Saturday, 1 March 2008

Runners' Bug Bears - My Race March 2008

Rattling the runner’s cage

Runners are generally quite cheery people: Full of endorphins, doped up on a “runner’s high”. Right? Well, not entirely true. Although physical exercise – and in particular running – has a valid place in the treatment and prevention of some mental health problems, there are times when I think these mental health issues are an inside job. Ask any runner and I bet they could rhythm off a comprehensive list of bug bears. I’ve got a whole soap box dedicated to it.

OK, I’m probably not the most tolerant of people. I graduated from the spade’s a spade school of thought. A lethal combination used as a basis to compile a list of things that annoy me about running and racing. Yes, I’m about to commence on a rant marathon, but I bet you’ll be nodding in agreement.

So here goes. In no particular order, let’s start with general training.

Top of the pack: Dogs. Everyone’s had a situation that involves a dog. I’ve never been a big fan of the canine, namely because they like to attack me. But I’m not alone. Jill O’Neil from Garscube Harriers commented: “Why can’t dogs be kept on leads? Best still, kept indoors. It drives me nuts when owners say ‘aye, he’ll no touch hen’ or ‘he’s just saying hello’. I once ran passed a dog which went for me, but missed my leg and ripped my shorts instead. And the response from the owner: ‘well he’s never done that before’. Oh well, that’s ok then.” John Kynaston of Kilbarchan AAC also commented on his love of dog-walkers: “especially the ones who are wired up to an ipod and jump out there skin when you run by”.

Why do runners have to fight for pavement space? There you are trotting along and coming towards you there is a group walking two, three or four abreast on the pavement. They’ve seen you coming, so why can’t one of them step aside? Oh no, you’re forced to run on the road to get by. It’s even worse when it’s another running group. Shameful - they should at least know better. Or a courting couple? Is their relationship that insecure that they can’t let their hands go for a couple of seconds? And don’t even get me started on cyclists on pavements.

Kids running along beside you: Given the state of the youth today, they’d be lucky to keep it up for 50 metres. Give it up. You’re mates aren’t impressed. Get back to your alcopops and Malboro Lights. Know our limits. Then there are the various chants and jibes from local youths and the fuelled-up fraternity. My favourites are “118”, “Keep on running” and “Run, Forest. Run”. Hilarious. Really, it is.

What about people stopping you to ask for directions? No! Don’t do it. I don’t want to tell you how to find xyz street. And I’ve got no idea when the number 53 will be along. Marco Consani of Garscube Harriers said: “One person even stopped me to ask and me for a light!”

Non-runners trying to give you advice: My brother (who has never donned a pair of running shoes) was adamant that my marathon training runs should all be over 26 miles. What’s worse is advice from runners when it’s not welcome. My husband is forever trying to drown me in his worldly-wise words – change your route, your stride, your pace...your husband.

Then there are non-runners who are completely clueless: Firstly, I don’t jog. I run. Don’t tell me you saw me “out jogging”. And if you don’t appreciate what it takes to run, don’t comment on it. Ian Beattie of Strathearn Harriers said “It really riles me when people who have no knowledge of running say that Paula Radcliffe is a quitter. Go run a 2:15 marathon and win a world championship and then come back with your opinion”. Oh and don’t forget the folks that say they don’t like running because it’s so boring. An ex-colleague used to say this to me all the time. I thought it was quite ironic considering said ex-colleague was so dull he was like the human equivalent of beige.

What about “runners” who use the weather as an excuse not to go out? I appreciate there are valid reasons in abstaining if it’s stormy/icy/blowing a gale, but raining? What a whiny, cry-baby excuse. It rains in Scotland. A lot actually. If we all used that excuse, there would be an obesity epidemic. You go figure.

On the note, I do get the rage with the wind: Is it just me, or is it windy all the time now? I refer to it as runners’ wind. No not a symptom if the runners’ trot. It’s the wind that seems to follow you. Regardless of the direction you’re heading, the wind always seems to be in your face.

Then there’s the frustration of choosing the wrong gear. Given Scotland’s unpredictable and frequently changing weather system, this happens on the majority of runs. You think it is cold, so you pile on the layers. One mile in and you’re practically fainting. Or you venture out scantily-clad only to be hit with a snow-storm.

And finally: other runners who don’t acknowledge you. I’m a runner. You’re a runner. I’ve said hello. I don’t want a conversation. And I don’t want to upset your running stride. But snap out of your zone, stop being ignorant and at the very least nod your head. It’s the law.

Now, let me get stuck in to the drivers. They are so special they deserve a whole section of their own. You can pretty much guarantee that most sessions will involve a run-in with a driver or maybe that’s just me. I’ve been at the receiving end of many a fist-shake. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve been blinded by full-beams. In the dark of night, I’ve got enough reflectors to light up a small town. How can you possibly not see me?

Then there are the rants and hurls of abuse from car windows. Especially from a car-full of neds. You know the delightful little blighters who try to make you jump with their beeping horns. Davie Bell of Lothian Running Club said: “I’ve had things thrown at me from passing cars. It was not so long ago that I got hit on the head with a packet of Trebor mints! When the car’s doing 50mph, it hurts. I also been blasted by a super-soaker and used as target practice by the local airgun club. Try zig-zagging on a cycle path that’s only 6ft wide. That’s what you call a good speed session.”

OK, but my favourite is the hesitant driver. Let me set the familiar scene. You both get to the junction at the same time. You think he’s stopped. He thinks you’ve stopped. He goes. You go. He waves you on. You wave him on. You both go. Both stop. Grrr. Too late, you’ve already out of your pacing and you want to throw a tantrum on the pavement. And what’s worse than that are the drivers who don’t even offer to let you go first. Not forgetting to mention the ones that cut you up at junctions, deliberately splash you, neglect to use their indicators or pull out of driveways without looking.

Now let’s move to the race circuit. And we best start at the very beginning. These days you’re lucky to actually get a place. Mark Hamilton from Prestwick commented: “I get really annoyed about the lack of racing places in big races. Why are the majority taken up by charity runners?” Now I’m all for doing my bit for charity, but I can understand when people get the hump when they lose out on the ballot. There are so many random charities these days. I don’t fancy my chances of trying to raise two million pounds for the dysfunctional budgerigar foundation, just to get a place. On the flipside, there are loads of other fabulous races to enter, so we can’t whine about everything.

When you actually do make it there, the parking situation is always a joke. Especially when participants try to get as close to the start/finish as possible. You’re a runner. Run! I have to run, as I usually need to find the nearest loo. Nerves play havoc with my bladder. Unfortunately the runner to toilet ratio is usually 5000:1. I really don’t mind being at one with nature, but you’d get an ASBO for a fly tinkle in the middle of a housing estate. So I’m forced to join the never-ending queue for the experience that is the portaloo. I may be lining up for my third “make sure”, but I get really annoyed if there are spectators in the queue ahead? Why can’t they wait until after the race starts?

Everyone always moans about runners/joggers starting the race way out of their pace. OK, I’m probably quite guilty of this therefore I’m outing myself as a pest. But in my defence, I’m not as slow as some. And chances are I will have passed most the people who raced off by the time I get to the half-way mark.

On that note, people who race off – usually wearing combat shorts and football trainers – and then start slowing down (and often walking) a mile in to the race. Then to add to their annoyance they suddenly have a burst of energy when you’re overtaking them.

People who run beside you during races: Do I look like a pacer? Either run behind me or run in front of me. Not beside me. We’re not mates. Unfortunately, even when the person next to me is in fact a mate, the same rules apply. Leave me alone. I want to suffer in solidarity.

Ian Beattie added another belter: “Marshalls who stop you to let traffic passed. Yeah, that will be right. Did no one explain that it’s a road race? The cars are supposed to stop for the runners, not the other way round”
Then it’s all over and you burst across the finishing line. You’re breathing through you ears and bleeding from you eyes, when one of your club mates is right in your face with “what was your time? What was your time?” I don’t know about you, but I have an overwhelming urge to flick them on the forehead.

Excuses for poor performance: Everybody knows someone who has a whole list of excuses - often before the race even starts. There’s the injury, fatigue, cold (or man flu) curry the night before, the wind, the heat, not wearing their lucky knickers. Just accept your time. And accept that no body cares about your time.

There’s generally a lot of annoying chatter at the finishing line. Supersonic athletes who get a PB, yet still complain about their performance. If you think you could have gone faster, why didn’t you? Of course, there’s the mandatory debate about the length of the course (always incorrect!) and the lack of prizes for specific age categories – generally when the person moaning is the only person in that category.

And after all that you get handed some rubbish goodie bag and a cheap chocolate-coin effort of a medal. What am I supposed to do with a vacuum-packed portion of pasta and accompanying sauce? And only in Scotland would you get a Mars Bar or a caramel log. What’s the story with the T-shirts? Rachel Stevenson said: “It’s one size fits no one. As a general rule, runners are pretty slim. I’ve still yet to see a runner who is extra-large.” The only thing worse, is having no medal or goodie bag at all.

At the risk of dedicating a whole issue of MyRace to my rant fest, I thought I best cover the rest as briefly as possible: getting pipped at the post by your nearest rival; getting pipped to the post by a womble or rhino; runners who stink before the race has even started; colleagues who laugh at my tights – laugh it up, fatty; dafties who run about with those silly water bottles, when it’s obvious they’re only out for a couple of miles; jogging on a track; people who think running on a treadmill actually counts; fast runners who wear sunglasses regardless of weather or daylight; whippet-thin runners who still want to loose weight to shave a few seconds of their 10K; spitting in the wind for it to come back and land on you; someone else’s spit landing on you; chaffing, cramp, stitches and emergency toilet stops. And last, but not least, photographers who capture you broken-bodied, red-faced and foaming at the mouth.

Phew, all done. It’s over and out from me. I’m off to noise up some runners.


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