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Running up to Christmas

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Since having kids, Christmas can sometime feel like an organisational marathon. Sort Santa lists, sort family gifts, sort a plan for who’s going where on Christmas Day, and then sort a provisional one, just in case someone has a sniffle. Shop for food, shop for clothes, shop for a Christmas tree and stand. Sort my Mum’s decorations. Order our turkey. Thank my lucky stars that our cross-border shopping trip to Derry was the Tuesday before Storm Barra hit, and not the day it arrived. `

It’s all systems go. The part of me that's addicted to to-do lists is buzzing, if a little manic. There’s not just one to-do list, but several. And they need to run concurrently! It feels like a Leaving Cert exam in Logistics. And that’s before I get to the Christmas cards list. God forgive me I was so strung out last year, when I reached my late Uncle’s name on the list, I felt a momentarily relieved, thinking, ‘Well, there’s one less card to send, at least.’

It certainly can feel like a marathon at times. I can’t claim to have run a full one, but I did manage a half marathon several years ago. It was 6 and a bit miles out along Dublin Bay from Clontarf to Sutton and the same 6 and a bit miles back in. I had run a 10-mile race before, and that had been a hilly course, so I was reasonably confident I could finish the extra 3 miles on the flat.

My biggest challenge was the 45 mins or so, that I reckoned, I would be meeting the runners ahead of me on their way back from the halfway point, while I was still heading out. I was going to find that tough, I thought. I braced myself as I saw the lead group coming towards me. I admired their focus and speed …and their serious running gear. They came singly and then in bunches, grouped around pace setters running for a particular time, 1 hour 30, 1 hour 45, 2 hours. What I remember being struck by most was the strain in a lot of their faces. I felt quite comfortable by comparison. Listening to an RTE Doc on One podcast about an aging nun who was the aunt of the programme maker. Maybe, from a health point of view, I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough. But I liked that I was enjoying what I was doing. A hug from a friend at the halfway mark helped a lot and I turned, tuning in to a second Doc on One and admiring the view of the Dublin hills as I made my way back.

I want to change gear around Christmas. To be the one who is enjoying the podcasts and the view of Christmas as it comes closer, rather than one straining to keep up with some seasonal pacesetter. To find a way that my enough is enough. And to let go of the pressure it’s so easy to feel at this time of year to buy, to bring, to give, to wear, to eat, or to drink the ‘right’ things.

The day of my first long distance run – the 10 mile one – I was a bundle of nerves. It was the Ballyliffen Coastal Challenge in NorthWest Donegal, so it made the hills I ran around in Dublin look wimpish by comparison. My husband assured me, though, that if I could run half the distance comfortably -which I could- then on the day I should be ‘well able to run the full distance’. As I headed in to register, I passed a stand for an Ultra Marathon Competition: 4 marathons on 4 consecutive days around some of the toughest terrain in Inishowen. I still remember the flash of rage I felt when I realised what the stand was for, ‘Ah, for the love of God, can you not give me a day to feel special, to feel I am taking on the world, before pushing the universe in my face.’

As I get further from that day, and mellow a little, I can see it is of course ok that others get their buzz at a different level than me. I am lucky to be well enough to run my distance. I am also of course, really lucky to have all the people in my life that make Christmas such a busy time. If Christmas is a long-distance logistical challenge, then I want to choose the distance I can handle and take it as a pace I can enjoy, and not get thrown by those who are choosing to make it a longer or a faster race.

I want to enjoy the views, the podcasts, and the moments to bump into friends along the way.

And arrive at the ‘finish line’ of Christmas Day that bit more ready and able to celebrate what it’s really all about.

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