The Running Man on Sundays

Being ‘a runner’ at last has come as something of a surprise to me: I have always been a runner last of all things.  Covid has changed me and although I do not now, and doubt I ever will, enjoy running, without question I do feel better for doing it and I will continue to do so for as long as I am able.  What I will not do, if I can possibly avoid it, is to run on a Sunday, because the paths are thronged with weekend dog-walkers and I spend so much time leaping up and down kerbs in an attempt to give them what they consider to be sufficient space that I might as well stay at home and go up and down the doorstep.  This week, however, for reasons that might provide someone with a decent PHD thesis, I was forced to brave the canine overlords and head out on the Sabbath.  I prepared myself and planned a route that, for the most part, allowed me to stick to the gutter, where most people seem to think that I belong.  What I had not considered is that nobody appears to park their cars on the road any longer.  All cars are parked across the path as close to the hedge/fence/discarded mattresses as it is possible to get without scraping the paint from the wing-mirror.  There is absolutely no way to pass without taking to the centre of the road where you encounter the second Sunday morning issue: all home deliveries, it would seem, are now made on this day.  The whole village is a web of DPD vans, Yodel vans and vans that are obviously recently purchased once-upon-a-time Post Office vans with which ends are being forced to meet.  I am able to run a straighter line after sixteen pints of cider than I am in the streets of this village on a Sunday morning.  Car doors spring open in front of me, drivers leap out on top of me, everybody wants to know why I am not on the path.  I am not on the path because it is full of bloody car!  I am not in the gutter because it too is full of bloody car!  I am in the road because it is not full of bloody car, it is full of Amazon.

Sunday morning is a very social time and, for reasons unknown to non-dog walkers, almost all Sunday morning dog walkers dress as if they are about to run a marathon and they cannot resist the opportunity to gather on street corners to discuss it.  The array of skin-tight, body-shaming, hi-viz elastane on show provides a pallet otherwise seen outside of Salvador Dali on a particularly vivid acid trip.  Not a single molecule of it has ever encountered human sweat*.  Everywhere you look there are small groups of middle-aged, semi-fluorescant lycra-clad dog exercisers chatting the morning away before, presumably, wheezing their way back home to a full roast dinner, a bottle of red and a couple of hours in front of Harry Potter on Netflix.  These tiny gatherings do not move for any reason what-so-ever.  They merely stare disdainfully as you try to navigate a path between them and the adjacent delivery van without falling under the wheels of the four-by-four on its way to pick up the morning papers.  I cannot begin to imagine how upset they would be if I were to be disembowelled by the three-ton school transporter and, in the process, managed to splash brain all over their leisurewear.  I cannot imagine anything would get that out, and blood red clashes so horribly with lime green…

Anyway, having misguidedly sallied forth, I persevered – I had no other way of getting home – but, the morning being warm and my anxiety being heightened, I pretty soon found sweat trickling down every available surface (as well as one or two that really should not have been) and particularly down my brow and into my eyes.  I wear contact lenses to run: I cannot rub my eyes for fear of losing one down a drain, I cannot rub my forehead for fear of stretching the sagging mess of skin that ripples across my brow and popping an earbud out, so I blink a lot and rarely recognise anyone around me.  Strangely, that situation seems to work for everyone, particularly those who studiously avoid looking me in the eye; who choose to deny my entire presence by staring at the ground, scanning the clouds or talking to the lamp-post.  They appear to believe that whatever I have got (and I must have something) it must be infectious and could possibly be contracted by eye contact.  To me, they are an amorphous blob; to them, I am a peripatetic pariah but, to everyone’s relief, our eyes never meet and thus I do not get the opportunity to leach out their very souls from their hooded optic orbs.  Which is just as well, being Sunday and all…

*Other, of course, than the children forced to produce it.

The Running Man on the Path

I would choose, if it was safe, to run on the roads rather than the paths.  The paths around here are very much the second choice for running.  For a start they would appear never to have recovered from being bombed in the war: it would be uncharitable to call the craters that litter them ‘potholes’ – I think ‘fox-holes’ would be more appropriate: they are wide enough to defy hurdling and deep enough to conceal ancient Japanese soldiers who still do not know that the war is over.  Dodging them pretty much doubles the distance of a run.  Then, where there are no potholes, there are drives.  For some reason this village specialises in driveways that merge with the road via something with sides that appear to have fallen off a rift valley.  Those that do not treat you to an up and down of about six feet over a car’s width, indulge you, instead, in a headlong dive either into the road or somebody’s garden, as the whim takes them.  After a ‘path run’ my knees feel like they have just done ten minutes on a bouncy castle with my grandkids – the most strenuous exercise known to man.  And finally, of course, the paths have dog walkers…

I know, I know, I have been here before, but really!  What is it all about?  Normally if I am running in the road, providing I stick to the gutter – that’s quite enough of that, thank you – approaching cars ease out a little to give me room.  I always acknowledge them.  Everyone is happy.  If I am on the path and have to pass anyone – a novelty for someone who runs at a speed somewhat short of walking pace – I move into the road if I can, or cross to the other side.  None of this is possible when the rain means that the road is as slippery as a greased eel.  I stick to the path and gauge my speed, the best I can, to pass walkers at a convenient point, causing both of us the minimum inconvenience and allowing the maximum distance.  Now, I am a walker too.  I do realise that walkers do not want a shagged-out senior citizen panting all over them at close quarters.  It’s easily sorted.  We all move a little and everyone is happy.  Normally pleasantries are exchanged and the world carries on turning.  Unless the walkers are attached by a leash to a dog, in which case the path becomes a kingdom to be defended.  None shall pass.  A laird whose territory extends exactly to the end of the pooch’s lead.

Most of what passes for rational thought when I am running, is expended on where I should be in order to cause the minimum inconvenience to other path and road users: on plotting a path that keeps everybody as safe as possible and, if possible, avoids the necessity for a trip to A&E with my leg in a makeshift splint, cunningly fashioned from pieces of the larchlap fence I have just crashed through.  A walker, on seeing a runner approaching, will normally move to one side, the runner to the other and it is very easy to manufacture a point of crossing that coincides with a driveway.  Two metres is an easy distance to gauge: imagine falling over; would you crack your head on the path or on the other person’s toe-cap?  A walker with a dog, however, will glare and stop, with great deliberation, between driveways before moving to the very centre of the path, giving you the simple choice: go ‘dog-side’ and risk a trip through somebody’s hedge, or go ‘idiot-side’ and risk a high-wire act along the kerb whilst they glare at you and defy you to breathe their air.  With the road out of bounds, the ‘full stop’ is the only way out, whilst they walk by at their leisure, snorting gently from the nose.  I was actually asked today whether I was ‘allowed to be doing that’.  ‘Lockdown,’ apparently, ‘is not over yet.’  I was about four hundred yards from home.  I did not recognise my interrogators – who were even more ancient than me – but I’m guessing they were probably not from the village, that they drove here to walk the pooch – doubtless because they have run out of places to dump their plastic wrapped bundles of faeces closer to home.

I could have stopped to argue, but, to be quite frank, it’s such a battle to gain momentum that, once I’ve got it, I don’t want to let it go.  I could have said something caustic en passant, but I’m not certain that my breathing was up to it; I could have given them a withering look, but I fear they may have thought I was having a stroke, so I settled for a cheery ‘And a good morning to you too.’  They didn’t see the irony.  I must be slipping.

The whole running saga started here with ‘Couch to 5k’
Last week’s bulletin ‘The Running Man on Reasons to be Cheerful’ is here.
The next Running Man bulletin ‘…On the Go’ is here.