There’s no such thing as normal, really. It’s all subjective. Each of us is nothing more than a collection of various idiosyncrasies, oddisms and peculiarities blanketed under a thin veil of conformism so as not to freak everyone else out. Well, that’s my excuse anyway. Although now I read it back, that does sound worryingly like Ol’ Gil from The Simpsons giving the opening statement for the defence, having unwisely chosen to represent himself in court when fighting charges of public indecency.
In short, I’m sure everyone has their own running routine – those little things they do to optimise performance or maximise comfort or enhance enjoyment or appease their chosen deity or whatever. Hmm, running Gods? I wonder if there are any. Besides me and my good friend Matthew Jones, of course. Let’s have a look. Ah, here we are:
Atalanta: The Greek Goddess of Running and Romance – because the two go hand in hand…after 8 miles or so I positively ooze romance as we’ll see later. Let’s get the key facts on Atalanta:
- ‘Atalanta was abandoned in a forest on a mountain top by her father who was disappointed she was not a boy’ – seems harsh
- ‘Kills suitors who cannot outrun her’ – seems fair
- ‘The Goddess Artemis sent a she-bear to raise her’ – seems improbable
Returning once again to the matter at hand though, here’s a list of my own running-related quirks. I’m sure some will be familiar to other runners. Some, well, not so much:
1) Warm up? I think not.
I do hope no one ever mistakes this blog for a ‘how to be good at running’ type-blog. I should really give it the strap line of ‘don’t do what I do – I’m an idiot’. And exhibit A for the prosecution is the complete lack of a warm up. None whatsoever. Unless you count a faint jiggle on the spot as I’m waiting impatiently for the running watch to locate the satellite. This is fine when I’m on my own, free to make my own ridiculous mistakes in blissful solitude. However, at an organised run I feel the overbearing need to at least appear to be warming up, like all the other proper runners are doing. This usually involves a three-step plan:
i) Grab a leg and flex it into an unnatural position whilst looking furious, hoping people mistake the fury for knowledgeable determination
ii) Bounce awkwardly from one foot to the other, like the most reluctant Dancing Stage Euromix 2 participant ever
iii) Go for a brief, light jog whist fretting that I’m ‘using all the energy that I should be saving for the race’
To be honest, ‘adding a warm up to every run, you fool’ is pretty high on my to-do list as I begin to think that ‘maybe I should try to get better at this running thing, given that I spend several hours every week doing it’. As I mentioned last week, my attitude thus far to warming up is very much summed up as ‘but that’s what the first mile is for’, which is due to me overhearing a running veteran proclaim it mid-race and me coming to the instantaneous conclusion that ‘He’s old and he’s a runner, he must be right’.
2) The Lone Gunman
Now, I partake in several organised runs per year and I do enjoy them. And I will admit that the tangible feeling of collective anticipation you get when corralled into the starting paddock with hundreds of other people is difficult to replicate. As is the odour: part sweat, part freshly laundered running gear, part Deep Heat. And I do love a medal and a t-shirt and a free sample of conditioner as much as the next chap. But, on the whole, I’m quite the solitary runner. I haven’t joined a running group. Nor have I taken to making Parkrun part of my regular routine, albeit I have been along to a few. No, I’m quite the antisocial arse when I look at it. In fact, rumour has it that Whitesnake wrote “Here I Go Again” specifically with me in mind. Despite me only being 6 years old on its release. Hmm, maybe I’ll add ‘acquire more running chums’ to that ‘to do’ list too.
3) “Must…*pants*…catch…*wheezes*…and…*gasps*…overtake…” *dies*
Being an idiot, the worst thing that can happen when I’m out running alone is to cross paths with another runner. Well, I say that. Its fine if they are going in the opposite direction. Passing pleasantries and/or a nod of discernment can be exchanged. The problems begin if we’re going the same way. Firstly, I must, MUST, catch them and overtake them. Even though there’s a decent chance they’ll actually be faster than me and I’ll collapse from a fatal case of over-exuberance in the attempt. And secondly, should I manage to pass and overtake, I need to keep up the same pace until out of sight, so it doesn’t look like I’m some prat who needlessly overtook a fellow runner because his vindictive inner monologue told him he HAS TO. I confess, this unfortunate habit is not limited to running. Whilst walking down a street I’ll frequently pick out another pedestrian to ‘race’. Even though they hardly ever know that they’re in a race*. Hence I always win. Which is good for morale.
4) Nature: the one-sided relationship
I do like nature. And as the owner of 5 chickens and one cat, all of with whom I frequently hold long, one-sided conversations, I’m not averse to chatting it up with passing countryside creatures as I run. However, for every ‘Hello there, Mr Horse!’ (or similar) and accompanying cheery wave I’ll offer to animals lurking in plain sight, nature has a tendency to repay my approachability by leaping out unannounced and scaring the crap out of my on an otherwise tranquil country lane. In no particular order, the following 3 beasts have caught me unawares repeatedly
i) Grouse. Or pheasant. Are they the same thing? You know, those big birds that are always getting run over – it’s all quiet then – SCREECH! FLAP! KAWKAW! SCREECH! -They rise clumsily and noisily from a bush or a thicket like Satan’s phoenix, clearly having just remembered they left the hob on. *Ben emits manly scream and clutches chest*
ii) Sheep. Like a small, dirty cloud with legs, terrified of everything. Lurking unseen behind a hedge or fence before banding with 49 of its ruminant brethren to emit a mighty BAAAAAAAA! of disapproval at your mere presence. *Ben emits a manly scream and stumbles into a ditch*
iii) Rat. Or mouse. Or vole or something. Small, skittering vermin. Usually they shoot out, see you, panic, run back in. I can empathise with that. But the damage is done. *Ben emits a manly scream and leaps 10 feet into the air*
5) Hello! Hello?
Despite the earlier lingering analysis of my alienated approach to running without company, I am still versed in the customs of polite social interaction and do frequently exercise related behaviour. Which translates, in this context, as saying ‘hello’ to everyone I meet. Owing to the times of day I run and the route I regularly do, I don’t meet very many. Which makes it utterly infuriating when someone refuses to even acknowledge my presence as I pass, let alone offer a correlative response. I would say around 40% of people completely ignore me when I say hello. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that everyone is free to be as miserable as they wish. But is it that hard, as an adult, to offer a reciprocal greeting, even if it is an insincere one? NO IT’S BLOODY NOT! WHAT’S WRONG WITH PEOPLE?!? *Nurse administers sedative* I suppose, to take a more objective approach for a moment, the sight of a nimble 6-foot, sweaty, gasping, furious-looking stranger may intimidate the more diffident pedestrian into nervous silence. But still…
6) The inner/outer monologue
I think I’ve eluded to/spoken of/confessed all about the ol’ inner monologue already. It’s always there. The ultimate paradox. Supporter. Critic. Complimenter. Derider. Wise sage. Malevolent buffoon. What I will say is that the ‘inner’ monologue becomes more of an ‘outer’ monologue as the run gets longer and self-restraint/self-control become compromised. It also becomes angrier and less coherent. I’ve only partaken in one marathon thus far (with my second scheduled for October 2015) and its fair to say that by around mile 18 of that and the necessary training runs I was just making noises. Terrible, primeval noises. With occasional hints to a robust Anglo-Saxon etymological origin.
7) The Sweat Puddle
If you’re still reading this and thinking ‘He seems quite normal’, this might be the tipping point right here. On completion of a run I have a certain…habit. No, let’s call it a custom. That sounds less seedy. Basically, I’m a very sweaty runner. Something akin to human fountain. And at the end of a run I like to sit on a step by my patio and let the perspiration form a ‘sweat puddle’. If you’re thinking this sounds disgusting, you’re probably right and my wife certainly agrees with you. But let me explain myself. Starting out as something of a ‘hefty’ runner a few years ago, I came into running with the mind-set that every run was a victory. And the sweat was evidence of that victory. I’d earned that sweat. It’s the pool of human ooze that says ‘I’ve achieved’. Like nature’s medal. Or runner’s ectoplasm. Or something. Pfft, shut up I know I’m weird.
This week’s running
I’ve racked up a total of 27.8 miles over 5 runs this week, including a 10-mile marathon-paced jaunt. I’ve begun to try and formulate something of a training plan (in addition to the marathon training, which I can’t afford to not take seriously) so I’m partaking in some ‘speedwork’. Which means strides and fartleks. So the Internet tells me. I also started doing some yoga (no sniggering at the back) which I’ll blog about next week. Running highlights this past week included being chased and ‘playfully’ nibbled by a dog.
* – There was one time when a bloke worked out what I was doing. By the end of the street we were both practically running. I won though. By which I mean I made to the imaginary finish line the he didn’t know was there before he did. Ben 1, dignity 0.