I get confused when I’m running. I can only really concentrate on one or two things at a time. Today it was all about running to a pace, keeping a nice upright posture and only if I had sufficient extra mental capacity would I worry about bits of me hurting. I saw Megan for some advice and massage on Tuesday a year to the day after my last trip to Fit Again Sports Therapy and she said I could train as long as I cut back on my mileage while I was still doing the physio on my Achilles. I did a very easy parkrun at Milton yesterday and nothing pinged or went twang so I thought that a longer run today would be a good check on whether I could restart training with a light week next week. I think I’m good to go. I have an odd wee twinge from my ankle but both Achilles are fine. There was a momentary flare from the right one just at the end of the session a couple of hundred yards from home but it was so fleeting it might not have happened at all. It might have been in my head. Runhausen’s Syndrome, perhaps.
What with all that going on, concentrating on my pace and form – don’t go so quickly that you break or so slowly that your form collapses – what with all that, I didn’t really have a lot of brain-room left for other things. We were told during our CiRF course that most athletes can only cope with one or two coaching points during a session and I’m definitely one of those athletes. So, I’m moving along, glancing at my watch every minute or so but running on feel for the most part and my pace is fine. I think about a balloon coming out the top of my head to keep everything nice and upright and I find that everything else follows from there. I’m relaxed, my arms are moving easily, my knees are coming up and it’s all good. As usual, I occasionally feel my left shoe brush my right calf as it comes through but once I concentrate on keeping everything in line then that stops too. It’s all going marvellously.
Then I spot some people on the path ahead. Now, I know some of you will find this hard to believe but I was brought up to be polite. It wasn’t all “Fuck you, you fucking humpbadger!” from the age of six. I still feel the need to greet people with a smile and a nod and to say something as I glide athletically past. I don’t want to be one of those runners, the wordless ones who avoid eye contact in case they have to deviate momentarily from their course, the ones plugged into some iPod-driven hell of introspection and sweat-sodden self-loathing. You know the ones. I saw one like that this afternoon coming the other way. I smiled. I nodded. I said “Hi!” Nothing. Not a thing. The fucker wasn’t even going so quickly that he couldn’t get a word out. Headphones will do that to a man.
So, these people coming the other way. There was a family of two adults and two children occupying the width of the path. Not a problem for the considerate runner. No traffic in the road so I run along it for a bit, do the smile and nod thing as I go past and get a smile and nod in return. The positive exchange, as the Naked Runners used to call it. Next is a little old lady walking along at little old lady pace with what is almost certain to be a badly buggered hip from the way she is limping. She smiles. I smile back, nod and say “‘Morning!” It’s almost five in the afternoon. I’m an idiot. I almost run back to her and say “Sorry, I meant to say ‘Good afternoon,’ because it’s afternoon after all, isn’t it? But I’m a runner, you see. I can only concentrate on my pace and my form and I don’t have time to think about the time of day too. Terrible, isn’t it? I’m quite bright, really. Well, it’s the first time I’ve seen you today. The first time I’ve ever seen you so for some reason my brain says that I should wish you a good morning and not a good afternoon. Brains, eh? Who’d have one? Anyway, sorry to startle you coming back like this. I’m not a mugger, ha, ha. No, not me. I’m a runner. Nice talking to you. Bye!'” What would you have done?
Onwards again. My route takes me through the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall and then out along the babbling brook where the path is very narrow. I pass a couple heading in the same direction as me by running on some grass where the path goes past some houses. I give them a wide berth. I’ve caused screams before as I’ve gone by because people can’t always hear me coming. I take that as a compliment to my form but I don’t like to cause anxiety. I wave thanks to them as I go by and wish them a pleasant evening. There are a couple of cyclists coming the other way down the narrowest stretch of the path. We each slow down to allow the other to pass. Smile. Nod. Onwards. Finally, I have to come to a stop to allow a couple of families with pushchairs past. Of the four adults, only one man returns my nod and smile. The rest avoid eye contact. I know I’m a bit sweaty by now, a bit snottery and slightly breathless but I was being polite and all I get in return was one hurried and embarrassed nod.
I can’t be the only one who’d like to build a community one exchange at a time. It’s not just about the runners or the cyclists or the swimmers. I tell my athletes on a Tuesday night to be careful when they encounter pedestrians. A group of athletes moving at pace can be a very intimidating thing for someone to encounter. They’d be alright, speeding up and buggering off round a corner. It’s me that’d be in the shite. I have the club’s name and badge emblazoned on my chest and Coach Rich on my back. I’d get the letters. So I tell them to slow down or to give other pedestrians room and acknowledge them as they pass. It’s only polite after all. I don’t want us to be one of those clubs after all. I’d like to include those of a less athletic disposition in the community even if it’s just by nodding sweatily as I go past whether they want to be included or not. I might get fewer screams that way and fewer of those fuckers with headphones instead of social consciences would irritate me.