It’s All About People (Even for an Introvert Like Me)
Greetings from Germany…specifically from our cousins’ home south of Frankfurt. We’ve only been here for one full day, but we already feel settled in and are so grateful for their hospitality and friendship. We tackled our first post-marathon run together (six scenic miles along the Main River) and enjoyed our first German beers of the trip, including a specially-formulated alcohol-free beer with added vitamins designed for consumption after sports. Running just got even better!
But before we fill our minds and hearts with new people and adventures here in Germany, we wanted to give a shout out to some of the wonderful folks we met in Ireland. M and I are introverts by nature, and we often keep to ourselves back home, preferring small groups and the company of friends and family. But we are somehow bolder when travelling…more apt to strike up conversations with strangers and take deep interest in those around us. It’s a point of reflection for me, something I want to learn from and carry with me back home.
For now, I want to share some of the people we met last week and the ways in which they enhanced our colorful Irish experiences. In keeping with our WPG style, I’ve used first initials to identify folks…sorry if it gets a bit confusing. Without further ado, may I introduce you to:
- The passionate organizers (D, C, and D, among others) and innumerable volunteers at the Achill Ultra. Thank you for putting on such a challenging, memorable event and welcoming us to your home turf for a few days. There’s something magical happening on that island, and in Ireland as a whole, when it comes to running.
- The unassuming, M, whom we were too anxious to chat with when we saw him in our hotel bar on our first night in Achill but who turned out to be a talented runner who place third in the ultra-marathon. When we congratulated him at breakfast Sunday morning, he quickly turned the topic away from himself and gave us perfect directions to our next destination.
- The inspiring, J, who propelled his way up and down and up up up the wet hills of Achill in a wheelchair…and he was planning to do it again in Longford the next day. That was on the heels of a 10-day stretch in July in which he completed 10 marathons. His strength (both physical and mental) left me speechless.
- The determined F, battling back from a foot injury and tackling the marathon while wearing a heavy backpack as part of her training for the upcoming “Grand-to-Grand” adventure race near the Grand Canyon. F and I shared a few rainy miles, chatting easily about travel and running. Her early pointers on uphill form helped me late in the race.
- The 21-year-old warrior, L-A, and her spirited mum who drove down together from Belfast so L-A could run in her first ultra-marathon, just four months after completing her first regular marathon. She was smiling every time I saw her on the loop course and was still smiling nine insane hours later when she finished 39.3 miles on a bad knee. I’m hoping we can convince her to come to the States and be part of our Reach-the-Beach relay team next year. She’s a beast…and an incredibly kind person. I think she gets it from her 50-something mum (who also recently took up running!).
- The sassy, R, and her friendly husband, D, from Ontario with whom we went pint-for-pint after the race. They kept us entertained with stories of traveling across Ireland with their three kids. Achill was D’s first half-marathon, but given the competitive spirit in their household, I doubt it will be his last.
- M & S, the 20-something guys with whom we chatted in the packed Galaxy Bar at the top of the Guinness Storehouse. One German, one Irish, they’d met in Dresden and were having a reunion in Dublin. They tolerated our rudimentary German as we talked about the economy, language, and the EU…perfect tourist-bar topics.
- J & E, a world-travelling couple from Texas, with whom we shared a dining table (but not our caramelized onions…) at a contemporary boxty restaurant in Dublin. We exchanged travel stories and picked their brains on their favorite places (including Machu Picchu) so we could add a few more to our bucket list. Our only regret is that we didn’t start chatting at the beginning of the meal instead of towards the end.
But perhaps the most interesting character of all was a man whose name we did not get. We were hunkered down in a Dublin laundromat on Monday morning, having finally emptied our backpacks of a week’s worth of running clothes. (Yes, it’s as gross as you might imagine.) He struck up a conversation with us, and at first, a bit tired and introverted, our answers were short: “Yes”, “No”, “New Hampshire, near Boston”. But we kept talking, topics flowing more easily, watching our clothes spin round and round. Mid-conversation he remarked, “It’s like people. You might meet someone at first and think they’re not very interesting, but once you spend a little time talking with them, you realize they’re not what you first thought.” (It’s best to imagine that said with the hard T’s of an Irish accent…)
We replied in agreement, and at first I thought he might be referring to us, with our American-wanderer backpacks and ball caps. But I quickly concluded he was likely referring to himself, making a slightly defensive, very proud, matter-of-fact assertion about his own existence and value and place in the world: an under-employed day laborer doing his laundry who also had lived for years in Chicago, ridden duck boats in the Wisconsin Dells and was a Cubs fan. He was a man who chatted us up on the Irish literary scene (past and present), including James Joyce and Seamus Heaney. We talked poetry and art and history. We learned the origin of the term “Donnybrook” (slang for fight, brawl or fracas). And he gave us a beat on a fantastic (and free) Yeats exhibit at the National Library of Ireland which may have been the highlight of our time in the city.
It was an enjoyable and enlightening conversation. We finished our laundry and said goodbye, lamenting on the walk home that we had failed to ask him for his name but happy to have had such a random, positive interaction. Next time you find yourself in a bar or hotel lobby or even better, a laundromat, pick your head up and look around. Find someone unassuming, say hello and ask them a few questions. Get them to do the talking while you do the listening. Everyone has a story to tell, and you might be pleasantly surprised when you hear it. –J.