Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Devil Wears Puma

I’m now really looking forward to the San Francisco Marathon. Just a week left until I catch the flight to my training camp in Alameda, California. I’ve got my fingers crossed that my recent Swiss endeavours haven’t adversely affected my preparation. I unintentionally lost 8 pounds in the mountains and I just hope it didn’t come off my leg muscles. Getting enough to eat on a big mountain expedition is always problematic. Firstly, you’ve got to carry with you all of the food that you’re going to need for the whole trip; regrettably, there’s never a convenient Tesco (Wal-Mart, for the benefit of our growing North American readership) at 4,000 metres above sea level. Secondly, it can’t be fresh food because it’s got to last for days and possibly weeks, so you inevitably end up eating some processed rubbish, whether you like it or not. Even that is only half of the story: at high altitude, it’s too cold to stop for long lunchbreaks and you’re trying to keep moving while the weather holds, and before the dawn arrives, which melts the surface ice and makes steady progress impossible). As if that wasn’t enough, the altitude often means that you don’t have much appetite for the tasty eight day old sandwich that’s been festering in the top of your rucksack for the last week.

30 June 2009, 9.22am: summit of the Allalinhorn (4,027 metres)

As soon as I arrive back from California, I’ll be off to the Lakeland 100 mountain marathon (, where I’ll be manning one of North Doodle’s ( two checkpoints. Quite a refreshing change to watch a race for once. You can view the course on Google Maps at Over its 100 miles, the race takes in some of the Lakes’ most beautiful scenery: Eskdale, Wasdale, Buttermere, Matterdale, Haweswater, Kentmere, Elterwater and the stunning Langdale Valley.

Did I ever tell you about the time I spent as a priest in the Langdale Valley? While this may sound fantastical, it’s all absolutely true. After all, bearing false witness is number 8 on Moses’ top ten. In 2005, I interrupted my training for the Dublin Marathon to perform a wedding ceremony in Great Langdale. It all happened like this: a good friend of mine was getting married and had set his heart on a service in the Roman Catholic chapel attached to his climbing club in Great Langdale. The resident priest was keen to help, but couldn’t perform the service because neither my friend nor his fiancé were catholic. He therefore suggested that my friend speak to the local Anglican (Episcopalian) vicar. The vicar was similarly keen to help, but couldn’t perform the ceremony in the RC chapel. The priest therefore suggested a civil registrar, but unfortunately they can’t perform ceremonies in a church or on other consecrated ground. When all else had failed, the priest kindly suggested that my friend could simply use the chapel for his own celebration. He hit upon a great plan: they’d secretly get married at the local Registry Office, and arrange their own ceremony at the chapel in the Langdales. Now all they needed was somebody responsible to perform the service. As it turned out, they had to make do with me. While I was honoured to be asked, I did have some understandable misgivings. Although I didn’t want to mislead anyone as to my priestly credentials, or lack thereof, it wasn’t up to me to ruin an otherwise idyllic service by announcing that I wasn’t actually a man of the cloth. So, everything proceeded without a hitch until, after the service, one of my flock came to congratulate me on an uplifting ceremony and to quiz me with some difficult theological questions. For a start, she wanted me to tell her more about the bronze Christ at the front of the chapel. Somewhat unconvincingly, I explained that it was a depiction of Christ, formed of bronze and located at the front of the chapel. Not easily satisfied, she asked what the Latin inscription underneath the bronze meant. At this point, I knew the game was up. So, you can imagine my surprise when I turned around to see that it said “Ad altiora”. With a due sense of relief, I confidently related that it means “To higher things” – a reference to the climbing club, and to the heavens to which we lift up our eyes and prayers. What a total stroke of luck: my school’s motto had been “Semper ad altiora” – “Always to higher things”. Despite five years of my school Latin teacher’s best efforts, I only remember three words in Latin, so you can imagine my elation when two of them were the ones I needed. My parishioner nodded approvingly, while I grew into my role.

1 July 2009: another day, another fine mess

I retired hurt to the wedding reception. To my horror, I was seated on the same table as the lady who had all of the questions. I’d detected that she had an interest in cycling, so I spent the next three hours spinning out the four facts I know about competitive cycling. If I’d let her get a word in edgeways, I’d have undoubtedly spent the entire reception facing impossible religious interrogation. At the end of the meal, I made my excuses and surfaced for some air. Just when I thought I was safe, I heard a voice calling “Father Dominic”. I realised that it could only mean me. The chap in question wanted my advice about the argument he'd just had with his girlfriend. I didn’t know whether to fob him off with a Hail Mary, or admit that I wasn’t the priest he assumed I was. Before I could own up, he told me that his girlfriend “twists around everything that I say – she’s just like a lawyer”. Given my day job as a lawyer, I considered it safer to maintain my priestly dignity on the subject. “Go on, my child….”.

2 July 2009, 7.54am: summit of the Weissmies (4,023 metres)

On my way to San Francisco, I’m stopping off in Dublin for my nephew Monty’s christening. Had I not been his godfather, I could have happily performed the service for him. Christenings must be easier than weddings, surely?

5 July 2009: job done, coming home. Virgin trains etc

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009

San Francisco, 26 July 2009

Berlin, 20 September 2009

New York, 1 November 2009

This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 13 July 2009 6 miles easy
Tuesday, 14 July 2009 Speed work
Wednesday, 15 July 2009 Rest
Thursday, 16 July 2009 6 miles steady
Friday, 17 July 2009 6 miles easy / Fly to Dublin
Saturday, 18 July 2009 Warm-up, 3 miles race pace, warm-down
Sunday, 19 July 2009 10 miles steady / Return to Liverpool

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see

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NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004