I once overheard someone saying ‘When I see a runner smiling, then I’ll run.”
Well, when I’m out for a trot, I do smile but you’d have to say something vaguely amusing, obvs. To be fair though, compared to proper runners in those ridiculously high-cut satin shorts, my trot is not so much a run as a perky saunter.
Sauntering perkily yet smoothly gives you time to see things, to stop and stroke the soft pony noses or pet any puppy that might become available. It’s a comfortable state to be in.
I rarely take a lunch-hour at work but when i do it’s to go for a trot with a work pal and it’s the kind of relaxed pace where we can chat and bitch freely all the way without getting out of breath.
Other runners pass us. They are usually blokes with the kind of legs that do an entire running track in thirty paces. They wouldn’t even know what a perky saunter was.
They don’t acknowledge us. But neither do other runners. Broadly-speaking, runners are not friendly. They are in the zone. They are too important to nod or raise a hand in greeting like cyclists do. They really don’t want to know you and fear that if by mistake you catch their eye, then you will suck all the running energy out of them and they will stumble and collapse in a small pile of dust.
If a woman passes us – and you may be shocked to learn that some occasionally do – we make might an attempt to switch the gas on and catch her up. It’s our dream to catch up and overtake, the two of us running past like gazelles, wind in our hair, ponytails swishing (no neither of us has a pony tail) and powering to victory (or at least round the corner) boobs leading the way like in Chariots of Fire.
This never happens, obvs, but it doesn’t stop us being gloriously ridiculously unrealistically aspirational. Plus, if we can’t catch her, it’s fine. We’ll just bitch about her huge ass.
So we just carry on sauntering perkily around Pittville Park lake in Cheltenham, promising that one day we’ll stop and have an ice-cream at the boating lake. We pick up the pace a bit after the half-way point.
“Seriously, I think this is downhill,” I say. I’m full of encouraging twaddle.
“You think?” she says. “Feels like flat to me.”
“Are you in the zone yet?” my pal will sometimes ask.
“I was for about two minutes back there but the woman with the pushchair got in the way. Are you in the zone?”
“No. I’m still waiting.”
“Have you ever been in the zone, actually?”
“I don’t think so,” she says.
“But we’re doing well. We’re actually running. That’s *really* good,” I say encouragingly – and we laugh ironically.
Anyway, I’ve never wanted to do running properly. When you see people you actually know out running, it puts you off. Their faces look so different; grotesque, even.
For instance, I was out with the dog one day and we were just about to go over a stile when this guy – I’d socialised with him, babysat his kids, had dinner at his house – approached from amongst the trees.
He was a tall gangly guy with shortish blonde slightly wavy hair and steel rimmed thick glasses. Normally, he was smiley, slightly reserved and softly-spoken.
As he thumped towards the stile, he looked like he was in a state of near-fatal collapse. His arms were waving about randomly and sweat was flying off his florid, desperate Munch ‘Scream’ face.
I stood back to let him over the stile. He had no breath to say anything as he climbed over so just nodded recognition as his blood-shot eyes met mine before he staggered on heavily across the field.
You could tell his pleasure in being alive was somewhat dimmed.
I spotted one of my neighbours, really nice woman, quite smart, good taste in clothes, out jogging. She was wearing a lardy-thigh-hugging track suit, clutching a water bottle and stumbling uphill as if she too would be better off dead.
You don’t really look like that when you’re sauntering perkily. It’s running but not as we know it, Jim.
My pal and I warm down about five minutes from the office so that we arrive back looking insouciant rather than vaguely alarming. Oh, that’s apart from the time when we did 5k by mistake on a warm day in July. Then we arrived back at work looking like a pair of freshly skinned plum tomatoes. You can’t win ’em all.