“There once was a runner who swallowed a fly…”


“There once was a runner who swallowed a fly.

I don’t know why he swallowed a fly.

Perhaps he’ll die” .

I didn’t die, just to clear that up from the start, but I did meet a fly who tried his very hardest to kill me, if not through choking then certainly through sheer embarrassment.

A while ago, I wrote about my unbridled hatred for midges (NOT midgets. I’m fine with them. Stop writing me letters about it), and the way they plagued my lakeside runs by invading my mouth, nostrils and other places that I generally prefer to keep bug-free. Well, those cheeky little buzzy scamps are just fine and dandy compared to the winged rhinoceros that flew down my throat last week.

I was happily zipping along on a warm afternoon, doing what might have been a tempo run if I really knew what a tempo run was. My legs felt light and fresh, my breathing relaxed. This was shaping up to be one of those runs where everything just sort of works.

Rules of swallowing a fly during a run #1: it will never happen when you’re in the middle of a crap run; only when you’re having a lovely time. For instance, you might be heading for a nice PB or about to cross the finish line of the men’s 3000m steeplechase final at the 2004 Olympics.

…or during a really nice (possibly) tempo run, when your legs feel light and fresh, your breathing relaxed … Well, you get the idea.

I was sure I heard a microsecond of angry buzzing* and then, suddenly, something approximately the size of a shipbuilder’s thumb slammed into the back of my throat. I generally try not to run with my mouth open, so I can only assume that the little bastard had been biding it’s time, waiting for just the right moment to strike. I screeched to a halt and prepared to start the ritual of hacking, spitting and dry heaving necessary to dislodge my new friend.

Rules of swallowing a fly during a run #2: It will never happen when you’re on your own in the middle of nowhere (i.e. where you can cough and splutter to your hearts content). It will always be somewhere busy, such as a park or the finish line of the men’s 3000m steeplechase final at the 2004 Olympics.

At that very same instant, a couple of other runners decided to come jogging  around the corner heading towards me. Theirs was a slow, conversational pace, and there was no chance they’d zip past me and out of earshot before I started my chokeathon. I tried my best to stay composed, but I wasn’t in control any more. In fact, to properly set the scene of horror, I’ll describe it from the imagined point of view of one of those poor young ladies:

“So, I was just out for a run with Sandra, and you’ll never believe what happened. We went round a corner, and there was this bloke coming towards us. He was dressed in running kit, but I don’t think he was a runner. I got the feeling he’d just escaped from somewhere, murdered a runner and stolen their clothes. He had these mad bulging eyes, like he was trying to hold something back. Anyway, just as we were about to pass him, he suddenly went sort of “hrreurggggg!!!”  Like a primal battlecry of pure evil from the back of his throat. He doubled over and started spitting and spluttering, going bright red and making more and more unearthly noises. Sandra thought he might’ve been choking, but he was just in the middle of nowhere, so it’s not like he was in a buffet or something. She asked if he needed help, but he just shook his head, waved us past and carried on turning purple. That’s when I knew he wasn’t choking; what sort of person would rather choke than draw mildly-embarrassing attention to himself? Nobody, that’s who. So I said “Come on Sandra, let’s get out of here before he tries to eat our skin” and we carried on with our little hoop-shaped water bottles”. 

As soon as they were out of sight, the bug (although I’m still not convinced it wasn’t a bat) decided it had done enough and shot out of my throa, surfing on a tidal wave of spit and shame. I stood there for a minute, doubled over with my hands on my knees, dripping with sweat and silently cursing the little shit, partly because it had caused this perfect storm of embarrassment and near-death, but mostly because it had interrupted the flow of a lovely run. 

I set off again, and spent every second of the next three miles wondering whether it had planted eggs in me. 

 * That’s right, “angry”. It wasn’t scared or panicked or spiralling out of control. It meant to do it.


2 thoughts on ““There once was a runner who swallowed a fly…”

  1. Jay, you’ve missed the point of the whole bug-swallowing thing. A bug is full of protein. Wash it down with your sports drink of choice and be grateful of the free food.

  2. I had this happen to me on my bike ride on Friday! MASSIVE fly. But it got so far down my throat there was no way it was coming back up … so I swallowed it. I’m going to hell. Or turning into The Fly. Or something.

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