Perhaps he was weirded out by the fluoroscent floodlighting brought to us today by the Saharan storms; perhaps his two small dogs are very hard to control and it cost him a huge effort to haul them onto the grass verge; maybe he is just a grumpy dude who gets really easily offended. I don’t know exactly why the gentleman I passed on the pavement yesterday lunchtime, 4.5 miles into my run, got quite so huffy with me.
Deep in my own reflections, I hadn’t even registered he was there; as far as I had noticed anyone around just before that moment, I thought he’d been on the verge for a while, as dog owners often are, allowing their little charges to snuffle around and find a good place to complete the various elements of dog admin they have in mind for their walks.
As I ran past I realised he was speaking. Gradually tuning out of my own thoughts and back into the outside world enough to realise he was addressing me, with a sarcastic “Don’t mention it!” and then a continued muttery sort of shout in my general direction, I only processed that I was being told off about twenty or so paces up the road.
This was probably a good thing. I was so surprised that he was annoyed with me that I ran on for a few seconds with my mouth hanging open. Then I briefly considered running back and apologising. Or at least trying to explain that I wasn’t being intentionally rude; I hadn’t realised he was making an effort to move out of my way. By this point I had begun to feel embarrassed about accidentally ignoring his considerate behaviour, so inevitably my self-justification fired up: “I’m SO sorry—you had to move BOTH your dogs out of my way on a wide pavement and grass verge to accomodate all ONE of me running past at a super gentle 10 minute mile pace?? Gosh yes, that must have been a living nightmare, I really can’t apologise enough!” and then, of course, to comparing who has more right to the courtesies of the path: “How often have you been beeped at by leering men in lorries and white vans? How many times does your anatomy get loudly reviewed by youths as you run past them in broad daylight? When you walk your dogs past a pub, roughly how many boozy blokes cheer, and tell you to get your pooches’ lovely legs up, darlin’???”
In that moment, I thought about all the runner-rant types woes I could rain down upon his anoraked shoulders. It is unpleasant and sometimes scary, having to contend with the objectification that seems inevitably to accompany #runningwhilefemale. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, or at what time of day you’re running. I’m very lucky to have never had to do more than occasionally pick up the pace to leave lairy lads behind, and I’ve never been the victim of a real attack.
Likewise, the dangers of lazy, aggressive or inattentive motorists are real for those who run frequently. I’ve had several near misses, usually when drivers are just starting or stopping their cars, when despite my wearing the highest of high vis, they simply weren’t looking properly, or barged through when they should give way.
But in truth, my experience of running is not overshadowed by these elements. The brief contact I have with dozens and dozens of strangers, every day—people out for a stroll, families in the park, posties, shoppers, other runners, and yes, dog-walkers (so, so many dog-walkers)—is overwhelmingly positive. Often there’s active friendliness: smiles, nods, good mornings, waves; but even when there isn’t so much as eye contact, I love to simply be outside, amongst the rest of the world.
Working at home, and seeing few people for more than a couple of minutes at the school gate in my regular week, there’s something uplifting about making contact with the world at large on my daily runs. I write stories in my head about most of the people I see—and sometimes they jump right out of my head and are straight up lovely in real life. On my long run this Saturday, a boy of 8 or 9 beamed at me with the broadest grin as he walked past with his brother and sister. He gave me a huge thumbs-up and said “Hi”, looking genuinely delighted to see someone running along his street. I know that sounds like nothing, but it gave me a boost I really needed, at a tough point in a long slog.
I didn’t say any of this to my put-out fellow pavement-user. He’d just permitted himself a bit of a grumble, after all. I make a concerted effort to share the pavements and paths I run along with other users in a considerate way, and when other people behave thoughtlessly, I’ve been known to express my feelings in traditionally accepted British modes including raised eyebrows, muted facial expressions, and—if it’s really bad/potentially lethal behaviour—even rolling my eyes. My embarrassment at my own thoughtlessness, and surprise at his grumpiness were noted, and I moved on.
And on balance, despite the annoyance I may inadvertently be to the other pedestrians (on two and four feet) in my neighbourhood, I do so love to be amongst them. The fresh air, the skies and the sun (or more often, the rain), the trees, the grass and the people—they’re part of the joy of the run.
Running streak total today is 293 days, 1126 miles. #runeveryday