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1,001 things not to do in London: embrace street running

Posted at 3:15 pm, July 14, 2013 in Outdoor London, Transport
Michael Hodges, Street Running

Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London – No 422 embrace street running

I’m caught underneath another man, and it’s not going well. He’s pulling my hair, scratching my face and generally making things even more difficult for me than they became when he knocked me to the ground, dived on top of me and started shouting, ‘What are you doing, you idiot? What are you doing! Get off me!’

The more I struggle to do just that, the more we become bound together. Legs trapped in legs, arms trapped in arms and, more worryingly right now, middle areas trapped in middle areas. Why am I so ensnarled with another man? The answer lies in my assailant’s outfit. The shouting man wears a bright yellow intelligent-fibre ‘breathable’ vest, neon-green trainers and long white-and-yellow sports socks.

Above the striped socks there is a short stretch of furry leg before the knees, which bulge and podge under the strangulating grip of a pair of leggings. These leggings are fantastically tight, and they hold the man’s loins with such violence that his major sexual organs have been clumped together into one damp and shiny protrusion, which does nothing to temper the alarming nature of his appearance. To be fair to the man, all this is absolutely the correct attire for flogging round an athletics track. But we’re not flogging round an athletics track; we are rolling around on the pavement in Oxford Street.

I have just encountered a street runner. One of the increasing number of look-at-me loonies who spend their lunch hours seeking out the capital’s busiest pedestrian areas and then launching themselves into the crowd, screaming profanities as they kick and barge their way through milling people who have the temerity to, well, mill. A moment ago I was ambling along, considering just how exotic London is if you look up above street level to the upper floors of the buildings we don’t usually consider. These were clearly built in a time when London’s property developers didn’t ask their architects to just knock up some glass retail units, but offered instructions like, ‘I’ll need a row of brick Ottoman palaces with minarets. And a couple of gothic castles – plenty of turrets, mind.’

Wandering around outside, discovering fascinating things and then going to think about them over a cold drink (though not an isotonic one from a plastic beaker), is partly the point of living here. Going running on a busy London pavement in the middle of the day misses this point so spectacularly it’s tempting to dismiss street runners as thoughtless dimwits. But hurling yourself into groups of people who aren’t expecting to be hurled into is not thoughtless. Like lowering your pants and pooing on a colleague’s desk, or firing up a crack pipe in your local nursery, street running requires planning, premeditation and nerve. It isn’t something you do by accident; you really have to be committed to stopping your fellow Londoners wandering around and thinking.

It’s not something you do to increase fitness, either. How can you reach maximum aerobic effectiveness if you keep getting your feet caught up in small children’s hair? How fit will you get if you’re entangled with a Time Out columnist for hours?

And we really are entangled now. The chest hairs that protrude through the holes in the fabric of his intelligent-fibre running vest are so close they act as conduits to deliver the man’s sweat on to my face as I fight to escape his furious embrace. Trapped and fearful, I wonder how many poems will remain unwritten, how many great ideas remain unthought, because the person about to have them was knocked over by a huffing egoist in sports socks. More importantly, how long will it take me to get to that cold drink?

Catch up with more from Michael Hodges here.

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