Long distance running is something you love, hate or don’t mind. My own opinion is very much determined by whether I am long distance running at the time I’m expressing it. If I am, I hate it. If I’m not, I don’t mind it. I never love it.
My father shares my opinion on lo
ng distance running, which makes it all the more frustrating that we only seem to discuss the topic on long distance runs.
‘Gee I hate this,’ Dad will wheeze as we slog our way uphill.
‘Well why do we do it then,’ I’ll mumble back.
‘So I can eat high-fat cheese,’ he’ll reply.
Yep. If Ally McBeal were 54 and balding she’d be my Dad.
I’m not particularly sure why I run with him. Perhaps it’s because he eats so much high fat cheese, and I figure that if he has a heart attack out there, someone might as well be around to revive him. Or perhaps it’s because he keeps solemnly handing me new running singlets, as if to say, ‘There you go son. You can pay me back in lactic acid.’
But on Sunday, with the mercury pushing thirty-five degrees, I went running without him. The location was ‘The Tan’ – the track that takes its name from the middle part of the word ‘Botanic’, presumably because it would sound stupid to run around ‘The Bot’ or ‘The Ic’. Suddenly I’d been overcome by a desire to be next to the Botanic Gardens. I wanted to breathe hot January breaths. I wanted to glimpse swans and cygnets, couples in love and cinema advertisements. I wanted to see a beautiful part of my beautiful city. Throw into the bargain the fact that Tony Grieg was commentating the cricket, and a run seemed a reasonable plan.
What follows is an account of that run, written with short sentences and in the present tense in the hope it will sound like I’m going faster.
I begin looking more or less like Herb Elliott. Admittedly, I have only seen Herb run in a breakfast cereal commercial, but from the length of my stride, the straightness of my back, I’m pretty sure I have it. ‘Herb Elliott enters the straight looking easy and graceful,’ I think to myself. ‘The 1960 Olympic Games gold medal is his.’ I look around to see if anyone’s watching. People must be pretty impressed.
After one hundred metres I’m passed by a middle-aged man with a hunchback, who looks nothing like Herb Elliott. I decide to stay with him. ‘Herb does not get taken so easily,’ I think. At the very least my legs are steel springs. Is there a springier and more athletically suitable compound than steel yet? If there is, my legs are that type of spring. Who’d want to be the hunchback?
Does anybody appreciate how difficult it is to run on springs instead of legs? After a minute or so, the hunchback is gone, and I’m left to tackle the Anderson Street Hill alone.
Someone once said that the secret to hills is to find a rhythm, and so I start quietly chanting ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’ to myself.
‘Nine-ty years with-out slum-ber-ing, tick tock, tick tock.’
da da da da numbering, tick tock, tick tock.’
Who or what was doing the numbering. My Grandfather? The clock? Me? What the hell does ‘numbering’ mean anyway? Oh shit. Now I’ve lost my rhythm. I try to resume at the ‘stopped short, never to go again’ part, but it turns out my body wants to have words with my brain first. My lungs want to chat about oxygen. My legs about lactic acid. My brain just wants to get on with recalling children’s songs, but nevertheless hears them out. Everyone has a miserable time.
At the top of the hill is the Moonlight Cinema, and I stop to grab a program. Important to know about cultural events in my city. Important to stop to grab a program. Important to stop. The heat is now unbearable and I feel a faint nausea as I stand there with hands on knees.
‘You okay mate,’ asks an approaching runner, all smiles and fluorescent shorts.
‘Yeah, no worries. Just looking at the cinema program.’
I stick the program down my sock and manage to trot off at some unhappy compromise between a run and a walk. Everywhere people are waving or saying hello. There’s nothing like travelling at half the speed of everyone else to help you meet people. Those moving in the same direction pass. Those moving in the opposite direction pass. If I wasn’t staring a metre in front making key decisions on which leg to move next I’d be making a lot of friends. This really hurts.
I arrived home nearly an hour after I started, swan and cygnet sightings still at a big fat zero. I’d learned a grave lesson about exercise, something along the lines of ‘it all sounds very good in theory’
But later that night the message started to get confused. My body felt tired but fantastic. I had strange feelings of pride and accomplishment. If I could have summoned the energy to kick myself I would have. ‘Maintain the rage,’ I thought angrily to myself. Maintain the rage.
I ran ‘The Tan’ again the next day. Apparently, Dad had a dinner planned that night and he wanted to eat Camembert. But I didn’t run it yesterday and I’m not going to run it today. It’s stupid to get addicted to something you hate.