My friend’s going for a run. She’ll be back in a day. Yes, a day.
Not for her a quick three-mile jog around the local park, or an ambitious 10K for charity. No, she’s going the whole nine yards. Actually, that’s wrong. She’s going the whole 88,000 yards. She gets her kicks by running 50-mile ultra marathons across the hills of Shropshire.
While club runners cogitate about the difficulties of their weekly ‘fartlek’ – there’s a joke in there, somewhere – she sets off for three-hour training runs. In the time your local chef knocks up a Sunday dinner for 75, she’s running up hill and down dale. Little wonder she is the zen master of running; a teak-tough ball of muscle with a washboard stomach and calves sculpted like bronze.
In the days before her ultra, she’ll prepare assiduously. Hot porridge for breakfast and the secret secretion of energy gels in gorse bushes are what it will take her to get round. You may see her, if you’re out early enough, depositing tubes of sucrose in foliage like an alcoholic hiding bottles of Scotch in the local privet.
She’s in for a rough time. And I should know. On a whim, I once ran around and across Ireland in a week. For fun. My 240-mile marathon was an act of madness that came about in a Sicilian tent. While eating one of the finest pizzas of my life, I decided it would be, uh-huh, ‘a laugh’, to run around Ireland. And it was.
I flew to Belfast, with an 8kg rucksack strapped to my back. It contained all that I needed to journey into the dark heart of madness. Tent, sleeping bag, one change of clothes and a phone. Oh, and a map. We mustn’t forget the map. Though I nearly did.
Past the gaily painted house-sized murals of terrorists I ran, a Mad Dog Englishman getting his kicks on Route 66 . . . fine, on Route E1.
During the next 28 hours, I pounded 106 miles of Tarmac. Three-close-shaves-with-lorries-later, I found myself looking at a statue of James Joyce, eating a celebratory burger in North Earl Street.
After that, I ran 30-odd miles each day, making my bed wherever I could: a patch of nettles, the corner of a school field, a deserted churchyard. I pitched at dusk and shipped out before dawn, an apparition who nobody saw, fuelled by flat lemonade and pork pies.
By the end of day five, I’d ruptured the ligaments in my right ankle. Overnight, it grew, like a pumpkin in autumn. I phoned a friend. Or, at least, I tried to. She’d have talked good sense into me and told me to call off my ridiculous pursuit. Except she was out. At the pub. And I didn’t get through. So the next morning, I bound my ankle tightly with bandage, squeezing the tennis-ball-sized-protrusion back to the bone, and limped on.
Eventually, I arrived in Galway. For reasons that I can’t remember, I posed for a photograph on a bright red bus while beaming a manic ‘I’ve-just-run-240-miles-and-60-of-those-were-on-one-leg’ smile. Twenty-four hours later, I was in A&E.
My friend won’t sleep in nettles, drink flat lemonade or rupture her ligaments when she takes to the hills. She’s far too well-prepared for that. She’ll glide, gazelle-like, until her race is run.