This morning, my personal physician persuaded me to go for a run in the park. In order to put the magnitude of that achievement into perspective, I should stress my notorious and extensively documented lifelong opposition to running. Whenever the spectre of needlessly high-velocity pedestrianism has loomed before me, I have walked in the opposite direction as slowly as my feet could carry me. My track record is beyond reproach, never having visited a track or set a record in my adult life.
I am not ashamed to admit that I am a fervent advocate of the anti-run lobby. In fact, I will happily join any lobby that has sufficiently comfortable armchairs and is located far enough away from the hotel gym.
So the fact that my personal physician rolled me out of bed this morning and convinced me to join her for a matitudinal run, is a gargantuan feat deserving of as much in the way of arch support as my own garguantan feet possess.
Her timing, as is only to be expected from a woman who spends her days convincing small children to let her stab them with a needle, was impeccable. On top of accosting me at the right time of day – I am at my most vulnerable before I’ve had my morning cup of skimmed milk – she also hit me right in the sweet spot of our relationship. That point where we’re both gradually starting to accept each other’s flaws and imperfections, and yet still doing whatever we can to pretend we don’t have any ourselves. It’s an exhausting period, where every day is a new and uncharted obstacle course that has to be completed with the simulacrum of a relaxed smile. I feel my virility is constantly under scrutiny, from the moment I pour myself my first cup of skimmed milk to the moment I turn on my nightlight. It seems that Turn Your Head and Cough just isn’t a reliable enough indicator of manhood anymore; the best doctors are always running other tests. Or in my case, performing tests on others’ running.
Which is how I wound up, early on a Saturday morning, squeezing into my only pair of tracksuit bottoms and putting my arms through the wrong holes of an oversized cardigan. The bottoms were black and the cardigan blue and my face a deathly white, and my ordinarily placid hair resembled a mass of iron filings that had decided magnetic north wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and maybe it was about time they explored other options.
There is an unspoken rule in the world of recreational physical exertion, obeyed by all from the late night football players to the early morning runners, from the weekday joggers to the weekend gym users. It’s a simple law of aesthetics which states that the worse you are at a given activity, the more time you should spend on looking good while doing it. It’s only polite. If you’re going to make a public nuisance of yourself by running through the park like a basilisk on acid, then it’s only common decency to wear the latest and most expensive Adidas running gear. Conversely, if you’ve already got a couple of half marathons under your (tightly-cinched) belt, then you should feel free to dress as sloppily as you like.
Confronting my personal physician in the hallway, it occurred to me that nobody had told her that. As a regular and seasoned runner, there was really no excuse for her to look quite so good. Certainly not when I was wearing the sort of schmattes unforgivable on anyone incapable of running a sub-four minute mile.
She was clearly impressed.
“I didn’t know you ran,” she said.
“Oh, you know.” I said, nonchalantly, tripping over my cardigan. “Once in a while.”
“Come on then”, she said, and sprinted out the door.
“I thought we were going for a run in the park” I yelled after her receding figure, “not in the street”.
“Of course we are,” she yelled back, “but we’ve got to get to the park first”.
“But I live on this street. People know me here. What if someone sees me?” By this point, she had rounded the corner and was well out of earshot, certainly for the cries of someone with a lung capacity like mine. “Oh, hell” I mumbled to myself, and shuffled off in her wake.
By the time I caught up with her, we were still a long way from the park. Instead of darting past the abandoned lanes and empty benches of my imagination, we were sprinting through crowded streets and going alongside cafes full of people whose sole purpose in life seemed to be the casual humiliation of passing runners. This was not what I had signed up for. And quite frankly I resented it. Or I would have resented it, if I had not been so entirely preoccupied with keeping one foot in front of the other.
While I divided my time equally between gulping air and looking ridiculous, my personal physician was showing off her ability to run and maintain conversation at the same time. Or at least she would have been maintaining conversation if the blood in my ears was not pounding so hard as to entirely drown her out.
“Mumble mumble mumble,” she said, eagerly.
“Mmm-hmm,” I said.
“Mumble mumble mumble!” she exclaimed, as a friendly smile wreathed her features.
“Myeergh-myegh,” I grimaced back. Slightly concerned, she pointed ahead. “The Park”, she mouthed.
And there, indeed, was the fabled park. Endless acres of greenery interspersed with equally endless acres of fluorescent synthetic fibre. It was full of rayon monstrosities, gadding about with a combined velocity that set my stomach churning.
“I thought we’d be the only ones,” I moaned.
“At 10:30 on a Saturday morning? Don’t be silly. Come on,” she said, “race you to the pond.”
Upon hearing this, whatever reserves of energy I might have had left evaporated in the morning air.
“I think this is it for me,” I said, squatting against a postbox. “You’ll just have to go on without me.” I struck a heroic pose from my increasingly supine position. “Don’t worry about me,” I began, before realizing that she was already halfway towards the pond.
While my personal physician ran laps of the park, I slowly recovered my strength. In fact, when she headed back in my direction a half hour later, I was already able to sit up without too much assistance.
“You don’t have much stamina, do you?” She said, pityingly. “You’d have made a lousy doctor. I don’t think you’d have even made it through medical school.”
“You may be right,” I wheezed.
“In fact,” she said, laughing lightly, “I don’t think you’d even have finished your application statement.”
“Very funny,” I said, coughing violently.
“Oh come on,” she said gently, helping me up. “Some people just find it easier to keep their heads down and do the one thing. I’ve always been like that.”
“I suppose that’s what makes you such a good doctor,” I said breathily.
“Perhaps,” she said.
“Whereas people like me, we find it boring to do the same thing for too long.”
“Boring or painful?” She asked. I ignored her.
“I need variety. Short sharp bursts of activity. In life as in sport. Maybe that’s why I prefer tennis. Hey, I wonder if there’s a blog piece in that? Sporting preferences as a metaphor for life choices?”
“Don’t get carried away,” she said. “I’ve seen you play tennis.”
As always, she had a point.