A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. Well, I am in no position to comment upon the veracity of that statement, but I’ve got a thousand words going begging, so that is are what you’re getting from me. I feel that we are friends now, you and I; I can tell you things. I am in my sixties, overweight and the most physically exerting thing I usually do is to open the breadbin. These things you already know. What you don’t know is that having downloaded the couch to 5k app on my phone many months ago, I have finally opened it this week and embarked upon the journey that will turn me into an Adonis. It is a voyage for which I am in no way prepared. I do not own trainers of any kind, certainly not specialist running ones, so I’m currently wearing a natty pair of striped espadrilles. They are matched with over-long swimming shorts, a baggy ‘T’ shirt and a pair of wrap-around sun glasses so that nobody knows who I am. I look like a man who really should not be jogging. Who needs a picture to realise that it is a sight that once seen, you will never be able to un-see?
If you are not familiar with the app, it leads you slowly, slowly, slowly from zero exercise to regular 5km runs via an ordered run/walk routine, which in my case, amounts to a regular curse/gasp/stagger. My ‘companion’ on these jaunts is the lovely Jo Whiley, who I thought (correctly) would be quietly encouraging, but who, I now realise, I feel quite embarrassed to be out and about with in the state I am in.
As a child and young man, I was always ‘sporty’ and I played football until well into my fifties, but I have never been a runner. I can sprint over short distances in a heavy-footed, forward-stumble kind of a way (think hippo) but my endurance is shorter than a bus driver’s temper. At school I learned the benefits of being a plodder when our sports teacher, an ex-para, whom I always suspected of being a member of the Hitler Youth, would send us out on a 1500 metre run at the start of ‘Double PE’. Following the run we all trooped inside for tortuous circuit exercises – except for the last five to finish, who had to run an extra lap and, crucially, if they did the last lap slowly enough – possibly with a short stop for a fag behind the hedge – missed the circuits altogether and turned up just in time for ‘crab football’. Guess where I was? In my prime I could, on occasion, speed myself up to an ungainly lope, but these days I am a one-gear lumberer. My ‘jog’ is generally slower than my walk. At times I do have the feeling that I am actually going backwards, but I plod along.
I have tried to find routes where I will not encounter anybody I know, but I live in a village. I know a lot of people. I have discovered not only that wrap-around sunglasses do not sufficiently disguise me, but also that when I am jogging, I myself recognise no-one. People speak as I pant my way past, but I have no idea who they are, and I cannot hear them because Jo Whiley requires me to have my headphones in. In consequence, I reply to anyone who looks as though they might be greeting me, which can startle those who are merely watering the geraniums and have no idea who I am. I have no idea how far the run (warm up, eight jogs, eight walks and warm down) might take me (hint: nowhere near as far as you might imagine) so I simply head off and when the little bell rings to tell me that I am half way through, I retrace my tottering steps. I pass the same people twice. They see me coming (I am not the kind of sight that they can ignore) and scuttle inside if they are able. Geranium waterers suddenly sense the onset of rain; dog walkers find imaginary dog crap that they just have to clear up; solitary walkers pretend that they have lost their dog. I try to keep my head down – this is pure expedience on my part. The paths around here are pretty much as pot-holed as the road. I am concerned that I might trip. I am much more concerned that I might trip within sight of somebody that knows me. Most of my near-neighbours believe that I am useless enough already. It would be too much if they were to discover that I can’t even jog in slow-motion without floundering. Especially if they have to help me up.
And here’s another thing! I carry my phone a) because Jo Whiley is on it, b) because my music is on it and c) in case I can’t get home – and it’s a real pain. If I put it in my pocket it bangs against my thigh at every step and pulls my shorts down, when I hold it in my hand it leads to a partial garrotting at every step. Should I carry on with this malarkey, I fear that I am going to have to buy equipment: shoes that do not look as though I should be strolling along the promenade at St Tropez; shorts that do not start at my knees and end at my ankles half an hour later, and some means of attaching my phone to a portion of my body that doesn’t move about too much even at full speed (e.g. in the last couple of yards when the biscuits are within sight). Well, they did tell me that I might shed a few pounds.
Anyway, it is all out in the open now. I will try to keep it going and I will keep you informed, but don’t expect a photo. A thousand words is definitely worth not seeing the picture…