First, let me get one thing straight – I’m not telling anyone to run or advising them how to do it. Besides which, who, in their right mind, would want to be a runner? In fact who would want to run for anything other than a bus? Questions that anybody except runners themselves might reasonably ask. Causing oneself personal discomfort, maybe even pain and misery, is surely the folly of fools. If you’re a top athlete with a fair chance of winning the prize money on offer, maybe it’s all worth it but if you’re going to finish 12,346th in a marathon then what’s the point?
Fortunately, although I’ve only been able to class myself as a semi-serious runner on few-and-far-between occasions throughout my life, I’ve seen and experienced enough to see that there’s more to running than eccentrics or fitness fanatics punishing themselves for no obvious reason.
My dad started running when I was young, and he was old enough to know better. He was by no means a natural but got gripped by ‘the running bug’ and carried along on the wave of the jogging/running craze which was all the rage in the late 1970s and early 80s. What a dubious treat for a young boy – family weekends spent in such diverse locations as Bolton, London, Whitley Bay and the Lake District, as dad ran a marathon and my sister and I would stand around for four miserable hours in the rain waiting for him to finish. Pity our poor mum who had to try to keep us entertained and dry. But somehow, despite the rain, despite the industrial backdrops with only the occasional glimpse of England’s green and pleasant land, there was an excitement about it all, or at least there was for a boy who had not yet reached his teens. The buzz around the events was strange yet somehow enchanting, the odour of Deep Heat almost intoxicating.
Sometimes I’d go running with my dad. Mostly I wouldn’t. Occasionally I’d take part in a fun (!) run. Sometimes I’d carry on going running with him for a number of weeks. Then I’d stop. Then weeks, months or even years later I’d start again. I would be hooked for a while but my interest and energy would drift elsewhere.
Even without a committed approach, it was relatively easy to decide to be a runner (or at least a jogger) or not, as I pleased. But then it started to get harder. Maybe the introduction of alcohol into my diet as I went through my teens didn’t help but the main blame has to be the aging process. By the time I was approaching 30 it was an effort to gain fitness and an even greater effort to maintain it. Miss a few days of running and it was back to square one. Getting fit was beginning to hurt and I became more and more apathetic towards it.
Though I still tried, the buzz I’d witnessed and sometimes felt for myself around the running scene of 20 years previously did not seem attainable without more effort than I was prepared to give on most occasions. Running itself became a panic solution (and a not very successful one at that) when my trousers got too tight. Then I gave in and just started buying the next size up.
Two events collided to give me a huge nudge back in the direction of running. When my Dad passed away it almost felt natural to want to try and squeeze some pleasure for myself from a hobby which provided him with enormous fun, health and happiness over the years. I also turned 40. Once the 40s arrive then it’s surely acceptable to do something which many would see as evidence of an impending mid-life crisis! Unable to afford a fast sports car or a mistress, running seemed a good, low-cost and maybe even healthy option.