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.)