Most Saturday mornings I do the Parkrun to keep my fitness levels up. A 5k run around the park in the town I live, it is a very popular activity, with at least 200 runners turning up come rain, shine or more recently, icy hail. That was a painful one. At one point I thought I had chipped my windscreen (glasses) by a rogue hailstone ricocheting off a man’s head. It was a false alarm but my god, imagine trying to haggle with him to pay to get them fixed. I could get a quote, avoid going through the insurers and we could settle out of court if it came to it.
Each week I improve ever so slightly. Whether that be by me running the whole route without stopping (some feat seeing as the route goes past my front door twice. Oh how easy it would be to pop out halfway through the race and claim the glory. There is a flood defence which I could army roll over, make out I was tying a lace and if I time it just right, the marshals may not cotton on. I haven’t thought about it in that much detail…) or even just making it around the course. Each week feels like an achievement.
I’m usually towards the back of the crowd of runners. I can be found with the elderly, the buggies, the dogs and the obese. We are all fantastic for getting out and running it, but we are slow. We set off and the ‘elite’ runners swiftly disappear, then you have your fit bods (housewives who have time to train in the week and people to keep fit in their spare time, like people who enjoy football and keen gardeners) and then us rogues at the back. The route is winding, uneven, hilly and at some points treacherous.
As we weave in and out of puddles and walkers who exercise their right to have ‘freedom of feet’ and walk right in the bloody middle of the route, we hear the elite shouting ‘BOLLARDS’ to warn us all of impending obstacles. The first time I heard that I thought they were shouting ‘BOLLOCKS’ and immediately assumed someone had to abandon their race to take a Paula Radcliffe style toilet break in the middle of the very public park. I get to the halfway point, which is signalled by a marshal who looks a lot like Father Christmas giving everyone a high five and I begin to feel the waves of nausea which come with distance running.
I can’t get my breath. My glasses are bobbing about all over the place. The radio that I’m listening to has cut to the news. This isn’t motivating me at all. I think about stopping. Then, out of nowhere my nemesis trots past me. His hot pants are freshly ironed and his hair is flowing in the wind. He is taunting me with every stride. My nemesis, Roy (name changed to protect his identity), is an elderly gentleman who is in the age group MALE RUNNERS 70-75. He has the stamina of a panther.
His little legs just keep going. He is always smiling as he goes round, with the three hairs left on his head waving around like his own personal cheerleaders. God it makes me sick. He usually gives me a smile, as he has no idea he is my nemesis and is probably a thoroughly lovely gentleman outside the competitive context I see him in. I interpret his smile as sheer mockery and it motivates me to keep going. I pass a runner vomiting in a bush. Oh god that looks good. She’s slumped over, resting her heavy legs with this morning’s protein porridge rejecting itself from her body. I don’t want to be sick; I just don’t want to carry on running.
I make it to the ‘home straight’ which is frustratingly, mostly uphill. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was a short, steep hill, but this is a gentle, long incline which tricks you into thinking it won’t be that bad. It’s like a slow releasing hangover. You know, the ones that kick in around 2pm the day after a heavy night and gradually get worse as the evening drags out.
I find myself fixated on Roy’s white, puny ankles working in front of me. If they can make it I can. At this point I’m oblivious to all the herds of people who are passing me. A woman with her buggy whizzes past and a 13 month old clutching an owl teddy glances up at me. He’s beating me and he probably can’t even walk yet!
We get to the last 400m and my competitiveness takes over. I make a motivational speech in my head. Think Martin Luther king meets TEDx.
‘I BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN DO THIS. YOU ARE STRONGER THAN THE VOMITER. YOU ARE BETTER THAN THE QUITTERS. IN A FEW MAGICAL SECONDS THIS WILL ALL BE OVER. TODAY IS YOUR DAY. YOU ARE A STRONG INDEPENDENT FAST WO-’
I cut myself off as I stride past Roy on the final bend. He’s running out of steam! Ha ha!
I push hard, using every last ounce of energy left in me. Every breath feels like I’m swallowing wet cement. My whole body is incredibly heavy and I feel so sick. I start to slow, ever so slightly, but just enough to make sure I actually pass the finish line as I’m going all guns blazing and it’s not over yet. Then out of nowhere, he whizzes past me. Faster than I can run at the best of times he bounds past like a man 60 years his junior. The glory hunting git! I finish the run and give him a glare. He throws a condescending ‘well done’ comment in my direction but I’ve got ‘runners ears’* and can’t hear him.
*Runners ears are when your body shuts down its senses to preserve energy. No, I’m kidding. They are super cold ears which can’t hear very well.
I scan my barcode to record my time, get my breath back, take one of the cookies being handed out by the volunteers and make my way home.
Until next week, Roy.