Monday, 4 May 2009

WhyNotSmile Does The Marathon

OK, first things first; clearly WhyNotSmile did not actually do the marathon, if by 'do' you mean 'run'. But if by 'do' you mean 'got involved with the general spirit', then we're on the same training schedule, as it were. WhyNotSmile is not, by any stretch of even the stretchiest imagination, a runner; WhyNotSmile has a body made for blogging.

Before we start, please be aware that this post may make more sense if you have access to a map of Belfast, or a general sense of geographical awareness of the area.

Anyway, as has been mentioned, Sister Smile was doing the Belfast Marathon today, and Mama Smile had suggested (I thought) that we go and watch. So I'm lying in bed this morning, thinking that it would be nice to do a few bits and pieces and then go over to Ormeau Park - catch some atmosphere, as it were - and see her finishing, before moseying home for a bite of lunch.

So at 8.30, the doorbell goes. Mama Smile comes in, with maps. I am still about 80% asleep, but catch various things about going to the Antrim Road with energy drinks and jelly beans, and decide it is best to just go along with it. So I have a shower, and we plan our route. It seems that we are to carry a bag of energy drinks, Nutrigrains, energy gel and jelly beans, and meet Sister Smile at the Antrim Road, and then at the docks; we also have a larger rucksack thing which she wants at the end. We are aware that much of the city is closed off to let the marathon through, and decide that taking the car would be foolhardy, and public transport would not.

By the time we leave the house, I feel like I've run the marathon several times over. So we drive to the Ravenhill Road and leave the car there, and start walking into town. We somehow seem to end up in the middle of the Fun Run, although no one is running, and they don't look like they're having fun. The entire project comes close to implosion when WhyNotSmile drops the map of the route, but it is quickly retrieved from the gutter and we carry on.

So we get across the bridge and find a bus stop, and decide to get a bus the rest of the way into town (because we're now running late). We meet a chap from Derry who cheerfully tells us that we're mad to try to get up the Antrim Road, and we'd be better to go to the docks. In the entire 5 minutes we have to wait for the bus, he tells us this about a million times, and I can see Mama Smile seriously contemplating pushing him into the Lagan. Anyway, eventually the bus comes and we all get on; Derry Man spends the remainder of the journey alternating between his own running exploits and the insanity of trying to get to the Antrim Road.

We have a quick discussion with the driver as we get off, and he's not sure about the Antrim Road buses, but says we could ask an inspector; unfortunately the only inspector we can see has been commandeered by Derry Man. After lurking in doorways until the coast is clear, and a discussion with the inspector, we are told to walk to the other end of Royal Avenue and try to get a Number 2 up the Shore Road. By the time we walk this, find a bus, and get on the bus, it's around about the time we were supposed to be intersecting with Sister Smile's route, and it is clear that we need to Rethink.

We get out maps and suddenly the entire bus, including the driver and 2 ladies who are trying to get to the Abbeycentre, are involved in Route Planning. Eventually it is decided that we will get off at Donegall Park Avenue, and WhyNotSmile will run (yes, run) to the other end (the Antrim Road end) and try to intersect things there. She will take her mobile, a bottle of energy drink, a Nutrigrain, and the jelly beans; Mama Smile will follow at a more sedate pace with everything else. As we step off the bus, we feel like we're emigrating to Australia, so heartily are we wished 'farewell and good luck' by our fellow passengers.

So we get off the bus and I start running - if things have been going to plan, I have about 3 minutes to run the length of Donegall Park Avenue, which is about half a mile long and mainly uphill. So I set off, jogging. About 20 yards in, I hit what runners call 'The Wall': that point at which everything hurts and you can't breathe. I keep going for about 20 yards more, but the expected 'second wind' does not materialise, and I have to walk a bit. I'm too warm, so take off layers and briefly wonder about leaving them hanging from a gate for Mama Smile to pick up, but in the end I hold on to them, and am now running while carrying a bottle of energy drink, a hooded fleece and a hat, in addition to things in pockets. About half way along, I stop and drink some of the energy drink, and have a jelly bean, because you have to keep your glucose levels up.

So I finally get to the end, and am lying against a traffic light pole, almost sobbing. There is no sign of Sister Smile, and no way of knowing whether she's still to come, or we've missed her. After about 10 minutes, Mama Smile catches up, and we debate what to do. So we walk back along the route, and after 10 minutes have almost given up hope (and I'm considering cracking open the Nutrigrain), when Sister Smile comes along. I hold out the energy drink, the Nutrigrain bar and the remaining jelly beans, and she shakes her said, says she's ok, and runs on. Ungrateful brat.

Now we have to get back into the city centre, and across to the docks. We wait in vain for a bus, which has of course been held up by the marathon, and then give up and start walking. Back on the Shore Road, we try another bus stop; we wait for about 10 minutes (me having had a bit more of the energy drink), and then a young girl (well, about 18ish) comes up to the stop, asks if we know anything about the buses, and then (as I try to answer that we don't), gets out her mobile, calls someone and says (in a voice that would cut glass at 20 paces) "I'm nat gonna f***in make it like, 'cos 'ere's no buses here and ere's two women at the bus stap and they don't know naffin bout the buses, like, so like I'm nat gonna make it. Like, I blame you, for you said ther was buses". We don't wait to hear the rest, and decide to keep walking.

So eventually we get to Yorkgate (having stopped to buy a couple of bananas on the way, which we were supposed to have done earlier), and have time to gulp down a cup of tea and half a scone each, before we need to get going to reach the docks for the appointed time. So we wrap the remaining scones in napkins and set off; we would have done better if there hadn't been the motorway in our path, but we made it in the end, and had time to eat the rest of the scones and get the cameras out.

When there is no sign of Sister Smile, we walk a little bit further back along the route, and as we round a corner, bump into Derry Man, who is now 'giving it large' for the competitors, and heartily encourages us to do the same. He demands to know whether we made it up the Antrim Road, and starts on about his running exploits again. Thankfully, like a blessed angel, Sister Smile appears on the horizon and we make our excuses. We have been told that this is the vital place, where we NEED to be with our energy drinks and our jelly beans, because otherwise she will, like, DIE, but yet again, she just smiles and waves and runs on, not looking at all interested in glucose.

So now we have to get to the end before she does, which is easier said than done. Mama Smile comes up with a complex plan which involves 2 trains and a bus, and we execute this without any real incident, thanks in part to several very helpful Translink employees. We eat one of the bananas and more jelly beans.

The finish is in a swamp, essentially, so I leave Mama Smile leaning on a barrier and go to take stock of things. I get lost in a madding crowd, and yet somehow, under someone's armpit, spot Sister Smile as she crosses the finish line. Mama Smile, on the other hand, lined up in a perfect viewing spot, gets distracted by a guy dressed as Batman and misses the whole thing.

Sister Smile finishes in a very respectable time of 4 hours 35 mins or so, plus it took her 10 minutes to get across the starting line, but declares herself 'a bit gutted'.

We have not, of course, managed to get back to the car to pick up the bag of Things We Are Supposed To Bring To The Finish Line, so there is a flurry of trying to get hold of friends' phone numbers (stored in Sister's mobile, which is in the bag, which is in the car) so that Sister Smile can call and say where she is and the friends can come and see. Eventually we give up, and go back to the car. On the way, Sister Smile gets in touch with the friends and Mama Smile goes off to get the car, so I wander along next to on-the-phone-sister and eat more of the jelly beans.

So all in all, it was a more hectic day than I expected, and now I am quite tired and feel like I have run the marathon myself.

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