My name is Niall and I’m an optimist. I’m also a complete idiot. I have no real talent for anything. I’m usually okay at new things I try and then when it gets to the stage where diligence is required to take something to the next level I’ll stop and move onto something else. I’m also the type of person that once I start anything new, I assume I’m going to become world class at it. When someone bought me my first cookbook, I thought I was going to win Masterchef. When I learned how to swim, about ten years ago, I was planning ahead to compete in the Beijing Olympics in 2012. So when I was challenged, thirty days ago, to run every day for 30 days I quite naturally gravitated towards breaking the 4 minute mile as my 30 day challenge.
The 4-minute-mile has a great mythic quality and it brings to mind that great period in the 50s when all these runners were trying to run the sub 4 minute mile, like a South Pole expedition or the space race. I’m 33 and have never been as unfit in my lifetime (I would have always played or been involved in sports teams but have not been in 6 months). I decided to run in the evening when my 1 year old went down to sleep after 8 o’clock. Below is a daily record of my running challenge.
Day 1: I didn’t even warm-up. Astro runners, high Vis vest, a pair of shorts and away I went. Luckily there is a lovely 1 mile route from my door to Lilliput press in Arbour Hill and back again to my door. I took it very easy at the start as I was cold. My loop is conducive to running cold as the first half is downhill. The second section was tougher, uphill all the way, but in a way my body seemed to enjoy the tougher part of the run. I am conscious of my old knee injury and I don’t want to end this challenge before I begin. I returned 7 min 55 seconds later. Roger Bannister is safe enough at the moment.
Day 2: wet night- 7min 46 secs
Day 3: I did some research online and have found a basic running programme to follow. It emphasises the importance of rest days. I hope I don’t start taking the piss. The basic programme is to become proficient at running a mile or even 2 or 3 miles. Make it feel easy to run a distance of a mile or more by running very slow and working on your rhythm and technique. The next step is to introduce speed work in intervals and slowly build it up until you are running hard for the whole mile. I didn’t run today and took a rest day. Knee felt slightly jarred from the two days running.
Day 4: my car was in the mechanics so I ran about half a mile to collect it. Felt good.
Day 5: Had to fix my neighbour’s curtain rail which took most of the evening without success. It felt like a work-out.
Day6: Woke with the flu symptoms and tight feeling across my chest. I looked on line about running when sick. I listened to some quacks online advice about it being okay to run if feeling sick above the neck, and not okay to run if feeling sick below the neck. Since I fell into the later I decided not to run.
Day7: Sick – birthday- drunk.
Day 8: Today I emailed Senator Eamon Coughlan to tell him of our challenge and to see if he can offer any practical training advice. Coughlan was the first man over the age of 40 to run a sub 4-minute-mile. I look forward to his reply. I played an hour of 5-a-side with the lads and felt good putting in a good running shift. I also ran my mile straight afterwards. Felt good.
Day 9: I ran a slow 2 miles today in order to build up my base. Tough. I told some friends on WhatsApp groups about the challenge. I was amazed by the interest because my mates are usually a lazy shower. We’ll see what comes of it.
Day 10: Played squash with a friend for the first time. Very enjoyable even if I did get my ass handed to me.
Day 11: Rest day – steak and chips, a few glasses of wine, a play and a few pints.
Day 12: Feeling terrible, not sure if I’m sick or hungover but can’t do anything. Let off the hook as my wife is gone out for the evening and I can’t go running.
Day 13: nothing
Day 14: I ran a very slow mile, working on the base.
Day 15: Played football again and followed it up with a slow mile run.
Day 16: Ran a slow mile and then watched the documentary on YouTube about Brother Colm O’Connell, the famous coach of so many great Kenyan runners down through the years. A great watch. He emphasised the importance of running well and slow and working on a nice rhythm. He also spoke of the importance of core strength as that is what a runner falls back on when the pressure comes on.
Day 17: Rest day – did some stretching and core work. Plank.
Day 18: slow run
Day 19: nothing
Day 20: Stag
Day 21: Stag
Day 22: hungover and really wanted to go for a run to sweat it out of me but I couldn’t get off the couch. Didn’t sleep well.
Day 23: nothing – had to go to a friend’s house for dinner (the squash player- Philly) – nice house.
Day 24: nothing – Wife gone out for evening after work and no babysitter.
Day 25: Ran the mile and listened to my body. It wanted to do some speed work so I sprinted in between certain lamp posts on the road. It felt great and it felt like there was plenty left in the tank.
Day 26: I went to the cinema followed by a few beers with a mate. We ended up in Sin é till 3. I jogged home very slow – about 2 miles.
Day 27: Good run with plenty of good sprints at intervals, followed by a good stretch and core work.
Day 28: No running as we did our Urban exploration (allegedly)
Day 29: Another good run with sprints followed by stretching and core work. Feeling very good at my 4 minute attempt tomorrow!
Day 30: A nice cold but dry evening meant that conditions were perfect. Like day 1, I didn’t even warm-up. Astro runners, high Vis vest, a pair of shorts and away I went. I returned 6 minutes 33 secs later, gasping but feeling good.
Obviously the main result is that I’ve shaved 1 min 22 secs off my mile time. It’s good to know in an apocalyptic situation how fast I can run a mile. I remember a few years ago my brother-in-law telling me that to apply for the Garda sub aqua unit you needed to be able to run a mile in under 6 mins. I remember commenting on how easy that would be. How wrong I was. So that’s going to be my new running challenge – to break 6 mins for the mile.
I knew that I was doomed to fail my initial 4 minute mile challenge but I didn’t realise how much I would fail in so many ways. I congratulated myself on how much I ran but when I counted it up I only ran 15 out of 30 days! Shocking.
I definitely feel fitter after the 30 days. I’ve lost about half a stone. The run combined with stretching and core work has at least made me feel fitter and stronger. I loved the fact that with a shower the workout took no longer than 20 minutes. Very doable. And I intend to keep this type of exercise as part of my weekly routine. I reckon that in the last 30 days I’ve watched a lot less TV and spent less time on social media, though my wife is not so sure. One of my motivations for taking on these challenges is idea exhaustion. Instead of having loads of ideas floating around in my head but doing very little about them, I want to exhaust them- actually do them. I enjoyed the focus of these 3 ideas and bringing my focus back to just these three things. The other ideas can wait.
“We live in a world now obsessed with health and safety. We live in a world now obsessed with security. We live in a world where we are being boxed in by signs and security and CCTV cameras. In the name of security we are being denied the ability to make decisions for ourselves. In the name of security we are being denied our most basic freedom. The freedom to explore the environment we live in.” – Bradley Garrett, TED talk, the value of trespass
In 2006,when OJ Simpson was hard up for a few quid he released a book called “If I did it” detailing how he would have “hypothetically” committed the crimes he was so famously acquitted of a decade earlier. The following is a “hypothetical” account of some urban exploration I did not undertake with some friends recently;
Brad Garrett’s TED talk on the value of trespass is inspiring stuff. It is required watching if you are interested in urban exploration. In it he hypothesises on the value of trespass in a modern democracy and he makes quite a powerful argument. Answering his call to arms, me and four friends set about finding hidden tunnels beneath Dublin’s Phoenix Park. Our plan was to gain access to some of these tunnels via the railway line that runs beneath the park.
“It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission”
We gained access near Dublin’s river Liffey. This was our moment of trespass and I was afraid. My fear turned to paranoia. Anyone I saw in a window was now watching us and reporting us to relevant authorities. It was thrilling and pathetic. No one cared, no one was watching. I’d even say if a railway maintenance worker or security guard happened upon us he might say “nice night”.
Once access to the line was gained through some climbing, shimmying and jumping, relief was felt and on we went into the darkness of the tunnel. I’d love to say that the night descended into something more at home in a Joseph Conrad novel, but it did not. The tunnel was a tunnel. Very dark (we had torches) but airy and in no way claustrophobic. We could see doorways that may at one time accessed the park but they were all well boarded up. We walked the length of the tunnel, about 700 metres. Our hopes of finding a gateway to a labyrinth beneath the park had reached a dead end. We trundled back home, some suitably satisfied by the earlier adrenaline rush, others left wanting more.
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
I’ve thought about that night a lot since and about my fear of getting caught. In his TED talk, Garrett talks about the boundaries and limits set by society and he advocates the questioning of these boundaries: are they ethical, legal or even justified? That night the fear I felt was certainly not an ethical fear as I know I would not have caused any damage or left any trace of being there. So it must have been a legal fear. Fear of confrontation with authority. Fear of being arrested. Fear of imprisonment. Fear of being dragged through the courts. Fear of paying a huge fine. Fear of losing my job. Fear of losing my wife, and bringing shame on me and my family. Was this fear justified? No.
There’s an old saying that goes something like; A real man has been arrested, been with a prostitute and has a tattoo. I’ll let you guess as to how far off a real man I am by that rationale. Not only is it nonsense but it’s completely outdated. The days when tattoos were the realm of sailors, criminals and circus performers are long since gone and statistics from the UK show that nearly 30% of men in the 18 to 44 age group (my age group) have been inked and in America these percentages are higher. Indeed if you were to look at a premier league football match on a Sunday you would find it more difficult to find the non-inked. Even if one was so inclined into thinking these footballers and other inked celebrities were “cool” and so by association tattoos are cool – the whole thing has come so far as to be the opposite of cool. Teachers and all sorts of uncool professions are now boasting tattooed poster boys. If proof that tattoos are uncool was needed even The British Prime Minister’s wife has one. Heaven knows how many of our TDs are sporting a dolphin or a butterfly on those well sat on arses in the Dáil chambers. So like most things in life, it’s all about opinion and I believe that tattoos are neither cool nor uncool. It depends on what the tattoo is that deciphers where it lies in the pantheon of great body art. From a Salvador Dali inspired masterpiece on someone’s back to a misspelt “Only God can juge me” – one man’s perfume is another man’s poison.
I’ve never really thought about getting a tattoo. Obviously the odd fleeting thought but nothing that ever stuck. While wandering the mall in Blanchardstown at Christmas, desperately searching for inspiration for a gift for my wife the thought briefly crossed my broken and befuddled mind. “Fiona 4ever”, across my arm. It proved a fleeting thought and I settled for some tried and tested jewellery instead. So when a month later Dave challenged me to get a tattoo, the idea was fresh enough in my mind to gain some traction. I feel that I genuinely committed to the idea. I researched it and thought about it. I looked up different body art on Pinterest and stopped off in tattoo parlours as I passed to look at their work or to talk to the artist. I remembered some advice given to me by a tattoo artist from Capel Street who I met in a pub one night – get something that you will always be or always have e.g. something Irish, family name etc. So I came up with an idea of a tattoo about my ancestors. I couldn’t get away from the symbol of a tree, with its roots and branches. There is some wonderful tree art out there so picking a suitable tree image was easy enough. Then where to get it? I didn’t want it on show. I wanted it covered up. I always liked the idea of getting a tattoo on the sole of my left foot and never letting anyone from my family see it until maybe my deathbed and my children might wonder what that was all about. But my research suggested that not only is it painful but takes a long time to heal and you might be off your feet for a week or two. Just not an option for me, with a 1 year old and a generous, kind, loving but unsympathetic wife. Then I thought about the ribs. Painful yes but I’d like to think that wouldn’t bother me. But there I’d waste a good portion of my life looking at it. So this brought me to the back. The back is ideal for me. I can see it in the mirror but it’s where I’ll forget about it the quickest and I’ll only have to think about it when I catch a rare glimpse in the mirror while dressing or showering. Decision made, image picked, part of the body chosen. Just do it so.
I then I set about looking for reasons not to get it done. Pain? For whatever reason I don’t feel like I couldn’t manage the pain and in a way I would nearly look forward to seeing how I get on with the pain. Money? €100 for life. Great value. I searched everywhere online for reasons not to do it. I looked at tall the ridiculous tattoo fails but it still didn’t put me off. Then I read somewhere that if you decide to get a tattoo you should then wait 3 months and if you still want it then, then go for it. I feel this is sound and sensible advice. Sometimes there’s a time not to listen to sensible advice but when you are dealing with the permanency of a tattoo, you probably should. I also read somewhere that if you get a tattoo you then can’t give blood. Eureka- the greatest reason of all not to. Now I have never given blood so I decided this was my get out card. I’d have to become a regular donor and point at that as a good reason not to get inked. It turns out that you can give blood after getting a tattoo but you have to wait 4 months. I called into the blood donor clinic on D’Olier Street one Thursday evening. I was amazed by how busy it was and by the amount of people who seem to take the time out of their schedule to donate. I saw the odd smug face but none as smug as mine probably. The screening process was rigorous but I suppose it has to be. About 45 mins after arriving I was in the chair ready for my needle. I’m lucky enough to not have encountered many needles in my life but I did feel somewhat anxious about the initial injection. For a moment they were having trouble locating a suitable vein and I felt like I was going to get away with it. Sorry couldn’t go through with it, Doctors orders. But alas a vein was found and spiked and roughly 5 minutes later I was a pint of blood lighter. As I was a 1st time donor I was given a bed to lie down so I naturally took full advantage despite the fact that my wife and child were patiently waiting. I was then given refreshments where I proceeded to make a pig of myself, sticking bags of crisps in my daughters changing bag. I kept wanting the drama of feeling faint and insisted on telling Fiona that I was ordered to take it very easy for the next 24 hours. But I felt fine. It took very little, if anything, out of me and my energy levels. The only downside was for my poor wife who had to listen to me bang on about saving lives and asking her how many lives had she saved today.
A few days later I reflected on the two acts of getting a tattoo and giving blood. I may still decide to get a tattoo but the act of giving blood has left a permanent mark and I intend to it as often as possible*.
*the most you can give blood in Ireland is every 90 days.