A Funny Old Game
by Jim Davis

A well known football manager once said that football was a "funny old game", but what would one say about running? My own interpretation is that it is a FORM OF MADNESS and it is often said there is no point in being mad unless you show it, otherwise people will think you are normal.

What sport would ask such a diversification of people including Accountants, Bricklayers, Soldiers, Salesmen, Firemen, Window Cleaners and Plumbers all together, in the pursuit of their obsession - RUNNING..

According to the Oxford Dictionary to run is to progress by advancing each foot alternatively, never having both feet on the ground at once. That's what it says, although I often feel on a bad day that I had both feet on the ground and I thought I was running.

I first started running in the sixties mainly to get fit for football. Indeed running is a refuge for many failed footballers one of whom I know later became NATIONAL CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPION. Training in those days consisted of 7 miles on the grass on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday 6 miles on the road. There was no such thing as stretching before you went out or warming up. Out of the door of the clubhouse you went and it was a hard run all the way. Indeed newcomers would often be dropped after a mile or so and were left to fend for themselves for the rest of the run; so the drop out rate of newcomers was very high.Everyone ran in tennis shoes or Altar Boy slippers which cost about 10 shillings, 50p just to convert it for the young fellows reading this (€0.63 - Ed.).

My first introduction to speedwork was when a certain John O'Reilly brought a group from the clubhouse on the North Circular Road, out to Chapelizod, up Knockmaroon, along the Strawberry Beds to a point near the Strawberry Hall doing pickups on the way. I had my good tennis shoes on and awoke the following morning with two stiff legs. When Iwent to the club on the following Thursday the bould John told me "don't worry about the stiff legs Jem it will do you good". How many times have I heard that since?

In the 70's every runner worthy of the name was training six to seven days a week. During the early 70's the National Cross Country Champion Donie Walsh claimed that Pollen Tablets helped achieve success. Every athlete that you met at races was taking them until some researcher found that Pollen tablets helped you put on weight, so everybody threw the tablets away and didn't see any decline in performance.

During this period the bould Ron Hill (of running gear fame) declared that his success in the European Marathon was due to his carbohydrate diet which was world famous. This diet consisted of a twenty mile run 7 days before the race and then and only then eating proteins for the next 3 days before eating all the carbohydrates you could get over the last few days. Everybody was on the 'diet' as it was called at the time with all sorts of versions of it according to each individual. Fellows ate full cream sponges in one day. Others had several portions of chips the night before the race.

If you ran well the diet worked. If you didn't you blamed the diet. Three years later Ron declared that he himself never stuck rigidly to the regime as it was too severe. I can tell you now there's many a former marathoner who would throttle the same Ron Hill if he could get his hands on him now.

Runners are like gamblers, all looking at the Golden Schedule that will turn them into superstars before next Sunday's race. This is what drives everybody to go out on those cold and wet nights, to go to the club on Tuesday and Thursday - one part of you want to stay at home, the other half dreading what the coach has on the menu. Will it be intervals around the zoo, or the dreaded triangle session? How does the bugger (the coach) think up those sessions? He must be a descendant of Hitler he pushes us so hard. The session over and back in the club we all declare it was tough but a good session. We have a shower, take a slagging in out stride, slag back and come back again next week for the same dose.

Yes, running is a crazy sport but a great one. What other sport would you rub shoulders with a National or even an Olympic Champion? Just think of it, lining up alongside those greats. OK, you may be going in the same direction as they're going, not actually racing shoulder to shoulder with them, but how many footballers you know have played on the same field as Ryan Giggs, Niall Quinn or Packie Bonner? Indeed the police would remove you if you were near them.

It is said that running is good for the mind. Indeed, there's many a cold winters night as I finished a hard run, ten miles, and I rounded the dreaded triangle I dreamt I was leading an Olympic field, and afar a long Sunday run I felt I could break the 2 hour marathon. Yes we have all dreamed of such great deeds only to be brought back to earth in the following Sunday's race when you finished 85th place and ran well.

At the recent World Championships, Liffey Valley's representative Nick Davis told me he noted all the African Athletes ran in wetsuits on their steady runs despite the heat, so maybe that's where we have been going wrong all these years. Excuse me while I go out and buy a good wetsuit.

Yes, running is a funny old game.