The talk of the track

Nick Cohen compiles a phrase book for neophyte runners

Running Repairs

This article is taken from the April 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

It is fair to say that wokeness and indeed basic human decency has yet to reach the world of running. Here I provide a glossary to help new runners from good homes and caring universities master the language and fit into running’s rough world.

CHICKED: When a young woman overtakes a middle-aged/elderly male runner. I have never heard a middle-aged/elderly woman runner offer a comparable term for being overtaken by a young man. Perhaps TOYBOYED would do. I suggest GRANNED for when you are overtaken by a woman or man who is clearly a grandparent — it happens to me at every race. Even I have yet to be CORPSED: overtaken by a horse-driven hearse with mourners walking alongside at a funereal pace. But give it time.

RUNNER’S TROTS: A gurgling in the stomach alerts you to the urgent need for a bowel movement. TROTOLOGY: is, you will be delighted to hear, a thriving specialism in the wider medical world of runners’ health. Learned authorities agree that the jostling of the bowels, dehydration, and the diversion of blood-flow from the intestines to the legs and arms during a run increase the risk of an attack.

Dieticians recommend avoiding high-fibre foods, notably beans, bran and lentils along with coffee and spicy dishes. Who can disagree? But no one dares discuss coping strategies for when diarrhoea is all but upon you. If you are running through the countryside, you’re fine: just head for the trees. If you’re running through a post-covid town centre, you will be able to charge into the nearest pub or café and demand the toilet in a tone that brooks no refusal.

But what the bloody hell are you meant to do when you are on an enclosed towpath or suburban street? There are answers to this question but none that can be published in a family magazine or indeed the Dark Web’s darkest corner.

BLOODY NIPPLES: More common among men than women who are protected by sport bras. Constant rubbing against T-shirts causes irritation and soreness until eventually the nipple cracks and bleeds. It is the duty of old runners to sit new runners down and have THE CHAFING TALK. It boils down to the need to cover your nipples in Vaseline. And not just your nipples: any part of your body that might rub. Runners travel so far from the norms of respectable society that before a marathon you will see them stuffing handfuls of petroleum jelly down their pants as if it is the most normal behaviour in the world.

Capitalism has outlived its rivals because it can always find new ways of extracting money from consumers. A tub of Vaseline costs £1.50 and will last you for months. As there is clearly not enough profit in that, producers such as nipeaze offer transparent and sweat resistant plasters you stick on your nipples at £23.29 for a packet of 48. I used them once and then gave up, as you must shave your chest hair off to make them stick. There are limits to what I am prepared to do for running, and this is one of them.

RUNNING COMMANDO: Running without underpants. A terrible strategy for any well-endowed male for reasons I am sure you can work out for yourselves.

BONK OR HITTING THE WALL: You are in a race, going well, and then your body shuts down, your legs feel as if someone has taken them out with a crowbar and the one thought your screaming brain can process is “Stop Now”. The medical explanation for BONKING is that you’ve used up stores of glycogen in your liver and muscles, and your body cannot convert energy from fat reserves quickly enough. Bonking was once slang for sex. Having BONKED on the London Marathon I can assure you that the two have nothing in common.

PLANTAR FASCILITIS: If you want proof that there is no God, consider that no benevolent deity would allow plantar fasciitis to exist. Theologians and philosophers ought to equate “the problem of plantar fasciitis” with “the problem of evil”. It is a persistent, stabbing pain under your heel or arch. You can’t run. You can barely walk. No one knows what causes it or why it goes away. Like the peace of God it passeth all understanding.

RUNNER’S HIGH: Having warned of the danger of public humiliation, diarrhoea attacks, nipple torture, genital damage, total body breakdown and lameness, I should add that there is no finer feeling than hitting and maintaining your pace.

Endorphins or maybe dopamine and serotonin (no one is sure) flood the brain. The rhythm of your feet pounds away the persistent miseries of everyday life. You feel alive and free — yes, really, you do, if only until the nipples start bleeding again.

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