Those of us who are cyclists know that there are some people who love to hate us. Mention riding a bike, and they will launch into a tirade of ‘jumping red lights, ought to pay road tax, hogging the road, blah, blah, blah’, forgetting that they are talking about you, the person standing in front of them. There are not two discrete groups of people in the world labelled drivers and cyclists; there is a huge amount of overlap between the two.
In these strange days, runners are also being demonised. This sign appeared in my local park this week, and there’s lots of frustration being vented against runners on social media. Surely we all need to be reminded to keep our distance from each other whether we’re runners, dog walkers, buggy pushers, or families out for a stroll? By definition, it takes two people to pass each other. Why tell one group that they alone are responsible for keeping the rules? Aren’t we all trying to do the same thing, get our one bit of exercise for the day, whether that’s walking or running?
When we’re scared, the temptation is to ‘other’ people, to label them as different and project onto them all our frustration and fear. We forget that ‘they’ are just like ‘us’. That runner is a mum who is homeschooling her children, and trying to work, and wondering when she’ll next be able to buy eggs, and this is her one bit of headspace in a frightening week. That runner is a fit 70 year old who doesn’t want to own the label ‘vulnerable’ any sooner than she has to and is holding onto her identity as long as she can. That runner is an NHS nurse who has seen too much death this week and needs to reset his worried thoughts with the familiarity of a long slow run.
On the Ealing Eagles Facebook group, people are talking about the importance of running for their mental health, and how they now feel worried about what other people think of runners. We are sharing etiquette for runners in these Covid times, recommending that people don’t run down the canal towpath because there isn’t room to give a 2m berth, encouraging each other to run wide of others and to go wide early. People are talking about running down the middle of the street late at night on deserted roads so they keep their distance from others and don’t have to face aggression. We’re scared too.
I’ve run most days for the last few weeks, and when I haven’t run I’ve cycled. I go out early because that suits me, but I have always seen runners giving each other a wide berth, waiting to go through narrow gateways, running in the road past pedestrians. I’ve forced my cheery good morning onto everyone I go past. I’m sure there are inconsiderate runners out there, just as there are inconsiderate pedestrians. I don’t think we deserve to be demonised.
After all, there isn’t that much difference between a walker and a runner at the moment, although we may like to label ourselves differently. We might wear different clothes and go at a different pace, but we’re out in the open using our bodies, celebrating life, taking care of our mental health, appreciating the beauty of this wild world we live in. We are all runners now.