this (non-jogging) life
MOST of my life, it seems, I have been walking away from running. In my formative years it was not thus and I remember enjoying scampering through snowy woods following trails of red or blue ink in cross-country “wide games”.
After leaving school, I bought myself a size-too-small purple tracksuit — the Lycra of the time — and jogged the two-mile length of the Lime Tree Avenue in Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire with no one for company except for the odd grey squirrel.
As a trainee banker in London, I sailed through Hampstead Heath similarly attired and attracted amazed glances from couples walking their dogs, and nude gentleman sunbathers. I decided this was a mug’s game and gave up my Sunday runs.
A year or two later, the jogging craze hit Britain from the US (like all other crazes) and running marathons became the passport to health and fitness. Similarly, when I first went abroad to work, not only were there no runners to be seen in certain North African countries but not even any swimmers at the beach. The idea of spending a day at the beach did not appeal to the locals and was only gradually introduced by Western expatriates.
In the Middle East in the 80s, I became aware of groups known as Hash House Harriers, who met weekly to run along trails and socialise at the finish by pouring pints of beer over each other. Needless to say, I did not participate in these bizarre rituals, preferring the company of walkers through the local wadis, naming the rocky landmarks with sobriquets such as Scafell Pike, Great Gable and Malham Cove.
The abiding benefit of walking groups was that one was able to discuss and converse in a way not possible for the lonely long-distance runners. Nowadays, marathons have swelled to take over whole cities and involve tens of thousands of pairs of shorts and singlets.
Marathons have become an industry and icons for cities around the world. No city worth its salt lacks the seasonal mass frenzy of roads closed to traffic and stands set up to offer water and snacks to the doughty street pounders.
While recently working in the Middle East, I kept up my rituals of walking the pavements past old Arabian forts, spacious pleasure gardens and crowds of Bangladeshis pouring in and out of the local mosques. Only occasionally was attention paid to an elderly expat in trainers and shorts, weaving his way in the twilight past kebab shops and cheap tailors.
Now that I have retired to Australia, however, jogging is not an option. I no longer have to walk away from running.
Running has run away from me.
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