Opinion

Why running is for chumps, according to Danny Wallace

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Danny Wallace
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“What was I thinking? Who runs? Where do they think they’re going?”

I am stricken! Afflicted! A hunched and broken mess!

A light run on unstable ground has rendered me a limper. It happened by a river near some cows.

Running, I have decided, is for chumps. What was I thinking? Who runs? Where do they think they’re going? And sure, there will be those of you who say, “Running’s not for chumps, Danny! It’s for those with tenacity and grit!” But you’re wrong. It’s for chumps.

My knee – once so beautiful, so powerful, so me – has temporarily turned against me, and now I find myself hobbling down a long city street, jealously scowling at people for whom walking is still a carefree activity.

“Look at them all,” I seethe, the pain of each step shooting through my body. “These norms. I’m invisible to them! They do not want wounded sporting heroes in their perfect world!”

Up ahead is a street cleaner. He has an enormous broom, the width of three tall cats. Are cats tall? They have very bad posture if they are. I mean cats lengthways, anyhow.

As I reach him, he does not look around. Perhaps he cannot face the reality of my condition. Ordinarily, I would silently overtake. I’m not sure why I specified ‘silently’. It’s not as though I usually begin screaming when I overtake. But today I might, for the pain of a momentary acceleration or sudden change in direction is too much, so I merely maintain the same pace as I follow behind him.

People don’t do this much, walking closely behind someone and assuming their pace. It’s sort of relaxing, if completely unnatural. But I suppose this is just a different world now, thanks to my ‘run’, and this street sweeper and I have more in common than not. We are both operating on the fringes of society, both ignored by the masses. And how nice that we are now perfectly in sync, as he swooshes away in front of me. 

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There is something almost regal about me now, I imagine. Having any and all obstacles moved from my path by a council employee. It is almost like he is a curling champion, rubbing down the pavement for me as I walk, in order to ensure the smoothest possible journey.

Perhaps when the public sees sense and I am finally made mayor, I will ensure vast packs of street curlers are constantly on call. Tourists will pour straight out of planes to be whizzed through airports and simply slid straight to their hotels courtesy of my crack teams of urban polishers.

Anyway, as I’m having that thought, the street cleaner turns around and notices me following very closely behind him. A bit too closely. Nobody knows how to deal with a pace-jacker. So I accentuate my limp (running’s for chumps) and make a pained expression so he can see I am just an injured athlete in civilian attire.

He steps aside and I pass. “Thanks,” I say, like it’s a struggle even to talk. I should follow up with, “Running’s for chumps”, but I feel enough has been said. My knee has done the talking for me. In any case, our time together is at an end, and I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did.

But within a second or two, the totally unappreciative man is swooshing again, harder than ever, as if to make a point.

And he’s swooshing right behind me. I am limping as fast as I comfortably can, and he is clipping at my heels. I want to speed up, but a fast limper looks unnerving. I shall not be hurried in my condition! Nevertheless, this has become the slowest possible high-speed pursuit of all time.

I don’t know if you’ve ever slowly walked down a street while a man apparently sweeps up after you, but it is not just highly stressful, it is also mildly humiliating.

It is as if the council has received word that an extraordinarily filthy man has been released on to the street; so deeply unhygienic that a specialist street sweeper has had to be assigned directly to him, in order to cleanse the pavements of whatever detritus he leaves behind.

In some ways, this is also sort of regal, of course. The idea that I might have my own personal cleaner to tidy up after me. Perhaps my destiny is not as mayor, but to become the people’s Meghan Markle instead.

But remember: this man is actively pushing dirt towards me. He is literally chasing me with dirt. He is taking dirt I have already walked over and is helping it to catch up with me.

On I limp, and on he swooshes, his brush only ever a few inches behind my shoes. Why doesn’t he stop? This is not a crowded street. I momentarily consider stepping aside and letting him pass. But then we’d be back to the street curling. Ours is a battle of wills. My unstinting bravery versus his absolute professionalism. This is simply my life now. Being hurried and put-upon by relentless street sweepers. Chased with a stick, wherever I go. And do you know why? Because running’s for chumps.

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Danny Wallace

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