I’ve taken up running. Or, as it appears to the outside world for the time being, jogging. It is mostly a slow, dogged trundle around the park. I hope to be as fleet of foot as those that used to glide effortlessly to the finish line at school while I coughed and spluttered from asthma. Daniel Turner on the 400m track at school. I can remember his smug face even now, and his bowl haircut and his way with women. The bastard.
I also took the step of looking up some running clubs and I joined one recently, so that the running, or rather, jogging, wasn’t an entirely solitary activity. There’s a guy there called Rob who runs so fast that he laps me several times and ends the sessions with steam coming from him like some sort of demented race horse. He wears a blue plastic top. I barely break a sweat in the freezing evenings under the anaemic floodlights of the leisure centre Athletics Track. This is exactly the reason why Tottenham Hotspur shouldn’t demolish our £500m worth of premium venue. I’ve run before, for buses, for pleasure, around parks, in gums, sometimes on holiday, even. But after the first session of Running Club, as I have begun to call it, my legs gave off this warm glow. I was bathed in endorphins when I finally got to bed, stumbling to the cocoon of the duvet; my body was intensely grateful and congratulated me in a way that it has rare cause to do so, given my penchant for ale, snacks, and commissioning linguistics books. Despite having pounded the insular gerbil treadmills for hours, I’d never felt anything like it. Perhaps it was because of the sheer gap between any previous, serious bout of aerobic exercise. I’m not sure.
Since then, this endorphin rush has been unobtainable. I’ve tried to run faster, longer distances, but it won’t come. I have a program on my phone that uses a GPS chip and a satellite transmitter to track my circular movements around the park, and measure distance, time, elevation, km/h. I want to leave the music player behind, the phone behind, my sad £2.99 Rucanor plastic jogger’s water bottle behind, my gloves and hoodie behind, my Onitsuka trainers behind, run in sandals, run in shorts, with no iPod or GPS assistance, and run on grass, not concrete, like a Roman messenger of some sort delivering important news across the tundra rather than being an office worker who is thrilled that I can see Canary Wharf from the centre of the park and from Bromley-by-Bow station. I ran in the snow in a pair of almost-waterpoof Adidas Lanto trainers, with gloves on and an outside Fred Perry winter jacket that has a fleece lining and was meant for a much bigger man than I. Making awkward steps in the chunky white snow I delivered a message of sorts across a tundra of my own making: this wasn’t as easy as sitting at Carluccio’s and drinking red wine over saltimbocca pork and that, in essence, was the whole point of this particular exercise.
I strive in vain for the endorphins to return, marking the lengthening days with a slow forage of activity and hoping the urge doesn’t subside.