28 Dec 2020 | Mental Health, Reflections

Get a Grip

I started running three or so years ago. This year I set myself a challenge to run a further distance each month than one month before. And today, I left the house knowing I had to complete just 5 km to reach my monthly running target and thus set a new personal best.  

A fall, a warning, a laugh 

A moment after I entered the familiar parkland, I heard a thump and a scream as a young woman in a cream jacket slipped, rear first, onto the ice. Her yelp morphed into laughter as her companions hauled her up. She slipped again but her pals kept her upright. Maybe the giggling diluted my caution or perhaps, and this is a dark thing to admit, I assumed by comparing her attire to mine, that I was a better parkland athlete. 

I continued at a modest pace because although I have completed 5K many times, I am more used to completing 3 or 4 and I wanted to conserve my energy. Some six hundred metres in, I saw 4 people and a dog solidify out of the fractured mist. They were adopting the current cheater’s interpretation of social distancing rules whereby two couples that are not of the same household meet up and pair off. In this case, the two men plus dog took the lead while the women folk maintained a respectful gap behind them.

As I trotted towards them, one of the girls heard me and kindly fell into single file behind her friend. She even called out to the males ahead that I was coming through but it was clear that their selective listening had kicked in some minutes beforehand. And as I predicted, the men maintained their two-abreast, hog-the-whole-path position. I’m not a shouty runner and as somebody that is an avid avoider of conflict made the snap decision to skip two metres down the small muddy grassy slope to the parallel path. A decision I would quickly regret.

Something happens and I’m head over heels. 

As usual, it’s the shock that hits first. Even as I was in mid-air and about to land, I knew I had stepped on ice and was upset that it was lurking within the mud and not on the path that was fast coming up to greet my shoulder. The foursome plus dog certainly showed concern and one of them, probably the dog, asked if I had hit my head. Feigning bravery I stood myself up, stifled a whimper and began to walk.

My spirit, however, was crushed because although I wasn’t (yet) feeling pain, I felt foolish and muddy. Another runner came up to me and told me he had fallen too and warned me not to continue in the same direction I had set out for. I immediately felt better not just for his understanding and practical advice but I felt once again included in the clan of runners. 

I completed my 3k by taking an alternative route. But as I returned home, a jarring stiffness began convecting through the sinews in my neck. Although the run had been salvaged, it wasn’t a great success.

2020, in conclusion

I had no original intention of analogising 2020, yet this event seems to have compelled me to write one.  

There’s been a thumping initial slip and fall. The onward journey is still possible but its meanderings and destination are less easy to predict. Panic and chaos abound, however, a moment of strength is gifted by a stranger; another runner whose kind words were empathic, not sympathetic. He vanquished my lack of confidence and effortlessly gave me the courage to limp on. Friendly words won’t solve the Pandemic, but their value must not be underestimated.