I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard half of the England football squad, Joe Wickes, doctor Raj, Piers Morgan and Katie Price telling me that I must ‘listen to my body’ whilst I exercise. Well, I’ve tried it and, quite honestly, all it does is moan: ‘You’re going too fast,’ ‘You’re going too slow,’ ‘I’m feeling dizzy,’ ‘Ooh look, an ice cream van…’ It is also easily distracted. Worse yet is my brain. Brains, I have discovered, are not easy company for those taking exercise. Unlike the rest of the body, they become easily bored. Give your legs a simple job to do, e.g. running, and they will do it until they drop, but the minute the brain gets involved, everything goes to pot: ‘Are you ok leg? I sense that you are feeling a little bit hot/tired/wobbly. Would you like me to tell him to slow down? Would you like me to register that knee twinge? Should I make him aware that total collapse is just around the corner? If I have a word, I can almost certainly make the other knee come out in sympathy…’ The problem is, I can find no way of listening to my body other than through my brain and, fundamentally, listening to my brain is like listening to a speech from a Trades Union Congress Conference in the 1970’s – lots and lots of worthy words, but very little in the way of light relief, lots of beer and sandwiches but not enough smashed avocado on toast: big shoulders, even bigger chips.
And anyway, if I’m going to waste time in listening to what my body has to say, perhaps it ought to take a little time to listen to me. I tell it we need to be careful with what we eat and it says ‘Give me chocolate!’ I tell it we need to watch what we drink and it opens the whisky. I tell my body that we’re feeling good, and it seriously begs to differ. I tell it that I am about to die and it laughs in my face, tells me to get a grip, but I know that my brain is just filtering out the messages it is being sent by my limbs, lungs and assorted lights. Basically, all that my body wants to do is to tell me that I am wrong – and I have a life-full of people willing to do that for me. I play music whilst I run simply to stop it haranguing me. Frankly, if my body wants to talk to me it can either shout or wait until I get home and then it can speak to my wife. I don’t want to hear it…
Having tired myself in the effort to find a reason not to do so, I eventually went for a run. I had procrastinated for an hour and dawdled through sixty minutes more, but somewhat against my fondest hopes, everything eventually fell into place and I made it through the door – only to return immediately in order to don cap, sunglasses and Factor 30, owing to the fact that the sun had crept higher into the sky during my protracted preparations raising the temperature from balmy to totally unsuitable for an ageing carrot-top to run in, however, my will had now been sapped to such an extent that I could not bear to back out completely. If it meant that I did not have to relive the previous two hours of angst, then sunstroke was an acceptable price to pay.
I am not certain where time goes when I am getting ready to run: one minute I am trying to decide what shirt I need to wear, the next minute, it is an hour later and I’m wandering around the house in my pants, trying to remember where I left my shorts. By the time I have got myself together, my running shoes are often in another time zone. A half hour run requires a preparation time of at least an hour. If I ever run a marathon I will have to book a week off work. Although if I ever was to run a marathon, the hours before the run would have little to compare with those that follow which, I fear, would seem very much longer to those that had to live with me. Not that there is much chance of that – marathon-wise I already have all of my excuse-ducks in a row:
Although history has shown that I am technically not too old to run a marathon, common sense decrees that I am far too old to run a first marathon.
My attention span is (at best) about ninety minutes. As a marathon would take me somewhere around the seven hour mark, there is every chance that I would forget what I was doing and stop for a pie and a pint along the way.
Given my aptitude for falling over, I would almost certainly over the twenty six miles distance find more than ample opportunity to come a proper cropper – and tarmac roads are very hard.
I live in morbid fear of the kind of shame that would accompany a three kilometre capitulation.
If I should, by some miracle, make it beyond the half way mark, it would be in a time that would ensure that all the paramedics had given up and gone home before I needed them.
So, my current timetable is unlikely to vary: 30 minutes or so to run the 5km that constitutes my regular hobble, Lord alone knows how long getting ready for it, twenty minutes to shower afterwards and ten minutes for a recuperative ice cream before I am sufficiently revived to turn the coffee machine on.
I went for a slightly ‘troubled’ run at the end of last week whence I discovered that my lungs have not yet quite worked themselves back up to absorbing oxygen in the required manner and my hips are in desperate need of WD40, so it was decided that I need to reintroduce myself to the thrice weekly slog a little more gently. Consequently I reset ‘Couch to 5k’ and I intend to ‘redo’ the last few weeks of the regime until I get back up to speed. I have removed the ever-soothing tones of Jo Whiley and replaced them with the slightly more chiding contributions of Sarah Millican. The short ‘walking’ interludes (I have started at week 5 which sees me ending the week with a twenty minute run) are a little embarrassing, and always coincide with encounters with other runners, but do give me the opportunity to whip my ailing alveoli into accepting some suitable level of oxygen exchange before I lurch on again.
I have always ‘suffered with my chest’ but this is the first time I have really noticed how long it takes to build back up to normal function after it has divested itself of whatever it is it stores in there – although to be honest I have never been one to push my ability to breathe further than has seemed natural. In forty years of playing football, I seldom moved beyond canter, even at my fittest. I always managed to position myself alongside ‘willing runners’, affording myself the maximum opportunity to kick the opposition without having to chase them around too much first. I figured that, as breathing was the only thing actually keeping me alive, being out of breath was unlikely to ever be a good thing.
My legs, I have mentioned before, have something of the ‘tree trunk’ about them. They are ‘sturdy’ in the extreme and, I fear, not ideally suited to running – probably more designed for holding up a motorway bridge. My calf muscles alone must consume about fifty percent of the oxygen that I do manage to take on board. Moreover, when given the opportunity to utilise an amount of oxygen, they generally seem to enjoy it to such an extent that they continue to flap around all night. It is incredibly annoying (possibly more for my wife than myself) when my legs are still pounding the streets whilst the rest of me searches for sleep. I have tried so many ways of combating this: hot baths, cold baths, super-hydration (leading to super-micturition), standing, sitting, heating, cooling, beating with birch twigs, giving a stern talking-to, but to little avail. My legs have no speed control and whilst they are unhappy to lumber up to a pace that is anything in excess of brisk stroll, they are, having done so, generally unwilling to return to anything resembling inertia. If I do manage to tie the damn things down overnight, they repay me by aching and, occasionally, cramping up in such a manner that a blacksmith could use them as an anvil.
My hips are relative newcomers to this circle of pain, but boy are they making up for it now. I have developed a hip-flexing and stretching exercise routine which fits between my runs and my hips have been much better, but whilst I was not running, I was also not doing the in-between stuff. Hence my hips have become like rusted gate hinges and they make a similar noise when I walk. I desperately need to get them back into some kind of order so that I can get out of the car without groaning; so that I can bend over without next door’s cat thinking that somebody is shooting at it.
I’m hoping that my second lope through the latter stages of Couch to 5k will be somewhat easier than my first: I am somewhat more adjusted to the levels of discomfort and boredom, having developed the distraction techniques needed to cancel out both. I may stumble on through the schedule, to the end of week nine, or I may find that I am back up to speed (relative term*) before then and decide to drop back into the old routine. Either way, I am actually feeling keen to get back to my established routine of runs and exercise before winter descends.
Wednesday was to be my first proper running day since I was first unwell – except it wasn’t. I have had a few sessions on the exercise bike and I no longer get out of breath hoisting myself into the saddle so the time felt right, but it is not. When I run, I run alone. I avoid other people as far as I possibly can and it has lately occurred to me that, should I keel over, I am many lifetimes away from a defibrillator. I am fully aware that the benefits of running far outweigh the risks, but you have to be honest, the benefits are not quite so… terminal. The pay-off of keeping fit may, if I am lucky, stretch twenty years into the future; the perils, if I am not, may stretch six feet into a box.
Exercise so far this week has consisted of being grandad. Of being used as a trampoline by two three-year olds and football/tennis/cricket opponent by a six year-old. I haven’t counted the baby, although God knows, the amount of walking up and down the room I do whilst holding her must count for something. Being grandad is much more fun than running, but twice as tiring. I have a ‘babysitting’ mode on my Fitbit that just says ‘Go and have a lie down’ every thirty minutes. I would like to introduce the physicist, searching for the secret to perpetual motion, to my grandson. Even when his body is stationary, his mind is moving at a frightening pace. He is capable of the kind of leaps of logic that would make Einstein blanch. You want to witness something moving faster than the speed of light, look inside his head whilst he’s sleeping. While the world slumbers, he hatches plans for rocket-powered shoes, upscaled building projects based on super-sized Lego and the possibility of growing chocolate from Smarties. An hour in his company is both life-enhancing and draining beyond belief. My spirits soar whilst my head throbs and my limbs ache.
I will not have run today either because I will have been at work and a day at work starts and ends with a long walk. When the sun shines, the morning walk is a golden thirty minutes, when it rains it is filled with the misery of knowing that I am going to be damp for the rest of the day. There is something about the water that runs down your back and into your pants that means that it can never dry – like badly stirred gloss paint on a plastic door. The journey back to the car on such a day, wet-panted, is never pleasant even if the sun shines. Steaming underwear is never comfortable.
Tomorrow, however, I am not at work. Tomorrow I will run. Next week’s running diary may well not be about running, but it will at least have its seeds in a run, and whether my pants are wet or dry and as long as I make it to the end without the attentions of the paramedics, you will hear all about it.
Ain’t life grand?
In an attempt to ‘glam up’ my content, I thought I’d try to post this piece with an intriguing title. I toyed with ‘Quantum Fluctuations of Time within the Somnambulant Cerebral Cortex’ but I was worried that someone might ask me to explain. I considered ‘The Mortal Coil: How to Shuffle Off – the Facts’ but I was held back by the fact that, by and large, these blogs are not, in fact, fact-heavy, but rather more fact-less. I then took a leaf from Bryntin’s book and went for ‘Easy Blogging Tips for Successful Lifestyle Investments’ but I feared litigation, so I went for the ‘what it says on the tin’ approach, which means that we can keep it to ourselves. Just the two of us…
Summer has arrived in the UK and running has suddenly become a very hot business: it may last for days. I currently tend to skulk out early in the morning – that is earlier than usual early, not crack of dawn early: man is slave to the universe, I have no intention of getting my butt out of bed until the cosmos says it is ready for me – or early in the evening in order to miss the hottest part of the day. Both options are fraught for me. If I set out too early in the morning, I plunge headlong into hundreds of teenagers making their way to school. I do not hear laughter as I pass, but that is only because I turn the music up. There is nothing quite so irksome for an ageing man as incredulity: I can almost sense the little buggers nudging one another and mouthing, ‘Did you see that?’
If, however, I leave it until half an hour later when they are all safely locked away in their sock-smelling classrooms, I encounter the parents who, having taken the kids to school – or more likely having waited for them to get out of the house before taking breakfast in peace – then take the opportunity to walk the dog before settling down to the day’s ‘working from home’. The streets suddenly fill with dog walkers of all types:
The fully suited who have to attend a Zoom meeting which the boss might just possibly be attending. He is a sly old bugger and will almost certainly ask them to do something that will reveal whether or not the men are wearing trousers. He does not do the same thing to the female staff as the restraining order remains in place.
The semi-formally dressed, who wear shirt and tie, or smart business blouse over jogging pants and furry mules. They also have a Zoom meeting to attend, but they are confident that they can keep their legs under the desk and the wine glass out of sight.
The informally dressed, who also have a Zoom meeting to attend, but who have stuck blue-tack over the laptop’s camera and an old crisp packet over the microphone. They will blame the rubbish internet connection for their intermittent involvement and will almost certainly be downstairs with a doughnut and ‘Loose Women’ whilst Derek from Finance is giving them the lowdown on last week’s figures.
The even more informally dressed (pyjamas under a raincoat) who do not have a Zoom meeting to attend and plan to spend the morning ‘catching up on their emails’ eg watching surfing cats on Youtube.
So many dogs! I have no idea where all these dogs have come from, nor who dreams up all of the new breeds that are currently being paraded around. I spoke to someone who had a Toy Poodle mated with a Shih Tzu and wound up with a Toyihtzu, which, to the best of my knowledge, is a cheap Korean hatchback. I wonder what will become of all of these mutts when these people are able to start going on holiday again? Two weeks in a kennels whilst the owner changes his phone number and bank account details? As soon as the UK sorts out its Traffic Light Holiday Destination system (Red – you cannot travel to these countries: Amber – you cannot travel to these countries, but if you choose to ignore government ‘guidance’ and travel anyway, you must quarantine in Stalag conditions for two weeks on your return, for little more than twice the cost of your original holiday: Green – you can travel to these countries, but they won’t let you in) there will be many canine bargains to be had through the Classified Ads in The Exchange & Mart.
If, however, I choose to run in the early evening I find myself in the tiresome, lycra-clad company of the rest of the running world. The whole world is running. I do not mind; it is a free country, I just wish that they didn’t all look so much better than me whilst they were doing it. They are better equipped, they are ruddy-faced and fresh complexioned, they do not sweat like a horse in a duvet and they do not spend most of their time coughing up flies. I have grown immune to the humiliation of being overtaken by the old lady with the West Highland Terrier, but I still find myself automatically changing route every time I see an approaching runner, with the net effect that I spend an awful lot of time running round in circles, occasionally never leaving my own driveway. By the time I get home, showered and changed, the whole point of the run, e.g. to earn the right to eat cream cakes and drink whisky, becomes lost in the urgent need to moan, very loudly, about the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harriet is out there running these days. (I have been running for over a year now and I am a seasoned athlete: I can often put my own trainers on without being out of breath.) Eventually, aware that nobody is listening to me, I retire to bed in order to spend the whole night bemoaning the fact that it is far too hot to sleep. How long can this go on?*
Sleeping has suddenly become a very hot business…
*This is the UK: my prediction – summer will last until next Tuesday when it will collapse into biblical rainfall and a cold blast from The Urals…
My life is to a large extent ruled by music. I listen to music all the time. As I write this piece I am listening to music (currently Phaedra by Tangerine Dream, as you ask, with Rush’s Clockwork Angels to follow). Music is in the background of everything I do. Music accompanies me every time I run. My tastes are eclectic – there is little I do not like* – but my choices are limited for my running playlists as the tracks have to accommodate my need to plod**. Never-the-less I change the songs on the playlist every couple of weeks – I always forget that I have done it and I am subsequently taken by surprise each time I run – although I have noticed there are a handful of songs that never seem to drop off the phone. I don’t know why; it is not a conscious thing and, undoubtedly, of no interest whatsoever to anyone else – which is why I intend to tell you about it…
Many years ago on a family holiday to Fuerteventura we encountered a guitarist/singer who inhabited a ‘pitch’ every evening in the local village square. This man (I want to call him Kevin Wilson, but I have no idea why) was simply superb: he played Pink Floyd, he played a version of Still Got the Blues for You which could well have been better than Gary Moore’s own version and he played Cocaine with the kind of protracted solo that Mr Clapton can only have dreamt of. My daughters loved him and, consequently, we had to go to see him every night, except one evening, when he was not there. We had a subdued dinner with much in the way of bottom lip quivering and had began to walk back ‘home’ when we heard a familiar voice in the distance, which we tracked down to a nearby restaurant, where Kevin was playing what I can only describe as ‘wedding songs’ to togged-up holidaymakers. Before we could stop her my daughter charged in, her T-shirt bedecked with the requisite amount of dinner for a six-year old, shouting ‘Kevin, Kevin, I want Cocaine!’ to the consternation of all present, except for Kevin, who just chuckled, said ‘I think you might be a little young for that’ and played it anyway. What a man! Cocaine by Eric Clapton never leaves my running playlist.
Even more years ago than that holiday, my wife and I went to see Roxy Music who were in their full early pomp at, I think, the De Montfort Hall in Leicester. It was an all-standing affair and we were late. I am not tall (five foot eight’ish most of the time unless somebody bothers to measure me, when it is five foot seven) but my wife is substantially below five feet even on tip-toes. Roxy Music were great, but my wife saw nothing other than, she thinks, a glimpse of Bryan Ferry’s foot during Do the Strand – and very happy she was with the whole experience. Roxy Music and, latterly, Mr Ferry have been one of my very guiltiest pleasures since their first appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test way, way back in the day. Avonmore is the title track of a 2014 Ferry album which proves that despite the occasional detours into As Time Goes By and a peculiar interregnum during which he attempted to be the lead singer in some kind of a Bob Dylan cover’s band, Ferry is still very good at being Ferry when he chooses to be. It never leaves the list.
Bowie has been the musical love of my life and, if I was forced to make a choice, Heroes may well be my favourite song of all time. The song has an incredible habit of bursting out of my headphones at the moments when I think I might just have to give in – but you really can’t stop when that song is playing, can you? I have a particular aversion to the butchered and truncated ‘single’ version of the song and so it is the full album version that has become a fixture on my running playlist. Definitely the most uplifting song on there.
Most surprising song is probably Check Out Time 11am by Sparks which was recorded in 2017 (long after even people of my age thought they no longer existed) for a 7” vinyl single-only release and tucked away at the end of their three-album ‘Best Of’ set. A great song, perfect for running; it always makes me smile – although if I’m passing by, it might look like a grimace.
The rest of my unshakeable running ‘bangers’ are I Feel Free by Cream, which is just a wonderful song that buries into your head fifty five years (yup, 55 years!) after its release; Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult which is my ‘funeral song’ – so I thought it would be handy to have it playing if the paramedics have to come and find me; Freedom Calling by Colin Hay – a perfect running beat for me and the only ‘cool’ song to my knowledge to feature bagpipes; Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode, which again has the right beat for me and is, despite the fact that it really should not be, a great song; Shout by Tears For Fears, again a brilliant tempo for my limping running gait with a drum line that you only ever seem to pick up on headphones and finally the greatest rock ‘n’ roll song of all time, aptly called Rock and Roll*** by Led Zeppelin which just means that wherever I am on my run, I have to summon up just that little bit of extra energy required for air guitar.
I would be lying if I said this was anything close to a list of my favourite songs – although that list would be very long and would contain some of these – but clearly they share something that makes them indispensable to me when I run. At any one time, my running playlist contains about 40 songs, which I update fortnightly and, as far as I can see, these are the only songs that have never left it. I have no idea why. Perhaps it is a comfort thing.
N.B. I have made no attempt to provide links to any of these songs as it would certainly end in tears. You will all be far more proficient than I at finding them should you choose to. If I might suggest anything, try I Feel Free by Cream, in order to experience what the world could sound like in 1966.
*I always say that I struggle with Reggae, but I love Bob Marley; I do not understand Rap, but I can always listen to Eminem; Grime has come along 50 years too late for me, but Stormzy is phenomenal. Perhaps the only genre I truly can’t listen to is Country & Western – except, of course, for Johnny Cash…
**As a fan of many ‘Prog’ rock ensembles, I could not envision running to any of them without the risk of dislocating something.
***Although forever known as Been A Long Time by my eldest daughter.
I started to run during the first Lockdown because I was getting fat, I was getting creaky and, because of the restrictions, I needed an excuse to get out of the house. I continue to run, but unfortunately, I also continue to be fat and creaky. I get out of the house, but I am surrounded by a cocoon of music and perspiration which ensures that I interact with no-one, save those kindly souls who enquire about my wellbeing. I cannot speed up somehow and I cannot run further. Not even a cycle-borne outrider carrying chocolate could spur me on. I am at ‘Max’. It’s not much of a max, but I dare not creep into the red band now.
I am of an age when there is precious little to do other than to worry about the age I am: when I see news stories about amazing, ‘with it’ centurions and think ‘Wow! That’s incredible,’ before realising that it is only just around the corner for me, and my marbles are already slipping from my enfeebled grasp and rolling under the sofa, just out of reach; when every malady from which I suffer (or believe I suffer) is associated with old age; when my back tightens in direct inverse ratio to my bladder and my feet ache permanently, on the simple basis that they have to prop up the rest of me. I find myself constantly excusing my inadequacies by saying, ‘Well, I am sixty-two you know.’ I can still do everything I did twenty years ago – only not as well. My mind remains open to new experiences – it’s just that I forget what they are before I get the chance to try them.
I am fortunate – although I would never admit it: it does not pay to give Fate a target – that my brain still works relatively quickly and my humour is, broadly speaking, still in nappies. Occasionally I think that I might be developing a mature, sophisticated sense of humour, but then I realise that such a thing does not exist: nobody laughs at ‘clever’. Sophistication is just an excuse for jokes that fail to make people laugh, despite mentioning Kant. I can ‘turn a phrase’ from time to time, but I still laugh at the skirt inadvertently tucked into the knickers.
Perhaps if growing older serves any purpose whatsoever it is in allowing you to give yourself a break every now and then. My expectations have not been lowered, but I realise that I can no longer reach them without a ladder. My chances of attaining fame, fortune and an illicit liaison with Sandra Bullock are exactly as far away as they have always been, but my ability to cross the divide is now hampered by knees, bladder and a recently developed ‘What the fuck’ attitude which means that I am reappraising the desirability of everything from money to chocolate, love to whisky, and sex on the beach to nine holes on the putting green. There remains a tiny piece of me that believes I may still be ‘discovered’, but a much larger piece that questions ‘For what?’
What age does bring is the realisation that, outside of a very small number of family members, nobody actually believes that you are in any way ‘special’, nor that the world in general will be in any particular way poorer for your absence from it (although, in my case, there may be a distiller or two in Scotland willing to disagree). In short, age tells you that what is gone is gone and what is left doesn’t really add up to much, so make the most of it while you can and if that means you have to run about a bit every now and then, well, you might as well just get on with it.
As I run around the village these days I find that almost every other house is clad in scaffolding. The whole place looks like a series of giant Meccano sets, constructed and curated by a strutting illustrated man clad in denim overalls talking like he’s permanently attached to an invisible megaphone, somehow managing to laugh and snarl at the same time. Half the world is extending whilst the other half is winter frog-like – in a state of stasis, like a jelly fish in the freezer. Unmodified homes are betrayed by their lack of gunmetal grey windows and buff-coloured rendering; naked housebrick standing out like the uncouth uncle at a family gathering: the man in the green checked shirt, blue striped suit and purple nylon wig. It can only be a matter of time until the children are warned to keep away.
I am a creature of habit and my running routes seldom vary, so I see these changes taking place. I witness the houses evolve in my own cataractal time-lapse eye and although it is very rare to lope past a finished job thinking that it shouldn’t have been done at all, I could obviously point you at one or two that look like they’ve had a shed velcroed onto the side of the kitchen. I never dreamt that this volume of builders even existed – the breaker’s yards by now must be completely devoid of all decrepit white vans. Where will they all go when the lockdown finishes and people no longer want to re-sculpt the homes in which they have been trapped? Does Brigadoon require knocking through? Most of the houses – presumably no longer homes – are put up for sale the moment the work stops. There must be a psychological explanation for this, but I’m buggered if I can find it – unless people find that they just cannot live without dust and noise, Absolute 90’s on the radio, a Portaloo on the front lawn and tea stains on every conceivable surface. The houses, when finished, look great – except that they all have the forlorn appearance of ‘property for sale’ hanging, shroud-like over them. I picture a kind of merry-go-round of upsizing and downsizing in progress with the clockwise half of the local population constantly tripping over the anti-clockwise balance.
Such homes that are not having internal walls removed and external walls skimmed are having the gardens done. Landscape gardeners have proliferated like Cane Toads in the Australian Outback. No garden is finished until it has been designed on a computer. ‘Hard Landscaping’ is the horticultural mode: remove as much green as possible and cover it with shingle, bricks and the kind of wooden structures that, around here, will succumb to woodworm before the autumn. Monty Don must be spinning in his cold-frame. The garden has become an ersatz house extension and the flowers have paid the price. My lawns are not great, but they are two of very few left in the village. Most of the green oases that pepper the streets now are of the ‘astro’ variety – lawns that are swept rather than cut – but do at least add a varied palette of green shades to the surroundings that would never be seen in nature.
I am no gardener, but I know that gardens are important, both for nature and for human well-being. Each spring I watch the green shoots begin to forge their way through my own small patch of winter-wizened soil and debate long and hard over which to leave and which to dig up, in the certain knowledge that I will get it wrong. Each summer I spend one of the two balmy evenings we are apt to get per year, sitting out amongst the flowers, cradling something warming in a glass. Each autumn I chop it all down and ram it into the compost bin, whence it forms a foul-smelling brown slime that I have to sluice away in the summer. This is the circle of life and I am sad to see it broken by grey slate and plastic lawns. My run is becoming more monochrome by the day as the town is moved into the country – a vista of white van and black Range Rover – and my glimpses of nature (outside of strategically placed dog-turds in bio-degradable bags) rarer.
Oh well, I’m sure that when the summer comes it will all look better. Who knows, I might just have an extension built to watch it from…
In England we can now have up to six people, or two households, meeting in the garden. Guests can even use the toilet! (I must tell next-door’s cats.) Accordingly, this week’s running diary is brought to you courtesy of a very elderly gazebo and a newly purchased patio heater.
I was dragged out of my running routine by the head-cold that dictates that every step I take is accompanied by a bass drum between the ears. I anticipated problems with breathing as I prepared to run, but not with percussion. I could not return to the weights, as a recent snot-fuelled attempt had me sounding like a hedgehog trapped beneath the shed, so I went for the exercise bike. However, by the time I had decided to lug it from its current resting place – in the arctic garage, between the deep freeze and the tumble dryer – the bass drum in my head had been accompanied by a hi-hat in each ear and any attempt at forward perambulation exceeding the speed of a geriatric sloth resulted in some kind of trans-cranial military tattoo. Imagine – if you can – Cozy Powell’s ‘Dance with the Devil*’ slowed down and piped directly into the cerebral cortex**.
Another dose of synchronicity: the lateness of the hour can no longer be relied upon to bring on the night – days are getting longer although, alas, no warmer – and there, just behind the exercise bike, I spotted my actual bike bike. It seemed a whole lot more sensible to haul myself aboard that. So, I wheeled it out, donned my helmet*** and rode away into the distance****.
I am incredibly fortunate to live in a place that means that I can be on quiet country roads within minutes of leaving my door. Often I do not see another vehicle for miles around – although, when I do it is almost always a small hatchback (formerly mother’s and noisily driven to tears by the change of operator) piloted by someone who is clearly unfamiliar with the function of two of the three pedals, and for whom steering appears to be a pointless frivolity. These cars, on any other day unused to the rev counter turning above vertical, are usually wheezing worse than me. It is, though, because of this narrow country lane/automotive nutcase juxtaposition that cycling proceeds without a soundtrack and I am forced to contemplate the voices inside my head. I fear that, especially in view of cold-constrained faculties, even the slightest diminution of my otic acumen could leave me vulnerable to ending my days as a grotesquely articulated hood ornament.
Cycle runs take me further afield – it is virtually impossible to stay upright on a bike travelling at my running pace – which does affect my ‘baggage’. When I run, I feel that all I need to carry is some means of contacting the nearest paramedic; as a cyclist I am forced to consider the possibility of mechanical as well as physical breakdown. I carry my little repair kit with me: ready to mend a puncture with the best of them – although not to any great advantage, I must admit, as I do not have a pump. Back in the day, all bicycles had a pump attached to the frame and, like the strange squeaking noise from the back wheel, it accompanied you wherever you went. In those days, I recall, the tyre could be inflated with little more than an angel’s fart; now, with tyre pressures three times greater than the car, it requires either biceps like Arnold Schwarzenegger or an electric generator. When I head out for a trip on my cycle, my wife sits in the car with the engine running and the back seats down.
As my cold starts to lift, I will return to running, as I do not feel that cycling exercises me fully*****. By next week I anticipate being back on my trainer-clad feet when cycling will return to the roster of recreational activities and running will, once again, become my king of pain.
*If age precludes you from doing so, you can at least view the original here. **I have absolutely no idea of what that is. ***This is worn at my wife’s insistence. There is an interesting psychology attached to bicycle helmets as, for some reason, motorists give you much more room when you are not wearing one. ****A very liberal use of the word ‘distance’ as I suspect that I seldom move beyond one that makes me invisible from an upstairs window of my house. *****Naïve supposition that the worse I feel afterwards, the more ‘good’ the exercise has done me.
N.B. today I have fully surrendered to the vagaries of old-age and pressure-washed the bins!
An excess of alcohol and chocolate over the Easter break – please don’t ask me to define ‘excess’: suffice to say that my grandkids are wondering where the eggs have gone and my wife is sure that we had another bottle of gin somewhere – and the return of sub-arctic air have combined to make my first couple of post-holy week treks even more miserable than usual. I drag myself to the door, thrust it open and shrivel away, like a plastic bag near a radiator, at the first blast of wind-borne sleet. Who in their right mind would go out in that – particularly dressed like this? The issue of my running attire presses on me once again after, what I assume must be a recently reconvened, post-covid running group, passed my house yesterday, all neatly ironed, in unstained hi-viz, unwrinkled running tights and not a hairband out of place. They were chatting happily, smiling some of them, and not a single one gasping for breath. They looked as if they had all been waiting for months for this moment: whilst you and I battled house-bound neuroses, they collected lycra. There was a distinct lack of the secondhand about them.
I am reluctant to spend heavily on running gear because I am still unconvinced that I won’t just decide one day that running really is not for me. (Interestingly, it really is not for me, I have decided, although I don’t know what to do about it now.) The course and distance of my thrice-weekly lopes varies enormously, depending on how many other runners I have to avoid along the way. I hate crossing paths with them, as I am so conscious of looking like a convict who has gone on the run without his asthma inhaler; I will not run in front of them because I dread them catching and passing me; I will not run behind them because I fear that passing motorists may think that we’re together and that I just can’t keep up. I would love someone to offer me an explanation as to why, when I stumble into the wake of another runner, I always appear to be running comfortably faster than them, until the very point at which I move up to their shoulder, when I suffer the kind of coughing fit that tells me that I should have followed my first instinct and gone the other way, even if it meant trying to get past the elderly lady on the mobility scooter with the Chihuahua on a ten-foot lead. I cannot run at ‘school time’: whilst I am much too long in the tooth to allow myself to be bullied by gangs of school kids, I am none-the-less haunted by the fear of silent laughter.
Most of my runs take place mid-morning or mid-afternoon, when the rest of the world is either in school, at work or on a Zoom call, in order to minimise my detours, but I continue to zig-zag my way around the empty paths and byways avoiding any kind of interaction the best I can. It’s not that I’m antisocial, it’s just that I’m… Actually, it probably is that I’m antisocial – although if they had a club, I certainly wouldn’t join it.
(First edit red biro, second edit green felt-tip, third edit black Sharpie – a particularly bleak moment – final edit a cross-shredder and a return to what I started with.)