Body and sole

Sunday mornings are a great time to run around here because you pretty much have the streets and pavements to yourself. This morning was no exception, with the early morning sunshine warming my back as I worked my way across the Isle of Dogs and through the near-deserted roads and plazas of Canary Wharf before turning south and heading back home.

Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf

Running in a city provides one with a different perspective of a city to those which most folks experience. As I prefer to run on the softer asphalt of the road rather than the knee-jarring concrete pavements, I am acutely aware of not only every manhole cover and pothole but also the rise and fall of the gradient and the variation in the camber. Drivers and passengers who use London’s roads will not have the same intimate acquaintance with and knowledge of the variety in the road’s texture that runners do. The grippiness of granular tarmac, the unforgiving nature of herringboned brick, the potential for injury that lies in cobbles and the blessed relief of smooth black asphalt. In a similar fashion, perhaps only cyclists with their increased rate of respiration, will know of the smells and tastes that impress themselves on the urban runner. Whether it is the smell of stale beer and urine around the local late-license pub, the muggy fug that issues from the merchant bank’s air conditioning ducts or throat-catching tang of the processed fats factory at Leamouth, each is as much a milestone on a run as any white line or lamppost. The difference in the level of traffic fumes between, say, late Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning is scarily palpable by taste and smell, reinforcing the image of shimmering waves of translucent blue wisps taken in by the eyes. Permanent landmarks and other fixed features take on different aspects when one has more time to absorb their presence. To me, the off-kilter bollard peeking out from a line of peers speaks of a wider streetscape that is moulded by the way in which it is used or abused. A runner, unencumbered by the roof of a car or the brow of a helmet is free to look beyond and above the more usual sightlines of the urban traveller. Gaps between part-closed gates, hedges and walls offer the runner a brief sweeping glimpse of what lies beyond, not dissimilar to the type of rapid panning shots beloved of pop video and edgy action movie directors. Through these momentary keyholes a runner can spy all manner of things from the mundanely workaday to the furtively illegal. In a car, one might never see the child’s training shoe that dangles by it’s lace from a telephone wire, never ponder as to whether it ended up there as a result of the owner’s high jinks or the darker, more cruel taunting of a bully. On a bus, one will surely miss the street signs plundered from unsuspecting towns across the country, then furtively reattached to a solitary signpost outside the pub used by the local rugby club.

It is strange then, with all these things and more flooding my senses, that I feel both present and removed when I run. Whether this is what athletes would describe as being ‘in the zone’ or more closely aligned with the inner calm of those who meditate, I cannot say. What I can say is that whilst running allows me closer and more intimate interaction with my immediate environment, it also provides me with a valuable opportunity to step away from daily concerns, granting me small instances of calm obserevance and reflection I find nowhere else, regardless of where I run.

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