Half way through my run, a very small bird leaps from a hedge to my right, skits across the road to the hedge on my left but doesn’t pause, just bounces off it and back to the middle of the road. It squeaks off ahead, then up into some trees and out of sight.
The sight of this tiny bright green bird momentarily distracts me from the stitch in my side, the aches in my chest, and the lumpen feeling of despair in my legs.
I am an overweight middle-aged man out running, and I hate it.
The runners who inspire me seem to have one spectacular advantage: they’re already thin enough for it to look like it’s easy for them. (I know it’s not. I know it’s hard work for everyone. But these people make it look easy.)
I hate running for many reasons, and the main one is the bit about running. I am not lithe, I don’t have long slim muscular legs. My legs are short and stubby and tubby and flabby, and every step feels like an argument. I’m arguing with my body, which would rather be on the sofa.
“You will run,” I command it.
“Oh please shut up and let me relax,” it replies.
But I’m in charge. I lift one flabby leg and let it drop down to the road, then the next. Together, my body and I advance. My body doesn’t care about birds or being outdoors or its own health. It wants to rest, and it wants a biscuit.
I live in a hilly town, and my body and I have reached such a state of disagreement about running that even the slightest incline drastically slows me down, and lessens my ability to run further.
In an effort to reach a compromise, I’ve recently taken to driving somewhere a bit flatter. I don’t have to go far, just a couple of miles outside town there’s a bit of flat countryside criss-crossed by narrow lanes. I can run here for much longer. My body complains, but doesn’t collapse.
There are pros and cons of running on country lanes:
PRO: Occasional encounters with wildlife
(see bird story above, and cow story below)
PRO: Hardly any cars
(my typical rate is 1 car per km)
PRO: Superb air quality
CON: Occasional encounters with cow shit
CON: Higher likelihood of bug-swallowing
On this particular run, I manage 3.7km. The experienced runners among you will snort at this pathetic total, but for me it’s an achievement. Not my longest run ever, but the longest for quite a while, certainly since I decided It Really Is About Time I Started Running Again.
It’s a beautiful evening, perfect weather: a slightly chilly wind, offset by delicious warm sunshine. Towards the end of my run, along the final stretch of road, I can see my car parked ahead of me.
There are some cows – young ones, by the size of them – gathered at the edge of the field on my left. They’re munching the interesting-plants-that-aren’t-grass that are growing in the hedge.
I focus my eyes on the car ahead, but say out loud: “Hi cows.”
Two or three of the cows stop munching, and lift their heads to look at me. They’re so young, it’s possible they haven’t seen many runners before. Perhaps I’m the first one.
“Why are you mooving?” ask the cows.
I don’t break my stride.
“I’m running,” I say. “I want to lose weight.”
“What a strange thing to doo,” say the cows.
“I agree,” I pant. Only about 100 metres left to go now. I’m so thirsty. My body wants to interject with some opinions but I won’t let it.
“We’re right behind yoo,” say the cows, chewing encouragingly.
“Thanks cows,” I say. I reach the car, and touch it, and gasp myself back to sweaty normality.
I am a middle-aged man who has been for a run, and I hate it. But it has its positives.