Picture the scene: it is yesterday at around 5.40pm, you’re in my house giving my children their dinner. (It should be quite easy to visualise: just think of that scene with the chimpanzees from Animal Magic with a slightly younger and less dead Johnny Morris.) I wanted to run, but couldn’t until my wife got home. So I debated where to go, taking into account the fact that it’s already getting dark before 7pm. I’d been out the night before at around 6pm, and part of my run had taken me along the village road. There’s no footpath and some occasional blind bends. But it’s fairly safe, or at least it would if it was in a country WHERE ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE DIDN’T DRIVE LIKE A SHIT. Three times on Monday night I had to jump into the verge. That’s three times in the space of about three quarters of a mile. And every time I did, the driver fixed me with a look of abject disgust, despite the fact that a) I’d got out of the way, b) was wearing reflective gear and c) any evasive action they’d taken was as a direct result of them driving too fast. And being a shit.
I got home on Friday night and decided to avoid that stretch of road apart from early mornings and weekends, at which time your chances of being smeared over the bonnet of a Twat Wagon (or ‘white 5 Series BMW’ as some people call them) drop to a mere 50%. So, with the light due to fade and no sign of my wife, I decided to run to the next (much larger)village, do a quick circuit and return. There’s footpath for 95% of the route, plus street lighting if I was going to be late.
The rain had stopped, something I was initially pleased about but later came to curse. It was a very windy evening, but not bad conditions. I pulled on my new favourite things (Vivobarefoot Neo Trails) and set off. Here’s what happened.
As I ran over the bridge (first built by the Romans as a means of continuing the the road out towards the Cotwsolds), I was greeted by the familiar sight of around half a dozen young teenagers sitting at the Bidford end, smoking and getting drunk. (This, to be fair, is not a recent phenomenon.) In what I must assume was a concerted effort to impress the girls, the boys jeered me as I ran past, with one lovable little scamp flicking his fag end at me. Charming. As I turned right and carried on, they shouted abuse at my back. Brilliant!
But, there we are. I’m a grown man and not generally given to being too put out by adolescent cretins. Water off a duck’s back and all that. Carried on.
About twenty-five seconds later, I ran past a pub. As with all pubs these days, there was a pretty good crowd of blokes smoking out front. Drunk blokes. Drunk blokes who thought it would be hilarious to ‘pretend’ to trip me up as I ran by them, and positively shit themselves laughing at the efforts of one of them to keep up with me. What larks!
The next mile or so was pretty uneventful. I ran round what I gather is an industrial estate, although it was more reminiscent of the setting from a particularly grim news report about the Bosnian War. After completing my circuit, I ran back towards the bridge. As I did, I spotted three young boys ahead of me. I would guess they were eight, maybe nine years old. As I went past, one of them, in a moment that would surely have made his mother weep unashamed tears of pride called out, “LOOK AT THIS CUNT!”. Not to be outdone, one of his friends followed up with “I CAN FUCKING RUN FASTER THAN YOU CAN YOU FUCKER”.
The rest of the run passed without incident (the kids from the bridge had gone when I got back), but when I got home I thought about what had happened. Despite my efforts to describe this place as some kind of living hell, the reality is that it’s not all that bad; not when compared with a lot of urban areas. So what the hell is going on? Are things getting worse or am I just getting old?
A couple of weeks ago I had to drive to south London. On my way through town, I saw loads of people running the streets. Busy, dirty and potentially dangerous streets (I’m thinking more about the traffic than anything else). And I thought to myself that if I lived down there, I’m not sure if I’d bother. To me, if you’re not enjoying the environment in which you’re running, it’s just a means to an end. You may as well be on a treadmill. In fact, I’d rather be on a treadmill. And I hate treadmills.
Running is seen a popular sport in this country, and yet an overwhelming majority of people don’t do it. It’s easy, particularly if you take part in a huge event like a major marathon, to think of running as this huge, massively popular thing. But it isn’t, not really. Given that running is the easiest of all sports to take up, and given that we are getting fatter and more unhealthy as a nation, shouldn’t we be doing more to encourage people to run?
If I’d been a first time runner last night, that would have been it for me. I can’t think of a single reason why I’d want to go out and experience that again. I don’t want to overstate things; it’s the first time anything like that has ever happened to me and it’s not as if I’m emotionally scarred by it. But I’m committed, I’ve got the bug. A few dickheads aren’t going to put me off. What about the people in towns and cities who try it a few times and give it up? What proportion of those people would have carried on if there was somewhere nicer to go?
With a minimum of effort, there are hundreds of parks, footpaths and bridleways that could be made more accessible to potential runners. Surely it would be a more attractive proposition for the aspiring runner to get out onto a dedicated route within a mile or so of their house? In many cases it’s not even as if anything would have to done, other than saying “hey, why don’t you come and run here?” and sticking up the odd sign. What about if you could go on a website that showed running routes around the country? ( I know such websites already exist, but they are aimed at existing runners. I’m talking about something geared towards newbies.)
Unlike team sports such as football or rugby, it seems to me that we do absolutely nothing to encourage people to run, whether they be young or old. Running is the one thing that basically anyone can do. (And I mean anyone. The next person who says ‘not with my knees’ is getting a roundhouse kick to the face.) It’s time we (by which I mean the government) started showing people what a rewarding, enjoyable hobby it can be, as well as making it easier and safer, with a proper network of paths and trails.
Anyway, I’m off to drink WKD and smoke some Lambert & Butler at the bridge. See you there.