I have two options as a ‘runner’: I run on the path or I run on the road. Generally I opt for the path because, by and large, people are quite a lot softer than cars. I take to the road whenever I can, to give other pedestrians space and also because it is generally flatter and less rutted than the path. At the moment the roads are also noticeably quieter than normal. Mostly runners and pedestrians co-exist quite nicely, I think. I always give as much room as I can without putting myself under a bus and the walkers do the same for me. Pleasantries are normally exchanged – although mine often arrive more as a death-rattle than a thank you. Now Lockdown 2 has started, people have fallen back on the default position of crossing the road wherever possible to avoid ‘cross-overs’ – particularly with fat, gasping old men – but in the main everybody gives one another space, everybody smiles.
There is, though, one group of people to whom this ‘rule’ does not appear to apply. Some dog walkers do not move. Not just for me, but for anyone. If I move to the left, they stay squarely in the middle; if I move to the right, they stay squarely in the middle. If I squeeze myself against the wall to let them pass, they look at me as if I am about to mug them – and stay in the middle. They stare with a defiance that shouts ‘I will not move and I have a dog!’ I have to stop, plunge into a hedge or into the road, where the users of that thoroughfare are often, rightfully, much more troubled by my appearance: nobody wants a sweating old geezer smeared all over the front bumper. The dog walker will give no ground. These, presumably, are the same people who leave their dog’s shit-in-a-bag hanging from the branches of bushes wherever they go. Whatever they think I have, they are obviously concerned that I might give it to the dog. There is clearly a rule, doubtless penned at the time of the Magna Carta and never rescinded, that states that the path belongs to the dog-walker and that they do not need to cede ground to anyone. Knowledge of this rule comes with the dog.
I love dogs – I should get that out there now – but some of their owners… These are a new breed. Today, whilst I was out running, I actually saw a dog walker stand in the middle of the path and stare at a mother who had to guide her clearly afraid toddler into the road to avoid the yapping terrier, which obviously thought the child was a cat. The tit on the other end of the lead did not pull the dog back, he did not move to one side of the pavement, he just stared and then moved off when he was quite certain that his path had been sufficiently cleared to leave him unimpeded egress.
The last few months has filled the paths with lycra and dog leads: the number of brightly attired couch to 5k’ers now being roughly equivalent to those clutching a super-expensive hybrid canine (invented by a breeder who formerly mixed two-digit cocktails in a bar) at the far end of an extending leash. Civility is all that is required. Paths are normally not one way streets. There could be confrontation, but to be quite honest, those clad in lycra are generally too knackered whilst those with the leads have the honest opinion that anybody moving at a pace exceeding the saunter (which leaves me out, obviously) has no place on the flagged sward.
I’m sure that it is probably wrong to lay blame at just one door – although I have yet to witness a runner who was unwilling to move over to give a pedestrian room to walk. Many dog walkers are happy to co-exist, but many more are not. I’m at a loss to explain it. These are perfectly normal people. I’m sure they are perfectly happy to share the pavement when they haven’t got their dogs. They will smile quite congenially as long as you move into the road to let them pass. I’m sure if you fell under a lorry they would be quite concerned – although, as they would have to leave the centre of the path in order to come to your aid, you’d never know it.
Today’s favourite running track: Alright – ELO