The Running Man – The State of Play

However much of a surprise it is to you to find that I am still running, it is a bigger one to me.  Like banging my head on a wall, I am sure that I will enjoy it when I stop, but none-the-less, I keep banging on.  I still look like the World’s Worst Dressed every time I set out, in a collection of ‘gear’ that can only be described – at least with my limited vocabulary – as ‘motley’.  I watch other runners as they trot by in their neon yellow vests, lycra shorts and trainers that cost more than my car: they do not sweat, they do not pant, they do not look as if somebody has just had a paint-stripper to their face.  I do.  In my slightly holey T-shirt, baggy shorts and trainers that I borrowed from my brother and never returned, I still look like I spend my time testing fan ovens from the inside.  I want to feel better when I am running, but no matter how often I do it, I never do.  I always think that I feel worse.  I don’t of course.  That would not be possible.  But, and here is the crucial point, when I don’t run, I definitely do feel worse.  Each time I take a break, I feel the pressing need to run again and every time I run again, I definitely feel much worse than I did before it.  Each time I sit at home with a pint of beer, a vegan pastie and nine series of Still Game on iPlayer I feel great, but guilty.  I’m not good with guilt.  Each time I set out, guilt-free and bereft of all pastry I feel as though I should feel great, but I don’t.  I feel great when I set off – sometimes for seconds.  I feel great about running, but I feel terrible doing it.

I have recently returned to the jogging throng after recovering from a chest virus and a bad back – neither of which, I suspect, would have dragged me so far down ten years ago.  Throw in a holiday and I missed running for six weeks in all.  I put weight on much quicker than I could ever lose it.  I would have drunk much more, but I got out of breath pulling the corks.  And all the time I wasn’t running I was wishing that I was.  And as soon as I was, I was wishing that I wasn’t.  It has become habit.  It’s a strange fact of life (well, mine at least) that I only ever really want to do something when there is a perfectly valid reason why I cannot.  It is another strange quirk of existence that whenever I really don’t want to do something, I can never find a suitable impediment.

So, after a fitful return to the regular routine, I am fully back on it.  I run because I know that I will feel worse about not doing it than I do whilst doing it.  It’s like voting.  I know that I must either waste my vote by gifting it to somebody who has absolutely no prospect of success, or I use it to elect somebody who I know will disappoint me.  I would like not to vote, but it might allow somebody of whom I do not approve (anybody vain enough to stand for election) to sneak into power.  So I vote, in the certain knowledge that I will regret it before the envelope hits the bottom of the post box.  I haven’t been to a polling station in years.  I don’t like the false good-humour and the forced formality of it all.  I particularly don’t like standing behind a partially drawn curtain, staring at an ill-printed scrap of destiny, desperate to do the right thing, but certain that it will be wrong.

I have had similar problems in returning to this little routine.  Unusually, for me, I was laid as low in spirit as I was in health and I decided that I should pour such energy as I could muster into a long-form piece of tom foolery through which, for better or for worse, I breezed.  I had four characters – all of them me – who I knew and understood.  I had a plot (I am perhaps stretching things a little by using the word ‘plot’, but I knew what had to happen and, even though it was precious little, it did) and my characters just found their own way to the end.  I enjoyed picking up threads.  Each evening’s finish provided the following morning’s start and nothing more taxing than, ‘now, where was I?’  When my characters wandered off-piste, I didn’t have to worry about them.  I just let the others take the strain whilst I waited for them to find their own way back.  When it was done, I read it through.  It made sense – at least to me it did – and it made me laugh (although I’m not certain that it is good form to admit that).  It was one of those diversions where you discover a beautiful country church that you never knew existed, in the garden of a pub, that sells ice cream…

I have found my return to the short-form to be slightly more problematic.  I want to do it, I love to do it, but somehow I have just not found the groove yet.  I don’t want to keep on doing the same old thing, but then I remember that this little column is my life, and my life, pretty much, is the same old thing.  It works only as long as I don’t over-think it.  Someone else can do the thinking: somebody who is good at it.  I should do what I am good at – and I will, just as soon as I find out what it is.  Whatever it is, I’m pretty certain it will not involve too much in the way of cogitation and, if I’m honest, only a very limited amount of actual doing.  It might involve thinking about doing – just as long as I don’t have to explain it to anybody else.

So anyway, there you have it, the current state of play as I ease myself back into routine – still running, still writing, still no idea why the Earth orbits the sun, why cake goes hard and biscuits go soft, why I am happy to think of myself as a running man, but most definitely not a runner.  Why I fear I will forever be a man who writes, but never a writer…