The following was my submission for Monoblogues at the Drayton Theatre, London on 2 August. My thanks to Neil and Katie Tween and to Anne for coming down to support me. Also to Liz and Laura for the chance to get up in front of everyone and to the other contributors for being so generous with their time.
There may be pics to follow.
Everything hurts. If you’re a runner, you’ll know this. At some stage, everything is going to hurt. Your knees will hurt. Runner’s Knee is as famous as Tennis Elbow, Parson’s Nose or Politician’s Penis and it’s going to hurt at some point. Your Achilles’ tendons will hurt, one at a time or both together, whatever is going to cause you most embarrassment or inconvenience. Pains in the bum will cease to be a figure of speech and will become instead a symptom you can discuss with doctors, nurses, physios, coaches, other runners, friends, family, partners, strangers in pubs and that mad man on the train who looks at you funnily and once called you Judas. That this in turn will make you into a pain in the bum will be an irony entirely lost on you because your arse will be too sore to appreciate it.
Everything hurts. Your back is going to hurt with every step you make, every breath you take, every smile you fake and every Sting track that pops up, unwanted, onto your iPod in the middle of a long run. Your shoulders will really ache after a sprint session and when you tell a runner they’ll say “Really? Good. You must have been doing something right.” Your coach will say you need to relax your shoulders more and that if you did you would go faster. Should you mention it to anyone else, they’ll just mutter something about thinking that running was supposed to be good for you and try to get on with whatever it is they were doing. Writing your parking ticket for example. Or brain surgery. Or calling you names as you run past the pub.
Everything hurts. It hurts all day but it hurts most first thing in the morning when everything is stiff. Not like that. Above the waist, people. Runners must all go through the same waking process as everybody else. You know, that whole “Who am I? Where am I? What was I doing last night?” thing everybody does first thing in the morning. But we have an additional question and it’s “How the fuck did I hurt that?” because I can guarantee most mornings you will have an ache you didn’t have when you went to bed the night before.
Everything hurts. When you wake up in the morning and you do that odd stretching thing to check whether the bits that were hurting last night are still hurting this morning – and they are, and when you want to find out what new aches the running fairy has brought you in the night. It starts before you even swing your tired, tired legs over the side of the bed. You are off to a good start if you can do that without wincing. I can’t actually remember the last time I got out of bed without a sharp intake of breath.
How many attempts do you make to stand up? Me? At least two, most mornings. The first one is more of a grunt and a grimace followed by a collapse back onto my arse. Heaurrrrrgh. For some reason, the soles of my feet are really tender first thing in the morning. I plant each one gingerly straight down like a baby taking his first steps and no toddler ever looked quite as ridiculous heading to the potty as I do going to the loo first thing in the morning.
Everything hurts. On a wet day, or a sweaty day, your t-shirt or vest can take the top level of skin off your nipples with the same exquisite delicacy that some people pay quite a lot of money for in certain of the more esoteric dungeons under our quiet backstreets. Now, I love my club vest. I feel proud every time I pull it on because so many other fine athletes have worn the colours but… There is a seam just at nipple-destroying height. We athletes suffer for our sport in so many different ways and slightly bizarre ways.
Everything hurts so much sometimes. It’s particularly horrible standing at the top of the stairs. You have to know, you have to find out just how much it’s going to hurt to get down the stairs. You’re standing on the top step, looking down and you know that your Achilles in particular are so stiff you can’t actually bend your ankles. Every step down comes with its own little yelp of pain. “Ow. Fuck. Ow. Ow. Fuuuck. Ow. Fuck, fuck. Ow.” At some point, after going down one step at a time for a few strides, leading on one leg you try the other and it hurts even more. “Oooooooh shit. Ow. Fuck. Shit. Ow, ow, shit. Fuck.”
So, everything hurts and sometimes you have a new ache. You usually have some form of guilty memory of how you got that new twinge: one last hill rep, just one more lap of the track, the running equivalent of “a wafer-thin mint” and just like Mr Creosote, there are disastrous consequences.
But sometimes you have absolutely no idea of how the injury gremlins nobbled you. I woke one morning with a shoulder I could barely move. It got worse and worse as time passed. It was so bad after a couple of days that I couldn’t raise my arm above shoulder height. Now, that’s fine as long as you remember that you have a sore shoulder but I’m an athlete and I only have a 400m memory. That is can’t remember at the end of a 400m rep why I thought I could hold the pace I set off with at the start of it. Like a goldfish going round and round its bowl but with more sweating and heaving. Anyway, I forget that I can’t actually move my shoulder properly because it doesn’t hurt all the time. Rather awkwardly, I only remember when I’m screaming in pain. You never remember these things until a cheery wave to a friend across the street turns into a Nazi salute and a scream of “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!”
Everything hurts and nothing works. Your legs don’t work well enough to get you up and down stairs. Your arms aren’t up to struggling with your weekly shopping so you have to choose: give up your choice of food to a loved one or buy one ready meal at a time. Incidentally, why do supermarkets stop making the nice tasty stuff you really, really like but you can still see Spam and Fray Bentos pies when nobody has bought either of them since 1983? Is it old stock? Are they just keeping it around like the most boring museum display in the world?
Sorry, nothing works. You’ve heard the evidence tonight that my attention span is completely screwed. It’s a symptom of Runner’s Brain. We can’t really concentrate for longer than it takes to complete a rep. It’s why I prefer nice simple sessions like six times three minutes or four times six minutes. I programme anything more complicated into my Garmin and then run or rest until the next bleep. That works.
So, some things work. Legs don’t. Arms don’t. Brains certainly don’t but Garmins do. There’s some kind of lesson there, I think but I’m too knackered to understand it.
You could always try cross training to reduce your chances of injury. A bit of a swim in a pool or a lake, or a spin through the countryside on your bike is lovely. The trouble with that is that you end up doing triathlons and training three times as hard as you did before. And the trouble with that is that road rash really, really hurts. Coming off your bike on a downhill gravelly bend, you can end up with more of your skin on the tarmac than on your body. I came off my bike when I was fourteen and ended up scraping my face off on the road. There is a photo of me deep in the archives of the East Lothian Courier with scabs all over my face. I was photographed playing crazy golf at a church fete. I made the front page of the paper that week but it had been a very quiet week.
Then there is the risk of drowning when you’re out in the middle of the lake and you get tangled up in weed and fishing line. I punched a buoy and hurt my knuckle a couple of weeks ago. Not that kind of boy. A B. U. O. Y. Why? I have no idea. I was swimming along and suddenly there was a buoy in the way and I punched it. It wasn’t a tiny lake and there weren’t that many obstacles in it but I managed to hit one. I hit another in my first river swim. I know I have a reputation for a certain kind of camp but I’m bloody mad about the buoys now.
Still, I don’t want anyone to think that it’s just runners that fuck themselves up. I found a story on the interwebs – so it must be true – about a man who was brought naked and unconscious into an American emergency room. This bloke had a lump on his head and scratches on his scrotum. The bump was probably the result of a fall or a blow to his head but his tortured testicles were more of a mystery. He explained what had happened when he woke up later. He had been cleaning his bath in the buff, because of course that’s what you do. He was kneeling over beside the bath when his cat saw his balls swinging in the breeze and decided to play the attack the gonads game. Your man must have screamed loudly, jerked his head with some force into the frame of the shower door and knocked himself out. One can only hope that his cat lost interest in playing with his bollocks when they stopped moving.
Everything hurts and nothing works but at least my man parts are intact. I suppose that’s got to be enough.
Thank you. Try not to fall over anything on your way out the door.