Apparently the record for running 5km outdoors is 13:29. That’s in minutes and seconds, in case you were struggling. I’d definitely be struggling if the only way I could save the world was by running that fast. In fact, struggling isn’t really the best word. I’d be fucked. Buggered. Brutally murdered and dumped in the undergrowth. About a minute of running that fast and I’d be desperately trying to cradle my thumping lungs as they shot out of my chest, my nose bleeding so hard I’d be losing blood at roughly the rate of one pint every eight seconds. Both my Abductor Longus’ (Longi?) would have ripped clean in two, my Patella’s would have shattered like a pair of cheap saucers at a village fete crockery smash and at least one Gluteus Maximus would have dropped off into a puddle of my own piss. Of course, we all know that there is absolutely no need to be able to run that fast unless you’re being chased by a bear and a wolf, but then some people do tend to take running a little more seriously than others; they must do to wear such daft outfits.
I say this as a little pre-amble to this morning’s exercise, which was to join in with a Park Run. I’ve never done one before, partly because I could never be bothered, partly because I’m not a fan of having my exercise organised by someone else, and partly so I could avoid ever having to say the words “I’ve joined a Park Run”. Having said that, I’ve been a runner for most of my life. As a youth I was quite the long distance prospect, but the discipline never quite fell in line with my fondness for less healthy pursuits, and so with middle age safely penetrated and all sorts of muscles and joints beginning to argue with one another running has become an intermittent treat rather than a regular endeavour. But I do acknowledge that, provided the body isn’t too traumatized, it is one of the best forms of exercise you can get and since it can be done outdoors one does tend to inhale a little less of other people’s sweat than during the average spell in a gym. Which is a bonus.
Until recently I hadn’t realised my local park had a Park Run. It was only when I rolled out for a Saturday morning palette cleanser in December and found myself caught up in a contraflow of runners that it started to dawn on me that this was something co-ordinated, rather than merely being a busy coincidence of people, all determined to run in the opposite direction to me. At first I resisted: why would I need to join a Park Run when I have been enjoying a park run of my own making for quite some time already (admittedly the membership was almost low enough to be zero but I think you’ll find the feedback was never less than excellent)? I also had to factor in all the community spirit/support network/make new friends sort of bullshit that comes with events like these; I’m as sociable as the next person, as long as the next person makes all the effort to get things started and then has the wits to recognise when things really aren’t going all that well. I don’t need the Park Run and the Park Run definitely doesn’t need me. But then I changed my mind.
It was after doing a particularly brutal solo HIIT session on Wednesday that I realised I need to spend more time away from my usual gym routine and start to challenge myself again. If I am to die (no one has specifically told me I have to, but I’m guessing it’s unlikely I’ll be the first person to buck the trend) then I wish to do so without ever having to rely on a mobility scooter and daily bed baths. I had to give my poor, fast-track aged body a couple of days to stop aching beyond words but when I woke up this morning I stuck to my guns and gently skipped down to the park to see what all the fuss was about. I didn’t see the need to register or sign up – I’m not yet ready to have my time logged so that when the day comes that I finally clock in under 13:29 for a 5km run someone will say well done and give me a bright yellow sticker with a thumbs-up on it. No, instead I just blended in seamlessly and gathered myself near the back of the pack, not many yards away from a quite silly lady who had brought along a very loud and excited dog; because she, and only she, must have thought the rest of the runners would really appreciate the extra frisson of ankle biting danger little Fido added to the occasion. I assumed she either beat me or was accidentally dragged into a lake by her frizzy little friend as I never saw her again. Nor did I hear her dog again; which happily qualified as a win on both fronts.
At first it’s a bit of a drag, running along with all those other people. People to get stuck behind. People to jostle. People to quietly mock when they start wheezing on the first bend. But the benefit is that you don’t set off like a shitty whippet in a rabbit sanctuary and blow all your energy too early. Instead you sort of amble along at a gentle trot and then when the crowds start to thin out you can edge forward bit by bit until all of a sudden you’re at the front. Only kidding, I got nowhere near the front, but my calculated move to start at the back at least meant I was always steadily overtaking instead of the other way round. That said, towards the end I was swiftly outstripped by a man pushing a buggy in front of him. I assumed he was either lapping me with ease or had just stolen someone’s baby, neither of which option endeared him to my good books. I think there is room to consider a separate run for dog owners and buggy pushers, but I’ll need to work my way up to the planning committee before that idea gets a place on the agenda.
As I ran people would openly thank the volunteer marshals for pointing out that it is generally considered better to stick to the path than run straight into a swamp, and I noticed that some runners who had already finished were now coming back the other way and clapping along all the losers they had left gasping in their wake. On another day I would have found that an irritant but today it seemed quite the gesture of kindred generosity. By the time I finished I felt slightly pleased with myself. I had run 5km without a single little break (which would never happen if I was on my own) and as I write this I have yet to succumb to multiple bone failure. I can start to see the point of these Park Runs: they add a little sense of commitment and achievement, as well as a delicate smear of competition into the bargain as well. And there was a hint of communal spirit in the air that is all to often completely wasted on the likes of me. I’m almost glad I went. I think I might even pop back next week and give it another go. I won’t talk to anyone, of course, but neither will I pack my crossbow. You know, to take care of that dog.
G B Hewitt. 04.02.2023