You know you’ve been in Ireland a good while when you catch yourself referring to people as “your man”, saying “like” after every phrase, and ending phone conversations with as many “bye”s as you can squeeze in before you’re hung up on.
I originally planned to spend 2 full months in London. That was before I made some good Irish friends who intrigued me with tales of races turned into mudbaths, their one-of-a-kind athletic club, and Coach Patsy, the Godfather of Irish athletics. In typical Irish fashion, my friend rung his running buddies, landed me accommodations, and set up a meeting with Patsy- all before I committed to the trip. Looks like I’d be going to Ireland!
Once that was decided, with very little convincing necessary, my mom got to work on her own task: tracking down some distant relatives whose only information she had was the name of the house they lived in. No address, phone number, or even village name- just a vague notion of the area our ancestors came from. But after some major sleuth work, she finally got a lead through the results of a local road race, of all things. My trip to Kilmihil was meant to be!
Many people would have been a little weirded out by all the stalking that preceded my visit. The Haugh family, on the other hand, welcomed me into their home as if I’ve known them forever, drove me all around Ireland, and served me the equivalent of a Thanksgiving feast for every lunch and dinner. I made a mistake early on by showing them that I eat a lot more than I might let on, and Bernadette seemed to see that as a challenge. Just how high could she pile the food on every plate? And how many servings could she give me before I surrendered? Thank goodness she’s an excellent cook- and that I was only there 5 days- or else I’d be in trouble!
I stayed in the beautiful house that Padraig built himself and now lives in with his lovely girlfriend Lisa, and was treated to the full Irish experience. They took me to the Cliffs of Moher, Doonbeg Beach, a Gaelic football game, and a few buzzing pubs. In addition, they ensured that I ate black pudding and heaps of spuds, watched the Guard and the national hurling championship, and even saw a few authentic Irish travelers (dream accomplished).
This week I also completed a solid training cycle on the land that has been in the family for at least 6 generations. Running by the hills, lake, windmills and national school that my relatives knew intimately was deeply satisfying. And doing it alongside Padriag, my wonderfully sarcastic and kind “cousin,” made it all the more special.
I’m now in Donegal and will spend the next week getting acquainted with the Finn Valley Athletic Club and the traditions it has established over the last 40 years. I’ve already learned loads from coaches and runners at a training session last night, so will save a full FVAC update for another day.
On a final note: Good luck to all the Rice girls and guys who are opening their cross country season tonight. Have a blast and know that I’m thinking about y’all from afar!