I am preparing to run my first half-marathon. I have come a long way since PE lessons where I used to carefully avoid over-exertion because I didn’t want to get red in the face and I refused to tie my hair back because I didn’t think it suited me. Well, now my running aesthetic is ‘tomato with ponytail’ and I haven’t let it slow me down.
On nearly every run there is a little episode of oddity, provided either by the surrounding nature or the thoughts that get sifted to the top of my brain with the repetitive motion.
My running route is a path which hugs the river Cam as it curves its way through leafy parks and past expensive apartment buildings. Swans occupy the riverbanks and occasionally like to take up 90% of the path requiring me to calculate how much of a wide birth I can give them without onlookers thinking I’m a wimp. Now and then a mouthful of flies will provide me with some unasked-for protein and I do my best to be grateful for what nature has provided me.
The spring has introduced unflinching cows to my route, necessitating longer stride lengths to avoid adding footprints to the cow pats which already have tyre tracks running through them. The occasional light breeze is refreshing but when it causes the cow smell to mingle with a mouthful of Lucozade, the results are less than pleasant, although not much less pleasant than Lucozade on its own.
There’s plenty of opportunity for social awkwardness on the route because it’s popular with runners and non-runners alike. I say thank you to the pedestrians who kindly give way to me but I generally don’t like to make eye contact with the people I run past because although I’ve accepted my tomato with ponytail aesthetic, I don’t need to witness other people’s reactions to it.
The route is punctuated by cattle grids and pedestrian gates. One time I was sure that the gate would open out in the direction I was running in, only for me to run straight into it, hip bone knocking on the metal while the gate remained stubbornly shut. If it were possible for my face to get any redder, it would have.
Recently, I was running through the middle of some grazing cows when I saw something swing up from my left-hand side towards my face. Luckily, it was just my arm, and thanks to my motor cortex, I avoided an embarrassing injury. I don’t know why my brain decided to momentarily disown my arm. Running long distances seems to do strange things to my mind. Like when I spent five minutes of a run trying to re-write Oasis lyrics, as if I could improve on songs written by Noel Gallagher.
Music lets me wrestle back my running experience from nature and other nuisances. My favourite songs to listen to are the ones that make my run feel cinematic because I’m a millennial and that’s what I live for. I like the Temper Trap’s ‘sweet disposition’ or literally anything by The 1975. The right song can give anything going on in my current field of vision an entirely new feeling, like adding an Instagram filter in real-time. Suddenly the sight of a cow weeing in a park takes on meaning because James Morrison is singing, and gosh, isn’t running wonderful?