Although Pink Floyd were singing about something completely different, it was their lyrics that immediately entered my head as the mountain loomed into view on Sunday morning.
Blue skies and pain. We were driving towards Angelsboro, a little village on the Limerick/Cork border at the foot of the Galtee mountains, to take part in the first race of this years Munster League, and it was truly a magnificent day for it. Even old philistines like myself and Richie felt compelled to record the stunning beauty of this part of County Limerick and stopped along the way to take a few photos.
There is a down side to running on such crisp clear spring days and it is that you can see all that is ahead of you, and when you’re talking about running up mountains that isn’t always such a good thing. Sometimes it’s better not knowing. While we have been training away for some months on the many tough hills within a half hours drive of Limerick City, neither of us had actually competed before, and up to this point had much of an inkling of what to expect. But looking up at Temple Hill on Sunday morning, it’s summit sharp against that blue sky, there was no escaping the simple fact that what lay ahead was no small amount of pure, unadulterated pain.
I’d like to tell you that I am exaggerating, but I’m not. Yet, even that morning, as I finally was forced to confront the challenge, I still couldn’t have believed just how arduous it would turn out to be. I learned that there are a thousand feelings that one gets when racing against others on an open mountain, and many of them are some mixture of pain, distress and misery. On the lower slopes your lungs heave as you try and match the early pace. Then, as you progress up the mountain it’s the legs, now depleted of oxygen, that complain as you push them harder, so that you might reel in the guy ahead who might be faltering, or simply stave off the tenacious bastard who is hanging on behind you, threatening to overtake but never doing so. Hitting the steeper, open slopes, everything else protests too, and long before you reach the top, there isn’t a part of your body that isn’t screaming. For whatever reason, you don’t stop. My theory on this is that defeat hurts more and for a lot longer than physical pain. Your mind knows it too and by flogging you to your limit it is protecting you from the abject despair that goes with giving up. Either that or at some level we are simply twisted sado-masochists. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between these two possibilities.
I won’t say much more about the pain, except to say that it got worse on the descent. This has something to do with ones legs not being designed to run while accelerating at the rate of gravity. It hurt a lot.
Somehow, for all the torture endured, the whole experience adds up to something genuinely exhilarating and even enjoyable. It helps when the weather gods smile on us as they did on Sunday morning. Even as I suffered on the ascent, all I had to do was look left or right and see the stunning beauty of this part of counties Limerick and Cork. For all the mistakes we’ve made in this country (too many), much of it remains a beautiful place. But it’s not just the weather. Even if we were rain-sodden, muddy messes, running blind through low clouds on desolate mountainy peaks, I know we’d enjoy it then too.
“So, so you think you can tell heaven from hell, blue skies from pain”.
On days like this, you truly can.