In my favorite shop the retail assistants wear luminous yellow jackets which makes them easy to spot as they weave their way in and out of piles of brown furniture. Over the years I have bought wardrobes, bellows, semi precious bunches of stone grapes, lead glasses and assorted cutlery. I am able to exercise little self control except in the matter of retail assistant number one who recently asked me what was in the bag I was carrying. “Trainers” I declared. “I’m going to go running and get fit.”
“You look pretty fit to me,” number one assistant said. “I reckon you’re built for comfort as well as speed.”.
Overlooking the obvious forwardness of this observation, the truth of the matter is that I might not be getting any younger or any thinner but have developed an ambition to run an uninterrupted mile. Then I am stopping before I do myself an injury.
Experience suggests that if I want to avoid running into things I will need a guide. The son, who is a serious marathon runner, is right. He says the best thing to do is to roll up a tea towel so that guide and runner each take an end and run together. The tea towel provides all kinds of useful feedback to the blind runner who can feel the direction of travel which grants him the freedom to simply run. The son suggested, that with me attached to the other end of the tea towel, we should run round Tooting Bec common together. This seems to me to be a complete reversal of our relationship and just plain wrong, so I slapped him down hard.
At school I was the person no one wanted in their team because I couldn’t see the ball. One brave sports master was so sure I was faking it he ordered me onto the hockey field. His remorse was near instantaneous and his shin injury, long lasting. As a young adult so much social life pivoted around sport, which I never took part in because I couldn’t see to do it. It was a double wammy. I didn’t know that there is a whole world of sport open to people with sight loss.
A long time ago I did try to go running on my own. On my very first outing I collided with a man who was waiting patiently for me to navigate my way past him. In hindsight, which is the best sight, I suppose it reasonable that he would have assumed I was going to run round him rather than in to him.
I’ve yearned for the imagined sense of freedom of running. In my imagination I am free from constraint and effortlessly powering ahead.
Setting aside the obvious challenges of being old, a bit on the round side and crushingly unfit, I’m quite enjoying running now that I’ve made a start. My running guide, says my technique is pretty good and I have nice breath control and the leg pain will pass. Who could imagine that something as simple as a tea towel could set one free.
Slowly, I am learning to let go and let someone else take the strain for a change. My running guide and I have now progressed to guiding by voice. I run at her left shoulder as she provides an ongoing narration of the terrain. It ranges from “that big tree root again left” to “a couple of stoned teenagers coming straight at us. Breath in now” to ” downhill nice and muddy” to “veer left for dog shit” to ” oops, that was a low hanging branch”.
I might even let the son take charge for a Tooting Bec Mile.