this (non-jog­ging) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Peter Emery

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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