The Running Man on Being Antisocial

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.)

If you want to join the beginning of this run, you can find ‘Couch to 5k’ here.
Last week’s ‘Running Man’ post ‘…on the Time to Run’ is here.
The next ‘Running Man…’ episode ‘…on a Bicycle’ is here.

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.

The Running Man on Plodding On

You see, when I fell back into these ‘Running Man’ posts at the start of Lockdown #3, in January, I really didn’t anticipate the possibility that I could still be at it in mid-April*.  It was quite simple initially, to write down the kind of moronic ‘chatter’ that goes on inside my head whilst the rest of my being is otherwise engaged, but I am quickly coming to the realisation that my sub-conscious is just as boring as the rest of me.  The random thoughts that once flashed in and out have settled into the rut that my conscious mind has vacated due to a toxic mixture of herbal tea, boredom and rising damp.  Somebody has pissed on my fireworks.  The problem is that what has begun to make these running posts so difficult is at the same time what first made them feasible: Lockdown – initially it gave me a raison d’être, but ever since then it has searched out new ways of gumming up the works.  What was once escape has become isolation.  I am no longer looking inward or outward: most of the time I am just not looking.

My view of myself within the world has always been as something of an ‘outsider’.  Not fundamentally different, just not quite the same.  You know, the little cupcake that sinks whilst all the others rise.  I am the semi-collapsed and chocolate-less amorphous malty blob in the packet of Maltesers: the dismembered legs in a bag of jelly babies.  Three Lockdowns and many enforced months of watching the world drift by, just out of touch on the other side of a window, has merely made me realise that it is nothing new to me.  This is how normally I view the world.  I am a dislocated shoulder: I look like the other shoulder, but I don’t quite work like it.  I can help you to tote that bale, but I won’t half grumble about it.  Alan Bennett said of the late Russell Harty that his skill lay in saying – however indiscrete – what everybody else was thinking.  I have found that it is not until after I have said what everybody else is thinking that I discover they are not.  Just me.

My head is a sponge for ‘bad’: shame, regret, doubt – once it finds its way in there, it will never be released.  It batters around like a stick in a candy floss** machine, getting bigger by the second, more and more swamped in goo, more and more difficult to swallow.  I have had many years to get used to myself.  I don’t have to like me, but I have little choice other than to live with me.  Most of what is good about me is what makes me popular with the grandkids – I’m just not very good at the adult stuff.  I do try to change the bad bits as best I can, but who can actually, fundamentally, change what they are?  In the real world, Pinocchio would still be an oafish puppet and Geppetto would still be eating frozen meals for one.  If I ever found myself conversing with a top-hatted grasshopper, I would seek help.  I don’t need a talking insect to tell me that I should be better.  I am fully conversant with the fact.

And it is at this point that my regular runs have begun to get troublesome.  Like, I imagine, everybody else over the last few months, I have spent quite a lot of time looking in on myself: quite a lot of time trying to figure out how I would get on with me if I was somebody else.  (I fear that if ever I was to attend a ‘Speed Dating’ session, I would find myself sitting at the table marked ‘Toilet Break’.)  Sadly, I don’t have any more answers now than I did a year ago – although knowledge of ignorance must count for something.  I just have much more time to ask the questions – and most of that time seems to be available whilst I’m running.  Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, I am certainly ill-equipped to decide, but I’m fairly certain that unless I manage a prat-fall into a ditch soon, or rupture my spleen in a comically inept effort to sidestep an intransigent dog-walker, it is not terribly entertaining.  I will try to buck myself up.  After all, good times are just around the corner.  In England, Boris has detailed his ‘road map’ to recovery, the ‘end’ is on the horizon and, honestly, I don’t think it can come soon enough…

*When the Government hopes we should begin to move towards some kind of normality.
**Cotton-Candy, I think, for those of you with the rather less fanciful US version of the English language at your fingertips.

This whole sorry saga began here with Couch to 5k
The next episode of the Running Man ‘…Reasons to be Cheerful’ is here.
The previous episode of the Running Man ‘…Not Running’ is here.