Run Forrest Run

Saturday 8th January 2011

This post is about the people you encounter when out running. Perhaps my experience is different to that of other people but I’m sure most of the experiences are common to runners everywhere!

I have never been chased, heckled, spat at, riduculed or wolf-whistled when walking down the street in my suit or home clothes, so what is it about sporting running attire that causes people to assume you are fair game? Well, for one, it isn’t exactly normal is it? Most people look forward to getting home from work, putting the kettle on and having a nice evening in front of the telly. Not our kind. We relish the idea of pounding 10 miles of pavement in the cold and the dark after a hard day’s work. In fact we spend the most part of our 9-5 thinking about the run that has been or the run that will be. So by doing something that most people just do not understand we are already putting ourselves up for ridicule, such is the nature of Mr British Public.

It doesn’t help that we frequently undertake this activity wearing either lycra, short-shorts or flourescent clothing – but usually a combination of all three. I am fortunate enough to live in the gay district of Birmingham and am often subject to wolf-whistling and lewd comments. The most severe of these was when I was running south away from my appartment block early in the morning and saw a group of 20-ish men (though I didn’t hang around to count the exact number) who had clearly just come out of one of the local rainbow-flagged night clubs. I saw the danger ahead of me and immediately felt like a contestant on the last round of one of those game shows like Takeshi’s Castle or Gladiators – “I’ll just be glad if I come out of this in one piece.” They set upon me like a pack of starved wolves. Not literally, you must understand. They were far too drunk and uncoordinated for that. I kept running and after a few shouts of “get your knees up beautiful,” a few cries of “lovely legs gorgeous” and enough whistling to raise a dead sheepdog I had survived.

Further afield I have heard the cry that all runners will have heard several times in their running career and will hear hundreds of times again, which is of course the exceptionally witty and insightful cry of “Run Forrest Run.” Now, I love the film Forrest Gump. I love Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the misfit Gump; I love his depiction of the growth of a boy into a man; I love the depiction of the Vietnam War; I love that thing they do with the feather in the opening sequence. But seriously. Is it really true that no one can come up with anything funnier than a quote from a film that is nearly 20 years old? Come on Mr British Public, use your imagination a bit. Even “Run Fatboy Run” would be an improvement on your current choice of heckle.

Mr British Public also seems to forget that Hanks’ Forrest was not knocking out a hard tempo run, a recovery run or a steady 22 miler when his girlfriend gave her immortal plea. Oh no. He was running away from danger, from bullies, from the threat of violence, and the young Forrest Gump is not the only person to have encountered this whilst running.

Roughly a year ago I was running home from the track in the bleary-eyed and barely conscious state that usually follows a 5x2k track session and whilst running past a gang of teenagers heard the usual calls to run faster. But these weren’t friendly shouts at all. One of them spat at me. Perhaps stupidly on my part, I looked at the turd of a being who had just launched his saliva in my direction and gave him no more than a contemptful look of disgust. This was all they needed. They started throwing bottles at me and chasing me down the road. Still shattered from my session I tried to up the pace and managed to shake off all but two of them. These two both flung themselves at me in turn and both managed to kick me in the back of the legs. I only really suffered from a bit of bruising and sore hamstring muscles for the next few days but the frustration of it lasted a lot longer than that.

On the Thursday before fireworks night I was running with my good friend and training partner Mr G. Race and we passed a similarly suspicious looking group of hooded teens. Aware of what had happened to me previously on the same road we picked up the pace and were relieved to pass the group without incident. Not so. We were no more than 10 metres ahead of them when a lit firework flew within inches of us. Having never been hit by a flaming projectile I don’t know what would have happened had it hit one of us, but I imagine a hospital trip and some third degree burns would have featured in this story too. Bastards.

This friend of mine is also the source of one of the best and most profound things any of our group has heard on a run. He was running in the rain on a cold day and stepped out onto the pavement near a slow moving car. The female passenger took one look at him, wound her window down and shouted to him one of the greatest philosophical questions a runner can ever be asked: “Why are you doing this?”

I hope to have an answer one day.

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