One thing that running does give you is the time you need to really torture yourself mentally. To reprimand yourself for things you might have done – or might not have done; for the things you should have done, but didn’t; for saying the things that you surely could have found a better way of saying. It also gives you more than ample time to consider what on earth you think you are doing with your life – and why, from the feel of things, you are making a determined attempt to shorten it? Can it possibly be healthy for a man of your age to feel so very close to Death’s door? Who’d have possibly guessed that that particular threshold was barely a kilometre from your own? If Death was your neighbour, would you invite him round for tea? Hope that he is a little more lenient with the man who let him have the last HobNob? Or would you try to ignore him, keep your head down and hope that he doesn’t notice you? How would you cope with his overhanging branches breaking the panels in your greenhouse roof, or the fact that bits of his fence keep falling on your begonias? It’s not easy to strike the right balance with a man who spends the whole day sharpening his scythe, but never cuts the lawn… Running is intended to put some distance between the two of you, but somehow, it just brings you closer.
I have now grown used to being overtaken by younger runners, usually in groups (What is, I wonder, the collective noun for a group of runners? A Totter? A Gasp?*) chatting lightly as they trip lightly by the heavy footed, wheezy old man checking his heart to make sure it is still going. It does not worry me. Other runners are usually polite. They cross the road when they see me ahead and stoically refuse the opportunity to sing ‘Lip Up Fatty’ as they fly by. Later in the run I may be overtaken by old ladies walking their dogs. That bothers me. Old ladies simply smile as they are reminded of their long-dead fathers and offer me their zimmer. It is difficult to get cross with somebody who is sporting a blue rinse and walking a dog so small that it could possibly be bullied by a buffed-up vole – particularly when they are probably fitter than me – so I always do the same thing: I smile and, as much as breathlessness allows, pass the time of day in the friendliest way that I can muster, before I gather up my dignity and jog on. I might not feel great, but at least I don’t feel like an arse.
Last week I felt as though I might be nearing the fullest extent of my pain and perseverance thresholds. This week I appear to be exactly the same distance from them which, given the incremental rise in effort required in this programme, is I suppose, ok. It doesn’t feel ok, but given that each successive day is currently accompanied by an extra twist on the rack, it’s probably as good as I can expect it to be.
I am still running in a pair of trainers that I found at the back of the garden shed. I can’t face going in to town to buy new ones. The shops that sell trainers have staff and I can’t stand pity. Besides, these are ok as long as I wear very thin socks and wrap my toes in Elastoplast. When I was a boy, playing football in secondhand boots, my dad used to make me sit with the soles of my feet in surgical spirit to toughen them up. Sometimes I watch the news and wish he’d done it to my soul…
*I have just looked it up and, disappointingly, it is ‘a Field’. Exercise and lack of imagination do seem to go hand in hand sadly.