As you become more and more immersed in this fine sport of ours, do you ever worry that you might have become a cliché? Ever find yourself jogging down a towpath, perhaps, spot another guy running the opposite way and panic that you’re going to smash into a mirror? Next to skiiing or deep sea diving, say, this isn’t a particularly complicated pastime, and there are only so many varieties of trainers, stopwatches, fuels and techniques you can explore before you start repeating yourself. We may believe that we’ve found the unique formula for personal running success, until we line up at a start line beside nine clones of ourselves.
But even if you haven’t succumbed to the obvious yourself, this field guide of running stereotypes ought to provide a small distraction from the pain and boredom of the long Sunday run. Tick them off as you spot them, like a twitcher without the anorak, and allow yourself an extra protein bar if you get all five.
THE BAREFOOT RUNNER
Distinguishing features: well the shoes, obviously. Or lack of them, if he’s a real purist. More likely those foot condoms with individual toes that are illogically called “Fivefingers”.
Where you’ll find him: tiptoeing across the softest available surface near his house, squealing at pebbles.
Most likely to: persuade you to read Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, bang on about ancient man’s innate ability to run huge distances on hunts, then run off with a perfectly crafted forefoot strike before you can ask: “And when did you last catch and kill an exhausted antelope?”
Least likely to: get injured, if you believe the hype.
Loves: playing “This Little Piggy Went to Market”.
Hates: dog poo.
THE GEAR FREAK
Distinguishing features: glowing Bluetooth headphones, a watch bigger than his fist. If you pass him during a race he will be giving off more bleeps than R2D2. Describes the zip on his shorts as “fastening technology”.
Where you’ll find him: at home, hunched over a laptop analysing elevations and heart rates for far longer than his actual run, before displaying his route (the only thing less interesting than other people’s baby photos) on Facebook.
Most likely to: film, painstakingly edit and upload to YouTube a GoPro video of the loop around his local park (“Check out the angry swan at 19:56! LOL”) which will eventually attain 11 views.
Least likely to: look at a view without taking a picture and hashtagging it #inspired.
Loves: being filmed for a gait analysis in a trainer shop, even when he isn’t going to buy any.
Hates: hills that don’t have wifi.
THE OLD TIMER
Distinguishing features: tiny body made entirely of wire wool. Shuffling stride. “100 Marathon Club” Tshirt. Plimsolls which he bought in 1961.
Where you’ll find him: at the back of the Parkrun, being patronised by lapping whippersnappers who don’t realise that he did the Bob Graham Round in three hours in 1871.
Most likely to: be featured in the local paper for doing the same race without missing a year since radio was invented.
Least likely to: use any performance enhancing device more advanced than chalk.
Hates: how popular this sport has become.
Distinguishing features: heavy belly straining at four layers of clothing that can’t wick fast enough. Steady, solid plod. Eyes down beneath large, feature-concealing cap.
Where you’ll find him: on his local streets, after dark, hoping no one notices him finally taking an interest in his health.
Most likely to: stop at the mini-roundabout near his house to google “Am I having a heart attack? Signs and symptoms” on his phone.
Least likely to: throw in a few dozen pushups, just for fun like.
Loves: covering distances he never dreamed possible a few months earlier. The feeling of finishing.
Hates: having gold-plated witticisms such as “Run, Forrest!” yelled at him by hilarious teenagers in passing cars.
THE OBSTACLE COURSER
Distinguishing features: muscles like ballon animals. Face hidden beneath three inches of mud.
Where you’ll find him: at any race that sounds less like a fun day out and more like an FBI interrogation technique.
Most likely to: make a traditonal road race “a little more interesting” by strapping on a backpack full of sand and filling his trainers with glass. For charity, of course.
Least likely to: snuggle up with the cat and a romcom.
Loves: being electrocuted.
Hates: cushions (unless being forced to eat one), warm baths (unless they’re at the bottom of a skip filled with ice cubes), scented candles (unless held directly beneath his testicles).