Angst in my pants

Foreword: I was struggling to think up a snappy title for this post, but in the end settled on a tenuous pun. I’d like to start off by assuring you, shiny reader, that what you’re about to read has nothing whatsoever to do with my pants. Right, now that we’ve cleared that up, on with the post…

The notion that running is a minefield of social beartraps is a recurring theme here on, as is mixing my metaphors. I think that says more about me than it does about running.

This blog fulfils several needs for me. It’s a way of keeping me motivated to run on those rare occasions when my mojo hides under the stairs, it’s an excuse to put my often-muddled thoughts into words, and of course it’s a front for my counterfeit battenburg smuggling cartel*. It’s also a way of exorcising the razor-toothed fairies of social awkwardness that make a guest appearance during many of my runs.

I had an amazing LSR** around Stewartby Lakes in Bedfordshire last week. Okay, so it wasn’t particularly L, neither was it as S as it should have been. But it was almost certainly an R. My plan was to keep to 10-11 mins/mile, but my pace kept creeping down to 9 min/mile and it just felt too damn good to change. I learned a long time ago not to argue with my legs when they’re in that sort of mood; they can kick, my brain can’t, legs win every time.

About halfway round my delicious 11-miler I spotted another runner up ahead, and before too long I realised that I was going just ever-so-slightly faster than she was. Thinking no more of it, I carried on at my own pace and before too long I was just seconds from overtaking her. Now, what I hadn’t realised was that she’d done the old trick of “ooh, there’s another runner coming up behind me, I’d better speed up a bit so they think I’m awesome***”. I’d been inadvertently using her as a pacer for the last quarter of a mile, but I only realised that she’d sped up when I glanced at my watch and saw that I was about to zip past her at 7:30 min/mile pace. There was no bloody way I could maintain that for the rest of my run (this was supposed to be a long one, remember) so I considered my options…

  1. Screech to an immediate halt just a couple of metres behind her and settle into a slower pace. Axe murderer.
  2. Screech to an immediate halt just a couple of metres behind her, turn around and run in the opposite direction. Axe murderer, albeit a slightly bashful one.
  3. Carry on past her and then relax into a slower pace, which would then result in her naturally overtaking me a few seconds later and me plodding along behind her. Axe murderer.
  4. Carry on past her and maintain pace for as long as possible, then quickly dive into a bush and hide there (wheezing and gasping) until she’s gone past. Even I’d think I was an axe murderer with this one.

Luckily, I’m not a very fast thinker so by the time I was halfway to deciding what to do, I was already past. I think I gave the obligatory runners wave and a muffled “morning” as I passed, although it might have come out as “Fear not, fellow traveller, for I mean you no harm”.

As I plodded on, part of my brain decided that my own angst-spiral wasn’t enough, and started to agonize on behalf of my fellow runner too. If I’d been in her position my thought process from the start would have gone something like this…

“Okay, so someone’s behind me at more or less the same pace. I’ll just slow down a teensy bit so they don’t think I’m some ego-driven idiot trying to race them.  Right, they’ve overtaken me so now I can relax. Except I must keep at the exact same pace now. If I speed up it’ll look like I’m trying to race them (or axe-murder them). But if I slow down any more I’ll practically be walking”.

As I glanced back over my shoulder, I could see that she kept checking her GPS watch, so maybe she was a fellow worrier. Either that or she was staring intently at her wrist simply to avoid making eye contact with the scary bloke who’d just overtaken her and was now looking back over his shoulder at her. I decided to try to run through the self-imposed awkwardness, and after a while I was back on my own, with thoughts turning to simpler things (for instance, is there really any difference between cats and dogs? Okay, so they look different, but then again a Rottweiler looks different to a poodle. I reckon cats are just an exotic breed of dog, and it’s all just some elaborate tax dodge).

The remainder of the run was largely uneventful, and I finished feeling fast and strong. I’ve started to do more and more negative splits, especially on longer runs. The first few miles are a ploddy affair, but then I seem to find reserves of sparkly energy in the latter half of the run that make me feel like I’m gliding up through the gears. Not effortless by any stretch, but certainly a nice steady feeling and not one that I’m ever going to complain about.

Reading back through this post (and reflecting on others of a similar theme), it strikes me that I come across as a tightly-wound ball of angst and self-doubt, and you’d be forgiven for imagining that I never leave the house without my trusty tinfoil bobble hat. But the truth of it is that I just tend to over-dramatize situations as a way of occupying my mind during longer runs to break the monotony, in the same way that others might work through mathematical problems or compile mental shopping lists. My self-imposed bouts of drama might seem a mess of anxiety and paranoia once committed to the page, but at the time, it’s like my own little internal theatre. It’s only when I try to explain it to others that my personal Samuel Beckett play quickly becomes “The Krankies do La Boheme”.

Bye for now folks. I’ll be putting out another B2P Q&A later this week. In the meantime I’ll see you on the twitter where I bumble around as @borntoplodblog.


* From which some of you will know me by my alter ego, El Diablo Marzipano. Shhh… don’t tell Interpol.
** LSR = Long Slow Run, for any non-running chums out there.
*** It’s equally possible that she sped up as part of a carefully structured pacing plan, or simply because she felt like it. But I just like to think that everybody else is a bit like me.
…anyway, we’re all awesome.

6 thoughts on “Angst in my pants

  1. You’ll probably find she was having the same internal dialogue as you. Although maybe not the bit about cats and dogs. I think it’s quite clear that they’re an entirely different species, dude.

  2. As both a runner and an avid axe murderer, I must say that you have opened up a whole new series of options when I’m running behind a victim. Much obliged.

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