This is a transcript(ish) of my bit from Write This Run’s Monoblogues event. I’m not sure how well it’ll translate in this medium, without the benefit of hand signals, but I had to put it on here because I’m a bit of a completist and I have to have everything nailed down in one place. The thought of something just floating around loose in the form of a memory just freaks me out, so I have to capture it on here so I can free up that little compartment of brain-space for something else.
Anyway, here y’go…
Shame: the Ultimate Running Fuel.
I like to think we’re all friends now. Best friends in fact. And unless I’ve grossly misread the signals, I’m assuming we’ll all be heading off on a backpacking trip around Croatia straight after the show, with our matching Write This Run tattoos. And because we’re all such great friends, I don’t mind telling you I’ve always been a little bit awkward in social situations. I’m not a naturally outgoing person, and at parties I tend to be the one who gets politely asked to go and sit in the shed.
And then I started running.
Lovely, lovely running.
And I thought to myself: finally, I can just immerse myself in this wonderful inclusive community and start to relax in my own skin. Of course, what actually happened was that I’d found a whole new arena in which I could feel awkward, and this time I’d have to do it in tight lycra.
During a run I’ll often find myself in a situation where I start to drastically overthink something, to the point where I just want the ground to swallow me up.
“Give us an example Jay”
Okay, I will.
There’s a lake near where I work, and it’s a lovely place to run around. Nice flat trails, a café in the middle1, and most importantly, no bears. A while back I was enjoying one of those amazing runs where everything comes together just right. Some of you might take it for granted, but it was a run where everything felt fluid and natural. My legs were just zipping along underneath me and I felt comfortable at paces that’d normally have me making noises like a broken washing machine.
It was a good run.
So I pushed myself. I squeezed the pace, curious to see how long I could maintain it.
And that was when I saw her. A vision of beige.
Up ahead, where the path narrowed, there was a little old woman walking her dog. She was heading in the same direction as me, but walking at the pace of someone who knows they haven’t got long left and is determined to savour every last bloody step. Anyway, this little old lady2, she was lovely. If I ever adopt a septuagenarian, I’d want it to be her or someone very much like her. Small and rosy cheeked, you could imagine she’d always have a tray of freshly baked shortbread on standby in case her grandkids came round to visit. A twinkle in her eye to suggest that she was perhaps a little bit feisty in her younger days, although now she just liked to knit bobble hats for the local donkey sanctuary. You get the idea.
She didn’t notice me running up behind her at first, so I did the usual runner thing of making as much noise as possible as I came up behind her, without wanting to make it seem like I was doing it on purpose. I theatrically cleared my throat and scuffed my feet across the ground a bit louder than usual, and it soon had the desired effect. She turned around, but she must have thought I’d been behind her trying to get past for a while, because as she stepped out of my way she looked startled and a little bit apologetic.
I wanted to reassure her that she hadn’t been in my way at all, and to thank her for letting me pass. But remember I’d been pushing myself hard, and now I was feeling it. If I’d tried to say something, it would have just come out as “hnnnnnngh”, which I didn’t think was appropriate as we’d only just met. So as I passed her I just held up my hand in a universal signal which I hoped conveyed the message “Dear, sweet Betty. Thank you so much for moving out of the way. I hope with all my heart that you have a fantastic day. Also, you have a nice dog. Byyyye”.
I was exhausted. We’ve already established that I was too out of breath to string a few words together. As it turns out, I was also too tired to hold my hand up straight. So what should have been this:
I sped away from her, just staring up at my hand (which in itself probably looked a bit weird). I was mortified. The sweetest little old lady in the world, and I’d just given her the finger.
What must she think? She’d probably never leave the house again. She probably thought I was one of those ASBO hoodies she’d read about in the peoples friend. You know, the ones with all the heroins.
What could I do? The right thing to do would be to stop and go back to her, to explain the whole situation. But how would that look? For the thug who’d just hurled silent abuse at her, to suddenly turn around and run straight back towards her? She’d probably think I was going to cyberbully her and set fire to her spaniel. No, if I turned back now, I’d be doing CPR in the very near future.
All I could do was to carry on with my run and try to put the whole thing behind me. Now, the thing about circular loops is that, well, they’re circular. But a lap of the lake is a good three or four miles; she’d be long gone by the time I came round again.
She was still there. Still going. She was an Endurance Nan; a slightly creased Scott Jurek (if Scott Jurek smelled of cat food, which I’m fairly certain he doesn’t).
Another choice had to be made. I could just carry on, not acknowledge her in any way and FOR GOD’S SAKE KEEP MY HANDS DOWN BY MY SIDES. Or…
I could do the exact opposite. Be over-friendly, go out of my way to wish her a cheery “Good Morning”. Just be overly chirpy, to the point where she started doubting herself. I’d make her think that she’d imagined the whole “naughty hand signal” thing.
That’s right. My masterplan involved convincing a sweet old lady that she’d lost her marbles. My parents would be so proud of me.
Questionable morality aside, my plan was pure genius. The only problem was this: I think even slower than I run. By the time I’d finished hatching my plan, I’d already sailed past Betty and was halfway round the lake again.
The rest of my run was fuelled not by gels or glycogen, but by a burning sense of shame. It dogged every step, and I didn’t stop thinking about it until I popped into the café for a post-run coffee.
And sure enough, Betty was there.
My heart froze when I saw her, sitting there with a friend as I walked past, coffee in hand. But then something wonderful happened. She looked up at me with a smile and, in a voice full of warmth, said: “So nice to see people out enjoying the fresh air”. I couldn’t believe it! With just those few little words, she’d turned my world the right way up. Everything was great again, and I cursed myself for overthinking the whole thing.
The smile died on my face as I was walking away, when I distinctly heard Betty whisper (in a much icier tone than before): “Him. He’s the one who did it!”
1 Not in the middle of the lake, that’d be weird.
2 let’s call her Betty. She looked like a Betty.