1 | Optimism
"Not tonight, thanks!" you chime, flashing your new running rucksack as your colleagues file out to the pub. Getting changed in the unisex toilet pre-run, you’re on top of the world – unlike those other saps heading off to drown their sorrows or worse, sit on a bus/tube for an hour. This running business has revolutionised your life. You’re a busy man, you don’t have time to hit the gym when you get home, you need your exercise fix right now. In fact, you’re so committed that even that thundercloud looming ominously on the horizon can’t dampen your spirits. Being healthy feels good.
2 | Irrational And Unrelenting Anger
All this changes as soon as you reach any sort of main through-fare and immediately boil over at the sight of a single other human being. You know the types: office workers with seemingly no desire to get home anytime soon, slack-jawed idiots crowded around a street performer making guitar noises with his mouth, children strolling happily along with their grandparents, making the most of the evening sunshine in the local park. What it comes down to is other people’s utter lack of urgency and a complete ignorance of how their snail-paced wanderings / inability to stick to the side of the footpath are impeding your efforts at a new personal best. Still, a loud ‘tut’ and eye roll as you step out into oncoming traffic will put them right.
3 | Abandonment
You’re fifteen minutes in and the realisation that this has all been a huge mistake finally kicks in. The crowds have thinned out, the road is clearer, but your legs are getting heavier by the minute. The problem is you’re too far in to turn back. There isn’t a bus or tube station in sight and there isn’t a chance in hell you’ll be seen walking. Best abandon yourself to the running gods and hope a miraculous, well-timed gust of wind will come along to speed you homewards.
4 | Acceptance
The beginning of the second wind. Your legs have turned to lead, your stomach is lurching and every traffic light is green, meaning there’s not even a momentary respite in sight. The only hope is to plow grimly onwards. Eye contact with a pretty girl can help, as will picturing yourself as James Bond / John McLane / David Hasselhoff chasing down bad guys. Whatever happens, however the odds are stacked against you, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. After all, it’s what the S.A.S would do.
5 | Epiphany
You’ve drifted off into the Taylor Swift blaring from your headphones only to re-emerge, eyes blinking like a newborn bird, to find that yes, you’ve somehow materialised less than a mile from home. It’s at this stage that pedestrians get 40% better looking (your mood improving accordingly) while the clouds part and a golden beam of light shines down to lead you into the final stretch. You gallop onwards, your suspicions confirmed: you are, in fact, an athlete.
6 | Smugness
You’ve made it to your front door and as you lean, gasping against the wall, trying to avoid shin splints, you become aware of your exhaustion and relief being replaced with a new feeling: smugness. You’ve earned the right to take up the whole width of the footpath doing your stretches and the sweat running from your forehead and pooling on the ground is a badge of honour. If the expression on your neighbours' faces isn't exactly one of admiration, you can be sure it’s jealousy.
7 | Defeat
The post-run high lasts exactly seven minutes, or roughly the amount of time it takes you to get inside, disrobe and get into the shower. It’s the glimpse of untethered pink flesh in the bathroom mirror that does it, followed by the thumb and forefinger pinch of your midriff as the water washes over you. The realisation begins to dawn that no matter how many miles you wheeze through, that gut isn’t going anywhere without a strict diet overhaul. And that’s another struggle entirely.