How I Managed To Miss My 2nd Marathon While Losing My Mind.
In July 2011 I gave up drinking for the forseeable future as I prepared to train for the Dublin Marathon 2011.
To celebrate successfully training for the marathon, I booked myself a quiet holiday in the Algarve, Portugal where I would do little other than rest, relax and drink sangria.
Things went dreadfully wrong on the last evening of my stay. In a hurry I booked a flight back from Barcelona to Belfast and set myself the challenge of making it there comfortably within 2 days.
This is an account of how I made it to Barcelona on time but messed up my chances of running the marathon.
My aim was to simply enjoy a quiet break away whilst running on the beach, which is why I picked the quiet seaside resort of Altura.
Before embarking on my journey I had to complete one last long run. I managed 17 miles in 3 hours.
It was possibly my best and most frightening run ever as it took in all of the cultural hot-spots of Belfast (Ballysillan, Ardoyne, Shankill, Springfield Road and the Falls.)
With the run completed, I could now enjoy my break and come back knowing that I was well rested.
Altura, Algarve, Portugal
The week went as expected, I spent most of it on my balcony, star-gazing and drinking Sangria.
It was heaven.
I went on 4 runs too, often jogging out on the beach in the evening to Monte Gordo and back, before having dinner and wine in the restaurant.
Altura was so isolated I’d go outside to the beach at night, lie there with the stars and no-one would bother me.
On my last run I went over my ankle whilst trying to run onto soft sand from harder sand. I continued on nonetheless but I could tell that it wasn’t right.
I knew that my chances of running Dublin without any pain were in grave danger. This kinda soured the tone of the week a bit as it was also time to come home.
On not going home and deciding to travel across Spain to Barcelona.
I did not want to come back home just yet. Having been in Barcelona in August 2010, I longed for a return and an adventure.
So I booked the flight back to Belfast from there and resolved to make it to the Catalan capital in less than 2 days.
Piece of piss, surely?
Awoken by a phone call from reception. My transfer to Faro Airport had arrived. I told them that I wouldn’t be heading to Faro today, but that I was instead going to Barcelona.
“Barcelona, we don’t go far that, Sir” replied a voice.
I packed up my gear, headed to reception, paid my restaurant tab and asked the porter to call me a cab to Ayamonte, which is just over the Spanish border.
The taxi arrived and I chatted with the driver about the best way to get Barcelona. He took a while to answer. ‘You’ve no chance of making it there by tonight, friend’.
He dropped me off at the train station and I immediately ordered a can of Cruzcampo from the station bar. I asked the waiter when the next bus to Seville was with much trepidation.
“15:45” was the answer.
I had at least 2 hours to waste.
Fortunately Ayamonte is a beautiful spot. A rustic seaside town with narrow streets and a marina.
After several laps of the town, it was time to get onto the bus to Seville.
I reached Seville by 6pm in good spirits. I immediately went to the ALSA bus ticket office and bought a single to Madrid.
My spirits quickly dropped like shit out of my arse.
The bus did not depart until midnight.
I was gutted.
I amused myself by reading ‘I Partridge, We Need To Talk About Alan’, Without which I would have went insane (earlier).
Bus To Madrid
I spent the longest 7 hours ever on a bus that was falling apart. Every time that I felt close to drifting off to sleep, the coach would hit a pot hole.
My insomnia was starting to grate on me. I needed sleep desperately.
I arrived in Madrid at 6am, having now been awake for at least 24 hours.
I spent all morning and afternoon trying to find a bus to Barcelona without any joy whatsoever.
This little jaunt was seeming like less and less of a good idea.
By 3pm I was starting to get desperate. I searched for flights back to anywhere in Ireland from Madrid but there were none cheaper than £400.
When all hope seemed lost, I read about the AVE high speed train that connects Madrid with Barcelona in 3 hours.
The tickets cost £100 which I thought extortionate at the time but since I was quickly running out options, I bought one.
I hailed a cab to Madrid Etocha station and spent an hour or two relaxing and scouting about the shops.
Madrid – Barcelona Train
The AVE service was amazing. The train rarely dropped below 200mph along the way.
I bought a tin of Fanta from the restaurant car on the train, cracked it open and immediately spilt it all from my tray table down the back of the seat in front of me.
Fortunately I had a plan B.
If the guy had noticed I would deny all knowledge and point an accusing finger at him instead.
‘Did you just piss yourself there? You do realize there are toilets on board?!?’
I arrived at Barcelona Sants train station by 8pm.
Overjoyed that I’d succeeded on my mission, I celebrated with a Big Mac Meal.
I wasted 2 hours sitting around Sants when I should have been searching for a hotel or hostel immediately.
I concluded that it’d be a good idea to head straight to the airport via train and to try to locate accommodation there.
I should have known that this wouldn’t end well as I missed my first train to the airport after one of my rucksack’s straps got caught in the seat. It took 10 minutes, the help of some old lady and a hellish amount of swearing/sweating to free it.
The first major sign that something really wasn’t right was when I was travelling down the steps towards the terminal building and on the opposite side was someone who looked identical to me in every way.
I stopped to have another glance. The guy had disappeared through a wall.
I’d been awake for at least 36 hours by this point and my nerves were shot.
Everyone around me seemed to be speaking in English and were conversing about my home town. This left me perplexed. Who the fuck were these people and how did they know where I was from?
Paranoia and sleep deprivation induced delirium
I kept hearing music droning in the background over a speaker system. I could change it’s pitch in my head by just concentrating.
I went outside to try to find a hotel in the proximity of the airport but there were none to be found.
I knew I was gonna have to sleep in the airport.
After searching for over an hour I found a spot that was both isolated and clean.
I lay down on the ground and immediately got back up again. The floor was far too hard. So I walked outside and sat down on a seat.
I gazed up to the clear night’s sky and could see a red giant twinkling. The longer I inspected the star, the larger it grew until the fucking thing exploded.
With the supernova I immediately saw ‘It begins’ written in chicken scratchings on a bus parked across the road.
I could see ghosts in the distance walking towards me and others were running away into the distance.
The creepiest thing about the experience was how people moved. It was like they were walking slowly, then quickly, then slowly again. I saw one old woman walk like a crab.
I tried to calm myself by returning to the airport terminal again, but this time the floor was covered in blood and there were hundreds of people who looked identical to myself, walking in completely random directions, into and out of walls.
I kept hearing a woman calling my name. I went to the toilet to hide and I heard the voice in the next cubicle.
‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ by Sinead O’Connor played nonstop over the tannoy. Again I could control the sound and tempo by just thinking about it and bending the tune.
All in all, this went on for 4 hours.
I have never been so relieved to see daylight.
The flight was hell. It was full of annoyingly loud hockey players who wouldn’t stop enjoying themselves during the flight.
I was seated by a couple who were nervous fliers and they prayed throughout the journey. I tried to comfort them by regurgitating that old chestnut, that ‘it’s safer to fly than to travel by car’.
She didn’t believe me. Maybe it was because my hand was shaking around my wine glass as we came into land.
Going on 50 hours without sleep and still stressed out, I was openly hallucinating in the cab. I kept complaining to the driver about wasps being everywhere in the car.
The poor guy was fucking freaking out.
It got worse too. I started to nod off and as I did I would see ghosts walking up the rural roads towards the car.
I seen dead bodies hanging from the trees. Carcasses of cats, dogs and cows in the gutter.
I arrived home and slept for 22 hours straight.
By the time I woke up, the marathon had already started.
And that’s how I missed the Dublin Marathon 2011 after training for it for 4 months.
650 training miles shit down the pan.