(Sorry guys, super slow connection, so photos will have to wait for tomorrow)
Right.. I’m still pretty far behind on the posts, but I’m already working on getting Boston and London up this week. In the meantime I’m going to punch out a few words about Belfast and the awesome week I’ve had.
I was coming here alone. I figured I’d get here, hang about, get up to date and then punch out another marathon. Yes, I thought I would come to Ireland and relax. I considered not even drinking…
Belfast is a gem of a city! A real find. Melbourne champ, Matt Opray, joined me the day after I got here and I soon found out it was his birthday the very next day… disaster of the highest order! We hit some pubs and clubs over the ensuing days, dragging out anyone we could brow beat from the hostel to join the action.
Actually we were lucky enough to be staying in one of my all time favourite hostels (well it is now), the Lagan Backpackers. Willem is a South African dude who owns and runs the hostel. I’ve quite blatantly said in this blog a few times that I think South Africans are some of the most fun and genuinely hospitable people on the planet. Willem is another fine example of this very statement! He even donated $200 to UNICEF on the site when he found out what we were up to!
On Wednesday night we met Kirsten, a cool Canadian chick, who it just so happens was turning 21 on the Friday….the day after Matt’s birthday! That was that, Thursday night had it comin. We met Canadians, Lily and Jasmin, then Evan was another Aussie who showed up. He was with his Kiwi mate, but his name has slipped my mind. And Ryan, the awesome big Canadian dude who showed up too! We all went out and smashed it up at a cheesy club called Stiff Kitten. You had to be drunk to enjoy it, so we cranked through some quick rounds and everyone was dancing like crazy. Hilarious! Happy Birthday Opray!
Next day we headed to Dublin, hangovers and all. Opray and I wanted to just take a quick look at another city and well….another country.. Dublin is a lot bigger than Belfast and is a helluva place to party too it turns out.. We got in near 8pm, just in time to dump our bags and join a pub crawl! We told them it was Opray’s birthday and were given the star treatment… they said “Happy Birthday” at least twice… Opray called it his Birthday Boxing Day (holiday after Christmas), so it seemed to justify us being out drinking. So how do we justify drinking on Saturday as well?
Well, Saturday was rainy and crap. Dublin is a nice looking city, but if it’s raining and crap, there ain’t so so much to do. Except, of course, head to one of their 4000 pubs! We did manage to get to Kilmainham Gaol too though, so that was a win. Actually, we thought we were going there to look at where a whole lotta criminals copped a beating from the prison guards. Turns out, the gaol has an extraordinary significance to the birth and shaping of the modern Republic Of Ireland. It housed the leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising and was the site of most of their executions. The uprising did not have a lot of popular support when it happened. But when the public found out about how the men had been treated and summarily executed with treason for their parts, the republican debate gained a huge amount of favour, eventually giving way to the formation of a Free State in 1921.
I learned something… cool!
The prison was also a pretty amazing barometer for the state of civil affairs in the country over about 130 years to 1924. There was a huge spike in prisoners in the mid 1800s, due to the Potato Famine. The number of prisoners soared from 1500 to over 9000 within a couple of years. The place was so full that each room designed for one inmate now housed 6. The initial buildings were built with limestone, which absorbs water and causes Tuberculosis and asthma. The inmates also used a common wooden container as a toilet. This same container was then washed out and used to deliver their food, so dysentery and other diseases were commonly passed among the prisoners. How anyone survived is beyond me.. Even sadder, the people in the streets were starving so badly that they would steal a loaf of bread, just so they could be put in jail and perhaps be fed more regularly – women and children included. As Opray said, “woulda been a tough time to be a baker…”
What got me about all this, was that I was wandering through like a tourist again, wondering how people could resign themselves to see their lives expire in a place like that. I mean… I’m running around the world in 5 star luxury, seeing amazing stuff, knowing that one day I will die having lived my life to it’s full and beyond. These people were starving to death in the streets and decided that dying of dysentery in a squalid prison was a better option.. But then, some of them were transported to Australia. And for that I will always be truly thankful.
A few beers in some more delightful pubs later and it was time for me to sleep. I dreamed of the amazing Arthur Guinness and the occasionally moving picture of him in O’Neills pub. Spooky as…
We got back to Belfast on Sunday. Met George and Christian on the bus, a couple of excellent lads. They were both running the marathon and George had some great running advice for me. We chatted and went to the Expo together. Afterwards I crashed for a bit and finally caught up with Alexis, my lovely sister, who’d also decided to come over and support the race again. She’s rad!
Next morning I think I wanted to be anywhere other than that start line. I was late getting there, but didn’t miss the starter’s pistol. I just missed my opportunity to hit the loo. I was tired, a little stressed and still struggling with my head cold. None of this would help me run a fast marathon. I was also right up the back! There were some 18,000 participants in the race, but most of them were part of the relay teams that span the length of the course. It made the race seem pretty bulky though and full of spirit.
I met a South African fella named Philip and started off with him. Nice chap. He’d been living in Belfast for some time and had done a few marathons, but none for a while. It wasn’t long before I struck forward though, because the runners around me were pretty slow and I didn’t want to get caught up in the slower pace.
It wasn’t long before a lovely girl name Harriet popped up next to me, very inquisitive about the information slapped across my back. “Really?” she asked.. “Are you really doing all this? How’s it been going?” We had an excellent chat about where I was going, what I had seen and all the obvious stuff. But then she told me about some of her wild adventures and I was equally impressed. She’d been to Australia and Easter Island. She’d even been to Rosario, where I also wanted to run a marathon. Harriet was just doing the first 6 miles for the relay, but she’d already knocked out 7 marathons too. She was great company and I must say, I felt a whole lot better about my run after she peeled off to hand over her relay baton. Thanks Harriet!
I bumped into quite a few people I’d seen in previous runs too. I spoke to Stevie, from Liverpool, who I’d seen in Bratislava. He was doing Comrades in June, so his training was in full flight. I met a number of other people too, but generally speaking, didn’t get into too many other lengthy conversations till later. I was pumped to see Alexis out on the track though, wildly waving my (actually Tokyo Bremma’s) Boxing Kangaroo flag about, while Opray tried to keep her from falling off the fenced she’d perched on.
I ran through an area called the Falls Road, which is a staunchly Catholic strip. Opray and I had taken a black cab tour to the area a few days before and had been shown the Protestant side of Belfast’s security wall and the Catholic side. As the runners passed the office for Sinn Fein on Falls Road, we were quite suddenly surrounded by people holding up posters that read:
“End Prison Brutality”
“Stop Strip Searches Now”
“End Controlled Movement”
“Demand Political Status”
I actually found it pretty confronting to be presented with this kind of rhetoric in a city fun run. I know it’s an election week, but it kinda weirded me out to be in that type of political forum. And yet, here I was taking photos, helping them spread their word. All a bit strange.
After a few short rises, we finally got onto the “big” hill. It was a long slow 3 km rise and by the end of it I was losing my will power a little. I was never at a point that I wanted to stop, but I really felt that this race had gotten the best of me as my right hip had stiffened, giving me quite an uncomfortable movement. I took the time to look around though and realised that where we were running was pretty special though. We were high above the city, running toward the end of the long row of hills that dominates the Northern side of Belfast. The trees were blossoming and, although some dark clouds were invading the blue sky, it was a bright and colourful space to be running through.
We finally made the turn to head back down the mountain. I was happy to hit it and picked up speed again. The supporters were out there, though they weren’t too loud with their cheers. Many were handing out water and lollies, so they were certainly encouraging.
I didn’t speak to too many other people. I was running along the edge of the bay for a bit, then kicked back along the expressway, back into the city. I was in a world of pain by then, just trying to remain calm and keep up a reasonable pace. My hip seemed to have loosened up and I was pleasantly surprised to find the Sauconys I’d been sent to try out by Celeste and the team at Consports/Saucony Australia, were actually pretty comfortable and kept me running well. They were bright red too, so must have been shaving at least 5 minutes off my total time. Ha!
I came around a corner and passed another couple of musicians belting out encouraging tunes. They’d changed the words of the Black Eyed Peas song to “Tonight’s gonna be a sore night!”… Jerks… haha. I was just grabbing a water when I heard someone yell, “T-Bone!” I turned and had to take a second to register.. “Zurich!”, he yelled. Ah, wow, yes! I’d run with Barry in my first run in Zurich, on New Year’s Eve. He was out here trying to get through another race for his own challenge, which was 12 marathons in 10 months. He said he’d even seen me in London the week before, but I was powering past and he didn’t have enough speed to catch me. Barry lost his wife to cancer almost two years ago and he was raising money for research. He’s a super genuine guy, who was running for a far greater purpose than me, so I couldn’t help but feel a little unworthy. And he was doin great too, having raised 15,ooo Euros already. Barry and I ran and chatted for a good few miles. It was a welcome relief from my own pain and he’s a top lad to have a chat with, so it was perfect timing.
I lost him with just about 5 kilometers to go. I just kept moving though, knowing that I was pretty beat and if I stopped, I probably wouldn’t get moving again. We hit a canal and ran right back along the side of the city. It took us down to a bridge, where once again I found Alexis and Matt going nuts. I was pumped again, but only just. I’d found one last spark of energy and with just 4 kms to go, began to lift my head and my game. As I moved closer and closer to home, I found myself easily passing a lot of other runners. I focussed on a strong rhythm and kept pounding the pavement. The more people I passed, the stronger I felt. “Feed off their pain!”, I told myself, looking at the weary runners in front of me. I kept winding up and just as I came up on the last mile, Keith jumped out of the crowd and started running with me. We’d met at the London Marathon the week before and he’d taken me for an excellent training run on Friday, down south along the canal. He’d been in the relay that day and caught me at a perfect time, pumping along next to me and taking my mind off things just a little longer. To be fair, I was having a bit of an out of body experience, with my brain feeling completely departed from my body and my legs.
Keith peeled off when I only had about 500 meters to go. I kept barreling home. I was tired and just wanted it over with. I gave a shout out to Alexis and Matt, but also had one more special mention for my video. My friend Robyn, who I ran with in the Comrades marathon in South Africa the year before, had just delivered two beautiful baby girls. Two things are amazing about this. Robbie and Frank (complete super champ!) hadn’t been able to have children of their own, though had two wonderful kids from Frank’s previous marriage. By her late 30’s, Robyn had decided not to let it upset her anymore and they both went about doing other things – like Frank’s Ironman and Robbie’s inspiring 90km run in South Africa. Then, at 43, Robyn got pregnant! It was pretty touch and go though and Robyn ended up having to stay in hospital until they could safely deliver the babies.. FOR 93 DAYS!!!!
Congratulations Frank and Robyn. You were my inspiration today. Your patience and strength of spirit to deal with that difficult and frustrating period is beyond my understanding. And yet, you both understood what was waiting at the other end. Welcome to the world brave little Lara and Shelby. May you be blessed with all the gifts your parents are so well known for.
I finally crossed the line in 3:28.34 by my watch. Official results still to hit the Belfast City Marathon site.
It’s almost 2am and I’m a mess. I’m falling asleep as I type and this is why you rarely see a post straight after a race. My brain generally can’t handle it. Thanks for having us Belfast! Thanks to all the welcoming Irish.
Once again, I’ll put my little appeal at the end. If you like what we’re doing, then please:
Donate to UNICEF – $10 is the cost of a movie ticket and I reckon all that you’ve read and seen so far is worth at least that.
Suggest on Facebook – please recommend my Facebook Page to a few of your friends. This is equally helpful as it allows the numbers to grow and prove my value to potential Sponsors. I still don’t have ANY Sponsors! Haha. Help a brother out….
You’re all Champions, to be sure, to be sure…
PS.. I’m actually in Ireland and I’m “Tirty-Tree & a Tird” (33.3 years old). Ha! What are the chances?!