because it was a fun event in aid of spinal cord injury research. The recent squally rain in Dublin abated; tonight was dry, clear and slightly frosty. Drummers and fire jugglers and stilt-walkers all made for a carnival atmosphere at the start area. Groups of friends and colleagues turned up together for a fun evening out. (I hope none of the work groups were doing this as a team-building exercise, although I do recall one of them brainstorming their splits with coloured markers and Post-It notes.)
To the wail of car horns from a nearby street, where drivers were being held back by traffic police, the race began. We headed off from the Custom House, on the north bank of the Liffey, and headed downriver towards Dublin’s modern docklands area. After a straight opening kilometre, our first landmark came on crossing the spectacular Samuel Beckett Bridge. This was an impressive route.
Kilometre two was less impressive – up an unlit side street we took the race name a bit too literally, before squeezing through a narrow bridge at Hanover Quay. But after that we could spread out on the streets of Irishtown and Ringsend. By kilometre three I was travelling comfortably and noticed I was averaging around 4 minutes and 20 seconds per kilometre.
The extra loop for the 10K field took us past some residential blocks in Ringsend where young kids got a great kick out of seeing a runner dressed in an old-fashioned night-shirt and nightcap. It all added to the air of fun – I wasn’t even thinking of PBs or fast times or the like. Honest!
That all changed at the halfway point in Ringsend Park, where I saw on my watch that I passed through in 21:20 – almost exactly half my PB time of 42:39. That old battle fever caught a right hold of me – the game was on!
Once we left the narrow paths and tight corners of the park, I had space to pass runners and settle into a good rhythm. Only two weeks after a gruelling Dublin Marathon and I was travelling quite well, to my surprise. I got to the seven-kilometre mark in exactly 30 minutes, and I knew then that I had to have a crack at the PB.
Kilometres eight and nine were dead straight, so I built up a strong pace. For the final kilometre, though, we rejoined the 5K field, which made for a busy run-in to the finish.
By staying to the right while most runners hung to the left, I had enough space to kick on without having to weave or slow down too much. The line was straight ahead but in the darkness I couldn’t see the finishing arch – and in two different spots a good distance apart I heard someone shouting that we only had two hundred metres to go. I just kept the head down and drove for the line.
The congestion wasn’t too bad at the finish, so I was able to sprint and dip for my new personal best time. I really hadn’t expected to run so well, and I hope I don’t pay for it by getting run down or ill in the coming days.
Still, though, I had a great night, clocked a new PB and got me some impressive accessories. Back in the game, baby!