mundane adventures in running
It’s been super hot for the past week or so, and I’d been meaning to cycle down to Ardingley reservoir in Kent and go for a swim. While it is a bit like wearing shoes that are too tight just to enjoy the sensation of taking them off, slogging away cycling or running in the heat, and then jumping into freezing water is an incredible thing to do. There are few things as extremely, heart stoppingly, breathtakingly refreshing as hitting an outdoor swimming spot after non aquatic endurance exercise.
While I‘ve been swimming loads over the past few months, I hadn’t worn my wetsuit since last summer. I realised when I woke up that it was high time I dusted off the cobwebs and took it out of hibernation. It literally had cobwebs on it. It also had a pretty musty, nasty smell. The fluoro pink latex swimming cap crumpled up at the bottom of the bag had irrevocably stuck to itself. I shook the suit out, and it seemed ok. There was nothing living in it. there were no obvious tears. My main concern was whether it would still fit me.. I’d put on 5kg since last time I wore it. maybe it’s a hangover from school sailing trips, or Sean Connery as James bond, but nothing says sex pest like a too tight wetsuit.
You can’t really take a wetsuit in a backpack if you’re planning on doing much else apart from swim. I had to find space for the suit, a book, non stinking non running shoes, a towel and some clothes to change into. My pack was massive, and bulged out crazily. Still, it worked, and reminded me that I really need to do something about getting the metal plate removed from my collarbone. Ow.
I don’t have a massively significant physical or spiritual experience every time I run. It’s lovely to feel that you’ve found the sweet spot for pace, that your form has reached perfection, or that you could just run for ever without every stopping. It’s lovely to feel like you’re part of the natural world, that the conventions that separate you from the beasts have crumbled, that you and god’s creation are one. It’s lovely to have an epiphany, a great idea for a novel, an insight into a problem which has been annoying you for ages. But that stuff doesn’t always happen, and a shit run shouldn’t be dispiriting. A run is still beautiful, rewarding and for want of a better word cool, even when it’s dull, tedious attrition, devoid of meaning, fulfilment or transcendent experience. Even drudge can be lovely.
In this case my lovely drudge consisted of 1.26hr of sloppy running, random stream of consciousness, dodging round tourists in central London, jaywalking though traffic, getting distracted by curious characters, shop windows nice bikes, interesting hair, cute dogs. All with (something like) a smile on my face. Grimace. I guess most people would describe it as a grimace. The town bit was great, the peculiar sound track of Hips and Makers was great, the weight of the bag, the salt in my eyes, my aching quads. All great. Even when running is shitty, running is great.
I eventually made it to Hampstead Heath, ran up Parliament Hill (amazing, lung busting, beautiful Parliament Hill), half arsedly ran some of the muddier paths and then hit the ponds. The wetsuit still fitted, just, but I dumped it after 100m. or so and stripped down to my speedos: the water was 19c, so all I could happily kick about, cool off, and recover free of the artifice of neoprene. The cold belly feeling lasted with me for a good hour after I left the water. Amazing.
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