Don’t make Paul angry, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. And he’s not that fond of himself, either
It’s hard to truly know your own
nature. I don’t know whether I am a fairly relaxed person because I run all the time, or if I run all the time simply to burn off my anger.
The other day I set off on a 10-miler feeling fairly chilled. It was a busy day on the trails of north London, with dog walkers aplenty, and as I descended a short hill a big collie veered in front of me. The owner, a largish, outdoorsy lady in her mid-50s, laughed and carried on, saying, ‘ Who’s that, Billy? Who’s that?’ The dog went off to sniff a tree and I ran on warily. Then it appeared again and jumped into me. I recoiled and said, a bit sharply, to the still-laughing owner, ‘Are you going to do something?’
‘There’s no need to be aggressive!’ she replied, reddening.
‘I’m not. I’m trying to run and your dog keeps jumping at me.’
She immediately put Billy on a lead, which was surely what she should have done in the first place. I ran on, replaying the exchange in my mind. Had I been I aggressive? I suppose I could have dealt with it better. I mean, it’s only a dog, and it’s a summer’s day. Chill out! To think, that lady would probably have one impression of me forever: the sweaty, moody, anti-dog bloke she came across one summer’s day.
A mile later I found myself running up behind a fairly skinny, balding, bearded bloke. For some reason I instinctively liked him. Maybe it was the old-school simplicity of his outfit – a pale, old cotton T-shirt, shorts, no socks. At our respective paces I would pass him in about 50 metres, and I was planning some kind of greeting as I did so. But then he looked back, saw me and increased his pace. A lot.
Now, I accept the subtle increase in pace when someone comes up behind you as an unspoken running-joust sort of thing, but this was comically abrupt. It was as if he owed me money. Either that or he’d been speaking to the dog woman. It seemed to me a childish act on his part, so I speeded up, which was, of course, a childish act on mine. I figured this would be over pretty quickly, but it wasn’t – his pace was unrelenting. Then he looked behind, saw me on his tail and barrelled off again. By this stage my gentle acceleration had given way to a full-on effort, which I managed to smooth out into something that almost looked natural as I overtook him. I kept up that pace till I was out of his sight and then I crumpled to a halt to ‘retie my shoelaces’. What had I become – some kind of dog-hating, stranger-racing lunatic?
Round three in what was fast becoming me versus the world came as I entered a local wildlife park, accessed by a long wooden bridge. As I ran onto the bridge I saw two people manning a table covered with literature devoted to animal welfare. Passing them, the younger of the two, a bearded student type in long shorts and sandals, asked if I’d ‘mind not running over the bridge’. ‘ You’re joking, aren’t you?’ ‘No.’ ‘ Why not?’ ‘It’s to protect the wildlife.’ His companion, a khaki-clad woman, chipped in: ‘It bounces.’
I slowed to a sulky walk (though I ran the last five metres of the bridge in a pathetic act of rebellion). My mind flooded with responses to this absurd policy: are you going to weigh every person who crosses the bridge, in case they make it bounce? Have you received any complaints from the wildlife? Are you familiar with the light, fast cadence I’ve been working on? And, finally, what about me – I’m wildlife! We all are, aren’t we? WILD! ALIVE!
I charged on, cursing in the heat, half man, half beast. But as my breathing became more regular, so my mind became calmer. I like dogs! I like wildlife! Who cares if some hypercompetitive bloke thinks he has to beat everyone in the park? By the end of the run my mind was clear: there was no need, I reflected, to be so aggressive. The run had done its work.
Paul and fellow comedian Rob Deering’s running podcast, Running Commentary is available on itunes and Acast. @Runcompod
Upper body (n)
Portion of the body that separates legs from head and from which the arms hang. Widely ignored by many runners