Tonk Talk

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

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


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