Published in Reports on 6th July 2016
Many years ago when the children were young, we decided to go on a family holiday. So one morning with the exception of the kitchen sink we loaded everything and everyone into the car and didn't stop going until we landed somewhere in the middle of France. On arriving there we were amazed at the long straight roads and the miles of vineyards growing in the fields. Soon we were to discover that the grapes growing in the region we were in were the ones used in the making of brandy and that the town of Cognac, home to the Hennessy and Martel distilleries, were only an hour’s drive away. When they finally convinced me to drive on the wrong side of the road, that was our destination for a day’s outing.
While we were doing the tour the guide explained to us that when the brandy is distilled it is put into oak barrels to mature and as it is ageing, it loses a small percentage to evaporation every year, and that goes up to the heavens and it’s called the 'angels share.' Those of us veteran runners know full well that we too lose a percentage every year, and in my case I'm fully aware that the barrel must be nearly empty now…
Maybe that was the reason why this year I decided to have a go at the European Non-Stadia road races which this year were held in Portugal, in a seaside resort called Monte Gordo and that it was beside a bigger town called Vila Real San Antonio, something like Galway and Salthill. Nearly 40 Irish competitors travelled out on different days to it. I went late Wednesday evening, 18th May. On Thursday we went to the Yellow Hotel for to collect our numbers. This was done with military style efficiency. First you produced your passport then they gave you three numbers: one for the front, one for the back, and one for your bag. Then they put a orange band on your wrist, which I presume was some kind of accreditation but also a blue one on the other wrist, which I believe was their way of saying 'thank you'' or 'obrigado' as I was to learn later.
That evening a few of us decided to book a restaurant for a meal. On arriving, we were pleasantly surprised to find the staff had laid a few tables with green and orange table mats and white napkins. They try hard to get the business!
Competitions started on Friday morning with the walking events (Peadar, where were you?) and in the evening the 10K road race. As I wasn't running 'til Sunday morning I decided to go for a walk into Vila Real which was only a bit over two miles away. It was a very nice town on the banks of the river Guadiana, which is very wide river only crossed by a ferry. The river separates Portugal and Spain. The day was very hot and as I was walking home I felt my finger joints swelling up, which I was told the following morning was due to dehydration.
On Saturday the relay events were held, and in the evening the longer walking races. Sunday morning was into the trenches for me as I was doing the half-marathon. On the start line I feared the heat would prevent me from finishing and, or course, I thought I would be the last one to finish. A mile or so into the race, I took that dreaded look over my shoulder. Thank goodness there were a good few stragglers behind me. From there on, without being passed by anyone, I might have overtaken 9 or 10.
Sometime after the race, while a few of us were having a coffee outside a restaurant, our attention was drawn to the loudest cheer of the day, which was kept for a 93 year-old Swiss runner called Albert Stricker who was coming into finish. Albert could have opted for the shorter 10K race...like hell he did.
That evening all the Irish gang assembled for a celebration dinner in the Ocean restaurant, as the team had won 16 medals. Most of them had gone for either the walking events or the 10K, so as I said it was in Monte Gordo, my only bragging right was 'at least I did the Full Monty.’ I had an arrangement with a hackney company to take me to the airport Monday morning, which was about 50 miles away, and for a 9:45AM flight they insisted on picking me up at 5 30AM.
I was happy enough with my race time of 2:03 (page 30 of the linked PDF), which was my best at the distance for a few years but *IF ONLY* those angels would return all the energy they have belonging to me maybe I'd have done better!
To all the Irish contingent Thanks You for your company, especially that vocal support in the last half mile, when it was needed the most. To team manager Michael Fennell, a man who thrives on peoples needs, thanks Mick or should I have said 'obrigado'!
This race will next be held in 2018 in London. If God is still willing and there's a little sup left in the tank, I might do it all again!
Editor’s Note: Martin has since dipped under two hours for the half, in Monivea a few weeks ago, but that is a story for another day!