By Simon Barget
I started running long before I can remember; I don’t like to keep still. I could walk but I prefer to run. I can go much further when I run, I can cover great distance. Initially I started running because I didn’t want people to catch me. If I got caught then I’d get stuck where I was. I thought I might never able to move again. I’m not the fastest runner on earth but I can cover great distance. Sometimes I go out for a walk and I see other people running and wish I was running too. I wish I could run like they are but I can’t just switch instantly from walking. I might not be wearing the right clothes. I might be feeling tired. It might just be I can’t really be bothered. That’s not to say I don’t want to start running in that very moment. I am often quite desperate to run; I am quite desperate to get myself moving.
The difference between running and walking is this: anyone can catch you when you’re walking. Anyone can keep up. But if you start running, they have to run too, and for whatever reason, people don’t just start running on the spot, they watch you go on your way casting sidelong glances. You will start moving past them, past all of them, and that can feel quite nice. It can feel like you’re faster even though you know they’re just walking.
Sometimes I wake up in the morning and want to start running. Sometimes I wake up in a place a long way from home. I have run and forgotten. Sometimes I want to sprint before I’ve broken into a jog. Sometimes I will get up in the middle of the night and put on my trainers but at the very last moment I decide not to go. I want to show myself I am prepared to put in the effort. Or that I am actually prepared to come through even though the timing’s not right. The fact that I’m on the threshold is enough to persuade me that I can put back on my night gown and go back to bed. I know I haven’t lost the urge to keep running.
As I got older I started entering races. It was the natural thing to do. I would compete against those from my country. But when it came to the race, I didn’t want to outrun anybody; I only wanted to run. I didn’t need to run faster than the next man. I was content to be merely a runner. There was not much point then in me being in these races. These races are not really for runners as strange as it may sound. I was wasting everyone’s time. People seemed to be despondent at my lack of effort, but what they didn’t understand was that I was constantly running. They just stop-started, ran in short forays. Running was my default mode, my raison d'etre.
The problem with running is that I’m always trying to catch my breath. I have to work hard just to be. If I could stop I could breathe easy. I work myself up into a fervour am never at rest. So as much as I love running it doesn’t come without cost. It can be exhausting. I am not saying that I run literally all of the time, but it’s not far from it. I never walk when I can run. I run between spots in my bedroom. I run if someone comes calling, if they need help. I run round the supermarket from one aisle to the next. I run at the check-out. Just to keep myself moving I will run on the spot. It is surprising how much of your day you can spend running even if you don’t think you could.
And then it hardly ever draws attention. You might think people would tell you to stop, to quit loping round like a goon. Once in a while I attract glances but that’s as far as it goes. No one seems interested. If anything, it is only the few who are also always running that seem to pay heed, as if sizing me up, trying to keep up, or trying not to keep up even, to let me go right ahead; perhaps these people are discomfited or even horrified by seeing what it looks like to be constantly running in inopportune places, seeing themselves in the physiognomy of another.
I often try and cast my mind back. Why do I bother? What made me start it? No one told me to run all over the place. No one asked or encouraged me. I don’t remember anyone ever suggesting it was better than walking. Maybe people didn’t tell me to keep still but that can’t explain it. The worst thing though is being unwell being unable to run. It doesn’t matter why then, all that matters to me is the fear of being stuck, of being immobile. I am not concerned with the whys.
I assume I will age like the rest of them though it hasn't yet happened. I will not be able to run forever. I will have to slow down to a saunter or even a trot. I might try and convince myself that I’m running but deep down I’ll know that I’m not. And then I’ll have time. I’ll have time to think about the running and why I persisted. I won’t be able not to think about it, it will come round to haunt me. But as unpleasant as it can be, because believe me it’s exhausting -- not necessarily at the time I’m running -- it’s exhausting after and before to know I’m going to start running, as much as it frustrates me, I will carry on running righ till the end.