Here are two things that happened to me on a run this morning.
It was a reasonably early start, the temperature was about -3, and I wanted to get 20 miles in, ideally before the family had started missing me. For anyone who has met my family, you’ll realise that this is veering into the realms of self-aggrandisation; no member of my family admitted to missing me, has ever pleaded with me to stay at home rather than go out, and none of them has ever been in the least bit pleased to see me on my return from a run.
Anyway, it was really cold. If I’d not been reading Mark Beaumont’s excellent book about cycling around the world the night before, I would have started feeling a tad sorry for myself. If you get a chance to read this, do. Once you get past the rather graphic descriptions of open saddle sores, it’s an amazing account of self determination in the throes of a real physical test. And the bit I’d read the night before included him sleeping outside in sub-zero temperatures, and getting back on the bike just to keep from freezing, so a frosty run around the French countryside didn’t actually seem so bad.
I was in a vaguely grumpy mood, partly as I found my ipod had lost its charge again. Normally I’m accompanied by Simon Mayo, Sandi Toksveg or Danny Baker on these runs, but no luck this morning, so, I was going to have to do 2.5 hours alone with my thoughts. And again, as my family will testify, that’s a dangerous amount of time. If you spend that amount of time just thinking, you can a) solve the riddles of the world, or b) let your mind wander around in a random collection of vaguely connected and surreal thoughts. I tend to opt for the latter, not least as my normal long runs with my friend G are more constructive, generally trying to ease him from his lofty political position just to the right of Ghengis Khan, to something a little more liberal. Occasionally I get him just this side of Lord Tebbit, but then we get to the end of our run, and he reads another week’s worth of the Daily Mail and by the following Sunday we’re back to square one.
But I digress. There I was, alone with my thoughts, and two things happened.
Running along a frozen track, with fields either side, three deer ran across in front of me. Not for the first time in this situation, I wondered why on earth I ever bothered with this running lark. To see an animal as graceful as that, running across ploughed and frozen fields, and springing along just…well, naturally, was fantastic to see, but a bit of a contrast to the rather ambling shuffle that I was effecting. It did make me think for a while about human form – other than the absolute top athletes, do we ever look at each other (or ourselves, for that matter) in awe at our grace, or naturalness, when moving? Have a look at a really big event like the London Marathon, next time you see it – after (say) the first 100 finishers, who looks like they’re naturally running? Or better still, if you’re a runner, take your next run through a town centre and sneak a glance in the shop windows when you go past. That, ladies and gentlemen, is you, and it’s exactly why kids point and laugh at you.
So, this thought kept me going for a couple more miles, during which, of course, I tried, remarkably unsuccessfully, to adjust my form to that of a graceful and stylish athlete. And then the horror of the Smurfs struck. If you’re a runner, you may recognise this phenomenon. You’re rattling along, alone with your thoughts, and suddenly, you run out of thoughts, and a song comes into your head. And not just any song, often the most irritating song you’ve ever heard, and you just can’t shift it. Sometimes I give up on the ‘trying to shift it’ bit, and start singing it to myself. Which is why, for the last 4 miles of the 2004 London marathon, I ended up singing verse one of The Smurf Song. Constantly. And, I’m pretty sure, audibly. Fortunately for me, the song that came into my head this morning was slightly less painful. It was the first verse of The Judds’ “John Deere Tractor”. I first heard this in the mid-80’s and the sheer C&W-ness of the lyric has been a benchmark for me ever since, describing a country girl’s adventure into the big city leaving her alone, vulnerable, and fed up with not getting anywhere. Has anyone ever crammed so much good ol’ boy emotion into a metaphor?
I’m like a John Deere tractor in a half acre field
trying to plow a furrow where the soil is made of steel
Oh I wish I was home, where the bluegrass is growin’
and the sweet country boys don’t complain
And, as I went trough this verse for the umpteenth time, I looked to my left onto the field. Which was about half an acre. And frozen. And the John Deere tractor on it was definitely struggling with the plough.
Spooky, huh? Thanks goodness I’d lost the Smurf song by then, otherwise I really would be tripping…