A quick tale this morning about the joys of running in unknown areas.
A few years ago I used to work quite a bit up in Edinburgh, and I stayed out near the airport. Not the most salubrious part of the city, but very convenient if the most important thing about your visit was the return journey, which in those days it was. If you can get out that way, there’s a canal, which I believe runs from Edinburgh to Glasgow. Head right when you get to it, and you travel into the lowlands, out towards Falkirk. Turn left and you’re on the way to Edinburgh city.
If you’re a runner, canal towpaths are both fab and a challenge. By their nature they are flat, and tend to have a fairly forgiving surface. On the other hand, they’re pretty narrow, and if you want to avoid any obstacles, you’re faced with going up the embankment or into the water. This is particularly irksome when you go past fisherman. I’ve never really understood what drives a man to set up at some god awful hour next to the side of a canal to catch some over-polluted and inedible fish. A friend once told me that it was a great excuse to be alone and smoke a vast quantity of weed, but not sure from the people I see that they’re really the type, and surely you’d want to do this away from a large stretch of cold, deep, dark water? But whatever it is that drives them to this strange hobby, also encourages them to ‘own’ their particular stretch of water. Sometimes they do so with ridiculously overize poles, which stretch behind them and act as hurdles. The more subtle anglers set out guy ropes behind their canvas tents, which act as trip wires. Oh, and they never, ever say good morning.
Where was I?
Oh, yes, so I decided to do an hours run, 35 mins out, 25 mins back, and after about 3 miles, realised I was getting into an area I was going to be uncomfortable in. Canal towpaths can tell you a lot about the area as well – the graffiti, the quality of the litter, the disturbingly slippery discarded prophylactics on the ground… Anyway, incident free, I turned round at 35 minutes and started running back at as fast a pace as I could manage.
After about a mile, I saw them in the distance. Walking ahead of me, and taking up all of the path, was a family, out for a walk with their dog, which even from a distance, I could see was a lively collie, jumping up and down at the father of the group, who was teasing it with a stick. The father, the mother and the dog were walking a little way ahead of the son and daughter, who both looked to be about 6-8 years old.
How best to approach the overtaking manouvre? I didn’t want to shout out, as I thought I might scare them. In any case, what do you shout? I started getting a bit nervous at this point. I was quite keen that none of us should land in the water, and also that the dog didn’t get excited – I really didn’t want it chasing/biting me.
Manouvre number one was executed with considerable precision, and although I say it myself, some success. Silently I padded up behind them, a quick turn right to get past on the embankment side, and a quiet “Hi”, saw me through with neither child jumping into the water.
Manouvre number two was going to be more of a challenge. I had the lively dog to contend with, for a start, which was still jumping up and down trying to bite the stick that the man was teasing it with. Then there was the man himself. You know when you look at someone from behind, and that tells you enough that you don’t want them to turn around? I knew that if I startled him from behind, there was a fair chance he’d react, dog or no dog. Given that I didn’t have much time to consider options, I decided to go for broke, and just cut past, so that the first they’d see of me would be at their side, rather than behind. And at this point, the whole episode went into slow-mo.
First, I got level with them.
Then the dog noticed me.
The dog barked.
I looked , in as friendly a way as I could manage, at the man.
For some reason, my eyes dropped to the stick.
Then I realised it wasn’t a stick, after all. It was a revolver.
Understandably, my pace quickened somewhat. You see, the other thing that I forgot to mention about canal paths is that they tend to be fairly straight. This combined with no exit to left or right meant that I was running away from a slightly scary bloke with a gun, who I’d just startled, with about half a mile to the next bridge. And for all I knew, the gun was being aimed in my direction – and I didn’t even have the option of zigzagging. Oh, and the dog was now giving chase, fairly loudly, and pretty much at my heels.
I reckon I PB’d the half mile fairly easily, and about halfway there, the dog gave up, his barking mixed in with some very loud and imaginative cursing from the owner. I got to the bridge and ducked behind it to get my breath back. Tentatively, I put my head out to see what was happening, and was rewarded with the sight of the family reunited, and the man enthusiastically pistol-whipping the dog.
I continued my run on the road, safe in the knowledge that few of the motorists were likely to be armed or throwing violent dogs onto the pavement. I reflected that from my perspective, it was better that the man was more annoyed with his dog than me, although not sure that made me feel a whole lot better. It did, however, cement some preconceptions I’ve held for some time about dog owners.
So, if you’re going for a run this weekend, you watch out for the man with the dog and a stick…you never know what could happen.