Life’s not always simple, but one pastime categorises people into two distinct groups. Running. You either do or you don’t.
Until the mid 70s, it was almost impossible to find anybody in England out running around the streets in shorts and t-shirt. In fact, anybody who did would probably have been eyed with suspicion, nay, fear. Then ‘jogging’ became a pastime and soon groups of people, young and old, would be found pounding the streets wearing shorts that,these days, you would barely get away with wearing in Heaven nightclub.
At the time, I was a pretty good schoolboy athlete. I ran for the county and my local athletic club. In fact, for a year, David Bedford, the 10 000m world record holder and British 3000m and 5000m record holder, trained at my club and even ran laps with me. Younger readers, there is a theory that the 118 runners in the advert are based on his image.
However, athletics meant sitting around all day on Sunday, which was pretty boring, even when my mum brought an enormous picnic. In fact, I’m sure I could have been an Olympic standard 800m runner, except that by the time I got to run the final heats, I’d usually eaten 4 boiled bacon and pease pudding sandwiches, a bag of Golden Wonder crisps, half a Dundee cake and a Curly Wurly. I could usually finish in the top three, but only because I’d killed off half the field with my trumps.
So, athletics came to an end. In my twenties and early thirties, I played rugby until bits started to break and I turned to 5-a-side football.
I was still playing 5-a-side football when I turned 40 and my metabolism changed. I was given the chance to play wider by putting on nearly 3 stone. But I persisted, knowing that really, I was still skinny inside.
Then, one fateful night, as I sped across the concrete pitch, placed my left foot on top of the ball, slipped and put my whole weight on my right leg, which emanated a sound very much like the tearing of a sheet. My anterior cruciate
ligament plus cartilage destroyed in one go. I lay on the concrete for what seemed an age, whilst my team mates and opposition went and rounded up another 5-a-side team to help carry my fat body off the pitch. In fact, I met one of them at the hospital later having his hernia sorted out.
I had to have a knee operation.
“A bit worse than I thought,” said the consultant.
“You can’t play football again. Or tennis, skiing, squash…,”
I stopped him before he mentioned any other activities beginning with ‘s’.
“What sports can I do?” I asked.
“Well, there’s running, cycling or swimming,” he said.
Good grief. He might as well have said give up sport altogether and go and play golf.
A year later, after a rigid diet, I had shed nearly 2 stone, but wanted to lose a bit more. So I made the decision to start road running. But I hated running.But, after 3 weeks of running around the block, something rather perverse happened. I was actually enjoying it. Enjoying running?!!
Although I was unaware of my affliction at the time, I had become a runner. I went to the local running shop, called Up and Running (see what they’ve done there?) They laughed at my trainers and put me on a treadmill with a video camera behind me. Apparently, this was a ’gait analysis’ to determine whether I underpronated, overpronated or was a neutral runner. I thanked them and swapped 80 quid for a smart pair of running shoes that were so white and bright, they would have made a chav wince.
A whole new world was opening up to me. It didn’t take long before I started to increase my distances. Then I started to buy ‘Runner’s World’ magazine.
I took an interest in training plans. I bought bright polyester tops and knew what ‘wicking’ meant. I bought a proper pair of running shorts. As the distances lengthened, I discovered chafing, which meant that when you got in the shower after a long run, your nipples fell off. My toenails turned black, but not all at once. I had wonderful blisters on my feet in places I didn’t know you could get blisters.
A year after I started running, I spent some hard earned money on a GPS watch. Now I could record how far I was running, my pace in minutes per mile and the calories I was burning. Oh dear.
Dedicated runners will always know the exact distances to local landmarks. For example, somebody may ask how far it is to the next village and you’ll reply “3.65 miles.”
Unless they are a runner too, they tend to look at you quizzically.
Yes, I now own a high viz jacket. I buy sports gels. I even wear lycra tights in the winter. For running in. Most of the time.
When I started running, Lady Barton St Mary said to me, “ I bet you end up running The London Marathon.”
“I’m not that sad,” I said.
And I haven’t. Mainly because I have missed out in the ballot for the past 3 years.