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Just a Club Runner

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There are many ways for people to involve themselves in the sport of running. The way that has worked best for me has turned out to be as a member of a club. This isn’t everyone’s preference of course and actually it wasn’t always mine. In a sport that could almost define the lone pursuit of sporting goals, many people enjoy their running without ever seeing any need to involve themselves with a club. Whilst the loneliness of the long distance runner is just what some people are looking for, there are a great many others who like me enjoy sharing the whole experience, in all of its sweat-drenched glory, with other like-minded souls.

Although I’ve never been Olympic material, I still love to run. I take running as seriously as I dare and I train as hard as time and circumstances will allow. I’ve found that running, especially distance running, is a very democratic and a very fair sport. Over months and years of pounding the tarmac I’ve come to realise that my fitness and racing performances will almost always reflect the training I’ve done. On the occasions when I’ve picked up injuries I can usually trace it back to something silly that I’ve done myself. As I’ve said, all very democratic and very fair, but of course not at all easy. Having a group of other runners around me to share those ups and down is part of what has made running so attractive to me over the years.

I stumbled into running. Finding myself home-alone and bored out of my mind one December evening in 1998, I decided to go for a jog. I was lucky enough at the time to live close to the Phoenix Park in Dublin which is a fantastic venue for any sort of outdoor activity – if you doubt me just ask the local cider drinkers and ‘ahem’ lonely-hearts. I braved the winter elements that December evening after work in old soccer shorts, cheap running shoes and a worried expression. Twenty minutes later I stumbled back to the house having become a jogger in the meantime. That was the start of it all and I’ve never really stopped since. That simple twenty-minute stagger through the park was to help change my lifestyle more that I could possibly have known at the time. There was no flash of light or sudden realisation that running might be my ‘thing’, but I knew it was something that suited me, was probably good for me and so I stuck with it.

Ten months after that first tentative, slightly embarrassing and mildly enjoyable trot through the park, I lined up for the Dublin City Marathon. All through my childhood I had associated the activity of running with the Dublin City Marathon. Each autumn the race would pass close to where I lived on the north side of the city. I can vaguely remember looking on and wondering what it must be like to be a part of the event rather than merely a spectator. In October 1999 I got my first chance to find out. I had entered the race completely unburdened by any real understanding of what I had let myself in for and I barely finished, in great pain and with very great difficulty. In my defence, in that pre-Google age information about the likely result of attempting a marathon on training of twenty miles per week was harder to come by than would be the case nowadays. Ah the innocence!

Undeterred by my humiliation in front of thousands during that first marathon I kept on going. Running suited me. I liked the fact that I could run whenever I wanted to, late at night or early in the morning or not at all. I didn’t need to arrange a game, a partner or an opponent and I didn’t need permission, fancy equipment or even any recognisable ability. I could, as they say, just do it. I kept on doing it, not very quickly and without any real success, reward or improvement, but I continued to just go for ‘runs’. It was all very aimless, but the longer I stayed at it the more it became a part of my routine and then it became a part of me. I started to seek out local races, found myself standing in Eason’s reading the running magazines at lunchtime. Eventually I even bought myself a pair of decent training shoes. Slowly, slowly, slowly I was being drawn; willingly it has to be said; into the strange world of the recreational runner.

It was only when I moved away from Dublin in the year 2000 that it struck me that there might be a better way of approaching this running lark. All through my time in Dublin I had maintained a blissful ignorance about the whole concept of club athletics. I don’t think I was even aware on any practical level that they existed. I’m sure I must have had vague notions about ‘athletics’ and ‘track and field’ but I certainly didn’t think it had anything to do with me. I didn’t run, I jogged and I certainly wasn’t an athlete. I was a chancer in football shorts. When I relocated to Athenry there was good news and bad news. The good news was that having being spotted wandering the roads around the town in my dodgy shorts I wasn’t immediately arrested but was told instead that there was an athletics club in town. The bad news only came when I learnt that it catered mainly for juvenile athletes. “Ah well”, I thought, back to the jogging.

What I hadn’t been told about was that the nucleus of a senior athletics club did actually exist in Athenry but there had been little in the way of organised activity for a while. Over the first year in Athenry I hooked up with two other local guys who were in a position similar to my own. James Lundon and Peter Delmer were my partners in crime in wanting to bring the senior side of the athletics club back to life. Inspired by nothing much in particular and with a great deal on inexperience between us we decided that we were just the men to revamp the senior section of Athenry Athletics Club. We hadn’t a clue what we were at but it really didn’t seem to matter that much at the time. Our ambitions were modest. We wanted to provide a focus for our hobby and share that with anyone else who might be interested. We didn’t even know if anyone else would be interested.

From that small start the club has grown steadily over the years since both in numbers and activity but the basic idea has remained the same. As club runners we get to share our victories and defeats with people who have been down those winding roads before. I’ve been introduced to the pleasures of running on club teams, racing across country with muck up to my armpits and competing on a track; activities I never dreamt I’d be involved with. I’ve changed from being a jogger to a runner and occasionally have the nerve to think that I could be an athlete; but not very often. Being ‘just’ a club runner has given me so much that I can’t imagine ever going back to the days when I ran aimlessly and self-consciously for lonely miles in the Phoenix Park. As time goes by I have had the additional pleasure of seeing others discover the benefits of running and competing as part of a club and I can see how it adds to their enjoyment of athletics.

I know my experience won’t match that of others in every way but from what I’ve seen the best way to enjoy athletics, no matter what your standard, is to be a part of the support structure offered by athletics clubs. Look at it this way, if you’re super-fast you’ll inherit a collection of adoring and well-informed groupies and if you’re slow you’ll have plenty of company.
In a sport that could almost define the lone pursuit of sporting goals, many people enjoy their running without ever seeing any need to involve themselves with a club. Whilst the loneliness of the long distance runner is just what some people are looking for, there are a great many others who like me enjoy sharing the whole experience, in all of its sweat-drenched glory, with other like-minded souls.

Although I’ve never been Olympic material, I still love to run. I take running as seriously as I dare and I train as hard as time and circumstances will allow. I’ve found that running, especially distance running, is a very democratic and a very fair sport. Over months and years of pounding the tarmac I’ve come to realise that my fitness and racing performances will almost always reflect the training I’ve done. On the occasions when I’ve picked up injuries I can usually trace it back to something silly that I’ve done myself. As I’ve said, all very democratic and very fair, but of course not at all easy. Having a group of other runners around me to share those ups and down is part of what has made running so attractive to me over the years.

I stumbled into running. Finding myself home-alone and bored out of my mind one December evening in 1998, I decided to go for a jog. I was lucky enough at the time to live close to the Phoenix Park in Dublin which is a fantastic venue for any sort of outdoor activity – if you doubt me just ask the local cider drinkers and ‘ahem’ lonely-hearts. I braved the winter elements that December evening after work in old soccer shorts, cheap running shoes and a worried expression. Twenty minutes later I stumbled back to the house having become a jogger in the meantime. That was the start of it all and I’ve never really stopped since. That simple twenty-minute stagger through the park was to help change my lifestyle more that I could possibly have known at the time. There was no flash of light or sudden realisation that running might be my ‘thing’, but I knew it was something that suited me, was probably good for me and so I stuck with it.

Ten months after that first tentative, slightly embarrassing and mildly enjoyable trot through the park, I lined up for the Dublin City Marathon. All through my childhood I had associated the activity of running with the Dublin City Marathon. Each autumn the race would pass close to where I lived on the north side of the city. I can vaguely remember looking on and wondering what it must be like to be a part of the event rather than merely a spectator. In October 1999 I got my first chance to find out. I had entered the race completely unburdened by any real understanding of what I had let myself in for and I barely finished, in great pain and with very great difficulty. In my defence, in that pre-Google age information about the likely result of attempting a marathon on training of twenty miles per week was harder to come by than would be the case nowadays. Ah the innocence!

Undeterred by my humiliation in front of thousands during that first marathon I kept on going. Running suited me. I liked the fact that I could run whenever I wanted to, late at night or early in the morning or not at all. I didn’t need to arrange a game, a partner or an opponent and I didn’t need permission, fancy equipment or even any recognisable ability. I could, as they say, just do it. I kept on doing it, not very quickly and without any real success, reward or improvement, but I continued to just go for ‘runs’. It was all very aimless, but the longer I stayed at it the more it became a part of my routine and then it became a part of me. I started to seek out local races, found myself standing in Eason’s reading the running magazines at lunchtime. Eventually I even bought myself a pair of decent training shoes. Slowly, slowly, slowly I was being drawn; willingly it has to be said; into the strange world of the recreational runner.

It was only when I moved away from Dublin in the year 2000 that it struck me that there might be a better way of approaching this running lark. All through my time in Dublin I had maintained a blissful ignorance about the whole concept of club athletics. I don’t think I was even aware on any practical level that they existed. I’m sure I must have had vague notions about ‘athletics’ and ‘track and field’ but I certainly didn’t think it had anything to do with me. I didn’t run, I jogged and I certainly wasn’t an athlete. I was a chancer in football shorts. When I relocated to Athenry there was good news and bad news. The good news was that having being spotted wandering the roads around the town in my dodgy shorts I wasn’t immediately arrested but was told instead that there was an athletics club in town. The bad news only came when I learnt that it catered mainly for juvenile athletes. “Ah well”, I thought, back to the jogging.

What I hadn’t been told about was that the nucleus of a senior athletics club did actually exist in Athenry but there had been little in the way of organised activity for a while. Over the first year in Athenry I hooked up with two other local guys who were in a position similar to my own. James Lundon and Peter Delmer were my partners in crime in wanting to bring the senior side of the athletics club back to life. Inspired by nothing much in particular and with a great deal on inexperience between us we decided that we were just the men to revamp the senior section of Athenry Athletics Club. We hadn’t a clue what we were at but it really didn’t seem to matter that much at the time. Our ambitions were modest. We wanted to provide a focus for our hobby and share that with anyone else who might be interested. We didn’t even know if anyone else would be interested.

From that small start the club has grown steadily over the years since both in numbers and activity but the basic idea has remained the same. As club runners we get to share our victories and defeats with people who have been down those winding roads before. I’ve been introduced to the pleasures of running on club teams, racing across country with muck up to my armpits and competing on a track; activities I never dreamt I’d be involved with. I’ve changed from being a jogger to a runner and occasionally have the nerve to think that I could be an athlete; but not very often. Being ‘just’ a club runner has given me so much that I can’t imagine ever going back to the days when I ran aimlessly and self-consciously for lonely miles in the Phoenix Park. As time goes by I have had the additional pleasure of seeing others discover the benefits of running and competing as part of a club and I can see how it adds to their enjoyment of athletics.

I know my experience won’t match that of others in every way but from what I’ve seen the best way to enjoy athletics, no matter what your standard, is to be a part of the support structure offered by athletics clubs. Look at it this way, if you’re super-fast you’ll inherit a collection of adoring and well-informed groupies and if you’re slow you’ll have plenty of company.

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