After six days driving a compact rental car around Ireland, my friend and I were finally in Clonakilty, the out-of-the way destination where I impulsively signed up for a marathon. There was a feeling we had made it, against all odds. After all, we had covered a different city every night. It was a lot of driving for one subway-riding New York City girl to manage on the left side of the road.
Not to mention the directions. We always set off to a new place with some sense of directions, but invariably our maps and apps required supplements. To make sure we were going the right way, I had been waving down truck-drivers, cars stopped in traffic and policeman to point us in the right direction all week. It was a desperate but necessary strategy.
As darkness began to close in earlier in the afternoon, we narrowly avoided taking a treacherous winding mountain road. We had been looking this deadly road for about 20 minutes, guided by maps and apps. A single look and a serpentine hand motion from the officer we met in Macroom quickly discouraged us away and back to main highway as rain started to pour.
So when after all this; the Limerick tunnel, the quarrels, the wrong turns and the roundabouts, we finally found our accommodation in Clonakilty, it felt like a brilliant stroke of luck. We had made it. All that was left to do was eat and get to the start of the race in the morning (our gracious local host had offered to see that I made it the 10 minutes down the road in the morning), and then drive a short way to Cork City. We would turn our car in and take the train from there.
Relaxing a bit, we asked our host to recommend something local for dinner. She was great friends, as it turned out, with the owner of a popular Thai spot in town. She would drive us there on the way to visit her friend's house, but then we would have to take a taxi back. Nah. We decided to drive ourselves. We followed the lights of her VW down the road, found the restaurant, and settled in for a nice meal.
I wasn't sure the best thing to eat before a marathon, but I enjoyed my mild curry and made sure to eat all my white rice for an extra reserve of carbs. They refilled my water glass about five times. It was one of the best meals of the week. My friend and I laughed and chatted about all that had transpired, around the theme that we had made it. I had anxiety for the race, but getting there was truly the hardest part, and I couldn't wait to be at the starting line the next day.
We left around 9:30PM, cutting it a bit close, but I couldn't fall asleep before 10PM anyway. We had clocked the distance between the restaurant and our accommodation as about 5 minutes on our way out. I don't know how long we were driving, how many dark hills we climbed in our little car, before realizing we were completely, totally lost.
There was no number on the house we were staying in. We had no address written down. Our host advised to remember hers was the second house past the speeding limit signpost, but we had seen 3 or 4 signposts and no house. Our phones didn't have calling enabled, and I did not have the number of our host anywhere. Panic flashed in my stomach.
I fought a feeling inside of me that just couldn't. The feeling that causes one to say the silly cliche "I literally can't right now". I had to run a marathon the next day. I need to relax, sleep, rest. I should have been sleeping an hour ago. It was getting later and later past 10, and our exit strategies were slowly disintegrating. In a hope that we could once more rely on the kindness of strangers, I suggested we find our way back to the Thai restaurant and see if anyone knew where this house was. Secretly, I contemplated sleeping in the car, so desperate to escape the situation, but I had already paid for the room.
Fortunately, Clonakilty is a tiny town. Someone at the restaurant, not the woman we had been referred to by name, but another, amazingly knew our host and had her phone number. We got a hold of her. Relief. Maddeningly, however, she had retired for the evening and was in no position to come deliver us from our hopelessly clueless state. And, it was official, there were no house numbers on Ring Road. Paradoxically, the town was not so tiny that anyone we were with could definitely say where Ring Road was.
We were to set out again armed with new, vague directions and the task of recognizing our indescript beach house in the dark. I sensed our cause was just as hopeless as ever. It was near 11PM. I had to run a marathon for the first time tomorrow. I wanted to cry.
Understanding we were still two New York City girls working on very limited direction to find a new place in the dark, a Santa-Claus like figure who also worked at the restaurant offered to squeeze himself behind the wheel of our economy vehicle and drive us around with our heads out the window, searching for anything familiar. It was a kind gesture. On a rational level it promised to be just as hopeless any other attempt because he would still rely a little on us to identify the house and guess which road is RIng Road. We took him up on it anyway.
Declan, it turns out, had a lead foot with our little car and we took a few false starts and jolting stops to get going. I thought my friend, a non-runner who was compromising a lot by agreeing to go with me to a random city for a running event, might murder me now. In a matter of 20 minutes, after pulling into many wrong driveways, we finally recognized a combination of yellow and concrete we had maybe seen in a past life, when we were celebrating being lost for the last time in Ireland over thai food.
At 12AM, I crawled into bed and set my alarm to get to starting line in the morning. I said a new prayer of thanks that tomorrow, I had locals to follow for the 26.2 mile course.