At my age the world changes. Once sporting clubs were always welcoming. With youth there’s the prospect that you’ll evolve into champion. By the mid-30s if this is not apparent, the sporting club can accept that failure and still be welcoming, with emphasis on having a social drink after the game, or unwelcoming, as the members fail to accept their own non-eliteism, and remain competitive for sport.
I might have mentioned it before, in Bendigo the sports I’ve tried to join have been the kind wishing to live glory. The problem with this is that they’re not very good, and the addition of a mediocre sportsman such as myself is not viewed as beneficial, but as an obstacle.
For example, last season I started playing for a club. We made the finals, as with this more and more people attended training. All year I’d trained, despite limited availability to play matches, because I wanted to earn my stripes socially. Despite this, none of the players were interested in the social side. They wanted a sporting win. Possibly because they thought they could appear on local television. As rubbish as the league was, they may have seen a height in being able to point at themselves on a screen, hobbling slowly on a field while chasing a miss hit ball.
After last year I decided to stop bothering with local club sport. The social environment was non-existent and fitness not challenged by these hacks. Instead I saved time and money and effort by choosing to go running every couple of days.
Now, the loneliness of the long distance runner has been written about before. And despite its setbacks I enjoy it. It is actually a good diversion from my daily norm. As slightly macabre as it sounds, the thoughts that go through my head while running alone are different to those sitting at work. It is positively Zen.
The activity forces part of the brain to concentrate on the route being taken or steadying breathing or monitoring placement of steps. Isolated on the run I can push my body to run harder. Unlike at club training I’m never restricted by a need to pace with a fellow. With movement and a distracted brain I am partially free. That is, unless I take Annabel along.
Annabel likes to keep fit. She has the mindset, semi-active body, almost-wide hips and almost-solid forearms of someone who likes to keep fit. Her eating not measured between days of activity and inactivity. Though she is healthy though.
The down side to this is that she thinks she is fitter than she is. When she runs she actually trundles, and she pants, and goes very red in the face, and strains to keep near my heal as I stagger my steps to stay close to her… and she thinks I’m running at full speed. It’s all quite frustrating for me.
Of course, this is doubly frustrating as she is not a real person. My life would be much easier if I imagined her to be perfect… but I don’t believe in that kind of thing. People who appear perfect are the most annoying people, and that makes them unperfect… imperfect, sorry. My mistake there. (Ed: was that a spelling joke? DH: Yes.)
Recently I returned from running just as Annabel arrived at my house from work.
‘Oi,’ she called from the parked car. ‘I thought we’d run together.’ She knew I had planned a run, and arrived with confidence of maintaining pace with me once more.
‘We still can,’ I replied, having stopped on the footpath to engage her.
Soon after she was in my house, changing into running attire – a shirt, jacket, shorts, joggers, and socks, while I stretched outside and did push ups (only a few push-ups. I don’t claim to be strong in the upper body).
We left for the run and it turned out this was very good. As I had a slight fatigue and she was fit our paces matched reasonably well. My stride was still bigger, and on the on the hills I took leads and doubled back to her, to encourage her up, but all in all it worked.
For the record Bendigo has ample opportunities to run up hills. There are numerous random undulations, and built one around the Cathedral and the side of sports grounds. The type of steep paths that require a tripling of step to maintain a pace.
Equally there are flat runs, such as the one we finished with that winds along a creek bed, skirting residential areas on a track of bitumen, past trees and parks.
On this day, along one such path, Annabel and I passed an elderly woman. She had grey hair, combed high like an upturned mixing bowl, and she wore a grey tracksuit with a black line down the side. She also wore dark tinted glasses, perhaps to protect from the sun, and these, from the angle we saw her, shaded her face so it appeared her nose was pitch black.
I pointed as we past and said, ‘I call her The Koala.’ Inexplicably the lady even carried a tree branch full of leaves.
‘Ha, she looks like one,’ agreed Annabel.
‘Yes,’ said I. ‘That was the joke.’
I ran slightly ahead from there on. I can be mean sometimes. I don’t know why.