“Is that an athletics club, Ealing Eagles?”
He’s talking to me, this young athletic looking man. So he had been trying to make eye contact with me before. I’m on the Tube in my club kit, trying to read my book. Usually on the Tube if you think someone’s trying to catch your eye, they are actually just asleep and nodding in your general direction. He’s breached Tube etiquette by actually attempting to engage me in conversation and I’m flummoxed.
“Yes. Erm. I mean a running club, yes.”
“Cool – so what’s your favourite distance to run?”
Tubes are loud. This is partly why strangers don’t make conversation on the Tube, because you have to shout over the noise from the wheels over the track, sometimes quite a deafening noise. I’m feeling self-conscious enough about this exchange, and having to shout isn’t helping.
“Well we run anything from 5k to marathons. We actually have a lot of marathon runners, but I guess mostly people do 5k to half marathon.”
“That’s cool. I do sprinting.”
Oh good God. He meant what was my favourite track distance, as if I have one of those!
“Yeah, well we’re mainly a road running club but I’m just off to the track now actually. But I don’t really do a lot of track. I’m more of a run a long way really slowly type.”
You’re gabbling woman. Get a grip.
“I’ll see you on my TV next April then yeah, for the marathon?”
The guy sat next to him is definitely getting pissed off with us chatting. It’s putting him off his stride with the Evening Standard.
“Dammit, you missed me – I ran that this year!”
“How fast did you run?”
There it is, the six million dollar question. And it’s been asked by a young male sprinter. Well he seems nice and if he’s a sprinter maybe he’s never run that far and won’t have a frame of reference….
“I was a bit slower than I’d like but I went into the plan from being injured for a few months, so I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be fitness wise, I was just happy I ran the whole way and nothing went wrong. I did 4:46.”
“That’s great. But you’re looking good on it, baby, looking good.”
Oh Lord, so he is actually trying to flirt with me then, he’s not just being nice. I wonder what age he things I am? He’s about 17! Well, maybe mid-20’s, but still frighteningly young.
“You know sometimes it’s not just about the body. Your body might not be where you’d like it to be but if you’re strong up here” – tapping his temple – “then it’ll be ok. So what’s next?”
Jeez, who is this guy? This latter day running Confucius in Usain Bolt’s body?
“New York in November. But I haven’t decided what my goals are yet because I hate training in the summer, it’s so much harder.”
“Nah, it doesn’t get hot here – you try training in the Caribbean, your summers are nothing!”
Wow – not just a sprinter, an actual Jamaican sprinter.
What is happening here? Someone’s punking me, surely? Where’s Jeremy Beadle?!
“Well I might just run in costume and do some sort of one-woman anti-Trump protest. I haven’t decided yet.”
“So will your partner run New York with you?”
At last he’s crow-barred this in, thank goodness. I am clearly a lot older than however young this kid thinks I am and I can’t remember the last time I got chatted up by a total stranger, much less in public. I am about 50/50 between flattered and terrified right now. But he’s mentioned partners so I can relax.
“He will, yeah – he’s a lot faster than me though”.
He grins and shrugs, no biggie.
“Ah, fair enough. Well this is me, I’m up at White City tonight for training. Have a good session, take it easy.”
And he’s gone.
Well that was odd. On the one hand, we all know that runners love nothing more than a chat about running. But I don’t usually talk about running with complete strangers outside of the context of an actual running event. Definitely not on the Tube. Definitely not in a query-getting-chatted-up context.
I sit in the seat he’s just vacated and smile to myself. I’ve been having a bit of a confidence downer with my running recently. Always the way after a big race when you have no particular goals and your pace has slipped. Work is pretty manic at the moment, and my legs have been paining me. I’ve been feeling sluggish, chunky and uncoordinated pretty much at all times. My kit doesn’t really fit. Things have started to seem to be on the up finally in the last week or so but that whole ‘starting over yet again’ feeling is never not crap, is it?
I’d left the office excited for my track session but nervous, as always, to have to go and run in front of all the fit young sprinters in their own personal playground.
But this young lad was a sprinter, just like them. And he’d taken me seriously as a fellow runner, even if he might have had a vague ulterior motive.
So off I went to track, and ran as hard as I could, and pulled out the sort of times I was running last summer at the track before my legs went funny. And when I felt like people were staring at me, I thought about the conversation I’d just had on the Tube, adjusted my form and ran harder. And it turns out I do have a favourite track distance, because 400m was so much easier than the rest!
Still got it.