Strabane, Northern Ireland
I meet my nemesis in the mornings on the Bog Road.
I don’t know where exactly I’ll find her, but I know she’ll be there. She’s there every morning: she never misses a day.
In my head, she marks how far and how quickly I have run; her walking marks my progress. She’s becoming one of the reasons I run.
I’ve started running since we came to Ireland.
I started with once or twice a week; I’d wear my running clothes to drop the kids off at school, hand my jacket to my husband, and head off for four miles.
It’s now been almost two months, and, as running goes, it’s starting to feel better, part of my regular routine.
I miss it if I don’t do it.
I run past the controlled primary school, past the district council office, past the high school, and turn on to the main road connecting the towns.
The traffic is loud and noisy at 9 a.m., but there are a fair number of walkers along the path, no other runners.
There’s a charming older Irish gentleman, who gives me a big smile, and a twist of the head, and a cheery “Howarya, luv,”
as a greeting.
He is often deep in conversation with other old men, cronies, some with dogs, some with canes, wearing tweed caps and light raincoats, regardless of the weather.
There are a fair number of chubby young women with prams, trying to push off baby fat while pushing the babies, who smile shyly at me as I pound by.
After a mile or so, I turn off the main road and onto the Bog Road.
This is the best part of the run, a road with very little traffic, lots of cows, donkeys, horses and sheep and the occasional walker to raise my finger to. (I haven’t yet perfected the head twist in greeting, but I’m good with the finger raise.)
The road is surrounded by green fields, the occasional stone farmhouse and some straight long stretches that allow me to practise my fledgling sprints.
The cows appear to have gotten used to me; they no longer moo indignantly as I jog by.
There’s a section of the road where the hazelnut trees come together over my head in a green leafy arch; it feels so idyllic that I’ll cling to that memory when I leave this place.
The road is relatively narrow, and I’m grateful to the farmers who cut back the bramble and whin-bush hedges with their sharp thorns when cars and the postal van go by. When the tractors come, which they always do on Irish roads, I have to stop running and just get out of their way; a tractor always wins.
On this part of the road there are a number of dog walkers: the rougher-looking older men walking their muzzled greyhounds (the greyhound racing track is just across the river); the softer older man with his friendly golden retriever and the vigorous middle-aged couple race-walking their wee terriers.
It is in this part of the road that I encounter my nemesis.
At the beginning of the school year, it was farther up the road, towards the end of my four miles, but now she’s pushed it to about halfway round the loop.
The first few days, I thought I recognized one of the other school moms walking towards me as I ran in the other direction, a blond women in jeans, dark rain jacket and an umbrella.
I’d smile and nod at her, but there wasn’t any recognition.
At the end of the school day, I’d look at her as we’d wait for our four year olds to come out of school (primary ones start early in Northern Ireland), and she still wouldn’t acknowledge me.
But as I saw her every day I ran, and every day we stood outside the school, I decided I needed to just be the pushy bold North American and make the first foray into friendliness.
I marched up to her and said, “So, do you walk around the lower-road loop every day?” and she replied … well, I couldn’t understand her.
The accent here, to my Canadian ears, is not generally that strong, and I’m even picking up a bit of a lilt myself, I think, but there was something about the combination of a very thick Ulster mumble, speaking very quickly and using some place names I didn’t understand (later, I think she said she walks the Artigarvan road, over the Bog Road, to the Omagh road, but I didn’t catch all that at first).
Anyways, as befits any tourist, I smiled and nodded, and had to ask her to repeat her question when she paused with an upwards lilt at the end of the sentence.
A few other mothers joined in, and we had a conversation about walking the four miles around the loop, the blond walker said she does it every day, and catches a taxi home at the end of it (taxis are everywhere in this small town).
I lapsed into conversation with another women who asked me how we were settling in: we are clearly known around the little school as the Canadians.
With three kids in a school of seven grades, we cover a lot of classes.
So now when I see the blond woman walking, she smiles at me, and I smile at her.
But where we meet is farther along the loop, and it bugs me.
She must be dropping her daughter off early, and getting away much earlier than she did at the beginning of the year.
She’s walking, and I’m running, and my times are definitely getting faster, but she’s getting faster too.
Sometimes I think I trick her, and I run the same direction that she walks in, and then I pass her early on.
A few times, when I’ve added on my extra-mile in the middle of my run, by running down a laneway and back, I pass her twice.
But she is still getting farther and farther around the loop every day.
I’m tempted to soon organize my whole family to arrive at school earlier, just so I can leave on my run earlier, so I’ll be farther around the loop when we meet.
But I still can’t understand what she says when she greets me.
Carolyn Moore is Whitehorse resident and freelance writer who currently lives in Strabane, Northern Ireland.