So the results of the vote last week are in, and a clear majority of 60% recommend that I keep smiling in the face of the unfriendly and sometimes downright contemptuous runners I tend to meet when I run in London. You are obviously a much more civilised bunch than I am, because my instinctive response was to meet unfriendliness with a scowl; but there lies the slippery slope into anarchy, chaos, the breakdown of society and – worst of all – discourtesy! And that we shall not tolerate.
But as a lovely contrast to my post from last week, today I became the object of a very vocal outburst of support and encouragement: I was staying in a different hotel than usual, so my morning run (6 x 4’ intervals) took me along the south bank of the Thames, from Lambeth Bridge to HMS Belfast and back. On the way back, I was holding on for dear life on my fourth interval past Borough Market and the Clink when a big black guy standing under the railway bridges saw me approach him and cried in an American accent “way to go man! Drop me five!” and offered his open palm for me to slap. He carried on offering encouragement and as I re-emerged into the sunlight I could still hear him shout after me “looking good, looking good, keep going man!”, which made me feel I was in some Hollywood film and that if I turned back I would see that a crowd of children had followed me out of the market and up the steps to the nearest monument!
I love it when little things like that happen, even if I know full well that it is all a bit of fun and not intended as an earnest compliment or in-depth-appraisal of my running form, pace or physique (none of which usually move the masses to vocal expressions of adoration!) I suppose the only earnest compliment there, if there is one, is for being out at that time of the morning / afternoon / evening and putting miles in. And not giving up when you look as beat as I am sure I did then. At least that’s what gives me the urge to spur another runner on, when I’m doing the watching.
There have been a number of such incidents lately: on my Sunday long run, I passed a boy with his father in the village of Thurlaston and he too (the boy that is) started shouting encouragement, gave me a high-five and run next to me for a while. And then, on the same run, after many miles, detours and loops in the countryside, I was leaving Huncote in the direction of Narborough when a lady cyclist who looked like she had struggled up the hill to Huncote, still found the energy to tell me to “carry on, well done!”
Encouragement is much more common in races of course, but there are still stand-out instances that stay with you: Demi, Alexia and Niko at the 32nd km of my first marathon (in Athens), when I had resigned myself that no-one would see me run; the girl in Rome that egged me on in Piazza del Popolo, when my cramp had gotten so bad that I had to walk; or the old lady, again in Athens, who – almost in a whisper and with a lump in her throat – offered the equivalent of “well done boys” (“μπράβο ρε παιδιά”), more to herself than us; there was something about her that has left a great impression on me, something that suggested there was a story behind what brought her out to that stretch of road between villages to see us pass…
I love running, and the memories it gives me. Alone, not passing another living soul for miles; alongside someone else, at pace or more relaxed; or interacting with people I pass, whether earnestly or in jest. And in the end, it seems it wasn’t the “rudeness” of the Regent’s Park runners I minded: I now know it was their indifference.
So I will leave you with this (a line of which I stole for today’s title):