What’s Wrong With Runners?

weakness-clipart-TiredWhy don’t they smile?

You see, it went like this. I was into my fifth decade, I was sitting at a desk all day, and gravity was beginning to win in its battle against the flesh. So, to fight back, I decided to try running. After all, it only required me to step out the door. There are some lovely parks nearby. And running – unlike pretty well every other form of exercise – doesn’t require any money (as a dirt-poor writer, this latter was a major consideration).

So, one morning not so long ago, I put on my trainers and stepped out the door. It was a lovely morning. The sun was out, the birds were singing and, what’s more, having expected on my first run only to be able to puff my way once round the park, I found that I could run quite a bit further. There’s few things more flattering to a middle-aged man’s vanity than to find he’s fitter than he thought he was.

Running was fun. Running was great. Everyone should do it.

But then, I started passing other runners. Heads down, staring at the pavement, or looking glazedly ahead. What was going on here?

Maybe it was down to the time I was running. After all, people aren’t usually at their best early in the morning. So, I thought I’d try going out when lots of runners were around, when everyone would have had the chance to wake up properly and enjoy the day – and the run.

Good Friday was a bank holiday, it was sunny, it felt like the first day of spring and the park was so crowded with runners that traffic lights where paths crossed would have been useful (the green man would be shown jogging on the spot). In fact, it’s got so busy, the council is running a consultation on creating jogging paths. But not a single runner I passed even made eye contact, let alone acknowledging another runner. I had expected some sort of fellowship among runners but it seems that sharing a moment of (slightly breathless) camaraderie, or even giving a rueful (if you’re middle aged and slightly spreading, like me) or smug (if you’re young, fit and full of breath) grin to someone else pounding the pavements simply does not happen. So, what is the matter with runners? Are they all so caught up in a dopamined, iPodded solipsism that they are simply unaware of anyone or anything around them? Or is there some mysterious runners’ etiquette, of which I am unaware, which precludes any contact with other runners?

Come on, runners, smile! Let the world know you’re enjoying it, and this is not some form of modern self-flagellation. (Or maybe it is. After all, we’re a civilisation so fallen away that we now worship our own physical form rather than any god. Self-torture in expiation for crimes against the ideal body; future ages will look at us with the aghast amazement we regard early medieval anchorites, perched on pillars in the desert.)

But if there is some sort of running omerta, could someone tell me. Please. You’ll know me. I’m the chap who grimaces as he passes. That’s me, trying to smile.


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