It’s hot and undignified and there is a level of ornery endurance which is not quite pain but is too close to be called anything else, and once you reach it you truly don’t give a shit what you look like. It’s not particularly freeing because you then realise you don’t care and start to worry anyway. It’s not about the endorphins or the tight feeling in my body all day afterwards. It’s not the glorious stretch of hot muscles. It’s not a flatter belly, a guilt-free pile of hot buttered toast.
It’s the faces and the simple goodness of them. The stumbling man in his too-big sweat-stain of a shirt which wasn’t designed for cardio but is the oldest, plainest thing in his wardrobe. He lumbers on at barely a trot and grimaces if you catch his eye, but he’s there and he’s doing something better than lazing on the couch with a fry-up.
There are the groups and classes of runners whose constant determination ranges from competitive to agonised. There are the dog-and/or-kid runners, stop-starting along the outer paths, bodies constantly lopsided as they squint over their shoulders.
Then come the wobbling warriors who grit their teeth past the sweat-stained stumblers. Their running clothes are new and already loose, their limbs flab beneath the vast, angry rashes of skin, but you can almost see the fat melting as they pound the pavement one jiggle at a time. Their faces are the most open because they are engaged with the best of themselves, they wear their pride in all its extra pounds of glory.
There are the gliders. The svelte tans and jiggle-free thighs, running shorts clinging lovingly to their pert bottoms as if to say yes, this is where I belong, back on the model, back on the runway. Ears beneath styled, sweat-free hair are wired to iPod armbands and beady eyes rake your body, assess your fitness and thinness and smugly look away. But let’s face it, we don’t look them in the eye much because as soon as we’ve lumbered our way level with the gravity-defying incredulity of their lower bodies, they glide themselves off into a beautiful sprint.
Leaving us. The rest of them. Plugged desperately into our iPods because music is the only thing that keeps our feet pounding onwards, distracting us from the fact that we are running and we’ve got miles to go before we can stop. Our running clothes are the right size but somehow there’s always something that goes wrong around mile two – something slipping down or wedging up where it shouldn’t, an uncomfortable jiggle or pinch of pain somewhere deep and unreachable. We’re lone and in the zone, but not quite enough not to notice the stumblers and gliders and the dogs and kids, the wobblers and the groups we’d join if we thought we could commit to doing this on a regular basis. We admire the stumblers and the wobblers – most of them are fitter than us. We are wary of the kids and dogs. We hate the gliders. They are who we could be if we did this everyday. They are who we fail to be because we have a weakness for our sofas. But we tolerate them because they push us and even though we know their perfect arms and non-stomachs will glide on and leave us in the shadow of their beautiful bottoms, we will still grit our teeth and our arses and try, try to catch them.
It’s the faces and the simple goodness of them. Of being one of them and knowing that even though we judge and we stumble and we smell, we’re all here and we’re all moving. We’re linked in this inherently human thing, like ants in ranks, our bodies our own for the good and the bad. We might be lawyers or mothers or jobless or journalists. We might be cheaters or monogamists, liars, beaters, bullies or saints. Stumblers, gliders, wobblers, groupies, kid-and-dog owners, loners. We’re all here, doing something simply good.