Well, there I was, in my mid-thirties, newly divorced and with two small kids in tow. Finding myself with an unplanned dip back into the dating pool, I resolved to get myself into shape. I should probably not have worried, I ended up wading in the shallow end of the gene pool, but that is a story for another day…
Running seemed like the solution to all my problems. I’d read the propaganda and soaked up the cool aid. One pair of shoes and robust undergarments were all that you needed. So suitably strapped and laced up, I started pounding the pavements. At first with dismay and reluctance, then with increasing enjoyment.
After successfully navigating the cool pavements of the suburbs, I felt that it was time to enter a race. You know, push myself. I blame the literature. ‘If you can do 5 km, you can do 10’. ‘If you can shuffle, you can run’. I could run a polite 7km, I should be able to finish 10 km on the surge of adrenaline on the day, right? Oh, the innocence! My maiden race was the very PR friendly cellar-hopping Devon Valley Race. Dress-up and wine, a heady combination to a woman of a certain age. And best of all, it was literally on my doorstep. Breathless with anticipation, I signed on, told all my friends and updated my Facebook status.
The day of the race dawned fresh and clear, and as I lined up with a jolly bunch in fancy dress, I was raring to go. I remember looking at the tall man in the Cat in the Hat hat, and thinking to myself ’What a bunch of amazing people. The stories are true, they really are the salt of the earth.’ Running up the first hill, I had the initial inklings of approaching disaster. The hill was long, and it was steep…and it was made of dirt, puddles and animal excrement. But I pulled myself together, breathed deeply of the foetid air, and continued onwards. Around me those same jolly runners were waving their tastevin, crowding three deep at the welcoming trestle tables lined up at the various cellar doors.
I found myself hanging on for dear life, suddenly realising that a polite ramble down the protected sidewalks of suburbia were no match for the ups and downs and unexpected sideways slides of the great outdoors. I struggled onwards, ever onwards. I swallowed my pride, tried to avoid the photographers, and walked the hills. People in full fancy dress started to pass me. One gentleman was wearing what appeared to be full pyjamas, including slippers. You know, the kind that you see your grandfather shuffling off to bed with. Whether he was running in them, or had by some ingenious method managed to apply them onto his running shoes, I will never know. But I will also never forget the humiliation of being passed by a guy in sleepwear. Or the one in full bridal regalia. Or the two little old ladies who, upper arms jiggling and chatting away, happily shuffled past me somewhere during the last few kilometres of my own personal purgatory.
I don’t think I have hated a group of total strangers with greater fervour. Only my wounded pride allowed me to crank up to a half-hearted epileptic stagger down the last hundred metres. I even managed a grimace that might have been mistaken for a smile.
And yet…and yet…as I gingerly lowered myself onto my car seat, a little voice at the back of my mind said ‘hey, that wasn’t half bad’. I was hooked, for better or much, much worse.