COLM O'REGAN: A volunteer in a high-vis is my weak spot

It’s the time of year when a no-longer-young man’s heart turns to writing a column about trying to take up running again, writes Colm O’Regan.

It’s a hazard for any reader of columns in January, that you are going to be forced to endure yet another account of an unfit man aged 30-50, go through the familiar cycle of guilt (one last Chomp bar for breakfast), resolve (buying some runners), pain (running hurts), euphoria (I did it ) and then more pain (I couldn’t so much as hold a spoon for a week afterwards with the stiffness).

Since I’ve let you know in advance — and stretched at the beginning — I’ve fulfilled my duty of care you so let’s go.

Now, my resolve to run is as skittish as a young calf who came from a skittish family of cows and I don’t want to spook it, but still I think this time might be different: Parkrun has come to the nearby park.

Parkrun is a weekly running event organised by volunteers where you sign up in advance and then walk /shuffle /scuttle / buggypush /huff /puff / jog /alpha-male / glide-like-Moses Kiptanui your way around a course of 5km.

Parkrun has two ingredients that make it possibly viable for deeply flawed, weak-willed people like me: Volunteers in high-vis and laps. Most runs are undertaken solitarily. You get to the running spot and there may be fitter, better-looking people there with nicer gear, focus, their phone in an arm-yoke. It can be intimidating.

You get to Parkrun and there are volunteers in high-vis. A volunteer in a high-vis is my weak spot. There is something about someone else wearing a high-vis on a dark January morning that says everything’s going to be okay. The Order of the High Vis, a sacred mysterious group who represent the thin yellow line between volunteering humanity and the dark abyss of Every Man For Himself Chaos.

If you want me to join a far right movement, you don’t need shaven-templed dipsticks in chinos and white Ralph Lauren polo, just a cohort of smiling mammies in high-vis saying things like “ah shur once you get going you won’t feel it”.

So when I see them at Parkrun, dammit, if they’ve turned up to believe in me, then I’d better give them something to believe in.

Then we come to laps. Laps are important in a psychology of running for me in marking little milestones of achievement. In this parkrun in Drimnagh, there are four. Four is a great number. It’s symmetrical. Once you’ve one done, you’re at 25% and a few more paces and you’ve enough to get a D which’ll get you into a FETAC. Before you know it you’re half way. If you’re half way you might as well finish.

And then there is the last lap. The last lap is for playing commentary in your head. And for that I think of the late Jimmy Magee. He had a gift for coining a phrase to go with a moment that stuck over the decades. “Different class different class DIFFERENT CLASS!” as Maradona slalomed his way past the despairing lunges of primitive Anglo Saxon axe-men. “He must know … the game is UP!” when Stephen Roche’s nemesis Pedro Delgado struggled on the crucial Tour De France time-trial.

Another was when John Treacy won silver medal at the LA Olympics. Jimmy recited every medal winner as Treacy winced along those final hundred metres.

“My fellow commentators are on their feet. The little man with the big heart,” he said as Treacy crossed the line.

And this is in my head as I begin the lap of the Gods. The pace picks up. My lungs are burning but this is for Ireland, this is for my parish, my legacy. “My fellow columnists are on their feet. The average-sized man with the probably below-average sized heart has done it.”

There are high-vis smiles and a chocolate finger and a cup of tea afterwards to replace lost manganese or something.

Parkrun - you might as well, shur.


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