Sunday, 1 December 2013

Running with a Stranger

On Friday night my boyfriend and I went out for dinner. It had been a long week. Neither of us have had a holiday since August and work has been manic to say the least.

He chose a pleasant Italian, with an obscure enough wine list and a specials board that made me think of my mum’s cooking, and as if the waiter could read my mind, he showed us to a table in the furthest corner – away from the hustle and bustle of birthday meals and first dates.

The food came swiftly and after a post-work speed session the energy gratefully flowed into every corner and cell of my body. He sipped his wine, I stretched my achy legs under the table, and even without words both of us knew just how glad the other was that the seemingly endless week had finally succumbed to the weekend.

It was one of those moments of pure bliss. Ripples of relief wash over you, and every exhalation rids a little bit more pent up stress, until only the bare dregs remain and silently settle for two glorious days of peace.
Just as our plates were being cleared away though, that deep inner tranquilly, nestled in the pit of my stomach, suddenly awoke from its slumber. At the next table - up until now unoccupied - a young woman, barely older than me, had just taken a seat opposite a faceless gentleman.

I’ve always been an observer, naturally curious, eyeing up people from across the room just to see what clothes they’re wearing, company they’re enjoying or book they’re reading, but unusually, my eyes were quite literally fixated on this woman, glued to her.

Her lean legs were clad in what I can only describe as metallic leggings, hugging her toned derriere. Despite the winter chill, she wore a silvery silk vest top, against which the colour or her tanned arms radiated, and her long blond locks shone. Her face was glowing, and she radiated an aura of prestige, punctuated with a Colgate smile. For want of better word, she was stunning.

I glanced from her exquisite stilettos to my worn out winter boots, then caught myself cringing at my jeans, polo neck and ponytail.

“Have you seen that girl?” I enunciated almost inaudibly across the table, quite obviously squirming and pointing awkwardly.  My boyfriend just shrugged nonchalantly, sipped some more wine, gave me a confused grin and offered me the last complementary biscuit.

My appetite, though, had vanished without a trace.


On the way home I replayed the scene in my head.

The precision of her make-up, her gait in those five-inch heels, the way her hair didn’t look frizzy when she came in from the drizzle - all those things made her appear larger-than-life. There was something superhuman about her that had hit a nerve deep within me and almost made me angry. Or sad? Perhaps embarrassed? 
Maybe even jealous?  Either way, she made me feel incredibly uncomfortable in a very unusual way.

I pondered for a while, hating the fact that I cared so much and struggling to come up with a rationale for being so preoccupied with. Everyone is different, I kept telling myself, but somehow that didn’t help.
It wasn’t until we passed Hyde Park that I was able to start shrugging off the discomfort and confusion.
I looked out onto the dark field, silhouettes of trees flanking the running track.

When I head out in old shorts and a washed out t-shirt, I thought, every runner I pass is the same. Young or old, rich or poor, ugly or beautiful, intelligent or stupid, we’re all using our bodies to boost our minds and reach a personal goal – whether that be weight-loss, fitness or something far more sublime.

While some of us run faster or further than others, we’re all athletes with a shared passion, nodding as we go in a sign of unique camaraderie as if to say “keep going, you’re doing great”.

The girl in the restaurant may have been different, slimmer, sexier, smarter, but perhaps she runs too, and when she does, I’m sure she too would smile as we pass each other, send me unvocalised cheers of encouragement, even though we couldn’t have been more different back in the restaurant.

Life is not about comparing everything, but about accepting that some things simply cannot be compared.
On Friday I would have hated hobbling around in stilettos, she no doubt would’ve have shunned the prospects of teaming her leggings with battered winter boots, but on Saturday, if she’d like to, I’d gladly meet her at Hyde Park corner and invite her to join me on a brisk 10k.

Yes, we may be chalk and cheese but that doesn’t mean we can’t be two of a kind as well.
 And when we’re done, panting and stretching, feeling proud and strong, I’d even go as far as to say that I’d share with her that last complimentary biscuit.

Now my appetite’s been restored, I could really do with some sugar. 

(Images courtesy

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