There’s a first time for everything, and this week I found myself in a ‘running shop’.
On the wall there are shoes of many brands and colours. They are classified: racing, neutral and stability. I definitely don’t need ‘racing’. The assistant comes over to ask if she can help. I explain that on and off – with plenty of off – I’ve been running/jogging/staggering for about two years. My bog-standard trainers are wearing down and I wonder what might be best for me.
I’m as old and fat as I look, I say.
She smiles, a tad uncertain. OK, she says. She’s a tall girl, leggy. I imagine her kicking on at the bell to shred a quality 1500m field. She wants to assess my feet. She finds me a standard pair of running shoes and leads me to the treadmill.
I’ve never been on a treadmill before and it shows. She gradually increases the speed and encourages me gently to stay as close to the front as possible. I don’t fall off, thankfully, and walking/jogging becomes a little easier. Trouble is, it’s neither my walk nor my jog – it’s more of an unsteady trot, a prance even, like a Lipizzaner on the day they spiked the water trough with schnapps. When she turns up the speed again I become seriously out of kilter and have to stop.
She looks thoughtful. The treadmill having failed to bring forth the secrets of my feet, she asks me to walk up and down the shop while she squats down and studies my arches. She concludes that my right foot has a tendency to roll inwards and fetches an appropriate range of shoes. As I’m sitting on the bench, lacing and unlacing, she asks what prompted me to take up running. Her tone is friendly, not incredulous.
Oh you know, I say. Fatness. Lack of fitness. Age. A growing sense of mortality …
She gives me that uncertain smile again. I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable so I talk instead about Couch To 5K. And I confide to her that – while I feel better in body and soul for doing it – I don’t actually like running.
After trying on several, I find the pair which gives the best combination of toe-comfort and support for my flat arches. I wonder if I can carry off lemon-yellow feet.
The next day, I try them out on Tooting Common. Like many joggers I listen to music while I’m on the move and have a ‘running playlist’. Mostly this features very loud guitars to drown out the sound of my breathing, which always makes me feel twice as tired when I hear it. But there are other things, too. The theme from The Killing works well on a cold and foggy morning. Songs from Run Lola Run – where Franka Potente intones her wish to be, among other things, a hunter or forest or starship – used to make me run too fast. (If you’ve seen the film you’ll know that Lola always runs flat out.) Now, I imagine myself as part of the film: a slow, out-of-breath jogger who she burns up in a blur of red hair as she passes on each of her almost-identical runs.
I haven’t been running much lately, so it’s a short route. ‘Skyfall’ comes on as I start the final stretch. The orchestra is epic. Adele’s London l’s are comforting. I don’t feel we’re standing tall and facing it all together, but I could picture her sitting on the bench where I finish, shouting ‘Go on, my son!’ to encourage me. My lungs are working hard now but there’s a little left in my legs. I manage the briefest parody of a sprint finish.
It’s a small start. And I still don’t like running. But at least the shoes are good …