Road Race II
Another week on the road to Beijing and O’Dowd reads another note pinned to a stick on a country road. “Paul, please start any time after 7pm. Don’t wait for us. Craughwell Athletic Club 5K handicap road race committee”.
(Still at home, other race entrants are checking their watches, thinking “O’Dowd will be starting around now, I’ll just finish cutting the grass before I head down").
He is momentarily taken aback, “Hmmm, not exactly what I expected… not great practice for the bustling group starts … ”, but his mood is soon lifted by the thought “Well, I’m a member of an athletic club and that makes me an athlete. This might be part of their programme for elite newcomers. It’s just the loneliness of the short distance runner - I might as well get used to it.” Setting off at top speed, he thinks, “Yeah, let’s light this chariot of fire and see what’s in the petrol tank.” The explosion is not long coming.
Fourteen minutes into the race, in a state of near exhaustion and with perspiration oozing from a soaked ‘Tullamore Meats’ headband, the flow of oxygen to his brain is down to a trickle. “The one kilometre mark…. thank God, that was quick, now, let’s see… one mile .. is eighty … no five …. no… how does it go again …. if a train sets off at 60 kmph and a tap is running in the bath at 3mph……. no… wait…one mile is five eighteenths of a kilometre … that makes it… incredible! I’m doing sub-Olympic pace…. But isn’t that just typical – there are no witnesses.”
Deflated, drained and dangerously staggering all over the road, his speed is down to a crawl. “Should have … taped up my chins … the wobble is affecting my balance … new singlet is chaffing … constricting… what’s that! Aaargh, pain in my chest… possible cardiac arrest… no… on the right hand side… could be transversely transmitted cardiac pulminations ... the pain … the pain … can’t keep going … must stop ... can’t stop… sheep coming … farmers laughing… if I can just make it to the next feeding station…
Driven onwards by a flock of particularly assertive sheep, and with a change of headband at the 2km point, a light snack at the 3km mark and a new CD in the Walkman after 4km, he makes it around the course. Tragically, by then, he is too weak to argue with a coughing and convulsing race official who dogmatically assures him that the Olympic and World records remain substantially unaffected by his efforts.
Roadside treatment by the Order of Malta restores his optimism somewhat. “I’m sure all the other famous milers have had their setbacks. I’ll just have to buy a digital watch and strap on the camcorder for the next race. Might even do some training … Don’t want to over-do it, though.”