I’m six foot tall and 16 stone, so it takes a bit of effort to build up a head of steam. I usually do about four miles and once I get going I do alright for a 64-year-old.
As I was returning home, I saw a guy ahead of me on the footpath making a bit of a nuisance of himself, shouting at people passing by. He was very drunk, and I know this to be a fact because as I passed him, he took a step back, balanced himself carefully, and looked me up and down and in a loud voice, he asked, “Are you an athlete?”
I was laughing to myself, and I suspect anyone within hearing distance was also having a chuckle. I am not now, nor was I ever, an athlete, and one look at me would confirm that.
I was a young trainee garda in Templemore in 1980. It was known as the Garda Training Centre in those days and while classroom work took up most of our day, physical training was also part of the daily regime. Apart from the swimming, I didn’t enjoy those sessions, because running was a particular problem. I couldn’t do it.
We used to run five-mile distances, as far as I remember, and I always struggled. Walking for a bit, then running for a bit meant I was always at the rear coming back to base and even then, I was so out of breath I could hardly say my name.
It’s a mystery to me how joggers can carry on a normal conversation without missing a beat.
One day, I was holding up the rear as usual with a couple of similarly afflicted souls and when we arrived back at the centre, we were met by an angry training sergeant. He had a face like thunder, and he accused us of hiding somewhere outside the centre and then popping out to join the rest of the lads as they made their way back.
He had absolutely no evidence to support his claim, but that didn’t seem to matter. It didn’t even make sense because if we were going to do that, it would have been more prudent for us to join the group somewhere in the middle and avoid the embarrassment of coming in last.
In any event, the punishment for our non-offence was to keep running for several laps of the parade ground. A firing squad would have been more humane.
I suspect the angry sergeant may have been caught up in the story of Rosie Ruiz, who was the surprise winner of the Boston Marathon around that same time in 1980.
Her triumph was a surprise because, despite her near-world record time of 2 hours, 31 minutes, 56 seconds, no-one had ever heard of her. Not only that, but no-one recalled seeing her during the race.
According to History.com, Ruiz was unknown in the running world and her victory raised suspicions because it was a 25-minute improvement over her New York City Marathon time.
Additionally, her winning time was then the third-fastest marathon time in history for a woman.
After studying race photographs, Ruiz didn’t appear in any of them until the very end.
The second-placed woman, Jacqueline Gareau, was surprised when she was told that someone had finished two and a half minutes ahead of her, and officials became suspicious when, during post-race TV interviews, Ruiz didn’t seem to know much at all about running. However, she stoutly defended her achievement.
When questioned, Ruiz suggested that officials had mistaken her for a man because of her short hair and that she’d felt particularly energised after a hearty breakfast, which accounted for her vastly improved time.
Stewards reviewed official photographs and failed to find her anywhere along the course before the 25th mile, which made sense when they discovered she had taken the subway during that part of the race.
Boston Marathon officials stripped Ruiz of her title and named Jacqueline Gareau of Canada the women’s champion and Ruiz’s time was invalidated.
In another marathon, Steve Cairns was in third place and out on his own. As he passed the 14-mile mark, he could see the two leading runners, a few minutes ahead.
He knew he had little chance of catching the front-runners and with a six-minute gap to close, the rest of the field had little chance of catching him.
Cairns held on to his position and finished the race comfortably. As he crossed the finish line, he heard his fourth-place finish called over the PA. Confused, he asked a marshal to point out who was third.
Cairns recognised the man immediately as Rob Sloan. Cairns had exchanged nods with him on the start line but he hadn’t seen him since.
No other runners could recall Sloan passing them on the trail either. Photographs suggested he was missing from the race and only appeared when there were just a few miles to go. Sloan denied this.
Some witnesses clearly recalled seeing he earlier but just not on the course. They said he had taken a bus.