I was in Oxford at the weekend.
As usual, on Saturday morning, I went for a run with my friend Rich. Rich is a touch older than me, and usually runs at a slightly slower pace than I would normally do. This is never a problem, but as it was the morning after the night before, I was more than usually happy to tootle along gently for five miles, enjoying the beautiful morning and slowly blowing the cobwebs away.
Oxford is a nice place to go for a run, with the University Parks providing a lovely setting for a saunter around some beautiful lakes and playing fields.
It is, of course, also filled with students exercising.
This wouldn't normally be a problem, except that they are usually all at least half our age, and as they fly past us like gazelles as we huff and puff around the grounds, it's hard not to feel slightly resentful of them. There is some consolation to be had in the lycra clad bodies as they zoom past, I suppose... but not that much.
Apart from anything else, these students aren't very friendly. There's an unwritten rule amongst runners that we're all in this together: it doesn't matter what shape you're in or how fast you're running, it is your responsibility to acknowledge your fellow runners. It doesn't have to be much: a smile, a cheery hello, or even a look of shared pain.... but it should be done. The students don't follow this rule, and it's very dispiriting to give someone a friendly smile only to be completely ignored*
* Rich tells me that one young blonde thing we ran past was very quick to give me a quick warm smile - both times we ran past her as we each completed a circuit of the Parks running in opposite directions - but if that's true, I was oblivious to her attentions. Honestly.
The last mile or so back to Rich's house consists of the long drag back up Headington Hill. This is one of those hills that is steep enough that buses and lorries can't climb it when it snows, and after four miles and a skin full of wine the night before, it was a bit of a struggle for us too. As we hauled our way uphill, we were passed by a young lady powering her way downhill. She was probably only in her early 20s, if that, but she looked like she meant business and had a very focused look about her. She managed to break her concentration for just long enough to give the pair of us a withering, appraising sideways glance as she swept past us, freezing our warm smiles even as they left our lips.
We turned to each other as we continued our pitifully slow progress towards the distant summit of the hill:
"Pah. Anyone can look good running DOWN the hill. She should wait until she's got another twenty years on the clock...."
"Yeah, and she should try it on your knees...."
We're so old.
As WB Yeats almost said
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
You try running up that bloody hill with a hangover.
Envying the young for their youth is an especially futile exercise, no?
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