It’s only when you leave home that you appreciate what’s there.
So it is with Dublin’s Phoenix Park. During the three years I lived in Dublin, I took the Park for granted. Practically every weekday, I ran through this vast expansive wood and grassland, doing laps around its eleven kilometre circumference or racing straight through it on my way to town and work. With its 707 hectares of enclosed grounds, I was never stuck for a place to run.
But now that I’ve travelled elsewhere in the world, I understand better what a unique place the Phoenix Park is.
Nowhere else have I found such an expansive place to run in. The park has spoilt me with so much grass, so many trails, so many trees, and so much space that I now find any other park substandard.
When I was back in Dublin last December, I couldn’t help but break out for a run in the Park. Over the M50, through the Castleknock gates, I raced straight down the thoroughfare of Chesterfield Avenue, past the St. Stephen’s Day walkers and families out to work off some of the day before’s excess Christmas calories.
The going was muddy underfoot, but I was ecstatically happy to be finally back in the muck and the dirt. In Hanoi, there is so little grass to run on that I am consigned to running on the roads most of the time. But nothing beats the softness of running on Irish green grass, with none of the complaints that I sometimes get from hips or knees on aggressive tarmac runs.
Passing the Irish President’s home and the American Ambassador’s Residence, I take a right at the Phoenix roundabout and head straight towards the Papal Cross. Despite the descent of the church’s popularity since the Pope’s visit to this very spot in 1979, many families are out climbing up and around the Cross, taking in the views of the park and the snow capped Wicklow and Dublin Mountains behind.
And a run in the Phoenix Park wouldn’t be the same without a chance encounter with the resident deer. I come across them on the corner of the Cross’s plain, young deer with their parents, huddling together for safety and warmth.
It was good to have a run around Phoenix Park, even if it was just for nostalgia’s sake. At least this time around I ensured I made the most of it. I’m fully aware that it will be a while before I’m spoilt with such an ideal place to run again.